Sunday, August 9, 2009

Cutting Your Grocery Bill - The Series - Episode 11

I'm getting back on track with the grocery bill series, and hopefully I'll wrap it up soon! :) How about two more tips today? Here they are:

Use your Crock Pot! Even the cheapest cut of beef comes out of a Crock Pot tender and moist. You can also spend 10 minutes in the morning putting everything in the Pot and when you come home that evening, dinner is ready to go. This is another way to avoid the temptation to go out and grab a meal.

Make ground beef go further than you thought - if the recipe calls for 1 1/2 lbs. of ground beef, chances are you will be fine with just a pound. Another trick is to mix healthy fillers into the ground meat to stretch it further. I've made sloppy joes and pizza pockets with cooked bulgur mixed in with the beef and the kids never even knew! Rice is another great way to stretch ground meat, and makes chicken taco filling go further, too.

I've got my Crock Pot going today, and plan to use it at least once more this week. While cooking in the Crock Pot is incredibly convenient (throw your ingredients in early in the day and it's ready at dinner time), using the slow cooking process also allows you to make wonderful, tender meat from much less expensive cuts. I frequently take inexpensive cuts of steak and cook them all day with a can of diced tomatoes or a can of cream of mushroom soup. We have incredibly moist meat for dinner that just falls apart!

Another appeal to the Crock Pot is its versatility. You can just throw together what you have and out comes dinner. If you discover you forgot to thaw your meat, no problem! You can simply throw the frozen meat in the crock and allow a little extra time for cooking. When I worked, I almost always put in frozen meat and allowed it all day to cook to perfection. Tonight's dinner is an experiment. I have pork chops and a cup of orange juice in the pot right now, and about an hour before dinner, I plan to add sliced peaches and thicken the orange sauce with a bit of cornstarch and cold water. It's a non-recipe dinner, but I know we love orange-apricot pork chops on the grill, so I bet we enjoy this, too!

Last year, a blogger named Stephanie O'Dea committed to using her Crock Pot every day for the entire year. She has a blog filled with wonderful and unique recipes. Check it out here. The recipe she has that I use most frequently is Rotisserie Style Chicken. I generally wrap potatoes in the foil that goes under the chicken for an easy meal.

If you don't use your slow cooker, you really should try it. A few minutes in the morning can result in a lot of time saved in the evening, and we all know time is money. :) Check out Stephanie's blog or do a Swagbucks search for Crock Pot recipes and get started!

Now, let's briefly visit ground beef. The tip, as written, has most of the information, so I will only elaborate a bit (shocking for me, I know!). I never use the amount of ground beef called for in recipes. Generally speaking, I use between a half-pound and a pound per full meal, even if the original recipe calls for a pound or more. Meat loaf is an exception, but even that gets stretched with uncooked oats when I prepare it. I love making sloppy joes and bierocks with cooked bulgur mixed in with the hamburger, and Minute Rice has a wonderful recipe for chicken taco filling that I have used with great results even substituting shredded chicken for the ground. Chances are, your family will never think twice about the ingredients being "filler." My kids, who "hate" bulgur, don't even know that I sneak it into some of their favorite dishes!

So, now you hopefully have some new perspective on cutting your meat budget. What other tips can you share? Please leave a comment!

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