Thursday, July 31, 2008
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
A friend wrote me a note a few days ago and suggested I do some posts on low budget meals. Which I think is a great idea. Except that I don't know what is on sale in your neck of the woods today, or what your neighbor is growing too much of .... so instead perhaps a few tips on how I maximize my food dollars. I'm not promising all of these will work for you, but perhaps a few will.Most of what I make is "budget" food - the french bread pizzas were because I had a coupon for free French bread. All the zucchini recently has been because of gifts of zucchini or zucchini included in my CSA share. Pretty soon there will be a lot of tomato recipes as the vines outside begin to give me ripe fruit. The steak I cooked on the grill was on sale and had a $3 off coupon attached to it beyond the sale price. Chili and other bean based meals are almost always a bargain, as are egg salads or chicken salad when you get the chicken for $2 a pound.
Fruits and Veggies:
- Free is always cheaper than any other option. If someone gives you zucchini, peaches or tomatoes that is the cheapest option for dinner tonight.
- Cheap is next best. So find your local produce spots, and especially in the summer, buy whatever is in season. Especially as transported produce is going up in price SO MUCH, stick to what your local farmers are growing. Flexibility is key to saving money. If I plan a salad and go to the farmers market and lettuce is too expensive, then perhaps we'll have a cucumber and tomato salad instead that evening. Or a tray of finger veggies - carrots, celery, pepper and grape tomatoes. Here is a neat post about what is in season each month. (Obviously it varies a bit - tomatoes ripen much earlier in Georgia than they do in New England)
- From what I've read, frozen produce is just as healthy as few day old "fresh produce". So especially for food you are going to cook anyway, check the prices on frozen veggies. Bell pepper is a good example - at Trader Joes I get a pound of tri-color pepper strips for far less than a pound of fresh peppers - and the price does not include the seed and stem I would discard from the fresh peppers. What to Eat is a great resource for balancing the health claims from the food industry so you can make informed decisions. After checking it out of my local library multiple times I finally bought a copy.
- Some fruit, especially, is really easy to freeze. I "put up" about 8 quarts of blueberries a few weeks ago because I found them cheap. I just rinsed them, let them dry for thirty minutes or so, and then put them in plastic containers and stacked them in my freezer. They will make great additions to pancakes, crisps, pies and sauces all winter.
- When cooking with fruit, I frequently buy "seconds" at my local orchard - when I make applesauce, for instance, I will end up spending only $25 or so on two or three BUSHELS of applesauce by buying the seconds. It might require a little bit of paring on my part, but most of the apple don't even need that. I did the same thing with 16 quarts of strawberries I froze and canned in May.
- I look for the "loss leader" sales at the local grocery store - the couple of really good sales they put on the front of the sales ad. Boneless chicken breasts for under $3/pound, for instance, even if I have to buy a five pound package to get that price. (In which case I will either make one big batch of something or repackage in smaller packages for freezing). Other good sales at times: steak, whole chickens, pork chops, ribs ...
- Look for the $2 or $3 off coupons attached to packaged meat when they are getting close to their expiration date. The other day I found 1 pound rolls of hot sausage which were on sale 2 for 4.99 and EACH had a $2 off coupon. Can't beat .50/pound for a sausage brand we really like! I've found similar deals on kielbasa, Italian sausage, bacon, scrapple ... likewise, if you can find a $3 off coupon on a steak that is already on sale, you can eat really well for just a few dollars. Find a few? Put them in your freezer for later.
- I've had pretty good success buying meat at BJ's. Not as good as the "scores" using the first two methods, but good prices. The ten pound bags of individually frozen chicken breasts are a particularly good deal. They also have good prices on frozen fish.
- Trader Joes and Aldi each have good, but not great prices on certain things - frozen chicken for both, frozen fish at Trader Joes.
- This only helps if you live near Philadelphia, but I sometimes stock my freezer at Shady Maple in Lancaster County. You have to buy in larger quantities, but you can get good prices.
- Many items I only buy at Aldi: canned beans, chicken broth (when I'm out of frozen stock), canned diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, canned chick peas, flour, sugars, oatmeal, corn bread mix.
- For the little bit of cereal we eat at our house, I buy no-name brands of Os at Trader Joes or hit the really good sales at the store. (But we probably eat three boxes of cereal PER YEAR, so I'm far from an expert on this subject)
- Other items I buy as they are on sale, and buy a couple for my basement pantry shelves. This is actually a BIG money saver - shopping to stock your pantry from what is least expensive. Then you shop FROM YOUR CABINETS to plan your menu. Want to get your blackbelt in frugal good shopping? Study at the knees of The Tightwad Gazette.
