Archive for category Baking

The Art of the Frugal Spice Rack

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Photos: Prakhar

I sense a flux of cooking articles coming on. I have been hammered with questions, and lately, they are all centering around cooking, and how to get started. Today, I thought I might cover what needs to be done when shopping for spices.

Some Background

In just about every kitchen I have ever visited, on the wall, is the venerable spice rack. There are usually several tiny bottles of more spices than would ever be needed in any cooking situation. The spices in these starter sets are usually the same batch that have been siting in there since the first round.

People usually then ask me what to do with all these spices.

My first recommendation is shocking: take them all, and throw them out.

There are a few rules you should use when evaluating your spice rack:

  1. If you have had a spice for more than a year, and been puzzled by it, it’s probably time to pitch it.
  2. If you can’t remember the last time you used any individual spice, pitch it.
  3. If you can’t name three recipes that would use it, you should probably pitch it.

After all this pitching, your options will be much smaller, but much fresher.

Herbs and spices have a limited shelf life, and once you get the hang of it, you can tell how long they have been sitting there by looking and smelling them. For now, just trust me on this one.

Determining your Needs


Now that you are devoid of stale spices, you have to figure out what you need. This can be really tough at first, and will vary widely by tastes and ethnicity. If you have a stable of recipes you normally cook, and are looking for something new to try, this is where it might get tricky.

When I start to get bored with my current menu offerings, I do the following:

  1. Think of something you love from a restaurant. Then, start searching around for recipes. You will probably have to experiment to figure out how you want to dial it in, but that’s the fun part.
  2. Think of a dish from your past. Something your mom or grandma made, then resolve to learn it.
  3. Watch the food network for about five minutes. That will give you all sorts of silly ideas to play with.

Armed with those recipes, make a shopping list of spices.

Avoid the Grocery Store

Now that you are ready to set out to start or replenish your supply, avoid the grocery store if you possibly can. The grocery store is the most expensive place EVER for spices.

I have started picking up spices at my local bulk food store, and found it now impossible to fork over such serious money at the grocery store. for example:

SpiceGrocery StoreBulk Food Store
Cumin$5.34$0.76
Cinnamon$4.31$0.80
Rosemary(Whole)$5.12$0.71

These prices are for 2 oz containers.

If you are not sure about bulk food stores, make sure to stop by my article on them, and try to find one in your area.

At the bulk food store, there really is no discount for buying larger quantities, so I would definitely recommend buying smaller quantities and replenishing often.

While you are there, don’t buy anything not on your list unless you have immediate plans to use it. You are trying to make sure you have fresh spices on hand. Don’t goof it up.

In the Future

So, you now have a manageable spice rack with only the things you need in it. What to do now? Keep up with more of the above. Experimenting, buying spices on the cheap, and exploring new ways of cooking.

Once you get into a groove, you will definitely keep your spices rotating and fresh.

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Shop at a Bulk Food Store

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For years, I have driven past the sign for the local bulk food store. Every time I see the sign go by, I vow to stop in one day. The inception of this website was a push to get me to finally step in to my local bulk food store, The Food Dock

DSCN1768.jpg Bulk food stores buy staples (and an assortment of other goodies) by the truckload, and break the quantities down, and sell them in plain plastic bags. This allows them to sell staples at a much lower cost to you.

Some examples of the pricing include:

  • Flour – 55 cents a pound. So, a ten pound bag is only $5.50. If you want to save even more, you can buy a 50 pound bag for $18, or 36 cents a pound. Compare this to about $7 for the same amount of flour at the grocery store.
  • Spices – Spices vary, but none of them are more than $1 for a baby food jar full (about an ounce). At the grocery store, the same spices sell for anywhere between five and eight dollars.
  • Baking yeast – If you decide to start baking your own bread, the first thing you should do is drop the idea of baking with packaged yeast. The cost of such yeast is about $3.05 per ounce. A full pound of baking yeast goes for $3.47 at bulk food stores.
  • Baking needs – While I am not familiar with the prices of baking supplies, they offer the same discounts on anything else you would need for baking, including: corn meal, baking chocolate, baking powder and soda, etc.
  • Health products – Dried fruit, Wheat germ, flax seed, and all the other health products are available for similar discounts and packaging.

