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Budget Recipes for a Foodie?

I've looked through several threads via a search on Chow. (And appreciate many of the suggestions!)
However, I'm looking specifically for *recipes* that don't end up breaking the budget.
(not just suggestions like frozen veggies cheaper than fresh, or spices from the local Latin market, etc)

My problem is that what starts out sounding like a great cheap concept - say lentil soup or souffle (what could be cheaper than some bulk aisle legumes or eggs!?) - ends up costing way more than I anticipate, because the rest of the recipe for the soup involves using pancetta, my homemade chicken stock that came from expensive celery/onion/carrots/bay leaves/etc (and I dont eat enough chicken to have enough leftover carcasses for stock, so I have to buy chicken backs or parts), some wine or expensive balsamic vinegar, more expensive veggies for the mire poix.....or the rest of the souffle really needs $12/lb cheese to taste good.

I'm having the problem that I'm kinda a foodie, and want to make stuff taste really good... but that ends up costing more! I just cant bring myself to eat truly cheap stuff like ground beef with a can of tomatoes thrown in...

I'm trying to repay student loans... so I'm not broke, but I need to really tighten things up.

Any specific recipe suggestions?

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  1. Tonight I made lentils and rice from How to Cook Everything. It was delicious and is incredibly inexpensive to make. It's also very healthy, even though it doesn't taste super healthy. The recipe says to use water or stock. I used water and it was great.

    The recipe is here: http://www.northjersey.com/food_dinin...

    I didn't actually make the carmelized onions, but I'm sure they'd be great. My roommate, whose family is from Lebanon, says this is a Lebanese dish and is called M'Juderah.

    1. No recipe but a couple of suggestions....You don't really have to shell out a lot of money if you learn to improvise...meaning, don't use home made chicken stock, use store chicken stock or some broth or bouillon cubes. Sure, the soup will probably taste better with home made chicken stock but it will still be good with store bought. As far as the chicken is concerned, where I live, the backs & sometimes other parts are more expensive than the whole bird. Buy the whole bird. I got lucky this week as they had chickens on sale for .59 lb so I loaded up.

      Instead of pancetta, use smoked ham or bacon, etc. Instead of $12.00 cheese, make the souffle with a less expensive type. No wine? Use extra stock...no expensive balsamic vinegar? Add a double amount of a less expensive brand to a pot and reduce it by half to concentrate the flavors. You could use just about any recipe and switch the ingredients. Learn to experiment and switch things up to make them taste better with what you have.

      That said, you should have a semi stocked pantry so that you don't have to run out when you need an ingredient which will cost you more. You have to have something in the kitchen first to start off with. I'm not saying go out and empty your pockets but if you don't have at least some ingredients, you can't expect to make a half way decent dish.

      9 Replies
      1. re: Cherylptw

        When you say backs, are you referring to just the spinal column? My poultry butcher sells 5 lbs. of bones for $3 total! It might be worth inquiring about buying the scraps. If it's a full butcher and they are selling boneless skinless chicken breast, they must have something lying around, right? But I completely agree that home-made stock is not crucial by any means.

        1. re: megmosa

          Yep, I was referring to the bony bones of the back...they are sometimes more expensive where I live than a whole bird per pound on sale or at least as much as thighs/legs...crazy I know...but then I prefer to use whole parts if I can get it anyway and it's cheaper.. I was really pointing out to the OP's post about spending money on random parts when it would be less expensive to get more.

          Good suggestion to the OP about asking for leftover bones...some butchers used to give them away for next to nothing...

          1. re: Cherylptw

            My store refuses to give me the leftover bones from their rotisserie chicken and they won't sell them either. However they do sell raw chicken carcasses that they have removed 90% of the meat for $0.69 a pound. I can buy chicken leg or breast quarters for a $1 per pound. I buy these, roast and serve some. keep some in reserve and remove the chicken meat and save the bones and some of the meat and all the skin and make a stock with that and veggies.

