Stocking Up, Saving Up

Many of the specials that I bring up on Happy Ad Tuesday posts are with an eye toward stocking up. The chicken walk-through that I posted earlier was a step-by-step way to deal with a bulk purchase.  But what about fruit? vegetables? that 3lb sack of spinach I can’t resist at Costco? Taking advantage of good prices is smart, but only if you don’t end up throwing away four cartons of moldy berries in a few days.

We all have the staples we know our family will always eat–my kids will always eat berries, my husband will eat a caesar salad with every meal if I put it on the plate.  Stocking up when you see something you know is a staple on sale, and knowing how to store it, can really help your grocery budget.  Even better? When you’re not wanting to shop, or don’t have time, your stored items let you ‘shop’ from your pantry/freezer/fridge, and make a great healthy meal, and not stop at Torchy’s for something trashy (that’s their word for ‘with queso’)( I think it should be ‘awesome’ since putting queso on something is good)(I wasn’t consulted, though, and since they have about five restaurants on Lamar alone, and I’m a chick writing a grocery blog, I’ll have to concede they might know better).

If you’re not used to making purchases of size, it can be tricky to process. First, how to save this stuff you bought?  Does it need to turn into something else first, or can it be frozen as-is? Should it be canned (holy cow! more about that later)? I’ve had canning phases, freezing phases, and drying phases.

Currently, I’m in a freezing phase. I feel it is the least work for the most reward. This relies, though, on me having a deep freeze. With the smaller freezer of a usual kitchen fridge/freezer, you need to be circumspect and calculate that into your choices when shopping.  The only reason I do have a deep freeze is because it’s built into the house. When we moved in, the people we bought our home from realized they’d added onto a room in such a way that they couldn’t remove the freezer without destroying a portion of the room.  Turns out, if you’ve got a contract on a house they can’t just tear stuff up willy-nilly, so we kept the freezer.

Drying is a great thing. When grapes are 99c or less? My kids make raisins on the sidewalk in front of our house. Jerky is a snack we all will take anywhere. Fruit leather, sun-dried tomatoes, and any kind of dried fruit are all cheaper when you buy on sale and process. The trade-off is time, as drying isn’t speedy, and there’s a learning curve. A lot of jerky recipes say, “Slice thinly and put in oven on lowest setting.”  That’s not always going to work for every situation, so you’ve also got to put time in experimenting.

Canning. We’ll talk about canning another time. If you’ve got questions, throw them in the comments, and I’ll address them.   I feel like this needs a whole post of its own because of the volume of information. It’s not enough to say, “Hey! Can things, when you can!”(ho ho ho).  So I’m tagging that for a future post.

I am going to run through a few things I do regularly to take advantage of prices and keep myself stocked up on  things we all eat. These won’t all apply to you–maybe you hate spinach, I don’t know (but really, if you’re eating kale? spinach is like Royal Kale).  I’m hoping you’ll read something you can use, as well as something that will spark an idea in you as a way for you to use Happy Ad Tuesday as a way to stock up and save up.

Spinach (hereafter called Royal Kale): I buy this in the BIG sacks at Costco. Not the box, the goofily large sacks. When I get home, I blanch it all, and freeze it in portions. I’ve thrown away enough of these sacks that I know this is the only thing to do. I buy it thinking, “I will have a salad EVERY day for lunch. It will be awesome, and healthy, and look at all I have to do–toss spinach in a bowl with feta and pour dressing on it!” That never happens, and the sack takes up half a shelf in my fridge and goes that weird swamp-smelling stinky bad.  So now I freeze it all, except for one salad worth. Which my daughter eats.  Sometimes I vacuum seal them , but more often I freeze in small tupperwares, and then thaw enough to remove them and toss in a ziploc. The spinach is good for soup, omelets, creamed spinach, tossing with pasta, and pretty much anything not salad.

