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Teaching a young cook


jgm
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Great stuff, only thing I can think of to suggest is, checking out Indian, Chinese -- you know, 'ethnic' stores. Even if you don't eat that type of food, the prices are a fraction of what you pay in supermarkets -- not just for exotic spices and such, but plain everyday items such as rice.

Right on. Produce as well, and sometimes much better quality.

Oh, and I sometimes find some cuts of meat much cheaper at the "ethinic" place than the same cut and quality at Whole Foods or even the everyday grocery chain.

Edited by annecros (log)
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I am really grateful to all for the ideas and information. My friend and I are looking forward to working together.

We will have to wait a couple of weeks for another paycheck to come in before we can start. I'd be perfectly happy to purchase the items, but I don't want her to feel like she's accepting charity from me. I probably will fudge a little here and there, and bring her certain equipment items and pass them off as something I bought cheaply at the thrift store.

Yesterday it hit me, that one of the reasons why I was reluctant to try new recipes during my cash-strapped days, was that if things didn't work out well, I was either stuck eating something I really didn't like, or had to trash a significant portion of the week's grocery budget. So I have offered to try new recipes for her, if she finds something she wants to take a stab at, so that she can taste the results before investing the money. She was enthusiastic about that. I'm waiting to hear from her; I told her to either find a recipe or name a dish she wants to learn, and I'll find the recipe. I figure I'll probably get to try a few new things along the way, so that will be of benefit to me as well as to her.

I do intend to hit nutrition topics as we cook, as well as technique topics and food safety topics. One of the biggest things I think we'll work together on, is using up what she already has, which will involve some planning. I'm not very good at that myself, so as I'm helping her to improve, I hope to pick up some good habits myself. I also want to make sure she knows about various resources on the Internet and in the community. I just found out about a good place to buy produce last night, so maybe we can check it out together.

I think it would also help her to keep a master list of things she knows how to make and her family likes, so that when she's trying to come up with menus, she can stay out of ruts, and can also flip through it to find ways to use up the rest of something she's purchased.

They are living in an apartment, so next spring I may be able to get her started with a tomato plant in a container, and maybe some herbs, but unless she's strongly motivated, that may be as much gardening as she'll want to do at this time.

Quite truthfully, looking over all of the suggestions, and looking at the strategies I'm going to teach her, this will probably end up benefitting me as much as it will her.

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I have a young friend whose family is struggling financially.  Her husband works; she stays at home with one child, and is pregnant.  They have just been turned down for food stamps, but I think she's going to look into WIC. ...She has beginning-level cooking skills, and wants to learn to cook.  ... I'm trying to decide how to approach this.

I think we're going to start out with stewing a chicken, so that she can use the meat and the broth to make chicken and noodles, chicken pot pie, chicken and dumplings, chicken noodle soup, etc.  But I'm not sure where to go from there.

I'm thinking about sitting down with her and finding out what her family likes to eat, and then figuring out how to approach it after we get the first chicken dishes figured out.  I intend to teach her some strategies, such as prepping ahead, that will work in with a young mother's schedule.  I think I'll teach her how to make a basic tomato sauce, and build on it.

And at that point, we're reaching some of the limits of my own cooking skills.  I've been reading Sally Schneider's books to improve my own cooking, and I want to take an ingredients-driven approach -- and probably learn a lot, myself.

I'd appreciate any ideas, strategies, and comments you might have to offer.

JGM, It would be useful if we had answers to the questions many here have posed to you.

First, it would be useful if we had some idea of how poor your friends are. Are we talking about minimum wage poor or a young couple with an average income burdened by too big a mortgage, car payments, and overreaching credit card debt poor? I know people who with $50k a year (and more) who are poorer than others I know with 30k a year.

Then, how motivated is your friend to learn how to cook economically (and, presumably healthily)? Is she characteristically, the last thing in the world I want to do is cook, dammit, let's do takeout tonight? or is she, I wish I knew how to cook because I really enjoy the challenge of making delicious food? Is she actively concerned about nutrition or vaguely aware that she should be concerned about it and never willing to wrap her mind around it. Is she the sort of person who enjoys trying new things? or does she resent it when she must do something different?

