Thursday, December 23, 2010

Veggie Might: Eat Tamari Almonds!

Written by the fabulous Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about all things Vegetarian.

Almonds are my go-to healthy, everyday snack that picks me up when I’m fading in the afternoon and gives me a boost without filling me up before a workout. Does that sound like copy for an Almond Board ad? Forgive me; I’ve been pulling some crazy hours at an ad agency these past few weeks.

However, it’s true what I said about almonds. I love them and eat them all the time, in teeny little handfuls of 24 almonds because 24 almonds is an ounce, and an ounce is a serving, and a serving is what a Reasonable Person shoves in her mouth when she needs a snack before her blood sugar crashes.

When I’m unreasonable, I eat several servings which equal several ounces which equal at least 96 almonds and sometimes more. But I forgive myself because I could be eating that many potato chips or ginger cookies, which are my true weaknesses.

My recent almond of choice has been the tamari variety, roasted in soy sauce. They are right there in the bulk bin next to the raw almonds that I’ve loved for so long. I was skeptical at first. They must be roasted in oil, I thought, not appropriate for everyday snacking. Not so! Only soy sauce, says the ingredients list on the bin. They’re a skosh cheaper than the organic raw almonds too, at $6.99/lb vs. $7.99/lb.

But when I find giant bags of plain raw almonds for less than $2.50/lb at the Indian market in Queens, that $1 savings doesn’t seem like so much. What better way to feed this new tamari almond addiction?

To the Interweb machine...and in less than 15 seconds I had a recipe from no less than Gourmet via Epicurious.

Insanely easy to make, I whipped up batch of tamari almonds while I watched the first bit of Max and Mary, a darkly funny and poignant animated movie about an Australian girl who becomes the “pen friend” of a 40-something New York City loner. I snorted from laughter and tears. Get thee to Netflix.

Right. Almonds. Tamari almonds. So good. I can’t stop eating them, still by the teeny handfuls, but with greater frequency. I’m trying to save some to go with the other fancy nuts I made for Christmas company. But they are so easy and fast, I will make more if I have to. I will probably have to.


If these recipes tickled your fancy, you may also enjoy:

Tamari Almonds
16 servings
adapted from Tamari Almonds, Epicurious: Gourmet, December 2006

16 oz raw or dry roasted almonds, with skins (about 3 cups)
1/4 cup tamari (wheat-free soy sauce)
1/4 tsp demerara or turbinado sugar

1) Preheat oven to 300°. On a baking sheet, spread out almonds evenly and bake for 15 minutes.

2) In a large, heat-proof mixing bowl, combine tamari and sugar. When almonds are ready, pour into bowl and stir for five minutes.

3) With a small strainer or slotted spoon, transfer almonds back to baking sheet and toss out the extra liquid. Bake 20–25 minutes, stirring once about halfway through baking time, until almonds are dark red on the outside and light golden on the inside.

4) Cool about 20 minutes before serving to your face.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, Protein, and Price per Serving
164 calories, 14g fat, 3.25g fiber, 6g protein, $.19

Note: Your cost may vary wildly depending on the price of almonds.

16 oz raw roasted almonds: 2592 calories, 224g fat, 48g fiber, 96g protein, $2.72
1/4 cup tamari: 32 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 4g protein, $0.24
1/4 tsp demerara sugar: 3.75 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.02
TOTALS: 2627.75 calories, 80g fat, 224g fiber, 96g protein, $2.98
PER SERVING (TOTALS/2): 164 calories, 14g fat, 3.25g fiber, 6g protein, $.19

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Guest Post: New Year's Spiced Chickpeas with Avocado

Jaime Green writes our bi-weekly Green Kitchen post. She's guesting for Wednesday. Happy holidays!

Last New Year's Eve, my boyfriend and I had been dating for about two months. Not big fans of subway rides home in the wee hours alongside the inevitable puking revelers (though I guess that's better than facing drunk drivers on the roads), we decided to stay in.

I showed up at his apartment that night with two bottles of very cheap champagne (I love you, Andre) and a sparkly paper top-hat. I blew a noisemaker when he opened the door. I'd gotten the hat and noisemaker at the dollar store on my block about an hour before.

We didn't have any big plans – drink cheap champagne, pause whatever movie (okay, old episodes of Star Trek: the Next Generation) to watch the ball drop – but we also didn't have any dinner plans at all.

He lived at the edge of a predominantly Mexican neighborhood in Brooklyn, with none of the trendy bistros and bars we associate with that hip little (big) borough. I was ready to cook for us, but it was already 9pm and the supermarket ten blocks away was already closed. And it's not like this bachelor apartment was so well-stocked with provisions.

There was a lot of this:

Me: I'll cook something. What do you want?
Him: I don't know.

Eventually we got to “chickpeas.” I never thought of myself as a big fan of chickpeas (unless they're mushed to death in hummus), but between that secret ingredient – hello, Iron Chef: Sunset Park – and my sense of what we might be able to round up from some nearby bodegas, a plan started to form.

I knew plenty of Harlem bodegas that stocked some fresh produce, and although things were a little more sparse, we managed quite well, and ended up with, if I do say so myself, one of the tastiest things I'd ever made.

I suppose this is one of the reasons I prefer cooking to baking, aside from wanting to surround myself with tasty vegetables rather than cookies. You can't improvise baking. Measurements and proportions are vital when you're trying to go from flour to cake. But cooking doesn't require a recipe. You can go with an idea and your knowledge of what works, and when you surprise yourself with the outcome it's not necessarily a bad thing. That sort of ingenuity and self-sufficiency is exciting and, dare I say it, empowering.

I'm not saying these chickpeas are why my boyfriend and I are still together, but they certainly haven't hurt.

(A note on nutrition here: This recipe is higher in fat than most “healthy” recipes you see around. But I would make a case for fat, as would a lot of scientific research. The low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets of the 80s and 90s did no one any favors. Fat is important for many aspects of health, from mood regulation and vitamin absorption to nice skin and feeling full after you eat. Fat is only a problem in that it is very calorie-dense, but that's more dangerous in processed foods with a higher fat content than you realize. For me, at least, a higher-fat diet really eases my junk and sugar cravings. There's some more good reading about fat here: Confessions of a Former Lipidphobe. Although this recipe gets about half of its calories from fat, it is relatively low in carbohydrates, and none of those are processed, and it's got a good dose of protein and fiber as well. The fats are good ones, and most importantly, this dish is delicious and keeps you full for hours.)

