Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Sample Grocery Shopping List

So far this month I've posted only one grocery list. However, using the items from that list, I suggested five main meals, two soups, and three lunches (made with leftovers).

Following are some basic steps I adhere to as I prepare to write a grocery list, you might like to keep these in mind as you consider writing your own list:
  • I look through the cupboards and fridge to see what I have and don't have on hand
  • I take into consideration the number of people eating at home that week
  • I think about what I'd like to have on hand to eat for the week, writing down a basic menu plan (perhaps using a couple cook books to help inspire me)
  • I go online looking for coupons, for instance ...
  • I'll check out What's on Sale at Whole Foods
  • I'll also peruse WFs The Whole Deal for coupons
  • And all the while, I'll keep in mind my budget for the week, which for me is around $6o.

Here's my list:
  1. Asparagus (lately it's been on sale for $2.99 lb & you don't need to buy organic)
  2. red bell pepper, onions, potatoes
  3. baby peeled carrots (on sale this week)
  4. broccoli, zucchini, celery
  5. 365 bag frozen spinach, corn
  6. 2 frozen, ready-made organic meals
  7. apples, blackberries (2 cartons for $5 this week)
  8. 365 generic-brand vanilla yogurt
  9. 1/2 loaf of crusty spelt bread (from bakery)
  10. pasta
  11. turkey breast (on sale this week for $4.99 lb)
  12. frozen salmon, tin of sardines
  13. olive / caper tapenade, feta cheese
  14. maple granola, nuts
Even though nutritionists say eating frozen budget meals is not the healthiest habit, I sometimes supplement my groceries with some good quality, organic frozen meals. In the next post I'll show you how I use frozen meals as starters to create several, delicious and nutritious meals.

Using groceries from the list above, I'll post five or more main meals, some lunch suggestions with leftovers, a couple nutritious dishes made from the frozen meals and a simple-gourmet dinner worth sharing with a friend or two.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Stone Soup Story

Toward the end of the week, when I'm running low on groceries, I often wonder whether I'll be able to successfully create a delicious and satisfying meal from next-to-nothing.

Usually I can, it just takes a little creativity and confidence to combine leftovers with whatever you have in your crisper, cupboard and or freezer. I'll cover creative ways to make use of leftovers in upcoming posts.

Meanwhile, I want to share the "Stone Soup" story.

For those of you not familiar with the story, Stone Soup is about three, tired and hungry soldiers who on their way home from war wander into a town looking for something to eat.

The townspeople, afraid they won’t have enough for themselves, lie to the soldiers saying they have to no food to share.

In response, the soldiers make stone soup: They put a water-filled kettle on a fire in the town square, and put stones in the kettle to cook.

Soon enough, the soldiers are talking about how the soup would be better with seasoning, carrots, cabbage, potatoes, and with each “if only we had…” the townspeople, now fully engaged by the magic, start contributing all the necessary ingredients to make a perfect soup.

Et voilĂ  – a feast is created and all the scared townspeople realize that once you know how to make soup from stones, you never need worry about being hungry.

Even though we are not in the midst of the economically dire, war-time circumstances alluded to above, nonetheless we are all trying to make less go further.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Organic and Conventional Produce

Last year I read an article in Vegetarian Times that listed produce consumers are best advised to purchase organic.

It also listed conventional produce safe to consume.

I made a note of the list and I thought I'd share it with you today. It's a great reference sheet as you consider your weekly grocery purchases.

I also keep it in mind when I'm at the grocery store since the bulk of my purchases are fresh produce, beans, pulses and nuts.

Once I became familiar with the safe-to-consume conventional produce, purchasing it over the higher-priced organics, I was delighted by the reduction in my grocery bill.

Feel free to print this list out.