This would make a difference for me if I were in your situation. Indeed I have been. Someone very close to me was in a similar situation, but she was intractable in her resistance to change. In her case, health issues were present as well as financial issues. If I cooked her a healthy balanced meal she would eat it happily enough. There was, however, nothing I could do to induce her to begin cooking that way or to stop take-out pizza, etc., even though it undermined her health. Some people do not care to own their problems, preferring to hand off the pain of their situation to others.

Lastly, what do you mean by beginning level skills? Could she make eggs 5-6 different ways? A custard? A fritta? at least if she had a recipe to follow? Could she do it with chicken? Fish? Can she make non-instant rice? Cook dried beans? Are her veggies cooked from scratch? Or is her experience that of so many, confined to putting together meals mostly from processed foods? From your description of where you intend to start, it sounds as if she has hardly any cooking skills at all. It would help us to know.

"Half of cooking is thinking about cooking." ---Michael Roberts

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OK, Here's what I know:

I know they are in an apartment. The are of town where they live is not the "trendy" part, but I think it's a decent area of older apartment buildings. It sounds like it's probably as appropriate for their income as they're going to get in this community. It's likely that cheaper digs are available, but those particular digs would come with their own special crime problems.

This is what she e-mailed to me on Monday:

" i try to find recipes that are easy to do and cheap but i have a hard time as even though i love to cook, i'm still pretty new to it. my mom didn't cook from scratch very often, my granny did and taught me somethings which i treasure, she always said i would be the next cooker in the family, as my grandma also doesn't like to do much cooking. so any recipes would be gladly taken and if i don't know what to do than i could always ask. or if you are up for it sometime maybe we could get to gether and you could show me some, i would really like that. i love chicken items (especially chicken and noodles on top of mashed potatoes :) ), but have never had to cook a whole chicken so wouldn't know what do with it lol."

I don't know her well, but I think this paragraph says a lot about her skill level and her attitude toward this project. I did find out in a later e-mail that her granny also taught her to make pie crust from scratch. To me, that indicates she's willing to tackle projects that are more involved than opening a can or a box and following the reheating directions. I think she shows promise!

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Yesterday it hit me, that one of the reasons why I was reluctant to try new recipes during my cash-strapped days, was that if things didn't work out well, I was either stuck eating something I really didn't like, or had to trash a significant portion of the week's grocery budget. 

So I have offered to try new recipes for her, if she finds something she wants to take a stab at, so that she can taste the results before investing the money. 

.

Excellent point and excellent solution! Also a generous & kind solution.

I think it would also help her to keep a master list of things she knows how to make and her family likes, so that when she's trying to come up with menus, she can stay out of ruts, and can also flip through it to find ways to use up the rest of something she's purchased.

I think I need one of these myself. Thanks for putting into words that amorphous need thats been trying to communicate itself to me.

Good luck to you both.

I hope you keep us up-dated with plans, activities, and results.

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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I'm excited about this, as I have no children to whom I can pass my skills and my enthusiasm for cooking. It'll be nice to share this passion in a little different manner than the sharing we do on eGullet.

I'm also excited to get to know her better; maybe I will be able to provide some meals for them around the time she delivers the baby.

I think the real limitations here will be her time and energy, but most of all her budget. I hope she'll qualify for WIC. That should help a lot. As I said earlier, I'm willing to purchase things for her, but I don't want to make her uncomfortable. Perhaps with her growing skills and enthusiasm, family members will either help out or pass some equipment down to her.

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I am really grateful to all for the ideas and information.  My friend and I are looking forward to working together....

