How to Multiply Your Food Dollars 6.5x

One of my favorite retail versus wholesale price comparisons is rice bran oil. You have probably never seen this, as it’s not commonly available at grocery stores. But most restaurant supply wholesalers do sell it because its high smoke point makes it ideal for frying. It’s quite versatile, being especially excellent for salad dressings and baking. Olive oil, coconut or nut oils are healthier choices, but sometimes a neutral vegetable oil is just what you need. I have yet to see this available in an organic version, however.

A one gallon jug sells for $10.47 or 8.5 cents per ounce at the restaurant supply store where anyone can shop. At the grocery store I saw this bottle selling for $6.99 for 12.7 ounces, or .55 per ounce. That means I can multiply my food dollars 6.5 times by buying it from a wholesale source.

The retail versus wholesale price of rice bran oil

I can hear you wondering how you’d store that much oil and then worrying it will go to waste. Here is the solution: divide it into quarts and pour it into sterilized glass bottles (you can do this by running them through the dishwasher or filling them with boiling water then letting them dry). I use recycled juice bottles and those with swing-top-bale tops. Glass is better than plastic for long-term storage of foods. The chemicals in plastic leaches into food, particularly oily foods. You can use recycled bottles as long as the lids are in good condition (I have been known to retrieve glass containers out of my neighbor’s recycling bins).

A one-gallon jug of rice bran oil decanted into recycled glass bottles

Once you’ve divided the oil into manageable portions, then what do you do?  When stored in the refrigerator, oils will stay fresh for about a year. If you estimate you’d use a gallon in a year and you have extra fridge space, you can keep it all for yourself. If you won’t use that much or don’t have extra fridge space, you can trade or exchange the extra with a friend (I intentionally don’t use the words “buy or sell” as it may be illegal in some states to open containers and sell portions of them). Here’s what I usually do:  I keep one quart in my kitchen cupboard, mindful to use it in a couple of months before it goes rancid. Two go in the backup fridge. Then I trade a bottle with my friend who grows fresh catnip. I store the oil I keep for myself in bottles with swing-top-bale caps, and the oil exchanged goes in a recycled bottle. I label and date them.

Over the years I’ve developed a few “un-recipe recipes” that use this oil. Rice bran oil is extraordinary in baking as it makes the crumb of baked goods remarkably moist. I gave my friend Michelle my salad dressing recipe for her fiftieth birthday after she begged me for it for years. Stay tuned for the next two episodes!

Curry in a Hurry, Part One

Now that you can buy coconut milk for a third or half of retail cost, (please see previous post), you might consider keeping an extra supply in your pantry. A plentifully stocked larder encourages you to get in the kitchen and experiment a little. So, what can you do with all that coconut milk?

Whip up a curry using The Plenty Method! While recipes are useful for ideas and inspiration, their requirements for exact measurements and ingredients can often be quite restrictive and time consuming. The “Y” in Plenty means “Yum: the un-recipe recipe.” Break loose of cooking rules, formulas, shoulds and musts and experience new freedom in the kitchen!

So here is how to make a simple curry sauce using an “un-recipe recipe”. You can mix this sauce with lentils, roasted or sautéed vegetables, pineapple, noodles, rice, tofu, tempeh, beans, shrimp. Or, cooked chicken, beef, pork or lamb (which I purchase from a local farmer). The combinations are endless. And it is surprisingly easy to make this sauce.

To start, find a large skillet, sauce pan or Dutch oven. Dice an onion and sauté it in butter, vegetable, or coconut oil that has started to bubble. Sauté the onion for a few minutes until it’s translucent. Then add about a tablespoon of curry powder or paste and some seasoning salt (my favorite are those made by Maggi). To that, add a can of undiluted, unsweetened coconut milk and stir until it bubbles.

If you have some tamarind paste or concentrate, add slightly less than a tablespoon. In The Plenty Method, tamarind is what we call a “flavor burst”. It’s a concentrated flavoring that kicks the flavor up a notch and makes humble ingredients more interesting. If you don’t happen to have any tamarind on hand, don’t worry. But next time you are at an international food market or Asian grocery store, consider picking some up. It adds a lovely tart and tangy complexity to many dishes. Another flavor burst you might like to add is a splash of aged sherry vinegar. Just a touch adds yet another layer of lovely flavor. Add a touch of hot sauce if you like your food spicy (my go-to is Sriracha). Some people like the flavor of fish sauce. If you do, add that if you have some.

If the sauce seems too thick, add some water. If it’s too thin continue to cook it down or stir in some corn or tapioca starch diluted in a small amount of water. Then voila! There’s your curry sauce, ready to use as suggested above. Along the way, listen to your senses; they will tell you what to do. If it tastes a bit flat, add more curry powder, tamarind or salt. And if you are in a hurry, you can forgo the onion and start with the coconut milk. My favorite way to eat this sauce is over roasted cauliflower served on a bed of brown rice and topped with roasted cashews. Nourishing and delicious fast food!

One of my goals is to help people learn how to whip up something easy and delicious in the time it would take to get take-out or go to a drive through. Having a plentiful supply of food on hand and a few “un-recipe recipes” makes it much easier to cook on the fly. Try it, you’ll like it!

Tamarind makes an excellent flavor burst. I love Maggi seasoning salts.

PS If you’d like to learn a little more about how to use coconut milk, check out this post by Mark Bittman. Written in 1999, it’s still relevant . . . except for the price!

How to Multiply Coconut Milk, Part Two

Let’s say that you multiplied your food dollars three times by buying a 98 ounce can of coconut milk at a wholesale price (please see previous post). But what do you do with all that coconut milk once it’s opened? Naturally, you may worry that it will go to waste. And since grocery store shoppers are conditioned to buying small amounts of food frequently, buying a large amount of food less frequently might feel uncomfortable at first. But don’t worry – The Plenty Method will help you learn how to store the extra. That’s what the “N” in “Plenty” means: “New containers and making space”.

Opened coconut milk keeps in the refrigerator for about a week or two, depending on how cold your fridge is. Store it in the main body of the refrigerator where it is coldest. Since the coconut cream separates from the coconut water, you’ll need to mix it first. The easiest way to do this is to put it in a large pan and gently heat it. That melts the oil and makes it easier to blend. To minimize the number of things to wash, consider whipping up a quick curry (see next post). Then wash the pan!

Estimate the amount you will use before it spoils then freeze the extra. I freeze it in pints. You can freeze the portions in zip-lock bags because they lay flat (wait until the coconut milk is at room temperature before pouring it into the bag). When you finish with the Ziploc bag, you can keep it in the freezer. Then you won’t have to wash or throw the bag away every time you divide coconut milk. If you don’t want to use plastic, try a straight-sided canning jar. These prevent the milk from cracking the glass as the liquid expands.

After the milk thaws out, it curdles a bit. To restore its creamy consistency, blend it for about thirty seconds. If you are interested in the food science around this, check out this Cook’s Illustrated article: To minimize containers to wash, blend it right in the bag with an immersion blender if you have one. Then dilute to desired consistency and pour the mixture into a glass bottle. Always give it a good shake before using as it does separate.

If all this seems too complicated, you can buy the coconut milk in 13 ounce cans at the restaurant supply store. You can still multiply your food dollars by about twice. But once you know how, it’s really not too much trouble to store a big can. Or, freeze just some of it. Children enjoy helping with this project, especially if they get to drink a hot-cocoa or fruit smoothie afterward. I find that children tend to be motivated by good things to eat, most adults, too!

The wholesale versus retail price of coconut milk in a 13.5 ounce can.