Saving Money on Herbs and Spices

Spices can be very expensive, and if you buy the name brand variety, they cost even more. Unfortunately, open bottles of spices are one of those food items that lose their potency over time, so if you’re particular about your cooking, experts advise you to dispose of them after a year. There are a few ways to save on them though.

  • If you’re wondering whether the spice is still good, smell it. If it still has a strong aroma, it’s probably okay to use. Dried herbs can be crumbled in your fingers and smelled for freshness. Also, check the color to see if it has faded. It goes without saying that you should also look for bugs.
  • Buy store brand spices.
  • Buy large bottles of the kind you use frequently. Otherwise, buy the smallest quantity possible.
  • Look for them in discount and dollar stores. They often sell commonly used spices. Although the bottles may be larger, you’re still saving money.
  • Check out the Farmer’s Market in your town. Our local market sells several types in zip lock bags at a bargain price.
  • Grow your own. Any number of varieties are available for growing indoors or out. That way you can have fresh herbs year round. Or, you can dry them and store for use throughout the year.
  • Ask for them as gifts. Some spices, such as saffron, are extremely expensive, but they make a great gift for you to give or receive.
  • Substitute. Turmeric is the poor man’s saffron. It may not be the same, but it will certainly be a lot cheaper. Investigate other substitutes for the more costly herbs that may only be used once in a while.
  • Share. If you have to have a spice for that special dish, ask your friends if they would like to split the cost and share the spice.

Is a CSA for You?

Participating in Community Supported Agriculture or CSA for short, can save you money and provide you with healthy food at the same time. How it works is that members pay a specified amount of money to the farmer at the beginning of the growing season, and receive a weekly box of whatever vegetables are currently being harvested at that time.

The advantages of this are many.

  1. You are assured of getting fresh produce throughout the summer.
  2. You know where the vegetables are grown and develop a personal relationship with the farmer.
  3. You support and encourage local farmers.
  4. In many towns, the boxes are delivered right to your door.
  5. You might get some new vegetables that you had never thought of trying before.

The advantage to the farmer is that he can count on having that money at the beginning of the summer.

Unfortunately, there are also some disadvantages.

  1. If there are only two of you in the household, it may be more food than you can possibly eat.
  2. You have to plan ahead to have the money at the beginning of the growing season when it comes due.
  3. There may not be sufficient variety, particularly if some crops don’t do as well because of weather or other unavoidable circumstances.

If you’re interested in participating in a CSA, but you’re not sure if you can eat all the food, think about sharing the cost and produce with another family. This way you can eat healthy food at a savings, and not have to worry about it going to waste.

Using Leftover Hamburg or Hot Dog Buns

Our family doesn’t eat a lot of hamburgers or hot dogs, but when we do, we often find ourselves wondering what to do with the leftover buns. In our local stores, they only come in packages of 8 or more, and if you don’t have a large family, you’re left with half a package of buns. I usually put them in the freezer, but by the time I get around to using them again, they’re never very good. Well, here’s some ideas for using them up.

Grilled cheese sandwiches – Split in half and put a slice of cheese on each half. Put them under the broiler until cheese melts. For added flavor, fry a little bacon, crumble and put on top of cheese before broiling.

Mini-pizzas – Split in half, add pizza sauce and your favorite toppings. Top with cheese and put under the broiler until the cheese melts.

Croutons – Cut into 1/2 to 1 inch cubes. Put in baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. If desired, sprinkle with herbs such as garlic powder or oregano. Bake in 375 degree oven until crisp, stirring occasionally.

Bruschetta – Try this recipe for a quick appetizer. http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/browse-all-recipes/tomato-bruschetta-10000001639494/index.html

Bread Crumbs – Put in paper bag for a few days to firm up, then chop up in food processor or blender.

French Toast – Use instead of bread in your favorite french toast recipe.

Sloppy Joes – Almost everyone likes these.

Sub sandwiches – An easy choice for school lunches.

Meatball or Meatloaf Filler

Don’t Toss the Pickle Juice

If your family likes pickles, you may be wondering what to do with all the leftover pickle juice. Sweet pickles are particularly expensive, so why not make your own? Prefer dill? Use the leftover juice from those instead.

  • In season, cucumbers can be purchased very inexpensively, or you can even grow your own salad cucumbers. Slice them up, add to the leftover pickle juice, and within a few days, you’ll have another supply of pickles.
  • Why stick just to cucumbers? You could also do the same with other vegetables such as cauliflower, beets, asparagus, carrots or green beans.
  • Whether you like a tangy salad dressing or a sweeter one, you can make it go further by adding a little sweet or dill pickle juice. It works especially well on coleslaw.
  • When preparing tuna fish or egg salad sandwiches, add a little zing by mixing a small amount of leftover juice in with the mayonnaise.
  • Potato or macaroni salads will also be improved by pickle juice.
  • Try it in a marinade for meat or roast vegetables.
  • Homemade tartar sauce is even better with a little added pickle juice.
  • Deviled eggs can also be perked up by stirring some leftover juice into the mayonnaise.

