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Super-Frugal Meals -- around $1 per serving -- Beyond Rice and Beans

Hey all, some friends and I are embarking on a bit of an adventure. We're all pretty broke 20-somethings, in the financial crunch of a first mortgage or first baby or whatever, and we're tired of feeling like we can't eat together without it being a budget buster for everyone (if we eat out) or one person (if we eat at that person's house).

So we thought, why not find a way to eat together for free? And why not make it really interesting and see just how cheaply we can do it? We set $1 per person as the threshold, and what will happen is, one person will cook and the others will bring $1 apiece to pitch in. I'll probably be handling all the cooking in the beginning, which is fine with me, since I'm single and don't often get to have the pleasure of cooking for a big group. I have a few ideas, and I DO really love rice and beans, but woman does not live by rice and beans alone, you know?

So. Hounds. Help! I'd love to hear what you'd make if you had, say, just $10 or $12 to cook a healthy, filling meal for 10 people.

(Important details: I do keep a well-stocked pantry, buy my spices at ethnic grocery stores, and plan to keep things in the vegetarian or vegetarianish category. Healthy and balanced is a goal, but not an obsession. All cuisines are fair game -- no picky eaters. I bake my own bread regularly and am perfectly willing to make things that require long cooking. Some of the folks in this group are: nursing mamas, burly dudes, foodies.)

Thanks! :)

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  1. Sounds like an interesting venture! For some reason, the first thing that came to mind was traditional stuffed cabbage with rice and tomato sauce. You could add ground beef if you wanted to make a few for any meat-eaters.

    I found this recipe which also happens to be on a blog called Cheap Eats - might help you out a bit :)
    http://www.bloglander.com/cheapeats/2...

    1. A frittata or a Spanish tortilla.

      ~TDQ

      23 Replies
      1. re: The Dairy Queen

        tortilla española FTW.... i could eat this all week, hot and cold...
        getting the nice smoked paprika to use in it is worth gold!!

        1. re: AnchovyBourdain

          left overs make an awesome sandwich too....

          1. re: AnchovyBourdain

            Don't call it tortilla española if you add pimentón to it.

            And harryharry is right, it makes a mean sandwich. Carbs on carbs...

            1. re: bacallado

              I think this nomenclature is to differentiate it from what americans call tortillas, nothing more.

              And actually it's almost 40% protein, considering the egg/potato ratio.

              1. re: CallAnyVegetable

                You're wrong, that's the name of a specific dish. Making it with pimentón is a travesty.

                1. re: bacallado

                  LOL@travesty. My tastebuds don't give a damn about the rules. Google pimenton + tortilla a bit, hundreds of people like it that way too.

                  1. re: CallAnyVegetable

                    You rebel! ;) I am sure many people like it with pimentón, mostly Americans.

                    1. re: bacallado

                      If you had googled like I said you'd notice that half of the results are from Spain. And I'm not American.

                      I don't know, I don't like being overly rigid with cooking, it stifles creativity.

                      1. re: CallAnyVegetable

                        Good for you. There is something to be said for authenticity and simple food though, but somehow that's a challenge for foodies in the US and elsewhere. A Spanish tortilla has 4 ingredients, counting the salt, and it's darn good the way it is.

                  2. re: bacallado

                    I have never understood someone wallowing in righteous indignation over the name of a dish when a component has been slightly changed. It doesn't matter if he/she calls it a sunshine vagina sandwich, he/she thinks it is good and you don't have to eat it.

                    Veggie, make it with Mexican chorizo. That will really get him riled.

                    1. re: Hank Hanover

                      Off to create a sunshine vagina sandwich!!!

                      1. re: CallAnyVegetable

                        Hey Veggie;

                        You should try my new recipe for tortilla española! It's great. You use Mexican chorizo (chorizo is chorizo right?) and some American cheese and some smoked Hungarian paprika. It makes the best tortilla española, you have ever tasted. Sprinkle a little soy sauce on it and it's perfect. ;-D

                        1. re: Hank Hanover

                          What is this blasphemy? Those are called Tortilla Hungariõla ya fake foodist! :D

                      2. re: Hank Hanover

                        Well, some of us have an emotional attachment to certain dishes and like to protect their names. You'd understand this Hank, if you had grown up in a place with culinary tradition.

                        1. re: Hank Hanover

                          Paging Eve Ensler to protect the name of the dish you just created ;)

                          1. re: foiegras

                            Well the sandwich does monologues.

                            Btw.. the name was stolen from another thread. That's what someone called eggs in a nest or whatever else you wanted to call it.

