Friday, June 28, 2013


This is an excellent meal for your hot Arkansas summer day, especially if you have a garden that is putting out a lot of tomatoes and parsley and cucumbers. (We don't have cucumbers yet, but the tomatoes are already out of control.) If you have to buy the vegetables, it can get pricey, so it's not really a poverty dish.  But it is delicious.


  • 2 cups of bulgur wheat. If you buy this in a grocery, look for it under Tabouli mix in the Ethnic aisle. It's cheaper if you buy it at your health food or organic grocery store, or at your Middle Eastern store, though, if you're lucky enough to have one in your town
  • Half a cup of olive oil.  Buy the good kind.  It costs a little more, but this is one place where quality matters.
  • Two or three lemons
  • Some parsley.  Lots if you love parsley, less if you're meh about parsley.
  • A nice cucumber
  • Tomatoes.  Lots if you love them, fewer if you're meh
  • Salt, pepper, other spices.  Some people put in mint and garlic.  I don't like mint and sometimes I feel like garlic and other times I do not. If you use mint, get the fresh kind and mince it well.  Use about a quarter cup.

Put your 2 cups of bulgur wheat in a large glass or ceramic bowl.  Pour two cups of boiling water over the cereal and stir well.  Cover with a clean dishcloth and let sit for about 30 minutes.  (You can leave it longer and nothing terrible will happen, I promise!)

After 30 minutes, stir well.  Add the zest from the lemons, and then squeeze out their juice.  Whisk together the juice of the lemons and the half cup of olive oil, and stir all this, along with the lemon zest, into the bulgur grains. 

While the cereal and the olive oil get to know each other, mince your parsley pretty fine.  Mix that in with the wheat. Let that sit while you deal with the cucumber.

Now here's where it's up to you.  I like my cucumbers skinned.  You can feel free to leave the rind on, though.  What I do here is a peel the suckers, and then quarter them.  You do need to do the next step, whichever way you go, which is to scrape out all those bitter nasty seeds. 

Once you've quartered and seeded your cucumber, cut it up into pretty small pieces, about the size of red beans, and then stir them into the cereal.  

Next cut up your tomatoes.  Any sort of tomatoes are fine here, by the way.  You do need to seed them, though, just like with the cucumber. And they should be very ripe. Then cut them into the same small pieces, and stir them in.

Add your spices -- salt, pepper, and garlic, for me, though some people do add mint, and others also add a little honey and ginger.  About a quarter cup of red wine vinegar is also good at this point. Go wild!

Stir it all really good, cover with the dish cloth, and put in the fridge for about an hour.  Longer if you need to, that's fine.  In fact, if you make it today and eat it tomorrow it's even better, but in that case probably transfer it to some sort of dish with a lid that seals tight.

Serve chilled well with warmed pita bread and icy, icy beer.  Or tea, if that's what you like.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Dump Cake

I know, I know.  Appalling name.  And yet!  A relatively cheap and very easy recipe.  Though I won't claim it's a health food, kids love this.


  • Two boxes of Jiffy cake mix -- I use the white cake mix, but yellow works too
  • Two cans of fruit pie filling.  Cherry or blackberry or blueberry works best
  • One can of pineapple.  Get the kind with light syrup, not the kind packed in water
  • One stick of butter or margarine
  • If your kids will eat nuts, about an ounce of chopped salted nuts (mine will not, so I leave these off)
  • Whipped cream to garnish.  You can use the sort that comes out of the can or make your own or substitute vanilla ice cream or leave this bit off entirely

Heat your oven to 375 degrees.

Get a nice pan, about 9X9 (don't get neurotic, though, 10X10 is also fine, and a big round pan will also do, or even a 13X9 -- basically, it's hard to get this wrong).  Grease it thoroughly.  I use lots of butter.

Dump the entire can of pineapple in the bottom of the greasy pan.  Dump both cans of fruit on top of the pineapple.  Spread them around and mix up a bit with a wooden spoon, but don't get crazy. Nothing has to be mixed thoroughly here.

Dump the cake mixes in on top of the fruit mixes.  Spread it out pretty good.

