Favorite Frugal Meals to Cook?
Spaghetti with olive oil, garlic and chilli - luckily it's one of Mr GG's favourite meals!
Pasta with grated courgette, garlic and basil
Pasta=cheap comfort food. Mind you, my favourite brand has gone up by a third due to the rise in the price of wheat, so not quite so cheap any more!
Ohmagawd, yep, spaghetti w/ oil & garlic. If you have it, toss in some broccoli, chili flakes and a squeeze of fresh lemon. Toasted bread crumbs and Locatelli Romano is a double bonus!
Eggs are also a great frugal meal and oh so versatile. Poached, fried, scrambled, hard-boiled. YUM!
We eat a lot of humble meals that combine fresh produce with cheap dried goods- lentil soup (.99c/bag) with fresh spinach and tomatoes or whatever's in season.... taboulleh (bulgur= very affordable, goes a looong way) with mint and parsley from the yard and a fresh tomato.... cuban black beans over brown rice with some fresh fruit and veggies on the side.... My trick is to stock up on a wide variety of usual/unusual dried beans, rice, grains, etc, and then buy produce when it's in season, and to shoot for hearty and satisfying 'peasant' food. I rarely eat meat, but will occassionally buy a pound of good quality bacon and cut it into fourths- even at $8/lb, that's only $2/meal, and 1/4 lb of bacon sauteed with onion, garlic, etc goes a very long way as a base for soups, stews, casseroles, etc.
IN the protein camp....
Anything calling for boneless, skinless chicken breasts turns into chicken thighs. At first, I was not a dark meat fan, and now - I am SOLD on it. Stays jucy..and it's easy to "de-skin." I have seen thighs as low as 97 cents/pound!
This is especially true for chicken soups, "stews", chili's, casseroles.
Breakfast for dinner always a good one - eggs - cheap protein - some bacon (cheap-ish), and whatever else you fancy - hotcakes, toast, whatever (cheap).
I like to stock up when chuck cuts of beef are on sale. Made a cheat version of beef burgundy using blade steak and canned tomato sauce (plain or seasoned, but not the pasta sauce type), and it was scrumptious over rice. Just toss some diced onion and garlic into some oil in a large pan and cook until soft. Brown the steak briefly, then pour the tomato sauce over it to cover. Add about half a bottle of red wine, I just used what I had on hand (approximate the amount to your liking; I'm sure you could use beef stock instead for a different flavour). Salt/season as you like, and cook at a bare simmer for hours (I had it on for about 3 hours) until tender.
It was such a cheap piece of beef (I think the whole steak was like $2), but it tasted incredible - hearty, tender, and the thick sauce had this silky mouthfeel, like great homeade chicken stock. Had enough for dinner and lunch for myself.
I also love the simple meal of a fried egg or two (sunny side up!) over rice with a splash of soy sauce. (Not a complete meal, obviously. Make a stirfry or something to go with it) Mix it all up and it's total comfort food for me -- it's like the oriental equivalent of mac 'n cheese.
When I am cooking for more than one or 2 and I want a lot of food for a little money I turn to my mother in law, who grew up on a farm in Puerto Rico. She is now 80 years old and her "cheap" meals are my comfort food and my kids and husband love it. She taught me how to make yellow rice with cut up vienna sausages and corn. I was instructed to serve that with just a can of beets (cold) on the side or cold canned green beans. I know it doesn't sound appetizing on paper but it is really really good, filling, and I can usually find everything in my pantry. Another cheap favorite of hers is to take a can of corned beef sauteed with sofrito and tomato sauce served with white rice and ripe fried palntains. I make a poor man's paella by buying the mixed seafood at my chinatown market ($2.99 a pound) and have even found it frozen for the same price at my supermarket. I cook yellow rice and add the the seafood and olives, a can of white tuna and serve with a simple salad and some sliced avocado. My list of economical Puerto Rican meals can go on and on. Try guineos escabeche with chicken gizzards (boiled bananas and chicken gizzards with onions garlic and vinegar). Most meals for 3 are under $5. I also like her garbanzos with chorizo in tomato sauce on top of yellow rice (a large can of garbanzos = $1.29, 2 large chorizos = $2.50, rice and seasoning $.75) and it will feed 4. Save your leftover white rice to make arroz negro. Sautee garlic and onions in olive oil. Add your cold white rice. Sautee and add a can of squid or octopus in its own ink and continue to sautee untill done. Nice with avocado or fried ripe plantains. I could go on and on.
re: midtown diner
I sautee garlic, onions, cilantro, goya frozen sofrito, goya sazon con achiote, and adobo then I had a can of tomato sauce. Add the garbanzos and browned chorizo. Serve beside yellow rice (or on top) with fried sweet bananas. Buen Provecho! But try the corned beef it is really good too.
chickpea, rosemary and pasta soup
lots of pasta-y things (carbonara, tomato-and-cheese bakes, etc)
potatoes! Baked, mashed, roasted
sweet potato oven roasted chips with paprika and lime
black beans (tastes like chestnuts!) for soup, salads with grains, to top toast or baked potatoes
peanutty Asian noodles (like the Cooking Light recipe recently posted on Chow)
As all the favourite-cheap-foods above illustrate, carbs are a cheap way to feel full. The biggest trick to lower your meat intake, either by quantity (one person doesn't really need a whole steak at a meal!) or frequency (try eating vegetarian 2x a week - eggs, beans can be delicious alternatives).
