Joann Jagla makes meatball sub sandwiches
When Joann Jagla lost her banking job to the recession in late 2008, she developed a new respect for that cliche about life and lemons. She began turning chicken into homemade pot pies and stock, and turning that stock into from-scratch soups.
It was the launch of a frugality campaign aimed at replacing more expensive, prepared foods and restaurant meals with fresh foods cooked at home for her, husband Len and daughter Caroline.
"I was taking a step back to the '50s, before processed foods," says Joann, of Rolling Meadows. "I was really looking at how to stretch dollars."
In the process, she discovered that her meals tasted much better and she enjoyed cooking more than ever.
"I don't care how much you spend on canned broth, when you make it yourself it has much better flavor," she says, "and it gives such depth of flavor to sauces and soups."
Joann always liked to cook, but she often used prepared foods like bottled marinades and dressings and frozen vegetables. The family dined out once a week and ordered in once or twice weekly, "like a typical working family."
"We went down to going out once a month, and now pizza is homemade or I take pizza from Aldi and I add grilled vegetables or whatever," she says.
Frugal cooking provided stress relief while Joann job hunted and interviewed. "I spent a lot of time with the Food Channel, learning," she says.
After she and Len splurged once on an Italian restaurant meal, Joann researched how to make bruschetta at home and recreate the experience.
"We had a fabulous night of eating goat cheese bruschetta with grilled shrimp and different cheeses, things you pay a lot of money for," she says, "and we opened a bottle of wine."
Joann discovered local farmers markets, building her meals on what's fresh and in season. She has been teaching her 23-year-old daughter and a friend how to cook, too.
"I realized they didn't know how to cut an onion or peel a tomato," she says. "I started having them cook on Tuesdays," choosing recipes that taught a new technique.
This week on the Daily Herald website she teaches us how to make meatball sandwiches with spicy tomato sauce and cheese, using day-old sub rolls from Jimmy John's she gets for 50 cents each.
We can test out her chicken stock recipe, too, and then make a creamy soup (both available at dailyherald.com/food), or raid our farmers market for zucchini, onions and corn and make her vegetable beef soup.
Joann returned to work late last year, but she isn't abandoning her newfound culinary style or enthusiasm.
"I haven't learned how to make pasta yet, but that's a possibility," she says. "Cooking is really my hobby right now."
- Laura Bianchi