“Cheap Eats” has a sort of nasty ring to it, but it’s a bit on the real-edgy side, too. I get it. I’ve been without a lot of bucks at the grocery store check out; I’ve had to feed six people three times a day for a lot of years. My stove has cooked many a meal for a big bunch of folks along the way. “Cheap,” though, is tricky to a serious cook; it’s not the thing we’re looking for. “Inexpensive?” Sure. That rocks. Who doesn’t like “inexpensive?” But “cheap” smacks of poorly made or tawdry (think cheapskate) — just not terribly positive, even in today’s world. But when I look hard at it, and we’re all looking hard at things right now, we might be in a place where we need to know exactly what cheap eats are. And I know. The thing is, they’re sometimes pretty good. In fact, if you know how to cook cheap eats that taste good, you’re a mighty special person. You know how to add a thick schmear of seasoned rice at the bottom of each bowl to stretch a few cups of chili. You probably are intimately acquainted with why God made potatoes fried in bacon grease. Or perhaps you can make a big platter of crispy butter biscuits served with a deep bowl of beans and a little chopped bacon and manage to feed 10 hungry people? In other words, you’re like a lot of people’s grandmas who knew from tough times.
And, if we look at what we think of now as beautiful, sophisticated dishes from any old country you want to name, they’re often the meals country people made out of what they had to feed everyone who was coming to the table that night. Tough old pieces of meat simmered for hours with whatever was in the garden or on the shelf or ancient hens cooked to smithereens and served over noodles…maybe vegetables with little other than an onion and some herbs to make them tasty. A few eggs stirred up with a bit of cheese served with yesterday’s bread grilled up with butter and served with jam. Kettle of lentils bubbling on the back burner. The meals made out of what was grown nearby, out of what was available, or out of what some smart cookie had preserved and stored from last season. The food made without a grocery store just down the street.
I often cook thick bone-in pork chops for guests. In cold weather, they’re served with a creamy and decadent mushroom sauce on a bed of softly mashed root vegetables with a green vegetable or two on the side. Longtime blog readers and friends who’ve eaten at my table will easily recognize the dish that often looks something like this:
I hope it’s cool where you live because it’s definitely time for soup. Of course it’s time for soup nearly any day of the year at my house, but cold nights and shorter days somehow find me bending over more often to pull out the soup pot. Just feels right or I need the exercise–one of the two. Perhaps one of the happiest things about seasons changing is how grateful we are to begin cooking meals perfectly suited to the weather. Think cookies at Christmas, grilled burgers come spring, pies in November, fresh vegetable salads in summer, or…soup in October. We sort of know where we are in life because of what’s on the stove–or even by what’s in front of the grocery store.
A stocked pantry is something like a gold mine when you’re hungry and you have no idea what’s for lunch. A peek into one big drawer of mine includes several kinds of dried beans, at least 5 kinds of rice, bulgar, barley, polenta, oats, couscous, farro, quinoa, a variety of dried fruits, and usually a couple of kinds of lentils. (A big bank account makes a lot of people feel secure, but I’m rich when my cabinets are full.) When I have no idea what’s to eat, lentils are my go-to. They’re easy, fast, filling, healthy as can be (see below), pair with nearly anything and in many a direction, and they’re even pretty darned inexpensive.
Need a little basic Instant Pot (IP) info? Scroll down to bottom of post.
I not long ago had a chat with a fellow food writer. No need to mention names and you’ll see why. The subject of Instant Pots came up. This person pointed out the box that had been sitting for weeks, maybe months, in his/her closet. And, yes, you know what was in that box: an Instant Pot. (IP). A slow shake of the head, a flutter of the eyelashes, and a tiny slide of the mouth to one side indicated distaste with even touching that parcel, much less figuring out how to cook with it. “Someday,” s/he shrugged.