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Archive for the ‘groceries’ Category

There’s No Such Thing as a Cheap Lunch

Posted by flsquared on February 6, 2010

Today I made a big mistake.

On Saturdays, I have started swapping language lessons in the hopes of reviving my dormant French knowledge.  My instructor is awesome–a Parisian artist full of life and spirit and the patience of a saint!

After the lesson, I typically take advantage of the fact that I’m out of the house and go grocery shopping.  If you don’t live in Manhattan, you may not understand why I need to go shopping alone, but suffice it to say that Whole Foods and Trader Joes are “cheap” supermarkets, so much so that there are often crowds that would rival Black Friday sales at Walmart.

Today, we got together from 11am-1:30pm and I was starving as I left.  I hopped on the subway down to Union Square, but knew I would not make it through the hoards of Trader Joe’s groupies without a snack.  Right in front of TJ’s was a hot dog vendor.  Score!  Quick and cheap.  After all, I had to get back home to relieve hubby from babysitting duty.

(If my friend D. is reading this, I am sure to get a lecture.  Yes, I know, you have warned me time and time again about eating from the street carts!)

It was not a good sign when the guy cleaned out the mustard with a toothpick and then put the toothpick back in the box.  Ewww!

But the hot dog had already been paid for so I scarfed it down and ran inside to do my shopping.

As I waited in the 45 minute line to pay for the groceries, I grabbed a hot wing sample.  Spicy but good.

I was even counting my blessings as I got to the bus stop just as the 103 was pulling in.  Yoo hoo!

However, as the driver swerved through traffic and slammed on the brakes over and over again, my stomach began to turn.  I’m not really sure if it was the hot dog, the sole buffalo wing, or the 30 minute roller coaster bus ride, but I seriously didn’t know if I was going to make it home before I lost my lunch.

I actually got out of the bus 2 stops early and started walking.  I stumbled into the apartment and downed two hot chamomile teas with honey.  I laid down on the bed.  The room slowly stopped spinning and I was able to go out and play with the kids.

Sometimes I am so stupid.  I will spend double to buy hormone free milk or free range eggs, but I buy whatever crap they sell on the street corner.  Hopefully I’ve learned my lesson and the next time I need a quick snack I’ll either bring one with me or grab something at the fruit stand.

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Grocery Update: We’re On the Right Track!

Posted by flsquared on March 18, 2009

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that we were concerned that we were spending too much money on groceries–up to $20-25/day!  The scariest thing about it was that it just creeped up out of nowhere.  My husband and I are very responsible with money and have never used a budget.  We only noticed since we were earning a lot of “free” gasoline!

(Note to Self:  Remember to review your spending every few months, just to make sure it’s under control!)

I am happy to report that since I have taken back over the shopping we have been saving money!  I don’t think that I am doing anything “earth-shattering” or anything my husband couldn’t/wouldn’t have done, but I am just shopping consciously.

Here are the numbers (yea!)

  • January:  $18.71/day
  • February:  $15.11/day
  • March (so far):  $10.87/day

And this is without doing without!  I’m including in here our daily glass of wine with dinner.  I am not including our take out pizza or dining out.  Funny thing, though–since I started shopping this way, we have actually stopped ordering pizza (we now get it about every 3 weeks) and we eat out much less.  Hmm…. that wasn’t part of the plan!

So what have I been doing?  Here are some things that have worked for me:

  • Take inventory of what you have at home already.  We had a ton of red and black beans that we had actually moved up here from Atlanta.  Crazy!  And it wasn’t that we don’t like them, we do.  We had just gotten into a “lentils and garbanzos” frame of mind.
  • Shop alone (or with your partner) and when you have time.  Especially on the first couple of shopping trips when you need to stock the cupboard.  My first few trips were big ones and I used coupons to get a lot of the basics.  It would have been too hard to shop this way with the kids.
  • Get a paper and clip coupons once every month or two.  It’s amazing how much money you can save on toiletries, baby products and even some “real food” like yogurts and cheeses.  Try to go through them with the supermarket sales circular to match up brands for big savings.  Even if you just use one or two coupons, you are saving money over the cost of the paper!
  • Eat less meat and more fruits and veggies.  I’ve already posted on this, but I have actually found that we feel better and have more energy after 6 weeks of eating this way.  Yea!  We also found an area of town (called “The Strip District”) that has very reasonable prices on fruits, veggies, and legumes.  Double yea!
  • Make one day a week a “cooking day”.  I’m not sure if this saves money, but it sure helps us.  Every Sunday (or every other Sunday) I try to cook for about 5 or 6 hours.  I roast 2 chickens, make 2 casseroles, cook up lots of rice and beans for the week, etc.  With 2 small children and a super-busy husband it’s great to be able to freeze meal-sized portions that we can defrost and heat up later that week or month.  Come to think of it, maybe this is why we’re ordering less pizzas!
  • Make it a game!  Have fun with saving money on groceries and try out new recipes with less expensive ingredients.  Our “reward”?  I funded our new double stroller with our grocery shopping savings.

