Saturday, November 21, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Free Pictures | acobox.comHello, all... I'm going to skip the bargain meal post this week because I'm away for the weekend, and we all know what bargain meal every sale is pointing to this week... our Thanksgiving Feast! I don't plan on doing much other cooking this week- I'm going to haul a couple of pre-cooked meals out of the freezer and keep things easy while I get ready for the big day. And of course, there will be leftovers galore after that. I hope everyone has a happy, safe, blessed and TASTY Thanksgiving!

(scared turkey picture by Scott Bauer source ARS license Public Domain)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Stop and Shop Bargain Meal week of 11/13-11/19

This week at Stop and Shop, there are still frozen Shady Brook Farms turkeys for .47/lb! I have to tell you, I am so glad I went ahead and roasted a turkey last weekend. It ended up making enough white meat for 6 meals, enough dark meat for my husband to snack on all week, and a whole gallon of delicious broth- for less than five dollars. I will share with you a recipe I tried this week-- I wanted to use up potatoes because I had 2 big bags of potatoes in my cupboard. I made Turkey Potato Tetrazzini, following this recipe here, but with some changes. I made my own "cream of turkey" soup using this recipe here. I didn't end up using all the cheese that the recipe calls for- I just mixed a little parmesan into my cream of turkey soup and put a little shake of parmesan between each layer of potatoes. Finally, I used carrots instead of broccoli. I served it with a side of vegetables and some cranberry sauce (hey, it's on sale left and right so why not eat it?)

At the same time, I made a whole batch of more traditional turkey tetrazzini with spaghetti and froze it up for later. I am finding that it's almost as easy to make 2 dinners at a time than only one, and it saves me so much time later! The only downside is, I hope that we aren't all sick of turkey leftovers before Thanksgiving even happens. I'll definitely do my best to try to space out our meals throughout the winter, without forgetting about all that turkey that I froze!

Shaw's Bargain Meal of the week, 11/13- 11/19

This week at Shaw's, boneless chicken breast chicken is 1.99 a pound, asparagus is 1.77/lb (until Sunday only!) and Rice-a-Roni is $1/ box. You can make a nice casserole with all of the above; try a variation on Asparagus, Chicken, Wild Rice Casserole.

If you need some "cream of" soups in the pantry, Shaw's has its own brand on sale for .89 a can.
However, I am trying to break my own personal recipe addiction to Cream of Chicken soup. There isn't much going for it nutritionally and it can be kind of expensive. But I just love how it tastes even though my inner whole foods snob is screaming. Last week, after I made turkey broth, I experimented with making "cream of turkey soup" that I could use in the dinners I planned to make from all that leftover turkey. I used this recipe here- I didn't have all the seasonings listed, but it still came out tasting really good. I'm sure once we get used to using homemade cream-of-whatever soup, we won't even notice the difference.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Shaw's Bargain Meal week of 11/6-11/12

This week at Shaw's, I'm mainly excited about yet another Catalina sale that will allow me to replenish my dwindling supplies of Progresso Soup, Chex Mix, and Fiber One Bars. Definitely all processed and packaged, but my kids and hubby eat it up like there's no tomorrow, and all those Box Tops for Education should ensure that every kid at my daughters' school gets a new laptop or something.

Apart from that, there really isn't anything too exciting in terms of meat or produce sales, at least to me. For this week's bargain meal, I came across a recipe for Cheesy Spinach Lasagna which calls for cream cheese and bacon, of all things. Shaw's Cream Cheese is .99 for an 8 oz. brick, and Butterball Turkey Bacon is $2 for a 6 oz. package (you might be able to do better than that with Shaw's brand bacon.) Shaw's boxed vegetables are .89 a package, if you need spinach, and Barilla lasagna noodles are 1.67 a package. The recipe calls for provolone cheese and a little cottage cheese, but I think you can substitute and improvise there if you don't have those.

To be honest, I really don't plan my meals around sales. I have enough food stored in my cupboards and freezer to last a long time. For my weekly shopping, I buy things that are very cheap with coupons to replenish my pantry, and I buy milk and fruits and vegetables. If the sales aren't good at Shaw's, I get my milk at the gas station and my produce and eggs at a local farm stand. So, the bargain meal is definitely a nifty idea and all, but if all I had to go on was what was on sale at the local grocery stores, it would be really tough to come up with 7 different frugal dinners each week!

Stop and Shop Bargain Meal 11/6-11/12- Turkey Day!

I know it's not actually Thanksgiving. I just feel a little silly because I've been roasting a turkey today. Stop and Shop has Shady Brook Farms frozen turkeys on sale for .47 a pound which, if I'm not mistaken, is an amazing price. I don't think meat can be much cheaper than that unless they're giving it away. So I bought a little 10 lb. turkey for less than $5 last night- I left it in a cooler in my car because it was 29 degrees overnight- and started roasting it early this morning.

  • Directions on how to cook a turkey from its frozen state without thawing it first are here. I have to say, it was very easy to do and much less messy than dealing with a nonfrozen, slimy bird. The only tricky part is making sure that you remove the giblets and neck partway through cooking, because you can't get them out when it's frozen solid. My 10 lb. bird took about 6 hours to cook and the turkey was very, very moist and tasty.
  • When the turkey was roasted, I let it rest for a while and then cut off all the useable meat. I'm not a fan of dark meat but my husband will eat it, so I saved all those parts separately. The white meat will be frozen to use in recipes (I'm thinking I will make Turkey Tetrazzini and Turkey and Rice Casserole.) Then I cut up the carcass and used it to make stock, which is still cooking right now. Once it's done, I'll freeze that in containers as well.
  • Between the meat and stock it looks like this turkey will provide at least 5-6 meals. Not bad!

I'm glad I ended up doing this because we're having Thanksgiving at my parents' this year, so we won't have our own turkey to get leftovers from. Of course, this wouldn't be a bad time to buy your Thanksgiving turkey, if you have the freezer space (I sure don't). I wasn't sure how I would like the Shady Brook Farms turkey, but it was very tasty (they do season it with brine or something because it's a tad salty, but not bad.)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Stop and Shop Bargain Meal week of 10/30-11-5

This week, Stop and Shop has White Gem Homestyle Roasting Chickens on sale for .99/lb. I've seen better, but it isn't a bad price. A 5 lb bag of All Purpose Potatoes are 1.77- again, not great, but not awful. (If you live near Shaw's, they have 5 lb. bags of russet potatoes for .99 this week!) Try a roast chicken and potatoes recipe- here's a suggestion that sounds good.

Asparagus is on sale for 1.77/lb, which is a great price for asparagus. I have tried to like asparagus because my husband really likes it, and I found that the skinnier, more delicate asparagus is tastier to me. I found directions here on cooking asparagus in the microwave, which was really easy and they came out tasting very good.

Shaw's Bargain Meal week of 10/30-11/5- Quesadillas!

Did I really just type an "11" for the month? I can't believe how fast 2009 is flying by.

When I stopped in at my Shaw's yesterday, there was a big box of Chi-Chi's Tortillas (fajita size, flour) marked down to .30 a package. I bought 5 packages because I really can't fit much more in my freezer! Then, when I got home, I made one of the quickest, easiest and cheapest dinners in my repertoire- quesadillas. This is how you do it:

  • Arrange tortillas on a cookie sheet you've sprayed with nonstick spray
  • Top with literally anything- diced tomatoes, leftover veggies, meat or chicken. I topped mine with leftover taco filling from the other night, and Mozzarella cheese (I know, not exactly Mexican, but Mozzarella always tastes good to me.)
  • Put another tortilla on top.
  • Bake at 400 degrees until cheese is bubbly and tortillas are browned on the edges.
  • Slice with a pizza cutter and serve with a side salad or veggie.

Everyone loves them, which is surprising because my kids don't really like tacos that much or other Mexican-style foods. And they are just so easy. I tried to figure out how much dinner cost us last night- since everything was leftover except for a little bit of cheese and the tortillas, I don't know, maybe a dollar?

