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Old 04-30-2008, 07:36 PM   #1
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Techniques for making cheap and tasty meals

I'm going to start this thread by listing some things you should have in your pantry at all times. The items may seem costly, but are used in such small amounts that the purchased items will often last you months, even years.

Dried herbs & spices: If kept in a cool and dark place, dried herbs and spices will allow you to add flavor, and often times, valuable nutrition to cheap foods. Make sure to purchase these items in the amounts you can use in a reasonable amount of time as they can lose their potency if kept too long. But, if at all possible, purchase your herbs and spices at places like Costco, restaurant suplly warehouses, Price Club, and similar discount warehouse establishments.

Fresh live herb and spice plants: These include such things as globe oregano, indoor potted peppers, certain types of tomatoes, basil, thyme, green onions, chives, garlic, etc. If used properly, and taken care of, these plants will cut your food bills by giving you fresh and wholesome ingredients in your home.

Generic canned and boxed products: These are usually as good as their name-brand cousins, but as they are not name brand, are siginificantly cheaper. But be careful here. Try out a particular item, a can or box at a time. Sometines, the generic just doesn't measure up. So a little trial and error is required. Also, store brand items are usually less expensive. But again, test a product before purchasing en masse.

Aged and Sharp Cheeses: There are many who just don't like sharp cheeses. But when cooking with them, aged, full-bodied cheese give you the same flavor as the milder cheeses of the same variety, but with less product. For example, you may have to use a full cup of grated mild cheddar cheese to make your mac 'n cheese the way you like it. But if you use a three-year aged cheddar, you can probably get away with using only a quarter cup.

Remember the golden rule of seasoning; add only a little of any seasoning, or flavoring at a time and let it cook in the sauce, or soup, or mashed potatoes for at least 15 minutes, then stir. This will allow the seasoning/flavoring to give up the volatile oils or compounds that flavor the food. If you taste too early, then you will invariably add more seasoning/flavoring to the dish, and end up with overpowering herbs or spices. You can always add more of something if there isn't enough, but once it's in the food, it can't be removed. This rule will save you many costly mistakes and ruined meals.

Water has no flavor. If a broth is too weak, let some of the moisture evaporate away, to intesify the flavor, rather than adding more flavoings.

Use the skins, bones, and giblets of poultry to make your broths and stocks. They will add flavor and nutrition without leeching the flavors from the meat. Cook the meat seperately, just until done, and add to the completed sauce, soup, stew, or stir-fry at the plate to insure that all of the ingredients are as flavorful as possible. Also, roasting bones from poultry, pork, beef, lamb, etc. will add extra flavor to the broth after the carcass is added. So when you are roasting, broiling, or even barbecuing a boneless anything, place the bones in a seperate cooking cooking container and cook them at the same time to prepare them for later use.

Bland foods such as beets can be enhanced by adding a small amount of good vinager, a bit of sweetener, and a shake of cloves to the pot. Then, thicken the resultant juices with a little cornstarch slurry to create a flavorful sauce that will stick to the beets.

You can dress up canned veggies such as spinach, or green beans by shaking on a bit of dill weed, tarragon, garlic, or whatever herbs and spices strikes you fancy without having to add extra salt or butter.

Three bean salad doesn't have to have oil in it. Just open three cans of different beans, maybe some dark-red kidney beans, garbanzo beans, and green beans. Pour the can contents, including the can liquor into a large bowl. Add chopped onion, sliced celery, dill weed, vinager, and sweetener to tate. Place all in a covered container and refridgerat for the next day's meal.

I know that the microwave oven isn't so great at cooking, say, a hamburger. But it will save you time and stove space when preparing corn on the cob, or most vegetables. Just make sure the corn is clean, in the husk, and throw a few pieces in the oven at a time. Cook on the highest setting for about three minutes. The corn will be steaming hot, crisp, sweet, with full flavor. You won't even need to butter it, but you can if you want. Fresh, raw green beans are amazing when steamed in the micorwave. It also saves energy.

I used to think that products like Hamburger Helper were the answer to a quick and tasty meal, until I learned to cook that is. Now, by cmparison, I really don't know how I could stomach the taste of those products. And I've found that except for special meals, I can put supper on the table, from start to finish, in about an hour. Except for heating something like a can of prok and beans, you can't really make a good meal in much less time, unless you're Rachel Ray of course.

Meals prepared fresh, and properly, taste way better, are generally healthier, and give you great creativity, and variety. Plus, you get to hone your cooking skills. Just make sure the kids and husband/wife/SO hone their dishwashing skills. The cook shouldn't have to wash dishes!

