Sunday, February 17, 2013
Another strategy for using up odds and ends is to make a casserole with some kind of pasta, leftover meat and vegetables, and a white sauce to hold it together.
If you have powdered milk on hand, and butter or margarine and a little bit of flour, you can easily make a white sauce.
Basic White Sauce
2 Tbsp butter or margarine
2 Tbsp flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup milk (fresh or reconstituted from dry milk powder)
Melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and stir with a fork or whisk until combined and clumped together and bubbling. (This is called making a roux. I know, so fancy!)
Cook and stir for a minute or two to lose the raw flour taste. Add milk and stir to disperse all of the butter and flour in the milk, and continue stirring until smooth. As it heats up it will start to bubble and thicken, which is what you want.
This is for a medium sauce. For a thinner sauce, use one tablespoon each of flour and butter; for a thicker sauce use three or four tablespoons of each.
You can add up to one cup of shredded hard cheese to it if you want, to make a cheese sauce, and spice it up with pepper, mustard powder, paprika, chili powder, etc. Once you add the spices and you’ve combined it all with pasta and vegetables, no one will even be able to tell it was made with powdered milk. Or you can use fresh milk if you want, that’s fine too.
Note that this is the same technique used to make gravy — add flour to fat, stir together to make a roux, then add liquid, heat and thicken.
You can make milk gravy from chicken fat left from frying chicken and serve with mashed potatoes, or sausage gravy from the fat rendered from cooking bulk sausage. Add the cooked sausage to the gravy when done and serve over biscuits.
You can also make gravy from the broth you get when you stew chicken — add a flour/water mixture to the stock in a 1:2:8 ratio (e.g, mix 1/4 cup flour with 1/2 cup water then add to 2 cups stock) — which you can serve over dumplings or potatoes.
I feel like gravy is a lost art. It gets a bad rap for being unhealthy, and it’s true, its key ingredient is fat, how healthy can it be. Unless you’re out slopping the hogs at the break of dawn every day, you probably don’t want to eat it at every meal. But man is it good. And cheap. And it holds things together to make a meal like nothing else.
Also in the casserole-ish leftover department, you can change things up and skip the pasta and use pastry instead — combine vegetables and leftover meat with a white sauce and a pastry crust, to make a pot pie.
Or skip the white sauce and mix everything up and then make pastry dough to make some kind of meat pie (like an empanada — I use the recipe from the More with Less cookbook, and wrote about it in 2010, with pictures and everything).
Or use potatoes and mix the meat and vegetables with that and fry everything together to make hash. (And if you have some gravy to serve with this, all the better.)
There’s really no excuse for not using up leftovers, there are so many things you can do with them to turn them into a new meal.
I once had an odd assortment of leftovers, including potatoes that I’d cooked when I roasted a chicken, so they were coated with chicken fat and rosemary, and some bacon and scrambled eggs (and honestly I don’t know how I ended up with leftover bacon and scrambled eggs, I think I must have thought I was really hungry and cooked a lot and then realized I wasn’t that hungry and didn’t want to throw them away so I stuck them in the fridge, that’s not something I usually have around). It was Weird Food Night where I eat whatever odds and ends I have, and I mixed together the potatoes and bacon and eggs and heated it up and it was SO GOOD.
The down side of mixing up stuff like that it’s really hard to recreate, so if it turns out to be super delicious you end up being kind of sad about it because you know you’ll never be able to have that exact same thing again. But you get a good meal and you can just try to live in the moment. And once you start making things like that, there’s almost nothing that isn’t worth saving, you can use it all.
You can also incorporate assorted leftover things into quick bread/muffins — things like cookie crumbs, small amounts of nuts, leftover jam, cooked grains — and that’s magical too. I wrote about that in 2010 also, so won’t go into it again here. That technique is also from the Tightwad Gazette. Thank you again, Amy Dacyczyn.
The bottom line is that you want to learn how to be creative in the kitchen and to get away from the idea of needing a recipe to make a meal. Which doesn’t mean that you will never make anything from a recipe again, making a nice meal with things you went out and got just to make a nice meal is enjoyable and you should definitely do that as often as you’d like. But doing that takes time and energy, and you don’t want to have to expend time and energy every time you’re hungry. It also generates leftovers that will go to waste if you’re making a fresh new meal with newly purchased ingredients every day.
