The $15-a-week crockpot diet

Picture 60My friend Bill, a writer, tutor and Crown Heights resident, loves going out to bars, events and movies. But like all of us Brokesters, he’s on a bit of a tight budget. So, to help balance his all-important drinking/music/movie habit with the need for food, Bill’s devised a strategy to eat on $15 a week or less.

Bill moved to New York in 2007, after finishing grad school in Philadelphia. He subsisted on frozen Trader Joe’s burritos and boxed mac and cheese until a friend suggested he get a crockpot. Even though his first experiments were a series of cream-sauced, Velveeta-slicked disasters, he discovered the appeal of slow cooking. The food went a long way. “After about 4 or 5 meals, I realized I still had another 4 or 5 to go, and I did a rough calculation of what each meal was costing me,” he said. “That’s when I finally understood what crocks were all about.”

Since then, Bill’s crocks have become so good that his friends look forward to dinner invites. Lentil casserole is delicious and his red beans and rice, made with $4 worth of kielbasa from Greenpoint, is really, really good. After a night at the bar, returning to Bill’s apartment for bowls of white bean and chicken chili is the best drunk food there is.  Even his roommates steal from the crock. “They come home from the bar and they head straight to the crockpot. I know they just try to skim from the top, to stay undetected, but I can always tell.”

There is not, however, a smorgasbord of slow-cooked delicacies to choose from in Bill’s refrigerator.  He makes one of these dishes a week, and eats it for every single meal. I’m not even kidding. That’s how he affords his very social New York lifestyle.

Because I thought Bill’s thrifty ways might be inspiring to others as well, I roped him into keeping a diary of his food and outings costs for a week, and asked him to send me some of his best recipes. Try ‘em out—if you don’t have a slow cooker, they’re not very expensive, about $40, and in many cases are free. Your mom probably has an extra one.

Bill with crock

Bill with his trusty crockpot.

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BILL’S ONE-WEEK EATING AND DRINKING LEDGER

DAY 1
Breakfast: None
Lunch: Chicken mushroom pasta, costs about $1.75 per serving
Dinner: Chicken mushroom pasta $1.75
After dinner: Drinks at Subway Bar, $15, and Legion Bar, $20

DAY 2
Breakfast: None
Lunch: Chicken mushroom pasta $1.75
Dinner: None
After dinner: Drinks at Canal Bar, $12, free drinks at Taco Competition open bar, $6 tip

DAY 3
Breakfast: None
Lunch: Paid for at internship
Dinner: Chicken mushroom pasta $1.75 (The end of the crock. Crock total cost: $14)
After dinner: BAM, A Single Man, $9 (student rate – not really a student)

DAY 4
Breakfast: None
Lunch: Paid for at internship
Dinner: Beans and rice crock (about $1.06 per meal)
After dinner: Film Forum, Red Beard, $6 (member rate

DAY 5
Breakfast: None
Lunch: Beans and rice $1.06
Dinner: Beans and rice $1.06
After dinner: Drinks at Washington Commons, $24

DAY 6
Thursday, Feb. 4

Breakfast: None
Lunch: Beans and rice $1.06
Dinner: Free, generously provided by roommate.
After dinner: Drinks at Alibi Bar, $12, drinks at Sweet Revenge, $12

DAY 7
Breakfast: None
Lunch: Beans and rice $1.06 (4 projected meals left. Total: $9.54 cost)
Dinner: Friend buys Bill 2 hot dogs in exchange for enduring the Knicks vs. Bucks game (the tickets were a gift from his brother – $0)

TOTALS
Food: $12.30
Movies: $15
Drinks: $101

[Editor's note: Please consult a medical professional before embarking on any diet plan, especially one involving skipping breakfast and spending more money on drinks than food.]

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BILL’S FAVORITE RECIPES
Always brown meats first and sautée and onions, garlic, peppers, and celery—it softens the vegetables and seals in their flavor. Otherwise, just throw everything in the crockpot and cook for 6 to 8 hours on low—or 3 to 4 hours on high.