Yesterday it hit me, that one of the reasons why I was reluctant to try new recipes during my cash-strapped days, was that if things didn't work out well, I was either stuck eating something I really didn't like, or had to trash a significant portion of the week's grocery budget.  So I have offered to try new recipes for her, if she finds something she wants to take a stab at, so that she can taste the results before investing the money.  She was enthusiastic about that.  I'm waiting to hear from her; I told her to either find a recipe or name a dish she wants to learn, and I'll find the recipe.  I figure I'll probably get to try a few new things along the way, so that will be of benefit to me as well as to her.

I do intend to hit nutrition topics as we cook, as well as technique topics and food safety topics.  One of the biggest things I think we'll work together on, is using up what she already has, which will involve some planning.  I'm not very good at that myself, so as I'm helping her to improve, I hope to pick up some good habits myself.  I also want to make sure she knows about various resources on the Internet and in the community.  I just found out about a good place to buy produce last night, so maybe we can check it out together.

I think it would also help her to keep a master list of things she knows how to make and her family likes, so that when she's trying to come up with menus, she can stay out of ruts, and can also flip through it to find ways to use up the rest of something she's purchased.  ...

Quite truthfully, looking over all of the suggestions, and looking at the strategies I'm going to teach her, this will probably end up benefitting me as much as it will her.

Our postings have crossed, this answers some of my questions. You are a kind and generous friend.

My suggestion would be to consider a slightly different approach. I would begin with eggs. They'll take you prctically everywhere. They are cheap enough to make any number of mistakes without pain. Teach her how to make a good omelet, and at least half dozen fillings and/or sauces for it. Ditto a frittata with variations. Either of these with a salad and/or soup can make an inexpensive meal at lerast once a week without becoming boring or giving a sense of deprivation. There are hundreds (or more) variations on these two dishes. These variations will take you into different kinds of sauces and fillings. For example the sauteed mushrooms you make for an omelet filling could be tweeked by instead adding some cream (or white sauce) and serving it on toast points or rice. Learn how to make a custard. This can be turned into either a sweet or savory dish depending on what you add to the basic egg, milk mixture. Soak a bunch of bread in it and you have bread pudding which can also be either sweet or, with the addition of some cheese and/or veggies, a savory dish (look up stratata).

In addition to tomato sauce, teach her white sauce (bechamel) which is also very versatile. One of my favorite dishes is a lasagna made with both tomato and bechamel sauce as well as cheese. Turn bechamel another way, making it thicker, combining it with eggs and some vegetable leftovers and or cheese and you have a souffle or cheese rarebit. And so on. By exploring all the uses of eggs with their great capacity to bind ingredients together, you gradually build up an extensive repetoire of techniques and dishes. In their capacity to bind foods together, eggs, thick bechamel, and some of that leftover chicken can become croquettes. With an appropriate selection of vegetables (onions, celery, etc), the bread pudding can become stuffing for the chicken.

Once you've mastered bechamel, it's a short hop to cheese sauce and the most delicious homemade mac and cheese to which you can add finely chopped onions and celery to make it more flavorful and nutritious. In a flush moment, you can stud it with some small shrimp for a company dish.

And best of all, eggs are the genius of most baked goods. A little flour, sugar, a few eggs, maybe milk and you can go from pancakes to cake. Savory pancakes with corn or some other vegetable added can be the centerpiece of a meal.

Just exploring all the techniques and ingredients to use with eggs will take you a long way without repetition or deprivations.

"Half of cooking is thinking about cooking." ---Michael Roberts

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Two quick ideas:

1. Help her learn the concept of developing a framework or routine for meals if that is helpful to her. Help her plan 1 week of supper menus. Encourage her to try a Breakfast for Supper Night, a Soup Night, and maybe a Pasta Night. Those meals will likely be very economical if she can use bits of ingredients left from other meals.

2. If she qualifies for WIC, google the ingredients she'll be getting and incorporate recipes to utilize those ingredients to their fullest. If she'll be breastfeeding her baby (hope so!), she'll get food for herself instead of formula (I remember using lots of carrots!).

