Tag Archives: one dollar meals

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!


Forty Cent Chicken Soup

French Daisies


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.

    Okonomiyaki and my gratitude (for 20,000 views!)

    I’m still on blog-cation but I thought I couldn’t let 20,000 views pass by without saying hello and by golly, thank you!!!* So thank you for reading, commenting, linking. THANK YOU!!! You know it totally makes my day to obsessively check my sitemeter and see that someone in Salt Lake / Perth / Bombay / Tokyo / Lima / Sao Paulo was reading my blog for 25 minutes! And to get comment luv. Awww, it’s great!!!

    While I’m here, I should show the lentils I sprouted, as well as the riff on okonomiyaki I did with them. Is is really okonomiyaki if I just put stuff into a pancake, and ate it with Worchestershire sauce on top – without the genuine soup and other such? Yes, I know I’m taking liberties – so, feel free to see Just Hungry’s more comprehensive recipe here. But if you are lazy like me and want to just have a whiff of that Osaka sensibility with minimal work….read on!!! (Instead of “lazy” you can always use the word “busy” – works just as well!)

    Sprouted Lentils, in a Colander

    Sprouted Lentils, in a Colander

    How to Sprout Lentils

    It’s pretty easy. Soak 1 cup of lentils overnight. The next day, rinse and drain. Then loosely wrap the lentils in a few layers of paper towels (or I guess cheesecloth would work too). Leave the wrapped parcel in a shallow bowl. Check on it everyday – keep the lentils slightly wet by dripping enough water. Mine were “done” in about 5 days. Makes 5 cups of sprouts.

    Pancake Mix

    Pancake Mix

    In the Pan

    Lentil Sprouts with Pancake Mix

    In the Pan

    Okonomiyaki in the Making!

    on the plate

    Slice of Okonomiyaki, plated (pre-Worchestershire Sauce)

    Slackerrific Impromptu Okonomiyaki

    • 5 cups of sprouts; (from 1 cup of dried brown lentils = 1/4 lb = about 20 cents)
    • 1 cup of soy milk; (about 50 cents)
    • 1/2 cup of prepared pancake mix; (I think this was still too much batter – likely better to just use about 1/4 cup);
    • 1 egg; (about 16 – 18 cents)
    • Worchestershire sauce to taste.

    Wash and dry those sprouts. Because you have been watching over them as vigilantly as hawk, you will have very few “bad” sprouts – rotten / dry / etc. Pick through and discard. Mix the soy milk, pancake mix, and egg into a very large mixing bowl. Mix. Add the sprouts Fold them in. If you have other good stuff, this is the time to throw it in – I think shredded cabbage would be great here too. Heat up a skillet. You can do what I did – made a huge one – or make a few smaller ones. Totally up to you.

    Pour the mixture into the pan according to the size you desire. The sprouts will wilt a bit. Check the bottom of the okonomiyaki by slipping the spatula underneath – what color is it? Golden brown? Time to flip it! Flip it. Then do the same check. Eat immediately! Slosh generously with Worchestershire sauce. Makes three – four servings. Takes less than 1/2 hr.

    Next time, I’ll use less batter, and will add more more more stuff, like maybe some protein (tofu / chicken / etc.) How did it taste? Well, you can definitely enjoy the sprouts – earthy, not quite crunchy, yet offering some small resistance to one’s teeth. My diners gave it big, big thumbs up! I liked it. Well, maybe because it was breakfasty. Also, anything that gets browned in a skillet with starch is likely to win my heart. (like those jack mackerel cakes! and that spinach frittata!) I think the lentils plus the soy milk makes it very very filling and satisfying.

    And now, I’ll include here a totally gratuitous picture of Watermelon Kanten. Yeah, it’s good. Why? Because you have that almost-crunchy resistence of the watermelon flesh, then the give of the kanten. Ok! I’m back on blog-cation now!

    Watermelon Kanten Watermelon Kanten

    * Right now, this blog has over 19,000 views, and I expect it to reach views 20,000 in a few days, since it’s averaging about 2000 ~ 2500 views/month. (And I remember when I used to get 180 views per month!!! – and it still boggled my mind that anyone would read this blog back then! I don’t even force my dearest friends and family to read it!) Thank you so much for reading!!!

