Sunday, September 28, 2008

12-Serving Soup Helps Stretch Food Stamp Dollars

(Note: See the comments for my vegetable soup secret!)

This may have been the least expensive meal/dish for my week of menus for the San Francisco Food Bank Hunger Challenge.

Developed mainly to provide a quick, nourishing, light lunch, this 12-serving pot of vegetable soup goes a long way into stretching the $21 per person per week food stamp allowance. To make it a heartier meal, trying serving with a slice of bread or adding a half cup of cooked rice or beans to a bowl before ladling in the hot soup. One idea I had since I had a few extra eggs in my food allowance was to serve the soup hot with a poached or fried egg on top of it sprinkled with lots of black pepper. (I’ve had some French-style vegetable soups served this way and have always enjoyed them.) I used all of my pound of two-percent cheddar cheese, otherwise I would have served the soup with a bit of grated cheese on top. My husband enjoyed his soup with a splash of hot sauce. Since this recipe makes 12 servings, it formed the basis of three meals for my family, so a little variety in how it was served was very much appreciated.

To see how this soup fits in my Hunger Challenge menu, click here. For about my participation in this event, including how to donate, click here.

Of course, if you don't need 12 servings of vegetable soup, the recipe can be easily divided in half or even thirds.

12-Serving Vegetable Soup

Feel free to vary your soup to reflect what you have on hand and your family’s taste. You may want to double the garlic and/or jalapeno if your family likes bolder flavors. Using the seasoned tomatoes and the optional spices will also add some more zip.

1 tablespoon canola or other vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onions
1 red jalapeno, minced. I used red since that's what I had, but green works, too. (Seed it if you prefer a milder soup)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 large carrots, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
4 cups (1 quart) of chicken or vegetable broth or water (using the broth will add a lot more flavor, but you can use plain water or water with chicken or vegetarian boullion cubes if you prefer)
8 cups (2 quarts) of water
1 ½ pounds of russet (baking) potato (about 4 small), chopped into ¾ to 1” cubes
1 lb of green cabbage, chopped (this was a bit less than half of my 2.36 pound specimen)
1-14-16 ounce can of stewed or diced tomatoes with juice (preferably the kind with Italian or Mexican seasoning)
½ lb of frozen (no need to defrost) or cooked fresh chopped spinach or other greens
1 teaspoon of either Italian seasoning OR oregano OR 1 tablespoon curry powder, (optional)
2-3 cups of water
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium high heat. Add onions, fry, stirring occasionally until just lightly golden brown. Add the minced pepper and the garlic. Fry, stirring often until garlic is golden. (Add a few tablespoons of water if the vegetables begin to stick or burn.) Add carrots and celery, and continue to fry stirring occasionally for a few minutes. Add the chicken broth and the 8 cups of water. Stir well, being sure to loosen and stir into the mixture any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes and spinach. (If using stewed tomatoes, break them into small pieces in the pan with your cooking spoon or spatula.) Mix well, bring mixture to a simmer, lower heat to medium low and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes have softened but are not falling apart (about 30-40 minutes but the time will vary greatly, so you'll need to keep checking). Add 2-3 cups of water to the pot as needed and return to a simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste and simmer a few more minutes. (Please don’t add the salt before. The broth or the boullion can be salty and the potatoes can really absorb seasonings so you won’t know how much salt you need until towards the end of the cooking.) Can be made ahead and reheated, although the soup may have thickened and you may need to add some more water when reheating. Makes 12 servings, 1½ cups each.

Variation: For a thicker, more potage-like soup, puree about half in a blender or food processor in batches once the soup has cooled.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Block Appetit -- Keeping it Local -- Neighborhood Cookbook

My Oakland, California, neighborhood is planning to create it's own cookbook and I'm writing this post to have a "central" place to list the instructions and overview. Click here to see the latest news and updates about this project.

Right now planning is just beginning. Our first step is to collect recipes and volunteers.

If you are a Forestland Hills neighbor, and you know who you are, you are invited to participate.