Spiced Chickpeas with Avocado
Serves 3

4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 large red onion, chopped
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 avocado, diced
A couple handfuls of cilantro, chopped (about ¾ cup chopped)
Juice of one lime
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
3/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon hot paprika
Black pepper, to taste

1) Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large sautee pan over medium heat. Add onions and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir and cook slowly for 20-25 minutes, until onions are just about done to your liking. (You can go slowly and caramelize them, or turn up the heat and go faster for crispier onions, however you like.)

2) When the onions are just about done, stir in chickpeas. Add cumin, paprika, a few grinds of black pepper. (Add the spices gradually, and taste as you go.) Add 1-2 teaspoons more oil as needed – you don't want this dry – and more salt, to taste. Cook until chickpeas are soft and creamy, 10-15 minutes. Adjust seasonings as needed.

3) Turn off heat and stir in avocado, cilantro, and lime juice.

4) Serve as-is, or over rice or in tortillas. Crumbled queso blanco makes a lovely addition.

Approximate calories, fat, fiber, protein, and cost per serving
313 calories, 33.6g fat, 9.6g fiber, 21.5g protein, $0.92

4 t olive oil: 168 calories, 18.7g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.16
1 large red onion: 96 calories, 0.2g fat, 4.1 g fiber, 2.6g protein, $0.30
1 can chickpeas: 428 calories, 4.1g fat, 15.8g fiber, 17.8g protein, $0.89
1 avocado: 227 calories, 21g fat, 9.2g fiber, 2.7g protein, $0.89
½ cup chopped cilantro: 1 calorie, 0g fat, 0.1g fiber, 0.1g protein, $0.25
juice of one lime: 8 calories, 8g fat, 0.1g fiber, 0.1g protein, $0.20
½ t salt: 0 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.01
¾ t cumin: 7 calories 0.3g fat, 0.5g fiber, 0.3g protein, $0.02
½ t paprika: 3 calories, 0.1g fat, 0.4g fiber, 0.2g protein, $0.02
¼ t black pepper: 2 calories, 0g fat, 0.1g fiber, 0.1g protein, $0.01
TOTALS: 939 calories, 100.8g fat, 28.8g fiber, 64.6g protein, $2.75
PER SERVING (TOTALS/3): 313 calories, 33.6g fat, 9.6g fiber, 21.5g protein, $0.92

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ask the Internet: Canned Tuna Ideas?

Today's question comes from reader Jessie:
Flickr's aMichiganMom

Q: I was wondering what to do with my cupboard full of canned tuna besides tuna salad or casserole. Thoughts?

A: Jessie, that is a most excellent question. The Kitchn had an excellent post about canned tuna options back in 2009, though my personal favorite is Herbed Tuna in Tomatoes, an easy, no-cook alternative to those omnipresent sandwiches.

Readers, what do you do with canned tuna?

Want to ask the interweb a question? Post one in the comment section, or write to Cheaphealthygood@gmail.com. Then, tune in next Tuesday for an answer/several answers from the good people of the World Wide Net.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Guest Post: Chestnut and Bulgur Stuffing, a.k.a. Holiday Time with the Man Who Discovered Food Has Calories

Miriam Isserow is a fundraising consultant based in Silver Spring, Maryland. In her misspent youth, she loved to make dessert. Now she likes to cook delicious and healthful meals.

This time of year, we seem to go from one food-centric event to another. This is a particular challenge for my dear husband, otherwise known as The Man Who Discovered Food Has Calories. I know my new nickname for him is a mouthful, so from here on in, I'll call him TMWDFHC.

I recently mentioned to TMWDFHC that for our own holiday meal, I would make a bulgur stuffing instead of our traditional bread stuffing. Years ago, my cousin whipped up a similar dish that I still remember—and given the dieting and monitoring of cholesterol we’ve been doing at my house, I thought it would be a great alternative to soaking bread with eggs.

But when I told TMWDFHC I would be doing a bulgur stuffing, he flipped out.

“How can you make stuffing without chestnuts?”

You see, one core principle in our house is that stuffing has chestnuts. I assured TMWDFHC that the bulgur stuffing would have chestnuts, too.

So, I found some bulgur stuffing recipes, added chestnuts and played around a little. This was the result. You can make it in the turkey, or, if you're expecting vegetarians or happen to live with someone who discovered that food has calories, you can bake it in a pan. An additional healthful plus: You don’t have to grease the pan as you would with classic stuffing.

Chestnut & Bulgur Stuffing
Serves 12

2 ½ c water,
2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms (around 2 cups)
1 oz. dried morel mushrooms (around 1 cup)
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 chopped medium sized onion
5 ½ c. broth
2 ½ c. bulgur (it’s good if it’s coarse but it really doesn’t matter)
1 c. flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 cup shelled chestnuts (use a freeze dried package that you can buy at an Asian market for next to nothing).

1) Bring water to a boil. Pour over mushrooms and soak for half an hour.

2) In a 4 quart sauce pan or chefs pan, sauté onion in olive oil until softened. Add broth and bring to a boil. Stir in bulgur and cook around 8 minutes more, uncovered.

3) Remove mushrooms from water, squeezing if necessary. Reserve soaking liquid, strain, and set aside. Rinse mushrooms and coarsely chop.

4) In a large bowl, toss together bulgur, ½ cup of the reserved liquid, mushrooms, chestnuts, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Let cool completely.

5) Now you can either stuff it in a turkey or bake it. If you are baking it in a pan, no need to grease the pan—and bake it at 325 for 40 minutes, covered.

NOTE: Our custom is to use some as stuffing and some in a pan for the vegetarians (using vegetable broth in that case). After all, even those who have discovered that food has calories and who are trying to be really good through the holidays are entitled to the divine taste of chestnut stuffing with turkey drippings.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Veggie Might: Last-minute Substitution - Oatmeal Apple Cookies

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

This week, I planned to present you with an alternative to the Christmas cookie, as well as one of my favorite sweets: daifuku, Japanese rice balls stuffed with sweet red bean paste. Three tries ended with me covered in sticky, gelatinous goo.

