Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Five thrifty food tips from Mama Squirrel

As I've posted before, and as Peg Bracken liked to say, you don't always need fancy recipes, and sometimes you're better off without them.  Peg wrote, "Worst of all, there are the big fat cookbooks that tell you everything about everything.  For one thing, they contain too many recipes.  Just look at all the things you can do with a chop, and aren't about to!  What you want is just one little old dependable thing you can do with a chop besides broil it, that's all."  (The I Hate to Cook Book)

Well, we are not broiled-chop people, but you get the drift.  My own "little old dependable thing" for meat has usually been putting whatever-it-is on a layer of sauerkraut, and either baking it or slow-cooking it.  I have an "old dependable" basic muffin recipe, a meatloaf recipe that suits us, a favourite way of making macaroni and cheese, and a few other fall-back, no-fail things that keep us functioning. 

But it's the flexy-recipes, patterns rather than strictly-enforced lists of ingredients, that help us make the most of what's around.  These can turn out delicious, or they can be flops.  Experience has a lot to do with that.  Here are a few hints we've learned along the way.

1.  Size and shape:  The other night, I made what was basically spaghetti-and-meat-sauce but with a chunk of leftover roast beef.  The wrong way to do this would be to cut large chunks or slices of meat and to use long pasta like spaghetti.  That is one recipe-for-messy waiting to happen.  Better idea:  cut the chunks quite small, and also use small pasta like shells or fusilli.  We also glued it together, so to speak, with a bit of mozzarella melted on top.   Rule of thumb:  things that go on the fork at the same time work better when they're approximately the same size.  Stew, big chunks.  Soup, small pieces.

2. Seasoning: the above-mentioned pasta dish could have been very flat, but I used the spaghetti seasonings here (more or less--less sugar), and added beef broth as part of the liquid. If you're using low-or-no salt ingredients (such as no-salt-added tomatoes) and a little salt isn't a medical problem, then you might want to check for that.

3.  Don't put things in that don't belong.  We had some gravy left over from the roast beef, but that would have made the spaghetti sauce taste terrible.  It's not a crime not to use every last available ingredient.

4.  Colour.  Seventh-grade home ec teachers love this one, but it's true.  Sometimes you can't help the food at your meal being mostly one colour, but if you can add a bit of contrast (even if it's frozen peas), it cheers up the plates.  Some vegetables lose colour in cooking, so you might want to add them (or cook them) at the last minute.

5.  If you're not sure which foods go together, try making up a name for your dish based on the flavours and ingredients you're using, and see if it sounds like something you'd order off a menu.  If not, you might want to rethink.  For instance, Banana-Cherry Muffins sound tasty; Pumpkin-Cherry, not so much (although many people obviously disagree with me on that).  Beef-Mushroom Pasta Skillet sounds good; Beef-Turnip Pasta Skillet, no.

Photos (except for Peg Bracken) by Ponytails.  Copyright Dewey's Treehouse.


Jeanne said...

Just gotta say that I love grilled chops. Yum!

Mama Squirrel said...

Jeanne: grilled on Mr. Fixit's charcoal "barbie," yeah, I'm in; but she's talking about just sticking meat under the stove broiler, and that's something we hardly ever do here, at least our family. (My kids think the broiler is for making garlic toast and melting cheese.) I think it was more common in the '60's.