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Recipes/Ideas for the times when the wallet is thin..

What are your old standbys or brilliant inspirations when you need to make a good - although not necessary "company" or "fancy" - dinner and you have more ambition than money?

Soups were standard by us. White bean soup - always served with vinegar on the side - was one.
I have had luck with a version of the Portuguese Caldo Verde - a bright cabbage soup flavored with coriander.

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  1. One time I made Indian stuffed cabbage from a Madhur Jaffrey cookbook. The cabbage was stuffed with a potato mixture. It was a tremendously time consuming project, but it occurred to me as I was cooking 'em up that all the ingredients together maybe came to $3.00. It made a huge amount, too. This was years ago, but if I remember correctly, the ingredient list was basically cabbage, potatoes, onions, oil and spices. And oh, yes, it tasted delicious.

    1. Tomato Basil soup with grilled cheese sandwiches. Costs very little to make, is delicious, and each component freezes beautifully.

      1. Pasta. In my student days I lived on pasta. Pasta carbonara is fast and easy, just bacon, eggs, onion, cheese and pasta. My version is Tuscan and doesn't have anything but these ingredients, I'm aware there are many variations. Pasta with fresh tomato sauce is also great now tomatoes and fresh herbs are in season. You can dress up the basic sauce with lots of fancier ingredients in small amounts - fish, seafood, chicken, sausage etc.

        Slow-cooked foods also pack a lot of punch - braised lamb shanks, beef short ribs, lamb curries and stews. Most people don't have the time to cook these dishes so are impressed when you serve this kind of food. Ingredients are relatively low in cost, it just takes time. The good thing about this kind of cooking is that you can make it in huge amounts because it freezes well.

        1 Reply
        1. re: cheryl_h

          You don't even have to invest in a crock pot. Just brown your meat well for flavor's sake in a heavy pot, add little water or crushed canned tomato, cover tightly and bake in a very low oven for several hours - eventually the tough connective tissues characteristic of cheap cuts breaks down and you are left with lucsious tender melt-in your-mouth meat.
          Last half hour - briefly fry onions, garlic, add celery and carrots, herbs, salt & pep. I don't long cook the veg. or spices - it muddies the flavors and kills the vitamins. My grandma would take the leftover stew meat and chop with fried onions then make easy turnovers with Bisquick dough - delicious and inexpensive!

        2. Negamaki--ultra-thin sirloin slices rolled around 2-inch pieces of scallion, browned and braised in beef broth. About $5. M2M and other Asian markets sell the sliced meat.

          Pasta Carbonara--you need only 3-4 slices of bacon, FRESH eggs, parmigiano-reggiano, and spaghetti.

          Pork Milanese--for 2, you need only 2 boneless pork loin chops ($3.50 or so), an egg, breadcrumbs, a little olive oil, a few cups of arugula, and a lemon. Pound the hell out of the chops until they're 1/8-inch thick. Dredge in flour, then egg, then crumbs, and refrigerate, uncovered, for an hour or two. Fry in the oil, toss the arugula in lemon juice and olive oil, plate the chops and cover them with the arugula. Cherry tomatoes are optional.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Tom Steele

            Hi Tom Steele!
            Is it true that sirloin is actually round steak? But round steak is cheaper? A lot of ethnic less expensive beefsteak dishes that are braised, like bracciole, or steak piazzola, or bifsteak ranchero, or pepper steak, are the less expensive round steak.

            1. re: niki rothman

              Hey Niki Rothman--

              The sirloin is the upper hip of a steer, the area between the strip loin and the round (upper leg). It includes the butt end of the long muscle that runs all the way down the back. You could use a top round steak (a.k.a. London Broil), which is usually half the price of sirloin (or even less).

              As a matter of fact, my boyfriend and I are a little broke today, so this morning I bought 1 1/2 pounds of top round for $1.99/pound at the Associated Market on 22nd and Park Avenue South. I'm going to marinate it for 6 hours in 1/2 fresh lime juice, garlic, olive oil, Worcestershire, soy sauce, droplets of Liquid Smoke, tabasco, oregano, epazote, cinnamon, mace, and a little cayenne. Then I'll sear the meat, leaving it rare (or else it gets *really* tough), then fry some chopped scallions, pour in the marinade, and simmer for 5 minutes while I toast up some corn tortillas in a little peanut oil. Chop up jalapeƱos, grate some Jack cheese, and it's Taco Night! I also found some ripe avocados (!) for $1 apiece, so I'll make chunky guacamole with red onion, lime, and cilantro.

          2. I think the challenge with cheap eats is getting good quality protein.

            I'm all for slow-cooked stews too. If whole chuck steaks are available for $2/lb, I'll cube it myself instead of buying pre-packaged styrofoam packs of stewing beef (sometimes $4/ lb). Add onion, carrots, and maybe potatoes and turnips for depth, and some kind of booze (beer for Belgian stew, red wine for beef burgundy) and you will rock. You can feed 6 people for $5.

            1 Reply
            1. re: vicki_vale

              But if you leave out the booze it probably goes down to $3.