Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Non-Prescriptive Kitchen Philosophy

I enjoy being thrifty almost as much as I love eating*, so I spend a great deal of time planning and cooking meals at home. I know my lifestyle wouldn't work for everyone - it's a big time investment - but it's how I like to roll. I figure most people are sick of hearing how they could eat better; I certainly don't wish to contribute to that noise. But in honor of Thanksgiving, I thought I would document a bit of my ongoing internal dialog regarding food, for whatever it's worth to you. It's a fun exercise, and I'm curious to hear some of your ideas, too.

The following are a list of rules to myself regarding kitchen and diet management ~

Don't throw away any edible food Plan to use all the food you buy. If something is about to expire, eat it. Freeze leftovers that you are sick of eating (especially soup). Freeze vegetable scraps and use for stock. Save bacon fat and use for fun.

Eating more is no cure for eating poorly Following half a pizza with a salad does not make you healthier.

Never buy prepackaged spices Go to the hippie grocery store and buy it bulk. You don't need to be spending four bucks on a glass jar.

Seek creative uses for canned tuna Two servings of lean meat for under $1.50 is an unbeatable deal. Take advantage of it.

Cook large quantities of stock and bean regularly Canned stock and beans are cheap, but home-cooked stock and beans are even cheaper and usually taste better. Make a bunch at once, portion into small containers and freeze. Do it on a day when you're sticking around the house anyway. The entire project may take several hours, but not that much attention.

Save all disposable plastic containers This includes baggies, old sour cream tubs, and any Ziploc containers that your friends happen to leave at your house. Horde that shit. You can never have enough and you shouldn't have to pay extra for it.

Don't assume that leafy vegetable greens are garbage This recipe for radish greens soup, for example, is fantastic.

Experiment with producing homemade versions of foods that you usually buy processed This includes items like crackers, refried beans, mayonnaise, vinaigrette and ginger ale. Making it yourself may not always be your first choice, but it's enormously satisfying (especially if you make it taste better than the processed version).

Find recipes that fit your pantry (not the other way around) If a recipe requires more than two ingredients that you rarely use, then simplify, substitute or move on. Don't make special trips to the grocery store. Good flavor needn't require obscure ingredients.

Eating out is the funnest use of disposable income, but you will be disappointed if you could have made a better tasting version of that dish at home And that's why you quit The Fleetwood Diner long before you quit Ann Arbor.


* In fact, pretty much all of these ideas come from Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" and Amy Dacyczyn's "Tightwad Gazette".


  1. I like the one about finding recipes that fit your pantry, not the other way around...have you seen this book: http://www.amazon.com/Food-Substitutions-Bible-Ingredients-Techniques/dp/0778802450/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1290994857&sr=8-1

    I just heard about it on the Splendid Table.

  2. Thanks for the tip! Nothing is more frustrating than realizing that you don't have that one key thing when you've already started cooking.