One of our latest outings to the St Pete Saturday Morning Market resulted in a purchase of habañero jelly, something I never thought I would like, let alone, love. We were plucked from the passers-by after being enticed by free samples (duh, who doesn’t love free samples of food!) and tried almost all the gourmet jellies this guy had to offer. We jumped from pineapple to berry to jalapeño before finally landing on the habañero flavor. The salesmen called the sample we had an adult PBJ since it was on a pretzel square with peanut butter and the spicy habañero jelly to top it off. We loved it. There was a great kick to my favorite classic peanut butter pretzel and did taste like a PBJ. We were sold.
We are just a few days after Halloween and haven’t gotten around to carving our pumpkin. It’s tough in Florida because once you carve the pumpkin, you might have two or three days of a jack-o-lantern before it turns black and rots. So, waiting until the last few days before Halloween is crucial. This year, we let the holiday pass us by without carving the thing so I made sure to have a back up plan for it.
It just so happens that I was invited to a girls night at a friends house with an all-pumpkin theme. At the ladies-only shindig there was pumpkin turkey chili, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin spiced sangria, and we made pumpkin biscuits to go with the chili and roasted pumpkin seeds as a snack. We needed 1 1/2 cup of pumpkin puree for the biscuits, so onward with the home made kind! We ended up with 10 cups of pumpkin puree using a medium-large pumpkin. There are smaller pumpkins that might work better, but this is what we had already.
This post is long over due. We’re talking ridiculously long. The week 1 post was almost ancient history, but thanks to my readers who have pushed me to get the rest of this series out, I kept going. Cheap Food Here is showing our readers that it is possible to spend just $100 per person per month on food. Our week 1 post was created when we were living in Costa Rica so certain foods were cheaper (most produce and fruit) but certain other foods were more expensive (specialty items, imported foods, cheese, meat, seafood, etc) so it has surprisingly balanced out now that we’ve completed week 2 since moving to St. Petersburg, Florida. Continue reading
A lot of people say that Costa Rican Food isn’t all that great and that it’s unimaginative at best, however I beg to differ. Having lived here for just a year and a half, I have been able to sample a lot of local cuisine, but I am far from an expert. Food in Costa Rica has a rich history and deep meaning for the people here, which for me deserves a lot of respect when being critical of it’s food.
Even though I’ve been living here for over a year and a half, I haven’t quite yet embraced preparing typical food at home. Okay, so maybe I have gotten too comfortable with what I like to cook and the ingredients I know well, but now is the perfect time to explore.
Recently, I vowed to find the most unique dishes to Costa Rica and tweak them into the perfect recipes. But before we get down to business, we have a few terminologies to sort out and some background to familiarize ourselves with. First, the terms I’ll be using in this post may seem foreign to you (duh, because they are) but they’ve become a permanent part of my language living here. Ticos or Ticas are the native people. The name originates from their specific dialect of Spanish and how they’ve always added a -tico or -tica to the end of words, as in ‘little’ or ‘small’. For example, I chuckle when I hear someone say ‘quiero el chikitico’ or ‘I want the small one’. This is not common to end words with -tico or -tica, but it is common in any Spanish-speaking country for them to say “cafecito” (little coffee), “pancito” (little piece of bread) or “whiskito” (you guessed it: a little whiskey).
Here’s a little cultural background. If there is one common thread among all Ticos, it’s their passion for futból and their devotion to either La Liga or Saprissa. Here, your blood either runs purple and white or red and black, or you’re not Costa Rican at all. You know when it’s game day and it’s even easier to know when a goal is scored b/c no matter where you are in the country there are car horns blaring when there’s a GooooooOOOOOOOOOOaaaaaaaaaallllllll!!!!!! And what do the Ticos do before, during and after the games? Why eat of course. Which is why I chose the recipes I did, so you could maybe get the taste of what a traditional meal of the futból-loving Ticos is like.
