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Inexpensive meals and a break
Yo! This will be the last free issue of Evil Witches for a bit. The kids have no camp for the next two weeks but my work schedule doesn’t know that, and then school starts. It will be a lot of trying to do both fun parenting and competent work at the same time to the detriment of both. I’ll be back with the free stuff around August 23.
I will run some weekly paid subscriber-only threads and posts though while I’m off. Some are TBD but others include an interview I did withabout how she addresses her trolls and a paid subscriber-only chat for witches interested in possibly getting in touch with other witches in their area. (I am still trying to figure out the best way to do this via Substack Notes/Threads—if you’ve seen other editors offer this elegantly, please let me know so I can steal their methods.)
If you don’t want to miss these issues and chats, do this:
Now on with the issue. A witch asked:
At the risk of sounding like a Mormon Pinterest mom, I have recently found myself thinking about ways to cut my family's food budget without, you know, living on ramen. Even when I’m making a light trip to the grocery store—no meat, poultry, or fish; no fancy treats; no $20 bottles of wine—I end up spending A LOT. I know I should get back into the habit of watching sales, but I’m also wondering if any witches might want to share some budget-friendly meals that aren’t depressing. PS: the nearest H Mart is more than 100 miles away. Trader Joe’s is 90 miles. Whole Foods is 60 miles. Costco is 30 miles.)
Below are some budget, non-depressing meals, resources and tips witches turn to when they are trying to save $$ on the Sisyphean task of feeding themselves and their family. So many of these are bean-oriented that I have a whole bean section at the end. They’re good for the heart, so I hear.
Feel free to share your own in the comments! My contribution is not really mine, but I’ve been making it for over 20 years—pasta San Tropez, which makes a ton of food (you can stretch it to 2 lbs of pasta) for less than $20—you probably already have a lot of the ingredients in your house right now. Great for company or for if you’re staying in a vacation house since it’s so hands-off and the ingredients can be found in any store.
On with witches’ tips:
Frittata or tortilla espanola. We do a lot of baked potato meals, like various toppings on potatoes. My daughter’s fav is a soft runny egg on a baked potato with cilantro and cheese. This is good veggie season, so I always do ratatouille and gazpacho, and you can eat that with cheesy toasts to make it feel more meal-ish.
During Covid, I did a lot of Instacart and ordering groceries. And before that, I was a Peapod fan. I find that when I create an online order and see the prices for things, it makes me think twice about what I REALLY need or would use. I also used to be a brand-name girl before doing grocery delivery. Now I often just buy what is cheapest unless it is something we have to have the brand name for.
I don’t use grocery delivery services anymore, but I often start lists in their apps just to get a handle on what my total is going to look like and reduce impulse buys. That being said, once I’m in the store, all bets are off, so that’s where I think there is a value to curbside pick-up with fewer fees but less freedom to buy everything.
Right now, I’m making zucchini everything.
I’ve also gotten better at tofu-based meals, so grilled or oven-fried tofu as a protein.
And eggs! Fried egg makes it a meal whether you’re talking about veggie fried rice, rice and beans, or avocado toast.
If you can master a bread recipe, it’s a fairly significant savings with nothing depressing about it. This time of year, with four people home all day, we go through a LOT of bread, and my fam likes the $7-8/loaf sourdough from a local bakery. Last weekend my husband made a focaccia and a no-knead dough, and between the two, we got four loaves and six days of bread out of it, equivalent to probably $20 had we bought it.
Budget Bytes is the perennial cheap food website/blog, and the nice thing about trying to cut your grocery budget down but not being in a crisis is that you can take the suggestions at the end of the recipe for making it fancier and then just do it. Or whatever sounds good! But you’re at least starting at a base of less spendy meals rather than “go spend $40 at the farmers market to feed two people and have a bunch of weird aspirational veg leftover.”
This topic makes me think of the £10 a week lady, though not sure how non-depressing those are. Also! Check if your library has cookbooks; I’ve found that super helpful for trying recipes I’m not sure about. and then I’m not annoyed when there’s only like three recipes I like.
We do a lot of rice bowls in our house. Endlessly customizable for all my picky eaters. They can be as simple or as fancy as you want. I get the massive bag from Sam’s Club and make a big batch in my ninja instant pot thing.
We make them with leftover protein (it’s amazing how you can transform one meal into another by slathering it with teriyaki sauce), air-fried popcorn chicken (or even regular chicken nugs!), sauteed ground meats (ground turkey is always on sale in my area, please no one tell me why).
Add veggies and whatever sauce you want, done. My younger kid eats hers covered in ketchup, regardless of what’s in it, so what who cares.
We’ve also been doing rice bowls but with quinoa (my husband ordered a 25lb bag online??). My go-to these days is 1/2 cup - 3/4 cup cooked quinoa, a bunch of lightly steamed broccoli, and a protein.
I’m lazy, so 1/3 of a can of black beans is this week’s protein, but whatever works. I then top with 2 tablespoons of some kind of sauce on it (think general Tso’s, bbq, lately a sweet chili sauce, but really whatever and if you want to make it cheaper by making your own sauce, go you!). Varying the sauce is enough variety for me, apparently.
Recipe arrives at trying to find a “healthy lunch I don’t hate, cause salads are not actually food. I like this ‘cause I can set up a week’s worth on the weekend and then just grab and go, too.
