Simple Lentil Stew with Couscous and Sauteed Asparagus

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I think the coming months will involve a lot of beans.  Why, you ask? Well, here’s the thing. I want to buy a house. Like a real, actual house. And it’s not going to be a total fixer-upper, and I’m going to do it all by myself. So even though my grocery budget it obviously one of the facets of my life that’s already super frugal and monitored by a watchful eye, I feel like I’m on a mission now, with this semi-arbitrary timeline I’ve concocted, of having a new house to move into by the end of the summer. (Yay for arbitrary timlines! Remember Yarnia’s grand opening?! Totally arbitrary.)

So even though I don’t actually plan on paring my food budget down below six dollars a day, I do feel like I’m entering into this more extreme version of frugality in the rest of my life — curbing the blase Amazon Prime purchases (free shipping can turn a rational person insane), really buttoning down going out (i.e. burritos instead of brewery sandwiches, cashing in on all my Groupons, and making better use of my flask when we go out to shows) — which just sort of makes me feel like I should also be eating beans and rice for most of my meals, so that I can eke out enough money within the next five months for a serious down payment.

Lucky for me, beans are awesome and I know how to cook them. I didn’t even really have to buy that many groceries this week — most of my haul was replacing staples that I’d run out of and needed to wait for my monthly budget to replenish, like an expensive jar of tahini, grains and spices from the bulk aisle, and coconut oil, as air popped popcorn with this magical ingredient has become somehwat of a nightly ritual for me.

In fact, this entire meal was concocted out of what I already had in my fridge, starting with a chopped onion, a few sliced carrots, and some minced garlic.

That got sauteed up over medium-high heat (in my new cast iron skillet!  LOVE!).  After about ten minutes, when everything was nice and shiny and translucent, I added a cup of dried grey lentils, a cup of homemade chicken broth, a few teaspoons of curry powder, two teaspoons of salt, and a few big glugs of V8 juice.

This is my new favorite way to make tomato broth.  I used to try to keep tomato paste on hand, but could never make use of it (or remember it was there, since tomato paste is packaged in ludicrously small quantities that allow it to get nestled in the back of my fridge), before it got moldy.  Canned diced tomatoes can be awesome when you want some texture in your dish, but sometimes the aluminum taste of canned food makes me nauseous.

But a few weeks ago when I was making some crock pot collard green rolls, I found a recipe that called for the rolls to be submerged in V8, which led me to purchase my very first bottle of the stuff — a huge, 2-liter bottle that seems to keep in the fridge for (so far) at least a month, and is comprised of nothing but yummy tomato-and-other-veggie juices.  I think I’ve found my perfect solution to the tomato base problem.

The lentil stew now gets covered, and simmers for about 45 minutes, while you make the couscous.  And then do whatever you want for 43 minutes, because couscous is the easiest grain you could choose to accompany a stew.

I wanted to have some leftovers, so I poured two cups of water into the pot, along with two teaspoons of my Penzeys Tandoori seasoning, a teaspoon of salt, a handful of raisins, and some pine nuts, and brought this all to a boil.  As soon as it had reached a boil, I added two cups of whole wheat couscous, gave it a stir, removed it from the heat, and let it sit with the lid on for five minutes before fluffing with a fork.

While I was doing all this, Jesse was busy making some stuffed mushrooms that we were prepping ahead of time for a dinner party at our friend’s house this Thursday night (and of course, a bunch of extra ones that we got to eat ourselves tonight, so we wouldn’t be anxiously hoarding them at the party).

These stuffed mushrooms — which I’m warning you, will disappear instantly — feature a perfect harmony of spinach, feta, and onion.

Leave it to a carpenter to be able to dice an onion smaller than I'd ever have patience for. What can I say? The man has precision.


Oh…and bacon.

And what’s great about these stuffed mushrooms is that you actually don’t chop up the stems and add them to the stuffing, they’re just discarded…which in our case meant halved, and sauteed up with some fresh, local, on-sale asparagus in garlic butter and fresh ground salt and pepper.

