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Your Best Budget Recipes Please

  • j

Hello -

The husband and I just bought our first home which means that our disposable income is no longer. The good news is that we'll be cooking in our very own kitchen! Please share with me your favorite ideas/recipes for inexpensive cooking/eating...thank you!

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  1. k
    King of Northern Blvd.

    Not sure where you are but.... Buy a big 10lb bag of Basmati/Jasmine rice from local Asian grocer...Get some Rice wine, hoison sauce and oyster sauce..They last forever and just add some fresh whatever you have and stir fry with some dried peppers, serve over rice....Just a basic idea but it's cheap and I do it at least once a week...

    8 Replies
    1. re: King of Northern Blvd.

      The KoNB gives excellent advice. I'll just add a suggestion to get some tubs of Mae Ploy curry pastes. There are 6 or 5 different flavors. Very versatile and will make damned near anything taste good.


      1. re: Jim Washburn

        Thanks everyone for your great suggestions!

      2. re: King of Northern Blvd.

        I agree with the other posters - where I live the Asian and Indian markets are great places to get deals on beans/rice and spices. The Asian markets also carry great produce that is MUCH cheaper than the local supermarkets.

        If you have local farmers markets you may want to check them out as well.

        Potatoes - cheap and versatile.

        Use everything! Save scraps of veggies from several meals to make veg. stock. Same with chicken bones and shrimp shells etc.

        If you can you may want to start a garden in your new home, at least for herbs that can be pretty pricey in a Supermarket

        1. re: AimeeP

          I second the suggestion for an herb garden. It doesn't cost much to set up, and fresh herbs can be so overpriced at the grocery store. If you live near a farmers market, herbs are usually cheaper there.

        2. re: King of Northern Blvd.

          Don't forget Hispanic markets too. I shop at the Mercado on Whittier Blvd in Los Angeles and spent $41 last week and got a heap of fresh fish, shrimp, cerviche plus several bags of vegetables, salads, scallions. Their bakery is unbelievable; a layered sponge cake with strawberries and chocolate frosting for $8 which looked divine. Central American butchers have very good meat too, different cuts but very fresh because the population they serve likes to shop every day or so.

          As far as receipes - cooking on the weekend for the week is a good way to save money; a roast chicken, a meat loaf to cut for sandwiches and making some soup or stew so you can eat off that for several meals is a good solution when you are too tired to cook. Its there already. Take lunch too and stay away from the $5.95 servings of latte at the take away coffee places. My daughter buys meat that is reduced because of the 'use by date' is almost up - wraps it in freezer paper and freezes it until she needs it. Just bought 3 turkeys last week for $3 each.

          1. re: Zoe

            zoe, i'm in LA too, what markets have turkeys for $3?
            and where do i find the central american markets?

            thanks in advance

            1. re: steph p

              My daughter who is the shopper that my Mom was goes to the Ralphs on Barrington and Olympic early on Monday mornings and gets the reduced meat for her week's meals. That's where she bought the turkeys.
              When I buy meats like that I wrap it in freezer paper with freezer tape, mark it and freeze it.

              The Mercado is on Whittier Blvd in East LA - off ramp Atlantic, go south to Whittier then East. Thats the cheapest of the cheap. A lot of areas, like West LA have Mexican butchers where the value is very good.

              Just bought a bunch of reduced meats at Vons on Barrington and Santa Monica blvd, in fact have just finished wrapping them.

          2. re: King of Northern Blvd.

            I eat a lot of mexican made at home-it's cheap, filling and tastes better than a lot of the dishes at mexican restaurants.

            Also, having a good quality whole wheat bread with meals and a bowl of soup before the entree is satisfying.

          3. If you and your husband like beans, that's another inexpensive food. The recipes would depend on your personal taste. For example, with chickpeas you can make hummus or fritters. Or you could cook them simply with a bit of tomato, onion, garlic and a bit of ham/bacon.

            1. Marcella Hazan's simple baked chicken and her tomato sauce that consists of tomatoes, butter and an onion. Both recipes are on this board - do a search for Marcella Hazan and you should find them.

              1 Reply
              1. re: rkn

                Pork Loin Chops Milanese--pulverize two 6-8 oz. boneless pork loin chops by pounding them between two sheets of plastic wrap until they're 1/4 inch thick and about 8-10 inches in diameter. Dredge them in separate bowls of flour, 2 beaten eggs, and bread crumbs (pref. panko) seasoned with salt, pepper, minced rosemary leaves, and grated parmigiano-reggiano. Fry in 1/4 inch of olive oil over medium heat, 3-4 minutes per side. Top with arugula and halved pear tomatoes dressed with olive oil and lemon juice and plenty of cracked pepper. Total cost (assuming you have olive oil and eggs and flour on hand) is under $10. Delicioso!

