Ten Frugal Things We Do--And a Giveaway

One of the primary goals of Casual Kitchen is to help readers make the most out of their food spending. In today's post, I'll share ten useful frugal habits we've adopted here at CK, and I invite readers to share their favorite food habits in the comments.

PS: I'm offering a giveaway prize for one lucky commenter--details at the end of the post!

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1) We practice part-time vegetarianism and eat meat in fewer than half our meals.

2) The majority of the foods we eat are simple staples like pasta, rice, brown rice, lentils, beans, and vegetables.

3) Laura brings her own lunch to work every day, almost without exception.

4) We eat out rarely, perhaps three times a month. Even a relatively inexpensive dinner out can cost more than our typical weekly food bill.

5) We avoid buying heavily advertised products. We have no interest in paying for the biggest part of a product's cost stack.

6) When buying staples, we generally buy store-brand or generic products. They're almost always of equivalent quality.

7) We tend to make infrequent purchases of staple foods--and when we do buy, it's in huge volumes of on-sale items. When the 20-lb bags of rice or the 3-liter jugs of olive oil are on sale, that's when we pounce.

8) We've bought a grand total of just three new cookbooks in the past two years. There are just too many untried recipes just waiting to be exploited in our existing cookbook collection.

9) We buy junk food occasionally, but we never keep any stashes of it in the house. It's our way of practicing moderation in our moderation.

10) The brand of wine we drink more than any other is Carlo Rossi--simple, unpretentious table wine that comes in a gigantic one-gallon jug. Who'd guess that for a paltry twelve bucks we can ease our pain for an entire month!

Readers, now's your turn--what frugal things do YOU do? Share them in the comments!

And now for the giveaway: I have a spare copy of Emeril Lagasse's excellent cookbook Emeril at the Grill: A Cookbook for All Seasons available for one lucky reader [take a look at my positive review of it from last year].

To enter, just leave a comment sharing your favorite and most effective frugal food habits (and be sure to include a link to your blog or an email address so I'll be able to reach you). I'll run this contest until Thursday, December 2nd, 8pm ET, and I'll announce the winner with my weekly links post on Friday December 3rd. Good luck!



Related Posts:
Review: Cooking Green by Kate Heyhoe
Almost Meatless: Cookbook Review
Ten Tips on How to Cut Your Food Budget Using the 80/20 Rule
What Have You Given Up That You Don't Miss?



Help support Casual Kitchen by buying Jules Clancy's exceptional new e-cookbook 5 Ingredients, 10 Minutes (see my rabidly positive review here). Or, support CK by buying Everett Bogue's revolutionary book The Art of Being Minimalist. (These are both affiliate links, so if you decide to make a purchase, you'll help fund all of the free content here at CK!



How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from Amazon.com via links on this site, or by linking to me or subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!

Retro Sundays

I created the Retro Sundays series to help newer readers easily navigate the very best of this blog's enormous back catalog of content. Each Retro Sundays column serves up a selection of the best articles from this week in history here at Casual Kitchen.

As always, please feel free to explore CK's Recipe Index, the Best Of Casual Kitchen page and my full Index of Posts. You can also receive my updates at Twitter.

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Readers, one quick note before we get to the articles: If you would like to support Casual Kitchen this holiday season, and if you use Amazon.com to do any of your holiday shopping, consider using the links here at Casual Kitchen to do so!

This is an easy and pain-free way to support your favorite blogs--each and every purchase you make from the links here pays a modest commission to Casual Kitchen, and there is absolutely no extra cost to you. I'm grateful for your support!


This Week in History at Casual Kitchen:

When High-Carb Diets Don't Work (November 2007)
I'll always thank Dr. Robert Haas and his exceptional book Eat to Win for teaching me the enormous benefits of a low-fat/high-carb diet. But this diet, which worked so well when I first took up running, broke down for me severely during marathon training. Here's why.

How to Make Your Own Inexpensive Sports Drink (November 2007)
This post will take you 15 seconds to read and it will save you hundreds of dollars over your lifetime. Never again overpay for heavily-advertised Gatorade or Powerade.

Reader Questions and Answers on Raw Foods and My Raw Food Trial (November 2009)
My widely-read raw food trial unleashed a slew of curious questions from readers wanting to know about the psychological and nutritional effects of the diet, how much extra it cost, what my food cravings were, and how much of a pain in the ass it was to cut up all those veggies. One helpful reader even warned me that my colon would blow. Um, it didn't, fortunately.

Four Final Conclusions From My Raw Foods Trial (November 2009)
My raw diet experience taught me quite a few surprising and unexpected lessons. Just one example: I will never look at food cravings the same way again.

Malcolm Gladwell Was Completely Wrong About Cooking (November 2009)
When it comes to cooking, don't believe a word of Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 Hour Rule. Read this post to learn how to become a good cook--and I mean a really good cook--in a matter of days.





How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from Amazon.com via links on this site, or by linking to me or subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!

CK Friday Links--Friday November 26, 2010

Here's yet another selection of interesting links from around the internet. As always, I welcome your thoughts and your feedback.

PS: Follow me on Twitter!

