Each year when the air turns cool, we start to crave hearty warm stews. This is  invariably one of the first ones I make of the season.  This year, I happen to have a huge bucket of olives from my first olive fermentation experiment (more on that later), so this was a natural to put in the rotation.   Tender chicken and hearty potatoes tossed with artichoke hearts and bitter olives sit in a pool of garlic lemon sauce.  This stew is at once bright and acidic, as well as hearty and nourishing. What is not to like? Many times this recipe has been a hit at our dinner table.  It is also great for lunch or as a warm meal to bring to a friend in need.  You can also make it a day ahead and reheat it when you are ready.

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Our country is awash with cheap fast food options.  As companies increasingly market these inexpensive, yet low quality foods to us in the drive-through and the supermarket the questions arise: Are fast food and prepared foods the only option for families on a budget?  Can nutritious and delicious foods also be economical?  For our family, we make almost all of our food from scratch, yet still adhere to a strict food budget.  Absolutely, YES, nutritious and delicious foods can be economical!  September 17, 2011, Slow Food USA is hosting a $5 Challenge.  They seek to counter-act the myth that slow food has to cost more than fast food.  The challenge calls upon us to serve a meal to our friends and/or family for less than $5 per person.

Truly, $5 per person is quite generous.  At this cost, a meal can be more than just a way to feed our hunger, it can be special.  Back in May, my Sausage and Kale Dinner Tart won Best Dirt Cheap Dinner on a food52 contest. This tart, though inexpensive to prepare, is suitable to serve for a dinner party.  For $5 per person, you can afford the tart, a salad, and a bottle of wine!  Most of the meals I serve my family come in at about half that price- closer to $10 for our family of 4.  In fact, the more of the preparation I take on myself, the lower the cost.  The base ingredients for bread, sausage, and soups are very low.  We also have a productive garden which helps to cut the costs of our produce.  Preserving the bounty of the seasons is a great way to ensure low cost, high quality food throughout the year.

Cannellini Beans with Tomatoes and Greens is a perfect late summer stew.  It is for those days when tomatoes are still abundant, but the air slightly hints of fall.  The flavors are rich without being too bold and the light color of the beans makes the dish seem light enough for even a hot night.  It is a perfect example of a delicious meal that does not cost much nor take exorbitant amounts of time to prepare.  In fact, the total cost of this meal is less than $10 total, or even less if you have garden tomatoes and cook with dried beans instead of canned ones.  This meal came together on a Thursday night, when the cupboard was nearly bare and the young natives of the household were restless and hungry.   Taking stock of the pantry, I found two cans of cannellini beans.  Heading out to the garden, I collected a pile of tomatoes and a handful of basil.  These humble ingredients cooked up with a small amount of sausage for flavor and protein made for a tasty dish.  The little man gave his seal of approval stating that it was “very, very good.” For an extra treat, bake up a loaf of Weeknight No-Knead Bread to serve on the side.   Nutritious, delicious, homemade food does not have to be expensive.

What will you make for the September 17th, $5 Slow Food Challenge?

Other My Pantry Shelf meals for under $5 per person:

Soups and Chili

Big Beef Chili, Chicken Tortilla Soup, Mexican Pozole Rojo, Split Pea Soup with Ham and Beer Bread, Vietnamese Hue Noodle Soup

Pasta, Pizza, and Tarts

Perciatelli and Meatballs, Green and Brown Spaghetti with Basil Pesto, Roasted Asparagus Pizza, Sausage and Kale Dinner Tart

Poultry and Meat Dishes

Chicken Satay, Biscuit-topped Chicken Pot Pie, Corned Beef, Divine Indian Butter Chicken, Fresh Ground Bacon Burgers with Homemade Bun, Huevos Diablos con Chorizo, Lamb Kebabs with Greek Salad, Roasted Garlic Lemon Chicken, Sesame Ginger Meatballs, Southwestern Chicken Burger, Swedish Meatballs (Kottbullar), Thai Lettuce Wraps, World’s Easiest Carnitas with Grilled Tomatillo Salsa

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Wine Braised Short Ribs

January 1, 2011

New Year’s Eve demands attention.  It is the last day of the year, and like many big deadlines,  it pressures us to make the most of our final minutes.  We often feel obliged to stay up late and live large on this cold night.  We either celebrate the blessings of the previous year or say good riddance to a year that treated us harshly.  For my husband and I however,  times have changed.

This year we did not ring in the new year as we once had.  There were no loud parties, drunken dances, or boisterous cheers.  Perhaps it is as the checkout gal at the butcher shop and I agreed, we have paid our dues by partying wholeheartedly in previous years and we deserve a night off.  Perhaps we are lured by the calm and seemingly more desirable option of staying in with a delicious meal and a bottle of bubbly.  Perhaps we just don’t have a babysitter.  Whatever it is, the food made the night (and the company of course!).

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