Wholesome Cooking When You're Broke
How to Cook Wholesome Food When You’re Broke
Being broke is stressful. You feel out of control, you can’t sleep and every time you buy anything you feel guilty or depressed. I’m here to tell you that things will get better, you don’t need to go hungry and you don’t have to feel terrible about climbing out of your financial troubles. In this mini-course on cooking, you’ll gain some valuable cooking skills that will help you take control of your food expenses. Food is medicine and taking control of what you put into your body is the first step of financial freedom. When you eat wholesome food, you feel better, you have more energy to work hard and you’ll have fewer medical issues. I’m going to teach you how to make good choices at the food pantry and the grocery store. Don’t worry, it’s actually a lot fun!
First of all, you probably already know what I’m going to tell you next: NO MORE FAST FOOD. It’s tasty, (kind of?) but it’s really terrible for you and it’s expensive. You’re taking control of what you put into your body because you want to have more money to pay your bills and take care of your family. Fast food chains don’t care about you, and every $5 you spend there for a “meal” could feed your whole family a delicious, healthy meal at home. Changing priorities is hard sometimes, but stay committed. Even if you slip up, it’s ok. Just try to get back into your groove as soon as possible. YOU CAN DO THIS.
A crock-pot (contact a local food bank to get one donated to you, or buy a used one at the thrift store)
A cast-iron skillet (ask gramma!) or regular frying pan (you can get these at the thrift store for less than $3)
A medium size bowl (Dollar tree!)
A large stock pot (my favorite one I bought at walmart for $18 but check thrift stores)
Some sort of med/large ovenproof baking dish (thrift store finds: less than $3)
A wooden spoon, a ladle, a spatula (for flipping stuff!), and tongs (check Dollar Tree or thrift store!)
Aluminum foil and ziploc freezer bags
One or two sharp knives with a sharpener (thrift store or buy a new one at T.J Maxx or Ross! I always find great deals on kitchen gadgets there.)
Spices: start with good salt and pepper and something spicy! soy sauce, garlic powder, cinnamon, paprika, cayenne, these are great starter spices to add little by little.
A couple of nice little plates/bowls that you like to eat with everyday
All of these tools are interchangeable and you might not need everything all at the same time. Just keep a lookout for them when you go bargain hunting or when you chat with your friends about your new commitment to cooking at home. It’s amazing how generous people are when you get excited about something!
The structure of meal making:
Meat+fat+veggies+starch/grain= full and satisfied bellies
I’m going to start with meat because ounce for ounce, it has the highest mineral content, calories and nutrition.
Always buy whole birds when it comes to chicken and turkey. There are times when you can find cut meat (breast, thighs, wings) on sale, but most times you get more food per lb by purchasing whole birds and breaking them down yourself. The key here is to have the goal of creating many meals out of one item instead of buying 1lb of chicken breast that only serves 1-2 meals. Our goal is to create 6-8 meals out of one chicken. If you find things like chicken feet or chicken necks at the store, buy them as they are usually very cheap and you can use them to make delicious chicken broth! (I know it sounds weird, but trust me!)
*How to tell when chicken has spoiled: it smells faintly sweet, slimy, greenish color, off putting smell. If you buy it fresh, cook within 4-5 days or freeze it until you’re ready to cook it. Thaw frozen meat in the fridge overnight or put in a pot and let the cold water drip on it for several hours.
Eggs are a magical food that are inexpensive and packed with nutrition. Make sure you pick some up at Aldi every week so that you can have a healthy breakfast or lunch snack. We’re learning how to cook eggs on a budget but there’s thousands of ways to cook an egg, so keep experimenting. When first starting out, keep your heat on medium low to fry an egg, scramble or make an omelet. The biggest mistake people make when cooking eggs is making their pan too hot. Too hot=rubbery eggs.
Avoid expensive, salty processed items like sausage and bacon. You want to buy larger roasts because they’re usually cheaper per lb. They take more finesse to make tasty, but you can get a lot of meals out of a 3lb pork shoulder. Don’t be afraid of fat: the fattier the pork, the better it will taste, the easier it will cook. Other awesome cuts of pork that are affordable: riblets, shanks, ham hocks, feet, ears, ham steaks. The items that have lots of bones are very nutritious! We’re cooking all of these things “slow and low.” We’re taking our time to cook it at a low temperature to soften the meat and pull out the rich collagen and fat off of the bones.
*How to tell when pork has spoiled: strong smell almost like cat pee, sulphur, greenish-gray color, slimy. Fattier, larger cuts have the longest shelf life. If you buy it fresh, cook it within 1 week or put it in the freezer. Thaw frozen meat in the fridge and let it come up to almost room temp before you cook it.