This week at Shaw's, you may not be able to find any tortillas on clearance, but the same Chi-Chi's Tortillas are on sale for 1.99, and Sargento shredded cheese is Buy 1 Get 1 Free. Ro-Tel tomatoes are .88 a can (even cheaper with the coupon that you can find here) and Shaw's mild green chiles are 2/ $1.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Anything but Fried Green Tomatoes

So, last week, we had a little Severe Weather Alert popping up on the computer (I love the Forcastfox plug-in- since I never watch the weather on TV it tells me everything I need to know.) telling us there was a possibility of frost during the night. I panicked a little and quickly Googled what I should do about my poor tomatoes- my tomato plants were loaded with green fruit that had yet to ripen!

Some sources suggested elaborate heating and/or insulating methods to try to buy the tomatoes some time. But plenty of other people had recipes for what to do with all those green tomatoes. Many of the recipes were for fried green tomatoes- something I've never had, but that I'm not especially interested in. Some of the more interesting ideas were:

What I ended up making was a couple loaves of green tomato bread, using this recipe. All the recipes I saw had a lot more sugar than I am accustomed to using in baked goods- 2 whole cups of white sugar!?! (The recipe I used called for a cup of Splenda in place of one cup of sugar-- but don't even get me started on Splenda.) But it definitely tasted really, really good, and my husband and kids were asking where it went when it was all gone, after like, a day. (To be fair, I only let them eat one loaf- the other one is in the freezer for later.) But if I make it again, I will definitely be scaling back on the sugar content.

I also made a rice and chickpeas dish with the Roma tomatoes that ended up being red, and my cherry tomatoes that were still green. My husband really loved it and I did too.

Chickpea and Green Tomato Rice

  • In a large pot, saute an onion and a little garlic in 1 tbsp olive oil until clear.
  • Add about 4-5 Roma tomatoes (or equivalent amount of other tomatoes) sliced into quarters.
  • Pour in 2 cups chicken broth and a can of chickpeas (drain liquid.)
  • Add 1 cup green cherry tomatoes, cut in half, and a cup of corn kernels (frozen or canned).
  • Heat mixture until boiling, then add a package of rice pilaf or 1 cup other form of rice.
  • Simmer until rice is tender. Add pepper, oregano, basil to taste and serve.

The point is, not to be afraid of those unripe tomatoes in the garden. As long as they don't freeze while they're outside, all they need is some cooking to become part of a tasty meal.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Stop and Shop Bargain Meal week of 10/23-10/29

Since we're all completely sick of pork chops on sale, yet again (I'm sure you've stocked up plenty and you have enough pork in the freezer to last until Valentine's Day, at least) why not breakfast for dinner? My kids love "egg pie" and it's their favorite dinner request these days. They don't even mind when I throw in some veggies- even spinach (eek!) and kale (gasp!) have passed muster. A dozen eggs at Stop and Shop are $1 this week, and Stop and Shop Bacon is $1.77 for a 12-16 oz. package.

  • "Egg pie" a.k.a. my version of quiche is pretty easy.
  • I often make it without a crust, but if I do use a crust it's something improvised (I've used stale crackers or a thin layer of Bisquick mixed with milk pressed on the bottom of a greased pan and baked a few minutes ahead of time-- and you can also use leftover rice or slices of bread.)
  • Then I chop up veggies, ham, bacon, whatever, and sprinkle it over the crust (If I'm not using a crust, I will pour in the eggs and then add the veggies or whatever).
  • I often make my quiche in a 9x 9 glass dish but it goes pretty fast- 13 x 9 would be better for more than 4 people. (Make sure to spray with nonstick cooking spray)
  • I whisk my eggs together with just a little milk (I use 5 eggs for the 9x9 pan- you could probably use a whole dozen for the larger pan.)
  • Then I pour the eggs in the pan, add any extras if I haven't already, and sprinkle cheese over the top. I have used all kinds of cheese, even American cheese from the deli broken into bits, and they have been fine.
  • I bake it at 350 for approximately 25-35 minutes (the deeper the eggs are in the pan, the longer the baking time.) When a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, it's good to go!

With a slice of homemade bread and some salad, this is a very satisfying- and frugal- meal!

Shaw's Bargain Meal of the Week

During the fall and winter months (and really, anytime at all,) making a nice pot of homemade soup is a great budget-stretcher. Usually a few cans of relatively inexpensive ingredients will make you a nice soup, and you can throw in almost any random leftover meat, bean, grain or vegetable that you happen to have languishing in the refrigerator.

This week's Bargain Meal from Shaw's is especially budget-friendly- I think the total cost might be around three dollars, plus whatever you decide to serve with it. With avocados on sale for $1 each and Shaw's canned corn on sale for .60/can (and even less if you use the printable coupon,) Avocado Corn Soup
would be a great recipe to try sometime this week. You could serve it with tortilla chips (Tostitos are 2.29 this week) or Ritz crackers (1.88/ box)- or to be more healthy, some whole-wheat bread.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Move over, Netflix

We've been using Netflix for our DVD rentals for several years. We always sort of hem and haw about canceling the service, because we don't have tons of time to watch movies and my husband and I are both kind of clueless about pop culture so I don't have any idea which movies might be good. We end up filling our queue with movies that we think we might want to watch, but since we have the bare-bones 1 DVD at a time plan, when the DVD arrives we find that we don't actually feel like watching it, and so we avoid watching it, sometimes for weeks and weeks at a time. Recently, it got really bad- I think we received a movie in early August, and I just sent it back last week because I had absolutely no desire to watch it. So essentially we paid 2 month's worth of rental fees to allow this movie to gather dust. Pretty much a big waste of money.

If the above information has left you with the impression that my husband and I are major dorks, I'll do nothing to disabuse you of that notion. In the same time period, I think I probably read about 12 books. So... yeah.

Last week I was at the library with the kids and we took out a bunch of DVD's. We are heavy library users, as I have mentioned before, but never once has it occurred to me to use the library for anything but books. To my surprise, the local library does have a decent selection of movies- they may not have 40 copies of the latest new releases, like Blockbuster, but they probably do have one copy. So you might have to put a really popular movie on hold, and wait a few weeks to be able to watch it (so it's definitely not "on demand")- but you will eventually watch it, and it will be free, and you can take it out for a week and maybe even renew it for another week.

I'm continually amazed by the reources available from my local library. And my kids are thrilled to be able to rent DVD's on a semi-regular basis now. I may just finally cancel that Netflix service.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Shaw's Bargain Meal week of 10/16-10/22

Lately, the only thing I've gotten excited about at Shaw's has been some interesting Catalina sales. Unfortunately, I'm almost maxed out on shelf and freezer space so I don't know how much more stockpiling it's humanly possible to do. This week has a General Mills deal where you buy $25 worth of products (based on shelf price) and you get $10 back. So that's worked out well. However, there isn't much to speak of as far as meat and produce sales are concerned.

I find that, more and more, my family has been eating vegetarian meals without anyone really noticing or complaining. One way I can get away with serving a vegetarian meal is by cooking a pasta dish with really chunky veggies, or substantial amounts of cheese, or both. This week, to stretch out the meat budget, you can serve a vegetarian pasta meal along the lines of Stringy Macaroni. I would personally reduce the amounts of cheese (for health and budget reasons), and you can substitute premade sauce like Prego (1.49 this week, and there are various coupons available.) Hood cottage cheese is 2.49 a container which isn't a wonderful price, but with the 1.00/2 coupons out there it isn't too bad. (It never occurred to me to use cottage cheese in pasta recipes before, instead of ricotta, but so many people swear by it-- I tried it in manicotti the other night and it was really good!)

Again, I apologize for missing last week's bargain meal- things have been crazy!

Stop and Shop Bargain Meal week of 10/16-10/22

I apologize for my MIA-ness this past week... we had a death in the family and things have been a little chaotic... plus I really did not find anything particularly inspiring to write about last week. So I just didn't. But I feel like the crummy friend who doesn't show up for the 3 p.m. coffee date and then makes lame excuses afterwards. So, I am sorry.

You know how nutrition people recommend shopping the perimeter of the grocery store, where all the fresh foods are, and staying out of the middle aisles? With Stop and Shop, I have come to find that to save money, I only need to look at the front and back page of the flyer. Deals are hard to come by in the middle pages- I find that lately I just skim the middle pages quickly because I never expect to find anything good!

