WND – Of Shoes and Ships and Ceiling Wax . . .

June 11, 2009

pea strings

I was idly flipping channels a couple of Sundays ago and ran across Sandra Lee’s new show on the Food Network.  It’s called “Sandra’s Money Saving Meals”, and I paused to watch it.  It’s indicative of the current financial environment that this kind of show has a place on the Food Network, and given her upbringing Sandra Lee brings a certain amount of authority to the show that I suspect other Food Network Chefs would lack, so I was curious about what it was like.

In the end I was torn between deeply amused and somewhat disturbed by the show.  On the one hand, it’s entertaining because Sandra Lee has branded herself on the Food Network with the prescription of 70% store bought/30% homemade.  But of course that costs money, so on the budget show she cooks everything from scratch.  There isn’t a single instance of store bought sauces or mixes, because it is cheaper to use real ingredients (it also tastes better, but that’s a separate issue).  On the other hand, I was concerned by the sheer lack of vegetables being presented.  In the five shows, and 33 recipes that have aired so far only three recipes have involved vegetables (five if you decide to count spaghetti sauce as a vegetable, which granted I do all the time but acknowledge isn’t really a vegetable).

I’d excuse this and say that she’s just not presenting vegetables on her show because cooking green beans just isn’t as exciting to demonstrate as grilling pork chops, except that at the end of every episode she gives a per person cost for each meal and vegetables are nowhere in that accounting.  It’s not that I don’t get that fresh vegetables are expensive.  Believe me, I know exactly where 50-60% of my grocery budget gets spent.  But showcasing budget friendly meals which eliminate vegetables as a way of cutting costs isn’t really a message that I think anyone should be advocating, least of all the Food Network.

I think that showing how you can incorporate fruits and vegetables into a budget conscious meal plan is important, and dressing up frozen vegetables would be at least as good a use of her time as telling people how to cook unpopular cuts of meat or make homemade hot pockets.  With the exception of canned tomatoes which are better than fresh tomatoes 10 months out of 12, I’m not a huge fan of canned vegetables.  They tend to be mushy and have an unappealing goo surrounding them that’s created when they pressure cook the vegetables in the cans (they’re still good for you, I just don’t like them all that much).  Frozen vegetables on the other hand are a good substitute for fresh.  They’re significantly cheaper than fresh vegetables without sacrificing much in the way of nutritional value, texture or taste.

At my local Stop-n-Shop fresh broccoli varies between $2.89-$3.19 per bunch depending on whether you buy regular or organic (or what Stop-n-Shop chooses to label as organic).  A bag of frozen broccoli florets – containing twice as many florets as you get in a bunch of broccoli – costs $2.99/bag ($3.69/bag if you buy organic).

Fresh green beans are $2.38/lb, while frozen green beans are $1.50/lb.

Fresh peas (in pods) are $3.69/0.5 lb, while frozen peas (already shelled) are $1.50/lb.

Fresh spinach is $1.99/10 oz, or $3.99/7 oz for organic spinach.  Frozen spinach on the other hand is, $1.50/lb, or $2.50/lb if you buy organic.

Fresh raspberries are $2.00 for a half pint, while 10 oz of frozen raspberries are only $3.99.

Fresh strawberries and frozen strawberries interestingly cost exactly the same thing – $2.50/lb, but the frozen ones do have the merit of being ripe year round.

Fresh blueberries are $2.00/pint, while frozen blueberries are $2.99/lb.

I’m not saying that frozen spinach is going to be as tasty as baby spinach lightly sautéed in some olive oil and garlic, but frozen spinach in spanakopita or a spinach quiche is indistinguishable from fresh.  You can make pie out of frozen berries or blend them up in smoothies (bonus, if you use frozen berries in smoothies you don’t have to use ice).  I certainly never spend the money on fresh berries if I’m just going to end up cooking them.  You can’t use all frozen fruits and vegetables the same way you’d use fresh, but it is possible to incorporate fruits and vegetables into a budget friendly diet.  I’d like to see someone like Sandra Lee get creative with frozen fruits and vegetables because you shouldn’t lose sight of a balanced diet even when you’re trying to cut your grocery costs.

