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Cheap. Fast. Good!by Beverly Mills
Eating Like a Big Spender for Just a Few Dollars
We're the Desperation Dinners Duo, and for the past decade, we have concentrated our energy on finding every trick and technique imaginable for saving time in the kitchen. The results have been published in two Desperation Dinners cookbooks, on our Web site, and in our syndicated newspaper column. A few years ago, we both encountered desperation of a different sort. Like many people, we watched our household expenses spin out of control while our retirement accounts took a dive and college savings accounts dwindled. Since then, we've weathered corporate downsizing and job changes, and, at times, we've worried whether the checkbook would balance.
While we realized that we were fortunate to still have investments to fret over and jobs to go to, the economic downturn jabbing at us—and at our friends and relatives—presented significant challenges. And then it hit us: What would happen if we shifted our energies a bit and started concentrating on saving money in the kitchen, in addition to time?
We went in looking for pennies, but what we found were dollars. After spending months researching every avenue we could find, developing thrifty recipes, and rethinking our eating habits, we hold these four truths to be self-evident:
First, saving money in the kitchen is as simple as one four-letter word: Cook. Yes, our Desperation Dinners cookbooks strongly advocate cooking, but good times allowed for plenty of dinners out, too. When we started to examine just a couple of months' worth of restaurant bills (including fast-food drive-through and pizza delivery), we were shocked. And we weren't alone. The average U.S. family of four speds nearly $240 a month eating out. In a typical year, Americans eat 70 billion meals at 870,000 restaurants. The good news was that, since we were spending so much eating out, we knew we could save all the more by eating more often at home. What we quickly figured out was that cooking amazing meals at home—even on a budget—is as basic as getting a plan, picking a recipe, and heating up the stove.
Saving money in the kitchen isn't really about pinching pennies, and, truthfully, we just weren't motivated to reuse tea bags and wash out used plastic storage bags. For us, saving money in the kitchen is about good stewardship— making wise buying decisions and then making the most of the ingredients once we get them home. We were startled to discover that the average American household throws away 470 pounds of food every year and that as much as 12 percent of purchased grocery items are never used. Guilty? You bet, and we vowed to change our wasteful ways. Fortunately, it's easy to do, and we've detailed exactly how, step by step, in the following pages.
The second truth is probably the most important: It's essential to cook meals that you're going to enjoy. Otherwise, that's money and time right down the garbage disposal. When we started telling family and friends that our next project would be a budget cookbook, we were a little surprised by their reaction. There seemed to be a definite bias against the idea of thrifty food: "You eat a lot of bean and rice, right?" The answer is, yes, we do eat some beans, but we also feast on the likes of Chicken and Apples with Dijon Cream, Moroccan Meatballs over Couscous, Marmalade-Glazed Ham, Stuffed Peppers with Kielbasa Rice, Beef Stew à la Guatemala, and Catfish with a Pecan Crust. And when we do eat beans, we turn them into a gourmet delight. Check out our Sassy Chickpea Burgers with Lemon Aïoli, Very Veggie Lentil Chili, and "Barbecued" Chicken and Black Bean Burritos.
Just in case you're dubious, too, we'd like to make one guarantee: Food doesn't have to cost a fortune to be wonderful! When it comes to cooking, spending a lot of money does not ensure that your soup, pasta sauce, or skillet meal will be delicious. And the opposite is also true: It doesn't take a lot of money to produce amazing meals that you'll be proud to serve to your family, friends, and guests. If you're like us, eating well—really well—is a priority, but it just doesn't need to cost so much.
As for the third essential truth: Time is a key ingredient. We will always be the Desperation Dinners Duo, and, probably much like yours, our hectic lives haven't slowed down for a minute. Our recipes must be realistic, easy, and relatively quick to prepare so that, when we're tired or rushed, we won't be forced to eat an expensive meal out or buy costly prepared foods.
The minute you walk through the kitchen door to start dinner, you're automatically saving money. You just need to decide how much money you want to save. After spending months slashing our own food expenses, we landed on our fourth and final esential truth: The amount of money saved depends on a willingness to take the necessary steps. For example, the fewer prepped foods we buy, the more money we pocket. The more cooking steps we do ourselves, the more we enhance the budget's bottom line. The more carefully we shop and the more carefully we go out of our way to bag a bargain or clip a coupon, the fatter the wallet is likely to get.
In the following pages, we'll cover each detail of these steps toward creating a smarter, more economical kitchen. Then you can experiment to find what works for you. When all is said and done, this book is simply about making choices. We'll give you the information and the recipes; you need to make smart and realistic ones that fit whatever time you have and whatever efforts you're willing to make. But remember that you don't need to spend half a day in the kitchen to eat well yet save money. So, enough said. Let's get started.
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Cooking and Food » Quick and Easy » Budget Cooking
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