A Guide to Being Poor

Posted: January 21, 2011 in Creative Inspiration, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,
Good creative people, I am not a Chef.

I’ve never been to cooking school, I do not own an over-sized floppy white hat, and I positively refute the idea that every ingredient must be uttered with the inflection of its native tongue (motz-eh-relehha cheese being my one exception… I am Italian after all). That being said, I do know a thing or two about being poor. Gourmand status notwithstanding, this state of mind has led to more penny counting, and improvised meals than I’d care to admit.

However, I’ve always believed that blogs are not the socially acceptable places for modesty. If some of my tactics for keeping my head above water can help out a few of you, far be it for me to hold out the goods. So today, good creative types, I’d like to open up my kitchen to you all, and share a few tips about how your own kitchen just might be able to help you weather the poverty storm (regardless of how long this confounded recession lasts).

Plate cost

You heard me, Plate Cost. And before you ask: No, I’m not speaking about the second mortgage that your Aunt Sally took out on her home in Maui (purportedly), so that she could buy you that set of china-wear dishes and cutlery, which you’d never asked for, and that you use on a daily basis rather than the recommended once a year guideline that she’d unfairly imposed upon you when she’d given you the gift (and before you’d unwrapped it even, she’s got some gall I tell ya!). I’m talking about the cost – to your pocket – for each plate that you put on the dinner table.

Aunt Sally on her day off

Plate cost is the first and foremost factor when it comes to saving money with your meals. Are you serving each guest at your table $10 Dollars worth of food, or are you serving them $2.50 worth? With three meals a day, over a seven-day week, that $7.50 discrepancy will add up to more than $150 Dollars in your pocket, Cha-Ching!

Contrary to contemporary thought, the production of good food at home does not have to cost as much as contemporary art (really? A million dollars for three vertical stripes of red?). The average dish that grazes the tables at Casa-De-La-DiCroce costs me about $2-3 Dollars, and if you’d ever been over here for dinner ( and you soon might… more on that later), you would know that i certainly don’t skimp on the flavor. This already incredible number is amazingly diminished farther by the fact that I always find ways to incorporate left over parts of meals past into wondrous, pre-flavored, tremendously character endowed offerings/aspects in subsequent banquets.

For example:  let’s say you get a craving to serve Mac-N-Cheese for a side-dish/diner one night. Should you buy the Kraft pre-packaged brand, which will last you for one meal (and – if your anything like me – one portion), or should you purchase some pasta, cheese, and milk separately, so that you might make your own and wind up with some left over?

MAKE YOUR OWN

OK your honor, I’ll admit it: I was leading the witness. But seriously, homespun Mac-N-Cheese is $.99 cents for the noodles, plus about $.25 cents worth of cheese, another $.25 cents worth of milk, and – if you’re feeling frisky – another $.25 cents worth of butter (plus about $.03 cents worth of seasoning). So let’s see, you go my route and the cost to you is less than $2 dollars – for roughly 8-10 servings of cheesy, creamy awesomeness. Or you can go Kraft’s route, and get (what they claim is)- 2 servings, of bland, powdered sugar and cheese underwhelmedness (yes it’s a word, I’m querying Oxford to appeal it as we speak). The numbers speak for themselves creative peeps, and the flavor is only limited to your imagination, so get creative… creative peeps.

What to do with your left overs?

Well since we’re already talking about it, and because I cant read all your minds (some not all, and in response to Gary in Wisconsin: no that’s not a good idea for your leftover PB&J: put away the sandwich, and tell the dog to go lie down), let’s stick with the Mac-and-cheese example.

Oftentimes with Mac-N-Cheese I will take my left overs, one portion at a time, and mix it in with stir-fried beef (Buy in bulk quantities, separate into patties, place in freezer safe bag – being careful not to overlap – suck out the air, seal, freeze, and you now have quick burger-sized meals ready to go in a flash. Re-use the freezer bags ad infinitum; another great way to save). Beef needs almost nothing in the pan with it to cook, and takes nearly no effort at all.

Steps;

1-Place in pre hot pan

2- Salt and pepper to taste

3-Mash up with a wooden spoon, and ensure that nothing is sticking to the pan.

4-When it’s browned, it’s ready! Add to nuked left over Mac-N-cheese for a quick tasty meal.

I also enjoy adding taco seasoning to my meat to give it a good punch. I.E.; salt, cayenne pepper, ground cumin, and paprika (the basics), feel free to squeeze in a lime or lemon, toss in some steak seasoning or chicken seasoning, or even start onions in the pan before hand for extra added flavor.

How to eat out/in

Don’t let the state of your finances prevent you from indulging in the simple luxury of eating out or ordering in once in a blue-moon. There are plenty of places, that I’m sure you can find, with great prices, good portions, and ingredients that you can recycle again and again into subsequent meals. For me, It’s a local Indian place in the neighborhood called, Seva. Ordering from this amazingly tasty restaurant, which normally takes only about 1/2-hour to arrive, costs me $20 bucks, feeds me three full meals – and if you remember our plate cost talk, that’s only $7 dollars a serving – and the gratis leftovers, e.g. the mango chutney, their three sauces (sweet red, savory green herb, and yogurt white), give later meals that I cook irreplaceable, and, at least for me (remember I’m not a cook), unrepeatable flavor, which extends its life even further.

Poor Man’s cookbook

Now that we’ve talked extensively on WHY to cook at home, I would undoubtedly be bereft if I didn’t equip you with WHAT to cook at home.

