Frugality in the Kitchen

BLOG / Recipes / October 7, 2013

For a long time, I spent loads of money on food. I had embarrassing grocery bills of about $400 to $500 a month to feed two people. I was the kind of cook who felt that I needed to have seven or eight cheeses on hand at all times. (Because goat cheese just isn’t the same as feta.) I bought lettuces in bags (the shame!) and boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I filled my cart with convenience foods like hummus, pesto, pre-sliced cheese, and bottled salad dressings.

I am not condemning people who buy those things. Some people have no interest in cooking from scratch and their time is limited. Me, I have plenty of time (on the weekends anyway), not a lot of money, and I genuinely love being in the kitchen. So I began to invest time into cooking rather than money. The result has been vast savings (I now spend less than $200 a month on food) and much healthier eating.

I like to think of “preparing meals” rather than “cooking” square “meat-and-three” meals. One way to save money is to always have something delicious waiting for you in the fridge, so you aren’t tempted to stop off at the grocery for convenience items.

If you are looking to cut your grocery bill this winter, try to make both a broth and roasted vegetables on Sundays. Also make a batch of your favorite vinaigrette to have at the ready. The broth might be made using a whole chicken, and the meat can be reserved for a variety of uses throughout the week (chicken salad, stir-fry, burritos). Turn the broth into chicken noodle stew, risotto, or pureed winter squash or carrot soup. Freeze leftover stock so you don’t have to buy cans. Also freeze leftover bits of white wine and save for risotto. Freeze red wine for next week’s beef stew.

Rich vegetable broth can be made mostly from scraps and a few dried mushrooms for depth of flavor. Buy one good loaf of bread (like Barrio Bread, made in Tucson) and enjoy it all week. Serve your soups with good old grilled cheese or just some homemade breadcrumbs. This can be dinner, I promise. The simple life is good.
Here are two of my favorite vegetable roasting “recipes.” The tomatoes are more dried than roasted, and they are great in green salads and on sandwiches. In her book, The Everlasting Meal, Tamar Adler suggests “filling up the oven” with trays of various vegetables (each on their own tray because they all have differing cooking times). I also like to sneak in a loaf of banana bread, and tofu slices for sandwiches and snacking.

It’s also useful to cook a big pot of grains, like farro or quinoa. The leftover roast vegetables and grains and vinaigrette are the building blocks for tasty salads and sandwiches throughout the week. Let your creativity run wild.

Oven-dried Tomatoes
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty

Tomatoes (any kind, halved or quartered depending on their size)
Olive oil
Thyme springs
Preheat oven to 275. Place tomatoes skin-down on a roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil and salt. Toss lightly. Lay thyme springs across the tomatoes and roast 1.5 hours. Ottolenghi also uses these in a lentil salad with herbs and gorgonzola. But you don’t have to get that fancy. They are delicious plain on toast.

Roasted Vegetables
Adapted from Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal, Cooking with Economy and Grace

Olive oil

If using broccoli or cauliflower, cut small florets. If using beets or sweet potatoes or turnips, pierce with a knife and wrap individually in foil (dousing with a little oil and salt first). You can slice fennel and roast it. Parsnips and carrots turn into caramelized glories. Or cut sweet potatoes into fries. You can roast asparagus too, but it needs only ten minutes. Basically, if it’s a vegetable, it can be roasted. Cut vegetables as desired and toss with a glug of oil and a generous pinch of salt. Roast until done, checking and pushing around with a metal spatula, about 20-45 minutes, depending on the vegetable. When it becomes a little soft and delicious-smelling, it’s done. A little caramel color on the vegetables is very delightful.

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