by Sara Dickerman, Bon Appétit
Our week of dinners for under $100 has come to a close. But the idea, really, was to leave you with lasting lessons for stretching dollars in home cooking, even if we aren't serving up a specific recipe every day. Here are a few tips I gathered in the process of creating the dishes:
1) A little repetition goes a long way
Variety is fantastic, but try to repeat the same recipe a few times a month. You'll find yourself ready to go, staple-wise, so you won't need to pick out new oils, vinegars and dry goods each time you cook the recipe. At the same time, be flexible. If you're comfortable with a few substitutions, you won't need to run out to the store if you're short on a single ingredient in your house. It might not be ideal, but substituting red wine vinegar for white, spinach for chard, or Parmesan for Pecorino shouldn't ruin your dish.
2) Sometimes you'll save money in surprising places
The local food co-op or even Whole Foods might not be the cheapest overall grocery store, but shopping in their bulk foods departments can make all the difference. If you're not going to use much of a single spice or grain, buy in a single-recipe portion. Repurpose old mustard or canning jars, and you can save money on plastic storage bags, too. Just remember to bring containers to the grocery store.
See also: How to find Bordeaux for a Bargain
3) Capitalize on legumes
I can't believe I didn't include a legume recipe in this collection. I am a total dried bean and lentil freak -- I make a pot at least once a week, and use it as a main course one night, a side another night, and stir them into a soup sometime later in the week. Get to know how to cook a delicious pot of legumes -- lentils, garbanzos, black beans or flageolets -- and you'll always be able to feed yourself inexpensively.
4) Don't fear the frozen food section
Sometimes frozen foods make a lot of sense. I'm a big advocate of frozen fish -- from salmon to mackerel to catfish -- because they are usually considerably cheaper when purchased frozen. So much of the fish you purchase at the store has already been frozen anyway, you might as well control when it's thawed. Don't overcook it, and you'll have a nice inexpensive option ready to go at any time.
5) Focus on quality, not quantity, when it comes to meat
Instead of buying bulk packs of cheap meat, when I'm feeling frugal, I'm more inclined to get a small bit of really delicious meat that I can stretch with vegetables, grains and legumes. Throw a little bit of grass-fed ground beef into some chili, layer a few slices of delicious hanger steak on a salad, or toss some organic chicken wings with soy sauce, ginger and garlic. Such treats might need to come from the butcher rather than a grocery meat department, where the only options come in standard portions, but the extra trip is worth it.
6) Shop seasonally
It goes without saying that in-season local asparagus is a lot cheaper than Mexican asparagus in February. I promise it will taste better, too.
7) Grow some herbs if you can
You won't feel like you're skimping nearly so much if you can cook with fresh rosemary, thyme, basil and tarragon at your whim -- they add incredible flavor to even the simplest dishes. Check out Apartment Gardening, in which Amy Pennington shows you how to have an herb "garden" even in the city.
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