Winner of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day giveaway

The winner of an autographed copy of “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” is

Cindy Sanborn!

I’m a little bit worried about whether we should give it to her, because she’s the leader of a CULT! But it’s a bread cult, so surely we’re OK.

Here’s her comment:

I love this book! I recently hosted a “bread party” for co-workers and showed them many of the wonderful things that can be made from this book. It was a blast and several that didn’t already have the book ran out to buy it and we are planning another bread get together soon. My daughter calls it our bread cult. I would love to have a new copy because mine is getting dog-eared from being passed around so much.

(Cindy’s comment was picked by the number generator at

Thanks to everyone who entered and shared your experiences, questions and suggestions.

Pain d’epi

I tried another loaf of the bread yesterday — the pain d’epi. They also call it “wheat stalk bread,” because it is meant to look like an elegant stalk of wheat. (“Epi” in French means “ear” or “point.”)  The authors’ blog has terrific detailed instructions for shaping the bread. And of course, their bread looks gorgeous.

Mine? Not so much.

It has some of the shaping, but my dough, which I mixed up earlier that morning, did not achieve the nice, smooth skin theirs has. In fact, without a lot more stirring, I don’t think mine *would* have that. My dough was also taller and more energetic-looking than the blog photos — her dough looks relaxed and a slack, in a good way; a much longer rest in the refrigerator might have mellowed mine. Hopefully, the bread will still taste good — it’s a gift for the teachers’ lunch for school conference day.

In the future, for a more precise same-day loaf like this, maybe it’s worth mixing the dough in the mixer. Meanwhile, I’ll reserve judgment on using same-day dough.

Have you tried this or any of the more elegant breads in the book? How did they work for you?

Reader mailbag on bread

The post on Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day has generated a lot of comments — and quite a few questions. I’ll answer some of them here.

I’ve done no knead before, but not really happy with the results. Have you compared the two recipes side by side?

Not side by side, although I’ve written about both. Here’s my take on the no-knead recipe, last year.

If we compare the ingredients, we’ll see that they’re quite different in two key areas — yeast and salt.

No-Knead Bread (for one loaf):
0.25 tsp yeast (this equates to 0.08 Tbsp)
1.5 cups water
3 cups flour
1.5 tsp salt (this equates to 0.5 Tbsp)

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day basic boule (for several loaves):
1.5 Tbsp yeast
3 cups water
6.5 cups flour
1.5 Tbsp salt

The greater amount of yeast (9 times as much) is likely why the Artisan Bread recipe can rise and bake immediately (within two hours), whereas the No-Knead recipe first must rise 8-12 hours.

As for salt, it gives the bread flavor and affects its rising and stretching characteristics. The Artisan Bread boule has 50% more salt than the no-knead recipe. For a full, detailed expose on salt’s role in bread baking, check out this article.  For the quick view, this paragraph should suffice:

Besides flavoring the bread, bakers have long noted salt’s alteration of certain dough characteristics. Unsalted dough mixes faster, has little resistance to extension and feels sticky. Bakers who delay the salt addition during mixing find that once salt is added, the dough tightens, becoming more difficult to stretch, but also becomes stronger, and is thus capable of stretching farther without ripping. (Testing by cereal scientists confirms this seemingly contradictory observation: salted doughs are both more resistant to extension and more extensible once deformed.) During fermentation, salted doughs rise more slowly, an occurrence usually solely attributed to salt’s dehydrating effect on yeast. To understand how salt affects these changes, and to see if our assumptions hold true, we will need to take a look at the interactions within the dough on a molecular level.

In short: If you haven’t tried both recipes, give the Artisan Bread version a try — maybe it will work better for you.

The only problem I had [with a ciabatta] was the crust did not stay crusty after it cooled. What am I doing wrong?

The Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book mentions underbaking as a possible cause.

Or consider this tip from Rose Levy Berenbaum:

Allow the bread to cool completely before placing it in a brown paper bag. If the loaf has been cut into, store it in a plastic bag and recrisp it in the following way. Place the loaf cut side down on the oven stone or baking sheet. Turn the oven to 400°F and check after 7 minutes. The crust should be crisp and the crumb will be warm.

Try using a baguette pan with perforations.  The dough rises and bakes in the pan – no stone needed. The bread comes out perfect, and the smaller size only takes 20 minutes to rest, 25 to bake. I get my pans used from a bakery supply company, but there are many for sale online.

I do indeed use a baguette pan (mine only has two “bins” — I think I purchased it at Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table years ago).  They work beautifully. Lately I’ve been finding that my dough sticks in the holes when the loaf is baked. I can twist it like an ice cube tray to get it out, but I’m going to try to remember to oil the pan next time.

I have tried this no-knead bread and it is good. I am still experimenting to get the right loaf though. My loaves turn out a little too moist in the middle so when I cut them they stick to the knife. Does the book include troubleshooting tips and high altitude adjustments? Just wondering.

The book does include troubleshooting tips. For your problem, it mentions that you might be underbaking the bread slightly. They say (and I do the same) that their bread, when baked properly, comes out with some black bits on parts of the crust that protrude.

As for high altitude, the authors do not include high-altitude adjustments. Here are some tips about baking in general at high altitude, but in short, experts advise adding a bit more liquid at high altitude to compensate for drier flour. I am baking at 5,300 feet, and that’s what I do. Generally, don’t be afraid to add some more liquid to make a dough more moist, if that is an issue. Just do it a little bit at a time.

But if yours is too moist, I would assume the liquid is sufficient and try baking it a bit longer. The dough is meant to be very moist, which gives it the delicious interior with nice holes and good texture. But the baked texture shouldn’t be soggy. Good luck!

Why are your Silpats not brown?

