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 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.


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!

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

Broiled Eggplant Salad

Did you know that in Great Britain, they call eggplants “aubergines”? Yes, they do. And I bring that up because today we’re making a salad with this unusual, double-agent vegetable.


Broiled Eggplant Salad
(Or, in Great Britain, “Broiled Aubergine Salad”)

You can find it on page 43 of the PDF version of “Good and Cheap”. (This wonderful cookbook is a free download at leannebrown.com.) In the print version of “Good and Cheap”, it’s on page 32.

Ingredient Notes
This is a super-easy recipe that takes:

  • eggplant
  • tahini
  • lemon juice
  • green onion

I didn’t deviate from the ingredient list, but I did use fresh dill, one of the suggested additions.

How Did It Taste?
Really good! The combination of the tahini with the lemon and dill is the perfect offset to the eggplant, which tends to be a little bland.

One hint: slice the eggplant about 1/4″ thick. Any thinner and they tend to get a little crispy on the edges.

Time and Money
The recipe knocks together in about ten minutes flat, and then you just need to wait for the eggplant to broil.

The total cost was $3.32, which works out to $1.66 per serving. One of the things that helped make this recipe very cheap was the fact that I grew my own dill this spring. More on that below…

The Secret Lives of Herbs
Back in March, when we were busy noshing on Banana Pancakes, I decided to try planting my own culinary herbs as an additional money-saving technique. I bought seeds for dill, rosemary and basil.

The dill came up right away, and grew beautifully. The basil also came up right away, and grew well as long as it was indoors. I’ve tried planting it twice now, and have managed — both times — to kill it by taking it outside.

The sullen and pouty rosemary didn’t even sprout.

My conclusions from this experiment are that rosemary is probably best purchased as a plant from a greenhouse, and that basil is growable but infinitely fussy, and happiest leading a sheltered life inside the house.

And that’s the end of this week’s eggplant/aubergine story, with a side trip to herbs. Thanks for tuning in, and come back later this week, when we toss beets and chickpeas together to make the world’s most colorful salad!

Dollars and Cents: May 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 31 days in the month, but I had houseguests for seven of those days. This meant that my total grocery budget in May was $252.

I was a little nervous. I’d done really well in April, but I know full well that I’m the poster child for panicking and buying too much food when company comes.

And … that’s exactly what I did. Although I consider my restaurant and potluck spending to have been quite good in May, I really went hog wild on the grocery end of things.

The Small Bright Spot
The $31.34 you see below represents one lunch for myself and my sister at A&W, and my contribution to one potluck dinner. I’m happy with this expenditure and I don’t think I could bring it down a whole lot lower.

Actual grocery expenditures = $311.38 (ouch)
Restaurants and potluck  = $31.34
Grand total = $342.72

When everything is tallied up, my total food spending in May was $342.72. That’s $90.72 and 36% over budget. (Percentage-wise, it looks better than I thought.)

(Spoiler Alert: Things got better in June.)
Even though I spent a lot in May, I managed not to let a lot of fresh produce go bad, and some of the biggest-ticket items I bought came out of the frozen food section in the supermarket. That means they’ve been there for me to use up in June and July, helping to even out my over-spending.

I can’t say that I learned anything particularly frugal over the course of May, and I still believe that it’s important to have lots of food in the house when you’ve got guests. In my case, I was feeding anywhere from three to seven people at any given time, so flexibility was important.

Plus, there’s that whole “feeding your soul” bit, as cheesy as it sounds. You can’t beat the magic that happens with a gang of your cousins — over a plate of olives, some quality cheese and bottle of wine — while laughing your head off at some crazy piece of family history. Budget or no budget, I’d never want to cheap out on that.signature

Dollars and Cents: April 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.

With 30 days in the month, my total grocery budget in April was $180.

Having completely blown it in March, I was determined to do better in April. Drumroll, please …

I did it! I got through the month of April with grocery expenditures of $153.39. Not only is that below my $180 target, it’s slightly under $4 US per day, which would work out to $155.26 CDN for the month. Yay!

