Saturday, October 2, 2010

Ten dollar meals crack me up! (and a real money saving meal)

Any amateur foodie has seen this.

A celebrity chef displayed prominently on a pricey magazine, with the heading "SAVE YOUR BUDGET! TEN DOLLAR DINNERS! The chef holds a plate that could have come from a five star restaurant, and smiles widely.

and PLUNK... there goes four dollars. I really like so and so... and ten dollar meals, wow... that sounds pretty good.

Except, ten dollars is a LOT of money for one dinner. Think about it, ten dollars a day on dinner alone is up to three hundred and ten dollars a month on JUST dinner. That doesn't include snacks, drinks, or well, other meals. We average a hundred dollars a week in groceries, with the biggest bill coming in once a month around a hundred and twenty dollars, when I normally need all the dry goods. Ten dollars a night would DOUBLE my budget.

And that's not the biggest downfall to the ten dollar myth. NONE of those recipes ACTUALLY COST ten dollars. You'll see things like, 1 T of tomato paste, .12. 1 T fresh minced ginger, .05. Seriously? I can't buy a nickel's worth of ginger, or one tablespoon of tomato paste. If the ingredients aren't something you are actually going to use, you've just spent a dollar on tomato paste and at least that on a chunk of ginger.

You can tell these people don't deal with a tight budget often (or ever).

Here's a budget saving SET of meals... for much less than ten dollars.

Start with the flavor base.
What's in your fridge...Do you have a couple of slices of bacon, thick cut ham?
Great, dice that. (it's optional)
Saute in some olive oil, and drain. You are gonna use a GIANT soup pot to do this. Take the meat out and drain.

While that's going on, take a look around.
Do you have a carrot, some celery, and an onion? any combination there of?
Chop those up, along with a couple of cloves of fresh garlic, if you've got it. Mince them pretty fine, toss them into the pot, with a little bit of the oil from the meat, if using. If not, just heat up some Olive oil, and sweat the veggies.

No fresh veggies? Skip to the next step.

Add 1 quart chicken stock and 1 quart beef broth to the pot. You can use a couple of bullion cubes if you don't have the stock on hand, or if this is a less than flush week financially. (the broth is the most expensive part of the meal if you don't have any on hand, and totals four dollars in my neck of the woods.) Add a large can of kidney beans, rinsed really well and drained. If you are going to really do this on the cheap, get dried beans and follow the directions on the package to soak overnight. I'm up to five dollars and nineteen cents.

If you've got a couple of potatoes, dice them up and add them to the pot. If not, forget about it, no big. Add one large can of crushed tomatoes. ($6.19)If you have a jar of spaghetti sauce and no crushed tomatoes, go ahead and use that. Taste and adjust seasonings. Depending on how cheap you've been thus far, you'll need to be pretty liberal with garlic, onion powder, and Italian seasoning. If you've got fresh onion and garlic in there, just go with the Italian seasoning, and some crushed red pepper. Turn this up and let it simmer for about a half an hour. If you've got a rind from Parmesan cheese, toss it in. These are really lovely for Italian type soups, and can be kept in the freezer until ready to use.

Put a pot of water on to boil, and cook up a half a pound of elbow noodles, ditalini, or another tiny soup pasta. Drain, and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Taste the soup base and season with salt and fresh cracked pepper. Scoop out about a cup of beans and potatoes, and mash with a potato masher into a pulp, and stir back into the soup to thicken. Add the meat bits if using. If you've got some balsamic vinegar, stir a couple of tablespoons in.

Portion noodles into bowls and top with the hot soup. Top each serving with some grated Parmesan cheese, olive oil, and fresh cracked pepper. You should have eight servings worth of noodles, and about twenty worth of soup...

After your done with dinner, take a bag of frozen mixed vegetables, and empty it into the other half of the soup, and store it for lunch or dinner tomorrow. You can make more noodles, or some brown rice to add, and it's likely you will get TWO MORE MEALS out of this pot of soup, which has cost... Ten dollars, if you get everything and make it the most expensive way possible.

I can deal with three dollar dinners.

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