Poor people food (for food snobs)

There is, I kid you not, cheesy lentil bake in the oven.

How did it come to this?

I have got to stop spending money. We have got to stop eating out. We have also got to start eating from the pantry instead of hitting the grocery store for fancy expensive ingredients. But I don’t wanna!

I need recipes for cheap (but fresh and tasty and unprocessed!) food a man will eat too. I have this More With Less cookbook that makes me feel like a dumpster diver who doesn’t deserve to have meat and cheese, like, together. Unfortunately, like most cookbooks, it lacks a review mechanism like Allrecipes has. I fear for the cheesy lentil bake. Especially since my onions were rotten and I’m going to throw in some frozen soup vegetables because I don’t have anything fresh in the fridge. Don’t ask me why I seem to have at some point purchased a bag of soup vegetables that includes frozen tomatoes, because it’s weirding me out.

The thing is, I cook a lot. I love food. We eat out all the time. I do hate coming home after work and having to cook some depressing lentil thing (nothing against lentils in general), and I’m not good at eating leftovers. I also have trouble with going to the grocery store and spending a bunch of money on one awesome dinner, and then not eating the leftovers. (Trying to do the once a week grocery shopping thing, and I’ve been doing that Grocery Game stock up coupon thing, but it’s not my habit.)

I don’t mind recipes that take a long time - I really love all-day stuff, but it isn’t practical for coming home after work. I do have a fancy fuzzy logic rice cooker, a pressure cooker, and a crock pot. I hate nasty meat. I don’t want to see uggy bits of fat hanging out on my dinner, but I also don’t mind doing a bit of prep work. Generally speaking I don’t mind, like, cutting up a whole chicken - but it really seems like we never actually eat the dark parts. Also, I know a lot about cooking - this isn’t a new college kid “what do I do with this strange raw meat?” thing. In May I’ll start getting boxes of random seasonal produce from a farm share.

Ideally I’d like good dependable recipes I can make with pantry stuff - things go bad a lot at my house because I’m flighty and don’t stick to my plans very well. I’d also like help with leftovers and weekly menu planning so things WON’T go bad. (This is cooking for two - me and Himself.) And freezer cooking.

Update - I just stirred the lentil bake. Yeah, it looks like you think it does.

My wife and I make Shepherd’s Pie in double batches, one to eat, one to freeze. Definitely fills the above criteria. For quick lunches we make spaghetti with olive oil and fresh Parmesan - Parmesan cheese is the one “expensive” ingredient we always have on hand, the kids love it. A few herb plants are cheap to buy and easy to maintain so you can have fresh basil, etc all the time.

I do have fresh herbs around, and a huge collection of excellent Penzey’s spices, FYI. We do angel hair with butter and parm/asiago sometimes.

You have a crockpot and a pressure cooker. That’s all you need for wonderful, cheap food. Think stews, soups and chilis. Cheap cuts of beef and whole chickens cook up wonderfully in these devices. Start hitting the local farm stands for fresh vegetables. Hit Costco for massive amounts of chick and beef. Break out the Penzey’s, and go to town.

For really good, really cheap recipes, ask around your local church Ladies Group or local bookstore for locally-produced cookbooks. I have a couple my mother gave me that are 50-60 years old, and the recipes are still just as tasty as they were then (good and bad). Modernize them to your liking with spices. Or dig out the recipe books that say things like “Italian Country Cooking” on the cover.

Make large batches and freeze whenever possible. I don’t recall if S.C. has Trader Joe’s, but wine adds so much to a dish, and Two-Buck Chuck won’t break the bank when you cook with it.

I’ll offer a classic bean and meat dish named by my daughter. It’s highly adaptable, does well cooked briefly or for a long period of time, and has beer in it. The possibilities are left to you.

Jail Food

2 cans beans, any type (pinto, black, black eyed peas, red, kidney, etc…)
1 pkg sausage or ground turkey, seasoned liberally
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 onions, chopped small
1-2 bay leaves
½ green or sweet red pepper chopped small (optional)
1 bottle beer

Spice mix- up to ½ tsp each of
Chili powder
Garlic powder
Onion powder
Old Bay or Cajun seasoning

Brown meat in saucepan over medium high heat. Add onion, pepper and garlic and cook over medium until vegetables are softened. Add beans, spices and beer. Simmer for 30 minutes or all day, adding liquids and spices as desired

I had a financial crisis a couple of years back and had to start cooking on the cheep (after I realized I couldn’t actually live on raman noodles). I made a simple cheep menu for me and my then girlfriend (now soon to be wife) to help get us through. It is flexible and all the ingediants play off each other so you don’t have to do a lot of expensive grocery trips.
Ok, this first one doesn’t 100% meet your criteria, because it requiers Kraft Mac and cheese, but I spent a good bit of time in 2006 with almost no money and the following is tastey, fast, filling, surprisingly nutritious, and (if you use coupons) you can feed 4 people with it for about $3.50 and have leftovers.

