A Mom's Guide to Saving on Groceries


Hey, it's with a lot of pleasure that I'm noticing this blog is actually getting read.  Bloggers write mainly to share, I think.  The idea of making money from a blog is gone with the wind, and I don't care what the big G says. 

So, in the interest of sharing, I'm hoping that some of you will comment, and make suggestions, in other words, talk back!  I'd love to know if my quick and wacky way of cooking and baking is working for you.  It would be great to know if there is something in particular you are looking for, because I might have the answer.  Maybe I don't, and your question will lead me to a culinary discovery... all because you asked! 

So hit that comment button.....  :)



Bagels: I can go from cold dough to finished bagel in 30 minutes. You can too, once you get the hang of rolling the bagels out .

Also, every bagel recipe I’ve ever seen says to let rise and then put them in the water to boil.  It's nearly impossible to manage that without deflating them.   It was my sister that discovered that you can put the cold dough right in the pot. We let them rise on the sheet, and they do it right away thanks to the hot bath.

Take ½ recipe regular dough (not sweet) from the fridge. Set a pot on the stove with water to boil. For a nice brown shiny crust, add a couple tsp. of baking soda to the water. Divide into 6 or 8 pieces, and roll just a bit into short cylinders.

On a clean work surface, lay one cylinder down long-wise and smash that puppy flat. I don’t use flour, but if you do, use just a little. You don’t need it, though. About a ¼ inch should do it. You will end up with a bigger rectangle.

So here’s where it gets interesting: you can fill that up with cinnamon, onion, whatever. Rolling away from you, take your plain or filled dough and roll it up like a jelly roll. Like play-doh, you roll and elongate this into a little snake about 1 inch in diameter, maybe 8 inches long. When I’m making onion bagels, I roll in dried onions (fine for filling, too, and very instant), at this point.

Now, wrap it around your hand with the seam on your palm, and roll to seal. Any way you do it, you want to end up with a donut shape and a hole that is about 1½ inches. Do all of them at once. Get a baking sheet ready with a sheet of parchment or one of those silicone liners. Me, I’m parchment girl. Silicone makes me nervous- petroleum product.

By now, the water is dancing in the pan for your entertainment pleasure. Drop one bagel at a time in there, and poke it with a wooden spoon so it doesn’t stick. It should pop up like a dumpling within 30 seconds (no longer, or you'll kill the yeast!). When it pops up, use the hole to pluck it out with the handle of your spoon. That, by the way, is the reason for the hole! This is a lot of fun to do. Place each directly onto that baking pan lined with parchment. Give them space because they are going to double.

I top mine with coarse salt, or onion, or sugar, whatever, while they are wet. Sneaky, eh? Then put them into a cold oven. Turn it on to 375 degrees F. Wait until your mouth waters, and the bagels are golden, and there you have it. I think it’s about 10-15 mins. They will rise and double in the process of baking.

Here in the rural South, most people I’ve met have either never had a real bagel, or only had the frozen kind for breakfast. To me, that’s just sad… You haven’t lived until you’ve had a bagel sandwich. So for your Southerners out there, you gave me Pilau, squash fritters and hush puppies. I’m giving you bagels! Try putting meats, cheeses, various toppings, and condiments and dig in. Heaven. My personal favorite is roast beef or turkey with onion, tomato, cheese, pepperoni, and mayo, salt and pepper.


More Bread dough… and things to do with it.

First off, if you take that first dough, and make a couple of changes, you can have a sweet dough that is out of this world, and lasts the same way as the other dough I gave you. Make it, divide it in half, put each into a gallon zip lock bag or a large container (dough will double in size in the fridge), and store for a week. When you need it, take it out, proof it, and poof!

I must confess something right now. I’m feeling guilty! Over the summer, I’ve bought bread. There, I said it, it’s out. But while convenient, it wasn’t bread to me. So now that it’s cooled down some, I’m back to making bread. And cinnamon rolls, bagels, pizza pockets, hot dogs, sausage sandwiches.  

This sweet dough is just richer, that’s all. You can use it for sandwiches, and rolls, and sweet rolls and coffee cakes. Here are the substitutions.

