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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 jalapeños, 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.

            2. I cook alot of eggs dishes when I'm short of money, along with potato dishes and soups. Stews is something I routinely cook and keep in the deep freeze.
              Frozen prime rib cooked in very low heat over night and then marinated in a salty marinade for 8 hours gives you very tender meat.

              5 Replies
              1. re: PicklingJessica

                Please do elaborate! I've never considered cooking a prime rib straight out of the freezer, but it sounds great.

                1. re: Pei

                  The recipe does great things with any tough meat. Some recipes I've seen call for roast beef which I find unnecessary. A digital thermometer simplifies cooking.

                  A 3 pound frozen prime rib or flank steak

                  3 pints water
                  1⁄2 dl salt
                  3,5 oz soy sauce
                  3 shallots
                  2 garlic cloves, chopped
                  Small bunch of parsley
                  2 tbsp tarragon, dried
                  2 tbsp basil, dried
                  1⁄2 tbsp black pepper, crushed

                  Set your oven to 210F.
                  Put the frozen steak directly from the freezer into a pan and roast it for app. 6-10 hours (depending on the size and shape of the meat). When the meat has softened some you can stick a digital thermometer into the core. By innertemp 130F the meat is rare, by 150F medium and by 170F well done.

                  Pour the water for the marinade into a pot and let it come to a boil. Add all the other ingredients and let it simmer for a few minutes. Leave to cool. When the meat is done you remove it from the pan and plonk it into the marinade. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in the fridge for 4 to 5 hours.

                  Let me know if something seems unclear.

                2. re: PicklingJessica

                  Hi pickling Jessica!
                  Do you have a recipe for any inexpensive beef (NOT prime rib - I'm thinking chuck)or stewed or braised with pickling spices?
                  My Grandma made this - it was so delicious - but I don't have a recipe.

                  1. re: niki rothman

                    I do have a couple of recipes but can't post it until tomorrow but I will get to it. Btw, the above recipe doesn't have to be prime rib. As long as it's boneless rib steak it will be fine. Oh, another thing, which spices do you refer to with pickling spices?

                    1. re: PicklingJessica

                      Cloves, bay leaf, mustard seeds, garlic, red pep. flakes, cracked black pep., coriander seed - maybe others - that's all I can remember.

                3. Eggs for sure!

                  Quiche, fritata, omlettes, and souffle (which is actually really really easy).

                  Also soup is very cheap. Ingredients such as potato, carrots, celery are so cheap. Also, I buy whole chickens instead of breasts and cut the breast of using the rest for soups and soup stocks.

                  One great soup I make is a greek style and it is literally chicken stock added to some sauteed garlic and chilli peppers. You toast some large bread croutons place one in each bowl and top the crouton with a poached egg.


                  1 Reply
                  1. re: j2brady

                    Another delicious inexpensive Greek soup is avgolemono (sp.?)- chix broth with rice and lemon juice into which you stir whipped raw egg. Rich, lemony egg drop soup.

                  2. Can't go wrong with 10 for a$1 ramen. Add it to last nights leftovers, or toss in some vegetables.

                    And you can stretch the heck out of a single whole fryer chicken. Roast it for dinner Sunday. Bone it and make stock on monday, have it as leftovers. Use the shredded meat for burritos on Tuesday. Toss it in the stock with some vegetables for soup on Wednesday. Any leftovers combine with rice, tomatoes, green pepper/onion/celery and ham for jambalaya on Wednesday. Around Thursday, you're probably sick of the stuff.

                    Jacques Pepin did a soup on Fast Food My Way that looked really cheap. Boil some chicken stock, then use a cheesegrater to grate vegetables into the stock (carrots, squash, zucchini). Add a little grated gruyere and some bread that's been toasted in the oven. He said his mom used to have to make it back during the war.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: monkeyrotica

                      Don't forget to buy a pack of Golden Curry and throw in any chicken you have left over with vegetables.

                      1. re: monkeyrotica

                        Ramen is often under 50 cents each. I love it once in a while with sour cream and the flavor pak mixed in - strange but true. I think a lot of college students survive during the week on ramen. But let's face it, cheap and easy tho' it is, it's not healthy with all those chemicals - better to make brown rice, steamed veggies and melted cheese - the other spaced out young person's entree. But very healthy.

                        My mom stretches her chix the opposite way to your method - both will work. First she makes broth with the chix, THEN she roasts it at 350 for 45 minutes - I've never done this but she is a great cook so I bet it's a great idea.

                        1. re: niki rothman

                          I have also made ramen noodles this way!!!

