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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Roommate Living: Your Food, Kitchen, and Sanity

Since freshman year of college, I’ve had approximately 15,000 roommates. Some are still my best friends, favorite people, and life partners. Others smoked crazy things too late at night. One remains the only unrelated adult I’ve ever yelled at. (Surprise! It was over the dishes.)

Whether you’re fresh out of university or shacking up with your significant other for the first time, living with other people has multitudinous benefits. It can save everyone involved a ton of cash. It can be a social opportunity, cultural experience, and culinary education. It can keep you from being plain lonely.

But if you’re not careful, it can also be a terrifying descent into a cohabitational hell, in which anger and discomfort become facts of everyday life. Living with the dishes guy? Was kind of like that.

The center of roommate karma is inevitably the kitchen. Maintain a zen-like equilibrium there, and your time together will be peaceful and harmonious. Forget to buy paper towels for the third week in a row, and you could find a severed goldfish head on your pillow.

That’s why it’s important to discuss food, money, and galley-related issues up front. It puts you on the same page, sets a precedent for the future, and prevents misunderstanding down the line. So, be open with your wants and needs. Ask plenty of questions. And remember the two most important things about living with anyone new:
  • Don’t be afraid to speak up. If your roommate isn’t doing her dishes and/or owes you money for olive oil, tell her. You can assert yourself and still be considered a nice person.
  • Don’t be a jerk. You’re sharing this room with others, and should always take their feelings into consideration. Play nice, do your part, and don’t make fun of Bob’s vegan macaroni and cheese.
With those ideas in the back of your head, the ensuing discussion should be easy. For reference, here are a few good areas to touch on, along with a ton of pertinent questions.

1) FOOD

First and foremost, you and your roommate(s) have to feed yourselves using actual food. Broaching the edibles topic could set the tone for the rest of your talk, not to mention the rest of your lease. Tread carefully, be thorough and kind, and ask:
  • Will you share food? Will you share everything or just staples? Which staples?
  • Will you share cooking responsibilities? How will you split the job?
  • When will you cook? Should you set up a schedule? What meals will you eat at home?
  • Does anyone have dietary restrictions, allergies, or ethical issues?
  • Will any food be off limits? (ex: If there’s a peanut allergy in the house, it could be best to avoid ‘em altogether.)

2) EQUIPMENT

Once you have food, you need ways to serve it. Your requirements could vary wildly, based on your diet and/or affinity for cooking. Plan ahead, use this checklist for guidance, and ask:
  • What kitchen equipment do you already own? Is it in good shape?
  • What do you need to buy? Where should you buy it?
  • Do you have any doubles (ex: two toasters)? Do you need the extra? If not, what can you do with it?
  • Who will keep new purchases (microwave, blender, etc.) if/when you move out?
  • Is there room to fit everything? (See: Storage.)

3) MONEY

Here comes the hard part. Beyond rent, you’ll probably spend most of your apartment-apportioned cash on food and kitchen supplies. Splitting the bills can be tricky, and payment itself even harder. Stay positive and ask:
  • How will pay for the food you buy jointly? Will you split the bills or alternate months?
  • How will you pay for the kitchen necessities (tin foil, dish soap, paper towels, etc.)? What falls under that umbrella term?
  • Who will do the actual buying? Will you take turns?
  • Will you join a bulk store or CSA? What supermarkets, ethnic markets, and farmer’s markets will you shop at?
  • How will you handle coupons, sales, or memberships?
  • How will you handle restaurants and take out? Does that go in the budget?

4) STORAGE

Pots, pans, silverware, dishes, and appliances do more than look pretty: they take up space. And when square feet are at a minimum, having a storage strategy is vital. Consider your cabinets and ask:
  • Where will you store the food? How about the dishes? And cleaning equipment?
  • Will you split storage? Who gets which refrigerator shelf? What about the pantry and freezer?
  • Do you have enough room for bulk purchases?
  • Is there a way you can easily add extra shelves, cabinets, or pot racks?
  • Are you allowed to throw things out without permission, if it looks like it went bad? (Note: This comes up more than you think. It’s like a science experiment in there sometimes.)

5) CLEANING

Though dishes are 90% of the issue, cleaning goes deeper than washing your coffee cup. In every kitchen, there are counters to wipe, floors to mop, and microwaves to liberate of caked spaghetti sauce. If this is left to one person - or worse, not done at all – things will very messy, both dirt-wise and relationship-wise.
  • How quickly will you have your dishes done? Will you split the responsibility? How?
  • How often will you light clean (counters, sweeping, etc.) the kitchen? Who will take care of this?
  • How often will you deep clean (oven, refrigerator, etc.) the kitchen? Who will take care of this?
  • Who will take out the garbage? How will you handle recycling?
  • Who will take care of repair issues as they come up? Are you handy? Will you be the point person for the landlord?
  • Who will keep track of and replace cleaning tools (Lysol, sponges, etc.)?
  • Should you create a cleaning schedule?
If you address all of these questions up front and periodically revisit them through the course of your cohabitation, you and your roommates/loved ones can enjoy a sparkling, relatively stress-free household. What’s more, you can apply the concepts to almost every shared room in the house, whether it’s the den or the shed you use to make illegal moonshine.

Readers, what about you? Do you have any roommate rules to follow, especially in the kitchen? How about horror stories? You know we loves us some o’ those guys.

