By Cookbook Author – Maggie Parkinson*
This month’s drivel doodle is all about you and your kitchen.
In my mind, while thinking about what I wanted to say, I had mentally dubbed it “The fast and furious kitchen,” but that really isn’t appropriate—it’s really all about efficiency and being frugal.
When my Father finally came out of the army he went to work for somebody he knew… as a handyman. His salary was 9 –NINE pounds per week. That’s about 40 American dollars and even allowing for the buying power at the time, was certainly not enough. When I went to a “Grammar school” at the age of 11, my Mother had to cash in an insurance policy to afford the requisite uniform. That still hurts me. I may sit in my sort-of ivory tower now but I live on a couple of pensions and being frugal is built into my DNA.
So this time, I’m sharing some of my techniques for saving AND how to be efficient at doing that. It’s all about not wasting what you HAVE bought and not buying stuff you don’t need to buy!
So let’s look at the menu which breaks down into a few stuffy headings:
- Buying stuff
- Saving and preserving stuff
- Making stuff
- Growing stuff
There is no doubt that you can make savings when you go out to get the things you need in your household: Groceries, cleaning, maintenance items (the pirate is a tool freak), and semi-luxuries like plants and things for your yards. I am focused here on the grocery topic, but bargains are always to be had in all these areas if you pay attention. The Pirate built me a greenhouse this year which we bought with a coupon and saved several hundred bucks! (I am planning to try to hit item four and grow stuff!)
In particular I pay attention to the cost of things, of course- but it’s usually pretty obvious that I am going to get a better deal in my local Walmart than say WHOLE FOODS. I recently shopped at a Farmer’s Market where the produce looked nice but cost THREE TIMES as much as my local Up-market! Hmmm.
Which brings me to the big warehouses—Sam’s Club and Costco—I have memberships to both….and don’t even have a Sam’s club in the local vicinity. HOWEVER, I bought air-adjustable beds for my new home/B&B and bought them online at SAM’s and saved nearly 2000 dollars over the cost of Sleep Number beds; they’re just as good, too!
Being aware of the online merchandise at the warehouses which can save much more than your trips for TP and detergent.
Generally speaking, you are going to save your annual membership but not on food in the main. I almost never buy meat in Costco—I usually do much better elsewhere—the big exception being a regular rotisserie chicken which we will smack our lips over later.
Naturally the savings at warehouses come from buying in bulk—I stand in the store and say things like, “How much is 1 pound of this stuff in – your local grocery– and how much do they charge for 5 pounds.” If you come out a winner buy it! In particular I am a big fan of coffee pods in bulk and items I use constantly like butter, cream cheese, aluminum foil, and plastic (SARAN, REYNOLDS—who ARE these dudes) wrap.
The issue here on bulk buying is not only do you save BUT do you have room to store the large quantity in your pantry/fridge/freezer? My policy is – if it doesn’t SPOIL and take up tons of valuable real estate, or when the vitamins I take are on sale (and of course other things that can sit in the garage) I buy them even if we have a good supply currently. The dollars mount up. If you buy a ton of chicken thighs and put them in the freezer, at the back and they get all yucky (guilty), then the savings go up in a puff of smoke!
I have three fridge/freezers and they’re always bulging… my excuse for this is that I have to find three meals a day with little opportunity to go shopping. (The pirate takes breakfast and lunch to work every day as I believe I have mentioned before.) I do BIG grocery shopping about once every three weeks and drop by shops about once a week. I drive a round trip of about 35 miles to do the big run and save the cost of the gas in a couple of items. Yeah!
So be a savvy shopper – ( Note—I do not do coupons for cosmetics, and drug store items – I can actually get all I want for less anyway – one of my very favorite eye shade palettes came from the dollar store!)
SAVING AND PRESERVING STUFF
For me, as I said, a shopping trip involves cleaning myself up, (or not getting mucky in the first place –with my dirt chores this is difficult,) shampooing, setting hair, putting on my public face and, and, and….. too much overhead—so I do it rarely and have become knowledgeable about keeping the foodstuffs alive for a while. So how do you keep all these goodies from going to waste until the next shopping trip? Americans (and probably lots of other folk) waste tons of food on an annual basis. It’s a shame for many reasons.
So what do you think is THE MOST VALUABLE appliance in my kitchen? I use it sometimes 10 times a day.
Answer: My vacuum sealer—which I use both for bags, jars and marinading.
I expect you – as cheese makers may already have one. So this conversation needs to be short right?
But see my note on jams, jellies, yogurt, leftovers, etc. under making stuff!