                            It is just so memorable that I just have to commit that misdemeanor occasionally.

                            1. re: Hank Hanover

                              Oh is that what is correctly called Eggs in Purgatory? ;-)

                              1. re: coll

                                No.. I don't think so. Eggs in purgatory is where you poach eggs in tomato sauce, I believe. This is cutting a hole in a piece of toast, putting it in a pan and dropping an egg into the hole. Aka .... eggs in a nest, one eyed johnnies, toad in a hole, etc.

                                1. re: Hank Hanover

                                  Ah now I remember! This is one I've never tried. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, right?

                                  1. re: Hank Hanover

                                    I love your renaming of this dish, Hank. Or whoever is to be credited for the original renaming. It's one for the books!

                                  2. re: coll

                                    I think it's correctly called eggs in heaven ;)

                                    1. re: foiegras

                                      That's what my in laws thought too, they called it eggs in hell and thought purgatory was a joke, but that's how I see it listed most places.

                                      1. re: coll

                                        back to tortilla: check out Despana on Broome St, which I would assume it a pretty legitimate Spanish food purveyor - there are about 6 variations on the traditional tortilla de papas, all delicious.

                  3. Assuming you're not averse to *using* rice or beans...
                    You could go indian theme and make dal and some naan and rice component.
                    Chinese theme - chop suey with eggs or tofu, fried rice, spring rolls, etc.
                    Italian - veggie lasagna (sub cottage cheese for ricotta for price, and make your own white sauce) or made-to-order pizzas (let people customize and bake upon arrival)
                    Breakfast for dinner - fun... pancakes/waffles, eggs, biscuits or popovers with jam
                    Homestyle - chicken pot pie (minimal chicken, heavy on veggies)
                    French - quiches and salad
                    Nostalgic - soup and sandwich (grilled cheese / tomato soup - cheese being the costliest component)

                    48 Replies
                    1. re: Emme

                      FABULOUS ideas. I didn't even think about breakfast-for-dinner!

                      1. re: LauraGrace

                        Emme nailed much of it on the head. Breakfast for dinner is easy on the budget, and always satisfying. I've been on a shirred egg kick, simply because they are so easy to use whatever you have on hand (caramelized onions or shallots, spinach, bits of leftover meat, cheese, and heading-to-stale bread). The smallest size of heavy cream is more than sufficient for this, but you can also use a substitute. Also, eggs can be cooked in the oven without ramekins. If you use a casserole dish, the you just layer whatever you want in the bottom, and make wells for the eggs. Also, if you think your non-breakfast dinner looks boring, consider offering a fried egg on top of individual servings (this works well with bean dishes, sandwiches, and burgers).

                        Soup and sandwiches are very filling. Sometimes, I make quesadillas instead of sandwiches (tortillas are cheaper than bread, require far less frying fat, and I tend to use less cheese).

                        So, yeah, soups and stews. Roast chicken is the gift that keep on giving. *Some* part of the chicken is always on sale: roast the chicken, take the meat from the bones, roast the bones with some cheap root vegetables, and use those to make your stock. Use the meat and stock for a soup or stew, like chicken and black bean. If you want chicken noodle, make your own egg noodles. Or how about some ravioli?

                        The cheaper cuts of beef need only a long and slow cooking time (and, maybe, sometimes, a mallet), to be a lovely beef stew (I've subbed a not-expensive beer for red wine, and received nice praise for it), or shredded beef in gravy over mashed potatoes.

                        I'm making a carrot pudding tomorrow (a dinner pudding, not dessert), just because carrots were on sale (sixty cents a bag), and I have to use the things up. So, I think, as Greygarious said, planning your meals around the sales is always a good way to get creative while you save some cash.

                        Also, you know how cheap garlic is. Roasted garlic improves many a dish. I've even made cream of roasted garlic soup, served with a really nice bread, and a spicy sweet potato dish (*that* was a cheap and lovely dinner).

                        And, if you're a baker, then you are ahead of the game in so many ways.

                        1. re: onceadaylily

                          How do you make a savory carrot pudding? I get 1 lb bags of carrots at the local Asian market for about 35 cents.

                          1. re: Jen76

                            You ignore recipes that want a carrot dish to be merely sweet. ;)

                            Here is the basic recipe, from The Thanksgiving Table, (which I'm using for the first time tomorrow):

                            Peel 5 large carrots, cut into one inch chunks, and boil until tender over high heat (about twenty minutes). Using a food processor or stick blender, puree, and then add and blend in 2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice. Butter a 2 quart casserole dish, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine 4 T of butter, ¼ c sugar, 1 T flour, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp salt, ¼ tsp pepper, and 1/8 tsp nutmeg in a medium mixing bowl, and beat until smooth. Add 2 T grated onion and the carrots, and blend well. Add 1 cup of milk and 3 (lightly beaten eggs), and beat until smooth. Transfer mixture into dish, and bake until it is golden and has risen, about an hour, or little less. Serve straightaway.

