This week’s post is all about being economical. In other words, I’m going to teach you how to be a tight wad when it comes to your groceries. Food isn’t cheap, so it is important to preserve it right so you aren’t throwing your dollars away.
One of the most expensive items in the entire grocery store is meat. When you’re spending multiple dollars per pound, it’s important that none of that high quality protein goes to waste. One of the easiest ways to save some money at the meat case is to buy a whole chicken and cut it into parts yourself. It takes a little practice and some knowledge of anatomy, but it can easily be accomplished with the right tools. This quick video tutorial I made should hopefully help you with the process. Camera holding credits go to my fiancé. He’s a champ for putting up with my ridiculous requests. And, please, ignore my amateur video skills. I like food, not technology.
Freezing is one of the best and easiest ways to preserve food. I love freezing because it helps me preserve foods, especially meats, that would otherwise spoil in a week in my refrigerator, which means I can keep my hard-earned dollars from going in the trash. However, you must package foods correctly to prevent freezer burn* from occurring. To package meat, wrap meats in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil. The plastic wrap will help get a tight seal around the meat and the foil will prevent oxygen from permeating the meat. Label your meats with the name and date, and then you can then store these in freezer bins or separate them into plastic bags. Another way to package meat that isn’t as effective is in freezer bags. Since it is difficult to squeeze every last drop of air out of them this can cause freezer burn more quickly. If you are going to use this method, wrap in plastic wrap first and then put the meat into your freezer bag.
Other cuts of meats can be frozen as well. When buying ground meat, try to buy it from the counter. One, you can get leaner types of meat, and two, the butcher will wrap it for you. The advantage of this is you can specify how much meat you want in a package. I like getting half-pound packages because a pound of meat is a lot for two people to eat, even with the leftovers. Plus, as I will address later, if you want more meaty flavor or protein, you can add other items to help bulk it up. I also like to freeze bacon. The way to do this is to take each bacon slice, cut it in half, and then lay the pieces out on a parchment or foil lined cookie sheet (the type of pan without sides). Then, set it on a shelf in your freezer (or, carefully balance it on top of your other frozen items) until the pieces are completely frozen. Take the pieces off the cookie sheet and put into a labeled bag.
*Fun Fact: Freezer burn is actually a process called sublimation, where water in a product turns straight from solid ice to a gas. That’s what happens when your ice cubes shrink in the freezer.
Next, I will discuss hearty vs. meaty, aka meat substitutes. Now, I like meat just as much as my meat-and-potatoes fiancé. However, I also like to find alternatives that can save me some change at the checkout. I know the thought of tofu can make some people cringe, but it is one of the best bangs for your buck in the grocery store. Usually when I buy tofu, I use only a half of a block at once. With the rest, you can store it in the refrigerator in a container of water for a week. Or, you can freeze it! Just cube it up into about 1/2 to 3/4 inch cubes, put it into a labeled freezer bag, and squish out all the air. When you want to use it again, thaw it for a few hours ahead of time. The tofu will turn yellowish and have a chewier texture, but that makes it all the better to replace meat. I personally like to sauté tofu in a pan with just a little oil. It makes the tofu crispy on all the sides. Then you can add whatever sauce you like to the pan, and the tofu will soak it right up. Here’s my recipe for a quick stir-fry sauce that doesn’t use soy sauce. This recipe came about when I had made stir-fry one night, went to grab soy sauce, and to my dismay found out that it was actually a second bottle of Worcestershire sauce. This recipe is also low in sodium (your heart will thank you).
Quick Low Sodium Stir Fry Sauce
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (It needs to be balsamic for the depth of flavor.)
1 tsp. (or a few shakes, I just guess) Worcestershire sauce
1-2 Tbsp. wine (sweet is better to balance the flavors)
1/3 cup balsamic vinaigrette
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tsp. basil
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk vigorously to combine. (Or if you want to look super cool, combine everything but the oil and then drizzle the oil in while you are whisking.) The amounts listed above are estimates. I usually just keep tasting the sauce until it has a good balance of sweet and salty.
Another way to create meatiness in a dish is mushrooms. I absolutely love, and I mean LOVE, mushrooms. They also contain a compound called glutamate, which is in meats and soy sauces (Mono Sodium Glutamate), which gives these things their meaty, savory flavors. I like to use mushrooms in place of ground beef because they are easy to dice up and sauté quick. Plus, I also can use less meat when I’m cooking, which costs less and lowers the amount of saturated fats in my meals.
TVP (Texturized Vegetable Protein) is a dry granulated soy protein that can be used as a meat substitute as well. I like to rehydrate mine in beef broth with just a little Worcestershire because it gives it more meaty flavor and because I’m not a vegetarian. Today’s recipe is another Rachael Ray spin-off. Hers was an all mushroom sloppy joe. Here is the link to hers: http://www.rachaelrayshow.com/food/recipes/sloppy-joe-goes-veggie/. I like to do my with either TVP or ground beef (if I’m making it for my picky dad, I have to use at least some beef)
TVP/Mushroom Sloppy Jimmies
3/4 cup dry TVP granules and 1/2 cup beef broth + 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
OR 1/2 lb. of ground beef
1 tablespoon EVOO – Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 pound portabella mushroom caps, diced into small, bite-sized pieces
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, grated or minced
1 small red bell pepper, diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste (Next week’s post will tell you what to do with the leftovers from the can)
1-2 tablespoons brown sugar (taste your sauce for sweetness)
about 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, just guesstimate
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
Salt and pepper
3 thin buns (You could also use a flatbread or regular buns, too)
Shredded cheddar cheese and pickles (if you like) for garnish.
Rehydrate the TVP by warming the broth and Worcestershire slightly in the microwave. Add TVP and stir to rehydrate. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook until golden brown, 7-8 minutes.
Add the onion, garlic and bell pepper to the pan and season. Continue cooking until the veggies are tender, about 5-6 minutes. Add the tomato paste to the pan and cook 1 minute.
Stir together the brown sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire and tomato sauce. Add the mixture to the skillet and simmer until thickened and saucy.
You can toast your buns if you want, or if your too eager to eat, like I am, just pop the buns with the cheese in the microwave just to warm. Then, pile the Sloppy Jimmi “meat” on top and eat!