Thursday, May 2, 2013

How to Have Interesting Meals when You're Broke, Hungry, Cheap and Lazy

How to Have Interesting Meals when You're Broke, Hungry, Cheap and Lazy

Sometimes you want to save money.  Sometimes you're just broke.  Whatever you are, you're bored.  It's hard to make an interesting lunch or dinner - for one, you have to cook all the time!  You just want some food and you want it to get you through the week and you don't want to spend too much effort on it [and if you do, you want it to at least be filling and last the whole week, right?].  It's a shame that can get boring fast.

And that's where I grab your attention with a well placed, "BUT WAIT," and then tell you about my seductive seductive offer.  Which is this: A simple guideline on easy flavourful dishes you can easily mix and match to make a myriad of amazing dishes as simply as possible!

Next time you find yourself with 30 seconds or a spare hour, make one of the five major things and a few of the super easy ones and you'll never be bored!

1.       Seed Mixes.  

 I love these to add crunch and style and versatility to my lunches.  The best part is you can make them in batches that last a month at a time and in a variety of flavours in minutes.  Here’s a recipe for my three favourites:
A.      1 Tablespoon Cumin Seeds
1 Tablespoon Coriander Seeds
1 Tablespoon Sesame Seeds
1 Tablespoon Poppy Seeds
1 Tablespoon Linseeds/Flax Seeds

Notice how they’re all equal parts so you can eyeball this up in seconds and throw it in a non-greased pan and toast it for about a minute or until the smell is delicious.

B.      1 Tablespoon Pumpkin Seeds
1 Tablespoon Crushed Hazelnuts
1 Tablespoon Crushed Macadamia Nuts
1 Tablespoon (Do you get the idea?  Do I need to say this anymore? Bueller?) Sesame Seeds.

C.      1 Tablespoon Pumpkin Seeds
3 Tablespoons Crushed Hazelnuts [take THAT, status quo!]
1 tsp cinnamon, freshly ground if possible
1 tsp ginger, same as above
1 tsp nutmeg you get the idea

Toast.  Put in a shaker. Enjoy!

This will last up to three weeks in a shaker closed on the counter or in the fridge.  Great to put on top of salads, through sandwiches, or in various meals to change the flavour entirely!

2.       A Giant Batch of Boring
No joke.  I’m talking like soaking a big batch of beans or roasting a simple meat or boiling up a simple lentils, all with nearly no flavour.  Hear me out!
A.      Beans

Soak ‘em if you can [you have the time, face it, you just have a sh*t memory].  I like to soak some beans overnight on the weekend, just pour water over them and go to bed.  If I forget, handy tip, I pour boiling water from the kettle over the beans in the morning and let soak at least an hour.  Brilliant.  Then, crockpot! [High Four Hours. Low Six Hours.]  Or stovetop if I can remember to be near the stove ninety minutes later.  I put in the basics, a cut up onion [not even cut well, as I remove it and put it in the compost at the end], and some herbs from the garden; whatever I have on hand.  Fish them out when the beans are done and save a cupful of the water ‘cause some recipes call for it, damnit all.

During the week I turn them into various delights suited to my mood.  You can put the beans in a pan with sautéed onions and with a bit of the water from boiling them and mashing them with a potato masher until they start frying up, toss in some cumin and coriander spice and bam, simple and quick refried beans! [Don’t forget the salt!]

Or I put them in a pan with brown sugar, tomatoes, chillies, onions and Worcestershire sauce [wait here for the recipe I'll be back with it next week!] and I have myself a ten minute BBQ-flavoured fried bean dish, which is delicious.  The options are really endless depending on your beany mood.  Or if not:

B.      Not just a roast, but how about some shredded meat?

Roast. Roast this, roast that, yeah yeah.  But you know what also tastes good and is, oh, cheaper?  Shredded meat.  ‘cause get this, you totally use the tough cheap parts of the cow, lamb, pig whatever.  Chickens don’t really tend to have tough bits unless you kill your own, in which case this post is not in depth enough for you and we’ll get to you in a minute.

Also, this is another great time to break out the crockpot and forget about what you’re doing.  The best part is if you screw up, the dried bits of meat taste pretty darn good, too!

