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!