admin / February 16, 2011

Adding Flavor to Everyday Foods

Food prices are creeping upwards again which makes me want to get maximum flavor out of all the foods I prepare. Over the years I’ve been experimenting with a few ideas and simple ingredients that are inexpensive-

Select One Food Over Another

The iceberg variety always seems to be the cheapest lettuce in the produce department. However, once in awhile it’s great to have some variety even if it does cost 20 cents more. Some of my favorites are romaine and red leaf. Another tip is if salad is going to be the main course, go with the lettuce with more flavor. The same goes for parsley. If I’m just using it a couple of teaspoons for seasoning I’ll opt for the curly variety but if it has more of a staring role in the dish, flat leaf is my pick.

Roasting Vegetables

I like roasted vegetables all by themselves but try adding them to soups, stews and even things like homemade bean and vegetable burgers. I’ve been experimenting with making my own veggie burgers and started out using chopped vegetables but I’ve discovered roasting them first gives the burger a richer flavor.

Worchestershire Sauce

One thing I’ve loved to add to foods since I was a teenager is Worchestershire sauce. It’s a staple in my pantry and I use it in soups, stews, sprinkled on top of burgers, shepherd’s pie and also pot pies. Great stuff, not that expensive and a little gives food a big boost.

Make a Switch

Even a simple dish like mac and cheese can become gourmet tasting by using a different cheese like gouda or one of the smoked varieties. I’ve also found if you pick a stronger cheese you use less of it.

Flavored Peppers

Sometimes browsing the spice aisle at the supermarket is just want you need to add some pizzazz to simple dishes. I found this one last year and just like the sauce of the same name I’ve been using it in lots of recipes.

Don’t Throw away the Stock

If you have any leftover stock try using it when you boil rice or potatoes…or any vegetable for that matter. It really gives the dish a richer taste and it’s a great way to use up something you might just pour away.

Grill Mixes

 

The folks at Spice Hunter sent me these awhile back and have to say I’ve used them for everything but grilling. I’ve added the seafood mix to fish chowders, the steak variety to marinade tofu for pot pies. The poultry mix for yes, the roasted vegetables and also homemade stuffing. Find a good grilling blend and try it in some of your favorite dishes instead of salt and pepper.

Smoked Paprika

Another pantry staple I wouldn’t be without is my bottle of smoked paprika.  I had trouble finding it a few years ago but now see it in most stores. It’s more expensive than the regular paprika but gives you more bang for your buck because a little goes a long way. It adds a smoky intense flavor to whatever you add it to and puts a new spin on old favorites. I’ve used mine in everything from soups to the decoration on deviled eggs. And when I make Shepherd’s Pie, I also sprinkle some on the mashed potato topping.

admin / January 21, 2011

Bargain Foods…that are good for you too

With food prices set to go up this year…I think I saw some evidence of this at the grocery store the other day, it’s time to start thinking about foods that give you the biggest bang for your buck. Here are some of my favorites-

Canned Salmon

When fresh salmon goes on sale I buy it in bulk and freeze it, when it’s back to normal prices I opt for the canned variety. Pink salmon is a bargain, even red salmon isn’t that expensive. In the summer I use it on salads, in sandwiches, pair it with sliced cucumbers and it’s one of the best combinations. I sometimes use it with pasta. A favorite of mine is the salmon burger. My old recipe used mashed potato, then I switched to breadcrumbs but now I have yet a new one.(serves 4)

 This one was created just the other week when I discovered I had no breadrumbs and didn’t have time to head to the store. I’d stockpiled some boxes of crackers  (Townhouse Flipsides) during the holidays while they were on sale. I used about 15-20 of them. I crushed them in a plastic bag using a rolling pin. And then added them to the drained salmon, and a beaten egg. You mix it together and form into four patties. Heat some oil and cook them on either side for about 3 minutes or until golden brown. I served mine in a bun with oven fries. I think just the burger and a side salad with be good too.

This is a three ingredient recipe that is so simple to make and the best thing is the crackers have so much flavor you don’t need seasoning or salt and pepper.

Lentils, Beans etc.

I bought all these goodies while they were on sale for just 99 cents a bag. I do buy canned beans but you can save even more money using dried ones. You can make bean and veggie burgers, lentil soups and stews, green pea soup etc. Best thing is most of these recipes can be made in a slow cooker. I’ll be featuring recipes using all these items in future articles on the site.

