It is my personal belief that more people than not, survive living paycheck to paycheck. There are many people living just one small disaster from being in a very precarious situation, from which it can be nearly impossible to recover. This belief based mostly on my own interaction, and experiences with people. I grew up in my early years, in a poor household. I learned a great deal about frugality in those years, how to make something from next to nothing.
This is a lesson that is especially useful when it comes to preparing meals. It is absolutely possible to make a meal that tastes great, and the family will enjoy without draining the wallet. As I sit here writing this, my stomach growling, I myself am preparing a nice low-cost meal. Potato and cheese Pierogies, sautéed with onions, total cost $2.35. Now granted this is just for me, cooking for a family can be just as easy and cost-effective!
I believe the key to creating great tasting meals, is having several key ingredients ALWAYS on hand. Adobo all-purpose seasoning, made by Goya is first and foremost. There are very few meals I create, into which adobo is not added. The second thing would be garlic, fresh is better but granulated works just as well in a pinch. Then we have Coriander, sage, cumin, thyme, and rosemary and of course black pepper. Sofrito tomato base, also by Goya is standard in my fridge as well as Worcestershire, and soy sauces.
If you keep those few things always on hand, you can make a damn piece of cardboard taste good! Not that anyone would, nor am I suggesting you try but hopefully you understand the point. A few other things I always keep on hand, fresh onions, bell peppers, potatoes and tortilla shells. Of course there is always the need for other ingredients as well, but with just those few items it is possible to make anything you are cooking taste and smell fantastic!
I cook for just myself a lot, since I am single and live alone. Cooking for one can be harder than cooking for a family sometimes, especially if you love to cook as much as I do, and enjoy eating as much as I do. I often times find myself making enough food to feed a family in order to actually make what I want to eat. But I do have my few little items that work great for one; anything stuffed into a tortilla shell is great. Hot dog chimichangas are one of my favorites, quick easy and no real clean up.
One of my favorite things to both make and eat is sausage potato casserole; cost next to nothing to make and can feed a family of 5 for under $10. Take 8-10 medium red skin potatoes; boil until cooked but not soft. Let them cool until you are able to slice them. Slice all the potatoes thinly. Lay the potato slices on the bottom of the casserole dish and up the sides, creating a “crust”. Put in a layer of shredded cheese, flavor of your choice. Add a layer of potato slices, then a layer of thinly sliced cooked sausage (I use Hillshire farms beef hot links), another layer of shredded cheese, potato slices, sausage, and top with the remaining potato slices. Cook in the oven at 375 for about 20 minutes. Remove and top with another layer of shredded cheese and cook for about another 5 minutes.
That casserole is not for everyone, but just an example of one of the tasty meals you can put together for under $10. I also do much of my shopping at discount food stores, such as save-a-lot. I don’t buy everything there, but dry goods, vegetables I will use within a day or two, and spices and sauces are a staple I purchase at discount stores. The dollar stores often carry discounted food as well, but one needs to be aware of what the expiration dates on anything purchased in those stores is on some items.
Get a store awards card for any supermarket you frequent, and pay close attention to deals. If you are able to, purchase dry goods and such in bulk when they are deeply discounted for using the store card. One of things I always buy when there is a special is butter; I will purchase 10 Lbs of butter when it is on sale for $1.99Lb and freeze it, rather than pay $4.99Lb every week. Over the course of a year that is about $150 savings for me, of course I use A LOT of butter.
The point of this whole rambling is quite simply, you really can make something from nothing with just a little planning. In these times of economic uncertainty, any chance we have to get by without spending more money than necessary to survive is sometimes an absolute godsend. Please subscribe for more money-saving ideas, recipes, and general silliness of the Epicurean Technologist.