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Monday, November 3, 2008

10 Cheap Dinners to meet Frugal Fu's "No Eating Out" Challenge

This post has been included in Festival of Frugality 11/4 Election Day Edition at Bargain Briana

Photo by Dave Walker

Frugal Fu has challenged her readers to cook their own meals for a month. It's a great way to save money.

It requires a certain amount of planning ahead. I confess that in October, which is event month at the poorhouse, with 3 birthdays, an anniversary, a visit from an out-of-town friend, plus Halloween, we did fall off the wagon and eat out a couple of times and ordered a couple of pizzas.

The sad thing is that these meals are often not any better than what we could make at home. And we know it.

So here are the Poorhouse's top tips for cooking at home. (Warning--we like meat.)

1. Pot Roast
Tomorrow I'm working at home. We splurged on a cheap roast--I'll have time to pot roast it for dinner.

2. Roasted or Grilled Whole Chicken
We can get a chicken (or sometimes two in a double-pack) for about 99 cents a pound on sale. Rub it with a little butter and spices, roast or grill for an hour or so, and yum. (I don't eat the skin, so I don't feel too bad about the butter.) There's enough left over for a chicken salad or two for lunches. Mr. Poorhouse is in charge of this menu, and he cooks without a net, er, I mean recipe.

3. Beef Bourguignon
OK, so this was a little more adventurous, and required some advanced prep. But the other day I made beef bourguignon. It's pretty easy, and very delicious. I used the Joy of Cooking
recipe. Get some really cheap stew beef--marinate it in 2 cups of red wine, chopped onions and carrots and seasoning. The recipe says marinate it for 24 hours. I did it for two days, and it didn't kill us. When you're ready to cook, drain, brown the beef, remove from pan, sautee the reserved veggies, add the meat and reserved liquid and simmer for as long as it takes to get done. In the last 30 minutes, add some small whole onions to the pot and boil up some new potatoes in a separate pan. Even the kids liked it. I think you could probably use a crock pot for this, but I don't want to spend money on another appliance that will clutter up my kitchen, so a dutch oven on the stove worked fine for me.

4. Cheating with Dinner Kits
Sometimes a long-cooking recipe just isn't in the works. I confess that I buy the Old El Paso mexican dinner kits. We generally have ground turkey, salsa and cheese around; we buy canned beans in bulk at a warehouse club. Tonight we were both tired and used the Soft Taco Bake Kit to whip up what we call Mexican lasagne--ground turkey with mexican seasoning (and in this case cheese sauce product) layered with tortillas, salsa, and shredded monterey jack. Dinner was on the table within 30 minutes of my arrival home. It would be even cheaper, of course, if you thought ahead enough to have the tortillas and seasoning packets. I justify the additional expense by only buying the kits on sale.

5. Kielbasi and Rice
A former Cajun roommate turned me on to this instant, cheap and tasty dinner. Couldn't be easier, and around here the kielbasi is often on sale 2 for 1. Slice up a kielbasi. Toss it into a pot with a cut up onion, rice, and water. (2 parts water to 1 part rice). Bring to a boil, cover, simmer for 20 minutes. Instant cheap meal. (Add a salad or something green, of course.) Mr. Poorhouse likes to sautee the rice in butter first and add spices and bake the whole thing in an ovenproof skillet, and as tasty as his version is, it does add time (and calories!) We make this so often that my oldest begged me NOT to make it the other night! Leftovers make a nice rice 'n eggs dish in the morning.

6. Scottish Mince
A similar oldie but goodie comes from my grandmother's recipe file. Grammie wasn't a terrific cook, but she was a working mom, so she knew a thing or two about getting dinner on the table. Brown up some ground turkey, throw in a packet of Lipton Onion Recipe Soup & Dip Mix, a cup of water, 2 TBSP cornstarch. Cook until the sauce is thick. Serve with (gasp!) instant mashed potatoes. (Mashed potatoes is just one of those things I'm not that great at.) Goes well with peas if you like them.

7. A Lighter Meatloaf
Joan Lunden's Healthy Cooking has a recipe for meatloaf that we like. Mix ground turkey with onion and green pepper and seasonings (includes catsup and dry mustard) and probably an egg. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes or so, then glaze with a mixture of catsup, dry mustard and brown sugar. Brown for 5 minutes. It is very juicy, so spoon the juices over.

8. Cereal for Dinner Night
A cheap relief for exhausted moms and dads. The kids get a kick out of it. We don't buy sugar bombs, so I feel like it's a reasonably healthy meal, especially served with sliced peaches or other fruit.

9. Let the Kids Cook
Granted this takes more patience than you might have at the end of the day, but a box of Annie's Shells & White Cheddar isn't beyond most school-age kids ability. (And yes, we do buy Kraft-Macaroni & Cheese more than Annie's Organic in these budgetarious times.) Plus a little benign neglect in parenting can develop life skills in the little monsters, um, I mean darlings. My daughter made a nice tuna salad the other day. It took twice as long, but, hey, now she knows how, right?

10. Scrounge-Through-the-Fridge night
One person has a hot dog (one won't kill him.) One has a leftover chicken breast. One has a yogurt. One has those nasty frozen appetizers that somebody bought on impulse at the warehouse club. Add a sliced up melon or some apples and call it a balanced meal.

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Grey said...

Thank you for the mention, and congrats on the Editor's Pick in the FoF!

These look like great ideas! I confess I am not great at cooking meat (I was vegetarian for many years), so I'm still learning in that respect.

drpepperdrinker said...

I haven't eaten out since labor day! You just get used to it.