Category Archives: Low Cost

Too often we have to choose between cheap and good. If you make your own food, you can have both.

Quick and simple egg-lemon soup

Soups are a really versatile food. Take a protein, add a veggie, add a liquid, and there you have it: soup.

Beef stew is a great way to turn a cheap cut of beef into a very satisfying meal. Chicken soup can turn one chicken into a balanced dinner for four, and warm you to your bones on a cold winter’s day. A good seafood chowder is like a vacation to the shore, but without the traffic and sunburns.

All of these soups, while they are great food, are complex.

Avgolemono, a Greek soup, is a perfect light lunch or appetizer. This version uses four ingredients and can be made in under half an hour, including cleanup (if you use pasta- rice takes longer).

Avgolemono should be smooth, silky, with bold flavours and no distractions. You’ll taste the chicken, the egg, the lemon, and the pasta- there is nothing else to draw attention from the simple elegance of the soup.


  • 4 cups of chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup small pasta such as orzo or pastina- or substitute rice
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3 eggs
  1. Heat the broth to boiling.
  2. Add the pasta (or rice) and cook until al dente- the pasta package will tell you how long to cook it.
  3. While the pasta is boiling, beat together the eggs and lemon juice, and set aside in a bowl of at least one quart.
  4. When the pasta is cooked to al dente, turn the heat down to simmer and scoop out half a cup of hot broth. Add the broth gradually to the egg mixture, whisking the whole time. This is called tempering the eggs.
  5. Keep adding broth to the egg mixture until more than half the broth has been added, then whisk the tempered egg mixture back into the pan with the rest of the broth.
  6. Heat until thickened, usually not more than two minutes.

Serves two as a light lunch or four as an appetizer.

Road Snacks – Beef Jerky at home

We’re taking a road trip. A few years ago we had an RV, so I could travel and cook at the same time (not as we were driving, but you know what I mean). Now we have a Prius, so we get five times the mileage, but the kitchen facilities are somewhat more limited.

At my budget, road food tends to be served under a crown or a big yellow M. It’ll keep you alive (for a while) but if there’s a lowest common denominator, this is it.

Road snacks should be tasty, tidy, able to survive without refrigeration, and nutritious- in that order. Since I’m going low carb, cookies and the like are off the list. So, what is a good protein-y road snack?

I picked up dry roasted peanuts during my last stroll through Costco. Costco doesn’t sell small packages- I think it is around a bushel. Should last through any number of road trips. But peanuts, while they are a low carb snack, get a wee bit dull. But beef jerky can have quite a range of flavors.

So yesterday, during the height of the Texas summer heat, we went back to the restaurant supply warehouse and spent quite a long time looking through the beef roasts in their meat walk-in cooler. The fact that it is 45 degrees in there encouraged me to check every roast slowly.

I picked up a six pound roast for $20. Unlike my normal steak guidelines, I looked for one with as little marbling as possible- fat is not your friend in jerky.

Once home, I trimmed the roast into about two inch thick

The fat on the outside should be trimmed off.
The fat on the outside should be trimmed off.

steaks with no visible fat. Then I sliced the steaks into strips about 3/8 of an inch thick. That’s about 1cm, for the civilized folk out there. The actual thickness doesn’t have to be very specific but as much as possible you want all your pieces to be nearly identically thick so that they cook and dry at the same rate.

I made three batches and marinated them overnight- one A1 sauce, one oyster sauce, and one random mix of black soy, worcestershire sauce and sweet chili sauce.

I’m cooking each batch separately in the Nuwave for three hours at power 2, with some soup spoons elegantly jammed under the cover so that moisture can escape.

I’ll post more in a few hours when the first batch (oyster sauce) comes out.

Anti-pasta salad redux

My previous post, the low carb antipasto, was nutritious but too bland. With a July 4 cookout approaching, I made a double batch with a few modifications for more flavor.

Chicken wasn’t on sale this week, but steak was. Since this is a double batch, I picked up two pounds of somethingorother steak.

