The Recession Special: 5 Low-Cost, Family Friendly Meals

by Matt Moore on September 27, 2011 · 50 comments

in Cooking, Food & Drink, Travel & Leisure

On a typical Friday night, you can find me down at Robert’s Western World, a honky-tonk located on Broadway Street in downtown Nashville.  Robert’s has always been considered a Mecca for fans of the Rockabilly and Country & Western genres.  Yet, local Nashvillians will also tell you that Robert’s has arguably always been the best place to snag a burger after a night of imbibing oneself on rhythms and brews.

So, it was to my delight when Robert’s unveiled its “recession special” as the economy tanked in 2008.  For a mere five ($5) dollars, patrons could indulge in a fried bologna sandwich, a bag of potato chips, a cold beer, and a choice between either a Moonpie or a Goo Goo Cluster.  In a town full of poor, struggling musicians, Robert’s “recession special” was a hit.  Simple, cheap food–and alcohol–served at a wholesale price.

Nevertheless, after a few years of turmoil the economy seemed to be on an uptick.  Of course, this was great news for the American economy.  But for those of us here in Nashville, the “recession special” went by the wayside . . . it was back to paying full prices.  Bummer.

Nowadays, economists, politicians, and business executives continue to debate whether or not our country is headed for a “double-dip recession,” but one need only to look around to realize that we are not living in the golden age.  Corporate layoffs, stock market roller coaster rides, and rising fuel and food prices don’t make the situation any easier.  Most of us are looking around the corner for our own “recession special.”

Allow me to help you.  The AoM archives offer many articles featuring creative tips and advice on ways to save money. And so naturally, as the food contributor, I felt it time to do my part.

When times are tough, the dollar-menu at fast food restauranteurs can be rather alluring. Sure, it’s not a very healthy option, but when you’re really in a pinch, calories are calories. But it is possible to give Mickie D’s a run for its money and cook cheaply at home. So for those looking for drive-thru alternatives, I’m providing you with some cheap, tasty, and relatively healthy meals that neither come from a box, nor break the bank.  In fact, these meals all come in at just under a few dollars per serving–or in fast food terms–less than the cost of a value fry, burger, and drink.  So, enjoy some of my “recession specials.”  I’m heading down to Roberts.

Live simply,

MM

Shopping note:  Wholesale clubs (Sam’s, Costco, BJ’s, etc) are all great places to stock up and save on food.  For a minimal yearly membership fee, you can take advantage of some great bargains.  However, the quantities of most items tend to be quite large.  For small families or singles, consider splitting membership fees, shopping trips, and food items with others to take advantage of these great savings without letting any food go to waste.  In addition to regular coupons and membership cards, large retail grocery stores offer additional discounts and savings flyers online.  Save gas and time by perusing discounts online before making a trip to the store.  Last but not least, don’t forget about your local farmers’ markets.  Oftentimes, you can find great deals on fresh produce grown locally because transportation and storage costs are not included–not to mention locally grown products are often superior in taste.

Cuban Style Rice + Beans

Rice and beans have always been a fixture of low-budget cuisine.  I’ve jazzed these up with a little spice in the seasoning, and rounded them out with some cool sour cream to finish.  To save even more money, go with dried beans.  Soak them overnight in water, and then simmer for a few hours until tender.  (Prep: 5 minutes, Cook: 30 minutes, Serves: 4)

Rice

2 Tablespoons Butter
2 Cups Converted Rice
4 Cups Water
1 Tablespoon Salt

Bring all ingredients to a boil over high heat in a small pot.  Allow mixture to continue to boil, until water has just reached the top of the rice mixture.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes until all of the water has evaporated and rice is firm.

Beans

2 16 oz Cans Black Beans
1 Tablespoon Cajun Seasoning

Bring beans to a slow simmer over medium low heat, 20 minutes.

Toppings

½ Small Red Onion, finely diced
½ Cup Sour Cream

To serve, place a generous portion of rice into a shallow bowl.  Top the rice with the beans, followed by a tablespoon of sour cream and a sprinkle of red onions.