White Trash Caserole:
1 box Kraft Mac and Cheese delux (with the cheese pouch, not the powdered cheese mix)
2-4 cans tuna fish (depenind on how you much food you want)
any veggies you like (fresh or frozen, no canned veggies)

I think bell peppers, pea’s, onions, chopped carrots, and brocoli are what I put in most nights. I fequently just used a frozen vegetable medly or two.

Make the mac and cheese per box instructions. before you add the cheese drain the tuna and add to taste. If veggies are fresh add them now, if frozen cook them with the pasta.

Add the pouch cheese. If you like it spicy add franks red hot sauce.

It’s crazy good, I promise.

Mexican food is fantastic, fast and cheep too.

A can of pinto beans or black beans and a couple of cups of rice cooked in chicken broth instead of water with your favorite salsa stirred in is great.

I then would make burritos for days.

Mean of your choice
Rice (premade see above)
Beans 1 can
Veggies (bell peppers, onions, garlic)
Cayan Pepper
Cheese (optional)
1 can of tomatos
Flour burrito tortillas

Get your biggest pan and cook the meat in an approriate fashion (depending on the type of meat) with tomatoes. Add Veggies, add beans and tomatos. Add rice. Stir well. If too juicy at this point drain liquid and save for later. Add cheese and cayan to taste.

I think the above could be made for as little as $4 with coupons.
Enchiladas are great too:
I make them pancake style instead of rolled because it is faster. It’s also a different feel.

Vegetable oil (NOT OLIVE OIL)
corn tortillas
shredded cheese of your choosing
grilled chicken (optional)
Red Ranchero Enchilada sauce that you love (I like old el paso, but whatever)
fried egg (you heard me)
Ok so you slice and clairfy the onions (save some choped but uncooked for garnish) and you get the enchilada sauce boiling hot. Preheat your oven to 200.

You then take your oil and put about 1/4 inch into a pan (wear an apron). Take tongs and lighly (lightly) fry the tortilla. Dunk the tortilla (with the tongs) into the boiling enchilada sauce and place on a warm serving plate. Onions on top of the tortilla. Cheese (and chicken if you want) on top of the onions.

Repeat with another tortilla. Fry, dunk, stack tortilla on top of the cheesey tortilla, onions cheese. I would say 3 tortillas worth is going to be a lot of food for an average hungry adult.

For the last tortilla do not put onion on only cheese (no chicken either) ad place an over easy/medium egg on top. Cover with more cheese and stick into a 200 degree oven until the cheese is melted. Remove from oven and place just a small amount of enchilada sauce on top of the whole thing and a little raw chopped onion.


No leftovers, but I am guessing you can get a more traditional enchilada recipie for that.

Total cost for the meal (maybe) $5 if enchelada sauce is expensive. Serve with a side of beans and or rice if you really want to.
Pasta is always fast, cheep and easy. Especially if you make it all about the sauce.
I would give you a recipie, but honest to god I don’t really know what I do. I take a jar of plain sauce and add stuff till it tastes right. Usually I add cayane, oregeno, half a head of garlic, a whole onion (both chopped and sweated until they are sweet) some grilled chicked, salt and pepper and a bit of red wine. Play with it, you can’t really go wrong.
Also, seach for the old crockpot threads. There are some great cheep and easy recipies in there too.

Hope this helps. I lived off the above menu for about 5 months back when I was a struggling artist and I had about $50 a month total to feed 2 people on. It can be done.

The crockpot is your friend. The rice cooker can be a good buddy, too. Not eating leftovers is not your friend. Try packing them immediately either into work lunches or single/double serve freezer portions. Then they take the place of convenience foods, and any home cooking usually compares well to those.

You didn’t use the rotten onions, did you? If you did, my advice, based on previous gastronomic/gastrointestinal experience, is don’t eat the lentil bake.

I have the *More with Less * cookbook, too. I haven’t made a ton of stuff out of there, but don’t recall any disasters. If you have the luxury of adding good spices and olive oil to the recipes, I expect you’ll get pretty good results.

Easiest way is to layer the tortillas in a casserole dish and stack them like lasagna, but otherwise follow the recipe. Easy as hell.

Here’s one that my family loves. I’ve got a fairly picky husband, so if he likes this, it’s gotta be good.

Chicken, Rice, and Peas

[li]1 lb Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast ($1.99 on sale)[/li][li]1 Box Rice Pilaf (1 for store brand)[/li][li]1/2 Cup Instant Brown Rice (.50)[/li][li]1 Cup Frozen Peas ($.50)[/li][li]2 Cups Water (free :))[/li][li]Soy Sauce (next to nothing per serving)[/li][/ul]
[li]Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces (scissors work well for this)[/li][li]Put all ingredients except for the soy sauce into a large casserole dish[/li][li]Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30-60 minutes or until most of the water is absorbed[/li][li]Top with soy sauce to taste[/li][/ol]

Makes about 4-6 servings at about $1 or less per serving.

This is a pretty cool website. You click on what you already have in the fridge or cupboard, and it suggests recipes.

This is a pretty cool website. You click on what you already have in the fridge or cupboard, and it suggests recipes.

Oh, no, no! God no! We did not eat the rotten onions.

