Cook Your Own Delicious Food At Home, On A Budget

Do you want to save money by making your own meals at home, but aren’t sure where to start? Let the blog Budget Bytes help you. It contains not only frugal but delicious recipes (including vegetarian ones) broken down by total cost and cost per serving, but a guide to stocking your pantry when you first live on your own or learn to cook.

A few recent highlights:


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  1. tbax929 says:

    One of the best investments I ever made for my kitchen was a crock pot. My dinner cooks all day while I am at work, and the leftovers can easily be frozen.

    • kaceetheconsumer says:

      @tbax929 is rooting for a Phillies repeat: We haven’t found any particularly yummy recipes for ours yet. Any of the ones that don’t brown meat first taste bland, and if the meat does get browned, it takes enough time that it’d just be easier to cook it traditionally.

      Then we heard rumours that Rival has lead in the glaze and I haven’t been able to get them to give me a clear answer on that (they always say it’s within FDA limits), and even CR refused my request to have crockpots tested for lead if they don’t explicitly say “lead-free” on the box. :(

      • Shadowfire says:

        @kaceetheconsumer: Wait, what? Browning the meat takes five minutes. Any size roast can be browned in about five minutes.

        As for recipes that don’t require the meat to be browned, I’ve got a couple for you. Beef stew: One can crushed tomatoes, 2/3rds of that can filled with white wine, ~1 pound of cubed beef, potatoes, onions, and carrots. Stir it together, add some garlic, oregano, and rosemary, and cook it for 10 hours on low.

        Want one that’s even easier? One minute prep time pulled pork: Put a 2-3lb pork roast in the pot. Add one bottle of BBQ sauce and one bottle of root beer. Cook again for 10 hours on low. Use a couple forks and rip the shit out of the roast, serve it on rolls. Perfect party food.

        • kaceetheconsumer says:

          @Shadowfire: Heh, maybe it takes five minutes for one large lump if you don’t have a little kid pestering you, but recipes for smaller amounts takes longer. Even harder on crutches, but hopefully my days with them are nearing an end…

          Thanks for the recipes, but I don’t do alcohol, and although I’ve been wanting to try various recipes using bbq sauce, my husband won’t eat that. And actually he makes a beef stew in his cast iron dutch oven that is to die for…

          • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

            @kaceetheconsumer: my fsvorite crock pot recipe:
            save all your meat and veggie leftovers. also tomato sauce, leftover soups, etc. keep a container in the freezer to throw it into.
            when full or when poor put the mess in the crock pot. add a can of tomato paste, a bag of frozen mixed veggies or whatever suits your fancy [just corn, just peas, whatever]
            a few cups of water, some barley [uncooked is ok, just add more water]
            can of beans if you want.
            a couple of boullion cubes to taste

            leave it on medium all day or overnight.

            leftover stew!

        • mimbypims says:

          @Shadowfire: Yum! Root beer pulled pork is definitely going to be a 2010 Superbowl party hit. Thanks for the great idea!

      • Shoelace says:

        @kaceetheconsumer: I’m a good cook but never had any luck using a crock pot either. Would put in good ingredients and come home to bland rubbery stew. Have been wanting to try a pressure cooker but am afraid I’ll get distracted and blow up the kitchen or something.

        Let us know what you find out re. Rival and lead.

        • kaceetheconsumer says:

          @Shoelace: I’ve had to give up on the lead thing, because it’s reached the point where I’d have to spend hundreds of dollars to pay someone to aim one of those minute-trace laser gun things at it.

          I was really hoping CR would take up the challenge instead. If they can’t be bothered, that’s it, because I can’t afford it.

          @Gazpacho: I don’t do Tex-Mex. I am allergic to most hot spices and I despise beans. I have had success in adding bean puree to things a la the suggestion in the Sneaky Chef books, and the chocolate chip cookies in that book that include bean puree are awesome, but whole…blech, the texture makes me wanna barf.

          We tend to get our flavour for our successful dishes from copious browning of meat and onions, plus using garlic and mushrooms. The crock pot seems to turn garlic and mushrooms to bland mush.

          I can see that for those who use alcohol and hot spices it might be okay, but since I can’t have either, we have yet to find a crock pot recipe that’s anything beyond meh.

          • katia802 says:

            @kaceetheconsumer: I tend to use soup starters with crock pot meals, be careful not to use too much, it tends to be salty, but certainly adds flavor to stuff that would be very bland otherwise. My favorite crock pot meal is to just toss beef, whatever veggies I have floating around in the freezer, and some barley, cook all day, serve with a good cheddar and some italian bread.

      • Gazpacho says:

        @kaceetheconsumer: How about tex-mex? Two frozen chicken breasts, a can of salsa, one can of black beans, one can of corn, and cumin. After about 6-8 hours the chicken will be cooked through and will be easy to shred. At this point at cream cheese (half or whole block is up to you) and let it cook for another half hour. Serve over rice, in a tortilla, or use it as a chip dip.

        It makes a lot of food for very little money surprisingly. Plus, I tend to cook this when I have men folk coming over I wish to impress, but I don’t have all day to stay in the kitchen cooking.

      • theblackdog says:

        @kaceetheconsumer: I love my crock pot for sausage soup.

        1 lb Italian Sausage links
        1 can corn kernels
        1 can green beans
        1 can stewed tomatoes

        Slice the sausage, throw together in the crock pot with the veggies and let simmer all day.

        I could have sworn there was another veggie to throw in there, but I can’t remember off of the top of my head. However, you can also experiment with different veggies.

