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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
              http://www.recipezaar.com/fish-tacos-...
              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)
              http://www.recipezaar.com/Korean-Cris...
              Warm Potato Salad With Goat Cheese
              http://www.recipezaar.com/Warm-Potato...

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

              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.

                  1. Down here in "old México" Knorr Suiza is a way of life. That is, Knorr (or some other brand) chicken powder, or cubes. Good cooks here use it daily, with great results. I make broth when I have chicken carcasses, but never buy parts to cook it from scratch. (Canned or boxed broth isn't available where I live, because Mexican cooks use Knorr!) You just have to remember not to add any salt while you are cooking. If I poach chicken breasts for a salad, I first put my Knorr in water with celery and onion, cook a bit, then add the chicken. If I am making soup, I add some Knorr Suiza instead of salt or chicken broth. Your friends will NOT know the difference in the final dish. I use expensive stuff sparingly, like Regiano parmesano, which I have to bring down from the US, or have someone bring to me. So, most of the time I use an inferior product from Argentina without much of a problem. Many herbs and spices that you may use are not even available here, so I buy them from the bulk bins, in very small packets, when I am in the US and store them in my freezer. The little bottles are very expensive and will be stale before I use them up. In other words, you can do a lot of substitutions and turn out a great meal! I can't say I am a great cook, but I can say that in 7 years living here I have never had anyone turn down a dinner invitation. They even change their plans to come here for dinner. So, my cheap and easy subs work out ok!

                    1. "truly cheap stuff like ground beef with a can of tomatoes thrown in... " I actually don't think that's a cheap way to eat at all, unless you're buying low-quality meat, just a boring way to eat.

                      I'm sure you know the basics like eating less meat, and you said you're looking for specific recipes, but I definitely agree with a couple of other 'hounds who've suggested that flexibility and improvisation are a frugal cook's best friend. I'm on a very, VERY limited budget, but I think I eat pretty well. In the last couple weeks, I've had spaghetti carbonara (with $6/lb "country bacon" from my local butcher instead of $25/lb pancetta), stuffed acorn squash (vegetarian, very inexpensive), pumpkin risotto (with canned pumpkin and using 70 cent/lb sushi rice instead of $3/lb arborio), 15-bean soup (with a bean mix I got on sale because the label was damaged, and made to use the bone from my Christmas ham), and salmon-spinach croquettes (using BOGO frozen salmon from Kroger).

                      I use Gallo vermouth, which is less than $5/bottle and keeps forever. I don't buy pricey balsamic. I make 4 meals AND stock out of one chicken. I just generally steer clear of recipes that "require" expensive ingredients, because I don't think you need to spend lots of money to get good flavor. Our old friend Mr. Maillard brings plenty of flavor to even the cheapest recipe!

                      Good luck!

                      1. I am also on a tight budget, and try to eat very healthy which makes it even harder. Here are a few cheap/healthy meals that I have in my rotation:

                        Ground Turkey (1.99/lb) makes 4 turkey burgers (sauteed onion/garlic/whatever spices that go with the side I am making/parmesan cheese mixed in) frozen individually and thawed in the morning. One of these cooked with a slice of cheese on top of a pile of sauteed zucchini or with some baked sweet potato fries.

                        Layers of sliced eggplant (broiled for a few minutes until browned) with fat free ricotta/parmesan cheese and tomato sauce baked in the oven at 400 for about 20 minutes.

                        Big pile of roast veggies (whatever is on sale - cauliflower, brussels, sweet potato, eggplant, peppers, mushrooms) tossed in EVOO, S &P

                        Chx fajitas - 1 breast, 1 red pepper, 1 onion cooked with whatever spices I have on hand and served over half a can of heated fat free refried beans

                        chx breast cut open stuffed with cooked spinach and cheese (usually goat) pan fried until golden brown then finished in the oven (covered) with a tad bit of water in the bottom. Server over even more spinach.

                        Sautee 3 shallots with 3 cloves of garlic, S&P, red pepper flakes add 1 bag of mussels ($2.50) shake until coated. Add 1 cup wine/beer/water and cook covered for about 5-7 minutes until all shells have opened. Serve with a piece of crusty bread to soak up the sauce and a green salad. To make more substantial I sometimes add sausage to the pot before the mussels.

                        Good Luck!

