Well, Hello Dally!

OK, I know that’s a terrible joke. My dreadful sense of humour aside, it’s an exciting day because we’re embarking on a brand-new adventure and stepping into the next chapter of “Good and Cheap”: Soup and Salad.


Dal, made with yellow split peas and topped with sour cream & green onion

You’ll find Dal, which is the first recipe in this chapter, on page 35 of the PDF version of “Good and Cheap” (a free download at leannebrown.com) and page 21 of the print version.

Ingredient Notes
Dal is one of those dishes that takes ordinary ingredients — onions, garlic, ginger & lentils — adds some unusual spices and makes magic. I used yellow split peas but there are a whole variety of lentils that can go into this recipe.

How Did it Taste?
Back in October 2015, t
his was the very first “Good and Cheap” recipe I ever tried out, well before I had decided to embark on a year-long blog project with it. It was enough to convince me that I was onto something potentially interesting. I really liked dal then, and I still do. It’s not hard to see how this dish became a staple of Indian home cuisine.

Show Me the Money
Dal is remarkably inexpensive. The total cost came to $2.90, or 73 cents per (generous) serving. If you have a little extra money in your food budget, add some plain yogurt or sour cream.


Meet Mr. Thai Chili.
Standing 2 1/4″ high, he is small but ferocious. And yet, also cheap.

Meet Your Frugal Friend: Mr. Thai Chili
Jalapeno peppers regularly make an appearance in the recipes on the pages of “Good and Cheap”. But there came a point this winter when the jalapenos I was finding in the grocery store were so unappealing that I couldn’t make myself buy them. I started looking for an alternative — and into my life walked Mr. Thai Chili.

The one in the picture cost me all of 17 cents and I only used a third of it to add some heat to four servings of dal.

Now, if you decide to experiment with thai chilis, heed the immortal words of Yoda:

With great power comes great responsibility.

He’s not kidding. This tiny little pepper packs a tremendous wallop. I’ll add a few words of my own to those of the Jedi Master:

  1. I think thai chilis need to be cooked to make them anything less than sub-atomic. I tried serving one raw in Savory Pineapple Salad (page 30 in the print edition). It was good but so hot that I couldn’t finish it and neither could my guest. Not exactly a banner moment in my career as a hostess.
  2. The safest way to cut them is with kitchen scissors. If you use a knife, wash your hands right away.
  3. Start very conservatively and taste as you go. You can always add more but it’s pretty much impossible to subtract.

However, if you can master these mini-warheads of the vegetable kingdom, you’ll be able to add a fresh-tasting spiciness to your dishes for mere pennies. I think Yoda would be impressed.

That’s it for today. Next up is Corn Soup — which is much more interesting than the title makes it sound. See you soon! signature

Broiled Grapefruit (and an Easter Egg!)


Today, we’ve arrived at the very last recipe in the Breakfast section of “Good and Cheap.” And … this post contains an Easter Egg!


Broiled Grapefruit
A little brown sugar, a tiny bit of salt, and a whole lot of yummy

You’ll find Broiled Grapefruit on page 16 of the PDF version of “Good and Cheap” (a free download at leannebrown.com) and on page 18 of the print version.

Ingredient Notes
It doesn’t get any simpler than this: one grapefruit,two teaspoons of brown sugar and a pinch of salt. I used a ruby grapefruit and I think that was a good choice.

How Did it Taste?
These are good. They are very good. The caramelized brown sugar and just a hint of salt elevates the humble grapefruit into something quite sophisticated. The heat of the broiler also causes the fruit to puff up a little and become quite juicy. Needless to say, I liked these a lot.

Let’s Do The Math
A grapefruit currently sells for $1.49 at Save-On Foods in my hometown of Edmonton, and two teaspoons of brown sugar cost me 3 cents. I considered half a grapefruit to be one serving, so this recipes rings in at 76 cents per serving.

And Now … the Easter Egg!
In geek-speak an “Easter Egg” is a surprise bonus hidden in a DVD, computer program or video game.

Although it’s not exactly hidden, this Easter Egg is a surprise bonus recipe for a double-layer Rice Krispie Cake. It’s easy to make and a lot of fun. The original version of this recipe used Betty Crocker tinned frosting and was decorated with a whole variety of candies. Admittedly, this approach wasn’t overly economical, and also left me with a big pile of extra candy.

