Although I am thankful that these days we are better off than we were, and we are certainly far better off than most of the planet, I am still very conscious of what it's like to be broke, so I keep on-hand a few food ideas to stretch our dollars.If you are looking for more ideas of how to feed your family on a very low-budget basis, you've come to the right place.
Buy chuck steak. I used four pounds of beef to make these three meals, each meal feeding four persons. Our family of four includes one teenaged boy- so you should have confidence in these recipes with being "enough".
1. Beef stew
When you make this stew, you will also create beef scraps for later use in a soup or beef broth. In fact, any time you trim a piece of steak or beef, you should save that fatty or unwanted gristle in a tub you keep in your freezer. I talk about "the wonder of the freezer" in my book, Cheap & Easy: Recipes for the Broke and Tired.
French Beef Stew
I call this "French" only because I throw in a dash of wine and use green beans. My apologies to the French people who may believe that I only know them to be drunk and bean-y.
My directions are rather loose, so feel free to customize to your liking.
- Chuck steak, about two pounds
- Cauliflower, about 2 cups diced
- Green beans, about 1 cup, chopped or not chopped
- White onion, chopped or diced, about 1/2 cup
- Potato, 1 single potato, scrubbed clean, and with skin on, diced or chopped
- Carrots, 1-2, cleaned, diced or chopped, about 1/2 cup
- Celery, 1-2, de-strung, chopped, about 1 cup
- Olive oil
- Garlic clove
- Bay leaf
- Salt, Pepper, Paprika
- (Old) wine
- (Balsamic Vinegar)
- (Diced tomato)
Chuck steak is typically a cheaper cut, but it's a good one. It has rich fat which makes it perfect for a stew or for braising. Chuck steak is also troubled by collagen and connective tissue which MUST be removed otherwise the resultant meat is chewy and off-putting. You scrape the thin white, almost translucent layer off the meat, sometimes cutting off a thin slice of meat with it. Your knife must be very sharp! If the beef feels "slick", then it's a membrane you got to remove.
Put the beef scraps - including the fatty bits - to the side for Recipe #2.
Chop the meat into one or two inch, fairly cubic, pieces. All your vegetables, too, should be as uniform as possible to ensure even cooking. Any trimmings from your vegetables, such as carrot tops, onion bottoms, etc. should be saved and will be later used for #2. Exception: no tomato greens. It is bitter. Everything else though, the celery tops and bottoms, the green part of the cauliflower, any rejected potato bit, should be fine.
Drizzle olive oil over the cut meat. Add dashes of pepper, salt, and paprika to the meat pile.
Add a splash of olive oil in a pot, turn on the heat to medium strength, and throw in sliced or minced garlic. When the garlic starts to sizzle and the air is heavenly fragrant (I love garlic), slide your meat chunks into the pot, and place the cover slightly off. It's my belief that the moisture from the beef will slide back into the pot, and also I have experienced "gray" meat (steamed) when I left the cover on tight. (Gray meat is gross.)
When the beef is par-cooked, throw in the potatoes and then wait until those are par-cooked. When you feel it's ready, toss in the remaining vegetables, add the bay leaf, a splash of wine (which can be that wine from last week you didn't know what to do with, but still have it), and I like to add a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.
Allow it bubble on medium-LOW, for another hour or so, depending on how well-done you like your vegetables.
Serve with crusty bread (of course!).
This stew is inexpensive not only because of the meat cut, but because of the proportion of vegetables to meat. The beef is tenderized by the acid found in the tomatoes, wine and vinegar. You don't need all three of those things to tenderize your beef. You really just need one of them for any stew. I just happen to like all three of them together in this particular stew.
2. Beef Soup
I do this with a crock pot because it's easier on my time.
|Yes, that crock pot is from the SEVENTIES, y'all. Thanks, mom.|
While the first pot is heating, take your beef scraps and also salt, pepper, olive oil that beefy mess as you did the stew meat.
Pick through your vegetable scraps and make sure they are super clean. Chop or dice so that the pieces are similar in size. Add to the pot. I keep extra veggie bits in the freezer, and at this point, I bring out the freezer collection, chop and toss those in there, too.
Add water which looks like it's less than half of the amount of meat and veggies. My crock pot leaks a little because the lid doesn't quite fit on it. You might add less water than even that. Crock pots create a lot of broth because there is water naturally found in meat and veggies, so you don't want to add too much water. Better less than more. You can always add a little more water later- after it's done cooking. You know you shouldn't lift the crock pot lid during cooking right? It'll add hours to you cooking time.
Turn on high and leave in there for at least four hours. I have left mine on all night (because I forgot about it) and it was just jim dandy in the morning as a breakfast.
The fat and some of the membrane will have melted into the broth. There might be some chewy bits which you can remove, depending on your family. My family is anti-chewy fat, three to one. I am the one hold out. I like the fatty bits with my rice.
You can -if you want, if the veggies are THAT unappealing to you - strain the solids out, and compost them, leaving the rich, nutritious broth behind.
Beef Soup with Toast and Cheese
The veggies may not look attractive (well you did reject them from the stew for a reason) so borrow an idea from French Onion Soup (again, my fascination with France appears), and serve this soup with a thick slice of crusty bread on top, and melt cheese, like a gooey mozzarella or, face it, Velveeta brand cheese stuff, on top on that. This is accomplished by serving the soup in thick, oven safe bowls, which are brought under a broiler for a few minutes for toasting and melting.
TIP#1: This toast topper can be made using bread-butts - which for some reason, no one eats in my family, but yes, I freeze them and keep them for recipes like this and to make croutons and breadcrumbs later.
TIP#2: Slide a slice of fresh tomato on top of that cheese, fresh garlic, before broiling in the oven and yummmerzz.... taste all fancy but on the cheap.
TIP#3: Add rice, croutons or pasta to make this a more filling meal.
TIP#3: Add rice, croutons or pasta to make this a more filling meal.
You may find you'll have to add a surprising amount of salt for it to taste "normal" to you. That's because our canned soups have SO much salt that we are used to a very salty soup. Of course, add the salt if you want to, but try to undercut it a bit, if you can. It's so easy to overdose ourselves on salt. :(
3. Shredded Beef
Season about two pounds of beef with at least the following:
Salt, pepper, paprika, fresh garlic, celery salt and chili powder
Toss in a crock pot. Let it cook on low for about eight hours. The timing depends on your crock pot (mine is an old one). So read your crock pot's instruction booklet and take a chance.
If you are doing this on the stove, that's fine, too. You'll need to add about two cups of water or beef broth and a dash of olive oil, and watch the pot carefully for about four hours. The lid must be kept on tight. In this case, gray doesn't matter, because you'll later use the shredded beef in a wrap or a sandwich. Add water carefully as it lowers. You don't want it to burn.
Shredded Barbecue Beef Sandwiches
- Use about two cups of barbecue sauce for about four cups of beef or to your liking
- Serve on toasted sesame buns with pickles and mustard.
TIP#1: The shredded beef can be frozen until a later date
TIP#2: You can use any beef leftovers in a chili or a spaghetti sauce. Seriously. Use every single bit!