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Category Archives: cheap eats

Frugal: The New Chic?

money-tree

“Happiness is making the most of what you have.”

–Rosamunde Pilcher

I have been dying to find an angle for writing about a fascinating phenomenon related to the Nation’s economic crisis. The problem was that it never appeared in a food-related context, and it would have been a real stretch to blog about it here. Today, in my inbox, I got what I needed.

The phenomenon as a whole has to do with the fact that while newspapers, magazines and television “news” are practically bursting with information about “cutting back” and “living well with less,” many of us were already living that way. Not one, not two, but three magazines that I read on a regular basis have had articles about “shopping your own closet.” Models are photographed wearing Target earrings and Nine West bags with their Miuccia Prada dresses and Manolo heels. We are told that we can get our hair cut at a beauty school, buy from consignment stores and (get this) borrow movies and DVDs from the public library in order to get through tough times.

I have been burning, simply burning (in my garage sale chair, wearing my $25.00 jeans) to write about the fact that, for many of us, this paradigm shift is a complete and total relief. I am not happy that people are hurting, or losing jobs and homes, or watching their 401Ks plummet. I am delighted that frugality is suddenly “chic.” On Forest Street we have a job-and-a-half, a house that we share with the bank, and two (really old) cars; all things considered we are doing quite well. However (and it’s a big “however) I have been “shopping my closet,” shopping at Target, and getting my hair cut at a beauty school FOR YEARS. I have not bought a hardback book for myself for so long I can’t remember the last one. I borrow, I go to the library, and when there’s a cookbook that I simply can’t live without I put it on my Christmas list.

I love beautiful and expensive things, and I can assure you that I have many of them. This particular rant is not because I want to eliminate every Balenciaga gown and Vuitton trunk from the world and replace them with stretch jeans and brown paper bags. My point is that we have lived in a culture of competitive acquisition and excess for a long time, and that it is a refreshing change to see some value put on thrift, and on the idea that we waste our time aching for the late model car, the new living room furniture, or (in my case) the Coach bag that we see in someone else’s possession. It is a real, genuine pleasure to see “the media,” even temporarily, stop trying to manipulate us by  celebrating greed, envy, and entitlement.

Whew. So, about the food. I received, in my inbox this morning, a newsletter from “Epicurious,” a foodie site that belongs to Conde Nast, publisher of both “Gourmet” and “Bon Appetit.” The article that galvanized me was entitled “The Top Ten Money Saving Ingredients.” Imagine, no imagine my surprise when I learned that potatoes, rice, pasta, chicken, beans, apples, canned tuna, eggs, cheese and flank steak were good, inexpensive things to buy and cook. Imagine!!

What were people buying and eating before they received this valuable information? Seriously.

I have a $120.00 weekly grocery budget, and with that amount of money I feed three people, two dogs and three cats, and buy dishwasher soap, paper towels, Bounce sheets, shampoo and pencil leads. In the past week, we have dined on omelets and potatoes, bean soup, tuna sandwiches, a pasta dish, and a chicken stir fry with rice. I try to make things interesting, and I often buy a luxury ingredient when they are on sale (a little Bleu Cheese, a fresh pineapple, avocados) to make things more interesting, but…that’s how we eat. I read, and will continue to read “Gourmet,” “Bon Appetit,” “Food and Wine” and “Saveur” because I find them beautiful and inspiring, but there are many recipes that I reject immediately because the protein alone would cost a third of my food budget. In the alternative, by the time I bought the cardamom pods, the pink sea salt or the cheese produced by Armenian virgins living in a hut, I would be unable to send Sam to school with anything for lunch besides two slices of bread and a generic juice box.

If you have the income and the interest to buy fillet, fresh salmon, $75.00 olive oil, and truffles, I am happy for you. Really. (Also I would love for you to invite me over for dinner some time soon). You are supporting the economy and, if you are really cooking with those things, you are creating wonderful things to eat.

If you  have been eating out and/or buying processed convenience foods for years, and the increasing need to shop and cook frugally at home is a huge challenge, I am here to help. Embrace the change. Teach your kids to cook and let them help you. Surprise yourself with what you can do in the kitchen, even if you only have 30 minutes and you’re dog tired.

As for me and my house, we have been eating frugally for a long time, and as far as I know, it has never been perceived as a sacrifice. Maybe we are now vanguards of Frugality Chic. Perhaps restaurants will now offer “Poverty Tasting Menus” that feature roast chicken, mashed potatoes and scalloped apples. That sounds pretty good, actually….