We need recipes that have played an important role in your family, ones that you have shared at our block parties or local potlucks (remembr Susan's Easter parties?) Maybe ones you've fed neighbors or ones you are just proud of. We are especially interested in recipes using any of our local bounty (fruit trees, vegetable gardens, chickens, etc.) or involve a local food resource such as the Montclair Farmers' Market. When in doubt, let us know about it.

We need the stories behind your recipes. Please share them as well.

We'll be needing volunteers to solict, test and compile the recipes into a cookbook to share with all.

If you are interested in participating, please contact me through my new neighborhood cookbook email -- blockappetitATgmailDOTcom.

Thanks. I look forward to answering your questions and trying your recipes!

About the photo: Donut eating competition at the September 28, 2008 block party. The version here doesn't do it justice. Take a second and click on the photo above to see the larger version. Fun day, fun event.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Chicken Stew Takes the Hunger Challenge and I Get All Spicy about Seasonings

This recipe is part of the San Francisco Food Bank’s Hunger Challenge. It was created for a menu of meals for a family of four costing $21 a person for the week (how much a food stamp recipient would receive.) Ingredients in the stew depended on what sales and values I could find primarily at a local chain supermarket and an independent grocery discount outlet. For about my participation in the Hunger Challenge, my shopping list, other bloggers participating in the challenge and how to support the San Francisco or your local food bank, please click here.

Since didn’t figure out the cost per serving of every meal I cooked since I knew overall for the week I was on budget, but I do estimate that this stew cost about 85 cents a serving. (I have to say that this stew didn't know it was on a budget, it tasted full-flavored and was very satisfying.)
I paid $1.99 for fresh, boneless, skinless chicken thighs. If those are not a good value in your area, feel free to substitute other cuts or meats. One tip, check the freezer case. Sometimes frozen chicken and meat can be a much better value than fresh.

A word about seasoning. Many dried spices and herbs are relatively expensive, so with the exception of chili powder for my chili (more about that in another post), I made them optional. Use them if you already own them. If you want the punch and flavor of a seasoning, for the best value, skip your supermarket spice aisle and look in the ethnic food section, were there are significant savings. Or buy just a tablespoon or two from stores (such as some Whole Foods) that sell bulk spices and herbs. The spices are usually cheaper to begin with, they are often fresher and since you can buy just the little bit you need, they are much easier on the budget. The discount grocery outlet was a great resource for most common seasonings, having small bottles of spices, herbs and seasoning mixtures for about 50 cents. (I did assume families had salt and pepper, though.) Adding flavor and seasoning helps make the food more enjoyable and add some variety into what is by the very constraints of the food stamp program not a very variable diet. I wanted the food I made on the challenge to not only be filling and nutritious but also as tasty and satifsfying as I could make it.

I couldn’t find a way to work fresh parsley, cilantro, basil and/or mint into the weekly food budget, however, and missed the dash of color, texture and taste they add to a dish. I compensated by using fresh onion, garlic and red jalapeno peppers, all relatively inexpensive and big flavor boosters. For example, the peppers cost me 20 cents for 10 of them.

In this dish I choose tomatoes that already had Italian seasoning such as basil added to help pump up the taste. You could also use Mexican, traditional (with bell pepper) or plain in the recipe.
If eight servings is way too much for you, the recipe works well the amounts cut in half.

Chicken Stew on a Budget
Makes Eight Servings

While this was good the first night, the second night it tasted even better. You can pump up the flavor by using more garlic and/or jalapeno peppers. I served it over rice. Other serving options are listed below.

Kitchen Note: Peeling is optional. I generally don’t peel vegetables I’m going to cook, I just wash them well. So I didn’t peel the carrots or potatoes. And I also didn’t core the cabbage; I just made sure the denser core pieces were thoroughly chopped.

2 tablespoons canola or other vegetable oil
2 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into ¾” to 1” cubes
½ cup of chopped onion
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small red jalapeno pepper, minced (seed the pepper for a milder flavor)
2 large carrots, sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
16 ounces of chicken stock (store bought) or water
1 teaspoon of dried, ground herbs, spice or seasoning mix, optional. (Try Italian seasoning or maybe oregano.)
1 lb baking potatoes (about 3 small), cut into cubes about ¾”
¾ of a pound of green cabbage, chopped (That’s a little less than a third of a medium large head of cabbage.)
1-14.5 ounce can of Italian, Mexican, traditional or plain stewed tomatoes with juice
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, add the oil and heat over medium high. Brown the chicken cubes, working in batches if necessary so they brown, not steam. Stir them so they don’t burn or stick to the pan. When browned but still raw on the inside, remove chicken from pot and set aside on a plate.

