Friday, July 10, 2009

Stop and Shop Bargain Meal, week of 7/10-7/16

Okay. So far, I have put the Stop and Shop circular in the recycling bin twice- by accident, I swear. But I think it's my subconscious telling me that I'm not all that excited by the deals this week.

I am moderately excited by the 2 for $3 Kellogg's cereal deal, except that the only cereals I'd buy are Blueberry and Cinnamon Pecan Special K. And much to my chagrin, I only have one coupon for Blueberry Special K... all the rest of my Kellogg's coupons are for Mini-Wheats. The other frustrating part of this deal is that you could use it for the Kellogg's Fuel for School Rebate (buy 10 items in a single transaction, save $10), except that the cereal sale is "limit 4." There are other participating products on sale, like Pop-Tarts, Morningstar Farms, and some Keebler products, but nothing that I'm too excited about. Oh well, the rebate goes through September 30, so I am sure I will be able to hit a good cereal sale before then.

The $5/$15 meat coupon is available again, good through the 16th, so you might be able to use that to get some okay deals on meat this week. The pork and chicken on sale this week is bone-in, which a lot of people are okay with... me, I am a big baby when it comes to things like bones. So I will probably skip buying meat at Stop and Shop this week. As far as produce is concerned, B1G1 free lettuce might work out to be a good deal- as crazy as it sounds, B1G1 free sales annoy me because I often have no idea what the non-sale price is- it could be a great deal- or not. Otherwise, nothing much.

Most people are pretty lucky in that when their regular grocery store is lacking in deals, they can always go to a different store. But what if Stop and Shop is your only store for miles around? I found out recently that my local Stop and Shop has very low prices on dry beans and lentils, lower than my local Walmart. I got a pound of lentils there for eighty cents. You can pick up zucchini & summer squash for 1.29/lb, which isn't too bad, especially if you only get a couple. The rest of the ingredients are usually already in my pantry. This is my favorite thing to do with lentils-( I submitted it to All Recipes for approval, but they haven't approved it yet...) but I will share it with you.

Italian Lentil Stew

1 tbsp olive oil (.10)
1 tbsp minced garlic (.10)
1 medium onion, cut into large chunks (.30)
3 stalks celery, cut into 1 inch pieces (.40)
4 peeled carrots, cut into 1 inch pieces (.30)
1 cup dry lentils (.40)
3 bouillon cubes (.15)
4 cups water
2 cans (15 oz) diced Italian style tomatoes (1.00)
1 bay leaf (.01)
1/2 cup small pasta (like bowtie) (.05)
1 medium zucchini, cut into large chunks (.50)
1 medium yellow squash, cut into large chunks (.50)
1 tsp dried basil(or to taste) (.01)
1/2 tsp dried oregano (or to taste) (.01)
Ground pepper, to taste (.01)
Grated cheese (romano, parmesan) for garnish (.50)

(Approx. $4.34 for a meal that makes a lot of leftovers)

  1. Heat olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Saute celery, carrots, onions, and garlic, until onions are clear.
  2. Meanwhile, rinse lentils. Put water, bouillon, bay leaf, and tomatoes in a large pot on medium heat. Add carrots, celery, onions and lentils- simmer for about 7 minutes.
  3. Add pasta and let cook for 3 minutes- then add zucchini and squash- cook until tender but not mushy. Add oregano, basil and pepper and remove from heat- let sit for 30 minutes, covered.
  4. Serve with a topping of grated cheese. This dish goes great with a nice crusty homemade bread.
My husband is a big meat n' potatoes fan- he is tolerant of occasional meatless meals, but without meat he becomes sad... :-( He tends to make fun of foods like couscous, lentils, sprouts, etc. But he absolutely loved this. The key is to cut the vegetables into really big chunks, so they feel nice and substantial in your mouth. This makes a lot of leftovers- the squash & zucchini tend to get sort of mushy on the reheat, but it don't bother me none.

Happy shopping!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Shaw's Bargain Meal of the week, 7/10-7/16

This week, Shaw's has Swift Premium Half Boneless Pork Loin on sale for 1.49/ lb. Prior to acquiring mad grocery shopping skillz, I would have never considered purchasing a pork loin. I sometimes bought pork chops when they were all neatly cut up and trimmed and arranged in a blister pack, but usually I stuck to the cheaper basics: boneless chicken breast and ground turkey or beef. But one of the great things about being a bargain hunter is the variety it has brought to my family's diet. We try new foods all the time now- when they're on sale!

