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Cooking for a Week on a Budget

Cooking has become a dying art for parts of our communities and for a variety of reasons. Busy schedules and other life style issues have placed constraints on our time and it often becomes easier to simply buy fast food or dine out.

For others, cooking has very much become a challenge. This is especially true if you have a family. Higher food costs, fuel costs, mortgage payments etc have stretched our budgets to the breaking point.

So what to do? As parents and cooks, we all want to have our families eating healthy and of course, we still want to provide that occasional sweet treat for a job well done at school or simply out of love.

In this article, I will try to offer a few common sense tips to help you along. I was involved in the food business for twenty plus years and one of the most important things I learned over the years is to let your imagination be your assistant. What I mean by that is this; when cooking on a budget, there are several things we can do to stretch our food dollars and still prepare great tasting meals.

The first, and most important, is to shop smart. When you can, buy in bulk as this generally offers a greater savings. Avoid getting caught up in the “sale wars”. Store coupons most certainly save you money, but always consider before hand if you are really going to be saving money if you have to drive from store A to B to C to use these coupons. Another thing to keep in mind is the generic food line. This I have found to be mostly a trial and error affair. There are some really good generic products and then there are some that just don’t cut the mustard if you will.

Before you go shopping, take a moment and really look at what you are shopping for. Menu planning can save you money without you even knowing. Stores are set up for impulse sales and it is easy to grab that little extra item. Having a weekly menu along with a shopping list will help you avoid these pitfalls.

Secondly, be creative. A good imagination and a little love can lead you to some very affordable and delicious meals. One of the most useful products I buy for home is cream of celery soup or cream of mushroom either as a box mix or in a can. These serve as the base for casseroles, potato bake, scalloped potatoes and much, much more.

A simple hot dish using cream of mushroom soup would include a pound of ground beef, a diced small onion, mixed vegetable, (I prefer using frozen) and your favorite cooked noodles. In a skillet brown off the ground beef with the diced onion, drain well. Add the soup and dilute as directed, add your mixed vegetables and gently simmer until the vegetables are tender. Finally add your cooked noodles and heat through. Season with salt and pepper as desired. Simple, tasty and a good way to stretch your food dollar.

Cream of celery soup makes an excellent potato and vegetable bake. To add a little extra touch, try adding shredded cheddar cheese. Over all though, I think my favorite use of cream of celery soup is for making scalloped potatoes. This recipe makes a lot and is ideal for a large family.

Scalloped Potatoes:

3 to 4 pounds of peeled and slice potatoes.
1 small onion, diced
1 can cream of celery soup + can of water
1 can evaporated milk
1 ham steak, cut into cubes
4-6 strips of bacon
Salt and pepper

In a deep baking dish, place a layer of potatoes, ham and chopped onion, sprinkle with flour, lightly salt and pepper. Continue this until layering until you have used all of the sliced potatoes. Pour cream of celery soup, evaporated milk and water over the top of your potatoes. Don’t worry about stirring, it will all come together as it cooks. Top this with the bacon strips. Cover and bake on cookie pan (this is just a precaution in case the potatoes boil over in the oven) until potatoes are tender. Remove lid and let the bacon brown up a bit.

Another simple and delicious meal would use two cans cream of chicken soup, left over chicken, de-boned and cut into cubes. Your favorite style of rice prepared as directed and a light and fluffy dumpling recipe. Simply prepare the soup as directed, add the cubed chicken. Bring to a gentle boil. Drop your dumplings by the spoonful into the soup, cooking as directed until done. Serve along with your favorite vegetable on the side if you wish.

Well, that is all for me today. Remember, don’t be afraid to use your imagination or combinations that one might not normally associate with a certain recipe.


How I Stay Fit: Holistic Nutritionist Joy McCarthy

Joy McCarthy is a registered holistic nutritionist with her own bustling biz in downtown Toronto – Joyous Health. With a passion for all things local, organic and joyous, when she isn’t working Joy is usually riding her bike or at the St. Lawrence Market searching for the perfect organic apples. She believes that feeling fabulous is achievable when you eat well and live well.

As Joy is the resident healthy and delicious recipe contributor, we, of course, have to ask, just how healthy are you, Joy?

Q: What does your exercise routine look like?

A: I love to ride my bike everywhere. I save on gas and do my part to lessen my carbon footprint. I also have a road bike (my pretty “bianchi”) that I do harder “training” rides outside of the city. I’m a competitive runner and wherever my bike can’t take me, my legs can! Resistance training keeps my confidence up and my body strong. I aim for twice a week at least, but this doesn’t always happen.