Now for the ingredients that you’ve most likely never heard of. First we’ll start off with the pejibaye, or peach palm, which grows and is exported more in Costa Rica than any other country. The flavor is similar to a boiled peanut but with a milder flavor and a different texture. You can find them all over the sides of the road where locals set up giant pots boiling over a flame. Ticos love to eat them with mayonnaise and salt, but I’ve found them to be most delicious as a creamy soup. You can find them for about $2-3 for a kilo (2.3 lbs).
Then there’s a chyote, which is a type of squash that comes in either white or green and is a very inexpensive vegetable use for side dishes and what they call ‘picadillo’, which essentially means small pieces. Chyotes are about $0.30 a piece and recipes typically call for 2-4 units and rarely do you need any more unless you’re serving more than 6 people. But I beg you to be careful when you’re peeling and chopping the chayotes. You need to grab the vegetable with a towel or wear gloves. The reason for this is because they leave a strong film on your hands that acts like children’s glue but much, much worse. There’s not real way to get it off until it wears itself off.
Now to the recipes so you can judge for yourself if you agree that Costa Rican food isn’t noteworthy, but I have a hunch that you’ll love it.
Classic Costa Rican Recipes
Crema de Pejibaye – Peach Palm Soup
- 18 Pejibayes (cooked, peeled, pitted and chopped)
- 6 Cups of Chicken Broth
- 1 Cup of Heavy Cream
- 1/4 Cup butter
- 4 Tbsp of all purpose flour
- 2 yellow onions, finely chopped
- 3 bay leaves
- Bundle of 1 sprig of thyme and rosemary
- Salt and pepper to taste
- In a medium to large pot, melt the butter and saute the onions until they begin to caramelize
- Slowly mix in the flour and then add the chicken broth. Bring to a boil.
- Add chopped pejibayes, turn down the heat and simmer with the bay leaves and bundle of thyme and rosemary for 10 minutes. Remove bundle and bay leaves.
- Using an immersion blender, blend the contents of the pot until smooth
- Simmer for 10 more minutes to allow it to thicken, and add salt and pepper to taste
- Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro and serve hot.
Gallo Pinto Empanadas
Recipe makes 18 empanadas
Empanada Dough Directions
- In a medium-sized bowl mix 3 cups of All-Purpose flour and 1 tablespoon of salt.
- Cut 1/2 cup room temperature solid vegetable shortening into pieces and place in bowl with flour mixture. Using a pastry cutter, cut in shortening until you have a cornmeal texture. If needed break up large pieces with your hands.
- Slowly incorporate 3/4 cup of luke-warm water, adding a little at at time until a dough ball forms. The dough should not be sticky and should be kneaded about 10 times.
If needed, add more flour or water to reach the appropriate consistency.
- Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 1 hour. If you’re making the dough in advance, wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate. However, bring dough to room temperature before assembling empanadas.
- 1 Cup Dried black beans
- 1 Bay leaf
- 1 medium Yellow onion
- 4 Garlic Cloves
- 3 Cups Water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup Brown or White rice
- 1/2 Red bell pepper
- 1 Green onion
- 1/8 Cup Fresh choppded cilantro
- 2 Whole Eggs
- 2 Tbsp Unsalted butter
- Soak beans in a bowl of water overnight and then drain.
- Finely chop the onion. In a slow-cooker, place black beans and three cups of water, the bay leaf, half of the chopped onion and cook on high for 3-4 hours.
- Strain off excess juices and remove bay leaf.
- Bring two cups of water to a rapid boil and pour in rice. Season with 1 teaspoon of salt and let cook on medium heat for 15-20 minutes until rice is fully cooked.
- In a large fry pan, melt butter and saute remaining onion, garlic and bell pepper. Cook until onion is translucent, add green onion, then pour in rice and beans and mix until incorporated.
- In a separate pan, scramble egg with milk until fully cooked. Add egg to rice and bean mixture.
- Finally, chop cilantro and add to the mixture. Allow to cool.
- Thoroughly clean the work surface and give yourself plenty of room.
You’ll need flour, a rolling pin, a circular cutter (6-8”), spoon, water, cookie sheet and your filling. Sprinkle flour on the work surface and pull a piece of dough off that’s about the size of a lime.