Slow Cook Pasta Bolognese

For busy families, slow cookers and crock pots are a lifesaver.  With minimal prep in the morning, you can let this sauce simmer away all day, and return to a meal that tastes like you’ve been working in the kitchen for hours.  In a pinch, you can also make this recipe on the fly–just allow the sauce to simmer for at least 15 minutes before serving to impart as much flavor as possible.  (Prep: 10 minutes, Cook: 6 – 8 hours unattended, Serves: 4)

2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Medium Onion, finely diced
4 Cloves Garlic, minced
1 lb 80/20 Ground Beef
1 Teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 Teaspoon Fresh Cracked Pepper
1 Bay Leaf
4 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
1 28 oz Can Tomato Puree
1 lb Dried Spaghetti Pasta
Parmesan Cheese, grated

In the morning, add oil to a skillet over medium heat.  Add onions and sauté until just tender, about 2 minutes.  Next add garlic and ground beef, cook until beef is no longer pink.  Remove from heat, drain excess grease, and add to a slow cooker over low heat.  Add the next 5 ingredients, mix thoroughly, cover and cook for 6 – 8 hours undisturbed.  When ready to serve, boil pasta for 10 – 12 minutes, or al dente.  Plate pasta, top with Bolognese sauce, and garnish with parmesan cheese to taste.

Smoked Sausage Jambalaya

A classic comfort food of bayou cooking, this one skillet meal is sure to satisfy the entire family.  Pick up a bag of frozen and diced peppers and onions to save time and money.  (Prep: 5 minutes, Cook: 30 minutes, Serves 4)

2 Tablespoons Butter
1 Cup Frozen Diced Bell Peppers and Onions
2 Cloves Garlic, minced
1 lb Smoked Sausage, cut into ½ inch diagonal slices
2 Cups Converted Rice
3 Cups Water
1 16 oz Can Stewed Tomatoes
1 ½ Teaspoons Cajun Seasoning
Sliced Green Onion Tops, garnish

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Carefully add frozen onions and peppers and sauté for 2 – 3 minutes.  Add garlic and sausage and cook until sausage is just browned and warmed through, about 5 minutes.  Add rice, and stir to coat the grains in the drippings of the pan.  Increase heat to high, add water, tomatoes, and seasoning; bring to a boil.  When mixture reaches a steady boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 – 25 minutes.  Serve, garnish with sliced green onions.

Beef Stroganoff

A play on that boxed version, this satisfying and simple meal is always a family favorite.  I’ve lightened this recipe up a bit by utilizing lean ground beef, reduced fat sour cream, and whole grain pasta.  Trust me, your taste buds won’t notice a difference, but your waistline will.  (Prep: 5 minutes, Cook: 20 minutes, Serves 4)

2 Tablespoons Butter
1 Small Onion, finely diced
8 oz Sliced Mushrooms
1 lb Lean Ground Beef
1 Teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 Teaspoon Fresh Cracked Pepper
1 Cup Beef Broth
1 Cup Sour Cream
1 lb Whole Grain Wide Noodle Pasta
Chopped Parsley, garnish

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Sauté onions and mushrooms for 5 minutes.  Next add beef, season with salt and pepper, and cook until no longer pink.  Add broth and bring to a slow simmer.  Reduce heat to low, stir in sour cream.  Meanwhile cook pasta for 10 – 12 minutes, or just short of al dente.  Drain pasta and add into the stroganoff mixture.  Toss and continue to cook for another few minutes.  Plate mixture into shallow bowls and garnish with chopped parsley.  Serve.

SPAM and Green Pea Risotto

Sure, Italians everywhere are probably crying foul over my use of SPAM in their beloved risotto.  Truth be told, I know quite a few people who will actually admit that eating SPAM  is a guilty pleasure.  In any event, we are making the most of this cheap, canned meat by giving it a little bit of texture in the beginning stages of the recipe.  After that, we’ll build a classic risotto, utilizing Mahatma Brand Valencia rice, as it’s about half the price of most Arborio versions you’d typically use in risotto.  (Prep: 5 Minutes, Cook: 35 minutes, Serves 4)

4 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil, divided
1 12 oz Can SPAM, diced into ½ inch squares
3 Cloves Garlic, minced
2 Cups Mahatma Short Grained Valencia Rice
8 Cups Chicken Stock, warmed
½ Teaspoon Salt
½ Teaspoon Fresh Cracked Pepper
1 ½ Cups Frozen Green Peas
Parmesan Cheese, grated

Add two tablespoons of olive oil into a skillet over medium high heat.  Add SPAM, cook for a minute or two, until browned, stir well, and cook for another few minutes; remove from pan.  Next, add the remaining oil followed by the garlic; sauté 1 minute.  Mix in the rice, and using a wooden spoon, mix the rice and coat the grains in oil, 2 minutes.  Begin adding 1 cup of stock at a time, allowing the mixture to simmer until more broth is needed; keep stirring.  Continue in this manner until the rice is al dente and creamy, approximately 25 – 30 minutes.  Note:  Not all of the broth may be used.  When the mixture is creamy and the rice is cooked, fold in the peas and cooked Spam until heated through.  Remove from heat, garnish with cheese, and serve.

