Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Economic Downturn Cuisine


To give credit where it is due, this post was my husband's idea, and I think it's a great one. Dust off your aprons, because now that everyone's wallet is thinning, it's time to get resourceful. I'm all about eating well (often very well) but there are times when economics dictates that I need to be frugal. I think most of us are at or approaching that point now. My challenge to you is this:


Of course, we have outlined some rules and parameters as follows:

  • The entire meal (not including beverages) must cost $5 or less. No breaking down individual serving costs, either. If you have to buy an entire bunch of celery just to use one stalk, the full purchase price counts. We're pretending that we literally have a five dollar bill, and have to make a meal with it.
  • The meal must serve four average adults. Not football players or supermodels, just average folks. If you'll have leftovers, even better.
  • The meal must contain protein, carbohydrates and vegetables in some form.
  • Takeout, fast food and frozen dinners are not allowed. You have to cook. We had a frozen pizza for dinner last week that cost five bucks, but it DOESN'T COUNT ( was good, though).
  • Prepared and semi-prepared foods are allowed, but they cannot be served solo. They must be incorporated into a larger dish. For example, you can use a can of cream of mushroom soup in a casserole, but you can't crack open that can of soup, add milk and call it dinner.
  • Because we all always have something lurking in our kitchens no matter how bare they are, I'm allowing two "free" items for each recipe that won't count against your budget. Your free items should be things you'd use in fairly small quantities and are likely to have around anyway - the odd can of creamed corn, some dried parsley, an get the idea. They should not be the primary ingredient in your dish, and they should not be exotic (no foie gras or shitake mushrooms). I have laying hens, so an egg in a recipe might be one of my free items, or vinegar, because I keep that around all the time.
  • I'm going to assume that everyone has salt, pepper and oil, so those are free no matter what.
There you have it, folks. Those are the rules. It would be really great if everyone actually cooks their meal, but if you don't, at least look at the ingredients the next time you're at the store. Try to use real prices, rather than guessing. The price of some items can vary a lot from day to day and store to store, so try to pretend that you actually have to go through with this. Even better, DO go through with it. Post your submissions to the comments section, and I'll post an update after a week or so.

Happy cooking!


  1. Okay, I'll go. My all time favorite in good times and bad is Red Beans and Rice.

    I'll have to come back later and amend this with current prices, but here it is:

    1 lb small red kidney beans
    1 lb white rice
    1 green bell pepper, diced
    4-5 garlic cloves, minced
    2 celery stalks, chopped
    1 large onion, diced

    Ordinarily you'd put in diced ham and 1/2 lb of andouille, but not for $5. There's plenty of protein without them. One might be able to procure a ham bone to throw in.

    Soak the beans overnight and make sure the water stays filled sufficiently to keep them covered. Drain and rinse, and put the beans in a big pot of fresh water. Get them boiling and add the veggies. Bring it back to boiling and reduce it to a simmer.

    Stir every now and then to keep the beans from sticking as they get soft. When everything is softened and the beans are starting to come apart and turn to mush (takes three or four hours on a stove, all day in a slow cooker), season with Creole seasoning or salt and cayenne pepper, and a few big dashes of Tobasco or the like.

    Let it simmer while cooking the rice, then serve on top of the rice. Good with crusty bread.

    The last time we made this dish we made a double batch and canned the leftovers in six quart jars for later.

  2. Lentils and greens!
    1 lb lentils
    1 onion
    2 cloves garlic
    1 pepper
    1 bunch spinach/1 box frozen spinach, squeezed (or from garden - free!)
    Cook. Poach an egg/person on top to serve. Delish!

    Or greens and rice!
    1 c rice, prepared yields 3-ish
    1 onion
    2 garlic cloves
    1 bunch greens
    1/2 cheese (but this might bounce you over $5?)

    This is good with all sorts of add-ins like turkey bacon, hot peppers, sour cream, etc.

  3. Humm maybe a good old fashioned chicken noodle soup, or a tomato soup, Yes that is it, tomato soup it is.

    Warning this makes an absolute ton of food so it feeds more like 8 than 4.

    1 tsp oil.
    1/2 cup chopped onion
    1 tsp garlic
    2 14 oz cans chopped tomatoes
    1 15 oz can tomato sauce
    20 oz chicken broth
    a bit of cheese.

    Heat the oil in the pan then add chopped onions, and garlic. Cook one min, or until a little soft.

    dump in everything else and bring to a boil. cook for at least ten min. Then I like to use an immersion blender to make it all smooth, but my lovely husband likes the tomato chunks. Then top with a little cheese to serve.

    The price of this recipe really depends on where and how you get the ingredients. Like if you make the broth from old chicken bones, or buy it. But here it is for what it is worth.

  4. What about cheese sandwiches with sliced tomatoes and mushrooms toasted golden brown? If you are brave you can add some meat like turkey, but you may blow the budget.

    GOOD and cheap!

    You can make about a dozen of them from one loaf of bread, a few tomatoes, and some cheese.

    Even better (and cheaper!) make them into Quesadillas. Use tortillas instead of bread. If you are really cheap, you can make the tortillas yourself from $1.50 a bag Masa.

    Come to think of it, I could make about 100 red chile enchiladas for under $5. Mexican food is the ultimate in cheap goodness!

  5. One of my favorite hearty, cheap and easy meals is shepard's pie:

    1 1lb package ground turkey ($1.48)
    1 1lb package organic frozen corn ($1.50)
    5 medium potatos (less than $2)

    Make mashed potatoes. I'm using the little bit of milk and butter as my free items here.

    In a pot, brown the ground turkey and drain the drippings. We save this for soup or for baking potatos or in place of water to add more flavor to rice dishes. Put all the ground meat in the bottom of a cassarole dish. Cover with frozen corn. You don't need the whole 1lb unless you really like a lot of corn in there. Next, spread the mashed potatos over the top. Bake the whole thing in the oven at 350-375 for 20-25 minutes.


    This is not a dish for people who like the dishes with the little dividers built in. The meat, potatos and corn are all mixed together and inseparable once you spoon it out of the crock.