                          Draining the noodles, adding a little of the flavor packet and some sour cream. I suggest the mushroom flavor.

                          It really is a poor man's "stroganoff"!! :)

                          1. re: maviris

                            It's a secret passion - I love it when I can make something so good in like 3 minutes. Also add some really good euro. style butter to the s.c. & flavor packet.

                      2. I love to bake bread when I'm really broke. Your'e most likely home a lot, the ingredients are usually at hand, yet it's so sumptious to have bread hot out of the oven, with that jam you've had in the fridge for a while.

                        1. I thought this thread a while back had some fantastic ideas from everybody: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/... I haven't been very good about following everyone's advice yet, but then again, I haven't done a very good job of cooking lately either!! ;-) Hopefully, you will be able to use some of the ideas.

                          1. I love all types of beans and they are really cheap. I love making lentil salads with carrots onions and garlic. I also like making tuna and white bean salad.
                            I like white bean dip.
                            I prefers using dried beans-- but canned are ok as well. Also I always end up making alot of it and its a good healthy snack to have on hand.

                            1. Yes, soup - by all means. I was very low income for years, yet I always loved to cook and entertain. Minestrone soup. Don't worry about broth, just use water.

                              Use chunk parm. & grate it. TJ's is $5# for domestic and it's great tasting - nutty, rich.
                              Buy large chunks of Monterey Jack and cheddar cheese at discount stores, chunk at home and freeze in plastic bags.

                              Sometimes whole good quality chickens are 69 cents a pound in my supermarket. Cut them up and make chicken noodle soup (soup veggies are the least expensive - carrots, onions, cabbage, zuchini, potatoes, celery.) or fried chicken. Make easy corn bread to serve with soups or fried chicken.

                              Make veg. stir fries with chix and those veg. over brown rice. Buy large sizes of olive oil and soy sauce - much cheaper.

                              Eggs - so thrifty - make your own pie crust and make a quiche. Stale bread - make croutons, or freeze for grilled sandwiches.

                              Your freezer is your best friend. Buy cheaper larger cuts of meat. Cut up and freeze potions then make braised stews with those meats and the same veg.

                              Never buy fruit juice - very expensive per ounce. Juice oranges are your best fruit buy and we need citrus fruit for good nutrition. Only buy seasonal fruit when in season - cheaper then.

                              Buy large bags of brown rice (for nutrition's sake), but keep in airtight packages. Keep your eye out for sales on big cans of tomatoes and Barilla pasta - for pasta it's important to get top quality(Safeway $1#). Make your own sauces.

                              Learn to bake. Home made cookies and cakes are a great bargain compared to store bought. For example, freeze overripe bananas peeled in plastic bag and use for delicious banana bread. Eggs are a super bargain, and contrary to popular opinion - they keep for a very long time when refrigerated. Use spices and buy them in larger health food stores or Latino bodegas where they are cheaper buy the ounce than the bottles in supermarkets. Herbs and spices are very important.

                              Ask for recipes and hints here, of course. Chowhounds love to share the love of good food.

                              1. When the weather gets cool, I make a big pot of gumbo. (I have tried to make a SMALL pot, but it always gets away from me!) Usually start with browning a few pounds of pork neckbones and then cooking them in water and whatever stock I have taking up freezer space. In another pot I brown some onion, then add water and cook whatever vegetables I'm going to add: typically green beans, corn, carrots, celery, and an opo squash (my niece, formerly married to a Filipino guy, turned me onto that), plus okra and tomatoes. For the most part, I use frozen stuff for this. Then I take the meat off the bones and combine everything, and add whatever sausages I want, and that's what we eat, always with rice, until we're in danger of getting sick of it. That usually takes about a week...and then I freeze whatever's left.

                                Variations include adding cheap chicken parts (backs, necks, gizzards) and sometimes some shrimp if it's on sale. The point is to get a big pot of something yummy for under twenty bucks, and this is a good way to do that.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: Will Owen

                                  This is where investing in a cheap pressure cooker really pays off. You can turn the really cheap cuts of meat (chuck, beef and pork neckbones, shanks) into rich, flavorful stews in half an hour. Also good for dried beans that you forgot to soak overnight.

                                  1. re: Will Owen

                                    I can't seem to cook anything in small volume either. What's that about? My standard soups, stews - always "get away from me" as you put it. Before i know it, I've filled my 12 quart pot and freezing meal-sized portions is always the result, which is actually good because anytime I want some soup or gumbo I can have it from the freezer instantly. But, honestly, I cannot seem to produce a small amout of food unless it's already individualized - like poaching TWO eggs.

