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Tuesday Tips – Salvaging Leftover Produce

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I like to get my produce through a co-op. It’s fresh, less expensive and there’s always a lot of variety.  The cost is the same each time, which makes budgeting easier, too. The challenge, of course, is that I never know what I’m going to get. Right now I have fennel, beets, kiwi and pears in my fridge – all foods that I would not typically buy. I have several tools that are really helpful for making sure the food doesn’t go to waste.

Supercook.com

Have you seen this handy little tool yet? It allows you to list what ingredients you have on hand, and the site will search for recipes with those ingredients. Even better, you can easily make exclusions like no dairy or no nuts – awesome for those of us with food allergies! The only drawback is that the search engine only seems to search through a handful of recipe sites, and doesn’t look at the numerous blogs that host recipes, like Food Allergies On Ice, for example.

But hey – I just found a recipe through there for beet and fennel soup. Who knew?

Stir-Fry

When I have a bunch of random veggies on hand, it frequently ends up in a stir-fry. As it turns out, the mix of veggies in a stir-fry isn’t nearly as important as the sauce on top. Put a little effort into a decent Chinese-style sauce, and all those veggies will be just wonderful. FYI – Coconut Aminos are an awesome replacement for soy sauce for the soy-free among us.

Soups

My other solution for odds and ends of vegetables is to put it all in a soup. This is one of those frugal things our grandmothers knew how to do, but we seem to have lost the art while in pursuit of the can opener. Well, when you have multiple food allergies, Campbell’s isn’t exactly an option anymore.

The secret to soup is in making a really flavorful broth. Don’t be afraid to use some herbs and spices! And you can throw all sorts of stuff in a soup, from last night’s salad (I saw that on a TV cooking show once)  to that random quarter-cup of broccoli that no one ate for dinner the other day. If you like, put some (or all) of the cooked soup into the blender or food processor to create a thick, cream-like soup.  This also has the advantage of hiding offending vegetables from picky eaters. Not that I would know anything about that, of course.

The different kinds of juices separated into layers making these neat striped popsicles.

If I have a lot of fruit on hand, I’ll run it through the juicer and make popsicles. Apple, carrot and kale is a decent recipe that my kiddo will actually eat if I call it a popsicle! Along the same lines, you could make a smoothie. Just freeze chunks of fruits and veggies and throw them in the blender to make a nice, thick beverage.  Delicious!

So there you go. No more excuses, ok? Go make fruits and veggies taste awesome!

 

 

 

 

Also shared at: frugallysustainable.com

Tuesday Tips – Dried Beans

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Everyone knows that beans are a frugal source of protein. That is, dried beans are an inexpensive alternative to animal-based protein. Canned beans? Well, they’re often high in sodium, many cans contain BPA, and they’re really not all that frugal. Not to mention that they can contain additives (such as corn-laced salt) that can cause allergic reactions for those who are sensitive.

Here’s the analysis for those like me who have a driving need to whip out a calculator for conversations like these:

First, let’s be sure we’re comparing apples to apples. The volume doesn’t matter. If we’re trying to be frugal, we just want to know how many grams of protein we’re getting for our money. A can of beans has 1.75 cups of cooked beans, and 25-30 grams of protein (depends on the type of bean) at a cost of about $ .50 cents to $1.00. Four ounces of chicken has 28 grams of protein, and at $2.50/lb, that serving of protein costs about $ .63. Dried beans are about $1.25/lb, and that pound will yield about 6 cups of cooked beans, or 80 grams of protein.

The bottom line:

Chicken = $2.23 per 100 grams of protein

Canned Beans = $3.00 per 100 grams of protein

Dried Beans = $1.56 per 100 grams of protein

And there you have it. Canned beans are actually MORE expensive than chicken, and dried beans are half the cost of canned beans per gram of protein.

Ok, so dried beans it is. But remembering to presoak the beans for a specific meal would require more brain cells than I currently possess. I depend on a tried-and-true method that allows me to forget about the beans, and still have dinner on the table by the time hubby gets home from work.

The Crock Pot Method for Cooking Beans

First, pour a 1 pound bag of beans into a strainer and rinse thoroughly. One pound fits nicely in my crock pot, 2 pounds doesn’t fit. If you have a giant crock pot, feel free to try 2 pounds. Pick out any debris you might find such as stones, chaff, etc. Pour the beans into a pretty big bowl and add lots of water. The beans will really soak it up – make sure there’s LOTS of water in there.

Forget about the beans for a few hours or overnight. Or all day. Whatever. It really doesn’t matter.cook beans in the crock pot

Drain the water, rinse the beans if you like (this step removes the phytic acid and such like indigestible stuff), and put the beans into the crock pot. Add enough water to cover and turn on low.

Forget about the beans for a few hours or overnight. Or all day. You know, whatever.

The beans are done when they’re about ready to split their skins, but if you cook them for a few extra hours, it won’t hurt anything. Old beans take longer to cook, so if you’re cooking beans your grandmother bought during the war, it might take quite a while. Drain the water (save it for soup broth if you like), and pack the beans into 3 freezer bags, making sure each bag has about the same amount of beans. Label and date the bags and throw them in the freezer. When you have a recipe calling for a can of beans, pull out one of your bags, and thaw it. The beans thaw pretty quickly, especially when mixed into a pot of simmering soup.

So there you have it. A bag of frozen beans is almost exactly the same amount as a can of beans, and pretty much just as convenient with the added bonus of being BPA-free, low-sodium, and allergen-free. Oh, and ecologically friendly due to less packaging, and less carbon footprint and all that jazz. Yeah, this one’s a winner, all the way around!

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