Sunday, January 25

Long time no write + how to save money

Well, friends: it's been a while. Let all the usual excuses apply (she says, embarrassed)...

Now let's move on.

As those that know me just a little bit will attest, I loathe throwing away food. Maybe this comes from my thrifty upbringing, what with the second-hand clothing, price-comparing at the grocery store, and going without until I've saved enough to buy that one quality item. Now that I'm grown up, even the lowliest of fridge-dwellers get turned into something edible....I've been known to caramelize a pair of squishy onions and freeze them before going on vacation because I couldn't bear to compost them! Yes, I know. It's strange.

I'm not sure If I should even tell you the extent of this, but here goes:

I freeze end bits of dried and stale bread. That's right. I cut them into cubes and add them to a zip-top bag in the freezer. Dried baguettes, stale toast, hardened whole-wheat loves, you name it. Artisan bread just isn't as good the day after it's baked, so off to the cutting board, and into cubes it goes. Each end-piece ends up yielding about 1/2 to 1 cup. Slowly, I fill that zip-top bag. Then I use the cubed bread for croutons, stuffing, meatloaf, and breadcrumbs.

As a result of this thriftiness gene, once every two weeks, we eat a refrigerator-clean-up soup, or stew, or curry, or casserole, or fried rice, or ... (you get the idea)... This practice allows me to use up all those left-over bits of herbs, vegetables, cheeses and meals that would otherwise make it to the garbage or compost bin. Of course, each "clean-up meal" provides us with a hearty dinner and plenty of left-overs for Ian to take to work for lunch. Food is used that would otherwise be composted and therefore, money saved.

There is essentially one technique for each of these refrigerator-clean-up meals, but the ingredients change based on what needs to be "cleaned up". I have already gone the stew, curry and casserole route for dinner, so I decided it was time to tackle breakfast. And luckily, I had a bag of quality bread cubes to use.

Of course, the point of this meal is to use what you have. I image this would be yummy with left-over beans, mushrooms, basil, parsley, basically any kind of herb, roasted vegetables, corn, chilis, bits of left-over chicken or steak, fried tofu or tempeh. Use what's in your fridge! The combination below happens to be what I had in my fridge last night.

Another added bonus is that you assemble everything the night before and the bread soaks up the egg and milk mixture overnight. In the morning, while you're having your first cup of coffee, just pop the entire thing into oven, and 40min later you have a delicious go with your second cup of coffee!

Breakfast casserole
- one large zip-top bag of old bread cubes
- couple of slices of bacon, cubed
- 2 sausages, sliced
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 tomatoes, diced
- 1 zucchini, sliced in rounds
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 2 inch piece of goat cheese
- left-over bit of aged cheddar
- Parmesan cheese
- salt and pepper
- 10 eggs
- 4 cups milk, or more

1. Fry bacon and sausage until crispy. Add onions and saute until softened.

2. In the meantime, pour bread cubes into a large casserole dish and mix thoroughly so that all the different kinds are incorporated together.

3. Once the bacon and onion mixture is cooked, add it to the bread along with tomato, peas, crumbled goat cheese, other cheeses.

4. Saute the zucchini rounds in the left-over bacon fat (mmm, bacon fat) and add it to the bread mixture. Mix thoroughly so everything is incorporated.

5. Whisk the eggs and milk, adding salt and pepper to taste. Pour over the bread. Tilt the pan to make sure the liquid is evenly dispersed, then cover and let sit in the fridge overnight.

6. When ready to bake, set the oven to 350 degrees and stir the mixture so the top gets moistened. Top with more cheese, and bake 30-40 minutes. I didn't preheat the oven, and mine was ready in about 60 minutes. I imagine that the time varies depending on your casserole and how full it is - test it by spooning a little out of the middle and seeing if it's hot.

The texture was like a savory french toast - crispy on the top and creamy/custard-like in the middle. As a bonus, we now have breakfast for the week! I'll portion the casserole into cubes and store individual pieces in glass containers ready to microwave in the mornings.

Now go off to investigate what's lurking in the depths of your fridge and make a clean-up meal for yourself!