Even at the discount stores, beef is a pretty expensive protein to buy. It’s very rich in minerals and nutrition, so we’re going to look for larger, tougher cuts that need some cooking finesse. Skip the steaks, choose cube steak, stew beef, chuck roasts (my favorite!), rump roasts instead. Ground beef is great, but it can also be pretty expensive per lb. It also spoils faster and it has a higher contaminant risk (e.coli/ salmonella). Buy ground beef as a treat, and try to get higher quality beef if you can, at least make sure it’s freshly ground or totally frozen.
*How to tell if beef has spoiled: good news is that beef has a long shelf life compared to poultry and pork, so if it starts to smell stinky or feel slimy, make sure to throw it away as it is probably very old at that point. Our goal is to never throw meat away, so if you think you might not have time to cook it, make sure to store it in the freezer.
Fish can be the most expensive thing to buy at the grocery store sometimes. I’m recommending that you take fish off of the menu until you can either a) catch your own or b) you find a great source that you find affordable. The “cheap” fish at supermarkets isn’t great quality and goes rancid very quickly. You’ll find chicken, pork and beef safer and more shelf stable. If you’re able to get “cheap” fish, I’d recommend the bulk bags of frozen tilapia or grouper that you can find at Costco or Sam’s club. Avoid the pre-battered, pre-cooked fish as these are loaded with preservatives.
Going to a butcher shop can be intimidating. But if you go with the objective of purchasing meaty bones like pork neck or oxtail (beef tail), beef liver, chicken feet/bones and fat trimmings, it can be kind of fun. The butcher will applaud your thriftiness and he/she will be happy to offload some of his less popular items.
The key to making all of your inexpensive meat taste amazing is adding a bit of fat in the cooking process. Many people still believe that “fat” is bad for you. It’s simply not true. Your body needs fat to survive; every cell in your body uses fat to create energy and stimulate cell regrowth. However, it is important to choose the right kinds of fats to include in your diet. I’m going to give you some general principles to stick to as you stock your kitchen over time.
Butcher shops, as I discussed earlier, are a great source for animal fats! Buy pork and beef trimmings for pennies on the dollar and then put it in your crock pot for 12-15 hours on low: tadaa! Boom, you have just made your own lard (rendered pork fat) or beef tallow (rendered beef fat). While it’s still warm, strain all of the crunchy bits out and pour the fat into a jar, a glass, a bowl, cover it and store it in the fridge. You can use beef and pork fat as a substitute for butter when you’re cooking veggies, eggs or chicken! It’s easy to digest, high in healthy omegas and can help you stretch your butter/olive oil budget a little farther. If you get a lot of it stored up, you can even fry chicken in it!
Butter--not all butter is created equal but most butter is better than margarine. Margarine/”Country Crock” etc, was invented to be a cheap substitute for butter during the Great Depression when they discovered that the “grease” they used for airplane parts could be further processed into “food.” (Eww.) Look, eating a little bit of it isn’t going to kill you. But it’s really not a healthy alternative to butter despite the misleading advertising. Margarine is known to cause inflammatory responses in some people and can lead to gastrointestinal upset. (Also, butter tastes better.)
Oils to Avoid--”The Cheapest of the Cheap” oils: Canola oil, Vegetable oil, Crisco (shortening). At first it might be hard to imagine cooking without these, but these oils are known to cause a lot of inflammation that can lead to chronic health problems. It’s ok to consume these in small amounts (a tablespoon here and there for recipes etc) but avoid pouring gallons in a pot to deep fry fish, chicken or potatoes.
Oils to buy-- The kind of oils you want to purchase are simply created, meaning that there are not very many steps to separating the oil from the plant. Olive oil, coconut oil, sunflower oil, avocado oil are all wonderful, so if you see any at a local food pantry, make sure to pick some up. They cost more than other vegetable oils, but they will make your food taste better and your body feel better, I promise. Aldi and Wal-mart have great prices on these oils. One container will probably last about 1-2 months, so you can experiment with different ones each month. I like to use coconut oil and olive oil in the spring and summer, and then I use more lard or butter in the fall/winter. Remember… you’re not eating junk food anymore, so you are going to save up a little extra for your grocery bill to buy higher quality fats and oils to use in your cooking adventures.
Milk Fats-- in addition to butter, there are other fats that come from dairy that I find helpful in cooking.
Plain Greek yogurt is an affordable treat that you can use as a sour cream replacement for tacos, a healthy snack with some fruit, a tasty vegetable dip with some fresh herbs and salt and pepper, whisk it into your pancake batter for the yummiest breakfast ever!
Buttermilk-- Have you ever wondered how restaurants make fried chicken taste so good? Well, buttermilk is the secret! All you have to do is get a Ziploc bag with some salt and pepper (and hot sauce if you have some!) add a cup or two of buttermilk, add raw chicken parts, and let it soak in the fridge overnight. You can use it in baked goods or marinate pork chops. It has a longer shelf life than regular milk so I always try to keep a jug in my fridge in case my milk turns.
