Sep 112015


This is a traditional Appalachian skillet bread. My great-aunt Ella Fay made it for me when I was a girl. I don’t remember my Granny making it, but I know her dad, my Great-Grandpa Courtney did. It’s traditionally made in an iron skillet and fried in butter or margarine. Be sure to keep the heat medium-low or even low if your stove runs hot. You want the bread to cook all the way through before it gets too brown or burns. Low heat ensures this.

I think in northern areas this might be called Bannock. In Appalachia though, it’s called skillet bread or fry-bread.

I’ve only seen this recipe in one other place, a blog called Writing in the Blackberry Patch. She uses self-rising flour, but my great-aunt always used plain white flour and added her own baking powder and salt. I don’t know how my great-grandpa made it. I just remember thinking he was very clever.

This bread is served cut into wedges or torn into pieces. It’s traditional to serve it covered with sausage gravy or bacon gravy or tomato gravy. It’s good under creamed tuna too. Ella Fay liked hers covered in apple butter.

I don’t think this recipe is in the Fox Fire books, but if anyone knows that it is, please leave a comment so I can look it up in my own collection and show it to my Granny. She loves it when stuff she already knows is in those books.

This recipe calls for 3/4-cup milk and 1-tablespoon vinegar. You can replace this with 1-full cup of buttermilk if you prefer. Another alternative is to use 1/2-cup yogurt and 1/2-cup milk.


Country Style Skillet Bread or Fry Bread


  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2-teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4-cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice
  • 1/4-cup margarine or other fat for frying


First get out a large skillet, at least 10-inches. Place the margarine in the skillet and allow it to heat over a low to medium-low temperature. You don’t want it to be too hot.

In a medium-sized bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Crack in the egg and pour in the milk and vinegar. Stir the batter with a fork. It will be very thick, but it will not be a dough. It’s thicker than muffin batter, maybe like drop biscuit batter. Add another spoonful or two of milk if your batter is dry. Mix well.

Use a large spoon or your hand to scrape the batter into the hot skillet on the stove. Spread it all out until it almost covers the bottom of the skillet but doesn’t touch up against the sides. A little touching is okay, but you don’t want it to get stuck to the sides of the skillet.


Make sure the temperature of your skillet is low. Cover the pan with a lid if you have one. This will help it bake more thoroughly.

Allow the bread to cook for 5 to 8-minutes, or until the under side is golden brown and the top has a few bubbles on it, like pancakes.

Now is the tricky part. Using your largest pancake-turner, flip the whole thing over, back into the skillet, and let it settle into place. Cook the second side over low heat, until it’s golden brown and the bread is cooked through. You can poke a knife down into the center to see if it comes out clean. If any dough is sticking to it, then the bread needs to cook a little longer. Turn down the heat if you need to, so it can cook through without burning.


When the bread is done flip it onto a plate. Let it cool for at least 5-minutes and then cut it into wedges. This amount serves 1-very hungry grandpa and a little girl who has helped with the chickens, the turkeys, the cow and worked up a hearty appetite, or 2-starving teenagers. This is a filling bread, and with the milk and egg it’s got enough protein to stick to your ribs.

fry-bread-skillet3Here’s a close-up of the edge. You can see how it rises in the center while the top and bottom cook.

Sep 102015


These flat-breads don’t have any added leavening, making them unleavened bread. They get their texture from kneading or working the dough for 10-minutes to develop the gluten in the flour. You can do this by hand kneading the dough, or by putting it into your bread machine and letting it do the work for you. This recipe makes 4 pieces. If you don’t want to do all of this work for only 4-pieces of bread, you can double the recipe and make 8 pieces instead. It’s almost the same amount of work, for double the end product. Once cooked these keep for several days at room temperature, or a bit longer in the fridge. They can be reheated on a skillet or baked in a slow oven until warm if you prefer. Serve with any bean or lentil dish.


(also known as Unleavened Bread or Fry-Bread)


  • 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons oil or melted fat (1/2-tablespoon)
  • 1/2 cup tap water


Mixing by Hand

Simply combine everything in a bowl and stir it until you get a smooth dough. If it’s a little dry you may add more water. If it’s a little wet you may add more flour. Knead by hand, in the bowl for about 10-minues. Measure it by the clock because you will be tempted to stop too soon. This kneading is what makes the resulting dough tender, so don’t skip on it. When you are done kneading the dough it should have a firm, clay-like consistency

After kneading cover the dough with plastic wrap and allow it to rest for at least 30-minutes or overnight if you prefer. You let the roll sit so the gluten will have a chance to relax, which makes the flat-bread easier to roll out.

Mixing by Bread Machine

Measure all of the ingredients into the machine’s bread pan. Start the machine and allow it to mix and knead the dough for you. Set your timer for 10 minutes, or watch the clock. When the time is up, turn off the machine. You should have a nice stiff ball of dough inside of it with a clay-like consistency. Allow the dough to rest inside the machine for at least 30 minutes, or as long as overnight. It won’t rise because it doesn’t have yeast in it.