Economy.Class III: What’s For Dinner?

So I made a list and checked it twice, and it looks like I can feed us pretty well within the iron-clad budget this week. Nothing fancy, no culinary exotica, but certainly not a drab and soul-killing rotation of variations on the same two or three ideas.  [A side note: interestingly, the same sort of dishes that nearly led to mutiny while I was working full time and throwing things in the crock pot appear to be the same sort of things generally proposed as “cheap eats” recipes. As near as I can tell, the crossover is that the proteins that are well-suited to the “throw and go” school also tend to be tough, and therefore fairly inexpensive].

Here, without further ado, is what we’re eating next week on Forest Street:

Saturday

We will be out to dinner, celebrating my father’s 80th birthday. This is a double bonus since it’s not only a “free” night in terms of buying dinner ingredients; we’re eating at one of the only “serious” restaurants in town, which will give me something to write about. I will be making the carrot cake for dessert, and I am deeply touched to have my own humble baking trump the potential offerings of an upscale Pan-European bistro.

Sunday

Pot Roast, Mashed Potatoes and Carrots

Both Chuck and Round roasts are on sale, so I’ll buy two (you’ll see why in a bit) and make them into pot roast using this recipe. I will buy Yukon Gold potatoes, which are not on sale, and which are more expensive than regular old potatoes, but which are, in my personal opinion, so good that they are worth the cost. Additionally, since they start out with such a nice flavor on their own, they require much less in the way of butter and other additions, so they may really be thriftier in the end, in addition to being delicious.

Monday

Pea Soup and Homemade Bread

I’ll make this pea soup, but instead of the usual ham I’ll use thin slices of smoked sausage, which is on sale. Pea soup is one of those dishes where magic is clearly involved – a bunch of things are put in a pot and simmered, and in a few hours there is a dense, flavorful, comforting meal. Served with a slice of warm homemade challah or oatmeal bread with sweet butter, I’m betting this won;t even taste remotely like “thrift.”

Tuesday

West Indian Crispy Pork Bits, Rice and Pureed Butternut Squash with Ginger

The pork recipe is Mark Bittman’s, and calls for pork shoulder. Pork shoulder is on sale, winter squash is always relatively inexpensive and I always have rice and all of the necessary spices.

Wednesday

Beef Pot Pie and Green Salad

Remember the extra pot roast? Tonight it gets trimmed of anything yucky, cut into small pieces and incorporated into my version of pot pie. I may or may not make my own crust; I have a great and allegedly “foolproof” Dorie Greenspan recipe for pie crust, but I still have a deep, abiding and irrational fear of failure in the pie crust department. We’ll see….

Thursday

Crunchy Curried Chicken Breasts, Rice Pilaf and Citrus Salad

Chicken breasts are on sale, and I have what seems like a gross of oranges on hand already as the result of last week’s buy-one-get-one-free deal. The chicken dish is another Bittman recipe which basically involves adding curry powder to breading mixture, coating chicken and frying.

Friday

Baked Pastina Casserole, Homemade Bread and Green Salad

This recipe is Giada’s, and looks cheap, filling and cute in a teeny-tiny pasta sort of way.

Hummus and Lentils with Carmelized Onions

Back when I was an impoverished youth-ette in Boston, I sublet an apartment from a woman with a fabulous cookbook collection. In one book I found a recipe for something called “Medieval Lentils,” which was surpassingly filling and delicious, and cheap since it called only for onions, rice and lentils. I could make a pot of the stuff and have dinner for three or four nights, with improved flavor after every day of refrigeration. Sadly, in my rush to get the hell out of Dodge at the end of my lease, I neglected to steal the cookbook and eventually forgot the dish entirely.

Imagine my delight when I discovered basically the same recipe in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything (which you should buy immediately if you don’t already own it). I decided to round out the meal with homemade Hummus and not-homemade Pita, and found a good Hummus recipe in the same book. I changed precisely nothing, and neither recipe is on Bittman’s own website, so I am just stealing them.   To assuage my guilt, however, I am saying to you again: buy the book.

