It’s tough enough to put food on the table if you’re on an extremely limited budget, but whipping up an appetizing meal tends to be near impossible.
Some people on tight budgets get much of their food from The Salvation Army Family Services Food Pantry. It’s wholesome food and the price is right — free — but variety usually is lacking.
“A lot of people think it’s just mundane,” said Jay Jones. “It’s a can you can open, a package to peel back.”
But here’s the thing: Jones is a chef. He had a fine-dining restaurant in North Carolina, worked at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts Las Vegas and is on the staff at the Las Vegas Culinary Academy.
And now he’s sharing his creativity and knowledge with regular presentations at The Salvation Army Family Services center on Main Street. On a recent menu: tomato basil and rice soup, whole-wheat penne with ground beef and herb tomato sauce, and pumpkin mousse with pastry sticks.
“They’re all things that come from your pantry,” he told a group of assembled clients. “But I have a little spin on everything.”
Jones’ spins seem likely to be welcome to anyone on a tight budget.
Take ramen noodles, for example. They’re the darlings of college students and about every other group of budget-stretcher, but they don’t have to have low flavor and high sodium, as evidenced by the five spice ramen noodles with sesame meatballs Jones made for his first presentation at the center. He ditched the seasonings that come with the noodles, added some Chinese Five Spice Powder and voila.
“We showed them how to do things a little differently,” he said.
Jones knows that the seasonings that add life to his improvised dishes may seem out of reach to many people, but he suggested seeking out bargain sources.
“Go to the 99 Cents store and get a few different seasonings,” he said. “You’ve got a whole new thing. Some of the seasonings they have right here at the pantry.”
And he was mindful of what generally tends to come out of the pantry.
“You guys get rice,” he said. “A lot of rice.”
Rice is cheap and generally pretty available, but he pointed out that it has another value, especially as the weather turns cooler.
“Thick, creamy rice,” Jones said. “You eat it and it kind of fills you up.” Sticks to the ribs, as it were.
Jones used some of that rice along with canned soup to create a thick, warming and satisfying bisque with plenty of flavor, which was a hit with client M.J. Griff.
“I think it’s excellent,” Griff said. “A lot of people don’t understand that you can put something together that’s very nutritious.”
Bernadette Basilio, Family Services Ministries coordinator, said most of what’s distributed by the pantry comes in the form of food, rather than money. That means dealing with whatever they get, and one day recently that included bags and bags of frozen french toast sticks. Which, of course, can be eaten as french toast sticks, but Jones had a more creative use in mind. That would be in the form of dessert, “so you know it can’t be bad,” he said.
“Everybody’s made a pumpkin pie — or at least had pumpkin pie?” he asked the group. With the addition of some whipping cream, powdered sugar and vanilla, Jones turned canned pumpkin into pumpkin mousse, which he served with the renamed pastry sticks.
“It’s almost Halloween,” he said. “They can add nutmeg, ginger, allspice — all to the simple can of pumpkin.”
The mousse was a hit with client Ucilia Young.
“A lot of people don’t bake,” she said. “If you don’t bake, you don’t have to.”
Jones paid attention to nutrition as well. An entree of ground beef, tomatoes and pasta contained whole-wheat penne.
“Regular pasta isn’t bad, but whole wheat is always better,” he said, before a brief discussion of the differences between simple and complex carbohydrates.
The pantry often has fresh produce as well as canned, dried and frozen foods.
“You get this really great squash,” he said, before serving the fresh yellow squash sliced on the bias and roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper.
Leslee Rogers, public relations officer for The Salvation Army, said families with children in school can come to the pantry every 60 days during the school year, on the theory that the kids get breakfast and lunch at school. Seniors on fixed incomes can come in every 30 days.
Basilio said the amount that each family or individual receives depends on the number of family members in the household. The makeup of the food bags, she said, depends on what’s available.
“Some dried, some canned, if we have any meats, bread, produce,” she said. “We thrive on a lot of donations we get in the community, so it’s whatever is available.”
Jones’ next presentation will be from noon to 1 p.m. today at the Family Services center, 1581 N. Main St. He’ll provide ideas for a Thanksgiving-style turkey dinner. It’s open to the public.
Family Services client Anthony Carter said he appreciated the exchange of ideas.
“The samples he gave were just delicious,” Carter said. “I thought it was very informative, knowing what we can get out of our own cabinets. It’s good to know you can do some different things that are nutritional, too.”
½ pound ground beef
¼ cup breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons Chinese five-spice powder
2 packages ramen noodles
Salt and pepper, to taste
In a large bowl, mix beef, breadcrumbs, onion powder, sesame oil and garlic powder until combined. Roll into ½-inch meatballs (larger if you like). Put on sheet pan and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven until brown and done (155 degrees internal temperature).
Bring 4 cups water to a boil add five-spice powder. Add ramen (do not add seasoning packets) and meatballs. Cook until ramen is done.
2 cups rice
¼ cup sushi vinegar
1 can potted meat
4 sheets nori (roasted seaweed sheets), cut into ½-inch strips
Wasabi, fresh or paste
Salt, to taste
Cook rice with sushi vinegar and salt in 4 cups water; cool, then form into 1-by-2-inch rectangles.
Put potted meat in bowl and add a dash of soy sauce; mix. Form into 1-inch squares, about 1 inch thick.
Put potted meat squares on top of rice rectangles and wrap with nori strips
Serve with wasabi and soy sauce.
1 cup long-grain rice
¼ cup oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
Salt and black pepper, to taste
2 cans tomato-basil bisque
1 bunch fresh basil
Cook rice and set aside.
Pour oil into pot. Add garlic, dried basil, cream, red pepper flakes, if using, and salt and pepper. Cook on low for 5 minutes.
Add canned soup; simmer until warm. Add rice. Cut fresh basil in chiffonade (fine strips) and add to taste.
4 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla
½ cup powdered sugar
1 16-ounce can pumpkin puree
French toast sticks or other pastry sticks
Put heavy cream into mixing bowl. Using the wire-wisk attachment of a stand mixer, or a hand mixer, whip until soft peaks form. Add vanilla, powdered sugar and pumpkin puree. Fold in until combined. Spoon into bowls with pastry sticks.
Note: Be sure not to overwork the cream, or it will turn to butter.
2 cans tuna
2 sleeves saltine crackers
1 cup mayonnaise
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 red pepper, cut in small dice
1 orange pepper, cut in small dice
Place all ingredients in bowl and combine. Form cakes, using a ¼-cup measuring cup.
Oil sheet pan or bottom of oven-safe dish. Put cakes on pan or dish. Bake at 375 degrees until golden brown
Note: For a quick sauce, mix mayonnaise with relish and capers or chopped gherkins. Serve with tuna cakes.
— Recipes from Chef Jay Jones
Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0474.