One of the blogs that I read regularly is Thursday Night Smackdown. I find it hilarious, but a warning to people who read this blog, TNS is rated “R”. As in Mature Audiences Only, so if you do not find that humor, well, humorous then I would advise against checking it out. I won’t hold it against you, I personally do not find humor focusing on bodily functions and other things best relegated to the bathroom to be entertaining in the least. But somehow Rob Schnieder et al continue to be employed – so obviously there are people out there who disagree with me.

But this particular blog post is part of TNS’s blog event Hobo Monday if you clicky that link you will read the rules. When I discovered this blog event I felt it meshed nicely with my own Raison d’être on this blog so this is my first attempt. It figures that the first time I decided to play the monthly theme would be “Super Cheap A$$” and entries are supposed to feed 2 people for $3.

Pshaw, I taunt your silly $3.  I shall make it as cheap as I can.

Dinner or UFO?

Dinner or UFO?

The truly frustrating part of this endeavor came when I was working on the pricing. I decided to go through the past Hobo Monday challenges to see what the standard going rate for onions seemed to be. Please note that I did not do this until after I had prepared, photographed and consumed my Hobo Monday Meal. And what did I find? The very first winner of Hobo Monday was a Lentil and Rice dish. Mighty-mo-finky-stinky-son-of-a-biscuit-eater, now it looks like I cheated. Rat Farts.

from The Best Recipes in the World – Mark Bittman (go buy this book, you must have it)

Red Lentils with Rice

2 T Canola Oil
1 lg Onion, chopped
1 T Garam Masala
3 C Water (he didn’t have this in the list, but I like all of the ingredients to be in the list, nyah)
3/4 C dried red lentils (rinsed & picked)
1 C long-grain rice (I used Jasmine)
2 T Butter (Bittman says optional, I say essential)
Salt & Pepper to taste (the Ba$t4rd – I ended up putting well over a teaspoon of salt and multiple grinds of pepper)

1) Heat oil over medium high heat, add onions and stir frequently until they start to get brown around the edges. Add garam masala and stir for another minute or so. Dump in 3 cups of water carefully (water & hot oil you know – spatter city) and bring to a boil.

2) Add rice & lentils and return to a boil. Reduce to simmer and cook for about 20 minutes. I pulled mine with about 3 minutes to spare and it was still overcooked. But then again I cook on a gas range and managing a simmer on a gas range is as about as easy as juggling rabbits.

3) Stir in butter (you have no option, I don’t care what Mr. Bittman says about the subject) and add salt & pepper in increments until it tastes good to you.

The Damage:

And now for the cost breakdown, technically if something is what you consider to be a pantry item then you don’t have to price it in the total. I made this entire meal out of my pantry – but I am not a cheater so I will count everything.

Lentils- .89 per lb
.89 / 16 = .055 per oz
.055 x 5.75 = .32

Rice – 25 lb bag for $17 at local Asian market (it is where I get all of my Asians)
25 x 16 = 400 oz
17.00 / 400 =.0425 per oz
.0425 x 8 = .34

Fixinsreally and truly pantry items, but I am counting them
Onion = .25
Butter= .10
Oil = .05
Spices = .10
Water = free

Because I am apparently incapable for cooking for a small number (1 or 2) of people this dish will feed 6. Really, have you ever attempted to cook a small amount of rice or lentils? Do it, I dare you, you will be cursing my name as you are scraping the charred remains of your dinner off the bottom of the pot.

I drink water with all of my meals, which falls into the free category. So the final damage is $1.16 to feed 6 people. Which comes out to $.193 per person. If you felt you needed more veggies you could put together a quick side salad which might run you about .25 per person. That could be added to the total if the queen of Hobo’s feels this isn’t a complete meal. But it was all I ate for dinner.

Hoboness*:

Lentils revisited - rejected by the Eman

Lentils revisited - rejected by the Eman

Unfortunately I still feel a pain in my heart that the Lentil and Rice thing has been done. It wounds me –  c’est la vie. So I thought I would bust out a bonus which I feel is in keeping with my thematic genre – leftover usage. For lunch the next day I pulled the 5 peoples worth of food out of the ‘fridge and decided the consistency would lend itself well to shaping. I shaped some little balls and some big patties. Put some canola oil in a non-stick pan and heated it up good. Tossed those little puppies in and fried them so that they were GBD on both sides. Crunchy, savory, verrah tasty. With a salad it made a lovely lunch. I believe it would also be delicious treated as a veggie burger.

ps: for those of you who regularly read my blog, I hope that you will pardon my french. I felt it was in keeping with the soiree. As they say: Le singe est sur la branche.

