Showing posts with label Frugal meals. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Frugal meals. Show all posts

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Frugal Food Like The Old Days

written by Gavin Webber from The Greening of Gavin and Little Green Cheese.

In today's society of instant gratification, seldom do the people take the time to make food for themselves. Here is my argument. When I worked in South Yarra a few years ago, the first thing some of my co-workers did before they got to work was go to a local Cafe and buy a coffee (in a disposable cup) and a muffin for breakfast. Then, at morning tea the regulars headed for the snack trolley for more cakes or a meat pie. Then at 1 pm it was off to lunch. 

All of this prepared food must cost them a small fortune. Here is the maths as I see it. Coffee + Muffin = A$6.00, Meat pie + Cake or doughnuts = A$5.50, and lunch at a local Cafe = A$12 to 20. So this lifestyle, if continued each working day, costs between $117 to $157 a week, and oh, those calories! I am not saying that some of the people I used to work with are a bunch of fatties, I am simply stating that from my point of view, it looked like normal practice and probably is the norm in most city office environments. For all I knew they could have exercised every day to keep fit, so the high calorie intake may have been cancelled out. The point that I am making is that the money they could save could have been used for better things.

For example, compare this weekly spend to the cost of buying a few basic groceries, like cereal, milk, coffee, bread, sandwich fillings etc, all of which will last for a week with only one person consuming. This would save them at least $100 a week (I am being generous). Better still, if you still crave for that muffin in the morning, buy a box of muffin mix for $3 and make 6 muffins to a box, and put them in the freezer for breakfast. Oh, so very simple. Think of what one could do with all of these savings. One could pay down some of their credit card debt, or make an extra mortgage payment, or if renting one could save for a house deposit (if so inclined).

I regularly go that little bit further, by baking bread regularly, and Kim baked cakes, scones and biscuits for lunch boxes. I take my lunch to work at least four times a week (a man has to have a treat once in a while), whilst Ben has never bought his lunch from the school canteen when he was at school. It all adds up when you have a family of five mouths to feed, which includes the dogs!  Now that I think of it, we eat very cost effectively and eat healthy food most of the time. I suppose with such a large vegetable patch, it is hard not to do!

Kim has watched the entire series of "Little House on the Prairie" that she bought off of eBay, and she loves the characters and the simple life it portrays. Now, because of the show, and all that baking Caroline does, Kim has a baking bee in her bonnet. She is a great baking cook. A while back, she made a Streusal cake (tastes great) and a batch of scones. The recipes were taken from an old 1992 book, first published in 1963, called "The Dairy Book of Home Cooking" that she bought from the milk man when she lived in the UK (remember when we had milkmen?). To show how simple it is to make scones, here is the recipe;

225g Self raising flour
half tsp salt
50g Butter or Margarine
150ml Milk

Sift flour and salt into a bowl, rub butter into flour until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add all of milk, and mix to a soft, but not sticky dough with a knife (?). Turn on to a lightly floured work surface. Knead quickly until smooth. Roll out to about 1 cm thick. Then cut into 7 or 8 rounds with a 6.5cm biscuit cutter (cookie cutter for Americans reading). Transfer to a greased baking tray. Bake at 230 degrees C (450F) for 7-10 minutes or until well risen and golden. Cool on a wire cooling rack. Then spread with home made jam and scoff the lot (I added this bit in).

The scones were so yummy, that my daughter Megan and I had to have one each for morning tea, smothered in Gav's strawberry jam. I believe that it is the simple foods in life that are, and taste the best, and that simple, sustainable living is much more gratifying than the instant type I mentioned at the beginning of the post.

Who is up for a scone and jam?

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Rethinking Convenience Food

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Cooking from scratch doesn't necessarily come to mind when one thinks of convenience foods. We have been trained for several generations to purchase ready-made goods. It started out innocent enough, but now people are yearning to go back to an earlier time and sets of skills and do more for themselves. Whether it be cooking, gardening, farming, or other lost skills it's all the same, we thought we were saving time and ended up getting busier and busier with no time (we were told) to do for ourselves. But really we lost a lot by not paying attention. I call myself Throwback for a reason. I am a throwback to an earlier time, when tasks like cooking, sewing and all the ins and outs of gardening were common knowledge. I'll give the luck of the draw some credit, I grew up on a farm, my parents were older and still kept some of the old ways, likewise with their circle of friends. My husband and I joke that our habits are so old, that they're in again.

As I prepared soup for dinner today, I went about my work gathering ingredients. We grow most of our food and preserve the harvest in a multitude of ways to last us through the dark days until the growing season starts in earnest.

You know, it sure is convenient to just go to the fruit room, freezer or root cellar and go shopping for meal preparation. I grabbed home canned roasted tomatoes, garlic, onions and potatoes from dry storage, ground beef, peppers, cilantro pesto and corn from the freezer, and grabbed a quart of chicken stock from the fridge. This task made me realize just how convenient it is to have great ingredients on hand to prepare meals with. We grow our own, but if you're not there yet with your pantry stocking from your gardens, you can still load your pantry with purchased goods. The key is having it on hand. Many good meals have been made on the spur of the moment - as long as you have the basics you're good to go.

I guess what I want to say is, if you're a new cook or gardener slaving away trying to master the skills, it's worth it. We need to rethink the idea of convenience food, nothing is more convenient than having good food on hand for preparing a home cooked meal.

Here is the recipe for our dinner made possible by our pantry and my guess and by gosh cooking. This recipe is just a general idea that can be changed to match what you have on hand. In the summer my chilies, corn and cilantro are fresh, in the winter the freezer stores have to do. Pork or chicken are good in this soup too - just use what you have. This recipe is convenient too because of the long cooking time, I can leave this to cook on the back of the woodstove, or even in the slow cooker if I wanted to. Truly convenient.

Beef Stew with Cilantro

1 pound ground beef or stew meat
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup coconut oil or butter
1 quart whole canned tomatoes
1 pint roasted whole tomatoes
1 quart chicken or beef stock
2 pounds potatoes, coarsely chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 or 3 anaheim chiles, chopped
1/3 cup chopped cilantro or cilantro pesto
1 cup frozen corn
sugar to taste - 1 teaspoon or not?
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

In large saucepan over medium high heat, brown onion, garlic and chopped pepper in 1/4 cup coconut oil or butter. When onions are caramelized, add meat and cook until brown. Remove meat and alliums from pan and set aside. Over medium heat in same pan, add all other ingredients, bring to boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, add meat and alliums. Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours over low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove the cover and simmer for an additional 30 minutes. Serve. Much better the next day.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Making Broth a Habit

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Being almost done with the holiday eating season, I figured an article about broth would timely. We can all use a few health giving and cleansing eating habits, not just to deal with holiday food overload, but everyday.

I've found in my kitchen that upping the nutrition level in foods can achieved easily by using more broth in place of water during the cooking process. This adds flavor to sometimes bland foods, broadens their appeal and makes food easier to digest.