Add onions to the pot, stir in the onions and fry, stirring frequent until they begin to turn a light golden brown. Add the minced garlic and jalapeno and continue to stir and fry until the garlic as turned a light golden brown. Add the carrots and celery pieces, and continue to fry for a few minutes, stirring often. Add the broth or water, stir well, being sure to scrape up and incorporate any little browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot and bring to a simmer. Add the optional seasoning, the potato cubes and the chopped cabbage. Stir well. Once the mixture returns to a simmer or very low boil, turn the heat to low and cover the pot. Stir the mixture frequently. Once the potatoes have begun to soften (about 20-40 minutes), add the stewed tomatoes with their juices. Using your cooking spoon or spatula, break up the stewed tomatoes into smaller pieces. Stir to combine and then add the brown chicken pieces with any liquid they may have released on the plate. Stir well. Cover, return to a simmer, stirring occasionally and making sure the mixture doesn't reach a full boil, until the potatoes and chicken are cooked through. Taste. Add salt and pepper to taste. If the stew has gotten too thick or if you would just like it soupier, add some water, stir well and return to a simmer once more before serving.

Makes eight, one-cup servings. Serve over rice, mashed potatoes, polenta or noodles.
About the photo: Every house should have a chicken (stew) in a pot. Boy, did I miss that green bling parsley would have brought to this photo!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What the Hunger Challenge Means to Me and Menus for Lunch and Dinner and More

“I’m hungry.”

When one of my kids whines that he needs to eat, maybe I grumble about having to deal with it, but I can turn to my stocked fridge, overflowing fruit bowl, full extra freezer or packed pantry and get him something to snack on or make him a meal. My only thought is what to serve and if it will spoil his dinner.

When a family is on food stamps it’s just not that easy. Very often the cupboard may be bare; whatever food is available needs to portioned out to make it through the month and to be honest, you hope there’s enough for dinner. And based on my experience this week, I bet there aren’t a whole lot of snacks, treats or even fruit in the house when all you can count on for food is $21 a person a week in food stamps. And portions will be smaller than you are probably use to.

I decided to join the San Francisco Food Bank’s Hunger Challenge because I feel those of us that are food obsessed need to use our talents for good, not evil. And helping to spread awareness and educate others about the issues and realities felt right. To be honest, while many of the meals I ate met the guidelines this week and all my planning did I did not stay on the program continuously, but even so my part-time experience made quite an impact. (The rules, such as they are, of the challenge allow for such “fudging.”)

Since I have two sons, I kept them in mind when I designed the week’s menu. Hearty breakfasts to fill them up and to keep their energy up in school and a variety of dinners and foods I know they would like, soup, stew, chili, meatballs and an Asian sauté. We aren’t much of a sandwich family, so only one lunch features sandwiches. We tend to eat leftovers from dinner at lunch when we are home, so I just planned 56 servings for a family of 4 for a weeks worth of lunches and dinners and figured they could be divided up any way you liked. I aimed for accessible variety -- flavor profiles I knew they liked and enough variety to keep it from getting boring. I simplified the recipes wherever possible to keep the KP duty down to a minimum.

My new best friend is green cabbage. It truly was a magic vegetable. The 2.36 pound cabbage I bought seemed to always be there when I wanted to add nutrition, fiber and bulk to any dish I was making. It made its first appearance in the chicken stew, appeared in a walk-on part in a salad, helped bulk up my Asian entrée and played a commanding role in its final performance in vegetable soup. From week start to end it stayed fresh, crisp and tasty. When I put the last scrap in the soup I couldn’t believe it was all gone.

I was also thrilled when I was able to work in a four-pound bag of rice, which meant I could add lots of rice to my meals and make them more filling.

