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  • Michelle Varela

Cooking with Inexpensive Ingredients

Check out these nine food ingredients to make the most of your budget and help fill your family up for less.


Potatoes

(.98¢ per pound for white potatoes)

The simple spud sure is versatile: Use low-starch waxy ones, such as red-skinned types, for dishes where they must hold their shape, like potato salad or scalloped potatoes. High-starch russets are great for baking or for airy mashed potatoes. Store spuds in a cool, dark place for up to several weeks

Vegetables with Gravy

1.5 lbs. russet potatoes

2 cups vegetable broth

1 cup milk

2 Tbsp soy sauce

1/2 tsp dried thyme

1/2 tsp dried sage

1/2 tsp onion powder

1/4 tsp garlic powder

12 oz. frozen mixed vegetables

2 Tbsp butter

1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)


Peel and cube the potatoes into ¾-inch pieces.

Add the cubed potatoes to a large pot with the vegetable broth. Cover the pot, turn the heat on to medium-high, and allow the broth to come up to a boil. Continue to boil the potatoes until they are fork-tender.

While the potatoes are boiling, whisk together the milk and flour.

Once the potatoes are tender, turn the heat down to medium and add the flour and milk slurry. Also add the soy sauce, thyme, sage, onion powder, garlic powder, and pepper.

Allow the liquid in the pot to come back up to a simmer, at which point it will thicken to a gravy.

Add the frozen vegetables to the pot, stir to combine, then allow them to heat through.

Stir the butter into the gravy until melted and combined. Give the gravy a taste and add salt, pepper, butter or other seasonings to your liking. Serve hot!


Rice

($2.95 per 5 pounds)

White rice may be a familiar and inexpensive starch, but brown rice (just a few extra cents per pound) is healthier, nuttier, and has three times the fiber of white rice. Better yet, it can be used in almost any recipe calling for white rice. Make sure you budget for extra time, though, as it does take longer to cook. Brown rice can stretch meatball or meatloaf mixtures, make crispy rice cakes, or create the base for a hearty pilaf. Bulk-buying rice is an easy way to cut costs. It should be stored in a well-sealed container. White rice lasts, but the bran in brown rice will turn rancid after about six months. Refrigerating or freezing uncooked rice will make it last longer.

One Pot Rice and Beans

2tablespoons olive oil

1yellow onion, chopped (about 1 ¼ cups)

1¾cups chicken or vegetable stock or water

1teaspoon salt

1cup long-grain rice

1(15.5-ounce) can black or pinto beans

Lime wedges or cilantro leaves, for garnish (optional)


In a large saucepan or Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the stock, cover and bring to a boil.

Add the salt, rice and beans (including the liquid). Stir just to combine, then cover.

Turn the heat down as low as it will go, then let simmer, undisturbed, for 18 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for 4 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

Season to taste with salt and pepper, then garnish with lime or cilantro as you wish.


Pasta

($.98 cents per 16oz)

Everyone has a box of dry pasta in the pantry. In addition to its convenience, price, and long shelf life (you can store it for up to a year), pasta comes in a variety of shapes and flours. Some brands have added fiber, others are made from fortified white flour; whole-wheat pasta and couscous are also healthy choices. Buy it when it's on sale, then set aside a day to prepare several batches of ziti or lasagna; baked pasta dishes like these freeze well, so just

thaw a pan as you need it and throw it in the oven for a fast, filling dinner.


Feta, Spinach Pasta

1 (5-ounce) block feta cheese

8 cups lightly packed baby spinach (about 5 ounces)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 large cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried dill

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon ground pepper

8 ounces penne or rotini

2 cups boiling water

Preheat oven to 400°F.


Place feta in the center of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Bake until softened and starting to brown, about 15 minutes.


Meanwhile, combine spinach, oil, garlic, dill, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Use your hands to massage the spinach until it's reduced in volume by half. Stir in pasta.


After the feta has baked for 15 minutes, add the spinach and pasta mixture to the baking dish. Pour boiling water over the mixture and gently stir. Cover with foil and bake until the pasta is tender, about 18 minutes. Remove from the oven and stir. Cover and let stand for at least 3 minutes before serving.


Chicken

($2.97 per pound)

Buying a whole bird is far more cost-effective than purchasing individual parts. Our technique video illustrates how to break them up. While the breast is moist and tender, you can slow-cook the thighs and legs, boil the bones for a delicious soup stock, and turn extra meat into a hearty curry or chili. Leftover cooked chicken can be stored in the fridge for three to five days, according to the USDA


Chicken Casserole


3cups chopped cooked chicken

2cans (10.5 oz each) condensed cream of chicken soup

2cups shredded Cheddar cheese (8 oz)

3cups Progresso™ plain panko crispy bread crumbs ( you can also make your own using stale bread)

6tablespoons butter, melted


Heat oven to 350°F.


Place chicken evenly in bottom of ungreased 13x9-inch (3-quart) glass baking dish. Spoon and spread soup evenly over chicken; sprinkle with cheese.

In medium bowl, stir bread crumbs and melted butter; sprinkle over cheese. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until cheese is melted and bread crumbs are golden brown and thoroughly heated.


