My Dad’s Baked Beans

Hi and welcome back to the Library Life Hack test kitchen! Just so we’re clear, this baked bean recipe doesn’t belong to my Dad. It’s the culinary invention of the Dad of Leanne Brown, who wrote “Good and Cheap”, the cookbook that we’ve been exploring for quite some time now. (My Dad could cook, but his specialty was vegetable soup.)

My Dad's Baked Beans

My Dad’s Baked Beans
Just watch out for the sugar

If you’re flipping through the print version of “Good and Cheap”, this recipe is on page 48. (You won’t find it in the free PDF edition, which you can download at

Ingredient Notes
The recipe calls for:

  • chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (or any chile sauce)
  • canned baked beans
  • mustard
  • brown sugar

I stuck to all of the ingredients except for the chipotle chiles. I like them, but they’re just not something I’ve learned to cook with regularly — and I didn’t know what I’d do with the leftovers after taking 2 teaspoons out of a 6 oz can. Instead, I used a teaspoon of Vietnamese chili garlic sauce.

How Did It Taste?
This was another recipe cooked in the expert company of my friend Peter. (His Dad was professional chef.) He thought the beans were too sweet, and after some extra mouthfuls, I had to agree. The conversation went something like this:

“Did the recipe call for sugar?”
“Yes, brown sugar.”
“You know that there’s already a lot of sugar in baked beans, right?”
“Oh. I didn’t think about that.”
“See? There’s your problem. You probably only needed a bit of sugar to balance out the spiciness.”

So … if you’re making this recipe yourself, have a look at the label on your beans and see how much sweet stuff has already been added. Other than that, I thought they were really good. Next time, I’d just do some taste-testing as I was adding the sugar.

Money and Time
Beans are one of the all-time great cheap foods. No surprise that they make for a very economical side or main dish. And by removing the chipotle chiles from the equation, this recipe rang in at $2.92, or $1.46 per serving, which is actually slightly cheaper than the estimate in “Good and Cheap.” (Because of the exchange rate between U.S. and Canadian dollars, it’s rare that my Canadian versions come in close to the same price — or lower — than what’s in the book. But today is one of those magical days!)

Between putting the ingredients together and heating the beans through, the total cooking time was a scant 15 minutes. This was the third dish in a summer lunch for guests (the other two were Taco Salad and Mexican Street Corn) and I have to say that out of the three times I’ve made meals for friends using “Good and Cheap” recipes exclusively, this was the best yet.

But Wait! There’s More!
There’s actually a second baked bean recipe included in the book. The first one is designated as “super quick and cheap” and the second one is designated  “quick and cheaper” because it uses dried beans. I haven’t tried the second one out yet, but it sounds pretty good too.

And that’s it. I’m hanging up my pots and pans for a few days while I journey out to San Diego for a birthday party — but I’ll be back soon!signature

Mexican Street Corn

Hello! Today we’re cooking up a delicious version of a classic summertime side. I served this as part of a lunch menu and let me tell you, it was a hit.

Mexican Street Corn

Mexican Street Corn

Mexican Street Corn is found on page 47 of the print version of “Good and Cheap”. You’ll also locate this recipe on page 60 of the free PDF version of “Good and Cheap” (download it at

Ingredient Notes
If you’re a corn-on-the-cob purist, the list below will cause your eyebrows to lift. Don’t worry! This motley crew of ingredients will come together to make something magnificent:

  • corn
  • mayonnaise
  • crumbled feta cheese
  • chili powder
  • lime wedges

How Did It Taste?
This is UNBELIEVABLY GOOD. I’m serious. My friend Peter was over for lunch (you first met him back at Taco Salad) and we both loved this recipe. We took the very good advice in the preamble and grilled our corn but other than that, we followed the recipe exactly.

Money and Time
Super-quick this is. (That’s how Yoda would say it. And Yoda’s very wise. I bet that he would also have grilled his corn.)

The actual cooking time was about 7-10 minutes (as inexperienced corn grillers, Peter and I cautiously used the low setting on the barbeque). Dressing the cobs with mayo, feta and chili powder took another 3 minutes and we squeezed the lime wedges over the corn mere seconds before we sank our teeth into them. All in all, we clocked in at about 14 minutes.

The total cost for a half-recipe (to feed two people) was $3.69 or $1.85 per serving.

Beans, Beans, Beans
Next up, we’re squaring off with two super-fast baked bean recipes. Until then, have yourself a great weekend. See you soon!signature

Brussels Sprout Hash and Eggs

Hello and welcome back! Today, we’re munching on the first recipe in a new chapter of “Good and Cheap” — all about side dishes and snacks. This is a very novel (and healthy) take on what I’ve always thought of as a traditional American staple. Let’s get started!

