This is What a “Good and Cheap” Dinner Party Looks Like

In the coming months, Library Life Hack will be cooking & blogging its way through “Good and Cheap”, Leanne Brown’s groundbreaking cookbook, designed to help people who are living on the tightest of food budgets to eat well. You can find out more at the first post in this series.

Hello!

I know that I promised you more oatmeal reviews, but I’ve decided to take a little detour and talk about a dinner party I threw two weekends ago.

Some random snapshots of the "Good and Cheap" recipes I served: Chickpea and Beet Salad, Panzanella and Beef Stroganoff

Some random snapshots of the “Good and Cheap” recipes I served:
Chickpea and Beet Salad, Panzanella and Beef Stroganoff


Casting caution to the wind, I made up my mind to cook everything for this dinner party (except the appetizers) from “Good and Cheap”. Even the fact that I was about to serve guests food made from recipes I’d never tried didn’t dampen my foolhardy adventurous spirit.

Here’s the menu:

  • Red Pepper Dip
  • Blue Cheese
  • Crackers
  • Chickpea and Beet Salad
  • Panzanella
  • French bread
  • Beef Stroganoff
  • Caramelized Bananas with Vanilla Gelato

Here’s a quick rundown on each of the recipes:

Chickpea and Beet Salad
Quite nice. Owing to the current shortage of produce in my hometown of Edmonton, the beets I bought were pretty pock-marked. As a bonus, the recipe has you shred the beets, which completely erased that unsightly problem. I added double the amount of lime juice that the recipe called for.

Math-wise, it worked out to $1.07 per serving

Panzanella
I really liked this recipe! I bought a loaf of French bread and toasted four slices to go into the salad. (The rest of the bread went on the table with some butter.) It’s best to make exactly what you need, as the leftovers were pretty soggy by the next day. The bread still tasted great but the tomatoes and cucumber were a little soft.

This recipe came to $1.39 per serving.

Beef Stroganoff
This was fantastic. Beef Stroganoff has officially unseated Egg Sandwiches as my favourite “Good and Cheap” recipe so far. I used stewing beef and a full cup of an inexpensive red wine. The beef was tender and I think the wine was at least partially responsible for that. Plus, red wine just gives beef dishes this amazing flavour that you don’t seem to get from anything else. I wasn’t entirely clear if the “mustard” the recipe called for was powdered mustard or hot dog mustard. I used French’s prepared mustard, and cut back to 2 tablespoons instead of 3.

Although the recipe says it serves 6, I would say that the reality was closer to 8 (my housemates had some of the leftovers, and there was still enough left for 3 lunch-size portions). When I’d finished crunching the numbers, it was $2.92 per serving. (Remember that the addition of a cup of red wine added close to 50 cents per serving. But totally worth it, in my opinion.)

Caramelized Bananas
Super-simple to knock together, but I think it’s best if you cook and serve them right away. Which means that you need to leave your dinner guests to chat among themselves for about 10 minutes or move the party into the kitchen. (My guests have all known each other for years, so my absence was hardly an issue.) This was delicious with vanilla gelato and a nice light dessert to pair with the hearty stroganoff.

Including the gelato, the recipe was a bargain at $1.00 per serving.

All in All
I was pretty pleased with how everything worked out. If I was going to serve this meal again, I think I’d re-work the appetizers to make them fit a little better with the rest of the meal, and maybe look at a vegetable side dish that wasn’t a salad. But those are minor tweaks.

The total cost came to $6.38 per serving (I didn’t count what we drank). This is admittedly more than the $6.00 I’ve given myself as a daily budget. However, I think that with careful planning, I could fit a dinner party into a month’s grocery purchases and still stay on track overall.

If You Want to Try This Yourself
All of the main dishes I’ve tried from “Good and Cheap” have been very tasty — food that I would be happy to serve to guests. The mains also seem to make consistently generous serving sizes. Don’t worry about starving anyone. My advice? Be brave! You can throw a dinner party out of this cookbook. And when you do, write and let me know how it went.
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Berry Oatmeal

In the coming months, Library Life Hack will be cooking & blogging its way through “Good and Cheap”, Leanne Brown’s groundbreaking cookbook, designed to help people who are living on the tightest of food budgets to eat well. You can find out more at the first post in this series.

