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Young and Out of Ideas

I am a 21 year old college student. I have my own (small) apartment so I am able to cook on a semi regular basis. My problem is that I can't find any recipes that don't involve a George Foreman grill and chicken and takes less than 45 minutes. I'm also poor, so I can't afford buying new spices (although I do have most of the basics) and pricey ingredients.
Does anyone have a good suggestion for a recipe or a website I could look at? I'm starving for something besides grilled chicken and asparagus.


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  1. Maybe this Fast White Bean Stew will help you a bit from epicurious, very tasty in a short amount of time...I think beans are your friend in your situation, cheap & quick:


    2 Replies
    1. re: Val

      I agree. Veggie chili, black bean soup, rice and beans and hummus are very cheap to make. Buy dried beans and soak them. You get a lot of beans for a low price. And they pack a nutritional punch.
      This sounds like a commercial, but eggs are great for dinner too. Make a strata with day old bread that you've forgotten about or just simply scrambled eggs with sweet potato fries. You could add cumin and chili pepper and make it "mexican" inspired.
      Keep canned anchovies in your pantry and you can make a quick pasta with olive oil, anchovies (let them melt away in the olive oil), garlic and any protein you want to add.
      Have you ever tried Fennel? Try grilling that or roasting it with garlic and S&P. There are many other vegetables than asparagus that you can use. I think also, for a single person, it makes sense often to buy frozen veggies, such as broccoli and brussel sprouts and then you can take out what you need and it's less likely to go back and you won't waste them.

      1. re: pescatarian

        Another egg dish - scrambled eggs, chiles, & rice. Sure it looks like prison food but it'll stick to your ribs.

    2. My go to, never fail, cheap and delicious recipe when I was a college student (and beyond) was for "bolognese" sauce. You'll need a good size pot or a deep saute pan for this, and although I've seen long cooking, slow simmering recipes for this, I have always cooked this quickly. I make no claims for the regional authenticity of the recipe, it's just good, quick, cheap food, my mother used to make this when I was a kid (and she's Polish) and it's like a fresh version of hamburger helper. In fact I still make it today; actually I made it for my friends' three kids one weekend recently (ages between 4-12), and they deemed me "the best chef in the world."

      You'll need:
      Large onion chopped
      A couple of cloves of garlic, chopped
      About a pound of ground beef
      A large can of crushed tomatoes (I prefer Cento or Pomi)
      Dried oregano and basil
      Bunch of fresh, flat leaf parsley
      (optional) Two good handfuls of pitted kalamata olives rough chopped (this was a recipe addition I made in my 20s when I wanted to make this dish fancier)
      Box of pasta (whatever shape or kind you like)

      Saute your onions on medium heat until they're soft and golden, add the garlic and let that cook quickly as well (it burns quickly so add when the onions are done so it doesn't get bitter). Crumble the beef into the pot and using a wooden spoon break up any bigger clumps of meat, let it get nice and brown for several minutes, try and evaporate most of the liquid the meat gives off or the sauce will have a funny taste. Add some salt and pepper and cover with the tomatoes. Bring to a boil, and turn down to a simmer. Add a few good shakes of dried oregano and basil and stir in. Simmer for about a half hour to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Chop a handful of the parsley and stir in during the last few minutes of cooking, it will add a bright green texture and color to the final dish. If you're using the olives, add them at this point also. Serve with crusty bread and a green salad and a nice bottle of Italian red wine, and this is great for a few meals.

      If you wanted to make this a little more authentically, you'd eliminate the garlic, basil and oregano, and you'd add some milk or a touch of cream. If you had it on hand, you could also throw in a rind from an old wedge of Parmesan. You'd also have to simmer the meat all day and add tomatoes near the end! But again, the non-authentic version above is delicious, quick, inexpensive and perfectly serviceable.


      2 Replies
      1. re: ballulah

        I do virtually the same thing on a regular basis, although I like to add diced tomatoes to mine for a bit of texture, and don't usually have parsley around. In the past, I've also done it with a couple of cans of tomato sauce and a can of tomato paste, but the sauce turns out much thinner that way, so these days I just go with the crushed tomatoes (although I find I need to add more salt with those.) I haven't tried the olives before though, I might have to give that a shot.

