Money-saving grocery tips from three experts
Save money at the market and in the kitchen with these tips from Melissa d'Arabian of Food Network's "Ten Dollar Dinners"; cookbook author Helen Chen; and retail analyst and "Supermarket Guru" Phil Lempert.
Here's a refresher on the classic tips for saving money in the kitchen:
— Track your spending at the grocery store. You need to know your starting point to see savings or notice increases.
— Go to the grocery store with a plan: a week's worth of meals and a shopping list.
— Don't let leftovers go to waste. Eat them for lunch, or turn them into another meal.
— Join the Meatless Monday movement (meatlessmonday.com) and give up meat one day a week.
— Buy fruits and vegetables in season when they are at their lowest prices.
— Look to Italian or Mexican cookbooks for recipes made with humble ingredients.
We also sought advice from three experts: Food Network personality and frugal mother of four Melissa d'Arabian, the star of "Ten Dollar Dinners"; cookbook author Helen Chen, an expert on Chinese cooking, a cuisine known for stretching small amounts of meat to feed many; and Phil Lempert, a retail analyst known as "The Supermarket Guru."
Melissa d'Arabian, of Food Network's "Ten Dollar Dinners":
Do not waste food. "The most expensive ingredient in your house is the one you throw away," d'Arabian says. That's what prompted her to develop the recipe for Crisper Drawer Pasta to use up vegetables that were likely to be pitched.
Use what you have. Before you go shopping, see what ingredients are in your pantry and freezer. Use them to plan upcoming meals.
Know a good price when you see it. Keep track of what you pay for the five to 10 items you always buy, such as milk, eggs or boneless chicken breasts. When you see a good price, especially on meat, stock up and freeze some.
Do bean night. This is d'Arabian's tradition of serving proteins other than meat one night a week, such as black beans, lentils or eggs.
Helen Chen, cookbook author:
Let meat be an ingredient, not the main ingredient. In Chinese cooking, a 3- or 4-ounce piece of meat, about the size of a deck of cards, is combined with vegetables to feed four to six people. In comparison, American recipes often call for a half pound of meat per person.
Stir-fry to make the most of a smaller amount of meat. Chen says quickly cooking small pieces of meat over high heat keeps the meat tasty and adds flavor to the dish. A trick to keep the meat juicy is to use a marinade with cornstarch dissolved in it. The cornstarch coats the meat and seals in juices.
Make more vegetable dishes. Chen explains that the Chinese traditionally have multicourse meals where a clear soup and a dish with meat are paired with many vegetable or tofu dishes.
Phil Lempert, "The Supermarket Guru":
Buy frozen seafood instead of "previously frozen" offerings. Frozen seafood costs about 40 percent less.
Buy products with whole grains, such as whole wheat pasta. You will feel fuller and eat less.
Make your own pasta sauce. Lempert uses a can of Hunt's crushed tomatoes, olive oil and spices. "For $2, I have a fresher pasta sauce than one that is going to cost me $5 or $7 with sugar as the second ingredient," he says.
Kan Shao Green Beans with Pork
Kan shao, which means "dry cook," is a Sichuan style of cooking in which the ingredients are stir-fried over high heat until the liquid has completely reduced. The result is a truly rich and savory dish because the ingredients absorb all of the flavors. Fermented black beans can be found at Asian grocery stores or the international aisle of some grocery stores.
From "Easy Chinese Stir-Fries" by Helen Chen (Wiley, 2009)
Makes 4 servings
1 pound green or wax beans, ends snapped off and strings removed
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon cornstarch
4 ounces ground pork, about ½ cup
3 tablespoons fermented black beans, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon minced, peeled fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or to taste
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons canola oil
Snap the beans into 2-inch lengths. Rinse in cold water and drain thoroughly.
Whisk together wine and cornstarch in a medium bowl. Add pork and mix well.
Stir together black beans, ginger, garlic and crushed red pepper in a small bowl. In another small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, sugar and ½ cup water.
Heat oil over medium-high heat in a wok or stir-fry pan. Add black-bean mixture and stir a few minutes until aromatic. Stir the pork mixture and add it to the pan. Turn heat to high and cook, stirring, until the pork is no longer pink and separates, about 2 minutes.
Add green beans and soy sauce mixture. Stir a few times and then reduce the heat to medium. Cook, covered, for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and raise the heat to high. Stir constantly until the liquid is almost gone, about 5 minutes more. Serve immediately.
Crisper Drawer Pasta
You can use any vegetables you have in the house by following the instructions in the recipe.
From "Ten Dollar Dinners: 140 Recipes and Tips to Elevate Simple, Fresh Meals Any Night of the Week," by Melissa d'Arabian (Clarkson Potter, 2012).
Makes 4 servings
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red or yellow onion, finely chopped
½ teaspoon dried herbs, such as basil, marjoram, oregano, thyme or herbes de Provence
2 garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 to 2 cups soft vegetables or leafy greens (such as bell peppers, corn, mushrooms or spinach leaves)
Squeeze of lemon juice
14.5-ounce box pasta
1 to 2 cups cutup hard vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower, beets or zucchini)
2 tablespoons sour cream
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
1 tablespoon finely chopped basil, dill, scallions, tarragon or fresh herbs
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 3 minutes. Stir in the dried herbs, lemon juice and the garlic. Cook until fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds, and then stir in the soft vegetables or leafy greens and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook until the vegetables are tender and the greens are wilted, 30 seconds to 4 minutes, stirring often. Turn off heat and set aside.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and 1 tablespoon salt and cook for 3 minutes. Add the hard vegetables and continue to cook according to the package instructions until the pasta is al dente. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and vegetables and return them to the pot. Stir the sour cream and the remaining ½ teaspoon salt into the pasta, then add ½ cup of the Parmesan, the aromatics, and ¼ cup of the pasta water. Stir to combine, add the cooked soft vegetables or leafy greens, and add more pasta water if needed. Serve with more Parmesan on the side.