Monday, January 14, 2008

thinking about food

I spend a lot of time and brainpower thinking about food. It generally takes over an hour to plan a menu and a grocery list for the week, and it's not something I can do easily while Clare is awake and clamoring for my attention, so it's an after-bedtime task. It's logistical. It takes sustained concentration. Why? Because we have to eat cheap. But I am also determined that we shall eat well. These two things don't easily go together, the way our culture does food. And so I spend hours putting menus together so that ingredients dovetail and there's no waste. If I buy an out of the ordinary cheese (for budget purposes, read: anything other than cheddar) then I must use ALL of it somehow, which means more than menu item using it. If I buy meat, I stretch it to cover at least two meals, and try my best to use a cheap cut or find something on sale. (But almost never ever ground beef...I mean, there's only so much you can do with it, and I think early in childhood I was chronically overdosed on ground beef casseroles. That's no slur on my mom--it takes a cook of extraordinary dedication and brilliance to make ground beef into something truly edible and nutritious on a weekly basis. Unlike her, I'm just not up to it.) I try very hard to buy produce in season (difficult in the winter, especially when your spouse is not overly fond of winter squashes). And if something goes bad in the fridge, I feel it like some kind of moral failure.

So I love me a good cheap recipe full of inexpensive ingredients that can be transformed into something yummy and good for you. And because I know how hard it is to eat cheap and well, I am going to share a couple from our menu this past week.

Brent's pick: Andouille Red Beans and Rice. This is a super-quick recipe, also a bonus. You can skimp on the sausage, freeze what's leftover and use it for another recipe or for this one when you make it again.

My pick: Lentil Soup with Chard. Lentils are dirt cheap. And this is an amazing soup. Very earthy and flavorful, and the squeeze of lemon at the end really brightens it up. Even if you don't like lentil soups, I would still say give it a try. You might be surprised.

And if you like people who recommend good recipes, go here.


mom23 said...

Great post!

I want to try both of those recipes!

Have you ever tried cooking w/ TVP? It costs a little bit up front but it goes so so far and its just pure nutrition. Also, it takes on the flavor of whatever it is cooked with and so it simply adds a ground beef-ish texture.

And I'm with you on the ground beef casseroles. I'm just not good at those. Unless its mexican which in my house is less than healthy.

Scott said...

Chard? That's one of the grossest names for a food I've ever heard.

I could eat ground beef every day in whatever form.

jocelyn said...

It is so hard to find good, cheap recipes that both of us like. We have an added challenge: I'm a pesca-vegetarian and Mark is not. So we have to find ways to stretch our ingredients and feed us both with flavorful, healthy food while still occasionally giving Mark some meat and me none! Plus, the recipe needs to be quick and easy, because who has time to prepare a huge meal at the end of a long day? Your lentil/chard soup sounds great. I always forget about chard in the winter. Thanks for sharing!

JTB said...

Haven't ever tried's something I would have to slip past Brent on the sly I expect.

Scott, swiss chard is even better than turnip greens...YUM! But you can sub in turnip greens if you like.

A typical weekly menu around here is about half vegetarian meals. It's a mix of economical and ethical considerations--I've never gone fully veggie, and I doubt Brent ever will, but we do agree on the fact that too much meat is unhealthy, and that consumption of meat is an ethical until we can afford to buy ethically (free-range, etc.), we compromise by not eating much.

Anonymous said...

We struggle with healthy meals all of the time. It really does cost a lot more to buy healthier options. And cooking simple meals takes what seems like forever.

Thanks for the suggestions on meals. We will have to try them. And I might need to email Tracy. We have some textured vegetable protein, but I only have one recipe for it.