$25/Week Grocery Challenge: Week 6

I am now six weeks into my $25/week grocery challenge. I have been photographing what I buy each week. Welcome to Week 6!

Week 6:
Week 6

Note: You can click on the photo to enlarge it.
Pictured: kalamata olives (about a large handful), 3 romaine hearts, 2/3 lb green beans, pint grape tomatoes, 1 large bunch kale (a huge win is that our grocery sells greens by the bunch rather than by the pound), celery, 3 lbs Empire apples, 1/2 lb peeled garlic cloves, 2 lb yellow onions, 2 cucumbers, 1 bunch parsley, 2 lbs organic carrots, 1 lb shredded cheese, 1 15-oz can no-salt tomato sauce, 40 gallon-size plastic bags, 50 quart-size plastic bags

What I spent: $24.73

Wait! What? You might be looking at the boxes of plastic bags and be thinking that plastic bags don’t align with “budget living.” Well, I never claimed to be living in the 1890s. We use plastic bags. Probably fewer than you since I don’t pack lunches in disposable containers (for my partner who is the only one to leave the house for work let alone for a passel of kids) and I re-use bags when it’s not totally gross to do so. So yeah, even in the challenge budget to buy them. Will I regret this decision next week, thinking I should have spend that $4 on meat or fish? Maybe. We’ll see, I guess.

This week’s cheat: This isn’t really a cheat so much as taking an extra step. Olives at the deli come in pre-weighed, pre-priced packages but that’s all done BY the folks at the deli. The deli counter was dead so I grabbed a container and asked the deli clerk if I could have a container with half as many olives. “No problem,” she said. And – BAM – $1.60 saved by only buying as many olives as I needed for the Greek salad. If you’re my mother, you can save lots of money by disliking olives with a passion thus saving lots of olive-dollars every year.

What I made: Cincinnati-style chili, Mexican hominy stew (pozole), kale-red lentil stew, Greek salad, turkey soup with egg noodles

This week’s cost-saving tip: A recipe calls for 1T of tomato paste and now what? What do you do with the rest of the can. Over time, I have come to two solutions to this problem: 1.) Sometimes I just use ketchup. Yeah, it has additional flavorings and sugar but hey – it’s pretty much tomato paste 2.) If I am feeling more enterprising, I open the can of tomato paste and then spoon out the rest in 1T increments, placing each blob on a small dessert plate. Then I put them in the freezer for an hour or so to flash-freeze, wrap them in saran wrap and put all the wee balls in a bag. Next time a recipe calls for 1T, I can just pull from this bag.

Also, bacon. Yes, I know, I know. It is NO PROBLEM for many of us to open a package of bacon and eat the whole package of bacon. But that’s not very economical. I make a lot of soups and stews that call for frying anywhere from 2 to 8 ounces of bacon to start the dish. In the case of a larger amount, I can usually find 8-oz packages or open a larger package and have near-immediate plans for the remaining 4-8 ounces. 2 ounces? I open the package and take out what I need. Then I take my handy kitchen scale and weigh out the remaining bacon pile into 2-oz increments, wrap and bag. Now, I have handy “starter bacon” for the next dish. Trader Joe’s sells a package of “bacon ends” for $2.99 or $3.99 per pound that’s great for this purpose. It’s “ugly” bacon that works just fine for cooking.

Lined up on the door of our freezer you’ll find bags holding pre-measured bits of tomato paste, bacon, chiles en adobo, etc. I do this with sausage, too. My cassoulet recipe calls for two bratwurst, so I open the original package, wrap them in twos so I only have to defrost 2 at a time. Ditto for hot Italian sausage which gets frozen in 1/2-lb increments.

A tip of the freezer bag to Julia Starkey for re-assuring me that freezing items frequently used in much smaller amounts than their original container isn’t nearly as much work as I always assumed it to be.

This week’s recipe I’m sharing: Kale and Red Lentil Stew
Serves: at least 6 as a main course, 10-12 if you’re serving it with something else
Prep and cook time: About 30 minutes of chopping and 1 hour of cooking, some of which overlaps
A tip of the pot lid to Tanya Barnard and Sarah Kramer, authors of How It All Vegan for the inspiration for this recipe.

20-30 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, small dice
4 medium/large carrots, small dice
2 stalks of celery, small dice
1 28-oz can of good quality crushed tomatoes
8-12 cups of the stock of your choice (start with 8, you’ll probably need more)
2 cups dry red lentils
2 handfuls of green beans, trimmed and cut in half
1 bunch of kale (1/2-3/4 lbs of leaves), leaves removed from the stem and roughly chopped/torn into small pieces
1 15-oz can of canellini (or white beans of your choice, kidney beans also work OK)
1 cup dry pasta, small shape (elbows, ditalini, orzo)
salt and pepper, to taste
red pepper flakes/cayenne pepper, to taste (I use just the littlest bit)
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
grated/shredded cheese, Parmesan or hard/nutty cheese (e.g. Robusto, aged gouda, asiago) of your choice

1. In a large dutch oven, add enough olive oil (or oil of your choice) to coat the bottom of the pot. Saute the onions, carrots and celery on medium heat until the onions are soft/translucent. Add a pinch of salt to help with veggie softening.
2. Add garlic and stir until you can smell the garlicky-ness (about 30 seconds).
3. Add tomatoes, stock and lentils. Bring to a low boil, then cover and turn heat down and maintain a simmer for about an hour or until lentils have cooked/dissolved into the liquid.
4. Add the kale, one handful at a time. Let the kale wilt a bit before adding each additional handful. Smoosh/fold it under the soup to help expedite the wilting.
6. Once all the kale is in, give everything a good stir. (Add the pasta now if you’re going to cook it in the stew though I prefer to cook it separately and add it after it’s cooked) Add the green beans, white or kidney beans, parsley, and red pepper flakes. Cook on low simmer until the veggies are tender and beans are warm (about 5-10 minutes). Season with salt and pepper. If the stew is too thick, thin with extra broth until it’s how you like it.
7. Serve in big bowls. A drizzle of good-quality olive or grapeseed oil makes a nice vegan garnish and adds a layer of richness. Grated/shaved hard, nutty cheese of your choice is also delicious. We usually use Parmesan or an aged gouda (like Robusto or Parano gouda). Crusty bread is an excellent partner.

**Leftovers: If you have leftovers, any pasta in the soup will bloat/get soggy and soak up lots of the available liquid. You have a couple options. You can keep all the pasta separate and add it to each bowl of soup or you can keep some extra broth aside and use it to thin out the day after.


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