By Kyle & Olivia Brady | Founders of Drivin' & Vibin' | We use affiliate links and may receive a small commission on purchases.
I’m no savvy food blogger nor do I claim to be a master chef. I am, however, really good at making tasty meals out of a few simple ingredients. Our meals are typically vegetarian, but not necessarily super healthy. I grew up in the south and I have a weakness for heavy, savory meals and sometimes that means a lot of carbs, cheese and butter; I make soul food with a non-traditional twist, satisfying to veggie lovers and meat lovers alike, just ask Kyle! We found eating on a budget doesn’t have to be boring and if you’re looking for some inspiration for cheap and easy meal ideas, we will share a few of our old favorites and our new inventions along the way.
The Method to My Madness
Some of this may seem like common sense, but I want to share my process and explain why I don’t often use precise measurements.
I always go into the grocery store with a list of staples to pick up, for us that usually means: rice, quinoa, canned goods (beans,tomatoes…etc),bread, butter, eggs and some kind of veggies. From there I kind of follow my gut. In my experience this should be limited to the produce section; The rest of the store requires some serious self-control. I don’t ever go into the grocery store with a planned dinner, but I usually try to shop based off of what I could add to ingredients back home. I know it sounds chaotic, but every time I’ve tried to go in with a specific dinner planned I end up spending way to much money on ingredients that I probably don’t use that often. I like to get my basic, versatile ingredients and then choose some fresh produce to throw into the mix. My body usually knows what it needs if I listen. Like, this week I was seriously craving cabbage? You just never know.
When hunger strikes, I channel my mothers culinary creativity and resourcefulness. It’s a fun challenge to look over the cupboard and fridge, taking inventory of all the ingredients, until I stumble upon a few that strike a flavor combination that sounds good to me. My main goal when formulating my recipe is to put the most perishable ingredients at the top of the list. It also helps narrow down my options and find the direction I want to go with it (italian, mexican, indian…etc) Before I know it, I’m creating something with little to no foresight of where its going to go next. Sometimes, when I have a pretty good idea about what I want to make, but I’m not sure about a ratio or an ingredient, I will reference a few similar recipes to find a middle ground based off of what I’m working with. Most of the time I’m just throwing stuff in a pot, like, I guess we’ll see! Sometimes the end product is mediocre at best, but other times it is shockingly good. The more I experiment, the more confident I become, and now it’s so simple to make a quick delicious meal with whatever we have available.
This is super important considering our limited storage and food budget ($20 a day). We have a mini fridge for perishables and it’s not always a guarantee. We camp off the grid occasionally and our solar panels can’t keep up with the power draw. We can extend the battery life by running the fridge during the day and unplugging it at night. As long as we don’t open the fridge too much, everything will stay cold. This is an important factor to consider when preparing a meal. I try not to produce left-overs with the exception of a soup I can make ahead of time, that will be finished after the second heating, anticipating we wont be able to properly cool it back down if we’re boondocking.
Now that you have an idea of the crazy yet somewhat logical route my brain goes through while cooking, heres what we had for dinner!
Creamy Tomato Basil Pasta
Ingredients- 4 Servings
- One Yellow Onion (chopped)
- Two Cloves of Garlic (chopped)
- One Zucchini (diced)
- One Cup of Spinach (chopped or whole)
- 15 oz can of Tomato Sauce
- 15oz can of Stewed/Crushed Tomatoes
- 8oz Heavy Cream
- 8oz (roughly) of Rotini pasta or pasta of your choosing
- Two Tablespoons of Olive Oil
- Two Tablespoons of Butter
- Parmesan Cheese for Garnish
- 1/2 tsp Basil (8 chopped leaves, if fresh)
- 1/2 tsp Rosemary
- 1/2 tsp Thyme
Sauté onions and zucchini over medium heat with olive oil and butter. When the onions are soft and the zucchini starts to become tender, drain the stewed tomatoes and crush them over the pot. Cook a few minutes longer until the tomatoes are cooked down. Add the herbs and salt and pepper to taste. Add the tomato sauce and heavy cream and bring to a simmer. Add the spinach and stir until wilted. Stir in the pasta, top with parmesan and enjoy!
This recipe can be modified for any veggies you have on hand and its a good use for that half used box of pasta in the back of the cabinet! You can use whatever canned or fresh tomatoes you have laying around, if they are whole or diced just cook them down first to release the most liquid and create a consistency you enjoy. I had heavy cream left over from a previous dinner but it can easily be left out or replaced with coconut cream for a vegan option. If you are gluten intolerant or are cutting down on the carbs, you can substitute the pasta for spaghetti squash or break out your spiralizer and make zucchini noodles. Hopefully we could provide a little inspiration for those times when it feels like “there’s nothing in the house.”
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