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.  :)


Manuela@A Cultivated Nest said...

Great post as always Brenda. We started to eat less meat last November and are quite used to it by now. Like most new habits it's something most people need to ease themselves into.

We also don't really eat a lot of grains. Mostly quinoa, black rice, and couscous. We also make our own bread.

We love Mexican and Indian foods so I've learned to make some of our favorites. The internet is a great resource for recipes. I hardly ever buy cookbooks these days unless they have lots of recipes I like.

Tortillas are supposed to be easy to make but I haven't tried doing it yet. I do use some canned beans but dried beans are soooooo much cheaper and they are easy to make plus you can freeze them! Make your own refried beans - they are much healthier than the canned!

TeresaAngelina said...

Thank you; this was useful. If I may suggest a fabulous vegetarian cookbook which I use all the time: "World Vegetarian" by Madhur Jaffrey. It is as it speaks; whole world veggie meals, including those which originated for the USA. Many of the herbs and spices are already familiar though many will not be for some. I have been cooking vegetarian meals for many years now and find them even more creative than those with meat. Being Eastern Orthodox, at least half of the year is vegan due to various fasting seasons or fasting days. But even before becoming Orthodox, veggie meal eating was a large part of my diet. I love spices! And living in the Greater Vancouver area (BC) means you also have access to largely any spice available.

Thank you for the tips on planning. I have a cauliflower (two actually) which needs my attention so today will make a lovely curry with red lentils, cauliflower and peas. And from scratch, chappati bread (tip: let the dough sit for at least 20 minutes before frying). Oh and basmati rice!

I am learning...thank you again!

Deanna Rabe - Creekside Cottage Blog said...

I don't think the creek's gonna rise anytime soon out there in the Midwest, unfortunately....

This was a timely post, as our friend who farms here says that beef and chicken both are going to skyrocket in price, due to the drought and loss of crops.

Off to research recipes!


Cheri said...

Yes, another great post. Thank you!

We are anticipating a move sometime in the near future (haven't sold yet,but hopeful), so we are literally eating ourselves out of house and home.

I investigate the contents of the freezer and the pantry to decide our meals. Our neighbor gave us dozens of banana peppers yesterday and I am pickling them (use those and a bit of cream cheese and a tomato for my lunch sandwich) and freezing them to use in fried rice. Thankful to GOD for the gift of free food.

Homemade tortillas are quite easy and so much tastier than store bought. I do have a tortilla press (a gift!), but you can roll them out with a rolling pin - they are not as fussy as pie crust. They won't be as thin as store bought - but the taste more than makes up for that!

Anonymous said...

I am currently reading M.F.K. Fisher's "How to Cook a Wolf" and the chapter I'm on is how to either really stretch meat or go without it. Our country is really in the habit of eating meat during many meals - so some of it is a mindset change. It's so much fun to serve something to my hubby & have him ask "where's the meat?" and he ends up liking it anyway! Thanks for the tip about spices - I have a lot, and don't use them enough!
-Connie in San Diego

Maureen H. said...

Dear Brenda,
I know it can be an effort to keep a post site going .. sometimes one doesn't feel 'up to it'; however I regularly read yours and do so appreciate what you give us. God bless, Maureen.

TeresaAngelina said...

Reporting in! Sooo...looked in the fridge, lots of carrots and about a pound of new potatoes that wouldn't be new much longer. Into the cookbook I mentioned earlier...had all the ingredients except for two fresh tomatoes. Got those. Oh my...this is really an amazing dish! In the book it is called "Village-Style Carrots with Potatoes and Peas" with the subtitle of "Gajar Aloo Matar." And you will be happy to note, Brenda, that it has garam masala as well. It is amazing! And it is off to the church potluck tomorrow morning. Thank you, coach!

matty said...

Good morning, Brenda! How I enjoyed catching up with you this morning! Looks like you have had a wonderful summer and been one busy little bee! The dishes look wonderful with the silver. Great idea that I may have to borrow! We are trying to can more in our house so we can eat from the pantry even more this winter. I have decided I need to do something besides teach, so that means I have to get the house paid off before I can stop teaching. Talk about motivation!

You inspire me every time I visit!

Sending you lots of hugs! Oh, and I am reading Elizabeth Gudge this week. Yeah. I am a fan!


Front Porch Grace said...

I like to think of my pantry as my paints and my pots and pans are my canvas.

Sometimes when my husband (an artist) paints, he may be out of a certain color (tight budget). Well then, he uses what he has in his paint box and always comes out with a gorgeous picture.

I love to create with what I have on hand. So when I shop, I shop for those items that I know that we will use, and always on sale.

Thanks for sharing Brenda, it's good to know that I am not alone!