Edited by Lori in PA (log)

~ Lori in PA

My blog: http://inmykitcheninmylife.blogspot.com/

My egullet blog: http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=89647&hl=

"Cooking is not a chore, it is a joy."

- Julia Child

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OK, I've heard from her. We plan, in a couple of weeks, to stew a chicken and branch out from there.

But meanwhile, with the part of this where I try a recipe and then let her taste it before she makes it, she wants to do fettucine alfredo. I'm aware of a few ways to approach this dish. I'm thinking about starting with a bechamel sauce. The Joy of Cooking, I would imagine (I'm at work and don't have access to my copy), would have a bechamel recipe plus variations. (I also have Peterson's Sauces cookbook, which I plan to consult, too.) This particular dish strikes me as an excellent place to start, since all kinds of things can be added to it, so leftover ingredients can be used up. Also, I can teach her about other things that can be made with a bechamel.

Oh -- she said she wants a "flavorful" version. I'm assuming that means we'll be using plenty of cheese.

Comments?

Suggestions for recipes?

Suggestions for variations on the alfredo dish, plus other dishes that start with bechamel? I didn't learn to cook by starting with the basic sauces, but have become familiar with them over the years, so this will be a good exercise for me.

Here we go!!! :biggrin:

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OK, I've heard from her.  We plan, in a couple of weeks, to stew a chicken and branch out from there. 

But meanwhile, with the part of this where I try a recipe and then let her taste it before she makes it, she wants to do fettucine alfredo.  I'm aware of a few ways to approach this dish.  I'm thinking about starting with a bechamel sauce.  The Joy of Cooking, I would imagine (I'm at work and don't have access to my copy), would have a bechamel recipe plus variations. (I also have Peterson's Sauces cookbook, which I plan to consult, too.)  This particular dish strikes me as an excellent place to start, since all kinds of things can be added to it, so leftover ingredients can be used up.  Also, I can teach her about other things that can be made with a bechamel.

Oh -- she said she wants a "flavorful" version.  I'm assuming that means we'll be using plenty of cheese.

Comments?

Suggestions for recipes?

Suggestions for variations on the alfredo dish, plus other dishes that start with bechamel?  I didn't learn to cook by starting with the basic sauces, but have become familiar with them over the years, so this will be a good exercise for me.

Here we go!!! :biggrin:

Marcella Hazan has a wonderful, simple fettuccine Alfredo. It takes maybe two minutes beyond the time to cook the fettuccine - the residual heat from the fettuccine and from the pot will do all of the cooking necessary. I have been making this so long that my method has probably strayed from the original, but it goes something like this:

1. Cook fettuccine in boiling salted water and strain in a colander

2. Melt butter using residual heat from the pot.

3. Add cooked fettuccine to the pot with the butter and mix.

4. Add heavy cream and mix.

5. Add freshly grated Parmesan a little at a time while mixing.

6. Season with freshly ground pepper and nutmeg, if you like.

Since cost is a factor, tell your friend that the recipe also works with asiago cheese (but don’t tell Marcella). :rolleyes:

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JGM, you really are doing a wonderful thing.

The alfredo sauce lends itself to frozen brocolli tossed in at the end very well, or leftover chicken meat from that stewed chicken you have planned, with a bit of garlic. Toss in some tarragon maybe, if she is looking for flavorful. If she doesn't qualify for WIC, she may find cheese a dear thing in her budget. We did a "chicken fettucinni" on a budget back in the day, that was really mostly bechamel, leftover chicken, frozen broccoli and tarragon with a very little hard cheese thrown in.

Make sure to show her how the same concepts translate across food from different cultures. White sauce by any other name is gravy. I would also suggest an introduction to Wondra. Instant flour is relatively cheap, and almost foolproof. Wouldn't want to discourage her with those nasty lumps.

Good luck, and best wishes.

Anne

Canned milk is a reasonable substitute for heavy cream, and something she should have in her pantry anyway for hard times. Butter is nearly as cheap as margarine if you are careful and buy on sale, so encourage her not to cheap out on that one.

