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 — 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.


Prior to blackening


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.


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).


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!



Right out of the oven


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!