Frugal Food Fixes Tuesday, Jul 1 2008 

When I was younger my mother used to make an excellent (and cheap!) meal: Cabbage and Noodles. That’s it. It was an easy meal that featured simple ingredients and looking back I now know she made it, not for it’s inexpensive attributes, but rather because she has always hated cooking and this recipe is super easy. Sauté onion in a pan of butter, add cabbage. Boil egg noodles al dente, add to mixture, salt and pepper to taste. Add boiled kielbasa sausage and in 15 minutes you have a meal that kids love (me and my sister did). My father hated this meal, however, because he said it reminded him of the Depression and it’s simplicity left much to be desired (can you tell, he’s the cook in the family).

Though the economic outlook was much more optimistic during this time (it was the early 90s, after all), I feel that cheap eats is more a priority now than ever before. Not only has gas reached record proportions but food has as well. According to MSNBC According to MSNBC, food inflation is the highest it’s been in 17 years and

“Eggs cost 25% more in February than they did a year ago, according to the
USDA. Milk and other dairy products jumped 13%, chicken and other poultry nearly
7%.”

The cost of wheat has particularly caught my eye, because this effects everything from ceral to bread to crackers. According to ABC correspondent, Sharon Alfonsi on World News with Charles Gibson:

“U.S. wheat stock piles have hit a 60-year low and wheat prices have never been
higher. That means the cost of pasta has doubled and that loaf of bread – it’ll
cost you an extra 20 cents. Economists say it is the fastest-rising rate of food
inflation in nearly 15 years.”

So it all got me thinking….I have recently realized that food is an easy way for me to save money. I refuse to sacrifice quality of cosmetics, hair product and skin care, however, food is something I can easily scrimp on. Not only can I save by employing my shopping savvy skills (coupons, lists etc), I can also choose recipes that feature inexpensive ingredient. Genius! (….or common sense for the innately frugal folks). Though something like rice and beans is an easy and cheap recipe, I wanted to feature some recipes that didn’t scream “RECESSION!” So for your palate pleasure here are my choices of cheap recipes.

I came across a blog called Cheap Eats where $3 recipes are featured. The following is his recipe for Penne Pasta Casserole (I sometimes eliminate the meat which further lowers the cost). Another tweak I would do is substitute mozzarella cheese for cheddar, I don’t believe it would raise the cost of the recipe too dramatically. Besides, I’m far too Italian to make this dish without a proper nod to my people.

Penne Pasta Casserole
1 26oz can spaghetti sauce (Hunt’s, etc.)

1/2 med. yellow onion

1 tbsp e.v. olive oil 2-3 cloves minced garlic

1/2 box dry penne or other pasta

1/2 cup basil leaves, chopped

1 cup grated cheddar

1/3 lb ground beef or italian sausage

salt, pepper, sugar to taste
Brint a pot of water to a boil, preseason with salt and olive oil. Over low heat in a large skillet, add some olive oil, onion, garlic and a pinch of salt; sauté until translucent (you can keep adding some water to prevent it from drying out). Remove to a plate. Add the ground beef and/or italian sausage (casing removed) and brown that. Drain it, return to pan with onion mixture. Add spaghetti sauce, and cook on low stirring occasionally for about 10-15 min. Add chopped basil (and any other herbs or veggies at this point). You may want to alter the flavor with salt, pepper and sugar depending on your spaghetti sauce.
When water boils, add the penne and UNDERCOOK it. How much depends on you and your oven. I just know you don’t need to cook it all the way because it’s going in the oven. When done to your liking, drain pasta and rinse it in cold water, if you like. I know they say not to rinse it, but because it’s a casserole I feel the noodles benefit a bit from a dunk.
Combine spaghetti sauce mixture and noodles together in the pot. In a shallow baking dish (flatter, shallower allows for more cheese browning area – if you like that.) Top with cheese, bake at 350F for about 30-45 minutes. You might want to cover lightly with aluminum foil until the last 10 minutes. You can also blast it in the broiler if you like the top extra crunchy.

I love the combination of Turkey and Cranberry. Here is an easy recipe for those of you who share my sentiment. Additionally, if fresh cranberries can not be found, I’d substitute dried ones.

Cran-Apple Turkey Medallions
2 pounds turkey tenderloin, cut into 3/4 inch medallions

salt and pepper

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon oil

2 minced garlic cloves

4 diced shallots

1 cup peeled and diced cooking apples

1/2 cup coarsely chopped cranberries

1/2 cup orange juice

Salt and pepper the turkey medallions. Melt the butter and oil in a large skillet. Brown the turkey medallions quickly on each side. Reduce the heat and add the garlic and shallots. Cook until the turkey is thoroughly cooked and no longer pink in the center. Place the medallions on a warm serving plate. Add the rest of the ingredients to the skillet and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the apples are soft. Pour the sauce over the medallions and serve.

