Cooking from the Pantry, part 2: Hints and Tips
Our goal with these hints and tips for Cooking from the Pantry is to reduce grocery expenses while increasing the number of meals you successfully produce at home. Quick trips to the grocery store for one or two items almost ALWAYS result in overspending in small increments that quickly add up to big bucks by the end of the month, and last-minute swings through the fast food restaurant leave both cold French fries on the floor of the mini-van and another big ping out of the checking account. There is a better way, and it doesn’t have to be complicated.
In part 1 of Cooking from the Pantry, we went through and brainstormed meals that your family likes, began to pull together a realistic recipe collection, and started looking for items that should always be kept on-hand with the idea of producing any one of several different meals.
Next, check into buying a quarter or side of beef at a time; there is little else that will save as much on a year’s supply of red meat like bulk buying power! Prices for bulk beef tend to run around $3/pound, and afterwards your freezer is full of everything from hamburger to ribs, steaks to roasts. You will also be supporting the local economy and your friendly farmer/rancher down the road. You can buy pork in bulk as well, and sausage and bacon are happy additions to the family.
For non-meat items, check into our area Farmers’ Markets and Gardeners Markets. By forming friendships with the local growers, you might find a great resource for bulk items such as tomatoes, kale, onions or potatoes that you can freeze, dehydrate or can for later use. And even if not, knowing that your food came from Yellowstone valley country instead of from 2,400 miles away via truck is a great feeling.
GETTING REALLY, REALLY LOCAL
Growing some of your own fruits and vegetables is also an option, and the Billings area can successfully grow most of the produce listed on the EWG “Dirty Dozen List”… those fruits and vegetables that consumer action groups are concerned about due to high levels of pesticide and herbicide residue. Start as simply as a lettuce bowl on your sunny porch – a simple scattering of lettuce seeds in good potting soil, watered on your way out the door, and harvested at will. Many herbs absolutely thrive in pots, and nothing beats the feeling of tossing a handful of homegrown chives, basil, or even edible flowers on a beautiful salad of baby greens!
While the term “leftovers” can be a bad word in some households, in ours, it’s nothing more than another meal already started. Pot roast makes great sandwiches, stir fry, any one of a hundred types of soup, baked potato stuffing, or goulash with pasta (even a gluten-free pasta) and sauce. Chicken added to soups or rice can make a filling lunch or light supper. Beans can be added cold to what we call “super salads”. It’s perfectly awe-inspiring to realize how many leftovers can be pulled out of the fridge, seasoned lightly to pull everything together, and heated into a tasty soup.
Keep it simple, sweetheart. While I personally enjoy meal-making from scratch, there are times when either I’m just whupped from the busy-ness of the day, or I’m out of commission due to an illness. Well, being a mother, that latter one doesn’t really count for an excuse, unless perhaps it involves stitches, a hospital stay, or Vicodin. “Man colds” don’t count for Mothers, sadly, and the family still wants to be fed Every. Single. Day. So for those days, be sure that your pantry planning includes some things that can be quickly and easily prepared. Those frozen meals we discussed earlier should always be readily available, just in case –
YOU CAN DO IT
It’s your kitchen, girl. Your kids will grow up thinking that no one can possibly cook like you do anyway (for the good or the bad, whatever), so don’t kick yourself too hard if you find yourself wondering if a rotisserie chicken is a horrible event (actually it’s pretty nutritious, cost-effective, and tastes great with a simple bagged salad and favorite dressing, a side of sliced cheese and some French or sourdough bread.) At the very, very least… pull out 5 or 10 recipes and make sure that you keep the ingredients on hand. When you use something up, turn around and post that puppy to your shopping list. Don’t apologize if you find yourself cooking them up what feels like too often… just serve it with a big smile and a wink, and make somebody else do the dishes!