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Penny Pinching Epicure: September 2009

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Penny Pinching Tip #1: Simple Bare Necessities

A few people have commented that my costing seems really low, because, for example, even if I am only using a cup of a rice, I still have to buy the whole bag. The thing is, I shop for fresh items for recipes, but I rarely go shopping specifically for "long-term" non-perishables. Rather, I keep my pantry (and freezer) well-stocked, and spread out those types of purchases over the course of a month (or more).

Penny Pinching Tip #1: Stock up on sale.

Clearly I don't want to end up with 15 cans of chickpeas, but if a quick peek in my pantry reveals I have only have 1 left, I'll grab a couple if I see them on sale. Over time, 40 cents here and there really adds up. This method also prevents having to replenish too many staples at once and blowing my food budget for the week.

Here is a list of staples I always have on hand (depending on your tastes/needs, your list may look a bit different):

olive oil
vegetable oil
rice vinegar
balsamic vinegar
brown sugar
white whole wheat flour
baking powder
baking soda
cooking spray sea salt
assortment of spices (e.g. pepper, curry, garlic powder)
bread crumbs
pudding mix
quinoa, rice and other whole grains
canned non-perishables like beans, peas, corn, creamed corn, pumpkin
canned diced and crushed tomatoes, tomato paste
bottled applesauce
dried fruit (e.g. raisins, cranberries)

nuts (e.g. pecans, almonds, walnuts)
chocolate chips
fish steaks/filets (e.g. tuna, salmon, snapper)
boneless chicken breasts

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Little Musing about Hunger

Yesterday I observed Yom Kippur, a Jewish fast day during which many have the tradition to refrain from eating and drinking for about 25 hours.

Because it seemed appropriate, I started What is the What by David Eggers, which tells the story of the "Lost Boys" of Sudan. What particularly stood out to me, being that I was fasting, were the graphic and chilling descriptions of hunger.

I have never felt the gnawing pain of an empty belly, struggled to remember my last meal, nor watched someone beaten to death over a few meager bites. I realized: I have been hungry, but I have never known hunger.

For millions of people, in the US and around the world, hunger is a stark reality of everyday life. Yesterday, I was hungry by choice. Today, I'm not hungry by choice. It's important to take the time to count our blessings.

Here are some great organizations working to end hunger, both domestically and internationally:

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Soup Weather Cometh

I don't believe that dishes should be tied to a particular season, but there is something about the weather turning crisp that makes me want to curl up on the couch with a bowl of steaming, fragrant soup (especially if it's a rainy day). This recipe is my version of a dairy-free corn chowder; the sweetness of the leeks and corn blend nicely and the curry adds a surprising little kick at the end.

My trick for a thick and richly textured soup: A can of creamed corn. Your friends will think you slaved over a hot stove all day. And really, is there any reason to enlighten them?

Corn Leek Soup


2 large or 4 small leeks, trimmed (you want just the white part)
2 Tbsp vegetable or light olive oil
1 small carrot, peeled and chopped fine
1 celery stalk, chopped fine
1 cup whole kernel corn (if frozen, defrosted or if in a can, drained)
1 can creamed corn
3 cups vegetable stock
1 tsp curry powder
salt & pepper to taste

  1. Slice leeks lengthwise and rinse well to remove any grit. Pat dry and chop.
  2. Heat oil in stock pot over medium flame and saute leeks until soft and translucent, 5-6 minutes. Add carrot and celery and cook until soft, 4-5 minutes.
  3. Add corn, creamed corn, stock and curry. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer for 30-45 minutes.
  4. Serve as is, or blend smooth with stick blender.
Fun variations:
  • To add another layer of flavor, pan roast the whole kernel corn before adding to soup, or grill a whole ear of corn, slice off the cob and add to soup.
  • For a more wintry soup, use a can of small white beans instead of the whole kernel corn.
  • Roast a few cloves of garlic and add to soup in step 3; this will add a fantastic earthy flavor.
The cost:
Leeks: 1.98
carrot: .10
celery: .10
corn: .45
creamed corn: 1.29
stock: 1.50

Grand total: $5.42; serves 4-6 with a hearty slab of garlic bread & a light salad

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Greatest Hits: Chocolate Chip Banana Nut Muffins

I love muffins. It's easy portion control (if you have self control), and I can easily grab one on my way to work or as a quick snack while I'm getting dinner together (whoever said you can't have dessert first was a moron). I like to substitute extra bananas or applesauce for the oil so be aware loaf pans don't work so well for this recipe (unless you like the ooey gooey uncooked center, in which case, have at it!).

I have three main go-to muffin recipes (sorry, you'll only get one today :)). This is my absolute fave: A sumptuous combination moist sweetness, crunchy nuts and melty chocolate chips, with the white pepper providing that perfect little bit of pizazz.

