Saturday, September 12, 2009

Grocery Report

For this week I bought:

Produce Stand:
5 limes
1 head of garlic
1 bag of carrots
2 zucchini

2 lbs of raw dried chickpeas
1 litre of Spanish olive oil

Damascus Bakery:
1 package of 6 small sesame pita loaves

Trader Joes:
1 quart of milk
1 dozen eggs

Met Foods (my local):
2 24 oz jars of Classico spaghetti sauce

Fort Greene Farmer's Market:
7 apples

About that Classico spaghetti sauce. I was so tired and frustrated on Friday night, and as I wondering what I could make for dinner all I could think of was penne rigate with Classico spaghetti sauce, one of my former favorite quick comfort foods. I do have a can of tomatoes, and I thought I should make an arrabiata sauce that's relatively quick and easy. When I got home I realized that my cats needed new litter STAT, so I went off to Met. Wouldn't you know they were having a sale on Classico 2/$5? It put me $5 over budget but I was an easy mark.

This should last me a couple of months, but I've been so busy lately I may use up in the next couple of weeks.

At least it will ease me back into cooking more.

Anyway it was probably a good thing I didn't attempt to cook anything real because I absent mindedly put the penne in the cold water to boil...

Monday, September 7, 2009


In my little cooking article I mentioned that I used to feel lonely and bored in my kitchen, but this afternoon as I was looking around, thinking it was looking a bit disheveled, I realized that I'm now feeling very relaxed in there, perhaps because of the memories from the past year of the cooking and creating that's gone on there.

Last month saw a lot of waste. Having learned the fallacy of sunk costs I cleaned out the refrigerator and threw away some food that was well past its prime, even though I've otherwise been making myself eat a lot of things I would have thrown out in earlier times. La Bonne Cuisine does not make people sick.

And now that fall is coming I can turn my thoughts to things other than flavored ice and water!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Back Again

August was crazy and I hope that things get back to normal a little bit for me.

I went shopping today and here's what I got:

Produce Stand:
5 limes
8 nectarines
a bag of carrots
2 zucchini
1 cucumber
1 head of lettuce

1lb of Italian Roast Coffee, ground
1 lb of brown rice

Damascus Bakery:
1 pkg of 6 sesame pita loaves

Trader Joes:
16 oz container of Greek style yogurt
2 1lb packages of Trader Joes penne rigate

The craziness of August produced a lot of waste. It might take the month of September to get back to normal!

My favorite discovery in August had to do, perhaps not surprisingly, with cucumbers and mint. At an afternoon tea for my mother's 75th birthday in Tucson, Arizona, there were pitchers of water with cucumber slices and sprigs of mint. It was so refreshing, especially since I'd spent the morning walking around in 108 degree weather, admittedly in the shade and water mists of La Encantada outdoor mall, but still in need of something cool, simple and not loaded with caffeine and corn syrup.

It takes a long time to get from NYC to Tucson. There are no direct flights in the summer. And the airlines charge for food now, and it's as expensive and bad as in the airports. However, in DFW airport I discovered Dickey's Barbecue. A barbecue meat sandwich with a side of cole slaw set me back $7, but at that point I hadn't eaten all day and I was starving, and it was fantastic. Really good cole slaw, too, not overdressed! All other air travel food should hide their heads in shame. I want all my connecting flights to be in DFW from now on.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Grocery Day

It was not as bad as I thought:

1 litre of olive oil
1 lb of brown rice

Produce Stand:
7 limes
1 bag of carrots
1 pint of blueberries
4 peaches
1 head of curly lettuce (frisee?)

I had enough leftover for 2 cucumbers and a green pepper at the Farmer's Market.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Grocery Day

So much going on in the last week and I didn't get a chance to post last week's groceries, and it was a challenging week because I went a little over budget. I needed coffee and it threw me off my game. I have to say though that nothing can beat Sahadi's Italian Roast for $4.75/lb, I think it has to be the biggest bargain in NYC, especially considering that I used to spring for Illy at $12 for 10oz.