Rolling & Shaping the Dough

After the dough has rested, divide it into 4-pieces. Dust each piece with flour, pat it out into a circle and place it on a sheet of lightly floured waxed paper. Use a rollin-pin to roll the bread out into a thin circle. Try to get it as thin as you can, but not see-through. The thinner the flat-bread, the more tender it will be.

To Make Unleavened Bread

Roll out all the dough first. Then heat a large iron skillet over a medium-high heat. Do not oil the pan, you want it to be dry and hot. Flop on a flat-bread. Let it cook for 10 to 15 seconds, then flip it over. Allow the second side to cook for about 45 to 60-seconds. Flip it again and cook for another 45 seconds. The bread will have a few brown spots. It will be puffed and tender with a few bubbles dotting the surface. Flop the cooked flat-bread onto a plate and then continue on to the next one. Keep going until all of the breads are cooked.

To Make Fry-Bread

Roll out all of the dough first, because this goes fast, and you need to watch the oil while the bread cooks.

After rolling out all of the flat-breads heat a large, deep skillet over high or medium-high heat. Add enough shortening or vegetable oil to measure at least 1/2-inch deep. You want the oil to be almost smoking hot, or about 375°. Carefully slip a flat-bread into the hot oil. Press it down with tongs or a fork to submerge it in the oil. You will see the bread form bubbles all over the surface of the dough as it puffs up. Fry until the underside is lightly browned. Flip and brown the second side. Use tongs or a fork to carefully remove the bread from the oil. Lay it on a plate lined with paper towels or a few sheets of paper ripped from an old phone book. Continue on to the next fry-bread.

Be careful while frying the breads because hot oil can burn the snot out of you if you aren’t careful. After preparing all of the fry-breads allow the oil to cool. It can be strained and kept in the fridge to be used again at another time. If you use shortening then allow it to cool until it’s still liquid, but not hot. Strain it into a clean, empty can. Cover with tin foil or a lid and store it in the pantry until needed again.

Sep 102015


My recipe for Indian Fry Bread is not associated with any specific tribe or culture. It’s a generic version I learned in Home Ec. in Minnesota. It’s probably Ojibwe in origin, although I’ve had both Navajo and Cherokee visitors tell me it’s just like the kind their mothers and grandmothers made. In Appalachia (where I live) a similar bread is made, but it has an egg added to it. I have one friend who calls this Reservation Bread because Indians didn’t start making it until they were forced onto reservations and had to give up their traditional, and extremely healthy, diets. On the reservation they received commodity foods, including plenty of white flour, dry milk and hydrogenated shortening.

Some people sprinkle their fry bread with sugar or drizzle it with honey or slather it in jelly for a sweet treat. It makes great Navajo Tacos too. That’s when you top the bread with seasoned beans, cheese, lettuce and tomato. Finely minced onion is traditional too.

American Indian Fry Bread


  • 1 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil (1/2 tablespoon)
  • 6 tablespoons tap water
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons dry milk powder (optional)
  • Shortening or Vegetable oil for frying


Measure the flour, baking powder and salt into a medium-sized bowl. Stir it about with a fork or your hand so that the salt and leavening (baking powder) are evenly distributed.

If you’re adding dry milk powder then take the time to dissolve it in the water at this point. If you’re not using dry milk powder, then simply use plain water. Add the water and vegetable oil to the flour. Mix it with a fork or your hands. Stir until you have a firm dough.

If you think the dough seems sticky then dust it with a bit of extra flour. If the dough seems dry or crumbly then add a few dribbles of water until it’s moist enough to stick together nicely. Knead a few times so it all sticks together in a cohesive ball of dough.

Divide the dough into 2 to 4 pieces. Rip off a piece of waxed paper, roughly square in shape and dust it lightly with flour. Flop a ball of dough onto the waxed paper. Roll it out to the thickness of pie crust or a little thicker. They are pretty manageable and cooperative in case you’re a novice with a rolling-pin.

While you’re rolling out the dough heat about 1/2-inch of shortening or vegetable oil in a deep skillet. You want the oil to be almost smoking hot, or about 375°. When the oil is hot enough slip in one of the flat pieces of dough. Use a chop stick or tongs or even a fork to press the dough down into the oil so it’s submerged. The dough will bubble up impressively while it fries. When the underside is brown, flip the dough and brown the second side. Carefully remove the cooked frybread from the hot oil and lay it out on paper towels or newspaper or pages ripped from an old phone book to drain.

Continue until all of your frybreads are fried. Serve hot. Makes 2 or 3 servings.

The oil can be cooled, and strained to remove any dough bits. It can be used to fry other foods later. Store it in the fridge if possible. Solid shortening should be cooled until it’s warm but not yet solid. Then strain it through a small wire strainer into a clean empty can. Cover the top with tin foil or a lid. Store it in the cupboard. It can be used again.

Sep 092015

5 Hot Tortillas

Homemade flour tortillas are cheap and they taste good. They work in all of the ways that store-bought tortillas do. When you first learn to make them they are a little bit of work, but after a couple of tries you’ll be surprised at how proficient you’ve become. If you will never be willing to make your own tortillas then you can sometimes find them cheaply at the supermarket. If you are willing to learn a new skill, then you’ll find this recipe sturdy and difficult to ruin. Don’t worry about getting your tortillas perfectly round at first. It takes practice to develop the technique of keeping them circle shaped. Keep at it, and before you know it, you’ll be a flour tortilla expert.