This week, on the front page of course, boneless pork sirloin chops are 1.99/lb. I know, I know... pork, again? But I found a recipe for a Pork and Beans Skillet Supper that sounds quick, easy, and it uses a lot of ingredients most people have in their pantry all the time. If you need canned veggies, S&S has Green Giant canned veggies on sale for 1.99 for a 4-pack, and Bush's Best Baked Beans are $1 a can. This recipe sounds like it could lend itself well to crockpot experimentation- throw all the ingredients in the crockpot, put it on low all day and see what happens. I'm a heavy crockpot user once the weather turns really cold- nothing's better than coming home to a warm and comforting meal that's been cooking all day.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Stop and Shop Bargain Meal, week of 10/2-10/8

This week at Stop and Shop, roasting chickens are .99/lb, strawberries are $2 per container, and Romaine lettuce hearts are 2.50 for a package of 3. If you roast a chicken, you can use some leftover meat as part of a strawberry chicken salad; add some red bell peppers at .99/lb for additional flavor and crunch. It won't be long before fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables are a distant memory, and most people probably won't feel like eating salads anymore. I know I go for months in the winter without touching salad (of course, we eat cooked vegetables as a side.)

Shaw's Bargain Meal, Week of 10/2-10/8

This week at Shaw's, pork loin is 1.69/lb, which is a really good deal... check here for some suggestions on what to do with pork loin.

For this week's Bargain Meal, take advantage of the "can-tastic" sale this week and the Shaw's Boneless Chicken Breast that's 1.99/lb- Southwest Chicken uses chicken, a can of corn, a can of tomatoes, and a can of beans. The recipe calls for making it with a skillet, but some reviewers made it in the slow cooker and it sounds like it would be perfect made that way. Serve it with hot rice or rolled up in some tortillas. Yum.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Stop and Shop Bargain Meal of the week 9/25-10/1

This week at Stop and Shop, both Perdue Ground Turkey and 80% Lean Ground Beef are on sale for 1.99/lb. I was trying to think of something interesting to do with ground meat, and nothing really jumped out at me because the produce sales aren't anything too exciting this week. But I noticed that Dannon yogurt is on sale for .40 a container, and wondered if there wasn't something you could do with ground meat and yogurt.

Lo and behold! We have Middle Eastern Pasta with Yogurt and Pine Nuts. The recipe suggests subbing slivered almonds for the pine nuts- you could probably substitute any nut, and I have read that sunflower seeds are a good substitution as well. The recipe looks very simple and easy! If you are out of pasta, Stop and Shop brand pasta is .80/ box this week. Serve with some veggies on the side and you have a nice frugal meal.

Shaw's Bargain Meal week of 9/25-10/1

Wow, is it really almost October? Time flies crazy fast.

When I checked out my Shaw's flyer, I was most excited about the 2.77 New England Coffee (I have some coupons that made it 1.77- boo-yeah!)- not because I am a coffee drinker, but my husband is, and he works the night shift, and he becomes grumpy and sad when all there is to drink in the house is generic coffee-in-a-can. (I'm sorry, baby!) So I stocked up on Cinnamon Hazelnut aplenty and he'll be all happy and wishing he married me all over again when he comes home tomorrow morning to find it. Fifty nine cents a pound for apples is good, too, and I picked up some spinach for .99 .

But what I didn't really pay attention to, is the .99 "Fresh Pork Picnic Shoulder." Now, the un-frugal part of my brain reads that and thinks, "Ugh, random cheap cut of meat. No thanks." But on my frugal journey I've learned all sorts of worthwhile things about random cheap cuts of meat, mostly involving the crock pot. So I did a little research and found some ideas on cooking a pork shoulder here and here. Basically, the shoulder roast does have a bone in it because it's part of the pig's foreleg, but it's supposed to be one of the most flavorful cuts of pork, and is really popular for making BBQ pulled pork. You can check out more details here.

The other thing about this, is that this week there is a coupon for free onions, carrots, and potatoes when you buy any pork or beef roast of 3 lbs or more. The ones that are featured in the ad are 2.99/lb- not that great of a deal if you ask me. But the pork shoulder is also considered a roast and therefore should be part of this deal... which would be a pretty great deal if you ask me. If you try it out before I do, let me know if it works.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Stop and Shop Bargain Meal week of 9/18-9/24

My family loves lasagna but it isn't often that I have all of the necessary ingredients all together at one time. Lasagna noodles are hard to find on sale, so I've never had the chance to really stockpile them. Once in a while I find ricotta cheese on sale and when I do, I buy several and freeze them. For me, it is usually better/easier/cheaper to make some form of Pasta Lasagna to get my baked pasta and ricotta cheese fix.

This week, ricotta cheese is 2.99 at Stop and Shop- which isn't a fantastic price exactly, but with .99 pasta sauce (Francesco Rinaldi- I like their "Sweet and Tasty Tomato" sauce) and .75 pasta (Prince pasta, all varieties- except baking and flavored) it can make an affordable meal. You can stretch the ricotta using my grated zucchini method that I alluded to here, and that would make the cost per meal a little cheaper. This recipe calls for meat and some additional cheese- I wouldn't make a special trip to buy additional ingredients but use whatever cheese and meat I might happen to have around the house- another reason why lasagna dishes tend to be pricey is because people end up buying 3 different kinds of cheese and different meats and everything else. Just baking some pasta with layers of sauce and ricotta, with maybe a little bit of grated parmesan sprinkled on top, is going to be very tasty with a nice little salad or side of vegetables.

And I'm glad we're getting into cooler weather again, because I don't need to feel bad about making "comfort food" all the time. This is the season for it!

Shaw's Bargain Meal Week of 9/18-9/24

I can tell it's almost fall, because squash (butternut, acorn, or buttercup) is on sale for .59/lb at Shaw's! Unfortunately, I am not able to cook squash as much as I would like to- although my family tolerates spaghetti squash and summer squash varieties, they are not a fan of winter squashes. I don't know why, because they all love pumpkin, and I can't really tell the difference between pumpkin and butternut squash when it's cooked up and mashed (actually, pumpkin is a squash, but don't tell my kids- or my husband. Maybe I should get some acorn squash and call it mini green pumpkins?)

With ground beef on sale for 1.88/lb, some stuffed squash would be delicious and frugal. Try this Stuffed Acorn Squash recipe- it calls for zucchini but you could really use any vegetable or grain to stuff your squash.

Happy fall!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Stop and Shop Bargain Meal week of 9/11-9/17

This week at Stop and Shop, broccoli is a great deal at .88/pound. Boneless Center-Cut Pork Chops are 1.99/lb, and Success Rice is 2 for $4 for both white and brown rice. I totally heart Success brown rice- regular brown rice takes 45 minutes to cook, and it is really nice to be able to cook up nice healthy whole grains in a matter of a few minutes. There were $1 off coupons for Success Rice a couple weeks ago, making the rice only $1 a box- there are also printable coupons here.

With these ingredients you could try this recipe for pork-fried rice. I also might make a pork stir-fry. I always have the ingredients on hand to mix up a stir fry. Using a little vinegar is a trick I learned from Erin at $5 dinners... it keeps you from having to use a ton of soy sauce and having really high sodium in your recipe as a result.

Easy Pork Stir Fry

3/4 lb. pork loin, sliced into thin strips
3-4 cups cut-up vegetables of your choice (broccoli, peppers, onions, carrot strips... anything)
1/2 cup orange juice
1 Tbsp white vinegar
2 Tbsp teriyaki sauce
1 tsp ground ginger
2 Tbsp flour
pepper to taste
2 cups cooked brown rice
  1. Heat oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the pork until the outsides are no longer pink.
  2. Put the vegetables in with the meat and turn the heat to medium-low. While veggies are cooking, mix up the sauce. Add all liquid ingredients together. Stir in the ginger and then stir in the flour gradually, breaking up any lumps. Pour sauce over the stir-fry and keep stirring.
  3. When pork is cooked through and veggies are tender, remove from heat and add pepper to taste. Serve over rice.

One thing about my cooking is that I never make dinner with measuring cups- I've been mixing up my own tasty stir-fry sauce for eons but I have only a rough idea of how much I use of each ingredient. So please feel free to adjust amounts- if your sauce seems too sweet, add a little more teriyaki; too salty, add more orange juice.