              2. Congrats on your house! The less processed the food is, the cheaper it is, generally. For example, buy a whole chicken instead of a package of skinless, boneless breasts. Make stock from the carcass.

                Learn to make bread-- I can make a multigrain, w/ nuts and seeds loaf for about $.50, compared to buying an identical loaf for $4.00. Sourdough and pizza crust for much less.

                I like fresh produce, but rely a lot on frozen, which can actually have more nutrition in it, if the fresh is not locally grown. Use your freezer, any time food spoils in the fridge, that's money down the drain.

                And learn to like store brands-- there are VERY few namebrand foods I have to have. Especially cereal. Cold cereal is a huge ripoff. Even coupons for name brands often turn out to be more expensive than the generic.

                Shop around. As mentioned, rice, soy sauce, etc are often much cheaper at Asian markets. Couscous and oatmeal are usually cheaper out of the bulk bins at your local co-op than they are packaged in tiny boxes at the grocery store.

                1. Indian/Pakistani and other etnic shops are great places to buy spices....much cheaper than the bottles at the local supermarket.

                  1. I hope oyu have a yard iwth good light becuase oyu can save a ton of money growing your own herbs. Mint, rosemary, thyme, and oregano grow like weeds in mine. you can also do basil from seeds if you start early enough. In terms of recipes, it's good to have three main starches on hand at all times - pasta, rice and tortillas. As long as oyu have those, adding beans, a little meat and tons of inexpensive veggies makes a cheap easy meal.

                    1. Here's my two cents...being in much the same position. Congrats on the house :-)

                      A well stocked pantry is your best friend. Initial outlay may be larger, but once you have it, all you have to do is maintain it, and it's very easy to do.

                      Bake. Bread, cookies, cake, everything...much cheaper and better all the way around.

                      Don't skimp on the important things. Get the butter, get the cream, get the ingredients you want. Don't get the Haagen Dazs, don't get the Perrier...you see what I mean? You can save money on the extras but don't skimp on the basics.

                      Cardinal Rule of the house: Never ever spend more than 2 dollars on cereal. It can be done, trust me. We currently have Cheerios, Oatmeal Crisp, Vectra and Special K in the house...all under 2 bucks.

                      Make a weekly plan and stick to it. Plan your meals and do all of the shopping at once. Do not make repeated trips to the store, as this will cause you to pick up unnecessary impulse items.

                      This week at our house is a cooking week, as opposed to a 'stuff from the freezer' week. I have it rigged so I only have to cook every other week. My freezer is well stocked, so every other week, I only have to buy fresh veg and such. Here's how it looks.

                      Monday: Spaghetti and Italian Sausage, Garlic Bread and Salad - all homemade except salad. Make extra sauce for freezer

                      Tuesday: Roast Chicken Caesar Salad with Homemade croutons (purchased rotisserie chicken, croutons from leftover garlic bread, homemade dressing)

                      Wednesday: Pork Stirfry over rice (buy larger cut of pork, freeze remaining for other meals)

                      Thursday: Chicken quesidillas (finish up that rotisserie chicken!)

                      Friday: The start of my birthday celebration, so we are going out :-)

                      Total amount spent on groceries this week, including milk, butter and lunchmeat - $29.54. And we are big people who eat, believe me.

                      1. A new standby for us - it doesn't even have a name:

                        1 package chicken thighs, deboned and deskinned
                        1 can diced petite tomatoes (Red Gold), undrained
                        1 can great northern beans, half drained
                        1/2 chopped red onion
                        1-2 garlic cloves, smashed through a garlic press
                        Herbs of your choice (dry or fresh)

                        Place items in order given in a crock pot. Cook on low for about four hours. Our daughter likes it with pasta, but we eat it as is. Delish. We were going to have it for supper tonight, but I forgot to thaw the chicken.

                        Total cost, if chicken is on sale: About $4

                        1. My husband and I bought a co-op in New York City a few months ago so I can relate to needing budget meals. There has been a lot of good advice here so I just want to encourage you to make vegetarian meals which end up being cheaper and very nutritious. Black bean chili, couscous salads, roasted veggies, middle eastern things like hummus, baba ghanoush, tabouli are very inexpensive to make and make great leftovers. Enjoy your new home!

