Tuesday, November 02, 2010

It ain't over, I promise

There was a time a few months ago when I thought my blogging days were over. I had no interest in picking up a cookbook. I didn't think I'd buy another one. I even thought, what the heck am I doing with all of these cookbooks????

Well I'm glad I didn't box them all up and get rid of them because I didn't stay in that state for very long. I've acquired quite a few cookbooks since that time, mostly from yard sales and Goodwill. I read them longingly but unfortunately I can't actually cook and blog like I would like to right now. My blog is in limbo, as is my life in many respects.

So please, bear with me. This blog will be back in full force eventually.

It's not like I'm not cooking. We need to eat. But we also can't really afford to eat right now. Divorce is expensive. It's all about stretching a buck around here. It's not always pretty - last night's dinner was hot dogs and boxed macaroni and cheese. Mostly it isn't that bad though. I buy meat on sale (although marked down meat is usually the best deal) and stretch it out.

One small piece of steak (less than a pound) can be frozen, thawed partially and sliced very thinly, marinated in a bit of worcestershire and seasonings (I like to add a bit of cornstarch to the marinade too), sautéed and added to mushrooms and onions that have been sautéed and seasoned with a bit of steak sauce (or Country Bob's All-Purpose Sauce if you're lucky enough to have some) and that small piece of meat will feed all of us. Two bigs cans of mushrooms at about $1/each stretches that out cheaply without adding a lot of calories. I serve this over egg noodles or, occasionally, mashed potatoes (but I seem to be the only mashed potato eater in this house).

Stir fries (served over cheap ramen noodles) and fried rice are two of the best ways to stretch out a small bit of meat. Partially frozen meat can be cut super-thin and it will seem like you have a lot more meat. I add a couple of eggs to my fried rice too. The vegetables vary according to what I have. If I don't have any vegetables for a stir-fry, I like to buy a bag of broccoli slaw. It might be a bit more expensive per pound than other vegetables but it has a variety of vegetables in there (broccoli, cabbage and carrots), it can go right in the pan, no chopping necessary, and cooks up quickly.

Speaking of eggs, they get overlooked for dinner and they really shouldn't. One day I had nothing planned for dinner and an expensive stop at the grocery store on the way home from work appeared to be in my future. Then I remembered I had most of a package of bacon left that I had bought to make baked beans. So I thought, we'll have bacon, scrambled eggs and toast and it was a nice dinner. Grocery store trip averted!

Enchiladas, quesadillas, etc, are great for stretching meat (or eggs) too. Tortillas are cheap (recently they had packs of 30 corn tortillas on sale for $1), so is cheese, especially when you realize you don't need to use a ton of it. There is plenty of room for improvising with what you have on hand too. I made a version of Enchiladas Suizas without the cream, instead using some lite sour cream I had. I mixed that into the sauce. It was even better and lighter than using the whipping cream.

Why are Jell-O cups so expensive? Is there a monopoly on gelatin? There are plenty of pudding cups brands and even though you would think pudding ingredients are more expensive, you can buy pudding cups for 99 cents for a 4-pack but Jell-O seems to be the only one selling gelatin cups in the 6-packs and they are about $2.50??? for 6???? Ridiculous.(I think there are some off-brands selling in larger packages but they are usually crappy flavors like lemon and lime.) I've started buying packages of Jell-O for under a $1 and using small plastic jello molds I already owned to make Jell-O cups. I get 5 out of one small package of Jell-O. I get a better selection of flavors that way too. My son always eats these at home so I don't worry about him losing my molds. Sugar-free Jell-O with a dab of Cabot's whipped cream is a nice bedtime snack for me too.

My husband bought a lot (I mean a LOT) of tuna at one point when he was taking tuna for lunch but then I guess he discovered I wasn't stocking everything else he needed to make tuna salad or he just got lazy and it sat in the cupboard. I've been taking advantage of this bounty and making something with tuna just about every week. Even Dan enjoys tuna noodle casserole so I don't know why I rarely used this cheap protein over the years.

I was buying frozen entrees for lunch and they do go on sale rather cheaply compared to buying lunch out. 5 for $10 is a common sale price, occasionally you will see 6 for $10, the lowest price but that only comes up every once and while. I started making my own frozen entrees and typically will use a box of high fiber pasta (under $2), cheap veggies from the farmer's market (eggplant, mushrooms, whatever) and add some cheese (low-fat ricotta is good, only about $2) and I can get 7-8 lunches out of that one box of pasta and each meal works out to under $1. Or I microwave some potatoes and vegetables and then I make up a cheese sauce and I make up stuffed potatoes. I end up eating the same thing for lunch practically everyday for a while but I mix up my snacks and other foods so it doesn't get boring.

I try not to overpack my sons' lunches. My older son doesn't get a very long lunch period so I try to realistically think of how many baby carrots, crackers, etc he can eat in that time before I pack his lunch. It is deceiving how much food can fit in those baggies and small containers. It's almost comical when you watch the children in the daycare center sit down to their lunches since all their food is emptied out onto plates. You will see a mountain of goldfish crackers and piles of other food sitting in front of these very small children. The small snack-size baggies only need to be about half full.

Overall, while I'm not placing healthiness in the forefront of planning meals, I am doing what I can in that respect. I still buy the high-fiber pastas for the most part. They are more expensive than regular pasta but still a cheap food source. I use Uncle Ben's rice which I've always understood to be the best white rice, maybe even the best rice overall, in terms of the glycemic index, that you can buy. I try to add vegetables, not carbs to meals to stretch them. Cutting back on meat and cheese is healthier. And I simply just try to eat smaller portions and less food.

Sorry - I went off on a tangent there. See, I really miss blogging.


Annie Jones said...

This is a great post on kitchen frugality, even if your reasons for posting it are unpleasant. All of these are good tips anytime, but especially when you need to keep costs down.

Hope things smooth out for you soon.

Christina said...

Maybe when you get back into this blogging routine you can write about recipes on a budget. There are many of us that are in the same boat for various reasons and we are trying to make the best out of the ingredients that are the cheapest around. I am sure that it would be a hit and helpful ! Cant' wait for your return.

Sara said...

we have also been hit with some major financial troubles. we've been eating lots of pasta, lots of stir fries, lots of beans. bean salad, beans and rice, bean soup. before we had to make further budget slashes, i was already cutting back on how much meat i was cooking and serving. i cook one steak or one chicken breast for my husband and i and then i thinly slice it before putting on the serving plate. then it looks like more, but at the same time we know that's all the meat there is so we put more veggies on our plate than we would if we had a whole chicken breast or steak on the plate.
i also make sure that every leftover gets used up one way or another.
coupons are not huge here in canada for some reason, but i have started reading the grocery store flyers thoroughly every week and going through the pantry and freezer to see what i have before i make my weekly meal plan, rather than looking for recipes before ingredients.
hope things take a turn for the better soon paula. :)

Sheila said...

I think this is a great post for everyone. I'm so sorry things are still so rough for you and the boys. I do hope things start looking up soon. We'll be here when you feel like posting more. Take care.

Wanda said...

I am sorry that things are rough for you right now. This is a great post though for many of us. One of my grown sons and I went to the city today on business, and we talked about all the soup we used to have for dinners when they were growing up. I used Soup/Stew Starter (because I am terrible at making good tasting beef soup) and added a little hamburger meat, extra noodles or rice, and any bits of extra veggies we had either fresh or a baggie of frozen leftover veggies from the freezer. It stretched to feed 5 kids and 2 adults, usally for a meal or two.