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2009: Eating Really Really Cheap


kutsu
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I've been looking more at the dried beans available at my grocery store since pasta is getting more expensive (the cheapest was $1.55 for a bag of macaroni [i don't know why the same weight of pastas cost so much more - 12 oz bags go for anywhere between $1.55 to 2.69 depending on the shape, but that's another story]). I noticed they started carrying dried chickpeas. I've never cooked them before; what would be the best way to do them? I'm looking for a good side dish or base for braise-y meat dishes we seem to cook most in the winter.

Dried chickpeas are delicious....a long soak (overnight) is best, as the little devils can take forever to cook without proper hydration. I buy in bulk, cook with little/no seasoning, and freeze in smaller portions rather than spend the dough on canned. Right now I'm stuck on chickpeas cooked with tamarind...absolutely delicious, and since I discovered tamarind paste in a jar, even easier. Homemade hummus will make you wonder why anyone bothers to buy the prepared stuff, and chickpeas are great tucked into any mixed vegetable soup or stew.

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Oopsie; the author of How to eat Supper is Lynne Rosetto Kasper. Give me a choice and I WILL spell it wrong!

Also, I love chickpeas in a salad with a nice Italian dressing. WAAAY good :laugh:

"Commit random acts of senseless kindness"

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Sorry to hear about your predicament. Just getting through a period of limited resources due to prolonged academic training. Most of the tips I might have for an a limited food budget have already been stated but:

a) Asian markets are a godsend, particularly for fish. I can still buy a small fish, white bass or rockfish, that will feed two adults (with some rice maybe a vegetable) for less than 3 bucks.

b) Once a week is omelet night, and once a week is a curry. Both help use up odds and ends from the vegetable drawer that would otherwise go bad. And both are cheap, <1.00 -2.00 for two adults.

c) Scootin' long the Shore is an old Maine term for a meal made of hash browns. Cast iron skillet, yukon golds, knob of butter. Low heat for 30 min no turning, higher heat for 40 min, higher still for 20 min. It's fabulous. And cheap. Usually round it out with some cukes or pickles or a salad on the side. <1.00 for two adults if you buy the potatos in big bags.

d) I buy whole chickens, take off the breasts and make cultlets for chicken marsala or piccata, then stew the legs and make stock from the backs and wings along with some chicken feet. Half the stock gets eaten the night it's made as Matzoah ball soup or chicken noodle, the other half gets saved for cooking stock.

e) I like mashed potatos or polenta with the chicken. I just use plain ol' cornmeal for the polenta which sells at the Asian market for about 50 cents for a 12 oz bag. Never really broken down the cost, but I would guess cost is about 14.00 for three meals for two adults and some chicken stock.

f) I do a lot of pasta and risotto as main dishes. For pasta I like aglio olio (if I have a good block of cheese), carbonarra, caremelized onion, vodka sauce, canned italian tuna (less than a buck a can at Costco, and it's not bad), marinara with squid or blue crabs or 40 - 50 count scallops (clams would be great, but I don't often find em cheap), tomato with canelli beans and arugala. All the pasta dinners come in pretty cheap, even the ones with seafood, <2.00 - 6.00 for two adults.

g) Pork dumplings with napa and scallion made with pre-made (yes I should be ashamed) wanton skins make for a cheap dinner and make awesome lunch leftovers.

h) I find a small indoor herb garden to be economical. I grow sage, italian parsley and I always promise miself I'm going to grow cilantro but never get around to it.

i) Costco is nice for some staples, but only makes sense if you can buy in bulk and have space to store things.

Sorry for the long post.

Hope things get better.

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Excuse any repetition, I didn't read all the other posts.

I had a job as a co-op student that paid $2.10/hour (in 1979). About $300/month after taxes. Basement apartment was $175/month, so had to get by on $125 for the rest of everything for the month.

