Posts Tagged Homemaking

Home Cooking – Does it pay?

Some Background


photo: NuriKharah

Okay, over the past few weeks, I have been flooded with requests for my meatball recipe. To type this thing up, I have to find time to sit in front of my computer, open up a text editor, and bang away. I have decided that while I am at it, I might as well write an article I have been promising myself that I would write soon.

If all you’re looking for is the recipe, it’s at the bottom of this article. Feel free to scroll past the breakdown.

How Much to Dine Out?

The main reason I wanted to look into this is that I saw a story on TV stating that it was cheaper to eat out than to cook dinner. In all reality, they were eating at drive throughs and buying off the dollar menu, but it really did make me wonder how much it cost to feed my family a good nutritious meal. My test meal? Spaghetti, meatballs, and garlic bread.

Having had such a meal in restaurants infinity times, I let’s break this down for a family of four:


For four: $46.96 + $9 (tip) = $55.96

This excludes dessert and grown up drinks. Add those, and your bill can really skyrocket.

How much to cook in?

Let’s price out the recipe below. Your mileage may vary, but I am gonna say you should have enough for dinner one night, and lunch for someone the next day (we cage match over the leftovers.. just sayin..).

Spaghetti – 1lb$1.09
Green Bell Pepper$0.50
Can of Sauce$1.20
Ground Beef$1.50
Tomato Paste$0.15
French Bread$0.63 *

*I am making the assumption that you are making bread from scratch, according to an old post I wrote on baking. This also includes a whole full sized loaf of bread.

So, let’s pretend we are being really tight, and we go through the drive through, and everyone gets one item. This would be a total of $3.96. In other words, for $3.38 cents more, the family could eat a great meal.

Let’s also pretend that instead of eating leftovers tomorrow, that one person bought another burger for lunch. That means it’s only $2.39 more. If, at any time two people want fries, the difference is now only 41 cents.

So, eating off the dollar menu doesn’t sound so good anymore does it?


while feeding everyone (1) one dollar hamburger might sound cheaper up front, it’s really only marginally cheaper, and horrifyingly less nutritious.

Post Conclusion – Is this doable?

The big question that people are going to ask: where do I get the three hours to cook? The quick answer would be to make a triple batch, split it into three parts, and freeze two of those parts. Then, at mealtime, all you have to do is thaw, boil some noodles, and eat!
There are more solutions, but we can hit them in a later article.

The Meatball Recipe

Okay, here goes. The first part is for the sauce, the second is for the meatballs. This is the base recipe. It will easily feed four people. You can multiply this recipe from here.

The Sauce

  • One half green bell pepper, chopped
  • One half white onion, chopped.
  • One clove of garlic.
  • Half a teaspoon of fennel seed
  • A sprinkle of cayenne.
  • 1/2 tablespoon of oregano
  • 1 15 oz can of your favorite sauce – I use Hunt’s.

Into a blop of olive oil, toss the fennel seeds. Heat until they start to sizzle. Toss in the peppers and onions. Enjoy the smell! As soon as the onions start to go translucent, toss in the garlic. Cook for about thirty seconds, stirring. Drop in your can of sauce. Lower the heat and cook covered, as this stuff will splatter on your kitchen and clothes and make a mess.

The Meatballs

While your sauce is heating, hit this:

  • Half Pound of Italian Sausage
  • Half Pound of Ground Beef
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 water
  • Half a small can of tomato paste
  • 1/2 Parmesan. Get real parmesan and grate it. Not out of a can!!

Mix the sausage and the hamburger together. Mix it well. You can do it by hand, I use the paddle on my stand mixer. When mixed, add the rest of the ingredients. Mix only well enough to combine everything. Don’t mix the hell out of it. Just make sure everything is well combined.

Using wet hands, make egg sized (but round) meatballs, and place them into the sauce. Make sure they are all covered.

Simmer for about 45 minutes with NO STIRRING. This will allow the meatballs to form without getting mushy. Cook another hour and a half or so.


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The Frugal Pantry – Kick the Can Game

Some Background

While watching the news the other day, I ran across a story of a woman who decided that, besides milk, she would not go to the grocery store for a month. Her family would eat everything that had accumulated in the refrigerator, pantry, and freezer for the month. The endgame was, she ended up saving $800 in grocery bills that month.

At first glance, it sounded like a neat idea, but I quickly remembered that I have been doing the frugal kitchen thing for quite some time, and did not have endless stockpiles of Hungry Man meals at my disposal. I let the idea drop.


Looking into my pantry, I realized that it was overflowing with purchases that I had made without really thinking. I also had things stuffed into corners of the pantry that were picked up by a more impulsive shopping partner. My whole kitchen could maybe make three meals, tops, but the accumulation of canned kitsch was impressive.

I decided that the herd of cans and packets needed to be thinned. Not like a lion casing the joint for a wobbly zebra, but a slower and more complex hunt. It was on.

