Food & Drink

12 for $40: Herbs to the rescue!

By February 22, 2011

The lovely weather of the weekend might have turned your thoughts to spring. Sadly, it’s not spring in the world of food yet. Instead, we’re in the February doldrums where nothing much new is in season. The solution? Lots of flavor from herbs and spices, salsas and even corn..

Where possible, buy seasonings in small quantities. Herbs and spices lose a significant amount of flavor as they age, and would ideally be used within 6 months of purchase.  The Davis Food Co-op (where, full disclosure, I work) sells herbs and spices in bulk, so you can buy just enough for the next month. Store spices in a tightly closed container, and keep them in a cupboard or drawer if the container is clear.

Davis has a great climate for growing most herbs, and they’ll thrive in even a very small amount of space. If this weather holds, it might just be time to put in a few little plants!

Planning is everything in sticking to a food budget, and we aim to help you with six days worth of menus, which should feed two adults dinner six nights a week for around $40. These menus assume you already have some cooking skills, and own a basic reference cook book.

Below the menus are tips for cooking, or for cooking ahead.  If you see “In the fridge for future meals” then save those items from this meal for later in the week.  That’s been included in the shopping list.


 Little Corn Cakes

 Pinto Beans

In the fridge for future meals:

Pinto Beans

Sour Cream


Tip: Making your own pinto beans is much less expensive than canned – every good cookbook (or the internet) will have a recipe.


 Stuffed Shells

 Carrot sticks

In the fridge for future meals:

Tomato Sauce

carrot sticks

Tip: Make a double batch of simple tomato sauce (cooked with onion, garlic & dried oregano) and save half for Tuesday


Tamale Casserole


In the fridge for future meals:



 Meatball subs

 carrot sticks

Tip: Vegetarian options: Nate’s Frozen Meatless Meatballs, or mixed peppers and mushrooms


 Burritos

Tip: Fill whole wheat tortillas with pinto beans, cheese, lettuce, sour cream and salsa. Fast, simple and delicious


 Falafel

 Spinach & Citrus Salad

Tip: This salad becomes a main dish if you add tuna or other fish.

Shopping & Recipes

Our shopping & recipes are scaled for two adults.  Increase or decrease as needed to allow for your household. We shopped this list at the Co-op on February 13, 2011.  We chose organic wherever affordable (marked “OG” on our list), and picked what we’d use at home – the best value rather than the absolute cheapest.  We also assumed you had a few things in the pantry, which were not included in the shopping total. Our total: $39.92

In the pantry:

olive oil

dried tarragon




salt and pepper to taste

hot sauce

baking powder

bread crumbs, 1/2 cup


onion, ~1 lb. OG

bell pepper, 1 large OG

1 cucumber , OG

1 grapefruit OG

1 orange OG

limes, 2 OG

lettuce, 1 head OG

carrot, 4OG

Dairy & cheese:


butter, 1 stick

egg, 1

sour cream


cottage cheese, 8 oz.

jack, 4 oz.

parmesan, 4 oz

mozzarella, 8 oz.


pasta shells, 16 large

tomato sauce, 1 28 oz. & 1 15 oz can

frozen corn, 1 16 oz bag



8 oz ground beef


falafel, 3/4 cup/ 4 oz.

masa flour, 2 cups/8 oz.

vegetable broth powder

pinto beans, 1 lb.

Little Corn Cakes

1 cup masa flour

1/2 tsp. salt

5 Tbsp. butter, softened

1 1/2  cups vegetable broth

1/2  tsp. hot sauce

1/2  cup bell pepper, minced

1/2  cup onion, minced

1/2  cup frozen corn

1/2  cup finely grated cheese

1 tsp. baking powder

1 egg

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil

Cream masa and salt with 4 Tbsp. butter.  Mix hot sauce & broth & add half to masa.  Beat vigorously.  Add more broth until you have a thick but pourable batter.  You may not need all the broth, or you may need additional water.  Sauté pepper and onion until soft.  Add sautéed veg, corn, cheese, baking powder and egg to masa.  Heat a large skillet over medium heat & add butter & oil.  Drop batter by the spoonful into hot skillet. Cook until brown on one side, about 5 minutes.  Turn and cook until other side is brown.  Serve with sour cream.

Stuffed Pasta Shells

16 large pasta shells

8 oz. cottage cheese

1/4 cup grated parmesan

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tsp. dried oregano

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

salt and pepper to taste

2-3 cups tomato sauce

1/4 cup grated mozzarella

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cook pasta shells for half of time recommended on package.  While pasta cooks, mix ricotta, parmesan, garlic, oregano, and onion.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Drain shells and rinse with cold water.  Put 1/2 cup of tomato sauce in a casserole dish.  Place cheese mixture in plastic zipper bag. Cut corner of bag and pipe into shells. Place shells cheese side up in casserole dish.  Cover with remaining pasta sauce and sprinkle with grated mozzarella.  Bake, uncovered, 20-25 minutes until sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted.

Tamale Casserole

2 cups plain pinto beans

1 onion, sliced thin

1 bell pepper, sliced thin

1/2 cup grated cheese

1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn

1/3 cup salsa

2/3 cup masa*

3 Tbsp. softened butter

1 cup vegetable broth, mixed with

1/4 tsp. hot pepper sauce

Cream 1/3 of the masa with the butter.  Add enough vegetable broth to masa  to make a thick batter and beat vigorously.  Alternate masa and broth until you have a thick but pourable batter.  You may not need all the broth, or you may need additional hot water.  Spread beans in greased casserole dish & layer other ingredients on top in the order given, ending with salsa.  Pour/spoon batter over top of casserole.  Bake, covered, for 30 minutes at 350°.  Uncover and bake another 20 minutes until browned.

Meatball Subs

1/2 cup minced onion

1/2 cup bread crumbs

8 oz ground beef

2 cloves garlic, smashed

1 tsp. oregano

2 Tbsp. oil

bread or rolls

cheese, if desired

Mix onion, meat & bread crumbs. Form into meatballs about the size of a marble. Heat the oil in a pan and fry meatballs gently until brown all over. Drain off excess grease and add tomato sauce. Spoon into toasted rolls and top with cheese if desired.

Cucumber and Citrus Salad

1 cucumber

1 grapefruit

1 orange

2 Tbsp. lime juice

1/4 cup good olive oil

1/2 tsp. dried tarragon

salt to taste

Peel and slice cucumber. Peel & section citrus. Whisk lime juice, olive oil and tarragon together and add salt to taste.  Toss dressing with cucumber and citrus.

Pan-fried Falafel

3/4 cup falafel mix

1/3 cup finely grated cheese

oil for frying

Mix falafel well with 1/2 cup water.  Let stand 15 minutes.  If it doesn’t hold together after standing, add water 1 tsp. at a time until it does. Stir in grated cheese.  Heat a large skillet & add oil to coat bottom.  Drop small spoonfuls of falafel into pan, then flatten—the thinner the cake, the crisper.  Cook over medium heat until golden brown, 3-4 minutes.  Turn and cook second side. Serve with lemon wedges.

Julie Cross

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