Whip a dip so good you’ll flip! <br>Strawberry Cheesecake Dip - Mulligatawny Soup - Chocolate Mousse Pie </br>Little Piece of my Heart - Dressed to Impress; Mastering Classic Vinaigrette - Pop Quiz! What’s the best way to uncork Champagne?  </br> Michael DeLoach -

In Search of Nature’s Bounty: Scoring Produce on a Budget

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What was the first thing that you cut from your food budget when the economy began tanking? If you’re employed and fearing the unknown, it may have been expensive specialty items, prepared convenience foods, take-out and restaurant visits. Those with brutal salary cuts and lost jobs struggled to put food on the table. Home cooks flocked to the superstores to buy in bulk, searched for local specials and downgraded to cheaper generic brands and cuts of meat.

Months later, millions continue cutting deeper and searching for creative ways to “make it.” A once prosperous professional woman confided to me that she no longer can afford fresh produce for her young family. What to do? She is not alone.

I called Dan Avakian, our Beyond Wonderful Produce Expert and owner of Dan’s Fresh Produce market in Alameda and discussed how cooks could affordably maintain all-important fruits and vegetables in their family diet. We agreed that one has to think outside of the box and be open to new ideas.

1. Select seasonal, local produce for best nutrition and value. During the winter months, “local” may include the state and surrounding areas. Wean yourself off expensive, imported out-of-season produce.

Today, citrus, winter greens and beets are plentiful in the markets.

Have you ever roasted beets? They are divine when sliced with oranges and added to greens for a salad. blog post photo
blog post photo Or, chop multi-colored roasted beets while sautéing their green tops with garlic, salt, pepper and a splash of Balsamic vinegar. Sensational!
Try sliced pears or apples with nuts and cheese in a salad of butter lettuce. Treat yourself to homemade dressing, foregoing the expensive, chemically enhanced bottled ones. blog post photo

2. Locate the small, independent produce stores in your area that maintain a bargain rack filled with older fruits and vegetables and “uglies” with bruises and dings. These treasures go for as little as 49 cents a bag and really help tight budgets. Dan has a very popular one at his produce store that he fills daily. Know that large supermarkets do not have bargain racks, choosing to toss their unsold produce instead.

Just think what you could do with a few apples, a little sugar, cinnamon and spice—apple sauce, apple crumble, and baked apples are just a few ideas. They are all yummy and fill the kitchen with amazing, heart-warming scents.

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A too-soft pear becomes a fabulous dessert when cored and microwaved with a cinnamon stick in the center.

3. Organize your family and friends to purchase and share large amounts of produce from superstores, farm stands and local U-picks. A huge bag of onions, garlic or peppers may be too much for your family, but works perfectly when divided.

U-pick farms give you the absolute freshest fruits and vegetables with flavors and scents that you may never have experienced in life.

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Last year I picked strawberries at a farm and was positively giddy working in a kitchen that smelled like summer.
4. Buy frozen vegetables on sale, then add them to your rice and lentil dishes for extra nutrition, taste and color. blog post photo
5. Spring is coming soon, and with it the chance to plant a simple herb and vegetable garden. Start small—a few clay pots of your favorite herbs, lettuce, arugula or watercress. Pick the outer leaves each time you make salad and they will continue growing for months. The alternative is overbuying lettuce and having it rot because you didn’t need the entire head. blog post photo

Feeling adventurous?—plant tomatoes, squash, beans and more. No matter how bad the economy gets you’ll benefit from the joy of planting, cultivating, harvesting and eating your own food.

6. Trade your homegrown fruits and vegetables with friends and neighbors. My plums and your apricots will make beautiful summer fruit tarts, sweet jam and supply lots of chin-dripping eating pleasure. Now who’s got a cherry or peach tree and wants to swap? blog post photo

When you start cooking like this you’ll find yourself asking, “How can I be on a budget when it tastes this good?”

Get printable recipes for easy reference.

Apple Crumble

Baked Apples

Butter Lettuce with Pears, Spiced Pecans and Blue Cheese

Pullao Rice

Roaste Beets and Blood Orange Salad

Roasted Beets with Greens

Strawberry Pie

Summer Fruit Tart