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Meat as a Side Dish Recipe #4: Chili

Posted by flsquared on March 16, 2009

My college boyfriend used to make a fantastic chili several times a year.  Thank goodness I grabbed his recipe as a “parting gift”. 🙂

I did change it this time to add a few veggies.  It was awesome!  In fact, hubby even suggested that we add more veggies next time and use about half the meat.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

“Billfred’s”* Chili:

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz tomato sauce
  • 1 cup water
  • 16 oz beans (kidney, pinto) — next time I will add an extra 8 oz
  • 1 lb ground turkey — next time, 1/2 lb
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 3-4 chopped garlic cloves
  • 2-4 tbsp chili powder to taste
  • 1-2 tbsp cumin to taste
  • I also added 2 ribs of celery, 1 package of sliced baby bellas.
  • grated cheddar cheese and chopped red onion as topping
  • potatoes cut into bite sized pieces

Directions:

  1. Brown meat, onion, garlic, celery, mushrooms.
  2. Stir in all except potatoes.  cook 1 hour + (the longer the better).  In a separate pot, boil the potatoes.
  3. Put it all together in bowl–potatoes, then chili, topped with cheddar cheese and red onion.

chili

MMMMMMM!

PS.  if you have leftover chili, it tastes even better the next day!

*not his real name

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Meat as a Side Dish Recipe #3: Homemade Pizza!

Posted by flsquared on March 13, 2009

Just about once a week, when I have a loooooong day with the kids, we get a pizza.  We’ve tried the supermarket pizzas, but they just aren’t the same.  It’s a little luxury that we’ve allowed ourselves, guilt free.

Since I’ve taken back over the grocery shopping, I have started going to the “Strip District” here in Pittsburgh which is comprised of about 10 blocks of small “mom and pop” grocery-type shops.  Love it!

Well, my first weekend there, I stepped into a teeny bread shop, but didn’t buy anything as the line was long and I needed to get back home.  I did grab a menu, and saw that they sold pizza dough.

**IDEA!**

Why not make our own pizza?

So for the first attempt, I purchased pizza crust at the supermarket next to our house, and dove into the veggies that we had at home:  baby ‘bellas, roma tomatoes, red onion and fresh parsley.  Topped with a little mozzarella, I popped it into the oven for 10 minutes and …

Pizza

Soooo yummy!  Half the price of the take out and I’m sure much more healthy.  We’ll definitely be doing this again!

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Less is More: Citron Presse

Posted by flsquared on March 9, 2009

I’m not big on drinking water in the winter.  I prefer coffee, tea, milk, whatever.  

Living in Pittsburgh during the winter,where the air is cold and dry, and nursing a very hungry 4 month old has changed this practice.

This weekend, we went to “The Strip” and I picked up a bag of ten lemons for $2 (!!) to use in cooking and to make Citron Presses:

lemon

Eh? What’s a citron presse?

A couple of years ago, I skimmed through French Women Don’t Get Fat….for the recipes, of course.  (If you do read this book, get ready for some American bashing, which I did not appreciate and skipped over the best I could).  One of my discoveries was the “Citron Presse”:  hot water with a slice of lemon.

I know it sounds too simple to be earth shattering, but you have to try it!  It’s a great alternative to herbal tea or hot chocolate on a cold winter afternoon.  

Simply put a slice of lemon (or squeeze a wedge) into a cup and pour hot water on top of it.  I add a liitle honey as well.  Let it sit for about a minute, and you’re good to go.

