My new favorite thing to do at dinnertime is to announce how inexpensive the meal is. Fortunately, the future husband tolerates this pretty well. Cooking dinner is my second favorite time of the day (eating dinner is my favorite!). I love having a bit of wine, chopping up ingredients, and pouring over the recipe to make sure that everything is just right. When I lived alone, I had a terrible fast food habit. Many nights it was so easy to just pick up a sandwich rather than face cooking or doing dishes. Of course, I had great intentions to cook, so that meant that many weeks, I spent money on groceries I didn’t use AND fast food. When we moved in together, I was determined to hone my skills, so I’d usually cook the featured dish in Gourmet or Cooking Light or my favorite cookbook. We were eating really well, but I was also always running to the store for some fancy ingredient. I did eat leftovers for lunch some and stretched things out with a soup night or salad night each week, but I was still spending far too much money.
Now that I’m a more confident cook, I’m trying to become a frugal one as well. I don’t know about you, but I grew up with PBS shows on TV every Saturday morning. Mom would zoom around the house cleaning, I would half-heartedly try to help, and all the while Julia Child would be encouraging us in the background. One of my favorite shows was The Frugal Gourmet . I don’t think I really understood what “frugal” meant when I was young, but he was always so excited about whatever he was cooking. Mom certainly understood what “frugal” meant and produced many amazing dinners on a shoestring. We also only went to the grocery store once a week, so at the end of the week, there were some slim pickings. Grocery day was great because the pantry was suddenly full of all my favorites again, like Doritios and Cherry 7-UP and Twizzlers. (Hey, I was a kid!)
Now that I’m more conscious of our food budget, I’m taking a page out of Mom’s book and trying to shop once a week and eat up what we have. So, that’s where I was Monday night. I knew we had a frozen pizza, some spinach, a can of tomatoes, rice, and spaghetti. While hiking in the afternoon, I decided to just do a simple pasta dish with the tomatoes and sautéed spinach. I got home and pulled out Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything for advice. Flipping through the pasta pages, I came across “mint” pesto.
“Mint” pesto! Genius! My one herb that survived the winter indoors was mint. The plant is producing like crazy, so much so that I threw away the last pruning. All I needed for the pesto was mint, garlic, walnuts, and oil. I had some leftover walnut oil from my Martha Stewart holiday menu, so I decided to use that. I also whipped up some rye crackers, put out the leftover brie from our party, and heated up some frozen corn that I had saved from our local farm’s summer harvest. Suddenly, at the end of the grocery cycle, we had ourselves a feast, plus plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day.
I announced at dinner that it only cost us $2.89 because I used the last of our spaghetti and Italian cheese. So, I put those on the list for this week’s grocery trip. I can’t believe we got four servings of delicious food for what I used to spend on one yucky fast-food sandwich. Also, I have a great new use for my seemingly endless supply of mint. I tell you, that night, I definitely felt like I could give the Frugal Gourmet a run for his money.