Do I ever suck at maintaining this blog. I have about five posts waiting for me to add pictures from my camera, and a queue of 25 article ideas. The problem? I'm working NINE jobs right now. NINE. I barely have time to make enough coffee to keep getting to them all on time.
I'm pretty lucky, though. I have enough work to keep me well above water, and there is the prospect of work to come this summer. And, AND! I am teaching a cooking class this fall! I'm so excited!
Anyway, just wanted to let you all know I'm alive, though barely. Spring break is coming up,and I hope to resume posting then.
One day (and by one day, I mean this summer), this will be a real website.
It occurred to me today that I've been cooking all week and only spent $5 at the grocery store on Monday. I haven't made the big grocery run in going on three weeks, which is really unusual. I will have to go in the next few days to replenish the pantry, but I've been very pleased with saving money, utilizing what I have, and not having to leave the house.
A friend of mine is embarking on cooking to save both money and calories. My biggest struggle when I started cooking for myself was doing it cheaply and healthfully. I could pull off one but not the other. At one point, I was spending over $75 a week on food, not finishing it, and not having room in my freezer for leftovers. Then I got smart about it. And now, I'm smart about it, have access to a real kitchen, and have someone to help me eat these dinners and contribute to the budget for these dinners. Now, this happy occurrence doesn't... uh... occur for everyone so nicely and conveniently. Yet, the cooking can be done, cheaply, healthfully, and in a hurry after work when you are worn out. The key is smart stocking. This friend mentioned what he was trying to do and I thought I would post this to help him.
First, you need the basics. Now, basics are different for everyone. My basics are as follow:
Cabinet/pantry Canned tomatoes Canned crushed tomatoes (I use in lieu of tomato sauce) Canned beans (black, white, kidney -- mostly black) Canned vegetables you will eat (for me, this is green beans and corn, because Mr. B will eat both with no prodding) Orzo Rice Some variety of macaroni Some variety of long pasta Broth or base (I now swear by Better than Boullion -- you get 38 cups' worth of base in a tiny jar... imagine how much room 16 cans of broth take up, and how much you will waste because no one ever calls for 2 cups of broth -- always 1 or 3 -- and the stupid cans only come in 2 c. sizes. Uh... I digress...) Tomato soup Dried beans (black, white, red) Fresh garlic Onions Potatoes Canned fruit
Fridge Buttah!(can also be bought in bulk and frozen) Carrots Natural vanilla low-fat yogurt Cottage cheese Fresh fruit (apples, pears etc. can hang on the counter) Eggs Milk or soymilk (or canned evaporated milk -- some of us can't use up milk quickly enough) 8 oz. cheese bricks (Buy on sale -- they keep for ages and can be frozen. They melt better than pre-shredded so you get more flavor, better texture and can use less. The anti-caking agent on pre-shredded makes it all dry. Just trust me on this; you won't be sorry.) Corn tortillas (yes, you can make your own, but if you're just starting out, don't bother. The pack of eight zillion keep for ages in the fridge.)
Freezer Frozen veggies (spinach is completely necessary)
Powdery things Flour Sugar Dark brown sugar (I never ever use light. I just love dark and don't see why they bother with the light.) Cornmeal Corn starch Cocoa Baking powder Baking soda
Near the stove/spice rack Olive oil Vegetable oil Red wine vinegar Balsamic vinegar Red wine White wine Basil Oregano Cumin Nutmeg Tabasco sauce Worcestershire sauce Vanilla Salt and pepper
Now, this is not comprehensive, and I'm sure there are many things on here you might not need. And, you can build on this. Clearly, the first month you cook, you won't need all the spices I listed. Pick them up on an on-sale or as needed basis. (And, buy them in the international section or at another store -- spices are a racket as described at Casual Kitchen. Much of the items can be picked up on sale, in bulk, at warehouse stores (they have killer deals on giant cans of tomato puree), and even at the dollar store.
You'll note something missing -- meat. I buy that weekly, and I stretch it. If I buy a package of sausage, it will likely go in a lasagne, a bean soup, and maybe a quiche. Same for bacon, beef, chicken, etc. I'll go ahead and cook the whole pack, then divide and freeze some for the next recipe. It saves money, and it keeps me and Mr. B from eating so much meat. (Well, he has been known to go forage after dinner, but baby steps, people, baby steps.) Also, if you're like me and lack self-control, go ahead and put some of the dinner in storage containers to cool and go into the freezer. Leave some out for lunch or the next night in the fridge, put some away for the next week or two when you're busy, and leave out a max of two servings in case you're starving. Instantly, your meal has staying power. Also, keep a list on the fridge/freezer of what meals/perishables you have so you can eat what is already there. I'm a notorious food forgetter.
I can make about 85% of my regular recipes from what's listed up there plus meat. (Casual kitchen also has an article about that -- CK calls it the 80/20 rule. Seriously, you need to read the whole site anyway. Just go look. It's lovely. CK and CHG are very much my favorite sites about cooking. They are well-written, informative, and it sounds creepy, but they seem like people I'd like to have over for cake and coffee and to tell about any hysterical kitchen tragedy/triumph.
