When we’re broke, which is often, I go old school with the cooking. After all, nobody knows how to eat well on a budget better than old ladies who lived and cooked their way through the Great Depression, right? My Nona (my Greek great-grandmother) used to show me all the edible plants in the yard (some of them weeds) and told me how you could even eat the snails if you wanted to. Years later, as an adult, I was watching Anthony Bourdain’s show in Greece, and he interviewed some Greeks who survived during World War II by eating dandelions and snails! My Nona came to America in the 1920s, so I think perhaps this just was a common thing to eat whether there was a war going on or not– it probably had more to do with one’s economic status.
Anyway, when we are broke, I don’t start hunting down snails or pinching dandelions from other people’s lawns– but I do buy more rice and beans– especially lentils. Lentils are so versatile and filling that I don’t even feel like I’m economizing. Of course, pintos are even cheaper, but I can eat lentils in hot soups, plain, over rice, cold with olive oil and vinegar, curried Indian-style– I just put two cups of them in a pressure cooker for half an hour with six cups of water and I can eat for two days! I do have to share, otherwise it’d last even longer.
Bread is also cheap to make if you already have yeast on hand. If you have a sourdough starter ready to go (I never do, because I have so-so luck with sourdough starters lately), you don’t even need that. So, when I am jonesing to bake but I don’t have a lot of ingredients, making bread lets me feel productive.
When I want something sweet, I make these biscotti. This recipe, which I pilfered from Everyday Food, but is really just a very basic recipe, is great because it is so adaptable. I had the tail end of two different trail mixes (chocolate chips, almonds, cashews, dried cherries and dried cranberries), so I mixed them together and gave them a few quick swirls in the food processor. I wanted them to feel more decadent, so I made a kind of cocoa jam and spread it on the raw biscotti loaves before baking the first time.
1 tsp vanilla
1 c. sugar
2 1/2 c. all-purpose white flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
a little water, if it’s too dry
1 c. slightly ground up almonds, cherries, chocolate bits, etc.
1/2 tsp. aniseed
6 T. sugar
3 tsp. cocoa powder, unsweetened
a few T. of butter
— Mix the eggs, sugar and vanilla together, then blend in the rest of the dry ingredients except for the 6 T. of sugar, cocoa, and butter.
— The dough will be very stiff, and if it is not coming together (you and your small eggs! Get bigger eggs!) add some water until it just holds together as one big ball. It should still be very stiff, though.
— Divide the dough into two, then pat into two flat, oblong loaves.
— Spread the cocoa jam on with a butterknife.
— Bake (I like to put parchment paper on the cookie sheet) at 350 for about 20 minutes.
— Take them out and let them cool off for about half an hour, then slice slanted, 1/4 – 1/2 inch thick. Lay them flat and bake again for about 15 minutes, or until they look like how biscotti are supposed to look. A little crispy is good, because you do want to dunk them, right?