Monday, February 10, 2014

Taking stock of produce and coming up with a plan

I always menu plan, first taking stock of what is on hand. Having been raised with the pantry principal, this is a great way to keep food costs down, as my pantry and freezer contain items purchased as cheaply as possible. Fast forward, and we are in budget crisis mode, with my impending unpaid leave to start in a few weeks. My grocery list is growing, but I am taking great pains to limit actual purchases to must haves, with no other substitution opportunities already being on hand. We are getting creative. February menus planned ahead of my surgery, and we've pretty much kept to them. Yesterday, I completed March's menus (usually done by the 15th of the preceding month, so I remain "on schedule"), noting what I know I will run out of, must buy to complete my menus.

Of concern is produce. The Winter season is hard in New England; one is lucky to get some Spring greens come mid May. Often what is sold has been stored for a long time, or is of dismal quality (think tomatoes). I've always eaten seasonally, so the Winter is when I draw upon my pantry, freezer as well as cheap, fresh produce (domestic only, per my preference). I tend to keep on hand: onions, carrots, celery, potatoes, cabbage. In Winter, lettuce may or may not grace our table. I try to toss in "extras" when on special, such as parsnips, spinach, mushrooms, Winter squash. With my next 6 weeks of dinners planned, I took a quick inventory of what is on hand, produce wise, that I can draw on, come April. Although I should be back at work, and again collecting a salary, the rest of the school year will be tight, as the budget absorbs my unpaid leave of up to a month, if not shorter. My reduced income translates to reduced expenditures. Food is the first area of attack. My current inventory, noting that much will soon be depleated:
-the commerically frozen items will be gone by the end of this month
-I will still have home frozen: corn, pepper strips, swiss chard stalks cut up, zucchini dices and shreds (baked goods), assorted chopped greens: chard, kale, turnip, mustard, kholrabi

Pantry/kitchen cabinet:
-stewed tomatoes, plain canned tomatoes, tomato sauce
-rotel style tomatoes
-French style and cut green beans
-waxed beans
-kernal corn, creamed corn
-baked beans
-mixed vegetables
-sliced and whole potatoes

-split green, split yellow, whole yellow peas
-navy/pea beans
-large limas
-"French's" onions
-minced onion, minced garlic
-assorted herbs and spices (both commercially and home preserved)

Fresh: (*the bulk of the following will be gone by the end of the month)
-red and green cabbage
-butternut and carnival squash
-baby salad greens

-apple sauce
-rhubarb sauce

- pumpkin
- blueberries

figs, rasins, craisins, apricots, prunes, dates

Knowing that I want to draw as much as possible from stored foods at home first, I will still need to purchase some fresh. I am planning on the following: celery, onions, potatoes, carrots, cabbage. Fruits will be limited to $1 a lb or less, exception being a splurge on strawberries which are now coming out of FL and CA. Salad will grace our table less and less often (hardly served here now as it is), substituting coleslaws, carrot sticks, chilled canned fruit, etc. I will be getting creative. One dish we like is simply braised celery with onions and/or pepper strips. Canned green beans sauteed with onions and peppers in some EVOO, stewed tomatoes as is or over canned green beans. What other suggestions can you make, keeping the aformentioned in mind? We won't give up eating produce, it is essential in our diets, especially as we don't eat a lot of meat, so we bulk up on sides. Suggestions welcomed.


Mary Lou said...

What about making some nice pasta dishes as a main meal using the vegetables, i.e. the tomatoes, green beans and some of your other frozen goodies. I imagine you could add a bit of meat, chicken or any leftover to make a complete meal with protein so you wouldn't be hungry in an hour.

Anonymous said...

Good news is cabbage will be on super sale starting soon as folks get ready get st Patricks day. My only suggestion would be to keep your eyes out for the 10/$10 sales on frozen veggies. ShopRite might have some soon.
We too are sticking to the weekly dairy and romaine (pets) run. For the next 2 weeks. Trying to eat down the freezer with meAt.

CTMOM said...

