I am looking for quick, easy, inexpensive dinner ideas.
Shelly from Perry, FL
There are a few things to have around which are invaluable for creating the bases of many dishes. Also, knowing how to prepare a gravy or cream base from scratch will save you a lot. Some of these things can be found more cheaply at a store like WINCO which has food in bins, or at Walmart or similar discount stores.
Knorr bouillon cubes, both chicken and beef, can be found for about 75 cents at Walmart, sometimes you might have to look in Mexican food area. Get one box of chicken, one of beef. These cubes are soft, break easily, which is handy because they are so strongly flavored, you may need only a partial cube.
In the soup area you can find store brand onion soup mix, two to a box. Get one box.
In baking area, get one box of cornstarch. Invaluable for making gravy, cream sauces, and fresh pudding.
Pudding and cinnamon toast were the first things we learned to cook in home ec.
If possible, buy real butter when it's $2 a pound or less. It has such good flavor, it makes food taste really great, and margarine is basically colored shortening. Think about it. Use a spoon of oil with a spoon of butter for butter flavoring for sautes to stretch it.
If you can, find one pound package of quick rise yeast at WINCO, Costco, or your nearest restaurant supply store. Put in large plastic bag and zip, will keep in fridge for over a year. More about that in a bit.
The best dried fruits I have found are at Walgreen's in their food section for 1 dollar a box: raisins (good for lots of reasons), dates, prunes, all can be chopped into cookie recipes. Apricots make great jam, especially one box apricots, one box dried pineapple. Soak in water to cover in covered bowl in fridge for up to a week. Grind in blender, simmer with couple of cups of sugar, until looks like jam, will thicken a bit, so stop short of final consistency. Put in jars, cover and keep in fridge. Use one at a time. Won't spoil unrefrigerated taking just one out at a time.
If you can find it, one package of ranch dressing that requires buttermilk: DOESN'T HAVE IT IN IT.
Read the side of the cornstarch box and learn how to make a smooth cream sauce, starting with the light one. For a cream (milk actually, as for tuna helper type meal) based casserole, you will need two cups of sauce.
For a tuna type (or you could use one chopped chicken breast, etc) casserole, saute 1/4 or more cup onion, and set aside. Boil some pasta, about 1 1/2 cups dry, and drain. You can add 1 cup frozen veggies of any kind to this boiling pasta and cook it all in same pot if you'd like. Put in same pan as sauteed onion, set aside. Make 2 cups light cream (bechamel) sauce in another pan. Basically 2 cups fresh milk, or 1 cup evaporated milk and one cup water, or reconstituted dry milk and the appropriate amount of cornstarch dissolved in a little bit of cold water or milk.
TIP: Heat your milk to pretty warm but not boiling on stove. Have cornstarch ready to whisk into it, by dissolving it into liquid, whisk into preheated milk and it will thicken quickly. Keep whisking until it is smooth and remove from heat.
Assemble: Tuna, drained, pasta and veggies, cream sauce. Next, creativity: If you have it, add one
teaspoon of ranch dressing powder. It will taste almost identical to tuna helper. Or you could use salt, pepper, and grated cheese. Or 1/4 cube of chicken bouillon and some salt and pepper and a splash of Louisiana hot sauce or one to three drops of Tabasco, or Worcestershire. Taste after you add each ingredient to see when you have it right.
You can see you could make mac and cheese with just pasta, sauce and grated cheese, seasoning to taste. You could substitute pre-boiled potato slices for pasta and make scalloped potatoes, with or without grated cheese. Any of these can be browned/baked further in oven if you like.
Believe it or not, you can take pieces of plain white bread and crumb them in blender and put in pan to oven dry at 200 degrees for crumb topping. Don't season because you can make apple crisp with cinnamon and sugar, or season as for meat.
If you wanted to make a mushroom base, make cream sauce, add piece (very small) of beef bouillon cube and a thinly sliced and chopped single (one only is all you need, really) med-larger mushroom.