        1. re: Vexorg

          When I was a kid I used to hate tomato chunks, and even though I've gotten over this, I still like this sauce on the saucier side. With chunks of tomato it just doesn't seem right. Hahaha.

      2. Not likely to be recommended by many so www.bbc.co.uk/food use their recipe search or take a look for recipes based on the programme 'Ready Steady Cook'. The premise for the show is that a £5 bag of ingredients (plus the show larder) is brought in by a contestant and is cooked by a chef (and the contestant) to show a number of potential dishes. (Two contestants, two chef's, one 'winner'). The added requirement is for a 20 minute cooking time as the whole show lasts half an hour.
        As a student I spent a lot of time cooking (more interesting than lectures and left a better taste in my mouth!) I did a lot of slow braises, stews, curries, chilli, bolognese type. All made from cheap cuts of meat and in bulk then frozen.

        1. I like the idea of that show, ali patts!

          Here's a good thread with lots of ideas: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/32693...

          1 Reply
          1. re: Katie Nell

            It can be really hit and miss - especially when a contestant brings a dessert based bag - the look on some of the celeb chef's faces. Priceless!

          2. My old student go-to was Cheesy-Pesto-Rice -- after rice is cooked mix in cubes of cheese (smoked Gouda my personal fave) and a heaping spoon of pesto. Hearty, soothing, quite economical.

            For a real splurge would sprinkle some parmesan on top.

            1. While some folks on CH make fun of her, Rachel Ray has some decnt recipes with inexpensive ingredients that take very little time. Check out her cookbooks at any bookstore.

              1 Reply
              1. re: mojoeater

                I found her recipes for chicken cacciatore subs and devilish chicken sammies (on the Food Network site) to be great -- cheap, easy, and extremely edible (plus, tons of leftovers for later meals). Just remember to add a half hour prep time the first few times you make any of her recipes (or maybe that's just me).

              2. If nothing else you can try jazzing up your normal chicken routine. I make a faux hawaiian chicken that is simply chicken marinated in soy sauce and pineapple juice, grill until cooked through and then top with slice of mesquite turkey(or ham), pineapple ring, and a slice of swiss cheese and let it melt. It's yummy with a little spinach salad and a fruity vinegarette and grilled pineapple. It is also super cheap.

                1. You could also go to the Food & Wine website slideshows: http://www.foodandwine.com/slideshows/

                  Just stroll down to the Fast & Easy slideshows, click through those, and see if anything looks good.

                  I also like The Minimalist Cooks Dinner cookbook for fast meals.

                  1. I am a stay at home mom on a very strict grocery budget. I use a lot of the $.50-1.00 spices from the dollar stores, Walmart, or SavALot. Rural King farm supply store even has a lot of really good spices for $.88 a jar! If you have a decent hispanic section, you can buy spices in the bags that have a lot of flavor. These spices work very well for me. There are lots of things you can do with a large skillet, olive oil, spices, canned tomatoes, and any fresh or frozen produce you buy. Chicken breasts, pork chops, ground beef, ground turkey, ground pork, sausage, beans, etc. are all easy to cook up and make lots of different dishes. I don't really go by recipes. I do look online or in cookbooks for ideas and most of my meals are cheap, nutritious, and quick. Don't be afraid to experiment using flavors and combinations you like.

                    I know my style of cooking doesn't fit in that well with most of the replies I see around here but when you have to live on a budget, you make do with what you can afford. I can't buy a lot of exotic ingredients every week so save that for special occasions. I just buy what's available. In summer, I buy produce from local stands where it doesn't cost nearly as much as in the grocery store and supports the farmers around me.

                    1. Tip #1) Find an Asian Market. Cheap & Quality. I buy a 25# bag of Jasmine Rice once a year for $13.00. I usually keep my larder full of good noodles and all kinds of condiments/sauces/vinegars/fun stuff. Because prices are so low you can afford to experiment.