Flour Tortillas

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup water
  • Waxed paper
  • oil (optional)

In a large bowl combine the flour, salt and baking powder. Mix it briefly with your hands to evenly distribute the salt and leavening (baking powder). Pour in the oil and 1/2-cup of water. Stir it all up. If the batter is too dry to form a cohesive ball of dough then add a little bit of water, a spoonful at a time, until it’s moist enough to make a firm dough. Knead the dough 20 to 30 times, so that it all sticks together nicely. Form the dough into 6-balls, roughly equal in size. Roll each ball of dough in a little bit of flour, so that they are evenly coated.

I do this by plopping each one in my bag or canister of flour and rolling it around until it’s coated. Set the balls aside so they can rest for a few minutes, allowing the gluten to relax and making them easier to roll out.

While the dough is resting get out a skillet and place it on the stove. You’ll want to heat it to medium or medium high when you’re ready to cook the tortillas.

After resting for at least 10-minutes, or up to an hour or two, place a ball of dough in the center of a sheet of waxed paper, or a clean, well floured surface. Use a floured rolling-pin or a smooth, glass bottle to roll the dough out into a circle. I aim for at least 6 to 7-inches in diameter, but if you are skillful, you may be able to make it a little larger. Really it’s a matter of how thin you want your tortillas to be. Some folks prefer them to be thicker, others prefer a thinner tortilla.

When it’s thin enough, loosen the tortilla from the waxed paper and flop it into a clean, dry, hot skillet. Allow it to dry-fry (this is called baking) in the skillet for about 30-seconds. The bottom surface with be dry and have a few brown spots here and there.  Flip it over and bake the second side for another 20 to 30 seconds, until it too is dry with a few brown spots. Transfer the cooked tortilla to a plate. Continue on until all of your tortillas are cooked.

Some people roll out all of the tortillas at a time, each on their own sheet of waxed paper, and then cook them, one right after the other. Other people are fast enough to roll out a tortilla while one is cooking on the stove. Do it the way that works best for you.

When all the tortillas are cooked they can be used any way you would use store-bought tortillas. They make great burritos, quesadillas, turkey wraps, soft tacos etc.

When you first make your own tortillas it will take a little bit of time, maybe even 30-minutes, while you get used to the process. Once you’ve made them a few times, it will take less than 20-minutes to make 6-tortillas. Your first few tortillas may look more like amoeba than pretty, round tortillas. That’s par for the course. As you become more adept at rolling them, they’ll take on a more normal circle shape. The amoeba may not be beautiful to look at, but they will taste darned good anyway.

Store tortillas in a plastic bag, reheat in a dry skillet for greatest flexibility.

Food Pics_00001

Sep 092015

3 Waffles

If you have a waffle iron then get it out and learn how to use it. Waffles are cheap to make yourself. They taste nothing like the kind you used to put in the toaster when you were a kid. Those were kind of freezerburnt, sort of chewy, and left a weird coating on your teeth. Homemade waffles are like exotic pastries that you might get from a French pastry shop. They are truly amazing and devestatingly delicious.

If you don’t have a waffle iron, put the word out among family and friends that you’re interested in having one. Someone may give you their old one because they find it too much trouble to use. My first waffle iron was an old one from the 1950’s that one of my grandmother’s gave to me as a young woman. It was finicky, but it made magnificent waffles. Finally, it burnt itself out and I had to get a new one. The new one was never as good as the old one, so I gave it away. Now I use a castiron waffle iron that works on the eye of the electric stove or a propane camp stove.




  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons melted margarine
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder (1/2 tablespoon)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour


First set the margarine to melt in a small pan on the stove. Next get out a medium-sized bowl. Pour in the milk, margarine and egg. Beat well. Add the salt, baking powder and flour. Use a wire whisk to beat everything smooth. If you don’t have whisk then use electric beaters.

Preheat your waffle iron according to the instructions. You may lightly oil the waffle iron if necessary. I do this with a pastry brush dipped in a little vegetable oil. Measure the waffle batter into each section. My current waffle iron requires 1/3-cup batter per waffle. A previous waffle iron that had belonged to one of my grandmothers required 1/2-cup of batter per iron. Be careful not to overfill the waffle iron. If you do, the batter will ooze out and make a terrible mess that is tedious and difficult to clean up. Trust me on this part. At my house we still do not speak of the Waffle Massacre of 1999.

After adding the batter, close the waffle iron and allow it to bake for 2 to 3 minutes, or however long is recommended by the manufacturer. Read your instruction manual to see for sure.

When the waffles are well cooked and golden brown they should be relatively easy to loosen up and remove with a fork or chopstick. Continue until all of the waffles are cooked.  This recipe makes 3 or 4 waffles, depending on how much batter you use for each.

Waffles are a fancy and luxurious treat. Serve them with syrup, and fruit for breakfast, or top them with pudding and fruit for dessert. They can also go under main dishes, like creamed chicken.