Gravy in a pinch can be made with one bouillon cube, about 2-3 cups of water, two tablespoons of cornstarch dissolved in cold water (use some of above water), heat bouillon and thicken. You can substitute a bit of milk for a creamy chicken gravy or, if making a stroganoff dish, substitute 1/2 milk for water, and at last minute stir in couple of tablespoons of sour cream. A good ingredient to keep on hand.
The best way to save money is to keep people out of the kitchen between meals, by saying dinner is coming in 45 minutes. Cook from scratch. Here is the best, last tip. Plan for everyone to have one medium size serving of good nutritious, balanced meals. Bake rolls and bread for filler.
Find a recipe for milk bread/rolls. Use that instant yeast. Let rise only once if in a hurry which means
knead very well, shape, let rise until double, bake. Won't be as fine, but will be similar in texture to biscuits. But not as fattening, because biscuits use both shortening (very fattening, seems to go right to the hips) and butter afterward, whereas rolls have protein from milk and only 1 Tablespoon of oil or butter in recipe, then the topping afterward. Rolls or homemade bread smells so good, and feels so good.
Bread machines can be found for $10 or less at garage sales, and really do work. If you can't find a book, remember this: liquids, then flours, YEAST LAST, IN A DIP IN THE FLOUR. You can use them just to do your kneading for you if you want.
Make a basic bread dough, with water, flour, salt and yeast for pizza. Knead, let sit 10 minutes, shape very thin on a pan which you've sprinkled with a teaspoon of cornmeal. Oil top of pizza dough lightly. Find a pizza stone at a garage sale when you get around to it. Let dough rise as high as you like your dough to be. Preheat oven to 350 before you roll it out and bake it 5-7 minutes. Take out and set aside and turn off oven.
In pan, put 1 small can tomato paste, one small can tomato sauce, a lot of chopped fresh garlic and a couple tablespoons of water, and your preferred/available Italian spices. Basil, oregano, Italian spice mix...
pinch of salt, pinch of sugar, and tiny pinch of red pepper flakes. Over medium heat, stir and simmer for a while, making sure doesn't burn. Adjust salt and sugar. Shouldn't need more than 1 tablespoon sugar.
Assemble anything you want on top to the side, and begin: sauce the pizza dough as desired, add ingredients such as green pepper, mushrooms, meat of any kind, or not, green onions, olives, whatever is around you think would be good on a pizza. Cheese it as desired. It will be good, I guarantee you. Bake in 400 degree preheated oven until done as you like, just like for take home pizza, but remember, the crust has already been started, so watch it after 10 minutes. Can be as simple as a cheese pizza, or elaborate. It will be filling and tasty.
For soups, use bouillon or onion soup as base, add what you have, and in end throw in rice, or potatoes, or pasta (store-bought or homemade) or dumplings. Of course on soup night, make bread.
Learn how to make fruit pies.
If you had to you could live well on fruit pies, oatmeal, omelets, soups, cheese, breads, rolls (try your own cinnamon rolls with raisins and nuts, use milk in dough), as long as you used fruits and vegetables as much as possible. You can use cream sauces for anything: meat, vegetable, cheese, hard boiled eggs, or any combo with or over any carb.
Grow a garden somewhere, even if it's just lettuce or chard, and tomatoes. Grow up (vertical) if you are in an apartment: see web. Get sunshine, make sure you have oil on skin to form vitamin D, or take vitamin D, via cod liver oil capsules, or pills.
These recipes are quicker than you think. Practice the sauces and gravies. Once you've done it 6 times, it's quick. (12/29/2008)
These are all great sounding recipes; however, the canned soups, gravies, bouillons, and many of the sauces have lots and lots of sodium and other things we might not want to be mainstays in our diets. A couple of times a week are one thing, but be mindful of your use of them.
One investment you might want to make (but probably won't need to, if you're like most of us) would be a crock-pot. They will tenderize even the most lean cut of meat and make a great starting point for lots of recipes.