Regular Milk-- I recommend buying whole milk because it has the most nutrients and calories, you can use this in recipes, pour it on your oatmeal, make pancakes or cornbread, pies and homemade birthday cakes for your kids!
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruit is important in your frugal diet, but it’s not the most important. Stick to inexpensive fruit options like bananas, oranges and apples as your staples. Then try to buy fruit on sale when it’s in season, ie: watermelon, strawberries, peaches, apples etc. Before you stock up on a bunch of fruit that is on sale, ask yourself a couple questions: Do I have time to eat all of this this week? Do I have time to preserve (like canning or freezing) it if it starts to spoil? The key to buying fruit is to make sure that it doesn’t end up in the trash. If you feel like it's worth your money, it’s nutritious and it’s going to lift your spirits throughout the week, go for it! If not, it might be better to purchase a higher calorie food like meat or rice that will give you more meals throughout the week.
Vegetables are very important in your diet. A lot of people think that you have to spend a lot of money on vegetables in order to “eat healthy.” That’s just not true. We’re going to select staples every week when we go to the store that are nutritious, easy to cook, long lasting and full of nutrients. When you find the perfect bargain on meat like a whole chicken or a nice roast, then you can decide which vegetables to pair with it. Carrots, celery and onions are the best vegetables to use in preparing soups and roasts. These veggies are also very inexpensive, sometimes less than $1/lb. It’s also important to keep around leafy green veggies. You can buy fresh kale, collard greens, turnip greens. These greens are usually cheaper than lettuce and salad mix because they usually require some preparation. Keep an eye out for seasonal veggies like green beans (easy to freeze/can), turnips (cook it like a carrot or a potato), squashes (tons of different kinds), tomatoes (great for canning). Once you start cooking veggies like how I’m going to teach you, there’s no turning back! It’s easy and addictive. Just make sure you keep the veggies chilled and dry in the fridge (make sure your fridge isn’t too cold!) and then rinse them right before using.
Canned fruit and veggies: having a nice pantry in your kitchen full of canned veggies and fruit is a great way to have peace of mind for your family. When you choose canned food, try to pick things with a very simple ingredient list such as:
peaches, sugar, water (avoid corn syrup if you can!)
green beans, salt, water.
Corn, salt, water
Black beans, salt, water.
You’ll find that a lot of free food from the local food pantry has a lot of other stuff in it that’s hard to pronounce. It’s ok to eat these things sometimes, but try not to have “Bush’s Baked Beans” and “Chef Boyardee” as a staple in your diet. The food that I’m teaching you how to cook will actually suppress your hunger and nourish you more than these sugary, processed canned foods.
Grains and Starches
Grains, breads and starches are an effective way of making your prepped meals stretch further. The cheapest, most wholesome way to consume grains and starches is to cook everything from scratch.
Rice-- There are so many types of rice to choose from! Buy a large bag in bulk if you can swing it! My favorites are plain white rice types like Basmati but you can buy brown rice, black rice, wild rice, short grain sushi rice… the list is endless! Billions of people all over the world use rice to feed their families. I’ll teach you how to cook it properly so that you can enjoy it too! *Note: always rinse rice before you cook it! Just cover with water, and then pour off the water down the drain while keeping the rice in the bottom of the pan. This helps keep your rice smelling nice and fresh..and not “stinky.”
Potatoes-- Potatoes are cheap and have a long shelf life if stored properly. There are so many ways to cook potatoes and there are many different types of potatoes to choose from! Boil them for mashed potatoes, roast them with your chicken or pork shoulder, slice them up and saute them with some greens, bake them in the oven and put a little greek yogurt on top. Sweet potatoes are delicious and I love them with just about everything! Slice them, bake them, sweet or savory, every way is tasty and they have more vitamins than regular white potatoes.
Beans-- I count beans as a starch but they can be a vegetable too! Tons of nutrients and high in protein. You can buy canned beans and rinse them to remove all the salt and preservatives, but I prefer to buy dried beans. This is cheaper and gives you more control over the saltiness/texture of the beans. You just need to make sure you have time to soak the beans overnight so they cook properly.
Bread-- If you want to learn how to make your own bread, it’s really not that hard. You do need some time to practice and you’ll need to buy a couple of supplies. It’s really fun once you do it a few times. I have a great recipe that will blow your socks off! It’s so delicious and easy!
Pasta-- Once you learn the basics of how to make delicious stocks and broths, you’ll be able to make a filling meal by cooking up some pasta to add to your soup. I like to experiment with asian-style rice pastas, classic Italian noodles, ramen noodles, the new gluten-free chickpea pastas are really tasty too! These are more expensive pound for pound than rice, potatoes, and beans so I encourage you to use these sparingly and not spend too much of your budget on pasta.
