19 July 2011

Produce Confidential: Zucchini

A massive zucchini dwarfs a tiny tyrannosaurus rex.
Zucchini is incredibly versatile in the kitchen. You can bake it, fry it, steam it. Make it into cakes, wear it as headgear. My favorite way to prepare zucchini? Saute with butter, add garlic, smother in Parmesan cheese, eat.

This absolutely gorgeous zucchini (why, yes, that's my sink in the background. Sorry!) came from my lovely friends over at Cooking with My Girlfriend. I thought that, in honor of that glorious squash, I would post about the care and maintenance of one of my favorite members of the squash family.

Before we begin, I also wanted to mention a blog I stumbled upon that has a recipe for Chocolate. Zucchini. Cake. The blog is called Chocolate and Zucchini and is run by a French woman (she writes in English, so don't be scared away!) whose cooking journey began while she was still a software engineer.

Random Facts

Growing Season: April-August
Origin: North America
Other names: Courgette, summer squash
Classification: Botanically, zucchini considered a fruit; however, chefs generally treat it as a vegetable and prepare it in savory dishes.


Choose zucchini that is firm and unblemished with a fresh, green color. The younger the squash is, the more tender it will be (the plants around here are rather vivacious at the moment, though!). A zucchini that is about 6–8 inches long should yield the best results.


Store zucchini either at room temperature or in a perforated bag in the refrigerator. Wash directly before using but not before then.

You should not freeze whole zucchini because it tends to turn mealy. If you wish to freeze your zucchini, I've located several ways to prepare it, all of which involve blanching the zucchini. You can cut it into 1-inch slices, then blanch for three minutes, or you can grate the zucchini and blanch for 1–2 minutes.


I found quite a few different web sites as I had my way with zucchini information. Many of them are filled with awesome recipes, so you should definitely check them out!

06 July 2011

Produce Confidential: Watermelon

As I wandered down the aisles of the grocery store, a 15-pound watermelon rolling about in my cart (myself wondering how in the world I was going to carry it the half-mile home), it suddenly struck me as funny that I was paying less when the fruit was at its best, its tastiest. You can say this about produce, but what other types of food follow this trend?

Oh, here—filet mignon; best it's ever tasted—half off!

That wine is one of the best vintages around, sir. I can get it for you at a fraction of the cost.

Nope. Fruits, veggies, herbs—everything that's seasonal and tastes best at a certain point.

But 15 pounds of watermelon is a big commitment, especially when you're single and going to eat the entire thing alone. So, to help my curiosity and perhaps also spritz yours, I decided to find out the best ways to care for seasonal fruits and veggies.

And I'm starting with watermelon.

Peak Season

Regardless of the fact that you can find this rather hefty fruit year long (thanks to science), watermelon's peak growing season is from May to September, so that's when our favorite green-and-pink (or yellow!) fruit is at its sweetest.

Picking Your Watermelon

As far as picking the perfect watermelon, try to choose one with a dull rind and a slightly sweet smell. The rind should also be free of cracks or bruises. The fruit should have a yellow underside from where it ripened on the ground. Thumping on the side should result in a nice, resonant thunk.

Preparation and Storage

Watermelon can actually be stored on your counter for 7–10 days before slicing. So, if you're having a BBQ but the sale at your local grocery store ends a few days beforehand, don't fear buying the fruit a few days early. When you begin slicing into that lovely hunk of fruit, I recommend only preparing half of the watermelon while placing aluminum foil around the unused portion (leave the rind intact) and placing that half in the fridge. You can cut the portion you'll eat the soonest into wedges, cubes, or even balls, but don't forget to refrigerate after "opening" and to use air-tight containers or aluminum foil to keep the fruit from becoming mushy or mealy.

Do not freeze.

Watermelon Web Sites

I used various sources to create this post, so I thought I'd do the friendly (and, you know, non-plagiarizing) thing and let you know what other authorities are floating about the net. My favorite was actually an article from the Weight Watchers Web Site. The were very straightforward, and I used quite a bit of information from their article.

Want to learn more about watermelon or see some really neat watermelon carvings? Try watermelon.org. It's filled with tasty tidbits about nutrition, and lots of fun recipes!