Hummus

(From Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything)

  1. 2 cups (1 can) drained, well-cooked or canned chick peas
  2. 1/2 cup tahini
  3. 1/4 cup sesame oil from top of the tahini, or olive oil
  4. 1 small clove garlic, peeled, or to taste
  5. Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  6. 1 tablespoon ground cumin, or to taste
  7. Juice of 1 lemon, plus more as needed
  8. About 1/3 cup water, or as needed
  9. About 1 teaspoon olive oil

-Place everything except water and 1 teaspoon olive oil in the container of a food processor or blender and begin to process; add water as needed to make a smooth paste.

-Taste and add more garlic, salt, lemon juice or cumin as needed. Serve drizzled with a little olive oil and sprinkled with a bit of cumin or chopped parsley. Serve with vegetables, crackers or pita.

Lentils and Rice with Carmelized Onions

(From Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything)

  1. 3 tablespoons olive oil
  2. 1 medium onion, chopped, plus 1 large or 2 medium onions, halved and sliced (I doubled the onions because I love them; if you do this, increase the oil by at least two more tablespoons)
  3. 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  4. 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  5. Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  6. 2 cups lentils (one 16 ounce bag), washed and picked over
  7. About 6 cups of chicken, beef or vegetable stock, or water, warmed
  8. 1 cup long or short grained rice

-Place 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large, deep saucepan and turn heat to medium. A minute later, add the chopped onion and cook until it begins to get tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, salt and pepper and cook 3 minutes more. Add the lentils, stir, and add about 4 cups of liquid.

-Cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils begin to soften, about 20 minutes. Add enough of the remaining liquid so that lentils are covered by about an inch of liquid. Stir in the rice. Cover and turn heat to low.

-Meanwhile, place the remaining oil in a medium skillet and turn the heat to medium-high. Cook the onion slices, stirring frequently, until they are dark brown but not burned, about 15 minutes. Scoop out onions and let them drain on paper towels while you finish cooking the lentils and rice.

-Check the rice and lentils after 20 minutes. When both are tender and the liquid is absorbed, the dish is ready. If lentils and rice are not tender, add more liquid, cover and cook for a few more minutes. If, on the other hand, the rice and lentils are soft and there is a lot of liquid remaining, raise the heat a bit and cook, uncovered, until it evaporates.

-Serve the rice and lentils garnished with the caramelized onion (or do what I do, and stir them right in).

“Anyone Can Cook”

Two interesting things happened last week, which have brought me to this post. (Actually, lots of interesting things happened last week, but they are irrelevant in this context). The first was that I was the movie “Ratatouille” with my son, and the second was that I discovered that a bright, young thing was reading this blog in the hopes that she might learn to cook. Since the message of “Ratatouille” is that “anyone can cook,” and I tend to believe that, I thought I’d see what sage advice I have for a willing, but inexperienced cook.

I have found that if I keep my pantry and refrigerator stocked with a few essentials at all times, I can always come up with a meal that is satisfying and reasonably healthy. Here are the things I can’t live without:

  1. Kosher salt
  2. Pepper in a grinder
  3. Good quality extra virgin olive oil
  4. Red or White Wine Vinegar
  5. Balsamic Vinegar
  6. Sugar
  7. Onions (I always have a bag of yellow cooking onions, but I also like the big, white sweet ones like Vidalias)
  8. Fresh Garlic
  9. Parmesan Cheese (I like to grate my own, but pre-shredded is acceptable. The Green Canister is not).
  10. Chicken Broth (I get the kind that comes in boxes, preferably organic. If you’re a vegetarian, get vegetable broth).
  11. Rice (long grain, Basamati, Jasmine or Sticky/Sushi)
  12. Assorted long and short pasta cuts ( including a tiny variety like acini de pepe, Orzo or alphabets for soup)
  13. Eggs
  14. Good quality canned, crushed tomatoes
  15. Potatoes (Can be baking potatoes or Yukon Golds; red New Potatoes may not work as well in recipes)
  16. Butter
  17. Canned Beans (I always have Cannelini, kidneys, black beans and Garbanzos)
  18. Plain Yogurt (I like Greek, but any is useful)
  19. Salsa

Here are some things you can cook if you have these “stock” items in your house, and pick up some additional items. All items not on the list of staples will be colored to make it clear that they must be purchased separately/additionally. All of these recipes are all easily made vegetarian, and most are quite inexpensive to prepare.

