If your food is missing something, and it isn’t salt, it’s acid. Hell, probably half the time you think you’re missing salt, it’s actually acid you need.
Try a splash of lemon juice, hot sauce, or good vinegar next time you’re making a dish and it tastes “flat.
Get a metal frying pan – Stainless steel is flexible and easy to use. Nonstick coatings are worthless. A lid is useful, but not required. $5-10 thrift store or $30 new.
Get a large pot you can boil water in, with a lid. Watch out for aluminum pans – They can interact with acidic foods, and you don’t want that. $10-15 thrift store or $30 new.
Get a chef’s knife and a cutting board. Get a whetstone – The sharper your knife is, the less force you’ll be putting behind it when you cut yourself. And you will, eventually, cut yourself. Buy the knife and whetstone new – $30-50. Buy the board at a thrift store – $5.
Get a wooden spoon. Spend a couple extra dollars and buy one with a thick handle – They’re surprisingly easy to snap. $3 new.
Don’t skimp here – If you buy decent quality gear you won’t ever have to buy it again. That said, don’t go crazy – that $200 frying pan isn’t going to cook your food for you. Buy items that look like you could throw them at a dump truck without hurting them. But don’t actually do that.
Get yourself a big bundle of greens. Kale, chard, mustard, collard, cabbage, stinging nettles (Yup! They stop stinging when you cook ‘em), spinach, bok choy, beet greens, radish greens, endive, turnip greens, etc. Don’t use lettuces.
Loosely chop your greens, put a little oil in your pan, and turn it to medium heat. Put an inch or so of greens in your pan – A little more if you have a lid.
Feel free to experiment with various oils – Butter, olive oil, lard, vegetable oil, etc. Don’t be too afraid of saturated fats here – It doesn’t take much to coat a pan of greens.
Cook the greens, stirring casually, until they start to soften, then add a little salt. Taste ‘em and turn the heat off when they’re soft enough to be tasty.
Now add a little splash of acid – Lemon juice, lime juice, any type of vinegar. A small amount of honey or sugar is a good addition too.
Pick two or three of the following vegetables: broccoli, zucchini, cauliflower, carrots, brussels sprout, turnips, pumpkins, potatoes, peppers, eggplant, summer squash, onions, garlic (Go light on garlic!), celery, kohlrabi, leek, beets, parsnips.
Chop into smallish bits. Don’t stress about keeping them the same shape, but try to keep them roughly the samesize. Throw your veggie mix in your frying pan with a little oil. Medium heat, cook until brown, stirring consistently. Add a little salt and pepper, and one random herb – Ideally fresh, but anything that’s been in your spice cupboard for less than a year or two will do
If you have a hollow veggie, stuff it with lean hamburger, salt, a few breadcrumbs, and one random herb. A little cheese in the mix works well too, depending on mood. Bake at 300F until the vegetable bit is soft and the meat bit is brown all the way through. You can do this with zuchinni, bell peppers, spicy peppers, etc.
Oh boy, now you did it. You just had to have that new Playstation 360, so you’ve got $50 to eat for four weeks. You’re screwed.
But not quite. Go to the bulk section and get yourself some lentils. Don’t bother with the fancy french lentils or the red lentils; They all taste the same. If they’re cheap, split green or yellow peas cook almost identically, and provide a little variety.
Put on some boiling water and throw a handful of lentils in. If you use too many, it’ll be thick. If you use too few, it’ll be thin. Either way is delicious. Reduce the heat to low, put a lid on ‘em, and let ‘em sit on the back burner until they’re soft. The longer they cook, the more they’ll blend into your liquid.
Once they’re done, add a little salt. Lentils take to flavorings really well, particularly spicy flavorings. Try a little cayenne pepper and a spoonfull of sour cream. Alternatively, a small amount of honey or molasses is delicious. You could also use meat or veggie stock in place of water for some extra flavor.
Lentils are extremely cheap and high in protein. With a little added fat they’re a nutritious, filling meal for pennies.
Beans are very much like lentils, although they take much longer to cook. They’re sort of lentils on hard mode.