So, in the names of frugality and creativity, I’ve re-jigged it to something that looks good, is still decadent, but doesn’t cost as much.

A 700 gram box of Rice Krispies and two 400 gram bags of marshmallows will get you two Rice Krispie cakes. Frosted and decorated, they’ll cost you $10.28 each and serve at least eight. That’s $1.29 per serving.


Rice Krispie Cake, all dolled up with M&M candies
My very own version of an electronic Easter Egg

Rice Krispie Cake

Part 1 — Create the layers
Ingredients per layer:
1/4 cup of butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups miniature marshmallows
5 cups Rice Krispies

  1. Melt the butter in a good-sized pan over medium-low heat and add the vanilla and marshmallows.
  2. Allow the marshmallows to melt, stirring occasionally (and watching that they don’t start to burn to the bottom of your pan.)
  3. When all of the marshmallows have melted, take the pan off the heat, and stir in the Rice Krispies, one cup at a time.
  4. Let the mixture stand while you generously grease an 8″ round cake pan.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the greased cake pan. When everything is in the pan, use your hands to pack down the mixture and spread it out to the edges, making sure that the top surface is flat. (If you find that the mixture is sticking to your hands, give it a few more minutes to cool.)
  6. Once you’re done, put the pan aside and let it set for 20 minutes. About 15 minutes in, you can start the next layer.
  7. After 20 minutes, invert the pan over a plate and tap the bottom. If you’ve greased the pan well, the layer should pretty much pop right out. If you’re getting resistance, try running a knife around the edge of the pan.
  8. Repeat Step 1 to Step 6 for the second layer.
  9. While the second layer is cooling, you can make the frosting.

Part 2: Frosting, Assembling and Decorating
Ingredients for frosting the full cake:
1/2 cup of butter at room temperature
2 cups of icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
About a tablespoon of milk or cream
One bag of Easter-themed M&M candies

  1. If you have a mixer, use it. Everything goes a lot faster and the end product is light and fluffy. If you don’t have a mixer, cream the butter by hand until the color lightens.
  2. Add the icing sugar, a cup at a time. Beat each cup in until smooth.
  3. Add the vanilla and beat.
  4. Add the milk and beat.
  5. Check the consistency. Too stiff to spread nicely? Add a little more milk. Too runny? Add a little more icing sugar.
  6. When the frosting is ready, put a few small dollops around the center of a plate.
  7. Take your first layer of cake and center it on the plate. Apply a little pressure to help the frosting glue it down.
  8. Spread a layer of frosting on the top of the first layer. You can use a little less than half your recipe.
  9. Now, center the second layer of the cake over the first. (Because of the way cake pans are shaped, it likely won’t be a perfect fit. Don’t sweat this.)
  10. Using the rest of the frosting, ice the top of the second layer.
  11. Now, you can take the M&M candies and decorate the top. I made stripes, but I’m willing to bet that you can be even more creative!

And that’s it. If you make a Rice Krispie cake, I would love to see a picture of it. Thank you for reading all the way down to here, and a very Happy Easter to you all!

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins


Today, we’re reviewing the second baked goods recipe in the breakfast section of “Good and Cheap”. As the title suggests, it combines two rather unlikely and non-breakfasty ingredients: chocolate and zucchini.


Chocolate Zucchini Muffins
Vegetables and chocolate — who would have thought?

You’ll find this recipe on page 21 of the PDF version of “Good and Cheap” (a free download at leannebrown.com) and on page 16 of the print version.

Ingredient Notes
The recipe suggest that you buy two small zucchinis to get two cups grated. This was more than enough, so it gave me an opportunity to try out some creative ways to use up the leftovers.

How Did it Taste?
These are good. I’m not in love with them, but they’re good.

However, we should probably take into account that there are some serious home runs in this cookbook, when it comes to taste. I suspect that my bar for declaring that a recipe “tastes great” is starting to rise. Which I don’t see as an entirely bad thing.

