|Spam and Bannanas|
What I Use Instead
Aside from my limited recipe collection, I try to learn basic cooking skills that I can use on all food types. Things like slicing, frying, steaming, and canning. If you can steam carrots, you can steam broccoli and squash and every other vegetable. Thus, there is no need for any vegetable recipes whatsoever. Then I do the same thing with meat, fruit, grains, and beans.
The Universal Soup
I make all of my soups without recipes. I start with broth or other liquid, add vegetables and then meat and spices. Sometimes I put half or all of it in the blender for a nice consistency. This eliminates the need for any soup recipes.*
The beauty of not using recipes is that you never have to buy ingredients. Instead of saying, "I can't make chili because I don't have beans," you just make a bean-less chili. It still turns out great, even if Hubs calls it "vegetable soup" instead of chili. The point is to get food on the table that tastes good.
The Use-Whatever-You-Have Recipe
If you're not buying ingredients, you've got to get food somewhere, right? This is where each family can really play up their regional and coincidental strengths. This happens naturally in every family, but can be supercharged when you make a habit of cooking with what you have.
Since Hubs and I got married, we've had 80% venison, 10% chicken & fish, and 10% other meats. What this means is that I never pay more than $1.50 a pound for meat, and oftentimes less than that.
Or take fruits for an example. When we first got married I might buy an apple or orange when grocery shopping, just for kicks. But with this whole principle of using what you have, and now I never buy fruit unless it is really on sale. Yet our freezer is generously stocked with strawberries (thanks, in-laws!), mulberries, raspberries, and yes- the ripe bananas. Also some home-canned pineapple and some miscellaneous canned fruit jams, jellies, and pie filling. With these ingredients, I make all of my desserts, smoothies, and the occasional meal accompaniment. I try to not spend more than $1 per pound on fruit (unless Hubs or I really wants it... :D).
Don't get me started on vegetables. I planted this garden thing in April, and now I've got vegetables coming out of my ears. Beans, peas, lettuce, sage, basil, carrots, squash, cucumbers, and now sweet corn. I might be able to get away without buying a single vegetable until next year's garden comes in. Guess what recipes we're eating right now? Steamed squash, fried squash, baked squash, squash pizza, squash soup and anything else squash. Can you imagine if I had to keep a recipe for every squash dish I made? Ridiculous! Next month's theme might be different and require a whole 'nother cookbook.
Grains & Beans
No, I don't grow my own oats, but I can get them for a good bulk price at E & S, or if they're on sale.
Baking & health food ingredients I also like to buy in bulk, from Country Life Natural Foods.
I do keep several cookie recipes on hand, most of them on my Recipes & Tutorials page. Lemon bars are fast and easy with limited ingredients. The other dessert I make a lot is a seasonal-fruit based crisp- rhubarb, apple, berry, etc.
Using the whatever-you-have recipe concept has made my grocery bill go down, down, down. What about you? Are there any 'ingredients' you can get in your area for cheap, or even free?
*One time I had guests over and got the itch to do something special, so I used a different method to make 'real' corn chowder, from my Professional Chef book.