- Check the price per ounce. Sometimes a sale will make the 10 oz price of "product x" cheap enough that buying the 25 oz "economy size" bottle MORE EXPENSIVE per ounce.
- Almost every spice I have is from Penzeys. If you don't have one near you, you have to order a few things at a time to make it worth the shipping, but their prices and quality are far superior to the grocery store. If you already have the spice jars, buy the little loose bags and refill them yourself. A few times a year I spend time refilling all my little bottles, and I think it saves me a good bit of money. As an example, a typical jar of basil holds about an ounce. At one of the local grocery stores, they would charge 4.25. But Penzeys has theirs for 2.79/ounce or 6.49/for a 4 ounces bag.
Most of the time I stay away from frozen foods, except for the highly unprocessed ones (frozen peas, frozen chicken breasts, frozen green beans). I do, however, have an inherited weakness for ice cream (I blame Grammy). So for that I stay flexible on brand. If Edy's is on a good sale we're eating that this month. Or Turkey Hill. Or Breyers. It's also an item on which I practice portion control - I can get far more servings at a half cup at a time than if I eat it in cereal bowl quantities.
Certain foods are expensive enough that I only tend to buy them if we have eating out money in the budget - for instance, if I pick up steamed crab legs and a baguette, it is a ready to eat special treat for under $20, but feels a bit more "special" than take-out pizza.
I think one of the biggest ways to save money on groceries is to NOT THROW THEM OUT. To do this, I have to pay attention to what I have on hand, and do my best to use them up. Epicurious (the website for Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazines) has a really useful advanced search, so if you have two onions, one pepper and some roast beef to use up, you enter those and it suggests options.
When I have a slightly squishy banana I freeze it for a future banana bread. Most other fruits, if slightly mushy (peaches, apples, berries, peaches) get turned into a not-too-sweet crisp, which we then eat with ice cream for dessert and for a few breakfasts thereafter.
Most leftover veggies and meat can be used in one of these: fried rice, omelets, frittatas, quiche, or soup.
NOTE: In all of this I am NOT advocating eating food past the point of food safety. I'm only talking about when you can't stand a third day of ____ or a piece of fruit is no longer cosmetically pretty (but would be fine with a little paring).
But I suppose I have not really answered the question. What would I cook if I had no pre-purchased food which had been obtained from previous sales and a very tight grocery budget?
I would probably start with these ideas:
Chili, with lots of beans and 80/20 ground beef (which is pretty cheap - you drain the fat anyway) or ground turkey
Dishes which get a good bit of protein from egg: egg salad, frittata, omelets, breakfast for dinner
Dishes that mix carbs or inexepensive vegetables with the more expensive meat (preferably whole grains), especially when serving a crowd: pasta with sausage or meatballs, kielbasa cooked with potatoes and brussel sprouts, chicken pot pie, zucchini casserole, lasagna ...
I would buy bone-in, skin-on chicken and cut it myself - it is almost always cheaper.
I would depend on store brand frozen vegetables (mixed, green beans, broccoli, peas), inexpensive local produce, and the fresh vegetables that are almost always cheap: cabbage, carrots, onions, potatoes.
When it comes to deciding whether to make something myself, I always try to figure out if I can make it significantly cheaper, tastier or healthier by making it myself. For some things I can not accomplish any of these goals. So, for instance, I have never attempted to make a cheese danish because for the once or twice per year I purchase them at the Entemanns outlet, I wouldn't be able to make it cheaper. It's already pretty tasty, and regardless of the kitchen which produces a cheese danish, it is never going to be healthy.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
First - buy them only when they look very fresh - they should feel heavy for their size (not dried up), and look like leaves that would still be on the tree - not those you'd find on the ground in November. Rinse them well, and chop the hardened end off the stem.
I like to cook mine by steaming. I do this in one of two ways - either I put small to medium size artichokes in my 8 cup glass measuring cup, add some water at the bottom and cover with a plate before microwaving about twenty minutes at a low power. Or, I put them in my steamer pot. The ones I had tonight were HUGE, so I cooked them about forty-five minutes.
They are finished when a leaf EASILY pulls free from the artichoke.
Serve on a plate or in a shallow bowl, with another dish available for all the trash. (only eating ribs or cracking crabs produces as much waste).
