Week one of our How to Cook Everything Challenge was a success! But we have a problem. Read about that, our favorite recipes, and how our picky eaters are handling it all below!

If you like cooking challenges, check out Real Food Cheap (feeding a family of 5 big eaters on $90/week), our Cheapskate Whole30, or Cheap Healthy Costco!


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We’re doing a crazy challenge. Our goal at Cheapskate Cook is to empower and equip you to save money and eat healthy. Accomplishing these two seemingly opposite goals usually means you need to try new things, learn new skills, fail, and figure out what works for you in each season of life.

Sometimes it helps to watch someone else do it first.

So I’m cooking my way through Mark Bittman’s cookbook: How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Foood. This cooking tome boasts over 1000 pages and 1500 recipes & variations.

On a personal level, I want to up my kitchen game, cook an even wider variety of food, and keep serving you delicious, budget-friendly, real food inspiration. Learning how to cook everything should help with that!

Week 1: Recipes 1-13

This week I tried a wide variety of recipes. In order to stay budget-friendly and keep my sanity, I chose most of these recipes based on what we had (in the pantry, freezer or CSA box) and what was happening this week (a birthday was the perfect time to try Golden Layer Cake).

Picky Eaters

My biggest concern for this challenge was dragging my family through it. We have low-mid-grade picky eaters. This means that they enjoy lots of healthy food, but there are plenty of foods that (very vocally) don’t enjoy.

However, they surprised me this week. One kid at our table actually peeled the batter off of the fried okra and said he enjoys okra plain. Maybe I’ve been limiting my cooking too much in an effort to please everyone. This week, we all discovered new foods we enjoyed.

Recipes 1-13

1. Twice Cooked (“Refried”) Beans with Cumin

Page 511 of How to Cook Everything

Normally, Instant Pot or Slow Cooker Cumin Beans are my go-to for tacos. But last week, I tried these.

Dry pinto beans are very inexpensive where I live, so I usually cook with those. However, Mark Bittman called for small red kidney beans. I had some in the pantry, so I tried it.

They were delicious, but very similar tasting to my cumin beans. Next time, I’ll use the refried beans method with my Cumin Beans recipe and save a lot of money (well, it’s beans, so I’ll save like one dollar.)

2. Bean Dip for Tortilla Chips

Page 21

We used the leftover refried beans to make Bean Dip. Delicious. I have never mastered the art of a good bean dip (except budget-friendly hummus), and I learned why. Been dip needs some kind of acid. The vinegar (I used apple cider) was the perfect touch for the dip, and I only wish I had made more.

3. Golden Layer Cake

Page 724

My son’s birthday was last week, and we used Golden Layer Cake to make his Minecraft-themed birthday dessert.

We keep birthdays simple, but one of our favorite traditions is making custom cakes together. I have never considered myself a good cake decorator, but learning a few skills has saved us a ton of money. The kids love the experience – plus I can use the “well, the kids helped” excuse for my sloppy skills.

This cake was delicious, fairly easy and unfussy, and the almond extract gave it a really nice flavor.

4. Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Page 728

Simple and straightforward. We made two substitutions, both because we used what we had instead of buying more:

  1. Almond milk instead of cream or milk
  2. Cocoa powder instead of melted unsweetened chocolate. Generally, you can substitute 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder plus 1 tablespoon oil or butter for unsweetened chocolate in any recipe. Since buttercream already has plenty of butter, we just added cocoa powder until it tasted right.

If you’re ever made buttercream frosting, you know it’s hard to mess up.

5. Fried Okra

Page 585

Although I was born in New York, I have lived in the South most of my life. Somehow, it took until last week for me to fry okra. It was good, but I think you can deep fry a rubber hose and it’ll taste good. So I can’t say it made the okra delicious.

However, fried okra was a lot easier to make than I thought it was. The next time the CSA gives us okra, if we don’t make my favorite way, we’ll fry it again.

6. Crunchy Granola

Page 756

Usually, we make my One-Bowl Granola or a plain and simple version of the Museli in Pretty Simple Cooking. Mark Bittman’s granola was very different because it didn’t call for any butter or oil. We simply toasted the dry oats in a large pan, added dry spices and honey, and baked it until crisp.

We all enjoyed it, and I highly recommend it as a dairy-free low-fat alternative. But personally, we like our One-Bowl Granola best.

7. Oven-Baked Ratatouille

Page 617

I didn’t exactly follow this recipe, but it was close enough to count. Sometimes I have to use what we have and come up with something totally different. I shared that recipe as Baked Summer Vegetable Medley.

If our CSA gives us any more tomatoes and zucchini this year, I want to try the classic version.

8. Roasted Vegetables, Catalonion-Style

Page 616

These roasted vegetables had really good potential, but after making Baked Summer Vegetable Medley, Chris asked me to try it without the onions. So I’m throwing him under the bus because this dish needs tender roasted onions. If you decide to make it, don’t skip the onion! Let your onion-haters pick around them.

9. Simplest Cheese Straws

Page 17

Of course, anything made with bread and cheese is a family favorite in our house. Most of us were dairy-free and gluten-free for years, and I think my 9 year-old is making up for lost time.

Cheese Straws were in the Appetizers section, and I normally think recipes like this are too fussy to make regularly. However, these really were the simplest to make – easier than a batch of cookies – and we loved them so much.

I tweaked them significantly to fit our preferences, and I’ll share our version later (maybe next week?).

10. Pan-Fried Green Tomatoes

Page 610

I’ve heard of green tomatoes my whole life, but never really loved them until now. Between the sharp tangy flavor of the tomato and carmelized juices from the pan, this was my favorite new dish last week.

A Few More Recipes

As part of this challenge, I decided that if I have already made the recipe in the past – I have had How to Cook Everything for about one year and only dabbled – I’ll count it as done. While I don’t know how many recipes I’ve already made (probably less than 10), these are the ones I found this week:

11. Beets in Foil, page 541

12. Beets, Simmered, Steamed, or Microwaved, page 541

13. Apple Crisp, page 623

One Big Problem

While browsing recipes last week, I realized we have a problem. Chris and I don’t drink or buy alcohol (not because we think you shouldn’t – it’s just a personal preference). So for the How to Cook Everything recipes that call for wine (there are a lot) I’ll either tweak them with wine vinegar or skip them. Since this site is about saving money and eating healthy, I doubt you’re coming to me for my Piña Colada recipe.

The cookbook has over 1500 recipes if you include the variations, so I’m sure we’ll hit 1000 recipes no problem.

Also, let’s be clear now: when a recipe calls for killing a live lobster (there are a few), I’m not doing it. I grew up helping my family butcher farm animals, and while I’m grateful for the experience, I’m done. (And again, I don’t think you’re coming to CheapskateCook.com for lobster recipes!)

My goal is always to serve you and encourage you to try new things and learn more about saving money and eating healthy. So let me know how I can best serve you during this challenge. Email me here or comment on any of the Cook Everything posts.

Want to See Me Cook Live?

This week I made something I have never tried before – have never seen or eaten before, actually! – LIVE on Facebook. Watch the replay here!

What You Can Do Now:

What new thing have you cooked this week?

More importantly, have you ever killed a live lobster?!

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