Category Archives: pantry

Pandemic Cooking: Lentils, Rice & Onions, Apple Pudding

A website where I’m a member has a thread about meals for $1 a plate. Possible because these folks have gardens, raise meat, etc.

The cheapest dish I’ve made lately was lentils, rice and onions. This one. I liked it but we both considered it boring, despite all the onions. I had everything in the pantry and the onions are starting to sprout, so needed to be used  up ASAP, why I picked this recipe. It’s improved, in our opinion, with garlic salt or sausage (if you have it). It’s perfectly edible as written, but as I said, we wanted it with more intense flavor.

I have no idea how much it cost? The onions are the last of the bulk onions I bought from the farm last fall. The lentils came from a bulk bin buy, somewhere, sometime ago. The rice? I have no idea.

We had it on its own, with sauteed spinach as a side on Monday, and then last night with the last of the already cooked spinach added to it and the end of a package of sausage. We’ll have the end of it for lunch sometime this week.

It struck me that it might be a good start for a veggie burger recipe? I sure don’t expect to be able to get meat anytime soon!

I also made, or tried to make, a Danish bread crumb “pudding” from WWII. I found a link to 10 bread crumb and left over bread recipes, here. But I only had 2 apples and I needed one more to halve the recipe, I got one from a neighbor. I didn’t peel the apples but sliced them very thinly. When they started to get soft, I used a potato masher to push them down to cook more.

I thought that was all the adjustments I needed to make. However, in my last kitchen purge, one of the things I got rid of was the pie pans, so I used a loaf pan, and WAY too many breadcrumbs. Yes, I’ll make this again, when I have more apples, but I’ll use a square baker and make the full recipe, which will no doubt fill the pan with thin layers of apple and crumbs, as intended.

The recipe I made is here.

 

 

Left Overs? What To Do With Them

I almost called this post, “Stealing from our Grandmothers, Again,” but decided that I needed a title which told people more about what I’m doing than that.

I have several old cookbooks and cooking pamphlets. Here’s suggestions from a few for dealing with leftovers. I’ve modified the recipes to be more generic (changed “mutton” to “meat” for example)

Rice & Meat Casserole

Line a casserole with cooked rice. Fill the center with 2C cooked meat, chopped fine, seasoned well with salt, pepper, onion, and lemon juice, mixed with 1/4C cracker or dry bread crumbs, 1 beaten egg and moistened with stock or hot water. Place a second layer of cooked rice over top. Cover, cook in hot oven 45 minutes.

Wilson’s Meat Cookery – Eleanor Lee Wright, p 46, 1921.


Add raw to salad or a salad ring: Asparagus, Beans/String, Carrots,

Add cooked to soup: Asparagus, Beans/Baked, Beans/String, Cabbage, Carrots, Tomatoes/Stewed

Other: Asparagus – deviled egg/asparagus sandwiches, vegetables salad ring, creamed on toast. Beans/Baked – chili, sandwiches. Beans/String – vegetable salad ring, scalloped vegetables. Cabbage – hot slaw, with creamed vegetables. Carrots – meat pie, creamed wth peas. Potatoes/Irish – cottage fried, mashed in or on meat pies, hashed browns, potato balls. Potatoes/Sweet – sweet potato fluff, cottage fried, baked with apples, hash browned with Irish Potatoes, sweet potato balls. Spinach – scalloped vegetables, puree, ham & spinach souffle, nests with creamed mushrooms. Rice – rice & raisin delight, rice & nut pudding, Spanish goulash, rice pudding, rice cakes, meat balls. Tomatoes/Sliced – garnishing meat loaf, meat pie, chili, Spanish goulash, vegetable casserole. Tomatoes/Stewed – rice and tomato soup, with toasted cubes, meat loaf, chili, meat pie.

Wartime Suggestions – Frigidaire Division, General Motors Corp., p 14, 1943.


I can’t find a recipe for rice & raisin delight. There are recipes for rice & nut puddings around though.  There is a Spanish Goulash recipe here.


Fruits: I don’t have a suggestion from a war-time cookbook for this. I’ve been using Joy of Cooking, still my default, look up a recipe cookbook. I made a whole wheat banana bread last week to use up the going to be bad soon bananas. DH is researching blueberry quick bread, as we got blueberries when we went to the market last week and we’ve only used 1 of 3 packages…

I got rid of my muffin tins, I will add it to the “I don’t have list.” Why did I get rid of the muffin tin? Because I don’t keep muffin liners, cupcake papers, etc.