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Do you have any recipes for great frugal meals? Share them with us in the comments!

 

 

{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ringo September 27, 2011 at 2:32 pm

The cheapest way to feed a group is with a roasted chicken. At my local grocery store, I buy whole chickens for $10, and they yield about 4 to 5 pounds of meat.

2 frank September 27, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Spam goes with so many things. Love it.

3 Sally September 27, 2011 at 3:22 pm

At $2.50 for a 12 oz. can (Wal*Mart), Spam is not all that cheap. To me, a good price on meat is $2 a pound. If you can change my mind, my kids will thank you. They love SPAM!

4 Joe D. September 27, 2011 at 3:29 pm

Thanks for the inclusion of the Bolognese sauce. Whether I feel poor or flush, it’s always one of my favorites. And it’s great simmering on the stove as well as the crockpot.

Since it’s AoM, I won’t call you out for mixing risotto with Spam. Any other site, I’d probably post a nasty comment ;)

5 Mark Neustadt September 27, 2011 at 4:01 pm

I’ve been posting ideas for cheap family dinners on one of my blogs at http://cheapfamilydinners.com/

Probably our favorite is homemade pizzas.

6 Daren Redekopp September 27, 2011 at 4:13 pm

That Cuban rice & bean dish looks like an absolute party. Another think that I like so much that it’s become a part of my daily routine is this:

Plain Yogurt + Chopped Dates + Almonds/Walnuts/Cashews

IT IS INCREDIBLE!

7 Jonathan September 27, 2011 at 4:25 pm

White beans and bacon (with onions) is stupid easy and tastes delicious.

8 Brok September 27, 2011 at 4:37 pm

My mother, sister, and I post various homemade recipes on our blog Tales From The Kitchen Table. The meals aren’t always cheap, but more often then not they are very reasonably priced, and we sometimes give suggestions for cheaper alternatives. Of course these days, cheaper alternatives gets weird as cuts of meat that were once garbage scraps are being elevated to godhood, according to their prices. Like corned beef, or pork shoulder.

But a warning- the recipes are generally not that hard, but don’t generally take shortcuts. We usually do things by hand, from scratch (except things like grinding our own flour, gathering our own honey, things like that.) check us out at http://barbbyro.blogspot.com/

Oh, expect some adult language and adult humor too.

9 Belligero September 27, 2011 at 6:14 pm

Cheap food (and energy) is a big part of why the USA has a recession in the first place. With the number of poorly educated, TV-addicted, obese suburbanites around, it’s no wonder productivity and creativity have tanked. I greatly appreciate the efforts on this blog to counteract the lack of self-sufficiency and mindless consumption that has set in, however. The entry on creating more than you use is a particularly good one.

OK, enough editorializing. These actually look pretty tasty, thanks! (Except for Spam, it really IS low quality. And just to be clear, when I say “cheap food”, I’m talking about the fast food, processed junk, and sugar-laden garbage that is so common in North America – not these recipes. (Except, again, for the Spam.)

10 Rob September 27, 2011 at 7:09 pm

http://www.youtube.com/user/DepressionCooking

This is a great channel on YouTube.

11 jeff September 27, 2011 at 7:29 pm

I am afraid that most people confuse eating fugally with eating cheaply, and that is an error. A good example would be the use of converted rice in the recipes in this article. Converted rice is a processed rice that is less flavorful then regular long grain white rice, and it is also a good deal more expensive. Also, canned beans though cooked are also several times more expensive than dried beans, which can be a simple or very elegant food with just a little attention. If what you’re looking for is simplicity, nutritional value, variety and very little expense I would suggest changing not the ingredients so much as changing the entire style of cooking, the direction would be toward Asian, Latin, and traditional cooking of the Mediterranean region forgetting the so called Mediterranean Diet which was a marketing idea rather than a reality. We Americans use to eat a simple well balance diet that was big on fresh seasonal foods that were locally produced, augmented with home grown and preserved foods. We need to look at our food a lot harder than a simple list of recipes although the writer has good intentions.