Now, the flavor upgrades:

  • double strength ranch dressing
  • double the capers
  • sear the steak on a gas grill
  • salt the cukes
  • dance naked in the moonlight

  • 8 cucumbers
  • 2 ts salt
  • 4 bell peppers
  • 2 onions
  • 2 lbs steak
  • 2 lbs bacon
  • 1 cup capers, drained
  • 3 cups ranch dressing
  1.    Peel the cucumbers, remove the ends, and slice in half lengthwise. Use a spoon to remove the seeds, then slice the halves again lengthwise. Cut the resulting spears in 1/2 inch sections. Put the pieces in a large collander and toss with salt. Let rest for two hours or more (refrigerated, over a bowl to catch the juice).
  2.    I used a packet of ranch seasoning meant for a gallon, and made two quarts instead. I used half mayo and half yoghurt. You could use buttermilk instead of the yoghurt but the cucumbers release a lot of water, so I opted for the thicker dressing. You’ll use three cups of the resulting dressing.
  3.    Cut the peppers and onions into 1/2 inch pieces. Set aside in a large mixing bowl.
  4.    Trim the steak well, then grill on a hot gas grill to about medium. Cool the steak then slice into 1″x1/2″ pieces, and add them to the mixing bowl. Good strong grill marks will pay you back with a burst of flavour.
  5.    Cook the bacon to crispy (using your favorite method- microwave or nu-wave work well) then crumble or snip it into small pieces in the mixing bowl.
  6.    Add the capers and ranch dressing and stir to coat.
  7.    Shake the cucumber pieces in the collander to drain out the last of the juice, then add to the bowl and stir to coat everything. Serve cold.

Some attractive add-ins would be cherry tomatoes, banana peppers, sliced Greek olives or cubed sharp cheddar.

Grilled Pizza Bachelor Style

I’m not a bachelor, but sometimes I do think back on the simple days when I had no worries beyond how to stretch a twenty to cover a week’s groceries.

small pizza on grill
It doesn’t get much simpler than this.

This week, friends delivered my long-neglected gas grill. It lit up perfectly, as though I hadn’t left it in the raw desert for a year. And I remembered why I’d missed it so.

Gas grills are simple creatures. Turn the knobs, sacrifice the hair on the back of your hand to the fireball, and you have a cooking tool that requires nothing more than a cold beer and a steady hand.

My son came home from school right after I set the grill up. He’s a fan of pizza, and with my Nu-Wave dying we hadn’t had pizza for a few weeks, so I made a simple bachelor pizza.

Necessity is the mother of invention. Poverty is at least an uncle. I didn’t have yeast but I have large tortillas- there’s a crust. simple tomato sauce, cheese, some giant pepperoni, and we had a thin-crust pizza in about ten minutes.

They joy of bachelor cooking is that almost any substitute will work. Don’t have tortillas? Pita bread, lavash, or sandwich wraps will work. Any spaghetti sauce can work. I used muenster cheese buy7 mild cheddar, colby, or monty jack will work fine- just avoid the stronger cheeses. Make this with gorgonzola and I won’t be held responsible!

My gas grill is an old friend. It has a few quirks, lacks a few knobs, and doesn’t cook things quite as evenly as a younger, better grill might. If you’re blessed with a good grill you may not need to rotate the pizza while it is cooking.


  •    1 burrito-sized flour tortilla.
  •    1/2 cup tomato sauce
  •    1 cup shredded or sliced mild cheese
  •     1 oz pepperoni
  1.    Start the grill on high. Clean the grates.
  2.    Pour the tomato sauce in the middle of the ‘crust’ and spread it almost to the edges. Ideally it should cover the ‘crust’ thinly enough that you can still see the crust a bit- if there is too much tomato, the pizza will be soggy.
  3.    Spread most of the cheese evenly over the tomato sauce.
  4.    Add your pepperoni and/or other toppings.
  5.    Place the pizza on the grill and lower the cover.
  6.     Every three minutes, rotate the pizza 90 degrees to keep cooking even.
  7.    Pizza is done in about ten minutes. The crust should be neither floppy nor brittle- if you lift up an edge and can see just a bit of charring and the whole bottom sort of a dark blonde, the pizza is ready.

 

The Restaurant Supply Warehouse and you

I have a teenage son. He eats roughly his cheeseweight in peanut butter during any given week.

