Advice abounds on how to save in kitchen

March 11, 2009|By ROB KASPER

I snickered when my wife mentioned that Gourmet magazine had begun offering advice on what to do with leftovers. "What are they recommending?" I asked. "Feeding them to the staff?"

Actually, the March issue of the magazine tells how to roast two chickens to make four meals. For me it was a sign that Gourmet, a magazine long associated with high living, was adjusting to the new frugality.

These days, frugal is fashionable, cheap is chic and "inexpensive entertaining" is as popular as wearing a Snuggie.

With the bad economic times come large doses of advice on how to save money in the kitchen. Some of them, like the idea of roasting two chickens at once, probably make sense. But some money-saving tips that I found on various Web sites seem pretty shaky.

Is it really worth it, for example, to make your own ice by filling empty milk jugs with water, then breaking up the "block ice" with a hammer? I don't think so.

Isn't there at least one leftover out there - a nub of tired beef, the backbone of a spent fish - that should be tossed in the trash, and not in a pot to make tomorrow's soup? If so, I couldn't find it.

Do we really have to return to the reign of cream of mushroom soup? When we were first married, my wife and I used to cook ground beef, a package of frozen french fries and cream of mushroom soup in a loaf pan. Trust me, those were not meals you want to revisit.

Moreover, kitchen advice is springing up in unlikely places. The other day, for instance, I was on a Web site sponsored by Uniroyal, but instead of a video instructing me when to rotate my tires, I found one telling me how to entertain on a budget. Kimberly Danger, founder of Mommysavers.com, a Web site devoted to tips on frugality, has teamed with the tire maker to "get more mileage out of the family budget." In her video, she talked about how buying solid-color tablecloths on sale and using a Crock-Pot were keys to putting on a good, cheap party.

I don't know much about tablecloth hues, but I am quite familiar with Crock-Pot cookery. Filling it is, festive it isn't. Granted, these are gray days, but I say let's not make the time at the table any duller than we have to.

This might be the decade of the "lovable lentil," as a post on Mommysavers.com suggested, but I hope not. I am not ready to invite this chewy legume to my dinner table every night. I prefer the company of the baked potato, which Jane Brody stood up for the other day in a column in The New York Times about eating well in hard times.

Reading about money-saving tips is like standing in quicksand. If you hang around long enough, you are soon up to your neck. While at first I was skeptical of these pointers, I soon found myself agreeing with the wisdom of some, and wanting to add my own penny-pinching two cents to the dialogue. When one tipster suggested using the leftover roast chicken from supper to make sandwiches for lunch, I shouted, "Yes!"

My mind flashed to the long line of customers I regularly see at supermarket deli counters waiting to buy sliced turkey. I want to tell them: "Buy a turkey breast and cook it. It is much cheaper!" But instead, I hold my peace and push my shopping cart toward the poultry counter. There, I notice the cheapest birds are usually the biggest ones and the ones that - unlike the boneless, skinless pieces - have had no surgery.

Buying a big hunk of something, or buying in bulk, is also back in vogue. I say back because years ago, when my wife and I were growing up in the Midwest, it was common for families to buy "a side of beef" - in effect, half of a steer - and have it stored at the local meat locker. Meat lockers are hard to find these days, but slabs of meat are sold at warehouse stores.

Having purchased a piece of meat the size of a mastodon, you have to cut it into smaller, more manageable pieces. To do that, you need a meat slicer. The folks at Chef's Choice, who happen to sell such equipment, say their studies show that the savings from buying lunch meat in bulk can make up for the cost, $99 to $500, of acquiring a meat slicer. So to save money, you have to spend it, unless, of course, you use the old-fashioned method: a knife and elbow grease.

That kind of circular logic comes in handy if, like me, you grow vegetables in a garden. You smirk when heirloom tomatoes like the ones in your garden sell for $3 a pound in the farmers' market. But if you are smart, you never calculate the money and time you spent getting the crop from seedlings to the table. In my experience, gardening only "costs out" if you figure in funds that, had you not been rolling in the dirt, would have gone to a psychiatrist.

In the end, I think your opinion of the validity of money-saving kitchen tips often depends on your mood. Suggestions that once seemed flaky can later become appealing. Take, for example, the tip of saving money by washing and reusing plastic storage bags. Initially, I scoffed at it. But after a week when the stock market dropped to a record low and a newspaper died in Denver, washing baggies, especially the big, resealable ones, seemed to make sense. I bet I could even store leftover chicken, from the Gourmet recipe, in one.

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