Now that you’ve learned how to choose your food, you’re ready to start the fun part: cooking! I recommend spending an afternoon on your day off (I love to cook on Sunday!) to make your initial food prep for the week. Remember, if you stop eating and drinking fast food, junk food, sodas, candy, chips, and alcohol for a whole week--you’ll save enough money to buy all of this food at Aldi, Kroger, Walmart or your local pantry.
Here’s a sample meal to prepare for your family on Sunday and have food prepared throughout the week:
Protein focus: Chicken
Veggies: Root veggies like turnips, celery, carrots, onions-- one bunch of kale, collards or turnip greens.
Fats: Coconut oil, mayo or Butter
Starches/Grains: Potatoes, plain ramen noodles, plain white rice, homemade bread
You have a bunch of groceries and you’re ready to get started. First, you have to roast your chicken or cook it in the crock pot if you don’t have an oven. This won’t take long, about 2.5-3 hours maximum cook time. It’s the easiest thing on the planet.
Take your chicken out of the package, place it in your oven proof roasting pan and pat it dry with a paper towel. Make sure you check inside the cavity to remove the giblets. Put the neck in the pan, too! Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. You can cook a whole chicken breast up or breast down. I’ve done it both ways, and it’s delicious each time. If you cook it breast up, the skin will be crispy. If you cook it breast down, there will be less crispy skin but the breasts will be juicy and tender (because they’ll cook in the juices.)
Take 4 potatoes and slice each one in half or quarters depending on how large they are. You want them to be rather large chunks. If you have small gold/red potatoes just leave them whole.
Take one onion and cut it into 4 chunks.
Take 3-4 carrots, rinse them off, cut off the brown root end, cut the carrots in half
Place the carrots, potatoes, onions in the roasting pan making a little “bed” surrounding the chicken.
Sprinkle the chicken and the veggies with salt, pepper and whatever spices/herbs you like. I like to use garlic powder and paprika.
Take your fat (butter, olive oil, lard, coconut oil, etc) you want to use, and put about 2-3 tablespoons and dot it on the vegetables to make sure they don’t get dried out or burned while roasting.
Put the dish in the oven and set the timer for about 2 hours. After two hours, you’ll want to check and see how everything looks. Give the veggies a poke and stir. If you look at the leg of the chicken and the skin starts to shrink up and tighten to expose the bone, your chicken is ready to come out. You definitely want the bird to have a nice golden color, not burned but roasted. After looking at the bird, decide to leave it in another 30 minutes or so or take it out.
Let the whole pan of food rest for at least 15 minutes before you cut into the meat. This seals the juices inside the bird so that the meat doesn’t dry out. It also cooks the bird a little bit more in case the thigh meat is finishing cooking.
Slice up the thighs and drumsticks for dinner tonight! The meat should fall right off the bone. (Make sure to save all the bones! We’ll be using them tomorrow) Serve with a little bit of carrot and potato.
Note: if you cook all of this in a crock pot, just make sure to cook it on high for no more than 3 hours or cook it on low for 5-6 hours.
While your chicken is cooking, you're going to cook some delicious fluffy white rice. Take a medium sized saucepan or something similar. You really want something with a fitting lid, but if you don’t have a lid, you can use a heat proof dinner plate or aluminum foil. Pour about 2 cups of rice in the bottom of the sauce pot and fill the pot with water. Pour ALL OF THE WATER OUT. It’s important to rinse your rice. Now you can add the water that the rice will cook in. Put your finger in the pot and add just enough water to fully cover the rice and then about up to your first knuckle of your index finger. Always error with less water than too much! You can always add more water but you can never really fix rice that is too wet. Put your rice and water on med-high and keep an eye on it until it starts to boil. Make sure to stir at least once or twice to make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom. When the rice starts to boil, turn the heat all the way down to low and cover with a lid/plate/tin foil. Cook for about 10-12 minutes on low with the lid on. Be sure to check and make sure that there is enough water. It should still look wet but not dry. Turn the heat completely off, put the lid back on the rice and let it sit for 15 minutes. It should be perfect! Nice and sticky but not overcooked. You should have about 4-5 cups of rice that you can use to make meals with the rest of the week.
While you’re cooking rice and chicken, you can also hard boil some eggs as a healthy snack throughout the week. If you like a firm, dry yolk, boil for 12 minutes. If you like a softer, creamy yolk like I do, boil for about 8 minutes and put the eggs into cold water. Pop them in the fridge and let them cool for several hours before you try to remove the shells. Peeling tip: if you “age” the eggs in the fridge for about 2 weeks before you boil them, they’ll be easier to peel. I also usually peel them under cool running water to help break the shell seal easier.
So you completed your first wholesome meal prep! You served delicious roasted chicken to your family and maybe even a bowl of rice to go with it. Now you need to wrap up all of the leftovers so you can make more food tomorrow evening.
