Posts tagged: budget meals
March 30, 2011

Red Lentil Soup with Spinach and Lemon

Is it just me, or is it as hard to properly eat this time of year as it is to get dressed? One day we’re bundling up in our down coats and craving spaghetti and meatballs, and the next day the scent of hyacinths is in the air and we’re craving big, fresh salads. It’s a shape-shifting season. You got to be ready to roll with it (as much as you just really, really want to wear your new sandals).

That’s why I like this soup, which features one of my favorite ingredients in the world: lentils. The red variety falls apart and becomes velvety soft, but the whole affair is brightened with spring greens and puckery lemon. I like to think of it as a marriage of opposites for this strange period of season-straddling: hearty warmth meets vibrancy and light.

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December 15, 2010

$5 Dinner: Pasta and Bean Soup


Now, I’m no Italian donna. I grew up on tomato sauce in a jar and spaghetti cut with a knife. So I’ll freely admit up front that I’m no bastion of Italian tradition. Be that as it may, I do know that a bowl of pasta e fagioli is one of the most comforting dinners on earth, even for a Scotch-Irish girl like me. Homey and rich without being heavy, this is a supper that fills the house with good scents and makes you really feel like you’re doing something for your own good. Ideally, a mother would make this and bring you a bowl on the couch, along with a cup of milky sweet tea or a glass of wine and ask if you’d like a blanket or need the pillows behind your back rearranged. But as is, just made and served by you, it is still a comforting wonder.

Let us not overlook that the comfort comes not just at the end, when you’re leaning over the bowl and lifting a spoonful of fragrant broth to your lips. It begins at the cutting board, when you are standing there chopping (hacking?) away at carrot, onion and celery. I find that’s a good a way as any to dissolve the anxieties of the day.

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November 22, 2010

$5 Dinner: Spaghetti with Pepper and Cheese & Spicy, Lemony Broccoli


Sometimes I’m a guest on radio shows about various lifestyle topics I feel really passionate about, like how to live a life that feels luxe without breaking the bank. Recently, I was on a show talking about saving money on groceries in November. The segment idea was based on the cost of the holiday meal itself. Many hosts are spending the equivalent of their entire monthly grocery budget on a single meal. And that means having to get by with less than usual on the rest of your meals this month.

Some people know that terrified let’s-rub-two-pennies-together-and-call-it-dinner feeling. It is an insistent, heavy stress to not know where how you’re going to get by. This weekend, when my own future looked uncertain, these old familiar feelings came rushing back, as dogged and insidiously intimate as ever. It’s as if your normal thoughts of are now overlaid with a pertinacious sense of dread. Worry trails you everywhere. On a walk in the park: The yellow leaves sure look pretty. How am I ever going to pay the rent? It’s an unrelenting downer of a companion.

But I had the feeling that the radio host I was talking to had never been in this situation. He couldn’t understand being so low on money that you choose to make your own wholesome, homemade bread with pantry ingredients instead of buying a supermarket loaf for $3.99. His version of roughing it was a grocery store rotisserie chicken. He had probably never chosen dried beans over canned; the necessity of that choice for some was lost on him.

And that’s fine, in a way. I wouldn’t wish the feeling of grocery store poverty on anyone. To worry constantly about money is to lug over your shoulder a sack of bricks that you have to carry everywhere; it immediately affects all aspects of your quality of life. But I did feel, talking to this fellow on the radio, that it is a real badge of honor, and an important life skill to know how to still make your life feel beautiful, your home cozy, and your relationships nurtured with no money. It involves a little creativity sometimes, and often a bit of extra elbow grease. But to know how to create something out of nothing is to feel armed with the sense that you can provide for yourself and the people around you no matter what. And that’s a feeling I wish on everyone.

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November 12, 2010

$5 Dinner: Tuna Noodle Casserole


I have you to thank for this one. When we got to talking about the foods of our childhood, so many of you mentioned tuna noodle casserole. Growing up, this wasn’t a staple in my house––tuna macaroni salad, on the other hand, is another story––and I’m not even sure I’ve ever had this piece of Americana. So when you were all waxing poetic about your memories, I started to feel a little left out. How different would life be if I had grown up on this casserole classic? One wonders. One really, really wonders.

So I made this for supper on Wednesday night. It was creamy and comforting and a great bolster for a cold, already-dark-at-5pm evening. I washed it down with a malty Blue Point Toasted Lager, which I don’t think I have to tell you was the perfect accompaniment.

If budget weren’t such an issue, I would love to try this again with artichoke hearts, red pepper, and scallions. You know, fancy it up a bit. But with pocket change and a husband in favor of a low vegetable-to-creaminess ratio, this version did the trick. (“I could eat this every night,” he declared. “Even without the tuna.”) Besides, I’m not sure a gussied-up version would have put me in touch with such an illustrious and storied culinary tradition. I’m glad to have now joined the club.

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