Happy Halloweeeeeeeeen!

My neighbor's front stoop. Awesome.

Saturday Throwback: Touch of Class - 10 Thrifty, Healthy Ingredients to Improve the Quality of Your Meals

Every Saturday, we post a piece from the CHG archives. This one is from November 2007.

For the first 25 years of my existence, my food stood alone. Meat went unseasoned, starches sought no accompaniment, and vegetables … hermits, all of them. Only recently have I discovered the wonders of spices, sauces, and assorted flavorings. I had heard they made edibles better, but discounted it as a blasphemous rumor. Y’know, like gravity.

In honor of these fine, zestful components, today’s article will expound on joy and wonder of my favorite ten. The following foods generally aren’t the main focus of a dish. Instead, they’re simple, easily attainable additives that will boost the quality of your spread immensely. Some cost a few cents more than generic or mass-produced items, but in most cases, a tiny little pinch goes a super-long way.

1. Freshly ground black pepper
Along with its sister, salt, black pepper is one of the most widely-employed spices globally. Alas, according to sources, it starts losing its flavor immediately after grinding, meaning the five-year-old jar on your shelf is little more than grey dust. Investing in a solid mill and Costco-sized package of peppercorns will juice up almost every meal you make, at minimal cost over time.

2. Fresh herbs
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme aren’t just tremendously soothing Simon and Garfunkel lyrics – they’re also a grade-A way to turn a dish from crappy to credible. Though price is contingent on time of year, every spent cent is rewarded. Casual Kitchen makes every other good point there is to make about this, but I’ll add that some herbs last much longer than you might think. I’ve had thyme survive my fridge for more than three weeks.

3. Stock/Better than Bouillon
When heated in stock rather than water, many foods (pasta, rice, veggies, etc.) assume extra flavor. While homemade stock is always preferred, Better than Bouillon is a good alternative to cans and cubes. A dense paste, it makes 38 cups of broth per 8-oz jar. Priced at $5.95 on Amazon (and a rumored $2.99 at Trader Joe’s), it comes out to $0.16 per cup, or about half the cost of on-sale Swanson broth. I used it in Thanksgiving prep at house, and the eaters were pleased. (Three cheers to Rachel, the Cheap Healthy Gourmet for the tip.)

4. Wine
Thanks to Trader Joe’s, the internet, and an expanding world of wine appreciation, a passable vino is becoming easier and easier to find. Five bucks will nab you a bottle suitable for braising and/or deglazing, which ups the flavor in meats, sauces, and vegetables.

5. Decent cheese
Whether you’re dusting penne with parmesan or grating sharp cheddar over potato soup, a smattering of frommage can invigorate a dish with mad flava. BUT, the quality of cheese matters, tons. Case in point: last night, I went to a generally reliable Irish bar for dinner and ordered a vegetable melt. Sure, the choice of produce was bizarre (broccoli, carrots, and zucchini) but the dish was totally sunk by the over-processed, barely-warm slices of Grade Z American cheese. Buying less expensive dairy is understandable, especially if it’s used in bulk (a la enchiladas), but if you can swing it, slightly better brands in small doses do wonders. (As god as my witness, this will never touch my pasta again.)

6. Real lemon juice
Frequently a main component of dessert or dinner, the lovely lemon (not to be confused with Liz Lemon) can also brighten the flavor of a sauce, salad, or slab of meat. BUT, there is no substitute for having the actual, physical citrus fruit on hand. My Ma’s been a staunch ReaLemon supporter for most of her time on Earth, and I’ve always found it tastes like ... not lemon. At $0.25 to $0.50 a pop, go with the real thing.

7. Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
I am not a supporter of breadcrumbs on macaroni and cheese. I think they take away from the main event. That said, I ate the beloved dish topped once with panko, and completely flipped my wig. Crunchier, lighter, and only slightly pricier than American-style breadcrumbs, panko ups the ante on everything. Try it with pork chops, chicken, and fish.

8. Anchovies
Discovering a whole dead fish on pizza might be enough to make you swear off anchovies for the rest of your life (and the next one, if you’re into that kind of thing). Yet, the tiny, economical add-on will give dips and dressings a much-needed kick in the pants. This simple, healthy dip by Kathleen Daeleamans is a great example.

9. Garlic straight from the bulb
This one’s a tad personal. Ma and Pa, who are righteous in every other way, cook with pre-minced garlic stored in huge jars of olive oil. Pa believes it saves some time and maybe a dollar, but he always has to use twice the amount called for since the pungency is severely compromised. Fresh garlic is delicious, un-diluted, and according to a new New York Times article, good for you as all get out. Plus, there’s the vampire-repellant factor, and that can’t be overlooked. (BONUS: Special mincing instructions here. )

10. Condiments
Soy sauce, tabasco sauce, teriyaki sauce, mustard, honey, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce – every one of these guys can stand on their own, or be incorporated into a grander concoction. And when employed in moderation, they enhance rather than overwhelm the taste of a meal. You can purchase according to your own taste and/or buy in bulk for savings, but coughing up an extra buck will make a difference in the end product.

Also worth mentioning: capers, bulk nuts, olives, fresh seasonal veggies (as opposed to canned), flavored vinegars, various pastes, fresh hot peppers, chutneys, salsas.

Any other suggestions? I’d love to hear ‘em.

Top Ten Links of the Week: 10/22/10 - 10/28/10

Happy Halloween, sweet readers! Today, we delve deep into the anthropology of candy, the downsides of fundraisers, and the benefits of soup and vegetables.

Oo! Also! Movie suggestion! If you haven't seen 2008's Swedish vampire movie Let the Right One In, rent it for the 31st. It will move you and scare your pants off at the same time. I'm dead serious. Those (we) Scandinavians know horror. And the luge. But mostly horror.

1) New York Times: Is Candy Evil or Just Misunderstood?
By day, Dr. Samira Kawash is ludicrously well-educated administrator, mom, and jellybean addict. By night, she’s CANDY PROFESSOR, a blogger exploring Americans’ cultural relationship with jujubes, lollipops, and Gummi bears. It’s a sweet article, in every sense of the word.

2) The Atlantic Food: The Meanings of Halloween Candy Psychopath Stories
All Hallow’s Eve approaches, my pretties. This year, don’t fear razor-bladed Snickers or poisoned Mary Janes. They’re pretty much an unsubstantiated myth, fostered by our fear of contamination and the unknown. Who knows? CANDY PROFESSOR knows. (Seriously. She wrote this.)

3) Oregon Live: Soup swaps help stock your freezer and foster friendships
Ooo! Wanna procure a variety of delicious, nutritious meals for pennies? Hold a soup swap. This piece gives you the guidelines, along with six good-looking recipes.

4) The Atlantic: The Dark Side of Benefit Dinners
Porchetta chef Sara Jenkins is leery of benefits for two reasons: 1) They often seem more like self-congratulatory parties for their respective parent organizations, and 2) She’s repeatedly expected to buy, prep, and serve a massive amount of food for free. It’s a reasonable argument, and one worth exploring if you're planning, funding, or attending a fundraising dinner anytime soon.

5) Casual Kitchen: Cooking Up Advantages Out of Disadvantages
Love this piece about accidental innovation when you’re too busy to do it on purpose. Aren’t we all more productive when we’re busy?

