This is a long overdue follow-up to Mike Panic’s Cheapskate’s Manifesto. Â This time, Mike and I focus on saving you money by cooking at home. Â Mike already showed you how to get the most from coupon clipping at the grocery store, and hopefullyÂ you’ve been able to apply some of his ideas when it comes to buying food. Â But what about stretching the food dollars you already spent?
In this article we feature a few tips and tricks that save money by cooking at home with what we already have. Â Whether cooking for one, or a family, you will see that there are several ways to get more from what you already have in your pantry.
Larger Quantities, Less Often
Buying food in bulk will save you money, but allowing it to go bad before you use it will cost you even more. Â Not everyone is a big fan of leftovers, but for me, it’s a reality.Â I’m a single man living alone, so it’s difficult to cook one meal for dinner daily, since I eat lunch at work and rarely eat dinner.Â The food I do cook for dinner will often provide me two to three lunches since most recipes will easily serve four.
Grains and Legumes
Take a look outside what might be your normal comfort zone of supersized meals with 64oz Big Gulp soda’s and look at the wealth of foods currently and seasonally available to you. Â Most of the US assumes that with dinner they will get a 6-8oz portion of protein, usually in the form of meat, poultry or seafood, while a vast majority of the world makes do by sharing that same 6-8oz portion of protein with their entire family by using grains, legumes, and starches.
Rice and beans will fill you up, provide you with much needed energy, and they store very well. Â The same goes for dried pasta.Â I’m partial to Basmati rice and buy it in a 10lb burlap bag. The last bag I purchased was right around $18.Â Compare that with boxed instant rice or gourmet rices that sell for $6 in a one or two pound box and you’ve got one really good deal.Â Store it in an airtight container and it will last you a very long time. Â Long grain rice takes a bit longer to cook than instant rice, but it tastes better and is more nutritious. Â Buy beans in bulk the same way.
Use A Crock Pot
A good crock pot will cost you around $30, will last for years, and takes minimal effort to cook with.Â Search Google for crock pot recipes, sometimes called slow cookers, of which you will find thousands.
One of my more favorite uses is for lentil soup, which has only a handful of ingredients tastes great, and costs only a few dollars to make. Â This recipe makes enough to feed eight people, and is freezer-friendly. Â I also use my crock pot to make macaroni & cheese, BBQ pulled pork and countless other great eats other than soups.
Eat Seasonal Foods
Local farmers’ markets as well as the grocery stores are packed full of fresh locally-grown foods. Â When foods are in season, especially locally grown, it often tends to be the least expensive and best time to buy. Â Towards the end of summer my local farmers’ market has incredible deals on yellow flesh peaches. Â Last summer I got about 12 pounds of peaches for $6, which is much more than I could eat in a weeks time. Â When they were ripe I cleaned them, sliced them up, and placed them in small zip-lock bags and stacked them in my freezer.Â They now get used right out of the freezer as part of my smoothie recipe, or I can thaw them out and make a cobbler, pies, or peach turnovers. Â Bananas also freeze well. Â When they get to be a bit too ripe, freeze them for banana nut breads, banana pancakes, or even smoothies. Â This way you will have fresh fruits and vegetables all year long.
I’ve mentioned freezing a few times. Â It’s not a bad word.Â Properly sealed food will keep for 2-6 months in your freezer.Â Like most people, I get sick of eating the same thing day after day, and I’ll use the previously mentioned lentil soup as an example.
A full crock pot of lentil soup will easily last me for lunch and dinner for nearly 4 days. At the end of those 4 days I’d never want to see another lentil again.Â Making less than that in my crock pot isn’t an effecient use of energy, and not eating it all within a few days wastes food, thus throwing money away.Â I will often use recycled chinese take out soup containers to put single servings of lentil soup in and freeze about half of the batch. Â This allows me to pull a bowl of soup out of the freezer a month from the day I made it and still enjoy it without having to make a whole new batch.Â Once you do this with a few items you’ve cooked in bulk, you can easily rotate through your own frozen food selection.Â Be aware that certain foods freeze better than others. Â Not all fish tastes good frozen and reheated, and the same goes for rice.
Freeze extra breads until you have enough to make homemade croutons for soups or salads. Â Make your own seasoned breadcrumbs from extra breads or bagels. Â They are much better than in the store and will save you at least a dollar or two.
When making pancakes, I use my electric griddle and make a large batch so I have plenty to freeze for later. Â This way, I can just pull out a stack of pancakes and quickly heat them up for breakfast.
There are many foods that are fantastic substitutes for their more expensive counterparts, and they are sometimes healthier as well. Â A perfect example of this is margarine for butter. Â Margarine contains half the calories of butter, and is roughly one third the price.