In our household we go through about 7 - 8 quarts of broth or stock a week. What triggered all this was my husbands autoimmune problems. He needs every calorie to count, so all his meals and snacks need to be nutrient dense. I first had to attack this problem by making more broth and stock. What was an occasional foray in the kitchen with the results committed to the dungeon of the freezer became a weekly habit. I rarely freeze any broth and if I have any leftover, I can it so it is shelf stable and convenient. But for the most part I devote space in the refrigerator for the weekly broth. If it's there, I use it, and it's an added incentive to use it before it gets old.

We use broth for:

Soups and stews.

Hot broth for a quick pick-me-up on a cold day, or to begin the day.

Braising vegetables, or for adding a dash of liquid to stir fry.

Cooking grains.

How do you incorporate broth into your cooking?

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Spaghetti Scones

by Amanda of Amanda Brooke

I discovered a great recipe for scones last week and they were a huge hit with the kids. Simple, inexpensive and tasty, they've been added to my regular list of snacks for the kids.

This recipe is adapted from a CWA Classics recipe book.

80gm butter chopped
110gm S/R flour
170gm Wholemeal S/R flour
pinch of salt
1 egg beaten
1 420gm tin of spaghetti in tomato sauce
1 tb Worcestershire sauce

Add the flour and salt to a mixing bowl. Rub the butter into the flours until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the beaten egg, spaghetti and sauce to the mixture. Mix until just combined. Turn out the dough onto a well floured surface. Knead the dough until smooth for around 30 seconds and then cut using a drinking glass or a scone cutter. Makes around 10.

Place onto a greased or baking paper lined tray and bake at 200 degrees Celsius for approx 15 minutes. Bake until cooked through. Place into a tea towel lined bowl and once cooled store them in an airtight container. These scones will keep relatively well until the following day or freeze any leftover for school and kinder snacks. Big kids and adults like these too!

I usually add grated cheese, fresh herbs and bacon pieces to make savoury scones, but the spaghetti is a great change. Enjoy!


Sunday, 25 September 2011

Spinach & Silverbeeet Quiche

by Jemma at Time for a Little Something

We've just come into Spring here in New Zealand and it is a welcome change in season! I don't mind winter usually, especially being tucked up inside on a cold night with a glass of red wine and a tasty casserole! But it is lovely to see the first daffodils, lambs and of course, the new fresh green vegetables coming through.

You may also have heard about a certain sporting tournament that's currently taking place in New Zealand... the Rugby World Cup 2011 has well and truly taken over our country! There's a great atmosphere here - flags are in shops, offices, on cars and buildings, and our cafes and restaurants are chocka with visitors and locals having a great time.

So with a change in the weather and so much social activity going on here, I thought a nice weekend lunch to share with friends was in order. This spinach and silverbeet quiche is tasty, easy, and pretty good for you, too. Add a simple salad and maybe some crusty wholegrain rolls... and perhaps a bottle of New Zealand sauvignon blanc! ... and you have a great Sunday lunch. Even better if you can use produce from your own garden.

Don't forget, if you make homemade stock, you can use those odds and ends from the veges, and also the excess liquid that you drain from the greens. I recently read a handy tip from a fellow New Zealand food blogger - she saves all the trimmings from her veges during the week and adds them to a plastic bag in her freezer, then makes a chicken or vegetable stock with them at the weekend. Genius!

Spinach and Silverbeet Quiche
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 bunch spinach, washed, ends trimmed
4-5 silverbeet leaves, washed, white ends trimmed off
2 tsp mustard (I used mild English)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
80g feta, roughly chopped or crumbled
150g light cottage cheese
1/4 cup trim milk, or light evaporated milk
2 Tbsp parmesan cheese
salt and pepper, to taste
4-5 sheets filo pastry
olive oil cooking spray

Preheat the oven to 180 (c). Heat the olive oil in a large frypan, and gently cook the onion for a few minutes, until softened. Place the onion in a large bowl and set aside.

Return the pan to the heat, and add the spinach and silverbeet leaves. Add a splash of water, cover and steam until the leaves have just wilted. Drain, cool, and squeeze out the excess liquid. Roughly chop the greens and add them to the onion.

Add the mustard, eggs, feta, cottage cheese, milk and parmesan, and mix well. You could add other things in at this point too if you wish - chopped fresh herbs, or pinenuts work well. Season the mixture to taste - for me, the feta is salty enough, but freshly ground pepper is welcome. Set the bowl aside while you prepare the pastry.

Lightly spray a loose-bottomed quiche, flan or pie tin with cooking spray. Place one sheet of filo pastry down to line the dish, spray again and add another sheet, repeating until the sheets are stacked up, overlapping, so that the pan is lined. Fill with the silverbeet and spinach mixture, and scrunch the edges of the filo around to make a nice crust.

Bake the quiche for about 25 minutes, until the filling is set. Serves 4-6 for lunch. Bon appetit!

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

We Eat Weeds

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin & Little Green Cheese.

Last night we had a 'weed' salad with our dinner!

Our weed salad
Now, before I go any further with this tale, let me define a weed (Collins Dictionary)
1.  any plant that grows wild and profusely, esp. among cultivated plants.
So really it is any plant not growing where you want it to be.  After 5 years of gardening and growing heirloom vegetables that naturally propagate by self seeding, we have many friendly weeds around the garden.  I did not plant them, nor did I interfere with their desire to grow where they chose to germinate.

Beetroot and rainbow chard self sown all over the place. I did not plant them in the pot!
I currently have the following 'gifts from nature' aka weeds that keep on returning year after year; lambs tongue lettuce, red beetroot, white beetroot, 4 different varieties of rainbow chard, nasturtiums, parsley, cherry tomatoes, and garlic.

Lambs tongue lettuce in my onion/carrot patch
As you can see, all of these veggies are potential salad ingredients, even in mid winter.  So prolific are some of these weeds, that they are beginning to compete with the vegetables that I intentionally planted.  We are picking and pulling lettuce just about every day so that they do now crowd out the brown onions and carrots.  Once the lettuce goes bitter (as it does), I will pull most plants and feed them to the chickens.  However, to keep all of my 'weeds' happy, I will let two plants of each type go to seed therefore letting the cycle continue.  Why fight with Mother Nature when I can let her do some of the heavy lifting around the garden!

To cap it all off, I will leave you with the conversation around the dinner table last night.  Ben was helping Kim gather the ingredients for the salad and he asked "Mum, why are you picking weeds?"  Kim replied, "Ben, that is because nature left them here for us to eat".  Now Ben must have thought long and hard about this statement, because at the table, after cooking Kim and I dinner that consisted of Tortellini and Basil Pesto, with said salad, he piped up and said, "Dad, we are eating weeds for dinner!"  I laughed loudly because I knew exactly what he meant.  Children tell it straight like it is, that's for sure.

So according to Ben, we eat weeds, and are proud of it!

Do you have any interesting 'weeds' growing in your veggie patch?

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Home Made Pizza

The Saturday night treat at our house is pizza.  Not the horrible takeaway stuff dripping grease and fat, but the kind that Kim and I pitch in and make from scratch.  When we have the right vegetables in season, they smother the top.