This week will be even more challenging, because I need to buy olive oil. They were having a tasting at Sahadi's last week, so I know what I'll be getting - I love a spicy super-tasty olive oil, but it's going to put a serious strain on my budget and creativity.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Check it

Check out my post on about learning to cook

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

101 Simple Salads

NYT: The Minimalist - Recipes for 101 Simple Salads for the Season

Don't just bookmark this one, copy and paste it and save it to your hard drive!

Grocery Day

Last Thursday's grocery day anyway. Here's what I bought this week:

Produce Stand:
7 limes
1 large head of loose leaf lettuce
1 bag of carrots

1.3 lb dried chickpeas
.3 lb moroccan olives

Damascus Bakery:
1 package of small sesame pita loaves

Trader Joe's
16 oz Greek-style yogurt

Grand Army Plaza Farmer's Market:
2 cucumbers
1 green pepper

100 fast easy recipes

Guardian: The 100 easiest, fastest recipes. Ever

From a variety of chefs and food writers, with an English summer slant. Numbers 63 - 100 are from Mark Bittman, who wrote 100 fast, easy recipes for the NYT a few years ago.

None of these seem exactly cheap, but I want to look at it again and see what I can use.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Tomato Crop in Peril Late Blight Fungus Threatens Tomato Crop in Northeast and Mid-Atlantic

My patio tomato gave me three tomatoes, two ripe and one green, and has totally succumbed to blight. I bought a new one at the farmer's market this morning for $4. I had better throw out the old plant before it affects the new one.

The blight affecting tomatoes is the same blight that affected the potatoes in mid-19th century Ireland and caused the Irish famine which caused me to be born in Illinois. Oh dear I can live without tomatoes for a year but my Irish genes can't live without potatoes!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Price of milk

As I was poking around the Ballymaloe Cookery School website I noticed a posting that said the price of milk has collapsed around the world. Is this true? I checked the University of Wisconsin dairy statistics and it appears to be true for the US:


Lettuce, cucumber and mint soup

The other day I was looking through a stack of old Gourmet magazines, and I found an intriguing recipe for Lettuce, Cucumber and Mint soup in the August 1990 issue, from a feature on the Ballymaloe Cookery School and their beautiful herb garden.

Following on from the delicate taste of my menthe a l'eau I thought this would be a perfect dish for the sweet summer weather we've been experiencing here in New York. And it tasted amazing; the flavors are delicate, unexpected and soothing.

The original recipe served 8, but I cut it down to 1 large serving; also, since I did not find the recipe either on the Ballymaloe Cookery School website or on Epicurious, I'm reproducing it here in its entirety, with my proportions for one serving.

Ballymaloe Cookery School Lettuce, Cucumber and Mint Soup
from Gourmet August 1990

1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup diced potato
1/4 cup diced cucumber
1 1/4 cup chicken broth
3/4 cup lettuce
1 tablespoon chopped mint
1 tablespoon cream or milk

In a heavy saucepan heat the butter over moderate heat until it begins to foam, add the onion, potatoes and salt and pepper to taste, and stir until the onion and potatoes are well coated with butter. Cook with the lid on over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until the onion is soft. Stir in the cucumber and the broth and simmer the mixture covered until the potatoes are tender, about ten minutes. Stir in the lettuce and simmer the mixture uncovered for 5 minutes. Stir in 1/2 half the mint and the tablespoon of cream or milk and blend. Serve garnished with mint.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Menthe à l'eau

Menthe à l'eau is a drink mostly for French children, the thought of which can send people of a certain age into reveries. I discovered it the summer I was a high school exchange student in a small town in France. At the café or before lunch you might have un menthe à l'eau while the grownups had their apperitifs (although sometimes we did get to have the apperitif), or in the afternoon after bicycling around in the hot sun you could make it at home with store-bought syrup - maybe serving the role that lemonade served for American kids before Big Gulps ruled. But oh how sophisticated I felt ordering un menthe à l'eau at the café in the nearest big town!

