Archive for ‘Money Saving’

May 30, 2017

Stretch Your Greenbacks with Forgotten Greens

When you’re trying to eat healthy on a budget, you can stretch your greenbacks with forgotten greens! It’s hard to grow up in the South without eating greens. They’re a staple in every home cooking, soul food, and barbecue restaurant and many grandmother’s kitchens. Most cooks have a favorite green. Some prefer collard, some mustard, and some turnip. When you generically refer to greens, it’s assumed you mean one of these three or a mix of them.
carrot
Often overlooked are the other greens that abound in Southern homes. We consume beets, radishes, carrots, and celery on a regular basis. Most of us have added kale to our menus, and many of us enjoy kohlrabi and bok choy in the occasional stir fry. In an effort to eat fresh, local food it’s more and more common to buy these vegetables from a community garden, neighborhood farmer’s market or CSA (community supported agriculture) produce coop.

If you shop in these venues, you know that the vegetables aren’t always uniform in size and shape, they may arrive still covered in soil, and most of them will have beautiful green leaves attached. It’s tempting to quickly chop off the leaves and discard them before cleaning beets, carrots, or radishes, and many cooks in my family do just that.
radish
I’ll admit it takes more time to clean and shred the tops, but you can also end up with a delicious mix of greens just by saving what you’d normally throw away. This weekend, I cooked a pot of spicy greens using radish, kohlrabi, and bok choy greens, plus some Swiss chard. That’s not a special mix. It’s just what I had on hand. As is true of most combinations of leafy greens, they’re delicious together.

Of course, you can also use these tops in a salad or soup. Unfortunately, I don’t really like cabbage tasting greens in a salad, and I’m unlikely to make soup in the summer. But thinking of edible vegetable leaves in the way I think of turnip greens gives me another avenue for preparation. Seasoned with chicken stock, onion, garlic, dried chile peppers, salt, pepper, and a splash of vinegar, these greens have wonderful depth of flavor and a peppery bite.

I’m not sure how collard, mustard, and turnip greens came to be the standard for greens, or why my grandmother never used the radish greens or carrot tops she grew. I do know that I can stretch my greenbacks by broadening my definition of greens to include beet, bok choy, broccoli, carrot, celery, chard, dandelion, kale, kohlrabi, and radish.
greens
And by cooking the greens attached to my vegetables, I gain another vegetable to serve, stretch my food budget, and include all the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that make leafy greens an important part of a healthy diet. I also reduce my food waste. That makes me feel good.

April 11, 2016

Portion Control for Your Pocketbook

vegWhen you’re on a budget, you may need to practice portion control for your pocketbook. For the past 25 years, I had very healthy cash flow. I hardly ever looked at prices in the grocery store. I just threw whatever I wanted in the basket. I ate in the best restaurants often and didn’t hesitate to accept an invitation to happy hour. While I have always shopped vintage, I never hesitated to purchase a new pair of shoes.

Once I sold my business, my cash flow situation changed. Now I carefully consider a new pair of shoes. I eat at home most days (I’m creating and testing recipes after all) and I rarely go out for happy hour. On the other hand, I go to the grocery store…a lot!

One reason for all the shopping is my job, but much of it is because I love fresh ingredients and I like to experiment in the kitchen. That means I’m happiest when I’m shopping in smaller specialty markets that have really fresh produce or interestingly odd offerings. The problem is that many smaller markets have very steep pricing.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into one of these markets to grab one or two items and left having spent over $100. While that’s always bothered me, now I need to make sure I just don’t do it. I have to practice portion control.

Using the smaller double-decker baskets wasn’t working for me. I always choose those because I like them better, but I can still fit in way more than I want to pay for. I could use a small reusable grocery bag to limit my items to what I can carry, but then I’ll look suspiciously like I’m trying to avoid paying, not to mention, I never have one of those bags handy when I need it. You could tell me I just need to stick with my shopping list, but that would be like talking to a brick wall.
hand
So, how am I solving this problem? I don’t carry a bag OR use a basket. I limit my shopping to what I can carry in my hands. Just like using a smaller plate to eat your lunch, this technique will cut out the excess fast. After a couple of lemon dropping incidents, I learned I’d rather avoid the embarrassment of overloading. Now I rarely spend more than $20 in one of these stores.

Developing portion control for your pocketbook is much like making any other needed change. The better you know yourself, the easier it is to develop techniques that will make the change easier rather than harder. And who says it’s better to do things the hard way?

March 15, 2016

Save Time and Money When You Use These Tips

eggshellsLast week, I let the chicken I was baking make cream of mushroom soup, and this week I will save even more time and money by using these tips. Of course, you can do this too!