Beans

($.78 cents per 15oz can)

Canned beans are a time-saver, but you can cut costs—and sodium intake—by purchasing dried beans. Just soak them overnight in a couple of inches of cold water before cooking (if you're worried about gassiness, discard the soaking water). Don't add salt; it prevents them from absorbing water. How do you know when they're rehydrated? When they don't absorb any more water, and a bean sliced in half no longer looks opaque. In a rush? Pop them in a pot, immerse in water, boil for three minutes, then cover the pot and let them soak for an hour. (No matter what, you still need to boil the beans for an hour or two until they're soft.) You can use beans in great soups, as a filler in meatloaf or chili, or to stretch casseroles. Protein-packed and high in fiber, they make you feel full long after you eat them.


Black Bean Soup

3 (15 oz) cans black beans, with liquid

1 lb. (about 2.5 cups) good-quality salsa, homemade or store-bought (I love the brand Herdez)

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, loosely packed (plus extra for garnish)

2 tsp. ground cumin

1 clove garlic, minced

Stir all ingredients together in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat until simmering. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for at least 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve soup warm topped with additional fresh cilantro as garnish.


Canned Tuna

(.92cents per 5 oz can)

While you can't beat the taste of fresh fish, canned tuna wins over folks for its price and convenience. You may keep cans on your pantry shelf for up to three years, though check the date and make sure the tin has no dents (a leak could let air in and thus spoil the food). Shelf life is the same whether the fish is packed in oil or water. Some fish varieties are on the endangered list, but U.S. and Canadian albacore tuna is fine to eat without guilt, according to the Environmental Defense Fund's Seafood Selector. And note: One or two cans will go a long way toward feeding four if you find the right recipes.

Easy Tuna Noodle Casserole

1 cans cream of mushroom soup

1 lb egg noodles or shell noodles

2 cans drained tuna

1/2 cup milk

1/2 chopped onion

grated cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cook and drain noodles. In a large bowl, mix all of the ingredients together (including the noodles) except for the cheese and pour into a 9×13 casserole dish.

Top with the cheese. Bake for 15 minutes or until cheese is melted, and your tuna noodle casserole is ready to serve.


Eggs

($2.52 per dozen grade A large eggs)

Eggs star in recipes sweet and savory, but behind the scenes, they're used to bind other ingredients and as a leavener. Store eggs in their carton so they don't absorb smells from other foods—it's best to keep them in the body of the fridge rather than on the door, so their temperature is constant. Use them by the "best by" date on the box. Cracked too many eggs? Use them within two to four days. Hard-boiled eggs can be kept in their shell for up to a week. Use leftovers within four days. Eggs on sale? Buy them up! You can freeze beaten eggs for up to three months (when you've defrosted them, simply add three tablespoons of the liquid for each egg called for in a recipe). Thaw frozen egg in the fridge and use immediately.


Make Ahead Egg Cups

5 eggs

salt, to taste

pepper, to taste

MIX AND MATCH FILLINGS

spinach, chopped

tomato, diced

onion, diced fine

1 bell pepper, diced fine

1 head broccoli, cut into small florets

parmesan cheese

cheddar cheese

Meat- bacon, turkey, chicken, beef ( any leftover meat from last nights dinner)


Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).

In a measuring cup, beat the eggs until smooth. Set aside.

In a greased muffin tin, place your desired combination of fillings into each muffin cup.

Season each cup with salt and pepper.

Pour the beaten eggs into each muffin cup until the liquid almost reaches the top.

Bake for 20 minutes, until set.


Frozen Vegetables

($1.16 per 12 oz bag)

A huge bag of frozen broccoli is about $4.00. You can cook only as much as needed and eliminate lots of food waste. It is great as a side dish, or in pasta, omlettes or stir fry.


Vegetable Soup

1 pound 93% lean ground beef

1 (16 ounce) jar salsa

1 (10 ounce) package frozen corn and beans mix (such as Deluxe Seasoned Corn & Beans by PictSweet Farms®)

5 tablespoons Mexican crema con sal

¼ cup shredded Cheddar cheese, or as needed

Turn on a multi-functional pressure cooker (such as Instant Pot®) and select Saute function. Add ground beef and cook and stir until crumbly and browned, about 5 minutes. Add salsa and frozen vegetables. Cancel Saute mode. Close and lock the lid.

Select high pressure according to manufacturer's instructions; set timer for 4 minutes. Allow 10 to 15 minutes for pressure to build.

Release pressure carefully using the quick-release method according to manufacturer's instructions, about 5 minutes. Unlock and remove the lid.

Ladle soup into serving bowls and top with Cheddar cheese and Mexican crema.


Stretch your Ground beef

( Beef- $4.64 per pound/ Black Beans .78cents per 15oz)


To stretch ground beef, which is getting so expensive, I’ll add two cups of lentils for every pound of beef I use. It's a great way to 'double your meat' while adding a lot of fiber and other nutrients — and save money, of course. Add them in right after you cook your beef so the lentils soak up all the meaty flavors, and you seriously can’t tell. I’ve tested it on many a meat lover in my household."

You can substitute a quarter, third or half of your ground meat for cooked lentils or mashed beans. Known as “meat extenders,” these nutritious ingredients work well when mixed with meat in chili, burgers, Shepherd's pie, casseroles, lasagna and burritos.


Beef and Bean Burgers

1 LB ground beef (preferably chuck or hamburger)

1 cup black beans

Seasoning

Olive Oil


If using dried beans, rinse thoroughly and put in medium pan and add enough water to cover the beans with 2 or 3 inches to spare.

Simmer beans until soft, probably 2-3 hours.

Strain beans and allow them to drain for awhile. Mash beans as thoroughly as possible with a potato masher, pestle, or whatever will work.

Mix bean mash into ground beef as thoroughly as possible. Add seasoning (per your taste and preference) and mix very well.

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