All the pictures of menthe à l'eau that I could find are bright flourescent green, which was the color of the store-bought syrup; however I was given to understand by my "family" that the final drink was meant to be a very lightly tinged green, or else it was a sign you had put in too much syrup.

I have a mint plant growing as part of my "kitchen garden" outside my front windows, and I was thinking of what uses I might make of it for summer refreshment, and of course menthe à l'eau was on my mind. I found this recipe at Epicurious for mint simple syrup. I made a half batch using 3/4 cup of mint leaves (packed), 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of water, enough for two or three large pitchers. The syrup makes an icy mint flavored water that is delicate and not overpowering, which as a grownup I appreciate more. Not to mention that it's practically gratuit.

Grocery Day

My groceries for this week:

Produce Stand:
5 limes
2 heads of leafy lettuce
1 bag of carrots
1 cucumber
2 pints of blueberries

.25 lb of French Feta
320 grams of tahini

Trader Joe's:
1 lb of frozen shrimp
1 6oz can of tuna
2 cans of chickpeas

Target had a sale on some small appliances and I bought a mini-chopper (1 1/2 cups) for $7! I have wanted a mini-chopper since my last one died; I loved it so. This one is actually a bit larger, although maybe not large enough for hummous. Perfect for pesto!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Kitchen Illiteracy

Grist: Not much convenience in “convenience foods” via Bitten.

One of the first things I learned when I got back to cooking at home was that you can cook a meal in the time it takes to wait for it at a takeout place, for less cost. This post talks about a UCLA study which found that families who used (so-called) convenience foods didn't save all that much time, and blames kitchen illiteracy for the misconception.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Urban Farming

NYT Will Allen: Street Farmer -

Fascinating article in the NYT Sunday Magazine section about Will Allen, a Milwaukee-based pioneer of urban farming.

If there’s no place in the food movement for low- and middle-income people of all races, says Tom Philpott, food editor of and co-founder of the North Carolina-based Maverick Farms, “we’ve got big problems, because the critics will be proven right — that this is a consumption club for people who’ve traveled to Europe and tasted fine food.”

The Brooklyn counterpart to Will Allen's Growing Power is Added Value, which operates its own farmer's market in Red Hook.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Grocery Day

Holidays, visiting relatives and sudden rainstorms can't stop me from my weekly grocery shopping. I thought I would post my grocery purchases to show you what I have to work with.

From Sahadi's:
1 lb of cocoa
.3 lb of French feta

Damascus Bakery:
1 package of 5 small sesame pita loaves

Produce stand:
7 limes
2 heads of red leaf lettuce
1 bag of carrots
1 bag of 4 red onions
2 pints of blueberries

Trader Joes:
12 oz Trader Joes Greek-style yogurt

Cocoa granita is now a staple. I have plenty of beans, eggs and chicken to get me through next week, and I expect to get plenty of free food over the holiday weekend.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


This weekend I made hummous for the first time, following a recipe from The Greens Cookbook and a helpful thread from Chowhound: Home made hummous just not as good as restaurants.

The takeaway from the Chowhound thread was: to get the desired consistency, do not be afraid to blend everything together for a long time (my handheld blender was fine) and add as much water from the chickpeas as it takes.

My hummous was definitely as good as any I've had. It was so exciting I kept tasting it to make sure it really was that good and by the next day it was gone. Next time I'll make a double batch and hopefully the novelty will have worn off...

...and for when the novelty does wear off, Casual Kitchen has a hummous blogroll of 16 different hummous recipes (many of which may upset the purists at Chowhound).

Sunday, June 21, 2009

30 Bucks a Week

I was intrigued to discover the blog 30 Bucks a Week, fellow Brooklynites who spend less than 30 bucks a week on food - that's $15 each. I spend $20 a week, and people are usually horrified when they find out, so part of why I started this blog was to document my cooking, even though I didn't want to talk about the exact amount I spend.