I have no idea, except that I don’t typically cook greasy foods on them, perhaps? I found this explanation in a review on

The mats are wonderful except that while taking care of them as directed, we have never gotten one to last the advertised number of uses. We use them several times a week and take care of them as directed. After a while the mats start to turn brown. I wrote to the company and the reply was, “Unfortunately, what you’re experiencing is a normal stage at the end of the life of a Silpat. The Silpat is a fiberglass weave coated with a layer of silicone. This silicone is porous, and will begin to absorb the fat/grease from the items cooked on it over time. As the silicone absorbs more fat/grease, it fills the valleys between these peaks, and creates more surface area for the mat, causing more friction. It also will start to appear stained.”

You use the 1/2 recipe (so 3, 1.5, 1.5, 6.5) in the 2 gallon container?  How much does it rise?  If I do the whole 6,3,3,13 will it just need a 4 gallon or will it rise too much?

I just checked again, and my container is maybe one gallon. The dough rises up to about 1 inch below the rim at its maximum height. A 2-gallon container should be ample for the full recipe, but YMMV.

How ’bout some pictures of your dogs?

Let’s let sleeping dogs lie.

The Canines Cheap

The Canines Cheap

More bread on the Web

This must be a fine week for bread on the Web. In addition to my own post yesterday about Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, I came across two other relevant posts to make your home-baked bread the best it can be:

  • Down to Earth featured a tutorial and recipe for making basic bread. She bakes one beautiful loaf Down Under.
  • And if you have questions — from “Why are there yellow streaks in my loaf?” to “Why is my bread so small?” — TipNut has answers.

My comments on a couple of TipNut’s tips:

  1. Their responses assume you have fat in your dough, but fat isn’t necessary for good bread. It is included in certain doughs to make them richer and smoother, but it’s not mandatory.
  2. If you are concerned about your yeast, “proof” some yeast in a bit of warm water with a sprinkle of sugar. Mix well and let it sit for 5 minutes. If you see activity, your yeast is probably still viable. If it looks exactly the same after 5 minutes, buy new yeast.
  3. You can keep yeast in the freezer to prolong its viable life.
  4. Use a thermometer to check what “warm” water feels like. Most people say you should use water about 100 degrees Fahrenheit to activate yeast. This might be warmer than you think. Check the temperature formally with a thermometer until you know it well enough to recognize the right temperature on your fingers or wrist. (It depends on your temperature, too — my hands are always freezing, so sometimes 100F feels very warm to my touch.)

And more info regarding yesterday’s bread recipe:

  • A couple of commenters mentioned that they’ve made same-day bread by mixing up a batch, letting it rise for 2 hours, and then baking up part of it.
  • One person asked, “Why not let the bread rise in the pan in a cold oven?” — instead of letting it rise on the counter and preheating the pan in the oven. The answer to that is that part of the beauty lies in the cool risen dough landing in the hot, hot lidded pan. When the bread goes immediately into a hot oven (in a hot pan), it quickly activates  its last burst of rising, making beautiful bubbles and holes in the bread. Also, going into a hot pan (with a lid) traps the steam from the dough inside the Dutch oven, which helps the crust become chewy and crunchy. In turn, that crunchy crust helps hold moisture inside the loaf, keeping it moist. Together, this creates a perfect chewy, crusty loaf of bread. The processes of putting a steam pan inside the oven and spritzing a baking oven/loaf with moisture are designed to achieve the same result.
  • Someone also asked that I direct readers to the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day Web site. That site was linked a couple of times in the post, but for easy reference, here it is again! Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day – they have errata on the site, and you can subscribe to their blog for updates and new recipes.

And that bread at the top? That’s a new loaf I baked yesterday morning … after my big dog apparently couldn’t resist the aroma and ate the remaining half loaf I baked on Tuesday while the dogs were left alone for a few minutes. Back to the crates for the dogs, and back to the oven for us!

Do you have other tips? Did you whip up a loaf last night? Let us know.

Amazingly easy, incredible bread – and cookbook GIVEAWAY (winner named – see 3/19 post)

I own a cookbook that has a recipe titled “Best and Easiest Home-Baked Bread.” The recipe has you mix up a starter and let it sit 2 to 8 hours; make a sponge and let it rise 4 to 8 hours; knead more flour into the sponge to form a dough (by hand, mixer or food processor); let that dough rise an hour; turn it out into a bowl or basket so the loaf can rise; heat the oven to 500 degrees and put cornmeal on a baking stone; slash the loaf — and bake. The next time you want bread, do it again.

Don’t get me wrong. That makes a good loaf of bread. But I think I’ve REALLY found the easiest and best way to make the easiest and best bread — not to mention pizza, sweet rolls and other things I haven’t even discovered yet.

My new method is a hybrid of the no-knead bread I wrote about last year, and the methods described in the wonderful cookbook Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The latter has all the information you need to make many different varieties of bread, from bialies to whole-grain to sweets to … you name it. Honestly, I haven’t delved completely into the book, because I have been hung up on the perfect bread.

Read to the end to win a free, autographed copy of “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day”!

Where the melding comes in is in the baking process. Artisan Bread in Five calls for you to put the loaf on a stone, spritz the oven, etc. Those steps make for a great bread, and for a special loaf I’m willing to do them. But for every day, I find all those steps so time-consuming (and likely to burn my clumsy hands) that years ago, I gave up and started buying my bread at Costco.

But by combining the two, I haven’t bought a loaf of bread in weeks and weeks.

The only caveat: You must mix it one day and bake it on another day. The days don’t have to be consecutive, but you do need to give the dough time to grow.

