Sunday, November 27, 2011

Trash Chili

One of my favorite practically free meals is Trash Chili. Don't let the name gross you out; it's actually a tasty meal.

I have a half gallon container in the freezer. Whenever I have a bit of food that would go well in chili, I toss it in. If I have a bit of leftover pasta, in it goes. I save  bits of tomatoes (fresh, stewed, diced, however), onions, beans, and peppers. I also save small amounts of leftover cooked ground beef. If something is going to go bad in the refrigerator before I can use it, I cut it into appropriately sized pieces and put it in the freezer. When I use a jar of tomato sauce, I rinse it out with a little water and dump the rinse water into the container. Once it is full, I make chili.

I pull the container out of the freezer the day before so it can thaw completely. Before I head out for the day, I dump it all into the slow cooker. I add whatever it is lacking. If it is a little too thin, I add a can of tomato paste. If it's bland, I add some jalapenos. I season with whatever it needs: hot sauce, chili powder, oregano. I let it cook on low for 6-8 hours.

A few weeks ago, I made some cornbread that was really crumbly. Utter fail. Rather than throw it away, I crumbled it into a container and placed in the freezer. When I have chili, I can add a bit to the top shortly before serving.

A batch of Trash Chili costs $.50-$1.50 depending on what is lacking. It makes enough for around four meals for two, bringing the cost of each meal to as little as 6c. Most of the ingredients would have been thrown away otherwise. I reduce my contributions to the landfill and I save money.

07/21/2013: Update: Today I made a big batch of trash chili in the crock pot. I had lots of dehydrated veggies in the pantry so I decided to add some of them to the batch. I dumped them in dry and let them rehydrate during cooking. I didn't add any extra water to the chili. Usually, since I use the tomato sauce jar "rinse water" as the liquid in my chili, it is usually a little on the thin side. With the dehydrated veggies rehydrating in the chili, it thickened up perfectly.

I call it Trash Chili. My friend calls it Feral Soup. What do you call it?

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Stocking a pantry

Winter is coming. Food prices are rising. Job security is waning. The zombie apocalypse cometh.  These are all good reasons to start stockpiling food. I'm not one of those nuts that hoards years' worth of food. I simply prepare for those little (and big) crises that always seem to strike. If everything starts to fall apart, at least we can still eat.

When the recession of 2008 first hit, my business took a plunge, leaving me with very little income for a few months. Fortunately, I had a filled larder. I fed my family from the stockpile and our grocery bill was around $10 a week. It lasted us until I was able to find work. During winter storms, it is wonderful to stay out of the grocery stores where mobs of the unprepared are snatching up bread and milk. As food prices rise, I take comfort in knowing that I have purchased food at a good price and can wait until I see a good sale to buy more.

Before you start hitting the stores, find a good place to store your food. A traditional pantry is amazing to have, but if you don't have one, look to cabinets, closets and shelves. You can also hide them in random places throughout the house (the top shelf of my linen closet is filled with bargain-priced cereal). Make a list that you keep in the kitchen so you can find what you need when you need it.

When first building your stockpile, you need a plan. Don't blindly follow the lists of necessities that work for other people.  For a couple of weeks, keep track of the meals you prepare. Make a thorough list of the ingredients you use most. Collect coupons for these items. Plan to take at least a few months to build a thorough pantry.

Scan your grocery ad and look for your listed items on sale for less than the price you typically pay. If possible, combine the sale with the coupon. In this way you can often find rock-bottom prices, and that's when you stock up. Check salvage grocery stores and dollar stores for the occasional amazing find.

Stockpile enough to last you for up to a few months. If the pasta sauce you like usually costs $2.50 but is 10 for $10 this week, you might want to buy 10 jars. I never pay more than $1.50 for salsa, but when I found jars of cilantro salsa for $.10 a jar, I bought 20 (I use it often). Know your limits, however. If you only eat pasta a couple times a month, don't stock 30 boxes, but if you eat it a few times a week, it would not be excessive to have a few dozen boxes.

Most of your stockpile will most likely be shelf stable so you can store it in random places throughout the house. Shelf stable items also have long life so you can stockpile more without fear of it going bad. It is good to stockpile some perishable items as well. My freezer holds bread, meat, cheese and seasonal veggies. I mark each package with the date so I know what to eat first. When I find a great markdown in the meat department, I snag a bunch and then re-portion and repackage for the freezer.

Create your own list based on the items you use most. Some items that are on my stockpile list are:
* pasta
* pasta sauce
*dry beans and some canned beans
* some types of canned veggies
* breakfast cereal
* salsa
* baking supplies (flour, sugar, molasses, yeast)
* coffee, tea
* some meals in a can for sick or busy days
* meats that are less than $1.50/lb (usually manager markdowns)
* seasonal fruit (frozen for smoothies and desserts)
* dressings, condiments
*all sorts of tomatoes-whole, diced, stewed, paste, sauce

Once you have a fully stocked larder, it will be easy to lower your grocery bill. You will never have to be subjected to regular price again. You will be shopping to restock the pantry rather than for the night's dinner, so you can wait until the next big sale. You won't have to run to the grocery because you don't have a vital ingredient. Should disaster (natural, job, illness) strike, you can rest assured that your family will still have plenty to eat.

Happy living!

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