The ultimate goal is to develop a repertoire of things you can make that require hardly any time or energy at all, and once you know what those things are, you can work on keeping the ingredients for those things on hand.
So when it’s late and you’re tired and hungry, coming home and going to the freezer and pulling out some chicken and tortillas and vegetables, and heating the chicken with spinach and corn and eating it in the tortillas with a little bit of salsa, and maybe some cheese, feels like less work than stopping somewhere and standing in line and ordering and waiting for your food and bringing home a styrofoam container of food that, despite the styrofoam, will not be hot by the time you eat it, and will not be very good. And will cost ten dollars.
That’s the place you want to get to.
Friday, February 15, 2013
In my last post, I talked about the kinds of food I like to keep on hand most or all of the time. For those looking for a more thorough explanation, or those who like to learn from example, I will give details on a few meals I like to make using those things.
I can almost always make a good breakfast-type meal — omelette or scrambled eggs — with eggs and between one and three of the following add-ins…
in whatever combination sounds good.
One combination I like especially for an omelette is herbed cream cheese (combine about a tablespoon of cream cheese with a squeeze of fresh garlic from a garlic press plus pepper and Herbes de Provence or whatever herbs you have — thyme, oregano, basil, etc.) with diced avocado and fresh tomato.
An omelette is nice but scrambled eggs are almost just as good and easier to make. As far as I’m concerned, scrambled eggs with cheese wins for best/easiest combination, it’s hard to go wrong with that.
The key to good scrambled eggs is to cook over low heat and don’t stir too much, just enough to scrape the cooked part off the bottom and let the uncooked part flow over so it can cook. And then don’t cook too long or the eggs get dry.
If you keep cream or half-and-half around for coffee, try making scrambled eggs with a little bit of that, it’s very good. If I’m not doing that (which I usually don’t), I use a tablespoon of water mixed with the eggs. (I don’t use milk because I can’t tell the difference, I think it’s totally fine with water. I like to save my milk for things that matter.)
Along with the eggs I’ll eat some kind of bread/carb thing…
—cheese grits (with Worcestershire sauce, or, since I’m out of that and trying to use things up, lately I’ve been adding Pickapeppa Sauce)
—biscuits with honey or jam
—half a bagel with cream cheese or jam
—toast, but only if I have bread from my neighbors
plus some kind of fruity thing …
—fried apples (peel apple, heat a skillet and add a little bit of bacon grease, when hot, slice apple into skillet and cook until tender, YUM)
—half a grapefruit
—smoothie made with frozen berries, frozen banana, juice
—sliced apple or pear
So as long as I have eggs, I have a good meal. And I don’t limit myself to breakfast with that, I’ll eat eggs any time of day or night.
Another technique that is very useful is the Universal Pilaf recipe from the Tightwad Gazette. This calls for the following:
—fat or oil: e.g., olive oil, canola oil, bacon grease, chicken fat, butter, margarine, shortening
—base (aromatic) vegetable: e.g., garlic, onion, shallot, leek or green onion (white part only)
—protein: e.g., cooked or raw chicken, ground beef, ground turkey or other meat; or any kind of canned (or cooked) legume; or tuna or whitefish
—grain: e.g., white rice, brown rice, couscous, millet, quinoa, bulghur, wheat berries
—vegetable: e.g., frozen or fresh peas, carrots, corn, spinach, celery, tomatoes
—liquid: e.g., water, broth, vegetable cooking water, stock
—seasonings: e.g., salt, pepper, basil, oregano, curry powder, chili powder, paprika, etc.
in the following proportion, for approximately two servings:
2 Tbsp fat
1-2 cloves garlic plus 1/2 cup onion (or more, or less, it doesn’t really matter)
1/2 to 2/3 cup protein
1 cup grain
2 cups liquid
1/2 cup vegetable (or more)
seasonings to taste
The basic procedure is as follows:
1. Heat fat in a large skillet, for which you have a lid that fits.
2. When the fat is hot, add the aromatic vegetable (garlic and onion) and cook until the onion is translucent.
3. If using uncooked meat, add it now and brown. If using cooked meat or beans, add to heat through. (If using tuna, do not add yet.)