Slice up the butter, spreading bits over it pretty much all over the top of the cake mix.  If you're using the nuts, scatter them on top of the butter and mix.

Put the whole deal in the pre-heated oven and bake until it is brown and not wobbly anymore, and smells wonderful -- about 25 minutes, usually, though maybe 30. 

Serve warm with the whipped cream or the ice cream or just by itself.  You can also serve it cooled off.

Your husband who had a nanny as a child and whose family has been bakers for five generations will pretend to be appalled by this concoction, but he will eat two bowls of it, especially when you make it with cherry pie filling.

Friday, June 21, 2013


This is a relatively cheap meal and very filling meal, though kind of labor intensive.  Kids love it.  You can serve with syrup or jam, or sift powdered sugar over the hot pancakes.  If your kid isn’t into sweets, you can just smear them with butter.


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbs sugar
  • Half a tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups milk (You can use water if you're really poor, or canned or powdered milk)
  • 2 tbs melted butter or oil

Sift together the flour, two tablespoons of the sugar, the baking soda, and the salt.
Put the dry mix aside.

Separate your eggs.  Put the whites aside, and whisk the egg yolks in with the milk.  Do fairly thorough job, but don’t make yourself crazy.  Once they’re nicely mixed, add in the melted butter and mix that up too.

 Now fold the milky mix into the flour.  (Don’t over-mix – just mix until it’s integrated.  It’s okay if the mix is still kind of lumpy.) You should have a fairly loose batter – like a slightly thick cake batter.  If it’s thicker than that, add a little more milk.  If it’s looser than that, add more flour.

Now.  This is the important bit.

Take your egg whites and your hand or stand mixer and beat on high until they are very stiff.  Mix in the last tsp of sugar while you’re mixing them.  (If you have never beaten egg whites this way, you’re going to love what happens – this is how meringues are made.)  When the whites are very stiff and white and shiny and standing up in stiff peaks, take them and fold them gently into the batter.  These whites are what will make your pancakes light & fluffy.

Set batter aside while you heat your griddle or your big cast iron skillet (I use a cast iron griddle, but if you just have a big frying pan, that’s fine) to medium hot.  Spoon about a half a cup (or more or less depending on how big you want your pancake to be) out for each pancake.

When the edges are dry and there are bubbles in the middle, it’s probably ready to flip.  But pancake cooking is an art!

Feed to kids and partners one pancake at a time fresh off the griddle.  Though I’ve heard some people store them in a hot oven and then the whole family eats all at one time.  Crazy talk.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Peas and Rice

This is an astoundingly cheap meal that is (semi) nutritious and will be happily eaten by (most) children.

(If you have an anti-pea child in your family, she's the exception -- although if you have only ever given the child canned peas, maybe try them on garden peas or frozen?  These are very different from the canned sort and frozen are nearly as cheap. Garden ones you grow yourself can be even cheaper.)

This is also very easy and fast to make, which is good if you work for a living as most of us do.


  • One bag of frozen peas (Buy the cheapest, they're all the same.)
  • Rice (Like grits, rice is something you should keep on hand.  Buy it in bulk, the five or ten pound bags, or bigger if you have storage space.  It's much cheaper that way. Or if you have access to a natural food store, they sometimes will sell it by the pound -- that often is really cheap. I eat white these days because my kid didn't like brown when she was little, and because brown rice takes so much longer to cook; but if you like brown rice, go with it.)

Cook the rice in your favorite way -- I put two and a half cups of water for every cup of rice into a big pot, add some salt, get it boiling, and then stir good and slap a lid on it.  Cook for 20-22 minutes.  That's how we do it in N'awlins.

But anyway you cook your rice is fine.

Cook the peas in the microwave or on the stove -- again, your preference.

If you're using garden peas, shell, rinse, and then simmer lightly in hot salted water for about five minutes. This is the best way, BTW, if you have access to peas from a farmer's market or your own garden. But frozen peas are nearly as good.

Don't use canned peas unless you want to make your child hate peas for life.  That's my advice.

Serve either separately (if your kids like it that way) or mixed up (that's how we eat it).

