Recession Food: Emergency Recipes

So the economy is crashing and burning, and with oil pushing $150 a barrel, it’s unlikely that food prices will drop, or even plateau, anytime soon.  Most people are struggling to get by (link via What to Eat), and food banks are struggling to keep up with demand as hunger increases among the working poor.

As you might expect, the food media is following suit by publishing lots of money-saving tips.  We’re encouraged to pack our lunches, stop buying prepared foods, eat legumes instead of meat and use coupons wisely– good ideas all.  Our grandparents survived the Depression, and our generation has a lot to learn from them.

But what do you eat when you’re really, really broke?  When you’re down to the change in your couch cushions, what’s for dinner?  Is Taco Bell the only option?

Well, readers, my dear husband and I are card-carrying members of the Working Poor, and we faced this question very regularly in college and then during some lean years trying to survive in New York City.  Since Joe in particular is a master at making something from nothing, we’ve amassed some lovely food-emergency recipes to share with you.  Well… lovely might be pushing it, but they’ll get you through the day.   Here are our top five day-before-payday meals. Read the rest of this entry »


Up, Up, and Away: Food Prices Soaring Worldwide

Image from al-Arab Online.

A few years ago, when I started eating a strict gluten-free diet, my grocery bill tripled. I was shocked at having to pay $6 for a loaf of bread, and began using a bread maker to try to cut costs. Gluten-eating friends and family were invariably horrified when I told them how much gluten-free bread cost.

Today, a $6 loaf of bread isn’t uncommon. The price of flour has risen 40.6% this quarter, according to Forbes Magazine. Friend of the blog KeenEye, who owns a gourmet pizzeria in Oregon, reports:

Our flour?

Now at $37.52 a bag.

Yep. From $9 bucks a bag 142 days ago.

I’m pretty much freaking out.

She’s not alone. Wheat and rice prices are spiraling, causing a rising sense of panic. Business magazines have begun throwing around words like “famine” and “peak wheat.” Rice has hit a 20-year high, and many rice-exporting countries are instituting bans or caps on exports in the hopes of meeting domestic demand:

Vietnam’s government announced here on Friday that it would cut rice exports by nearly a quarter this year. The government hoped that keeping more rice inside the country would hold down prices.

The same day, India effectively banned the export of all but the most expensive grades of rice. Egypt announced on Thursday that it would impose a six-month ban on rice exports, starting April 1, and on Wednesday, Cambodia banned all rice exports except by government agencies. (New York Times)

Food prices are spiking everywhere: while US consumers are feeling the squeeze with an overall 8.9% increase, in Egypt, prices are up by 50%. Food riots have broken out in Guinea, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen, according to the Times; the Globe and Mail adds Egypt and Cameroon to the list.

There are a number of reasons for the spike in prices. Read the rest of this entry »

Gluten-Free Cornbread Stuffing: Two recipes good enough to make all winter

I love stuffing. (Or ‘dressing,’ as some of you insist on calling it.) Turkey’s all well and good, sweet potatoes are nice, but Thanksgiving is all about the stuffing for me. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this U.S. dish, Thanksgiving stuffing is basically a savory bread pudding, usually flavored with sage and a meat (turkey, sausage and oysters are traditional choices). It’s often baked inside the cavity of a roasting turkey, but in recent years, as we’ve learned more about bacteria and food safety, that method has fallen out of favor.

My grandma’s traditional verson involves cubed bread and sausage, baked in a shallow layer in a glass baking dish. It’s delicious, and I’ll give it to you if she says I can.

My version is a little different. We’ve done this for two years now, and it’s well on its way to becoming a tradition. I make both meat and vegetarian versions. And they’re gluten-free!

Read the rest of this entry »

Harmful If Swallowed: Why You Should Fear Fake Food

From today’s New York Times (emphasis mine):

Doctor Links a Man’s Illness to a Microwave Popcorn Habit


Published: September 5, 2007

A fondness for microwave buttered popcorn may have led a 53-year-old Colorado man to develop a serious lung condition that until now has been found only in people working in popcorn plants.

Lung specialists and even a top industry official say the case, the first of its kind, raises serious concerns about the safety of microwave butter-flavored popcorn.

“We’ve all been working on the workplace safety side of this, but the potential for consumer exposure is very concerning,” said John B. Hallagan, general counsel for the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association of the United States, a trade association of companies that make butter flavorings for popcorn producers. “Are there other cases out there? There could be.”