First of all she makes the pizza dough, which was simply the same recipe we use for making a loaf of bread.  We through the ingredients in the bread-maker as per the instructions on the pre-mix bread flour from Laucke and set the bread-maker to the dough setting and come back in an hour and a half.  When the dough has finished, she takes the dough out of the pan and rolls it in a little flour and starts to toss it in the air just like an Italian pizza shop.  I wait for her to drop it, but she is very skillful.  Here is the finished dough laid out on a pizza tray with tomato paste all over it.  Lately we have been using organic tomato salsa as the base, which tastes much better than plain tomato paste.

Pizza 002
Next are all the toppings.  Kim sometimes makes a bit of a four seasons pizza (four different quarters) with a big slice for everyone's individual tastes.

Pizza 001

As you can see there is a little bit of everything for everyone.  I grew the tomato, onions, and one of the green capsicums (peppers) in this picture.  Here is the fully dressed pizza with a little bit of cheese on top.  Now that I know how to make mozzarella, we use that instead of grated cheddar.

Pizza 003

Into the oven for 15 minutes on 190C degrees, and then 10 minutes at 170 degrees C or until cooked.  This is what it comes out like after baking.  A little bit crispy on the outsides, but that is how we like it.

Pizza 004

The pineapple is Kim' piece, mine is the circle of tomato, DD is the half a tomato, and #2 son's is the quarter of a tomato.  Very cute, just like the four little bears.

It was absolutely fabulous, and so simple to make.  The next job on my plate is to finish our clay cob oven oven outside which I have been working on.  Back breaking work over the last weekend, but well worth it if this is one of the things we are going to cook in it!

Sunday, 3 July 2011

How stocked is your store cupboard?

By Aurora @ Island Dreaming

We have been in the process of restocking our store cupboard in recent weeks, in anticipation of my reduced income. For the past year we haven't had a particularly robust store, probably a couple of weeks of mismatched ingredients on hand that we topped up as and when we ran out. This is partly because morning sickness once again put me off all the wholefood staples I normally cook with; and partly because of a few large purchases we needed to make, leaving little money for bulk food shops. In the meantime, food price inflation (and just about everything else inflation) has steadily risen.

We did a shop to end all shops (OK, about 6 months worth of staples) the last time I went on maternity leave. It paid off, 2008 was the year of record food inflation. With hindsight, the 200 tins of cat food was overkill (it certainly was for the poor driver who delivered it to our door; though never before or since has a burly stranger been so admired and adored by our usually skittish cats) but the cupboard full of pulses, grains, frozen veg and tinned tomatoes stood us in very good stead.

There are several reasons that I like to keep several months worth of food on hand:
  • I don't have to shop in supermarkets with any regularity. I hate them, even online shopping is a chore for me. But there are no food Co-ops around here and for bulk shopping in the UK, the big retailers are the only real option for many. 
  • We save on fuel and delivery costs if we do fewer shops.
  • We eat much more healthily when we have a full store cupboard - lots more whole food basics, less impulse purchases at the local shop.
  • We eat much more frugally when we have a full store cupboard - lots more wholefood basics, less impulse purchases at the local shop.
  • It is a lot easier to develop good routines when you always have what you need to hand - bread baking only became routine when we started bulk buying flour, for instance.
  • We can make the best of genuinely good deals on staples - tins of tomatoes and strong bread flour have been recent wins.
  • In an inflationary economic climate, it has saved us money.
  • Knowing I always have food on hand to tide us over any lean patches gives me a sense of security that money in the bank doesn't match.
I know these won't apply to everyone -  for financial reasons some people may choose to build up a store cupboard gradually, whereas we are usually able to put money each month and do it all in one (or two, if we see any particularly good offers) shops every few months before our store is completely exhausted. I know that if I had to rely on public transport or my own two feet I would have to take a more gradual approach. The rest of these points I think remain true however. 

I have seen some passionate debates on forums about food storage and stockpiling - it seems more controversial in the UK than in the US or Australia. I don't understand why as we are the small island that gave the world the phrase '9 meals from anarchy' after the fuel protests of 2000. Some people see storing several months worth of food as alarmist, a symptom of mental illness and even downright immoral. To me it just seems like common sense - a hedge against personal laziness, inflation, unemployment, fuel protests, the wrong kind of snow on the roads or full blown zombie apocalypse.

The food parcel contained some oddities that I wouldn't normally bulk buy - I have about a year's worth of tinned sardines at our present rate of consumption, I haven't eaten corned beef since I was a student and finding a home for 10 bricks of coffee is going to be a challenge in our small kitchen (my hunch is they will end up under the bed), but we are very grateful for the help. We eat well from our pantry, supplemented by fresh produce bought in local shops within walking distance - and hopefully a little more homegrown from the allotment this year.

Personally I think a nation of well stocked cupboards is the way forward in these uncertain times - I would be interested to hear what you think?

Monday, 20 June 2011

Weekly Rhythms Which Help

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

After a few weeks which left me feeling positively disheveled, I've been taking some time to commit to getting back into a rhythm which helps me lead a simple, green & frugal life even among the chaos of life! And for me, right now, those essential rhythms include...

:: A weekly walk, preferably repeated each day ;)

:: Homemade soup, perfect for a winter's eve - or for tackling summer allergies & sinuses

:: Weekend cooking sessions so meals are healthy & simple during the week - this week roasted trout, brussel sprouts, cooked sweet potato, roasted lemony carrots and broccoli salad

:: A few sessions with the needles - the perfect way to unwind

And when I take the time to incorporate a few little activities which help me lead a simpler life, I find that I'm learning an important lesson. A lesson in understanding no matter how busy, there is always a choice. A choice to rest, a choice to be in that moment, a choice to let go of the distractions and instead take a few minutes to focus, to be, to let go. And in that very moment - even if in the background there is noise and lists of things to do, I see the beautiful! And when I find that beautiful, even just a few minutes each day, it helps me set the tone for a relaxed and simple week.

What activities do you incorporate into your life which help you lead a simple, green or frugal life?

Monday, 7 March 2011

Progressive Stew

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Food Security is on many peoples minds these days, I posted about our mainstay food crops that we rely on in this post on my personal blog. Bel has written several posts here recently too. Rather than growing or buying food to match recipes, in my kitchen, meals are planned around our food stores or garden depending on what season we are in. That is our food security, basically eating what we can grow and store easily. While that may sound like a recipe for disaster, (pun intended? maybe) actually a little kitchen magic occurs when you are forced to innovate and use up what you have.

My kitchen week starts out with a broth fast for dinner made from our chicken broth. I always have broth on hand for cooking or soups. My husband has digestive issues and a rich bone broth is helpful on that front. Usually seasoned with onion, garlic and sage this light soup is delicious and health giving.

The next day, though we are ready for a little more substantial meal and I use the leftover chicken broth as seed for the next day's stew. Usually roots are the norm, as they grow and store easily.

We're not really fussy eaters, and the blend of vegetables is always different, and may range from celeriac, and carrots, to rutabagas and parsnips or all the above. And of course more onions and garlic.

