Thursday, April 24, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

12 for $40: As prices go up, home cooks get more frugal

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From page A5 | February 19, 2014 | Leave Comment

If you’ve been in California for more than 10 minutes you know our primary topic of conversation is the drought. The acute water shortage is going to make it a rough summer in a number of ways, and your grocery shopping will definitely be one of them.

At the very least, we can expect to see prices go up for meat and dairy as farmers have to buy feed from farther away. Prices for produce also will rise as farmers adjust crops to salvage what they can.

The home cook will adjust (we always do!) and become even more frugal. When prices go up, every bit of food needs to be used. Another drought adjustment: preparing foods in bulk to minimize dishes and thus water usage. (It’s a small silver lining that this also saves you time.)

Planning is everything in sticking to a food budget, and we aim to help you with six days’ worth of menus, which should feed two adults dinner six nights a week* for about $40.

These menus assume you already have some cooking skills, and own a basic reference cookbook.
Below the menus are tips for cooking, or for cooking ahead. If you see “In the fridge for future meals,” then save those items from this meal for later in the week. That’s been included in the shopping list.

*(Everybody needs to go out, or share potluck with friends, or otherwise enjoy life once a week!)

The menu
Saturday
* California Dal
* rice
* carrot sticks
Tip: Prep carrot sticks for the week and keep in water in fridge for extra-crispy crunch.

Sunday
* Impossible Pie
* Fruit Salad
In the fridge for future meals:
biscuit mix
jack cheese
parmesan
green onions
Tip: Impossible Pie is a ’70s thing, updated here because it’s good! Leftovers make nice lunch.

Monday
* Pigs in a Blanket
* Peas
In the fridge for future meals:
frozen peas
hot dogs
Tip: We use veggie dogs and sliced jack cheese, but you can use any hot dog/cheese combo you like.

Tuesday
* Potato Soup
* Cheese & Scallion Biscuits
In the fridge for future meals:
Tip: 1/4 cup of biscuit mix, reconstituted with milk, makes 4 biscuits. Add 2 tablespoons grated cheese and 2 or 3 finely chopped green onions. Drop by the spoonful on to a baking pan, cook at 350º until nicely browned, about 20 minutes.

Wednesday
* Beanie Weenies
* Carrot sticks
Tip: Beanie Weenies are a snap: heat canned beans (we like Heinz) with sliced veggie dogs. Adults might like a sprinkle of minced onion. This isn’t a fancy meal, but it’s good comfort food!

Thursday
* Spinach Salad
* Poached eggs
Tip: You can add a slice or two of crumbled bacon to this salad. Use the bacon fat as part of the oil for the dressing.

Shopping and recipes
Our shopping and recipes are scaled for two adults. Increase or decrease as needed to allow for your household. We shopped this list at the Co-op on Sunday, Feb. 16. We chose organic wherever affordable (marked “OG” on our list), and picked what we’d use at home — the best value rather than the absolute cheapest. We also assumed you had a few things in the pantry, which were not included in the shopping total. Our total: $39.86

In the pantry:
olive oil
vinegar
prepared mustard
oregano
garlic
cumin
ground chile
flour
baking powder
salt
pepper
red pepper flakes

Produce:
onions, 2
sweet potatoes, 1 pound
russet potatoes, 2 large
baby spinach, 8 ounces
mushrooms, 8
green onions, 1 bunch
carrots, 1 bunch
grapefruit, 1
navel,1
apples, 1

Dairy and cheese:
butter, 2 sticks
milk, 7 cups
veggie dogs, 5
eggs, 5
cheese, jack, 12 ounces
cheese, parmesan, 3 ounces

Grocery:
frozen peas
Heinz beans, 2 cans

Meat:
4 ounces deli ham

Bulk:
dried lentils, 1 cup/8 ounces
vegetable broth
golden raisins, ½ cup/4 ounces
all-purpose flour, 3 cups/12 ounces
wheat bran, ½ cup
rice, 1 cup/6 ounces

The recipes
California Dal
The ingredients:
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup dried lentils
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground chile
3 cups vegetable broth
½ cup golden raisins

Putting it together:
Heat a large, heavy pan over medium heat. Add oil and onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is limp, about 5 minutes. Add garlic. Add cumin, salt and chile to onions and cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Add veggie broth, lentils and sweet potatoes. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer. Cook until lentils are tender to the bite and sweet potatoes are tender when pierced, another 25-30 minutes. Stir in raisins.

Homemade Biscuit Mix
The ingredients:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup wheat bran
2 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold butter

Putting it together:
Mix dry ingredients together. Cut in the butter until it has the texture of fine cornmeal. Refrigerate until needed. Use within two weeks. (You may substitute up to 2 cups of whole wheat flour for white.)

“Impossible” Pie
The ingredients:
1 tablespoon soft butter
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
1 ½ cups grated jack
4 ounces ham, diced
4 green onions, sliced
½ cup biscuit mix
½ cup milk
2 teaspoons prepared mustard
3 eggs
2 tablespoons melted butter
Putting it together:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use soft butter to grease a 9-inch pie pan. Sprinkle the grated parmesan over bottom of pan. Layer jack, ham and onions over Parmesan. Mix biscuit mix, milk, eggs, mustard and butter together. Pour gently into pie plate. (Don’t worry, this will work!) Bake about 35 minutes, until it’s browned and not jiggly. Let cool 15 minutes before slicing.

Pigs in a Blanket
The ingredients:
1 3/4 cup biscuit mix
3/4 cup milk
3 hot dogs
6 slices cheese
Putting it together:
Stir milk into biscuit mix. Turn out on a floured surface and knead briefly. Roll out into a rectangle about ½ inch thick. Cut into 6 even squares. Cut the hot dogs in half. Put the cheese and the hot dog diagonally on blanket. Fold up the other corners so most of the pig is wrapped up. Put pigs on a cookie sheet and bake until brown and piping hot, about 12 minutes.

Mom’s Comforting Potato Soup
The ingredients:
2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut as for mashed potatoes
½ cup coarsely chopped onion
½ cup fresh or frozen peas (optional)
2 cups milk
2 teaspoons butter
salt and pepper to taste

Putting it together:
Cover potato and onion with water and cook until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. (If using peas, add to the pot for the last 5 minutes of cooking time.) Drain carefully, so the onions don’t go down the drain. Add milk and butter and heat gently until milk is warm. Add salt to taste and a good grinding of fresh black pepper.

Hot Spinach Salad
The ingredients:
8 ounces tender baby spinach
8 mushrooms, thinly sliced
dash kosher salt
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup mild vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup thinly sliced onion
1 poached egg per person
parmesan cheese for garnish

Putting it together:
Wash spinach well, then spin dry. Place in a large bowl with room for tossing. Sauté mushrooms in 1 tablespoon oil until nicely browned. Add a sprinkle of kosher salt. Carefully add vinegar to the hot pan (this works best without your face over the pan). Cook until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add oregano. In a separate pan, cook onions in olive oil just until they begin to soften. Add vinegar reduction to hot fat and onions and stir. Pour hot mixture right over the spinach. Put down the hot pan and toss the salad until each leaf is nicely coated with dressing. Top with parmesan (shave off curls with a vegetable peeler) and a poached egg.

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