Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy 4th!

I hope everybody enjoyed their holiday today, and took some time to reflect on how very, very lucky we are to live in a country where we can enjoy freedom, health and safety to a degree that people in many other countries can only dream about.

I was really surprised when I was out and about today to see how many stores were open for business. Is this a new phenomenon, or am I just noticing this more now? It used to be that on a major national holiday, you were lucky if you found a convenient store that was open if you needed milk or something. I stopped by Office Max today because I had a coupon for $10 off a $20 purchase, and it expired today, so I thought on my way by I would see if they were open. I almost didn't, because I assumed they wouldn't be. But they were open, from 9 to 6. There were three employees and exactly one customer- me.

It doesn't even seem to make good business sense to keep a store like Office Max open on a day like today. I'm sure the employees are receiving overtime-- how much business would they have to do to cover their hourly wages? But more than that, what ever happened to respecting an important holiday? People should be spending time with their families, not working unless they perform a crucial job like working in a hospital or in law enforcement. And can't shopping wait for another day?

photo by Terry J. Adams source NSBP license Public Domain

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Stop and Shop Bargain Meal week of 6/3-6/9

Stop and Shop has some exciting produce buys this week, again- they're repeating their 12/1.99 corn sale, and the 4 for $5 blueberries sale of a couple weeks ago. (I bought 8 pints of blueberries last time, ate one, froze a couple, and made 5 pints of jam.)

This week Countryfine Italian Sausage Links are 1.99/lb and green and yellow squash (the vegetables formerly known as zucchini and summer squash, people!) are both .99/lb. Now there are a variety of creative and interesting things you could do with these ingredients, such as zucchini soup or stuffed zucchini or something. What I would probably do, when faced with these ingredients, is a simple pasta dish. Prego pasta sauce is 2 for $4 this week, and Stop and Shop Pasta is still 5 for $4.

When making sausage, I like to remove the casing before cooking- I think it's too tough otherwise. Then I cut it up into 1-inch pieces and cook it over medium heat. I saute it with whatever vegetables are handy, add about 2/3 of a jar of pasta sauce or a can of diced tomatoes, and serve over pasta. Add some homemade bread and you've got a meal. Total cost: Under $5

Shaw's Bargain Meal week of 6/3-6/9

There's lots of barbecue items on a three day sale (through July 5)- some highlights include 1.49/lb boneless spare ribs and 1.99/lb chicken. Some other goodies include 3.99 whole seedless watermelon, 1.49/lb cherries, and .99 for a package of white mushrooms. Corn on the cob is 10 for 1.99 again this week, and ground beef is 1.59/lb (part of the 3 day sale- with a $1 off 3 lbs or more coupon making it about 1.26/lb )- making hamburgers on the grill and corn practically a no-brainer for this week. But what if you've had enough of barbecue? Put that extra ground beef and those ears of corn to work... try a goulash, chili, or taco soup. (Cajun-style Corn Soup looks good..) Bell peppers at .99/lb, yellow onions at .99 for a 2 lb bag, and Hunt's tomato sauce at 10 for $10 (or Spike's Santa Fe Salsa, also 10 for $10) will work in most of these recipes, too.

No-Brainer Chili

1 lb ground beef (1.26) (I actually usually use turkey)
1 chopped onion (about .20)
1 can beans including liquid (kidney, pinto, or black- I usually find them for about .75 a can)
1 jar salsa (1.00)
1 can diced tomatoes (often on sale for about .50)
1 chopped bell pepper ( about .50)
2 ears corn, kernels cut off (.39)
hot sauce and black pepper to taste (.05)
1 large tortilla ( I got some from a bulk food store for .50/20 frozen tortillas... so about .025)

In a large saucepan, brown 1 lb. ground beef over medium heat- when it is almost completely cooked (still a little pink) drain off the fat. Saute with the onion until the onion is clear. Then dump the beans, salsa, and tomatoes in with the meat, and turn the heat to low. Let it simmer for 10-20 minutes or so (the longer it cooks over low heat, the better it tastes). Then add the peppers and corn and cook for a little while longer. Add hot sauce and pepper until you like the flavor.