Berries: These get tossed in a ziploc when they’re getting a few days old. I don’t worry about freezing on a baking sheet so they won’t stick, or anything like that, because all these berries are going into smoothies. If it’s strawberries, I do cut the tops off.  I keep this ongoing bag of berries, which gets added to all the time, next to the ongoing bag of bananas. Bananas don’t really go on sale too much–they’re like milk, a staple-low.  But I often buy too many, or too ripe. All you need to do with them is peel, and then toss in a bag. I break mine into thirds, just to lessen the stress on my blender.  This way, you’ve got bananas and berries right there waiting to be smoothies whenever you want! It’s great.

Ground meat: I walked you through chicken last week, but I’d like to point out another way to save.  When brisket goes on sale, I buy a bunch and grind beef. I do this with my Kitchen Aid and the grinder attachment.  For me to do this, I have to find brisket at $1.99/lb. That’s usually on holiday weekends–Labor Day, July the 4th, Memorial Day, what I like to call the Texas BBQ Meat Sale Holidays.  I grind it and sack it up in 1 lb chunks.  It’s cheaper than ground beef, and I know it is way less likely to get recalled. If you don’t have a grinder, you can still take advantage of this by buying brisket and chunking it up–I used to cut a whole brisket into fourths.  Then I’d use that meat for stews, crockpot meals, or anything that wasn’t a stir-fry/quick heat recipe. Brisket, even when not whole, needs long slow cooking to get tender.

Eggs: Seriously, eggs keep so much longer than people think. They weren’t even refrigerated back in Little House days, and people ate them and went on to live full productive lives.  Don’t throw out eggs past their date-give them a float test. Fill a glass half with water. Does the egg float in it? If yes, that’s a bad egg. Throw it away carefully, or you’re in for a big stink.  When eggs are on sale (Easter) I buy a bunch.

Rice: This is a staple that goes on sale occasionally for 59c/lb, and I like to stock up. But I do not like pantry moths, which always seem to be rice-related. So I will stock up, but I keep my rice in old spaghetti sauce jars, canning jars or other glass recloseable jars, because that’s seemed to work for the past several years.  There is also a school of thought that if you keep your rice in the freezer it’ll be safe because the eggs will be killed. But I’ve seen Aliens too many times, and don’t trust it.

Tomorrow I’ll get my Happy Ad Tuesday post up, likely about the same time as last week. I hope you’re finding deals, and shopping well.  Cheep Cheep!

Happy Ad Tuesday!

The stunner in the list below is watermelon–I haven’t seen them for that price in a long time.  They might not be as sweet as a watermelon in July or August, but that’s no reason not to grab a couple for these early fall warm days.  Kids will always eat watermelon, and if you don’t have kids you can make agua frescas (and then you can pour some vodka in there and relax in your calm, whiny-free space).  You can even freeze chunks for making agua fresca later, when maybe a random 90 degree day in November is making you angry and has you wondering why, exactly you live at this precise point in the world.

I apologize to anyone  that bought watermelons last week at $3.99. There must have been some kind of watermelon panic to cause Sprouts to decide to shed watermelon at the cheapest price in years. The opposite of the lime panic, where gangs were somehow using limes to launder money and thus scared the entire state into thinking we were in for a summer of $20 margaritas.  It’s possible the dip into the 70s at night has them thinking we’re all in pumpkin-latte mode, and they’ve got to ditch these giant green vessels of summer.

They lose, we win!

Randalls

red or green bell peppers          50c/ea

HEB

russet potatoes, 10lbs.                            $3.27/ea

cucumbers                                                 47c/ea

butternut, acorn, or spaghetti squash         77c/lb

Dole pineapple                                        $1.99/ea

drumsticks                                                     $1/lb

HEB premium bacon, 12oz.                    $3.50/ea

Sprouts

new this week:

whole seedless watermelon                 $1.99 ea

peaches and pears                                  99c/lb

gala and granny smith apples                  99c/lb

boneless skinless chicken thighs          $1.99/lb

bulk oats (quick, steel cut, or rolled)        69c/lb

ending tomorrow:

blackberries, 5.6oz                            $1.25 ea

asparagus                                          $1.99/lb

peaches                                                 99c/lb

green bell peppers                               50c/ea

chicken drumsticks or whole legs         99c/lb

Fiesta

center cut bone-in loin chops         $1.99/lb  (limit 2 w/$10 additional purchase)

cabbage                                            33c/lb

fresh green beans                              79c/lb

I feel like Randalls and Fiesta aren’t even trying this week.

