Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cooking and frugality

This is the time of year to stock up on baking and cooking ingredients. In all the grocery stores there are endcaps and stand-alones of sugar, flour, spices, nuts, etc., and the adverts are full of the great prices as well.

For someone without a pantry (like me!), however, this might pose problems in storage and over-buying. On the one hand, I love to cook and bake, and having supplies on hand makes it easy to whip up cranberry-orange muffins or pumpkin bread and round out a week of soup menus with home-made/low-fat/natural food goods. On the other, things do have a shelf life and take up shelf space.

Spices: might be a good time to empty and refill my spice containers. I buy in bulk--rather than in jars--and keep them above the stove. Some get used up a couple of times during the year, and some don't. Setting an annual clean-and-buy might be a good tradition to start for the freshest spices. And while I have 12 jars, I also keep a handful of plastic envelopes of spices that I don't have a jar for. Buying some inexpensive jars might be smarter and give more of a sense of what I definitely need to keep on hand.

Buying in bulk is cheaper than buying jars, and you don't have to get rid of the used/empty jars. I think the spices are fresher, too. Unfortunately, only one natural foods chain in town carries bulk spices any more, and I avoid them as they are Temptation Central. But one massive trip for everything would be a focused, one-stop shop... especially if I don't go at a busy time.

Sugar: Buying brown sugar and confectioner sugar at this time of year might be smart. It is on sale everywhere. I like to use the brown in combination with or instead of white sugar. I have Splenda, but the cost is prohibitive. I also get ants, which means double-bagging the sugar and storing it carefully. Big paper bags of sugar are wasteful users of fridge space; again, I buy white sugar in bulk. Only use it for baking: not coffee or tea, etc.

I have cut way down on sugar as well, so am consciously reducing the amount asked for by 1/3 to 1/2, or finding subtitutes: brown sugar, Splenda, sometimes applesauce. Between storage and insects, not worth it to buy big amounts, no matter the savings. Brown sugar--yes.

Baking power, baking soda, corn starch, and flour: These dry goods have the same issues, storage and insects. I just replaced my baking soda, the powder is good for another six months, corn starch is good forever (isn't it?). Flour is another matter: here again I buy in bulk, both white and whole wheat. I store it double-bagged on counter in tin cannisters, but most goes in the fridge, also double-bagged. Since flour is used in greater bulk than anything else, buying more at a time seems smart. So yes, I'll probably be buying new 5lb bags of flour during the holiday sales. And storing them all winter/spring. The savings issues are actually worth it, since running out of flour stops one dead in cooking or baking. And flour is flour, after all. Coupons and sales means a bit of stocking up.

Chocolate: I do buy and store unsweetened baking chocolate and cocoa. This is a great time of year for both. I don't keep chocolate chips on hand: too likely to eat them some night when PMS or life makes me crazy. But the other two are always useful and store well. They also usually have coupons. So they go on my grocery list.

Butter, oils, cooking spray: Big savings now on all of these. I prefer butter and olive oil, but have learned the joys of baking sprays and olive oil sprays--without CFCs. I am also cutting back on the amount of butter I use in recipes: again by 1/4-1/3. Nothing bad has happened yet, and the taste of butter is better for me. But butter does go bad, so I don't buy more than one or two pounds ahead; the freezer is where the extras go. Oil I don't use as much, so buy small: I won't buy extra now because I don't like giving up shelf space to it. Where I can save, I will, but space is more important to me here, and a little butter goes a long way. I've already noticed a ton of grocery coupons for all of the above, if I need them.

Cranberries and nuts: I do stock up on these, especially cranberries and walnuts. They'll store in the freezer and go a long way, even one bag. Again, coupons and sale prices abound.
Update: I just cleaned out my freezer and found 3 bags of cranberries left over from last year, 2 containers of chicken stock (is it any good? I guess we'll see), and 3 containers of blueberries. All the excuse I need for cranberry-orange or blueberry muffins every week this month. And taking them into class on Mondays? Exta credit for me.

My big cooking plan this week is multi-bean soup, and I have all the ingredients, but fresh spices/herbs would be nice for it. And cooking the acorn squash I got with a new recipe for wild rice stuffing, with rice, cranberries, and walnuts. The rest of the pumpkin bread (which tastes fine, just looks funny) will round that out, and if I run out I'll bake cranberry-orange muffins. Hey, sounds good. 

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