If this is not part of your personal arsenal you can enjoy some of the benefits with a hand-held device which is relatively inexpensive. I actually do a TON of jar sealing (much more than bag sealing) with my hand-held…you can seal jars with them as well as the special kind of vacuum bags. Look for FRESH_SAVER online. Here’s a video showing how that can be done: http://www.salad-in-a-jar.com/salad-in-a-jar/yes-you-can-use-a-handheld-vacuum-pack-machine-to-seal-salad-in-a-jar
I tried this—it didn’t always work but then I have a converter for my Fresh-Saver which works every time with the requisite jar sealing thingy.
Please note that the FRESHSAVER is not for long term freezer storage- -for this you need a vacuum appliance (I’m probably on my tenth**) and proper bag rolls. Fresh saver bags will hold a vacuum for a few days in refrigeration, (like your cheeses for instance). I don’t find that they work too well once they’ve been used. Yes we rinse out and reuse our bags. I have used meat from my freezer that had quite a pedigree but was perfectly good to eat at over 12 months old. Nuff said.
Bottom line is- get the air out of your food!
** I have to admit that most vacuum sealers are yunk and they break down. Think Asian small boats—yunk…. I have had three free ones—if they break down before they are 12 months old, some well-known companies will replace it with a new one. If you merchandise yunk you get to pay the consequences! Tee Hee!
BY THE WAY—when you vacuum foods with a lot of moisture in them—(like HAM which is pumped with water like Hollywood celebs and botox-), take a piece of paper towel and fold it into the width of the bag. THEN place it in the mouth of your bag—this will capture all the fluid that comes racing into the vacuum sealer- which is NOT good! Here is a photo of me preserving a huge batch of polish sausage—I bought a lot because I can keep them for a good while and we’re low carbing and eating tons of protein!
Note that I cut the name label from the original packaging and popped it inside, to ensure I could identify them later— no mystery goods in the fridge!
Finally, I have to say that I use a great many canning jars for my vacuumed goods—more on that coming up shortly. I use canisters quite a lot, too, for advance preparation of curries, large containers of cottage cheese (low carb blah blah) and leftovers. They’re very useful with two caveats: the seal does not hold as well or as long as jars and being plastic, –(I wish they were glass,) they will and do eventually crack! I found that I could continue to hold the seal on the cracked ones with a concoction of glue and “five second nail powder.” I told you I was frugal! So check the canister seal often to avoid lost food, OK?!
Additional help with keeping food fresh
Buy plenty of lock-lid storage boxes—when you bring your foods through the door, put kitchen paper sheets in a box and your food on top—they will keep MUCH longer than in grocery bags. I was skeptical but finally bought DEBBIE MEYER green boxes and they work particularly well on veggies—you can even buy big ones for bread and rolls. https://www.amazon.com/Debbie-Meyer-Piece-UltraLite-GreenBoxes/dp/B00I0TBP8Y/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1475874514&sr=8-3&keywords=debbie+meyer
These will save their cost in saved food!
This is a photo of four baby peppers that I just took out of a green box-
They have been in there for a month! Would I put them in a salad-nope; but cook them- for sure?!
IF you bring home one of those rotisserie birds, get the meat off the bone quickly after you’ve eaten your first meal and seal the leftovers—they will keep for quite a while! And see making stuff below.
Wine: I cook with wine all the time –in sauces, casseroles and soups. I don’t use expensive wine – (-see my recent piece on MAC n’ Cheese,) but even though my wine is el cheapo—I don’t want to waste any.
I use it, seal it and then pump out the air with a sealer made for wine bottles.
I don’t waste a drop. AND if you want to preserve other liquids – you can used cleaned-up wine bottles and preserve those too—hmmm I’ve never tried that with soda! Maybe that’s because we have a soda maker and make it when we want it—now there’s an idea for saving shekels too!
Use your freezer for small things too:
In the UK, they sell tomato paste in tubes-maybe here too but I haven’t looked closely. I buy tomato paste in quite large cans and, when I need to, I open one-there’s a zillion ounces of tomato paste and I only want two tablespoons of it…Hmmm. Then I put it in my ice cube tray and freeze it!
Once frozen, I take the cubes and put them in a locky box and freeze that. When cooking I just open up the box, grab a couple of cubes and put back the rest.
I love Asian foods: In my freezer there are stalks of lemon grass, root galangal, regular ginger and lime leaves. If I want to make Thai I don’t have to go and get anything…
Thai curry is on my list of “fast dinners” and it’s really easy to make! And NUMMY! It turns out just like the dish at restaurants because they’re using the same curry paste as you can buy in the grocery store!
I use this concoction for using up leftovers, another money save but that’s the subject of another long story!
This, I think, is where I make the most $ gains at home. I make a lot of things in my kitchen—and partly because the price of the goods rattles my rib cage and because I find it’s easier and BETTER STUFF!
