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Cooking Conservatively in Tough Financial Times
Vanity | Feb, 18, 2008 | JRandomFreeper

Posted on 02/18/2009 2:24:13 PM PST by JRandomFreeper

It’s tough out there and may get tougher. Job cuts, pay cuts, and expenses are going up. What’s a conservative to do? Conserve, of course.

That doesn’t mean you have to eat less healthy food, or eat foods that aren’t so good, or eat less. With a few of the right ingredients, some practice, some planning, and some time, you can produce excellent quality nutritious meals for surprisingly little money.

The catch, of course, is the time it takes. But if you are unemployed, or under-employed (like me), you have more time than money.

Fine cooking is about treating good quality ingredients right. Inexpensive cooking is about picking the right ingredients, some planning, and some labor.

My favorite ingredients are good quality, good price, and ingredients with many uses. That means shopping fairly frequently, watching for specials in the flyers that fill up my mailbox, and talking to family and friends about the REALLY GOOD DEALS that we all run across sometimes.


I rarely buy canned or frozen, with a few exceptions, (canned tomatoes and frozen corn, namely) I use what is fresh and in season, and cheap. I also have a garden, and eat what is seasonal from the garden.

Basil is expensive in the grocery store, but is easy to grow. And it shows up about the same time as the tomatoes. Can you say Italian?

Meats are more problematic. I’ve pretty much given up on beef, except once a month. I’m fortunate that I can get game locally, like venison and boar, and we raise a few goats for the freezer.

Pork can be found on sale in large roasts that can be cut up and prepared in many ways.

Chicken also can be found on sale in bulk and frozen in appropriate sized portions.

Bulk products, like flour, cornmeal, rice, beans, masa, and sugar can be purchased in bulk and transferred to appropriate sealed containers to keep the bugs out.


Since I’m single, I know how much of what I’m going to use in a month and plan accordingly. Breakfast is whatever you eat for breakfast times 30. For me that means 60 eggs, 30 sausage patties, 30 frozen biscuits, and 60 oz of homemade salsa for the month. Sausage patties weigh 2 oz each, so that’s 60 oz of that pork shoulder for breakfast for the month.

A word about individually frozen biscuits. I use them, they are good. I can, and have mixed up a batch of biscuit dough to cook just one biscuit. I won my bet, and would never do it again.

Lunch and dinner I plan for 8 oz of meat, 6 oz of cooked starches, and 4 to 6 ounces of vegetables. So for planning that’s 2 meals times 30 days = 60 meals. So I need about 30 lbs of meat, 22 lbs of starches, and 20 lbs of vegetables for the month.

A word about starches. 2oz of dried beans, rice, or pasta roughly equals 6 oz of cooked starches. For things like potatoes, rutabagas, and turnips, use the full 6 oz measure when buying.

Fruit is as in season, and inexpensive. Sometimes, that means that I just get preserves.

Salads for me come from the garden if they are in season. Down here in Texas, I’ve usually got something most of the year.

I make my own breads, desserts, and lots of my own sauces.

This article is meant to stimulate discussion on cost savings and maybe provide some advice during these difficult times. There are quite a few freeper Chefs, food service professionals, and darn good non-professional cooks on this site.

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial; Your Opinion/Questions
KEYWORDS: advice; budget; cooking
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To: ffusco

Same here....We do that usually on Sunday’’s wonderful......I live in NJ now from NY....I miss the Arthur Ave feasts with the sausage and peppers and steamers....My dad used to wait up for me all night for the zeppole....The best.

181 posted on 02/18/2009 6:31:13 PM PST by geege
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It’s been decades since my last attempt at grated potato pancakes. Near as I can remember, it had egg in it...maybe flour. ( which cookbook was that recipe in?) I’ve pretty much settled on the mashed potato potato pancake.

182 posted on 02/18/2009 6:32:48 PM PST by Overtaxed (Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.)
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To: JRandomFreeper
Thanks for this thread, Johnny. What a great idea! I have it bookmarked and will refer to it often.

p.s. Am in the market for recipes for tasty, cheap, and nutritious cookies to send in care packages to a certain Sarge; also looking for veggie soup recipes for myself, with the same three qualifiers.:)

183 posted on 02/18/2009 6:33:56 PM PST by MozartLover (Proud mom of a deployed Wisconsin National Guardsman.)
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To: JRandomFreeper
a note on canned vegetables....I agree with the writer.....none are very good except the canned corn and of course tomatoes are so useful for everything...I buy the beans only because once in a while they are a change.....

canned broths are handy....canned mushroom soup is useful....canned peas and carrots are awful...

184 posted on 02/18/2009 6:35:33 PM PST by cherry
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To: JRandomFreeper

a “biga” is one of the Italian methods of making a pre-ferment. The difference between saving some of the dough from your batch of dough and a biga isn’t very much, but as you know with bread, each different technique has it’s uses.

Making a biga is very simple, and there are several kinds, probably depending on the region in Italy...

I think the traditional Biga is very stiff, and the reason the Italians do this is to develop some kind of acid in their flour, but I forget the name... for their flours are a lot weaker than ours.

