Monday, March 12, 2012

Oh SNAP! The thrifty meals are back

It's been a while, but the Ribars are going back on a thrifty diet.

Back in 2009, we spent two weeks eating meals that had been recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program). The goal of our "diet" then was to test whether the recipes could actually be fixed within a SNAP budget; it turned out that we came out a little over-budget. Another goal was to see whether the meals were edible. Some of the dishes were surprisingly good (at least to one Ribar); others were barely edible; still others ended up having bad recipes that would have left people sick.

For the 2012 version, we're doing something different. We're going to start with a one-week Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) budget and cook meals that we like that fit within that budget.

For our family, which now consists of two 18-50 year-old adults and one 17 year-old son (a son has left the nest along the way and will be following with amusement from Chapel Hill), the TFP budget is $123.79. The goals of this week's diet are to stay within budget and to contribute some inexpensive recipes that we like (one later this week will be the correct and edible version of an incorrect USDA recipe).

Breakfast this morning (and until Friday) was cereal, juice, and milk. Lunch this afternoon (and until Thursday) was cold-cut sandwiches, fruit, and store-bought cookies.

For the rest of the week, I'll be blogging and showing SNAPshots of the dinner recipes. Dinner tonight was vegetarian chili with rice and cheese accompanied by a tossed salad.

The nice thing about a vegetarian recipe is that it doesn't run afoul of most people's religious or dietary preferences. The not-so-nice thing is that it's a lot of beans to consume in one sitting. Don't fix this before a long car ride with the in-laws. More than that, don't fix this for the in-laws before a long car ride with them.

The recipe for vegetarian chili is adapted from the October 1990 Consumer Reports.

2 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 large onion chopped
1 green pepper chopped
1 clove garlic minced
4 Tbs. chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
2 15-oz. cans diced tomatoes
2 Tbs. Worcester sauce
1 6-oz. can tomato paste
1 15-oz. can red kidney beans with liquid
1 15-oz. can pinto beans with liquid
1 15-oz. can garbanzo beans with liquid

Directions: Heat oil in a large pot over a medium heat, add onions, peppers, and garlic, and saute until they start to soften (about 5 minutes). Add spices and saute until spices are heated (about 1 minute). Add diced tomatoes (keep cans); cook until spices and oil start to run clear of the tomatoes. Add remaining ingredients; use a little bit of water in each can to get the remaining bits out. Continue cooking over a medium heat until the chili starts to boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for at least 30 minutes.

For dinner, we used half of the chili; the other half will be used later this week.

For the rice...

1 cup white rice rinsed and drained
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
1/4 tsp. cumin seeds
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups hot water

Directions: Heat the oil in a small sauce pan over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the cumin seeds and fry for 15-30 seconds until you can smell the cumin. Add the rice and saute, stirring often until the rice just starts to brown. Add the hot water and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the water is just gone (about 15-20 minutes). Let sit for 5 additional minutes covered. Fluff with a fork.

Serve chili and rice with cheese to teenager and gauge reaction; if suitable, consume it yourself. (Note: very hungry teenagers may fake stomach distress to get the whole pot themselves).