                            My plan is to caramelize a few onions, adding in a bit of garlic near the end of the cooking time, and add them in after the additions have been blended, mixing by hand. I also want to add some ginger to the carrot mixture. I'm also playing with the idea of adding a few spoonfuls of tomato paste to the onion and garlic (which means I would have to season that mixture a bit more). I'm also playing with the idea of using wilted spinach, which means I'd likely have to cut back on the carrot.

                            I'll taste the thing before I pour it, and, if It needs a little something, there's always curry powder, or garam masala.

                            1. re: onceadaylily

                              I used your recipe last night for a dessert to go with our braised chicken thighs, with a couple of modification. I only used 1/2 the butter and sugar in order to cut out some of the fat and calories. It was really good! Good flavor. It was pretty solid, almost the consistency of a quiche. I wonder if this is because of only using 2 T of butter? Is there any way to make it a little more like "pudding"? Thanks for the recipe.

                              1. re: Oboegal

                                I would think adding more liquid, and definitely using all the fat and sugar, but I'm not certain. I think the ratio of those two things might need more eggs as well. When it comes to baking, I just follow the formulas. You could always look at a baked pudding recipe you trust, and try using the carrots and seasonings in that.

                                And you're right, the author of the recipe might have done better to call this a quiche, but there are types of sweet-savory puddings that are fairly dense (corn pudding and bread pudding are two that come to mind), and this is one.

                                I still haven't made it yet (the boyfriend isn't crazy about carrots to begin with, and balked at 'carrot pudding', so I would up roasting them instead), so I appreciate the report. It's good to know I can cut back on the sugar and butter without losing any flavor. I might make this tonight, actually.

                          2. re: onceadaylily

                            Yup, a lot of those tips I've done in the past -- I'm on a very tight budget so being frugal isn't a new concept to me at all! :)

                            I'll only buy meat if I know where it comes from (personal conscience issue), so I think any dish that's meat-centric is out, since local meat tends to be pricier. At $6 or $7 per pound for a roast, four 4-oz servings knocks out way more than half my budget for ten. Now if it's meat-as-seasoning, like a ham hock or bacon, or meat as a small portion of the dish, like ground meat in pad thai or something, I think it'll work.

                            1. re: LauraGrace

                              One simple dish off the top of my head is fried potatoes and eggs. Simple and can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

                              Peel and slice potatoes into 1/2" cubes, place them in a skillet with olive or cannola oil, when the potatoes are about done, add 2 eggs and continue in the skillet until the eggs are done. Figure 2 small potatoes and 2 eggs per serving.

                              1. re: Gary627

                                To make them more quickly, try steaming the cubes until nearly fork-tender before frying. Enhanced greatly by a tiny bit of fried onion bits and red pepper bits and paprika for color and flavor. I used up onion ends and red pepper ends by chopping and sauteing for potatoes. or chicken strips.

                              2. re: LauraGrace

                                Laura I agree about only buying meat if I know where it comes from, and we too are on a tight budget. We don't eat a lot of meat, but I always watch out for the sales at Whole Foods (don't know if you have one by you). For example this week chicken is $1.29 a pound. So a 4 pound chicken is a little over $5...I'm planning to buy one and make a stock - then use the meat as an addition to Indian curry, or plain rice with melted cheese. Not a bad deal in the end...and fits within our budget...

                                1. re: lovessushi

                                  I would think that if you were on a tight budget, you wouldn't buy at Whole Foods, they're just too expensive. For instance, your chicken example, $1.29 is far more expensive than the $0.89 per lb I can buy chicken at my neighborhood grocery. i'm talking whole chicken, it appeared you were too.

                                  As someone that was raised poor, I find you and Laura's personal conscience issues interesting. We simply couldn't afford such issues.

                                  However, a vegetarian or near vegetarian menu is cheap. After all, poor people all over the world eat lentils beans and rice. The super poor have to give up the rice.

                                  1. re: Hank Hanover

                                    A useful saying is "Eat meat as a condiment". My husband was in school the first seven years we were married, now sixty years ago. With a teensy amount of meat and a whole lot of pasta, plus whatever else I could scrounge, I made dishpan-size casseroles that we survived on.