Your method is the French one “pate fermentee” and it is used by the french bakers who bake daily. If one isn’t baking daily, it can get too acidic and alcoholic if it isn’t kept cool.

There are other methods of pre-ferments. The Polish one is called, curiously, “poolish”, and then there is “sponge” or levain-levure. And various combinations of the above. Each gives a diferent characteristic, and which you use depends on what kind of bread you prefer to make.

Here is one “biga recipe to try for Ciabatta.

The morning of the day before you plan to bake

1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
2 cups bread flour
about 2 Tblsp whole wheat flour, coarsely ground is good.
2 Tblsp rye flour, ditto
3/4 cup water

This will be extremely stiff, and hard to knead... add a little extra water, tblsp or two, if you have trouble. Then set it aside at room temp, and let it do it’s thing. Probably won’t look like much for quite a long time, but by bedtime you should see some activity.

When it is about tripled in size, the next day, mix up the following:

a tad over 2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp instant yeast
3 tsp. sea salt
1.5 cups water (did I mention that I prefer non-chlorinated water, we have well water here)
the fermented biga

I mix mine in my Bosch, then let it rise for about 3 or 4 hours. I have a big plastic bucket I use with a tight lid. Turn it over several times every 20 minutes or so for the first hour and a half, then let it be... (and please know the dough should be gloppy. This is where I run into trouble, as I am always putting in more flour than I should.)

Then flour the top of the dough, and on a floured surface, turn it out. Cut it in half, and shape it into long flat rectangles. I think you are supposed to make an envelope type turn, but I usually just pat it, as I am afraid of overhandling it.

Cover with a dishtowel (I save the old ones just for this. Some people put the dough on top of floured towels too.

Preheat the oven to 450.

About 45 minutes later, gently get the dough on the baking sheet you have covered with parchment paper, and pat it back into a rectangle. Bake on your stones if you have them for about 35 to 45 minutes. Depending on your oven, you might want to rotate them halfway through. I do spray with water to make some steam.

Get out your olive oil and favorites seasonings for dunking, or layer up with your favorite sandwich materials...

Shall I chat about an easier pre-ferment? like the levain? I use that when I am in a hurry, and feeling lazy...

185 posted on 02/18/2009 6:35:59 PM PST by jacquej
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To: JRandomFreeper

You bring tears to my eyes... my oldest son joined the AF in 1980, right out of high school... the thought of you cooking for the boys reminds me of how many truly great Americans we have here in our midst.

God bless you for taking such good care of the boys heading for the desert! I am honored to have talked “bread” with you!

186 posted on 02/18/2009 6:40:27 PM PST by jacquej
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To: jacquej
...if you make a vow to eat beans regularly, and I mean at least every other day, you will develop the digestive enzymes on your own, and you won’t find that they make you uncomfortable. We learned that from experience.

That's the ticket with all gassy foods -- your body needs to eat fiber regularly, and then it won't bother you.

Wish I could say the same about dairy products! LOL! No ice cream with company!

187 posted on 02/18/2009 6:40:36 PM PST by Albion Wilde ("Praise and worship" is my alternate lifestyle.)
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To: MozartLover
Kid, I don't know on cookies, I'll have to look around. My top 3 are peanutbutter, Lake Worth Pecan Sandies, and Sugar cookies. But they all use large % of butterfat solids. And without any of the commercial preservatives, I don't know how well they would ship. I only cook what I can eat in 3 days. And butter is NOT cheap.

Let me look around or ask your question on this thread addressed to all.

On the veg soup, I can help you. Do you not want ANY animal proteins in it? No chicken stock?


188 posted on 02/18/2009 6:43:42 PM PST by JRandomFreeper (God Bless us all, each, and every one.)
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To: sergeantdave; JRandomFreeper
You have no idea how much we appreciated and ate that American cooking you, or more precisely from that air base we ate at, long ago. I still remember that meal from 40 years ago.

You guys might really enjoy this wonderful video about a troop-support group in WWII that created wonderful memories of home cooking for so many of the soldiers who passed through:

The North Platte Canteen

189 posted on 02/18/2009 6:46:17 PM PST by Albion Wilde ("Praise and worship" is my alternate lifestyle.)
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To: JRandomFreeper

Chicken stock is fine; just no chunks of meat.

190 posted on 02/18/2009 6:49:03 PM PST by MozartLover (Proud mom of a deployed Wisconsin National Guardsman.)
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To: jacquej
I was honored to be allowed to serve. I got out in 1984 after my first enlistment, doing electronic warfare, went into the DOD black world and raised my kids, moved on to telecom, and then the BASTARDS hit us on 9/11. I had been out for 18 years.

I left work and rallied at home with my family to watch the news, and after I had seen enough, I disappeared into my home office and went digging. Hours later I came out with a single sheet of paper, stormed through the house, and left.

I came back a couple of hours later, and my then wife asked as I walked in "Will they take you back? And shouldn't we have talked about this?"