Here’s how to do it:

Mixing day:

1. Get a container that can hold several quarts of dough. This is a 2-gallon plastic container with a lid, from Wal-Mart. I contemplated using a glass jar (perhaps my old pickle crock that has no pickles in it), but the dimensions of this one mean it takes up little space in the fridge.

Add ingredients as follows:

  • 3 cups of warm water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of yeast
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt
  • 6 1/2 cups of flour. The recipe calls for all-purpose flour. I usually bake bread with bread flour, which is a higher-protein flour that typically makes longer strands of gluten. And I like a little bit of whole-grain tooth. For this recipe, I’ve generally been using 1 cup of whole wheat flour (ours is stone-ground and quite rough), 1 1/2 cups of bread flour, and 4 cups of all-purpose flour. Experiment with mixtures you like.

(The book describes a mnemonic device to remember quantities: 6-3-3-13. That stands for {*EDITED* to be correct! Thx Jessie!} 6 cups of water, 3 tablespoons of yeast, 3 tablespoons of salt, and 13 cups of flour. HALVE this for one batch of dough … or make a huge batch in a bigger container.)

2. Stir up the ingredients until everything is damp. If you live in a dry climate and your flour seems exceptionally dry, add a little bit more water (a couple of tablespoons). Don’t worry about being super thorough — overmixing isn’t necessary. This should take about 2 minutes.

3. Put it in the refrigerator. Overnight is good. A full day is great. Up to a week or two should be OK. This is what it will look like after it’s been chilling and rising:

Baking day:

1. Get the dough out of the fridge. You’ll want a nice, peaceful, nonstick surface for your dough to rise on. I like to use a Silpat mat — it is nonstick, nontoxic, reusable, heat safe, and flexible for easy dough-dumping. (I got mine 10 years ago at New York Cake & Pastry, which is stamped on the mat, making them a useful souvenir of my time cooking in NYC.) If you don’t have a Silpat, you can use the counter, a towel or a small plate or cutting board.

2. Dust your rising surface with a good coat of flour. Any kind will do.

3. Pull off a hunk of dough. Again, the book gives fabulous guidelines: A piece the size of a grapefruit is about a pound. A piece the size of a cantaloupe is about 1 1/2 lbs. I use a piece probably closer to 2 pounds — the size of a really big cantaloupe, or maybe a somewhat petite honeydew. The book suggests cutting the dough; mine usually tears easily and doesn’t require cutting.

Set the dough on the floured surface. Flour your hands. Shape the wad of dough into a round loaf just like this:

4. Cover the dough with a towel and let it nap for a while. How long it rises will depend on how warm your kitchen is. An hour is sufficient if it’s warm (75-80 degrees and up). My kitchen is usually freezing (60-62 degrees), so I leave it out about 2 to 3 hours.

5. About 25 minutes before you want to start baking the bread, put your covered heatproof pan in the oven and turn the oven on to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. (My pan is a Williams-Sonoma covered cast-iron Dutch oven skillet that my co-worker Jill, God bless her, gave me in 1992.) I like to put the pan in the oven when I start the bread rising, long before I turn the oven on; otherwise, I am prone to forget it and just heat the oven sans pan. We leave our pizza stone in the oven all the time, so that’s the surface that you see under the pan.

6. When the oven is preheated, uncover your dough. It doesn’t look too much different — just a little bit taller, softer and more refreshed after its rising “nap.”

7. I bend the edges of the Silpat around the dough to shake as much flour close to the dough as I can to minimize the mess. Take the pan out of the oven (careful! It’s SO hot) and remove the lid. Carefully dump the dough into the pan. What was the bottom will be on top, with some rough edges showing. That’s OK! It will all work out in the end.

8. Bake for about 30 minutes. Then open the oven, take off the lid, and let the bread keep on baking for about 20 minutes longer. (Notice how those rough edges have made a gorgeous crown on the bread.)

9. It comes out of the oven brown and amazing!

10. Gently (and carefully!) tip the bread out of the pan and let the bread cool completely on a rack.

12. Slice it and enjoy the texture. It should be moist, chewy and crusty — perfect for toast, sandwiches or just scarfing down with butter. (For the butter, check out this post.)

Please note that it has probably taken you almost as long to read this post as to make the bread!

Tip: For breads with a firm crust like this, you don’t even have to wrap them up to store them for a day or so. Just set them with the sliced edge down on a clean cutting board and slice as needed.

What else can you do with this dough?

The short answer: What do you want to do?

So far, we’ve used it for:

  • Sandwich bread. Instead of forming a boule, stretch the dough into a rectangle, about 8″x10″, with your hands. Roll it up from one short end and place in a greased loaf pan to rise. Bake (by itself at 375F, or pop it into the oven with the boule) for about 40 minutes. Knock on it to see if it’s done — if it sounds hollow, it’s ready. Brush the top with butter or oil before or right after baking if you want a non-ashy finish.
  • Pizza. Mr. Cheap is a champion pizza maker, and this dough makes the best (and easiest!) pizza dough ever. No starting dough after work (even though that is fast). Just grab a lump from the fridge, roll it out flat, top it and pop it in the oven, either on a pizza pan or using a peel and sliding it onto a stone.
  • Little rolls from the last bit in the container.

  • Baguettes — stretch the dough into a rectangle, roll it up from the long side, pinch the bottom together, elongate the ends and let rise in a baguette pan. Slash the top (I think I forgot with the ones in the photo!) and bake at 450F for about 25 minutes. (For this one, because the steam won’t be trapped inside the Dutch oven, and a crispy, firm crust is necessary, I did use a water bath in the bottom of the oven. The steam helps form a hard crust and seal moisture into the loaf. Fill a metal pie pan with about 1″ of water and place it on the bottom rack when you preheat the oven.)

  • And of course, I made the pecan rolls from the book. They’re as good as they look!

