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Cooking When You are Poor

(This is a very VERY long reply. It is meant to expand upon the OP's suggestions. I beg the indulgence of Chowhound readers.)

Cheaper meats are useful, but - Chuck and Short ribs?? Or the usual suggestions of cook book authors and celebrity chef's, Flank or Skirt steak?? All of those have been at least $5.99/lb here in Dallas for several years. ALWAYS check prices instead of assuming that something that was cheap ten years ago, or in another city or state, will still be comparatively cheap. Dallas was a definite learning experience for me in that regard. Chuck roast, select grade(!!), has been routinely $5.98/lb, except at Sam's, where Choice grade currently is $4.68/lb. Just a few years ago it could be had commonly for $1.99/lb!

Here in Dallas prices are so illogical, it is not all that uncommon to find local grocery stores selling select bone in (sometimes even boneless!) New York strip or ribeye for $3.99-$4.99/lb. One or the other is usually on sale for those prices about every four to six weeks. I last bought strip at $3.99/lb in May. I'd rather buy the strip or ribeye, than pay MORE for select grade short ribs or flank/skirt.

When I was young, say 25-30 years ago, skirt and to a lesser extent flank also, were considered dog food (literally), and meaty beef shank, for soup, was around $0.69/lb.(shank bones with no meat were $0.19-$0.29/lb) Now meaty shank is $2.79 and up(I have seen it for as much as (incredibly) $4.99/lb). Flank "steak" is regularly $7.99/lb here!! Sam's short ribs are currently $6+/lb, and ox-tail anywhere is at least $4.99-$5.99/lb, even in Asian or Latino stores. Ox-tail, for cryin' out loud!

I haven't seen veal of any kind(except for scalloppini) in ANY grocery except Central Market(local "gourmet" upscale store)in the last 12 years or so, nevermind for less than $10/lb. Tongue is far from easily found, but usually cheaper than the others at $4-5/lb. Somewhat to my surprise, heart and tripe are both beginning to be more available again, and at (semi) reasonable prices. But to be honest, when I can get select NY strip bone in, or even better Ribeye, for the same price or less than chuck, I'll make my stew from that every time. Though I prefer brisket for soup, it is in the same price range as chuck, especially for any kind of cut & trimmed brisket. A whole UNtrimmed cry-o-vac brisket, which could be had for $0.99-$1.29/lb six or seven years ago, is now $3.59/lb!

These price increases are way above "cost of living"; in other words, If you were to translate your salary back to 1995 dollars, and then translate the price back the same way, they would work out to be much higher than they actually were then. Instead of just doubling(a 100% increase) many cuts have increased 175%+/lb. Your salary has not "doubled", let alone increased 175% or more! Relative to the worth of your salary, prices for food, especially meat, are MUCH higher now. Bear that in mind when planning menus.

I do agree with most of the other suggestions. Use the bones from a roasted chicken for stock. Make a fantastic kale soup from that. Use the stems of broccoli, and don't throw them away, and don't pay a 50% premium for buying "broccoli crowns". Use the leaves of cauliflower in soup or veg stock. Scrub carrots but don't peel them. Etc, etc.

Asian and Indian/Pakistani stores can be much cheaper for many things, including the flour for home-made bread and noodles and dumplings. Indian stores often have whole meal and multi-grain, high protein flour blends quite cheaply. They also sell spices at mind-blowingly cheap prices, and frequently sell huge varieties of dals (split lentils) quite cheaply.

It's worthwhile learning a few basic recipes for Indian style dals. Study South Indian vegetarian cuisine periodically online - they have centuries of experience in creating protein rich and well balanced (and delicious) dishes, sometimes for pennies a serving. There are a large number of very good online blogs, in English, that are dedicated to primarily South Indian cuisine, Many of them have step by step photo tutorials, and reviews of "basic" techniques of that style of cooking. Familiarize yourself with Asian and Indian vegetables too; some are unavailable in "American" groceries and are often inexpensive and delicious, as well as very nutritious.

Learn to cook if you don't really know how; and teach your kids to do so also. Even simple home cooking can save a fortune! Though Sam's $5 roast chicken is a total bargain, and can make up into many meals, a ten or twelve year old child should be able to: season a few chicken leg quarters and put them in the oven to roast, nuke a few "baked" potatoes or make a salad, and steam some vegetables for dinner. You'll appreciate it if they can get dinner going when you are swamped with work, or just worn out, and Your kids will bless you later for teaching them to cook.

Only buy in bulk if you are certain you will use all the item before it can go bad or deteriorate significantly. And above all, learn what the "usual" local prices are for foods your family commonly eats, and also learn (or note in your smartphone/tablet/memo pad) which stores usually have those and other common items like drinks, dairy, spices, toiletries etc the cheapest. If you know the usual prices, you'll spot a bargain much more easily. Plan your shopping trip to maximize your transportation money too. Make your kid's school lunches or school day dinners on the weekend, or on your day off. Preserve your leftovers and make up your own homemade "TV" (frozen) dinners. Those can be a lifesaver on days when work has kicked your butt, and cooking is just out of the question.

