Thursday, October 30, 2008

Best Hummus

I love hummus. I have a LOT of hummus recipes, a few listed as "best" (or, the best I'd come up with then). I have had difficulty getting that creamy texture you get at restaurants. I did once find a recipe that gave me that...but 45 mins of pushing the stuff through a sieve (to get off the skins)...not my idea of fun.

Which is why I was happy to try the recipe from Cook's Illustrated. I love these guys. They take apart a recipe bit by bit. And they didn't disappoint. And no sieve! I have adjusted the flavors a bit.

Best Hummus
1 c. dried garbanzo beans: 0.65
4 T lemon juice (fresh is best, but I totally cheat sometimes): 0.24
6 T tahini (or a mixture of tahini and peanut butter): 0.56
3 T olive oil: 0.33
2 cloves garlic, pressed (0.10
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp cumin: 0.07
pinch cayenne
1/3 c. water
Total: $1.95 for about 3 cups, or $0.16 for 1/4 cup serving

Soak beans 4 to 8 hours. Cook in pressure cooker for 18 min. Cool, drain.

Mix water and lemon juice in a bowl. Put drained beans, salt, cumin, cayenne, and garlic in food processor. Process until almost smooth, about 15-20 sec. Scrape down sides.

With processor running, add lemon juice/water mixture through feed tube. Scrape bowl and process one more minute.

Mix oil and tahini/peanut butter in a bowl. Start processor again, feed mixture through the feed tube. Continue processing and scraping until it is smooth, about 15-20 sec.

Sometimes I add flavorings such as sun-dried tomato or kalamata olives.

This makes a lot of hummus. I froze some.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Spinach Balls

This is a great little appetizer or snack. I liberally substitute whatever greens we have from the farm, collards, kale (though not much since I've discovered roasted kale), and chard. This little gem of a recipe came from my friend Pamina more than a decade ago, and we make it regularly. (Though the original recipe called for a full stick of butter.)

Spinach Balls
2 10-oz pkg frozen chopped spinach, drained and squeezed dry: $2.50
2 cups bread crumbs ($0 - seriously, we toss all heels and scraps into a bucket in the freezer)
1 medium onion, minced and sauteed: 0.23
3 T. butter or margarine, melted: 0.19
2 eggs, beaten: 0.42
1/2 c. grated parmesan: 0.82
1/2 tsp each pepper and garlic salt: 0.10
Total: $4.26 for approx 49, $0.09 each

Mix ingredients. Chill a few hours. Form into balls. Bake at 350F until brown (20-30 min).

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Mediterranean Lima Beans

I made these on Tuesday, combined two different recipes, from Veganomicon and World Vegetarian.

Mediterranean Lima Beans
2 lb fresh, unshelled limas (we got these from the CSA, my two year old helped me shell them). (3.00?)
12 oz fresh tomatoes, diced (1.50)
1 medium onion, diced (0.23)
1 medium carrot, diced (0.25)
2 cloves garlic, pressed (0.10)
1 tsp red wine vinegar (0.05)
1 tsp dried thyme (0.05)
1 tsp dried oregano (0.05)
1 tsp salt
black pepper to taste
1/4 c. fresh parsley, chopped (0.20)
1 tsp maple syrup (0.09)
2 T olive oil (0.22)
Total: $5.74 for four generous servings (we ate it as a main dish). $1.43 per serving.

(You can reduce the price by using dried beans and canned tomatoes. We had the fresh ones...)

Shell and rinse the lima beans. Cover with water, bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer 25 min. Drain.

Saute onion and carrot in olive oil for about 5 min, or until soft. Add garlic and saute 1 min. Add diced tomatoes and cook until soft. Add remaining ingredients, including lima beans, and stir.

Put in baking dish. Bake covered at 375 for 30 min. Remove lid and bake 10 to 15 more min.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Split Pea Soup

I combined a couple of different recipes to make this soup. Day 1 it was "eh". Day 3 it was delicious.

