Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Frugal Food: Making a Menu (plus my favorite Dessert)

You may or may not have noticed that I updated my "Up This Month" side box a couple weeks ago and mentioned that I'm working on saving money with one of the cutbacks being groceries. So far, so good. With smart shopping you might be surprised how much $25 a week will get you in produce. Since I do have an impressively (obsessively?) stocked pantry by almost any standards, pretty much all that money is going to fresh produce and anything that is left will be saved to buy staples as I start to run low. In addition to the $25 a week we are also still receiving our bi-weekly CSA basket and my garden is still putting out some tomatoes in addition to greens and herbs. 

In an effort to maximize this limited budget and what I have on hand I started making a weekly menu. I have resisted menu-making in the past because I felt it stifled my one creative outlet and I felt at a loss trying to come up with that many meals at once. However, I also know that I've thrown out entirely too much produce that I've found buried in my crisper drawers, forgotten until it has started to turn into some unidentifiable puddle, and I need to actually be using all the variety I've built up in my pantry supplies. As I see it, making a menu has several major benefits: 

1) Money saved because
- you'll use what you have, making the most of what you do spend
- you can take advantage of what is on sale or in season
- you can use dried beans and grains since you'll know when you need to soak them or otherwise start them in advance
- you can use homemade convenience foods, making them when you have time
- you will be less likely to eat out if you have a plan (better for your wallet and your waist)
2) No agonizing over what to make for dinner twenty minutes before you planned to eat. 
3) Less repetition, or more, if you want (because we all fall back on bean burritos when it is 9:30 and we are famished and have no plan).
4) Training your significant other and/or children to look at the menu will forever silence the whining "what's for dinner tonight?" question (maybe, no promises)
5) You get to look forward to eating all the delicious meals you thought up!

After three days of using this I am actually pretty excited. Making a menu need not take a great deal of time, although for me it probably will, since it gives me an excuse to pour over my myriad of cookbooks. All you need is to make a list of whatever fresh food you need to eat, know what is in your pantry, and have some sort of menu template. I searched and searched but didn't find anything I liked - I wanted one that started on Sunday, had a place for each meal, and allowed for input (as opposed to handwriting it). So I ended up just making my own. If you like it feel free to email me, I'm happy to send it to you! You don't have to plan every meal, just plan dinners if you prefer (the days I work I eat every meal at work, so plan them all) and if something comes up, no worries, you can just move that meal to a different day or the next week.

Given how resistant I have previously been to menus I am surprised at how much I enjoy the process. It actually is allowing me to try more new dishes and get to the recipes that I've been meaning to work on. I've also noticed that my anxiety level is reduced since I know what I need to do for each day and knowing that I am making better use of my money. 

On the menu this week: Pumpkin-Curry Surprise Soup
(recipe forthcoming after a bit more tweaking)

A recipe in progress: Low fat Oatmeal Raisin Coconut Cookies

Possibly my favorite dessert of all time.

Tipsy Peaches with Lemon Sorbet
My grandparents have a peach tree and every year Grandma slices and sugars peeled, pitted, super ripe peaches and freezes them. Grandpa then doles out a few precious bags to each of us. I hoard mine like the gold they are. This is my favorite way to eat them, I know the combination of flavors might sound strange, but you must try it I think you will love it.

Peaches, fresh or frozen and thawed, pitted and sliced (peeling is optional)
sugar, to taste but you should use at least a little to draw out the peach juice
Lemon sorbet, as much as you like
Almond liquor (I make my own - more on that later - but commercial is fine too)

Toss peaches and sugar together in a bowl and allow to stand at least an hour, you want it nice and syrupy. Top with lemon sorbet (I view it more as a flavoring than the dessert itself, so I only have a small scoop). Drizzle (or liberally pour...) almond liquor over the top. Try to keep the moaning down as you eat it.


the little one said...

I think a weekly menu is a brilliant idea!

DJ said...

I envy your organisational skills - that's it! I'm inspired to restart menu-planning again!! I know it makes sense... that sorbet looks mmm-mm-mmmm!

Jen Treehugger said...

Weekly menus are a great idea and one I really should implement. What I've taken to doing is buying fresh produce on a daily basis as and when I need things. This helps me use what I have already in the kitchen and cuts out any waste and as an added bonus, I get exercise walking to and from the supermarket every day.
I'm impressed you're still getting Tomatoes from you garden....roll on Summer hey!