iLickit, our first cheap food app

Not that it’s actually ‘ours’ per se, but we’ve never blogged about an iPhone app although it turns out there are a LOT of them out there. Whether you need to search where a restaurant is or check the nutritional value, there’s an app for it.

But, so far the iLickit is the most ridiculous and entertaining. I’ve never actually seen someone using the app aside from the video, but I would love to hear about someone who has, and if you can get a video of it, even better. It’s weird and only as sanitary as your iPhone and it’s not surprising that Americans are obsessed (as they are with eating). Please don’t eat your iPhone people, but if you get hungry and need a little snack, forget gum or a lollipop, just whip out your iPhone and iLickit.

The app is a race to see how fast you can lick your plate clean and you can choose from a variety of foods/dishes. With some fancy tongue-work and various skillful licking techniques, you’ll be faster at the real thing in no time. I wonder if Kobayashi is using this for training for the next hot dog-eating contest.

Reducing Landfill Waste – How much would your bin weigh?

We stumbled across an amazing project in Canada that is putting together a documentary to see how little one couple can contribute to a landfill in one year’s time. The couple involved in the Clean Bin Project will each keep a bin that will have all of the items destined for a landfill accumulating for one year and weigh in at the end to find the winner. The rules say that the bin will only contain anything that cannot be 100% recycled, composted or reused immediately. The couple has vowed to refrain from buying any ‘stuff’ including material goods like clothing, electronics, and other non-necessities unless they are second-hand and being rescued from the ultimate destination of a landfill.

Taking out the Trash- The Clean Bin project (trailer1) from Grant Baldwin Videography on Vimeo.

Here are some tips straight from the Clean Bin Project to help you reduce your waste:

1. Don’t use plastic bags (under any circumstances)
2. Set up your recycling in a convenient place (so you have no excuse to throw it in the trash can)
3. Set up a place to compost.
4. Recycle everything possible. (find out what your municipality will take)
5. Check the package BEFORE you buy it, to make sure it’s recyclable.
6. Buy Recycled and Biodegradable Household Products.
7. Buy second-hand whenever possible.
8. DIY. (Make it yourself from bread to clothing, shelves and more)
9. Stop Using Takeout Containers.

Here is a more descriptive list of ways to help reduce your waste.

Cheap Food Here is thinking about the challenge and preparing to get started. We are working on a compost bin, get the recycling situation sorted out and seeking to buy less packaging on our products. As far as our consumption goes, we do a fairly decent job. We don’t buy much in the way of material goods and shop at the markets much more often than the grocery stores. However, that still doesn’t account for the times we do shop at the grocery stores, when we’re eating takeout and when we need to buy clothes (once every 6 months or so).

But, regardless of all that we do, there will continue to be situations where following the ‘rules’ of the Clean Bin Project will be excrutiatingly difficult and next to impossible. Take flying for example. Here is a testimonial of a guy who asked the flight attendant first where his little plastic cup would end up after he used it and second if he could refill the same cup on the next flight. It’s shocking, yet expected what happened. These situations shouldn’t be unavoidable and it seems that the airline industry is not acting responsible enough in their waste-producing practices. Although, I will note that even though 4 million plastic cups are consumed in the US airline industry every day, at least they recycle the aluminum and paper (why not the plastic?).

We should all seek to be more responsible in our consuming and waste-producing practices. Act as a demonstration and lead others by example. At the end of the year, how much will your bin weigh?

Cheap Food – Burgers with Pineapple Salsa

Finding a good burger joint in Costa Rica has proven difficult even though ironically, one of the country’s major exports is beef. One place we’ve found in our neighborhood is Jettsy, which has a great bacon cheese burger with fresh french fries. They are good, almost great, but not extraordinary like so many places you can find in the US (Big Daddy’s Burger Bar, Fuddruckers, etc.) who have more toppings than you could ever imagine.

After considering opening a burger place just to have class A beef and all the toppings Costa Rica has to offer, this weekend toiled with a few recipes and cooked a batch on our grill with Willingham’s seasoning of course. We topped them with pineapple-jalapeño salsa, some fresh farmer’s market tomatoes, sauteed green beans and grilled plantains.

