Monday, November 23, 2015

Help Wanted - Creativity in the Kitchen

Week 2
Day 5: Morocco 
Plan: Morocan-style Pizza - $4 for 4
Final Total: $3.92
Story:  We were not very creative last week, by our own standards, and while Africa is an enormous continent, with a wide variety of cuisine, we got kind of stuck in old ruts. Between Africa and Asia, our kitchen fare of the last two weeks, there are many meals served on rice or with beans with potatoes, carrots and onions served up in a variety of ways. There are lots of brown sauces; some more red, some more orange, some more green.  For as highly seasoned as we love our food, sometimes the palate tires of such high seasons.

Some of the quoteable quotes from last week included:

"If I were a refugee, I would be grateful."
"If I were a refugee, handed a box with these ingredients, I would make something else."
"What is our next region? Are we going to get to have pasta soon?"
"This taste like soap. I don't think you can give the leftovers to the chickens."

Friday night, I knew we needed something more familiar, and if not truly African, at least Africa-infused. There are recipes for Moroccan pizza all over the Internet. We met many Moroccans when our Egyptian friend and guest teacher lived with us. I know they would approve of this meal, and it's intent toward eating cheap, crossing cultures, and bringing comfort to the family table. 
Super Easy Crust for 1-14" Pizza
1 Tbsp yeast - $0.05
1 tsp sugar $0.02
1 cups warm water
2 1/2 cups flour $0.20
2 Tbsp olive oil $0.25
1 tsp salt  
1 cup seasoned Tomato Sauce - $0.25
1 Tbsp homemade chutney - $0.15
1 cups feta cheese - $2
1 cup diced Spinach - $1
Dash curry pdr, chili pdr, cumin 
1 diced spicy Pepper - free from garden
2 large cloves garlic, minced - free from garden

Pizza Total - $3.92

1. Mix all ingredients in a stand mixer.  When a soft, wet dough is achieved, let rest covered for 15-30 minutes.  
2. Preheat oven to 500*.  With floured hands, turn mound of dough onto floured parchment, or floured baking pan.  Work dough into a circle using floured hands.  Finish shaping to desired thickness with a rolling pen.  
3. Cover with favorite toppings.  Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.  

Friday, November 13, 2015

College Prep in the Kitchen

Week 1: Region - Asia
Day 3: Local Cuisine - Japan - Not a country known for its poor or exiled, but, I lived three years of my youth there and learned some "incredible" (read, "My Japanese peers laughed at my unconventional approach) to some inexpensive Japanese cuisine. 
Plan: Tuesda Dinner - $5 for 5 family members - Yakisoba or "Fried Ramen"
Final total: $4.05

Story:  We are doing a lot of college prep at our house these days, and tonight we move from the computer to the kitchen to get ready for what's coming. KC is our chef this evening and is leaving for college in a few short months (boo, hoo, hoo).  She is all about flavorful, fast, and friendly food that is easy to make (she wins "Fast and Friendly" in her work at Zupas Cafe at least once a month). She is certain her meal is going to win "Best Dollar Dinner of the Week" according to our new ratings scale. We shall see. 
Cheap Cheater's Yakisoba (cheating because it's not the real, fancy deal, it's the college girl hack)
1/4 head of broccoli or cauliflower, chopped - $0.60  
1/4 head cabbage, chopped $0.30  
2 cups carrots, sliced $0.75  
1 medium onion, sliced $0.50  
3 tbsp canola oil - $0.30  
3 tbsp sesame oil - $0.60  
5 packets ramen noodles and seasoning - $1(cheaper when on sale, I normalized this cost)
Meal total - $4.05  