12 Phillip September 27, 2011 at 7:52 pm

Love the post! Can we get a version of this without grains and pasta?

13 Wyatt September 27, 2011 at 7:59 pm

How about some Hoppin’ Johns? Whenever there is rice (white) and black-eyed peas on the table I combine the two and drop a dollop of mayonnaise on them and mix it all up. It can go sans-mayo as well.

14 marik September 27, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Spam isn’t allowed to call itself “meat.” It’s a “meat product.”

15 Bryce September 27, 2011 at 10:19 pm

There’s one thing conspicuously missing: chili. The ingredients are simple and cheap: ground beef (or turkey as I prefer), peppers, onions beans, tomato sauce or salsa, and chili powder. I make a pot with 2 lbs. of meat and 2 cans of beans, and it can yield up to 5 days of meals in my itty bitty house.

16 Steve September 27, 2011 at 11:20 pm

One of the easiest meals I make is buying a ham steak on sale – Smithfield is the best and you can get them on sale for about $4 to $5. It will easily serve 2, sometimes 3. It has a small bone that I cut out, along with some of the fat around the side, plus the juice in the package which I use to season some green beans. Sometimes I quarter some potatos and cook them with the beans, other times I just serve baked potatos. You can also add corn to the beans and make a type of succotash. I fry the ham on a skillet or grill it on my gas grill. From start to finish you can put this together in 30 minutes or less for less than $8. Mmmm good.

17 Pessimist September 27, 2011 at 11:33 pm

SPAM IS meat… It’s spiced pressed ham.

Actually, seeing the SPAM lunch meat cans made me think that SPAM musubi might be on the menu… It’s ultra simple to make, and it’s relatively cheap (costs less than a burger and fries).

It’s also delicious and filling. It also makes for a clean presentation. For these reasons, I can’t even begin to tell you how hugely successful it’s been at my shoestring budget dinner parties.

Step 1: soak medium grain white rice until it turns opaque. Two cups should work nicely.

Step 2: drain rice and steam it as you normally would

Step 3: during last few minutes of waiting for rice, slice 1 can of SPAM and pan fry it until crispy golden bubbles form.

Step 4: carefully (CAREFULLY!) cut SPAM can so only bottom 1/4 or 1/3 remains.

Step 5: place nori strip (1/4 sheet cut widthwise) on plate

Step 6; center 1 slice of SPAM on nori (nori should cross widthwise)

Step 7: pack remaining “can” with rice. Tightly.

Step 8: tap “can” on plate and place rice block on SPAM slice.

Step 9: wet nori ends and wrap.

Step 10: transfer to serving plate and repeat from step 5 as needed until no spam remains.

18 familyman September 28, 2011 at 1:28 am

While all of the recipes are great, you could easily double or triple the quantity of each dish with the inclusion of vegetables that will completely break down in a sauce. For example, with the bolognese sauce, if you slow cook the onions/garlic with 3 zuchinni, 3 eggplant and 3 large peppers (here in Istanbul we have kırmızı biber, kind of a red bell pepper… kinda), you can stretch the meal much further while also making it much healthier. If you cook it low and slow for an hour or so, you can’t even really tell the vegetables are in there, texture-wise, but it does make a much deeper flavor. The french mirepoix or the cajun holy trinity are examples, but I thank you can make it even more robust with heartier veggies.

19 Belligero September 28, 2011 at 4:21 am

Good post there, Jeff. I agree completely; it’s not the cost of ingredients that needs to change, as much as the dependence on “convenience” ingredients that don’t benefit anyone except industrial farming and processing companies. It’s a major factor in American obesity and health problems.

But what I’ve really been noticing lately is the effect of crap food on people’s mental health; depression, fatigue, negativity and just general dim-wittedness are probably more closely related to our diet than we realize.

20 Todd September 28, 2011 at 6:26 am

What about green beans, potatoes and smoked sausage? Pretty common here in the midwest. All you do is peel a few potatoes and cover the bottom of a small pot with them…open up five cans of green beans and pour them in (along with the water they are packed in). Slice up some smoked sausage and cover it all, then top with pepper and some butter. Cover and simmer for a couple of hours and that’s it. Feeds an entire family for under $10, with enough for leftovers for lunch for more than one person the next day.