Some Definitions

Fumbling through my dusty pile, I realized that there were only a few categories that these cans fit in:

  • I’d Hit That! – These are foods that I really would eat. I usually forget that I have them in the house, so I buy them again. And again. Cans of tomato paste, tomato sauce, italian sauce, green beans. You get the idea. Anything you would possibly eat (even if it’s at 2AM after last call) goes in this category.
  • No Way, Jose – These are the things no one in your house would touch. Some leftovers from out of town visitors, an ex flame who had this thing for cans of pickled hobbit knuckles, canned okra. That kind of food goes in this category.
  • Expired – Yes, even modern food preservation techniques can’t be stretched into eternity. Sooner or later, your pickled beets will be magically transformed into purple botulism death.

Armed with these definitions, the rules are simple.

Rules of the Game

Here’s where it gets interesting.

While you are making your artful frugal grocery list , each meal must address one of those mystery cans.

Take a good hard look at your shelves, and pick one can for each day. Once you do this for a week, you might even want to do two cans a day. Take that one can, and categorize it:

  • I’d Hit That! – This can goes into one of your meals. Craft your menu around using that can for a meal. Hit a few cans of soup for lunch, and you can save a pile of money!
  • No Way, Jose! – While canned smoked ox tongue may sound horrible to you, chances are that if they made a whole canning factory to put said tongues into said cans, someone out there thinks this is a delicacy. Put this in a box. This box is destined for charity. There are probably several charities in your town which would gladly take your cast offs.
  • Expired! – Well, do us all a favor and throw this out.

Do this for a few weeks, and watch your pantry become magically cleaner!


Since I no longer stockpile my refrigerator or freezer with unnecessary purchases, they are both in good shape. If you are new to restraining from rote and impulse grocery shopping, you might want to play this same game with your refrigerator.

It beats the pants of cleaning everything all at once, and I think it encourages some actual thought before randomly pitching things.

Advanced Game

For those of you who think I am a little overboard in my descriptions about things you may find in your kitchen, take a look at one of my favorite blogs, Steve, Don’t Eat It! .

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Baking your own artisan bread – How much per loaf?

sourdough.jpgMy family eats a lot of bread. We can usually eat a loaf of store bought bread every two or three days. Since I am spending a lot more time at home now, and we are eating sandwiches for lunch instead of going out to lunch, we are eating even more bread.
We usually buy a variety of sandwich bread and artisan bread. Artisan breads are a bit smaller, alot denser, and a bit more expensive than sandwich bread. At my local grocery, I bought the following recently:

  • One loaf of sandwich bread for $2.89
  • One loaf of sourdough bread for $4.99

In retrospect, this sounds like a good deal of money.

Since I like to cook/bake, i decided to find out how much it would cost to bake artisan bread myself. Today, I am going to look at sourdough bread. This isn’t the simplest bread to make, but it will demonstrate pretty quickly if there are any cost savings.
sourdough_starter.jpg I am not going to give a full rundown on the art and science of sourdough, but I will point you to a few sites that contain tons of great information:

  • The Yankee Gardener – This is the recipe I usually make, just because it has the first sponging step, and you can actually see something happening.
  • Sourdough Home – These guys have a sourdough recipe that taste just like back home (California).
  • Fast Track Sourdough – Read this site for a great primer on sourdough.

If you should get interested in pursuing this further, let me know, and I will make arrangements to get your a starter.

One other thing to mention is that I am pricing this out based on picking up flour from my local bulk food supplier. In the future, I will give you more detail on how these work. Suffice it to day that I bought ten pounds of flour at 55 cents a pound. Here is the price per cup of flour calculation that I will use for all future calculations. Hopefully, the price of flour will not fluctuate enough to render this calculation dated very soon.

  • One cup of flour weighs four ounces, while not exact, this is pretty close.
  • There are 4 cups of flour in a pound of flour.
  • A cup of flour costs about 14 cents. This shall be our hallowed number.
  • If you buy flour in a 50lb sack, you can get it for 36 cents a pound!
8 cups flour$1.12
Sourdough Starter14 cents

*Note that the asterisks denote that these items should be in any well stocked kitchen (more about this in a new article). The costs for these are negligible.

This recipe makes two loaves of bread, so the effective cost of baking bread is about 63 cents a loaf plus a few cents for gas to heat the oven.

So, does baking your own bread pay off? let’s look at the pros and cons:


  • Eight loaves of home made bread costs as much as 1 loaf of store bought bread.
  • Home made bread tastes much better than store bought bread.
  • Home made bread is much healthier than store bought bread.


  • Unless you have a dough hook and heavy mixer, it takes alot of work to knead this recipe.
  • To make a loaf of this bread, you will need to plan ahead. Start the recipe the night before, and you will have bread by dinner the next day.
  • You will need to maintain your starter. This takes about ten minutes a week or so, but you have to do it.

So, for me, it turns out that baking my own bread is well worth the cost. Let me know what you decide.

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