1.  Prep all veggies while heating electric skillet. Add oil to skillet, then veggies and 2 ramen seasoning packets.  Cook over medium high heat until desired tenderness.   
2.  Boil ramen until noodles are pliable, but still firm. Drain.   
3.  Add 3 tbsp sesame oil to electric skillet. Over medium heat toss noodles in the skillet until covered in sesame oil. Add remaining ramen seasoning packets.  Toss until noodles are evenly covered with spice mix. Add veggies to the noodles. Toss again and serve.   
1. Quantity
On a scale of 1-5, 1. being, "I was still hungry" and 5. being "i had plenty to eat," was there enough food? 
Me: 5 - Plenty of food. A full serving of leftovers which I will eat for lunch tomorrow. 
Don: 5 - Yes, enough food
KC: 5 - Leftovers
Caleb: 5 - Full
Hannah: 4 - No comment
Category Average: 4.8

2. Uniqueness
On a scale of 1-5, with 1. being, "We've eaten this same thing a bunch ," and 5. being, "This is unique in our experiment," how unique would you say this meal was? 
Me: 5 - This is beyond rice and beans. Most people don't eat ramen this way so I call it very unique. 
Don: 2.5 - Not so unique for us. 
KC: 2.5 - We eat this a lot. 
Caleb: 1 - I've eaten this my whole life. 
Hannah: 3 3/4 - 
Category Average: 3.7

3. Variety
On a scale of 1-5, 1 being, "This meal has no variety bite for bite," and 5 being, "Every bite was a symphony," how would you rate the variety offered in this meal. 
Me: 4 - the different veggies allow for variety I each bite. 
Don:  3 - the variety is okay since it had veggies. 
KC:  4 - veggies
Caleb: 3.5 
Hannah: 3 3/4
Category average:  3.65
Note: "Hannah, do you do decimals?" Caleb asks.  "Nope," she says, "I do fractions."  "Good thing I do math," is my response. Anything to keep me on my toes. 

4. Enjoyment
On a scale of 1-5, 1 being, "Please never serve this again," and 5 being, "Lets make this again soon," how would you rate you overall enjoyment of this meal?
Me: 5 - I've loved this ramen hack since I learned to make it as a teenager in Japan. 
Don: 3 - It's okay. (He never loves this meal)
KC: 4.5 - I like it, man.
Caleb: 4 - Num, Num  
Hannah: 4 - I like it better than lemony lentils. 
Category average: 4.1

Total meal rating: 4.065

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Lemony Lentil Soup and Why We Do the Things We Do

Week 1: Region - Asia
Day 2: Local Cuisine - Syria - War has torn through this country for over 4 1/2 years. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), "Over 3 million have fled to Syria's immediate neighbors Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. 6.5 million are internally displaced within Syria." (a.). We learned tonight, all those refugees have really hard lives. 
Plan: Monday Dinner - $5 for 5 family members - Lemony Lentil Soup
Final total: $4.68

Story: Tonight's dinner is brought to us by Caleb, our 14-year-old head chef for the evening.  This was an incredibly quick meal to throw together. We seven made a video to show you how fast it could all get together in the rice cooker. 

I'll let the rest of the post show you what happened with this meal, but I will say these experiments help us appreciate the plight of the poor and exiled around the world.  It is funny to me how we always have some sort of a melt down on the second day of a new experiment. Also, melt downs lead to growth and motivation to learn more and do more.  We really want to up our giving to people in need locally, to food banks, and to Humanitarian Aid. 

Here's the recipe, a link to the video, and the rest and how it went. I promise you a good laugh:


Lemony Lentil Soup from Syria
1 lb Red lentils - $1
3/4 cup lemon juice (we used lime, and this was too much for us) - $1.15
3/4 cup butter (should have used a cup) - $1
2 tbsp veggie (or chicken)broth bullion - $0.33
2 tsp garam masala $0.10
2 tsp cumin $0.10
1 tsp smoked paprika - $0.50
10 small cloves garlic, crushed (it wasn't too much) a free from the garden
More paprika and toasted croutons - $0.50
Meal total - $4.68

1. Add all ingredients to rice cooker, cover with 6 cups water, and cook for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. 
2.  Serve piping hot. Top with paprika and croutons. 
Note:  We adapted this recipe from a book called Soup for Syria. The Chef/Author/Photographer who compiled the recipes in the book has an amazing story this blog post can't do justice for. I plan to write a full review of her book when I get it. 

