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February 2, 2013

Fast Cheap Good (Food Edition)
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:56 PM * 212 comments

The cry had gone up in Open Thread 180:

#478 ::: Claire February 02, 2013, 02:31 PM:

We still use a number of my husband’s fast/cheap/good recipes, if you’re interested. Examples: Ethiopian Lentil Bowl, which basically involves equal parts red lentils and garlic, plus some canned tomatoes and lemon juice. Or what we call “Hyrulean Beans” (he was playing a lot of Legend of Zelda when he invented this one) which is stewed refried beans, tomatoes, and fried onions with a few common herbs/spices, with frozen corn thrown in toward the end. In both cases, serve with rice for a complete protein, and in both cases they make LOADS and freeze well.

If you want detailed recipes for these or others, perhaps one of the mods could put us in touch?

#479 ::: Claire February 02, 2013, 02:35 PM:

A thought - is there interest in a separate thread for fast/cheap/good food? (recipes, general ideas, etc.)
#487 ::: SamChevre February 02, 2013, 09:20 PM:
Claire @ 478

I would find a thread for fast/cheap/good food tips and recipes very helpful.

#490 ::: Stefan Jones February 02, 2013, 10:19 PM:

I’d like to see a cooking thread as well.

What can I do? What can I say? Your wish is my command.

Well, to start: My beloved bride (and long-time co-author), Debra Doyle, hath (like Geoffrey Chaucer) a blog, in which she from time to time puts recipes. Since what we eat here is, pretty much all of it, fast, easy, cheap, and good, herewith is a sample, to start the pot heating (as it were):

Crockpot Kielbasa and Cabbage

The looming deadline looms ever nearer, and tonight’s dinner is therefore dazzling in its simplicity: Crockpot Kielbasa and Cabbage.

For which you need only a crockpot, a head of cabbage, and about one pound of kielbasa. You cut up the cabbage into small enough pieces that it’ll fit into your crockpot, you cut up the kielbasa into half-rounds, and you slow-cook them together on low until dinnertime. Some people put caraway seeds into the pot with the cabbage, but we’ve got at least one anti-caraway person in this household, so I don’t.

It’s hard to get much simpler than this.

Let us be good, cheap, and fast together.


Cooking With Light (Recipe Index)
Comments on Fast Cheap Good (Food Edition):
#1 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 12:49 AM:

I'm in the habit of three-part dinners:

A) A big green salad.

B) Vegetables . . . either frozen mixed vegetables, or:

A chopped onion, a couple of carrots cut into 1/2" thick slices, steamed hard for five minutes; after the heat is turned down a bit, pack two handfuls of raw spinach on top. Steam for as long as it takes to eat my salad.

C) An entree I made in bulk and froze in plastic containers. Soup, stew, casserole, gloppy pasta.

* * *
I'm starting to look into healthy and easy options for C). The cabbage and kielbasa is the kind of thing I'd like to try.

#2 ::: Zora ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 01:36 AM:

Dal over rice. Dal made with red lentils (masur dal) cooks in half an hour or so. I like empress dal, with sour mango powder (amchur) and whole cumin seeds. Recipe comes from Suvir Saran's book on Indian home cooking, but can easily be found various places on the net. Easy because the spices are added in the beginning, rather than added at the end as a separately cooked tadka.

I don't bother with dried chilies or cayenne powder, I just add a squirt of Sriracha. Roommate Jeff, he of the asbestos palate, adds another squirt or two before consuming.

#3 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 02:24 AM:

What I've been doing is only fast, cheap and good because of where I live. For $25 a year I get a bag of produce every week from Grey Bears, and twice a week there's places you can go to pick up unsold produce after the farmer's market. As it happens, I'm supposed to eat mountains of vegetables every day, so this is good. It does mean that I can be surprised by what I end up with. For a while there it was largely lettuce. Now it's mostly celery and parsnips. Good, though!

So my fast is not other people's fast. It takes days.

Day 1: throw relevant beans into water. Like in the morning on your way to work.

Later that day: change the water.

Next morning: change the water.

Next night: change the water and cook the beans plain at a low temperature from when you get home to when you're afraid if you don't turn them off you'll forget them when you go to bed.

Day 2 night or Day 3 morning: chop up what you're going to cook with the beans and put them in the fridge.

Day 3 night: saute the things if you're going to, otherwise just dump them into the beans, and cook them until they are as soft as you want them to be, or have disappeared into the beans.

Day 4: have the beans for any meal you like, until they are gone.

That's the method for the beans. The ingredients depend on what kind of bean you want to have, and should be in another comment as this one is already long.

The point is that the rather time-consuming beans become "fast" because you never spend more than a few minutes work time on them on any particular occasion. If you're eating mostly beans as a source of protein and carbohydrates (which I do) you might build up a rhythm where the bean pots overlap.

I's pretty telling that a pound of nice, pretty, delicious garbanzo beans is $1.69 and a pound of meat that costs that much is kind of scary.

Also, all those changes of water, if you don't want to waste them, can be gathered to use in dishwashing or something.

#4 ::: April Grant ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 02:57 AM:

Mujaddara, a Middle Eastern dish. None of my family is from the lands where this originated, but my mother learned it in her early vegetarian days and we've both made it ever since. This is the simplest recipe; the details here are a lot fancier than I've ever had time to try, but they look tasty.

1 cup rice
3/4 cup lentils
6 or more onions
Salt, olive oil
Optional almonds and salad greens

Put rice and lentils in big thick-bottomed pot with 6 to 8 cups of water, cover, and first boil, then allow to cook at a low temperature, till rice is suitably soft and lentils are slightly mushy. Most or all of water will be absorbed.

While this is going on, peel onions, cut off stem ends, and cut into big coarse slices (usually north pole to south pole, rather than crossways). Fry in oil till limp and defeated, add salt. Shovel fried onions into rice/lentil mixture, stir, and simmer for another twenty minutes or so till it's a nice, thick stew.

Serve alone or on salad greens of your choice. Almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped, make a good garnish, but it's not essential.

The link suggests spices and yogurt garnishes. I was appalled or amused to see that "mujaddara" means "smallpox." The lentils are the pocks in the face of the rice, I guess.

#5 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 04:39 AM:

This is quick and cheap for one person if you don't eat it every day, and I think it's pretty good.

1 piece of thin-sliced bottom round steak* (sometimes sold as "breakfast steak")
1 serving of frozen vegetable-of-your-choice
Artisan bread with butter
Fresh fruit

Put your nonstick skillet on the burner and start it heating. Put a dollop of butter on top of the frozen veggies and put them in the microwave for the recommended time. While they're cooking, take your steak and drop it into the skillet, about 30-45 seconds on a side. Serve steak and veggies with bread and butter; have the fruit for dessert.

This is at least as fast to prepare as heating a TV dinner, and you get larger portions, more nutrition, and fewer Miracles of Modern Chemistry. If you have a salad garden or some salad-inna-bag, you can substitute that for the frozen veggies.


* When I say "thin", I'm talking about approximately 1/4" thick. The slice will probably be a little larger than your hand (if you have average-sized hands).

#6 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 04:46 AM:

Poor Person's Miso Soup

I live in a place where miso is just barely affordable, but katsuobushi is ridiculously expensive and only comes in pre-grated form with caramel color and chemicals. Kombu is almost as bad. Hence this recipe.

Household broth (see below)
Miso of choice
1 small yellow onion
A tidbit of cooked vegetables or meat (tofu costs even more than beef, forget buying it)

Use the household broth for your cooking liquid. Cut the onion into slivers and heat 1 tablespoon onion slivers in the broth for each serving of soup. Stir in the miso as usual, then divide the soup into bowls, drop in the tidbits, and serve.


Household Broth

Not quick, but can be made after dinner with minimal effort, as you wander into and out of the kitchen doing dishes, getting dessert, etc. This is a mild yet savory broth that can be used in a wide variety of recipes.

Pick over a ham bone, a pork roast, or a roasted chicken or turkey. Package the meat in recipe sized portions and freeze (just put it in the fridge now and package it tomorrow). Put the picked-over bones into a pot that can hold them with plenty of room overhead. Add any previous batches of household broth you had in the freezer; any cooking water left over from preparing green vegetables and/or carrots for dinner; the giblets of the chicken or turkey, if available, except the liver; any, all or none of the following: a carrot, an onion, some parsley, a celery stick; pan juices left over from roasting, if any; and enough water to just barely cover everything. Bring to a vigorous boil. Now lower the heat and leave to simmer for an hour or so. Put a large dirty bowl on the stove and spoon any foam or scum from the surface of the broth into it as it cooks. Take the pot off the stove and leave it on a trivet on the counter until the liquid is cool enough not to scald you. Now dump out the slop bowl. Take out the biggest solid bits and dump them into the dirty bowl. If you want to, you can ladle the deboned broth through a strainer into a clean bowl, but you can skip this step if you plan to use the broth in plain cooking. When it's cool enough, put the bowl or pot of broth into the fridge. Leave it overnight.

The next day, lift off the layer of fat and discard. Have ready some freezer-safe containers in recipe sizes, typically pints or quarts. My late mother-in-law used recloseable plastic bags; I favor reused yogurt containers. Ladle the broth into the containers and freeze.

#7 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 04:57 AM:

Sadly, most of the recipes I really enjoy are summer-light.

Salsa chicken: Throw chicken into crockpot. Add salsa. Cook forever. (This is one of the things I could get everyone but the vegetarians to eat, and even they occasionally made exceptions for it.)

BLTXYZs...: (fake) bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, hummus, basil, avocado... Pick however many of the above appeal at a given time and make a sandwich on toasted bread with 'em.

Spinach salad: spinach, crumbled cheese, can o' fruit, nuts if you have them, avocado if you're ambitious. I go heavy on the add-ins, if this is all I'm doing.

For grilling chicken, I use a brown sugar rub with whatever feels fun, but often a variation on ginger, savory, garlic and chives.

Sweet potatoes and potatoes get chucked in the oven at the lowest possible temp on weekends... by the time I pull them out a couple or so hours later, they're amazing.


We've also started chopping the full fruit or veggie every time we "open" a new one. Occasionally, someone will have extra energy and pre-chop a bunch of things. It means that you can throw a little bit of everything in, when you're cooking - typically, we have some mix of fresh chopped onion, pepper, squash, tomato, mushroom and lettuce, with occasional adventures into other veggie-space. This gets used as a basis for anything from eggs to pasta to "meat"loaf to stir-fry to salads...

#8 ::: firefly ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 07:37 AM:

Kurdish shorbah. It's related to dal, which I see Zora @ 2 mentioned, but a bit simpler as far as spices go. Basically you take a couple of cups of red lentils and boil the heck out of them. Add salt and pepper to taste (I always end up using more of both than I think I'll need), and maybe a teaspoon or so of curry powder. Sometimes I fry up some onions to go in, along with crushed garlic, but that's a matter of preference. The Kurds here don't usually include onions in their shorbah -- or rice, for that matter, but I like to serve mine with rice anyway. Instead they rely on Kurdish naan, which is bigger and flatter than Indian naan, but I have no idea where you'd find that outside of Kurdistan.

Anyway, it's definitely cheap, and fairly fast, and, depending on how you season it, pretty good too.

#9 ::: firefly ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 07:39 AM:

OH! Forgot to add - shorbah goes from good to pretty awesome with sumac sprinkled on top.

#10 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 07:59 AM:

My big recommendation is technique, which is, if you don't have a rice cooker, get one! Specifically, you want one something with at least three features:
1) an easily-cleanable vessel (which implies you can remove the vessel from the electrical part), 2) the optional steamer attachment.
3) automatic shutoff when "cooked".

The basic operation for such a rice cooker is "cook until all water is absorbed", which is what triggers that shutoff. (If you actually want to time it or check it occasionally, you can use it for partial cooking such as soups.) The "5-cup" one I have holds enough food for a week's worth of entree/base material, or probably one big family dinner.

The secondary operation is steaming vegetables, for which you do need to occasionally check it for doneness, but this will be faster than rice-cooking. (Even with the auto-shutoff, boiling the vessel dry is a bad idea). Last month I steamed up a bag of baby carrots, and froze most of them in baggies.

My normal use is: Measure in rice and water. (Feel free to replace some water with stock.) Slice up and add whatever vegetables I've got handy, and maybe a bit of meat, spices to suit. Cook. If you have tossed frozen stuff in there, stir occasionally until everything is defrosted. (I prefer to defrost stuff in the microwave first.) Stirring once halfway through cooking (that's after 20 minutes or so) will cut down on the burned layer at the very bottom. (I accept such a layer, because I tend to get it even with cooking rice in a pot, absent closer monitoring and stirring than I want to put in.)

My current batch of this has onions, mushrooms, a bit of red pepper, and a chicken sausage, plus a bit of salt, black pepper, and butter by way of seasoning. I could have added carrots and/or canned beans, but I'd started with rice/water to the 5-cup line, and I was running out of room in the pot. I had it for dinner 3 times the past week, and froze the last two pints (on account of if I eat anything for a week straight, I'll take an aversion to it).

Such a mix can easily be further decorated at reheating/defrosting or table: Cheese, sauces (salsa works well), beans, meat....

#11 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 09:03 AM:

I hope this doesn't sound too weird, but I like it: Potatoes (usually boiled, but baked would be fine), cottage cheese, and sliced tomatoes. Not all mashed together on the plate, although you could do that, too. It makes a good lunch or dinner that is neither too heavy nor too light. You could always jazz it up with a little smoked ham or herbs or something.

And a tip for those who are slow-cooking things on the stove in the evening -- I have been known leave my pajamas in the kitchen to help me remember to turn off the stove before going to bed. Pre-cooking beans FTW!

#12 ::: Affenschmidt ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 09:46 AM:

Salmon pasta:

Boil up a pound of pasta (rotini works best, but farfalle will do). While that's happening,open and drain a 12-oz can of salmon (I use Trader Joe's, since TJ's is thick on the ground hereabouts) and dump it in a large bowl. Mix it up with a roughly equivalent dollop of plain yogurt, a spoonful of Dijon mustard and a liberal dusting of dried dill. Put a quantity of frozen peas in your colander; when the pasta is ready, drain it as usual and the hot water and pasta will cook the peas. Dump the pasta and peas into the large bowl, stir it all up and Bob, as they say, is your uncle.

#13 ::: Affenschmidt has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 09:47 AM:

I have used a Word of Power. No idea what it is, though...

[A comma with no space on either side. -- Rorpox Cirmo, Duty Gnome]

#14 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 09:57 AM:

Comfort quesadilla:

Microwave a small amount (a few tablespoons) of frozen spinach in a cup with just enough water to cover. If you have a small glass dish with a lid, you can use less water without drying out the spinach.

put a few slices of jalapeno cheddar on a tortilla and zap it just until the cheese starts to melt (30 seconds?)

top with the (drained and squeezed out) spinach, a sprinkle of sundried tomato and a spoonful of salsa. Fold and eat.

(This was my "too bummed out to cook, promised I wouldn't eat out" meal on a really depressing travel assignment)

#15 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 10:29 AM:

Two recipes for easy, nourishing soups made from relatively non-perishable ingredients, (so you can buy the ingredients ahead of time and not worry about when you're going to eat them.)

Spinach Stracciatella (after a recipe from Epicurious.com)


Heat two cups water and three cups chicken broth with salt and pepper to taste over medium heat. (Bouillion is fine. I'm personally a fan of the "Better than Bouillion" brand paste, where you just add a teaspoon of paste to a cup of water.)

Add one 10 oz package of frozen spinach and half a cup of grated parmesan cheese. (Again, the pre-grated stuff is fine.)

While the spinach is thawing in the broth, break two eggs into a measuring cup and beat them with a fork until the yolks have broken and mixed with the whites.

Take a 8-12 inch length of baguette, the staler the better. Cut it into slices of 1-2 inches. If the bread is not stale and you want that crunchy texture, you can bake it in the oven at 400 degrees for a few minutes.

Once the spinach is thawed and the broth has started to simmer, pour the eggs into the pot in a slow stream while stirring the broth. The broth should be hot enough and the pouring slow enough that the egg cooks basically as soon as it hits the broth.

Then, place a slice of bread in each soup bowl. Ladle the soup over the bread and then sprinkle additional parmesan if desired.

6 servings
Total time: 15 minutes
Total cost of ingredients: less than $4


Avgolemono (Egg Lemon Soup)

Put three cups of chicken broth (bouillion or paste is fine) in a pan with half a cup of rice. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Whisk together 2 eggs and a quarter cup of lemon juice or white wine. Stir a couple tablespoons of the hot broth into the egg mixture, then add the egg mixture to the broth in a slow stream while stirring the broth.

Serve. Can be seasoned with salt, pepper, a couple drops of lemon juice, parsley or dill to taste.

2 large or 4 small servings
Total time: 30 minutes (but less than 10 minutes active)
Total cost of ingredients: less than $1.50

#16 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 10:51 AM:

One of my favorite recipes that feeds about three adults; two with leftovers, four if you add in a large side dish (or a small side dish when serving it over rice).

Honey-Glazed Chicken

1 tbsp olive oil
2-3 tbsp soy sauce
2-3 tpsp honey

1# (or thereabouts) boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or any other reasonable set of chicken parts)

1) Preheat the oven to anywhere between 300 and 350 F, depending on how much time you have available. (I like 315.)

2) Mix the first three ingredients in a small bowl; microwave or otherwise heat until the honey melts enough to let you blend them all smoothly.

3) Put your chicken parts in a casserole dish. (Pyrex works nicely.) Brush or spoon the glaze over all sides of the chicken; if you're using boneless thighs, you can pour some into the pocket where the bone used to be, and fold 'em back up again.

4) Bake until the meat thermometer says they're safe. (Plan for at least 30 minutes even at the highest temp; I often cook at a low temp for more like an hour.) Let it sit for a few minutes so it's not scalding.

5) Serve over either rice or baby spinach, depending on taste and desired calorie total. Mmmmm.

Total prep time sans cooking is 5-10 minutes, depending on how lovingly you want to bathe your chicken parts. (When I'm in a hurry, I just pour the sauce over them and consider it a good deal.) You can adjust the honey/soy ratio easily to taste; I just eyeball it these days. The chicken thighs are usually dirt cheap, and very amenable to reheating without getting dried out, which is good for leftover use.

I also have the World's Easiest Meat Pie Recipe, but that's more of a $10 sort of dish, and does require a bit more prep time, even at being World's Easiest.

#17 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 10:55 AM:

Crockpot everything! It's not fast, but it takes zero attention. And while it's cooking, you can LEAVE YOUR HOUSE.

I'm particularly fond of congee/jook: one cup rice (I'm fond of jasmine, but whatever you have will work), 8-10c water. Put on lowest heat until translucent and thick. Serve with green onions, and whatever cooked protein you have on hand. I've done it with bonito, eggs from over easy to hard-boiled, ham, chicken...cook it overnight, and wake up to a delicious breakfast. It keeps well in the fridge for up to a week.

#18 ::: Claire ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 11:09 AM:

Debbie @11 In "fast, cheap and good" weird doesn't come into it. *g* Case in point:

Thai Chicken Thighs with Black Beans and Sweet Potatoes
from Spilling the Beans by Julie Van Rosendaal and Sue Duncan

1-2 lb skinless chicken thighs
1 smallish dark-fleshed sweet potato, cut into chunks
1 small red bell pepper, chopped (we omitted)
2 cups cooked black beans, or a 540 mL can
3-4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup salsa
1/2 cup chicken stock or water
1/4 cup peanut butter
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
1 tsp cumin
chopped peanuts and/or fresh cilantro for garnish (optional)
steamed rice, for serving

Put everything into a slow cooker, cover, and cook on low for 6 hours, stirring once or twice. If you don't have a slow cooker, toss everything in a pot, cover, and bake in a 350 F oven for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring once or twice, until the chicken is cooked through.

Serve hot over rice, garnished if you like with chopped peanuts or additional fresh cilantro.

#19 ::: Claire ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 11:12 AM:

Ethiopian Lentil Bowl
from Simply in Season

Described as "A dish somewhere between a thick soup and a dahl."

2 cups dried red lentils (sorted and rinsed)
Cover with water and soak 30 minutes. Drain.

2 large onions (finely chopped)
1 head garlic (peeled and mashed)
In a soup pot, saute in 3 tablespoons oil until golden.

3 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp pepper
3 cups water
Mix in tomato paste and paprika. Add remaining seasonings and half the water. Stir well and then add the rest of the water. Stir again, cover, and bring to boil. When the water boils, add the lentils, lower the heat, and cook until lentils have softened (20-30 minutes).

1/4 cup lemon or lime juice
Add and serve hot.

* Our notes:
We've only used lemon juice (not lime), but it's amazing the difference it makes. The finished dish does not taste lemony at all - just *balanced.*

Also, if you have no tomato paste on hand, use a 14 oz can of crushed tomatoes and adjust the water to compensate (reduce by ~1 cup). We have yet to try it according to recipe.

#20 ::: Claire ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 11:14 AM:

Last but not least, Hyrulean Beans!

This is Rob's recipe for "Hyrulean Beans", the bachelor food he happened to prepare a number of times while playing "Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess".  (Fantastic game, by the way. :)  Keep in mind it's very approximate.  Here you go:

1.5 cups dried rice
1 onion
1 can refried beans
1 can diced tomatoes*
1 cup frozen corn (I think; I just dump a bunch in) or 1 can corn
2 tbsp oregano
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp cayenne powder (or some amount of red chilies, or whatever) or to taste
pinch of salt, if there's no salt in your canned stuff
Some grated cheddar
Some salsa

* The size of can of tomatoes depends on how thick you want the result.  I recommend at least a medium-ish sized can.

Cook the rice in the Usual Way.  Prepare everything else while the rice is cooking; it gets added last.

Fry up the onion in some olive oil (or vegetable oil).  Add in the oregano and cumin, mix, and add the can of tomatoes.  Simmer that for at least 10 minutes; longer is better.  Add the corn and simmer until it's the texture you like (or just add it if it's canned).

Add the chili powder and cayenne, take it off the heat, then the refried beans.  The refried beans I've used have always been in a solid mass, so I take a couple of spoons and try to mash and cut the beans into the sauce.  The goal here is to completely mix the beans in so you don't have lumps of anything.

Once it's nice and smooth, make sure it's still hot enough (it usually is for me).  Reheat it a bit if you're not happy with it.  Otherwise, mix in the rice.  It should get nice and thick at this point.  If it's too thick to stir, add a spoonful or two of water.

Put a mound of the final product onto your plate, cover it in grated cheese, and serve with tortilla chips and salsa.  Or it goes very well in a wrap, particularly with some shredded carrots and a bit of lettuce (don't overdo the lettuce, though).

#21 ::: Claire ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 11:31 AM:

A note for the "Thai" chicken thighs: This recipe works really well with the random small bits you get when (inexpertly) taking apart a raw chicken. We save money by buying whole chickens, then cutting them into drumsticks, thighs, breasts, etc.. Inevitably I find myself carving the last of the meat off the carcass in stir-fry size pieces. You can, of course, use these for stir-fries instead. *g*

Oh - and the cookbook? (Spilling the Beans) Fantastic. I've cooked many recipes out of there now, and while they tend to not be fast, they're always delicious.

#22 ::: Claire has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 11:32 AM:

Not sure why, but if told I'll try to avoid it in future!

In the mean time, may I offer leftover lentil burgers?

[The word "carving." For a while we were getting multiple spams a day in the "Learn Fruit Carving" series (learn melon carving, learn apple carving, learn watermelon carving, learn cantaloup carving, learn honeydew carving, learn pear carving, learn kiwi carving, etc. etc.). Haven't seen one of those in quite a while, so removed that filter. Thanks for the lentil burgers, though. The carved plums were getting pretty old (even though they were kept in the icebox). -- Rovion Mioult, Duty Gnome]

#23 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 11:32 AM:

I'm seeing several definitions of 'fast' go by:

1) minimal time from start to table (ready in 15 minutes)
2) minimal amount of prep (open a few packages and mix)
3) prep is all ahead of time, food is ready to eat as soon as you get home (crockpot, slow-simmering beans)

For the low-spoons/hate-to-cook situation (raises hand), #2 is the important one. For being able to eat soon after one gets home, #1 and #3 are both good. I achieve #1 by cooking on my days off and eating leftovers the rest of the week; this is harder when you're cooking for more than one person.