6) The Simple Dollar: Can Once-a-Month Cooking Really Work?
Personal finance guru/home cook Trent details the beginnings of his family’s OaM experiment, which will be employed full-force when his wife heads back to work. Can they pull it off? Will the meals become too repetitive? Is it something they can do consistently? Read on and find out.

7) HuffPo: Screamin’ Grocery Store Deals: 16 Cheap, Organic Foods
Fab organic deals in somewhat irritating slideshow form. Take a glance if you don’t mind the extra clicking. (Does anyone else loathe slideshows? Man, they make me crazy. HuffPo is a constant culprit.)

8) The Independent: Excessive Meat Eating Kills 45,000 Each Year
You know, you see a lot of articles pinning metabolic syndrome on obesity and poor diets, but you rarely see them specifically blame meat consumption. This is a UK publication, is probably why it's allowed to happen here. Interesting read.

9) Gen X Finance: 8 Ways to Save Money When Going Out to Eat
I love any frugality piece acknowledging that leaving the house is necessary to maintain one’s sanity. Also, food is good. So, um, read this.

10) USA Today: Food allergies more likely in kids born in winter
It’s understood that these claims are legitimate, but don’t they sound a little like obscure baseball stats? Like, kids born in winter after the seventh inning on days ending in 3, 7, or 8 are more likely to have a shellfish intolerance and less likely to hit for the cycle? Am I watching too much of the World Series? Answer me, Tim Lincecum!

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Cooking Manager: Interview with Cheap Healthy Good Kris
The lovely Hannah graciously asked to interview me earlier this week. These are the squash-tastic results

The Guardian: Global food crisis forecast as prices reach record highs
Oh, crud. Not again. Imagine 2008’s crisis, but make it much longer.

HuffPo/Eating Well: How to Save $2,997 on Food Without Even Trying
Standard but solid roundup on common ways to cut back on your food expenditures. If you’re new to this, it’s definitely worth a gander.

stonesoup: 7 Things You Should Know About Eggplant
I didn’t know about #2. As Gram used to say, "You learn something new everyday, and could you please turn up my Lawrence Welk Show? Thanks, dear."

Time.com: Lardcore – Southern Food With Hardcore Attitude
The article is incidental. Whoever came up with “lardcore” should be kissed on the mouth. Somewhere, Henry Rollins is eating fried chicken and angrily smiling.

Wise Bread: How to Save $1500 on Coffee
Should you buy an espresso machine? Believe it or not, it might be a solid investment if you’re a joe-holic.

AND ALSO

Electric Company: Morgan Freeman as Count Dracula, Taking a Bath in a Casket
Happy Halloweeeeeeeen!



(Banana and candy pics from Wiki commons.)

Thank you so much for visiting Cheap Healthy Good! (We appreciate it muchly). If you’d like to further support CHG, subscribe to our RSS feed! Or become a Facebook friend! Or check out our Twitter! Or buy something inexpensive, yet fulfilling via that Amazon store (on the left)! Bookmarking sites and links are nice, too. Viva la France!

Veggie Might: Malt Vinegar Oven Fries—Just Like the Fair

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

Twice in the last two months I've said to someone, "This is just like the fair!"

Sheep shearing, midway rides, and pig races: for a kid in central Ohio, the county fair was the hottest ticket of the fall social calendar; and the Ohio State Fair was the most thrilling event of the year.

Walking through the competition barns, I would beg to join 4-H and have my own sheep. Every year, my father would remind me that we lived within the town limits and our yard was not zoned for farm animals.

I also lived for the midway. My friends and I would gorge ourselves on fried and sweet delicacies and then hit the fastest, whippingest, most vomit-inducing rides.

My favorite fair fare came in a greasy paper cone: salty, skin-on french fries drenched with mouth-puckering malt vinegar. Rarely do I find fries as good as those, but I'm always on the lookout.

In August, I came close when I accompanied my college pal KC and her daughter to Prince Edward Island, which is not only home to Anne of Green Gables, but the best potatoes I've ever eaten. As it turns out, the soil and climate of PEI are perfect spud-growing conditions.

Particularly outstanding were the french fries at a little seaside sandwich shack in the beach town of Victoria. And there, on the ledge next to the ketchup and other condiments, was a bottle of malt vinegar. KC and I smiled. A fellow Buckeye, she eats her fries with malt vinegar too.

We doused our taters and found a picnic table across the lane, just below the signal house overlooking the harbor. It was a postcard-perfect scene. "KC," I said, "this is just like the Ohio State Fair." She laughed, "Only I'm not throwing up from the Scrambler."

Just a couple months later, my friend MS and I attended the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, New York. We wandered the stalls, fondling the softest fibers and cooing over the fuzzy animals. I thought of the 6- through 11-year-old me who wanted a sheep in the city as MS and I discussed smuggling an alpaca back to the Big Apple. We were pretty sure getting the 6.5 foot animal on Metro-North would be the most difficult part of the proposition.

It may be impossible to recreate the spirit of fair and festival and idyllic seasides, but the malt vinegar oven fries I whipped up this week are pretty dang close. Salty and tangy, crispy and chewy, they have less fat and fewer calories than traditional fries but all the flavor. CB, who isn't crazy about fries said, "I would eat these again." High praise.

It's been an excellent fall for making new fair memories. A sheep even licked my hand.

~~~

If this post tipped your canoe, swim over to:
~~~

Malt Vinegar Oven Fries
Serves 2


2 medium russet potatoes (about 7 ounces each)
2 tbsp malt vinegar
1/2 tbsp olive oil
3 generous pinches sea salt

1) Scrub and dry potatoes. Slice widthwise into 1/2" disks, then slice disks into 1/2" strips. Place cut potatoes into bowl or zipper-seal bag.

2) Pour malt vinegar in a small bowl. Drizzling in olive oil, emulsify oil and vinegar with a whisk or immersion blender.

3) Pour oil and vinegar over cut potatoes, sprinkle with salt, and toss well. Allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes.

4) Preheat oven to 350°. Arrange marinated potatoes on a baking sheet, evenly spaced without much, if any overlap. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring after 15 minutes, until crispy.

5) Sprinkle with more vinegar and salt, if desired. Serve with your favorite sandwich or in a paper cone for true state fair authenticity. Pucker up…a kiss is in your future.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, and Protein per Serving
201 calories, 3.5g fat, 3g fiber, 5g protein, $0.47

Calculations
2 medium russet potatoes: 336 calories, 0g fat, 6g fiber, 10g protein, $0.86
2 tbsp malt vinegar: 6 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.02
1/2 tbsp olive oil: 60 calories, 7g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.04
3 generous pinches sea salt: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $.02
TOTALS: 402 calories, 7g fat, 6g fiber, 10g protein, $.94
PER SERVING (totals/2): 201calories, 3.5g fat, 3g fiber, 5g protein, $.47

The #1 Rule of Personal Finance

Whether you're buying a home, managing your income, or going to the grocery store, there is a simple rule imperative to every aspect of personal finance. Embraced, it is your greatest pecuniary tool. Ignored, it will destroy your cash flow and leave you living destitute with your Grandma.

From Wikicommons
You gotta do the math.

Okay, equations may not be your cup of coffee. But knowing the numbers is key to saving money, and performing simple computations can mean the difference between living well and scraping by. Frankly - and I realize this is simplifying the issue beyond measure - but I occasionally wonder how many U.S. foreclosures could have been avoided if someone sat down with a calculator. (Judgey? Me? Er … maybe.)