This is the Rest of the Story
1. Quantity - On a scale of 1-5, 1. being, "I was still hungry" and 5. being "i had plenty to eat," was there enough food? 
Me: 4- Just Enough
Don: 4 - Pretty good amount
KC: 3 - there was more than enough but I didn't eat until I was full...Soooo
Caleb: 5 - I ate Ike three bowls plus KC's
Hannah: 2 1/2 - I couldn't eat until I was full
Category Average: 3.7

2. Uniqueness - On a scale of 1-5, with 1. being, "We've eaten this same thing a bunch ," and 5. being, "This is unique in our experiment," how unique would you say this meal was? 
Me: 5 - Very. I've never had a soup so tart. 
Don: 3 - Only semi unique
KC: 4 - We eat lentils a lot, but,  lemon.
Caleb: 3 - lots of lemon, actually lime, is what made it different. 
Hannah: 3 1/2 - I tried to tone down the lemon with milk. It ruined it. 
Category Average: 3.7

3. Variety - On a scale of 1-5, 1 being, "This meal has no variety bite for bite," and 5 being, "Every bite was a symphony," how would you rate the variety offered in this meal. 
Me: 3 - the croutons save the soup and offer variety
Don:  2 - not much variety
KC:  2 - it was one dish, but there were croutons
Caleb: 3 - croutons
Hannah: 3 1/2 - paprika and croutons
Category average:  2.7

4. Enjoyment - On a scale of 1-5, 1 being, "Please never serve this again," and 5 being, "Lets make this again soon," how would you rate you overall enjoyment of this meal?
Me: 3 - I could eat it again in a few weeks, but I would add the right amount of butter and decrease the lemon
Don: 4 - I would like to eat it again, just with much less lemon, more savory.
KC: 2 - I'm just not a fan of refugee food 
Caleb: 3 - I would eat it again at some point
Hannah: 2 3/4 - Hmm. I wouldn't ruin it next time.
Category average: 2.95

Overall Meal Rating - 2.61
It was nourishing and tasty, but too tart for some, and didn't offer enough bite-for-bite variety for most. 

Classic Quotes from This Meal:
"If I was a refugee I would love this. And, I would be grateful.  I just don't like lentils and mushy food. I don't like cinnamon except in dessert. I like poor people food; beans, potatoes, rice, I just don't like all of these spices. And, lentils.  Like this." --KC

"There's no dessert?  Well, maybe if you guys hadn't put so much lemon in we could have made something like lemon bars." --Don

"It was actually lime." --Caleb


Monday, November 9, 2015

$1 Dinners - Indian Fare For All

Week 1: Region - Asia
Day 1: Local Cuisine - India - Home to 1.25 BILLION beautiful souls. 75% of the population lives near or below the poverty line, earning less than $78/month.  Only 11% own a refrigerator (a).  There are over 14 million men, women and children trapped in slavery in India (b).  
Plan: Sunday Dinner - $15 for 15 - Samosas, Chutney, Dahl, Riata
Final total: $14.97.  We barely made budget, but we did it!
 Story:  It is a cherished nephew's birthday. We are the hosts. Somehow curry has become a distinct favorite in our families with vegetarian children. My sister brought an amazing array of curry sauces, but Don was head chef for our portion of tonight's shared fare. The longest prep was boiling the rutabaga for the samosas, everything else went quick, especially when we applied the adage "many hands make light work."