I like adding the peppers last so they don't turn into mush, and are still crispy and green. Sometimes I serve chili over brown rice, but I also like to make my own tortilla crisps and use them to dip in the chili. I tear up a big tortilla and bake them at 400 degrees in the toaster for a few minutes. You can top chili with cheese- or sour cream (I use plain yogurt and no one knows the difference.) Total cost: About $4.18.

Homemade Granola Bars!

We had some thunder rumbling through this morning, so I thought some baking was in order... We had a huge tub of those Trader Joe's chocolate chip cookies that my mom bought us, and even though we have been eating them diligently (they are *awesome* crushed over ice cream), about 1/4 of the tub had managed to go mushy and stale in these last few humid days. I was trying to think of what I could do with the stale cookies. Crush them up... and make... something. I thought of maybe making some kind of pie crust, only I don't have any pudding or whipped cream or anything to fill the pie with. I contemplated mixing crushed cookies into a muffin or quickbread batter, which would probably be pretty tasty.

But, while I was taking my shower, the solution dawned on me. (The solutions to all of life's problems dawn on me while I am taking my shower.) Make granola bars! Of course!

I went onto (I don't own any cookbooks- the Internet is my cookbook. I figure if 4236 people give a good review to an online recipe, it's worth a shot) and surveyed the granola bar recipes. I used this recipe as a base but changed it a bit. Basically, this is what I did:

2 cups of oats
3/4 cups brown sugar (actually, I used 1/2 cup white sugar and 1/4 c brown- ran out of brown sugar- whoopsie.)
1 1/4 cup smashed stale cookies
1/3 cup smashed-up raw almonds
1/3 cup wheat flour
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup honey
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla (ran out of this too... whoops again.)
2 tbsp peanut butter

I preheated the oven to 350 and sprayed the 9 x 13 pan. I mixed all the dry ingredients together, made a well in the middle and mixed it all together with my hands (very messy.) I spread it out in the pan and pressed it down evenly-- it didn't seem like it would fill the whole pan unless it was in a very thin layer. So I left about 3 inches of space at one end of the pan. It would probably be fine in a 9x9 square pan.

I wasn't sure how long to bake it- the original recipe said 30-35 minutes, but some people that commented on it said that was too long. So I baked it until the edges got brown, about 15 minutes. I let the bars cool and started to cut them. The ones in the middle really seemed too mushy, so I threw the whole thing back in the oven for another 10 minutes (I was making jam muffins by this point so the oven was on anyway.) This time, they seemed better and the kids and hubby came around to try a sample.

Oh. My. Goodness. These were probably more gooey and dessert-y than any granola bar has the right to be. For general snacking purposes, I could probably reduce the sugar in these quite a bit. But they were so, so good. I think I will also reduce the liquid ingredients in the future- maybe you don't need both vegetable oil *and* peanut butter.

One of the nice things about being frugal in the kitchen is that I'm always trying to come up with new ways to avoid letting food go to waste. So now I have a way to use up stale cookies or crackers in the future. I made the jam muffins because we have an extreme surplus of jam- I made a batch of blueberry jam last week, a batch of strawberry this week, and of course we had to open a jar of each after I canned them to see how they tasted! However, looking in my fridge I also saw

  • two (!) open jars of Polaner strawberry jam
  • two jars of pumpkin butter from Trader Joe's (from my mom, again)
  • a big jar of Trader Joe's cherry jam (thanks, mom)
  • a massive jar of apple butter that we may have purchased when we moved in, 4 years ago
So I pitched the apple butter, and used the rest for jam muffins. I divided the batter into 4, and added some whole wheat flour, and made cherry, strawberry, blueberry, and pumpkin butter muffins. I added some cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves to the pumpkin butter batter. I also added some topping- I like to take an instant oatmeal packet (something else we have in mass quantities) and mix it with about a tablespoon of buttery spread and microwave it for about ten seconds. It make a tasty streusel-like topping. These were also a big hit, especially the pumpkin butter muffins. I've had pumpkin butter sitting in my fridge for eons- I can't believe it never occurred to me to use it in baked goods! Sigh...