Sep 082015


Best Buys For Breads, Grains & Starches

For this section I focus primarily on processed grains, not whole grains. Whole grains such as whole wheat flour and brown rice are superior nutritionally but they usually cost more than processed grains such as all-purpose flour and white rice. Since this section of the website is specifically about getting the most food for the lowest price, low-cost foods take precedence over higher-cost foods. With that said, I do sprinkle in a few tips about increasing your intake of whole grains for as low a cost as possible.

All-Purpose Flour

All-Purpose Bleached White Flour is the first item you need. It’s used for everything from pancakes and muffins to homemade tortillas, pasta, and bread. Did you know you can make all these things yourself in your own kitchen? You can; all you need is the recipe which you’ll find in the section Rock Bottom Broke, and the willingness to get your hands a little dirty. Most hands are wash and wear, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

All-purpose flour is called all-purpose because it is designed to be used for many different types of baking. Specialty flours for bread, cake and biscuits all cost more than all-purpose flour. Hard or winter wheat is higher in protein than soft, or spring wheat. Hard wheat, with its extra protein in the form of gluten, is best for baking yeast breads, which rely upon gluten for their rise and structure. Hard wheat flour is called Bread Flour at the supermarket. Soft wheat or spring wheat is lower in protein. With less gluten, soft wheat is better for delicate baking such as cake or biscuits. At the supermarket you can find it in bags of biscuit flour and boxes of cake flour. All-purpose flour is made from a combination of both hard and soft wheat. It works well in yeast bread, cakes and biscuits. It’s designed to be used for all purposes, thus its name–all-purpose flour.

All white flour sold in America is enriched. When the whole wheat berries have the outer bran and the germ rubbed off to make white flour, a great deal of nutrition is removed along them. All-purpose flour has a few nutrients, such as B vitamins, added back into the flour. This is the enrichment. Enriched flour is not as nutritious as whole wheat flour, but it is more nutritious than unenriched flour.

The cheapest all-purpose flour is bleached. The bleaching process makes flour bright white and accelerates the aging or ripening process of the flour so it’s ready to sell in a few weeks, rather than a few months like unbleached flour. Time is money, so bleached flour costs less than unbleached flour. If you have unbleached flour, you should know that it can replace bleached flour in any recipe without problem.

Another common type of flour is self-rising flour. This is made from all-purpose flour with the addition of baking powder and salt. Some people use it a lot; others don’t find much use for it. If you use self-rising flour to replace all-purpose flour in baking then you will need to leave out any salt, baking powder or baking soda. Since self-rising flour already has these added to the flour itself, there’s no need to add them to your recipe. I don’t use a lot of self-rising flour because I find it to be less versatile than all-purpose flour.

When you’re at the market you may be dismayed to find an overwhelming variety of flour from which to choose. Take a deep breath and put your thinking cap on. You’re looking for all-purpose flour in a 5-pound bag, or larger, if you do a lot of baking. All-purpose flour is the cheapest, most affordable type of flour you can buy. It’s also the standard flour that most recipes are tested with. Keep looking until you can zero in on a store brand or value brand of all-purpose flour. Compare its price with other types of flour on the shelves. It should the be the cheapest one.


If you do a lot of baking, it pays to buy your flour in a large bag. Twenty-five pound bags of flour cost significantly less per pound than 5-pound bags. If you don’t do much of your own baking, or if you are baking for a small family, then a 5-pound bag may be a more reasonable choice.

All-purpose flour is the foundation of your rock-bottom broke kitchen. With a little baking powder, salt, oil and eggs you can make scores of hot breads and other items like tortillas, pasta and crackers. Add sugar and you can bake cookies, pies, cakes and cobblers. You can even make your own mixes such as biscuit mix. If you are pinching every penny until it squeaks, then you need all-purpose flour in your pantry and you need to learn how to use it.

If you’re trying to eat a more nutritious diet then you can also buy whole wheat flour, which costs about twice as much as all-purpose flour. Combine equal parts of whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour and use it in most of your baking. Pie crusts, cakes and some cookies are better when made with only white flour. Breads, muffins and bar cookies work well with the combination flour.

Whole wheat flour is available in both ordinary whole wheat flour and a version called “white wheat” whole wheat flour. White whole wheat flour is a little lighter in color and texture than ordinary whole wheat flour. I choose whichever one is cheapest, but if they cost the same amount then I choose white whole wheat flour because it’s more family-friendly. Some people feel that baked goods made with whole wheat flour are more filling, and they are certainly more nutritious. This is a fact worth considering when balancing cost and nutrition. I feel the best compromise between the two is using a 50/50 blend of all-purpose and whole wheat flour. Although, when cost is your highest priority, all-purpose flour is the clear winner.

After all-purpose flour there are a few other grains and starches that add nutrition and variety to one’s diet for very little cost. The most versatile and inexpensive are cornmeal, oatmeal or rolled oats, rice and potatoes.


Cornmeal is almost as versatile as all-purpose flour, and there are a few things it can do which flour cannot. The most basic cornmeal products are made by combining it with water. Cornmeal mush or polenta is made by boiling cornmeal in water until it makes a mush type cereal. It can be eaten as is or poured into a large pan, allowed to cool and then sliced into serving-size pieces. This is called polenta. If you fry the polenta in a little fat–so much the better. Corn pone and hoecakes are made by combining cornmeal and boiling water and then shaping the resulting dough into patties or cakes. These are baked or fried and served plain or as an accompaniment to a meal. If you ever find yourself with only cornmeal and water in the house, you still have plenty to eat. Native Americans and poor southerners have subsisted on little more than cornmeal for generations, so it has a long history of use.

