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I’ve moved!

Well. I’ve gone and done something not very cheapskate-ish, which was to register a domain and move this blog over to its own little home at culinarycheapskate.com.

Along with a new design, you’ll find a few new features and improvements over there, including a recipe plugin that makes it easier to print just a recipe and not an entire blog post, and an easier-to-navigate recipe menu, which now includes categories for filtering recipes by cost and mess factor.

So come check it out!

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Reconceptualizing the Culinary Cheapskate

Hmmm, it’s been a while since I posted. This is partially because I’ve been busy, but mostly because I got a “real” job that pays me more than the piddly graduate student research assistant salary I’d been making before, and with this job came the freedom to be a lot less careful with my food budget. And since cooking good food and eating good food happen to be two of the great loves of my life, I celebrated this newfound freedom by going a little nuts with my meal planning. I’ve spent the past several months buying whatever food I’ve felt like, and it’s been SO great – not because I’ve been eating better (I hope that this blog has at least proven that you CAN eat well on a very small budget), but because I’ve been able to try out some new recipes that call for pricier ingredients, mostly meat. Plus, it’s just nice to not have to count every penny, and I love that I no longer cringe when the cashier rings up my grocery bill total. In fact, the first time I went grocery shopping after I got this job, I realized hours after the fact that I had absolutely no idea – literally, none – of how much I’d actually spent; I just handed over my debit card and went on my way. You can’t put a monetary value on that kind of freedom.

One thing I’ve struggled with as this blog has evolved over the past year is that my approach to food, and thus, the approach to cooking that I advocate here, is not really about keeping costs as low as possible, but rather about eating the healthiest food possible without going broke in the process. I’ve done a lot of reading on nutrition and dietary topics, and I’ve come to the conclusion that spending money on higher-quality foods – organic vegetables, naturally-raised meats, hormone-free dairy products – is an incredibly sound long-term investment in your health. Even on my crappy $1200/month graduate assistant salary (and even my $800/month + food stamps AmeriCorps salary before that), I made purchasing healthy, high-quality foods my top financial priority after basic living expenses were taken care of. I pay nearly $10 a gallon for grass-fed milk and $6+ per pound for grass-fed meats. I buy expensive organic vegetables (which seem to go for about twice the cost of supermarket fare, on average), and pay a premium to cook exclusively with high-quality, healthy oils, such as olive oil, coconut oil, and grass-fed butter and ghee. I truly believe that I have no choice in the matter – knowing what I know about nutrition and health, I absolutely cannot go back to eating (and recommending!) the “conventional” versions of these ingredients. But these ingredients definitely do not lend themselves towards “cheap” cooking, and I’ve struggled to fit recipes containing these ingredients into a “cheap” paradigm.

Nothing made this clearer to me than my post back in October in which I polled readers/random internet people about their weekly per-person grocery budgets. I included an “under $30” category with the caveat that I have a friend who actually does eat on $25-30 a week (he lives in Arizona and shops exclusively at a market catering to low-wage immigrants), and I truly thought that no one – or at least no one who reads this blog – would report surviving on such a small food budget. But I was wrong – three people, or 9% of respondents, reported just that. Back when I was a vegetarian and on a very tight budget, I used to spend $40-50 a week on food. Once I became an omnivore, this crept up to $50-60. Once I became frequent meat-eating omnivore, it was more like $60-70. Today, I have no idea, as I honestly haven’t been keeping track. (Such a wonderful luxury!) Like I said, I buy the highest-quality foods I can get my hands on – organic, naturally-raised, hormone-free – and in that light, these weekly food budget figures are still somewhat of an accomplishment; if you took my weekly shopping list and went to a Costco or an Aldi or even a regular grocery store, there’s a good chance you’d come in at under $30. But realizing that I spend twice as much on groceries as some people has made me rethink whether framing this blog as an inexpensive food blog is really appropriate.

