Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Employed again, at least temporarily

If you've been wondering about the lack of posts this past week, that's why. It's a contract job, but I may be working for the rest of the year. Posts will be somewhat sparse for now - hopefully picking up once I get back in the swing of things.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Finding cheap food supplies

The real secret to cheap groceries is knowledge - know your stores, know your prices, know the sales, know who's good about marking stuff down while it's still usable. You can save money and get better quality - more bang for your buck - if you scout out the local stores and watch the ads.

The biggest markdowns are usually in the meat department, just because meat tends to be more expensive than other ingredients. Some discretion is necessary: you don't want to buy ground meat that's been marked down, for example. But things like steaks are already aged anyway - what difference does one or two more days make?

Careful examination is also needed - you don't want anything that's discolored or smells off. A good store will mark it down before it suffers from either of these symptoms. Don't take any chances - if it doesn't look good or smells bad, pass it by. If you see a lot of low-quality packages in the marked-down section, maybe buying marked-down stuff from that store isn't such a good idea.

My favorite places for marked-down meats are the Westwood Apple Market at 47th and Mission Road, and the Price Chopper on Roe in Roeland Park, just south of I-35. Both are good about discounting stuff before it goes bad, which is what you want. As a rule, stores located in more affluent areas tend to be better about mark-downs. (I don't advise buying marked-down items - unless they're sealed and dated brand names - from inner-city markets)

Don't forget to check the store's regular mark-down section for canned or packaged stuff at up to half off the regular shelf price. A dented can is no problem as long as it's not bulging and doesn't hiss when you open it. Most boxed stuff has inner packaging these days, so crushed boxes aren't a big deal as long as the contents aren't exposed to the air. Like the marked-down meat, use common sense and you'll be fine.

Discounts on bakery items are easy: there are several Oroweat Bakery Outlets in town providing quality products at discount prices. I prefer the location on Shawnee Drive west of I-635, but I'd imagine other locations have much the same deals. Other bakeries have thrift stores as well, but I prefer the Oroweat products.

Another great place for discounts is Dirty Don's in Raytown. You never know what you'll find there - I've gotten everything from cookies to rolling papers to guitar picks - but it's all dirt-cheap. (since it's mostly salvage, it can be a little dirty as well, hence the name)

Please feel free to share your favorite KC-area discount stores in the comments.

Monday, July 20, 2009

White Trash Cookery - The Elvis

My wife and I splurged and went to Hungarian Night at Grinder's this evening. Every Monday evening, Hungarian chef George Detsios cooks up an enormous pot of either beef goulash or paprika chicken, served with a succotash-like mixture of corn and red beans along with a rice-pasta pilaf. Bread is included, and you get all this for $8.99 - a real bargain.

You can eat either on the east or west side. Being aulde pharts, we prefer the quieter west side, but you can order from either menu on either side, so pick your poison.

Anyway, we were frugal and didn't spring for dessert, although we left our server a nice fat tip since we made her run next door in the rain for our chicken dinners. When we got home, spotting three rapidly ripening bananas in the kitchen gave me an idea that turned into one of the best desserts I've ever tasted. I thought I'd share it in celebration of the new blog.

One caveat: I recommend making this with the exact same ingredients I used. I can't guarantee it will taste as outrageously yummy if you substitute anything, but feel free to experiment and play with ingredients as long as you don't blame me for the outcome. If you make it like I did, you'll love it.

The Elvis, the King of Desserts

Serves 2 to 4 people or one real pig

5 minute prep time; 5 minute cooking time = total time 10 minutes

2 slices Oroweat Country Buttermilk white bread. (this bread is slightly sweet and has a cake-like texture crucial to the taste of the finished product - I don't recommend subbing anything else) Trim the crusts if desired to make it look prettier.

3 generous tablespoons of Skippy Honey Roast peanut butter. (you can sub other brands or styles, but it won't be as good)

1 well-ripened large banana, sliced longways into three flat slices.

~2 tablespoons butter (not margarine and particularly not that gawdawful I Can't Believe It's Edible or whatever they're calling it these days)

1 medium-size scoop of Breyer's French Vanilla ice cream for each serving. Something like Haagen-Dazs would probably work, too. Don't use that crappy supermarket-brand stuff.