(Excellent letter photo from Passive Aggressive Notes.)

~~~

If you like this article, you might also elicit pleasant feelings from:

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

CHG Best of March 2010

It’s been our BME (Best. Month. Evah.) here at CHG (Cheap Healthy Good), both in terms of traffic (over 450,000 pageviews!) and comments (whee!). Thank you, sweet readers, both old school and new wave. Here’s hoping we can keep the streak alive. (Crap! I mentioned the streak! Somewhere, Joe DiMaggio is tut-tutting me all classy-like.) One more article coming tomorrow, and then it’s on to April.

MARCH RECIPES

Banana Oatmeal Muffins
Broccoli with Roasted Red Peppers
Chickpea Cutlets
Curried Apples and Acorn Squash
Dal with Rice and Ginger
Rice Pudding
Salsa Couscous Chicken OR Moroccan Chicken
Vegetarian Chili
White Bean Dip


MARCH ARTICLES

Remember when we fed the Husband-Elect for $25 that one week? Thems was good times. There’s even a clip of our Early Show appearance here! We ended the whole deal with The $25 Food Project Finale: Recipes, Conclusions, and an Exit Interview

Our greatest bombs were documented in CHG Hall of Shame III: Return of the Breadi.

Leigh asked and answered: HOW Old is that Oatmeal? When to Clean Out the Pantry.

Then, she exclaimed mightily, "I Want to Be a Tofu Butcher!"

There was that two-part series on the Junk Food Tax, starting with Reasonable Public Health Measure or Evidence of a Nanny State? and ending with Reader Ideas, Opinions, and Solutions.

Oh, and hey: Need a Weekly Meal Planner, a Grocery List, or Price Books? We Have 36 of ‘em.

Ask the Internet, was ever-so-lovely, as always. We inquired about the following:

For more Cheap Healthy Goodness…

1) Have your say!
We love reading creative comments and participating in thought-provoking discussions. There’s even a fabulous Ask the Internet column, where readers can write in with various inquiries and/or offer helpful suggestions. Sweet.

2) Spread the word!
Like us? Link to us! Refer us to a bookmarking site! (We have StumbleUpon and Digg buttons now!) Or just talk us up to your mom. That’s nice, too.

3) Behold our social networking!
Subscribe to our feed, join our Facebook page, or check out our Twitter … thing. They’re super fun ways to kill time, minus the soul-crushing frustration of Bejeweled.

4) Buy from our Amazon Store!
If you click on the Amazon widget (lower left hand corner) and buy anything from Amazon (not just what we’re advertising on CHG), we get a small commission. And that’s always nice.

5) Remember: when a neighborhood kid drops an empty Papa John’s pizza box on your front stoop, it’s within your rights to pelt him with water balloons.
Oh, Brooklyn.

Ask the Internet: Food Funny?

Today’s question is a spinoff of yesterday’s post, and could be a nice diversion on this rainy, April showers kind of day:

Q: What is your favorite food-related comedy?

A: For about a year here on CHG, we had Favorites of the Week, which usually included a song, sketch, or piece of standup based on food. It was super fun to compile, and often yielded genius like:

Jim Gaffigan on Bacon


Monty Python’s “Spam”


Readers, what’s your favorite food comedy? Is it standup, sketch, or improv? Maybe a song? Or a simple quote?

If you have a link, please include! (Extra points for Vimeo and Youtube URLs, as Canadians can’t see Hulu. It’s kind of like their Snuffleupagus.)

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, March 29, 2010

Broccoli with Roasted Red Peppers, Plus: How to Roast a Pepper

Today on Serious Eats: Orange-Cranberry Muffins. Say goodbye to winter citrus with these super easy, seriously portable healthy breakfast treats.

As a dedicated frugalist and aficionado of tree-like vegetables, I’m forever in search of ways to enliven broccoli. There are fewer cheaper, more nutritious foods in the produce aisle, and honestly, it’s tough to pretend you’re a forest giant with blueberries.

Here's one way to jazz it up:



And you can stir fry it, sure. And broccoli goes pretty well in pasta. But otherwise, if you don’t dig the Cruciferae smothered in cheese or doused in lemon, you’re kinda out of luck.

Enter Broccoli with Roasted Red Peppers. A buttery, sweet twist on a usually staid side dish, the recipe takes about ten minutes if you have jarred roasted red peppers handy. If you don’t, roasting your own pepper will add 20 to 30 minutes to the cooking time, and could be well worth the effort.

To those who've never done it before, the process can be somewhat intimidating. Trust: it’s not so bad. Simply follow these exciting rules:
  • Preheat your broiler.
  • Wash and dry the pepper, taking care to remove any stickers. While delicious raw, roasted stickers possess an unfortunate poison flavor.
  • Place the pepper on a small pan and stick it under the broiler. When the skin becomes blackened, use tongs to turn it over.
  • When the whole pepper becomes blackened, remove it from the oven, place it in a bowl, and cover the bowl with tin foil or plastic wrap. Walk away and do something awesome for a few minutes. Suggested: Settlers of Catan, knitting, cartwheels.
  • Once the pepper is cool enough to handle, peel it, seed it, and use the flesh for your own nefarious purposes.
  • Dance.
By the third and fourth time you roast your own pepper, it’s practically a trip to Disneyworld. (Minus the lines!)

Before we get to the recipe itself, two quick notes on the process: First, I made this at my parents house. (Hi, Ma and Pa!) While they have an excellent pantry and fine selection of produce, they’re not Safeway, and rarely carry fresh herbs. Fortunately, a teaspoon of dried substituted quite nicely. Second, nutrition numbers were provided by All Recipes, and are listed below. Only the price calculations are my own.

Sweet readers, how do you make broccoli less boring? If it involves ranch dressing, open flame, or mangoes, I’m all ears.

~~~
If you like this recipe, you’ll surely enjoy:
~~~

Broccoli with Roasted Red Peppers
Makes 6 servings, 2/3 cup each.
Adapted from All Recipes/Taste of Home.


5 cups broccoli florets, cut small
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup roasted red pepper, diced (or more, if you like)
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley OR 1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

NOTE: If roasting your own pepper, please use the instructions in the above post. If using jarred peppers, read on.

1) Steam broccoli, either in your microwave or on your stovetop. For stovetop: Fill a small pot with 1 or 2 inches water. Place a steamer basket in pot. Add broccoli to basket. Cover, leaving a crack. Steam 3 to 6 minutes, until broccoli is crisp-tender (not limp).

2) While that’s happening, melt butter in a medium pan over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds. Add peppers, parsley, salt, and pepper. Warm through. Remove from heat.

3) In a medium bowl, combine broccoli and pepper mixture. Stir to coat. Add more salt or pepper if you like. Enjoy!

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, and Price Per Serving
41 calories, 2 g fat, 1 g fiber, $0.34

Calculations
5 cups broccoli florets, cut small: $1.48 (Broccoli on sale for $0.99/bunch.)
1 clove garlic, minced: $0.04
1 tablespoon butter: $0.08
1/4 cup roasted red pepper, diced: $0.39
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley OR 1 teaspoon dried parsley: $0.01 (dried)
1/2 teaspoon salt: $0.01
1/8 teaspoon pepper: $0.01
TOTAL: $2.02
PER SERVING (TOTAL/6): $0.34

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Top 10 Links of the Week: 3/19/10 – 3/25/10

Sweet readers! It’s the links! Better late than never, I guess.

1) The Story of Stuff: The Story of Bottled Water
Enthralling, informative, mostly-animated video on the evolution of and waste created by the bottled water boom. You could apply this to almost every processed food, but it’s particularly fascinating in H2O’s case. Ignoring advertising is half the bottle battle. (Thanks to BoingBoing for the link.)

2) Zen Habits: How to Master the Art of Mindful Eating
Guest post from stonesoup’s Jules on thinking about what you eat, a key strategy in keeping yourself satisfied. If you’ve ever plowed through a whole carton of sesame noodles without taking a breath (*cough* me *cough*), you know it’s tougher than it sounds.

3) Slashfood: The Cost of Sharing Entrees
Splitting a plate: chintzy cost-cutting measure or justifiably frugal dining move? You can probably guess which way servers lean. 106 comments and counting.

4) Wise Bread: 7 Ways to Make Use of Sub-Par Produce
Ooo! Love this compilation of ideas for about-to-go-bad fruits and veggies. Raid your past-due bin and get cooking.

5) Jezebel: Latest in Unrealistic Exercise Recommendations – A Full Hour Every Day
We don’t do too many fitness links here because I am a walking marshmallow with the endurance of a three-toed sloth. Still, moderate-to-intense exercise 60 minutes daily does seem a bit extreme, no? When do we watch 30 Rock?

6) The Kitchn: Scientists Finally Prove High Fructose Corn Syrup Risks
Princeton scientists fed a bunch of rats HFCS in two separate studies, and found they gained much more weight than rodents eating sugar. While this seems like pretty damning evidence, Marion Nestle says, “Not so fast, research dudes.” There’s a Secret of Nimh joke in here somewhere.

7) Bitch Ph.D.: If Only the Poor Were More Like Me
Excellent reminder that one person’s experience doesn’t apply to everyone.

8) Eating Well: Fast Food – The Real Cost of a Hamburger
Raj Patel, author of The Value of Nothing, argues that a $3.50 Big Mac is actually way costlier than it appears, since we pay for it dearly in other ways (environmentally, socially, etc.). Read on for deep thoughts and convincing arguments.

9) Slashfood: Is Anyone Watching Over Organics?
Another day, another gobsmacking USDA oversight. It seems no one’s testing organic foods for pesticide residue, among other things, which kind of defeats the purpose.

10) Wise Bread: Buy Your Groceries European-style
Philip buys food almost daily, based on what’s on sale and what looks good. It works for him and his family, and it’s an interesting alternative to the read-a-circular/make-a-list/don’t-deviate style most of us are taught.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Board Game Geek: Settlers of Catan, Pizza Edition
Nerds, behold! It’s real, and it’s spectacular.

Chow: The Basics – How to Make Seared Chicken Breast
Nice graphic tutorial on the best way to prep poultry, fast.

The Kitchn: This Food Will Kill You - Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution
Lots of reviews of the Naked Chef’s new show have been floating around lately, but few have such an extensive comment thread. A good companion piece to the Bitch PhD post.

New York Times: Calorie Data to Be Posted at Most Chains
Side effect of the health care bill: restaurant chains and fast food joints have to include calorie counts in their menus. This could mean bad things for Cheesecake Factory, folks.

AND ALSO

Kotex: Reality Check Ad
This one’s for all the ladies in the place.



Thank you so much for visiting Cheap Healthy Good! (We appreciate it muchly). If you’d like to further support CHG, subscribe to our RSS feed! Or become a Facebook friend! Or check out our Twitter! Or buy something inexpensive, yet fulfilling via that Amazon store (on the left)! Bookmarking sites and links are nice, too. Viva la France!

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Pair of Announcements

Sweet readers! The links are coming a little later today, but first: Leigh and I wrote an opinion piece for CNN. It's here: Want Healthy Kids? Learn How to Cook.

In related news, Husband-Elect and I will be appearing tomorrow morning on CBS' The Early Show to discuss the $25 Food Project. We are super excited, and currently in desperate search of things to wear.

See you back here in a few hours.