My freezer is always “stocked” with stocks. Â I will buy five or six whole chickens when they are around 69 cents a pound, and process them at home. Â I break down the chickens and make several separate packages of breasts, thighs and drumsticks, and wings. Â All of the bones go into my large stockpot with a couple of carrots, an onion, celery, and it all gets covered with water and cooked on low, just enough so I can see a bubble once in a while, and then strained into a delicious chicken stock. Â I separate the stock into smaller containers and freeze them for future recipes. Â This is not only less expensive than store bought chicken broth or boullion cubes, but there is almost no sodium or preservatives, and I know it’s made of entirely fresh components. Â (For you vegans out there, you can make some fantastic vegetable stocks the same way).
Small amounts of vegetables can be frozen for “soup starters”, such as carrots, onions, celery, corn, and even tomatoes. Â It’s easier to dice the vegetables first so they can just be thrown right into the pot to cook
For a great tasting rice or pasta, use a vegetable or chicken stock instead of water to cook it in. Â You will be amazed at the flavor!
Turn Off the Heat!
It’s a misconception that pasta needs to boil until the second it’s removed from the stove. Â This is simply not true. Â When I add pasta to boiling water, I stir it until it comes to a boil. Â After one full minute of stirring and boiling, I turn off the heat, and don’t even cover it. Â Boiling water is roughly 212 degrees. Â Maybe one degree different if you live on Mount Everest.
In the time it takes for the water to come down to the ambient temperature, it will already be cooked. Â This will notÂ only will you save energy, but you will reduce the risk of having the pasta stick to the bottom of the pot.
More Than One Use…And a Little Imagination
Making stocks from chickens is a perfect example of this, but there are dozens of ways to use “by-products” for future dishes.
I went shopping two days ago and bagels were on sale for one dollar. Â Most people see toasted bagels with cream cheese when they look at a bagel. Â What I see is very inexpensive baked bagel chips, perfect with onion or everything bagels. Â I also see bagel pizzas, hearty soup and salad croutons, and breakfast sandwiches. Â All of which I make at home for a fraction of the price.
Corn Tortillas are extremely cheap where I shop, so they are a staple in my pantry. Â I can buy a stack as long as my arm for less than two dollars. Â Cut into triangles and baked or fried, I can make about twenty dollars worth if bought in a bag, and still have enough left over for taquitos, Mexican pizzas, or tacos.
And while i’m on tortillas, throw them in with the chicken stock you just made, and the vegetables you pulled from the freezer, a little cumin, salt and pepper, and you will have an amazing chicken tortilla soup.
Save Some Dough
Making bread at home is easy, cheap and tastes better than store bought. Â The smell of bread baking at home is second to none, and the flavor is nothing like store bought. Â At home I make cinnamon raisin breads, sourdough, white breads, baguettes, flatbreads, Naan, and even pizza dough and hamburger and hot dog buns. Â It takes a little practice to be proficient, but nothing can replace the satisfaction and flavor of any of these homemade bread products.
Yeast is relatively inexpensive. Â Rather than buy 1/4 ounce packages for a dollar at the grocery store, you can buy a one pound block of quick-acting yeast at a restaurant supply store for around seven dollars. Â Much less than the $64 a pound of yeast will cost if you buy it in small packages.
I’m sure you have flour, salt, and sugar at home. These are all that are needed to start baking breads, and saving you a huge amount at the grocery store. Â I use unbleached all purpose flour, but you may also want to Â try some whole wheat flours for a more healthy option. Â Add some rolled oats, flax seed, sunflower, sesame and poppy seeds, and you can have an Artesian bread that you would pay $6 for in the stores.
Any baked bread or prepared dough can be frozen, so feel free to make a little extra for pizzas, rolls, and even breads. Â I cut them into softball size portions, wrap them tightly and pop them in the freezer for later.
Keep Well Stocked
As I look around my kitchen, I see homemade spice blends, several bags of assorted beans for soups, several kinds of rice, a wealth of baking supplies, and seven shapes of dried pastas.
Any of these items, paired with a protein, can easily be stretched to save you cash, while feeding a whole army.
For proteins I have boneless center-cut pork chops I cut from a boneless loin bought for $1.49 a pound, and several bags of chickens that were 69 cents a pound that I broke down and portioned when I got home.
I have a freezer full of dough, homemade pancakes and French Toast, breads for croutons and crumbs, and topping for cobblers and pies. Â There are diced vegetables, frozen berries, and even frozen mashed potatoes.
So save those small amounts of food that you would have otherwise thrown away, and soon your pantry and freezer will be well-stocked with foods that can be combined to create delicious dishes with just a little imagination.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to making more from what you already have. Â Hopefully you will find some of these tips useful, and they will help you stretch your shopping dollar as they have mine.