#24 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 11:55 AM:

Mary Aileen @23: 2) minimal amount of prep (open a few packages and mix)

...with that in mind, let me actually share my two favorite recipes of late:

Lemon Dill Tilapia

1) Buy a packet of lemon dill tilapia spice mix (McCormick's, I think) and a bag of frozen tilapia fillets.

2) Toss half the fillets (in their bags) into a sink of water. Preheat the oven as on instructions of the packet.

3) Melt 2tbsp of butter. Mix with packet contents and water, as per instructions.

4) Cut fillets out of bags, lay in baking dish. Pour sauce over. Bake. Eat.

It's tasty, goes well with a side of quicky salad (tiny handful of cocktail tomatoes and large handful of baby spinach is my go-to for side dishes these days), and requires buying two ingredients. Three if you don't have butter or margarine on hand. I'm increasingly a fan of little spice/sauce packets with shopping lists on the back for making a meal out of them. Especially if that list has three or fewer other ingredients.

Super Easy Meat Pie

1# ground meat of preference
1 can favored veggies (I like pea/onion/mushroom mixes)
1 can cream of mushroom/celery/onion soup
1 box of two pre-made fridge pie crusts
some pepper, pepper mix, or preferred seasoning mix

0) If ground meat is bought raw, brown and drain it. If bought cooked, skip this step.

1) Preheat oven to 350F. Lay out bottom pie crust in pie tin.

2) Mix meat, can of veggies (drained), can of cream-of-whatever in a bowl. Sprinkle in pepper to taste.

3) Put it in the pie tin. Lay the second crust over, cut slits.

3a) ...and if you want, you can stick the whole thing in the freezer at this point. Thaw overnight some time in the next month, proceed to step 4.

4) Cook 30-35 minutes, until crust is golden. Serve. A bit runny when piping hot, much easier to serve when cut out from leftovers in fridge and reheated.


It's definitely not as cheap as a lot of the beans and rice and soup sort of recipes, but it doesn't require a lot of ingredients or fiddling--if you buy precooked ground meat, it's really mix-and-bake levels of complexity--and, as one of my favorite points, you don't need to buy anything for it that you use a tiny portion of and have sitting in the cupboard for a long time. Most people keep at least some black pepper around anyway; I like a Penzey's California pepper mix; but that's really the only ingredient that goes back into the cupboard when you're done baking. And absolutely no measuring is involved, which cuts down on headaches there, for me.

#25 ::: Goob ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 12:32 PM:

I heartily endorse rice cookers! They make beans and rice terrifically simple, and there's all kinds of territory to explore there; dal (as above), chickpea stew, mujadarah (as above, and so damn good), red beans and rice, moros y cristianos. If you squint a little, you can use your rice maker to crank up other things to eat with beans: quinoa, cous cous. Beans, grains, and flavorings, all in a bowl. Keep the bottle of pepper sauce handy; it goes down well.

But instead I figured I'd mention oats.

I'm not very good with mornings, but I like oatmeal. I could use quick oats, but I'm of the mind that quick oats taste terrible, particularly since I stopped making oats with milk. So I have (old fashioned) rolled oats for breakfast, but I use a trick to have them ready in five minutes.

(There's also a really nice trick with steel-cut oats, but it takes a while - that's a festival food.)

Hot Oats With Things

(One serving, scales well)

The night before:

1. Put 1/2 cup of rolled oats in a saucepan
2. Add 1 cup of cold water to the oats
3. Put lid on pan

...and go to bed. If you are using dried fruit, you can add it to the pot the night before with a little bit of extra water, and it will be plump by morning. Adding spices and sweetener at this point is also reasonable.

The morning of:

1. Turn the heat on under the sauce pan
2. Take the lid off
3. Stir occasionally while making coffee

...and the oats should be done in five minutes or so. The morning is when I add flax meal or wheat germ, if i have any. Or any of the other things I forgot to add the night before. The high variability here keeps this from getting boring.

Hot Oats With Milk and Things

Sometimes, I still make oatmeal with milk using this trick. As above, but:

The night before:

1. Put 1/2 cup of rolled oats in a saucepan
2. Add 1/2 cup of cold water to the oats
3. Put lid on pan
4. Rinse the 1/2 cup measure, and put it on the lid

The morning of:

1. Turn the heat on under the sauce pan
2. Grab the half-cup measure in a sleepy fist
3. Take the lid off
4. Measure a 1/2 cup of milk into the oats
5. Stir occasionally while making coffee

Cold Oats

I got this trick off of my Aunt, and it's great. You'll need an appropriately sized jelly jar with lid.

The night before:

1. Put 1/2 cup of rolled oats in a jelly jar
2. Put 1/4 tsp of unbuffered Vitamin C powder in the jar with the oats
3. Lid the jar and shake
4. Open the jar and add non-citrus fruit juice to cover the oats (you won't need much):
(a.) apple juice
(b.) mango juice
(c.) apricot nectar
(d.) etc.
5. Lid the jar and place on kitchen counter

...and go to bed.

The morning of, open the jar and dump out the glop into a bowl. I like it on yogurt. It's also good on vanilla ice cream.

It's particularly good on both! But usually not for breakfast.

#26 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 12:52 PM:

what I would love is cheap/easy/portable lunches to keep me out of the cafeteria at lunch time.

the cafeteria at work is not very expensive, but even so, a few bucks each day add up.

and it's hard because I have to get up early in the morning, and that means all prep would have to be the night before

#27 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 01:15 PM:

One of my favorites, spaghetti cacio e pepe (recipe from Cooks Illustrated). The only modestly pricey ingredient is the cheese:

4 ounces Pecorino Romano, finely grated (about 2 cups)
1 pound spaghetti or linguini
Table salt
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1½ teaspoons finely ground black pepper
2 ounces Pecorino Romano, coarsely grated (about 1 cup)

1. Place finely grated Pecorino in medium bowl, set aside. Set colander in large bowl, set aside.

2. Bring 2 quarts water to boil in large Dutch oven. Add pasta and 1½ teaspoons salt; cook, stirring frequently, until al dente. Drain pasta into colander set in bowl, reserving pasta cooking water. Pour off 1¼ cups of pasta cooking water into liquid measuring cup and discard rest; return pasta to now empty bowl.

3. Slowly whisk 1 cup reserved pasta cooking water into finely grated Pecorino, until smooth. Whisk in oil and black pepper. Pour cheese mixture over pasta in two batches, tossing to coat after each addition. Let pasta rest 2 minutes, tossing frequently, adjusting consistency with remaining ¼ cup reserved pasta water. Serve, passing coarsely grated Pecorino separately.

Serves 4 to 6.

#28 ::: Pro ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 01:19 PM:

Erik @25 -- My solution to the lunch dilemma goes thusly.

Costco has (sizeable) bags of pre-cooked chicken strips. They also have jars of artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, roasted red peppers, etc. I make a pile, add greens of some sort, drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the whole, and voila! Lunch. If I've got time and I'm getting fancy, I might add something that requires chopping.

It's not going to be as cheap as dal, but it will certainly be cheaper than cafeteria food (especially amortized over all the lunches one set of things makes) and much better.

#29 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 01:23 PM:

Erik Nelson:

What worked for me was getting a good watertight lunch box -- search for bento boxes online, and get a biggish one -- which expanded my definition of "portable" so that I could take stews and soups. Usually I'll either take leftovers of whatever I made the night before, or I'll use a slow cooker to cook a soup/stew/curry overnight and put it in the lunch box when I wake up.

#30 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 01:26 PM:

I want to say, cheap is a local condition. I've seen a couple of items in the thread that aren't cheap for me, and Jenny Islander @6 surprised me with things that are expensive where she is.

And as Mary Aileen @23 says, "fast" is also a local condition. I should say "easy" is too: for me, fast and easy can be chopping a bunch of things and throwing them into a bowl and calling it a salad. For a friend of mine with intractable pain, chopping anything is out of the question, so she buys pre-cut everything, which is out of my reach as far as money goes.

And we all know "good" is the most local of all. Both in that people's tastes vary, and in that things that are good in one place are not in another.

So if you're newly working out what to eat that is cheap, fast, and good for you, don't be discouraged if someone suggests something that doesn't fit the definition for you. Just read on.

And I have a question about the rice cooker: has anybody mastered cooking beans in them? I used to do it but they always came out tough, no matter how much water I put in, no matter how much I kept adding water (and rice is on my list of things I cannot normally have).

#31 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 02:15 PM:

26
I used to take pb&honey sandwiches. They hold up pretty well and don't need to be refrigerated - but this assumes you can eat them.

#32 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 02:22 PM:

I'll third (fourth) the rice cooker recommendation.

I have a little one. Purchased at Walgreen's, I think, nearly fifteen years ago. The non-stick coating is starting to go, but not so much that a half-hour of soaking makes it readily cleanable.

I sometime make Bachelor Curry in it. Start with the rice and water. Add: A big spoonful of curry powder, a little olive oil, some yogurt if I have it, margerine if not. A half-cup of frozen vegetables. Stir thoroughly. Stir again during the boiling phase.

* * *

Hmmm. Meat pies. Might be a good way to use the freezer-burned pork chops I found when emptying out my freezer!

#33 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 02:37 PM:

Stew meat is often one of the cheapest ways to eat beef (though, of course, it's still more expensive than beans!) There's an odd stew recipe that came with our slowcooker years ago, that we fell in love with. Preparation is fast, in that all you do is coarse-chop or open things and dump them in.

Olive Stew:

2 lbs stew meat, cut into 2 inch or so cubes. Pan-sear if you have time and want to add a little extra browned-meat flavor.

2 - 1 lb cans whole tomatoes, not drained. I don't know if you can use a couple pounds fresh tomatoes or not.

1 large green pepper, chopped fine or coarse, to your preference. (I prefer coarse, because then I can pick them out. I like the flavor they give, but not them as themselves)

1 large onion, chopped

1 7-oz jar green olives, not drained.

(eventually) 1 cup dry rice.

Dump everything into crock pot without draining anything. We add some cumin and cayenne at this point. Needless to say, you won't need to add salt! Nor will you need to add extra liquids

Cover and cook with times and settings per any stew in your own cooker's recipe book. Add rice one hour before done.

The rice will absorb essentially all the liquid, so "stew" is a bit of a misnomer. It's a meaty, olivey, gloppy porriage.

#34 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 02:39 PM:

Debbie, #11: I have been known to leave my pajamas in the kitchen to help me remember to turn off the stove before going to bed.

The equivalent for people who don't wear pajamas: put the pillow on top of the refrigerator. (Or somewhere else in the kitchen area -- the cue is, "Where's the pillow? Oh, right, go turn off the stove." and it doesn't really matter how you get to it.)

Erik, #26: When I was working contract, this was my standard lunch 4 days a week (the deal with myself was that I could eat lunch out on Fridays):

1 individually-frozen serving of something soup- or stew-like, which was made up as a big pot over the weekend

1 deli-meat-and-cheese sandwich

Fresh fruit and a couple of cookies

You can make and wrap the sandwich the night before and stick it in the fridge, if you get condiment packets to include for later. Morning prep is limited to grabbing the individual items and stuffing them in the lunchbox. Does require that you have access to a microwave in the break-room, for heating up the soup/stew/stuff.

Mind you, I can happily eat the same thing for lunch 4 days running. Not everyone can do that. OTOH, if you have multiple varieties of frozen soup and different kinds of deli meat and cheese, fruit, and cookies, you can easily get some variation within the pattern.

#35 ::: Syd ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 03:04 PM:

Lots of tasty-looking suggestions! The only thing I can think of to offer is eggy ramen:

>1 package dry ramen noodles (the kind with a flavoring packet inside--set the packet aside)
>1/4 cup frozen or quick-cooking veg of choice (e.g., sliced mushrooms, frozen mixed veg, etc.)
>2 eggs
>Cheese of choice (I like parmesan or a parmesan/romano blend, and for this use the canisters you find in the pasta section of the store are perfectly acceptable)

In a small saucepan, boil enough water to cook the ramen, then add ramen, either whole or broken into pieces, and your veg of choice. Boil until the noodles are done, 2-3 minutes usually, then drain, leaving it all in the saucepan. You can reserve the water as you might for full-on pasta cooking. Turn the heat to low and return the pan with the ramen and veg to the stove.

While the ramen and veg are cooking, you can beat the eggs with some salt and pepper--or if you don't feel like dirtying another bowl, you can do what I do and, when you put the drained goodies back on the burner, quickly break the eggs into the pan and stir until mixed. If things look a little dry, add a spoon or two of the pasta water.

When the eggs are cooked to your liking, take the pan off the stove, stir in the cheese and another zap of pepper, and devour. You can even put it in a bowl first. :)

Seems to me the ramen in pieces cooks marginally more quickly, but YMMV. I might open the seasoning packet and sprinkle a tiny bit of the contents into the water, but that stuff's way high in sodium, so most times I skip it.

I also have made a sort of hot "salad":

>First, boil some water. I like to use the tea kettle.

While the water boils, into a heat-safe portable container, layer:

>1 packet of ramen noodles, broken into pieces; again, either use just a sprinkling of the seasoning from the packet or discard it
>1/4 cup sliced mushrooms on top of the noodles (assuming you like mushrooms, and if not, a similar amount of frozen or other quick-cooking veg will work too)
>about a quarter of a package of pre-made cole slaw from the veggie section of the market, evenly distributed

If the water is boiling, pour enough of it over the ingredients in the container to cover the noodles and maybe a quarter-inch more. Don't stir, but you can set the lid on top, not closed tight, to keep some of the steam and heat in.

While that's going on, prep a protein serving of your choice, e.g. sliced chicken breast cooked previously, a fully cooked sausage, whatever works for you. When the water is mostly absorbed, top the cole slaw mix with your protein, maybe add a little cheese if you wish, or a bit of salad dressing over the top.

Secure the lid. Take to work. At lunchtime, if you have access to a microwave, remove the lid and nuke for a minute or two, adding a little water if what you added in the morning is completely absorbed. Mix together and eat.

I like this because (a) I can do most of the prep in the morning, although the night before is going to be better for me now that I'm taking the bus rather than carpooling, (b) I can get a decent serving of vegetables in without too much fuss, and (c) the cole slaw mix keeps some of its crunch, which makes my mouth happy.


#36 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 03:07 PM:

My standard lunch going to work was
a snack-pack of carrots (not usually the kind that come with dressing)
a hard-boiled egg
a banana

There was a green mermaid and a real cafeteria downstairs, if I wanted something more or instead of, as well as assorted fast-food places within reasonable walking distance. (The cafeteria's turkey-burgers were very good - lettuce, tomato, and pickle usually included.)

#37 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 03:17 PM:

From the brain of the spousal unit, I bring you all our favorite fast/cheap/good meal:

woj noodle surprise

* appropriate amount of ground beef or turkey for the number of people you have (we use a 1-lb package for 2 people)

* 4 cans of vegetarian vegetable soup (non-condensed)

* whatever fun pasta you like (rotini and farfalle work best), either plain or whole wheat

While the pasta water is coming to a boil, cook the ground meat in a large frying pan until it's completely browned. Drain.

While the pasta is cooking, add the vegetable soup to the meat in the pan and warm it all up in the pan together.

Add the drained pasta to the mixture in the pan and cook until it's warmed through.

Serve with grated parmesan and/or sriracha.

This makes lots, and usually provides lunches for the next couple days.

#38 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 03:17 PM:

Lucy Kemnitzer @30, regarding hard beans -- I don't know anything about using rice cookers, but your problem might be hard water. We have extremely hard water here, and adding a teaspoon or so of baking soda to the cooking water (before adding salt) makes a difference in how soft the beans get.

#39 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 04:06 PM:

Debbie @38 -- We have only barely hard water despite it mostly coming from a river that runs through a limestone watershed. I do get soft beans using the method I described. When do you add salt? I don't add salt at all, except at the very end sometimes when I'm eating the beans.

I'm enjoying the suggestions for not forgetting things before bed. Now, how about not forgetting things in the middle of the day when you set them to cook while you work elsewhere around the house? I don't even bother to get upset when I smell the smell of imminent scorch anymore, I just go salvage the things.

#40 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 04:06 PM:

#30 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer

I appreciate how you sorted out the various factors.

#41 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 04:12 PM:

I searched for a while for a rice and beans recipe that wasn't beans in sauce to be served over rice. I ended up making up my own.

Two cups water, one cup rice, one tablespoon chicken boullion, enough soy sauce to make the water brown. Cook until almost done. Meanwhile, drain and rinse a 16oz can of pinto beans. When the rice is just about done, add slightly less than half a cup of water and the beans. Stir everything until the water's absorbed and the beans are hot. Eat, possibly wrapped in a tortilla.

If I'm feeling fancy, I make quesadillas with chicken and refried beans. If I'm feeling expensive and sad, pigs-- little smokies in crescent rolls, one per, with butter(ish) on top. That's only for when the crescent rolls are on sale, though.

#42 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 04:22 PM:

Lucy Kemnitzer @39 -- I add salt when I'm adding other ingredients. If I'm cooking salty meat with the beans, I'll also wait until the beans are at least soft-ish and the baking soda's been added; if hard water weren't a problem, I don't know if I'd pay much attention to when I was adding salt, but I'd read that it makes a bit of a difference with the hard water thing.

#43 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 04:25 PM:

I got this one from Frisbie:
1 14-ounce can of tomatoes
1 can cream of anything soup
1 can water
1 chicken stock cube
some sliced mushrooms (1 small can)
1 medium onion, chopped
8 ounces frozen lima beans
2 medium potatoes, cubed
whatever else you want to put in
leftover turkey or chicken, in small pieces
Cook until beans and potatoes are almost done, then add turkey.
Just before serving, grate in a quantity of cheese.

#44 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 04:58 PM:

No-need-to-chew dinner: (This was a staple for me while doing my PhD, when coming home at about 10 pm).

50g (couple of handfulls) couscous. Cover with about 3 x volume boiling water. Cover and leave for ten minutes. OR place in microwave in a TALL container (it tends to boil over), nuke for a minute, leave for a few minutes, repeat if necessary. Add cream cheese or grated cheese and mix. Eat. Optional extras to mix in: spring/salad onions; teaspoon full of Marmite).

Re. "crockpot everything": find (have, buy, look for on sale) a proper cast-iron enameled pot, safe for use on the stove top. Look out for a thick polystyrene box (I used two, one inside the other) and add/cut as required so there's a hole in the middle the right size for the pot.* Make sure you have something (e.g. silicon grippers) you can use to lower/pick up the pot by the handles into its shaped hole. Start off the rice, stew or whatever on the stove, with the lid on, so the whole pot including lid is hot and the contents bubbling. Lower into box, close lid. Leave it. If you put this on in the morning or at lunchtime, you'll have hot supper waiting when you get home. It won't overcook, and if it's coled too much you can just re-heat briefly on the stove top.

*There's a version using a couple of large cushion thingies - the ones filled with lots of small polystyrene beads - that way you can use any shape of pot. Or anything else providing decent insulation.

#45 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 05:01 PM:

Erik: how cheap does it have to be, to represent a savings over the cafeteria?

One of my favorite, fairly easy lunches is a tuna and avocado wrap. I indulge myself with the chunk white tuna in oil, which only needs to be broken up with a fork, rather than mixed with anything, and I buy it when it's on sale for $1/can; I use half an avocado, which are often $1 each; and the package of 8 burrito-size tortillas, I forget, but I think they're $1.99. I season it with Goya Adobo seasoned salt and fresh-ground black pepper. Sometimes I add lettuce. So, call it $2 even. It's quick to prep the night before, can easily be wrapped in foil, and is full of omega-3 and monounsaturated fats. It's not as cheap as a bean mixture, but it doesn't feel like deprivation, nor does it cause Socially Awkward Digestive Results.

If you want cheaper, it probably involves making your own refritos or hummus.

#46 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 05:11 PM:

Re. lunches. We make our own bread (the bread machine was a present). We generally pick up stuff that goes in bread to make sandwiches when it's cheap and keep in the freezer or cupboard, as appropriate. My husband makes sarnies in the evening, leaves them in a lunchbox in the fridge overnight, takes them in with a carrot and a banana. Lunch solved, and lots cheaper then the cafeteria.

#47 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 05:18 PM:

It's a dessert, not a meal, but this has become my go-to cake recipe since I came across it last fall:
No-Egg Spongecake

3/4 cup plain flour, 3 heaping tsp baking powder, 1/4 cup butter or margarine, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tbsp pancake syrup, 1/2 cup milk.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Grease a 9" baking pan.
Mix the flour and baking powder in a bowl. Cream the margarine, sugar and syrup together in another bowl. Mix the contents of the two bowls in whichever bowl is bigger, adding the milk a bit at a time and stirring until the batter is smooth. Pour it into the pan and bake for 20-25 minutes or until a knife or toothpick stuck into the cake comes out clean.

When cool, cut the cake into two equal rectangles and stack one on top of the other with jam between the layers. Slice and serve. This also makes a good cupcake base.

The advantage of a no-egg recipe, from my PoV, is that you can half or quarter it without having to figure out how to subdivide an egg. Also, flour, baking powder, sugar, and syrup all have a pretty good shelf life, butter will keep well in the fridge, and milk is something I use everyday, so as someone who doesn't use that many eggs, I can make this one up without having to buy a whole carton of something I won't finish.

#48 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 05:21 PM:

One thing about me is I eat more when I prepare it myself than when I go out for food. It's like I don't know all the parameters and one of them is how much is enough.

#49 ::: Tam ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 06:18 PM:

Seconding the conjee. Delicious both sweet and savory, also incredibly cheap. Made more delicious, but decidedly savory, by adding a stock cube or two to the water as you make it.

One of our cheapest and quickest meals is polenta (sliced and fried) or grits if polenta can't be found cheap. Onto the polenta pile black beans, half-tomatoes and bell peppers (home-grown if pos - cheaper and more delicious), and a fried egg. Serve with salsa and/or cheese if you've got it.

#50 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 06:25 PM:

Ok, this turned into a huge post - sorry for the wall of text.

While my girlfriend and I like to cook a lot, we're grad students who often get home from lab tired and less than motivated to spend an hour in the kitchen before dinner. Here are a few of our current standbys:

1. Pasta Salad of Great Desire

This is at least two meals for two people - we've also fed it to a large group of grad students as part of the food for a party; it went quite quickly. It's good warm shortly after you make it's different (but still very good) the day after for lunch.

Incidentally, this is based on a salad my girlfriend was very fond of from the International House at Berkeley… I tried it, thought it was OK, but that I could improve it. We make this about once a week, and haven't been back to I-House in a year and a half.

1 package of cherry tomatoes, halved (the 1lb blister packs of out of season ones from Trader Joe's work great)
1 bag of arugula or other salad greens (small greens are vastly preferred; don't use something like romaine here, it just won't work)
1lb good dry pasta, cooked (we like cavatappi, since we get 5lbs at a time from Amazon, but anything with decent structure will work fine - farfalle are readily available and are a good choice)
(optional) ~2-3oz sliced hard sausage / prosciutto (if you're opting for it, any of the options from Trader Joe's will work great - if you want it to be extra awesome, slice up your cured beast and crisp it over low heat in a pan - much the way you'd cook bacon)

There are two ways to make the salad itself - the really quick and easy version is to combine the above ingredients with tasty oil of your choice (I'd use an olive oil, by preference) and a little balsamic vinegar. The slightly more complicated version requires an immersion blender (aka, a stick blender) or something similar.

1b: AwesomeSauce

This thick sauce is both the dressing for the Pasta Salad of Great Desire and the best accompaniment ever to roasted veggies.

