Sunday, January 9, 2011
The Frugal Foodie
Something exciting is happening at the House of Hatfield, and I am going to make a New Year's resolution in order to help this change successfully take place. Caenaan and I are trying to change the House of Hatfield from "rented" to "owned." Yep, folks, we are trying to buy a house! In order to save as much money as possible over the next few months, we have to seriously cut back on our spending. We don't spend much money on "things" - clothes, movies, household items, etc. We spend almost all of our money on food. We love food. We love cooking, but even more, we love eating out. This will have to change A LOT both before we buy a house and after. So, my new years resolution is to make cheap meals at home. I am going to start by giving you some tips that help me save money on food.
1. Build a pantry
No, I don't mean get out your hammer and nails and build a closet to house your food. I mean stock up on non-perishable items that you can use to make cheap meals. Non-perishables tend to be very cheap and go a long way when it comes to cooking. And no, I also don't mean items like stove-top stuffing, macaroni and cheese, hamburger helper and ramen. I'm talking flour, sugar, spices, canned vegetables, rice, pasta and beans. While it may feel like you're dropping a big chunk of change to get a good pantry started, it will last you for SO long. I have powdered sugar and rice that is a couple of years old. (And still perfectly good!) Here are items that are almost always in my pantry:
Flour/Sugar/Baking Soda/Baking Powder/Corn Starch - Obvious choices. Just learn a few recipes like biscuits, cinnamon rolls, pancakes, waffles and bread and you can stop buying expensive boxed items. You can even make your own Bisquick mix for a fraction of the price! Cornstarch is great for thickening anything.
Corn Meal - Make your own cornbread. Make it with bacon grease. Love it. Also... Polenta? It's a fancy word for cornmeal mush, whose recipe is on the side of the bag, and includes: corn meal. water. salt. Add parmesan cheese and you can impress your friends with "polenta."
Kosher/Iodized Table Salt - Kosher is tasty for cooking and finishing dishes, and has less bite than iodized table salt. Use table salt for baking. Contrary to popular belief, both have the same amount of sodium by weight. However, because iodized salt grains are smaller, you get more per teaspoon, therefore more sodium. HA!
Pasta - Whenever the whole wheat stuff goes on sale, I buy it in bulk. Whole wheat = more fiber = more filling = you eat less. Most of the time, you can get it for very close to the price of the bleached enriched stuff.
Beans - Both canned and dry. Canned are convenient, but more expensive. If you have time, buy the dry stuff and cook them yourself. Be sure to DRAIN AND RINSE your beans, canned or dry. Non-rinsed beans = farts. No bueno. Rinse them in cold water until there are no more bubbles in the strainer.
Canned Vegetables - Most importantly, TOMATOES! Living in Montana, the growing season is very short and honestly, most tomatoes that end up in our grocery stores are gross. Mealy and not ripe and expensive (if you can afford $4.50 a pound for those gorgeous heirloom tomatoes at the Good Food Store, well... screw you.) Canned tomatoes are great. While they do have a slight metal taste from the can, they are great when cooked. Throw them in soups, pasta, casseroles. Use diced, whole, stewed, paste, sauce... Learn to love ROTEL (Diced tomatoes with green chiles). You can pretty much throw it in anything to add some Mexican flair - scrambled eggs, cheese, rice and beans, chicken soup. Good stuff. Other canned vegetables I love are green beans, corn, pumpkin and squash.
Rice - If there is one "uni-tasker" in the kitchen that I approve of, it's my rice cooker. Almost all rice cooks at a ratio of 2-1, water to rice. You don't even have to use a real measuring cup. Throw it in your rice cooker, push the button and it stops cooking when it's done. CRAZY! The only thing I would suggest is to get a large rice cooker. I have a 4-cup cooker, and it is way too small. One of my favorite treats is hot rice with honey. Rice is CHEAP.
Spices - I have WAY more spices than necessary... I have a spice rack in addition to an entire shelf that is consumed with spices. I have my typical Simon & Garfunkel spices like parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme... but I also have cumin, poultry seasoning, lemon pepper, dill, cloves, nutmeg, bay leaf, oregano, chili flakes, curry powder, cinnamon, dehydrated onions, ginger. The list goes on. And on. And on. I buy little baggies of spices at the Good Food Store for about 85 cents a piece and can transform boring rice and beans into Lemon Curry or beef and vegetables into Hungarian Smoked Paprika stew. One of my personal favorites is from my mom. Add onion flakes, dill and pepper to your canned tomato soup. I made this for myself the other day, and after Caenaan tried some, he asked for it the next time I made grilled cheese. Thanks mom! Buy your spices from a place that sells them in bulk. It's SO CHEAP. Oh, and I know that they say that spices have a shelf life of a year, but I keep mine forever. Sometimes you have to add extra to get a stronger flavor, but big deal.
Canned Fish - TUNA! Tuna sandwiches are SO cheap, and you can add onions and celery to your mix and get at least three sandwiches out of one can of tuna! I'm going to start "Tuna Tuesdays" where I find interesting ways to use this cheap pantry product. I'm thinking fried tuna cakes with remoulade... tuna casserole.... tuna burgers. MMM... sometimes you can get cheap salmon in a can too. My mom's salmon cake recipe will soon be on here.
Crisco - Yeah, yeah yeah.... it's partially hydrogenated and bad-for-you. But it's really cheap and (in my opinion) the ONLY way to make good biscuits and pie crust. And I don't know about you, but I would eat almost ANYTHING in a pie crust.
Perishable Must-Haves - Onions, Garlic, Potatoes, Celery, Carrots, Lettuce, Bananas, Apples, Oranges, Eggs, Butter. Stick to produce you can get for less than $1 a pound and you'll be good to go. Try to shop seasonally and you can slash your grocery bills.
Okay, this has turned into a REALLY long post, so I'm just going to quickly name some other tips.
2. Your freezer is your friend - freeze almost ANYTHING. Milk, bread, meat, cheese. Learn how to properly package these things to avoid freezer burn. Also, rotate your stock, so oldest stuff is at the front/top of the freezer.
3. Only grocery shop with a list - AND eat a snack before you shop. That way you're not tempted to get crackers, chips, frozen meals, etc. so you can eat them immediately when you get home. Stick to what you absolutely need.
4. Use coupons - I'm actually going to adopt this tip MUCH more than I used to. I watched a show called "Extreme Couponing" on TLC that was absolutely amazing. If you are smart, you can pay next to nothing for groceries. One woman paid $2.50 for $600 worth of groceries. I also use club cards... I save the most money at Albertsons. On a typical grocery trip I can save over $20 when I pay attention to sales.
5. Make extra when you cook - This is what gets Caenaan and me into trouble. We are hungry, but don't have anything readily available in the fridge. So we go out, or grab a sandwich or other fast food on our way home from work to avoid having to make something. I'm going to be better about making extra and forcing Caenaan to eat leftovers.
6. Make coffee at home - Even if you drink the cheap stuff from the convenience store or coffee shop, you're still spending at least $1 on a cup of coffee. Coffee was $7.50 a pound at Safeway yesterday. I would guess that a pound of coffee would make me AT LEAST 10 pots of coffee in my 10-cup coffee maker. That's 100 cups of coffee. For $7.50. That's 8 cents a cup. Even if you have to go buy a $20 coffee maker, you will pay for it in about 20 cups of coffee. That's TWO pots of coffee. Go. Do it now.
Hope that was enlightening! Up next: some recipes that use your cheap pantry ingredients!