                                    1. re: Hank Hanover

                                      My view is that the poor the world over are doing their part to be green and have a small footprint in most ways, whether they realize it or not. I have been there, and agree that it is a bit of a luxury to have a conscience as a consumer ... and I think everyone who can afford to would be well-advised to acquire one :) I find it to be the luxury most worth indulging.

                                    2. re: lovessushi

                                      if you make a stock, the chicken flavor will be in the stock, not the meat anymore.

                                      1. re: alkapal

                                        You are right but I have found a way to split the difference. I cook pieces of chicken in a little more than enough water to cook a big bag of noodles, with a rib of celery and an onion for flavor, for one hour by the clock. This is long enough to give me a stock but not ruin the meat. I then remove the chicken and dump in the noodles, which totally absorb the stock in cooking---don't drain them. Add the chicken meat to the noodles and you have a large quantity of chicken and noodles, which can be frozen in several meal-size portions.

                                        1. re: Querencia

                                          sounds good. i love those egg noodles cooked in stock.

                                        2. re: alkapal

                                          You're right, but the reverse works- make the chicken, then the stock.
                                          I roasted a chicken the other night, took most of the meat off the bones,, then simmered the remainder for a couple of hours with the deglazed goodies from the roasting pan. I got a quart+ of tasty stock studded with the crushed remnants of vegetables from under the chicken, plus enough also-tasty chicken for sandwiches for five hungry boys.

                                          1. re: sccrash

                                            I did this with chicken wings, cheap at Costco. Made a broth from them enough to cook the meat, kept the broth, stripped the meat off the bones (DH loves the skin, me not so much), set it aside. The meat is very moist and flavorful. DH adds it to the soup below to bulk it up.It can also be used in stir fries, added at the very end as it is already cooked. Or put in salads, or mixed with mayo for chicken salad sandwiches. No waste!
                                            Prepared chickpeas from dried yesterday. Added the chickpeas to the stock,with thin sliced onion, thin sliced carrots, parsley, thin sliced leeks, brought to boil and cooked til veggies were soft. Added rice sticks. Soup for 4 days. NOM NOM NOM!

                                    3. re: onceadaylily

                                      onceadaylily,
                                      re: "Some part of the chicken is always on sale,"

                                      there's a soy-braised chicken I like that costs between 50 and 65 cents per serving for the meat (2 drumsticks per person). The recipe is at http://cyngularity.blogspot.com/2010/...

                                      My supermarket usually has drumsticks on sale from time to time for between 79 cents and 99 cents per pound, which is why this dish is so cheap.

                                      It is even cheaper if you simmer some hard boiled eggs in the braising liquid and serve each person 1 drumstick plus 1 egg along with a side of rice and a vegetable or salad. The braising liquid, which also can be used to cook tofu, can be frozen and re-used.

                                      1. re: 8itall

                                        perfect timing 8itall - I just bought 3 - 10# packs of chicken leg quarters. @ 59 cents per lb - This will be a perfect recipe to go off of. I'll have to see if I can bring a meal in at the challenge cost. I wonder if or which pantry items are considered free.

                                        1. re: 8itall

                                          Thanks, 8itall, I've bookmarked that. I buy two packs of chicken and two dozen eggs per market trip.

                                          I used to go out of my way to make hundred-year eggs, before I realized that I like eggs dipped in soy sauce just as much (well, almost as much). And the boyfriend likes soy sauce on pretty much anything, so this looks like an interesting meal to try out. This would go well with rice and cabbage (another frugal, yet nutritious, item).

                                          1. re: onceadaylily

                                            I think the OP specified humanely raised meat only.

                                            1. re: jvanderh

                                              I know, but 8itall directed the recipe in my direction.

                                              And I wouldn't quite rule out the dish for the OP. If she bought a whole chicken (which is cheaper, even for the pricier happy meat), she could split it up herself into the needed parts for the dish. The eggs, rice, and another cheap side would keep the costs down. And it would be easy enough to sub in the kinds of meats she thought more cost-effective, and bump up the veggies.

                                              1. re: onceadaylily

                                                Hmm, good point. Plus, as much as we try to only buy humanely raised, grass fed, organic etc., we just can't always afford to pass up really low prices. Sometimes it just has to be bought, even if it is from a giant farm that isn't normally my first or second choice.

                                          2. re: 8itall

                                            Your comment about adding eggs to the chicken takes me to Ethiopia where they commonly cook a Wat (stew) with check and add shelled hard-cooked eggs to it. It's an amazingly tasty combination as thee gravy is quite spicy and the egg soaks it up.