For more about the San Francisco Food Bank’s Hunger Challenge, check out the food bank’s website and the Hunger Challenge blog. Click on one of the links below to read what other bloggers are writing about their experience planning, shopping, cooking and eating on $1 a meal a person.

Cooking with Amy
The Inadvertent Gardener
Vanessa Barrington
Been There Ate That
Petit Appetit Newsletter

See what else I’ve written about on the challenge here (including how to donate).

FYI – I spent $83.98 for the week’s food, just two cents below the cap. You can view my shopping list here. From what I thought I would be able to offer to what I ended up being able to buy was a huge gap. Vegetable after vegetable was crossed off my list, fruit after fruit. Whole grains went next; I just couldn’t afford them without literally taking food out of my family’s mouth. Plans and recipes changed and changed and changed as my shopping list shrunk and morphed depending on the realities of the marketplace and my ability to find sales and values. In a future post I’ll do something about the philosophy I tried to keep in mind for cooking for the week.

For my breakfast menus and recipes (well more of assembly instructions), click here.

Below is my menu with serving suggestions for 56 lunches and dinners (14 meals for 4 people). Watch Blog Appétit. I will be posting the different recipes in the next few days.

Chicken Vegetable Stew: 8 servings, 1 cup each – featuring two pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, carrots, celery, cabbage, potatoes, onions and garlic.
Serve over rice. (Recipe to come, I’m still working on a dumpling option.)

Turkey Meatballs, Tomato Sauce and Spaghetti – 12 servings. (Reserve 8 meatballs and 1/3rd cup of sauce for Meatball Sandwiches) Eight servings of two meatballs each, 1/8 sauce, 1/8 pasta. Served with green salad made with a few ounces of shredded cabbage, fresh tomato, ½ sliced carrot and ½ sliced celery stalk. Dressed with oil, vinegar and salt and pepper. (Reserve 2 large lettuce leaves 4 slices of tomato for sandwiches.) Four servings Meatball Sandwiches. Toast 8 slices of bread. Slice meatballs in half. Spread sauce on top of a bread slice, layer 1/4th of sliced meatballs on top, add lettuce and tomato, top with more sauce and second piece of bread.

This was one of my only “convenience” meals. I had planned on making the meatballs, but the price of the frozen ones was great – 2 pounds for $5. I was glad to work in a meal that didn’t require as much time in the kitchen.

Asian-Flavor Sauté – 4 servings, 1 cup each. Not really a stir fry but almost a one-pot dinner with chicken, tofu, vegetables and Asian flavors. Serve over rice. Make extra rice, because leftovers will be turned into the next meal. (Recipe to come.)

Food Bank Fried Rice -- 4 servings, 1 ½ cups each (or more depending on the amount of leftover rice you use). This dish (recipe to come) combines the leftover sauté with additional veggies, eggs and leftover rice.

Vegetable Soup – 12 servings, 1 ½ cups each. A hearty, tasty soup featuring potatoes, cabbage, carrots, celery, tomatoes, onion, garlic and more. If needed, make it a heartier meal by serving with a slice of bread and/or a poached or fried egg on top (optional, note that will affect your egg count for other uses). Or put some leftover rice in a bowl before ladling in the soup. (Recipe to come)

Beef and Bean Chili – 12 servings. I’m still working out this recipe, so more detail when I’m done. Serve with a bit of grated cheese over rice (for 8 servings) and over baked potatoes (4 servings).

Stuffed Potatoes – 4 servings. The innards of four baked potatoes get mixed with chopped broccoli, cheese and a white sauce and get stuffed back into their shells. (Recipe to come.)

A word about beverages – Drink tap water. It’s healthy, it’s there and it’s cheap. (It’s even trendy now.) Gussy it up with ice or maybe a bit of juice for flavor. My budget did allow for two cans of frozen orange juice. I mostly worked it into breakfasts, but leftovers could certainly be drunk anytime. I also had two gallons of low-fat milk. While some is used in cooking, the rest is available to drink. One of my early shopping list revisions was getting rid of coffee, herbal or black tea, cocoa or chocolate syrup. With my emphasis on “real” food I just couldn’t afford it.