Buy organic:

Beets (thin-skinned veggies that grow underground absorb pesticides and heavy metals)

Bell peppers (all colors – conventionally grown are likely to contain multiple pesticide residues)

Carrots (are good at absorbing heavy metals from the soil)

Celery (most likely to contain pesticide residues)

Leafy greens i.e. lettuces, chard, collard greens, spinach (are grown low to the ground and are thus likely to have high pesticide residue levels)

Cucumbers (highly toxic pesticides are used on conventionally grown cucumbers)

Green beans (conventionally grown are sprayed multiply times with pesticides, herbicides and fungicides)

Potatoes (especially russets are highly likely to contain pesticide residues)

Winter squash (mild pesticides used, conventionally grown are acceptable if you don’t eat the skin)

Almonds (toxic pesticides and herbicides used on almond trees)

Peanuts (peanuts grow underground and are known to absorb toxins from the soil)

Pecans (pecan trees tend to be sprayed frequently with pesticides, herbicides and miticides)

Okay to buy Conventional:

Asparagus (does not appeal to many pests and so rarely treated with pesticides)

Avocados (low pesticide residues and a thick skin make the conventionally grown okay)

Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage (pesticides don’t work well on these veggies thus few are used on them)

Sweet Corn (though it may be sprayed with herbicides and some pesticides, it almost never contains pesticide residue, but buy local)

Eggplant (selectively sprayed with minimally toxic pesticides thus it rarely contains pesticides residue)

Garlic (has natural pest control and is rarely sprayed)

Onions all varieties (like garlic has natural pest control and thus minimally sprayed)

Rhubarb (rarely sprayed)

Sweet potatoes (pesticides are used sparingly on these)

Tomatoes (buy local)

Zucchini (doesn’t tolerate pesticides/herbicides)

Dried Beans (beans are sprayed with insecticides but are then soaked and washed and boiled so residues are likely removed – buy local)

Cashews (are grown in tropical locales where pesticides are rarely used)

Macadamia nuts (few pesticides are used on macs)

Sesame seeds (organic is better but pesticide residues are minor in non-organic sesame products)

In addition to the above, you might want to check out Food News for an even longer list.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Easy Beef Bourguignon

You've probably noticed that I tend not to post detailed recipes but rather, method notes for preparing main meals. That's because I prefer not to use recipes and I want to encourage you to avoid becoming recipe-dependent.

When dependent on recipes, there is a proclivity to make extravagant purchases at the grocery store in the effort to ensure that we have all ingredients on hand for a particular dish. If you're trying to stay on-budget, then cooking directly from recipes is a recipe for going off budget!

That said, I did mention in a prior post that when I write up my grocery list for the week, I sometimes peruse my favorite recipe books for ideas on what to cook. But I tend to modify recipes to suit my budget.

For instance,
Beef Bourguignon is a classic French beef dish (featured in the movie "Julie and Julia"). It calls for lots of ingredients including:
  • a pound of good quality beef
  • top-quality bacon
  • a red wine, like Cote du Rhone or Pinot Noir
  • Cognac (though it's not listed in the link above)
  • mushrooms, onions, garlic, carrots, thyme, and tomato paste.
Because of my French culinary training, it's easy for me to manipulate recipes and I want to encourage you to do the same by trusting your instincts, your palate and your creativity -- you can't go too wrong when you trust your inner-chef in the kitchen.

With that in mind,
instead of buying all the ingredients listed in the classic version of the recipe, I'll make a modified version of Beef Bourguignon to suit my budget, and the ingredient list might look like this:
  • cubed stewing beef
  • leftover red wine -- I'll use that rather than dashing out and buying a bottle
  • I'll probably leave out the Cognac because it's not something I have on hand
  • Bacon-- I might use turkey or I've also taken to using prosciutto chunks that Whole Foods sells in small containers for $3-$4. It's delicious in soups, casseroles and for jazzing up bean and lentil dishes and for sauteing with veggies.
  • Mushrooms, onions, garlic and carrots are veggies I often include in my weekly grocery list so I'll probably have those on hand. If I don't, I'll leave them out and maybe just add extra onion, and fresh tomatoes or good quality spaghetti sauce if I don't have tomato paste in the cupboard.
My method for preparing the ingredients might involve the following:
  • Brown the beef cubes in a hot, deep-sided skillet lined with a little oil. Remove browned beef to a plate. (Classic recipes call for tossing the beef cubes in flour before sauteing, but I tend to bypass that step for the sake of time and convenience.)
  • Turn hot plate to med, add bacon or prosciutto chunks and saute gently, allowing the fat from the pork to release.
  • Add chopped garlic and your choice of veggies. Saute gently in fat.
  • Add browned beef, stir, and now add red wine or red wine mixed with stock or water.
  • If you have some tomato paste on hand, add a blob of that or a slurp of some good quality bottled, plain-tomato spaghetti sauce.
  • If you have bay leafs pop in a couple or some dried or fresh thyme or a mix of both.
  • Allow the contents of the skillet to simmer before putting the lid on and placing it in a 350-degree oven for about 2 or so hours or until the beef is tender. Check periodically to make sure there is still liquid in the skillet, if not, add more stock, wine or even water.
  • If you prefer that that your mushrooms and onion not turn to mush in the cooking process, saute them in some additional bacon or even a bit of butter, and add them just before serving. And if you do have cognac in the cupboard, once you've sauteed the mushies, slurp a bit into the pan, allowing the alcohol to evaporate, and then pour contents of pan into the skillet with the cooked beef.
So as you can probably tell, my Beef Bourguignon might morph into succulent Beef in Red Wine casserole, which is perfectly acceptable if you're open to improvising and being creative, and I hope you are.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mini Tome on Minimal Waste