I found this recipe on Frugal Cooking and though not fast, makes a great snack. Perfect for freezing and having anytime, it take’s a little elbow grease, but once made would be a great convenience.

Soft Pretzels
*If you plan to freeze these do not put salt on them until after you pull them from the freezer
4 to 4 ½ cups flour

2 ¼ teaspoons yeast

1 ½ cups milk

¼ cups sugar

2 tablespoons cooking oil

1 ½ teaspoons salt

3 tablespoons salt

2 quarts boiling water

1 slightly beaten egg white

Sesame seed or coarse salt

In mixer bowl combine 2 cups of the flour and the yeast in saucepan heat milk, sugar, oil and 1 ½ teaspoons salt just till warm (115 –120) stir constantly.
Add to flour mixture. Beat at low speed of electric mixer for ½ minute,scraping bowl. Beat 3 minutes at high speed.

Stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can mix in with a spoon.
Turn out onto lightly floured surface. Knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately stiff dough that is smooth and elastic(6-8 minutes) Shape into a ball.Place in lightly greased bowl; turn once to grease surface.

Cover; let rise in warm place till double( about 1 1/2 hours)Punch down; turn out onto lightly floured surface,cover let rest 10 minutes. Roll into a 12×8 inch retangle. Cut into 16 strips, each 12 inches long and ½ inch wide. Roll each into a rope 16 inches long.Shape into pretzels.

Let rise, uncovered, 20 minutes.

Dissolve 3 tablespoons salt in the boiling water. Lower 3 or 4 pretzels at a time into boiling water; boil for 2 minutes, turning once. Remove with slotted spoon to paper toweling; let stand a few seconds then place ½ inch apart on well greased baking sheet.

Brush with mixture of egg white and 2 tablespoons water. Sprinkle lightly with sesame seed or coarse salt. Bake in 350 oven 25 to 30 minutes or till golden brown.

Wanna figure out the cost per serving of some of your favorite recipes? Check out this awesome Cost Per Serving calculator

Scoring in the Grocery Games Tuesday, Jul 1 2008 

I’m not going to delude you into thinking that I am one of those coupon ninjas, swooping into the grocery store matching coupons with sale items with thrift-like precision and buying $200 for $3.39. But I will tell you that there are a few things out there I picked up on that do save me money. Let’s face it: five dollars saved? Well then that’s five more dollars I get to keep.

Keeping a Price Book

The Tightwad GazetteThis is a strategy I picked up from Amy Dacyczyn’s The Complete Tightwad Gazette, and it’s a relatively cheap and easy thing to do. All you need is a spiral notebook (or binder) and the weekly ads from your local grocers….oh yeah and maybe an hour or so of time. Each page in my notebook is labeled by item and then alphabetized (this is where a loose leaf binder may be more user-friendly). It is on these pages that i keep track of individual grocery stores sales. If you often shop at more than one store you can also record everyday prices here too which will track pricing trends (and inevitably save you more). Since I am all about convenience (along with frugal methods) I tend to only focus on sale items, keeping track of the normal prices at the one grocery store I frequent and comparing the sale items to other stores. I’ve found that for the most part, my grocery store tends to be cheaper with better sales with the odd exceptions here and there. You can print a free price log here: Grocery Price Log

Coupon Clipping
Let me tell you, this is probably the most fun but for me. I only clip the coupons for items that I actually buy. I use the following sites in addition to the weekly inserts in my Sunday paper:

I recently read about a coupon strategy that is setting the frugal world afire. It’s called the One Month Coupon Strategy and I read about it on The Simple Dollar. Rumor has it that if you save the coupons you have clipped for roughly 30 days, the items that were featured as coupons have now gone on sale. The Simple Dollar explains why this is,

Why does this work?
Coupons in the newspaper are usually the first wave of a product push from large companies. They’ll put out coupons to start bumping up the sales, then they’ll move onto sale prices later on in the promotion. The reason for doing these in waves is so that the overall product sales trend looks solidly positive and not just a big spike with a fall-off. Plus, coupon users who use the product, like it, return to the store, and notice the item on sale are often willing to buy the item again. I’ll admit to noticing this working for me in the past with products like V-8 Fusion.

List, List, List
OK, look I know this one is pretty basic but hear me out. Have you ever stopped by the grocery store when you were hungry for just a few quick items? Next thing you know you’re walking out with 4 boxes of Eggo Waffles, frozen pizzas and those really delightful fruit snacks with juice in the middle. Believe me, I’ve done this so many times that now I ensure I am satisfied before shopping, even if it mean having to go home from work to eat before setting out on my journey.

Well keeping a list is a lot like that. Sit down and make of list of the items you need or will need and have coupons for. It’s easy to sit down after clipping your coupons and compiling a list of items you need based upon weekly sales, coupons and legitimate needs (if you’re low on toilet paper, chances are you aren’t going to be waiting around for a sale or a coupon to save that extra $.55). When you go to the store, stick with this list! I don’t care if kumquats are on special $2 for 10lbs. If it isn’t on your list, don’t get it. This minimizes the affects of GADD (Grocery Attention Deficit Disorder) and your chances of walking out with unnecessary items that cost you money.