                                            1. re: fedora

                                              I'd try Wat. Do you have a recipe? If not, I can try to look one up.
                                              Lately I've been cooking Indian food at home because of the vegetables and different types of lentils. The kids like the seasoning as long as I take it easy on the heat, and we minimize the expensive meat purchases.
                                              Ma po tofu also works out well if you don't use too much meat. But organic tofu isn't cheap either, so it's not the cheapest meal we've eaten. I've bought dried organic soy beans and made cheap tofu from scratch, but it takes time and makes an extra mess in the kitchen to clean up.

                                        2. re: LauraGrace

                                          Breakfast for dinner is always a great idea. Pancakes or waffles are cheap and easy to prepare. If you can get day old challah 1/2 price or bake your own, you cold make a stuffed french toast casserole.

                                          I recently saw a recipe for quiche cups that used cutouts of tortillas/wraps in muffin tins as the crust. Much healthier than a typical piecrust.

                                          1. re: cheesecake17

                                            Why bother with a crust when you can have a crustless quiche?

                                            Sub in your fillings of choice:
                                            http://bakingbites.com/2008/02/crustl...

                                            1. re: blinknoodle

                                              different presentation.. and LauraGrace mentioned she was feeding nursing moms and burly guys.. so maybe they could use the extra carbs and calories

                                          2. re: LauraGrace

                                            Brinner is a tradition @ my house. everyone looks forward to it.

                                          3. re: Emme

                                            Regarding the breakfast-for-dinner idea, try using agave instead of maple syrup. Real maple syrup is too expensive and fake maple syrup just tastes like watery corn syrup to me. Although, when I was little, my grandmother would top our pancakes with straight corn syrup, right out of the microwave. Our parents didn't know but it was pretty good and cheaper than maple syrup!

                                            And, my ideas are:

                                            Lentil dahl using split peas, buying them in bulk is pretty cheap and you can just add a chopped carrot, onion and some celery, spices too. You could serve it over hard red winter wheat, cooked similarly to rice only with more water and for a longer time. It is a nice change from rice and not too pricey.

                                            We live in a small town and our market has an area for marked-down produce. We can often buy veggies for next to nothing and they are not that old or damaged. You could ask the person in the produce section if they ever mark down produce that is not super new or perfect.

                                            Grow your own greens! Maybe you all could start a garden and each person pitches in a bit towards the water bill? I know friends who are doing that, more and more as the economy continues to be wimpy. Anyway, I grow tons of lettuces and greens (heirloom loose leaf, mesclun, herbs, bok choy, mustard greens) and I also grow beets, turnips and radishes and use those greens too. I like the beet greens raw and the turnip and radish greens cooked as they can be hairy sometimes.

                                            You could go ou of foraging expeditions and collect edible wilds. My favourites are purslane (great added to salads), mallow (use the seeds like peas or cook them to thicken stews like okra does), lamb's quarters (Chenopodium album or alba, I forget) and dandelion. BUT, I would make sure you do your research first as some wild plants have look-alikes that are toxic. I've been doing this for a long time so I'm very familiar with what to eat and what to stay away from. You could check out a book at the library or go online for some tips.

                                            Beans and rice are delicious and inexpensive. You can get good deals on bulk grains and so on. Try mixing it up with different varieties. I love garbanzos, pintos (super cheap), aduki, navy and great northern. Short grain brown rice does not taste the same as long grain brown rice (well, not to me). They all taste different to me!--basmati, jasmine, wheat, sushi rice. all those other grains like quinoa and buckwheat are worth trying and not too pricey, plus, they go a long way. If you add even just one rasher of bacon (turkey, regular, veggetarian) to a bean/rice dish, the taste becomes much more complex and pleasant. If you let the mix stick to the bottom of the pot and even scorch a bit and then mix it in, the flavour becomes more meaty which can help out when meat is scarce due to expense.

                                            I hope some ideas help!

                                            1. re: MinkeyMonkey

                                              I really like the spirit of this thread

                                              Minkey in the spirit of your forage party, about 12 years ago in SF the food columnist for either the Weekly or the Guardian, I forget, I think it was Stephanie Rosenbaum, did a column where the challenge was to create a dinner using only things foraged on public land (other than pantry staples of course), she found wild fennel growing everywhere; rare patches of blackberries in GG Park; the (ubiquitous) garden snails there are actually escapees of ones brought by Basque settlers in the 19th century for food; mussels at the beach by Seal Rock (not sure of the legality in that) and assorted wild greens. fun piece, wish I could provide a link.