Edited by annecros (log)
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JGM, you really are doing a wonderful thing.

We did a "chicken fettucinni" on a budget back in the day, that was really mostly bechamel, leftover chicken, frozen broccoli and tarragon with a very little hard cheese thrown in.

I echo Anne's sentiments, jgm. If I sounded cranky in my questions before, it was from wanting to be sure that paths were clear enough in all ways so that this *would* work in good ways for you both. :wink:

Anne's chicken base recipe above might also be used wrapped inside crepes for a lovely and still inexpensive presentation. Instead of broccoli, mushrooms are also a tasty co-lingerer. Chicken crepes sided with a steaming mound of white fluffy rice. . .(!) Yum.

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JGM, you really are doing a wonderful thing.

We did a "chicken fettucinni" on a budget back in the day, that was really mostly bechamel, leftover chicken, frozen broccoli and tarragon with a very little hard cheese thrown in.

I echo Anne's sentiments, jgm. If I sounded cranky in my questions before, it was from wanting to be sure that paths were clear enough in all ways so that this *would* work in good ways for you both. :wink:

Anne's chicken base recipe above might also be used wrapped inside crepes for a lovely and still inexpensive presentation. Instead of broccoli, mushrooms are also a tasty co-lingerer. Chicken crepes sided with a steaming mound of white fluffy rice. . .(!) Yum.

Yep, and her penchant for chicken and noodles over mashed potatoes would be sated as well with the crepes and rice, I think. Mushrooms are great in this sort of thing. Or, even dare I say it, a handful of frozen spinach?

Anne

(who has been known to make a whole meal out of just plain buttered and salted egg noodles just because she wanted to, but was being very naughty. Although the time or two I soft scrambled an egg over it helps)

Edited by annecros (log)
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Everyone has great ideas. I could give you an example of things I did when we were straped for cash.

Take bagged lunch to work.

I would cut coupons - only for the things I would normally buy (some stores double or triple them).

I would look at the supermarket sale flyer before shopping - try to buy only what was on special (stores usually rotate sales, one week chicken, the next pork and so on).

I would make a list for my budget and meal plan and stick to it.

Some meal ideas:

roasted chicken legs (whole legs are usually on sale by me for .49lb)

frozen veggie (store brands on sale .99)

baked potato (5lb 1.99)

beef stew-

Chuck cut into cubes (sometimes the family size package precut is cheaper than the whole roast)

carrots

peas

celery

potatoes - make enough so you can freeze

Chili (sort of like hamburger helper)

1 lb ground beef

tomato sauce

2 cans of beans

onion (can also add leftover veggies)

seasoning

serve over elbow macaroni w/small amount of grated cheddar

Good Luck :smile:

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beef stew-

Chuck cut into cubes (sometimes the family size package precut is cheaper than the whole roast)

Oh man, this is great stuff! Stew beef and onions braised all afternoon, lots and lots of yellow onions, served over rice with some veg on the side.

I would either buy the whole chuck and cut it up, or buy the stew beef precut. It is the same meat. I know that for a fact.

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Oh -- she said she wants a "flavorful" version.  I'm assuming that means we'll be using plenty of cheese.

in general, you would be doing her and her family

a huge favor if you introduced her to getting plenty of

flavor from herbs and spices rather than from extra

cheese and butter.

C and B great ingredients, a basic amount

essential to many recipes,

but more may not always be better,

certainly not for lifelong health.....

milagai

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This is really wonderful, what you're doing.

I hope, hope, HOPE she qualifies for WIC, as that will alieviate a lot of the pressure. WIC isn't as hard to get as food stamps it seems, so hopefully she will.

I would tell her how to make things that don't cost a lot of money, but make a lot, and will last for a long time. Like soups, stews, chili, casseroles, etc. Like everyone else has said, avoid heavily-processed items and those "kits." They are really expensive and don't make as much as cooking the same thing from scratch would.

Also, help her research making her own baby food. Besides being healthier, it's also WAY cheaper. Since babies don't eat that much at a time, anyway, you can make a big batch and it will last a good long while.

