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Archive for the ‘Bulk food’ Category

Skip the deli case, save $90

In my book, the  go-to noontime fare is a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with lettuce, tomato, mayo and a slice of cheddar cheese.

Its virtues are endless. It has all four food groups.  I never arrive to work to find that a lid was knocked loose and half my lunch is now soaking the bottom of my tote bag. Best of all, it’s power-outage proof; I don’t need a microwave to enjoy it.

Turkey sandwiches represent everything that we hold dear at Home Cooking Well. Except, of course, the price per pound is pretty steep for that really nicely sliced, roasted turkey breast from the deli case. Those pale slices of meat do get pretty slimy and questionable in a matter of days. Not great value at six dollars a pound.

My husband found a great way to deliver us tons of tasty sandwiches that make good economic sense. He buys a whole frozen turkey breast, which usually runs about $2.50 per pound, roasts it, and we have plenty of lunch meat that keeps much better than the deli sliced breast.

And, because the National Day of Feast is upon us, this is prime time for turkey sandwiches. Turkey breasts abound in bigger packages with slashed price tags attached to their netted handles. This week, I lugged home twenty pounds’ worth at $1.52 a pound. Just do a bit of labor and I have a store of lunchmeat: Roast it, carve it into bread-sized, one-pound blocks and freeze it.

I’ll boil it down to a simple equation.

Twenty pounds of deli meat: $120.

Twenty pounds of Thanksgiving sale turkey breast: $30.

Savings: $90.

Not bad.

No need to thank me. I take checks!

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Over time, I have discovered there is a small thing I can do that will greatly increase the chances I feel motivated enough to cook the meal I have in mind for the next day. It isn’t hard. It doesn’t even involve will power. All I have to do is set out the ingredients I will need for the next night the night or morning before. For example, two nights ago I made sweet potato risotto. Here’s what my setup looked like:

Prep for sweet potato risotto

So in the picture, you see bulk arborio rice (never goes bad – saves money!), the dregs of a week-old bottle of white wine I saved for this purpose (but carefully stored in the fridge), some rosemary I dried, sweet potatoes (were on sale at King Soopers for 79 cents a pound!), bulk vegetarian chicken broth powder (more on this in another post), parmesan cheese, garlic, nutmeg, onion, etc. Note I’ve also carefully placed the cookbook open to the appropriate page with a nice friendly picture of the finished product gently, yet firmly, urging me to cook my own d*** dinner rather than another box of mac and cheese.

Somehow the sight of this when I get home is very motivating. I don’t know why this is, I’ve just noticed it is. It doesn’t guarantee I’ll actually cook it (let’s face it — we all come home exhausted most nights), but I’ve noticed it helps a lot, and it definitely helps me get ahead of the game when I get home from work. Sometimes I even pre-measure the spices into little bowls.

And while I’m at it, I’ll mention a quick thing about cooking recipes that you learned in home ec but probably forgot: Prep, chop, measure, and cut all your ingredients before you start cooking. This will save you much grief and help ensure your recipe comes out as it should. Here’s what my stove looks like just before I started cooking (and yes, I microwaved my sweet potatoes before mashing — the book with the microwave cooking table is open in the back of this photo).

Sweet potato risotto: Ready to rock and roll

Sweet potato risotto: Ready to rock and roll

Total time from start to finish: about 1:30. I know that’s  a lot for most people, but if I’d cooked and mashed my sweet potatoes ahead of time, it would have been a lot less. And I had my lunch all ready to go for today, and didn’t have to cook tonight — in fact, I had so much left over, I had my friend Dave Peascoe over to share a meal of the leftovers. And If I was tired of risotto, I could just freeze it for later. Here’s the finished product:

Finished sweet potato risotto

And here’s a simple, home-cooked meal all put together: sweet potato risotto garnished with rosemary and parmesan cheese, spinach with craisins (the house salad), and a cup of homemade (not from the box endorsed by Bill Cosby) vanilla pudding I made the night before. Bellisimo! The rosemary and nutmeg really make this risotto quite delightful. And no, in spite of the color, it doesn’t have saffron. This is a sweet-potatoes-only party.

A home meal cooked well

If you’d like to make this risotto yourself, it is from the Betty Crocker’s Vegetarian Cooking (1st ed.), but you can find the recipe here.

Happy home cooking!

Jen

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Every six months or so I go through an unsettling ritual. I buy the sugar in the 10-pound bag. Dentists everywhere cringe.

The bag that makes the dentists cry. Note the "use by" date. I can't fathom why sugar would have this, but then again, sand has a material safety data sheet.

The bag that makes the dentists cry.

But buying sugar in bulk is a great idea*. Let me tell you why: sugar never spoils. Oh sure, it can clump up if it gets too humid. But that’s nothing a good meat mallet, a plastic zip-loc bag and a standard dose of office-induced stress can’t take care of.

And therein lies my rule of thumb when deciding whether or not to buy in bulk: will this food spoil in the time frame that represents the worst-case scenario for me using it?

Here’s a common problem I see among home cooks: You go to the store, wander through the produce section, and discover asparagus is on sale. Oh boy! 16 pounds of asparagus for $.87! You buy said asparagus. You take it home. You place it in the crisper. You take a little asparagus for your meal that night, or forget about it entirely. Then, three weeks later, you discover a scene from “Crisper of the Living Dead” playing out in the back of your fridge. Haz-mat suits, bio-hazard bags, and respirators are considered de rigeur by the EPA for such situations.

So when you’re considering whether to buy in bulk ask yourself: Do I have a plan for using this by the time it’s likely to spoil? What is my history of using this item? Don’t be tempted to buy something just because it’s “a better deal”. If it rots in your fridge, it isn’t just losing you money — it’s wasted water, energy and food! If you hadn’t bought and wasted it, the grocery store might have perhaps donated it to a food kitchen that could — and in today’s economy, food pantries can use all the produce they can get.

So for produce, unless you have a family of 10, the answer is almost certainly no. I never buy the big bag of onions because I can only get through like two before the rest of the bag turns into a stinky, sprouty, slowly dissolving goo.

There is one exception: apples (and perhaps oranges). Since apples keep for at least a few weeks up to several months, buying them by the bag is a good bet. I find that the organic bagged apples are significantly cheaper on a per-pound basis than their loose brethren, and usually tastier, less bruised, and smaller too. I like smaller apples because I’m more likely to eat them when it appears I can get through one in one sitting. Your needs may differ. Right now I’m buying bags from the Ranier Fruit Company (based in Selah, Wash.) from my local King Soopers. They’ve consistently been sweet and crisp.

For spices the answer is a bit trickier: buy as little as possible of pre-ground spices (they slowly lose their natural flavoring oils over months to years), but go crazy with whole spices (coriander, cumin, fennel seed, nutmeg, etc.) . They’re virtually indestructible.

For dry goods like pasta, canned foods, dried beans and lentils, and baking supplies — hells yeah! Buy that huge-a** can of cocoa powder or 10-pound bag of dried chickpeas if you think you can get through it before you have to move again. Because let’s face it: no one wants to move a 10-pound bag of dried chickpeas.

So to sum up: if you’re making dinner for your local chapter of the United Steelworkers, you can buy the 15-pound bag of potatoes and the 10-pound bag of carrots. If not — save your money and prevent turning your fridge into a Superfund site. Buy only what you need.

*(assuming the per unit cost is less than that of smaller-sized bags. Always check — sometimes it isn’t and grocery stores are sneaky and inconsistent about this)

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