Split pea soup
1 lb dried split peas (0.69)
1 medium carrot, chopped (0.25)
4 bay leaves (0.16)
1 T. veg bouillion (0.20)
6 c. water
1 bell pepper (0.75)
2 small onions, divided (0.40)
1 tsp cardamom (0.15)
4 cloves garlic (0.20)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Total: $2.80 for about 10 cups, or $0.28 each.

Place split peas (rinsed and picked through), diced carrot, ONE diced onion, bay leaves, and water in a crockpot. Cook on low 6-8 hours, until soft.

Saute 2 cloves garlic, other diced onion, and diced bell pepper in olive oil until soft. Add to soup. Remove bay leaves. Add cardamom, salt, pepper to taste. Add final two cloves pressed garlic. Puree in blender or using immersion blender (I love that thing).

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Free Range Chicken

I have been doing a lot of reading about food over the past several years. Fast Food Nation, The Omnivore's Dilemma, What to Eat, The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter. All of these books lead me towards eating foods that are fresher, organic, local, and sustainable. I've learned a lot about factory farming, feedlots, the egg business, the dairy business. While I still do not have a moral problem with eating meat (I did grow up in a hunting family), I would like the meat I do eat to have a reasonably happy life.

Over the years our meals have gotten more and more vegetarian and vegan, and more and more local. We've been members of our local CSA for about 8 years now. We shop at farmer's markets and farm stands. The one area that I haven't gone yet, however, is local, free-range meat and eggs.

There are two main reasons for this: 1. I am frugal. Growing up in a large, rural, poor family, I sometimes cannot bring myself to spend more than I need to on something. And free range meat is expensive. 2. I don't eat very much meat or eggs. So I rationalize it by saying: "if we only eat one chicken and one roast a month, does it really matter?"

In any event, I finally made the leap this weekend. We had friends over for dinner, and I bought a chicken from Lily's Chickens (they also sell eggs) at the farmer's market. One 3 to 3.5 pound chicken is $12. Generally, I buy my chickens on sale at the grocery store, for $0.59/pound. One chicken is about $2.50 for 5 lbs. So the free range chicken is more expensive and a lot smaller.

I simply roasted the chicken using the Roast Sticky Chicken recipe from It was enough to feed the four adults and two toddlers present, with maybe a little leftover for a sandwich. I completely forgot to save the carcass for stock. But boy, was it good. We could honestly taste the difference. Now I know why my Chinese friends talk about how tasteless American chickens are - they are used to free range. My husband said "we're buying this stuff from now on."

We will probably continue on the path of eating less meat and making more of it local and free range. Because after all, we can afford it. Not everyone can. And I figure if I support my local farmers, maybe it will become more affordable for everyone else. (It also makes us less dependent on Big Agriculture). Next time I need eggs, we're trying their eggs. Not cheap at $4 a dozen.

All in all, our dinner - which included a salad with organic greens, pomegranate seeds, apples, and avocado, the chicken, and aloo gobi (Indian curried potatoes and cauliflower from World Vegetarian) by Madhur Jaffrey, cost about $25 - including the snacks (hummus and guacamole) that our friends brought. Much healthier, cheaper, and tastier than eating out!


This is the first year since we joined our CSA - oh, 8 years ago or so - that we've gotten more than one pumpkin. Last week I chose a carving pumpkin. I chose it pretty poorly, darned thing won't stand up - so we'll have to carve it to look like it's been knocked over somehow.

This week we got another pumpkin. I walked into the field to choose (that's just so much fun), and got into a conversation with a 7-or-8 year old girl on the virtues of an "eating" pumpkin vs. a carving pumpkin. She chose to pick up a very large sugar pumpkin (one that I decided was too big). I selected a slightly smaller sugar pumpkin.

