Saturday, August 04, 2012
Saturday Pantry Suggestions
Today I want to write a little more about how I get by with a very tight food budget. I was asked if I plan meals and the answer is... yes and no. With answers like that I could be a politician, right? :)
I first see what I have in the pantry or freezer and then add fresh ingredients as the budget allows. For instances, yesterday I had to pick up a prescription in the town close to where we live. Since we are rarely in that area, Hubby and I stopped at a grocery store that sells great Michigan produce.
We purchased salad ingredients, cabbage, and fresh green beans which were all a very good price. Shredded cheese was also on sale so three packages went into the cart.
We couldn't afford meat but we do have chicken and one pound of ground beef in the freezer already. So... I bought some soft corn taco shells, a package of wonton wrappers, and one loaf of whole wheat sandwich bread... all simple ingredients to use with what I already have to make dinner.
We had looked through the sales flyer before leaving home so we knew ice cream was on sale. Our favorite brand of ice cream was at a sale price of four for $5.00. We bought four containers, which all went into the deep freeze for summer treats. We only buy ice cream on sale and usually only vanilla to give us lots of serving options.
Since I don't have a regular weekly or bi-weekly paycheck coming in, I also mix what I get from a few food pantries with what I have stocked in my pantry. So I put most of my meal planning into pantry planning.
Part of my meal planning... a large part, really... is researching frugal recipes. Once in awhile we will have a special meal that we love (like fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy or roast beef with the same). But mostly I use just a little meat in a recipe or no meat at all.
I began to notice some of my favorite foreign foods were either entirely vegetarian or they used very little meat. It struck me (a real "duh!" moment) that where I seasoned meals with meat, other cultures seasoned with spices.
If one were to ask me about twenty years ago if I liked vegetarian meals, I would have said I don't. That's because when I first became aware of natural foods and healthier eating in the 70's, the vegetarian recipes were often heavy, grain based... and used lots of unfamiliar ingredients.
Now, that first awakening so to speak was wonderful! I learned so much about baking my own bread, growing sprouts, and using whole grains. About the same time natural foods made a comeback, people like Julia Child started teaching on PBS about cooking the French way with real ingredients (not the "can of this and can of that" of the 1960s cookbooks).
I love the "new" farm to table movement... which is really just living like great grandmother and great grandfather did years ago. I've said this before but it bares repeating... our family from past generations understood growing food without chemicals (because there were none) and stocking up during the Harvest for the winter ahead.
What does that have to do with deepening the pantry?
Well... the more you do something, the better you get. There is a LOT to be said for experience. Have you ever been given a recipe only to try it yourself and find it was good but not great like what you remembered?
You may have thought the loved one who passed the recipe to you left out something? They did in a way... they left out what they learned by making that dish over and over and over again through the years.
Experience cannot always be explained on a 3 x 5 recipe card. For instance, I have made our own version of goulash since I was first married. I can give you the recipe but it takes a few paragraphs to explain HOW I cook it.
I always add the raw macaroni in with the ground beef and onions as they first saute to slightly "toast" the pasta. I also plan cooking time so the goulash can sit at least twenty minutes or so before serving so the pasta can absorb the good tomato juices. These extra steps were discovered through years and years of cooking this meal for dinner.
Live a Pantry Lifestyle instead of just stocking up!
This week you may want to DO instead of BUY (or at least both). Try a new recipe each week that incorporates spices instead of meat. This is easiest if you look online, in the library, or look through your own cookbooks for vegetarian recipes that you think your family would eat and start using one new spice or herb at a time.
If nothing else, cook up some rice and add two or three chopped veggies along with one new spice (watch for the small jars of spice or small packages of spices/herbs).
Now, my husband was not fond of unfamiliar food so he wasn't too thrilled when I tried new dishes. Some he hated but those failures helped me learn a lot (like if I add 1/4th teaspoon of cumin seeds it adds flavor but not so much he dislikes the dish).
Other spices he was surprised he actually liked, especially if I used less than the original recipe required. My latest spice I am trying is garam masala, which is actually a spice mixture from India.
My son has many Indian friends (including one of his best friends who was in his wedding) so at his homeschool graduation party, I made certain I had quite a few vegetarian dishes on the menu (many Indians do not eat meat for religious reasons). Everyone loved them, even the meat eaters! They had a side benefit of being very inexpensive, which helped stretch my graduation party budget.
Most experts are saying the cost of meat is going to skyrocket. By learning vegetarian meals now and tweaking them "just so"... you will have a repertoire of favorite non-meat recipes made with items from your pantry that the family will like (because you have already gained the experience in cooking them).
This week, look through non-meat recipes (Mexican, Indian, European, African, Asian, etc.) and choose a few that look interesting. Especially those your family might enjoy. Then try one at a time and as you find a recipe your family enjoys... add those ingredients to your pantry.
For instance, I've learned if I have soft taco shells or burrito shells in the frig, I can add all kinds of ingredients as fillings that we like and I can have in the pantry (refried beans, black beans, corn, salsa, etc.). Of course, pasta also serves as a base for meals as does rice and other grains.
Okay, that's enough for now! I'll be back next week... God willing and the creek don't rise. :)