Saturday, June 30, 2012

Saturday Pantry Suggestions

My kitchen during the pre-wedding baking spree!

I've been getting all the outside work (like watering the garden) done as early as possible each day, since the heat wave arrived.  It has been brutal outside.

To save money, I've been lowering the air conditioning first thing when I wake up and getting necessary housework done, then raising it up three degrees (our furnace repair guy said thermostats should only be raised three or less degrees up or down on a regular basis).

Along with shutting all window blinds and even turning off the overhead lights in the kitchen, this seems to help keep the house somewhat cool.

The humid afternoons have been spent looking through websites, cookbooks, and files... searching for recipes that look tasty, healthy, and cheap.  I love finding ways to put good food on the table and how to stock up frugally.

Some of you have written me, asking how I am able to deepen the pantry when we live on a limited income (for those new to my blog, we lost all of our savings and the equity in our former home due to my husband's illness and prolonged unemployment).  Our Social Security check leaves about a hundred a month for gas and groceries.

Well, my pantry is not very deep these past couple of years but I do try to keep extras of all the basics... those things I can throw together to make a healthy meal... like canned tomatoes, pasta, canned salmon (for making high protein-calcium rich salmon patties), a few "cream of" soups, various beans, brown rice, flour, sugar, honey, etc.

So... once again off the top of my head... here are some pantry ponderings:

Make it yourself, grow it yourself
Okay, I've already covered this a lot but it is worth saying again... almost everything is cheaper when made at home!  I still cringe when I see deviled eggs for nearly $20.00 and simple cakes for slightly less.

If you don't know how to cook or bake, ask the best cook you know if they will teach you.  Go to the library and find a good beginner cookbook or DVD.  Not to mention a plethora of cooking shows on TV.

Perhaps most obvious... if you are reading this then you have access to a computer and there are more websites and blogs talking about cooking then you have time to read.  I'll post some of my favorites in a future Saturday Pantry post a good place to begin for frugal recipes is on Laine's Letters site... here and click on the recipe box.

Another great place for a beginning cook (not to mention one who has been cooking most of her life!) is The Pioneer Woman's cooking site... here.  She has recipes for all levels of cooking skills and budgets.

If I have simple ingredients in the pantry like various flours, sugars, vanilla, butter in the freezer, perhaps a few cake mixes and fruit pie fillings for special recipes, and some good recipes... I can whip up items found in the most expensive of bakeries.

I love being able to take inexpensive meat, root veggies, and canned tomatoes from the pantry and freezer... and turning them into a delicious and cheap soup!

Along with basic cooking-baking knowledge, it's also fun to learn about substitutions for those times you can't go to the grocery store.  For instance, I wanted to make a Chocolate Cherry Cake to share with the newlyweds but I only had a can of peach pie filling (which had been given to me).  So... I used it instead of cherry pie filling and it was delicious!

As for the grow it yourself... I can't afford the Farmer's Market right now but I can grow a few favorite veggies.  :)

Simplify meals
You would think this is obvious but when you have been used to cooking one way, change does not always come easily.  I love to cook nice meals and a lot of my old recipes used somewhat expensive ingredients.

I began to notice some of my recipe cards that used to be pulled a lot were now in the back of their section of the card file, not used in months (and now years).  As I looked through them one day, I realized it wasn't because we no longer cared for the recipes... they either used a lot of ingredients and/or expensive ingredients.

Over the past few years, I've had to learn to keep my food budget really, really cheap.  Meals have become simpler as well as cheaper.

Stretch meals with less expensive ingredients
There was a time I wondered why some recipes had "extra" ingredients that didn't make sense.  For instance, a lot of older recipes for mac and cheese also call for a layer of bread crumbs on top.

It came to me as I was trying to stretch meals that making crumbs of stale bread and sprinkling them over a casserole was an excellent way of filling hungry tummies and stretching more expensive ingredients (like cheese).

My son-in-law loves to tease us about the Midwestern way of serving chicken and noodles (or beef and noodles) over mashed potatoes.  He calls it "carb" on "carb".  I didn't know it wasn't served that way all over the country.

But I'm sure it started with farm wives stretching meat with noodles and then making them even more filling by serving over inexpensive mashed potatoes (not to mention it is delicious... if fattening).  ;)

We all do that to a certain extent, most meatloaf recipes call for adding bread or oats.  But now I've learned to go through old cookbooks and take note of how they stretched their meals... and learning from it.

Also, have you noticed how so many ethnic dishes use simple, inexpensive ingredients?  Right now I'm perusing Laine's "Letter" where she wrote out all of her mother-in-law's genuine Mexican recipes... lots of inexpensive ideas!

So... I like to stock up on good quality pasta, noodles, brown rice, etc.  They all go a long way to stretch a meal.  (Carbs from cheap pasta and white rice hit the body like sugar, Al dente prepared high quality pasta and brown rice do not.)