Freezer stores come in handy too. I freeze in jars, so the soup may contain corn, sweet peas and mushrooms depending on what needs using up. I am not using a recipe per se, just utilizing what is available and working through our stores.

Using our own grass fed beef is another way to add flavor and substance to the stew. Season and brown the stew meat, deglaze the pan with last last swig of wine and add to the chicken broth. This is also when I make a quick look through the fridge too. Wanting to keep this meal frugal I look for dibs and dabs of stuff. That little bit of salsa in the jar? Just add water to rinse the jar and throw in the watered down salsa. The jar is rinsed, saving water, and the salsa finds a new calling, flavoring the soup. Same with that little teaspoon of jam or pesto languishing in the back waiting for some toast or crackers, it can lend flavor to a soup too, giving you a balance of salt and sweet. Taste as you go, you may not need more seasoning when all the flavors meld.

If you're wanting to stretch your meat budget a little, after browning the meat, reserve half for another meal, it won't be missed in this flavorful stew. And of course, if you don't eat meat at all, vegetable stock and vegetables would work just fine. It just depends on what you have on hand.

Our stew simmers on the woodstove all day, but a slow cooker would work great too.

What's your most frugal meal?

Monday, 31 January 2011

Saving money in the kitchen

By Aurora @ Island Dreaming

The spectre of food price inflation has reared its head once again in the last few months, which can be a daunting prospect for those managing already tight budgets. Most of us do not stand completely defenceless however. The kitchen is a place where an awful lot of fat can be trimmed, so to speak. In the process of writing this post I have begun to twig the full scope of this subject and the scale of the adjustments that we have made over time to cut our food budget down to size; this is a list of starting points that each warrant a post in themselves.

Over the last few years we have begun to:

Cook from scratch - using quality, nutrient dense raw ingredients. It is much cheaper to invest in some basic ingredients than processed foods. Processed foods may look cheap gram for gram, but they certainly won’t be in terms of nutritional value.

Stock a basic pantry – impulse food purchases often stem from feeling that you have nothing in for dinner, or that you fancy something sweet and toothsome. Making sure that your pantry includes ingredients to rustle up a quick meal or baked goodies will lessen the urge to go shopping. Your pantry will probably change with the seasons, but some basics will always stand you in good stead. Draw up a list of what you have now, what you use regularly and what seem to run out of most frequently; and plan your shopping from that.
Ask ‘Could I live without that?’ - Some people are born gourmets; but novelty doesn’t always come cheap. A food budget is a lot easier to manage if you can be creative with a few versatile staple ingredients and seasonings. Rosewater, whole tamarinds, dried apricots and bottled sour cherries are just some of the things that seemed like a good idea at the time but will never grace our shelves again. That said, a willingness to try new foods is a good thing, meaning that you can capitalise on special offers and gluts. If you are willing to try new flavours and textures you will be able to make the most of the food that comes your way. Now is the time to get over any food prejudices that you may have.

Plan meals – planning helps you to use food when it is freshest. It also allows you to make the most of leftovers; the remains of a Sunday roast can stretch to several meals through the week and a big pot of soup will cover a few lunches. Knowing which days you need to soak beans on, defrost meats, prepare packed lunches or buy fresh vegetables will save a lot of time and money. This is one area where I am disappointed with our progress, as when we have managed it for a week or more we have saved a lot of time and money.

Control portions – many people don’t know what a healthy portion of pasta or cheese or vegetables looks like and may consume far more than they need, or leave it on their plates. This can turn into quite an expensive (and unhealthy) habit.

Plan our shop – my own method is to ‘stockpile’ a few months worth of basics which we buy online (where I am less likely to impulse buy); and to buy perishables from local shops as we need them. The general advice to never shop on an empty stomach, to wise up to the marketing tactics of retailers and to stick to a shopping list is all golden, too.

Eat less meat – not necessarily give it up, unless you are that way inclined, but eat it less frequently. I have friends that barely go a meal without including meat (they feel that it wouldn't actually be a meal without it); an expensive rut to be stuck in. Learning to cook with pulses, tofu, dairy and eggs will lead to many satisfying, frugal meals.

'Bulk out' meals – adding lentils, grains or extra vegetables to meat dishes such as lasagne; and pairing expensive ingredients with complementary cheaper ones will stretch your resources further.

Learn how to store food – Everyone at one time or the other has let lettuce turn to mush at the bottom of the fridge or left half open packets of grain to attract mites. You do not need expensive kilner jars and Tupperware. Old food jars, plastic milk cartons, old crockery and ice cream tubs will all work fine. 
Watch our fuel consumption – some methods of cooking and food storage are fuel intensive. Cook one-pot dishes, or several foods in one pan, as much as possible. Lids, or even dinner plates balanced on top, save a lot of energy and mean  that you can use a lower flame. If you use the oven, fill it with several dishes to optimise energy use. The more adventurous might want to consider fuel-less cooking methods such as hay boxes and solar ovens, or eschewing electric 'labour savers' or even fridges altogether. In addition, consult your appliance manuals for optimizing energy usage. My own freezer apparently works best when stuffed full, but my fridge is better left with space for air to circulate.

There are thousands of resources out there on this topic, not least many of the kitchen and budgeting posts here at the Coop. One of the best UK sites on food waste, Love Food Hate Waste gives useful information on portion sizes, using leftovers and storing foods optimally. I suspect that most of the best information however will not be on the web, but in old home economics books from more austere eras, ready to be retrieved in the nick of time as domestic budgeting becomes an important skill once again. I know that readers here will have many hints, methods and reading lists of their own to share, so please leave a comment if you have something to add.

    Friday, 14 January 2011

    The Confetti Bean Jar

    by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
    My favorite market has a bulk foods section. Buying my dry beans and grains there saves me money, especially when compared to buying beans by the can, couscous by the little cardboard box, or oatmeal in individual packets (less packaging waste too!). Once home, I store most things in a variety of glass jars. It's easy to find and use things, plus I can see when I'm getting low on something. Besides, having everything in sight, as opposed to stuffed into a dark cupboard, makes it that much more likely I'll use it.

    I like the way it looks too - so homey - decorative, and colorful too. Dry beans, especially, come in such a variety of colors - lined up in glass jars they can almost look like art. Around here, we usually have a "legume of the week." Each weekend, I cook up a big pot of a different bean soup, and then refrigerate the leftovers. Last week, it was black-eyed peas (for New Year's); this week, black beans; next week, maybe split pea, or navy bean, or orange lentil, or ??? Legumes come in such variety, we can go for weeks without repeating. My husband heats up a bowlful each morning for breakfast on work days. Quick, warm and filling, the fiber in beans keeps his blood sugars level until lunchtime. I'll add a half sandwich for an easy lunch, or it's nice to have something readily available for dinner on days when I don't feel like cooking.

    Over time, I've developed a pretty good eye when it comes to buying in bulk. I'm pretty good at eye-balling how much will fit in the jar when I get it home. When I have a bit too many beans though, or a last little bit left in a jar before buying more, they go into the confetti bean jar. When I have at least four cups in there, I make confetti soup.