4. When the meat is browned and/or heated through, add the grain and stir until coated with fat.
5. Add the liquid and bring to a boil. (Add tuna now, if using tuna.)
6. Add vegetables and seasonings, stir, and return to a boil.
7. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until the liquid is absorbed.
How long this takes to cook depends on what grain you use — couscous will be done in 15-20 minutes, brown rice will take closer to 45 minutes, white rice somewhere in between.
My favorite version of this involves ground beef, white Jasmine or Basmati rice, peas, carrots, and curry powder. It is also good substituting cooked chicken for the ground beef, or using couscous or brown rice instead of white rice. (The reason I usually use white rice is because I often make this on Saturdays when I eat a big breakfast then do stuff around the house all day and then all of a sudden realize that I am really, really hungry and I need something that will be ready now now NOW. Or soon, at least. And white rice cooks quickly and I almost always have it on hand.)
This is a really great technique; unless your cupboard is truly bare, you can almost always make something that tastes delicious and is ready quickly. It’s a winner.
The other thing I rely on is tortillas with some kind of filling — you can do a breakfast-type thing with beans and cheese and scrambled eggs or a taco-type thing with corn tortillas and chicken and vegetables (and cheese … and salsa … and …) or enchiladas with spinach and cheese and beans or chicken, or a wrap with cheese and tuna or salmon. Or, or, or. The possibilities for that are nearly endless.
At any point in time, I will almost always be able to very quickly make a good tortilla-based meal out of what I have in the pantry and/or freezer.
I can also usually make a stir-fry with rice or noodles (or leftover rice, as fried rice).
Making a stir-fry is a great way to use up bits and pieces of things that are not enough to make a full meal but that you want to use and not throw away. Even noodles go much further when you stir-fry everything together than when you boil and eat. Two ounces of pasta with tomato sauce is not much of a meal but two ounces of pasta stir-fried together with vegetables and soy sauce feels like plenty.
And there’s more, but that’s enough for today. I’ll do a separate post with the rest.
Thursday, February 14, 2013
Okay so I was planning on writing about Amy Dacyczyn’s Pantry Principle, but when I reviewed the article of that name in The Tightwad Gazette, I realized that I don’t actually do what she advocates. I don’t buy everything when it is at its cheapest point and make all meals entirely from my pantry.
I do however rely greatly on my pantry and freezer, and it’s a key part of cooking for less. So I slightly adjusted the title of the post and I’m going to focus on the general strategy of making meals from things you have on hand, because the real trick to shopping and eating for less is … (drum roll, please …)
Because in the words of Schoolhouse Rocky, Knowledge is Power.
The good thing about life in general, and the process of cooking and eating for less in particular, is that you will automatically gain knowledge as you go. The bad thing is that if you haven’t been doing it already, you have no knowledge to start with and it can feel overwhelming.
But remember that being able to shop and cook cheaply and efficiently is a SKILL not a talent. You do not have to be born with the ability to do this, you can figure it out one step at a time and you will get better and better at it until eventually it will be second nature and you no longer have to think about it at all. And you will be able to laugh about how overwhelming it seemed when you first started and all the dumb mistakes you made.
Ha ha ha.
One of the key strategies you need to develop is to be able to make a meal from things you have on hand. (Important note: You do not need to always have everything you ever might want on hand. You do not need to turn into one of those Mormon survivalists with a year’s worth of food in a bomb-proof shelter in the backyard. You just need to be able to make something that you will be willing to eat with what you have available to you at one particular point in time.)
I am not a good decision-maker. In the language of Barry Schwartz in the Paradox of Choice, I am a “maximizer” — I always want to feel like I’m making the very best decision I could possibly make. I am also a perfectionist with OCD tendencies. This is a terrible combination that can make life torture. I am often completely unable to make any decision at all, for fear of making the wrong one.