- Begin to flatten the dough ball in all directions until the dough is roughly 2 millimeters thick. The dough shouldn’t stretch much further than the diameter of your cutter, or you might have used too much dough.
- Press the cutter through the dough completely. Remove excess dough and incorporate it into the next dough ball. It’s important to note that once the dough has been rolled and stretched, it is much harder to do it a second time, so using the least amount of dough per cut is ideal.
- Once you’ve rolled out the dough and cut out the circle, it shouldn’t shrink any. Moisten the edges by dipping your fingers into egg wash and gently spreading a thin layer around the edges.
- Spoon out 2-3 tablespoons of filling onto the upper half of the circle. Fold the bottom half of the dough up over the filling and press the edges together repositioning the filling inside if needed. It’s important to have the right amount of filling so it won’t break open or leave it hollow after cooking. You should fill it just enough to still get the empanada to close.
- There are many ways to close and shape empanadas but I prefer the pinch and twisting closure. Starting with one edge pinch the edge between your finger and then fold the corner up over itself by 2 cm and pinch the new fold to seal it. Repeat the motion all the way around the empanada by pinching and twisting the dough to create a rope-like edge. When you reach the other edge simply tuck the corner under and pinch closed to seal it off.
- To cook them, heat up some vegetable oil, coconut oil, palm oil or peanut oil in a medium-sized pot to a medium-high temperature. Be sure to test your oil before dropping in the empanadas, if you drop in a little piece of extra dough, it should boil easily but not crackle, pop or boil too rapidly. If this happens, reduce the heat of the oil before submerging the empanada. When the oil is ready, submerge two or three empanadas in the oil and allow them to cook for 4-6 minutes until golden brown. Watch them carefully so they don’t burn.
Barbudos – Egg Fried Greenbeans
- 30 Greenbeans (washed and ends trimmed)
- 1 Tbsp All Purpose Four
- 1/3 cup of light olive oil for frying
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp ground cayenne pepper
- Salt to taste
- In a medium-sized sauce pan, boil green beans in water with salt until al dente, with a slight crisp.
- Separate the eggs with whites in a small bowl and the yolks in another. Beat the whites until slightly stiff. Add the yolk, flour and salt and mix.
- Form groups of 6 green beans, soak in batter and fry in a pan with olive oil on medium-high heat, turning once after 2 minutes.
- Place in a hot oven while you’re cooking the rest. Eat immediately.
- 2 Whole Chayote
- 1 1/2 cups Frozen Corn
- 1 Medium Yellow onion
- 5 Cloves of Garlic
- 2 Medium Bell Peppers
- 2 Stalks Celery
- 1 cup Cilantro
- 1 Argentinean Chorizo
- 1 Tablespoon Cajun Seasoning
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp Black Pepper
- 1 Tbsp Cumin
- 8 Strips bacon (6 if they are extra thick)
- 3 Tbsp Unsalted Butter
- Using gloves, peel chayote and remove pit. Cut into 2 cm pieces and place into a medium-sized pot. Cover with water and boil for 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- Meanwhile, fry bacon in a large fry pan turning occasionally until well-cooked but not burnt. Remove from pan, let cool and break into small pieces by hand.
Peel and dice the onion, mince the garlic and chop the bell pepper into small pieces.
- In the same pan with bacon grease, add chorizo (remove from casing), onion, garlic, bell pepper and celery. Cook on medium-high heat until slightly soft, about 2-3 minutes breaking up the chorizo as it cooks.
- Add butter, corn, cilantro, chayote, cajun seasoning, black pepper and cumin. Mix well. Salt to taste (varies depending on the type of cajun seasoning).
As seen in a previous post.
- 4-6 ripe plantains, cut into 1″ slices
- 1/2 Cup of margarine or butter
- 1 1/2 Cup of sugar
- 1 tsp of ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1 lime
- 2 Cups of water
- 1 tsp pure Vanilla extract
- In a large pan, melt the butter and saute the plantains on medium heat until golden. Add 1 cup of sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, lime juice and vanilla. Stir for 1 min.
