The Virtue of Cheap and Easy

For someone who has carefully cultivated a mystique of classy broad-ness, deep down I’m often cheap and easy. Close your mouths dearies, I’m not talking about my virtue here. That discussion is best kept to a pretty fabulous dinner (ok, several), and I’ll be selecting my order from the ‘I am SO worth it’ side of the menu. Now that we’ve cleared that up, when I say I’m cheap and easy, I’m referring to food. Good, healthy, almost virtuous food. Just what we need after a season of overindulgence and year-end debauchery. And, brace yourself, can openers are going to be involved. Before your mind starts reeling with thoughts of backwoods anarchists, bomb shelters and panic rooms, let me remind you that just because something is canned doesn’t mean it’s déclassé. Some pretty damn good things have been canned (including me). For example, take the wonderful wobbly cylinder, jellied cranberry sauce. If it came in another container it just wouldn’t be as good. For one thing you wouldn’t have the ‘ribs’ on that quivering log, which at the very least give you a handy guide of where to slice.

So why is it many so-called foodies turn their noses up at the thought of canned ingredients? I blame Martha. At some point in the past decade or so, food snobbery became fashionable and she started it. Julia used cans and didn’t blink an eye or apologize. But not Martha. It had to be hand-picked heirloom tomatoes she preserved herself in elegant glass jars made especially for her by virgins in a commune in Vermont. As for this particular foodie, I love my canned provisions, and not just because they are cheap and easy. I’ve been opening cans ever since I started cooking, regardless of my income (or lack thereof). Stewed tomatoes, all manner of beans and good tuna in olive oil are just a sampling of my favorite ingredients to work with. Portuguese sardines, anchovies, pumpkin puree, artichoke hearts and sliced beets are always in my repertoire, stacked neatly in my pantry just waiting for their turn. For a cheap, easy and healthy way to start the new year, pull out your opener and get canned!

White bean, tomato and rosemary stew

Serves 1-2

A can of beans and a can of tomatoes get classed up with a little fresh rosemary and some simmering. You could serve alongside roast chicken or a nice steak, under a lovely piece of fish, or on it’s own as a hearty vegetarian stew. Add some crusty bread, a salad and some wine and you have cheap and easy the classy way.

  • 1 can of cannellini beans with liquid (use the ready to serve kind, not salt-free )
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 small shallot, chopped
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • ¾ tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • Some good olive oil and balsamic vinegar for drizzling

Sweat the chopped shallot in olive oil over medium heat, 1-2 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté another minute. Add in the can of beans with their liquid, can of drained diced tomatoes, and chopped rosemary. Stir well, and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer, cover partially and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove cover and simmer another 8-10 minutes to evaporate some of the liquid. Taste for seasonings and add salt and pepper if needed. Serve with a drizzle of some good olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar. Calories: 275 per serving

Smashed Black Beans

This recipe is the basis of two of my favorite bean recipes. You can also use them on nachos, as a filling for enchiladas or wherever you might use refried beans.

  • 1 can black beans with liquid (I like Goya, but feel free to use your favorite. Just don’t use the salt-free variety)
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • ¼ cup chopped onions or shallots
  • 1 small garlic clove, smashed
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper or more to taste
  • 1/4 tsp cumin or more to taste

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a small non-stick pan. Add the smashed garlic clove and heat for a minute or two, just until fragrant. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and sauté for another 2 minutes, just to sweat the onions. Add the can of beans with liquid into the pan, along with the cumin and pepper. Bring to a boil then turn down and simmer, uncovered for 10-15 minutes. Take a fork or potato masher and mash the beans, leaving a little texture to them (you don’t want a puree). Add squeeze of lime juice (about one tsp.) You now have the base for some tasty dishes. Calories: 400 per recipe

Black bean, chili and cheese dip: Put 1 recipe of smashed black beans in a microwave safe dish, top with 1/3 cup of salsa or canned green chilis. Sprinkle with 2/3 cup shredded jack, cheddar, or a combination. Zap in the microwave until the dish is warmed through and cheese is all melty. Top with some chopped avocado, a squeeze of lime, and serve with your favorite chips or bread for scooping.

Quick Huevos Rancheros: (for one serving) Put 1 or 2 6″corn or flour tortillas into a microwave or ovenproof dish. Top with ½ a recipe of smashed black beans and 1/4 cup shredded jack cheese. Warm in microwave or oven until heated through and the cheese is melted. While the beans are warming, fry one egg. Take the beans and melted cheese out, top with fried egg, season egg with salt and pepper, and top with your favorite salsa (I love a tomatillo or salsa verde with this). Serve with some warmed tortillas on the side.


6 thoughts on “The Virtue of Cheap and Easy

  1. Great writing Karin… your humor brightens our day… Our “Kitchen Shrink” Catharine Kaufman shares your gift. (See her recent Food Tips at I visualize you cooking in your heels in Paris & taking breaks at the postage-stamp-size table of an outdoor Montmartre café…

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