Math is especially essential in the supermarket, from estimating discounts to figuring unit prices. Occasionally, you even have to guess at measurements and conversion rates, which is always a good time.

Granted, this isn’t intuitive knowledge. But it is very, very necessary knowledge. So, how do you make trips to the market a little easier? These tips might help.

Create a pricebook.
Though it’s a little intensive at first, a good pricebook will help you nail the best deals on food. Once you have it down, you won’t even need to record numbers anymore. You’ll just know. Of course, they’re a bit complicated to explain in two lines, so I’ll refer you to this masterful post at Get Rich Slowly, which includes links to spreadsheets. This CHG comp of pricebooks, meal planners, and grocery lists is way useful, too.

Make a grocery list, pricing included, before you get to the store.
You’re less likely to make mistakes at home when you have time and relative peace to run the numbers of a given purchase. Derive costs from online circulars or your own hard-won knowledge, factor in coupons, and don’t forget any membership card discounts.

Bring a calculator with you as you shop.
This eliminates the need for in-your-head math, making nearly any in-store purchase much easier to figure. Can’t find a Texas Instrument? Use your cell phone. Almost all models should include a simple (read: non-scientific, but you won’t have to figure out cosines, anyway) math machine.

Keep a running tally in your head of what you buy.
Estimating your purchases as you shop goes a long way toward staying within a budget. It doesn’t have to be exact, because odds are the digits will work out at the end. Waiting on line is a perfect place to do this, especially if there aren't any good tabloids to read.

Learn this simple math trick.
Take an item’s price and move the decimal point to the left by one spot. The new number is 10% of the cost. You can use that to approximate nearly any discount. Multiply it by three to get a 30% discount, or five to calculate a half-off price.

Loaf of bread = $3.92
10% = $0.39
20% off = ~$0.78
Half off (50%) = ~ $1.95

Relatedly, to derive the individual cost of a Buy One Get One free item, simply split the price in half.

Compare unit pricing.
Supermarkets will frequently present you with two prices. The latter is the cost of a specific item. For example, the price of these egg substitutes is $3.49.


The former is what that item costs in a standardized size or quantity. A full quart of these egg substitutes will run you $7.98.


Using that former number, you can compare the cost of a quart of egg substitutes to quarts of competing products. Maybe another brand goes for $10.15 per quart, making it more expensive. Or perhaps it costs $6.98, a better price.

Beware, though. Sometimes, similar products will use different units of measurement to list their unit pricing. In that case, it’s handy to have that calculator.

Note the pound vs. quart measurements here.
Weigh your produce.
Okay. Like, “duh,” right? But hear me out: Weighing produce will not only give you an idea of cost, but a visual representation of just how much food you’re buying. Plus, it makes it easier to find a bargain when you’re confronted by pricing like this:


Which is the better deal, $1.99 per pound, or $1.99 per bunch? Only the scale knows for sure.

These rules are fairly basic, sure. But really, they’re here as a reminder that frugality is a numbers game. And in order to succeed, we hafta stay on top of them.

Readers, whaddaya think? Are there other math tips to be added? Do you think math is as important to financial health as I’m making it out to be? Will you now have an answer for your kids when they ask, “Why do I have to learn this?” The comment section, she is open.

~~~

If you enjoy this, you might also appreciate:

I Wrote This: DIY Therapy - Head Games for a Rainy Day

You guys! I wrote a book! And it’s out today!

Do-it-Yourself Therapy: Head Games for a Rainy Day is a light-hearted activity book that will delight your friends and conquer your enemies. But don’t take it from me. Take it from Random House’s/Potter Style’s official product description:

More affordable than your analyst, and more fun than webMD, this novelty book full of games, home remedies, and therapeutic activities for the obsessive, depressive, and passive-aggressive will help you diagnose your neurosis! You’ll go crazy for tools like punch-out Rorschach Ink-Blot-from-Hell diagnostic cards, fill-in-the-blank therapy sessions with your personalized paper-doll analyst, bathroom vanity disguise kit featuring cover-up labels for your prescription meds, and the insanely accurate Neurosis Bingo (if you experience five symptoms listed on the board in one day, BINGO!, your disorder is revealed). Do-It-Yourself Therapy also offers curative activities like the “Can You Find the Happy Pills?” hidden picture game, an obsessive-compulsive to-do list, and Sorry-I’m-So-Crazy postcards to punch out and send to friends when your behavior has crossed the line.

Available through mah Amazon store (lower left-hand side of this web page), brick-and-mortar bookstores, and neat places everywhere. Thank you!

Ask the Internet: Thanksgiving Recipes That Travel Well?

This week’s inquiry comes from reader Cam, who’s already gearing up for what my dad likes to call The Super Bowl of Eating.

Q: I've been asked to bring a veggie dish to Thanksgiving dinner. I have to travel about 3 hrs to get there. I was going to make the Ina Garten roasted brussels sprouts of CHG fame, but I just don't know how they'll reheat/travel.

I will have some access to an oven/microwave, but I would guess that I won't get more than about 20-25 min, while dodging the rest of the last-minute prep activities. Does anyone have any suggestions for a great veggie dish that will travel and reheat well?

A: Cam, I’m traveling for Thanksgiving for the first time ever, and I totally feel your pain. In regard to the Brussels sprouts, if you can prep them beforehand, it might work. They need a little longer than 25 minutes to roast, but other dishes can be cooking while they’re in there.

Beyond that, stuffing is tricky because the meat is laying out for so long, and mashed potatoes generally require a good chunk of cooking time. With that in mind, I might try these, always taking care to assemble the ingredients before you leave your house:
  • Chunky Applesauce. It’s my mom’s recipe, and can be made well ahead of time. Goes over well with the seniors and kids. Serve hot or cold.
  • Sweet Potatoes with Mini Marshmallows. This needs enough time to warm through and brown the marshmallows, but that’s about it. It is absolutely my favorite thing in the world.
  • Honey-Glazed Roasted Carrots. Pretty much a roast-and-leave dish, though you would need a minute or two on the stovetop for the glaze.
  • Pioneer Woman’s Cranberry Sauce. I know cranberry sauce can be kind of lame sometimes, but Pioneer Woman’s will make you forget every abomination you ever slid out of a three-year-old aluminum can. It’s seriously THE BEST.
If your guests are amenable to a first-course soup, those always reheat well. This Roasted Butternut Squash Soup will knock their collective socks off.

And with that, sweet readers, I turn it over to you. What are your favorite travelin’ Thanksgiving recipes?

Want to ask the interweb a question? Post one in the comment section, or write to Cheaphealthygood@gmail.com. Then, tune in next Tuesday for an answer/several answers from the good people of the World Wide Net.

Pumpkin Butter: The Revenge

The following tale is a harrowing, totally true account of how I finally hacked a sugar pumpkin in two. Read on … if you dare.

When: A brisk October night, 2010

Where: A vaguely haunted Brooklyn kitchen

Who:
  • Kris, a pale, tall, somewhat uncoordinated 32-year-old writer/cook, whose only goal for the evening is harvesting the sweet flesh of autumn gourds.
  • The Sugar Pumpkin, a three-pound, iron-hided, carrot-hued possible herald of Satan.
Kris creeps warily into the kitchen, clutching a large chef’s knife. There is a single fluorescent light overhead, casting shadows long and stark across the linoleum.

KRIS: Hello? Is there anyone there? Anyone? Hellooooo?

There is only silence.

KRIS: Marco?

THE SUGAR PUMPKIN: Polo.

KRIS: AUGH!

The Sugar Pumpkin leaps from the refrigerator to Kris’ shoulder, but promptly plummets to the ground, as it has no limbs with which to choke her.

TSP: Dang. That never works.

KRIS: Sugar Pumpkin! I knew you were hiding here somewhere. How did you get on top of the fridge? With your evil, Lucifer-given powers, I bet.

TSP: You left me there when you were unloading the groceries.

KRIS: Nice try, demon! But it’s all too obvious; denizens of the netherworld bestowed the gift of flight upon you.

TSP: No, look, the bananas are up there, too.

KRIS: Not the bananas! Mephistopheles got to them, as well?

TSP: Seriously, you just forgot.

KRIS: Never thee mind, fiend! Because now … it is time for you to die.

Kris lunges at The Sugar Pumpkin with her blade.

KRIS: Die! DIE!

Kris fails.

KRIS: Crap.

TSP: Ha! Nice try, kid. But I’m invincible, and it wasn’t the devil that did it. Your supermarket blasted me with gamma rays, to ensure that hapless home cooks like yourself never have access to my sweet, low-calorie flesh.

KRIS: But how will I create pumpkin butter, with which to spread on quickbreads and dollop on top of oatmeal and make into pancakes?

TSP: You got me.

KRIS: Also, gamma rays? Isn’t that a Hulk thing? Shouldn’t you be green?

TSP: You’d think so, wouldn’t you? Anyhoo, I’ll be on my way.

KRIS: NEVER!

Kris finds an axe behind the fridge.

KRIS: Die! Die! For real this time!

Kris buries the axe in her own foot.

KRIS: Ow.

TSP: Hm. Unexpected.

KRIS: Okay. I’m going to need a band-aid here.

TSP: Wow! Check out the patterns your blood spatter is making! (motions to wall) That one looks like a ducky.

KRIS (pointing at ceiling): Oo! And there's Carl Yastrzemski!

TSP: I would have said Elliott Gould, but I can see what you’re going for.

They laugh for a good five minutes.

KRIS: You know, this is fun and all, but I’m starting to lose consciousness.

TSP: Here. Let me get you a towel.

KRIS: That’s very sweet of you, Sugar Pumpkin. I appreciate that.

TSP: Really, it’s no problem.

The Sugar Pumpkin turns his back for the towel. Kris, despite being attached via axe to the kitchen floor, gathers her remaining strength and clobbers TSP with a kitchen chair. It splits in half.

TSP: NOOOOO! But … but … I … I was … Lowenstein …

KRIS: Sorry, gourd. Halloween recipes take no prisoners.

TSP: Blerg.

The Sugar Pumpkin dies.

KRIS: Hm. Still bleeding. (begins to yell) Is anyone else home? Hellooooo? HELLOOOOOO? I’m starting to feel FAIIIIIINT!

Kris blacks out, but raises her head one final time to impart hard earned words of wisdom for the ages.

KRIS: In retrospect, this was not well planned.

~fini~

