I'm sort of reveling in my unemployment. I love being frugal - it's like a game to me - and now I have a legit excuse (It would be horrible to be making a pharmacist's salary and be forced to save money without compelling reason, right?!). Most of the time, however, I absolutely over-indulge in food because I consider eating both a hobby and a necessity, so I double budget for food. I spend lots when I go out to eat, and I go out to eat a lot. Of course I live in New Orleans, so who can blame me? But I'm surprisingly thrifty in the kitchen (My husband calls me "Iron Chef meets Frugal Gourmet" because I can take whatever we have hiding in the pantry and turn it into an inexpensive feast). Since one of the most expensive items on the menu is meat, I often cook without it - or at least without much of it. One of my favorite meatless entrees is beans: almost any kind, from white beans to red beans to pintos. Cooking beans is a challenge when you're not home though. Here's the classic beans recipe, one that takes all day (but no pre-soaking required!!!):
Put a pound of dried beans in a large pot with 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Boil 10 minutes; turn off; let sit one hour. Return to a boil then reduce heat to medium-low and cook for about 3 hours or until tender. Add seasonings, etc.
Since I can't usually sit around all day waiting on my bean pot, here's the almost-as-good crock pot version:
You may or may not soak your beans overnight. If you soak them overnight, cook them on low all day. If you don't soak them, cook them on high. Unfortunately some beans require soaking AND high temp, such as kidney beans or garbonzos.
Put your beans in the crock pot, add water to 1.5 inches above, turn pot on. Stir when you leave and when you get home. Add seasonings as soon as you get home so flavors can blend for a little while as you set the table and pry open a bottle of wine.
And a word about seasoning: This is really up to you. Most people in these parts do the whole red beans thing with onions, celery, peppers, garlic, sausage and ham, etc. I generally don't go to too much trouble, but I like to throw some veggies in a pan, saute them with seasoning, then add to the pan. Here's an example:
Dump in a pan:
1 onion, chopped
2 scallions, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
plenty of minced garlic
a bay leaf
salt and pepper
3 TBS red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp red pepper
1 tsp oregano
smoked sausage if you like (if you aren't using sausage, drizzle some olive oil in the pan to decrease sticking).
Saute on high until it starts to stick to the pan, then add 1/2 cup water and scrape the pan. Cook on medium until onions are soft. Add to beans. Correct seasonings.
Fabulous, healthy, and cheap (I think pinto beans are still $0.43 per pound).