I live in New York, one of the more expensive cities in the country, if not the world, where a roll of single-ply toilet paper at my corner store edges in around two dollars. Sometimes it feels like there are holes in my pockets, a tear in my wallet, where does all the money go? Keeping my spending at a reasonable place is a constant challenge and requires an astute eye and a tight fist. I’m definitely not the hawkish budget conscious type—sorry, mom—but I do what I can to keep my spending down.
I’ve found that the kitchen is the easiest place to start. Cooking at home, in big quantities, is my go-to technique. Don’t get me wrong, eating out is great—required, even, when you live in as culinary-minded a city as New York—but I try to keep my meals at restaurants to a minimum. Also, I'm a writer on the internet, so don't expect me to be gulping back oysters on the half shell on my Wednesday evenings. Instead, I’m often making food a day or two in advance—I like to plan my weeks around the meals I'm going to eat and spend a lot of my free time in the kitchen. Not only does it help me save money, but it's my favorite place to unwind. And because I work at Food52 (have you heard?), I'm often giving the recipes from our site a try. They're reliable and I like getting to know the content that I spend most of my days fiddling around with.
Since starting here a few months ago, I’ve cooked my way through a bunch of our archives. I’ve tried a tart rosemary cake with prime winter oranges; a braised short rib recipe that’s become my dinner party go-to; I even attempted, and succeeded, at making my own yogurt. These recipes are all great, but they skew intense, whether in time needed or money spent. So, yes, devote a Saturday or Sunday to their pursuit, but don’t expect to fold them into a weekday routine.
Easy combinations of good flavors often yield the boldest, most comforting results—and many for less than $10. I’ve gathered my favorite recipes that don’t break the bank; simple cooking that doesn’t have to taste simple. Your wallet can thank me later.
Stewy one-pot recipes are the way to go. They don’t require much effort—or spending—as it's all about letting ingredients cook in the flavors of one another. Sarah Jampel recently uploaded a recipe for stewy white beans with escarole and sizzled rosemary. She had me at white beans. All of the ingredients here are instantly accessible and hover at prices that you can count on one hand. To dress the meal down, forego the rosemary. It adds a welcome floral fragrance, but if you’re feeling thrifty, it’s not necessary. The beauty of this dish is it that it only gets better with time; the lemony oil strengthens in flavor after a day or two in the fridge. With a chunk of bread for dipping, let this one carry you through the week.
Soups, too, are the stuff of budget-friendly dreams. They take little effort (throw it all in there) and, cooked in bigger batches, can last a while. My personal favorite is this roasted butternut squash situation. It’s spicy and complex with a welcome creamy note from some coconut milk. It has a lot going on, but it all comes together and I bring it to work in a jar the next day. If it’s something simpler you seek, then look no further than a celeriac puree. This recipe really lets the main ingredient sing and with the help of pantry staples like rice, milk, and salt, only requires two items from the grocery store. To take something like this recipe to the next level, splurge on nuts or buckwheat, throw them in the oven for a light browning and sprinkle them over the top. I dressed up my butternut squash soup with some unsweetened cashew cream.
This classic grilled cheese is the rent week hero. Often, it’s something's simplicity that makes it so, so good. For this grilled cheese recipe, that is the case. Reichl recommends smearing each piece of bread with mayo before placing it face down on your hot griddle. It’s a move that guarantees a crunchy outer crust that holds in all your puddley cheese. We didn’t call this recipe genius for nothing.
Staying away from meat is another way I like to keep costs down, but sometimes a little splurge is in order. I'll be honest: This recipe for ragu does go above the $10 mark but it tastes so luscious, I can't resist. But don't fret, there's still a way to keep costs down. For an affordable alternative, look into different cuts of meat. Talk to your butcher about cheaper options, maybe try making the ragu with beef instead. I once made mine with chunks of stew beef that I cut into even smaller bits. Or, scale down the proportion in the recipe and use less meat. Two pounds of pork shoulder, after all, is a lot. The best part about ragu is how well it freezes. I’ll take about half of what I made and store it in the freezer for later.
I thought I'd give you all five of my go-to, budget-conscious recipes. Consider it a blessing, or something like that. Try them! Or don't! Or find your own $10 dollar meals (but tell me if you find a good one, please!). There are a few things I try to keep in mind when I'm cooking, or planning that night's dinner: I usually look for recipes that go light on the meat, are made in big batches, and can keep me fed throughout the week. Bonus points if they can be repurposed or if they rely on pantry staples that I usually have on hand (for me, those include garlic, olive oil, cumin, and ginger). Cooking shouldn't break the bank; in fact, let it help you out.
How do you budget your weekday diet? Let us know your tips in the comments.
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).Order now