$5 Tips and Tricks and Challenges

Nov 30

Why does SF buckle under to McGiant?

Re:SF Upstate Chapter Leader Janette Wesley proving that ANYONE can take the $5 Challenge - Ronald McDonald stands for EVERYTHING that slow food is not: expensive, highly processed, highly salted, high fat, unhealthy, mass produced, factory farmed, etc I’m appalled that you chose to display this picture which is simply free advrtisement for the chain, AND the concept of FAST FOOD. Shame on you.

Christopher David Gauthier, Vancouver BC

Lentils for supper; way less than $5. each

Lentils for supper- get out a big heavy covered pan.

In 2Tbsp olive oil saute a chopped onion for 2 mins.  Add 1 tsp coriander, 1 tsp ginger, 1tbsp cumin, 1 tsp salt (optional), saute till fragrant.  Add 1 cup lentils, 1 cup rice (brown or white), 1 can chopped tomatoes, 4 cups water or broth,  and 1 can drained rinsed garbanzo beans (or cook your own).  Cover and cook till rice is tender.  serve with yogurt, salsa, and bread or tortillas (we use corn). Serves about 8.

Nov 29

Seasonal cooking !

I have always slow cooked, using our local farmer’s markets for in season foods to cook for now and freeze for later. We joined a CSA three years ago and now I process our share for the two days after we receive it; enjoying fresh  produce when it is in season and freezing the extra to use for the rest of the year. I use the Farmer’s market all year to fill in what I can with fresh local food and only supplement what’s in the freezer occasionally with things that aren’t grown here. The cost of the CSA is substantially lower than what I would pay for “fresh” in the grocery store or even the farmer’s market and I always know how and where most of my food is grown. 

Oatmeal for All!

I love oatmeal! it is cheap and easy to cook~ I buy rolled oats for

.99 /pound, or steel cut oats for a slightly higher price and they take longer to cook. 

For 1/2 Cup of Oats, I add 1 Cup water cook until it is the consistency that I like and then I add a teaspoon of butter or coconut oil, 1/4 Cup milk, a teaspoon of cinnamon, and a tablespoon of honey.  

 This costs less than $2 to make! 

good for kids too!

I do the same thing with cornmeal, buckwheat, cream of wheat, millet…etc.

Nov 28

Hearty healthy breakfast

Heat cooked black beans and barley (or rice) with a low saturated fat oil in pan with lid on. Then scramble one egg with additional water and pour over the hot beans and barley. Continue heating until egg is firm. Season to taste. I use a little Mrs Dash because I like the taste and I like getting the additional herbs into my diet but anything or nothing is fine.

Serve with salsa, or honey, or catsup, or whatever condiment you like or just eat it plain. I eat this when I have a calories deficit or when I expect to be burning additional calories in work or play. 

This is a quick high protein, high fiber, complex carbohydrate, vitamin rich, healthy fat, delicious breakfast.

This quick recipe does require that the beans and barley be precooked but I use them in many dishes and they keep in the refrigerator for over a week and are inexpensive healthy foods. 

Infinite Varieties and a $5 Challenge

Cross-posted from my blog.

I organized another installment of "Shop Like a Pro at a Farmers’ Market" today. After leading the group through the Union Square Greenmarket, I began my hunt for the best end-of-summer produce. A wonderful thing about a farmers’ market is the seemingly infinite varieties of many vegetables and fruits. From S & So Produce Farms, I grabbed a handful of Jersey tomatoes, three persimmon orange tomatoes, and one that looked like Black Krim. I asked a worker at the Sycamore Farm tent about the differences in their ample medley of eggplant. He explained that the name eggplant was originally coined because its white color resembled the eggs of geese. It was only later that the plant was refined to develop a deep purple skin to mask the bruising that occurred during shipping. Today, white eggplants are softer and less seedier than their purple counterparts. Softer yet is the smaller heirloom variety, great for Eggplant Parmesan.

Today also marks the Slow Food USA $5 Meal Challenge, encouraging everyone to “take back the ‘value meal’ by getting together with family, friends and neighbors for a slow food meal that costs no more than $5 per person.” I made a late lunch for my husband Ryan and friend Kent using food from my farmers’ market purchase.