21 Don September 28, 2011 at 7:57 am

I ate black beans and rice 6 days a week for for 4 years while my daughter was in private college. I strongly recommend using brown rice instead of white rice. It is much more filling. And, it may be healthier for you. Still, it is a high carb meal, and I gained a lot of weight, which I am losing now. Whole wheat spaghetti is also more filling than its white counterpart.

22 Dave M September 28, 2011 at 8:11 am

I have some friends and family in Hawaii; over there, SPAM is practically it’s own food group. They cook it about 1,000 ways LOL, but it’s not cheap- it costs about twice the price on the islands.

23 Anna September 28, 2011 at 9:24 am

While not a man, I have a few of them around the house… so when I saw this awesome post, I thought I could make a couple of suggestions. For a few more cents, buy lean ground beef – its more for the money. Double the rest of the recipe. Or cut out the beef and and add an extra onion.

24 Andrew#2 September 28, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Cheap eats:

– The “Ethnic” aisle. If it’s not written in English except for a little white sticker, you’ve got a deal. Some goes for ethnic markets.

– Spice: spicy food makes your stomach feel full faster. Spicy food is more satisfying.

– Chapati/flour tortilla: 2 cup of flour, rough cup of water, tbsp of oil, pinch of salt. Knead and cover with a damp cloth, let sit for an hour. Roll egg sized wads flat on floured surface (nice and thin like you think they should be) and fry quickly on a dry, hot skillet. Skillet much be dry — no grease. Serve promptly and fill with whatever’s handy. Beans, tomato, plain yogurt, ground meat. Quick and easy.

– Learn to hunt/fish/forage close to home. Fairy ring mushrooms, canola greens, coldwater carp/suckers are delicious.

25 StephanieB September 28, 2011 at 3:22 pm

These are definitely great ideas for eating less expensive! For my husband and I we chose to get rid of cable and watch stuff on Hulu and Netflix rather than sacrifice our food budget. The quality of what we eat is more important than our immediate entertainment. We are what we eat!

26 Rachel September 28, 2011 at 6:31 pm

I guess I’m lucky since I never really liked meat. I do eat seafood, but never been much of a meat eater, ever since I was a kid. I’ll eat it only if there’s no other option. So I am not facing the same challenge of the high price of meat – I’m sure that’s quite a challenge for families. Split pea soup is an excellent, inexpensive meal that is also high in protein. Two cups of onions, sauteed until very soft, add two cups of split peas (I mix yellow and green), two cups of chopped carrot, two cups of chopped celerly, and about 8 cups of your favorite broth. Simmer for an hour or two or until peas are tender. A soup is only as good as its broth. You can use soggy carrots and celery and the cheapest dried peas, as they will all be cooked down anyway, but don’t skimp on the broth. Go with a good quality brand and not those tiny salty cubes that are mostly MSG. Unless, of course, you really are very financially challenged in which case, a little excess sodium is worth the savings. Mushroom barley is another good inexpensive soup, although mushrooms are a bit more than carrots and celery, and barely isn’t as high in protein, but it’s still quite tasty. My family was rather poor for the first ten years of my life, and so for dinner we often had bowls of split pea soup with hunks of cheese and some good crusty Italian bread. It is still one of my favorite meals. Nowadays I often have a hearty bowl of soup with something small as an accompaniment, like a bagel with cream cheese or a grilled cheese sandwich. It is enough for my dinner. Although my soups contain tons of veggies, I often have a salad or some carrots and celery as a starter.

27 Matt R. September 28, 2011 at 8:45 pm

Get a can of chili, like busch’s or something like that, but it in the bottom of a pan, cover with cheese, and put corn bread mixture on top of that, after mixing the corn bread of course. Let cook until bread is golden brown on top. Chili bread! feeds 2-4 people for about 5 bucks.

28 Colonel September 28, 2011 at 8:46 pm

If you really want to eat like your grandparents, or at this point possibly like your grandparents’ parents, make grains the base of your diet. From time immemorial the basis of man’s diet has been grain and while these days carbohydrates go back and forth from healthy to unhealthy thanks to fad diets, they were still good enough for our forefathers who were mostly in better shape than us. These days we have the option of whole grain everything, and whole grains are great both good for your body and still easy on the wallet. Breads, pastas, rice – You can combine them with just about anything to make a cheap and filling meal.