Bob’s Bean Salad

(from Allrecipes.Com)

  1. 1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
  2. 1/3 medium onion, chopped
  3. 1 (6 ounce) jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  4. 1 (12 ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  5. 1 (12 ounce) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  6. 1 (12 ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  7. 2 ounces crumbled feta cheese

Dressing

  1. 1/4 cup olive oil
  2. 1/8 cup white vinegar or white wine vinegar
  3. 1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
  4. 1 teaspoon salt
  5. 1 teaspoon sugar

DIRECTIONS

1. In a large bowl, toss red bell pepper, onion, and artichokes together with kidney, pinto, and garbanzo beans. Set aside.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk salt and sugar with white and balsamic vinegars until completely dissolved. Slowly whisk in olive oil. Adjust seasoning as desired.
3. Pour dressing over bean mixture, and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour before serving. Serve chilled.

I’d serve this with a good loaf of bread and some fresh fruit. If you have leftover feta cheese (and you probably will) it is delicious crumbled into a salad, scrambled into eggs, or broiled in a toaster oven on top of crackers.

Simple Pasta

Basic Tomato Sauce
Recipe adapted from Mario Batali

  1. 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  2. 1 onion, 1/4-inch dice
  3. 4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  4. 3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, or 1 tablespoon dried
  5. 1/2 medium carrot, finely grated
  6. 2 (28-ounce) cans peeled whole tomatoes, crushed by hand and juices reserved
  7. Salt
  8. 1 box Spaghetti, cooked al dente
  9. Whole basil leaves, for garnish (optional)
  10. Grated Parmesan, (optional)

In a 3-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook until soft and light golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the thyme and carrot, and cook 5 minutes more, until the carrot is quite soft. Add the tomatoes and juice and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until as thick as hot cereal.

During the time the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of water to a boil. During the last 10 minutes of the sauce’s simmering time, add a pinch of salt, and the pasta to the boiling water. Boil for 8-10 minutes (see what the box says), until past is “al dente,” or cooked, but not mushy. Drain pasta. Season sauce with salt and serve over pasta with grated Parmesan and Basil leaves, if you like. This sauce holds 1 week in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer.

When ready to use, the cooked pasta should be added to a saucepan with the appropriate
amount of sauce. Garnish with basil leaves and cheese, if using.

This is good with a very simple salad; maybe some mixed greens drizzled with olive oil, Balsamic Vinegar and a sprinkling of salt.

Noodle Soup

Recipe adapted from Alton Brown

  1. 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  2. 3/4 cup diced onion
  3. 3/4 cup diced celery
  4. 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  5. 1/2 cup tiny pasta, cooked. (You can substitute bigger pasta broken into smaller pieces. To cook the pasta, bring a medium pot of water to a boil, add pinch of salt and the pasta, cook according to package directions, and drain. You can do this while you’re chopping the vegetables).

Bring stock to boil for 2 minutes in a large, non-reactive stockpot with lid on, over high heat. Add onion, celery, and garlic. Lower heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Add pasta and cook 5 more minutes. Season to taste, and serve.

This is a nice light lunch with some good bread and butter. If you happen to have some leftover chicken, cut it into small pieces or shred it and add it along with the pasta to make a heartier soup. You could also add a can of drained, rinsed cannelini beans with the pasta and top it with grated Parmesan.

Egg Mess

  1. 1 baking potato or 2-3 smaller potatoes, peeled, cooked, and diced (you can microwave the potato on the day you make your Mess, or you can use previously cooked potatoes from a previous meal. Its all good).
  2. 1 big onion or 2 small onions, thinly sliced (can be sweet onion or yellow cooking onion depending on how much you like the taste of onion. I like it a lot).
  3. 3-4 eggs,beaten (If you are concerned about calories and/or cholesterol you could use 2 whole eggs and two whites)
  4. Shredded cheese (pick your favorite kind; cheddar is always solid, pepper jack is pretty amazing, and Swiss or Emmentaler gives a nice, mellow flavor. Its okay to use the 2% cheese but not fat-free).
  5. 5. 1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped (optional, although I wouldn’t be without it)
  6. Butter, oil or cooking spray for pan
  7. Salt and Pepper

Heat a skillet or saute pan over medium heat, and add butter and/or oil if you’re using them. I usually use a little butter for flavor, but add a little oil to make the potatoes crisp up nicely.