                        1. i think using strong flavors such as cheeses, sardines, chili paste, thai curry pastes, sausages, capers and onions makes a big difference and brings contrast to dishes

                          i've made this pasta +sardines dish on a backpacking trip and it is actually better than i expected.: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                          there are also curries. you can get a can of thai curry paste and coconut milk that is relatively cheap in an asian market. the curry paste will keep for a long time in the fridge and is great with pumpkin soups or even mix in mayo and herbs for bland chicken sandwich. you can put almost anything in a coconut curry, meats, tofu, peppers, onions, cauliflower.. etc.

                          i find that herbs are actually pretty expensive. if you have access to a yard or patio, i recommend planting a few things you like to use often. I always have thyme, parsley, rosemary and marjoram in my garden box outside my apartment patio.

                          i think this is great, buying food onsale lends to creativity! =)

                          1. I also operate on a limited food budget, and I frequently buy small amount of ingredients from the local grocery store salad bar, paticularly with things that are not available in small quantites in the produce aisles. Things like 1/4 cup chopped celery (my local store only sells bagged heads of celery), small quantities of cooked and crumbled bacon, or even shredded cheese. Yeah, it appears to be very expensive by the pound ($6.99 in my neighborhood) but I waste less food (I can't use a whole head of celery, and cooked bacon weighs WAY less than raw bacon) and save on a little prep time as well. Occasionally there are pretty good deals, particularly when the store "recycles" yesterday's prime rib into the salad bar.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: chococat

                              I use the salad bar to purchase small quanitiies of needed ingeredients (eg feta, celery, muchroom slices, etc)

                              1. re: bythebayov

                                I'll third the salad bar for things of which I only need small amounts...

                            2. We use eggs--particularly poached or soft boiled--as our protein in many meals, which makes them cheap. A favorite is steamed/roasted/sauteed/grilled asparagus w/ a poached/fried/soft boiled egg over it, topped w/ parmesan and black pepper. We also do an egg over other hearty veggies (roasted brussel sprouts, etc.) or homemade black beans. I add a crusty piece of bread if I'm particularly hungry.

                              Another thing I do is bake our bread, which is surprisingly easy once you get started. It's dirt cheap once you have the ingredients, which then go into every loaf. I also am suddenly excited to bring PB&J for lunch if it's on homemade bread, using good fresh ground PB and good jam. All of which adds up to less than $1/sandwich.

                              1. First, take Jeniyo's advice and plant a small herb garden in pots if you don't have a patch of ground. Fresh thyme, chives, basil, oregano, sage, parsley, whatever you like: what a difference they can make to the simplest dishes.

                                Pasta w/olive oil, garlic, and any of these fresh herbs and/or some lemon zest, some grated parmesan makes a great meal. If you have capers, throw some of those on top.

                                Do you have at least some freezer space? Make a simple tomato sauce w/olive oil, onion, garlic, herbs, canned tomatoes. Freeze some. It over pasta w/ some grated parmesan (really not so expensive if you buy a small piece and grate just a bit of it over your pasta) makes a delicious, filling meal. You can use it for baked eggplant, or pizza, or sided w/a piece of Italian sausage.

                                W/ a single roast chicken: one meal is roast chicken accompanied by some kind of potatoes, a simple vegetable. With leftovers, you can make chicken sandwiches, chicken salad, chicken tacos, or chicken pot pie, any number of soups. Corn tortillas w/leftover chicken, some chopped onion, a squeeze of lime, cilantro if you have it--delicious. Then that carcass can make delicious stock, which you can freeze.

                                Do you like potatoes? How about Pommes Anna (two ingredients):
                                http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                                Or French- or German-style potato salads that have very few ingredients, but are filling and delicious.

                                How about eggs? Eggs baked in a little cream and sprinkled w/fresh herbs is sophisticated take on the ordinary egg.

                                Beans--so many possibilities. You don't need meat, but a little bacon or a ham bone can add big flavor for very little money. I still love to make a simple salad of canned tuna, canned cannellini beans, lemon juice, and olive oil. You could add olives, capers, hard-boiled eggs, but it's not necessary. Red lentils are very inexpensive and are excellent cooked as a curry or in a soup.

                                Simple roasted onions w/herbs can make an elegant side dish.

                                Poblano peppers--buy when they're inexpensive, roast and skin and freeze. You can do wondrous things w/grilled poblanos. They add so much to otherwise plain dishes, whether tacos or eggs or potatoes or corn. You can make an easy enchilada sauce w/them by pureeing them w/chicken stock or broth.

