Everyday food preparation is a rushed, harried, nerve-wracking chore that consumes time I’d rather spend at something more profitable, like listing my garage sale finds in eBay. I would gladly pay extra for a house without a kitchen. You know that show, Thirty Minute Meals? Who’s got thirty minutes? (For someone who resents cooking, I do spend a lot of time watching The Food Network. Go figure.)
But we can’t eat out every night – or so Benni claims – so I try to create meals that are quick, cheap, and healthy. The good news is that the most beneficial foods are also the least expensive. A curried tofu-veggie stir-fry costs a lot less than a steak, and doesn’t clog your arteries like the meat-and-potato diet I grew up with. The same goes for the linguine with pesto sauce that I make from my home-grown basil. Here are some lazy-ass recipes from my I’D RATHER NOT BE COOKING files.
• FOOLPROOF GUACAMOLE: Mash an avocado with a container of fresh salsa.
• SPICY SHRIMP APPETIZER: Mix some ready-cooked shrimp with a container of fresh salsa.
• MEAT LOAF ACAPULCO: Mix a pound of ground turkey with a container of fresh salsa.
• Plus some suggestions from slothful friends.
• GIL’S GARBAGE GAZPACHO: Take yesterday’s leftover salad and throw it in the food processer with a can of plum tomatoes. (I would add some fresh salsa.)
• MICHAEL’S ELEGANT FROZEN DESSERT: Mix some vanilla frozen yogurt in the processer with a ripe papaya (or mango, or pineapple). Add a little rum, and serve in wine glasses. (Skip the salsa in this one.)
Whatever I prepare, I make sure there’s enough for a few days. That’s why cole slaw is my salad of choice: it’s got staying power
• I try to eat local and organic, which can be costly if you shop at classy emporiums like Whole Foods. I resent paying seven dollars for a pound of cherries
• Trader Joe’s is a much better deal, but there’s an awful lot of plastic packaging which means (a) you’re messing up the environment, and (b) you’re forced to buy four artichokes when you only need two. I prefer to buy my produce piece by piece, as I need it. This is not the American way. I once asked my neighborhood greengrocer for two shallots. He joked, “Two shallots? You expecting company?”
• Farmers Markets have glorious fruits and veggies: fresh and cheap. Of course, the freshest and cheapest is the home-grown stuff. Even city people can do a little gardening: I just visited a photographer in New York who had trays of herbs on her fire-escape.
• My friends Laura and Guillaume are big meat-eaters, but they want to avoid the toxic chemically-grown supermarket stuff. They found a nearby farm where the moo-moos live natural, happy lives. Half a beef was about $850 - including butchering. They had meat for about two years.
Asian markets are the best places to buy fish. The product is fresher than fresh, and the prices are rock-bottom. Some of these places also sell live fowl, but that’s a little too fresh for me.
I don’t do those cavernous warehouse stores like Costco – they don’t suit my lifestyle. Fifty pounds of sugar for twenty-two bucks may be a good deal, but I will probably be in the ground before I use fifty pounds of sugar.
I did score a two-pound jar of mango chutney for $6.89, at Smart and Final. Unfortunately, it had the thick, glutinous consistency of cheap jam.
I am, however, a big fan of the Ninety-Nine Cent Stores. I have found organic cauliflower and Silver Palate Pasta Sauces for – you guessed it – 99 cents. Plus Italian pasta at two-for-a-dollar. When you come across a great deal here, better buy as much as you can squirrel away: it may not be there next week. I learned this the hard way, when they stopped carrying those round cardboard boxes of triangular cheese snacks that cost four bucks in the supermarket.
Here’s a cheapo healthy easy yummy dinner I made recently.
ROTINI WITH CAULIFLOWER AND BREADCRUMBS
Cook small pieces of cauliflower together with the pasta.
In a separate skillet, heat some olive oil and sauté
Chopped sundried tomatoes
(A few anchovies – if you like)
Coarse bread crumbs – which I make myself from stale bread.
Drain the pasta and cauliflower, add to the skillet, and mix in with the other ingredients.
Grate some Parmigiana cheese over the whole beautiful mess.
I threw together a green salad, and had a fab dinner for four. Total cost was about seven bucks since I had gotten most of the ingredients at the Ninety-Nine Cent Store.