Easy Egg Scramble
Fry up 2 eggs with a little butter in your skillet, add leftover carrots from dinner and/or a bit of potato. This makes a great egg scramble on the run or something to pop in the microwave at lunch time. Sometimes I’ll add a little greek yogurt or some cheese, sometimes I’ll chop up some greens and cook them a little before I add in the eggs.
2 cups All-Purpose Flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups of buttermilk
2 tablespoons melted butter, coconut oil, olive oil or other oil
Mix up your dry ingredients first first, then add your egg, buttermilk and your “fat.” (your oil of choice!)
Make sure you get all the lumps out! Heat a non-stick pan or your cast-iron skillet to Medium to Medium-High. Grease the pan just a bit with a little butter and pour about ½ cup of the batter in the pan. When the pancake starts to form bubbles in the center, and then the bubbles pop, the edges will start to dry out. These are signs that it’s time to flip! Use your spatula and carefully flip the pancake over. Depending on how easy it is, you can decide whether or not your heat is the right temperature. Just calibrate until you get it right. Sometimes I put a lid on my skillet for 30 seconds to make sure the center of the pancake gets cooked through if I’m in a hurry!
Notes: The oil or butter that gets mixed into the batter is what is going to keep the pancake from sticking to the pan, so don’t forget it! It’s also what gives it that nice pancake color. If you want to change it up, you can use one cup of regular milk and one cup of plain yogurt instead of buttermilk. This is a fun treat on the weekends! Serve with a little butter and maybe some fruit or honey.
Remember the chicken we made last night for dinner? There’s still so much meat left over. Once you put it in the fridge overnight, take it out the next day and pull the breast meat, the back meat and as much as you can off the chicken. Divide the meat you pull off into two portions. (We’re going to save ½ of our leftover chicken to use in our soup that we’ll make tomorrow.) Take about 1-2 cups of pulled chicken and put it in a bowl. Add ½-¾ cup of your favorite mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon of regular or spicy mustard, salt/pepper, paprika, garlic powder. You can also chop up a stick of celery that you bought and mix it in. Don’t think too hard about it, it’s easy! Just do your best to make it taste good and enjoy being creative with your spice cabinet. Some people like to add nuts and seeds, grapes, cucumber, apples… have fun with it! You can make a sandwich with this, or just eat it straight out of the bowl!
There are two ways I like to make chicken stock. One way is in the crockpot and the other is on the stovetop (it’s a great way to keep the kitchen warm and cozy in the winter!). I like the crockpot because I can put it together in the morning before I start work, leave it on low all day long and I’ll know that I’ll have delicious broth I can use at dinner time. If you don’t have a crockpot, you can make it in about 5 hours on the stovetop, just make sure to let it simmer low and don’t leave the house while it’s cooking.
Take your chicken carcass that has all the meat picked off of it. Put it in your cooking vessel of choice and make sure you don’t forget the chicken neck and all the leftover juices in the bottom of your roasting pan.
Take your 1 onion, 5-6 carrots and 5-6 sticks of celery and chop them up to about the same size. Throw all of this into the pot! Add lots of salt and pepper, you’ll need about 3/4 tablespoon of salt. (If you have a local community garden that has herbs, make sure to grab some fresh herbs like sage, thyme, rosemary) Now, fill the pot with water and heat for several hours.
When you’re done cooking the broth, about 6 hours later (you can cook it up to 12 hours) strain out the bones as best as you can. They’ll be trash at this point so make sure you dispose of it properly (and don’t let the dog eat it! The bones can hurt them when they’re boiled like this) You can leave the carrots, celery and onion in the broth if you’d like.
Now that you have your broth, you can use it to make yummy meals the rest of the week!
If you want to freeze your broth, cool it off, and pour some in a ziploc bag and store it upright in a bowl in the freezer until it freezes all the way. Otherwise, you can store it in a large bowl in the fridge or put it in jars (make sure to leave room at the top of the jar for it to expand in the freezer!) It will spoil in about 5-7 days so try to gauge how much you’ll use and freeze the rest.
*Notes on broth: You can make all kinds of variations to this, you can add beef and pork bones, you can add left-over veggies, turnips, tomatoes, peppers, you can save up chicken bones in the freezer and make a more “chicken-y” broth. You can buy chicken wings on sale and boil them with your other bones. The sky's the limit! If you have a special type of cuisine you like, you can research the kinds of spices that people in other countries use to season their broths and see if you can find your special spice blend. One of my favorite things to add to chicken broth are chicken feet (I know it sounds weird but it’s actually really delicious) because they’re high in collagen and add a silky texture to the soup. Just make sure the outer layer of the chicken feet skin is peeled off before you toss it in the mix.