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One quick question for readers before we get into the links: Will you engage in any "Black Friday" shopping this weekend? Why or why not?

Don't fall for the food industry's Jedi mind tricks. (Freaking Fitness)

Facing health problems, a vegan returns to eating meat--and unleashes a firestorm of controversy. (Voracious)

A long but eye-opening article that will make you question every single medical study you'll ever read. (The Atlantic)

Trick question: Can we safely conclude that even the most idealistic pro-environment initiatives at companies like Wal-Mart and Google are nothing more than pure deceit? (Alternet)

Recipe Links:
A fascinating Indo-European fusion: Cumin and Spinach Latkes. (The Cooks Cottage)

Laughably easy and seasonally perfect: Cranberry Apple Cider. ($5 Dinners)

Simple, elegant comfort food: White Bean and Sausage Stew. (The Merry Gourmet)

Off-Topic Links:
The perfect guide to Now is right under my nose. (One Crafty Mother via @alosha7777)

How to write killer content in 140 characters or fewer. (Twitip)

You can’t pack up anxiety and sell it on Craigslist. Identifying non-physical clutter. (Unclutterer)


Do you have an interesting article or recipe that you'd like to see featured in Casual Kitchen's Food Links? Send me an email!


Help support Casual Kitchen by buying Jules Clancy's exceptional new e-cookbook 5 Ingredients, 10 Minutes (see my rabidly positive review here). Or, support CK by buying Everett Bogue's revolutionary book The Art of Being Minimalist. (These are both affiliate links, so if you decide to make a purchase, you'll help fund all of the free content here at CK!)


SponsoredTweets referral badge

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from Amazon.com via links on this site, or by linking to me or subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!

Follow-Up Thoughts on The Realities of Your Grocery Store

Readers: Today's post covers a few follow-up thoughts and questions for readers from my Divorce Yourself From the False Reality of Your Grocery Store article from the other day. Be sure to read the original post before starting in on this one.
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1) The other day's post talked about how grocery stores, because of their low profit margins, must capture profits when and where they can.

Guess what is one of the primary sources of incremental profits in grocery stores these days? Organic foods.

Roll this over in your mind for a moment or two: if organic foods generate considerably higher profits to your store, does the consumer get value in return?

***

2) You could consider grocery store pricing idiosyncrasies to be proof that my first-order and second-order foods framework for looking at food costs (that processed foods tend to cost more than simpler whole foods) is fatally flawed. [For an in-depth explanation of my thinking here and great ideas to save a ton of money on your food bill, see my article Stacked Costs and Second-Order Foods.]

A standard comment usually goes like this: "You claim that so-called first-order foods are cheaper and second order foods are more expensive, but what about wheat flour/couscous/quinoa (or any of several other foods that I think ought to be cheap but aren't)? How can things like this be allowed to happen?"

When I hear this, my first thought is to say nothing explains everything. No theory, no matter how awesome, will explain all the kooky one-off pricing decisions of your local store. You will always find certain food products in your grocery store that are expensive, when logic says they should be cheap. There are simply too many variables behind the scenes that affect the prices of consumer goods.

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3) One of my readers, upset with how wheat flour costs more than heavily-processed white flour, had her own solution to the seemingly unfair pricing in her grocery store: she wanted to tax each step in the processing of all foods.

What's wrong with this idea?

It has a certain elegance. After all, wouldn't it be great if we could, by centralized government fiat, make an executive decision that would encourage consumers to buy healthy, unprocessed foods like wheat flour? Wouldn't that be for the good of society?

Long-time Casual Kitchen readers should be able to anticipate my answer. For one thing, I'd shudder to see the 3,000 page bill that comes plopping out of congress to impose that tax. And I don't even want to think about the nightmarish logistical problems of detailing and enforcing such a tax--not to mention the not inconsequential impact such a tax might have on our personal liberties.

The devil is always in the details.

Readers, share your thoughts and reactions!


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from Amazon.com via links on this site, or by linking to me or subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!

CK Featured at Cheap Healthy Good

A quick update to readers: Casual Kitchen is featured today in a guest post at Cheap Healthy Good!

In it, I talk about one of CK's core beliefs: that the food industry has absolutely no power over us unless we willingly choose to give our power away first.

Consumers of the world, unite!


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from Amazon.com via links on this site, or by linking to me or subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!

Divorce Yourself from the False Reality of Your Grocery Store

Nearly all consumers are struck from time to time by the seemingly unfair and irrational pricing of many items in our grocery stores.

For example, staple foods like couscous and quinoa, which are laughably cheap throughout most of the world, are sold at shockingly high per-unit prices in most grocery stores. Brown rice, oddly enough, can cost more than twice as much as white rice. Less-processed wheat flour costs more than heavily processed white flour. And so on.

Your grocery store sells these foods at prices that are totally divorced from their value. The question is, why? Isn't this totally unfair--even bordering on anti-consumer?

Yeah. Maybe it is a little bit.

