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Budget keeps you eating all month

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO, 
Joy of Cooking’s 75th Anniversary Edition is as timely a resource today as it was 75 years ago. Barb Randall considers it a ‘must have’ for every kitchen, as it contains information on how to cook just about every food imaginable.

This is the second of a five- part series focused on tips for college students and others cooking for themselves for the first time.

You're in your first apartment and the independence feels great! It's wonderful to be on your own, making every decision for yourself. From what you eat, to when you go to bed, its all up to you.

May I offer you a little motherly advise?

Feeding yourself three squares a day isn't difficult, but it can be tricky. Believe it or not, there is more to shopping than loading a cart with your favorite foods. You will have to learn to stock a pantry and adhere to a budget.

The objective of a budget is to keep you from running out of money before you run out of month. Spend less than your budget, and you have money to blow. Spend more and you end up short on rent or utilities. That's not good, so stay within your budget.

A stocked pantry will allow you to eat as well at the end of the month as you do at the beginning. If you always keep some basic ingredients on hand, you will be able to whip up something interesting for a meal. It may not be your first choice, but at least you'll have something to eat.

How much money should a college student spend on food? People on the federally funded Food Stamp program get an absurdly meager $21 per week - even doubling that figure seems skimpy. A seasoned parent of a college student suggests $75 to $100 per week is more realistic.

Every family's situation will be different; decide together what is reasonable for your student's budget.

Students, ask your parents how they decide what groceries to buy. Help create a list and then go grocery shopping with them. Learn from their wisdom - they have years of experience selecting good produce and comparing prices. Learn how to read labels and get in the habit of checking expiration dates.

Ideally, you would read grocery ads and develop a week's menu based on what is on 'special' for the week. From that menu, you would build a shopping list of the items needed. You might even clip a few coupons to redeem to lower your food bill. Ideally.

If that seems too overwhelming, then just concentrate on making a rough menu for the week and build a shopping list from it. That will afford you the spontaneity you may wish, but ensure you have something to eat every day.

At the very least, be sure to take your list with you when you shop.

Here are some tips that will stretch your food dollar:

n Dining out will bust your budget fast. Do the math: There is not extra value in buying a $6 meal x 7 days a week = $42. That's a big bite out of any budget.

n The more someone handles your food, the more it costs. This goes for boneless meats, sliced cheeses, processed foods, bagged lettuces, cut up fruit salads, individual servings of chips and cookies. Get a good knife and a cutting board and do it yourself.

n 'Use what I have before I buy more' is your new mantra. Buy one jam, one salad dressing, one mustard, then buy more as you need it.

n Buy foods that can multi-task. Craving raisin bread with peanut butter for breakfast? Then plan on using raisin bread for your lunchtime sandwich, too. Cheddar on raisin bread is wonderful!

n Discover vegetables! Eat vegetarian cuisine at least a couple days a week. Many people turn to vegetarianism in an attempt to keep costs down. They get money in their pocket and a plate of delicious food.

n Buy foods in season. As wonderful as that watermelon looks, it is far from a bargain in December! Leave it on the shelf.

n Cook with a couple meals in mind. A roasted chicken can become chicken enchiladas and chicken noodle soup.

n And conversely, if you are growing tired of the big batch of chili you made for Saturday's game, label and freeze it. Make a note in your cell phone calendar in two weeks to thaw it out and eat it or it could still be in the freezer in May.

Setting up your pantry with staples like olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, butter, flour, sugar, coffee, tea, milk, etc. will take a larger chunk of your monthly budget. Count on making inexpensive foods like soup with multiple servings to recoup some of those dollars.

The ingredients for today's recipes will total $26.14, but of that, $19.90 was spent on six staples (olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, pesto and Parmesan) that you won't have to purchase again for some time. Your next batch of soup and salad would cost $6.24, or $1.56 per serving.

As well as being a budget stretcher, this Minute Mines-trone has all the comforts of home. Its perfect for a fall lunch or dinner. Enjoy it with the Five:30 Green Salad for One, for a heaping helping of self-satisfaction for having made it yourself!

Moms, Dads and those experiencing sucess living on their own - do you have tips to share? Send them to me and we'll compile a list for the final installment of this series.

Bon Apetit! Discover the joy of cooking!

Minute Minestrone

Serves 4 to 6

Total cost $22.31, or $5.57 for 4 servings, with plenty of pesto and Parmesan for other uses.

2 medium zucchini (about 1 pound) (98¢)

1 medium onion (58¢)

1 garlic clove (20¢)

1 14.5 ounce can Great Northern, cannelloni or navy beans ($1.09)

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil ($6.49)

2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for seasoning (set with pepper, $1.89)

Freshly ground black pepper

1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes ($1)

3 to 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (2 small cans or 1 quart box) ($2)

2 to 4 tablespoons prepared pesto or tapenade, such as olive, tomato or artichoke ($4.99)

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese ($3.99)

Halve the zucchini lengthwise and cut crosswise into half-moon bite size pieces. Halve and slice the onion. Peel and chop the garlic. Rinse and drain the beans.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic; season with 2 teaspoons salt and some black pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion wilts, about 5 minutes. Add the zucchini and tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes look dry, about 10 minutes. Add the beans and broth and adjust the heat so that soup simmers. Cook, uncovered until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes more.

Just before serving, stir in the pesto and season with salt and black pepper to taste. Pour into warmed soup bowls and serve with grated Parmesan.

Make it your own: Soup recipes are incredibly forgiving of improvision (they tend to reward it) and ministrone's a great place to practice - use any vegetables you've got in the house to make this soup your own. Add other vegetables: Sliced mushrooms, carrots or yellow squash are all good. Little noodles (like stars, tubes, broken spaghetti, whatever) also work. The noodles absorb the broth so add about a cup more broth to keep it soupy.

Food Network Kitchens How to Boil Water, 2006

Five:30

Green Salad for One

Not including the olive oil and salt and pepper also used to make Minute Minestrone, you will shell out a whopping $3.83 to make salad. A head of lettuce will make at least 6 salads, impacting your daily budget by 64 cents. BR

2 to 3 large handfuls (about 4 ounces) of salad greens - either head lettuce ($1.59 per head for organic, $1.29 regular), or bagged prewashed mesclun or other greens ($3.00 a bag).

Extra virgin olive oil ($6.49, 17 oz. bottle Bertolli extra virgin)

Vinegar ($2.54, Star red wine vinegar)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (cost included in ingredient list below)

Even if the greens are prewashed, soak them in a big bowl of cold water for about 5 minutes. Lift them out of the water, leaving the grit behind, then put them in a salad spinner (don't pack them in or the greens will bruise) and spin dry. If you don't have a spinner lay them on a clean kitchen towel and gently pat dry.

Put greens in a big bowl. Drizzle 3 teaspoons of olive oil over the greens. Then drizzle with 1 teaspoon vinegar; season with salt and pepper to your taste. Using tongs, 2 forks, big spoons, or your clean hands, toss just enough so all greens are lightly dressed. Eat from the bowl or transfer to a plate.

Upgrades: Add crumbled cheese, sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, bacon, fruit or leftover chicken or steak.

How to Boil Water, 2006

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

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