Cornmeal can be found in yellow or white versions. Both work the same so choose whichever is least expensive. Be sure to look for plain cornmeal and not cornmeal mix. The mix has added ingredients for baking such as baking powder, salt and sometimes wheat flour or powdered milk. It is not as useful or as versatile as plain cornmeal. Usually it costs more too. Don’t buy it. Just look up and down the baking aisle until you find plain cornmeal. It may be in 2-pound bags, or if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to find 5-pound bags. Choose whichever has the lowest unit price.


Rolled oats or oatmeal are another supermarket bargain, as well as a whole grain. Pound for pound they cost a little more than whole wheat flour. I prefer old-fashioned rolled oats but quick-cooking (not instant) are sometimes less expensive. Since both are made from wholegrain oat groats I use whichever is least expensive. Both are interchangeable in baking and main dishes. The only difference is when they are used as a breakfast cereal. Old-fashioned oats, which are a little bit thicker, must simmer for 5-minutes before they are ready to eat. Quick-cooking oats must simmer for 1-minute and then sit for 5-minutes, meaning they take 1-more minute of prep-time before they’re ready to eat. Old-fashioned oats are actually ready to eat in less time than quick-oats which makes no sense to me whatsoever. But such are the ways of modern marketing.

When you go looking for rolled oats be sure to seek out a store-brand. These can be half the price of name-brands. Also, since oats keep so well on the pantry shelf, larger sized containers are worth buying when they cost less per ounce.

Rolled Oats can be turned into a variety of dishes. We all know how they make good hot cereal, but they can also make cold cereal in the form of homemade granola, or they can be mixed raw with yogurt, fruit and honey for a fast, tasty and nutritious breakfast. Rolled oats can go into a variety of breads, from pancakes to sandwich bread to quick breads and muffins. They make good cakes, cookies and are used as a topping for apple or peach crisp. They make a great extender for ground meat in meat loaves and meat balls. They can even be turned into Golden Oats, a quick and easy side-dish or vegetarian main dish. Even in a rock bottom broke kitchen, rolled oats earn their keep.


Rice, along with wheat flour, is one of the world’s foundational grains. Great International cuisines have sprung up around rice from Chinese and Indian to Caribbean. At the market the cheapest rice is long-grain white rice. Usually large bags are less per pound. Quick-cooking or instant rice is the worst buy at the market. It doesn’t save much time either. Instant rice cooks in 5-minutes, regular rice cooks in as little as 12-minutes. Seven minutes cooking time does not justify its higher price. You still have to measure the rice and water. You still have to wait for it to come to a boil. You still have to wash the pot. Minute rice is simply not convenient enough to earn its higher price.

Rice is good simply cooked and eaten as is, maybe with a little margarine or soy sauce. It goes into a variety of main dishes and casseroles and works as a base that can be topped with all kinds of stews and stir-frys. For breakfast simply cover leftover rice with a bit of milk and maybe some raisins. You can heat it up or serve it cold. Fried rice is made simply by frying leftover rice with a few onions and maybe some other vegetables or meat. Leftover rice is useful and easy to use up, so I always make more rice than I need when I cook it. Leftovers go into the fridge and then can be used later in the week for quick meals.

Brown rice is available from WIC and is a whole grain. It’s a healthier, more nutritious choice than white rice. The only drawbacks are increased cost and longer cooking time. If you are buying your own rice, long-grain white rice is definitely a better buy. It costs about half as much as brown rice. If you get brown rice for free then it’s almost as easy to use as white rice. Simply use brown rice, measure for measure, to replace white rice in almost any recipe. Increase the cooking time to about 45-minutes, or until the brown rice is tender.


Pasta is next on the list. Plain spaghetti and macaroni are usually the least expensive forms of pasta. They are versatile too. Spaghetti can replace capellini, fusilli, fettuccini, linguine, rice noodles, soba (buckwheat noodles) and ziti. If you take the time to break it into small bits it can even replace small pastas like fine egg noodles, orzo and ditalini. Macaroni is just as handy. Use it to replace bow-ties, cavatelli, fusilli, gemelli, medium egg noodles, penne, rigatonni, rotini, seashells, and wagon wheels–any bite-sized or chunky pasta.

One of the best qualities of pasta is its quick cooking time. Spaghetti and macaroni both cook in 10-minutes or less. Many sauces can be prepared in less that the time it takes for the water to come to a boil and the pasta to cook. Most of us can find 20-minutes in our day to prepare a hearty, filling meal.

On the topic of pasta I should mention egg noodles. They cost more than spaghetti or macaroni but are just as versatile, and have a special flavor all their own. We love egg noodles at my house, but we don’t serve them as often because of their added expense. When I find them on sale I snatch them up and stash them in my cupboard for later use.

Egg noodles can be made successfully at home if you have some flour, eggs and water. The only real skill required is rolling the dough extra thin, and, to tell the truth, it’s more a matter of patience than skill.

