Take Slow Food USA's $5 Challenge this Saturday!
Guest post by Sarah L. Stewart (www.sarahlstewart.com)
Home cooking is the original value meal. Long before the dawn of fast food windows with numerical menus, families gathered around tables of from-scratch food not because it was healthiest for their bodies, souls and communities—though it was all of those things—but because eating at home was simply the best, least expensive way to feed a crowd of people. And it still is.
On September 17, Slow Food USA’s $5 Challenge aims to reintroduce modern kitchens to the concept of fresh, local food for the masses—challenging home cooks to create such a meal for no more than $5 per serving, less than the cost of most drive-thru “value” meals. Sound difficult? As a dedicated home cook with an eye for frugality, I’d personally find it more difficult to find a recipe in my regular repertoire costing more than $5 per person (see below for a few of my favorite low-cost specialties).
Virtually anything you buy and cook yourself is going to be cheaper than its restaurant equivalent—not to mention better tasting and better for you. As Barbara Kingsolver aptly observes in her food and family memoir Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, “Cooking is the great divide between good eating and bad.” But what if you don’t know how to cook? First, you’ve got to want to, and if you’re still reading at this point, you’re off to a great start. Second, you’ll need to master some tricks to make home cooking feasible for your family alongside the rest of life’s daily demands. A few to get started:
*Make it easy on yourself. Don’t plan a three-course meal you’ve never before attempted on a weeknight. Use a spare hour or two over the weekend for experimentation and for cooking large batches of food to eat throughout the week. Doing so, you’ll learn slow food doesn’t have to actually be slow: An hour spent on a pot of homemade chili Sunday afternoon equals two heat-and-go weeknight dinners, faster than you can say, “I’ll have a number seven.”
*Make friends with your oven. Especially now that the weather is cooling in many parts of the country, the oven is a great way to warm your house with mouth-watering aromas and introduce some sanity into your evenings. It is the ultimate fix-it-and-forget-it tool: Once the food is in the oven, you’re free to clean the kitchen, help with homework or even put your feet up with a glass of wine while that magical machine does the rest.
*Make cooking a family affair. Involving kids in shopping and cooking not only spreads the workload around, it also teaches them valuable lessons in the meantime. Together you’ll learn what’s in season in your area throughout the year, how to select the best produce and meats, and how to turn them into something satisfying on your plate. By making dinner a family project, eating can transform from a mundane necessity into a fun family memory.
Roasted Chicken and Rosemary Potatoes with Kale Chips
This favorite is so simple, you’ll almost feel like you’re cheating.
Cost per serving: $4
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
1 whole free-range chicken ($12)
1 pound potatoes ($2)
1 bunch kale ($2)
rosemary (dried or fresh)
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place chicken in a cast iron skillet or roasting pan, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for about one hour, until skin is golden brown and juices run clear yellow when you cut into the thighs.
Cut potatoes into one-inch chunks and coat with two tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, garlic powder and rosemary to taste. Spread in a single layer on a baking pan and slide into the oven after the chicken has been in for about 15 minutes. Stir once during cooking; potatoes should turn crispy and golden brown after about 45 minutes.
Wash kale and cut into about two-inch square pieces. Toss with a few tablespoons olive oil. Add salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste and spread kale in a single layer on a baking sheet. When the chicken and potatoes are finished, turn the oven to broil. Slide the kale a few inches under the broiler, watching closely so it doesn’t burn. After two to three minutes, turn kale pieces so the underside is exposed to the heat. Broil another minute or two, and remove from oven when kale chips are crisped and golden brown. (Kale recipe inspired by my friend and the Food Family Farming Foundation’s own Sunny Young.)
Note: Save the chicken carcass in the refrigerator or freezer. On a rainy weekend afternoon, plop it into a soup pot with some onion, cover it with water, then simmer on low for two hours. Remove the bones and onion to behold your (free!) broth, perfect for delicious homemade soups.
photo by: theorganicmother.com