Be a Savvy Grocery Shopper

Saving money at the grocery store requires being a smart shopper. Quite often the same product is packaged in different ways with different prices per item. Normally, you would assume that buying something in greater quantity would be less expensive. However, this isn’t always the case.

Recently, I was looking for some fudge bars. One store sold them in a box of 20 or a box of 8. The 20 count box sold for $3.88, while the 8 count box sold for $1.25. By purchasing three of the 8 count box, I got 24 fudge bars for $3.75.

Nuts are something else you often see in different packages. Again, you would assume that the ones in the produce section would be the cheapest, and quite often they are. But, they also might be available in the baking aisle for less. In addition, you are more likely to be able to find coupons for the ones in the baking section.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that many products are coming in smaller sizes, and yet still selling for the same price. This is the manufacturer’s way of charging the consumer more, and hoping that they won’t notice that they’re not getting as much for their money. When comparing brands, make sure that you also check the price per item or volume.

Stock Up on Peanuts Now

If peanut butter is a staple in your family, or you plan to use peanuts in holiday baking, it would be worth your while to stock up now. Because of drought this past summer in many of the peanut producing states, resulting in lower yields, prices are expected to rise beginning in November.

Although coupons for peanut butter don’t come up too often, it would still pay to buy some at the current price to last throughout the coming year. Peanuts can be frozen, so you can put away a supply to use in baking or even to make your own peanut butter. Here’s an easy recipe for making your own:

http://www.pickyourown.org/howtomakepeanutbutter.htm

Freezing Tomatoes

Plum tomatoes are great in spaghetti and other pasta dishes because they don’t have a lot of seeds or juice. I found out this summer that plum tomatoes are very easy to grow and are quite prolific. The problem became what to do with them. In the past, I’ve canned them, but it’s a lot of work and not much fun on a warm day. So, instead, I started looking into the possibility of freezing them.

It turns out that you can freeze any kind of tomato, although you probably don’t want to use them in salads or in other dishes calling for fresh tomatoes. However, if you’re making pasta sauce, salsa, pizza sauce or any other recipe requiring a tomato based sauce, the frozen variety will fill the bill.

This website gives detailed instructions for freezing tomatoes: http://www.pickyourown.org/freezingtomatoes.htm. It also gives a sure fire way to eliminate any pockets of air from a freezer bag using a drinking straw.

Making and Freezing Applesauce

Applesauce is so easy to make, and this is the time of year to find good buys on apples at your area farmers’ markets. It’s easy to freeze and it fills your home with a wonderful smell while it’s cooking. I like to mix different varieties of apples, but it’s not necessary. Here’s an easy recipe:

  • Cut apples into quarters, then peel and remove the core. Slice the apples into ¼ inch widths if you want them to cook faster.
    Fill a large pan with the apples and add about a cup of water. Cook until soft.
    Mash with a potato masher. If you prefer chunky applesauce, go lightly on the mashing.
    Add brown sugar to taste and sprinkle in some cinnamon if desired.
    If the finished product seems watery, pour off some of the liquid.
    Cool
    Put into quart-sized freezer containers, leaving ½ inch at the top. Add lids and freeze.

It takes 3 or 4 pounds of apples to make one quart of applesauce. If you make a lot of it, you might want to consider investing in a gadget that peels, cores, and slices in a few turns of the handle.

Can Now to Enjoy Later

As summer turns into fall and the weather turns cooler, it’s a good time to put away fruits and vegetables for the winter. If you don’t have enough bounty from your own garden, you can snap up bargains on bushels of tomatoes, beans, peaches, apples and corn from farmers’ markets or local farmers. Although it can be time consuming to prepare and freeze or can all of this produce, it pays off in money savings and taste later on. Tomatoes are especially useful because they can be canned just by themselves, or made into salsa or sauces, and canned.

Apparently, you are not supposed to can on ceramic glass-topped burners, one reason being which the pot used for canning can cause problems if it’s larger that the burner surface. One resourceful man found a solution for this by using his gas grill. His article, which appeared in our local paper can be found here: http://www.mlive.com/homeandgarden/index.ssf/2011/09/stan_harrison_create_homemade.html.

Fall Gardening

If you had a garden this summer, you may have saved money at the grocery store by reducing your need to pay for fresh vegetables. What you may have forgotten though, is that it’s not too late to plant cool weather crops that will grow right up until the first frost.

The easiest and quickest way to get a new harvest is to buy established plants from a nursery if they are still available. However, you may also have luck planting seeds at this time of year. Some crops that do well in cool weather are:

  • Any kind of lettuce. Now’s the time to expand your salads to include all those different kinds of greens you’ve wanted to buy, but couldn’t afford. We often get a bumper crop of arugula in the spring and fall, something that’s quite expensive in the grocery store.
  • All kinds of greens including spinach, kale, collard and swiss chard
  • Peas
  • Onions
  • Carrots
  • Cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower