Healthy Tuck for a Buck?

I’ve gotten a couple of comments from would-be Pennywatchers warning me of the havoc my cheap diet will wreak on my insides. Apparently bacon, nachos, and hot dogs topped with beef aren’t the surefire way to six-pack abs.

apple-braeburnSo I’ve been begrudgingly surfing for health-conscious options as well. This week these efforts led me (via the New York Times Well blog) to Divine Caroline, who lists the top 20 healthy foods you can pick up for under a dollar. Her suggestions range from the most obvious (apples and broccoli), to some you might not have thought of (sardines and pumpkin seeds). And to my joy, she includes eggs, which the experts have now deemed healthy, at least for this week.

So if you’re trying to decide whether your New Year’s resolution should be to eat healthier or to save money, check out the site and do both.

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Happy Hour of the Week: Moe’s

moes1In some ways, the Moe’s in Fort Greene (80 Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn–map) is like the Moe’s in The Simpsons. It’s a comfortable bar where the neighborhood crowd gathers after a long day of work. Just replace the bitter old man with a young, friendly bartender, the homogenous yellow power plant crowd with a conglomeration of all ages, colors, and styles, and the drunken warbling with an eclectic playlist, and often a live DJ spinning vinyl.

Add 2 for 1 pints and $1 off well drinks from 3:00 to 7:30 every day, and you get a lively yet intimate spot in a classy little neighborhood, just a couple of blocks from the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Atlantic Avenue subway hub. Dos Equis dark pints are just $3 normally, so during Happy Hour you’ll ring up at $1.50 apiece.

Penny Presents: A frugal gift guide

This Christmas everyone’s stocking is going to be a bit lighter than usual. Why not give a gift that keeps on saving? Here are three simple kitchen tools that will allow your loved one to indulge in common salary-suckers on the cheap in the comfort of home.

  • wafflerBelgian Waffler ($33.99, Kohl’s). Those luxurious Sunday brunches can be very relaxing…until you get the brutal bill. With a stovetop waffle iron, you can make crisp, fluffy waffles without braving the cold, and for pennies on the dollar. My family’s been making this easy Gourmet recipe for a decade.
  • stonePizza Stone ($24.95, Amazon). In college I spent twice as much on pizza as on books. I keep getting older, but pizza’s still addictive. So I bought a stone and started making my own dough. It’s cheap, fun, and easy. Check out this recipe, also from Gourmet. If you’re feeling lazy, Trader Joe’s sells fresh dough for a buck.
  • shakerCocktail Shaker ($6.99, Amazon). In stressful times, it’s tempting to drain a few cocktails. But if you’re at a bar you might as well be flushing your wallet. With a cocktail shaker you can make all sorts of relaxing potions without leaving a tip. With any luck, your friends will start tipping you.

How I learned to love the lizard

Thanks to the Discovery Channel, the words crocodile and alligator used to bring to mind two things that wanted to disembowel and devour me. When I hear them now, all I can think of is pizza. Two sister bars, Williamsburg’s Alligator Lounge (600 Metropolitan Ave., Brooklyn–map) and the East Village’s Crocodile Lounge (325 E. 14th St., Manhattan–map), have made their mark with an unprecendented deal: free pizza with every beer.

croclounge1It sounds too good to be true, but it’s real. With every pint you order ($4-6 for a wide selection of beers on tap, or $3 for Yeungling at Happy Hour) you get a ticket for a free 12 inch personal pizza, popped directly from the oven onto a tin plate. And it’s not a frozen cardboard disc. This is homemade dough topped with fresh sauce and mozzarella and fired thin and crispy.

Not surprisingly, both joints draw a crowd. At Crocodile you’ll meet folks letting loose after a day of work by unloading a shotgun on Bambi in the arcade staple Buck Hunter. Alligator offers a more laid-back vibe, with tiki-style decor and a dose of hipsters letting loose after a day of being ironically unemployed.

Banh mi, oh my

dscn32511As classic New York sandwiches–the Italian sub, pastrami on rye, cubano–get more expensive, a new contender is giving them a run for their money. Banh mi, a Vietnamese baguette filled with pork and pickled vegetables, is here to stay, and the best budget banh mi I’ve had is in Brooklyn.

Ba Xuyen (4222 8th Ave, Brooklyn–map) brings a taste of Vietnam to Brooklyn’s Chinatown, just east of Sunset Park. For a mere $3.75 you get a freshly toasted 10 inch baguette piled with roast pork, shredded carrots, daikon, green peppers, jalapenos, mayonnaise, hot sauce, and cilantro, which overflows out the top.

dscn3248The result is an intense mixture of sweet, salty, and spicy flavor. The crisp shredded vegetables are the perfect contrast to the tender slices of meat, and the baguette–crunchy on the outside with a soft middle–wraps it all up splendidly. If you’re not from the neighborhood, the N express train is a quick shot out to 36th St. and 4th Avenue, and the walk from there to Ba Xuyen takes you through hilly Sunset Park, which affords a great view over west Brooklyn to the river and Manhattan.

