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One of the best ways to eat well on a budget is to cook in bulk. Making meals for the entire week also saves time, because you only have to reheat the food when you want to eat.
A mason jar works best when keeping foods in the refrigerator, or even the freezer, for days at a time – it’s airtight and glass. You can even microwave your food in it after taking off the lid.
The recipe we’re going to work with is homemade macaroni and cheese, accompanied by pan-seared pork loin and broccoli. It’s a simple recipe and only costs about $2.50 per meal, when making 8 meals.
That’s $20 total for a week’s worth of dinners or lunches.
If you don’t like pork or broccoli, then it can be substituted with pretty much anything – for your protein, you can use chicken or beef. For an alternate vegetable, try sautéing kale or spinach with olive oil, capers and salt.
The basic recipe does take a couple of hours, though, so if you like an adventure and have an open afternoon, this is the recipe for you.
– 1 lb. penne pasta
– 1 lb. shredded cheese (1/2 mild and 1/2 sharp cheddar, and those on a budget can use 8-12 oz. of cheese)
– 4 tablespoons butter
– 3-4 tablespoons flour
– 3 cups milk
– 1 lb. broccoli
– 1 lb. center-cut pork loin chop (an oval-shaped, 3/4” cut with no bones)
– flour for dredge
– onion powder (optional)
To start, we’re going to need a saucepan and a larger sauté pan, and each will be on their own burner on the stove. If you only have one working burner (as I did the first time I made the recipe), this will take a little while longer.
First, let’s make our pasta. Fill your saucepan with about 5 pints of cold water, place it on the burner and turn it on high. Then, add some salt to your water. This will let the water boil faster and add flavor to the pasta.
When the water comes to a boil, add your penne and turn down the heat of the stove to a medium temperature.
After about 10 minutes, test the pasta by carefully taking a piece out, letting it cool and eating it. If it feels ready to eat, strain the pasta.
Put it in a container, and set it aside.
Now, we’re going to make our cheese sauce. The base of great cheese sauce is a roux, a French thickener consisting of equal parts fat and flour.
We’ll use butter and flour.
First, take your butter and melt it down in the saucepan on low to medium temperature. Be careful not to burn the butter. When it’s completely melted and hot, start to mix in your flour, whisking it into the mix completely.
The consistency of the butter will start to thicken, so next slowly mix about 3 cups of milk into the sauce. This will give the sauce the capacity to accept cheese. Whisk the milk together with the roux and let simmer 3-5 minutes until the butter and flour has thickened the milk. It should be a thick white sauce before adding the cheese.
For more flavor, you can add a few shakes of salt and onion powder.
Slowly start to add your cheese, until your cheese sauce is cheesy enough or all your cheese is gone. If the sauce gets too thick, add milk. If it’s too thin, add more cheese. This sauce is all about balance.
When everything is melted together, your sauce is ready. You’ll have a lot of sauce. This is good.
Pour a hearty amount of sauce over your penne, and mix it well. If you have left over sauce, freeze it and save it for next time, or make somebody’s day and give it to a friend.
Clean your saucepan, put about an inch and a half of water in it, and then add your broccoli and put it on the stove on medium-high, covered. This will steam your broccoli while we move on and make the pork.
Take a plate and pour on some flour and a little salt and pepper. Use far more flour than salt and pepper. Use this dredge to cover each side of your pork.
Heat up your large sauté pan to a medium heat, and melt a tablespoon or two of butter. For more flavor, you can let the butter cook and brown (but not burn).
Based on the size of your pan, place one or two pieces of your dredged pork in the pan, and let it cook. The bottom will get golden brown and will look delicious. When maximum deliciousness has been achieved, flip it over to cook the other side. Repeat until you’re out of pork. To ensure your pork is done, take a knife and cut into it. If it’s white and firm on the inside, it’s cooked.
Check on your broccoli. It should be very well steamed.
Now, it’s time for assembly. Cut any bone off your pork, and then cut it into 1-inch pieces. Cut up your broccoli too. I like to eat the stems as well, but I could just be weird.
Get out your containers, and decide how you want to eat your meal. This is the fun part. Layer the food however your heart desires. I like to put macaroni and cheese on the bottom, then pork and then broccoli.
This should yield 8 servings with some leftover cheese sauce for your next cook.
Seal, refrigerate or freeze, or enjoy right away!
You don’t have to limit yourself to just macaroni and cheese, though. Even if you were just to cook pasta, like spaghetti or tortellini, any sauce, and some vegetables, you could layer them in a mason jar and reheat later for a meal.
Consider it food for thought.