Q: Do you make an effort to maintain a healthy diet?

A: Absolutely! When I was in my early twenties I suffered from hormonal imbalance, which really impacted my overall well-being. I thought I was eating really “clean” and balanced, however, when I started to educate myself I realized that I was missing certain nutrients. It wasn’t until I corrected my diet that I was able to heal from my illness and feel joyous again! My favourite treat is organic dark chocolate, I don’t go a week without it!

Q: Do you face any challenges in your efforts to maintain a healthy lifestyle?

A: For sure, social situations sometimes present a challenge. I’m not a vegan or a vegetarian, but I don’t eat junk food, fried foods or anything processed. If someone is having a dinner party, I will bring something healthy to contribute to the meal.

Q: What do you have for breakfast every day?

A: I’m a self-professed foodie, so what I eat for breakfast changes everyday. My fave weekday breakie is brown rice toast (pecan & raisins) with almond butter jasmine green tea and an apple. For brunch on the weekends I LOVE banana nut pancakes from Fresh on Queen West.

Q: What is your favourite thing to cook when you have a cold?

A: I’m a bit of a health-nut and I honestly cannot remember the last time I had a cold. Yes, I’m serious! Hypothetically speaking though, if I was to get a cold I would want my mom’s homemade chicken soup. It’s completely organic and made with love… aw ?

Q: Do you ever eat unhealthy?

A: Yes, of course – nobody is perfect and perfection is not reality. I strive for balance and try to live by the 80/20 rule. I eat well 80 percent of the time and 20 percent of the time I might eat something not-so-great. My favourite treat is homemade apple crisp with organic full fat ice cream or mushroom risotto with lots of parmesan cheese.

Q: Lastly, do you have any health goals for the coming year?

A: My health goal for 2009 is to train for the half marathon in early January (2010) in Miami. Having a goal in the winter keeps me motivated to stay in shape throughout the winter!

How to Make Quiche Lorraine

Originally a rustic farmer’s lunch in the Lorraine region in France, Quiche Lorraine has evolved to a much more elegant dish today. The original was made in a cast iron skillet, without onion and using any number of available pork products, including ham, bacon or lardons. When talking of this dish today, most Americans associate it with three primary ingredients – bacon, onion and Swiss cheese. These three together, baked in a pastry crust with an egg custard make up what most people think of as Quiche Lorraine, and is certainly a classic and deliciously fabulous combination.

These are all delicious of course – and they can certainly be used. But the lovely thing about this dish is the adaptability. Feel free to use bacon – or anything else you have on hand. Ham, Canadian bacon, prosciutto or lardons all work just as well as bacon. Swap out the onion for leeks, shallots, red onion or scallions. The Swiss cheese needs to stay as it is, but there’s no reason not to search out a really good Gruyere or Emmentaler if you wish. Or simply stick with the basic recipe – it’s fabulous all on its own.

And don’t think of quiche as a dish for brunch only – and especially not just for a ladies’ lunch! Try it for any meal. Accompany it with a simple salad and some fresh fruit and you have a terrific, filling, elegant meal for any time. Leftovers keep beautifully too – it simply needs a few minutes in a warm oven to bring it back to temperature, so cooking once can lead to several meals.

*1 crust for a nine inch pie, or 1 premade pie shell

*12 slices bacon

*1 cup Swiss cheese, or Gruyere or Emmentaler

*1/2 cup onion, very finely chopped

*4 eggs, beaten

*2 cups half and half

*1 teaspoon salt

*A dash cayenne pepper


Preheat oven to 425 F. Cut bacon into small pieces, or clip with scissors. Fry over medium heat until crispy. Don’t let the heat go too high or the bacon won’t really render properly. Drain pieces on paper towels. Remove most of the grease from the skillet, and sauté onion for a few minutes, scraping up the brown bits. Cook until just translucent. Scatter bacon over the bottom of the pastry. Top with the onion and cheese. In a mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, half and half, salt and cayenne pepper. Pour egg mixture over the bacon and cheese in the pastry shell. Place in the 425F oven and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350F, and bake for an additional 30 minutes or so, or until custard is set and a skewer inserted an inch from the edge comes out clean. Allow quiche to rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting.

Note: The very center of the quiche will still be a little bit wobbly when the quiche is done – this is fine, it will finish setting as the quiche rests. If you overcook it though, the texture will become grainy.