A note about Fiesta: They have their large sacks of leg quarters on sale this week for 69c/lb. Which is obviously a lot of cheap chicken. The reason I’m not including it is that in addition to the usual Fiesta ‘limit 2, additional purchase of $10 required, additional bags at 85c/lb’, I find this particular product to be work.

I’m trying to stick to the types of groceries that are fairly universal, and are easily incorporated into meals. These quarters are…not straightforward. They’ve got an extra segment on them, that I remove before freezing (sharpish bits can rip bags) or cooking to serve in a meal (sometimes organ meat is attached to the extra. kidney? gizzard? who’s to know? enough that it isn’t a fight I want to have at the dinner table).  In addition, the portions are smaller than those you’re used to buying when you get a package of legs or thighs, so if you’re trying to portion out servings, you’re can be caught short if you’re not paying attention.

In short, this product has both a high work to value quotient, and a bit of cost loss in the part I cut away.  The combination of butchering necessary and time invested to just get it stored makes me leave it off the list.  While it is a deal, you can’t throw a 10lb sack of chicken leg quarters to become a brick-o-chick, you’ve got to put some time into getting it cooked and/or stored properly. If you are very budget conscious, though, it can be a good resource to have socked away.

Go forth and shop. Cheep Cheep!

On Shopping of Various Sorts

Grocery shopping is a chore. Once upon a time, people (mostly moms) had time to plan a week of meals, went to one store, and bought everything they needed to cook and everything their household needed for that week.  It could be a myth, handed down as tales of ‘kids that listen’ are.  Once upon a different time, people stopped on their way home from work and planned an evening meal around what was in-season and fresh at the market.

I’ve never met a household that did either of those things day in and day out. There are always days where everyone gets home, and we’re too exhausted to cook. Or too lazy, or just not hungry because we might have stopped at Sonic and gotten a cherry lime-aid and some cheezy tots.  I’m mostly lazy, and have a freezer full of stuff, which I throw at my husband and say , “Grill this”.

A long time ago, I split up my grocery shopping from my ‘other’ shopping. Other shopping is anything not food–toilet paper, paper towels, dish soap, laundry detergent.  Most of why I did this was specifically Randalls-related (and we’ll dissect the oddity that is Randalls in another post, including their missing apostrophe that should really be there).  In general, I buy groceries on Wednesday, with stops during the week for milk and bread, and ingredients for any new things I found out about and want to try. Thank you Facebook, for letting me know about bacon pancake sticks.

So my Grocery Theory point here is, think about why you buy what you do where you do. If you’re doing one big shop per week, is it because you think you’re getting the best price for everything, or because you can’t see a way to schedule any other stops? If you could do one stop to stock up the freezer with cheap pork shoulder, could you fit that trip in, and have a place to store it?

10lbs of Tiny Limes, Now What?

 If you went ahead and bought the key limes, thinking surely they were just tiny limes that could be used in the place of regular limes (yes, they can, you’re totally right), I’m here to share the most traditional key lime pie recipe there is. It uses a bunch of key limes, and helpfully also can occupy a youth of ages 6-12 for about 25 minutes.

I go ahead and cut the limes in half, and my 10 year old kid can do the entire rest of the work required for this pie. If your kid doesn’t have a signature recipe yet, feel free to tell him to learn this one. If you don’t have free labor available in your home, this is a 15 minute project.

The juice for this recipe will need about a little more than 1lb of key limes. So there will be leftovers. You can use them to garnish tacos on Taco Tuesday, or on glasses of water to make it seem more like you’re on vacation and less like you’re in-between laundry and dishes.