Brussels Sprout Hash and Eggs

Eggs on a bed of brussels sprouts — who would have thought?

If you’re using the PDF version of “Good and Cheap” (you can download it free from, you’ll find this recipe on page 65. If you’re cooking out of the print edition, head to page 46.

Ingredient Notes
This recipe takes:

  • brussels sprouts
  • garlic
  • olives
  • eggs
  • butter
  • lemon juice

How Did It Taste?
This is great! Somehow, the addition of garlic and butter cancels out that strong brussels sprout taste that turns so many people off. And it’s healthy! I was having my vegetarian sister over for dinner when I made this, and I forgot to add the lemon right before I served it. It didn’t matter. We both agreed that it was delicious.

Cooking hint: Don’t be afraid to let the brussels sprouts brown a little bit. It adds a ton of flavour.

My sister and I have an uncle who doesn’t much like vegetables (but does like eggs) so we’re going to send the recipe to our aunt, because we think he might go for this healthier version of eggs and hash. Maybe she can even fool him into thinking that the brussels sprouts are some kind of exotic potatoes!

Money and Time
All in all, this took about 30 minutes to prepare. About half of that was getting the brussels sprouts prepped. The rest is quite easy.

The total cost was $5.49, or $2.75 per serving. (And I actually had enough of the hash left over to make a third serving for breakfast the next day.)

Mandoline, Part Deux
Two recipes ago, when we were making Wilted Cabbage Salad, I struck out on my first attempt at using a mandoline. The mandoline came back for this recipe, to slice up the brussels sprouts. It actually worked pretty well this time.

The mandoline would slice the sprout down to about half an inch thick, and then I would chop that last bit by hand. It took about 15 minutes to mandoline my way through a pound of brussels sprouts, which I thought was reasonably quick. (It could probably be quicker but I am still very, very respectful of the wicked-looking blade on the mandoline.)

That’s it! Next up, we’re going to be road-testing a recipe for Mexican Street Corn. (You don’t want to miss that one — it’s REALLY good.)

P.S. Shout Out to Another Edmonton Cook
I heard Alexis Hillyard of the Stump Kitchen YouTube series on CBC this morning, and thought she was brilliant and hilarious! You can check out her latest video here.

Broccoli Apple Salad

Hello on a long-weekend Saturday! Today we’ll look at the last salad recipe in “Good and Cheap”: Broccoli Apple Salad. This is a good universal side dish because apples and broccoli are available pretty much all year round, and usually at fairly reasonable prices. Let’s find out more!

Broccoli Apple Salad

Broccoli Apple Salad
Not my favourite — but a great universal side dish

You’ll locate this recipe on page 54 of the PDF version of “Good and Cheap” (download it free from, and if you’re working in the print edition, it’s on page 44.

Ingredient Notes
This super-simple recipe takes:

  • broccoli
  • apples

And for the dressing:

  • olive oil
  • lemon juice
  • salt & pepper

How Did It Taste?
This is actually the first “Good and Cheap” recipe that I honestly didn’t like. Something was missing, and I’m not sure what it was. Even letting the salad sit and marinate for a few hours didn’t change much. I’m going to try it again, with the alternate dressing that the recipe suggests: yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice and dill.

However, in its favour, let me say that it is a very attractive salad with a nice combination of colors (as you can tell by the photo).

Money and Time
I’m motivated to overcome the taste shortcomings because this is a very quick and inexpensive recipe. Start to finish, I was able to knock Broccoli Apple Salad together in 15 minutes. I whipped up a half-recipe, which made for two generous side servings, and the total cost was $3.10, or $1.55 per serving.

Sailing Into Uncharted Territory
As of today, we’re saying goodbye to salads and heading into a new chapter of “Good and Cheap”: Snacks, Sides and Small Bites. I’ve peeked ahead and we’re in for a whole array of tasty experiments. This part of the book covers off side dishes made with vegetables, duelling baked bean recipes, inventive popcorn toppings and what looks like a bazillion ideas for things on toast. See you soon!signature

Wilted Cabbage Salad

Hello again! Today’s feature has an unusual name, but don’t let that put you off. Rather than being something that a wicked stepmother in a gothic novel would feed you, this is yummy and summer-y tasting. Read on!

Wilted Cabbage Salad

Wilted Cabbage Salad
Odd name = great taste

While it doesn’t appear in the free PDF version of “Good and Cheap” (which can be downloaded from, you’ll find Wilted Cabbage Salad on page 43 of the print edition.

