Saturday, September 26, 2015

Cashew Rice Pilaf 4 College Cooking

Pilafs are awesome for college cooking and off-campus living--cheap ingredients, quick to make and little skill needed! Better yet, most of us have the essential ingredients in our pantries at all times, i.e. rice, spaghetti, bouillon, butter and a partial, half-used onion somewhere waiting to be used up!

How many of you have made partial spaghetti or angel hair pasta and are left with a half box of pasta; or, cut up only half an onion--well, here you go to leaving no waste behind!! This is one way to make rice taste completely different while using up any leftover ingredients sitting in your pantry or fridge!!

Being frugal in college with your budget means figuring out how to use every item on your grocery list so that nothing goes rotten or spoiled!! 

Spaghetti in a pilaf dish is typical for Armenian-style pilaf and the flavor profile is further enhanced if you can use a basmati-rice…but, if all you have is a regular long-grain white rice…this will do! Do not delay if it means waiting to try this simple recipe as a side-dish tonight!

The original recipe calls for hazelnuts, but I them bitter and felt that cashews lend a warmer, buttery flavor to the dish. I would also consider adding thinly sliced green onions to the dish right before serving…just because!

(Adapted from Cooking Light's September 2015 magazine)

Cashew Rice Pilaf 4 College Cooking

3-5 quart saucepan with lid (Green Pan from Sur La Table are fantastic and versatile)
Wooden Spoon
Small skillet to brown cashews or briefly toast them in a toaster oven.

1 Tbls butter
1 Tbls olive oil
2 oz of thin spaghetti, broken in 2" pieces
1 cup chicken broth (use bouillon and hot water if need)
1/2 cup uncooked white or basmati rice
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp pepper, fresh if possible
1/4 cup toasted cashews, chopped
1/3 cup green onions, thinly sliced (optional)

1. Wash your hands.
2. Prep the ingredients, i.e. break the spaghetti, prep the broth, measure rice.

3. Heat the butter and oil. 
4. Add the spaghetti once butter is melted and cook for 3-4 minutes until golden brown.

5. Add rice, chicken broth, 1/2 tsp salt, and pepper to the pasta and stir.
6. Bring to a boil and cover with a lid. 

7. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for appox 15 minutes until the liquid is absorbed.
8. While rice is cooking, toast your cashews and chop. Watch carefully!!

9. Fluff the rice with a fork.

10. Add cashews and green onions right before serving.

Great addition to fish or chicken and there is nothing more comforting than a bowl of rice pilaf at the end of the day…all by itself!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Fifty Fifty Burger

This past month I purchased a fantastic book that addresses the epidemic of poverty and hunger within our country and the struggle so many people face living at poverty-level. 

Focused predominantly on vegetarian meals, when meat is included in the recipes, the author identifies ways to maximize or stretch its use. If you are trying to survive on a low college budget, or are struggling to eat at all, as anyone on the $4 / day meal budget that SNAP dollars allow, this book could be the best purchase you ever make: 
Good and Cheap / By Leanne Brown 
Additionally, if you buy a copy, one copy is donated to a family in need!

In this recipe today, Leanne Brown takes a pound of ground beef and stretches it into 8 massive burgers by adding lentils and red pepper to the meat.  I supplemented with some grated sweet potato, onion, and a leftover heel of sharp cheddar cheese; and, definitely include the egg to hold it all together!

Needless to say this is an awesome recipe to have for college cooking and college savings! Great way to fill your freezer for future use!

The Fifty Fifty Burger
Total Cost: $0.90-1.10 / burger (includes bun)
Total Burgers: 8-9 patties

Mixing Bowl
Non-stick Skillet

1 lb. ground beef
1 cup dry green or brown lentils, cooked (approx 2-3 cups cooked)
1/3 sweet potato, grated
1/3 onion, grated
1/4 red pepper, finely diced
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1 egg
1 tsp salt 
Garlic salt, optional
Fresh pepper

1. Wash your hands.
2. Cover 1 cup lentils with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cover x 20 minutes. until tender.

3. Drain lentils and allow to cool.

4. Grate cheese, sweet potato and onion. Dice the red pepper.
5. Combine the meat, chopped and grated veggies, cheese, and egg.

