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Photography by Howard Lee Puckett; Styling by Virginia Cravens-Houston and Judy Feagin
The Frugal Foodie Recipes:
• Peek-A-Boo Shrimp Rolls
• Kale Krisps
• Aubergenius Spread
• Garlic Chicken Confit
• Vermicelli with Almond and Arugula Pesto
• Block Party Bouillabaisse
• Honey Lemon-Lavender Teaspoons
• Sparkle Plenty Punch
I’m not a food snob, but I am a gourmet at heart. From humble street food to white-tablecloth dining to home cooking, I love good food. What I’m not hung up on is pretension. I’m equally as content to savor an organic stone-fruit compote gateau as I am to gobble a peach cobbler. I appreciate a wedge of ripe triple-cream St. André as much as the next gourmet, but yes, I occasionally enjoy (gasp!) Cheez Whiz. I grew up eating my great-grandmother’s hand-stretched strudel and my mom’s homemade éclairs along with Space Food Sticks and Tang, so let’s just say my palate has range. These recipes are about keeping both our comfort-food-seeking souls and our sophisticated palates happy on a pauper’s pocketbook. Vintage wisdom combined with modern sophistication will help you strike a balance between the gourmet in your heart and the miser in your head.
Being frugal is about getting the most value from your food. It doesn’t mean using absolutely the least-expensive ingredients. You could probably pare your food budget down to pennies if you lived on potatoes and ramen noodles—but would you call that living? Making smart choices about how, when and where you spend your money will fill your pantry and menus with delicious options. Splurge on a little balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil for salad dressings, and a few shallots and humble ingredients will come alive with flavor. Cooking at home is also a frugal alternative to going out. Of course you’ll spend a lot less than if you’d gone to a restaurant, but cooking is its own pleasure and entertainment. After two hours in a movie theater, what have you got? Up to 100 fewer dollars in your pocket (movie tickets, popcorn, parking, babysitter, it all adds up) and the pleasure of sitting next to a screaming baby or amorous teens. Spend that same two hours at home and teach yourself a new culinary trick or try a new recipe. You’ll have more money in your pocket and a delicious treat—it’s a win-win! Once you start getting into the frugal mindset, it’s hard to stop looking for ways to stretch your dollar and find value. I recently tossed a bunch of pine boughs (freshly collected after a windstorm—I call it “Seattle roadkill”) in the back of my hatchback to serve as car air freshener. It lasted longer than one of those rearview-mirror danglers, smelled way better and it was free!
I’ve been fortunate to work in some of the best kitchens in the world: Chez Panisse and Masa’s, and as a cook and recipe tester for Chuck Williams at Williams-Sonoma. With each experience, I saw examples of “foodie frugality” in action. Alice Waters elevated humble vegetables to haute heights by taking celery root, rhubarb, potatoes, and the like, and preparing them with attention and care. Suddenly, a yam could reveal flavors of great delicacy. Fennel, often considered a weed, could touch the palate with striking originality. She and many other great kitchen queens and kings now have their own veggie gardens, as well as a cadre of micro farms to supply them with the very best and freshest produce. You don’t have to have a deep green thumb to grow a few of your own ingredients. It’s surprisingly easy and soul-satisfying to assemble a dish using food you’ve grown yourself. A few hours of work and just a little bit of planning can save money, provide big flavor and bring immense amounts of joy to your table. Start a micro garden in your front yard and you can grab the makings for a mixed green salad and dig up a few purple potatoes as you walk in the door from work. Even if you replace just a few restaurant meals with homemade, make one loaf of bread or one batch of homemade oatmeal a week, or grow one or two veggies and herbs, you’re a Frugal Foodie. You’ll eat better, save money and have more fun in the kitchen than ever. I hope you’ll share your own tips and ideas or photos of recipes you’ve made from this article. Let’s create a Frugal Foodie community, and all feast from the table.
Lara Starr and Lynette Shirk’s book, The Frugal Foodie Cookbook: Waste-Not Recipes for the Wise Cook (Viva Editions), was released in September 2009.