Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Frugal Meals For A Tiny Budget

In response to the FAQ: What can I make that is healthy and filling for $20/ week?

The following answer is based on a willingness to cook, and but uses only basic cooking skills and utensils usually found in a kitchen.

1. turkey sandwiches
2. turkey stew
3. turkey pies
4. turkey soup
5. basic turkey burgers
6. french onion soup
7. sliced fresh veggies
8. fresh bread

Shopping List:
*prices are based on standard prices in Southern Ontario, the weight ranges reflects the standard amounts that sell for those prices

1 small turkey ($6-7)
2.5 kg all purpose flour ($2.50)
1 bag 2.5-5 lb carrots ($2)
1 head of celery ($1)
1 bag of onions 5-10lb ($2)
cheese ($3)
yeast (from bulk foods store) ($2.5)

Pantry ingredients:
spices (parsley, thyme, basil, bay leaf salt, pepper)
condiments (mustard/mayonnaise/etc)
sugar/honey/corn syrup/maple syrup (to make bread)

Use a sharp knife to remove 1 or both of the chicken thighs (set aside for later in the week)

Poach the turkey (using a big pot or slow cooker)
    1. Rinse the turkey, remove any organ meats (discard or use as preferred) but save the neck. 
    2. Place the turkey into the pot (with the neck), 
    3. Chop into quarters and add 1 carrot, 1 medium-large onion, 2 celery stalks. 
    4. Add about 1 tsp each of parsley, basil, thyme, pepper, and 1-2 bay leaves. 
    5. Cold tap water to just cover the turkey
    6. Place a lid on the pot and set to high for 3-4 hours or until done if using a slow cooker, or bring to a boil then turn down to a simmer for the stove top. Cook until the breast registers 180F or the meat is cooked and juices run clear.
Remove turkey meat and separate broth
    1. Remove the turkey to a large plate or baking tray to cool slightly
    2. Strain broth through a sieve and discard veggies
    3. Place broth in fridge to cool
    4. Using forks an a sharp knife, remove all the meat from the turkey bones and shred/tear into small pieces.
    5. Reserve bones for stock
Turkey stock
    1. Place bones, chopped veggies as before, and spices as before into a large pot/slow cooker.
    2. Cover with cold water
    3. Set to High for 6-8 hours (slow cooker) or gently bring to a simmer without boiling on the stove for 4-6 hours.
    4. Strain stock and discard bones and veggies
Bake bread (any recipe should work, or try this one)
    1. 2 1/4 tsp yeast, 1 cup warm water(slightly warm but not hot to the touch), 2 tbsp oil, 1 tbsp sugar, 1 1/2 tsp salt, 3-3 1/4 cups all purpose flour.
      1. mix yeast, water and sugar in a large bowl and let stand until the yeast begins to make a foam/bubbles
      2. add salt and 2 cups of flour, mix into a paste
      3. add 1/4 cup of flour at a time kneading until a smooth elastic dough forms (about 5-10 min)
      4. lightly oil the dough and place it into the bowl to rise in a warm place for 30-45 min (try placing the bowl in a microwave oven with a glass of hot tap water).
      5. Once risen, gently squish dough down and form into a loaf shape. 
      6. Place in a bread pan and allow to rise until doubled (about 30-45 min).
      7. Bake at 350F for 30 min or until bread makes a hollow sound when you knock on the bottom of the loaf.
Sandwiches with shredded turkey and bread