Here’s a list of the things I make:
- Pickles and chutney
- Salad dressings
- Mayonnaise (mostly)
- Ice cream
- Yogurt, sour cream and buttermilk
- And soon I hope – cheese
I am not going to go into detail on all of these, but briefly:
Bread: Given the practice of “NO KNEAD” bread, it is so easy to make bread. I mix flour, water, salt and yeast (instant yeast) in a bowl, dump it into a bread pan, let it uptown funk in my oven next to the oven light and then bake it once it’s risen. You don’t have to do anything – ANYTHING to it and certainly not knead it or OR KNOCK it back!
Jams: This is really complicated—NOT. I bring home fruit (or grow it, as in raspberries), wash it, throw it into a saucepan with sugar and some lemon juice. I put a saucer into my freezer. Then I cook the fruits until a blob of it wrinkles on the cold saucer. Then I put it in canning jars and vacuum seal it. I do not CAN it. Occasionally a jar will develop a fuzz on it… mox nix-this stuff cost me so little that I don’t care…
In late summer I go blackberry hunting and make “bramble jelly” which is strained through a sieve to remove all the seeds. This is really popular on toast and biscuits in our house!
Cost is only some volts and sugar. Here’s how to do that- http://www.deliaonline.com/recipes/international/european/british/quick-bramble-jelly
Pickles and chutneys: I cut up three dill pickles and pop them in a canning jar with a few spices. I add in some vinegar, garlic and water and dill (even dried is ok). Then I vacuum the jar which pulls the liquids into the pickles slices. A few days later you can begin consuming them. MANY people have asked how to do these!
Here is a photo of a chutney I made just a few days ago. Sitting on my microplane grater is FROZEN ginger. By freezing ginger I ALWAYS have it and when you grate it into your dishes (mainly Chinese food for me), you get a fine stream of lovely ginger ice and no lumps. You can see that I do not peel it.
This is cranberry chutney. I am not eating sugar at present and the cranberries come in a bag with my kale salad. I saved them up for a while, then added them to onions, an apple, a pear (all given to me as it’s that time of year) and sugar. This will be ready to eat in a month. This made a quart and a half of delicious chutney. We like that in ham and cheese sandwiches and curry! And I need to keep my sticky fingers off my camera lens!
Salad dressings: I am astonished at how much cash people invest in salad dressings. Do they taste good—well, yeah, I suppose, as long as you don’t mind eating tons of chemicals. But it seems to me that one of those small bottles of dressing is soon consumed and then you have to go back to the store and buy some more. We don’t run the gamut of many different kinds of dressings but stick to a few varieties which I can make in a couple of minutes.
Typically I might make Chinese chicken salad dressing, blue cheese dressing and vinaigrette. This latter is the one we use the most and it’s simply: some olive oil, some balsamic vinegar, a teaspoon full of DIJON mustard and a teaspoon of honey. Shake these up and you’re good to go. Make it in advance with a garlic clove and stick it in a bottle or jar for extra flavor. For blue cheese, I just blend cream, (you can use cottage cheese to go lighter), mayonnaise and Stilton cheese with a pinch of pepper. NUM!
And, finally on the subject of dressings, let’s talk about MAYONNAISE. I have made mayo in the traditional fashion, with egg yolks, lemon juice and mustard and dripped in the olive oil … if you’ve ever tried this you may know that it’s prone to problems—it can curdle and it’s a pain in the pinafore.
Then I discovered Daniel Boulud’s fantastic method for making mayonnaise and now I do that all the time. You take an egg and (in the shell), drop it into very hot water for about a minute which coddles it. You can actually VERY SOFTLY poach it too. Then I drop that egg into a round tall jug, add in lemon juice, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper and put my stick blender into it. I turn on the blender and start POURING oil into it while the blender is running. SOME olive oil and then a lighter kind, in my case I use vegetable but any oil except sesame will work fine. Within seconds, I have thick frothy mayonnaise. This never curdles and is fool proof.
I just last week made fresh slaw to go with ribs for supper and here you can see my mayonnaise and how nice it is.
Yes, this is runnier than store bought mayo-it gets thicker the more oil you punch into it. But I made this because my store-bought mayo was simply too thick to put into my slaw.
I have NEVER bought coleslaw in my whole life. That stuff has been fermenting in mayo for hours and looks really yucky to me! My favorite kind of slaw has cabbage, grated carrot, pear or apple, fennel slices, onions and caraway seeds-give it a go-you’ll never go back!
Ice cream: If you haven’t yet tried NO CHURN ICE CREAM, google it up and go make some. This is the ONLY kind that the pirate will eat now. You can take this in MANY directions and I have made thus far, vanilla, chocolate, strawberry cheesecake, coffee, rum raisin and BAILEY’s! It takes just a few minutes and it’s like falling off a log!
Yogurt, sour cream and buttermilk: I haven’t bought sour cream, yogurt or buttermilk for several years. If you take certain kinds of yogurt (and I do NOT mean store bought), that have gentle flavors, you can do amazing things with them.
