I love life!

Hi, I am Jo and this is my blog about my life. Here you will find entries on cooking, gardening, food safety and the interesting things happening in my search for an inexpensive and healthy way of living. My home is located in North Florida and I am relearning how to take care of myself at almost 50. This is the deep South so my garden and season may be a bit different than yours. I look forward to seeing what you have to say as time passes. Read on and have a beautiful day!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Cooking .....

My coupon post and a suggestion from my husband got me thinking. Saving money can be tough. Right now the economy bites, food prices are rising and gas is still higher. In our area homes are continuing to fall into foreclosure and there does not seem to be any relief in sight. Today's paper said unemployment in Lee County is at 11.6%.  Personally, our retirement took a huge hit and we were both forced to change jobs when the company we both worked for filed for bankruptcy. Two jobs later and I am making less than I did when I graduated college in 1997. Luckily, the hubby has a good paying job and most of what we own is ours.  That is what living at the epicenter of the housing crisis in Florida will do to you.

Saving money is tough even in good times. How is one to make it when the savings have been depleted and there is little extra to go around? The answer is obvious but not one most people want to hear. Change the way you live. It can be through small changes or through drastic measures.  It can be done. It does require work on your part and the good thing is that the works gives one a feeling of success and accomplishment.

There are some truly great ways to save money and the web is filled with sites and blogs to lead you on your way. What has worked for me is to change my priorities. Where 20 years ago clothing and being in style were high priorities now spending time with family is much higher on the list. Family can be much less expensive than shopping. I must admit I do shop but normally there are no full price purchases for anything except bras.    

One of the easiest ways to cut costs is through savings on the food your family consumes. Coupons and bargain shopping are a jumping off point into food savings. That was a previous blog entry. Today the topic is cooking from scratch.

Another way to save is to cook at home instead of buying prepared foods and eating out. It is fine to eat out. In fact my husband and I both enjoy a nice dinner in a restaurant. Our wallets, however, tell a decidedly different story.  Luckily, we BOTH cook. Yes, my husband cooks too. Ok, ok, I admit he is a chef and he doesn't mind cooking and not everyone is that lucky.

Cooking from scratch allows you to make healthy meals for your family and express your creativity. So you hate to even touch the stove and you are definitely not buying the health or creativity pitches?  It is true you can make healthier food or you can make completely unhealthy food. Just look at what Paula Dean does with refrigerator biscuits, butter and brown sugar. Not healthy but a lot cheaper than a premade dessert.... I am wandering from the point here.

If you are cooking from scratch you are not eating in a restaurant thus you can save money. If you are cooking from scratch you are not buying processed foods and can potentially cook healthier and really save money. Cooking from scratch does require more thought and pre-planning than popping a frozen pizza into the oven as you rush in the door from work. You will need to find recipes for foods your family will eat and spend a little more time on planning and shopping until you get your system figured out. Menu planning is a tool many people use to determine grocery purchases and it does eliminate the need to figure out what to cook every evening. After all, there is nothing worse than standing in front of the fridge or pantry staring blindly in and thinking,"What in the heck can I make with that?" Google menu planning and a plethora of sites pop up.

We don't menu plan. We use a fully stocked pantry ( that is another blog entry) and pull a protein from the freezer each morning to be used for dinner that evening. Today it is flank steak to be marinated and grilled for fajitas tonight. Meats are purchase only on sale and vegetables tend to be whatever is seasonal and low cost. Except for cabbage - we don't do much cabbage.  It can be really low cost and not hit our grocery cart. Meals tend to be protein, vegetable and starch. Maybe a side of bread or home canned peppers.

Recipes that I personally use are from the web, a conglomeration of cookbooks and experience. There are three cookbooks I use more than any others: The Settlement Cookbook (1954), Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook (1968), and Craig Claiborne's New York Times Cookbook (1990). The first two are really good for simple recipes. And simple is where you need to begin if you are not an experienced cook. If you don't want to buy cookbooks try checking them out at the library or looking up recipes online.

With the older books you can make unbelievable brownies and killer cookies with just a few ingredients. These books were printed in an era before t.v. chefs and copious lists of exotic ingredients thus they work well with a basic pantry. The women who used these books did not always have the ability to run in to Publix and pick up a dozen eggs or a roasted chicken. They had to be able to substitute items and cook with what they had in the garden or preserved in the pantry.  Basic recipes could be adapted to what ever was at hand at any given time.  Simple recipes are also a great stepping stone to more exotic cuisines and fancier meals. Once you master a simple recipe the harder ones don't seem as daunting.

