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Frozen Pizza Is A Very Bad Bargain

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We will limit this thought experiment to an average $4 or $5 frozen pizza to be had at the local rialto. This pizza will weigh in at about 1 pound. Let’s not complicate matters right now with talk of delivery and takeout style pizzas, which are really just magnified versions of the average cheapo monstrosity from the frozen food aisle.

For your 4-5 bucks, you get one stodgy pound of food with anywhere from one to two thousand calories. On average this pizza will have five ingredients: crust, sauce, cheese, and a meat or two. These are empty calories! The large amounts of fat and sodium insanity make this it an inefficient and poor quality source of protein.

Compare this with the scores of whole natural foods to be had for roughly a dollar per pound or less! Lentils are $1.08 per pound near me. Cabbage, squash, onions, and more can all be had for $1 per pound or less.

I’ve heard the argument that, of course, people only eat pizza because it tastes good! Which isn’t really true. America’s dietary habits say otherwise. I had a housemate once in the most liberal, hippie city in my state, and he ate a pizza almost every day. It seems to be the combo of succulent flavor and high calories that makes pizza so satisfying.

It all comes down to this: should the problem of malnutrition be solved before the issue of taste is considered? It takes a certain kind of weltschmerz to say no to that question, the same kind which instigates the purchase of cigarettes and lottery tickets every day. It’s probably the cigarettes which cause the ageustia which causes the need for such strong flavors anyway. Hellfire!

I wanted to make a snarky comment here about how ironic it is that I’m blathering about the basics of the produce section of the grocery store, but honestly. . . I don’t know enough about the produce section or the iron contents of its foods to do so. You don’t like my puns? Well maybe if you donated, my puns wouldn’t be so horrendous, and my logic so specious.

Photo Mar 18, 8 48 30 PM

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One Ambrosial Pot Of Butternut Squash And Lentil Soup For Not A Lotza Motza

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Not too long ago I documented the process of preparing one of my favourite frugal meals: green lentil, onion, and olive oil chow. After a few astute gastronomes commented on my Reddit link that I’m using way too much olive oil, I did a little research and decided that indeed I was using way too much olive oil. Like perhaps unhealthy amounts.

Ever dedicated to healthy, tasty, and wallet-friendly eats, I emended my gastrology in pursuit of a truer gastronomy. This time around, I’ve diversified my dietary investments to include a greater quantity of wholesome, natural ingredients without sacrificing quality or price. And you won’t believe the production values!

One to two bowls per day of this dish will make the pot last me 3-4 days. You can make it more or less watery or quaggy in keeping with your personal preference. For one pot, you’ll need:

  • 1 pound of green lentils (you could probably use red if you prefer)
  • 2 onions (I like yellow, but color probably doesn’t matter too much)
  • 1 bulb of garlic
  • 1 butternut squash (I’ll be experimenting with other squashes like spaghetti and acorn in the near future)
  • Some cabbage (I alternate between green and red)

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Here are the ingredients in all their resplendent glory.

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First we let the lentils soak in a pot of water while we cut up the squash. The soaking will help the lentils cook better and more evenly and you’ll digest them better. Only after the squash is cut and added do we heat the pot.

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Squashes make me think of a mix of oranges, carrots, cantaloupes, and pumpkins. Cut off the top and bottom, and then carefully cut it in half the long way down the middle. Scoop out the nasty stuff and the seeds and throw it in the trash.

Next comes the denudation of the squash, during which process of integument removal you must be very, very careful. Peel off the outer layer with a standard issue vegetable peeler, but don’t cut yourself. I am generally never lacking in solicitude around knives sharp objects, but I haven’t cut a squash yet and not feared for my fingers. This is why you cut it in half before you peel it.

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Once the squash is peeled and halved, you can cut and dice it into little chunks and squares. Larger or smaller is up to you.

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Add the squash to the lentils which have been soaking in their little wading pool by themselves this whole time. They may have bloated a little bit, so add more water if necessary once the squash is in there.

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With the squash and lentils now commingled, heat the watery mixture on high until it boils. You may proceed with the rest of the preparations while it is heating, but don’t forget to stir occasionally.

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The funny thing about this part of the recipe, the garlic preparation, is that my girlfriend was simultaneously working on becoming a vampire master in the Skyrim Legendary edition not ten feet away. To properly cut up a garlic bulb, you will need to separate the individual cloves which constitute the bulb. Put the “tail end” of the bulb facing down on the counter and push down with your palm (which with your fingers will inevitably get sticky) so that the bulb busticates into a bunch of cloves which separate from one another. You’ll be able to feel it.

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Once you peel away that soft outer rind from the cloves, you’ll reveal yet another layer of defence on each clove to penetrate before you get to the meaty bits.

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Here’s a picture of one garlic clove from the bulb before I removed its hard outer shell.

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No, that is not my foot on top of the knife. It is my hand. This is straight from Harry Potter kiddo. Put one clove onto the cutting board, and place the flat side of the knife blade over it. Put some pressure on it, and the tough outer skin on the clove will break.

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Peel away the tough outer skin from the garlic clove, which you can see right above my thumb nail, and find the tough dark end of the garlic clove, which you can see between my fingers.

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Cut off that tough dark end part from the clove and discard it.

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Finely mince or chop the garlic clove into pieces. Proceed to repeat this whole process with every other clove in the garlic bulb.

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At this point, the pot of lentils and squash was boiling for me, but it might be unrealistic for you to expect to have the garlic bulb all chopped up by this point if you’re doing it yourself or never did it before. So time your own onion and garlic chopping endeavours accordingly. Don’t put the garlic into the pot yet.

