Friday, August 1, 2014

Hatching Eggplants and the Weekly Specials with Mary Anne

Yikes! It’s August already! Where has the summer gone?

It’s been a strange summer, hasn’t it? It started late and has been unseasonably cool. Not that I’m complaining, mind you! I don’t like heat and I especially don’t like heat and humidity. I can’t help but wonder, though, how the farmers like this weather. I am reassured, though, by the wonderful produce at the Farmers Market.

The grocery ads feature some great deals on produce, but not meat. Again. I keep hearing contradictory news – world food prices are coming down but our food prices are going up. The U.S. is supposed to have a bumper corn crop this year and eventually it’s supposed to be reflected in our meat prices. I sure hope so! It can’t happen too soon, as far as I’m concerned.

With no meat specials to talk about, I’m going to focus on eggplant this week. It’s plentiful at the Farmers Market, and Kayte expects the Hub to have lots of it soon, when the Hoosier Hills’ crop comes in. She says they planted lots of it this year. Don’t forget you can exchange up to $18 of food stamps for up to $36 of Market Bucks, so you basically get stuff half off at the Farmers Market. I’m going to assume you’re paying full price, though, when I cost out the meals.
Just a reminder, before I get on to the sales. The average food stamp benefit actually received per person is about $4.15 per day. I figure that that breaks down to about $1.50 for supper, $1.25 for lunch and $1.00 for breakfast, plus about $12.00 or so for things like buying more of something than you’re actually going to use this month. Like buying a big jar of mayo because it’s cheaper than buying a little jar, or taking advantage of a sale on something. My goal is to come up with at least three supper menus that come in at or under $1.50 per person for the whole meal. That means at least three main dishes plus sides. I also usually give at least one menu for either lunch or breakfast that costs less than average - $1.00 or less for lunch or 50 cents or less for breakfast. That’s to give you a little extra wiggle room for supper or stocking up on something or just because sometimes (usually?) you need a bit of help with the budget. Or at least I do.

But first, the sales.

Kroger has pork spare ribs for $1.77 per pound. It’s not a bad price per pound, but remember that there’s an awful lot of bone there. You’re paying a lot for the pleasure (and I do agree that it’s a pleasure!) of gnawing on the bones. Seedless red, white or black grapes are 99 cents a pound. Eggs are four dozen for $5.00, or $1.25 per dozen. Boneless (and presumably skinless) chicken breast is $1.99 per pound. It’s not a great price – you can find it somewhere at that price most weeks – but it’s lower than the regular price anywhere. Smoked sausage is two packages (13 -14 ounces each) for $5.00, or $2.50 each. That’s about $3.00 per pound, and, like the chicken breast, is a normal sales price. Ground chuck is $2.99 per pound in three-pound packages ($8.97 per three-pound package.) Cheese is $2.99 for twelve to sixteen ounce packages. Again, a normal sales price, and a good price for sixteen ounces but not for twelve. “Local” cabbage is 39 cents a pound, which is a great price. “Local” cucumbers are 50 cents each. Red and black plums are 99 cents per pound.

Marsh has Georgia peaches for 98 cents a pound. Perdue boneless skinless chicken breasts are $1.99 per pound in the family pack. Family packs of ground chuck are $2.99 per pound.

Aldi has red and green grapes, peaches, plums and nectarines, all 99 cents a pound in two-pound packages, or $1.98 per package. Blueberries are 99 cents, too, but per pint instead of per pound. Boneless skinless chicken breasts are $1.99 in family packs. One pound rolls of pork sausage are $2.89. Heat-n-serve sausage links are $1.09 for 6.4 ounces, which may come out about the same, since some of the shrinkage should be gone from the pre-cooked links. Baby carrots are 69 cents per pound. Peanut butter prices have come down. It’s now $1.49 for eighteen ounces of regular peanut butter or sixteen ounces of “natural” peanut butter (just peanuts and salt), or $2.99 for forty ounces of regular peanut butter.