Thai food for a Song

Getting a quality Thai meal for under $10 is near impossible anywhere, especially in New York. But in the heart of Park Slope, one restaurant comes in under that mark with room to spare.

song1The entrees at Song (295 5th Avenue, Brooklyn–map) range from $5 to $8 for their priciest seafood dish–the cost of a lunch special at most joints. They pile on so much delicious, spicy food that it’s a challenge to finish a plate even without appetizers, which are equally generous and all under $5.

With this knowledge, I’d expect a hole in the wall. But Song doesn’t skimp on decor, either. The interior is trendy almost to a fault, with mood lighting, modern furniture, and pulsing music on the speakers. If that’s not enough to make it seem like a club, you should also be prepared for a line of folks waiting to feed their curry craving. But this isn’t the Meatpacking District. Once you get inside, it’s just normal people enjoying a very abnormal deal.

Pancakes for dinner?

farinata_01After reading about the great deals on chickpea flour at Sahadi’s, Pennywatcher Jamie recommended I try a recipe with the same flour, but from the other side of the Mediterranean: Farinata Genovese.

A farinata’s like a giant Italian pancake, cooked in a cast-iron skillet. It uses remarkably few ingredients: just chickpea flour, water, olive oil, onion, and rosemary, but cooks up to a delicious consistency: crispy on the outside with a creamy interior.

The short ingredient list means it’s both simple to cook and cheap. The whole thing, which serves four as a meal or many more as an appetizer, costs less than a dollar to make and requires just a few easy steps. Find Jamie‘s favorite recipe, from Mark Bittman’s The Best Recipes in the World, after the break.

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Happy Hour of the Week: T.G. Whitney’s

When I think of Midtown East, many images race through my mind: jewelry stores and boutiques, skyscrapers buzzing like beehives with businessmen, a line of rich European high schoolers around the block outside of Abercrombie and Fitch. But as of last week, I’ll also be thinking of free food.

dscn3195As far as drinks go, T.G. Whitney’s (244 E. 53rd St., Manhattan–map) happy hour is not spectacular: $3 Miller pints, $4 Yeungling pints, $5 cosmopolitans. The reason to park at this Irish pub is its free grub, every Tuesday and Wednesday between 6 and 9.

Grab a drink and take a seat at one of the many tables–on the night I went there wasn’t much of a crowd. Within an hour, a food fairy will appear from the kitchen with plates of chicken fingers, chicken wings, and potato skins, along with the requisite blue cheese and honey mustard for dipping. It may not be the gourmet the midtown crowd is used to, but it’ll provide the comfort that they won’t be getting from their bonuses this year.

Size does matter

dscn3236The average American consumes half a pound of meat per day. At Paul’s “Da Burger Joint” in the East Village (131 2nd Avenue, Manhattan–map) you can fill that quota all in one sitting, for under $5.

Over 19 years, Paul’s gargantuan 8 oz. burger hasn’t let fame go to its head: it still costs only $4.90. Unlike many diners, Paul’s actually cooks the burger the way you order it, so you won’t end up looking for a rare and getting a rock. You can get fries for an extra $3 if you dare, but if you haven’t been stretching that stomach, chances are the burger alone will do you in.

dscn3243The monster arrives looking nice and neat, but as soon as you wrap your mouth around it and take a bite its delicious juices will be unleashed and rapidly dribbling down your chin. So don’t plan on sampling it before a hot date or a big interview. Save it for later, and be prepared to tip your dry cleaner.

Mideast meets Mid-Brooklyn

sahadiFor Brooklynites and other New Yorkers willing to hop the river, the path to any number of Arabian nights starts at Atlantic (Avenue, that is). Sahadi Importing Co. (187 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn–map) is your one stop for hard-to-find Middle Eastern goodies at cheap prices: chickpea flour for $1.98/lb, a 32 oz. jar of tahini for $7. Sahadi’s will also save you money on staples you can get anywhere: packs of 6 pitas for 80 cents, a pound of couscous for $1.80.

nutsI walked in for the first time in search of tahini to make hummus, and my eyes bulged at the vats of grains, nuts, seeds, dried beans, and spices, all for cheaper than supermarket prices. I left with an armfull of groceries, but not an empty wallet.

Before you head out the door, stop at the counter in back for a lovingly prepared, yet inevitably messy, $3 falafel sandwich, or any of a host of other Mediterranean goodies.