Chocolate Chip Banana Nut Muffins


3 overripe bananas, pureed
2 eggs
1/4 cup applesauce (or 1 extra banana, pureed)
splash of vanilla
3/4 cup brown sugar (1/4 cup more if you like really sweet muffins)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 + 1/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup chopped pecans

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degree and spray a 12-muffin tin.
  2. In a large bowl, blend bananas, eggs, applesauce and vanilla.
  3. With a whisk, stir in brown sugar, salt & pepper. Add baking soda and baking powder and whisk to combine.
  4. Add 1 cup of flour and stir just to combine (it'll get tough if you mix too much); the batter should be pretty thick, so if you had large bananas add up to 1/4 cup more flour.
  5. Fold in chocolate chips and pecans.
  6. Bake for 12-15 minutes; muffin tops will be firm and edges will be just browned.
These muffins will keep up to one week if stored in the fridge in an airtight container. They also freeze well, and you can easily double the recipe. (Banana Tip: If you have one or two but not enough to make muffins, throw in the freezer, then defrost when you are ready to use)

Other fun variations:
  • Sub in candied pecans or spicy candied pecans (but leave out the pepper).
  • Try milk chocolate or peanut butter chips, or chocolate covered raisins.
  • Leave out the chocolate chips and nuts, and sprinkle a combination of flour, melted butter, cinnamon and sugar over the muffins just before baking.
The cost:
bananas: .57
eggs: .33
applesauce: .35
sugar: .45
flour: .25
chocolate chips: .35
nuts: .40

Grand total: $2.70; makes 12 muffins

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mimi, Let's Stay In Tonight

I consistently hear people say, "I spend so much money on happy hours and eating out, but it's the only way to maintain my social life." Ladies and gents, I beg to differ.

You don't have go out to be social. Case and point: A bunch of us hadn't seen each other in a while due to busy schedules, so my friend JG invited everyone over for dinner last night.

The food was scrumptious. 1 steamy pan of spaghetti pie (see below) + 1 creamy green bean casserole + 1 huge taco salad + margaritas all around = 1 whopping good time.

Now clearly there are some friends you wouldn't do this with, and you don't need to entirely deprive yourself of eating out, but think about cutting back and eating in a bit more. To keep the night going, pop in a good movie, throw on some music or dig out that dusty DDR mat (you know you still have it). I promise, fun will be had by all.

Spaghetti Pie


1 box spaghetti (subs: angel hair or vermicelli)
1 12-14 oz can pasta sauce (JG likes Don Pepino)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup bread crumbs + 1 Tbsp olive oil (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and spray two 8-inch pie plates or one 9x13 inch pan.
  2. Cook pasta according to directions and drain.
  3. Remove 1/4 cup of each type of cheese and reserve in small bowl.
  4. Mix pasta, sauce and shredded cheese in a large bowl. Pour into pie plates or pan. Sprinkle Parmesan and reserved cheese over top (if you are using breadcrumbs, mix with olive oil and sprinkle over cheese).
  5. Bake covered 20-25 minutes, then uncovered until top is bubbly and browned, 10-15 minutes (may be slightly less if you are using pie plates).
The cost:
pasta: 1.29
sauce: 1.39
shredded cheese: 2.15
parm: .49

Grand Total: $5.32; serves 5-6 on it's own, 8-9 with a side & salad.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Burglar Supper: Tofu & Chickpea Stew

Last night's fare was what my mom liked to call a "Burglar Supper." After being away for the weekend, I got home from work too exhausted to think about grocery shopping but I still wanted to eat a good dinner. (Also, when I moved out I promised my mom I would never eat cereal and milk for dinner.) Hence, a Burglar Supper. The game: Stalk ingredient options in the fridge, freezer and pantry; pilfer; and throw something together. The results are usually pretty miraculous.

Last night was no exception. A survey of the pantry yielded a can each of fire roasted tomatoes and chickpeas (creamed corn too but couldn't make that one fit). A block of tofu, three slightly wilted scallions and 4 garlic cloves later, I was good to go.

The results: A richly flavored tofu & chickpea stew which I enjoyed over basmati rice with wilted arugula.

Tofu & Chickpea Stew


1 cup white basmati rice
2 cups water
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled
3 scallions, chopped
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 can fire roasted tomatoes
1 block of firm or extra firm tofu, drained and cubed
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 bag pre-washed arugula

  1. In a small pot, combine water, rice and 1/2 tsp of salt. Bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until done.
  2. Heat olive oil over medium flame in mid-size saucepan. Add garlic cloves and scallions and cook until soft, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add tofu and cook until just browned. Add tomatoes and chickpeas, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir to combine and heat through.
  4. Remove about a cup of cooked rice and place in bowl. Stir in arugula and allow to wilt. Spoon stew over rice, eat and enjoy!
The cost:
chickpeas: .89
tomatoes: 1.49
tofu: 1.99
scallions: .30
garlic: .15
basmati: .40
arugula: .50

Grand total: $5.72, and it last me for three meals.

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Because Frugality Doesn't Negate Decadence

In tough economic times, eating healthy (and flavorful) food can sometimes be a challenge. Fresh fruits and veggies cost more than frozen, and pre-packaged meals seem to be constantly on sale.

This blog has lots of ideas and recipes that I use on a regular basis while sticking to a tight budget. You'll see, you can make delicious, decadent dishes, and even entertain without breaking the bank.

I hope you enjoy, and happy fooding!

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