A few days ago, I took some BULGARIAN yogurt culture (from cheesemaking.com) and made it up according to the directions. It has a lovely mild taste. A few days later, I took 1 cup of milk (or half and half), warmed it to 110F (not more or you’ll be killing the good bacteria), and added two tablespoons of the original batch with a good stir. Then I put it in my oven by the oven light. I did not turn on the oven at all. A few hours later I had more Bulgarian yogurt.
Sour cream: Take about 2-3 tablespoons of cream cheese and warm it in a bowl in the microwave on low power. Stir it thoroughly until smooth. Then add 2-3 tablespoons of your yogurt and stir until both are blended well. The tanginess of the yogurt mixed with the cream cheese makes a wonderful flavored sour cream. If you want it to be more sour, you can add a few drops of lemon juice or even rice vinegar.
This is what was left after I used it on a dish.
PLEASE NOTE: Cream cheese and microwaves are not natural buddies—if you don’t cover your dish which contains the cream cheese – even at low power, you will redecorate the interior of the appliance!
I take the thick yogurt and thin it down a little as buttermilk, mostly for biscuits and waffles.
I do use a baking mix for these, but not a commercial one; the list of chemicals in the boxed versions is a deterrent for me. I make my own as follows and store it in the fridge.
- 8 cups flour
- 1-1/4 cups nonfat dry milk powder
- 1/4 cup baking powder
- 1 Tbsp. salt
- 2 cups solid vegetable shortening
I don’t add the salt until I use it!
I don’t make beef stock, because if I want beef stock I just add some beef soup-base to my chicken stock. I eat beef rarely and never have enough BONES but-chicken is a different story!
I bet you go to the store and buy ready-cooked rotisserie chickens-aha- I thought so!
I strip the meat from the carcass shortly after I get birdy home and throw the bones into my pressure cooker. I then cover the bones with water. I DO NOT add bouquet garni, carrots, celery and bay leaves or any of that blather. You don’t need it! Bring your bones, skin and all the juices from the bottom of the tray to a boil and cook them hard. (In my case I pressure-cook them for about 30 minutes.) Then I simmer with the lid off until I get just the right amount to go in a quart jar. Simmering it down concentrates the flavor. You can NOT BUY stock that holds a candle to this! Just look at that color!
Because I put the skin in the pan there is a small amount of fat that rises to the top. This is easily scooped off. Then I put it in containers, date it and freeze them, until I need it; (shelf life is about six months). THIS IS THE SECRET TO MAKING GREAT SOUP! Add salt, a few noodles, a good dollop of white wine and chicken meat and you’re off the races. Nobody puts soup this good in a can! And as somebody who’s currently making news would say-trust me! ALSO if you simmer some of this down until it is really concentrated, put it in your ice-cube tray and store the cubes, you have instant boosters for your next gravy or sauce! Ta da! Here endeth the stock lesson.
I have two huge drawbacks to growing stuff-the rottenest dirt on the planet and brown thumbs.
But I keep hanging in there as much as I can.
I am now the proud owner of my first greenhouse and I’m saving seeds and researching how to grow my own stuff. It’s fun and that’s true even when I fail.
When we moved in, I stowed some little wheelbarrows (which I call trundle bunnies) on to my deck and immediately planted mint, tarragon, oregano, rosemary and sage.
The latter two herbs are fearless flyers and grow through the winter. It’s easy to pick them at year’s end, drop them into a brown paper bag and dry them over a heat vent in the floor. Then you can whirl them in a coffee grinder or rub the sage into powder in your hands. It’s wonderful not to have to go to the store and pay about three dollars for a few sprigs of herb!
We regularly grow tomatoes in the summer of course and now we have a tiny group of trees which we call, with tongues in cheek—our orchard. But in two years I managed some nice apples –next year hopefully some plums, and cherries too! I haven’t bought raspberries in about 15 years—these – like blackberries are easy to grow in a small space and I already have mine plugging away in the new house.
We got our starting canes from a local dude who let us dig up the new babies that were growing in the wrong place! Thank you Sam!
Well that’s all I have to say about being frugal-well not really, but if you’ve read this far you are a warrior and I thank you so much!
* About the author:
Maggie Parkinson is the author of the low-carb cookbook: Carb-Less in Seattle. We did an interview with her in 2013 (click here). Since then, she has moved from Renton to Poulsbo, Washington where she and her husband (The Pirate) built a beautiful home with gardens and an orchard.
She has given us several fabulous (original!) recipes including Pizza, Saag Panir, Pear & Fig Bread, Fromage Fort, Easy Bechamel Sauce. and Macaroni & Cheese. Her expertise as a cook makes her tips invaluable to us and we hope you enjoy them as much as we do.