Braised Sausages
Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Dark Greens (Chard)
Pickled Sugar Snap Peas

Braised Sausages

Recipe previously given:    If I Was Stranded on a Desert Island . . . .

sausages composite

Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Recipe previously given:    Let’s Party Like It’s 1517

sweet potatoes

Dark Leafy Greens (Chard)

Recipe previously given:    Taking the Easy Way Out

chard stalks

Pickled Sugar Snap Peas
I bought sugar snap peas on a whim this weekend and spent the first half of the week trying to think of something to do with them.  The problem is there are only two ways I like to eat peas – either still frozen out of the box or smothered in so much Indian food that they’re really just little green accents on the plate.  I do, however, really enjoy shelling peas.  I don’t have a good explanation for this, except that I read way too much period fiction as a child and people always seem to be shelling peas in that kind of book and it seemed terribly romantic.  Chalk this up to the same impulse that led a friend of mine to want to be seamstress sewing by candlelight in a garret somewhere – she also read way too much period fiction as a child.

I ran across this recipe on SmittenKitchen and was intrigued, plus pickles are pretty much always popular at the Dinner table.

pea pickles

1 ¼ cups white distilled vinegar
1 ¼ cups cold water
1 tablespoon kosher or pickling salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 pound sugar snap peas, stems trimmed and strings removed
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1 or 2 small dried chili peppers, slit lengthwise or a couple pinches dried red pepper flakes

In a nonreactive saucepan, heat the vinegar with the salt and sugar until they are dissolved. Remove from the heat, and add the cold water. (This gives you a leg up on getting the liquid to cooling the liquid.)

When the vinegar mixture is cool, pack the sugar snaps, garlic and chile peppers or flakes into a 1-quart jar or bowl, and pour the brine over it. Cover with a non-reactive cap, or, er, plastic wrap.

The original recipe suggests you store the jar in the refrigerator for two weeks before eating the pickled peas, but good luck with that. They’re quite delicious and already lightly pickled by 24 hours later.



  1. This is going to sound idiotic (but it’s a well established fact how clueless I am when it comes to food, though often less so when it comes to the cost of things), but I didn’t realise that frozen veggies were cheaper than fresh ones. I think it’s because I mostly use them for time-saving/cheating in my cooking, and most time-saving/cheating measures in the supermarket (as you mention above) are more expensive. So without thinking too hard about the process involved in getting fresh veggies to a grocery store, I’ve just been operating under the idea that frozen veggies were more expensive. It also never occurred to me that in certain contexts, frozen veggies/berries are indistinguishable from fresh ones. I feel less guilty about that now. (Also, I totally didn’t even know you could buy frozen berries.)

    • I suspect that frozen fruits and vegetables are cheaper because they’re easier to transport. You don’t have to worry about bruising them, or about getting them to the store before they go bad, etc. Also, because you don’t have to pick them early in order to have them still edible by the time they make it across the country and into supermarkets, they can be picked when they’re ripe and flash frozen.

      There are frozen vegetables that I just don’t get – like frozen chopped onions. How hard is it to chop an onion? Anything frozen in a cream sauce . . .

      They’re never going to taste like farm stand produce, but they will be equally good as what’s in the fresh food aisle most of the time – this is particularly true if you have a microwave and don’t even have to go through the defrosting process before you steam them in the bag.

      • See, I hate chopping onions. I, in fact, pull out my tupperware hand foodprocessor every time I need to chop an onion, and never for anything else. I actually wonder if with my mysterious airborne food allergies, if I’m especially sensitive to onions. Like, more so than other people.

        And really, the reason I consider buying frozen vegetables cheating is because I buy them to save time chopping. (while I am perfectly competent at chopping most veggies, I’m still pretty slow at it.)

  2. RE: Frozen Onions:
    I find that using frozen onions just leave you with wet steamed onions rather than a nice sauteed version. I tried them once and never again. Even if you must use your food processor, you are light years better off with fresh.

    • I wondered about that. Wet things just don’t brown well.

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