Almost Back

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

  • hazelnuts
  • 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.

Winter bliss.

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.

12 Responses to “Almost Back”

  1. Liz Adams Says:

    Ah, an inspired and timely blogpost! frigid weather here, and that coffee/cocoa idea is great for future ref. I look forward to more words from you about shopping well and freezing well and all that.

    Me, I still have a freezer full of farm veggies from last year’s CSA, so I have to eat that down, with soups and stirfries and other such good things. meanwhile, it’s time to sign up for this year’s CSA, an incentive to eat down the freezer goods. CSA half share, at least at this local farm, where there are dozens of different crops going, is a great frugal way to go. Wonderful fresh nutrition and much cheaper than the same items in stores, because there’s no transportation costs involved.

  2. lessisenough Says:

    Yes, pretty frigid in NC today too, we’re all iced in for the moment — though it’s supposed to be 40 tomorrow so that should take care of things. But we had a litle bit of everything today, rain, sleet, snow, freezing rain. Maybe some hail thrown in for good measure.

    I haven’t looked in to doing a CSA in a while. The last time I looked, it didn’t seem like it would be cost-effective for me. I don’t think the one I was looking at (i.e., the one that had shares available at the time I was looking and had a drop-off point that wasn’t inconvenient) had half-shares and it seemed like I would get way more food than I needed, and I would spend more than I usually do also. Also I don’t do well with stuff that needs to be dealt with on its own schedule. Sometimes I just don’t feel like figuring out what to do with a bunch of produce that will go to waste if I don’t figure out what to do with it. If I could go in with someone I think that might work, though my general strategy has been to work out a deal with my gardening friends that if they give me extra produce, I will turn it into something and share that with them. So they will give me tomatoes and peppers and I will make gazpacho and give half to them and keep half for me. That’s been working out pretty well.

  3. SoCalmom Says:

    Hi, I pulled out a cookbook “the Carefree Cook” (I think it was) and looked for a soup recipe that would use some white Cannellini beans I had in the pantry. I found one that I only needed to get a few additional ingredients for -including celery (which has been getting expensive in CA, $1.79 a bunch at Trader Joes’), but it also called for fennel seeds, and when I did an inventory of my spices I realized that I didn’t have any. I had to go to two markets before I could find fennel seeds and ultimately spent $6.29 on a bottle of them! I only used a teaspoon of them in the recipe but I did enjoy the flavor then lent to the soup, which also used Escarole, a veggie that was a bit difficult to locate as well. The soup turned out great, but I think I defeated the purpose of stretching my budget when I splurged on the escarole and fennel seeds. However I did manage to use some 1/2 price chicken broth I’d bought from a bin, and that taught me that if I can consistently stock the pantry with staples like chicken broth and beans bought on sale (or with coupons) I’ll still be saving if I can pull a big pot of soup together and stretch it into 4-5 meals, including lunch at work. But now I feel compelled to look for recipes where I can use the fennel seeds again. Let me know if you have any any other tips/suggestions for searching for recipes using what you have already.


  4. Hello! I’m a relatively new fan, can’t remember how I first found your blog. I really appreciate your posts about eating cheaply… the Frugal Zealot would be proud. =)

  5. Lorrie Harder Says:

    Here’s a website that helps you find recipes for ingredients you have on hand: http://www.recipematcher.com/ There are others on the web. However, I believe that you don’t need to use every ingredient called for in recipes. Maybe the recipe would have been just as good without fennel. You could have added more of some other ingredient. Extra onion or garlic almost always helps the flavor of soup. You can also always substitute — another leafy green for escarole. I don’t tend to buy or keep exotic spices or ingredients in my pantry if I don’t use them frequently. If you want them and can afford them, great, but they are not necessary to creating tasty meals.

  6. lessisenough Says:

    Yes, learning how to read and “edit” recipes is an important skill. That is going to be the topic of one of the upcoming “how to shop” posts. I was talking about it with my friend Bryant and she said “Isn’t that common sense? Beans and rice are cheap.”

    I said well first of all, saving money by not throwing things way is common sense but I wrote a post about that anyway, I’ve decided to not let the fact that something is obvious stop me from writing about it.

    Second, some recipes that seem like they would be cheap aren’t. I remember my mom once making this leek and sausage pie that my dad saw the recipe for that he thought looked good. It sounded like peasant food but it turned out it was crazy expensive (though I don’t remember why) and it became one of those legendary things in our household, the leek and sausage pie. Expensive and not good. It was fail all the way around.

    It’s like my $40 burrito — which I think I managed to edit down to a reasonable amount, and which I need to make again so I can make sure I didn’t miss anything and then put up that post! You would not think that steak burritos would require a payday loan to make, but if you follow the recipe exactly, they do.