Show Me the Money
This made twenty medium-sized muffins, for a total cost of $8.03. That’s 40 cents per hearty muffin. It’s also significantly higher than the $4.20 US listed in the cookbook. I attribute this to the (currently) high cost of produce in my hometown of Edmonton. Right now, zucchini rings in at $6.59 per kilo, which is $2.99 per pound. I was also quite surprised at how expensive cocoa powder was. 

What Can You Do With Leftover Zucchini?
As it turns out, quite a lot. I tried raw zucchini, cut into chips, as a simple side dish. I also tried grating some zucchini, pan-frying it and putting it on top of a serving of Tomato and Tuna Spaghetti (page 90, print version). Tasty … and reasonably healthy.

And I tried a variant on Creamy Zucchini Fettucine (page 89 of the PDF version of “Good and Cheap” and page 86 in print.) I grated the last of my zucchini, sauteed it with some garlic, lemon zest and a few chili flakes. To this, I added about a half-cup of cream cheese that needed to be eaten up. I thinned it out with enough plain yogurt to make a sauce, added about 1/4 cup of grated asiago cheese, and put this over top of linguine. It was really good.

And that’s all for today! Coming up next week, we’ll look at the last recipe in the breakfast section of “Good and Cheap”: a snazzy way to serve grapefruit. Until then, have a great week!

Whole-Wheat Jalapeño Cheddar Scones


For the next two posts, we’re going to do a little bit of baking. But don’t let that make you nervous! No big fat skills are needed.

Whole-Wheat Jalapeño Cheddar Scones

Whole-Wheat Jalapeño Cheddar Scones
Way sexier than what little old British ladies eat with tea

You’ll find this recipe on page 22 of the PDF version of “Good and Cheap” (a free download at leannebrown.com) and on page 15 of the print version.

Ingredient Notes
I used Kraft Cracker Barrel extra old cheddar (it was on sale) and I do recommend that you include the egg wash step at the end of the recipe. It made my finished scones look all spanky and professional. Also, make sure you use whole-wheat flour instead of regular unbleached.

How Did it Taste?
Honestly, I haven’t come across a bad recipe in this cookbook yet. All of them are good but some of them are knock-it-out-of-the-park good. This one belongs in the second category. I loved these scones! They’re dense and hearty and spicy and cheesy … the adjectives could go on and on.

I think there’s a world of possibilities here. I’m going to try a variation with asiago cheese and my new favourite free ingredient, lemon zest.

Old Dog, New Trick
I learned a smart new technique with this one. The recipe uses a half-cup of butter, which you freeze slightly and then grate into the dry ingredients. This is really clever — the butter is more or less uniform and the step where you blend butter and flour goes quickly.

When I was taking Home Economics (back in the Middle Ages) we used a hand tool for this job, called a pastry blender. It was time-consuming, gave uneven results and the blenders were notorious for bending and breaking. This grater idea? It’s a keeper.

Show Me the Money
Start to finish, the scones took 45 minutes to whip up. The total cost was $6.41, or $1.07 per good-sized scone.

The Scone that Saved Lunchtime
Following the advice of Steve and Annette Economides, I’ve been creating a lunch plan for each week, basing it around a variety of sandwiches. Although I’m quite happy about getting my afternoon meal more organized and less costly, I was beginning to become bored with five days a week of sandwiches.

Enter this week’s recipe! Although they appear in the breakfast section of “Good & Cheap”, I’ve tucked two of the scones into my lunches, paired with pepper salami from the deli counter at Save-On Foods. It’s a match made in Heaven. I think I should include a scone-based lunch once in each week’s plan, just to break things up.

And that’s all for today! Our next baking adventure will be muffins that feature both chocolate and zucchini. “How does that work?” you might ask. Well, you’ll have to tune in to find out. Until then, have a great week!

Banana Pancakes

Hello and Happy Daylight Savings Time!

If losing an hour of sleep has left you feeling grumpy, today’s recipe should help. Seriously, who doesn’t love pancakes on a weekend morning? And these are some good pancakes…


Banana Pancakes, with a side of bacon
Perfect antidote to the annoyance of Daylight Savings Time,
and pretty much anything else that bugs you

You won’t find Banana Pancakes in the PDF version of “Good and Cheap” (a free download at leannebrown.com) but it’s on page 12 of the print version.

Ingredient Notes
The ingredients for this recipe are quite basic — staples that you’ll find in most kitchens. It helps if the bananas that go into the batter are a little over-ripe. They mash up a lot more easily.

