Budget Kitchen Fundamentals: Grow Your Own

Along with our grocery budget, we’ve been trying over the past year to make our diet more sustainable and economical by growing some of our own food. If you’re an urbanite looking for tips on how to start a garden despite your lack of arable land, I suggest The Urban Homestead, written by the folks who run the Homegrown Evolution blog (actually, they were kind enough to link to our site recently, motivating me to finally finish up this post).

Last spring we laid out some cash for soil, pots, and seedlings from the Brooklyn Botanical Garden in hopes of reaping a harvest of tomatos, squash, strawberries, snap peas, and herbs; all from the five by five foot balcony off the back of our apartment. Ultimately, we managed to collect one tomato and one very small strawberry. The rest was devoured, or just wantonly torn apart, by packs of vicious, sadistic, nihilist squirrels (Sciuridae horribilis). I can’t understand how they didn’t get an explicit mention in the ten plagues of Egypt.

From the wreckage, however, we were able to salvage our herb plants, which we have since transplanted into smaller pots and brought inside. And here we get to the point: an indoor herb garden is attractive, fairly easy to maintain, and will save you a load of money when compared to buying fresh herbs from the store every time you need them.

First, a couple household articles of faith concerning herbs:

1. Dried herbs in plastic canisters, while they will do in a pinch, can never stand up to flavorful fresh herbs. Yes, there are tips and tricks you can use to get the most flavor out of your dried herbs (e.g. don’t store them above your stove), but all in all it’s a losing battle.

2. Packs of herbs that you buy at the store are expensive, and almost always give you more than you need for a given recipe (unless you’re buying basil to make pesto, for instance), leaving you with the choice of either finding a bunch of recipes to use the rest up before they go bad or maybe drying them yourself for later use. For the latter, refer to article 1.

With a relatively small cash outlay, an indoor herb garden can provide you with a perpetual supply of your favorite herbs and you don’t have to worry about using them up before they spoil. Aside from watering and occassional pinching, you don’t have to put much work in.

At the moment, our garden provides us with basil, rosemary, sage, thyme, mint, marjoram, and lemon verbena. We use one or the other of them several times a week, often to delicious result. And in case you’re having trouble thinking of something other than tomato sauce that benefits from the application of fresh herbs, here are a couple great ways to showcase your herb garden:

Sage-Scented Shortbread
Omlette Aux Fines Herbs
Mint Julep (out of season, perhaps, but oh so delicious)

Things to Be Thankful For – 3 Recipes for T-Day

We’re heading to both sets of parents for Thanksgiving and I am very excited about eating some delicious food that is not on a budget! I mean, we eat well for our $30/week, but I’m looking forward to being fed. It will also be nice to get out of the city for a while and spend time with the family. There will be some cooking for us though. Our three Thanksgiving recipes will be: our Autumn Millet Bake, Chewy Ginger Cookies and Mary’s Spiced Nuts for nibbling on with cocktails before the main meal. These nuts are addictive, tasty, easy to make and perfect to make in advance or to give out as a gift in a pretty jar. Good mixed nuts can be expensive, but if you’re thinking of making something savory to give out during the holiday season, the cost is worth it. My friend Mary used to only give this recipe out to people who beat her in arm wrestling. Consider yourself lucky you can just get it off this website. Thanks Mary!

Mary’s Spiced Nuts

4 c. raw, unsalted, un-roasted nuts (cashews and pecans work best, but a mixed bunch are good too)
2 TBS unsalted butter
2 TBS honey or maple syrup
1/2 – 1 tsp. hot pepper sauce (Mary uses Tabasco)
2-3 tsp. yellow curry powder (more or less depending on its strength and your taste)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
extra salt and raw sugar for sprinkling

To Do:
Heat oven to 250. Line a large baking sheet with tinfoil. Make sure the tinfoil covers the edges, because otherwise you will have to scrape caramelized curry goo off the corners of your baking sheet.
Put your raw nuts in a big bowl.

Combine butter, honey, and hot pepper sauce in a small saucepan. Heat just until it melts together. Stir together.

Remove from heat and stir in salt and spices. Pour the honey mixture over the nuts in the bowl and toss well, until the nuts are nicely coated. Taste one and adjust seasoning/sweetness/saltiness until you like it.

Spread the nuts on the prepared sheet and bake until they are dry and toasty, about 40 minutes. Stir them a few times so they don’t burn, and remember, they’ll crisp up a little as they cool.

Use your hands to separate any clumps. If you like (and I do like), sprinkle them with some raw sugar when they’re still slightly warm, for an extra-crunchy coating. You can add a little extra salt then too.
When the nuts are completely cool store them in heavy-duty airtight plastic bags. They keep for a week, allegedly, but I’ve never had any go uneaten that long.