- Add water and sprinkle on the remaining sugar.
- Reduce heat to low and cook until the liquid is reduced and caramelized. Serve hot, or let cool.
Project Food Blog Week 1 – The $100 Challenge
VIDEO: Can you live on $100 per month for food?
What’s A Healthy Food Budget?
Now, a little background: the Cheap Food Here family follows the Dave Ramsey Total Money Makeover very closely and have worked hard to get to Baby Step 4. Our food budget for two people is currently $500, which includes $300 for groceries and $200 for eating out. This is our comfortable point now that we are no longer paying off debt, however, when we were doing the debt snowball and attacking our consumer debt and student loans with ‘gazelle intensity’, we we were spending around $250 per month in total food cost (groceries and eating out).
Down here in Costa Rica we have found that some families spend over $1,200 per month on food for a family of 3 adults and 2 children. This number may not seem too shocking, but know that they, on average, earn less than $2,000 per month in total household income. The percentage of their income spent on food is over 60% when it should be around 5-15% or roughly $300. However, most argue that this is impossible.
The key to reducing food costs each month is research and planning. Most people don’t think about needing to do research before hitting the farmer’s market or grocery store, but it’s imperative to keep from overspending. The food budget can be a large part of your spending each month, but it doesn’t have to be, especially if you are in the early stages of paying off debt.
So, the quest for a food budget under $100 begins. First we’re going to look at cheap and healthy recipes that are tried and true for our family and make a menu for each week. With this menu, we’ll focus mostly on fresh, local food that’s in season that we can buy at the farmer’s market. First, let’s take a look at what we’ll have to give up or change about our current eating habits, some of which were mentioned in the video.
Cost Cutting Necessities
- No Eating Out
- Meat Consumption reduced
- Limiting processed food consumption
- Sticking to a grocery list
- Homemade snacks
- Drink water with or without lemon instead of bottled juices, sodas or other sugary/sugar-free drinks.
Week 1 Menu
Below is the cheap food menu I’ve put together to get you started and prove you can eat healthy and fully on $50 per week for two people. Some of the recipes in the list below are from Cheapfoodhere.com and some are from our favorite foodies. Please refrain from using canned goods unless you have them already, but know that you are getting less than half of the nutritional value from canned goods that you would from fresh or frozen produce.
With a lot of the recipes, it’s good to reduce the amount of an ingredient that is expensive (example: cheese or meat) or substitute it for something less expensive and perhaps more healthy.
- Red Bell Pepper Frittata & fruit
- Pressed Egg sandwich & fruit shake
- Almond French Toast with maple syrup and a side of fruit
- Soy Milk Waffle (or regular milk is fine too) w/fresh fruit topping
- Oatmeal w/frozen blueberries and flax, fruit shake and side fresh fruit
- Jalapeño and Onion Frites w/fried eggs, bacon and a side of fruit
Growing your own produce and herbs is a great way to save money and it can be done in planters too if you don’t have a back yard. If you’re not growing, try to support your local farmers first, but sometimes their prices are just too high. Some stuff you have to go to the grocery store for, but there is a great resource to check pricing before ever venturing out; www.mygrocerydeals.com keeps you in-the-know when it comes to checking cheap grocery prices in the United States.
Make sure when you go shopping, you stick to the list, and only to the list. It is your map, your guide, your blinders. However, if you see an item that could make a perfect substitute (example large tomatoes instead of Romas) but is cheaper, buy those instead. We’re looking for deals here, so keep your eyes peeled.
Some of the items on the list you’ll see don’t have prices, which indicates it’s something I already had. You can use this sheet to fill in prices on your own to help you better prepare for the upcoming week of meals. The sheet is organized by meal, however there is a lot of cross over, so if it was on the breakfast list, you won’t find it again under lunch, dinner or snacks. You can also organize the list by aisle if that’s easier. The basis of how I chose the meals for the week was looking first at what I had and could then in turn spend less on groceries. It’s best to use all of the items you already have to make sure they don’t go bad and end up getting thrown out anyway. You’ll notice that the Week 1 Shopping List goes well over the designated $50 per week budget for two people, however, a lot of items will be left over for future weeks. Stay tuned for follow up posts for the remaining 3 weeks of the month. Good luck and I’d love feedback from those who are accepting the challenge.