Quick and Easy Meal Using your Homemade Broth
Boil some water and cook plain ramen noodles until tender. (throw out that gross “flavor” packet that’s full of MSG) Remove from water and set aside in a separate bowl. (This will make 2-3 portions so you can use 2 bowls to separate the noodles)
Chop up your kale or leafy greens and and put into a saute pan with a little bit of butter or oil. Gently cook on medium, add onion, garlic or other tasty aromatics if you have them. After a few minutes of cooking, add these greens to the bowls with the ramen.
Grab a peeled hard-boiled egg and slice it in half. Put half an egg slice to each bowl of greens and noodles.
Pour about 3-4 cups of your chicken broth into a sauce pot and heat it up on medium until it starts to boil gently.
Add leftover chicken that you pulled and add it to the bowl with the noodles/greens/egg
Turn off the heat and pour broth on top of each bowl of noodles, greens, chicken and egg slice.
Add some soy sauce and maybe some hot sauce and enjoy! YUM.
Lots of substitutions for this dish, add carrots, potatoes, use rice instead of noodles, use beef or pork leftovers instead of chicken! Get creative and try lots of different variations.
Homemade Fried Chicken
Fried chicken is delicious! But deep frying your food isn’t necessarily a “healthy” choice. If you’re a fried chicken addict like I am, at least stay away from the fast food chicken and try this recipe. Fast food chicken is super salty and full of preservatives. Make your own! You’ll save money, have control over the ingredients and you won’t believe how easy it is.
The night before you want fried chicken…
Marinate your chicken for the tastiest version ever! All you need is a ziploc bag or a medium sized bowl. Put about 2 cups of buttermilk, some salt and a few generous squirts of your favorite hot sauce into the bag/bowl. Mix it all up, add the chicken and put it in the fridge overnight. (If you forget to put it in the night before, any marinade is better than no marinade. Sometimes I just soak the chicken for an hour and it helps keep it juicy!)
Remember how I told you to go to the butcher shop and buy pork fat? This is a great way to use it! Cut up your fatback into 1 inch square chunks using a sharp knife. I find fatback a little easier to slice when it is still partially frozen. All you have to do is pack all of your fatback chunks into your crock pot the night before, put the temperature setting on low for about 8-12 hours. In the morning, you’ll have perfectly rendered lard with little bits of “cracklin” skin floating on top. While the lard is still warm, separate the little bits of meat/skin/solids, pour it into jars or a bowl with a lid and store it in the fridge. (If you leave it on the counter, it will be fine. It will last several weeks out on the counter if you cover it!) You’ll use this instead of vegetable oil for frying. Easy!
Ok! So you did all of the preparation, now you’re hungry and ready for delicious fried chicken...
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup cornstarch
2 to teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 cups cold water
Pour the brine down the sink and pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels. I like to let them air dry for about 10-15 minutes while I prepare everything.
Whisk the batter to recombine. (If the batter seems too thick, add some cold water, no more than 1 tablespoon at a time, until the batter becomes the consistency of pancake batter.)
Place half the chicken pieces in the batter and turn to coat. Remove the chicken from the batter, allowing any excess to drip back into the bowl, and carefully place it in the lard. You want at least 2-3 cups of lard in the cast-iron skillet.
Fry the chicken and keep your attention on the fat temperature, adjusting the heat as necessary to keep it sizzling hot, but not popping and burning. You want the heat to be just at medium high but you gotta use your intuition to keep it from getting too hot.
Cook the fried chicken until deep golden brown. Since you’re not “deep” frying, you’ll need to flip each piece at least once depending on the size of the chicken pieces and the exact temperature of your oil. Cook each side about 10 minutes depending on how big they are. White meat cooks faster than dark meat, so try to keep an eye and try to make sure you flip the white meat a few minutes before you flip the dark. Place the fried chicken on the wire rack or a plate with a paper towel to drain. Take a spoon and make sure to scoop out any bits of batter that might be burning in the skillet. Bring the oil back to high and repeat with the remaining chicken.
BOOM! You just made your own fried chicken!
*Note: don’t try to multi-task when you’re frying chicken. You have to just stand there and watch it, adjust your heat, use a lid or something to protect you from grease pops. If it’s popping a lot, it could be that your chicken was too wet before you dipped it in the batter.
*Do not use a regular nonstick fry pan to fry chicken in. They’re not deep enough and the nonstick coating can get ruined. You want a heavy-cast iron skillet so you can put about ½ inch of lard throughout the cooking process. You might need to add more lard after you cook a few pieces. You can also deep fry chicken in the crock pot, just make sure to strain all pork fatback solids out so they don’t burn. Heat your lard on high and drop it in the sizzling fat. This is my least favorite way to fry chicken, mostly because it’s hard to adjust the temperature.