It’s not really that I’m getting lazy these days, it’s that I have an overwhelming number of additional tasks that were unexpectedly added to my already full plate. When my mother had a stroke in December, I took over the management of my 95-year-old cousin’s affairs. While she’s in great health, able to live in her own home, and to get out and play dominoes with friends on Saturdays, she can no longer deal with her mail, manage her financial obligations, schedule her own appointments, or transport herself.

Then a few weeks ago, my mother passed away and I became a co-trustee of her trust and co-executrix of her will. While co-executrix is a pretty cool word, it also means lots of extra research, forms, sorting & filing, meetings, phone calls, and decisions to make.

These real life storms happen to all of us. At the time, it always feels like they occur at an inconvenient time. The truth is, that there’s never a convenient time for sadness, grief, loss, or extra caregiving duties. If there were, it would mean we aren’t living very full lives. We’d most likely be failing to pursue the challenging job we desire, the degree we want, our next athletic achievement, or the dream vacation we can finally afford.

Knowing that the ebb and flow of life will always deliver intermittent difficult times, it’s good to have a few tricks handy that make things easier on the budget and your schedule when times get tough. Here are a few tricks I rely on regularly:

1)Cook 2 things in the same pot or pan at the same time that can be later mixed and matched for 2 or 3 different meals.

Baked Chicken and Cream of Mushroom Soup
Last week’s chicken spaghetti blog featured a perfect example of this trick. I made cream of mushroom soup in the bottom of the pan while baking chicken. Later, I used both in chicken spaghetti. Then I took the leftover mushroom soup, added some cubed potatoes, and ate potato mushroom soup for a couple of meals.

Pork Chops and Polenta
I like to cook polenta in the bottom of a casserole dish when I bake pork chops. It’s probably the easiest way ever to prepare polenta and later I can use some of it to make grilled polenta cakes with tomato and kale. The pork chops cut into thin strips or cubes can be made into tacos or added to macaroni and cheese.


2)Save pot likker to use in other dishes or one pot meals.

Traditional pot likker is the broth produced when you cook greens, but I like to save the broth from boiling black eyed peas, beans, and broccoli as well. Seasoned, it can be used as a base for a soup or sauce. It can also be used in place of chicken broth to cook rice or to add flavor to a one pot meal. Storing vegetable broth in the refrigerator has saved me more than one trip to the store.
pulled pork
3)Remake leftovers into something new.

When I began to tire of the aforementioned chicken spaghetti, I sautéd some onion, broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots, then added the leftover chicken spaghetti and some extra cheese to the pan. The chicken spaghetti was transformed into pasta primavera…with chicken. It tasted fresh and new and took less than 20 minutes to prepare.

I sometimes make pulled pork enchiladas with leftover smoked pork. Roasted chicken becomes chicken salad, chicken quesadillas, or chicken and rice. Leftover veggies fill my frittatas or get added to browned turkey for a one pot meal.

James flew in hungry late the night I baked chicken for chicken spaghetti. He topped one of the chicken breasts with mushroom, potato soup and a piece of pepper jack cheese, then popped it in the microwave for a quick and filling meal.

4)Boil some eggs and store them in the refrigerator (they’ll last a week).

Boiled eggs are an easy protein to grab when you’ve waited too long to eat. Just add a little salt and pepper and they’re good to go. They’re also easy to carry in the car or on airplane trip.

Boiled eggs can become egg salad or a great addition to tuna salad, chicken salad, or pasta with sausage and peas.
dates
5)Keep nuts in the freezer and dried fruit in the pantry.

I always have raw almonds, pecans, walnuts, and cashews in my freezer. I use them for desserts, meatloaf, meatballs, and salads. At any given moment, I’ll also have a variety of dried fruit in the pantry. I like the ones without added sugar – dates, papaya, mango, pears, figs, and raisins.

My standard breakfast is Greek yogurt with raw almonds and golden raisins. When I travel, I carry nuts and raisins with me. Sometimes I throw in a few chocolate chips. It’s like extra simple trail mix.

In order for me to deal with added stress, it’s important to keep my eating, sleeping, and exercise routine fairly constant. While it might be easy to rely on fast or overly processed foods when I’m overbooked, doing so makes me feel bad so I try to keep it to a minimum. Using a few tricks in the kitchen helps keep me stay on track and have time for the rest and exercise I need to remain resilient.

