How $40 Can Get You Through 3 (Totally Different) Weekday Dinners
03/25/2015 10:11 am ET
Mar 30, 2015
Serve four people three bang-up, affordable meals? Here's how.
By Lynn Andriani
The Budget-Friendly Southeast Asian Dinner That's Not Pad Thai
Cheap ethnic food doesn't have to mean making the same old stir-fries. While Thai cuisine has such a varied range of tastes -- sweet, salty, pungent -- and calls for inexpensive ingredients like garlic, ginger, lime and a couple of fresh herbs, it goes way beyond noodle dishes. These grilled chicken skewers are a great example; they have a tangy coconut sauce that's easy to make and pops with flavor (and is especially good over rice).
Whole butternut squash, sweet Italian sausage and fresh sage are fairly low in cost. Still, these homey, rustic ingredients are pretty powerful. Combine them with a big bowl of penne and you've got a hearty meal that tastes like it took much longer than a half hour to make. There are two keys to pulling it off: The squash and sausage cook in the same pan; and, cream and butter add depth in mere minutes.
Hot, melty panini make fantastic lunches, but the truth is, we rarely have time during the day to make them. That's why we love serving these crunchy, oozing sandwiches for dinner; they feel evening-worthy, yet they're faster than many other suppers to prepare. This version, which Oprah created, includes basil; it's untraditional, but the citrusy, floral herb totally works here. It livens up deli standards (pepper Jack cheese and smoked turkey breast) and nicely complements avocado and tomato slices.
You Don't Want: Grilled or Roasted Chicken
We love chicken thighs because they're so cheap, tasty and quick-cooking. They're often grilled or roasted, but Rosenstrach has another easy way to give them major flavor: After you've browned the pieces on the stove, and let them finish cooking with artichoke hearts (frozen or canned are fine), lemon zest and oregano, you stir in a two-ingredient mustard cream sauce. The mustard gives the dish just enough oomph and the cream makes it taste a little bit decadent.
You Don't Want: Salmon Teriyaki
Anyone who's tried to get a kid to eat broccoli knows that some sort of dipping sauce (hummus, ranch dressing, melted cheese) is a can't-miss way to make potentially dull foods exciting. Rosenstrach applies the principle to salmon, whipping up a ridiculously simple yet restaurant-worthy sriracha mayo to accompany salmon that's been cooked in an olive-oil-lemon-juice-honey glaze. The fish is delicious on its own, with a sweetness reminiscent of teriyaki but none of the salty soy flavor. With the spiced mayo (which gets an additional kick from chopped, fresh chives), though, it's out of this world.
You Don't Want: Fried Rice
You ordered Chinese food and now you've got a fridge full of getting-drier-by-the-day rice yet no desire whatsoever to fry it up with other odds and ends. This brilliant egg dish is a perfect alternative. You start by softening minced scallions, ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes in a skillet with some oil; then you spread the rice on top and let it sit until it's nice and crispy. Next, you pour a mixture of eggs whisked with soy sauce on top; sprinkle peas over the eggs, and continue cooking on the stove for a few more minutes. A brief blast under the broiler turn the eggs golden and bubbly.
You Don't Want: Mashed Potatoes
Eating mashed potatoes with some microwaved leftovers for dinner inevitably results in late-night hunger pangs (ergo, late-night snacking). But Rosenstrach reminds us how to turn the everyday staple into a real meal: the baked potato bar. While the spuds bake, you prepare the toppings, which are what this recipe is really about. Rosenstrach's favorites are often repurposed sides from a previous night: classics such as chopped or crumbled bacon, steamed broccoli florets, a few handfuls of spinach sautéed in olive oil with garlic and caramelized onions. Her trump card: Sprinkle shredded cheese (cheddar, feta or Parmesan) on top of each potato and slide them under the broiler for a minute, or so, just before serving, until the cheese bubbles. Everyone can add their own fixings (and feel wonderfully sated).