Monday, April 16, 2007

Is It a Good Deal, or...?

Not to sound pompous, but I think I've started down the road to becoming a budding, though still amateur, "deal" hunter. Lately, however, in my deal-tracking escapades, I've noticed a shift and I'm not sure that I'm totally sold on it. It seems that there are two schools of thought in the saving money world - one of those is just finding anything that you can obtain for free, whether or not you would have EVER wanted them in the first place (we'll call these "freebies"); and, the other tries to do the everyday while saving as much as possible.

As with most things, I've taken a pretty quick stance and will say that I am NOT a freebie hunter, even though this seems to be the latest and greatest. Recently, there've even been numerous articles written about different things you can get for free, with varying caveats. Both Real Simple and the Washington Post have had articles listing such things.

So what's wrong with this? At the risk of sounding harsh, I've found that "freebie" often equates to "it's not worth paying for". However, I will readily admit that there are exceptions - our great Smithsonian Museums (plug for DC) being one.

Sure, the occasional "freebie" is great and can sometimes lead to an unexpected adventure, but I advocate more strongly for living everyday within a budget (we can all learn something from this article about teens and budgeting). While I haven't had the experience of enrolling in one of MIT's online courses (freebie!), I have managed to have a modest amount of success in my money saving efforts at (no surprise here) the grocery store!

Tonight I actually combined a new grocery store "find" with my heart-healthy eating "diet" (my first experimentation with greens) and ended up with a filling meal for 2 that costed less than about $5 total! I started with Real Simple's Swiss Chard with Chickpeas and Couscous recipe and made some substitutions more in line with my cupboard to complete the meal.

Brown Rice Risotto & Healthy Greens

3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/2 cloves garlic - 1/2 minced, 2 cloves thinly sliced
1 c brown rice
3 c either low-sodium chicken stock or hot water
1/2 grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 15.5-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed
1/2 cup Craisins
2 bunches Kale, stems trimmed (any greens will work - spinach, Swiss chard, etc.)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add 1/2 tbsp olive oil and minced garlic. Cook gently for about a minute and add the brown rice stirring to coat for 2-3 minutes. Turn the heat up to medium-high and slowly add enough stock or water to cover the rice, stirring frequently. Allow the liquid to cook down almost completely and then add enough liquid to again cover the rice, repeating the process until you have used all of your cooking liquid. If desired, stir in the Parmesan cheese.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, over low heat, toast the chopped pecans for 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Return skillet to medium heat, add the oil, and heat for 1 minute. Add the sliced garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the chickpeas, Craisins, Kale, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until your greens are tender. Remove from heat. Fluff the brown rice risotto with a fork and divide among individual plates. Top with the chard and sprinkle with the pecans.

This was plenty for two portions as a main course or could be enough as a side for at least 4 servings.

If you crave a good deal but love cooking as if you didn't have a budget, check back every once in a while - I'll try and keep you up-to-date on any great recipes/meals I make that take advantage of a money-saving find, and other good deals (in my unprofessional opinion) and worth-while freebies.

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