Friday, January 30, 2009

Deepening the pantry - frugal cooking

I enjoyed reading the post at The Common Room about cheap cooking. A follow up to this on the Fine Old Family blog continues the conversation. Do check both of them out... after you finish reading here, of course. :)

Perhaps the biggest challenge I had was learning to cook and shop for food differently. I never used a lot of processed foods because of my husband's health challenges. However, there is a huge difference between shopping on a budget and when one has very little to spend at all.

Here is an example of a celebration meal we had last night. Both of my guys love steak (okay, so do I) but we cannot afford it. We used to go to a steak house for celebrations. Then I came to a point where I bought one steak for each of us and cooked at home. Can't do that, anymore...

So, when the grocery store had sirloin steaks at a greatly reduced price during the Holidays, I bought three packages... one large steak to divide between us for a New Year's Day celebration and two smaller steaks for another time. I placed the two packages in a gallon size Zip Lock bag and put in the deep freeze.

Last night for dinner, I cut one of the sirloin steaks into strips with my kitchen scissors. I sliced four baked potatoes and started them browning in a large skillet at medium heat.

I usually have pre-baked potatoes in the frig because I hate to put only one item in the oven at a time, unless it is a pan of cookies or a cake. So, I pop in enough potatoes to have one each at that dinner and more to use during the week... leaving the skins on them for better nutrition.

In the Winter, I purchase bags of frozen onions and peppers at Kroger when they are on their 10 for $10.00 special. One half bag is all I need for most recipes, the other half gets carefully rolled up and placed in a Zip Lock bag for later use. (I reuse the one gallon and two gallon size Zip Lock bags over and over, stored in the freezer.) During seasons when peppers are inexpensive, I purchase them at the farmer's market, slice them, and freeze them myself. This year I wasn't able to do that so the Kroger's are much less expensive than buying them fresh.

I stir fry the frozen peppers and onions, then add the thin slices of sirloin steak until the meat is cooked to "medium", which is just a few minutes. The steak could be stir fried alone but the peppers and onion give it a very "steak house" taste as well as adding good nutrition for fifty cents. If mushrooms are on sale... fresh or in a can... they can be used instead for a different taste.

For the price of one steak on sale and four potatoes, I have enough food for each of us to have plenty for dinner and leftovers for my husband's lunch today. I happened to have broccoli with this last night but often we have canned green beans, mainly because that is what we can afford.

Now, we do not have meat for dinner every night and steak is very, very rare. I only used it last night because it was a small celebration for my husband completing three weeks of work... often opening to closing. In cold weather (and is it ever cold), I prefer to make soups and stews to stretch meat.

I'll continue writing more about how I cook for less. I also want to begin recommending great books that would be of help to everyone wanting to cut grocery expenses.

In my humble opinion, the very best book to begin learning about cooking for less is the book called... More-with-Less by the late Doris Janzen Longacre. Just reading the first few chapters will help you save money, as well as gain an understanding why it is important for us in richer countries to eat a simpler diet, regardless of income. I placed it on my Amazon widget to make it easy for you to view. It is one that allows you to "look inside".

There is a reason this book continues to sell well, almost forty years after the original publication. The recipes are tried and true, coming from Mennonites all over the world and they are good. It's not expensive so one can purchase it and use it over and over. There is also a book called Living More With Less which offers recommendations from all over the world about living for much less. My library has both on their shelves.

steak purchased at great discount - freezer
green peppers, red peppers, and onion mix -freezer - purchased on sale
broccoli - freezer - purchased on sale
Russet potatoes
Vegetable oil

Total cost of celebration meal for three people (and leftovers): approx. $6.50


Anonymous said...

I, also, enjoy the More With Less cookbook. One of my favorites is Kusherie, which is soooo tasty and healthy. Thanks for your good information. We're all in this together and it's fun to learn from and encourage one another.

Mrs. L.

scrappy quilter said...

Great way to do steak. I do the exact same thing with deer meat. We seldom eat beef or pork because we too live on a fixed income. Hubby cuts up all the deer meat we get and although he does most in stew meat (which I grind later for burger), he does cut some steaks. We all love our meal done this way. The meat stretches further.

When I do this, I don't have potatoes. I bake my own bread, so I'll toast each person a couple slices of bread and serve it that way.

I'm going to so enjoy these posts Brenda.

Kim Stewart said...

Great post! The More With Less Cookbook was the first cookbook I ever purchased (in my college bookstore over 30 years ago ;-o) and it is still my favorite! I attended Messiah College, in Pennsylvania, which is a Brethren in Christ(BIC) school. Brethren in Christ, Mennonite and Amish are all Annabaptists faiths and so have the same basic beliefs but are "in the world" in different degrees. Being raised Catholic outside of PA, this cookbook helped shape my current world view of food and stewardship. It is a great resource for frugal good cooking!

Nancy said...

That is a good price for a celebration meal, but it is quite a bit more than I spend on an everyday meal for three adults.
I'd love to see a cost breakdown on everyday meals.
Most of us need to start paying more attention to where our food dollars are going.
Thanks for your informative posts.

~~Deby said...

I have had my More With Less cookbook for sure is a keeper...
What a tasty sounding meal Brenda..I am sure it warmed you all up and was a blessing to your guys..

Heather L. said...

I grew up with More-With-Less and it was the one cookbook I knew I wanted when I got married. It's always there when I need it.

Anonymous said...

Dee from Tennessee

Sounds great...and I'm glad that you could prepare this "congrat" meal for your hubby. Those are long and tiring days. Good post.

Anonymous said...

I love this recipe. So simple, inexpensive and sounds absolutely delicious!! I plan on trying it sometime.

Vee said...

Thank you for suggesting the cookbook. I will check into it and also will follow your links. I have a friend who raised four children very frugally by following strict portion control. Everyone was served from the heaping bowls upon the table. I used to think it was strange, now I think she was one smart cookie.

Mrs. T said...

Thanks for the kind mention, Brenda! I'll have to check out the More-For-Less cookbook.

Vintage Girl said...

I love my More with Less Cookbook,so practical and useful. Your recipe sounds so good, glad you could celebrate with steak! I am enjoying your blog so very much. Blessings, Heather

Amanda said...

I've actually never heard of that cookbook, will be checking the library though!

i've started a new blog event called Thrifty Thursdays if you are interested in blogging along! :)