For Frugal Nation, I have focused on dinner and complete “meals.” This recipe, however, could work as a snack or light lunch. It is also a nice side dish for dinner, especially if you need to work some vegetables into the meal.

If you like hummus, you will enjoy this dip. It is rich and thick like hummus, but the spinach makes it a beautiful green color. Eat it just like you would hummus, with chips or pita, vegetables, or as a sandwich spread.


Garlic & Spinach White Bean Dip

2 tbsp olive oil
3-4 large garlic cloves, minced
3-4 cups baby spinach
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 tsp sea salt
2 cans (15 oz each) Great Northern White beans, drained and rinsed

Heat oil in a small skill over medium heat. Add garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute, being careful not to burn. Transfer garlic to food processor bowl.

Wipe pan clean and add a small amount of additional oil. Add spinach, in batches, and saute over low heat until wilted. Transfer to food processor bowl.

Add lemon juice and salt to food processor bowl and pulse to combine. Add beans to bowl and puree until smooth. Chill slightly before serving (15 minutes in refrigerator). Drizzle with olive oil if desired.

Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days.


Frugal Breakdown
olive oil: negligible
3-4 large garlic cloves: negligible
3-4 cups baby spinach: $1.00
lemon: $0.50
 sea salt: negligible
2 cans beans: $1.78
TOTAL: $3.28

Verdict: Obviously a success, but you also need to factor in the cost of what you will be dipping (such as tortilla chips, baby carrots, broccoli spears, pitas, or pretzels). The low cost of the dip, however, allows for the purchase of these things.

While you may pay a similar price for a jar of vegetable dip or hummus at the store, I encourage you to try this dip anyway. It has a different flavor and lots of protein. While hummus is pretty healthy, some other dips are loaded with calories and preservatives.

Geek Cake!

March 3rd, 2009

My first attempt at cake decoration, not too shabby? Okay, my icing skills need some work, but it was delicious.

A candy-covered computer motherboard:


penny-pincher.jpgFrugal Nation has been up and running for a month now, with most recipes successfully totalling less than $10. Keeping the $10 price tag in mind, I have incorporated lentils and beans into recipes, which I have not done before (with the exception of chickpeas).

During Veganomics, I kept a careful eye on price tags and sales. One thing I have noticed since starting this project is that the deals are not as good as before, and I am not sure if that is a result of the economic turmoil or that winter is a dormant growing season in Michigan. Vegetables seem slightly more expensive, while meat is definitely pricier than last summer. The sale prices are sometimes higher than the regular prices I paid back in June!

It takes a bit more work to find a good deal on meat and produce, though it isn’t impossible. This is part of the reason I turned to lentils and beans, which are almost always cheaper than meat. Also, hearty dishes with lentils and beans lend themselves better to the colder weather.

Some very sad news came in last weekend: The Fresh Market closed! Not all locations, but the one in Grand Rapids closes its doors today. I was devastated to hear the news, and immediately rushed over to stock up on cheap spices and other favorites like tri-colored couscous and quinoa. The closing was very abrupt, the GR Press ran the story Thursday and by Sunday the store was closed.

Another thing this project has shown me is that home cooking can be incredibly cheap, healthy, and very satisfying. Ironically, I am on my way to making more soup during this project than I did during Soupified! Though I usually made adjustmests to the recipes, it has been pretty easy to keep things under the $10 mark.

I am at a distinct advantage, however, because I already had a stocked pantry and spice rack (let’s not discuss how much I spent stocking up on spices this weekend). For someone starting from scratch, it would probably be more costly to start cooking at home at first.

Frugal Nation will continue with more delicious, balanced recipes that can be made with less than $10 worth of ingredients, along with Frugal News updates and other commentary on Bitter/Sweet.

skinny-papers1It isn’t a pleasant thought, but if you are facing unemployment the answer may be to go green. Ideal Bite posted tips on finding green careers in a less-than-ideal economy:

Green Dream Jobs – sustainable biz job listings.

Idealist – create a personal profile based on your interests and skills, and it will help you find nonprofit job matches.

Green Careers– good job seekers’ guide that includes an interview with Daily Tip editor Toshio ($25).

Fast Company– this mag predicts the 10 green jobs that will blow up over the next decade.

SustainLane – 15 great green networking tips.

Listen Marie Kerpen talk about why she founded Green Careers in an attempt to foster more environmentally sound lifestyles on NPR’s “Job Campaign Seeks a More ‘Green’ Work Force.” Kerpan discusses the opportunities in this emerging field for today’s blue- and white-collar workers.

Still employed but not loving your job? Check out this article from the US New Business & Money section for advice about switching jobs during a recession.

Originally, this recipe came from the local newspaper. When I started making it, however, it called for 1/4 cup butter and 1/2 cup cheese in the soup. That gave me pause because I have never used that much butter in soup, and it didn’t seem like a cheese-based soup. It seemed like the recipe was using butter and cheese to add flavor, rather than building the flavors of the soup with herbs, onions, and other healthy ingredients.

I started tinkering with the recipe, as I tend to do, and ended up with something very different from the original. I changed proportions, added and subtracted ingredients, and completely disregarded the use of butter or cheese. The end result was fantastic! James and I both enjoyed this hearty soup, packed full of vegetables and protein-rich great northern beans. A relatively small amount of sausage (1/2 lb) gives flavor and body to the soup.


Great Northern Bean & Sausage Soup

1/2 lb sweet Italian sausage
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
sea salt
2-3 small or medium carrots, diced
1 can (14-15 oz) petite diced tomatoes, undrained
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 cans (15 oz each) great northern beans, drained and rinsed
6 cups chicken stock or broth
6 cups fresh spinach, roughly chopped
black pepper, to taste

In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, cook sausage until browned, crumbling with a wooden spoon. Add onions, garlic, carrots and a pinch of salt. Saute until onions soften, about 3-5 minutes. Add tomatoes with liquid, thyme sprigs, and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium. Add beans and cook until most of the liquid has cooked off, about 5-7 minutes.

Add chicken stock to pan. Using wooden spoon, scrape any browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil and stir in chopped spinach. Reduce heat to low and simmer until spinach wilts, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and add black pepper to taste. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.


Frugal Breakdown:
1/2 lb sausage: $1.48
1 onion: $0.50
3 garlic cloves: negligible
sea salt: negligible
2-3 carrots: $0.75
1 can diced tomatoes: $1.05
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme: $0.50
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes: negligible
2 cans great northern beans: $1.78
6 cups chicken broth: $2.29
6 cups fresh spinach: $2.00
black pepper: negligible
TOTAL: $10.35

Verdict: So close! Though the sausage is not necessary, which would bring the total to $8.87. Some of the broth could be replaced with water, which would decrease the total as well. The total would probably increase even more with the original version including butter and cheese.

Regardless of the price, this was a huge hit. We also had couple rolls on the side from the local bakery, which added $1.50 to the meal. There are easily 6 servings of this soup, so even at the original price that is only $1.72 per serving, plus about $3 for rolls. The soup is even better the next day, after the flavors have a chance to mingle.