    My Confetti Soup recipe originally came as a gift in a jar. I've since adapted it to put together my own gift baskets. I layer scant cups of black, red kidney, green split peas, white great northern, and brown pinto beans in a quart jar (or just fill with all of them mixed together), and then add a seasoning packet, pint jar of home-canned tomatoes or tomato sauce, and a recipe card.

    Confetti Soup (12 first course, or 6 entree servings)

    4 cups mixed dry beans (best if some of them are split peas)
    16 oz. stewed tomatoes

    3 teaspoons beef bouillon powder
    3 tablespoons dried chopped chives
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon dried savory
    1/2 teaspoon cumin
    1/2 teaspoon pepper
    1 bay leaf

    Sort through beans and remove any stones or shriveled beans. Rinse in cold water. Soak overnight in 9 cups water (or quick-soak: heat to boiling over high heat, boil 5 minutes, remove from heat, cover, and let stand one hour). Drain soaked beans, rinse, drain again.

    To drained beans, add 8 cups water and seasoning. Bring to boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer 1-2 hours or until beans are tender.

    Add tomatoes. Simmer, uncovered, 15 minutes. Discard bay leaf, and serve.

    Monday, 10 January 2011

    Gluten Freedom - Not Quite

    by Throwback at Trapper Creek

    With winter full-on in our location, comfort food and warm fires come to mind. However, a few years ago my husband's life long digestive problems required a more in-depth look. He was diagnosed with many food allergies, and foods he liked started dropping off the menu like flies. The items that gave him the worst fits were potatoes and corn or dishes with those vegetables added. Low on the allergy tests were things like yeast, sugar and egg whites. All pretty easy to avoid, unless you really, really like baked goods like breads and desserts. As foods dropped away and he was still having occasional bouts of digestive problems, his doctor suggested maybe a gluten intolerance could be still bothering him.

    Everywhere you look there are gluten free recipes for everything. For us though, that approach didn't really fit. Too many additives and things we didn't want to buy or eat just to have that brownie or bread. We - he the eater, and me the cook- decided that just cutting back would be a better approach. Since he wasn't really that gluten sensitive, maybe going back to a simpler time when desserts were actually a treat, not everyday fare, would be the way to go. Besides, cutting out sugar and refined carbs would benefit all of us.

    Expanding on the treat idea, we decided we would just have one or two items a week that contained gluten. Maybe pizza, or pie. And I pretty much quit making two crust pies, whether savory or sweet. We found we didn't miss the extra crust, and in small amounts the weekly gluten or a little yeast in a pizza crust did not cause any digestive upsets. I think if I was trying the gluten free recipes for everything we would still be eating too much sugar and other things like high calorie nut flours we don't really need and are very expensive.

    We all feel better, and realized that we were all a little sluggish with the baked goods and cereals in our diet. I realize that this won't help if you have a serious problem with gluten like celiac disease, but just a few changes in our kitchen yielded great results.

    Have you made similar changes in your cooking and eating in regards to food sensitivities and allergies?

    Sunday, 9 January 2011

    One Hundred Ways To Save Money in 2011 Part II

    By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

    Part one of this series can be found here! Hopefully people found some helpful suggestions in the previous post, today I'll be looking at another 50 suggestions!

    51. Keep 15% to 20% of your weekly grocery budget for stocking up on items when they are on sale.
    52. See what you can produce/make {hats, scarves, gloves, soap, jams etc} and organize a swap with someone else whose items you need, such as someone who keeps chickens/hens and has eggs to give away.
    53. Search for local farms and see what they sell in bulk, friends of mine buy gallons of wheat & honey for 20% of the cost the shops by purchasing it in very large quantities.
    54. Can produce in the summer.
    55. Buy bulk produce from farms in the summer and make pies, tomato sauce, crumbles, apple sauce, pear sauce. One year I made 18 apple pies,18 apple crisps and 12 peach pies and froze them!
    56. Get your pets from rescue centres, my local centre charges $50 and that includes all the vaccines needed as well as neutering/spaying and micro chipping!
    57. Keep a large stock of pet food, if you happened on lean times it is one less worry!
    58. Consider getting pet insurance!
    59. Learn to knit
    60. Learn to sew
    61. Learn to make your own shampoo & conditioner
    62. Learn to make your own soap
    63. Keep a list in your purse of household needs and always pop into second hand shops and/or garage sales to see if any of your items are available at a reasonable cost, but be strict with yourself no purchasing of anything that isn't on the list!
    64. Ask your friends if they'd be willing to sell you the clothing their child has outgrown.
    65. Organize a clothing swap with friends
    66. Attend mom to mom sales and twin sales
    67. Start a baby-sitting coop
    68. Search for any shops the specialize in second hand furniture - I bought a wonderful couch and a fabulous retro chair for less than $100 {and they both look new!} at a wonderful charity shop that specializes in furnishings!
    69. If you are buying new, always arrange to purchase items during the sales.
    70. Do your research on prices pre sale {so you know if you are getting a good deal!}
    71. Don't be afraid to ask for discounts on large purchases.
    72. Consider buying the store model - I did this today as I needed a table, the table was $199 on sale but the sales person gave it to me for $50! $50 for a beautiful new table that was the store model {and it was right at the back of the store with very little traffic so is in great condition!}
    73. If you don't have a good rapport with a sales person, go find another one or go back another day!
    74. Ask the shops if they have any sales coming up!
    75. Buy yourself gift cards, I purchase a couple of cards and put a balance of about $20 on them, this means on the rare occasion I choose to purchase a coffee {usually because I'm meeting a group of friends at a coffee shop} it doesn't cost me anything.
    76. Ask for gift cards for Christmas gifts.
    77. Get your DVD's from the library
    78. Join a wool co-op if you knit
    79. Keep lights turned off
    80. In the evenings light candles
    81. Keep your TV & computer off when not in use {and ensure the power is fully off and they aren't on standby}
    82. Turn the tap off as you brush your teeth
    83. Take quick showers
    84. If you go to the gym or swimming shower there
    85. Learn to love simple meals, like a baked potato with salad.
    86. If you eat meat, make it an accompaniment to a meal not the main part of the meal!
    87. Use nuts, seeds and beans to get protein
    88. Shop around for medication, prices vary greatly
    89. Ditch the make-up {or at least use bare bones!}
    90. Ditch the perfume {or keep it only for special occasions}
    91. Hang clothes up after you've worn them, this helps keep them looking nice & reduces the amount of washing you have to do
    92. Find a cobbler and see if your shoes can be repaired rather than thrown out
    93. Buy plants instead of flowers, they last for years!
    94. Keep a tally book in your purse/handbag with average costs of items, this helps you know when something is worth stocking up on
    95. Only allow yourself to go to the shops once a week at most
    96. Suggest pot luck meals when getting together with friends and family
    97. Volunteer - a great social activity at no cost!
    98. Do your taxes - you never know when you'll get a refund!
    99. Pay yourself each pay day - put a set amount of money into a long term account that you don't touch!
    100. Get rid of your sense of entitlement - just because you work hard it doesn't mean you have a "right" to buy what you want. I ran a series about how damaging a sense of entitlement can be, part one is here, part two here and part three here.