Shopping and cooking on a budget incorporates a whole approach to living, and one that boils down to a lifestyle of sustainability.

I don't think my parents were aware that they were model life-stylers, but due to memories of the great depression they naturally practiced what today we'd label a sustainable lifestyle.

My mother had a fantastic garden which included a herb plot and almond and walnut trees, passionfruit and Chinese gooseberries vines, lemon, fig, apricot, peach and avocado trees, and she encouraged my father to grow vegetables, which he eventually.

Food scraps went into the compost bin, and the compost eventually went onto the garden. Back inside, our pantry was filled with homemade jams, chutney's, sauces, pickled nuts, bottled fruits, and whatever else my mother could cook up into something-for-later.

One kitchen draw was filled with cloth towels which we used in place of paper hand-towels. We re-used plastic bags, washing them out and drying them after each use. And there were several sturdy bags designated for collecting groceries so we never amassed plastic or paper grocery-store bags.

I don't have a garden like my parents, nor do I can, bottle, or pickle, but nevertheless, this minimal-waste / sustainable approach I grew up with serves me well today.

For instance:

1) I'm vigilant about making sure I've eaten all the perishables in my fridge before I go back to do another grocery shop -- in other words, before I spend more money on groceries, I'll use up what I have at home. This way I avoid throwing out older food in favor of newly purchased food.

2) When I arrive at the grocery store, I have my own plastic bags for my veggies and bulk-food items; my own plastic containers for nut butters, honey, olive/antipasti-bar etc, and my own carry-bag for all my groceries -- in other words, I'm big on recycling.

And before you lament never being able to remember to take your own bags to the grocery store, apply this tip:

Keep a stash of carry bags in your car. And rather than tossing out small plastic and Ziploc bags and small plastic containers, keep some inside your stash of carry bags.

If you follow this tip, when you get to the store, you'll have all the bags you'll need to collect your groceries right there with you.

It takes some practice re-using plastic bags and containers and storing them in your bags in the car, but once you get used to it, it's a great way to start living a paired-down, sustainable lifestyle.

Black Beans with Okra and Cumin

I'm about to share a fifth, main meal idea prepared from items on the Feb 5th grocery list.

I've been mentioning that list in nearly every post of late. My intention is to stress how easy it is to create delicious, colorful and nutritious meals from a shopping list of groceries purchased for around $60.

I'll also mention that it's Sunday, and my fridge is almost empty. By the end of the week, which is Sunday for me, I'm out of groceries because I'll have cooked and eaten almost everything I purchased the week before.

When you grocery shop from a list that you've created by planning ahead and approximating the number of meals you'll be eating at home for the week, and then if you use groceries purchased from your list to prepare the week's meals, and then if you eat those meals and use leftovers to prepare additional meals, by the end of the week there's a very good chance that you'll have nothing left in your fridge too!

But just because my fridge is empty doesn't mean I have nothing in my cupboards and the freezer. During the winter months, I often pick up a couple packs of organic frozen vegetables to keep in the freezer.

Corn, okra, edamame, spinach, peas etc., I like to have a selection on hand for soups and casseroles. Additionally, I like to have dry goods in my pantry such as beans, grains, lentils and so on. It's amazing what you can prepare with dried pantry items and frozen vegetables ...

