Thursday, December 4, 2008

Eating at the Right Price

Is it possible to eat good, healthful, satisfying food without breaking the bank? These days, this is a question all of us should be asking. I've noticed many of the food magazines and newspapers writing articles on the subject. I've tried to be more conscious of what I'm spending at the grocery store while still putting great meals on the table.

I won't sacrifice quality so, for me its about shopping in season as much as possible and buying cuts of meat that are not too pricey. It really is the right way to cook for anyone, whether you're rolling in the dough or watching the pennies. I was at the market this morning (yes, Whole Foods) and was extra observant when it came to the prices, knowing I wanted to write this today. I was shopping for two dinners, plus leftovers, snacks, and general produce.

When it comes to produce, look for what's cheap and abundant at the market. This is usually a sign of what's in season. I bought a pound of Brussels sprouts for under $2! I'll slice them thinly, saute them in browned butter and sherry vinegar and have a side that tastes anything but cheap. Satsumas are a bargain at $1.49 a pound and these juicy, seedless orange are only around in the winter so get them while you can. They are a perfect snack, great in the lunch box, and just the right size for throwing in a salad. Think the Mandarin oranges you ate from the can as a kid but fresh. When it came to protein, I bought a pound of Whole Foods brand bacon-thick sliced center cut Applewood bacon. The pound was $8 which is not the cheapest bacon but, this will go a long way-weekend breakfast and Carbonara for dinner tomorrow night. Independent of their low price, I always prefer chicken thighs to the breast meat. At $3.29 a pound, I bought five of them for just over $5 and will braise them in beer, stock, and caramelized onions. It'll take under an hour and it's one of those winter dishes that tastes like it has cooked all day. The Carbonara I mentioned was in one of my recent food magazines, can't remember which now. I'll do the basic version with eggs and bacon, add broccoli rabe or broccolini, and top each portion with a fried egg! I have the picture from the magazine in my head and let me tell you, not expensive and it looked to die for.

When shopping for less costly cuts of meat, it's always better to look for the tougher muscles. These are the cuts that need long, slow, moist heat when cooking but, the result is that melt-in-your-mouth consistency that, to me, screams 'winter meal'. You really don't need a recipe-just season the meat well, brown it in a deep pan, remove the meat and pour off the fat, add some aromatic veggies and saute them, return the meat to the pan with wine and/or stock. The meat should simmer for several hours, until it falls apart easily with a fork. You can do this over low heat on the stove (covered) or in an oven at 325 degrees. At the end, I take off the lid, remove the meat and reduce the sauce to give it a bit more body. Try this with beef stew meat (chuck), lamb stew (shoulder), or pork stew (butt-it's actually shoulder too, don't ask me why they call it butt!). With beef I like red wine and beef or veal stock, lamb can go red or white wine and chicken stock, and pork is nice with white wine or even a hard apple cider and chicken stock.

It's easy to cook great meals for less. Just shop smart, cook at home, and take the time to find the produce and meat that fit your bill. If you ever get the stuff home and don't know what to do with it, you can always drop me an email-I'm happy to help

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