Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Good and Cheap

As I mentioned in a previous post, I've been motivated lately to spend less and save more and I've had a little success.  When a friend of mine shared a link to a cookbook designed for those who are trying to live on a food stamp budget, I knew I had to try it out.  I know what you're thinking:  ANOTHER PRIVILEGED WHITE LADY TRIES TO LIVE ON A FOOD STAMP BUDGET.  SHE WILL SHOW THE FATTIES HOW IT'S DONE.  Except we didn't try to live on a food stamp budget;  I just downloaded the free Good and Cheap cookbook and stuck to its recipes for most of our meals for several weeks.



The NPR story is about Leanne Brown, a food studies student, who wrote a cookbook designed to help people eat well for little money.  This is not your typical thrift cookbook.  There's beautiful photography, and nary a casserole or a rice-and-beans recipe in sight.  What makes this cookbook different is that it gives you permission to serve humble meals with pride and that it elevates humble foods to an art form.  I'm no stranger to thrifty cooking, but the chapter "Things on Toast" was kind of a revelation to me.  Why NOT just cook up a bunch of collards and beans, or broccoli and anchovies (a delicious combination) and serve it on toast and call it a day?

Many of the recipes in Good and Cheap are vegetarian.  A key way to save money on food is to eat less meat.  We had already been eating at least one or two vegetarian dinners each week, but now we've increased that number to four or five.

At this point we have tried many of the recipes in Good and Cheap, and the only failure was the broiled eggplant salad, because none of us really like eggplant, although we keep trying.  I started with the lentil soup.  Lentils have to be the ultimate cheap food and my usual lentil soup recipe is Elizabeth David's sophisticated lemon-spiked version.  The Good and Cheap lentil soup is flavored with fresh ginger, cumin and mustard seeds, and turmeric.  Served with whole wheat flat bread, it was delicious and filling.

A surprise success was the roasted cauliflower tacos.  My kids were outraged at the idea of this recipe and didn't want me to make it, but I'd already bought the ingredients, so I put my foot down and cooked it anyway.  After dinner Seamus told me that he'd always hated cauliflower, but he now he liked it, as long as it was prepared the way I'd done for the cauliflower tacos.

The biggest hit from this cookbook was the pulled pork--which I don't necessarily think of as thrifty, but Brown says this is a special occasion recipe, and pork butt was on sale at Harris-Teeter.  This turned out to be the best pulled pork I have ever eaten.  Brown suggests that you cook it overnight, which I did, putting it in a Dutch oven into a 200 degree oven for twelve hours.  In the morning, I shredded the pork and put it in the fridge, and that evening, all I had to do was shred a little cabbage for a quick slaw and the meal was done.  This recipe makes a ton and I froze some, to use in tacos in a future dinner.

And I did find that I've been spending less at the grocery store, although I'm still spending more than I'd like.  We seem to spend a lot on snacks and breakfast foods.  Also, food prices seem to be really high in Charlottesville--a sort of affluence tax.  Cville people:  do you remember around the year 2001 or thereabouts, when there was a discount grocery store in the Vinegar Hill shopping center near downtown, and it was somehow forced out of business (lease not renewed or similar tactic) because a discount grocery store was not upscale enough for exquisite downtown Charlottesville and it gave the tourists the wrong idea.  What tourist-approved business went into its place?  Staples.






10 comments:

  1. I remember that grocery store and was sad to see it go. Other than Reid, there's nowhere for poor (is that un-PC?) people to shop downtown. If Aldi comes to town I will celebrate for months.

    This vegan blogger has been doing "things on toast" posts for years and has a cookbook coming out. She's one of the few people who makes vegan food look incredibly appetizing.

    http://ohdeardrea.blogspot.com/p/food.html

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    1. Thanks! I've never heard of this blogger!

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  2. I've had several conversations about that cookbook in recent months - while it's quite lovely, the general consensus among critics (and myself) is that it is not for her intended audience, inner city SNAP users. But that's a different conversation. It is pretty and the recipes look good, but I've not made anything out of it.
    Food prices here are redonkulous. We went to lunch at Beer Run Saturday and it was a huge reminder exactly why I hate to eat out here- overpriced lousy food. I do a good bit of shopping at the farmer's market, but I tend to buy in mass quantities where I get better prices. Most of the time, I do put up some of it, but not always. Sometimes it just makes more sense to buy the 25 pound box of tomatoes for $15 than a small handful for the same amount of money. I've been told I should write more about how we manage to eat cheap but most of it is because of all the canning I do, which is freaking work.
    I had totally forgotten about that grocery store. I'm not sure I ever shopped there, but it closed back in the days when we had two full time jobs and no kids, so eating on a budget wasn't a blip on our radar screen.

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    1. The food at Beer Run is awful and ridiculously overpriced. I don't understand how anyone can eat more than one meal there. I tried driving over the Waynesboro or to Culpeper to shop and I saved enough money to justify the extra gas use (especially when I went to the Aldi in Culpeper) but I don't have time to drive for an hour to buy groceries. I feel like the jacked up prices here are an absolute scandal and that some journalist needs to do an expose. Even gas is 20 cents per gallon cheaper in Orange County, and it's cheaper on the other side of the mountain and their excuses about the supply chain are straight up bullshit.

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  3. This cookbook looks awesome. Thanks for sharing about it. I have a similar cauliflower story. No one here liked it until I made a cumin-roasted batch. Now they ASK for it. Also, the discount grocery store/Staples? I live on the other coast and can smell the conspiracy from here a decade+ later!

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    1. Yes, it was pretty rotten of them. And a locally owned office supply store downtown went out of business--probably because of Staples.

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  4. Pulled pork and cauliflower tacos sound delicious.

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    1. I can't wait to make both of these again.

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  5. I need to get my hands on this book. I love the idea of it--and I agree, you can eat cheap without being unhealthy or even tasteless. And huzzah for toast! EVERYTHING on toast! But mostly an egg with a slice of cheese, the egg cooked 40 seconds in a microwave. Yum.

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    1. If you follow the link to the NPR story, you can download the cookbook as a PDF for free!

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