My mother taught me all these things in general before I left home for college. I have blessed her many times since. She grew up in the tail end of the Great Depression, and could make the utmost from the smallest amount of ingredients. She would often save just a couple of tablespoons of leftover vegetables, even canned ones, and use them in soup, or in one of her home made frozen dinners. It was not uncommon for one of her "TV" dinners to have, say, 1/4 cup each of three different vegetables, 1/3c rice or pasta, a couple of pieces of boiled potatoes(with or without green beans), and a small amount of meat, such as two chicken wings or one thigh, or two small meatballs or half of a slice of meatloaf, or no more than 1/3c of shredded roast with a little gravy.

We(my siblings and I) would all fight over who would get which of her "leftover TV dinners". One would have the roast, one might have the last of the thanksgiving leftovers, one might have bits and bites from a couple of Italian or Mediterranean style dinners, and so on. For us, this was almost like going to a restaurant, and was an excellent way to teach us, by example, how to get the most for our money while feeding a family. And since her cooking was nearly always excellent, no one felt deprived by having a dinner of HER leftovers. We usually fought (good naturedly) over who would get the last little bit of the squash casserole, or the turkey gumbo. These dinners were nourishing, educational, and delicious, and as a plus, made great memories too. Enlist your family to help make up a few meals worth; spending the time with them makes it less like work, and you may create some cherished memories of your own as well.

Please forgive this novel length post; I do hope some of these suggestions can be of help to someone. The things I've learned, from my mom and by experience, have been invaluable in helping me and DH cope with financially stressful times; I hope they can do that for other people too. Happy Holidays to everyone!

Nov 20, 2014
Quasardrake in General Topics

Any memories of "poor people food" from your childhood that you still crave?

Cinnamon toast!! OMG Yeeessssss!!! A childhood fave for sure! For me though,It was a real production.
For each piece, I had to cut four thin pats of my mom's precious real butter(she kept it in the freezer and Dad&kids mostly used margarine, but she could not abide margarine on toast or in her poached eggs), the butter was a "stolen" treat so this was a special thing, one pat place on each 'quarter' of the bread, then sprinkle sugar and cinnamon over the whole slice, even between the butter pats, then run under the broiler till the butter was melted, the edges were nicely crisped up and the sugar melted and caramelized at the edges too.
Had to make SURE that one did not over or under cook - edges simply had to be a perfect dark golden brown, and no burned sugar please! The contrast of the crispy, buttery, toasted bread and the almost caramel-ly cinnamon/sugar, with the melted butter moistening the sugar and helping it to actually melt, oh lord that was my first exposure to what I would call a gourmet dish. Two slices of this and a cup of good dark Now Orleans coffee, mmmm, total heaven for breakfast or snack. To really work for me, it HAD to be broiler toasted to get that contrast between toast and melted sugar; I was a picky eight year old LOL!

Kraft dinner was a special treat enjoyed when visiting my paternal grandmother overnight - I remember specially that the boxes at that time claimed something like five or six 1/2 cup servings. Nowadays the box claims three servings (don't know what size) IIRC :( . My mpm NEVER paid money for boxed mac&cheese - this was the late sixties and while she rarely bought the pizza kit she never bought either the mac/cheese or the spaghetti. But then she made fantastic spaghetti sauce from scratch and used the thin (#3, IIRC) spaghetti pasta. To this day I HATE the regular size spaghetti; it is just to thick for my taste! Funny how childhood experiences establish life long preferences....

Nov 19, 2014
Quasardrake in General Topics

where can I buy beef kidney suet

Thanks. My brother will be there in a few weeks (Austin) and will see me within a few hours as he will be on his way to Dallas at that time. I'll ask him to see about it. Thanks for replying! Have nice holidays this year.

Nov 19, 2014
Quasardrake in Austin

Cooking When You are Poor

My $20 Aroma rice cooker came with a large steamer insert and removable nonstick cooking insert. You can saute in the cooking insert, and you can use the thing to make seasoned rice, quick arroz con pollo, kichiri, etc; you can cook some of the smaller dals like mung and masoor dal in it, you can cook fritattas in it, you can can cook(steam) vegetables over rice or couscous, or steam fish while the rice is cooking, and have a whole meal done in the time the rice is doing, etc etc etc. It can be used in many ways and I've not found it to be a single-use appliance at all. One of the better $20 I've spent on kitchen gear, along with the $20 4L pressure cooker I got on clearance a couple of years ago...
Though I must say that if I just want plain rice I too will usually use the stovetop method,largely because limited counter space means I cannot always keep the rice cooker on the counter. But also, I find that sometimes my rice cooker would not give me the texture I wanted. Most recipes ask for WAY to much water - I tend to use 1 cup rice to 1 1/3 cup water, 1 1/2 c rice to 2c water or 2c rice to 2 1/2c water. Of course, this is Basmati rice that I rinse thoroughly, soak for 15 min then drain for 10. Cooks up perfectly each time with these ratios. If I am using jasmine or plain long grain rice I usually maintain a 1:1.5 ratio after rinsing the rice thoroughly.
IDK why, but sometimes my rice cooker made the rice mushy. Oddly, I found it cooked other items more consistently well than rice! Maybe it's just that I prefer my rice drier and more separate. But I do pull it out and use it for pongol/kichiri(rice & dal cooked together), which it does really well.