A spokeswoman for the Food and Drug Administration said that the agency was considering the case as part of a review of the safety of diacetyl, which adds the buttery taste to many microwave popcorns, including Orville Redenbacher and Act II.

Producers of microwave popcorn said their products were safe.

“We’re incredibly interested in learning more about this case. However, we are confident that our product is safe for consumers’ normal everyday use in the home,” said Stephanie Childs, a spokeswoman for ConAgra Foods, the nation’s largest maker of microwave popcorn.

Ms. Childs said ConAgra planned to remove diacetyl from its microwave popcorn products “in the near future.”

Pop Weaver, another large microwave popcorn producer, has already taken diacetyl out of its popcorn bags “because of consumer concerns” but not because the company believes the chemical is unsafe for consumers, said Cathy Yingling, a company spokeswoman.

The case will most likely accelerate calls on Capitol Hill for the Bush administration to crack down on the use of diacetyl. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been criticized as doing little to protect workers in popcorn plants despite years of studying the issue.

“The government is not doing anything,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat who leads a subcommittee with jurisdiction over the food and drug agency’s budget.

Exposure to synthetic butter in food production and flavoring plants has been linked to hundreds of cases of workers whose lungs have been damaged or destroyed. Diacetyl is found naturally in milk, cheese, butter and other products.

Heated diacetyl becomes a vapor and, when inhaled over a long period of time, seems to lead the small airways in the lungs to become swollen and scarred. Sufferers can breathe in deeply, but they have difficulty exhaling. The severe form of the disease is called bronchiolitis obliterans or “popcorn workers’ lung,” which can be fatal.

Dr. Cecile Rose, director of the occupational disease clinical programs at National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver, said that she first saw the Colorado man in February after another doctor could not figure out what was causing his distress. Dr. Rose described the case in a recent letter to government agencies.

A furniture salesman, the man was becoming increasingly short of breath. He had never smoked and was overweight. His illness had been diagnosed as hypersensitivity pneumonitis, an inflammation of the lungs usually caused by chronic exposure to bacteria, mold or dust. Farmers and bird enthusiasts are frequent sufferers.

But nothing in the Colorado man’s history suggested that he was breathing in excessive amounts of mold or bird droppings, Dr. Rose said. She has consulted to flavorings manufacturers for years about “popcorn workers’ lung,” and said that something about the man’s tests appeared similar to those of the workers.

“I said to him, ‘This is a very weird question, but bear with me. But are you around a lot of popcorn?’ ” Dr. Rose asked. “His jaw dropped and he said, ‘How could you possibly know that about me? I am Mr. Popcorn. I love popcorn.’ ”

The man told Dr. Rose that he had eaten microwave popcorn at least twice a day for more than 10 years.

“When he broke open the bags, after the steam came out, he would often inhale the fragrance because he liked it so much,” Dr. Rose said. “That’s heated diacetyl, which we know from the workers’ studies is the highest risk.”

Dr. Rose measured levels of diacetyl in the man’s home after he made popcorn and found levels of the chemical were similar to those in microwave popcorn plants. She asked the man to stop eating microwave popcorn.

“He was really upset that he couldn’t have it anymore,” Dr. Rose said. “But he complied.”

Six months later, the man has lost 50 pounds and his lung function has not only stopped deteriorating but has actually improved slightly, Dr. Rose said.

“This is not a definitive causal link, but it raises a lot of questions and supports the recommendation that more work needs to be done,” Dr. Rose said.

Check out the MSDS safety fact sheet for this chemical:  Harmful if swallowed!

Leave a comment

Poached Chilean Sea Bass Over Couscous with Mango Avocado Salsa; Steamed French Beans with Parmesan and Prosciutto; Chocolate Souffles

Sarah and I had guests Friday night, so I picked up some really beautiful Chilean sea bass steaks. First, I seared the bass in some olive oil for about a minute and a half on each side and removed it to a plate. I poured out the oil and put the pan back on the heat. I deglazed the pan with some chicken stock and stirred in a teaspoon of saffron. I added some sliced onion, rosemary and sage stalks and salt and pepper. I put the bass back in the pan, covered it and put it into a 400-degree oven for about 15 minutes.

I made some couscous with almonds and piled it in the center of the plate. I put a piece of bass on top of the couscous and topped it with the following salsa:

Two mangoes, chopped

Two shallots, sliced

One avocado, chopped

Fifteen red and yellow grape tomatoes, quartered

Juice of one lemon

Olive oil

Walnut oil

Balsamic vinegar

Handful of baby spinach in a chiffonade

Handful of cilantro, chopped finely

Four stalks of tarragon, coarsely chopped

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate an hour or so.