Home cooking saved me. Homemade bread was great, a taste treat and seems like it was about 15 cents a loaf 30 years ago! I was a righteous follower of grocery store sales. Get the Wednesday newspaper in most areas to get grocery store fliers advertising sale items. I'd go right to the cheap proteins and produce, seemed like every week you could get a great deal on chicken, turkey, chuck roast, ground beef, etc.

Made big batches of chili (lots o' beans). Always some veggies on sale too.

Saw the recommendation for ethnic markets. Great idea and an option not available 30 years ago. Asian and Hispanic markets have great deals on staples, cheaper than grocery stores.

Good luck.

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Perhaps it helps to know you are far from alone. In fact, we've had several threads on this same topic through the years. Lots of folks looking for ideas for thrifty and still tasty eating.

I did a search for titles with the word, "budget," and found several, including this one: Eating Well on a Budget

When I'm getting down toward the end of the month, I try to 'think Asian.' Big bag of rice, some veggies, little meat.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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I have another sneaky tip. We all know it's cheaper to eat lunch out then dinner.

Check out your local ethnic lunch place - many of them serve lunch specials that are cheap and huge such as rice, pad thai, entree and soup combos - definately enough for two. I just get one as a takeout and save it for dinner. Restaurant dinner for two for $7.00! If you're extra hungry, make more rice or saute more veg to add to the meal.

“"When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"

"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"

"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully.

"It's the same thing," he said.”

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Maggie, and all the others who have lost your jobs; I'm so sorry. I've been in that boat for a while now.

I have two words, which no one has mentioned: Food Stamps.

Yes, I know, they're for "other" people - those poor ones who are always destitute - NOT!

Did you know that Food Stamps are a Federal Program, and you've been paying into it your whole working life? Just like Unemployment, you are entitled to this help. And I Never use the word "entitled".

...And it's not literally stamps any more - it's a debit card that works just like a credit card. All major stores take it. They have different ways of ringing up your purchase (some need to know that you're using the card before you swipe it). I've never been treated badly or been embarrassed because of it.

Check it out, it's well worth it.

I'm glad lala raised this topic. Hopefully your local unemployment office will have given you info on how to apply. If not, ask. There's a reason it's sometimes referred to as a "safety net" program. There are times in all of our lives when we need safety nets of sorts.


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A few more ideas...

In the spirit of not wasting anything, when you buy 1 bunch of green onions for a dish, save and plant the ends of green onions for future use. I chop the green and most of the white for use leaving about 1" white onion at the bottom and the little roots. Stick them in a little glass of water for a few days to help the roots, then plant them in pots on the patio. They grow like weeds, and when you need green onions, just go snip some in the back. I have a little forest of green onions now.

If you don't want to bake bread and your city has day-old bakery places, you can find some great deals.

Look for grocery market sales on frozen vegetables. Since they pick the vegetables at the last minute before freezing, some of these vegetables can be quite good.

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A few more ideas...

In the spirit of not wasting anything, when you buy 1 bunch of green onions for a dish, save and plant the ends of green onions for future use.  I chop the green and most of the white for use leaving about 1" white onion at the bottom and the little roots.  Stick them in a little glass of water for a few days to help the roots, then plant them in pots on the patio.  They grow like weeds, and when you need green onions, just go snip some in the back.  I have a little forest of green onions now.

Well, I will be darned! I never would have thought of that. Thanks!

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^^ I LOVE this idea! I grow salad greens in window boxes along my porch rail (when weather permits). Next time I get them going, I'm tucking some green onion trimmings among the mix.

Thanks for the tip PopsicleToze !

ETA - see if your public library has copies of "Living More With Less", the "More with Less Cookbook", and "Extending the Table".

This series is published by the Mennonite Central Committee in the spirit of consuming fewer resources. Some of the best ideas come from the many sidebars among the recipes.

Edited by run2eat (log)
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I've been buying dried beans in bulk at a local co-op type store. Bagged in my regualr grocery store, they're $1.29/lb. In bulk, they're as cheap as $.80/lb. I've been cooking up large batches and freezing them in smaller portions.