Chicken mushroom pasta

1 pound chicken thighs (bone-in), trimmed of excess fat
2 large cans crushed tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
2 ribs celery, diced small
6 to 8 mushrooms, sliced
1-2 onions, diced
Garlic, minced
Oregano, 1 1/2 tsp
Box of pasta, preferably a roni-esque noodle (cooked first, and added at the end)
Optional: mix in a block (cubed) of your choice of cheese in the last 20 minutes
*When finished, remove bones from chicken thighs, should be very easy to do at this point

White bean chicken chili
3-4 large cans of white beans
1 green chili (sent fresh/frozen from New Mexico if you’re lucky or can be found frozen at Trader Joe’s or canned in various markets here)
2 cans diced tomatoes
1 pound chicken thighs (bone-in, again remove bones upon completion of cooking)
3-5 slices bacon, diced
8 oz button or baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1 onion, diced
1 rib celery, diced
Cayenne, chili powder, paprika, pepper, etc. to taste
*Fry up bacon, mushroom and onions together first and add to crockpot with rest of ingredients

Red beans and rice
1 pound kielbasa, sliced
1 – 1.5 cups dry rice, cooked
3 cups water
1-pound bag of dried red beans, soaked overnight, weird looking beans picked out [Ed: a commenter notes that red beans can cause food poisoning if undercooked, which is a risk in a slow cooker. So to be on the safe side, you should soak dried kidney beans in water for at least 5 hours, pour away the water, and then boil them for an hour in fresh water before putting in the slow cooker.]
1-2 onions, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
1 rib celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Thyme, paprika, pepper – to taste + a bay leaf
*Stir in rice at very end

Lentil casserole
1 pound lentils
1 cup brown rice
3 cups chicken broth
1-2 onions, diced
1 carrot, sliced thin
1 large can of diced tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
Thyme, basil, oregano, salt, sage, garlic powder to taste
*Add 1-2 blocks of cheddar in the last hour

42 Comment

  • This is such a useful article! I’m making one of these tonight.

    But why doesn’t Bill invest in a bottle of booze and flask…? Why?

  • I always knew Bill was a smarty, but I never knew he was a genius. Has he figured out making a crock of dessert? Get to work, Bill.

    Tell Bill to check out Glorious One Pot Meals, my new favorite dutch oven cookbook. In case he burns out on his 4 recipes.

  • Loving this article! And i love Bill. So the order of living is as such: 1.This article. 2.Bill. 3.Crockpot

  • please do more budget food postings like this!

  • Oh man, I have a billion crockpot recipes. I’m actually making veggie chili right now… it will feed me lunch and dinner for at least 4 days.
    1 small can black beans
    1 large can pinto beans
    1 large can diced tomatoes
    about a cup of frozen corn (out of a tj bag)
    about a cup of frozen pepper strips (again, tj)
    two carrots diced
    4 minced garlic cloves
    cumin
    red pepper flakes
    adobo
    chili powder
    bay leaves

    throw it all in, undrained, for about 6 hours on low. If youre really rich, top with shredded cheese. My vegetarian friends rave about this for some reason.

    ALSO any kind of shitty meat can be made in a crockpot- pork shoulder, pork butt, crappy cuts of beef… throw a dryrub on it and stick it in there for about an hour a lb on low. A 5lb pork shoulder will yield enough pulled pork to make literally 15 sandwiches and should cost you around $5, plus you can use that shredded meat in stews, chili, sandwiches, pasta dishes or you can freeze it! AND your apt will smell awesome- all your neighbors will be jealous!

  • yeah this is great!

  • I agree with Lauren, why no free booze nights with a flask, Bill? And the lentil casserole recipe sounds great. I’m making it tonight.

  • Make 3-4 recipes at once (or as fast as you can with a “slow” cooker), freeze single portions in zip-loc bags and have different dinners each night.
    Also check out the blog “A Year of Slow Cooking”.
    http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/

  • Why doesn’t Bill just freeze portions and microwave them later so he can mix up his diet a little bit? The first time I ever made a big pot of chili (when I was in college), it never occurred to me to freeze it for later so I ate it for every meal for four days. By the end, my stomach was cramping and I refused to see any of my friends because of the constant room-clearing farts I was letting out every couple of minutes. Beans for every meal gets really intense on your digestive system!

  • this looks to be the worst week of eating ever: just chicken & mushroom pasta, rice & beans, and, well, that’s basically it. no variety, not a well-rounded diet, and lots of drinking on top of it.

  • I’m glad some other people are also inspired by Bill.
    Bill does flask it sometimes, but it’s the going out that he enjoys more than the actual drinking.
    As for what Alx says, it’s true, it could certainly be healthier. But it could be a lot worse too. How many people in NY grab a slice once at least once a day for a meal? How many people in NY go into debt to afford their lavish, social lifestyle?
    Thanks for reading, guys.