Pineapple Jalapeño salsa is an awesome sweet-spicey kick that ordinary burgers need. Here’s the recipe:

INGREDIENTS:
• 1 Cup of chopped fresh pineapple (canned if you MUST, but fresh is way better)
• 1 Fresh Jalapeño seeded and finely chopped (do NOT used canned/jarred, it’s just not the same)
• Juice from 1/2 a lime
• 1 large garlic clove, minced
• 1 Tsp Kosher salt
• 1 Tsp fresh ground pepper

DIRECTIONS:
1) Mix all ingredients into a small bowl
2) Let mixture sit for an hour
3) Serve atop your favorite burger

Cheap Food – Chicken Scallopini

A quick love story for you. Man meets woman, falls madly in love, tries to impress her with chicken scallopini, he does so, she marries him and lives happily ever after with man and his chicken scallopini.

Here’s how my husband won me over and the latest on how he’s perfected the recipe.

Serves 2 (in love people)

INGREDIENTS

• 2 large chicken breasts
• 2 TBL butter
• 1/8 C. Olive Oil
• 3 TBL Capers
• 4 cloves of minced fresh garlic
• 3/4 C. sliced mushrooms
• 2 TBL finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
• Juice from half a lemon
• 1/2 C. dry white wine
• 1/2 C. chicken stock

DIRECTIONS

1) Heat a sauté pan to med-hi/hi. While its heating pound chicken to a 1/4 inch thick. Salt and pepper the chicken to taste. Once pan is thoroughly heated, add olive oil and butter (this should cover the bottom of the pan).

2) Add the chicken breast. Sauté about 3-4 minutes per side until golden brown. (If it takes considerably longer, your pan or your oil/butter mixture isn’t hot enough or maybe both.) Once the chicken has been thoroughly cooked, move to a heated plate and cover with aluminum foil.

3) If everything has gone as planned, there should be some chicken remnants in the bottom of the pan along with some oil/butter mix left in there. Keep the pan hot and add the mushrooms and sauté for 2-3 minutes and then add minced garlic and capers just before the chicken stock and white wine (I frickin’ LOVE capers!). Reduce the sauce by about half and if the sauce doesn’t thicken enough, add a pinch or two of flour and the parsley.

4) Plate your chicken with some garlic mashed potatoes and pour the sauce over both. ENJOY!

chicken-scallopine-2 chicken-scallopine-3

Cheap Food Costa Rica – Farmers Market Pavas

Until about a month ago, we had been buying all of our groceries at the local supermarkets. We tried AutoMercado, Perimercado, Mas X Menos, Saretto, MegaSuper, PriceSmart, Palí and Hipermas trying to test out which has better quality of food, price per unit/measure and variety. I haven’t given my full research post yet, but it’s in the works. However, for now, we are realizing that some items, certainly not all, are cheaper at the markets. But, don’t be fooled, not everything is cheaper at the ‘ferias’.

Our regular shopping list includes onion, bell pepper, garlic, chicken, fish, lettuce, cilantro, tomatoes, broccoli, green onion and various fruit items. Finding cheap food in Costa Rica is much harder that it would seem and unfortunately for the citizens of this country, the cost of living has been rapidly rising for the last 5-10 years. So, the cost of food items is high along with the luxury and imported items we North Americans are used to. The grocery stores range in price on all items, as do the markets around San José.

Farmers market Costa Rica 1 Costa Rica Farmers Market 2

We have become regulars at the Saturday Pavas feria in our neighborhood adjacent to the Palí. The market runs from sun up to late afternoon and stretches about 500 meters down a through street (other than on Saturdays) with vendors on both sides. The people are friendly and the food is fresh, but do make sure you are getting a good price, specifically on eggs. I have found that they are no less expensive here than at any of the supermarkets. Buying frozen fish is certainly priced fair, as well as most of the produce. We can walk in with c 10,000 (about $18) and fill four reusable grocery bags. The flowers are beautiful as are the artisans handiwork available.