Bean burgers are a delicious and cheap dinner. They're filling too, and can be done in so many different ways. Mark Bittman has a few recipes, I also use one from Everyday Food.

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What's made the biggest difference for my grocery budget is inventory and planning. I keep a detailed inventory of everything in my fridge, freezer, and pantry. This allows me to plan menus around what I have and it also keeps me from forgetting what I've already bought. Since I've started doing it almost nothing gets thrown out, which of course wastes less money. I also end up going to the grocery store fewer times, and that cuts down on impulse purchases. And, I noticed that sometimes even when my fridge looked pretty bare, I still had a pretty long inventory list, so I was able to pull together some meals when previously I probably would have thought there was nothing and just gone out to eat.

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What's made the biggest difference for my grocery budget is inventory and planning.  I keep a detailed inventory of everything in my fridge, freezer, and pantry.  This allows me to plan menus around what I have and it also keeps me from forgetting what I've already bought.  Since I've started doing it almost nothing gets thrown out, which of course wastes less money.  I also end up going to the grocery store fewer times, and that cuts down on impulse purchases.  And, I noticed that sometimes even when my fridge looked pretty bare, I still had a pretty long inventory list, so I was able to pull together some meals when previously I probably would have thought there was nothing and just gone out to eat.

I think this is key. I found everything a lot less overwhelming when I had a record of what I already have available.

How do you keep inventory? What system do you use?

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What's made the biggest difference for my grocery budget is inventory and planning.  I keep a detailed inventory of everything in my fridge, freezer, and pantry.  This allows me to plan menus around what I have and it also keeps me from forgetting what I've already bought.  Since I've started doing it almost nothing gets thrown out, which of course wastes less money.  I also end up going to the grocery store fewer times, and that cuts down on impulse purchases.  And, I noticed that sometimes even when my fridge looked pretty bare, I still had a pretty long inventory list, so I was able to pull together some meals when previously I probably would have thought there was nothing and just gone out to eat.

I think this is key. I found everything a lot less overwhelming when I had a record of what I already have available.

How do you keep inventory? What system do you use?

I just keep it all in an excel worksheet. There are four tabs: Refrigerator, Freezer, Pantry, and Wine (I use this more as a way to track wines we've tried and take notes on what we like, very useful for finding modestly priced wines that taste fine). Each tab is further divided into subcategories, e.g. Refrigerator has Dairy, Protein, Vegetable, Fruit, Condiments, Beverages, Ready-to-Eat. Each item has three columns: description, unit size, quantity. So if I buy chicken thighs at Costco and freeze 3 of the individual packs, that line would read "chicken thighs, whole" then "4 each" then "3 (for quantity of packages)."

The initial inventory was the most time-consuming part. Now every time I go to the store I just take a couple minutes after putting away the groceries to update my spreadsheet using the receipt, and then at the end of each day I update the sheet taking into account what we cooked/used up that day. I also apply a reasonableness test, e.g. it is useful to keep track of exactly how many random packages of chicken I have in the freezer, but I'm not going to keep track of how much cereal is left in the box at the end of every day.

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Made a really big batch of Beef and Tofu Bibim Bap tonight that ought to feed me for the better part of the week. Cost for the protein portion of the entire batch is just over $3.00. Add a fried egg to top each serving for about .14 if you'd like. Some of the rest was already in the crisper drawer and pantry. Everything else was purchased at the local Asian market. I took that slice of beef tenderloin and put it into the freezer for an hour so I could slice it really thinly. Cut the tofu into thirds and fried it up to put a piece in each serving.

One medium onion

3 small zucchini, cut into matchsticks

1 package of mushrooms

1/4 pound bean sprouts

3 carrots, shredded

1/2 a Napa Cabbage, shredded

1 big block tofu (.40)

about 10 oz. of beef (2.79)

2 cups brown rice, cooked

This sort of veggie heavy and meat-is-secondary cooking really stretches the budget. And you can seriously get quite a few meals out of it if you don't tire easily of eating the same thing for a few days in a row.