1/4c hazelnuts, almonds or walnuts (choose one)
1/4-1/3c olive oil or other flavorful oil (don't use canola or other minimally-flavored vegetable oil here)
1/8c raisins
1/8c balsamic / red wine / other vinegar of choice
(optional) 2tbsp capers / cornichons
(optional) 1 jarred roasted red pepper
(optional) 1tbsp dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste; maybe a bit of sugar, depending on taste as well

Toss all of this into a measuring cup (if you're using a stick blender) or into your blender (if you're doing this, you'll absolutely need to scrape it). Blow everything to smithereens. It should be a thick sauce - maybe barely pourable - and essentially homogenous. If it isn't (or you can't blend it), add a little bit of water and keep trying - the nuts will emulsify the mixture once you pulverize everything.

If you're making the Pasta Salad of Great Desire, toss the greens, tomatoes and pasta in a large (3qt+) bowl and add the dressing. Toss and eat.

2: Israeli Couscous with Nummy Things

We've recently discovered that Amazon will sell us 5lbs of Israeli couscous for about $12, which is quite a bit better than $2.50-3 for 8oz at Trader Joe's. For the record, they're also a good source of good cheap pasta (~$2/lb, if you're willing to get 5lbs at a shot).

2c Israeli couscous, toasted in a pan with olive oil (and then cooked according to package directions; ours is 1c couscous + 1.25c boiling water, simmer for 10min). As an aside, adding half a teaspoon of chopped fresh rosemary to the couscous when you add the water is absolutely phenomenal, but entirely optional.

Here are various options / suggestions:

I. Chopped precooked beets + nuts of choice (walnuts or pistachios are good) + goat cheese (yes, it will be bright pink when you're done, and it'll set up like a brick… a tasty, tasty brick)
II. Before you add the water to the couscous, add .5c dried cranberries and .5c nuts of choice and cook normally. It's absolutely gorgeous when done and really tasty.
III. Cool robust veggies of choice (we're huge brussels sprout fans) with pomegranate molasses if you can get it cheaply, honey (or sugar) and lemon juice if you can't, and then mix it in to cooked couscous (I can eat way more of this than I should).
IV. Precooked lentils (yes, cooking them yourselves is cheaper, but we live 500ft from Trader Joe's and like their precooked ones) + chopped precooked beets + dill (if you've got it) + lemon juice or vinegar to taste

3: Vaguely Asian Rice Thing

A rice cooker makes this much, much quicker - especially if you can program yours to do its thing while you're out. Make a sufficient amount of rice (we usually do 3c for 2 people for 2 meals).

1lb(ish) of veggies of choice (green beans, Chinese long beans, broccoli, Chinese broccoli, brussels sprouts, etc - robust is good). Frozen edamame work great.
1 knob of ginger, sliced into strips (call it 3Tbsp)
3-4 scallions, sliced
(optional) 1 package extra-firm tofu, sliced into 1" x .25" x .25" pieces
(optional) 1-2oz hard salami of choice, sliced really thin
Dark soy sauce, cooking sherry (or chinese cooking wine), honey (or sugar)

Get a pan good and hot, add neutral oil (canola / grapeseed, by choice), toss in your ginger and scallions, cook until fragrant (30-45sec), add veggies, cook until bright green. Add soy sauce, cooking wine and honey (maybe 1-2oz soy, 2-3oz cooking wine and a tablespoon of honey? I never measure this, so these are guesses at best), drop heat to medium and cook until done and glazed. Serve over the rice.

If you want Thai flavors, add in the juice of two limes & a teaspoon of Thai fish sauce with the other liquids.

4: Bread Salad

This is best during the summer, if you're making it with tomatoes.

1-2lbs good tomatoes (shape doesn't matter, they need to taste good); cubed and lightly salted
1 ripe avocado, cubed
4-5 slices good bread, toasted and cubed
2-3Tbsp mayo

Combine everything with salt and pepper to taste, add fresh basil if available, and eat immediately. This does not improve with age - 30 min after you make it, it will be a puddle.

4b: Bread Salad II

This is for when tomatoes are unavailable, if you can get even halfway respectable avocados.

1 ripe avocado, cubed
4-5 slices good multigrain bread (the more stuff, the better), toasted and cubed
Olive oil or other tasty oil
Balsamic vinegar

Combine and serve. Holds up a bit better then the tomato-bearing version, but won't keep for more than an hour or two.

4c: Fried Bread Salad

This is for when you want a not particularly healthy but very tasty version.

8oz corn (frozen would be fine; if it's the middle of summer, and corn on the cob is dirt cheap and you want to cut kernels off the cob, do that)
4-5 slices good bread, cubed
Olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper
(optional) 8oz cherry tomatoes, halved
(optional) Fresh basil, sliced

Heat a large pan with olive oil, toss your bread in and fry it until golden brown and crisp (warning: might be a little smoky - don't let it get away from you). Add the corn, toss it around to coat in the oil - add salt and pepper to taste. Add the corn, and then add 1-2oz of balsamic vinegar (don't lean over the pan when you do this - your lungs don't like acetic acid clouds). As soon as the vinegar has boiled down to near-nothingness (a minute or less), turn off the heat and add the tomatoes and basil, if using. If not, serve immediately. Regardless, serve immediately.

5: Other Ideas

We're very fond of frozen Asian dumplings (Trader Joe's sells more than respectable Gyoza for $3.50 or so per bag; our local Asian supermarket sells a vast variety for about the same money). Take a nonstick pan, fry the rock-frozen dumplings until one side is brown, add water, drop heat to medium and cook until done (about 10min). Eat with soy sauce and/or Chinese black vinegar.

#51 ::: Mea ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 06:36 PM:

Re oatmeal:
Scottish steel cut oats plus jam (quince is especially good) in a widemouthed "soup" thermos. Boil water, dump onto oats with jam, stir quickly, close up thermos and let it sit as you take a shower or whatever. I typically just pack it and head to work. It is fully cooked from retained heat, and so easy even NOT morning types can do it.

TJ Scottish steel cut oats are cur smaller so cook quickly with Te retained heat method.

I hated instant rolled oats. Steel cut oats are very different.

#52 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 06:57 PM:

Here's another brief investment in time that makes fast meals later: Kookoo-kugel-crustless quiche thing. Adjust quantities to fit the vegies you have and the size of your baking dish.

Start with at least four cups of whatever cooked vegetable or mixture (I favor broccoli, cauliflower, or kale: you can use potatoes, and it works with parsnips. Anything that works with parsnips is a lifesaver, currently). That's four to six cups after cooking. Make sure they are not wet: you can put them in a colander and kind of lean on them if it's cauliflower or something else that likes to save up water and then release it at inopportune times.

Saute enough onions (yellow or green or red) and garlic to make a decent layer in the baking dish, and either layer it on the bottom, or mix it in with the veghetables, or layer on top, depending on your mood.

Use as much parsley and assorted herbs of your orientation as you can bring yourself to, and add also what kinds of chili and pepper please you, and salt if you eat that, and mix them in. If your parsley is fresh, you can saute it with the onions, or not. The stronger you herb this up the better, in my opinion. A little sage gives a meaty flavor, but a lot of sage is too much. Also cumin is a nice addition.

Beat four eggs if they are big ones or up to six if they are smaller. Add a splash of water or milk or even cream if you have it.

Pour this over the vegetables in the baking dish.

The use of cheese is optional. Add some, or a lot, if you're hungry for animal protein and you want the richness. But there's protein in the eggs, so if you're getting low on cheese you can skip it.

I bake it at about 375 for about an hour, till the top has brown spots on it and it's solid. Also, I make this so that the proportion of vegetable to egg is that the egg is hardly visible. This is not because I don't love the egg, but because I love the vegetable more.

If you make one twice this size, or two with different vegies, you have breakfast or lunch all week.

#53 ::: SorchaRei ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 08:12 PM:

We've been working towards using meat as a condiment instead of a main course, so I have been making deeply flavorful meat, freezing small servings and then zapping them to serve with vegetables and other good stuff. This is one of the biggest hits lately.

Also known as "I had no IDEA you could do that in a crock pot brisket".

You need a good beef rub. If you are short of ideas, try a mix of cumin, lemon zest (I always grate the peel of any lemon I use, and add it to my container of frozen lemon peel -- avoids waste and meantime I always have some), sweet paprika, palm sugar, black pepper, oregano, garlic powder. Rub it into a 2-pound piece of brisket and put that sucker to sit in the fridge for a day or so.

Then get some wood chips. I like to use apple wood, but mesquite tastes good, too. Soak them in warm water for 30 minutes and the drain them. Wrap the chips in a piece of parchment paper, and poke a zillion tiny holes in the packet.

Place the chip packet on the bottom of a crockpot. Surround it it nor coarsest chopped onion. Pour in 1/4 cup of liquid (white wine, beer, or beef broth). Shove the brisket in there and cook on high for 2 hours, then on low for 7 hours.

Wen the beef is done, put it under a broiler for 10 minutes to make crispy edges. Let it rest for 20 minutes, then slice against the grain into 1/4" slices. Freezes beautifully, and makes a ton of our-size servings.

Note that this makes a mildly smoked brisket. If you want a heavy smoke, you'll need a more heavy duty smoking tool than a crockpot.

#54 ::: duckbunny ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 09:34 PM:

Instant Stirfry

Boil a kettleful of water. Make a cup of tea. Pour the remaining water over instant noodles, discarding the flavouring sachet.
Chop and fry a small onion (or half an ordinary one), some garlic, and veggies according to availibility and preference - mushrooms, pepper, broccoli, and green beans are my usual, in various combinations.
As the veggies are cooking, throw some ground ginger, soy sauce, and a teaspoon of honey or golden syrup into the mix. If it reduces too much, put in hot water. Adding hot water generally helps if you're using broccoli, too.
Drain the noodles and splash some soy sauce over them. Put the veggie mix on top. Call it supper.

Variations: Add quorn chunks. Add a fried egg cut into slices. Add a soft-boiled egg on top. Make peanut sauce by chopping garlic as fine as you can, frying it gently, and adding peanut butter, hot water, soy sauce and spiciness to taste. Eat it with rice instead of noodles (particularly if you're using quorn or making peanut sauce, as you have more time to work with.) Exchange the seasonings for curry paste and a bit of cream.

Buttered Leeks

Put some spaghetti on to cook.
Slice a leek into three-to-four inch long chunks (generally thirds or quarters) and then cut these lengthways into strips. Fry gently in butter - you want to soften it, not brown it, and it's done when it tangles up and is pleasantly tender in the mouth. Add another lump of butter and some salt. Optionally, throw in some frozen prawns at this point to reheat. Mix with the cooked spaghetti.

#55 ::: adelheid_p ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 10:16 PM:

Sarah @47
This recipe is also good for friends with egg allergies. I have a friend who can't eat anything with egg in it --she gets horrible migraines. I will be saving this one to make for her. Thanks!

#56 ::: JMMcD ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 10:35 PM:

Lurker stepping out into the light to post here, the perfect all-season pizza sauce.

1 package(6-12 ounces, thereabouts, and adjust to taste) of sundried tomatoes
1/2 jar of preserved, roasted red peppers
2 onions
2 cloves garlic
olive oil
water
old red wine
salt & pepper
italian seasoning

roughly chop and caramelize the onions in oil - feel free to wander off and let them burn a little.
While they're cooking cover and soak the sun-dried tomatoes with equal parts old wine, olive oil, and water.
Once the onions caramelize add everything remaining to the pot and cook until everything is done (about ten or fifteen minutes)
Process the thick goop, in its entirety, in a food processor to form a delicious paste.

Perfect for pizza, hearty dipping sauces, and even heartier pastas.

It's an "all-season" recipe because it uses preserved things instead of fresh, and it tastes so good no one will mind the lack of fresh tomatoes in the middle of January.

#57 ::: cyllan ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 10:49 PM:

I find the Moosewood Restaurant cookbook to be great for Cheap, Fast and Easy. Almost everything in there is doable in under 30 minutes (which, admittedly may not be Fast Enough) and is vegetarian, so it's sliding towards the cheaper side.

Tomitican is my personal favorite, and I usually prepare it thusly:

Chop an onion or two depending. Add some garlic because I like garlic. Saute in whatever you feel like (olive oil, butter, crisco, broth) until the onions are wilted. Open two cans of lima beans, two cans of tomatoes and a can of corn. Put everything in a large pot, sprinkle in some cumin and salt, simmer. Toss in some chopped cilantro at the very end. Serve over rice. If you're feeling fancy and can afford it, serve with avocado slices and/or shredded cheese. If you use dried lima beans and fresh corn (which I can pick up at the farmers market at like 3/$0.40) it's even cheaper but takes longer because you have to soak and pre-cook the limas and cook and cut the corn.

The cookbook version has better and more detailed steps, but the end result is close enough for my purposes.

I also love their Caribbean black beans and rice recipe which uses orange juice and cumin as flavoring, but then again, I love cumin.

When I was super-poor and cooking all meals in a single pot, my SO of the time and I invented a dish that we called Thing. Thing -- really just Hamburger Helper from scratch -- consisted of whatever pasta was on sale that week, a jar of either pasta-sauce or tomatoes (depending on sales), a package of frozen spinach (because Veggies!) a small amount of cheap ground beef, and cheese. Cook the pasta in the pot, drain into colander. Cook ground beef and whatever veggies you can afford in the pot (optional: leave out the ground beef, but super-cheap ground beef is super-cheap if not quality). If using meat, add some soy sauce, some ketchup and maybe some mustard and honey (or just use pasta sauce, but the soy-sauce et al is pretty darn tasty) when cooking. Toss in garlic because everyone loves garlic. Stir in the pasta, add some cheese. Serve. I have fancified this dish now that I am not super-poor, but it's still consists mostly of meat, pasta, cheese, spinach, and it's one of my comfort foods.

Final recipe: Pasta, whatever veggies you have on hand, cottage (or other) cheese. Chop the veggies into bite-sized bits. Cook the veggies until super-done, mix in with pasta and the cheese. Spices that I often use follow: basil, thyme, oregano (which I grow; you can't kill the stuff), pepper, curry powder (although not always with the others), paprika, chili powder.

We are, sadly, a lentil-allergic household, or there we be more.

#58 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 11:30 PM:

duckbunny #54: Slice a leek into three-to-four inch long chunks (generally thirds or quarters) and then cut these lengthways into strips.

For readers unfamiliar with leeks: The edible part of a leek is the yellow-green inner layers. Discard the tough green-and-white outer layers (or use them for making stock). The difference will be obvious when you see it.

#59 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2013, 11:32 PM:

Anyone else tried immersion pasta? We picked up the idea from Chris’s sister-in-law. The concept is that, instead of cooking your pasta in a big pot of water, separate from the rest of your dish, you dump it in with some kind of sauce-heavy dish, so it picks up all the flavors, and also it’s one less pot to wash out. My usual recipe, when I’m cooking just for myself, is something like this:

Put a bit of olive oil in the bottom of a pot. Fill a measuring cup with water so you’ve got it on-hand. Chop up half an onion, cook that in the olive oil for a minute or two. You got a green pepper, maybe you chop that in as well.

Drop in a can (7 or 8 ounces) of salmon, or tuna fish, or leftover chicken, or whatever, you could probably find some veggies that would work with this technique. Pour in a little of the water, just to keep stuff from burning on the bottom of the pot. Stir that around, let it heat up, maybe get a little brown, while you add some spices (I like those cubes of frozen spices from Trader Joe — one each of garlic, basil, and cilantro), and about a third of a teaspoon of Superior Touch’s Better Than Bouillon (I use the chicken, but they make vegan-certified ones if that’s what you’re into).

Add a generous handful of dried pasta. Mix it up again, and pour in enough water to just barely cover the pasta. Let the water come to a boil, then lower the heat down to a simmer. Put a lid on the pot.

You’re gonna wanna let this simmer for either the length of time it says to boil it on the pasta box, or 7 minutes, whichever is longer. But two minutes before it’s done, take off the lid and add a handful of frozen peas. This is also when you might want to add some more water if things are looking too dry.

When it’s done (7 minutes or pasta-box time), scoop it out into a bowl, add some ground pepper, eat it with a fork.

I haven’t been able to get this technique to work with traditional tomato-type pasta sauces. The pasta somehow never comes out right. Probably my sauce is too thick.

#60 ::: duckbunny ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 12:07 AM:

Dave Harmon: I eat everything but the roots and about an inch off the top depending on degree of withering.

If you buy leeks from a supermarket, they will generally come with the green portion already lopped off. If you buy them from a market or greengrocer, they are likely to still have their heads, which means you need to wash them somehow - I tend to slice off the head, split it down the middle to seperate the leaves, and rinse it by hand. Putting it in a colander with running water takes too much water for not enough clean for my tastes. I like washing the soil off my food and feeling like it came from the earth instead of a factory, but I like washing the soil off my food.

#61 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 12:44 AM:

Avram@59:

I've made baked pasta dishes with red sauce:

Uncooked pasta, slightly diluted sauce*, cheese, and sometimes a meat such as sausage slopped into a covered baking dish. Kind of a low-rent lasagne.

* Sometimes "diluted" just means throwing in a can of diced tomatoes, with the included water.

#62 ::: cgeye ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 12:52 AM:

Lee@5: Thanx for the breakfast steak suggestion -- I was saving the family pack I bought for a passel of slow cooker swiss steak, but they're just as good pan-seared.

For side dishes, I microwaved a couple of russets, cut them in thick slices, and browned them in the leftover pan juices/butter, for extra yumminess. Next, I dumped a bag of frozen broccoli in the pan, took those out with a slotted spoon, then smooshed up the potatoes with the leftover pan/broccoli juices, I made enough sides for the next meal.

The key is always replenishing staples (potatoes, frozen veggies, spices). If I don't at least have those handy, it's harder to take advantage of whatever sales I find for cheap protein.

#63 ::: cgeye ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 01:10 AM:

and Lucy @#30: Thank you for seeing that cheap/fast/easy are relative terms. What truly burns my biscuits is the patronizing tone often seen when groups of more privileged posters wonder at the difficulties folks with food stamps face in eating nutritiously and interestingly -- the "why can't they eat lentils and rice? *I* always ate lentils and rice when..." wheeze.

In our culture, where there's always something or someone better on which to spend our money, if all of us could eat cheaply and well, we probably would. The biggest hurdles are having enough discretionary income to respond to grocery sales, the installed base of kitchen resources to stockpile staples, and enough friends/time to figure out which recipes will work, and, yes, the ability to waste food on mistakes.

I'm blessed that this is a time where I can shop, if need be, more than weekly, and that for now it's safe for me to shop alone without being mugged.

Didn't mean to buzz-stomp; just putting it out there that more communities like this one need to talk about food as more than something that's a problem with the poors or the fats, or more than what mean people dressed in white do on the teevee....

#64 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 01:33 AM:

I remember my mother making hamburger gravy when I was younger.
Hamburger, crumbled and browned, maybe a pound of it
A can of condensed cream of mushroom soup

When the hamburger is browned, stir the soup in. If it's too thick, add a little milk or water.
Serve over rice, potatoes (mashed is good for this), or with/over bread.
A little chopped onion doesn't hurt. Neither does more mushrooms, but you want them chopped.

#65 ::: m.k. ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 02:04 AM:

Green onions (aka scallions aka green onions) are one of those vegetables often sold in a bundle that many people won't use up before they decay into slime. They are also easy to re-grow (cut off the green top, plant the white root end), so you can bring the price down even lower.

These recipes assume you routinely keep soy sauce and toasted sesame oil in your pantry. Otherwise, they may not be as cheap for you.

Green onion kimchee
Food in Jars blogged about using green onions instead of ramp greens in this Hungry Tigress recipe. It is simple, easy, and once it's ready (about a week), it's a fast way to add a savory deliciousness to things like fried egg sandwiches and jook/congee. I've been known to simplify the recipe down further by using rooster sauce instead of chilis and garlic.

Hot & Sour Ramen
Chef Chen Kenichi of Iron Chef fame shared a recipe in his cookbook for instant ramen. With a little more time and money, you can of course use dried noodles instead of an instant ramen packet, and add vegetables to help make these more nutritious.

For each package of instant ramen (I like to use the "oriental" flavored one even if the name bugs me),
a handful of green onion, both green and white sections, sliced crosswise (about 2 - 4 green onions - the green onions I buy in Honolulu are generally at least 12" long but elsewhere they may be much shorter).
2 tsp rice vinegar (can use 1 tsp white vinegar instead)
1 tsp soy sauce (preferably unsweetened, like Kikkoman)
1 Tbs chili oil or a little squirt of rooster sauce
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
black pepper (to taste - I use at least 3 good grinds of it)
packet of seasoning from the ramen package
1 egg, lightly beaten

While the ramen noodles are boiling, put everything but the egg into a bowl. When the noodles are cooked, stir the noodles gently while pouring the beaten egg into the pot in a slow stream. Pour it all into the bowl and stir. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

#66 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 02:53 AM:

Cheap if you can buy the spices loose. Good, and not too slow. Also vegan, nut-free, gluten-free, and potentially halal or kosher. And low-fat, and low-risk for keeping at room temperature. Eat on its own or with grilled/broiled/fried meat.

Crushed tomatoes
About the same weight of potatoes, in 1in pieces
For 1.5lb each
1tbsp brown mustard seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
About 10 fenugreek seeds
1in Ginger, finely chopped
Oil to fry the spices

Fry the seeds in the oil until the mustard starts to pop. Add the Ginger and stir furiously for 30s or so. Add the tomato and the potatoes. Bring to the boil and simmer until it be enough.

If you have fresh cilantro or methi, garnish with that.

#67 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 03:05 AM:

And this one is good and fast; whether it's cheap depends on local prices for smoked mackerel. It was cheap when I was a student in Britain.

4 parts bean sprouts
2 parts sliced mushrooms
1 part peppered smoked mackerel
Lime or lemon juice to taste.

Serve with bread (toasted if it's not so good bread)

#68 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 08:26 AM:

Friends have told me that you can add a grated potato to a pound of ground beef to make cheaper and better hamburgers. I'm not a hamburger person, but potatoes are plentiful here.

#69 ::: Nangleator ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 08:52 AM:

Mustard-crusted panko chicken:

In a mixing bowl, add most of a jar of mustard. (The type of which is a variable for variations on this dish.) Add olive oil. Plop in some boneless chicken breasts or strips. Marinade for as long as you have the patience.

Roll them in panko, in another bowl. Bake at a chicken temp for a chicken amount of time. Perhaps best on a wire rack, or at least given consideration of not disturbing the panko coating too much. Thick meat might require flipping once.

Full disclosure: I'm the type of "cook" that has started a fire making spaghetti. Twice.

#70 ::: Quill ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 09:36 AM:

Being something of a vegephobe and someone who can eat the same thing for days on end, my ideal lunch is as follows (proportions to suit your needs): rice cooked sticky-style in a rice cooker, with low-sodium beef broth (I favor Giant's house brand), dried minced onions, ground garlic, salt to taste, and a splash of cheap white wine.

I spoon this into reusable sandwich-sized reusable containers, over pre-cooked chicken strips, and pop them into the freezer. Frozen solid, they aren't wholly defrosted by lunchtime, and a few minutes in the microwave heats them nicely. I add butter or reasonable-substitute for a bit more flavor, but that's optional.

One can, of course, buy bulk raw chicken and steam it separately, but I found it took too much time and I simply wasn't getting around to it. The chicken strips are a trade-off between time and price, and I look for sales and then freeze the packages when I get home.

I used to have a small Cuisinart rice steamer, and loved it, but now use a large Aroma steamer and love it just as much.

Speaking as someone who lives in a small apartment and doesn't have a car, part of the problem with building up a pantry is having 1. space to store the stuff, and 2. the ability to get it home. When I buy rice in bulk I have to plan ahead; it's not just being able to carry it, but managing several heavy bags or a wheeled carrier on a crowded bus. I marvel at the people who do it with small children in tow.

#71 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 09:43 AM:

duckbunny #60: We may be talking about different varieties here -- what I think of as a "leek" is over an inch thick, and the outer layers are too tough to chew. (Even without that, it's necessary to split them to wash the sand out.)

#72 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 09:51 AM:

Really Broke College Student food:

1 cup rice
1.5 cups water
1/2 cup oil
Salt and black pepper
2 eggs
Mix everything but the eggs, bring to a boil, let sit for 5 minutes on low, break eggs on top, let sit another 15 minutes. Eat.

