Saturday, January 7, 2012

Stretching a Buck: Pork and Chard Stirfry, Chunky Pork and Vegetable Chili

We had a serious reduction in salary this last month.  That made for a hard Christmas season, but also hard on my household budget. That's the bad part about working for yourself;  if you don't work you don't get paid.  My little daycare kids got Mono, and not at the same time, so they didn't come for most of the month. 
I don't mind being short occasionally, I actually see it as a challenge. So, I put my thinking cap on and figure out ways to stretch whatever I have to buy in the store.  We drink less orange juice, buy less fresh produce, and use less of the protien we buy at the store in each meal.  It is amazing how much you can really shave off the total cost of groceries if you really need to, without compromising nutrition. 
I have a freezer full of lamb (that we raise) and various cuts of meat that I've bought when it's on sale.  When I do buy protien in a budget crunch situation, it has to meet two criteria:  cost less than $2 a pound, and can be used to make two meals per pound. 
Boneless pork ribs are what fit in my budget this time.  Boneless pork ribs are my meat of choice for stir fry.  If they are chilled, you can slice them very thin, which works well for marinating, and produce a juicy, tender meat in these types of quick cooking  dishes. So, half of my one pound package of meat goes towards the stir fry dish, and the other half gets cut into half inch cubes for my chunky pork and vegetable chili.  If your source of protien is limited, then it needs to be either cut thinly, or in small pieces so it doesn't look skimpy on the plate. 
We eat lots of fresh greens, and I will not skimp on that part of our grocery budget.  We have swiss chard often, along with spinach and collards.  Swiss chard is easy to prepare, and such a vitamin powerhouse of a vegetable.  It is delicious prepared with plain boiled potatoes, or quickly stir fried with some mustard seed and vinegar and oil,   It is delicious paired with eggs for a weekend frittata, or added to minestrone soup in place of spinach. 
When you cook with swiss chard, you must treat it as two vegetables:  the fibrous stalks, and the tender quicker cooking leaves. When I stir fry chard, I pull all the leaves from the stems and dice the stem to cook the same amount of time as onions, only adding in the leaves the last bit just long enough to wilt them.  The same is true for boiling them with potatoes.  The stems go in with the cold potatoes and water, and then the leaves just get added right before draining the water off. 
Whenever the meat is limited, I can bump up the amount of vegetable or starch to make it seem filling.  I made a sweeter version of pork chili, and added what's on hand, mainly celery, carrot and onion. These are vegetables that have a constant place in my pantry of goods.  They last well in long storage, and provide good nutrition and value for my dollar.
I have an aresenal of dried beans and peas that can provide good protien and take up the slack for more costly vegetables and meats in my recipes.  I also have cans of beans on hand at all times.  I buy them when there are case lot sales, and they are 50-60 cents a can.
These two recipes have jalapenos in them.  With the seeds removed, they are mild and tasty.  For some reason, the cost of green peppers has skyrocketed in the last few years.  I just buy whatever pepper or chile is cheapest, and in the best condition.  In the middle of Wyoming where everything this time of year is trucked in, you take what you can get.  Sometimes I buy anahiems, or serrano, and jalapeno. If they all are wrinkled up with age, I will use canned chopped green chiles in their place. 

Pork and Chard Stirfry

1/2 pound boneless pork ribs chilled and sliced in thin slices
1/4 C low sodium soy
1 T grated fresh ginger
zest and juice of 2 lemons
1/2 tsp sriracha hot sauce
2 garlic cloves minced
2 bunches red swiss chard stems diced and leaves chopped and divided
1 bunch green onions diced
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
3 stalks celery diced
1 onion diced
canola oil

In a medium sized bowl, mix sliced meat with soy, ginger, lemon zest and juice, and sriracha hot sauce.  Set aside. 
In a hot wok,  stir fry onions and swiss chard stems with green onions, celery, jalapenos and garlic in oil.  Remove to the serving platter. Remove meat from marinade with tongs, and stir fry.  While the meat is removed from the marinade, add two heaping T of corn starch to marinade liquid and stir to combine.    When meat is browned and still tender, add vegetables back in, and add swiss chard leaves.  sprinkle with extra soy sauce to start to steam the chard.  As the chard wilts, add in marinade and corn starch mixture.  Cook until juices thicken and are clear.  Pour back into serving dish, and serve over the top of hot cooked rice.  This made a meal for three, plus breakfast for me the next day.  Yes, I eat Chinese take out for breakfast!

Chunky Pork and Vegetable Chili

1/2 pound boneless pork ribs cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 onion diced
4 stalks celery diced
4 carrots peeled and diced
4 jalapeno peppers seeded and diced
3 cloves garlic minced
2 T olive oil
1 can/pint diced tomatoes
1 pint/ small jar salsa with corn and chipotle
2 cans black beans rinsed and drained
2 C V-8 or tomato juice
3 Tchili powder
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp adobo seasoning
2 T sugar or stevia

In a large stockpot, brown pork in oil.  Remove and reserve.  Brown onion, celery, carrot and jalapenos.  When the onion is translucent, add garlic, and remaining ingredients.  Return browned pork to the pot, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and cover the pot to simmer for 45 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  If chili is too thick, add water to get it to desired consistency. 
This made a meal for three, plus two and a half quarts for other meals.  Due to it's mild flavor, the day care babies ate it  for lunch one day and loved it. 

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