Let’s just say my technique needs work.

Time was ticking when I decided to scrap the daifuku. My baker’s pantry is still pretty well stocked from Thanksgiving, so cookies seemed like the best choice for a quick and dirty replacement. I turned to the dependable and consistently marvelous How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman.

Bittman’s How to Cook Everything books take the guesswork out of cooking and baking by showing you how to customize recipes for any situation. If you’re a novice or by-the-book cook, you’ll feel at liberty to make substitutions to suit your tastes or pantry, and you’ll eventually gain the confidence to switch things up on your own.

One recipe reminded me of my mom and I just had to try it: Oatmeal Apple Cookies.

My mom was always trying to get me and my siblings to eat healthy snacks when the rest of our friends and classmates were eating ding dongs and zingers. Oatmeal Apple Cookies are just the kind of cookies she would have made to put in my Muppet Movie lunch box next to the carrot sticks and carob-chip trail mix.

So, at least for today, think of me as your wacky, veggie aunt, offering you whole-grain and fruit cookies when everyone else has laid out chocolate-coated, butter-infused treats rolled in nuts and dripping with icing.

I made a ton of changes, based on MB’s variation ideas and some based on my own preferences. He provides a vegan option for most of the recipes in the vegetarian cookbook, and I used his applesauce-for-egg and almond milk for cow’s milk suggestions. I also used nonhydrogenated vegan butter for dairy butter.

Here’s where I ventured out on my own: the original recipe calls for dried apples. I’m not a fan of dried fruit in general and don’t keep it around, so I took a chance and used the real thing. I also swapped granulated sugar for maple syrup. Excellent decisions all around.

The cookies are moist, sweet, and delicious. They may be a little on the soft side —no crispy edges, my favorite part of a cookie—but full of apple flavor and definitely a crowd pleaser; CB, my Roommate, and two of my officemates gave thumbs-up.

The recipe whipped up quickly too, from peeling and grating the apple to pulling the last pan out of the oven, the whole enterprise took less than 90 minutes. Oatmeal Apple Cookies would add a tasty and fast, if not entirely festive, option to the Christmas cookie rotation. And they’re much less sticky than daifuku.


If this xx tips your canoe, swim on over to:

Oatmeal Apple Cookies
Makes about 4 dozen; 2 cookies per serving

1/2 cup nonhydrogenated vegan butter
1/2 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup apple sauce
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups rolled oats (not quick oats)
1 cup apple, peeled and grated (about 1 medium apple)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp clove
pinch of salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup soy, almond, or rice milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

1) Preheat oven to 375. Peel and grate apple and set aside.

2) In a large mixing bowl, cream together vegan butter, syrup, and sugar with mixer, then stir in applesauce.

3) In a medium bowl, combine flour, oats, apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, baking powder, and salt.

4) Alternately, add milk and dry ingredients to butter and sugar mixture until dough is formed, mixing in a little more milk if dough is too dry.

5) Spoon out tablespoon-sized dollops of dough onto ungreased baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes. Allow to cool for a minute or two, remove from baking sheet, and continue on a wire rack.

6) Serve with a glass of almond milk or hot tea.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, Protein, and Price per Serving
137.3 calories, 3.8g fat, .9g fiber, 1.74g protein, $.23

1/2 cup nonhydrogenated vegan butter: 800 calories, 88g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.96
1/2 cup maple syrup: 420 calories, 0.5g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $2.38
3/4 cup brown sugar: 628 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.43
1/4 cup apple sauce: 51.75 calories, 0g fat, 1g fiber, 0g protein, $0.26
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour: 682.5 calories, 1.5g fat, 4.5g fiber, 19.5g protein, $0.32
2 cups rolled oats: 609 calories, 9g fat, 16g fiber, 22g protein, $0.24
1 cup apple: 77 calories, 0g fat, 2g fiber, 0g protein, $0.50
1/2 tsp cinnamon: 0 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.02
1/4 tsp nutmeg: 0 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.02
1/4 tsp clove: 0 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.02
pinch of salt: 0 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.02
2 tsp baking powder: 4 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.04
1/4 cup almond milk: 10 calories, 0.75g fat, 0.25g fiber, 0.25g protein, $0.12
1 tsp vanilla extract: 12 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.26
TOTALS: 3294.3 calories, 90.75g fat, 21.75g fiber, 41.75g protein, $5.59
PER SERVING (TOTALS/24): 137.3 calories, 3.8g fat, .9g fiber, 1.74g protein, $.23

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Green Kitchen: Local Going Into Winter

Green Kitchen is a bi-weekly column about nutritious, inexpensive, and ethical food and cooking. It's penned by the lovely Jaime Green.

Ignore the fact that it's snowing outside-- Wait, don't ignore that. Take a moment to enjoy that. It's snowing! But ignore it in terms of the point I'm about to make.

Ignore the fact that it's snowing. Ignore the fact that it's about 50 degrees in my apartment, that I'm wearing sweatpants and a hoodie and my hat. Ignore the down comforter on my bed, the cold toes, the date on the calendar.

How do I know it's winter?

Let's take a look at what's recently come out of my kitchen. Breakfast Sunday: an improvised take on what I remembered of Kris' Shaksouka – canned diced tomatoes, half an onion, a carrot, and eggs poached therein. Lunch today (and for the rest of the week, and taking up some space in the freezer): lentil soup made with dried lentils, canned tomatoes, frozen spinach, and an onion. Breakfast tomorrow's looking like a smoothie with frozen cherries and blueberries.

Where have all the fresh veggies gone?

Winter is rough on lots of people – the sun's gone, it's hard to spend time outside, and winter coats are uncomfortable and bulky. Snow is lovely and sweaters are cozy, but this time of year can bring your mood down. (I always wish, walking past Christmas decorations in December, that our holiday of sparkly lights took place a few months later, when even the snow is dreary and we could really use a little extra glitter.)