I was very flattered last night at my daughter's open house at school- she had a poster taped to her desk with all of her "favorites." Under "Favorite Smell?" She wrote "My mom's cooking." Which is too funny, because she's a very picky eater! She says she loves the smell, even if she doesn't want to eat what I'm serving. Oh well.

Roast Chicken: Shaw's Bargain Meal, week of 9/11-9/17

I always talk about how bargain shopping makes me try things that are new and different for me. This week is no different... I have made a roast chicken once in my life- when I was in my late teens and making my own little Thanksgiving dinner for two people. It was easy and tasty, but I've never gotten around to doing it again. I've just been a boneless/skinless chicken-breast type person because that's how I was raised. But with Perdue roasting chickens being .88/lb a week at Shaw's, it might be worth giving roast chicken a whirl.

So, what does one do with a roast chicken? Well, basic tips for how to roast a chicken are here. There seems to be some debate back and forth as to whether cooking whole chickens is really more economical than boneless skinless chicken breast (on sale, of course.) I found the discussion here to be interesting. I'm thinking that in general, you probably get more meat for your dollar when you spend $1.59 a pound for chicken breast vs. .88 a pound for a whole chicken, bones and skin and all. However, you can make really good broth with your chicken bones once you've actually cooked and eaten your chicken and saved any leftover scraps of meat. This post at the Simple Dollar sums up what to do with your whole chicken pretty well. And beyond the cost difference, roast chicken is just very tasty. Chicken breast can sometimes be just... blah.

This week at Shaw's, Maine potatoes are 1.98 for a 5 pound bag. You can make a nice, easy meal with roasted chicken and potatoes- try this recipe for ideas. I make roasts all the time on weeknights... I get home around 4, get the roast ready, and it cooks away while I'm getting other stuff done. Of course, they always make a nice Sunday dinner too.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Shaw's Bargain Meal week of 9/4-9/10

One of the tricks of stockpiling is taking advantage of seasonal sales. Right before Thanksgiving, you can stock up on stuffing, gravy mix, boxed mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and a lot of different baking supplies. If you want a box of stuffing in, say, February, you're probably going to pay full price for it. After a while, you start to realize what you need to stock up on throughout the year to avoid running out of the things you want.

Sometimes the sales reflect the customs of particular religious groups. I'm Catholic, and I don't eat meat on Fridays during Lent; fish is okay though, and sales on fish are definitely a big deal in most grocery stores in my area throughout Lent. There are many traditional kosher foods on sale for Rosh Hashanah, coming up in a couple of weeks. Even if you aren't Jewish, anyone can eat kosher foods (and actually, many of the things we eat every day are kosher, but if you aren't aware of it, you might not notice.)

Streit's Matzo Ball mix is 10 for $10, and there are Kedem Tube Soup Mixes for 2/$1. For something different and inexpensive, you could make some matzo ball soup and serve it with a side salad or sandwiches. Kedem apple and grape juice are both good prices (1.50 and 2.50 a bottle, respectively) and the Kedem tea biscuits are 3/$1, which would be worth trying. I've never had any of these foods before, but part of the fun of bargain shopping is trying new things and expanding your horizons!

Stop and Shop Bargain Meal week of 9/4-9/10

I haven't been posting as much because I'm back to work and getting back into the routine of the school year. I'm actually kind of excited about going to Stop and Shop this week... even though 3.99 is way over my normal per-pound cost for meat, my hubby loves steak tips soooo much I will have to splurge and get some of those. Corn on the cob is a great price (12 for 1.99) and it won't be long before corn season is but a distant memory... There are other good prices on meat and produce this week, so check your flyer to see what you need to stock up on.

Obviously, some late-summer grilling will be a part of most people's weekend plans, but for something a little different later in the week, try cooking up some greens. Collards, kale and turnip greens are .69/lb- a "Real Deal" that will last for a while. ( I have found kale to be a very versatile vegetable- I use it in place of spinach. It has an interesting flavor and a little more texture than spinach.) Jones Naturally Hickory Smoked Ham Steak is 1.99- a recipe to try is Delicious Greens and Ham with some nice crusty bread. Also, Countryfine Italian Sausage is 1.99/lb- you could cook it up with the greens as well- it makes a surprisingly tasty dish. And it's amazing how a big pile of greens shrinks when you cook them.

Happy Labor Day!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Stop and Shop Bargain Meal, week of 8/28- 9/3

Stop and Shop has redesigned its flyer in such a manner that I find completely distracting... all over the place there's a tacky little logo that says "Weekly Specials!" and in other places there's another logo that says "Real Deal!" And there's green highlighting in random places, and the whole effect is just very busy and confusing and unpleasant. And the deals at Stop and Shop are no better than usual (I much prefer Shaw's, if you haven't noticed...)

I was almost going to throw up my hands about the Bargain Meal of the Week because there didn't seem to be much of anything on sale, but when I looked at the flyer again I got inspired. Avocados are .99/lb, corn is 8/1.99, and plum tomatoes are also .99/lb. These ingredients are what you need to make Swan's Summer Soup, a cold, gazpacho-like soup. I love having soup for dinner because that means I also get to have bread for dinner- and I (and my whole entire family) just really love bread.

Shaw's Bargain Meal, week of 8/28-9/3

This week at Shaw's, there are several kinds of meat on sale, so if you haven't stocked up on meat lately, it might be a good week to do that. Chicken is 1.79/lb, and through Sunday only, shoulder steak is 1.79/lb and ground beef is 1.99/lb.

I feel like I've been coming up with these kooky "meat and fruit" combos lately, but the only interesting produce that's a good buy this week are the peaches, plums and nectarines that are .99/lb. A recipe that sounds absolutely divine is Baked Chicken with Peaches - the ingredients are simple and it doesn't sound difficult to make at all.

Serve it with some nice fluffy white rice and a veggie for a very special meal!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Stop and Shop Bargain Meal, week of 8/21-8/27

I apologize for my lateness in getting my bargain meals up. My kids are out of the house for a few days and I spontaneously decided to purge all the clutter, trinkets, trash, and Barbie shoes from their bedrooms. It ended up being a monumental task... I am basically done, but I have a mountain of perfectly good useless stuff to donate to Goodwill. Anyway...

Hrm, guess what's on sale at Stop and Shop? Pork chops again, 1.99/lb (and grapes again, .99 lb.) What on earth can we do with that? Well, I am learning not to be surprised when I find recipes that involve odd combinations of ingredients. When I typed "pork" and "grapes" into, I got a list of possible recipes (some involved grape juice, some involved grape tomatoes, but some involved actual grapes! Imagine that.)

One recipe that sounded good, and do-able, with some substitutions, is Pork Tenderloin with Honey Grape Sauce. The recipe calls for a 2 lb. pork roast that you grill, and then you make a sauce with the grapes that you pour over it. Obviously, you can just cook the pork chops any way you like, and then make the sauce. The recipe calls for red grapes rather than green grapes, but it's certainly worth giving a try with green grapes. Most of the other ingredients are common pantry staples, and if you don't have something you can always substitute (chop up a little onion in place of shallots, or use ground ginger instead of fresh.)

To serve with it, you can make a box of Rice-A-Roni, $1/box this week, and whatever vegetables you have on hand. I bet the grape sauce would be very nice poured over rice!

Friday, August 21, 2009

What To Do With Stockpiled Veggie Burgers: Shaw's Bargain Meal week of 8/21-8/27

This week there is another catalina deal going on at Shaw's- this time, it's ConAgra food products (so Hunt's ketchup & tomatoes, Wesson Oil, things like that) and Kellogg's products- buy $25 and get $10 for your next purchase. I was holding out for a good Kellogg's sale so I could do the $10 Fuel for School rebate- so that's what I did during my first shopping trip today. Basically, I got my 8 boxes of cereal (though I need more cereal like I need a hole in my head) and 2 boxes of Morningstar Farms black bean burgers for less than free! With my coupons, I spent about $17 out of pocket; then I got $10 back, and I sent in for the $10 rebate.