Last fall was the first time I bought an actual pork loin- I noticed that the price per pound was 1.79 or so, which is my target price for meat. I was a little scared when I actually looked in the meat case and saw how big it was. When I got the huge slab of meat home, I cut it up into three roasts (maybe 2 lbs each?), some pork chops, and some little strips of pork for a stir fry. So that one huge slab of meat provided us with maybe 5 or 6 meals. Some of the smaller pork loins can be cut into only 2 or 3 roasts, but that's okay.

Then, I checked online to see how to cook it. This site was very helpful to get started. Usually, when I cook a pork roast, I mix together pepper, sea salt, some garlic, and maybe basil or oregano, with some olive oil, and rub it all over the roast. Then I put it in the broiler under "low" for a few minutes until the top starts to caramelize. While that's happening, I cut up vegetables (whatever I have handy- but root vegetables hold up well to roasting) and I also coat them with pepper, salt, spices, and olive oil. Then I arrange the vegetables around the meat and bake the whole thing at 350 until the temperature of the roast is 160 degrees ( a meat thermometer was a worthwhile investment for me.) I probably cook the meat a little more than most people like, but I'm sort of easily sketched out by undercooked meat.

Recently I tried cooking a pork loin on the grill. Basically, I took a 2 lb roast and "butterflied" it- cut it up the middle. I rubbed it all over with a spice rub. You cook it on the grill over very high heat, and then turn the heat down to low (some people recommend grilling the pork indirectly, away from the flames.) It took a really long time, maybe 90 minutes? I was shocked my grill didn't run out of propane. But my family loved it. I didn't like the spice rub I used- it had tomato flavor and for some reason I don't think tomato goes well with pork, for me.

So, my recommendation for this week is to get a pork loin, cut it up and freeze part of it, and make sure you have plenty of charcoal or propane so you can grill that baby! The Shaw's produce sales seem to have calmed down this week- but get a Fresh Express Garden Plus Lettuce bagged salad for 2/$3 to serve with it. The Carolina Rice Mixes are 5/$3, and are free if you have coupons (.75/2, exp. 7/31/2009) because they will double. I personally find the rice mixes to be a little too salty, so I mix them with chopped vegetables or plain brown rice.

Apart from a pork loin, I think I may pick up some raspberries this week for 3/$5- I have recently planted raspberries all over my yard but as I wait for them to ripen (and with 50-degree nights who knows if they ever will,) 1.67 for a little container isn't a bad price. I bought a whole watermelon for 3.99 last week and we've only been able to eat half of it so far. I might pick one up next Thursday before the sale runs out, for the following week (unless of course, watermelon continues to be on sale next week... stay tuned.)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Who doesn't love a free wall?

A couple of months ago, I came home from work to find that my husband had dug a big trench in the yard. We have this informal shade garden on the far side of our driveway that, when we moved in, was a big tangled mass of woods and brush that hung over the sidewalk. We cleared the brush, left some trees, and planted some low-maintenance plants. It made a huge difference in the "curb appeal" of my house, and I was really proud of the results. So when I arrived home and saw a big gash dug into the side of the hill, with the grass all ripped up, I was a little... surprised. Why would my husband mess with a good thing?

However, he's a very low-key and easy-going guy with few strong opinions (read: I almost always get my way, about everything), so if he actually has a strong desire to do something, I let him go nuts. We had a conversation that went like this.

Me: Um, what are you up to?
Him: I got tired of mowing the hill over here, so I dug it up.
Me: Um, ok.

A few weeks ago, I noticed he started making piles of rocks. First little rocks, and then bigger and bigger ones. He and the dog would leave in the truck for several hours at a time, and come back with some rocks.

Me: What are those rocks for?
Him: I'm going to build a wall.
Me: OK. Where did they come from?
Him: Oh, around.
Me: Um, ok.

