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Jazzing Up Dinner

Being on a food budget often means you walk around the supermarket on automatic pilot putting the same old boxes of this and that into your cart instead of taking a chance on something new. And it also means serving the same recipes week after week. When I’m feeling in the food doldrums, here some things I turn to.

Cookbooks
I love reading cookbooks and they’re often a good source of finding new recipes and ways to cut costs. Take a look at the ones you have sitting around the house, or even take a trip to the library. Check some out and page through them. One I recently found was Taste of Home’s Budget Suppers. Reiman Media Group, ISBN 0-89821-419-X. It seems the book is no longer in print but some sites do have used copies. It’s a goldmine of recipes for dishes like chili spaghetti, soups made from simple ingredients, like tomato juice and milk. Yes, I thought it was going to be tasteless, but it was just the opposite. If you can find a copy, buy it.

Take a Trip to the Deli
There’s an upscale supermarket close to where I live and while I never do my main shopping there, I do occasionally stop by there for the odd item or two that I can’t find anyway else. And while I’m in there, I browse their deli items. Not to buy, but to get ideas for creating my own meals at home. Wraps, pies…just window shopping can get you inspired.

Take a Trip to the Co-op
A co-op is the ideal place if you need new ideas because they often sell items you won’t usually find at the supermarket. Things like spices and simmer sauces. Yes, co-ops have also increased their prices, but good deals can still be found there.

And Speaking of…Spices and also herbs. They don’t have to be expensive and I opt for the supermarket brand. Depending on what spices and herbs you want, you can shave a dollar or more off the cost. Try adding them to everyday dishes because they never fail to add some zing.

Try Adding Different Ingredients
I don’t know why I thought of adding this particular ingredient, but now I do it every time. I was making egg salad and wondered what it would taste like with some parmesan cheese added to it. You know the kind you buy in containers in the dairy section. I added a couple of shakes to four chopped eggs, added some minced dried onions, some pepper and mayo and now I don’t make egg salad without some parmesan cheese.
Sundried tomatoes are another favorite of mine. I add them to mayonnaise when I make sandwiches, mac and cheese. And another thing I’ve found…and if you like some heat is chipotle peppers. Smoky, hot and they add pizzazz to everything from sandwiches to soups.

Take a Cooking Class
Don’t think you have to be a master chef or have tons of money to take cooking classes. Some stores offer free cooking classes, some community education programs have them. And one good thing about this current economic downturn, lots of cooking classes are now showing people how to stretch their food dollar.

Go on a Restaurant Tour
I found this trick when I wrote restaurant reviews for one of the local newspapers. And, no, this tour isn’t going to cost you a penny. With the help of the Internet, you can just about find the Web site of any restaurant across the country, even the world. I used to check out the restaurant’s Web site before I dined there and I discovered 99% of them put their complete menu online. Look through some of the dishes and see what inspires you. Even challenge yourself to come up with something similar but within your own budget. In fact, I’m guessing right now some restaurants are offering their own budget meals. And just today I read that many are serving their own version of macaroni and cheese.

Take a Stroll on the Information Superhighway
And while you’re on the Web, why not check out some of the culinary magazine Web sites. Here’s some I found
www.cooksrecipes.com
www.topsecretrecipes.com
www.recipesource.com

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