Climbing into your grocery store's brain
In today's post, I'm going to explain the logic behind these pricing idiosyncrasies--from the grocery store's point of view. Hey, after all, there's nothing better than climbing inside the brains of the opposition to help understand why it does what it does. And by the end of this post, you'll know several fundamental principles about the grocery store industry that you can use to get far more value for your shopping dollars.

Let me start by sharing two preliminary truths about grocery stores that all consumers should know:

Truth #1: Grocery store profit margins are terrible. Operating profits at a typical grocery store tend to be in the 2-3% range, quite low compared to, say, the 5-7% margins at Whole Foods, and pathetically low compared to the rich 20%+ margins for second-order food companies like Pepsi and General Mills.

Truth #2: Your grocery store can charge whatever it wants for the products it sells. Please, don't bother getting angry about this--just accept it. It's a free country.

For some of you, these two statements may be obvious, but they combine to form a considerably less obvious third truth:

Truth #3: If you run a low-margin business where you have wide discretion in how to price items, you must capture profits whenever and wherever you can. If you want to stay in business, that is.

Okay. Here's the next step in the discussion: Do you remember my post The Economics of Wasteful Foods, where I wrote about how food companies could easily re-make cheap healthy regular oats into an aspirational good by calling them "unprocessed oats" and charging triple the price? I was being partly facetious, but the truth is this is exactly what happens throughout the standard grocery store.

That couscous you see in the specialty foods aisle priced at $2.95 for a six ounce box? In the warped reality of your grocery store, that couscous isn't an inexpensive staple, it's an aspirational specialty food, sold at prices far in excess of cost.

That's how your grocery store captures much-needed incremental profits. These supposedly inexpensive foods lie in wait for you at above-market prices throughout the store--in the organic foods section, in the "ethnic foods" aisle, in the spice aisle, and so forth. After all, there's no better way to make money than by buying cheap things and re-selling them at expensive prices, right? (PS: If you're starting to get angry about this, please go back and reread Truth #2 above.)

Which brings us to the critical insight of this post: These foods, the ones that should be cheaper but aren't, simply cannot be bought cost-effectively in your standard grocery store.

Please keep in mind, I'm not saying you can't buy them there. If you put a high value on the convenience of getting all your food items at one superstore, fine, go for it. Just make sure you understand the not-so-hidden cost of that convenience.

Thus when you see couscous at six times a reasonable market price and passively take it to the checkout counter, don't whine and mentally shake your fist at the greedy food industry for setting prices you consider unfair.

Instead, be an empowered consumer and know the deal: These pricing arrangements are a reflection of the fundamental lack of profitability in the grocery store industry. An empowered consumer knows her options: either knuckle under and pay extra in exchange for the convenience of one-stop shopping, or buy these pseudo-specialty foods elsewhere, ideally at a place where they're not sold at specialty foods prices.

Here's where we return to a common theme here at Casual Kitchen: Seek alternatives to your standard grocery store. Consider local stores that cater to members of the various ethnic communities in your town, visit your local Aldi store, or check out a local bulk foods outlet where you can find these items at far better values.

The past decade or so has seen a flourishing of non-traditional food retailers across the country as the traditional grocery store slowly, but inexorably, loses its hammerlock on our food shopping dollars. There are other retailers out there doing a better job competing for your business. Seek them out and support them.

The bottom line? The standard grocery store can be a warped and weird place. Don't let it dictate prices to you when those prices don't reflect reality.

Readers: What products do you never buy at your local grocery store?

Note: I'll run a follow-up post in a couple of days to covers a few related thoughts that were beyond this article's scope. Stay tuned...

Finally, I owe a grateful thank you to reader
Chacha1 for spurring me to think through some of these issues.


Related Posts:
How to Whine About "Big Food"
Survivor Bias: Why "Big Food" Isn't Quite As Evil As You Think It Is
Review: The End of Overeating by David Kessler



How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from Amazon.com via links on this site, or by linking to me or subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!

Retro Sundays

I created the Retro Sundays series to help newer readers easily navigate the very best of this blog's enormous back catalog of content. Each Retro Sundays column serves up a selection of the best articles from this week in history here at Casual Kitchen.

As always, please feel free to explore CK's Recipe Index, the Best Of Casual Kitchen page and my full Index of Posts. You can also receive my updates at Twitter.

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This Week in History at Casual Kitchen:

The Pros and Cons of a High-Carb/Low-Fat Diet (November 2007)
More than a decade ago, I happily fell under the spell of Dr. Robert Hass' groundbreaking book Eat To Win, which changed everything I thought about eating and exercise. This book helped me totally rethink both my diet and my fitness.

Cookbook Review: The Cornbread Gospels (November 2008)
You'd never guess a book about cornbread could be such a joy to read. The Cornbread Gospels is an absolute goldmine of amazing recipes--more than 200, ranging from straight cornbreads, to muffins, to flapjacks, pancakes and johnnycakes, to desserts--even an enormous chapter on foods that go with cornbread. This unsung book is not to be missed.

How to Make a Simple Frittata (November 2008)
An easy dish that everyone should add to their cooking arsenal. Frittatas are laughably easy to make, they seem really fancy, and you can eat them without any implied, quiche-like threat to your manhood.