Nellie & Joe’s Key Lime Pie

  • 9″ graham cracker pie crust
  • 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 3 egg yolks (whites not used)
  • ½ cup Nellie & Joe’s Key West Lime Juice

Combine milk, egg yolks and lime juice. Blend until smooth. Pour filling into pie crust and bake at 350º for 15 minutes. Allow to stand 10 minutes before refrigerating. Just before serving, top with freshly whipped cream, or meringue, and garnish with lime slices.

It’s traditional because it uses no ingredients that need to be refrigerated. The Florida Keys, by virtue of being a chain of islands that didn’t get electricity quite when the rest of the US did, came up with this lovely dessert.   Eggs, tinned milk, and key limes don’t need refrigeration, and today we continue to not refrigerate graham crackers.  Feel free to start jamming those Honey Grahams in the fridge if it makes you feel better, though!

Now, you’ve got some left. You can use them as usual limes, or if you’ve decided that your key lime pie was delicious you can go ahead and juice them all and freeze that juice. Freezing whole fruit doesn’t go well, and freezing zest also loses a lot. The dehydration that comes with freezing just isn’t good for citrus, but for juice? It’s got water in it and can take a bit of stress.  So go ahead and get that kid, now that he’s had his pie, and tell him to juice the rest. Then you can freeze it in small plasticware containers, or an ice cube tray (Martha!), and then bag them up for future use.

Happy Ad…Wednesday?

After last week’s mishap, I’d intended on posting last night after making sure the ads I was looking at were the right ones.  Sadly, the internet gods were not on board with this plan. Having never made a concerted effort to collect all this information as soon as it was available so I could tell all my Cheeps, I was unaware that grocery store flyers are apparently only posted on the store websites when the prices take effect.

Midnight postings of grocery sales, people! How have I missed this late night fun all these years? It kind of makes me want to walk into Randalls at midnight and start checking to see if they’ve got all the signs switched over yet, and people watch. Randalls at midnight is a great slice of life.

So, last night I decided I would post on Wednesday mornings. Because of an ongoing conflict I maintain with the sun, this means 11am. Since Wednesday is the shopping day for a lot of folks, that means the Happy Ad post would be too late! This is a Sitcom Level 3 Dilemma, and I’m still trying to sort it out.

In the meantime, here are the sales this week, with my fun color coding and commentary. I’ll be shopping later this week, and will tweet any new deals I find! So go ahead and click that little ‘follow’ link off to the right, and if I find a deal, you’ll know about it when I do.

Cheep Cheep!

HEB

green pears, jonagold apples                    88c/lb

boneless skinless chicken breasts           $1.99/lb

large navel oranges                                  98c/lb

Fiesta

large avocados                                   79c/ea

chicken drumsticks and thighs           88c/lb  (limit 2, w/$10 additional purchase)

Sarita brand long grain rice                79c/2lb sack

large navel oranges                            97c/lb

key limes                                             99c/2lb sack

Randalls

large navel oranges                                     97c/lb

green grapes                                               99c/lb

boneless skinless chicken breasts           $1.99/lb                                                            (note: thighs are also this price, but that is not their low. wait for another day to buy those, or go buy drumsticks/thighs/legs at Sprouts or Fiesta!)

Sprouts

blackberries, 5.6oz                            $1.25 ea

asparagus                                          $1.99/lb

peaches                                                99c/lb

whole seedless watermelons             $3.99 ea

green bell peppers                              50c/ea

chicken drumsticks or whole legs       99c/lb

But wait! Aren’t chicken legs cheaper over at Fiesta? Yes, yes they are. But Fiesta has the limit, and the also-buy requirement, and my personal rule is 99c/lb is a stock-up price for chicken leg parts. So it gets listed twice this week.

That’s the round-up for this week! Tomorrow I’ll be posting ideas for storing and using one of these items that you might stock up on.  If you notice a deal I’ve missed, post in the comments, so we can all share the deal!