Because it was on sale, I bought a package of low-sodium bacon to go with my pancakes. There’s a point in the recipe where you let the batter rest for 10 or 15 minutes, which turns out to be the perfect time slot in which to cook the bacon. I then used the bacon fat to cook the pancakes, which I think added to the flavour.

How Did it Taste?
Delicious! The blend of the savoury bacon and the bananas was marvellous. The pancakes aren’t overly sweet and they capably handled the standard additions of butter and syrup. Like the Baklava Oatmeal recipe, this is something you could make for weekend guests and be proud to serve up. 

Even if you don’t opt to fry your pancakes in bacon fat, I think that the saltiness of butter would also be a great flavour booster.  

Show Me the Money
Start to finish, banana pancakes and bacon took exactly an hour to cook up. (Remembering that I stopped to fiddle around weighing ingredients so that my costing is accurate. In all likelihood, you’ll be able to cook these up much quicker.)

One other note about this recipe. Because I’m single and didn’t want to be eating leftover pancakes for days and days and days, I actually tried quartering the recipe. It worked perfectly, which added to my already glowing impression of “Good and Cheap” as a spectacularly versatile cookbook.

The total cost was $1.34, and the bacon added another $1.49. The full recipe should serve four, but those are pretty generous servings. Technically, I got one brunch and one breakfast out of my $2.83, which I thought was a heck of a deal.

Food Shopping Tip
This isn’t really a tip, but my annoyance at paying $2+ for a small package of fresh herbs has finally gotten the better of me. This weekend, I planted small pots of basil, rosemary and dill. The seeds average about $1.89 per package, so if this actually works, there should be some tidy little savings as well as the freshest possible herbs added to my cooking. Once they’re sprouted and actually look like something (besides pots of dirt), I’ll post some photos.

And that’s all for today! This coming week will bring us into baking territory, with scones and muffins. Until then, have a great weekend and get a little extra sleep — you’ll feel better about this whole Daylight Savings Time thing in a couple of days.


Show Me the Money: February 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 29 days in the month, my total grocery budget in February was $174.

First, let me say that February was an even more complicated month than January, when it came to figuring out my spending on food. I took a weekend trip to Calgary, ate in restaurants twice, splashed out on beef tenderloin for a Valentine’s dinner and took groceries to the household of a friend for some collective meals. And once (oh, shame of shames), I got takeout from McDonald’s.

After wrangling with the numbers (see below), my spending on food came to $244.85. That puts me past my $174 limit by $70.85, or about 41% over budget. Not great, but … better than the $117.71 overage in January, which tipped the scales at a whopping 63%. This is exciting! While it’s moderate, I’ve improved.

Here’s how the numbers break out:

  • I didn’t include the money spent for food on my Calgary trip. We were staying downtown, and there was no realistic way to cook our own meals.
  • I did, however, include all of my spending in restaurants otherwise.
  • All of the times I took food to someone else’s house for collective meals (the Valentine’s dinner fell into this category as well), there were three of us eating. I divided my total spending by three to get the portion of that expenditure that went into my own mouth.
Actual grocery expenditures = $163.33
Restaurants = $60.05
Collective meals = $21.47
Grand total = $244.85

Following the advice of Steve & Annette Economides, I’ve had a simple workday lunch plan for a couple of weeks now. It’s a variety of sandwiches, coupled with fruit and something dessert-y. You can download a copy of this week’s plan here. Although these aren’t the most imaginative lunches on the planet, they are helping me avoid the siren song of Vicky’s Cafe, which lives on the first floor of the library I work in.

My goal for March is to get my overage down to 20% or less. In the meantime, I’ll keep posting the “Good and Cheap” reviews as I work my way through each recipe. What’s up next? Banana Pancakes — don’t miss it!

Breakfast Quinoa

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.)
Breakfast Quinoa

Breakfast Quinoa, with fresh mango

Well! After several weeks of oatmeal recipes, we are moving on to new horizons. Today’s breakfast option doesn’t actually appear in the PDF version of the cookbook (which is a free download at leannebrown.com) but you can find it on page 11 of the print edition.

