Monday, December 12, 2011

Strategies for Saving Money on Groceries...

Hey there!  This is being written in 2011, most likely halfway through the greatest recession since the Great Depression. Some say it will never get better. Who knows? But, just in case, friends and I have been talking about ways to save money during hard times...we share ideas, so I thought I'd share them with you!

Plan, Plan Plan: Planning meals and shopping for meals for a whole week ahead of time not only helps you avoid spending so much money on gas, its efficient because nothing goes to waste. No oldie-moldie leftovers hanging around looking tired. No more impulse purchases, at least not as many.

It's not that hard--just get out your recipes, your Safeway ads and your calendar and figure out 7 dinners and 7 lunches you want to eat that week. Get a pen and paper and do it in front of the the TV one night a week. I do mine on Friday after work  because unless I'm busy having fun, I shop on Saturday afternoons. In addition, I usually make two freezable entrees on Sunday afternoon if I have time. Then I only have to do lots of dishes two or three times a week.

Take into account what's on your calendar and plan accordingly. If someone has a soft-ball game or a ballet lesson until 5:30 on Wednesday, you may want to defrost a hardy soup or some homemade marinara in order to make something really quick that night. Vegetables are harder--they don't stay fresh! If they aren't fresh, nutrients are lost! Plan for salads and braised or roasted fresh vegies for the first three days of your planned week and save frozen vegies and fresh fruits for the last four days. Many of this blog's vegetable dishes are really easy. If you've gone to the trouble of cooking a main dish--who wants a complex side dish?

Speaking of freezing: you should also plan for making double the amount of almost every dish you make--if it's a casserole or soup put half in the freezer for another week. If it's a meat dish that's reheatable, plan on eating it a couple of nights in a row the week you make it. This way you can get away with cooking entrees only two or three times a week. There have been times where I don't actually cook for 5 days--relying on my freezer. However, I don't let things go for more than 4 weeks in the freezer. I abhor things that taste like they've been frozen.

Shop Sales, Use Coupons: Since man (and woman) cannot live by Costco alone, every week I try to look at my local Safeway's coupon deals when planning meals. I'm not a fanatic. I don't have a big household to feed so I don't buy huge quantities and sock them away. Usually just two or three along with other essentials I need. I also won't drive across town for a bargain unless I have to go there anyway. Remember gas prices? It all adds up! But watching for sales is a great way to direct your meal-planning for the week. Sometimes Safeway beats Costco prices. It just depends. Every other week I skip Safeway and shop at Trader Joes. They have many gourmet items, their regular prices are terrific, and on sale, their low prices are rock-bottom. The computer-saavy among you can also go online to for more good deals!

Substitute Less Expensive Products: Sometimes Martha Stewart and a host of other chefs have very expensive and hard-to-find ingredients in their recipes. And sometimes your 7 year old wakes you up in the morning to tell you you need to make 2 dozen cupcakes for her class before noon--and you don't have buttermilk! So try a substitute...

  1. Don't have enough sour cream? Substitute plain full fat Greek Yogurt. If it's non-fat mix in 1T veg. oil.
  2. Don't have all-purpose flour? Substitute 1 C plus 2 T cake flour.
  3. Don't have enough tomato paste? Substitute a thick catchup.
  4. Don't have fresh tomatoes or frozen corn for soup or sauces? Substitute canned.
  5. Don't have 1 C buttermilk? Substitute 1 C sweet milk mixed with 1T white or cider vineagar.
  6. Don't have or don't want to pay for 1 T fresh herbs for soup or casseroles? Use 1 t dried.
  7. Don't have 1 C milk? Substitute powdered milk or evaporated milk mixed with water to taste.
  8. Don't have 1 C honey? Substitute 1 C sugar mixed with 1/4 Cwater
  9. Don't have Panko? Smash saltines or oyster crackers or use bread crumbs instead.
  10. Don't have 1 egg? Use two egg yolks or borrow one from your neighbor next door.
  11. Don't have 1 T flour for thickening sauces? Use 1/2 T cornstarch.
  12. Don't have 1 sq. chocolate? Substitute 3T cocoa plus 1T shortening.
  13. Don't have 1 t baking powder? Mix 1/4 t baking soda plus 1/2 C buttermilk or 1 1/2 t cream of tartar
  14. Don't have 1 C creme fraiche? Use very 1 C fresh sour cream instead.
  15. Don't have Lyle's Golden Syrup? Use the same ammount of light corn syrup.
  16. Don't have or want to buy astoundingly expensive chocolate? Use 1/2 Scharffenberger or other expensive chocolate and  1/2 Bakers or Nestle. I never use Hershey's. Guittard--my favorite!
  17. Don't have quite enough butter to fill 1 C? Substitute half with 1/2 C shortening plus 1/4 t. salt. In baking only.
  18. Don't have unsalted butter? Substitute regular butter in the recipe but decrease salt added by 1/4 t per 1/2 C regular butter. In other words if the recipe asks for 1 C butter eliminate 1/2 t salt from the recipe.
  19. Don't have the right kind of pasta? Substitute any bite-size pasta you have in a pinch.
  20. Don't have Mexican or Italian seasoning? Substitute equal measurements scooped from those little packets of Taco or Spaghetti mix on your shelf. Or look up "How to make Mexican or Italian seasoning"online and make your own.
  21. Don't have or want to pay for pine nuts? Eliminate them from the recipe or chop macadamia nuts. For some recipes (such as in salads) you can substitute sunflower seeds.
  22. Don't have or want to pay for liqueurs? Most liquor stores stock airplane-sized bottles. You will not find them in Safeway.
  23. Don't have vegetable oil? Never use olive oil for baking. Never. Yucky! For baking melt Crisco or coconut oil. Coconut oil is much better for you.
  24. Need unsweetened coconut? So you don't have a fresh coconut on hand? I AM SHOCKED (just kiddin). I actually prefer taking my sugared Angel Flake...plopping it in a colander...running water over it until the sugar is gone and drying it overnight on paper towels. It turns out a lot more moist than flaked unsweetened coconut that you find in health-food stores.  

