This would have been termed a Gluten Free Recession Bento had it not been for the condensed cream of mushroom I used for the Stroganoff. Had I found a good substitute, this menu would have been gluten free.
One more note: With the exception of spices used, I bought everything else just to see how much I can squeeze and still have a good bento. Wanna guess the final cost? I'll tell you at the end of the post.
Let's start with Beef Stroganoff. Ground beef has been a staple of cheap cooking. Yes, 80/20 ground beef is significantly cheaper than 93/7 lean beef. After doing the math, I was able to justify the more healthy ground beef. I did a bit of research on Beef Stroganoff and it has met a lot of adjustments throughout the years as people have changed and tweaked it based on culture or economy. Back in it's origin it used nice cuts of beef tenderloin and tomato paste. I think the modern world modified it significantly with the advent of the likes of Hamburger Helper and other out of the box solutions.
Next we have a wonderful tomato soup. How does this qualify as recession cooking? this particular recipe (for a serving of five) literally costs two dollars. It makes use of 2% milk and tomato paste. Other versions of tomato soup I've created over the years require whole fresh tomatoes, cream, butter etc... But the humble tomato paste and stretching it out with milk and a few spices really brings a reasonable soup to the table. I'll admit, the foodie in me wilted as I first glanced all of these seed recipes for today's production. But the frugal chef in me was delighted to see how you can have simple ingrediants and still have a quality output. (I'm guessing this is why spices have been so valued over the years to chefs on a budget)
For a vegetable side, I put together a curried blackeyed pea with collard greens. The original recipe seemed to lean on cooking a classic Indian Dal recipe. Taking a page from that and forgoing "curry" I created my own blend of curry spices that is more like a Chana Masala. This took some of the bitterness out of the collard greens and gave the simple ingredients an exotic taste.
Dessert was difficult. Gluten free desserts are *really* expensive. As luck would have it my eyes strayed outside the gluten-free section and landed on some instant pudding. Quickly checking the back I saw that it happened to be gluten free (unlike the cream of mushroom when I looked only at cooking time.... boo.) Very inexpensive and very easy to make dessert. Mission complete!
Ok bottom line. Final Price: $2.57 per bento. To be fair, this was after deducting overages. I had 2x the main entree (that I get to keep and eat) and 2x of the Curried beans and greens (which I have for the week as well). But that's right, if you measured the real cost of each bento produced it was $2.57. Not too shabby.
I hope you enjoyed this installment of cooking on the cheap. Next week I go on a "Pantry Raid" and will try to churn out a bento from my pantry and freezer. Granted, I did spend money on buy all these items, but it's re-using ingrediants I had a sunk cost for, so it's free to me. :) Wish me luck, it won't be easy to pull off a coherent menu.
Question to my readers: A few people asked why I don't automatically post my recipes. I replied that it's simply not the vision for this blog to litter it with recipes and make it a recipe site. It's about my trials and tribulations. That said I happily post a recipe in comments if requested. What do you guys think? Should I be posting all the recipes each week? Or should I find a less intrusive way that still keeps the vision clean? Or is everyone good with "on demand" recipes posted to comments?
- Beef Stroganoff
- Zesty Tomato Soup
- Curried Blackeyed Peas with Collard Greens
- Sugar Free, Fat Free Chocolate Pudding.