Frugal cooking lessons

I have the day off due to the Martin Luther King holiday. Yay! It is below freezing now but later it is supposed to get up to 64 degrees, AND be sunny all day. Can’t beat Georgia weather!

My neighbor who pastures her sheep in the field immediately adjacent to the side yard, said a momma sheep died, and had a baby lamb to take care of. She put a diaper on him and brought him inside the house. Bottle feeding every two hours ensued. Yesterday I heard her bring the lamb outside, its tiny baby bleat was so cute. When it warms up some later today I’ll go outside looking for the little lamb. If he is amenable, lol, I’ll take some pictures.

Yesterday I did my weekly cooking. It won’t last me all week, it usually lasts till Thursdays, maybe Friday lunch if I stretch it. But the Sunday extravaganza comprises the bulk of dinners and lunches for the work-week. Where the prepared dishes fall short, sandwiches, fruit, or cereal fills in. I don’t like to come home from 8 solid hours having run around on my feet to stand around in a kitchen. So I make several main dishes, side dishes, and desserts ahead. It also helps when I’m hungry, I’ll eat what’s made instead of eating something less healthy.

So this week I made:

MAIN DISHES
–Carrot-pumpkin-ginger soup
–Spinach-cheese quiche

SIDE DISHES
–roasted potatoes,
–roasted peppers/onions,
–roasted broccoli

DESSERT
–Pumpkin-chocolate chip muffins
–Banana-oatmeal chewy bars

FRUIT
I cut up three oranges that had been put on sale, for a citrus salad, and I also have mango, bananas, and a cantaloupe ripening for later in the week.

Why these dishes? To be frugal, you don’t go to the store with a list of ingredients in order to cook certain dishes you want to make. You go to the store and see what’s on sale, and THEN prepare your menu. Frozen carrots and frozen broccoli were on sale. At my local store the owners often gather overripe bananas, bag them, and sell 6-8 of them for 99 cents. And at the Dollar store, 30 oz cans of pumpkin were on sale for $1.50. I bought it all.

Not my soup but it looks like this

The frozen veggies and the pumpkin were fortuitous. I’d been to the grocery store last week and became a bit dispirited because the fresh veggies have gotten SO HIGH in price. The selection has been reduced, too. I really miss Bountiful Baskets. But enough of that, I’ll drive myself crazy pining for a long-lost golden time of a plethora of fresh fruits and veggies via the now defunct food co-op.

In monthly budgeting, and I budget monthly because I get paid monthly, rent or mortgage should comprise no more than 25 to 30 percent of the net income. I live in a small place by choice, utilities are lower in a smaller place and it is easier to furnish and to maintain. My rent is very low but it’s still 32% of my monthly net. It’s one of the reasons I’m mindful of the grocery bill, make no stops in between the weekly shopping, and I am vigilant about using gas and heat and lights. If I can save on utilities I can overcome the 2% overage in rent. I don’t like to skimp on food. Fresh, healthy food is important. I don’t like to buy processed food or junk food, so again, committing to buy to fresh is important.

Monthly groceries should be about 12% of monthly net. I do spend about that much. So when veggies got so high I looked for an alternative. Doing without fruit and vegetables is not an option.

I’ve never been a fan of frozen vegetables, but for the first time I looked into their nutritive qualities. Apparently in some cases they can be more nutritious than fresh. Vegetables picked at the peak of freshness are then flash frozen, thus retaining nutrients. Fresh are picked prior to peak freshness in hope that continued ripening as it is transported to end destination. Here is a website explaining it:

While the first step of freezing vegetables—blanching them in hot water or steam to kill bacteria and arrest the action of food-degrading enzymes—causes some water-soluble nutrients like vitamin C and the B vitamins to break down or leach out, the subsequent flash-freeze locks the vegetables in a relatively nutrient-rich state.