Black Beans with Okra and Cumin
1) Soak overnight or power soak a cup of black beans (1 cup of dried beans cooked will feed 2-3 people).
2) Bring soaked beans to the boil in a pot of water, reduce heat and simmer a couple hours till beans are soft.
3) Toss onion, garlic and a teaspoon of the powdered cumin (which is not on the 2/5 list, so leave it out if you don't have it in your cupboard) in a pan with olive oil; saute over med heat for about 10 mins.
Note: You can substitute cumin with curry powder, or chili powder, or coriander, or one of your other favorite spices.
5) Toss in the cooked black beans and a cup of frozen okra (again it's not on the 2/5 list so leave it out if you don't have it on hand). You could substitute okra for celery, which is on the list.
6) Add a little water, or stock, and gently cook over low heat for about 30 mins or until the flavors have infused. Add salt and pepper to taste.

To Serve:
Spoon beans and okra over boiled rice or millet, which you can cook in any leftover stock -- grains cooked in stock have a wonderful flavor. And if you have any braising greens left over from the 2/5 list, toss in pan with garlic and butter; this makes a wonderful side to the black beans.

Tip: I love cooking with frozen okra; added to stews, casseroles and bean dishes it will act as a mild thickening agent.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Leftovers Made into Delicious Lunches

You've probably noticed that one of my budget-conscious strategies is to use fish, chicken, turkey, and beef -- animal protein-- sparingly, rather than as the focus of my meals.

I'm not a vegetarian, though I once was, however I'm very physically active and blood-type O, so I tend to need at least 3-4 oz of flesh protein a day, though some days I'll skip it altogether without consequences.

Try making main meals with less fish or meat, and instead peruse the dishes I post on this blog for ideas on how to build a meal with animal protein as a side to colorful vegetables, grains and pulses.

This one simple tip is a great budget-wise strategy since fish, meats and poultry tend to be the more expensive items on our shopping lists. Also, less flesh protein in your diet is ultimately better for you health.

I haven't addressed lunches yet, but using the Feb 5th grocery list there are a number of lunch options using leftovers. The trick to using leftovers is to jazz them up -- that way you have a completely new meal.

In other words, don't serve for lunch or dinner the next day exactly what you ate the night before; your poor taste buds will be terribly bored.

Here are several examples of lunches using leftovers from meal ideas I've posted recently:

1) My Spicy Butternut Pumpkin Soup will jazz up well with the addition of say, half a cup of cooked millet or rice per person. The grain will create a stew like consistency. Serve with a blob of yogurt on top, and sprinkle with toasted almonds.

2) Leftover Garbanzo Bean Casserole will roll up inside corn tortillas. Just mix in some feta or mozzarella, heat in the microwave or oven, and serve with avocado pieces on top and some crackers or chips on the side.

I suggested you freeze some of the 1.5 liters of turkey stock made with the turkey wings. Stock is great to have on hand because you can make nourishing soups with it. There's plenty of celery and beetroot leftover from the Feb 5th list, so a Beet, Celery & Apple Soup (pic above) would be a great lunch.

Simply chop some celery, a beet, apple, an onion if you have it, and put it all in a pot with enough stock to cover. Simmer till the veggies are soft; season, and then whiz up in the food processor or serve it chunky. Serve with a couple corn tortillas or a chunk of crusty bread and any leftover feta or mozzarella.

Do you get the idea? Making meals with leftovers is fun because you already have something to work with. You just need to be unabashedly creative, adding other ingredients in the fridge and cupboard to make a whole new dish.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Flounder Tostado

When I was a kid, we spent our summers on Phillip Island, which is a couple hours SE of Melbourne, Australia.

My mother would buy fish direct from the fisherman's co-op, a dinky little shed at the end of the jetty by the bridge that joined the island to mainland.

The fish caught and sold there were small, bay fish and generally they were full of tiny bones. Eeeek!

To this day, I have an aversion to bony fish; I had too many bone-stuck-in-throat experiences as a child.

I don't have an aversion to Whole Foods frozen flounder fillets. I can buy a pack of 2 fillets for under $5, they thaw quickly, there are no bones, and because the flavor of flounder is delicate you can dress it up or down.

The picture above is a Flounder Tostado using ingredients from the Feb 5th grocery list. I love this meal it looks so good the way everything just sits atop the corn tortilla and of course it really jazzes up the delicate flounder.