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Instead, just turn the heat down to about half of what it was before and let the lentils and squash simmer by themselves for a while. They’re not finished with each other yet, so just settle down. Set the timer for twenty minutes and try to finish dicing/slicing/cutting the garlic bulb and two onions by the five-minutes-to-go mark.

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Cutting onions is pretty easy. Cut up two onions for this recipe. Slice off and discard the two polar ends of the onions.

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As a matter of habit and OCD I always remove and discard the outer layer of the onion. This might be a waste to you, but whatever.

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Slice and dice the thing! Remove any nasty, discoloured, or soft bits.

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Alas! these pungent bits and pieces of the whilom whole garlic bulb and onions are ready to be thrown into the stew. I usually put the sliced onion and garlic in the same bowl and then add it to the simmering lentil and squash mix when there is only five minutes left on the timer, continuing to stir the stew.

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I tear off somewhere around one to two leaves of cabbage bit by bit into the water about the same time that I add the onions and garlic to the mix. I alternate between red and green cabbage when I go shopping.

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The four horsemen of the apocalypse. Behold, the white horse and rider named Basil wearing the Crown of McCormick astride it; and he goes forth conquering, and to conquer your tastebuds. And behold again, the red horse Paprika, whose rider hath power to take peace from the earth, and whose inhabitants trip over one another in discord and fight over this ambrosial seasoning. And behold again, a black horse emerges from the ground named Pepper, who should come with a pair of balances because you probably won’t want to overdo this one. And behold at last, the pale horse of Oregano, which ironically carries not the power of death but life and healing. These four horsemen come at the very end.

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Once the timer goes off, it’s done cooking. Set it aside for a few minutes to cool, and then enjoy!

If this post and the dish described within it enriched your life, consider donating to my own little lentil, onion, squash, and vegetable fund! Believe me. . . if Paypal took these food staples I would take them ;-) . Thanks for reading!

Photo Mar 18, 8 48 30 PM

One Dish Of Lentil Chow, 800-900 Calories, For $1.20 Or Less!

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Here’s a step-by-step photo how-to documenting the process I go through daily to cook the frugal and tasty and healthy meal that has come to represent almost 50% of my diet. This dish saved me from my college culinary life which was dominated by fish sticks, ramen, and popcorn! I call this dish lentil chow, and it keeps me hale and hearty. It’s based off of a “rice pilaf” recipe I found on Jacob Lund Fisker’s Early Retirement Extreme blog. I got sketched out while reading about arsenic in rice online once though. Maybe it was BS but I haven’t had rice since. Yes, I have tried this dish with bacon, and let it be said that it was good.

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I get my green lentils at Wally World near my house because they’re the cheapest around at $1.08 per pound. You can also order them online at Sam’s club by the big-ole-bucket. Red lentils are harder to find, and in my experience they can get a lot mushier when you cook with them. You have to be sure to sift through your lentils with your fingers and examine them because once in a blue moon you might encounter a pebble or something. . . it was alarming when it happened to me, but you get used to that sort of thing when you’re eating cheap, earthy foods. I’ll use about one and two thirds of that little cup of lentils you see there for this recipe.

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I like sweet yellow onions. Onions are cheap and pretty good for you, and they’re probably even better for you if you don’t cook them so like I do. I use one each time I cook this. I always discard the outer layer after cutting off the ends, chop it into about 5 cylindrical slices (not from pole to pole as some people do), then slice off little wedges from those larger slices until the whole onion is chopped to bits.

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I put those bits of onion into a pot or pan and add a good amount of extra virgin olive oil. Pompeian claims they don’t rest on their laurels, and I do like the price and decent taste.

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That’s where I set my burner for cooking the onions in the olive oil.

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This is an alternative and by no means mandatory little sub plot to our cooking story that you are living out vicariously through me. The vegetable you see here is Bok Choy. Use one stalk for a dish as an alternative to an onion or simply to add to the onion.

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Bok choy tends to be dirty so I rinse it under running water and rub off all the dirt with my thumb. I rip off the green, leafy parts before chopping the stalk up as the green parts are edible but don’t fare so well in the boiling oil. After it’s chopped cook the pieces with the onion slices in the olive oil.

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Once the onions (and perhaps bok choy) are looking this colour after cooking in the oil a while, you’re ready to progress to the next stage.

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I add about one and a half or more of these glasses of water to the olive oil and browned onions.

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Then I add one and a half (or more if I’m especially hungry) of these little cups of lentils to the water and stir it up a bit. Let the stuff simmer/bubble for a while, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking and uneven cooking.

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Meanwhile, the cats and I cast lots to determine how exactly I shall season my dish. Just kidding about the molasses.

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This is not done.

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This is where I consider it done and cut it off. Sometimes if I’m lucky I’ll get the bottom layer to crisp a bit. . . I like the texture it gives to the dish. You can let it go longer and add more water if you keep stirring the stuff in order to let the lentils get softer.

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Then I pop it into my favourite bowl with my favourite seasoning and use my favourite spoon to chow down.

I did some rough calculations, and here’s what I figured for the calories and prices of a bowl of the stuff like you see above:

  • Lentils: 40 cents, 420 calories
  • Water and electricity: 10 cents
  • Olive oil: 25 cents, 360 calories
  • Onion: 25 cents, 50 calories
  • Bok Choy Stalk: 15 cents, 50 calories
  • Seasoning: 5 cents, 5 calories
  • Total: $1.20, 800-900 healthy, toothsome calories

If this post and the dish described within it enriched your life, consider donating to my own little lentil, onion, and olive oil fund! Believe me. . . if Paypal took lentils I would take them ;-).

Photo Mar 18, 8 48 30 PM