Tag Archives: $1.00 or LESS

show me the money: part i, finding low-cost recipes

ramen with tofu and gai lan (Chinese Broccoli)

ramen with tofu and gai lan (Chinese Broccoli)

A lot of people are finding this blog by looking for low-cost recipes in search engines, and people are even linking to my site from message boards (I am so honored!) as a good resource for such recipes. So I thought I’d put together a post about low-cost recipes: some sites and my frugal recipes for Part I. Part II will be about deciding if a recipe is for you and your budget. Part III will be a collection of tips/ideas I’ve used myself or have known someone who truly benefitted from the use – not exactly food-related, but, I might as well get it off my chest.

 

Sites with Low-Cost Recipes / Food information

(I haven’t tried all of these blogs personally, but I think they will have decent, cost-sensitive recipes)

  • Hillbilly Housewife Read the $45 Emergency Menu, for feeding a family of 4~6 during a week, including instructions for the cooking and prep. Even if you don’t like the dishes themselves, you will learn something from this menu – time management, how to shop – from the sheer amount of information.
  • AskMetafilter AskMeFi has some excellent threads with dozens of suggestions for low-cost cooking. This thread was about mastering cooking genres, while staying within a tight budget. Another thread focuses on frugal meal planning for a single person. Yet another thread ponders the secrets of saving money at the grocery store. Just goes to show that two heads, or rather, thousands of heads, are better than one.
  • Frugal Cuisine The name says it all. The recipes are always brilliant, clear, and unfailingly INSPIRING. She really focuses on nutrient-dense foods, tending to avoid empty calories. I have blog-envied this blog for YEARS!
  • Consumer Reports CR has a short list of foods, and their nutritional value and cost per serving. Very helpful! It’s quite shocking to see that black beans, which are a nutritional powerhouse, are only $.07 per serving!! I would dispute the cost of the egg (I know for me they cost more than $.09 each) but it’s nice to have comparative data.
  • Could I live on a dollar a day? Hm…well, some other people have done it! Andrew Hyde, (not a foodie blogger) post on how to live comfortably on $36/month impressed me! The bloggers doing the One Dollar A Day Diet Project also impressed me!
  • I love comfy, homey recipes! Heritage Recipes has time-tested, old-fashioned recipes. Low cost is not the focus, but I notice that many of these recipes are very SIMPLE, which tends to run towards frugality. Frugal Recipes is something of a bulletin board with utterly charming recipes, with an eye towards frugality. CHOW has a series on basic recipes . these have pretty illustrations and very simple instructions. Most of them look totally delectable.
  • Cheap Eats documents the blogger’s food choices (there are are a lot of product reviews) and very, very low-cost recipes, including some $3.00 recipes with very explicit cost break downs.
  • $5 Dollar Dinners focuses on meals for 2 persons, and 2 small children for under $5.00. I like the fact that she breaks down the prices for each of the ingredients in the posts.
  • Cheap, Healthy, Good has big, big recipe lists. The one for frugal party foods looks so interesting!
  • Simply Frugal This Southeast Michigan blogger spends $15/per person each week, for 2 people. Her recipes look great! And she has great tips on how to shop for groceries more frugally – to get your cost per serving down to 45 cents. Really wonderful blog!
  • Poor Girl Eats Well The PGEW blogger creates definitely gorgeous, gourmet foods, averaging around $2.00 per serving. This blog is justifiably famous.
  • Casual Kitchen has 25 “laughably cheap” recipes. I also really like his application of the Pareto Rule, or the 80/20 rule, to cooking (as in, 20% of your effort yields 80% of your desired results). The concept of “heavy rotation” – getting your top ten favorite dishes over and over again – holds true with me.
  • Food is always an important expense, and personal finance bloggers always write about food. Frugal Upstate , The Simple Dollar, and Get Rich Slowly, The Frugal Girl, have good, appetizing recipes in the context of frugal living in general. GRS’s post compiling 3 years’ worth of food tips is excellent! My Open Wallet has a great page on frugal recipes, collected from frugal foodies/personal finance bloggers. Frugal Abundance (the blogger is the original creator of the Hillbilly Housewife!) has a great post on addressing the rising cost of meat. The costs in that post are very different from those I experience in California, but the relative prices (whole chicken v. breast filets, etc.) are still applicable and therefore helpful in determing what to buy.