~~~

In the meantime, hello everyone from CNN! If you’re visiting the blog for the first time, welcome! We’re so happy to have you. Bathroom’s on the left. If you’re a longtime reader, we love you! We’re not kidding. It's a little scary.

To get an idea of what CHG is all about, our FAQ and mission statement are good places to begin. To go a little deeper, these six posts give a pretty solid overview of what we do here:
  1. Spend Less, Eat Healthier: The Five Most Important Things You Can Do
  2. Dr. Veg-Love, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Seasonal Produce
  3. The Circular Game: Decoding Your Supermarket Weekly
  4. How to Tell if a Recipe is Cheap and Healthy Just by Looking at it
  5. Weekly Menu Planning for Singles, Couples, and Working People
  6. Relax, Frugal Eater: A Measured Approach to Lifestyle Changes
Our master article directory of over 135 similar pieces can be found here. We also post one or two frugal, healthy, and delicious recipes per week, which are compiled here. There's something like 300 right now, and we’re always adding to the list. Here are ten fairly simple favorites to get you started:
Hope you’re enjoying the blog so far. We’d love to hear from you if you have suggestions, and best of luck with your cooking!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Veggie Might: I Want to Be Tofu Butcher

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

Last night there was a vegetarian quorum in my living room: two lacto/ovo vegetarians, one vegan, and one omnivore (who had once been a vegetarian). We voted a moratorium on the question, “So, will you ever eat meat again?”

BA mentioned she was coming up on her 17-year vegan anniversary and that people still asked her that question. We all nodded in sympathy. “They may as well ask if I’d ever eat wood.”

Well, according to the trend piece Flesh Mob in the New York Press, it’s not such a crazy question. Apparently, the bacon craze and conscious carnivorism has vegetarians abandoning their previously held convictions and signing up for butchering classes and joining CSAs for the grass-fed beef—really getting back to the land.

“People were encouraged to avoid meat with scary PETA videos and horror stories about factory farming, but these days, newly carnivorous New Yorkers are able to cushion their consciousnesses with locally grown, free range and all-around-happy meat.”

I found the claim that vegetarians are lining up to become butchers quite disingenuous. Whatever their reasons for becoming vegetarian, none of my current veg-head friends would dream of consuming meat just because it’s de rigueur.

Most former veggies I know, including BH of our living room quorum, made the switch after some soul searching and for myriad reasons, including access and convenience, love (of another human)—and nearly all of them eat meat sparingly.

Plus, I thought people were catching onto the idea that a little meat goes a long way. What happened to being a flexitarian to improve one’s health, bank balance, and environment?

A 2009 Vegetarian Resource Group Poll put the nation’s vegetarian numbers at about 3%, up from 2% in 2006. Even my sister, whose husband hunts and fishes, and a pair of dear friends and avowed omnis are giving part-time vegetarianism a try.

Food is deeply personal, and increasingly, has become moral and political. I am not questioning people’s decision to eat what they choose and live as they believe is right. (I have lots of omni friends!) My beef (har) is with the framing of the story: that vegetarianism is a “phase” we’ll all get over when we grow up—an get a good whiff of frying bacon.

Maybe wood pulp and poly-cotton will be the next big thing. BA and I are on board, since they’re vegan.

Readers, what about you? Are you vegetarian, vegan, part-time vegetarian, or conscious carnivore? Would anything make you change your diet? How do you balance your ethics with your grocery bill? Is food a moral issue in your household? Let ‘er rip in the comments.

(Photo courtesy of Flickr member FantasyFan.)

~~~
If you like this piece, you might also dig:

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Junk Food Tax: Reader Ideas, Opinions, and Solutions

Last week, we discussed the prospect of a Junk Food Tax, a hypothetical federal tariff that would be placed on ostensibly unhealthy edibles like soda, pizza, and more. Ideally, it would curb obesity and prompt buyers toward making healthier grocery choices. Probably, it would make a lot of people angry.

I asked readers their opinions of the potential tax. Responses were voluminous, wonderfully thoughtful, and chock full of good points. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many were vehemently opposed to a junk levy. Of around 40 commenters, only eight were firmly in support, though many had reservations. Those favoring the tax did so mainly for two main reasons:

1) It would help regulate national health care expenses.
  • Rip: High sodium and sugar junk food diets cost the US FAR more than smoking or alcohol, in terms of health costs.
  • Sister6: Decreasing consumption would also decrease the incidence of health problems, and health care costs.
2) It’s not unlike taxing alcohol and cigarettes.
  • Lori: I see snacks and desserts as luxuries, and, as such, I'm fine with taxing luxury items.
Incidentally, I really liked one of commenter Mike’s solutions: “Good behaviors like gym attendance should be subsidized.” Some health insurance companies already do this (note: not mine), and it can only be a good thing.

Still, the vast majority of readers seemed uncomfortable with a Junk Food Tax. Many expressed a deep distrust in elected officials, particularly in their abilities to apply the taxes objectively and morally. Here’s a sampling of the responses from those who were not in favor:

1) There’s no way to regulate the regulators.
  • Amanda: The idea of who would be in charge of drawing the lines, what is "junk" and what is not, and the inevitable lobbies … scares me to death.
  • Alice: Can anyone tell me what happens to the tobacco and alcohol taxes in the US, and where they're proposing the revenues from the new 'fat tax' will end up?
 2) There are no clear guidelines on what would be taxed.
  • Anonymous: Where do you draw the line? Why soda and not candy bars?
  • Lisa: If the government-designed USDA Food Pyramid is used … then Wonder Bread and Rice Crispies will be health food, but we'd be taxing salmon and olive oil for the high fat content.
  • Elizabeth: Our understanding of what constitutes unhealthy food evolves so quickly that it's hard to know where to draw the line in a tax like this, or how often to update it.
3) It’s another symptom/indication of a growing Nanny State.
  • JuLo: They can educate, they can advise, but they absolutely cannot tell me not to drink soda, and taxing specific foods over others sure feels that way.
  • Anon: We need to start looking inward and taking responsibility for the things we do, eat, and say in this country.
Though readers disagreed on the concept overall, three alternatives to the Junk Food Tax were mentioned repeatedly, by people of every opinion, across the board. And those solutions were freakin' sweet.

1) Subsidize healthy foods.
  • The Happy Domestic: Here in Ontario, Canada, all pre-packaged, processed foods are taxable, and all whole-food staples are non-taxable. Now THAT's a tax scheme that makes sense to me.
  • AmandaLP: [I’d] be for a tax on junk food IF it were used to subsidize healthier whole food options…Making apples or lettuce a cheaper options than candy or chips is the way to do it.
2) Decrease or eliminate subsidies for corn, soy, and unhealthy foods.
  • KarenL: Cut the subsidies then we'll talk about taxes.
  • Shesasering: End corn/soy subsidies. The logic is better: we're fat because we eat at Mickey D's and drink soda, right? And we eat that because it's cheap. And it's cheap because corn/soy/wheat are produced at the government's expense. So it makes no sense to subsidize it on one end and tax it on the other.
3) Invest in long-term education.
  • Kristen: I'd rather see encouragement towards and education about good foods rather than taxation of bad foods.
  • Jennifer: Teach people how to garden and give them room to do it. Get some brilliant advertising people to develop ad campaigns that show home cooking from scratch as fun, easy and quick and full of those family values we're so fond of.
Finally, a few readers made a very important point: when we’re considering food and health on a national level, we can’t make the overweight into scapegoats. Not only is it discriminatory, but it’s a misdirection of anger that should be pointed elsewhere, like corporations that make bazillions off stuffing our four-year-olds.

Sweet readers, I want to thank you very, very much for responding in such a spectacular way. It's been a pleasure and an education reading your thoughts. If you have anything more to add, the comment section is open.

