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Mission: Help Me Eat on the Cheap


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Like many, my wife and I have been trying to get more out of our grocery dollars these days. We do the pasta thing and the end-of-the-week catch-all frittata, but I'm looking for new ideas. What are some of your favorite cheapo - but delicious - meals? Bonus points for weird cuts of meat that I can braise or smoke.

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Like many, my wife and I have been trying to get more out of our grocery dollars these days. We do the pasta thing and the end-of-the-week catch-all frittata, but I'm looking for new ideas. What are some of your favorite cheapo - but delicious - meals? Bonus points for weird cuts of meat that I can braise or smoke.

Start shopping at Shopper's Food Warehouse. I often see whole, bone-in pork shoulders on sale, that are very cheap on a per pound basis. One of those would work well, either braised or smoked, and would provide many meals. Get pork neck bones and use them to make posole or green chili. If you are smoking something big, smoke some neck bones while you are at it, and use them to season cooked greens. Check out the Lebanese Butcher and Halalco in Falls Church for goat, beef and lamb at low prices. Shanks are cheap and are great in a braise.

A non-meat low-cost dish that can serve as a vehicle for vegetables, mushrooms, beans and odd bits of cheese is grits cakes. Saute onions, garlic and whatever other non-soupy vegetables you have, like corn kernels, diced squash, carrot, celery, red or green bell pepper, and cook until completely softened and any liquid they have exuded is evaporated. Cook up a pot of non-instant grits or regular cornmeal in a little less liquid than you would use if you were making soupy grits. They should be fairly stiff. When the grits are cooked, mix in grated cheese, well-drained canned pinto beans and sauteed vegetables. Pour into a greased casserole and let it sit for a couple of hours until set. Cut into big squares and then halve the squares on the diagonal. This can be served at room temp, or sprinkled with cheese and browned in the oven, zapped in the microwave or crisped in a pan. The latter can be tricky, because sometimes the cakes get gooey and stick. I usually sprinkle them with Wondra flour before pan-frying.

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Budget-stretching-make sure everyone in your household will eat leftovers-this is my biggest problem, they usually like it first time around, but noone but me will eat things for several days in a row, no matter how creatively I try to disguise it. My favorite 'extender' is rice (not as cheap as it used to be), thanks to the rice cooker, we have rice w/ almost every meal (& noone gets tired of it). Lots of odd & misshapen veggies from the late summer, neglected vegetable garden-tomatoes, eggplant, herbs.

I also use my electric smoker (low maintenance) to smoke pork butt, if there's leftovers (rarely), it can be frozen to use in chili, baked pasta dishes, etc. I like beans, but noone else does, so if I make a big pot, I eat them for at least a week-not good...

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First, invest in a plain, dark suit and a satchel with a plastic lining. Get a calendar with the national days of all the countries in the world. Go to the embassies on appropriate dates for their parties. Check out major organizations, such as the AMA and the ABA to see if they're having conventions here. If so, go to the hotels around 5 p.m. and follow the odor of refreshments. In fact, case the better hotels anytime for open parties and gatherings. Meld into the wedding, bar mitzvah, anniversary or memorial service crowds at the Cosmos Club, University Club and other private venues. Wander around Costco, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, accepting free samples. If all else fails, gather some loose change and go to someplace run by Michael Landrum.

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First, invest in a plain suit and a satchel with a plastic lining. Get a calendar with the national days of all the countries in the world. Go to the embassies on appropriate dates for their parties. Check out major organizations, such as the AMA and the ABA to see if they're having conventions here. If so, go to the hotels around 5 p.m. and follow the odor of refreshments. In fact, case the better hotels anytime for open parties and gatherings. Meld into the wedding, bar mitzvah, anniversary or memorial service crowds at the Cosmos Club, University Club and other private venues. Wander around Costco, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, accepting free samples. If all else fails, gather some loose change and go to someplace run by Michael Landrum.

Sounds like advice from an experienced schnorrer, Stephen. Perhaps there is a book here: "Feeding Your Face in the Face of Hard Times" or "Schnorring for Dummies."

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Beans and chickpeas are great sources of protein and fiber and usually very cheap (especially compared to meat). Great for chili, add to salads, and can be pressed/fried into patties like falafel.

Red beans and rice can be made for next to nothing.