One favorite, is to cook the beef for day one, then cut up/shred the cooked meat. Thicken the juices with flour/water, and put some of the meat in it to serve over mashed potatoes. Day two, add some barbecue sauce (use a light hand) to some of the meat and serve on rolls or with noodles. Day three, (and these days don't have to be in a row--you can freeze the shredded meat) mix the meat with some canned beans or refried beans, roll in tortillas with a sprinkle of cheese, and heat through. Day four, you can do cold wraps.
Whole chickens or legs/thighs are less expensive than chicken breasts, but my family doesn't enjoy dark meat. So I buy bone-in chicken breasts, which I bone (learned to do it with my fingers) and cook for meal one. The skin and bones I simmer as long as I can with a little celery, carrot, onion, and any seasonings I like (for me: poultry seasoning), and make a great soup base. I take any meat off the bones, add any leftovers, and there is the start of soup. Add a can of diced tomatoes and a can of corn and serve with some broken tortilla chips and a sprinkle of cheese for tortilla soup. Add a can of corn, one or two chopped hard-cooked eggs, and some noodles for PA-style chicken corn soup. Or add leftover veggies and rice. One thing I do when I make homemade soups is to cook my noodles/rice/barley, or other such ingredients separately so they don't absorb so much of the broth I worked so hard to make.
At the grocery store I use the low-sodium canned goods. They are no more expensive than the regular.
Thinly slice a sweet onion, and saute very slowly in butter, margarine, or oil. After the onion begins to caramelize (this can take a half hour or more, with occasional stirring), add a tablespoon or so of flour, then I add low-sodium beef broth. Simmer a short while and season to taste--I like a dash of Worcestershire sauce. Place in an oven-proof bowl, add croutons, or toasted stale bread, and a slice of cheese on top. (I like Swiss, he likes mozzarella or provolone.) Broil and serve.
Eggs are a great bargain. Omelets, salads, etc. are great sources of protein.
Hot dogs are another thing we don't want to eat daily....but "wiener hash" is a great once-in-a-while treat. Just saute cut-up potatoes (can be leftover from another meal), and when they're nearly done, add cut-up hot dogs. I also like to cook cut onion with the taters.
Cook potatoes or other veggies in a small amount of water until they're done. Mash or blend until almost smooth. Add back to the pan and add a can of evaporated milk. Season to taste, and you can add shredded sharp cheese if you have some on hand. My family loves this.
Soups are, in general, very frugal meals. There are a million and one recipes online. Served with a good bread, they are a wonderful alternative.
Oh, and one last tip: my bread machine takes the yeast FIRST, then flour, dry ingredients, and liquids LAST. If you do pick up a bread machine without a manual, ask on here and I bet someone can give you the tips! (That is why most bread machine recipe books say "add ingredients in order recommended by the manufacturer.") (12/29/2008)
One of my favorite is a crustless quiche (it's almost like a frittata). I like to bake it in a very large cast iron skillet that's been buttered or sprayed with Pam before adding the veggies and eggs. All you do is beat a dozen eggs well, then add half of an 8 oz bag of grated cheese (I like sharp cheddar) and about 6 or so crackers or 2 pieces of bread in crumbs to the mix (these help hold the mix together). Season with a bit of salt and pepper and add a bit of Italian seasoning that you've crushed (about 1/3 teaspoon). Be sure to add some garlic powder and onions or chives to the egg mix. You pour this egg mix over any veggies you like (chopped broccoli, mushrooms, zucchini, squash, onions cubed, etc).
Next, bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees for about an hour (give or take 10 min). It's done when you can put a knife in and it comes out clean (like a cake). When it's done, put the rest of the cheese on the top and melt it for a few minutes, then sprinkle chives or green onion slices on the top for color.
* This is easy and inexpensive (there's no meat, but you can add ham or a little bacon), and it's good for you...but high in fat. If you want to lower the fat content, remove half (or more) of the egg yolks and add 2 or 3 extra whites to make up for it. You can also use low-fat or no-fat cheese. If you take out some of the egg yolks, you won't be able to tell the difference. It'll taste the same, just less cholesterol! (12/30/2008)
This is one of my favorite recipes, it's very inexpensive and quick, and if you have a small family like mine, you have plenty of leftovers.