Pull a leaf off the artichoke. Dip the end that was attached into butter if desired. Flip the leaf over so the inside is facing down, and then scrape the bottom half of the leaf with your teeth. Repeat about 76 times, until all the big leaves are finished.
When you get down to little tiny leaves you can generally lift them off all together. Now use a knife to cut away the "choke" ... there is a reason they call it that. You don't want to eat all those little hairs.
Once the choke is removed you have a lovely heart - the reward in the center of the tootsie pop!
Monday, July 28, 2008
1 pint blueberries
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
few grates of nutmeg
2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 stick butter
Peel, pit and chop peaches. (don't worry about the size - I had pieces from marble to golf ball size). Add the blueberries (washed, of course). Stir in the vanilla and cinnamon and pour into an 8 inch square pan.
Melt butter in the microwave. Stir in brown sugar and a tsp of salt. Mix in oats, and spread over fruit. Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream.
Note that this is NOT a very sweet dessert. I actually like the leftovers for breakfast - lots of fruit and oatmeal. If your family is accustomed to sweeter dishes, you might want to double the sugar.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Friday, July 25, 2008
But every once in a while I have a Saturday morning free (or get up early enough on Sunday) to cook something a bit more rewarding:
1-2 slices of quality bread per person (by quality I simply mean something that will not fall apart easily. Mine was honey whole wheat pulled from the freezer, and was from a bakery call Great Harvest Bread. Day old French bread or many regular grocery store breads would also work)
1 egg per person
milk or cream
nuts (I used pecans)
For the french toast:
Heat skillet to medium-high. Add butter or oil to pan.
Beat eggs and milk, plus some nutmeg (preferably freshly ground) and some vanilla extract.
Dip the bread in the egg mixture and place on skillet. When lightly browned on the bottom side, flip and continue.
In another pan, melt a few tablespoons butter and allow to brown a little bit. Slice bananas into pan. After they have started to brown, add some brown sugar and a bit of salt (needed to create that carmelized flavor)
Cook the bacon in the microwave, and then serve all the yumminess on a plate with big cups of coffee to welcom the dawn (or more likely, the noon hour).
French toast (from day old baguette this time), fruit and bacon from a different day, that turned out much prettier in the pictures:
Thursday, July 24, 2008
So how to find good local produce? Drive down rural highways and stop at farm stands. Make friends with someone who grows zucchini and tomatoes. Visit your local pick-your-own orchard.
If you live in the Western suburbs of Philadelphia like I do, check out my links to the right - Gentiles, Linvilla, Boothscorner Farmers Market, Ardmore Farmers Market, and Wolffs are all wonderful. Reading Terminal Market and the stands at the Italian Market are great if you live in Philadelphia. Farm to City also lists Farmers Markets in the general Philly area.
(By the way if you happen to live in Greenville, SC check out the Farmers Market on Rutherford Rd - it was a favorite of mine early on Saturday mornings during growing season)
These are great links for finding local produce near you (at least if you live in the US):
Pick Your Own farms
Local Diet 100 Mile Map (just enter your zipcode! Works for Canada too)
Check out my 100 mile radius:
That means I have New Jersey Sweet Corn, blueberries, tomatoes; produce, dairy and even chicken from Lancaster, BLUE CRABS from Maryland .... not bad at all!
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
As I posted a few days ago, I simply LOVE zucchini fries now. But with temperatures in the upper 90's today, I did NOT want to turn on my oven. So I decided to try "baking" them on the grill.
My grill has three burners - so I lighted it up, and turned the left and right ones down to low grill, and turned the middle burned off. I have a thermostat on the front of the grill, so I was hoping for approximately 400 degrees.
Meanwhile I prepped the zucchini - cut it into match sticks, dipped it in a beaten egg (which turned out just as well as the whipped egg white - so don't bother with the beaters), and then in the mixture of panko crumbs, flour and spices. These went into a greased disposable aluminum pan. Onto the top shelf of the grill they went, and I left them there to cook for about forty five minutes.
Meanwhile, I decided the rest of the menu would be potatoes, steak, salad and strawberry shortcake.
For the potatoes I almost followed my recipe from June:
After I put the potatoes on the grill, I made up the batter for strawberry shortcake:
1 cup Bisquick
1/4 cup melted butter
3 Tablespoons sugar
Mix these together, and then add milk until it is a thick dough consistency.
I then spooned the batter onto a sheet of aluminum foil, and put them on the grill. They probably cooked 30 minutes total.
(this was after about fifteen minutes)
I turned the right side of the grill up to high, and went back in to prep the steaks. I normally use a rub from Penzeys called "Chicago Steak Seasoning". I cooked the steaks about three minutes per side, and then took it all off the grill. It worked great!