Want to see some general rules on keeping fruit fresh? SparkPeople has created a handy list to let you know what fruits, veggies, and herbs you should store in what conditions (although I found some of them not as explanatory as they could be)

01 July 2011

Coming Clean

I knew, coming into this project, that one of the biggest challenges I would face was actually coming to terms with all of the food that I don't eat. I've always been a food waster. I buy food, especially produce, then get distracted by something else delicious so I don't eat what I bought. Eventually, I forget what I have in my fridge so that, two months later, I rummage about only to find soggy, spore-ridden zucchini or bread or cheese. It's a problem.

So, I'm not hiding from what has, on occasion, amounted to several trash bags worth of wasted food (of course, I was living with two roommates, so they helped, but...). When I started thinking about my long-term goals with this, I had to decide what to do about this problem when it comes to trying to live under a certain amount per month.

My solution was two-fold: I would, once a month, clean my fridge of anything past its best-by date and add together approximates of what I had spent. Then, I'd add that to the totals for the month and see if I still remained under my goal.

Secondly, the amount that the wasted food was worth would go into a jar. Closer to the end of the year, I'll go on a shopping trip for whichever local food bank is collecting near me!

Like I said, I've realized that this is enough of a problem that I will have enough to make a substantial contribution at the end of each year (although, hopefully, it will diminish with time!).

This past fridge cleaning, I put away $5.20 in my jar. Considering that half of the contributions were only about $0.10 a piece...that's quite a bit.

I'm working, very slowly, toward reducing what I waste, but knowing what I waste is another first step.

23 June 2011

An Itty Bitty Update

I have a notebook. It is green. I got it from my boss. It houses all of those numbers that no one wants to read but I post anyway. So I'm trying a new tactic for a while: not posting each individual number. I have so many things that I would rather post on this blog. There are the Product Reviews, of course, and more Recipes. I'd also like to start a section on Produce: how to care for and when to buy your favorite fruits and vegetables. Another section I'm toying with is a section about having an entire meal under $1—and I mean something from each of the food groups per serving.

I will still post weekly and monthly totals and averages, but I think that that part of this blog is more personal, and no one reallywants to read those. Actually, it's more that a part of me doesn't think anyone wants to know those sorts of things. If you think differently, let me know and I'd be glad to re-start those postings.

Anyway, ttfn!

21 June 2011

French Baguette Pizza!

So, I made an awesome pizza a few nights ago by using a french baguette, lots of cheese, and garlic. And you can make your own, too! One baguette makes about four individual pizzas (I cut mine into eights to make them easier to eat, but I'd say fourths for the hungrier people out there), and can be bought pretty inexpensively.

What you need:
French baguette (as low as $0.88 from Walmart)
Garlic powder
Italian seasoning
Tomato sauce
Cream cheese
Parmesan cheese
Shredded cheese (preferably with provolone in it)
Any meat or veggie toppings you may want

So cut the baguette in half horizontally (using your serrated knife, of course!) and then again vertically for as many pizzas as you would like. Then, spread a layer of butter over the crumb of the bread. Sprinkle with garlic and Italian seasoning(french baguettes make awesome garlic bread, too). Cover with tomato/pizza/spaghetti sauce. Following that was a layer of chive and onion cream cheese, Parmesan cheese, and then the "pizza" mix I got from the grocery store. I put the pizza in the oven for 10 minutes at 420 degrees. Then I feasted.

I didn't use any meat, but that doesn't mean that you can't. In fact, I would love to see some meaty, delicious French baguette pizzas. You can also use a bagel as the crust instead of a baguette, but most other breads end up not having the same consistency or texture as a pizza crust, which makes your dinner "Stuff on Bread" rather than "Pizza".

The total cost for me ended up being about $0.30 per little section (so, an eighth). A lot of my ingredients were from before I moved, and I hijacked the baguette from my work. For pizza, that's a really good price.

Now some people may ask why I didn't just make my own crust, and there were several reasons. Firstly, the baguette was free. The baguette is similar (though not the same) as having a slightly tough pizza crust. It's a little on the thick side and you don't have the crust's edge to keep your toppings from falling off. You can use the rest of the baguette for other meals if you don't use it all in one sitting (sandwiches, garlic bread). Baguettes are delicious.1

19 June 2011


So, I've been going to the grocery store once per paycheck, which seems to work out rather well. Last time, I went with a list. That technique went well enough, though I was hard pressed to curb my impulse buying. This round, I gave myself a set amount to spend—just $20. And I fully succeeded, spending only $19.94.