    • colorisnteverything says:

      @tbax929 is rooting for a Phillies repeat:

      I have crock pot recipes a plenty and love it. At one point in the process of moving, my parents just had a crock pot and my mother made it work. Since then, she has always used one. I love mine. I can even make rice in it!

    • Dustbunny says:

      @tbax929 is rooting for a Phillies repeat: I bought a crockpot last month & am loving it. You do need to season food well to keep it from being bland. I’ve found adding red or white wine makes most things taste yummy. And there are lots of books of crockpot recipes out there – a new one that a friend recommended is Make it Fast, Cook it Slow by Stephanie O’Dea.

    • MsAnthropy says:

      @tbax929 is rooting for a Phillies repeat:

      I love my crockpot, but unless I’m making chili, almost everything I cook in there comes from the make-it-up-as-you-go-along school of stew cooking. I’ve been looking for a really good crockpot recipe book to give me some different ideas, but even though there are a lot available, none of them grab me at all. They all seem a bit, um, grannyish. If anyone has a crockpot cookbook they could recommend… please do!

    • bennilynn says:

      @tbax929 is rooting for a Phillies repeat: I can’t handle crockpots. I’m paranoid about leaving an appliance plugged in and heating all day. I don’t even turn on the dryer when I’m not home (we had one catch on fire when I was a kid). I’d never forgive myself if the house burned down because I wanted stew.

    • TechnoDestructo says:

      @tbax929 is rooting for a Phillies repeat:

      A rice cooker (the type with a hinged lid that seals relatively tight) can do most of what a crock pot can do, plus it can cook rice.

      Some things (anything to do with beans, pretty much) it does better.

      If you only have room for one, get a (proper) rice cooker.

  2. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    The more spices you accumulate, the cheaper you can cook. (Best investment I ever made.) You can prepare the same basic ingredients hundreds, even thousands, of different ways. Face it, we’re not living in the 50s when box spaghetti was “ethnic food.” Second best investment… a good comprehensive cookbook.

    Second worst investment… a complete Escoffier. Excuse me, truffles prepared as a side dish?!

    • Darkwish says:

      @speedwell, avatar of snark: So what’s the worst?

      • floraposte says:

        @Darkwish: The truffles themselves?

        For those seeking a good comprehensive cookbook, I highly recommend Cooks Illustrated’s The New Best Recipe ([]). I’m a cookbook junkie, but most cookbooks have a disappointing success rate; this one doesn’t. It gives you relevant information about good equipment, make-ahead guidance, information about how they came up with this version (I think the engineer-types spoken of in a previous thread would like the approach), etc. A friend calls it “The Magic Cookbook.”

        • PottedPlant says:

          @floraposte: +1 for The Best Recipe. I’ve been in love with Cook’s Illustrated since my culinary school days. They have a cookbook out called Cover and Bake that has some awesome crock pot and one-pot-meal recipes.

    • Alarm Bell says:

      @speedwell, avatar of snark:
      Completely agree. Especially with Indian food. The basic recipe uses only 3 spices plus salt. You can use the same recipe for every different vegetable, and it tastes totally different. A stocked spice pantry is key.

    • TechnoDestructo says:

      @speedwell, avatar of snark:

      You can load up on the basic stuff (garlic powder, oregano) at most food-heavy dollar stores.

      Anyhow, yeah, buying at least a half dozen different spices and herbs is something you should do before you even start.

      Also, who needs a cookbook when you have the Internet? Remember the half-joking idea that “computers can be used for organizing recipes!” from the early days of personal computing? The dream has been realized.

      • floraposte says:

        @TechnoDestructo: I find the internet a useful adjunct, but there’s even less quality control over recipes there than in books. Sure, there are often responses, but people’s standards really, really differ. If I’m trying to save money, I want consistent results.

      • subtlefrog says:

        @TechnoDestructo: You can hit dollar stores, and if you’re really trying to save money go for it. But those are often older and stale. For my money, I find it worth it to spend a little more on small containers that are fresher and I’ll go through more quickly. They have a lot more flavor. That way, if I used a dried herb, I’m not just tasting grass, which was what I got out of some of the dollar store ones I bought in the past.

        • floraposte says:

          @subtlefrog: With spices, you can enliven older ones a bit by blooming them in butter or toasting them before use. But I run into enough trouble being a cheapskate who won’t throw them away while there’s stuff left–I don’t need to start with old stuff.

    • merely_a_muse says:

      @speedwell, avatar of snark: Southern Living Cookbooks are awesome. They make some of the most fattening delicious foods ever, but if you’re ingredient smart you can lean them up quite a bit too. They gave us the most amazing recipe for pork roast & leeks that takes about 5 min of prep & is the food of the gods.

      • savvy999 says:

        @merely_a_muse: if you go through a lot of spices (I do), buy it in bulk from an Indian market (or the Indian aisle in a better grocery store)

        Cumin comes in a bag, about half a pound, for about $2, and is fresh as can be. Coarse salt, coriander, black pepper (flaked and whole), paprikas, and of course curry powders, work out to be sub-pennies per dish. Most packages will have the ‘American’ name on them, and if they don’t, ask for help.

        Beats the tiny little McCormick jars that go for $3 and up, by a mile.

  3. catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

    aw, my pumpkin soup recipe is even simpler than that because i cheat.

    canned pumpkin
    chicken broth
    better than boullion vegetable base.

    mix with stick blender, make hot,eat.

    you could replace the chicken broth with the vegetable base completely if you are vegetarian.