To make the strawberry sauce, I melted 1 cup of low sugar strawberry jam (that I canned in May), and added about 10 sliced strawberries. Serve with whipped cream:
Monday, July 21, 2008
sliced hard salami or summer sausage
garnish for salami: whole grain mustard (I was out this time)
Hearty crackers and/or sliced baguette
Pate is also a wonderful addition. Or smoked salmon and cream cheese.
My tray yesterday included Saint Andre Cheese, Ligonberry jam, mushroom liver pate, chianti salami, baguette, and parrano. I served with a fruit salad of cantelope and blueberries, and a separate salad of mixed greens, thousand island and thin slices of radish.
You can also make a larger version of this for a party - and it doesn't take much effort right before the guests arrive, which is more than can be said for most appetizers.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
So this is just a little public service announcement, in case you too tend to forget about the wonder of fruit smoothies.
Things I add (not all at the same time!)
- frozen strawberries
- frozen blueberries
- frozen banana
- orange juice
- plain yogurt or greek yogurt
- vanilla yogurt
- soy protein powder (not if I'm serving it the Southerner - it doesn't agree with him)
- vanilla ice cream
my favorite combos to throw in the blender:
Friday, July 18, 2008
A protein salad on a bed of greens is one of my favorites:
8 large eggs
~ 1/4 cup mayonaisse (I used light mayo)
~ 1/4 cup whole grain mustard
Place eggs in a medium size pot, and fill with cold water. Cover and place on burner on medium. Bring up to boil, and then turn the burner off. Do not uncover, do no remove from burner. After an hour or more, drain the eggs and run cold water until they are cool to the touch.
Peel and roughly chop eggs. Add mayo and mustard, and mix until the egg yolks are no longer visible as little bits.
This made three lunch servings of egg salad. I served on a bed of lettuce (mixture of romaine and butter lettuce this week), with baby tomatoes.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
4 large zucchini, cut in half and then in small strips - about pencil thickness.
whites of 2 eggs
1/2 cup panko (tempura style Japanese bread crumbs)
1/4 cup flour
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon Ancho chili powder (which is not very hot - use a hotter one if you prefer)
bit of celery salt - just a whim, I'm sure you could skip it
freshly ground pepper (1 teaspoon?)
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic or garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
Preheat oven to 450. Grease a large cookie pan (I brushed mine with olive oil). Beat the egg whites in a mixer to stiff peaks stage.
Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl. Dip a few zucchini sticks at a time in the egg white, and then roll in crumb mixture. Arrange on pan:
I have to say these turned out VERY good. Fairly low fat, but yet very tasty. We had them as a side dish with cheeseburgers.
Bake for about 15 minutes, turn the fries, return to oven, and bake another 15 - 20 minutes. (I only cooked them for about twenty-five, but they needed a little bit longer)
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
.Top w/ shredded cheddar:
Monday, July 14, 2008
1 pound each onion and bell pepper, chopped (or two pounds frozen mixture of the two - I get mine at BJs)
6 cans kidney beans (light, dark, or both)
2 cans diced tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce (just thick tomatoes, not seasoned)
1 jar salsa (or the last bits of three different types, as I did)
juice of one lime
cilantro (approx 2 T)
cumin (approx 1 T)
oregano (approx 2 T)
ground red peppers: (chili powder, ancho, paprika, cayenne ...) (about 4T total of all types)
salt (1 T)
cocoa powder (yes, I said cocoa powder - it really makes a difference - add a tablespoon or so)
T = tablespoon
Combine all the ingredients in crockpot, and cook on low 6-8 hours. Serve with shredded cheddar, topped with sour cream, and possibly salsa. I served this round with a simple corn pone - but it didn't turn out as well as I hoped, so I won't bother sharing the recipe. Corn chips or french bread are also good foils. A salad would be a nice side dish.
Don't eat it all today - tomorrow: one of my favorite casseroles, using this chili: Chili with a Lid
Sunday, July 13, 2008
~ 1 cup strong cold coffee
~ 3/4 pint coffee ice cream
~ 1/2 chocolate bar (.75 oz)
~ 1 tbsp cocoa powder
~ 2 tablespoons chocolate syrup
~ 5 ice cubes
Blend coffee, cocoa powder and ice until cocoa powder is completely mixed in. Add the chocolate syrup, ice cream and chocolate bar, and blend again. Split between two glasses, and, if you're feeling fancy, garnish with chocolate shavings (run a potato peeler down the side of a chocolate bar).
