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.

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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 leannebrown.com. 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!
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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!

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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 leannebrown.com.) 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.

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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 leannebrown.com.) 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!
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Dollar and Cents: June Recap

Hello! Not long after starting this project, I decided 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.

There were 30 days in June, which meant that my total grocery budget was $180.

After my flagrant over-spending in May, I went into June firmly resolved to do better. And things went pretty well. However, this busy month prompted three number-crunching challenges:

  1. I took a four-day trip to Winnipeg, where I was largely fed by my kind and generous hosts. I included all of my eating-out costs except one. That was a delicious take-out dinner for our whole gang from Lovey’s BBQ. I left it out because I believe that a nice meal out with your hosts is just a standard travel cost when you’re trying to be a good guest. (By the way, if you’re travelling to Winnipeg, I highly recommend Lovey’s.)
  2. June also introduced a novel accounting wrinkle: food as a gift. A good friend had a birthday in June, and I went over to his house armed with a good-sized picnic supper. We both enjoyed it, and the leftovers stayed with him to eat the next day. So, yes, I did feed myself from a portion of this purchase. But … was it realistic to count this with my food spending? This is a conundrum, and in the end, I put a third of the cost in my “grocery” ledger.
  3. Now, I also had friends over for dinner in June, and fed them almost entirely from “Good and Cheap” recipes. One friend is vegan, and I’m happy to report that it was really pretty easy to find things that worked for him. (He was willing to cheat a little and eat cheese.) This spending I did count in my grocery bills. Here’s what we chowed down on:
  • Pagnotta from Edmonton’s Italian Bakery, with real butter
  • Tomatoes with bocconocini medallions and basil
  • Beet and Chickpea Salad
  • Creamy Zucchini Fettucine (you’ll find this recipe on page 89 of the “Good and Cheap” PDF or page 86 of the print version)
  • Raspberry sorbet from the fine folks at Pinnochio Ice Cream
  • Beer and wine
Actual grocery expenditures = $72.41
Food purchased in Vicky’s Cafe = $29.80
Fast food  = $15.11
Food that came out of vending machines= $2.50
Food for entertaining = $49.14
Food purchased while travelling =$21.62
Food as a gift = $45.07/3 = $15.02
Grand total = $205.60

When everything is tallied up, my total food spending in June was $205.60. That’s $25.60 and 14% over budget. All in all, I’m fairly happy with this figure.

In fact, after pulling apart my June spending, the only thing that I’m a little concerned about was the amount of money plunked down at Vicky’s Cafe (the coffee kisok in my home library). This is largely the result of being too disorganized to eat breakfast, and — realistically — something that I could easily fix.

And That’s the Month That Was
I didn’t come out of June with any spectacular insights on cheap eating. Mostly, I feel like I spent the month almost perpetually on the run, and my food choices reflected that.

However, I will say that I was very pleased at the outcome of my second attempt at a “Good and Cheap” dinner party. It was a little more expensive than my first attempt (point a small finger of blame at $8.50 for a container of delicious sorbet) but I felt like the dishes worked together a little better. It was easy to prepare, tasted good and I had just enough leftovers. Now  really, could you ask for more than that?   signature