$25/Week Grocery Challenge: Week 7

I am now seven weeks into my $25/week grocery challenge. I have been photographing what I buy each week. Welcome to Week 7! Based on a little planning I’ve done, it looks like I’ll be able to carry this out at least until week 10.

Week 7:
Week 7

Note: You can click on the photo to enlarge it.
Pictured: 2 lbs organic yellow onions, 1 bunch celery, 1 bunch cilantro, 3lbs organic carrots, 2 packages frozen pierogies, 1 pint sour cream, 1 can tomatoes, 3 cans tomato paste, 2 packages egg noodles, 1 large can hominy, English muffins
Not Pictured: 1 lb locally-raised ground pork, 1 gallon whole milk
What I spent: $26.41

Wait! What? Locally-raised pork? Yep! We were at a local dairy bar that also sells meat (beef and pork) that they raise and slaughter themselves. They had ground pork for $6/lb – that’s a good deal and not all that expensive considering per-pound priced across all kinds of meat. The tip here: even if you’re trying to keep to a small budget, buy a good deal when you see it if you can afford it.

This week’s cheat: I returned some cans and bottles, netting $1.05 beyond my $25 budget. I also had a $1/off coupon for 2 bags of egg noodles (and they were already on sale for $1.50/each though this is not why I bought them – I bought them because I actually needed 2 bags of egg noodles this week). On Friday, I made an extra trip to buy ingredients for a brunch (about $20 worth of food) but our brunch date cancelled last-minute so some of the brunch food is now house food. Oh and I found a quarter in the parking lot. A quarter!

What I made:Mexican Pork Hominy Stew (Pozole), turkey noodle soup with a green salad, Hungarian beef goulash over egg noodles, sausage gravy with biscuits

This week’s cost-saving tip: Make your own veggie stock. Lots of people make their own meat stock and, while I admit that home-made meat stock IS delicious, it does not really save much money over buying canned or concentrated (generally what I keep around to use in a pinch, when I’m all out of veggie stock). Conversely, you make veggie stock from almost 100% free ingredients. Well, if you do it my way, see below. I substitute veggie stock whenever a recipe calls for meat stock (and sometimes for water, if the water is meant to be cooking liquid) to delicious and cost-saving effect.

This week’s recipe I’m sharing:
VEGGIE STOCK

INGREDIENTS:
2 gallon-bags of “veggie trash” (see directions)
lots of water
2 bay leaves
4-8 garlic cloves (more or less based on your garlicky preferences)
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
salt (optional)

DIRECTIONS:
1. As you make meals, save aside “veggie trash.” Veggie trash consists of edible but undesirable or traditionally discarded bits. Examples: carrot tops and ends, celery bottoms, leaves, ends, onion ends and outer layers, garlic ends, kale or chard stems, outer leaves and cores of cabbage, tops of tomatoes or soft squashes, all non-starchy veggie peels (that means all peels except from potatoes or sweet potatoes), squash skins, cilantro and parsley stems, tops of peppers (not too much pepper though, it’ll overpower your stock), mushroom stems. You get the idea, right? You can also toss in veggies that are on their very last legs. Not quite moldy and past it but mushy enough that you’re not feeling too motivated to eat them.

2. Where? We throw all this stuff in 1-gallon zipper-type bags that live in the freezer. As you prepare meals, save all this scrappy goodness in a bowl off to the side and then empty that bowl into the bag. Don’t leave the bag out while you cook or you’ll have food that is constantly being thawed and re-frozen. Ew. When we’ve packed 2 bags really full (shake and stuff each time you add more to the bag), it’s time to make stock.

3. Find your largest pot (I think the one we use is 12-15 quarts). If your largest pot is 5-6 quarts, you’re probably only going to have room for 1 bag at a time. Up to you if you want to make 2 back-to-back batches or one at a time.

4. Put the veggies in the pot and use your hands to smoosh and break up the frozen-ness. Add bay leaves, garlic and peppercorns. Salt is optional; we use a very little bit. Take note of how much salt you used when making your stock as it’ll affect the overall saltiness wherever you use it. Cover with water, leaving about 1/2-1″ of room at the top of your pot.

5. Bring to a boil over medium heat and be careful to check on it now and again (because it has a tendency to boil over and you’ll be grumpy that it made a mess). Maintain a low, rolling boil for 2-3 hours (or longer, if you want) with the lid off or until you’ve reduced the liquid by about 1/3. You can also do this in a slow cooker but I feel like our 8-qt one isn’t big enough.

6. Using a colander or sieve or straining device of your choosing, you grab ladle-fuls of stock and pour through said straining device into your desired container. Now, here, you have some options. We have a 1-gallon pitcher (25 cents at a yard sale; yard sales are great for super cheap kitchen stuff that doesn’t need to be excellent quality, that you want to dedicate to one task. Also for really useless, dated, single-task small appliances but I digress …) exclusively devoted to this task so there’s no worry about using this pitcher later only to find out that the lemonade that tastes “too vegetabley.” I go this route if I’ll be using at least 6-8 cups of stock in meals that week. My personal comfort level is 1 week in the fridge for filtered stock so I generally only leave what I think I’ll use up in a week and freeze anything not used by the end of the week. We have 3-cup storage freezer-friendly containers and that’s where the rest of it goes. Other ideas:
— Some people like to pour the stock into dedicated ice cube trays to make “stock cubes.” I don’t ever use stock in increments this small, so I don’t do this
— I’ve also taken freezer-friendly zipper bags, put them in a big mug (like I was lining it, with the top cuffed over the edge), poured 1 cup of stock in and then sealed the bag. Lay flat in the freezer to set solid and you get flat, 1-cup increments. Bag quality can matter here, I’ve had them leak (which is why containers is my preference, well, that and they’re re-usable)
— You can also buy a few dedicated freezer-friendly containers in increments that seem the most useful to you given the recipes you make. We have 2-cup, 3-cup and 4-cup containers

To defrost for a recipe, you can put the container in the fridge the night before (it’ll still be frozen in the middle) or in a pinch, you can put the container in a larger bowl filled with warm water which will melt the edges so you can get it out more easily.

7. If you have a compost bin you can take your soggy, much-used veggie scraps and add them to the bin. Talk about extending the life of something that most people put in the trash from the get-go! If not, put them in the trash; they already gave you everything they could.

8. Oh, and don’t forget to feel totally good about yourself every time you use this stuff. Because:
— You made it from trash; it didn’t cost you anything
— It’s healthier than meat stock; you probably boiled out a few extra vitamins and minerals that no one will have any idea they’re eating
— It makes a really tasty base for soups and other recipes that call for a lot of stock. Sometimes I cook our rice in it to add instant flavor to the rice … vegetable flavor
— It’s different every time, you’ll have endless variety depending on what you’re throwing in the scrap bags

NOTE: This generally works better in fall and winter as trash from making stew begets scraps which beget stock which gets used in more stews. I find that in summer we accumulate scraps faster than we can use them because we’re eating the same amount or more of vegetables but not making nearly as many meals that call for stock. If you have a giant freezer, by all means feel free to keep saving (if you have a regular freezer your probably need the room for ice cream) but it’s totally normal. All veggie trash may not grow up to be stock, that’s OK. Ditto winter, sometimes I run out and have to make stock from packaged concentrate. Your mileage may vary.

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