Salt, pepper, butter as the individual diner prefers.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Fettuccine Alfredo

This is fairly cheap, and extremely filling.  It's also a very quick meal, and usually kid-friendly*, though that will depend on your kid.  The cheapness depends on whether you're the sort who has cream hanging around the house or not.  I almost always do, since I drink cream in my coffee -- and thus this counts as cheap for me.  If you're not, you're gonna half to get ahold of some cream.  But cream is relatively cheap: you can get a pint for a couple bucks, and you'll only need about half of that for this, and you can use the rest of that in your coffee, so win-win!


  • pasta: I use fettuccine but use any kind you like.  Kids love bowties, or the little wagonwheel sort. Use the right amount for the number eating.  A pound is about right for four people, I've found
  • 1/2 cup (or so) of cream
  • A little salt
Boil the pasta in a large pot according to directions.  


Return the pot to the burner, keeping the heat on high.  Dump in the cream and reduce.  This means stir it with a wooden spoon (I use a big flatheaded wooden spoon) while it simmers until the cream is smooth and shiny and most of the water has steamed away.  

Add a little salt -- maybe a quarter tsp?  Maybe less?  Depends on how salty you like things.  You can also add a little nutmeg here if you like.  I do that sometimes.

Dump your pasta in and stir until all the pasta is coated with the sauce.

Serve hot, with bread.

*If your kids do not like cream sauce, you can save some noodles out and give them noodles plain -- I did that until my kid was nine or ten. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Fry Bread

This is a recipe that was given to me by one of my students (hi, Kendall!). Fry bread is a Native American dish, and there are dozens of different recipes.  This one is from Kendall's Choctaw grandparents, I believe.

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ¾ cup milk
  • ½ cup of water
  • Vegetable oil or lard for frying (Lard is best!)

Mix the flour, salt, baking powder and milk together in a bowl.

Add ½ cup of water and stir until it starts to form the dough. You want it to be just barely not sticky.

Once the dough is right, pinch out small egg shaped balls and roll or pat into flat discs about as big around as your outstretched hand and maybe 1/4 an inch thick (or even thinner if you like'm thinner).  Some people prick the discs with a fork all through at this point; some don't.  If you don't they will puff up as they cook.  If you like'm puffy don't prick the discs.  If you don't like them puffy do. 

Heat your oil to 350 and cook one at a time. Cook until golden brown on both sides.  If you've got a lot of oil you can hold the bread under the oil with your fork.  Otherwise, turn the bread over halfway through the cooking.

Drain on a paper towel. 

If you're eating with meat, and they're puffy, slit them open and put the meat and fixin's inside.

If you're eating with sweet (like honey or jam or syrup) drizzle the sweet over the fry bread.

Yum, is all I got to say.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Good White Bread

I wouldn’t say this is exactly cheap, but it’s not that expensive; and it is nutritious, especially compared to the crap that gets sold as “bread” in the supermarkets today.  You can make it less expensive by cutting down on the amount of milk and eggs used in the recipe and it will still taste nearly as good.  I do that when we’re really broke.

  • 3 cups milk (you can use one cup milk & two cups water, or powdered milk)
  • Six eggs (or two eggs if you’re broke)
  • Six tablespoons butter (or any oil, or two tablespoons butter if you’re broke) softened very soft
  • Two tablespoons of any sort sweetener – I use brown sugar, but whatever you want to use.  You can cut this down to one tablespoon if you like, but don’t leave the sugar out.  And it needs to be actual sugar, not fake sugar – not Splenda or whatever, I mean. The yeast needs sugar.
  • One tablespoon yeast.  I buy yeast in bulk, on line – it’s much cheaper than buying it in those little packets.  But if you’re using the packets, use two packets.  You can also keep a starter going, which is even cheaper.
  • One tablespoon salt
  • One cup (or more) of cooked oatmeal (I use whatever I have leftover from the kid’s breakfast, but you can also cook up some special – if you do this, cook it with some of the 3 cups of milk listed above)
  • Six or eight (or more) cups of King Arthur Bread flour.  You can use other kinds of bread flour.  I won’t stop you.  But seriously, you should try King Arthur bread flour.  It’s a little more pricey, but it’s absolutely worth it.  In the Fort Smith area, Harp’s has it and also the Wal-Mart over on Zero Street.  Or you can get it online.

