11 January 2013

Cheap eats: soup from the pantry

As promised, a cheap wintertime recipe.

The household's teenager is wrapped up in daily rehearsals for the school play, so we don't roll home until 6:00 p.m. or even later on weeknights. She usually has homework to finish, and I often have laundry to move or bread to bake. But we want to end our household activities early enough to start the whole routine over again the next morning. And like everyone else whose kids are busy with after-school activities, we want dinner on the table as soon as possible after we get home. It helps, too, if dinner is nutritious, cheap, and different from whatever it is we scrounged up the night before.

That said, I won't do take-out. Although we have a half-dozen options for food to go within just one block of the Rowhouse Livin' homestead, I avoid them. Why? Take-out is expensive, for one. I might spend $25.00 on a take-out dinner for two; and though it may give me leftovers for lunch the next day, $25.00 is several times the amount I may spend on a dinner (plus lunch leftovers) made from scratch. If I get take-out just once per week, that's $100.00 per month added to my grocery bill. Shudder!

For another, take-out meals aren't terribly healthy. They're very calorie-dense but nutrient-poor, even if you choose an option heavy on the vegetables. A veggie lover's pizza is still pizza. Asian-style tofu and broccoli is still stir-fried and high in sodium. A burger or steak sandwich with fries . . .  sounds really good right now, but I digress. The following recipe is scientifically proven to be healthier for everyone in the world than a take-out cheesesteak and fries:


  • One quart jar of cubed winter squash, or 1 to 1 1/2 pounds pre-cooked winter squash
  • Broth, or water plus 1 bouillon cube or other soup concentrate to taste, to cover
  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup (up to 1/4 pound) very small pasta (e.g., conchigliette, ditalini, orzo, elbow macaroni)


    Empty the jar of squash into a medium saucepan. Add broth or fresh water plus bouillon to cover. Bring to a boil. Add pasta, reduce to simmer, and cook until pasta is done.

    Cost And Time:

    I don't remember exactly how much I spent on the winter squash that I canned, which I'd bought at the farmers market when it was in season. I think it was $2.50/pound, and I fit a little under 2 pounds in each jar; that makes for a total of $5.00, to include the costs related to home canning. The bouillon cubes I used cost about $0.50 apiece. And I added about $0.25 worth of pasta. Let's add another $0.10 for water and cooking gas. This batch of soup cost $5.85.

    Not the end of the story, though! Winter squash is very filling, and adding starchy pasta also helped the soup stick to our ribs. We ate only half of the pot of soup one night; we finished it the next night. So really it was $2.93 per night, or just $1.46 per meal, per person. (We are a household of two.)

    As for time, I had this soup on the table within 20 minutes of our walking in the front door. If we had brought home take-out food, we would have eaten right away, of course. But I'll argue that we ate faster by cooking: we did not have to wait at a restaurant while our food was prepared, or wait for delivery after phoning in an order.

    And that's how I avoided getting take-out dinners for two weeknights this week. How about you?
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