Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Reddit Frugal's Ideas For Cheap Eats

I participate in an on-line group at for Frugal Folks and lately there have been some really great ideas for eating on the cheap!

Some of the best:

Cheap Casserole---Chop 4 ounces of cooked meat(hotdogs, leftovers) into fine cubes and fry them lightly until they are a little crispy. Cut 1 tortilla into quarters and place them into a small square baking pan. Put 1/2 of a can of refried beans in on top of the tortilla. Hotdog pieces on top of that. Add the rest of the refried beans and top with another tortilla and a little shredded cheese. Add hot sauce and spices if you have them. Bake at 325 for 30 minutes. Serve with rice that is cooked with 1/2 cup of ketchup in place of 1/2 cup of the usual water for cheap "Spanish rice"-VicinSea

Gravy over toast or biscuits is filling and tasty. You can make this into brown gravy by cooking the oil/butter and flour longer, a cream gravy by using milk, you could season it with ketchup or garlic and stretch the butter by using half oil/half butter. -Hamsterdam

Gravy : 2tbsp oil, 2tbsp flour, 1 cup liquid, hot. To make a thinner ingredient cut the butter and flour down to 1 tbsp each and keep the 1 cup of liquid. You can add corn to this and have creamed corn. -Hamsterdam

Chicken Pot Pie. Make a double pie crust, cook one or two chicken breast saving the water to make a few cups of gravy, chop some vegetables add cooked rice (you could cook the rice in the chicken water and use thinned milk for the gravy) to the pot pie as a filler. -Hamsterdam

Double pie crust 2 1/2 cups of flour, 1 tsp salt, 3/4 cup shortening (ice cold butter and oil mixed together will work but the crust won't be as tender. 6 to 7 tablespoons ice water.) Mix everything together except the water, cut the fat in, add as much water as needed to bring it together. Press half of dough into a pie pan, add the filling, roll the second piece of dough out with a wine bottle or pin and drape over filling. Cut slits in the vent the pie. Coat with a little melted butter. -Hamsterdam

Candied carrots: 6 to 8 carrots, 1/4 cup water, 1tbsp butter, 2 tbsp honey, 1/4 tsp salt. Slice the carrots, boil in salted water until done, drain add butter and honey. -Hamsterdam

Cooked Greens: If you have some lettuce in the fridge that might be past its prime: don't throw it out! When lettuce gets wilty it takes on a tinge of bitterness that makes it useless for salads or tacos or whatnot, but wilty lettuce can be cooked like any other greens. I prefer kale or collard greens, but sauteed lettuce works well in stir-fries or alongside cornbread and rice and beans.

Heat a little bit of olive oil in a fry pan and add greens. For stir-fries, add soy sauce (cold noodles with soy sauce and lettuce is a nice lunch, and punched up with a sauce made from peanut butter, lime juice, and a little hot sauce, can be a meal tasty and impressive enough to serve to guests). For southern-style greens, add a little vinegar and hot sauce. -Beneventan

Soupy Sunday.: Basically, you have a party where the main meal is soup. Have each guest bring one ingredient to contribute to the soup pot. The more people you have the bigger that soup will get and the better chances you have for leftovers. We utilized facebook to send out invites for the party and coordinate soup ingredients. So far both events worked out great. Plenty of food and drinks for all and we didn't spend a dime on it. -Summerchilde

White Beans with Escarole: (sauteed lettuce can be substituted for the sauteed escarole easily). Cook a few servings of white beans in chicken broth rather than water. I start from dry, and have the beans cooking in the broth all day, adding water as it boils away. Some extra flavor can be had by adding the rind from Parmesan cheese (many stores that grate their own Parmesan will sell the rind for a pittance, or even give it away), but the beans and chicken stock alone will work nicely. When the beans are soft and buttery, saute up some greens in a little olive oil, with salt and garlic (or garlic powder). serve the beans over the wilted greens. It's surprisingly delicious; my husband tends to look askance at all vegetables, but he went back for thirds the first time I made this dish, and it's become a regular meal ever since. -Beneventan

Homemade Granola: You can make some excellent granola with the oatmeal, dried fruit & nuts, and honey-Alton Brown has a great recipe, just mix and match what you have on hand. -Londonzoo

Pantry Must-Haves by Hamsterdam, Powdered eggs, milk and cheese, corn meal, masa harina, baking powder, baking soda, yeast (keep it in the freezer until you need it), crisco or lard (for making biscuits/cornbread/griddle cakes/pie crust), chicken bouillon or even better chicken demi glace (demi glace is basically chicken stock that has been cooked down to a paste, you add water to a teaspoon of demi glace to make chicken stock.), pinto beans, lots of canned dice tomatoes, onions, and potatoes.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Falafal For the Masses--ReFried Refried Beans.

Q. Refried beans are available everywhere and show up quite often in food baskets given out by food banks but if you don't have any experience with them what do you do with them besides eat & eat?
A. Think of refried beans as a soggy form of meat and they are a little easier to imagine cooking with.

Falafel is really just ground cooked beans with spices, herbs and vegetables added.

I make a very passable version of falafel using refried beans instead of the traditional chick peas.

Re-Re-Fried Beans

1 can(15 ounces) Refried Beans
1-2 slices of dryish bread, grated into bread crumbs
1/4 cup of finely chopped onion
1/2 flour(or cold left over rice)
powdered garlic, other seasoning to taste.

Mix everything together into a thick batter. Drop by teaspoon into a medium hot frying pan with oil. Fry until lightly browned, turn over, flatten with a spoon or spatula, brown again. Turn over and brown the top side again. This little extra cooking allows the onions to cook.

Serve these silver dollar sized bites with ranch dressing, mustard or ketchup. Or make some homemade tortillias and wrap them around the bean bites with whatever veggies or rice you may have.

Make a batch of Traditional Falafel and divide in half. Mix 1 cup of ground turkey with 1/2 of the falafel and then form into balls, fry and add to spaghetti sauce for spaghetti & meatballs.

Sautee 1 cup of finely chopped mushrooms and add them to a batch of falafel, then fry as usual.

Crumble a batch of falafel into a frying pan and brown well in place of the hamburger in Hamburger Helper.

Form your falafel ball around a cube of cheese and fry as usual.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Frugal 15 Bean Soup at Pinto Bean Prices

15 bean soup is one of my favorite dinner staples but 1 pound of the "15 Beans" is over $4.00! That price moves them out of "Frugal" and into "Extravagent in my book! I have figured out a way to get my multi-bean fix without that high price by mixing the beans myself.

I started with a 5 gallon bucket and 10 pounds of the cheapest beans I could find: pinto beans on sale for $4.99 for 10 pounds. As I see other beans on sale I add them to the bucket:

1 pound of Baby Lima Beans at $1.45

1 pound of Small Navy Beans at $1.28

1 pound of Black Beans at $0.99

2 pounds of Garbanzo Beans at $0.85 per pound

I just add what comes on sale and never buy anything over $1.50 a pound. To balance the price and add to the mix, I also added Pearl Barley at $0.66 a pound and Split Peas at $0.59 a pound. At first we were eating mainly pinto beans but as I have added more sale items the variety has grown

When I am ready to make some soup--I just stir the top of the bucket and scoop out a couple of cups of the mixed beans! I could also stir up the whole bucket at this point and scoop all the beans into quart containers and use the bucket for something else until I need to make more 15 Bean Soup Mix!

Crock Pot 15 Bean Soup
2 cups of Mixed Beans
2 Carrots, chopped
1/2 zucchini, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
2 tablespoons of Ham-Base(Ham Bouillon)
Spices to taste.
up to 3 quarts of Water

Put everything in a 1 gallon crock pot, fill with the water. Turn on Low and cook 8-12 hours until the beans are done. Add a bit of meat if desired.

Makes about 16 servings of 15 bean soup for less than $0.25 per serving.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cook ahead staples save time and money.

