Meat Free Mondays – 25 Cent Pasta Salad

The purpose of this blog is to provide inexpensive and delicious recipes to help folks stretch their grocery budget during these tough economic times.

Recently, all the stars aligned and I was able to make three pounds of pasta salad for just 25 cents. I wanted to write about it because it exemplifies how a little outside the box thinking can offer real rewards.

Okay, so I was at a produce store one day last week when I noticed they had 1 lb bags of pasta on sale for just $.25. They were mostly tiny pastas, like mini shells and orzo. At that price, I grabbed one immediately. I later saw the same pasta at a national chain grocery store and it was only $.44, still a great deal.

When my wife Sandi came home from her family’s Thanksgiving dinner (we split up for Thanksgiving, but Christmast is sacred), they insisted she bring home the leftover relish tray — an assortment of carrot and celery sticks, black olives, scallions, pepperocini, radishes, pickles, etc.

When I opened the refrigerator the next morning and found the relish tray, a lightbulb went off over my head — 25 cent pasta salad!

I quickly diced up select portions of the relish tray, combined those with a few other vegetables I had lying around, and then whipped up a quick Italian dressing and, voila! Three pounds of delicious italian pasta salad for just a quarter. For The Win!

This recipe is an example of how leftovers can be repurposed in creative ways, one of the hallmarks of frugal cooking. Here’s an article I read recently about other ways to radically stretch your food budget.

25 Cent Pasta Salad

8 oz bag of small shell pasta

4-5 carrot sticks, small dice

4-5 celery sticks, small dice

3-4 radishes, small dice

1/2 red onion, small dice

8-10 black olives, chopped

2-3 pepperocini, stem removed, chopped

2-3 scallions, sliced

For the Zesty Italian Dressing

1/2 cup EVOO

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1 TBS Italian seasoning

1/2 tsp granulated sugar

1/4 tsp red pepper flake

1 clove garlic, crushed

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

1. Boil a pot of salted water. Add pasta and cook to package instructions, about 8 minutes. Drain in colander and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process.

2. To make dressing, combine vinegar, garlic, Italian seasoning, sugar and pepper flake in a mixing bowl. Place bowl on damp dishtowel to keep the bowl from spinning while you add the oil. Whisk the oil into the vinegar solution, starting very slowly with only a drop at a time then steadily increasing, until all the oil is emulsified into the dressing. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Combine pasta, olives, carrot, celery, radish, red onion, olive, pepperocini and scallions in mixing bowl, then fold in dressing. Season to taste with salt and fresh cracked black pepper.

This pasta tastes better if you let the flavors meld together in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Toss before serving to distribute the oil that settles to the bottom of the bowl.

Have you ever had the opportunity to make a shockingly inexpensive dish? Share your story below in the comments section. And thanks for looking at my blog!

South Side Grocery Bargains – Week of Nov. 9-15, 2011

Before we get to this week’s grocery deals, I want to ask you a question.

Has the rapidly changing techology changed the way you prepare and cook a meal? It didn’t occur to me that it had until I saw this New York Times article proposing that cookbooks may be obsolete.

The article focuses on new smart phone apps that offer an endless supply of recipes and step-by-step video instructions on how to prepare just about anything. I don’t have these apps (yet) but it got me thinking about the way I cook.

Over the years, I have accumulated dozens of cookbooks that focus on all kinds of recipes — everything from the catch-alls like Betty Crocker to the specific, like Lebanese or Thai cooking. But I rarely look at any of them anymore.

Instead, if what I want to cook is not something I make all the time, I go to the internet to look up recipes. This worries me because it feels like I’m turning my back on all my trusted cookbook friends and instead going to strangers for help.

I’ll have to change my ways. At least until I can afford one of those cool smart phone apps!

Anyway, let’s start saving some money!

In the produce section, Cermak Produce has plum tomatoes and cauliflower both for $.49/lb. Food 4 Less has white onions for $.33/lb. Ultra Foods has California navel oranges for $.40/lb. Pete’s Produce Market has Mexican avocados for $.49/ea. Tony’s Finer Foods, at 8630 S. Harlem Ave., in Bridgeview, has green or red peppers for $.99/lb.

Fresh Pick Market, at 8749 S. Ridgeland Ave., in Oak Lawn, has broccoli crowns for $.69/lb, bananas for $.39/lb, cabbage for $.19./lb, carrots for $.33/lb and iceberg lettuce for $.69/ea.

The Florida citrus crop is in! Tony’s has Florida red grapefruit for $.49/lb; and Fresh Pick has tangerines for $.69/lb.

In the meat department, Pete’s has split chicken breasts in the family pack for $.98/lb; Tony’s has drumsticks for $.69/lb; Ultra has Perdue whole frying chickens for $.68/lb; and both Cermak and Fresh Pick have chicken leg quarters for $.59/lb.