Last night, I bought a new super-jumbo bottle of store-brand PB. This morning, there is a scraped-clean bottle with a butterknife in it. I’m not certain that he used any bread.meats

Big-box membership stores like Costco and Sam’s are a good start, but when faced with this kind of voracious appetite, I decided to skip the middleman. I visited the Shamrock Food Service Warehouse, on Gateway Boulevard in El Paso.

Shamrock is a big, clean, well-lighted popcornstore, selling industrial quantities of food and the equipment to prepare it. Their prices ranged from pretty good to amazing, as long as you want to buy substantial quantities.

Most home cooks won’t be able to take advantage of every sale; it’d be quite a long time before I could run through fifty pounds of onions, for instance. But a five pound bucket of creamy peanut butter for seven bucks? I can deal with that!Sauces

Shamrock has three walk-in coolers- Produce, Dairy, and Meat/Cheese. I was in short sleeves, so I sort of hurried through them, but the prices kept me there, shivering. $2.50 a pound for mushrooms, in El Paso?
cleaning supplies

Wow!

I even found some of my Oriental-market staples such as banh pho noodles there, for very attractive prices.

If you’re cooking for a large or hungry family, check out your local restaurant supply warehouse. If you have a large freezer, you’ll be able to take advantage of even more deals.

Impromptu Chicken Soup for Two

Chicken soup: simple, fulfilling, and nutritious.

Today, I looked in my fridge, and chicken thighs and chicken broth were both there. Sounds like a good day for soup.

I started off by chopping up a potato and an onion. In a small saucepan over low heat, I sautéed a handful of baby carrots, eight or 10 cloves of garlic, and the potato and onion. The whole mix sizzled and emitted an aroma that I could only call “Mom’s Kitchen.”

While the veggies were cooking, I cut the meat off of one chicken thigh. It was an exceptionally chubby chicken, and I took my time removing the fat before I chopped it into about 1 inch chunks.

I tossed the chicken into the pan, stirred it, and let it sauté for a few minutes more. Then I added spices, salt-and-pepper, and 1 quart of chicken stock. I had homemade chicken stock, but store-bought chicken stock (low-sodium by preference) would work too.

Once the soup began to simmer, I turned the heat down very low, and left it simmer uncovered for an hour. I stirred two or three times.

Soup improves the longer you simmer it. What had been a bland and watery broth when I started turned into a deeply flavored, savory chicken soup, with sweet notes of roasted garlic paring well against the dark meat chicken.

I found that the garlic still had more crunch and “raw” garlic flavor that I’d hoped. When I make this dish again, I will start sautéing the garlic three or four minutes before all the rest of the veggies.


Impromptu chicken soup for two

  • one small onion
  • one small potato
  • 1/2 cup baby carrots OR regular carrots coarsely chopped
  • 8-10 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • one chicken thigh, deboned and fat removed, chopped into one inch (ish) chunks
  • 1 quart chicken stock (low sodium)
  • 1 tsp basil
  • salt to taste (around 1/4 tsp)
  • pepper to taste (around 1/4 tsp)
  1.    Chop the onion and pepper (and carrots). If the garlic is in large cloves (such as elephant garlic), cut them up too.
  2.    Heat the olive oil over medium-low heat
  3.    Sauté the garlic for about four minutes. It should be fragrant but not yet softening at the end of this step.
  4.    Add  the veggies and cook for for about ten minutes, until the onions are becoming translucent and the potatoes are beginning to lose their sharp edges.
  5.    Turn the heat up the medium and add the chicken. Cook for four more minutes, until at least one surface of the chicken chunks is starting to brown.
  6.    Add the salt, pepper, basil and broth, and turn the heat up to high. Once the broth begins to boil, turn the heat down to very low and let the soup simmer for an hour or more.

Eating on the Cheap: Rice and Beans (but not boring)

Rice and beans is a dish that has fed many a poor family. It is cheap, filling, and (if done right) can be quite tasty.

Unfortunately, all too any modern cooks seem to think that the two ingredients in the title are all that should be there, and wind up with bland stodge.

A local supermarket had a few decent sales one week, including bacon and mustard greens. I thought that adding them to rice and beans would make a decent dish.