Then on Friday night I roasted it. First, I microwaved it to soften the skin (3 min on high). That's a tip I learned here on the internet. Then, I sliced it in half crosswise, scooped out the seed (1.5 cups!) and placed the halves face down in two baking sheets (with lips) - lined with foil. I added a little water. Then I roasted it for 1.5 hours at 375. I flipped over the halves so they would cool, scooped out the flesh, and put it in the fridge.

I got a fair bit of water, a couple of cups. I suppose I could have saved it for soup, but I just dumped it. I also got about 5.5 cups of pumpkin. I roasted the seeds.

Saturday morning I baked Pumpkin Apple Muffins, & packed up the rest of the puree into the freezer. I had planned on giving a bag to our friends with the 6-month old baby, but forgot (perfect baby food!) Maybe we'll drop some off in the coming weeks.

Pumpkin Apple Streusel Muffins:
1.5 c. all purpose flour: 0.28
1 c. whole wheat flour: 0.22
1/2 c. sugar: 0.19
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten: 0.42
1.5 tsp cinnamon: 0.25
0.5 tsp ground ginger: 0.05
1/4 tsp nutmeg: 0.05
1/4 tsp ground cloves: 0.05

1 cup organic pumpkin puree: 1.00
1/2 c. vegetable oil: 0.25
2 cups chopped apple (organic): 1.33
1/2 c. raisins: 0.22

2 T. flour: 0.02
2 T sugar: 0.05
1/2 tsp cinnamon: 0.08
4 tsp butter: 0.08

Total: $4.54 for 20 muffins, or $0.23 each

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease 18-20 muffin cups.

2. In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, spices, baking soda, and salt. In separate bowl, mix together eggs, pumpkin, and oil.

3. Add pumpkin mixture to dry ingredients. Stir just to moisten. Fold in apples and raisins. Spoon into muffin cups.

4. Mix streusel topping in a small bowl. Sprinkle over muffins.

5. Bake for 35 min, or until toothpick comes out clean.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

$25 a week menu

There's been a flurry of e-mails going around the frugal living blog-o-sphere about the possibility of living for a week on $25 worth of food. It stemmed from the amount that a typical food stamp person gets. I read this post at Cheap Healthy Good, where she randomly picked a zip code, found the nearest stores, picked no more than two, looked at the sales flyers, and tried to keep under $25.

Whew! She did an excellent job, I must say, especially since she's in NY and ended up with a city in Michigan. In the past, for fun, I've done a similar exercise (allowing myself to use things in the pantry, but counting their cost). I've also done a 3-week trend, where you use the "unused" money from week 1 for week two. Of course, economies of scale mean that if I'm trying to feed my family of three on $75/ week, it's not too terribly hard. And the most recent times that I've tried this, it was at least a year ago - and food prices have gone crazy since then. So I thought I'd give it another try, using my local stores.

So here were my rules: I'm starting with zero in the pantry. I'm shopping at only two stores - Trader Joe's and Tri County Produce. I know they aren't necessarily your typical grocery store, but that's the point. I rarely shop at the grocery stores because they don't have the best prices. If I'm not allowed to "build up a pantry" by shopping sales at the grocery stores (and cherry picking - which requires shopping at 4-5 stores), then I'm not going to shop at a regular store for this test. Frankly, the sales fliers don't tell you enough about pricing. I see some pasta on sale for $1.25/lb, but what if the store brand is 0.80? It's not listed on the flier. See my point? You don't know the generics prices...

I'd like to point out that I'm not actually going to try eating this way for a week. But it could be done.