Our best non-depressing, also easy, relatively bargain meal is “Pasta, Pancetta, and Peas” by Sunny Anderson for the Food Network. It obviously isn’t so budget if you use pancetta, but you can swap out bacon and use between a quarter of a pack to half a pack, and it is awesome! And also, I double the frozen peas. You can usually use way less parm if you use a freshly grated one. We have been making it for like 12 years.
Shakshuka is a go to cheap and easy meal for us.
Leanne Brown’s Good and Cheap!
My fave non- depressing budget meal is Italian rice. One nice thing about this recipe is that it’s infinitely scalable and is great left over.
Brown some Italian sausage in a little olive oil (or not if veg/too $$), then sauté onion in drippings (after removing browned sausage) until soft and starting to brown around edges (basically to however well done you like your onions) then add some minced garlic.
Lightly toast the garlic (you don’t want to burn it), add some crushed tomatoes, salt, pepper, basil (or whatever herbs you like in tomato sauce) and the sausage.
Cook for 15 min or on medium, taste for seasoning. Cook some rice (I’ve traditionally used long grain white but brown/med/short grain would work fine). 1 large can of crushed tomatoes should sauce 2-3 C of rice, depending on how saucy you want it. Combine sauce and rice. You can eat it as is or put into an oven-proof dish and bake 350° for 10 min or so, usually with Parm or pecorino grated on top.
I’m a huge bean head, and I also like homemade pizza (not fancy or cute, usually, but never goes to waste) for budget meals.
BEANS, YOU SAY??
One of my favorite very cheap, very easy meals is making bean burrito bowls (rice and beans and toppings) with the beans from Goya black bean soup instead of just plain canned black beans that I need to doctor myself. It’s so much easier and tastes so much better.
A family favorite: Roasted broccoli and white beans
I follow this TikTok mom Alex Mac who does cheap/easy meals and her recipes are great. Her whole thing is “we use what we have” and “it will be fine”. Very low stress recipes!
My budget and kid-friendly tip that can make 3 or more meals:
Cook 2 lbs of black beans. Soak them for 24hrs, drain, cover in water, cut an onion in half, take the skin off and place in water (this way, you get the flavor but then fish it out at the end so your kids don't complain about onions in their beans), add a bay leaf and some garlic cloves (which depending on size may deteriorate while cooking or you can also fish out at the end).
If I soak my beans, they usually cook for 2ish hours, and I sometimes add a little water during cooking to keep them moist.
Ok, then onto ways to use your huge pot of beans:
-Burritos! For my kids, they like beans, cheese and sometimes rice. For grown-ups I add sweet potatoes and sauteed kale plus lots of salsa and sour cream for topping
-Nachos! Beans, cheese, corn, add picked radishes, green onions and jalapenos on the grown-up side
-Bean and rice bowls! Basically the same ingredients as burritos but different presentation. You could add some meat for excitement.
Cuban Rice & Beans w/Tostones
To make this dish more economical, use spices from the rack instead of fresh onions, garlic, pepper.
2 cups white rice
4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped or 1 tb onion powder
5 cloves garlic, minced or 1 tb garlic powder
3 cups cooked black beans, drained
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 can diced tomatoes with liquid
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white wine vinegar
juice of 1 lime
Combine white rice and water in a medium saucepan. Salt well and heat to boil on high heat. Once water is boiling, turn heat down to low and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until rice is cooked through.
While rice is cooking, prepare beans. In a large saucepan, heat olive oil, onion and garlic on medium heat 5-7 minutes (or skip this step and add powder to beans in next step). Add beans, cayenne pepper, tomatoes, salt, and pepper, and turn heat to lowest setting. Simmer for 15 minutes.
Remove beans from heat and add white wine vinegar and lime juice. Stir and serve over rice. Cilantro garnish if it doesn't make you gag.
Tostones are super easy. They are smashed plantains fried up. You can buy them frozen at Trader Joe's (I realize this isn't an option for everyone.)
Peel the plantains and slice into 1 inch rounds. With a heavy glass cup or meat tenderizer, smash the rounds.
Heat oil on medium and fry the plantains about 3 minutes per side.
Remove plantains and drain on paper towel
Sprinkle the plantains with sea salt and minced garlic, squeeze a lime over the pieces and let sit for 5 minutes or longer if you want to chill.
Smash plantains a little thinner
Heat oil on medium-high and cook plantains for one minute per side and serve warm
Spicy Black Bean Enchiladas
I would recommend buying a can of red enchilada sauce rather than doing this homemade for ease and less depression. This is more of an assemblage than a recipe, but here goes:
2 cans black beans
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
salt and pepper
1 can (15 ounce) red enchilada sauce
8 corn tortillas
2 cups Monterey Jack/Cheddar Mix, grated
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Combine beans, garlic powder, hot sauce, salt and pepper in a saucepan and heat on medium for 10 minutes. Remove from stovetop and allow to cool.
Heat tortillas for 20 seconds in a microwave, two at a time, covered with a damp paper towel.
In a casserole dish, pour 1/4 of can of enchilada sauce on bottom of dish and spread evenly.
Assemble enchiladas by filling each tortilla with 2-3 tablespoons of beans, roll tortillas and place in the casserole dish seam-side down. Keep tortillas close to one another.
Cover the enchiladas with remaining enchilada sauce. Then covered with grated cheese.
Bake for 20 minutes.
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