CK Links--Friday April 24, 2015

Links from around the internet!

Don't forget! The easiest way to support Casual Kitchen is to buy your items at Amazon using the various links here. Just click over to Amazon, and EVERY purchase you make during that visit pays a modest affiliate commission to support my work here. Best of all, this comes at zero extra cost to you.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

PS: Follow me on Twitter!

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A brand new thing to feel guilty about: the "water footprint" of our food. (LA Times)

The authors of the new cookbook Genius Recipes share their brilliant list of "not recipes." (Food52)

At the USA-Mexican border, there's a Chinese food scene like no other. (PRI)

Paradoxically, our confidence that science has all the answers makes it difficult to identify and dismiss lies about nutrition. (Richard Dawkins via Visify)

Food science "warriors" should be a little more modest. (Chemicals In My Food)

Seven hidden benefits of frugal living. (The Simple Dollar)

Realizing we could easily live on 30% of our salary was easy. (Early Retirement Extreme)

How to stop checking your smartphone like an addict. (Max Ogles)

The subtle ways our screens are pushing us apart. (HBR)

Bonus! Why the Gettysburg Address remains a great case study in persuasion. (HBR)

Diamonds aren't costly because we desire them... we desire them because they are costly. (Tim Harford)

Related: Thorstein Veblen explains "conspicuous consumption."

Interesting article on video surveillance and how it doesn't make us any safer. (Pacific Standard)




Got an interesting article or recipe to share? Want some extra traffic at your blog? Send me an email!


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

The Best Way To Save Money By Cooking From Your Pantry

1) What are the central traits of a good pantry recipe?

2) Can I build a well-stocked pantry and save money too?

3) How else can we think about pantry cooking and pantry recipes to maximize convenience and minimize food costs?

Readers, today we're going to talk about "cooking from the pantry," but we're going to tackle the topic in a way you won't see at the typical food blog. We're going to address pantry foods from a broader perspective, to see if we can arrive at some general principles readers can use to save both time and money.

Thinking More Broadly About the Pantry
Let's begin by thinking about what kinds of items we tend to find in the standard pantry. We'll start with the obvious:

* Canned goods (canned/diced/stewed tomatoes, beans, veggies, olives, etc.)
* Canned beans
* Dried beans and legumes (lentils, beans, chickpeas, split peas)
* Pasta
* Jarred/canned sauce
* Grains, oats, rice, brown rice
* Crackers, breadcrumbs
* Baking ingredients: Flour, cornmeal, sugars, oils, etc.
* Nuts
* Dried fruits, raisins, etc.

Great. But can we think a bit more broadly here? What about food items that, while they may not technically sit in your pantry, are essentially like pantry foods in that they can be conveniently kept on hand for a very long time?

How about considering foods we keep in our freezer? Some examples:

* Meats
* Homemade stock
* Frozen vegetables
* Frozen fruits
* Many freezable dairy items, including butter, cream, milk, buttermilk

Wonderful. But can we think even more broadly? What about long-lived refrigerator items? Once again, technically these aren't pantry foods per se, but many foods can be kept for surprisingly, even shockingly, long periods of time in the refrigerator. Fresh herbs and sturdy leafy greens can keep for weeks using the damp plastic bag method, while many of following examples of pantry-like items on the list below will keep for even longer.

* Eggs
* Hard cheeses (e.g., Parmesan)
* Very long-lived fridge vegetables (potatoes, onions, garlic, etc.)
* Moderately long-lived fridge vegetables (carrots, celery, leafy greens like kale, chard, etc.)
* Other: Sundried tomatoes in oil, homemade salad dressing, peanut butter, tahini sauce, lemon juice, etc.

I'm sure I'm missing lots of examples across these various categories, so readers, please share your own favorite staple items in the comments if you don’t already see them listed.

Convenience, Savings... or Both?
Now, the goal of building up a pantry can be convenience, savings, or both. If you don't care about cost, then all you have to do to build a maximum convenience pantry is look over your family's favorite recipes, identify those recipes made entirely or mostly from storable, long-lived ingredients, and then go buy a large supply of those ingredients. Voila, you're done.