Then what do you do?

This might be the best part: When you use up the last bit of dough, you … start again.

No washing the container. No scrubbing little bits of sticky bread-dough goo out of the bowl, out of your sponge or brush, out of the sink.

And on about my fifth batch, the container has begun to develop a faint, wonderful sourdough aroma. No-hassle sourdough? That’s phenomenal! Just begin again with the ingredients, mix it together, and wait for your dough to get more and more delicious.

(but please note: If you forget your dough, or your container with dough in it begins to develop any suspicious colors, aromas, etc., please do wash and sanitize the container and start ALL over.)

The only drawback?

I’m afraid we’re spoiling our 7-year-old and creating a bread-snob monster. This week, I found a loaf of store-bought sandwich bread in the freezer and brought it in to use up in toast and sandwiches. Yesterday, her lunchbox returned home with what looked like her sandwich … minus the innards — just the two half-slices of bread resting neatly together in her box, the cheese gone from inside.

“What’s up with the bread?” I asked. “You didn’t like your sandwich?”

“The cheese was good,” she answered. “But the bread … I really didn’t like it. It was neither warm, nor crusty.”

So parents, beware — but I think the price is worth the suffering.

Enter the giveaway

The Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day cookbook includes information on how to make a same-day loaf, rye bread, bread with nuts, seeds or other goodies, whole wheat bread, corn bread, flatbreads — and a lot of great-looking recipes using those doughs. It also includes all the details you need to bake perfect bread yourself.

Want a copy? Leave a comment below by the end of the day Wednesday, March 18, and you’ll be entered in the random drawing to win a free, autographed copy of the book from the authors, Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois! Be sure to include an e-mail address, either in your login or your comment itself, so we can contact you if you’re the winner!

Is your dinner for here or to go?

Last week on a local morning radio show, I heard these amazing statistics about the American dinner:

At 4pm everyday, 75% of Americans do not know what they will be having for dinner. Only 16% of the meals consumed at home are actually “home-cooked.” The rest are take-out, frozen or pre-packaged meals.

— Source: Chris Kimball, Publisher of “Cook’s Illustrated” magazine

Now, the first statistic — about not knowing what’s for dinner — doesn’t surprise me in the least. I bet many of us arrive home, open the fridge, and THEN try to figure out what to make. We certainly do that a lot around here. It can be a relief to have meals pre-planned, and putting something yummy in the Crock Pot in the morning is a great idea … but it doesn’t always happen.

But the second number — that only 16% of meals at home are home cooked — is a shocker. That means out of 30 days in a month, people cook about 5 dinners. Dinner cooked once a week. Not to mention breakfast and the weekend lunch.

Especially in this economy, where people are cutting back on dining out, I wonder about this statistic.

How do we do?

Usually, we are guiltiest of eating out on the weekend, but this weekend went like this:

  • Friday night we cooked for family (using one of our big squash from the garden).
  • Saturday we ate lunch out at Chipotle.
  • Saturday night we went to a party (with a homemade appetizer and home-baked bread).
  • Sunday lunch Mr. Cheap made burritos.
  • Sunday night we weren’t too hungry, so Mr. Cheap ate leftovers and Little Cheap and I had popcorn and wrapped up with some cookies and milk after parceling out her Girl Scout cookies for delivery.

We have cut back on some restaurant eating. We always eat breakfast at home — our local joint has good food, but breakfast for three can run $30. Most often, we visit our circuit of favorite restaurants — an Ethiopian place near our home, an Indian restaurant farther afield, and occasionally we order Chinese food. Other options are a bit pricier — sushi or, as Mr. Cheap and I did last week, the occasional splurge where we took advantage of a special deal that made an extraordinary restaurant more affordable. (We’ll consider that our Valentine’s dinner — and no, we don’t do it often, but great food is a great reason to save money other times.) In these tough economic times, I don’t want to eschew restaurants altogether — after all, I do want my city to have great places to eat.

In addition to breakfast at home and dinner cooked at home an average of 6 nights a week, our lunches usually come from home, too. We used to buy Little Cheap’s lunch at school, but when Little Cheap’s school lunches rose to $4 a day this year, we started sending lunch four days a week.  This is especially great as school no longer provides sack lunches on field trip days, so we would be paying but packing a lunch on those days. (She still has hot lunch on Fridays, which include pizza and a cookie to get the munchkins through the end of the week.) Mr. Cheap most often takes leftovers or cooks ahead, and I eat at home usually, because I’m working there too.

Our total? I would estimate that our food is home cooked about 86% of the time.

How about you?

How often do you eat in or out? Do you cook or do you intend to cook … or do you just not bother?

Answer the poll and tell us about your table below.

How to use coupons (and get the most from your grocery bill)

Saving on groceries. It’s a trend, it’s a necessity, it’s addictive. I know, because I’m one of those people who comes home and crows about those little numbers on my grocery receipt. (Today, I saved 38 percent. Last week, it was 41 percent. I think my all-time high was a very special 52 percent.)

How do you do it?

Well, every week, your newspaper carries hundreds of dollars worth of coupons. More might come to your home in a Valpak or similar mailer. Online, you’ll find zillions more coupons. Combine those with other deals and you’re off and running.

So just how do you find them and use them? J Pruitt asked this question on an older deals post. I’ll provide a few suggestions here. I’m sure you all know many more, so please chime in in the comments. And don’t forget to check last month’s article with 21 ways to save on groceries.

Use a price book

If you have a great memory, you can do the basics in your head. Otherwise, make a price book (Google it or check here for details):

  1. Know the prices of the things you buy so you can tell if they’re really on sale.
  2. Compare brand names to store-brand names. Compare the price with the coupon to the available price on the store brand. Check by ounce or by container size — one can might be 18 ounces and one 15 ounces.