Saute 1/2 cup each of finely chopped onion, celery, and carrot (I pre-chop all my veggies when I have a little time on the weekend) in 1 tablespoon of oil and 1 tablespoon of butter. Add one package of john morrel, small chopped ham and cook for 5 mins. Add 2 tablespoons of flour, and cook for 2 more minutes. Add 5 teaspoons of chicken bouillon granules and 8 cups of water (or use 8 cups of Swanson chicken broth). Add one 32 ounce bag of frozen diced hash brown potatoes and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and cook until potatoes are tender. Take off heat and add one cup of heavy cream or half-and-half.
This soup is wonderful just as it is, but you can make many substitutions, ie:
-Add one bag of shredded cheddar cheese
-Use crumbled bacon instead of ham (I use one jar of real bacon bits)
-Use frozen tiny salad shrimp (2 bags) and clam juice instead of chicken broth. (2 bottles clam juice, the rest plain water.)
-Add one can rotel, can of mexi-corn, and use chicken instead of ham, use cheddar cheese, and omit the cream.
I have made every variation of this soup, and my family and friends love all of them. (12/30/2008)
Amounts depend on how many people you are feeding, but let's say for 4 people:
I like celery salt, garlic salt, or Mrs. Dash to season it.
I cover the chicken with the other ingredients, and cook in a small glass casserole dish, something with a lid, or you can use foil, on 350 about 30 min, just until the chicken and potatoes are done. If you use a different cut of chicken, like dark meat thighs, cut the butter back.
This can also be done in a crock pot, just be sure the potatoes go in first and the butter is on top. I have also used fresh mushrooms, celery, and zucchini in it. This one is hard to mess up, and uses all the "staples" I carry on hand and recommend for any budget household. (12/30/2008)
I have two quickies that are pretty inexpensive and use things you might have laying around the kitchen. Both have been pleasers in our household.
For a quick hot sandwich, layer cheap deli ham with sliced cheese-the kind that comes individually wrapped-in a crock-pot and bring to temperature on high (about a half hour), then turn down and cook for maybe two hours til ham is tender. Serve on buns. My family especially likes the pepper cheese, but I have used the Swiss or plain old American. Great for a potluck too.
For a quick and cheap white sauce for pasta, melt 1/4 cup butter in pan, add a 3 ounce package of cream cheese and let melt. To this, add 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese (the cheap stuff out of the green can) and add about 1/4 cup milk, half and half, or whipping cream. I like to serve it over bow-tie pasta. It's amazingly good for how little goes into it. (01/01/2009)
For a quick meal on a cold day, I make a pouch of Lipton Alfredo noodles and at the very end throw in a package of flaked imitation crab and heat until warm. Serve with a salad. Fast, cheap and easy, and it tastes like you spent more time than you really did. (01/06/2009)
I am on a budget (getting laid off and all) but still like to eat as healthy as the budget permits. I like to get a couple cans of tuna, mix with a can of black beans (don't drain the beans), pour it in a skillet and add a can of rotel undrained also. Put on corn tortillas with some cheese and lettuce is really good! I also always check the grocery ads before I go and see which store has sales or good prices on meats and stock up. That seems to help me when money is low, I have good meat and just have to get little things. Hope that helps! (01/06/2009)
I take crescent rolls (the cheap can kind), unroll them, place left over or boiled chicken and frozen broccoli, with a little salt pepper and garlic powder, inside roll them up place in a pan. Pour can of cream of chicken or cream of celery, whatever I have on hand and bake as directed. Then when almost done, put some cheese on top. Whatever I have on hand. It's very filling and good. (01/26/2009)
Cut a package of Hillshire Farms Polish Sausage into rounds and put in pan. When they start to brown, put in a package of frozen stir-fry vegetables or whatever veggies you like. Then put in a little bit (1/4 cup or 2 tbs) of Kikkoman Terriyaki Baste and Glaze. Serve with or without rice. Quick and yum! (09/09/2009)
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