Happy Friday! Today we’re on the fourth installment of a seven-part series on oatmeal.

berry oatmeal

Berry Oatmeal
My first lesson in improvisation!

The breakfast section of “Good and Cheap” has seven different oatmeal recipes. You can find this particular one on page 29 of the PDF version (a free download at leannebrown.com) or on page 10 of the print version.

Ingredient Notes
I had to do a little bit of improvising on the ingredients for this recipe. I can find fresh berries during the winter in my hometown of Edmonton, but my experience has been that they are stupidly expensive and very sour. What to do, what to do?

Well, it was time to step out a little bit and improvise (which the cookbook heartily encourages you to do). Instead of fresh berries, I stirred in a tablespoon of Craisins and another tablespoon of Fruits of Sherbrooke Gingered Saskatoon & Apple Jam, plus one tablespoon of brown sugar.

How Did it Taste?
Like the pumpkin oatmeal of last week, this won’t be my favourite recipe in “Good and Cheap”, but it was pleasant enough and sent me out the door well-fed.

Let’s Do the Math
This recipe is also very fast to make up. It took about 10 minutes to whip together and the total cost of ingredients came to just 49 cents per serving. That’s a new record for cheap!

Frugal Shopping Tip
If you like dried cranberries, the bulk package of Ocean Spray Craisins is a smokin’ good deal. It’s 1.8 kgs (that’s 4 lbs.) of dried berries, and I’ve found them in Edmonton at Costco and SuperStore for anywhere between $8.69 and $8.99.

That’s all for today! Check back next week, for the fifth installment of … drum roll, please … oatmeal! Have a great weekend, everyone.
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Coconut and Lime Oatmeal

In the coming months, Library Life Hack will be cooking & blogging its way through “Good and Cheap”, Leanne Brown’s groundbreaking cookbook, designed to help people who are living on the tightest of food budgets to eat well. You can find out more at the first post in this series.

Happy Tuesday! Today we’re on the third part of a seven-part oatmeal series.

coconut_lime_oatmeal

Coconut Lime Oatmeal
Yummy, yummy, yummy

The breakfast section of “Good and Cheap” has seven different recipes for making yourself some sparky versions of this classic morning food. You can find this one on page 29 of the PDF version (a free download at leannebrown.com) or on page 10 of the print version.

Ingredient Notes
I made my Coconut and Lime Oatmeal with bulk bin quick oats. (See a previous post for a primer on quick oats vs. large flake.) And I sweetened it with brown sugar.

I also used unsweetened coconut “ribbons” that I had left over from some summertime experiments with making homemade coconut milk. (Because I’m kind of a geek about visual presentation, I really liked the way it made my oatmeal look.)

How Did it Taste?
I loved this! I wasn’t sure about putting lime juice in cereal but it was spectacular. I’ll be making this one again.

Let’s Do the Math
This recipe is super-fast. It came together in about 10 minutes and the total cost of ingredients came to 58 cents per serving. That’s actually cheaper than the costing in the cookbook, which is 75 cents per serving.

That’s all for today! Check back later this week, for the fourth exciting oatmeal recipe!
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Savory Oatmeal

In the coming months, Library Life Hack will be cooking & blogging its way through “Good and Cheap”, Leanne Brown’s groundbreaking cookbook, designed to help people who are living on the tightest of food budgets to eat well. You can find out more at the first post in this series.

Welcome back! Today we’re on the second installment of a seven-part series about morning oatmeal.

savory_oatmeal

Savory Oatmeal, topped with a fried egg, some fresh green onions and a little side dollop of sambal oelek

The breakfast section of “Good and Cheap” has seven different recipes for livening up this classic breakfast food. You can find this one on page 31 of the PDF version (a free download at leannebrown.com) or on page 9 of the print version.

Ingredient Notes
I made my Savory Oatmeal with bulk bin quick oats. (See a previous post for a primer on quick oats vs. large flake.) It was simple to cut in half for a single serving.