            I use the pieces in casseroles or for sandwiches. Throw them in with rice, whatever. I have even been know to mix them in bbq sauce and put them on hamburger buns.

        2. re: Cherylptw

          You've offered some great ideas and alternatives. I never use pancetta because where I live it's insanely expensive. Although I prefer homemade stock and try to always have it on hand, I don't always use it. First of all, some highly flavored dishes don't NEED it. The other day I used Swanson's broth and tasted a bit of it and was really pretty pleased with it. Additionally, I make stock in the slow cooker with nothing but chicken and water. It's perfect. I start with a whole chicken and once the breast reaches 160 I remove that meat and let the rest go on for hours and hours.

          Also if the OP will look at the bottom of this thread, there are a number of threads that address this. Easy-peasy.

          1. re: c oliver

            Very good idea about taking the breast off; can be used for something else later..I'll have to try that.

            1. re: c oliver

              Fish Tacos With Yogurt Sauce
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              Salmon Burgers With Lemon-Sour Cream Sauce
              http://www.recipezaar.com/Salmon-Burg...
              The Simplest Bean Burgers (Mark Bittman)
              http://www.recipezaar.com/The-Simples...
              Chickpea & Feta Veggie Burgers
              http://www.recipezaar.com/Chickpea-Fe...
              Spiced Lentil Tacos
              http://www.recipezaar.com/spiced-lent...
              Miso Chicken 1-2-3
              http://www.recipezaar.com/377064
              Tom Colicchio's Sicilian Tuna Salad
              http://www.recipezaar.com/tom-colicch...
              Mark Bittman's Pasta With Cauliflower
              http://www.recipezaar.com/Mark-Bittma...
              Joan Nathan's Favorite Falafel
              http://www.recipezaar.com/Joan-Nathan...
              Grilled Falafel
              http://www.recipezaar.com/grilled-fal...
              Balsamic Onions, Asparagus, & Goat Cheese Pizza - You can substitute other veggies.
              http://www.recipezaar.com/Balsamic-On...
              Balsamic Fried Eggs With Wilted Greens (In Under 10 Minutes)
              http://www.recipezaar.com/Balsamic-Fr...
              Easy Mushroom Veggie Burgers
              http://www.recipezaar.com/Easy-Mushro...
              Baked Eggs With Spinach and Mushrooms
              http://www.recipezaar.com/Baked-Eggs-...
              Crispy Black Bean Tacos With Feta & Cabbage Slaw
              http://www.recipezaar.com/Crispy-Blac...

              Moroccan-Spiced Parsnips
              http://www.recipezaar.com/Moroccan-Sp...
              Potato, Carrot and Parsnip Soup
              http://www.recipezaar.com/Potato-Carr...
              Mideast Minestrone Soup (Shurbat Al-Khudar)
              http://www.recipezaar.com/mideast-min...
              Lentil Stew With Spinach and Potatoes
              http://www.recipezaar.com/Lentil-Stew...
              Kale & White Bean Stew
              http://www.recipezaar.com/kale-white-...
              Beet and Carrot Pancakes
              http://www.recipezaar.com/Beet-and-Ca...
              Garlic Bread, Green Bean and Tomato Salad
              http://www.recipezaar.com/Garlic-Brea...
              Moosewood's Eggplant With Miso Sauce
              http://www.recipezaar.com/Moosewoods-...
              Roasted Broccoli With Garlic and Red Pepper
              http://www.recipezaar.com/Roasted-Bro...
              Sweet Braised Whole Scallions (Molly Stevens)
              http://www.recipezaar.com/sweet-brais...
              Korean Crisp Vegetable Pancake (Pa Jun)
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              Warm Potato Salad With Goat Cheese
              http://www.recipezaar.com/Warm-Potato...

