I’m planning the week’s meals and cleaning out the fridge today, so I thought I’d share with you some thrifty kitchen tips to help you get the most out of your meals at home.
1. Eat All Your Vegetables. Few people realize that the best part of the broccoli plant is the stalk. Once peeled and trimmed it is sweeter and more tender than the leafy tops–it also cooks in less time. Throw it in a soup or stir fry or serve it steamed with butter to children who have a broccoli prejudice and watch that broccoli disappear.
2. Freeze Your Assets. Frozen peas and corn are easy enough to prepare and they tolerate the freezing process especially well, leaving their nutrients, texture and flavor intact. Frozen spinach is a great buy for your money, but only if you use it in casserole-type dishes as it doesn’t hold up well enough to the process to stand alone.
3. Save That Fat. I’ve been saving the fat rendered from cooking my bacon for years and using it to flavor meals and nobody has minded. It’s kind of a dirty little secret, since bacon fat isn’t exactly the healthiest of fats, but I use it moderation and not only does it have great flavor, but it’s cheap as free since it comes with the bacon. It lends its amazing flavor to sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions, or roast vegetables, but my personal favorite (and most guilt-inducing, by far) is using it to fry the most amazing grilled cheese sandwiches. OMFN.
4. A Sweet Treat. The occasional box of Girl Scout cookies aside, I really don’t keep sweets in the house. If I’m having a blood sugar emergency, however, and my body demands something sweet, I reach into the freezer for my secret weapon: a bag of dark chocolate chips. Their flavor is so intense, that by eating them one at a time I only need four or five before the craving is extinguished. Kept in the freezer they last almost indefinitely, are commonly called for in tons of recipes, and prevent me from indulging in something more expensive.
5. Save Your Skin. Potato skins are the most nutritionally dense part of the potato, yet how many times do they end up discarded after the fleshy interior is consumed? Next time, rescue those skins and reuse them: crisp them up in the oven and and dip them, still warm, into a fresh, smooth guacamole, in a chunky salsa topped with sour cream, or fill them with bacon, cheddar and chives and run them under the broiler again for loaded baked potato skins.
6. Shoom Up. Dried mushrooms are the most shelf-stable and economical item in my pantry. I could not live without my $8, three pound bag of dried shiitake, and once it’s finally gone I’m going to cry salty tears of pure despair. Twenty or so minutes of steeping them in hot water produces not only the meaty rehydrate d mushroom, but the most delectable fawn-colored broth. I use it to add depth to an otherwise boring vegetable soup, or potency in a sauce, and it dresses up a risotto like nothing else. I have been known to add it to boxed pasta to make it edible.