Can I just interrupt this blog posting to say that manufacturer's rebates are such a huge pain?? I mean, they ask you to buy 10 products, and not only do you send in the receipt, but you have to cut the UPC code off of every box? Do they realize that I'm stockpiling here, and these boxes will be in my basement for months- I don't want a whole bunch of mutilated cardboard boxes in long-term storage. And of course all that cardboard in the envelope makes it impossible to send in the rebate with a single stamp. Ok, complaining time over. Obviously, they make it difficult so that most consumers won't even bother with the rebate.

So, with sales like this going on, it's been easy for me to stock up on veggie burgers lately. Now, almost everybody in my family will eat veggie burgers without complaining. I really don't mind them at all. But they're not the kind of meal that you really look forward to. I generally serve them when I'm not feeling imaginative and I want something on the table fast. I think my mom used to serve us hot dogs (blech) when we were kids, when she was in the same situation. So I was curious- is there anything more interesting you can do with veggie burgers? Once or twice I've cut them up and used them in a pasta sauce or something, but I want more ideas now, because I have so many!

Some possible ideas:

  • slice them up in strips and grill them; use them to top a salad
  • slice them in strips for use in a stir-fry
  • crumble up and use either alone or combined with ground meat in chili, shepherd's pie, pasta bakes
  • add to ground meat in making meat loaf
  • chop them up and mix with salsa and cheese- serve as a dip for chips.
  • slice them up, cover in bread crumbs, and fry them
  • mix them up with beans as part of a burrito or taco filling
  • make Sloppy Joes
  • use them as part of a stuffed peppers recipe
This week at Shaw's, there is a pretty sweet deal on potatoes- a 5lb bag of red potatoes is only .99 after you use a Shaw's coupon. Based on that, and our surplus of vegetarian fake meat, I think an attempt at Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie is in order. Most recipes online feature some form of curried lentils as the "meat"- I've seen a few with just chopped veggies and some with tofu, crumbled mushrooms, things like that. But this one involves actual veggie burgers. It has a lot of ingredients, but anything you're lacking you can probably substitute or leave out.

I prefer my shepherd's pie to be on the simple side. I usually just season my ground meat with pepper and salt, stir in whatever vegetables I have (corn is nice), top with homemade mashed potatoes, and bake (a few minutes under the broiler gives a nice crispy crust.) It's one of my family's favorite foods so I don't feel the need to try a fancier version anytime soon. I plan on trying out my own version of Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie in the near future, and I'll keep you posted as to the results!

Friday, August 14, 2009

On Vacation...

No bargain meal this week- I'm on vacation. Be back next week!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Another Frugal Food Experiment: Poor Man's Ricotta Cheese

Last week I subjected my whole family to the Poor Man's (Turkey) Burger. All the burger- eaters seemed to like it just fine. This week, I have been trying to use up random food in the house without buying more (well, apart from crazy Shaw's stockpile runs) because we're going away and I don't want things in the fridge to go to waste.

Anyway, I had this idea to make stuffed manicotti, only I didn't have any ricotta cheese. What I did have is a large zucchini. When I was a teenager I started making a vegetarian lasagne recipe that involved shredding zucchini and mixing it with the ricotta cheese. I have made this for years now, and no man, woman, or child of any age who has ever consumed it has ever noticed or complained, because it is tasty and no one notices the zucchini.

Well, today, I wondered, what would happen if you just had the zucchini, and no ricotta cheese whatsoever? Such as, right now? I was going to try.

Manicotti Stuffed with Kale & Zucchini

1 package manicotti
2 cups kale, washed and torn
1 large zucchini
5-6 leaves fresh basil, chopped (or dried, if you don't have fresh)
dash pepper & salt
2 tbsp grated Parmesan
1 jar pasta sauce
1/2 cup shredded cheese
a little fresh parsley (optional, but you knew that)

I also had some random beans from my garden. They are completely unnecessary in this recipe.

  1. Prepare the pasta according to package directions. In a separate pan, steam or boil the kale. Meanwhile, grate your zucchini. I always use a regular cheese grater, but it takes a long time and makes my hand hurt. I'm sure a food processor would be faster. I got one at my bridal shower, but have yet to remove it from its box. I'm sure I'll use it someday.
  2. Add pepper, salt, basil, and parmesan to the zucchini mixture. Drain the kale well and stir in with the zucchini. If the mixture seems overly runny, you can strain off any liquid, but I didn't bother.
  3. Put a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of a 13 x 9 pan. Stuff the manicotti. I wasn't sure how to do this. I tried using my fingers. Most of the manicotti had tears in it, anyway, so I ended up just splitting them open, putting the filling inside and closing them back up. I guess I wasn't the first person with that idea. Arrange the manicotti semi-neatly in the pan. (I threw the beans on the top. Just ignore them.)
  4. Pour rest of sauce over pasta and top with cheese and fresh parsley. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 1/2 hour.

This was a very happy cheapskate meal. The zucchini was .50 a pound, the manicotti was reduced to .50 as well, the sauce I stockpiled for next to nothing, and the kale was .69/lb. The basil was free from the garden (along with the random beans that I threw in there. I had to do something with them) and the cheese was probably the most expensive thing, maybe .75 worth? We had it with some salad and slices of homemade bread. This meal probably cost $3.00 total, plus it made leftovers.

And- everyone liked it! The kids asked a couple of times, "What are the noodles full of?" and my husband said, "It doesn't matter. It's good, so eat it." And they did. I didn't think it tasted like cheese or anything, but grated zucchini is definitely a satisfactory pasta filling on its own. Another successful frugal food experiment... I'm on a roll!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Pork Chops are Peachy: Shaw's Bargain Meal

Okay, I just explained my thought process when I try to come up with a Bargain Meal of the Week. I just looked at my Shaw's flyer, saw that Pork Chops were 1.69/lb and peaches are .77/lb. I would never think to put those two things together. And yet, lo and behold, the internet bursts forth with all kinds of recipes involving peaches and pork! Apparently this is a classic flavor combination, like pineapples and ham, or apples and pork, or raisins and pork... hmmm... maybe pork just goes well with fruit, in general?

Peachy Mustard Pork Chops
seems like a good, basic recipe to start with- I imagine you could substitute the peach preserves with some fresh peaches that were chopped up and mashed a little bit. You could serve it over some hot rice with a little butter and salt. If you want fast, Shaw's has Kraft Minute Rice (does it really only take a minute?) on sale for 1.89/box, or if you have more time, Shopper's Value Long Grain Rice is 2.99 for 5 lbs.

I will be taking my Shaw's bargain shopping on the road this week- we are going on vacation Saturday! We rented a house near Acadia National Park in Maine, and I was so thrilled to learn that there is a Shaw's (and a Hannaford's) close by so I can pick up some perishables. (I'm bringing non-perishable stuff that I've stockpiled with me, of course.) I wish there were more types of meat on sale this week... it will be hard for me to pay more than 1.99/lb for meat. (But making dinner ourselves for eight people will be a lot cheaper than going out to eat every night! I have to remind myself of that. )

Strawberry Balsamic Chicken: S&S Bargain Meal of the Week

So, my thought process when trying to come up with bargain meals is, "What meat is less than 1.99 a pound?" and "What in-season produce is on sale this week?" Then I'll do some curious Googling and try to come up with an interesting way to use those ingredients that doesn't seem too time-intensive or use a bunch of crazy ingredients (because it's tough to be a frugal cook who is looking for unusual ingredients every week.)

This week's recipe seems to be a step up from the simple family meal- it sounds like it would be nice to serve for guests. But, you know, you should never serve a new recipe for guests- you always have to try it out yourself first. So why not try this out on your family? With boneless chicken breast on sale for 1.79/lb and strawberries on sale for 3 for $5 ($1.67 per 1 lb. container,) Strawberry Balsamic Chicken sounds perfect. Another key ingredient is strawberry yogurt; S&S brand yogurt is on sale for 8 for $4 (.50 per container.) Since you need 4 containers, this isn't going to end up being a $5 dinner, but for a fancier meal, it's still quite affordable. Most of the other ingredients are pantry staples, and if you don't have a particular herb or spice, you can just omit it. (I have parsley growing on my doorstep, but not mint, so I'd probably leave the mint out.) I won't have a chance to try this recipe this week- we're going on vacation- but I definitely want to try it out soon. Let me know if you try it and like it!

S&S brand Garden Salad is 1.29/bag, so you can serve that with whatever veggies you might have around, and some bread or rice would round out the meal. Not a $5 dinner, but not too shabby!