I did get back in, with the help of some freepers. My hearing loss had been so bad that I'm H3 and had to have a waiver. THe ATRW crowd helped me write that request letter.

The only job they would give me was Services. Part of which is food service.

I fell in love with commercial kitchens, and while at Lackland, called back to Dallas and enrolled in culinary school.

I've had to move back into engineering, because I can't stand on my feet for 12 hours a day anymore, and I've left the kids to run the AF for me. It's a bunch of good kids, and they do well.

So now I help where I can, and I'm active where I'm able.


191 posted on 02/18/2009 6:55:03 PM PST by JRandomFreeper (God Bless us all, each, and every one.)
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To: ffusco
My Mom’s Recipe for Monicotte:

That would be "manicotti", right?

192 posted on 02/18/2009 6:57:45 PM PST by Albion Wilde ("Praise and worship" is my alternate lifestyle.)
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To: MozartLover
I'm guessing that you don't have any vegetables in the garden where you are, except maybe Popsicles.

Technique for soups is important. A 'clear' soup starts with 2 parts of onion, one part carrot, and one part celery. Standard seasonings are pepper, salt, bay leaf, thyme and garlic. Once that is sweated a little in the pan to draw out some juice, but not brown it, add your chicken or vegetable stock, and then whatever vegetables you have.

Some things to remember. If you add rice to a soup, cook it separately, and add it before serving. Same with pastas.

Vegetables cook at different rates. Carrots take quite a while to get soft, and zucchini turns to mush in seconds. Add things according to the time it takes to cook them. Give me a list anytime, and I'll give you specifics.

Taste, taste, taste. Adjust it to what you like.

The frozen vegetable medlies can be really good for soups, if you can find them on sale.

Is that what you were looking for?


193 posted on 02/18/2009 7:03:55 PM PST by JRandomFreeper (God Bless us all, each, and every one.)
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To: jacquej
Thanks for explaining what specifically what you meant. Sometimes the terms are used non-specifically. Escoffier is my kitchen bible, and I've worked for enough different Chefs that I ALWAYS make sure I have the right idea (their idea)in mind. ;)

I know that typically, the weak Italian wheats have a lower protein content and doesn't make gluten as well.

I had to convert your recipe to grams to understand it. ;) My school textbooks were "On Cooking 3rd ed" and "The Professional Chef 6th ed". And chef made us use metric weights in Baking Skills.

Your recipe seems about right. Maybe more salt than I would use. And yes, sloppy bread is a pain to handle. It takes some time to learn, and watching a pro do it a few times helps to pick up the techniques. Brioche is just about as wet and sloppy.


194 posted on 02/18/2009 7:17:55 PM PST by JRandomFreeper (God Bless us all, each, and every one.)
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To: Albion Wilde

At my Mom’s table we pronounced it “Monigut” , Monicotti is a single piece, Monicotte is plural- in University Italian!

195 posted on 02/18/2009 7:32:12 PM PST by ffusco (Maecilius Fuscus,Governor of Longovicium , Manchester, Englan d. 238-244 AD)
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To: geege

My family participates in the San Gennaro feast in the Bronx. I haven’t had a Zeppole, or a good sausage and peppers in years. My late grandparents are from Astoria, Queens, came over from Naples on the Andrea Doria!

196 posted on 02/18/2009 7:36:03 PM PST by ffusco (Maecilius Fuscus,Governor of Longovicium , Manchester, Englan d. 238-244 AD)
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To: chris_bdba


197 posted on 02/18/2009 7:39:07 PM PST by ffusco (Maecilius Fuscus,Governor of Longovicium , Manchester, Englan d. 238-244 AD)
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To: JRandomFreeper

Awhile back, my husband had to go on an extremely low sodium diet for awhile, and I experimented with stuff to put in our bread that gave it some taste, and discovered that onion powder helped a bit. There was something else I used, but I forget what now.

I tend to use less salt than that, but so many of us are used to more salt that I put the “proper” amount in. I only use sea salt, the best I can afford. I think it has a more mellow taste, and doesn’t sting as much as regular table salt does... but I have lots of regular salt in storage, just in case!

I have a kitchen scale, but generally revert to habit, and grab my cups... some of us old birds have a hard time switching systems...

198 posted on 02/18/2009 7:43:29 PM PST by jacquej
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To: JRandomFreeper

I stumbled upon this simple and delicious bread recipe. Apparently, it’s been popular for quite a while, but I’m usually the last to catch onto a trend. I love it, and no longer buy bread from the store. I just purchased a 25 lb. bag of bread flour and bulk yeast so I can make it even more cheaply, although it’s cheap to make in any case.

No Knead Bread

Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

199 posted on 02/18/2009 7:45:31 PM PST by chickpundit (Paliln '12)
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To: chickpundit
I've seen that one, and watched my neighbor walk through it. It makes a pretty good loaf, and is easy to prepare. It's great to get a first-time bread maker over the hump without making things too complex.

The important thing is to use what works for you.


200 posted on 02/18/2009 7:52:53 PM PST by JRandomFreeper (God Bless us all, each, and every one.)
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