                                    1. re: Will Owen

                                      I have learned to freeze the same day I cook an item, rather than what I, too, used to do - let it get eaten up as much as it was going to be eaten over several days, and THEN freeze - I think the food remains higher quality if you freeze immediately, no?

                                    2. Soups - albondigas is a great one. Potato soup is good too.

                                      When roasts are on sale I always pick up an extra one. Crock pots are perfect for pot roasts. And the aroma as you walk into the house after a long day of work is amazing.

                                      We ate so many beans, tortillas, tacos, enchiladas, and sopas growing up. I know my mom was stretching the grocery dollars in those days, and to this day those are still some of my favorite foods. Good homemade Mexican food.


                                      1. Hi teamkitty! No original ideas here for meals on a budget but I had to comment on your white bean soup with vinegar. I make a white bean soup as well (sometimes with ham and I add milk at the end for creaminess) and then on the side I serve with diced pickles -claussen- and pickle juice. The pickle chunks and juice really give it some zing. I had never heard of anyone doing anything like that with white bean soup- the recipe came from my grandmother. I'll have to try it with vinegar- Thanx!

                                        1. Any and all types of beans. You can buy ham shanks for around a buck and they flavor the dish really well, and have a whole lot more meat on them than ham hocks (which are mostly knuckle and fat). That's about two days of food for like three bucks (if you include other ingredients spices etc.).

                                          1. BBQ. That's where it came from - turning inexpensive, tough pieces of meat into meltingly delicious bits of goodness by cooking for long periods of time over smoke. Pork shoulder - available most places in the country for under $1.50 a pound. I can serve 20 people for $20 when I BBQ...

                                            If you don't have a smoker, don't fret... many folks on this board a few months ago were on an oven-cooked pork shoulder kick. Or, look at any frequently cooked BBQ food - brisket, chicken, etc. - and look for other ways to cook it, as those are often among the cheapest of meats.

                                            1. A former coworker with eight kids gave me a recipe that I've modified. It isn't fancy but it is quick, satisfying and very cheap!

                                              Beef, Cabbage and Rice Goulash

                                              Put on a pot of rice. While it cooks brown onion and ground beef, drain the fat and liberally salt and pepper. Add a head of shredded cabbage and carrots (use a coleslaw mix if you want). When the veggies are sufficienty cooked add the cooked rice. Salt and pepper to taste. I think adding a handful of freshly chopped parsley at the end really brightens the flavor and makes the dish.

                                              Rough quantities are 1 lb of beef, a large onion, 1 cup of rice and one head of cabbage.

                                              It's almost a deconstructed cabbage roll... so you can modify the spices and add a tomato component if you you want to go in that direction. You can also use ground turkey or sausage out of the casings instead of beef.

                                              1. Pasta is SO easy, so inexpensive, and very tasty, if you put the right stuff in it!

                                                Here's my take on a puttanesca (which I'm making for lunch tomorrow). It's made entirely with pantry/ fridge items. I don't use a recipe for this so urm, just follow along as best you can!

                                                Put large pot of water on to boil.

                                                Meanwhile, heat some olive oil and add a medium chopped onion or shallot, whatever you have. Fry and add some minced garlic. Add some dried mixed herbs, dage, rosemary, whatever you have. Add some kosher salt, but leave the pepper until last. Add some tomato puree and/ or a small can of chooped tomatoes. Cook the liquid out and then add some halved, pitted Kalamata oilves, sliced sun-dried tomatoes (SDT) (with some of the oil) and allow everything to warm through. Then add the al dente boiled spaghetti, and a little of the reserved liquid (if required).

                                                The intensity of the dried herbs and the SDT's make this taste great! Oh, and add anchovies if you have them and like em.!


                                                1. Great ideas! Wendy, where is/was your family from? I think that pairing of vinegar/pickles with beans may be an ethnic preference of some sort.

                                                  Eggs jogged my memory about my version of a Greek avgolemono soup made with chicken stock - parve chicken soup mix works too - dill, mint and lemon. It's thickened with two egg yolks and looks quite a bit like a cream or milk soup, but isn't. It's cheap and satisfying - I crave it when I'm sick.

                                                  1. I used to keep dried mung beans on hand at all times. When the wallet and the vegetable crisper were both near empty, I would start a big jar of bean sprouts - Vegetables to accompany the rice & ramen regime. Vegetables you can buy in times of wealth and store in your cupboard until needed.

                                                    1. Split Pea soup and cornbread--a complete protein!

                                                      Pork shoulder roast (Boston Butt) cooked all night tightly covered at 225. Tons of good meat when you separate out the fat. Freeze it, spice it, eat it. Also good with cornbread!