Thursday, November 13, 2008

Time = Money = Freezing

So I'm making cupcakes for the hardy band of our church's ad-hoc builders for Habitat for Humanity. Chocolate-Spice Cupcakes with Orange-Rum Cream Cheese Frosting, to be precise.

[Habitat Captain Guy? The rest of this is way boring and there's something interesting on television right now. You have cable - find something.]

But precise is the very last thing I've been this evening. I mixed up my allspice and ginger and dumped in FOUR TIMES the amount of allspice called for. Then I discovered that my set of measuring spoons has a rare half-tablespoon on the ring, found where the teaspoon would usually be. In other words, I'd used EIGHT TIMES the amount of cinnamon in the recipe.

That's why trash cans are conveniently kept in kitchens.

So congratulating myself on my commitment to high standards (I'm going to be positive about this if it kills me), on my second effort with newly and properly measured ingredients, I jauntily tossed an egg from my right hand, sailing over my waiting left hand, to the kitchen floor.

That's the other reason trash cans are conveniently kept in kitchens. Clearly, this is not my night.

So here's something I've gotten surprisingly good at - saving money and discovering new things that can be frozen instead of thrown away or thrown across the room because I'm so damn tired of having the same thing for the fourth meal in a row.

1. Keep an emergency dinner around - either something in the freezer (soup, barbecue) or something very easily thrown together with pantry staples. Sweetie made me the only thing I felt like eating tonight; tortellini soup (boxed chicken broth, pre-made tortellini, chopped carrots, shredded Parmesan). Having an emergency dinner or two means you don't have to spend $ getting food delivered.

2. The easiest way to build up a stock of emergency dinners is to double the recipe for whatever you're making. Throwing a baked ziti together? Make an extra in a disposable foil pan, wrap it up, and freeze it. It's ready to go when you need it.

3. Did you know you can freeze a block of cheese? I had NO idea. A few weeks ago I bought a brick of Monterey Jack cheese for chicken enchiladas. It's not a type we get in bulk, so I wrapped the remainder carefully in plastic, put it in a Ziploc, and froze it. When I made Chicken Tamale Casserole this past weekend - voila! - no need to buy the cheese. The texture was a little crumbly, so I wouldn't plan on serving it on a cheese plate after freezing, but for shredding it worked beautifully.

4. Lunchmeat can be frozen. I bought the honkin' big package of deli roast turkey at Costco (18 good-size slices for about $8.50) - I just love a good turkey sandwich for lunch. I laid out a few sheets of Saran Wrap, laid 4 or 5 pieces of turkey on each, and rolled each up like a wrap sandwich. I popped all the rolls in one big bag and into the freezer it went. When thawed, the turkey does not taste one bit different for having been in the freezer. I saved a good amount of $ and I didn't cry at the idea of having to eat 18 slices of turkey before they went bad.

5. Bacon can be frozen. That's one thing we never finsh before it gets to the HAZMAT stage. Same as the turkey - get some plastic wrap & roll it up. I felt so smug when I made a bacon-roasted chicken and didn't have to buy any special ingredients!

6. Bulk shopping is my friend! A small block of Kraft Cracker Barrel cheddar runs a good $4 or more ($5.50 lately for the part-skim, which I used to love but no longer buy). It's about the size of two sticks of butter. Two pounds of cheddar at Costco is $5.79.

7. You can find any recipe you could possibly want on the internet - there's no need to buy a cookbook unless you really want to. I'm sure if you Googled "Chicken Olive Pasta Tasty Rice Ricotta" or some other combination, you'd get at least 500 hits.

Besides saving on cookbooks, the Google trick can also help to use up leftovers and random odds & ends in the pantry. Google on what you have and see what comes up.

8. Apparently the very chi-chi spice emporium Penzey's has a bottle of vanilla that costs FORTY-FIVE DOLLARS. I've never paid that for a good wine, never mind a flavoring. From what I hear, Costco's $4 bottle of vanilla (same size) is every bit as good. No need to elaborate, is there?

9. Breakfast for dinner - eggs take literally minutes to cook. Toss some chopped veggies into your eggs - mushrooms, spinach, onions, broccoli - and you've got a protein and a vegetable.

10. If you make cookie dough and freeze it in small balls, you can bake just one cookie - instead of spending $1.25 for one at Whole Foods.

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