Expense-saving note: I almost never buy fresh herbs to add to soups or casseroles, substituting the dried ones--about 1 t for each T. Do buy fresh herbs when making sauces/marinades composed primarily of herbs. Like Pesto or Mint/Ginger Marinade. Or anything with parsley or sage--they have a unique taste when fresh.

Buy in bulk-- Freeze a lotBig box stores, like Costco,are fantastic for this. Get ye to a Costco for thy meat! Buy a huge flat of meat or poultry every week. Then do three things: grill some, make some into a stew, casserole or soup to extend the meat, and freeze some for another week. I alternate between buying Foster Farms chicken breasts or thighs, buying boneless pork chops, and tri-tip steaks.  If I cook some each week,  there's some leftover for other weeks. That way we have variety for less. Here are some things I put in my freezer:

1) Buy a rotisserie chicken. Costco's famous roasted chickens are still inexpensive and taste great! Simply use what you want to eat for dinner, then use the rest of the carcass for a soup base or make an all-purpose stock to use in sauces, rice pilaf and what not. Here's how you make homemade stock from a rotisserie chicken....

After you have eaten the Costco chicken, put the carcass in a large (at least 4 qt.) pot 3/4 full of water and let it boil for 30-40 minutes. Take the pot off of stove and cool. Put it in the fridge overnight. The next day, remove the fat from the top of the pot with a spatula or slotted spoon.  Next, remove chicken bones and take off any peices of chicken you want to use for soup. Refrigerate chicken meat pieces in a plastic bag to use later for soup or chicken salad sandwiches.

Return pot to stove at a high heat.  Add a couple of peeled garlic cloves, a stalk of celery, a peeled carrot, 1/2 t peppercorns and a bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Cool. Strain. Freeze homemade stock in containers or add what's left of the chicken bits plus your favorite soup ingredients to make chicken  soup. Note: most of the time you will need more chicken meat to make soup--so you may want to have a couple of boneless breasts on hand to add to the pot if soup is your goal.

2) Buy a whole Turkey and Roast It.

Everybody knows that this is possibly the cheapest way to make a whole lot of good food. First, buy an 18 lb. frozen turkey and defrost it for a few days in the fridge. If you have more than 8 people coming, always opt to buy two smaller turkeys than one 23 lb. hulk. (Is it just me, or  have you ever asked yourself how that big a turkey managed to stand up on two tiny little legs?)  Apparently the smaller ones will taste better, and cook faster.  I usually buy frozen turkeys at Raley's or Safeway. The only fresh turkeys I like are usually about $50. and available at boutique markets. I really can't say I like Trader Joes's fresh turkeys at all--you get what you pay for in fresh turkeys. So here is what to do with a frozen one...

Take the defrosted turkey, put it in your sink and  wash it off. Get to know your turkey. Pat it on the back and say "Hi there, fellah!" Remove it to a clean surface and, reaching in through the opening where the neck used to be, take out the giblet bag. Put it in a plastic container and refrigerate if you want to use this nasty little bag for giblet gravy later.  Now, starting above the bird's cavity--separate the skin from the meat with your hand and shove large pats of butter under the skin. Yes, separating the skin from the bird with your hand feels strange, but it works well for a moist turkey!!!