~~~
If you like this article, you might also dig:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Green Kitchen: Chickpea Cutlets and Non-Meat Proteins

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

When it comes to humanely raised food, meat is a big question. If you've seen Food, Inc. (which Kris has written about before) or read Fast Food Nation or The Omnivore's Dilemma, you're familiar with the cruelties of the industrial livestock industry. The animals suffer, the workers are mistreated, food safety is a joke, the health value of the meat plummets, and the negative environmental repercussions are epic.

But okay, farmers market meat is usually humanely raised on small-scale farms that are a bajillion times better than factory farms. Sadly, it’s also hella pricey, and this website is not called Worthwhile Expenses Healthy Good. Of course, we should support small operations so they can grow and thrive, but there’s an alternative: non-meat protein.

When you can't buy from a local farmer, non-meat protein is a solid alternative on every level. It will save you money. It almost always will be healthier. It will be better for the planet, having required less energy to produce.

So: non-meat protein! Yay! Nearly all supermarkets have some tofu and mock-meat cold cuts these days, which is spectacular. Still, even the most enthusiastic vegetarian gets tired of tofu, and have you looked at the ingredients on a box of fake ham? There are a lot of them, and I don't know what most of them are. The solution: DIY.

Take these chickpea cutlets, for example. Adapted from inimitable vegan cookbook Veganomicon, they’re healthy, cheap, homemade, and DELICIOUS. (Meat-eating boyfriend-approved!) They’re also packed with protein (thanks, legumes), and a cousin of seitan, the hearty vegan protein Leigh and I have both written of.

A couple of recipe notes: You can bake the cutlets or pan-fry them, and instructions on both methods are below. The pan-fried are a little juicier and tastier than the baked, but that's what fat does for your food. The baked cutlets (I made two of each) were still totally delicious.

Also: one cutlet is a good, albeit slightly small portion. Depending on what else you serve, hungrier or larger folks may want one-and-a-half. The recipe makes four. I ate them with roasted root vegetables (love you, parsnips!) and broccoli, because there is nothing green at the greenmarket right now, and that just doesn't work for me.

From the wonderful/hibernating vegan blog, Yeah, That Vegan S***, I got the idea to dip these cutlets in agave nectar, and oh my goodness was it good! Also great: honey, a squeeze of lemon juice. Maybe a sandwich with an herbed mayo? (Sorry, Kris.) Honey mustard? BBQ sauce? Go mad. Anything you'd dress chicken with would work.

~~~
If you like this recipe, you might also like:
~~~

Chickpea Cutlets
Makes 4 cutlets.
Adapted from Veganomicon by way of Yeah, That Vegan S***


1 cup chickpeas
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup vital wheat gluten
½ cup oatmeal, food-processed to breadcrumb consistency (or ½ c plain breadcrumbs)
¼ cup vegetable broth or water (I used Better than Bouillon)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 garlic cloves, pressed or grated
½ teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon paprika (I used hot, and it was great)
¼ teaspoon dried sage
Olive oil or cooking spray for baking or pan-frying

0) If you will be oven-baking these, preheat your oven to 375.

1) In a medium bowl, combine chickpeas and olive oil. With a big spoon and/or fork (plus a little muscle), mash them together until all the chickpeas are broken apart.

2) In a separate small bowl, combine dry ingredients: gluten, oatmeal, thyme, paprika, sage.

3) In another small bowl, combine wet ingredients: broth, garlic, lemon zest.

4) Dump both dry and wet ingredients into the chickpea mixture. Knead about 3 minutes or so, "until strings of gluten have formed."

5) Divide your dough into quarters. Flatten each piece until it's a patty roughly the size of your flat hand.

TO PAN-FRY: Heat a large skillet over medium heat and coat lightly with olive oil. Cook cutlets about 12 to 15 minutes, flipping once halfway through. When finished, they should be browned and patty-esque in texture.

TO BAKE: Grab a baking sheet and lightly oil or coat it with cooking spray. Then, "brush both sides of each cutlet with olive oil" (or spray with cooking spray – you get the idea here). Pop in the oven for 20 minutes. Flip once and bake 8 or 10 more minutes. When finished, they should be browned and patty-esque in texture

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, and Price per Cutlet
246 calories, 8.2g fat, 3.8g fiber, $0.65

Calculations
1 cup chickpeas: 286 calories, 2.7g fat, 10.6g fiber, $.50
2 tablespoons olive oil: 239 calories, 27g fat, 0g fiber, $.24
½ cup vital wheat gluten: 280 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, $.82
½ cup oatmeal: 150 calories, 3g fat, 4g fiber, $0.15
¼ cup vegetable broth: 1 calorie, 0g fat, 0g fiber, $.05
2 tablespoons soy sauce: 18 calories, 0g fat, .3g fiber, $.21
2 garlic cloves: 10 calories, 0 g fat, 0.1 g fiber, $0.10
½ teaspoon lemon zest: negligible calories and fat, 0.1g fiber, $.50
½ teaspoon dried thyme: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $.02
½ teaspoon paprika: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $.02
¼ teaspoon dried sage: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $.02
TOTAL: 984 calories, 32.7g fat, 15.1g fiber, $2.63
PER CUTLET (TOTAL/4): 246 calories, 8.2g fat, 3.8g fiber, $0.65

Ask the Internet: CSA Reviews, Ideas, and Experiences?

This week’s question comes from Canadian reader Kathleen. She asks:

Q: I am in the process of signing up for my first CSA share and was struck by the lack of discussions about CSAs on the internet - except for farm websites, and CSA networks for farmers. I'm new to the whole eat-local scene, not mega-rich by any stretch of the imagination, and am wondering what kind of risk I am taking investing in one farm for all my veg for this coming season.

Generally, I'm just wondering if you had any thoughts, ideas, reviews, cautionary tales, etc., on community supported agriculture.

A: Thanks for writing, Kathleen! Though I’ve never joined a CSA, our own Leigh was part of one in 2008. That summer, she created a lot of her recipes based on its bounty, and talks a little about her first trip here.

Beyond that, sweet readers, this one is all you. Have you ever signed up for a CSA? How did it go? Would you do it again? What did you do with all that kale? The comment section is wide open.

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, March 22, 2010

CHG Hall of Shame, Part III: Return of the Breadi

Today on Serious Eats: Moroccan-Style Chickpea Soup. I give it three snaps up in Z formation.

Every few months, instead of highlighting a newly beloved edible, we at CHG will compile a list of dishes that totally bombed. Sometimes the recipes themselves are bad, but mostly, it’s my own fault, since I’m semi-literate and terrible at improvising. Seriously, there’s a French Onion Soup at the bottom of this post that didn’t just make me doubt my own skills, but the existence of god.

The reasons for the Hall of Shame pieces are threefold:
  1. This way, you know we don’t post everything we make. Dishes can’t just be cheap and healthy. They have to taste like actual food. That people would eat. Without accompanying upchuck.
  2. Bad food is funny.
  3. I forgot reason #3.
So, without further ado, here’s the very best of the very worst. Please respect me in the morning.

Parsnip Fries
Okay, you know how one of the basic tenets of food prep is chopping ingredients into similar-sized pieces, so they cook evenly? I ignored that rule here. Some parsnips burned, others didn’t heat through. I think the one in the middle is giving me the finger.