One of the ways I’ve improved my quality of life is by eliminating vast swaths of options from the realm of possibility, leaving me with a much more limited number of items from which to choose. I do not have to decide what hotel to stay at on vacation because I do not go on vacations. I do not have to walk up and down every aisle of the supermarket thinking about what I could or might or should get because I only have $12 to spend, so most things are not in my budget.
This is also why I am not a Mormon survivalist with a year’s worth of food in a bomb-proof shelter in the backyard. I would have as much trouble deciding what to do with that as I would dealing with the grocery store.
Less is enough.
You want to have a few meals that you like and can make with simple ingredients that you can then try to make sure you have around most or all of the time.
So what do I like to keep on hand most or all of the time?
In the freezer
• tortillas (corn, flour)
• cooked chicken (roasted and/or poached)
• uncooked chicken, cut into pieces
• bacon • chicken stock
• bananas, unpeeled and individually wrapped
• other fruit (peaches, blueberries, cranberries)
• vegetables purchased frozen (peas, spinach, corn)
• vegetables purchased fresh then processed for freezing (mushrooms)
• ginger root
• tomato paste, wrapped in 1 Tbsp packets
• nuts and seeds (sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pecans, almonds)
• bagels, sliced in half
• bread, sliced
• bread crumbs
• jam, from my mom
I also like having at least one other kind of meat available in the freezer, sausage or ham or kielbasa or ground beef, because sometimes I’m really hungry and that’s just what I want, pasta with chorizo or empanadas with ground beef or something like that. Sometimes the no-meat thing just doesn’t do it for me.
In the pantry
• canned tomatoes
• dried legumes (chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans)
• canned beans
• canned tuna or salmon
• pasta (fusili, macaroni, spaghetti)
• Asian noodles (rice noodles, rice sticks)
• rice (white, brown, Jasmine, Basmati, wild)
• grains (millet, rolled oats, steel-cut oats, bulghur wheat)
• nut butter (usually peanut, sometimes almond, if I win the lottery I’ll buy cashew butter)
• baking supplies (shortening, flour, sugar, brown sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder, powdered milk or powdered buttermilk)
• dried fruit (raisins, figs, plums)
• oils (olive oil, canola oil)
• vinegars (Chinese black vinegar, red wine vinegar, balsamic, white, cider)
• assorted sauces (fish sauce, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce)
Then in the pantry or refrigerator I have basic condiments like ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise as well as Asian condiments like chili paste with garlic and hoisin sauce. Plus random things that keep forever like capers and pickles.
I also favor long-lasting vegetables like carrots and cabbage over ephemeral things like lettuce. I try to keep onions and garlic on hand, and it’s good to have some potatoes or sweet potatoes around too.
And these are obviously more perishable, but I almost always have eggs, fruit, and some kind of cheese in the refrigerator.
And also I usually have some kind of leftover something in the freezer, too, soup or pasta sauce or chili or…
And again, I must emphasize that I do not always have every single one of these things around, but I pretty much always have some of them. (Like I said, you just need enough to make one meal, not all of them.)
So that’s what I have around.
And I started to write out specific examples and recipes, but this post got really long, so I split it into two and will put those up separately tomorrow.
Friday, February 8, 2013
I am in the process of finishing a post on cooking with what you have on hand, which is basically a more detailed explanation of the last post I put up, with advice for my friend on eating for less.
It was going to be one very long post but then I decided to split it into two, and then I decided that this part probably should be a separate entry too, and I should just put it up as background. So here it is.
This is a side note about freezing, which I feel is important.
When my mom was visiting once and I went to put something in the freezer, she said, “People who read your blog must think you have a really big freezer.” So I just want to say that I do not have a stand-alone freezer and I do not even have a big freezer.
I used to have a normal-sized freezer that comes with a normal-sized refrigerator but now I have a small European sized refrigerator/freezer and I’m still working on figuring out how best to use it. I have a lot of different things in my freezer, but I have very small quantities of each thing. For instance when I say I have ground beef in my freezer, I might have a quarter pound of ground beef. Pretty much everything is like that. So it might sound like a lot, but it doesn’t take up much space.
