Published on The Doomstead Diner on October 16, 2016
Discus this article at the http://www.doomsteaddiner.net/forum/index.php/topic,8146.msg114059/topicseen.html#msg114059Diner Pantry inside the Diner
I've been writing Snap Card Gourmet articles and recipes for over a year now, with at least 8 articles on the topic of eating well and eating cheap. As a former Chef, I love to cook, and as an Epicure I used to love to eat too! My own concoctions and stuff served up by fine restaraunts, whatevah, eating was a great pleasure for me over the years.
I was pretty good in terms of controlling my total intake and never got ridiculously obese, although in my trucking years I did load up an extra 40 lbs or so on a relatively small frame, so I was kinda fat then. Long days behind the wheel with little physical output of energy required, followed by a stop a some truckstop buffet with an all you can eat buffet tends to put on the fat layers, even if the food is not all that good.
I shaved off most of that fat though in the years following the life on the road, and balanced out at a reasonable set point of around 165 lbs. Not my trim weight of around 145 from my 20s-30s, but not unreasonable either.
In developing the Snap Card Gourmet series, I focused on many of my favorite foods, mostly EZ to cook up recipes created from fresh meats and veggies which shouldn't strain your budget and also have good nutritional value. I have encountered problems with this menu recently though, due to artifacts of my spinal injury.
The main problem here is first off I have little to no appetite most of the time and actually have to FORCE myself to eat these days. Nothing really "tastes good" to me anymore, I can hardly taste the difference between a Big Mac from Mickey D's or a Prime Cut Fillet Mignon & Lobster Tail Surf & Turffrom Ruth's Chris or another "Fine Steakhouse". The main difference is the price, around $5 for the Big Mac and around $100 for the Surf & Turf. In both cases, I have trouble finishing the whole meal as served, usually the best I do these days is get through about 1/3rd of what is on the plate and the rest comes home as leftovers. I can't eat a lot all at once, that makes me nauseous. So normally these days I just eat a few bites of some food in my fridge a few times a day, then I take a vitamin or two or three of different types to make sure I am getting my vitamin requirements fulfilled.
There is a secondary problem to not being able to eat much when you want to buy fresh food, which is the size of the packages of meat, which usually come in the smallest package size of around 1lb. I never ate a full pound at one sitting exept maybe a few times with a big ass Porter House steak in my teens and twenties when males of just about any size can eat through an entire refrigerator in a day. Even a "Quarter Pounder" Burger is a lot for me to eat now, usually I eat about half and then the other half as leftovers, or it gets thrown out. Cooking tiny portions is a complete waste of time, you have all the same prep time and cooking time as with a large meal for 2-4 people, and who wants to bother with that for just yourself, particularly if you are not getting any great enjoyment out of the eating? So I have this same problem with leftovers whether I cook at home or go out to eat.
What's the solution here to this problem? I want my food to be cheap & relatively nutritious and I want it in small quantities but relatively fresh when I eat it without long stays in the fridge as leftovers.
The small cheap frozen food dishes that Michelina's and Banquet puts out ALMOST fill the bill, they come in about $1 each and are just about the portion size I can eat at one sitting. The problem with them of course is they are not nutritious in the LEAST. I do resort to them now periodically though. I have however come up with some somewhat more nutritious and tasty (insofar as I can taste them anyhow) alternatives to this diet of frozen foods, which not only are tasteless but have the consistency of soggy cardboard.
My first and current favorite are the "Take & Bake" Pizzas on sale near the deli counter of most major food stores these days. They come in 3 usual varieties, the 5-Cheese pizza, the Pepperoni Pizza and the Supreme Pizza, which has sausage, pepperoni, onions, green peppers and black olives on it.
When I buy such a T&B Pizza, I don't bake the whole thing at once, I cut it into 1/4s and bake each quarter slice on its own in the toaster oven. The smaller 8" size is big enough and runs around $6, so that is about $1.50/meal for just the pizza, but I do add-ons sometimes.
When I was a kid in New York Shity, there was a small Pizzeria on just about every block, wedged into the ground floor Store Space of the typical NY Walk up tenement style building of the 1900s-1930s or so. These places were all laid out the same, narrow and long. They had to fit the about 20' wide storefront and they went back probably 100' or so. There was a door in and a Window/Counter open to the street where you could buy a slice without actually going inside, the Walk-Up version of the Drive Thru windows at all the fast food joints we have today.
Inside the store, there was a counter with full pizzas of various varieties which you could buy by the slice, around 25 cents a slice at the time as I recall. A narrow aisle spearated this from 3 or 4 two person tables, and then further in the back were a few 4 person tables and the bathrooms. On the far side of the counter was the Pizza Oven, which in the best old pizzerias were still made of brick or stone at the time, but increasingly replaced by stainless steel electric or gas models. The Pizza Chef was always out front tossing the dough circles in the air until you were sure the dough would break but never did, always tossed to the perfect consistency of thinness befor breaking.