Nov 17, 2014
Quasardrake in General Topics

Any memories of "poor people food" from your childhood that you still crave?

Take the eggs, sugar and marsala(or sherry or sweet white wine), put in a small pot over a larger pot of boiling water, and whip with a whisk by hand, for about ten minutes (until it reaches a temp of about 135-140). It will grow frothy then will begin to "cook" without curdling; the French name for this is Sabayon, in Italian Zabaglione. It is kind of like a whipped custard but has no milk or cream. It's VERY rich and I always liked it either by itself or served as a sauce over fresh berries (this I think is the "Strawberries Romanoff" of La Madeleine).
Most recipes for this say to use only the yolks but I have made it using 1/2 the whites too. Though I never made it with more than 2 eggs, 1 whole and 1 just yolk ;). I discovered this when I was in college and craving something sweet and had no flour or milk in the house. It increases in volume as you whip it by a tremendous amount so making it with 2 eggs made more than 2 servings, could easily have sauced berries for three or four!

Nov 16, 2014
Quasardrake in General Topics

Any memories of "poor people food" from your childhood that you still crave?

I know it's been a long time since you posted this, but is it possible what you are thinking of is "cane syrup"? This is a product left over after sugar cane is processed for the crystalizable sugar, IIRC. Steen's cane syrup used to be the main one, marketed in yellow cans that were like small paint cans. I remember my mom needing a big screwdriver to pry open the lid, because it would stick so tight after the first use!
Despite the sweetness, it had an almost tart undertone, really unique, and was absolutely great on fresh hot buttered biscuits. My dad remembered pouring it all over his breakfast of fried eggs and ham along with the biscuits when he was a boy working on his dad's farm in Louisiana(his dad did that too), I remember spreading it on cornbread to go with the blackeyed peas, ham and greens for New Years day dinner.

Nov 16, 2014
Quasardrake in General Topics

where can I buy beef kidney suet

I am in Dallas and I am looking for beef suet for baking and making British style Christmas puddings. What is "Salt and Time"? Is that an Austin butcher? Are they online? Do you know what "Dai Due" is? I cannot find pure unadulterated beef suet anywhere up here; it seems now to be largely used in the U.S. for bird food. I would have thought with the popularity of the paleo diet it would have become more available! Many thanks in advance if you could answer!
Loren(Quasardrake)

Nov 07, 2014
Quasardrake in Austin

What discontinued products do you miss?

OMG!!! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I wondered why all of a sudden i couldn't find them any more. The vegetable broth incubes was a long standing therapy for a queasy stomach in my family - whenever my mom or i had a REALLY bad migraine or one of us got some sort of stomach flu or anything like that, this was the first thing we would (carefully) sip down once we could keep water down. It was perfectly flavorful and salty. We would always have it out of large hand made pottery mugs we bought on a trip to Gatlinburg TN area when I was very small.

Both my parents were physicians and they swore by this particular vegetable broth to handle the post nausea tummy. :( I'm so glad my Mom is no longer here to miss this stuff - she had it around in the refrig all her life. I miss it terribly - I've been looking for it for years, didn't know it was no longer being made (but really, guessed, just hoped I was wrong...)

May 01, 2012
Quasardrake in General Topics

Why Do Subway Restaurants Smell Awful?

Oh my god, I thought it was just me! To me the smell seemed to have numerous components - a yeasty/ammonia smell, a bit of onion, some kind of chemical cleanser, a bit of a whif of overheated nonstick pan, definitely some old, overheated oil, a fermenting fruit/veg note and worst of all, the unmistakable odor of deli meats that have turned.

The combo of them all, although it doesn't actually smell anything like it, occasionally reminds me of that infamous "hot tub" odor. This suggests that the scientist in the article may be on the right track when he speculates about volatilized fatty acids - because those same things make emesis, stinky feet, rancid oils etc stink powerfully. They are at least responsible for the vaguely "fruity", rancid vomit like components.

I'm relieved to know it's not just in my head. The puzzling thing is that many years ago, like in the late 1980's, I don't remember Subway having that smell. Then I started to smell it here and there, usually in locations that were small and looked poorly cleaned, then it became ubiquitous. I don't eat there too often any more - not since the weekend where I saw green cold cuts at not one, not two, but three different locations in 2 days! (I left the first one and went to another location, which also had that problem, then went home in disgust. The next day I tried one more time at yet another location. I'll never forget the look on my hubby's face - even he could see the faintly iridescent green color on the meat!)

I will say the smell got noticeably worse when they started using bagged produce - even the freshest, most recently delivered to your market bags of salad greens, lettuces, cole slaw mix and lately baby carrots have a rank scent that cannot be washed out. Contributing that to the already nasty store smell didn't help Subway out, IMO.

Sep 02, 2011
Quasardrake in Features