Last week-end I attended a cookery class at The Black Cat Café & Bakery, a popular spot in the village of Sharon Springs, New York. Owner Tony Daou recently remodelled the café’s second floor, adding a professional kitchen for classes as well as walls sheathed in a swell hand-blocked wallpaper by Adelphi Paper Hangings, another local business. (The custom-colour pattern is Spiral Willow, a 1920s French design you can see on the company’s website.) The teacher of the class was Judith Choate, author of more than 60 cookery books, everything from a primer on pastry-making to a soul-food collaboration with Patti LaBelle. She and her husband spend week-ends in the area and are Black Cat patrons. And though “The Aesthete Cooks” focusses on explorations of vintage cookery books, ie usually those published prior to 1970, I found the brochure Judith Choate handed out before the class to be so incredibly practical that its contents should be shared.
The class was entitled “Eat Better, Spend Less” and needs no more explanation than that. But her discussion of how to shop in order to make the most of your food budget was valuable. Here are Choate’s eight smart suggestions. Some you likely already know; others might come as a surprise; all should be tacked up in the kitchen as a daily guide.
1. Make-ahead meals.
Make-ahead meals are simply the most economical way to feed your family and to minimize kitchen time for the cook. They require purchasing in bulk and creating a number of meals out of one main ingredient. This is an especially great tactic when the main ingredient is purchased on sale or discounted at a big box store.
2. Think seasonally and locally.
Almost all produce is less expensive when purchased during its season, particularly when found at local markets or farm stands. As well, many chain supermarkets now feature homegrown products as a way to support community farmers, cheese maker, bakers, and so forth. Many meat products are also less expensive during a particular season; think of lamb in the spring or turkey around the fall and winter holidays.
3. Think outside the normal dinner box.
You don’t have to have the traditional protein, starch, and veggie on every plate every night. Think about a nutritious frittata, a mixed-up salad, unusual grains tossed with legumes or vegetables. And what about breakfast for dinner? Multigrain waffles with sautéed mushrooms instead of sweet waffles with maple syrup—although when I was a child sweet waffles were my special dinner treat and there’s no reason they still can’t be.
4. Use less animal protein.
If you have a family of meat eaters begin to, at the least, serve smaller portions. Introduce ethnic meals that use less meal with wonderfully tasty success. I’m not a great lover of tofu, but have learned to like it well enough to use it often in place of meat. There are a multitude of ways to heighten flavour and satisfy the palate without piling on animal-based proteins.
5. Never throw food away.
As soon as your meal is over, prepare any leftovers for use in another meal, even if it’s just a few vegetables that can be tossed into tomorrow’s salad or a bit of meat that can be chopped up to make a sandwich. It takes just a moment to do—the same time it takes to scrape the plate into the garbage.
6. Keep a well-stocked pantry.
This is probably one of the most important aids to saving money while preparing great meals. … A well-stocked pantry eliminates last-minute, impulse shopping as well as gives you the ingredients to make the most with what you have on hand.
7. Prepare foods you enjoy.
Although it always makes sense to begin with ingredients and dishes you and your family enjoy, sneak new, interesting and cost-effective ingredients into the norm as a way of expanding your opportunities to create less expensive meals.
8. Do peruse local newspaper ads.
Although you may not have the time to cut coupons or go from store to store on a bargain hunt, do check supermarket ads as many stores will often feature the same “specials” which will help trigger some plan-ahead ideas for the week’s or month’s meals.