Plugging my own blog

Dude, where’s the Stove? Hey, of course I have to plug my own blog! Here are some of my posts with price breakdowns, that yield meals that cost less than one dollar per serving.

Here are some of my blog posts that may/may not contain price break downs for the recipes (but are very inexpensive to prepare):

My own rough guidelines

I spend about $35 (or less) each week on groceries for myself. (Note – I live in a truly pricey part of California). That figure does not include larger-ticket items like vitamins, a 25-lb bag of rice, oil, and other bulky pantry items. (Yes, I realize a true frugalista would include that – maybe I’ll count that in the future). But that $35/week includes: eggs, tofu, poultry, fruits, vegetables, dry beans, canned foods, dry pasta, soy milk, yogurt, cheese, and impulse(!) purchases of junky snacks.

I tend not to buy red meat. I’m not actually that enamored of beef. But I LOVE pork. Pork makes everything better.I will buy it very eagerly – ONLY if it’s on sale! Mostly, I buy chicken. In my neck of the woods, I notice that the supermarkets are fighting it out on the chicken fronts – each week, at least one of them is selling chicken at less than $.80/lb. I pretty much never buy fresh fish. I love it, but, good fish is expensive. Very, very, rarely, I will buy some fresh wild salmon. The farmed stuff is bland to me, so I tend avoid it. I actually like the canned stuff, because it’s wild. I love canned fish in general, but, I don’t have to drag you into that right now.

I buy fruit very rarely, because I love sweets – but it’s something I should cut down on. I’ve started buying apples recently, due to their high fiber, and high satiety factor. Oh, and it’s apple season!

In general, I eat pretty darn well – my figure is quite well-padded.* I could probably spend less – a truly frugal friend of mine spends about $15-20/week on groceries for herself – but I consider $35 reasonably OK as a guideline – breaks down to daily average of $5.00/day. Also, I will confess that I too could furnish a “Hall of Shame” – when I am busy, or just plain lazy, I often fall into the trap of eating convenience foods that are expensive and junky! Anyways, I’m including this in here so that you can see how my perspective on “low cost” relates your own cooking/shopping guidelines.

Over the last  few years, I’m tried to become a bit more frugal.** Mostly by listening to friends and family who are truly, TRULY frugal. I don’t actually consider myself to be frugal (not YET), so, I’m really happy to see that people have used this blog to help themselves and their budgets! If you have a favorite frugal tip/recipe/etc., please feel free to share. I am always happy to learn. Thanks for reading!

* In the words of Just Hungry, I’m not an Asian gazelle. OK, but if I’m not a gazelle, uh, I’ll have to think of a nice, graceful animal that looks like me.

** The other weekend, you could spot me in the supermarket, with a CALCULATOR in hand. Oh, I felt a tad self-conscious. I told my friend I was reinforcing every stereotype about Asians from teenage 80’s movies!!! How did I get to this point?!?!

P.S. Sorry for the hiccup the other day – the feed software published an old post from last year, and I don’t have any idea why/how that happened!

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Forty Cent Chicken Soup

French Daisies

Wildflowers

In the summertime, I bought five pounds of chicken quarters at $.77/lb. A total steal.  AndI had bought ginger, garlic, celery, and carrots. I had grand plans to make curry chicken, which I had’t done in ages. But then a heat wave hit. Who has the will to brown five pounds of chicken quarters when it is HOT? I couldn’t do it. But I didn’t want to freeze it either. So…maybe it’s time to make some chicken soup! Using this recipe means you want a LOT of chicken soup. Are you ready for it? And the chicken meat is soooo tender!

Forty-Cent Chicken Soup

  • 5lbs of chicken quarters (@.77/lb = $3.89);
  • majority of a bunch of celery ($1.79 per bunch);
  • 1 large yellow onion about 3/4 lb ($.99/lb = $.75);
  • most of 2 heads of garlic (sold 2 for $1.00);
  • most of a 1/3 lb chunk of ginger ($2.99/lb = $.93);
  • 1/2 lb of baby carrots (1lb for $1.00, on sale);
  • lots of water; and
  • salt to taste.
  • Total cost: $9.36

    Total elapsed time: 90 min.  (including washing the pot, cutting board, etc.)

