Saturday, January 25, 2014

If You're Not Hungry And Love to Waste Money - Do Not Read this Post!

 There are some things you can't get by whacking a tube on the side of the
counter while some guy made out of dough giggles.

Actually,  I shouldn't poke fun at the Pillsbury guy. At Halloween, when Partner in Grime went to a party as a World War I "Doughboy" (with authentic gear). . .

World War I Bacon Ration Tin


But as I prepared breakfast this morning, I thought about something I saw on the news the other night, where they were interviewing folks wanting $15 an hour for an unskilled minimum wage job. One young woman (single with children and living in a family member's home) stated "I can only afford to eat fast food, and can't even buy breakfast some days".

That just hit me, not the struggle to survive on minimum wage, as that would be a struggle for a single adult with children. What bothered me was the statement about only being able to afford fast food.
Home on the Range Dollar Value Menu Burger

You can make a really good lunch or meal at home, per person, for less than the $5 -8 average fast food meal. Not convenience food and not prime meats.  But real food with real ingredients is not so hard you have to be a slave to the kitchen or a Martha Stewart.  I don't know how many times I've been behind someone  in line at the discount food store, and their cart is FULL of frozen pizzas, waffles, breakfast sandwiches and bagged, frozen meals, chips and pop and precooked, prepackaged cooked meat, canned and packaged biscuits and bread. The cost of their food was 3 times what I was paying for things to prepare food from scratch and eat really well, not just beans and rice every meal, and at the crash pad, where I don't have much storage or a big freezer.
Case in point, Last Saturday's Dinner

4 large chicken leg/thighs - on sale at a grocery with a butcher, a special at  $3
1/2  bag of frozen store brand veggies and half an onion $1.50
biscuits  from scratch  (about 10 cents a piece)
spices and a little dab of  Aldi Italian salad dressing.. Less than 50 cents, assuming you season food regularly and buy them when they're on sale.

Total  for food used  - About  $5
It made enough to feed two with leftover chicken for another meal, the remaining biscuits frozen for a quick biscuit and gravy or breakfast sandwich meal some other time. And it was really, really good. the chicken especially flavorful and incredibly juicy from the brazing process which also is great on inexpensive and tougher cuts of meat.

Cast Iron Braised Chicken

Early the next morning  .  What's in the fridge?  I have a 3 slices of deli lunch meat left from sandwiches for work, a couple thick slices of Swiss, a dab of mayo left in the jar, hot sauce and the sad and lonely remnants of a loaf of homemade bread.   I don't waste anything.  Add some hot sauce to the remaining dab of mayo, assemble and lightly butter the bread. Throw it in the George Foreman style grill I got for $5 at a yard sale (who needs an expensive panini maker) and you have breakfast for two with about $2 worth of leftovers.
Lunch the next day, the leftover braised chicken, shredded on salad with a bit of that Italian dressing. With Aldi Romaine and Garlic Bread made from the remnants of "make lunch for work" Italian sub rolls bought on sale at the grocery, and iced tea, a meal for two for about $3.

Afternoon snack was an apple,  less than a buck  from the Aldi bagged ones.
With not a lot of prep, you've fed two people, per person, basic meals for a whole day (24 hours in this case) for the cost of  two value priced fast food meals.  This takes budget minded shopping and making it a point not to throw anything out (unless it got shoved to the back of the fridge and turned into a science experiment).

I realize there are times you need something you can just pop in the oven to heat or microwave, especially if you are a household with multiple jobs and/or kids. I also realize, not everyone has, or can afford, the freezer space to buy and store in bulk.  But these recipes didn't require that.  I'll admit, I have more than one Home Run Pizza in my freezer, just because I like the ones with sausage and jalapenos and Partner in Grime and I eat out at an ethnic restaurant, someplace family owned,  inexpensive but fun, once or twice a month, like this place we found when we were checking out a location for an upcoming  model train event. 
Baba Ghanoush and fresh made pitas at Falafelji Mediterranean Cuisine.
 The lunch Steak Shawerma platter with tahini sauce with grilled veggies and salad.
The combo platter, steak, chicken and spiced kafta made with minced lamb and 
beef and spices with garlic mayo, tahini and jalapeno garlic sauces 

With leftovers boxed up (there was no way we could finish all this, even as delicious as it was) and put in the travel cooler in the truck, we had lunch material with some extra pitas for two more days. Your Mom may have told you to clean your plate, but if you do that with the size of some restaurant portions Greenpeace will soon be showing up to roll you back into the water.  Don't be embarrassed to ask for a "to go" bag, and use it all up.  I've done that in the finest of restaurants and not had the Wine Sommelier come over and taunt me in French.

