Archive for August, 2008

Food Stamps Diet

August 28, 2008

Over a year ago, Queens City Councilman Eric Gioia tried to prove a point by going on a food stamp diet of $28 a week. He couldn’t make it past day five, felt lethargic, and gained two pounds, as chronicled in the Daily News. The power of his example is the slippery slope of poverty. Being only able to afford cheap, processed food leads to a cycle of bad health and despondency. In his struggle to empathically live like over a million New Yorkers on food stamps, he draws attention to the need for food stamps reform. Does it have to take experiencing another’s life to initiate change? A sincere effort, but not much has changed, and food prices have gone up, in a catch up piece a year later. Will it be a hunger strike next?

Another Day, Another Curry

August 27, 2008

Making the most of what I had – one chicken breast, cilantro, coconut milk, a yam, ginger, chilies, and water chestnut – it was time for another curry. Adapted from a Donna Hay recipe, this curry has a cilantro and onion base paste, cooked in coconut milk and stock, with only chicken and potatoes, perked up with lime. I like more variety, so I added a carrot and the yam ($1.81 at Stiles with onion and lime, milk is from Whole Foods, $1.19). For even more variety, I picked up some fried tofu and bamboo shoots from Chinatown ($4.46 with extra coconut milk and shrimp chips), which I didn’t end up using, wanting to keep the velvet-y texture of the curry. Thick and tangy, it redeems bland chicken and is suitable over rice.

Green Chicken Curry

-peel and chop 2 red potatoes, 1 carrot, and 1 yam, set aside
-chop 1 small red onion, place in blender
-mince 1T ginger, add to blender
-in the blender, add 1T fish sauce, 1 cup cilantro, and 2T oil, blend until smooth
-slice 1 chicken breast into bite size pieces
-heat paste in a medium size pot over medium high, about 1 minute
-add chicken, heat about 1 minute
-add 1 cup chicken stock, 1 cup coconut milk, and vegetables, cover and bring to a boil, let simmer for about 20 minutes until vegetables are cooked through
-if curry sauce seems thin, heat an additional 5 minutes, uncovered until sauce thickens
-add juice and zest of 1 lime, take off heat

$1 at the Farmer’s Market

August 26, 2008

When I told a friend that I had to stop going to the farmer’s market because of the piety diet-y, she thought it was a crime against humanity. At this time of year, to miss the produce that’s in season – the tomatoes, the corn, the peaches – was to miss out on life itself. And she’s in the land without seasons, California.

It breaks my heart, but I can’t go to the farmer’s market with the reckless abandon of a bottomless wallet. I have to exercise prudent restraint. With one of my final dollars last week, I indulged in a peach and an ear of corn. Perfect and sweet, it was as blissful as eating the sun. For that moment, there was no global warming, no pollution, no oxygen depleted dead zones, only the rapture of nature’s bounty. And then it was over, $1 gone. So those that can, do. Go to the farmer’s market with the appetite of a Roman army and eat an extra peach for me.

New Week, New Budget

August 25, 2008

After spending the last of the week’s pittance on a papusa and watermelon juice ($4.25) at the Fort Greene flea market, it was time to think about the upcoming week. I didn’t have much to work with, so I tried to draw some inspiration from the frozen chicken breasts that I had pre-piety diet-y. Yawn. I so much prefer white meat on the bone or dark meat period, cutlets get so dry. Thinking about tomorrow’s lunch, and buying the least amount of ingredients, I decided on a Chinese chicken salad.

Since I only had to get scallions and cilantro, and if cheap enough, mandarin oranges and almonds, Pathmark would be perfectly serviceable. Being a “club member”, I checked the circular on-line to see if there were any deals to be had. Tuna for $1! Cheez-Its for $1.88! Wow, it pays to be a member! For $8.94, I got:

-said Cheez-Its
-2 cans of said tuna
-very dirty cilantro
-a can of mandarin oranges
-a can of water chestnuts

No almonds. Too expensive, peanuts will have to do. I followed the basic outline of Epicurious’ Chinese Chicken Salad, poaching the chicken for a more juicy result. As suggested by a reader, I poached the chicken in sesame oil, soy sauce, and red pepper, throwing in some ginger since I had it. It didn’t make the chicken any more flavorful, but the liquid will make good ramen or curry stock later this week. I also added the mandarin oranges and water chestnuts for that touch of Applebee’s.