On the other hand, fruits and vegetables destined to be shipped to the fresh-produce aisles around the country typically are picked before they are ripe, which gives them less time to develop a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals. Outward signs of ripening may still occur, but these vegetables will never have the same nutritive value as if they had been allowed to fully ripen on the vine. In addition, during the long haul from farm to fork, fresh fruits and vegetables are exposed to lots of heat and light, which degrade some nutrients, especially delicate vitamins like C and the B vitamin thiamin.

Bottom line: When vegetables are in-season, buy them fresh and ripe. “Off-season,” frozen vegetables will give you a high concentration of nutrients. Choose packages marked with a USDA “U.S. Fancy” shield, which designates produce of the best size, shape and color; vegetables of this standard also tend to be more nutrient-rich than the lower grades “U.S. No. 1” or “U.S. No. 2.” Eat them soon after purchase: over many months, nutrients in frozen vegetables do inevitably degrade. Finally, steam or microwave rather than boil your produce to minimize the loss of water-soluble vitamins.

Not my pumpkin muffins but they look like this

Hmmm. So when frozen vegetables went on sale I thought I’d try. I bought frozen carrots and broccoli. I decided to roast the broccoli, that was one way to get roasted veggies, which I love, and at the same time, cook out all the moisture.

The carrots became the soup. I sauteed onions and then dumped the frozen carrots right in the pot and cooked till they were soft and most of the moisture was gone. I knew I was going to puree them so any flaws in the carrots would be obliterated in the blender.

I learned that canned veggies lose a lot of their nutrients- except for two: pumpkin and tomatoes. With pumpkin, the canning process actually adds more beta carotene so the vegetable becomes more healthy. When I saw the 30 oz can of pumpkin on sale for $1.50, I immediately thought of several recipes- soup and two-ingredient muffins.

Two ingredient muffins (or cake) involves canned pumpkin and any boxed cake mix. Lots of people like spice cake mix with the pumpkin but I usually get yellow cake. Why? It’s always on sale at the Dollar Store for $1.

So for $1.75 I can get 18 muffins. That’s nine cents per muffin. I usually add a half a bag of chocolate chips so that brings the price per item to 13 cents per muffin. Still a lot better than 50 cents per muffin, or more if buying it out at a restaurant or drive thru. It goes without saying that eating out while on a budget is a no-no. It’s wasted money.

If you have children, cooking all in a bunch saves time, prepares meals and snacks ahead which reduces spur-of-the-moment unwise purchases, and it also uses the oven more frugally.

If I look at my electricity bill I notice that weekend electrical use is assessed at a higher rate than weekdays. That’s why the Electric Company always advises doing laundry or other high-electric use activities on the weekdays. I’m not going to cook at night after work, so since I choose the weekend I bunch up my cooking and stuff the oven to concentrate its use. At one point I had three pans of roasting veggies, a quiche, and the muffins in there.

My kitchen. Cute, isn’t it!

It also concentrates my time. I only spent two hours doing it all at once. I went to church, came home and ate, watched a TV show, napped, and then at 5:00 I started cooking. By 7:00 I was done and eating a piece of quiche and side of roasted veggies for supper. While I was cooking I listened to music and a sermon. I didn’t feel like a drudge nor put upon, it was relaxing. Cleanup happens all at once too, so I ate my supper at a clean kitchen table.

The key is to commit to it, forgo choosing recipes ahead of time, trusting yourself to creatively come up with dishes that use the items on sale, and be diligent to do it all at once.

Bon appetit!

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2 thoughts on “Frugal cooking lessons

  1. Elizabeth,

    I love reading your cooking posts. I love your creativity, while choosing wholesome foods. Glad you've found a way to keep eating veggies!

    -Carolyn

  2. I second Carolyn, I love these posts. Cute kitchen! The kids and I tried your pumpkin muffin recipe yesterday after school. We used a mini muffin tin though, and I think we got 52 mini muffins out of it. Its really yummy!
    ~Jennifer

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