-Sounds awfully rich!

-It is! That's why I serve it with ice cream to cut the sweetness!

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I think it would also help her to keep a master list of things she knows how to make and her family likes, so that when she's trying to come up with menus, she can stay out of ruts, and can also flip through it to find ways to use up the rest of something she's purchased. 

This is helpful for everyone. Especially when I worked outside the home, I had a list on the fridge of easy to prepare dishes that were sure family pleasers -- made mostly out of pantry staples. I always made sure that I had the ingredients to make three of them for those "brain dead" nights.

And, wonderful idea to give her samples of new-to-her food!

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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Credit goes to Lori in PA for proposing an egg-based curriculum, but the following excerpt is from one of my favorite contributions:

My suggestion would be to consider a slightly different approach. I would begin with eggs. They'll take you prctically everywhere. They are cheap enough to make any number of mistakes without pain....Just exploring all the techniques and ingredients to use with eggs will take you a long way without repetition or deprivations.

The entire lesson plan sounds like that of a true teacher.

Something else to consider is how to plan an entire menu for family meals, a skill that often intimidates novice cooks. Just to reinforce a point made several times, I'd advocate finding alternatives to making a large piece of meat the central focus of the plate.

Of course, Parmigiano-Reggiano is much more expensive than most cuts of meat, but strictly speaking Fettuccine Alfredo is not made with cream at all: it's just fresh egg pasta, lots of butter, salt and freshly grated cheese. (Learning how to make fresh pasta is not something I'd tackle at this point.)

I agree with C. Sapidus that you could substitute a different, less costly cheese for P-R in this case, but something better than the can of Kraft and not something that comes pre-grated. A hunk, even if it comes from Wisconsin instead of Italy would be better. If you can't find a reasonable price on the egg-yellow nests of dried pasta that De Cecco imports, or the ones from Al Dente (Ann Arbor?), why not go with some of the twisty American egg noodles sold to make Strogonoff and turkey noodle soup? Just don't get the "improved" kind without egg yolks.

The less authentic version that Anna Thomas taught to vegetarian hippies long ago involves melting butter in heavy cream, then letting it simmer with lots of freshly grated cheese until it starts to thicken. 10 mins. or so. Some of the cream is then stirred into beaten egg yolks before the two are whisked back into the sauce off the burner, then just returned just to heat up, making the sauce even richer. Taste to see if it needs salt since it may not. This method would compensate for the lack of fresh pasta. Toss with peas if you'd like.

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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I agree with C. Sapidus that you could substitute a different, less costly cheese for P-R in this case, but something better than the can of Kraft and not something that comes pre-grated.  A hunk, even if it comes from Wisconsin instead of Italy would be better. 

Wouldn't grana padano work in this case? I've never bought it, but isn't it supposed to be much cheaper than parm but still a close taste?

One thing that I had to learn really quickly when I was a poor college student was not to let anything go to waste. I would sit down on Saturday and make a menu up for the week and then make a grocery list from that menu... if I needed, let's say red cabbage for a recipe, I would either nix that recipe entirely if I weren't going to be using all of the red cabbage or I would make sure that there was another recipe utilizing red cabbage in my menu plan. This way nothing would ever get wasted and I would get full use out of my ingredients as well as my money.

I would also suggest a soup lesson too... could be interwoven with your chicken lesson. Making her own stock would save a lot of money.

Lots of great ideas you are getting jgm and I'm excited about your project too! Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside- this is the reason for the season! :smile:

"Many people believe the names of In 'n Out and Steak 'n Shake perfectly describe the contrast in bedroom techniques between the coast and the heartland." ~Roger Ebert

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A lot of folks have already suggested stuff that I would suggest, so some of this may well be repeats:

--Food banks can be a great boon, and they're not just for the totally down-and-out; lots of working folks use them to stretch their food dollars. Most food banks just carry real basics like potatoes, onions, and canned goods, with maybe a few more interesting things thrown in, so she'll still have to round out her groceries with a trip to the (budget) supermarket, but every little bit helps.