                      Tip #2) Learn to bake/roast whole chickens. Chickens are usually three or four bucks and you can feed on those for a while - breasts, legs, soup, stock. Combine with spices and sauces from the Asian Market and you'll be able to keep things interesting.

                      Tip #3) Never ever waste your time or your money on jars of over-priced spices. Go to the bulk department of your local better than average supermarket and just buy what you need. Black peppercorns are a fraction of what you would pay for flat tasting dust in a can. For years I never spent more than a dollar on a good amount of spices, herbs, and assorted goodness. Again, due to low prices you can afford to experiment.

                      Tip #4) Get a crockpot, use it, love it. Seriously, why didn't someone already give you one when you moved away from home?

                      Tip #5) Always have tortillas on hand. If there's a Mexican bakery near you then you can eat well and cheap with fresh tortillas. You can eat anything with a tortilla.

                      Tip #6) Stop eating fast food. A waste of money - for the same price you can make yourself a better, tastier meal in about the same amount of time.

                      I'm sure I'll have more tips if I think about it.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: hooliganyouth

                        I think we're food twins, hooliganyouth. I too buy the 25lb bag of Jasmine Rice from an Asian market once a year...those same Asian markets often have the cheap bulk spices. I'm a big advocate of the whole roasted chicken. I also buy bulk spices (I can't believe I use that much cayenne, but I do). However, I don't have the space for a crockpot, and I wish wish wish I could get good tortillas in NYC. Today I am lamenting the fact that my enchiladas from last night taste SOAPY from bad tortillas. I slaved all day over food crafted like a Mexican grandma, and ended up with soapy tortillas. Ugh.

                        1. re: ballulah

                          Bad tortillas are a travesty. I bet you could get them delivered. I personally fiend for these: http://www.el-milagro.com/main.html

                          My sympathies on the enchiladas. I won't gloat about mine.

                      2. Love grilled cheese and tomato -perfect on your G.F. grill. Spice it up with garlic salt on the buttered exterior of the bread. Last week made hash browns w/chopped orange bell pepper, onion, mushrooms and 1/2 can cannelini beans, (EVOO S & P) Topped w/1/2 can chopped Italian style tomatoes. Add chicken and grated parm. YUM - This was using "leftovers" in MY fridge. I love taking vege hot dogs and combining w/refried beans, the Italian toms and sometimes a fried egg. Cheese works good too. Last, I love this on a cool day: 1 can sweet Thai curry paste -69C at a Thai market, in saute pan first to release aroma, then add 1/2 can coconut milk (not juice) - (50C) and 1/2 can chicken broth (Less fattening) Makes a great curry base for veges and or chicken. Serve over rice. YUMMO All very $ :)KQ

                        1. Lettuce wraps are a quick, cheap & easy meal. cooked chicken chopped up & sauteed with a (drained) can of "chinese vegetables" (usually bamboo shoots, water chesnuts, baby corn, and straw mushrooms), a handful of bean sprouts, a shot of soy sauce and a bit of tinned red curry paste. Throw in a handful of unsalted peanuts if you like. Wrap in lettuce leaves and enjoy. Enough for a couple of single meals ....or save the filling and toss into a salad with orange sections and an ginger-soy vinagrette and rice for a nice salad dinner the next day.

                          1. 'nother riff on the egg idea --

                            Egg drop soup
                            -- boil chicken broth
                            -- spice however you like (salt & pepper & red pepper flakes or soy or salt, papper & lime or Woster sauce or whatever) when boiling drop in egg, cook for a few minutes. Voila. Can also stir in spinach at end to get your greens.

                            1. Lots of really good ideas. Like Hooliganyouth says, find an inexpensive source and buy in bulk. Even if you don't have room for 25# bags of rice (I don't in my tiny apt.), you're still better off if you can find a bulk resource for things like rice and beans. Of course, buying in bulk means investing in some airtight containers, but you'll spend much less in the long run.

                              Ditto Hooliganyouth again on the whole chicken. It's cheaper and stock is great to have around. I often make stock with just the carcass. I won't get into a stock lesson (everybody seems to have a preferred way), but surf the web or go to the library and read around. It's really quite easy. And you'll have a base for a bean or vegetable soup later in the week. Or for a tastier rice dish than just water.