Time is the number one reason cited by people to explain why they eat out instead of cooking at home. Healthy food takes a while to cook properly and the busier our lives get, the harder it is to find the time to cook. Rather than giving up on cooking, learn to cook smarter--convenience foods are convenient because they are precooked and we can use that simple concept to make our own food shortcuts.

Brown rice: I love brown rice and it is probably one of the healthiest things you can eat but let's face it--that stuff takes a minimum of 55 minutes to cook. If your tired and hungry, brown rice isn't going to be on the menu unless you plan ahead.

Brown Rice
Boil-In-Bags of rice are showing up in the market and these are a great idea but way too expensive for my kitchen so I make my own heat and eat rice. Scale up your favorite method for cooking the rice so that you have 4 cups or more of cooked rice. Let it cool and spread it out on a cookie sheet and put the whole thing in the freezer. After a couple of hours, the rice is frozen. Spray the frozen rice with non-stick spray like Pam, put it in a freezer container and keep it frozen for up to 6 months. To use it, scoop out the amount you need and microwave it or put the frozen rice in a colander and run hot water over it, drain and serve.

Standard Brown Rice Recipe
2 cups Brown Rice
5 cups water
Start by bringing the water to a boil. Add the rice, salt and butter, and give it ONE stir. Cover the pot.

Return the pot to a boil, then turn the stove down to simmer and set the timer. It can take 45-55 minutes to cook brown rice. When cooking any and all rice, never stir the rice while it is cooking or you will end up with very mushy rice!

Beans: Beans are another super-healthy food that takes way too long to cook on a daily basis. Frozen beans cooked ahead of time make it much quicker to use beans in hurry-up meals.

Basic Beans
2 cups of dry beans
6 cups of water
Bring the beans and water to a boil in a heavy pot. Turn off the heat and let the beans soak for at least an hour or overnight. Drain and rinse the soaked beans and put them back into the pan with enough fresh water or vegetable stock to cover them. Cook at a simmer for 1-2 hours until they taste almost "done" but still a little firm. Avoid stirring too much since that will break up the beans. Dip beans out of the cooking liquid and put them into a muffin or cupcake pan with just enough liquid to fill up the space between the beans. Freeze for a few hours, then pop the beans out of the pan and store in an airtight bag in the freezer. Don't make too many at once and try to use the frozen beans in 2-3 months.

Potato Short Cuts
Potatoes are fairly quick to cook so they do make it to the dinner table regularly as boiled, mashed or baked potatoes. Because of the starch content, potatoes change consistency and flavor if they have been cooked, cooled and then cooked again allowing for a much wider variety of potato dishes. When you do cook potatoes, always make a point of cooking twice as many as you need so that you have cooked and cooled taters on hand for the next recipe. Cooked potatoes can be stored in the fridge for up to 4 days and can be frozen for 2-3 months.

Smashed Potatoes
This simple alternative to baked potatoes makes an excellent side dish. Take a cooked and cooled potato, place it in a baking pan and use a spatula or coffee mug to squash it to about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Drizzle with a tiny amount of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and spices to taste. Brown under the broiler for 3-5 minutes until crusty brown.

Slice cooked and cooled into wedges. Toss in a bowl with a teaspoon of oil, salt and spices to taste. Bake at 400 for 10-15 minutes until browned, turning at least once during the cooking.

Hash has an interesting history in the US including the fact that hash was so popular at times that restaurants, called Hash Houses, opened all over the country and served nothing but hash--not bad for a food that is basically leftovers and potatoes!

Breakfast Hash
Chop 1/2 of an onion and 2 slices of bacon. Start frying together and add a large cooked and cooled potato that has been diced. Cook everything together, add salt and pepper to taste, until the potatoes are browned nicely. Crack 2 eggs on the top and stir them in. Put a lid on the pan and cook the eggs for a few minutes. Eat as is with toast or roll up in a tortilla for hash to go!