Cheep Cheep!

For My First Four Readers

It’s a simple fact of life, that mistakes will be made (Mrs. Garrett taught me that! And if you got my 80s tv reference, good for you!).

Despite quite a lot of double checking, when I did the ad post this week, I managed to look at the incorrect Fiesta and HEB ads. Which is impressive, because I waited on that post until Randalls put theirs up on their site pretty late on Tuesday. So I was physically not posting, but also not managing to see what was right there at the bottom of the .pdf files I was looking at, an excellent achievement in missing the obvious, indeed.

So, if any of my readers so far went ahead and shopped based on my post, I apologize. It won’t happen again.

I’m sure there will be more blunders as I get things rolling here at CheepieAustin.  Helpfully, here in the very first week I’ve already gotten to create an ‘apologies and retractions’ tag! I can check that right off my to-do list. Whew!

Coming up this week will be another Grocery Theory post, Happy Ad Tuesday, and a discussion of what we’ll be calling Alternate Grocers. Unless I think of something better and/or funnier to call them by then.

Cheep Cheep!

Great, 20lbs of Chicken, Now What?

It’s all well and good to find yourself able to stock up on chicken drumsticks at $1/lb. You can have that happy glow all the way home, knowing you’ve secured enough protein for many meals, similar to hunters of yore. What the hunters didn’t have to worry about so much was where all that chicken was going, because the clan was going to pretty much eat it all as soon as he dragged it back and threw it on the fire.

Depending on your needs and kitchen, you have developed storage solutions of your own. I’ve got a vacuum sealer and a deep freeze, as well as a pantry with a reasonable amount of space. You might have a huge pantry, or be one of those coupon people with an entire store of stuff in the basement. Most likely, you wish you had more space, but don’t, and you don’t want to spend hours fussing with this chicken that was supposed to be a deal.

Fear not. This is easily sorted.

First, decide how you want to break this up. Some of it will need to go into the freezer, in sizes that you would use for a meal–for me, that’s six legs in a bag. Do two to four of those. Depending on how much you bought, you might be already done.

If you’re still looking at more chicken on the counter, you can go two ways here: More Flavor, or More Soup.  They will both take time, but if you break it up you’ll have put up enough chicken for several quick weeknight meals.

For More Flavor, season chicken with salt and pepper, put it on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan, and put it in the oven at 350 degrees. Roast it until it gets to 165 degrees, then let it rest a bit. If you’re out of time, wrap it up and put it in the fridge until you want to deal with it.  When that time comes, shred all the meat off the bones, and bag it up for the freezer.

For More Soup, put the drumsticks in a big pot that can hold them, and add water to cover. Salt the heck out of the water and boil the legs. There will be foam, which can be skimmed, but honestly isn’t going to hurt anyone. If you happen to have, say, old carrots hiding in the crisper, or half an onion, or celery that went limp about ten minutes after you bought it, wash and chop that roughly and toss that in, as well. Can’t hurt anything to add some vegetables here. Not kale though, this isn’t a kale time. 

Your last decision here is if you want to keep some of this soup–if you do, when the chicken is done, put a pot in the sink and put a colander in that pot.  If the pot with the chicken is very heavy, you can use tongs to fish the chicken out into the colander, then pour the soup stock over it, where it will then land neatly in the pot.  Cool the chicken and shred it off the bone, and freeze for later (as above, if you don’t want to do this now, wrap it up and do it tomorrow).  For the stock? I pour mine in old spaghetti sauce jars and put it in the fridge. Often, I don’t want this much stock, so some goes down the drain. Some people get super-ambitious and simmer the stock for hours to reduce it, then freeze it in ice cube trays to add to dishes later.  People that do this are mostly named Martha.

I realize you had to read a lot of words there, and that this isn’t how you like to see a recipe laid out, and the chicken is still on your counter. Here’s the haiku version:

Boil or roast the drumsticks.

Maybe save that broth.

Shred the meat. Freeze it in bags.