Ingredient Notes
The salad component of this recipe takes:

  • cabbage
  • salt
  • raw peanuts
  • green onions

And for the dressing you need:

  • olive oil
  • lemon juice (or rice vinegar)

How Did It Taste?
The recipe recommends salting the cabbage, then dressing it and letting it marinate overnight. The end product was quite good but I think I might have overdone it with the salt. It does take away some of the bitterness of the cabbage, but my salad was just a little on the salty side. However, the combination of the lemony dressing, green onions and toasted peanuts was a winner with the cabbage. I would make this again.

Money and Time
Because the Safeway store across the street from me is apparently psychic, they were selling half-cabbages this week. Which is a good thing, because even half of this recipe makes a fair bit of salad.

I ate mine with a hard-boiled egg sliced over the top and got two generous meals out of it. The total cost was $4.10 or $2.05 per meal-sized serving. And it’s a snap to put together. I forgot to time myself (oops) but I would say that it probably took me 20 minutes, start to finish.

Not A Musical Instrument
Two weeks ago, a Canadian Tire sale flyer seduced me into buying a Starfrit mandoline for $27.49. “What’s a mandoline?” you may ask. Well, it’s a kitchen gadget with a very sharp blade, designed to quickly slice or grate vegetables. Since this recipe calls for finely chopped cabbage, I thought I had the ideal opportunity to break in my little mandoline.

I followed the instructions, but after ten minutes of fiddling around, I had produced exactly a tablespoon of grated cabbage. I gave up and chopped the rest of it with a knife. But I remain undaunted. Two recipes from now, we’ll be making a version of hash and eggs that uses finely chopped brussels sprouts for the hash, so I’ll be bringing the mandoline back out for Round Two.

Before that, though, we’ll be making one last salad — this time with broccoli and apples. See you in a few days!signature

Charred Summer Salad

Hi! Today we’re chowing down on an unusual gluten-free recipe. In place of croutons, this charming Mexican-inspired salad has popcorn! Yes, popcorn. How clever is that?

Charred Summer Salad

Charred Summer Salad — gluten-free
and a great idea for using up a bumper crop of zucchini

You’ll find the recipe for  Charred Summer Salad on page 55 of the free PDF version of “Good and Cheap”, which you can download at And if you’re working with a print copy, it’s located on page 39.

Ingredient Notes
This salad is nice and simple. It takes:

  • zucchini
  • corn
  • olive oil
  • feta cheese
  • popcorn

The dressing recipe takes:

  • olive oil
  • lime
  • chili powder

How Did It Taste?
I didn’t change any of the ingredients (although I did use frozen corn instead of shucking my own) and taste-wise, I thought that this one was pretty good. With a little bit of practice and some fiddling, I think it could be really good.

But I’m not totally sold on the idea of popcorn in a salad. Sorry! It sounded so fun that I really wanted to like it.

I’d never tried charring vegetables, and I think I need some practice to get the zucchini and corn properly charred, which will enhance the flavour. (In fact, the next time I make this, I’ll focus on the zucchini and just heat up the corn in the microwave.) And I’m willing to bet that if you skipped the broiler and grilled the vegetables on a barbeque, you would wind up with some mighty fine charred zucchini.

Time and Money
It was easy to cut this down to a half-recipe, which made a generous supper for one adult. Although the salad took me about 38 minutes to put together, I’ll predict that the next time will be quicker — as I perfect my blackened-vegetable skills. And t
he total cost was $3.37.

Edible Footballs
This is a good time of year to feature a zucchini recipe. Zucchini will grow almost anywhere, which makes them ideal for the Zone 3 climate in my hometown of Edmonton. It’s been a hot summer and my co-workers are already bringing in their excess zukes, which are as big as regulation-size footballs.

So if your backyard is populated with these giant green bad boys, try out this recipe or the very yummy Chocolate Zucchini Muffins, which appear in the breakfast section of “Good and Cheap”. 

And that’s it for today! Next up, we’re going to try out Wilted Cabbage Salad, which strikes me as a very curious name for food. See you then!

Taco Salad

Hello! Today, you’re in for a treat. Instead of just me nattering away about the feature recipe, I’ll be adding in the wisdom of another cook: my very good friend Peter, who just happens to be the son of a professional chef. Let’s get dicing!

Taco Salad

Taco Salad — and a lesson in spicing up ground beef

You’ll find the recipe for  Taco Salad on page 39 of the print version of “Good and Cheap”. However, this amazing little cookbook is also available as a free download at, and you’ll find Taco Salad on page 52. 