Simple Shredded Beef Recipe 
3 tablespoons of your favourite frying oil
3kg beef cubes of whatever is the cheapest the butcher has. Serious.  Whatever.  That stuff in the back of the freezer with the ice forming will do, actually.
2 onions
1 capsicum
4 garlic gloves
4 limes
oregano, fresh or dried, about 2 tablespoons
cumin, 3 tablespoons
chili powder, 3 tablespoons

Heat oil in as big as a pan as you can fit onto your stovetop without upsetting the cat.  Brown the beef as darkly as you can; you’re looking for those crispy seared bits around the edges.  Do this in two batches; if you crowd the pan you’ll steam the meat instead of sear it and you’ll never get the flavour you’re after no matter what you do.

While this is cooking for a bit, throw the rest of the ingredients in a food processor and blitz it all up.  Or chop it.  Whichever.

Place all meat in pot and add all of the ingredients. Saute about 3 minutes until it starts to look gently cooked.  Add 3 litres of water and boil on a medium heat for one hour.

Strain the broth, reserving a cup or two to moisten the meat later.  Shred all the meat with two forks and re-add the broth.

Then, creativity!  Think about it, you now have a giant batch of meat that will last a decent workweek if you don’t eat it all and you can do whatever you want to it.  I mean, like, whatever you want.  Wrap it up with some tomatoes and coriander [cilantro] in a tortilla.  Pour some salsa over it and mix it up and serve with potatoes.  Put with the beans in a baking dish wish a jar of tomatoes and spices and cover with mashed potatoes before baking – half-assed Shepherd’s Pie!  And still homemade. Brilliant.

C.      But I’m a Vegetarian – Lentils!
What, the beans weren’t good enough?  No, kidding, but you can really only use ‘meat’ once in an article, right?  Lentils are doubley tripley rainbow pony [and bronie] thing to have on hand because they don’t need soaking, they taste delicious and they can be served hot or cold.  So even if you hate meat and cannot stand the idea of standing around a bowl of soaking beans [what DO you do all day?] then this is the pulse for you!  [Oh yeah did I mention they're SUPER inexpensive?]

Lentils come in varieties which adds to their awesome.  Green, red, brown – it doesn’t end there.  There are literally thousands of varieties and just skimming the top is good enough – they all basically act the same in cooking with their slight flavour and texture differences, but for a beginner, who cares?  Get the one that you like or the one you want to try most.

Basic Lentils
Look over the lentils for any tiny pebbles, sometimes they don’t get sorted properly in the packing.  Cover with cold water  and bring to a simmer.  Place herbs from the garden or whatever is your favourite [mine is rosemary, thyme, a bay leaf and oregano] in either a bag or tied with a string into the pot along with a touch of salt and pepper.  Cover with a lid and simmer until soft, anywhere from 20 until 45 minutes, so check every few minutes and give it a stir. 

From here you can drain and have lentils to toss into salads, with meats or to puree and make into a soup [with just a bit of butter].  You can let it chill and mash it with onions and breadcrumbs and turn it into patties to fry into vegetarian burgers.

You can even mix it with the beans above, some of the seeds and some chopped veggies and make an awesome salad.  See what I did there?

3.       With a Side of Something Tasty
Sauces are delicious and they change the flavour of whatever you put them on, which makes your big batch of boring a whole lot more interesting.

A.      A Sauce/Dressing Made Of Spicy
A pile of chillies [all kinds, whatever you have that’s as spicy as you can handle], put on the stove-top [in a pan or direct on the flame, I don’t judge] until black and peelable and squishy on the inside.  Peel if you don’t like burnt chilli flavour.  Don’t peel if you freakin love it like I do.  Why do people peel this stuff?  It’s like pepper fire. OMG. 
Throw into a blender with a pinch of salt, a squeeze of lime and soft leafy herbs if you have any [coriander/cilantro, parsley [not curly], oregano and basil are all good choices, just remember to remove the stalk from the oregano.  I’m speaking more to myself here.]
B.      A Sauce/Dressing Made of Creamy [And Cheesy]
I love this recipe for extended the shelf life of my cheese and turning it into a tasty sauce!
Equal parts soft crumbly cheese [like feta or bleu] and buttermilk.  Tons of cracked pepper and a pinch of salt. That’s it. 