                              And don't just buy spices in bulk. Buy them in their whole form whenever you can (i.e., cumin seeds instead of ground cumin, etc.). They'll last for ages without losing their flavor. Ground spices need to be replaced more often because they lose their punch. It'll mean buying a coffee grinder to be used only for spices, but I've seen some inexpensive ones.

                              Lentils are a good protein source, very versatile, and cheap. There are any number of simple lentil soup recipes around. They're very good cooked with spinach and rice with onions and Indian or Middle-Eastern spices. Or tossed with a vinaigrette with a hint of garlic. (Yes, most recipes call for the more expensive Le Puy lentils for this treatment, but regular old brown ones work out just fine).

                              If you make your lentil soup more stew-like, you can change things up during the week by using the lentils to sauce up a tubular pasta. Hit it with some freshly grated pecorino romano cheese. The pecorino is sharper tasting than parm, but good in its own right, and a good deal cheaper too.

                              Do you like polenta? It's a great, inexpensive base for lots of things. Seasoned greens, mushrooms, tomatoes, marinara sauce, cheese, etc. Also available in bulk. And the quick-cooking kind means dinner in a jiffy.

                              Instant couscous. Cook in chicken stock and mix in leftover roasted vegetables. Maybe a bit of ground cumin or other spice to wake it up. Creative use of leftovers is another way to stretch a food budget.

                              Find a marinara sauce recipe you love. When you make it, make extra so you can get a few meals out of it. Toss it with some pasta. Sass up your chicken breast with marinara and mozzarella for chicken parm.

                              Mussels are cheap, and both quick and easy to make for one. For myself, I buy 1/2 lb - 3/4 lb. There are dozens of recipes for steamed mussels. I absolutely love them. I, too, live on a budget, but I never feel poor eating a bowl of steamed mussels, and sopping up the broth with crusty bread.

                              Hope some of this helps. Good luck.


                              1. I would look at Half Price books a copy of Bon Appetit Weeknight Meals and Too Busy to Cook. Or see this month's link at http://www.epicurious.com/bonappetit/... (scroll down).

                                1. I just remembered. Barley! Talk about cheap and filling. Plus then you can make this terrible joke:

                                  "Hey, what's for dinner?"
                                  "A pirate's favorite grain!"
                                  "What's that?"

                                  Man I gotta find something constructive to do with my time.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: hooliganyouth

                                    My mom used to bring an ENORMOUS container of barley salad to my dorm about once a week during my senior year of college when she thought I might die of malnutrion or too much pizza and/or Chinese take out or MSG poisoning from ramen noodles, and my friends would all come over and eat it all up. It was barley mixed with finely diced red peppers, scallions, tomato, parsley and cucumber. I think she squeezed lemon in it as well, and a generous amount of freshly cracked black pepper. I usually added some feta cheese. It's still good stuff.

                                  2. While in college (a LONG time ago!), my roommates and I got in the habit of buying 'mystery meats'...those cuts that had been in the supermarket's display case for so long that the meat manager put a discount price on it. Usually, the meat was good for at least another couple of days, but maybe had started to look tired. The store we used to frequent had a habit of cutting the price by about 40-50% on the meat they wanted to move, so we saved a bunch.

                                    When we got home, we'd pore over all our cookbooks (this was well before the internet) to find recipes (or even just ideas) on how to prepare our food finds.

                                    Another time, my roommate got about 10 lbs of broccoli STEMS for a dollar or something like that...other shoppers had broken the stems off (it was sold per pound, not per bunch or head), and the store was just going to toss them anyway. Other times, we'd negotiate reduced prices for tired and wilted produce, then figure out later how we were going to prepare it.

                                    Necessity can force you to be creative, if you're willing to take the risk!