I know my tips hear aren’t Earth shattering, nor will they probably save you thousands of dollars (if they do, by all means you can send some my way), however, hopefully you’ve picked up some interesting strategies to try out. Make sure to keep me posted on your savings!

We Got a Single Over Here! Tuesday, Jul 1 2008 

Remember when you’d be standing in line at Disneyland and the ride escorts (what is the formal name for those guys?) would shout that phrase for all the park to hear about the single spot they had open next to a kid? And that kid, oh that poor, poor kid would be trying his hardest to shrink in his seat so as to appear as innocuous as possible. Cooking for one can often be like that.

Sure making your money stretch when feeding a family of four can be daunting, but you’re also wasting little in ways of food. Cooking for one? Well I did manage to make a box of Macaroni and Cheese last for approximately 5 days but it is now a very rare occasion where you will find me eating it at all. So it begs the question: how does one save money on cooking (while keeping a healthy amount of variety in the meals) when the amount of cooking they need to do is for 1-2 people?

Prepare Meals a Week Out
Sounds easy enough right? Compile a select few recipes and build your week’s meal around these (Bonus Point: Choose recipes that feature ingredients coinciding with that week’s grocery sales). This ensures that you will only be making one shopping trip (possibly two to capitalize on any deals your local grocers have going) which saves on gas and time.

Cook Once, Eat Twice
I hate leftovers, no wait I despise them. However, if I make something one night, and realize it can be turned around for a whole new meal the next, well then you’ve got yourself a deal. The most versatile ingredient to do this with is chicken. Now although I, myself, am a vegetarian I’m sure many of you out there are not. So here is an example of two recipes using the same ingredient.

Chicken Risotto
INGREDIENTS:
4
boneless, chicken breasts
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups uncooked regular long grain rice
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp. butter

PREPARATION:
Cut chicken breasts into 1-1/2″ pieces and sprinkle with salt and pepper. In heavy saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, and cook for 5 minutes until tender. Add chicken pieces, and cook and stir until chicken begins to brown, about 3 minutes.
Cook until liquid is reduced, stirring frequently. Continue to add chicken broth to keep rice covered, stirring frequently. Cook about 25 minutes until rice is tender. Add cheese and butter just before serving and stir to melt. 6-8 servings

Risotto Cakes with Tomato Sauce
INGREDIENTS:
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
14 oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1 Tbsp. fresh chopped parsley
1 tsp. sugar
salt and pepper to taste
1 egg white
2 cups leftover Risotto
3/4 cup dry purchased bread crumbs
1/4 tsp. dried thyme leaves
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil
PREPARATION:
In large saucepan, saute onion in 1 Tbsp. olive oil until tender. Add tomatoes with their liquid, 1/2 tsp. thyme, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer over low heat while preparing risotto cakes. (You could also just warm up 2 cups of your favorite pasta sauce.)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In large bowl, combine egg white and leftover risotto and blend until combined. In shallow pan, combine bread crumbs and 1/4 tsp. thyme leaves. Form 1/4 cup portions of the risotto mixture into 8 cakes and roll in bread crumb mixture to coat.
Heat butter and 2 Tbsp. olive oil in nonstick skillet. Fry risotto patties 2-3 minutes on each side, turning once, until golden brown. Place on cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees 5-10 minutes until heated through. Serve with tomato sauce. 4 servings


Easy Freeze
Incorporate meals that are easy to make, portion out and then freeze. One of my favorites?

Vegetarian Chili
INGREDIENTS
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon salt
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 green bell peppers, chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 (4 ounce) cans chopped green chile peppers, drained
2 (12 ounce) packages vegetarian burger crumbles
3 (28 ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes, crushed
1/4 cup chili powder
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans, drained
1 (15 ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained
1 (15 ounce) can black beans
1 (15 ounce) can whole kernel corn
DIRECTIONS
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Stir in the onion, and season with bay leaves, cumin, oregano, and salt. Cook and stir until onion is tender, then mix in the celery, green bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, garlic, and green chile peppers. When vegetables are heated through, mix in the vegetarian burger crumbles. Reduce heat to low, cover pot, and simmer 5 minutes.

Mix the tomatoes into the pot. Season chili with chili powder and pepper. Stir in the kidney beans, garbanzo beans, and black beans. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer 45 minutes. Stir in the corn, and continue cooking 5 minutes before serving.

One of the best websites I came across is All Recipes since it allows you to adjust your serving size, which in turn automatically adjusts the ingredients (goodbye dividing fractions, I never did like you much). Additionally, you can select recipes that catch your fancy and add them to a shopping list function thus make shopping even more convenient!

Have any yummy, frugal recipes? Do share.