The Seven-Day Raw Foods Trial (November 2009)
Last year, in a fit of both curiosity and masochism, I decided to attempt a seven day trial of eating a 100% raw food diet. It turned out to be both a significant challenge and a highly instructive experience--and it permanently changed the way I eat. This series went on to become one of the most widely-read in Casual Kitchen's history.






How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from Amazon.com via links on this site, or by linking to me or subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!

CK Friday Links--Friday November 19, 2010

Here's yet another selection of interesting links from around the internet. As always, I welcome your thoughts and your feedback.

PS: Follow me on Twitter!

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The most common Thanksgiving mistake and how to avoid it. (stonesoup)

How to truss and spit a turkey for rotisserie cooking. (Dad Cooks Dinner)

You thought processed foods were bad. How about ultra-processed foods? (Food Politics)

Surprisingly tolerable ways to save surprising amounts of money using powdered milk. (Home Ec 101) Bonus Post: Why do you tent a turkey with foil?

Recipe Links:
Easy, inexpensive and effing spectacular Homemade Barbecue Sauce. (Alosha's Kitchen)

Slow-Cooker White Bean and Lentil Chili--featuring an existential comment debate on whether "real" chili contains beans. (The Ungourmet)

Crisp, brightly colored and authentic Chinese Stir-Fried Chicken with Vegetables. (Use Real Butter)

Off-Topic Links:
Laziness has changed. (Seth's Blog)

How statistics trick people--including doctors. (A Country Doctor Writes)

Why relying on investment income to "make" a living is far less risky than relying on an employer for a paycheck. (Early Retirement Extreme)

How to stop struggling with a past you cannot forgive or forget. (Far Beyond the Stars)


Do you have an interesting article or recipe that you'd like to see featured in Casual Kitchen's Food Links? Send me an email!


Help support Casual Kitchen by buying Jules Clancy's exceptional new e-cookbook 5 Ingredients, 10 Minutes (see my rabidly positive review here). Or, support CK by buying Everett Bogue's revolutionary book The Art of Being Minimalist. (These are both affiliate links, so if you decide to make a purchase, you'll help fund all of the free content here at CK!)


SponsoredTweets referral badge

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from Amazon.com via links on this site, or by linking to me or subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!

Prices, Zombies and the Advertising-Consumption Cycle

Welcome to another installment of my Understanding the Consumer Products Industry series, where I'm leveling the informational playing field between consumers and the companies that sell us stuff. Today we return to the subject of price drivers.
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Recall the three key drivers of prices in the world of retail:

1) Barriers to competition
2) Input costs
3) Current inventory levels

We've already talked about barriers to competition. Today we'll cover input costs, and we'll draw a few compelling conclusions about the modern consumer products industry that, with any luck, will help you get far more value for your money.

Input Costs
If you think about it, there's an entire stack of costs involved in getting a basic item like a box of Oreos into the hands of a consumer. There are ingredient costs, processing costs, packaging and transport costs, marketing and advertising costs, and so on. All else equal, if a company wants to make money on the goods it sells, then the retail cost of Oreos must be the sum of all the various costs in that cost stack, plus a profit margin.

Therefore, the more you can tilt your purchases away from products with large cost stacks, the more value you'll get for your consumer spending dollars.

Of course, long-time CK readers (especially those who have read my essay Stacked Costs and Second-Order Foods) will consider this a borderline obvious conclusion. In today's post, however, I'm going to use that conclusion as a starting point, because it helps us arrive at an important insight.

But before I can get to that insight, let me ask a question: What is, by far, the single biggest cost in the cost stack of most consumer products?

It's advertising and marketing.

In fact, almost all major consumer products companies use a laughably simple, three-step business model centered around advertising:

1) Spend lots of money blasting consumers with repeated advertising and branding messages,
2) When those consumers shuffle mindlessly and zombie-like to the store to buy those products, charge them a premium price.
3) Then, take those premium-price proceeds straight to the bank.


Some of the most successful and long-lived companies in modern economic history (Proctor & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, Clorox, General Mills, Kellogg, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Unilever Corp., etc.) use this business model.

The bottom line? This business model works--and it works extremely well.

Here's another example of how well it works: During my career on Wall Street, I watched the profitability metrics of the world's best technology companies fluctuate massively (and sometimes horrifically) with business and technology cycles. But companies like Pepsi and Proctor? They earn operating profits in the 18-22% range consistently, regardless. Recession, depression, boom, bust--it didn't matter. They earn these profits like clockwork.

(Two quick tangential comments here: 1) for those readers who tuned out at the words "operating margins," please just take my word for it, 18-22% margins are really juicy, especially if they're recession-resistant; and 2) for those readers with a predilection for the stock market, understand that this also explains why consumer products stocks are awesome to own during an economic slowdown).

Handwringing Is Not Permitted
Now, I refuse to let this discussion devolve into a "companies are evil" handwringathon. Companies aren't evil. They merely sell us what we consent to buy, and this advertising-based business model works for one reason and one reason only: because we as consumers make it work.