If you have a stand mixer, you can do the early steps of this in that.  Otherwise, get out your biggest bowl. Get out your butter so it can start getting soft. (I should warn you, from start to finish this bread takes about six hours to make. Make it when you don't have anything else planned for the day.)

Oatmeal first: If you don’t have leftover oatmeal, cook about a cup of oatmeal in about two cups of your milk.  You can do this on the stove or the microwave.  Heat it just to simmering, stir it, and let it cool to lukewarm.

Once it’s lukewarm (this will take about an hour, so do something else while you wait), dump it in your big bowl (or the mixing bowl of your stand mixer if you have a stand mixer) and stir in the other cup of milk.

Add a cup of bread flour, the six eggs, the yeast, the sugar, the salt, and the soft butter. Mix it all together really thoroughly.

Mix in the rest of the flour a cup at a time, mixing thoroughly between each cup.  By thoroughly, we mean very, very thoroughly.  Eventually this mixing is going to start resembling kneading, that’s how thoroughly we’re talking.  Mix it with a wooden spoon as long as you can, and then after that with your bare hands.

When the dough gets too stiff for the mixing to keep happening in the bowl, dump it out onto the floured surface of a counter and continue mixing in flour (in handfuls now, not cups) as you knead.

Knead and knead and knead until the dough is smooth and just stiff enough.  It’ll take maybe 10 minutes from the time you dump it out until it’s done.

What is stiff enough?

Good dough is smooth and silky and just not-quite sticky.  You know it when you feel it, but you won’t know it until you’ve made bread about 30 times.  So this is a thing you have to do to know how to do.

Once you’ve kneaded the dough enough, wash out your bowl, grease it with a bit of oil, and put the dough back in it.  Cover with a clean dish cloth and set it in a warm place to rise.  It needs to rise until doubled in size, which will take – probably – and hour and a half.]

When it’s doubled in size, smack it down.  Really beat it up.  Punch it and yank it around and fold it over and smush it.  Then cover it up and let it rise until doubled in size again – another hour or so.

Then shape it into two loaves, or three if your loaf pans are small ones.  Grease your loaf pans really good and put the loaves in them.  Cover and let rise while your oven heats up to 375 F.

Bake for 30 minutes or so – less time if your loaves are small, more if they’re big.  The loaves are done when they’re nice & brown and when they sound hollow when you thump on them.

This bread freezes well – I freeze it in big ziplock bags – and makes wonderful sandwiches and bread pudding.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Vegetable Broth: Free Food!

Vegetable broth is made with all the scraps you've got hanging around the fridge, and it's very useful, since it’s the basis for various Poverty Meals.

So it's a great deal, and it's also really easy to make.


  • An onion or two (let’s face it – nearly every one of my recipes starts with an onion or two)(and yes, feel free to use wild onions if it’s summer!)
  • Whatever vegetables or scraps of veggies you have around.  This can include any of the following: carrots, celery, lettuce, broccoli, asparagus ends, green beans, greens, peas & pea pods, potatoes, potato peelings – basically whatever.  When cutting up veggies for other reasons, throw the scraps in a ziplock; keep it in the freezer.  Then when it comes time to make broth, just toss in these scraps.  No need to thaw.
  • If you don’t have scraps, you can use whatever vegetables you like.  You want maybe four or five cups of chopped-up vegetables?  But don’t get neurotic.  Whatever you have will do.
  • Also salt, pepper, a bay leaf if you have one, some rosemary if you have that -- neither the bay leaf or the rosemary are necessary.  
  • Garlic if you have some.  Again, not vital
  • Some kind of oil – bacon grease is my favorite, or olive oil if we’re being vegan; but any oil will do

Cut up the onions and cook them a little in the oil.

Cut up the rest of the vegetables if they’re not already scraps.  Cook them in the oil a bit too.  Then add the spices and stir some. 

Add about ten cups of water – maybe a little more if you have a lot of vegetables, less if you have fewer.

Stir well, bring to a boil.

Lower the heat to a simmer and let it simmer for about half an hour.