                                              1. re: hill food

                                                They didn't harvest a duck, goose or pigeon so common in Golden gate park?

                                                Oh I wonder if there is a recipe for sand crabs. It would take a lot of em.

                                                1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                  eeew, I had pigeons living under my bedroom window near Union Sq. for a year and I have yet to go back to squab!

                                                  maybe if the crabs just molted they'd stew nicely.

                                                    1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                      visited a Filipino friend once, her dad hadn't caught anything surf casting so he was eating his steamed sand crab bait by hooking it out with a bent nail.

                                                  1. re: MinkeyMonkey

                                                    Just a note on foraging. I would be very careful to not pick from places where pesticides and herbicides have been used. Also, along the edges of roadways the plants absorb a lot of the gunk from traffic.

                                                    Another thing, be sure to get permission before foraging on any private land. I don't mind sharing, but I get really annoyed to find people on our farm harvesting watercress, purslane, plantains, blackberries, wild rosehips, ginsing, dandelions, ramps, fruit from our fruit trees and whatever else takes their fancy without ever asking us if it is OK. We also had people come fish all of our trout, and many of the bluegills and bass. That is stealing!

                                                    1. re: decolady

                                                      good points and I couldn't agree more on the private land issue. we usually have bumper crops of blackberries, but they're well off the road so really only us and the nearest neighbor knows about them, we'll pick all we can stand and then give nabes a ring to help themselves to the rest. one would never do that out here, a good way to get shot.

                                                      although a friend in SF was commuting to and from Menlo Park and noticed the bus stop was under a Meyer lemon tree and the yard was littered with them, so without trespassing put a few in his knapsack. I'd say that's sort of acceptable as they were obviously not being collected and private property was never entered.

                                                      1. re: hill food

                                                        It's typically fair game if it's overhanging, even if it's growing on public property. That's in a lot of city ordinances, although some, I think, forbid the use of ladders or other equipment. Just whatever you can reach up and grab.

                                                        1. re: hill food

                                                          Oh, yes. I agree it is acceptable to forage like that. I've been a forager since my grandmother took me looking for wild asparagus as a little girl and it is a time-honoured tradition. But when you open gates, climb fences and such, that is not OK. It's the trespassing on private property that's the real issue for me.

                                                          1. re: decolady

                                                            i suppose that you have put up "no trespassing" signs?

                                                            here's one that i'd put around the property: Bilingual Private Property No Trespassing Violators Prosecuted Sign

                                                            http://www.stopsignsandmore.com/p-198...

                                                            1. re: alkapal

                                                              Ah yes. We immediately put up no trespassing signs. Haven't had any problems in several years now.

                                                              There is one family that comes to forage watercress that I just love. Grandparents who bring their grandson. One day they knocked on the door and asked would it be OK if they picked some of the watercress in the creek. I told them yes, that was fine. They don't come very often, but when they do they always harvest a couple of bags for me. Works out very nicely.

                                                              1. re: decolady

                                                                that's how it should be! ;-)).

                                                                my brother in law had some key lime thieves last year come and strip his tree of every key lime. bold, i tell ya!

                                                                1. re: alkapal

                                                                  I actually counted my Mangos on my trees this year!!!!!!, same thing a guy asked me if he could gather some, and said he would pick the highest up ones, and asked me how many I wanted him to pick for me........No problem!!!!!

                                                                  1. re: ospreycove

                                                                    funny how far just a little conversation will get you.

                                                                    decolady: out here (currently the Ozarks) we've been coming here for 40+ years and I just recently noticed there's a "tag" convention of spraying a swipe of lavender (lavender?!?) paint on your gate or wherever which is code or "tag" for "no trespassing" cheaper and easier than signs I s'pose.

                                                                2. re: decolady

                                                                  I fondly remember working polo ponies in the grapefruit orchards that surrounded my friend's polo ranch in the Coachella valley. we would always come back with our shirts stuffed with grapefruits :)

                                                            2. re: hill food

                                                              Re foraging, if you are lucky enough to live where old houses are being torn down to make way for new construction, check out their yards (there is usually a piece of time between humans moving out and house coming down). You may find crabapples, a rhubarb bed, a blackberry bramble, a black walnut tree, or even asparagus (of which a bed can last a half-century). Old timers typically grew edibles around the house. I once made 21 jars of blackberry jam from berries found in such a venue. PS, if the place is truly abandoned you can also dig up some nice things and plant them in your own yard, saving them from the bulldozers and providing yourself with a lifetime of, say, rhubarb.