If you think this unattractive market arrangement is purely the fault of greedy fat-cat companies, then you must also assume humans have no alternatives for the expensive, branded products they buy (which in almost all cases they clearly do), and that they also have little free will to seek out and seize those alternatives. Despite the semi-facetious title of this post, most human beings are not zombies.

(That being said, if you happen to be in line at your local grocery store, and you hear someone behind you moan "braaaiiinnnns!" you should probably run. That could be a real zombie.)

Okay. Here's my point. Now that we're totally familiar with this simplistic business model, we know everything. We know that consumer products companies are going to play a predictable role in the marketplace--they are going to run lots of ads and spend lots of money on branding, and they're going to sell us products at prices high enough to earn them generous profits, even after taking into account all the money spent on advertising and branding.

We also know that we as consumers are the most important piece of this puzzle. Why? Because we can respond by doing one of two things:

1) We can complete the cycle by responding passively to advertising and then paying extra for products offering dubious value,

or,

2) We can break the cycle.


And that's why in this post I'm advocating an entirely new philosophy of consumption: When you see products advertised, don't act out in standard zombie behavior and passively ingest the message of the ad. Instead, develop the instinctive reaction to avoid those products. In short, make it so those ads make you not want to buy.

When you see an ad on national TV or hear a product jingle played on the radio, think of the enormous cost of that ad. Think of yourself paying for that ad (which, if you think about it, is exactly what you do if you buy that product).

When you see a product or company sponsoring a major sporting event, or buying naming rights for a stadium, think how much that sponsorship deal costs. Then, imagine that money coming directly out of your wallet when you buy that company's products.

Before long, you'll start to see heavily advertised products as destroyers of consumer value. You'll have no problem instinctively avoiding them, and instead you'll instinctively seek out lower-priced and equally useful substitutes. Further, you can apply this thinking to all the products you buy, including clothes, entertainment, and even big-ticket items like vacations, cars, furniture and appliances. You don't have to limit these ideas to your grocery or drug store.

How many consumer items do you buy that are heavily advertised? Are you receiving appropriate value in return? Ask yourself these questions and you will extract far more value for every dollar you spend.


Help support Casual Kitchen by buying Jules Clancy's exceptional new e-cookbook 5 Ingredients, 10 Minutes (see my rabidly positive review here). Or, support CK by buying Everett Bogue's revolutionary book The Art of Being Minimalist. (These are both affiliate links, so if you decide to make a purchase, you'll help fund all of the free content here at CK!


Related Posts:
How to Give Away Your Power By Being a Biased Consumer
If It's So Cheap to Cook at Home, Then Why is My Grocery Bill So Huge?
Does Healthy Eating Really Cost Too Much? A Blogger Roundtable
Survivor Bias: Why "Big Food" Isn't Quite As Evil As You Think It Is


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from Amazon.com via links on this site, or by linking to me or subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!

Retro Sundays

I created the Retro Sundays series to help newer readers easily navigate the very best of this blog's enormous back catalog of content. Each Retro Sundays column serves up a selection of the best articles from this week in history here at Casual Kitchen.

As always, please feel free to explore CK's Recipe Index, the Best Of Casual Kitchen page and my full Index of Posts. You can also receive my updates at Twitter.

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This Week in History at Casual Kitchen:

Groundnut Stew: A Classic and Exotic Vegetarian Recipe (November 2007)
This popular, healthy and laughably cheap recipe combines everyday ingredients into a stew so exotic you'll hardly believe you made it in your own home. It's been a staple in our kitchen for well over a decade.

When High-Fat Food ... Can Actually Be Healthy For You (November 2007)
Believe it or not, it's okay, occasionally, to eat energy-dense, fat-laden food. This controversial article was one of my early efforts at exploring diet and athletic training.

Ten Tips on How to Cut Your Food Budget Using the 80/20 Rule (November 2008)
By now most readers know my near-fetish for the 80/20 Rule. This post--one of the most popular from 2008--contains a barrage of easy ways to save money on your food and other kitchen expenses.

How to Write A Killer Links Post (November 2009)
Links are the currency of the internet, and this post explains how to spread link love and attract new readers by sharing useful and compelling content on your blog.

Speed-Weaning: How to End Your Caffeine Addiction in Just Three Days (November 2009)
The idea of weaning myself off of coffee was utterly inconceivable until I discovered this easy, three-day process. Try it, and you'll see that kicking the caffeine habit is far less frightening than you'd think. (For the raw-curious readers out there, this was a critical preliminary step before my 100% raw foods trial.)


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from Amazon.com via links on this site, or by linking to me or subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!

Organic Food, Chemicals, and Worrying About All the Wrong Things

There's one additional thought I'd like to add to the other day's organics/pesticide debate, and it pertains to the average person's fears about chemicals and toxins--and how those fears make us worry about the wrong things.

Here's a thought experiment that I'll offer to make my point. Which do you think poses more risk: eating a well-washed apple (that, yes, may have been sprayed with pesticides), or driving to work?

Good question, right? On your commute back and forth to work you may very well inhale many more toxins from auto exhaust than you'll ever ingest from that apple, washed or not.