29 Brennan September 28, 2011 at 10:05 pm

Shepherd’s Pie is really cheap to make, and really filling.
4 large servings.

In large pot:
Boil until tender.
1 1/2 peeled, quartered potatoes (cheap)
Transfer potatoes to bowl. Save 1/2 cup potato water.
To bowl of potatoes add:
1 tbsp butter
salt and pepper
Beat until fluffy.
Preheat oven to 400 F
In large skillet add and heat until tender:
3 tbsp oil
1 chopped onion
Whatever vegetables you want! Be creative with what you have.
Turn heat to medium, add, and brown:
1 lb ground beef or ground turkey (ground turkey is usually cheaper)
Spoon off excess fat. Stir in:
1 tbsp flour
Cook for 2 minutes, add:
3/4 cup water
1/2 tsp thyme and rosemary
Salt and pepper
whatever spices sound good
Cook until thickened.
To a 9-inch pie pan or 8 x 8-inch baking dish, add meat-vegetable mixture, then spread mashed potatoes on top. Spread butter on top of the potatoes.
Cook until potatoes are browned, 30 to 35 minutes.
Cool slightly so it doesn’t burn your mouths and enjoy!

30 David September 28, 2011 at 11:20 pm

SPAM isn’t that cheap when you consider what it does to your health.

31 Cocktailsfor2 September 28, 2011 at 11:26 pm

I apologize for the length of this – in re-reading, I see that I just kept going and going and going…
I agree with those who have pointed out that converted rice is MUCH more expensive than sack rice. I can get a 20# sack of rice at my local independent market (which helps keep the dollars in my community) for about $10. A box of Minute Rice or Uncle Ben’s goes for over $12 for a 4.5# box. Also agree with those that pointed out that canned beans are processed and have a lotta crap added, including MASSIVE amounts of salt.

At the above-mentioned market, they do their own butchering which means the meat is [a] fresh, and [b] inexpensive, and they sell nearly EVERY PART of the animals they butcher (chicken feet, cow feet, innards, etc.). I get chicken leg quarters (drumstick + thigh) for 79 cents a pound, and make the following recipe:

Cocktailfor2′s Easy Peasy Lemon Chicken
3 – 4 chicken leg quarters (not cut into pieces) rinsed, patted dry, salted and peppered
2 medium lemons, zested and sliced
1 large or 2 medium white onions, sliced to a little thinner than onion ring size
1 clove garlic, minced (or more, to taste – just don’t overwhelm everything else)
salt and pepper
Olive oil

In large, deep skillet (preferably with a lid / cover, or aluminum foil will do), heat a coupla tsp. olive oil. (medium-high heat)
Add 1/2 of onions (either 1/2 of large, or 1 medium) and 1/3 of lemon zest. Saute until just about translucent. Add one lemon’s worth of slices (squeeze juice into onions first), and add the garlic.
Stir onion/lemon/garlic, and add chicken, skin side down. Add 1/3 of lemon zest.
Cover and cook for appx 18 – 20 mins, remove chicken, stir lemon & onion mixture, and return chicken, skin-side up. Add all remaining sliced onion, 1/2 of remaining zest and 1/2 of remaining lemons (save remaining zest and slices for garnish). re-cover and cook for 10 – 12 minutes.
Flip chicken over to skin-side down and reduce heat to medium. Cook uncovered for about 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
Serve over rice or wide noodles, topping with remaining zest and lemon slices.
Yes, eat the cooked lemon slices. They will add a little tartness, but they’ll be very tender. Another nice thing is that this is a one-skillet dish (besides rice/noodles).
Your cooking time may vary – keep an eye on your heat, but the chicken should be starting to pull away from the bone at the drumstick while still in the pan.
I hope you enjoy this – it’s easy, its tasty, and it’s VERY inexpensive (about $3.50 a serving) to serve 3-4 people once or 2 people twice.

32 Patrick Regan September 29, 2011 at 10:37 am

A few notes as a native son of New Orleans I thought I would pass on for your Jambalaya recipe:

1. If you can get it and it’s not expensive (which largely depends on where in the country you are) the best smoked sausage to eat with Jambalaya is called andouille. A traditional french sausage. Very tasty and spicy.

