Your phone is a magical tool giving you power undreamed of by 90 percent of the kings of history when you’re shopping for groceries. I keep my shopping list on my cell phone’s notepad thingie. After all, it’s always within reach, so it’s easy to add something to my list any time I happen to notice that I need something or I see an ad for something on sale. Besides that, you’ve got a calculator in your cell phone. You can use it to compare prices. Divide the number of ounces in a product by the price, and you get the price per ounce. Multiply that number by 16 if you need the price per pound. For instance, say you’ve got a choice between a 12 ounce can of something for 80 cents, and a 16 ounce can for $1.25 cents. You want to use the same units in all parts of the calcultion, so $1.05 is 125 cents. Hence… 80÷12= 6.7 and 125÷16=7.8 So the 12 ounce can is cheaper per ounce.
Go ahead and shop the middle aisles. Lots of lists of grocery shopping tips about saving money include a line about “shopping the perimeter.” Piffle. Piffle and stuff, I say. There are plenty of processed, unhealthy, over-priced items on the perimeter: the in-store bakery cookies, the anti-pasto and salad bar, pre-made sandwiches and sushi, the more expensive cheeses, and so on. And plenty of the pantry staples you need to eat healthy and cheap are in the middle aisles: brown rice, pasta, whole-wheat flour, canned spinach, dry beans, canned fish, etc.
You can make your own panko crumbs for pennies instead of buying them for dollars. And they’re healthier, too! Just shred bread in a food processor, and dry them out in the oven.
You can use flax seed as a thickener. When I was making mustard this week the mustard was too thin, so I remembered that flax seed swells up with water and makes things thick. I ground up some flax seed in the blender and added it to the mustard and that made it just right. You can also use ground flax seed as an egg substitute when a recipe calls for egg as an emulsifier.
You can make your own smoked paprika. “I never heard of anyone making their own paprika.” Yeah, well, it’s pretty easy really, and the smoked paprika tastes fantastic. Smoked paprika is very expensive in the spice shop at the chic market, but when Aldi has red and yellow bell peppers on sale I can buy a bunch of them and make my own paprika for a small fraction of the cost of buying this wonderful ingredient. Bell peppers, I said. You can use any of a number of different kinds of peppers, and I have no doubt at all that there are plenty of people who will insist that it has to be some certain kind of pepper. Yeah, well, you know… whatever. You can smoke the peppers in a BBQ grill, or you can remove the seeds and stem, cut up the peppers, dash on some liquid smoke, and roast the peppers in a hot oven until they get black spots on the skin (calling it caramelization sound better than calling it “a little bit burnt.”) Then dehyrate the peppers and then grind them into a powder in the blender. It’s a hip, trendy, gourmet ingredient you can make for yourself. And it’s worth doing.