10 Tips for Cooking Tasty Meals on a Budget

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Make delicious and affordable meals with these tips
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10 Tips for Cooking Tasty Meals on a Budget

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Affordable meals don’t have to be bland or monotonous. These tips can help you make delicious meals without blowing your budget.

Caramelization

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One of the easiest (and cheapest) ways to build flavor in a dish is to let the ingredients in your pan start to brown — as they do, they’ll generate a plethora of delicious flavors. Whether you’re sautéing sliced onions or searing chicken thighs, the flavors of most foods are enhanced when you let them brown. The amount of color that you want depends upon your personal taste and the recipe. Make sure you read on to learn how to deglaze the pan and create a flavorful sauce after letting these ingredients brown.

Citrus Juice or Zest

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Whether you have lemons, limes, oranges, or grapefruit on hand, citrus can contribute a bright and refreshing flavor to whatever you’re cooking. A squeeze of fresh citrus juice is great in marinades, soups, and sauces, and freshly grated citrus zest can perk up everything from biscuit dough to plates of pasta.

Flavorful Cheeses

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Though purchasing a wedge of good, flavorful cheese can be a bit of an initial investment, you won’t need to use much on any one recipe, so it will last you a very long time. Just a small amount of a cheese like Parmigiano-Reggiano can add lots of salty flavor — and umami — to a dish. And don’t forget to save the rind once you’ve grated all the cheese from it. You can toss it into your cooking pot and extract even more flavor. Just be sure to remove the rind before serving your soup, sauce, or stew.
 

Fresh Herbs

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Fresh herbs are an economical way to add bright and delicious flavor to your cooking. Many herbs are easy to grow at home, right in your kitchen. And, though herb stems are often discarded, they too can add a tremendous amount of flavor to recipes. After you’ve used all of the leaves from a bunch of herbs, bundle the stems together (so that they’ll be easier to remove later on) and add them to your cooking pot. 

Fruit Juice

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Don’t bother spending money on bottled sauces and marinades if you purchase fruit juice on a regular basis. Juices make a great addition to homemade marinades, and they can be used to deglaze a cooking pan after you brown something in it. When you’re deglazing, just be sure to scrape up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan; they’ll lend a savory element to your pan sauce. 

Grill Marks

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A light char on fruits, vegetables, and meats can add a ton of deliciously smoky flavor. Whether you’re grilling outdoors, cooking indoors on a cast-iron grill pan, or roasting on a sheet pan in the oven, don’t be afraid to let your ingredients blacken around the edges or where they come into contact with the grill grate. 

Mirepoix

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Even when you don’t have a lot of ingredients on hand, you probably have what you need to make a French mirepoix. A mirepoix is simply a mix of diced onion, carrot, and celery. Cook these three ingredients in some butter and you’ll be well on your way to building many flavorful dishes.

Onions and Garlic

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Onions and garlic are at the base of many flavorful recipes. A bag of onions and a few heads of garlic won’t cost you much, but they’ll add tons of sweet and savory flavors to your cooking. If you don’t like large pieces of garlic in your food, try passing the cloves through a garlic press (or grating them with a zester) before adding them to your recipe. The same applies to onion; if you don’t like discernable pieces of onion in your food, try juicing or puréeing them first.

Spices

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Dried spices can wake up an otherwise lifeless recipe. Try blending dried spices and rubbing them directly onto the surface of meat or potatoes before roasting, or sprinkle dried, ground spices into sauces. If you buy whole spices, toast them in a pan for extra flavor before grinding and using them.

Stock or Broth

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Whenever a recipe calls for water, ask yourself, can I use stock instead? If so, do it. Your rice, quinoa, and pasta will have far more savory flavor. You can even use stock or broth instead of butter or oil when you’re sautéing vegetables in a pan. Make delicious homemade stock at no extra cost by saving your leftover animal bones, herb stems, and vegetable peelings.