I think the rocks have come from the woods, the area around the power lines, and construction sites. I am not 100% sure taking the rocks was legal, but as you can see, I don't ask too many questions. In the past couple weeks, he has been building the wall in earnest. My husband is a carpenter by trade but I don't think he has any masonry experience... or any idea how to make a wall. He has been digging into the side of the slope, and packing sand between the rocks. It looks... really good. I think I want one for the other side of the driveway. We've had torrential downpours recently, and it has held up really well. When it's complete, and we have some new plantings in, I think it's a nice enhancement to our home. Of course I let my husband know that, and apologized for my earlier skepticism... :-)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Frugal tip of the day: Get outta town!

So I went for a little ride the other day, to visit a local wholesale restaurant supplier, and the new Aldi in my area. I wanted to do some price-checking to see if it would ever make sense to make the trek to either location- it was a good 30 minutes to the restaurant supplier, and another ten minutes down the road to Aldi.

Well, I was disappointed in the first stop- the restaurant supplier didn't have good prices on anything except for cheese (about $2/lb for shredded cheese.) It cost about the same per pound for a 50 lb. sack of no-name brand flour as I can normally buy King Arthur or Gold Medal flour on sale. Some things were much more expensive. I sometimes wonder if wholesale/warehouse type food retailers try to confuse consumers with bulk packaging- they hope that people won't do the math and realize they are paying too much. On the bright side, milk was 1.99 a gallon, but I am not going to drive thirty minutes out of my way to buy milk. I'm glad I took the trip though- now I know that I don't need to go to there ever again!

Aldi was about what I expected. Their prices are much better than most store brands, so if you needed something and it wasn't on sale, Aldi would be a good choice. The produce prices were great and the quality seemed pretty good (although that doesn't sound like it's the case in all Aldi stores, everywhere). The prices on milk and cheese were also good, although I wonder how the cheese tastes*. I was tempted by some of the packages of meat (hamburger patties marked down to $1/lb!), but I was a little leery. As far as being a source for baking ingredients, Aldi's selection was rather limited (only white flour, white rice, etc.) and, again, their price for no-name flour was the same as I could get on sale. I ended up buying some canned beans and chilis that were .29 a can, some nonstick cooking spray that was about 1.29, and strawberries for 1.50. I meant to get a big canister of old-fashioned oatmeal that was 1.49 or so, but I was too lazy to deposit a quarter to get a cart... so I was concentrating so hard on not dropping stuff and I totally forgot to get the oatmeal. Darn it!

(*Note: I did a little Googling of Aldi and the quality of their products... I read a post from a driver who works for Aldi, and he said that he makes stops at the Sargento factory to pick up cheese, etc. I also read that their frozen fish, including wild salmon (!!) is very good, and people overall seem to be happy with their products. I think I will have to go back and pick up that oatmeal.)

Anyway, while I was out and about in this unfamiliar area, I noticed gas prices were about 15 cents cheaper than in my town, so I topped off my tank. I passed by a Super Walmart and wondered if their prices might be cheaper, too. I had items on my list for Walmart anyway, so it was worth a trip.

For the most part, I was pleasantly surprised! My local Walmart carries King Arthur whole wheat flour for $4.55 for 5 lbs (91 cents a pound!) , which is quite a bit cheaper than the supermarket. This Walmart had whole wheat flour for $3.22, or 64 cents a pound! As I walked through the aisles and glanced at other things, I noticed prices averaged a few cents to a dollar lower than my local store.

It occurred to me that for a lot of people, it might make sense to see if there's a nearby area (whether it's lower-income, more rural, or more urban) that tends to have lower prices than the stores in your own town. Some instances where I can see this being useful include:

  • combining every day low prices with coupons. Every week, fellow bloggers publish lists of deals to be had at places like Walmart and Target. Unfortunately, my local stores usually have higher retail prices than most of the deals listed. For example, a while back there were $1/1 Muir Glen coupons that people were using on cans of tomatoes at Walmart, and getting the tomatoes for a few cents. At my Walmart, the cans of Muir Glen tomatoes were over two dollars a can.
  • percent or dollar off sales. For example, if a store is advertising a sale like "50% off all women's footwear," the total cost will be cheaper if the retail price is lower. Or if the sale is $xx off the retail price-- the same rule applies.
  • major planned purchases. If you needed to buy a lot of building supplies to remodel your bathroom or something, it might be worth it to look at the prices at Lowe's or Home Depot in a different area- you are buying so much stuff, the savings might be very significant. Or if you are planning on buying furniture, electronics, or even a car, it might make sense to check prices in a different area.
I wouldn't necessarily make a trip to this other town all the time, but if I happened to be going that way, it would be worth it to stop and pick up some necessities. If I made a special trip, I would probably plan a pretty comprehensive shopping excursion and hit several stores to make the time and gas expenditure worth it. And I will definitely fill up my gas tank while I am there.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Confessions of a Reluctant Baker