6. Add 1 tsp of garlic powder, salt and pepper.

7. Mix well and form into equal patties.

8. Heat skillet with olive oil and sear patties until golden brown.

9. Put it all together and freeze the rest!

Wrap the patties in seran wrap or wax paper and store in freezer bag. 
Save for a rainy day or an empty college wallet!

Friday, September 18, 2015

College Menu Planning 4 Low Income

One of the best ways anyone can stick to a low income budget, such as a tight college budget, is to plan ahead. How do you stretch your dollars when you have none to little income? Why does it matter? I'm in college…YOLO, right?

Let's say, you randomly spend $200 a week for hungry, impulse-prone, thoughtless grocery shopping, plus eating out, plus weekend tailgating, and/or buying beer--this will add $9600 to your student debt and college loans (or credit cards)--UGH!--for one year--UGH!UGH!UGH! Multiply by four years, provided you graduate on time, and you have now increased your financial burden by $38400--OUCH!!!

Hopefully the debt you are accumulating is paying for more than food and parties; and, remember, the interest you'll pay back on this loan is more than interest on a car loan or getting a mortgage! YIKES!!  Yes, it SUCKS! 

And, it doesn't stop there! Once you graduate and get a job, your loan repayments kick in and tug at your hard earned money,i.e. car payment, rent, insurance, utilities, cell phone, water / garbage--all on you--parents have nothing to do with it! 

Be smart right now! Buy what you need and eat what you buy! Leave no waste behind when it comes to your college budget!

Yes, this isn't fair, but this is reality!

I may not have all the solutions, but start practicing thoughtful spending and budgeting in all aspects of independent living--plan your menu, find a decent grocery store, use a few coupon apps, buy in bulk, buy only what you will truly eat, and scour the stores for sales. Most importantly, STICK TO YOUR MENU and Grocery List…even if college debt cannot be wiped out completely by frugal shopping, at least it won't be exacerbated.

Thoughts To Consider

1. Learn some basic cooking skills.

2. Set 30 minutes aside on Friday or Saturday to plan your week. 

3. Goal: use everything you buy at the grocery store--maximize each purchase!

4. Learn to estimate prices at different stores and know their SALE days.

5. Stick to your menu and grocery plan.

6. Take a look at the examples below.  Feel free to use the menu, modify it, throw it out--just make one.

7. Every so often I will lay-out different menu ideas to fit low-income living.

(The menus assume that you have at least some basic cooking skills, basic pantry items and staples, either accumulated or brought from home--things most people and kitchens always have on hand!

The Menu This Week
Approximate grocery total outside of Chicago: $65-$70
Total: 28 meals 
Cost: $2.35-2.50 / meal

  • Pancakes (Bisquick Mix) with jam, syrup, powdered sugar / 8 oz milk
  • Make additional Pocket Pancakes to freeze for later.
  • Pasta Bake with Penne / Arugula Salad with lemon, olive oil, vinegar, parmesan
  • Freeze 2/3 in 2 separate containers for later.
  • Turkey Tacos (for tacos or taco salad or tortillas) / Roasted Broccoli 1/3
  • Freeze 2/3 in 2 separate containers for later.
  • Cut up carrots and celery for the rest of the week.
  • Celery with PB for snack / 8 oz milk
  • 1/2 cup oatmeal + 1/2 cup milk with cinnamon sugar / Fruit
  • PB & J Sandwich / Carrot sticks / Apple
  • 1/3 Burger with bun, cheese, condiments / Oven-Fries 
  • Freeze one remaining burger patty / Sear one additional patty for lunch tomorrow.
  • Popcorn with parmesan
  • 1/2 cup oatmeal + 1/2 cup milk with cinnamon sugar / Fruit
  • Baked potato with 1/2 cup cottage cheese
  • Quesadillas with cheese and seared red peppers / onions / Celery Sticks
  • Make extra quesadillas for lunch tomorrow / cut a few extra red pepper sticks
  • Popcorn with parmesan
  • Microwave Pancake Pockets / 8 oz milk
  • Quesadillas Leftovers / Red pepper / carrots / celery
  • Thaw one container of Turkey Taco Meat / Chips & Salsa
  • Apple with P.B.
You Did It!!!
  • Did you know that the federal assistance program called SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) allots for $4 / person / day in additional dollars, i.e. $28 / week or $112 / month for your food??  $65-$70 per week sounds pretty good after all!
  • Even couples making $2000 / month with a rent of $750 / month will not qualify! Are you kidding me? 
  • Did the person creating this program ever try living on $4 / day in the 21st century??
  • We should all consider ourselves very fortunate if we can afford more--stuff to think about!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Turkey Tacos Stretched 4 College Cooking