For presentation, I made some roasted cornmeal corn cakes, broke them in half and propped them into the salsa to give the dish height. I served a few corn cakes on the side as well.

I also steamed some French beans for ten minutes or so. I still wanted them crispy. I tossed them with salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon juice, pieces of parmegiano-reggiano and prosciutto. These were served on the side as well.

This recipe serves four, by the way.

For dessert, I made some Grand Marnier Chocolate Souffles. I can’t take credit for this recipe. This is from Emeril Lagasse of Food Network fame. The only variation that I made was that I topped it with some fresh whipped cream with Grand Marnier mixed in. A lot of people find Emeril to be a bit cheesy. I do as well, but when you cut through all of the fluff, he is a really great chef. I use his recipes a lot and and I am always very satisfied.

Leave a comment


Carolina Fried Corn Cakes

This is a classic recipe from the Horne side of the family in Backswamp, North Carolina.  These corn cakes were always my absolute favorite growing up.  Grammy made them all the time, and when her sister, Aunt Reba, would visit I’d always beg her to make them– she’s the one who taught Grammy.  They’re really simple and cheap– this is what gastronomes call ‘peasant food’.  If corn and pigs are what you have, this is a lot cheaper and easier than baking bread!  They go with just about anything– and, added bonus, they’re gluten free and dairy free!



1 cup or so cornmeal (regular or roasted.  Grammy brings ‘real cornmeal’ back with her every time she and Grandpa visit the kinfolk in NC.)

You can increase/decrease the amount of cornmeal depending on how much you want.  Slowly add water, stirring, until you have a thin, soupy batter.   If you think it’s too thin, it’s probably just right. 

Heat oil in a pan.  (Bacon fat in there wouldn’t hurt the flavor, either, especially if you’re having these with breakfast.  I’m pretty sure that when Grammy was a kid these were cooked in lard.)  The cast iron pan is good for this.  When it’s nice and hot, spoon batter into the pan.  One spoonful should give you a nice little 3-inch cake– you don’t want to go too big.  The batter will spread out and the oil will bubble up through it, creating a very thin, lacy pancake.  You can probably fit three in the pan at a time.  Cook until golden brown.  Keep an eye on these, since they cook very quickly.  What you’re after here is a thin, delicate pancake that’s crispy and brown on the edges and spongy and golden in the middle.  (If you use roasted cornmeal, it will be darker in color.)  When crispy, lift out with a slotted spatula and move to a plate with a folded paper towel on it, to soak up the oil.  Sprinkle kosher salt over them immediately– it will be soaked up quickly.

In my family we traditionally eat these as a side dish with dinner, along with meat and a vegetable.  They’re also really good in the morning with eggs and bacon (and if you want to be unorthodox, some chipotle sauce, for which I will give you the recipe sometime this weekend).  They’re easy and quick and quite adaptable, so you can get creative and serve them however you want– with beans and rice, with ceviche, as tostadas…. the possibilities are endless.

Leave a comment


Toasted Cornmeal Chicken and Garlic Flower Mashed Potatoes

Now that I’m eating actual food again, I have something to post about!  I ended up going one full week without a real meal– last night was the first successful meal I’ve had.  (Hooray!)  It looks like the culprit is most likely Crohn’s disease, but I’ll keep you posted.

Joe made this simple meal with the goal of satisfying my very hungry soul without upsetting my very angry stomach.  I’m very grateful that he succeeded.

The key to the chicken is good toasted cornmeal– it has a rich, distinctive flavor that’s so good, our dog has stolen and eaten it before.  (Really.)  We get it at the Fair Food Farmstand in the Reading Terminal Market for about $1 a bag.

Take some fairly thin chicken pieces– we used Trader Joe’s tenderloins– and coat them in an egg wash.  Roll in cornmeal.  Brown in a hot cast iron pan.   They brown very quickly and might look a bit charred, but don’t let that fool you– the browning only makes the toasted-corn flavor richer.

Now for the potatoes– last time we went shopping at the RTM, the nice man at Livengood Farms gave Joe a garlic flower– the same thing that will grow naturally if you plant a garlic bulb.  The green shoots of the garlic plant, it turns out, are delicious.  You chop it like a green onion, and the flavor is somewhere between green onion and garlic.

Make mashed potatoes.  (This is easy stuff– peel a potato, chop it up, boil the pieces, mash them with some butter and salt.)  Stir in garlic flower pieces and some grated cheddar cheese.  Serve hot. 

Leave a comment