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Some things to remember:

  • Since bulk food stores don’t have the same dollar power as bigger stores, you need to keep an the store hours and plan accordingly. They are usually open 9-5, but check beforehand to make sure.
  • Before you buy a truckload of something perishable, make sure you can use it up before it goes bad. Per pound pricing is usually the same no matter what quantity you buy, and several quantities are available, so you can buy what you need, and still cash in on the savings.

If you live in my area (Ashland, OH), you can try the following places. Otherwise, check your phone book for more info, then go out and explore!

  • The Food Dock 479 Township Road 1275 Ashland, OH 44805 419-281-3084.
  • The Hayesville Corn Crib – 4 E Main St Hayesville, OH 44838 (419) 368-7500.
    The Corn Crib also sells lunch meat and cheese at great prices.

If you decide to go adventuring into the world of bulk food stores, let me know..

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Baking your own artisan bread – How much per loaf?

sourdough.jpgMy family eats a lot of bread. We can usually eat a loaf of store bought bread every two or three days. Since I am spending a lot more time at home now, and we are eating sandwiches for lunch instead of going out to lunch, we are eating even more bread.
We usually buy a variety of sandwich bread and artisan bread. Artisan breads are a bit smaller, alot denser, and a bit more expensive than sandwich bread. At my local grocery, I bought the following recently:

  • One loaf of sandwich bread for $2.89
  • One loaf of sourdough bread for $4.99

In retrospect, this sounds like a good deal of money.

Since I like to cook/bake, i decided to find out how much it would cost to bake artisan bread myself. Today, I am going to look at sourdough bread. This isn’t the simplest bread to make, but it will demonstrate pretty quickly if there are any cost savings.
sourdough_starter.jpg I am not going to give a full rundown on the art and science of sourdough, but I will point you to a few sites that contain tons of great information:

  • The Yankee Gardener – This is the recipe I usually make, just because it has the first sponging step, and you can actually see something happening.
  • Sourdough Home – These guys have a sourdough recipe that taste just like back home (California).
  • Fast Track Sourdough – Read this site for a great primer on sourdough.

If you should get interested in pursuing this further, let me know, and I will make arrangements to get your a starter.

One other thing to mention is that I am pricing this out based on picking up flour from my local bulk food supplier. In the future, I will give you more detail on how these work. Suffice it to day that I bought ten pounds of flour at 55 cents a pound. Here is the price per cup of flour calculation that I will use for all future calculations. Hopefully, the price of flour will not fluctuate enough to render this calculation dated very soon.

  • One cup of flour weighs four ounces, while not exact, this is pretty close.
  • There are 4 cups of flour in a pound of flour.
  • A cup of flour costs about 14 cents. This shall be our hallowed number.
  • If you buy flour in a 50lb sack, you can get it for 36 cents a pound!
IngredientCost
8 cups flour$1.12
Salt0*
Sugar0*
Sourdough Starter14 cents
Total$1.26

*Note that the asterisks denote that these items should be in any well stocked kitchen (more about this in a new article). The costs for these are negligible.

This recipe makes two loaves of bread, so the effective cost of baking bread is about 63 cents a loaf plus a few cents for gas to heat the oven.

So, does baking your own bread pay off? let’s look at the pros and cons:

Pros

  • Eight loaves of home made bread costs as much as 1 loaf of store bought bread.
  • Home made bread tastes much better than store bought bread.
  • Home made bread is much healthier than store bought bread.

Cons

  • Unless you have a dough hook and heavy mixer, it takes alot of work to knead this recipe.
  • To make a loaf of this bread, you will need to plan ahead. Start the recipe the night before, and you will have bread by dinner the next day.
  • You will need to maintain your starter. This takes about ten minutes a week or so, but you have to do it.

So, for me, it turns out that baking my own bread is well worth the cost. Let me know what you decide.

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