Find coupons

Coupons are like free money — as long as they don’t motivate you to buy a bunch of stuff you don’t need or that is still expensive with coupons. Here’s where to find coupons:

  1. Check your Sunday newspaper.
  2. Ask friends or relatives who don’t bother with coupons to save their circulars for you. You can use multiple copies of the same coupon to buy multiple items that are on sale — stock up!
  3. Check your Wednesday newspaper (or whenever the food section and extra ads might appear during the week). Our paper sometimes has extra copies of the coupon circular in the Wednesday paper.
  4. Sign up for the shopper card. Give your correct contact information. You will get money off at the register, and some retailers will mail you valuable coupons. (I often get coupons for $2 off a produce purchase, or $10 off a purchase of $100 or more, as well as money off specific products that I purchase regularly.)
  5. Go online. Two of the biggest coupon sites are and (I did this in preparing this post — in just a few minutes I found 7 coupons with a value of $5 before doubling, or $7 doubled.)
  6. Take the register coupons that print out when you check out. If you don’t need them, recycle them or leave them for someone else.
  7. Check other stores, like Walgreens. Walgreens has an EasySaver coupon circular online or inside the store. Each month, several items are free with a rebate. If you apply the rebate to a gift card, you receive an additional 10 percent off.

Find sales

The surest way to get the very best deal is to combine a coupon with a sale price. Check your store circular, or find it online. Visit your grocery store Web site or try — you sign in and find sales and coupons for your zip code. (This site was mentioned in the comments on my 21 ways to save post.)

Double your coupons

Many grocery stores double coupons up to $1. This means they double any coupon with a face value of less than a dollar, for a total value of no more than a dollar. A coupon worth $0.25 is doubled and redeemed for $0.50. A coupon worth $0.55 has $0.45 added to the value for a total redemption of $1. Any other coupon up to $1 is worth $1, and any coupon of $1 or more is redeemed at its face value. has a list of stores that double coupons, by state. To be sure, call your local store and ask.

Get organized

Use your coupons in whatever way works best for you. Some people take the whole circular shopping with them and look for coupons when they get to something they want to buy.

I use a coupon organizer that I found at Goodwill for 99 cents. I added additional dividers for categories I use. Every Sunday, I cut out coupons for the items I need. At some point during the week, I take the coupons off the counter and put them in the organizer. When I am going to do a big grocery shopping trip, I make a list as follows:

  1. I check for things we’ve run out of and need immediately and add those to the list.
  2. I look through the sale flier and add the super deals to the list. (For instance, this week cream cheese is 79 cents. I will probably buy about 5 blocks, depending when the expiration dates are.)
  3. I sort through my coupons. I discard coupons that are expired … except the ones that just expired. Sometimes those are worth a try!
  4. I pull out coupons that match sales — those are the best deals.
  5. I pull out coupons that will expire in the next couple of weeks — if there’s a good price, I might use them before they expire.
  6. I keep the new coupons out — sometimes those are for an item that is on sale because it’s new and hot.
  7. I sort the coupons in approximately the order in which the store is organized.

I write the coupon items on my list, or just put the list on top of the coupons and head for the store. As I shop, I compare coupons and prices. If it works, I put the item in the cart (of course!) and tuck the coupon behind my list. If not, I stick the coupon back in the front of my organizer and deal with it later.

Scan as you shop

Don’t forget to keep an eye on the shelves. I’ve found many things on sale that weren’t listed in the flier. Especially for your regular purchases — for me, canned beans, cream cheese, milk, produce and my weakness in packaged goods, Betty Crocker cookie mixes — always take a look in case they are on sale. Another reason, too, for going through the coupons is that you’ll have an idea while shopping that you have a coupon for a certain item so you can save more.

Buy low, live high on the hog

When an item is on sale for the cheapest you’ve ever seen it, don’t just buy one — buy as many as you’ll possibly use before the expiration date. Then don’t buy it again until it goes on sale again for a great price. If you must buy while it’s high, buy one and wait until you buy more. Truly, this is the key to great prices. I have many boxes of crackers in my storage room, because they are regularly priced low at Costco — and I had a coupon to save $2.50 more per box.

Store well

Learn how to store things. Milk can be frozen — so if you find a great sale, be sure there’s some headroom in the carton so it doesn’t explode, and pop it in the freezer. If I find onions are $1 a pound at King Soopers and $0.39 a pound at Costco, I buy the enormous bag and store it in my chilly laundry room for weeks. Check out these tips on storing food and this article on modern root cellars.

Learn from the experts

If you’re intimidated, sign up for a service like The Grocery Game that guides you along. I did this when I was starting to really save money. If you haven’t been doing it, you’ll more than make up the membership costs. And once you gain confidence, feel free to cancel your membership if it isn’t convenient for you. This site gets you looking at your grocery receipt, and you’ll never want to turn back.

Don’t buy what you don’t need

Did I say this at the beginning? That’s because it’s really important. If you get a great deal on a pantry full of yogurt-covered chocolate raisin pasta clusters or hair dye, well, that’s $10 you shouldn’t have spent.

On the other hand, if you get really good and can obtain a lot of free tampons that you don’t need because you use a Diva Cup, you can donate those to a women’s shelter and feel great (and perhaps take a tax break).

(This post doesn’t yet touch on warehouse stores, which are their own saving wonderland if you use them well.)

What other ways have you found to cut down the grocery bill?

Eat Right to Change the World

The past few days, all kinds of depressing new information about the environment has come out. Mostly, global warming is here to stay; the ice is melting all over Antarctica; and things are going to get hotter and hotter over the next 100 years, which will seriously impact food supplies, especially in areas where hunger already is a problem.