Add the onions, garlic, and potatoes to pan. Cook until potatoes are getting crispy brown spots, like a good hash brown. Do not be tempted to raise the heat to move things along, or you’ll burn your onions and/or garlic and ruin everything. Depending on your pan, how the potatoes were cooked, and a variety of other factors, you may need to add a little more butter or oil if things are sticking to the pan.

When the majority of the potatoes have some brown crisp parts, smooth the potatoes, onions and garlic evenly across the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, if you like, then pour the beaten egg over the potato layer, and cook until eggs appear cooked and firm (no stirring). Its okay to poke them a little, to make sure.
The minute the eggs are done, sprinkle on the shredded cheese to cover everything. When the cheese is melted, you’re ready to eat!

This is pretty substantial on its own, but it would be healthier and make more of a meal served with a bowl of assorted fresh fruit, cut up and mixed with an 8 oz carton of plain yogurt and a teaspoon of sugar.

Beans and Rice

  1. 1. 4 cups of rice (2 cups, dry) made this way, omitting all herbs and spices
  2. 2 cans black, kidney or pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  3. 1 small or 1/2 large onion, finely chopped
  4. 1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  5. 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
  6. Olive Oil
  7. Salsa (optional)
  8. Shredded Monterey Jack, Pepper Jack or Chihuahua cheese (optional)
  9. Chopped, fresh Cilantro (optional)

While rice is cooking, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Sautee onion, garlic and green pepper until softening, about 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, add beans and cook, stirring gently until beans are heated through and combined well with other ingredients. Mix bean mixture with rice.

Since this is Absolutely Not Authentic, I always top my beans and rice with a handful of shredded cheese, some salsa and some chopped Cilantro. If you are concerned about the Authenticity Police, stick with just the Cilantro and you may get off with no more than a slap on the wrist.

I hope this is enough to get someone started in the kitchen; with time and experience come the discoveries that all of these “basics” can be tarted up and enriched by changing and/or adding ingredients. The bean salad could be a light, cool summer lunch or a side dish served with grilled meat, chicken or fish. The leftover tomato sauce can be popped in the freezer and brought out months later to make something completely different. The noodle soup, made with Ditalini pasta and Cannelini beans, and topped with Parmesan cheese becomes a version of “Pasta e Fagioli” soup, and the beans and rice with no cheese or salsa make a beautiful side dish for grilled meat with a Caribbean, Spanish or Mexican marinade.

One more thing: its probably wise to keep some cereal and milk, Ramen or crackers and cheese in the house for the times when the rice comes out crunchy, the sauce burns, or you get half way through the recipe and discover that you forgot an essential ingredient. “Anyone can cook,” but not necessarily without a little practice!

 

Egg Mess

There were five years in my life when I cooked only for myself, and never gave a thought to what anyone else would enjoy, request, refuse to eat, or reject on the grounds that it was not macrobiotic, contained too many onions, or was otherwise flawed. Before that time , I ate with my parents and my brother, and then in a series of college dining halls. In both situations, I was generally served something based more on “the will of the people” than on my particular cravings. For the past eleven years, I have been cooking for my husband and kids (as well as assorted other people), and my menu choices are almost never based on my personal preferences. If they were, there would be much less meat and much more funky experimentation.

The first three years of my solo cooking were during law school. I lived in a third-floor apartment in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, with three roommates. My meal planning was heavily circumscribed by the combined effects of poverty and lack of a car. Whatever I ate for dinner had to be cheap, and had to be something I could buy at the Star Market and haul home on the bus and/or subway along with my big bag of law books. Although I occasionally got to eat splendidly in a good restaurant in Boston or Cambridge when my parents were in town or my (employed) friend Jeff was buying, I mostly ate cream of tomato soup with Saltine crackers, meatless spaghetti, or something involving eggs. I may have bought a piece of meat during the Law School Years, but I honestly don’t remember doing it.

During this time, I invented “Egg Mess,” an ersatz frittata which I eat to this day because its cheap, delicious and requires ingredients that are always in the house. There is great flexibility in the preparation of this inelegant dish, so play around with it and make it your own “mess.”

eggs1.jpg

Egg Mess

  1. 1 baking potato or 2-3 smaller potatoes, peeled, cooked, and diced (you can microwave the potato on the day you make your Mess, or you can use previously cooked potatoes from a previous meal. Its all good).
  2. 1 big onion or 2 small onions, thinly sliced (can be sweet onion or yelow cooking onion depending on how much you like the taste of onion. I like it a lot).
  3. 3 eggs,beaten
  4. Grated cheese (pick your favorite kind; cheddar is always solid, pepper jack is pretty amazing, and Swiss or Emmentaler gives a nice, mellow flavor).
  5. 1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped (optional, although I wouldn’t be without it)
  6. Butter, oil or cooking spray for pan
  7. Salt and Pepper

Heat a skillet or saute pan over medium heat, and add butter and/or oil if you’re using them. I usually use a little butter for flavor, but add a little Canola to make the potatoes crisp up nicely.