                                                              1. re: Querencia

                                                                That is something that I should do more of, I always think of the woods or fields but old abandoned houses is genius! I have a little beach plum planted outside my back door, it came from a center island in the road at my old house; it's only been a couple of years but I have high hopes.

                                                      2. Check the markdown shelves at your supermarket. I always go to those first. The other day I got three 1# packages of sliced button mushroomw for a total of $1.50. Jacques Pepin is a big fan of older button mushrooms - he says they have the best flavor. They needed to be cooked right away, but can now be frozen for use in omelets, sauces, and soup. I never buy deli meats at the counter unless there's an exceptionally great sale, but I buy the prepackaged ends, both meat and cheese, every time I shop. I can usually get an idea beforehand what they will have, based on what the deli sale items are that week. This week sliced roast beef is on sale so I will probably be able to get thick end slices, which I will slice up and use with the mushrooms for stroganoff. Usually I cube thicker deli ends and use them for soups and chef's salads.

                                                        26 Replies
                                                        1. re: greygarious

                                                          The ends of deli meat! Really? Awesome! I consider myself well versed in all manner of frugal strategies, but you've taught me something new today, greygarious!

                                                          1. re: LauraGrace

                                                            I particularly like the garlicky crust of deli roast beef, and they cut off a good half inch or more from the end of the roast before putting it on the slicing machine. They also stop slicing that far from the other end. So you can either cube those pieces or slice them thinly on an extreme diagonal. Ditto for roast turkey breast. Sometimes they goof and start with slices that are too thick - like 1/4 inch or more. Those will wind up in the ends packages, too. A while back I wound up with pristine Italian loaf (something I'd never had) that way. It was spicier than I liked, so I posted here for suggestions and followed one, which was to mix it in the food processor with cream cheese, mustard, and sweet onion. It made an absolutely delicious spread for hors d'oeuvres and sandwiches. So now I do that with mixed Italian cold cuts. Another one I look for is salami, which I thin-slice and sautee to render. Tastier and less fatty than bacon. Really good with pasta, pesto, and cheese. Cheese ends are always available - usually mostly American, with some Swiss and provolone. I use those for mac&cheese.

                                                            My supermarket didn't used to pre-pack and I assume they do it now because having to dig out ends and hold them up for customer approval is time-consuming considering how cheap the stuff is - and they can stick in the few odd, mangled pieces of this and that when they do mixed cold cuts. Stuff no one would choose. On a recent trip the only ham end package they had looked a little off, so I asked if they had any not yet packed up - they did and I got a nice fresh piece. I assume they pack the ends after hours, or before the store opens in the morning, so they generate new ends during the day.

                                                            1. re: greygarious

                                                              You're lucky. I never see the meat ends at my market (but, possibly, they are snatched up by the Polish and Russian mamas who seem to have a knack for arriving at our market when such things go out). The most I've been able to score are cheese ends. They are all lumped together in the package, and there is always a huge hunk of horseradish cheese, which we always think we'll use, but never do (it's overwhelming enough to make us shake our heads and laugh when we sample it yet again). But there is always a nice hunk of meunster or two, and we quickly learned that we could take the package to the counter and ask about any not readily identifiable chunks.

                                                              You make me feel a little braver about asking the butchers for other bits (meat, I mean), even if they do look so battle-weary by the time I get there.

                                                              1. re: onceadaylily

                                                                Sometimes you have to ask the deli guys if they've got any on hand or if there's a designated day of the week when they package and display them. At my supermarket I regularly get the ends and scraps of high-end meats like prosciutto and smoked salmon for a fraction of the usual price, usually around $7 a pound. They keep in the fridge for forever and are in fine shape to be added in small quantities to sauces.

                                                                1. re: everybodyever

                                                                  I have a market trip tomorrow, so this gives me something else to look forward to (besides picking up my first squash of the season). If I could get a hunk of proscuitto at a discount, I would be a happy, happy girl.

                                                          2. re: greygarious

                                                            Yes, ask about those deli ends. I have often seen them being trashed at one of our local markets!!! What a waste of good food. They could give it to a food bank, if nothing else. I ask for them whenever I shop there. Most of the time they give them to me for free.

                                                            1. re: decolady

                                                              Too bad about the waste, but on the other hand, I am envious, since I pay $2/pound.

                                                            2. re: greygarious

                                                              Deli ends for both meat and cheese used to be easier to come by, but I think a lot of places now use them in their own salads.

