We like to eat. We like to eat a lot of food, and we like to eat relatively gourmet food – no cream soups at our house. ;)
A couple of years ago when our budget tightened – or perhaps more accurately, when I started paying attention to how much we were spending – there were a few dishes that I stopped making, or things I wanted to try that I took off my mental list of things to cook because they required too many expensive ingredients.
One of those dishes was gumbo. With shrimp rarely going below $3.99/lb and most recipes calling for one pound of shrimp, I deemed it too expensive.
And then I realized: you don’t have to use a full pound of shrimp for gumbo. In fact, you don’t have to use shrimp at all. The gumbo police will not come after you and handcuff you and prohibit you from ever cooking again because you substituted sausage for shrimp.
Duh. Gumbo, made with smoked sausage and either chicken or pork Cajun sausage from Sunflower Market, is now Jeremy’s favorite food, and I fix it every couple of weeks. Why was I depriving us of good food just because I thought shrimp was too expensive?!
Instead of ruling out the gourmet foods you love to cook and eat because they’re too expensive, get creative. Leave it out, substitute, cut those expensive ingredients in half. You can keep cooking the same yummy food and reduce your budget.
Try thinking this way:
- Use cheap (but still real) wine for cooking. Don’t buy the expensive stuff. Consider doing a Groupon deal from a place like Wine Insiders.
- Cut the amount of shrimp (etc) in half. Or, cut the shrimp themselves in half to make them go farther.
- Buy expensive grains, like arborio rice or quinoa, at the health food store in the bulk bins. You’ll pay probably 50% less than you would buying them in a container at another store.
- Buy spices you don’t use often, or want to try but aren’t sure you’ll like, in small amounts – again, in the bulk bins at the health food store; or you can buy relatively small amounts at both Penzey’s and Savory.
- Head to the ethnic markets like Rancho Liborio and Asian Pacific Market to buy foreign ingredients, especially fresh produce. You’ll often save 50% over other stores’ prices on things like peppers, asian cabbages, herbs, and more.
- Don’t waste the ingredients. If you buy a package of fresh herbs and don’t use them all, don’t let them spoil in the refrigerator. Some herbs, like chives, can simply be rinsed and chopped, then thrown in a bag and frozen. More delicate herbs like parsley or thyme may be better if you wash, chop, and then freeze them ice cube trays with water (perfect for soups).
- Shop at the scratch and dent stores. It’s hit or miss, but if you’re lucky, you may be able to find some of the gourmet foods you enjoy deeply discounted at a scratch and dent store like Bargain Mart.
- Plan your menus around what’s on sale. I talk for almost six and a half minutes nonstop about this in Grocery University. Look at the sale ads first and see what meat and produce is on sale before you decide what to make. You don’t have to let your budget dictate what you make, but you should make the sales dictate what you make, or you’ll almost always spend more than you would if you just waited a week or two until the ingredients went on sale.
What are your tips for cooking gourmet on a budget? Are there any meals that you’ve deemed “too expensive”? How could you rethink those recipes to make them more budget-friendly?
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Welcome to Springs Bargains, a service of our real estate business, Circa Real Estate Group! I’m Carrie, and since 2008 I’ve been sharing free and discounted ways to eat, play, and enjoy life in Colorado Springs.