Friday, April 26, 2013

Myth Busters: Organic IS affordable!

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the inaugural class of the Family Meals Project, a pilot project to help families learn to cook nutritious and delicious meals on a tight budget – around $10 for an entire meal for a family.  Think it’s impossible?  The last meal came in at about $2 per person, including salad, entrĂ©e and dessert!

As a registered dietitian and nutritionist who cares deeply about where my foodcomes from, and the impact of its production on my body and the environment, I wondered:  Could I make an affordable $10 dinner using sustainably or organically and locally produced foods? 

The short answer:  Yes!  I didn’t hit the $10 mark, but this beautiful menu of a roasted spring vegetable salad with a lemon vinaigrette, followed by a vegetable Bolognese lasagna and poached pears with cranberries, rang in at only about $3.81 per person.   
I shopped for the class at the Bellingham Community Co-op, purchasing mostly local and organic ingredients.  And it didn’t break the bank!  You just have to be selective. 

This chart shows the total cost of all of the ingredients.

Dish Cost per Meal Cost per Serving
Roasted Spring Vegetable Salad    
Serves 6 - 8    
2 lemons ($0.33/each) $0.66 $0.08
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper pantry pantry
extra virgin olive oil pantry pantry
12 small spring carrots ($1.98/lb) $1.44 $0.18
1 bunch of radishes ($1.98/ea) $1.98 $0.25
6 cups spring salad mix ($5.98 for 12 cups) $2.99 $0.37
TOTAL $7.07 $0.88
Vegetable Lasagna    
Makes 8 large servings    
extra virgin olive oil pantry pantry
1 onion ($1.29/lb) $0.50 $0.06
1 large carrot $0.12 $0.02
1 stalk celery $0.10 $0.01
2 cloves garlic $0.05 $0.01
red pepper flakes pantry pantry
2 bay leaves pantry pantry
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper pantry pantry
24 ounces whole tomatoes $1.99 $0.25
4 tablespoons whole wheat flour pantry pantry
3 cups whole milk ($3.59 for half gallon) $1.34 $0.17
1 cup grated parmesan cheese ($8.99/lb) $2.13 $0.27
nutmeg pantry pantry
1 package frozen spinach $1.49 $0.19
1 1/2 pkg whole wheat lasagna noodles ($3.89/ea) $5.84 $0.73
TOTAL $13.56 $1.70
Poached Pears with Cranberries    
Serves 8    
2 cups apple cider ($3.39 for 4 cups) $1.70 $0.21
¼ cup honey ($4.99 for 6 ounces, local) $1.66 $0.21
1 inch piece fresh ginger $0.10 $0.01
2 star anise (or cinnamon sticks) pantry pantry
4 Bosc pears (firm), peeled ($2.49/lb) $5.98 $0.75
¼ cup dried cranberries ($3.75/lb) $0.42 $0.05
TOTAL $9.86 $1.23
Total Cost of Meal for EIGHT SERVINGS $30.49  
Total Cost of Meal for FOUR SERVINGS $15.25  
Total Cost of Meal for ONE PERSON $3.81  
Here are a few tips for making organic shopping more affordable.

But cost isn’t the only focus of the Family Meals Project.  At each class, we gather together in the kitchen to learn and share stories, not only about cooking and nutrition, but about our lives.  And really, that’s what cookingfor your family is really all about.  It’s a way to connect with the people you love and care about, to give you a vehicle for conversation, one that feeds your body and your soul.

And now, for the recipes.

Roasted Spring Vegetable Salad

Serves 6 - 8

Zest of one lemon
Juice from 2 lemons, about 4 tablespoons
sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
12 small spring carrots
1 bunch of radishes, washed and trimmed
1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 cups spring salad mix
Radish greens, washed well

Make the vinaigrette by whisking together the lemon zest, juice, olive oil and salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Peel the carrots and place with whole radishes on a baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast about 10 - 12 minutes or until crisp-tender and lightly browned. 

Vegetable Lasagna 

This recipe has a lot of steps, but all of the parts can be mixed-and-matched to make other dishes.  For example, make a double or a triple batch of the basic tomato sauce, and freeze it in quart containers or freezer bags.  You can just thaw and reheat to make a quick pasta dinner or add to a soup stock for a delicious soup.

Makes 8 - 12 servings

Basic Tomato Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 large carrot, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 bay leaves
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup red wine (optional)
24 ounces whole tomatoes, crushed by hand

Basic Cheese Sauce

3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons whole wheat flour
3 cups whole milk, warmed
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil
1 package frozen spinach, thawed and water squeezed out completely
1 package whole wheat lasagna noodles*
½ cup grated provolone or mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Make Basic Tomato Sauce

Heat olive oil in medium-sized pot over medium-low heat.  Add onion, carrot, celery, garlic, fennel, red pepper flakes, bay leaves salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring often, until vegetables are very soft and beginning to brown.  Add red wine.  Bring to a simmer and cook until wine has reduced to a few tablespoons.  Add tomatoes.  Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, about 30 – 45 minutes, or until sauce is thick and fragrant. 

Make Basic Cheese Sauce

Place a large skillet over medium-low heat.  Add butter.  Cook until butter is melted and foaming.  Add flour.  Stir briskly with a wooden spoon until a smooth paste is formed.   Continue to cook 3 – 4 minutes, stirring.  Add warmed milk, 1 cup at a time, whisking briskly, until sauce is smooth.  Bring to a simmer and continue to cook and stir until sauce is thick.  Stir in parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.  Stir in thawed spinach.

Assemble lasagna in a 10 x 20 inch lasagna pan. 

Place about ½ - ¾ cup of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the pan.  Top with lasagna noodles.  Add another ½ - ¾ cup tomato sauce and then layer about ½ cup of the cheese sauce.  Top with another layer of lasagna noodles.  Repeat three more times (or until you run out of sauce).  Over the last layer of lasagna noodles, spread ¾ cup of tomato sauce.  Top with shredded cheese.

Cover tightly with foil.  Place on a baking sheet, in case sauce bubbles over.  Bake for 45 minutes with foil on top.  Remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes, or until cheese is just starting to brown and lasagna is bubbling.  If the cheese starts to get too brown, replace foil.  Let rest at least 10 minutes before slicing.      

*I don’t cook my lasagna noodles ahead of time.  It has always seemed like an unnecessary step, and not cooking them actually turns out lasagna with a better texture—one that holds together beautifully and doesn’t fall apart with the first bite.  As long as you provide plenty of liquid for the noodles to absorb, your noodles will be perfectly toothsome to the bite.

Poached Pears with Cranberries

Serves 8

2 cups water
2 cups apple cider
¼ cup honey
1 inch piece fresh ginger, sliced
2 star anise (or cinnamon sticks)
4 Bosc pears (firm), peeled, cored and quartered
¼ cup dried cranberries

Pour water and apple cider into a large saucepan.  Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  Add honey and stir to dissolve.  Add ginger and star anise.  Add pears.  Simmer, making sure the pears are covered with liquid, until the pears until cooked through, about 15 to 25 minutes.

Remove from heat, add dried cranberries and let the pears cool in their liquid.  If you like, you can remove the pears from the liquid and reduce down to a thick sauce.  Spoon over the pears.  Serve warm or cold.

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