Like most families, our family has finally decided that the time has come for us to start cutting back. That mean fewer unnecessary purchases, buying more of just what we need and not everything we want. I was so inspired when I read about Amy’s No Spend Challenge at MomAdvice.com (scroll to the bottom of her page to read from the beginning). Something like that would take some serious working up to for me, but I think I’d like to take on the challenge at some point. Maybe for a week or two at a time before I work up to a full month.
For me, the hardest aspect of cutting back has been cutting back in the kitchen. Part of what I enjoy so much about cooking and eating is the process of making and trying a new recipe, a new ingredient, or a new flavor combination. Nobody wants to eat boring food, but trying new recipes costs money. It can mean buying new ingredients, not just using the inexpensive basics or what I have on hand. Once in a while I spend money on a new recipe and we decide it didn’t turn out to be something we cared for.
I’m not telling myself that I’m not allowed to try new recipes or buy new ingredients. But cutting back on just one meal a week would be a step in the right direction and can save a few dollars. Cooking at home is also less expensive. We don’t eat out a lot, but we eat out enough that we have decided that we are going to eat out less often to cut back. Just a few dollars saved from cutting back once a week and eating out less can really add up.
Once a week I have been trying to come up with a meal based on ingredients that I’ve already got on hand – that can mean leftover ingredients from other recipes I’ve made that week or simply items that I already have in my pantry and freezer. It also means learning even more about how to use spices and flavor accents to their highest potential. It means learning even more how to create interesting flavor combinations with what I’ve got. It means figuring out ways to adapt a recipe with the ingredients I have – figuring out acceptable substitutions instead of going to the grocery store to buy a missing ingredient.
What it doesn’t mean is eating old standbys over and over. It doesn’t mean eating boring food. It means being inventive – one night a week – with the ingredients I already have. Turning something basic into something more. And in the end, that is one of the things I love most about cooking. The being inventive and trying something new is what excites me. I’ve learned that the process doesn’t always have to cost money. I can learn to be inventive in a frugal way. I’ve learned that cutting back can be a challenge creatively, and the creative challenge is what interests me.
This week asparagus was super on sale. I had a few leftover spears from a large bunch I’d purchased for another meal. I also had a couple of carrots leftover from the Chicken Pot Pie I made the previous weekend. Stir fry is a great way to stretch out smaller amounts of protein and vegetables. After I had the main ingredients picked out I started to think about what sort of flavor combination I wanted for the sauce – the thing that would tie it all together. This meal turned out really simple, fast, and yummy. This week I learned to appreciate that cutting back can still be fun.
How do you cut back in the kitchen?
- 1 large chicken breast
- 8-10 spears asparagus
- 5 green onions
- 4 carrots
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 4 Tbs soy sauce
- 1/3 cooking sherry or chicken broth (or combination)
- 1/4 c honey
- 1 1/8 tsp dried ginger
- 1 Tbs cornstarch
- 1 Tbs sesame oil
- sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)
- 2 c uncooked jasmine rice
Prepare the rice according to package instructions. Combine the soy sauce through the sesame oil in a medium sized container, mixing well. If the chicken is bone in and/or skin on, separate the chicken from the bone and/or skin. Cut chicken into small pieces, slicing it thin and against the grain. Having the chicken slightly frozen helps with cutting thin pieces. Stir the chicken into the sauce, cover with a lid or plastic wrap, and refrigerate it while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Wash and peel the carrots. Slice diagonally into bite sized rounds, about a 1/4 inch thick, set aside. Snap the ends off the asparagus. Cut each piece into quarters. Steam the carrots and asparagus together for 4 minutes. Remove immediately and dunk into ice water to stop the cooking process.
Heat a stir fry pan or other skillet over medium-high heat with a small amount of oil. Saute the garlic for 1 minute; remove and set aside. Turn the heat up to high. Add the chicken and sauce, stirring constantly until the chicken is cooked through. Add the steamed vegetables and garlic. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the green onion and cook 1 minute more. Sprinkle with sesame seeds to garnish, if desired. Serve immediately.
2/26/09 What I Learned This Week at Musings of a Housewife.