~~~

If this tickles your orange fancy, you might also enjoy:
~~~

Pumpkin Butter
Makes about 3 cups, or 32 servings of 1-1/2 tablespoons each.
Adapted from All Recipes.


1 3-lb. sugar pumpkin (Yields about 22 ounces of flesh)
1 cup apple cider
1 cup light brown sugar, loosely packed (plus more if needed)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
Pinch of salt

1) Preheat oven to 375°F

2) Hack pumpkin in half, however you can. (Just do it very, very carefully.) (Alternately, use a can of pumpkin puree and skip this step entirely.) Seed it and cut out the stem. Place cut-side-down in a 9x13 glass baking dish and tent loosely with tin foil. Roast about 90 minutes, or until pumpkin is easily removed from skin.

3) In a medium pot, whisk pumpkin together with apple cider. Add sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and salt and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer, then cook over medium heat for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently. (Do not abandon. This stuff steams.) For extra-silky butter, use a stick blender to smooth it out when finished. Let cool a little bit and store in fridge.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, Protein, and Price Per Serving
30 calories, 0.05 g fat, 0.3 g fiber, 0.16 g protein, $0.12

Calculations
1 3-lb. sugar pumpkin (yields about 22 ounces of flesh): 125 calories, 0.6 g fat, 6.9 g fiber, 4.5 g protein, $2.46
1 cup apple cider: 120 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g fiber, 0 g protein, $0.31
1 cup light brown sugar, loosely packed: 688 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g fiber, 0 g protein, $0.60
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon: 12 calories, 0.1 g fat, 2.5 g fiber, 0.2 g protein, $0.15
2 teaspoons ground ginger: 12 calories, 0.2 g fat, 0.5 g fiber, 0.3 g protein, $0.15
1 teaspoon nutmeg: 12 calories, 0.8 g fat, 0.5 g fiber, 0.1 g protein, $0.10
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves: 2 calories, 0.1 g fat, 0.2 g fiber. 0 g protein, $0.02
Pinch of salt: negligible calories, fat, fiber, and protein, $0.01
TOTAL: 971 calories, 1.6 g fat, 10.6 g fiber, 5.1 g protein, $3.80
PER SERVING (TOTAL/32): 30 calories, 0.05 g fat, 0.3 g fiber, 0.16 g protein, $0.12

Saturday Throwback: 20 Cheap, Healthy Dishes Made From 10 Pantry Staples

Every Saturday, we post a piece from the CHG archives. This one is from July 2008.

Last week, to celebrate CHG’s first blogiversary, I asked readers what subjects they’d like to see tackled more often. Quite a few responded with along the same lines: inexpensive, healthy dishes made with stuff usually found lying around the house.

With this mission in mind, I immediately thought of my own pantry, a three-shelf, 10” deep cabinet currently shared by four people. Due to these space restrictions, I have to be judicious about my supplies, keeping only the most consistently useful on hand. Beyond the usual baking products, they are (in charming alphabetical order):

Beans (black, red, pinto, garbanzo)
Canned Tomatoes (diced, crushed, whole, paste)
Dried herbs & spices (all kinds)
Extra virgin olive oil
Garlic
Onions (yellow, red)
Pasta (thin spaghetti, rotini, elbows)
Rice (brown, white, couscous)
Stock (chicken, veggie, beef)
Vinegar (balsamic, white, red wine, cider)

Armed with a reasonable variety these ten basic ingredients, I can generally whip up a nice selection of main course, side dish, or snacky-time snack-type dealies. Bargains by nature, the food can be kept relatively healthy, too, if close attention is paid to the olive oil.

With this in mind, behold: cut-and-pasted below are 20 dishes made entirely from the aforementioned pantry staples. As always, there are some things to note:

1) I’ve only tried the Roasted Chickpeas and Sara Moulton’s dish, but nearly everything is either highly rated by site reviewers or given the Food Blogger Seal of Approval (meaning a respected culinary web writer’s tried it and liked it enough to post about it).

2) Nutritional calculations are from the original sites or my own math. (Some dishes couldn't be quantified because there were no serving sizes listed.) Please e-mail me if you see mistakes (cheaphealthygood@gmail.com).

3) Substitutions (canned tomatoes instead of fresh, etc.) are given in a number of dishes where it wouldn't affect the taste too much (i.e. they’re not a main ingredient). I know fresh foods will almost always be more flavorsome than canned/dried, but sometimes they can be switched without crazy damage.

Bonus: after the initial 20 dishes, there are nine more that only require one or two extra ingredients. If you have ‘em on hand, give ‘em a shot.

SPREADS AND SNACKS

All Recipes: Roasted Garlic
79 calories and 2.9 g fat per serving

All Recipes: White Bean Spread with Garlic and Rosemary
Use dried rosemary and reduce the quantity by 1/3rd.
48 calories and 1.8 g fat per serving

Cheap Healthy Good: Roasted Chickpeas
135 calories and 4.3 g fat per serving


BEANS AND RICE

A Year of Crockpotting: Crockpot Beans and Rice

All Recipes: American-Style Red Beans and Rice
517 calories and 5.1 g fat per serving

All Recipes: Black Beans and Rice
140 calories and 0.9 g fat per serving

All Recipes: Vegetarian Refried Beans
Sub in diced tomatoes for fresh.
159 calories and 3.1 g fat per serving

Eating Well: Easy Black Beans
117 calories and 1 g fat per serving

Food Network: Refried Beans
166 calories and 3 g fat per serving


SOUPS AND CHILIS

All Recipes: Fantastic Black Bean Chili
Leave out ground turkey and sub in another can of your favorite bean.

All Recipes: Garbanzo Tomato Pasta Soup
323 calories and 6.1 g fat per serving

Boston Globe: Pasta e Ceci
Sub 1/3 teaspoon dried rosemary for fresh.
504 calories and 18.6 g fat per serving

Cook Almost Anything: Roasted Garlic-Onion Soup
Use dried herbs for fresh ones and skip the parsley.

The Peppertree: Tomato-Rice Soup with Roasted Garlic and Navy Beans

What Geeks Eat: Black Bean Soup
Many black bean soups use bacon, ham, carrots, and celery as flavorings. If you have 'em in the fridge, go nuts.


PASTA, RICE AND COUSCOUS

All Recipes: Pasta and Beans
Sub in diced tomatoes for fresh.
284 calories and 6.6 g fat per serving

Cookbook Catchall: Linguine with Garlic and Olive Oil (Aglio e Olio)
Much of the olive oil will pool at the bottom of the dish, so the fat and calorie content are estimated a bit high.
587 calories and 19.7 g fat per serving

Epicurious: Curried Couscous
Leave out the mint leaves and raisins.
219 calories and 5 g fat per serving

Epicurious: Curried Rice
224 calories and 5.5 g fat per serving

FatFree.com: Garlic Tomato Couscous
Use 1/2 cup canned diced tomatoes instead of fresh.
115 calories and 0.2 g fat per serving


EXTRA SPECIAL BONUS DISHES
Though they require one or two more inexpensive ingredients, these dishes can be just as healthy, fast, and easy as the pure pantry meals listed above. The additional ingredient is listed after each name.

Book of Yum: All Purpose Pasta Sauce
Needs carrots.

Cooking Light: Cumin Curried Hummus
Needs lemon juice.
