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.