Wowza! Who knew the response to being frugal would be so excellent? I’m thrilled that so many of you are excited about stretching your food dollars to the max. I feel like we’re all part of a super secret savings club. I am fully aware how dorky that makes me sound, but really. I love knowing I’m not the only one who gets a little shiver of joy when I save a few bucks.
I promised this post yesterday and I’m oh so sorry I didn’t get the chance, but I hope you find it was worth the wait. To make it up to you I’ll share my recipe for my 5-Minute Homemade Creamy Tomato Soup. No, it is not ketchup soup. * Yes, it is done in about 5 mintutes. It is so much better -and better for you- than any of that stuff that comes in the red, white and gold cans or their imitators. And guess what. It’s less expensive than that aforementioned national brand is when it’s on sale! I kid you not. Homemade, from-scratch soup that tastes superior to, is better for you than and is cheaper than the stuff in the store.
But first we talk savings…
*Ketchup soup is the enfant terrible of the frugal foods movement. Let’s be real. It tastes like what it is; watered down ketchup. And honestly? Unless you’re stealing the ketchup packets from a fast food restaurant (What are you doing in there anyway? Those places aren’t really all that cheap!) it’s not going to end up being any cheaper than generic label or my homemade tomato soup. And it’s wrong to steal. So there.
Remember the list we’ve been talking about? The list I like to call “The Better Living List”? I call it this mainly because I haven’t come up with a wittier name just yet. I’m open for suggestions. To jog your memory, here’s the list again.
- Know your preferences.
- Keep staples on hand.
- Know what you have on hand.
- Plan your potential meals and make the most of what you already have available before you shop.
- Know what you need beyond what you have to make those meals.
- Build flexibility into your plan.
- Build change into your plan.
- Have a back-up plan.
- Relax, dangit! It’s food!
Build flexibility into your plan.
This is, believe it or not, one of the most important things you can do to save money. And it is a darned good reason to have that list of food likes and dislikes for your family. (Remember our list from Part II?) Here’s a scenario that has happened to me that shows why flexibility is important: I knew what was in my refrigerator and pantry and I had planned my meals. Most of my dinners meals for that week were fashioned around making a huge batch of taco meat at the beginning of the week; Tacos, taco soup, cheeseburger pizza, ground beef quesadillas with leftover soup, and spaghetti, as well as a fish meal and a roast chicken for Sunday. I arrived at the store armed with my menu plan and grocery list. At the meat counter, I saw the ground beef was $2.99 per pound. According to my plan and list I was going to purchase eight pounds. Eight pounds at $2.99 per pound was $24.00. Right next to the ground beef was a manager’s special of pork shoulder for $0.69 per pound. Because I was flexible, I bought an eight pound porkshoulder roast for $5.52 and got the equivalent number of meals (shredded pork tacos, pork tortilla soup, barbecue pork pizza, pulled pork quesadillas and pulled pork nachos) at a savings of $18.48. That was almost $20 off the grocery bill right there.
So how do you build flexibility into your plan? I tell you it’s all in the list. The list of likes and dislikes and potential meals, that is. When you run across those killer sales you can take a quick glance at your list to tell you whether it’s worth bringing home. ‘Cause let me tell you something, no matter HOW cheap monkey brains were offered at my local store it wouldn’t do me a lick of good to bring them home since I would refuse to cook them let alone eat them. (Okay, monkey brains? Not so big a market for them here in Amish country, but you get my point.) And my example above was a pretty straightforward one. You can substitute slow-cooker braised shredded pork pretty easily for ground beef in most cases. The trick is in teaching yourself to recognize substitutions when they’re on sale. But you should be ready to overhaul your menu plan in a more drastic way if you see something that you all like that is on mega-sale. Having your list of potential meals handy helps you to see what you could replace on your meal plan to take advantage of sale items. Be sure to write it down if you do change meals. I have been known to forget the meals I dreamed up in the grocery store between the checkout and my car. I know. It’s sad. Maybe I should eat more fish.
Build change into your plan
Make sure you add new meals occasionally. Nothing will put me off a plan faster than getting bored. If I’ve mentioned my fickleness once I’ve mentioned it a thousand times. I need to have new, exciting foods semi-regularly. Even if it’s just Beef Sukiyaki instead of Beef Stew one week it helps keep your love of food fresh. When I was a kid, my mom had different ethnic foods for different nights of the week; Italian foods on Mondays, Filipino foods on Wednesdays, Mexican foods on Fridays, etc… I love this memory.
