When I was in high school, we had Home Economics. We learned how to prepare a few things, one being a taco dinner that was mighty tasty, and the basics about baking and whatnot. Many schools don’t do this any more, and not every parent teaches a child to cook, so it helps to give new cooks tips. Even if you know the basics, there is more you’ll be thankful to learn.
These ‘secrets’ will help you along your journey:
- Accept fresh produce and herb offerings. This will save a good deal of money on your grocery bill, and will allow you to expand your menu.
- If they are offering kale or chard, or if you’re growing it yourself, and it is too cold to grow it outside any longer, take up the hole plant, root and all. Transplant to a planter with organic soil and place on a shelf near a window. Use the leaves in salads and smoothies, or in whatever recipe you want. As you cut off leaves, more will grow, until the plant is done. Last year, mine lasted until after the holidays. I had two of each type of plant, and I used at least one cutting from each per week.
- Grow organic herbs inside. You will save a good amount of money by doing this rather than buying organic herbs at the store. And, they taste amazing! Plant them in pots, and place them near a window.
- Butternut and acorn squashes last a long time! I’m sure there are other types that do as well. We are almost through April, and I still have a butternut squash from last harvest season. I’ll be making stuffed squash. All you have to do is keep checking them to be sure there are no bad spots. If you notice anything adverse starting early enough, use it up after cutting out the bad part.
- You can roast squash seeds like you do pumpkin seeds.
- Squash is a pain to cut up and peel, but stuffed squash is easy to make because all you have to do is wash the squash and then cut it in half. And, there a so many ways to stuff each half. Bake the halves cut-side up, brushed with oil, for 30 to 40 minutes at 350 degrees, or until tender. Then fill each half with any combination of cooked meat and vegetables mixed with herbs and/or spices and some cheese. Bake about another 20 minutes.
- Large eggs are not usually needed in baking and cooking, unless you are doing some pretty fancy baking. Save money buying whatever size egg is the most affordable at the time. I’m not sure if jumbo eggs can replace the large ones or not, but I know small and medium eggs work just as well as large in all my recipes.
- Freeze small bits of leftovers, be they fruits, vegetables, or meats. You don’t even have to split them up by type. For instance, freeze leftover cooked chicken, turkey, pork, and beef all in one bag. Multiple fruits can be frozen in a freezer bag. Same with the vegetables, and even the meats. Use the fruits in smoothies, and the vegetables and meats in soups, stews, stuffed squash recipes, and casseroles. Keep a quart or gallon size bag in the freezer for each type of food – three bags is all you need. Add to each bag as you can. Just be sure to let the air out of them each time you add something.
- Keep old, even stained, dish towels and dish cloths on hand to use when cleaning up spills and washing down sideboards and appliances. No need for paper towels. No wasting paper or money.
- Keep the stock and broth from soups and roasts, to use in recipes throughout the week. Also keep the liquid from when you cook vegetables for the same purpose. These liquids can be frozen as well, and used later in soups and stews.
- Cooking soup is easy, and can be done in a pot on the stove or in a crock pot. For example, if you want to use the leftovers you’ve kept in the freezer over the last couple of weeks, thaw the vegetables, meats, and broth or stock most of the way. Pour the meat and vegetables into the pot or crock, then cover with the stock or broth? If you don’t have the liquid, just use water. Cover and heat until the food is warmed through, then add any herbs and spices you think might work, and cook about 10 minutes more.
- Buy ‘ugly’ fruits and vegetables if you can find it cheaper. There is nothing wrong with them other than they don’t look like the best pieces.
- Use the ends of vegetables, such as carrots and celery, when making stocks. They wont hurt anything, and provide nutrients.
- The leafy part of celery is good. No need to waste anything. Use the leaves when making stocks, in salads or smoothies, or another dish. These leaves have a slightly peppery taste. *Note: There are some people who seem to be allergic to the leaves.
- Batch cooking makes things easier if you are going to have a busy week or month. Some people simply double or triple recipes each night until the freezer is stocked with a variety of things. Others spend a day shopping and cooking the meals they will need for the week. Still, others spend a day shopping and doing prep work and another day preparing meals to make enough food for two weeks or a month. Do what works for you.
- I use glass measuring cups for liquids.
- And plastic or stainless steel measuring cups for dry ingredients.
- When mom tells you to use a tad, dash, pinch, smidge, or drop of something, there is a measuring spoon for each. They come in a set.
- Baking from scratch is easy, and far more affordable in general.
- You can grow your own food easily. Start small with a few different vegetables and the herbs you will use while cooking. Think you have no space for a garden? Plant in containers and line them up your steps or along the front walkway.
- Crock pots rock! If you’re going to do a lot of batch cooking, it wont hurt to have at least two. You can make so many things in these, such as lasagna, stew, soup, chili, and cake. Cooking in these is so easy.
- One-pan meals are also easy. Start by melting some oil in a skillet. Wash a small potato and cut out bad parts. Thee peels are good for you. Chop and put into the pan. Then wash and peel a small sweet potato. Chop and add to the skillet. Add some meat and let it all cook until done. You can add any seasonings you like.
- Buy fresh produce from farm stands when possible. Farmer’s often sell what they don’t need at these, sometimes right on their farm. You can get great deals. Learn to freeze what you can, to have over the winter.
- Visit farmer’s markets during the last hour or so of their day. They might be willing to make deals. Often you can get herb and vegetable plants already started that are well worth the cost.
- Learn to dry or freeze fresh herbs.
If you have any tips not listed, or want to elaborate on any that are, feel free to do so in the comments. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I always answer as soon as I have a free moment.