06 May 2009

My Grocery Shopping Philosophy

A philosophy for grocery shopping?  Well, yeah, I think we should have a philosophy for everything - grocery shopping, furniture arranging, the way we dress - everything (whoever said caring for the home was a mindless job certainly had no idea).  

So, here's my grocery shopping philosophy.  [drum roll, please; cue the choir] 

Purchase ingredients.

Whew!  I'm glad I got that off my chest!

I'd rather have my pantry stocked with flour, oil, cocoa, sugar, vanilla, and baking soda and powder and my fridge with butter, milk, cream, eggs, and yeast than with lots of packaged mixes.  With those ingredients, I can make brownies or crépes (sweet or savory) or yellow cake with chocolate frosting or sugar cookies or pancakes or tortillas or bread or crackers or biscuits or baguettes (my newest baking challenge) or pie crust or English muffins or crumpets; you get the idea and I'm getting hungry.  Making sure that I'm stocked up with the basics gives me much more flexibility than purchasing mixes.  I can go with the flow much more easily.

So, why is this a money saver?  Well, even though I've rarely seen a coupon for a dozen eggs or a gallon of milk, ingredients still end up being cheaper than mixes.  They're also healthier.  And if you find a screamin' deal  (let me know, okay?), most can be stored without refrigeration (storage costs need to be figured in, too).  Just as it's easier to de-clutter the kitchen with multi-use tools rather than lots of space-hogging, single-use gadgets, it's easier to declutter the pantry with multi-use ingredients rather than lots of single-use packaged mixes.

Using teriyaki sauce as an example: I could purchase a bottle of teriyaki sauce.  It wouldn't take up that much space.  But it's teriyaki sauce and that's all it can ever be.  Yes, I can use it in a meat marinade (recipe coming soon) or in stir fry, but there isn't much else I can do with it.  However, if I have brown sugar, garlic (something like this), fresh minced ginger, and soy sauce on hand, well, life just got much tastier.  I can use the brown sugar for granola, on yogurt, for cinnamon/raisin bread, bread pudding, pancakes, rum sauce, etc.  (Is there anything brown sugar can't be used in?)  I can add a bit of ginger to chicken soup, cookies, bread, pudding, tea for an upset tummy, etc.  Garlic goes in just about anything and we use it all the time.  Soy sauce goes well in marinades, soups, veggies, noodles, and rice.  I can still have teriyaki anytime I want to make it, but I have lots of other options, too, because I bought separate ingredients.

Now, it's not like I didn't have the ingredients for teriyaki on hand before, well, except for the ginger - that's a new thing in my fridge (I've never been much of a fan of dried ginger and the jar in my pantry is at least 25 years old, but the fresh stuff is heavenly), but by not purchasing a bottle of teriyaki, I'm saving space.  You could argue that I simply traded a bottle of teriyaki for a jar of ginger, but I can do so much more with ginger than I could with teriyaki, that I still think I've come out ahead.  But really, how much space does a bottle of teriyaki sauce take up?  Not much, but that's where having a full-blown philosophy comes in.  If I do this over and over again, searching out recipes that use basic ingredients that I have on hand for bottles, jars, or boxes of things I might otherwise buy, the savings in both space and money begin to multiply.

I'm still looking for recipes for my husband's favorite bar-be-que sauce, our favorite bourbon chicken from the greasy spoon at the mall, and orange chicken.  Alton Brown piqued my interest in making my own mustard.  I've already conquered Drew's favorite honey-mustard salad dressing, mayonnaise, hummus, and raspberry vinaigrette (all absurdly easy).  We've found fairly simple homemade ice cream and smoothie recipes.  I don't know if I'll ever find a replacement for ketchup, onion soup mix, or for canned cream of chicken soup (used in several dishes that are family favorites), but those cans, bottles, and boxes can be used in more than one dish, so I'm philosophically okay with them, at least for now.  (I have tried a replacement for the cream of chicken soup, but it wasn't worth the time it took to cook and it wasn't really a good substitute for the concentrated soup in the can - the texture was all wrong.)



  1. I was looking through my grandmother's recipes and I found one she had hand written about having a cream soup mix. The mix is dry and then you add milk or water as needed to make a base for whatever you are cooking. She wrote in her notes that she sometimes used it as a substitute for canned cream of _____ soup. It looks good, I haven't tried it but want to. This fits with your philosophy of multiple uses of one object. I have been going that route for a while now but still have a long way to go.

  2. So, are you gonna share?

  3. You are so fun!

    Loved your post about making your own staple items, rather than buying them. It's SOOOO true that it is so much for more cost efficient to buy the ingredients rather than just the one item....

    Hugs.. Amy

  4. Cream Soup Mix
    2 C Instant dry milk powder
    3/4 C cornstarch
    1/4 C chicken bouillon granules
    1 tsp onion powder
    1/4 tsp pepper
    1/2 tsp thyme
    1/2 tsp basil

    Mix dry ingredients all together. When using, blend 1/3 C mix with 1 1/4 C water, boil, and use that as your base.

    I imagine you could use just about any spices that you wish and even make different blends. I have all of those ingredients on hand except for the dry milk. I will add that to my shopping list. Let me know how it goes.

  5. Can I request to hear your philosophy for furniture arranging?

  6. Thanks, Allison!

    Anna, stay tuned and I'll try to explain my philosophy of furniture arranging. And you should see what I did with the livingroom!

  7. Hey there I just found your blog. You are my kind of girl. This is the philosophy I grew up with and continue to practice now that I am married. My mom always cooked from scratch. I always take it for granted that I live this way, until my friends come over and say "You don't have any ready made food in your cabinets? What do you eat?" haha Great post!

  8. Welcome, Molly! I look forward to getting to know you! Please don't hesitate to post. I like comments, but don't always get many.

  9. Hi Lynne, I like your crockpot yogurt ideas--although I haven't tried it that way yet. (I don't think mine is big enough to make yogurt.) (I just use a pot, a bowl and a heating pad.) I've linked.