Chowhound on Budget...Help!
I am a teacher who has only been out of college for just over a year and I have a lot of bills to pay! I want to start cooking at home more to save money but: 1) I like GOOD food. I'm not satisfied by microwavables/"cheap eats". It's not that the food has to be super expensive but I do like quality food. 2) I don't have too much time/energy to cook extravagant meals. Does anyone have suggestions for fairly easy but delicious recipes and/or food items to buy as home staples that are pretty versatile? Thanks!
Go to your local Asian market and pick up a 10lb bag of rice, Oyster sauce, Hoisin sauce, Rice wine, Rice wine vinegar etc. You can mix these with any fresh meat and veggies that you happen to have to make a great stir fry..They keep for a long time so they are always on hand.
When I worked retail, my hours were crazy and my budget tight. I survived by cooking a lot on my last day off, my "Sunday" which was actually Tuesday. I'd make a big pot of beans and some rice, and make variations on that all week, adding sausage, or putting the beans, mashed, in steamed tortillas with cheese, etc. I also ate pasta, since it was quick when I hadn't prepared. I cooked chicken ahead, deboned it, since it was often cheaper to buy a whole bird. I shopped the sales, and could do amazing things with potatoes--baked, gratins, scalloped, latkes, etc. (Although 10 pounds of potatoes get boring when you're single!) Roast vegetables in quantity--cauliflower, squashes (winter varieties are nice now), onions, carrots, and parnips, etc. Add the roasties to canned soup or broth and add barley or leftover rice. Buy good bread, and make panades with anything you had to freeze before it went moldy.
Think of things that taste better after a day in the fridge--jambalaya and gumbo, chili mac, soups, etc. Get cookbooks from the library and find recipes that way. It's much less expensive, and you'll know which ones would be a good investment after trying several recipes, if you decide to buy a few. If not, you can always copy down the ingredients for reference. Good luck, and let us know what you find works for you!
Buy a ham. Inexpensive with many variations.
I just made a Nigella Lawson recipe for ham cookied in cider--and it's fabulous with boiled potatoes, carrots, leeks, etc. You can do gruyere and ham omlette for a great sunday night kitchen supper to follow, split pea soup (it is January the only time of year you'll ever want this) using the ham hock on another and even a quiche lorraine. Any kind of a roast will allow you many variations for a few days to follow with a great stock to boot. Just buy cheesecloth a habit I used to be too lazy to get into--to strain the gunk on the top.
Learn how to bake tarts. Joy of Cooking easiest recipe to follow. Get the crisco and the rolling pin and you can do a lot. Leek tart is sublime. pair it with a tart salad and you won't feel strapped.
A cookbook you must have, which I've mentioned before: The Mennonite Central Committee's old "More-with-Less Cookbook." It's a book devoted to eating simply but well. There are recipes, then there are notes in the margins that offer variations on the recipes or other dishes that are so simple they don't really merit a formal "recipe," and at the end of each chapter are suggestions what to do with the leftovers. It's just a wonderful cookbook and one that finds its way to my counter on a regular basis. You have some basic, old-timey, American country recipes, but there are also numerous recipes from around the world.
Sounds like you need to pick a couple of things that you know you like and start by learning to get a couple dishes into regular rotation. What do you like, you didn't say at all.
A good idea is to make 'dividends' out of a main meal. Like if you roast a chicken throw a few veggies (potato, carrot, onion) in the pan and have that for dinner the first night. Make a white or black bean chili with some of the shredded leftovers one day (freeze part of it right away for another time.) Make a Chinese Chicken Salad, maybe with peanut noodles and sliced cucumber another day. This way you can eat for a week with lot of variety for little effort.
Here's a super simple dish with a lot of flavor-Kelly's Asian Chicken. It's tangy with some smooth mellow sweet garlic. I taught my college age daughter to make it and it's her signature dish. It's good right away and the leftover reheat well but I like them cold just as much. Saute or steam something green with it (pea pods, broccoli, green beans.)
I always make it with Chinese egg noodles that you find in the fresh case next to the tofu, but you can used dried Chinese noodles or thin spaghetti. The sauce is reduced till it just moistens the noodles and that is enough. Don't be scared by the garlic.