--Stretch the pricy meat by using it as a seasoning/accent rather than the main event of a meal. Soups, stews with lots of veggies, chili, home-made hamburger-helper concoctions, stirfries, etc. etc. etc.

--Lots of food-dollar stretchers to be found in soul food/SE US cuisine--a big pot of greens or beans flavored with a ham hock (or a smoked turkey wing, for a version lighter in salt and fat); dirty rice; grits ...

--Mexican cookery (and its Tex-Mex variants) is another source good stuff cheap--and a great way to use all that cheese she'll (hopefully) be getting through WIC.

--How does she feel about tofu? I know lots of people unfamiliar with the stuff avoid it because they think it's bland, but it just needs proper treatment (marination, cooking in a flavorful broth, etc.) to really take off. And it's some of the cheapest protein in the store.

--Same question for variety meats/offal--again, lots of folks think they don't care for the stuff, but again, with proper treatment the stuff's delicious.

--How's the roadside vegetable stand action in your neck of the woods? I realize right now in Kansas it's totally not the growing season, but when it is, farm stands can provide some real bargains on produce.

--Shop thrift stores not only for a good crock pot (as someone said upstream), but also for some good basic cookbooks to build up her reference library.

As a side issue, I'm kind of bummed on her behalf that she was turned down for food stamps ... does she think it's worth it trying to appeal that decision, or to at least talk to someone in the administration about the reasons she was turned down? Sometimes it's just a matter of re-wording the application more effectively, and/or better documenting the need issues, and/or finding a more helpful/sympathetic bureauocrat to help find the path through the red-tape jungle...

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I think she may need help along the way of "how to cook hamburger a 101 ways".

She has a child and will very soon have another. Taking care of two small children at home is a 24 hour a day project, leaving little time for anything else.

The idea of teaching her some simple techniques to get her going is fine if she has the time to implement them.

My approach (knowing her time constraints) would go something like this.

Have her cook up 10 pounds of hamburger for example.

Then I would show her how to season a portion for tacos, season another for spaghetti sauce, and form the rest into a meatloaf. Then freeze them.

The same goes for chicken. Portion it into different meals and freeze it.

I would also show her a simple soup base ala bechamel, that can be modified into many different soups with a few different veggies.

The idea is multi-use products that would be both cost effective as well as diverse.

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I'm getting lots of good ideas here. And I'm beginning to realize that also, one of the first things I need to do is sit down with her and find out what she's already cooking, and see where any holes are. I do know, from the e-mail I quoted above, that she doesn't know how to stew a whole chicken, so that will remain a high priority.

The eggs are a good suggestion, but they are fairly high in cholesterol. I am having to cut down on that myself--I'm limited to two a week--but my friend and her family are young and likely are not having to watch nutritional problems that closely. And sometimes, instead of a second egg, two egg whites can be substituted in an omelet, allowing the one yolk (from the first egg) to suffice when vegetables or other things are added, so we can also look at things like that. But I agree that cooking eggs is a skill every cook needs, and if she doesn't already have that skill, we will need to work on it.

The fettucine alfredo recipe may need to be bechamel-based, because I don't think she's going to be able to afford heavy cream, parmesan, and butter for one meal. I plan to see what kind of Parmesan she currently buys, and if it's green-can Parmesan, I'll probably step her up to a wedge of DiGiorno. (Katie, if grana padano is available in Wichita, I wouldn't know where to get it. I've wanted to try it myself, so I'll continue to look, but I'm not optimistic.) I understand that DiGiorno isn't considered by most to be a high-quality cheese, but it's readily available at our grocery stores here. I don't want to introduce a "hassle factor" of having to run all over town to find ingredients. Wichita is a very frustrating place to grocery shop. It's fairly spread out, and lacks interesting markets and specialty stores. If any of you have read the No-Knead Bread thread, I said in my post there that it's almost a 25-mile round trip for me to simply be able to buy a decent loaf of bread. That is not an exaggeration. I put my address and the store's address into Mapquest, and that's what it added up to.