Mary Lou
I actually went ahead this afternoon, and did my April menu planning.As you suggested, some dinners will include vegetable based pasta sauces, and I have planned for things like casseroles, stir fries, stir fried rice. Looking further out, May and June (new CSA will be starting, dated yet unknown)will be sparce months, considering what we will still have on hand. I DO want to continue to focus on eating down or out all of what we have in the freezer and pantry shelves/cupboard so as to retain cash from my grocery budget to allocate towards my missing income. Conservatively, if I can pinch $200/month from Jan thru Aug, that is $1600-a considerable sum. Come May, there should only be some (if any)frozen greens and corn left, so my canned supplies will be turned to, in addition to the cheap, basic veggies I normally have on hand, fresh.
I expect to have canned tomatoes (I home canned enough for the year), corn, green beans, maybe beets, spinach (used normally in just lasagna or stuffed shells).I really am looking for ideas to use what I anticipate will remain. Thanks!

CTMOM said...

Yes, if I find an awesome deal, I'll consider buying frozen/canned if not fresh produce. That said, I really want to focus on using what I think I'll still have on hand. Xpect discounts/Dollar tree if not Aldi usually have $1 bags of fzn plain veggies. I try to limit them to 16 oz bags vs the 12 oz steam varieties.

CTMOM said...

Forgot to add that I plan on getting several cabbages in March-usually 25 cents or less a lb

Anonymous said...

I sauté frozen chopped spinach with olive oil and lots of garlic then add in a can of cannelloni beans (white kidney) toss in some canned tomatoes and toss with hot bow tie pasta or spaghetti sprinkle Parmesan on top and meat free dinner is done!

Also there is a really good lentil casserole with brown rice in the original tightwad gazette book. I will dig out my copy & post on my blog for you. It's good with a cup of soup or a small salad if you gave it

CTMOM said...

That sounds like something we'd enjoy. Do you drain and rinse the beans first?
I own the first 3 TWG books (not the 3 in 1 volume), so I assume that I have that lentil-rice casserole recipe, thanks for pointing me in that direction.

Mary Lou said...

Speaking of pasta dishes, my dd makes this and loves it:

Anonymous said...

Just posted it....thank you google!
I do drain & rinse the canned beans, but I bet soaked large dried limas (if they're white ones) would be tasty. Otherwise try butter beans (I found them at Xpect or price rite)

Also polenta is an inexpensive 'exotic' base for sauces.
I make it spread it into a jelly toll pan to set up in the fridge (or cold porch) then slice into squares and pan fry it in butter crispy on both sides plate a couple squares (Palm sized) and cover with pasta sauce loaded with sale zucchini and peppers - maybe sliced Italian sausages

CTMOM said...

Thanks, I'll check the recipe out. Yes, "large limas" are also known as "butter beans"-I scored 4 packages on marked down @ 79/lb. I intended to use them for my baked calico beans recipe.

CTMOM said...

Mary Lou-
That recipe looks good. I'd substitute a different cheese, perhaps Parmesan, as we don't care for the saltiness of Feta, which I don't have on hand anyway, and the focus right now is using what I have on hand. : )

Suzy said...

what's braised celery? do you use chicken broth or something? I've never liked celery other than cooked in soups or something and am looking for simple recipes to try with it. I need to get better with menu planning - get bored cooking and eating by myself but it's cheaper and healthier. I've been trying to limit my produce and other buying to what I can eat in a week - maybe 2 - and see how it goes. easier in the winter but summer produce is so tempting esp all the melons and peaches and nectarines and berries! I find myself getting carried away LOL!

CTMOM said...

I sautee celery in butter/oil then add a bit of stock-usually chicken, season it and let cook until tender crisp.

Heather McClain said...

In the spirit of using up what you listed, how about a 6-can Tortilla soup? 2 cans chicken stock, 1 can chicken, 1 can Rotel, 1 can black beans, 1 can corn. Garnish with tortilla strips, sour cream, avocado, salsa, whatevs.

Meg B. said...

I live the TWG lentil and rice casserole. We serve it with salsa, which I make from canned diced tomatoes I get at case sales.

I think you can live just fine on canned veggies for the winter. What I have a hard time doing without is cilantro (for the above mentioned salsa.) We put a window herb garden on a south facing window one winter when we lived in New England. It did great. Here, there just isn't enough sun, for all the winters are mild.

Good luck on your recovery!