So, quick and cheap were major criteria when looking for recipes. To give an idea, my meager take home pay was about $800 a month. Half of that went to rent for our tiny apartment in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
By the time we paid all our other bills – including his modest tuition – and put a small amount each pay period towards savings, there was very little discretionary income to speak of. In fact, we allowed ourselves precisely $2.50 to spend as we pleased.
People are often amazed that we lived like that. But we made the conscious choice to keep our needs very simple so that we could save at least enough each year for plane tickets home to visit my husband’s family.
We knew that family was something very important to us. So were were willing to make whatever sacrifices were necessary to make it happen.
As it turned out, our frugal ways enabled us to save much more than that over the next few years, so that we were able to put aside entire raises and extra earnings until we eventually had the down payment on a house.
I cannot precisely recall, but I think I budgeted about $20 per week for our grocery bill in those years. Maybe even less, if I consider the inflation that’s taken place over the decades since then.
I would keep a running total with a simple little thumb operated adding machine, and knew pretty much what we would pay at the check-out.
I do remember having to remove things from my cart sometimes because we simply did not have the money to cover the purchase.
There is no shame in that. It's the smart thing to do if you're exceeding your budget. Some would say it's the adult thing to to.
I don’t think I have to tell you that eating meat was a limited option for us, and restaurant meals were absolutely out of the question. Although I have to say that was not a big sacrifice for either of us, since to this day we do not particularly like eating in restaurants.
That undoubtedly makes us oddities today where a huge percentage of meals are eaten out, but we find them too expensive, the offerings very unhealthy and fattening, and the noise level so bad that you can’t even carry on a conversation.
It‘s just not our idea of fun. I actually think we’re very lucky to feel that way because it saves us literally thousands of dollars a year and an untold number of calories.
But I digress.
You can also adjust the seasonings to please the palates in your household. As written, this is spicy enough for a little zing, but not so much that you can no longer feel your tongue.
That’s the way my boys like it, but I prefer not to suffer when I eat my food. I figure they can add more pepper to their own plates if they want that level of heat.
The recipe itself costs somewhere in the vicinity of $6-$8. I can usually get beans and tomato product at very low prices.
Bell pepper prices can vary widely, and I will often substitute all green peppers for the typically more expensive red pepper. But I like red bell peppers for their color and sweetness, so I do buy them when they are on sale.
The prices may be different in your neck of the woods, but regardless of where you live, you can save some money by using dried beans instead of canned. I do it all the time, and will cook up a big batch and use them for a couple of recipes during the week.
I particularly like to use my pressure cooker for this because it cuts the cooking time so much. Find out more about how to do that in my blog post on using a pressure cooker.
Here’s the recipe:
Makes 8 generous servings (can easily be doubled or tripled for a crowd)
Great as Leftovers
Prep Time – Approx. 15 minutes
Start to finish time – Approx. 30 minutes
Total Recipe Cost – Approx. $6-$8.00
Total per person meal cost with salad and tortilla chips - Approx. $1.50
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 stalks of celery
1 green pepper
1 red pepper
1-2 medium onions (one is for garnish, so it is optional)
4 cloves garlic
3 cups of water
1 28-32 ounce can crushed tomatoes
½ tsp. salt
1 tablespoon chili powder (to taste)
1 teaspoon cumin
½-1 teaspoon black pepper (to taste)
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (to taste)
2½ cups elbow or other small pasta, or 3 cups of rotini or similar medium pasta, preferably whole grain
4 15-16 ounce cans kidney beans or black beans, or mixture of the two
4 oz. cheddar cheese, grated (optional)
Tortilla Chips (optional)
Yogurt or Sour Cream (optional)
Recipe Continues after photos.
- Drain and rinse the beans.
- Wash and dice the 2 stalks of celery and the 1 red and 1 green pepper (or you can just use 2 of the same color).
- Peel and dice the 2 onions. If you are using both onions, set them aside in separate bowls.
- Peel and chop or mince the 4 cloves of garlic.
- Heat the 2 tablespoons of oil in large pot over medium heat and add the celery and one of the onions. Cook until onions are almost translucent and celery is just tender, about 7-9 minutes.
- Add the diced peppers and sauté until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes.
- Add the garlic and cook about 30 seconds – 1 minute, stirring frequently.
- Stir the 3 cups of water, the 29-32 ounces of crushed tomatoes, the ½ teaspoon of salt, the 1 tablespoon of chili powder, the 1 teaspoon cumin, the ½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes and the ½-1 teaspoon of black pepper, and turn burner to high.
- Bring to a boil.
- Stir in the 2½-3 cups of pasta.
- Return the contents to a simmer, reduce the heat, cover, and cook for about 10 minutes or until the pasta is done to taste.
- Add the drained beans to the pot, stir, and heat through.
- Serve the chili mac with grated cheese, remaining onion, tortilla chips, and yogurt, if desired, along with a tossed salad.