Semi-homemade

Has anyone else noticed that a head of cauliflower now costs $6? I’m not sure when it happened, and the truth is, that’s what it should cost. It’s winter. Wherever it was grown and picked – most likely by someone being paid a disturbingly low wage – it had to be transported here. Cheap gas or not, fresh produce is getting more expensive.

I mention this because it gets to the whole premise of my blog, which is that eating a vegetable-based diet is more affordable. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what that exactly means, especially considering that I don’t get to come by this space very often these days. For the past few weeks, I’ve been cooking with what I’ve found to be the most affordable foods I can find at the grocery store: frozen vegetables and canned beans.

girls on couch

I’ve used frozen cauliflower, frozen broccoli, frozen peppers, frozen leeks and frozen spinach. I’ve found all these things at Stop & Shop, Trader Joe’s, and even Target. There are still some things that are more affordable fresh. A two-pound rutabaga is more affordable than a one-pound bag of frozen rutabaga. Ditto for butternut squash and sweet potatoes. Frozen zucchini makes for a kind of soggy dish, but so does fresh zucchini.

A few weeks ago we had a wonderful green curry made with frozen spinach and frozen fish from Costco. Sitting on rice noodles I can buy for a couple of dollars at the Asian super market, the whole meal cost less than $6 to produce.

Of course, starting with dried beans is an even more affordable way to go, but my pressure cooker is broken, and I have no idea where to get it repaired. And honestly, I can buy a can of chickpeas at Stop & Shop for 79 cents. (I think it’s 89 cents at Trader Joe’s, but I’ve had a heck of a time opening their cans. Has that happened to anyone else? Impossible to open cans from Trader Joe’s?)

A lot of this has been going into soups: butternut squash with miso and coconut milk; sweet potato with a can of black beans and a bag of frozen corn. Tonight I made a green soup with frozen broccoli and frozen spinach. For Rich’s I added a dollop of plain whole yogurt and a swirl of jarred pesto I had in the fridge. One of the main reasons I’ve been making all the soups is for Bea who loves eating but isn’t yet very good at it.

The recipe I have for you today came via a mommy blog I get updates from, even though I don’t remember signing up for them. It’s for a chocolate cake made with black beans. The original recipe called for a can of chickpeas, but Lilli always breaks out in a rash whenever she eats hummus. I guess this is another trick to hide something healthy, like the chocolate zucchini cake from this summer, although the flavor is even more subtle here. I made some guests I had over for Chanukah sample the cake, and they described it as “very creamy.”

It’s a dead simple recipe – you dump the ingredients into a blender and press the button – so it’s very kid friendly. Instead of making a loaf, I make these in mini muffin tins, perfect for lunch sacks. It’s gluten free, and since the Conservative Movement announced that kitniyot (beans, rice and corn) are now permissible to eat, it’s now kosher for Passover. But you don’t have to wait until April to give this one a try.

Flourless Black Bean Chocolate Cakes

Ingredients
1 14 oz. can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 tablespoons of canola oil
Dash of cinnamon
1/4 cup of milk
1/2 cup mini chips

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a mini muffin pan.

In a blender, blend all the ingredients, except for the mini chocolate chips, until smooth. If necessary add more milk one teaspoon at a time.

Pour batter into the prepared muffin pan.

Sprinkle chips evenly on top of the pan.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Make sure to let the muffins cool completely before you remove them.

A New Favorite

We’ve had so much snow here in Boston that we’re now using sports figures as units of measurement. For those keeping track, we’re up to nearly a Gronk of snow. That’s about six and a half feet in less than two weeks. There’ve been multiple weekly school cancellations; the T, our mass transit system, has completely shut down several times; sidewalks are nearly impossible to navigate; parking etiquette has devolved to Lord of Flies level. We’re really lucky to own a driveway, although we’ve barely shoveled out room for our car, so no visitors, please.

do you want to build a snow man

The Super Bowl party we were invited to was canceled due to lack of parking, so we threw together our own party and hosted close friends who live around the block. We had leftovers for a few days, including a half-eaten bag of tortilla chips. But that’s OK, because it means I get to make my new favorite go-to weeknight dinner: Nacho Pie.

Found the culprit

I saw this recipe on an episode of Sara Moulton’s Weeknight Meals I had on in the background one weekend this fall. When she opened the show by saying the episode was devoted to pantry meals, she had my attention. The first dish was a pasta with beans and Kalamata olives. I have no recollection what the third dish was because all I could think about was the Nacho Pie in the middle.

You probably have everything on hand in your pantry already: can of black beans, can of corn, jar of your favorite salsa, an onion, and the dregs at the bottom of a bag of tortilla chips. In terms of fresh things, you’ll need a chopped up green pepper and some shredded cheese. There was once a time when I groaned when all I had in the house was a green pepper. But now that means I can make shakshuka, eetch or nacho pie, all terrific pantry meals.

You can gussy it up with other things on hand. I bought a pile of avocados which were on super sale for $0.88 cents each for the Super Bowl. I threw them in the refrigerator when they were perfectly ripe and we’ve been working our way through them these past few weeks. Add a dollop of sour cream or yogurt, and maybe a squeeze of fresh lime to perk it up.

warm head

This is a great weeknight meal that travels well the next day as leftovers. It’s vegetarian and cheap. I think you’ll love it as much as we do.

Nacho Pie

Ingredients

One medium onion, chopped

One green pepper, chopped

One can of black beans, drained and rinsed

One can of corn, drained and rinsed

One jar of your favorite salsa

Two cups of tortilla chips, divided

Two cups shredded cheese, divided

Enough oil to cover a skillet

Directions

Preheat oven to 400F

Heat oil in a large skillet on medium heat. When hot, add onions. Sprinkle a pinch of salt to help them sweat, and cook them on medium heat for about six minutes.  When they start to soften and become clear, add the green pepper to the onion and continue to soften them for about three minutes more.

While the peppers and onions cook on the stovetop, drain the cans of corn and beans in a colander. Give them a good shake and add them to the skillet. Stir to incorporate. Add the jar of salsa to the mixture and cook it for about one minute more.

In the bottom of an oven-proof dish – I use a soufflé dish – lay a cup of tortilla chips on its bottom. Pile about ¾ cup of shredded cheese on top of the chips. Next, pour the contents of the skillet on top of the cheese and chips. Finish the dish with the remaining chips and the rest of thecheese. Slide into the oven for about 20 minutes.

The crust will get nice and bubbly. Remove from the oven and enjoy.