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Friday, February 6, 2009

Frugal College Cooking: Locavores and Leftovers

Here is another post by Frugal Son. He aspires to live "la vida local," but this desire is hampered by the fact that he lives on a college campus and eats--mostly--in an excellent cafeteria.

His board card provides cafeteria meals plus $300.00 in Tiger Bucks, which most students use at the coffee shop or Taco Bell or other on-campus fast food joints. Frugal Son, whose curiosity about food is well-known on this blog, discovered the campus Dairy Store, which sells meat products from the Ag School. He also discovered that he could use his Tiger Bucks there!

Here is his post on beef stew. Like his salmon tale, this will be in two parts. Bon appetit.

In my last post, I tried to show how frugal, simple and satisfying a home-cooked meal can be. The real magic of frugal cooking, however, comes from using leftovers. Leftovers may not have the best reputation, but try not to think of them as something cold and slimy in the back of the fridge and instead think of them as building blocks. A wilted stalk of celery can come back to life when used to enhance a soup or—in one of my favorite uses of leftovers—the excess turkey from Thanksgiving becomes the backbone of a delicious gumbo. What I love about leftovers is the idea that you are sort of making something from nothing; what were once a useless scraps become, with the addition of a few more ingredients and a little time, something more than the sum of its parts.

Cooking with leftovers is not a technique that I have mastered, although Frugal Mom is a real leftover maven. It takes real creativity and even artistry to look at a bunch of seemingly unrelated raw ingredients and see a meal, and leftover cooking is made especially difficult in college where pantry and refrigerator space are extremely limited. I don't have the luxury of buying five pounds of chicken breasts when they go on sale and saving them for when I need to use them. Recently, however, I had a sort of leftover epiphany in what was probably my first real, unaided foray into cooking with leftovers.

After the initial success of my salmon and fried rice meal (see post here), I was stuck with some vegetables that would go bad if I didn't use them soon, and there are few things I hate more than finding a shriveled and mold-covered vegetable wedged into some forgotten corner of the fridge. I had several bunches of scallions, most of an onion, a bell pepper, and half a pound of carrots left over from the feast a few days ago. Using these vegetables as a foundation, I decided to make a beef stew using meat from the LSU Dairy Store.

LSU has a fairly large agricultural science program that raises cows, pigs, goats, and sheep near campus. The main product of the agricultural science program is ice cream made from the cows’ milk. In addition, students of the meat science department butcher the animals and the meat is sold to the public, at very reasonable prices, through the Dairy Store. Ever since I found out that the on-campus Dairy Store sold meat, I have been longing to try out some of their products. The meat is very appealing to me because all of the animals are local: they live and die within three miles of campus and I never have to drive to the grocery store to buy meat because I can simply walk to the Dairy Store from my dorm. The animals are allowed to roam free and graze during their life, and because it is a small-scale farming operation, the animals are probably treated more humanely during slaughter. Another plus is that I can buy the meat with my meal plan (which is free courtesy of my scholarship) so I have $300 per semester to spend on Dairy Store products.

When I went to buy the meat for my beef stew, the Dairy Store had a fairly good selection of meats, including some cuts that don't normally appear on the shelf at grocery stores—lamb necks for $1.30 / lbs and goat meat for $2.50 / lbs—and normally expensive cuts for very reasonable prices—leg of lamb for $4 / lbs and oxtails for $1.30 / lbs. I grew up in a household that consumed very little meat, and as a result I know next to nothing about the different cuts of meat. The choice of beef was overwhelming and I had no idea what was a good stew meat. Did I want gravy steak, cube steak, chuck roast, or sirloin? Fortunately, there was also meat labeled simply "stew meat" for $2.20 per pound, so I bought a little over two pounds of meat. I will admit I was a bit embarrassed when I brought the meat to the counter since most Dairy Store customers only get the ice cream, but the cashier didn't even bat an eye.

To be continued . . .


Duchesse said...

My best frugal buy in college days was a crock pot. Actually I took Mom's (not a suggestion). Like you I got beef and dairy products from my college's store. With the crock pot, you can have a flavourful tender stew ready, like magic, when you come home.

Anonymous said...

How lucky to have this resource nearby!

Frugal Scholar said...

@Duchesse--I've just started using a crockpot myself. Why did I wait so long? Also, using a crockpot would have obviated FS's stew problem--he didn't cook it long enough.

@Terri--I'm going to buy myself something there next time we visit FS. It had closed early last time we visited and we could only peer longingly through the window.

Chance said...

What a great deal on natural meat! Local always tastes better to me, and I don't think it is a placebo effect. The terror of industrial animals puts their flavor off aside from the ethics of eating meat from tortured animals (I speak as a committed meatatarian). You're lucky to have such a great resource.