Monday, August 3, 2009

An Unfrugal Mistake, or How I Paid $127.50 to Have Four Bags of Trash Taken Away

My husband and I had a dilemma about a month ago and we weren't sure how to resolve it. We live in a town with no townwide trash pickup. You either have to pay a company of your choosing to pick up your trash, or you can purchase a dump permit and bring all your trash and recycleables to the dump yourself.

Since we have lived in our house, we (and when I say "we," I mean "he") have been bringing our trash to the dump ourselves. It isn't that bad. We can recycle all kinds of paper, plastic containers except styrofoam, metal, and glass. I have bins in a kitchen closet to keep rinsed-out containers and stacks of paper to be recycled. The only things that we actually throw away are things like plastic outer wrapping, weird containers that we can't figure out how to recycle, and gross things like tissues and meat containers. We throw all our food scraps in a compost pile. So we fill a trash bag *maybe* once a week.

(Our town had decided to institute a "pay as you throw" program where you'd have to pay $2 per bag of trash you threw out. We thought that was a great idea, because we'd end up paying maybe $100 a year to get rid of our trash. However, plenty of other people protested and so they went back to the old system.)

So what's the problem? Well,we found out my husband would be deploying overseas with the military at some point during the winter. He thought that it would be a good idea to hire a trash pickup company so that I wouldn't have to worry about dealing with the trash when I was running the household by myself. In theory, this seemed like a good plan. During the school year, when I'm working, I get very stressed when my to-do list starts to get too long. Keeping things as simple as possible seemed like a good idea. Plus, the trash is kind of gross, and I didn't want to put it in my nice pretty car, and we were planning on taking my husband's truck off the road while he was away. So, we reasoned that the cost of the trash pickup was balanced out by not having to pay insurance on the truck.

Since the dump permit was supposed to renew on July 1st, my husband called to start trash pickup now. The cost difference is significant. Trash pickup costs $75 per two month billing cycle, plus a $15 fuel surcharge, so it's basically $45 a month or $540 a year. (We did not know about the fuel surcharge until we actually got our bill.) The dump permit costs $178 a year, or $14.83 per month.

Once we had signed up, it was a couple of weeks before the trash company gave us our special giant barrel- it's nice and huge and sturdy and squirrelproof, and has wheels. It looked awfully silly to put our lone bag of trash inside this giant receptacle, but whatever.

Meanwhile, our piles of recycleable materials were starting to overwhelm us. We started bagging it and piling it in the basement, and it soon took over half of the unfinished portion of our basement. When my husband had initially called the trash company, they told him that there would also be recycling pickup, and they would be sending him information about what day the recycling truck would be here and what they would pick up and things like that.

I don't think the recycling truck would be planning on picking up 17 bags of #2 plastic containers.

We got no recycling information. I started to get frantic. My husband called the trash company several times, but the phone rang and rang and no one answered. The website for the company was no help; it didn't even list the right phone number for the company. It drove me crazy that we were paying $45 a month for a truck to take away a single bag of trash each week. It would take me 10 minutes to go drop that off at the dump. The hourly wage for that would be something like $60 an hour. And I couldn't open my kitchen closet without an avalanche of tin cans and Yoplait containers raining down on me.

I was really, really starting to regret our decision. We received a bill the other day which informed us that if we cancel the service now, we are responsible for the current billing cycle- so we just got charged $90 for the next two months, until the end of October. I calculated what the cost would be for our yearly trash service if we cancelled now and got a dump permit. It would be $25.40/month, or $305.50 per year. Even though we just wasted a whole bunch of money, it would still be worth it to cancel.

So yesterday, I went online and signed up for the dump permit. I ran out in the yard to show my husband the receipt. "See?! The agony is over! We can get rid of our recycle stuff again!" He was as thrilled as I was.

This morning, he said to me, "Wow, so we really have a dump permit? I can actually go to the dump? Hooray!" But he still expressed concern that it would be hard for me to take the trash when I was alone. "Oh come on," I said. "70-year-old ladies take their own trash to the dump in their little Toyota Camrys. Surely I can handle it."

Later on, my husband came in from the backyard while I was checking my email. "Hey, it's a good thing you cancelled the trash pickup. It won't matter anyway.

"My deployment was cancelled, so I'll be able to take the trash myself. I'm not going anywhere."

I never thought I would get so emotional about stinkin' trash. I get a whole year of life with my husband back. God is really good to us.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Catalina Madness at Shaw's

image courtesy of

Well, if you're an avid Shaw's shopper you're probably well aware that there is a catalina promotion running this week on General Mills and Unilever products. In the time that I've been a serious user of coupons, I have found that I am able to do my most successful stockpiling of groceries during these types of sales. Over that time, I've learned a lot about how to get as many groceries as possible for the least possible cost, after making many mistakes along the way!

Sale Basics:

  • These sales are almost always based on shelf prices rather than sale prices. In other words, if you are supposed to buy $30 in products to get a $15 catalina (money-off coupon for your next trip to Shaw's), you would look at the non-sale price to reach your total of $30.
  • You can, and should, use coupons on the items that you are purchasing. I have been able to maximize my savings by ordering coupons that will double at Shaw's (most of the coupons that come out in my local paper are for more than $1.00 and therefore will not double.) Usually there is a preview of the upcoming week's Shaw's ad on on Monday or Tuesday. I check over the items and see what I want to stock up on, and place an order for coupons for those items. I have usually been able to get my coupons by Friday or Saturday of that week.
  • When you receive a catalina, you can "roll" it by using it to pay for your next order.
  • If a catalina does not print, it is often because an item you purchased is not programmed into the system. (I find this is often the case with unusual varieties of certain products.) Shoppers on the Shaw's forums at websites like and are pretty good about reporting their results about which items are working well and which are not. It can also be because you didn't add up the prices correctly. Sometimes the catalina machine might be off (you can tell because it has a little green light when it's on.)
  • If a catalina doesn't print, you have a few options. If you have spent more than you wanted to out of pocket, you could return the items. You won't get your coupons back. If you've only spent a few dollars out of pocket, it's probably not worth it to return the items. I, and many other Shaw's sale shoppers, have not found most Shaw's managers and customer service people to be helpful with getting catalina issues resolved. They will often state that the sale is based on sale prices rather than shelf prices, or that you did not get the catalina because you used coupons. If the deal doesn't work the way I planned, I just go on my merry way.
  • These sales often double or triple (so you could buy $60 and get $30, or buy $90 and get $45.) Check to see if that's the case. It's easier to make fewer trips for more items.
When these sales are going on, I find that they take up more of my time than I want to spend on them. I really don't enjoy shopping- I like getting good deals and not spending more than I have to on groceries, but during weeks like this I end up making at least one trip per day to Shaw's, which I don't particularly relish. So what I do to avoid spending too much time on shopping:
  • On Thursday night, I gather all of the coupons that I have for any products that I might want to buy at that particular sale. At this week's sale, I am interested in Lipton tea (I am a dedicated tea drinker- the rest of America may run on Dunkin' but I run on Lipton...) chex mix, Chex Mix and Fiber One Bars, Honey Nut Cheerios, Suave Shampoo and Bodywash, Q-Tips, Betty Crocker Brownie Mix, and Country Crock.
  • I don't really plan my transactions too much ahead of time; some people find out shelf prices ahead of time and have a plan of what they're buying, and that works well for them. I don't worry about this too much, because I often go to different Shaw's stores with different shelf prices, and if they're out of something, I need to readjust.
  • I find that buying a mix of different items, when possible, tends to draw less attention and that way you aren't clearing shelves so other customers can partake of the sale, too. Also, if you are using coupons that double, you can only use 6 of any one kind of coupon, so keep that in mind when planning purchases.
  • I try not to use a ton of printable coupons at any one time- on this or any other transaction. Not because there's anything wrong with it, but some managers and cashiers can give you a hard time.
  • I started carrying a calculator with me into the store, to keep a running total of my sale prices. (I found it very helpful, but I think I need to have a better quality calculator- I got one for $1 at Wal-mart and the keys aren't very sensitive so I kept making mistakes and getting frustrated.)
  • As I put an item in my cart, I pull out the coupon that I have for it. I keep all the coupons I'm using clipped together so I can just hand them to the cashier when I go to buy the items.
  • I always ask politely if I can use the catalinas to pay for the purchase. Some cashiers don't know if they'll work, but they always go through. You may need to get some "filler" items because your out of pocket total may be less than $0 depending on how many catalinas you have. (I always try to be really nice to the cashiers and baggers at Shaw's, anyway. I worked there in high school... there can be a lot of difficult customers and nice ones are always appreciated.)
  • I try not to make special trips out of the house to go to Shaw's. I will go there on my way home from work or when I am doing other errands. If I'm visiting friends or family and there's a Shaw's nearby, I will sometimes make a quick side trip. I usually do end up going to a few different Shaw's stores, to avoid clearing shelves.
  • I don't buy things I don't want or need, even if they're practically free. These sales generally revolve around highly processed foods, so if I don't feel good about my family eating it, it's not good enough to donate to the food pantry, either.
I can't possibly take a picture of all the things I've bought at Shaw's the last few days- I am a little bit Type-A compulsive and things need to be put away pronto when I get home. This is the load of groceries I got on Saturday- I was visiting my parents and they live within walking distance of two Shaw's stores, so I hit them both. On this trip, I got about $150 worth of groceries for a total of $5.60 out of pocket- I had $20 in catalinas left over. (I should have had $35, but the Nature Valley granola bars weren't programmed into the system and messed up my totals. Not a huge loss.) I also picked up some nice natural & organic reduced items as part of that total. This picture doesn't include some yogurt that I bought for my parents and some rice milk that Diva needed to drink right away.