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Ain't quite cold enough for it, yet, but Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic is darn good cheap eating. Here's a recipe, but feel free to riff. I would never let celery near anything I eat and we don't us rosemary, but it's a thought. We often add onions and carrots. Serve over polenta or mashed potatoes. You should cook longer in that case, maybe an hour-and-a-half; the stuff is impossible to overcook. I suspect that, as with so much French cooking, it's a recipe meant to render a cheap cut of meat edible and indeed delicious, so you needn't spring for a high-class bird.

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Take a clue from the cuisines of regions with a long history of peasant/rural/poverty-inspired dishes. Paula Wolfert's cookbooks are a good place to seek ideas, e.g. Mediterranean Grains & Greens.

At this time of year, rely more on vegetables and fruits in season and less on meats, going vegetarian on a regular basis. Think of meat as a way to flavor food and not the main dish. Stuffed cabbage or peppers. When it's center-stage, use every scrap. For example, Italian roasts or braised meats get turned into pasta sauces.

Collard and turnip greens are still quite inexpensive at some of the supermarkets. Great flavored w ham or bacon, cornbread on the side.

Mac and cheese may be a side dish in the American south, but it was turned into a main course among rationing Yankees during WWII. (Fact-checking is in order. This is a guess based on family traditions.) Midwesterners add flaked tuna and mushroom soup, but we used to go with canned salmon. (The latter is very, very cheap and often on sale.)

Variation on theme: scalloped potatoes w ham.

The season of soup is not far way. Soup is cheap. Beans. Leftovers dumped in.

If one of you can spare the time and energy to work at one of the area's farmer's markets, consider the option, especially if a farmer w a wide range of produce needs help. Perk: you get to take home food in addition to pay; other farmers at the market will give you discounts. (This late in the season, most probably have all staffing needs taken care of, but you never know...)

Otherwise, shop outside of D.C. if you can, especially in stores that cater to immigrant communities. Rockville's Asian markets have beautiful fish and meat for much less money and lots of good produce, etc.

Braising and cheap animal source of protein besides Waitman's sage to eat chicken? Click.

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Otherwise, shop outside of D.C. if you can, especially in stores that cater to immigrant communities. Rockville's Asian markets have beautiful fish and meat for much less money and lots of good produce, etc.
It's all about the live tilapia. Probably not farmed in Asia, and cheaper than those filets you get in Giant. Just ask them to clean it. If you're squeamish about heads ask them to remove it. Rub with salt. Let it sit and then rinse it off. Push some ginger slices, garlic and scallions into the stomach cavity. Steam it or as I tend to do pop in the microwave in a covered container. Make a sauce by heating olive oil and add garlic, scallions, ginger and salt. Also thinly shred some scallions and place them on top of the completed fish. Pour the olive oil sauce over top. I am sure there are other types of sauces you can make as well - Thai curry comes to mind. But the microwave/steam method ensures firm and moist tilapia. So good.
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Homemade Naan that is topped with caramelized onions (also good with some various fruits as well) and whatever cheese is in the fridge and then baked until the cheese melts. Naans are simple to make and even with the price of wheat going up they are still very cheap.

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Went to the beach rented a large house with 3 other families. 7 adults and 7 kids. We were actually trying to eat on the cheap but it turned out that we spent $40 per family in total food cost for the week. We never went out to eat because no one wanted to get back in the car.

We loaded up at the beginning at costco and I ended cooking a lot. I made a huge pot of lentils and also a huge pot of blk beans. Went over welll with everyone. Lots of salads and very little meat.

Also did a make your own pizza night and pasta night.

I can't seem to do the same thing at home, however....

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Zora, I remind you that Stephen does not rhyme with schnorrer.

No, I have not finagled my way into parties. But as a legit guest at many of them, I often observed how simple it would be to sneak in. The closest I came was when I inadvertently followed the wrong crowd at the Cosmos Club and ended up at a memorial reception that was better catered than the one I should have been at. When somebody asked me, "How did you know Jim?" I gulped and then quickly finished the excellent corn chowder and went across the hall, where the food wasn't as good, but at least I knew the honoree.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned the endless receptions on the Hill, particularly on the ground floors of the Rayburn, Cannon and Longworth buildings (all on the House side). But they are mostly watering holes, and the food would not satisfy a hungry drop-in.

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