So it was refreshing to turn on NPR yesterday and hear an interview with Mark Bittman about his book “Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating.”

According to Bittman, Americans average 200 lbs. of meat per person, per year. (I believe he’s talking all kinds of meat – beef, pork, chicken, fish.) He pointed out that’s about half a pound a day per person.

If each of us eats 10 meals with meat, he says, and we gave up meat at two of those meals, that would eliminate about a pound of meat a week — and reduce our annual intake by almost one-fourth.

What would that do for the planet?

Well, Bittman said, we slaughter 100 billion animals per year in the United States.

100 BILLION. That’s about three animals per man, woman and child. Some of those animals are little. But some of them are really, really big (like cows).  All those cows produce methane, a gas that is key to greenhouse gas production and global warming. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that cattle produce 28 percent of the global methane emissions from human-related activities.

If we cut our consumption by 20 percent, we could significantly reduce those emissions.

What would it do for you?

Bittman said that he previously ate “typically American.” That means lots of meat — surely at least those 10 meals a week. This is a man, after all, whose “How to Cook Everything” includes diagrams of which cuts of meat come from where.

Now, he says he avoids meat at breakfast and lunch, but might eat meat at dinner.

After just a few months of the new diet, Bittman says, he noticed improvements to his health: “I lost 35 pounds — which is about 15 percent of my body weight — my cholesterol went down 40 points; my blood sugar went from borderline bad to just fine; [and] my knees, which were starting to give out as a result of running at too high a weight, got better.”

On air, he also said he eliminated his sleep apnea, which was probably related to being overweight.

Read the whole interview summary (and listen) here.

Editor’s note: There are also a few recipes at that link. However, on air he said it’s a good idea to cut eggs and dairy — milk, butter — out of your diet as much as you can, for the maximum benefit all around. But the recipes are a breakfast bread pudding (with eggs and butter … and who has 1.5 hours to prepare breakfast?!), and a yogurt-and-egg-laden chocolate pudding. But they’re probably tasty.

Do you have a green resolution?

We’re more than two weeks into the new year. How are the resolutions coming? If you’ve slumped off your diet already or missed a trip to the gym, there’s still time to add a green resolution — one that’s relatively effortless to keep (at least compared to losing those last 10 pounds) and that will make you feel great.

If you’re floundering for what to choose, this past week, Verda Vivo wrote about 10 green resolutions you can keep. She has a great list, and I’m happy to say we do all of them, with the exception of regular use of public transit. (Fortunately, we still drive less than average. But Little Cheap’s school is not walkable, and Mr. Cheap lugs a lot of stuff to work with him as a teacher.)

As for me, I have a resolution that is both greener and cheaper:

Leftover night.

Some of you are probably scoffing, eating leftovers all the time. I, however, am really not a fan of leftovers. Especially if I didn’t love and adore (we’re talking it’s-one-of-my-favorites, lifelong-passion kind of love) the meal the first time. And I am a lazy cook. Meaning given my druthers, I would eat popcorn (organic! air-popped! with organic butter and organic salt!) three nights a week for dinner.

Fortunately, Mr. Cheap is an excellent cook. Fortunately for him, he likes to eat enough that he is more than willing to whip up dinner after a hard day in the salt mines classroom. So he cooks, and I eat. But we have different tastes, so usually the dinners — while delicious and appreciated — do not meet my “love and adore” criteria, and the leftovers sit.

Often, Mr. Cheap takes the leftovers for lunch. Very often. It’s a great way for him to enjoy good food inexpensively. I work at home, and sometimes I eat leftovers for lunch; other times I have something simple and inexpensive. (Not popcorn, I swear. Well, maybe sometimes.)

But the other day, I cleaned out the refrigerator, and I threw out 8 containers of food.


Truly, this is not typical for us, but it was alarming.

Thus, leftover night. It’s a good solution for using things up rather than tossing them in the compost. It will make life easier for us both. And it will test my creativity as I find new ways to make something old into something new, or to combine leftovers to make another good meal.

We started last night. To appease the troops, I bought some more organic chicken bratwurst to fill out our leftover choucroute (sauerkraut) and potatoes. It tasted great.

Making this kind of change also goes right along with One Green Generation’s post last week about the one thing (or several things) that are really hard to change on the path to sustainability.

What about you? What’s your resolution?

Sign up now for CSA vegetables

Some of us are complaining about holiday debt. Much of the North American population is bellyaching about the frigid temperatures. But for some of us, the worst part of this time of year is opening the fridge and finding that we have to actually go to the store to purchase vegetables.

Sure, we miss the food we grew in our garden. But honestly, between the kale overload, the dog eating all of my beautiful haricots verts, the tomatoes that didn’t get ripe enough, the peanuts that didn’t grow and the Brussels sprouts that (as usual) did not manage to finish their sprouty business before winter arrived, the garden was a bit of a drag.

What we are really lacking is the produce from our CSA, which overflowed our refrigerator from June through December.

That’s because last year, we joined a community-supported agriculture program that supplied our veggies from mid-June to mid-December. We’ve just signed up again, and I hope you’ll think about doing the same.

What is a CSA?

If you’re unfamiliar with CSAs, here’s the rundown. Community-supported agriculture is just as it sounds: The community supports an agricultural enterprise directly. Members of a farm’s CSA arrangement pay a subscription fee for a “share” (or a portion of a share) of the farm’s produce. Some CSAs require members to pick up produce at the farm. Others set up convenient locations where members collect their shares.

  • Farmers benefit from having a predictable income stream, and gaining income that comes in before they have to start purchasing seeds and other supplies.
  • Members benefit from paying ahead for their produce, obtaining local (and usually organic) produce nearly direct to their door. Usually, the price for the share is a fair deal — and sometimes it’s a great deal.