                          1. hi JB, congrats on the abode :)
                            it's kinda nice that spring is here (or just about to arrive)--seasonal veg should be cheap and really good. soups make excellent meals and you can make really flavorful vegetable soups in the provencale/italian fashion. legumes are great, they are substantial but also a great neutral conduit for seasonings and flavorings. eggs i can eat any meal of the day--poached, scrambled, frittata, omelet, fried, hard boiled. another good source of protein is a whole chicken. roast it for sunday dinner, use leftover meat in salads, and use the bones/carcass for chicken stop for any sort of soup/sauce need. for wine, (i always have to drink some) i save the unused bits into ice cube trays to use whenever a recipe calls for deglazing and you only need a tablespoon or half a cup at a time.

                            1. Here are a few ideas. This has been my basic lunch for the past few months. This is dirt cheap, and easily provides enough for 2 people at a cost of about $3 or $4 a week.

                              1 bag of spinach (not frozen)
                              1 bag of wraps or lavash bread
                              1 jar of Trader Joes Cilantro Salad Dressing (lasts forever)

                              Make the wrap and for more flavor, add half a veggie burger, leftover chicken, veggie chicken nuggets, or almost anything.

                              As far as dinners go, buy frozen salmon, tuna, or a white fish in bulk and make simple meals using spinach, a wasabi-soy sauce, and a few other basic items, and you are set...

                              1. Two tips:

                                1) Many natural foods stores sell herbs and spices in bulk. This is MUCH cheaper than in grocery store jars, plus you can buy only what you will use up before they get stale.

                                2) I have found that it's important to allow some play with recipes when on a budget. Somehow, eating homemade potato gnocchi with tomato sauce doesn't seem like "budget" food, even though it can cost as little as $1.50 for the whole batch. It can be boring to eat the same, affordable foods, day after day. The trick is to make yourself try them in different ways. I use cookbooks from the library a lot of ideas.

                                1. A lot of good suggestions already. Here's another second (third?) for finding a GOOD asian/ethnic market with turnover in the produce section. It always amazes me at what I'm able to buy there v.s. what I get at the typical supermarket. Two other things that have made a significant difference in my food spending. Learn how to deal with a whole fresh chicken. How to cut it up and debone it. You'll save quite a bit just there. And you can use the bones, neck, etc. to make stock and sauces.

                                  You asked for recipes, though. And one thing that keeps the budget in control is being thrifty and using everything, one way or another. For example, what do you do with a bit of lettuce that's started to wilt, half an onion, a carrot or two and a zucchini that you never got around to using? These things and your homemade stock make a terrific soup. In fact, I just saw a Jacques Pepin TV show where he made a soup out of this along with some semolina and gruyere cheese. "Fridge soup." I've made my own version when I have a bunch of bits of leftovers. It's usually very good, and always unique because of the various ingredients.

                                  1. Black beans - refried style. You don't even need to cook them with pork - the black ones are lovely just plain.

                                    Tacos. You can get a lot of mileage out of a turkey drumstick that way.

                                    coleslaw -- very versatile, very cheap, lasts well.

                                    Spanish rice / jumbalaya / arroz con pollo / --as long as there's rice, tomato, onion and (maybe) bell pepper or chiles you can take it from there.

                                    1. Here are a few ideas that shouldn't cost more than $5-$10.

                                      First off is my mom's classic "meat & noodles." I had this all the time as a kid. First off, buy "forkable" noodles, like spiral or bowtie. Cook. Drain. Set aside. Then buy ground beef or turkey. Toss in a pan with a few tablespoons of olive oil. Use a wooden spoon and break up meat so it's crumbled, taco style. Season with garlic salt. ONLY GARLIC SALT. I'm a big fan of spices, but honestly that's all you need. Once the meat is brown, toss in noodles, and cook and mix. I like the noodles to get a little brown on the edges. Once cooked, place in bowl and squirt some ketchup on top. Mix up. Eat. Delicious and cheap, and it keeps in the fridge! For days!

                                      2nd, is cucumber and hummus pockets. Skin and slice a cucumber. Buy some premade hummus or make your own. Cheap enough. Then buy mini-pita pockets. Cut the tops off, stuff with hummus and a cucumber or two.

                                      3rd, tuna noodle casserole. Another of my mom's staples (she barely cooked). But some Mac & Cheese in the blue box. Cook and prepare like you're making mac and cheese. Then once it's finished, open a can or two of tuna. Mix all together and dump into a casserole dish. Toss into an over (400o or so) and let the top brown. I prefer it really crispy. Probably takes 30 minutes or so. Then eat! I prefer it as is, but my mom likes hers with canned stewed tomatoes on top. Also great to keep in the fridge, and easily microwavable or toss it back into the oven.


