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Cooking the Budget: Bake Your Way to a Lower Grocery Bill

Take a bite out of your grocery bill and preserve the flavors of summer through winter with these simple recipes.

Grown a garden and reap the rewards through winter with simple freezer-friendly recipes. Photo by Sarah Cocchimiglio.
Grown a garden and reap the rewards through winter with simple freezer-friendly recipes. Photo by Sarah Cocchimiglio.

Written by Sarah Cocchimiglio

The fresh flavors of summer don't have to fade with the season. With some planning, you can have garden-fresh meals this winter at a fraction of the cost of buying imported, off-season vegetables and store-made foods. If you’re not picking vegetables from your own garden, buy in bulk at the farmers’ market. You won’t overdose on produce or see anything go to waste if you follow these simple recipes. Your grocery bill will thank you!

RECIPE: Frozen Vegetables

Yields: A bag of green beans for planting costs $2 to $3 and yields pounds and pounds of beans.

Grocery store version: A 12-ounce bag of frozen Birds Eye Steamfresh green beans costs $2 at PeaPod.com and yields enough for one meal.

Ingredients: Peas, beans, tomatoes, corn, peppers, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, leafy greens, or squash.

Instructions:

  • Blanch and freeze the foods (blanching is important because fresh vegetables will produce enough enzymes and sugars to break down in the freezer).
  • Boil the vegetables quickly.
  • Immerse the vegetables in ice water.

Helpful Hints: Spread the produce in a single layer on a cookie sheet so you’re not left with a big block of blueberries or corn. You can also freeze fresh fruit, most of which can be frozen without blanching first. Just wash, dry and freeze.

RECIPE: Tomato Sauce

Yields: 10 jars, less than $1 per jar, including the investment in a reusable glass canning jar.

Grocery store version: Between $2.29 for one Ragu jar and $11.49 for one Rao’s jar at PeaPod.com.

Ingredients:

  • tomato sauce as base
  • tomato paste
  • fresh tomatoes
  • other garden vegetables (whatever you happen to have on hand)
  • olive oil, salt and pepper
  • fresh oregano and basil

Instructions:

  • Quarter and de-seed the tomatoes you have and place them on a roasting pan.
  • Add chopped and peeled onions, sliced peppers, peeled garlic cloves and whatever other flavorful produce you have.
  • Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.
  • Roast in a 400-degree oven for about 20 minutes.
  • Toss again, then continue roasting another 20 minutes.
  • Repeat until the veggies are a little charred, and most of the liquid has cooked out.
  • In a large stock pot, pour two 64-ounce cans of tomato sauce.
  • Add one can of tomato paste, some oregano and basil (fresh if you have it), and the roasted veggies
  • Puree everything together in a blender.
  • Pour the completed sauce back in the stock pot and simmer on low for half an hour to meld the flavors.
  • Season to taste (half a cup or so of red wine gives the sauce a rich, dense flavor).
  • Cool the sauce.
  • Fill mason jars or food storage containers, leaving enough room for expansion.
  • Freeze for up to one year.

RECIPE: Sweet Zucchini Bread

Yields: Two loaves, eight servings each, $2 per loaf

Pre-made version: $8 per loaf

Ingredients:

  • 3¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2½ cups granulated sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Instructions:

  • In a mixing bowl, stir together eggs, oil, water, zucchini, and lemon juice. In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients.
  • Fold the wet ingredients into the dry, and add nuts.
  • Pour batter into a well-greased loaf pan.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  • Individually wrap each loaf in foil, then seal in a freezer bag.
  • Save extra zucchini in 2-cup batches, put it in a freezer bag and freeze it. It’ll keep for a few months, so you’ll have pre-measured zucchini for another batch of bread in the fall.

RECIPE: Canning and jarring summer flavors

Yields: Varies, depending on food being canned or jarred; cost of seeds and jars or cans.

Grocery store version: $1 to $2 per can

Ingredients: 

Tomatoes, peaches, or any other high-acid foods

Instructions:

  • Sterilize jars and lids.
  • Boil fruit or vegetables.
  • Pack your prepared fruit or vegetables in the jars.
  • Get rid of any air bubbles.
  • Lightly secure the lid.
  • Submerge the jars in the boiling water, with at least one inch of water covering the jars.
  • Boil for the specified time appropriate for your altitude.
  • Cool, label and store for up to one year.
TELL US: Do you have any great recipes for making summer vegetables last through the winter? What are some other ways people can spend smarter when it comes to their grocery bill? Share your tips in the comments below.

About this series:
 Smart Spending is Patch's original reporting series on the unique ways folks are saving and spending in 2013.

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