When I first started weighing the cooking-cost equation, I realized a few simple changes would make a big difference:
- Comparison shop: Where you shop matters as much as what food you purchase (even with "specials."
- Shop for the Bargain, Not for the Recipe: When you go to the store only to shop for a specific recipe, your bill can skyrocket.
- Wasted Food=Lost Savings: I noticed how much food we were wasting--and subsequently how much money we were losing--in small leftovers and half-used ingredients.
- Use What You Have: With a good sense of compromise and with some exceptions, you can really make a lot of recipes "work" without all the listed ingredients. I'm the queen of substitutions.
I hadn't thought about these much over the past months...until this weekend when I made a dish that epitomizes this approach:
Polpettine* in Tomato Sauce over Pasta
1/2 pound ground chicken
1/3 c. breadcrumbs
3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed
3 sprigs parsley, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
Mix all ingredients. Add more breadcrumbs if mixture is too wet to form balls easily. Roll into "marble" sized balls. (Who has marbles?? Medium grape -ized is probably a better description!)
Place meatballs on a foil lined baking sheet about 1-inch apart.
Bake in 325F oven for 10-15 minutes, or until meatballs are cooked through. (A good excuse to eat, er, I mean, test a few out.) Cool on sheets.
Tomato Sauce Super Quick
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 small can of tomato sauce (I used a "store" brand that I got on sale for $.25)
2 glugs red wine (not necessary...but we had it open for dinner, too. And yes, glug is a measurement, didn't you know?)
Saute the garlic and oregano in the olive oil until the garlic looks slightly translucent (but not browned). Add the tomato sauce. Rinse can with about 1/4 c. water/wine or up to the middle of the can, whichever comes first. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Comes together while the meatballs are in the oven.
Meanwhile...boil a pot of water and cook 4-5 no boil lasagna noodles. Yes, I said boil the no-boil. This is what I mean about using what you have...but any small amount of pasta will do.
Final step: Plate pasta with as many little meatballs as you like, then sauce.
*Ok, so who am I kidding -- Chicken Mini Meatballs is probably more accurate! Just hated to be so boring with the first recipe
So here's the tally:
A healthy cheap protein + pantry ingredients/window box herbs
Bargain tomato sauce from the pantry all dressed up
Pasta leftovers from a long-ago lasagna become small but satisfying portions