And of course comparing those two risks obscures the much more statistically significant (but still minuscule) risk of being in a serious accident while driving.

That's just one example. You could also compare the relative danger of that apple to everyday household activities that involve toxins in potentially far higher concentrations. How often do you use nail polish remover? How often do you use caustic cleaning agents in your home? Do you use tobacco products, or are you often around second-hand smoke? How many Tylenol tablets do you take in a typical month?

Of course these questions get even more hairy when we think about how so many of us make fundamentally risky (and often sadly passive) lifestyle decisions--like living a sedentary life, or eating a high-sodium or high-fat diet.

But here's the thing about fruits and vegetables. It's something we can control. Or at least it gives us the illusion of control.

Readers, please keep this in mind when you decide how much of a premium you are willing to pay for organic foods.

Related Posts:
Told to Eat Its Vegetables, The New York Times Wrings Its Hands
Who's Watching the Watchdogs? Ethical Problems in the "Ten Riskiest Foods" Report By the CSPI
The Economics of Wasteful Foods
How Food Companies Hide Sugar in Plain Sight


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from Amazon.com via links on this site, or by linking to me or subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!

CK Friday Links--Friday November 12, 2010

Here's yet another selection of interesting links from around the internet. As always, I welcome your thoughts and your feedback.

PS: Follow me on Twitter!

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Outrage after Cooks Source Magazine steals content from food bloggers. (Will Write For Food)

A formerly obese blogger has an intriguing perspective on fat acceptance. (344 Pounds)

Inside the FDA's crackdown on raw artisanal cheeses (Grist)

Sadly, we care more about the image of our food than the food itself. (Accidental Hedonist) Bonus post: The unintended consequences of banning Happy Meals in San Fran.

Recipe Links:
Delicious, easy and laughably cheap: Braised Red Cabbage. (Beach Eats)

A needed reminder of summer: Sparkling Mexican Limeade. (Boriqua Blog)

One word--Wow: Pepperoni, Provoline and Capicola-Stuffed Pork Loin. (Dad Cook Dinner)

Off-Topic Links:
Stop procrastinating and make rapid progress on your most important goals. (Thirty Two Thousand Days)

How to kill the "what if I need it someday?" excuse. (Step 1 Minimalist)

Our schools are training an entire generation of bullies--and narcissists. (The Last Psychiatrist)


Do you have an interesting article or recipe that you'd like to see featured in Casual Kitchen's Food Links? Send me an email!


Help support Casual Kitchen by buying Jules Clancy's exceptional new e-cookbook 5 Ingredients, 10 Minutes (see my rabidly positive review here). Or, support CK by buying Everett Bogue's revolutionary book The Art of Being Minimalist. (These are both affiliate links, so if you decide to make a purchase, you'll help fund all of the free content here at CK!)


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How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from Amazon.com via links on this site, or by linking to me or subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!

Ask Casual Kitchen: Going Organic and Bagging Your Groceries

Readers! As Casual Kitchen's readership continues to grow, I've been receiving more and more great questions via email, comments and Twitter. Some of these I'll turn into full posts, but from time to time (uh, like today) I'll run an "Ask Casual Kitchen" column to tackle a few questions at once.

As always, I welcome your feedback, so please
let me know what you think!
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Q: Which food/categories are worth 'paying up' for organic? And why?

A: I wrote a post on balancing the cost and value of organic foods several weeks ago, and it drew quite a bit of controversy--mainly because there are many people out there who won't (or can't) accept any middle ground in this debate.

But from a purely cost/value perspective, you'll probably get the best value out of your organic dollar by focusing your spending on foods which are normally grown using pesticides, are difficult to wash thoroughly and which are typically eaten whole (think fruits like strawberries, raspberries and peaches). You'll get the least value with fruits or veggies that have thick rinds and thus can be eaten safely no matter how much pesticide use is involved in their production (think melons, grapefruits, oranges, lemons, limes or bananas).

Keep in mind that there's a philosophical (sometimes I want to say a religious) aspect to this subject that skews peoples' views. If you rigidly object to any use of pesticides or chemicals at all, no matter what the reason, then you'll have to stake out different ground on this debate. However, if you are conversant with the small but growing body of scientific studies that argues that there is little to no incremental health benefits in organic foods at all, then you may not find any value whatsoever in going organic. Read up on the issues, decide where you stand, and then buy accordingly.

Q: Do you have any suggestions for how to deal with the baggers at my grocery store who repeatedly put raw chicken in grocery bags with other foods? These kids have no idea about the risks of raw chicken.

A: You shouldn't have to explain the concept of not wanting chicken goo smeared all over your food. But in my experience, most grocery baggers tend to be young kids who don't do their own food shopping, and thus are often oblivious to how to pack groceries appropriately.

One easy solution is to grab one of those clear plastic bags from the produce section and put your chicken package in there. The register/scanner will still be able to read the label, yet the extra bag will protect your other food. Barring that, you can also look for a grocery store in your area offering a "bag your own" checkout aisle.

Readers, what thoughts would you add?