  4. CommonSense3 says:

    I found this site trying to get to the Corp. site for Bank of America. I read some of the most unbelievable problems people have had. I believe I will enjoy reading the comments in the future.

    I love cooking and have one of the best pumpkin bread recipes there is… a bit more work than the pumpkin soup. People ask me when I am going to bake some, including my young 8 yr old grandson to adults. I will have to see how I can share the recipe.

  5. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    You can make great chipotle corn soup by blending cream or milk with corn kernals and jalapeño peppers. Add some tomatoes and you’ve got a great meal. About $10 for canned corn, tomatoes, jalapenos.

    You can make chili for about $8. Beef, canned beans, canned tomatoes and spices. Substitute for fresh if you don’t mind the $8 pricetag going up a little.

    It takes about $8 to make Italian wedding soup if you make the stock yourself.

    • nstonep says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: You can make hobo stew for about half the cost of your chili if you replace the beef with actual hobo meat.

    • Laura Northrup says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: That’s about what my chili costs, and I’d save a bundle if I just left out the meat. I buy textured vegetable protein ground “beef” because I like the taste but don’t eat much beef and it saves me having to cook and drain the meat.

      So, my ingredients:

      – 1 can crushed tomatoes
      – 1-2 cans kidney beans
      – 1 green pepper
      – 1 onion
      – 1 box (12 oz.) Smart Ground
      – spices (1.5 tbsp chili powder, 1/8 tsp cayenne, 1 tsp cumin, 1 bay leaf, whatever else I feel like)

      Add water or beer until chili reaches top of crock pot. Cook until vegetables are soft.

  6. Saites says:

    For me, a big part of cooking is getting a feel for different recipes meant to prepare the same thing. After that, I take different parts of the different recipes that I think either I will enjoy the most or sound the most interesting, then I try to make the dish. It helps that both my parents taught me how to cook at a young age (my mom did it to teach me fractions, actually), so I have a pretty good feel for what flavors go well together. But experimentation is always fun.

    Now that I have my first apartment, I’m cooking quite regularly. As a result, I often try out random recipes I find online and find what I like and don’t like. But for me, the most important thing is to make recipes that are easy, cheap, and will make several meals that can be refrigerated.

    • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

      @Saites: This is actually what I really like about the Julia Child cookbook — it really IS a textbook, which gives you a base recipe and then variations, which helped me understand what the recipe was about so I can make my own changes if I want to.

      There’s a lot in there I’d never bother cooking, but I’ve learned a lot ABOUT cooking from reading it.

      • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

        @Eyebrows McGee (now with more baby!): my favorite part of the joy of cooking cookbook is ‘know your ingredients’ and followed as a close second is the section on how to make substitutions.
        i might have to go find the julia child one though, sounds useful

    • MsAnthropy says:


      This is how I cook! I’ll read various recipes to get the basic idea, and then what I cook will invariably be a combination of the elements I like from the recipes I read, with various tweakings according to my own taste and what I actually have in the cupboard. Even if I start out fully intending to follow a recipe as written, I will end up deviating somewhere along the way – that’s what makes cooking fun for me, and why the things I cook best are those which don’t involve rididly following a precise recipe.

      My favorite cookbook is Appetite by Nigel Slater, which contains some instructions on “the basics”, and then a whole load of recipes which are more like templates than the traditional list of instructions. Each one has a ton of different suggestions on how you can adapt the basic recipe to come up with all kinds of variations depending on your mood, what you have available, what you actually like, etc. Oh, and beautiful photos! I love delving into that book for ideas.

      • Saites says:

        @MsAnthropy: I’m right there with you about expecting to follow a recipe, and then doing something different anyway. I end up doing a few substitutions just because I don’t have certain things available. I’ve considered getting a cookbook like the one you describe, but right now the internet is serving me well, especially since I don’t have to pay anything (extra) for my recipes.

    • subtlefrog says:

      @Saites: Check out On Food and Cooking – BF loves loves loves this book – it really teaches how the ingredients interact, and what the differences is between, say different flours, or why you add vinegar to things to change pH, etc. You can get a used copy on Amazon (older version is fine) for like $2.

  7. eelmonger says:

    For a few cents more than the BBQ chicken you can get a KFC Family Meal that has a lot more food and takes much less time. Is it healthier? Probably not, but if value is your chief concern, the bucket may be the way to go.

  8. kaceetheconsumer says:

    I love this as a concept, but too many budget recipes rely on processed ingredients, like bbq sauce or premade cherry filling.

    I do understand why…a small box of fresh cherries is EXPENSIVE. Yes, I do know why, it’s all because of the government subsidies and tax breaks for the food manufacturers and corn industry that are hardly there at all for other fresh fruit and veg.

    But it’s a bummer to try to be frugal, eco-friendly, and avoid processed foods all at the same time.

    I mean sure, I do love Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup as a sauce and I do stock up when it’s on sale, but it’s a sodium bomb with gobs of corn-based artificial ingredients. I’m not a purist. But I’ve looked into making my own and I’d pay a small fortune and do tons of work.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      @kaceetheconsumer: my mom used to use cream of mushroom soup for a casserole that everyone except me loved:
      sliced potatoes, sliced hot dogs, cream of mushroom soup, sauerkraut, topped with bread crumbs and baked.
      but other people liked it so maybe it was good?

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        @catastrophegirl: Are you sure people liked it? No offense..that just seems like an awful combination of things. Sauerkraut and sliced hot dogs?

        • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

          @pecan 3.14159265: well some people put sauerkraut on hot dogs.
          it’s the mushrooms and the hot dogs that i object to.
          but it was the 70’s. the recipe was probably on the can itself or something

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      @kaceetheconsumer: I hate processed food being used as ingredients too. It’s one of the reasons I despise Sandra Lee. Her entire show is devoted to using processed ingredients to make meals easier. I don’t understand what is so hard about making good food from fresh ingredients. Just keep it simple. My mom used to use Campbells mushroom soup for casserole too ….blegh. Some cream, some spiced, mushrooms and you can definitely make a good substitute. It’s not $1 like the can but you won’t be eating your way toward a heart attack.

      I use canned goods too, but only when fresh isn’t as feasible or economical, or when it works better than fresh ingredients.

      • kaceetheconsumer says:

        @pecan 3.14159265: When I first heard about Sandra Lee’s show I was excited by the idea of home cooking faster (because it’s really quite hard having an active little kid and cooking too…when she’s just a bit older she’ll be able to help more but right now her “cooking” is more labour-intensive than having her not “help”, and we only do it to foster the love of cooking in her), but yeah, after a few shows I was disappointed. Her recipes have enough effort that one may as well go the whole way and not use the processed food element.

        @reishka: Oh, we use frozen veggies all the time. They’re cheaper, pre-chopped, and almost always as fresh or fresher than what’s on the shelves (CR has often noted the same thing in tests, I believe).

        It’s the soups, sauces, and other pre-mixed stuff that shows up in so many budget recipes that bugs me. Again, I’m not wholly against such things, and I do use them from time to time, but it’s a crying shame that the healthier, less-processed versions are so much more expensive due to subsidies.

        My current favourite budget-friendly and healthy side dish is to take frozen cauliflower, microwave it until it’s thawed, toss it with a bit of olive oil, salt, and garlic powder, then roast it on a sheet pan along with whatever the main course meat is until it’s super-toasty. Ultra-yum, cheap, easy, etc.

        But most budget recipes involve highly processed foods which adds salt, MSG, dextrose, etc.

    • reishka says:

      @kaceetheconsumer: What about frozen? Not nearly as good as fresh, no, but a lot better for you than canned.

    • 339point4 says:

      @kaceetheconsumer: We made a decision to severely cut down on processed foods beginning Oct 1.
      In a little over three weeks, my grocery bill has almost doubled and I now average about 2 hours a day in the kitchen.

      • Trai_Dep says:

        @339point4: It depends on what kinds of things you buy, and if you make single meals or multiples. For instance, curries or red pasta sauce works well since you can freeze portions up and the cost/serving goes down.
        The same with choosing, for instance, the right cut of meat (stews use more forgiving for cheaper cuts than steak & a baked potato, say).
        Going the unprocessed route takes some getting used to, and some changes. And it’ll never be cheaper than a KFC bucket. But it’ll be comparable, and far better (tasting and for you). It’s a process, though.

    • subtlefrog says:

      @kaceetheconsumer: The most processed food I eat is an Amy’s burrito on a rare day when I have nothing else to take for a lunch. There are loads of recipes out there for things that aren’t using processed. Joy of Cooking and some of the other books listed here are great examples. Alternatively, go to your local grocer, and aside from whatever meats are reasonable at the moment (don’t know how those get priced) pick up the veggies that are currently in season, as those are what are generally priced lower. Then hit the internet for some recipes (or see what’s cheap, hit internet, then shop).

      • kaceetheconsumer says:

        @subtlefrog: We own the Joy of Cooking and a bookcase full of other cookbooks. The Art of Simple Food is a good one for basic, whole food recipes. We subscribe to Cook’s Illustrated, watch Alton Brown, etc.

        I know how to make healthy recipes. My comment was more that budget recipe websites rely too much on processed ingredients, which is because in the US it is far cheaper to eat processed foods than fresh ones. And now that we’re trying to be even better about nutrition and environmental issues by switching to pastured meat as much as possible, the cost has tripled.

        What meat is “reasonable” at the moment is almost certainly force-fed by grains it wasn’t meant to eat in a CAFO where it stands in knee-deep shit all day and is stuffed with antibiotics since it inevitably gets sick in this awful situation, and as a result its meat has more of the bad fats and less of the good ones.

        • floraposte says:

          @kaceetheconsumer: I hear you. You do have to be willing and able to commit more of the budget (and the acquisition time, often) to get fresher and better produced edibles, and it’s not something everybody can do. The Sandra Lee-type stuff seems to me the worst of both worlds, though. The mess and time of home cooked with the nutrition issues of processed! Yay!

          Is there anybody in Food World who specializes in thoughtful price-based recommendations? Here’s a shortcut that saves without losing you much, that kind of thing? Maybe there’s a niche for that.

  9. subtlefrog says:

    Cheaptastic and delicious: Beans and rice. You can add in anything you like (meat, cheese, veggies, whatever), but unless you add gourmet cheese and veal, it’s hard to make it an expensive dish. And it’s super simple.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      @subtlefrog: cook the beans with a ham bone [many butchers will sell them to you cheap with some meat left on] and then scrape the meat off the bone and remove the bone – with black beans it’s the base [with other seasonings] for cuban frijoles negros which is traditionally served over rice and with kidney beans [with seasonings and sausage] it’s cajun red beans and rice.
      a thing i recall from my short stint as a vegetarian is that beans and rice together make a complete protein

    • veg-o-matic says:

      @subtlefrog: yes.