Add salt to boiling water – This will improve the flavor of the resulting pasta. If you’re cooking filled pasta or small, curvy pasta, a couple drops of oil added to the water can help keep it from sticking while you drain it. For long, thin pasta, prompt application of sauce should be enough to keep it from sticking. Throw your pasta in the water.
Be careful not to overcook your pasta – Take out a little and try some while it’s cooking. You want your pasta to still have a little structure to it, not be slimy and limp. Once it’s done, drain your pasta. If you’ve got a colander or sieve, use that – Otherwise use the lid to strain out the liquid, being careful not to burn yourself.
Apply store-bought pasta sauce. Yeah, I said it – You CAN make your own, but you’re not going to do it that much cheaper than pre-made sauce, and it’s a tricky sauce to season.
A little hamburger, cooked in your frying pan, is a good way to add protein.
Pasta takes hardly any time or thought – Perfect for nights when you don’t want to cook!
See the middle of the store? Ignore it.
What you want is on the outside of the store. Start in the produce section, and linger. Vegetables are good for you, cheap, filling, and delicious. Grab a good amount, and some fruit too – Wards off scurvy. You don’t want scurvy.
Once that’s done, wander on over to the bulk section. Pick up your pastas, lentils, a few spices, and maybe a few nuts or dried fruit for a snack. You don’t need candy, put it back.
Next is meat. Pork and chicken are cheapest, beef is the most expensive. Don’t buy steaks, you aren’t Rockefeller. Cheap cuts of meat take longer to cook, but are just as flavorful and nutritious as the expensive cuts. Sausages can provide some nice variety.
The dairy section is just around the corner. A little cheese can be a nice addition to a lot of meals. Eggs are versatile and protein-rich, but tricky to cook if you want anything but scrambled eggs.
Ignore the chip isle, the candy isle, and the soda isle. If you need a few baking goods (particularly oils), wander down that isle. Canned fruits and veggies are usually more expensive than fresh. Ignore the pre-made frozen foods like the plague – You can make better food, cheaper.
In my area, farmers markets are cheaper than the big stores for produce, but inside cities this tends to reverse. YMMV.
Finally, consider whole meats. Beef at the market usually starts at $3/lb. Beef, purchased by the half or quarter from a butcher or farmer usually stops at $3/lb. You can save money on whole lambs and pigs, too. You’ll need a chest freezer to store it, though, and you’ll need to pay for it all up front.
Have a small herb garden. Everything tastes better with fresh herbs.
• Just have fun.
• See a recipe online you want to try out? Do it?
• Learn from your mistakes and build upon them.
• Choose recipes with short ingredient lists and with common or easy to obtain ingredients.
• Prep vegetables in advance to make cooking easier during the week.
• Know your kitchen layout and where each and every cooking utensil is.
• Invest in a good cutting board and a decent set of knives.
• Your grocery shopping list should include foods that can be used in more than one recipe when possible (helps cut cost from buying something you might only use once or twice).
• SHARPEN YOUR KNIVES…know how to properly handle your knives.
• Always buy fresh organic produce when you can, farmers markets are nice (you can taste the difference).
• Olive oil and balsamic vinegar, get them…and get good quality organic stuff…this is the only salad dressing you will ever need.
• Have a bread maker at home, or an old store bough bread loaf? Make homemade croutons by cutting the old bread you haven’t eaten into cubes, tossing in olive oil, kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, dried rosemary, some cayenne (a little) in 325 degree oven for 15 minutes on parchment paper…easy piezy.
• Experiment! See what you like and what you dislike, explore various flavors and textures.
• You can do a lot with boneless / skinless chicken breasts…a LOT.
• Same thing with avocados.
• Stock your pantry with basic ingredients. Google this topic, a lot of blogs will have lists of items to purchase / stock that you can use in many different recipes.
• Dried beans are cheap, relatively easy to cook in a basic form, and freeze. Good source of nutrition, fiber, protein, good in lots of recipes.
• Buy a good slow cooker. LOTS of easy meals can be made in a slow cooker. Best part, you usually just prep and throw it all in, then turn it on and go about your business.
Buy a crock pot. You can throw pretty much anything in there and it usually turn out delicious.