Friday, November 7

7 Foods for the Economic Downturn

Let's face the truth folks, there's always a trade off between quality and quantity: in friendships, in sex, and yes, in food. When you've got less to spend on grass-fed, free-range, organically raised beef, you probably won't have it twice a week.

Maybe you only get that perfect bavette once a week, or once a month. But a tighter food budget doesn't mean you have to lower your standards. It just means you change your grocery pick list and find ways to make that yummy beef become a flavor in larger quantities of other, less expensive, complimentary foods.

I've recently been laid off, so this posting isn't just editorial much about nothing; I practice it day to day, like I would practice meditation if I had the patience...or yoga if I could get past all the hemp clothes and chanting. Here's my top seven ways to squeeze blood from my stoney wallet.

1. Coffee--Use that over priced, thermal sippy cup you bought out of guilt for the environment. Get a large french press and double your morning recipe. Have your normal cup, then drink the other one later from your stainless steel wonder. You'll be saving a few bucks a day as well as getting a spiritual lift by reducing your carbon footprint.

2. Vodka--Stop adding premium vodka to your cocktails. Nobody but nobody can realllllly tell the difference between vodkas once blended with Ocean Spray (or what have you). I personally hate vodka and cranberry, but I know a lot of people who drink it like fishes. For strongly camouflaged cocktails, switch to Smirnoff. It won the New York Times blind taste test a few years ago against brands like Ketel One, Grey Goose, and other premiums. Seriously! Save the good stuff for when it counts, like on the rocks with a twist of lemon peel.

3. Granola--Make your own granola. I know how that sounds, and while 18 Rabbits is fab, at almost $8 a pop, it's not worth it. The good news is that you can make something very, very comparable yourself in about 20 minutes that will last two weeks (my own recipe coming soon). Deborah Madison has a few good ones, too.

4. Reconsider the Bean--I know how lame this sounds, but wait! There's more to beans than those dusty vegetarian chili recipes from your Mooseweed cookbook. First, check out the delicious bean varieties available from one of my favorite local purveyors, Rancho Gordo. Their beans aren't the cheapest, but they've got an amazing array of unique heirloom varieties, their product is always freshly dried, and they've got flavor you won't believe possible in dried beans.

I like beans for soups, pozole, and even for making appetizers like Cannellini Spread to replace those pricey little jars one normally reaches for when friends come over. Big BIG Hint: If you don't have a pressure cooker, get one! It virtually eliminates all the soaking and par-boiling nonsense you normally have with beans, AND it destroys the sugars that cause...ahem...GI troubles. Pressure cooking makes beans easy and practical: it shortens cooking time to 20-30 minutes and lets you forget about buying Beano. Even more savings!

5. Friends--No, you don't eat them, but you do eat with them. Swallow your pride and tell them you've been axed. They'll honestly pity you, and many will buy you lunch! (Isn't that just so wrong??) OK, this isn't a long term, or even tasteful, strategy. But I was pleasantly surprised by the number of free sanwiches I got out of it! Thanks again, friends!

6. Chocolate--Sorry chocolate haters, this one isn't for you. But for the rest of the normal people, I've got great news! A piece of really good, premium chocolate has a very high satisfaction to price ratio. In other words, maybe you won't be having a rack of lamb every night, but you can have that square of amazing chocolate. It makes up for lot in my book, and it's worth the money. Please, people, don't buy Hershey's... it's just not right.

7. Canned Tuna--Learn how to use tuna as a flavoring and condiment, not as the main course. Canned tuna is only a few dollars and there are many ways to use it as a flavor component rather than the main event, and I'm not talking tuna casserole.

Here are a couple of my favorites: salade nicoise and pasta con tonna. Nicoise is a classic, and according to Julia Childs, the only way to go is canned tuna. She rejected, as I do, fresh or seared tuna in this wonderful salad. Canned tuna has a texture and flavor that's unique: it's pungency balances with vinaigrette and it's texture adds bite and chew to crunchy greens and tender boiled eggs.

My second favorite tuna dish is so simple you'll be embarrassed about your laziness when you make it. Simply boil a nice pot of any multi-faceted pasta like rotini or farfalla (not penne or capellini) that's been generously salted. Break up a can of drained tuna with a fork into little shards and toss in with a few tablespoons of good, aromatic olive oil, several grinds of pepper, and a healthy grating of Parmesan cheese. It's fast and amazing. Your evening meal will never be more inexpensively or rapidly prepared.

Check back soon for an exclusive look at my granola recipe. You'll love your cereal bowl, and wallet, for using it!


  1. Anonymous5:39 PM

    Bring on the granola recipe! I'm ready to roast my recession oats.

    Also, I like that same pasta dish with capers tossed in there with a few roughly chopped herbs from the pot outside the kitchen window. Good stuff!

  2. Good thoughts on pasta tuna... i'll definitely try capers next time. i also like a bit of lemon zest sometimes.

  3. Anonymous6:59 AM

    we have pasta and tuna just like that, about once a week, since it's pablo's special dish when i'm too tired to cook.

    it's an extra cheap thrill in madrid, since amazing bonito del norte packed in olive oil is about euro a can.

    now that winter's coming, i've taken to throwing in a little spicy pimenton. smokey-spicy-fishy goodness.

    glad you're turning your downtime into tasty treats. :)