Reality TV seems to be the new thing, and there are reality TV programs focusing on all kinds of peculiar circumstances. In addition, there are a LOT of competitive programs for cooks and chefs of all kinds. Some of them are fun to watch, but as far as providing ideas that I’m going to use in my kitchen, they are utter flops.
Face it, more and more of us are standing in the grocery store, observing that prices have jumped a dollar here, a dime there, a quarter over there, and doubled right here. In the meantime, it’s highly unlikely that our income is even dreaming of keeping up with just the grocery store’s inflation, let alone the act of vampirism that occurs when we stop at the gas station for that inevitable fill-up. We need a new kind of television competition for cooks.
We need one that addresses our needs for taking that ten dollar bill and figuring out exactly what we can eat for two days and not exceed that budget. I know that GM & I went to the store today, and our bill was nearly $90. In addition, we did not purchase ANY meat OR dairy products! That was JUST dry goods and canned items, along with some celery, a pint of fresh strawberries that smelled heavenly, a small box of mushrooms, a single yellow crookneck squash, and two poblano chilies. Our “meat” is six cans of tuna at sixty cents each, and a can of mackerel at about $1.30. We’re going to have a tomato-y pasta dish with the mushrooms, chilies, onions I had on hand, the squash, and a can of Hunt’s spaghetti sauce, alongside some day old ciabatta bread with a garlic & herb in olive oil drizzled on it.
Another evening, it’s going to be good old tuna and noodle casserole with peas, a favorite of GM’s. To avoid purchasing the cream of mushroom soup that was typically used by mother when I was growing up, I’ll make a medium white sauce from scratch. It’s less expensive! If you have some stale bread or bread crumbs, sprinkling the top and drizzling on a bit of butter, along with a sprinkle of lemon pepper, then browning the topping in the oven will make this a dish that’s as pretty as it is a familiar comfort food. That good old bread crumb trick is an excellent reason to keep either commercial or homemade bread crumbs on hand–almost anything looks better when its topped with browned bread crumbs!
There’s also enough tuna, although the frozen peas were too expensive or in too large of a package today, for a tuna macaroni salad, appealing for lunches on our already very warm days. The tuna macaroni salad is one of those salads that’s very adaptable in our house–it usually contains olives, corn, frozen peas (just thawed, not cooked), diced celery, diced raw onion, mayonnaise, and a sprinkle of lemon pepper.
Mackerel patties, a favorite with egg sauce and mashed potatoes, will make an appearance in the coming week too. When I was growing up, they were typically made from cooked or canned salmon. Mackerel, however, is about half as expensive as canned salmon, and in the patties, it’s virtually indistinguishable from the salmon. I suppose any cooked fish could be used, once it was flaked and all bones removed. I have to admit though, I NEVER remove the bones from canned fish–I love the feel of them in my teeth! Typically, I include finely minced celery, onion, beaten egg, and cracker crumbs in my fish patties, which are coated with fish fry mixture before being cooked in a lightly greased skillet. The egg sauce, which truly dresses up the plain fish patties, is amazingly easy. It’s just a medium white sauce with a dash of pepper and one egg per person minced and stirred into the sauce just before serving to prevent it from breaking up too much. Plain boiled or mashed potatoes, served with butter, make a simple side dish with the patties, and a biscuit or fresh hot roll is another nice touch. Adding herbs to the boiled potatoes gives them some character as well. Steamed asparagus or broccoli are great veggies to serve alongside, if you have them, and provide a texture and visual contrast that adds to the appeal. We’ll be dining without the broccoli or asparagus, but I will add a few real bacon bits to some green beans, I think.
With the reality that I have never learned to cook for two, there is a probability of leftovers from these meals. I’m actually somewhat counting on that, as this is all I intend to cook in the coming week. Additional meals, if necessary, will end up being peanut butter & jelly, scrambled eggs with or without cheese, ramen noodles, or a can of soup. We don’t intend to make any additional purchases at the store except for possibly some more eggs and bread.
We aren’t skipping desserts either–we’re going to have that lovely easy white cake recipe made up to accompany our strawberries (The one I posted a few weeks back–check out this entry.) I’m going to make a yummy (and budget blowing) batch of brownies too, to satisfy GM’s passion for chocolate. Also in the pantry department, I have the makings for a great cinnamon struesel coffee cake, in the usual sized down size for a smaller family. That means reading future entries just might get you a few recipes that are sure to impress your family & friends with your frugal skills at providing yummy meals & treats!