Help support Casual Kitchen by buying Jules Clancy's exceptional new e-cookbook 5 Ingredients, 10 Minutes (see my rabidly positive review here). Or, support CK by buying Everett Bogue's revolutionary book The Art of Being Minimalist. (These are both affiliate links, so if you decide to make a purchase, you'll help fund all of the free content here at CK!


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from Amazon.com via links on this site, or by linking to me or subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!

Indian Mung Bean Stirfry

This vegan-friendly recipe can be made in about 30 minutes at a laughably cheap cost of 75-80c a serving, and it packs a full and balanced punch of nutrients, fiber, protein and antioxidants.


It also represents yet another foray here at Casual Kitchen into Indian cuisine, which, the more I think about it, might just be the very apogee of all foods. The breadth of Indian cuisine is staggering, and its countless combinations of spices and ingredients yield an endless supply of possible flavors and textures.

When I hear someone say "I don't like Indian food" I can't help but look upon him or her pityingly, and wonder at the stunning ignorance of someone who could make such a sweeping generalization. It's like saying "I don't like candy" or "I don't like ice cream" when, quite obviously, there is a type of candy and a flavor of ice cream out there for everyone. It's just the same with Indian food, and the more we here at Casual Kitchen learn and practice this cuisine, the more we are in sheer awe of its infinite range.

Before we get started with the recipe, let me say a few quick words about the star ingredient: mung beans. You can get them at any health food store or at any Indian food market, and they are surprisingly inexpensive (we paid just $1.59 for a pound of "organic" mung beans at a specialty foods store, which means I probably could have found them elsewhere for less).

Mung beans are found in Indian cuisine, but they're also commonly found, interestingly, in raw cuisine. In fact, the stash of mung beans we had in our pantry dated back to my 100% raw foods trial, and since that was over a year ago, I had some concerns as to whether these guys would actually sprout after all this time.

Not to worry. I did the usual drill: soaked them overnight and then let them sit out on the counter under wet paper towels for a day or two. Within a day, they had tripled in size and were sprouting like mad. It is simply amazing how a seemingly inert and lifeless (and cheap!) legume can spring to life so easily and offer such rich nutritional value.
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Indian Mung Bean Stirfry
(Loosely inspired by the Ahaar Blog)

Preliminary: To sprout mung beans, rinse 1 cup of dried beans well, and then soak in 2-3 cups of water for 8-12 hours (the mung beans will be edible after an overnight soaking, and they'll expand to about triple their original size). Next, drain and rinse the beans, and let them stand for another 1-2 days under wet paper towels. The mung beans will quickly sprout and, more importantly, they'll have even more flavor. After 1-2 days, the beans should have sprouts of anywhere from half an inch to 1.5 inches in length.

Ingredients:
3-4 Tablespoons olive oil
2 jalapeno peppers, finely chopped
2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
2 medium onions, chopped coarsely
2 medium tomatoes (or 3-4 plum tomatoes), chopped

3 cups sprouted mung beans (3/4 to 1 cup dried, see above)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
3/4 cup water (add more or less, depending on your preference)

Directions:
1) Heat oil in a large nonstick pan. Add the cumin seeds and the chopped jalapenos and temper them (see note 2 below) on medium heat for 3-4 minutes.

2) Add the onions and grated ginger and saute for 4-5 minutes on medium-high heat, until the onions are soft but not browned. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 4-5 minutes more, until the tomatoes are softened.

3) Add the mung beans, ground cumin, turmeric and water and simmer for 10 minutes or so on medium/medium-high heat, stirring regularly, until the mung beans are done to your liking (we prefer them crunchy, but not too crunchy). Serve immediately with rice.

Serves 4-5.

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Recipe notes:
1) I shouldn't have to remind you to be careful what parts of your body you touch after handling jalapeno peppers. This is a lesson you only need to learn once, trust me.

2) What does it mean to "temper" the cumin seeds and chopped jalapenos? In Indian cuisine, tempering simply means to heat a combination of spices, usually in oil, as the first step of a recipe.


3) If you're curious about what in the world made me to do a 100% raw food diet experiment, check out the main archive page of my raw food trial. Read it both for humor value and for some surprising insights on both weight loss and managing food cravings.

4) A few more words on mung beans. First, what do they actually taste like? They have a rich, nutty flavor that's subtle, not overpowering, and slightly reminiscent of the bean sprouts you'd find at a standard restaurant salad bar. However, they have what I'd call an "adult" flavor, and I'd bet that most kids won't like this dish all that much.

5) Let's quantify the laughable cheapness of this meal, shall we?

Mung beans 60c
Jalapenos 32c
Onions 70c
Ginger 10c
Tomatoes $1.05
Spices 25c
Rice 10c
Total: $3.12


Assuming 4 servings, this works out to 78c/serving. If that's not laughably cheap I do not know what is. And people still try to convince me that healthy food has to be expensive!

