Thursday, March 1, 2012

Cheap eats

One of my favorite blog posts from last week was over at "Get Rich Slowly"; April Dykman wrote about "Cook like a Peasant".  She had recipes for all sorts of yummy dishes from internationally diverse places -- if you're looking for recipes for ribollita, ratatouille, bibimbap, frittatas, or fajitas, check it out!

It's not that I'm a great chef -- far from it!  But I manage to fool my kids most of the time anyway.  Dykman's post describes many of the same not-so-secret ingredients that I, faker than I am, use to concoct my culinary masterpieces.

Not-so-secret ingredient #1:  Cool names. 
Dykman didn't say this directly, I guess, but a good name goes a long way in selling a meal.  My husband and I read somewhere that places and seasons both make great food names.  So Monday night, our conglomeration of accumulated foods got the name "Pittsburgh Pasta".  Why "Pittsburgh"?  Because one of my sons was born there, and I like the alliteration.  We had a guest over, and he remarked in surprise, "I've never had Pittsburgh Pasta before.  This is really good!"  Same for us!

Not-so-secret ingredient #2:  Stuff.  
As in, "Then, add some stuff."  Almost all of my dinner concoctions include a stage where I just hunt around in the fridge and add whatever seems to want to be invited to dinner.  Not as the main course, but rather as supporting cast.  Think about how many great comfort foods have an option to add "stuff":  spaghetti sauces. pizza toppings.  stir fry, chili . . . .

Not-so-secret ingredient #3:  Cheap stuff. 
What's cheap varies from region to region and also from season to season.  (Any recipe promising thriftiness that starts with "open a can of cream of X soup" is missing out on some great local opportunities.)  The more I learn about what foods come abundant, and when, in my area, the easier it is for me to prepare really yummy meals for pennies instead of dollars.  For example, it's hard to believe this now at the beginning of March, but last August I bought 25 pounds of tomatoes for $7.   Tomatoes are cheap for me (at least, in August).  But in Haiti, where tomatoes are an expensive delicacy, one of the best dishes I got to eat was hot banana soup.
25 lbs of tomatoes and 50 lbs of peaches.  We're still eating them.  Yum!
Not-so-secret ingredient #4:  Flavorful stuff. 
Onions and garlic.  A pinch of curry.  A pinch of salt.  A bit of bacon, or artichokes, or some other tangy thing, in moderation.  Expensive food can be added as flavoring to a pot of other food to yum it up a bit.

And here, in case you were wondering, is the recipe for Pittsburgh Pasta.  It's an old family recipe that's been in my family since Monday.

Pittsburgh Pasta
In a large pot, saute sliced onions (the last from the CSA, stored since December), garlic, and olive oil.  Mix in a bag of sliced tomatoes, the last from the garden, frozen after almost all of the summer canning was done.  Add the small bowl of leftover chili.  Decide the mix needs a bit more protein: make a hole in the middle of the mixture and add 3 eggs.  Once those start cooking, mix them in with the rest of the mixture. 
Slice up a large pile of lasagna noodles leftover from making lasagna with K-daughter, and add those to the pot.  Is there still cheese in the drawer?  No.  Decide, what-the-heck, and add a small jar of artichoke hearts, reserving the oil.   Stir and heat slowly.
In a small frying pan, add bread cubes, which come from the last few slices of the wheat bread made a few days ago, to the remainder of the artichoke oil.  Brown the bread crumbs in the oil, and once they're crunchy, add them to the pot.  
Serve steaming hot at the table.   Goes well with friends.


  1. Love this post. When I make a new dish and my husband likes it he asks "do you have a recipe for this?" If I say no, then he says "Well hurry and write it down so we can have it again." Sometimes it difficult to duplicate a clean-out the fridge casserole. Also, when our children were young they seemed to complain about everything I served so one day when they asked what we were having for dinner I answered "Barf Casserole", and told them that as long as they complained about the food I served I might as well give them something to complain about! Another time trying to fool them into thinking they were getting something new and wonderful I told that that lunch that day was Pasta Y Queso. They were intrigued and excited until they saw that it was just Macaroni and Cheese. Oh well, I tried. Who says homemaking is boring?

    1. Barf casserole . . . I love it. My family makes something we love called "Garbage Bread". But I think I have a new completely gross name for our next family dish!! (I'm just imagining bowing heads and trying to keep a straight face: Dear Lord, we thank you for this Barf Casserole . . . ). Yeah.


  2. Dang, I should have proofread that comment--sorry for all the typos.