How to Cook Pork
When you get pork from a typical grocery store, it’s usually going to be very lean and pink, not a ton of fat. That’s kind of a bummer, because the fat is what helps keep the meat tender when you cook it. So we’ll add some of that lard you made to the cooking process and it will help make your roast, ribs, shanks, hocks or pork chops tasty. Large cuts of pork like shanks or roasts need to be seared before we begin slow cooking them. If you want to, you can marinate your pork overnight in milk, buttermilk, salty water, pickle juice, vinegar, apple juice… the sky's the limit! Decide if you want your pork to taste sweet/salty/spicy or both and then marinate away in your bowl or ziploc bag. I like to use a mixture of brown sugar, vinegar, garlic paprika, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, cocoa powder and olive oil. But that’s just my preference, experiment with what you have available! Got some mustard in the fridge? Add that with some water and boom! You just made a great little marinade.
Ok so you marinated your pork and you’re ready to start the slow cook. Put the roast on a plate and pat it dry. (Important step, don’t forget!) Get out your cast iron skillet or whatever pan you have that’s large enough to fit the roast. Heat about 1tablespoon of fat/oil/butter and when the pan is nice and hot, you then place your roast into the sizzling hot pan. Cook about 3-4 minutes on each side. What we’re doing is “sealing” the juices inside the meat so they don’t all seep out when we roast.
Next, you simply pick out a bunch of seasonings that you like! Salt is important, don’t forget it. You can add “sweet” spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cloves if you have it. Maybe some hot pepper, maybe some black pepper! A lot of the flavor will come from your marinade, so this 2nd seasoning step right before slow cooking will simply be to accentuate the flavors you’ve already chosen. I like a latin-style “carnitas” with a little hint of sweetness and spicy-ness, and lots of butter or lard. Throw it all together in your crockpot or roasting pan, add some potatoes, maybe some collard greens, onion, or whatever hard vegetables you might have available. All of these will be slow cooked in the pork’s juices and will be so delicious. Next step is to turn on your crockpot to “LOW” and cook for about 8 hours. If you’re using a roasting pan/cast iron skillet, just turn your oven to 300 degrees, cover the roast with foil and cook for about 4 hours. Don’t add any liquid! Just some butter or lard. After it’s finished, let it cool for about an hour or two and then begin pulling apart the pork. You can now use this as “pulled pork” for an easy breakfast omelette, or a quick lunch taco, or even just served with some lovely white rice, the juicy flavors of the sauce, and some of the vegetables you cooked with the pork!
Now that you know how to cook a pork shoulder, you can experiment with flavors! Ask family members what they like to do. Maybe someone likes to smoke pork, ask them how! There’s so much to learn about how people like to cook. Maybe try curry powder or try roasting with apples or oranges one day. Experiment with BBQ sauce or just a bit of vinegar and mustard. Have fun!
Here’s a simple BBQ sauce recipe that’s cheap and easy.
⅔ cup ketchup
½ cup cider vinegar
¼ cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons paprika
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
Combine it all in a sauce pan and cook for 5 minutes! BAM! You just made BBQ sauce to put on your pork. Add more spices if you want!
Keep some plain corn tortilla shells in your fridge. Fry them up in your skillet with a tablespoon of coconut oil, lard or butter. Flip them over when they begin to turn golden and are still a bit soft… You just made a delicious taco shell to put your pork shoulder into. You can also just steam them a bit in a hot pan, but I always like them a little fried. Add some hot sauce, maybe some greens that you cooked the day before. I like to add Greek yogurt to the top of my tacos because it's very nutritious and tastes just like sour cream!
*note: you can literally substitute any cut of meat for these techniques… whole chicken or thighs, beef roasts, pork loin, lamb, goat, duck or turkey.
How to Cook Beef
The best bang for your buck in the beef section are large roasts that you can cook just like how you cooked the pork roast. Try to use lots of garlic and onions! But ground beef is on sale regularly. If you buy ground beef on sale, it’s because it might be going rancid soon. Check the date and don’t buy expired beef. You need to cook it right away or throw it into the freezer. I recommend having a pasta night once a week where you make a nice chunky meaty sauce to pour on your spaghetti. It’s pretty cheap and easy! Some of these items you might be able to find at your local food pantry. Stock them up along with your favorite type of pasta!
1 pound ground beef
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 small green bell pepper, diced (optional)
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (16 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
Combine ground beef, onion, garlic, and green pepper in a large saucepan. Cook and stir until meat is brown and vegetables are tender. Drain grease.
Stir diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste into the pan. Season with oregano, basil, salt, and pepper. Simmer spaghetti sauce for 1 hour, stirring
Make Your Own Bread!
4 cups (482g) All Purpose Flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
2 teaspoons sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry or instant
2 cups (454g) lukewarm water
softened unsalted butter, for greasing
This the Peasant Bread recipe from KingArthur.com--- It’s delicious!
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, sugar, and yeast. Add the water and mix until the water is absorbed and the dough comes together in a sticky ball.
