The Irrigator is pleased to announce a new online feature, Back to Basics, which will be written by editor Jenifer West, and will run under the heading “B2B”.

The column will be devoted to living a healthy and balanced life, with emphasis on topics like cooking healthy, saving money, growing your own food, and a few others that might pop up along the way.

We hope this will become an interactive forum, and that readers will feel free to share their own ideas, tips, tricks, questions, suggestions...

To kick it off, we’re publishing the first post in the hard copy of the paper. Future entries will be posted online.

Here are some of my favorite shortcuts and tricks. Whichever ones you choose to try should help you save money in several ways: Cutting down on trips through the drive-through (and grocery store – ever noticed how much “a gallon of milk” can cost?!), buying things when they’re on sale or in season and preserving them for later, less wasted food…

The first several are pretty easy to do, and don’t necessarily require any special equipment.

The ones following require a little more effort, but they’re all worth knowing about, and I sincerely hope that any you try will make your culinary life easier, and more economical.

You can save a lot of time and money by planning meals ahead – try this professional trick: Use ingredients in a couple of different dishes over the course of the week.

Examples: Bake potatoes, in the oven or the crock pot (they’ll be much nicer if you rub them with butter, and maybe sprinkle with a little salt, first).

Leftovers can be used for twice-baked potatoes, or hash browns, later in the week. (You could even use them for potato salad.)

When cooking dry beans, cook extra and marinate in vinegar, oil and a little sugar or honey. Toss into green salads for a little extra flavor (and protein); or leave plain, and use in tacos or taco salad; or simmer with barbecue sauce, or a mixture of ketchup, mustard & brown sugar for baked beans, later in the week (you can even pickle them in a brine – watch for it in a upcoming post).

When cooking rice, cook extra for fried rice another day.

To make the fried rice, heat sliced green onions in a little oil in a frying pan; push to the side of the pan. Scramble an egg in the pan and cook until done, breaking it up as it cooks. Add cooked rice and some leftover meat, diced ham, or cooked bacon, and maybe a little soy sauce. Viola! Almost instant, very economical fried rice.

A crock pot can be a great help – buy inexpensive cuts of meat, add flavorings (onion soup mix, carrots & potatoes; barbecue sauce; sweet & sour) and let simmer all day.

Or soak dried beans overnight in water (3:1, water to beans) and cook all day. Add seasonings (barbecue sauce, taco sauce, etc.) after the beans are tender.

If you have a rice cooker with a delay timer, put the rice on before you leave. When you come home, dinner’s off to a flying start.

Make brine-cured (fermented) pickles – they’re easy, a great way to use up crunchy produce that might otherwise go bad, and an excellent source of probiotics and other nutrients (again, watch for a future post).

In fact, sailors on ships carrying sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) avoided the otherwise-inevitable curse of the sea-going: scurvy.

Fermented foods are so important for digestion and good health that they appear in virtually every culture (pun intended) on the planet.

Watch the weekly ads, and plan dinners around what’s on sale. Make a list of your favorite dinners, and jot down ingredients needed for them. Keep an eye out for those items to go on sale.

Never shop for groceries when you’re hungry – you’ll probably end up buying more than you need, and a hodgepodge of items.

Make a quick note of what you need for two or three of your favorite dinners (particularly those that use ingredients that are on sale), and stick to it.

Of course, if you discover a deal on something you use, and can use it before it goes bad, stock up if you can.

Plan at least one meatless meal each week.

Beans are an obvious choice, but eggs also provide countless options: Scrambled with a few veggies and maybe a little cheese, for example. Top with a little salsa, and maybe sour cream, for extra flavor. Use an online search engine for more ideas.

Take leftovers to work (or school) for lunch. Invest in some inexpensive plastic containers, and portion leftovers into them immediately after dinner. Saves money, and time, too!

Check the Patterson Irrigator for new posts each Tuesday.

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