Oh, and tilapia is a great fish to use for this too, because like flounder it's a delicate flavor, lending itself well to jazzing up.

Flounder or Tilapia Tostado
1) Break open a pack of small tortillas. I use the frozen, yellow-corn tortillas; they have more texture and hold their shape. Allow 2 per person. Wrap them in tin foil and pop on a baking tray. Slip into a 325-degree oven and warm them. (You can of course warm them in a microwave or on top of the grill etc.)
2) Toss some veggies in an oiled lined pan -- whatever veggies are leftover from the list, i.e. some spring onion, zucchini, celery, garlic, and eggplant. Toss rapidly so the veggies don't burn, but on the other hand, you do want them to brown. Lastly, toss in chopped tomato, then turn the heat down, stewing the veggies till they're soft, and till the liquid has evaporated -- you want the veggies to be more solid than sloppy.
3) Meanwhile, melt some butter in another pan and pop in the thawed flounder or tilapia fillet. Fry on med-to-high heat for just a few mins. Squeeze half a lemon over the fish, then take pan off the heat; you don't want to over cook fish -- really, flounder and tilapia fillets are so thin they take maybe 5 mins, max, to cook --season with salt and pepper.

To Serve:
Onto a plate place the warmed tortillas, spoon some stewed veggies over the tortilla, then top with pieces of buttery fish. If you have parsley on hand, or dill, add a few sprigs. You might like to drizzle olive oil and extra lemon juice over the lot to moisten.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Grocery Shopping and Cooking on a Budget

On February18, 2009 Boulder's Daily Camera food section ran an article titled Value Meal.

Five local chefs talk about eating well and cheaply by showing us how to prepare a delicious meal for 4 people for $15.

Hoorah to the Camera for running a piece on budget cooking with panache!

And I have an additional message: Recession-strategy dining-in is not about following a recipe and cooking up yummy economical meals.

Enjoying "Value Meals" requires knowhow such as grocery shopping on a budget, then once home, efficiently storing and managing your food for the week so that there's no waste -- this all before actually cooking anything!

And then we all have recipe books and access to articles like "Value Meals," but following recipes often leads to expensive, impulse purchases at the grocery store. In other words, it's more economical to think ahead, rather than from meal-to-meal and recipe-to-recipe.

Thinking ahead means planning for the number of meals you intend eating at home for the week, then writing a list of groceries that will cover those meals.

When writing your list, it may help to peruse your favorite recipe books for ideas on dishes you'd like to prepare during the upcoming week keeping in mind the following:
  • your budget,
  • the time you'll have available to cook,
  • the difficulty factor of the recipes, and
  • whether or not you intend having a friend or two over during the week for a meal.
Because I shop at Whole Foods on a budget, I usually go to their website and check the "Good Stuff For Less" for weekly sale items and "Whole Deal newsletter" for coupons. I'll write my list and do my weekly menu-plan according to WFs best buys.

Once home, I organize my perishable groceries. For example, here are three things I might do:
  • If I've bought say two-for-one bunches of chard, I'll wash and lightly cook one bunch, freezing it for later use.
  • If I've snatched up a sale on hamburger and bought 2lbs for the price of 1lb, I'll freeze about 3/4 of that, separating the meat to be frozen into one-meal portions.
  • Asparagus has been a great buy lately, but it can quickly go limp in the fridge so I always put it bottoms-up in a cup with about 1/2 inch of water -- that way it stays crisp longer.
And did you know it's perfectly fine to buy conventionally grown asparagus over the higher-priced organic? Apparently, minimal-to-zero pesticides are used during the growing process because insects don't like asparagus.

Having organized my groceries in the fridge and dry goods in my cupboard, I'm very aware of what I have available to cook with for the week.

I might go back and peruse a few recipes, gathering ideas, but I never follow a recipe exactly. Rather, I prefer to be recipe-independent, improvising by calling upon my inner culinary expert and engaging my desire to have fun in the kitchen, and my love of creating healthy, colorful meals.

As you begin putting meals together without following recipes directly, engage you inner culinary expert and try making simple and colorful meals with a variety of fresh vegetables.

Chances are you'll find your meals look appetizing while being full of are flavor, texture and nutrients.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Inexpensive Turkey Meals

I mentioned using chicken or turkey stock in a recent post.