Joining now is a great idea

Ideally, CSA members pay the fee as early as possible, so that the farm can purchase seeds, equipment, hire employees, pay for insurance, and handle all the myriad expenses that go along with growing our food.

In the words of our CSA, Grant Family Farms:

This is a very important time for the farm, for when there is nothing to harvest, we have no cash flow, and with the CSA we have embarked on an attempt to become a sustainable farm model, a new chapter to the history of farming.

Here in Colorado, where our CSA is based, farmers are facing challenges heading into this growing season. Again from Grant Farms:

As you know we took a very direct hit this season with a very angry August hail storm. Thankfully, you all had patience and understanding as the crops recovered for a great bounty in the fall.  To make a long story short, with the hail storm and the devastatingly strong winds in October, blowing much of our corn harvest to the ground, Grant Family Farms had a very bad year and are in need of cash flow to start buying seeds, making payroll, fixing tractors and all that goes into growing food.

This farm is absolutely not alone. In Colorado, 24 counties received a disaster designation following these storms. Tornadoes, dry weather, wet weather and all kinds of unexpected conditions dashed farmers’ hopes around the world. It’s part of being a farmer. And by joining a CSA, you can share the risk — and the joy — of growing and enjoying local food.

What will you get?

We chose a small or half share of produce. Each week, we picked up a large, reusable plastic box (or emptied its contents into our own bags).

Inside we found a variety of items. I detailed our first CSA pickup here. It was our skimpiest; in Colorado in June, without greenhouse conditions, the pickings are slim (most often including lettuce, radishes, possibly peas, and spring onions).

Throughout the season, the selection expanded. In October, the heart of harvest season as Colorado farmers and gardeners hold their breath, hoping Jack Frost will wait, I wrote about putting some of our stash away.

Each week, I would estimate we received around 20 lbs. of produce. Toward the end of the season, boxes were even heavier, loaded down with weighty beets, enormous cabbage and a wide variety of winter squash.

The cost breakdown: Less than $1 per pound!

And we didn’t even receive the peppers and tomatoes we had hoped for, because they were demolished by the brutal hailstorm. Better luck in 2009 is likely.

What can you do with it?

  • Of course, you can eat it!
  • We had extra veggies many weeks, and we happily shared bits and pieces: kale and corn to a neighbor, cabbage and greens to my massage therapist, parsley to my mother-in-law’s bunnies, cauliflower to my knitting group’s fearless leader, and a variety of goodies to our parents.
  • We also put a lot of it away. We cooked and froze cauliflower, sliced corn off the cob and froze it, chopped and blanched and froze spinach and kale.
  • From our basement laundry room/root cellar, we have been gradually working our way through potatoes, cabbage, squash and onions.

What it means for us this year

This year, we plan to grow our own garden differently. We’re going to grow just for fun:

  • The tomatoes we love.
  • A tomatillo for salsa.
  • Some jalapenos.
  • Our fruit trees.
  • Lettuce and radishes in the spring, before the CSA is operating.
  • My beloved okra.
  • And a few things we’ve heard of but never tried.

Join Grant Family Farms

If you are on the Colorado Front Range and are interested in joining the Grant Family Farms CSA, you can sign up here.

They offer all kinds of goodies:

  • 26 weeks of great organic vegetables
  • 5% off every share paid in full by Feb. 28
  • 5% off shares PLUS a free T-shirt AND a free canvas tote bag if paid in full by Jan. 31
  • Full, half and single shares and the opportunity to split shares with a friend or neighbor to accommodate all household sizes
  • Or the opportunity to put down a deposit now and finish paying later
  • A great annual party for all CSA members at the farm
  • Opportunity to purchase meat, egg, flower and fruit shares — or whatever they come up with this year!

I can assure you from our experience this year that Grant Farms has a fabulous, generous spirit. We received unexpected goodies including a bottle of their own wine, a holiday evergreen wreath and samples of fruit preserves from their fruit share partners. YMMV, but it was fun to be surprised.

If you do join Grant Farms, please mention that you heard about them here!

Find a CSA

If you are one of many readers outside this area, and/or if you want to check out all your options, there are many ways to find the perfect CSA near you. Try these avenues:

Some CSAs specialize in staples, some in exotic produce. Some ask you to commit to working on the farm; others offer working shares as an option for those who can’t afford to join.

Whatever option you choose, a CSA is a great way to truly put your heart — and your dollars — behind local agriculture.

21 ways to save on groceries

Welcome Denver Post readers! 10 of these tips appeared in today’s paper, and more are added below. If you like what you read, please subscribe for a regular dose of Cheap Like Me.

We all know the bad news: Food prices have been going up as employment, home values and credit lines go down. The scenario can be even worse if you are trying to make your shrinking dollars pay for more organic foods … or so it seems. But you can squeeze more out of your grocery receipt with some tried-and-true methods.

Ready to pinch a few more pennies at the grocery store? Here are 21 ways to trim your grocery bill.

1.    Use coupons. Some people claim coupons aren’t worth their while (i.e., “If I spend 20 minutes cutting coupons to save $2, I’m only making $6 per hour”), but unless someone is actually paying you for the 20 minutes spent clipping coupons, you’ll come out ahead — especially considering that most local groceries double them. But only cut out coupons for things you usually use — you’re spending, not saving, if a coupon drives you to buy something extra.

2.    Use the grocery store “club” card. It lets you access grocery store sale prices, and after you shop for a while, you can receive extra coupons in the mail that make a big difference.

3.    Check prices by the ounce, not the package. Packages can be deceiving. Be sure you’re comparing apples to apples. Consider it good exercise for your brain — even if you use a calculator.