Turkey Meatballs
Giada DeLaurentiis’ turkey meatballs are widely known and well reviewed. “Hey,” I thought, “Why not ignore her directions completely, add more egg, and chop the onions into something resembling hubcaps? Then, I’ll burn the meat beyond recognition and cover the carnage in red sauce.” Bad plan, me. Bad plan.

Lime Basil Sorbet
It turns out, when a recipe calls for an ice cream maker, you can’t substitute an 8x8 Corningware baking dish. Doy. This block of lime and basil ice haunted our freezer for a month before I finally sacked up and tossed it. Apologies to Cooking Light, which deserves better from its readers.

Parmesan Steak Fries
This one wasn’t me! At least, I don’t think it was. No, it was probably me. Either way, this Everyday Food recipe tasted like nothing. They’re usually infallible, so I shoulder the blame. Martha, please forgive me. Don’t hit me with your ornamental loom.

Watermelon & Feta Salad
When an excellent, competent food blogger asks you to cut up a block of feta, and you use cheap pre-crumbled cheese complete with anti-caking agent, you deserve whatever weird Watermelon-cheese soup you end up with. Which is what I did.

Pureed Broccoli Pasta
Sigh. Again with the feta. I don’t think I added enough liquid, either, meaning the only thing grainier than my picture was the sauce itself.

French Onion Soup
Once upon a time, there was a culinary nitwit who wanted French Onion Soup, but didn’t have the time to make one from scratch. So, she opened a can of Progresso, crumbled up an old roll, and melted a hunk of about-to-go-bad mozzarella on top. This all occurred in the microwave, which actually yelled at her for attempting such a travesty. Then she died of bad food. The end.

The cookies. THE COOKIES.
A few months before Christmas, I received an e-mail from a major food publication asking me to enter a baking contest. Ecstatic and newly motivated, I devised a recipe for Double Chocolate Cherry Cookies, which was supposed to whet editors’ appetites, revolutionize cookie making, and bring about world peace. Eight slightly different batches later, they still sucked and I gained seven pounds. We’ll get ‘em next year, Buttermaker.

And that’s the whole shameful bunch. Readers, what dishes have you mucked up lately? Do tell.

~~~
If you like this piece, you might also dig:

Friday, March 19, 2010

Top 10 Links of the Week: 3/12/10 – 3/18/10

Lots of excellent links this week, many dealing with weird imbalances in food subsidies and how they affect health nationwide.

Which? Incidentally? I think we’re at a tipping point here. Media’s covering the subsidy issue more and more, and man-on-the-street awareness is slowly setting in. If the blogosphere is any indication, some substantial change will soon be in order, methinks.

But first … the links!

1) Zen Habits: The Simple Way to Stick to a Meal Plan
A soothing, calm approach to eating, highlighting the benefits of incremental dietary changes. Incidentally, I love this blog. It makes me want to listen to Sade and sip chai.

2) Salon: Hipsters on Food Stamps
This controversial piece has been making the rounds this week. Essentially, highly educated folks in their 20s and 30s are relying on food stamps to get by, but they’re buying organic produce and artisan breads with the assistance. Commenters are torn. Half are all like, “What’s the big deal? Would you feel better if they bought Big Macs?” The other half are all like, “What’s a kid with a MA doing on food stamps? Stop buying ironic t-shirts and get a job, beatnik!”

3) Food Politics: Michelle Obama to Grocery Manufacturers - Let’s Move!
MObama recently spoke to the GMA (note: Grocery Manufacturers Association, not Good Morning America), urging them to overhaul their practices for the good of the children. I try to keep this a bipartisan blog, but man, I love this lady.

4) Consumerist: How Oranges Cost More Than Coke
Adjusting for inflation, produce is almost 50% more expensive today than it was in 1978. Soda (or pop, for you Buffalonians) is 33% cheaper. Something is seriously wrong here.

5) New York Times: The Obesity-Hunger Paradox
Some of the poorest areas in America also happen to be the heaviest, with the South Bronx at the top of the list. Causes, consequences, and some really innovative solutions herein. Absolutely worth a read. (Go! Read it! I mean it.)

6) Casual Kitchen: The Worst Lie of the Food Blogosphere
The lie: “Food companies are evil.”
The post: provocative.
The discussion: smart, fun, even a little heated.

7) Civil Eats: 8 Steps the Department of Justice Could Take to Reform Farming
U.S. farmers reported a 35% drop in income in 2009. Agriculture megacorp Monsanto is expecting “gross margins in Q2 2010 of 62%.” It ain’t right, and the USDA and Justice Department are looking into their monopoly-esque practices. These eight ideas could help level the playing field.

8) New York Times: In Hard Times, Lured Into Trade School and Debt
You know those commercials for Le Cordon Bleu you see all over the Food Network? They’re actually for a for-profit college system called the Career Education Corporation. Students are charged $41,000 for a 15- or 21-month program that nets them jobs making $21,000 yearly.

9) Culinate: Culinary choreography - The importance of not being afraid to fail with cooking
Or, to quote Conan O’Brien’s commencement speech to the Harvard Class of 2000, “Fall down. Make a mess. Break something occasionally. Know that your mistakes are your own unique way of getting to where you need to be.” It applies to chicken, too.

10) Wise Bread: Cheapest Ways to Get Your Caffeine Fix
Need to stay awake, but don’t want to fork over $4.57 for a vente double mocha latte skim? This ingenious little list will keep your eyes wide open.


HONORABLE MENTIONS

Amber Waves: Guess Who’s Turning 100? - Tracking a Century of American Eating
Interesting piece on U.S. food trends since 1900. Plus, a bonus Boogie Nights reference, right in the blog title!

BoingBoing: London restaurant serves WWII rationing cuisine
Kitchen Front is a Brit eatery that recreates ‘40s food precisely, and then serves it up as dinner fare. The flavor is, uh, utilitarian at best, but the reviewer gives the place points for accuracy.

Chow: When Did “Cheeseburger” Become a Flavor?
Good question. Those Pringles cans freak me out, man.

Consumerist: This 1-Year-Old Happy Meal Has Aged Surprisingly Well
French fries age better than people. Both age better than Soylent Green.

Food Politics: Disturbances on the GM Front
GM meaning “genetically modified,” not “General Motors.”

Money Saving Mom: 31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget – Shop at More than One Store
The series continues. Log on and save mad cash.

The Simple Dollar: Litterless Juice Boxes – Do They Save Money if You Have Kids?
Short answer: yes. (As long as your children don’t lose stuff.) (Kids don’t lose stuff, do they?)


BLOG CARNIVALS

CHG was fortunate to be featured in two blog carnivals this week! Sweet.

AND ALSO

Ukraine’s Got Talent: Kseniya Simonova - Sand Animation
Wow. She’s doing that with sand. I couldn't do that with actual art supplies.



Thank you so much for visiting Cheap Healthy Good! (We appreciate it muchly). If you’d like to further support CHG, subscribe to our RSS feed! Or become a Facebook friend! Or check out our Twitter! Or buy something inexpensive, yet fulfilling via that Amazon store (on the left)! Bookmarking sites and links are nice, too. Viva la France!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Veggie Might: Vegan Rice Pudding or What Took Me So Long?

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

It’s an established fact, as long-time CHG readers know, that I’m a picky dessert eater. I have a long list of dislikes and flat-out hates that make me annoying when my girlfriends want to share tiramisu or strawberry shortcake.

My youth was spent turning up my nose at many of my grandmother’s and mother’s homemade offerings that didn’t involve chocolate chips or gelatin. I don’t recall if anyone ever offered me rice pudding, but I’m sure I would have refused the grainy white goop. The thing is I have no memory of it being a staple in my family’s dessert/snacktime repertoire.

Rice pudding has come lately to my attention via Indian restaurants. It’s warm, delicious, and simple, and but for the errant raisin, meets all my dessert criteria. Suddenly, I found myself craving it last weekend during the East Coast Monsoonami™, so for the first time, I made my it myself.

Jumping off from the “Rice Pudding” recipe in The Joy of Cooking, I replaced the whole milk with almond milk and used up the jasmine rice that had been hanging out in my pantry for far too long.

Though a bit time consuming, it’s criminally simple to make. It’s really just stirring; and I’m great at stirring. An hour later, I could barely wait for the fragrant, vanilla-scented porridge to cool before I dove in.

“What took me so long to make this?!” I said aloud to my dog. He looked at me with those eyes that say, “Whatever, lady.” I immediately ate two dishes. But it’s cool, since it’s pretty healthy for a dessert.

I still can’t believe my mother never made this for us when we were kids. Or maybe she did and I never ate it. Either way, vegan rice pudding is going into heavy rotation. Rice will never again last a year in this house.

