Cooking On A Budget: Eating Well and Using Pantry and Refrigerator Items

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Eating Well and Using Pantry and Refrigerator Items

Let me begin by saying that my husband is a gardener and this years garden was phenomenal - even better than last years. He planted lots of tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers and yellow summer squash. Along with that he planted green beans and eggplant.  The crop of eggplant and peppers were the best we have ever had. The herb garden did well.  The Sage grew back and he planted a new crop of basil and flat leaf parsley.
By the time the new crop of tomatoes came in we still had 2 quarts of tomato sauce from last year. We put up 14 quarts of sauce and 10 pints of tomato quarters that I use in my homemade macaroni and cheese and other dishes.
That having been said I would like to talk about how I planned out my dinners for the week and how much I spent to feed 3 adults for the week.  After carefully checking what I already had in my pantry and refrigerator and looked at the grocery stores' sales flyer I made my menu and grocery list.
In order to eat well, budget wisely and shop wisely, you have to be willing to eat left overs, take the time to menu plan and inspect what you have on hand.  If you don't do this, your grocery bills will get out of control. What I don't include in the bottom line are non-edible products such as taxable groceries like paper products.
This menu plan should feed 2 adults and 2 children.  The 2 Beef Short Rib packages had 4 meaty short ribs in each pack.  The shrimp was a 2 pound bag (16 to 20 count) which yields two dinners in our family. The bag contains approximately 40 shrimp.

Dinner Menu would include:
  • Homemade Macaroni and Cheese and Kielbasa
  • Shrimp Casserole with rice and fresh tomato slices. (We had tomatoes left - last of the crop.)
  • Spaghetti and Sausage and Garlic Bread (The makings for salad were on hand.)
  • Braised Beef Short Rib Dinner with mashed potatoes and fresh carrots.
  • Spaghetti and Meatball Dinner, Garlic Bread, Salad.
  • Fried Shrimp with homemade Tartar Sauce, frozen corn (I have homemade tartar sauce in my refrigerator and a breading mixture I had made previously.)
  • Left over Beef Short Ribs, Green Beans from our garden and mashed potatoes.
The total grocery cost for the food to make these dinners came to $50.37.

When planning out dinners, there may be some items to purchase that are not in the general category of shopping on a budget. For example, fresh herbs or something like heavy cream for a recipe that may only use a few tablespoons. That's where you have to come up with ideas on how to get the most out of the "extra" purchases. For instance, the heavy cream can be whipped and used to top fruit or a pie or put in a creamed soup recipe, or added to milk to make half and half. Use your imagination! I had purchased fresh Thyme for the Beef Short Ribs and will use the rest for making soup or in a chicken dish.

Beef Short Rib Recipe
I cooked the Beef Short Ribs like a pot roast in a dutch oven on top of the stove. In the refrigerator I had some celery and onion and fresh Thyme I had purchased in my last shopping trip so I was able to use those up to make the short rib dinner.  The only purchase I needed was the carrots, the ribs and some beef broth.
Pot Roasted Beef Short Ribs

2 pkgs Beef Short Ribs
1 can beef Broth (I recommend Campbells)
2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
2 -3 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 small onion coarsely chopped
1 cup water
1 tsp. Gravy Master
3 sprigs fresh Thyme - tied with butchers twine
Olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste.
Salt and pepper all sides of the short ribs.  Over moderate heat, add in enough olive oil to lightly cover the bottom of a dutch oven or other heavy bottom pot. Let the oil heat up and add in the beef ribs. Brown on all sides. Give them a good "sear" as shown in the photograph. You will need to do these in two batches so have a plate or platter handy to transfer the seared ribs.When all of the ribs are seared, remove all but about a tablespoon of the accumulated fat and add in the celery, onions and carrots all at once. Reduce the heat to a medium low.
As the vegetables begin to soften and release their natural juices, keep stirring and loosen up all of the good bits from the bottom and sides of the pot that occurred during the searing process. Deglaze the pan with some of the water to help this process along. Cook for about 5 minutes.
Add the remaining water, the Gravy Master and the beef broth to the pot along with your bundled thyme. Stir and add in the beef ribs. Cover and reduce heat to low and simmer for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours until the ribs are really tender.
When the ribs are fully cooked, remove them to a platter.  Skim off excess fat with a ladle or use a fat separator.  If you want a thicker sauce - more like a gravy, make a slurry of equal parts water and cornstarch. Turn the heat to medium high and bring the liquid up to a boil. Slowly add in the slurry, stirring until you achieve the thickness you desire.
Serve with mashed potato and carrots or any vegetable you like.