I started with the beans, since they take the longest. You can use canned beans, but I like working from dried beans; it is cheaper and they have a more distinct texture when cooked than canned. I took two cups of dried pinto beans, sorted them (you can find grit and even pebbles!), and left them in a Dutch oven on the stove, covered, with about two quarts of cool tap water.

(eight hours later)

I emptied the beans into a collander, left them to drain, and rinsed the Dutch oven. Then I put six cups of low-sodium chicken broth into the Dutch oven, heated it to a boil, and added the beans. Once the water was boiling again I turned the heat to low, covered it, and ignored it for an hour and fifteen minutes.

Then, the rice. I heated two tablespoons of bacon fat in the Dutch oven, over medium heat. Once the oil was hot (not quite smoking) I added two cups of long-grain white rice, stirring to coat with the oil, then left it alone for three minutes, stirred well, and left the rice for an additional three minutes. At the end of this step, the rice had some pale/translucent grains and a few of them were slightly browned.

I added diced onions and bell peppers. If I were making a jambalaya, I would have added celery, but this was shaping up to be vaguely Italian, so I stuck with those two, and added garlic after a few minutes.

Now, I opened up the pot of beans and added the rice and veggies, stirred to combine, then re-covered it and left it simmering for an additional thirty minutes.

I have a NuWave oven, so the bacon is simple. I laid out about  half a pound of bacon on the taller rack, set the oven to 12 minutes and carried on. If you’re not blessed with a NuWave, you’ll want to crisp up eight ounces of bacon over medium-low heat.

Mustard greens are dark green, leafy, like spinach but more so. They pair well with the garlic and bacon in this dish. Unfortunately the stems are very tough, so the next 15 minutes was spent stripping the leaves so that the stems could be discarded. I also ripped the leaves to roughly two inch squares.

When the beans and rice are done, turn off the heat, stir in the mustard greens, and re-cover. Crumble the bacon (or chop it) and stir it in as well. The leaves will wilt and turn bright green.

This version of rice and beans is good straight out of the pot, but also works well in the fridge for a few days.

 

Arroz con Pollo

Here’s a simple one-pot meal. Easy to cook, tasty, lacking only a green veggie to get the nod of approval from your most nutritionally-conscious aunt.

I had meant to get a picture but forgot, mea culpa. I’m always more interested in cooking and tasting than I am in the photography. I’ll try to remember for next time.

Arroz con pollo isn’t one dish. There are varieties from all over South America, the Caribbean and Central America. The one I’m making here is fairly generic, not very spicy, and was tailored to match what was in my pantry. Adding some bell peppers would improve matters.

I made this for four hungry people. Three showed up and there were plenty of leftovers, so let’s just say this serves six.


Arroz con Pollo

  • 4 lbs chicken quarters, thighs, and/or drumsticks
  • 1/2 cup pixie dust or other BBQ spice rub
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2.5 cups brown rice (not quick cooking)
  • one medium onion, chopped
  • 1 tb minced garlic
  • 1 cup chunky salsa
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 5 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  1.    Remove any visible fat from the chicken, then dust it with the spice rub.
  2.    In a dutch oven (four quarts or bigger, with a lid available) add the oil. Heat over medium-high heat until the oil is shimmering hot, and brown the chicken in small batches, about three minutes on each side. Remove the browned chicken to paper towels to drain.
  3.    Once the chicken is all browned, add the uncooked rice to the pan and spread it out evenly. Leave it to brown and crackle for three minutes, then stir it well and let it cook for another three.
  4.    Add the garlic and onion, stir it in, and let cook for about another two minutes. Stir and cook another two minutes.  The onions should be just getting translucent at the end of this step.
  5.    Add the salsa, oregano, salt and pepper. Stir well and let cook for five minutes.
  6.   Add the broth, stirring constantly as you do. Turn the heat up to high.
  7.    Place the browned chicken skin-side up on the top of the rice and broth (it will sink in partway). Cover the pot and wait for it to boil.
  8.    Once the mixture starts boiling, turn the heat down to low and let it simmer, covered, for around fifty minutes. Then use a spoon to fish out some rice and try it for doneness. Once the rice is done, serve the arroz con pollo.

So, what do you think? Let me know!