Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Fancy, Frugal Favorite: Eggplant Parmesan Made Easy

As I've said before, one of my best strategies for resisting dining out too much is to learn to make my favorite fancy restaurant dishes at home.  One meal that I love but have struggled with is eggplant parmesan. 
Now, I know how to make eggplant parmesan at home, but it's such a hassle that I find myself avoiding it.  Cut the eggplant, drain the eggplant for an hour or more, dip the eggplant in flour and then egg and then bread crumbs, fry the eggplant, bake the eggplant... I've done it occasionally, but it's just a lot of work, and I end up feeling like I'd rather go out to a nice Italian place where they'll do it for me.  
Until I discovered the most wonderful shortcut: Trader Joe's eggplant cutlets!  They are pre-breaded, can stay in your freezer until you need them, and only take a few minutes to cook.  All you need to do is add sauce, cheese, pasta (or bread if you're doing a sandwich) and you're done! 
"So what?" you say. "Why are you so excited?  There are lots of pre-made options that make cooking easier.  They are also much more expensive.  It's all about the trade-offs."
Well, these delicious cutlets are also dirt cheap, at least in my opinion: $2.59 at my local store for a one pound package, which typically provides four or more portions.  That's not even much more than for a fresh eggplant (which is, what, about $1.50 to $2 a pound?)  Plus, it's only partly pre-prepared, which means I can use my own sauce, etc.  Total no-brainer for me.
Okay, now I sound like a shill for this particular product, but it just seems like such a rare find.  I'd love to hear from the rest of you: what food options have you found that are time-savers without being significantly more expensive?  If we come up with good ones I'll edit them into this post or do a follow-up post.


MoneyChangesThings said...

Costco makes spinach pie that is inexpensive and really good. Great vegetarian entree. I bake it until it's browned and serve it on a beautiful platter, where a roast chicken used to be!
The packaging is a little wasteful, but that is the case with virtually every frozen product... You'd think by now the food industry would have figured that out.

R said...

When I first saw the ad for the new Healthy Choice steamer meals, I thought now there is a great and economic way to fix dinner. But then I did a cost analysis of the same ingredients cooked by me and spread out over 5 o 6 meals. No comparison. Not only was the food better tasting but the savings were fantastic.