March 6, 2015

A Baby Food Mill Can Provide Peace of Mind

kitIf you have a family history of food allergies or intolerance, a baby food mill can provide peace of mind because you know exactly what’s in the food your baby is consuming. My mom suffered from what we then called Hay Fever to the extent that her nose ran all the time and would get raw from wiping it with tissues. She solved the raw nose problem by walking around with silk panties hanging out of her nose. I kid you not and I wish I had a photo. Maybe you’ll believe me if I show you this current photo of her with a diaper on her head. She says she was cold. Don’t ask me.
mom
At the time, I can’t remember her attributing the, let’s call it, Silk Panty Situation to foods. It seemed to be more an allergy to ragweed or driving the truck when it was time to haul hay. The latter part resulted in me learning to drive very early and having my first wreck, passengers included, when I was 9. But that’s another story altogether. Back to our discussion of allergies…

When Ben was a tiny baby, he suffered from constant congestion. I mean significant congestion that made it difficult for him to breath through his nose. His pediatrician put him on asthma medication. That made him hyper, fussy, and kept him from sleeping. After a few exhausting weeks of a constantly awake, crying baby, I decided there had to be a better solution.

Through some trial and error, I figured out that if I would avoid dairy products in my diet, Ben’s congestion would disappear. This made some sense. By then we already knew that James did not tolerate dairy well. I decided that I could go without ice cream for a year while I breastfed if it meant Ben could breath without meds and I could get a night’s sleep.

James’ history, and subsequently Ben’s, wasn’t the only reason I followed the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations for food introduction to prevent allergies, my sister had a history of turning beet red when she consumed foods containing basil or magnesium. I wanted to make sure that I gave the kids the best chance I could to avoid problems in the future.

As they currently do, the APA then recommended breast milk only for the first 6 months. Once it was time to introduce solid food, I opted for the most control possible over the ingredients and invested in a baby food mill. That simple device allowed me to know exactly what I was feeding my children and it was easy on the budget. I could feed James & Ben the same food their dad and I were eating, but in a baby friendly form.
baby food grinder
Baby food mills are still a good option for the same reasons. While it’s now much easier to buy organic baby food from the supermarket, many brands are only 95% organic, some contain preservatives, and the cost ranges from 23¢ to 48¢ per ounce. When you get to Stage 2 foods, most prepackaged options are blends that may or may not appeal to your child thereby limiting your selection and their nutrient variety.
green grinder
There are many brands of food mills and they come in several shapes and sizes. Most are small enough to be easily carried along on an outing and some even come with a travel pack. In the most common design, you pull the top bowl section upward, fill the tube below with food and as you turn the handle, the food moves up into the bowl section ready to feed to your infant. The components then come apart to be cleaned in the dishwasher.
white grinder
If you want the option of using the mill for other food processing jobs, you can choose an OXO model with 3 interchangeable blades. There are electronic versions as well if you’re a fan of specialized power kitchen gadgets.
oxo
Once you’ve chosen the model that best suits the needs of your family, all you have to do is fill it with freshly prepared food – organic when possible and devoid of sugar, as well as excessive salt or fat. According to the AAP, new eaters only need one or two tablespoons of food at a time increasing to 3 – 4 tablespoons as the child grows. They also recommend that you avoid feeding an infant under 4 months old fresh spinach, beets, green beans, carrots, and squash because of the naturally occurring nitrates. If you follow their recommendation of breast milk only for a minimum of 4 months, this should not be an issue.

There is no evidence that introducing foods in a particular order will prevent allergies. In order to quickly recognize an allergic response, it is best to introduce foods one at a time and feed only that food for 2-3 days before moving to the next food. If your child experiences, diarrhea, rash, vomiting, congestion, hives, or irritability that disappears once a particular food is removed, your child may be allergic to that food.

For those of you who are celiac or have gluten intolerance in your family, your children are at increased risk of being gluten intolerant due to shared genetics. Because gluten intolerance causes an immune response, it is not the same as an allergy. It may be best not to introduce any baby cereals other than possibly rice and oats until the child is older, if at all.

While I can’t say James and Ben are a representative sample of kids who grow up eating table food rather than packaged baby food, they are both chronically healthy. Using a baby food mill helped keep me on budget and give me the peace of mind that I was providing them with the best nutrition possible.

Judging by these photos of James’ first meal of solid food, he was well prepared for the event and satisfied by the content!
jamesone
james 2
james 3

Check out these food mills:

http://www.kidco.com/products-page/preparation/f810/

http://ep.yimg.com/ty/cdn/happybaby/kidcofoodmillinst.pdf

http://www.kidalog.com/categories/Mealtime/

http://www.munchkin.com/fresh-feeding-starter-set.html

http://www.oxo.com/p-476-food-mill.aspx

For more information regarding infant feeding suggestions and guidelines, see these resources:

https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/HALF-Implementation-Guide/Age-Specific-Content/Pages/Infant-Food-and-Feeding.aspx

http://ebooks.aappublications.org/content/nutrition-0

https://brightfutures.aap.org/pdfs/Guidelines_PDF/6-Promoting_Healthy_Nutrition.pdf

http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/feeding-nutrition/Pages/Switching-To-Solid-Foods.aspx

http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/116/3/784.full

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”