      Infinitely modifiable, nearly impossible to ruin, freezable, and just super for those of us who don’t mind that some of our meals start with the phrase “a big ol’ bowl of…” (excepting, of course, KFC Famous Bowls)

      • floraposte says:

        @veg-o-matic: I love meals like that. Therefore freeze-ahead soups are about my favorite thing. (Freeze-ahead stuffed baked potatoes, which are basically “a big ol’ potato bowl of…,” are right up there too.)

        • veg-o-matic says:

          @floraposte: Ooooohhh, that sounds nice. I’m always pro-potato, and so is the half-Irish fella. I hadn’t ever thought of making those for freezing. Awesome suggestion.

          • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

            @veg-o-matic: @floraposte: any time i have to turn on the oven i throw a couple of potatoes in as well just to use the heat.
            i hadn’t thought of freezing them but it sounds terribly useful.

        • MsAnthropy says:


          Mmmm, baked potatoes! One of my favorite winter meals is just a baked potato (cooked forever until really fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside) with butter, a ton of black pepper, some cheese and sour cream. Most people seem to regard this as a side dish at best, but it’s a complete meal as far as I’m concerned!

          • veg-o-matic says:

            @MsAnthropy: As a native midwesterner, I salute your complete meal tastes.

            Big fat bland baked potatoes got me through a good portion of living as a vegetarian in meat-heavy Mexico. Truly, the greatest international food in existence.

            • subtlefrog says:

              @veg-o-matic: Another native midwesterner, and when I lived in Peru, I thought I’d died and gone to potato heaven. Holy crap. Holy crap. Shall I say again, holy crap.

              I am with you & MsAnthropy, potatoes are the amazing. I’ll skip the butter, but at home, i can douse in olive oil and salt, perhaps some rosemary. yum. yum. Now I am hungry for a potato.

      • MsAnthropy says:


        Yup, I’m very lucky that these are actually my favorite kind of meal in the world! Big heaping bowls of comfort food involving lots of rice and pulses, gloopy risotto, that kind of thing. I can eat on a tiny budget and be in food heaven!

    • RecordStoreToughGuy_RidesTheWarpOfSpaceIntoTheWombOfNight says:

      @subtlefrog: Jambalaya, FTW! I’ve become hooked on the Zatarain’s boxed mix, but I really want to find my own recipe that doesn’t rely on pre-packed spices and processed rice. On one hand, I can eat for three days on $5, but in the other, I’m taking in waaaay too much sodium and other stuff I probably shouldn’t.

  10. Trai_Dep says:

    Also, bachelor types that want to impress the HELL out of a date?
    Cook ’em something in your flat. They’ll swoon. Way better than taking them out and soooo much more romantic.
    (They don’t need to know you only know how to cook one dish, btw)

    • wvFrugan says:

      @Trai_Dep: YES!

    • your new nemesis says:

      @Trai_Dep: chili dogs ftw!

    • PunditGuy says:

      @Trai_Dep: I’ve been tempted to teach a “bachelor chow” class, where you learn some basics to keep you alive and then something to impress the ladies (Lobster Benedict for breakfast, wherein you have to kill the beast).

    • subtlefrog says:

      @Trai_Dep: My ex once cooked for me. This ended in “desperate measures,” and then him throwing me out of the kitchen so I couldn’t see what was about to happen. I had to smile and tell him that it was yummilicious. It was fortunate I was ill that day and couldn’t taste much.

      Still, it was very sweet that he tried.

      Same guy that dumped me after I made him pumpkin ravioli from scratch. Dick.

  11. Alys Brangwin can't stop the beat says:

    Of course there are vegetarian recipes. It’s easy to be frugal and tasty without meat.

    • wvFrugan says:

      @Alys Brangwin can’t stop the beat:
      I struggle with this. Can you recommend a website or cookbook to give me some tips. When I’m in chronic pain with my neck & back, I usually am nauseous and have a poor appetite, especially toward meats (and I love meat by the way). I end up eating a lot of just plain fresh fruits which often tend to be expensive. I would love some simple vegi recipes that are filling and tastey for when I’m not feeling well and to explore cutting down on meat for health reasons.

      • subtlefrog says:

        @wvFrugan: has a ton of amazing recipes, and nothing I’ve tried from there has led me astray. She’s also got a new cookbook, though many of the recipes (not all) are repeats from the website.

        Also, ppk ([]) has some good ones, though they are more limited. They produced the Veganomicon and several others. These are vegan cookbooks, I can’t come up with any straight vegetarian ones off the top of my head that are any good. PM me if you want any other ideas – we love to cook and I’d be happy to send you links and pointers on veg cooking.

        • wvFrugan says:

          Thank you, I will check your recommendations out and PM you if I have a question. Thanks for your offer. (Oh, your post also reminds me that I need to again check the differences between vegan & vegetarian.) As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that I feel better eating less meat. Although I enjoy meat, I no longer want it as 75% of my meal. I think my body is telling me something!

          • subtlefrog says:

            @wvFrugan: Vegan means no dairy, no egg, no honey (though I’m not psycho about that one). Most of the recipes on the two sites I gave can be easily unveganized and made just vegetarian if you would prefer to simply use dairy / egg, though as listed are also quite yummy, even according to my omnivore (and hence more objective) BF.