Egg noodle dough can be cut into many shapes from skinny to wide, and short to long. It makes excellent homemade lasagna noodles. Ever since I realized this I was able to cross lasagna noodles off my grocery list. I don’t have to buy it from the store, I can make it at home. I get a pleasant little thrill every time I discover something I can make myself instead of having to buy it from the store and homemade lasagna was no exception.

Potatoes in Bag

Potatoes are a vegetables, but in practice and nutritional content, they are another starch. Seventy-five years ago Americans ate them twice a day, every day. Both economical and nutritious, we could do with eating more potatoes these days than we do.

Large bags of all-purpose potatoes are usually the lowest price per pound. Red potatoes, yellow potatoes and baking potatoes are usually more expensive. All-purpose potatoes work just as well as other varieties for most recipes. Ten-pound bags are usually less per pound than 5-pound bags. Sometimes 15-pound bags are available too, but if you’re only feeding 2 or 3, you may not want to buy this many at once.

At home, potatoes should be stored in a cool, dark place. You can keep them in the refrigerator if you have the space, or in a cool place in your kitchen cupboard. If your potatoes start to sprout, then try to use them up quickly. They don’t keep very well after they sprout. If your potatoes are sprouted, simply pluck off the sprouts and continue to use them as desired in your meals. The sprouts don’t hurt anything, they just make the potatoes soften more quickly, until they’re too floppy to use.

The main drawback of potatoes is that they require preparation before they can be eaten. They have to be washed, sometimes peeled, often cubed or sliced and then they have to be cooked. This is not exactly a convenience food. On the plus side, fresh potatoes are extremely nutritious and especially filling. High in both Vitamin C and potassium, potatoes with the skin are a good source of fiber besides.

Potatoes are versatile too, from mashed to baked, fried to roasted, soup to chowder, potatoes can be prepared in a variety of ways. My family doesn’t get tired of them, even if they wind up eating them several days in a row. I consider potatoes a foundational food in the rock bottom broke kitchen.

Potato convenience foods such as instant mashed potatoes and frozen french fries can be reasonable choices if you look for the lowest price store-brands. Instant mashed potatoes are actually cheaper than fresh potatoes, although they are not as nutritious. Even when I’m rock bottom broke, I make instant mashed potatoes a part of my budget. They’re quick, convenient and almost everyone likes them. Frozen french fries are fine if you have a little bit extra cash to spend, but if you’re pinching every penny, there are other foods that are more worthwhile to keep on hand, such as fresh potatoes. Buy french fries by the unit price. Store-brands and value brands usually offer the most savings.

Boxes of au gratin potatoes and scalloped potatoes are often available from food banks. They taste pretty good, although in my experience they usually need to cook a bit longer than directed on the package instructions. I do not buy them myself because they are not nutritious enough to justify their cost. I’ve noticed that the size of the package has shrunk quite a bit over the years. A single box, weighing 4 to 5-ounces only makes 2 or 3-servings. I’d rather save my money and make them from scratch. I get more servings, more nutrition and spend less money too.

The final staples in this category are more expensive than the others, perhaps less versatile too, but still earn a place in my cupboard. They are grits, barley, corn tortillas, taco shells and store-bought bread.


Grits aren’t quite as versatile as cornmeal. They aren’t much good for baking, but they taste good, have a delightful texture and my family loves them. We only buy Quick-Grits, usually in 5-pound bags. Smaller containers are usually more readily available. We use grits for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, casseroles, hot cereal, and everything in between. They make excellent polenta, which is our favorite way of using them for main dishes. If you don’t like grits or if they aren’t available in your area then feel free to use cornmeal instead. The finished product will have a slightly finer texture, but quantities, cooking times and methods remain the same. Instant grits are a huge ripoff, so don’t even give them a second glance. Grits are not a necessity, unless you live in the south. So if you’re not interested in learning how to use them you can leave them off of your list.

Barley is usually available in 2-forms at the supermarket: quick-cooking and pearl barley. Pearl Barley is cheaper but takes about 45 minutes of simmering to become tender. Quick barley is shaped somewhat like old-fashioned oatmeal, and cooks in about 10-minutes. It costs quite a bit more per ounce than pearl barley, so I don’t use it very often. Plain, leftover pearl barley makes a delicious breakfast when reheated in milk and sprinkled with a spoonful of brown sugar. Quick barley can be used as a quick-cooking hot cereal for breakfast, or it can go into soups just like pearl barley. Sometimes barley is found with the dry beans and other times it’s in the soup section. Keep an eye out for it as you do your shopping and pick up a bag (or box) if you find it for a good price. Barley is not a necessity. If you’re watching every dime, then feel free to leave barley out of your grocery cart.

Mexican Food

Corn Tortillas are much cheaper per pound than flour tortillas. They make breakfast burritos, enchiladas, tostadas, quesadillas and taquitos. They’re also good fried in a little margarine until soft and served as a hot bread with any spicy main dish. Drizzle them with honey or pancake syrup after frying or sprinkle with powdered sugar and cinnamon and you’ve got a tasty, sweet snack or dessert. I don’t consider corn tortillas a necessity, but they are an affordable convenience food.

