Cooking for the week or how to survive the recession

Cheddar broccoli soup

After my last couple of posts which found me amidst the beautiful people of SOBE who appear to be gliding through this recession carefree, concerned only with their next beautification surgery or whether to choose an Iphone over a blackberry; it seems a bit deflating to write a post about how to cook cheaply for the week.

We are a family of five and since I have been unemployed for the past 2 1/2 months (until yesterday) producing the dinner has fallen on me.  This has been a blessing as it forced me to reflect on the very topic of this post.   I want to feed my family good nutritious food my children will eat on a low budget.   It is feasible but necessitates a good strategy before you head to your local grocery store.

All the articles I have read on this subject agree it is crucial to have your week meal plan laid out before you head to the store to avoid impulse buying.  This also should make your shopping trip faster.  If you have already memorized the layout of your grocery store you can rip through the shopping process and find yourself back home before most have found out about Heidi Montag’s latest plastic surgery or John Myers newest confession.   Of course this is not what your grocer wants.  They would be much happier if you were to go through the store aimlessly à la Fat Freddy and buy everything that catches your eye,  especially those inspiring informational magazines at the check out.   This is also why grocers routinely change the location of their products in the store.

We try to spend about $150 to $200 a week on groceries to feed our family.  I try to cook base recipes that I can cross utilize throughout the week in various dishes.   Sunday becomes my day to cook.   The following would be a typical example of what I might cook:

A large recipe of Béchamel that I can turn into a Mornay by adding my cheese of choice

A large recipe of tomato sauce

Rice pilaf, brown rice, couscous  or wheat-berries

Beans

2 lbs. of elbow macaroni

A cheap cut of beef chuck or pork shoulder (look in the reduced price case of your grocer for amazing deals) or better yet buy part of a whole animal cooperatively through a rancher

Beets

Hard cooked eggs

Vinaigrette

Potato purée

These different base recipes and pre-cooked products can save you tons of time each day when dinner rolls around.

The Mornay can be used for Mac & cheese or to go on top of broccoli or cauliflower or even turned into a pureed vegetable soup like the broccoli and cheddar soup above.

Vinaigrette can be used every night for a salad and you can make the salad more interesting by adding hard cooked eggs, avocados and beets

Tomato sauce can be used for pasta, to make a pizza or to go with fish or chicken

The braised meat dish can be the meal for the evening (I usually make sure there are tons of vegetables in it) and can be good leftovers the following day or can be turned into  a soup.  I might also roast a whole chicken and then turn the carcass into stock while the rest of the meat can be used for another dish.

The pressure cooker has become a close ally in my weekly duties.  It is amazingly good at breaking down tough proteins in a very short time period.  Brisket, pork shoulder, chuck roast, short-ribs, oxtail can all be cooked to meltingly tender in under an hour.  Brown rice in 15 minutes.  Beans in 20.  I really don’t know why I never really gravitated to this tool earlier in my career.  I guess it goes against our belief system as chefs.  We want to see what is going on in the pot.  We want to taste it as it cooks and tweak it to perfection.   Of course if I am cooking a dish that benefits from reduction I stick to traditional methods and take the time to to allow the water to slowly evaporate.

What so commonly happens for so many out there is they get home from work and find they are too tired to cook, so they heat up some pre-made food they purchased or buy take out.  Cooking for the week allows you to quickly re-heat homemade food and devote sometime to cooking some food to order.

A prime example of cross utilization is the cheddar broccoli soup pictured above.  Earlier in the week I used the cheddar Mornay to make Mac and Cheese (feeding my son’s severe addiction) and today I cut some broccoli fleurettes and stems put in some hot chicken broth and when they were tender I added the remaining cheddar Mornay and put them in the amazing Vita Prep and voila.  Tasty Stealth health soup.

The best blender you can buy: Vita Prep

The Vita Prep is a great blender because of the direct drive mechanism and the variable speed control.  You can start to purée a hot vegetable soup on the lowest speed to exhaust some of the steam and then turn it gradually to full speed to create a powerful vortex that will break your soup down to the finest particles.  It’s a costly blender, but there truly is no substitute in the world of commercial blenders.  If you are interested in purchasing one go to my open sky site and order one through me.

In future posts I will add base recipes and other ideas for taking these recipes and creating different dishes your family will love.

2 Responses

  1. Andy, this is really useful information for the home cook, including Herb and I. Bravo. Please recommend us a pressure cooker to buy on open sky.
    I have just signed up to do my own blog. Might as well try it out!

  2. Very useful info oin your article. Since the recession started I have been looking for ways to spend less on our food and be more meticolous with expences. You can really save some money if you make your plans for the week. And you can eat healthy without spending a ton of money. You just have to remember some old recipes our grandmoms used to prepare and that’s it. More soup and cereals, less meat and candy! Staub cookware

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