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Pitch in, everyone benefits

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Remember the tale of Stone Soup, where the traveling peddler offers to make the villagers a pot of the most delicious soup they will ever taste? Oh, if only we had a potato or an onion or carrot to add, the soup would be perfect, he tells them. After the villagers have added the ingredients to the pot of boiling water and the special stone, the peddler declares the soup ready to eat. The villagers and the peddler devour the Stone Soup, claiming it truly to be the most delicious soup they have ever eaten. At the end of the meal, all that is left is the stone, which the peddler pockets for the journey to the next village.

The moral of the story? Either 'if you are hungry you can trick people into feeding you,' or 'everyone benefits when all contribute to the pot.'

I prefer to think that latter is the case.

Both of my husband's brothers' families (Steve and Kitzie Randall and Bruce and Tracy Randall) live in Lake Oswego, and my brother and sister-in-law Tom and Julie Smith and niece Dana Grover and her husband, John, live nearby. It is not uncommon to give or receive a phone call late in the afternoon asking if you can come to dinner, and to bring whatever you might have on hand.

'Don't go to the store - let's make due with what we have on hand,' is a favorite phrase of Kitzie's We don't go the store, and rarely do we feel that we are suffering by 'making due.'

Kitzie has a real knack for making delectable, spur-of-the-moment meals with 'just what I had on hand.' In fact, most dinners together are concocted with what we have on hand.

And with grocery prices increasing as they are, we all should be more attentive of using what we have on hand. The challenge is to eat as healthfully as possible for the least amount of money. To me, that means lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats.

How can you stretch your food dollar? Here are a few suggestions:

n Read the grocery ads and inserts in the Lake Oswego Review and West Linn Tidings and shop the sales.

n Plan a menu based on what is on sale. This will take a little discipline on my part. I tend to cook as the muse hits me.

n Plan a shopping list for the menu and stick to it. Leave the kids at home when you shop.

n Use coupons to further increase your savings. Check out West Linn resident Julie Parrish's Hotcouponworld.com and Organicgrocerydeals.com.

n Grow your own garden, especially herbs. You still have plenty of summer to grow vegetables. Buying fresh herbs can be expensive, especially if you can't just buy what you need. Grow them yourself at a fraction of the cost.

n Watch portion sizes. An appropriate serving of meat is four to five ounces cooked weight. A typical chicken breast is large enough for two good servings, but most people would consider one breast as a serving. A serving of ice cream measures a half cup! Hmm. Take this opportunity to teach portion control and discourage overeating.

n Choose bone-in cuts of meat. The more work you have done to foods, the most costly they will be. Either bone the meat yourself (you can Google the technique on the Internet) or, cook it with the bone in. In fact, meat is more flavorful cooked with the bone in.

n Look to other sources rather than meat for protein. Lentils, couscous, buckwheat, barley and beans make interesting eating.

n Substitute expensive ingredients for less-expensive ones. Use bacon instead of proscuitto, lettuce or spinach in place of arugula or raddicio.

Have other ideas you can share with our readers about saving money in the grocery store? E-mail or call me so I can pass them on.

Inviting your family and friends over to make Stone Soup may be a little extreme, but I bet they would be more than happy to share a meal where they are nourished by what is on hand, with a side of good company.

The recipes I have chosen today are quick, delicious summer fare that should be easy on the budget, too. Feel free to substitute cremini or button mushrooms for the Portobellos. Use 3 or 4 medium sized mushrooms for each Portobello and prepare them in the same manner. Slice them so they sit more steadily on the bun.

In the Five:30 recipe, you can substitute black olives for the Kalamatas, and if you don't have mint growing, plant some now.

Bon Appetit! Eat Locally!

Grilled Portobello and Arugula Burgers

Serves 4

½ cup mayonnaise

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

6 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary

1 garlic clove, minced

Nonstick vegetable oil spray

4 large Portobello mushrooms, stems trimmed

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 whole-wheat buns, toasted

2 large bunches arugula (or your favorite leafy green)

Mix mayonnaise, mustard, rosemary and garlic in small bowl.

Spray grill rack with nonstick spray, then prepare barbecue (medium heat). Brush mushrooms all over with olive oil. Sprinkle each with 1 teaspoons rosemary, then salt and pepper. Grill until tender, about 10 minutes per side.

Spread mayonnaise mixture over buns. Place mushrooms and arugula on bun bottoms. Cover with bun tops.

Adapted from Bon Appetit, July 1999

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-635-8811 or by e-mail at brandall@lakeoswego

review.com .

Five:30

An easy five-ingredient entrée ready in 30 minutes or less (salt, pepper, water, oil don't count!) Enjoy!

Minted Mediterranean Couscous Salad

Makes 4 servings

1 ½ cups water

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup plain couscous

2 cups chopped red bell pepper

2/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives or other brine cured black olives, halved

1 cup chopped fresh mint

3 tablespoons bottled olive oil vinaigrette

1 cup crumbled feta cheese (about 5 ounces)

Bring the water and salt to boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in couscous. Remove from heat. Cover and let stand 5 minutes. Transfer couscous to bowl; fluff with fork and cool slightly.

Stir chopped bell pepper, olives and mint into couscous. Stir in olive oil vinaigrette. Fold in feta cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

Adapted from Bon Appetit, June 2001