Posts Tagged ‘groceries’

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Reduced To Clear revisited

July 10, 2010

Last year I went to have a look at the Reduced To Clear shop, which had opened with a certain amount of fanfare and also some criticism:

A new discount store selling junk food will feed our growing obesity epidemic by encouraging bad eating habits, dieticians say.

Back then I wasn’t too impressed:

I have to say I was a bit disappointed. I really like the concept, and I was hoping I’d see a somewhat supermarket-like range of dry goods. But the shop is quite small, and the range seemed limited, mostly to confectionary and packaged snack food of a low-grade sort. I did see some cheap sugar (can sugar spoil? I don’t think so) but it was not markedly cheaper than the cheapest sugar at Pak’N’Save up the road. The only useful basic thing I saw there was liquid laundry detergent.

I said I’d pop back in a month or two. Two months, eleven months, who cares? Also, apparently last year I had not yet learned to spell “confectionery.” Anyway today we were buying cheap curtains at a Briscoes’ sale out in Rongotai, so we popped around the corner on a whim.

(Do Briscoes ever not have a sale? There must be some times when they don’t, because I think it’s illegal to advertise sales that aren’t discounts to normal prices. But if there were truth in advertising, they could call their sales “normal pricing days where you have to do some maths” and the small periods with no sales could be “extra high prices for people who can’t wait but have to buy from Bricoes days.” But anyway, this was an actual saley sale that really was cheaper than normal and I know because we checked at the Warehouse first. I just want to make that clear.)

I’m pleased to report that the range at the Reduced To Clear shop has definitely broadened out to the point where it’s worth stopping in if it’s on your route, or checking out their website. I bought salt and tinned fish, but there was also a variety of other things (zip-lock bags, cooking oil, pasta, coconut cream, juice, yoghurt, cleaning products…) beyond confectionery that would definitely be on someone’s normal shopping list.

Incidentally, I was amused to see a laminated clipping from the Dompost’s “devastating for diets” story pinned up on the wall behind the tills. I guess any publicity is good publicity, and as long as the public hears you have cheap sweets, what’s not to like? For what it’s worth, nobody in the fairly busy shop today appeared more than usually overweight. I am a svelte 78kg these days and left with impeccably high protein, low fat purchases.

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Secrets of the supermarket ninjas

October 27, 2009

In a previous post I claimed that we were “supermarket ninjas” and Mellopuffy asked how we managed on so little each week.

I’ve been thinking about this, and I think comes down to these things:

1. Kathy is a vegetarian, and I only eat meat dinners maybe half the week. When I look at our grocery bill, the priciest regular items are wine and meat. If we both ate meat in typical New Zealand portions every night, our grocery bill would be a lot larger.

2. We buy very little in the way of processed food. No biscuits, no cakes, no muesli bars, no pre-made sauce, no packet mixes or tinned soups. I make our bread from scratch, and usually our yoghurt. If I want baking to take somewhere, or for an occasion, I bake. I have a good repertoire of dinner dishes that don’t take much when I’m tired, so I don’t need sauce in a jar.

I think the bread in itself is good for about $10 in savings a week. We would normally go through three loaves and that would be over $12 at supermarket, whereas the ingredients for a home made loaf total less than a dollar.

Because of points 1 & 2, we incidentally have a pretty healthy diet, which is a happy bonus effect.

Of course cooking everything and avoiding treats is a lot easier when you don’t have children, and I know that plenty of grownups would balk at not having any snack food in the house. Well, tough. That’s how it’s done. My Mum always said if you weren’t hungry enough to eat an apple or make a cheese sandwich, then you weren’t hungry.

Cooking is like any other skill — if you do it every day, you can achieve a tolerable level of efficiency, whereas if you only do it when you have plenty of time, you will probably stay an inefficient bungler and packets really will always be easier.

Example super cheap, fast meal for low-energy  evenings:

Pasta with broccoli sauce. Chop broccoli into tiny pieces, mince a couple of cloves of garlic, saute in olive oil with pepper until broccoli is cooked (put a lid on the pan for the last couple of minutes and the broccoli will steam). Toss through rigatoni or similar with grated cheese on top and maybe some more oil. Should take 20 minutes or less, and is very tasty.

I find Italian cookbooks particularly inspirational because lots of country food from that region is cheap, fast, and based around seasonal vegetables, and tasty with a little sharp cheese, oil and pepper. An interesting thing I’ve found is that nice cheese and good oil seem like luxuries, but they’re actually condiments that you use in small amounts to make much bigger quantities of cheap stuff nicer. So I tend not to be so hard-arsed about olive oil and cheese.

3. I buy our fruit and veg at the market on a Sunday, and that’s about 30% cheaper than the cheapest supermarket I know of. It is another trip in my week, but on the other hand I enjoy the market as a social experience. I often spend some of the savings on a roti or a dim sum or something too…

4. We shop at the cheapest supermarket in the area. Last weekend I spent a New World gift voucher, and I noticed how much more expensive New World prices are compared to the Kilbirnie Pak’N’Save, confirming for me the claim that they are the cheapest supermarket in Wellington. I’m pretty sure I’d have to spend a significant amount in transport to go anywhere cheaper.

5. We are sensible buyers: we stockpile when staples are on special, diligently compare unit prices, and always use a shopping list.