You can buy cartons of stock, but it's so easy to make, I'd encourage readers to try making it rather than spending the money to buy it in boxes.

Note that in my Feb 5th shopping list "turkey" is one of the items listed. Before and after the holiday season Whole Foods often has natural turkey wings on sale for .99c - $1.50 lb.

A packet of two turkey wings (the equivalent would be 6-8 chicken wings) makes approximately 1.5 liters of stock, enough for soup plus some left over for freezing.

Additionally, you also have the meat from the wings to make a couple of delicious meals ...

Using produce from Feb 5th grocery list:

Turkey Stock

1) Put turkey/chicken wings (or thighs) in a pot and cover with water, throw in some chopped ginger and a smashed clove of garlic. Simmer for about 1/half hours, cool, strain, and Bob's-your-uncle, delicious, rich stock.

Turkey Meal with Greens & Avocado

1) Toss a handful of braising greens, spring onions and garlic in olive oil in a pan on low heat. Greens will wilt after about 10 mins or so.
2) Meanwhile chop some red bell pepper, another spring onion, tomato; throw is some chopped olives, drizzle with olive oil, squeeze half a lemon over the lot and mix with fork to create a salsa.

To Serve:
Remove meat from wings, slice an avocado and arrange around a portion of wilted greens. Top with your favorite salsa.

Simple Turkey Curry
1) Chop celery, onion, garlic, eggplant, zucchini, and any leftover bell pepper, and an apple (and sweet potato if you haven't used it in the Fave Weekend Soup).
2) Toss chopped garlic and onion in pan with olive oil.
3) If you have curry paste or powder pop in a heaped teaspoon (more if you like it hot).
4) Cook onions/garlic and curry over low heat for about 10 mins then toss in remaining chopped veggies and apple and continue to cook over low heat till veggies are soft (about 30 mins)
5) Taste to see if flavors have infused and veggies are sufficiently cooked, if not cook a bit longer.

To Serve:
Spoon curried veggies into bowls and toss in chopped turkey meat, top with raw cashews and if you wish, some yogurt.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Red Curry Chic Pea Casserole

I swapped foodie stories with a friend on the weekend and discovered that we both love jazzing up chic peas.

Also known as garbanzo beans, this chic pea casserole makes use of items purchased from the February 5th sample grocery list.

Red Curry Chic Pea Casserole
1) 'Power Soak' beans: Bring couple cups of water to the boil, pour in a cup of chic peas and boil rapidly for 4 mins. Set aside for a couple of hours. Strain chic peas and put back in pot and cover with water. Gently boil for another couple of hours or until peas are tender. (Alternate method: soak peas overnight in water, then boil for a couple hours until tender).
2) Toss an onion and some chopped garlic into a skillet lined with olive oil.
3) Add a chopped carrot, zucchini, bell pepper (preferably red -- for the color).
4) Add a spoon of the Thai sauce or Red Curry Thai Paste.
5) Add the cooked chic peas.
6) Turn the heat under the pan to low, put lid on pan and gently cook for say, 20 mins.
7) Meanwhile, cut the green leaves from the bunch of beets. Wash leaves of grit, then chop.
8) Toss green leaves into pan with peas and veggies and cook a bit longer, or till beet leaves have wilted; salt and pepper to taste.
9) Serve casserole over boiled rice, or boiled millet.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Spicy Butternut Pumpkin Soup

I made several delicious dishes over the weekend using ingredients from the grocery list I posted recently.

One of those dishes is an old favorite of mine. Butternut pumpkin soup can be made quickly and easily with minimal ingredients.

Obviously you need butternut pumpkin (or sweet potato), but keep in mind that the recipe I offer below can be manipulated to suit what you have in your fridge and cupboards.

You can include curry or Thai sauce or you can leave it out. You may not have carrots, but maybe you have celery, so add that instead. In other words, feel free to improvise.

Spicy Butternut Pumpkin Soup
1) Chop up an onion and toss it about in olive oil in a pot on the stove with the heat at medium
2) If you have some curry powder or paste pop in a teaspoon. If you don't have curry, use the Thai sauce in my shopping list below; either one will be fine, it just gives the soup some flavor and oomph.
3) Add a couple chopped carrots.
4) Add a small, peeled and chopped butternut pumpkin (or sweet potato).
5) Add half an inch of ginger root, peeled and chopped.
6) Add about a cup of frozen corn.
7) Stir over medium heat for say 10 mins
8) Add either a couple cups of water or stock i.e. chicken or turkey.