Eggs

I know eggs took a bad rap because of their high fat and cholesterol content but even nutritionists now say eaten in moderation, they’re okay. I stock up on them each time I visit the store. They’re great for egg and cheese burritos, frittatas, your own homemade egg muffins for breakfast, quiches, and omelets. Keeping a some hard boiled eggs on hand also make great snacks too.

Fruits and Vegetables

Don’t know whether you heard but Walmart is lowering the prices on fruits and vegetables to help shoppers save money on good for you foods.http://finance.yahoo.com/news/WalMart-Takes-a-Healthy-nytimes-2153254849.html?x=0&.v=1

 Produce has gotten more expensive recently but I think it’s still a good buy because it full of fiber so it fills you up and if you use more veggies than say meat or chicken in a dish the recipe goes further. Eat in season and it’s a great way to save even more money. For example, this week my local supermarket had a sale on citrus fruits so I bought oranges and have been using them as snacks and dessert.

Oatmeal

I know some people turn their nose up at it but it’s a good for you food at rock bottom prices. I’m working on a great oven baked oatmeal recipe that once perfected I’ll be sharing it with you. No more cooking oatmeal every day and this one is packed full of flavor with oranges and sweetened cranberries.

Another way you can use oatmeal is in things like meatloaves to make it go further.

Tofu

Okay, for those thinking about running away from the computer right now. I say give this a chance. I think I’ve mentioned I now freeze and then defrost tofu before I use it and sometimes marinade it all day for maximum flavor and chewiness that closely resembles meat. Here’s how I use it for making a shepherd’s pie-

I 10 ounce package tofu

I jar Heinz mushroom gravy

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

1onion, peeled and chopped

Mashed potatoes for topping,

optional- smoked paparika and parmesan cheese

Freeze the tofu for a few days and then defrost it. Drain the tofu and squeeze out all the water, crumble into pieces that resemble ground beef.

Place it in a glass dish and add some oil, soy sauce, pepper, Worchestershire sauce and chopped garlic. Let this sit for at least six hours. Then heat a skillet, add some oil and saute the tofu until it’s crisp and brown. Add the onions and carrots and cook until almost tender. Add the mushroom gravy and stir everything together.

Transfer into a baking dish and top with mashed potatoes. I like to sprinkle them with smoked paprika and cheese.

Place in the oven for about 15 minutes at 375 degrees or until the top is lightly browned and the tofu mixture is bubbling. I usually serve this with peas or green beans.

Serves 6

admin / June 16, 2010

Buy It or Make Your Own

During every trip to the supermarket I ask myself is it cheaper for me to buy that item already prepared or should I make my own. It’s not only money that I base my decision on, time plays a factor too. Here are some guidelines I’ve come up with and items I will and won’t buy already prepared.

Time/Convenience
If you’re short on time then opting for readymade makes perfect sense. One great example is potatoes, whether they’re mashed, oven roasted etc. I keep at least one package of each in the freezer or pantry. And the great thing is instant potatoes taste a lot better than they used to and they’re always on sale too.

Nutrition
If it’s not only your wallet you’re watching, but your weight, sodium or fat intake then going the homemade route makes more sense.

Check the Season
Right now the produce department is brimming with berries, green beans, corn, etc. During the summer months I opt for buying fresh veggies, but when a particular vegetable or fruit isn’t in season, I’ll choose canned or frozen. Another example is red peppers. I love roasted red peppers but they can be pricey. I have found some good deals but when the prices go low…like right now, I’ll buy them, roast them myself and then store them for future use.

Things I’ll Never Buy Readymade

Fruit, Vegetable and Cheese Platters
They look tempting but they can run about $20-25. They’re easy to put together yourself and I can’t imagine handing over that much money for something that wouldn’t take more than 30 minutes to do yourself.

Flavored Oatmeal
I used to love the individual flavored packages of oatmeal… that was until I did an interview and we got onto the subject of premade foods. The interviewee pointed out the true cost of these little luxuries. Now I make my own and add things like chopped dried fruits and they’re just as good, if not better.

Soups
Sometimes I’ll buy soups to keep in the pantry if the price is right, or like last week, I had two $1 coupons for a brand that was on sale. However, most of the time I’ll make my own. It’s cheaper, you control what’s in there and it’s a good way to use leftover items like vegetables and cooked chicken.

