first post

first post

hey guys! It's my first post here. I just wanted to share some food tips that I've been working with. I recently took a week off of work to visit my mom for her birthday just as I was moving into a new apartment, paying off my car and getting a $300 brake job done, so aside from my usually tight budget, I got really in the hole for while. However, while in the hole, I still had to eat and eat well at that (I get sick if I don't eat right). So here are my tips that come from having to put into practice a lifetime's worth of tips and tricks taught to me by my mother.

First off, here are my staple foods:

Pasta (of any kind)
Potatoes
Beans
Ground beef
Onions
Spaghetti Sauce
Chicken

Most of the things I make require more things than this, but these are the base ingredients and staples. Now, I'm not a gourmet chef or anything, so you'll notice that this is almost literally just meat and potatoes. However, you can make a surprising variety of meals with just this short list of foods.

Just to disclaim, this is more a "tips and tricks" than a "how to", so I may make broad statements like "make mashed potatoes" and not give instructions. I assume that everyone has their own way of cooking, or if they don't, that they have Google.

We'll start with the pasta and go down the list. Pasta is wonderfully versatile. You can use it for your typical spaghetti meal, or you can add different things to it. I like to toss in a little butter, garlic and rosemary (or any spice, really). It's a nice light pasta meal that isn't ramen. If you have any chicken, put it in there too. The chicken is a nice complementary meat for such a light meal. For lunch today, I made spaghetti noodles, then added some cream of chicken soup for flavor and a bit of protein. That ended up making a meal last night for me and a guy friend (who eats a lot) and my lunch today and cost right around $1.89.

I love potatoes perhaps more than I should for what they are. They also serve a lot of purposes. They can make a meal of themselves or they can compliment a meal. There's baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, boiled potatoes, potato soup (of a million different varieties), oven french fries, potato salad, the list goes on. Oven french fries are one of my favorites--easy and cheap. Just take some potatoes and cut them up. Size and shape is really irrelevant, just make sure they're all relatively similar. Put them in a bowl and add a little olive oil or butter or margarine and whatever spices you'd like. I usually add rosemary and oregano, but whatever combination of spices you like is just fine. Put them on a cookie sheet and bake them at 350 for about 30 minutes. If you cut them really thin, the cooking time will be shorter, thick and it'll be longer. You'll have to experiment with this to find what works best. When they're soft all the way through and golden brownish on the outside, they're ready to eat. If you cut them thin, you can eat them with you fingers and if you cut them into cubes, you'll probably want a fork.

Another favorite potato recipe is what I used to call "Poor Man's Soup." Just cut some potatoes into cubes, throw them into a pot with some salt and boil them 'til they're soft. When you serve it, put some butter (or margarine) in the bowl and let it melt in the water. That way it'll coat the potatoes as they come out of the water and gives it a nice buttery flavor.

I'm not as familiar with beans as I am the rest of this, but since becoming unusually poor, I learned about them. They are by far the cheapest protein you can find. I bought a 16oz bag of kidney beans for 89 cents the other day. To prepare them, you'll need to to plan ahead. First, soak them in water overnight. This gets them all open and ready to be cooked. Next, I usually stick them in a crock pot covered in water with some salt and cook them on high from the time I go to work to the time I get home for dinner. If you don't have a crock pot--invest in one! They're cheap (low end at Wal-Mart costs about $8, which is the one I have) and useful. In the meantime, those of you without crock pots will still have to allow a couple of hours to boil the beans. Just cover them in water in a pot, put some salt in and boil them gently for a couple of hours. You'll want to check them occasionally just to make sure that the water doesn't boil out and to check for doneness.

Once you get the beans cooked, you have several options. You can eat them as they are if you'd like. I like to saute some onions and put them in there for more flavor. Last week I made a meal that fed me for days out of a bag of beans, a cup of rice and a couple boiled chicken thighs. I crock-potted the beans, made rice when I got home and pulled the chicken off the bone. When everything was cooked, I added them all together for a protein rich, Honduran style meal. You could also combine rice, beans, sausage and spices for a nice beans/rice meal.

Ground beef. If I had to pick one meat product to pimp as the perfect poor meat, this would be it. This will go a long way anywhere. I usually try to buy it in bulk, then cook it up, divide it into the regular size ziploc bags and put it in the freezer. Then, when you need it, just stick it in the microwave for a couple of minutes and you're good to go! Ground beef will go just about anywhere you want to stick it. You can put it in spaghetti sauce to add flavor and protein, you can put it in Hamburger Helper, you can put it in chili, tacos, potato soup, mashed potatoes--I'm particularly fond of the ground beef/potato combination. I like to saute some onions in a skillet, then toss in a bag of the ground beef and let the ground beef heat up with the onions, adding garlic, pepper, chili pepper and marjoram and then add that to mashed potatoes. It ends up being similar in flavor to shepherd's pie. Or you could add ground beef to the "Poor Man's Soup" that I mentioned earlier.

Onions: it doesn't constitute a meal, but it really makes a meal. Onions add a nice flavor to every one of the staple foods I've mentioned here and many other things as well. You can saute them separately or cook them with whatever you're mixing them with.

Spaghetti sauce is just a stand-by. It's not as versatile as the rest of the things I've mentioned, but it makes for a quick, easy and cheap spaghetti meal. Pour it in pot, add ground beef (or not, as it suits you) and put some spices in there such as oregano, thyme, basil, etc. and let it all cook together slowly as the sauce heats up. If you cook it this way, you can take a regular $1 can of spaghetti sauce and dress it up to impress. You'll surprise people with how good it tastes.

And finally, we come to chicken. Once again, so flexible. Buy it on sale and freeze it 'til you want to use it--you can't get meat any cheaper than that. There's at least six thousand different ways to prepare chicken, but here's my favorite poor skill ever. Boil the chicken--thighs, legs, breasts, whatever. Then, when you get done boiling it, let it cool. If you save the water you boiled it in, you've got chicken broth, which will substitute for water in anything you're cooking--beans, rice, pasta, potatoes. Once the chicken is cool, pull it off the bone and put it into ziploc bags and freeze it. You can use this as an addition to anything. Really. If you chop it up and put it in some ramen, you've just spent about 50 cents on an entire meal. Or, you can add it to the other pasta dish I mentioned in the pasta section. You can add it to your spaghetti sauce for an unexpected take on an old dish. You can put it in tacos with the ground beef and beans, you can make chicken salad out of it...it just goes on and on.

If you'd like to make the chicken your main dish, I like to stick it in the crock pot with some onions and carrots and then finish the meal out with potatoes in some form. Or you can stick it in the crock pot with some spaghetti sauce and finish out the meal with some pasta.

So there it is--my basic primer on cheap and easy foods. I hope this is helpful!
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