Saturday, March 26, 2016

Meat Can Be a Garnish!

A lady I met recently who has a limited income and is therefore appalled and frightened by the rising cost of groceries, has asked me to draw on my own experiences of how to make foods stretch after living below the poverty line for so many years myself.

Thinking back to those days I began remembering some tricks of the poverty "trade"....tricks I may have to soon implement once again. One of the old Jack and the Beanstalk cartoons of my childhood showed the characters sitting around a barren table, preparing to carve one small bean between the four of them, one of the characters wielding a giant sized carving knife sharp enough to shave the bean into four thin slices. The older and more poverty stricken I became as an adult the less far fetched that cartoon seemed to be!

I discovered a number of ways to make small amounts if meat stretch into several meals, using less expensive cheeses and eggs to fill in the protein gaps.

The trick with meat is to start considering it to be a dinnertime garnish rather than the main focus of a meal. One larger meatball can be halved after cooking, then each half can be crumbled over a small plate of rice or diced potatoes mixed with a handful of peas or corn niblets or other bits of chopped vegetables. If you take a fork and smooth the rice mixture so that it covers the entire surface of the plate before crumbling the meat over it, it can look like a lovely casserole type of dish. Spreading it evenly over the plate stretches the appearance of how much or how little food in total is actually there. It is always a surprise to me how full I can feel simply by making a smaller amount of food look as if it is much more.

A chicken breast can be quartered after cooking and stretched into two meals for two adults. Quartering it prior to cooking dries the meat out. The first night two of the cooked quarters can be wrapped in a strip or two of thinly sliced green or red pepper and placed beside larger portions of potato or rice and thin slices of tomato or other veggie or salad. The second night the other two quarters can be diced up and added to a vegetable stir fry, or a rice mixture similar to the one in the previous paragraph. Adding plenty of chopped and sautéed onion to any meat dish stretches out the flavour in your mouth, making it seem plenty satisfying even if there isn't a lot of it.

A teensy pork loin roast right now costs only a dollar or two more than a package of low quality ground beef and it is a great meat for thin slicing for dinners and sandwiches. There is very little fat to remove after cooking, so you are getting mostly edible meat. Three or four very thin slices of porkloin fill one entire side of a small plate. Finish plating with a third to a half a cup each of two or three other filling foods such as carrots or peas and that bit of meat is more than sufficient.

Droozling a bit of your favourite home made, or even commercial, sauces over a tiny portion of meat and eating it slowly raises the level of enjoyment to a point of requiring less of the meat to feel satisfied.

Most of us do not need to consume the huge amounts of meat proteins we tend to stuff our stomachs with here in North Anerica. Of course there are exceptions to that, but for many of us consuming more than an ounce or two of protein two out of three meals a day is not a necessity.

With the terrifying rise even in the cost of produce these days I am learning that most foods can be eaten in smaller amounts by our family. Variety on a plate is also key to feeling satisfied with smaller total intake.  If I eat a dinner with five or six different foods on my plate, all in small amounts, I feel just as emotionally and physically satisfied and often more so, than eating larger amounts of only two or three items.

Struggling with food budgets can bring about new levels of creativity and preparation fun in the kitchen while we learn to happily make do with less, particularly in the area of expensive proteins. That has been my husband's and my experience anyway. (And yes I did post a similar post some months ago on the same topic...o well, right now it is relevant again for me and this new friend.)

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