But budget-minded consumers will see an obvious problem here: You're essentially carrying the grocery store's inventory for them in your own home--and paying money up front for the privilege. Using this approach to building a well-stocked pantry may actually increase your food costs. Again, though, if you don't care about the cost and have plenty of extra space in your kitchen, good for you. Just recognize that this is a move for convenience, not savings.

The thing is, we're frugal bastards here at Casual Kitchen, and convenience alone isn't enough for us. We want it all. We want convenience and savings.

The Rhythm of Retailing
Remember, there's a rhythm to the retailing of food, and discounting is a big part of that rhythm. You're likely to see attractive price discounts (say, 20-30% off) at one time or another for practically any given food item in your store. Occasionally, however, you'll see enormous discounts (50% off, or buy one/get two free sales) when the store or food supplier really needs to get rid of excess inventory.

Of course the grocery store isn't going to know which day you're going shopping (ironically, I'm pretty sure my grocery store does know… that's the only explanation I can come up with for them always seeming to put items on sale immediately *after* I buy them).

But all this just means that the consumer looking to maximize convenience and savings needs to add one more ingredient: patience. The patience to wait until your desired pantry items are available at deliciously attractive sale prices. This is when the savvy pantry-builder strikes, buying weeks or even months of supply.

A brief sidebar for newer readers. Many commodity foods--like dried pasta, canned tomatoes, canned beans and so on--are largely identical and interchangeable, and in some cases multiple brands are made by the same third party food company, sometimes even at the same manufacturing facility. Moreover, any of these brands might be offered on sale at any given time. Therefore, a savvy consumer, one who knows there’s little or no difference across brands, will get many, many more opportunities to acquire foods at sale prices. Why? Because they can take advantage and strike when any brand is on sale. This is yet another advantage of being an empowered, brand disloyal consumer.

A quick example: commodity dried pasta in my grocery store typically costs about $1.00 a pound for the store brand and anywhere from $1.29 to $1.49 or more for the various branded versions. I’m utterly indifferent to pasta brands, so when I see one brand marked down to an attractive 88c a pound, I'm going to both notice and strike. And when I see an extremely attractive sale price (recently one brand went on mega sale at 69c per 1 pound box), I'm going to really strike. That day I bought 15 pounds of pasta. It was an opportunity to stock up big time at a much lower cost than typical.

Okay. A moment ago we were talking about the extra ingredient of patience needed to build a truly low cost pantry built for both convenience and savings. That was a slight oversimplification: In reality, you need three things:

1) Patience (to wait for your sale),
2) Price knowledge (you have to have a decent sense of what things cost to be able to recognize really good prices when you see them), and
3) Aggressiveness (the willingness--even courage--to buy a lot when the opportunity presents itself).

Weirdly, this sounds a lot like investing in stocks, doesn't it?

Recipe Selection
We're almost done. Now, on to the final principle of competent pantry cooking: recipe selection. Once we begin to think of "pantry foods" in the broadest sense, including long-lived foods that we could store in our fridge and freezer as well as in our pantry, we've got an interesting and extremely wide range of possible ingredients to choose from. The challenge now is to have a decent database in your head of reasonably easy recipes built around those ingredients.

To give a few practical examples, I’ll share a few of the most pantry-friendly recipes we have here at Casual Kitchen:

Black Beans and Rice
A CK favorite recipe that lends itself beautifully to pantry cooking. Whenever we see green peppers on sale in the grocery store, we'll buy a few, chop them up, and freeze them in units sufficient to make a double batch. Once again, this is another example of thinking about pantry foods in a broader sense. All other ingredients in this recipe (canned black beans, onions, spices) we typically keep on hand.

Mole Sauce with Chicken
Another CK favorite that lends itself to pantry cooking. We'll generally always have some chicken in our freezer, and we usually keep a large inventory of canned stewed tomatoes. The rest of this recipe is just spices and unsweetened chocolate, items we always keep on hand.

Barley Pilaf
Barley keeps forever in dried form, and we just add whatever veggies (carrots, celery, mushrooms, etc.) we happen to have in our fridge.

