Thursday, November 12, 2009

Refrigerator soup

I've had a lot of people ask me how, knowing my tastes and proclivities for things like fine wine and foie gras, I can feed myself on less than $100 a month. First, you have to have a fully stocked pantry; my food costs right now are higher than that, because I'm in the process of building the pantry. Oh, and because I'm feeding two people instead of one. Second, you have to eat your leftovers, all your leftovers, and not be afraid of things like beans and soup. Third, no liquid calories (other than alcohol). I'm continuously amazed at how much people spend on soda, juice, Red Bull, Gatorade, etc., and also amazed at how these same people usually wonder about how much weight they've gained/how much their dentistry costs. I'd rather save my calories for the food. Fourth, and most important, you have to know how to cook.

Which is usually the sticking point for most of the people I know. But it's easy, it really is. The human race survived for millenia without convenience foods, and in the amount of time it takes a Lean Cuisine meal to heat in the microwave (5-7 minutes), I can throw some things into a pan on the stove and serve up a hot, fresh, homecooked meal. Without a lot of preservatives and chemicals I can't pronounce. So I'm starting this new blog in which I'll share all my favorite (cheap) recipes.

So, one of my standby recipes: Refrigerator Soup. This is a catch-all term for "a soup which uses up all those random, seemingly unrelated things hanging out in your fridge." I call it minestrone when I make it for other people. Obviously, what goes into it will vary, but the basic shape remains the same. Saute a chopped onion and some garlic (maybe some carrots and celery if you have them on hand) in olive oil or bacon fat. Then add a can of tomatoes, a couple of handfuls of beans (any kind), a package of frozen spinach, and whatever else you have handy. Last night I threw in some leftover spaghetti sauce, a handful of dried fusilli, and a handful of quinoa. Any vegetables you have that are in danger of going bad can be added. Then add broth to the pot, about 1 inch to 1 1/2 inches above the food line, and whatever seasonings seem reasonable. (Sam's makes an all-purpose Italian seasoning mix that I like to use for soups. I put in that, plus bay leaves and salt, last night.) Cook till everything's heated through and the pasta's done, maybe 15-20 minutes.

There! You've made soup. Easy as pie and very cheap and filling. Serve with freshly shredded parmesan on top. I guarantee it tastes far better than anything Campbell's or Progresso ever made.

Total cost: Let's see...maybe .50 each for the cans of tomatoes and beans (bought in bulk), pennies for the onion and garlic, about $1.00 for the frozen spinach. Call it another $1.00 for everything else (handful of pasta, spices, etc.). The broth was homemade. So $4.00, max, for eight servings of soup. That's fifty cents per serving.

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