82 calories and 2.6 g fat per serving

Food Network: Pasta e Fagioli
Needs carrots and celery.

Orangette: Mujadara
Needs lentils.
259 calories and 11.2 g fat per serving

Recipe Zaar: Quick and Easy Garbanzo Bean and Tomato Pasta
Needs sugar and parmesan.
393 calories and 3.9 g fat per serving

Sara Moulton: Orecchiette (er, Macaroni) with Broccoli and Chickpeas
Needs broccoli.
324 calories and 7.8 g fat per serving

Serious Eats: Swiss Chard with Tomatoes and Chickpeas
Needs Swiss chard. Also, lots of leafy greens can be sauteed with olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes for a quick and nutritious bargain meal. This is just one suggestion.
276 calories and 13.1 g fat per serving

Simply Recipes: Easy Black Beans and Rice
Needs bell peppers.
249 calories and 3.1 g fat per serving

Smitten Kitchen: Stewed Tomatoes and Lentils
Needs lentils and carrots.

And that just about wraps it up. Readers, if you have any suggestions for easy, healthy pantry meals, I'd love to hear 'em. Thanks!

(Photo courtesy of Closets Plus Metro.)

Top Ten Links of the Week: 10/15/10 – 10/21/10

Sweet readers! This week, the links are all about solutions. Okay, and some alarming facts about obesity and food waste. But mostly, it's the solutions thing. Behold! And start solving things!

1) New York Times: Op-chart – Lunch Line Redesign
Wow! Solution-based, super-neat interactive graphic shows how to optimize school cafeteria lunches for healthy eating. Parents! Educators! People who love solution-based, super-neat interactive graphics! Take a look at this thing!

2) Money Saving Mom: Buying Special Diet Foods on a Budget
A one-two punch of practical advice and inspiring you-can-do-it-iveness, this piece on cooking for a family with food limitations of varying severity could be the most useful thing you read all year. Besides your IKEA bed assembly instructions. Those are good, too.

3) Lifehacker
Eat Your Way to a High-Energy Workday
Five Best Recipe Search Tools
How to Freeze and Thaw Your Food the Right Way
Three solid leftovers from Lifehacker’s Food Week. Read 'em and eat.

4) Nation’s Restaurant News: Picking out local food not so easy
In an informal taste test of supermarket and farmer’s market foods, three experienced chefs usually couldn’t detect a difference in flavor or quality. Which brings up the question: Is locavorism just hype?

5) 20 Favorite Dirt Cheap Meals
This reader-generated list of cheapo breakfasts, lunches, and dinners is a solid resource for those times when you’re gazing blankly into the abyss of your Frigidaire. Also, it will familiarize you with the words “Skint pie,” which don’t mean what you would assume they mean.

6) Treehugger: Walmart's Newest Sustainability Initiative Focuses on Local Produce, Small Farmers
Man, I want to be all cynical and hipster-like and Brooklynesque here, but I just can’t. “Supporting farmers and their communities, producing more food with fewer resources and less waste,” are some noble, innoventive goals, and I really hope the Walton family can pull it off.

7) New York Times: Going on a Diet? Start Paying in Cash.
Bring some Hamiltons on your next grocery trip, everybody. Why? “Paying with credit or debit cards makes people more likely to make impulsive, unhealthy food purchases, according to a new study in The Journal of Consumer Research.”

8) The Kitchn: What’s the Difference? Yellow, White, and Red Onions
Finally, someone explains the ongoing existence of the seemingly extraneous white onion. Now, how about tackling yams vs. sweet potatoes?

9) HuffPo: Why We Waste So Much
Last week, we learned that we U.S. citizens chuck about 25% of our food. This week, American Wasteland author Jonathan Bloom explains why, boiling it down to two things: “because we take it for granted,” and “because we can.” Cue sad trombone.

10) The Kitchn: Ways to Improve Store-bought Broth
Confession: I go through stock so quickly, there’s no time to make enough at home. Fotunately, College Inn has always been there for me, and here, The Kitchn lists ways to improve its flavor.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

The Kitchn: 5 Quick Tips for Choosing Winter Squash
In Soviet Russia, winter squash chooses YOU.

Lifehacker: Carry Drinks in a Muffin Tin
Oh. Muh. Gawrsh. Why didn’t I think of this? Goes perfectly with Tuesday’s Ask the Internet.

Neatorama: 15 Cool and Creepy Halloween Party Foods
Delight your children, terrify your parents. Especially with the Rat on a Stick thing.

stonesoup: 7 Golden Rules of Freezing Food
Solid guidelines for optimal icing.

USA Today: Obesity Costs $168 Billion, Study Finds
Can you believe an estimated 17% of our health care spending is obesity-related? If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, $168 billion will buy him Liechtenstein.

Wallet Pop: 9 Top Ways We Waste Money 2010
High-end coffee, bottled water, brand name products, and eating out make up over half this list. Sounds about right.

Weird Worm: 6 Poisonous Foods We Still Eat
You might have known about Absinthe and puffer fish, but what about potatoes, almonds, and nutmeg? Here’s a fun fact: one of them contains cyanide. Actual cyanide! Happy Halloweeeeeen!

AND ALSO

Joel Burns: It Gets Better
It starts with a list of teens – children, really - who recently committed suicide after being bullied for being or "acting" gay. It continues with a testimonial from Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, himself a gay man, that will alternately move you and fill you with sadness. Parents, please don’t let your kids be jerks.



Thank you so much for visiting Cheap Healthy Good! (We appreciate it muchly). If you’d like to further support CHG, subscribe to our RSS feed! Or become a Facebook friend! Or check out our Twitter! Or buy something inexpensive, yet fulfilling via that Amazon store (on the left)! Bookmarking sites and links are nice, too. Viva la France!

Veggie Might: Converting Those Pesky Weights and Measures

Written by the fabulous Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about all things Vegetarian.

You are browsing your blog reader for food porn and come across a gorgeous recipe that you must make immediately. Then you notice it calls for calls for 7 ounces of uncooked quinoa and 1 cup of cooked lentils. There goes your food boner.

How much quinoa does 7 ounces make? How many ounces of dried lentils cook up to make a cup? And which measuring cup is used for either of them? Even if you have a food scale, you might be at a bit of a loss.

For ages, I’ve been keeping notes about how beans, legumes, and sundry grains measure up before and after cooking. Naturally, it seems I’ve reinvented the wheel—the InterWebs are rich with resources for weight/volume conversion—but I have a digital kitchen scale and I never get tired of weighing my own lentils.

The Nitty Gritty
These approximate formulas for the most common dry goods can be used as a guide when judging how much of an item to buy or cook for a recipe. For the most accurate measurements, you will want to weigh and measure for yourself, but these will get you started.