*Pronounce this out loud a couple of times, see if you find the joke.

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The mantra “You eat with your eyes first” is everywhere. At times one could almost think that perfection in plating supersedes the food itself, but I have a confession to make. I seem to have a problem. You see, I have recently come to terms with the fact that I appear to like food that looks like a big pile of glop.

Really, it is almost impossible for a decent looking picture to be taken of many of my meals. Needless to say they do not meet with the beauty ideals of many of the food porn aggregators. But I am not going to let that stop me from eating this messy but divine food. Nor am I going to allow the pretty police to shame me into not sharing the results here. What am I talking about, if you look back in my archives (such as they are) you will see. I’ll wait …

dum, di, dum ………..

Nah, too impatient. Here’s an example for you:

So ugly, yet so yummy

So ugly, yet so yummy

I cannot explain my recent decision to wade into the wilds of Indian cuisine. I have a friend who is mildly obsessed (if that is possible, kinda contradictory) with all things Indian. Never have I really eaten Indian food in a restaurant, except for Tandoori and that doesn’t count. All I know is that I found myself browsing the bulk spices at Your DeKalb Farmer’s Market and for some reason felt compelled to purchase the tub of Madras Curry – Mild. I think it was the Mild that got me, because I am a big fat sissy when it comes to heat.

With my Madras Curry – Mild I made a delicious but horridly ugly Lentil, Potato & Coconut curry that was off some British website. I loved it, and that really surprised me. On my next trip to the library I checked out Julie Sahini’s Introduction to Indian Cooking and haven’t looked back. I have already renewed the due date so I don’t have to take it back too soon.

Gosht Masala: adapted from Introduction to Indian Cooking

The Hardware: Heavy sauce pan, crock pot, rice cooker.

The Software:
1 1/2 lbs Pork Butt in 1 1/2 in chunks
~3 T Canola Oil
2 C Onion, finely chopped
1 T Ginger, Fresh grated
3 t Garlic, minced
2 t Cumin, ground
1 T Coriander, ground
1/4 t Cayenne
1 T Paprika
1 t Tumeric
1 C Tomato sauce
Salt to taste

1) Heat 1 T oil in pan and sear meat on all sides. When nicely browned, remove to the crock pot – pot (or should that be crock pot crock?). Add some more oil and saute the onion for 10 – 15 min, until nice and brown. Use your spoon to make sure the leftover porky bits don’t burn.

2) Add ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, cayenne, paprika & turmeric to the onions and stir like the dickens – keep scraping with your spoon. Heat for 3 min or just until you think that everything is going to burn, then toss in the tomato sauce. Add in some water ~ 1 C or so, and “deglaze” the pan. Use your spoon to scrape up all the brown gunk the meat left behind, take your time and you will be rewarded.

3) Add salt at this point, but remember you can always add more later. Pour the sauce into the crock pot crock and add more water and/or tomato sauce so that the meat is covered. I didn’t have all day so I cooked it on high for about 3 1/2 hours. I am guessing you could go low and slow for hours. Your goal is to get the meat falling apart tender.

4) Once it is done, it really behooves you to put it in the ‘fridge and let it sit for a couple of hours before you serve it. Overnight is even better, several days ain’t gonna hurt it one bit. Serve over rice.

Hacks:

Well, I actually left out one whole ingredient that the recipe called for, and that is Cilantro. You are supposed to sprinkle 1/3 C of chopped fresh Cilantro over the top at the end. Would probably be extra tasty and might have even made the picture more attractive – but I didn’t have it and this dish was still mmm, mmm, noise making happy.

Also, the original recipe called for boneless leg of Lamb chunks, which I was fresh out of. I did have the pork chunks, 3/4 lbs worth, so I used those and made a half batch. I used my itty bitty crock pot that is normally only used for keeping my Velveeta+Rotel dip from congealing into one creepy, orange cylinder of Midwestern pot-luck disaster, and it worked fine. The non-crock pot directions call for adding the meat back in at step 3 and simmering, covered, for 1 1/2 hours. 1 1/2 hours that I didn’t have to be tending the stove.