The cookbook makes reference to putting “scallions” in this recipe — for you Canadians out there, that means “green onions”. I also kept some aside to sprinkle on top of the fried egg.

How Did it Taste?
I have to confess that I actually made this dish for supper instead of breakfast. (One serving is pretty hearty.) It was really good — I was a little skeptical about incorporating onions into the oatmeal, but the combination was delicious and the sharp cheddar cheese is a nice addition.

I put some sambal oelek on the side to spice it up, but I think this would be fantastic with a good tomato-y salsa.

Let’s Do the Math
It took about 20 minutes to pull the recipe together and the total cost of ingredients came to $1.40 per serving.

This is quite bit higher than the costing in the cookbook, which is 75 cents per serving. Part of that can be attributed to my use of expensive free range eggs (47 cents each), and part of it is the unfortunate fact that the price of fresh produce has currently gone berserk in my hometown of Edmonton. (I paid $1.29 for a bunch of green onions, which would normally be down around 69 cents.) We’ll be looking at workarounds for this particular issue in future posts.

That’s all for today! Check back next week, for the third installment in the Oatmeal Diaries.
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Pumpkin Oatmeal

In the coming months, Library Life Hack will be cooking & blogging its way through “Good and Cheap”, Leanne Brown’s groundbreaking cookbook, designed to help people who are living on the tightest of food budgets to eat well. You can find out more at the first post in this series.

Well, hi there! Today we’re embarking on a multi-post journey through the creative world of morning oatmeal.

pumpkin_oatmeal

Pumpkin Oatmeal with Brown Sugar

“Good and Cheap” has seven different recipes for jazzing up an inexpensive oatmeal breakfast. You can find this one on page 30 of the PDF version (a free download at leannebrown.com) or on page 9 of the print version.

Ingredient Notes
I made this with bulk bin quick oats. (See the previous post for a primer on quick oats vs. large flake.) There were no cooking instructions on the bulk bin, but they do seem to cook up pretty fast. (Hence the name “quick oats”, I suppose.)

It was very easy to cut this recipe in half to make a single serving. But, as a single person, I should note that the smallest can of pumpkin I could find was 398 mls (14 oz). That means you need to either have six servings of pumpkin oatmeal before the leftover pumpkin goes bad, or find something else to do with it.

Starlight the Cat, heroic eater of leftover pumpkin

Starlight the Cat, heroic eater of leftover pumpkin

As it turns out, my housemates and I put one of our cats on a diet at the beginning of the year. We’ve been stirring pumpkin in with her wet food, to help keep her full without adding a lot of calories. So, I’ll probably have the pumpkin oatmeal one more time this week, and Starlight — bless her — will get the rest.

How Did it Taste?
I don’t think that this will be my favourite of the oatmeal recipes, but it’s pleasant and packs a good wallop of fiber. The single serving size is quite generous, and left me full for most of the morning.

Let’s Do the Math
It doesn’t take long to make this — I forgot to time myself, but it was definitely less than 15 minutes. The total cost of ingredients came to $.91.

That’s all for today! Check back on the weekend, for the next installment in the Oatmeal Chronicles.
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Peanut Butter & Jelly Granola Bars

In the coming months, Library Life Hack will be cooking & blogging its way through “Good and Cheap”, Leanne Brown’s groundbreaking cookbook, designed to help people who are living on the tightest of food budgets to eat well. You can find out more at the first post in this series.

Hello! Today we’re cooking up homemade granola bars!

Peanut Butter & Jelly Granola Bars (made with raspberry jam)

Peanut Butter & Jelly Granola Bars (made with raspberry jam)

You’ll find the recipe on page 25 of the PDF version of “Good and Cheap” (a free download at leannebrown.com) or on page 7 of the print version.

Ingredient Notes
I’ve only made this recipe once so far, and it was an education in the world of oats. Not being much of an oat-eater, I had a vague notion that there was something called quick oats and I’d heard of the trendy steel-cut oats.