At the most, I made muffins 2x a year. Fruit breads work better for us. They freeze easier than muffins; we don’t eat them as fast as cookies, and it’s a good use for the end of whatever fruit! We probably have too many loaf pans. We bake our own bread except in summer and I make meatloaf fairly regularly. So we use loaf pans all the time. I have 6? in the baking cabinet. I probably should cull the collection down, but . . . We have 3 steel, 2 ceramic, and 2 Pyrex?

The 3 Strategies to Save Money: #3 Doing Without (& the Cheat for Supplies)

Remember my rant about saving money, here? I use my 3 money-saving strategies all the time. The third strategy is: do without.

Except, that there is a cheat for this strategy: you can use less instead. So, reusing coffee grounds fits if you do 1/2 reused and 1/2 new. I use the cheat a lot with many supplies:

  • With creme rinse (used as a detangler) a bottle lasts 2-3 years!
  • With our dinner napkins. We use linen ones I inherited as our everyday. If they aren’t stained, rather than washing them after every  meal, we use them twice and then wash them.
  • We feed our cats dry food during the day and only give them canned food at dinner. With the small cans, I was splitting it between the two cats. Then I started buying bigger cans so each cat gets 1/4 can. I store fewer cans, the cost per meal is less, and we generate less waste — all good!
  • I use my powered toothbrushes longer than the 90 days specified.
  • I drink coffee with about 1/2 a cup of milk. Milk is cheaper than coffee most of the time. I get my 3 cups of “coffee” and actually ingest a lot less caffeine and spend less too!
  • We mix expensive types cat litters with cheap ones.
  • We used to go to the dump 2-3 times a week, now we go only once. We use fewer trash bags, less gas and wear and tear on the car.
  • We figured out how to use the twigs the trees drop as kindling. Cheaper than fatwood or splitting firewood as it’s free.
  • I use the lunch bags and stems from drying herbs as fire starters. I also have used old newspapers and TP or paper towel cores.
  • I open the blinds in our bathroom and living room first thing in the morning instead of turning on lights. The sunlight is bright enough that I can see where I’m going. Want to read or do something needing more light? Turn on a light.
  • I use cold water to soap dishes or my hands while waiting for warm water. Then, rinse with warm or hot water as needed.
  • My window washing spray isn’t in a spray bottle! I use a combination of dish soap, water, and a little ammonia. I use two rags and a lot less cleaner than I was originally taught.
  • I use about 1/4″ toothpaste and a tiny amount of mouthwash. The rest of the time I’m brushing? I use water.
  • I wash my hair once weekly, instead of daily, like I used to. If we still lived in Florida or the desert, as we did, this wouldn’t have changed, probably. YMMV!
  • I use as many solid  or dry soaps, etc. as possible, esp. if I’m going to use them WITH water: shampoo, creme rinse, laundry detergent, etc.
  • I cut bar soap into pieces before I use it and allow it to air dry as long as  possible, so that it’s as dry as it can be.
  • I’ve been known to delaminate 2-ply toilet paper. I discovered long ago that the amount I want I judge by hand. Delaminating it uses less because my hand feels “full” sooner.
  • I’ve used cornmeal for facial scrub (get it damp with water to a paste, spread it over your face. Stand over a large bowl of clean water and rinse. The cornmeal wants to clog up drains, so do it outside or over a bowl.
  • If you don’t mind perfumes (I’m allergic.) or “aromatherapy,” buy shampoo concentrates instead of diluted shampoo and mix your own. The concentrates are available at beauty supply shops, usually in gallon containers.
  • Buy unscented products and share with your partner rather than having products for each of you.
  • Put a square of chamois next to your bathroom sink and shine the chrome as you go. No fancy cleaners needed.

Goldilocks Dilemma: Supplies, part 2

Given what I know about supplies, how do I determine how much space is needed?


These factors affect supply storage: use rate, back stock needs, available space.


Once I know the use rate, I can determine reasonable back stock. For example, we use about 3/4 of a roll of paper towels a week, mostly to deal with pan grease. Having a 2 week supply seems reasonable. That means I need a back stock of 1 roll. But my usual source for these sells them in 4 roll (or bigger) packages.  I need to decide if having 3 rolls in storage makes sense? If it does, then the back stock amount/space for 1 roll won’t work, obviously.

It seems I need TWO types of back stock storage: immediate and a supply closet or shelf. Immediate storage near where the product is used, an extra bar of soap under the sink, for example. But if I buy a 6 bar bundle, most of those should go somewhere else, like a supply closet.

