Frugal Living: Eat Tapas, Cut Your Grocery Bill

By ERIN TURNER

You know how some people are die-hard dessert fanatics? Well, I’m that way when it comes to appetizers!

I love easy to eat, no-frills, simple tasty food. It is perfect party food because who wants to sit down and worry about eating a big ol’ meal when there is socializing to be done? Plus, it’s always hard for me to settle on what entrée to order. With appetizers being small, I can enjoy a variety of different foods without overdoing it.

Even at our wedding, I opted for a buffet of hearty appetizers instead of a formal, sit-down dinner. First of all, I loved all the food on the appetizer menu and it seemed like a more friendly and relaxed option for our wedding reception. People were free to mingle while they nibbled on tasty, easy-to-eat hors d’ oeuvres.

The other day, I happen to catch a Food Network show by Sandra Lee called Money-Saving Meals. It caught my eye because, guess what, it was all about Tapas. Tapas are the Spanish version of appetizers, and they have become very popular over the last couple of years. They are small plates of some really tasty food. The method of serving tapas is to make a couple of different plates and share them thus getting a taste of all the wonderful food.

Now, let me point out that tapas are not the same as the appetizer list on the menu at the local chain restaurant or bar. No folks, we not talking deep fried cheese sticks or potato skins. Tapas are typically real food prepped in a simple manner so that the essence of the food is enhanced. Dishes such as kebobs and skewers are signatures of tapas – think: steak, potato and pepper kebabs or salami, mozzarella and olive skewers – easy prep and real food!

One of Erin Turner's money-saving tapas recipes.

Green-chile polenta cakes on top of a bed of kale with cilantro lime vinegarette and a handmade corn tortilla. A classic example of an inexpensive tapas (small plates)dish.

Sandra Lee’s show explained how serving tapas can cut your grocery budget significantly. It seems silly to think that serving shrimp or scallops could be easy on your budget. But since you are using small amounts, you don’t need to rack up the costs on pounds and pounds of seafood.

A little bit goes a long way when you’re preparing tapas! Plus, smaller plates encourage smaller portions and that’s not only good for your wallet, but also for your waistline.

After watching the show, I thought I would take a stab at preparing some of her suggested dishes. Not only did they sound wonderful but the cost savings for such elegant sounding food was hard to resist.

I made Flat Iron Steak with Tango sauce on top of a bed of spinach and Barcelona potatoes. The preparation was simple and quick, and the taste was out of this world. I served six people this meal and it only cost me about $1.00 for fresh herbs, salt, pepper, and oil.

Now, I could do it that cheap because I used elk meat from our freezer and potatoes, garlic, spinach, and onions from our garden. Even if you had to buy all those items, it still would be a very inexpensive dinner.

The key to tapas is to keep the plates small. I wasn’t sure that would go over with my “hungry men,” but I was pleasantly surprised that the meal ended up to be satisfying and no one complained they were still hungry at the end. Actually, they all loved it! Basically, I was taking the typical meat and potatoes dinner and dressing it up while downsizing the portions. It was a beautiful union.

Erin and Jon enjoyed a dinner of appetizers at their wedding.

Erin and Jon enjoyed a dinner of appetizers at theirwedding.

Some of the next tapas I plan on trying are: Greek Bread Salad (cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, feta cheese, cubes of french bread, capers, and a variety of fresh herbs, all blended together with olive oil and lemon juice), Lemon Chicken Kebabs with Moroccan herb sauce, and finally, Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Chorizo.

Don’t those just sound wonderful? So summery and light yet full of lots of flavor. And, all of these dishes require small amounts of ingredients, which keeps the cost of dinner in check.

If you read last week’s blog about growing your own food, you’ll save even MORE money when you prepare tapas using ingredients fresh from your garden!

If you are at a loss for creating tapas, never fear! You can either check out Sandra Lee’s recipes, which I successfully tried, or after a little trip to the Book Exchange here in Missoula, I found a half dozen cookbooks solely devoted to various recipes for tapas. There are plenty of resources out there for you to get cooking on making your very own tapas for tonight’s dinner.

Whether you serve tapas for a regular week night dinner or as party food, I think you will find them to be a fun alternative and another easy way to reduce grocery bill costs but definitely not lose any style or taste. In fact, tapas exude sophisticated class in their simplicity, freshness, and flavor – which explains why they are fast becoming a hit all over the country.

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Erin’s got tons of tips for saving money, couponing, and sticking to a budget in her previous posts: What I Love About Missoula, Frugal Living: Grow Your Own Food and Save Money, and Frugal Living: The Art of the Garage Sale. Be sure to check out the Missoula Save it Club.

   Visit the Coupon Queen’s “Save It”archive.

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Erin Eisenman-Turner is proud to be a native Missoulian. Along with her husband and three sons, they raise chickens, pigs, rabbits, and vegetables at Turner Family Farms in the Orchard Homes area. When the farm chores are done, the coupons clipped, and the blog written, you can find Erin exploring Montana, collecting antiques, and trying to maintain a well-run, happy, and organized home for her family.

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