The food:

Apples, 3lb bag, Tri County, 3.00
bananas, 7 @0.19 each, TJ's, 1.33
bread, 1 loaf whole wheat, TJ's, 2.00
pasta, 1 lb, TJ's, 1.00
peanut butter, 1 lb, TJ's, 1.79
jam, TJ's, 2.00
milk, 1 gal, TJ's, 3.19
canned tomatoes, 28 oz, TJ's, 1.19
carrots, 2 lb, Tri County, 0.66
1 onion, Tri County, 0.20
1 head garlic, Tri County, 0.40
broccoli, 1 lb, Tri County, 0.89
canned salmon, 13 oz, TJ's, 2.39
oatmeal, 10 oz steel cut, Tri County, 1.25
canned beans, 1 can, TJ's, 0.69
salt, Tri County, 0.50
oil, 16 oz, 1.50
Total: $23.98

Save the last $1 for some rice and dried beans next week, maybe spring for some salsa.

The meals - this is where boredom sets in, breakfast and lunch are same every day. But I ate like that as a kid...
Day 1-7: breakfast: oatmeal with diced apple, milk.
Day 1-7: lunch: PB&J (2 T peanut butter, 1 T jam), banana
Day 1-7: snack: apple, except there's only 13 in a 3# bag, so I come up short one day.

Day 1-4: pasta (1 cup) with sauce made with canned tomatoes, canned beans, onions, garlic, one diced carrot. Cup of milk. Stir-fried veggies.
Day 3-7: salmon patties (salmon, bread crumbs from bread heels, salt) fried in oil. Stir fried broccoli and/or carrot. Cup of milk.
Added bonus: salmon patties makes about 5, so you'll see that days 3 and 4 you get BOTH pasta and salmon.

Calories per day (approximate)
2 c. 1% milk: 240
2 T peanut butter: 180
1 T jam: 100
2 slices bread: 200
1 c. oatmeal: 100
2 apples: 120
1 large banana: 100
1 T oil: 120
1 c pasta: 200
1/2 c. sauce: 50
assorted veggies: 25
1/2 c beans: 100
1/5 can salmon: 125

Total for the day when doubled up on pasta and salmon: 1760, which is a fine # for me, but not a large male.
Total for pasta only day: 1645
Total for salmon only day: 1510

In any event, this is still considered "dieting" for me. I did make sure that I got at least 3 servings each of fruit and veggies per day...a total of about 5 lbs of fruit and 5 lbs of veggies for the week.

Still, I ended up with $1.02 left for the week, plus there's leftover peanut butter (18 Tbsp), pasta (1/2 lb, unless I eat it on the hungry days), salt, oil, and garlic.

Lesson learned? You can do it. It's tough, it takes serious planning and repetition (at least until you use those extra $1 to build up a pantry, instead of say, buying a soda). I think the point, however, is that food stamps aren't supposed to be your only source of food.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Green Soup

This week I decided to make soup with a little of this, and a little of that. Mostly leftovers or things from the CSA. I did have to buy some potato for the soup.

Green Soup
3 organic yukon gold potatoes $1.38
2 organic zucchini: 1.15
1 medium onion: 0.33
2 leeks 1.00?
2 cloves garlic: 0.20
1/2 lb green beans: 1.00
0.2 lb fresh organic spinach: 0.64?
1 T butter: 0.06
2 T olive oil: 0.22
1 tsp thyme: 0.10
1 tsp marjoram: 0.10
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
4 c. homemade chicken stock (free)
3 c. water
Total: $6.18 for 12 cups, or $0.52 per cup. Served with about 1/2 oz cheese (parmesan and/or mozzarella) each cup (0.14), for $0.66 per cup.

Saute onions, leeks, potatoes, and zucchini in butter and olive oil for 10 min until partially cooked. Give a couple of pieces of zucchini and potato to your toddler, who is begging (optional).

Add spices and liquids. Simmer for 30 min until ingredients are soft. Add spinach and simmer for 5 min. Remove from heat. Let cool 5 min. Puree. (I used my fancy new immersion blender, but you can cool further and use a regular blender).

We served with pesto pizzas on middle eastern bread (last year's pesto, fresh tomatoes, mozzarella).