    Yield: about 6 quarts (24 cup-servings)

    Cost per serving: 39 cents.

    0. Washing/Chopping

    I washed and chopped the veggies first. Then I washed the chicken. I always handle the meat last, in the interest of food safety.

    1. Sweating the veggies

    I started a skillet on medium. Smashed the garlic cloves, in their skins. Then removed the skins, and added them to the skillet. Then added the chopped onion, celery, carrots and ginger. The proportions are really forgiving. I am fickle about carrots so I don’t put a lot of them. In general, any type of root vegetable – rutabaga, beets, parsnips, daikon, etc. – can be part of the soup (if you have any type of root vegetable. There are a lot of root veggies from the brassica family, a.k.a., the cruciferous vegetables, which are extremely good for you.

    2. Bringing everything to a boil

    Once all the veggies were sweated/carmelized, I added the chicken quarters. I didn’t even feel like removing the chicken skin! So I didn’t. Then I just added water to barely cover and brought everything to a boil, leaving the lid off.

    3. Simmer

    After the water came to a boil, I lowered the heat to a simmer, added the lid, and did something else for about 45 min. The mass of ingredients was too large to place into my pressure cooker safely (you are only supposed to fill it to 2/3 capacity) but this would have been a good one for pressure cooking in a larger pot.

    4. Homemade Chicken Soup is Mine

    I let it cool down, and boiled some pasta for a simple soup-meal. Homemade chicken soup makes everything taste better! I eventually refrigerated it, skimming the fat (schmaltz) off of the top to use later.

    5. Schmaltz

    Chicken breasts are not my favorite. I usually eat them last, when there is no dark meat left. I had some chicken breasts leftover from a whole fryer I was using to make chicken curry, and I thought about trying the schmaltz from the chicken soup. Oh, it was SO good. The schmaltz picked up all the wonderfully deep flavors of the soup and gave them to the chicken breasts.

    Someday I might have to try a stock recipe – just using the bones, and no meat.

    P.S. I added to the Tips page the other day: The always-brilliant Frugal Cuisine says to never throw out chicken fat – use it  in lieu of expensive, fancy butters. Also on the Tips page – how to make a vegan stock.

    Mango Kanten

    I am falling in love with kanten all over again. Summer = = cool, fruity desserts. Like mango kanten! Sometimes mango kanten comes out like this:

    Mango No Kantent (mango pudding)

    And that’s fine. It’s actually quite pudding-like. But, I kinda like it to be firmer, more like yokan.*

    Mango Kanten

    • 1 can of sweetened mango puree ($3.49 for 30 oz – I used Ashoka, a brand sold in Indian markets);
    • 2 cups of water;
    • 4 grams of powdered kanten (about $.50 worth);
    • sugar to taste (optional); and
    • lime slices (optional).

    Boil the water. Add the puree. Mix, mix, mix. Once the temperature rises again to barely a simmer, add the powder. Mix, mix, mix. You want to avoid lumping! Taste it. Add sugar/sweetener if necessary. Pour into a 9″ pie plate (it will just barely fit). Let it cool to room temperature. Then cover with wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours. Cut it into squares and serve. Makes a lot…at least eight or nine servings (turns out to be about $.50 per serving or less). Squeeze a bit of lime if you have it – I kinda like the contrast with the dense mango flavor.

    *One of these days, I will have to make a tea-flavored yokan (photo displayed here by kind permission of ya ma):

    P.S. I had no idea that people prepare kanten in Mumbai…interesting!

    P.P.S. Here is some gratuitous food porn, of castella (fantabulous Japanese dessert by way of the Portuguese):

    It’s something you can enjoy even if it’s cold and gloomy out!

    I love sweets, but, I don’t make very many…I guess I’m trying to be more daring about my desserts! So, here are some other recipes I’ve blogged about that are perfect for you if you are a novice like me:

    Kotonk Chow Fan // Spam Fried Rice

    Beware of Hawaiians. They will laugh at your “mainlander” accent. They thought I talked funny because I am a kotonk. I speak native Californian! Meanwhile, they spoke pidgin. Who’s right? Ah, when in Rome…do as the Romans do. And in Hawaii, that means, fall in love with Spam. From the Honolulu Star-Bulletin:

    Hawaii residents consume nearly 7 million cans of Spam a year, an average of about six cans for every man, woman and child.

