Saturday, February 27, 2010

Never Another Duplicate! And Other Money-Saving Grocery Ideas

I hope that's not wishful thinking up there in that title! Over on
Cheap Healthy Good this week, in her links of the week, I discovered Bon Appetit's 7 Habits of Highly Effective Grocery Shopping. There was this one little tip that made such total and complete sense to me that I had to come home this weekend and work it into my crazy schedule!

What is it? Know What You Have. Simple huh? How many times have you gone into the store and tried to remember what you have in the freezer, in the cabinets, in the fridge? Or better yet, when you plan meals for the week (you do, don't you?) have you said: Oh I have to put "x" on the list...and then after you buy it realized you already had it (I know whereof I speak, folks, I have THREE - count 'em three! - bottles of Lite Soy Sauce! (Two are open and in the fridge, one is on the cabinet shelf.

I think I'll be making more Asian cuisine for a bit to use those up...

So I got into the cabinets easily enough and listed everything...

And ended up here. Yes, that's actually my "organized" freezer. I more or less remember where I put everything. I had to wear gloves when I went into it, because my fingertips quickly go numb when I work in there (hence the reason I have had no idea what was in there in the past).

Tonight I have leftover (frozen) beef stew and corn muffins thawing. I'm going to clean out the freezer. Use it up, make it do. It's the frugal thing to do, doncha know?

(And I think I'll be having spaghetti-based dishes for a bit, because I also discovered I have 2 full boxes and a partial, opened box of the whole wheat variety in the cabinets. While I was over on Bon Appetit, I noodled - sorry! - around and found this recipe which I have all the ingredients it's on the menu for later in the week, and I think I'll put it in the slow cooker, too.)

So now, I challenge you. Find out what you have and list it. Mine is in a notebook that is now dedicated to planning those meals from my storehouse, and I'll also tick off what I've used up as I do. I need to begin a new grocery store price-book, too, so I think it will fit in here as well. What's that? You use your price-book to track the prices of the foods you use most at the stores you shop in - those prices vary and if you're really trying to keep your grocery expenses down, shopping sales and such, this is well worth the effort to do. The fastest way to get started is to pull out your receipts - of course you save those, right? - and list what you've bought over the past month or so...keep it by food type and then have separate columns for each store. I could see doing this on a spreadsheet, but I like having the spiral notebook to cart along with me.

And for those of you wondering how I'm doing on sticking to my food budget this year? I went over in January by $20.44. In mid-month, I revised my "budget" downward by $25 every two weeks. So it might have been smarter not to do that. January is also a very long month, but frankly? I had no idea what was in my kitchen to eat, so that should all change from now on, right?

In February (and there's still one day left!), I'm maintaining that $25 per bi-weekly paycheck reduction - which turns out to be $50 less in the shorter month. So far? I'm $32.44 under budget!

(I did take goodies to our monthly KnitIn group last weekend, and I did not include the price of that in my grocery budget - it was entertainment - but that was $17, so if you want to include it, I'm no longer decide?)

Trying to keep myself honest here. So will YOU itemize your pantry? If you do, let me know, okay?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Interesting Spots Online

* Fake Plastic Fish
I poked around and found this list of storage tips to keep produce fresh - I'm printing it out, slipping it into a *yuck* plastic sleeve and affixing it to my fridge for quick reference!

* Green Phone Booth

* The Conscious Shopper

* Mindful Momma

All very informative, with some valuable ideas - if you're interested in things like green living, eating and shopping locally, and reducing your environmental footprint.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

More CSA?

Back in the summer, I popped the excess of green peppers into the freezer with just such an evening in mind...cold, and needing comfort food:

So I mixed up some dry stuffing mix with water and some Smart Balance Light margarine, and gerry-rigged a couple of pans to fit - I should have started with a smaller one, but I didn't so had to help bolster the littler peppers by setting a dish into a dish! Then it was an easy maneuver to slip the stuffing into the peppers, add a touch of water to keep it all from drying out in the oven (the pans are sprayed with cooking spray, too) and a 400 oven for about 1 hour was all it took.

While that cooked, I opened a can of diced tomatoes and heated them, adding in some McCormicks Spicy seasoning - I like things with a bit of a bite. Once the tomatoes were bubbling, I added a tablespoon of flour to help thicken them into a nice sauce and allowed them to cook for a bit, breaking up any lumps that formed.

Everything comes together with the pepper and stuffing opened out onto a plate, and a spoonful or so of the tomatoes on top. A little fresh cracked black pepper and here's your comfort food!

My mom used to make these, so the recipe is vegetarian. I can remember that this, along with her macaroni and cheese were often the meals we ate at the end of the month when my Dad's paycheck just didn't make it all the way through...

Thanks Mom. I love these recipes so much and I know you always felt you weren't giving us the best you could, that these meals weren't what you wanted to provide us with.

But they were just exactly right!

*oh...btw? I put this into the Weight Watchers Recipe Builder to discover that even with the sauce, a medium pepper stuffed this way is a whopping 4 points! So while I had the oven going, I quickly made up my easy, yummy, Maple Baked Apple: One apple, cored; spray a small baking dish with cooking spray, set the apple inside (slice of a piece on the bottom to hold it upright if you need to). Take a Vermont Maple Sugar candy (or 1 Tablespoon of Annie's Vermont Lite Maple Syrup) and pour into the center of the apple, and dust with your favorite apple spices - I use cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. You can bake that about 30 minutes at the same temperature as the peppers.

Let's see...that's two veggies and a fruit. and it's another 2 points for the apple - so a 6 point meal.

I do feel so virtuous!

Saturday, February 06, 2010

In a Snowstorm? It's Time for Soup

Thursday night, in advance of the storm, I had a yen to make soup over the weekend. I was stunned when I got to the store and discovered that the shelves were mostly bare...but you know what? No one had seen this recipe yet, I guess, because I was able to pick up what I didn't have in the larder to make Mushroom Barley Soup with Cannelini Beans and Cabbage!

I had most everything but I needed mushrooms and cabbage:

I'm not the best food photographer, but this mixture of red onions (which is what I had), garlic, mushrooms, thyme, and red wine (I didn't have sherry) looked so yummy as it cooked away, I ran for the camera.

That was probably the toughest part of making this soup, chopping the various ingredients. Simplicity was tossing in cannelini beans and shredded cabbage - I bought red, which the Fat Free Vegan used in her version, because there wasn't any other in the store. The bag of pre-shredded was 2 ounces less than the recipe called for, but it was fine that way, after all...

Doesn't that just look yummy? Other things I did? Well, I didn't have the smoked paprika - so I used 1 Teaspoon of regular paprika. And then I pulled out the Cayenne Pepper as FFV suggests. "A pinch" became probably close to 1/3 teaspoon (I shook it in...I like spicy).

I think I'll invest in a bottle of sherry and the smoked paprika. I'd love to make this once and see if I like my version better or hers! I LOVED mine!

And I love that FFV calculates the nutrition content, including the point values for Weight Watchers - a serving of this was 2.6 points! I rounded out the meal with this:

Two teaspoons of olive oil with McCormicks Spicy Blend for seasoning, and a whole grain roll from the grocery's bakery. Total points? 6.

Oh, yes, that roll? Well when I got to the bakery aisle? There was practically no bread of any sort to be found. Apparently folks don't love whole grain rolls as there were just two bags of these? That suited me just fine...

Stay warm if you're caught up in this monster storm...and batten down the hatches, as I hear there's another on schedule to hit the mid-Atlantic this Tuesday! Hmm...I'm going to start planning what I'll make for comfort food then!