It’s late, you finally made it home — and you’re ravenous. Not enough for a full meal — but you want something crunchy, salty or sweet (or both). It’s got to be cheap, fast (you’re exhausted, after all), and most of all, delicious.
In short, frugal snacks.
Keep a few things in stock for those hungry moments, and you’ll never starve. Good starters are refrigerator basics (milk, butter, cheese) and pantry essentials (brown and white sugar, olive oil, popcorn). Add a bottle of Karo-type syrup, plus a bag of corn tortillas and a bowl of fruit, and you’ve got the makings of several quick snacks that are easy on the budget.
FIRST: SOMETHING TO DRINK
It has to taste sinful, but actually be good for you. The best choice? A fruit smoothie. Sure, you can save time, and buy one at Starbucks.For $5.95. This recipe blends in minutes, and gives you at least two Starbucks-sized drinks for about a quarter of the price, if you buy the fruit in season. Right now, that means strawberries and cherries. (Try it with fresh peaches for an especially blissful experience.)
1 small container Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon sugar or stevia (if you like a sweeter smoothie)
1/2- 1 cup fruit, cleaned and cut into pieces if needed (leave peels on)
1 banana (if you feel like it)
1 1/2 cups milk
2 cups ice cubes
Stack ice cubes, sugar and fruit in blender; pour milk and yogurt over all. Blend for about 30 seconds, until ice cubes are pulverized. Serves two (with extra) in tall glasses.
Iced Coffee variation: substitute 1 cup leftover cold coffee for fruit and yogurt. Serve topped with a swirl of whipped cream, sprinkled with nutmeg or cocoa.
NEXT: THE ‘MEAL’
Mexican food aficionados have been inhaling quesadillas for centuries — and they’re fast to make. A package of corn tortillas will keep in your refrigerator for months.
Turn your oven to 450 degrees, then put corn tortillas on a cookie sheet. (Figure one or two for a light snack, three or four if you’re Really Hungry.) Top with a slice or tablespoon of cheese. Also, add any leftover meat, veggies, rice or potatoes you’ve got hanging around. (Dice for best results.)
Heat until tortillas are crisp and cheese is bubbling — about five minutes. Add salsa, chopped peppers, lettuce, tomatoes or thinly-sliced cabbage, for a nice hot/cold contrast.
Or just scarf down as-is.
Traditional style: Use two tortillas — fill one, then top with the second, like a sandwich. Or use just one tortilla, but fold it over the cheese and filling. These are often made with flour tortillas, crisped and heated on a griddle or frying pan. (Think grilled cheese sandwich.) For more recipes using this method, go here.
What better way to finish off than something crunchy, buttery and salty or sweet? A bowl of popcorn will fill in any remaining corners of your hunger for surprisingly few calories — and give it a healthy hit of fiber, as well.
small paper bag
1 teaspoon olive or other oil
1/3 cup popcorn (adjust to your taste)
Pour popcorn in the bag and sprinkle oil on top. Fold top over a few times, and microwave 2 minutes on high, or until the kernels stop popping. Open the bag (careful of the steam), salt and butter to your heart’s content.
For more even results, consider a theatre-style popper, like this one from Wabash Valley Farms, via Amazon.
Not only does it use steam for much of the popping (letting you cut down on fat), but the results are tender and crispy, at the same time. It even lets you add a few tablespoons of butter, instead of oil, for buttered flavor popcorn… without the extra fat.
Not only that — you get some exercise, turning the crank. That’s especially important for:
The Easiest Kettle Corn In the World
Pop a regular batch of popcorn in a stirring-type popper, like the one shown above — but add 3-5 teaspoons of white sugar, along with the oil or butter, at the beginning. (More if you like a sweeter pop, less if you don’t.) Don’t stop stirring, or the sugar will burn.
If you’ve got a little more time, try this buttery goodness known as Caramel Corn. It really should have a fancier name, considering its versatility — it goes well with everything from ice cream to a cold glass of white wine. If you remember Cracker Jack fondly, try adding a cup or so of peanuts and/or chopped nuts to the mixture. Bagged and tied with a red ribbon, it makes a good gift basket item or Father’s Day present, too.
Willo’s Caramel Corn
large paper grocery sack
4-5 quarts of popped popcorn (take out any unpopped kernels, if you see them)
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white or brown Karo syrup
1/2 cup margarine or butter (1 stick – butter is best)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (hold this back for a bit)
Put all but the popcorn in a 6-8 cup measure or bowl — microwave at high 3-4 min. until the butter is melted, and it’s boiling. Add baking soda, and stir until light and foamy. Put the popcorn in the paper sack, and pour the liquid mixture on top — turn the edges over a few times, and gently shake the bag.
Put the sack in the microwave. (It will fit awkwardly.) Microwave 1 1/2 min. at high; shake the bag. Microwave again 1 1/2 min. Take the bag out, shake it one more time, then pour into a large bowl. Use a spatula to gently break apart the clumps. Cool — or serve warm.
For more frugal snack ideas, go here. They’re perfect for spring — or any time of the year.