    Not a fan of spam musubi (mandatory for Hawaiian residency). But, I do love it in my fried rice, as do many Hawaiians. Putting spam in your fried rice is a modern nod to the more traditional char siu. Plus – spam costs a lot less!

    Kotonk Fried Rice

    • 3 cups of cooked, refrigerated Japanese rice;
    • 1/4 of a full container of Spam (thanks mapgirl!) ham / other savory meat-like thing;
    • 4 green onions, sliced moderately thin;
    • 2 eggs, beaten like they owe you money;
    • salt and pepper – be generous!

    Use your favorite skillet – for this, I used a cast iron pan. I like to start off by frying the Spam. Then, add the rice – use your spatula vigorously! Add vegetable oil whenever necessary. Ideally, you would scramble the eggs separately, but, let’s not get too crazy here. Add the green onions when the rice is hot and the eggs are scrambled. These will wilt in a matter of seconds. You are done! Season with plenty of salt and pepper!

    (My mis en place…well…minus the rice, salt, pepper and vegetable oil for frying…)

    (action shot of beating the eggs)

    (plated, just for you!)

    P.S. I’m going to have to do the price calculations later. But, I think this is quite inexpensive to prepare! I think 1/4 of a container of Spam is going to work out to less than $1.00.

    My Mom’s Kohi Kanten – Coffee Pudding (Vegan – and about $.10 per serving!)

    Kanten…so many reasons I love it:

    1. it’s a naturally ZERO calorie food. That’s right. I said, ZERO!
    2. it’s filling and yet not wiggly-jiggly (unlike gelatin);
    3. even the laziest prep yields yummilicious results; and
    4. I grew up eating it!

    Below is a picture of agar agar in stick form.

    At any Asian market you can find premixed packets of almond kanten for less than 2 or 3 dollars – really tasty with even the least interesting fruit cocktail. Growing up, we had that all the time. Perfect summertime dessert. Nice and cool! But avoid buying agar agar at Whole Foods. I have seen the Eden versions for almost 6 dollars!!! You should be able to buy the stick agar agar for $2.00 or less per 10 grams (.35 oz). the urban vegan recommends buying the stick format and sticking the sticks into the food processor to make flakes.* I’m used to the stick forms, but, I think this is a great tip for people accustomed to the flake format. Also, people can get quite glamorous with agar agar (also known as kanten in Japanese). I am stockpiling ideas for what do with it. And coffee kanten is a classic (kohi = coffee in Japanese). So here it is!

    Mom’s Kohi Kanten

    • 2 cups of boiling coffee – sweeten to taste (pennies);
    • 5 grams of powdered agar agar (about 1/2 of a stick of agar agar – about $.50 worth); and
    • coconut milk – this is optional (about 10 teaspoons – roughly 1/4th of a 13 oz can – $1.59 = $.40 cents worth).

    Dissolve the agar agar in the boiling hot coffee in a saucepot. Mix mix mix. Add your sweetener. Mix. Pour the piping hot mixture into a pie plate. Alright, just cover and chill it for about 2 hours. Done. It’s traditional to cut it into squares (as you see above). Splash on a teaspoon of coconut milk per serving. If you have them around, put a roasted coffee bean on top. Makes eight~ ten servings, depending on the size (less than $.10 per serving – half of that if you do not use the coconut milk of course). Be sure to have this with some lovely tea!

    (you can also cool it into cute little cups for individual servings)

    * the urban vegan’s post is actually VERY helpful for gaining a good understanding of agar agar. Read it and let the erudition flow!

    P.S. I don’t really follow diet news, so, maybe someone can tell me if there are any standards for what is “low-carb”? My very casual research shows me that the FDA hasn’t made a decision yet, but, I’m guessing that might not be the latest info.

    Update: VegCookingBlog, thanks for linking to this post! My stats are blowing up 🙂 !!!! I’ve also written a post on making Mango Kanten.