Cover the bowl and set aside in a warm spot to rise for 1 to 1 1/ 2 hours, until the dough has doubled in bulk.
Place a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat it to 425°F. Use the butter to generously grease two 1-quart oven-safe bowls or a 3-quart casserole dish (for one large loaf).
Use two forks to deflate the dough by releasing it from the side of the bowl and pulling it toward the center. Rotate the bowl as you deflate, turning the mass into a rough ball. To make a single large loaf, pick up the mixing bowl, turn it over, and plop the dough into the larger casserole dish.
To make two small loaves, use your forks to separate the dough down the center, dividing it into two equal pieces. Use the forks to lift each half of the dough into the prepared bowls. If the dough is wet and hard to handle, try lightly greasing your hands and transfer each half to a bowl by hand.
Don't cover the dough. Let it rise on the countertop in a warm spot for 10 to 20 minutes, until the top of the dough just crests the rims of the small bowls, or is almost doubled in the larger casserole dish.
Bake the bread at 425°F for 15 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 375°F and bake for 17 to 20 minutes more for smaller loaves, or 25 to 30 minutes more for a single large loaf. (Baking the dough initially at a higher temperature will give your bread an immediate lift, called "oven spring.") When the bread is golden brown all over, remove from the oven and turn the bread out onto a cooling rack.
Store, well wrapped, at room temperature for several days; freeze for longer storage.
Tips for Grocery Shopping
1. Try not to go shopping when you’re super hungry. You’ll be less likely to choose food that is wholesome and you’ll want to grab easy snacks that are “expensive.” It may seem cheap but it actually is really pricey pound for pound. You want to get more food with less money.
2. Avoid sugary foods like cereal, candy, ice cream etc. You need to eat healthy, natural sugars from fruit and avoid high fructose corn syrup. Your body is a tool to help you make more money and take care of your family. Little by little, start cutting out the sugar. You’ll have more energy and save more money!
3. I love Aldi. This is a great place to buy milk, chicken, eggs, produce, potatoes, fruit and canned goods, baking basics and more. Sometimes I’ll go in with a budget like $15 and see how much I can buy for just that amount. It’s a fun game! You'd be surprised how much food you can buy there for less than $20.
4. Sam’s Club/Costco. You have to decide if a membership to one of these places is worth it to you. If you have a family of more than 4 people, it might be worth it to start buying in bulk at either of these stores. Avoid buying junk food there and just stick to the basics. Rice, flour, beans, meat, cheese, milk, eggs, butter, fruit (if it’s a good price). You might even have a friend or family member who has access to one of these stores and you can go shopping with them to use their membership.
5. Wal-mart has great prices on groceries if you know what you’re looking for. Avocados, tortilla shells, peanut/almond butter, honey/maple syrup, onions, lemons/limes, fresh tomatoes and other items can be purchased there for a bargain. The only problem I have with Wal-mart shopping is that you usually end up buying other things that you don’t really need. They’re marketing professionals and love to steer you over to the electronic section, or the clearance clothing or junk food. So make a list when you go inside for the things that you need and don’t get off course!
6. Try to buy at least some fresh produce once a week. Greens are cheaper than other vegetables and they are extremely nutritious. You know how to cook them now with a little bit of fat, salt, a splash of vinegar and some seasoning. Don’t be afraid to buy them, they will help you stay healthy. Try a bunch of kale or a head of cabbage. Chop it up and saute it in some butter for a healthy side dish.
7. Little by little, start growing your “spice arsenal.” For less than $2, you can buy a new spice to try in your cooking. This will make you more adventurous in your day to day food prep and motivate you to actually cook all of the food you’ve procured in your shopping trip.
8. TJ Maxx is a great place to buy pans, bakeware, knives, silverware, spices, high quality salt, oil or vinegar. You’d be surprised at the deals you can find! Sometimes it’s cheaper than Wal-mart! Go in there and avoid shopping for things you don’t need…
9. Ask yourself, “Can I make this myself for less money?” when you find prepared food you want to buy. This ranges from things like salad dressing, bbq sauce and boxed meals to things like actually pre-made fresh food at a buffet. Right now, your dollars are extremely valuable. Take the time when you’re broke to learn how to cook your own food instead of sacrificing your income. Eventually, you’ll start making more money and you might be able to afford to buy more prepared things, but the good habits will be instilled in your life so you won’t be as inclined to buy “quick” food.
10. Kroger vs. Publix and. Bi-lo vs Food lion: This depends on your location. Where I live in South Carolina, I like to buy produce at Publix or Food Lion because I find the prices affordable and the vegetables fresh and crunchy! I find the prices better on meat/dairy at Kroger and Bi-Lo. But everyone has preferences. Just figure out what you like, get a nice routine for what your food staples are going to be every week and try to be more conscious of which stores give you the most value for your money.