Not long ago, an article that was featured on the cover of a Family Circle magazine came to mind. The headline read: How to Feed A Family of Four For Forty Dollars a Week. That was in 1968 or 1969, I think. I tag these random memories based on where I was living at the time, or how old my kids were, or some unrelated bit of flotsam.
One of the thrifty suggestions was to have the stay-at-home mom split a can of Campbell soup for lunch. Eating half one day, the other half the next day. But when the dad came home, meat appeared at the table. I do remember chafing at the chauvanistic choice of having the protein appear with the bread winner.
On a trip to the produce market the other day, I spent a dollar on 3 small ears of yellow corn, grown in South Florida. The silk was still moist and fresh prompting me to eat it right away. It would be the focal point of my lunch. I've been sautéeing the kernels instead of steaming or boiling the full ears. It only takes a few moments to cut the kernels from the cob and toss them into a little heated extra virgin olive oil, and dust them with a bit of French thyme, salt and pepper. The kernels cook up quickly over medium heat and are ready when they've browned a bit and have lost the raw corn taste but haven't become soggy - about 6 to 8 minutes.
The retail price of that same twenty-five cent can of soup is close to a dollar now. And it's not on my list of SuperFoods, by any means. Canned soup, in most cases, is a prime example of processed foods laden with synthetic chemicals, shelf life extenders and even sugar. Yet eating for pennies and eating well, at that, is not something that belongs only to the past. It's easily achievable with a few fresh ingredients and a well stocked pantry.
The fridge offered up a leftover baked potato, which I peeled, sliced and fried up in a tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of butter. I carefully turn the slices over until each side is brown and crispy. Then I spied half a Ruskin beefsteak tomato sitting on the counter, wrapped in plastic, unused from the night before. I diced it up, and sprinkled it with a little lemon zest, some salt and pepper and the juice from a wedge of lemon.
TIP: Have at least one lemon and one lime on hand in the vegetable bin. A little fresh citrus juice will tweak the flavor of everything from fish or chicken to any vegetable.
Within 10 minutes, I had a very tasty lunch, using my freshly purchased dollar's worth of corn and a left over potato and a half tomato. When the idea came to me to share this meal with you, I added a little cilantro to the plate to round out the colors. The flavor of each vegetable was unique and plated together provided a satisfying lunch for just a bit more than a dollar.
I read an article written about the illustrious retired chef, Frédy Giardet, that stressed, “What’s important to him is to amplify the flavors, not hide them. With nothing, he is able to make something exceptional. It’s easy to make something impressive if it’s complicated. It’s much harder to impress people with something simple.”
Using the best quality, fresh, natural ingredients, simply prepared is doable by the most modest of cooks. Not only is it economical and healthy, but it's fast and delicious. Try a few simple whole food combinations of your own. When you think there's nothing in the house to eat, there usually is plenty. It just takes a little imagination.
Till next time. . . keep on cooking.