Simmer till all ingredients are soft, about 30 mins. Then blend in a food processor and serve with yogurt and chopped banana, or swirl in coconut milk or half and half.

Monday, February 9, 2009

7 Tips for Grocery Shopping on a Budget

Tip 1: Always start in the produce section and look for items on sale and in season (in-season produce is plentiful and thus priced competitively). My list will often change according to what's on sale.

Tip 2: Begin to build volume by purchasing the items you'll consume daily, which is produce. Avoid buying out of season and exotic produce with a big price tag.

Tip 3: Buy bulk rather than boxed and branded grains, legumes, nuts etc; you'll pay more for the packaging. And when you buy bulk you can control the amount you're purchasing -- in other words, pick and pay for only what you need.

Tip 4: Try buying soft white cheese, like feta pieces and mozzarella from the deli bar where once again you pick and pay for only what you need. The white cheeses are often mixed with olives and or herbs in oil. I find for one person I can purchase about $3 worth and it'll last me for a week, plus I'm getting both cheese and olives.

Tip 5: Stick to your list! No impulse purchases, though a small treat each week is perfectly reasonable. And don't buy greater volume, particularly of perishables, than you need for the week -- unless you're freezing protein items and storing dried goods like rice and legumes etc.

Tip 6: If you do buy more perishables than you need for the week, cook the item and freeze it. For instance, you can cook up a bunch of spinach, drain it of water, and then freeze it for use later.

Tip 7: Try Whole Foods 365 brand or generic brands as your favorite grocery store. They're comparable in flavor and quality to the same product with a different brand and higher price tag.

Next I'll go over 5 delicious, colorful and nutritious main meals made with the purchases from my sample list.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Writing a Grocery List

Writing a grocery list is not a unique idea. As I mentioned in the last post, most of you will recall that it’s something your mother did.

Somewhere along the way (as life got busy), we forgot that planning ahead using a list is the best budget tool.

I plan ahead by thinking about the number of meals I’m going to cook and eat at home during the upcoming week. These days I eat out less, because like most of my friends, I’m economizing. Generally, I anticipate maybe one dinner and a lunch out per week, which means I plan for at least 6 lunches and 6 dinners at home (plus 7 breakfasts).

There's no need to panic, imagining that you have to know exactly what you’re going to eat for all those meals, instead, just think in terms of volume for the number of people who’ll be eating with you.

For a good example of volume look at the picture in the previous post -- that's my week's groceries at the check out and then packed into one bag. One bag is enough volume for one person for one week.

Now here's a sample list, one that I'd use:

Produce: apples, pears, celery, sweet potato, beetroot bunch, braising greens, zucchini, spring onions, bell pepper, avocado, ginger root, garlic bulb, eggplant, organic tomatoes

Bulk section: couple cups millet, rice, cup black beans, cup of chic peas, 3 oz mixed nuts

Meat/fish: Turkey, fish, red meat,

Dairy: 1/2 dozen eggs, yoghurt

Snack aisle: Chips, and or crackers

Deli: feta or mozzarella /olives

Other: Pud Thai Sauce, pack of small, frozen corn tortillas

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Saving on Groceries is Not Rocket Science

Shopping for groceries on a budget is not rocket science.

My # 1 recommendation for staying within a budget is think ahead and then make a list of what you’ll need for the week.

I can hear the collective chorus ... “A list! My mother used to make lists!”

And your mother wrote shopping lists for a reason: As Chief Home Economist she knew that list-making is the best way to avoid impulse purchases.

If like me, you want to grocery shop without over-spending, then my second recommendation is that you do everything possible to avoid putting items into your shopping cart that are items you don't necessarily need.

Above is a pic of my groceries at the check out; they're packed into one carry bag. I stuck to a smaller list on this shopping trip -- $50 worth -- smaller, because I had left-over frozen veggies and some fruit from last week, plus I had grains and legumes in my cupboard.

So a list it is! And to help get you started next post will be a sample list.