Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cactus and potatoes, anyone? (Nopalitos con papas)

How about some black beans and quinoa (keen-wa) on the side? With homemade tortillas?

This is another of our trusty el cheapo meals. Super-healthy, totally meat-free, tons of flavor and most important, it makes a lot for very little money.

Really, potatoes are pretty inexpensive. The jar of cactus isn't more than a few bucks. I used dried black beans and quinoa, which is an ancient grain grown by the Incas, fluffs up a lot like rice- again, pretty good bang for your buck. I keep most of the spices used on hand in my cabinet and only have to replace those every few months.

My favorite part of this meal is the tortillas, made from dried masa harina. I get at least a few hundred tortillas out of every bag.

For the tortillas, I get to use my great-grandmother's tortilla press, given to me by my dad. It's probably my most prized piece of kitchen equipment, for the simple reason that she used it.
I can crank out a pile of tortillas in a fairly short amount of time for probably pennies.
One of my main requirements for an inexpensive meal is that it also be fairly healthy, and this one certainly is. Quinoa is actually a complete protein, all on its own. Paired with the black beans, it packs a double whammy. It's low-fat and full of fiber. The potatoes and cactus with onion and jalepenos are one of my favorite side-dishes.

I've been craving English muffins for a LONG time. The chewy, toasty, craggy little wonders I grew up on. Since I'm not about to fork over what they're asking for that little box in the grocery store, I found an Alton Brown recipe online and gave it a try today. Except for a few hiccups, it went off pretty much without a hitch, and my kids devoured two egg sandwiches each ( I had mine with Smart Balance and peach preserves:).

When hubby came home pouted about there not being any left, it went into the permanant recipe file.

First, I needed to come up with a ring. I decided to sacrifice some old, expired canned peas that actually moved with us last year. They're actually still good ( if canned peas could ever be considered "good"), and are in the fridge awaiting reincarnation in some split pea soup. I cut them down with my trusty Cutco scissors. I did neglect to grease them however ( not in the directions) and paid for that when the time came to free them. I ended up with about nine muffins that, I have to admit weren't bad for a first run. All in all, I'd call this one a success. I definitely plan on investing in some "real" rings as soon as I can, though, because judging from the kids' reaction, we'll be having these often ;).

Back to Basics

When we put our house up for sale and moved 600 mi. across the country last year, we didn't count on the economy tanking and the housing market stagnating. A year later, we continue to pay the mortgage on our house back home and rent here. Needless to say, we're a little strapped for cash these days.
I've always enjoyed cooking. From the time I was old enough to sit on a stool in my grandma's warm, tiny little apartment kitchen or on my mom's counter and stir a pot, it's fascinated me.
I've always cooked. Early on, my dad was sweet enough to eat my mistakes ( he swore up and down that he loved burnt cookies). As time went on I eventually worked my way up to making meals for my family as a teenager. When I was fourteen, I decided to become a vegetarian. I learned all about balanced nutrition and vegetarian cooking.
When my firstborn came along with multiple food allergies ( to dairy, egg, chocolate, peanuts, tree nuts and kiwi), I had to learn the art of substitution. I must have spent a good year reading labels and hunting down elusive ingredients in health food stores.
I finally got it down. (Thankfully, he's since outgrown all but tree nuts and peanuts, though we did recently discover an allergy to okra).
We've pretty much run the culinary gauntlet.
Recently, because of our financial situation we've really pared down our grocery budget, so it's back to basics. I've begun making our own bread ( I even pulled off homemade hamburger buns). Today, I tried my hand at homemade English muffins ( thank you, Alton Brown).
I'm trying my hand at making things most of us never really would even think to attempt. Need egg noodles? They're in the freezer section or dried in the pasta aisle. Need bread? Swing by the store on the way home and grab a loaf. Pizza? The number's on speed dial.
I've recently discovered that not only are these things pretty stinkin' easy to make at home, they're ALWAYS cheaper and ALWAYS taste better. I'm going to use this blog to chronicle my hits and misses with inexpensive, back-to-basics, healthy cooking.