Friday, July 12, 2013
Staying Out of Debt for Good: This Little Piggy Had Roast Beef
It's easy enough to suggest the first, isn't it? I've found that while Roast Beef can be a pricey cut at first glance it often became more economical as the days went on. Seldom did it cost more than ground beef per pound, but because it is bought in a greater quantity at once, the price might cause you to stagger a bit.
Did you know that you can cut roast beef into steaks, stew meat and roast beef from most flat cut roasts? John and I sliced a sirloin roast last month into two steaks ( I could easily have done three) and a pound of beef cubes that we used for shish kebab. Even humble Chuck Roast (the least expensive roast option) may be sliced to make chuck steaks, stew beef, etc. I discovered this by reading one of those older cookbooks and vintage magazines which show how to make the best of a big roast. Now I practice the methods on smaller roasts for John and I with great success. And FYI...Mama used to buy sirloin roasts and have them rolled. Butchers these days find the request mystifying but essentially you start at one end of the boneless roast and roll up like a jelly roll, tie with butchers twine and then you can marinate and rotisserie cook it on a grill, slow roast over a pan of smoking chips or bake in the oven as though it were a Rump or Round Roast (which incidentally cost more). It may be sliced thinly and net many more servings than the average sirloin once it is cooked and has been allowed to rest.
Years ago I learned the wisdom of buying a big nice roast each pay period. I'd make a pot roast dinner, which the kids enjoyed. I carefully sliced thin cuts of meat to go with the plentiful and hearty root vegetables that cooked along with the roast and everyone was satisfied. A couple of days later we often had a bit more roast, this time chopped up and mixed with peas and carrots, some leftover gravy and topped the dish with mashed potatoes to make a Shepherd's pie. The remaining roast and gravy were saved and the meat chopped fine. I added cubed potatoes and a chopped onion and simmered slowly on the top of the stove until the potatoes were tender and most of the liquid absorbed. This was our roast beef hash which Samuel so loved. And if there happened to be a bone, or broth or vegetables or any scrap except fat left we'd set it aside in a container in the freezer to use as the base of a big pot of soup. Mind you in these days I was feeding 6 routinely at most meals. That's a lot of mileage out of one roast that generally averaged 2 1/4 pounds.
But more important than the mileage gotten from that cut of meat was the perception it gave to the family of plenty. I could and often did feed my family meatless meals. I relied heavily upon ground beef and chicken which were cheap and stretched every single meal with an extra helping of rice, potatoes or pasta. But as long as we had roast once a week, the family seldom saw need to complain.
I've mentioned that the roast often cost little more than ground beef but my family saw that lovely big piece of meat going into the crock pot for a roast beef dinner and they felt we had more than enough, that the household economics couldn't be all that bad if we were eating such a good bit of meat as that roast. No matter that it was going to be stretched again and again with vegetables galore. And it worked every single time, whether we were roasting a big chicken or a ham shank as that week's best bargain. That was key to budget stretching and keeping everyone focused on how well we managed, that single 'big' meat meal each week.
I think that is often the mistake of those who want to live frugally, not that meals have to be lavish but they often serve foods in a skimpy way. Even something as simple as properly seasoning food can make all the difference in the world and it is well worth investing in fresh garlic (or at least the bottles of minced garlic), fresh ginger root (which can be sliced and frozen) or a nice warming pepper (jalapeno comes to mind) that adds just that little extra punch of flavor. Herbs are another place where I'd be tempted to splurge. You may often buy these as manager's specials and strip them from the vine and freeze, or you might grow your own. Seasonings are always a worthy investment for the bare bones budget and make the difference in a flavorful satisfying meal over a flat tasting one.
At our poorest, our table boasted a salad every single day. We always had fruit on the table as dessert or for eating as a snack. True it might be a lowly head of iceberg lettuce that served as salad, and it might be only apples and oranges (bought in bulk bags, not individually chosen) piled in big bowls but the visual appeal of plenty was there for all to see. It truly is amazing how the sting of 'poor' can be shaken by such little things that cost less than you'd imagine.
I was never (and still am not!) too proud to accept the bounty of overflow from a garden or a heavily laden fruit tree. We thought nothing of making a game of picking wild fruits and putting them into the freezer for a future treat aside from what we ate fresh.
We had our little splurges, the things we didn't compromise on, besides that big cut of meat once a week. Butter and real olive oil, for instance. Just a little of those two items went a long way to enhancing a meal. Sometimes I'd prepare mayonnaise from scratch. Well why not? We were out, there was no more money until pay day, but I had all the basics for making the stuff right there at home and again, if the illusion was that we had plenty...then I'd done my job well hadn't I? My kids often drank chocolate milk...made with a deeply rich homemade chocolate syrup that just happened to be stored in the Hershey's syrup bottle. That looked costly to others too, but it was just a good reuse of a very handy bottle, not an attempt to fool anyone. And the milk was half whole milk and half dry powder reconstituted milk, but two whole gallons sat on the shelf of the fridge.
Do you know what else gave the appearance of plenty? We never failed to set the table nicely for every single meal. The plates and glasses, the silverware, might well be the cheapest the dollar store had to offer but we used cloth napkins (sometimes just terry wash cloths which were inexpensive, colorful and sturdy for repeated uses). If we had nothing else for a centerpiece, the aforementioned fruit piled in a 'crystal' bowl from the grocery store dishware section was used. The kids thought it elegant if we ate by candlelight for supper. A small savings on electricity for us, luxury as far as they were concerned.
I think what I want to say here is that it's the illusion of things rather than the actual facts that fool the eye of the initiated and uninitiated alike. I might well know our bank balance to the penny and know that it was truly a matter of hanging on tight until payday, but no one else need know. At the time that valances were all the rage I bought a bolt end of fabric...for $1 yard. We dressed two huge windows with draped fabric valances. The remainder of the fabric was sewn into napkins and a roman shade for the kitchen window. I might have spent $10 for that fabric but oh the mileage and how nice it all looked over the inexpensive bed sheet 'curtains' we used at the windows. And oh how many times I was complimented on what nice window coverings we had in that main room! No one ever guessed that it cost us less than $20 to do the big picture window, sliding glass doors, roman shade and the 'extras' of napkins!
Our clothing might have been a little worn and in some cases, mended and dyed too, but they were always clean. We had the children set aside things that were not as nice looking to wear about the house as they worked and played and the nicer items were kept for school and going out to visit. That idea of saving their best to wear away from home extended to shoes and jackets as well. We were careful to remove stains from even the clothing worn about the house. Soap is cheap and elbow grease is in plentiful supply. We scrubbed and we soaked and we pre-treated with Dawn dish detergent and so our clothes always looked nice as they could, even if they were old.
We insisted upon keeping the house and yard looking nice. There was a row of inexpensive bulk purchased flowers bordering the sidewalk. The yard was mown and the shrubbery trimmed. The front door was painted an inviting color. The front porch was swept and so was the sidewalk. Inside the floors were clean and the main living areas were always kept free of clutter and company ready. That made a difference, too, you know.
Let's not get too flustered with this roast beef Piggy...After all, she undoubtedly was making the best of what she had and doing it quite well!