Living on a budget doesn’t mean you have to dread mealtime. With a few essentials and little bit of creativity, you can make budget recipes that are anything but bland.
A home chef is only as good as their spice cabinet so make sure to keep the essentials on hand. For a dollar or two a piece, you can be armed with all the garlic powder, paprika and Tajin necessary to turn an otherwise ordinary meal into a pièce de résistance.
Here are seven budget recipes that will make you feel like a Top Chef.
1. Instant Pot shredded chicken tacos
Admittedly, an Instant Pot isn’t exactly “budget” equipment, but if there’s a holiday at hand or a willingness to splurge, this nifty little gadget will pay for itself many times over. If tacos are what you crave, all you need is chicken breast (frozen or thawed), a jar of your favorite salsa and a pack of corn tortillas. Toss the chicken and salsa into the pot, set the vent knob to “seal” and pressure cook on high for 12 minutes before manually releasing the pressure.
It should be just enough time to quickly toast your tortillas on the bottom of a saucepan on medium heat. Shred the chicken and feel free to dress up your tacos with guacamole or queso fresco.
Note: The same effect can be achieved in a slow cooker or crock-pot with a little bit more time to spare.
2. Rustic chicken and tomatoes
Keep it simple. For the Cacciatore taste without the Cacciatore cost, cook chicken breast in a tablespoon or two of butter over medium heat for five minutes per side until golden brown and then set aside. Don’t rinse the pan but instead, use the drippings and heated butter to fry a little bit of garlic for a minute or two until the garlic is brown but not burnt.
Add about a cup of halved cherry tomatoes and cook until burst and softened, then add your chicken back to the pan and top with your tomatoes to heat and combine. Season to your preference with oregano and then dig in!
3. No hassle roast
A nice roast for friends or family need not break the bank. A two-to-three pound chuck roast will do and can be found for less than $20! Preheat your oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit (or as high as your oven allows). While the oven comes to temperature, rub your roast all over with vegetable or other neutral oil and then season to your preference. One recommendation is a combination of equal parts garlic powder, dried oregano, ginger powder, paprika, cayenne, salt, pepper and sugar.
Score your roast multiple times and slip whole or halved garlic cloves into the notches. Lay a few pats of butter and a few sprigs of fresh rosemary (if you have it) on top of your roast and set the whole thing atop a dripping tray on a baking sheet or, ideally, a cast-iron skillet. Put the roast in the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Roast for about 25 minutes per pound. Let rest and serve.
4. Fish en Papillote
For a seafood dinner with a fancy name but no fancy price, consider this parchment-wrapped crowd-pleaser. All you need is a filet of your favorite fish (snapper or cod will work nicely), a lemon, a zucchini, a large carrot and a red onion. Again, all of this can be purchased for about $20. To add some pizzazz, you can optionally pick up a bottle of inexpensive white wine and fresh thyme.
Simply layer on a sheet of parchment paper, in this order, your filet (seasoned with salt, pepper, and paprika), your vegetables (julienne sliced), a few lemon slices, a few sprigs of thyme (or dried thyme powder), two or three pats of butter and a splash of white wine (if available). Fold the parchment over the stack and fold the edges together to seal into a little pouch. Place the pouch on a tray and bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 minutes. Unfold the parchment and serve.
5. Butter cod
If all that folding and stacking isn’t quite your speed, try this one-pan, one-step classic. Simply slice a cod filet into manageable portions (about three or four per filet) and season on all sides with salt, pepper and paprika.
Next, preheat a few tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan on medium-high heat, and cook the cod portions for two minutes on one side, flip, place a small pat of butter atop each portion and cook the second side for four minutes. The butter should melt and baste the fish for delicious, indulgent effect.
Remove quickly so the fish keeps its shape. Top with some fresh parsley if you like before serving.
6. Sweet potato fries
This recipe comes with all of the creative liberty and simplicity you could ask for. To get your French fry fix without breaking the bank or the diet, simply preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit, slice a medium-large sweet potato into French fry sized pieces of your liking, toss your pieces in olive oil, Tajin and salt (or alternatively garlic powder, paprika, salt, cayenne and cinnamon), lay out on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes or until browned and tender.
7. Asian any-time eggs
Finally, if it’s a breakfast to impress you’re after, spice up a classic with three ingredients or fewer. You’ll want to grease a nonstick pan and set over low-medium heat. In the meantime, mix as many eggs as you prefer with about a quarter tablespoon of soy sauce per egg and about a quarter finely diced shallot per egg. Pour your eggs into the pan and scramble gently.
Patience is your watchword with this recipe as the slow cook will develop the flavor of the shallot nicely. Remove from pan when the eggs are not entirely dry (they will continue to cook out of the pan) and season with some chopped green onion if you’d like.
Creating budget recipes is both science and art
Yes, recipes are important. All of those listed above are sure to satisfy. But recipes also often demand a prohibitive list of obscure and expensive ingredients. You’ll find that most can be broken down into a few key steps and a few truly crucial ingredients. Everything else can be adapted, approximated and seasoned to your unique taste.
Have fun with budget recipes and you’ll eat well.