Winter's an extra downer for local eaters, though. I'm not even a 100% locavore. Not at all - I love bananas and avocados and cans of coconut milk. I do appreciate the environmental and economic repercussions of shopping at the farmers market, but I keep doing it because I love how it feels. Meeting farmers, knowing where my kale comes from. Even just the ritual of the market – walking between stalls, comparing produce, and the week-to-week cycle of the growing season. From asparagus to tomatoes to butternut squash, that's how the year goes.

But now we've, like we do every year, come to the end. The farms are mulched over and resting for the winter, and just about every night brings a freeze. We have a few more weeks of the real hardy stuff – kale and leeks and Brussels sprouts – and food that stores well lasts a little longer. Apples and onions and winter squash stick around basically until springtime at the year-round greenmarkets (so do bison meat and eggs). But the growing season is drawing to a close, and with it goes a big part of what I love about cooking.

From Flickr's stevendepolo
So many of my culinary decisions in the warmer months are based on what I find at the market – radishes are cheap or the parsnips look nice, and I get inspired and try something out. (Maybe this is just a relief from my usually agonizing decision making process.) But in winter I don't think I get down cause the food's not local – the problem is that, for the next five months, all of the food is the same. Cheap and mediocre at my local supermarket, or pricier and lush at the Whole Foods downtown, it's shipped in from wherever, in-season in California or Chile or Taiwan, and nothing changes from one week to the next.

What do you do when your local veggies dry (or freeze) up? Do you come up with new, slightly less local, guidelines? Maybe food from your country, or hemisphere, rather than a 300-mile greenmarket radius? Maybe I can let sales direct me in winter the way the seasons do the other half of the year. Do you transition to canned and frozen foods? Canned tomatoes beat fresh ones seven months out of the year, and frozen kale – flash-frozen when it's fresh – is looking mighty good, and cheap, compared to the produce section at Whole Foods.

I've got my freezer supply of mashed cauliflower and apple sauce, and there's always room for soup in there, too, but it's not enough to make it through until spring. What's most important about how you choose where to get your food? Is it price, convenience, localness, or just the experience of it all? And how do you make the second-best choice feel good?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ask the Internet: Healthy Study Snacks?

Today's question comes from college student Caitlin, who has finals coming up.

Q: What about healthy study snacks? i think i ate my weight in popcorn yesterday and definitely need an alternative!

A: Caitlin! Having been a carouser of the late-night cafeteria scene (read: mozzarella sticks, pizza, something called "broccoli cheesebake"), I understand your delicate, frommage-craving pain. You'd like something filling, but light. Tasty, but not time-consuming. And if it's caffeinated, all the better.

This sounds lame, but fruit was always a good bet to start, with coffee acting as my beverage of choice. Energy drinks weren't so popular back in 199X, but I might have avoided Monster and its ilk like a florescent green plague.

How about some all-natural granola bars? Or trail mix? Or, when all else fails, hummus, carrots, and pita will work wonders.

But I hand it over to you, sweet readers. What snacks will help Caitlin ace her semester-end tests?

Want to ask the interweb a question? Post one in the comment section, or write to Cheaphealthygood@gmail.com. Then, tune in next Tuesday for an answer/several answers from the good people of the World Wide Net.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Veggie Might: Getting in the Mood with Sweet Potato and Swiss Chard Soup

Written by the fabulous Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about all things Vegetarian.

Happy last day of Hanukkah, friends! Hope you had a super week plus one.

Gentle Readers, though I live on Holiday Island, USA (not to be confused with Christmas Town, USA—just down the road from my folks’ place), and I was sick for most of Hanukkah, I’m just not feeling it—it being the holiday juju that’s supposed to filling my heart with magic.

Thanksgiving was so delicious and festive; and I want Christmas to be the same. But if I start getting into the holiday mood too soon, I’ll be over it by the time Christmas actually gets here. To avoid holiday burn out, I refuse to decorate, shop, or cook anything holiday related until December 12. Even that is pushing it, but I don’t want to be anywhere near a retail outlet on Christmas Eve either.

In the meantime, I’ve been on the lookout for recipes that use seasonal vegetables but don’t have cinnamon, clove, or pumpkin pie spice. A few clicks around the Internet machine and tada! Yellow Split Pea Soup with Sweet Potato and Kale at one of my favorite recipe blogs, Fat-free Vegan Kitchen.

This is the recipe I’ve been dreaming about—clearly, since I didn’t have to buy a single ingredient to make it. I swapped out the kale for a gorgeous, emerald bunch of Swiss chard chilling in my crisper and made the easy substitution of toor dal (split pigeon peas) for yellow split peas.

For a minute, I thought this recipe was going to be too easy and it would only take me the 30 minutes of prep and 60 minutes of relatively inactive cooking (occasional stirring) time to make. But I had to take it a step further.

The recipe calls for curry powder which, after a few introductory lessons in Indian cooking, gives me pause. I’ve stopped keeping it around, opting to use whole spices instead. However, my imaginary friend and mentor Madhur Jaffrey shares a recipe in World Vegetarian for her own every day curry powder (called My Curry Powder). So I whipped up a batch.

Within minutes, my apartment was filled with the aromas of cumin and coriander as I roasted the whole spices and then ground them fine in the coffee grinder. (I have one dedicated for that purpose.) Having freshly ground spice blends is worth the minimal amount of effort it takes to grind them yourself.

Otherwise following the recipe, the soup was everything I wanted it to be: hearty, flavorful but not overpowering, and fragrant. The Indian spices perfectly complemented the sweet potato and the hint of bitterness in the Swiss chard gaves it a nice balance. Toor dal added a creamy texture to the soup without being mushy.

Plus the recipe made enough for this army of one-singular-sensation to have lunch and dinner for a several days. If CB and the Roommate are sweet, maybe I’ll share.

So let’s fortify ourselves, Gentle Readers, for the coming holidays with this delicious, satisfying, Indian-inspired soup. Cinnamon and peppermint will be scenting our dreams soon enough.


If you fancied this recipe, you may take delight in:

Sweet Potato, Swiss Chard, and Toor Dal Soup
Serves 8

2 medium onions, chopped
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black mustard seeds
2 tsp canola oil
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
8 cups water
3 cups dried toor dal or yellow split peas, picked over and rinsed
1 tbsp mild curry powder (to taste)*
Salt to taste (optional)
1 bunch Swiss chard, washed, trimmed, and chopped

Note: Swiss chard stems are edible. They have a crunchy texture, like Romaine lettuce, and add a nice color contrast to the dish, whether you choose red, yellow, or white. When trimming Swiss chard, snip off any ends that are tough or dried out, but it’s not necessary de-stem like you would with kale or collard greens.

