Posts Tagged groceries

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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Home Cooking – Does it pay?

Some Background

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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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The Frugal Pantry – Kick the Can Game

Some Background

While watching the news the other day, I ran across a story of a woman who decided that, besides milk, she would not go to the grocery store for a month. Her family would eat everything that had accumulated in the refrigerator, pantry, and freezer for the month. The endgame was, she ended up saving $800 in grocery bills that month.

At first glance, it sounded like a neat idea, but I quickly remembered that I have been doing the frugal kitchen thing for quite some time, and did not have endless stockpiles of Hungry Man meals at my disposal. I let the idea drop.

Until.

Looking into my pantry, I realized that it was overflowing with purchases that I had made without really thinking. I also had things stuffed into corners of the pantry that were picked up by a more impulsive shopping partner. My whole kitchen could maybe make three meals, tops, but the accumulation of canned kitsch was impressive.

I decided that the herd of cans and packets needed to be thinned. Not like a lion casing the joint for a wobbly zebra, but a slower and more complex hunt. It was on.

Some Definitions

Fumbling through my dusty pile, I realized that there were only a few categories that these cans fit in:

  • I’d Hit That! – These are foods that I really would eat. I usually forget that I have them in the house, so I buy them again. And again. Cans of tomato paste, tomato sauce, italian sauce, green beans. You get the idea. Anything you would possibly eat (even if it’s at 2AM after last call) goes in this category.
  • No Way, Jose – These are the things no one in your house would touch. Some leftovers from out of town visitors, an ex flame who had this thing for cans of pickled hobbit knuckles, canned okra. That kind of food goes in this category.
  • Expired – Yes, even modern food preservation techniques can’t be stretched into eternity. Sooner or later, your pickled beets will be magically transformed into purple botulism death.

Armed with these definitions, the rules are simple.

Rules of the Game

Here’s where it gets interesting.

While you are making your artful frugal grocery list , each meal must address one of those mystery cans.

Take a good hard look at your shelves, and pick one can for each day. Once you do this for a week, you might even want to do two cans a day. Take that one can, and categorize it:

  • I’d Hit That! – This can goes into one of your meals. Craft your menu around using that can for a meal. Hit a few cans of soup for lunch, and you can save a pile of money!
  • No Way, Jose! – While canned smoked ox tongue may sound horrible to you, chances are that if they made a whole canning factory to put said tongues into said cans, someone out there thinks this is a delicacy. Put this in a box. This box is destined for charity. There are probably several charities in your town which would gladly take your cast offs.
  • Expired! – Well, do us all a favor and throw this out.

Do this for a few weeks, and watch your pantry become magically cleaner!

Endgame

Since I no longer stockpile my refrigerator or freezer with unnecessary purchases, they are both in good shape. If you are new to restraining from rote and impulse grocery shopping, you might want to play this same game with your refrigerator.

It beats the pants of cleaning everything all at once, and I think it encourages some actual thought before randomly pitching things.

Advanced Game

For those of you who think I am a little overboard in my descriptions about things you may find in your kitchen, take a look at one of my favorite blogs, Steve, Don’t Eat It! .

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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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