(Nothing needs refrigeration; and it only takes one pot, and you can cook it on an illicit hotplate in a dorm room. I don't dislike it, but it has bad associations for me so I rarely eat it.)

Improvements: use brown rice--in this case simmer for about 1/2 hour before adding the eggs; add some frozen mixed vegetables when the water boils; add some of the seasoning packet from ramen noodles, or some curry powder.

#73 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 10:05 AM:

*takes notes*

My trouble with crockpot or other "makes lots" recipes is that there are only two of us, so there are weeks' worth of leftovers. And I get easily bored with eating the same thing repeatedly -- bored to the point that I actually won't eat, because I just can't face eating the same thing *again*.

One fast, good, and potentially cheap thing I make: Stir-fry of whatever vegetables are in season. Some veg will need to be parboiled for a couple minutes before stir-frying (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, other root veg -- anything particularly thick or hard). It actually takes less time to parboil them than to stir-fry without parboiling, because boiling softens them much faster than stir-frying.

Heat a wok or large frying pan over fairly high heat. If you can and want to, mince some garlic and ginger. Add a couple tbsp vegetable oil to pan, then add garlic and ginger, stir-fry vigorously for 30 seconds or so. Add vegetable(s); stir-fry vigorously for a few minutes, depending on the vegetable, until crisp-tender and brightly colored. Add what sauce you like and have in the house -- soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, oyster sauce, chili sauce or Sriracha, sherry, rice wine, etc. -- and toss. Serve with or without rice/other grain.

If you want to add meat, tofu, or other protein, stir-fry it by itself, before the vegetables, until it's just done, and remove it to a bowl or plate. Then stir-fry the vegetables and add the cooked protein back in just before adding the sauce -- the idea being just to re-warm it. This procedure helps make sure everything gets properly cooked and nothing gets overcooked.

Frozen vegetables may be used -- thaw first and drain any excess melt-water.

This works especially well with chopped greens, like spinach, collards, kale, mustard, which are very cheap here at certain times of year. (I'd par-steam collards a bit.) Onions are a nice addition to other green/colorful vegetables, and also tend to fill out the dish cheaply. I like to add onions first by themselves and make sure they brown before adding other veg, but YMMV. Cabbage also works well and tends to be cheap (around here anyway).

Credit here goes to Mark Bittman, "How To Cook Everything."

#74 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 10:11 AM:

Also, a note on making fresh ginger root faster and cheaper: Store a whole root in the freezer (in a freezer bag). When you want some, grab the cheese grater and grate some off the whole frozen root. Voila, minced fresh ginger. Very fast and easy, and one root lasts a long time with no danger of going bad. (Do not worry about peeling. I never do and it's never been a problem.)

#75 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 10:31 AM:

Here's a general-purpose cheap/good/fast thing: home-made chicken stock. The stock takes a few hours, almost entirely unattended, and can then be frozen for making almost instant meals.

Get 10-12 pounds of chicken backs (they run anywhere from fifty cents to a dollar a pound). Put them in a BIG pot with a whole onion (unpeeled but split from pole to pole), one or two carrots, a couple of stalks of celery, a bay leaf, a clove of garlic. a handful of kosher salt, and a dozen or so peppercorns. Add water to cover by about two inches, bring to a boil, turn immediately down to the slowest simmer, and let it alone for anywhere from three to five hours as your schedule allows. Remove all the solids with a colander (I fish them out with one of these), let the fine particles settle a bit, skim off the fat (and save it -- see comment below). Let the stock cool and bag it in one-quart Ziploc® freezer bags. Label and freeze for later use.

This amount of chicken will make about seven quarts of stock and a quart of fat. Put the fat in a large frying pan, set it on low heat and let the aqueous matter slowly evaporate; when the sizzling finally stops, you're done. Let it cool and save it in a quart wide-mouth jar. You now have schmaltz, the sine qua non of chopped liver. It will keep for many months in the refrigerator.

The stock? Use it for anything. Toss in noodles and some sliced carrots for chicken noodle soup. Cook sliced potatoes and leeks in it and you have a sort of vichysoisse (especially if you add a little milk at the end). Simmer escarole in it for scarolo in brodo. Deglaze the pan you roasted a chicken in for instant gravy. Make matzo ball soup and use up some of that schmaltz.

We always have at least four bags of stock on hand; I made more this week and used a quart and a half as the base for Minestrone alla Romagna.

#76 ::: john, who is incognito and definitely not at work ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 10:35 AM:

Dill potato salad
1 T Dijon mustard
6 sprigs fresh minced dill
1/3 C. red wine vinegar
1/2 C. olive oil
1/4 small red onion, chopped
1/2 T salt

Boil 12 to 15 small red potatoes in plenty of water until soft (about 20 minutes). Drain and cool, then cube into bite-size pieces. Toss potatoes with sauce.

.... Actually I don't measure the dill; usually I just buy one of those bunches tied up at the store, divide it roughly in half, and use that.

#77 ::: Colleen ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 10:46 AM:

A couple of them that find their way into standby for us. (Apologies, I can't name recipes to save my life; I list here what my partner calls them when she asks me to make them.)

Ever-Expanding Rice Goo

1# or so ground any meat (turkey's good)
Enough rice to make 2-3 cups, cooked
2 cans diced tomatoes (14.5 oz)
One onion, or leek, chopped up
One garlic clove, or shallot, chopped up (or minced and in a jar)
Parmesan (fancy or not, doesn't matter)
Other spice you like

Cook your rice.

Brown the meat in a skillet with the onion, garlic, and some salt and pepper. Drain. Add the tomatoes, and simmer it for a bit (5 minutes or so). Add the pre-cooked rice, Parmesan, and your spices of choice. Change the heat to low and stir it around until everything is mixed together and your rice is pink.

Be careful eating: it's called "ever expanding" because it is ridiculously more filling than you would expect.

Green bean boiled dinner
4-5 medium potatoes, peeled if necessary, and "chunked"
2 cans green beans, undrained
1 package smoked turkey sausage
margarine

If you have a sausage ring, chop it up and dump it into a dutch oven. If links, just dump the links in. Add your potatoes, then both cans of green beans. Does the liquid come close to covering the potatoes? If not, add some water until it does. Spoon a good whack of margarine on top; add salt and pepper. Cover and simmer/boil for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are falling apart. Drain off the liquid.

They both use meat, but they're relatively cheap cuts of meat. And each of these will make between 6-8 servings a piece, making it particularly inexpensive per serving.

#78 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 11:15 AM:

Erik Nelson @ #26

If you don't want to invest in leak-proof containers (now in single serving sizes) that allow you to do home made "micrwave meals" here are some grab and go options I use. All the tools you need are a large, microwave safe soup mug and a spoon, a microwave and less than 5 minutes. Most of these are pre-packaged solutions with fresh ingredients carted in via sandwich bag/storage container.

1) Noodle Soup: Ramen noodles/frozen veggie/canned protein optional. Crush the ramen while still in the package, empty into large cup, cover with hot water and microwave for 1 minute, add veggies and optional meat, microwave for 1 or 2 minutes until warmed through. Season with flavor packet to taste. Stir and eat. (the amount of water determines if this is a soup or a casserole)

I've done this with fresh avocado and/or a raw egg (I have storage containers that will hold 1 egg, sans shell). If using an egg, Get the noodle soup boiling shake/beat/scramble the egg and slow ly pour it into the hot soup in a slow ribbon. Stir, Microwave for 30 seconds. stir and eat.

2)Quick casserole: Microwave Mac-n-cheese, canned tuna/chicken, frozen or canned veggie. Make mac-n-cheese according to package directions, add drained tuna and veggie, microwave until warmed through.

3)Simple Soup: Bullion cube, water, veggie selection, leftover chopped up meat. Combine and heat until bullion melts.

#79 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 11:17 AM:

I finally figured out that there are also various definitions of "fast", so here are a few things that qualify as "fair minimum of cooking time actually requiring attention".

Chicken with Olives and Lemon

Heat oil in enameled iron pot with lid. Add chicken drums and thighs, brown on skin side, turn. Add one or more quartered lemons, and a handful or more of pitted olives (kalamata or mixed work for me). Put the lid on the pot, turn stove to medium-low, and cook for half an hour. You can take the chicken out, reduce the remaining schmaltzy liquid, and serve it with bread. Or just serve it.


Chicken with Chickpeas

Coarsely chop onions, cook in pot with lid in oil or butter until transparent. Salt (kosher or sea salt preferred) and pepper chicken legs and thighs, and brown both sides. Add a can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), turn heat to medium-low, and cook for half an hour.

Black-bean Chili

Coarsely chop an onion, cook in enameled pot until transparent. (Here you can add some chopped bacon and cook it, if you're feeling meaty.) Add a can each of tomatoes, tomato sauce, black beans. (I drain the tomatoes and beans first.) Throw in spices--I use hot paprika and marjoram, but you might like cumin or oregano. Simmer for fifteen minutes or so. Ladle into bowl(s), top with shredded cheese, chopped avocado, and/or sour cream.

* Note that each of these is "spend 10 minutes doing stuff" followed by "simmer for a while". You can spend the simmer time cleaning up the kitchen, reading another couple of chapters in the Big Long Thing, mixing up a #fridaynightcocktail, and/or teasing the cat.

** A really loud and insistent timer is essential. Not just for this, but for all cooking efforts.

#80 ::: duckbunny ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 11:58 AM:

Dave Harmon: I think we are talking about the same plant, with different degrees of dried-out-ness of the outer layers. The ones I buy are also over an inch thick, but unless they've been in my fridge for a week the green part is crisp and juicy. Perhaps they strip off the outermost layers between field and greengrocer?

#81 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 12:30 PM:

Beans, and things to do with them:

These are one of my great staples. I prefer white beans (Great Northern or the like) but the other kinds of beans work too.

Quick-soak beans. Cover generously with water (the water should come as high over the beans as the beans are deep). Bring to a boil, cover, let sit at least an hour and as many as 8 hours (Like, boil them while making coffee and do the rest after work). Drain the beans, and rinse them and rub them around until they don't feel slippery. (This reduces the gassiness a lot.)

Cook the beans: cover them with a half-inch or so of water, bring to a boil, turn down, skim any foam, and add a shake of asafoetida (again, anti-gas) if you have it and a big pinch or two of cayenne (this reduces the amount of salt you need). You can add a bay leaf if you want. Cover and let simmer for a half-hour, check for doneness (take a bean out and blow on it; if the skin cracks, it's done--but you can cook them longer if you want them softer.)

When they are soft to your liking, if you want them to stay firm, add a tablespoon of vinegar. Add salt to taste (1 tsp per pound of beans is a good starting point.)

Put the beans in jars (or whatever container you like), put lids on, and put in the fridge. (Tight-lidded jars, filled hot, will make the beans keep longer in the fridge.)

Now you can make any of the following:

Quick bean soup:
Soft beans are best. Put a couple tablespoons of oil in a pan, get it hot, add a smashed garlic clove and a big sprig of rosemary (dried would probably work, though since around here rosemary is an ornamental I've never tried it). Cook until the garlic is golden brown, fish out the garlic and rosemary, add a cup each beans and water, heat to boiling. Stir vigorously, or take some of the beans annd smash them with a spoon. Add salt and pepper to taste. (I'm eating a cup of this for my lunch as I type.) (Based on a Marcella Hazan recipe).

Good additions/variations: chop the browned garlic into the beans for a more garlicy soup. Add a couple anchovies or a bit of anchovy paste to the hot oil just before adding the beans. Soak one or two pieces of dried mushroom in a cup of boiling waterm and use that instead of water. Add chili powder, paprika, cumin--whatever spices you want. Add a package of spinach.

Mama's Bean Soup
Chop an onion, saute it until it's translucent, add a quart each of beans and milk. Heat to boiling, season with cumin and salt and a very little cayenne. (I love this but I can't have that much milk any more.)

Beans, greens, and sausage soup:
Cut a pound of Italian sausage into coins. Brown the coins, add an onion and saute until translucent. Add 2 cups of beans (firm are my preference) and a pound of frozen collards or kale. Cover generously with water. Bring to a boil and let simmer a long time (this is good in a slow cooker). Season with cayenne, salt, and a little vinegar.

#82 ::: Arndis ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 01:43 PM:

Nobody's mentioned onion soup yet. We started with French Onion Soup from an 1960s-70s era Joy of Cooking, and have been modifying over time. It's a great learning recipe because even if you make a mistake, you should get less-delicious onion soup rather than an inedible mess. Bring some to a party and watch everyone's knees melt on the first spoonful.

Modified French Onion Soup (4 cups)

Onions:
- about 3 onions -- the yellow cooking onions are best
- n cloves garlic, to taste (try 1-2 if unsure)
- a little butter or oil
- a quite small spoonful of sugar or honey

Soup:
- 4 cups broth (beef is best, but chicken or veggie will do)
- pepper -- about 1/4 tsp depending on taste. Too much pepper makes it a little fiery and overwhelming.
- spices/herbs, to taste. We use tarragon, marjoram or oregano, and sage. Don't leave out the tarragon. Experiment with typical French herbs; it's likely to be good.
- a handful or so of pot or pearl barley, or similar grain (optional)
- a spoonful or two of brandy (don't substitute wine)

Side -- we like grilled cheese sandwiches rather than the traditional squishy bread with cheese melted on top of the soup in the oven. Tastes even better thanks to onion goo left on the pan.

Procedure:
1. Chop and brown the onions and garlic, using butter/oil, a bit of sugar/honey, and get them deep brown. A touch of salt will help brown them by sucking out water. (Get faster onion soup by browning a massive batch and then portion out and freeze for later.) We use a cast-iron frying pan.
2. Bring broth to a boil in separate pot on stove. Throw in the browned onions, spices and pepper, and barley or equivalent. Turn down and let broth simmer half an hour or longer with the lid on.
3. Make the grilled cheese sandwiches or prep your stale bread and grated cheese to go on top (ideally gruyere or emmental -- you'll need oven-safe bowls for this).
4. 5 min before serving, stir in the brandy.

Most commercial broths are salty enough to not need extra salt worth measuring. If slightly too sweet, add a shake or two of salt. If slightly too salty, add a sprinkling of sugar.

#83 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 02:05 PM:

I learned this recipe from a nursing student:

1 box Saltines
1 can wet cat food (your favorite flavor)
1 brick Velveeta cheese-food

Take one Saltine. Place a teaspoon of cat food on it. Cover with one slice Velveeta. Place in toaster-oven and heat until Velveeta melts/browns.

Eat rapidly without thinking about it too much.

#84 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 02:34 PM:

#83: Well, if you have a toaster over then I suppose you could use the cat food to lure a cat to your room and . . . NO NO FORGET I WROTE THAT. SORRY, MY HANDS SLIPPED. MOVE ALONG.

* * *
I love rice dishes, but I'm cautious about them. I try to limit myself to a couple a week. I should really switch to brown rice.

#85 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 02:49 PM:

Caroline, #73: Single-serving Ziploc or Glad containers are your friends. Make a big-pot dish, eat 1 or 2 meals from it, containerize the rest and freeze. Do this several times, and you have a variety of things to choose from. About half of our kitchen freezer is full of servings of different things, and it's really useful on the days when we're too busy and/or too tired to think about cooking.

(Note: this tactic requires having enough money to make several big-pot meals in fairly close succession, and therefore may not completely fit the "cheap" criterion.)

Note for people who don't like or can't have rice, pasta, bread, or other substrate: A lot of things meant to be served over substrate are actually quite edible on their own, as a soup or stew. The jambalaya that we used to eat over rice has now become chicken/sausage & tomato soup with spices. Stir-fry works just fine without rice. Beans and sauce make an excellent soup. The exceptions are things like marinara sauce, which are intended to be condiments in the first place.

#86 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 03:19 PM:

There exist 16-ounce crockpots.

#87 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 03:22 PM:

What Lee wrote!

Instead of ziploc bags, I use thoroughly cleaned 1 lb. cottage cheese containers to store my frozen entrees. At a given time I might have a dozen containers, with 3-4 different items. (Well, not right now . . . before my recent move I used up my backlog.)

#88 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 03:45 PM:

My usual "fast, cheap, good" combination is leftover rice, canned refried beans, cheese, optional chopped onion or salsa, microwaved until hot and melty. The less fast versions include cooking the rice (about 20 minutes wait, but 1 minute actual work time), or using home-cooked whole pinto beans (a couple hours of cooking time, 5-15 minutes of work time depending on whether I fry the onions first or just chop them up and boil.) Optional tortillas, usually heated in the toaster oven.

Then there's "stuff with white sauce", where the white sauce turns into cheese sauce or my mom's entirely non-authentic curry or random herbal sauce. Tablespoon or two of butter in the non-stick pan, tablespoon or two of flour, brown and stir for a couple of minutes, add a cup of milk, heat for a while, optionally adding spices or cheese, cook until thick. If I'm making curry I'll usually also saute half an onion in it before adding the curry powder and milk. If there's still leftover frozen pesto from the previous summer's batch it might be pesto sauce (except my basil crop failed last summer.) "Stuff" might be pasta or rice or toast or cooked veggies.

#89 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 03:56 PM:

#68 ::: Diatryma

Friends have told me that you can add a grated potato to a pound of ground beef to make cheaper and better hamburgers...

Hamburger Mix
1# burger
hash browns, rehydrated, 1/4 as much dehydrated volume as meat
1 Tb. Shiro Misu
1 1/2 tsp. garlic
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 Tbs. soy sauce
few drops smoke flavoring

Mix together (I use my hands) and refrigerate a couple hours. Shape into patties flatter and wider than you want the finished burgers.

Pan-fry, grill, or wrap and freeze.

Notes: burgers need some fat to hold together and taste good. You can buy lean grind and slop in olive oil (or other).

I use Costco's dehydrated hash browns.

I make these in quantity and stick in my small chest freezer. They are even better topped with my mom's

Piquant Sauce
3 Tbs. brown sugar
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. dry mustard

This makes enough to go over a meatloaf. It keeps indefinitely in the fridge.

I thaw out a patty or two in the fridge, smear some sauce over the top, and pop into my toaster oven for about half an hour at 300 degrees. You can go hotter for a shorter time.

Bev Kimball's Meatloaf
2/3 cup dry breadcrumbs
soaked in 1 cup milk
add:
1 1/2# ground beef
2 slightly beaten eggs
1/4 cup grated onion
1 scant tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper

Bake in a greased loaf pan [4 3/4" x 8 3/4"] at 350 degrees for 50 minutes. Halfway through, pour off grease and top with Piquant Sauce.

#90 ::: Carol Kimball is visiting the gnomes ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 03:58 PM:

...and hope they'll help her unpack her brand new rice cooker.

#91 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 04:07 PM:

Don't think anyone's mentioned bean thread noodles (the transparent kind). Though more expensive than ramen, they are tasty, healthy, gluten-free, have a relatively low glycemic index, and are prepped by pouring hot water over them, so you don't have to give them any attention to avoid overcooking, sticking, etc.

#92 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 04:07 PM:

In the category of "fast cheap good for one person:"

Augmented (or, if you will, egg-mented) Ramen

Beforehand:
Make up a batch of fresh salsa (see below.)
In a suitable container, beat one egg with a fork until the white and yolk are mixed.

Then:
Make your ramen of choice according to the package directions.
At the end of the cooking, stir the beaten egg into the hot ramen with a fork.
Once the broth has finished cooking the beaten egg, add a couple of heaping spoonfuls of the fresh salsa.
Stir to combine, dish it out into a bowl if you want to get fancy about things, and eat.

Fresh salsa:
1 can diced tomatoes with green chiles, drained
1 onion
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
handful of fresh cilantro
red pepper flakes (a generous sprinkling from the shaker, or more to taste)
cumin (again, to taste; start with a hefty pinch and work up)
kosher salt (optional)

Put the onion, the garlic, the cilantro, the red pepper flakes, and the cumin into a food processor. Process on pulse until the onions are chopped up to whatever texture you like the onions in your salsa. (I like them finely chopped but still recognizable as onion bits.) Add the drained tomatoes and give the mix one or two more brief pulses -- be careful that you don't overdo it and turn the tomatoes into puree.

Taste for seasoning, and add a pinch of salt if you think it needs it, and more cumin or red pepper flakes, ditto. Store in the refrigerator in a covered plastic tub. I don't know how long this will keep because I've never had a batch of it stick around long enough to find out.

You could do this with fresh tomatoes, but canned ones are cheaper, and usually better than shipped-in-over-great-distances fresh ones -- and up here in the north country, the local fresh tomato season usually arrives in a dead heat with the first frost.

#93 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 04:52 PM:

cgeye @62:

It's the Vimes' Boots thing all over again.


One of the quick meals I do is spaghetti, rocket (arugula) & lemon:

Cook spaghetti & when al dente, toss with olive oil, crushed raw garlic, lemon (juice & zest) & rocket leaves.

Ground black pepper, grated sharp cheese (like parmesan) & salt to taste.

Variations:
Add a handful of toasted pinenuts, or fresh chilli, or cooked prawns.

#94 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 05:03 PM:

There is always a dilemma about dealing with the economy of scale. You never have enough money at one time to do all the kinds of pre-spending that will save you money later.

But over time, you can do a thing like this: buy one or two or a few of these investment things. If your food budget is twenty to forty dollars per person per week, you can probably do one of those things, and then the next time do another.

In my area, there's a number of yuppie-hippie food stores, the oldest of which has an origin before the yuppie part. They all have bulk food aisles, but the best one is of course in the oldest, least yuppie one. Beans and grains are even cheaper in the Mexican stores, though they are rarely organic (to throw in another variable: but I only get organic when the differential isn't too much for me -- that varies a lot). Also you can get bulk dry hominy (nixtamal) at the Mexican store, which you can't get elsewhere. And cheaper chilis and things.

Again, this is local -- it's possibly a different combination of stores that yields the results where you are.

And the principle of one or two or a few investments at a time works for time as well. I can do three or so dishes on a weekend day, or one on a qweekday (when I'm working which may be soon, according to the last email I got)

#95 ::: The_L ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 05:09 PM:

Not all of it is very cheap, but the website Just Bento has some fast, relatively-healthy recipes. The Earl Grey tea muffins are a personal favorite, and don't take much longer than making muffins with Jiffy Mix. Plus, if you make them regularly, it still takes a long while to go through the whole bag of flour (which costs about as much as a box or two of the Jiffy mix, IIRC). They're not too sweet, and the light taste goes well as a side dish with savory foods, or as a snack or dessert with jam.

I also have some decent recipes from my mother's files, including a chocolate zucchini cake that goes over surprisingly well at parties. Most folks won't realize there are veggies in the cake!

#96 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 05:47 PM:

Also, since I'm making it tomight:

Hamburger-Stuffed Tomatoes

Stir-fry a small fistful of hamburger per person, along with onions or garlic as desired. Remove innards (and save) from $PERSONS large tomatoes. Using a pastry blender or such, smush up the tomato innards, and add half a fistful or so per person of dried breadcrumbs. (I use Progresso Italian flavored.) Add whatever spices turn you on, some grated cheese, and the drained hamburger. Stuff the tomato shells, and microwave for roughly 5 minutes. (For added goodness, before nuking, poke a hole down from the top of each stuffed tomato and insert butter, and then top with a slice of cheese.) Serve in bowls.

#97 ::: The_L ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 05:55 PM:

Before I put some "real" recipes in here, I'm going to list a few of my favorite quick flatbread meals. Cheaper than processed TV dinners, almost as fast, and darn tasty to boot. You can usually get a pack of 8 gourmet flatbreads for about $3-4 in my supermarket, and they're a common markdown on weekly BOGOF specials, so sometimes I can get them as cheap as a loaf of regular bread. They also freeze very nicely, so they're a good item to stock up on when they are on sale!


I often like to make grilled meat-and-"cheese"* sandwiches, sometimes with a couple of spinach leaves for a garnish. If you olive or vegetable oil instead of butter, it makes the sandwich crispier (especially if, like me, you use flatbreads instead of regular bread) and is slightly better for you.

Fast, cheap, and as long as you don't eat them too often, healthier than plain grilled cheese. And who can resist the occasional gooey goodness of melted, dripping American cheese?