Costs are approximate:

Tomato Cobbler
(source unknown)
3 tomatoes, peeled and diced - $0.80 per person
1 chile, seeds and stems removed - $0.05 per person
2 garlic cloves, diced - $0.05 per person
1 shallot - $0.35 per person
Seasonings like cumin, salt, pepper to taste - cents
1 stick of organic butter - $0.50 per person
1/2 cup of flour - cents
1/2 cup of cornmeal (also purchased from farmers’ market) - cents
2 teaspoons of baking powder - cents
1 teaspoon of salt - cents
1 cup of milk - $0.25 per person

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix tomatoes, chile, garlic, shallot, and seasonings. In a large cast-iron skillet, melt butter on low heat. In a bowl, mix flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. Add milk and stir until batter forms. Pour over melted butter in skillet, and spoon the tomato mixture on top. Bake for 35 minutes.

Corn on the cob - $0.50 per person
Butter - $0.15 per person

Nov 27

The $5 challenge, vegetarian style.

Beet chips, zucchini and scallion fritters, and nectarine granitas—a simple late summer vegetarian meal that was affordable and delicious in equal measures.

Read more about it here:  http://www.amblingartichoke.com/2011/09/up-for-a-challenge/ 

The $5 meal challenge: Artichoke Risotto

Food and price have an interesting relationship. For something we value so importantly as our nutrition, you find that supermarkets mostly sell and market their products on a cost basis. I read an interesting passage in the ‘Omnivore’s Dilemma’ by the pastoralist farmer Joel Salatin who once told a customer that clean, ethical and/or sustainable food is actually the cheapest food you can buy. He states that the hidden costs in conventionally cheap food, such as water pollution, antibiotic resistance, food induced illnesses, government crop subsidies etc…, are not incorporated into the price and we are therefore made to believe that we are getting a good deal.

So I think it is great that slow food is promoting the fact that with a bit of creative thinking, ethically produced and/or sustainable food can be put together for a meal costing $5 or less! Which is a far better than eating takeaway or something cheap and nasty. Plus I am on a very strict budget at the moment so achieving a meal for this cost is of uttermost importance.

To contribute to this important challenge, I have decided to make an artichoke risotto, using one of Jamie Oliver’s recipes. I don’t use artichokes much in cooking as their unfamiliar shape looks fairly daunting. However this was a great recipe to experiment and I found out that they are delicious and make a risotto that little bit more creamy!

Moreover, the total cost of this meal was $10.90 and the majority of my products were bought from the farmers market. Divide this by four portions and I have paid $2.70 per meal. How about that for cheap sustainable eating!!

Artichoke Risotto
(Preparation time: 10 minutes, cooking time: 25 minutes)
6 small or violet artichokes
1 knob of butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
400g risotto rice
2 small wine glasses of dry white vermouth or dry white wine (this is only if you have this lying around, otherwise this step can be skipped no worries)
Approx 1.1 litres of vegetable stock (use a large pan as the artichokes will be added to the stock)
Small handful of freshly grated parmesan cheese
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Small bunch of fresh mint, leaves picked

Begin by preparing the artichokes. Peal each artichoke back to their pale, light leaves (don’t be afraid to take off a lot of leaves). Then halve them and remove the hairy chokes with a teaspoon (the furry inside part). As soon as you remove the chokes, immerse the artichokes into a bowl of water with half of the lemon juice. Place a dish on top of them to ensure they are immersed into the water – this will ensure they do not discolour.

Nov 26

Hearty Land-locked Jamabalaya

At first glance, the $5 challenge seemed daunting.   After hearing so many jingles for Dollar Menu ads, you start believing that fast food is in fact the cheaper, more logical, answer to today’s nutritional and health issues. 

Recently, I met the challenge unknowingly.  After making dinner for a group of friends and checking the receipt the next day, I realized we had eaten a hearty, healthy meal for about $3 each!!

Our dinner featured a slow-cooked Jambalaya using long grain rice, celery, carrots, tomatoes, green peppers, onions, chicken stock and three meats - chicken breasts, beef chorizo, and spicy andouille sausage.

The entire dish cost about $20 and fed six people.

Easy Peasy Pasta Carbonara

This is cheap, easy, and kids love it.  Even if you use supermarket bacon and frozen peas, this is a nutritious, delicious meal. 