1) In a large saucepan or stock pot, heat 1 teaspoon canola oil and cook onions 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until translucent. Move onions aside in pot and add second teaspoon of oil and whole cumin and mustard seeds. Stir seeds with spatula for about 30 seconds.

2) When mustard seeds begin to pop, stir together spices with onions. Then add ginger and garlic and cook for about 1 minute.

3) Add water, sweet potato, toor dal, and curry powder and stir. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about an hour or until the dal is tender.

4) In the meantime, wash and chop Swiss chard and set aside. Stir dal occassionally to prevent sticking and burning.

5) When the dal is tender, turn off heat, remove lid, and stir in Swiss chard. Replace lid and allow chard to wilt for 5–10 minutes.

6) Serve piping hot with crusty bread or naan and put off shopping for another day.

*Bonus Recipe:
Madhur Jaffrey’s Curry Powder
from World Vegetarian
Makes 5–6 tablespoons

2 tbsp whole coriander seeds
1 tbsp whole cumin seeds
2 tsp whole peppercorns
1 1/2 tsp whole brown mustard
1 tsp whole fenugreek seeds
5 to 6 whole cloves
3 dried chilies, crushed
1 1/2 tsp ground turmeric

1) Heat a small cast iron skillet over medium heat. Combine all whole spices in skillet and roast for 1–2 minutes until aromas begin to emerge, stirring or shaking the pan intermittently. Some spices will brown and change color.

2) Add ground turmeric and heat for another 10 seconds. Remove from heat and transfer mixture to a plate or bowl to cool.

3) Grind in spice or coffee grinder until mixture is as fine as possible. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Take a deep breath and smile.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, Protein, and Price per Serving
306 calories, 2.4g fat, 13g fiber, 18g protein, $.39

2 medium onions: 80 calories, 0.4g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.88
1 1/2 tsp whole cumin: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $.02
1 tsp black mustard seeds: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $.02
2 tsp canola oil: 79 calories, 9g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.05
1 tbsp fresh ginger: 6 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.06
3 cloves garlic: 12 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.04
2 medium sweet potatoes: 112 calories, 0g fat, 4g fiber, 2g protein, $0.34
3 cups dried toor dal: 2109 calories, 9g fat, 92g fiber, 133.5g protein, $0.18
1 tbsp curry powder: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $.02
Salt: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $.02
1 bunch Swiss chard: 56 calories, 0g fat, 8g fiber, 8g protein, $1.50
TOTALS: 2454 calories, 19g fat, 104g fiber, 143.5g protein, $3.13
PER SERVING (TOTALS/8): 306 calories, 2.4g fat, 13g fiber, 18g protein, $.39

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Guest Post: Slow-Cooker Mexican Beans

Lorri Brown is a mom, writer, and avid Murder She Wrote fan, who lives far away in the Mountains of Western Maine with her four awesome kids and three cats. When she’s not working in public health, she writes for About.com and bunch of other fun sites. 

Greetings CHG readers! I am sooo excited about being a guest blogger while Kris moves! (I just moved to a new house, so I know how much work that is- bleck). Anyway, I’m here to share with you my super-easy slow cooker recipe for Mexican Beans.

By day I work in community health, in the Wilds of Western Maine, doing nutrition outreach (please note, I am not a dietician, nurse, or doctor- nor do I play any of these on TV). By night I am a single mother of four children ranging in ages 14 to 6. So, I like cheap, healthy, good and quick foods. Therefore, my slow cooker is my BFF.

This meal, adapted from an old family recipe, is easy-peasy to make and it goes a long, long way. I freeze leftover beans and use them in everything from scrambled egg breakfast burritos to a base for bean soup or chili. I’ve tried different variation of the recipe, but none satisfy me like the original version. In one case I thought I’d spice ‘em up with a little of Dave’s Insanity Hot Sauce- If you’ve never tried Dave’s – he’s not joking. One teaspoon of the hot sauce made two pounds of dried beans taste like you were eating molten lava. No one- not even my Middle Son who puts Tabasco sauce on everything- could eat them. I chalked that cooking experiment up as a valuable lesson learned.

If you aren’t familiar with the benefits of beans, here are a couple of quick facts: Beans are an excellent source of protein, containing 14-16grams per cup. They have approximately 1/3 the amount of protein of beef, without any of the fat or cholesterol. Beans are also a good source of fiber, potassium, magnesium, iron and folate. Okay, health lecture over, on to the recipe.

Slow Cooker Mexican Beans
Serving size – 1 cup of cooked beans
Makes 12 servings

 2 pounds (or 4 cups) of dried pinto beans
1 diced onion
½ a bottle (roughly 3 tablespoons) of cumin – it sounds like a lot, but this recipe makes a lot of beans!
1 Tbs. black pepper
1Tbs. garlic powder
1Tbs. onion powder
2 tsp. salt

1) Rinse beans and check for any stones.

2) Throw beans (no soaking required! Yay!) and onion into the crock pot and fill ¾ of the crock pot with water

3) Add all the spices

4) Set to low (8 hours)

5) Round up the kids and go to work. Come home to the fragrant smell of dinner already done!

Nutrition Facts:
I used Nutritionist Pro to calculate the nutrition info.
  • Calories- 224
  • Fat - .08 g
  • Sodium – 395 mg (16% DV)
  • Fiber – 10 g (40% DV)
  • Sugars – 2 g
  • Calcium – 76 mg (8% DV)
  • Iron – 3 mg (19 % DV)
  • Potassium – 895 mg (26% DV)
Cost per serving: $0.19
  • Bag of beans - $1.19
  • Onion - $0.50
  • Cumin - $0.50
  • Onion powder -$0.03
  • Garlic powder - $0.03
  • Salt - $0.03
  • Pepper - $0.03
Serving Suggestions
I like to serve the beans with a little bit of shredded cheddar cheese and a tortilla to dip into the broth. However, they would go great with salsa and guacamole. Of course, what doesn’t go great with guacamole? After a day or two in the fridge the beans thicken to a porridge-like consistency, good for quesadillas.