~~~
If you dig this recipe, you may also dig
~~~

Vegan Jasmine Rice Pudding
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking
Serves 7–8

3/4 cup jasmine rice
1 1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
4 cups almond milk (or other nondairy milk)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
dash of cinnamon
almonds (optional garnish)

1) In a large saucepan, bring salted water and rice to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for approximately 15 minutes or until water is absorbed and rice is fluffy.

2) Add the almond milk and sugar to the rice and increase heat to medium. Stirring frequently, cook for 30–40 minutes until the mixture is thick and creamy.

3) Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

4) Pour into 7–8 ramekins and cover with plastic wrap if you don’t like pudding skin. Once the pudding has cooled, or if you want to serve it warm (as I do), garnish with dashes of cinnamon and almonds, as desired.

5) Take a taste, close your eyes, and try to imagine heaven being better than this. Just try.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, and Price per Serving
Serves 7: 161.8 calories, 3.1 g fat, .9 g fiber, $0.40
Serves 8: 141.6 calories, 2.75 g fat, .75 g fiber, $0.35

Calculations
3/4 cup jasmine rice: 450 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, $.41
1/4 tsp salt: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $.02
4 cups almond milk: 160 calories, 12g fat, 4g fiber, $1.99
1/2 cup sugar: 418.5 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, $.28
2 tsp vanilla: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $.04
cinnamon: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $.02
14 almonds: 104 calories, 10g fat, 2g fiber, $.04
Totals: 1132.5 calories, 22g fat, 6g fiber, $2.80
Per serving (totals/7): 161.8 calories, 3.1g fat, .9g fiber, $.40
Per serving (totals/8): 141.6 calories, 2.75g fat, .75g fiber, $.35

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Junk Food Tax: Reasonable Public Health Measure or Evidence of a Nanny State?

By now, you might have heard about the “junk food tax” or “fat tax.” No doubt, you’ve read a few articles and thought, “This is a wonderful idea!” or “Man, what are these people smoking?” At a potluck this past weekend, a few friends debated the notion, and reactions seemed to mirror those sentiments.

If you haven’t heard of the junk food tax, the idea is this: to help curb obesity, the government would add a tariff on to unhealthy foods, such as soda and pizza. While no concrete legislation has been passed (as far as I’m aware), the specter of the tax has ignited some debate. Will it really help our weight problems? Is it fair to tax people who can’t afford healthy food? Aren’t we capable of choosing what we eat? Where would it end?

I’m of two minds on this.
  • When I consider the overall health of the nation, taxing junk food seems like a decent idea. Though education would ultimately be the best way of solving our obesity problem, it will take awhile. A tariff, on the other hand, is an immediate solution, and according to a recent study, might be more effective than subsidizing produce. Not to mention, the extra funds raised by the tax could go toward programs encouraging healthier behaviors. We tax booze and cigarettes, so why not junk food?
  • When I consider me – just me – my answer is very, very different. I can control my own intake, and don’t think I should be punished financially for wanting the occasional Pepperidge Farm Mint Milano (a.k.a. What Cookies Must Be Like in Heaven).
I’m curious as to your opinions, though, sweet readers, and would love to read your thoughts. Based on the arguments, I’ll compose a piece for next week outlining the good and bad points of the idea in more depth, as well as the readers’ general consensus.

The comment section is open: What’s your opinion of a potential junk food tax?

(Needless to say, please keep it civil.)

A Quick and Dirty Guide to Lighter, Cheaper Drinks

Sweet readers, this originally appeared in July 2008, but I waned to re-post for St. Patrick's Day. There'll be a new one up later today. And also! A special note to Weight Watchers: A 12-ounce bottle of Guinness (not a can) is only two points! Drink up.

Top o’ the mornin’ to ye, my fellow Irish, part-Irish, and Irish-on-March-17th-only. I raise a pint of Guinness to you, since today, of all days, today calls for a drink.

Alas, alcohol is expensive, and certain beverages come with calorie counts you’d expect only from a Double Whopper. So, how can one quaff without ending up as nutritionally and financially bankrupt as 70s-era Meat Loaf? Read on…

CUTTING CALORIES

For starters, to chop your caloric intake, avoid these 13 drinks:
(Note: all serving sizes standard)

Regular Beer (140–180 calories)
Malt beverages (Mike’s Hard, Bacardi, etc.) (190-240 calories)
Melon Ball (~300 calories)
Sex on the Beach (~300 calories)
Mai Tai (~350 calories)
Rum and regular Coke (~350 calories)
Mudslide (~ 400 calories)
White Russian (~400 calories)
Chocolate Martini (~450 calories)
Hurricane (~600 calories)
Pina Colada (~600 calories)
Frozen Margarita (~700 calories)
Long Island Iced Tea (~750 calories)

And drink these 13 instead:

Bellini (~65 calories)
Mimosa (~80 calories)
Light Beer (95-110 calories)
Scotch, vodka, gin, or bourbon (~100 calories)
Red, white, or sparkling white wine (100-120 calories)
Bloody Mary (~110 calories)
Rum and Diet Coke (~115 calories)
Tom Collins (~120 calories)
Sloe Gin Fizz (~120 calories)
Vodka Martini (~125 calories)
Guinness (12 oz = 125 calories)
Mojito (~160 calories)
Cosmopolitan (~160 calories)

Once you’ve got that memorized, try these tips, some of which (nursing, drinking water) coincide nicely with the whole “save money” thing:

Plan ahead. Before going out, spend some time researching the nutritional aspects of certain beverages (and yes, the term “nutritional” is being used loosely here). Dottie’s Weight Loss Zone and Recipe Circus both have comprehensive calorie-per-serving listings that'll give you a good idea of what you’re guzzling. For even more information, check the source listing at the bottom of this article.

Know your ingredients. If you don’t have time set aside to research (and really … I understand), keep these in mind:
  • To better your chances of scoring a low-calorie mixed drink, watch out for milk, coconut milk, heavy cream, Red Bull, Crème de anything, premade mixes, regular soda, lemonade, sugar, and full-sugar fruit juice.
  • Instead, look for diet sodas, diet mixes, club soda/seltzer, ice, tomato juice, champagne, prosecco, cava, and fruit purees.
Establish boundaries. Give yourself a pre-set limit and stick to it. No more than two beers at a picnic, three glasses of wine at a wedding, etc. To make this strategy doubly effective, enlist a partner and help each other keep track.

Order a bigger drink. I don’t know about y’all, but I can knock off a standard-sized Cosmo during a commercial break. If that’s your situation as well, it might help to choose a larger, lighter beverage with less alcohol content. A 12-oz Beck’s Premier Light (only 64 calories) can take a full hour to imbibe, which contrasts nicely to those three-minute martinis. Speaking of…

Learn to nurse. Note: A beer, not a baby.

Hit the web. If you’re preparing drinks at home, look for websites that specifically cater to light beverage seekers. Hungry Girl is good for this, as are Cooking Light and the Weight Watchers boards.

Embrace agua. Sipping a glass of water between drinks will:
A) keep you hydrated,
B) keep you sober, and able to regulate your cash flow better,
C) chop your caloric intake in half, and
D) chop your spent dollars in half.

Flip a brain switch. Try to think of liquor as a treat (like ice cream or bacon) rather than an everymeal event (like water or vegetables). With practice, the distinction could become a habit, saving oodles of calories (and cash) in the long run.

Ignore peer pressure. Dude. Drinking is not a requirement for social events. If you like soda better, that’s completely fine. Get down with your teetotaling self.

CUTTING EXPENDITURES

Of course, price is another matter entirely. Unless you’re drinking it out of a king-size plastic flagon (Which … no judgment. Been there.) hooch costs add up quickly – especially if you’re sating a party. These tips should help to slash some costs.

Go bargain hunting. Look for happy hours, drink specials, and brunch menus with drinks included. Sites like Unthirsty and Happy-Hour are great resources, and folks in metro areas can Google some pretty decent city guides, as well. Always remember, though: if you can’t afford to tip the bartender/waitress, you can’t afford to go out.

Keep it simple. Mixed drinks are sometimes priced by their degree of prep difficulty and/or the amount of alcohol contained within. Fortunately, lots of lighter drinks are fairly unfussy that way. So, next time you’re deciding between a made-from-scratch Frozen Strawberry Daquiri and vodka with club soda, go with the latter.

Mix intelligently. Don’t use or ask for high-quality alcohol in mixed drinks. Stuff like Macallan is meant to be savored on its own or with very little enhancement. Combining it with lesser liquor misses the point.

Purchase wine wisely. According to studies, the vast majority of vino chuggers can’t tell the difference between a $6 bottle of Trader Joe’s Cabernet and a $50 jug of the upscale stuff. Ask the clerk for his/her best lower-range suggestions, and when in doubt, go for the less-expensive (but not bottom-of-the-barrel) brand. I find that Cavit, Fetzer, Indaba, Ravenswood, Yellow Tail, Veramonte, and Charles Shaw (a.k.a. Two Buck Chuck) are all pretty reliable, fairly economic labels.

Abandon your brand loyalty. Dropping your allegiance to certain labels opens up a whole new world of bargains and flavors. Why? Well, oftentimes, the stuff you like won’t be on sale, but a similar-tasting item will be. Give it a shot, and you might be pleasantly surprised. (Note: This doesn’t mean you have to forgo Smithwicks for Schlitz. It means that if there are two six-packs of similar Hefeweizens, and A’s on sale for $2 less than B, choose A.)

Buy in bulk. Almost without fail, alcohol is cheaper in bigger packages – beer especially. What’s more, certain wine and liquor stores give 10% case discounts, so don’t forget to ask the cashier. (Of course, some may argue that having so much booze lying around might tempt you to drink more often. If that’s the case, please only buy in bulk for gathering-type situations.)

