Stretching the grocery budget without sacrificing flavor

Home cooks used to using high-end ingredients are finding ways to be a bit indulgent while keeping their eye on the bottom line.

“ . . . the nation took an economic nosedive, and . . . overnight, it seemed, words like budget and inexpensive started appearing on the covers of high-end food magazines.” - Joanne Weintraub, Sizzling Savings, the Journal Sentinel.

The balancing act has become when to splurge and when to cut corners. Here are a few ideas to consider when you’re examining your food budget:

  1. Save high quality extra virgin olive oil for sauces, vinaigrettes and garnish – for cooking, use a oil that has little to no taste like canola or vegetable. We’ve also had great luck purchasing higher end store brand olive oils that are typically priced lower.
  2. Chicken thighs are moister and less expensive than chicken breasts. Purchase skin-on, bone-in cuts for more flavorful dishes.
  3. Balance time versus money – if you have time available to do long braises, buy more inexpensive cuts of meat and create wonderful stews. If you have an afternoon to bake, make quick breads or cookies and save money on store-bought treats.
  4. Eliminate chips and microwave popcorn from your budget – popping corn on the stovetop creates superior results and costs only a few cents. Season the hot corn with seasoning blends for variety.
  5. Don’t forget about eggs – many a soup or stew can be extended and enriched with the addition of a poached egg and a crusty piece of thick toast.
  6. Keep a few strong-flavored cheeses in the refrigerator for a big punch of flavor - mix a strong cheddar, smoked gouda with a cheaper Monterey jack; or use a crumbly bleu or parmesan to finish dishes.
  7. According to the Journal Sentinel article, taste testers have found very little, if any, difference when using imitation vanilla extract in baked goods like cakes, cookies or brownies – where the difference is noticed is in custards, puddings and ice creams. Use real vanilla when it is the star. Another time to use real vanilla – when you’re making cookie dough that is to be frozen raw or after being baked – the imitation vanilla flavor does not stand up to freezing.
  8. Use the internet to source vanilla bean pods and purchase in bulk when you find a good deal – they can be stored in the freezer. Don’t waste the pods leftover after scraping the seeds – they can be stashed in a storage jar with granulated sugar.
  9. European cocoas, like Valrhona, offer deep, dark flavor and a hefty price tag. If you want to indulge when baking, replace a portion of a grocery store brand cocoa with the higher end cocoa.
  10. Visit farmers' markets, local meat lockers, egg farms, etc. for the best prices on local, seasonal foods.

GE 4/1/09 Leave a Comment
Gina Edwards is a cooking instructor and editor of

No comments:

Post a Comment