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Depression Era Cooking: Turns Out, It’s Not As Depressing As I Thought

Depression Era Cooking: Turns Out, It’s Not As Depressing As I Thought

I don’t know if I mentioned here or elsewhere that I’ve been trying to cook more often lately. This is for a couple of reasons: one, to save money on all the multitudes of prepared and processed foods we buy at the grocery store; two, to make sure that Mr. Right-Click has something to eat when he gets home from work, because it’s kinda sucky that he often has to make something when he gets home late; and 3, to try, however feebly, to eat more healthfully. I find that if I do not cook, my diet consists largely of things like Red Vines and bowls of cereal, and Mr. Right-Click and Mini eat a bunch of frozen stuff, which might be low calorie but I think has a lot of salt and other crap that it’s better for them both not to have.

The thing is, I hate to cook. I really hate it. It takes a ton of time, and I’m never organized to have a menu plan ready when I go grocery shopping, so it’s like I have to go to the store practically every day to get ingredients, and then inevitably, when I’m actually preparing the food, Mini is circling around my heels, grabbing at hot pans and trying to climb up the side of the oven door. For those of you who haven’t spent time with boys of the toddler variety, I assure you I am not exaggerating. So, yeah. It doesn’t happen as often as I’d like.

One thing that I have taken advantage of, though, is the slow cooker. I call it a slow cooker and not a Crock Pot because I don’t have one of the licensed “Crock Pot” versions. Mine is not the fancy “porsche” of all slow cookers, like CS+3’s, but it’s kind of like the late model Lexus SUV of slow cookers. It’s made by Cuisinart, and it was a wedding gift. So anyway, I’ve made a few things recently in it, and Mr. Right-Click loves that crap like brisket (which btw, how is it that I got to the age of 27 without knowing what “brisket” was?) and stew-like chicken that you can make in it. Personally, I find that stuff gross, but I like to be able to put stuff in there at 8:00 am and not worry about it again. So I’m way into the crock pot these days, and I’m going to check out this book that CS+3 has been mentioning of late to see if I can’t make something I’ll eat also.

In other news, I came across this 93-year old woman’s guide to cooking for less via the Consumerist. I’m not sure I’d like the recipe in this video, but it sounds like something Mini would ABSOLUTELY LOVE. Plus it’s kind of interesting to listen to this woman talk about the Depression:

How do you feel about cooking? What are your secrets for cooking for less? Have you actually tried to scale back since times have gotten tough?

Comments (11)

  1. Snakey
    Feb 24, 2009

    That would be quite tasty with sausage instead of hot dogs. Just slice and brown the sausage first, set aside in a bowl, cook the rest as in the video, and add your cooked sausage at the end. Voila, one pot meal.

    What are your secrets for cooking for less?

    For less (time and money), my best rec is to do prep work in advance. You’ll need zip lock bags, a food processor (if you want to speed it up; knife and cutting board of course work fine), a permanent marker, and your ingredients. In this case, I’m talking about the base for most of the stuff I cook, which would be chopped onions, peppers, celery, carrots.

    Roughly chop each veggie, place in food processor and finely mince. Label your bag (content, date), transfer minced vegs to ziplock. Flatten the contents to let air out and have your ingredient be less than 1″ thick. Stack your several bags on a cookie sheet, place everything in the freezer. Remove cookie sheet once contents freeze. Now, voila, you have tidy packages that don’t take a lot of room. And you can gently snap pieces of each veggie slab to cook as needed, without needing to defrost the whole thing (this is why you freeze in thin layers).

    You could also do this with ground beef/turkey/chicken/alientofuproduct: precook and pack for easy defrosting.

    By buying in bulk (or when things are on sale) you get a better deal, and by freezing, you eliminate the chance of veggie corpses quietly decomposing in your fridge.

    This also means you can whip up a meal quickly, and you’ll have all ingredients at home without needing a trip to the store. Brown some onion, carrot, celery, add garlic, spices, some canned tomatoes, and you can have a home-made pasta sauce in a bit more time than it takes to boil pasta. There’s endless variations to such skillet meals or sauces that you can serve with a side starch (potato, rice, pasta). Same thing in the oven, add some cheese, and now you have casseroles you can leave unattended while baking.

  2. Feb 24, 2009

    We had to start making more economical meals before things got tough for the rest of the country, so I’m past the “wow! beans are sooo delish! and so cheap” stage and into the “give me a dry-aged rib eye and no one gets hurt” phase. I compiled tons of these sorts of recipes. I thought maybe I’d make them into an ebook. I call it “Fundie Favorites and Crockpot Classics” because I found most of the recipes on quiverful and other Xian Web sites. (Seriously. Those gals can feed multitudes on pennies a day. They’re truly the experts in this realm.)