This tactic worked a little better for me because I was able to look at something and put it in the basket without feeling bad for not following that darned list. Of course, I had an idea of what I needed, so I wasn't completely unprepared. I knew I wanted potatoes and snacks, but the rest was up to my stomach.

Just a short update, I suppose. Later this week, I'll be posting a recipe of sorts that turned out really well. Hope to see you there!

15 June 2011


6/6Granola bar$0.42
Cookie Mash$0.50
Fried Rice$.68
Fried rice$0.68
6/8Toaster pastries$0.35
Fried Rice$0.68
6/9Toaster pastries$0.35
Stroganoff Creation$0.75
Ice Cream with Strawberries$0.90
6/10Toaster pastries$0.35
Stroganoff Creation$1.50
Cereal with Strawberries$0.61
Ice Cream with Strawberries$0.61
Cereal with Strawberries$0.61
Stroganoff Creation$1.50
6/12Toaster pastries$0.35
Stroganoff Creation$0.75
6/10Tater tots with cream cheese$0.40
Steak N Shake$9.00

As a note, do realize that I'm not starving myself. In fact, if we added in the numerous bagels and pastries and such, the list would be a lot longer. In fact, It would be so much longer that I'm thinking about putting some sort of worth to the items that I don't have to pay for since the second goal of this project of mine is to eat less because I'm spending less.

10 June 2011

Ham and Hot Dog Fried Rice

Why, yes, I did put hot dogs in my fried rice. It was delicious. And, for about $0.68/serving, who could argue? I don't really keep track of the ratio of spices that I put in my food when I cook, but I will tell you what sorts of good things I put in the dish.

Day-old rice
Soy sauce
Frozen veggies
Hot dogs
Garlic powder
Cayenne pepper
Chili powder
Black pepper
Onion powder
Brown Sugar

09 June 2011

When You Were Young

I used to hate when Mom put extra noodles in the Hamburger Helper. I understand why she did it—when we were kids, my brother and I knew how to eat; we could put away two boxes of the stuff between us. Feeding just yourself is expensive—feeding kids even more so. Unfortunately, she just added noodles without compensating for how thin the sauce would be spread afterward, so we were always disappointed with this version of our favorite food.

Adding noodles, however, does save some money per serving, even if you're just using the off-brand (Kitchen Creations!) like myself. So, here is how I make my meal in a box taste just as good as the original.
  • Extra meat.
    This one may sound a little silly. Why buy more meat when it's already the most expensive part of the dish? My reasoning is this: most packages of ground chuck (when you're not getting the stuff that comes in tubes) don't have exactly one pound of meat. Instead of searching for the package closest to one pound or under, I look for the package that has 1.21 pounds, 1.36 pounds. This gives you a little more meat to play with, so your extra noodles don't overwhelm the burger, and you're not paying too much extra.
  • Spices.
    This may seem self-explanatory, but my mom forgot to add extra spice every time. The simplest solution is to add salt and whatever spice is most abundant in the recipe. Garlic salt and seasoning salt also work really well. I also like to at a little cayenne pepper.
  • Water and butter.
    When I use most meal helpers, I tend to replace the milk with water and butter. This was not originally because it brought down the price. I started making recipes this way because the milk in my fridge was bad, and I didn't want to run to the store for more. Instead I added two tbsp. butter and replaced the milk with water. I haven't had anything taste terribly so far, so I'll continue to do this until I create something too foul for consumption.
  • Noodles.
    I try not to add more than enough to make two extra servings. Otherwise, the flavor becomes too thin, which is the reason why I hated when Mom added noodles in the first place. Also, when you're boiling the noodles, add a little of the flavoring packet to the water as well as your salt. That way, just like with the noodles in the original, your new noodles have picked up some of the flavor from the sauce.
So that's how I help my meal helper go further while still tasting great. What ways do you make prepackaged food go further than the maker intended?

