The two recipes I can claim as truly my own (although lots of other folks serve them, too) are beans and cornbread, and biscuits and gravy. These are part of my family's culinary heritage, such as it is-- when you look at these two meals, you can see it isn't incredibly illustrious. But frugality can be found within it!
Beans and Cornbread:
1 or more pounds dry pinto beans, picked over (This means you made sure there weren't any stones in there.)
Water to cover (My grandmother taught me to put enough water in to cover your thumb knuckle when you put your thumb into the pot so that it is standing on the top of the beans. This way you don't have to refill the pot with water too many times during cooking.)
1. Add beans and water to pot, and heat to boiling. Boil for two minutes straight.
2. Drain the water. Add fresh water to cover. Add salt (you have to decide on your own how much salt you want. My grandmother puts in a tablespoon per pound. I put in about half that. Grandmommy also adds three slices of bacon or a ham bone if she has it. I like to do that because it adds flavor, but we usually don't have any to spare, so generally I leave it out. The beans still taste good.)
3. Bring the beans to a boil again, then reduce the heat to simmer (This is around level 3 out of 10 on my stove's heat dial.)
4. Simmer the beans at least an hour to an hour and a half. Check it every so often to make sure the water hasn't boiled down. If the water level looks too low (ie., the tops of the beans are in danger of peeking out of the water) add more. (I just add regular water from the tap. It soon heats up.)
My favorite cornbread recipe, with variations:
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour (I have used only white, only wheat, and a combination. It turns out fine each time. Different, but fine. To keep things in perspective, this is a day-to-day kind of meal and not a special thing for holidays.)
1/2 tspn salt
2 tspns baking powder
2 tbspns canola oil
4 tbspns melted honey (Sometimes I only put in half the honey. You can even leave it out, but we don't like it that way. That is how the Ingalls ate it, though!)
1 cup milk (I have used dairy milk and soy milk and either is fine. I have also used reconstituted dry milk and evaporated milk. They all work.)
1. Combine all ingredients, dry first, and then wet
2. Pour into a greased pie dish
3. Bake at 400' for 20 minutes.
Biscuits and Gravy
2 cups flour (We use various kinds, which changes the taste a bit, but they are still good and filling.)
1/2 tspn salt
2 tspns baking powder
1/4 to 1/2 cup butter (Margarine is even better in this recipe-- makes the biscuits lighter and more fluffy. Traditionally, I make it with butter. However, a pound of margarine runs around .68 in our area, as compared to 2.50 for a pound of butter. If you are trying to turn around the financial ship, switching to margarine for awhile certainly helps. We go through around a pound of butter per week-- more if we are baking. You can also use oil if you are out of butter-type items. My family doesn't like it as much this way, but it still gets eaten.)
2/3 cup milk (dairy, soy, reconstituted dry, evaporated. They all work. I suspect you could even use water or broth, but I haven't tried it.)
1. Combine dry ingredients.
2. Cut in butter, then squish it around with your hands until the flour resembles coarse crumbs (I never can get that result with a pastry cutter.)
3. Add milk, a tablespoon at a time, and stir it in until the mixture becomes a dough ball (If I am in a hurry I just dump the whole amount of milk in and stir. It still becomes a dough ball. I hope this isn't too shocking for culinary experts.)
4. Knead gently five to ten times.
5. At this point, you can roll it out onto a floured surface and cut it into biscuits with a cutter or a cup, but I don't. Too much clean-up when I am in a hurry. I make it into a dough ball, smash it so that it is around a two inch thickness, and put it into an oiled pie pan. I turn it over once or twice to coat it with oil, then cut it into triangles, like pizza or pie. Or scones.
6. Bake at 400' for twenty minutes.
How to make Okie gravy (we call it Okie gravy because Grandmommy was raised in northeastern Texas, and apparently Oklahomans weren't always held in high esteem by Texans. Okie gravy is sometimes known as red-eye or country gravy. As I once read in a cookbook, this gravy would make cardboard taste good.)
Meat grease (Traditionally, this is grease from pork bacon, fried chicken, fried pork chops, or sausage. We only eat turkey bacon at our house, and try to stay away from fried items except for an occasional treat. I have learned that you can make Okie gravy from the minute amount of drippings left by turkey bacon if you add a tablespoon or two of oil. Not olive oil, that tastes funny. I use canola oil.
Milk (I have used soy milk as well as dairy milk. Dairy milk tastes the best, but original soy milk works too. Not vanilla, that is gross. Don't ask.)
1. Heat drippings and oil to medium, then add enough flour that it looks a little like batter. (If you add too much and it looks like dough, you can add a bit more oil. This will mean more milk and result in more gravy, so keep that in mind when you are estimating your flour.)
2. Scrape the drippings (you can add bits of meat here too) and flour/oil mixture and let it brown for a minute or two (I was once making biscuits and gravy with a dear old mother in Israel in the backwoods of Tennessee, and she scorned the white Shoney's gravy, saying country gravy ought to be *brown*. The way you get brown gravy is to brown the flour/oil mixture.)
3. Once it looks brown enough, add milk. (I generally add around a cup, then stir and let it thicken. If it is too thick, I add more milk. If I cannot get it to thicken, I put some flour and water in a cup, stir it well, and then stir it into the gravy to make it thicker. It's a balancing act.)
4. Turn the heat down to very low, and finish making the rest of your supper.
So there you have it. I also like to take a look at what we have in the house and then plug it into the Ingredients page at Allrecipes.com. I did that last night and came up with a tasty mushroom and pasta dish flavored with red wine vinegar and garlic. I varied it a bit because we did not have portabello mushrooms, and it was still yummy.
I know it is still a little warm for soup, but soup is such a great frugal meal. One of my favorite vegetable soup recipes is from Saving Dinner. Sometimes I simmer it on the stove instead of making it in the crockpot, and sometimes I use extra potatoes if I don't have a turnip, canned beans if we don't have fresh, etc. I use the "What's in my hand?" method of cooking, a la DHM.
By the way, the DHM's blog and the Frugal Hacks blog are two excellent sites for frugal recipes. I also like Hillbilly Housewife. Her Family Bread recipe is a good one for making several loaves at once without the benefit of a mixer or bread machine. Some of her recipes seem a little on the unhealthy side, but I just adapt with substitutions when I see the need.
As you can see, these recipes are heavy on carbs and light on proteins. I have not found a good, cheap solution for proteins. Beans just aren't enough for our hypoglycemic-prone family. Lately, I have been focusing on providing proteins *first* when I shop, and then filling in around the edges with the cheapest healthy veggies, fruits, breads and grains that I can find. This means making a lot of breads from scratch and eating unimaginative vegetables such as carrots and potatoes. But you would not like to meet my family when we are not getting enough protein. Grouchy!