Add the onions, garlic, and potatoes to pan. Cook until potatoes are getting crispy brown spots, like a good hash brown. Do not be tempted to raise the heat to move things along, or you’ll burn your onions and/or garlic and ruin everything. Depending on your pan, how the potatoes were cooked, and a variety of other factors, you may need to add a little more butter or oil if things are sticking to the pan.

When the majority of the potatoes have some brown crisp parts, smooth the potatoes, onions and garlic evenly across the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, if you like, then pour the beaten egg over the potato layer, and cook until eggs appear cooked and firm (no stirring). Its okay to poke them a little, to make sure.
The minute the eggs are done, sprinkle on the shredded cheese to cover everything. When the cheese is melted, you’re ready to eat!

I believe that a frittata is traditionally served cut into wedges. Egg Mess is traditionally served scooped unceremoniously from the pan and onto a waiting plate. If it were pretty, I would have called it something else.

“The Sam”

There are many ways, and many reasons that people lie about food including “I made it myself,” “its really delicious,” and “I don’t know who ate the rest of the chocolate babka.” I am here to confess that I sometimes lie about providing politically correct food for my family.

Tonight I told Sam that he and I would be eating a concoction of ramen noodles, ground beef, and frozen vegetables of which he is particularly fond. Since we have been discussing “signature dishes” at our house lately (thanks to “Hell’s Kitchen”) he requested that this dish be known, henceforth, as “The Sam,” and I agreed.

the-sam-1.jpg


Here’s where the lying comes in: I spend time with people who would never feed their children something as full of sodium, fat and, well, vulgarity as ramen, ground beef and frozen vegetables. Perhaps if it were made with organic ground turkey, Soba noodles and veggies fresh from the farmer’s market it would be acceptable to them, but then Sam wouldn’t eat it. If Sam brought up “his” dish in front of these friends, there is a good chance that I would be the first to dismiss it as an aberration, and to sing the praises of brown rice, broiled fish and steamed vegetables. Maybe I would even volunteer grim statistics about the preparation of ramen noodles (they’re fried, you know), and decry red meat in general. The fat! The hormones! The Mad Cows!

ramen

The thing is, that although I personally like brown rice and fish, I live with people who would rather die than face either substance on their dinner plate. Ever. (Although my husband is getting better about fish). I am perfectly capable of preparing, say, grilled salmon with a lime-cilantro-chili butter over polenta with a side of micro greens, but no one here would eat it. I call it good if I serve a dinner with at least two fruit and vegetable servings, some lean protein and (on a banner day) some whole grain. Despite the salt and fat, “The Sam” does contain lots of vegetables and a fair amount of dietary fiber. Really.

Maybe I will come to the point where I can chant “say it loud, I sometimes cook using use soup mix, and I’m proud!” In the mean time, I will probably continue to put up the Gourmet Organic Goddess front when I’m feeling insecure. In case you, too, are willing to risk your childrens’ lives in exchange for a quick-cook dinner that includes a couple of servings of vegetables, here it is (I’ve been making this for so long that I no longer have an actual recipe, and have no idea where it came from):

The Sam (Serves 4)

  1. 1.25 lb. ground beef (I get the leanest I can find)
  2. Two 3 oz. packages Oriental flavor instant ramen noodles
  3. 16 oz. package frozen mixed vegetables
  4. 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
  5. 2 tbsp. thinly-sliced scallions

In a large skillet, brown ground beef over medium heat. Remove beef from pan with slotted spoon, place it in a bowl and remove drippings from pan. Season beef with one seasoning packet from noodles; set aside.

In the same skillet, combine 2 cups water, noodles (broken into small pieces), vegetables, ginger, and remaining seasoning packet. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer 3 minutes or until noodles are tender, stirring occasionally.

Return beef to skillet and heat through. Stir in scallions.

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