Chinese Chicken Salad

-poach 1 chicken breast, about 5 minutes, let cool
-mince 1 scallion
-chop 1/4 cup cilantro
-for the dressing, combine juice of 1 lemon, 2T soy sauce, 1t sugar, 1/2T white vinegar, 1/2t salt, 1/4t black pepper, 1/2T sesame oil, and 2T vegetable oil
-shred chicken
-assemble salad with romaine lettuce, chicken, mandarin oranges, water chestnuts, peanuts, cilantro, and scallions
-toss with dressing

99¢ love

August 22, 2008

I was happy to see that someone else out there shares my growing love for the 99¢ Stores. In Henry Alford’s 99¢ challenge in the New York Times from a few months ago, he spent a week making dinner with only ingredients from the 99¢ store. His thoroughness and ingenuity are an inspiration. I don’t think that he had a monetary limit, and there certainly wasn’t one to his cooking imagination (natch, the chilled pear soup).

There is a gleefulness in his bargain shopping, that fellow cheapskates like myself can appreciate. Similarly, I share his hesitation of buying super cheap meat; my bugaboo being cheap milk, hence I just can’t quit you Whole Foods. His comparison of the changing inventory to harvest is a delightful metaphor to what seasonally falls off the truck. In our fetishization of food, it’s satisfying to see the veil of snobbery being lifted away. Good food is where you find it. Or in this case, how you make it and present it.

The Midweek Assessment

August 21, 2008

I had a surprising amount of food leftover from last week, so much so that I don’t really need to cook this week. Maybe some sides could be good to break up the monotony of single dish eating. Like hot and sour cucumbers. But first, I need to get cucumbers.

Right before my Chinatown shopping trip, I realized that I had to reserve $10 for a Friday night get together at a bar with former coworkers. A pretty big chunk of cash for one night, it may not have been an option on a leaner week. Luckily, I didn’t spend it on bouge coffee. This leaves about $6 for cucumbers, bananas, and hopefully eggs. For $3.95, I got it all, including an impulse buy of asparagus. I heart Chinatown!

There are so many ways to make hot and sour cucumbers, essentially Asian pickles. I do a lazy version with just rice vinegar, red rooster pepper sauce and sesame oil (no chopping, only pouring), but I thought I’d try Ken Hom’s recipe in Asian Vegetarian Feast which uses fresh chili and garlic, both of which were on hand.

Hot and Sour Cucumbers

-mince 1 clove garlic
-thinly slice 3 Thai peppers
-in a lidded jar or plastic container large enough to hold the pickles with room, mix 1/4 cup cider vinegar, 1T sugar, and 1T salt, until dissolved
-add garlic and peppers, place lid on and shake
-peel, seed, and chop 1 cucumber
-add to vinegar mix and shake
-let sit for a few hours for flavors to meld, shaking occassionally

No Bouge Coffee

August 20, 2008

I finally ran out of my favorite Gorilla coffee, and the harsh reality is that I can’t afford to buy more at the $12 price tag. Technically, I can as I’ve only spent about $6 so far (oatmeal, crackers, lettuce), but there is still the rest of this week’s food to buy. It would be irresponsible to splurge when there is world of choices.

Stiles, home of the $4.99/pound coffee, was closed when I got there. As I left pondering, Chock Full ‘O Nuts vs. Hills Bros. vs. Bustela, it occurred to me that Porto Rico has good, modestly priced coffee. Sure enough, for $3.25, I got a half pound of organic Nicaraguan coffee on sale. I don’t love it as much as Gorilla, but it’s worth it.

