Bulk sales, quick meals You spot a 3-pound-plus hunk of boneless beef round steak in a supermarket meat case – $4.99 a pound, $15.62 total – and think: Can’t afford that.
Then you spot the store’s club-card price — $1.99 a pound, $6.23 — and decide:
A) I’ll toss it on the grill!
B) Mmm, beef Burgundy!
Did you pick A? Chat with a meat-cutter; this meat needs slow, moist cooking.
Or B? Congrats. Round steak does best in a stew.
You’ll save time and money (and eat well) by making seasonal sales, 10-for-$10 specials or bulk buys work for you.
Supermarket deals are nothing new, nor are cooks who make the most of them, but the recession has given them a much higher profile, especially as more people head into the kitchen, said Bob Vosburgh of Supermarket News, a New York-based trade magazine.
With consumers hungry for values, “supermarkets have responded by increasing the frequency of sales and the variety of the bulk buys,” he said.
Meet Mary Ostyn and Kati Neville. Their cookbooks — Ostyn’s “Family Feasts for $75 a Week” (Oxmoor House, $17.95) and Neville’s 2008 “Fix, Freeze, Feast” which she wrote with Lindsay Tkacsik — are geared toward making the most of sales.
“If you want to save money on your food bill, you need to start planning for it,” said Neville, who lives in the Portland area with her husband and two children. Which means think about what your family likes to eat, then plan meals, shopping and some time for cooking.
“When I come home with ground beef, I make a meal worth of meatballs and a meatloaf, then fry the rest in a skillet with garlic and onions,” said Ostyn, who freezes entree portions of cooked, cooled meat in zip-top bags. “Any time you can make one cooking effort apply toward several meals, you’re ahead of the game.”
Ostyn, who lives in Nampa, Idaho, with her husband and their 10 children, is a price-tag reader, who gets help from her kids at the supermarket.
“I say to my kids, ‘Can anyone beat 7.5 cents per ounce?’ “
Because this is all about saving money. Which brings us back to that $6.23 round steak: Cut in cubes, dusted with seasoned flour, fried to a nice brown and simmered an hour with onions and broth, it yielded three stew dinners—for about $2 each—one with potatoes, peas and carrots; two other portions frozen, one eventually as a mushroom-studded beef Burgundy.
Ostyn and Neville shared many other tips:
Stock the freezer with: 1-pound packages of butter (in sticks), cheese (shred first), bulk pork sausage, bacon. Be sure your freezer maintains 0 degrees Fahrenheit for long-term storage. Food stored in a refrigerator’s freezing compartment (which may not maintain 0 degrees) may be stored for shorter periods (usually, up to 3 months).
Stock the pantry with: canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, beans, dried pastas.
Buy a full pork loin: Then, said Neville, cut some into pork loin chops for the grill, cubes for kebabs, strips for stir fry, leaving a larger dinner-size chunk as a roast.
Buy chicken legs, thighs or quarters: Braise in a sauce then freeze. Ostyn cooks leg quarters in a slow cooker, then removes meat (for pastas, tacos) from bones to save freezer space. Neville stretches chicken breasts by cutting them in strips for stir fries and pastas.
What not to freeze: Don’t freeze foods with high water content (lettuce, cucumbers) or sour cream (it separates). And don’t freeze potations. Make mashed potatoes (Neville adds garlic and seasonings) or make soups and chowders and freeze the leftovers.
What not to buy: pre-cut stew meat. “You will pay much more per pound,” said Ostyn.
Salisbury Meatballs With Mushroom Sauce
Prep: 40 minutes Cook: 20 minutes
Makes: About 144 meatballs (enough for 6 entrees; 4 servings each)
6 pounds lean ground beef
10 cloves garlic, minced
4 eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups dry bread crumbs
2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup minced onion
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
2 sticks (1 cup) butter
1 1/2 pounds mushrooms, cleaned, sliced
1 cup flour
2 quarts beef or chicken broth, or water
1 quart half-and-half
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
11/2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
1. Heat oven to 500 degrees. Mix ground beef, garlic, eggs, bread crumbs, milk, parsley, onion, salt and pepper in a large bowl, using your hands to mix. Shape mixture into 1- to 11/2-inch meatballs; place close together on greased jellyroll pans. Bake 20 minutes or until instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of a meatball reads 160 degrees. Cool meatballs.
2. Meanwhile for sauce, melt butter in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add mushrooms; cook, stirring until soft, about 7 minutes. Stir in flour; cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Gradually stir in broth and half-and-half; cook, stirring, until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Whisk to make a smooth sauce. Stir in Worcestershire sauce and pepper. Cool sauce.
3. Divide cooled meatballs and sauce among 6 one-gallon freezer bags. Seal; freeze. To cook one entree, completely thaw one bag of meatballs in the refrigerator. Heat meatballs and sauce to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium heat; reduce heat to low. Cook until meatballs are heated through; do not boil. Or bake meatballs and sauce in an ungreased baking dish, uncovered, at 350 degrees until heated through, about 30 minutes.
Nutrition information per serving: 401 calories, 52 percent of calories from fat, 23 g fat, 12 g saturated fat, 140 mg cholesterol, 19 g carbohydrates, 29 g protein, 645 mg sodium, 1 g fiber
Note: the recipe also can be prepared without the sauce and frozen as directed. To serve, thaw meatballs and reheat in a favorite sauce (such as pasta sauce) and serve with pasta or on Italian bread as a sandwich.
Source: Adapted from “Fix, Freeze, Feast” by Kati Neville and Lindsay Tkacsik