Good food does not have to take hours in a kitchen and 22 ingredients-three of which you can't pronounce and one you can only get at an ethnic market two towns away. Good food can be a salad of fresh greens with cut fresh tomatoes,  a seasoned grilled chicken breast sliced and placed on top of the greens and drizzled with homemade oil and vinegar dressing with bread and butter as an accompaniment.   I did NOT say homemade aged balsamic vinegar and fresh herb with extra virgin olive oil dressing.  I said oil and  vinegar as in salad oil and red wine vinegar. Much less expensive!  

Do not think you automatically have to start cooking everything from scratch. Start with a meal or two a week  then as you become more confident add another meal. Once you have perfected a series of meals that your family will eat you can then build your pantry around those items. After all it is no use buying and storing foods that may be shelf stable if your family will not eat them.

Feeding a family of 4 at McDonald's costs about $20.00 (Value Meals) and it is not healthy. This link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IGtDPG4UfI shows you just how unhealthy McDonald's can be for a person. For the same $20.00 you spent on fast food you can get a whole chicken ($4.00 - .99 per lb at Publix this week ), a 10 lb bag of potatoes (around $3.00) for oven fries, fruit or vegetable on sale -squash (.99 per lb). If you have to have soda the cheapest possible is store brand at .99 per litre.  So for roughly $10.00 you have a healthy meal.

If you are saying ..."What a roast chicken? Are you nuts? I have no time."  You can throw that same chicken into the crock pot in the morning. Set it on low and throw the oven fries together when  you get home. While the fries are cooking you can saute the squash.  Still too much? Buy one bag of frozen veg and substitute the 10 lb of potatoes for one bag of store brand fries. Roughly, the same cost. The scenario is now to put the chicken in the crock pot with seasonings in the morning. Throw the fries in the oven as soon as you get home, and microwave the frozen vegetables with a little butter. Voila! A meal on the table in minimal time that is healthier than fast food and costs less.

It takes planning and practice but with a little work you can save money and put a healthy delicious meal on the table for your family. Even better you are saving money in the process.

Happy Cooking!!!!  



  1. JC's not always here to eat and so lots of times it's just me and Hubs... and I might just be too tired after a full day to cook. There's lots to be said for "fast food at home". Grilled cheese sandwich with a tomato on the side. Fry up some sliced potatoes and scramble in a couple of eggs. Maybe some additional ingredients like onion, green peppers and some crumbled cooked sausage. Sometimes I'll just put a rump roast in the crockpot in the morning and we make sandwiches -- or if I have mashed potato blobs in the freezer, all we need to do is microwave them and heat up a canned vegetable.

    In the summer months, I don't bake anything very often. I use the crockpot, microwave, and a toaster oven a lot to keep from heating up the house. I can run the crockpot and toaster oven on the back patio unless it's windy or raining (wishful thinking). Otherwise I'll open the garage door a little and put them in the garage.

    Regarding priorities, we are on Social Security and we're worrying about what will happen to us in our situation now, what with this debt ceiling thing. It's hard to believe such a large group of vulnerable people are going to have to take a hit. We know many people who may not be able to afford to eat or even stay in their own homes if their benefits are reduced. We may be able to make it without dipping into our savings if we tighten our belts. That means when our satellite TV contract is up we may have to cancel and use the antenna that's in our attic. I may have to switch to dial-up for my internet access or disconnect altogether and just use the computers at the library. Either way I will most likely have to stop blogging.

  2. Ilene-
    I really hope that you do not have to stop blogging! I always enjoy reading your posts about your garden and home. I have learned a lot from you.

    I agree on the fast food at home concept. It is so easy to pick up a bucket of fried chicken or a burger that people forget about reheating leftovers or your example of grilled cheese. Those are even quicker than a frozen pizza.

    I hope and pray that SSI will stay intact for you and many others relying on it right now. My generation should just plan on it being gone and budget accordingly.

    T.V. I could do without. I didn't have one for years and when I did get one it was a little black and white with a crumpled foil antenna. Then I did not have cable either :). The web is something else. I would be lost without my blogs to read and national news online as well.

    Sending lots of warm wishes your way!!!!!!


Your comments are always appreciated and I love to hear what you think. Especially my overseas reader! Have a great day!