2. If you use Cajun seasoning, there are two brands that are popular even among hard-core foodie natives (like myself):

A. http://www.tonychachere.com/ Tony Chachere’s Cajun Seasoning
B. http://www.chefpaul.com/seasoning Chef Paul’s Magic Seasoning

This stuff is the magic dust. I’ve seen any number of professional chefs and cooks use the stuff in cooking at home, and seen it in kitchens in New Orleans.

33 Stephan September 29, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Fried rice is real easy to cook, taste good, filling and it’s fun to get creative with. You can basically throw in just about anything into it and it’ll taste good. My dad usually does it with loads of garlic, followed by Chinese roasted BBQ pork, prawns and eggs =)

34 Ryan Grimm September 30, 2011 at 11:21 am

I take issue with the idea that Costco, BJ’s etc. are such a good bargain, ESPECIALLY due to the size of packaging/volume of material you have to take.
I have found that looking carefully through local supermarket sales flyers, even local drug stores and discount stores that sell canned goods, often exceeds the price cuts available at the Big Box chains.
Buy-one-get-one sales, even buy-one-get-TWO sales are great. Often you can use on-line and newspaper (remember them?) coupons which the Big Boxes don’t take. And the occasional doubler coupons as well. Ask your neighbors for their Sunday ads sections, odds are they don’t look through them anyway.

And keep a close eye on the meat counters. Some stores have manager-discounted price coupons on them because they are closing in on the use-by date: simply repackage if needed in single or double servings, and freeze immediately or use immediately.
I have gotten on-sale brats, combined with electronic checkout coupons (some stores offer this), COMBINED with the manager’s coupons, for $0.01 a pound. Yep, a penny.
Bacon for $0.15 a pound, so of course I bought all they had…no limits on many sale items. Still living off the bacon, I think 5-6 pounds left to go in the freezer.
I have even bought stuff so discounted/on sale, they had to credit me on my bill, so they essentially paid me to take the food away. Maybe only a couple cents, but still…

HINT: place a bit of marinade in with the cuts of meat and chix, and freeze. They’re ready when you defrost…and BTW, defrost slowly in the fridge, the quality of cooking will improve markedly.

This way I regularly save 40% and more on my food bill. I buy in quantity only IF it’s on sale, and I like it, and I can prepare it in different ways.

35 Shawn October 1, 2011 at 2:55 pm

Thanks Matt,
I really needed a few ideas. I hate fast food but money for food is pretty tight.

36 critter October 3, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Spam is great, just ask all of Hawaii. Spam & Eggs, Spam sushi, Spamwich, can’t go wrong. It’s easy to find a Hawaiian Spam & egg recipe online, which is another cheap and protein packed meal option. Little soy sauce, little sugar, Spam, couple eggs, simple.

37 Mrs. Peel October 3, 2011 at 4:11 pm

UNDER $3 PER BOWL
My husband and I were addicted to Top Ramen until I bought some Buckwheat Soba noodles in the asian foods aisle. For about $1, you get 5 bundles of dried soba noodles. Each bundle makes a very generous bowl.

- Stir fry or boil asian veggies to desired consistency (we used the frozen asian veggie mix from Costco)
- Cook the soba noodles in boiling water for about 5 minutes (you can throw them in with the veggies for a 1 pot meal), then add an egg or two and cook 1 more minute, or until eggs whites have turned opaque.
- At this point, we usually break down and add an MSG-loaded Ramen flavor packet to the bowl, which is SO tasty but high in sodium. Alternately, try adding dried ginger and red pepper flakes to the broth. – Combine noodles & veggies in a big bowl and grab your chopsticks.

38 Phillip October 6, 2011 at 5:45 am

Probably my Mexican heritage showing through here, but you can put just about anything in a few warm corn tortillas and have a nice meal. Leftover stews, scrambled eggs with salsa, fried potatoes and poblano peppers, various meat fillings, you name it. Serve it with rice and beans, and you’ve got a great cheap dinner. Or breakfast. Or lunch. Or midnight snack. Whatever. Bonus frugality points if you make the tortillas yourself using masa harina from the grocery store. It’s something like $4 a bag, and you can make dozens with it.

39 Max October 6, 2011 at 6:41 am

I would never touch processed foods, especially the likes of sausage/SPAM, I think it is determined by the situation too, though there are always better alternatives.

