Epicurious picks the best supermarket deals and pairs them with delicious dishes to impress
Forget dire economic buzzwords-we see the financial crisis in stark relief every time the cashier rings up our weekly groceries. So what can you do? Here are ten food ingredients to make the most of your budget and help fill your family up for less. You'll find hearty pantry staples, inexpensive proteins, and flavor-adders that prove that a little can go a long way. Of course, you'll need to add veggies (choose what's in season where you live for the best buys, or flash-frozen varieties, which are loaded with nutrients) and other fixings to round out meals. Before you even hit the supermarket, be sure to check out our Budget Shopping Tips and money-saving posts in our blog.
(73¢ per pound for white potatoes)*
The simple spud sure is versatile: Use low-starch waxy ones, such as red-skinned types, for dishes where they must hold their shape, like potato salad or scalloped potatoes. High-starch russets are great for baking or for airy mashed potatoes. Store spuds in a cool, dark place for up to several weeks. Exposure to light is what turns them green-if that happens, simply cut off the bitter green sections before cooking. Stretch your food budget and cut fat by using potato instead of cream as a base for thick, smooth chowders, or try unusual dishes such as potato nachos or potato lasagna.
Recipes to try:
New England-Style Cod and Potato Cakes with Tartar Sauce
Portobello Mushrooms Stuffed with Parmesan Whipped Potatoes
Cheddar and Mashed Potato Gratin
Grilled Sweet Potatoes with Lime Cilantro Vinaigrette
see more potato recipes ›
(86¢ per pound for white long-grain, uncooked rice; $1.23 for brown rice)
White rice may be a familiar and inexpensive starch, but brown rice (just a few extra cents per pound) is healthier, nuttier, and has three times the fiber of white rice. Better yet, it can be used in almost any recipe calling for white rice. Make sure you budget for extra time, though, as it does take longer to cook. Brown rice can stretch meatball or meatloaf mixtures, make crispy rice cakes, or create the base for a hearty pilaf. Bulk-buying rice is an easy way to cut costs. It should be stored in a well-sealed container. White rice lasts, but the bran in brown rice will turn rancid after about six months. Refrigerating or freezing uncooked rice will make it last longer.
($1.19 per pound for spaghetti and macaroni)
Everyone has a box of dry pasta in the pantry. In addition to its convenience, price, and long shelf life (you can store it for up to a year), pasta comes in a variety of shapes and flours. Some brands have added fiber, others are made from fortified white flour; whole-wheat pasta and couscous are also healthy choices. Buy it when it's on sale, then set aside a day to prepare several batches of ziti or lasagna; baked pasta dishes like these freeze well, so just thaw a pan as you need it and throw it in the oven for a fast, filling dinner. Don't know your cavatelli from your riccioli? Check out our handy visual guide to pastas.
($1.21 per pound for fresh, whole chicken)
Buying a whole bird is far more cost-effective than purchasing individual parts. Our technique video illustrates how to break them up. While the breast is moist and tender, you can slow-cook the thighs and legs, boil the bones for a delicious soup stock, and turn extra meat into a hearty curry or chili. Leftover cooked chicken can be stored in the fridge for three to five days, according to the USDA. Buying in bulk helps cut the cost, too. Either split a pack with friends, or freeze what you want to save for later use. Wrap the meat in foil, plastic wrap, or freezer paper, and then place in a freezer bag to prevent freezer burn.
($1.34 per pound for dry legumes)
Canned beans are a time-saver, but you can cut costs-and sodium intake-by purchasing dried beans. Just soak them overnight in a couple of inches of cold water before cooking (if you're worried about gassiness, discard the soaking water). Don't add salt; it prevents them from absorbing water. How do you know when they're rehydrated? When they don't absorb any more water, and a bean sliced in half no longer looks opaque. In a rush? Pop them in a pot, immerse in water, boil for three minutes, then cover the pot and let them soak for an hour. (No matter what, you still need to boil the beans for an hour or two until they're soft.) You can use beans in great soups, as a filler in meatloaf or chili, or to stretch casseroles. Protein-packed and high in fiber, they make you feel full long after you eat them.
($1.40 per pound for Red Delicious)
Apple varieties and prices fluctuate by season (and depending on where you get your fruit), yet apples are generally a good buy and will last for up to a month, depending on the variety, when kept in a cool, dry place with a constant temperature. Tip: Put them in the fridge to make them last longer. If apples are on sale, buy them up and cook them into sauce; you can freeze mini portions in muffin tins and then put them together in a freezer bag so you can take out one or two at a time. Apple sauce, jams, and preserves are great ways to use imperfect apples, and you'll often find those on the sale shelf in the supermarket.
7. Canned Tuna
(Chunk light in water or oil, 89 cents to 95 cents; albacore in oil or water, $1.49 to $1.89)
While you can't beat the taste of fresh fish, canned tuna wins over folks for its price and convenience. You may keep cans on your pantry shelf for up to three years, though check the date and make sure the tin has no dents (a leak could let air in and thus spoil the food). Shelf life is the same whether the fish is packed in oil or water. Some fish varieties are on the endangered list, but U.S. and Canadian albacore tuna is fine to eat without guilt, according to the Environmental Defense Fund's Seafood Selector. And note: One or two cans will go a long way toward feeding four if you find the right recipes.
Recipes to try:
Tuna Noodle Casserole with Mushrooms and Fresh Herbs
Crunchy Tuna Salad
Grilled Swiss Cheese, Tuna, and Red Pepper Sandwiches
Linguine with Tuna, Capers, and Raisins
see more tuna recipes ›
($1.85 per dozen grade A large eggs)
Eggs star in recipes sweet and savory, but behind the scenes, they're used to bind other ingredients and as a leavener. Store eggs in their carton so they don't absorb smells from other foods-it's best to keep them in the body of the fridge rather than on the door, so their temperature is constant. Use them by the "best by" date on the box. Cracked too many eggs? Use them within two to four days. Hard-boiled eggs can be kept in their shell for up to a week. Use leftovers within four days. Eggs on sale? Buy them up! You can freeze beaten eggs for up to three months (when you've defrosted them, simply add three tablespoons of the liquid for each egg called for in a recipe). Thaw frozen egg in the fridge and use immediately.
($5.02 per pound for natural cheddar cheese)
Cheese adds flavor, along with protein and calcium, and you don't need much to get a noticeable boost (extra-sharp varieties are a good buy). Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano are great for grating; freeze the rinds to add rich, earthy flavor to soup stock. It's much cheaper to buy block cheese and grate it yourself, and if you buy in bulk, just chop the cheese into handy sizes and freeze for up to three months. Use it to jazz up pasta, bean chili, or baked potatoes, or pack a few cubes along with crackers for lunch.
10. Flank Steak
($7.29 per pound)
Though leaner than many finer cuts of beef, flank steak tastes best when dry rubs and marinades have been applied. Thinly sliced against the grain, a little flank steak will go a long way. These inexpensive steaks can be broiled or grilled, but you must be careful not to overcook them or they will become dry. Another option: Spread stuffing on the steak then roll it up to bake. Got leftovers? Treat yourself to a tasty sandwich for lunch, or toss pieces in with veggies and rice or noodles for an easy, quick stir-fry.
Recipes to try:
Grilled Flank Steak with Rosemary
Spinach and Carrot Stuffed Flank Steak
Asian Steak and Noodle Salad
Steak Sandwiches with Horseradish Mustard Butter and Watercress
see more flank steak recipes ›
* Price information for average national prices during the month of October 2008 is taken from the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Tuna price ranges come from Starkist.
By Joanne Camas
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