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Monday, March 2, 2009

Easy Frugal Cooking: Four Ingredient Enchiladas

Cheap, Good, Quick Food: Isn't it a Good Thing to have some control over at least one aspect of your life?

When I started this blog, I intended to offer sage advice on frugality. Not for its own sake, although I am frugal in part for aesthetic reasons, but to enable people to have the sense of abundance and possibility that comes with being debt-free. There are, of course, many books and blogs on these very topics. Many offer personal testimonies of the journey from a debt-ridden to a debt-free existence. Like the Confessions of St Augustine and other conversion narratives, these testimonies have the power of personal history, as they chart a course from sin to salvation (albeit of a secular sort).

And I keep meaning to offer the standard advice: set goals, record your expenses, pay down your debt, start an emergency fund….and so on. Strangely, though, I find myself writing about cooking all the time.

Why is that? I suppose it’s because getting control of your food expenses is a first step to getting control of your finances. Amy Dacyzyn of The Tightwad Gazette talked about how many of her readers saved several hundred dollars a month (in 1990!) by completing a price book, starting a stockpile, and generally being more conscious of food costs. She also said that frugality—including frugal food habits—could provide an impressive return on investment, certainly outperforming CDs and savings accounts, in terms of percentages at any rate. This last is certainly true now, when the only guaranteed return on investment—at least for those of us who don’t know how to short stocks—is to save money on this and that necessity. It is nice in these dark financial days to have one area of our lives where we can have control!

We have to eat. And, of course, eating is a great pleasure. Only those who cook at home know that home-cooked food is far superior to 99% of restaurants. But everyone thinks cooking is so complex and time-consuming. It can be…but it doesn’t have to be.

Because of our road-trip with Miss Em, I am very behind on my work, having over 100 papers and exams to grade. So for dinner tonight, I made enchiladas with 4 ingredients. Having just eaten some, I can say that while these are not the BEST enchiladas, they provide a very high ratio of goodness to work involved.

They are cheap too. If you’ve read every word of this blog, you know that I am determined to make a dent in my food stockpile and so am cooking out of the cupboards. The enchiladas are an example. As with the Thai curry, this recipe is an ingredient list plus a technique.

1. 12 corn tortillas
2. big can Rotel tomatoes (i.e. tomatoes with chili peppers)
3. canned black beans (I used a can of refried beans and a can of regular black beans, drained. Mash together.)
4. Monterey jack cheese (or cheddar or muenster)

--Take an 8 inch square baking pan (I used this so I could bake in toaster oven, saving energy! If you live where it’s cold, use the oven.). Layer some tomatoes on the bottom.
--Fill each tortilla with beans and roll into cylinder. Place 6 cylinders in pan. (Four one-way, and 2 across the bottom).
--Top with more Rotels. Grate some cheese over this.
--Do it all again, making 2 layers.
--Cover with foil and bake at around 350 till hot through. Maybe 30 minutes???

That took about 10 minutes to prepare and far outshines Taco Bell or the frozen burritos you can buy at the grocery. It costs well under $4.00, mostly for the cheese, which I got at Costco when we visited my mother in Florida.

The first time I made enchiladas, I followed the recipe exactly, making a complex tomato sauce, frying the tortillas in spiced oil, then draining them on paper towels before filling with a complex bean mix and grated cheese. Then I topped with more grated cheese. By the end, my kitchen was a mess, I was sweating profusely, and several hours had elapsed. Because this recipe is so simple and uses so few ingredients, it is good for singles or duos or college students of any number. It does not mess up your kitchen and it freezes well.

Eaten with rice and some garden greens, the minimal version was delicious and there is enough for Monday dinner! Mondays are long days for us and we arrive home starving. Even though I just ate my enchiladas, I can’t wait to eat them again.


Duchesse said...

I guess pasta is the enchilada of the North! We make about 40 quarts of meat sauce and 10 of vegetarian twice a year, using San Marzano tomatoes and a cache of leftover frozen meats.

Midlife, menopause, mistakes and random stuff... said...

Okay, I'm going to have to make this tonight!!
Why do I get so hungry every time I visit your blog? And your recipes always look and sound yummo :)
You make my day lots of times Frugal are always just so cheery and uplifting that I can't not drop by for a lil visit :)

Steady On
Reggie Girl

Over the Cubicle Wall said...

"...ratio of goodness to work involved"

I like that.

Some foods, and maybe these enchiladas are included, seem even better the next day. Chili, stew, and that sort of thing especially. I wonder if it has to do with the wet ingredients and spices being fully absorbed by the dry?

Anonymous said...

Simplicity--I'm going to try this. We supped on my chili relleno casserole tonight: rice, green chilis, sour cream, cheese, et voila!

Money Funk said...

Black beans are sooooo yummy. Great four ingredient recipe. :)

I use taco seasoning in my black beans. Adds a nice simple kick.

Frugal Scholar said...

Duchesse--I'd love the recipes!

@Midlife--Because I'm always hungry, perhaps? "Cheery and uplifting"--that is only my blog personality. My colleagues think I'm too lugubrious. Thanks though. Maybe my personality is changing for the better.

@Cubicle--See? Do I sound like an engineer?

@Terri--OOOHHH. Share please.

@Money--Great reminder about the spicing. I didn't add anything because I used half canned refried beans, which have too much spicing--hence I cut with plain old beans.

Duchesse said...

Friendly, Frugal PASTA SAUCE

There really isn't a "recipe" for homemade pasta sauce, which is why it's frugal- uses tons of leftovers.

Preparation: Freeze you leftover veal and pork (especially sausage!), marked "for sauce". Don't use meat with competing spicing (like curry) for this project. Use minimal beef; it will change the flavour. Save your leftover BBQ'd vegetables and parmesan cheese rinds. All will have a happy home in your sauce.

1. The Tomatoes
We use at least 6 industrial-sized (about 95 oz.) cans of San Marzano plum tomatoes. You can also use any plum tomato; canned is as tasty as fresh!

2. The Meats
Sauté onions and garlic; cube and add your thawed leftover meats, sauté.

Add dried rosemary, thyme and oregano (we make a mixture to have on hand).

3. Parmesan Rinds
Add parmesan cheese rinds.

4. The Vegetables
Add leftover bbq'd peppers, onions, zuccini, mushrooms. If you don't have any leftovers, bbq some now.

Season with salt and pepper; add red pepper flakes if you like it spicier.

Simmer (very low) in your big stock pot for 5-6 hrs. Then fish out the parmesan rinds.

Ladle into containers and freeze.

Depending quantity of your ingredients, yield is about 14-20 quarts of sauce.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Duchesse--Roasted/grilled vegetables and parmesan rinds--you know how to get the flavor!