Speaking of snacks, I thought it might be good to save the milk for snack time instead of drinking it with meals. Also, I was able to provide 16 pieces of fresh fruit in my budget that are available for snacks or as meal add-ons (12 apples and 4 nectarines) enough for four servings for four people. There are also about 20 slices of bread unaccounted for. Even if some slices might be used to accompany the soup, there should still be some available for use with butter, left over peanut butter, and left over jam. Also there is a celery stalk or two extra and a carrot or two extra. They could be cut into sticks and eaten with a meal or as a snack. Any leftover eggs can be hardboiled and eaten as a snack. Or set aside two and turn into rice pudding with leftover rice, some sugar, some milk and a dot or two of butter. Some of the orange juice could be made into homemade juice pops. Pour into ice cube tray, stick in toothpicks and freeze. There are also two whole grain waffles left from breakfast. Toast, sandwich with peanut butter and jam, and cut into sticks or cubes for a snack.
About the photo: My cutting board right after I used the last scrap of my magic green cabbage.

The Hunger Challenge -- How You Can Help

Update: Help the SF Food Bank and other area food banks get more chicken from Tyson. Here's what to do from the SF Food Bank website:

"Tyson Foods has offered to donate up to 200,000 pounds of high-quality, protein-rich foods to 6 San Francisco Bay Area food banks. Please help get this food on the trucks. Here's how you can help:
1) Go to the Tyson website.
2) Read the information about hunger in the Bay Area and post a comment. (NOTE: the format asks for an email address to prevent spam, but Tyson guarantees they will not harvest emails or use them for any other purpose whatsoever.)
3) Tyson adds another 100 pounds of high-quality, protein-rich foods (chicken, meatballs, lunchmeat, etc.) to trucks heading for 6 Bay Area food banks!"

Be sure to let your friends and colleagues know -- their comments are worth 100 lbs of chicken each!

Here's a post I kind of adapted from the San Francisco Food Bank Hunger Challenge blog on how you can help. In addition to the items below, you can also volunteer at the SF or your local food bank.

(Click here for info on food banks elsewhere.)

Donate: Contribute to the San Francisco Food Bank. For every $1 donated, the San Francisco Food Bank can provide $9 worth of food to the hungry.

Advocate: Contact your local elected officials about hunger issues.

Experience: Try eating on just a $1 a meal a person for a meal, a day a week. Blog about it or just share it with your friends and family. Consider donating the money you saved that meal, day, week to your local food bank. I bet you'll never look at food or think about the food stamps the same way again.

Shopping List for Hunger Challenge

Below is my finalized shopping list for the week’s food (non-staples) with prices paid. I was able to take advantage of some phenomenal sales. For example $1.99 pound for boneless, skinless chicken thighs, 39 cents a pound for cabbage, four pounds of rice for $2.49 and a two gallons for the price of one deal on the milk. While these values vary from week to week, they represent what was out there while I was planning my menus. Most of the shopping was done at my neighborhood Safeway and Lucky’s, but items were also bought at Grocery Outlet and an independent supermarket.

Diced tomato $1.85
Chicken Broth $3.34
Stewed Tomatoes $1.38
frozen spinach $0.99
frozen broccoli $0.99
boneless chicken thighs $5.97
green cabbage $0.93
onions $0.89
red jalapeno peppers $0.20
garlic head $0.25
ginger $0.25
potatoes $2.49
bananas $0.50
apples $6.99
red leaf lettuce $1.29
pinto beans $0.99
rice $2.49
cheese - 2% cheddar $5.00
eggs $2.69
milk $3.29
turkey meat balls $5.00
pasta $0.88
bread $3.00
blackberry jam $2.50
cereal $2.00
peanut butter $1.99
firm tofu $1.79
carrots $1.49
celery $1.99
whole grain waffles $3.19
frozen oj $3.50
yogurt, plain, low fat $2.49
pasta sauce $1.55
ground beef, frozen $4.00
nectarines $1.50
fresh tomato $0.99

Some Assumptions
The cost of staples (such as butter, canola oil, sugar, flour, etc.) made my tab higher than $84, but since I would only be using a fraction of those ingredients in my weekly menu I only counted the amount used for each meal. Because I tried to buy the smallest packages available, that did mean my per ounce price was less economical. In addition other ingredients would also probably last beyond the one week period such as peanut butter, but I included them entirely in the weekly total, although in my price per meal I figured out how much the ingredient cost for the ounces used. I did just count half of the cost of my eggs in the weekly total, since they were on sale -- two 18-egg packs for the price of one. (I included the other half in my staples accounting.) Since many households may have one or more of these ingredients in the house already, that would bring the shopping total down even further.