                                    1. Marcella Hazan's lentil soup. It's in her classic "Essentials" cookbook. Which, if you are really watching your pennies, you don't need to buy. Yet. :-)
                                      It's a short and easy recipe. You can go copy it out at a bookstore. Key is, try to buy (I know, more expensive. Sorry.) puy lentils. The little French one. Sort of a silvery grey. And you can doctor it all sorts of ways, once you've decided to make it a 3rd or 4th time: add ancho chili powder, add leftover red wine, add bits of good sausage... Use good bacon (mmm... double smoked bacon!) instead of pancetta... you get the idea. It's getting to be a bit too close to spring for lentil soup, but as soup recipes go, this one is really worth your time.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: linengirl

                                        PS. I'm sorry, I didn't consider your "less than 45 minutes" issue. No, this certainly ISN'T a less than 45 minute recipe. It's a slow soup. But it freezes fabulously: if you have room in your freezer, you can freeze ziploc baggies of it, for reheating later. It's a great quick dinner with a bit of bread and maybe some fruit and cheese.

                                      2. Do you have a food plan at your school cafe? When I was still in college I would go "food shopping" there. Great place to pick up chopped veggies for a stir fry, omelette or to add to pasta salad. We also had fresh bread which was perfect or sandwiches and dipping into soup. Another suggestion to save money is to purchase communal spices and bulk ingredients with other students/friends.

                                        Currently my favorite dish is Cheesy Spinach noodles. Just boil some egg noodles and mix in grated cheddar cheese and a package of frozen spinach (for extra flavor I use creamed spinach). Sometimes I'll add ham cubes or bacon.

                                        1. You'd be surprised how cheap fish can be. A large one-person serving of tilapia or catfish is about $3. Season with cajun seasoning, or lemon pepper, or just some olive oil and lemon slices, and pop it under the broiler.
                                          I also recently discovered turkey cutlets, and was surprised at how cheap they were! I pounded them thin (you don't need a mallet, I just use a frying pan), breaded them with storebought breadcrumbs and grated hard cheese and sauteed them, then served atop a big spinach salad with homemade honey-mustard dressing. One package (about 1.25 lbs, $4) made enough turkey for at least 3 meals.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: dubedo

                                            Good thinking - tilapia is very cheap. Also keep your eye open for haddock or assorted fish like that.

                                            I'm not much one for catfish - kind of muddy tasting for my liking. Unless it's deep fried and slathered with hot sauce.

                                          2. One word, SIDES. You may think it is cheaper to have a nice chicken breast and veggies, but you can divide the chicken breast and fill up more on the sides as others have mentioned in this thread. One potato can fill way more in your belly than more chicken, and at $0.99/pound is a whole lot cheaper.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: jfood

                                              yea but you're not getting nearly the nutritional benefit from a potato that you do from meat. unless you already have a high protein diet or are mostly sedentary and don't get much benefit from it.

                                              1. re: luniz

                                                Understood, my point was to eat a regular portion of meat/chix/fish and do the fill up on the sides, not eat a potato sans. If you divide the meat into a 3-4 oz piece and have a nice potato and veggies, your golden. Last night I bought a medium whole Bell & Evans breast for $3.20. Divide that into 2 meals, $1.60 plus a $0.75 potato and a veggies for another $0.75 and you have a good and healthy meal for ~$3.00.

                                                1. re: jfood

                                                  I agree...3-4 oz of meat protein is plenty, if not more than enough. The science is coming around to think that we really don't need as much protein as adults that we've been believing for a long time. Plus, there is protein in a lot of things....milk, cheese, whole grains, legumes, nuts.... You really don't need to sit down to a piece of meat to get your daily protein. And with this crazy push towards ethanol, look for all of our food prices to go up, including corn-dependent meat.

                                            2. Beans and rice. Yes, beans take more than 45 minutes to cook, but they require almost no attention, so you can study or watch TV or workout while they simmer away. They are 1)cheap, 2)nutritious, 3)freeze well, and 4)once cooked, are the "building blocks" of many meals. Cook a pound of black beans with simple seasonings (chiles, cumin, garlic, onion, a little bacon or sausage if you like). Eat some, and divide the rest into 2-serving freezer containers. Trade some to a friend for whatever he or she has stashed in the freezer. You can eat black beans over rice, inside a burrito, made into soup, alongside your ubiquitous Foreman'ed chicken, or even folded inside an omelet. Expand your horizons by cooking lentils, red beans, navy beans, great northerns, etc.