Powdered sugar for garnish, if desired.

Assemble the sandwich - you did figure out this is a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich topped with ice cream, right? - by generously buttering one side of each slice of bread, then placing one slice buttered-side down in a skillet or griddle. Layer the bananas as evenly as possible across the bread, then spread the peanut butter across the top of the bananas. Top with the second slice of bread, buttered-side up. (the peanut butter should help hold everything together)

Cook (covered, if possible) over medium-high heat until each side is nicely browned - raise one edge of the sandwich to check for doneness before you (gently) turn it. You only want to turn it once, or you're liable to wind up with melted peanut butter all over the place.

Transfer to a cutting board, cut into 2-4 pieces (or just dump the whole thing in your trough, Porky) and place each piece on a dessert plate. Dust lightly with powdered sugar if desired, then top with ice cream. Best when sandwich is still hot, right off the grill, and ice cream is fairly cold - otherwise it melts too fast.

It's the combination of flavors, temperatures and textures that make it so good: the crispness and richness of the buttered toast, oozing hot and sweet melted peanut butter, the soft and gooey banana, the cold ice cream. It all comes together in a veritable symphony of deliciousness I couldn't believe when I first tasted it. Try one - do it for the King.

Sorry, no picture. We gobbled it down too fast for me to get one. I'll update with a pic next time I make it, since I can guarantee I'll be making it again. Just think of a grilled cheese sandwich with a scoop of ice cream on top and you'll have the gist of its appearance. And remember, appearances can be deceptive - it tastes much better than it looks.

Cheap sandwiches for lunch

The Westwood Apple Market grocery at 47th and Mission Road (across from Oklahoma Joe's) has pre-made deli sandwiches that are quite good at very reasonable prices. I got roast beef on a nice (probably store-baked) onion roll with provolone for $1.69 today. It made a great lunch. It wasn't enormous, but it was reasonably-sized and satisfying, much more than you'd expect for the price. It's also real deli-quality meat, none of that Carl Buddig crap in the plastic bags you get some places. (cough) . . . (Arby's) . . . (cough)

Other sandwiches ranged from $1.69 to $1.99 and included turkey breast and ham with various cheeses. The case with the sandwiches is in the northeast (left rear) corner of the store, across from the orange juice.

Speaking of Oklahoma Joe's, the trick to beating the gawdawful lines is to call your order in beforehand. You'll go right to the counter and pick up your food, bypassing all the glowering schmucks who've been standing in line for 45 minutes. Their glares will make Joe's sauce taste even sweeter. If the weather's nice, head north on Mission Road about three-quarters of a mile to Rosedale Park for a BBQ picnic.

Welcome to our nightmare

The current problems with the economy came crashing down on my family with a vengeance this year. My wife celebrated the new year by having her job disappear, and mine followed at the end of February. The last six months have been quite an experience, going from a household income of almost six figures to living on unemployment. It necessitated some changes in lifestyle that persist even now with my wife recently returned to the workforce. (I'm still looking - know anybody who needs an IT guy and is willing to pay a reasonable salary?)

Anyway, despite our sudden poverty, we've still been eating fairly well. No, we don't drop fifty or seventy-five bucks on dinner out anymore. (not often, anyway) But we've found a few tricks that let you eat well - in or out - without breaking the bank. The purpose of this blog is to share them with you, and hopefully learn some of your own tricks in return.

Let's face it: it doesn't look like Kansas City's economy or the job situation will be improving any time soon, so we'd better learn to make do with what we have. A lot of us came from children of the Great Depression (a few of us even ARE children of the Great Depression) so there's absolutely no reason we can't suck it up and try to get through this mess in relative comfort. You don't have to spend a fortune to eat well; you just need a little knowledge.

You don't have to eat pork-and-bean sandwiches or fried bologna, either. It's quite possible to have the same five-star steak dinner you'd drop thirty bucks on at Hereford House for less than five at home. My wife and I do it all the time. When you want to go out, there are specials available that ease the expense and make your meager money stretch further.

We'll be posting anything from recipes to restaurant specials to where to buy steaks on the cheap. Please bookmark us and check back frequently. Subject to Blogger's terms of service, this is a free speech zone, so feel free to chime in with comments or suggestions.

Bon appetit.