Hard Taco Shells cost more per pound than corn tortillas, but they are very handy for homemade tacos. Store-brands are reasonably priced. Be sure to buy taco shells and not a “taco-kit.” You can make your own taco filling without mixes or packets, so there’s no need to spend more for a kit, when all you really need are the shells. Tacos can be made from refried beans, black beans, ground meat, tuna, chicken and white fish. You can use your own homemade flour tortillas as wraps, but if you want crunchy tacos, store-bought taco shells are pretty convenient and don’t cost too awful much.

White Bread

Store-bought bread is a convenience food of the highest order. It saves all of the time and work of making your own bread from scratch. It also costs at least twice as much as your own homemade yeast bread, and doesn’t taste half as good. If you have no interest in making your own homemade bread, I’m not going to try to talk you into it. It’s one of those things that you either want to learn how to do, or you don’t. And if you don’t that’s okay.

The cheapest bread is plain white sandwich bread, usually in a generic, value-brand or store-brand. Sometimes value-brand or store-brand hot dog and hamburger buns only cost a little bit more than regular sliced bread. Sometimes they’re a lot more. Usually English muffins, whole wheat bread, and any other type of specialty bread costs a lot more than plain sandwich bread. Compare unit prices (the cost per ounce or pound) to determine the best buy.

Don’t be a bread-snob. Hamburgers can be eaten on sandwich bread just as easily as on hamburger buns. Submarine sandwiches can be made on sandwich bread just as easily as on french bread. Hot dogs rolled up in a slice of bread are just as nourishing as those served on a bun. It’s only in the last 20-years that people have begun to think that the shape of their bread has to “match” the food that they’re eating. Before then folks all across the nation, of every different type of income, used whatever bread they had available to make sandwiches or serve with dinner.

When we’re rock bottom broke sliced white bread will give us the most value and versatility for our money. If you have a little more money to spend, it may be worth it to you to seek out a low-cost wholegrain bread. Make sure that whole-wheat flour is the first item on the ingredient list. If you’re paying more for your bread you might as well be sure that you are getting what you pay for. Sometimes “wheat” breads are simply colored with caramel coloring, but their main ingredient is still white flour. They are not worth the extra cost. If the first ingredient is whole wheat flour, then it may be worth paying a little extra for wholegrain bread.

Day-old bread stores are a goldmine of bargain priced bread. If you have one in your area, plan to visit it at least once a month. Day-old bread can be frozen to keep it fresh until you are able to visit the store again. Wholegrain breads and specialty breads are often very affordable. If you want the most variety and the highest quality and the most nutrition for the lowest cost, then you can learn to bake your own bread. It’s a life skill you will never regret having.

A few convenience foods that are often a part of rock-bottom budgets are ramen noodles and boxed macaroni and cheese, the kind with a packet of powdered cheese sauce. These are reasonably priced and both are good foundations that you can add vegetables and beans or meat to, to make your own convenience meals. They are certainly cheaper than boxes of hamburger helper or tuna helper.

If you have the money, there are lots of other grains and flours and packaged convenience foods to consider. Probably most of them, if not all, have no place in a rock-bottom budget. We all have favorite, so-called “pet” foods, that we like to use. When there is enough cash, feel free to indulge. Otherwise, if you have to make do, the items listed on this page will make it easier.


If you do not drive, or have mobility issues, then you may find it convenient to order as much as you can through mail order. is very affordable. They even offer free shipping if your order is over a certain amount. The following list will help you determine which items are the best buys for you.

  • Great Value All-Purpose Flour; 25-pounds
  • Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flour; 5-pounds
  • Gold Medal White Whole Wheat Flour; 5-pounds
  • Great Value Cornmeal; 5-pounds
  • Great Value Old-Fashioned Oats; 42-ounces
  • Great Value Long Grain White Rice; 20-pounds
  • Great Value Brown Rice; 5-pounds
  • Great Value Elbow Macaroni or Spaghetti: 3 or 4-pounds
  • Great Value Macaroni & Cheese; 6-pack
  • Great Value Instant Mashed Potatoes; 26-ounce

The other items in this article are not available through mail order or, if they are, cost significantly more than they would if you purchased them from your local supermarket.

Starches and grains are one of the best ways to keep our food budgets in check. The can provide the foundation of our diet, like they do for poor folks and peasants all over the world. If we add beans, milk and eggs, and seasonal fruits and vegetables, we have a varied and nutritious diet that can keep us going when we need it the most. Take the time to look for recipes and dishes that use these low cost basics to their fullest advantage.



Sep 042015

New Cook

All Purpose Baking Mix and Biscuit Mix are the same thing. They are NOT the same as complete pancake mix. Your homemade version of Biscuit Mix costs about 50% less than the least expensive value-brand Biscuit Mix. You can use it in any recipe that calls for Bisquick or Jiffy Mix.

Below you will see two recipes. One uses regular all-pupose flour. The other uses Self-Rising flour. Believe it or not, the self-rising flour version is a few cents cheaper to make than the all-purpose flour version. Choose whichever version suits your ingredient-situation the best. Both perform equally well in cooking. You can’t tell the difference in the finished products.

