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.