For the past 13 years I've fed my family on a budget of $400 per month. Thirteen years ago I was feeding a family of 6. During the past eight years our older boys have grown up and set out on their own so, I am now feeding a family of 4 on the same $400 per month. BUT let me tell you, that $400 per month certainly doesn't go as far as it did 2 years ago, let alone 13 years ago. One must also keep in mind that since Mr. B is currently living very far from home, my $400 grocery budget is divided between two households. Now, Mr. B doesn't have extravagant dining habits, but he certainly isn't quite as frugal as I am when in the kitchen and certainly not in the grocery store. His lack of knowledge when it comes to cooking from scratch has reminded me how very expensive pre-prepared foods are.
Most folks who know me personally, know I generally shop only the dairy and produce departments of our local grocer. Throughout the years I have sought and found less expensive alternative food sources for bulk foods such as flours, cornmeal, oats, grits, sugars, honey, spices, olive and cooking oils, etc. Mr. B enjoys hunting and fishing, and has plenty of friends who enjoy the same, this has kept my freezer well stocked for more than a decade. Until this summer we have also enjoyed many harvests from our vegetable garden. I've maintained my little herb patch and we continue to enjoy a few fresh and home dried herbs.
On a recent trip to the grocer I took a stroll down the spice and ethnic foods isle. Since most of my spices are purchased in bulk from sources other than the local grocer, I was utterly SHOCKED at how expensive some of these little bitty 2 oz. or less bottles of spices were - some were almost $7! Even the typical spice blends were outrageously priced. For example, a brand name 1 oz. foil package of taco seasoning was more than $2 - the generic store brand was closer to $1.30, but that still had me taking a second look just to be sure I didn't need to schedule a vision exam. I thought, "Are these people serious? $1.30 for a 1 oz. package of seasoning?"
With all that said, I, very long windily, come to the point of this post. I have for you today two homemade spice blends AND a recipe for Dragon Sauce, which is similar to sweet-n-sour sauce which, by the way, we love for dipping our egg rolls in when I make my fried rice supper. When compared to the grocery store prices, these recipes can be made for pennies on the dollar. I also suspect they are healthier since they don't contain anti-caking agents, MSG or many other ingredients that most of us have a hard time pronouncing.
Taco Seasoning Mix
2 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. dried parsley flakes
1 1/2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. dried onion powder or dried onion flakes
1/2 tsp. salt
1/s tsp. garlic powder
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl, add to ground meat just as you would a store bought foil package.
Asian Spice Blend
(I use this in my fried rice and spicy stir fried noodles)
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. lemon grass
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground tumeric
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
This recipe makes about 3 tablespoons of spice. I generally add all of it to my fried rice ( http://herpeculiarlife.blogspot.com/2008/10/fun-week.html ) and spicy stir fried noodles (http://herpeculiarlife.blogspot.com/2008/05/stir-fried-noodles.html ), HOWEVER, we like ours spicy. I suggest that you start with only 1 tablespoon of this spice blend and add more accordingly for your and your family's personal pallets.
(similar to sweet-n-sour sauce found in many Asian restaurants. - Try basting it over baked chicken ... Mmmmm good!)
3 cups fruit nectar (you know, the liquid from canned fruit you generally pour down the drain)
3 tblsp. cornstarch
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. vinegar
1 1/2 tblsp. soy sauce
In a small bowl or mixing cup whisk together 1/2 c. fruit nectar and cornstarch until smooth. In a medium sauce pan combine 2 1/2 cups fruit nectar, sugar, vinegar and soy sauce; when mixture begins to simmer, stir in cornstarch mixture. Stir continuously until sauce is thickened and transparent. Store left overs covered in the refrigerator. Makes 3 cups. Note: Instead of pouring canned fruit nectar down the drain, collect it in a freezer container and thaw when you have collected enough to make dragon sauce.