06 June 2011

Product Review: Banquet Sweet and Sour Chicken

So I've decided to start a new section to this blog. I'm trying lots of inexpensive foods trying to see which ones are keepers and which ones are not to my liking (there's a part of me that wants to call them "studs" and "duds"...so I might label them as such). This will include mostly my thoughts on generic-brand offerings and frozen meals. The first victim was $1.00 from Banquet's line of frozen meals.

The Sweet and Sour Chicken

I'm a huge fan of (American) Chinese food in general. There's something about the grease-and-frozen-vegetable combo that is almost always a hit with my taste buds. This? Not so much.

I think the biggest turn off was the dark-meat chicken nuggets. Yes, they were chicken nuggets. No, I was not aware that they were dark meat when I bought them. I have never been able to stomach dark meat, regardless of how many times I've been told that it's flavor-filled and juicy. And, while I've never encountered dark meat that I liked, I've also never encountered dry dark meat which is the foe I faced with this meal.

I will tell you that the sauce was very good, and I've never met a rice I didn't like. In fact, the sauce saved the nuggets from being inedible. This particular item will never see the inside of my freezer again, but I am holding off my judgement of the Banquet line in general until I try some more of their (probably non-chicken) products.

Final Thoughts

With frozen food, I understand that you get what you pay for and that frozen meals are generally more expensive than making your own food. I also understand that half of it is so processed that the creatures the food originated from have actually changed both gender and species before the food ended up in my shopping cart. With that thought in mind, I never mind being disappointed by a frozen meal so long as I eat it all. I am also working to cut these types of food out of my life and to eat more leftovers. Of course, heating up something frozen is simple, so it may take some time to wean myself from the meals.

Days Go By

I may not have been updating, but I have been keeping track of the food inhaled. Today, then, will be kind of a mass update.

6/2Granola bar$0.35
Frozen Meal$1.00
6/3Granola bar$0.42
Frozen Meal$1.00
Tater tots$0.40
6/4Granola bar$0.42
Stir Fry$1.50
6/5Granola bar$0.21
Stir Fry$1.50
Frozen Meal$1.00

01 June 2011

So Small Radio

Well, it's that time of night. Totals time. I'm going with something new, so it may look a little ridiculous until I finally get around to changing the CSS, but that's all right.

Food Cost
Tater tots $1.00
Cola $0.65
Frozen Meal $1.00
Cookies $0.60
Total $3.25

The tater tots were spread out along most of the day. They were delicious and worth every penny.

The First Week

I'm actually quite surprised at what I spent this past week. I was expecting to use up every cent of the money that I allowed myself. Instead, I spend about twelve dollars less. I'm not going to change anything for this next week, though. I fully feel that I should take another week to look at my spending habits and see where I can improve (nutrition-wise, mostly) before I cut back on what I want to spend.

On average, I spent $4.16 per day, which is $1.84 less than anticipated. If all goes well, I would like to cut back to $4/day starting next week. I want to use the opportunity to create yummy recipes (although, I don't lie when I mention that I generally use garlic and chili powder/cayenne pepper in everything I make unless it's sweet. And even then...) on the cheap. I have so much pasta I could bathe in it, and so much rice that it would bathe in me, so many of my concoctions will probably include those as well.

I would also like to figure out a way to have a steak dinner (with mashed potatoes and green beans, I'm thinking) and my normal amount of food for under $4. That may involve some "Manager Special" meat, but it all eats the same.


All right, yesterday was spent with more and more moving. I drank a lot of my life away, I'm pretty sure—in both cola and vodka, admittedly. At least the booze ended up not costing me anything because we found it in the house. What a nice going away present.

So, yesterday.
Breakfast stuffs: $0.59
Afterwork noms: $0.56
Dinnerish: $0.69

There's a part of me that thinks I should have eaten more, especially considering that only one of those totals includes food bought. I know that there were some work foods consumed, but I have no idea what. Oh the joys(?) of alcohol.

