Baklava Oatmeal

Newsflash!
In early February, I did an interview with Isabelle Gallant of CBC, talking about this project. I’m happy to say that it aired on Monday of last week, and you can have a listen here. (I start at the 9:02 mark.)
Baklava Oatmeal

Baklava Oatmeal
Bringing the humble oat to a whole new plane of existence

So here we are, at Recipe #6 in the Oatmeal Chronicles. You can find this one on page 30 of the PDF version of “Good and Cheap” (a free download at leannebrown.com) or on page 10 of the print version.

Ingredient Notes
This time, I decided to step out a little and use regular rolled oats instead of quick oats. I also bought crushed walnuts because they were on sale in the bulk section at Save-On Foods — and considerably cheaper than the almonds that the recipe calls for. (My logic was that every baklava I’d ever eaten included walnuts, so I didn’t think I was committing a culinary faux pas.)

How Did it Taste?
Wow. This one is amazing. If you were looking for an oatmeal recipe to serve to weekend house guests (or anyone else you wanted to impress with your mad breakfast cooking skills), Baklava Oatmeal is your go-to. I loved the blend of the flavours, and the large flake rolled oats are much chewier (and truthfully, less gluey) than quick oats. I still like Coconut and Lime Oatmeal for its simplicity, but Baklava is my new favourite. This is oatmeal on a whole different plane of existence.

I have to say that I will probably not be going back to quick oats, now that I’ve experienced large flake. Isabelle Gallant (who is also the voice of The Little Red Kitchen blog) suggested that I try out a 50/50 blend of large flake and steel-cut as well. Isn’t cooking fun? Always something new to experiment with.

Show Me the Money
Zesting an  orange means that there’s a little more work involved in this recipe, and it took about 8 minutes to cook the large flake oats (as opposed to 2 minutes for quick oats). Start to finish, the prep and cooking time was 22 minutes, and the total cost per serving was 88 cents. A bargain for very classy breakfast!

Food Shopping Tip
It’s nothing new, but I’m going to talk about one of the commandments of frugalistas everywhere: Thou Shalt Always Check the Bill.

Last Sunday night, I bought groceries for the coming week. I was a little surprised at the total, but reminded myself that we’re still living in The Time of Really Expensive Produce in my hometown of Edmonton.

When I got home, however, I decided take a closer look and found a $10.95 charge for half a kilo of bulk trail mix. Since I hadn’t bought any trail mix, I knew something was wrong. I checked through item by item and discovered that the half kilo of apples I’d bought were nowhere on the receipt.

In short, I’d just paid $10.95 for three apples.

Now, obviously this was a keying error. It was a simple matter to go back to the grocery store with the apples, show them what had happened, and get a refund. But it does reinforce the idea that it’s not a bad practice to check your receipts if something seems a little off.

And that’s all for today! Next week will bring us the last of the oatmeal recipes and then we’ll move on to some exciting territory that includes muffins, pancakes and grapefruits. Have a great weekend!
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Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal

Happy Monday! After a short detour, today’s post brings us back to the wonderful world of oatmeal, with No. 5 in a seven-part set of recipe reviews.

Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal

Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal, artfully arranged

As I mentioned above, the breakfast chapter of “Good and Cheap” has seven different oatmeal recipes. You can find this particular one on page 31 of the PDF version (a free download at leannebrown.com) or on page 10 of the print version.

Ingredient Notes
The ingredients were about as basic as you can get. (I was lucky enough to find the apple juice on sale for 99 cents.) I chose not to cook the apple slices and sprinkled a little brown sugar on top of the finished product.

How Did it Taste?
Very good! I was expecting the apple juice to make the oatmeal cloyingly sweet, but it actually had a nice little tang to it, and the slices are a good healthy addition. This is now my second favourite recipe in the oatmeal series. (I still like Coconut and Lime the best.)

Let’s Do the Math
Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal was quick and easy to cook, taking about 10 minutes altogether. And the total cost of ingredients came to just 89 cents per serving.

Green Onions

I call this photo “Onions at Sunrise”
(This is what they looked like after about two week’s growing time)

Frugal Food Tip
This tip has nothing whatsoever to do with oatmeal, but I thought it was worth telling you about just the same. Thanks to a very clever co-worker, I’ve learned that it’s possible to re-grow green onions. Even in the middle of winter!

Step One involves cutting off all of the green part and some of the white part (and presumably eating it). Next, put the remainder of the white part in a glass of water and put the glass in a windowsill. Change the water daily, and new shoots will start appearing within a couple of days.

I must admit that I was skeptical about this actually working in February, especially in my chilly kitchen window. But my little onions are on their third sprouting and growing enthusiastically. Now, is that cool or what?

That’s all for today! Check back soon for the sixth installment in the oatmeal chronicles and have a great week!
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Let’s Do the Math: January Recap

Hello! I thought it would be a good idea to devote one post each month to taking a look at how close my grocery spending comes to the $6 per day that I targeted.

With 31 days, that means my total grocery budget in January was $186.

My actual spending on food was $303.71.

Oops. That’s $117.71 more than I planned to spend.

But let me unravel this for you:

  • First, I threw a wine and cheese party for 25 people on January 8. The total cost of that was $129.22, and I estimated that there was somewhere between 33% and 40% left over for my housemates and I to snack on.
  • And on January 23, I went out for dinner, which came to $38.23.
Actual grocery expenditures = $213.79
Leftover party food (40%) = $51.69
Restaurant Jan 23 = $38.23
Grand total = $303.71

So, the actual spending on groceries was about $27 over budget. This number-crunching has led me to four conclusions:

  1. People who are using food stamps probably don’t throw big wine and cheese parties.
  2. They are also probably not going to restaurants.
  3. The $213.79 included the groceries for my first-ever “Good and Cheap” dinner party. Based on that, I think it’s possible to entertain and still stick to the $6 per day budget.
  4. Most important conclusion: I have some work to do.

Although I’m only a month in, I’m starting to  believe that this is a game of averages. Some days, I’ll be a little high, other days a little low. But the overall average should work out to $6 per day.

However, it’s obvious that during the month of February, I’ll need to try harder to trim my grocery bill.

I had a conversation about this project with a good friend, who recommended that I take a look at the work of Steve & Annette Economides, who bill themselves as “America’s Cheapest Family”. I’m about a third of the way into their book “Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half”, and it looks like one of my weaknesses is planning. Using their ideas, I’ve started planning my lunches. I’ll let you know how it goes in February.
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This is What a “Good and Cheap” Dinner Party Looks Like

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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