Budget Cooking: What to Cook and How to Cook

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beans_cSometimes - and you may not believe me now, but give it a few months - you cannot eat another Totino's Party Pizza. Sure, they only cost 10 cents apiece on sale. But we humans have our limits.There are three keys to cheap, easy cooking in college. Of course, it's budget cooking.

 


By Eva Moore

1. Buy Food, Not Equipment

As I was moving into my second Columbia apartment, a small upstairs place in Shandon, two girls were moving out. They filled the curbside trash barrel with kitchen items: two cast iron skillets, a boxed set of 12 drinking glasses, a shiny muffin pan.

"I'm expecting my fiancé to propose soon," said one girl. "So I'll get all new versions of this stuff anyway."

It was my first encounter with the Southern Cult of Acquisitive Marriage. It was also a bonanza for my own kitchen. I still use those rescued skillets all the time. Call it the common law gift registry.

So, that full set of nonstick cookware from Target? You don't need it. In fact, you're better off without it: more pans just means more dirty dishes in the sink. You need a skillet, a saucepan and a pot big enough for soup or pasta. You also need a colander, a cutting board and one knife. That's all. Get them from your local thrift store, yard sale or dumpster.

2. Eat Beans, Not Meat

Meat is expensive. You have to use it quickly, before it goes bad. The cheap stuff is often nasty, while the expensive stuff is, well, expensive.

What does ground beef cost on sale - $2.50 a pound? A pound of dried beans costs 50 cents, and you won't have to pour off a cup of grease once you cook it. Canned beans can run about $1 a pound.

You don't have to give up meat, but a few meatless home-cooked meals a week will leave more money for beer, rent or a fancy meal out.

3. Find Free Seasonings

It's not raw ingredients that cost a lot. Potatoes, beans, flour - these are cheap staples. It's herbs and spices and oils and other things that cost more and take a while to collect.

The solution is to find free sources for those seasonings. Taco Bell hot sauce packets can adorn a homemade bean burrito. Soy sauce packets can be mixed with sautéed vegetables. Parmesan cheese, red pepper flakes - ask your friends to grab a few extras here and there.

As for herbs, there's a lot of fresh rosemary growing around the USC campus - just sayin'. It's good for jazzing up cheap store-brand pasta sauce.


Several Recipes

 

Here are two cheap, easy bean recipes I still make all the time post-college.

Slow Beans

These are good mixed with melted cheese and the crushed tortilla chip particles from the bottom of the bag.

Soak 1 pound of dried pinto beans in water overnight. Drain. Cover beans with water again. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Add 2 peeled cloves of garlic and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Also add one of the following: 1 tablespoon of chile powder, Wendy's chile seasoning packets or a fresh jalapeno minus its seeds. Cover. Cook until beans are soft, 1 to 2 hours. Add salt.

 

15-Minute Bean Curry

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cut up some vegetables and sauté them until lightly browned: a little cauliflower or broccoli, a carrot, frozen peas or whatever else you like. Add 1 minced clove garlic, 3 quarter-sized slices of fresh ginger and 1 tablespoon curry powder and sauté for a few more minutes.

Add two cans of garbanzos or black beans and half a can of water or canned broth. Cover the pan and let simmer for 5-10 minutes until vegetables are tender.

Let cool for 5 minutes and stir in half a cup of plain yogurt and a handful of chopped cilantro. Add salt.


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