30 May 2011

The Second Step

All right, so the "clever" title that I came up with includes a second goal, I suppose. The first is, obviously, to spend less money—which I have talked about to distraction—but I haven't really mentioned the second part of this blog: to eat less.
I've been trying (rather successfully) to lose weight for the past year. Unfortunately, I've reached that awful plateau stage. I have definitely been more active, but my diet right now is only slightly different than when I started the whole "lose weight" mission. In creating this blog—this goal, even—I hope to monitor the food that I eat more closely.
Monitoring food hasn't worked for me in the past. I have tried counting calories, but it's boring. For whatever reason, money is more interesting than calories. More tangible? Maybe that's the reason I've done better keeping track of cost than I ever did with calories. So, by spending less on food, I hope to eat less food! Simple, I suppose.
Anyway, I won't talk about the secondary goal nearly as much as the first, although I will keep you updated on whether or not it works!

Off Day

And by "Off Day" I just mean a day that I was off from work.I actually had a rather good day, foodwise.

Breakfast: Nada
Lunchish: $1.13
Dranks: $0.69
Snack: $1.05

Total: $2.87

I was moving for half of the day, so I didn't really eat until later, and breakfast was hijacked work food. So I'm not starving myself, promise. I just didn't eat a whole lot that would count toward my totals. As I write, I'm nomming on little pizza pockets. They're cute, and they make me wonder if there's a chance that I could make me own...

In totally awesome news, most of my possessions are now moved into my new apartment! I'm no longer living on a mattress on the floor. I have an actual couch! That's not food related at all, but I was psyched about the development!

29 May 2011

Another Two

Breakfast: $0.62
Lunch: $0.99
After-work Special: $1.49
Dinner: $0.87

Total: $3.97

Breakfast: $0.25
Lunch: $2.51
Dinner: $1.13

Total: $3.89

Apparently, in an effort to make up for the day I went over, I've been eating foods that cost less the past two days. This is fantastic. This also makes it seem like my goal of cutting how much I can spend on food in half seem plausible. Much more so than before.

27 May 2011

Two Days

BreakFAST: $0.62
Lunch: $2.86
Post-work noms: $0.75
Dinner: $0.87
Total: $5.10

Okay. So. Today was a better day than yesterday, although I've realized that, of my expenses, eating at work is actually the most expensive. I'm thinking of bringing a sandwich tomorrow along with one of the 700 bags of chips that I've gotten with my lunches. Maybe some Ramen. Who knows? I don't have to cut work food out of my diet completely, but it is one of those expenses I could gladly slash.

I've also had the same breakfast for the past couple of days, and I'm enjoying it quite a bit. Yogurt and a granola bar are healthy and tasty. The combo keeps me going until lunch, which is a good thing.

And, thought I'd mention the dinner since I actually put some thought into it. I seasoned up some ham steak, made some rice stuff and put peas and carrots in it. There was enough for two, which means that I have leftovers for tomorrow! It needed a little salt, but was otherwise delicious.

Breakfast Noms: $0.62
Lunchers: $2.19
Din-Din: $4.00
Total: $6.19

All right, so I went a little over tonight, but I have to say that I'm all right with that. Mostly I'm all right with this because 1) It went toward a good cause (Joplin again haha) and 2) It was probably the best hot dog that I'd ever eaten in my life (seriously: It was a spicy hot dog with grilled onions, cream cheese, pineapple salsa, and mustard).

25 May 2011

Here are today's totals!

Pre-work noms: $1.29 [$3.01]
Lunch: $2.19*
After-work noms: $0.75
Dinner: $0.69
Total: $4.92

*Something should be said, I think, about the weirdness that was lunch. I did not actually buy any food for lunch—my manager did. Instead, I bought some toiletries to donate to the tornado relief efforts in Joplin, MO.  And, while I did not spend any money on food, I felt that putting at least half of what I spent on the donation toward my food cost for the day would help me keep track of what I'm spending daily.
One of the stores in our franchise is the Joplin area, and though it was not hit, the management team there was struggling to find replacement shifts for the next week. The employees and teams at our cafés have been working to help raise money and other donations to help the efforts in that area.
My GM mentioned something while we talked about this that really struck a chord, so I thought I'd share that, too. He told me that he'd had to worry about having enough people to cover shifts, but that he'd never had to worry whether all of the people on those shifts were alive.

24 May 2011

Breakfast: $0.92 [2.69*]
Lunch: Free! [7.59]
Dinner: $1.28
Total: $2.20

*The second number you see here is the price without my discount.
**My manager owed me lunch, which is why I got my lunch free today.