Finally, the recipe called for pureed tomato, not tomato sauce. I bought the wrong thing at the store, my guess is the extra onion, garlic and oregano in the sauce didn’t hurt a thing. One thing I did not do was add any veggies, and I really wish I had. Veggies would make this a one pot wonder. The question is, what veggies would be appropriate here? Do any of y’all have any ideas?

And please, don’t say cauliflower.

I hate cauliflower.

Scary Zombie Broccoli vegetable.

If you watch cooking competition shows you will be familiar with the tendency to call any food item constructed in a  (bread/pastry base, something edible, another layer of bread/pastry, something else edible topped of with a third layer of bread/pastry) fashion a “Napoleon”. Any actual resemblance to the food item that originally bore the moniker has been practically eliminated and the pastry/food/pastry/food/pastry format has been co-opted as a technique, with the technique defining the dish as opposed to the constituent elements. Interestingly enough, by this definition, the Big Mac is a Napoleon. But I digress.

I have brought this up because I am calling this dish Tomatillo Gumbo because of how it is served. It is a tasty stew-like mixture served over a bed of rice – just like gumbo. Any further resemblance is non-existent. A second point is that I have absolutely no Texan or Mexican background at all. So in reality this doesn’t have any basis in that cuisine either. One could call it Tex-Mex/New Orleans fusion – but that would imply that I had much familiarity with either cuisine.

I’ll just call it tasty.

Hardware:

Saucepan w/lid and Blender.

The Software:

8 oz Ground Pork
1 lb Tomatillos
1 Small Poblano Pepper
1 Onion
1 Bunch Cilantro
2 t Garlic
1 1/4 t Cumin
Salt, Pepper, Chili Powder, Cayenne & Garlic Powder to taste.
1 t Apple Cider Vinegar (optional)

1) Remove husks from tomatillos and wash the sticky stuff off. Wash poblano and cut top off. Cut poblano in half and remove seeds and ribs, keep 1/2 for some other nefarious purposes and cut the other 1/2 into 1/4’s. Place poblano pieces and tomatillos in large saucepan and just cover with water.

2) Now, I just learned how to cook with tomatillos and I want to share some tips I have learned.

A – They float, so I am not really sure how you are supposed to “cover with water” when the little buggers keep rising to the top. I put enough water into the pot so that they float enough to not touch the bottom.

B – You are supposed to bring them to a boil and then simmer for 2 – 5 minutes or until they change color. This confused me – what color are they going to change to? How will I know? Will they explode? Well, I gotcha back on this one. I took pictures:

Ooooh, magic.

Ooooh, magic.

The one on the left is before the boil and the other is after the mysterious “Color change”. I cook them for 5 minutes and call it done.

3) While the tomatillos are cooking, peel your onion and cut it in half. Take 1/2 and chop coarsely and chop the other 1/2 a normal kind of chop. Also, wash and trim the cilantro. I usually just leave the rubberband/tie thingie on the bunch and cut all of the stems below it off.

3) Remove the tomatillos and pepper from the water and place into your blender, add

1/2 C of the cooking water and push the button a few times until they are busted up.

4) Add the coarsely chopped 1/2 of the onion, 1/2 C of Cilantro, 2 t Garlic and 1 t salt to the blender and really puree the heck out of it. Make sure to take off that center bit on the lid and hold a towel over it or else it might explode.

Really, I am not kidding.

Set the blender aside for later.

5) Sautee the other 1/2 of the onion in some olive oil until it has taken on some color and then remove it from the pan. Put the ground pork into the pan and cook it most the way then return the onions to the pan.

6) Pour sauce into pan and add cumin. Then add a pinch each of chili powder and cayenne. Simmer for 10 minutes and then salt and pepper to taste.

7) At this point realize that you have no idea how you are going to serve this. It isn’t really a taco filling like you thought it was going to be, nor is it exactly a chili that you would want to eat straight out of a bowl. Decide that you need to make rice. Cover the pot with a lid and start making rice.

8 ) After the rice is made reheat the sauce/stew stuff you made. Realize that you have lost a little bit of the brightness that you had and add 1 t of Apple Cider Vinegar. That works! Decide you need more garlic so add some powder and a little more salt and a little more pepper. If you, unlike myself, had the foresight to have the rice at the ready then you could probably skip the AC Vinegar step and simply season to taste.

