27 April 2011
Can you feed a family on a budget with just a few ingredients? Yes you can!
That was the question asked me yesterday and part of my answer. Of course you can feed a family on a budget - even a small, tight budget - and you can feed them well! And they won't have to go without treats or give up variety and flavour either.
The old joke about "101 ways to serve mince" might be clichéd, but there are so many delicious ways to prepare and serve mince and chicken and lamb and other beef cuts and fish and yes, even vegetables that won't cost a fortune, far more than just a 101.
Over the years I've learned that the trick to eating well and keeping the cost down is to keep meals, or rather the ingredients for meals, simple. Using pantry basics you can create thousands of different recipes. Think about it, they're not called "basics" because you use them once then shove them to the back of the cupboard to go stale.
These foods are called basics because they form the basis of every recipe.
When you have a pantry stocked with the basics you can leave so many compound ingredients on the shelves.
Take powdered milk for instance. Of course you can use it to make milk. But when it's combined with basic butter and sugar it becomes condensed milk. So you can leave that on the shelf. When you add 1 cup of powdered milk to 3/4 cup water you have the equivalent of a can of evaporated milk. So that's another can you can leave off your grocery list. Powdered milk, when combined with basic sugar, cornflour, vanilla and water becomes custard. Leave that packet behind too.
Can you see how basics work? You use them on their own or in combination with other basic ingredients to create the ingredients you need for your recipe.
Most of us use taco seasoning. The packets of taco/enchilada/burrito seasonings are almost $2 a packet and each packet weighs around 30g. When you combine basic herbs and spices that most of us have in our pantry, you not only have truly fresh taco or enchilada or burrito seasoning, but you've saved a bundle. Old El Paso taco seasoning sells for $1.95 a 30g packet. That equates to $65 a kilo! You can make the same quantity of taco seasoning for around 60 cents, less than a third the price! You can bet your bottom dollar that Mexican cooks don't buy packet seasonings, they mix their own to taste and save a fortune while doing it.
Ordinary white flour makes cakes, scones, biscuits and breads. But did you know it also makes great gravy? And can be used as a thickener in casseroles and stews? It also thickens pickles and chutneys.
So what are the bare bones pantry basics?
The absolute minimum in my pantry would be:
Flours - plain, self-raising, wholemeal, gluten cornflour
Sugar - just white. You can make castor and brown sugar very easily.
Rice - white. Basmati as it's a lower GI and slightly better than other rices
Pasta - easy as it is to make, it's just as cheap and easy to buy. Spaghetti, lasagne, twists or shells.
Dried fruits - mixed fruit and sultanas, glace cherries and ginger
Dried beans and lentils
Nuts - peanuts for peanut butter, almonds, walnuts
Spices - cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, turmeric, paprika, coriander, cumin, mixed spice, vanilla beans, vanilla extract
Herbs - mixed herbs, basil, oregano, rosemary, dill, dried onion, garlic powder, sage, thyme,
Powdered milk - skim and full cream
Vinegar - white, brown, balsamic
Sauces - soy, oyster,
Oils - olive, safflower, sesame
Cheese - tasty, parmesan
I do have other foods in the pantry, but those above are the bare basics. With those ingredients and a little beef, chicken, lamb or fish I can feed the family for months before repeating a recipe.
As you stock your pantry, try to choose foods that will do double, triple, even quadruple duty. Your grocery bill will go down, you'll be stunned at how much money you save, your pantry will suddenly seem bigger and you won't be wasting nearly as much food and money.
The lass that asked the question was amazed and then really interested and then excited about learning how to prepare yummy meals for minimal cost. It was so much fun talking with her and sharing little titbits of information. We only had 45 minutes together and most of that time was spent filming but by the time she left I'm sure she at least knew she didn't have to spend half her wage on food each week.
I know she was confident that she could have just a few basic ingredients on hand and still eat delicious meals.
So what do you consider a pantry basic? What ingredients are must haves in your cupboard?