6. We buy in bulk when we can. For example, I buy my bread flour in 5kg sacks. If I had suitable storage, I’d probably buy 10kg ones. Likewise I buy olive oil in 4l tins, onions in 5kg bags, and meat by the half carcass when the freezer has space. Moore Wilson wholesale is not as cheap as it used to be, I reckon, but still turns up some good prices on catering sized stuff. Basically, if it doesn’t go off before we can finish it, and we have room to store it, I’ll invest in any large portion.

In summary, I’d say it’s cooking our own semi-vegetarian diet that really makes the big difference. It’s the nice food from simple ingredients that backs my claim “we eat well.” But there are some other things that help too, allowing me to blow some money on wine and chocolate out of the surplus.

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Making your own cottage cheese

October 12, 2009

Following hard on the heels of Stephen’s now-famous yoghurt-making antics, I thought I’d try out making cottage cheese, and see if the savings were enough to get me into the paper as well. I didn’t think that one would work twice, and thought I’d make do with the kind of crazy google hits were going to get off the frequent use of the word cottage.

If there is anything that makes me think of the 1970s it is cottage cheese. That and bean sprouts. But because around here we mostly stick to seasonal vegetables, getting greens for sandwiches is tricky, so sprouts it is. Likewise, with cheese being at times unreasonably expensive, cottage cheese is a good fat-and-protein addition to liven up lunches.

So how to make it? Easy. Put a litre of milk into a pot and apply heat, when it’s tipping 80-odd degrees, put one 1/4 cup of white vinegar into the mix and stir gently. The milk will curdle, and you strain the hot mixture through a muslin. And…. voila. Cottage cheese, or paneer, depending on your background.

I keep the whey and continually try to find uses for it, but let the curds cool in the fridge, mash it with a fork, and moisten it with some of that home-made yoghurt (you can’t use the whey, doesn’t work well). This makes it, to coin a phrase, just like the bought one.

And the savings. Well, I bought a litre of milk for this costing $2.09, and made 250g of cheese. 250g at the supermarket cost $2.35 the last time I checked. We’ll call that one “not a substantial saving”.

However, there are some key differences. My cottage cheese is incredibly simple to make, and is not time consuming. It is also without unnecessary packaging, and hasn’t been transported half-way across the country or world to my fridge (ignoring the packaging/transport of the milk, which I buy in bulk). Also, I know exactly what’s in it, something the me who has worked in food manufacturing knows is very, very important.

All in all you’d need decent access to a ready supply of cheap or free milk to make this one work well. But, there is satisfaction in making your own food, and in knowing that it has a low carbon-cost. Plus, you get to try celery sticks stuffed with raisins, and topped with cottage cheese! 1978 par excellence.

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A field trip to The Reduced to Clear Store in Rongotai

August 2, 2009

Yesterday I visited the Reduced to Clear Store in Rongotai.

This shop sells short-dated grocery items at a discount to normal retail. It’s been the subject of some controversy as health professionals see it as a source of even cheaper high-calorie/low-nutrient food. (I don’t really want to get into that debate, but on their website the picture they have chosen for “kids lunches” is hilarious — a lovely healthy sandwich and a piece of fruit, misleadingly illustrating a  list of starch and sugar-rich processed foods.) Anyway, I was hoping that they might have pantry staples that don’t spoil and so on.

I have to say I was a bit disappointed. I really like the concept, and I was hoping I’d see a somewhat supermarket-like range of dry goods. But the shop is quite small, and the range seemed limited, mostly to confectionary and packaged snack food of a low-grade sort. I did see some cheap sugar (can sugar spoil? I don’t think so) but it was not markedly cheaper than the cheapest sugar at Pak’N’Save up the road. The only useful basic thing I saw there was liquid laundry detergent.

It’s possible of course that they are ramping up and that in months to come there will be a bigger range with the kinds of things I’m interested it. Reduced to Clear have a good website which describes a bigger range than what I saw. I presume it’s what’s available in their Auckland branch. The website would be even better if it had prices on it. Woolworths have all their prices on their website, New World have their special prices listed — I’d hope that a feisty upstart whose proposition is that they are cheaper would have their prices available for me to check before I leave home too.

Right now, I wouldn’t go there unless I needed to cater a 5 year old’s birthday party in a hurry. But I’ll pop in again in a month or two and see what the shelves look like then.

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Containers — who needs them?

July 15, 2009

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There was a time when I felt we really ought to containerise things in the pantry. But we never did get enough containers.

And now I’m glad we didn’t. Here is what we do instead.

Kathy’s mother gave us a bag of bag sealers she had bought from a door-to-door salesman. They are so handy that every one is in use, and I bought some more. You can get a dozen or so for about $3 from Plastic Box.

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A couple of years ago I bought 60ft of twist tie. We still haven’t finished it (after all, a length of twist tie is re-usable). I don’t know how long it’s going to last, but I do know it’s doing good work on bags of pasta and legumes and rice and in the freezer.

We have a fine collection of jars — too many in fact. And I used to scoff at Kathy’s propensity to wash and save plastic food containers from ice cream, hummus, cream cheese and what have you, but they turn out to be just the right size for leftovers and lunch boxes.

I feel pretty good about this. I admit it’s a bit ugly, but we’re avoiding using some resources and reusing others. When things stay in the bag, you can see what they are and check the expiry date easily. And there’s nothing to be sad about when a plastic tub or a jar cracks or breaks. It cost nothing after all.