Some prices off the top of my head from the Farmers Market last week. Don’t forget that they vary by vendor and also by week, depending on how the crops is doing. Zucchini and summer squash were usually 75 cents each or three for $2.00. Eggplants were 75 cents or $1.00 each. Tomato prices varied from about $2.50 per pound to about $4.00 per pound. Heirloom tomatoes were more, standard tomatoes were less. Cucumbers were 50 to 75 cents each. Sweet “Candy” onions were about $1.00 each for big onions. Green beans were about $3.50 per box but the size of boxes varied. That’s about all I remember. Again, if you have food stamps, you can get stuff “half price” by exchanging your food stamps for Market Bucks.

And now on to the recipes and menus, featuring eggplants. I’m going to assume that you’re getting big eggplants for $1.00 each.

EASIEST EGGPLANT AND SAUSAGE CASSEROLE is easiest because the original recipe was called Easy Eggplant and Sausage Casserole and I made it easier by peeling the eggplant and mixing up COLESLAW for another 80 cents and serve peaches and blueberries for dessert – a pound of peaches, sliced, and half a pint of blueberries. The whole meal comes to $6.15, but you can keep it down to $6.00 if your peaches are a bit small or by using not quite half a pint of blueberries. By the way, you can save the peach skins and pits and, when you get enough of them and other fruit scraps, make FRUIT SCRAP JUICE or FRUIT SCRAP VINEGAR. I’m giving links rather than recipes because that’s the way the online posts come and there’s a lot of explanation. They both look easy enough, just time consuming.

all the ingredients instead of cutting the eggplant out of the shell and then stuffing the shells with the eggplant and sausage mixture. I usually go for the easy way. A batch will cost about $3.85. Serve it with

Most eggplant recipes include tomatoes and peppers. Frequently zucchini, too, but almost always tomatoes and peppers. Like EGGPLANT CASSEROLE, for example. It makes a lot – a 9x13 panful, so figure on eight servings. You could bake it in two 8x8 baking dishes instead of a 9x13 pan. That way you know you’ll get eight servings. A recipe will cost about $7.10, but let’s call it $7.20 so it divides nicely by eight. That’s $3.60 for four servings, or 90 cents each. Serve it with a salad of half a head of lettuce, half a cucumber, and four ounces of baby carrots (sliced), plus some Italian dressing, for about $1.20. Add some fresh fruit for dessert.

Eggplant can be part of the main dish (or, for a vegetarian meal, can be the main dish itself) or it can be served as a vegetable side dish. EGGPLANT WITH YOGURT SAUCE can be served either way. I’m going to use it as a side dish, with ROASTED CHICKEN LEGS. The eggplant dish costs about $1.60, assuming you use HOMEMADE YOGURT. It will cost about 35 cents more if you buy commercial yogurt by the quart. (It’s usually cheapest at Aldi.) The chicken will cost about $2.40 for a leg quarter per person. That’s a drumstick and a thigh, and don’t forget to save the piece of back to make CHICKEN STOCK. How about splurging and having ice cream with sliced peaches over it? 

Last week I forgot to give a budget breakfast or lunch, so I’ll give two of them today. First, a simple lunch dish of SLICED FRITATTA WITH TOMATO SAUCE. It will cost about $2.35, which leaves room for a salad. There are lots of possibilities there – lettuce and a few other veggies, or cucumber and onion in sour cream or vinegar, or, better yet, a nice fruit salad. I know I’m using fresh fruit a lot these days, but it has such a short season that it’s a shame not to.

A Dutch Baby is a baked German pancake. At least, they say that’s where the name comes from. At its simplest, it’s nothing more than eggs, flour and milk baked in one piece in butter in a big skillet. From there, the sky’s the limit! They’re usually served with fruit, or at least lemon juice and powdered sugar, though I used to make them with hamburger and cheddar cheese. Here’s the basic recipe for GERMAN PANCAKES, that I got from my German uncle almost 50 years ago, and a more recent version with fresh peaches, BAKED PEACH PANCAKE. The basic German Pancakes should cost about 55 cents, plus whatever you add, and will serve four generously. A Pancake with powdered sugar and a pint of blueberries would be about $1.75. Serve either one for breakfast, for less than 50 cents per serving, or with a big salad for lunch for less than $1.00 per serving. It sounds sort of strange, now that I think about it, but I used to have coleslaw with it.

And don’t forget that with HOMEMADE YOGURT and the fresh fruit that’s on sale, you should be able to serve smoothies for about 50 cents, too.

Enjoy this delightful weather, and take advantage of the summer produce while we can!

---Mary Anne---

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