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Cheap Eats: Austerity Kitchen Comfort Food Edition

twig's picture

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For some reason, I have a feeling comfort food is going to be very popular during the coming months. But not just any comfort food. It has to be easy to make and inexpensive. It should keep for a few days (leftovers, yummmmm!). And the ingredients should all be real foods -- no substances with names that sound like answers to a chemistry pop quiz.

That's why this homemade macaroni and cheese recipe is highly recommended. It takes a little (not much) more prep time than the boxed or frozen varieties and it has to bake in the oven for 45 minutes or so. But on the plus side, it doesn't contain sodium tripolyphosphate, citric acid, sodium phosphate, calcium phosphate, propionic acid, potassium chloride, mono and diglycerides with datem, and FD&C Yellows 5 and 6. (In all fairness, some of these ingredients might be in the homemade version, depending on the pasta and cheese of choice.)

Also, go easy on the salt and you'll avoid the 700 to 1,000+ mg of sodium per serving in the packaged and frozen varieties. (The current Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for sodium is less than 2,400 mg.) Same with milk and cheese. Use reduced calorie versions, you'll end up with substantially less fat and calories than the boxed or frozen products. Finally, macaroni made with whole grains or added fiber and protein gives homemade a healthier advantage, too. Most Americans eat far too little fiber, so here's a chance to correct that.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Boil water and cook 4 cups of macaroni for 8 minutes. While macaroni cooks, spray a 2.5 qt casserole with oil.

Drain macaroni and mix well with ...

3 cups sharp cheddar cheese (or whatever cheese you prefer) cut into approx 1" cubes

Add grated onion, garlic, steamed, chopped broccoli, frozen peas, white kidney beans, sun-dried tomatoes, whatever you're in the mood for and mix well. Put into greased casserole.

Pour 2 cups of reduced-fat milk over the top. Sprinkle with bread crumbs, toasted onion rings or nothing at all.

Cover with foil and bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes, so the top can brown a bit. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes before eating.

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badtux's picture
Submitted by badtux on

Eggs, beans, peas, greens, cornbread, biscuits, fresh fruit during season (peaches, pears, plums, blackberries, elderberries, huckleberries), fruit preserves out of season, all seasoned with salt pork, bacon, or, if a slaughtering had occurred within the past few weeks, smoke sausage (smoked in their own smokehouse). Staples of my grandmother's diet during the Great Depression on a subsistence farm. The only food they didn't actually grow on the farm was flour, which was purchased in large sacks and used in the cornbread and biscuits. They didn't bake regular light bread because regular light bread didn't keep in the Southern heat, indeed during the hottest parts of the years they fried the cornbread (corn fritters) rather than baked it because corn fritters a) produced less heat in the kitchen than firing up the oven, and b) lasted better in the heat.

Some lessons I can take away from that:

1) Beans and rice are cheap, as are greens when you but lack fat. For better or worse, we both need fat for taste, and need fat (within limits), for health.
2) My grandmother's generation solved that issue by adding a chunk of salt pork to the beans, which added sufficient fat to make them palatable. Some might whine about animal fats blah blah blah, but my great-grandmother died at age 97, my grandmother died at age 89, it didn't seem to hurt them any. (And my great-grandmother wasn't particularly active either after around age 35, she figured that bearing 13 sons and daughters was all the labor of a lifetime, and once they got old enough to work on the farm promptly put them to work doing all the work, my grandmother being the oldest being the first to take on great-grannie's duties).
3) In a subsistence situation, an egg-laying chicken is far more important than a chicken in the pot. My grandmother's generation only ate chicken when a hen grew too old to lay and went into the stewpot -- into the stewpot because boiling with leftovers all day was the only way to take that gamey old hen and turn it into something edible. The chickens were allowed the run of the garden and did a yeomen job of keeping the bugs down. Probably meant salmonella was everywhere, but....
4) They boiled *everything* -- cabbage, spinach, you name it, everything got boiled to a fare-the-well with a small hunk of salt pork. The only thing that *might* get eaten fresh was tomatoes. Everything else got boiled. Even the nightly *dishes* got boiling water poured over them after being scrubbed in the washpan and the washwater thrown out onto the garden. (Note that all water was hand-pumped, so there wasn't any wastage going on). Boiling everything was the best way they had of keeping disease down, since they had no antibiotics or any other modern medicine. Probably destroyed some of the nutritional value but (shrug). Didn't seem to hurt them much, given the age they died at.

Hmm, maybe I should put some of this on my own blog, now that I think about it... might be important for the next generation, where the survivors are likely going to have to live this way again.

- Badtux the Apocalyptic Penguin

twig's picture
Submitted by twig on

I'm not a great cook, either, but I've got a collection of basic recipes that I can sort of free-style with and change ingredients, depending on what's available. Like topping the macaroni with bread crumbs, butter and pine nuts one time, and crumbled blue cheese another -- both were awesome! -- because that's what sounded good. So far, no one's ended up in the hospital (knock wood), so that's good enough for me!

twig's picture
Submitted by twig on

Any more than that and I start losing interest. Anyway, some of the best stuff I've eaten is verrrrrry simple -- like beets with a little Stilton cheese and candied walnuts, maybe a small bed of greens underneath. Heaven!

votermom's picture
Submitted by votermom on

Here is my usual fallback recipe to go with steamed rice:

1 to 2 tsp cooking oil
One or two cloves of garlic, crushed & chopped.
Around half a cup of sliced onion.
Around half a cup chopped tomato (optional)
A few slices of ginger (optional)
chopped raw chicken or pork, around half a lb to 1 lb
chopped veggies of choice (either fresh in season or frozen, but not canned)
around 1 cup liquid (could be water or broth or a mix of both or with some soy sauce, your salt & pepper, etc)

In a wok or pot/pan on med to medhigh heat, first you put the oil, garlic, onion and start cooking those. When the onions start looking clear, add the meat and get that sizzling. Once it starts sizzling, you can add the tomato & ginger if you have them. Then cover and reduce the heat a bit to cook through. This should create liquid in the pan -- as it starts to steam off add your liquid, cover & get to boil then simmer creating the sauce. Then you add the veggies and mix them up a bit, cover again until they cook to your satisfaction (some like veggies crip & crunchy, some like them soft-- whatever you like)