The lentil bake was… both better and worse than I expected. Better because since I added a bunch of tasty spices the flavor was pretty good. Worse because the lentils were kind of… crunchy. Himself said “This is good, but it’s like something you’d get at somebody else’s house. You know, when somebody else’s mom cooks it and it’s not anything like what you eat at home.” He was, as usual, dead on.

Unfortunately, because I have an AWESOME tuna casserole, he will not eat canned/pouched tuna. (He only gave tuna steaks a try because I didn’t tell him what they were.) Even albacore, he just gets turned off by the smell.

Pot Roast

2 lb of chuck roast
2 large cans of whole tomatoes
1 thingy of celery, cut up
1 onion, cut up
1 bag of carrots
1 package of onion soup mix.
3 large idaho potatoes

Dump them all (not potatoes) into a crock pot and cook on high for 4 hours. 30 minutes before being done, throw a few potatoes in a pot and make mashed potatoes.
Red pepper and sausage pasta

1 lb of pasta
1 large can of diced tomatoes
1 regular sized can of tomato sauce
1 small can of tomato paste
2 red bell peppers
1 onion
1 package of italian sausage
Various spices - oregano, garlic, whatever tastes good.

Cut veggies and sausage - saute until no more pink in sausage. Dump in tomatoes and add spices.

Both of these recipes make a ton of food, which makes them really great for freezing. Plus, chuck roast and canned tomatoes are often on sale.

When I didn’t have a lot of money available, there always were cheap and elegant options available: whole roast chicken with roasted root vegetables (total maybe $5-$6 to feed at least two people–what food snob doesn’t eat the dark parts? That’s the best part!), slow cooked stews made from tough and cheap cuts of meat (pork shoulder, beef brisket, pot roast, etc.), lots of stuff with smoked meats and legumes or potatoes. You can cook A LOT of great food for not a lot of money.

Here’s a recent thread on pulled pork. For $15 or so, you can feed a couple of people for the better part of a week. And it freezes wonderfully, so if you don’t like eating the same thing three days in a row (and I don’t either), put it away and you’ll be able to enjoy the same pork goodness for at least two months.

Here’s my recipe for chicken paprikash, and here’s another one for beef goulash with spaetzle. These can be considered downright elegant in certain circles. Once again, you can feed yourself silly for about $10 or so.

Eastern European peasant food is always good for this sort of stuff.

Who doesn’t like bean soup? Get some dried navy beans, onion, and a hunk of smoked meat of your choice, and you’re on your way to some great soup. Scroll down to “US Senate Bean Soup” for the basic recipe I use. Sometimes I’ll add a rib or two of celery and/or carrot as well. But the recipe as is is great. Ham hocks are my preference, but I’ve also made this soup with smoked turkey leg as well. Use whatever well-smoked piece of meat you can find for a good price.

Basically, anything involving tougher cuts of meat, root vegetables, legumes, and pasta will do well in keeping the budget down.

I notice you mentioned having a large collection of Penzey’s spices. Those cost an arm and a leg, and even though I really enjoy cooking, there’s no way I can justify those when I can buy grocery store spices for so much less money. It’s just a matter of setting priorities – slashing your budget in some areas may add to it in others. Look for sales and deals, too. I eat a lot of pasta, but I stock up on it when any brand goes on sale for two pounds for $1 (as opposed to the usual one pound for $1), and I buy multiple jars of Classico pasta sauce (usually $2.70 each) when they run a “buy one, get one free” deal, to avoid having to eat Ragu or the store brand.

For more affordable but still good spices, Whole Foods lets you buy just what you need by weight. You also aren’t paying for packaging every time.

I agree with you on the pasta thing. And while I think Classico makes a great sauce if you can afford it (4 cheese in particular) I think you can get great results buy buying cheep generic sauce and adding to it. If you think of the cheep sauce as a base and add some red wine and spices and other tasteyness you can end up with a better sauce for the same price or less.

Spices are your friend.

When I was strapped for cash I would get a can of tomatoes, and whatever veg was in the freezer or fridge put them all together in a pot and experiment with spices. If I was feeling particularly energetic I would fry up some flatbread as well.

You said that you can cook, so use this as a way to make your own recipes. Some of my best meals have been from just looking at what I had and experimenting.

Sure, some meals won’t be great, but you can discover some great combinations doing this.

And even grocery store spices are way overpriced, for the most part. Add to that they’re also not terribly good half the time. If you live in a town with any sort of Middle Eastern or Asian ethnic population, go down to one of the local shops and you can get practically sacks of spice for what you’d pay for at the typical grocery. (For example, I have a half pound of cloves, and they only cost me two dollars. To contrast, if you buy in bulk, a pound of McCormick’s cloves costs around $25.) And they’re quite often of much better quality.

I’ve read that spices occasionally get “stale,” or lose some of their flavor if they sit around too long. I go through things like garlic powder, red pepper flakes, oregano, and basil quite regularly, but I’ve had the same little containers of ginger and curry powder for a year or two, and would hate to end up wasting larger quantities.