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I must protest Miss Janie Jones’s accusation that I, as one of her fellow dorks, am a lady of taste and refinement.  I mean, of course I have taste; look who I picked for blog buddies.  But refinement?  Do I LOOK like I have time for refinement?  No, if Janie is the queen of cheap, then I am the queen of easy.  (Stop snickering, you perverts.  Not that kind of easy.)  It’s not that I don’t have time, exactly, but I surely don’t have time in which I am not sleep-deprived, constantly interrupted, or both.  Don’t plan to come to my house for cassoulet for a decade or so.

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I should love mojitos. Rum, sugar, mint, what’s not to love? I grew up with lechon, platano maduro, y moros y cristianos (that’s roast pork, ripe plantains, and beans and rice for you gringos) in Miami, and when I got old enough, mojitos were added to the mix. But I’ve always thought the mojito could stand to be improved, so I’m really happy to have found the drink recipe that one-ups the mojito in just the way I like.

It’s called a bajito.

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Over the course of my misspent youth, I have lived in many parts of the U.S. of A. I’ve lived in the South and I’ve lived in the North; I’ve lived in big cities and I’ve lived in small towns. Most places I’ve lived have been awesome. Odessa, Texas, is the exception; its only selling point is that it has drive-through stores where you can buy Jell-O shots right from your car, thus drastically lessening the amount of time it takes to get drunk enough to forget how much Odessa otherwise completely sucks.

Anyway, the point of this is that I’ve shopped in many a grocery store in my day. And being cheap, I must admit that any town is improved by a grocery store that is willing to triple a manufacturer’s coupon. This is more common in big cities, where there’s a lot of competition; in the sticks, where Wal-Mart is sometimes all you got, triple coupons are harder to come by. Here in DC, two rival stores (Harris Teeter and Shoppers) have been running triple-coupon specials up to 99 cents every three weeks or so lately, and I have profited mightily from their competitive spirit. Behold, what I brought home today for a total of $7.71:


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Or maybe I should say real men drank daiquiris. Hemingway for one. And JFK. And Army and Navy officers visiting Cuba, who took the recipe back with them to Washington D.C. Legend has it that the daiquiri was the invention of one Jennings Cox, working in Cuba as a mining engineer for an American company, although the basic recipe is almost the same as that for grog, which British sailors imbibed going back to the 18th century.

Somewhere along the line, however, the daiquiri went from being the drink of choice for gin-less Americans in Cuba and elsewhere and became the frou-frou too-sweet frozen nightmare that it is today. Most places don’t even make fresh ones, they just pump it out of a machine, like so much alcoholic Cheez Whiz.

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Like I may have mentioned, y’all, I’m cheap. I am so cheap that to me, paying for an iced coffee at McDonald’s is tantamount to SETTING MONEY ON FIRE. That’s two whole dollars I could have kept in the bank, where with the magic of compound interest they could turn into $4,329,317.39 by the time I retire!

Er. Anyway, the point was, you can make a delicious McCafe-esque iced vanilla coffee in your very own home. It is easy, and it is cheap. Here is what you do.

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Living alone is certainly not without its charm – the pleasures of walking around naked, knowing the dishes will never be left undone unless you left them, and belting out an earsplitting off-key rendition of “Our Lips Are Sealed” in the shower at 6:00 AM cannot be denied.  But living alone also means you eat a lot of the same things, over and over and over and over until you want to “accidentally” squirt dish soap all over them and go see if Popeye’s is really as bad as you remember it.  This is particularly true if you, like me, were raised in an Irish (Italian, Jewish, etc.) household and are incapable of cooking by any other quantity than “truckload.”

To avoid the dish soap garnish, you have to get creative with repurposing.  Like sex in a long-term marriage, it’s not that you don’t love the original recipe just the way it is… but if you get the occasional opportunity to pretend it’s something entirely different, you’re a lot less likely to cheat on it with some greasy fried chicken.  Or, uh, something.

Anyway, got a bunch of leftover Sweet Potato Home Fries staring you down from the fridge?  Read on.

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My fellow Kitchen Dorks are ladies of grace and refinement. They make beautifully lit hummus, gorgeous sorbet, delectable pies, and (inexplicably) small cakes shaped like bugs. Me, not so much. For better or worse, I am one cheap cook, and I am here with my wobbly camera and my generic spices to show you how to make The 43-Cent Burrito.


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Strawberry Sorbet

Late Spring in Southern California is not what you think it is. When I first moved here almost 5 years ago, I was taken completely by surprise when May rolled in and brought with it day after day of gray clouds. Where was that famous Southern California light? The May Gray turned into the June Gloom and still I felt like somebody had pulled a fast one on me and switched out the weather with Portland.

But even the gloomy marine layer can’t keep the bountiful soil of SoCal from bursting forth with enough fruits and vegetables to satisfy even the laziest locavore. Our year-round farmer’s markets always have something on offer, even in deepest winter, but it’s this time of year that things really start to rock and roll. And nothing is rocking right now more than the strawberries.

Not only are they at their biggest, juiciest, and most luscious right this minute, but they’re also at their cheapest. And who can resist buying more strawberries than you can possibly eat, when a whole flat costs barely more than then a Big Mac and fries? Not me. Having all those strawberries around opens up all sorts of possibilities (tarts! scones! strawberry margaritas!) but none is more simple or delicious than a simple strawberry sorbet

Fresh Strawberry Sorbet (courtesy Bon Appétit)

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

4 cups hulled fresh strawberries

3 -4 tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice

Combine water and sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat and cook until sugar melts and the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and chill for at least an hour.

Puree strawberries in a food processor or blender until smooth. Add lime juice and the chilled sugar syrup and blend until mixed.

Transfer mixture to an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s directions. Spoon into an airtight container and freeze for at least 4 hours.

Mojo pork tenderloin 1

That’s mojo, specifically Cuban-style.  It’s a visual pun!

First of all, run right out and get some cheap pork right now!  Since the swine flu panic turned out to be so much ado about nothing (and, really, who could possibly have seen that coming?), I imagine the prices will go back up in a hurry.

This tenderloin, about three quarters of a pound, cost me $4.50, which is actually quite amazing for my extremely urban neck of the woods.  Generally, if you want to pay less than $30 a pound for your meat here in the down-town, you have to either cut off the green parts or kill it yourself.

As for the mojo, I have absolutely no Cuban heritage to my credit and have, in fact, never even tasted authentic mojo.  Nonetheless, I’ve had a bee in my hat to give it a try for quite some time.  So why not now?  Hey, even if it sucked, I’ve only drained $4.50.

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Sweet potato home fries 1

Sweet potatoes: Everyone says they’re a superfood.  They’re high in fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, potassium, and manganese, and they can also help stabilize your blood sugar  – and probably do your taxes, wash your windows, and  tell the busybody in the cube next to you at work to mind her own business and not wear so much perfume and maybe enough with the cat stories, already.

But did you know that they’re also delicious?  I mean, not if you crap them all up Thanksgiving-style with brown sugar and marshmallows.  I mean if you really do them up properly, bearing in mind that they are already sweet.  Unless you plan to serve them as dessert, there is no reason to make them sweeter.  Instead, you want to bring out the existing sweetness with a spicy, salty, savory counterpoint that will make them super indeed.

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May 2009
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