Grocery Day!

Now, since this is the maiden voyage of this blog, I will actually have three separate posts. This post is the second and will become a common theme in this blog. Today was payday, which means that I also had the opportunity to go grocery shopping. I learned a good deal from the first shopping trip of this insanity, so I will share what I learned as well as a bunch of numbers that are probably uninteresting to anyone but myself.

What I Learned

I went into this trip with a list. This was to curb my impulse-buying habits, especially when food is involved. It was also nice to know what products I would be able to purchase with a coupon. Hopefully, what I learned during this first trip will help me make better decisions in the future.

  • Hamburger Helper is expensive. Even with a coupon and store special, the store-brand was more than $0.15
  • Kraft Mac & Cheese is also expensive. At $1.59/box, I was a little flabbergasted. I admit, though, part of my surprise came from the Walgreens coupon that let me purchase three boxes at $0.69 each. It also came from my never having bought Kraft brand before (I know, I know. You should know now, then, that I don't like apple pie, either).
  • My impulse-buying habits will be hard to overcome.
  • My local grocery store will double a manufacturer's coupon up to $1. Considering that this made Yoplait cheaper than the store brand, even an extra $0.40 makes a big difference.
  • My store does not, however, still offer a discount when you bring your own bags. Either that or the cashier didn't think to put it on my purchase.
  • Most dry goods cost about $0.25 per serving. At least the ones that I bought.
  • Most store brand sauces cost less than $0.05 per serving.
  • By cost per serving, the most expensive items I bought were frozen meals.
  • I'm all right at estimating the prices of groceries, although I was horribly off on some items.
So, I have gathered quite a few facts, although I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to do with them. Mostly what I will take from this is that having someone else prepare your food is more expensive than doing it yourself. And, while I should have known this, knowing and understanding are different creatures entirely.
Here comes the part that will probably interest only me. Feel free to turn back, noble explorer! If you've read this far, I'm a little stunned but ready to continue. The time has come for me to put down some numbers. Who knows what they mean together.

Total spent on food: $32.70
Coupons brought: 21
Coupons used: 4
Money saved by coupons: $0.90
Money saved by "cardmember only" deals: $0.69
Money saved by coupon "doubling": $0.90

Those are the numbers! And that wraps up my grocery post.

The First Step

An introductory post...

As I write, the groceries are priced and put away, Nessa is happily playing with her new toy (I had to! I lost her old mousies in the move), and my first meal of this insanity is bubbling on the stove. We—and by we I mean I—are having Macaroni and Cheese with hot dogs. A favorite choice of four-year-olds everywhere.
My insanity? I've decided to monitor what the food I eat costs each day. My beginning goal is to spend less than $6 per day on everything that I eat and drink. From what I've done today, I imagine that this goal is hardly lofty (in fact, many people all over the world eat for far less than this. I have no illusions to be broken on that front).
The problem that I face—the reason that the goal is rather high—is that, regardless of how long I have been buying food for myself, I still have no idea what groceries cost. I only know that I need to spend less on food.
To start us off, I would like to begin with some of the details about myself that will effect the money that I will spend on food each month.

  • My job affords me the opportunity to never need to pay for bread or bagels...or soda.
  • I also get a really nice discount when I work.
  • I've decided that anything bought "pre-move" (pm) will not count toward the totals at the end of each day.
  • I have the majority of a 50lb. bag of rice left over from before the move.
  • I DO clip coupons. It's cathartic.
  • I DO NOT always buy the product on the coupon. If the store brand has a similar product that is cheaper, I will generally purchase that to save myself a little money.
  • One of my vices is eating take away. I love to sit down with good friends and good food. I still have not figured out how, exactly, I'm working this into my food budget, but I will find a way!
Those are just some of the ways that my food bill will be a little less or that I already save money.
So, my goals for this project of mine are to, at the beginning, keep my food spending to less than $6 per day. That gives me approximately $2 per meal. From there, I would, if possible, like to cut the amount of money that I spend on food in half. Instead of $180 per month, I would like to spend less than $90. This, I think, is entirely possible. Most of the world lives on less.