To recap from a prior post, total shoping was $96.55, of which $15.92 was for staples. Total weekly groceries were $80.63 and I used $3.35 of staples which made my total $83.98.
About the photo -- one of the many list of ingredients, recipes, shopping lists, etc. I created during the challenge.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Watch This Space for $1 a Person a Meal Recipes

I got too tired tonight to post -- but I just wanted to be sure you came back tomorrow -- I hope to post recipes for chicken stew, Asian saute and fried rice. Still to come are meal ideas/menus (some with mini recipes) for lunch and dinner.

Update - thursday am -- just made the veggie soup, yum!
Also, I changed around some of my purchases as I spotted some sales and good values, so my totals will be revised.

The Breakfast of Hunger Challenge Champions -- Getting a Good Start on a $1 a Meal a Person a Day

Here is part one of my basic menu for the week for my mythical family of four spending an average of a $1 a meal per person (which I figured out as $84 a week total).

I tried to use San Francisco Food Bank basics such as rice, cabbage, onions and carrots. If my family was able to get them in its food bag, the total would go down by almost $6, a significant amount of money that would add more fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains and variety to the family’s diet.

Some Assumptions

The cost of staples (such as butter, canola oil, sugar, flour, etc.) made my tab higher than $84, but since I would only be using a fraction of those ingredients in my weekly menu I only counted the amount used for each meal. Because I tried to buy the smallest packages available, that did mean my per ounce price was less economical. In addition other ingredients would also probably last beyond the one week period such as peanut butter, but I included them entirely in the weekly total, although in my price per meal I figured out how much the ingredient cost for the ounces used. I did just count half of the cost of my eggs in the weekly total, since they were on sale -- two 18-egg packs for the price of one. (I included the other half in my staples accounting.) Since many households may have one or more of these ingredients in the house already, that would bring the shopping total down even further.

My week’s shopping cost $96.55. I spent $15.92 of it on “staples.” My purchases directly for the week were $80.63. I used $3.35 worth of my staples, which made my total for the week $83.98.

I assumed salt and pepper were available in the house. All other seasonings were made optional.

The Breakfasts

I tried to pack in as much nutrition as I could. I tried to keep the meals fairly easy (well except for maybe the Weekend Pancakes with Caramelized Apples) and anything involved could be made the night ahead and reheated. School age children could make the yogurt parfaits themselves and older children could make themselves the waffle sandwiches.

Total of 28 servings

Waffle “sandwich” – two whole grain frozen waffles toasted or heated in the microwave, on one spread 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 1 tablespoon blackberry or other jam, ¼ of a sliced banana, topped with the second. (note there are 10 waffles in the pack, so that will provide five servings of this option, but the waffles were on sale two packs for the price of one, but I only figured on eight servings for breakfast, so that leaves four waffles for snack or two servings of breakfast next week.) Serve with milk. (Note: if the waffles were not on sale for two packs for $3.15, I probably would not have been able to afford the whole grain option and would have spent $2 a pack for regular waffles.)

Breakfast parfait – ½ cup of cereal layered with jam or sliced banana with ½ cup of yogurt. Serve with orange juice. (Eight servings)

Popeye’s breakfast – Cook ½ pound of frozen spinach in a fry pan until heated through. Drain and squeeze out excess liquid. Dry fry pan, add butter or oil. Optional – when the butter or oil is heated, add ¼ cup chopped onion, 1 clove garlic minced and fry until lightly brown. Add eight beaten eggs, and salt and pepper to taste and scramble until the eggs are almost set. Add eight ounces of chopped, grated or cut up chunks of cheddar, and the spinach. Cook until eggs are done and cheese is beginning to melt. Serve one eighth of each mixture as a filling for a sandwich with two pieces of toasted, buttered bread. (Eight servings, reserve half for another breakfast.) Serve with orange juice or milk. (Note: egg mixture can be made the night before and reheated in the microwave.)