You’ll need: 

Enough dry pasta to serve 4. Any shape is fine—you can use whole grain or regular.

1/4 onion

6-8 strips bacon (or some diced ham)

Grated parmesan to taste

1C frozen peas

Fresh chopped parsley—-or not

Some kind of pasta lubricant.  This can either be alfredo sauce, cream, or a bit of milk/butter.  For four servings, use about 1/4 cup of cream/alfredo, or 2 tbs butter and 1 tb. milk. 

Salt and pepper

Chop up the bacon/ham.  We use the fancy stuff but anything will do.  The less water added, the crispier your bacon bits will be.  Put it in a skillet and fry over medium heat. 

While the bacon is cooking, heat water on high in a 6 qt kettle.  Add a tablespoon full of salt to hasten boiling. 

Chop the onion finely, or chop up some green onion or shallot.  Add the chopped onion to the bacon.  Stir and tend the bacon/onion so that it does not burn. 

Set the peas out to thaw—put them in a colandar and run hot water over them

When the pasta is cooked, dump into the colandar (ideally over the peas) and shake thoroughly until the water is drained.  Put a bit of butter or olive oil on the noodles so they don’t clump.  Dry the pasta pot and dump the peas/pasta back into the pat.  Add your lubricant of choice and toss.  Add the cooked drained bacon bits and the grated parmesan and toss.  Serve with lots of parmesan and black pepper. 

Serve with a green salad. 

Nov 25

Lunch for the Everyone

Every few months, a couple of workers chemical plant where I work will propose cooking lunch for anyone that wants it.  They will collect names during the week and cook on Thursday, the end of the work week for the daylight shift.  The meal is always filling, if not always balanced.  Most recently we had chili and chili dogs.  The cost was reduced because someone contributed ground venison, but everyone got two chili dogs and a bowl of chili with Fritos, cheese, onions and peppers for $4.  We’ve had sauerkraut and polish sausage for $2.50 per person.  At a previous plant, the janitor cooked 8 pounds of dry red beans with a ham bone once a week and offered it with onions, pickled banana peppers, white bread and butter.  He charged $1 for all you could eat and made a small profit.  Its all old fashioned cooking that can be made in quantity in a couple of hours, and brings our organisation together as a community as well.

Lentil Soup

Bring 1-1/3 cup lentils and 4 cups of water (in a large pot) to a rapid boil.  Then turn off the heat, cover the pot and wait for 1 hour.  (This method is good for all bean soups and eliminates the “soak overnight” step.)

Next add one medium onion, one rib of celery, one large or two small carrots, one leak, one large or two small potatoes — all diced to approximately mimic the size of the lentils.  Add salt (I use sea salt) and pepper to taste.  You can add diced smoked Polish sausage (or your favorite cooked sausage) for added flavor. Cook this for about an hour.  If the soup becomes too thick, add a can of chicken stock, again, any kind you like.