Quickie microwave pizza
Ingredients:
1 piece of flatbread
Tomato sauce, pasta sauce, or pizza sauce (organic is best, if you can afford it; ketchup will do in a pinch, but it won't taste as good)
Shredded cheese or cheese substitute (mozzarella, real or imitation, is your best bet)
Any of your favorite pizza toppings (faux-pepperoni, mushrooms, anchovies, and spinach are my favorite combination, but YMMV)

Cut the flatbread in half lengthwise, then cut each of the big halves into fourths crosswise if you're eating this at home (if you're making them to bring to work, just cut lengthwise, and you can roll these up into handy little wraps). Arrange the pieces so they look like they're still joined.

Add enough tomato sauce and shredded cheese to cover; add toppings. If you're using plain tomato sauce, you should add basil, oregano, and marjoram to taste--it won't feel like pizza otherwise.

Nuke for 30-45 seconds, depending on your microwave's wattage and the sheer amount of cheese you used. Let cool, and indulge.

* For health reasons, I can only eat vegan "cheese."


Also, a tip for those who have trouble with portion control when bringing meals to work: Get a bento or other plastic food container that holds about 500 mL of food (sandwich containers are ideal). Stuff it SLAM-FULL of food, leaving no empty spaces (silicone bento cups, or silicone baking cups cut down to the proper height, can ensure that foods with clashing flavors don't touch). That's generally enough food to fill up the average adult; add another 200 mL or so for hearty appetites. 350-400 mL containers are good if you're on a diet, and little 250-300 mL containers are good for elementary-age children. I prefer brightly-colored bento boxes for this, but cheap Glad or Tupperware works just as well and costs a lot less.

#98 ::: The_L ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 06:06 PM:

@Lucy K: Dried hominy? You mean the stuff we Southerners call grits? Definitely a good, cheap way to make tastier foods stretch! Fried eggs, especially with runny yolks, go wonderfully with grits and fill you up for HOURS. But around my neck of the woods, it's mostly a breakfast food. I'd love to know some of the recipes they use it for in Mexico--it sounds like a great new experiment for days when I want more carbs.

#99 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 06:30 PM:

My definition of fast is "Less than 5 minutes prep time; your chopping speed may vary." My definition of cheap ranges between $1 and $3 a serve these days, which I realise shows my privilege.

Not-Rice-Again Trio

When you get absolutely sick of rice, mix equal parts of brown rice and barley together, and if you're feeling flush, add some wild rice for colour. Really tasty, lots of fibre, goes well in as well as under things.

Cooking: 2:1 Ratio water:mix, higher if the rice is old.

One of my favourite things to do with it is to put it in a cast-iron casserole dish with an onion, a red and a green capsicum, some kidney beans, a tin of tomatoes and a lot of cajun seasoning. Remember to add the water. Chuck in a stock cube (or a sausage) if it pleaseth you. Cook for 40-50 minutes, by putting in a moderate oven and ignoring.


Chicken with Fennel Salt

Chicken pieces (drumsticks or Marylands are good - nothing boneless or skinless; they get too dry)
1 tin cannellini beans
1 tin diced tomatoes
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp salt

Mix the beans and tomatoes in the bottom of a casserole dish. Put the chicken pieces in a layer on top. Grind the fennel seeds and salt to a powder and sprinkle over the chicken. Cook in a moderate oven for about 20 minutes, till the chicken is done.

This is dinner-party good if you can get a fresh fennel bulb, wilt it and add it to the beans and tomato. Serve with a green vegetable and the best bread you can afford.

#100 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 06:34 PM:

A couple of college standbys that I mostly don't do any more for various reasons:

Pre-fencing Steak Dinner

Put a five or six-ounce portion of round steak (max 3/4" thick) under broiler; turn when it browns. Meanwhile, tear up some lettuce and put your favorite salad dressing on it.

* Round steak, as noted elsethread, is/was very cheap.

** Just heavy enough to provide serious protein, just light enough to run a mile down to the gym and then fence for a couple of hours

Stir-fried Beef and Bread

Take your 5-6 ounce portion of round steak and cube it. Cube an equal or greater amount of bread. Stir-fry until everything is browned, season to taste. (You can also throw in veggies or tomato sauce.)


A couple of college standbys that have persisted, possibly because they're less like meals and more like snacks, and also qualify as comfort food:

Toasted Cheese Crackers

Top each saltine with a slice of cheese. Broil until bubbly. (I also add in some crackers topped with salted butter.)

Soup Toast

Make a couple slices toast. Pour a can of cream-of-something condensed soup straight from the can on top. Add cheese and peppery things. Microwave until cheese melts.


A couple of pasta lunches (note you will use up time waiting for the water to boil, and then the pasta to cook, which is why I use vermicelli with a cooking time of 6 minutes)

Pasta with Tuna, Tomatoes and Olives

Drain your cooked pasta, place in a bowl, and add a small tin on tuna packed in oil, a chopped tomato (or you can use canned), and some olives (I prefer black). Top with grated Parmesan.

Pasta with Sardines

Top drained pasta with a tin of sardines. I prefer the kind that have some sort of hot sauce, but pick your own flavor. Top with Parmesan.


And finally, if you're able to multi-task:

Stuff a la King

Make toast, fry bacon, make a cup of white sauce. Add crumbled bacon, olives, and desired seasoning to sauce, pour over buttered toast.

*the original recipe calls for adding hardboiled eggs, but that takes extra time. You could also add pieces of left-over chicken or maybe salmon.

#101 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 07:05 PM:

Stefan, #87: I was talking about the plastic containers, which both Ziploc and Glad make, rather than plastic bags. But of course if you use other things that come in conveniently-sized containers, you can recycle those for this purpose. In my contracting days, I reused commercial single-serving chili or pasta containers, sometimes with a layer of plastic wrap over the top if the lid had pre-punched holes.

The other thing about this method is that once you've got a decent stock, you eat them down at different rates, so you generally don't have to make more than one new big-pot batch at a time.

Lucy, #94: Since you mentioned ethnic groceries, that reminds me that shopping at the Mexican or Asian market may provide significant savings, especially if you're looking for things those cultures consider staple items. Such things tend to be considered "exotic foods" and marked up at Kroger or equivalent.

joann, #100: You can add a little more nutritional oomph to the toasted cheese crackers by topping them with Vienna sausage (1 per cracker, split lengthwise, flat sides down) under the cheese.

#102 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 07:05 PM:

Trader Joe's where I live has lavash bread (thin rectangular flatbread) that works very well as a pizza base, if you like crisp, cracker-like crust. I use tomato paste rather than sauce and sprinkle lavishly with thyme or oregano (thyme goes especially well with sauteed onions and mushrooms as a topping). Cheese it up to taste. Pita pizzas are good, too.

#103 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 07:09 PM:

The L @98: not grits, the whole kind, which I believe goes by the name "hominy." Grits is all very well and good, but you need the whole jernels for pozole, which is pork necks, nixtamal/hominy, and chiles, mainly (unless you are making the Navajo dish by the same name which is actually something else).

Pozole is cheap and good but by no measure fast so it doesn't go here.

#104 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 07:24 PM:

One thing I love about the local Kroger chain, Fred Meyer:

Every store has a clearance shelf. It is generally full of cheap stuff. Dented cans, discontinued items, and seasonal stuff marked half off, or less.

Sometimes it has exotic / ethnic / tony stuff marked down.

My pantry is generally quite full thanks to that shelf!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/stefan_e_jones/8304930729/in/photostream

The downside is ending up with impulse buys that I don't get around to using. There's a package of pasta "bird nests" on the third shelf down that might be five years old. :-(

#105 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 07:43 PM:

Dry beans cooked in crockpot: I have a favorite red beans method (for red beans and rice) but until recently couldn't figure out how to make the beans as tender in the vegan version as they come out in the With Ham Hock version.

I found out recently that the secret appears to be about 1 tsp apple cider vinegar.

So.

Step 1: Things go in crock-pot in the morning.

2 cups dry beans
6 cups water
Whatever dry or tough spices you like: bay leaves, chile powder, Cajun Land table seasoning and/or crab boil seasoning, instant espresso, sprig o' thyme.

Carnivore variety
One ham hock or shank, as available

Vegan variety
Enough veggie bouillon to make strong broth of your water
About 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
Maybe a drizzle of your favorite cooking oil

Turn on crock-pot. High or low will depend on when you'll have time to do the next bit.

Step 2: A few more things go in once the beans are tender.

I like to chop up and add 2 ribs celery, a small onion or half a medium to large one, a green onion or two, and as much garlic as I have the patience to mince. For those without the time/energy/spoons to do the chopping, you can get away with just putting them all in almost whole and maybe earlier. Maybe slice the celery ribs once lengthwise and the onion two or three times, just enough to help encourage flavors to come out and play.

Turn pot down to low if it's on high. Leave it alone for a "few" more hours. It is impossible to overcook this, so don't stress. The pot was made for us, not us for the pot.

Step 3: OMG I am starving can I eat now?

Minimally reconstitute leftover rice by tossing what you're going to eat into a pot with a little simmering water, and let it go for 5 minutes. (We own neither Rice Cooker nor Microwave.) Ladle up some beans into a bowl while you're waiting. Spoon reconstituted rice on top of beans. Shake on some more apple cider vinegar, hot sauce, salt, pepper, as you like it. Chow down.

This has become my weekly roller derby routine, when I come home from practice ready to devour half my weight in protein. On Thursday, Step 1 happens in the morning (low cook) or around noon (high cook) depending on whether I get the day at home or have to run all over town doing errands. Step 2 happens just before I leave for scrimmage. Step 3 happens when I get home. Leftovers help keep me fed after Friday and Sunday practice and are generally gone by then. (John doesn't help me with it usually, but I have a relatively small crock pot.)

John and I almost always have leftover rice in the fridge, since ordering out Chinese food happens a lot when we have friends over. I could also see just making a lot of rice at once and keeping it in an air tight container in the fridge. Making it fresh when I get home from derby is trying. See the bit about "OMG can I please eat NOW?!"

#106 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 07:58 PM:

Lee @85: What generally happens is that the freezer gets full up with about 3-4 big-pot dishes, and I still get sick to death of them before they're half gone. (Yes, I am a bit difficult in how much food variety I demand.)

It's also partly a lack of texture-variety, not just a lack of flavor-variety. Freezer meals of that kind tend towards the stew/casserole, so they're kind of soft to start with, and freezing and reheating tends to soften vegetables, beans, and grains even more. It might work better if I added some crunchy or crispy garnish or side dish, so I wasn't faced with just a bowl of mush. (Tasty mush, yes, but mush.) Tortilla chips, French-fried onions, croutons, crusty bread, sliced cucumbers, etc.

Ooh, that reminds me, here's another fast (in the sense of short/easy prep time), cheap, and good dish:

2 cans kidney and/or pinto beans, drained and rinsed (about 4 cups beans)
2 cans enchilada sauce (about 2 cups)
About 1 cup queso fresco, crumbled, or cubed Monterey Jack, plus another half a cup to put on top if you like cheese
About half a bag of tortilla chips

Preheat oven to 350° F. Lightly grease a baking dish with vegetable oil. Combine beans, enchilada sauce, and cheese in baking dish. Crush tortilla chips and sprinkle on top, along with a bit more cheese if desired. Drizzle with a tbsp or so olive oil. Bake about 30 minutes, until hot and the chips are golden and crunchy.

This, I can eat repeatedly for days, and I really think it's the texture contrast of soft beans and crunchy chips that makes it work for me. (Also the salt and fat. But hey.)

Also an adapted Mark Bittman recipe, from How To Cook Everything Vegetarian. (He has you make your own enchilada sauce, which is very good indeed, but rather takes it out of the "fast" category unless you want to front-load the enchilada sauce making on an earlier day where you have extra time. It's still quite decent with canned enchilada sauce, and much easier.)

#107 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 08:32 PM:

pumpkin quesadilla

a chunk of winter squash as big as a large serving is for you*

a slab of cheese (I use jack)

a generous spoonful of salsa fresa, salsa cruda, salsa casera, chopped fresh chiles, or canned or pickled chiles

* I use whichever of my favorite squashes are cheapest at the moment. Those are pretty much limited to kabocha (my very favorite), pie pumpkin,or butternut (which is annoyingly difficult to cut)

Clean seeds and strings out of your wedge of squash. Stick it on a plate in the microwave and zap it for 8 minutes. Recipes say "on high" but I've never seen a microwave with a high and low setting, so I don't know what to say about that.

Test the squash. If it's almost soft enough, throw on the slab of cheese and the chile, and zap it for another 3 minutes or so, until the cheese is all runny and it's ready.

This is heaven, it's easy, it's quick, it's cheap, and it doesn't have anything in it I am not supposed to eat.

#108 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 08:36 PM:

re: leftover rice
Cooked rice freezes well, and even without a microwave doesn't take long to thaw, particularly if you throw it in some boiling water. Ready to go in a fraction of the time of making fresh.

ASSUMING you have the space, freeze any excess. I make a quantity, keep one tub in the fridge (a couple days' worth), and when it's getting low, pull out another container.

Take-out leftover rice that's spent several days in its paper goldfish container is dried out and icky, IMHO.

#109 ::: Mandalei ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 08:47 PM:

This isn't a fast make-it-that-night dish, really, but if you make it ahead on a Sunday, it makes a ton and you can eat it for a long time.

9 x 13 baking dish
saute with butter:
one large onion, chopped
as much garlic as you like, diced
salt and pepper

add 2 cups rice to same pan with the onions pan and toast it until it looks white all the way through and smells like popcorn. Dump into baking dish. Your rice will now tast even more awesome. You might even want to toast your rice before you make it all the time, it's that good.

Spread 8 or so boneless skinless chicken thighs on top. Salt the whole thing, and probably more than you think. Pour 4 cups of broth over the top and bake at 375 until rice is done. 45 minutes or so. The liquid will be cooked off, the meat will be done, and you'll have some serious comfort food to get through the week. You can add all sorts of things for variation, such as frozen peas, frozen California veggie mix, various spices, etc.

#110 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 08:55 PM:

How do people make those cute "I've been gnomed" comments in bold?

My theory is I did some punctuation thing, because I am not a good typist and I make lots of typoes.

#111 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 09:03 PM:

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little (105): You say it's impossible to overcook the beans. Does that mean that they could be left on low for ~24 hours? I *might* be able to find enough spoons to start a pot in the evening, but it's never going to happen in the morning. I could chop up the veggies in the evening, too, and stick them in an airtight container in the fridge overnight. I don't *think* I'd have too much problem just dumping them into the simmering pot before leaving for work.

#112 ::: Mary Aileen flags Lucy's gnoming ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 09:06 PM:

Lucy Kemnitzer (109): Add the "I've been gnomed" comment to the name field when you post. So instead of

Lucy Kemnitzer

put in

Lucy Kemnitzer is visiting the gnomes

or however you want to phrase it. Works for spam-spotting comments, too.

#113 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 09:06 PM:

Lucy: just put your gnoming comment in the box your name is typed in.

#114 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 09:09 PM:

I don't know where I first saw this, but it's cheap and good (and reasonably fast) and I have actually gotten children to eat it; it does require an oven, as I'm not sure how you'd adapt to the microwave:

1 - 12 oz can frozen orange juice concentrate
2 - envelopes onion soup mix
2-4 boneless chicken breasts

Heat your oven to 350F. Put the chicken in a baking dish.

Thaw the concentrate, either by putting it in the fridge overnight or, if you're in a hurry, with hot water. It's okay if it's still a little thick. Combine with the onion soup mix and pour over the chicken. Bake for about half an hour, until the chicken is cooked through.

You can use chicken parts instead of boneless breasts, but you may need to cook them a bit longer. You can also halve the recipe if it's just you (6-oz can, one envelope).

--

Separately, for fast/cheap/good, I can't recommend The I Hate to Cook Book enough. Peg Bracken was writing in the 1960s as a woman who hated to cook but, as a homemaker, was expected to do all the cooking, and it's not only full of fast/cheap/good recipes but the commentary is hilarous.

#115 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 09:26 PM:

500 gm of what we call mince. I think you call it hamburger, but the stuff I use is lean.

Half a cabbage, coarsely shredded.

Onion, ditto; garlic, crushed and chopped.

Can tomato pulp.

Five-spice powder, about a tablespoon.

1 cup chicken stock - I make my own.

Tablespoon soy sauce.

Heavy pot or wok.

Fry onions and garlic, add meat and half the five spice. Brown. Add cabbage, rest of the five-spice, stock, soy sauce. Cook, covered, until cabbage is nearly tender. Uncover, reduce.

Serve with rice.

#116 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 10:06 PM:

Caroline @ 73, 74 & 106:

Ah, the oldie but goodie stir-fry everything trick. It has the advantage of being quick (especially with a hot wok), cheap (you can use whatever vegetables are in season) & healthy (uses sparing amounts of meat, more like a seasoning than the main event). I should have thought of it but I guess I tend to forget things I grew up with in favour for something more exotic.

I probably use more root ginger than you would but the freezer trick still comes in handy - in our climate it is susceptible to mould in the pantry, and the fridge dries it out too quickly.

I like variety too. My preference is to have enough for dinner & lunch the next day. If it was really good, I'm willing to have it for dinner the next night, but no more than that. Past history has taught me that if I box & freeze meals, they'll still be in the freezer six months later.

#117 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 10:35 PM:

When I was doing the quick-and-tasty stir fry everything meals, I used angel hair pasta as my starch: it cooks faster than regular pasta, and I didn't need a rice cooker (which I didn't own at that time). The process was this: arrive home, put up pot of water to boil, pull out frozen veggies, chop frozen meat (chicken breast, sausage, what-have-you). Add angel hair pasta to boiling salted water. Take pan, add tsp of cooking oil, cook frozen chopped meats until browned, add frozen veggies and cook until not frozen. Drain pasta, add oil to keep pasta from clumping. Finish cooking meat and veg, toss in soft to medium firm tofu, stir, plate it with pasta.

I've also made quick toasted cheese sandwiches, but I particularly prefer pita: cut open a pocket pita, stuff with chunked cheese with or without meat of choice, also cut into bite-sized pieces. Toast in toaster oven (top broil or 500 degrees) but watch it as it browns.

Now my fast tasty meal is scrambled eggs. I add cheese some nights, chopped peppers, mushrooms, bits of sausage, chicken, whatever I might have.

As for consumption fatigue: when I get tired of eating the stuff in the freezer, I start combining them into one soup/stew. Borscht with beans, cabbage, peppers, leftover Chinese food...and blenderize it, to smooth it all out. One batch was awesomely tasty. The current batch of bean soup is a bit lacking, so I'm looking at my other leftovers to ponder the possibilities of infinite combinations.

Lunches: I pack salad makings -- dry in one container, wet in another, lettuce and so on in a third, then mix when I'm ready to eat. Salads for me can hold a lot of different things: on the lettuce base, I will add beets, pickled cucumbers, mushrooms, olives, carrots, other veggies, cheese, beans, hard-boiled eggs, peppers...oh, and fruit too, like raisins or grapes, melon, etc. I also take apples, oranges, grapefruits; nuts (peanuts, pistachios), and I've rediscovered boondi at the local Korean market -- it's an Indian snack, can be very spicy, and is generally made from chickpea flour or gram flour.

I also bring a thermos of freshly brewed tea with me -- REI makes an excellent thermos -- and have tea all day.

#118 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 11:09 PM:

I recommend, with moderate enthusiasm, the George Foreman Grill.

They are not high-quality or durable items, but they are easy to use and -- as advertised -- shed the fat coming off of grilled meats.

I've bought one . . . but my main source of them have been (ahem) moving sales. That is, tossed-away household goods. People get the grills as gifts, or get multiple ones, and dispose of the spares when they move.

Tonight I grilled a really thick piece of sweet onion, coated with olive oil. After it was nice and soft I plopped it on a bun and dropped on a burger. A good quarter-inch of hot fat accumulated in the drip tray, which went in the dog's dish.

Grill clean-up is easy as long as the non-stick lasts. I wipe it down with my used dinner napkin. When cool, I let the dog lick it clean. Final clean-up with a sudsy rag and warm water.

#119 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2013, 11:29 PM:

Not quick, but cheap and easy, if you have a food processor of any sort. Recipe can be doubled and baked in 9 by 13 pan. Leftovers reheat well, and it can be frozen. I take this to potlucks on a regular basis.

Potato Kugel

4 large potatoes (approximately 4 cups grated)
1-2 onions (1-2 cups finely chopped)
2 carrots (approximately 1 cup grated)
3 - 4 mushrooms, thinly sliced (optional)
1 cup grated cheddar cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Oil an 8 by 8 pan or equivalent baking dish. Coarsely grate potatoes and carrots. Chop onions very finely (use the processor only if you know it will chop rather than pulp). Mix these three together thoroughly. Press loosely into the baking dish. Bake at 400 degrees for about an hour. Kugel is done when onions are transparent and completely cooked, and potatoes are soft. If you plan to use mushrooms, add about 10 minutes before the kugel is done. If desired, top with cheese and put back in the oven for a few minutes to melt the cheese. Kugel is very forgiving, and can be left in the oven for some time, especially if you lower the heat.

#120 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 12:46 AM:

I've been making batches of slow-cooker oatmeal for my co-workers. A healthy alternative to the donuts and bagels we get on Friday mornings.

3 cups of steel-cut oatmeal (from WinCo, the discount grocery, $.78 / pound).

9 cups of water in right away, 2 in reserve.

1/4 tsp salt in right away; 1/4 tsp ginger, cinnamon, nutmug in reserve.

Put water, salt, oatmeal. Set slow cooker on "warm," or lowest available setting, and let it do its thing for eight hours. Stir when you can. Add a half a cup of water if it starts to dry. Before serving, dump in spices and add the rest of the water; stir until smooth.

I lay out little cups of nuts and cut-up dried fruit. People leave money in a jar to help me pay for these.

The leftover angle:

There's generally a couple of servings left in the crock on Friday afternoon. I divide this between two plastic containers, and either freeze or refrigerate. On the morning I use it, I dump it in a bowl, cut the coagulated mass up with a butter knife, and add some water before my long dog walk. When I get back I add a little more water, stir until smooth, and microwave for 2 minutes, stirring once.


#121 ::: Mishalak ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 12:47 AM:

Lucy Kemnitzer @ Many

Regarding the soaking of beans Cook's Illustrated did some tests that you might be interested in. I will quote just the relevant bit from the March 2008 issue:

"In recent testing, we’ve found that soaking dried beans in mineral-rich; hard tap water can toughen their skins. Some recipes recommend using distilled water to avoid this issue, but we’ve discovered a simpler solution: adding salt to the tap water, which prevents the magnesium and calcium in the water from binding to the cell walls, and it will also displace some of the minerals that occur naturally in the skins. We found that three tablespoons of salt per gallon of soaking water is enough to guarantee soft skins."

They go on to recommend soaking beans at least 8 hours, but no more than 24 hours. A potential time saver for you provided salt is not forbidden due to illness or something.

In a separate test they compared brined, then frozen beans, then cooked vs ones that had been brined and then cooked. They could not detect any difference so if you need to have beans that are ready to be cooked freezing after soaking could be useful.

#122 ::: Cheryl ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 01:37 AM:

Orange Flavored Quinoa

SERVES 6

* 2 teaspoons olive oil (10 ml)
* 1/2 cup onion, chopped (120 ml)
* 1 cup orange juice (240 ml)
* 1/2 teaspoon salt (2 or 3 ml)
* 1 cup quinoa (240 ml)
* 1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced (60 ml)
* 1/4 cup fresh coriander (cilantro) minced (60 ml)
* 2 tablespoons currants (or seedless raisins) (30 ml)
* 2 teaspoons orange zest (10 ml)

In a medium nonstick saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft.

Add orange juice, 1 cup water and salt. Bring to a boil.

Add quinoa and stir once. Quickly return to a boil.

Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 15-20 minutes, until water is absorbed and quinoa is tender. Remove from heat and let stand 3 minutes.

Add parsley, coriander, currants and orange zest. Stir with a fork to combine and fluff up grain.
If you use dried herbs, remember they're stronger, so adjust accordingly.

