Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Frugal Gluten Free Dinner #1

This post is the beginning of a series of "under $5 per person" gluten free meals.
Some days I don’t feel like cooking. I mean I reeeeeealy do not have the slightest inclination to prepare food at all. But we have to eat, and besides, I enjoy the time spent with the family around the table at the end of the day.

I’m not the only one here capable of cooking a meal, but I am Chief Cook and Bottle Washer in this household and the one who usually at least organizes what we’ll be having for dinner.

Today is one of those days that I have no intention of cooking. We enjoy eating out (who doesn’t?), but budgetary constraints require eating at home more often. In order to avoid breaking the bank, or in this case the budget, I keep the freezer stocked with a few meals that can simply be popped into the oven on days like this.

Some of my freezer stash comes from home cooked meals that were prepared in double or triple batches with the extra batches going into the freezer. Add a salad and some fruit, and dinner’s done. I also stock the freezer and pantry with processed food from the grocery store.

Finding good gluten free pre-made frozen food can be both challenging and expensive, but not impossible. I recently found some good gf bargains at Grocery Outlet, including Van’s Wheat Free Waffles, Glutino "Oreo"-like sandwich cookies, and some frozen enchiladas that were made without wheat or any other gluten-containing ingredients.

Some people might be afraid to eat food from an outlet store or dollar store. There’s this feeling that there might be something wrong with the food. Why else would it be so cheap? Is there something wrong with it? Yes, and no.

Food ends up being sold at outlet stores for a variety of reasons, none of which involve food safety. One reason is seasonality. That is, foods prepared and/or packaged with a particular holiday in mind. After the holiday, stores want to clear the shelves and move on to the next thing.

Quality may be a factor, but not in a way that would prohibit making the food edible. Food processing companies like to put their label on foods that meet their standards of consistency. They want their products to look and taste the same from one batch to the next, from one month to the next, etc. Sometimes this doesn’t happen. An ingredient may have been inadvertently left out of a batch, or maybe one ingredient had to be substituted due to supply problems, or whatever. So the product is fine, just not exactly the way it is supposed to be, and it gets shipped out to an outlet store for sale.

New product development can result in numerous trial batches before the product is ready to be launched. So, there isn’t anything really wrong with the food. It’s generally as safe as any food purchased at any grocery store.
We enjoyed the enchiladas from Grocery Outlet, which came on a bed of rice. I made the following simple side dish to go with them:

Beans and Corn

1 tablespoon canola oil
½ onion, chopped
2 tablespoons bell pepper, chopped
1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 can corn, drained
Dash of black pepper

Saute onion and bell pepper until soft. Stir in remaining ingredients and heat through. Serves 6.
Printable Recipe
I purchase extra canned beans and canned corn when they’re on sale, usually for 50 cents per can. The remaining half onion went into the freezer, to be used in another meal. The bell pepper came from the freezer, having been purchased on sale, chopped and stored in the freezer. So, this side dish cost about 25 cents per serving.

There ended up being about ¼ cup left over, which was put in my “Freezer Chili” container. About every few weeks, the leftover odds and ends from this freezer container will be added to a batch of chili for dinner.

With some cabbage-carrot slaw (shredded cabbage and carrots tossed with salt, pepper, oil and vinegar) to round out the meal, here’s the final per serving tally for this dinner:

Enchiladas and rice $2.33
Bean and Corn side dish .25
Cabbage-carrot slaw .35
Total, per serving $2.93

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