I’ve found there to be a few keys to keeping a lot of different small-sized things in a freezer and having them available for use without a lot of prior planning. The main things are to:
A. process items into individual-sized servings prior to freezing, and wrap separately to help keep from turning into little pieces of freezer burn;
B. label things so you can pull out a bag and quickly identify what it is;
C. divide your freezer into “zones” with certain kinds of items always in the same area, so you don’t have to dig through everything any time you need to find something.
In general, I wrap individual serving sizes in plastic wrap or waxed paper. This is important because you need to be able to pull out just what you want and thaw and cook it quickly. For instance you want to be able to pull out a slice of bacon and put it in the frying pan, frozen, and cook it. This will not work if your bacon is frozen together in one giant slab. Same with cooked chicken, tomato paste, mushrooms, bread, bagels.
You need to be able to pull out two slices of bread or half a bagel, which you can put in the toaster, and toast (no need to thaw, you can toast bread directly from the freezer). You want a tablespoon of tomato paste to use in your sauce. You want to pull out enough chicken to make one or two servings at a time.
This is true of pretty much everything.
This does add some time to the whole process, but not much. It takes just a few minutes to measure out your leftovers and tear off some plastic wrap or waxed paper and wrap them up. But it makes things that otherwise would be completely impossible very easy. So don’t skip this step.
In terms of labelling, it’s so tempting to get lazy with that and think you’ll remember what that thing is later but I urge you to not skip the labelling step either, everything looks the same in the freezer. Unless it’s something like bacon or something that’s obvious from the shape what it is. But otherwise you really need the label.
For labels, I use the white tags that I bring home from the grocery store with the bulk bin number written on them. I fold them in half and write the name of the item on both sides, so if it flips over, I can still see the information I need.
If you care about moving through things in an orderly fashion and/or how long you keep things in the freezer (not a big concern of mine, but I know some people pay attention to things like that), you can put the date on there as well.
I try to wrap things up well enough that they won’t be exposed to air and are thus less likely to experience freezer burn. A lot of times recipes will say that something will keep for x amount of time in the freezer but in my experience, things will keep pretty much forever in the freezer, it just might not taste that great by the time you get around to eating it. But it won’t kill you.
In terms of how I store things, my freezer situation is in a little bit of flux right now, I don’t have a great system yet, but my old freezer was basically divided into 12 zones: top and bottom, front/back, left/middle/right. Bottom right back was vegetables, bottom right front was fruit, bottom middle back was stock and sauces, bottom middle front was soups and leftovers. Et cetera. Every type of thing had its own spot in the freezer, so it was easy for me to find what I was looking for among the many nearly identical-looking containers.
This is where getting the new freezer caused problems. It has a different layout than my old freezer and my zones disappeared and I had no idea where anything was. Any time I went to look for anything I had to pull everything out and it was frustrating and annoying and felt really stupid. I decided that the best strategy would be to go through everything there and eat it and start over with a new system. So that’s what I’ve been doing.
In summary, the overall freezing procedure is
1. Take stock of the food item and figure out the best way to process and freeze it so you can use it later. For instance:
Bacon—I pull off a big piece of waxed paper and wrap accordion style with a layer or waxed paper between each piece of bacon;
Cooked chicken— I measure out one cup of chicken and put in plastic wrap and wrap up;
Tomato paste—I measure out one tablespoon and put it in a piece of waxed paper and fold the paper over and flatten to make a little flat disc of tomato paste;
Mushrooms—I sautè in olive oil with garlic and measure out a quarter cup and put in plastic and wrap;
And so on.
(If anyone has specific questions about how I handle certain items, let me know in the comments and I’ll fill you in on what I’ve tried and what worked and what didn’t.)
2. Wrap the processed items in single-size portion (however much you need to make what you are most likely to make with it).
3. Put the wrapped items together in a zipper-top freezer bag.
4. Write on a small piece of paper the name of the item you are putting in the freezer.
5. Put the bag in the freezer in the area where like things are stored.
6. USE THE ITEMS IN THE FREEZER TO MAKE SOMETHING TO EAT.
Don’t forget about that last step.
Wow that turned into a lot on freezing. Sorry about that.
Next up I’ll talk about what kinds of food I keep around, so stay tuned for that.