Too fatty?  I don’t care.  It also works with yogurt and milk.  Combine until the consistency you prefer and salt and fresh cracked pepper until it’s so good you marry it.  If you throw chopped herbs in this [or olives…or preserved lemon…] you basically get a Ranch-style dressing only not.  You’ll love it.
C.      A Sauce Made of Peanut Butter
1 small onion
A handful of chillies or peppers, as wanted, chopped finely
1 c. peanut butter [I prefer crunchy organic but that’s because I am one]
2 tablespoons tamarind paste [can be replaced with the same amount of fish sauce or all purpose sauce.  The flavour won’t quite be the same but it has the same effect you’re going for], soaked in two tablespoons of water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce [no worries veggoes it comes in vegan flavoured!]
1 tablespoon sesame oil [or a big ol’ handful of sesame seeds if you’re watching your fat you weird peanut butter sesame eating fat hater]

Gently sauté onion on a low heat with peppers until soft and just turning brown and caramel on the edges.  The longer you can do it without burning, the better.  Make a game of it! Don’t sue me.  Add the peanut butter and cook gently just to give the peanuts a nice roasted flavour.  Add liquids and combine.  If too thick, add some water or vegetable stock.  Cook for a few minutes, taste and adjust flavours to suit.

4.       Roasted Vegetables.
No really, that’s it.  No long list.  No copious amounts of text.  Roast some vegetables.  The temperature you’re looking for is 180c/350f.  The time you’re looking for is nonexistant. 

Let’s be real, it really depends on how lazy you were when you chopped the veggies.  This is where you pay for your sins; in oven time.

Throw your favourite vegetables, chopped to the sizes you prefer, with a few tablespoons of oil and a pinch or two of your favourite salt.  I also like to add thyme and rosemary to mine but that’s because if I don’t, I grow rosemary triffids and they eat my cat.

Check your veggies every ten to twenty minutes, shaking the pan so all sides can get some caramelized pan goodness.  Bring out when it looks delicious and smells like you want to eat it. 

If you’ve felt the desire to make a simple sauce above you’re in the clear for some tasty healthy side dishes.  Now you can… you’re just dipping the vegetables in the buttermilk cheese sauce, aren’t you? 

Some vegetable ideas:  Beetroot, carrot, sunchoke/Jerusalem artichoke, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, corn, kohlrabi, celery, capsicum/peppers/chillies, triffids

5.       The Pick-ables
Pick-ables are like a mezze platter; you can eat them with your fingers and pretend you’re classy when you’re not by calling it something Greek, only  not called something Greek.  And let’s be honest, I don’t do classy.  This is the stuff you’re gonna pick at because it’s tasty and you can call it what you want but I’m going to have most of it gone by lunchtime if I can help it.

A.      Pickles
See pickles aren’t just cucumbers in a jar of vinegar – they can be a multitude of delicious things you weren’t even aware were delicious things.  Relish is a pickle. Olives are a pickle. Chow Chow is a pickle [and the Southerners of America know that!].  You can even put some of your delicious roast peppers from making that sauce up there and toss it in a light pickle and serve that by itself in your lunch in a small jar.  You can make your own or you can buy them – whatever you’re eating better than you were yesterday, am I right?  Also, olive lovers, this is your excuse. TAKE IT BEFORE YOUR WALLET HATES YOU.  As for pickle recipes, I will be posting quite a few in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out.  They’re great with lunches and you can make large enough batches to last a year if you want!

Simple Light Pickle for Lunches
3c vinegar
2c water
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon honey
Put all ingredients in pan and boil.  Add spices like mustard, cloves, cumin seed or dill seed if you wish.  Pour hot liquids over prepared vegetables.  I’ll explain how to can this in the future so just allow to cool, pour into jars and keep refrigerated for this week and eat this for the week and we can work on canning next week!

Suggested Vegetables: Cucumber, Beetroot [chopped into small cubes if you intend on eating within a few days, otherwise they take some time], corn, cauliflower, chillies, beans, cherries, garlic, onions, eggs.

You can save veggies that are about to go soft this way.  They will be delicious as a pickle.  Trust me!

