Dear Barbara: We are constantly hearing how to cut back in this economy. Give up your Starbucks; use your bike; eat at home more. I find that by the time I buy all the herbs and spices and other ingredients to make a certain dish, I’ve spent more than if we had gone to a restaurant and ordered it! What do you think is more economical when it comes to food? — Michaela from Lodi
Dear Michaela: I think it is always more economical to eat at home. You just have to plan it out a little. I like using a lot of herbs in my dishes. I can go to the store and pay $1.29 for each little bunch of herbs and only use a few tablespoons of each and let the rest sit in the refrigerator and quickly turn black. Alternatively, I have small hanging pots on my patio, so if I buy a little plant for $1.79 each and plant them, I can snip from them all summer and they are as fresh as you can get. Using up the rest of the ingredients for a dish is easy; make two and freeze one. Buy in bulk on meats and divide the meat into packages and freeze. BUY IN SEASON! Go to the Farmers Market; we have one every Thursday all summer long.
Last, but certainly not least, shop the outer perimeter of your local super market and stay away from the center aisles as much as possible. They used to say, “If it has a label, don’t buy it!” I don’t know who “they” were, and I think it was in the ’60s, but it still applies. Of course, there are some things we have to buy in boxes or cartons, but the basic idea is still good.
If you are more organized than I am, you can save a good amount of money by using coupons. I save them, but by the time I remember to use them, they have expired!
There are many more suggestions on the subject of saving money on groceries. For example, if the snails are eating your plants, but you don’t want to put anything poisonous around your garden, try using beer. Put any beer in a shallow disposable pan, like a foil pie pan. Make sure you don’t fill it to the top because you want them to crawl into the pan. Dig a small indentation in the dirt so the pan sits level with the ground. Snails are very attracted to the smell and they love a good party!
Dear Barbara: I don’t know if you have addressed this issue before, but I have an annoying dilemma. When I make lasagna, it looks great until I go to serve it. It falls apart. The layers slide all over the place and it looks like a bowl of red and white “stuff” (unrecognizable) when I get it to the table. What can I do to correct this? — Samantha from Lodi
Dear Samantha: Don’t feel alone — we’ve all had it happen at least once! You may be trying to cut the lasagna too soon after taking it from the oven. It needs time to set, at least 10 to 15 minutes. Lasagna stays hot for a long time. Just cover it loosely with foil. Another reason may be the sauce. There is no need to drown it in sauce, because there are so many layers. You just want to lightly cover each repeated layer and also the bottom of the dish with sauce; just enough that it isn’t going to stick. A friend of mine sprinkles a very light coating of Italian bread crumbs over each application of the sauce. She feels it helps to bind it all together. I will have to say that I have not tried this method.
Barbara Spitzer is a Lodi home cook who also develops recipes for specific consumer products. Do you have a cooking question? Send it to Barbara Spitzer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your first name and city.