I've eaten this with a green salad and called it dinner. You can throw the salad together while the quinoa is cooking; the whole thing should take around half an hour.

#123 ::: GlendaP ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 02:01 AM:

Mishalak @121: In a separate test they compared brined, then frozen beans, then cooked vs ones that had been brined and then cooked. They could not detect any difference so if you need to have beans that are ready to be cooked freezing after soaking could be useful.

Oh my! I definitely need to try presoaking a large batch of beans and freezing them in single servings.

#124 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 02:31 AM:

Mishalak at 121: I can't tell you how sad that makes me. I prefer not to salt things at all. Also I am now confused. I've always been told not to add salt till after the beans are cooked, or they will toughen. The method I've been using lately has been working all right, though.

Maybe I will try salting the next time I want to experiment with the rice cooker for beans again. Thanks for the information, even though it wasn't what I wanted to hear!

#125 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 06:03 AM:

A variation on the "Hot Oats With Things" theme, I have a baked oatmeal recipe I adore. It's a modified version of this recipe, with notes and iterations.

This is "fast" in that it requires a bit more prep than normal oatmeal, but you only have to do it once a week. The resulting dish reheats marvelously and keeps for a week in the fridge in a sealed container. On weekdays I usually don't have the five extra minutes it takes to cook regular oatmeal, so I make a batch of this on Saturday or Sunday, put a bunch in a tupperware in my fridge, take it to work on monday, and cut off a slice each morning to reheat in the office microwave.

Iterative Oatmeal

2c Oatmeal (rolled, or "quick steel," more on that below)
1 tsp Baking Powder
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch cloves
optional ginger to taste
1/4-1/2 tsp salt (optional)

2c Almond Milk (or soy, or regular)
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 - 1/3c maple syrup (or other sweetener, to taste)
1-3 tsp melted butter, cooled slightly (optional)

1-2c Fruit (anything on hand that's good baked)

Grease an 8x8 baking dish. Tile a layer of fruit on the bottom of the pan. Mix dry ingredients together. Scatter a handful of fruit on top of the full bottom layer. Cover with dry mixture. Poke additional fruit in from the top. When all the dry mixture is added, combine wet ingredients. Slowly pour wet mix over the layers of oats and fruit. Poke more fruit in, or layer some on top if you want. Bake 30-45 minutes.

Now, for the iterations:

I haven't experimented too much with dry fruit yet, mostly fresh or frozen. My favorites are a sweet/tart apple combo (fresh) and peach/blackberry (fresh or frozen). I personally don't like the texture of cooked bananas, but they work well if you like them, and you can use less sweetener.

I usually end up using a few pinches of salt, or 1/4 tsp, but I have a friend who omits it entirely.

If you don't have an 8x8 baking dish, you can use pretty much any bakeware of a similar volume. I've used 6x11 baking dishes, loaf pans, and, once, two pyrex pie tins. Baking time will vary when you're using a shallower or deeper dish, as will texture. Using the 10x10 results in something with the texture of an especially moist and dense brownie or muffin. Using a loaf pan results in something that's firm and cakey on top and oatmeal-y on the bottom.

I found that Almond milk results in better overall flavor than dairy, requiring less sweetener and removing the risk of going "too savory." Soy works OK too. If I'm making this for someone who is used to hyper-sweet morning meals, I will sometimes increase the sweetness a bit. Butter makes it richer and enhances the flavors, but I think the 3 tsps in the original recipe are overkill. I usually use 1 tsp.

Once you've tried this recipe, it's easy to iterate on. The first one I tried was bananas, blueberries, and candied ginger. It was decent, but I remembered I don't like cooked bananas and the ginger was overpowering, so I iterated. I also keep moving apartments and having to adjust the baking time and rack position, but the recipe is pretty forgiving: I've produced a large variety of flavors and textures, but they've all been tasty enough - though I won't usually offer the gooier versions to guests or coworkers.

A friend of mine makes a version with honey, walnuts, pine nuts, and stewed prunes. If you use nuts, the rule of thumb is 1/4c in the dry mix, 1/4c sprinkled on top.

On oats: the stores near me sometimes carry something called "quick-cooking steel-cut oats." I have no idea what this means and haven't been able to figure it out even with a lot of googling. The steel cut oats labeled "quick" work fine, I haven't had the courage to try other varieties. I prefer the flavor of steel cut, but the final product is denser. My favorite version of the recipe was a "leftover" batch I made with 1c steel cut and 1c rolled, but that's not something I do regularly.

#126 ::: Sica ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 07:07 AM:

I basically don't have a freezer and live on my own. Small kitchen with a tiny fridge that has a freezer box but the freezer box is tiny and only two stars on the cold scale.

This makes for a hard cook lots strategy so I prefer super easy to cook things. Also have a spoon draining involving job and a lot of active hobbies so not that much time to spend on meal preparation.

Couple of things that made me happy.

1. You can poach eggs in a microwave

It takes around a minute. Basically put a bit of water with the egg in a suitable small container (cup will do), pierce through to the egg yolk so it doesn't explode, microwave for 60 seconds. Voila!

NB: Very important to get the egg out of the shell before microwaving. It will explode otherwise.

2. Minestroney tomato soup thing

Chop up and fry onions, mushrooms and courgette, once they're fried enough pour in tomato goo (can of chopped tomatoes will do, I had a ton of sieved tomatos I think it's called passata, in an already opened big jar that I needed to use). add water to make it a bit more soupy and then add in a bit of dry pasta, preferably something that cooks fairly quickly but isn't a deal breaker. Let the whole thing simmer until the pasta is done.

Nice thing about this is that there's only one pot to clean afterwards and the whole thing is really quick, tasty and easy to change depending on what's available.

I used basil, salt and garlic for seasoning but again it'll work with different things too.

#127 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 07:09 AM:

Stefan Jones #118: Amen on the George Foreman grill, though I wonder why you say they are not durable or high-quality -- my small one has lasted with occasional use for many years. Admittedly, the Other Leading Brand has a removable grill, but I'd be more worried about durability issues from that.

My most common thing to grill there is grilled-cheese sandwiches, but I've also done hamburgers, small steaks, chicken breasts, sausages (split the thick ones), and onion slices. They are much more tolerant of thick items than they look, I do GCCs with tomato and sometimes more in mine.

#128 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 07:34 AM:

Two soups, both taste good, one is fast and the other (should be) cheap. Both taste really good and involve ~10 minutes of doing things to food.

Item #1, Cheese Soup
Needed:
- Cheese (grated)
- Milk
- Flour (only tried wheat, but anything starchy should work)
- Stock (cube/powder + water OR other)

Equipment:
- Spoon
- Pot
- Something to heat the pot

Time:
Around 10 minutes.

Process:
Start heating the stock in the pot. If the cheese comes ungrated, grate some. You want 1-2 fistfuls per 250 cl (call it half a pint) of stock. Once the stock it hot, add some milk, then make a slurry from milk and flour. Stir for a fe wseconds, then gradually add the cheese and let it melt.

Item #2, Garlic & Tomato soup
Needed:
- Pot
- Stock
- Couple of cons of chopped tomato
- Garlic (fresh)

Equipment:
- Pot
- Spoon
- Knife
- Can opener (maybe)

Time needed:
About 2-3 hours

Dump the tomatoes into the pot. Add as much stock as you have tomato. Start heating. For each can of tomato, you want 2-3 cloves of garlic. Peel the garlic and split the cloves in half, length-wise. Dump the garlic into the pot. Let simmer for 2-3 hours. Serve

#129 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 10:26 AM:

I have a cook book called Crock-It. One of the recipes is 'Usable Chicken': poached chicken pieces that are used in other stuff. (I describe the book as 'real food', because it's the kind of food most people actually eat.)

#130 ::: TChem ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 10:56 AM:

Sweet Potato Thing

Cheap, particularly by avoiding any waste of veggies going downhill. Good. Not worknight fast, but a one-dish meal that's easy to put together and then not pay attention to for a few hours. I often make this on a weekend and then reheat in the microwave during the week--it gets better after a day. Also good for vegan and/or non-gluten households, if you leave off the options at the end. I bet it could be done in a crockpot.

-2 sweet potatoes, cut in chunks
-Some chopped up onion and garlic (I can't handle very much of either but it is tasty with lots of both)
-4+ cups combined of quartered mushrooms, sweet pepper, garbanzo beans, etc etc. (This is usually a fridge emptier. Veggies that give off water as they cook preferred.)
-Can of tomatoes, or jar of tomato sauce, or a few chopped-up tomatoes, or some tomato paste mixed with water.
-1/4 cup oil
-pepper, salt, rosemary if you've got it.

Mix everything up, put it in a 9x13 pan or similar, bake at about 450 for about an hour, or until the sweet potatoes are done. Top with a little cheese or breadcrumbs or toasted bits of bread in the last 10 minutes of cooking, if desired. The wet veggies make a nice sauce with bread or other starch.

Easier-Than-Average Butternut Squash Soup

Another one where the time advantage lies in doing stuff the night before. I can do most of this in the middle of other dinner prep on Night #1, and then I have nearly-instant soup on night #2. Freezes well, too.

Butternut squash, unpeeled but seeded, chopped as little as you can get away with
Enough water or stock to cover it.
Salt, pepper, preferred spices (cinnamon, cumin, hot pepper, cardamom, sage are all ones I've used.)
A tablespoon or so of sweetness of choice.
optional: tofu or canned white beans

-Boil everything but the optional stuff until the squash is very soft while making dinner, then take it off the heat. Add ice cubes to cool it off faster, if you're in a hurry, otherwise, eat dinner and put the kids to bed. If you don't want to do step 2, put the whole thing in the fridge overnight.
-(Can be done first or second night): take the cooled-off squash and pull the skin off. Use a potato masher or blender to pulverize the squash. If you're using a blender and are looking for greater protein content, I've had good luck adding canned white beans or tofu during blending. You may also need to add more water.
-When it's dinnertime, reheat with stove or microwave.

Peanut sauce: All three. Good variant if you're tired of peanut butter sandwiches and tired of ramen. Goes on top of whatever noodley starch is to hand, good warm or cold, can be served with condiment-sized amounts of proteins and veggies, or not. Composed entirely of nonperishables and pretty flexible on that.

1/4 c peanut butter
-0.5-1 tablespoons of something sour--any vinegar, citrus juice, etc
-0.5-1 tablespoons of something sweet--brown sugar, honey, etc.
-Some source of salt-- 1 tablespoon soy sauce, some table salt, ramen packet. I've used ketchup.
-A little spiciness, using hot sauce, red pepper flakes, etc.
-Enough warm or hot water to make it into a smooth sauce thick enough to stick to noodles.
-Only if you've got them, and in whatever format you have them: ginger, garlic, lemongrass, curry paste, peanuts.

Mix. Taste, and adjust. Mix more. Put on starch.

Fast cheap lunch: Lately, I've been hard boiling 5-6 eggs at a time, putting a chopped one on top of whatever vegetable pile is leftover from dinner, and calling it salad. If you keep them in the shell they stay good for about a week. No one except the toddler has yet mistaken cooked for uncooked.

#131 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 12:12 PM:

Lee #101:

I'm inclined to put jalapeno slices on the cheese. If it needs meat, there's always dry salami (which gets into expensive territory, but I've always had a thing against Vienna sausage).

#132 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 12:20 PM:

No one except the toddler has yet mistaken cooked for uncooked.

If you draw faces on them after hard-boiling them, no one will be confused. I'll bet your toddler, armed with non-toxic pens, would love to help.

#133 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 12:55 PM:

If you have a crockpot, freezer space and some way to chop the onions, you can do (comparatively) no-tears, non-attentive

Caramelized Onions

yellow onions (10# makes two batches in my crockpot)
oil
salt/other seasonings

Put about 1/4" oil in the bottom of your crockpot.

Cut the ends off an onion, cut in half pole-to-pole, and slip off the tough outer skin.
Cut in half again so they'll fit well in the pot - minimum handling avoids the teary raw juice. If the fumes get too bad, run each section under lukewarm water as you cut.

Put the lid on the pot and let it run. When you wander into the kitchen, stir. At the point there's lots of juice, prop the lid open slightly (I lay a chopstick across the edge).

AFTER the onions have caramelized, chop them - cuisinart, blender, immersion wand, by hand. If you're using a blender, decant and reserve liquid - a wonderful additive to soups, stews, or when cooking rice, etc.

Cool, adjust seasoning to your taste, put in tubs and pop in the freezer.

Minimal spoons method: set up after dinner, before bed, stir. In the morning, stir and re-lid. After work, stir again and prop the lid open. Before bed, cover again.

My old pot has one medium setting. I've safely turned the unit off WITHOUT OPENING THE LID and resumed cooking later.

I often make batches of savory rice with stock and caramelized onions.

#134 ::: The_L ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 01:07 PM:

Lucy K: Ah, whole hominy. That's a whole different kettle of fish. Pozole sounds interesting, but I don't think I could get past the "pork necks" part.

Also, "high" tends to be the default temperature setting on most microwaves I've encountered. :)

Quick note about rice: If you don't like cooking rice often, but you tend to eat a fair bit of rice, it freezes wonderfully (but dries out in the refrigerator, so that's not an acceptable substitute). Just make tons of extra rice, put each meal's worth in plastic wrap or sandwich bags, and stick it in the freezer. Microwave for about a minute for 1 serving, probably longer for more (not sure how much longer; I cook for one), and it's all thawed out and ready to eat.

Bread can also be frozen, and (good news for folks who live alone) this will prevent it from going stale or moldy for up to a month. Microwave it, one slice at a time, in a wet paper towel for 5-10 seconds (muffins and other thicker bread-type things work too, but may take longer to nuke). Never microwave bread-type products for longer than 20 seconds--they heat up VERY quickly, and if you leave them in too long they can start a fire.

* Freezer-burn isn't kind to bread at all.

#135 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 01:57 PM:

@Dave Harmon:

I am fairly certain there are several manufacturers behind George Foreman grills. And a bewildering variety of models.

My mom has a FANCY one, with full controls, removeable (and reversible?) grills. You could cook a whole grilled meal on it.

My first one (which had a bun warmer on top, nice!) I believe I bought used from Goodwill. Very basic; no switch. You just plugged it in. I wore out the non-stick and tossed it.

One I salvaged had a on/off switch and a timer. It looked nothing like my first. It died, perhaps of water intrusion in the electronics.

One model I salvaged has removeable grills! I don't use it too often because it is double-wide.

The latest one I bought is another plug-in model. I'm being very careful with the non-stick surface.

#136 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 01:57 PM:

Thirding the little one-person Foreman Grill recommendation. I'm on my second now -- the cheap ones they sell at moving-into-the-dorm time seem to last me about three years. If you can remember to get meat out of the freezer in the morning, they make quick work of burgers, pork chops, chicken breasts, and the like. If you forgot, they're also good for salmon or other fish fillets or shrimp thawed in a bowl of water. Serve it up with a salad, some quickly-steamed veggies, or some pasta or ramen or garlic bread, and you are done and eating in 10 minutes or so.

#137 ::: TChem ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 02:05 PM:

I'll bet your toddler, armed with non-toxic pens, would love to help.

I'm sure he would love to help by eating himself sick with the aid of a half-dozen hard boiled eggs. But the faces are still a good idea that we will all enjoy.

(Pre-child, I expected such behavior with, say, chocolate cake, which he will have two polite bites of before going to play. I was not expecting to have to hide hardboiled eggs. The time he mistook one for the other was the time I had raw eggs on a reachable refrigerator shelf, not thinking of them as such a temptation.)

#138 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 02:55 PM:

This is cheap and good, and fast at least in the sense that one's direct efforts are minimal, and a crockpot does 99% of the work:

1 jar salsa
1 can black beans
boneless chicken breasts
1 bag frozen corn*
fresh cilantro

Dump half the jar of salsa in the bottom of your crockpot. Put in the chicken, then the beans and corn, then dump the rest of the salsa in. Turn crockpot on high, and ignore for many hours while chicken cooks. When it's done, you should be able to stick a fork in and shred it with little effort. Stir up the whole mess, then toss a handful of chopped cilantro on the top and serve. Voila, instant food. (-:

(*Trader Joe's frozen cut white corn is very good, and I'm a fresh corn snob.)

#139 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 03:23 PM:

Caroline, #106: Yeah, that does sound like a texture issue. One good crunchy side dish that I like is pita chips with hummus; Stacy's Simply Naked chips are tasty, and widely available. We have yet to find any other variety of commercial hummus to match Pita Pal, which is unfortunately a bit on the pricey side but you get what you're paying for.

Lucy, #107: Datapoint -- my full-size microwaves have all had the ability to adjust the setting, but it's not labeled "High/Low". Instead, they have a "Power" button, which is either pressed repeatedly to cycle thru pre-set levels or allows you to punch in a percentage of full power. Mini microwaves may not have that -- I wouldn't know.

Stefan, #120: Your co-workers are fortunate!

Tchem, #130: I'll bet that peanut sauce would also be good on sauteed "chicken fingers" (aka boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into strips or chunks of convenient size, unbreaded).

Speaking of which, my partner makes Sate Chicken Fingers like this:

Cut up your chicken breasts and toss pieces with enough Penzey's Sate Seasoning to coat; let them sit for at least half an hour. Pan-fry with lots of butter -- no, lots of butter -- as in, start with a full stick, and add more as needed; the layer in the bottom of the skillet should be about as thick as a penny. These can be served with rice, but are just as good on their own.

Carol, #133: The not-opening-the-lid trick also works if you've cooked a big-pot meal but want to wait until the next morning to containerize it. Just be sure it's boiling, and then leave the lid on when you turn the heat off.

#140 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 07:06 PM:

What I've been doing for more eons than I care to count is to take a can of one of the "hearty" varieties of soup [gotten when on sale] and add stuff into it--portions of beans I've frozen, vegies, meatballs, canned fish, or whatever I think complements the soup. I can add water or wine, and spices/boullion to expand it. For me, canned soup is just a beginnning.
A can of smoked oysters, with vegs and fruits--and I usually have some roasted vegs of various sorts to hand--accompanied by wholegrain bread in the form of a roll or bun.
A handfull of almonds from the bulk bins when on sale, along with aforesaid breadstuff, especially if the latter is accompanied by butter or cheese.
Can brown rice be frozen like the white kind?

#141 ::: Ellen ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 07:25 PM:

One of my fave fast/easy/cheap meals (from a Mark Bittman book):
"Boiled Water"
Simmer some water (1L?) with a bunch of garlic (5-10 cloves?) and a bay leaf.
While the broth is simmering, toast $PERSONS pieces of stale bread, ideally in a spot of oil (lots of ways to do this - grill bread in a in a pan in some oil, or brush the bread with oil and stick the bread in a toaster oven, or even just toast in toaster then brush with a bit of oil. Or skip the oil )
Put the bread in the bottom of a bowl and pour the broth over it. If you're so inclined, adding a poached egg (poach in the simmering broth, or just mix egg in cup and pour slowly into the broth to make strands of eggy goodness) to each bowl adds some protein and flavour. A little black pepper is nice. Surprisingly tasty given the few ingredients.

Something upthread also reminded me of the Haddon Ave sandwich, a staple from university days:
Split pitas. Insert bits of cheese, scraps of veg (tomatoes, mushroom & onion are good here, spinach goes well too), slivers of meat (optional) into each pita pocket. Smear mustard into the pocket to taste. Toast in an oven (medium hot - 350ish?) until cheese melts. Warm, fast and satisfying.

#142 ::: Keith Edwards ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 07:27 PM:

If you have a romertopf clay pot, have I got something for you:

carrots, potatoes and parsnips in the bottom, coat with olive oil and a few pats of butter. For spices, I've been liking Penzy's Northwoods seasoning (salt, pepper, paprika,thyme, rosemary, garlic, chipotle) put a whole chicken on top of the veggies, coated in olive oil and seasoning with about 2 Tb of butter in the cavity. coat with seasoning, throw in some garlic and onion, cook on 450 for 1 hr, 15 minutes (start with a cold oven and don't forget to soak your clay pot for 15 minutes!)

Total time with prep: 1.5 hours. Produces a really tasty chicken and veggies, enough for a whole family.

#143 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 08:03 PM:

"Luncheon Eggs"

(No, I don't know why they're called that, but my mom only made this for lunch so that could be the reason.)

Poach (yolk runny) eggs; 1 or 2 eggs per person depending on appetite. You can also soft-boil the eggs if you prefer but, again, the yolks should ideally be runny.

While poaching the eggs, lightly butter and then tear up bread slices into chunks in a bowl. You want about half again as many slices of bread as eggs, rounding up. The chunks of buttered bread should be ideally be small enough to be a reasonable bite size. Good bread is best, but standard cheap supermarket bread is fine (that's what I grew up on). You can toast, butter, and tear the bread if you prefer, but untoasted bread is better at soaking up eggy goodness.

Dump the poached eggs on top of the torn-up buttered bread, or scoop out and dump the softboiled eggs on top, whichever. Avoid shells in the bowl, obviously.

Lightly salt. Lightly pepper. Those who like other seasonings, feel free to improvise.

Chop the eggs with your spoon or fork, mix the eggs into the bread chunks with wild abandon, and eat while the eggs are still hot and melting the butter on the bread.

This is a comfort food for me.

#144 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 08:05 PM:

#140: For a while, I'm trying to wean myself out of the habit, I occasionally made:

Seafood Chowder

Start out with a can of condensed clam chowder and add:

One can each of minced clams, "Tiny Shrimp" (AKA sea bugs) and crab meat, all of which I bought cheap.

A can of corn, or creamed corn.

A can of cooked potatoes, sliced into little bits.

A handful of crumpled matzoh.

I add two extra cans of milk and simmer. The crackers and corn give up some starch and make everything nice and thick.

I'm less enamoured of canned food lately. I think I have enough for one more batch of seafood chowder. And three cans of "tiny shrimp" to use in pasta salads.

#145 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 08:06 PM:

I find that if you throw a few onion skins in with the eggs I am hard boiling, they turn pale brown and are easy to tell from raw, unless you buy brown eggs. They do not flavor the eggs, as far as I can tell.

#146 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 08:36 PM:

#140 ::: Angiportus
[...] Can brown rice be frozen like the white kind?

Sure can.

#147 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 08:59 PM:

Distinguishing between unpeeled hard-boiled and raw eggs: If they're in the egg-carton from the store, they're raw. If they're in a bowl in the fridge, they're cooked.

There are rare exceptions, like taking hard-boiled eggs to a con suite, for which they'll stay in the original container. On at least one occasion, the con suite maven put a note next to them saying "Yes, they are", which almost everybody interpreted correctly from context.

#148 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 09:11 PM:

There's always spinning the egg on its end. Boiled eggs spin like a top. Raw eggs... don't.

#149 ::: Trey ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 09:22 PM:

Four that we've discovered, are Pam Anderson's one skillet vegetarian meals. Here's the link http://www.usaweekend.com/article/20090913/FOOD01/90917005/I-love-my-new-meatless-days (hope I don't gnomed).

Anyway, they're very quick if you buy frozen mirepoix (sadly, here in Houston they only know of the cajun variant). They're also cheap, filling and tasty. They get cheaper if you substitute chicken broth from bullion cubes for the broth.

#150 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 11:20 PM:

john @ 76: Yes, potato salad with mustard vinaigrette! I fairly survived on that this summer. My recipe is similar to yours, but with a few changes.

I cut the red potatoes into largish chunks (about two bites each) before boiling them, since then they cook faster and I don't have to wait for them to cool in order to cut them up.

While the potatoes boil, I combine about 1/3 cup red or white wine vinegar, 1/2 cup olive oil, 2 T mustard (any sort -- I've used Dijon and brown), and a dash of salt and pepper in the blender. Blend till nice and creamy. (You can whisk them together too, but I like the blender-emulsified texture.)

Then, if I have any fresh herbs, I chop up half a cup or so. Dill, parsley, basil, pretty much anything. I even bet mint would work. I also chop up about half a small-to-medium onion, any sort (red, white, yellow, Vidalia) -- I chop it quite small.