4.    Go with a list — but not too much of a list. Don’t plan meals and shop to the list. Instead, buy what’s on sale and cook with what you get for maximum savings.

5.    Piggyback coupons and sales. Use more than one coupon if you have one. For example, tea costs $2.75 a box, but it’s on sale for 2/$5. If you buy two boxes and have two coupons for $0.55, which will be doubled to $1 each, you will pay $1.50 per box — saving 45 percent. Stores usually will accept coupons even for “manager’s special” or markdown items.

6.    Price check. Use a price book. (This blog post explains how.)  Record the lowest prices you see on items, and consult it before you buy. For instance, cream cheese is sometimes “regularly” $1.14, and sometimes $1.50. It might go on “sale” for $1.25, but you might see in your price book that it has gone on sale in the past for $1.00. If you can wait to buy until it hits that point, and if you can use a $0.20 coupon (with doubling) you actually paid $0.60 — which makes the $1.25 price look like highway robbery. Buy several of an item at the lowest price (but do check expiration dates and be reasonable about how much you can use up) to keep your entire stock of that item priced low.

7.    Take advantage of manufacturers’ programs. For instance, I buy a brand of fish oil tablets that offers rewards. Typically, I stock up when the tablets are on sale for 40 percent or 50 percent off regular prices. I try to also use a coupon. Then I record the vitamin purchase at the manufacturer’s site, and after a few bottles, they send a coupon for $7 off. I choose to accept the coupon in the form of a check to Costco, because then I can be sure of using all $7 — if I use it at King Soopers, it’s a regular coupon, and if the vitamins I buy cost only $5.50, I won’t receive the full $7 value. Counting the value of the coupon, the bottle of fish oil tablets might cost just $5 or so instead of the listed $12. That’s a savings of nearly 60 percent.

8.    Look at local coupon books for extra savings. In the Denver area, the E-Book has King Soopers coupons for $5 off a $50 grocery purchase every other month. The book costs $10. If you regularly shop there and buy a book now (available at King Soopers) you can still save $15 on groceries alone. See a full list of offers here and consider if you would save enough to make the book buy worthwhile.

9.    Use meat sparingly — it is expensive. But enjoy it on sale. Stretch smaller amounts of meat to fill out multiple meals, and you’ll benefit your health and your wallet. Think of adding leftover chicken to chili or salad, dicing ham to add to fried rice, soup or potatoes, and saving bacon grease (if your health permits) to add smoky, rich flavor to sautéed onions.

10.    Always check the sale bins. Grocery stores have “manager’s special” sections in the dairy, cheese section, meat department and for general items. Buying “gourmet” bread at half off makes it a reasonable expenditure. Sunflower Market and Vitamin Cottage put older or bruised produce in bags for a few dollars or less. But always compare prices — once I almost bought some manager’s special natural sausage for $3 — a good savings from the regular price of $4.99. But then I saw the same brand of sausage, with a regular expiration date, was on sale at 2/$5.

11.    Watch for deals on new products. Often, a coupon for a new product signals that it also will be on sale. I recently got salsa for free, because it was on an introductory sale of $1 (from its regular price of $3.99), and I spotted a $1 coupon.

12.    Don’t buy what you won’t use. It’s not a great deal if you’ll throw it away or it will just take up room in the cupboard.

13.    Learn new ways to use cheap food — like beans, cabbage and squash. These foods are nutritious and very inexpensive. Stretch them into your menu in a variety of ways that will hold your interest.

14.    Learn to make some of your own staples, like bread, pizza, soup and yogurt. You’ll save money and create healthier foods.

15.    Minimize purchases of prepared food. It is expensive, more likely to be encased in wasteful packaging, and less healthy than home-cooked food.

16.    But save on dining out by buying “luxury” foods. Judicious use of packaged “luxuries” can save big bucks on going out. Keep a few things in the freezer to whip out when you are too tired to cook, but you won’t really enjoy a meal out. Prepared pasta from the freezer section can cost $4 to $8 for a family’s meal, compared to $12 a plate at a restaurant. A bag of prepared dumplings costs $9; whip up some fried rice for about $3 using frozen veggies and an egg. You can feed a family of four for under $10, compared to $40 ordering in. Frozen pizza can be had for $5, compared to $15 delivered.

17.    Buy items where they are mundane. Cilantro, shrimp and avocados might cost less at a Mexican market. Spices are available in inexpensive bulk at Indian markets. Some “exotic” ingredients (like artichoke hearts) might cost less at Whole Foods than at Albertson’s.

18.    Leave wiggle room in your budget so you can stock up on good deals. If you set aside a few grocery dollars every month, you can afford to invest in items like a CSA share (community supported agriculture) for local, organic veggies (last year we paid $18 a week for six months of more vegetables than we could eat), a portion of a locally raised beef cow, or a great manager’s special, like last year’s after-Christmas deal on Coleman beef roasts for more than 50 percent off.

19.    Be wary of non-food expenditures. Non-food purchases at the grocery store can be priced much higher than elsewhere. On the other hand, if all you need is a box of laundry soap, and you know in your heart that if you go into Target or Wal-Mart to buy it you’ll come out with a cartful of goods, you might find that paying a few cents more at the market will save you $100 at Target.

20.    A freezer is a good investment. It lets you stock up for the future, make your own freezer jams, buy in bulk and freeze goods to eliminate any possible insect infestations (like when you open that older bag of cornmeal and … ugh).

21.    Bulk foods can be great savers. Think staples: flour, sugar, beans, rice, coffee, nuts. Calculate how much you can save on these items (and non-food items like pet food, cat litter and diapers) to determine if a warehouse membership (Costco, Sam’s or the like) is worthwhile for you.