Home cooks finding ways to stretch food dollars

With job layoffs and shrinking investments, Canadians are being forced to accept that this recession is a reality. To save money, more consumers are likely going to cook most of their meals at home.

Turkey Scaloppine with Squash studded oatmeal is a low-cost

Turkey Scaloppine with Squash studded oatmeal is a low-cost

With job layoffs and shrinking investments, Canadians are being forced to accept that this recession is a reality. To save money, more consumers are likely going to cook most of their meals at home.

In fact, a survey conducted late last year by the NPD Group found that 88 per cent of respondents to the Eating Patterns in Canada report revealed they would choose the comforts of home over eating out.

“In the past few years, we have become a society built for convenience, but convenience comes at a cost,” says Christine Cushing, a chef and the former host of two programs on Food Network Canada.

“And although prepared foods are the biggest growing sector in supermarkets, it is an expensive way to eat.”

Her advice is to slow down and start planning. In short, become a savvy food shopper.

Chicken is a popular item for home cooks, but “people tend to choose chicken breasts because they are lean and fast, but chicken thighs are cheaper.”

“In fact, they have a lot of nutrients, more flavour in their dark meat and are more forgiving when it comes to preparation,” she says. “Just throw them in the oven with some dried herbs and a can of beans like northern or kidney, add a green salad or steamed broccoli and you have a delicious nutrient-rich dinner.”

Cushing suggests stocking up on cans of beans, salmon and tuna, brown rice and pasta for economical meals that can be made in no time.

Zannat Reza, a Toronto dietitian, recommends making smart choices at the grocery store.

For example, by choosing value-priced cuts of meat such as blade simmering steak or sirloin tip marinating steak and using cooking methods such as slow-cooking and marinating, the family can enjoy flavourful, nutritious meals.

When Christine Cushing’s mother dropped by to visit one day, her chef daughter wanted to whip up a little something special. With no rice to make a risotto, she decided to try concocting one with the large-flake oats she had in her kitchen cupboard.

“I boiled a little chicken stock and then I used some squash and king oyster mushrooms and made it like a risotto and it was fantastic,” says the former host of Christine Cushing Live and Cook With Me on Food Network Canada.

So thrilled with her discovery, she has gone on to develop other recipes using large-flake old-fashioned oats as the main ingredient.

Here are two to sample.

Turkey Scaloppine With Oatmeal

Oats

30 ml (2 tbsp) olive oil

1 large shallot or onion, chopped

250 ml (1 cup) king oyster mushrooms (or shiitake or cremini)

250 ml (1 cup) diced butternut squash

5 ml (1 tsp) fresh chopped thyme

750 ml (3 cups) chicken stock

Salt and pepper, to taste

Pinch ground allspice

150 ml (2/3 cup) large-flake oats

Scallopine

500 g (1 lb) turkey breast scaloppine, about 5 mm (1/4 inch) thick

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

All-purpose flour, for dredging

5 ml (1 tsp) chopped fresh thyme

15 to 30 ml (1 to 2 tbsp) olive oil

5 ml (1 tsp) Worcestershire sauce

50 ml (1/4 cup) low-sodium chicken stock

Oats: In a medium pot, heat olive oil and saute shallot, mushrooms and squash over medium-high heat until golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Add thyme and chicken stock and stir. Simmer on medium heat for about 3 minutes, just until squash is tender. Season with salt, pepper and allspice and add oats. Stir well and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, just to prevent sticking. (Mixture will be quite soupy, but will thicken while resting.) Remove from heat.

Scallopine: Meanwhile, season turkey with salt and pepper and rub with chopped thyme. Dredge lightly on both sides in flour.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over high heat. Pan-fry turkey slices until golden, about 1 minute. Drizzle with Worcestershire sauce. Flip slices and brown on other side for another minute, until golden and firm. Add chicken stock and simmer for 2 minutes, until turkey is firm and no longer pink and liquid is almost absorbed. Remove from heat and serve with warm oats.

Makes 4 servings.

Wine match: Australian Chardonnay.

Seasonal Vegetable Roast

30 ml (2 tbsp) olive oil

375 ml (1 1/2 cups) peeled, diced sweet potatoes

375 ml (1 1/2 cups) cubed zucchini

375 ml (1 1/2 cups) cubed red pepper

1/2 red onion, chopped

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

125 ml (1/2 cup) low-sodium chicken broth

Several sprigs fresh parsley, chopped

Topping

75 ml (1/3 cup) whole-wheat flour

30 ml (2 tbsp) olive oil

75 ml (1/3 cup) grated Parmesan cheese

5 ml (1 tsp) chopped fresh rosemary

1 egg white

125 ml (1/2 cup) large-flake oats

Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 190 C (375 F).

In a large skillet, heat olive oil on high. Add sweet potatoes and saute for 5 minutes until golden brown and almost tender. Add zucchini, red pepper, onion, salt and pepper and saute for a further 3 minutes on medium-high until red pepper is just softened. Add chicken stock and parsley and reduce to medium heat. Simmer for 5 more minutes, just until liquid is reduced by half and vegetables are tender.

Topping: In a medium bowl, combine flour with olive oil and rub together with hands to distribute oil throughout mixture. Add Parmesan cheese, rosemary and salt and pepper. Stir to combine. In a small bowl, whisk egg white until frothy. Add oats and toss to coat. Pour this mixture into cheese-flour mixture and toss gently with spoon until thoroughly blended.

Transfer vegetables into a 20-cm (8-inch) oval baking dish and sprinkle oat topping evenly over them. Bake until golden brown and crisp, 15 to 20 minutes.

Makes 6 servings.

Wine match: Alsatian Pinot Gris.

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