Sunday, April 27, 2008

Frugal cooking all in one day for the whole damn week

Some title huh?
I have been spending wayyyyyyyy too much money on eating out. It is the easy thing to do when you are tired or pressed for time, but it is ridiculously expensive, and not really all that good for you. When people eat out, they eat big portions (get the best deal for your money, right?) and they dont eat enough F&V(fruits and vegetables for those of you who don't say this a hundred times a week: Eat your fruits and vegetables!).
I read up on the amazing wonder women who do all their cooking for a month in one day. I am simply not that organized. Besides, I don't know what I am going to eat in a week! I might be dieting then!
So I decided, in the interest of "casual frugality", I would try a dumbed down version of cooking for a month and just cook for the week. I had some chef's training back in the day, so I am pretty good at being organized in the kitchen but NOT in the grocery store. This took some work on my part but here are my results:
First I went shopping at the bulk food store, Aldi's and my local cheap grocery store. If you live in Iowa, Fairway is your best friend. Overall their stuff is inexpensive (as opposed to the typical loss-leader to get you in to by the expensive stuff type grocery) and of good quality.
At the bulk food store, I got this:
6 pound of whole wheat flour
6 pounds of bread flour
2 pounds of short ribs(no bones)
1 pound of 7 grain flakes
8 pounds of popcorn
2 pounds of pasta
(splurge: 1 cup of roasted salted peas. I don't know why but I love those things)
1 pound of locally produced bacon
1 pound of locally produced coarse bolonga
1 pound of locally produced roasted sliced beef (for these three things I get bonus points for buying locally!)
Total expense: $41.00
At Aldi's, I got this:
2 bags of chips (my bad)
3 bags of frozen veggies, including broccoli, some cauliflower carrot mix thing, and green beans
1 5 pound bag of oranges (heck of a deal for 1.59)
1 gallon of skim milk
2 dozen eggs
2 packages of those fruit cup thingies (for emergency snacks)
huge package of assorted pork chops, dirt cheap
small round steak
1 pound of hamburger
baby carrots
5 pounds of potatoes
1 can of parm cheese
1 bag of asian veggies
total expense: 28.00
At Fairway, I got this:
10 2L bottles of diet pepsi (one of 3 coupon deals) yeah yeah I know it is bad for you but I am addicted. They had a heck of a sale 10 for 10 bucks and then 2 bucks off that. 80 cents each!
2 boxes of cereal I had $2 coupons off each. That was pretty sweet too.
total expense: 11.00
So, total expense for the week: $80.00

Now to the kitchen:
I like to make my own bread but heaven knows most people don't and frankly if you buy bread on sale and stick it in the freezer or buy bread at the day old store it is probably NOT worth it to make it yourself. It is therapy for me, though.
This morning I mixed up the sponge for my bread about 10 am and turned on the oven so the bread would rise (hey it's cold here and I did not want to turn on the furnace). I browned the short ribs and threw them in a covered pot with some onions on the bottom. They cook for about 2 hours in @ 300.
I breaded up the pork chops and threw them in the oven too.
I cut up the steak in very fine strips and sauteed them with onions, soy sauce, and a bit of sesame oil for this super cheap and yummy ramen thing I am going to make.
I browned up the hamburger and chopped up some celery, carrots, and onions in a rough chop and threw them in the pot (people who take stuff out and put stuff in one at a time to brown when they are making soup should get a life). I added a can of tomatoes, 3 cups of the soup mix and 6 cups of water. I cheated and added 2 beef boullion cubes. That simmered most of the day.
I cooked up the bacon in the microwave and put it in a plastic bag for use in a couple of things.
After the short ribs were about 1/2 way done I punched down the dough! YEAH! Take that you reprobate! I shaped the dough into loaves and set again to rise.
I took the finished breaded/baked pork chops out and took the bones off. They are now in the fridge.
The soup is for today and tomorrow, since it is so cold here.
The short ribs are for Tuesday, I will throw some potatoes in the microwave and we will have them with cauliflower and baked potatoes.
The pork chops are for Wednesday, we don't have a lot of time on Wednesday nights so we will make pork chop sandwiches on the go with some oranges
Thursday we will have steak ramen which is the coolest thing ever. I will take the steak that I cooked up and throw it in a skillet with 3 packages of ramen noodles (only use 2 of the flavor packets though, they are salty), 5 cups of water, a package of broccoli, some carrots, and some
garlic and ginger if I have any around( about 1 t. of each fresh). Cook for about 6 minutes and chow down. Delicious.
Friday we will have pasta with chopped up bacon and parm cheese with green beans on the side.
Saturday will have the coarse bolonga ring cut up and saute'ed with a bag of asian veggies.

So almost everything is done. All I have to do is throw a few things in a pot or a microwave and we have almost instant dinner. This works for me, it's cheaper than eating out but I am not so pressed for time that I feel I have to grab something. We eat better, too!

Why am I doing this?

Great question!
Two years ago I gave up my high paying marketing job to teach high school science.
Yes. I am nuts. Let's go on.
I had two reasons to leave my job, as much as I liked it. First: there was an opportunity for me to teach, which I had always wanted to do but never had a chance. Second: my mentally disabled daughter was having a tough time with the puberty thing so I wanted to be home more often.
So, here I am, with 1/4th of the income I had three years ago, and I have found it is a bit tougher than I thought it would be. I had to make some significant changes in my lifestyle in order to make this teaching gig work out.
I am not by nature or by desire a frugal person. In fact. hey, call me spendthrift. I hate clipping coupons, I like buying things at garage sales but I don't want to need to do it, if you know what I mean. I like to cook, but time is a tough thing to manage sometimes and teaching is a lot more tiring than I thought it would be. (More on that later).
In my travels and trevails of the past two years I have learned a lot. I read a lot of frugal mom type blogs and I am just gobsmacked about how hard core these people are! I am amazed at their tenacity and cleverness, but I am also baffled about the thrill of saving 5 bucks here and there by balancing 50 coupons. Yeah yeah I know it adds up but whew, haven't these people heard of the Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns? So I struggle, learning some stuff and taking it in and discarding stuff that just seemed too hard or too idealistic to work.

Sooooooooooooo I thought I would pass along a few trenchant lessons I have learned as frugality was thrust upon me. All in all, it is working out pretty well. I am coining the phrase "casual frugality" (sorry if someone did that already) to write about how to save some bucks without getting obsessive about it. Hopefully you will find this useful if you, too, find yourself in the middle of the recession needing to save some money but either baffled by the professionals or just too busy to do the stuff they say to do.