My food storage areas are ready to explode after several trips like this, but I know we'll eat this stuff up fast- we go through tons of cereal and granola bars every week. Until the next exciting episode...

Saturday, August 1, 2009

What's for dinner? Burgers and potato salad

The meal that says "summer" to me has to be, hands down, burgers off the grill, corn on the cob and potato salad. Love love love it. The other night, I tried something a little bit different... I tried a version of the "poor man's burger" as suggested here. I had bought ground turkey at Wal-mart for about 1.79/lb. I mixed it with the remainder of a two-day-old loaf of homemade bread that I had shredded, some Worcestershire sauce, a little BBQ sauce and pepper, and made it into patties. It ended up making 8 good-sized patties, which was enough for two nights for us. And I found them to be quite tasty! I sort of noticed the bread pieces because I knew they were there, but there wasn't anything strange about the taste or the texture.

As we cleaned up after the second night of burgers, I asked my husband if he noticed anything "odd" about these burgers. He immediately became concerned and asked if he had cooked them wrong on the grill. "They seemed just fine to me." And then I made my little confession... that he had just eaten a Poor Man's Burger.

He literally did not notice, and in fact had enjoyed eating them. Spending 89 cents per meal on burgers is pretty darn frugal. The only thing that concerns me about the idea of stretching meat this way is that instead of getting a serving of lean protein, you're getting added starch in the guise of meat (although it is whole grains.) Most methods of stretching meat involve some form of carb (breadcrumbs, oats, crackers, etc.) Amy Dacyczyn (in her Tightwad Gazette) talks about using "TVP" (textured vegetable protein) to stretch ground meat. Although the idea of using another protein source is appealing, TVP seems to be a highly processed food product (I guess they use it as a filler in school lunch meats...) and I'm not sure that the cost per pound would really make using it worthwhile. Using beans might be a better idea- beans are much less processed and I know that we already like the taste. I think I will experiment with other ways to stretch ground meat and see how it goes.

As I mentioned the other day, I tend to make a huge bowl of potato salad that lasts for a few days. My husband could probably eat the whole thing in one sitting, but he tries to restrain himself. I didn't find potato salad appealing when I was growing up. When I was first married, hubby asked me to make some so I asked around and figured out my own recipe... I tried it, and then I was hooked. Now I like potato salad no matter who makes it, but I definitely enjoy eating my own recipe! I try to make it healthier than standard potato salad- it has low fat mayo and I add lots of fresh veggies so we get lots of vitamins and fiber and crunch without a lot of calories.

Rustic Potato Salad

6 medium potatoes
1/2 bell pepper, diced
3 stalks celery, chopped
1/4 c low fat mayo
balsamic vinegar
1 hard boiled egg (optional)
1-2 green onions, chopped (optional)

  1. Wash potatoes- I don't bother peeling them (hence the rustic- it's healthier too.) Cut them into small pieces and boil them until you can easily poke them with a fork. Meanwhile, chop your veggies- sometimes I only have peppers, or I only have celery- it's good either way. Just increase the amount if you only have one veggie.
  2. Drain the potatoes in the colander and rinse them gently with cool water. Mix them in a large covered container with the vegetables and let chill in the fridge at least 3-4 hours.
  3. About an hour before serving, make the dressing. I take about 1/4 cup of mayo and put it in a little bowl. (I am picky about the mayo flavor, btw. I find Smart Balance and Kraft mayo taste good in this recipe. Hellman's and Trader Joe's mayo: not good.) I stir in balsamic vinegar, a couple of tablespoons at a time, until the consistency is like ranch dressing and the color is sort of a nice mocha brown. If you are adding a hard boiled egg, mash it and stir it with a little bit of mayo, then mix it with the rest of the dressing.
  4. Add the dressing to the potatoes and gently toss to coat (I stir the potatoes up from the bottom to make sure they all get covered. If you feel like the dressing is a little scanty, you can always make a little bit more.) Top with green onions and let the salad chill for a little while longer so flavors can blend.
That's it. The other day I also added a little parsley and dill from the garden, which was definitely a nice touch. That's the best thing about salads, that you can mix and match and add all sorts of things to make a flavor that's uniquely your own.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Learning to like eggplant! Stop and Shop Bargain Meal

I have never been a huge eggplant fan, but I am trying really hard to like it, and to learn to cook it in tasty ways. It comes in handy when there aren't any great deals on meat to be had. So far, me (and the kids) prefer eggplant as an accent in a baked pasta dish. Eggplant is .99/lb this week at Stop and Shop, as is (good ole) zucchini & summer squash (we will definitely miss the zucchini/ summer squash sales in the dead of winter.)

Baked Pasta with Eggplant Parm Nibbles

1 medium eggplant
1/2 tsp salt
Bread crumbs
1 tbsp olive oil
2-3 cups chopped veggies of choice (I choose... zucchini!)
1/2 box pasta (ziti, penne, rotini all work well)
1 jar pasta sauce or 2 15 oz. cans of tomatoes in some form
1/2 cup shredded cheese

  1. First, you need to prep the eggplant. Erin gives a beautiful description on how to do this here. Basically, peel the eggplant, chop it into small pieces, put it in a colander, sprinkle a little salt on it and let it drain for a while (30 minutes to an hour.) You can prepare more than one eggplant this way and freeze some for later.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare pasta according to package directions and chop up your other vegetables.
  3. Heat the olive oil in your skillet to medium high. While it's warming up, take a bowl of bread crumbs and roll the eggplant in the crumbs, a few at a time. I find that the crumbs stick to the eggplant just fine without dipping them in egg or anything, but you could do that if you wanted. Then you want to saute your eggplant pieces in the oil until they are golden brown. You could probably get much crispier pieces if you deep-fried them, but I don't really fry things.
  4. When the pasta is done, mix it in a 9 x 13 baking pan with the sauce and/or tomatoes. Stir the vegetables and the cooked eggplant in as well. Then top with cheese and cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes. Serve with corn on the cob- it's on sale for 12 for 1.99 (about 17 cents an ear!)

Oooh... pork loin.. again!?!

I thought we just did this... Shaw's is having yet another sale on good ole pork loin. No worries mate; you can do a lot of things with pork. So if you pick up a pork loin, cut it into whatever you plan to use: roasts, strips for stir-fry, or pork chops.

The produce selections at Shaw's this week are a little on the pricey side (1.99 isn't too bad for a head of cauliflower though- and that's one of the few vegetables my kids are equally enthusiastic about. The dog likes it too... weird.) Anyway, cabbage is always a cheap staple, and Shaw's has it on sale for .49/lb. I found a number of recipes that called for pork and cabbage; these two are simple and earned good reviews: Pork Chop and Cabbage Casserole and Pork Loin and Cabbage.