Hopefully you’ll find this list to be a helpful resource. Print it out and stick it on the fridge for reference. But don’t let it stop you from picking up that sassy kitchen scale you’ve had your eye on. Mine is a desert island gadget, right up there with my silicone spatula and cast iron skillet. How else would I know that an almond weighs exactly a gram?

Further Reading/Resources
VegWorld: How much does a cup weigh?
Homecooking.about.com: Food Equivalents and Substitutions
Epicurious: Common Measures and Equivalents

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If you dug this article, you may also dig:

Winter Squash 101 (Plus 18 Recipes!)

Come autumn, they crowd the produce aisle like so many tough-skinned soldiers, boasting their seasonal orange and green hues like a silent, immovable army. Thrown at an enemy, they will wreak havoc untold. Made into soup, they will be your best friends forever. Or even foreva.

What I’m saying is: You may fear them. You may love them. Either way, winter squash should be in your kitchen, and eventually your stomach.

So let’s learn a little more, shall we?

HEALTH QUOTIENT

Often overshadowed nutritionally by leafy greens and cruciferae, gourds pack some impressive wholesomeness of their own. Pumpkins and butternut squash are astronomically high in vitamin A, while acorn squash is a good source of fiber, vitamin C, potassium, and thiamin. All varieties are virtually fat-free and comparatively low in calories, with spaghetti squash being particularly lean.

COST

If you’ve ever purchased them pre-cubed or in the depths of summer, winter squash may seem prohibitively expensive. Happily, it is not always thus. Bought whole and in season, they’re pound-for-pound one of the most economical vegetables, ever. My local supermarket often hocks them at $0.69/lb., and will go even cheaper if they don’t think anyone is buying.

CULINARY USES

Soups, purees, risottos, quickbreads, chilis, stews, casseroles, roasted sides – oh, where to begin? There are so many wonderful options for cooking winter squash, it’s tough to choose any one to reflect upon. So here are some general notes:
  • Acorn squash, butternut squash, and pumpkin take particularly well to warm, autumn-y flavors and spices. You’ll frequently find them in recipes using maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, apples, and pears, among other October-like foods.
  • Since these kinds of dishes tend to be sweet, I find kids and picky eaters tend to dig ‘em.
  • This doesn’t mean gourds don’t pair with other ingredients. You’ll find meals where they mix with ricotta, kale, pork, curry, and tomatoes, just to name a few non-fall foods.
We go into specific recipes in just a minute, but first, a word about…

PREPARATION

Here’s the rub. While almost everything else about winter squash is praiseworthy, they can be a hideous nightmare to break down. Last night, I had to beat a sugar pumpkin ON MY KITCHEN FLOOR to get it open. Forget peeling it. After a few college tries, my brand new OXO stainless steel y-shaped peeler crumbled like the mid-‘90s Knicks.

Okay, maybe I’m being a little harsh. Slicing up a spaghetti squash isn’t all that bad. And you can buy almost any gourd pre-cubed. Heck – most recipes even ask for canned pumpkin puree, which eliminates the whole hacking process.

But if you still want to buy the pretty in-store gourds, there are a few things you can do to make the cleaving process way, way easier:
  • Halve your squash lengthwise, seed it, and roast it until the insides are easily scoopable. (50 – 90 minutes)
  • Halve your squash lengthwise, seed it, and microwave it until the insides are easily scoopable. (10-30 minutes)
  • Poke a bunch of holes in your squash, and microwave it until easily pierced with a fork. (If you should attempt this, MAKE SURE to poke many deep holes in your gourd and remain in the kitchen as it cooks. If the squash starts making noise, you risk explosion. Also, I’m not sure I would try this with a pumpkin.)
Obligatory warning: Though you’re still very much encouraged to try it, be super careful when chopping winter squash. Use a sharp knife and keep your eyes on your work at all times.

That done, let’s get to the food. Each of the following recipes has been cooked, loved, and featured on Cheap Healthy Good or in my column at Serious Eats. Enjoy!

VARIETIES & RECIPES

Butternut Squash

Everyone needs more orange in their diets. And if you've ever sipped a stellar Butternut Squash Soup (like the ones listed here), you know that its namesake gourd is the way to get it. Shaped like a '70s lamp base and delicious almost any way it's prepared, butternut squash also make an excellent cudgel for defending against invading vikings.

Butternut Squash Apple Cranberry Bake
Butternut Squash Gnocchi
Butternut Squash Lasagna with Raisins and Pine Nuts
Butternut Squash and Pear Soup
Butternut Squash Risotto
Roasted Butternut Squash with Moroccan Spices
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Acorn Squash

Classically prepared with maple syrup in rings or slices, acorn squash is a squat, deep-green vegetable that resembles a particularly verdant pumpkin. Clocking in at one or two pounds, they also make excellent free weights.

Classic Baked Acorn Squash
Curried Apples and Acorn Squash

Spaghetti Squash

Confession: I used to hate this stuff, believing it was merely a poor substitute for actual spaghetti. Oh, what a dummy I was. Adaptable to a plethora of different cuisines, the oblong, yellowish squash's versatility has made it a welcome meal base. It's a bit different from other winter varieties in that the flesh doesn’t come out in chunks, but as slim, pasta-like strings, making it much more fun to play with.

Spaghetti Squash Casserole
Spaghetti Squash Puttanesca
Spaghetti Squash with Ricotta, Sage, and Pine Nuts

Pumpkins

Ah, pumpkins. Nature’s ottomans. Bright orange, ridged, and ranging in size from a few ounces to half a ton, pumpkins are sometimes dismissed by Americans as mere Halloween decorations. But anyone who’s seen one decomposing on the neighbor’s lawn knows: there’s more to pumpkins than their nigh-impenetrable exteriors. These recipes all use canned pumpkin, but roasted, pureed fresh pumpkin would substitute nicely. (Check in Monday for a Pumpkin Butter recipe, too.)

Pumpkin Bread
Pumpkin Orzo with Sage (Vegan / non-vegan)
Pumpkin Turkey Chili

Other Squashes (Buttercup, Delicata, Kabocha, etc.)

Though we only hit on a few types here, there are dozens - maybe hundreds - of winter squash varietals available in grocery stores, farmer's markets, and pick-your-owns worldwide. Kabocha and Delicata are more common gourds, but I encourage you to experiment with what's available. Roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper is always a good way to start out.

Roasted Delicata Squash with Thyme
Roasted Winter Squash and Kale
Savory Buttercup Squash Pie

And that’s a wrap. Readers, what are your favorite ways to prepare winter squash? Do you know any other ways to ease the prep process? Why is the sky blue? The comment section is ready for your good words.