Grilled zucchini

Grilled veggies over coconut rice

When we got home after the second or so visit, we knew the best option for dinner was grilled zucchini and bell peppers over coconut rice. I don’t know what the open flame does to food but it always takes things up a notch. We’ve got a few other cheap grilling recipes on the site like grilled potatoes with onions and jalapeños and burgers with pineapple salsa. Also, check out the Food Costa Rica category to where you can find cheap food in Costa Rica.

Calling all cheap foodies

In an effort to mingle with my fellow foodies and generate a collective set of blog posts, I am requesting all cheap food hints, tricks, recipes, gadgets, etc that help reduce your cooking budget from all corners of the world. Please send info to me at “ashley(at)cheapfoodhere(dot)com”. With the info, I will create a series of blog posts that link back to the source blog (your info doesn’t have to be a formal blog post, but just make sure to include your food blog URL). The series of posts will be named Cheap Food Blogosphere and will include everyone’s content and credits. I’m excited to see the variety of information and insight I’ll receive from my fellow foodies.

As a backstory, I have been actively involved with the Dave Ramsey Total Money Makeover to plan my budget and pay off all my debt. I finally conquered Baby Step 2 this month and am consumer debt free! No more student loans, no more credit cards, no more car payments; just the mortgages are left. It was painful, but one of the most helpful parts was creating a food budget and planning out my meals.

I got anal with it and started shopping lists, spread sheets, figured out costs per portion, where to find the cheapest groceries, etc. I’m documenting everything for my first book to be published. It’s a huge help just to be conscious of the money being spent each month, especially on food. As I explained in my recent post about shopping at farmer’s markets, pricing items can be tricky and vary significantly from place to place. It pays to be diligent.

So, what I’m asking for are submissions of all the unique ways to cut corners on price but not on flavor. We’re not talking just spaghetti dinners and boring potato casseroles here. I am truly passionate about designing meals on a creative budget, and I’m sure there are others out there. Thanks for everyone’s feedback, small or large.

Cheap Food Costa Rica – Empanada Argentina

Empanadas are something my husband and I regularly lust after and following a failed attempt at cooking our own, we tried a highly recommended place in San Pedro, Costa Rica just east of San Jose. Donde El Ché is the name of the joint and it’s specialties include empanadas Argentina-style and a chimichurri that will make you want to slap your mama (I’ve been trying to work that in somewhere). But seriously, these are definitely the best empanadas you’ll find north of Argentina. The directions to Donde El Ché is: from the Muños y Nanne, 100 meters East, on the left-hand side by the Jimenez y Tanzi.

The difference between Tico empanadas and Argentinian empanadas are the crusts. Ticos love them some corn and Donde El Ché’s are flour. I definitely prefer the flour and baking them as opposed to frying them. The filling on these guys were amazing. We tried the chicken, spinach and the tomato-garlic flavors with a clear winner. Surprisingly, the tomato garlic empanada had the most unique, intense and delicious flavor of all three. I of course ordered that one and didn’t want to share, but how do you brag about what you’ve got without letting others try it out.

Baked Flour Empanada with Tomato

Next course, my husband and I split the Vacío de Horno or something close to that, which means ‘Empty Oven’. And this is by far the best cut of meat I’ve experienced in San Jose. It was cured first similar to corned beef and then baked to perfect tenderness in a delicious savory sauce and accompanied by a baked potato and salad. Our friend ordered the Churripan, which was a slice of marinated pork on a homemade bun with chimichurri sauce to DIE for. The best I could do to tell what was in the chimichurri was olive oil, pimentos, whole black peppercorns, garlic, herbs and some sort of secret magnificence that I couldn’t quite detect.

My husband describes his cheap food experience at Donde El Ché as a fiesta in his mouth and vowed that if we ever opened a restaurant he would never be satisfied unless we could create the exact same feeling of wanting to return somewhere as they did. We’ll be back, you can count on that.