This part of the blog is something that I hope to continue on writing for many posts to come. My basic idea behind it is this: I will provide you all with a recipe I’d recently used to create a cheap, delicious meal in my own kitchen. Later on (And god willing) I will have a friend of mine, who is a sous-chef at a respectable restaurant in NYC, come on the blog and “correct” my noobish mistakes, to tell you all how to turn average – into gourmet. This same person has expressed interest in writing guest blogs on the site, so in the comments below please tell me if that is something you’d all like to see in the future.

In either case, and whether or not I’m eventually joined in this exercise, I am now going to regale you all with a recipe that I’d recently concocted (and am presently eating… Yum): , which involves soup, some chicken, some spices, and a delectable turnout. (I promise to have pictures next time 🙂 )

You will need:

Protien~1-2 large Chicken breasts, thawed.

Vegetables~ 1 Large Vidalia/Spanish/White onion, a bunch of celery, 3 large carrots, 1 can of beans (optional), 1 can of corn (optional), and 3 cloves of garlic (optional).

Spices~ 2Tbsp Ground cumin, 2Tsp Paprika powder(the smokier smelling, the better), 2Tsp Ground Coriander, 1Tsp sea-salt, 1Tsp black ground pepper, 1Tsp cayenne pepper (optional as substitute or in addition to black pepper).

Also~3Tbsp of Extra Virgin Olive oil.

Preparation:

Start by heating a large pot (that has a matching lid) on your stove over high heat. Once the pot is hot, add 1Tbsp of Oil.

Meanwhile: Slice the onion, celery, and carrots into similarly sized pieces (no need to be professional here, just make sure that they’re small enough to get on a spoon later on), mince the garlic (cut this up too – just very small), and open the corn and beans, placing them to the side and out of the way.

By now: the oil in the pan should be hot, and you can lightly salt the outside of your chicken breast(s), and drop them in the oil, turning after 1-2 minutes on each side (you want it to brown a little bit in the bottom of the pan). Once this is completed, remove the chicken, and place it aside to rest, leaving the remaining  juices in the pot.

Now you should Take the other 2Tbsp of oil and add it to the pot.

Once the oil is up to temperature (slightly smokey), lower your heat to medium-low, add your onions, carrots, and celery, and cook them until they are translucent, around 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally (just so they don’t stick to the bottom of the pan).

Once this is done, add the garlic for about 1 min (until you smell it), then add in all the spices, stirring them to coat all the veggies in the pan.

Once everything is gelling nicely, and the kitchen smells awesome, add back in the chicken breasts, fill the pot with water until it covers them in the pan (maybe more if you want, this liquid will be your soup), pop on a lid, and wait 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes has passed, remove the chicken and let it rest for at least 10 minutes (if you cut it open before then all its juices will run out), meanwhile add the beans and corn to the stew, and stir up the fixin’s from the bottom, replacing the lid when you are finished.

Take 2 forks and “pull” the chicken, using one to hold, and the other to shred it, until you have a nice cutting board full of tender delicious chicken tidbits. Once this step is completed, add the chicken bits back to the pot, and let everything simmer on low… as long as you want. The longer you cook, the more intense of a flavor you will get.

And then…

Be creative (it’s what you do best!). Feel free to heat up the fruit of your labors as a soup, use the liquid to flavor other dinners (as stock), or even to scoop out only the fixin’s to make taco’s. In the world of cooking, there are no rules, and the sooner you start experimenting, the sooner you will get the hang of it.

At the end of the day, “Poor”, and “Rich”, are merely states of mind. Always remember that your reality is only ever limited to your imagination, ingenuity, and proactivity.

That’s all for today folks. Come around again soon and hopefully we will have some great guest writers for you (fitness, health, and cooking are lined up so far), as well as the usual fun inspiring brain fodder you’ve come to know and love.

Now get in that kitchen and whip me up something nice (and cheap!)!

~J

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Comments
  1. mommy says:

    I liked it – except if you are going to tell somebody the virtues of cooking mac and cheese from scratch – you should have your home-made recipe listed.
    I’m just saying………
    Otherwiise, Good Work.

    • Good point Mom (that’s my mom everyone, sai hi!).
      Here we go. Boil water with some salt (salty as the sea), and a small bit of oil in a generous pot. When that suckers a’percolating, add your elbow noodles (or whatever you like, again get creative.), and boil vigorously for roughly 8-10 minutes, tasting frequently around the end so you know when it’s right for you.
      When those condensed wheat bits (pasta), are succulent and aldente (just right), strain em, and add em dry back to the pot, along with 2 pads of butter per roughly 12oz of pasta.
      Season with what you’d like (or nothing at all) at this point.
      Add in (again for 12oz of pasta) 1/2 cup of whole/buttermilk (extra fat=extra flavor), and also a healthy amount of cheddar cheese, stir until the mixture has reduced to your liking, and serve hot!
      Thanks for the suggestion creative Mother!

  2. If I had read this earlier today it would have been helpful for my taco seasoning fakery. I wanted to prepare some taco meat with no taco seasoning and didn’t feel inclined to seek information on the internet. I opted for some carne asada seasoning and some dried red pepper flakes. It tastes good, though not like taco meat.

    Maybe I will try the homemade Mac, sometime. (Thanks to Mom of author)

  3. Vinnie says:

    You said: “(motz-eh-relehha cheese being my one exception… I am Italian after all).”

    Hey smartguy. Motz-eh-rellah.

    Please proofread next time.

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