Eating Cheaply Eating well by Cooking your own Meals

It’s more of a guideline than a rule: feed a single person well for $10 a week. Laid off for a month now, I’ve been scrimping. It does not come naturally.

I’m eating a more varied diet, more nutritionally sound and more delicious than when time cost more than food. The guidelines: (1) Spend no more than $10 per week. Okay, $12. Sometimes $15. No more. (2) Try to keep it local, organic, real.

In Hollywood on an errand, I found a little Armenian grocery store with a greengrocer’s around the corner from it. I went to the greengrocer’s first.

Cherries-gorgeous, and amazingly, $2 per pound. I filled a huge bag. Two oranges as big as a three-month-old baby’s head. Green pears, nearly ripe. I bought two. Three apricots clearly from real trees: sweet and flavorful but slightly marked skin, not the perfect-looking but grainy-and-bland store-kind. Three bananas.

All that for $13, and the bulk of it was the cherries at $7.45. This is a big ole pile of fruit. Sadly, it’s not organic, but I’ll wash it in Environne this time and support the organic farmers next time.

At the little grocery store, I found unwrapped fresh bread on a rack, still warm from the oven. This skateboard-long, snowboard-wide slab of fragrant air is mine, all mine. I want to bury my face in it.

Low-salt feta for $2 per pound. Conserving resources, I got a half-pound. At the same counter, I ordered my coffee: “Half a pound, please.” “Dark?” she asks. “Yes, dark, please.” Hot from the grinder, it’s weighty in its plain white paper bag with COFFEE printed in red. It’s beautiful. Its perfume is intoxicating.

Warm bread, good cheese, and coffee: $7. The fruit may last two weeks. The coffee, four weeks. The bread and cheese, well, the bread should be gone in a couple of days.

The cheese lasted all week. I used the last of it in a salad: organic field greens, $4 at Smart and Final, $6 at Ralphs. (I used about $1 of it); a quarter can of hearts of palm, a PLP (Pre-Layoff Purchase); cauliflower, broccoli and carrots from a giant bag from S&F for $3.50 (I used about $.30); chopped onion, S&F at ten cents per pound, not organic but USA grown; wild Alaskan salmon from the 99-cent store; a splash of salad dressing also from S&F, and the cheese. It was delish. For about $2.50.

Not everyone likes beans, but I do. Their musical attribute can be reduced with overnight soaking, and if you keep on eating them as part of your regular diet, diminishes. Or so my vegetarian friends tell me. I’m not a vegetarian myself; more of a flexitarian.

I googled beans and found a recipe that sounded interesting. Not able to lay my hands on hog jowl, I scouted S&F for alternatives. And lo, Italian turkey sausage came forth on sale.

Fresh turkey Italian sausage for $3.50. A one-pound package of great northern beans for $.99. That pound of onions for $.10. I had a PLP box of beef broth.

The day before cooking I put my beans on to soak. The next day I cut the sausage into rounds and browned them olive oil. Added a chopped onion and two cloves of garlic, deglazed the pan with a little beef broth, poured four cups of water and the rest of the box of beef broth over the rinsed beans and added the contents of the frying pan. Brought it to boil.

After reducing the heat I added salt and pepper, and since I prefer spicy food, some crushed red pepper flakes. Also a quarter teaspoon of dried tarragon. I simmered it for four hours. I thought that the meat would become flavorless, but that did not happen. Instead, I got amazing beans. Four dinners and two lunches from a pound each of beans and turkey sausage. Total cost: under $5.

With steamed veggies and bread that survived the “warm bread and amazing cheese”-fest, it was perfect.

Next, S&F had cage-free eggs and organic milk, each for $1 less than at Ralphs. I found a half-pound of Irish Swiss cheese for $4.35, to make a quiche.

I used no crust since I’m certainly not going to make one, and buying one would have gone over budget. First, caramelized onions, cooked slowly in butter, past translucent to golden brown, but slowly to bring out the sugars without burning.

I mixed the cooled onion and cheese with a double handful of chopped veggies. Two cups of milk and three eggs, salt and pepper, and for tradition, a little nutmeg, beaten together. Poured it over the cheese and veggies in the pie pan, and baked at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

A nice big filling quiche, good with a hunk of bread or a nice little salad. One day, I even made a sandwich from it. It lasted for six meals and kept beautifully.

Eggs, $.90. Cheese, $4.35. Milk, butter, onion and veggies, about $1.00. Total: $6.25 for six lunches and dinners.

I’m winning the game.