Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Frugal Food Fixes

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

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 eliminate the meat since I’m a vegetarian 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.

Before I went veg I loved 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 12x8 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

1 Comment:

  1. Ellen : CheapCooking.com said...
    Glad you like the calculator! Thanks for sharing it. I'm trying to figure out how I could build one that would help people calculate the cost per serving of whole recipes.

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