Confessions of a Gourmet Grocery Shopper

 

I have a confession to make. I shop at local gourmet grocery stores. A lot. I don’t just shop at these stores for special occasions or to pick up one or two items. I shop there regularly for daily items. I know theses stores are more expensive, but after a long day of work, I always head straight to them.

My husband Jared and I are recent first time homeowners and as a result, are pretty much always talking about how we can cut back our spending. Every few weeks, we pour over our credit card charges to see where we can trim some spending. It’s shocking to see how much money we spend on food every month. We’ve cut back on eating out, and when we do go out, we are mindful of menu price points. But, every time we review our credit cards, I still seem to be spending a lot on groceries. I throw my hands in the air and exclaim, “But all this money is going to groceries. We have to eat, and it’s important to buy healthy groceries!” What gives?

There are three Safeways within five miles of my house and a Trader Joes three blocks away.  As the primary grocery shopper of the household, I often make the excuse that the parking lots at these stores are zoos, the lines are too long, the selections aren’t as health oriented. So, to the gourmet store I go, where I know exactly where every thing is located and the staff knows my name.

This past week, I made a commitment to start shopping at Safeway and Trader Joes during the week and stock up fresh produce at farmers markets on the weekend. I figured I’d trade convenience and comfort for maybe an extra $15 in savings each week. That’s no small chunk of change…almost $800 annually! But, wow! Talk about big price differences. I saved $25 for the week, just by shopping at different stores (for the same stuff!).  Some price comparisons:

  • Health Aide Kambucha: $3.99 vs. $4.99
  • 1 lb. Starbucks Coffee: $6.99 vs. $9.99
  • Lemons: $0.69 vs. $0.99
  • Siggi’s Vanilla Greek Yogurt: $1.69 vs. $2.19
  • Barilla Whole Wheat Pasta: $1.25 vs. $1.55
  • And the list goes on!

Some Lessons Learned:

  • Do not pay more for branded items than you should. That is money down the drain.This adds up! You already know this, now act on it!
  • Gourmet grocers are great for special occasions or for picking up a few specialty items or prepared foods.
  • Just because you pay more for produce at a gourmet grocer doesn’t mean it will taste better.
  • If you go to the farmer’s market right before it closes, you can usually get deals on things like berries and lettuce. The vendors want to sell their stuff!
  • If there are items you buy regularly, check multiple stores to find out which offer them regularly at a lower price

My commitment to shop around for groceries has been extremely eye opening. By spending a little more time to go to a variety of stores, I’ve been able to put aside more money towards our long term financial goals. And, most importantly, I’m still eating the same healthy produce and food brands I love.

 

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Farmer’s Market Roasted Vegetables and Quinoa Salad

The selection of Farmer’s Markets in the Bay Area is awesome. Practically everywhere you look there are vibrant markets with plenty of diverse selections. One of the top markets is the San Mateo Farmer’s Market at CSM, which is open year round and has a ton of different vendors. They also have food trucks and picnic tables so you can make a fun day of shopping and lunch.

Sometimes it’s easy to feel inspired by all the bright and beautiful produce and get a little crazy, buying way more than you have meal planned for. Last weekend, on a whim, I picked up baby rainbow carrots and brussel sprouts. A lot of them. We really try to minimize our food waste, so I had to get creative on how to use them in an easy, low maintenance recipe. Could be worse.

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There’s a lot more where these guys came from.

I threw this salad together to make use of some other leftover produce I had sitting around in the fridge. Bonus: it’s another one bowl wonder and chock full of hearty, wholesome ingredients, and a great meal to take for lunch the next day.

Farmer’s Market Roasted Vegetables and Quinoa Salad – Serves 4

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2 bunches baby rainbow carrots, cleaned and peeled, sliced 1″ thick

2 red onions, sliced lengthwise and 1″ thick

2-3 cups brussel sprouts, trimmed and halved

Olive oil, salt, and pepper for seasoning

2 cups cooked quinoa, warmed

3-4 cups leafy greens such as arugula or kale, washed and ripped into bite size pieces

For the Dressing:

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Splash of red wine vinegar

2 TBS. olive oil

1 TBS. dijon mustard

salt and pepper for seasoning

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lay carrots, onions, and sprouts onto a foil lined baking sheet. Toss generously with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake for approximately 40 minutes or until vegetables have browned. Toss the cooked vegetables with the warm quinoa and set aside in a large bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, oil, mustard, salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the quinoa and vegetables, lightly toss. Add the leafy greens and toss so the ingredients are fully mixed. Serve warm.

Leftover Notes: If you know you want to have leftovers, set aside a portion of the roasted vegetable and quinoa mix without dressing or leafy greens. You can add the leafy greens and dressing after you’ve re-heated.

 

 

 

 

Mushroom, Kale, and Tofu Bowl

I love cooking healthy and simple meals served up in a big bowl (less dishes…heck ya!).  One of my favorite weeknight dinner recipes is taken from Heidi Swanson, a Bay Area native and chef.  I encourage you to browse her recipes. What I love about the recipe is the minimal and nutritionally-charged ingredients it uses.  Every time I eat this dish, I feel satisfied, refreshed, and centered.  Usually, I loosely follow the recipe below, switching out the type of mushrooms depending on availability. Typically, I use Cremini mushrooms as they are always available and are wallet friendly. Many stores also offer them pre-washed and cut. I also opt for olive oil instead of butter and use a heavy hand with the oil and peppers. This meal is also a great excuse to make a large batch of grains to use for the week.

Kelly

2 cups cooked brown rice* (or another hearty grain such as farro)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
Fine-grain sea salt

12 ounces / 340 g chanterelles or mushrooms of your choice, sliced ~1/4-inch thick

8 ounces / 225 g firm tofu, cut into tiny cubes
1 small bunch kale / 3 oz / 85 g, well chopped
Shichimi Togarashi or red pepper flakes, to taste

If you need to cook the rice from scratch, do so.*

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet over high heat. Add the mushrooms in a single layer, stir well, and cook until the mushrooms release their liquid, and then brown, about 5 minutes more. Stir a few times along the way, but don’t overdo it; you want the mushrooms to be deeply browned on both sides. Stir in the garlic roughly 20 seconds before the mushrooms finish cooking. If you need to cook the mushrooms in two batches, do so. Transfer the mushrooms to a plate, set aside.

Using the same large skillet, no need to clean it out, cook the tofu along with a couple pinches of salt over medium-high heat until heated through, and until it starts to brown a bit. Roughly one minute before the tofu is finished cooking, stir in the kale. It should collapse and cook down over the next 60 seconds.

Season all the components generously with Shichimi Togarashi and salt to taste. For each serving, dish up a heaping spoonful of brown rice along with some of the tofu/kale mixture and a some of the mushrooms.

Serves 3-4. Recipe taken from http://www.101cookbooks.com