Family of N

The Bean Project

Posted in Food, Frugality by Laura on February 18, 2010

When the Professor and I were first married, we thought we were doing the frugal thing by bringing leftovers when we ate lunches at school and work. After all, buying food at the cafeteria would cost some $5.00 when our meals typically came out to $1.00-$1.50 per serving. We were saving up to $4.00!

I imagine we could slim down our dinner costs by using less meat or by making our cheaper meals more often, but we are going to pick the low-hanging fruit first: we can do much better for lunches — as in, a quarter per serving or less. The Professor is happy to eat sandwiches, so he can easily switch to grilled cheese when he is home at lunchtime and peanut butter when he is out. But I get tired of meatless sandwiches quickly, and I do tend to snack more in the afternoon when that is my lunch.

At this point, my mom and dad have license to point out how spoiled I am. My mom’s lunch is usually little more than a hard-boiled egg, and my dad’s is typically based around yogurt. My dad survived almost exclusively on peanut butter sandwiches in college. (I think my mom survived on ice cream for lunch in high school…)

So yes, I am spoiled, but I do rather prefer a hot lunch, even in the summertime. So to curb my expensive tastes, I am learning to cook beans for my lunches. The Professor, poor soul, doesn’t really like beans, so I have never bothered to learn how to cook them. But now I have a reason to, and in the coming weeks I am purposing to build a repertoire of bean (and lentil!) recipes, with Alton Brown, Debora Madison, and America’s Test Kitchen as my advisors. I expect that this will bring the cost of my lunches down closer to $0.15 per serving, saving us around $30 a month.

As I find recipes I like, I will be sharing them here for you to enjoy as well. So far, I have made chilli lentils and curried lentils. (Must. remember. to. soak. beans. next. time.) Served over rice, these have been every bit as filling as my dinner leftovers were, and I still get to enjoy my meaty, cheesy meals with the Professor and Savannah when I get home. In the coming weeks, I plan to make vegetarian gumbo, basic black beans, and baked beans.

What are your favorite bean dishes?

We Heart Kisses

Posted in Uncategorized by Laura on February 10, 2010

Any of you who get my regular photo album updates know I have a few gems for this week’s kissing theme over at I Heart Faces, because Savannah loves to pucker up at me and the Professor. Here’s my favorite.

Photo by Laura

And since I missed the contest this week, I’ll cheat and post a second one:

Photo by Laura

Visit the I ♥ Faces contest page for more photos of lovable faces!

Secret Ingredients

Posted in Food by Laura on February 6, 2010

Sometimes I have a recipe that is good enough on its own, but the addition of one special ingredient really completes it. I’ve recently made some improvements to two of the recipes posted here, and wow, those “secret” ingredients really make such a difference! While I’m updating those recipes, I thought now would be a great time to do a run-down of ingredients that I have found to take a dish from everyday to holiday special. These tweaks apply to most any version of the dish — so if you have a favorite rendition of one of the dishes listed here, see if the “secret” ingredient improves it!

1) We have always used buttermilk to make the dumplings for our Chicken ‘n Dumplings, but the last couple of times, we also added a splash of it to the filling. It is amazing the difference this makes! I would venture to say that a splash of buttermilk would improve any chicken stew based dish. (Soup, chicken pot pie, chicken casserole, etc.)

2) Bay leaves are a great addition to chilli. We have started putting them in with the beans while they are cooking, and adding some of the bean broth to the chilli pot. The fact that these stiff, green laurels add something special shouldn’t be a surprise to any seasoned cook — it’s always a good idea to add a bay leaf or two to any soup or stew.

3) Take your favorite rice pudding recipe, and strip it down to the bare essentials — usually this means leaving out the cinnamon and raisins. (But keep the sugar and vanilla.) Now add in some orange zest — say, a half teaspoon or so. Comforting and satisfying; clean and elegant.

4) We don’t put our green beans in a casserole at Thanksgiving anymore — we just toss them with sauteed garlic and olive oil, and top them with our secret ingredient: fried shallots. Slice them thin, bread them in salted flour, then fry them in a shallow pan of oil. These would probably work well in almost any casserole, but be sure not to get them too dark if they still have to go in the oven. If you can afford them (or grow them!), shallots have a magnificently rich flavor that can replace onions anytime.