If you're in the mood for barbecue but you don't have time to fuss with the grill (or your grill is full of bees- hi, mom and dad!) try doing barbecue pork in the slow cooker! Slow Cooker BBQ pork chops sounds delicious and so easy- you basically layer pork chops in your slow cooker with a bottle of barbecue sauce and let it cook all day on low. Then you can make some cole slaw with that cabbage and serve that on the side.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Saving Money During Grilling Season

As I mentioned before, the grocery budget can take a beating during the summer months if you cook meat on the grill often. During the cooler parts of the year, I only serve meat as a "main course" maybe once or twice a week. For the most part, we eat stews, casseroles, pasta and rice dishes that require only a little bit of meat, if any. Some suggestions for stretching your grocery budget further when you're serving meat as a main course more often:

  • Buy meat on sale, of course. I look for all types of meat to be less than 1.99/lb, unless it's fish- I think fish for less than 3.99/lb isn't too bad. I stock up on different meats maybe once a month.
  • When you buy your meat, put it in meal-size portions and freeze what you're not going to eat in a couple of days. Despite what most restaurant menus would have you believe, a serving of meat is only 3-4 oz., so based on that and the number of people in your household, portion meat accordingly.
  • I also look for hot dog and hamburger rolls in the reduced section (at Shaw's of course). They often have them for .50 per package, and I freeze them for later.
  • Don't spend extra for special marinades- I have some suggestions here for frugal marinade options.
  • Plan ahead! I honestly think that planning your meals is where you get your biggest payoff for time invested. That way, you use up stuff that you already have and you don't buy more than you need. At the same time, be flexible-I often end up changing my plan mid-week due to unexpected circumstances. For example, last week my mom surprised me and showed up at my house with all kinds of food to cook on the grill. We ended up eating what she brought over all week long, and even freezing some for later.
  • As much as I try to avoid making my kitchen into a restaurant, grilling can be one area where it pays off to make different people different things. For example, Pepper likes hot dogs and no one else does, so I keep a package around for her and throw a hot dog on the grill if we're having turkey burgers or something. This can also work well if the grown-ups want something more expensive that the kids don't like (like steak or fish...)
  • Make side dishes that can last for multiple meals. I will make a big batch of potato salad and it usually provides us with a side dish for the next three dinners. With that and a garden salad, the only additional food I need to prepare each night is what we are planning to grill.
  • Go veg. I was pleasantly surprised that most of my family members (except for Pepper, content with her hot dog) enjoy veggie burgers. Since we often get them on sale with coupons, they are a quick and convenient alternative. I don't find that they're necessarily cheaper than buying meat by the pound, though.
  • Make sure you don't waste money on propane- only turn on as many burners as you need, run it only as long as needed, and shut the grill off immediately when you're done. According to The Simple Dollar, it's actually a little bit more expensive to grill rather than use the oven or stovetop. However, for most people grilling is an essential part of summer- the extra cost is worth it.
  • On nights when you don't grill, look for lower cost menu options like using leftovers and making meatless dishes, to balance out higher costs on the other nights.
Also see:

Ten Frugal Tips for a Great Grilling Experience, from The Simple Dollar
The Frugal Barbecue Grill from
Grilling on a Budget from the Hillbilly Housewife
60 Cheap Marinades, by CheapHealthyGood

Friday, July 24, 2009

What is "London Broil," Exactly??? S&S and Shaw's, week of 7/24-7/30

Stop and Shop and Shaw's have this symbiotic relationship (or maybe they're just trying to compete with each other) where they often have the exact same stuff on sale, especially meats. This is one of those weeks. Both flyers feature something called "London Broil" on the top of the front page, so I decided to do a combined post for both stores. Stop and Shop is 1.79/lb, and Shaw's is 1.99/lb. Both good prices, but if you have the choice, of course, head over to Stop and Shop. But the question in my mind is, what on earth is London Broil? As I mentioned before, as a bargain grocery shopper I have made it my business to try all kinds of different forms of meat when they are on sale. So, I did some research about this so-called "London Broil."

First of all, I learned that London Broil is not a specific cut of beef- it is a cooking method for meat that would be otherwise tough. Basically the meat is marinated, you can broil it or grill it until it is medium rare (cook it any more and it will be too tough) and then you slice it across the grain at a 45 degree angle.

So I noticed that Stop and Shop is selling "Top Round" as London Broil, and Shaw's is selling "Shoulder Steak"- both different cuts of meat. Both come from the front of the animal, so they get lots of work when he is walking around- therefore they're pretty lean and have to be cooked carefully to be tasty. I found this handy-dandy chart that is really helpful- it shows all the different cuts of meat and explains how to cook them.

I'm not too keen on the London Broil idea... my husband and I both prefer our meat cooked a bit more than medium rare. So I wanted to know what other ways will work with these cuts of meat. It sounds like it is good for:

  • slicing thinly and marinating- to use in stir-frys, fajitas, salads, etc. The key is to cook quickly over high heat.
  • Some people suggest grinding it yourself, to make a lean ground beef. Or cut into cubes for chili.
  • If you aren't going to cook it hot and fast, you need to cook it slowly... preferably in a slow cooker. It sounds like it is tasty in the crockpot- just throw it in with some vegetables, some form of liquid, and set on low all day.
  • A burrito filling- put the meat in the crockpot with taco seasonings, a can of chiles, a can of tomatoes and a diced onion- cook on low all day- the meat should be easy to shred when it is cooked.
  • You can also cut it up and cook it in a crockpot soup.
If you decide to grill the London Broil this week (I might even try it- I might try cooking it a little longer than suggested, and if I don't like it, I can put it in the slow cooker,) you definitely have to marinate it. You do not need to buy anything at the store to marinate your meat! There is plenty of stuff at your house that you can use. I always mix up a random marinade from things I have around the house... some suggestions of things you can use-
  • a little bit of oil wouldn't hurt, especially a lean cut of meat
  • any salad dressing
  • vinegars
  • wine or beer or cola
  • condiments- ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce
  • juice- apple is great with pork, orange is great with teriyaki and ginger
  • soy sauce, Worcestershire Sauce, hot sauce...
  • herbs and spices
Obviously, don't mix all of these things together or it will be gross- but you can play around and experiment with flavors that you know you and your family like. Make sure you cut the meat into meal-sized portions and freeze the rest- you don't save money if you cook 3 pounds of meat for a family of 4.

If you're shopping at Stop and Shop, you can pick up some elbow macaroni (Stop and Shop Pasta is .75 a box) and make a pasta salad. For pasta salad, I generally cook 1/2 the box of pasta and then add whatever vegetables I have handy (peppers, carrots, celery, tomatoes all work well.) Then you can mix it up with some salad dressing (ranch or Italian work well- Ken's Dressing is $2.00 a bottle if you don't have any at home) and maybe a little bit of mayo, and season with pepper and salt to taste. If you have cheese, nuts, leftover bacon, olives, etc., all of those things would be tasty additions. If that's too complicated or you're in a hurry, you can pick up a box of Suddenly Salad for 1.50 a box and let Betty Crocker take care of the pasta salad-making for you. There isn't much on sale for fresh vegetables this week- if you don't have anything at home, Green Giant Canned Vegetables are $1 a can (I bet the S&S brand is cheaper than that, though.) Also, Romaine hearts are 2.50 for a bag of 3, and I find those go a long way- I can get a whole week's worth of salads out of 3 Romaine hearts.

If you go to Shaw's, you can get corn for .33 an ear, which isn't great but isn't awful. And the Fresh Express Complete Salads are B1G1 free- there was a printable coupon out a couple weeks ago that would make this a great deal but I can't locate it now- if you printed it out, you have some close-to-free salad! If you need to pick up a starchy side, the Shopper's Value White Rice in a 20 lb. bag is 9.99, which is about .50 a pound, and should go a very long way. (Alas, I try as much as possible to use brown rice- I wish they had that in a 20 lb. bag on sale!) An easy rice side: cook the rice according to package directions, and then dump in a can of whatever non- condensed soup you have around and heat it through (drain off any extra liquid if it's too runny). We have so much soup that we've picked up on sale- that's an easy way to use it up.

Happy Shopping!