Ingredient Notes
This salad is a little more complex than some of what you’ll find in “Good and Cheap”, but it’s not a back-breaker. It takes:

  • lettuce
  • ground beef or pulled pork
  • tomatoes
  • corn
  • green onions
  • tortilla chips
  • sharp cheddar, for sprinkling

The dressing recipe takes:

  • sour cream
  • lime
  • salt & pepper

I used ground beef, and didn’t change any of the other ingredients. (If you’re wanting to make this vegetarian, you can sub in beans for the beef or pork.)

How Did It Taste?
I thought it was pretty good, but not necessarily a home run. Peter, however, diagnosed the problem right away. The conversation went something like this:

“What kind of spicing did you add to the ground beef?”
“Uhm, none.”
“What did the recipe call for?”
“Uhm, none.”
“Really? Well, there’s your problem. The beef is really bland. I think if you’d added some taco spice when you were frying it up, it would be much better.”

There you have it, folks. And from someone much smarter than me. Jazz up your protein, and you’ll elevate this recipe from decent to delicious.

Time and Money
I made a full recipe, which served three hungry adults with leftovers. (We were also serving up the “Good and Cheap”recipes for Mexican Street Corn and My Dad’s Baked Beans. Which, by the way, makes a great summer lunch menu.)

The salad took about 25 minutes to put together, and the total cost was $11.28. That’s $3.76 per serving.

An Ode to the Humble Tortilla Chip
This recipe requires you to buy a bag of tortilla chips, but only use a cup of crushed ones, meaning that you’ll have some leftovers. Here’s a couple of ways to use those up:

  • Make yourself some fresh salsa (you’ll find a recipe on page 145 of “Good and Cheap” or page 163 of the free PDF)
  • If you have leftovers of the other ingredients (cheddar cheese, ground beef, green onions and sour cream) bake up a mess o’ nachos

And that’s it. Peter and I both thank you for coming to visit! Next up, we’ll look at a very interesting summer salad. See you then!

Cold (and Spicy?) Asian Noodles

Hi again! Today’s post is paying homage to one of the all-time icons of cheap food: ramen noodles. We’ll be taking a package and whipping up something healthy, tasty and open to all sorts of customizing.


Cold (And Spicy?) Asian Noodles
Noodles with oodles of potential

You’ll locate the recipe for  Cold (And Spicy?) Asian Noodles on page 50 of the PDF version of “Good and Cheap”. This wonderful cookbook is a free download at If you’ve splurged and purchased the print version of “Good and Cheap”, it’s on page 38.

Ingredient Notes
This is another fast & easy recipe that takes:

  • noodles
  • soy sauce
  • green onion
  • cucumber

I used these ingredients, with a little bit of sambal oelek. My only other deviation from the recipe involved timing. It asks you to let the noodles sit in the fridge for about an hour, to let the flavours develop. I was ravenous when I was making this, so I’m afraid it didn’t spend even a millisecond in the fridge before I wolfed it down. Well … there’s always next time.

How Did It Taste?
The cookbook notes describe this as “a recipe that you can really make your own.” I agree. The basic version of Cold Asian Noodles was good, but it felt like something was missing. (Part of that is my fault for not letting it spend some time in the fridge.) But I think that this would be great with the addition of fresh grated ginger or some teriyaki sauce.

“Good and Cheap” also suggests Peanut Sauce or Spice Oil as add-ons, and recipes for those are found in both versions. The Peanut Sauce sounds especially good to me.

The overall verdict? This is a solid base recipe, but it needs you to apply some creativity to really make it shine. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Think of it as an empty canvas, just waiting for you to build your own masterpiece.

Time and Money
I made a quarter-recipe which was a generous meal-sized serving for one person. You can put this together in ten minutes, fifteen tops. (Chop the vegetables while you wait for the water to boil for the noodles.) The final tab was $1.20, which is really, really cheap.

Interestingly, this is another one of those instances when the price per serving is actually much cheaper what’s quoted in “Good and Cheap”. I attribute that to the inexpensive ramen I used (Mr. Noodles brand.)

A Homage to Ramen Noodles
In February, I did an interview with CBC’s Isabelle Gallant, talking about the “Good and Cheap” experiment. Isabelle asked if there was ever a time in my past when I could have used this cookbook.(You can have a listen here. I start at the 9:02 mark.)

Indeed there was, and ramen holds an iconic place in that part of my culinary history. I was a struggling freelance, and you could get Ichiban noodles for 29 cents a package. (25 cents on sale.) At one point, I ate them for every lunch and supper, for about two weeks straight.