I don’t have a supply closet right now… soon! One planned summer improvement is for DH to build a broom closet. When he does, the wardrobe that’s our current broom closet will be empty. 

There’s space available elsewhere, I’ll use that until the wardrobe is empty.

My minimum for the shelf-stable supplies we use the most often? One complete refresh. I have that. It isn’t what I’d like because it isn’t the most frugal option, but given that I have nowhere to store a large back stock? It makes sense.


“When you keep an account of your stores, and the dates when they are bought, you can know exactly how fast they are used…”

Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt-Book, 3rd ed.,1856

Just Right? Not Enough? Too Much? a/k/a The Goldilocks Dilemma

If you’ve followed along here for any period of time, you’d notice that I keep trying to find “rules.” That is, I keep trying to find set answers to recurring problems.

  • Can I cook in such a way that the kitchen cleans itself while I’m doing it? (See self-cleaning tab above.)
  • The three ways to save $ is another.

Here’s my latest:

I’m trying to figure out exactly what to keep, toss, or buy, and have been for a long time. I decided to try and “formalize” the decision-making process because I keep revisiting the issue.

I posed the problem in a forum where I participate. The answers I got and my reactions to them got me to create a spreadsheet.

From an hour’s worth of work, I came to these conclusions: storage limits are a major determinate for me — every item I considered it was a potential issue.

  • So, imposing a SPACE BUDGET should always be my first step when considering an item to keep, cull or purchase. The next consideration is whether or not what I’m considering is a durable item or a supply item?

(A SPACE BUDGET is a given amount of space allocated for a certain item.)


I discovered that I need to treat supplies differently than durable goods. Supplies tend to be things that are not used all at once. And they are things which are meant to be consumed entirely. So, for a bag of cat litter, space allocation needs to be big enough to hold the full bag, even when it isn’t.


So, this can be approached in two ways, from either the amount desired or the space needed.

  • How much of a given supply do I want to have on hand at the most? — How much space would it need?
  • Or, How much space do I have to allocate for this supply? — How much of the supply can be stored in the available space?

Some supplies require specialized storage, which of course makes it even more complicated.

 

Frugality: Why Food? Money-Saving Food Ideas

The three strategies I use to save money are:

  1. Finding a cheaper substitute.
  2. Paying less for the same product.
  3. Doing without.

Any or all of these will save you $. Frequently, when faced with economic stress, people do what I’ve been doing: concentrate on their food expense.

It’s one of the few areas left where the consumer controls everything they spend. You can’t suddenly decide to pay less for your mortgage, you can decide to give the bank less, but the amount you owe hasn’t changed. Also fuel for heat/cooking, insurance and most other regular expenses have costs set by others. But you CAN decide you’ll have mac & cheese for dinner, or soup, instead of going out or eating steak.

The only real problem is that food is 10% of an average American’s paycheck. If you cut it in 1/2, no mean feat, you’re still only saving 5%. The trick is to use that small saving to pay down debt or other set expenses, so the available cash/savings grows. That isn’t easy to do when it feels like you’re saving pennies instead of dollars!

The easiest way to reduce that 10%? Stop wasting food. Americans, on average, waste 40% of their food dollar. If you spend $10 a week and want to spend $5 instead? Stop throwing out food and you’ll save $4!

To this end, for some time, I’ve had a “flow” when I cook. Most of it is dealing with left over food in a way that resembles but is not exactly the same as the original. Also, much of it adds other foods for the second meal.

  • Cut bigger pieces down: cut meat from a cooked roast/bird and use it in another meal. Same with rough cut veggies: carrots, parsnips, onion, celery, etc.
  • Put previously cooked food in a thick sauce. This is what stew is, right? Also anything served with gravy over it. Make this a fairly bland dish. Make crepes and use this as a filling.
  • Dilute a thick sauce/gravy with water or stock — make soup or ? Transform whatever with gravy into something with a thin sauce  or soup. Make this more pungent.
  • The old trick of serving whatever with a starch: potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, grains or bread. Things with gravy can be served atop a starch or with the starch in them (like stew with potatoes).
  • Use the bits & pieces to make soup or stock: this reduces waste and the cost, while it increases nutritional value.