So, that's my first musing on the topic. Read up, buddy. Next post -- how to feed yourself in 30 minutes or less or the soup's free. Oh, wait.
I went from being jobless to having six part time jobs. Aaaack! I'm teaching AND tutoring at TWO institutions and doing other stuff as well. I'm already tired and I'm not even into my new schedule yet. Anyway, one of my New Year's good ideas (heh) is to post here once a week since I can't seem to even post once a month
In other news, I am back in the kitchen. Granted, I'm practically sleepwalking when I get there, but as a bonus, recipes are easier.
On New Year's eve, Mr. B. decided he wanted to make cabbage rolls with beef and sausage. I talked him out of the STICK OF BUTTER the recipe called for. I wanted to be able to eat dessert after said cabbage rolls without feeling like dying. Yeah, it is a holiday, but I was feeling all healthy and virtuous from going to the gym. Yeah, that was it.
For dessert, I planned to make chocolate and strawberry crepes according to a recipe by Emeril. I started making the crepes while the cabbage rolls were in the oven -- after a four-hour prep time. The most essential part of cabbage roll preparation seems to be four trips to the grocery store. The crepes were bloody awful. They tasted like crep, that's for sure. I tasted one because they were sticking and falling apart, and the taste was horrid. I mean, ick! So, I decided to improvise, like I do.
A few months ago, in a fit of grocery ninja thrill, I bought some sweet pastry shells on clearance. They taste a bit like sugar cookies, but thicker and flakier. I pulled them out of my freezer and went ahead with the crepe filling that I came up with on my own, because I had at this point abandoned Emeril's suggestions. Here it is. Soften one 8 oz. package of cream cheese. Chop some strawberries and beat them with the cream cheese Add 1/8 c. confectioner's sugar -- taste and decide if you want to add more. Add vanilla flavoring and a little milk. Put in tart shells Tell yourself you are nothing like Sandra Lee and lie about how you made it when you serve it. To be extra fancy, drizzle then with melted chocolate.
The cabbage rolls were out of this world delicious (even without the butter) and I hope to one day get him to write here what he did. Granted, we didn't get to eat them until 1 a.m., well after we welcomed 2008 with glasses of cheap champagne, but they were worth the wait and even better the next day. And while they weren't strawberry chocolate crepes, Mr. B. dug the tarts. From a ridiculously obnoxious dessert to a five minute prep dessert. Amazing.
Oh, one other thing. I know I shouldn't be buying strawberries right now because they're not in season, etc., etc. I don't care. I wanted them, they were at Costco, and sweet goodness they were good.
I hope all of you are recovering well from your holiday festivities. I've got one more gathering tomorrow night and then I'm all done.
I got a new job, and my super at the job I lost said I may still have hours, which is fabulous. Granted, I'm up to seven or eight part-time jobs at this point, but that's so much better than, say, none.
In addition to getting a job for Christmas, I also got a ton of... stuff. My parents continue to spoil me exponentially with each passing year. I got the cutest cookie jar ever, a handbag that's waaaay too nice, an assortment of bath and body products, other lovelies, and the lamp I've wanted my whole life. I haven't brought it in yet because I'm having to prepare Mr. B for it. It's tacky. It's terrible. And I love it! Mr. B got me the pasta attachment for the Kitchenaid and a bunch of other kitchen lovelies. I'm very excited to try making pasta, and I'll let you know how it works out. :)
Father Christmas also handed me a bit of cash to hit the sales with, so I'm off to replenish the professional wardrobe and schedule a haircut. Happy Christmahanukwanzakah, and leave your trees up till at least the sixth!
Hey all. I hope your holidays are going wonderfully.
So, I'm off work at my main job (woohoo academia!)a few weeks for Christmas. I'm still cleaning houses and all that jazz. I've secured a bunch of part time work for the spring and have been feeling really good about the prospect of paying off my consumer debt, making big dents in the student loans, and whittling down my car payment.
And then I came home yesterday to an email informing me that my academic job, the one that actually pays the bills, is probably gone. The economy means that they can't pay us. Most of the jobs are revoked, and all the remaining jobs are significantly reduced in hours.
THIS SUCKS. This was a threat a few months ago, and then the situation was rectified and I was given my hours back. Now, our contracts won't be what we were told, if any of us have them at all.
Now, that being said, I'm already setting up interviews -- I have one Monday morning. I never have stopped looking for a full time job, that illustrious unicorn that comes with health insurance, a normal schedule and paid vacation. I won't have it any time soon, but I've been trying. And, since I had overloaded my schedule for spring, I have some work. Not enough right now, but some. And, since I'm on a horrendous pay delay, I have another paycheck at the end of January. These are all good things that are keeping the panic attacks from lasting more than fifteen minutes.
The upside? You're gonna see me a lot more. And boy, will the frugality tips keep coming. And you know what? We're all going to get through this depression/recession/economic flu, and we're going to be alright.
And who the hell sends out a mass email the week before Christmas telling employees they don't have jobs? Seriously!
Happy Holidays, eveyone! I hope to be back this weekend with the Christmas baking update.