Sunday, October 5, 2008


We recently embarked on a plan for our first camping trip with our toddler. "Camping" evokes many different images - from "dirt-bagging" to living in the luxury of a 30-foot motor home - and everything in-between.

My husband comes from a camping family. They didn't have a whole lot of money growing up, so vacations were often camping and hiking trips (the camping of the tent variety). My family was poor, so we solved the "how to vacation on a budget" problem by not vacationing. The closest I came to camping growing up was pitching a tent with three friends in the back yard for my 14th birthday. And maybe a night in a tent at Lake Erie.

Nonetheless, my husband and I have camping gear. Our camping experiences together are pretty sparse for having been married 12 years. We camped up the coast of California one night several years ago. We took a 9-day driving vacation in the Southwest a few years ago - with one night camping at the Grand Canyon and one night at Joshua Tree (the remaining nights were cheap hotels or nights with friends and family). The closest to camping that I have done since is walking in the Breast Cancer 3-day three times and volunteering twice, which involves sleeping in a tent on the ground...there are hot showers, but someone else is providing food.

Thus, it was with excitement and trepidation that we embarked on a "group" camping trip with folks from our parenting group. In the end, we had three families interested (a few others dropped out). We weren't going far - just a 45-min drive away. How would our son handle the sleeping? Would we be all bored, excited? We pretty much had all of the required equipment - tent, sleeping bags, cooler. Our friends have pop-up campers or camping vans, so they were taking care of the milk for the toddlers. And we decided to borrow an air-mattress, because one of our two camping mats sprung a leak. We exchanged cell phone #'s and were ready to go.

My husband came home early, and we spent about an hour and a half packing up on a Friday afternoon. Then we're off to pick up ice and go. We arrived at the campsite at about 6:45 pm. Nobody was there...this wasn't too terribly surprising, as our neighbors hadn't left yet. But the other family wasn't there after the tent was up and we were prepping dinner, I checked my cell messages. Now, if you know me, you know that I don't really use my cell - it's a pre-paid cell. I first listen to a long, rambling wrong number. Then, the dreaded call "hi, I'm at the grocery store. Because of the predicted rain, we decided to cancel and postpone until November. We figured since you guys were in a tent, you wouldn't want to get wet". Well, we're pretty capable of handling wetness, and had decided to go despite the prediction of rain.

Ah, bummer. So now we're alone, and going to remain so. It's dark, we paid for two nights of a site with a hookup (even though we are only in a tent), and worst of all, we don't have an air-mattress. We layered every blanket, towel, and sleeping bag except one on the bottom of the tent. It wasn't so bad.

The next day we decided to pack up and leave after breakfast - do some exploring then. That's when we discovered the store (open until 8 pm, and it had air mattresses!) We learned that there were great bike paths and running paths, lots of playgrounds for the kids, places to rent kayaks - generally, a good place - we are definitely going back. (For those of you in So. Cal. - it's Lake Casitas). We went for a little hike, got rained on, and then headed home, snacking in the car. It was an expensive weekend because of the two nights and the hookup, and we learned some things before our next trip:

1. We need our own air mattress. You just never know.
2. We need a second headlamp, and at least one lantern.
3. We should consider renting a kayak for some fun.
4. There were better campsites with nice views, cheaper (no hookups). We'll do that.
5. Cast-iron skillet? Maybe.

All in all, we had fun and so did the toddler. As we were driving around exploring, I just said "these are my kind of people", and my husband laughed because he was thinking the same thing. I guess I don't know very many people who consider camping to be a "vacation". Whether you are in an RV or in a tent, it can be fun (and this particular location will rent you an RV too).

We ended up having one of the other couples over for dinner the next night. The third couple wanted to have a potluck, but I believe her husband got sick (stomach flu) during the day - so maybe it was best that he wasn't out camping.

I think we plan on doing a lot more camping in the years to come - tent camping and CAR camping. As much as I like the idea of camping, I want running water.