Nov 24

$5 Slow Food Challenge: Jambalaya and Community

The concept of community is relatively new for me, but I’m learning to embrace the idea. I’m lucky, because my neighbors are warm and welcoming - something that I’ve not always been completely familiar or comfortable with. I’m getting there, though - more and more every day. I signed on with Slow Food USA about a month ago to take their $5 challenge. I had these grandiose ideas that I’d throw an elaborate dinner party and invite friends and family to be a part of it. Then I realized that the scheduled date for the challenge coincided with a writing workshop that I’d already paid to attend. So, I decided that instead of doing it on the 17th, I’d do it on the 18th, mostly so I could do it justice. And it wouldn’t be a dinner party, per se. It would just be dinner for the family. The immediate family - the ones that live in this house. At least, that’s how it started. Anthony Bourdain says, on his Travel Channel blog, that “the greatest , most beloved and iconic dishes in the pantheon of gastronomy—in any of the world’s mother cuisines—French, Italian or Chinese–originated with poor, hard-pressed, hard working farmers and laborers with no time, little money and no refrigeration.” For this $5 challenge, I decided to look to one of those beloved and iconic dishes - one that originated in a culture that thrived mainly because the people who cultivated it knew how to stretch just about everything to make it last longer and go further. Jambalaya (both the Creole and the Cajun version) derives from Spanish paella, and uses inexpensive but flavorful ingredients to create an abundant, filling meal. There is a sense of community in the Cajun/Creole culture. An ingrained reliance on neighbors and extended family for support and sustenance. A cooperative spirit. As a whole, we’ve moved away from this sense of community - everyone is so isolated, so insulated from each other. We’ve forgotten where we come from in our hurry to get where we’re going, and we ignore the importance of tradition and camaraderie in our quest for self reliance. And I’m as guilty of it as the next person. Yesterday, as I gathered the ingredients for this simple dinner, intending for it to feed only myself, my husband and our two boys (and perhaps my mother, if she didn’t already have dinner plans), I got a text message from our neighbor across the street. She was inviting us to come over for an afternoon swim. I had just started cooking, and I wasn’t sure whether my husband would be done with yard work in time, or that I’d have dinner ready anytime soon, so I started to text her back with a “thanks, but no thanks - maybe next time” kind of message. But then I reconsidered. I looked at the pound of sausage that I was browning, and the 8 chicken legs I had waiting in the wings, and the two cups of rice, and I thought: this is enough to feed all of us, and still have food left over. So instead of “thanks, but no thanks” I told her I’d just started cooking jambalaya, but that we’d love to share with her and her husband. So, an hour later, we trekked across the street in our bathing suits, carrying a large pot of jambalaya and some of the last tomatoes from our garden, and we shared a meal with our neighbors. And it was that much better because of the sharing. I managed to make this meal for about $16 total, but that’s mainly because the majority of the ingredients came from my garden and my canning pantry. I used chicken stock that I’d put up a while back, a jar of tomatoes that I’d canned during the peak of tomato season, and the bell peppers, thyme and parsley also came from the garden. The andouille came from a regional supplier to Harry’s Farmer’s Market and was probably the most expensive part of the dish at $6.99 a pound. The chicken came from two pounds of organic drumsticks that I’d bought for $2.99 a pound a while back and froze for use at a later date. I don’t think they were local, but they were just about the only part of the dish that wasn’t - well, except for the rice. If you break that down, we fed seven people for about $2.25 per person, and we had leftovers.

Jambalaya prep time: 10 minutes cook time: 1 hour serves: 8-10


  1. Begin by browning the sausage in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, allowing some of the fat to render out.
  2. Remove the sausage to a plate and brown the chicken parts in the fat from the sausage. I removed the skin from the chicken legs, but you can leave it on if you want (more flavor that way, but also more fat).
  3. Remove the chicken to a plate
  4. Saute the onion, celery, pepper and garlic in the same pan you browned the meat in
  5. Add the uncooked rice, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper and stir to combine.
  6. Slice the sausage into 1/2-inch thick rounds and add it and the chicken back to the pot.
  7. Add the tomatoes and the chicken stock to the pan and stir to combine.
  8. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Allow to simmer, covered until the rice is cooked through. Cook uncovered to thicken sauce if necessary.
  9. Enjoy!


I can always find meat marked down at HT or SuperTarget or offered free with purchase at stores like EarthFare with a coupon printed from their website or stock up when it is a super buy.  I don’t EVER buy meat at regular price or anything else for that matter.  You can also find the rotisserie chickens marked down when they have been out for a certain length of time at HT, late afternoons or late evenings.  You can serve them whole after a quick warm up or take it off the bone for chicken salad, chicken enchiladas, quesadillas, etc.  Search for whole chickens, beef or pork roasts in the markdowns and there is always the crockpot or roast meats for several meals in the oven at the same time.  I actually like meatloaf, pot roast, bbq pork and baked chicken left over!

Nov 23


For me, the easiest way to go is to keep it fresh and simple. A visit to the local produce store is the first stop for reasonable local produce. I’ll decide on my menu as I shop. Being creative is essential. At home, we have an herb garden, lemongrass and a kafir lime tree for the flavorful leaves. Other staples inlclude a good olive oil, various hot sauces, ponzu sauce, various vinegars, fresh peppers, lots of dried herbs and spices, tortillas, and various varieties of rice, pasta, noodles. Any protein or seafood will go with good fresh veggies. We create simple and flavorful curry, stirfry, soup (Pho), pasta dishes, fried rice, burritos, tacos using fresh foods all the time. Our family loves to eat this way. Very flavorful, fast and healthy.