budget talk

The Budget Smart Cook Gets Sneaky

I’ll be the first to admit some budget foods aren’t the most appealing items on the supermarket shelf. There are only so many ways you can serve ground beef or tuna. But don’t give up on the low cost foods just yet. One way you can stretch your food dollar and perk up your taste buds is to maximize flavors. Here are some sneaky ways a Budget Smart Cook can add flavor to foods, and turn bland into gourmet.

Herbs and Spices
One cheap and easy way to add flavor to everything from, meat to veggies is to use herbs and spices. Fresh herbs will soon be hitting the produce department and farmer’s markets. You can add them to things like cream cheese, margarine, etc. and make a nasty spread for sandwiches. They work wonders in things like tuna and egg salad. Plus, you can pick up some herb plants at nurseries and farmer’s markets for a couple of dollars and have a steady supply all summer long.
And I recently got to taste test some products that I can highly recommend. They’re from a company called The Spice Hunter www.spicehunter.com. They have two new products. The first is their Flavor Discoveries line. I got to try the Mediterranean Grinder Rub and the Cyprus Chile Salt. I added the Grinder Rub to pasta sauces, and both cottage and cream cheeses and it really boosted the flavor. The Chile Salt I used on a baked potato. I usually wash the potato and sprinkle it with salt and pepper and wrap it in foil. Instead of using regular salt I used the Chile Salt and it was delicious. Another product they produce is their Grill Shakers, for meat, poultry and seafood. And all are ideal for the upcoming grilling season. It’s a good way to make cheaper cuts of meat taste ‘richer’.

Oven Roasting
Okay, this might not be something you want to do when the temperature starts to climb, but I’ve found a great way to get maximum flavor from veggies is to oven roast them. Things like zucchini, onions and peppers. Just add some salt and pepper, a little olive oil and roast them at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, stirring once or twice. I’ve served them ‘as is’ with chicken or pork. And they make great roasted veggie sandwiches with cream cheese as a base.

Speaking of oven roasting, I sometimes add balsamic vinegar to the pan after the vegetables have finished roasting and serve the veggies on salad greens. If you make your own salad dressing try using flavored vinegar to kick up the intensity.

I always use stronger flavored cheeses like sharp cheddar, feta or blue cheese because a little goes a long way. Try these cheeses on things like potatoes and salads. Even stirred into pasta.

One other trick I use for kicking up the flavor is to boil potatoes, rice and pasta in stock, veggie or chicken. And it’s the ideal way to use up leftover stock too.

While I’m a big fan of homemade soup, I do keep a few cans of store brand ones on hand for emergencies. However, you can always boost the flavor of any canned soup. For example, tomato-add salsa, or leftover cooked spaghetti that you’ve broken up into smaller pieces. And items like croutons or even the fish shaped crackers. Mushroom soup is great with Worcestershire sauce added to it, or even toasted pecans. For vegetable soups I’ve stirred in cheese and served with bread for a quick lunchtime meal.

With a little imagination and experimentation, any meal, even a budget one, can be turned into a feast.

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