Food for lean times

Me at my clickbaitiest!

I wasn't always the financially insecure middle class titan of industry I am now, dining at only the fanciest of counter serve restaurants; I was once a college student. I had to come up with strategies which would allow me to eat and still, well, honestly, eating was about all I had the money for. Some of the recipes haven't aged very well: Boiling the cheapest pasta they had at the Sack 'n Save, pouring out the water, pouring generic sauce on to it in the still-warm pot to save having to wash two pots, and then eating it from the pot? Not one of my best. These, however, I still use, some more than others.

How to make cheap microwave popcorn palatable:

I'll start with an old one but it's a good one: Sriracha on popcorn.  If you've ever worked in an office, you know that popcorn is contagious. When one person microwaves up a bag of it, pretty soon, everyone is eating popcorn. A co-worker of mine used to but some vinegar-based pepper sauce on his popcorn to make it taste like something other than a slightly more flavorful rice cake. It was delicious, but there was one major drawback: Liquids melt popcorn. It tasted great, but it quickly devolved into a sticky mess.

Sriracha does not melt popcorn. You can microwave up a batch, squirt some sriracha in to the bag, shake it up, and serve. Does it taste good with butter? Of course it does. Sriracha and butter are two of the things that taste good with everything, so of course they taste good together. I know that sriracha is in danger of overexposure these days, but this is one venue where it continues to shine. It will make you crave popcorn again.

How to make cheap, filling peanut M&M's even more delicious:

As a youngster, I was a purist and eschewed peanut M&M's in favor of their nut-free cousins. Sometimes being a purist is just stubbornness in disguise, or at least that's what it was for me with these candies. The balance between the chocolate, the peanut, and the candy shell is sublime.

But...they could be better, couldn't they? The elements are right, but they don't really mesh. What if you could somehow melt the chocolate without disturbing the candy shell, making a miniature treat related to the s'more family? You can! Microwaves get a lot of grief for not being useful for "real" cooking, but one thing they do well is heat things from the center. That quirk is super useful for M&M's. A short burst (usually 30 seconds, but every microwave is different) will heat the peanut in the center, which will melt the chocolate, and the shell remains undisturbed. Once you've had them this way, you'll never go back. Unless you do. I didn't.

How to eat ramen every day and not die of salt poisoning:

Oh ramen! Is there anyone who didn't have to live on nothing but those 12-for-a-dollar packets at some point in their life? They're hard to beat in terms of value, but man, they're just a little salty, aren't they? During a particularly difficult financial period, I ate so many meals of nothing but ramen that I seriously considered eating cardboard instead because my stomach turned at the thought of more salt.

In order to keep enjoying ramen, I had to figure out a different way to prepare it. The first step is obvious: Take the flavor packet and throw it in the trash. Seriously, it's just nasty. The good thing about this step is that it allows you to buy whichever flavor is on sale since you're not using the flavor packet anyway. With that out of the way, you're left with an 8 cent packet for noodles. Boil those suckers up and use a little bit of decent bouillon instead. I use the Better Than Bouillon organic chicken, which is expensive, but it goes a very long way.

When I'm boiling the noodles, I add in some chopped carrots, mushrooms, green onions, and celery. You don't need very much of the vegetables unless you like mushrooms as much as I do. If you're feeling really fancy, you can even add some rare roast beef, sliced extremely thinly, at the very end. Without the beef, it costs about fifty cents a bowl to do ramen this way, and it's something I can eat for much longer periods of time if I need to.

-RK