Individually Wrapped
Lots of supermarkets have a special section with items that are washed and prepared for you and individually wrapped like potatoes, onions, etc. But have you seen the price for such convenience, $2 for one onion! Think I’ll pass on those.

Smoothie Mixes
Manufacturers must know we’ve gone smoothie crazy because each week another premade smoothie mix hits the stores. I’ve checked the ingredients on most of them and it’s just chopped frozen fruit. How easy and inexpensive is it to get a freezer bag and make your own mix.

Some Things I Will Buy Readymade

Salad Dressings
I do make my own but I will more a ready prepared one when I have coupons. Seems like I always have at least one on hand. They’re usually for a dollar so on double coupon day that’s $2 off a salad dressing that costs around $3.95. I probably could make one for that price but it’s nice to have one ready and waiting in the fridge if I don’t get around to it.

Spaghetti Sauce
Once again coupons and the fact at least one brand always seems to be on sale swings things in the favor of readymade.

Not Just Things You Eat
And it’s not just food items you can make yourself. One reason I make my own products like cleaning supplies is I know what’s in them. Baking soda and vinegar are my two favorites and I even started making my own dishwasher powder too. It’s really simple to make
2 cups washing soda
1 cup borax
1 cup baking soda
Mix ingredients together in a storage container and use about 1 ½ tablespoons per load. I added some essential oil to mine…lemon or tangerine to give the kitchen a nice smell while the dishes are being washed. If you live in an area with hard water, I’ve found squeezing about a tablespoon of lemon juice to the mix (for each load) helps glasses from turning white. I buy lemon juice in one of those plastic lemons you find in the produce department and keep it with the mix.

admin / June 3, 2010

Tips on Winning The Grocery Challenge

For those of you who missed my blog the other week, All You magazine is holding its second annual Grocery Challenge contest. There will be ten finalists and the winner will get a $1,000 grocery card and will also be featured in the magazine. The challenge is to spend $25 or less per family member per week on groceries during a four week period. The contest runs from June 20 to July 17th. Go to www.allyou.com/grocerychallenge to sign up. Beginning June 18th the magazine will send you a newsletter featuring tips for saving money and also recipes. I’d love to see a Budget Smart Girl reader win this so to get you thinking about ways to meet this challenge, here are some of my tips for cutting down on your grocery bill. If anyone wants to share their tips to help those entering the challenge, feel free to add a comment.

Eat With The Season
One of my favorite tips for saving money is to eat with the season and buy only produce that’s in abundance. There couldn’t be a better time for this challenge because more produce is hitting the stores and the farmer’s markets. Make dishes using vegetables, like stir frys, pasta with grilled vegetables, sandwiches using items like grilled zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes. And don’t forget desserts. Berries are in season and in a couple of weeks we’ll see peaches and plums hit the produce department too. They’re great by themselves but combine them with ice cream (one brand always seems to be on sale) and it’s an inexpensive dessert. And don’t forget fruits make great breakfast foods too. An added plus is they contain fiber and keep you feeling full longer.

Pasta
Some type of pasta always seems to be on sale. Many times it’s just a dollar a box and you can do so much with it. Italian dishes, Asian dishes, hot or cold. It’s also a great way to extend meats and chicken and keep the cost of the meal down.

Beans
Another favorite budget foods are beans. There are so many varieties; you never have to get bored. Bean burritos, bean burgers and just like pasta, you can use them with smaller amounts of meat to stretch your dollar. You can even make things like black bean and corn (now also inexpensive) salsa and serve them with chips for a low cost snack.

Canned Salmon and Tuna
Besides pasta, canned salmon and tuna always seems to be on sale. I make salmon burgers for a quick meal. Tuna is great for salads when the weather turns hot. And both salmon and tuna can be made into wraps and served with a fresh fruit salad.

Leftovers
One way to win the challenge is to use leftovers. Most of the week my lunch consists of whatever’s leftover from supper the night before. Another thing I often do is make Sunday our leftover day. I turn it into a buffet and set out on the counter anything we haven’t eaten during the week. Items like leftover vegetables are also great in soups, which brings me to another money saying meal.

Soup and Sandwich
I don’t know about you but when the weather turns hot I don’t want to be in the kitchen or eat a huge meal. Soup and sandwich/wrap to the rescue…makes the perfect budget meal too.