              Weekend Apple Pancake
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              Margaret Atwood's Baked Lemon Custard Cake
              http://www.recipezaar.com/Margaret-At...
              Carrot Cupcakes With Orange Icing
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              Carrot Spice Morning Glory Muffins
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              Cinnamon-Swirl Pumpkin Rolls
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              Sweet & Simple Sweet Potato Biscuits
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              1. re: toveggiegirl

                WOW... this certainly must have taken some time and effort to put together such a nice list!!
                I will go slowly through all of these, but wanted to thank you in advance! Judging from the title of the recipes there are some gems in here!
                Thank you for helping me!

                1. re: Mellicita

                  You're very welcome! Let me know what you think if you try any of them.

            2. re: Cherylptw

              I agree. You need to learn how to inprovise. That is the difference between a cook and a recipe follower. Swanson's chicken stock or broth can be augmented with some extra chicken bones. Just keep the bones in a plastic bag after you eat the chicken. You can augment the stock with potato skins, celery tops, whatever. What do you think a french restaurant does? They don't waste anything. If they can't serve it, it goes in the soup pot.

              Ham or bacon substitutes for pancetta or proscutta in spite of what Guida De Laurentis says. Her idea of conserving money is not vacationing at the Isle of Mallorca during the summer.

              Augmenting beef stock is a little harder but I have found that these super concentrated beef bases do the job well but they are fairly expensive. use a teaspoon per 8 ounces of broth.

              As far as substituting, be creative and bold. You probably won't completely ruin anything.

            3. I think you have hit on a key to inexpensive cooking ... you must keep the ingredients list narrow. The individual ingredients don't have to be cheap IMO--I think they should be pretty good, but I use as few as possible, and make up the difference with herbs and spices (which are also inexpensive when they're either on hand, or bought in bulk in small amounts).

              I definitely don't eat ground beef with a can of tomatoes thrown in, but I did recently make a batch of 'goulash' with a pound of imported macaroni, a pound of ground bison, a couple cans of tomatoes, and store-brand jack melted on top--plus lots of herbs and spices. It was delicious, and made about 8 servings.

              I like to have deCecco pasta, either asparagus or raw halved grape tomatoes with a little butter and a good parmesan.

              Recently I made a batch of pinto beans (1 cup dry) with onions, garlic, and spices. Stewed three chicken tenders in a large can of crushed tomatoes, more onion and spices. Served with tortillas/cheese/sour cream (you could eliminate the sour cream). Made about 5 servings.

              I'm sure this says a lot about me, but I don't make my own stock. I buy the store brand organic chicken stock, and when I get done, it's more than all right.

              I don't hesitate to buy expensive cheese if the cheese is the meal. Sometimes I'll make a meal of cheese, crackers, raw veggies, and a half glass of wine. Of course you can simply eliminate wine altogether, but I find that 2-2.5 oz is plenty for me at a sitting.

              I find that it helps to prioritize what's important to me, and whatever that is (chocolate, wine, good cheese, whatever), I don't give it up. I do figure out exactly what quality I need to buy to be happy with it, and then do that, no more no less. I also figure out how to have meals I really enjoy with a few simple ingredients.

              You might check out our 'secret ingredient' thread for a few key ingredients to have on hand to make your food as flavorful as possible. Things like cayenne, soy sauce, molasses, a jar of jalapenos, etc. are worth their weight in gold, at bargain prices.

              1 Reply
              1. re: foiegras

                Forgot to mention the onion in my 'goulash' ... as far as I'm concerned, nearly every cooking venture begins with onion! As you can probably tell, I don't use recipes for cooking (only baking)--or use them only for inspiration.

              2. I like polenta. I prefer Bob's Red Mill Coarse Ground, which is expensive compared to a big thing of cheap cornmeal, but still cheap per serving...and worth it! You can do so many cool and creative things with polenta! I love a fried slice of it topped with a fried egg.

                1. One more thing...there are lots of both savory and sweet waffle variations! "Waffles From Morning To Midnight" is a favorite cookbook of mine. Very creative...and pretty inexpensive cooking.