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Creative cuisine on a budget

Charlie Owen
Vail, CO, Colorado
Kristin Anderson/Vail DailyIf you only have a few items to work with check out www.cookingbynumbers.com for help with ideas on meals that allow you to cook with what you have on hand.
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It’s not unusual for the transient masses that migrate to Vail and the surrounding resort towns to bring in tow their thirst for endless winters. Most of these youngsters have a singular goal: Ski or board and party until the snow melts, then move on.

These are the people who don’t care about furniture or hanging art on the walls of their apartment or in some cases, their van. Money earned on the job goes towards winter gear, ski-passes and booze. But even the most dedicated winter sport enthusiast has to eat. So what happens when there’s no money left in the budget for fine dining? When you’re staring at semi-barren cupboards, you can still make the most of what you have available.

When Drew Brock first moved to Avon almost three years ago, he was working a seasonal job and making very little money. His furniture consisted of whatever he could find in dumpsters or hand-me-downs from family and friends. But when dinnertime came, a little food went a long way.



“You can’t go wrong with chicken,” Brock said. “You can buy a couple pounds of chicken and then just roast the chicken with salt and pepper. If it’s just you eating it, it should last you about a week or so and you can just eat it with a cheap side dish.”

But there were times when chicken wasn’t an option, and Brock had to resort to what he calls Ramen stir-fry.



“What you can do with Ramen Noodles is take frozen vegetables and stir it in with the Ramen Noodles. You can throw in a little sausage, too,” explained Brock. “(Add) a little teriyaki sauce, yeah, that’s about as creative as I ever get with Ramen noodles.”

A visit to any market today will reveal that a growing number of Americans don’t have the time or the money to cook elaborate dishes, so low-priced, pre-packaged foods line the shelves calling out to thrifty consumers. This is the siren song that Chris Parish and Jacob Power can’t resist.

“One night Jacob and one of our buddies made macaroni and cheese and mixed in cream of mushroom soup because they didn’t have any milk, and then added some rice,” said Parish, who just moved to Edwards from Chicago with his long time friend Powers. “We named it ‘Mountain Mac,'” he said.



If creativity in the kitchen isn’t your forte, the web site http://www.cookingbynumbers.com does all the work for you. All you have to do is list the ingredients you have available to cook with and the site will provide you with recipes you can make combining those ingredients. It’s a great resource for anyone who wants to look like they know their way around the kitchen.

Abel Noran is the chef at Bagali’s Italian Kitchen in Vail, and cooking for a living has given him ideas for meals that are cheap, yet filling and tasty. You might have to splurge on some of the items, but the difference they’ll make in the taste will be worth it.

The “hot ham sandwich” is one easy item to make. It takes very little time to prepare, and doesn’t leave a big dent in the wallet, either.

“Put the ham in about a quarter inch of water so it doesn’t stick to the pan, and bake it in the oven for a couple of minutes. It goes good with mayonnaise and lettuce,” Noran said.

He also stressed the importance of pasta when trying to stretch your grocery-shopping dollar.

“You can buy four-cheese raviolis at most stores and they don’t cost a lot of money,” Noran said. “You can take four-cheese raviolis covered with marinara sauce, then covered with mozzarella cheese, and bake it in the oven for about 5 to ten minutes. You can make a big tray and serve a lot of people.”

One major problem with living off of foods with never-ending shelf life is the ingredients. Most pre-packaged processed foods contain high amounts of sodium and fat, which in the long run can lead to major health issues. According to http://www.cdc.gov, the official web site for the Center for Disease Control, obesity rates in adults have shot up almost 40 percent since 1980.

Unfortunately for most seasonal workers in the valley, the paycheck isn’t what keeps them here; so staying means cutting corners in areas such as organic and fresh foods.

This doesn’t seem to bother some people, though.

Ask Alisa Wohlfarth of Avon, who wants a snack occasionally, but doesn’t want to pay a lot, either.

“Cheese and crackers and honey ” it’s so good,” Wohlfarth said. “You get the sweetness of the honey, the saltiness of the cheese and the crunch of the cracker, it’s like the perfect snack. Honey lasts forever if you buy it in a big bottle and so does the cheese, if you get a big block of it.”

The possibilities are endless, but if necessity is the mother of invention, then it shouldn’t take you long to come up with your own low-budget creation. Just don’t tell your guests what’s in it.

Charlie Owen can be reached 748-2939 or cowen@vaildaily.com.


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