Hilariously Easy Slow Cooker Bean Stew
A perfect, low-cost pantry recipe if there ever was one. All ingredients here are standard pantry items.

Hummus
A somewhat unexpectedly perfect pantry food. Canned chickpeas, lemon juice and tahini all keep nearly indefinitely in your pantry and fridge, respectively. In fact, our experiences suggest that tahini sauce never goes bad, ever. Enjoy with still more pantry items like crackers, or fridge items like carrots or celery.

But wait, we're not done! There are also many recipes that depend largely--but perhaps not entirely--on pantry items. With these recipes, sure, you may still have to go to the store, but you'll only need to buy one or two minor items. Yet again, this is a way to get food on the table with maximum convenience and minimum money. Here are some recipes that fit the bill:

North African Lemon Chicken
Pasta with Tuna, Olives and Roasted Red Peppers
Lentil Soup
Chipotle Crockpot Chili
Fried Rice
Risotto
Split Pea Soup

Once again, it's up to you to choose the specific pantry-centered recipes that your family really likes, and build the bulk of your cooking plans around those recipes.

"Cooking from the pantry" is one of those cooking concepts that--if we apply it broadly and with a little bit of patience--makes preparing healthy food at home incredibly easy and incredibly inexpensive.

So readers, let's hear your thoughts: What are your favorite pantry recipes? And what ideas would you add?


Read Next: Things Are Important Before They're Important


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

CK Links--Friday April 17, 2015

Links from around the internet!

Once again, a quick public service reminder: if you'd like to support Casual Kitchen, the best, easiest way to do so is to buy your items at Amazon using the various links here. Just click over to Amazon, and EVERY purchase you make during that visit pays a modest affiliate commission to support my work here. Best of all, this comes at zero extra cost to you.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

PS: Follow me on Twitter!

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This, my friends, is why people eat out. (Frugal Healthy Simple)

A genius time- and worry-saving cooking trick. (5 Second Rule)

The Food Babe: the worst assault on science on the entire internet. (Gawker)

Related: more on the Food Babe’s quackmail here at Casual Kitchen.

Plunged into gloom... by a piece of bread. (Daily Mail)

Why lower food commodity prices don't lead to an equivalent drop in prices to the consumer. (Jayson Lusk)

How to eat healthy at restaurants. (A Sweet Life)

The difference between lying and bullshitting. Long, nuanced and worth it. (The Rawness)

Five steps to good digital hygiene. (Seth's Blog)

How Phil Mickelson used the placebo effect at last weekend's Masters. (A Wealth of Common Sense)

Why I became a stoic. By the author of the exceptional book A Guide to the Good Life. (BoingBoing)

"Employers! Present this coupon to any woman you hire and receive a 23% discount to what you'd pay a man." (Mark Perry)

Thrown into the consumer world with no immune system. (Early Retirement Extreme)





Got an interesting article or recipe to share? Want some extra traffic at your blog? Send me an email!


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

Net Weight 3.0 Pounds

The other day I was picking up some onions in my local grocery store. There was the usual bin of the usual three-pound bags in their usual place in the back of the produce department. I grabbed one, absently put it in my cart, and marched off looking for the next item on my list.

But then, I had a fit of curiosity and decided to weigh this bag of onions. No idea why. I guess I was just curious to see if it really weighed three pounds. So, I went over to one of the several digital scales in the produce section, put the bag of onions on it, and read... 2.99 pounds.

Huh, not bad. Certainly close enough for government work. So I grabbed several other "three pound bags" of onions and weighed them. Just out of curiosity of course. The heaviest one I could find weighed 3.14 pounds. And if you're wondering: that's the one I bought.

So, readers, a question: Why in the world would there be an extra 0.14 pounds of free onions in a three pound bag?

I'll confess: My first thought was "Big Food is trying to make us all fat by deliberately overfeeding us onions!"

But hold on a minute. Wasn't I just fitting an existing conspiracy-based narrative onto a new set of facts? Could there perhaps be... some other reason?

As it turns out, there actually is another reason why a "three pound bag" of onions could weigh anything from 2.99 to 3.14 pounds. It's the real reason. And, oddly enough, I actually took a course in business school on this very topic in all kinds of (fascinating?) detail.