Things You Should Know
I’ll be honest- this is a trial and error recipe at first. You might have to up the amount of spices, depending on your tastes. But I always stick with the time-honored advice of you can put in more salt/pepper/cumin/whatever- but you can’t take it out.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ask the Internet: Inexpensive Holiday Wines?

Greetings, sweet readers! Today's post comes from a CHG Facebook discussion a few weeks ago.

Q: With the holidays fast approaching, we'd all like to imbibe a bit. So, what are your favorite inexpensive wines?

A: While Trader Joe's house brand, good ol' Three Buck Chuck, is always a hit, Indaba's Sauvignon Blanc has really become a recent favorite. It's flavorful without hitting you over the head, and I can usually find it for around $8 a bottle.

Readers, what about you? Lettuce discuss some boozery.

Want to ask the interweb a question? Post one in the comment section, or write to Cheaphealthygood@gmail.com. Then, tune in next Tuesday for an answer/several answers from the good people of the World Wide Net.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Guest Post: Pressure Cooker Black Bean Soup Recipe

Joy Manning is senior recipes editor at TastingTable.com. She blogs at OysterEvangelist.com. She enjoys all things cheap, healthy and good from her home/office/test kitchen in South Philadelphia.

I may be five-years-married and in my early-middle 30s, but I am having a crazy hot love affair: 252 degrees Fahrenheit, to be exact. That’s the temperature at which water boils—way hotter than the usual 212—inside my pressure cooker.

Some pressure cooker enthusiasts are keen on the fact that things cook in about one-third of the usual time under pressure. True, but for me the allure lies in its ability to produce slow-cooked flavor in a hurry. The pressure cooker happens to work magic on some of the inexpensive ingredients we all know can be made to taste amazing over the course of an hours-long braise—dried beans, beets, cheaper cuts of meat like brisket and pork shoulder—in almost no time flat. And contemporary models are so tricked out with safety features, there is absolutely nothing to fear.

This recipe for black bean and chipotle soup hits the table in 45 minutes. And 30 of those minutes are completely inactive: While you wait for dinner, have a glass of wine and watch the Daily Show on DVR. It is the absolute best black bean soup I have ever made, not just because it uses 90 percent pantry staples or the fact that it’s vegan, but because the slow cooker manages to intensify and meld flavors better and faster than seems imaginable until you use one.

As kitchen gadgets go, pressure cookers are pretty inexpensive and they’re so great at dinner on the fly you’re bound to save a bundle on take out. Get yourself one, and start with this soup that I promise will become a staple:


If you like this recipe, you might also enjoy:

Black Bean and Chipotle Soup
Serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 medium onion, diced (about 1 cup)
2 medium celery stalks, diced (about ½ cup)
1 small carrot, diced (about ¼ cup)
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
3 garlic cloves, minced
1½ cup dried black beans
8 cups cold water
1/2 to 1 cup raw cashews
1 cup boiling water
1 to 2 chipotle in adobo sauce(depending on your heat tolerance), plus 1 to 2 tablespoons adobo sauce
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Juice of ½ lime
¼ cup chopped cilantro

1) In a pressure cooker, combine the oil, onion, celery, carrot, cumin and salt and cook, stirring frequently, over medium-high heat until the vegetables soften, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

2) Add the black beans and cold water and lock the lid shut. Bring to high pressure over high heat, and then, once high pressure is achieved, reduce your heat to medium, as low as you can while still maintaining a steady hiss from the pressure-release valve. Cook under pressure for 30 minutes. Use the quick-release button or allow the pressure to come down naturally.

3) Meanwhile, cover the cashews with the boiling water and allow to stand while the bean soup cooks. In a blender, combine the cashews in their soaking water, the chipotles and adobo sauce, the tomato paste and 1 ladle full of cooked beans from the pressure cooker. Blend on high until a smooth puree has formed, about 1 minute. Whisk this puree back into the soup.

4) Stir in the lime and cilantro and season with additional salt if necessary. Serve immediately, or freeze for up to three months.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, Protein, and Price Per Serving
Four servings: 438 calories, 14.2 g fat, 19 g fiber, 21.9 g protein, $1.13
Six servings: 292 calories, 9.4 g fat, 12.8 g fiber, 14.6 g protein, $0.80

1 tablespoon canola oil: 124 calories, 14 g fat, 0 g fiber, 0 g protein, $0.08
1 medium onion, diced (about 1 cup): 46 calories, 0.1 g fat, 1.5 g fiber, 1 g protein, $0.25
2 medium celery stalks, diced (about ½ cup): 11 calories, 0.2 g fat, 1.3 g fiber, 0.6 g protein, $0.36
1 small carrot, diced (about ¼ cup): 25 calories, 0.1 g fat, 1.7 g fiber, 0.6 g protein, $0.10
1 tablespoon cumin: negligible calories, fat, fiber, and protein, $0.05
1 teaspoon salt: negligible calories, fat, fiber, and protein, $0.01
3 garlic cloves, minced: 13 calories, 0 g fat, 0.2 g fiber, 0.6 g protein, $0.18
1½ cup dried black beans: 1022 calories, 3.9 g fat, 67.3 g fiber, 68.6 g protein, $0.75
8 cups cold water: negligible calories, fat, fiber, and protein, FREE
1/2 to 1 cup raw cashews (calculations are for 3/4 cup): 470 calories, 37.3 g fat, 2.8 g fiber, 15.5 g protein, $1.95
1 cup boiling water: negligible calories, fat, fiber, and protein, FREE
1 to 2 chipotle in adobo sauce, plus 1 to 2 tablespoons adobo sauce: 20 calories, 1 g fat, 1 g fiber, 0 g protein, $0.37
1 tablespoon tomato paste: 13 calories, 0.1 g fat, 0.7 g fiber, 0.7 g protein, $0.05
Juice of ½ lime: 5 calories, 0 g fat, 0.1 g fiber, 0.1 g protein, $0.12
¼ cup chopped cilantro: 1 calories, 0 g fat, 0.1 g fiber, 0.1 g protein, $0.25
TOTAL: 1750 calories, 56.7 g fat, 76.7 g fiber, 87.7 g protein, $4.52
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 438 calories, 14.2 g fat, 19 g fiber, 21.9 g protein, $1.13
PER SERVING (TOTAL/6): 292 calories, 9.4 g fat, 12.8 g fiber, 14.6 g protein, $0.75

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Veggie Might: Fast, Easy Soup for Sick Vegetarians

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

Happy belated Thanksgiving, Gentle Readers! Hope your festivities were fun and delicious. Mine were joyous and pie-filled, just as I dreamed they would be.