    ————————-

    Housekeeping notes:

    (1) I’ve added a “Tips” page to the blog to park handy things I learn about (and/or blog about). For example, last week, limes went on sale – 10 for a dollar. So…I’m not going to use ten in a given week…and they don’t last forever…but they can last longer if you slice them and freeze them. Like so:

    Might be better to peel skin off – haven’t tried it that way yet. Works grrrrreat in iced tea. (This is a tip contributed by my mom.)

    (2) Not sure why, but Feedburner sent off an old post (from April ’07) on May 10. It wasn’t my doing! I’ll try to find out why that happened.

    Luxurious, Lazy and Thrifty – Poached Eggs

    If you have a little vinegar, and a small pot, you can have the most glorious poached eggs. Do you need silky golden yolk slipping away from a firm white? Don’t get me started!

    Poaching away. Happily.

    Adorned with a stripe of salt and black pepper.

    Digging in!!!

    Lately, I have been thinking about lowering my fat intake by just a little bit. Having fried eggs all the time is no path to glory. So I thought I might try poaching eggs instead. Many many ugly eggs later, victims of my experiments, I realized I needed perhaps to actually learn how people do it. I got a serious bee in my bonnet after fixating on …Lisa’s… eat, drink and be a fat bastard photostream on Flickr, where she displays her first proper set of poached eggs. I was totally inspired! After a few more tries, I feel like I have it down to a science!*

    Poached Eggs

    • 2 eggs; (about $.16)
    • water in a pot, enough to cover the eggs by 1/2″ or so – about 2 cups;
    • 1 tablespoon of vinegar (the very cheapest distilled or apple cider is fine – mere pennies, if at all).

    Bring the water to a boil. Shut off the heat. Wait until the bubbles stop. Add the vinegar. Crack each egg carefully and slip them in. Wait about 5 minutes, if you like them a teensy bit runny (as I do). Fish them out of the pot with a flat spatula. If you have some roasted garlic or garlic butter lying about, drop a teaspoon or two on the eggs. I like my poached eggs with some pita bread (about $.10 per pita) – costs less if you use regular bread (shown above with a toasted white roll). Lot of goodness for less than fifty cents. Enjoy!!!

    *With practice, it’s totally multi-tasking friendly. For example, the other day, I started the water, made a short phone call, checked email, plopped in the eggs. I was done with the eggs at the end of the call!

    Canned Fish is a Superstar III: Spicy, Instant Spaghetti (about $.30 per serving)

    Faster than you can say puttanesca, you can muster up a nice lunch from a can of California Girl Sardines in Chili Sauce (there are also tomatoes in this). Not too hot – just a small twinge of heat. For $1.49, you get 15 oz. I’ve seen these in the wilds of Cub Foods in the Twin Cities as well as the Safeways of California – I’d be shocked if you can’t get them in a supermarket. If not, they will surely be on the shelves of your local Hispanic/Asian groceries.

    Part III in a series of posts about the wonders of canned fish – click here for part I (about fishcakes and capellini), and here for part II (about fried rice).

    These are quite delicious. Surprising, actually – maybe I had low expectations? I boiled about 1/2 lb of dry spaghetti (usually can be found for $1.00/lb – likely $.50 worth), drained it. Turned off the stove and threw in minced garlic (pennies) and olive oil to get the garlic to sweat in the residual heat. Added about 6 or 7 filets from the can (~$1.00 worth) and a bit of Parmesan. Mash the fish with the garlic. Throw the spaghetti back into the pan and mix, mix, mix. That’s it! Garnish with green onions/chives/etc.

    Make many servings – five or six for $.150, at least (so, about $.30 per serving). Total time is about 15 minutes – 10~12 minutes to boil the pasta, and a few more minutes to add the garlic, sardines, and parmesan (I used the grated parmesan by kraft – very inexpensive at Costco). If you have diners that like sardines, I think this is actually good (and pretty enough) for company. My taste tester gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up!

    The snipped chives and green onions garnishing the dish came from some container gardening – here’s a closeup of them.

    P.S. I found this handy chart for measuring various ingredients in their cooked/uncooked states (like pasta diameters).

    P.P.S. And, one of my friends found this video on Youtube…lesson of the day, kiddos, is that you must have the best tea no matter what!