  3. Feb 24, 2009

    Snakey–hi! Thanks for your suggestions. I think that Mini, and possibly Mr. Right-Click, would like the Poor Man’s Meal with a sausage substitute. I do need to do the mass freezing thing. This still involves a rather long period in which I am chopping and storing vegetables, but I can certainly do this when Mini is napping. The trick is to get the food cooked while Mini is distracted by playing with his trains or something.

  4. Feb 24, 2009

    @eliz, that is a great idea. I would totally buy that ebook.

  5. Feb 24, 2009

    Thanks for the links! I’m flattered. My slow cooker was returned in great shape. (I know “Crock-pot” is licensed, but figured more people would know what I was talking about vs. “slow cooker”.) The cookbook I mentioned has some wonderful recipes. The key is browning the meat or sauteing the veggies prior to slow cooking, WHICH is much easier in the All-Clad Deluxe Slow Cooker, because you can put the crocky part (whatever it’s called) on the stove, brown and saute, then place the crocky part in the main thingy. It’s so convenient! (There are lots of recipes that don’t require stove-work first. No stress.)

  6. Snakey
    Feb 24, 2009

    Speaking of “fundie foods”–another great source is the Mennonites. They have a “World Community Cookbook” series of books of recipes gathered by missionaries. One (Simply in Season) groups foods seasonally so you can maximize use of what’s very available therefore less expensive. Others (More with Less and Extending the Table) just stay true to their titles. Can’t remember if they are all veggie? Still, interesting sources of ideas and healthy menus. I made something that involved toasting lentils (on a pot, with a little oil, until they change color, then cooking them) which made them taste delightfully nutty. It was like “wow, lentils have personality?!” I keep meaning to do that again and make some lentil hummus…

  7. Feb 24, 2009

    We are totally into frugal right now, too – what with the architect being unemployed. The slow cooker (mine is also not super fancy) is one of my best friends. We eat a lot less meat than before. We have a breadmaker, and the architect bakes 1-2 loaves a week. When I do buy meat (organic, on sale, I still have standards), I tend to buy a WHOLE chicken, and then cook the bones & leftovers to make homemade chicken stock, which I freeze.

    I don’t do as much ahead-of time prep, but I wish I did. And I echo Eliza – the fundie sites have tons of great money-saving/time-saving recipes. You’d have to have some trick up your sleeve if you were popping out babies every time you had sex (every sperm is sacred, you know).

  8. Feb 24, 2009

    We are very into the frugal thing now too. I’m also supposed to be eating low-sodium, and convenience foods are never low-sodium. So I’ve been focused on this as well.

    I’m a vegetarian, so that saves some money right there (although I buy a fair amount of organic stuff, which cancels out my no-meat savings a lot of the time). I use the crockpot quite a bit, and I also make a lot of stratas. A strata is a dish that usually has bread, veggies, and a milk/egg mixture that you make the night before, or in the morning. You put in the bread and veggies, then pour the milk/egg mixture over it, and let it sit in the fridge. Then, at dinnertime, you just pop it in the oven. This works for me, because my kids are easier to control in the morning (I usually make the strata during breakfast), and then I don’t have to be in the kitchen at all at dinnertime. Plus, they’re usually large enough that we get leftovers.

    I’m pretty sure when my kids are old, and they reminisce about the foods their mom used to make, half of them will be stratas.

  9. weezy
    Feb 24, 2009

    Sorry to hear that you hate to cook, as it’s one of my favorite pasttimes. One of my suggestions, however, is to develop a grouping of recipes that have similar bases that you can make en masse and freeze in portions, and then simply thaw and add in particular flavor components to take it one direction or another. For example, sauteed onions, mushrooms, garlic, celery, bell pepper — then add that to chicken broth, a couple of bay leaves, rice, diced tomatoes, chopped zucchini, adjust salt & pepper and you have a nice soup.

    Take that same base, add chopped cooked andouille or chorizo sausage, some cayenne, cooked rice, a bit of tomato sauce or diced tomato, throw a some shrimp in at the end and you have a Louisiana style dinner.

    Do it with ground beef and plenty of tomato sauce and serve it on pasta.

    Do it with ground beef, sour cream and nutmeg and serve it on buttered parsleyed noodles and you have a cheap stroganoff.

  10. weezy
    Feb 24, 2009

    Oh, and if you ever have any questions about an ingredient or recipe, check out chowhound.com, the recipe section. Lots of home cooks happy to help you out.

  11. AKD
    Feb 25, 2009

    Two websites where I have gotten good recipes for the crockpot (most of which I modify and cook in a regular pot since I am usually too disorganized to start dinner in the morning):

    Here’s a fave from the first one:

    And from the second:
    The best thing about this one (besides being extremely delicious) is that you can have all the ingredients ready to go in your cupboard or freezer and make it whenever. The coconut rice is especially delicious. I make it in my Le Creuset pot.

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