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!

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

Beet and Chickpea Salad

Hello and Happy Friday! We’re closing out the week with a vividly-colored salad that will look smashing at summertime dinner parties and potlucks. (The fact that it’s dirt simple to make and really inexpensive will be your little secret.)

beet+chickpea salad

Pretty in Pink: Beet and Chickpea Salad

You can find it on page 53 of the PDF version of “Good and Cheap”. (This wonderful cookbook is a free download at In the print version of “Good and Cheap”, it’s on page 33. And by the way, you can find the print version at most libraries. (Strathcona County, my home library, has seven copies.)

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

  • beets
  • chickpeas
  • peanuts
  • olive oil
  • lime juice
  • chili sauce

Contrary to the instructions, I took the traditional route and boiled the beets prior to peeling them. I also added some fresh dill, because I think it goes well with beets. (And because I had a pot of dill that was growing out of control.)

How Did It Taste?
I’ve made this twice and both times, proudly served it to guests. It’s an unusual combination of flavours, but it’s very good. A couple of thoughts:

  • I tried the recipe once with canned chickpeas and once with dried chickpeas that I’d cooked from scratch. The scratch ones taste much better and it’s really not that much work.
  • The dressing component calls for a teaspoon of chili sauce. I think that’s too much. I’d cut back to at least half a teaspoon (or less) and increase the amount of lime juice. You can also add some lime zest.

Time and Money
The recipe knocks together in about twenty minutes and the total cost was $3.09. This served three people quite comfortably, so I’ll peg it at $1.03 per serving.

Interestingly, this is one of those rare instances when the price per serving is actually much cheaper what’s quoted in “Good and Cheap”. ($1.75 per serving.)

A Little DIY — Using Dried Chickpeas
Here’s how you cook with dried chickpeas, in two easy steps.

  1. Measure your chickpeas into a bowl. The ratio is roughly 2:1. For example, if your recipe is asking for a cup of chickpeas, use a half cup of the dried ones. Cover the chickpeas with water and let them soak overnight.
  2. The next morning, drain the chickpeas, put them in a saucepan and cover again with water. Put the saucepan onto medium heat and bring to a boil, then simmer for about ninety minutes. Once you’ve hit the one-hour mark, check the chickpeas for firmness every fifteen minutes.

And that is literally it. Try it! You won’t be disappointed. These ones have a rich creaminess that is totally absent from the canned version. And (no surprise) they’re much cheaper.

Ta dah! We’ve now come to the end of today’s colorful salad report. Thanks for reading all the way down here. Next up is a look at how the dollars and cents of this experiment played out in the month of June. But until then, have yourself a very good weekend!

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 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