Friday, August 29, 2008

Making a Meal Last - Storage Solutions for Leftovers

Air is the enemy of food. Being able to store your leftovers in an air tight way will allow you to store them safely until you want to eat them. There are a LOT of options out there. Getting started might be expensive if you are starting with nothing, but it doesn't have to be. Let's go over some of the options there are nowadays.
  • Disposable Options
    • Plastic Bags
    • Plastic Wrap/Tin Foil
  • Reusable Options
    • Containers like rubber maid or Tupperware
    • Containers like ziplock or gladware
    • Containers from products you already buy
The disposable options that I listed are going to give you a smaller start-up cost, but in the long run, you might be spending more money. Personally, I reuse plastic bags, plastic wrap, and tin foil whenever I can. Rinsing a plastic bag and letting it dry out is not that difficult and it saves the bag from the landfill for at least a few more uses.

The reusable options will have more of an up-front cost, but they also have the added benefit of, well, being reusable. There are many sizes and shapes available. However, they will take up some space in your kitchen. Using containers from products you already buy - margarine tubs, yogurt containers, and anything resealable - does not come with any additional cost, however, I would not advise freezing or reheating in these containers as many are not meant for extra use.

Personally, I use all of the above options. I have slowly amassed quite a collection of containers from shopping sales an using coupons. I have also bought Tupperware at yard sales and thrift stores.

Containers can be used for:
  • portions of dinner from the night before
  • loose cereal, beans, or rice when the bag breaks

Plastic bags can be used for:
  • portions of pretzels, chips, or cut fruit or veggies in a packed lunch
  • keeping homemade cookies from getting stale
  • keeping flour and sugar in to keep the bugs out
Plastic Wrap and Tin foil can be used for:
  • wrapping meat in meal-sized portions to be frozen
  • wrapping uneaten block cheese
  • wrapping anything that might be an unusual size/shape
  • covering a plate of food to bring to a relative or friend

What are your favorite food storage solutions? Please share them in the comments section!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Frugal Ingredients - Keeping the Pantry Stocked

Keeping cooking staples in your pantry is a great way to keep your cooking costs lower. Buying items on sale that you know you use often is a great way to lower your cost per meal. If you are just getting started, starting over after a move, or looking for some new ideas, here is a list of what I always keep on hand:
  • Flour
  • Sugar (regular, brown, and confectioners)
  • Baking powder/soda
  • Salt
  • Vegetable Oil and Olive Oil
  • Herbs and Spices
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Beans
  • Oatmeal
  • Tomato Sauce
  • Diced Tomatoes
  • Salsa
  • Crackers
  • Cereal
  • Cheese (mozzerella, cheddar - in the fridge)
  • Eggs (in the fridge)
  • Milk (in the fridge)
  • Better-Than-Bullion (chicken or beef - in the fridge)
  • Chicken Breasts (in the freezer)
  • Ground Beef (in the freezer)
  • Frozen veggies (in the freezer)
Buying all of this in one shopping trip will make it an expensive trip, however, a lot of these are non-perishable and can make more than a few meals. You will not find yourself replacing them very often. And when you see that items on this list are on sale, stock up! You know you'll use them.

Just looking at this list, I can make chili, cheese omelets, soup, flour tortillas, nachos, crackers and cheese, pasta with meat sauce or chicken parmesan. That's just a few things I came up with off the top of my head. Keeping a well stocked pantry/fridge/freezer with things that YOU like to use in your cooking will save you a lot of trips to the grocery store. It will also help you to feel secure that even if you don't know when your next paycheck will show up, you know you can make yourself dinner!

Frugal Ingredient - Dried Beans

I think anyone you talk to will tell you that beans are an excellent addition to any diet. For those who don't eat meat (and everyone else for that matter), they add an excellent amount of protein to your diet for pennies on the dollar. When checking out the rows and rows of cans of beans in the grocery store, you'll see that you can probably get a 15oz can of any of your favorite beans for about $0.50 - $1.00 depending on brand and any sales. Not bad, right?

Well, I can do you better. Look around the cans - below, above, to the right or left and you will see bags of dried beans. In my area, I can get a 1 pound bag of dried beans for about $1. Maybe less, maybe more. Now, you are probably wondering what is so great about that - the cans are a comparable price or less! However, a pound of dried beans is equal to 4 cans of beans! That's right! Buying a pound of dried beans for $1 is like buying 4 cans of beans for $0.25 each. A sweet deal.

I'm not going to kid you, though. Cooking with dried beans does take a little extra planning and time. But for a little extra time and preparation, you can save a great deal on your groceries. The directions for soaking and cooking beans are normally right on the bag, but you can also check out this page for basic bean preparation information. The quick rule of thumb is as follows, though:

1/2 cup of dried beans (pre-soak) = 1 15oz can of beans
1 1/2 cups of beans (post-soak) = 1 15oz can of bean

Yes, you heard me right. The beans will TRIPLE in size when you soak them. Do not make the mistake of thinking that they look so little. The first time I worked with dried beans - I had more chickpeas than I could figure out what to do with. Storing dried beans is easy. They should be stored in air tight plastic or glass containers (bags work fine, too) and they can be kept indefinitely if stored at room temperature.

Want to know more about beans?
Basic Bean Prep
Storage and Soaking
Cooking Your Beans
Bean Recipes

A little about me

Welcome to Cooking Frugal. My name is Catherine and I'll be serving up tips and tricks for saving money while still making delicious food for your friends and family. Here's a little about me so you can get an idea of what perspective I am coming from.

I'm single.
I'm a woman.
I live on my own in a 2 bedroom apartment.
I live very close to the town where I grew up and about 20 minutes from my parents.
I have a boyfriend that likes to EAT.
I grew up watching my mom stretch a dollar as far as it could go.
I love to cook and to a lesser extent, bake.
I do not like to follow a recipe.
I cook like I am cooking for an army.
I L-O-V-E leftovers.
I love anything from Mexican, Italian, or Chinese cuisines.
I like to buy in bulk, but finding storage space is always a challenge.
I have a hard time passing up a good deal.
I read a LOT of personal finance and general frugality blogs.
I hope to provide some new information to all of you through this blog.