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    Posted April 21, 2008 by
    Chicago, Illinois
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    More expensive to eat

    Now we eat even better & healthier meals "shop the edge"


    The image above is somewhat an exaggeration... We never really ate THAT bad, but we did go through a lot prepared foods. No one had the time, it was cheap and it worked. Of course we always tried to make dinner, or to say it better, we "assembled" dinner from a lot of "ready-to-go" meals. Pre-Seasoned main dishes, pasta or sides and frozen veggies. Lunches were usually quick, and we had a lot of pizza. However, we were in the healthy category.


    My situation is a little different that everyone else feeling the economic "crunch". I am recovering from a neck injury and considered disabled (Chronic Pain). I am off work for a while until I heal up more. I went from a great paying IT job to getting state disability benefits, such as $450 a month in food stamps. The way I look at it... I am just 6 months ahead of everyone else with the way the economy is moving. So we go at $450 a month on food for 2 people and a young child (Luckily he is still on baby food).


    I think the transition was easier for me because I have prior education in culinary arts, but I think anyone can do it. We did move up in the quality of food we have and now siting down to dinner every night is like a gourmet restaurant.


    I call it "shopping the edge". It is a great way of saving money, eating healthier, and even losing weight. As you might have figured out, shopping the edge is shopping the outer edge of the store, since that is usually where most fresh foods are at, and not to mention "most" of the sales. We have produce, meats, dairy, and etc, then you go inside for your flour and baking supplies, but we never buy any prepared foods now unless it is a great sale, and buying it is more expensive than making it.


    We have also started going to the meat markets. In Chicago, we have a great and thriving meat market in the West Loop.  For example, a slab of baby back ribs at the grocery store? $20+, at a meat market you can get 4 slabs for that. Ground beef? No $1.25/lb, I get Chuck and sirloin for half that and grind it at home with my kitchen aid.


    I also make food in bulk, since it is more economical at times. And usually what is on sale. If it is lasagna and the stuff is on sale, make double the recipe, then freeze half of it in individual portion sizes.


    The main is to make EVERYTHING from scratch, it might seem hard, but it isn't. Although bread is tricky. Even if you are cooking inept, you can make a great dinner. Here are two great dinners:


    Tilapia in paper (a very popular dish)

    What you need: 2 tilapia filets (always on sale), parchment paper, 1 lemon, parsley, vidalia onion, kosher salt & pepper, olive oil &  butter. (Dill or even Old Bay works also.


    Take a piece of parchment paper, double the size of the tilapia filet, and fold it in half. Now cut it like your' making a heart. When you unfold the paper, it will look like a heart. Place the tilapia on one side, and top with salt and pepper, parsley, sliced lemon, chopped onion, 2 slabs of butter and any spices you want, now add a splash of olive oil. Anything goes with this recipe. Now, close the package and carefully fold it shut, making small folds starting at the top. It takes practice without a guide, but it will seal. I use a stainless steal pan (never use non-stick)Preheat your over to 450 degrees. Place the packets in a pan, and put them on medium heat until they start to puff up (you will see it boiling). Then put them in the oven for 10 minutes. Plate it in the pocket, and slice it open, and done :)


    For a side, try brussel sprouts, or asparagus, or any veggie (frozen is fine). Simply sauté some onion and butter or olive oil until translucent, and add your veggie. Now cook until it is hot yet still crisp. (go off the taste test. adjust the seasoning as needed.


    Finally, plate up a spring mix of greens with a dressing of your choice, and you have a great dinner!

    Here is an E-how on the folding, they use a different tactic.



    This sets me back maybe $15.00 when I find it on sale, and that is for 4 filets. Just look for the sales on Tilapia.


    Steak :)- We all love it.

    You can apply the same for a grilled steak!

    I recently found a sale of Filet Mignon, $4.99 of fresh cut 6 Oz filets at my Jewel-Osco, although use your favorite. Watch for these sales, also grab a LOT of fresh corn, it is 3 ears for 99 cents in areas. Marinade the steak in some worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke, or just simple salt and pepper. Now, fire up your grill.


    Cook the steaks for about 7 minutes on each side, the check the temp. 160 degrees is a good safe medium well, but you can google temps relating to doneness. Always check the temp, don't slice into it and ruin it. Make your vegetable, and now slather your corn in olive oil and some kosher salt and rub it in. When your steak is about done, move it to a cold area of the grill and put on the corn, turn when it is dark yellow and browning nicely. It will be nice and crunchy, not soggy. Again, a $20.00 meal. You can even saute your left over onion with some butter, and mushrooms if you have them in a pan for a nice topping to the steak.


    You can go out more and do mashed potatoes by just slicing and boiling, or slice up your potatoes, and season them with dill, onions, oregano, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. You choose your spices. Place it in a pie tin, or heavy foil tin, cover with aluminum foil (shiny side facing the potatoes) and put it on the grill as you start it, you want an hour of cooking time.


    I hope you got some good ideas. What I do is look at the flyers and see what meats are on sale, then, I prefer foodtv.com and look up recipes for that meat. Your bound to find a lot, then plan your meals out.


    Make sure to bake up some French bread also, and always keep it on hand. Any recipe works. The secret for the new baker, is to mix the yeast and water and sugar first, then watch to see if it bubbles up after 5 minutes, then You KNOW you have good yeast and it won't be flat.


    You will be amazed at just how good the food you make is, and at how much you save by putting in a bit of time. Your weight will go down and you will feel a sense of accomplishment! Amazing that instead of cutting back on what we eat, we go gourmet for less. It is all in watching the sales and remember, you best sales are with your produce and meats. So shop the edge of the store, and explore new areas to buy your food, meat markets, farmers markets and etc.


    The recipes are quick, and more of a do what you want, just giving you some direction to start with, Feel free to e-mail me with any questions you have!

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