Weekend Special – Homemade pancakes with caramelized apple slices (four servings, 2-3 pancakes each depending on size). Serve with orange juice or milk.

First, mix the pancake batter and let it sit.
Pancake batter – 1 cup flour mixed with 1 tablespoon sugar and 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder, ¼ teaspoon salt. Stir in 1 cup of milk, 1 egg and 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Mix well. Set aside.

Next peel, core and thinly slice two apples. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a fry pan or larger sauce pan. When the butter is melted, scatter apple slices in pan and sprinkle sugar to taste on top (optional – add ½ teaspoon cinnamon). Add more butter if needed. Cook on a low heat until the apple slices are soft. Keep warm.

While the apples are cooking, heat oil a skillet or large fry pan. Heat over a medium heat, when oil is hot, cook pancakes, turning over when bottom side is brown and top side is bubbling. Use about ¼ cup of the batter for each pancake. Serve with the warm, buttery apple slices on top or jam and butter. (Or warm about a ¼ cup of the jam in a small pot. When it becomes loose and a bit liquid, spoon one fourth on top of each serving.)

Still to come are menus for lunches and dinners, snack suggestions, my overall shopping list, and recipes for savory chicken stew, vegetable soup and Asian stir fry. I also plan on including some shopping lessons learned and some suggestions for using San Francisco Food Bank frequent “best sellers” such as cabbage and cottage cheese (although probably not in the same dish, but you never know). Plus, more ways you can help the San Francisco and other food banks combat hunger in our communities.

Read more about the Hunger Challenge .
To see other Blog Appetit articles on it and food banks, click here.
To donate, please click on the graphic below.

Note: FYI the totals were revised on Thursday, Sept. 25. Turned out I had made some math errors (that's what happens when you post at 1 a.m.!) and had not completed all the shopping I planned on, so I was able to take advantage of some sales and values I had not known about when I first figured out my totals and was able to buy some more fresh fruit and vegetables as a result.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Hunger Challenge -- Photos and More from the Front Line

The Hunger Challenge sponsored by the San Francisco Food Bank is for bloggers and their readers to try, even for one meal, to eat on $1 a person a meal and then share the experience. The formal challenge begins September 21, but I got a head start and I can tell you the experience has changed me in a number of ways, one of those is to make me much more an anti-hunger activist than I already was. (To read about my initial experience, please click here.)

Please consider donating to the San Francisco Food Bank. Just click on the Hunger Challenge badge above. Every $1 you give buys $9 in food. To make donating even more enticing, Amy of Cooking with Amy has donated 12 cookbooks to go to the first 12 donors from this challenge donating $50 or more. To qualify, click on the badge/link above to go to the donation page. Fill out the necessary info and make a donation of $50 or more.
About two thirds of the way down the form, look for a header that says, “Food Drive/Event Information. Use the drop-down box to select “Bloggers Hunger Challenge.” Be one of the first 12 people to donate $50 or more and you’ll receive a free cookbook as a thank-you.

Other bloggers participating in this challenge besides Cooking with Amy are the newsletter from La Petit Appetit, Vanessa Barrington, Been There At That, and the Inadvertent Gardner.

Here is a slide show prepared by the San Francisco Food Bank showing some of the behind the scenes and clients it serves.

Please keep reading Blog Appetit for more on my experience and how you can help.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The San Francisco Food Bank Challenge -- $1 a Person a Meal

When I took on the San Francisco Food Bank’s Hunger Challenge to create meals and menus for $1 a meal a person I didn’t realize the tool I would use most when I was cooking would be my calculator.

Since families on food stamps only get $21 a week per person, I couldn’t spend any more. Out went the beef for stew when it turned out to be twice as expensive as chicken. Figuring out portion sizes, costs per ounce, cup and even teaspoon kept me going back and punching in numbers, somehow hoping that I could work in a little more of this or that and still get the totals I needed. Frankly, having to plan and shop and cook so precisely (if I was wrong my mythical family of four would be left hungry) took a lot of work, compromise, time and ingenuity. It almost seemed like a full time job and figuring how to make it all work was mentally exhausting.