Twenty dollars was the minimum I felt comfortable spending, and I will admit it has not been easy. Like 30 Bucks a Week, my $20 doesn't include liquor, eating out or entertaining. But I am a grown single female who doesn't need to eat a lot or stick to a certain diet to stay healthy. All bets are off if you have a teenage boy in the house! Every situation is different, but everyone benefits from being mindful of ways to eat well while saving money.

Also, 30 Bucks a Week belong to the famous Park Slope Co-op, which I've inwardly debated joining for years. Mostly I notice it allows them to buy very small amounts of food that stores only sell as pre-packaged sizes. This may be the deciding factor to get me to join the Co-op, because I've long known that my friends who are members get pretty good prices on high-quality fruits and vegetables. Other frugal bloggers talk about farmer's markets, but the ones in NYC are pretty expensive; coupons are usually for things I don't want in the first place, and the grocery store scene in the big city is not good. I make a weekly trek to Atlantic and Court Street to shop at Trader Joe's, Sahadis, and a couple of good fruit and vegetable stands nearby, which is about a thirty minute walk each way. Taking the bus or subway there and back would add $4 (soon to be $4.50) and isn't worth it.

In addition to finding cheaper places to buy your food, one of the biggest things anyone can do to save money is to learn how to waste less in the kitchen. It's no joke to throw out food that was perfectly good when you bought it, but you forgot about it for six months while it rotted in the back of your refrigerator.

I don't want to feel deprived (eh, who does), but I don't mind being disciplined, mindful, and spending more time in the kitchen. To think that 3 years ago I could go for days without setting foot in my kitchen! Seriously!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Summer Strategies

Bitten Blog - Featured Recipe: Bean Salad

I am thinking this will be the summer of the bean salad. One of my favorite summer dishes is a chickpea salad that I make with canned chickpeas, but I have been looking to expand my repertoire. This recipe from Mark Bittman is more a template that I'm sure I'll be referring to many times over the next few months.

Tonight I have chickpeas soaking to make hummous tomorrow...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


If you are like I was, you need to be told how to make a quesadilla, and yet it is one of the easiest, quickest and cheapest things I know how to make for dinner. It is faster than waiting for takeout and easier than making a grilled cheese sandwich (which is basically what it is).

My most basic quesadilla is a flour tortilla and pepper jack cheese, folded in half and cooked with a small amount of olive oil in a frying pan over a medium flame for about 3 minutes on each side. I nearly always make two at once; the two half-moons fit neatly in the pan and it's just the right amount that seems to satisfy me.

If I have enough coriander I put a few springs on top of the cheese; I've also included chopped spring onions, chives, sauteed sweet onions or diced red onions. You could also include chopped jalapenos or some chili powder.

When they're done I'll top them with salsa or mashed avocado.

Quesadillas were one of the first things I taught myself to make when I got back into cooking, when time was more of an issue than money, but now that money is the issue quesadillas are still on heavy rotation.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Guardian readers' feasts for a fiver

Those grumpy Guardian readers came up with their own cheap meals, and they are even better than the professionals, all on one page:

Crostini with cherry vine tomatoes and basil with a rocket (arugula) and parmesan salad
Rigatoni with tomato, aubergine (eggplant), basil and mozzarella

Courgette (zucchini) soup with garlic croutons
Spaghetti with crab, chilli and garlic

Spinach, lemon and peppered mackerel pilaf
Berry ice cream

Cabbage bhajis
Chana masala (chickpea curry) with rice

I'm most intrigued by the chana masala, which I may try very soon. Aubergine and courgette sound so much prettier than eggplant and zucchini, don't they?

Sunday, May 31, 2009

I made a pizza based on a post from Bitten, the NY Times food blog, using this pizza dough recipe from Epicurious.