                                In the many very lean years I was in college and graduate school, I cooked and I ate very well, for very little money. Some things I loved: pasta w/simple olive-oil-based sauces, flour tortilla "pizzas," made by spreading olive oil, then tomato sauce, sprinkled w/capers and some parmesan, stews made from chuck roast which froze beautifully (for multiple meals), black bean soup. I ate a lot of eggs. I learned to love London Broil and grilled flank steak tacos. I made big pans of lasagna very inexpensively (one of my dinner party favorites in those days) and froze several portions for future meals.

                                You will have to stock your larder; I'd start doing that gradually. Keep on hand the things you like and can use often. Befriend your freezer so you can buy things like meat, bacon, even some seafoods, on special and freeze them. And learn to shop for what's in season. For example, this week a local grocer had cabbage for 50 cents/very lg. head. Cabbage braised w/ onions is simple and fortifying. Carrots were also on special--and they'll last a very long time. Carrot soup w/ orange or ginger is delicious. Cauliflower is inexpensive right now; it's really versatile, can be made into lovely soup, is great simply roasted or in a simple gratin, is wonderful curried. My grocer also recently had very large shrimp for $3.50/lb. I bought 5 lbs. and froze them in 1 lb. packages. Endless possibilities for simple but elegant shrimp preparations if you can find it at a good price.

                                Once you have the shopping down and know to make a beeline for the food bargains, your best friend is the Internet, and this site, of course, where you'll find an infinite number of ways to prepare said bargains.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: nomadchowwoman

                                  I have been contemplating using one of those aerogarden hydroponic herb gardens. I was able to buy one at a garage sale cheap. The seed kit costs about $20 but after the first one and I learn how they work better, I am hoping to use my own seeds.

                                  Apparently with one of these things, you can have herbs in the kitchen in3-4 weeks. I think it would be neat to just reach up with a pair of scissors and snip off a few teaspoons basil or chives.

                                  1. re: tonka11_99

                                    Let us know how that works. I've been curious about them.

                                    We grow a lot of herbs in our garden in summer. Then we freeze whatever is left at the end of the season in butter. So we have chive butter, parsley butter, tarragon butter, etc. all winter and it tastes really fresh. Great for sauteeing chicken and other things.

                                2. Just wanted to thank you all for the recipes and suggestions!
                                  I guess i need to also learn to sub in some cheaper ingredients.

                                  I'm not naturally a big meat eater, so recipes with small amounts of meat or eggs or even meatless, and heavy on the veggies, are very appreciated and the type of recipe I'd select to make even if I were a millionaire!
                                  I'm also trying to eat healthy foods, so I'm trying to avoid the recipes calling for a quart of cream plus pasta, etc!

                                  Keep 'em coming! I definitely plan on trying many of these ideas!

                                  1. Mellicita - an earlier poster mentioned Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. I just got it for Christmas and I love it. If you can get your hands on a second hand copy or get it from the library I encourage you to do so. Many of his recipes have multiple variations and many are quite cheap to prepare. There are lots of rice, bean, grain dishes, soups - cheap to make and taste good. Once you find some basics you like you can stock up on basic ingredients in bulk for cheap and play with the variations.G
                                    ood Luck!

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Fiona

                                      I've been trying to avoid the cream lately too. One thing we are going to be trying is a recipe for pasta with olive oil and dried mushrooms and fresh mushrooms. That involves an expensive ingredient but maybe not too bad if used in moderate amounts. And no meat needed to make a main course pasta that has no cream or butter in it.

                                    2. If there's an Aldi near where you live, it's well worth checking them out. They have really decent bagged baby spinach and things like that at half the cost of other stores. Their produce seems to be improving steadily, though it's not as varied as the larger markets. Sstill, as somebody who's currently unemployed, they're my first stop on the grocery run. Eggs and spinach are always pretty cheap and versatile ingredients to keep on hand. Explore cheap cuts of meat, too. Chicken thighs can be gotten cheap and are (almost) impossible to overcook. Try random cuts like pork neckbones, and stew them for a long time in sauce or with greens or beans. Collards are cheap. Sautee a few neckbones, add some onion and brown, add some washed and chopped collards and water (or stock), bring to a boil, turn down and simmer for a few hours. Add some hot sauce and vinegar, and you've got a great meal.