~~~

If you enjoyed this, you might also give big props to:

Green Kitchen: Kale and Balsamic Tofu Salad

Green Kitchen is a bi-weekly column about nutritious, inexpensive, and ethical food and cooking. It's penned by the lovely Jaime Green.

I’d like to thank the internet for some recipe kismet.

Last Monday, there was a fire in my apartment building. I, and my apartment, are fine. I am grateful. I am signing up for renters insurance. But even though the fire was half a block from my actual flat, the repercussions have been felt throughout the building – no electricity for an evening, no hot water for a day or two. And no gas, still.

So there I was, two days after a greenmarket haul, with a fridge full of vegetables, and just a microwave and toaster oven to cook them in.

I didn’t know how long this would last, so I made due. I splurged on some frozen creamed spinach, which is one of my favorite things in the world. I baked tofu in the toaster oven. I poached eggs in my microwave, which worked well for the first try, but then inexplicably gave me nothing but exploded eggs and a microwave to wash. I steamed broccoli in the microwave, and remembered why lots of people don’t like vegetables.

By midweek I was growing weary, and starting to worry about my produce. I had a beautiful bunch of lacinato kale, a new vegetable for me, waiting – I hoped patiently – in the crisper drawer. I know kale can last a week or two, but I was also getting really sick of steamed broccoli. I seasoned the heck out of it, added butter and oil, but still.

So when, four days into this adventure, Heidi Swanson posted a recipe for a raw kale salad, I knew I was in luck. It even called for exactly the kind of kale I had! Tuscan, aka lacinato, aka dinosaur, kale. With a few tweaks I could turn it into a healthy, fresh, satisfying full meal, requiring no cooking implements larger than a wee toaster oven, powered blissfully on electricity. (Wind-generated, natch, and its tiny size means it spends less energy just heating air than a full-sized oven.)

[Of course, when after days of calls to the super and building manager I finally got through to my super, he was like, Where’ve you been? (Um, here?) You didn’t answer my calls! (What calls?) I have a hot plate for you! (Ooh, yay!) So now I have two burners and the smell of vaporizing plastic chemicals mingling with aromas of sautéed kale and broccoli.]

I love how healthy this salad is – kale is a powerhouse veggie, full of vitamin A and high in protein for a plant. There are no empty carbohydrates here, and no gluten if you use wheat-free tamari. The fat content looks high, but it's all healthy and good-for-you, helps your body absorb the nutrients in the kale, and makes a pile of raw greens taste almost decadently rich.

But what I really love about this salad is that it's so dang good. The strong, sweet, savory tofu plays perfectly off the bright, lemony dressing (which I kept licking off my mixing spoons). A few simple ingredients, no cooking implements bigger than a toaster oven, and you get a surprisingly sophisticated, addictive salad. That's right – an addictively delicious raw kale salad. You're welcome. (And Heidi Swanson, the farmer who grew my kale, New York City firefighters – thank you.)

~~~

If you like this, these will also set your taste buds (but not your apartment) on fire:
~~~

Kale and Balsamic Tofu Salad
serves 3
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks and The Vegan Foodie.


1 lb extra firm tofu
3 T balsamic vinegar
3 T soy sauce (wheat-free tamari for a gluten-free meal)
2 T olive oil
2 t honey
2 cloves garlic, smashed

1 bunch Tuscan kale (aka lacinato, aka dinosaur) about 4-5 cups cut up

½ garlic clove
¼ t salt, plus a pinch
¼ c grated pecorino cheese
3 T olive oil
juice of one lemon (a scant half-cup)
1/8 t red pepper flakes
ground black pepper, to taste

1) Press the tofu for at least 30 minutes.

2) Whisk together vinegar, soy sauce, 2 T oil, and honey (or combine in a sealable container and shake. Add smashed garlic cloves.

3) Cube tofu. Add to marinade. Marinate for at least 30 minutes, or overnight.

4) Preheat oven (or toaster oven) to 375. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange tofu cubes in a single layer.

5) Bake tofu 30-40 minutes, flipping after 20 minutes, until browned and cooked down. (Tofu can be made in advance and refrigerated for up to a few days, until you're ready to make salad.)

6) De-vein kale and cut into ribbons. (Kitchen shears are good for this.) Put in a big bowl.

7) Smush garlic and ¼ t salt together (in a mortar and pestle or in a small bowl with the butt of a knife or something). In a small bowl combine garlic/salt paste, cheese, olive oil, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, black pepper, and a pinch of salt. Whisk together.

8) Add dressing to kale and toss. (Swanson warns, “The dressing will be thick and needs lots of tossing to coat the leaves.”) Add tofu, and let sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.

9) Garnish with a splash of oil or a sprinkle more of cheese if you like.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, and Protein per Serving
391 calories, 28.6g fat, 4g fiber, 18.4g protein, $1.71

(A note on calculations: This amount of tofu marinade is required to get good coverage so the tofu soaks in in, but it's much more than gets absorbed. So I'm including the full price for those ingredients, but only ½ the nutritional impact, because it doesn't all get eaten.)

Calculations
1 lb extra firm tofu: 365 calories, 22g fat, 5.8g fiber, 39.8g protein, $1.79
3 T balsamic vinegar: 21 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0.1g protein, $0.12
3 T soy sauce: 11 calories, 0g fat, 0.1g fiber, 1.9g protein, $0.12
5 T olive oil: 504 calories, 56g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.20
2 t honey: 23 calories, 0g fat, 5.7g fiber, 0g protein, $0.55
2 cloves garlic, smashed: n/a, since you don't eat them, $0.06
1 bunch Tuscan kale: 134 calories, 1.9g fat, 5.4g fiber, 8.8g protein, $1.00
½ garlic clove: 2 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0.1g protein, $0.03
¼ t salt, plus a pinch: 0 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.01
¼ c grated pecorino cheese: 80 calories, 6g fat, 0g fiber, 4g protein, $0.75
juice of one lemon: 30 calories, 0g fat, 0.5g fiber, 0.5g protein, $0.50
1/8 t red pepper flakes: 1 calorie, 0g fat, 0.1g fiber, 0g protein, $0.01
ground black pepper: 1 calorie, 0g fat, 0.1g fiber, 0g protein, $0.01
TOTALS: 1172 calories, 85.9g fat, 12g fiber, 55.2 g protein, $5.15
PER SERVING (TOTALS/3): 391 calories, 28.6g fat, 4g fiber, 18.4g protein, $1.71

Ask the Internet: Best Kitchen Tips?