Over time of course these small family owned pizzerias were replaced by chains of Pizza Huts housed in more square buildings and now with a drive up window rather than the sidewalk windows on the streets of NYC. No Pizza Chefs toss dough circles in these places, they were replaced by fast food workers who got pizza dough shipped in frozen from some dough factory which probably had machines to toss the dough. Then the Frozen Pizza market exploded, and for half the price or less of a Pizza at Pizza Hut you could pick one of innumerable varieties from innumerable manufacturers of Pizza in the Frozen Food aisle of your local food mega store. Some of them are actually not too bad, and there are a lot of interesting varieties.
The latest varient of this are pizzas made up in the deli counter area of your food super store, they are not frozen but made up with fresh veggies and other ingredients and when you bake them yourself, almost as good as those great slices of pizza you remember from your youth. They generally come in only 3 varieties though, the 5-cheese, the pepperoni and the supreme, although sometimes also you see the "Hawaiian" pizzas with pineapple and ham on them which have become quite popular. These were never available in my youth and I have never developed a taste for them.
Mainly I buy the Supreme Pizzas which have a variety of veggies already on them, plus pepperoni and sausage which gives me some meat protein for the day, and no further prep is necessary other than cutting out a slice and baking it in the toaster oven while I write or surf doom on the internet. However, my favorite pizza type from my youth was the Mushroom Pizza, which had on top of the tomato sauce and cheese mushroom slices. So what I do sometimes now since such pizzas are not pre-made in the store is buy a 5 cheese pizza and then add on my own mushrooms sauteed in garlic before baking. In some respects this is BETTER than the mushroom pizzas of my youth, because I carefully lay on the shrooms so there is a "shroom in every bite". Sometimes in the pizzerias they were cheap on the amount of shrooms they dropped on or they were poorly distributed around the pizza and if you were unlucky you got a mushroom pizza slice with too few mushrooms to have one in every bite of pizza.
I also can add other things I like, like some sliced black olives or even hearts of palm or artichoke hearts, all of which come conveniently out of the can and keep for weeks in a tupperware container in the fridge. Addition of materials probably adds another 50 cents to the cost of each slice of the pizza I create this way.
Besides the Pizzas, another prepared food I have as part of my main diet now are Subway Heroes. After you pick your meats and cheese, you can have the fast food worker load it up with lots of different fresh veggies, and in addition nowadays guacamole which drives up the calorie content quite a bit. Add Mayo or Oil and Vinegar, still more calories. Get home and add a few more slices of cheese, more calories. I have the original hero cut into three parts, each of which is enough for me for 1 day, and each part is still pretty good on the third day as long as it is kept in the fridge wrapped up in its plastic bag. I stay away from stuff like tomatoes which will make the bread soggy if kept in the fridge this way. If I want tomatoes, I add my own right before consuming that part of the sandwich.
The final prepared food which is part of my main diet are the Rotisserie Chickens available in most food stores running anywhere from $5-$8 depending on the store and size of chicken they offer up. Cheapest are of course at Walmart. Such a chicken will last me at least 4 days for the main parts I like to eat by themselves, the breasts and the drumsticks. Then I take what is leftover from those and the thighs and wings and and chop it up and make a chicken salad which lasts another day or two. Then I take the stripped carcass and throw it in the slow cooker to make chicken stock, add a can of commercial chicken stock to that and make some Jewish Penicillin out of it, aka Matzoh Ball Soup. One of these chickens easily gives me a full week of animal protein, fat and vitamins from the fresh carrots that go in the soup as well.
All in all, this diet pretty much fulfills my needs and is EZ to prepare and quite cheap, pretty much as cheap as buying raw foods and preparing them myself, which these days I really have no inclination to do anymore. I do still enjoy preparing foods for others to eat, but I don't really have much opportunity to do that anymore. I do miss the days when I would BBQ up a nice juicy ribeye steak with a dry rub and marinated a day or two in my secret marinade and then slathered with some BBQ sauce to carmelize, but today most of that generally goes to waste and it's just too much trouble to cook it up too.
Even if you don't have a good kitchen to prep in, the single person can still eat relatively well on a low budget here in the FSoA with the Pizzas, the Heroes and the Rotisserie Chickens. These don't have to be the ONLY things you eat, I also drop in there ocassionally some sausage and eggs, or some canned soup I like, or I buy a garlic bread to toast up in the toaster oven, etc. The main thing is to reduce the leftovers and the wasteage of food, which absolutely drives me nuts when I have to throw out food and think about all the people out there currently going hungry. I can't do too much about that, but I can try not to waste so much food for myself.