40 Julie Gaudet October 7, 2011 at 11:29 am

I am a sucker for a budget meal but also love food so it has to be great tasting or I’d rather splurge. I’ve always loved slow cooker recipes because I can pop everthing into the pot and let it be and come back hours later to a scruptious meal. Ringo, I am also a huge fan of the Roasted Chicken and love Jaime Oliver’s receipe for lemon/thyme chicken. Would love to hear other great budget friendly meal ideas!

41 Mike October 10, 2011 at 10:08 am

Often you can get meat in bulk relatively cheaply if you butcher it yourself. We used to sell our hogs to individuals for about $2.50/lb after they were already slaughtered. Not a bad way to go if you have the freezer space and local farmer.

42 Mark October 14, 2011 at 12:35 am

Lentil Pilaf
Cheap, easy and something a little different.

1/2 cup lentils
3/4 cup long grain rice
1-2 carrots chopped fine
1 med onion chopped fine
1-2 cloves garlic, sliced
Optional: slivered almonds, other veggies chopped fine (green peppers, etc)
1/2 tsp black pepper
1-2 TSP ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 TSP parsley
Olive Oil
2 cups Chicken Stock

Start lentils over low heat in saucepan with 1 cup water
Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat.
Add onions, carrots and any other veggies, plus cumin and tumeric, stir well and “sweat” veggies
Add rice and sliced garlic. Stir until rice is coated with oil and starts to turn opaque white.
Add stock, lentils and parsley. Cover and simmer over low heat until rice absorbs stock.
Makes one large skillet full.
Variation: nestle in skin-on chicken breasts or thighs. If I do this, I use rendered fat from the chicken in place of olive oil. I’ve also used Italian sausage in this recipe.

also: I concur with Phillip re corn tortillas. They also make great little pizza crusts.
ALDI is a good place for bargain shopping and is good for singles who don’t need or want the large quantities sold in wholesale club places

43 UncleSim October 14, 2011 at 4:56 am

Cheap, easy and filling… one of my favorites that I have about every other day.

Ramen – 1 package
Chicken – 1/4 can or to taste ($2 per 13oz can at Walmart or Sam’s)
Broccoli – Frozen, 4oz (optional)
Soy Sauce – Soy/corn tastes best to me, I avoid soy/wheat

I usually boil water in the coffeemaker, soak the noodles for about 10 mins in a covered dish, add the rest and let it soak another 10 mins or so, keeping hot with a warming plate or a min in the microwave.

The whole thing costs about $1 per serving, tastes great, and is mighty filling. Since it only needs boiling water to make, its great for camping/survival, too. I like broccoli sometimes, but you can add almost anything you want to it.

44 P.M.Lawrence October 14, 2011 at 5:31 am

Brennan, that is not genuine Shepherd’s Pie. The genuine article uses lamb or mutton as the meat. (Think about why.)

45 Wayne October 18, 2011 at 11:23 am

I just have to say – I tried the Jambalaya recipe, and it was /delicious/. I used Eckrich smoked sausage: http://www.eckrich.com/products/smoked-sausage/smoked-sausage and Basmati rice – I had to increase the cook time though, it took about an hour.

For the seasoning I just tossed in some Tony Cachere’s.

Guess what leftovers I’m having for lunch today? ;)

46 Ron October 20, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Faster and cheaper stroganoff recipe from Campbell’s Soup – you can of course, sub in your own preference (i.e. low sodium) beef broth or cream of mushroom soup – I also use fat-free sour cream and add frozen peas in the last 3-5 mins of cooking time…

http://www.campbellkitchen.com/recipedetail.aspx?recipeID=25201&fbid=ZfsPNar-1ke

47 Michael October 24, 2011 at 6:22 pm

Good article at a very appropriate economic time.

48 John_234 October 26, 2011 at 7:23 am

I notice you use a pretty big variety of herbs in your articles, and I know I’m not the only one staggered by the variety available at markets. Have you ever considered doing a guide on what various herbs are useful for, and how to pick out and buy them?

49 Colin Lewis October 27, 2011 at 11:03 am

I had no idea you where in nashville! that is great, roberts is the BEST place on broadway, and they have the special again, guess times are still ruff.

50 Ad December 1, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Okay so I tried the pea and spam risotto. Because we had spam, I love risotto, and I wanted peas anyways for other recipes. BUT, it actually tasted as good or better before I added the cooked spam back in. Just peas and risotto, great! And SPAM isn’t that cheap. Next time I’ll use HALF a pack of bacon (which is the same cost as a tin of SPAM) and I expect it to be even better.

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