Better beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear.
During my Sunday conversation with my mother, she once again worried about the rising costs of groceries. Like many elderly, she lives on a fixed income. Because we grow about 75% of what we eat (I canned and dried over 500 jars this year), I'm sort of oblivious to rising food costs. For the rest, I use my price-book method and buy at the lowest price and stock up. Like a mini commodities trader, I always buy low. Meat is usually the most expensive item on the shopping list, so it makes sense to find substitutions for it. Here's some ideas:
First, use meat sparingly. More like a flavoring, rather than the main focus of the meal. It is a tradition in New England to have baked beans and brown bread for Saturday night dinner. A few rashers of bacon that wouldn't satisfy one becomes a rib-sticking meal for several, with plenty left over. Does anything smell more wonderful and homey than to come in from the cold and smell the smoky aroma of a pot of beans?
Another way is to add beans to stretch the quantities in soups and stews. For instance, in chili, rather than using your usual amount of hamburger, halve it and add an additional can of beans. We have always added kidney beans to our sloppy joes. Makes it go from 6 skimpy portions to 8-10 servings. Now days we completely eliminate the hamburg and make them with just the beans. It is one of our favorite vegan junk foods. You can add mashed beans to meatloaves. Red beans and rice is a classic "poor mans" food. Here's the recipe:
Red Beans and Rice
1 lb. dry red kidney beans
2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp. pepper
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. cumin
1 quart water
1 lg. smoked ham hock (it's important it is smoked)
3 tsp. salt
1 1/2 C. chopped celery
1 1/2 C chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
Sort and rinse beans. In a large Dutch oven, place all the ingredients except the rice. Bring to a boil, the simmer 3-4 hours or until beans are tender. Stir occasionally, adding water as needed to make a thick gravy. Just before serving, remove the bay leaves and ham hock. Remove and chop the meat from the hock and return the meat to the pot. Serve over rice.
Note: We like to serve this with cornbread and our home-canned corn relish. To make this vegan, we substitute two Morningstar Italian sausages (a soy product) for the ham hock. It makes little difference in the taste and reduces the amount of fat and cholesterol.
Consider using beans as the main source of protein. Because I have a thyroid condition I cannot eat very much soy (it interferes with the medicines effectiveness) so we make our own bean cakes. They taste better than the store ones and cost a lot less. Here's the recipe:
Black Bean Cakes
1 1/2 C. salsa (drained in a sieve)
2 cans black beans (rinsed and drained)
1 (8.5 oz.) pkg. corn muffin mix (we use Jiffy)
2 1/2 tsp. chili powder
Mash the black beans. Stir in the remaining ingredients and form into patties. (Hint: put the patties into the freezer a while to firm them up) Fry in a small amount of olive oil until browned and heated through.
Dried beans are the thriftiest way to buy beans. I recently stocked up on a 15# bag of of pinto beans for $10. That's 66 cents a pound. I also bought some one pound bags of black beans from the Dollar General for 69 cents. They were on the reduced for quick sale rack. Dried beans will last forever if they are kept dry. I do admit that it is a pain to deal with the reconstituting of dried products, so when I'm bored I can up a batch. (my pressure canner is never put away). Here's how:
Canning Dried Beans
Wash and pick over bean. Cover them with water and set overnight. Drain. Cover the beans with a couple inches of water (at least two) and bring to a boil. Boil for one half hour, stirring to keep them from sticking. Pack the beans into hot sterilized pint jars. Add 1/2 tsp. canning salt to the jars. Pour cooking liquid over the beans. Remove air bubbles. Allow 1 inch headspace. Wipe the rims and place hot steralized lids on jars. Screw down the rings. Process for 75 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure.
I realize that not everyone has a pressure canner. You can prepare a batch of beans and freeze them in quart sized containers. One pound of dried beans is more or less equivilant to 3-4 cans of beans. At $1.50 a pound that's less then half the price of the canned ones. They last about 6 months in the freezer.
Here's what a 1 lb. bag of dried beans will yield:
6 C. black beans
7 1/2 C. garbanzo beans
5 C. pinto beans or kidney beans
6 C. white kidney beans (cannellini)