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Monday, October 29, 2012

Deal Brag - Milk!

What: Half-gallons of milk
Where: Save-A-Lot's dairy case
Cost: $.75 each
How: Its expiration date was three days away
Lessons learned:

  • Don't zone out in stores and reach for the same brand, size or flavor you always buy. At least let your eyes scan the display for a lower-priced brand, sale, or, in this case, a clearance.
  • Dairy items are good for a week from the date stamped on them, so don't shun near-date dairy. That is the "sell by" date, not the "consume by" date. And even a week after the "sell by" date, you can still bake with these dairy items for a while without anyone noticing.
  • Stock up when it's cheap. Why not? If you can't use it but can afford to buy extra, give some to someone else who would appreciate it like a single mom, out-of-work family or elderly neighbor who struggles to get out.

Friday, October 26, 2012

When You're Caught With Your Apron Down

Guests drop in unannounced. Half the roast burns. Those miserable cutlets shrank to one-third their original size.

It doesn't matter how it happens, but it happens: you have WAY less food than you need to serve your guests. And mere minutes to fix the problem. Instead of scrapping your pride and the meal and ordering expensive take-out, try these tips to save face and your reputation as a host/ess.

  • Serve an appetizer. This can be as simple as putting out salsa and tortilla chips, hummus and crackers or carrots and ranch dressing. An appetizer 1) buys you time while you figure out how to salvage the meal and 2) fills guests up so skimpy portions won't seem so obvious. Warm appetizers will be more filling since they take longer to eat, so making a quesadilla may be worth the time. Sandwich shredded cheddar between two soft tortillas, wrap in a damp dishtowel, and microwave for about 30 seconds. Cut into wedges with a pizza cutter.
  • Serve the meal in courses, such as soup, salad, then the main entree. Keep your pantry stocked with soup such as minestrone, chicken vegetable, beef vegetable, and tomato so you'll have something that will coordinate with most meals. Canned soup is one of the things I don't go cheap on because the cheap-o ones tend to be oily and flat. But you can gussy up cheap soup with a little parsley other seasonings. Serving in courses will help guests even if the main dish is scanty because of the extra food and the extra time it will take to eat it.
  • Alter the main dish. This is the riskiest technique of all, but if those meat miraculous shrinks, you could cut it up, add a jar sauce (Alfredo or tomato) and toss in rice or pasta. Hiding the meat and pasta helps conceal how little meat you have.
  • Roll out more side dishes. An extra veggie, baked beans (drain off most of the liquid, add a dash of barbecue sauce for flavor if they're the cheap ones--and if you read this blog, they're the cheap ones--and cook them down on the stove top to your desired consistency with the lid off the pot), tossed salad, or instant rice can help the meal seem more substantial.
  • Offer caloric beverages. Restaurants ply their patrons with soda because it helps them feel full. Milk and juice do the same.
  • Serve a rich dessert to help fill them up. Stuff like gelatin or pudding is quick, but not so filling. Ice cream is my old standby (read: daily habit). You can dress it up a little by keeping canned whipped cream, chocolate syrup and other sundae fixing on hand so guests can top their own. Keep brownies in your freezer (if you can!) and pull them out to defrost when people drop in. If they're not defrosted by the time you're ready for dessert, defrost them on low in the microwave and serve with ice cream and chocolate syrup for a decadent treat. For something with a little more fuss, core apples, sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon inside, pop a pat of butter in each apple and bake at 350 while you eat. By the time you're done, dessert will be ready. A scoop of vanilla ice cream in each apple or whipped cream is a nice touch. Top with a swirl of caramel sundae syrup and a sprinkle of nuts for a really special dessert.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Deal Brag!

What: I scored three 16.3-oz. jars of Planters Crunchy Peanut Butter for $1 apiece

Where: On the clearance shelf at my local Dollar General

How: I took a minute to check the clearance shelf!

Lesson(s) Learned:
  • Check the clearance bin even if you don't feel like it. You never know.
  • Buying food ahead is fine if you know you'll use it before it's out of date. (And I know we'll easily plow through 3 jars of peanut butter by March 2013.)
  • Though we normally don't buy crunchy because most of the family doesn't like it, I like it and I may also use this in some recipes. For the price, it can't be beat.
  • Always check your clearance bin/shelf before you buy anything!

Feel free to post a brag on your latest food deals.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Stock up to save

When you read news story after news story about a bad year for a certain crop, don't just sit there. Stock up. While the price is still stable, it pays to buy ahead.

For example, the apple trees in Upstate New York were decimated by frost last spring. Stock up now on apple juice, pie filling, sauce, etc. Some varieties were not as damaged as others, so for eating apples, you may need to switch to a different variety that what you normally buy. Check farmers markets and bulk food stores to compare prices, too.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Deal Brag!

What: I scored a bottle of French's mustard for $.18 (yes: eighteen cents!)

Where: On the clearance shelf at my local Dollar General

How: I had a coupon for French's and the mustard was on the clearance rack

Lesson(s) Learned:
  • Don't eschew coupons for brand name items because you reason that generic is cheaper. If the  national brand is discounted enough and you can match it up to a coupon, you can score a killer deal.
  • Buy ahead if the deal is right and you have the room.
  • Always check your clearance bin/shelf before you buy anything!
  • Don't forget that Dollar General and Family Dollar accept manufacturer coupons. Most $1 only places don't, so you'll do better at the previous two if you have coupons.
Feel free to post a brag on your latest food deals.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Use every last leftover

Is a spoonful of fruit salad, cooked carrots or applesauce worth saving? You bet! Even if it's not a full serving, it's nearly always worth saving.

I maintain four freezer-proof containers designated for specific purposes:

  • an ice cube tray for smoothie ingredients (yogurt, fruit, milk, applesauce, fruit salad, juice, etc.)
  • a covered container for pizza/omelet  ingredients (cheese, pepperoni, ham, sausage, minced onion, green pepper strips, etc.)
  • a plastic freezer bag for crumbs to bread stuff and top casseroles (bottom-of-the bag potato chips/snacks/crackers, bread crusts/crumbs, and unsweetened cereal) 
  • a covered plastic freezer box for soup/stew fixing (peas, carrots, onions, mushrooms, green beans, etc.)
I save both money and time because the saved leftovers have already been cut and cooked. How great is that?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Save on How You Cook!

If you're a true Cheap Chowhound, how you cook can be very important. Here are a few tips to increase your cooking efficiency and savings:

  • Use the microwave to cook. It's fast and an energy miser.
  • Boil water with the lid on the pot. Only leave the lid off if  it's something that needs constant stirring or for pasta. Once a sauce is bubbly, you can turn the burner off and leave the lid on to conserve energy.
  • Bake several things at once. If you're fixing fish fillets on one rack, toss in a tin of cookies on the other.
  • If you can't do the above, do all your baking at once. For example, follow baking a pizza with a pan of brownies.
  • Cook a bigger batch at once so the purposeful leftovers need only reheating later.
  • Take meat out the night before so you won't have to use the microwave defrost function.