Monday, January 27, 2014

Fast, Easy, Cheap: Pick 2 (re: Eats)

While looking over fashion forums (laugh it up, chuckles. You wear clothes every day, it's worth doing some research) I found a great rule for acquiring clothing: Fast, Easy, Cheap and you can only pick two. Breaking down my basic philosophies in life can be summed up with the previous rule, the kissing rule and 'the dude abides.' While I've seen a lot of 'life hacks' and 'tips for the new year' recently, I thought I'd shed some light on the exceedingly affordable, if not overly simple way that I eat. (We'll address fashion and various other aspects that these rules can be applied to at later dates. Today we're just focusing on food.) Did I mention my total food cost for an overly nutritious diet is $35 a week? It does require a small bit of planning, so I qualify it as cheap and easy but do you really want the word fast associated with your food? I think not. [that's including eating 3+ times a week at the bar I work at, mind you that's half off. If it was simplified to non-discounted restaurant meals, you could still be eating out once a week and keep this cost at $20 in groceries and an outside meal.]

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Fridge and pantry. You can't make this shit up.
The kissing rule: keep it simple, stupid. I don't know who first told me this but it's something I have ran with in every facet of my life. In my last post I eluded to my '89 Volkswagen Cabrio and how I bought it because I am cheap and it is simple. When it comes to food, I've found the best success in identifying a food plan stems from this as well. Find meals that work for you and stick with them. One could argue that it is 'boring' to eat the same things over and over again but variations in spice and slight dressings can solve this. For me, the basic lay-out consists of beans, green vegetable and protein.

First, the beans. These serve as my basic carbohydrates. They provide the energy in the food and are dirt cheap. I usually stick with lentils (unlike their legume brethren, they don't require soaking). Lentils cost about $1.50 per pound and cook up in 15 minutes. A one pound batch will last me 5 days or so. 

Second, the greens. I buy two 2lb bags of frozen broccoli each week and usually only need to pick up one bag every other week (I also buy groceries assuming I'll be too lazy to get them the next week). To keep things interesting, I alternate kale, spinach and fresh broccoli to supplement the monotony of the frozen regime. Frozen broccoli can be steamed (microwave in a minute and a half or steam them stove top if you're wearing an aluminum hat and fear the microwave) for quick preparation and added to whatever you eat.

Third, the protein. Sadly, meat is expensive. Luckily, eggs are almost as cheap as lentils. I eat 3 eggs (only 2 yolks) for breakfast each day and will frequently stir fry them for use as a dinner food. The other protein I buy is canned fish. Either tuna or (if you're an old man like me) sardines. These can again be added to a stirfry for dinner or used to create my pseudo tuna salad.

Lastly, you've got seasonings and dressings. Now, when I say dressings I don't mean ranch (as a server, ranch is my arch enemy). I mean things that jazz up the base ingredients listed above in slight ways that keep it interesting. If I finally grow tired of my lentil, kale, and eggs breakfast, I'll pick up some salsa. A teaspoon of salsa with your eggs can be a game changer. While salsa tends to be a bit expensive for my likes, garlic and onion are not. Both of these can be used in the breakfast, lunch and dinner meals I've referenced above.

And that's it! Using these basic building blocks, I craft most of my meals. I'm human (last I checked) and still like the occasional chinese or pizza binge. Sticking to my basic meal plans though allow me to eat a lot, in a nutritious manner and dirt cheap.

Here are the meal idea's simplified for those lacking imagination:
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Black beans and tomato variation.
Hash Fried Beans
1 cup beans (this works well varying with black beans or pintos)
1 cup greens (lately it's been kale, but when that runs out it's back to broccoli)
3 Eggs (only 2 yolks, I'm an advocate for fat but not a nut-job)
In an oil coated pan, start with the beans. They're pre-cooked so 2-3 minutes just to warm them up is all you need. Add the greens, again they just need some warm up time. Once everything is brought to temperature I drop the 2 eggs and 1 white on top of it all. Cover to steam the eggs to a nice over-easy texture and you're done! Adding a dash of water before covering will speed up the process but might overcook your eggs. I usually season this with onions (added with the beans), garlic and a ton of black pepper. Salsa or hot sauce like to join the party pretty often as well. 

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Fresh chive and tomato variation.
Pseudo Tuna Salad:
1 cup lentils
1 cup broccoli (steamed or fresh)
1 can tuna/sardines
1/4 cup chopped onion
enough garlic to kill a man (in this case, usually 2-3 cloves)
more black pepper than you think is reasonable (starting to see a trend?)
Mustard to taste
Mix it all up and eat it! You can substitute mayo for the mustard if that's more your thing.

Stir Fry:
It's self explanatory, seriously- the theory is in it's name.

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