Whenever you sell something in volume--whether it's bottles of soda, jugs of olive oil, or bags of produce--you'll have some degree of randomness in quantities across your output. For example, let's say you have a large machine that simultaneously fills hundreds of 20-ounce plastic bottles with soda. Even if this machine is extremely accurate, there will still likely be some smallish variance above or below 20 ounces in many of the bottles, simply due to sheer randomness. And we can measure this variance and its effects using statistics.

Let's assume our soda machine's standard deviation (this is one measure of variance across a sample) is small, just a sixteenth of an ounce. Further, you can assume that about 99.7% of your output will be within three standard deviations of your mean. There's lots of math in here that I'm skipping over (much of which I confess I barely remember how to do any more), but essentially, you can be highly confident in our example that almost all the soda bottles from this machine will contain between 19.8125 ounces and 20.1875 ounces, which is plus or minus three standard deviations. Not bad.

But what if you want to be extra extra sure you sure you don't give any customer meaningfully less than 20 ounces? In this case, you can tweak your mean "fill quantity" slightly, to say 20.22 ounces. Doing this practically guarantees* that every bottle will have at least 20 ounces of soda. Even the most extreme-extreme outliers you'd likely ever see from this factory will still contain something like 19.97 ounces of soda. And of course, 19.97 ounces is close enough to 20 ounces for you to sell it legally as "20 ounces" just like a 2.99 pound bag of onions can be legally sold as "three pounds."

* [For the stats geeks out there: in our hypothetical factory, assuming a normal distribution, a mean fill of 20.22 ounces, and a standard deviation of 0.0625 ounces, a bottle of soda with less than 19.97 ounces would therefore be a five sigma event, meaning it might occur once every 1.7 million bottles.]

Okay. That's soda. We're talking onions, a product from nature that comes in random, unpredictable sizes. So, unless your onion packaging company wants to spend all day finding perfect groupings of varying-sized onions until every bag weighs three pounds with a tiny standard deviation, we're going to have to tolerate larger variances than we saw with our hypothetical soda machine.

Put in this context then, a range of say 2.99 pounds to 3.14 pounds (a mere 5% variance) is perfectly reasonable and explainable by the vagaries of random onion sizes and the onion packager-processor's best efforts at getting very close to 3.00 pounds into each bag.

And now I find myself pathologically weighing onions every time I buy them.

Readers, the next time you're buying three pound bags of onions or five pound bags of potatoes, head over to the produce scales and weigh them. What weights did you find?


Read Next: What If Your Farmer Doesn’t Want to Know YOU?


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

CK Links--Friday April 10, 2015

Links from around the internet!

Don't forget! The easiest way to support Casual Kitchen is to buy your items at Amazon using the various links here. Just click over to Amazon, and EVERY purchase you make during that visit pays a modest affiliate commission to support my work here. Best of all, this comes at zero extra cost to you.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

PS: Follow me on Twitter!

*************************
With this post, I enter the cast iron holy wars. (Dad Cooks Dinner)

Still digesting all those Easter Eggs? Eight intriguing egg facts. (Fooducate)

Be careful using food for entertainment. (Tynan)

Bonus: You ought to joke around more. (Tynan)

Not even the inventor of the Keurig K-cup drinks his coffee that way. Why? (Atlantic)

"The most important invention is the washing machine. Any other technology comes second." (Althouse)

Starting a new habit is quite different from breaking an existing habit. (Nir and Far)

Unhappiness derives from unmet expectations. (Early Retirement Extreme)

Human fertility rates are falling far faster than anyone expected. (Aleph Blog)

Handling distraction with little success. Comments are worth reading here too. (A VC)

"The worst mistake in the history of the human race." By the author of the excellent book Guns, Germs, and Steel. (Discover)

We are all oh so wrong about hunter gatherer societies. A famous and fascinating essay by influential anthropologist Marshall Sahlins. Long, but worth it. (Primitivism)


Got an interesting article or recipe to share? Want some extra traffic at your blog? Send me an email!




How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.