Still, I try and cook from scratch most of the time.  Sometimes schedules and travel are such, it's just the weekends, something in the crockpot and the oven going to package up for the fridge or freezer for future meals. I've started making my own yogurt now that Greek Yogurt has gone popular (and hence, pricey). But it's worth trying, even a day or two a week to start.  For you can save a lot of money, with not a lot of time, if you just learn the basic skills to make things from scratch.

If you don't know how to cook this way, there are a ton of blogs out there on the subject and books you can get at Half Priced Books to learn. Sometimes you do so to  simply survive with a full stomach, sometimes it's the satisfaction of something hand crafted as you tuck those dollars away for when times get tough as they can for even the most prepared of people.  But it's a skill, I so wish the younger generation would recognize as one necessary to survive in today's tough economy.


  1. I wasn't hungry when I began reading the post. Now I am...

  2. My family and I used to eat alot of fast food, when we had the money to spend. Not any more. Once a month we go out to eat, not a Red Lobster, or AppleBees, but at a KFC with all you can eat buffet, or a place called Culver's.(They have a wide range menu.)

    Family cooked meals at home are the norm now. I want to start experimenting with making home made rolls and biscuits working my way up to bread.

  3. You are right in that the current crop of teen-to-30-somethings generally has no clue in the kitchen if it does not involve a box and a microwave.

    At least all 3 of my Monkeys are loving learning to cook in the kitchen. I am no great chef by any stretch of the imagination, but I do BBQ pretty well! ;)

    I should cook more completely from scratch, (I use biscuit mix and pancake mix for convenience for example) so that they can learn that too.

  4. When I can keep up on things, it's how I roll too. I'm trying to learn gravies, am practicing with my pressure cooker, experimenting with things like quinoa, and... actually doing pretty good. It's getting the vegetables in there that is tricky.

    It's actually fun. And with a small investment in cooking gear, the sky is the limit. Add a few things like a pressure cooker, a standard steamer, a fine chinois, and a few other gadgets and anyone (almost) can cook the finest foods imaginable. I've heard even actual French restaurants have gone downhill, even over there. Something about not being able to pay workers enough to keep them, or enough of them. Which is why I laugh at McDonald workers who complain. Same same.

    Home cooking is the only way. And, the reason for gravies and sauces... is so that cheaper cuts can be used more easily. Lovely post, ma'am.

  5. I like the WW1 equipment, I have right much of that though no bacon thingy. He needed my M1903 with the long bayonet, the rifle was actually made in 03 and had been barreled from a 30-03 cartridge. blah blah
    Anyway, I learned to cook like people did over 100 years ago and I can feed all of us for what one fast food combo meal costs and then have left overs for the next meal. I like to think that what I cook tastes better and is healthier as well. Oh and I have the WW1 helmet with original padding and strap...blah is neat!

  6. A tummy warming post, summarized in the last sentence. You add a whole new dimension to “Home Economics”; or maybe that was the original meaning.

  7. I sure do appreciate your common sense approach to matters fiscal and everyday living. I shake my head in disgust when I see people berating the mcdonalds corp. for posting ways to get by on a lower wage on their employee website... because the things that they, and you espouse, seem to "be below them", when in reality it is the same habits espoused in both this blog and the book "the millionaire next door", by Danko and Stanley.
    I think that book should be made mandatory reading for high school Sophomores, when they're likely getting their first "real" jobs... but alas, 'tis not to be - we got gender studies and victimization classes to get through!
    Just wanted to show love for the blog and ALL the enclosed subject matter... hopefully EJ didn't find the only single gal like you that exists in the wild. haha.

  8. ooohhhhh..... boooooo ... hissssss ....... you a bad girl.... expecting me to work.... boo hiss.

    Chuckling into the kitchen that has not seen a TV diner .... ever....

  9. Not only is it cheaper to cook at home, it's more fun! I rarely go out to eat anymore, as I usually figure we can make better food at home for less while I'm sitting there eating. On the other hand, it's nice not to have to clean up afterwards.