Quite a meal, if I do say so myself.  I’ve been doing yummy, crunchy vegetable salads at work all week, with hard boiled eggs and alfalfa sprouts, all wrapped up in some multigrain tortillas.  So that means I get to save my leftovers for at least 2 dinners this week.  So between that, our dinner party on Thursday, and a memorial for our friend on Friday (in which there will be copious amounts of food as usual, if I know anything about this crew of friends, as well as rumors of 100 delicious wings donated by what was our friend’s favorite restaurant, Fire On The Mountain), I think I’m pretty well set for this week.  T minus five months.  Let the games begin!

This Week’s Groceries

New Seasons 5/1

  • Coconut oil: $6.99
  • Tahini: $8.99
  • Yellow popcorn: $2.51
  • Whole allspice: $2.10
  • Cardamom cinnamon tea: $4.84
  • Mango Ceylon tea: $2.50
  • Nutritional yeast (small flake): $2.97
  • Almond flour: $4.15 — I’m still not done trying to make gluten-free crackers!
  • Soy Bacos: $0.88 — I love putting these in my salad dressings
  • Neufchatel cheese: $2.39 — For the stuffed mushrooms
  • Half gallon milk: $3.39
  • Half & Half: $2.29
  • Plain yogurt: $2.99
  • Mixed greens: $3.50
  • Cucumber: $0.99
  • Asparagus: $3.10
  • Bunch radishes: $1.49
  • Yellow onion: $0.94
  • Shallots: $1.20
  • Garlic: $0.96
  • Ginger: $0.63

TOTAL: $59.80


How did the rest of my Project: Food Budget-ers do?

White Bean Cassoulet & Cornbread

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I’m gearing up this week to fly out to Chicago, and then D.C., for a super fun weekend with two of my best, oldest friends.  So I haven’t had much time the past week or two for writing…although that’s not to say I haven’t been cooking!  In fact, a new special friend and I have just started cooking together recently, and last night he happened to come over on one of my days off, which means I got to consciously do my grocery shopping with a meal half-in-mind.

It also means I got to pick up this little gem of an artichoke, which was on sale and from California!  I’ve never cooked an artichoke before, but Alice Waters made it sound pretty easy, so we ate it as the after-dinner course, dipped in butter melted with garlic and thyme, and a few toasted slices of this week’s bread: jalapeno cheese.

It’s been awhile since I’ve made cornbread, and I had the perfect little end nub of a jalapeno left to add just the right amount of zing to it.  Alice Waters is my guide for anything simple-bakey, like cornbread or pancakes.

This is a super quick one to whip up, simply stirring together all of the following in a mixing bowl: 

  • 3/4 cup finely ground cornmeal
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt

Once that’s mixed, stir in 1 egg, 1 cup of milk, 1/4 of a fresh jalepeno (diced), and 4 tablespoons melted butter.  Pour the batter into a loaf pan or pyrex, and bake at 450 for 20-25 minutes.

I actually like to bake the cornbread until it’s almost done, and then ten minutes before taking it out, melt a little pot of butter, honey, and salt together (use my single-serving Turkish coffee pot, perfect for melting stovetop and then pouring), and drizzle it over the top and let it caramelize during the last ten minutes of baking.

And for the evening’s main event, I made a white bean cassoulet.  Maybe it’s not totally fair to call it a cassoulet, because I think the crowning feature of that dish is the baked breadcrumb topping, which this was conspicuously lacking, but all the other elements were there.  

I started some white beans soaking this morning, and cooked them for about half an hour while I chopped all my veggies, to soften them up.  I had bought an Italian sausage at New Seasons for the occasion, which I froze for an hour or two before I started cooking so that I could slice it into perfect little thin discs more easily.
I started by cooking the sausage in the big pan I was planning on using, then setting them aside but leaving the grease in the pan to use in sauteeing the following: 1 diced shallot, 2 carrots and 4 stalks of celery, both cut in pretty big chunks, a bay leaf, and some chopped fresh thyme.

After about 15 minutes I added the sausage, the cooked white beans (which initially began as 1/2 cup of dried beans), and about 3/4 of a large can of plum tomatoes, which I broke apart with my hands and added with the sauce they came in.  
Then I added a few inches of water, and about a tablespoon of vegetarian Better Than Bullion (I think the real-deal chicken stock here would have been a little too rich, with the sausage and all), kept it on medium-high heat, and let it all reduce down for about half an hour.

Super delicious, and enough left over for both our lunches!