Learn to use leftovers!
I've always done this to a certain extent, it is one of the things my mother taught me.  Even when I worked full time, I enjoyed having planned leftovers to heat up or incorporate into a new dish... I still like planned leftovers.

However, I've become even more frugal and creative with "leftovers" since living on Social Security.

For instance, last night's dinner was baked chicken breast, rice, and peas (purchased at Kroger on one of their 10 for $10 frozen veggie sales).  The chicken breast was originally part of a whole chicken that I simmered for making soup.  But first I removed the breast of the chicken (bone and all) for a separate meal.

For extra flavor while baking, I poured garlic butter over it (yum)... one of three little containers of garlic butter leftover from boxes of bread sticks and pizza Christopher had purchased while still living here.  They weren't used so they went into the frig!

I have been using up leftovers from the wedding, too.  For instance,  Stephanie gave me a ZipLock bag half full of leftover pecan pie filling she made for the pecan pie cookies.  Even when she gave it to me, I told her I'd put it in the freezer for making her dad's favorite pecan rolls at a later time.

One morning I assembled the bread dough recipe in the bread machine and set it to the dough cycle.  When done, I rolled out the dough and made cinnamon rolls.  I had already put the Zip Lock bag in the frig to defrost overnight so I just had to pour the pecan pie filling into a well buttered baking pan, lay the cinnamon rolls on top... and bake.  Yum... and they cost very little to make.

We never throw away unused Splenda packets, creamers, condiments, etc. from those rare times we go through a drive-thru.  We have always asked for "doggy bags" at restaurants (when the kids were younger and we had "lunch out", we called them "daddy bags" for obvious reasons, hehehe).

Hubby teases me but I even keep the cups and lids our McDonald's senior coffee comes in.  I just rinse them well and let them dry in the dish drainer.  They always came in handy when Christopher was home and wanted to take his coffee with him in the morning.

It becomes a way of life and we're very modern, ya' know... we are all encouraged to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.  ;)

I should say at this point in my ponderings that one can begin to go all OCD about doing this.  Hubby and I both had parents who went through the Great Depression and all of them had their own version of hoarding!  Although having experienced our own personal Great Depression, I have new sympathy for them.

Use gifts for the pantry
I've often used birthday and Christmas money (or gift cards) to stock special items for the pantry... like ingredients for favorite baked goods that are usually too expensive (butter in the freezer, pecans, real chocolate chips, sweetened cranberries and/or cherries, raw honey, etc.).

Sometimes I've used gift money to shop for reduced price meat (reduced only because it is at or near the "sale by" date) or meat that has been advertised as a loss leader.  It is like money in the bank having extra meat in the freezer. 

Know the best places to shop
Believe it or not, Wal Mart can have the highest prices on some items as well as the expected cheapest price on others.  I've learned each store in our area has individual "best prices" one may not expect.  For instance, a favorite grocery store in my former neighborhood, which is also the most expensive in the area, has the best sales on meat.

Kroger has the best 10 for $10 sales and Target is where I can often get upscale or organic items for less (like really good jam, olive oil, and pastas).  Aldi's sells my favorite chocolate for 99 cents, my favorite garbage bags, and it is usually the best place to go for milk and produce.

The farmer's market is not always the cheapest but if you can afford it, you can usually get the best items there and support local farmers.  Sometimes you can get great prices on "seconds".  I always get my local honey from one of the farmer's market vendors for far better prices than the health food store.

I always feel like the Proverbs 31 woman when I take my market basket out to the farmer's market on Saturday morning.  :)

Of course, I've written a lot about shopping Goodwill, thrift stores, and garage sales for excellent quality cooking and pantry equipment.  Just recently I was at Goodwill and found a large, expensive Colonial Candle (unscented) for $1.99 which will be perfect for the next power outage.

While there, I saw beautiful copper cookware someone had donated.  I only had a few dollars and I don't need cookware so I left it for someone else to get all excited about finding.  :)

Shop after the Holiday
I believe part of the Pantry Lifestyle is being prepared for celebrations, as well as essentials.  Believe me, I have been there... if you already have the ingredients for a birthday cake and party when you have no income... you will be a rock star!

That's one of the reasons I have shopped the day after a Holiday for items like decorative paper plates, cups, napkins, centerpieces, sparkly things, shimmery things, etc. at a fraction of the price.

I especially like to shop after Christmas and the Patriotic Holidays when one can find lots of red items... which are great for multiple holidays.

Of course, there is always half-priced candy but I can't keep it here.  I love chocolate too much.

I was watching the morning news recently when a guest was telling people how to save money.  She said the best time to buy paper products is after a Holiday but... "who thinks to do that!".  Ummm... me?  ;)

Know the safety nets out there
By "safety nets", I mean places like food pantries, special offers for mothers with young children, offers for seniors, etc.