Cover it, turn the heat off, let it sit for about an hour.

Strain out the veggies (I put them in the compost pile at this point) and separate your broth into quart jars.

The broth can be frozen if you use those plastic Ziploc containers.

What to do with this broth? 
  • Add noodles and veggies and you’ve got a cheap filling soup.
  • Add potatoes and some milk and you’ve got potato soup.
  • Add rice and chicken and you’ve got chicken soup.

Your possibilities are endless!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Pea Soup

This is really cheap and (for those of us who like this sort of thing) really good. It makes a lot and you can eat it for days – especially if you serve it with rice or bread.


  • One bag dried split peas.  Sometimes hard to find, but health food stores & ethnic stores usually have them.  
  • One or two onions.  Again, in the summer you can use wild onions if you’re really broke.  Wild onions grow everywhere, they’re easy to find because they smell absolutely like onions & they’re safe to eat.  They’re really strong so just use a few.
  • A couple carrots, as much celery as you have on hand.  These can be left out if you’re broke, but put them in if you have them because vegetables are good!
  • Some sort of oil/fat – bacon grease is best, but any sort will do.
  • Salt, pepper, a bay leaf if you have one.

Soak the peas for an hour or two if you remember to do this.  If you don’t, it’s cool, but soaking them cuts down on the cooking time.

Cut up the onions & all the other vegetables; cook them in the fat in a large pot over a medium heat for about five minutes.  Add salt, pepper, & the bay leaf if you have one.

Add about six cups of water and then the peas.  Heat to a boil.  Lower heat to a simmer and cook until the peas are soft – this will take maybe an hour, maybe two.  It might take longer.

When the peas are soft, use either an immersion blender or an actual blender to reduce the peas to a smooth consistence – if you use an actual blender, you’ll want to use a slotted spoon to take most of the peas out, putting them in the blender with just a little of the liquid, and then blend the mix to a smooth consistency. 

Then return it to the pot and heat to a simmer again.

Serve with rice, bread or maybe popovers.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Potato Soup

This is relatively cheap and very fast to make. If you get the potatoes on sale, you can double the recipe and eat it two or three or even four days in a row, providing you can get the family to put up with that. There's protein in the milk and vitamins in the veggies, so it's even kind of healthy. I can't say kids like it a lot, but it you make it with popovers, they'll put up with it.

One potato per person eating & one for the pot (I usually use at least six)
Two onions
Two stalks celery
A carrot or two
Some oil  (bacon grease is best, but whatever you have)
One cup (or more) of milk
Salt, pepper

Cut up the onion, celery, and carrots.  You can grate them if you like -- this makes the soup even better. Cook them in the oil over a low heat while you peel and dice the potatoes.

Add five or six cups of water (if you're using six potatoes) to the vegetables, and add cut-up potatoes.

Boil until soft – about 20 minutes. 

Take out about half of the potatoes and mash up (you can also run it through a blender or cream with an immersion blender if you have one – you want a nice smooth puree here).  

Return to pot, stir in.  Add pepper and salt to taste.  

When you’re ready to eat, add the milk and heat until hot.

Service with garlic bread or toast or popovers. (Kids really like the popover option, but popovers require milk and eggs, so that's pricey.)

Monday, June 3, 2013

Grits With Eggs

This is a real end-of-the-month meal.

You oughta keep grits in your pantry anyway, of course -- they're cheap and they're filling.  You need to find a store that sells in bulk.  Health food stores will do this, usually, or if you live where there's a Costco or some other store where you can buy a big old sack (10 pound or 20 pound sack) of them.  But even if you can buy the five pound box, it's a better deal than the little overpriced pounder.

Don't buy the insta-grits in the envelopes for the microwave. Or the "flavored" grits.  That's just plain thievery.  They're laughing at you if you buy that crap.

Anyway!  Cook up about a cup of cooked grits per person eating (half a cup for kids under eight). Usually half a cup of dry grits cooks up to one adult serving, in my experience, and 1/4 a cup for a kid.  You use four cups of water for every cup of dry grits -- sometimes a little more, if the grits get dry while you're cooking. (It depends on the humidity of the day.  No, seriously.  So be prepared to add water a little water while you're cooking if necessary.)

