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Table Talk: Cheap eats

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Posted on September 23, 2009 | Blog Category:
By Andrea Suozzo



Table Talk: A blog about everything from cooking food to eating it, by Andrea Suozzo

I’m going to take a wild guess and say that I’m not the only one who gets nervous about food prices. Sometimes I’ll stand in the middle of an aisle for several minutes, debating whether or not to buy the better-quality olive oil for two dollars more – that’s two dollars that I could be spending on rent, gas or my school loans instead of on food, which is fleeting and temporary.

I buy fresh produce when I can, and local as much as possible, but sometimes I see produce prices and I almost collapse right there in the store. I’m thinking of fruit especially, but also leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, meat ... sometimes it’s difficult to stick to my convictions when I come face to face with a grocery store.

So, with food this expensive, isn’t it just easier to opt for the McDonald’s dollar menu?

Well, no.

For a full meal, you’d probably have to buy three things off of the “Dollar Menu” to fill up. So that’s three dollars (not including tax).

Three dollars, then. Let’s make that our target for a meal.

First off, we should consider that making several servings at once is both more cost-effective and more efficient. So let’s say we’re cooking for two people. We’ll make four servings — enough for dinner, plus two servings left over for tomorrow’s lunch.

So let’s start on the cheap end of things: how about brown basmati rice? If you buy it in bulk, it won’t be more than $1.80 per pound in bulk, which means that a cup is about $.77. And a cup of dried brown rice cooks up to a lot — let’s say about 3 1/2 cups cooked. That’s four servings of just under a cup each for about $.20. So far, so good.

We’re nearing the end of leafy vegetable season, so buy your swiss chard while you still can! $2.50 at the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op will get you a good bunch, which will cook down a lot but still be enough for four servings of veggies, ringing in at about $.63 per serving.

There are cheap proteins — dried beans, which take a long time, and canned beans, which cost more but are much easier. Pork can be pretty cheap, as can chicken thighs. But we’re doing pretty well here, so let’s say we’re feeling like a splurge today. Instead of conventional chicken, how about chicken from Misty Knoll Farm in New Haven? We’ll be supporting local agriculture and still eating cheaply.

One pound of chicken thighs is about $6.50, and will easily give you four servings. Some olive oil for the pan, lemon juice, a clove or two of garlic and rosemary – let’s estimate high and say that comes to $1.50 all together.

So the protein part of our meal comes to $8.00, which is $2.00 per serving. Add in the others and you’re at $2.83. You’ve put in more time than a McDonald’s meal requires, but you’ve also got your lunch for tomorrow and a little extra money to put in your pocket.

For another cheap and filling meal, try this recipe from the Co-op’s “dinners on a budget” binder, which you can find at the back of the produce section.

Chicken and Pepper Stir Fry over Quinoa
Recipe by Pam Taylor, courtesy Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
4 chicken leg quarters
2 Tbs olive oil
1 large red pepper, cut into thin strips
1 large green pepper, cut into thin strips
1 large red onion, cut into thin strips
Teriyaki sauce
1/4 cup chopped scallions
2 Tbs sesame seeds

1. Poach the chicken. Remove meat from bone. Discard skin and bone. Cut chicken into bite-size pieces.

2. While the chicken is poaching, prepare the quinoa as follows: rinse the quinoa, place the quinoa and water in a saucepan, bring to just below boiling point and simmer on low for 12-15 minutes.

3. Heat olive oil in wok or large pan. Saute peppers and onions until tender. Add chicken, keep stirring, and add teriyaki sauce to coat the veggies and chicken.

4. Serve veggies and chicken hot over quinoa. Top with scallions and sesame seeds.

Cost: Makes 4 servings at approximately $2.15 each

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