Ran into a bit of a cash shortage lately, I was hoping to mine CH for inexpensive meals that are tasty. Preferably meals large enough to create a couple days of leftovers.
Casserole's are always a way to go, there are always left overs and usually you don't have to spend a lot of money on the ingredients.
For a lighter type meal I always make extra egg or chicken salad. So one day I could have it as a sandwich, the next a salad and so on....
If you roast up a whole chicken the up front investment may be big but it can provide the basis for several meals and a whole chicken costs under $10. Leftovers can make chilils, soups, quesadillas, chicken salad, sandwiches, pastas, casseroles etc.
Marcella Hazan's Lemon Chicken recipie is a good one. Wash and dry a whole chicken. Season inside and out with salt/pepper. Take two lemons. Roll on counter to soften them up. Poke a dozen holes in each with a skewer. Put inside the chicken. Loosely tie close (I use the skewer to close it up.) Put chicken in roasting pan breast side down. Roast at 350 for 30 min. Turn chicken over. Roast for 30 min. Turn oven up to 400 (don't need to turn it over). Roast for around 20 minutes until done (internal temp 165. juices run clear.) Total cooking time around 20 minutes per pound, so adjust accordingly.
The lemons keep the inside juicy, which makes it resistant to over-cooking. Excellent as leftovers.
The great thing about roasting a chicken is the versatility of the leftovers. I'll take the leftovers and make korma or saag and eat it over pasta. I also throw it in with kidney beans and taco seasoning for a burrito. Also, don't count out hearty bean soups even though it is summer. Also, don't be afraid to barter. I once had a friend with a HUGE veggie garden but she never had time to cook. We worked out a deal where she would supply the veggies, I would make ratatouille, pesto or pasta sauce and give her half back.
-Anything that is bean-based is usually pretty inexpensive. Summer is not really the best time to get a hankering for chili, but that is pretty cheap.
-Maybe some sort of Latin-American meal that features beans & rice with some fresh veggies, maybe a small amount of inexpensive cut of meat.
-Pasta & sauce are always cheap as well - esp if you make your own tomato sauce with homegrown or even a big can of tomatoes
I've never been a huge salmon fan, but I've been giving it another chance lately (generally, I've been grilling it with indirect heat on a cedar plank).
One thing that I've noticed about it is that it's pretty economical. You could get a huge slab (or whatever it's called) for about $8-10 and eat on it for at least 2 days if you don't mind leftovers. A starch and some veggies to go along with it shouldn't cost much either.
obviously any pasta dish - spaghetti with tomato sauce which you can make yourself with onions, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic and herbs.
pasta tuna bake - something short like ziti or bows, make a white sauce add a can or 2 of tuna (cheap if you can find 2 for the price of 1) maybe a can of corn or peas, mix together and bake (add some cheese to the top) until crispy. you can do the same thing with cooked chicken.
cheap cuts of meat or chicken, lots of root veg, some stock and cook slowly in the oven. serve with mashed potatoes. Braised oxtails?
baked potatoes with tuna salad or cottage cheese mixed with celery.
soups - homemade, add beans and very small pasta or barley - gets thicker and is very filling, use root vegs.
Down here, salmon is usually $6 to $8 a pound on sale. Too expensive to be considered inexpensive, but then, I'm cheap. I mean, frugal. I still buy it, but it's not a choice when I'm pinching pennies, especially since I can eat half a pound of salmon by myself and still be hungry for more!
I second the recommendation for beans. I buy dried and canned -- the canned make it easy to whip up a spicy quick chili (which is a summer dish down here) in a half hour or so, while the dried are nice to have on hand for more complicated and time-consuming dishes.
Here's a favorite of mine, and very inexpensive this time of year (especially if you use other peppers in place of the red and yellow ones), paraphrased from the cookbook American Brasserie. (And it's forgiving -- you can mix and match similar veggies.)
Roasted Vegetable-White Bean Chili
1/4 c. garlic oil OR olive oil with 3 minced garlic cloves
1 med. onion, diced
3 stalks celery, sliced 1/2 inch thick
2 med. carrots, sliced 1/2 inch thick
2 yellow bell peppers, diced
2 red bell peppers, diced
2 yellow squash, diced,
2 zucchini, diced
1/4 c. chopped cilantro
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. chili powder
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 c. cooked white beans OR 1 19oz can white beans, drained and rinsed
Preheat oven to 425'. In a large, oven-safe pot (I like to use my dutch oven), heat the oil over medium-high heat, then add everything except the tomatoes, cumin, cayenne, and beans, and cook just until softened (about three minutes).
Put the pot in the oven and roast for 25 minutes, until veggies are tender. Stir after 15 minutes. Put the pot back on the stove over low heat, add the rest of the ingredients, and simmer for 20 - 30 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.
The recipe calls for finishing it with two tablespoons butter, then assembling in heat-proof bowls, sprinkling with cheeses (parmesan and cheddar) as you would french onion soup, and broiling, but I've never tried that; I just serve with the traditional chili fixin's on the side.
And I always use two to three times the suggested amount of chili powder (we like Penzey's hot chili powder). It makes a huge amount, easily enough for several meals and to freeze. And you can stretch it by adding a pound of browned ground pork, chicken, or turkey during the simmer stage.
Another cheap-but-good dish, and embarrassingly simple (it's the first dish I ever learned to cook) is chicken in the pan. Line a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan with foil. Take a 1lb package of chicken thighs (8 - 10 thighs), skin and bone on are best (but I like to debone the chicken because it makes it easier to eat later) and arrange on one half of the pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, a mix of herbs (rosemary, oregano, basil, thyme), or your seasoning blend of choice (I like Penzey's Italian dressing mix).
On the other side of the pan, put assorted veggies, chopped into large (two-bite-sized) pieces. I use whatever is in season and on sale -- zucchini, potatoes, sweet potatoes, red or green peppers, onion or tomato cut into wedges, mushrooms (you need about two medium of each item). Sprinkle with minced garlic, and pop in the oven at 425' for thirty minutes to an hour (until the thighs are cooked through and the veggies are soft).
Note, I've heard people say they needed to cook the potatoes longer than the chicken, (or to parboil them first) but my very old, very pitiful oven is inaccurate (and probably not as hot as it should be) enough that everything is usually done about the same time. So watch the chicken and remove to a platter if it cooks through first.
This makes enough veggies and chicken for a meal for the two of us that night plus lunch the next day, with half the thighs left over for other purposes.
But my absolute favorite inexpensive meal? Penne with Sunday gravy, french bread, and a big salad. I make the gravy all day on a day I'm free and make a huge batch. Then I freeze several 1 cup bags (that's two servings, just right for the two of us) and use the rest for other meals and dishes.