  • I heard Bill flavors the crock with one of his grey socks.

  • I’d date him.

  • Andy P. When you talk about Bill’s stock sock, don’t mock how it flavors his crock.

  • Bill doesn’t have to skip breakfast:

    a crock pot full of steel-cut oatmeal cooked on low overnight makes a week’s worth of breakfast for less than $1.

    • OMG steel cut oatmeal for breakfast and beans for lunch and dinner — even Sandy Jeans will be scared away.

  • Open Bar and a six dollar tip? My ass!

  • Wow, a lot of drinking every day.

  • yet no one is discussing the real issue here, that Bill is an alcoholic

  • Bill is also going to have vitamin deficiencies with that diet

  • Bill does not eat crockpot food for “every meal.” By the looks of it, he eats it for a one meal per day, getting the rest of his food free through internships and roommates or just not eating altogether. I can eat a meal a day for $15 a week without a fucking crockpot. Those of us who have to buy all of our food and require actual calories in the morning don’t have much to take away from this pointless article.

    What idiot spends more money in a day on alcohol than they do in a week on food? Just get a case of cheap beer, a jug of Carlo, some whiskey that comes in a plastic bottle. I’m sure it wouldn’t make a difference to him. Christ, it’s not like he has taste or anything.

    The only saving grace of all this is that the ravaging that all the drinking is taking on his internal organs plus the complete lack of nutrition from his diet means he’ll be dead by the age of 40 and no longer a drain on our country’s social services. Hey Bill, if you cut out the food altogether, you can save even more money and kill yourself a lot sooner. Bottoms up!

  • Can’t beat the champion, Korean ramen, spicy seafood. I use onions, hot sausage, claims, sometimes shimp, celery and mushrooms. You can add about anything you like. If you like hot sauce, try srirscha hot chili sauce.

  • Hey Spytheweb–is there a brand of Korean Ramen you like? Is the flavor spicy seafood? Sounds delicious.

  • I’ve never cooked with claims. Are they cheap?

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  • It turns out that you CAN make dessert in the crock pot. I use it to make caramels, a really easy recipe: a stick of butter and two cups of sugar. Costs about 50 cents.

  • I say spend a few of your drinking dollars on quality spices for your meals. I shop an online called Juliet Mae Spices and what a difference. If you think all spice is the same, you need to check out the quality spice people.

  • I’ve been looking for some good crock pot recipes! I love the idea of tossing a bunch of food in a big pot, leaving it alone for hours and then coming home to find it has magically transformed into a meal.

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  • Opening the flood gates. I’m gonna buy a crockpot, under $50 – there are so many though, which should I buy?

  • Get one that has both a low and high setting, and one where you can remove the cooking vessel from the pot. You canget em even cheaper – around $20 at Target at Atlantic Center.

  • Eggs would be a cost effective addition to this diet. $3 for a dozen (or $4.50 for two dozen) will add a whole new level of “fullness” to your day, and a great deal of nutritional comfort to your immune system. Otherwise, love this article!

  • The red bean receipe has a potential to be fatal. See: http://www.foodreference.com/html/artredkidneybeanpoisoning.html
    Red kidney beans, even more than other beans must be both soaked and then boiled for at least ten minutes or they have a propensity to be poisonous. Slow cooked, soaked beans may actually have more of the poison than even raw beans. It is possible that Bill is simply rather unusually tolerant of the poison, but as few as five beans that have been slow cooked but not boiled can be fatal.

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  • You can save a lot of money cooking meals in a crock pot, but you don’t need to limit yourself to one meal a day.

    You can cook breakfasts overnight while you sleep, using whole grains or eggs… much cheaper than buying sugar-filled cereals. You can even your make your own yogurt and add real fruit without all the sugar.

    I’m biased though, I write at my blog: http://freshslowcooking.com check it out ;)

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  • Living in NYC, drinking 4 out of 7 nights does not make you an alcoholic. It’s a necessary blast. The diet? Not so much.

  • Hey dude, I’m Sam from Oakland. Was crocking it up on the ‘ol blog (RiggedUp.blogspot.com) and had to link this post,and this blog! This post is amazing. So’s your blog! So’s your mom! ;)
    http://riggedup.blogspot.com/2012/02/rock-out-with-your-crock-out-rigging-up.html?showComment=1328148351746#c1517897481387260701

    Thanks, and peace!