 I like yellow grits, but if you like white that's okay too.  Generally you're gonna want to add a little more water than the directions say, in my experience.  Also, add a little bacon grease or a little butter in there too, and some pepper and salt.  (How much pepper and salt?  That's your bidness.  I like lots of both. Maybe you don't like so much.  Whatever. If you use bacon grease, don't forget it's a bit salty.)

You'll need a big enough pan -- if you're cooking for four or five people, it'll be about five quarter -- and a fairly heavy one too.

Cook until they're done -- with real grits, that's about 20 minutes.  If you can only find the five minute kind, it'll be about three minutes.  (Yeah, I know, but it's not my fault.)  You want to stir almost constantly while these are cooking.  I mean, not non-stop, you can do the dishes or study a little Latin or do some prep for tomorrow's classes, but don't wander off and get distracted.  Burned grits are really hard to get off the bottom of a pan.

When they're cooked pretty good, break in two eggs for each adult eating and one egg for each child, and stir like crazy.  Get the eggs mixed it good.  Once they're good and mixed in, cover the pan, turn off the heat, and let it sit for a minute.

Then serve out.  People can add more butter or bacon grease if they like, plus salt and pepper, and toast if you've got toast.

It's filling and cheap and fairly tasty too, unless you're one of those people who really hates grits.  Also hot, which in the winter when you just have to have a hot meal is helpful.  Plus, protein.

I ate like a ton of this in graduate school.

Tips from NicoleandMaggie

Over here GrumpyRumblings, Nicole&Maggie give us some excellent tips for cooking when you're broke.

My favorite (next to the tip about spices, which is spot on) actually comes from the comments:

I found something called bacon ends and pieces in the bacon area. It costs about $5 for 3 pounds of odd shaped bacon all kind of smashed together. I just divide it into small amounts and use it to flavor bean and potato soups. It freezes well

In the South, of course, we cannot cook without bacon grease, and how are we to get bacon grease, when bacon is so pricey? This is great advice!

Sunday, June 2, 2013


This is one of my Poverty recipes -- one of the recipes I invented, more or less, as a poor graduate student, and have kept in the rotation because (a) I'm still perpetually broke and (2) I still like to eat it from time to time. It's a recipe that's useful when you're broke, toward the end of the month.

It's called sludge for a reason, so be warned!


  • An onion or two if you have two (you can use wild onions if it's summer & you're really broke)
  • Any sort of vegetables: celery, carrots, frozen peas, dried mushrooms, potatoes, scraps of lettuce or ends of turnips, whatever you happen to have left in the fridge (any of these can be left out if necessary)
  • Whatever dried grain you have on hand (I tend to use rice or barley, since these are the two I most reliably have on hand, but I have also used dried oats, and that works too).  How much depends on how many people you're feeding -- you want about half a cup of grain per person.
  • Some sort of oil -- olive oil or bacon grease are best, but any oil will do
  • Salt
  • pepper
  • a bay leaf if you have one

Chop up the onion/s and the vegetables if they're raw.  (If you're using potatoes, scrub them good and hold them until later.)  You don't have to cut them especially small -- about inch size pieces is fine.

Heat the oil (not too hot) and stir up all the cut vegetables in it. Cook a minute or so, until things start to smell good, and then add about two cups of water per cup of grain being used. So if you're using three cups of grain, add six cups of water.  Add salt, pepper, and the bay leaf if you have it. (Feel free to add other spices if you like, by the way!  This is the bare-bones impoverished version of the dish!)

Cook the vegetables for about 20 minutes.  Add another cup of water (we're up to seven cups now), and stir well.  Cut up the potatoes (don't peel them!), and stir them in.  Stir in the grain, cover, and cook until the grain is done.  I always stir several times while the grain is cooking, and add water if necessary during this process, as it sometimes is.

When we're done, the mix is very sludgy looking, but also very filling.  You can serve with bread if you have it.  If you've made a lot (I always made a lot) it keeps well and reheats well. 

If you have left-over scraps of chicken or left-over broth, you can add that for a little extra protein. 

Kids, for some reason, tend to like this a lot.