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]
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.)