                                      1. We just brought home our baby (three months in the neonatal intensive care unit) and we have been living on my husband's part time job budget. You can imagine with all the baby supplies, money is exceptionally tight. I can't take credit for the actual recipe, as I found it on a soup can, but it's a cheapie. Another bonus, it is made all in one pan on the stove top. Serves about 4 with good appetites. I also usually serve it with some garlic bread I find on sale at the grocery store's bakery department.

                                        1 lb. ground beef
                                        1 can cheddar cheese soup
                                        1 can beef broth
                                        2 cups medium size pasta (spirals, rigatoni)
                                        1 and 1/2 cup water
                                        1/2 cup ketchup
                                        salt and pepper
                                        Onion (or garlic) powder

                                        Brown ground beef in a medium size skillet with salt, pepper and onion powder.
                                        Drain off fat
                                        Add all other ingredients, bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer
                                        Cook for about 10 minutes until pasta is cooked through

                                        Keeps well in the fridge and I make a double batch sometimes so I have some in the freezer.

                                        You also can't go wrong with chili made in a slow cooker. Simple, inexpensive ingredients and almost no work needed to make. Check out slow cooker sites and you will find a multitude of recipes for any type of chili and various degrees of heat. The sites are also great for finding any number of cheap slow cooker recipes.

                                        Keep eating well and smile :)

                                        1. I love fresh produce, but I only buy what's in season and on sale at the grocery store, or what's in abundance at the greenmarket. And lately I've discovered the economy and diversity of frozen vegetables--usually there's something on sale for less than $1, and you can make some great things out of bagged frozen veggies. Some recent examples:
                                          - omelet with peas, mint, and pecorino (eggs are CHEAP!)
                                          - chipotle-stewed okra (okra with onion, green pepper, crushed tomatoes and chipotles, served over basmati rice)
                                          - pureed baby limas with olive oil, garlic, cilantro & lime (turns out like a nice green hummus, and really fresh-tasting!)

                                          I've found by buying fewer packaged & processed foods, I spend a lot less money and eat a lot healthier, too.

                                          1. What a great post JB, I've enjoyed learning from the responses. I have a dangerous tendency to splurge on food, especially at the farmers market, but here are some of my favorite money savers:

                                            Black bean soup in the slow-cooker: So easy and incredibly cheap. In the morning saute a diced onion and bell pepper, add jalepenos (fresh or jarred, whatever you've got), cumin, and chili powder. Put that in the bottom of the slow cooker. Add a 1lb bag of baked beans and top with either veggie broth or water. Cook on high for four hours or so. Before serving buzz it a couple times with a stick blender or put a couple scoops in a regular blender to get a thicker consistency. This makes 4 hefty servings and it keeps well in the fridge. Garnish with cheese or yogurt or sour cream.

                                            Along the same line, just cooking up some canned black beans to make more hearty nachos is also a cheap quick meal.

                                            Every now and then I make a huge batch of baked penne with tomato sauce, italian sausage, and shredded mozz. I bake one dish for dinner that night and put two more in the freezer to bake another night. A cheap way to get a really hearty meal. The new popularity of cheap whole wheat pasta makes pasta a better health choice that's still incredibly cheap.

                                            Omlettes and frittatas are cheap dinners.

                                            My husband started buying frozen waffles (over processed and over priced) so now i often make a big batch of whole wheat waffles (Alton Brown's recipe) on the weekend and fill the freezer with healthier cheaper waffles.

                                            I also make my own pot pies in bulk and freeze them in ramekins. They stay in the freezer for months. It's great to walk in from a long day and just pop a pot pie in the oven. You'll always save money if you make your own "convenience" food for your freezer.

                                            I echo the advice of others of taking one night's meat into the next meal. Roast chicken is a great ingredient, and left over pork tenderloin makes good fajitas.

                                            Pizza is a great way to empty the fridge. Trader Joe's has ready to bake whole wheat pizza crust dough for $1, top with whatever cheese, meat, veggies, and sauce is in the fridge, it usually works out pretty well.

                                            You can save by not buying prepped veggies and bagged salad greens. Just buy regular vegetables and lettuces, it doesn't take long to break them down. If you take 5 minutes to wash and spin your lettuce while you unpack the groceries, and store the leaves in a zip lock bag with a paper towel, it's as convenient all week as bagged salad.

                                            Have fun in your new kitchen!