F4L has beef shanks for $1.78/lb; and Tony’s has pork butt roast for $1.69/lb.

In the grocery aisle, Aldi’s has house brand stuffing mix for $.89/box. Both Pete’s and Freshline Foods, at 5355 W. 95th St., in Oak Lawn, have assorted Centrella canned vegetables for only $.44/ea.

In the baking supply aisle, Cermak has 5 lb sacks of all-purpose flour for $1.50 and 2 lb bags of powdered sugar for $2. Pete’s has a 4 lb sack of Domino sugar for $2.49. Ultra has Carnation evaporated milk for $.99/12 oz can.  And Tony’s has Red Star yeast 3-packs for $.99.

In the dairy section, Tony’s has Grade A large eggs for $.99/dozen. Aldi’s has house brand cream cheese or Neufchatel for $.89/package. F4L has 1 lb tubs of Kroger sour cream for just $1. And Cermak has Imperial margerine for $.79/lb.

In the frozen foods aisle, Freshline has Green Giant vegetables for $.99/bag.

In the deli, Freshline has Scott Petersen Braunschweiger for $1.99/lb. You know me and liver sausage!

Finally, for this week’s Bargain of the Week, it’s back to F4L, where a 5 lb sack of russet potatoes is only $.78, less than $.15/lb. Mashed potatoes, here we come!

On a sad note, Dominick’s is closing its Oak Lawn store. Although the prices there were always really high, I feel sorry for the nice people who worked there. They always made it an enjoyable place to shop.

If you see an outstanding grocery bargain, please share it in the comments section below. We’re all in this together. See you at the grocery store!

South Side Grocery Bargains – Week of September 14-20, 2011

Before we get into this week’s South Side grocery bargains, what if you stopped buying food from grocery stores and restaurants altogether? Imagine cutting out the middleman and buying only non-processed food directly from farmers markets, growing it yourself, or bartering at food co-ops? Think of the savings!

I came across an interesting blog written by a San Francisco area couple who did just that. It’s called A Year Without Groceries. Their experiment, which concludes October 1, was made even more challenging when they stopped buying food altogether for the last three months. There’s a great interview with them from Time magazine here.

Kind of inspires me to start visiting local farmers markets. In the past, I’ve been disappointed with some of the prices at these events, but I’ll let you know if I find any real bargains.

Okay, let’s start saving some money!

Produce bargains include broccoli and cauliflower for only $.68/lb at Food 4 Less; avocados for $.78/ea at Pete’s Fresh Market; Aldi’s has baby carrots for $.49/lb; and Freshline Foods, over at 5355 W. 95th St., in Oak Lawn, has an 8 lb bag of Wisconsin Russet potatoes for $1.69, which is only $.21/lb, a great price.

Freshline also has acorn or butternut squash for $.59/lb. It’s good to see winter squashes coming back online. Lots of recipes coming for those.

Over at Fresh Pick Market, at 87th and Ridgeland, Illinois sweet corn is 5/$1, Illinois green cabbage is $.25/lb, and Illinois green peppers are only $.69/lb. Great deals, plus they get props for buying local!

There are a number of good meat specials this week. Tony’s Finer Foods has bone-in chicken breast for $.79/lb; Ultra Foods has drumsticks or thighs for $.58/lb; and Fresh Pick has boneless skinless chicken breasts for $1.69/lb.

There’s lots of fruit on sale this week for kid’s lunches. Pete’s has nectarines for $.58/lb, large plums for $.68/lb and Bosc pears for $.78/lb. A lot of places have Washington Bartlett pears on sale this week, but the best price I found was $.79/lb at Tony’s, who also has Chiquita bananas for  only $.29/lb. At Cermak Produce, Georgia sweet peaches are $.59/lb.

At Aldi’s, mangoes are only $.49/ea, and at Pete’s, limes are 15 for $.98, or less than $.07/ea.

Dairy deals this week include Prairie Farms milk for $2.25/gallon at Fresh Pick, who also have medium eggs for $.89/dozen. Tony’s has extra large eggs for $.99/dozen.

There are some great deals on grocery items this week. Cermak Produce has all varieties of Campbell’s soups for $1/ea, but Pete’s has Campbell’s tomato or chicken noodle for only $.58/ea. Pete’s also has Violi EVOO for $2.98/liter and select Barilla pastas for $.98/lb, a great price. Freshline Foods has Chicken of the Sea solid white tuna for $1.25/can. Bumble Bee chunk light tuna is $.68/can at Pete’s.

Getting in and out of that parking lot at Pete’s, at 3720 W. 95th St., in Evergreen Park, is a real nightmare, but with prices like these it’s worth the aggravation.

This week’s Bargain of the Week is very appropriate for the season. Aldi’s has a 7-quart slow cooker for only $19.99. Menard’s has a 6-quart version for the same price. Perfect for cooking your football chili!

What bargains have you found this week? Share your thoughts in the comments section. See you at the grocery store!