Firmer and less sweet than potatoes, but milder than turnups or horseradish, rutabagas are slightly bitter and cabbagey. They added interesting texture and flavor to the meal, and while were the most expensive addition, they were by far the most nutritious ingredient, which was Don's whole aim. One medium rutabaga has 33% of your potassium, 36% of your fiber, 160% of your vitamin c, and 20% of both magnesium and b6. Who knew one little root vegetable that can nestle in a root cellar comfortably for months could pack such a powerful punch.   Also, lentils were an awesome addition: 65% of fiber, 18 grams protein, 36% iron, all in one cooked cup. 
   Good job to the dad and food scientist in our house for pushing us out of the familiar box of hum drum veggies and into the more adventurous side of the cellar. 

Counting the Costs:

Oil for frying -  2 cups - $1
Won Ton Wraps - $2.60
2 potatoes - $0.50
2 rutabaga - $3.20
1/2 c dried spinach - $0.50
1/4 c dried onion - $0.25
2 tbsp oil - $0.05
1 tbsp lemon juice - $0.10
1 large clove garlic - free from garden
1/2 powdered ginger 
1/2 teaspoon garam masala spice blend
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon red chile powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Samosa Total - $8.2
1.  Peel and chop rutabaga for boiling.  Heat water and add rutabaga, bring to a full boil.  Peel and chop potatoes. 
2.  When rutabaga are half way done (after maybe 15 minutes), add potatoes. Cover and boil until all potatoes are nearly ready for mashing. Add dried spinach (fresh spinach will work, too, just chop it finely).  Drain veggies and pour them into a medium bowl. 
3.  Add remaining ingredients to the bowl. Mix on medium speed with hand mixer until potatoes are mashed. Rutabaga may still be chunky. No problem. 
4.  Put abt one teaspoon of samosa filling in the center of a won ton wrap.  Wet edges with water and fold into a triangle. 
5. Fry samosas in hot oil over medium high heat. When the first side is golden brown (about two minutes) flip and fry the other side. Place on a cookie sheet lined with paper towels. Serve hot with chutney or raita. 
2 cups lentils - $1
1 tablespoon olive oil - $0.12
1/4 c dried minced onion - $0.25
2 tbsp vegetable stock powder - $0.33
1 teaspoon garlic, minced - free from the garden
1 large bay leaf
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons curry powder
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
6 cups water
salt as needed, after lentils are cooked
2 tbsp yogurt after lentils are cooked $0.20
Dahl total - $1.95

1.  Add all ingredients into rice cooker. Cook until tender. 
2.  Pour lentil mixture into a medium bowl. Add yogurt.  Mix with an electic mixer until smooth. Salt as needed. 
3. Serve with rice, raita, samosas, chutney, naan, or any other side. 

Mint Chutney
1 bunch fresh cilantro - $0.70
1 bunch fresh mint leaves - $2.20
1 small onion, cut into chunks $0.25
1 tablespoon lemon juice $0.10
1 spicy chile pepper - free from the garden
1 clove garlic 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/2 cup water
Chutney total - $3.25

1. Combine all ingredients in food processor. Blend on high for one minute. Chill.
2. Serve with samosas, naan, or any happy snack you can think of. 


1 1/2 cup plain yogurt - $0.95
1/2 grated cucumber $0.50
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro $0.12
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground curry powder 
1/2 tsp salt 
Raita total - $1.57

1.  Add all ingredients into a medium bowl. Mix well. Chill and garnish with fresh cilantro and chili powder. 
2. Serve with curry as a coolant for spiciness, or to add a little tang to any dish or side. 