My body is reacting to all the friendship and gratitude by purging any built-up toxins through my facial orifices. Translation: I have a cold. And this cold wants soup.

A while back, reader and all-around good sort Chris wrote in to ask “When vegetarians/vegans are feeling under the weather, what sort of comfort foods do they like? I would love to learn how to make a flavorful broth (maybe something with ginger and onions, good for colds?) to help my sick veggie buds.”

Chris, first let me apologize for taking so long to get to your request, but as they say, necessity makes us get off our arses when we’d rather lay on the couch and watch Mythbusters reruns. Secondly, you’re a good friend.

I’ve found that most people (and plants) don’t like to eat much when they’re feeling peaked, and, as your spokesveg-in-residence, vegetarians and vegans are no different. A no-fuss soup of broth is soothing on a sore throat; noodles and one or two vegetables add a little substance.

If you are nursing someone else, like to prepare ahead for emergencies, or are strong enough to chop through the rheum, make your own Homemade Vegetable Stock for a healthy, inexpensive recuperative concoction.

If you need sustenance immediately and haven’t the strength for washing carrots, go canned broth or bullion. There is no shame, only sodium, which drinking lots of fluids will take care of. Since this cold hit right after a major holiday, my freezer was empty, and I reached for vegetable bullion cubes.

You may have noticed from articles past that I like spicy food, especially garlic. Good news! Garlic is great for colds. My favorite snorky-sinus soother is a garlicky broth soup with noodles and a green vegetable like broccoli, bok choy, or kale. These crucifers are high in vitamins A, C, and K and minerals manganese and folate—just what a recovering immune system needs.

Toss in a little ginger, crushed red pepper, or hot chili paste for sinus-clearing heat, and you’ve got a fast, easy soup that will put you or your favorite vegetarian/vegan back on the path to mixing with the general population.

Thanks, Chris, for writing with your query. Readers, do you have any favorite soup or comfort food recipes that pick you up when you’re feeling down? If so, sing out in the comments. And give us a shout if you have any questions or post ideas. The suggestion box is open 24-7, including holidays.

Now rest up and get healthy. The holiday food onslaught coming.


If this post floats your boat, paddle on over to:

Fast, Easy Garlic and Chili Soup with Broccoli
Makes about 3 servings

4 cups cold water + 2 vegetarian bullion cubes (“not chicken”, etc.)
4 cups rich vegetable stock
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 tsp hot chili paste or crushed red pepper flakes
2 cups broccoli, chopped (frozen or fresh)
2 oz. Korean style somen noodles (or thin noodle of choice)

1)  Pour stock or cold water into medium saucepan and set heat to high. Add garlic and bullion (if using) to pot and bring to boil.

2) Add broccoli to boiling water and cook for 2 minutes. Add noodles and stir in hot sauce. Continue to cook on high heat for 3 minutes, until noodles and broccoli are tender.

3) Ladle into soup bowls and allow to cool for a couple of minutes, breathing in the spicy broth. Feel the relief in your sinuses.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, Protein, and Price per Serving
126 calories, 2.17g fat, 4g fiber, 4.6g protein, $.52

2 vegetarian bullion cube: 60 calories, 6g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.62
3 cloves garlic: 12 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.04
1 tsp hot chili paste: 0 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.02
2 cups broccoli: 82 calories, 0g fat, 10g fiber, 8g protein, $0.66
2 oz. Korean style somen noodles: 225 calories, 0.5g fat, 2g fiber, 6g protein, $0.21
TOTALS: 379 calories, 6.5g fat, 12g fiber, 14g protein, $1.55
PER SERVING (TOTALS/2): 126 calories, 2.17g fat, 4g fiber, 4.6g protein, $.52

Fast, Easy Garlic and Ginger Soup with Bok Choy
Makes about 3 servings

4 cups water + 2 vegetarian bullion cubes (“not chicken”, etc.)
4 cups rich vegetable stock
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2” piece fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
2 cups bok choy (about 1 small head), washed and chopped
2 oz. Korean style somen noodles (or thin noodle of choice)

1)  Pour stock or cold water into medium saucepan and set heat to high. Add garlic, ginger, and bullion (if using) to pot and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer about 5 minutes to allow ginger time to infuse broth. Return heat to high and bring again to a boil.

2) Add bok choy to boiling water and cook for 1 minute. Add noodles. Continue to cook on high heat for 3 minutes, until noodles and broccoli are tender.

3) Ladle into soup bowls and allow to cool for a couple of minutes, breathing in the fragrant broth. Take relief in your renewed breathing capabilities.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, Protein, and Price per Serving
109 calories, 2.17g fat, 1.3g fiber, 2.7g protein, $.50

2 vegetarian bullion cubes: 60 calories, 6g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.62
3 cloves garlic: 12 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.04
2” piece fresh ginger: 12 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.12
2 cups bok choy: 18 calories, 0g fat, 2g fiber, 2g protein, $0.52
2 oz. Korean style somen noodles: 225 calories, 0.5g fat, 2g fiber, 6g protein, $0.21
TOTALS: 327 calories, 6.5g fat, 4g fiber, 8g protein, $1.51
PER SERVING (TOTALS/2): 109 calories, 2.17g fat, 1.3g fiber, 2.7g protein, $.50

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Guest Post: Cheap, Healthy, Good Entertaining - Hosting While Preserving Your Finances, Sanity, and Well-Being

A freelance domestic goddess and English teacher, KitschenBitsch writes about fun, frugal, and (often) retro living and cooking, though her content ranges from cooking and puns to health, society, and her significant other's hilarity in any given month.

As the holidays descend upon us like so many hungry vultures (What? Am I the only person who feels completely blindsided?), many of us will find ourselves entertaining, either hosting parties, large dinners, or maybe even housing guests overnight(s).

