I’m going to be making a series of postings on “Eating Cheap”. The son of a friend is off to college on a shoestring and I’d mentioned that I grew up cooking cheap foods (both parents were Great Depression kids) and knew how to make some good meals cheaply. The content of any one posting will be pretty variable, so some short, some long. The common theme is just how to make good food cheaply.
The goal is to have a meal for under $1 per person (though “average”, so a higher cost meal that is balanced by a ¢50 meal would also fit the model).
As a “starter”, I made yogurt in my car a couple of days ago. Here in Florida, it generally stays under 110 F in the car if parked in a partly shaded spot (as most of them are). So I scalded some milk that was nearing expiration, poured it into a 1 qt mason jar and let it cool to room temperature. Then stirred in a tablespoon of yogurt from a commercial product as “starter”. Let it set in the car (on the floor with a hat over it) while at work. After work, had a nice jug of yogurt!
Right now I’ve started scalding a second pan of milk, that will be allowed to cool in the pan, then poured into the not-quite empty jar and stirred. End of work tomorrow, I’ll have another quart of yogurt. Cost, instead of being $1 for 6 ounces, is more like $4 / gallon. Stir in honey or jam for fruity flavor.
To scald milk you bring it to a bare simmer. Not a boil. The purpose is not to cook or burn it, just get it hot enough to kill off the natural bacteria.
The “traditional” home made yogurt maker was a cardboard box and a light bulb. Add or remove towels around the outside to hold at about 90 F to 110 F (nice warm feeling, but not hot). With the demise of real light bulbs, all the places where they are used for their heat are now in need of new solutions. You could likely use a 25 Watt bulb in a small box, or two 25 Watt bulbs in a larger box (they are still easily found.) I may need to do that when winter comes ;-)
I use Mason Jars (canning jars) for all sorts of canning, preserving, canistering, etc. They are well worth buying a few. BUT, to be really really frugal, you can buy pasta sauce or pickles or whatever in glass jars and once used up, just wash them. They make fine canisters and storage tubs and cost nothing. Some of the pasta sauce jars are even labeled “Mason” and can be used for canning. I’ve also seen such jars with Jam at Whole Foods.
You can make quesadillas easily with any large frying pan or grill. I splurged and bought a comal (sheet steel grill pan) for $8 or so at Walmart. It makes it a bit easier to turn them as the sides are very short. The comal comes in two sizes. I got the small one for “on the road” but have used the large one at home. Either one is fine.
No, there’s nothing wrong with the color. This is one of those green “health food” tortillas. It was the only one I could find that didn’t have the horrid “hydrogenated” in the ingredients list. Trader Joe’s has nice totillas without “hydrogenated oil” in them, but I’ve not found a Trader Joe’s in Orlando. (yet…)
Put a tortilla on the comal / grill / pan. Sprinkle one half with shredded cheese, leaving one side empty. Dot with whatever else you want ( I use a spoon of canned refried beans and any leftover meat, shredded. Sometimes I’ve used olives or even pepperoni bits.) Dot with Mexican hot sauce to suit your taste. Sprinkle on a bit more cheese. Fold the other half of the tortilla over the top. Repeat for the other side. (So you have one large circle made of two tortillas, with a fold gap down the middle).
Turn on the burner. I use about the 1/2 way point on a GE Electric range. Adjust hotter if it doesn’t toast fast enough, or cooler if it gets brown in less than 30 seconds. After about a minute, the cheese will be melting on the down side. Using a spatula (or just your fingers if brave ;-) turn the quesedillas over (and swap sides if you need to do that to make them fit on the pan). Let the second side toast too. You can flip them back and forth again if you didn’t get it browned enough the first time, so feel free to turn a bit early the first few times while you learn the time and temperature to use.
Once getting brown spots, and with the cheese melted, take them off the comal / grill / pan and place on a cutting board. Cut into 3 wedges each. Enjoy.
You can also place chopped fajitas in them. Especially useful for leftovers. How to make fajitas? Slice up some onions, bell peppers, and bits of meat into long pencil like strips. I like chicken, but beef works well too. Put the strips on a hot comal / grill / pan with a bit of oil to coat the bottom (cast iron works better as you want it hot and Teflon is prone to decomposing if you get it too hot). Let them brown and sizzle. Once sizzled to your liking, serve and eat. Apply salt, pepper, and / or hot sauce to suit your preference.
You can get the fajitas down to about $2/ pound if you shop carefully. Adding more onions and vegetables can drop the cost even more. Think potato or carrot strips. A bit more if you go for beef and buy small sizes or fancy kinds of produce. A 1/2 pound of fajitas with some refried beans, rice, and a tortilla will fill most folks. Any leftovers can be chopped and put in the fridge. Add them to quesadillas the next day.
Notice that very little other than chicken bones hits the garbage can. Even there, the bones and onion trimmings can be used to make stock; but that is for another day…
If you have a favorite “cheap eats” or simple DIY way of saving money in the kitchen, feel free to share it here. There’s a “Starving Student” or two hoping to learn how to make something more tasty than boiled rice for not that much more cost ;-)