Using these ideas, I turn 1 lb of chicken thighs into 4 meals. The protein costs $2.49/lb. That’s about .62 per meal! I have a great source for chicken. I buy it in bulk and freeze it in 1 lb containers. Depending on what I’m cooking I may or may not serve 2 thighs as dinner, then salvage the scraps/bones and make stock with the 3rd thigh for the next meal.

The last time I did this, I made oven-roasted chicken: we ate 2 thighs, the next day I made stir fry, heavy on the garlic. One portion is left over, it’s in the freezer; someone will eat it for lunch, or it will get added to soup. That’s 5 meals from $2.49 worth of meat, or .50 each meal for the protein.

If you do the math, the extreme frugality menus I linked to last time are about .25 per meal, protein and all. I thought what I was doing was pretty extreme, obviously, I still need to work on it!

So, how much should you spend? Figure 6% of your take home pay, if you aren’t wasting food or 10% when you do. If you’re spending more than that? You’re probably stuck in a rut of making the same things over and over and at least when I do that, I throw out a lot!

I’ll have to see what I can do to cut my costs!

What comes to mind —

  • Making schmaltz and using it instead of bottled cooking oils, (Using less, #2 above).
  • Making yogurt. (Finding a cheaper substitute, #1 above).
  • Baking bread. (Also #1.) We’d found a cheap, acceptable bread, $2.99 a loaf, so we’ve been buying bread rather than baking. The market has hiked this brand up to $3.99 a loaf again. DH still makes biscuits and pancakes when needed. I make crepes.
  • Stop having dessert. (Doing without, #3.) We will have a piece of fruit or maybe ice cream, but we haven’t had dessert as a planned part of a meal for some time.
  • Get rid of more junk food. We don’t eat these all the time, but yes, we do eat some: crackers and chips mostly. (Do without #3.)
  • Find high-priced items we still use and use any of the three strategies to reduce costs!

The best other discussion I’ve found about how to save money on groceries is this one.

Frugality: Schmaltz and Extreme Food Frugality Discussion/Links

Partly because of some reading I’ve been doing about fats and cooking more frugally, I’ve been doing a few things differently.

My dad every now and then would cut fat from a steak and cook it in its own grease. Tasted great. We hardly eat beef these days, mostly because of cost, but there’s also environmental concerns.

We also eat very little fish, that’s been true much longer, I decided back in the 1980s we were over fishing and stopped using fish as a regular food.

That leaves poultry. Recently, I’ve been doing Dad’s trick, but with chicken. I take the skin/fat off the pieces of meat, and use the chicken fat to grease the pan. This is easiest when the chicken is partly frozen, but the fat is a resource I’ve frequently ignored in the past. Laying chicken skin, fat side down in the pan where you’re cooking onions you’ll add to the chicken a bit later isn’t all that hard, tastes good, creates less waste, and costs $0! (Remove the skins with a fork after the fat melts, or you can make them cracklings, I rarely do.)

I finally found a recipe for schmaltz, but have yet to make it. If I’m skinning the chicken and not using the fat otherwise, I’ve been freezing the skins/fat, with the idea that I’ll make schmaltz. Not quite enough in the freezer yet…soon!

Don’t know what schmaltz is? It’s rendered chicken fat. Here’s a recipe.


The spring CSA we’re a part of this year put up an expected harvest chart, so I’ve spent much of the morning figuring what to make with it. On average, the produce cost us $3-$4/lb, not including the overhead to get it. That price is right in line/a little bit cheaper than organic produce at the local market. It will be fresher,  local, and supporting a local farm too. All good!


I found a youtube channel with a woman doing extreme frugality for a family of 6. It was interesting to watch her make up 126 meals for $31. Don’t know that I’d like to eat all the food she made without additions — but it sure reminded me how nice it is to have a backlog of herbs/spices/condiments to just casually add to make a meal more satisfying!

You can find her youtube video here.

Things I don’t do that she does?

  • I don’t shop at Walmart.
  • I don’t use house brands.
  • I don’t use chicken boullion.
  • I can’t eat tomato paste out of a can without having a major stomach upset, so I don’t.

I could do all of that and if I need to in the future, I will. I’ve admitted before that we’re food snobs. We are. But I’m also a realist.

My job, as long as we can manage it, is to keep the food as we like it, at a price we can afford. If our economics changes? Obviously, other things change too.

She’s making 126 meals for $31  — I spend on average $50 a week to make lunch/dinner, or 10-14 meals, with staples and other items set aside towards future meals.

In the video, she says one criticism she’s gotten is using foods she already has in stock, so she didn’t do that in this extreme frugality post.