Monday, September 14, 2009


The word soup comes from French soupe ("soup", "broth"), which comes through Vulgar Latin suppa ("bread soaked in broth") from a Germanic source, from which also comes the word "sop", a piece of bread used to soak up soup or a thick stew.

The word restaurant (meaning "[something] restoring") was first used in France in the 16th century, to describe a highly concentrated, inexpensive soup, sold by street vendors, that was advertised as an antidote to physical exhaustion. In 1765, a Parisian entrepreneur opened a shop specializing in such soups. This prompted the use of the modern word restaurant to describe the shops.

No matter what you call it, soup is a healthy and frugal alternative to Modern Western Foods. There are a million recipes for soup available on the internet but following a recipe defeats the frugality of traditional sop--which is made from items on hand. My usual method of making soup goes like this--

1) Notice a few veggies in the crisper that are past their prime-3 carrots, 1/2 onion, celery root end, 1/2 eggplant - Time to Make Soup!

2) Scavenge through the fridge and freezer for complementary meat-1 frozen chicken thigh, 3 strips of bacon, 1/2 package of ham lunch meat, 1/2 pound of frozen round steak. The ham lunch meat is the closest to its "Use By" date.

3) What starch goes good with ham? Split peas or lentils? Find 1/2 bag of Lima Beans in the pantry--Score!

4) Put Lima beans to cook in a pot. 2 cups of beans and 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then turn down to low. 2 hours later, saute onion and chopped celery root with chopped bacon, chop carrots into fancy bias cuts about the same size as the Lima beans. There isn't a lot of fat in my ingredients so I don't drain the bacon grease--add sauteed veggies and bacon and carrots to pot. One hour before dinner, I will chop the eggplant into cubes and the ham into 1/4 inch wide strips and add them to the pot.

5) Do a quick look on the internet for spice and herb ideas--What would I add to ham? Salt, pepper and mustard, I add 2 tablespoon of mustard and a teaspoon of pepper to the soup for a little zing. When I do this last step, I taste the soup and look at it--Too thin? Add a handful of pasta or leave off the lid so that the steam escapes and thickens the soup. Not "rich" enough?, add a teaspoon of chicken or ham bouillon or a tablespoon of Kitchen Bouquet. Salt is only added at the table--too much salt is the worst mistake you can make in soup.

6) Serve soup for dinner with fresh bread and hear, "This is the best soup ever. Is there enough to take for lunch tomorrow?" Yes, there is! Serves 6 for about 50 cents each!

Basic Ingredients
All soups follow a pattern that is easily adapted to the Frugal Kitchen: Water + protein + fat + vegetables + starch. Only the differences in quantities account for the different varieties of soup. So we have a basic recipe that looks like this--

Chicken stock(water + protein + fat), vegetables, pasta = Chicken Noodle Soup

Chicken stock(water + protein + fat), vegetables, biscuit dough = Chicken & Dumplings

Liquid starters
Chicken, Beef, Ham, or Vegetable Stock
Bouillon cubes & water

Protein Choices
Smoked Meats
Vegetarian Meat Substitutes
Bacon or Bacon Fat
Sour Cream or Heavy Cream

Starchy Additions
Pasta or noodles
Biscuit Dough
Grains(Barley, oats,
Legumes(Split peas, Orange, Yellow, or Tan Legumes)

Vegetables Mild or Strong
Mild veggies can be mixed and matched depending on what you have on hand: carrots, celery, onions, eggplant, squash, beets, okra, nettles, spinach, red or yellow bell peppers, etc.

Strong veggies are better for soups built around their flavor: Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Spanish onions, green onions, garlic, lemon grass, green bell peppers(very strong when cooked for long periods of time), etc.

Ideas for soup on Wiki.

Tons of Retro Soup Recipes!

Monday, July 13, 2009

4 Reasons to Can Foods at Home!

4 Reasons to Can Your Own!
Lower Cost-Homemade products will be less expensive as long as you buy produce in season. Canned fruits, soups, jellies and jams, and baby food can be 1/10th the cost of their commercial versions.

