Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I Got More Spice Than the Frugal Gourmet

This time, without pedophilia scandal! I know, I'm no fun.

I participate (with tepid enthusiasm these days, sorry) on a gaming forum called f13.net in which I started Voodoolily's Snacktastic Cooking Thread awhile back. Yesterday I saw the following post by a member:

I get food bank access once a month and I'm trying to make it last as long as possible. Any suggestions about what to do with the following items would be helpful:

3x cans of green beans
1 head of cabbage
1 can of corn
1 can of chili (no meat)
2 bags of lentils
1 can of tuna
1 can of salmon
1 can of albacore
1 small onion

I looked at it for a bit, thought about how my culinary point of view was formed by being poor when I was a kid, and again, later, when I was a struggling college student living on a 15-hours-a-week coffee shop job.

Me, 50 feet up a bigleaf maple in 1995

Back then I was a vegetarian, so I could get a bag of groceries for about $10. Beans, rice, a loaf of wheat bread and fresh peanut butter from the grinder were staples. A sack of curry powder, oregano (not that kind), garlic, salt and pepper were the only seasonings I had, unless I pillaged the neighbor's herb garden a few blocks away. Luckily, everyone in SE Portland seems to grow rosemary and sage in their front yard, and besides, I only took a sprig or two at a time, and only from the part of the bush nearest the sidewalk.

I felt that I could help this poster eat a few good meals on a dime, or that I should at least try. Assuming my food-banking friend has access to basic staples, I would start with making a salad of 1/2 cup of the lentils (cooked al dente should yield about 3/4-1 cup), 1/2 can of the tuna, and half can of the green beans. Dressing can be made simply from olive oil, white wine (or other mild) vinegar, a spoonful of brown mustard (or mustard powder), and some salt and pepper. If the tuna came packed in oil, you could use that for the dressing. A diced, hardboiled egg could be sprinkled on top for extra richness. Gilding the (Voodoo)lily would be to include grilled garlic scapes and a drizzle of truffle oil.

Cabbage goes nice and sweet when it's roasted, so I would slice half the cabbage and half the onion into thin slices, salt and pepper it, drizzle with oil and roast until slightly browned and sweet. This would be nice to eat Cantonese-style with a simple sauce of vinegar, soy sauce, corn starch, ginger, garlic, salt and sugar. A little sesame oil would be nice if it was just lying around the pantry. This could be eaten with some steamed or poached egg and a bowl of rice. Gilding the (Voodoo)lily would be to include stir-fried dou miao (pea shoots) and plump, wild-caught prawns or diver scallops.

I really don't know what to do with canned green beans. I grew up eating them, the fuck boiled clean out of them in salted water with a splash of white vinegar and some bacon. This, in my opinion, is really the only way canned green beans are edible. Or as a casserole. Gilding the (Voodoo)lily would be to make a savory green bean galette with some egg custard and chopped pine nuts.

Anyways, this is a start. Gah, I can hardly remember what it's like to not have a real pantry to cook from, since I've been stockpiling good ingredients for years. Now, I could probably eat for two months off my stores. I should make more effort to utilize what I have and show a little solidarity with those affected by rising food costs. So should we all, I guess.


StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

This is a great post! I love your suggestions to that poster.

I know what you mean about stockpiling your pantry. My husband calls ours the Bermuda Triangle. I could feed a family of 4 for two months with what I have stashed in mine. It makes me feel a little guilty in light of the current state of affairs.

Making a meal solely from what is already in your pantry sounds like the makings of a great blogging event!

Peter G said...

I agree! You should create an event for this Heather. Call it "Gilding Gamers Gourmet"! Seriously though your suggestions sound great and man it would be hard to live like that. Hope they take your suggestions on board.

April in CT said...

I third the blogging event! Those were some great suggestions and makes me want to get out of my cooking funk. I made a meal so bad tonight I didn't even eat it. I think I need therapy.

Can I just come live there?

Emiline said...

Some good suggestions. Hope the gaming person is eating better these days.

I like the picture of you in the tree! You should go up in a redwood, next. Maybe you have already.

canarygirl said...

Great suggestions, Heather! How about a lentil stew? Lentils boiled up with onion, celery, carrot, potato, zucchs a little thyme, bay and pepper? Cabbage rolls filled with rice mixed with a small amount of ground meat of some kind in a tomato sauce, green beans tossed in a saute pan with a little garlic and pepper (the canned ones are pretty gross, though...maybe toss them into a soup or something, where the texture wouldn't be as noticable?) Good luck to the gamer...having to resort to the food bank is hard enough, but having to rely on the ingredients they choose for you is a challenge in itself. I do like the idea of a cooking event that requires us to use ingredients from our pantries.