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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Tofu is a great meat stretcher! I don't know how cheap you get it in the US, but I imagine Asian markets would have it fairly cheap.

For example, mapo tofu, which I learned about through this magical topic, magically spreads meat - I usually get dinner and lunch for two out of one recipe, with judicious addition of pickles, stir-fried greens and rice, of course.

One meal I like to make is a Japanese-Vietnamese fusion. I take one boned chicken leg-thigh, pan-fry it in a little olive oil, then cut it in strips, smother with chopped green onions, and dose with ponzu. As a side dish, to make this stretch for two, I drain a block of tofu, pan fry it, then remove the tofu, fry up equal amounts of chopped fresh ginger, garlic and green onion, add the tofu back to the pan with two or three chopped tomatoes, and simmer for another ten minutes. These two dishes really complement each other, and makes one chicken leg feed two.

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I don't know if you are reading the other thread on 'one ingredient, two dollars ...' but I just posted there on cabbage. It's a miracle ingredient for being very cheap, tasty, nutritious, and versatile. I won't repeat myself here but I just posted some suggestions there on cabbage dishes, and would love to hear more from others.

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I just keep it all in an excel worksheet.  There are four tabs: Refrigerator, Freezer, Pantry, and Wine (I use this more as a way to track wines we've tried and take notes on what we like, very useful for finding modestly priced wines that taste fine).  Each tab is further divided into subcategories, e.g. Refrigerator has Dairy, Protein, Vegetable, Fruit, Condiments, Beverages, Ready-to-Eat.  Each item has three columns: description, unit size, quantity.  So if I buy chicken thighs at Costco and freeze 3 of the individual packs, that line would read "chicken thighs, whole" then "4 each" then "3 (for quantity of packages)." 

The initial inventory was the most time-consuming part.  Now every time I go to the store I just take a couple minutes after putting away the groceries to update my spreadsheet using the receipt, and then at the end of each day I update the sheet taking into account what we cooked/used up that day.  I also apply a reasonableness test, e.g. it is useful to keep track of exactly how many random packages of chicken I have in the freezer, but I'm not going to keep track of how much cereal is left in the box at the end of every day.

That's amazing. I wish I wasn't too lazy and disorganized to do something like that.

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If need be, I think I could survive very well on rice, beans, Tabasco sauce and jug wine.

Do you have a pasta machine? The possibilities are limitless! I just got a pound of fresh organic spinach for $2.99. Get this: you don't really need an egg for pasta, the Italians didn't even add them until the French introduced them to it, so recipies still exsist for eggless pasta (I just still go by feel anyway), otherwise one will add $0.13 to the total. Prepapre pasta: Water, oil, flour (prefferably hi-gluten), egg (if you want), S&P. Roll out and cut to desired style and type (or make raviolis, tortos, etc.) Prepare pasta, reserve water, add canned tomato purre' oven roasted plumb tomatoes, fresh garlic, shallot or onion, spinach, some of that beef you were talking about, dry oregano, fresh or dried basil, pasta water, whatever else you want that's lying around: oven roast some carrots, toss em' in. got some frozen peas? throw em' in! This should cost under $.67 per serving. Otherwise Gnocchi cost me $.38 per serving. Keep some meals Veg. for cutting costs.

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Tofu is a great meat stretcher! I don't know how cheap you get it in the US, but I imagine Asian markets would have it fairly cheap.

For example, mapo tofu, which I learned about through this magical topic, magically spreads meat - I usually get dinner and lunch for two out of one recipe, with judicious addition of pickles, stir-fried greens and rice, of course.

One meal I like to make is a Japanese-Vietnamese fusion. I take one boned chicken leg-thigh, pan-fry it in a little olive oil, then cut it in strips, smother with chopped green onions, and dose with ponzu. As a side dish, to make this stretch for two, I drain a block of tofu, pan fry it, then remove the tofu, fry up equal amounts of chopped fresh ginger, garlic and green onion, add the tofu back to the pan with two or three chopped tomatoes, and simmer for another ten minutes. These two dishes really complement each other, and makes one chicken leg feed two.

