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Economy.Class II: A Rant, Of Sorts

I have embarked on the project of feeding my family interesting, relatively healthy, definitely tasty food without straying from our Recession Budget. Since I’m working from home again these days, convenience/ease is not a huge issue; I am, after all, making all of our bread, our cookies and (as soon as I find a decent recipe) the granola bars that my son consumes by the gross.

The problem is finding new things to make that fit the budget without making me feel like I am employed as the mess cook at a federal penitentiary. While I sometimes wish to make Mr. Annie and (particularly) Sam feel a bit penitent, I would never choose to punish them with dinner. I find that a little passive-aggressiveness with a little bellowing thrown in for variety does the trick with great success.

First I looked through my own recipe collection, which has many good “cheap eats” choices; split pea soup, mac and cheese, spaghetti, dishes made with cuts of meat that are tough and/or unloved like chicken thighs and bottom round steak. I do not, however, want to be consigned to making the same 10 dishes in a cycle until we win the lottery. (If we did win the lottery, a prospect made unlikely by the fact that we don’t actually buy lottery tickets, I would immediately book tickets to Italy to eat in restaurants, anyway). Next, I looked for recipes on-line, beginning with sites having to do with frugal living and eating inexpensively. With few exceptions, these recipes appear to have been selected and approved by the kitchen staff of the earlier-referenced penitentiary. Not much variety, not much spice, lots of variations on meatloaf and tuna noodle casserole using inexpensive extenders like breadcrumbs and canned soup.

In desperation, I turned to my new issue of “Bon Appetit.” I knew it might be a little like looking at “Vogue” when one has a $100.00 clothing budget, but I thought it would at least inspire me. Recipe #1 for “Wok-fried Edamame with Garlic and Chives” sounded great, but required the purchase of oyster sauce, which I do not routinely use and would not, reliably, use often. Recipe #2 was for lamb which is expensive, and we don’t eat it. recipe #3 was for duck which is expensive and no one but me eats it (and even if they might try it, they sure as hell wouldn’t try it with bacon-date puree). Recipe #4 was for salmon which is expensive, and the recipe called for fresh thyme and fresh rosemary which, while lovely, would set me back $5.00 all by themselves at this time of year.

Undaunted, I pressed on. Recipe #6 – Conch Fritters. Oh, please. Recipe #7, lamb, recipe #8 clams (fresh), recipe #9 salmon, and recipe #10 Macaroni and Cheese with Caramelized Shallots which sounds really nice, but involves goat cheese which is despised by Mr. Annie. More recipes required a variety of foods from the un-cheap department (much like the un-dead only less popular with the media at the moment) including chantarelle mushrooms, something called “speck,” and Vin Santo. I am still a card-carrying foodie, I would seriously love to get down with some chantarelles and speck, but I can’t buy ingredients the individual cost of which is equal to 10% of my budget for the week.

I will not make tuna noodle casserole. I will not buy $2.50 packages of out-of-season herbs. I will continue to scour the earth for recipes that fit my budget, appeal to my gentleman eaters, and give me something to live for in the kitchen. I am thinking that perhaps Indian and Mexican cuisine may have some good options, and I know there are a lot of great, simple Italian dishes that require little more than pasta, a can of tomatoes, garlic and cheese.

Tomorrow I’ll let you know what I found.

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About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

13 responses »

  1. Ok, stop right there….Mr. Annie despises goat cheese? And here I thought he was all right. I’m also thinking speck is probably some fancy kind of bacon, at least, that’s what “Speck” means in German. Ok, back to goat cheese, all I’ve got to say is he must have been goat-cheese-traumatized in another life, because G.C. is THE.SUPREME.GIFT. from goats. period. I, personally, could live on the stuff.

    Reply
  2. Eric, first: you are right about speck; I looked it up. Second: I love goat cheese, too. It is a great tragedy in my life that I can’t make any of the hundreds of dishes I love that involve goat cheese, because he KNOWS. I can purchase it for my own consumption (and I do) but I can’t make any of the creamy, tangy, goat-cheesy things I love…maybe it’s a Republican thing?

    Reply
  3. Ann,

    No, sorry its a SMELL thing.

    I can break you of it, just live around them for a while and you will understand.

    And, we do know, so dont bother. Feta Just use normal people cheese and you can eat everything you wish.

    Goat……….ugh! The Middle Easterners got it right, CURRY Curry Curry

    Reply
  4. When I’m on a budget (and as I work in nonprofit, that would be ALWAYS), I tend to cook foods from countries and traditions that are notorious for making a lot out of a little. I’m currently obsessed with Indian and my own riff on pan Asian.

    This week, I’m stealing the recipe from Gourmet for cauliflower stuffed with breadcrumbs and making it more Indian. I’ve also discovered the cheapness that is the Asian Market on Grand River. I had rice noodles with leftover turkey and a quick peanut sauce today for lunch. Total cost? $1.25 (for the noodles) plus stuff I already had (sesame oil, peanut butter, a splash of milk, hot sauce and salt) and leftover turkey. Oh, and I got a huge bunch of cilantro for $0.50 and I’ll use it all week.

    Any chance the boys would go for something like that?

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  5. Ok, the palate wars are on….on like donkey kong. we could call it a east coast/west coast thing, or a refined palate thing or any kind of divisive food politics preference thing you want, but, mark my words, goat cheese RULES. there I said it, and I’ll NEVER take it back. boom.

    Reply
  6. Your father survived on lemon jello and okra for the better part of a few months . . . he might have some good pointers. : )

    As for the magazines – further proof that the hardcore foodies are completely divorced from reality.