You can turn something like a can of pork and beans into something special bu simply adding a tbs. of brown sugar, a half tsp. of granulated onion powder (or freshly chopped onion), and a tbs. of mollases to the pot. Thow in a couple slices of cooked bacon, or a bit of cooked pork, and you have transformed that inexpensive can of pork and beans into something worth shouting about, and much cheaper than the name brand canned "baked beans".

Brown some ground beef, about a pound, add an eight ounce can of tomato sauce, 2 tbs. brown sugar, 2 tsp. sweet pickle relish, a dash of cloves, a dash of garlic, and a bit of yellow mustard. You now have some pretty good sloppy joes.

Anybody can make great food, with a bit of help from their freinds. And with a bit of imagination, and the info you can gather from your freinds here at D.C., an inexpensive meal doesn't have to be a bad meal, or lacking in nutritional value.

Seeeeeeya; Goodweed of the North

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Old 04-30-2008, 08:48 PM   #2
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And don't forget the Vegemite

How Much is Inside Vegemite?
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Old 04-30-2008, 10:18 PM   #3
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what IS vegemite? I read through all the, uh, 'witty' quips and random facts, but didn't see anything that actually said what it was made of? Or did I miss that somewhere?
And, uh, the Internet was invented long before 2001....
But mostly, what IS vegemite??? And how do I get that stupid song back out of my head???
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Old 04-30-2008, 10:28 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Maverick2272 View Post
what IS vegemite? I read through all the, uh, 'witty' quips and random facts, but didn't see anything that actually said what it was made of? Or did I miss that somewhere?
And, uh, the Internet was invented long before 2001....
But mostly, what IS vegemite??? And how do I get that stupid song back out of my head???
Here you go
Vegemite, History of Vegemite
That song is now going to haunt you for the rest of the day Bwaahhhaha
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Old 04-30-2008, 10:36 PM   #5
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Thank you for all those great tips by the way Goodweed, I apologise for derailing your thread
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Old 04-30-2008, 10:44 PM   #6
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If you need to cook on the cheap but want to make incredible food, I'd say the best tip would be to get used to the idea of cooking for a long time. For example, you can buy lots of great dried good in bulk for very cheap. You can get rice in 25lb. bags for $8, 25lb. bags of flour for $6 if you like to make your own bread, dried beans are usually in the neighborhood of 55-70 cents for a 12oz. bag, and a great way to get extra protein and fiber into your diet without spending a ton of money.

I also believe the best way to spend $3.50 is on a pound of kosher salt. Season your food; nothing else will help the flavor as much as proper seasoning.

Learn to build your flavors; need some gravy to go with your roasted chicken? Bone your cooked chicken, roast the bones, and then make a quick stock with leftover vegetable ends or peels. Make a roux and add your quick stock for a little bit of very easy chicken gravy.
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Old 04-30-2008, 10:55 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by attie View Post
Here you go
Vegemite, History of Vegemite
That song is now going to haunt you for the rest of the day Bwaahhhaha
Ewww.... LOL I would never have guessed. They say it is an aquired taste, I will not argue with them.

As for the actual topic of the thread:
Making as much from scratch as possible is a good start. Another one is investing in cookbooks from Fanny Farmer and The Young Homemaker. Both not only offer tons of recipes for easy cheap meals, but also tons of advice on substitutions, tips, and tricks. using the carcass for flavoring in soups and stews is a great idea, same for bones like ham bones, etc.
For that matter, just plain making a lot of stews and soups saves money, I find they are pretty cheap to make, can vary wildly, contains most of your daily requirements if made right, and a good use for left overs.
For me, I save my money for things that enhance the flavor and use as much bulk as I can get for dry ingredients. Cheap eggs for baking with, only the expensive ones if eating them on their own with sides. Powdered milk in recipes, but never would drink it straight. Oh, and buy Whole Milk. Keep your last empty milk jug, nicely washed out. Pour half the whole milk into the empty jug and leave the other half in its jug. Then add cold water. Two for the price of one and the kids have as of yet to catch on... yea sure us adults can tell, but since we use it mostly in cereal even I don't mind.
Same with juice, we water it down and the kids never know.

"ohhh I come from the land down under, where women glow and men plunder... can you hear, can you hear the thunder..."

There, if I have to have it stuck in my head, so does everyone else!
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Old 05-01-2008, 03:44 AM   #8
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Ewww.... LOL I would never have guessed. They say it is an aquired taste, I will not argue with them...
It's definately not a taste I plan to aquire!
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Old 05-01-2008, 05:57 AM   #9
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I do now Maverick
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Old 05-01-2008, 06:29 AM   #10
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I haven't noticed any price difference between whole and my 1% milk. maybe 30 cents a gallon........ but i guess i haven't really looked since I dont have to but whole milk for any babies anymore.
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