Trader Joe's has it for $1.69 per package in Firm, Xfirm, and soft. Not too bad either.

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I just keep it all in an excel worksheet.  There are four tabs: Refrigerator, Freezer, Pantry, and Wine (I use this more as a way to track wines we've tried and take notes on what we like, very useful for finding modestly priced wines that taste fine).  Each tab is further divided into subcategories, e.g. Refrigerator has Dairy, Protein, Vegetable, Fruit, Condiments, Beverages, Ready-to-Eat.  Each item has three columns: description, unit size, quantity.  So if I buy chicken thighs at Costco and freeze 3 of the individual packs, that line would read "chicken thighs, whole" then "4 each" then "3 (for quantity of packages)." 

The initial inventory was the most time-consuming part.  Now every time I go to the store I just take a couple minutes after putting away the groceries to update my spreadsheet using the receipt, and then at the end of each day I update the sheet taking into account what we cooked/used up that day.  I also apply a reasonableness test, e.g. it is useful to keep track of exactly how many random packages of chicken I have in the freezer, but I'm not going to keep track of how much cereal is left in the box at the end of every day.

That's amazing. I wish I wasn't too lazy and disorganized to do something like that.

I had some success with a magnetic whiteboard attached to the freezer, but after a while it got too messy. That was only for the freezer though.

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Tofu is a great meat stretcher! I don't know how cheap you get it in the US, but I imagine Asian markets would have it fairly cheap.

For example, mapo tofu, which I learned about through this magical topic, magically spreads meat - I usually get dinner and lunch for two out of one recipe, with judicious addition of pickles, stir-fried greens and rice, of course.

One meal I like to make is a Japanese-Vietnamese fusion. I take one boned chicken leg-thigh, pan-fry it in a little olive oil, then cut it in strips, smother with chopped green onions, and dose with ponzu. As a side dish, to make this stretch for two, I drain a block of tofu, pan fry it, then remove the tofu, fry up equal amounts of chopped fresh ginger, garlic and green onion, add the tofu back to the pan with two or three chopped tomatoes, and simmer for another ten minutes. These two dishes really complement each other, and makes one chicken leg feed two.

Trader Joe's has it for $1.69 per package in Firm, Xfirm, and soft. Not too bad either.

My local Asian market has fresh unpackaged tofu for 4/$1.00 for the smaller approx. 2.5"x2.5"x.5" squares and $0.40 each for the larger 3"x3"x1" blocks. Cheap as all hell for good nutrition. I usually just drain and pat them dry with paper towels and then slice into either smaller rectangles or small cubes and fry them until lightly browned on the outside. I can then add them to whatever I wish. The only downside to the fresh unpackaged tofu is that you need to use it fairly quickly.

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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Bacon has fallen out of favor because of its fat, but if you're not eating other kinds of meat, bacon is a great flavoring in soups or stews, and you're not eating too much fat either. A little bacon goes a long way. This is one of my favorite soups, very hearty and rich-tasting.

POTATO SOUP

Adapted recipe from NY Times Bread and Soup Cookbook

3-4 slices bacon, diced

3 large onions, finely chopped

6 mushrooms, finely chopped

4 TB flour

9 cups beef bouillon or stock

6 large potatoes, thinly sliced, peeled if you like

3 egg yolks

1 1/2 cups sour cream

2 TB freshly chopped parsley

Saute the bacon in a large pot for 5 mins, add the onions and mushrooms, and cook another 5 mins or so until soft. Stir in the flour, then add in the bouillon or stock, stirring constantly. Add the potatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 hour.

Lightly beat the egg yolks and mix with sour cream. Stir 1/2 cup of hot soup into the egg yolk mixture, then add the mixture to the rest of the soup. Let the soup heat for another 10 mins, stirring and making sure the soup doesn't boil. Adjust for salt. Sprinkle with parsley, and serve immediately.

Edited by djyee100 (log)
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