    In thinking about it, I think the greatest way to save money is to: enjoy life, find joy, search for beauty, commit to reducing your carbon impact, live purposefully and be thankful! The simple, green & frugal life is a beautiful life!

    What are your tips for saving money?

    Friday, 7 January 2011

    Use It Up

    By Bel
    from Spiral Garden

    I menu plan every week, without fail. When writing my plan I always consider what's in the garden, the fridge, the freezer, the pantry and try to use what we have at hand first. But some weeks we just seem to have accumulated a lot of excess food. For those weeks, I plan what I call a Use It Up week. More than ever I plan the meals around the leftovers, the produce gluts and the tired things in the freezer and pantry, which really need to be eaten soon!

    On Use It Up weeks I try not to buy groceries at all. We are blessed with some homegrown fruit and veg, and fresh milk from our house cow. I always have bulk flour to make bread, and other pantry staples are stored in bulk too (like rice and lentils).

    Use It Up weeks occasionally run into a couple of weeks and not only do they encourage inventive recipes, very local eating habits and a good clean out of my kitchen, but they save us hundreds of dollars on groceries for our family of eight. I normally use this money saved for a bulk shop to replenish the stockpile of anything which is low.

    These past two weeks were Use It Up weeks. We had a lot of family staying for Christmas, and they left behind bits and pieces of food to be used up. First we tackled the fresh food because we didn't want it to spoil, and then we moved on to the more obscure ingredients. But we ate so well!

    Some of the meals we enjoyed were crustless quiches, pasta sauces and curries (with all sorts of vegetables hidden inside), jacket potatoes, salads and all sorts of 'peasant food'!

    The crustless quiche has to be my favourite as we almost always have an abundance of eggs from our chickens. This week I made three shallow quiches one night when we had nine to feed in the evening, and some slices were enjoyed cold for lunches the next day.

    One contained defrosted shredded ham, mozzarella and some herbs. Not many of us eat ham, but our visitor and those who do, thought it was delicious! The second one contained some very finely chopped mushrooms, cubed various cheeses and more fresh herbs - it was my favourite! And the third was a basic mixed vegetable quiche, with some mozzarella and herbs for flavour.

    To make these crustless quiches, I rub pie dishes with butter and pour in the vegetables etc mixed together with herbs and cheese if I'm using it. Then I whisk together a lot of eggs (about 5 per pie), some yoghurt or cream, some stock powder or paste, any herbs or spices not yet added, a dash of milk, some plain flour (I use wheat or spelt, wholemeal or unbleached) and a pinch of baking powder. This mixture is only slightly more runny than pancake batter. I pour it over the vegetables etc waiting in the dishes, and top with sliced tomato if I have some.

    The quiches are baked at 180 degrees C for about 35 minutes or until golden brown and firm throughout. How long they take depends on the size and depth of your pie plate. I prefer shallow, small plates so they cook faster and I can make more than one variety at a time.

    We serve the quiche slices with a big green salad and homemade dressing.

    Do you have a favourite Use It Up recipe? If so, please share!

    Sunday, 26 December 2010

    One Hundred Ways To Save Money in 2011 Part I

    By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

    Happy Holidays to you & yours! As the Holiday Season closes and the New Year approaches, I've been thinking a lot about the frugal life in 2011. Saving money can feel like a long hard road and while it certainly takes determination, sacrifice and motivation to get out of debt and save, there are hundreds, if not thousands of ways we can live more frugally! Here are my own 100 suggestions for ways to cut back spending in 2011.

    1. Join the library, go visit, order some books and pledge not to buy a book this year!
    2. Cut your magazine subscriptions or ask for them for gifts or even share one between friends.
    3. Stop buying cleaning products and instead purchase baking soda and vinegar. Great cleaning solutions and ideas can be found here
    4. Stop buying paper towels and instead designate certain tea towels for cleaning the floors, counters etc.
    5. Use reusable toilet paper.
    6. Buy or make reusable feminine products.
    7. Use reusable nappies.
    8. Use reusable baby wipes
    9. Hang your laundry out to dry.
    10. Do not wash things just because you have warn them once except for undergarments!
    11. Turn your heat down a few degrees and wear socks and a sweater instead!
    12. Turn your air con down a few degrees and wear thin clothes that don't reflect the sun
    13. Always either make cards or stock up on packs of cards. You can make or find packages of eight cards for the same cost of 1 card in some shops!
    14. Keep a gift drawer in your house and stock it with reasonable items
    15. Make homemade gifts
    16. Keep cookies, squares and soups in the freezer to give as gifts!
    17. Swap names for the holidays instead of buying for everyone.
    18. Give charity gifts - a donation to charity and gift in one!
    19. Ditch the gym membership.
    20. Take up walking, hiking or running.
    21. Find free hobbies like joining a choir or book group
    22. Nominate two days a week as vegetarian days then build to three
    23. Nominate two days a week as no spending days, aim to get used to it (maybe for a month or so) and then increase it to three days a week.
    24. Nominate one evening a week as soup night. Soup + veggies + a roll (or crackers) is a very frugal family meal
    25. Box up leftovers before sitting down to dinner so that you don't pick at them or have second helpings.
    26. Pack a lunch for work each day
    27. Always keep water and snacks on hand.
    28. Pay cash for your groceries and only take that amount with you to the store.
    29. Always shop with a list and a menu planner.
    30. Plan your meals, even if you simply plan which meals you'll have over the course of the week.
    31. Nominate one day a month as freezer cooking & baking day.
    32. Join a food co-op.
    33. Grow your own fruits and veg, if you don't have a garden look at a community plot or growing herbs indoors.
    34. Make a list of local activities that are free.
    35. Nominate one weekend a month as a no-spending weekend.
    36. Set yourself no driving days.
    37. Combine shopping trips to limit the petrol you use
    38. Walk to shops, friends, school, work as much as possible
    39. Ride your bike
    40. Shop at second hand stores
    41. Join freecycle
    42. Have a rule that if something comes into your home, something must leave it.
    43. Get a slow cooker and nominate one day a week as slow cooker day
    44. Repair items that are torn or broken
    45. If you are going to purchase something make yourself wait 48 hours
    46. Ask yourself if something is a need or a want and calculate how many hours work you would have to do to pay for it.
    47. As much as possible drink water
    48. Give up soda.
    49. Give up candy
    50. Set yourself a mad money limit each month which you can spend on what you want, $20 can let you splurge on some new music or some treats or a trip to the movies. But when it is gone, it is gone! :)

    Part II will follow on my next posting day!

    What are your money saving tips for 2011?