What Made the Difference?
I wish I knew — then I could replicate it. Sheer determination might have played a role. I know that I was very careful every time I walked into a food store. But I also know that prices for fresh produce have started to come down in my hometown of Edmonton, which is great news for us prairie frugalistas.

Less Dough in the Resto
The $68.73 you see below represents two restaurant meals and my contribution to one potluck dinner. (I also bought myself lunch in an A&W one weekend day when I was about to pass out from hunger, but I counted that as part of my grocery bill.) I’m happy with this degree of spending on dining out.

Actual grocery expenditures = $153.39
Restaurants and potluck  = $68.73
Grand total = $222.12

So, when we crunch the numbers, my total food spending in April was $222.12 and a mere 23% over budget. This is the best I’ve done so far.

What’s Changed?
I’m still cooking a lot, which is good. Beyond that, April was a crazy busy month for me, so I can’t say that have any new culinary insights. Those thirty days just seemed to whiz by in a haze.

One thing I did do in April was to write myself three little scratchpad inventories: what’s perishable, what’s in the freezer and what’s in the pantry. As I’ve mentioned before, I live in a communal household, so it’s really simple to forget you’ve bought something. And then buy it again. And again. When I did the inventory, I was quite surprised to see how much food I had actually stockpiled in the pantry.

I’m a little anxious about how I’m going to manage my spending in May. I hosted Mother’s Day lunch this past weekend, and I have houseguests coming for roughly seven days.However, with more people in the house, that means I get to spend more on food. And that just might work out in my favour … I’ll let you know next month. Thanks for tuning in!signature

Dollars and Cents: March 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 in the month, my total grocery budget in March was $186.

When I posted my February spending, I set a goal not to go over budget more than 20%. I am sure there’s an old Gaelic proverb somewhere that says “If you set ambitious goals, don’t post them in a blog, because you’ll look silly if you blow it.”

If you haven’t guessed by now, I blew it in a big way. March found me spending freely in restaurants on three occasions. However, I was determined not to go over budget on actual groceries by more than 20%, and I managed to squeak across that finish line with 88 cents to spare.

What To Do, What To Do?
I’ve had multiple discussions with myself about how to handle restaurant spending during this year-long project, all with no clear resolution. When I decided to do this, I knew that I would need to make some lifestyle changes but I didn’t necessarily expect my friends and  family to have to go along with me every step of the way.

So … as hypocritical as it might appear right now, I won’t expect everyone in my social circle to give up eating in restaurants if they want to spend time with me. And I won’t entirely give up eating in restaurants. As I move into the second quarter of the year, I’ll try to keep the dining out toned down but I’m going to focus primarily on my grocery bill.

A Note About Restaurants
That $159.56 you see below represents three meals: one in an upscale restaurant and two in more modest establishments.

And I have to tell you that I spent the money in that upscale restaurant without an ounce of regret. It was the birthday of a very dear friend, the food was fabulous and the service impeccable. Truth be told, I’d much rather spend $100 on one really memorable meal than $100 on five mediocre meals.

Actual grocery expenditures = $222.32
Restaurants = $159.56
Grand total = $381.88

So, when we crunch the numbers, my total food spending in March was 195.88 and a full 105% over budget. *ouch*

What’s Changed For Me?
Although the numbers for March are not that impressive (at all), I’m finding that I’ve become significantly more conscious about not wasting food. “Good and Cheap” has been instrumental in getting me to stretch my brain and think creatively about how I handle those bits of extra zucchini, pepper, onions and so on.

I’m also cooking more than I have in years, which has led to the happy fact that I’m consuming a lot less packaged and processed food.

As we close this post off, my goal plan for April is to not spend more than $180 on groceries. In the meantime, I’ll continue to work my way through the “Soup and Salad” chapter. What’s up next? A curried squash soup — yum!