For the topping I used asparagus, cut into one inch pieces and then sliced in half (as recommended by Bitten), diced red onion, crumbled French feta and Moroccan olives from Sahadi's, and some crumbled, dried rosemary. The combination of flavors was wonderful, but next time I would use more feta and shorten the cooking time a bit, because the crusts were too crackery for me.

I got a wee bit carried away at Sahadi's last Thursday, using up more than half of my weekly food budget. Part of the problem is that just walking into that store makes me swoon with hunger, but also, since most of the food is sold in bulk, it is easy to buy more than you really need. I won't be needing olives for at least 3 months, and I may never need to buy oregano ever again. But the amount of feta I bought, 1/4lb, was just right for the week.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Real Food Can Be Cheaper Than Junk Food - Bitten Blog -

Real Food Can Be Cheaper Than Junk Food - Bitten Blog -

An interesting discussion going on about a subject near to my heart. However, I need to gather my thoughts about some of the comments, that the article is out-of-touch and demeaning to poor people. I know very well that there is poverty in this city of the kind where even a heat source is a luxury, much less pots and pans and easy access to cheap groceries. On the other hand I strongly believe there are people on the edge of poverty who would benefit a lot from learning to cook cheap, healthy, delicious meals with the equipment they have at hand. It doesn't do anyone any good to ignore solutions that are out there.

The outrageous gap between the poor and wealthy in this country is not OK. But it is ridiculous to throw up your hands in despair when anything that could help is offered; I will certainly continue to find ways to eat fabulously with no money.

Monday, May 25, 2009

An Experiment in Cheap Living (from 1872) * Get Rich Slowly

An Experiment in Cheap Living (from 1872) * Get Rich Slowly

Brilliant extract, from an old book, on the cost of eating - and most surprisingly how little was considered sufficient - in 1872.

I know it sounds alarming and drastic, but enormous sums of money could be saved by the average person giving up only junk food snacks, treats and sodas and eating a bit less.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Chocolate Granita

I love chocolate ice cream, but all treats and snacks are out of my budget. What to do? I bought some cocoa powder at Sahadis for $3.00/lb and thought of finding a recipe for chocolate granita like they have at Caffe Roma on Broome Street. I was lucky on my first try with this recipe on that uses only cocoa, sugar and water.

I had heard that granitas were time-consuming because you have to fork it about every hour or so, but really so what. It is soooo cold and soooo chocolatey and I am soooo happy! It is delicious.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Tonight's dinner was one of my favorite standbys of late, built around a boneless, skinless frozen chicken breast, because a few weeks ago at Trader Joe's I found a bag of about 17 boneless, skinless chicken breasts for $7.99 (I'm relatively new to the Trader Joe's experience so I can still get excited by this sort of thing).

One frozen boneless, skinless chicken breast
One potato
Frozen peas
Fresh or dried herbs
One Tablespoon of Olive Oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Peel the potato and discard the peels (I'm not yet advanced enough to do anything with them). Then continue slicing the potato with the peeler knife so you have very thin slices of potato. Toss with olive oil.

Place frozen chicken breast and frozen peas in a glass pie plate. Cover the peas with the potato shavings. Add fresh or dried herbs over the chicken. Tonight I used dried tarragon leftover from a recipe last year that called for fresh tarragon; I also like to use fresh thyme from my windowsill, but sadly my thyme has died. Rosemary is also very good.

Cook the chicken, potatoes and peas for 40 minutes.

If I had a mandoline, slicing the potatoes would be so much easier.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

It seems the Guardian readers were pretty grumpy about the budget series, complaining about the absence of meat in the dishes, the failure to account for the cost of the gas used in cooking(!), the lack of imagination of Jamie Oliver's dish, and the fact that the dishes didn't seem to be as cheap as promised.

Rose Gray's asparagus risotto, which I made tonight, got the best reviews, and it was indeed delicious and decadent. Something about a good risotto leaves me feeling indescribably contented and happy, but I had never actually made a risotto myself before this. It was very easy! Gray's directions are good, and I've been fortunate in having watched Italian friends make it, which really only made me understand how easy it is.