  10. I make my own egg ...muffin for breakfast every morning. A dozen eggs, pound of Amish bacon, cheese slices and English muffins costs about $12. Add in a couple small yogurts (which I buy on clearance - does it ever go bad?) and I've got breakfast for about $1.50/day. And it's substantial enough to take me right through to lunch.

    Even though I'm only cooking for myself, I like my cooking, and will often do a meal for 3-4 and have the leftovers for lunch the next two days. Just like you, I buy chicken thighs or other cuts on sale and freeze them for when I need them.

    Supplement that with some good moose or venison and I've got a pretty healthy and inexpensive diet (I'm not counting the price/lb of the moose and deer - rifles, ammo, shooting club membership, deer camp, moose camp... There are some things just better forgotten about)

  11. When I was a kid in school, they taught home economics. We learned how to cook from scratch and make budgets. My mom taught me how to cook, too. There were no fast food places in those days. We still cook from scratch. Kids nowadays are clueless

  12. Great PSA.
    So many kids today know nothing about cooking.
    Almost "Idiocracy".
    They could be looking at all the raw materials and starve to death because Taco Bell was closed.

  13. People don't want to invest the time to cook from scratch, or are willing to learn.

    I rarely eat out, and I rarely have a cold or flu.

  14. Brigid,

    You have made an excellent point. For some reason, a lot of people don't know how to cook anything, and they don't know how to cook economically. Cooking doesn't have to be expensive and eating healthy food isn't impossible. People have forgotten how to cook and use cabbage, greens, carrots, to stuff peppers or cabbages. You can make your own marinara sauce, your own pizza, your own chicken and rice. Of course, your skills in the kitchen exceed mine, but our large family eats well without spending a fortune. Asian food also helps us to stretch our budget sometimes too. Oatmeal is not just a breakfast food. It makes great oatmeal raisin refrig. cookies which are healthy.
    Great post. Thanks so much.

  15. The problem is that you need these people to become motivated enough to actually learn to cook. Why would they do that? Mommy and daddy fed them before and the nice people at Micky D's will feed them now if we just give them the money (again, like mom and dad did).

    It is like the people who come into the store where I work, put $50 worth of soda and junk food on the counter and hand me a food-stamp card, I want to go over the counter and slap them silly. We have raised several generations of helpless mewling infants with neither the skills nor the desire to live in the real world.

    It might be that I'm getting old and cranky but I really think we need to let Darwin do his job and let these pieces of human debris go the way of the Dodo and the rest of us can live in a better world.

  16. I've written out before in this space that the local dominant take-out pizza chain can accept food stamps because of their "take and bake" concept.

    About a year ago, I saw an article in the local paper about the company's "aggressive" expansion plans to go national. Coming soon to a strip mall near you!

  17. Thanks for the reminder, Jane o' Virginia. Cabbage, almost forgot that on my list.

  18. LL - good thing I didn't post the honey mustard pork roast I just cooked. :-)

    Rob - Culvers is good, and I've never had a bad meal at one.

    Monkeywrangler - there is a recipe for a homemade baking mix on the sidebar somewhere. It's nice as it's half the cost of Bisquick and you can use whole wheat flour in it.

    Doom - Thank you. A man that can use a pressure cooker is smart and savvy. Most 20 year old's don't even know what they are.

    Sunnybrook Farm - the firearm sounds like a better accessory than the little WW1 tin for salt and pepper we took!

    Richard Hensley - perhaps :-)

    housefitter - well thank you! And I will be looking for that book as I'd not seen it. "Victimization classes". How so sadly true. I DO have a single female cousin who lives in a log home she crafted up in the mountains out West where she raises horses,when she's not doing a construction job and she's a better cook than I, so there's few of us out there.

    John Bord - I actually bought a TV Dinner once just for curiosity. Oh my, it was bad. The mound of potatoes on the box was literally 2 Tablespoons of salt flavored fluff.

    cw swanson - we usually eat out for things we don't make at home, the Czech place, Chinese etc, and always the little local ma and pa place that's a hidden gem.

    Marty -you're an incredible cook and I'm glad you enjoy it. Thanks for sending over the recipe today, I'll be trying that.

    Tewshooz - you for fortunate. Thanks for stopping!

    Ed - I heard one complaining in line at the grocery that they couldn't live on the $500 a month their mom got in food stamps, that would buy hardly ANYTHING!

    Well Seasoned Fool - on the road it's harder, but I try and get a hotel that has a little fridge, and microwave. I've done many a meal of just a bag of veggies and a baked potato with some plain yogurt and herbs on it.

