We received an interesting e-mail recently from a reader who claims to be something of an epicurean when it comes to preparing food on a narrow budget.
The missive from a fellow by the name of Mason reads in part:
I have enjoyed reading your columns on food, and I can tell from your enthusiasm for dining that you must be something of a chef yourself.
I too have dabbled in the culinary arts from time to time; I don’t mind telling you that anyone can eat for a fraction of what shoppers are currently spending on groceries at the local supermarket.
First, I have learned how to do without much of the high-priced grub that most customers take out in their shopping carts as they exit the front door.
Steak and poultry are something I try to avoid—too expensive, overpriced. Budget busters (if there are anyduring our current inflationary times) include milk, eggs, bacon, ham, beans, corn, and potatoes.
My idea of a hearty and inexpensive meal is bologna. Fried brown on both sides until the entire kitchen is belching smoke. Then, I cover the meat with a single slice of yellow cheese (generously rubbed against the bottom of the frying pan to soak up the savory bologna juices) and slather it with thick masses of mayonnaise. I’m a two-sandwich man when it comes to bologna and white bread.
The correct drink for fried bologna is diet Pepsi or dietDr. Pepper. Sugar drinks are simply off-limits, detracting from the hallowed ranks of such flavorful fare.
Pork and beans are another option that won’t break the bank, when it comes to side dishes. Any brand will fill the bill, just if the beans have a generous supply of sauce in the can. Heated and served straight up. No additives unless it’s bacon grease. In that case, the beans are best eaten with a tablespoon over the sink or garbage can, so as not to drip any of the contents on the furniture.
When beans and bologna are not available, I frequently turn to Vienna sausages. Oh, boy! I just add a few drops of white vinegar and break out a package of crackers. And I’m good to go. I can eat two cans if they’re available.
With coupons you can shop economically at the grocers’ and obtain a variety of canned fruit, pasta, vegetables and more provided you purchase the store brands.
Tuna is good for salad or casserole. Wieners come in bulk packages. Generic brands of oatmeal and cereal are available at most outlets.
For breakfast, you can’t beat fried Spam and scrambled eggs. For under $4 you can usually get four morning meals. You’ll never taste anything better than fried Spam in the morning.
Now, when it comes to potted ham (and, of course, plenty of mustard), I know you can usually get three cans for about $1. But I keep my eye out for sales of the potted substance for as little as 10 cans for $2. I just missed such a sale a few weeks ago; by the time I got to the supermarket, the stock boy told me they were all sold out—two lawyers had come in that morning and bought the entire rack.
Macaroni and cheese is another delight that you can sometimes find on sale: two boxes for $1. Otherwise, it will cost you more. The good thing about macaroni and cheese is that it won’t go bad on you. The same goes for peanut butter and bananas, jelly, and marshmallow cream. They all go wonderfully together.
The same can be said for Ramen noodles, tomatoes, onions, peppers and practically any kind of Italian pizza or spaghetti sauce.
Ham bones are in abundance at most butcher shops. If you tell the butcher that you’d like a hambone or a T-bone for your bulldog, he’ll usually go to the back of the shop and return with a bone that still has some meat on it.
That’s excellent for soup or pinto beans. It gives off a salty flavor that’s hard to come by if you don’t have some fat to toss into the pot.
Now, for dessert: you’re on your own here. If you have a pack of oatmeal cookies or Oreos, you’re in business. I suggest a cup of chocolate pudding if it’s accessible. If so, just crunch up the cookies in the pudding and scoop them out with a spoon.
Turn on the Western channel and kick back for some R and R. What could be better?
Respectfully, M. Mason, Beckley WV
Top o’ the morning!