Poke the turkey 6 or 7 times in different places with a fork. Put it in a large roasting pan. Season the outside with salt and pepper, or Lawry's Seasoning Salt. Cut up an orange into quarters, peel a fresh garlic clove or two and put them into the empty turkey cavity. This subtly flavors the meat. It's very French to do this. Oui oui!

Set the oven temperature to 425 degrees. Push a meat thermometer into the middle of the thigh, being careful to not touch the bone. then roast the whole thing for about an hour, until it gets up to about 175 degrees on the thermometer. Create a tent for the turkey with two pieces of foil that form an"A-frame" and are secured at the sides of the pan. Roast the whole thing for about an hour, until it reaches 175 degrees on the thermometer.  At this point, remove the foil tent and let it roast until golden brown, basting occasionally, about 30 more minutes.  I used to let my turkeys go up to the poultry setting on the thermometer. Not a good idea. Take it out of the oven at least five degrees before it gets there. The reason for this is that turkeys keep cooking for a while even after you remove them oven. Then you get a DRY turkey... ewwww.  At this point take the whole thing out of the oven and let it "rest" for 20 minutes or so before carving. Carve ALL of the meat off, serve what you need, and put the remainder in plastic freezer bags the fridge or freezer within a couple of hours to use at a later date. Then you can:

a) Make soup (see Turkey Soup in Being Erma's November 2010 posts) with the carcass
b) Make turkey sandwiches with leftover stuffing from "Gaga's Turkey Dressing" (December 2011)
c) Make "Sour Cream Turkey with Tarragon"(December 2011)
d) Make a Turkey Stir Fry (using vegies and Trader Joe's bottled stir-fry sauce mixed with water)

3) Buy a 3 1/2-4 lb flat of Tri-Tip steak at Costco. Marinate a couple of strips in McCormick's (or your favorite) meat marinade. Save the rest and put it in the freezer to :
a) Chop into pieces and make into stir-fry
b) Cut into chunks and make into a stew in the crock pot or stew pot.
c) Cut into pieces after having been cooked, marinate in McCormick's Burrito marinade--or make your own, chop into 1/4 inch pieces and sautee in a skillet until browned. Use meat for Burritos or Tacos (which is pretty inexpensive).
d) Cut tri-tip into 3/4" chunks, saute and add a stroganoff sauce you make yourself (See "Easy Stroganoff" on

4) Buy a Pork Loin the Size of Your Leg. Costco has 'em. Using your big Chef knife--cut half of the loin into 1" thick pork chops. You should get at least 6. Wrap what you are not using in the near future with plastic wrap then foil. Later you can use what you didn't cut into pork chops for: pork stew meat...pork fajitas or tacos...pork kabobs...stuffed pork loin...ground pork...etc. etc. etc.               

5) Buy ground beef or turkey in large quantities at Safeway. I do not like the ground beef that is currently at Costco. To me--it tastes funny! Make ground beef  into hamburgers, lasagna, meatloaf, a multitude of mexican foods and old-fashioned casseroles. Then-- freeze them in containers. I highly recommend NOT making too many pasta casseroles and dishes, because they are easy to get sick of. However, having home-made spaghetti sauce on hand in the freezer is aways a great idea.

6) Buying Marinara Sauce: If you are making large quantities of  homemade marinara, tomatoes and plain tomato sauce are extremely inexpensive at Costco. Those are what I use to make "Sebastiani Spaghetti Sauce" and "San Francisco Cioppino" on "". You can also get the best and least expensive ready-made marinara at Trader Joe's. I like all of them--especially the Vodka Sauce.

7) Buy Boneless Chicken Breasts. CostCo's Foster Farms brand still gives you a lot for the price. Thighs are very reasonable. And I often buy the chicken tenders. Make Chicken Cacciatore with these, adding home-made marinara sauce. There are bunches of great, inexpensive recipes for chicken that has been cooked and de-boned on "Being".  One of them is "Judy's Citrus-Garlic Chicken" posted April, 2011.

8) Buy Canned Tuna--it's more expensive than it used to be. But it beats almost everything else for price, except tofu. Just make a bechamel (white) sauce, throw in the tuna, add some warmed up frozen peas and serve on a bed of rice. Not that great for cholesterol, but absolutely delish if you're broke!

9) Buy Bacon--it's frequently on sale, two packages for the price of one, at Safeway. I never fry just two pieces. I fry a whole package then freeze whatever I don't use. Less dishes that way. Another, more healthy way to buy bacon flavor is to get the Hormel Real Bacon Bits or a huge bag of the Kirkland Real Bacon Bits at Costco. They're less fat, freezable, and taste wonderful when mixed into scrambled eggs, salads, baked beans, etc.. On Turkey Bacon: yes it's better for you. But I don't like it.

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