Today’s question is inspired by the front of Cook’s Illustrated.

Q: Everyone has little tips, tricks, and hints that make their lives easier in the kitchen. What are your favorites?

A: Here are my two:

1) I don’t like using supermarket plastic bags to pack my produce. It feels wasteful. But throwing them in a regular canvas bag inevitably results in bruising and cuts. Enter the recyclable wine bag.


Now, I place individual fruits and veggies into one of the six compartments. It protects the skin and keeps them from rolling around. Of course, I still use plastic if it’s a big bunch of wet romaine, but this is a nice solution for a good chunk of my groceries.


2) Dragging a knife sideways across a cutting board surface will dull the blade, but fast. So, when I’m chopping herbs or mincing garlic, I use the dull side to gather them into a pile. That way, the blade stays sharp and I don’t get food all over my hands.


Readers, how about you? What are your best little strategies and tips for cooking, shopping, and/or eating?

Want to ask the interweb a question? Post one in the comment section, or write to Cheaphealthygood@gmail.com. Then, tune in next Tuesday for an answer/several answers from the good people of the World Wide Net.

Pasta with Butternut Squash, Sage, and Pine Nuts: Delicious and Borderline

Today on Serious Eats: Broccoli Rabe with Turkey Sausage and Grapes, an offbeat, healthy winner from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything.

Some days, we define a “healthy” recipe as a produce-based, vitamin-packed powerhouse of unadulterated wholesomeness, designed to fuel you through most major decathalons.

Other days, “healthy” implies we’ve lightened existing recipes, giving readers slightly less deleterious options to heavy, nutritionally bereft mealtime favorites.

Today’s dish is definitely one of those second thingies, in that it very nearly skirts the boundaries of our mission statement. Which is to say, the ingredients will cost you a Hamilton, and ultimately, the whole shebang isn't terribly diet-friendly.

Still, Pan-Fried Pasta with Butternut Squash, Sage, and Pine Nuts IS cheap and healthy … to an extent. It avoids processed foods, includes massive doses of Vitamins A and C, and contains significantly less fat than the original recipe. It’s pretty cheap for a Sunday night dinner, too, or for entertaining guests. In fact, the original Kitchn author served the dish at her wedding, to her guests’ infinite glee.

Plus, there’s that scent. To me, sage is the fragrance equivalent of a seeing a unicorn in the wild. It’s rare, magically delicious, and nobody believes you when you try to describe it. In other words, this recipe will make your whole house reek of delight.

Of course, if you make it yourself, there are a few things to know:

1) Next to shaving my knees, my least favorite activity is cubing butternut squash. On one hand, if you really feel like hacking something to pieces, it’s great for getting your aggression out. On the other hand, if you buy it pre-cubed, you won’t bleed as much

2) Pine nuts are a good 33% of the price here. In my humblest of opinions, they’re not vital to the success of the dish. If you want to just sprinkle a few on the top of each serving OR leave ‘em out entirely, you’ll save between $2 and $4.

3) A few commenters on the original Kitchn post mentioned this recipe is a little dry. It’s supposed to be kind of arid, but shouldn’t taste like the Sahara. If you’re finding it less than moist, stir in some reserved pasta water until it reaches the consistency you like.

Ultimately, Pasta with Butternut Squash, Sage, and Pine Nuts is a minor indulgence that's totally worth a little extra whatever. Enjoy, sweet readers, and don't think twice about it.

(Incidentally, this marks CHG's 1,000th post. Hooray! I wonder if we get cufflinks.)

~~~

If you like this, you’ll surely enjoy:
~~~

Pasta with Butternut Squash, Fried Sage, and Pine Nuts
Serves 4 or 5.
Adapted from The Kitchen.


1 medium butternut squash (2 to 3 pounds), skinned, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 small sweet onion, peeled and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup fresh sage leaves, divided
12 ounces farfalle pasta
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
2/3 cup Parmesan, grated, shredded, or shaved
Cooking spray

1) Preheat oven 375°F. Cover a baking sheet with tin foil and spray with cooking spray.

2) In a medium bowl, mix squash, onion, garlic and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Mince half the sage leaves and toss those in, as well. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir again. Spread mixture in a single layer on baking sheet. Bake 35-40 minutes, stirring twice for even roasting. Squash should be soft at the end.

3) Meanwhile, cook farfalle in a medium pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water. Set aside.

4) In a large skillet, heat remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. (It should be really hot.) Add remaining sage leaves and cook until crispy, about 1 or 2 minutes. Remove with a spider or slotted spoon to a small bowl. Salt lightly. Crush or chop to little pieces.

5) Add half the pasta, half the squash mixture, and half the fried sage to the hot pan, making sure it’s not too crowded. (You want this to fry, not steam.) Cook for about 5 minutes, or “until the pasta is heated through and getting crispy on some of the edges,” stirring frequently. Add pine nuts and cook for 1 more minute. Pour into bowl and stir in half the parmesan.

6) Repeat Step #5 with remaining ingredients.

NOTE: So, a few commenters on the original Kitchn post mentioned this recipe is a little dry. It’s supposed to be kind of arid, but shouldn’t taste like the Sahara. If you’re finding it less than moist, stir in your reserved pasta water until it reaches the consistency you like.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, Protein, and Price Per Serving
Four servings: 631 calories, 23.3 g fat, 5.7 g fiber, 20.9 g protein, $2.60
Five servings: 505 calories, 18.6 g fat, 4.6 g fiber, 16.7 g protein, $2.07

Calculations
1 medium butternut squash (2 to 3 pounds), skinned, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 28 ounces): 357 calories, 0.8 g fat, 15.9 g fiber, 7.9 g protein, $1.69
1 small sweet onion, peeled and diced: 29 calories, 0.1 g fat, 1 g fiber, 0.6 g protein, $0.39
3 cloves garlic, minced: 13 calories, 0 g fiat, 0.2 g fiber, 0.6 g protein, $0.12
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided: 358 calories, 40.5 g fat, 0 g fiber, 0 g protein, $0.36
Salt and pepper: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $0.02
1/2 cup fresh sage leaves, divided: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $1.99
12 ounces farfalle pasta: 1200 calories, 6 g fat, 12 g fiber, 42 g protein, $0.75
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted: 280 calories, 26.7 g fat, 1.3 g fiber, 6.7 g protein, $3.29
2/3 cup Parmesan, grated, shredded, or shaved: 287 calories, 19 g fat, 0 g fiber, 25.6 g protein, $1.76
TOTALS: 2524 calories, 93.1 g fat, 22.8 g fiber, 83.4 g protein, $10.37
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 631 calories, 23.3 g fat, 5.7 g fiber, 20.9 g protein, $2.60
PER SERVING (TOTAL/5): 505 calories, 18.6 g fat, 4.6 g fiber, 16.7 g protein, $2.07