Once the potatoes are cooked (10 minutes or less, until tender but not falling-apart mushy), I drain them and put them in a bowl. I then throw the chopped onion into the bowl with the hot potato pieces, toss, then add the dressing and chopped fresh herbs and toss some more.

Eat warm, room temp, or chilled.

This is Yet Another Bittman Recipe, actually.

Fresh herbs are expensive to buy at the supermarket, but they grow quite well in containers on my patio in the spring and summer.

#151 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 11:41 PM:

Also:

Crockpot Barbecue (for non-North Carolinians, this translates to Pulled Pork)

Pork shoulder/butt roast
Sauce made from this recipe for Lexington-style barbecue sauce
Optional: sandwich rolls

Prepare sauce. If you haven't checked the link yet, this is easy, requiring such ingredients as vinegar, ketchup, hot sauce, and a small amount of apple juice.

Put pork in crockpot; pour about half to three-quarters of the sauce over. Cook 8 hours or so on Low.

Pull (shred) the cooked meat with two forks. Add more sauce to serve. Eat with a fork or as sandwiches.

Strictly speaking, hush puppies and slaw should be served alongside, with sweet (iced) tea to drink, but I don't always bother.

If you are a heathen and prefer Eastern-style barbecue to Lexington-style barbecue, then leave out the ketchup in the sauce. (Eastern-style: Pulled pork served with a thin, spicy vinegar-based sauce. Lexington-style: Pulled pork served with a thin, spicy vinegar-based sauce with tomatoes in it. North Carolinians pick sides in this battle early on. You can tell which side I'm on.)

#152 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2013, 11:47 PM:

I do that thing with the poached eggs on top of a pile of steamed (or honestly, also poached) vegies, usually broccoli because seriously broccoli is the most ubiquitous vegetable in the central coast after lettuce (and currently, parsnips). I didn't even know there was a bread version. I bet it would be good with parsnips, now that I think about it. With chile.

#153 ::: Mishalak ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2013, 12:17 AM:

Lucy Kemnitzer @ #124

There are a lot of different rules about cooking beans and it seems like Cook's Illustrated has tested them all. Bless their obsessive hearts. Acid, salt, strips of seaweed, using baking soda, etc. But it was not easy and in their Beans 101 article they did say, "Through the years, we’ve waffled back and forth about the best way to cook dried beans. Admittedly, we haven’t been consistent: some recipes specify that the beans be soaked before cooking, others do not. Our recommendation? Follow the recipe. Each has been specifically developed for soaked or unsoaked beans and should be prepared accordingly."

However they have turned up some evidence in their obsessive testing. High acid environments, like pH 3, do cause beans to stay hard/crunchy no matter how long they are cooked. Otherwise it just slows them down, so pH 5 and so on are fine and as a reference tomato juice comes in at a 4.5 and thus probably is fine to cook in. Though cutting pure tomatoes with something else might speed up the cooking. Also pure wine would be right out due to a pH of around 2.9 to 3.9. Baking soda added in some recipes probably stems from that, but they recommend against it as baking soda destroys nutrients according to other research.

Also soaking and rinsing does reduce the amount of stachyose in beans by about 28%, but the quick cook method of "a one-minute boil followed by a soak for an hour, was more effective, removing 42.5 percent of the stachyose." But it does not come out quite as nice in texture as the long soak, rinse, and then boiling.

A strip of dried kombu (a seaweed) really does eliminate the need for an overnight soak.

And that is all that I was able to find in my books. I do not know why older recipes recommend against salt in soaking. I certainly find the Cook's Illustrated method quite effective in making beans tender and quite tasty.

#154 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2013, 12:25 AM:

Mishalak, thank you for the complete report!

I think that probably leaving the salt out until later in the process goes with leaving out the tomatoes and lemon and stuff: not a scientific recommendation, just deriving from the other ideas.

I did the boil and short soak for several years but I was never satisfied with either the texture of the beans or the comfort in my belly (so maybe the toughness of the beans was causing its own problems independent of the stachyose -- that's the offending starch that people don't digest well?). But my method where I soak them for a really long time with changes of water, so that some of the beans actual begin to sprout a bit, has been working really well on both fronts for me, so there it is.

Bean neepery makes me so happy.

#155 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2013, 12:48 AM:

Oh. Well, while we're on the subject:

Decades ago, when I was a little kid, my mother would make "Boston Baked Beans" which came out like a thick, sweet sludge. Dark reddish-brown. Small oval beans . . . not flat.

Somewhere along the line, mom stopped making them that way, and when I asked several years back didn't remember what I was talking about.

Any ideas? I imagine that molasses was involved.

#156 ::: Cheryl ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2013, 01:14 AM:

@155 Stefan Jones, Boston Baked Beans

I think that's what we just call "baked beans" up here. I don't have my recipe handy, but I make them with navy beans, and yes, lots of molasses. Traditionally, they include salt pork/bacon/ham bone, but I leave that out because I don't eat pork.

#157 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2013, 01:34 AM:

My idea of cheap and fast or easy, I've discovered, aren't always all that in line with others ideas. Part of that is doing the cooking, but no tthe shopping, and part of that is totally losing time when I'm in the kitchen. Our family's easiest, fast, don't have to think about it meal is a quick rice and beans (+ tj's corn and fried eggs, salsa and cheese.), which is at least 3 pans and a rice cooker, and 20+ minutes.

We have chickens, so while eggs might not be cheap, they are usually abundant and are expensive in sunk cost, but not incremental.

One thing that I like for a quick lunch is an egg burrito. A plain tortilla, topped with a thin, smooth 2 egg omelette from a 10 inch pan, topped with salsa and cheese, then rolled into a spiral. It all winds up melting together and is really yummy. The omelette needs to be very thin though, 1/4 inch or so.

#158 ::: GlendaP ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2013, 03:29 AM:

Beef in Gravy:

1 Knorr* beef bouillon cube
12 ounces hot water
2 tablespoons butter or other fat/oil
1-1/2 tablespoons flour
1 cup (approx) chopped onion
1 cup (approx) cut up cooked beef (I usually use deli roast beef, but leftover hamburger works too)
Option A: about 12 frozen tater tots
Option B: toast, cooked rice, or other substrate of your choice
1 cup (approx) frozen green peas
black pepper to taste


- Dissolve bouillon cube in hot water; set aside.
- Melt butter in sauce pan over medium heat. Add onion; saute until soft. Stir in flour. Stir constantly at least 2 minutes. Can go longer until roux is light brown.
- Pour bouillon in slowly while stirring rapidly.
- Stir in meat. If using tater tots, stir then in. Continue cooking about 15 minutes until gravy thickens, stirring occasionally.
- Remove from heat and stir in peas.

If tater tots were included, it's ready to eat. Otherwise spoon over substrate.

*I don't recommend Wyler's, but I haven't tried any other brands.

#159 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2013, 08:47 AM:

Quick (5 minute prep time -- but cooking takes an unsupervised hour), cheap (IF you find pork chops on sale) and easy:

Unstuffed Pork Chops

Makes a hearty meal for two people; adjust recipe accordingly -- you can go as big as the biggest oven-safe casserole dish you have.

This really is easy; I'm spelling out every step because I'm a poor cook and I expect there are others here who, like me, need specific directions...

2 thick-cut (boneless by preference but boned is ok) pork chops

Stove top or other stuffing mix

Canned veggie(s) of preference

Some sort of pork glaze or barbeque sauce if desired
--
While preheating the oven to 350F (or appropriate pork-baking temperature), make sufficient stovetop stuffing for a side dish for two people. You can add veggies; I often add a can of corn; peas would work if my husband ate them -- use the liquid from the canned veggies for part of the water required by the stuffing mix. That is, drain the can into a measuring cup, add sufficient water to make up the difference that the stuffing mix requires, then dump the water and the veggies into a saucepan. When it boils, make the stuffing per the box directions.

Put the stuffing-and-veggie mix into the casserole. You do not need to let the stuffing "rest"; just dump it in, and flatten it out. Lay your pork chops on top. (Ideally, the pork chops will mostly-cover the stuffing but not overlap. Think of them as a sort of "lid" for the stuffing, but it's ok if some stuffing is exposed.) You can glaze the exposed portion of the chops with honey, or barbeque sauce, or teriyaki glaze (my personal choice) -- or you can leave 'em plain.

Pop in the oven. Let cook for one hour.

Dish out; the exposed bits of stuffing will have dry-and-crunchy-goodness and the under-the-pork-chop stuffing will have moist-and-savory-goodness.

This is only "cheap" if one shops sales, but I've gotten some good deals on pork chops over the years. And it's a whole lot easier than butterflying the chop and stuffing it and tying it closed....

I've only made this with thick-cut chops; I'm afraid thin-cut might dry out (and I don't know how to adjust the cooking time to avoid that).

#160 ::: The_L ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2013, 09:43 AM:

If you're a cooking newb, it's nice to have soup recipes on hand until you get used to designing your own. So here's my favorite, to get you started. Fairly cheap, savory, and easy to make. Takes a while, but totally worth it and you don't have to watch the pot much.

I-Can't-Believe-It's-Lentil-Soup
The main ingredient is lentils, but the other flavors make it more palatable than the beans alone. Like all soups and stews, it's even better re-heated than it was the first night. If you make it on your day off, you can have hot meals all week off of 1 cooking session. Yay!

What you need:
- A 2-qt saucepan or crockpot
- About 1-2 cups of lentils (sometimes I mix in split green peas, but still mostly lentils)
- A cube of frozen chicken broth (see below) or just the seasonings for vegetarian soup
- Bite-sized bits of chicken, to taste (raw or cooked; you can also substitute other meats or leave it out altogether for vegetarian soup)
- 1 tomato, 1-2 celery sticks, 1-2 carrots, 1/2 onion, and (optionally) a medium-sized potato, all chopped
- Enough water to cover all the ingredients, PLUS at least an inch or two. You can add extra water for a thinner soup (I use lots of extra water, because I like my soups closer to stews in consistency)

On the stove, boil for 30 min., then turn down the temperature to Low and let simmer until ready to serve (or if you're making it to save in the fridge for tomorrow, take it off after those 30 min and put it in your plastic container). In a crock-pot, I'd say leave it on medium all day, turn it to low for an hour, then serve.

Like most soups and stews, the longer you leave it on the stove/crockpot, the tastier it gets! I tend to make about 5 servings at once so I can eat the leftovers at work for days. I just bring a Thermos-full, then fill a 350 mL container with different sides to add variety. Savory muffins are this soup's best friend!

Frozen Chicken Broth:
- 1 cube chicken stock (beef boullion cubes work well too, if you like beef better)
- About 1 Tbsp. season salt
- 1/2 tsp. sea salt, if you like your soup extra-salty
- 2 qt. water
- Liberal amounts of your favorite herbs and spices (by liberal, I mean enough to completely cover the surface)

This will be a LOT stronger-tasting than the actual soup you make from it, because 1 ice-cube worth is going into each pot of soup. Bear that in mind, and go very, very heavy on the salt and seasonings.

Mix everything together over low-med heat for about 10 minutes, then pour into ice-cube trays and freeze. One batch can last you for several months if you're only using 1 cube/week!

If you're making the broth and the lentil soup at the same time, of course, you'll want to add about 2 Tbsp. of the broth directly to your soup instead of waiting for it all to freeze.

#161 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2013, 10:35 AM:

Erik @157, you made a popint I keep thinking about and forgetting to post. We've talked about different kinds of time saving, and not going to the store is a favorite time saver for me. Also, we have lousy public transportation in my town, so it's pretty much necessary to drive to the store (there's no big store close enough to lug much home from on foot or bike), which is a cost in itself.

#162 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2013, 12:34 PM:

Carol Kimball @108 Take-out leftover rice that's spent several days in its paper goldfish container is dried out and icky, IMHO.

Agreed. I think I'm going to take more than a day to get back to it, I try to remember to dump it into an airtight container. Though the boiling water method has rescued some several-day-old rice-in-takeaway-boxes for me before, I'd rather not go to that place in the first place.

Mary Aileen @105: You say it's impossible to overcook the beans. Does that mean that they could be left on low for ~24 hours?

IN THEORY yes, but I'd toss another couple cups of water in before you head for work if I were you. Maybe it's just Colorado's dry air, but I have gotten home and found the beans trying to become a dry burnt thick crust on the crock pot. (I was in time to rescue them by adding water.

I did once do a thing I called "Forever soup" that started out as black beans and barley and then got stuff added to it over the next few days. I'd ladle some out to eat, and then put ingredients back in. Eventually the beans became mush, which became part of the broth. So take "impossible to overcook" with a grain of salt here - I have a wide, wide tolerance for food presentation.

Another option is to simply assemble the crock pot the night before but not turn it on until morning (at which point you might add the pre-chopped veg). I don't reckon that soaking the beans is necessary for the crock pot method, but it shouldn't hurt. I wouldn't add any meat ingredients until turning the pot on, though.

Re: the further adventures of bean neepery, I had no idea that high acidity makes beans tougher! I don't know why the tsp of vinegar worked, but when I tried it again in a second batch, it worked again. Not that my vegan red beans were inedible before, but they didn't go creamy like my ham-in ones did until the vinegar trick.


Re: Pozole, hominy - Here in Boulder there is a Mexican restaurant with, I think, a Jalisco emphasis, which does a lovely bowl or cup of pozole. (Casa Alvarez, same plaza with Walnut Cafe, Walnut and 30th.) If they are using "pork necks," then pork necks come out as fairly inoffensive thumb-sized chunks of super tender pork that I didn't recognize as pork necks. In any case, I've been idly desiring a crock-pot experiment in pozole for some time.

#163 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2013, 01:07 PM:

In the interests of food neepery and humo(u)r, I present unto you this Amazon review for a banana slicer.

#164 ::: Claire ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2013, 01:30 PM:

@Ginger #163: That's beautiful! Amazon reviews can be priceless. :)

I've seen a lot of calling for putting beans in a slow cooker. A word of warning, though - you need to cook the beans at a higher temperature first, because the slow cooker doesn't actually get rid of all of the naturally occurring toxin in (especially) kidney beans.

Reference: FDA Food Safety

To quote: "Phytohaemagglutinin, the presumed toxic agent, is found in many species of beans, but it is in highest concentration in red kidney beans (Phaseolus vulgaris). The unit of toxin measure is the hemagglutinating unit (hau). Raw kidney beans contain from 20,000 to 70,000 hau, while fully cooked beans contain from 200 to 400 hau. White kidney beans, another variety of Phaseolus vulgaris, contain about one-third the amount of toxin as the red variety; broad beans (Vicia faba) contain 5 to 10% the amount that red kidney beans contain.

"The syndrome is usually caused by the ingestion of raw, soaked kidney beans, either alone or in salads or casseroles. As few as four or five raw beans can trigger symptoms. Several outbreaks have been associated with "slow cookers" or crock pots, or in casseroles which had not reached a high enough internal temperature to destroy the glycoprotein lectin. It has been shown that heating to 80°C may potentiate the toxicity five-fold, so that these beans are more toxic than if eaten raw. In studies of casseroles cooked in slow cookers, internal temperatures often did not exceed 75°C."

I hadn't heard about this until I saw it on a blog, and did some more research. Figured probably people here wouldn't have heard of it either...

#165 ::: Mishalak ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2013, 04:14 PM:

Lucy Kemnitzer @ #154

I had not though of that the beans could be partially sprouting until I read your post; what an interesting notion. In malting I know that a rest between soakings is needed to prevent the drowning of the seed, but that could be a feature rather than a problem in this case as it is only desirable to have enzymes convert indigestible starches to digestible ones rather than to sugar. I am now thinking of some experiments that Cook's Illus. has not done.

Also what of roasting dry beans to add flavor?

Science!

#166 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2013, 07:07 PM:

Claire @164: thank you for the useful information and reference. A couple more key things from that reference: they say the curcial steps are to soak kidney and cannelini beans at least five hours and to boil them briskly for ten minutes, and that undercooking them can concentrate the toxin.

I remember hearing that kidney beans were toxic raw, and this is a good explanation.

Now I'm looking for a table of the other beans to see which ones also have the toxin in worrisome amounts, and also for information as to whether sprouting makes a difference. (no, I don't intend to turn into a sprouting evangelist, but I am having fun with seeds here lately)

#167 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2013, 12:14 AM:

Sweet potato fries!

As in: Fat slices of sweet potato, coated in olive oil, sprinkled with seasoning salt and other spices, baked on a cookie sheet in a nice hot toaster oven. 20 minutes on one side, 15 on the other.

I made some this evening, to go with George Foreman grilled' burger.

#168 ::: CZEdwards ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2013, 12:21 AM:

One I miss intensely (since we've gone veg and the meat in this is the gateway drug back to carnivore and gout flares...) This recipe makes 4 servings.

Colcannon:
4 ounces Ends and Pieces bacon (this is cheap here, comes in a 3 pound vac pack for about $6, and it divides down to 12 portions easily. Ends and pieces are meatier, less fatty, but chunkier and less pretty on a plate. Sliced bacon works, too.)
1 onion, chopped
2 large russet or 4 medium red potatoes, cubed with skin. (Kind depends on cheap, available, local, taste). Pre-cooked (last night's baked or boiled) are fine.
1 head green cabbage (Red cabbage works, it just looks odd.)

Roughly chop or tear raw bacon down to bite sized pieces. Place in large, lidded skillet and start cooking. (5 minutes)
When there is bacon grease, add the onions and let them start to caramelize. Add potato cubes, toss to coat with grease, and let everything start browning without the lid. (5-10 minutes)
While that's working, cut the cabbage in quarters, then shred the quarters. (For really fast, but less cheap, you can use cole slaw mix.)
When the potatoes have some crunchy, crusty goodness and the onions are getting dark, pile the shredded cabbage on top and fold together. Put the lid on the pan and reduce heat to halfsies or so. Wash the cutting board, feed the cat and fill the kettle (or set a timer for 4 minutes).
Fold again, trying to get the cabbage on the bottom (by now, it will be somewhat wilted. You want the bacon part on the top so it stops cooking as fast, and the cabbage on the bottom so it starts caramelizing. This won't be perfect, and you will end up with some extra crispy bacon and potato bits.) Set the timer again for 4 minutes, or sweep the kitchen floor.
Add pepper to taste (the bacon is plenty salty, but if you need more, salt away.) Serve hot when the stuff in the pan is about the texture of diner hash browns.

It looks like a mess, but caramelized cabbage has none of boiled cabbage's bitterness. If you need extra protein, a side of canned beans or milk are traditional.


Microwave Cream of Beta-Carotene Soup
1 small butternut squash, 6 carrots or 2-3 sweet potatoes -- peeled and cubed, seeded if necessary. A mixture is nice, too.
knob of butter
half a chopped onion (or dried onion)
1 cube vegetable or chicken boullion or equivalent
large stoneware bowl and a plate that fits over the top
Combine the ingredients in the bowl, then add water to half or two-thirds and cover bowl with the plate. Microwave for 5 minutes, then ignore until you remember it or 30 minutes. By then, the vegetables should be soft. If not, more microwave, more ignoring.
Mash vegetables with fork. Add a small can of evaporated milk or half and half or other creamy type fluid and some nutmeg and pepper to taste. My other half adds a dash of hot sauce. Microwave, uncovered, 3 minutes, watching to make sure it doesn't boil over.

#169 ::: Adel ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2013, 03:29 AM:

Another +1 for the George Foreman grill here. We were given a gently used double-sided model as a housewarming gift a few years ago, and have gotten a LOT of use out of it. My brother will thaw out a few pounds of ground beef, make it all into burgers and fridge them in a container, eating one or two a day. We used it mostly for chicken, marinating breast pieces in a lime/honey/soy mix and grilling that up.

It's times like these that I wish I didn't make mealtime quite as difficult. All these recipes for quick/easy/cheap sound fantastic... except that I have yet to find a taste for any beans, and just the smell of cooking eggs nauseates me. I am hell to take out to breakfast...

#170 ::: Persephone ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2013, 09:53 AM:

I'm one of those people who just Hate To Cook. Not interested, don't care. My husband doesn't mind cooking, thankfully, or we'd probably subsist on frozen pizza. We do a lot of quick/easy, though we're less concerned about cheap than we used to be.

I am also extremely picky, probably a consequence of "you'll sit there until everything we put on your plate is gone, even if it takes all night" parenting. I can't stand tomatoes, and if I have to smell anything cooking all day I'm unlikely to want to eat it at night. Adel, I definitely sympathize!

Caroline @151, I love any style of barbecue, but without any sauce at all (and won't eat either kind with sauce). Weird, I know.

That said, here are a couple of recipes so easy even I can make them successfully:

Dump Cake

This one is from Seperis on Dreamwidth and is wonderful. It's extremely forgiving. I usually swap in blackberry, apple or blueberry pie filling for the cherry.

1 box brownie mix
1 can cherry pie mix
1 can chopped pineapple
1 stick butter

Dump fruit in pan. Mix casually. Dump mix on top. Cut butter into slices*, place on top of mix**. 350 at fifty-five minutes. Eat.

*Minimum eight slices by tablespoon, but I did it to fifteen, and I'd recommend more than that and spread over the whole surface. It's dump cake. If you do it twice the same way, you are doing it wrong.

**also can melt butter and pour on top.

Ham Salad

This is one of my last-ditch "Crap, I waited till I was too hungry to think" recipes. It's quick, easy and delicious, but not remotely healthy.

1 can smoked ham
Pickle relish
Mayonnaise
Mustard
Pepper, garlic and other mix-ins to taste
Bread slices or crackers

Open the can of ham and drain. Dump the meat into a bowl and break up with a fork. Add relish, mayo and mustard in small amounts, mixing and tasting until you're happy with it.

Scoop onto crackers or bread and eat.

#171 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2013, 10:18 AM:

Persephone@170

On the "Dump Cake", what kind of pan do you use for this?

#172 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2013, 10:23 AM:

You want really, really fast? Reasonably good? (Not terribly cheap, but not all that expensive?)

Two bags pre-cut salad greens
One small bottle salad dressing
One package pre-crumbled bacon bits
One package pre-sliced fresh mushrooms
One small package croutons
One small package fresh cherry tomatoes

Dump all ingredients in large bowl. Stir.

This is what I generally bring to pot-luck suppers.

#173 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2013, 10:44 AM:

171
The recipe I have says a 9x13-inch pan. (Pineapple, butter-brickle cake mix.)

#174 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2013, 11:00 AM:

Persephone, #170: Do you use the brownie mix dry, or make it by package directions?

#175 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2013, 11:13 AM:

CZEdwards at 168: You can totally make colcannon and just leave out the bacon stuff. I had forgotten that anybody ever made it carnivore.

If you miss the bacon flavor, you could add more salt and a touch of sage. I am not sure about the sage, but it takes the place of bacon in my pumpkin soup, so it would be worth a try. Also, of course, increase the fat content. Sesame oil for a meatier flavor?

#176 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2013, 11:50 AM:

This was my mom's "Ack! Got home too late to cook!" solution in pre-microwave days, and therefore a comfort food for me.

Cook and drain some frozen green peas. Add 1 can of mushroom soup and 1-2 cans tuna to the cooked peas in the pan, stir and heat until hot. Serve over chow mein noodles.

#177 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2013, 12:24 PM:

174
The recipe I have - it's one my mother was given by a family friend - says just dump the dry mix in. The canned fruit and the butter should take care of the liquid.

I suspect it comes out closer to pound cake than to standard cake.

#178 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2013, 12:26 PM:

Adel, if you don't like eggs or beans, the easiest recipe I know is Deborah Madison's pasta with gorgonzola. In its primal form:

1. Heat a large pot of water to a boil. While it's heating,

2. Put 4 oz. of crumbled gorgonzola cheese into a large bowl that will fit over the top of your pot of water. Place bowl atop pot to start melting the cheese.

3. When the water boils, move the bowl aside and cook 1/2 to 1 lb. of pasta according to package directions. When the pasta's done, drain it and dump it in the bowl with the cheese. Stir well. This will finish the melting process.

You can add stuff (drop sun-dried tomatoes and/or frozen peas in with the pasta for the last one minute of cooking; add a finely diced garlic clove in with the cheese; add 1/4 c. cream or half-and-half to the cheese) but the simplest form is perfectly satisfying.

