Tag Archives: cheap

Hobo Tuesday–er, Wednesday: Veggie Chili

So, I know it’s not Tuesday anymore, but a perfect storm of circumstances prevented me from writing this up yesterday.  Actually, I can’t believe it’s been a month since I beat the pants off everyone in my first ever Tight-Ass Tuesday Challenge.  Michelle at Thursday Night Smackdown hosts this monthly challenge in which we all try to cook the cheapest meal possible–a maximum of $5 for two people (or $10 for 4).  Official rules are here.  Last month, I stole the smugness prize, and am out for blood this month!

Since I won (sorry, did I mention that I won?) the July picnic challenge, I got to pick the theme for August.  I figured that the hottest month of the year deserved a little competition, and challenged everyone to bring on the spice.  A little out of season, perhaps, but I’ve read somewhere that the reason people who live in tropical climates tend to have spicier foods is because eating hot things actually helps cool your body off.  Anyway, I digress, so without further ado, I give you my submission for this month’s Hobo Tuesday: Vegetarian Chili and Cornbread.


please ignore the less-than-clean bowl; I forgot to take a picture until round 2

I would just like to say for the record that, technically, this meal was 100% free.  Not just because everything I used came straight from the pantry, but because I didn’t pay to get them there in the first place.  I helped a friend move last week, and in exchange she let me take home most of her food–including all the fixin’s necessary for this meal.  In the interests of fair play, though, I made a special trip to the grocery store to price the things I didn’t consider actual pantry items, so, you know, other people had a shot at beating me.

First things first–everything I used:

DSCN0160In case you can’t make out the spices, it’s cumin, red pepper flakes, chili powder, hot chili powder, and sage.  I also threw in a shitload of black pepper and quite a bit of salt, too.  I started by chopping and browning the onion and two cloves of garlic in some olive oil, and then threw the spices in the hot pan towards the end, just to toast them a bit.  I would estimate about a tablespoon each of the cumin and chili powders, a pinch of sage, and a whole palmful of the red pepper flakes.

yes, I did use that much chili powder--got a problem with that?

yes, I did use that much chili powder--got a problem with that?

Meanwhile, drain and rinse the black beans and kidney beans, and toss them in the pot with the large can of tomatoes.  At this point I also usually add a can of beer (which, in my house, can most definitely be considered a pantry staple!), but we were out so I settled for about a cup of water.  I also threw in a bit of extra salt and a couple of tablespoons of black pepper to compensate for the lack of flavor.  Add in the onion/spice mixture and de-seeded green chile (we’re going for the hot factor here).  Finally, I added about half a bag of frozen corn, and let it simmer on the stove while I baked the corn bread.


I cheated on the cornbread, and my granny would just die if I found out.  But the boxes of Jiffy corn muffin mix are super cheap (3/$1!), very fast, and I actually prefer the cornbread they make to many homemade versions.

a mix, an egg, and 1/3 cup of milk--can't get any easier than that!

a mix, an egg, and 1/3 cup of milk--can't get any easier than that!

Et viola!  You have yourself a bowl of chili!  Extra cheap, extra easy, and extra spicy, complete with a corn muffin to wash it down.

On to the nitty gritty details:

5-alarm Vegetarian Chili: (makes 4 servings)

1 med. Onion–pantry staple

2 cloves garlic–pantry staple

1 Tbsp. ground cumin–pantry staple

2 Tbsp. chili powder (mixture of regular and hot)–pantry staple

1/4 cup (or to taste) red pepper flakes–pantry staple

1 can Black Beans–$0.69

1 can Dark Red Kidney Beans–$0.69

1 large can diced tomatoes–$1.19

1 green chile, de-seeded and diced–from garden

1/2 bag of Frozen Corn–$1.29/2 = $0.65

1 c. water

Salt and Black Pepper to taste.

Brown onions and garlic over med-high heat; add in spices and stir briefly.  Add to large pot with drained beans and undrained tomatoes.  Add water (or beer, if you have it) and salt and pepper.  Add chile and frozen corn; let simmer 10-15 minutes or until corn is cooked (or cornbread comes out of the oven).

Corn Muffins:

1 box Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix–$0.33

1 egg–pantry staple

1/3 c. milk–pantry staple

follow directions on back of box.

And the grand total comes to… $3.55!  That breaks down to $0.89/person.  We’ll see how that measures up to my competition…good luck everyone!



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The Recession Special: Hobo Tuesdays

In keeping with my theme of branching out, I’ve decided to start actively participating in this World Wide Web thing.  I mean, the interwebs and I go way back, but until now it’s been a one-sided relationship; it gives and gives and gives, and I am content to take, but never return the favor.  What’s the weather going to be like today?  Have any celebrities died recently (too soon for that one?)?  What is the airspeed velocity of a coconut-laden swallow?

Well, Internet, in the interests of preserving our relationship, I’m going to start giving back.  And what better way to start, than by posting about making cheap food?  Michelle over at Thursday Night Smackdown has a genius monthly contest called Hobo Tuesdays, whereby participants try to cook a meal as cheaply as possible (under $5 for 2 people, or under $10 for 4) according to that month’s specified theme.  Official rules can be found here.   This month’s theme was picnic fare.

