Since Beorn has been feeling so sick we didn’t visit any relatives over the school break. My dad did come here for a couple of days, which was lovely, but mainly I spent my break cooking in preparation for the new quarter. A couple of years ago Beorn’s mom bought us a small chest freezer and I have been busily filling it up. As much as I enjoy cooking and eating fresh food in season, while I’m a grad student I don’t always have time to shop for and cook fresh food. Last quarter I relied too much on pre-packaged food from Trader Joe’s. It’s amazing how easy it is to spend on prepacked food (and cheap wine.)

Since we have been considering applying for food stamps, I wanted to work on being more frugal with my food budget. We already rarely go out to eat or eat fast food, although I do sometimes buy a sandwhich or a burrito at school, but I still felt we were wasting too much money on prepackaged food and since we have our own freezer I can make my own “prepackaged” meals. Freezing my own food is cheaper and healthier for us.

For example, over the break I froze about two dozen homemade burritos. I’m lactose intolerant, so I didn’t include cheese in them. It’s actually difficult to find frozen burritos without a lot of cheese in them, so it works great for me. Earlier in the fall I canned some salsa, so I added a little of that to a big batch of brown rice to make “Mexican” rice. We also found a great deal on organic pinto beans at $.75/lb so I cooked up a huge batch of refried beans. I supplemented that with a little shredded chicken I got on sale for $.49/lb and some onions and peppers (I got those frozen from TJs.) The most expensive ingredient was the tortillas, the cheapest I could find were still $.25 each. In total I think each burrito cost me about $.75. Now when I’m feeling exhausted and need a meal I can stick a couple into the toaster oven, bake for 20-30 minutes and I have dinner. I haven’t tried microwaving them yet, they come out nice and crunchy if you bake them.

Here are a few other things I have been cooking and  freezing:

  • Curry and rice bowls – Beorn likes the little rice bowls you can get at TJs and just microwave. So I have been cooking larger batches of curry and rice and freezing them in bowl shaped plastic containers. (I know the plastic is toxic if microwaved, but you can stick it in a bowl before reheating.)
  • Pizza – I made some to eat and froze some, ready to stick in the oven. It’s still a little expensive with all that cheese and meat, but a nice alternative to ordering delivery. Also, my stomach can tolerate a little goat cheese, so I made myself goat cheese pizzas, which I can’t get at a pizzaria.
  • Mushroom risotto – We bought chanterelles for $5/lb when the rainy season started and stuck some in the freezer.
  • Dal – That’s Indian style split peas with lots of fragrant spices. I always want some when I cook Indian food, but we never eat a whole batch. This is very cheap and easy to reheat from the freezer.
  • Naan – Again, my obsession with TJs. They have great naan (India flat bread) in their freezer section that you can just reheat in the toaster oven, but it costs around $.50 a piece. My homemade version cost me around $.09 a piece.
  • Bread – We never eat enough before it starts to mold and several frugal cooking sites suggested keeping bread in the freezer to solve this problem.  I made a few loaves one day, ate one fresh, and then sliced on froze the others. I like my bread toasted anyway. Tip – the most expensive part of homemade bread is the yeast. If you buy yeast in those little brown jars or packets it costs something like $.50 a loaf. I buy yeast in bulk from my local natural foods store for something like $1.50/lb, that works out to around $.03 a loaf. Total cost per loaf is around $.30 if you use cheap flour and $.75 if you use the fancy organic stuff.
  • Broccoli – I found broccoli on sale last week for $.65/lb so I bought a few pounds. I blanched it, had some for dinner that night and stuck the rest on a tray in the freezer. In the morning I used a spatula to scoop the frozen pieces of broccoli into plastic bags.
  • Soup – We love soup and so always make large batches and freeze the leftovers.
  • Pie crust – I made a bunch of pie crust at once and froze it. So far it has been making decent pie, not quite as good as fresh, but still better than store bought pie.
  • Pumpkin – I bought a bunch of baking pumpkins cheap around Halloween, baked them up and froze.

Earlier in the fall we bought around 30 pounds of apples from a pick your own orchard we dried some and canned the rest as apple butter and apple chutney. We also bought a 1/4 of a grass fed cow! We are becoming real foodies. The grass fed beef came frozen and packaged from a local butcher shop for something like $2.85/lb. Considering that you can’t even get supermarket ground beef for that price it was a great deal. We don’t eat beef that much, so it will last us a while! But there is a lot more I want to do to improve our eating and reduce our costs. I’m attempting to strike a balance between local, seasonal eating ala Alice Waters and those frugal moms that buy everything so cheap and freeze it all. I don’t know where they live, but other than chicken and hot dogs (and I don’t buy hot dogs), I rarely find any meat for $2/lb. Here are some things I’m planning for the next time I get some free time…maybe Presidents Day?

  • Potstickers – I’m addicted to them.
  • Samosas – Filled with potatoes and peas and baked. We already have the chutney!
  • Eating more vegetarian meals. – This is by far the best thing I could do to save us money (and help the environment), but it’s a delicate balance for me. Beorn complains if I cook too many meatless meals, so I tend to add just a little meat to keep him happy.
  • Trying to buy all organic, especially animal products. So far I haven’t felt able to afford it, but I know that if I don’t waste money in other areas we could eat less but better meat and dairy.
  • Alternatives to plastic for freezing or preserving?
  • Cutting out soda and bottled water. What a waste of money.
  • Gardening – I don’t think I have written much about it here, but I’m an avid gardener. Right now all I have for garden space is a patio slab. That area will become my herb, greens, and edible flowers garden. I want a community garden plot as well, but that’s another tricky issue. If I try to garden far from home I have to make a special effort to take time away from work to visit my garden. If I’m not consistant my plot get’s taken over in the spring while I’m busy with papers and finals.

Ok, kitties have entirely taken over my bed space, so that’s all the typing for now. Anyone else have suggestions for cheap, healthy, local, organic food and cooking?