Cost-Effective Cooking

I really didn’t know how to start my Learning Project. Last weekend I did some initial research and started sifting through recipes to try and figure out how I wanted to structure my project, but I was so overwhelmed by the number of cooking resources available online that I couldn’t decide what to cook first. My boyfriend and I had plans for supper Tuesday evening, and that’s how I finally got started. One of our favourite restaurants is Earls, and every time we go we both order the Cajun blackened chicken. I thought that for my first meal, it would be cool to try making a homemade version of this dish for our dinner.

After deciding on what to cook, I turned to Pinterest to find a recipe. I love Pinterest, but I do admit that it can be a bit daunting. For instance, while I was browsing, I typed in “Cajun chicken recipes” and literally hundreds of different recipes came up — it was hard to know which one to pick. However, one of the neat features of Pinterest is that you can rate a recipe that you have tried and leave comments or tips which other people can view. As a newbie chef, I find this feature very helpful because I can read what other people have to say about a particular dish before I try it for myself.

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I ended up choosing a recipe for baked Cajun chicken breasts that was originally posted on galonamission.com — a food blog created by Chelsea Haga. In addition to the chicken, I decided that I would make mashed potatoes (because they are my all-time favourite food) and green beans as sides.

Next, I went shopping for my ingredients. As I mentioned in my first Learning Project post, one of the factors that I want to take into consideration during this project is cost, so while I was shopping, I kept track of how much I was spending on all of my ingredients. One of the big things that I noticed while I was shopping is how expensive spices are — I had to buy a jar of paprika for my recipe and it cost me over $6. Luckily, my mom had most of the spices and herbs that I needed for the rub at home. Overall, for this recipe, I ended up being a little over the $25 budget that I had set for myself; however, if I had to buy the majority of the Cajun spices, I would have been way over budget. Here’s the breakdown of how much I spent:

Cost For Ingredients:

  • Chicken breasts – $16.08 for 6 large chicken breasts
  • Green beans – $2.40
  • Potatoes – $5.97 for a 10-lbs bag (I used roughly a third of the bag)
  • Spices – $6.19 for paprika; everything else I had at home

Total = $30.64

The actual cooking went relatively smoothly — the recipe was clear and concise making it easy to follow. I did, however, have to make a slight adjustment to the recipe. First, the recipe that I was following was for baked Cajun chicken, not blackened Cajun chicken. Blackened chicken is the result of a quick cooking over very high heat.  This is a technique that I have never tried before, so I found a short YouTube video that taught me how. It ended up being very simple — basically, before putting it in the oven, you have to sear the chicken in a smoking-hot frying pan for one minute on each side to char the spices from the rub.

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Prior to blackening


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While blackening

 

Overall, I was very pleased with how the meal turned out — the chicken was delicious (my boyfriend gave it an 8.5/10)! I did make the rookie mistake of forgetting to take the chicken out of the freezer ahead of time, so I had to wait close to 45 minutes for the chicken to thaw before I could start cooking. This wasn’t a huge deal, but it did add extra time to the meal prep, so we didn’t end up eating until really late. It was worth the wait, though.

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The final product

As I mentioned before, this meal ended up costing more than $25; however, after supper, we had enough chicken leftover to have three more meals over the next few days, so I got my money’s worth.

I also ended up trying out another recipe last week. I had a ton of leftover mashed potatoes from my Cajun chicken meal, so my mom suggested using the extra potatoes to make a shepherd’s pie. Since I’m trying to be cautious of cost during this project, I liked the idea of being able to turn the leftovers from one dinner into a whole other meal, so I decided to try it out. While searching for a recipe, I came across a website called Simply Recipes, founded by Elise Bauer. The recipes posted on the website are neatly organized into categories. I conveniently found the shepherd’s pie recipe that I used in the “budget” category. The recipe was very budget-friendly; I had most of the ingredients at home, so I hardly had to spend anything:

Cost For Ingredients:

  • Potatoes – $0 (I used the left over mashed potatoes from my previous recipe)
  • Onion – $1.97 for a 3-lbs bag (I used one onion)
  • Butter – $0 (had at home)
  • Ground beef – $8.50 for 1.5 lbs
  • Mixed vegetables – $2.97 for a 1 kg bag (I used half a bag)
  • Beef broth – $0 (had at home)
  • Worchestershire sauce – $0 (had at home)

Total = $13.44

This recipe was super simple to make — there was very little to it! I did make one tiny adjustment to the procedure: I cooked the beef separately in order to drain the fat that was released before mixing with the veggies (a little tip that I got from my mom).

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I made shepherd’s pie for dinner for my family on Friday night, and everyone really enjoyed it. All in all, I think it was another successful meal. What I liked best about the shepherd’s pie recipe was how inexpensive it was to make — I liked that I was able to save money by using the leftovers from a previous meal. In addition, the recipe was large enough that, after supper, we had extra shepherd’s pie leftover!

 

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Right out of the oven


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The final product

In the end, it cost me $44.08 for the full two meals that I made this week. I set a goal for myself of $25 per meal, which means that I was under budget, and I had leftovers from both meals. I’d say that’s pretty cost-effective cooking.

Now I’m looking for my next cooking project. For starters, I have created a “food board” on Pinterest where I have started to pin different recipes that I come across that I think are interesting and might want to try throughout my Learning Project. Do you have any go-to favourite recipes? Share them with me in the comments!

 

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