    Jane - the recipe above mentinoed from Marty is one for cabbage. I will forward it!

    warhawke223 - you have earned being cranky. Some said it must have been a bore to have parents so much older than us (they were well into middle age when they adopted us). I was SO lucky to have been raised by folks that grew up in the depression.

    Roscoe - my blood pressure goes up every time I see someone paying for their food with food stamps, then shelling out $50 cash for cigarettes and booze.


  19. Brigid,From the comments,it looks like you're mostly preaching to the choir.I think most of your regular readers know the value of a buck,and know how to cook a little.I think,if one wil buy whatever meat is on sale this week,and has flour,sugar,and eggs,they would be surprised at what good food they could cook.And the trial and error is sometimes part of the fun.(Your sidebar recipies are a great place to start.)
    How 'bout the address of that cousin?

  20. Billf - I may be, at least to the regulars here at the Range, but perhaps if just ONE person learns something, it's worth the time to write it.

    The cousin lives WAY up in the Sierras, it's a full days drive from Reno just to find her, Dad stays with her during the holiday months, watching the snow, the horses, the Elk and eating her fine cooking. This year was the first he said he couldn't make the trip any more, so she came to see him (her Dad, my Dad's baby brother, died in a fishing accident very young, she and my Dad are quite close) She is beautiful and blond and smart, and probably smart enough not to let me try and "fix her up" with anyone. :-)

  21. Brigid,you're too cool.

  22. Your fore-bearers would be proud! My parents (both gone now) rarely went the fast food route, and did things like religiously save bacon grease as an all purpose kitchen additive!
    I know how to do some of what you speak, but standing in the kitchen is painful for me for any length of time. I buy fast food probably more often than I should.
    Culvers is excellent! But they never seem to get my roomies order correct - must be the fact they don't yet make $15/hour!


  23. Good tips all. My daughter and DIL are both thrifty and excellent cooks. Especially my daughter, who can out cook me any day. We raise veggie gardens and our own meat, as well as harvesting game in season... The grandkids are all handy in the kitchen as well. They are so much fun to cook with, as there are no limits to their imaginations.

  24. I agree with the general sentiments, but there is something else to consider - learning to cook pays off over time, but the initial investment is very costly. I don't mean financially, either - unless you grew up learning at your Mom's side, chances are the first few things you try to make are going to taste terrible.

    If you're 20 years old, and your back is aching from busing tables for 12 hours, do you want to spend an hour prepping, cooking, and cleaning something that tastes terrible in order to save $3 per serving?

    As is usually the case, everything starts at the home - whether it's cooking, living within a budget, or repairing your sink, it's a lot harder to learn as an adult than as a child.

    That's not to say it isn't possible. But realistically, inertia is rather hard to overcome, especially if you're trying to figure it out on your own.

  25. I was just reminded that when I was in the 3rd grade, I'd get up on Sunday morning, ride my bike to mass, altar boy, come home and fix bacon and eggs for the family while they were at mass.
    Mom or Sis taught me, I don't know.
    As a young man, I'd impress my dates with meals I'd prepare.
    And my breakfast is like Marty's.
    Every few weeks Thomas English Muffins go BOGO and I fill the freezer.
    Scherie bulk fries my bulk GFS bacon.
    Buying at GFS is the way to go.

  26. You for got that you can take a very tough cut of meat and make it tender and tasty in a dutch I taught you.

    You know we eat well, and we spend less than 300 a month on food. Now that we don't have Schmoo to eat the leftovers I am having to learn to cook for fewer people and/or eat more leftovers.....

  27. Amazing, isn't it, how even basic "bachelor survival cooking" is so seldom understood? Kicking 'em out of the nest without knowing how to turn an inexpensive cut of meat into a meal at a couple of dollars per person is practically a form of child abuse and neglect as far as I'm concerned.

    Anyway, this winter has a few more snows left in it, so here are some looks at how people did this in simpler times:

    Among that collection, the 1896 "Manual for Army Cooks" is a particular hoot -- not just for the recipes (some of which may have been a little fanciful even for garrison life; the second part is more oriented toward cooking in camp) and budgets, but in the sort of proto-scientific beginnings of camp hygiene.

