Lately I’ve tried to expand my repertoire of frugal meals for my menu planning. I’ll share some of my strategies and feel free to tell me about yours in the comments, or link to a blog post on the same topic.
Ya gotta love the humble potato. Interesting fact about the tuber: Did you know they came from the Andes mountains, where the natives there have eaten them for thousands of years? It was only a few hundred years ago that potatoes were embraced by Europeans, who initially thought they were only fit for the underclasses.
The potato was responsible for a population explosion in Ireland in the 1800′s, because they were cheap, easy to grow, and provided a lot of nutrition. Some people shy away from potatoes, saying they have too many carbs, but they’re good, complex carbs – the kind that boost serotonin levels and make you feel happy. (Potatoes, not Prozac)
Tonight we had a kind of potato hash that I made up on the spot. Potatoes are hard to mess up!
Carrie’s Made Up On the Spot Potato Hash
First I melted a little butter in a cast iron pan and threw in some chopped onions. Then I added some diced bacon. I let everything get soft and crispy in there for awhile.
Then I added 5 sliced potatoes. I had prebaked these, but it’s not really necessary. I just had something else in the oven and had always made it a practice to throw several potatoes in the oven whenever it’s on, because it saves energy and I can always do something with prebaked potatoes.
I let the potatoes cook until they were a bit crispy on the bottom, then flipped them over to cook on the other side. I sprinkled a little garlic salt and pepper on them. Once they were cooked, I added about a cup of grated cheese.
The kids LOVED this.
On the side we had stewed tomatoes with okra and corn. Cheap, cheap, cheap eats!
You can do a lot of things with potatoes – one of our family’s all time favorites is potato soup.
Nannie’s Famous Potato Soup
(Mom if you’re reading this I hope you don’t mind my sharing the recipe!)
Whenever our family gets together my mom always makes this potato soup and it’s always a big hit.
Basically she chops (one or a couple of potatoes per person served) potatoes into a fairly small slice/large dice and puts them in a large soup pan along with diced celery and onions and just covers them with water. These simmer until soft.
Then she adds a couple of cans of evaporated milk (when I make it, I use raw milk), and lots of salt and pepper.
It’s ultimate comfort food on a cold or rainy day. I also sometimes add a grated carrot just for a little interesting color.
Another delicious thing to do with potatoes is to make scalloped potatoes.
To do this you slice potatoes thinly and put them in a large (larger than you think you’ll need, or they’ll bubble over and make a mess in the oven. Of course a sensible cook might put the casserole dish on top of a cookie sheet, but I always forget that step!) casserole dish.
Make a white sauce with butter, flour, and milk and pour on top of the taters. Lots of salt, pepper and garlic (optional). Then top with cheese. Cheddar is great, especially sharp, but last time I made this I had a little mozzarella that I didn’t want to go to waste, so I threw that on top with the Cheddar and it was out of this world. Another dish that kids really love.
Fried potatoes are another favorite of mine. To make these you simply slice potatoes thinly (best if they’re partially baked – again to save on energy always throw potatoes into the oven when you have it on for some other reason because there are so many things you can do with them) and pan fry them in butter or oil (or both!) until as crispy as you like.
I love them made in a cast iron pan, with a little sauteed onions. My favorite breakfast is fried potatoes and scrambled eggs. When you eat those two foods in the morning, your blood sugar stays on an even keel all day and you start the day off right.
Fried potatoes are absolutely delicious with pinto beans. Cook your pinto beans with a little bacon or chicken broth to give them flavor, salt and pepper them and serve them with hot fried potatoes and you have a simple, cheap and delicious meal that is quite nutritious and very filling (all that fiber, you won’t have any trouble with constipation either!).
A side point: learn to love potato skins. I’ve never removed the skins off my potatoes so my kids are accustomed to eating the skins. Most of the nutrition is in the skin, so scrub your taters well but leave the skin on.
Also, keep your potatoes away from apples as the gas that outgasses from apples makes potatoes go bad faster. And keep them in a DARK, dry place. It’s light that causes potatoes to turn green, not time. If they do turn green, no biggie, just peel them well. Unless you’re pregnant, in which case you should probably not eat greenish potatoes.
Another thing we’re doing is eating more rice.
Rice is another staple of the cheap cook. You have to love a food that’s so nutritious, goes with anything, and cheap – you can get a huge bag of it at Whole Foods for under $20. I’m talking enough to feed a family of 6 daily for months.