Have a back-up plan
I’m not much of a ‘convenience food’ gal. Truth be known, I don’t find convenience foods all that convenient. I prefer the taste and nutritional value of simple home-crafted, home-cooked food. But I’d be lying to myself and you if I didn’t say that you need to have something around to feed you all on those nights. You know just as well as I do which nights those are. They’re the nights that cap off the days where your alarm clock didn’t sound, you got the kids to school an hour late without a note, got a traffic ticket you couldn’t afford on the way to the office which also made you an hour and a half late. Then you got home to find out the dog had gotten sick on your wool sweater that was unaccountably in the middle of the floor , your kids were ‘starving’ and you had forgotten to take the ground beef out of the freezer to make dinner. Those nights you need sanity more than you need food snobbery or a guilt complex. For those occasions you need a jar or two of prepared pasta sauce, some dried pasta or frozen ravioli and a frozen loaf of garlic bread. Just do yourself a favor and have them on hand. Trust me. It would be nice to live in a land where fairy godmothers dropped off locally-grown, grass-fed meat and organic vegetable laden care-packages on nights where you could barely drag yourself to bed, but we don’t. And unless Alice Waters is your godmother, neither do you. So keep it real and make sure you have a back-up plan.
The back-up plan is the safety net that keeps you from chucking the overall plan altogether on those horrid nights. Which brings us, finally, to…
Relax dangit! It’s food!
I am totally serious. I love good food. I love it enough to spend a good deal of time thinking, talking and writing about it, cooking it, teaching people to cook it, and eating it but I don’t love it enough to make it a god. What I mean by that is that my main goal is simply to keep my family well-nourished. The ideal is locally and organically grown produce and grains, ethically raised poultry, seafood and grass-fed beef. Reality for us often falls well short of that and I will not sacrifice my family’s mental or fiscal well-being to attain that ideal. When allocating my food money, I choose the hills I’m going to die on (organic carrots, high fructose corn syrup, lettuce and celery) and the hills where I’ll execute a strategic withdrawal (potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and corn.) This is what works for us with the amount of money we have to spend. You may have more or less than we do, so do what works best within the resources you have available and don’t feel guilty about it; I’ve found my happy medium and I encourage you all to do the same. Once you have decided on your priorities, just relax and enjoy the food. Unless we’re talking about real food allergies or major health problems I really think we all need to take a deep breath and chill. In other words, no ritual suicides if you fail to attain locavore* sainthood.
*Sidebar: This has been a growing topic of discussion lately. There have been politicians, celebrity chefs and food bloggers all weighing in the subject and I’m really interested in getting your thoughts. Does ‘eating local’ matter to you? I’d love to know why it does or doesn’t.
This isn’t just any old soup. This is magical soup recipe; It takes five minutes, costs $1.50, and yields eight cups of creamy, silky, delicious, intensely tomatoey soup. (Are you ready for my broken record routine?) There are no funky preservatives or additives and you can control the sodium without paying premium prices for low-sodium soup. That’s something I never understood. How do you charge me more when you leave things out? Hmmm…
Here’s the price breakdown (Just so’s you know I’m not funning you.)
- $0.59 for a 48 ounce can of tomato puree
- $0.00 for 3-3/4 cups tap water (provided your tap water is potable!)
- $0.04 for 2 Tablespoons of cornstarch from a 1 pound box that cost $1.00
- $0.75 for 1 cup of Half and Half from a pint carton that cost $1.50
- $0.01 for 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt from a 1 pound box that cost $2.99
- $0.11 for 1/2 teaspoon of celery salt and a pinch of Italian seasonings from larger bulk containers. (I love you, but I’m not determining how many 1/2 teaspoon servings of celery salt came in that 2 pound bag I got from the Amish bulk foods place. I’m making an educated estimation here.)
- That brings our grand total to $1.50 for the whole batch of soup.
To recap: eight cups of amazing tomato bisque made from scratch in five minutes for a buck-fifty. Try it on for size tonight. It’s cold out there, honey!
For a photo-free, I-go-on-and-on-free, printer-friendly version of this recipe, click here!
5-Minute Homemade Creamy Tomato Soup
- 1 (48 ounce) can Tomato Puree (You can substitute crushed tomatoes if you prefer more robust texture in your soup.)
- 3-3/4 cups plus 1/4 cup fresh water, divided
- 2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
- 3/4 teaspoon Granulated Garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon Celery Salt
- a pinch of Italian Seasonings
- 1 cup Half and Half
Stir together the tomato puree, 3-3/4 cups water, Kosher salt, granulated garlic, celery salt and Italian seasonings in a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. When the soup is simmering, use a fork to combine the cornstarch and remaining 1/4 cup of water in a small bowl or cup. Stir the cornstarch until no lumps remain. While stirring the soup vigorously, pour the cornstarch and water mixture into the pan. Return to a simmer and continue cooking until thickened, about 1 to 2 minutes. When thickened, remove from the heat and stir in Half and Half. Serve immediately or refrigerate, tightly covered, for up to a week.
We like ours with grilled cheese sandwiches made on homemade rye bread, but it’s equally good with a handful of oyster crackers or as a meal starter. Every now and then, when I’ve been extra good, I swirl a little heavy cream into my soup when I serve it. Okay. I really do it most of the time. And I’m not necessarily really good when I do it. But it’s cream! Do I really need a reason?