Sunday, February 3, 2013
In 2003, a good friend who I had worked with for 10+ years did a mid-career switch and went back to school to be a nurse. Her undergraduate degree had been in political science, so she had to start from square one and take all of her math and science prerequisites before she could even apply to nursing school. It was a brave decision. She got some support from her family to help pay the bills while she went to school full time, but it was a big change.
In order to provide my own little bit of support, I sent her a small care package that included some advice I pulled together on living for less that I hoped would help her. I don’t think we ever talked about whether or not it was useful to her, but she did make it through school and get started in her new career and in the process did pretty much of a 180 degree turn on spending, so I don’t think it hurt.
I thought about re-working the food portion of it to post here but then decided to just put it up more or less as I wrote it since I think it’s a pretty good outline of how I shopped and how I thought about things when I was first implementing my system. Some of the numbers might be off, since it’s nearly 10 years old now, but for the most part, it still feels more or less accurate.
And I feel like this does a good job of summarizing my general philosophy towards food and shopping and what I eat, and can help get things rolling again with the How to Shop series.
So here it is, excerpted from a letter to a friend written in August 2003.
And now in case after having read this far, you’re saying, okay that wasn’t what I had in mind at all, I will also offer specific insight into how I have reduced my monthly grocery bill, which wasn’t that high to begin with, by approximately 35% since I moved to North Carolina. (It’s currently at around $90/month.) I believe that all of the changes I have made are fully replicable by anyone with rudimentary cooking skills and a very small ability to plan ahead.
The thing that actually has made the most difference is that I almost never throw anything out. I know what’s in the refrigerator and approximately how long I have before it goes bad, and I make sure I either eat it, or use it in a recipe, or freeze it, or somehow process it so it can be frozen and used later. (For instance if you have mushrooms on the verge of collapse, you can sauté them and then freeze them and use them later in a casserole or add them to a white sauce to make a homemade version of cream of mushroom soup, which is good for all kinds of things.) If you buy a lemon for the juice to use in a recipe and don’t use all of it (or you buy two lemons and it turns out you only needed one) squeeze the extra into a small jar (baby food jars are great for this kind of thing) and stick it in the freezer. The next time you make a recipe with lemon juice, you’ll already have some. And you don’t have to throw anything away.
Almost any processed food can be made from scratch without too much trouble. (Though there are definitely exceptions to this. Like for instance you can make Grape Nuts but it’s not easy and I decided it’s easier to just eat less of them and to make a special trip to Food Lion when I decide I want them.) You can make your own tomato sauce, salsa, granola, hummus. Some things might not be worth the savings—you’re the only one who can decide that. You just need to be aware of what you’re buying and how much it is and if there are options for getting the same thing (or almost the same thing, or not really the same thing but pretty much just as good) more cheaply—and whether the amount of time you would have to spend to save however much money you would save is really worth it.
If I have a recipe that calls for chicken breasts (like that hoisin chicken one I made for New Year’s that time, with 8 cloves of garlic, which I make all the time now) I buy a whole chicken and cut it up, use the breast meat in the recipe then freeze the rest. Sometimes I fry the giblets and the neck and the skin from the breasts and use the grease to make milk gravy and mashed potatoes and have a nice fattening meal. I poach the wings and back which gives me stock for the freezer to use in all kinds of things, along with a little bit of meat to freeze and save for a casserole or to make a couple servings of chicken salad (like they used to make at the Yogurt Patch, with almonds and celery and raisins, and I eat it on warm pita bread just like they used to serve it.) Sometimes I fry the legs and thighs and eat with potato salad in the summer or mashed potatoes in the winter, or I cook them in a tomato sauce, like chicken cacciatore (Lone Star Chicken – see recipe enclosed.) Or I poach everything but the breasts and make chicken and dumplings, good winter comfort food.
For breakfast I eat muesli (recipe enclosed) which is filling and healthful and really really cheap. (You can get oat bran and all that kind of stuff bulk at Whole Foods/Fresh Fields, or a natural foods store like the one that used to be on P St., which may or may not still be there.) In the winter I make oatmeal with raisins and brown sugar, or steel-cut oats with honey and almonds. I cook two servings of steel-cut oats and the leftovers I refrigerate then heat in a frying pan with butter and serve with maple syrup and sunflower seeds. Mmmmm.
