Monday, March 02, 2009

Not breaking the bank

It’s not even that I’m trying to cut our grocery bills as much as I’m trying to maintain them. As you can imagine, I could spend a FORTUNE on food. If Dave would let me, I would have a dinner party (at least) once a week. I would buy gobs of fresh herbs and exotic spices. Twenty-three-dollar-a-pound fish and porterhouse steaks would be regulars in our kitchen. And, don’t get me started on the expensive cheeses I would buy.

Since emptying our accounts to buy food is not the ideal scenario (in any economy) I’m working hard to maintain our standards of eating without breaking the bank. Think less prosciutto de Parma, more mortadella. One strategy I’ve been employing is to prepare more vegetarian meals, ideally two or three a week. Dried beans and tofu have become my kitchen friends. I’m also working more whole grains like farro and quinoa into my repertoire. Besides saving money, vegetarian meals are healthier for us (less cholesterol, saturated fat, and usually calories) -- and the planet. In a article
about Mark Bittman, Laura Miller explains the environmental toll of industrial meats and crops:

In brief, our current meat-heavy system of food production is unsustainable, a waste of resources and a source of pollution in the form of pesticides and hormones as well as methane gas from livestock manure. Our overreliance on a few big crops (especially corn and soy) [JH note: to feed the animals] depletes the soil, demanding the use of ever greater quantities of chemical fertilizers, whose manufacture requires massive amounts of fossil fuel. The foods produced by agribusiness, in the form of highly processed flours, fats and -- above all -- high-fructose corn syrup, have little nutritional value and foster a host of health problems, including diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure as well as obesity. The industries fabricating these foods have bought and paid for American politicians and government agencies, costing taxpayers billions of dollars per year in subsidies and other benefits paid to businesses who profit while eroding the public's health.

In keeping with my budget-friendly vegetarian goals I made homemade refried beans this weekend, and they were phenomenal! We wrapped them in flour tortillas with rice, avocado, and salsa and ate like (thrifty, healthy) kings.

I don’t have a specific recipe for the beans, but here’s a general method:

1. Cook a pound of dried beans according to package directions. I soaked mine overnight and then boiled them in water with minced onion, garlic, and green pepper. (Once cooked, I froze half of the beans in their cooking liquid for another meal and used half for the refried beans.)
2. Drain the beans.
3. In a nonstick pan, heat about a tablespoon of canola oil over medium-high heat. Add a diced onion and sauté it until it softens. Add a teaspoon of cumin, a healthy pinch of salt, and a dash of cayenne pepper to the onion and stir for about 30 seconds.
4. Add the beans to the pan, stir to coat. Using a potato masher, mash the beans to the desired consistency. Heat through. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if necessary.

There was also an interesting article in the Times today about how cooking magazines are reacting to the economy and providing more articles to their readers focused on “budget cooking”. Click here to read it.

(As you can see from the articles I link to online, I love If they ever required a subscription fee to read their articles as they once did, I would comply in a second. Some things are worth the money.)

1 comment:

Megan said...

I'm the same way! If money wasn't a factor, I'd probably buy out a whole store's worth of ingredients to satisfy all my cooking whims.

I try to eat more vegetarian meals when I'm dining alone, but it's difficult to convince my boyfriend that we can have dinner without meat (unless we're having fish). So I have definitely been trying to cook more fish-based dishes. And because it's inexpensive, I've been making a lot of chicken lately too.