Creamed turkey and veggies stew with the left over turkey (reserve some meat for soup)
    1. chop 1 carrot, 2 celery stalks, 1-2 onions finely and fry until soft in a large pot with spices
    2. add 4 tbsp oil/butter/margarine and 1/2 cup flour and stir into a paste. Cook for 1 min.
    3. remove from heat and add 3 1/2 cup broth slowly while whisking to keep the sauce smooth.
    4. return to the heat and cook, stirring constantly until it thickens.
    5. stir in chicken and adjust seasoning to taste
Turkey Pies
    1. Make a pie crust.(I like to use personal sized pie tins)
    2. Fill with leftover stew, and top with more pie crust
    3. Bake at 350F for 30min or until crust is golden and flaky
    4. Freeze extra pies uncooked and bake from frozen for 60min
Turkey Soup
    1. Bring a pot of stock/broth to the boil (make sure to reserve 4 cups for french onion soup).
    2. Add chopped veggies (same as above) and spices (same as above)
    3. Once veggies are crisp tender stir in reserved shredded chicken and adjust seasonings.
Basic Turkey Burgers
    1. Break a slice of leftover bread into crumbs
    2. Use the previous bread recipe, but shape into burger buns and bake at 400F for 15 min
    3. Remove meat from the uncooked turkey thighs and chop roughly
    4. Pulse in a food processor until coarsely chopped, but not pasty
    5. Add thyme, basil, parsley, salt, pepper, a squirt of mustard and the bread crumbs and mix (if you have an egg add it, but it isn't necessary)
    6. Form into patties and grill/broil
    7. Top burgers as desired
French onion soup
    1. Fry 5 medium thinly sliced onions in 4 tbsp of oil/butter with a pinch of thyme
    2. Once the onions begin to brown, turn down heat to medium-low and cook, covered, for 40 minutes until the onions are a deep brown (stir occassionally)
    3. Add 3 1/2 -4 cups stock/broth and bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 20min
    4. Add 1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper to taste
    5. Serve with stale bread sprinkled with cheese (broil briefly to melt cheese)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Cooking Ahead Part 2: Cooking day for beginners

Recently I introduced my sister-in-law to cooking ahead. Since the plan and menu we devised were some what simpler than the version I normally do I thought I'd post it to help others get started. Important notes:

1. the list below made almost 2 months worth of meals (dinners) for 1 single person
2. the list below is wheat-free
3. the eccentricity in the ingredients reflects the goal of using up extra ingredients already available.
4. the below list took approximately 4.5 hrs start to finish with a break

1. Meat balls (55 meatballs)
2. Shepherd's pie (4, 2 serving dinners)
3. Meat loaf (4, 2 serving dinners)
4. Chili (10 single serving dinners)
5. Beef Stew (8 single serving dinners)
6. Sole with garlic butter (5 packages)
7. Salmon with herb butter (4 packages)

8 lbs beef (could be done easily with 6lbs + 2 lbs stewing beef-we had extra ground beef)
5 onions chopped
2 eggs
spices (basil, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, parsley, chili powder)
8 potatoes (medium-large)
bag frozen mixed veggies
1 can diced tomatoes
2 cans mixed beans
1 bag carrots
1 pack frozen sole (5 fillets)
1 pack frozen salmon (4 fillets)
liquid beef bouillon

tin foil
8 personal sized aluminum pans & lids
medium freezer ziplock bags
several cookie sheets/baking trays
2 large pots
1 large mixing bowl
chopping board
sharp knife
stirring spoons and spatula
permanent marker

Task list:
1. chop onions finely
2. roughly chop potatoes into 1in chunks and boil
3. brown 2 lbs ground beef, set aside to cool
4. place ingredients for stew into a large pot and set to simmer on a back burner (stir occassionally)
5. place chili ingredients into a large pot and set to simmer on a back burner (stir occassionally)
6. mash potatoes (add butter and milk as needed)
7. assemble Shepherd's pies in personal foil pans, write cooking instructions on lids with permanent marker, freeze
8. combine ingredients for meatloaf into mixing bowl
9. assemble meatloaf in personal foil pans, label with cooking instructions, freeze
10. using the same bowl, combine ingredients for meatballs
11. form and bake meat balls (350F for 30 min)
12. remove Stew and Chili from heat to cool
13. slice butter into approximately 1in squares
14. assemble sole & salmon packages ( place frozen fillet on foil, place butter on fish, sprinkle for herbs, seal)
15. write instructions on fish packages and return to freezer.
16. portion stew and chili into ziplock bags, label and place in fridge to cool fully
17. place meatballs into ziplock bags, remove air and lay flat in freezer so that ball freezer separately
18. place cooled stew and chili into freezer (making sure to lay bags flat on cookie sheets to ensure they freeze flat)
19. wash dishes and clean kitchen

*recipes aren't listed because we simply modified standard versions to suit individual tastes. You can find the recipes here.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Creative Christmas Gifts

This year for Christmas I made "Melted Snowman Cookie Kits" for various people. Using this tutorial for inspiration, each kit included an instruction card, cookie mix, icing mix, food colouring, and marshmallows.