I'll look at the fettucine alfredo recipes in my cookbooks, and if I find any significant variations, I'll bring questions back to the thread. If I end up going with the bechamel-based sauce, I will at least introduce her to the more authentic version, so that she'll at least know about it, but it may have to wait for a more prosperous time of life. Or maybe she'll prefer it, and will simply decide to make it a once or twice a year meal.

My friend did tell me that she's not crazy about mushrooms because of their texture. Sounds like she's been eating canned mushrooms. We'll have to address that early on, too!

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I'm getting lots of good ideas here.  And I'm beginning to realize that also, one of the first things I need to do is sit down with her and find out what she's already cooking, and see where any holes are.  I do know, from the e-mail I quoted above, that she doesn't know how to stew a whole chicken, so that will remain a high priority.

The eggs are a good suggestion, but they are fairly high in cholesterol.  I am having to cut down on that myself--I'm limited to two a week--but my friend and her family are  young and likely are not having to watch nutritional problems that closely.  And sometimes, instead of a second egg, two egg whites can be substituted in an omelet, allowing the one yolk (from the first egg) to suffice when vegetables or other things are added, so we can also look at things like that.  But I agree that cooking eggs is a skill every cook needs, and if she doesn't already have that skill, we will need to work on it.

The fettucine alfredo recipe may need to be bechamel-based, because I don't think she's going to be able to afford heavy cream, parmesan, and butter for one meal.  I plan to see what kind of Parmesan she currently buys, and if it's green-can Parmesan, I'll probably step her up to a wedge of DiGiorno.  (Katie, if grana padano is available in Wichita, I wouldn't know where to get it.  I've wanted to try it myself, so I'll continue to look, but I'm not optimistic.)  I understand that DiGiorno isn't considered by most to be a high-quality cheese, but it's readily available at our grocery stores here.  I don't want to introduce a "hassle factor" of having to run all over town to find ingredients.  Wichita is a very frustrating place to grocery shop.  It's fairly spread out, and lacks interesting markets and specialty stores.  If any of you have read the No-Knead Bread thread, I said in my post there that it's almost a 25-mile round trip for me to simply be able to buy a decent loaf of bread.  That is not an exaggeration.  I put my address and the store's address into Mapquest, and that's what it added up to.

I'll look at the fettucine alfredo recipes in my cookbooks, and if I find any significant variations, I'll bring questions back to the thread.  If I end up going with the bechamel-based sauce, I will at least introduce her to the more authentic version, so that she'll at least know about it, but it may have to wait for a more prosperous time of life.  Or maybe she'll prefer it, and will simply decide to make it a once or twice a year meal.

My friend did tell me that she's not crazy about mushrooms because of their texture.  Sounds like she's been eating canned mushrooms.  We'll have to address that early on, too!

Do you sense a disconnect here? Eggs ARE high in cholesterol, but so is alfredo, meat, cheese and most other things being considered here. The difference between eggs and other hi cholesterol items is eggs are CHEAP PROTEIN. Of course, beans are even cheaper and low in cholesterol too. You need to set some sort of goals - health, nutrition, and expense - and find a balance.

My guess is that this woman's first problem is less what she's cooking than what boxes and cello bags she's opening. She needs to learn how to cook vegetables, grains, and even tofu, and as someone upthread mentioned, use meat/fish/chicken more like a condiment for flavor than a main food group. This is especially true as she will probably be buying the cheapest meat supermarkets can offer, pumped full of antibiotics and hormones.

Save her 10-20/week by weening her family off sodas, snacks that come in cello bags, and breakfast cereals that come in boxes with familiar names such as Nabisco, etc. Start by finding substitutes for these which will be more healthful and cheaper.

Edited by Mottmott (log)

"Half of cooking is thinking about cooking." ---Michael Roberts

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