It is tremendously sobering to realize what it means to be living below the poverty level and trying to make ends meet on a minimum wage income! Dollars that are supposed to supplement families' or couples' struggling in this area are allotted $28 dollars per week per person towards groceries--that is, if you qualify, i.e. $1500.00 combined Gross (not Net) income of 2 people AND you may not own any assets AND you must rent an apartment, house or room!!

Just think about this! What if you don't work? That's it! That is your grocery budget!
How would you survive on $28 per person each week? Very challenging! 

In an attempt to raise my own awareness on some of these poverty and hunger situations in the US, I attended a conference focused on 'Cooking On A Very Tight Budget', which basically addresses how to create nutritious, healthy, satisfying, and cheap meals to fit that very budget of $28 per person per week.

The recipe below highlights one such recipe that stretches your protein/meat (the most expensive ingredient in a grocery budget) without sacrificing value or nutrition. It is intended as a taco meat option, but can also be used as a turkey chili or filling for a burrito! I simplified the process by simply adding store-bought Taco Seasoning in case you don't have the spices! 

You should have enough food for several meals, or to share, or to save in the freezer! Easily!

(Adapted from Healthy Lives Healthy Kitchens Conference & Share Our Strength / Cooking Matters)

Turkey Tacos
Cost: $12.50 Total
8 Servings @ $1.59 / serving

Large non-stick skillet
Can opener

1 lb ground turkey
1 carrot, grated
1 small sweet potato, grated
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed (or kidney, pinto, white beans)
1 can diced tomatoes with juice
1 packet Taco Seasoning
Salt & Pepper to taste

16 Taco Shells or Tortillas
8 oz Cheddar Cheese, grated
1/2 ice berg lettuce, chopped
Tomato, diced 

1. Wash your hands.
2. Prep all of your ingredients: 
  • Grate carrot and sweet potato
  • Drain and rinse black beans
  • Have canned tomatoes ready with juices
  • Grate cheddar
  • Shred lettuce and dice fresh tomato
  • Small jalapeƱo, grated

3. In a large skillet, heat 1-2 tsp of olive oil and brown turkey meat.

4. Add grated carrot and sweet potato.

5. Add beans and canned tomatoes.

6. Add seasoning packet and 1/2 cup water.

7. Adjust salt & pepper.
8. Simmer until thickens x 10-15 minutes.

9. Heat your tacos or tortillas, or make a salad.
10. Set the table and assemble with cheddar, lettuce, and tomato in a taco or tortilla!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Coolest Cucumbers

I know I have posted a cucumber recipe prior, but sometimes when you find a variation or upgrade you gotta let people know. 

My mom sent me this recipe from my sister-in-law who is a tremendous cook--you may not think much of it, that is, until you taste it and see the price tag: $1.86 total! 3 Servings! $0.65/serving. 

It doesn't get any cheaper than that for college cooking and low-income meals! These are cheap and common ingredients require no skills or equipment, but the flavors will blow your mind! 

Great addition to burgers, grilling and for get togethers. I only made this with 1/3 of the ingredients, but I have posted the original amounts in case there are multiple mouths to feed! 

Check out how this recipe fits into your weekly menu plan, grocery shopping and college budget on the blog this week!

(Recipe adapted from Alison Bandy)

Coolest Cucumber Salad

Large mixing bowl
Small mixing bowl

3 English cucumbers, thinly sliced
1 large Vidalia onion
1 Tbls kosher salt

1 cup sugar
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 tsp celery seed
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)

1. Wash your hands and cucumbers.
2. Thinly slice cucumbers and onions.

3. In a large mixing bowl, sprinkle salt on cucumbers and onion slices. Set aside covered x 60 min. in the fridge.

4. Mix vinegar, sugar, celery seed and mustard with a whisk in a small bowl.

5. After 60 minute chilling, drain excess liquid from cucumber-onion mix. 
6. Pour vinegar dressing over cucumbers.

7. Chill until ready to serve!