As proof to how easy and yummy they are, check out the photo above.  I said I bought 10 lemons, right?

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Meat as a Side Dish Recipe #2: Red Beans With Cabbage

Posted by flsquared on March 8, 2009

This recipe is adapted (by me again!) from the Fagor Pressure Cooker recipe book. Oscar and I really enjoyed it, although it did take a while to prepare. The book says that you can substitute chick peas or white beans for the red beans–I’m definitely going to try that!

We made this a couple of weeks ago in the pressure cooker.  Adjust the recipe for your needs, similar to the last recipe I posted.

I was a bit unsure about this recipe, as it was very different to any way I had tried red beans, but I loved it!  (next time I will take a picture, I promise) Added bonus:  it froze very well.  I just froze the bean part and cooked the cabbage fresh.  To change it up one evening, I added rice and bits of leftover chicken and it was fantastic!

Ingredients:

(bean portion):

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion and 1 medium onion, cut in half
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 lb dried red beans (or garbanzos, or white beans)
  • 2-3 carrots, cut in half
  • 1 leek, chopped (white part only)
  • 4-5 pieces of bacon, cut into bite-sized pieces

(cabbage portion):

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 head of cabbage, coarsely chopped

Directions:

  1. Soak beans in water overnight.  (See tip from previous recipe about soaking beans in hot water.)
  2. Heat oil in pressure cooker and saute onion and garlic until it is clear.  Add paprika.  Remove mixture from cooker and set aside.
  3. Combine the beans in the cooker with remaining veggies and bacon.  Cover with water, close lid and bring to pressure.  Cook for about 15 minutes and release pressure.  Remove lid and add the sauted onion and garlic and bring to pressure, cooking this time for about 20 min.  Either release pressure or just turn off the stove and let it slowly release itself.
  4. While doing #3, heat oil in skillet and add onion and garlic, sauteing until clear.  Add cabbage and fry for about 10 min (until it is “wilted” as you like it).
  5. Lay a bed of cabbage on a plate/bowl, with the beans on top.  You can also do as I did and mix in some rice.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Enjoy!

       Yield:  about 4 servings

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Meat as a Side Dish Recipe#1: White Bean Soup

Posted by flsquared on March 4, 2009

This recipe is adapted (by me) from a White Bean Soup Puree that I clipped from a newspaper (probably the AJC) ages ago but never tried.  It’s really easy to make, with minimal prep time (although you do have to remember to soak the beans overnight).  

Although we love purees, we gobbled this soup up before we got around to puree-ing it!  We’ll definitely make this again, and when we do, I’ll add a photo.

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 cups dried white beans
  • 1-2 tbsp of olive oil (or Extra Virgin, whatever you have around)
  • 3-4 slices of bacon, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1-2 chopped leeks (white part only–save the green for stock)
  • 2-4 chopped carrots
  • 2 chopped celery ribs
  • 8 minced garlic cloves
  • enough chicken broth (I used homemade) to cover beans and veggies in pot–about 8-10 cups
  • 1 tbsp thyme and rosemary (fresh or dried, whatever you have on hand)
  • 1 cup whole milk (can use heavy cream, but I never have that.  I used Victor’s milk instead 🙂 )
  • pinch of salt, pepper to taste

Directions

1.  Soak the beans overnight.  The white beans soak up a ton of water, so be sure to cover them with a few inches of water before heading to bed.

Here’s a hint from my mother-in-law when soaking beans.  This was my big ah-ha! moment as to why her beans were always so soft and yummy and mine failed to open.  SOAK BEANS IN THE HOTTEST WATER YOU CAN GET!  Now, I know that they say not to use hot tap water for cooking, so what I do is nuke some Brita water for a few minutes and use that.  It has made a huge difference!

2.  In a pressure cooker (or in a stock pot, crock pot, whatever you have) add olive oil.

3.  Add bacon and cook until it renders it’s fat.

4.  Add onion, garlic and the rest of the veggies and saute until tender (about 15-20 min)

5.  Drain beans and add to veggies.  Add chicken broth and spices.

6.  Here’s where it will differ depending on what type of cooking pot you use:

  • I love love love my pressure cooker.  If you have one, at this point you will just cover and cook on high until you the little tab comes up showing that the pressure is high.  Turn heat down low, but high enough to keep the pressure high for about 15-20 min.  Then turn off heat and either release pressure or do as I do and let it slowly cool down and release the pressure itself.  
  • On stovetop, the recipe says to bring to a boil and cook on medium heat for about 2 hours (until beans are tender).
  • If you have a crockpot I would put the mixture on low and cook overnight.  However, you may have to experiment as it’s been a while since I’ve used one.  (anyone have any ideas?)