Order online. Sites like Wine.com and My Wines Direct offer a wide selection of highly-rated, deeply discounted wines that can be shipped anywhere. Look for Clearance or Under $20 sections, and be sure to check RetailMeNot for bargain codes before purchasing.

Go beyond the norm. Beer barns, airports, Trader Joe’s, breweries, and wineries are just a sampling of the locales where intoxicants can be purchased at a less-than-soul-crushing price. Next time you pass one, step inside and consider.

Stay at home. If you’re really looking to get your drink on, consider inviting a few friends over instead of going out. Bars and restaurants make mad cash on alcohol, and tippling at either can cost you 500% more than if you set up shop in your own kitchen. If you do head out to an eatery, consider one with a BYO policy.

And that’s it. Readers, do you have any suggestions on either the health or cash front? What are your favorite low-cal drinks? How do you save a bundle when buying liquor? Bring it!

Sources for calorie information:
Calorie King
Divine Caroline
Dottie's Weight Loss ZoneFitSugar
Forbes
Glamour
Men's Health
Recipe Circus
Washington Post

(Photos courtesy of Guinness, Stuff Educated Latinos Like, and Wine and Words.)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Guest Recipe Post: Vegetarian Chili On the Fly

Katrina del Mar is a photographer, filmmaker, and 20-minute cooking specialist.

We’re hungry. There’s nothing to eat. What are we gonna do?

Five of us are upstate at a friend’s country house. One of us is a gluten-free vegetarian, and another is off sugar. I like to eat whole grains and real food, but I’m not a total snob. Oh, and the other people would be happy with a grilled American cheese on white bread with a donut for dessert.

We blew a bunch of money on lift tickets. We want to save money.

I go to the cupboard and I find a bag of brown rice; it’s almost empty. So, I dig further and find some lentils, some dried split peas, and some millet. Some taco shells. I find a can of black beans, another can of refried beans, a tiny can of tomato paste. I know we have some onions and garlic. In the freezer there’s a bag of frozen carrots. Rummaging through the fridge, I turn up some slightly withered hot peppers and some cheddar cheese.

I’m in business. It’s gonna be chili & rice.

I sauté half a sliced onion in some olive oil and add half a bouillon cube. (I use Rapunzel, it’s vegan. At some point I recommended it to my friends and thankfully, they have some on hand.) I put in the brown rice and some salt while I have the teakettle on to heat up some water. When the onions are soft and the rice gets kind of opaque I toss in the lentils, split peas, and the millet, and then the hot water. Plumes of steam hiss up and I slam a lid on it, dropping it down to a low simmer temp.

I get some help to slice the onions and hot peppers (which leads to an alarming contact lens situation later) and toss them into a pot with olive oil. I rinse off the black beans in a colander. We’re in company; it’s essential to not make the country cabin into a gas factory. I’ve been told it helps if you rinse off the beans. I find chili powder and cayenne in the cabinet. (I wish they had caraway seeds, it’s a great anti-gas agent!)

Once the onions and peppers are soft I toss in some crushed, coarse-chopped garlic. Following quickly are the beans, the tomato paste, some water, some chili powder, salt, and for the sneaky warmth of it, a cinnamon stick. Cover and simmer. You know what? Some refried beans go in. Not the whole can, I took a quick survey and everybody wants some refried beans just as they come, warmed up. That and the carrots, I’m gonna keep simple. They go into their respective pots for a warmup. I toast the taco shells in the oven a little bit so they are warm and won’t break apart.

At the end we have a ton of food. It’s pretty low rent but with grated cheddar melting on vegetarian chili, girl, we sure did like it. Also, since the food was already paid for, we have more money for snowboarding.

The chili took about 20 minutes. If you want this whole recipe to take 20 minutes, make quinoa instead of the brown rice.

The brown rice took about 45 minutes; that’s a pretty long wait but it’d still take longer to go to town, sit in a restaurant, look at menus, decide and then wait for the food. I bet.

On the Fly Vegetarian Chili
Serves 4 or 5


Chili
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 small hot red peppers, chopped
2 or 3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 14.5-ounce can refried beans (vegetarian, if possible)
1 14.5-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 small can tomato paste
A little water
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chili powder to your liking
1 cinnamon stick (or a little ground cinnamon)

Rice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/2 bouillon cube (Rapunzel if you can)
1/2 cup brown rice, uncooked
1/8 cup lentils, uncooked
1/8 cup millet, uncooked
1/8 cup green split peas, uncooked
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Jack, cheddar, or Colby cheese, grated (optional)
Taco shells (optional)

See above for preparation directions. You should have just enough chili to feed everyone. There will probably be leftovers of the rice mixture.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, and Price Per Serving
4 servings: 433 calories, 13 g fat, 16.8 g fiber, $1.95
5 servings: 346 calories, 10.4 g fat, 13.5 g fiber, $1.56
For 1 taco shell add: 62 calories, 3 g fat, 1 g fiber, $0.21
For 1 ounce grated 2% cheese, add: 90 calories, 9 g fat, 0 g fiber, $0.25

Calculations
1 1/2 medium onion, chopped: 69 calories, 0.2 g fat, 2.3 g fiber, $0.93
2 small hot red peppers (hot): 36 calories, 0.4 g fat, 1.4 g fiber, $0.75
2 or 3 cloves garlic, chopped: 10 calories, 0 g fat, 0.1 g fiber, $0.10
3 tablespoons olive oil: 358 calories, 40.5 g fat, 0 g fiber, $0.56
1/3 can refried beans: 79 calories, 1.1 g fat, 4.4 g fiber, $1.29
1 14.5-ounce can black beans: 382 calories, 1.3 g fat, 29 g fiber, $1.29
1 small can tomato paste: 131 calories, 0.2 g fat, 7.2 g fiber, $0.89
1/2 cup brown rice, uncooked: 342 calories, 2.7 g fat, 3.2 g fiber, $0.54
1/8 cup lentils, uncooked: 85 calories, 0.3 g fat, 7.3 g fiber, $0.12
1/8 cup millet, uncooked: 95 calories, 1.1 g fat, 2.1 g fiber, $0.35
1/8 cup green split peas, uncooked: 85 calories, 0.3 g fat, 6.5 g fiber, $0.25
1/2 bouillon cube (Rapunzel brand): 25 calories, 2 g fat, 0 g fiber, $0.19
Kosher salt: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $0.01
Freshly ground black pepper: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $0.01
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder: 35 calories, 1.9 g fat, 3.8 g fiber, $0.20
1 cinnamon stick: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $0.33
TOTALS: 1732 calories, 52 g fat, 67.3 g fiber, $7.81
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 433 calories, 13 g fat, 16.8 g fiber, $1.95
PER SERVING (TOTAL/5): 346 calories, 10.4 g fat, 13.5 g fiber, $1.56

Ask the Internet: Hominy Recipes?

Today’s question was posed by a reader a few months ago. I’m paraphrasing here:

Q: What can you do with hominy? Are there any good recipes? What about its nutrition?

A: Man, good question. Here’s what I know, and it ain’t much: hominy is a corn product that comes in white and yellow varieties. It’s fairly high in fiber, and gives you a lot of food for comparatively few calories. In my area (Brooklyn), it’s canned, relatively cheap, and can be found in the Latin section of the supermarket.

I bought hominy for the first time a few months ago, to make Winter Vegetable Chili. It didn’t add much flavor, but it melded seamlessly with the spices and thickened the dish well. Beyond that, I know it’s commonly used in pozole, a delicious Mexican stew. Beyond beyond that, I’m stumped.

Readers, how do you use hominy? Do tell.

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, March 15, 2010

Banana Oatmeal Muffins: A Recipe of Odds and Ends

Today on Serious Eats: Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread. A quick, idiot-proof brown bread just in time for St. Patty’s Day.

When you really start cooking for yourself, the best part (beyond the actual eating) is amassing a collection of foods you never thought you’d try, much less learn to love. My kitchen is filled with flavor right now, ranging from vinegars, spices, herbs, and oils to starches, baking supplies, and preserves. I couldn’t have imagined this in college, when my pantry consisted of ketchup and five boxes of Kix.

However, there is a dark side to the glorious assembly.

Filling the nooks and crannies of my shelves, between the grand boxes of lasagna noodles and flasks of sesame oil, are a billion little bags of atypical, mostly-used edibles. Currently, they consist of:
  • 1/2 cup Arborio rice
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 3/4 vanilla bean
  • 7 vials of food coloring (3 primary, 4 neon)
  • 3 half-full jars of honey
  • 8 pistachios
  • 12 unshelled peanuts
  • 1 small jar chocolate sauce (from 2008)
  • 1 frozen bag yellow tomato slices
  • 6 coffee samples
  • 1/2 box superfine sugar
  • 2/3 huge bag masa harina
  • 4 to 6 drops peppermint extract
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup fat free sour cream (I can never tell when it goes bad.)
  • Red curry paste from before I was born (or thereabouts)
  • 1 jar organic tahini, minus 2 tablespoons
  • 1 canister Crystal Lite pink lemonade
  • More tea than any 15 people need (Note: I don’t drink tea.)
  • So many capers. SO. MANY. CAPERS.
The capers, tahini, evaporated milk, and various odds and ends will eventually be turned into a recipe. Other items (and I’m looking at you, chocolate sauce from the beginning of time) will probably suck up space until we move.

Consequently, I love dishes that can eliminate two or three strange elements. Banana Oatmeal Muffins is just such a recipe. Sure, it’s easy, delicious, and makes for an excellent on-the-go breakfast, but you can also throw in just about anything to jazz it up. (Note: except the capers. That would be bad.)

Have a half a bag of oat flour? It goes in here. Two about-to-go-bad bananas? Gone. A few Craisins? Plop ‘em in the bowl. Pistachios, peanuts, honey – even that jar of chocolate sauce wouldn’t be out of place. (Er, maybe.) Your taste buds are your only limits.

So, to end this post, a toast: Here’s to all those little weird things clogging up your cabinets. May they fill your muffins as much as your heart. (Or something.)

