Category Archives: winter

Socca

714d7163-69e7-4477-bfa8-965537149405As longtime readers of this blog know, I’m no stranger to making my own pizza. At least, I wasn’t before I became a parent. These days, however, I’m not only short on time, but recognize that eating a big slab of white bread with cheese is probably not the best idea if I’m trying to keep energy levels up. Socca, a sort of flatbread made with ground chickpeas, is not only pizza-like enough to sate a craving, it’s inexpensive, gluten-free, full of protein and, best of all, can be made quickly and easily in a single cast-iron pan. It can also be topped with anything you happen to have on hand. You don’t even need cheese! (This time I’ve used feta, but other times I’ve gone without and it’s been just as great.)

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Apple sauce muffins

IMG_5196Before I had a child, I always mentally classified apple sauce as a foolproof kid food. It’s sweet, it’s fruity, it doesn’t require chewing…what isn’t there to like? According to my son, a lot. For whatever reason, he hates apple sauce. Like, will throw a tantrum if I so much as imply that apple sauce might be present within 50 feet of his lunch or dinner plate. I knew this when I purchased a large Grocery Outlet container of apple sauce for the spice ornaments (which are still fragrant on the tree, by the way) and had intended to eat much of it myself, but even I can only eat so much monochromatic, unsweetened apple mush. Thankfully this old family recipe (one of my husband’s childhood favorites, the recipe hand-lettered on an index card by his grandmother) is an easy, inexpensive, KID-APPROVED use for leftover apple sauce.

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How to get rid of old spices…craftily

IMG_5022 I know, I know…not only is this not exactly a food post, but I’m advocating getting rid of otherwise perfectly good* spices! In this case, though, two wrongs do make a right, especially if you have kids and are jonesing for a Pinterest-y activity that won’t require trashing the house after a $50 trip to Michael’s Crafts.

(*Yes, spices do go bad, and this is of particular concern to budget shoppers, both because we tend to buy in bulk and thus perhaps not repackage the spices as well as we should [i.e., leaving them in their original baggies…anyone? No? just me?], and because cooking on a budget requires adding more flavor through inexpensive ingredients like spices rather than meat or fat, and older spices = less flavor, especially if they come pre-ground. Always buy your spices whole when possible!)

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French onion soup with bacon: $1.52/serving

For some reason I’ve been really craving French onion soup this week. Trashy French onion soup—extra-cheesy, extra sweet. It’s been hot (read: not soup weather), but as anyone who’s been pregnant knows, once there’s a craving, it doesn’t ever really go away until it’s fulfilled. The budget obviously precludes going out and ordering food at a restaurant like a normal person, so my only solution was to spend part of an 80-degree day sweating over the stove. Thankfully, it was worth it. This is a much different take on the French onion soup I made a few months ago; sweeter, with a little smoke from added bacon. (In the past I’ve complained that bacon overwhelms the soup, but this time I only added a tiny bit and it was perfect.)

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Citrus risotto: $1.03/serving

Risotto is a lot more versatile than people realize. Like soup or soufflé, it’s an inexpensive blank canvas for whatever you happen to have on hand—including, as I proved last year with strawberry-basil risotto, even fruit. The idea of incorporating citrus came from Judy Rodgers’ Zuni Cafe Cookbook. Between the quality of fruit I used, my inauthentic risotto method, and my jury-rigged mascarpone, Judy would be perfectly justified in coming up here to slap the book right out of my hands and hit me upside the head with it, but for a slightly modified budget meal, this was just as delicious, different, and refreshing as I had hoped. It’s probably best made during the winter, when citrus is at its peak (at least, it is around here), but if you’re going to make it now, ensure you at least find fruit that’s thin-skinned (less pith) and quite heavy for its size (more juice).

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Stir-fried cabbage with ginger, chilies and rice: 70 cents/serving

This is not the first time I’ve set out to prove that if you have a head of cabbage, 20 minutes, and some pantry staples, you have a meal (see: pickled cabbage stir-fry, white beans and cabbage), but it bears repeating because this dish is so surprisingly good and involves so few ingredients. And in addition to costing under $1 per serving, it’s versatile—B. had leftovers the next day on bread with a fried egg on top and declared them even better than the night before. It may not be the photogenic bowl of food, but part of this is because the cabbage is so well-cooked and deeply flavored that it doesn’t even look like cabbage anymore, let alone taste like it.

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Beet gratin with goat cheese and greens: $2.03/serving

Do you grow beets? Do you like beets? Are you not a flag-waving fan of beets but still think they’re just OK, like Old Navy or the Golden State Warriors? If any of the aforementioned apply to you, you must drop everything right now and make this. (Unless you, like me, meal plan weeks in advance. In which case, add it to the queue as soon as possible.) Because aside from their discovery, this is the greatest thing that has ever happened in the history of beets. B. and I both were in the non-flag-waving camp, and we could’ve eaten two 9×13 dishes’ worth of this stuff, which consists of little more than caramelized beets, their greens sautéed in garlic and olive oil, goat cheese, bread crumbs and some herbs.

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Kimchi jjigae (pork and kimchi stew): 88 cents/serving

This is not the first time I’ve made kimchi jjigae. In fact, it’s kind of become my go-to “use up the last of the kimchi” recipe, because it seems that the older the kimchi gets, the better this stew tastes. It’s not exactly something you can whip up after a trip to Safeway—unless your Safeway happens to have a Korean section—but next time you find yourself near an Asian grocery, be on the lookout for gochugaru (Korean pepper powder) and gochujang (Korean fermented pepper paste). They’re both quite inexpensive and versatile—I’ve even used gochujang to make hummus—and once you have them, this stew is a great, quick weeknight vehicle for whatever meat or vegetables you happen to have on hand.

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Root vegetable and rice gratin: 92 cents/serving

The first time I ever had a traditional gratin, I actually thought I was being virtuous. Look at this! I thought. A dish based entirely on vegetables! That is, until I actually took a bite, and realized the vegetables were nothing but a coagulant for what seemed like an entire carton of cream and a pound of cheese. Don’t get me wrong—I’m a bona fide cheese and cream fan, but it was even too much for me. A single bite was so thick and heavy, the only discernible flavors were fat and salt. This gratin is far from traditional and probably even pushes the definition of “gratin,” but the flavor of each vegetable (you can use whichever ones you like) comes through loud and clear. Plus, you can eat it as a main dish without a whit of guilt.

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Wine-braised short rib & parsnip ragout: $2.27/serving

When I was a kid, I remember noticing with not a small tinge of horror that my mom seemed to eat everything—eggplant, lima beans, Brussels sprouts…things that, to me, ranked up there with boiled rat spleen. I remember asking one day if there was anything on earth she didn’t like, and she responded that in fact there was: parsnips. I knew nothing about parsnips at that point, but somehow found myself subconsciously ignoring them well into my late 20s. After all, if someone who’s willing to eat Brussels sprouts doesn’t like them, why should I even try? Now that I’m well acquainted with $1.29-a-pound parsnips, they’re not only one of my favorite root vegetables, I can’t fathom why someone wouldn’t like them. At their worst they’re simply overgrown, knobby white carrots, at their best they’re shockingly sugar-cube-sweet, a perfect match for rich and beefy short ribs.

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