Instruction Sheet:

Cookie Mix Recipe:
Place the following ingredients into a bag and label:
1 cup sugar
2.5 c flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Icing Recipe:
Place the following ingredients into a bag and label:
3 tbsp meringue powder
1 lb icing sugar

I placed each bag, along with the instructions, marshmallows, and food colouring in a decorative tin.

Total Cost Per Gift: $6.41
Sugar $0.50
Flour $0.10
Baking Powder $0.02
Salt $0.02
Meringue Powder $0.10
Icing Sugar $1
Marshmallows $0.50
Decorative Tin $2
Food colouring $2
Printing $0.17

Monday, December 13, 2010

Cooking ahead Part 1: Planning for the day

With our first baby on the way, and me sick as ever, it's time to plan ahead and get the freezer stocked. Once A Month Cooking (OAMC), Batch Cooking, Freezer Cooking, Make-ahead-meals (MAM) and many other names all refer to making food ahead and freezing it to save time and money when dinner time rolls around.

Why Freeze meals?
For our family, the primary reason is dietary restrictions, money, and time. Most store bought convenience food contain things either I or my husband cannot eat. However, eating out is both expensive, and probably not that healthy. Finally, making everything from scratch, while fun, takes a lot of time. My goal is to have a freezer filled with nutritious meals that fall into one of three categories: 30min-1 hour in the oven, microwave, or slow-cooker

Getting Started?
  • Make a list of meals your family likes (aim for things baked in the oven, or that have leftovers that reheat well to start with).
  • Pick 3-5 of those meals and make double portions the next time you make them. Freeze the extra portion, then enjoy another night. If your family still likes them, you are set. Once you know what works and what doesn't you can add 1 or 2 new dishes each cook session.
  • Create a master list of the meals you plan to make, gather the appropriate recipes, and make a grocery list. Make a task list (more on that later)
  • Shop the day before you cook to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
  • Do as much prep as possible, before starting to cook and combine ingredients into recipes.
Task list:
Figuring out the most logical order in which to complete each recipe, and writing a detailed list will save you time, and make the experience fun instead of overwhelming. I will provide an example in a future post.

Depending on your family size, freezer size, and budget I recommend the following containers:
  • Freezer Ziplock bags (name brand-trust me on this one): works great for soups, ground meat, stews, curries, cookies, muffins, etc
  • Disposable lasagna pans (with the cardboard lids): great for anything going straight into the oven--the lids allow you to write the instructions where they are easily accessible, but aren't strictly necessary.
  • Permanent marker (or labels): I recommend permanent markers because I find that labels fall off
  • Large cookie or baking sheets: you need these initially to help items freeze flat
Cooking day:
Clean your kitchen and all dishes, wear comfortable clothing, and grab a few pod casts or some music to listen to. You will find aiming for making 6 x 4-5 meals less overwhelming for the first month of dinner.

Next time I will post my meal list, task list and grocery list for cooking 3 months of food.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Clearing the Fridge & Freezer

Ever opened your freezer, starred at a red ziplock bag of what 'might' be pasta sauce and thought "why didn't I label that?"

Our freezer is full of perfectly good food that for some or other reason did not hit the table when originally planned. To avoid the inevitable build up of unrecognizable packages once every 2-3 months, before a full cooking and freezing session, we have an empty-the-fridge-and-freezer-week.

The Basics: No grocery shopping this week
  • List everything in the fridge and freezer
  • Scratch out the un-recognizable/un-savable items and toss them
  • Make a list of meals using as many ingredients from the list as possible
  • Be self disciplined and do not go shopping until everything on the list is eaten

Now this works especially well for families like ours that do not eat eggs or drink milk and who make their own bread. For others you might want to grab those perishable items and nothing else from the store.

Meal Examples from our fridge and freezer:
  • Crock pot roast beef & potatoes (throw roast, potatoes, any favourite veggies, 1 cups of broth, thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper into the crock. Cook on high until done)
  • Turkey soup (put broth, turkey meat, available veggies, and spices in a pot simmer until done)
  • Chicken Tacos (brown ground chicken & and spices, chop up some veggies, and throw into tacos, or fajitas with some cheese and salsa)
  • Chicken wings & green beans
  • Lasagna & green beans
  • Banana bread