    Obviously there are also a few things to take with a grain of salt -- in particular, their discussion of poisonous vs. edible mushrooms (folio pages 137-8, PDF pages 143-4) sounds like a great way to learn far too much about liver transplants; and their ideas about rendering "salt, muddy, or putrid" water potable may at best reflect a simpler time.

    But for the most part, food then is food now; so if life hands you lemons, it has two ways to make lemonade, and that should cool you down while you unearth the beef head that baked underneath last night's campfire...

    More modern approaches (more or less WW2 through present, though with occasional looks as far back as WWI -- say, for a look at what doughboys did with actual dough) may be found at

    And though the context is a little esoteric, a very interesting intersection of frugal living and dishing up tasty and nutritious meals under exasperating circumstances may be found in the books and DVDs of Lin Pardey, e.g.,

    My kitchen at least stays put, whereas hers can move around in three dimensions!

  28. Ok, I'll admit to being on all sides of this fence (minus food stamps, never) in my lifetime. Sometimes by choice and other times wasn't my choice. And the key point mentioned here is cooking economically, because I'm always amazed at the people who think to cook from scratch means buying high priced items (LOL) the time they have paid for the crazy expensive wine that went into the sauce, or the highest rated cut of meat, or inflated organic pricing from stores (and not the local growers), etc etc it really does become more expensive. - I have bad sinus' and I really couldn't tell you if it was worth that extra cost in whatever ingredients those people overpaid for, compared to some more sensible equivalent.

    I have my bad vices, like too much chocolate and occasional KFC binges, but I have gotten much better about eating correctly the older I get. And sometimes if there's $5 or $10 to spend I'll go for quantity before quality if it's more practical. The days of being to busy to cook are over, thank goodness. So, I like to think I've improved on my food habits. Most of the time, LOL.

  29. Booze? Cigarettes? These days in WA State they're saving their cash for the day that the weed stores open.

  30. B. - oh yes, the dutch oven. You've made some wonderful meals in it and demonstrated what it could do to a inexpensive cut of meat.

    I have the fancy French one, but am looking at the occasional yard sale for the big heavy one for camping, mine went missing in a move when I came to this state.

  31. Like someone else said, I think you are just reinforcing what most of us regulars already believe. I have my daughters in the kitchen because I don't want them to think food preparation is voodoo. Based on this post, I am going to be sure to harp on the economical side of it...have the calculate how much it costs to make up a meatloaf and pot of mashed potatoes, and then figure out the 'per serving' and compare it to the Golden Arches.

    Without hijacking your post, there are 3 points to make.

    One...if you aren't starting with a well stocked pantry/spice cabinet, your initial load out trip to the grocery store CAN be fiscally daunting. A trip down the spice aisle can be daunting...especially if you don't know how long some of those $6-7 jars will last you. one ever taught them about cheap cuts. If you try to live off porterhouses and organic boneless chicken breasts, things can get expensive.

    Which ties into number three: Instant Gratification Generation. Wendy's is ready RIGHT NOW...turning $2.50 a pound blade roast or $1.29 a pound chicken thighs into tasty, tasty goodness can take 2-8 hours.

    The Man should give out a crockpot and a cookbook with each EBT voucher...

  32. I'm not sure if the Amazon Fresh annual subscription of $300 for grocery delivery is covered by the Food Stamp program. If it is, I think that, as a country, we need to reexamine a few priorities since the fee also covers delivery for non-food purchases.

  33. Hotel/mini fridge/microwave. Done that many a time. During the road warrior periods, using my own vehicle, carried some simple cooking gear. Electric skillet, Coleman stove, etc. Made many a meal at a roadside picnic table. The available 12 volt fridges really help.

    Red Green may have some tips on cooking on exhaust manifolds.

  34. Re:well seasoned fool;reminds me of a time I worked for a month or so,out of town in Texas.I got a room at an extended stay motel,with a kitchen.I thought I was doing well on the budget,till I noticed that the room next to mine was occupied by at least 6 men(they were from south of Texas)who were a construction crew,and worked together and ate together every night in the motel parking lot.They would get back to the motel each night,each having bought some part of their dinner-one bought meat,one potatoes,one tortillas and bread,etc;and one had a grill in the back of his pickup.They would share the cooking duties,and sit on the grass eating dinner together.Our young people could learn a lot about survival and self-sufficiency by looking around once in a while.

  35. Yes, exactly. I can't help but roll my eyes when someone is talking about how tight the money is while chowing down on 'value' meal from a clown.


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