Not the healthiest diet, but I will point out that I never, ever used the flavour packets, which seemed like an atomic bomb’s worth of sodium. To this day, ramen with a little bit of butter and light soy sauce is a super-fast comfort food for me. I’m intrigued by today’s recipe and will do some more experimenting to find that magical combination of vegetables and sauces that hits a home run.

And that’s it. Thanks for coming to visit! Next up, we’ll look at how my food spending played out in July (and got much more complicated by the addition of a week-long vacation.) See you then!

Spicy Panzanella

Hello and Happy Thursday! Back in the spring, I was waxing eloquent about the ingenuity of French peasants, who created a fantastic dish out of onions, leftover wine, stale bread and some dried-out cheese — and called it French Onion Soup. Today, it’s Italy’s turn. You’re going to be treated to the culinary miracle that they whipped up with old bread and some vegetables. Read on!


Panzanella — making magic with vegetables and stale bread

You’ll find Spicy Panzanella on page 49 of the “Good and Cheap” PDF (a free download at In the print copy, it’s on page 37.

Ingredient Notes
Spicy Panzanella is  made with:

  • cucumber
  • tomato
  • stale bread
  • olive oil
  • lime juice
  • jalapeno
  • salt and pepper

And for a change, I followed the instructions to the letter.

How Did It Taste?
I’ve made this at least three times, and I’ve served it to guests. It’s really good. What makes this recipe so great is the dressing. It would never have occurred to me to use sauteed jalapeno as the base for a salad dressing but it’s fabulous.

It doesn’t seem to matter what kind of bread you use. I’ve had good results with French bread and hamburger buns. There’s room for additional vegetables, too, and even possibly some fruits. I think that this would be great with radishes or olives added to the mix.

One hint — it doesn’t keep all that well. The next day, the bread still tastes good but the vegetables seemed to get kind of soggy. It’s easy to cut the recipe in half and still get solid results, so only make exactly what you need.

Time and Money
It took me about 25 minutes to put this together. The first time I made it (back in January), the cost was $1.39 per serving. This time, thanks to summer pricing on the vegetables, it was a bargain at $1.00 per serving.

And that’s it. Bravissimo, I say, to the genius of Italian cooks! I think that Spicy Panzanella is destined to become a regular on my dinner table.

Next up, we’ll be taking ramen noodles — longtime cheap food choice for starving artists — and making an exciting salad that works well as a main dish. See you then!signature

Ever-Popular Potato Salad

Hello and Happy Tuesday! Today, we’re looking at another one of the great classics: Potato Salad.


Potato Salad — ever-popular and oh-so yummy

You can find it on page 46 of the PDF version of “Good and Cheap”, (which is a free download at In the print edition, it’s on page 34.

Ingredient Notes
The great American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “to be simple is to be great.” And so it is with this recipe, which takes two basic ingredients and combines them with a vinaigrette. You’ll need:

  • potatoes
  • green onions
  • olive oil
  • lemon juice, lime juice or vinegar
  • Dijon mustard
  • salt & pepper

I didn’t change anything and used standard white vinegar for the dressing.

How Did It Taste?
This was delicious! I’m a fan of mayonnaise-based potato salads and I honestly didn’t expect this Plain Jane recipe to taste so good. One flavour note: I did increase the amount of vinegar in the dressing by 50%. I just felt it needed a little more tang.

Time and Money
Once you have the potatoes boiled and cooled, this is a lightning-fast 10 minutes, start to finish. I made a half-recipe, which was two servings and cost $2.57 in total. That’s $1.28 per serving.

(It’s higher than than the 75 cents per serving that “Good and Cheap”came up with. I blame this on my decision to buy thin-skinned potatoes, which were a little on the pricey side.)

Into the Garden With Us
Since we’re talking about the cost of potatoes, I’m repeating a gardening experiment that I tried last summer — Trash Can Spuds. Despite my enthusiasm, 2015’s trash can yielded an embarrassing 2 lbs. of potatoes, but I decided it was worth trying again.

This year’s potatoes have been growing like crazy and I’ve worked at being more diligent about hilling them (which I’m told is the secret to getting a big crop). The costs have been quite low. I was able to re-use my trash can, I got the seed potatoes for free from a co-worker, and it’s taken a little bit shy of $10 worth of topsoil to fill the can to the top.

And That’s a Wrap
Since we’re into the second half of summer, it’s the perfect time to give this recipe a try. I think it’s a winner. Next up is Panzanella, an Italian bread salad. See you soon!