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From Restaurant Chef To Frugal Home Cook

homemade granola

In my new life -- the one where I live in the woods and my better half is in school (i.e. we are broke) -- I find myself cooking more at home than ever before.

I have taken to this lifestyle quite quickly, probably on account of my cheffing background. The idea of making something from scratch that will last for a while (in quantity and quality) is not foreign to me.

I want to share with you the tricks I have picked up over the last several months of my domestication:

I buy lots of milk on sale, which is usually close to its expiration date, and then I turn the remainder into kefir or yogurt. This not only extends the life of the milk, but you can still use it for pretty much everything you use milk for. I use it in place of any milk product for baking (great in scones, biscuits, cornbread); I eat it on my morning granola (sometimes with a slash of milk to lighten the tartness of it); and I add it to smoothies. The great news is these homemade dairy delights have the same nutritional value as milk with the added bonus of probiotics, B vitamins and phosphorus.

I buy all our beans dried. Canned beans are not only packed with salt, weird preservatives and other crap, but they usually have such a miserable texture. You don’t have to soak your dry beans if you don’t want to, just set them to boil and cook them until done. Better yet, get acquainted with a pressure cooker. I like to cook lots of beans at one time and then freeze what I don’t use in small ziplock bags, that way I can just pull out a bag of chickpeas whenever I want to make hummus or a bag of kidney beans when I want to make red beans and rice.

You don’t need years of culinary training or tons of money to make great meals for you and your family – just a sense of planing and a few great recipes under your belt.

Make granola instead of buying cereal. Holy smokes cereal is so expensive! Granola is easy and relatively cheap to make, and much better for you than most breakfast cereals.

Don’t buy things in boxes. Make your own crackers -- they last for a really long time! Make your own cookies -- it literally take 15 minutes to put the dough together. Make your own granola bars. Make your own mac’n'cheese. Make your own stock. Whatever you do, definitely don’t say to yourself, “It’s too expensive/time-consuming/hard." If it is nominally more expensive, it is so much better for you and your family! If it takes a little longer, then think about how this can become family bonding time. That, and everything is hard the first time. The more you do it, the easier it becomes and the faster you get at it.

Think before you shop and cook. Plan at least some (if not all) of your meals ahead of time to stop yourself from buying frivolous or unnecessary foods. I usually plan my meals for the week around the protein or a theme. (For instance, Thursday we have that pork roast, so I’ll need sides for that. Friday I want to make Mexican, how about cheese enchiladas.) Think of how your ingredients can work from one meal to another. If you have a lot of rice leftover from Mexican night, then make chicken and rice soup with that chicken stock you have in the freezer. Planning is really the key to saving money and your mind! Get everyone involved, have fun with it.

Make food you can enjoy all week long. On Sundays I like to make one soup and one salad. This way when someone gets peckish, there is always something to grab in the fridge. It’s even hearty enough to serve as the I-don’t-feel-like-cooking-tonight dinner.

Freeze. Freeze. FREEZE! The freezer is your best friend when it comes to saving time and money. Making soup, stock, bread, beans, pastries and sauces in bulk and freezing them gives you something ready-made to heat up for a quick and cheap dinner. You can also buy big pieces of meat/fish/chicken on sale and freeze them.

You don’t need years of culinary training or tons of money to make great meals for you and your family. All it takes is a sense of planing and a few great recipes under your belt.

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