Thursday, September 10, 2009

Welcome to my Kitchen!

Welcome to my kitchen! I wanted to use this space to share my favorite recipes (healthy, quick, and easy as possible) with other Millenials who now live on take-out and restaurant fare. I hope that this blog will, in its own little way, help to take the intimidation out of the kitchen, put some money back in your wallet, take some pounds off the scale, and (most importantly) resurrect your dinner hour!

For my first post, I thought that I would share my philosophy for dinner - it's really quite simple! A complete dinner really requires only three main elements:

- A Protein
- A Starch
- A Vegetable

You can add a salad and/or bread to this combination to round out the meal, but you can resurrect your dinner hour with just the three items above! Doesn't that sound easy?! Trust me, it is. And in case you were wondering, I work full time AND still manage to get inexpensive, healthy meals on the table 4-5 nights per week. If I can do it, anyone can!

Here are some tips to save time and money when "hunting and gathering" for the dinner hour:

  • Buy in bulk for expensive dinner components. I buy all of my cheese at Costco (blue cheese, Parmesan cheese, etc.) and keep it in the fridge for salads, pasta dishes, etc. Costco is also a great source of inexpensive meat (even filet mignon can be less than $10 per lb!) and certain produce items such as berries and cherry tomatoes.
  • Read before tossing. Your weekly grocery fliers can actually save you a lot of money. It is worth a 30-second perusal every Wednesday before you pitch them with the rest of the junk mail. Pay particular attention to any meat sales. Rice Epicurean in Houston has particularly wonderful meat sales - including unpublished meat sales every Saturday! Corey and I buy whole beef tenderloins on Saturday there for $5.99 per lb. - the butcher will hand-trim and cut the tenderloin into steaks, and ten minutes later I am the lucky cook with 8-10 filets for approximately $30!
  • Divide and conquer. Learn which grocery stores offer the best values for the components of your meal. Whole Foods Market and Central Market in Houston have terrific produce and bulk items (dried herbs, spices, nuts, and dried fruits) that are higher quality and cost significantly less than their mainstream grocery competitors like Kroger and Randall's. However, their meat counters are very expensive, and you couldn't buy mainstream groceries (like Kellogg's Corn Flakes) there if your life depended on it! For this reason, I visit at least two grocery stores per week: a mainstream grocer like Randall's for less-expensive store-brand pantry staples (pasta, rice, oats, breadcrumbs, tortillas, oils & vinegars, canned goods, etc.) and a specialty grocer like Central Market for produce and "bulk bin" items. Ironically enough, dairy products seem to be priced similarly at all locations.
  • Shop once, save money. I read somewhere that 80% of grocery purchases are "snap decision" purchases, and that can really add to your grocery bill. Therefore, the fewer numbers of trips to the store per week, the less snap purchases and the more time on your hands for better pursuits! In order to save both time and money, I only shop one day per week, freeing up both night and weekend time to spend at happy hours, with friends and family, or exercising. It takes 30 minutes or less to plan a week's worth of dinners and write out a grocery list. Once you know your grocers well, it shouldn't take you more than 30 minutes per store (even at peak times!) to buy everything that you need if you plan your list well. So in less than two hours, you can prep for, purchase, and store a week's worth of meal components and get on with your busy life.
  • Organize your grocery list. When you are making your grocery list, divide the list into a grid based on how the store is laid out. I typically put produce in one section, meats in another, grains/pastas/canned goods in the third, and any miscellaneous items in the fourth. By grouping like-kind groceries, you can minimize your time spent in the store.

Now that we've got a game plan, it is time to start cooking!

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