    Saturday, 30 October 2010

    Fifty Ways To Save Money For The Holidays

    By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

    With the holidays looming, many people fear that the extras aren't possible within their income level or budget so the additional "needs" get dumped on the credit card! There are so many teeny tiny greener changes we can make over the next 8 weeks which will save you hundreds of dollars and maybe pay for the turkey, trimmings and presents :)

    1. Stop buying books and magazines and start using the library instead!
    2. Don't buy cleaning products and instead invest in vinegar and baking soda [see the Down To Earth blog for tips]
    3. Only wash clothes that are dirty, don't wash simply because you've used them
    4. Hang your clothes to dry
    5. Shower instead of bath and put a timer on
    6. Swap childcare with friends
    7. Eat vegetarian meals 3 nights a week - eating less meat is certainly greener!
    8. Set yourself no spending days begin with 2 a week for the first month then add in another!
    9. Use low energy light bulbs
    10. Turn off the water while brushing your teeth
    11. Turn off all lights in empty rooms
    12. Put a sweater and socks on so you can keep the heat lower.
    13. Turn down the water temperature.
    14. Pack snacks
    15. Practice freezer cooking once a month so you have frugal meals handy!
    16. Don't use things that are disposable like water bottles
    17. Stop buying paper towels
    18. Plan a weekly menu
    19. Have breakfast for dinner once a week
    20. Only shop once a week maximum
    21. Try to buy direct from local farms and co-ops
    22. Limit or ditch the cell phone
    23. Schedule a long walk each weekend (great frugal family activity)
    24. Pick your own - in some areas apples are still available!
    25. Use what is available free - does your gym have showers and shampoo you can use instead of showering at home?
    26. Wash your clothes at lower temperatures
    27. Establish a change jar
    28. Set yourself no driving days - if you need your car for work, nominate one day at the weekend where you aren't allowed to use it.
    29. Set yourself the goal that if you could walk somewhere within 30 minutes you shouldn't take your car.
    30. Write down everything you eat.
    31. Write down everything you buy
    32. Cancel the newspaper subscription
    33. Don't eat out. Maybe challenge yourself and see if you can not eat out at all between now and the holidays!
    34. Nominate one night a week to be soup night
    35. Commit to cutting your grocery bill by at least 10% [I cut mine by 75%]
    36. Stop buying soda, juice and alcohol
    37. Ditch the cigarettes
    38. Have a movie night at home.
    39. Rent movies from the library - in most countries that means they are free.
    40. See if you can get what you need for free by making use of local adds and enquiring if friends or family are looking to get rid of what you need.
    41. Join a book group - usually a free way to have a night out.
    42. Turn off all electrical equipment
    43. Get back to nature [photographing squirrels is free, green & fun!]
    44. Make your own shampoo
    45. If you want to purchase something, make yourself wait 48 hours and examine whether you need it or want it.
    46. See if what you need you can purchase second hand
    47. Wait to do dishes until there is a full load [by hand or machine!]
    48. Watch your portion sizes
    49. Be your own beauty therapist
    50. Ask for the necessities for holiday gifts

    Taking a minute to reflect on this list, it is obvious that many of these money saving measures are actually green choices too! I've always found being greener doesn't need to be expensive despite what media reports often say! There are hundreds of every day little steps you can take to green your life, reduce your carbon footprint, enjoy a simpler life and live within a budget!

    Have you got any green tips which help save money? Do you find being green expensive or frugal?

    Tuesday, 24 August 2010

    Saving the Freshness of Summer

    Here at Chiot's Run we make sure we're enjoying all the fresh tastes of summer. Since we've been trying to eat more seasonally and not spend as much time canning & preserving, I've been making sure to enjoy things as they're at their peak. That means we've been eating sliced fresh tomatoes with every meal.

    One of our other favorite fresh summer tastes is pesto. I usually make a batch and we enjoy it on; homemade pasta, pizza, toast, vegetables, etc. My pesto recipe is very simple, I use walnuts or pecans instead of pine nuts because I always have some in the freezer.

    1/4 cup of walnuts
    2 cloves of garlic, sliced
    1 1/2 cups of fresh basil leaves
    1/3 cup good olive oil
    3 T. butter
    1/4 cup romano cheese
    salt & pepper to taste

    Add walnuts, garlic and basil to food processor and process until finely chopped. Drizzle with 1/3 cup of good olive oil and process until combined, add 3 Tablespoons of butter and pulse until blended. Empty contents into bowl and stir in cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Allow to rest for a few hours before serving.

    This particular batch of pesto was enjoyed over some fresh linguine that I made last night. There's enough left over for something else, I'm thinking make a white lasagne with cheese and pesto and no marinara.

    What are you enjoying at the peak of it's fresh flavor?

    I can also be found at Chiot's Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Not Dabbling in Normal, and you can follow me on Twitter.

    Saturday, 17 July 2010

    Mix & Match Stir-Fry

    by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
    Like Kate, in her post yesterday, I too am finally getting to eat fresh out of the garden. Then, too, the heat of summer has finally arrived, so long cooking times heating up the kitchen is the last thing I want to do. Stir-frys are our quick, easy meal of choice, and the ingredients vary depending on what's available at the moment. Just like a Chinese menu, choose one from Column A, one from Column B, etc, adjust amounts according to how many you'll be serving and/or if you want leftovers, and dinner can be on the table in half an hour.

    Gather your choice of ingredients. If you'd like to serve your stir-fry with a grain, such as rice, noodles, couscous, whatever, get that started cooking while you prep one from each of the following:

    Mix & Match Stir-fry (4-6 servings)
    Cut into thin, bite-size pieces (it's easier to cut meat into thin strips if it's partially frozen):
    1 pound medium shrimp OR 1 pound boneless pork OR 2 whole chicken breasts OR 1 pound beef top round OR 1 box extra-firm tofu

    Vegetables I
    Slice into bite-size pieces, and micro-cook, steam, or boil until crisp-tender (just a couple of minutes), then drain:
    2 large carrots OR 1 cup broccoli buds OR 1 cup fresh asparagus pieces OR 1/2 cup cauliflower

    Vegetables II
    Cut into uniformly-sized slices:
    2 cups bok choi or Chinese cabbage OR 1 cup fresh pea pods OR 1 cup fresh mushrooms OR 2 medium tomatoes, seeded

    Crunchy Ingredient
    If necessary, cut into uniformly-sized slices:
    8-oz can water chestnuts, drained OR 1 cup walnut pieces OR 1 cup dry-roasted peanuts OR 2 stalks celery

    The Basics - these are in every stir-fry
    1 clove garlic, minced OR 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
    4 green onions, thinly sliced
    2 tablespoons cooking oil
    (optional) 4 oz. fresh or canned bean sprouts OR bamboo shoots, drained

    Stir together, and set aside:
    1/2 cup cold water
    2 tablespoons soy sauce
    1 tablespoon dry sherry
    2 teaspoons cornstarch

    Once you have everything ready to go, start cooking: in wok or large skillet heat the oil until the surface looks wavy. Stir-fry garlic or ginger 30 seconds, add green onions and stir-fry another minute. Add Crunchy Ingredient plus sprouts or shoots, and continue to stir-fry another couple of minutes. Remove everything from the skillet to a plate.

    Add Vegetables I and II to the skillet, stir-fry 1 minute. Remove to the plate.

