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How to Become a Frugal Foodie

Nancy Trejos

I love throwing dinner parties, but they can get expensive. I once co-hosted one at my apartment with a dear friend. He designed the menu: a Sunday roast. When the butcher at Whole Foods said our five-pound roast would cost us about $80, I turned to my friend and asked: “Why can’t we just make chicken?” He insisted on the roast. I told him I simply could not afford it. He offered to pay. We had a lovely Sunday roast.

However, it is possible to put out a fantastic spread without compromising your budget. Another friend, Christina Davidson, convinced me of that. She and a small group of friends in D.C. have dubbed themselves “frugalicious foodies” because they manage to throw dinner parties on a shoestring budget. Her parties have become so popular that she started a blog called Feedthemasses.org, a how-to-guide on inexpensive dinners.

Here’s their secret, which they have agreed to share with everyone: They don’t have recipes. They have principles. Here are a few of them:

Burn your Cookbooks. Don’t look at a recipe and create a shopping list of items you won’t use again. There’s probably a lot you can do with what you already have in your fridge. Or with what you can get on sale at your local grocery store. “Mario Batali doesn’t know what’s on sale at your grocery store this week,” Christina said.

Stock Your Kitchen: Keep your basic cooking supplies around: Olive oil, vegetable oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, soy sauce, honey, flour, brown sugar, corn starch, baking soda and powder, and yeast. Also have eggs, canned tomatoes, frozen vegetables, garlic, olives, dried fruit, nuts, beans, pasta and rice. You can get a lot of these supplies for much less at ethnic grocery stores. A tiny bottle of curry powder that is $4 at the supermarket is $6.99 a pound at the Indian grocery store. Pick up some pine nuts and chili paste at the Korean market, some chorizo at the Mexican bodega, and some goat from the Pakistani halal butcher.

Stop wasting perfectly good food. Christina threw a party on Election night 2008. One of the desserts she served was banana bread, which she made with overly ripe bananas she had lying around her kitchen. “Never waste bananas,” Christina told me. Remember, she said, you can freeze food. “Peel, chop, grate, or dice into a convenient form, stick in a bag and toss in the freezer,” Christina wrote on her blog. “Then you’ll have frozen fruit anytime you want a smoothie, sliced peaches for cobbler, apples for pie. When you want to make zucchini fritters later, you’ll have grated zucchini ready to go.”

Grow and make your own. Save the bones and make your own chicken or beef stock which generally costs $3 for 32 ounces. Christina said she makes a 10-quart pot of stock for less than $3 in ingredients. Even though she lives in a small apartment in D.C., she grows her own herbs outside her windowsill. She also makes her own salad dressings, marinades, hummus and a variety of sauces. “You just have to use a little creativity and imagination,” she said.

Are you also a frugal foodie? If so, want to share some of your tips?

By Nancy Trejos  |  April 13, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Bargains , Nancy Trejos  
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Comments

Now I'm bummed Christina has never invited me to dinner. Why not mention our Costco run? Or did we go over budget....? Nice post! JNS

Posted by: jnewtonsmall | April 13, 2009 10:01 AM | Report abuse

Instead of burning your cookbooks, you could just use the RIGHT cookbooks. The Cook's Illustrated "Best Recipe" series is full of very basic recipes that don't require a lot of specialty ingredients, but solid instructions on how to make standard things that include enough information that you can figure out how to make substitutions for what you have on hand.

Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" is also quite good- most of the "recipes" are just basics that build on other basics. An inexperienced cook needs SOME kind of guide, but buying some celebrity chef's latest tome isn't the right kind.

Posted by: tiffanyjoy | April 13, 2009 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Keep a bag for left=over veggies in the freezer. Tiny bits of this and that. If you want, do another bag for bones. Before long, you'll have ingredients for a wonderful soup. And don't toss the rind from your Parmesan cheese. Freeze it, too. Toss it into the soup pot. Remove it before serving. Its flavor will have given a richness to the broth.

Posted by: kayrob1 | April 13, 2009 6:16 PM | Report abuse

I pretty much follow the same principles but use recipes. We eat a lot of Asian and Mexican food so I use up all of the groceries. Any leftover groceries go into a creative lunch for myself or an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink salad at the end of the week. I also have the added challenge of making a delicious and interesting meal that doesn't require a lot of modification for a toddler, which means we make a lot of stews and soups. In those cases, I will make a huge pot and freeze the leftovers.

Posted by: mediajunky | April 13, 2009 10:39 PM | Report abuse

Soups are good. Learn how to make a cream base and you are really all set - any vegetable or even leftover dish can be transformed into a delicious soup! Just melt a few T. of butter/margarine in a saucepan over medium low heat, stir in 2 T. flour to make a paste, then stir 2-4 cups of your liquid -- whether stock, water, or some milk -- to thicken slightly, low heat. Stir in any leftover vegetables, rice, meat chunks. Season to taste, and you have a delightful soup every time! I serve this at least once a week, and it is a fun way to use leftovers. It is nice to add some fresh spinach, too. Most people tell me they would pay $6/bowl for this "soup of the day" in a restaurant!

Posted by: rjrjj | April 14, 2009 8:56 AM | Report abuse

Breakfast for dinner. Scrambled eggs, french toast, creamed chipped beef on toast/noodles/rice.All are economical ideas.

Posted by: tbva | April 14, 2009 5:23 PM | Report abuse

I just bought a frozen, full-on, 18-lb. Thanksgiving turkey at Safeway for $7.

Ergo, spontaneous dinner on Sunday for 7 friends is at my house.

Yams, stuffing, green beans and a can o' cranberry will add about $15 to the total.

Friends are bringing wine and dessert.

FYI -- if you're on a budget? Whole Paycheck ain't the place to shop.

Posted by: gettingdizzy1 | April 15, 2009 6:32 PM | Report abuse

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