Macaroni & Cheese Recipe
The macaroni and cheese was put together with 2 different pastas - I had two partial boxes in my pantry along with a bar of cheddar cheese that was purchased in the last shopping on a 2-for sale. The left over cheese sauce I made for a previous dinner was available as well. I used my own jar of tomato quarters. The kielbasa was half of what was left from a previous meal. Essentially I did not have to purchase anything to make the macaroni and cheese dinner.
Cook whatever pasta you have to the manufacturers suggestions.
Homemade Macaroni and Cheese

When the pasta is cooked, drain and set aside.
Easy cheese sauce: Heat 1 1/2 cups milk or half and half cream in a sauce pot. Add in any cheddar cheese you like (sliced or shredded) 8-10 oz.OR any cheese you have that melts well. We used up some American Cheese - about 10 slices. 2 good handfuls of grated Parmesan Cheese and white pepper to taste. Mix until all the cheese has melted.
Spray a casserole dish with Pam Cooking Spray. Toss in the pasta and the quick cheese sauce.  Add in diced tomatoes or whole canned tomatoes broken apart.  If there is not enough cheese sauce, add in some milk. Bake covered at 325 degrees for about 1 - 1/2 hours. Uncover and brown the top under the broiler for about 5-8 minutes, keep a good eye on it so it does not burn.

Fried Shrimp Recipe
1 pound frozen shrimp
Fried Shrimp and Homemade Tartar Sauce
Oil for frying - canola, vegetable whatever oil you like.
For the Breading:
2 cups white flour
1 cup corn flour
2 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. table salt
1/2 tsp. granulated garlic
1/4 tsp. finely ground black pepper
 For the egg wash:
3 large eggs
3 tbsp. water

After you have prepped and cleaned the shrimp, sprinkle the shrimp with white pepper, granulated garlic and paprika. Stir to coat shrimp and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes or longer to marinate. While the shrimp are marinating, set up a breading station. In one dish or bowl mix all of the dry ingredients along with the spices.  In another dish or bowl, whisk together the eggs and water.
Dip each shrimp into the egg mixture allowing the excess egg to drip off, then dredge in the flour and shake off the excess flour. Lay the shrimp on a plate or small sheet pan and refrigerate for about 10 minutes. Do not throw the breading mixture away as you may need to re-coat the shrimp after refrigeration as the shrimp will appear somewhat wet.
Next, get your oil ready. Over medium heat, heat the oil to a temperature of 330 degrees using any kitchen thermometer you have. At this point if you need to re-dredge the shrimp in the flour do so. Carefully place the shrimp in the hot oil, frying for about 2 minutes per side until golden brown. Fry the shrimp in small batches and remove from the oil and drain on paper towels. Keep the shrimp warm and continue frying until all are done. Serve with the homemade tartar sauce - recipe follows.

Tartar Sauce Recipe
3/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp. finely diced onion (sweet or red onion)
2 tbsp. pickle relish, drained
salt and black pepper to taste

In a small bowl combine all of the ingredients. Refrigerate until needed. Keeps in refrigerator for at least 2 weeks.

 Spaghetti and Meatball Dinner

There is nothing quite like making your own sauce from scratch.  Whether you have canned sauce with fresh garden tomatoes available, or purchased tomato products from the grocery store, a homemade sauce simmering on the stove excites your sense of smell. Add in a favorite family recipe for meatballs or your favorite Italian Sausage and you have a meal that the whole family will enjoy.

You may even have a jar sauce that you like - there are many to choose from.  I think that the current price of a jar of sauce is around five to eight dollars a jar.  You may find that purchasing the canned products (especially when they go on sale) and making a large pot of homemade sauce is the better way to stretch your grocery money. You can refrigerate your homemade sauce for up to one week or freeze what you don't use in plastic containers. For me, that is more economical.
Round the dinner out with a salad and garlic bread.

Easy Shrimp Casserole

1 lb. Shrimp - peeled and deveined (save shrimp shells for the stock)
1 1/3 cups shrimp stock
1 cup crushed Panko* Bread crumbs
1/4 cup onion or shallot - finely diced
1/4 cup dry Sherry
1 tbsp. Paprika
1 tbsp. Granulated Garlic
2 tsp. fresh Garlic - finely minced
2 tsp. fresh Parsley - finely chopped

1/4 tsp. white pepper (use black if you don't have white pepper)
Non-stick cooking spray
1 tbsp. Butter or Margarine
Olive Oil

Shrimp Stock:
Take your shrimp shells and put them in a sauce pot. Cover with 3 cups water. Add in 2 bay leaves and about 1 1/2 tsp. of whole black peppercorns and about 1/2 tsp. of salt. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. At the end strain the stock.

While the stock is simmering, mix the shrimp with the granulated garlic, pepper and paprika. Cover and refrigerate.
Dice the onion and mince the garlic.
Next, set a saute pan on medium low heat and add in some olive oil.  Add the onions and when they begin to release their juices (soften), add in the garlic and the butter. Reduce the heat to low and stir and cook for 1-2 minutes.
Deglaze the pan with the sherry and reduce by half.  Add in 1 cup shrimp stock and reduce by half. While that is happening bring your shrimp out and allow them to come to room temperature.
Add the shrimp and parsley to the pan, stir and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat. Place the mixture in a small casserole dish that has been sprayed with a non stick cooking spray.  Add in the remainder of the shrimp stock and coat the top with the crushed bread crumbs.
Cover and put in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes until the shrimp are thoroughly cooked. Uncover and crisp the topping if it is not lightly browned already under the broiler for 1-2 minutes. Keep a careful eye on it.
Serving suggestion: Serve over rice and add a salad or vegetable side dish.

* If you don't have Panko bread crumbs - use any plain bread crumb you have on hand.

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