    You need to get to know what is expensive and what is cheap (on a slighly more nuanced level than beans=cheap and filet mignon=expensive — there’s definitely more to learn there) and you need to know what is essential to a recipe and what you can omit or substitute. And those are skills that can be developed over time, you get better and better at it the more you learn.

  7. lessisenough Says:

    @Rebekah Jaunty
    Thank you for this! It’s nice to think that FZ would like this. I’m not as thorough as she was (I love how she included the cost of electricity sometimes when comparing things), but I like to think that I’m in line with her intellectual underpinnings.

  8. SoCalmom Says:

    Dear less – I can’t wait to read your upcoming posts-yes “editing” the recipes, or learning to select recipes that can be made a variety of different ways, or even focusing on sorting recipes by the main ingredient (i.e.chicken) so that when you come across a great sale for chicken and you buy several pounds, you can look to several different inexpensive recipes that make the chicken taste altogether different–that is an art that would serve me and I’d bet, many women. You’ve said in some of your other posts that throwing out food (spoiled or leftovers not eaten) is the biggest waste of grocery budget, so tied to my commitment to stretch my budget and cook at home nearly 100% of the time is the realization that I’ll only save money if I’m also scaling the recipe to freeze the amount not eaten (for 2) versus expect to eat it again in the next few days when I’m trying to use up 4 lbs. of chicken thighs and legs that I’m already ending up eating several days in a row. But if I can minimize the cost to make chicken ala king, chicken with pasta, rice, etc. then I’ve really mastered the art of cooking on a shoestring. @Lorrie Harder – thanks for the recipes substitute link, I will definitely check that out. I realize that I probably should have left out the fennel, but I’d read the introduction to the Carefree Cook, where the author, who has written a dozen cookbooks, said that he has learned over the years that fresh spices can often be the difference in making an ordinary recipe taste extraordinary, and he finds that many of his dinner guests use spices that have lost their flavor or are too old. I’m counting on exploring to see what other things I can make with fennel as well as 3 of the chinese spices that I bought on a lark at Williams Sonoma a year ago!

  9. tommfranklin Says:

    Cold-brewed coffee is supposed to be very good for all-but eliminating the harsh acids that hot-brewing coffee produces. I tried it for my wife a few months before she gave up coffee this last time (it’s her heroin) and she said it was much easier on her stomach.

    Roughly one-third of all food gets wasted in the US. (http://www.wastedfood.com/2011/05/12/fao-report/) That’s just astounding.

    Now that we are car-less for a while we’re having to do much more intentional planning for meals. We live within walking distance to two grocery stores, but groceries get heavy quickly. I think better meal planning should decrease the amount of spoiled food in a ‘fridge.

  10. lessisenough Says:

    Here is the first — very, very important — thing you need to know when walking to the grocery store.

    Do NOT under ANY circumstances get a push cart. It is impossible to tell how heavy groceries are when you are pushing them around in a cart. (Trust me, I speak from experience on this one.) You will load up the cart with what looks like a small amount of groceries and the grocieries will get all bagged up at the checkout and you will walk out of the store and it will be so much heavier than you thought it would be.

    The last time I did that, which may have also been the first time (details are fuzzy, it was a long time ago), I was not able to make it home without strewing broken things behind me as I dropped groceries out of bags along the way. And I only needed to go two blocks (though I think that might have been what got me in trouble in the first place, I was like oh it’s just around the corner, this will be fine). It was a sad moment in my life. And I felt like an idiot. But it was a good lesson, I will definitely never make that mistake again.

    Get one of the carry baskets. When it gets heavy, stop shopping. You’re done.

    Next post will be on the Pantry Principle, which is the key to making small shopping trips work.

  11. SoCalmom Says:

    Thanks-looking forward to reading the Pantry Principle. I have a feeling that it may involve being organized about what’s in the pantry and knowledgeable about any “shelf life” or expiration dates. If so, I’d love you to include suggestions on whether you put a sticker or something on items that you are buying on sale or with coupons, but which would likely not be used up in the next 3-6 months. I’m usually buying the same generic brands of canned veggies, for example, and never know which can is the oldest. Or I buy canned peaches and barbeque sauces during 4th of July sales and forget I already have some in the pantry. Help with all this is appreciated!

  12. lessisenough Says:

    Oh no I’m not nearly that organized, and I don’t buy large quantities of anything. (I walk to the store, there’s only so much you can do with that.) You really only need one thing at a time that you can use, you don’t need everything all at once.

    So hopefully you won’t be too disappointed in my strategy.


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