Our lower-meat favourites:
use meat as an ingredient/flavour, not the star. Pancetta cubes are great in everything from pasta, baked potatoes to egg fried rice
Involtini - one steak feeds three people if thinly sliced, tenderized, and folded over a filling of mustard, sage and fontina cheese. Then we quickly saute them off, and make a light pan sauce with a little splash of sherry and stock. So quick, so good, and surprisingly 'special'.
PINTO BEANS AND HATCH CHILE! Chile and beans, Frito pie, tacos, burritos, enchiladas, w/ eggs, etc. etc. We have also started eating 10 years worth of freeze dried #10 cans of survival food and 5 gal. buckets of brown rice and legumes (whole wheat grain too) left to us by my deceased survivalist mother-in-law. Eat for free and make room in the cellar simultaneously!
Life is strange.
I'd second the chili idear. You can use ground beef when on sale, or omit the meat all together and just use beans (although the Texans will scoff). Stretch it further on rice or noodles or a 'manwich' like a chili sandwich.
I've had many a cheap meal with raman noodles - you can find them easily 5 for a buck, sometimes as cheap as 10 for $1. You can eat them as directed in soup form, or you can boil the noodles, drain, and pan fry with the seasonings or add other vegetables and or meat and or seafood.
Look for large cuts of pork when on sale (59c/lb or so). Pull out the trusty hacksaw and cut a loin into chops and roasts, or a leg into a ham-style roast as well as pork steaks. Freeze what you won't use in a few days.
Also think seasonal with vegetables. Try to get to a farm which will sells pick-your-own; you can get peppers, corn, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and more next to nothing.
Anyone like fishing? Not only fun, but getting a bucket of perch or panfish is usually easy and makes for great BBQ.
We love soup, even as a meal sometimes with good crusty bread. Soup is usually pennies a portion.
One of my favorite things to eat is the Costa Rican "Gallo Pinto" (literally, spotted rooster) which is served at breakfast, lunch, and sometimes dinner. Rice and beans, beans and rice... It's the kind of thing that you can take in a few different directions and serves different puposes depending on what's with it... but it is always cheap, tasty, and filling. Plus, it takes me back to CR in a heartbeat.
In Costa Rica, in April, the last meal we had was Gallo Pinto at the airport at 6:00 am at....Burger King! Not sure about food on the flight! We make it here too. And cerviche as well. Frito Pie (corn chips, pinto beans, chile (NO BEANS!) cheese and diced raw onion.) for dinner tonight.
Hee hee! I have eaten that exact thing!! And I NEVER go to fast food places in the States, but the choices were pretty much, well, there weren't any at the San Jose airport!
And, the first meal we had on that trip to CR was at the little soda just across the road from the airport. Yep, you guessed it: Gallo Pinto.
I love a garbage dinner. That's when you lay out all the dribs and drabs you happen to have in the fridge - 2 asparagus spears, half an onion, some leftover steamed broccoli, a single chicken leg - and then turn it into something. This usually entails noodles and a wok, but might also become a soup. Depending on weather and mood. When you figure the alternative to the above would have been to throw it all out, it's a meal from nothing for practically nothing. Love that kind of thing.
Adobo (chicken and pork braised in aromatic vinegar and soy sauce)
Afritada (chicken, potatoes and peas in a tart tomato sauce)
African peanut butter stew (chicken, green beans, okra, turnips in curry peanut butter)
Pork shoulder (red-cooked, curried, BBQ, pernil all with plenty of crackling)
Red-cooked pork or chicken (poached in an aromatic citrus soy)
Chicken paprikash (atop buttered noodles with roasted veg)
Arroz a la cubana (Paella of chicken, ground pork, raisins, peas and fried egg)
Chinese eggs (fried soft on top, crispy on the bottom, topped with oyster sauce, chilies and scallions)
Dal and rice (curried yellow lentils with sweet tomatoes and basmati rice)
Longsilog (longaniza sausages, garlic fried rice and eggs)
Roast chicken (along with the potatoes and vegetable bed roasted beneath the bird)
Chipotle mac-n-cheese (with garlic crumb topping)
Italian sausages (curried with a simple masala or seasoned with allspice, nutmeg, cinammon, roasted red peppers, parsley and feta)
Sinigang na baboy (pork ribs in a sour tamarind broth with long beans, tomatoes, chayote and bitter greens)
Pork stew (in a spicy tomato broth with chorizo, garbanzos, sambal and smoked paprika)
Beef stew (with red peppers in a harissa-spiked sauce)