Ingredient Notes
There’s really only three ingredients: quinoa, fruit, and a little bit of sugar. I used mango, because it was the only thing I could really imagine with the quinoa. (I had a good-sized mango, so I used half of it in my breakfast and took the other half in my lunch. Bonus!)

I should warn you that mangoes are delicious but very messy to cut up. You can find a good primer for choosing and chopping mango, at the website of the U.S. National Mango Board. (Yes, there really is such  a thing as a National Mango Board.)

How Did it Taste?
Nice. This is a pleasant alternative to oatmeal, and quite filling. (I’d actually use less quinoa the next time I make this recipe, probably 1/3 cup.) I wouldn’t say that I’m in love with Breakfast Quinoa, but I think it’s worth experimenting with some different fruits to see if there’s a magic combination that knocks my socks off.

Let’s Do the Math
The quinoa takes about 20 minutes to cook,but it’s still a very simple dish to pull together. Half a mango cost me 75 cents and  the quinoa (purchased in the bulk section at Save-On Foods) came to $1.45. Add some sugar and Breakfast Quinoa weighs in at $2.25 per serving. This isn’t necessarily as cheap as some of the oatmeal options, but as the book points out, quinoa packs a pretty good wallop of protein, keeping you full for longer.

Frugal Food Tip
I don’t actually have a frugal food tip for today. But I will tell you that — in preparation for the warmer months — I’m in the middle of “The Dirt Cheap Green Thumb” by Rhonda Massingham. This little book is packed full of practical advice for getting a garden going without spending a fortune.

I took it out of my home library, but it’s also available online through Freading, a service that lets you access off-the-beaten track eBooks with your library card. You can find out more at their website.

And that’s all for today. Tune in next week for a recap of how my food spending went in February. Have a great weekend!


Chocolate Oatmeal

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.)
Chocolate Oatmeal

Chocolate Oatmeal, garnished with chocolate chips
Good Decadent and cheap

Today, Library Life Hack is proud to present the last of seven oatmeal recipes found in “Good and Cheap”. This one doesn’t actually appear in the PDF version of the cookbook (which is a free download at leannebrown.com) but you can find it on page 10 of the print edition.

Ingredient Notes
I used regular rolled oats instead of quick oats. Beyond that, the ingredients for this recipe are all basic kitchen staples: sugar, milk and cocoa powder.

How Did it Taste?
Pretty darn good. I wasn’t sure about the idea of chocolate for breakfast, but the ingredients work together really well
. The cocoa powder gives the oatmeal a dark chocolate flavour, but without any bitterness. And don’t worry about it being too sweet — I actually added some honey to mine. I wouldn’t be making this recipe every day, but it would be a lovely treat on the weekend with a big mug of fresh coffee.

Let’s Do the Math
This is very easy to make. You just whisk together the non-oatmeal ingredients, put everything together in a pan and turn on the heat. Poof! In about ten minutes, your breakfast is ready. And a cheap breakfast it is, weighing in at just 61 cents per serving.

Frugal Food Tip
This is a little story called “How I Fell In Love With Citrus Zest*”.

Last week, I cooked with citrus zest three times. I used orange zest twice as I test-drove the Baklava Oatmeal recipe, and lemon zest once making Creamy Zucchini Fettuccine (which you’ll find in the Dinner section of “Good and Cheap”: page 86 of the print version and page 89 of the PDF).

In the past, I’ve used zest in the odd recipe, but always considered it to be a fussy, pretentious add-on. However, my “Good and Cheap” cooking adventures have caused me to look at zest in a whole different light.

Lemon zest added a wonderful flavour to the savoury fettuccine dish, making it taste quite sophisticated (if that makes any sense). And the orange zest punched the Baklava Oatmeal into another class of breakfast food altogether.

Then it dawned on me that it’s essentially free! I mean, the oranges I zested last week are still completely intact, and wound up as part of my lunch this week. It’s like getting two uses out of the same piece of fruit. Now I want to see if I can find a way to sneak some lime and grapefruit zest into my meals. (If you have any suggestions, by all means, send me a note at librarylifehack [at] gmail.com.)

*Just in case this is an unfamiliar term, zest is the thin colored layer of peel on citrus fruits.

And that’s all for today. Tune in near the end of the week for Breakfast Quinoa!