Saturday, August 12, 2006

Frugal Cooking 1

I’ve been thinking for awhile about a “frugality” post, having seen the challenge on Carrie’s blog about using up what you have in the pantry, fridge, etc. Recently I had to throw out a roasting chicken that was dated 2004 (and a pork roast that was even older) because they had sunk to the bottom of my chest freezer. I need to keep much better track of what’s in there and be sure and use it in a timely fashion. I’ve tried using the different freezer/pantry inventory forms available at (and I love these) but they don’t just don’t work as well as they might because of “operator error.” In recent years in our home it has been my husband who puts groceries away, and he doesn’t pay too much attention to the way groceries are categorized within the pantry -- he just puts things wherever he finds an empty space. Every now and then I go down there -- our “pantry” is an unused, unplugged freezer in the basement -- and reorganize things and redo my inventory forms, but then the cycle starts all over again and I run out of things because I don’t know what I have. Now, because of circumstances in our lives, it’s starting to be me who puts the groceries away more often, so maybe I can give it another try and make the inventory thing work. In fact, one of the missions for this week on is to declutter the pantry, and it’s on my list for today. For the freezer, I like the white board idea I saw on Be Not Conformed, so will buy a small white board and try that.

There’s an old saying here in New England -- maybe elsewhere, too -- that goes like this: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” (I wrote an entire article on this premise once, complete with recipes, which I’ll try to unearth and post here before too long.) This is something I’ve always tried to do, especially in regard to groceries and other needed items. In recent years, though, with only 2 of us at home, it’s a big challenge to use things up before they go bad, especially produce. I love the convenience and ease of the bagged salad greens and baby spinach, but they are SO perishable. I need to remember to use those up early in the week while they are still good. Another thing I’m guilty of is dutifully saving chicken broth when I cook a chicken -- and then forgetting to use it. I need to get in the habit of putting it in the freezer rather than the fridge.

Here are a couple of “use it up” things I did this week. On Sunday, I had made Crock-Pot Ribs and we ate them with cole slaw and instant mashed potatoes. (I make things as easy as possible on Sundays.) To make Crock-Pot Ribs, first spray your crockpot insert well with cooking spray (or, my choice, use one of the new plastic slow cooker liners). Then, just use whatever pork ribs you like -- I use the meatier southern-style or country-style ribs -- and arrange them in a crockpot. Standing them up works best; you can cut them in half crosswise if they are too tall. Sprinkle them with your choice of seasoning. I use the Montreal Steak seasoning by McCormick. Then cover the crockpot and cook on low for 8-10 hours, or on high for 4-5 hours. A half hour before you’re ready to eat, drain off all the liquid from the pot. Spread (or pour) about 1 cup barbecue sauce over the ribs; cover and cook for 1/2 hour. That’s it!

Anyway, we ate these ribs on Sunday and I had a few of the leftovers for lunch on Monday, but there were still quite a few left over. So here’s what I did: disposed of the fat and any remaining bones (there weren’t many) and chopped up all of the leftover meat in small pieces. Added a little onion powder, some pickle relish and some mayonnaise to make a great sandwich filling. I remember my grandmother doing this with leftover pork or beef roast -- only she ground it in a meat grinder. My casual way worked fine with ribs.

Another use-it-up technique I used this week could be adapted to almost any main-dish or veggie leftover -- put it on pizza! I had made some roasted veggies -- eggplant, onions, zucchini, red peppers -- to use in a main-dish sandwich recipe Monday night. There were a couple of cups of veggies left over. Tuesday I was out of the house most of the day and needed a quick supper dish. I made a quick pizza crust, spread it with spaghetti sauce and some shredded mozzarella, and then arranged the roasted veggies on top and sprinkled with a bit more shredded mozzarella and some shredded parmesan. Baked it about 25 minutes and we had supper! Here’s the recipe for my quick pizza crust if anyone is interested:


1 pkg. (1 Tblsp.) active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1 tsp. honey or sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tblsp. cooking oil (I use olive)
2 1/2 cups flour
Sauce of your choice
Toppings of your choice
Mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 425º. In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water with the honey or sugar. Stir in the remaining ingredients and beat vigorously about 20 strokes. Spread the dough on a greased pizza pan. Top with the desired sauce, cheese, and toppings. Bake at 425º for 20-25 minutes. Yield: 1 large pizza.

This is such an easy way to make pizza! I like to keep everything I might need on hand to make pizza anytime. I keep bags of shredded mozzarella in the freezer -- the absolute best place to store any shredded cheese, since it molds very quickly in the fridge. I keep sliced pepperoni in the freezer too, and bags of frozen chopped peppers. For pizza sauce, I use jars of the “garden” variety spaghetti sauce. Then pizza can easily be made with just a half hour’s notice.

I also like to use the pizza dough recipe from the cookbook that came with my bread machine. It makes a dough which I like better than this quick one, but of course using the bread machine doesn’t allow for spur-of-the moment pizza -- one has to plan 1 1/2 hours ahead. That’s why I most often make the quick type. Either of these, of course, is less expensive than buying a pre-baked or otherwise prepared crust from the supermarket.

Well, that had better be it for this post -- I’ve lots to do today, including decluttering the pantry before Mr. T heads for the dump this afternoon. I’ll be back later with more posts on frugal cooking -- in the meantime, if you haven’t seen it, I have a post in the archives (called Saving Money in the Kitchen, if I remember right) which some might find helpful.

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