B.      Because fruit. 
We all love fruit.  Except for those of us that don’t.  None of us trust those people.  Anyway, one piece of fruit is kinda boring and who wants that?  Not you or you wouldn’t be here going, “WTF kind of advice is ‘grab a piece of fruit for lunch?  Thank you Captain Obvious!”  Right?  Not to mention fruit can be kinda expensive these days and it happens to go off a little quick.

I’ll be doing a more in depth post on this next week, but I’ll give you the basics of a super simple honey syrup you can use to keep your fruit fresher a little longer and mix it up a bit.

1c honey
2 1/2c water
[Optional: Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, lavender buds, marigold petals, imagination]
Boil until honey is dissolved.  Boil a further ten minutes until syrupy.  Add spices before boiling and gentle petals or flowers after.  Pour this hot mixture over any prepared fruit you want.  It’ll turn it into a homemade fruit cup only in a more bee-like syrup.  Grapes, strawberries, watermelon [a great way to get small pieces of watermelon into a lunch bag], kiwi, apple, cherries,  and pear; you can use as many or as few as you want.  I go overboard and buy a ton of fruit on sale in summer and chop them all and freeze.  Then I pour syrup on the thawed ones for spooning onto yogurt and topping with rolled oats for a side dish for lunch. 
You could even replace a cup of water with a cup of champagne.  Imagine it.
“Hey You, Behind the Computer There, what’s that you’re eating for lunch?”
“Oh. This?  Well it’s my champagne lavender mango and pear honey with greek yogurt and muesli.” And to further up the ante, add some activated almonds. BAM. You win at lunch.  Not a bloody peach, is it?

C.      Because cheese.
A cheesy dressing recipe isn’t enough.  It isn’t.  You know it, I know it.  We all know it.  One cheese does not a lunch make.

I’ll be doing an article in the future on how to make your own soft cheeses like cream cheese and feta and mixing them up with flavours to make them delicious but for now let’s just say you can get cream cheese and feta and mix them up with flavours to make them delicious!  Get a small container so you don’t go overboard [I know] and chop in your favourite herbs as a side to go with your roasted veggies or some crackers.

If you get two or three hard cheeses and make nice thick slices and keep them wrapped up you can take them with you and serve them with the relishes and pickles and fruit, making basically a bread and meatless ploughman’s lunch.  Add bread and meat if it becomes suitable.

These foods, along with many others, make lunches not only ridiculously easy to throw together but they are also economical and interesting from day to day.  Most of these, such as the cheeses, sauces, fruits and pickles can last up to three weeks in the fridge, being picked at daily and topped up whenever you have extra vegetables or fruit lying around.  This isn’t even counting grains, if you eat them!
Combining them is as easy as deciding what you’re in the mood for that morning or the night before:
1.       Spicy Shredded Beef [Spicy Sauce and Beef] with roasted vegetables and a peanut sauce topped with delicious toasted seeds and some cheese and pickles on the side to nibble on.
2.       Peanut chicken with vegetables in a wrap [okay so the wrap isn’t included in this tutorial] with a salad made from fresh veggies, tossed toasted seeds and some fresh cheese.
3.       Veggies and Beans with shredded cheese and relish and a champagne fruit yogurt cup with oats.
4.       Cheese dressing topped vegetables on lentils with relish and more cheese because you love your arteries today.
5.       Shredded beef. Olives. Pickled eggs. Relish. Honeyed Fruit. Big hunk of bread.
6.       Pickled vegetables and shredded chicken [recipe coming soon, don’t worry] in a wrap with a cheese dressing AND a spicy dressing. Fruit and cream cheese on the side.
7.       Fruit and yogurt with cinnamon seeds and oats.  Peanut vegetables in a wrap with a delicious crisp dill pickle.
8.       Lentil soup with blue cheese and toasted seeds with some bread and cheese
9.       Black bean and pickled corn salad with roasted veggies and all of the seeds.
….and keep going!


  1. Beautiful ideas. Thanks so much.

    I never knew the trick of sauteing the peanut butter!!!!! I have always sort of felt that something was missing.

  2. Loved this, especially the ideas for seeds. Thanks!

  3. LOL! I needed this post when I was a student... and then later, when I was a starving writer. Definitely giving a copy to my niece when she goes to varsity.