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  7. Ann, Have you ever seen/used a book called Saving Dinner by Leanne Ely? I cook from this book probably 4 nights a week and have done so for the past five years (I know, not very original…) She is all about eating frugally and simply and my kids and I (and sometimes my husband) really like the food. Tonight we had red beans, kielbasa and rice which is pretty cheap and can be disguised with various spices to make it more gourmet-ish. The book is divided up by season, and makes use of whatever is fresh and/or appropriate for each. I ignore her shopping list for each week, as I find this a bit overly organized, and come up with my own. As someone who grew up in a professorial household and learned to cook in home ec with Crisco and coffee cans, I feel I earned my badge in recession-era cooking early and have continued to cook this way throughout my life!

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  8. From Cinci (this couldn’t wait). Robert, you said it pretty well. Gost cheese smells like a goat barn. Its the only cheese I can think of that I won’t eat. I turn my nose up at a price though. The more evolved don’t take it well.

    Reply
  9. Ann,

    In all fairness the aversion to goat smell is very likely due to some traumatic experiance lodged just below the surface of consiousness. It is clearly our parents fault. What freaks us out is exactly what turns you on about the , ahem, cheese. You openly admit that you like it because it IS goaty.

    During a rough period in my 30’s found the food budget missing for about a 9 month period. We ate what we could cut, mostly cabbage and green onions. After a few month without meat, I was gifted a few goats, which promptly became burgers. Under duress conditions, it was much better than nothing. Got pretty good at disguising the obvious. So I guess its about actual hunger more than finicky preferance. Just dont feed Mr Annie for a few weeks. He’ll come around.

    I suspect the boys would clean the baking dish of any traces of my #1 specialty, Tuna casserole. It is my death row choice hands down. A solid 3 nights a week if I could sell the Godess on it……. But you know, you and me will get along fine, cause I ain’t gonna try to slip some onto your plate without warning.

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  10. I’ve got a liver thing. I can’t stand the smell, the taste much less the whole idea of it. Groom loves liver and onions. Economical. Most definitely. Disgusting…even more so. He keeps suggesting I completely understand Mr. Annie’s aversion to goat cheese. I’m convinced in a former life I had to exist on liver and onions. Maybe he had to live on a goat farm.

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  11. Robert, wait – Feta is good or bad? And curry is a good use of goat in your book (I’m assuming because it masks the smell)?

    Mensch. yes, although it would have to be a little heartier. There are ways of doing that, though. I will def have to look thoroughly at the Asian Market – I tend to go there when I need an exotic ingredient, but if they have .50 cilantro, I’m in!!

    Eric, I am your comrade in the Goat Cheese Militia. I think we should wear something lovely, designed by a French person. Too bad Dior is dead.

    SPOD, I believe you are right about my (and that would be OUR) father, but I disagree with you about the foodies. They are the cool kids who wear black and sit together at the table on the other side of the cafeteria blissfully ignorant of their charisma even as they sit grinding cigarette butts out in theit egg yolks….

    Kate, I know about the book because I was, for a while, a follower of “Flylady” who endorses that book as a way to get meals under control. I confess that it always sounded a little regimented for a free-spirited foodie like me, but I do remember that the occasional recipe we got was really good – there was a garlic lime chicken that was great. I think I could work Leann in, although I won’t give up my cookbook, “Gourmet,” “Bon Appetit” or food blog addictions. Thanks for a good idea!

    Mr. Annie, harumph. Many beautiful recipes call for goat cheese. We cannot eat them. I don;t think it smells like goats at all, just sharp like blue cheese which you like a lot.

    Robert, why doesn’t she like the tuna noodle casserole? And no, I probably won’t resort to starving Mr. Annie so that he’ll eat goat cheese. I don’t think.

    Mary, you’re closer than you think – he grew up on a farm with goats in this life, and that is the basis for this, uhm, resistance. I have to agree with you about liver and onions; my mother loves it, but we were spared because my father could abide neither the smell nor the taste. Whew.

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  12. Ann,

    At least we’re still speaking. As far as my Tuna-Noodle, worlds best, necter of the gods….. But Shari will only tolerate even the most fabulous food once or twice a week, even oysters.

    Feta cheese has none of the funk in common with goat cheese, yet will work in almost any recipe that calls for goat stuff. The only reason that all those really great recipes call for the stuff is that they own stock in a goat dairy somewhere. So yes Feta is good.

    Proper curry will remove all traces of hideousness (except Botulism toxins, which are oderless and tasteless) in any meat. So, it doesnt matter what meat it is, just call it curry, good to go.

    Which leads us to Liver……. Am I to read you dont like Liver?Has Sam been denied Liver in his formative years? Don’t make me drive to Michigan.

    I feel so internally conflicted, wanting to show you how fabulous that a proper seared Liver can taste, yet knowing I could never let go and actually enjoy goat smell. We will just have to accept our differances……………

    Poor Sam.

    Reply
  13. Robert, I have to say I’m with Shari on the tuna noodle casserole, but that I would probably eat oysters in some form on a daily basis. I can’t imagine uttering the words “oysters again? I’d rather have chicken.” I did eat tuna noodle casserole growing up, and I just don’t like it. i don’t like anything with hot, canned tuna – like tuna melts.

    Sam wouldn’t touch liver with a ten-foot-pole because he has been conditioned (and not by me) to believe it’s a horror show. I dearly wish both of these guys could have one saltine-load of my Jewish grandmother’s chopped liver. One can only hope that I’ll see her in heaven (I’m sure she’ll be there, mind you) with a jar of schmaltz and a pan full of livers and onions….

    Reply

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