Potato Pie shown with simple iceberg lettuce and grated carrot salad.

The Days Before Payday

It’s easy to make a great meal the day after grocery shopping, when the fridge and pantry are burgeoning with fresh new food. The few days before payday are a different story. Those few limp celery stalks are not going to be a convincing salad. No main dishes are readily at hand. But I hope you can scare up a few potatoes and onions, and maybe some flour and cooking oil. In our locale, if your family is out of food you can go to the Food Bank, who will give you a bag of potatoes and some onions. With these we can make some memorable suppers.

Potato Pie

It’s humble and plain, but you can make it when there is almost nothing in the house. When I first tried this recipe, I took a slice to work and heated it up in the micro for my lunch. My coworkers got up out of their desks to see what smelled so delicious. This is a very stodgy pie, really just scalloped potatoes in a pie shell. Many people can only eat a small slice.  If you have to feed a teenage boy, however, this dish may help to fill his hollow leg. You can add protein by including some canned or cooked chick peas, or if you have it, grate a bit of cheese in with the potato mixture.  Begin with …

Oil Pie Crust

2 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour or 2 to 21/4 cup unsifted

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup vegetable oil (chill in freezer beforehand)

1/2 cup milk or soy milk (or just use water if there’s no milk in the house)

  1. Mix flour and salt together. Pour milk and oil into one measuring cup, do not stir, and add all at once to flour. Stir until mixed, and shape into 2 flat balls. Wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 15 minutes or more.
  2. Roll out on lightly floured surface. Carefully transfer to an ungreased pie shell.
  3. Trim crust to ½ inch or 1 inch outside. Tuck excess underneath and flute the edge, either by pinching the edge, or by pressing lightly with a fork.
  4. Save any leftover pastry to make sweet or savoury turnovers for lunches.
  5. Bake the pie shell at 3500 for about 5 minutes to set it.

Potato Filling

4 to 6 potatoes

1 large or two small onions

4 to 6 cloves garlic, chopped fine

2 tbsp. oil

1 tbsp. flour

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Peel potatoes and slice thin, as if making scalloped potatoes.
  2. Pre-boil the potatoes until cooked but not mushy.
  3. Drain potato water into separate cup or bowl. Save potato water, about 1 to 1½ cups.
  4. Slice onions very thin.
  5. Arrange potatoes and onions in alternate layers in the pie shell. Set aside.
  6. Heat oil in frying pan over medium-low heat and add the garlic.
  7. Dissolve the flour in the potato water.
  8. Slowly and carefully add potato water to the frying pan.
  9. Add salt and pepper and continue stirring the mixture until it thickens. You may add a bit more flour if needed, and use French whisk if you have one.
  10. Pour the mixture over the potato and onion layers, making sure there is some of the mixture covering the top of the pie.
  11. Bake at 3500 about 45 minutes.

Potato Latkes — same ingredients, different result

One of my favourite comfort foods is potato latkes, sometimes called European potato pancakes. In the classic recipe, the grated potato and onion are held together by a couple of tablespoons of matzo meal and an egg. You can substitute fine cracker crumbs for the matzo meal. I do not use eggs, so I stick the drained potato mixture together using a little corn starch.

3 large potatoes

1 onion

2 tbsp. corn starch

½ tsp salt or to taste

¼ tsp pepper

Oil for cooking

  1. Peel and grate potatoes and onion into a bowl.
  2. Drain off and discard the liquid, squeezing the mixture a bit to release the excess.
  3. Mix corn starch, salt and pepper into the potato mixture.
  4. Traditional recipe uses ¼ cup of oil for crisp latkes. You may also use less oil, but latkes will be softer – still delicious, though.
  5. Heat oil in heavy skillet or frying pan. Fry the mixture in patties that you form in your hands.
  6. Brown both sides. Serve with apple sauce, or plain with wieners, veggies etc.

Dollar Bags at the Produce Market

I always knew this, but sometimes facts just jump out at you. Every produce market has a mark down section where fruits and veggies past their prime are offered. Often they are too far past their prime to be very health giving – forget those. But sometimes, it’s just that they are still good but will not be in prime condition to be sold tomorrow. These latter are candidates for the frugal cook’s supper tonight.

Today I have challenged myself: I am going to cruise the mark-down produce and put together a meal based on the one dollar grab bags. It will be fun to see what I can make based on a dollar bag.  I plan to do this regularly and to share my findings with you.

In the grocery store there is fierce competition for the dollar bags as I join a group of frugal and purposeful grandmas who are looking at the bags and all talking at once, but I succeeded. Today’s grab bag is fantastic. It contains three carrots, a yellow zucchini, a long eggplant, and part of a cucumber.


This mixture will do double duty in the main dish and salad. I cut up a carrot, part of the zucchini and the cucumber in small pieces as the basis of a salad. I have a couple of lettuce leaves and part of a tomato to complete the salad.


The remaining carrots and eggplant I cut up in larger pieces, and add any bits of veggies that have to be used up today, including the remains of a cube of tofu and some chopped onion and garlic. I boil up some fettuccine, although any pasta would do. I stir fry the veggies in a bit of oil, and add basil, oregano, salt and pepper. I toss in a chopped tomato, and when that has cooked down a bit, I add a teaspoon of corn starch mixed with a small bit of water to make the mixture shiny. Toss in the cooked and drained fettuccine until it is coated with the sauce, and there you have it: a dollar bag dinner of a main dish with salad!