Friday, May 25, 2012

Tasty Meals on a Budget

I can’t think of anyone that hasn’t been negatively affected in some way by the recent economic downturn.  Nowhere has this been more apparent than in food budgets. 

Whether it’s cutting down on eating out, or stretching the grocery money even further, people have needed to make adjustments in order to adapt to new circumstances.  But working within a smaller budget doesn’t mean your meals can’t also be delicious.  With a few minor tweaks to your menu and grocery buying, you’ll be easily able to turn ordinary meals into delicious cuisine.

Shop wisely.  It helps to set aside a few minutes each week to check out the weekly sales and specials at your neighborhood supermarkets.  Paper circulars are usually delivered in your regular mail, or you can check your favorite stores online.  Knowing what items are on special can help you better plan your meals and reduce the need to run out at the last minute to pick up an ingredient needed for your delightful cuisine.  It’s also a great way to stock up on kitchen staples that are essential in most cuisine – pasta, rice and beans, for example. 

Buy seasonally.  With today’s global market, it’s very easy to have blueberries in December or asparagus in July, but locally grown seasonal produce provides more bang for your grocery bucks.  It’s more flavorful, contains fewer additives and is more nutritious than produce shipped from overseas, as well as being less expensive.  Any vegetable scraps can be saved and used to add flavor stocks and gravies.  Fresh produce can easily be incorporated to enhance the flavors of your cuisine. 

Try less-expensive cuts of meat.  Porterhouse and rib eye prices can be daunting, even on sale.  Why not try something more budget-friendly but equally flavorful, like a skirt steak.  This cut is familiar to those who enjoy cuisine form Mexico – tacos, fajitas and carne asada.  Lamb shanks are another good choice.  Cooking them in liquid for several hours will result in moist and flavorful meal. 

Cook in “bulk.”  It’s fairly easy to double your recipes.  Things like soup, tomato sauces, and casseroles lend themselves well to this process.  You can cook them in quantity and then freeze some to be used at a later date.  In addition to freezing large batches, consider individual portions as well to make delicious cuisine for one or two less stressful and more cost-effective. 

Get creative with leftovers.  A large roast for dinner on Sunday can be turned into delicious cuisine on Tuesday or Wednesday as well.  The remaining meat can be combined with other ingredients to make a hearty stroganoff which can be served with noodles or a salad.  Uneaten chicken cutlets can be cubed and combined with frozen vegetables as a filling for a nourishing chicken pot pie.  A little imagination will go a long way in creating delightful cuisine from everyday leftovers. 

Keep a well-stocked pantry.  When going through your sales circulars, it’s a good idea to see what cooking staples might also be on sale.  Keeping your pantry stocked with essentials will make sure your recipes aren’t unintentionally sabotaged because you’ve run out of something basic.  Some good starches to keep on hand include rice, pasta, dried or canned beans, flour, and cornmeal.  Sweet-based staples include sugar, honey and molasses.  Don’t forget condiments like mustard, ketchup, olives capers and pickles, and other basics such as chicken and beef stock, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce, cooking oils and vinegar.  There are also perishable items which you should try to keep on hand and include yellow and red onions, garlic, and lemons. 

If you shop wisely, keep a well-stocked pantry and get creative with your leftovers, delicious cuisine should be easily within your budget. 

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