Breakfast Any Time
Another money and time saving trick I use is to serve breakfast for dinner. Things like omelets, cheese and egg burritos, Eggs Benedict. Eggs are always a good price and pack lots of nutrition.

Coupons
I hope you’re already using coupons, but if you’re not get into the habit of using them during the challenge. Find a supermarket that doubles their value and ask if you can swap coupons with friends and family.

Plan Meals Around Flyers
When I plan meals, I sit with my coupons and store flyers in front of me to see if I can match coupons, sales and pantry items together. I’ve discovered this is one of the best ways to stretch the food budget.

Pantry Challenge
Have you heard about a pantry challenge? Once a month you don’t go to the store…for other than essentials like milk, etc, instead you plan meals around items you already have on hand. Only the other day I was thinking if I used everything in the pantry and freezer, I probably wouldn’t need to shop for two, maybe three weeks. Do that during this challenge and you’ll definitely stay within the $25 or less per family member.

Shop Less Often
Even if you’re not relying on your pantry supply, try shopping less often. I’ve switched to biweekly grocery shopping and found it does save money. Why…because the more often I’m in the store, the more likely I am to impulse buy.

Don’t Be Loyal
One of my rules for being a Budget Smart Girl is you shouldn’t be loyal. If another store has a better price, shop there. Just the other week a supermarket I don’t usually visit was offering in store coupons, plus a $5 off coupon which I couldn’t resist so they got my business.

Next week, some more tips and recipes.

admin / December 22, 2008

Ideal Foods for the Budget Savvy Cook

Just the other day I was talking to a friend and we got onto the topic of the ever increasing price of food and it got me thinking. Are there still bargains to be had at the supermarket? There are and here are my top picks-

Frozen and Canned Vegetables
The other week I bought a couple of bunches of spinach for a recipe I was making. Fresh spinach was on special, but after I’d spent 15 minutes trying to wash all the dirt and sand from the leaves, and after it cooked down to practically nothing, I vowed never to buy fresh spinach again. Frozen spinach is probably one of the best buys in the freezer section. Just think how many bunches of spinach you’d have to buy to equal that one box. You don’t have to clean it and it’s packed with good for your vitamins. The same goes for veggies like broccoli, no waste, no tough stalks. And right now, canned vegetables are on sale for the holidays. For the last month, my local supermarket’s been selling canned veggies, 3 cans for 99 cents. No washing, no peeling and no waste. I couldn’t beat that price in the produce department. And if you’re worried that frozen and canned vegetables aren’t as good as their fresh counterparts, don’t be. Most are packed at their peak of freshness and retain all their vitamins and minerals.

Eggs and Cheese
The price of most dairy products has gone up in the last year or so, but the word is in 2009 will start to see those prices decrease. Think about how many great dishes you can put together using eggs, cheese and yes, even milk. With meat and poultry prices set to increase next year, find some recipes using eggs and cheese instead.

Beans, Legumes…When it comes to the biggest bang for your buck, I don’t think you can beat beans and legumes. They aren’t that expensive to buy in cans, but if you buy them in bags and cook them in a slow cooker, you’ve shaved off even more pennies from the budget. And you can even add them to meat dishes to make the meal go even further. Beef and barley soup or casserole. Split pea or lentil soup. These dishes aren’t only inexpensive to make, they’re good for you too. They’re free of fat, or low fat, depending on what other ingredients you add to them. They’re full of fiber, something most of us don’t get enough of these days. The fiber feels you up faster so you don’t eat as much, which means your wallet gets fatter, but your waistline gets thinner.

Pizza
I’m not talking about the ones you have delivered to your home, but the type you find in your supermarket freezer. I can’t remember a week that goes by when one brand of pizza isn’t on sale at the supermarket. Okay, they don’t always have a sale on the really fancy pizzas, but I often find the plain cheese pizzas are 3 for $9.99 so I’ll buy them, store them in the freezer and then add my own toppings.

Pasta
Just like pizza, pasta and at least one brand of pasta sauce is always on sale. Both pasta and pasta sauce have long shelf lives so it pays to stock up. And just think how many dishes use some type of pasta. And just like beans and legumes, you can add it to meat dishes to help stretch your budget. Soups are great with some pasta added to them too. And pasta sauces also make ideal bases for homemade pizza.

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