So I’ve decided to rework my concept of this blog to include the pricier ingredients I choose to include in my cooking. In the past, I’ve tried to only post recipes that come in at under $3 per serving (with a primarily organic ingredient list); going forward, I won’t put a cap on the cost of things I post. But I will still approach the recipes I post with a focus on saving money (either by selecting recipes that include inexpensive ingredients, or by making less-expensive substitutions/adaptations), and I will still include a cost total for each recipe at the end of each post. The blog’s focus will shift from eating extremely cheaply to eating extremely well, but in  way that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, and that cuts the crap, pretension, and needless complication that you get with a lot of recipes. I will likely post more musings on the cost of food (as I have plenty of these), more cost-comparisons, and more recommendations for where to get your hands on the really good stuff. Hopefully, I will just post more in general!

So stay tuned!

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The Farmers Market Files: Preserving the Red Pepper Bounty

Red Bell Peppers, Bought Bulk

My $7 farmers market score!

I know I just spent my entire last post waxing eloquent about how much I adore the peak-of-summer ripe tomato, but it’s possible that I love red bell peppers just as much. Unlike picked-ripe tomatoes, you can actually get good red bell peppers year-round. However, they’re SUPER expensive – $6.99/lb. at my food co-op for organic ones, imported from Mexico or somewhere, which can work out to be about $3 for a single pepper. Since I generally try to keep my meals to somewhere between $2.00 and $3.50 per serving, a single red bell pepper can eat up a significant chunk of my budget for a meal. For this reason, I used to only use red bell peppers in my cooking in August and September, when they were fresh and abundant locally.

Tiny Red Bell Peppers

Unusual sizes or shapes = a great opportunity to save money!

Then I discovered that, just like tomatoes, you can buy entire buckets of them at farmers markets in the summer. Like tomatoes, these peppers often differ from the ones that get proudly displayed on market tables – they’re either a tiny bit overripe, or damaged, or often just smaller than the big, fat bell peppers that go for a buck each. But they’re just as delicious, and they’re a FANTASTIC deal – if you can figure out what to do with them!

The first time I found one of these buckets for sale, I snapped it up immediately, without having any idea what I was going to do with all those peppers. I probably could have sat down and eaten them all over the course of a week or so, but I wanted to keep some of them to brighten up that sad and entirely-too-monochrome period from late October to early May, when there isn’t a single fresh, locally-grown vegetable to be found. So I trimmed the bad parts, cut them in half, and stuck them in my freezer – and enjoyed ripe, red peppers all winter long! (Because freezing damages the pepper’s cell walls, these peppers are best used in a dish where they will be cooked; sadly, frozen vegetables are a bit too floppy to be used raw.) 

Last year there were almost no red bell peppers to be had at farmers markets, due to awful growing conditions, and man, did I miss having them in my freezer! So this year I’m going to double-up on my pepper freezing. I’d hate to be caught pepperless again!

…………………………………………………………………………………………

To Freeze Red Bell Peppers

Cut each pepper in half from top to bottom. Remove the stems and inner seeds, and trim away all bad parts.

Lay peppers cut-side-down on a baking tray.

Freezing Bell Peppers

Line up half-peppers on a baking tray to freeze them

Stick it in the freezer. After 24 hours, move peppers to a freezer bag to store all winter!

ALL the peppers

Now I have ALL the peppers.

To use: thaw in a bowl of hot water for ~10 minutes, prepare as usual, and enjoy!

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Obligatory “Follow us on Facebook!!!” post

Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed that there’s been somewhat of an “out of sight, out of mind” element to my awareness of things out there in Internet Land and the actual, three-dimensional world beyond, by which I mean that if it’s not on Facebook and popping up on my news feed occasionally, I completely forget that it exists. This applies to movies, books, bands, restaurants, local businesses, public figures, my friends, and, yes, blogs.

So, just in case you’re the same way, I’ve set up a Facebook page for this blog, so you can follow it there. I’ll post updates there whenever I post here, along with cool links, and most likely the occasional random story about a cheap recipe gone horribly, horribly wrong. So mosey on over to the Culinary Cheapskate’s Facebook page, or click “Like” over there on the right, if you prefer to get your updates this way. 🙂

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