I buy whatever fruit is cheapest—apples in the fall and citrus in the winter and in the summer I buy everything because I love fresh fruit and since it’s only in for a few months I worry less about how much I’m spending than I do with other things. Bananas are cheap year round—$.60/ lb (which usually works out to about $.20-$.30 per banana)—so I eat lots of those.
Keep your freezer and pantry stocked with things you can use to make other things, so when you make a trip to the grocery store you’re just restocking the pantry or getting fresh produce and dairy.
Keep nonfat dry milk for cooking, so you can make pancakes or a white sauce without having to go to the store for milk. (When I go to the store for one thing, I invariably leave with five, so reducing trips makes a huge difference.)
Keep frozen vegetables in the freezer to throw into a casserole or stir fry, or to steam as a side dish. Fresh ginger keeps indefinitely in the freezer and can be grated frozen for stir frys and sauces. Keep rice, pasta, noodles, canned tomatoes, condiments (soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil), canned tuna and salmon in the pantry. Keep hamburger, ground turkey, bacon in the freezer—use in casseroles, sauces, soups.
Buy day-old bagels, slice in half and freeze. Eat for lunch with tuna and cheese, for breakfast with peanut butter and a smoothie. Keep a loaf of bread in the freezer, eggs and cheese in the fridge. Make a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich for a third of what you’d pay at a shop.
Always have garlic and onions and potatoes on hand. Buy potatoes and onions in 5lb bags to save money. [Though again this is something I don’t do because the more potatoes I have, the more potatoes I eat, and any savings I managed to eke out would be lost with the new sets of clothes I would continually be buying.]
Keep flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder so you can make biscuits, dumplings, pancakes, muffins. The only fats you need are butter for baking (and for toast, and grilled cheese sandwiches), olive oil for sauteing and salads, canola oil for frying and baking.
With everything you buy, learn which stores are cheaper for which things (e.g., Asian markets for rice and noodles; and you might be surprised at how much difference there is between things in different stores—and that it’s not always the same store with the lowest price for everything) and keep an eye out for specials. If something you use a lot is reduced, buy as much as is practicable (though those of us who walk to the grocery store are limited in our ability to buy in bulk). Coupons can be useful, but you shouldn’t buy things you wouldn’t buy otherwise just because you have a coupon. (It seems to me that coupons are generally for overpriced processed foods that are still overpriced even with the coupon.) Though if there’s something you really like but have stopped getting because it doesn’t seem worth it at full price and you have a coupon for it, then you can get it and have it as a treat. As with everything, you just have to decide if it’s worth it given your current situation, whatever that might be.
So I don’t know, that’s basically what I’ve done. Is that useful? It’s worked well for me and doesn’t make my life one of drudgery and tedium. (Well, you know, any more than it would be otherwise.)
Friday, January 25, 2013
I’ve had two projects that have been taking up most of my time plus a bunch of end-of-year/start-of-year Scrap Exchange bookkeeping that needs to be done. (I am no longer the Treasurer at The Scrap Exchange but now am on staff as finance manager. Out of the frying pan and into the fire? We’ll see.)
I took a break from the “How to Shop” series because I figured no one wants to read about how to save on groceries in the middle of December. I was planning on picking up where I left off in January when people are paying attention to things like that again, and that is still the plan, but it’s gotten a bit delayed.
In the meantime, I hope everyone is honing their skills thinking about what they can make with what they have on hand so that nothing goes to waste, and figuring out what kind of shopping pattern will work best with their lifestyle. Part III (and beyond) coming soon. Or soon-ish, at least.
I will also share with you two things I’ve been enjoying this winter as I work on my “eating down the fridge” project, which I have come to think of as the March to a Clean Pantry and March to an Empty Freezer.
I have been eating millet for breakfast, and it’s cheap and very delicious. It has a better texture than oatmeal, not mushy and slimy. (I like oatmeal, and I personally don’t have a problem with the texture, but I know some people do.) And it cooks faster than steel-cut oats, which I like a lot and are not particularly mushy or slimy but take forever to cook.