~~~
If you like this recipe, you might also dig:
~~~

Banana Oatmeal Muffins
Makes 12 muffins.
Adapted from Half-Baked Baker.


1 1/4 cup rolled oats (I used Quaker Old-Fashioned – Kris)
1/2 cup fat-free sour cream
1/2 cup skim milk
1 1/2 cups oat flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large ripe bananas, mashed
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup raisins
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

NOTE: If you do not have oat flour on hand (which I don’t), simply whirl 2 cups rolled oats in a food processor until they reach a flour-like consistency. This will create about 1 1/2 cups oat flour.

1) Preheat oven to 400°F.

2) In a large bowl, stir oats, sour cream, and milk together until combined. Set aside for 10 minutes.

3) In a medium bowl, whisk together oat flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside.

4) In a small bowl, mix raisins and all-purpose flour. Set aside.

5) To the oat/sour cream mixture, add brown sugar, vegetable oil, bananas, egg, and vanilla extract. Stir to combine. Add oat flour mixture. Stir until just moistened. Add raisins. Stir until incorporated.

6) Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray (or use muffin cups). Evenly distribute batter among cups. Bake 18-20 minutes, until muffins are golden brown and they pass the toothpick test. Remove from oven and cool in pan for 5 minutes. Flip muffins out of pan. Enjoy warm or let cool completely.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, and Price Per Serving
226 calories, 8.3 g fat, 3 g fiber, $0.33

Calculations
NOTE: My oat flour calculations are for food-processed oatmeal, as described in the note above.
1 1/4 cup rolled oats (Quaker Old-Fashioned): 375 calories, 7.5 g fat, 10 g fiber, $0.34
1/2 cup fat-free sour cream: 120 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g fiber, $0.89
1/2 cup skim milk: 45 calories, 0.4 g fat, 0 g fiber, $0.12
1 1/2 cups oat flour: 600 calories, 12 g fat, 16 g fiber, $0.54
1/2 tsp cinnamon: 3 calories, 0 g fat, 0.6 g fiber, $0.01
1/2 tsp nutmeg: 6 calories, 0.4 g fat, 0.2 g fiber, $0.03
1/2 tsp salt: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $0.01
2 tsp baking powder: 5 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g fiber, $0.07
1 tsp baking soda: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $0.01
1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed: 344 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g fiber, $0.29
1/3 cup vegetable oil: 646 calories, 73.1 g fat, 0 g fiber, $0.48
2 large ripe bananas, mashed: 242 calories, 0.8 g fat, 7.1 g fiber, $0.46
1 large egg, lightly beaten: 74 calories, 5 g fat, 0 g fiber, $0.21
1 teaspoon vanilla extract: 12 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g fiber, $0.05
1/2 cup raisins: 217 calories, 0.4 g fat, 2.7 g fiber, $0.44
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour: 27 calories, 0.1 g fat, 0.2 g fiber, $0.01
TOTAL: 2716 calories, 99.7 g fat, 36.8 g fiber, $3.96
PER SERVING (TOTAL/12): 226 calories, 8.3 g fat, 3 g fiber, $0.33