Manggy said...

Well, no doubt you have more spice than the frugal gourmet-- hasn't he passed away already? :P (Hah, of course you're plenty spicy and we lovez you for it)

I love how the poster was asking for what you'd do with a small onion, as if we couldn't name 400 things to do with it off the top of out heads :D

Heather said...

Okay, you all, I'll do it. A blog event based on only using whatcha have. FB Challenge Post #4 will be it.

Em - I have been up a redwood. And a Douglas-fir, and an Oregon ash.

Nikki - I didn't want to suggest a lentil stew, because a) it's not very seasonally a propos, and b) it's so on the nose.

Mark - A small onion is already too little. They should give everyone a bag of onions. Also, you're plenty spicy. Wink emoticon.

Alex Rushmer said...

Love the title of this post. It sounds like a line from a Beastie Boys track.

kittie said...

Great post Heather.

This reminds me of my Store Cupboard Challenge I did earlier in the year - I managed to live from what was in my cupboards for over a month (only allowed to by minimal fresh produce...)

It wasn't that long ago - but I think I need to do it again :-S An event sounds cool!

peter said...

Wow. You really were a hippie. I was too, though a tad earlier. Being a vegetarian for so long really helped me learn how to cook.

Nikki Miller-Ka said...

I was a vegetarian in college. And a bit after.

No more big, illustrious dinners for friends until my ship rolls in. Or at least no dinners without a nominal fee. It used to be beer or wine for entrance. I might have to ask for donations next time.

Foodycat said...

Is there a difference between albacore and tuna? I just thought it was fancy tuna. You could probably chop half a can of green beans and mix them with the drained salmon and make fishcakes.

Lynn D. said...

If you qualify for food stamps I think you are allowed $3 per person per day. My husband and I tried to do this for a week. We allowed five free basic staples (your choice). It was hard at first but easier as the week went on. I also think it's easier the more people eat together.

Heather said...

Alex - I always watched the Frugal Gourmet when I was a kid, and love the Beastie Boys, so it was a gimme.

Kittie - I remember when you did that. We should all do it together. Maybe make it a week?

Jube - Being a vegetarian taught me a lot, for sure, but I'm a much better cook now.

Nikki - Big and illustrious don't always have to be in the same meal! Making a pot of chili can feed an army for a few bucks.

Foodycat - Albacore tuna is usually sold in more solid form in a tin, and is more expensive, whereas the regular canned tuna is usually bluefin tuna.

Lynn - $3/person/day is tight, but you're right about eating together being the secret.

Judy@nofearentertaining said...

Isn't that the truth about our pantries? Mine is so stocked along with my freezer that we don't even have to stock up on hurricane supplies during the season!!!

Great suggestions to that poster. I love what you did with the ingredients!

glamah16 said...

I was at first scared when I saw The Frugal Gourmet. I did love his show and was so disappointed in him.
Anyway, contest or no contest,this is one of the most excellent posts I have read in while. I think we all need to start being more creative and limited means.Nomatter what my finacial picture looks like, I try to adapt these principles.

maybelles parents said...

very thoughtful and interesting post.

Lo said...

I'm appreciating your perspective here -- and I've got to admit, you've done damn well with those suggestions.

(I LOVED the frugal gourmet before all the fuss ensued... sad, sad, sad)

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

He should also know about Angel Food Ministries - it provides once monthly boxes of a variety of foods for $45. Fresh meat and produce and a few processed things. It's designed to serve a family of four for one week or a single person for a couple of weeks. You don't have to be any particular religion and you don't have to prove economics, just want to do it. It's available online.

Leif erik Sundstrom said...

I too was once a vegetarian who ate with regular frugalarity. Food not bombs was a good friend for free produce on its way out. But I realized something once I re-embraced the wonderful world of the Omnivore - that while focusing on a Veg diet I restricted so much from myself. And by this I don't only mean meat, but food period. Bare cupboards and quality ingredients were somehow lumped into the same sin category as eating flesh. Stranger psychological tricks have occured, sure. But this is one that seems to play thematic with many poor vegies i know. It's not a matter of money either, what's up with denying ourselves food? SOOOOO not inot that anymore.


cook eat FRET said...

oh heather - great post. that was a really interesting read... made me think. and my pantry is out of control. and my fridge and freezer. really copious amounts of interesting and unusual and many (expensive) ingredients...

we are so lucky

Brittany said...

That picture is AWESOME. You look like you're selling veggie burritos at a dead show. Truly, a proper hippie.

Great post- I need to make more pantry dinners.

Maggie said...

I'm always stir frying and seasoning cabbage the same way, often with kimchee and an egg on top. I never thought about roasting it instead. I'm going to try it soon.