                                              If you can afford asparagus, then your budget isn't so small, by my standards!

                                              Have you tried grilling shrimp on your Foreman? A quick seasoning, slip 'em onto a skewer, and they're done in a jiff. Sometimes shrimp are cheaper per per pound than asparagus!

                                              1. Use a quarter of a regular size box of angel hair pasta, a medium size jar of white alfredo - type sauce, one frozen bag of mixed veggies in a separate pan to cook those in with a little olive oil (I use broccoli, cauliflower, carrot, artichoke heart), and add your grilled spiced up chicken cut into small pieces to that. You could throw some shrimp in there too.

                                                Top it with salt, pepper, and parmesan...it's awesome, inexpensive, and will last you 2-3 days.

                                                Or make spaghetti and meatballs, so easy!

                                                1. When it's your birthday, ask your Mama for the largest crockpot they sell. You can make a lot of chili or spaghetti sauce or barbecued beef or chicken curry or all similar and freeze pints for quick consumption. A crockpot full of chili will cost you a pound of dried kidney beans, a couple of onions, a couple of big cans of tomatoes and tomato puree, chili powder, garlic powder, salt, and a pound (or more if you can swing it) of ground beef---I estimate your total cost to be six or seven dollars at a chain supermarket---if you use a big crockpot you will end up with eight or nine pints of chili, which is lots of dinners. You don't want to have to worry about coming home and cooking EVERY night---and the bigger the pot, the less often you have to cook. Even if you don't freeze the (chili, minestrone, barbecued beef) you can keep a big vat of it in the refrigerator for a week.

                                                  1. As a kid starting out, I had some very thin times. Lived on Mac and cheese and baked potatoes for a good long time! When I got better at cooking, and had someone to cook for, but still poor as church mice, I would do a turkey breast. Roast it the first night. The second night use the leftover meat and make enchiladas. The third night, throw the whole thing in a big pot with almost anything left in the kitchen and make soup! You can really make your dollar go a long way and have three great meals!

                                                    1. If you're really cash-strapped, the 99 Cents Only stores are wonderlands. I've gotten plenty of good things there and the ones I've been to have been well-stocked and clean. If you're near a Trader Joe's, they seem to have a lot of ingredients that actually taste great, and are reasonable. I saw they had a huge bag of frozen chicken breasts for like $5 tonight.

                                                      Though you have to get used to the 'thaw ahead' thing, one thing I've realized recently is that thin things cook more quickly. Chicken breast pounded or cut in half lengthwise, for instance. Fish cooks super-quick, sometimes in 5 minutes, which is great when you're hungry.

                                                      I'm starting to learn how to make sauces, which really helps. So chicken or fish in a butter sauce made with a cheap white wine ($3.99ish Sauvingnon Blanc from Trader Joe's) and a few basic herbs makes a really nice meal pretty fast. I just brown the meat, add the herbs and wine and boil it down adding butter toward the end.

                                                      Good things to have cans of to make things quickly when you want a bite:
                                                      stufffed grape leaves
                                                      Italian white canellini beans
                                                      white tuna
                                                      tomato sauce

                                                      And for fresh items:
                                                      an onion
                                                      something crunchy like celery or green peppers
                                                      something starchy like potato or parsnip

                                                      I agree with the other posters about ethnic markets being terrific for bargains. You know, come to think of it, if you've got a small place and don't want to be storing huge quantities of frozen things, they might just be your best bet for inexpensive meats and a lot else.

                                                      Fresh pita bread, some tomatoes and some kind of cheese (French feta, for instance) is wonderful to have around for the munchies.

                                                      1. I just love this recipe for Pasta Fagioli and it freezes very nicely. It's easy, inexpensive and the flavors are just awesome. I always add a nice herbed sausage to make the dish more meaty. bowl of this and some nice bread or stoneground crackers-yum!! ONE NOTE: I add the real herbs, rather then a sachel and take it out. we went out recently to a great italian restaurant and my hubby ordered Pasta Fagioli and he commented that mine (this recipe) was far better.