Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Three Days In with Chili and Cornbread

Three days in. Faring pretty well so far and quite proud that I have five whole cents left over for the week. Though, now, I quite literally do not have two dimes to rub together. Somewhere my mother and her repertoire of folksy expressions are having a good chuckle about that at my expense.

To kick off the Hunger Challenge, I cooked the cheapest thing I know how to make: chili. First, let me say that chili is no where near as cheap as I thought it was (not that I had a dollar amount in mind, but I balked at the extra quarter for chili beans versus black beans). Regardless of my inaccurate perceptions of the cost of chili, this meal can easily be made and served for around a dollar a serving. Now, I am well aware dried beans are a cheaper (and healthier, from the perspective of preservatives) than canned beans, but I was making the chili shortly after I was shopping, so soaking time for the beans wasn't an option. Food stamp recipient or not, sometime there just aren't enough hours in the day to make a recipe as nutritionally ideal as possible.

There's not much of a difference here from how I normally make the chili except that I use more beans and more TVP and use tomato juice instead of sauce and water. Marsh had a BOGO sale on their house brand canned tomato products, so going with the sauce and water was far cheaper than the juice. I needed the extra dollar I would have spent on more beans for something else on the grocery list. As far as the TVP goes, it was the last thing I bought this week and I literally bought all I could afford. All 27 cents worth (about 3/4 cup).

What is TVP you ask? TVP or Textured Vegetable Protein is essentially soy after the oil has been extracted. If that eeks you out a little, I'll let you know you've almost certainly eaten TVP at some point in your life. Imitation bacon bits? Flavored TVP. Some school cafeterias use it as a cheaper, safer (from food borne illnesses), leaner, and a longer-lasting alternative to meats. It comes in lots of shapes and sizes and is available in flavored varieties, though, some of the health advantages over meat go away with those additives. Bottom line, TVP is far cheaper pound-for-pound than any kind of ground meat I would put in chili.

The downside of this recipe is the sodium content. With all of the canned goods, it is through the roof for something that's a standard recipe for me. The best way to reduce the sodium content is to use dried beans in place of canned ones. In the interest of time, I opt to keep the canned beans. If you are concerned about sodium, be sure to make this during a week where you'll be making other recipes utilizing more fresh ingredients.

I am three days in to the challenge. And pretty much all I've eaten is chili. This was a gross oversight on my part. Normally I'm really good at planning meals and spreading out my leftovers, but I somehow with the distraction of a tight budget, I didn't notice I planned chili for Sunday dinner, Monday lunch, Monday dinner and Tuesday lunch. Suffice it to say while I love chili, I won't be terribly sad to see it exit the meal rotation for a little while. I can't fool anyone. I love fall. And fall means chili. And the weather these past few days has been terribly suitable for warm comfort food around the clock. I don't mind that chili has been on repeat.

Hunger Challenge Chili and Cornbread
Cost per serving, $1.07
Makes 6 servings (1 1/2 cup chili and 2 corn muffins)

2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 onion, diced
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 28 oz. can tomato sauce
1-4 cups water
3/4 cup TVP
1 regular can chili beans
1 regular can black beans, drained
1 regular can kidney beans. drained
2 1/2 Tbsp. chili powder
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. coriander
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  1. In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Add in the garlic and onion and sauté for 3-5 minutes, or until onions start to become translucent.
  3. Add in the tomatoes, tomato sauce, 1 cup of water and the TVP. Bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce to a simmer and add in the beans and spices and stir to ensure it is well combined. Taste and adjust spices if necessary.
  5. Add additional water if the chili is thicker than you would like, up to three cups.
  6. Continue to simmer on low heat for at least 30 minutes.
Tips and Tricks
  • If you add additional water at step 5, be sure to taste again and make sure the flavor is still right. Adding water may dilute the spices you've put in.
  • Serve with Jiffy Cornbread made according to package directions. For extra crispy-edged cornbread, bake it in a greased casserole dish or (the best way) a cast iron skillet instead of muffin tins.
  • Tomato sauce and water can be swapped out for tomato juice. 
  • 1 packet of chili seasoning is a suitable substitute for the spice mixture listed here, if you have that option.

1 comment:

  1. You have to be careful with the cornbread mixes. I think it was the Kroger brand that when I read the ingredients contains LARD! I can't feed that to my vegetarian and I really don't want to eat it myself (and I think the Jiffy has partially hydrogenated fat). In the long run, it is probably less expensive to buy cornmeal and make cornbread from scratch. I actually made my own "mix" from all the dry ingredients, then I weighed out the same amount as a Jiffy mix (I have a food scale, but someone without one could measure in a measuring cup and use that amount), then used the same amount of "wet" ingredients as the Jiffy mix called for. It probably doesn't have the same amount of fat as the mix because the mix already contains some, but it was good. I can see how on the very limited budget it might be difficult to invest in the larger bag of cornmeal, however. I can also see how if you are feeding only one person most of the time storing a large bag of cornmeal very long can lead to excess waste because of weevils (although that can be avoided by storing it in the freezer).