Sunday, June 6, 2010

easy meals on a budget

I helped my boyfriend, Erik, move into his new apartment this past week. Moving from a tiny room to a full two-bedroom apartment not only meant a need for more furniture, but kitchen utensils, dishes, and staple foods. I was more than happy to assist him in stocking his shelves. After grocery shopping we returned to his apartment, where he assembled a new lamp while I cooked dinner with the budget ingredients we had just purchased. There had been some great sales, such as whole wheat penne for $1.09 a box, $1 jars of marinara sauce, extra virgin olive oil for about $5, and fresh asparagus for $1.88 a pound. And we were especially excited about the small one-serving packages of seafood on sale for $1 a package. So what exactly did I assemble for dinner? Seafood Pasta and Roasted Asparagus. Yum. And so easy! I had the whole wheat penne cooking while I brushed a cookie sheet with olive oil, rolled the asparagus in the oil, and sprinkled them with sea salt. I placed thawed frozen scallops and salmon on the pan as well and stuck it in the oven at 425 degrees. The sauce was simple: I added a pinch of minced garlic and sprinkled some dried chopped onion into the jarred marinara sauce and cooked that up on the stove next to the pasta. Right before serving I mixed in the scallops. Within half an hour I had a fantastic meal ready for two.

The moral of this story: It doesn't have to take dozens of ingredients and complicated cooking techniques to make a hearty and healthy meal. Here are a few recipes and cooking tips that I think qualify as tasty, affordable, easy-to-make, and healthy. Enjoy!

Rice with Chickpeas and Tomatoes (from The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet by Nava Atlas)
- 1 cup uncooked brown rice
- 1 16-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1 16-oz can organic diced tomatoes, with liquid
- 2-3 scallions, sliced
- 1-2 tsp cumin
1. Bring 3 cups water to simmer in a large saucepan. Stir in the rice, cover, and simmer gently until the water is absorbed, about 35 minutes.
2. Stir the remaining ingredients into the rice and cook until everything is heated through. Serve at once.

Sweet Potato Fries (from The Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes Cookbook by Robin Robertson)
- 4 large sweet potatoes 
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/8 tsp ground pepper
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly oil a large baking sheet.
2. Peel the sweet potatoes, then cut them lengthwise in half and cut each half into 1/4-inch-wide wedges. Place in a large bowl and add the oil, salt, and pepper. Toss gently and coat the potatoes well.
3. Spread the potatoes in a single layer on the baking sheet. Bake until lightly browned and crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, about 25 minutes. Serve immediately.

Chipotle Black Bean Burritos (from
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium red onion, chopped
- 1 Tbsp chili powder
- 1 15-ounce can organic black beans, drained
- 1/2 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
- 1/3 cup plus 3/4 cup chipotle salsa
- 1 avocado, halved, peeled, pitted, diced
- 6 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
- 4 10- or 12-inch-diameter flour tortillas
- 1 cup crumbled queso fresco or feta cheese
1. Heat olive oil in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and chili powder; sauté until onion softens, about 4 minutes.
2.Stir in beans, corn, and 1/3 cup salsa. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook 10 minutes to blend flavors, stirring often. Season filling to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Stir together remaining 3/4 cup salsa, diced avocado, and 2 tablespoons cilantro in small bowl.
4. Heat tortillas one at a time over gas flame or electric burner for several seconds on each side to soften. Transfer to work surface.
5. Spoon filling onto centers of tortillas, dividing equally. Top each with 1 tbs cheese and 1 tbs cilantro. Fold two sides in over filling, then roll up burrito from unfolded edge. Place a burrito, seam side down, on each of 4 plates. Top with avocado-salsa mixture and remaining cheese.

Shrimp Fried Rice (from Busy Cooks, by Laura Larsen)
- 2 cups cold cooked brown rice
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 12 oz. pkg. frozen cooked shrimp
- 1 cup fresh or frozen baby peas OR other green vegetable of your choice (organic if possible)
- 2 eggs, beaten (organic and cage-free if possible)
- 3 Tbsp soy sauce
- Dash pepper
1. Make sure rice is cooked, then chilled. In colander, place shrimp and peas; run cold water over these ingredients until thawed. Drain well.
2. In heavy skillet or wok, heat olive oil and add shrimp and peas; stir-fry until food is hot. Add rice; stir-fry until hot.
3. Push food to sides of skillet or wok and pour beaten eggs in center. Scramble eggs, stirring frequently, then stir the eggs into the rest of the food until pieces are small. Add soy sauce and pepper, stir-fry for 1-2 minutes longer, then serve. (Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons Artist tsuihin - TimoStudios)

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