For those of you who may not know, I’m a pretty avid cook and like to make meatless preparations. I’m also one of those ‘starving-artist’ types, so going meatless is actually really nice on the wallet (and the environment; I could go on and on about how meat consumption is now devastating the environment). I recently read a blog post by Stic of Dead Prez who gave 7 tips for eating well on a hood budget. For those unfamiliar with urban vernacular, a hood budget is a small budget, as the hood usually refers to an area of lower income individuals. In a nutshell, the tips revolve around eating fresh vegetables and fruits versus processed and packaged foods, and planning out your meals versus eating flippantly and on convenience. I decided to share my own experiences with these tips, and how you can get started!
Choose Produce, Not Packages
This was a no-brainer for me, and something I already do. Personally, I’ve found that whenever I eat cookies, crackers, chips, granola bars, Campbell soups, frozen TV dinners, I find myself eating way too much volume of crap as these things are never really satisfying. Not even the Hungry Man frozen dinners. Six granola bars? Easy. Cookies? By the dozen please. Bag of chips? Make it double, before I give you too much trouble. And then the costs all add up. One TV dinner is maybe a dollar on sale, but after you had to eat six to fill your stomach, that’s not so cheap now is it? And not good for you at all.
But are vegetables really that cheap? Hell yea! 2lb sack of onions, same cost as a box of cookies; 2lb bag of carrots, same as two Crap-bell canned soups; 1 celery, same cost as one frozen disappointment-in-a-box; and boom you can make mirepoix for two weeks worth of soup stock. Or, you could get a couple canned soups, a box of cookies, and a TV dinner. Hmm.
However, this cost savings is kinda equivalent to buying in bulk. Instead of buying that conveniently packaged, overpriced snack size cracker & hummus combo, you could get exponentially better value by buying kale and a bigger tub of hummus, so it’s the same with processed foods vs produce. This works well with the next tip.
Cook Big & Save Some For Later
This is the big money saver right here. Not only will you save time, but you save hella dolla dolla bills y’all. Here’s a rough breakdown of a recent grocery trip I made to make some uberly delicious potato soup:
|5lb russet potatoes||$2.50|
|5 Garlic bulbs||$1.50|
Do you realize how much soup you can make with just $15 of ingredients? Just think about it – 5lbs of potatoes, 2 lbs of carrots, 2 lbs of onions. That’s an enormous quantity of food. But like every good deal, there’s a catch. You need cooking skills. Not mad cooking skills, but you need to know what you’re doing, and this is what stops a lot of people. For most people, peeling an orange is too much work compared to pouring oneself a glass of orange juice, so am I in my right mind to think that anyone is going to want to learn how to cook? Well, the benefits are honestly something that have to be experienced in order to truly understood, but in a nutshell there is the satisfaction of creating an awesome meal by your own hand, being able to save money on food, and earning another level of independence from the restaurant industry. As well, it becomes fun!
How To Make an Awesome Potato Soup With Minimal Instructions
If this is your first time cooking, a simple potato soup should be pretty fail-safe. So first off you need to learn how to cut vegetables. This video might help: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ydc_SaQ_eRQ
Now, make sure you practice! Every good chef started out by mastering the technique of chopping vegetables, before moving on to meat preparations or sauce-making.
Once you can chop up all your ingredients, just be aware that the smaller you cut something up, the faster it will cook. Ingredients with a lot of moisture will take longer to cook, such as celery, onions and carrots, as opposed to things like garlic. That’s why you put things into the pot at different times.
Now for a mirepoix, take a bunch of onions, a carrot, and a couple stalks of celery. Get a big pot. I have one that’s about 12″ in diameter and 10″ high. Chop up those veggies and cook them in some oil with salt until you see the onions getting a little brown. This will take some time. Also take a moment to smell what you just started cooking. So delicious, no? It will flavour your soup. As that cooks, chop up some potatoes and mushrooms. For my pot, I find it’ll only take like 4 potatoes before it gets too full. It’s up to you to decide how much potato to put in. Once your mirepoix is good, throw in your potatos and mushrooms, as well as garlic (peel them like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dc7w_PGSt9Y). If you cook the garlic in the soup for long enough, it’ll just dissolve, so I don’t bother chopping it.
Now for flavouring. These are things are like an investment for your kitchen. Buy it once, and don’t worry about buying it for awhile! So for my potato soups, I like to use sherry (a kind of alcoholic beverage that you can also buy cheaply in a grocery store), vinegar of some sort (rice vinegar usually), thyme, rosemary, basil, bay leaf, paprika and oregano. There are countless other herbs/spices that you can try, but if you use these flavourings, your soup will be pretty tasty 😉 A basic working model to keep in mind when you’re flavouring the soup: there are only five flavours your tongue can taste – sweet, salty, bitter, sour, umami – and I find that a good soup will be one that balances these five out; everything else you “taste” is actually your sense of smell working, and it’s not as important to ‘balance’ these sensations out as much as the other ones. The amount you put in is going to be relative to the size of your pot and amount of ingredients; for a pot like mine I usually pour a cup of sherry and a half cup of vinegar, and a lot of herbs with a couple bay leafs. Now bring everything to a boil, lower the heat so it gently simmers, and add some water, up till maybe 3/4’s of the pot. Then cover and let it stew for an hour or two! Periodically taste it to see where it’s at, and add things accordingly.
It might take a while before you can make a stunningly awesome potato soup, but this combination of ingredients is usually a winner. Good luck!