      • veg-o-matic says:

        @wvFrugan: @subtlefrog: Both of subtlefrog’s suggestions are very good. At least the last time I checked (and it’s been some time), you can also check the PPK’s forums for food and recipe ideas. I don’t know if it was just me, but I always found the designated “recipe section” of that website to be quite underwhelming. The forums, though, are really extensive.

        Definitely find the Food Porn section. You may need a moment alone.

        Also, one I always recommend based on sheer volume of recipes is, which has a decent forum behind it for ideas, questions, etc.

        In the way of cookbooks, I think Moosewood has at least one dedicated to budget or fast prep, but I’m pathetically undereducated on cookbooks. The only one I use with any regularity is Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. Not bad for a primary cookbook, heh.

      • PottedPlant says:

        @wvFrugan: How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. He gives substitutions for making most of the recipes vegan if you prefer, and he covers a lot of ground in just one book. We’re omnivores, although we tend to go light on the meat for budget reasons. We love his recipes.

  12. jamesdenver says:

    Also if you find something you like cook in large quantities.

    When I make a good dish or myself and other half I triple or quadruple the amount, and have lunches and leftovers ready to go.

    Makes for healthy quick snacking, and saves money on weekday lunch. The effort to make three times the amount versus one is the same if you have big enough pots/pans.

    And I always keep cooked chicken in the fridge. Good for snacking, salads and other recipes..

    • Ragman says:

      @jamesdenver: That’s why I cook my chili in a big stockpot and bought the largest Foreman grill they made. We almost always cook extra to have leftovers.

      I never do chili in a slow cooker. They’re just too small for my recipe.

    • HogwartsAlum says:

      @jamesdenver: When I bother to cook for myself (I’m alone), I cook two portions so I have something to take to work the next day. It doesn’t always taste as good as when it’s fresh, though. I’m not real fond of leftovers as a rule.

    • Toffeecake says:

      @jamesdenver: Thanks for reminding me; I’ve got gumbo in the freezer! Woo!

      Gumbo’s another one of those things that will last for a very long time, especially since it’s meant to be cooked by the stockpotful and eaten with rice. Very economical, if your doing chicken and sausage. I’m sure you could make a vegetarian gumbo with okra or something too if you wanted to.

  13. colorisnteverything says:

    Persian food is a delicacy for me. I was taught to make it by my BF and have my own spin on it. The rice is $17.00 for a ten pound bag (have to have Basmati) and the Zerhesk is like $16.00 for 5 lbs or something. I can make a meal for under $10.00 with the halal chicken from the corner market.

    Rice in the crockpot when I don’t feel like lugging everything down to the dorm market. Chicken marinated and cooked, and it is a cheap meal.

    Last night, I cooked for the floor and shared with about 10 people. Now that is a cheap – and yummy meal!

    • blash says:

      @colorisnteverything: Really? I get Basmati rice for $9 per 10 pounds. Shop around a little more.

      • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

        @blash: it’s probably regional. i grew up in central florida and could get asian, middle eastern, greek, kosher, cuban ingredients quite inexpensively and conveniently.
        now i have to drive 20 miles to get middle eastern ingredients and have trouble getting any cuban ingredients at all but central american ingredients are readily and inexpensively available and there are a ton of asian supermarkets even, not just little corner stores.

    • colorisnteverything says:


      Not a lot of Indians where I am (Indiana). Definitely very few Iranians. I can’t get Persian rice.

      And the rice I get is not of the crappy American variety that you get at the supermarket round these parts. It’s Indian rice that is imported.

      10 lbs is fine for me. Now, if it is me and my BF, we can go through that in a few weeks!

      • aliasmisskat says:

        @colorisnteverything: Depending on where you are in Indiana, there are lots of Asian markets. Most towns that have an international factory in or near them have something. I’m mostly familiar with central Indiana, but Kokomo, Lafayette, Indianapolis, and a few other larger towns in the area all have decent Asian groceries. (OK, Kokomo’s is small, but she carries good, and often odd, stuff. Cheapest place in town for shallots, when she has them.)

        • colorisnteverything says:


          I am from the north (Region rat). Bloomington has a few ones, but most cannot be reached and I cannot come home from seeing as I am car-less. I have to traipse to Wriglyville to get what I want, usually, which is okay when I am in the mood to do it. I don’t usually go through Kokomo, never go to Indy unless forced, and barely stop through Lafayette on the way back to 421. For me, going to the actual Persian shop when I am home is just better than an Indian or Arab shop because I can get Zerehsk, Kashk, and lots of canned stuff that I couldn’t get anywhere else.

  14. wvFrugan says:

    May I suggest that anyone starting to learn to cook or cooking regularly for the first time to please give themselves 6 months to get into the routine and to discover that their home cooked food is better than restaurant stuff. I have ALWAYS found that my foster kids regardless of age always arrive wanting restaurant food (McDonalds, etc.) and resisting good home cooked stuff. Within 6 months they ALWAYS want home cooked food over any of that fast food stuff! I have even discovered that their friends end up wanting to eat over. I’m talking about simple stuff like cheeseburgers, spaghetti, grilled cheese, pot roast, etc. No expensive ingredients or anything. It really comes down to re-training our wants and tastes I think. Also, I believe that cooking for others is really a special way of saying you care, and others really appreciate it.

    • subtlefrog says:

      @wvFrugan: That’s an interesting point, and something I have to sort of remind myself. I get the whole vegan isn’t for everyone, no problem, and while I think carefully about what I make for people if they come to dinner at my house (I stopped eating meat 30 yrs ago – I don’t cook meat, for everyone’s well-being). Most of my friends are on the same page as I am for home cooked food (most are grad students, and have no option). But others do eat out a lot, and I never really thought about it from this angle. Thanks for the perspective check. And 1. for being a foster dad (?) and 3. for caring enough to work to get your foster kids to retrain their taste buds.

