Monday, October 3, 2011

Cheap Eats Chili

First off, I recognize the fact that my "About Me" section needs to change. It's still a little painful to think that I've done an exact 180, so if anyone has any suggestions for this section, I'll gladly take them.

Back to this post. The greatest takeaway from our Oklahoma adventure has by far been the skills I honed in the kitchen and the sourcing strategies I was forced to employ. Here in Maryland there are endless options for sourcing quality food, but my new challenge is how do it on the cheap and how to reduce weeknight cooking times to accommodate our new insane schedule.

It's fall, so chili in the crockpot is an easy go-to, but doing it right takes some preparation. Here's my ingredient breakdown and where everything came from:
*2 lbs ground beef - grass fed, farmer's market, $4/lb
*1.5 lbs kidney beans - dried, organic, Whole Foods bulk w/Living Social coupon, ~1.60/lb
*1 qt diced tomatoes - Roma, farmer's market, $2.50/lb
*2 onions - farmer's market, $2.50/lb
*2-3 green/red bell peppers - organic, CSA delivery, $3.50 for 4
*2 cups fresh corn - cut from the cob, IPM, CSA delivery, $.50/ear
*3-4 cloves garlic - organic, CSA delivery, $1/head
*salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin - my pantry
*1-2 jalopeno peppers - farmer's market, $3/lb (optional)

So we're looking at a grand total of about $20 for the pot, nothing canned, all fresh and almost all local. The most time-intensive part was the beans, which I have never cooked from dried before. I wanted to learn how, not just because dried beans are cheaper than canned, but because canned products are getting a bad rep from chemicals in the liners.

Because I didn't know about soaking overnight first, I used a quick-soak method. I brought the pot of beans to boil, then removed heat and let soak for about 2 hours before simmering them to cook with a little onion and garlic. I held onto the cooking water and froze it in ice cube trays to use later in soups and other recipes.

While the beans were cooking, I was busy chopping and pre-cooking the other fresh ingredients, so most of my Sunday afternoon was devoted to prep. I will note that the peppers and onions had already been chopped and frozen on the day I bought them at the market a few weeks back, so I just had to pull out those freezer bags. On Monday morning, while waiting for my coffee to brew, I literally dumped eveything in the crockpot. There was no room for the beans yet, so those went in when we got home later on that afternoon once everything had cooked down a bit. We took a pre-dinner walk while waiting for the beans to warm up, which I try to do with boys when the weather (and mosquitos) allow it. 

After we ate our fill, there was enough left over to freeze 4 quarts of chili. One quart gives us about 3 servings (2 grown-up dinners and a lunch...Joe still only picks at this). So the grand total per serving comes to around $1.35, and this chili is packed with nutrition and exactly ZERO chemicals and preservatives. We've had it so far as a chili and also in taco shells, which stretches out the servings even further. I'd like to bake up a pan of cornbread next time, but our new rule is to NOT run to the store for ingredients in the middle of cooking and to use what we have at home. So, I will either need to figure out how to make bread from the carton of cornmeal on the shelf, or wait til I remember to pick up a mix at the store (with a coupon, of course).  

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