    Add more oil if necessary, and stir-fry half the Protein 2-3 minutes, until browned. Remove to plate, and stir-fry other half. Return all Protein, garlic mixture, and Crunchy Ingredient to skillet. Give the soy sauce mixture a quick stir, and pour into skillet. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Stir in Vegetables I and II, cover, and cook another minute or two. Serve atop or alongside your prepared grain choice.

    Friday, 16 July 2010

    Two Meals for the Garden Trickle

    by Kate
    Living the Frugal Life

    Experienced gardeners are accustomed to dealing with gluts from time to time.  The glorious avalanche of food coming in all at once - whether it be tomatoes, green beans, zucchini/courgettes, potatoes, or something else - can be met with a variety of strategies ranging from sharing it among friends, family and neighbors, to food preservation.  There are even cookbooks devoted to single ingredients which come in very useful when those gluts happen.

    But there's another, less discussed, phenomenon with which gardeners also contend.  It's the trickle - that slow but steady production of a few cherry tomatoes per day early in the season, or a scant handful of snow peas (mangetout) from just a few plants.  When you have a trickle of any particular crop, it's hard to build a meal around that one vegetable alone.  Nor does it make much sense to spend the time to preserve such tiny amounts of food.  If the trickle is really small, it's not usually an issue in my garden, because a couple of cherry tomatoes will just get popped straight into my mouth.  Sometimes though, I like to cobble a meal out of several trickles gathered together.

    Of course, there's always salad.  Most garden vegetables can go into a green salad to add new colors and textures.  But I figured you already knew that, and wanted to offer you some other ideas.  Both of the following dishes are easy to prepare, full of healthy fresh vegetables, quite frugal, and consistently delicious.

    Bi Bim Bap

    This dish hails from Korea.  Although it has many of the same basic ingredients as stir-fried rice, the finished meal is quite different.  I prefer it over stir-fried rice by quite a large margin.  Since I've only started making this dish fairly recently, I'm going to have an expert introduce it to you.  In this charming video Maangchi demonstrates every step in making a batch of bi bim bap large enough to feed a small army.

    There are a few things I do differently.  I'm usually preparing bi bim bap for only two people.  So I don't take the trouble to pan-fry each and every type of vegetable in separate batches.  I simply cook them all together, which also makes sense when dealing with the small quantities of garden trickle.  I've never added the ground beef or all the sugar she uses, and honestly haven't missed either of them.   Also, this is probably entirely inauthentic, but I've found I most enjoy bi bim bap prepared with sushi rice.  The chewiness of this rice and the fried egg (I leave the yolk slightly soft) gave our vegetarian version of the dish plenty of ballast without heaviness.  I liked the sesame seeds Maangchi put in the scallion sauce, so I usually sprinkle some on top of my serving when everything's all mixed up.

    Good garden crops to use for bi bim bap: zucchini, carrots, snow peas, green beans, spinach, any cooking green, and just about any member of the cabbage family, chili peppers, scallions, onions.  Small quantities go quite far in this dish if you have a variety of vegetables.

    Spicy Peanut Noodles

    I'm going to have to explain this one myself.  This dish also has clear influences from Asia.  I don't know if any country claims it as their own, but it's well adapted for use in many growing regions.  I especially like to use a variety of greens in this dish, as well as cherry tomatoes cut in half.  For a dish that serves 2-3 people, you will need the following:

    8 oz (250 g) rice noodles, soaked in cool water to cover for about 45 minutes, then well drained
    3-4 cups (about 1 l) mixed vegetables, chopped
    cooking oil
    spicy peanut sauce, made from:
    • 1/2 cup (~120 ml) peanut butter
    • 1/4 cup (~60 ml) soy sauce
    • 1/4 cup (~60 ml) rice wine vinegar
    • 1 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
    • ground chili pepper to taste
    • water for thinning

    When preparing the vegetables, I usually separate them into three bowls.  The smallest one contains the seasoning ingredients, such as minced fresh ginger and garlic, plus sliced onions or scallions.  In this bowl I add a generous quantity of the cooking oil.  The next bowl contains most of the vegetables, cut up appropriately for stir-fry.  The last one is for any vegetables I only want to cook for only a very short time, such as cherry tomatoes, which have become an essential ingredient in this dish.

    Simply mix all the ingredients for the spicy peanut sauce together in a clean jar with a lid.  Give the ingredients a good stir and then shake it vigorously to blend..  The level of spiciness can be suited to your tastes.  I like a mild but full flavored chili pepper powder such as ancho or molido.  I use a level tablespoon of these chili powders.  If you like more heat, or if you only have cayenne on hand, then obviously adjust the quantity appropriately (i.e. probably downward unless you're a capsaicin freak).  I add just enough water so that the sauce no longer looks like I could frost a cake with it.  It should be thin enough to pour, but no thinner.  After preparing the noodles you may have some of this sauce leftover.  It'll keep in the fridge (nice and neat in that jar) for about a week.

    The dish works best in an extremely hot and large open pan.  I use a monster cast iron skillet, preheated for 10 minutes so that it retains enough heat to keep the ingredients sizzling throughout the cooking process.  Try to have all your vegetables dry to that water doesn't cool down the pan.  In any case, you want a big and very hot pan, something with a long handle to stir the ingredients around with, and tongs to toss the noodles with the other ingredients.  You also will need all your ingredients lined up and ready to go before you begin.  Mise en place for you pros and former pros out there.

    Heat your pan over very high heat, preheating it for up to 10 minutes.  If it starts to smoke, it's a sign you're ready to start cooking (seriously), but turn on the vent fan so the fire department doesn't show up.  Add the seasoning ingredients mixed with a generous amount of cooking oil to the pan.  Stir for only about 15 seconds and immediately add the majority of your other vegetables.  Cook these, stirring constantly for a minute or two, until you see them wilt a bit.  Then add any other vegetables that require very little cooking time.  After another minute of cooking, push all the vegetables to the center of the pan.  Add the drained rice noodles around the edges of the pan, leaving the vegetables in the middle.  Pour the spicy peanut sauce over the noodles.  Wait a moment and then begin to incorporate the vegetables, noodles, and sauce.  Work around the edge of the pan, grasping some vegetables and some noodles with your tongs, turning them over to mix them together.  All ingredients should be thinly coated by the spicy peanut sauce.  Add more if it seems to need it. When the noodles are thoroughly heated through, the dish is ready.

    If you can't get rice noodles, you can use half a pound (1/4 kg) of spaghetti, but it'll need to be thoroughly cooked beforehand.

    Good garden crops to use for Spicy Peanut Noodles: Swiss chard or other cooking greens, sweet corn cut off the cob, eggplant/aubergine (finely cut), any member of the cabbage family, carrots, cilantro or basil, cherry tomatoes, snow peas, green beans, etc.

    Both of these vegetarian dishes have become emblematic of late spring through summer in our house.  We make them frequently in during this time and find them extremely satisfying. I hope you'll enjoy them if you try them.  And if you have any garden trickle strategies or go-to dishes, please mention them in the comments.