My friend Joyce Newland talks about being frugal in the kitchen. She says she likes my approach. She hates throwing stuff out.
Yes, from letting it go bad to simply not using all of things. Each of these wastes money. There are lots of other ways that we tend to overspend and underutilize what we have in our kitchens.
No doubt the best cooking shows on television have been produced by PBS stations. It started with Julia Child, and it's still going strong.
Check the Saturday morning lineup on channel 7 and you'll find several shows. True, some are better than others, but they are there for our viewing and learning enjoyment.
An outstanding television food presenter was Jeff Smith. His show was called the “Frugal Gourmet.” He wrote a whole set of cookbooks. His approach was really good, plus he was entertaining. More importantly, he knew how to cook.
What Jeff Smith tried to tell us was how to buy wisely and use everything we got. His recipes were inventive, yet what he showed us was mostly basic fare. He was on the air for 12 years until the mid-90s.
If you followed his directions, you turned out good food for your family at affordable prices.
Perhaps the best food teacher to ever be shown on television is Jacques Pepin. He is an artist in the kitchen. He stresses technique and is impeccable in his execution. He is also very frugal.
He talks about his background and learning to use every scrap in the kitchen. He certainly practices what he preaches.
Chef Pepin is also frugal with his skills. He gets the job done with minimal effort. He is a master, and we can all learn from him.
There are other television hosts who rarely mention the cost of anything. One of my favorites is Ina Garten. She's a great presenter and can cook too. But she uses what she wants to and doesn't really address the cost.
A couple of pounds of sea scallops? No problem. And so on. But she gets an efficient use out of everything she has.
On the far end of the scale are shows like Iron Chef. The budget there seems endless. Exotic and rare ingredients are commonplace.
The chefs cook with abandoned and toss things aside right and left. They also have every gadget known at their disposal. There's also lots of space in which to operate.
Quality and efficiency
From my viewpoint, frugal means more than a tight budget. Frugal has to do with quality and efficiency. A balance of these produces first-rate results.
Buying good ingredients can help you make better food. Sure seems simple, but it's not always easy. In fact, it's a hard job to obtain fine ingredients. You can scour the farmers markets and go to the best stores and still come up short.
Choose quality over quantity every time. Better ingredients tend to go farther. So they don’t cost more in the end.
Having a good pantry makes it easier to offer the best. You can't make it if you don't have it.
Think re-purpose food at the beginning. Create more than one dish from a large item. Not leftovers.
This week my friend Chef Tod Bottcher came to see me. He has Yum Yum’s in Auburn. Lucky me.
He brought me a jar of a new salsa he’s making. I look forward to having some right away. Tod is a frugal shopper. He keeps an eye out for bargains and specials.
While chatting about costs, we agreed that whatever you serve won't be better than its main component. There’s nothing you can do to change it. You might add a sauce or something to help out the taste, but you are stuck with the mediocre ingredient.
What did we learn? Frugal in the kitchen doesn’t mean cheap nor compromise. It simply describes the practice of buying wisely and preparing with care. With that approach, you will eat well and not break the bank in the process.
Jim Sikes is an Opelika resident, a food, wine and restaurant consultant, and a columnist for the Opelika-Auburn News. Contact him on Facebook at In the Kitchen with Chef Jim.