      • subtlefrog says:

        @subtlefrog: Um…3 was supposed to be 2 there. I can has numbers?

      • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

        @subtlefrog: Most of my friends grew up eating mostly home-cooked, so their socks are always knocked off when I make my simple home-cooked meals, including a tasty vegan stew-type-dish. But really, the issue is they’re all bakers, and I’m not coordinated enough to make my baking pretty. :D So now I cook things, because entrees just have to taste good, not look perfect!

        And they’re really not socks-knocking dishes, they’re just homemade.

        • subtlefrog says:

          @Eyebrows McGee (now with more baby!): This. Some nights, we don’t start cooking until 8:30 or 9:00. We don’t do fancy those nights. Some nights, we do dinner party and go all out and do major to-dos. Those nights, we splurge and spend more on food and it’s all sorts of craziness. But no matter what, it is delicious. (BF is better at the presentation than I am, I confess).

    • floraposte says:

      @wvFrugan: That was the real revelation to me–it’s not just cheaper, it’s actually better-tasting, especially if you don’t live in New York or San Francisco or some other restaurant-intensive location.

    • veg-o-matic says:

      @wvFrugan: So much yes.

      It took me so long to not suuuuuuck at cooking. I was the most uncreative vegan “cook” for about 2 years there, and learning to be good at it is an ongoing process. But hey, I make my own bread and non-dairy milk now. 2005 me would have thought such a development impossible.

      It’s easy to convince yourself not to spend money on a restaurant when you can honestly say “we can just make this at home.”

      • subtlefrog says:

        @veg-o-matic: I salute your veganness then, I could never have done it if that was how I started. From the start, I did it with a friend, and we were making amazing meals, so I never felt like I was missing anything. I go months without eating at a restaurant these days because, money aside, BF and I feel like dinner is just tastier at home.

        • veg-o-matic says:

          @subtlefrog: Yeah, it wasn’t really until I brought the BF over to the Dark Side that we both began cooking competently. It always seems to go better once you have someone else to work with, doesn’t it?

          I was always a pretty lazy vegetarian cook though, so besides the obvious dairy products, I never even knew what I was missing… proper meals, that’s what.

  15. bohemian says:

    Changing your habits is easier if you really like what your making. Learn to make things that are already your favorites and get good at them. I looked at cooking as a hobby rather than a chore. Taking an approach as a learning experience and skill made it more interesting and I learned to make things that are not your typical tuna hot dish.

    Not everything turns out well in a crock pot. Chili, some beef stews and roast pork or chicken. Though I like the end result of pork or chicken in the oven better, less soggy. We also bought a rice cooker that we use to make rice, lentils and potatoes in.

    We rarely go out to eat any longer because what we make at home is as good or better most of the time.

  16. bohemian says:

    We also bought a small smoker. With some practice you can get some awesome results.

    • Trai_Dep says:

      @bohemian: I briefly had a mental picture of you stuffing a startled middle school student huffing madly on a Marlboro into your car trunk and taking him home.
      Thankfully, it passed.

  17. TheRealAbsurdist says:

    The best thing you can do to reduce your food bill is to stay the hell out of the big chain supermarkets. Shopping at Grocery Outlet, small chain stores, produce stands, surplus and dented goods stores, etc… can reduce your grocery bill dramatically.

    • aliasmisskat says:

      @TheRealAbsurdist: I’m a big fan of Aldi, hit my Asian market when I can, and I shop sales pretty much exclusively. For gourmet type items, I wait until I have to make a trip to the large city an hour away and hit Trader Joe’s. TJs is great for frozen, ready to eat stuff (for when I’m lazy) and staples like cheese, bread, olive oil, etc. Cheaper than Kroger, and better quality.

    • subtlefrog says:

      @TheRealAbsurdist: Farmers Market and my CSA (though not all of them) are great budget ways for veggies in LA.

  18. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    Learn alternative methods to cook things. Don’t let a recipe stop you because it calls for baking in an oven. Beef stew works just as well on the stovetop for an hour as it does for the recipe that calls for the oven for an hour. Bottom line for stew is that your meat needs to be cooked and tender. The best way of keeping beef tender is to keep it from going dry and to keep the heat balanced so the interior cooks without charring the outside.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: that just reminded me of two beef tenderizing tips for cheap
      got some red wine that’s going to sour before you use it? it tenderizes beef quite nicely.
      also – tea. plain old cheap black tea bags stuck in with your pot roast or to marinate your stew meat with really strong black tea.
      and yes, then treat it the way you described to keep it tender and moist

  19. bishophicks says:

    Today turned into a value cooking day quite by accident. My son had a couple of friends over and I ended up making homemade pizza. We made two 11″ pizzas (about the same as one 16″ pizza for about $5, including toppings. It was enough pizza for 4, so it works out to $1.25 per serving.

    For dinner we had meatloaf with potatoes and broccoli on the side. The meatloaf cost a total of $9 for 8 servings, and the potatoes and broccoli are cheap, so dinner cost about $1.13 + .50 + .50 or about $2.15 per plate. And I’ve got plenty of meatloaf left over for sandwiches, etc.

    Some of the best value can come from making soup. Dried beans are cheap. You can make an outstanding black bean soup for $1 per bowl.