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)
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.
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.
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.
1 large tilapia filet
1/4 C. soy oil
1/8 C. flour
2 Tbl soymilk (or regular)
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.
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!
In Costa Rica, the salads are mostly made with a base of cabbage as opposed to lettuce. My best guess at the reason why is because cabbage is heartier and a head will stretch farther than a head of lettuce. Another notable difference with salads here is that they rarely use much of a dressing. Mostly just a little oil, lime juice and sometimes a splash of vinegar. This weekend I tried my hand at a Costa Rican typical salad, but with a twist (of course!).
• ½ head of green cabbage, sliced in very thin strips (much like coleslaw)
• 2 Tbl fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
• 10-12 snow peas, stems removed, chopped in 1” pieces
• 1-2 green onions, sliced into thin rings (use white and green part)
• 1 large carrot, peeled and sliced at a sharp angle to make oval rings
• 2 Roma tomatoes, thinly sliced into rings
• ½ C. olive oil
• ¼ C. white vinegar
• 2 Tbl. Honey
• 2 Tbl cilantro
• juice from 1 lime
• ½ fresh jalapeño pepper (seeded)
• garlic salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
Simply toss all the salad ingredients into a large salad bowl and blend dressing ingredients. Pour dressing over salad mixture.
I was given a Costa Rica cookbook for my birthday this year and this was the first recipe I’ve tried, with some personal tweaks of course. It is a tuna pasta salad and uses my favorite shaped pasta, shells. I was surprised to see that the recipe didn’t call for much in the way of sauce except the mustard, so that’s where the improvising began. This is the Cheap Food Here version of the recipe:
INGREDIENTS (Serves 4)
1 8.8oz (250 grams) bag of mini shell pasta
1 standard sized can of premium chunk white tuna fish
1 cup baby peas
2 Tbl cilantro, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 medium-sized onion, finely chopped
1 stalk of celery, finely chopped
Juice from 1/2 a lime
1 Tbl mustard
2 Tbl red wine vinegar
2 Tbl Olive Oil
Garlic salt and pepper to taste
1) Cook the pasta to al dente, according to package. Then rinse with cold water.
2) In a large bowl combine all remaining ingredients with the pasta and stir.
3) Serve on a bed of lettuce.
A great post made by a fellow foodie.
We were down to the end of our groceries and didn’t want to dip into the tomato sauce we made and ate too much of last week, so I explored an Alfredo sauce. But, since I’ve switched to soy milk and have reduced the intake of lactose products, I was curious what my options were for a ‘cream’ sauce using soy milk. So, I went to work and here is what I ended up with. A pleasant cheap food concoction.
1/2 Pound of spaghetti pasta
3 Tbsp olive oil
4 Cloves of garlic whole
2 C. plain soy milk (do NOT use vanilla soy milk)
1/4 C. grated parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp capers
1 Tsp powdered cayenne pepper
1 Tsp paprika
1 Tbsp fresh parsley
1 Bay leaf
2 Tbl flour (I used wheat)
1) Cook spaghetti al dente
2) Meanwhile, in a large fry pan with high sides, heat olive oil to medium-high heat and place in peeled garlic cloves. Roast until brown in color (approx 5 min) and smash with a fork. Cook for an additional minute. Remove garlic from pan, chop on a cutting board and set aside.
2) In the fry pan with seasoned olive oil, add soy milk, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, paprika and bay leaf and heat for 2 minutes until almost boiling. Let simmer for 10 minutes stirring/whisking constantly. Begin to add flour and allow to thicken (about 4 minutes) while continuing to stir.
3) Remove the bay leaf, add the pasta, Parmesan cheese, parsley and capers and cook for 2 minutes more.
4) Serve immediately.