Archive for category grocery shopping

Home Made Yogurt in the Crock Pot

I have been kicking around this idea for a long time. I want to make yogurt at home, but haven’t had the time time mess around with finding the right container and and heat source combo. I can’t believe i didn’t think of this.

The basic idea for making yogurt is:

  • Heat the milk to 160F.
  • Add yogurt cultures from live yogurt to the existing heated milk.
  • Maintain the heat for about 8 hours.

This seems like a great way to do it.

Check out Corrie Haffly’s video on doing just that. If you would like to see the entire story, see here.

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Lo-Fi Grocery List Management

Some Background

grocery_small.pngSome of you who read this blog may have already seen that I have written extensively about meal planning and grocery shopping . I have recently all but abandoned the electronic versions of my daily planning (save gcal and gmail contacts). In trying to fudge an electronic system to fit into my planning and GTD systems, I decided that it was time to go back to paper.

I am currently saving up for a Levenger Circa system. While I am doing so, I am moving my planning systems to paper; waiting for the day i can afford that punch and notebook. In the process, I found that my current grocery shopping system was starting to show its age. It worked fine, but it just wasn’t very well laid out. I also found that I didn’t like to have to flip through several pages in my book to find my current list. I am hoping that the ability to rearrange pages will make this adventure complete.

A Bit of Googling

After searching around a bit, I found that there were a good deal of pre-printed forms available for not only the circa system, but for pretty much any system out there. This helped out a great deal, as I am now able to get a head start on getting my thoughts in order. While I found a ton of shopping list templates out there, nothing really seemed to suite my needs.

I must immediately confess that I am not a designer, nor am I productivity expert. I downloaded a copy of Inkscape and did my best.

The Final Product

I didn’t say it was pretty. I will say that so far, it’s pretty functional. While I hate to call it a final product, I think it’s pretty serviceable for now. You can download the fully printable PDF here.

To use the form, all you really need to do is start planning your meals on the days on the left side of the form. I am making a huge assumption that you are at the intermediate stage in cooking your own meals and that you have looked at my previous example and are comfortable with making a sensible grocery list.

Once you have made your meal plan, simply use the list on the right side of the sheet to plan our your grocery shopping. While I have mentioned these things in my previous post, I do think a few things bear repeating:

  1. Before you head out to the store, double check your pantry and make sure you don’t already have these items in stock.
  2. Divide your list by department to speed up your trip.
  3. Keep your eyes from wandering over the impulse buy shelves.
  4. Keep in mind that many of these items can be bought orders of magnitude cheaper at bulk food stores and farmers markets.

In The End.

I hope this list works for you, and helps you save a little bit of dough on your grocery adventures. But! If you find that there is something missing, or something that might be tweaked to make this make more sense, let me know. Let’s call this list v1, and we’ll keep working on it until we get something that is as dialed in as it can be.

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What’s on Sale Right Now?

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Photo: rakspassion

Some Background

This is just an idea that I have been kicking around. I think it might have legs. I actually searched for two whole minutes to see if it had already been done. I found one, but it wasn’t what I really liked. Rather than bore you all with a design spec, I will tell a little story.

I’ll Tell you a Story

This evening, I was cleaning up my office, and I realized that I needed some plastic storage totes. I see them all the time in sales circulars for dirt cheap at local stores. Unfortunately, I don’t remember when I saw them last. I don’t know which store. I do know that I can find the flyers online, and go through each of them. Although it’s totally awesome to be able to get all the flyers at once, this still seems like only half a solution.

After mulling this around, I decided to go ahead just buy them at the first place I hit tomorrow, and dream up a solution in the meantime.

A Possible Solution – In English


Wouldn’t it be great if there was a website that did the following?

  1. Pull all the sales flyers and circulars from the internet.
  2. Index them.
  3. Allow users to search those indices based on geographical location.

For instance, I need plastic containers. My profile would know where I live, and spit out a listing of all plastic containers in my area. I could also do the same search with “pork chops”, “oranges” or whatever.

That way, I could quickly find the best deal at the time on the items I am looking for. For things I buy all the time, like milk, I could set up an alert that would tell me where milk goes on sale each week.

While I am still in the “I’m thinking out loud” mode, I really think this could be done. Sadly, it would take more than just one guy (me) to do this. I could handle the coding, but not the design or the social engineering of the site. If you are interested in what I am talking about, read the next section.

A Possible Solution – In Dork

Just about everything about this site is simple. No one is going to bust a brain stem on this. There is, however, some work that would need to be done.

Without doing much homework, I am guessing that most store sites (CVS, Walgreen, and the like) do not have an RSS feed of their weekly sales. I don’t really have any interest in figuring out where the sites host their sales, then either scraping their site, or indexing their pdf (well, this might not be too bad.. yeah.. it will). Meanwhile, you would have to monitor each site for any changes in how the code their sites and where they store their info (yick!). It might be better to work out a deal with the store to get access to an RSS feed. I would imagine that the companies would be more than happy to sit down and hear out the pluses on them doing such a thing.

