Every Tuesday at 4 p.m. sharp Steven Maryanoff arrives at the Ashland Food Cooperative to taste a new dish Co-op chefs have whipped up.
But for Maryanoff, 60, the most valuable thing about the gathering isn't the free sample-sized snack — it's the recipe.
When the recession first rocked Ashland last fall, the Co-op noticed more shoppers becoming interested in buying inexpensive, bulk foods. But many customers, like Maryanoff, didn't always know what to do with cabbage, beans or lentils, for example.
So Mary Shaw, the store's culinary education specialist, rolled up her sleeves and went to work creating easy-to-follow and low-cost recipes in the Co-op's Community Classroom kitchen.
Savoy cabbage? Chop it into a tuna slaw. White beans? Stir them into a mushroom ragout. French lentils? Put them on a kale salad.
Those are just a few of the 40-some Budget Solutions Recipes Shaw and a few volunteers have come up with so far by tinkering with established recipes to keep costs low. Each meal Shaw created costs less than $10 to make, using Co-op groceries, and will feed four people.
"We don't realize how much money goes out the pocketbook when we're eating some meals out," she said. "When we're shopping for home I think the awareness is different about how much we're spending."
Other Ashland grocery stores are also hoping to cash in on the home-cooking trend. Last month Albertsons created Simply Good Meals sections in the company's stores where meal items are grouped together.
In the Ashland's Albertsons' deli, produce and meat sections, for example, shoppers can find all the fixings for pizzas, salads or steaks.
"We wanted to make it easier for our customers to answer that inevitable 'what's for dinner' question by providing them with simple, convenient, affordable ideas for creating a real home-cooked meal," Susan Morris, Albertsons senior vice president of sales and merchandising, said in a release.
The release cited a Food Marketing Institute study published last May which found that 71 percent of consumers are "cooking at home more and eating out less at restaurants."
Ashlanders seem especially eager to cook at home now, in order to save cash, said Eric Chaddock, general manager at Shop'n Kart. Although the store hasn't started any new programs to help people cook more easily at home, customers seem to be taking advantage of recipes and bulk foods that Shop'n Kart already offers, he said.
"Basically we just encourage that all the time," he said.
Although the cook-at-home trend is good for business, Chaddock said he hopes the economy improves.
"We don't want rough times to do more business — that's not a healthy strategy. A lot of my customers are restaurant owners here in town. This economic climate is hard on everyone," he said.
The recession has prompted Maryanoff, the Co-op shopper, to cut back on eating out by learning how to make some new dishes, he said.
"But that doesn't keep me from trying out recipes," he said. "I try to live economically and, I find that in some cases, I can do so lavishly."
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