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.