9) Serve in bowls over rice and garnish with additional fresh cilantro.

Mmm, Green.

Mmm, Green.

My husband and I debated what I should call this. He is from Louisiana and has some definite … opinions … about gumbo. But in the end he agreed that we could call it tasty.

Let’s get things started right. I have been working on this dish for awhile, fine tuning it to my family’s taste and I think it is ready for prime time!  It is a true pantry/freezer meal, the only things in it that have to come out of the ‘fridge are the shredded cheese and the Lizano. Everything else can be stored in the pantry. It is composed of inexpensive food items so you can buy quality ingredients without breaking the bank – the only thing you need is time. And the time is mostly hands off time, so no biggie there.

Hardware:
First off, the hardware. I make this in my 2.8 Liter Oval Souffle dish with a glass lid. It really needs to be cooked in something fairly deep as opposed to one of those large rectangular casserole dishes. A medium Dutch Oven could work, as you can see in the picture the dish ends up being pretty thick so beware anything too shallow.

The Software:

1 can Black Beans, 15 oz
1 C Brown Rice, rinsed
1 C Frozen Corn
1 can Diced Tomatoes, 14.5 oz
1 can Rotel, Mild, 10 oz
1 t Granulated Garlic
1 t Ground Cumin
1/2 t Dried Oregano
2 T Dried Chopped Onions
2 t Salt
Black Pepper to taste
1 1/2 T Lizano Sauce
1 1/2 C Water or Stock
1 t Olive Oil
Shredded Cheese, Cheddar or Queso (amount depends on the size of your container)

Pre-heat oven to 375 F. Get a piece of heavy-duty foil ready that will cover the pot.

1) Combine tomatoes, Rotel, garlic, cumin, oregano, onions, salt, pepper, Lizano, and Water/Stock in a sauce pan over medium heat – the goal is to bring it to a boil. Take your cooking vessel and spray it with non-stick, measure your corn into the dish with the rinsed rice. Rinse beans gently and add to dish and drizzle with the olive oil, stir gently to combine.

2) Once the tomato mixture has come to a boil, pour into the dish and stir to combine. Cover tightly with the foil and top with lid.

3) Place in oven for 1 hour 15 minutes. Remove foil and stir gently to get the tomatoes distributed but pat the top back out smooth, taste to make sure the rice is done.
If the rice is undercooked replace foil and lid and cook until rice is done unless the rice is really “soupy” then do not cover.

4) When rice is done, sprinkle (ok cover) the surface of the rice with cheese of choice and return to oven uncovered. Remove from oven when cheese is nice and melty and bubbling, can take 5 minutes.

Ingredients/Potential Hacks:

Obviously the mystery ingredient here is the Lizano. If you poke around some of your Hispanic groceries you can find it, it is specifically Costa Rican and if you have a market that caters more to Central Americans than Mexicans you will have better luck.

I haven’t come up with a good substitution, it isn’t a tomatoey sauce but a savory sauce. Kind of like a Costa Rican version of HP sauce. It has Cumin and pureed veggies and odd stuff in it, but it is super tasty. It is worth it to have it in your ‘fridge and see what you can put it on.

Regarding the beans; I have measured a can of beans and it contains roughly 1 3/4 C of cooked beans. So if you wanted to use re-hydrated dried beans that is what you would be aiming for, but I don’t think that simply soaking and then tossing in would work. They would need to be cooked beans.

You can definitely up the heat on this if you wanted to by buying one of the hotter versions of Rotel I am a big ole sissy so I use mild. You could even add some jalapenos if you wanted to be wacky. Another fun variation can be had if you have a Trader Joe’s handy. They sell a frozen “fire roasted” corn that gives a lovely smoky flavor to this dish when you use it in place of plain ole corn.

If you really  wanted to, you could use white rice – but we like it much better with brown. You wouldn’t have to boil the liquid ahead of time and you would use less water/chicken stock – 1 cup should do it. Also your cooking time would most likely be shorter, maybe 45 min to 1 hr. If you try this out please let me know what your cooking time was.

Enjoy!

At the end, this seems like an awful lot of writing for what is really a simple dish. The process is really one step away from “dump it in the casserole and bake” but I wanted to add in all of the little details that have made this a sucessful meal for my family. We eat on the leftovers for days, it reheats in the microwave beautifully and makes a tasty lunch.