The Guardian recipes are written with metric measurements but translating is easy:

125g risotto rice
I had a box of arborio rice from Trader Joe's that conveniently said 500g on it, so I used one-quarter of that.

I've had this box for a long time and I don't remember how much it cost.

300g asparagus
This works out to a little over half a pound, and the bunch I bought was a little over one pound. I used half the bunch.

Fairway was having a special of $2.86 a pound.

½ tbsp parsley leaves
I have a pot of flat parsley growing on my kitchen window sill.

½ tbsp mint leaves
I don't have any mint so I just used twice as much parsley

½ red onion
The red onion I bought at Fairway was so big I only used one-quarter.

The whole onion cost $.50.

25g parmesan
I used what felt right.

I keep parmesan on hand.

1 chicken stock cube, in 750ml water
750 ml works out to be about 3 cups.

I used chicken broth from Fairway that unfortunately cost $2.89 for a large container, when I could have gotten it at Trader Joe's for $1.99. Oh well.

50g unsalted butter
This works out to be 1.5 tbsp.

I keep butter on hand

1.5tbsp extra virgin olive oil
I keep olive oil on hand

Sea salt, Black pepper - I didn't taste the need for these!

The cost for the asparagus, onion and chicken broth came to roughly $4.50, and it did indeed make two servings.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Rose Gray's recipe for asparagus and herb risotto | Life and style | The Guardian

The Guardian UK: Rose Gray's recipe for asparagus and herb risotto

This one sounds good. I may have to try it this weekend.

It's coupled with a recipe for caramelized baked pears.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Delia Smith on how to be a budget gourmet | Life and style | The Guardian

The Guardian UK: Delia Smith on how to be a budget gourmet

Delia Smith is sort of a Julia Child in the UK - she made haute cuisine possible for the average person. Now she kicks off a weeklong feature of famous English cooks offering recipes for budget meals that is sure to be fabulous.

In her opening essay she talks about something which is near to my heart: avoiding waste in the kitchen. Studies show we throw away between 20% and 30% of the food we buy, so obviously cutting down waste is an important way to save money.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

I've read on some frugal blogs that farmer's markets have better prices, but unfortunately that is not true here in New York City.

For the last two years, my budget has been $25 a week for the farmer's market alone, and even though I would prefer to buy local, this year I will have to hold myself back.

One good bargain is herbs and greens for planting. Yesterday at the Fort Greene farmer's market one of the farmer's was selling herbs, lettuce and tomato plants for $2.25 each, or 3 for $6.

I bought a cilantro, a leaf lettuce and a cherry tomato plant for a little balcony I have in the front that gets full morning sun.

Last year I discovered that lettuce bolts when the weather gets hot, meaning it shoots up like a corn stalk, and the leaves become absolutely inedible. I thought to myself, how bad can they be? Trust me, they were inedible. SO yesterday as I was repotting the lettuce I realized that it was suspiciously tall, and I hope the 90 degree weather we had last week didn't cause it to bolt. I would like to get at least a month's worth of lettuce for my $2.25.

I also learned that cilantro does not like heat, which is odd, because I associate it with Mexico and hot weather food. I am keeping it in my kitchen where there is less sun, so we'll see how it does.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Beginning

I love food but I am broke and not the best cook, and yet I have been surviving on a $20 a week grocery budget. I can scarcely believe it myself. This blog will be my attempt at documenting the experience.

My rules of thumb:

$20 a week (on average) is for food only, not incidentals like light bulbs or laundry detergent.

As much as possible, everything I buy is a raw ingredient. I can't or won't make my own cheese or tortillas, but I have done a lot with milk, flour and eggs. A bag of potato chips is not an option however.

My advantages:

I am female, so I don't need to eat that much anyway.

I live alone and don't entertain much; if I do, it will be outside the $20 budget.

I have a well-equipped kitchen, though it is a small city kitchen.

bon appetit!