The other problem is that, once a deal is struck and the RSS feed is a reality, anyone else could step in and do the same thing. I also don’t know how I would feel about getting exclusive rights to an RSS feed. That just feels sleazy to me. Be that as it may, I still have bills to pay, and have to have some income coming in. On the other hand, the site could rely on ad revenue.

Anyway, I am still thinking out loud, but I would love to open a discussion on this, and possibly make it a reality with the help of one or two other people.

Let me know what you think.

Home Cooking – Does it pay?

Some Background

spaghetti.jpg

photo: NuriKharah

Okay, over the past few weeks, I have been flooded with requests for my meatball recipe. To type this thing up, I have to find time to sit in front of my computer, open up a text editor, and bang away. I have decided that while I am at it, I might as well write an article I have been promising myself that I would write soon.

If all you’re looking for is the recipe, it’s at the bottom of this article. Feel free to scroll past the breakdown.

How Much to Dine Out?

The main reason I wanted to look into this is that I saw a story on TV stating that it was cheaper to eat out than to cook dinner. In all reality, they were eating at drive throughs and buying off the dollar menu, but it really did make me wonder how much it cost to feed my family a good nutritious meal. My test meal? Spaghetti, meatballs, and garlic bread.

Having had such a meal in restaurants infinity times, I let’s break this down for a family of four:

Entree$9.99
Drink$1.75
Total$11.74

For four: $46.96 + $9 (tip) = $55.96

This excludes dessert and grown up drinks. Add those, and your bill can really skyrocket.

How much to cook in?

Let’s price out the recipe below. Your mileage may vary, but I am gonna say you should have enough for dinner one night, and lunch for someone the next day (we cage match over the leftovers.. just sayin..).


Spaghetti – 1lb$1.09
Green Bell Pepper$0.50
Onion$0.30
Can of Sauce$1.20
Sausage$1.50
Ground Beef$1.50
Eggs$0.17
Tomato Paste$0.15
Parmesan$0.30
French Bread$0.63 *
Total$7.34

*I am making the assumption that you are making bread from scratch, according to an old post I wrote on baking. This also includes a whole full sized loaf of bread.

So, let’s pretend we are being really tight, and we go through the drive through, and everyone gets one item. This would be a total of $3.96. In other words, for $3.38 cents more, the family could eat a great meal.

Let’s also pretend that instead of eating leftovers tomorrow, that one person bought another burger for lunch. That means it’s only $2.39 more. If, at any time two people want fries, the difference is now only 41 cents.

So, eating off the dollar menu doesn’t sound so good anymore does it?

Conclusion

while feeding everyone (1) one dollar hamburger might sound cheaper up front, it’s really only marginally cheaper, and horrifyingly less nutritious.

Post Conclusion – Is this doable?

The big question that people are going to ask: where do I get the three hours to cook? The quick answer would be to make a triple batch, split it into three parts, and freeze two of those parts. Then, at mealtime, all you have to do is thaw, boil some noodles, and eat!
There are more solutions, but we can hit them in a later article.

The Meatball Recipe

Okay, here goes. The first part is for the sauce, the second is for the meatballs. This is the base recipe. It will easily feed four people. You can multiply this recipe from here.

The Sauce

  • One half green bell pepper, chopped
  • One half white onion, chopped.
  • One clove of garlic.
  • Half a teaspoon of fennel seed
  • A sprinkle of cayenne.
  • 1/2 tablespoon of oregano
  • 1 15 oz can of your favorite sauce – I use Hunt’s.

Into a blop of olive oil, toss the fennel seeds. Heat until they start to sizzle. Toss in the peppers and onions. Enjoy the smell! As soon as the onions start to go translucent, toss in the garlic. Cook for about thirty seconds, stirring. Drop in your can of sauce. Lower the heat and cook covered, as this stuff will splatter on your kitchen and clothes and make a mess.

The Meatballs

While your sauce is heating, hit this:

  • Half Pound of Italian Sausage
  • Half Pound of Ground Beef
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 water
  • Half a small can of tomato paste
  • 1/2 Parmesan. Get real parmesan and grate it. Not out of a can!!

Mix the sausage and the hamburger together. Mix it well. You can do it by hand, I use the paddle on my stand mixer. When mixed, add the rest of the ingredients. Mix only well enough to combine everything. Don’t mix the hell out of it. Just make sure everything is well combined.

Using wet hands, make egg sized (but round) meatballs, and place them into the sauce. Make sure they are all covered.

Simmer for about 45 minutes with NO STIRRING. This will allow the meatballs to form without getting mushy. Cook another hour and a half or so.

Enjoy!

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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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