Lately I find myself serving rice about once a day. I have a little red Rival rice cooker and while I’m not a big fan of appliances (the only other things that plug in in my kitchen are my blender, coffee pot and grinder), this rice cooker has been worth the counter space it takes up.
We have hot brown rice (cooked with milk instead of water) for breakfast. Add some butter and maple syrup or Sucanat to make it a little sweet, and the kids love it. If you want to get really fancy you could sprinkle a little cinnamon on it and even a bit of orange zest.
Of course, rice as a side dish is self explanatory. But to make the kids eat more of it, I cook it with a couple tablespoons of butter and a little chicken broth.
I love, love, love fried rice and have shared my recipe for that here: quick and easy simple dinner recipes. Fried rice is a great way to use up leftover bits of meat and veggies. All you need is leftover rice, an egg and other odds and ends. And soy sauce or tamari.
The other night we had Spanish rice with our beans. My Mexican friend taught me how to make it and while mine isn’t nearly as good as hers (you have to speak Spanish to the rice to make it come out perfect!), it’s delicious.
Sorta Spanish Rice
Melt half a stick of butter (yeah, baby!) in a large saute pan. Add 1 1/2 cups of white rice and stir frequently, toasting the rice in the butter until it has a nutty smell and rice turns light brown.
Add a small can of Hunt’s tomato sauce, then refill can with water and pour that in. Continue simmering until liquid is reduced to the level of the rice grains, then put a lid on the pan and turn heat down to low.
Continue cooking until all liquid is absorbed.
This stuff is SOO good! Serve it with any kind of Latin food.
I’ll share an easy sweet and sour chicken recipe too.
Easy Kid Friendly Sweet and Sour Chicken and Rice
Cook pieces of chicken in olive oil then set aside.
Mix pineapple juice (from a can of chopped pineapple), organic ketchup, a little soy sauce and a little garlic together to make a sauce. Add this to the chicken, then add veggies. Sliced red pepper, green pepper, mushrooms, water chestnuts, whatever you like or have on hand.
Cook until sauce thickens. Serve over rice. I promise your kids will love this!
Right now I’m soaking black eyed peas overnight to cook for tomorrow’s supper (along with salmon croquettes and cornbread).
I buy my beans in two pound bags instead of cans to reduce waste and save money. Once I cook the whole lot, it’s easy to freeze extra in meal size portions so you always have “easy beans”.
There’s Hoppin’ John (spicy blackeyed peas with rice) which is a complete meal. Red beans and rice (cook the rice with chicken broth and add Cajun spices to the beans). Black beans with coconut rice (cook rice with coconut milk instead of water and add a bit of cayenne to the beans), and I already mentioned fried potatoes with pintos. Another favorite meal of mine is collards and beans with corn bread.
Carrie’s Southern Collard Greens and Beans
Sometimes I make up a big pot of this and we’ll eat on it for a couple of days. I LOVE beans and greens!
I buy my collard greens in those prewashed bags when I have a coupon or they’re buy one, get one free at the grocery store. Washing greens is a huge job and requires several changes of water, then you have to cut them which is a big job. The bags are a cinch.
In a LARGE stock pot, saute some chopped onion in butter or olive oil or coconut oil. When soft, add the collard greens and then enough water to just barely cover. Cook until the texture you like. (The longer you cook them the more your body can utilize the minerals they contain.) I usually cook mine at least a half hour. Check regularly to make sure you don’t need to add more water.
Greens will “cook down” fast so don’t worry that you will have a huge pan of food. A large bag of collards, once cooked, will be enough to feed 6 people a couple of times over.
Once the greens are soft you season them as you like. I typically add a slice of all natural, unprocessed bacon to the boiling water. You can also use some homemade or canned chicken broth. At the very least, use a little garlic. Then add salt, pepper, red pepper flakes (unless you have little ones who will protest), and a little more olive oil.
And this part is very important – a splash of apple cider vinegar! The vinegar makes this dish and it also helps your body extract the calcium from the greens. I love greens served with “chow chow” which is a southern style naturally pickled relish, but if you can’t locate any, just use the vinegar.
Serve with cornbread and pinto beans. YUM!!!
Beans are a great source of protein and very filling and nutritious. I’ve never had a problem digesting beans (it’s wheat that messes me up), but one trick to reducing the gas quotient is to have a longer soaking period – two days instead of overnight, and drain the rinse water before cooking.