Cheeses other than gorgonzola may be inconveniently stringy (mozzarella) or separate into oily clumps (aged cheddar), but the gorgonzola works beautifully.

#179 ::: Persephone ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2013, 01:16 PM:

Michael I @171, we use a 9x9 glass baking pan just because it's what we had on hand.

Lee @174, you just dump it in dry, no mixing required. It's weird, but it works! Like P J Evans says at 177, it doesn't come out like a regular cake.

#180 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2013, 01:34 PM:

Oh, dump cake! Flashbacks to the '70's, when I remember it being popular. My mom only used yellow cake mix. Intriguing that other flavors also work. (She always melted the butter.)

It occurs to me that lunch today was fast, cheap* and good -- creamed pickled herring served with boiled potatoes and veggie sticks.

*Not everyone can find creamed pickled herring, and it might be expensive some places. For me, it's readily available.

#181 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2013, 03:04 PM:

I'm going to have to try Dump Cake.

I've made something similar, a "fruit cobbler" using a mix made by a company better known for selling bags of fried-fish coating. It's a bag of floury mix which you dump in a pan along with a can of pie filling and butter.

Dump cake sounds like a good use of "why did I buy that?" items. Like, the two dented cans of crushed pineapple that have been in the pantry for a couple of years. I bet I can find dented cans of pie filling!

#182 ::: TChem ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2013, 04:37 PM:

#176, Ah! We had it on toast, under the same circumstances. (This thread made me think of it too, but I'd forgotten what was in it aside from tuna.)

#183 ::: Betsy ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2013, 06:25 PM:

CZEdwards @168, Lucy Kemnitzer @175 -

Smoked paprika might also help with the bacon flavor - it's something I often use to get "smokiness" into vegan dishes.

Nutritional yeast might also help - whether this is cheap or even available is probably going to depend on geography, but it's in the bulk bins at my local Whole Paycheck and I've found that since a little goes a long way it's actually pretty money-efficient. Half a teaspoon to a full teaspoon of it, added fairly early on in cooking, can add a lot of umami to meatless dishes.

(I often use it, along with some extra spicing/use of aliums, as a stock substitute, too - less salty and cheaper than bouillon cubes. I like the taste when I make my own stock, and I really like the theory of saving vegetable odds and ends for it, but in practice it's like soaking beans - the work itself is simple but scheduling the work is spoons-intensive for my ADD brain.)

#184 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2013, 07:12 PM:

Stefan Jones@181

I've made what Nigella Lawson calls "Chocolate Pear Pudding", which is, now that I think about it, also a similar idea. Basically you put canned pear halves cut side down on the base of a buttered square pan, spread a chocolate batter mixture over the pears and bake.

(Served with chocolate sauce. Full recipe on the Food Network's site.)

Dump cake does sound good. I think I'll try it sometime.

#185 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2013, 10:53 PM:

Per a twitter conversation with Teresa and Xopher, a recipe that is not really in the Good Fast Cheap category, but is nevertheless worth sharing here:

Cosmic Cookies, from the outstanding Avengers fanfic Phil Coulson Does Not Bake (and The Avengers Do Not Shop At IKEA Anymore).

Or, in other words, ginger molasses lingonberry thumbprints. The story says loganberry, but IKEA doesn't actually sell loganberry jam; they DO have lingonberry jam, and so does the Whole Foods near me. The ginger molasses part of it is a recipe I used to use to make bar cookies (soft gingerbread), when I was kitchen manager at a bakery café. Without further ado:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves

3 ounces butter (6 tablespoons)
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Jar of lingonberry or loganberry jam

Sift together the dry ingredients. Cream the butter and sugar, beat in the egg, molasses, and vanilla extract, and blend in the flour mixture. Take 1-tablespoon-size portions of the dough and form into balls. Optional: roll the balls in large-crystaled sugar (like Sugar In The Raw crystals) if you like having crunchy sugar garnish on this sort of cookie. Make thumbprint depressions and fill with jam - it really makes no difference whether you use a piping bag or a spoon.

This next step is important: while you are preheating the oven to 375° F, chill the formed cookies. These things are prone to spreading and becoming very flat. Chilling them will help avoid this.

Bake for about 12 minutes, until the cookies have a cracked appearance. Don't overbake -- they shouldn't look "done" when you pull them from the oven, because they will continue to bake on the warm pans while they cool, and you want them to stay soft and chewy.

Makes a hell of a lot of cookies.

#186 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2013, 11:00 PM:

Are they as good as ...?

#188 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2013, 11:29 PM:

CZEdwards, I68: oh, that sounds so good. I have made something similar without potatoes. Unfortunately, I too have had to give up bacon. But I bet it would taste good w/o the bacon, using a mixture of butter and olive oil for the fat. Not as good as if one had used bacon, of course.

#190 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2013, 12:14 AM:

PJ Evans: Shameless parental promotion: the tumblr belongs to my housemate, but my teenager made the dolls, and if you should happen to find yourself in need of a felt plush Avenger or other similar toy (or just want to look at the cute), you should check out plushvengers.etsy.com. The prototypes are scattered about our living room and give me great joy to look at.

ObFood: the plushteamdelta.tumblr.com blog includes Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Captain America visiting the Big E and encountering giant cream puffs, loaded baked potatoes, maple cotton candy, and a Lego hot dog.

#191 ::: CZEdwards ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2013, 01:01 AM:

Lucy, Betsy, Lizzy:*

For me, it's the bacon that makes it colcannon, otherwise it's stumpty (there is clearly Yorkshire somewhere in the lineage, since I grew up with these and these names, which are northern English.) Comfort food thing, I think. I have successfully made it with vegan bacon bit things, using a combination of butter and whatever other lipid we have as the fat. For the vegetarian version, I use 2 bunches of green onions or cuttings from my alium plants, plus kale and go all superfood on it. It's not the same, but still nice.

I understand the nutritional yeast thing, but I managed to traumatize myself on it in college. I had a weensy food budget and exceptionally limited cooking facilities. There were a couple times I ended up eating nutritional yeast soup for several days. That was my Scarlet O'Hara moment. Oh, and there was the time that I was massively distracted, sleep deprived and working in low-light conditions and mixed up the TVP jar and the nutritional yeast jar. Yuck. That's when I learned that, though it looks ruined, if I watered it down to soup consistency and added enough cumin and chili powder, almost anything tastes good on tortilla chips.

*We need a Jane and a Maria -- then we can have an Austen party!

#192 ::: CZEdwards ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2013, 02:25 AM:

Previous post reminded me of a very cheap accidental recipe, though it's not fast...

Sleep Deprivation Tortilla-Taco Soup

Take one crockpot and one undergrad who is cooking in her dorm, where cooking is strictly forbidden.*

Open dorm room window, reach around the window frame and plug in crockpot base to temptingly convenient outdoor outlet just beyond fire escape/balcony railing. Set crockpot to medium. Put crockpot inside 18" brick edging of balcony, where it can't be seen by RAs.

In crockpot pan, place 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped zucchini, 1 can of tomatoes, 1 can of drained beans, 1 chopped carrot, 1 chopped rib of celery, 1 chopped potato, 1 chopped green pepper and 1/4 cup of nutritional yeast. Add water to cover. Lid on crockpot, cover crockpot with a small box lined with scavenged styrofoam (or if you're not trying to outwit RAs, leave it on the counter), close window. Go to class.

Go to lab. See subset: Autoclave Cooking for breakfast menu.

Go to library.

Come back to crockpot, cooking nicely. Note that smell seems wrong, more stinky feet than minestrone. Realize that the 1/4 cup of brown stuff you put in the pot was supposed to be textured vegetable protein, not nutritional yeast. Bang head on wall. Note date, note time until stipend, note lack of funds. Begin salvage operations.

Add water to 3/4 of crockpot, as intended.

Add 1/4 c of Textured Vegetable Protein, as intended. Taste, cautiously. Grimace.

Make run to food coop. Read ingredients list of taco seasoning packet, refuse to pay that price. Buy 1 large potato, two scoops of chili powder (about 4 tablespoons), 1 scoop cumin, 1 scoop garlic powder, 1 scoop oregano, 1 scoop paprika, 2 jalapeños, 1 can of corn, 4 slices of co-jack cheese from deli. Look at $2.50 canned beans, recall Taco Bell across street. Look at $4.50 tortilla chips, recall Taco Bell across street. Pay $1.78 for potato, pepper, corn, spices, cheese.

At Taco Bell, buy one tub of refried beans (39 cents, back then) and 2 packets of tortilla chips (2/1.00) with pico de gallo. Tub of beans then was about 12 ounces, so equivalent to a can of refried beans.

Return with coop/Fast Food loot. Slice potato, recalling from earlier culinary disasters that sliced potato will ameliorate excess flavor from yeast. Add other loot, except cheese slices, water from can of corn and tortilla chips, to crock pot. (About half the spices, actually, and only one jalapeno then.) Note that crockpot is nearly full.

Raid emergency food stash (raisins, prunes, peanuts and rye crackers, none of which I liked much then) and go back to class.

Go to lab, wash glassware for work-study. Envy experimental subjects, who are being paid in pizza to take either a placebo or... something.

Return to crockpot. Note that it has thickened nicely, and doesn't smell half-bad. Turn to low. Taste. Be relieved that it's remarkably like taco filling. Scoop out 1 modest serving over handful of chips in bowl, place slice of cheese over all, allow to melt for a couple minutes. Acceptable, if salty and too thick. Needs more pepper. Consume, adding water and second jalapeno.

Continue to add water, pico de gallo, zucchini, spices and refried beans over next 9 days as level drops. Replace chips, cheese, beans as needed.

Total food costs for that two weeks were $14, split about 3:1 between Taco Bell and the coop.

It was good enough that I still keep making it, though with much less nutritional yeast.

*That was the year I had to choose between a meal card or hygiene. Soap, TP and other supplies won.

#193 ::: Lin D ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2013, 06:05 PM:

Skipping from comment 30 to bottom, so this might be covered in the middle somewhere.

Ground meat of choice, 1 lb for 2 people

Brown, drain if you so choose (I get really low fat content beef, on sale! so I don't drain)

Add 1 pkg noodle side dish of your choice to browned meat, and the required water, milk, and ... no butter, because my meat already has fat.

Slosh around in pan. Cook until noodles are at the limp stage of your preference.

I have been known to toss in a little more appropriate spice, as the side dish things are a bit bland.

Also works well with chicken bits. I use boneless chicken breasts, altho not necessarily cheap, are very fast.

#194 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2013, 08:16 PM:

CZEdwards - "Open dorm room window, reach around the window frame and plug in crockpot base to temptingly convenient outdoor outlet just beyond fire escape/balcony railing."

Sounds dangerous! When I was in the dorms, we ran our 15' extension cord under the door and plugged it into the vacuum-cleaner socket in the hallway, which had a large enough circuit breaker we could use a toaster.

#195 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2013, 08:23 PM:

Cyllan’s tomitican recipe @57 works pretty well with immersion pasta. I’m chowin’ down on it right now. (I need to get a better heat diffuser for my stewpot, though.)

#196 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2013, 09:34 PM:

This was my dinner tonight. I wanted to cook, but didn’t want to battle storm-crazed crowds in the supermarket, so I used stuff on hand. It was good!

Snowstorm Soup

Ingredients:

3 tbsp olive oil
1 green bell pepper, chopped
Half of a large onion, chopped
3 small ribs of celery, “”””
Half a precooked smoked sausage link (approx. 3 oz), “”””
1 tsp minced garlic
1 can no-salt added diced tomatoes
1 jar roasted red peppers, drained
2 tomato-cans worth of water (I’d have used low-sodium chicken stock if I had it, but I didn’t.)
Several scoops of leftover cooked rice. (This was brown rice. Maybe 2 cups?)
1 tsp Penzey’s Arizona Dreaming spice, or more to taste. (That part's not cheap, but I think chili powder would work too.)

Saute the green pepper, onion, and celery in the olive oil. When they start to get soft, add the sausage + garlic. Let them cook until the veggies get softer. Add the tomatoes + peppers. Let the whole mess cook until you worry that it might burn. Add the water. When it’s starting to bubble again, add the rice + spice. Stir everything together + let it simmer with the lid on until dinnertime.

#197 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2013, 09:35 PM:

Bill, #194: If your RAs are vigilant and serious about the no-cooking rule, they'll notice a cord sneaking under a door.

#198 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2013, 09:35 PM:

My mother-in-law taught me this one. It's a favorite when I'm at home alone, and just need a quick meal for one.

Egg In The Hole

Ingredients:
1 slice bread
Pat of butter
1 egg
Optional: jam

Equipment:
1 juice glass
1 frying pan
1 spatula
Optional: cutting board

Put butter in frying pan and heat over medium heat.

Put bread on cutting board, or plate, or even straight on the counter if your counters are clean. Turn juice glass upside down and use it to cut a circle out of the center of the bread slice.

Put bread slice with circular hole into the hot frying pan. Break egg into the circular hole. (If room in frying pan, put the cut-out circle of bread next to the slice.)

Fry for five minutes or so, until egg is fairly solid. Flip over with a spatula and fry other side. (If the bread circle is in there, flip it too.)

Remove onto plate. Eat.

If you've fried the bread circle too, put jam on it, if you like jam.

Another home-alone favorite:

Poached Eggs On Top Of Things

If you want to put your poached eggs on top of a vegetable, prepare your vegetable first. One of my fast cheap good favorites is frozen chopped spinach, cooked in the microwave. Any root vegetable (potatoes, carrots, etc.) will also work, boiled or roasted (though roasting probably doesn't fit the fast definition). You could also just do microwaved frozen mixed vegetables.

Boil a saucepan of water over medium-high heat, just until there are consistent small bubbles, but not all the way to a rolling boil.

If you want to put your poached eggs on toast, put 1-2 slices of bread into the toaster now.

Break 1-2 eggs into the bubbling water. Set timer for 3 minutes if you like your poached eggs with runny yolks, as I do. (I think they only really work on vegetables with runny yolks -- the yolk turns into a fantastic sauce for the vegetables. But YMMV. I'm afraid I don't know the exact timing for firmer yolks, though. 5 minutes, maybe?)

While the eggs boil, if you've prepared a vegetable, put it on your serving plate. If you've made toast, as soon as it pops up, put it on your serving plate.

As soon as timer goes off, carefully lift the egg(s) out of the boiling water with a slotted spoon, letting the excess water drain off. Place poached egg(s) on top of toast or vegetable.

Sit down at table with plate and fork. If you've done runny yolks, cut into the runny yolk with side of fork and let it run onto the toast or vegetable. Eat. Yum.

#199 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2013, 10:30 AM:

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little #162: I did once do a thing I called "Forever soup" that started out as black beans and barley and then got stuff added to it over the next few days. I'd ladle some out to eat, and then put ingredients back in.

Taken further, that becomes "Century Soup". I've heard online from families that had been keeping a century soup going for most of forty years, and heard third-hand of longer.

#200 ::: CZEdwards ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2013, 12:44 PM:

Bill @ 194: as Lee said, snaking the cord would have been noticed, and gotten me turfed. The balcony reasoning was to keep cooking odors outside. I just got lucky that the building had outdoor outlets for things like window washing equipment and holiday lighting. The only danger would have been rain, but that school was in a desert.

#201 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2013, 01:14 PM:

We didn't have a no-cooking rule, just a "circuit breaker too small for toasters" design. The RA didn't have that problem; a previous resident of her room had wired around the breaker, so she at least once blew out the main breakers with a hair dryer. The dorm was broken up into lots of small corridors, so she'd have only seen it if she was checking out our floor at breakfast time.

#202 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2013, 03:01 PM:

Dave Harmon @199: Taken further, that becomes "Century Soup". I've heard online from families that had been keeping a century soup going for most of forty years, and heard third-hand of longer.

That sounds really, really cool. Like, "If I could live the fairy tale version of my life" cool.

Sadly, my own experiment in multi-day soup had to be cut short; I put cabbage in it a couple days in, resulting in a visit from a downstairs neighbor. "Niki, there's this awful smell going around the building, no one seems to know what it is..." "Um. Yeah. OK, I'll turn off the crock-pot."

A friend of mine once told me about her dad's multi-day brisket process. I will have to pick her brains and take notes. I recall it began with pot roast and proceeded through various stages of soup.


Claire @ 164: Thanks for the heads-up about toxic beans - I've never had a problem, even when I start it on LOW (which only happens if I think it'll be at least 10 hours before I think I'll be ready to eat) but I'd as soon avoid having a first experience with it.

#203 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2013, 04:29 PM:

Mishalak et al, throughout the thread: I did run an experiment with salt in the soaking water for today's garbanzos. Since I hate having things taste all salty, I used minuscule amounts and rinsed the beans a bit when I drained off the soaking water.

These are the very best garbanzos I have ever cooked. They may be the very best garbanzos I have ever eaten, and that's saying something as I am a great fan of garbanzos. It was all I could do not to eat them all on the spot instead of putting them away properly. I think I can taste the salt, but the beans don't taste salty, they taste marvellous, and their texture is the kind of thing people write anthems about. And they are beautiful and I think they are even bigger than usual (from the same beans).

I want to say thank you for elevating my beans to a celestial level.

#204 ::: eep ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2013, 09:56 AM:

I have a bread recipe that I use all the time and absolutely love. It's fast in the sense that it requires minimal hands-on time, and can be partially readied ahead of time. I find it easy in that it breaks down into micro-steps that I can usually manage even if I'm busy, or exhausted, or having a Bad Head Day. And it makes the house smell so good...

It's modeled on the basic recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François (their concept is to make a much bigger batch of dough at a time, which saves some time and effort but is more than my fridge can accommodate, so I broke it down to a one-loaf batch).

No-Knead Bread

11 oz.* (~2 1/4 cups) flour
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. instant yeast
1 cup + 1-3 tbsp.** warm (around 110°F, but lower will be fine; much hotter will kill the yeast) water

*I use a digital kitchen scale, which is perhaps less compatible with the cheap aspect, but a bonus in the speed department, and I use it nearly every time I cook or bake.
**When the air is very humid, start with closer to 1 cup of water; when the air is very dry, it will need several tbsp. more—I just add "about so" much above the line in the measuring cup, rather than fooling w/ a spoon.

Combine dry ingredients in a 2 quart lidded container. Add water and stir with a sturdy spoon until thoroughly combined. Dough should not be too stiff, but thicker than a batter. If too stiff to stir, add water, a tbsp. at a time, until it is workable (if too much like batter, add more flour).

Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (if you have time, you can put the lid on loosely and let rise for an hour or so before refrigerating, but it's not necessary). The dough can stay in the refrigerator for up to a week or even a little more. The longer it stays, the more of a 'sourdough' flavor it will develop.

Two hours*** before you want the bread ready to cut, scrape it into a greased pan or onto a greased baking sheet. Very important to grease the pan, even if it's non-stick. The only time I ruined a loaf of this bread, it was because I thought that a non-stick cookie sheet wouldn't need extra greasing; didn't think I'd ever get that cookie sheet clean after (the whole bottom half of the loaf stayed stuck to it). Cover with something that won't touch the dough or it'll stick. Doesn't need to be air-tight, though—an overturned bowl or second pan set on top will do. Let the dough rise for an hour in a warm place.

***If you don't have two hours to spare before you want the bread to be ready, you can do this step earlier in the day, but putting the pan and covering back into the fridge rather than leaving it out to rise. It can stay there all day until a little before baking.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Bake for 35-40 min. Let cool for a half hour or so before cutting.

Here is a typical schedule I use when I'm working:
-Night before: Mix dough, put in fridge (5-10 min.)
Cleanup=1 teaspoon, 1 wooden spoon, 1 scraper (I use a small silicone spatula/scraper to clear the sides of container and spoon after mixing)
-Morning, on my way out the door: Butter pan, scrape dough into pan, cover and place in fridge (5-10 min.)
Cleanup=2 quart container+lid, silicone scraper
-Afternoon/evening when I get home: Take pan out of fridge, preheat oven.
-Bake. (35-40 min. unsupervised)
-Cool on rack (30 min. unsupervised)
Cleanup=1 bread pan

There are all sorts of ways to vary the recipe— I've added 1/4-1/2 tsp of herbs to the dry ingredients, or subbed whole wheat or even rye for part of the flour when I wanted some variety. Follow the basic formula, and it's very forgiving of experimentation.

#205 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2013, 09:21 PM:

Here's something fast and good, and it might make the cut on cheap.

I recently found out that simmering fish is generally a better idea than stir-frying it.

I'd been stir-frying fish because I stir-fry everything. This is actually not too bad with salmon or tuna, but when I tried it with bass, the result was merely edible. On an impulse, I simmered it in soup, and it was much nicer.

Simmering fish cut in chunks is very fast (keep an eye on it and stop as soon as the fish can be broken apart with a fork, or maybe a little sooner). So far as I can tell, any fish you like and any soup/broth you like will work.

#206 ::: The_L ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2013, 05:45 PM:

@eep, #204: Bread you don't have to knead? :D Thank you! I've been trying to manage a recipe for white bread, and I can never seem to knead it long enough. It comes out almost cake-like in consistency.

#207 ::: The_L got gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2013, 05:46 PM:

Punctuation, maybe?

#208 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2013, 06:48 PM:

I'm going to try Dump Cake today.

Also, two regular cakes . . . I'm finally going to break in the new stand mixer.

#209 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2013, 12:11 AM:

The dump cake, which I baked in a 13 x 9, came out a bit like a British-style pudding. A bit. Same genus. I'm not sure if the choice of fruits (pineapple, dark cherry) really complements each other.

I think this would be best warm, with a splot of ice cream on top.

#210 ::: Cassie ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2013, 09:44 AM:

I adapted a lovely white bean soup from the comments on a post over at Shapely Prose a while back (original, with swears, here) and it's one of my favorite meals. It's easy to make vegetarian (use olive oil instead of pancetta and its rendered fat) and, while I can get a quarter pound of cubed pancetta for cheap, I happen to know bacon works just as well and lends a lovely smokiness. This serves two with bread as a meal and scales up well.

1/4 lb. pancetta, in wee cubes
maybe a bit of olive oil
5 cloves garlic, grated or minced quite fine or pressed
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. dried oregano
2 c. low sodium veg broth from a box
2 cans canellini beans, drained and rinsed
juice of a lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Render and crisp the pork product over medium heat in a largeish pot. Once it's crisped, remove with a slotted spoon and set aside to drain. (Maybe wrap it in paper towels so you don't eat it all.) Add the garlic and oregano to the pot (along with some oil if your pancetta didn't render very much fat) and toast them a bit until they smell delicious, then dump in the bay leaf and add the beans. Stir it all to get it nice and coated and then add the broth, bring it to a boil, drop the heat, and let it simmer for, oh, half an hourish. Add the lemon juice, fish out the bay leaf, whiz with a stick blender until your preferred smoothness is reached, season to taste, and serve topped with the pancetta.

#211 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2013, 02:05 PM:

Way back at #15, should the rice be cooked or uncooked? Thank you.

#212 ::: eep ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2013, 10:23 PM:

Was reminded of this thread by recent discussion over in the DFD thread, and thought I'd share tonight's dinner here: Crock Pot Sunday Gravy. This is only fast in terms of "actual time spent in kitchen", but it's easy, relatively inexpensive, and good. Buying the meat when it's on sale and having it on hand in the freezer helps keep the cost down.

1 large (~25 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
1 med (~14 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 rounded tsp. dried oregano
pinch dried basil
ground black pepper
4-6 Italian sausages
2-4 large pork chops or 4-6 country-style pork ribs, or other meat of choice
6 cloves garlic*
6 baby carrots, or 1-2 reg. carrot, cut into 1-in pieces*

Throw it all in the pot (I mix tomatoes/seasonings, then add meat, then vegs); cook on low with lid on for 5 hours or so (I don't think longer would hurt, if leaving it on while at work, for example). Turn on high with the lid off for an additional hour or two for the sauce to thicken a little. Serve with pasta of choice.

*The garlic and carrots get soft and flavorful and we actually enjoy them left whole/in chunks, but if you prefer not to have the big pieces in your sauce, chop/grate them before adding.

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