From Flickr's jpovey
In the past, I’ve always looked forward with excitement to any opportunity to entertain. Due to work and distance, the mister and I rarely see some of our friends. Of course, due to work we end up running around like headless chickens, and it turns out that headless chickens do not do housework. Then, as the date looms, I begin to freak out because the house isn’t clean, food isn’t waiting in the refrigerator, and I’ve realized I have multiple work or other engagements around the time of said event.

Basically, I imagine myself as a lovely hostess with trays of hors d’ouevres, flowers in the guest room, and a nicely decorated home; in reality, I shove everything under the bed, buy the $2 manager’s special florals at Kroger, and end up making the refreshments after the guests have arrived.

Luckily, I’ve found some ways to allay my freakout, and I would like to share them with you.


1) Chill out. Unless your guest is a complete neatnick and you know it, don’t worry so much about the state of your house. Wouldn’t you rather be somewhere that is comfortable than in a room that looks like a museum? If you’d rather be in a museum, don’t come to my house. If you’re worrying about the state of the house and running around the entire time, you won’t be spending time with your guest and said guest may feel uncomfortable.

2) Nice amenities aren’t expensive. Want a guest to feel welcome? Leave an extra blanket, pillow, towels, a notepad, a pen, a decanter of water, and a (working) flashlight near the bed. This way, everything the guest might need is close by, and should the guest need to wander around, the flashlight can help with navigating an unfamiliar house at night, saving shins, toes, and your sleep. Don’t have a decanter? Save a juice jar, clean it, fill it with water, and invert a glass on top. Viola voila!

If your guest is couchsurfing, try to give him or her some privacy. A folding screen is great if you have one around, and the above items could be left on an endtable close by.

From Flickr's Rick
3) Keep food easy and accessible. Guests breakfasting at varied times? Have some oatmeal in a slowcooker with a topping buffet. Leave bowls of fruit on the table. Apples and oranges are cheap and crowd-pleasing, and crackers are also marked down this time of year. Leave plates, glasses, and utensils out so your guest doesn’t have to rummage.

4) Plan escape time. If you live alone and haven’t hosted before, having a houseguest could be a weird experience after a couple days. Alternately, if your houseguest lives alone, it can be stressful for him to be surrounded by people all the time. You don’t have to hover (unless your houseguest is young enough to require babysitting). Go run an errand if you need to get away, or go take a nap. It’s okay!

5) Know your guest’s expectations. Does the guest just want to spend time with you? Are there other folks in town she wants to see? Does she want to hit the museum? Ask in advance to make the visit work.


1) Eat your leftovers and stockpiles in the weeks leading up to the event. This strategy serves several purposes. First, you’re going to be prepping and cooking food for an event; the last thing you will feel like doing is cooking dinner for yourself during this time. Also, eating up your fridge and freezer stockpiles makes room for the food you cook in advance. Lastly, this frees up space for the glorious leftovers you are sure to have, as well as the booze you or your guests may be chilling. And while you’re at it, wipe down the fridge shelves and door pockets. You’ll be so happy every time you see it, and you won’t shriek when one of your guests opens it to slip in a bottle of bubbly.

2) Resist last-minute additions. If you have already planned, shopped, and begun prep, do NOT drop everything to make that gorgeous appetizer you saw on The Kitchn. Cool your jets. You have enough food and you are trying to be superhost. No one will give you a cape. I promise; I have tried.

3) Have a timed list. Kris has already taught us the importance of the timetable for knocking out a holiday dinner. It’s applicable for parties too, and you should include all the tasks necessary (cleaning, dishwashing, etc.). Also, make sure you work in a good 45 minutes of chill time for yourself before guests arrive so that you can be relaxed and ready to enjoy yourself.

4) Ask two people to bring ice and have a place to put it. Unless you have an industrial icemaker, you need this whether you think so or not. You will run out of ice. It is a fact of entertaining. Also, by asking two people, if one forgets -- you still have ice! Win!

5) You don’t have to be matchy-matchy. I have tons of mismatched glassware that I use for entertaining, and I picked up 18 white appetizer plates for 29 cents a pop at the grocery store last year after the holidays. I’ve used them for a baby shower, two spa parties, and a dessert buffet. Unlike the fine china, no one has to feel bad if one crashes to the floor. Look for deals like this, or thrift some cups and plates; just clean them well. Try to stick with one color to unify the look, or pick schemes that work with pieces you already have. You’ll come out close to the price of disposables and have something you can use again and again. Or, if space is a problem, donate them back.

6) Start early with cleaning and decorating. You can also get your servingware out and ready to go days in advance. It’s one less thing on the list and will help you feel collected and ahead of the game.

7) Decorate frugally and sparsely.

From Flickr's Elin B
Tealights are the best cheap decor. You can get a bag of 100 for under $5. Put them in colored glasses, ashtrays, in jellyjars on platters -- anywhere they won’t start a fire or damage what they sit on. Dim the lights, and let them flicker for ambience. Just don’t forget the matches.

Ribbon is multipurpose and thus handy for more than decor. Craft stores often have $0.99 spools of ribbon. Tie it to chandeliers and let long strands flutter. Put bows around vases and candleholders, and tie some ribbon around a mason jar to make a nice holder for a tealight..

Flowers are a nice touch, but not necessary. Shop for flowers late the night before if you’re not looking for something particular. Lots of grocery stores mark down gorgeous flowers to move them on out, and you can get great deals. Buy several bouquets and make groupings throughout the house if they are cheap enough. No vases? Pitchers, mason jars, and glass juice bottles can make great vases, or you can float the blooms in bowls of water.

Tablecloth, shmablecloth. Use an old (clean!) sheet or two to drape the table. For an upscale look, if you have some old pillowcases in a matching or complimentary color, rip the seams down the long sides and unfold them. Lay them crossways on the table for runners that double as placemats.

8) Don’t forget the music. ‘Nuff said.

9) Dress up the outside entryway with a ribbon or something to indicate to people who have never been that they are at the right place.

10. Enjoy your guests. Don’t constantly run back and forth to the kitchen or fuss too much with things. A party isn’t just for your guests; it’s for you, too.


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