If you cook, you're already saving money. That $10 to $20 you'd fork over for an entree can fund several homemade meals for a single person or feed the whole family, depending on the size of everyone's appetite. Kudos to you for getting more greens for your green. Still, cooking can get expensive if you buy too many kitchen gadgets, make poor grocery choices or panic shop for each night's supper. We spoke with chefs, caterers and cookbook authors for their insights on eating well without spending a lot. We share their onion pearls of wisdom with you. Frugal CookingTry these tips, and spend less on the necessities. Buy produce in season. Purchase dry spices and herbs whole. Get dry milk for use in recipes. Buy real cheese. Look for tough cuts of beef. Buy straight from local farmers. Shop Latin markets and Korean grocers. Don't bother with all-inclusive sets. Opt for versatility. Slow means cheaper. Better Grocery BuysFrugal cooking starts at the grocery store. Even if you use coupons, you may not be saving on basic items such as vegetables and milk. 1. Buy produce in season. You've probably heard before that buying produce that's in season will taste better and cost less than produce shipped from Mexico. "If you go out looking for really good tomatoes in January, chances are you are going to pay for it," says Chris Turano, executive chef at 1940s-style restaurant Dine, in Chicago. Finding out what's in season isn't hard, he says. "Ask the produce guy standing there." The Food Network also lists seasonal fruits and vegetables on its Web site.
2. Purchase dry spices and herbs whole. When you can't buy fresh herbs and spices, Turano advises buying them dry but whole. Whole spices, such as peppercorns and cinnamon sticks, keep longer, retain flavor better and cost less, since less labor goes into the production. Grind dry spices and herbs when needed using a mortar and pestle. You can find these tools online or in a discount chain store for around $20. He recommends selecting a set with a rough texture, such as basalt lava rock, which helps speed grinding. Forget those year-old ground spices stored in your spice rack. After six months, using ground spices and herbs in your recipe is "like putting dirt on your food," says Denise Vivaldo, author of Do It for Less! Parties (Terrace Publishing, 2005) and founder of Food Fanatics, a Los Angeles-based catering firm. Buy herbs that you like in the smallest containers, she says. 3. Get dry milk for use in recipes. In the dairy department, fresh milk proves an expensive purchase to make every other week. If you're only using it in recipes, opt for dry milk, which keeps longer and costs less. Once reconstituted, it can substitute for fresh milk, says Mary Webber, author of The Frugal Family's Kitchen Book (Cranberry Knoll Publishers, 1985). Buy the smallest quantity of fresh milk for drinking and cereals.
4. Buy real cheese. Cheese fans can get better quality cheese by buying it in bulk at the deli when it's on sale. Depending on the type of cheese, the cost could be about the same as processed cheese, but the taste and thickness will trump the processed variety. Look for what's on sale, and plan a meal around it. 5. Seek tough cuts of beef.Going meatless will save money, but if you must do beef, go with cheaper, tougher cuts such as the flank steak, London broil or chuck roast, and slowcook them. Braise or sear meat first to lock in flavor. Alternatively, you can marinate tough cuts in citrus juice or light soy sauce for an hour or so to help break down the meat before cooking, says Vivaldo. 6. Buy straight from local farmers.For the best tasting and cheapest produce, try your local farmer's market. Each state should have a Web site from which you can search for farmer's markets, says Webber. The USDA also lets you search for certified farmer's markets, or CFMs, on its Web site. 7. Shop Latin markets and Korean grocers.For ethnic dishes, hit local ethnic food stores for deals on exotic spices, juices and other foods. Essential kitchen toolsUnless you host a cooking show or really need a wok and waffle iron, most kitchen gadgets and cool cookware go beyond necessity. Get the most versatile pieces and save your money for other expenses.
8. Don't bother with all-inclusive sets. Contrary to what you might believe, all-inclusive sets don't give you the best price. With cookware sets costing more than $100 and knife sets selling for hundreds of dollars, buying in bulk quickly becomes less than economical. You're not necessarily buying quality when you purchase a set. According to Vivaldo, particular brands don't necessarily make the best of each type of pan or pot. Stick to buying key cookware, such as stock pots for boiling pasta and nonstick skillets for sauteing vegetables and frying eggs. Pick up new cookware as needed. Look for thick pans to help sear meat, and make sure everything is oven-safe, says Turano. That way, you can move pans from the stovetop to the oven without a meltdown. Visit restaurant supply stores for good deals on pans and pots. Those on a budget can skimp on knives by buying a chef's knife. "It's your all-purpose knife in the kitchen," says Vivaldo. A good 8-inch to 12-inch knife will cost around $30 to $50. Those with a little more money should pick up a paring knife and a serrated knife. "You can do anything with those three knives," says Turano. Just remember: Sharp knives save on cutting time and help prevent slippage. Routine use bends the edge of the knife, which a steel can realign. Actual sharpening, however, should be done by a professional, says Turano. Knife shops, butcher shops and cutlery stores should be able to sharpen knives for a few dollars.
Avoid knives that claim to never need sharpening. "There's no such thing," says Vivaldo.
9. Opt for versatility.
Vivaldo also recommends purchasing a 13-by-9-by-2-inch glass baking dish. "It's a workhorse," she says of its versatility for cooking and storing casseroles, sweets and side dishes, among other functions.
10. Slow means cheaper.
For Webber and Vivaldo, slowcookers are a godsend. They help tenderize tough meats and save time spent in the kitchen hovering over food. Slowcookers usually sell for around $40. Besides meat, they can cook a variety of soups, side dishes and main courses.
The bread and butter of your pantry
To keep yourself from panic shopping for a last-minute meal, or worse, shopping with hunger pangs, make sure you have enough food in your pantry to make a meal. We compiled the most common pantry items favored by Vivaldo, Webber and Turano.
- Tomato sauce
- Crushed tomatoes
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
- Vegetable oil
- Beans, dried or canned
- Rice, two to three different kinds
- Lots of dry pasta
- Parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper
While they're not technically pantry items, frozen vegetables, as well as a few fresh favorites also made the list.
Last-minute meal ideasVictoria Gotti, famous Italian TV mom and author of cookbook Hot Italian Dish provided the following meal ideas, which make use of whatever's in the pantry or fridge. If you have oil, pasta or rice and some greens -- you can make a meal. Saute the vegetables, mix them with cooked pasta or rice and you can stretch a side dish into a meal. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top of the pasta if you have any. Feed a meat-eating family with beef stew. Simply take a pound of inexpensive cubed beef (or chop it up yourself) and throw potatoes, carrots, peas, mushrooms, a can of crushed tomatoes, beef or chicken bouillon cubes and spices into a pot and slow cook until the ingredients tenderize. Improvise with what you have on hand. The whole meal should cost under $10. Bankrate.com is the Web's leading aggregator of information on financial products including mortgages, credit cards, new and used automobile loans, money market accounts, certificates of deposit, checking and ATM fees, home equity loans and online banking fees.
Source: Money & Work