    I would also recommend coming up with some cheap flavorful sauces and keeping them in squeeze bottles in the fridge. I have a bottle of caramel sauce, teriyaki sauce, and zesty sauce for burgers and sandwiches. The sauces are easy to make, don’t cost much and keep well.

    Food companies and restaurants make money by doing the work for you. Food companies especially will try to make you think that they’re saving you tremendous amounts of time and effort when they’re really not. You can make a really good teriyaki sauce in 10 minutes with 50 cents worth of ingredients, and it will blow away anything you can get in the supermarket.

  20. Joey_Brill says:

    Just a few discoveries for other newcomers to budget cooking:

    1. When they tell you to soak over night, they assume you have normal water. Hard water will screw up any bean recipe. Soak in bottled water

    2. Fish stews do not freeze well

    3. Restrict experimentation to smaller dishes; you don’t want a freezer filled with crap you won’t eat – see fish stew above

    4. If a recipe calls for a spice I never use, I buy at the local dollar store or Aldi; I’m not gambling $11.95 on another mace or turmeric.

    5. Purchase all kitchen gizmos from a second hand store. My first bread maker cost $129 (saving me money with each loaf!) When it broke a week after the warranty ended, I purchased a used maker for $18. It was probably used once or twice before it was donated.

    6. honey mustard and garlic bean paste will rescue nearly any meat at any stage of charring

  21. XTC46 says:

    Today I went to a local farm for the first time because they had a pumpkin patch and my girlfriend and I wanted pumpkins. I was annoyed that they didnt have pumpkins I liked but I found out they sell tons of fresh produce I liked. I got 8 cobs of corn, a couple of big zucchini’s, a cantaloupe, and a couple pounds of sweet potatoes for $10.

    And this was all stuff at their booth. They have a thing where they give you a big 5 gallon bin and you can fill it for $25 if you pick it all your self,or a 10 Gallon bin for $35. We just went grocery shopping but as soon as we need more veggies that is where we will be heading.

  22. veg-o-matic says:

    Here’s a non-food tip for home cookers:

    Make sure you have plenty of durable containers for short and long-term food storage.
    I know I’m much more likely now to make big batches or multiple dishes than I was before I had good storage options.

    Because the mister and I wanted to avoid plastics as much as possible but needed to be able to store at home and take single-serving portions to campus (grad students, poor, etc..), we bought a couple of sets of Pyrex dishes that include small and large bowls with lids. The small bowls are the perfect size to stick in the freezer and later throw in a bag and heat up at work, and they’re not too bulky or heavy to carry around. This way we’re not constantly re-buying fragile containers or plastic bags.

    Also, I really wish we had a standalone chest freezer. That would be awesome.

    • floraposte says:

      @veg-o-matic: Yes indeedy. You can also store many things you might not expect in zip-locky plastic bags in the freezer–egg whites, chopped scallions, chipotles in adobo.

      And I confirm the dreaminess of your dream. I have just a small standalone freezer (5 cubic feet?), and it’s wonderful. I’m also glad I cheaped out and got the manual defrost–since everything gets frozen first in the fridge’s freezer, there’s very little accumulation of frost, and you can just knock it off with a windshield scraper, so I’ve had it nearly 2 years and never had to actually defrost it.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      @veg-o-matic: don’t be afraid of appliance repair to get free or super cheap appliances.
      i actually found a small [4.7cubic feet] upright freezer that was being abandoned due to not working anymore even though it was well taken care of and clean.
      it was free so why not try right? tested it with a $13 ohm meter, it turned out to be the thermostat. which, if it was still made, would have been a $40-60 part.
      it’s not made anymore though so i was ready to give up on it and started dismantling the thermostat to see what it looked like inside. immediately once i got it open i found a spring was not connected where it was supposed to be.
      connected the spring, reassembled it [we’re talking a flat screwdriver and a philips, nothing fancy] and put it back in the freezer.
      where it promptly worked as soon as i plugged it in and froze some ice packs solid in a couple of hours.
      current model of that freezer online is over $400.
      i got lucky fixing it for free, but a thermostat would have been under $100.

      granted, i would have preferred a chest freezer but i plan to use it for meat sales and wouldn’t open it every day anyway.

      • veg-o-matic says:

        @catastrophegirl: That’s cool (heh pun), that’s the way it should be done, really. That’s what we keep thinking about doing, but dammit if this apartment-in-an-old-house doesn’t have the weirdest setup of outlets. There are a total of three kitchen outlets, all on one half of the room (let’s put one right next to the kitchen sink!! great idea!!) and nowhere where we wouldn’t have to run an extension cord to a suitable freezer spot.

        Our only other option is to put it in the living room, throw a decorative sheet over it and call it a “sometimes vibrating side table.” A good party piece, I suppose. Lulls in the conversation are quickly solved by leaning over and whipping out a giant bag of collard greens.

        Also, @floraposte & catastrophegirl: Jealous! One day, I’ll be just like grammy and grampy, with a glorious chest freezer in the basement.. but mine won’t be full of sides of beef and Schwann’s ice cream.

        • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

          @veg-o-matic: i’m lucky enough to have a laundry and utility room to keep it in, along with the pet supplies and such.
          but i read an article once about creative home storage and someone mentioned that it was years before she found out her grandmother’s round, fabric draped end tables were actually garbage cans packed with canned goods and bags of beans

  23. HogwartsAlum says:

    This thread is making me hungry. I’m STARVING!!!