Thankfully, clients of the San Francisco Food Bank have a little cushion to help them stretch their food dollars, but I didn’t take into account that they might have gotten some carrots, cabbage, onions, tomato sauce and pasta in their food bags. If they did have some of these popular items on hand, they would have a little more money to spend on fruit, whole grains and other foods.

I mention fruit and whole grains because that was the biggest disappointment of my menu making experience. It was incredibly difficult to shop in “regular” food stores that most people have access to and be able to afford these foods. A five pound bag of apples, for example, one of the best “fruit values” in the market costs about $7 and has about 14 or so apples in it. That means each apple costs about 50 cents, or half of a meal budget.
Try working in five servings a day of fruits and vegetables with that kind of restraint.
Whole grains were also elusively expensive in supermarkets. Why would brown rice (with less processing) be more expensive than white rice, for example? Regular pasta was on sale for 88 cents a pound, a real bargain. Whole grain pasta was $1.99 a pound on sale, a huge difference when every penny can make the difference.

Shopping in regular supermarkets did have some upsides. There were incredible bargains in store brands, two for one specials and sale items. The boneless, skinless chicken thighs for my stew were on sale for $1.99 a pound ($2 off), store brand bread with 3g of fiber and extra calcium was just $1.50 a loaf for 22 slices, low sodium, fat-free chicken broth was just $1.67 a quart.

Some guidelines I set myself

  • I tried to work in fiber, vegetables and unprocessed foods as much as possible. I wanted to avoid processed foods for several reasons. First, they contain a lot of salt and sugar. Second, often you are paying significantly more for the packaging and convenience.
  • I tried to make “double” portions of items when I cooked or have leftovers be the basis for another meal to reduce cooking time and make “scratch cooking” more convenient and also to help keep down energy costs.
  • I assumed that some people would only have a small stove top and a microwave oven and might not have access to an oven. I also assumed that some people would have very limited freezer space.
  • I tried to stay flexible. I wanted to have turkey meatballs with pasta. At the store, there were no deals on fresh or frozen ground turkey, but a great sale (two pounds for $5) on pre-made meatballs. While I would prefer fresh made, I changed my menu to include the frozen meatballs.

I recognize that I’m no expert and I don’t have to eat this way; for me it was a food blogging challenge, kind of an experiment. I would love to hear from anyone who has had to do this for more than a meal, a day or a week and get their suggestions and learn about their experiences. These people are the experts in this.

I’ve always been aware that my family and I are very fortunate in being able to eat well and have a lot of choice in what we eat. I’ve always tried to help out by donating food, money and time to local food banks. But after this experience the plight of those without enough to eat has been much more real to me and I in turn have become more of an activist. I hope reading a bit about my experience will make you one, too.

For more about how to help in your local food banks, go to Second Harvest.

Still to come: Recipes for a few of meals on my menu, my menu concepts, tips for shopping and cooking on a $1 a meal, how you can help and more. To read past articles on Blog Appetit about volunteering at food banks, click here.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Quick Market Report -- Whole Foods Cheaper Than Supermarket

I know that conventional wisdom holds that it can be more expensive to shop at Whole Foods, but my experience today was a real eye opener. In Oakland, CA, high quality but conventionally grown peaches and nectarines were $1.99 a pound at Whole Foods. Similar fruit was $2.29 at my local chain supermarket. Regularly priced Whole Foods Brand English muffins were $2.99, at the chain store the national chain muffins were on sale for $3. All in all in items that were comparable I didn't find much price difference plus I had access to the Whole Foods things I enjoy.

On the other hand, it seemed to me that WF had fewer types of organics to choose from than normal. I don't know if that reflects the current crop availability or if that was a marketing decision by WF management to help keep shopping at Whole Foods more affordable.
Also, to be honest, I could have shopped any number of farmers' markets around here and gotten the fruit (probably organic) for the same or less money, but I was out picking up other staples anyway.