                                                              I've had good luck at buying sale items at Sprouts or finding deals on veggies at 99 cent only stores. When I first moved to Fort Worth I was really broke and I existed on my weekly pan of roasted vegetables. I'd find a wide assortment of veggies either on sale or from 99 cent only and toss them with olive oil, fresh garlic, and an assortment of fresh herbs I was growing on my balcony. I could eat the roasted veggies as is, or toss them with eggs for added protein, or stuff them into a tortilla. They could last a week in the fridge but I'd finish them in less time.

                                                              1. re: Barbara76137

                                                                Any Chicagoans here? Treasure Island stores trim the crooked edges off their fancy smoked salmon and sell them cheap in little plastic boxes---look at the end of the meat counter.

                                                                1. re: Querencia

                                                                  Fairway here in NY does that too; even if I'm having them slice me some, I always grab a tub too. It's a nice combo of the 6 or 8 varieties they sell.

                                                              2. re: greygarious

                                                                Speaking of button mushrooms, I learned about roasting them from cooks illustrated for a delicious roasted vegetable lasagna I made and they ended up tasting divinely rich and nutty. I will look through my books and post the how to if you are interested.

                                                                1. re: greygarious

                                                                  How do you get the Deli to sell those to you? I have found most Delis use them to the very end

                                                                  1. re: fedora

                                                                    The supermarkets I frequent have packages of ends in the refrigerated cases next to the deli service counter - in with the pepperoni sticks and packaged cheeses. Before that, you asked what ends were available and the clerk would hold up pieces for you to choose or not. There are always ends. The first 1/4 to 1/2 inch of cheese, ham, or processed meats; nearly an inch thickness of roast beef - I have never seen less than a 6" long slice of roast beef being cut on the slicer, and you'd have to do a lot of slicing before you got a 6" long slice. Ditto for turkey breast. Also, sometimes they goof and start a roast beef from the side rather than end, or cut too-thick slices of meat or cheese before realizing it - all these wind up sold as ends.

                                                                    1. re: greygarious

                                                                      Sappington Farmer's Market...a little local grocery w/a great cheese department...sells cheese ends, which are variable, cheap, and great for beer/cheese soup and mac and cheese, anything where you like a blend of cheeses. When they have 'em, I grab em. I've never seen deli ends...but you can bet I'm going to be asking about them.

                                                                      1. re: tonifi

                                                                        hey thanks for the local tip - have to check them out - hadn't heard of them before

                                                                    2. re: fedora

                                                                      I'm not sure I would want to eat deli ends. I'm not a germophobe, particularly, but with the scares about Listeria, I don't think I would want to eat something that's been handled that much and is old to boot. Maybe if I could cook the ends in soup or something -- that would feel different. I also am not such a fan of deli to begin with . . . .

                                                                      1. re: somervilleoldtimer

                                                                        Listeria comes from the factory, not from hands.

                                                                    3. re: greygarious

                                                                      A couple of months ago, my deli had imported proscuitto ends for sale for $4 a lb, I bought a bunch to chop up and just used the last in an asparagus quiche. They were really big. Wish I had some left for the coming holidays! But had fun thinking of things to jazz up with them.

                                                                        1. re: alkapal

                                                                          You're right (as always); I just found another baggie full in the back of the freezer. Time for some a la vodka!

                                                                          1. re: coll

                                                                            i just had prosciutto yesterday with burrata, arugula, basil and cherry tomatoes with italian bread. some of the prosciutto you have might be good in a little phyllo or puff pastry "pocket" or egg roll wrapper with maybe some fontina or mozz, or ricotta and some mushroom, deep fried or baked. that is super low-fat, huh?

                                                                            1. re: alkapal

                                                                              OMG stop! I'm TRYING to be on a New Years healthy diet ;-) The salad is a good idea though.

                                                                              1. re: coll

                                                                                one "dieting" trick is grating cheese and spreading it out. that is effective to give flavor, but without the calorie and fat density. take a one inch cube of cheddar, for example, and shred it vs. just eating as is. you'll be surprised. of course, that doesn't work for burrata.

                                                                                1. re: alkapal

                                                                                  I often grate romano over whatever I'm serving, it adds flavor but no need for mass quantities.

                                                                                  1. re: coll

                                                                                    yes, i'm a big fan of pec rom's bold flavors. i have a little recipe for tomatoes that takes advantage of it. http://www.chow.com/recipes/13591-alk...

                                                                                    1. re: alkapal

                                                                                      That sounds wonderful. I try to remember to grate some on any tossed salad I make, not enough that anyone can identify it but it adds so much flavor.

                                                                    4. Though it is rice, risotto with seasonal vegetables.
                                                                      Soups and stews, pho
                                                                      Pad thai
                                                                      spinach souffle