Related Posts:
Vegan Potato Peanut Curry
Spicy Sauteed Beets
11 Really Easy Rice Side Dishes
Why Salt Sucks
Don't Pay Up For That Cookbook! How to Spend Next to Nothing on a Great Recipe Collection


Help support Casual Kitchen by buying Jules Clancy's exceptional new e-cookbook 5 Ingredients, 10 Minutes (see my rabidly positive review here). Or, support CK by buying Everett Bogue's revolutionary book The Art of Being Minimalist. (These are both affiliate links, so if you decide to make a purchase, you'll help fund all of the free content here at CK!


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from Amazon.com via links on this site, or by linking to me or subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!



Retro Sundays

I created the Retro Sundays series to help newer readers easily navigate the very best of this blog's enormous back catalog of content. Each Retro Sundays column serves up a selection of the best articles from this week in history here at Casual Kitchen.

As always, please feel free to explore CK's Recipe Index, the Best Of Casual Kitchen page and my full Index of Posts. You can also receive my updates at Twitter.

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This Week in History at Casual Kitchen:

How Not to Waste Fresh Herbs (November 2007)
It's incredibly frustrating to pay the extra money to buy herbs like parsley or mint, use a tiny fraction of them in a recipe--and then have the rest end up rotting in your fridge. Here's how to nip that waste in the bud and get far more value out of the herbs you buy.

The Macchinetta: Stovetop Espresso Coffee (November 2008)
This unusual and surprisingly inexpensive coffeemaker--totally new to me at the time--made such exceptionally strong and delicious coffee that I couldn't wait to share it with readers.

How are You Adjusting to the Economic Crisis? (November 2008)
Way back in '08 as the credit crisis was just getting going, I asked readers how they've changed their cooking, eating, and food-related entertainment habits to adjust to coming economic uncertainty. And oh, did they answer. You'll find a ton of exceptional ideas here that you can use to save money right now.

Overpriced and Overengineered: Kitchen Gadgets for the Non-Frugal (November 2009)
Too often, the housewares industry sells us products we don't really need at prices we should never pay. You'll see what exactly I mean when you read this post.


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from Amazon.com via links on this site, or by linking to me or subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!

CK Friday Links--Friday November 5, 2010

Here's yet another selection of interesting links from around the internet. As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

PS: Follow me on Twitter!

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How often should you weigh yourself? As infrequently as possible. (344 Pounds)

Our modern concept of food is myth--a completely cultural construct. (Evolvify, via @crystalsilver)

I beg of you, read this only if you have a strong stomach. The seven most disgusting insect delicacies on earth. (Environmental Graffiti)

Four quick tips to make vegan eating easy--and healthy. (Cheap Healthy Good)

Recipe Links:
How to make a supermarket vegetable platter edible. (5 Second Rule)

Beer Can Chicken with Lemon Verbena and Thyme. (Kalofagas)

A simple, seven-ingredient Chipotle & White Cheddar Shortbread Cracker recipe. (Christie's Corner)

Off-Topic Links:
Unsolicited book recommendation of the week: Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa. A brilliant book by the winner of this year's Nobel Prize for literature--it's one of the best novels I've read in years. Writers will find it particularly inspiring.

Inaction only leads to suffering. (The Middle Finger Project)

You should ask "Why?" every single day. (Art of Non-Conformity)



Do you have an interesting article or recipe that you'd like to see featured in Casual Kitchen's Food Links? Send me an email!


Help support Casual Kitchen by buying Jules Clancy's exceptional new e-cookbook 5 Ingredients, 10 Minutes (see my rabidly positive review here). Or, support CK by buying Everett Bogue's revolutionary book The Art of Being Minimalist. (These are both affiliate links, so if you decide to make a purchase, you'll help fund all of the free content here at CK!)


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How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from Amazon.com via links on this site, or by linking to me or subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!

A Tale of Two Breakfasts


The two breakfasts in the above photo took about the same amount of time to make--about five minutes. They'll take about the same time to eat, another five minutes.

Both meals are roughly equal in volume and have similar satiety factors, which means you could eat either one and feel equally full for about the same length of time.

Yet one breakfast has nearly three times the calories of the other. Betcha can't guess which.

And, for those of you still clinging to the ludicrous notion that healthy food has to cost more than unhealthy food, guess which meal costs less?

Uh-huh. That bowl of oatmeal costs about 20c to make, less than one fourth of the 90c-$1.00 cost of the eggs and sausage.

Goals
Why am I talking about this? Because these two radically different breakfasts serve completely different goals.

Laura loves sausage and eggs, probably even more than I do. She could easily wolf down that higher-calorie breakfast and hardly think twice about it. But her long-term goals are to get her cholesterol numbers down and get more fit. Oatmeal is a food she likes that helps her reach those goals.

My goal, on the other hand, is to have a heart attack by age 47.

Just checking to see if you were paying attention! Seriously, my goal is to rebuild my body during a period of heavy distance running, so I temporarily need to increase the protein and fat content of my diet.

Two totally different meals, two totally different diet and health goals.

What goals will you support with your next meal?


Related Posts:
Make Your Diet Into a Flexible Tool
15 Creative Tips to Avoid Holiday Overeating
What to Eat When You're Sick as a Dog
The "It's Too Expensive to Eat Healthy Food" Debate


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from Amazon.com via links on this site, or by linking to me or subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!