Here’s a primer, based on my very limited research:

  • Rolled Oats – Basic oats which have not been altered to make them faster to cook (also the least expensive option)
  • Quick Oats – As nearly as I can tell, these are rolled oats which have been chopped up a little to make them cook quickly

This recipe recommends rolled oats, and I agree. For the rest of the ingredients, I used Western Family peanut butter and raspberry jam (the house brand of Save-On Foods), because they were the least expensive option.

How Did it Taste?
The bars are very tasty but also quite crumbly. This was the first recipe that my housemates have really gotten into. We’ve had multiple morning coffee discussions about what we could do to make the bars hold together a little better. Here’s the shortlist:

  • Honey: Might act like a glue, but is a little on the expensive side.
  • Butter: A well-known binding agent and less expensive.
  • Cookie Dough: If we took the basic cookie ingredients (butter, sugar and flour) and blended in about 3/4 of a cup of dough, it would give the oats something to hang onto. More expensive than butter alone but possibly less expensive than honey.

We rejected corn syrup because none of us use it, and buying a bottle for one recipe seemed like a waste. I’ll let you know what the results of our experiments yield.

In the meantime, I’ve been eating the bars for breakfast all this week, with an extra teaspoon of peanut butter spread on top. They make a nice, filling morning meal that’s ready in less than a minute.

Let’s Do the Math
This is a very quick recipe to make up — about 15 minutes to pull the ingredients together and then 25 minutes to bake. The total cost of ingredients came to $3.04, which is actually less than the $3.60 listed in “Good and Cheap”, and means that the bars were .25 each. (I credit this to a sale price on rolled oats in the Bulk section at Save-On Foods.) It also means that I feel like there’s a little bit of latitude to experiment with additions to the recipe.

Shopping Tip
Sometimes the bulk bins in grocery stores are a great place to save money. For example, I bought the rolled oats for this post at .30 per 100 grams, which was a 30% reduction over the least expensive bagged oats. Where bulk bins really shine, though, is giving you the ability to buy a small quantity of things like spices.

That’s all for today! Check back next Thursday, when we start the first in a whole series of breakfast oatmeal recipes.
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Egg Sandwiches with Mushroom Hash

In the coming months, Library Life Hack will be cooking & blogging its way through “Good and Cheap”, Leanne Brown’s groundbreaking cookbook, designed to help people who are living on the tightest of food budgets to eat well. You can find out more at the first post in this series.

Hello! It’s egg sandwich day here at Library Life Hack!

Egg Sandwich with Mushroom Hash

Egg Sandwich with Mushroom Hash

You’ll find this recipe on page 26 of the PDF version of “Good and Cheap” (a free download at leannebrown.com) or on page 5 of the print version.

Ingredient Notes
I’ve made this highly flexible recipe three times. The basic ingredients are all very easy to find, and I’ve tried out different combinations with fresh tomatoes, green onion, mayonnaise and sambal oelek.

Maybe the potatoes I’m using are too big, but I’m finding that I’ve always got lots of the mushroom hash. Usually there’s enough to make three sandwiches (or tuck a small container in my lunch as a side dish.)

How Did it Taste?
This is my favourite “Good and Cheap” recipe so far! The best version is pictured above — there’s something about the addition of fresh tomato and green onion to this mix that is just so good.

(According to the book, these are a staple of corner delis in New York. I think I might have to go back to New York, just to explore corner deli food. But I digress.)

Let’s Do the Math
From start to finish, I’ve been averaging about 25 minutes on this recipe. The ingredients for two sandwiches came to a total of $4.03, so $2.01 per sandwich.

(Note: The good folks at Save-On Foods have managed to guilt me into buying free range eggs, which sell for a whopping $5.59 per dozen. Using non-free range eggs would bring the cost of this recipe down by quite a bit.)

A Hat Tip
A special thank you to Jessica Merchant at HowSweetEats.com, for her advice about how to fry eggs so they look good in pictures. (You can find it here.)

And a Side Benefit
One other side benefit of my “Good and Cheap” cooking adventures so far: I’ve stopped being neurotic about undercooking eggs. Omelets really are better if they’re not browned and the runny yolk on sunny side up eggs is perfect with the hash in this recipe.

That’s all for today! Check back Friday, when we explore homemade granola bars.
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