    Update: one of my dear kin tells me that my enthusiasm for the number of views I’ve gotten is a bit impassioned, to the degree of causing laughter on her part. Surely you cannot take me too seriously! Doesn’t everybody remember Sally Fields’s 1985 Oscar acceptance speech?

    Brining Helped My Chicken Curry

    Neighbor’s Red Poppy

    I want a little more excitement in my chicken dishes. Maybe brining will come to my rescue? The way it surely saved my Thanksgiving a few years back – it was so amazingly moist and tasty – my first time roasting a turkey!!! Fourteen pounds of Butterball, I believe. I was very intimidated. I was cooking for 12 friends. I was making the foundational dishes: turkey, gravy, stuffing, pumpkin pie, cranberry salad, mashed potatoes and possibly even fried rice – just to be safe. Oh, no pressure or anything!

    I used Emeril’s recipe (leaving out the thyme) for brine and it turned out great!!! I remember thinking, “They have no idea I how much I agonized over the gravy…and they love the turkey.” The bird turned out to be the easiest part!!! I kept asking my diners to sample the gravy because I worried they might not like it, but somebody finally said that it was not necessary because the turkey was actually good – not tough or dry. Oh, life’s not fair, but then again, nobody ASKED me to spend 90 minutes stirring the gravy like a maniac. Well, that’s enough reminiscing. I have poultry issues of the moment to dispatch.

    It’s very common to brine for “big” occasions, like Thanksgiving or some dinner party when you are serving roasted poultry. But why not brine to fight off the blah of the everyday? My challenge: long, forgotten, freezer-burnt chicken quarters. Too much freezing dries out the chicken. I’m not sure they had much chicken-ness left. No harm in trying to coax it out, though!

    So, I brined the chicken overnight.

    Brining Solution (for 3 chicken quarters)

    • 9 cups of water;
    • 1/3 cup of sea salt (table salt is not recommended by the authoritative cooks and I won’t argue);
    • 1/4 cup of “raw” sugar.

    (If you are curious about the science of brining, Dave Scantland gives a great explanation of the science behind the miracle of salty water on eGullet.) And then of course, I made curry out of the chicken.

    One Pot Madras Chicken*

    • 2 cups of onion (1 large onion);
    • 9 cloves of garlic;
    • about 2.5 cubic inches of ginger;
    • 2 lbs of potatoes (I sliced 6 smallish – medium Idahos in halves and quarters);
    • 5 tablespoons of madras curry powder;**
    • 3 glugs of ngouc mam (fish sauce) to taste; and
    • 3 chicken quarters, each cut into 3 parts (about 4 lbs);
    • dash of sugar;***
    • vegetable oil; and
    • a very large skillet.

    Note that you might want to lower the amount of ginger. I LOVE ginger, and it was very very gingery. I would even wager to say that the ginger factor added quite a bit heat.

    * I’ve previously posted instructions for Madras Chicken for the slow cooker, including approximate cost breakdowns, so mea culpas to those who might have read it already. Brown the chicken, about 4 minutes per side. Let the brown bits stuck to the pan stay (it will be your “fond”). Take the chicken pieces out of the pan. Then, brown the curry powder in a few tablespoons of vegetable oil (but not olive oil, because you won’t taste it – and it might burn). Then sweat the onions, garlic and ginger. Then add the curry powder. Then the ngouc mam and about two cups of water and scrape the bits from the bottom of the pan. Get it boiling. Add the potatoes and chicken. Add enough water to barely cover about 3/4 of the chicken height. Get it boiling hot. Simmer, simmer, simmer, on very very low for about 90 minutes. Your house will smell GOOD! And very strongly so. If you burn anything in the process, be sure to cut off the burnt parts and return the unburnt portions to the pan. Serve with rice. *** I didn’t add any sugar, but, I think I should have.

    I think the brining helped a lot. The chicken was tender and moist – not dry at all – almost falling off the bone. The potatoes are silky smooth, with a little resistance still. Very nice, if I may say so myself!

    * Suraj powder is quite inexpensive, if you can get your hands on it – about $1.59 for a POUND! Sold in Canadian supermarkets, I believe.

    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.