7.  Either use an immersion blender, food processor, etc. to puree (if desired).

8.  Enjoy!

Yield:  about 8-10 servings

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Re-thinking our Grocery Shopping Habits

Posted by flsquared on March 4, 2009

After spending most of this cold, cold winter either sick or lethargic, my husband and I decided to take a second look at how we were fueling our bodies.

Granted, having a newborn and an 18 month old can run anyone ragged. Piling on top of that the stress of Grad School, looking for a job, and not seeing the sun for days on end can make anyone want to spend the day in bed. Unfortunately, our sons do not give us the choice.

We found that most days we were eating meat twice a day. Good, lean meat, like chicken or pork, but still meat. And many times we were so hungry from all of the day’s activity, we would eat several portions at one sitting.

We also did a lot of “impulse” grocery shopping.  Mostly by being unprepared for a recipe, or just “craving” a certain dish.

This was taking a toll on our bodies and our pocketbook. We were spending upwards of $20-$25/day on groceries! (Now, this does include wine, diapers, our weekly take-out pizza, etc).

Oscar had been fantastic at taking care of me while I was pregnant and doing much of the cooking and grocery shopping. However, now that our youngest was 3 months old and I had recovered from the birth, it was time for me to take it back over.

I decided that I would try to get our grocery spending down from $600-750/month down to $450/month. Here’s the catch–We actually had to eat more healthy foods, and I didn’t want us to feel as if we were sacrificing.

The approach:

  • coupons (I don’t have much time to dedicate to this, but I figured if I saved a couple of dollars/week, I would at least pay for the newspaper)
  • buy what’s on sale
  • spend one day/week cooking 2-3 meals to freeze and nuke for the following week(s) for when Oscar gets home late and we are both exhausted
  • increase our intake of fresh (or frozen) fruits and veggies
  • still have our evening glass of wine with dinner
  • still have take out once/week (if we would like)

Will this work?  I’ll keep posting what is working and what is not.  

I will give you a hint….I started this 3 weeks ago and we’ve already decreased our spending 15% (or $17/day).  We’ll see if I can keep it up!

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“The Eater’s Manifesto”

Posted by flsquared on February 25, 2009

Speaking of food being a priority for our family, I just finished reading In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan.   

This book was an interesting take on eating:  according to Pollan, much of what Americans eat is not, in fact, food. And when we do consume food and non-food products, we  tend to eat too much of it.

The last portion of the book includes suggestions on how to–and not to–eat.  Here are the ones that struck a chord with me:

1.  While (culturally) the Japanese stop eating when the are 80% full and the French when they are full, Americans know to stop eating when their plates are empty.

  • Make sure your portions are of the correct size.
  • Eat at a table (not at a desk, not in front of the TV, …) and with others.  Make your meals a social experience.  This will also make it easier to eat slowly so your brain will register when you are full!

2.  Get to know your food:  

  • Cook (as much as you can).  Try to get “hands on” and minimize the use of the microwave.
  • Plant a garden (if you can).  If you live in a city apartment like me, try to go to farmers markets and participate in your area’s CSA.

3.  Eat quality food–you will appreciate it more and need less of it.

  • (my favorite!)  Don’t buy your groceries where you get your gasoline!
  • Avoid processed food products when you can (keep an eye out for unpronounceable ingredients, health claims on the packaging, a long list of ingredients,….)
  • Shop around the supermarket instead of through the aisles.  Other then frozen veggies and dried legumes, most of the aisles are full of processed non-food items.
  • You can eat meat (hurrah!), but it should be more of a side dish than an entree.

While fresh fruit and veggies are not always the least expensive options at the store, eating more “food” and less processed “non-food” has actually cut our grocery bill.  But even if it hadn’t, the benefits (more energy, better moods, improved health, …) are worth the investment.

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