Not my actual baked goods... :-)

My first post to this blog was about my experiments with making granola bars and jam muffins-- which might give you the misleading impression that I've always been this avid baker-type person. But baking is quickly becoming a new hobby of mine, one that my whole family is coming to appreciate (and my husband is starting to brag to his friends about!)

My mom is a pretty highly skilled baker. She doesn't bake often- she usually bakes special cookies, pies and cakes for holidays, and they tend to be quite impressive. So I guess I have always associated baking with fussy special occasions, lots of calories, and lots of work. When I was a kid I used to bake brownies, muffins, and quickbreads- nothing healthy. When I was in my early twenties and quite poor, I did bake my own bread for a while, but gave it up. I baked birthday cakes, usually from a mix, and some quickbreads or Christmas cookies around the holidays, but that was the extent of my baking life. The flour and baking powder in my cabinet tended to stay there for a long time, untouched.

I think I started to develop an appreciation for baking after Thanksgiving this past year, when everyone in my family started to look glassy-eyed when I brought out the leftover sweet potato casserole. Even I was starting to get sick of it, and I loooove sweet potatoes. So I did some Googling and found a recipe for sweet potato muffins. They were delicious, everyone loved them, and I was happy that I didn't have to waste food. (In case you haven't noticed, my frugal pet peeve is wasting food.)

From that point, whenever I had overripe bananas or bruised apples or some other food item that no one wanted to eat anymore, I was making it into cheap and healthy baked goods. I found other sources of ingredients, too. I work at a school and often there is leftover produce from school lunches (the kids don't want the veggies and fruits with their meals) or leftovers from classroom parties. Most of the time, this extra food would go in the trash- instead, I turn it into applesauce, carrot bread and banana muffins.

I've only recently started baking bread again- my whole family loves it. My kids would rather have warm slices of homemade bread with homemade jam than almost anything in the snack cabinet. I've been a serious coupon user for about a year now and I've always tried to stockpile granola bars, crackers, and other healthy-ish snacks. But really, even with coupons and a good sale, a box of 6 prewrapped granola bars (with all kinds of additives and crazy ingredients) can be a dollar or more. I haven't worked out the exact costs of my baking endeavors, but I know I'm making delicious, healthy food for pennies. I was just reading Amy Dacyzyn's Complete Tightwad Gazette and she shared a similar comment from a reader:

"It's not accurate... simply to compare the cost of home-baked bread to that of store-bought bread; the actual savings is much greater. Because home-baked bread is so good, it tends to displace not only store-bought bread but also more expensive and often less healthy snack foods such as cookies or crackers. Another family I know that switched to 100 percent home-baked bread a couple of years ago makes the same observation- they noticed a significant drop in their food bill."
- The Complete Tightwad Gazette

The key is, sticking with ingredients that are inexpensive and readily available. If I'm in a baking mood, I look for recipes that have ingredients I already have, or make an appropriate substitution. The flour that sat in my cabinet for months (years?) has long since been used up. I want to try to find lower-cost sources of basic baking ingredients. I have an associate BJ's membership thanks to my mother, and their prices on yeast are great but I can get better deals on flour and sugar at Walmart. I have bought flour, sugar, honey, and dried fruit with Register Rewards and Extra Care Bucks at Walgreens and CVS, but their prices tend to be higher than the grocery store. I just found out there is a wholesale restaurant supplier in my area that sells to the public, so I want to head out there this week and see if they have any better deals (although my husband has expressed some concern about the logistics of storing a 50-lb bag of flour!) There is also an Aldi that opened recently, about twenty miles away, so I will check that out also.

photo by Peggy Greb source ARS license Public Domain