HFCS- High Fructose Corn Syrup is used in thousands of products and we are just beginning to find out how harmful they can be. When canning at home, you can use cane sugar, honey or fruit juice instead!

Preservatives, colors and flavors-Home canned products are made fresh so we don't need any of these "enhancers".

Salt Control-No one needs the amounts of salt that appear in commercially canned foods! When you can at home, you know exactly how much salt is in every product.

Intro to Home Canning- 1 Hour. This class is for students with little or no experience with home canning as well as for experienced canners who need a brush up on the basics. Topics will include everything a novice needs to know about equipment, procedures and planning for Home Canning. The USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning(USDA,2006) will be available to attendees at cost for $10.00. This edition includes extra approved recipes for special home canning projects. Class size is limited to 10 per class. Class cost is $10 per person for the class only or $20.00 for the class and a printed edition of the book. (The same book will be referenced for all Home Canning Classes in this series.)

Saturday, July 18, 2009 11am, 12:30 pm, or 2pm.
Sunday, July 26th, 2009 11am
Saturday, August 1st, 2009 11am
Saturday, August 8th, 2009 11am

Classes will be held at Goods For The Planet, Corner of Dexter and Mercer(525 Dexter Ave No. Seattle WA 98019). To reserve a spot email or call the store at 206-652-2327

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Beef on A Dollar #1--Potato and Mushroom Casserole

After I packaged up 9 1# packs of beef, onions and mushrooms I had a couple of cups of juice and beef chunks left so I added:

4 potatoes. peeled and cubed

1 pound of button mushrooms, quartered

1 Tsp. Pepper

Fold all of it together and dump into a large casserole dish. Bake covered at 350 for 1 hour.

Stir in 1 cup of chopped broccoli and let the casserole sit in the oven(heat off) for another 30 minutes and then serve with crusty homemade bread. Makes 8 servings.

I split this into 2 portions and froze half for a future meal. Cost for 1/2 of the casserole was about $1.00 for 4 servings.

Beef on A Dollar

I bought a huge chunk of beef at Cash & Carry. This Top Round Roast weighs 24 pounds and was on sale this week for $1.62 per pound. If cut up correctly, this chunk would yield 48 Top Round Steaks on par with steaks offered in many high end restaurants. If cut up into USDA portion sizes it will produce 22 or so pounds of high quality, low fat protein-- more than 90 servings of beef at a cost of about 41 cents per serving.

Cutting and packaging...Took 2 people 1 hour so we "made/saved" $25.00 per hour each compared to a similar amount/cuts of meat offered at Safeway!

Got these packages (Safeway Value $)

1-2# Round Roast ($2.29/lb= $4.58) Frozen whole.

16- 4 ounce Filet mignon ($9.99/lb=$39.96) And yes, I did weigh these. I trimmed meat off each steak until they were all exactly 4 ounces and added the trimmings to the stew meat. The steaks got a 2 hour marinade: Juice of 1 lime, 1/4 cup of soy sauce and 1 teaspoon meat tenderizer before being vacuum packed and frozen. (The marinade may have been a mistake, but time will tell when we take them out to cook-more on that in a future blog.)

6 pounds lean ground beef ($2.99/lb=$17.94) We ground this using an old hand grinder--run the meat through twice to get a good grind. Frozen in 1/2 pound packages.

10.5 pounds lean stew meat/20 packs ($2.49/lb=$26.14) I cooked all of this meat with onions and celery for about 3 hours at 300 degrees. I then, split the whole mess into 10 packages for freezing. Each package will make a double sized meal and have left overs too.

Here are 150+ recipes that start with stew meat & onions. When I cook up these recipes I will divide each one in half and freeze one of the halves for another day so that I get 20 meals for 2.

I also got 1.5 pounds nasty greasy fat that could possible have been made into candles or some other useful product(frontier axle grease?) but it grossed me out so I tossed it!

Total Cost: $36.99

Safeway Comparative Value: $88.62

Money Saved: $51.63