Cheap Food San Jose Costa Rica – Jettsy

After being recommended by a friend in the neighborhood, we were led on the search for cheap food in Pavas, San Jose, Costa Rica. The bar’s name is Jettsy and looks like your typical Costa Rican bar on the corner but the food is extraordinary. It’s an open air restaurant, similar to the others around the country, with TV’s over the bar, rustic wood tables, plants everywhere you look and an attentive waitstaff (which is tough to find, mind you).

We were told the hamburgers were pretty great, considering the country we are in. I mean, how come hamburgers in Costa Rica are so terrible most times? But, Jettsy is different. They don’t use preformed patties and they use decent quality beef, bacon and cheese. So, if you’re looking for a decent burger in San Jose, or Costa Rica for that matter, look for Jettsy in Pavas.

The other food is great too. We ordered nachos, which came with chicken and beef, refried beans, cheese and jalapeños on a bed of corn tortilla chips. My only complaint about those were the store bought tortilla chips; I mean, come on, homemade tortillas are so much better. Take a look at the tortilla chips at Rostipollo for example. Finally, I ordered grilled beef skewers with onion and red bell peppers in some delicious sauce next to a bed of rice, sweet plantains and a salad. Great, great, great flavor and the food was definitely cheap. About $15 for two entrees and the nacho appetizer. Now, add the beers and Cacique and watch the check start to climb.

Costa Rica Fish Tacos

Nothing says tropical like fish tacos. With cilantro sauce no doubt. And now my husband touts a great skill of homemade tortillas, so we combined efforts and out came Costa Rican fish tacos. The one thing that we definitely agree on is more more more cilantro. So, in the following recipe, you’ll see that there is no shying away from our favorite herb. You can also check out Frugal Antics, who is also on the cheap food mission with their interpretation of similar homemade corn tortillas.

(Serves 2, but easy to double or triple)

Cilantro Sauce:

1/4 C. Mayonnaise
1/8 C. finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 tsp powdered cayenne pepper
a liberal amount of fresh ground black pepper

Mix ingredients in a small bowl until well blended. Cover and refrigerate until serving.

Citrus Slaw:

2 C. finely sliced green cabbage
2 Tbl coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbl honey
1 Tbl olive oil
juice from half a lime

Toss cabbage in a medium-sized bowl with cilantro, honey, olive oil and lime juice just before serving.

Fresh Tortillas:

2 C. Maseca (corn flour)
1 C. Warm water
1 Tsp salt (to taste)

1) Mix all ingredients adding more water or flour as needed until the dough doesn’t stick to your hands. Make a golf-ball sized dough ball and using a tortilla press, flatten into a 7″ corn tortilla and repeat until the dough is all used.

2) Place a dry skillet on medium-low heat and another dry skillet on medium-high heat. Start the tortilla in the medium-low skillet for 1-2 minutes and flip into the medium-high skillet for 1-2 more minutes and briefly flip one more time in the medium-high skillet until fully cooked but not crisp.

Fish:

1 large tilapia filet
1/4 C. soy oil
1/8 C. flour
1 egg
2 Tbl soymilk (or regular)
1/2 breadcrumbs

1) Slice the fresh (thawed) fish filet into 1″ pieces and coat with flour.
2) Break egg and wisk into a wide, shallow bowl. Dip fish pieces into egg and coat with bread crumbs.
3) Heat oil in a skillet on medium-high heat and fry battered fish pieces for 2-3 minutes turning frequently or until cooked through.

Assembly:

1) Spread a spoonful of cilantro sauce onto a corn tortilla
2) Place 3-4 pieces of fish in the center of the tortilla
3) Cover with citrus slaw and enjoy!

Costa Rica Foodie

Cheap Food Here is now writing for Costa Rica tourism site www.costaricapages.com. Check out my first article here. If you’ve landed here from Costa Rica Pages or the Google News posts, thanks for visiting. I hope you like what you see.

I’ll be writing regular food columns similar to the blog here focusing on Costa Rican recipes, restaurants, food stores, markets and other topics to help you keep your food budget under control. Food in Costa Rica isn’t as cheap as you may think. It takes a good bit of creativity to find the items you need and not have to break your banco to do it.

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