The Kindness of Others

August 19, 2008

When the Organizational Olympian came over to see the state of The Littlest Kitchen, she brought over a passel of groceries from Chinatown. “One, I will never get around to finishing all this food. And two, I feel bad for you.” I’m certainly not one to say no to food, but I’m not out to make others feel sorry for me. I got myself into an overspending mess, now it’s time to pay for it with penance.

But people can’t help but be kind. Like my fellow co-worker who took me out to lunch in fear of my dropping dead of malnutrition. Or the friends who have invited me over for dinner. Or a celebratory dinner for getting a new job. So much appreciated. I would probably do the same for a hare-brained friend on a money diet.

Putting to good use what the OO brought over, I made a baby bok choy stir fry with black bean sauce over Korean mixed rice for us. It was the least that I could do for a generous heart.

Baby Bok Choy Stir Fry

-mince 2 garlic cloves, 2 scallions, and a 1-inch piece of ginger
-thinly slice 3 Thai peppers (optional)
-chop 1 lb. baby bok choy
-cut 1/2 lb. tofu into 1/2″ cubes
-thinly slice 2 Chinese sausage on the bias
-heat 2T peanut oil over medium high heat
-when shimmering add sausage until it’s rendered some of its fat, about 2-3 minutes
-add aromatics, heat until fragrant, about 1 minute
-add tofu and bok choy, cook until bok choy is bright green, about 5 minutes
-add 2T black bean sauce, heat through, about 1 minute

The Path to Pathmark

August 18, 2008

At the end of week 2, I had $6.59 in my pocket, enough to splurge on a Thai beef salad. Following a recipe on Temple of Thai, I needed a pound of steak and Thai peppers. For $1 in Chinatown, I got five times the requisite amount of 10 peppers. The hunt for inexpensive steak led me to Pathmark. Their eye round steak was $3.07. With the Club Card, it came down to $2.79. Call me a card carrying member now, it also afforded me a pack of Rainbow Chips Deluxe for $1.88. All within the budget, with 94 cents to spare.

The Thai beef salad was on point with flavor, even though I forgot the shallots, but the steak was horrible. I have shoes that are more tender than this piece of meat. I don’t completely blame Pathmark as eye of round may not have been the best cut of meat to use. Probably better for stews or braising, whose slow cooking and extra liquid would make the collagen in the meat more tender. Definitely not a match with the George Foreman grill, which never gets hot enough for good char, making most meats just sort of done and dry. Having learned this lesson, next time’s salad, should be perfect.

Recession Gourmet

August 15, 2008

I am deeply amused by Time Magazine’s Recession Gourmet piece last month. A fun little jaunt with a Top Chef for one meal that feeds four for $10. Cute. Tasty. Amateurs.

An applaudable effort, I’d love to try all six recipes on the website, but $10 is such an extravagance for one meal on the piety diet-y. Well, in my case, it could probably be stretched to six meals, and unrecognizable by the end of the week since I’d re-fashion the leftovers so I don’t get bored. So maybe Tom Coliccio’s pasta and pork loin would serve me well. Except that I don’t have any olive oil. Necessary as in Joel Stein’s recipe instructions: “you’ll be using a lot of it, so get used to it”. That’s a big ticket item that Joel and Tom didn’t have to buy which would have busted through the $10 ceiling.

There is some careful deliberation at the grocery store, and they’re certainly right about the rising cost of food. A good place for value in quantity, the bountiful supermarket can be deceptive. When you only have $1.04 left over and want to buy eggs, but the starting price is $2 for a half dozen, you’re out of luck. Thus, I have no eggs. I wish that I could go to a market that sells small scale items for small scale prices. Someplace where I can buy 2 eggs at a time or a stalk of celery instead of a bunch. Does anyone really finish that hulking bunch of celery? A statistic mentioned in Ron Leiber’s column from the Department of Agriculture states that Americans waste 27 percent of food available to human consumption. At $25 week, I can’t afford that.