All Purpose Baking Mix or Biscuit Mix

Recipe using all-purpose flour:

  • 4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2-tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 cup shortening

Recipe using self-rising flour:

  • 5 cups self-rising flour (this already has salt and baking powder added to it)
  • 1 cup shortening

Get out a large mixing bowl. Mix all of the dry ingredients together first.  Then measure the shortening by using a one cup measure to scoop up a big glob of shortening.  Pack it down tightly, and level off the top with your finger or a dull knife.  Your fingers will get greasy; it’s alright, you can wash them later.  Scoop the shortening out of the measuring cup into the bowl on top of the flour. Use your hands to mix the shortening into the flour.  It should only take a few minutes before the mixture resembles lumpy cornmeal in texture.  Now you are done.  Easy, wasn’t it?

Store the Biscuit Mix in a tightly sealed canister or clean coffee can.  These recipes make about 5 or 6-cups of Biscuit Mix.  Use it anywhere else you see Bisquick, Biscuit Mix or Baking Mix called for.

For a handful of basic recipes Click Here.

Sep 042015

Miss Mix

Basic recipes for Biscuits, Emergency Biscuits, Pancakes and Muffins made from your own homemade biscuit mix. They can also be made with store-bought biscuit mix or all-purpose baking mix, as it is sometimes called. I don’t use too many mixes in my own home cooking, but I do find Biscuit Mix to be helpful. The homemade version is especially affordable.

Basic Biscuit Mix Recipes


Combine the ingredients in a bowl. Mix to a soft dough. Knead 10 times. Roll out the dough to 1/2 or 3/4 inch thickness. Cut or pat the dough into rounds and bake at 425° for 10 to 15 minutes.

Emergency or Drop Biscuits

Prepare the above recipe, increasing the milk to 1/2-cup. Stir the batter to make a soft, sticky dough. Drop the dough by spoonfuls onto an oiled cookie sheet and bake as directed. These are lumpy and irregularly shaped, they are also easy and taste quite good.


  • 1 cup Biscuit Mix
  • 1/2 cup milk or buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • Fat for frying

Combine the biscuit mix, milk and egg in a large bowl. Stir well, the batter will be lumpy. Drop by 1/4-cupfuls onto a well oiled skillet or griddle. Brown on both sides and serve hot with syrup or applesauce.


  • 1-1/8 cup Biscuit Mix (1-1/8 cups is equal to 1-cup plus 2-tablespoons OR a slightly heaping cup)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoons oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk

In a small bowl combine the biscuit mix and sugar. In a large measuring cup combine the oil, egg and milk. Quickly whisk the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients. Leave the batter lumpy, don’t overmix. Fill 6 well-oiled muffin cups and bake at 400° for 20 minutes.


Sep 042015

Crumb Cake

Just like grandma’s crumb cake, this a thrifty favorite. The flour, shortening and sugar are combined first. Then 1/2-cup of this crumbly mixture is set aside for a topping. This cake does not contain eggs and uses solid shortening for the fat. You could also use softened margarine if you don’t have shortening. The mixing is pretty fast and the cost is very reasonable. Good for lunch boxes, snacks or to whip up for company.

Grandma’s Vinegar Crumb Cake


  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons vegetable shortening (1/3-cup plus 2-teaspoons)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2/3 cups milk
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons vinegar


Measure the flour, shortening, and sugar into a large bowl. Use your hands to mash everything together until it is crumbly. Measure 1/2-cup of the crumbs and set aside. This will be the crumb topping. To the remaining crumbs add the salt, cinnamon, and baking soda. Mix well. Pour in the milk and the vinegar. Use a whisk or wooden spoon to stir the mixture all together until everything is evenly moistened. The batter will be thick. Scrape the mixture into a well oiled 8-inch pan, square or round. Now sprinkle the resevered crumbs overtop of the cake. Try to get the crumbs even, but don’t worry about it too much. Bake the cake at 350° for about 30 minutes. The crumbs should be golden brown, and the edges of the cake should be pulling away from the side of the pan.

If you have nuts, you can scatter a few nuts on top of the crumb topping, right before baking. Nuts make it seem more like a coffee cake. If the cake seems bland to you, then add 1/4-teaspoon of nutmeg along with the cinnamon. This is the way I prefer it, but not everyone likes nutmeg.


Sep 042015

Basic Cake

Since this cake uses vegetable oil instead of shortening, it’s very easy to prepare. Since it doesn’t have eggs it’s extra cheap too. Great cake for the day before payday, but yummy enough for a birthday cake too.

Cheap & Easy Cinnamon Cake


  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2-teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2-cup vegetable oil
  • 1-cup milk


In a medium-sized bowl combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Stir with a whisk until the salt and leavening are well distributed. Add the vegetable oil and milk. Beat with your handy dandy whisk until smooth. It will only take a few vigorous strokes. Turn the batter into an 8 or 9-inch square pan that has been rubbed generously with solid shortening. Bake at 350° for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until the top springs back when touched lightly with your finger.

Allow the cake to cook and cut into 12 pieces. If desired frost with Mock Cream Cheese-Vinegar Frosting. It’s cheap too and the flavors blend perfectly.


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