Dinner total - $14.97


Saturday, November 7, 2015

$1 Dinners - Eating In Exile

The Experiment: Eating in Exile - $1 Dinners
What:  Five weeks of family dinners designed for refugees, exiles, and the poor of each featured region, with a budget of $1 per person.  
How: Every week a different region, every day a different head chef
Why: Understanding economics, Gaining new cooking skills, Cultural awareness, Thrift, Industry

The Rules and Regulations
*$1 per person for the meal: Because 2 of our 7 have left the nest since last experiment, that means we generally have 5 bucks to make dinner for the whole fam at home.    Sundays will be significantly more 'cause that's the day we feed the masses. If there are a dozen of us for Sunday dinner we get $12 as our budget. 
*Minimal refrigeration: When you are eating in exile you have very little access to refrigeration. No meal can contain more than 1 refrigerated items that can't spend a night on the counter. 
*Minimal cooking appliances:  If you are a refugee, or a college student, or at the bottom of the poverty limit, you have limited access to cooking surfaces. An electric skillet and a rice cooker are the only appliances that may be used for the duration of the experiment, unless we want to learn to Dutch oven cook on Sundays. 
*Beyond Rice and Beans: this is a paternal provision. The dad in our house is all about unusual fresh foods and extra grains.  Try something new every week, rutabaga, polenta, funky greens, crazy grains - and stay in budget. 
*Spices don't count:  For all of the cup by cup, bunch by bunch budgeting we will do, we will not count salt, pepper, or powdered spices. 
*Week nights only:  Sunday thru Thursday family dinners. 
*Assignments:  Don - Sunday, Caleb - Monday, KC - Tuesday, Hannah - Wednesday, Me - Thursday
*Regions: Poorest cities taken from regions featured in the Five Olympic Rings - Asia, Africa, Europe, Oceania, The Americas. (Note: Each region gets a week of meals, except Oceania, which only gets 2 days, because I'm not that creative.  The Americas will pick up the slack though and gets 8 days all together.)

Experiment runs from just before St. Martin's Day through St. Nicholas Day, Hanukkah, and right up to the week of Christmas. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Day 10 - $2 A Day - Last Meal - LASAGNA!

 Hannah's first from-scratch, all-on-her-own lasagna. So much for just throwing a bunch of stuff in a pan and heating it up (what she said about every sauce, salsa, and side she's made this experiment, even homemade bread!). I think I was 17 when I made my first lasagna. Can't wait for dinner with the Grandmas tonight!

Eggs - free 
Leftover Cornbread - already counted - free
1/4 cup cheddar cheese - $0.33
2 cups milk - $0.30
1 cup juice - $0.20
2.5 tbsp butter - $0.15

Brunch total - $0.98

Homemade Marinara - $1.5
Ricotta - $4
Mozzarella - $2.65
Parmesan - $0.50
Noodles - $.75

Salad - free from Gordon's work

Bread - 
Homemade bread 
    3 cups flour - $0.30
    1 tbsp yeast $0.05
    Salt and water - free
    Butter $0.25

Dinner total $10

7 scoops Ice cream - $1.40
Leftover Cake - free already counted

Daily total - $12.38

Monday, July 27, 2015

Day 9 - $2 A Day - Celebrate Good Times

Today was a big day.  We sold the house we spent 8 years raising our kids in. It was hard and good and bittersweet.  The evening's meal was an observance and celebration. Hannah did it all herself because we were at the closing until 6:30. It turned out beautifully. 
6 Servings Cereal - $1.80
Leftover Cornbread - free all counted 
Leftover beans and rice - free
Milk - $0.15
Chocolate milk - $0.25

Brunch total - $2.20

Green salad
1 head leafy green lettuce - $1
1 cup shredded carrots - $0.40
1 cup croutons - $0.30
1/2 cup feta cheese - $1.50
1 cup homemade ranch - $0.50

1 lb Roma tomatoes - $1
2 tbsp olive oil - $0.30
Fresh basil - free

1 lb cauliflower - $0.75
3 tbsp olive oil - $0.45
Seasoned salt & pepper - free

1 serving frosted flakes and milk - $0.30
1 cup chocolate milk - $0.20
1 cup white milk - $0.15
1 focha mocha - $0.30
Cake - free counted last night
5 servings Ice cream - $2

Evening Total - $9.15

Daily Total - $11.35

PhotoCreds: Zucca Restaurant, Cafe elite catering, and