One place that I have learned to really stretch food dollars in with flavoring (spices, bases, and herbs). In many cases a little bit of a more “expensive” ingredient can really improve a dish’s flavor. Here are a few examples:
Herbs: I use fresh or frozen whenever possible. My local Farmer’s Market (Byrd House Market) has several vendors who sell generous quantities of herbs for $1. I usually get basil, thyme, and sage as well as cilantro and parsley. Generally one bunch of each is enough to flavor all of our meals for the week. What doesn’t get used gets added to our dry stocks (thyme, sage) or frozen (basil).? Basil in particular is very volatile so freezing it works much better than drying it.
Dry Mushrooms: You can find good quality dry mushrooms in stores or (usually a better deal) on the internet. I especially like to get Dried Pieces of Mushroom. These are the left-over broken bits from the drying and packaging process. They are just as tasty as the more expensive whole dried mushrooms, they just don’t look as nice. I use a small handful, re-hydrated in hot/boiling water and add the water to the dish as well. This technique adds much more depth to a dish than canned mushrooms.
Frozen Pureed Tomatoes and Peppers: I have a number of methods for doing this, each adds something different to a dish. Sometimes I simply wash and puree tomatoes or peppers then freeze them in ice cube trays or in large spoonfuls on a cookie sheet. Once they are frozen I remove them and store in bags in the freezer.
Basically I try to look at the grocery store and farmer?s market to see what I can buy relatively cheaply in season then ?cure? or preserve in some way to make it into a convenience food or ingredient.
A few other things I do:
Slice and freeze fruit in season for later use in breads, pies and cakes. Fruits that work well include: apples, peaches, strawberries and bananas.
Make large batches of rataouille (tomato, eggplant, summer squash, onions cooked until soft) frozen in 1 cup portions. This makes a good addition to winter soups and casseroles as well as adding a heartier touch to pasta sauce.
With a little effort and imagination, many fruits and vegetables can be bought on sale then preserved for easy use in future meals. They will enhance your diet with both flavor and nutrition while stretching your food dollars.