Sunday, September 30, 2012

Cooking during Economic Hardship 3

Cooking during Economic Hardship 3

Continuing the series of helping you help yourself in these times of making two truck boat trucks meet, it's me again telling you how you can stretch them dollars and make your life not suck so much - in that you at least are kept fed.

First off, do not be above dumpster diving. Sure, there can be scary things in that there dumpster, but that doesn't mean you're not going to find some treasure every now and then.

Did you know all those food establishments toss out on average a hundred pounds of food a day? It's true. Stuff that could be given to foodbanks or to the employees making below min. wage is just discarded. Their loss is your reward for getting down and dirty.

If you don't want to do that. Invest in dry goods. You can never make enough red beans and rich. It's the poor southern swamp trash's best kept secret. You will never go hungry again with those two items.

I talked about organ meats in the last update, but it's really something worth repeating. It's kind of a fad right now, but organ meat is still shockingly cheap. A pound of grass-fed organic beef liver at whole foods was around $2.50. Chicken livers are similarly priced and delicious, and kidneys are even cheaper.

If you want to get classy, you can often find whole chickens for $5 each. If this happens where you live, you've just hit the jackpot. Butterfly that son-bitch and roast those bad boys. Rub them down with some oil and stuff them under the skin with garlic, salt and pepper and you have yourself a feast of a meal that will last for days.

If you're not afraid of a little diversity, look to ethnic stores. Those butchers are really cheap and have good quality meats. Look for your town's little Arab, Armenia, Iranian, Mexican, Asian stores and you'll find yourself some really low priced protein. I've also found that Mexican and Asian markets have cheaper veggies and meat than any other supermarket around.

Once you're done with that protein, do not toss away the bones. Simmer that carcass for a couple of hours to get the rest of the meat off and make a great stew base. Strain out the bones and add veggies and potatoes or rice or what have you, egg noodles for that matter work as well. Go nuts, it's all good. You can even freeze and enjoy them whenever fairly easily.

You can also get those bones and keep them in the freezer till you have about 8 pounds of them and then smear them with a bit of tomato paste, roast them and add some shallots and herbs. Cook them down to demiglace and freeze it. Fucking delicious and dirt cheap. The only thing you need to worry about is time. Do it on your day off - if you even have a job anymore - as it takes a good part of the day to properly cook it down.

Last in this installment is the poor folks' seasoning guide:

Scour the spice racks at dollar stores and ethnic markets - spices are far cheaper there than at regular grocery stores (look for the wall racks of spices in plastic bags or bulk spices - never buy those cylindrical glass jars of spices because they are a waste of money).

Garlic - This is your friend. It's sold almost everywhere, is cheap, goes well in most styles of cuisine, and adds lots of flavor.

- It is sold in large quantities for small amounts of money, and you'll use it in almost everything you cook.

- You can usually find large bags of them for very cheap. Buy lots and use them in everything you can. Simmering them in a bit of cooking oil/butter for a bit will caramelize them and make them very tasty.

- Lemons and limes sell for next to nothing, and a little of their juice goes a long way to make tastier food.

Meats as Seasoning
- Boil a ham bone in your soup or greens/vegetables for more flavor. A diced up packet of lunch meat ham from the dollar store works too.

- Many curries are based on a mixture of cumin and coriander. Add turmeric for yellow curries. If you can get coconut milk for cheap, that's the base of most Thai curries. Yogurt, milk, tomato purees and/or butter/vegetable oil comprise the base of most Indian curries. Experiment with what's available to you, and if you have any culinary skill you'll probably end up with something decent most of the time. A good curry mix can turn a huge load of flavorless vegetables into a few days' worth of savory meals. Serve over rice for maximum cost-effectiveness.

Mexican Food
- For a simple Mexican seasoning, use lots of cumin, garlic and salt, then add spicier peppers to taste (chipotle, jalapeño, ground chilis). Lime adds a nice dimension to it if you have some. Chicken thigh/leg meat is affordable and goes well with this seasoning. Get a stack of cheap tortillas and stir-fry some onions, bell peppers and whatever cheap meats/vegetables you can find for a fajita feast. Use a bit of stock/broth/bouillon in your rice along with some salt and a bit of garlic (cumin can be good in there too, if you're into it).

Itialian Food
- Tomato sauces and canned tomato product that can be made into sauce are widely available at discount stores. Simmer up some vegetables and/or brown some meat and mix it into your sauces when available. Rosemary, bay leaf, basil, oregano, thyme and garlic can be used in different combinations to make your sauce better. If it's too acidic, add a bit of milk. Pasta is one of the most inexpensive foods you will find, so learn to dress it up. If you have a baking sheet, cut up some potatoes and sprinkle them with rosemary, salt, garlic and olive oil (or cheaper cooking oil if necessary). Bake until browned and enjoy.

Be creative. Read lots of recipes. Save your leftovers.

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