A few links of recipes I've picked up here and there that look great:
Chicken Cheese Puffs
Apple Dumplings - these look pretty easy, too!
Pecan Pie Bars
and an oldy but a goody I haven't made since I was old enough to drive:
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Friday, July 11, 2008
The CSA share this week:
It was actually only supposed to include 4 zucchini, but there is a "trade" box, so if you don't like something you can trade for a different vegetable. I didn't think the cucumbers look too great, so I traded mine for zucchini.
My thrown together casserole included:2 large onions (Vidalia, actually), chopped and cooked
some chopped garlic (again my little Trader Joes garlic cubes)
fresh chopped basil, rosemary and parsley from my garden - generous handfuls
3 zucchini, sliced into half moons
2 cans of diced tomatoes, drained
about 2 pounds ground beef, browned and drained
1 cup leftover cooked rice from my freezer
salt, pepper (I was heavy handed with the fresh ground pepper - gave it a nice bite)
I combined all of the ingredients except the cheese and bread crumbs, poured it into a 13 x 9 pan, and then topped it off with the cheese and crumbs. Then bake at 375 for a bit longer than I did - I probably baked it twenty-five minutes, but we were hungry and impatient. Forty minutes would probably be perfect.
It was SO wonderfully fragrant with the fresh herbs and garlic. Next time I think I would do the same thing, but with Italian sausage instead of the browned beef.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
sweet soy sauce really makes this dish - and is also a quick addition to many other asian or pan-asian dishes. The bottle you see to the right is the one I buy. I find it at a Vietnamese run store in Philadelphia - but I was also able to find it when I lived in South Carolina. If you can't find it nearby, you can always order it online.
~ 1.5 pounds boneless chicken breasts
~ 12 oz fresh spinach
~ one slightly mushy green pepper, bad bits removed (if you only have a fresh one, I suppose it will do)
~ 1.5 cups chopped artichoke (frozen, fresh or from a jar)
~ one large onion, chopped
~ garlic - fresh minced, from a jar, or frozen minced cubes from Trader Joes
~ 8oz. block cream cheese
~ a few tablespoons of pesto, homemade or from a jar
~ olive oil
~ salt & pepper
~ romano, parmesan or a similar flavorful hard cheese
Sautee spinach in a bit of olive oil until fully wilted - turn a few times while cooking:
Set aside the surprisingly small quantity of spinach which results. In the same pan, sautee the onion, and when that is almost cooked (translucent) add the chopped pepper and garlic. Once the vegetables are soft, turn the heat down to medium, and add the cream cheese. WATCH THIS CAREFULLY, stirring frequently until completely melted. Add a few tablespoons of pesto, and some romano cheese. Stir the wilted spinach back in, as well as the artichoke hearts. Turn to low, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, cut the boneless chicken breast into quarter size pieces. Cook in a separate pan in a bit of olive oil. Add salt and pepper.
Once the chicken is cooked, pour the contents of the pan into the vegetable mixture, including the (cooked) juice from the chicken.
Serve with french bread to be able to eat all the yummy sauce!
The Southern Resident specifically told me to tell all of you that this was VERY good - that's a first!
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Place in a 13 x 9 dish:
2 pounds shrimp - raw - peeled and deveined
1/2 cup olive oil
4 tablespoons cajun or creole seasoning
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 pinch cayenne
juice of 1 lemon (or 3 tablespoons bottled lemon juice)
parsley, if on hand
Pour over shrimp. Marinade shrimp for at least an hour - but not more than three
Bake @ 450 for ten minutes
Monday, July 7, 2008
Tasty Salad: Spinach and Cherry Salad w/ warm almond crusted goat cheese medallions in a light dijon vinaigrette
- 1 log of goat cheese (chevre), which was about to expire
- about a half pound of cherries
- 2 chuck steaks
So what I made:
Baked Goat Cheese Medallions: I cut the Chevre into 8 equal slices. I dipped each into an egg wash (one beaten egg with a splash of water), and then placed the cheese into a bowl of toasted almond slices. I used my fingers to make sure each piece was fully topped with almonds. I then placed these in a baking pan (which I lined with parchment paper for easy clean-up). These I baked for about ten minutes at 400 degrees.
I washed and pitted the cherries. A little trick I've found is to use the cherry pitter right down in the colander. The pits stay put for easy disposal, and MOST of the juice shoots into the colader. But don't wear your favorite white shirt for this task anyway.