We hadn't even thought of going to food pantries until a nursing student who had been working with me (I was her senior project) suggested them.  We went through the Salvation Army to be recommended for those pantries requiring one and also found through them a few "open" pantries.

Now, not everything there are items we can used due to our diets but what we can't use, we give to our church pantry so nothing goes to waste.  Some items tend to be seasonal, for instance there was one month pantries were giving away a case of canned corn to each person!  We accepted the case gladly and had plenty of corn in the pantry for veggie beef soup.

If necessary, do seek out help and then when your crisis has passed... you will know what it is like and you will always give to your church (or other) pantry.  ;)

Even if you don't need to live on less...
Most of you probably won't end up in our financial condition but then again... we never planned on it happening!

But knowing how to life simply, spend less, bake, cook, have a tea party, invite people to dinner, garden, etc. (all on a budget) is not a bad way to live even if you are rich!

Not to mention, if you deepen your pantry with food, nonfood items, and other supplies and there is any emergency... it may be better than gold!


Jane said...

Such good advice! Grew up in a frugal family, but while working it was all too easy to spend more, justified in my mind by lack of time. Now. in retirement, cutting way back and working on simplification & downsizing. I applaud you for sharing your story and the many helpful tips and suggestions.

Angela said...

A great, helpful post! I have made some of Laine's recipes and they are delicious. Eating up the leftovers is helpful for us. Lots of times I disguise them into a different meal. We had brown rice left over last night, so tonight I will fix some kind of stir fry.

Vee said...

You're always providing timely advice and just when I think that I know all these things, I realize that I could learn more. Specifically? I am notorious for chucking the little packets picked up here and there. I probably will change that now. If I run out of Splenda, as I have, just one of those packets will do the trick until I am able to replace the Splenda.

The carb on carb story was so funny!

Anonymous said...

That's one of the best articles on saving money I've ever read. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

This post was so full of good advice! :) Since we have always had to watch the budget we have always read all we can to get ideas to help. It has become a hobby of sorts. I try to collect recipes and ideas for substituting ingredient for another. Such as things to use if you are out of eggs or what to use if you are out of chocolate baking squares and such. It has really helped . There are many substitutes for eggs in recipes and one being applesauce so I can some of it in the half pint jars blended fine just for that purpose. Life happens and knowing how to cook really good meals but very frugally is a real blessing to know. What peace of mind to have that knowledge stashed away and your family used to living like that. Once you are used to living frugally it becomes just a way of life and if necessary you an get more frugal. Life will just go on. Laine has always lived frugally and has such good advice on so many subject, including saving money in her many letters and as you said too her recipes are very good and also frugal. Also Brenda we can go to our own recipe site for good recipes!! Sarah

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for all the wonderful advice. I love reading posts like this.

I need to work on some more frugal meals for my men. :)


A Woman that Fears the Lord said...

I just made "Laines" beans today. They are wonderful. I've used a lot of her recipes over the years.

How much are you spending on groceries a month (if you don't mind my asking). I'm trying to eat lower carb for health reasons and so I can't use carbs to fill up like I used to.

Anonymous said...

Brenda, I agree with times when I am puzzled by what seem to be extra or unnecessary ingredients in a recipe. I have begun to question why vanilla is in recipes for chocolate cake or peanut butter cookies. These have such strong flavors already, why add vanilla? (not to mention that real vanilla extract is expensive, and I absolutely hate imitation!) I've decided to be rebellious and leave the vanilla out of these recipes and no one has been able to tell! By the way, my roots are in Ohio and we ALWAYS eat our chicken and noodles over mashed potatoes! Usually have it for holidays, too, which no one else can understand when there is also dressing, rolls, sweet potatoes, etc. Talk about carb overload! But I guess it stretches the turkey and cranberries to have the other things to fill the plate! (-:

Kristi Jalics/Thickethouse said...

What a great practical post with an amazing number of useful ideas. I have some simple but delicious meals that I learned from my Hungarian mil. One is potatoes and eggs boiled together (to save fuel) and when the potatoes are tender and the eggs are hard, peel them and slice them thinly. These are layered in a casserole with each layer salted and peppered and then a cup or more of sour cream thinned with milk is poured over and they are baked. It's simple and delicious, somehow both ingredients are enhanced! And they made a dish with noodles mixed with sour cream and cottage cheese and baked as we bake mac n cheese and also very good and different.

I've always cooked from scratch and used up leftovers. I guess I was just raised that way. I admire your vegetable garden so much, Brenda. Fresh produce is not as available at pantries and can be expensive. This is a great way to have very healthy, and economical food for your family. I like that you and your husband do this together. I have some apple mint on my deck this year because you mention it so often for tea. I have made herbal jelly some years by infusing apple juice with rosemary and/or mint (sometimes lavender and other combinations) and then using commercial pectin to get it to jell.

Great post! Thank you!