As a graduate student on a (very) modest budget, I am all about the cheap food.  And with a lot of hungry friends, it pays to be able to find cheap recipes with a few clicks of the mouse.  I thought I’d do my part to improve the odds of finding said recipe and submit a cheap-ass recipe to the blogosphere.  So for all you grad students out there, this one’s for you:

Tabbouleh: refreshing, delicious, and cheap!

Tabbouleh: refreshing, delicious, and cheap!

This is a great summer picnic meal—it’s easy, fast, super cheap, and doesn’t need to be refrigerated.  It also makes a metric shit-ton of food—we fed 8 hungry students on this batch, but it could have easily fed several more if they weren’t the kind who stuffed themselves on free food in the hopes of being able to skip the next meal and save some money.

I didn’t really follow a recipe with this one, I just tried to replicate the flavors of tabbouleh salads that I’ve had before.  One thing that always really bugs me about using grains, though, is that they are often not seasoned properly.  I find that if you cook pasta, couscous, or bulghar with seasoning in the water, it really makes a difference, so I tried it here and it definitely beats your average tabbouleh blandness.

12oz Bulghar Wheat ($3.59 for 18oz = $2.39)

1 ½ cups boiling water

1 Lemon, zest and juice ($0.50)

2 cloves of garlic (pantry staple)

2 large-ish tomatoes  ($1.50 at farmer’s market)

2 cucumbers (2/$1 at farmer’s market)

4 Green Onions ($0.75/bunch at farmer’s market)

6-8 Mint leaves (from herb garden = free!)

3-4 sprigs Parsley (from herb garden = free!)

Salt/pepper to taste

Place Bulghar, lemon zest/juice, and chopped garlic into a large bowl (you may also want to sprinkle in a little salt).  Add boiling water and stir.  Cover and let sit while you chop the rest of the vegetables.  Cut the tomatoes and cucumbers into bite-sized cubes, chop the green onions (white and green parts), mint leaves, and parsley.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  By now the bulghar should be done—all the water absorbed—and reasonably cool (doesn’t have to be cold, just not boiling hot).  Add in the veggies and stir it all up.  Adjust the seasoning to taste, and pack it in your picnic basket.

This most certainly benefits from some fridge time, and gets tastier the longer it sits.  However, since there’s nothing in it that will spoil, you don’t need to worry about keeping it cold if you actually do take it on a picnic.

Total Cost: $6.14

Cost/person (8 people): $0.76 = WIN

Thanks for playing.  Internet, you’re welcome.

mmmm, mmmm good!

mmmm, mmmm good!

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Summer Picnic in the Rain

Last night was a great night.  I actually left the house and went downtown on a day other than Friday or Saturday!   My housemates and I packed a gourmet picnic and headed downtown to the Inner Harbor for a free showing of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  The setup is pretty sweet: the movie is projected on a giant screen behind the American Visionary Arts Museum, which butts up against Federal Hill.  It’s like a giant ampitheatre, with people sitting all the way up the slope (which is pretty steep–we kept sliding off our blankets, and eating was quite an adventure).  The movie was just as good as I remembered from my childhood, and the rainstorm that passed through almost as soon as we unpacked our picnic didn’t dampen our spirits–just everything else!  We opted to stick it out, and were glad we did; the rain passed fairly quickly and the show got underway only a couple of minutes late.  We didn’t even notice we were wet–it was a warm night, and wine has a tendancy to warm you up.

One of the challenges of the evening was to have a completely free, yet entertaining and enjoyable evening.  The movie was free (of course) and the museum was actually open and admission was waived for a few hours before the movie started.  We packed a picnic to ensure that we didn’t have to buy dinner, but the challenging part was to make good food using exclusively things we already had in our kitchen.  I had to improvise a bit, but everything turned out really well, considering the constraints.  The menu?

Curried Chicken Salad

Curried Chicken Salad

Orzo salad with pesto, mushrooms, and tomatoes

Orzo salad with pesto, mushrooms, and tomatoes

Berry Tart

Berry Tart

Everything was delicious, if I do say so myself.  I made the chicken salad with poached chicken breasts, nonfat yogurt, a couple of ribs of celery, and some curry and tumeric powders.  I also threw in some frozen peas for good measure–I don’t know what made me do it, but I’m sure glad I did!  For the vegetarians in the crowd, I made some orzo, which I mixed with a pesto (basil from my very own herb garden!) and some chopped tomatoes and mushrooms.  Finally, the crowning glory of the evening (as evidenced by the fact that that’s the only thing that didn’t have any leftovers to bring home…) was the berry tart.  It’s essentially lemon bars, only I didn’t have any lemons but I did have some strawberries and blueberries that needed to be used before they went bad.  The crust is a double batch of shortbread–I figured for a picnic it needed to be substantial enough that one could pick it up and eat it without worrying about getting blueberries all over one’s shirt.  De-lish.  I would definitely recommend the cheap-o gourmet picnic + campy movie + summer thunderstorm as a winning combination!

Finally, I will leave you with a parting shot of sunset at the Harbor: it almost makes me think Baltimore actually does deserve it’s comical “Charm City” monniker.

I really do love this city!

I really do love this city!

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