I love to cook. Along the way, I often discover excellent shortcuts and money-saving tactics for home food preparation. I get excited, and I immediately want to share the idea, but it’s simply not enough to warrant a full article on its own.
So, I usually save it. I jot the idea down somewhere in my notes and move on with things.
Today, I decided to dig through my notes and pull together several of those useful frugal cooking tactics. Hopefully, these tactics will find use in your own kitchen.
Make Your Own Cream of …. Soup!
One staple of many inexpensive recipes is canned soup, usually of the “cream” variety – cream of chicken soup, cream of mushroom soup, and so on. Some people, particularly those who are focused on eating healthy, try to avoid these ingredients, since such soups are usually laden with salt and preservatives.
Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to make this soup yourself – and it’s a perfect substitute for the canned soup in those recipes. Just mix together 2 tablespoons of butter (or margarine), two tablespoons of flour, half a cup of milk, and (optionally) a quarter of a teaspoon of salt over medium heat. The easiest way to do it is to put in the butter first, wait until it melts, then sprinkle in the flour while stirring, then slowly add the milk while stirring.
If you want to make cream of chicken soup, add in half a cup of chicken broth or chicken stock.
If you want to make cream of mushroom soup, add in half a cup of milk and quarter of a cup of finely diced mushrooms.
If you want to make cream of celery soup, add in half a cup of milk and a quarter of a cup of finely diced celery.
Once you have all of the ingredients in, let it simmer over low heat for three minutes while stirring. The amount in the pan is usually just a bit more than a can’s worth of cream soup and it substitutes perfectly (and often tastes quite delicious). It’s also quite a bit healthier and, from my calculations, cheaper, too.
Utilize Leftover Fruit Juices
Sometimes, especially during the winter here in Iowa, we’ll pick up no-sugar-added canned fruits, particularly pineapple, because the fresh fruit options are questionable at best and the frozen fruits are often laden with sugar.
Often, though, when the can is empty, we’re left with half a can full of juice that would normally go to waste. Instead, we’ve found it’s a great idea to put that juice to use as a marinade. We save the juice, then the following night, we mix some soy sauce, some pepper, some olive oil, and a bit of garlic with it. Then, we soak our main entree (often, chicken breasts or chops or fish fillets) in the marinade for an hour or so, then grill it.
Delicious, particularly when you consider that the backbone of the marinade would have been thrown away in most homes.
Leftover Meat As Pizza Topping
Quite often, when we eat something like a roast or a whole chicken, there’s quite a bit of meat left over. Sometimes, it makes sense to freeze the meat, but quite often, it simply seems like it’s going to go to waste – we can’t put it in the composter and there’s only so much of the same thing you can eat as a leftover.
One great (surprising) tactic is to simply take the leftover meat and chop it finely, then freeze that chopped meat. Then, the next time you prepare a pizza, thaw the contents of the bag and use that as a key pizza topping.
Almost any meat works here: roast, fish fillets, chicken breasts, and so on. Each one makes for a distinctly different pizza, plus the pizza is usually so different from the original dish that you rarely notice that it’s the same thing you had a few days ago.
Use the Freezer!
If you don’t have enough food to fill your deep freezer, start saving your milk jugs right now. As they empty, rinse them out, fill them up with water (up to about an inch below the top, then cap them and stick them in the freezer.
Why do this, you might ask? It’s simple. Once the new items have been cooled down to the temperature of the freezer, they will help maintain the cold temperature of your freezer. In short, your freezer will run less often, and it won’t lose nearly as much cold when you open the door.
Even more important, during a power outage, a full freezer will warm up much slower than a partially full one. The items you stored in there will act as cold sinks, keeping all of the frozen food colder for longer than if the freezer was empty.
Even better, those frozen gallon jugs make for great ice packs for coolers. Just pull one out, split it open, and use it for ice when you need it.
Quick and Easy Meatballs for Pasta
One simple regular dish we like to make is the standard meatloaf. It’s often the center of our meal, with vegetables and other items as side dishes. Most of the time, we make a very basic meatloaf…
2 pounds lean ground beef
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup uncooked rice
1/4 cup chopped onion
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon rosemary
Just mix all this up, put it in a loaf pan, and bake it for an hour – easy as pie.
However, we often don’t eat the whole meatloaf, even after leftovers. We could, of course, grate it up for pizza, but there’s a much better use for that meatloaf.
Just take the leftover meatloaf, cut it into 3/4 inch cubes, and add it to spaghetti sauce. These make for wonderful meatballs and, when they’re coated with the sauce, you don’t even remember that it was originally meatloaf. This is a great way to make homemade meatballs for your pasta dinner.