The cooking time for millet is between that of old-fashioned oats and steel-cut oats. It’s long enough for me to do the dishes and clean up the kitchen while it cooks, but not so long that I need a snack to tide me over until my breakfast is ready. I’ve been mixing in pantry and freezer odds and ends including
- slivered almonds
- sunflower seeds
- dried coconut flakes
- dried apricots
- dried sweetened cranberries
- dried cherries
The nuts and sunflower seeds I chop and toast in a dry skillet until fragrant and just turning brown. I also toast the coconut. And chop whatever feels like it needs to be smaller, for instance, apricots. But mostly I just toss things in.
I think my favorite was toasted hazelnuts with dried apricots, but the slivered almonds were also very good. And the sunflower seeds and coconut and cranberries too.
Okay, they were all good.
For one serving, I boil 3/4 cup water and add 1/4 cup millet. For the mix-ins, I think I put in around 2 tablespoons (or more or less depending on what I have and how I feel). If I’m hungry I also have a soft-boiled egg and a piece of fruit (orange or grapefruit or apple slices) or maybe just the fruit.
Whole grain, hot and filling, very cheap. Can’t beat it.
I’ve also been making cold-brewed coffee.
I’m not much of a coffee drinker so making an actual pot of coffee is way too much work for me, but I like iced coffee sometimes and also I like to mix a little bit of coffee in with a cup of hot chocolate. Sort of like a mocha latte but with much less coffee, I like just a hint.
My friend Cathy makes cold-brewed coffee concentrate that she keeps in the fridge and mixes with milk for iced coffee. She drinks a normal American amount of coffee, so she makes it using a pound of coffee at a time. We made it once when she was visiting and it was good but it was way too much for me. I froze it, but it was even too much for that. Then over the summer I found a link to a mini-version of the recipe — 1/3 cup of coffee grounds combined with 1-1/2 cups of water, to make two normal-person serving (or four or five my-size servings). And I brought some coffee home from my grandmother’s in September when we cleaned out her kitchen. So I was all set.
You combine the water and coffee grounds in jar and stir up and let sit overnight, then strain through a coffee filter to eliminate the grounds, and keep in the fridge.
Then I make a hot drink with about 4 or 5 ounces of milk (I use whole milk because I think skim milk looks and tastes like dirty dishwater, but you should use whatever kind of milk you like) plus one to two teaspoons of cocoa powder and two to three teaspoons of sugar (or more or less, depending on how much sweet you want) plus one to two ounces of coffee.
Okay, that’s it for now. I need to get to work. Stay tuned for the return of the How to Shop series. And maybe someday I’ll cook something that looks good and take a picture of it again.
Thursday, December 27, 2012
I’ve been thinking lately about a passage from How to Cook a Wolf (from the chapter “How to Keep Alive”).
The man I know who lived for two years on about seven cents a day [ed. note: 2011 equivalent = $1.14] (this was in the early thirties at the University of California) was and still is a bonny figure indeed, tall, lean, and wholesome….
His formula was simple, but as a I said before, he cheated now and then.
He would buy whole ground wheat at a feed-and-grain store, cook it slowly in a big kettle with a lot of water until it was tender, and eat it three times a day with a weekly gallon of milk that he got from a cut-rate dairy. Almost every day he stole a piece of fruit from a Chinese pushcart near his room. (After he graduated he sent the owner a ten dollar bill, and got four dollars back, with an agreeable note inviting him to a New Year’s party in Chinatown in San Francisco. He went.)
Every three weeks or so he had a job as a waiter at fraternity house banquets and other such college orgies. He always took a basket and a rope, and let down into the alley sometime during the evening a surprising collection of rolls, butter, olives, pie, and even chicken or meat. After one or two sad experiences with alley cats, who found his basket before he got to it, he knew how to close it firmly against any marauders but himself and would hurry back to his room with it as soon as the waiters were dismissed.
He confessed much later that the food never tasted good and that it was always a relief to get back to boiled wheat and milk again, but that for two years he wolfed down those frowsy stolen scraps as if they were his one link with la gourmandise.
Eating holiday food is fun, but I’ll be glad when it’s over.