Essentially, we are sticking with the same 2 cups of liquid. In this case, milk, scalded and cooled.

I hate scalding milk, and I don’t do it. Because I have that cool whole milk powder, I use boiling water, add 1 stick of butter (you can use ½ canola, too), let it melt, then add the 6 tbsp. of milk powder. I whisk this, until it’s cool enough to add the packet of yeast. You want warm, not hot.  After melting the cold butter, it doesn’t take long. See? No extra pots.  If it's taking too long, I set my mixing bowl in some cool water in the sink and whisk to cool. 

I put about a half cup of sugar in there, to make it multi purpose. By sugar, I mean: white, brown, molasses pretty strong- do that ½ and ½ with the others), honey (very nice). Sometimes, if I’m going to make donuts out of it, or beignets, then I up the sugar and add some nutmeg. But those things can be added later, and I need my dough to multitask, like me.

You can add 1 or two eggs, or not.  You will need to use the dough faster, in that case.  I'd say within 3 days.  Proteins like eggs will go bad if left for long.

Follow the same instructions with the salt (in this one, about 2 tsp)… not at the beginning, but after some flour has gone in.

I hope you are beginning to see how malleable this is. Follow the other recipe from here.  This is the basic dough, but adding other flavorings is easy to do.  Cheese bread comes to mind- just stir in some cheese.  If adding anything heavy, like olives, nuts, whole grain flour, just double your yeast for insurance, and plan on maybe having a more compact loaf.

On either dough, if you want a finer texture and even more rise, more elasticity, then it takes an extra step. In daily life, I skip it, but for holidays, etc., I take the extra time. Here’s the secret: The Sponge.

By adding enough flour to the wet ingredients to make a batter, and letting that rise by itself, you are creating what is known as a sponge. This allows the gluten to really develop, and give you a finer texture. I use quick rise yeast all the time. But when yeast are allowed to do their thing slowly, you get a much better flavor and texture. So if you do the sponge, then once that’s risen, continue from that to make the dough, put it in the refrigerator to rise overnight, you will be rewarded with even better bread. You can take bread from “good” to an absolute art form if you have the time and inclination.


In my restaurant, we had a proofer, which was basically an enclosed rack with shelves and low heat to which you add water so you have steam. There isn’t one reason you can’t make this in your oven at home: Turn it on to the lowest setting just until you feel some heat (like, 1-2 minutes!). Turn it off, or you will kill your yeast- you want warm, not hot. Put a pan on the bottom rack, pour boiling water in there, and voila, add your bread to your new proofer. I leave the pan in when baking for extra moisure, which gives it a nice crust.


Note:  08/30/08:

I made these this morning, before having coffee.  I accidentally put in half the flours.  What I got was a dense(in the way of poundcake), moist muffin, with a chewy top.  Happy accident, no frosting required, or butter either.  The other recipe gives you a lemon cake consistency, and rises much higher.  Both are good!

It's the height of blueberry season over here. I was lucky enough to come across a U-Pick farm not long ago, and picked about 2 gallons for $8. What a cool thing that was! Well, actually it was hot! I'd have given the farmer $20 for a bottle of water when I was done. The South is like a huge convection oven, with steam. Then that sweet man just gave me some water.  He was probably worried that the woman with the scarlet face was going to pass out on him.  :)  I am constantly surprised by the sheer niceness of people in the South.

So. All you REALLY wanted to know, was how to make a darn blueberry muffin, huh? Here goes:

Blueberry Muffins Marlena's Way......

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Cream together:

1/2 c. butter & 1 c. sugar

While the butter and sugar are beating (you want that fluffy pale yellow- about 5 mins.), blend up 1 cup oats to make oat flour (so you can sneak it past your kids). Set aside.

Add one egg at a time to the butter/sugar mixture, (you will need 2) and beat until whipped and very pale yellow.

Now, add zest of one lemon, juice from one half of it.

Next goes in: 1 tsp. vanilla, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. baking powder…That’s right, I put it right into the liquid. Yep. I went there, and I knew I wasn‘t supposed to. What can I say? I‘m a rebel.

Now you need either ½ c. milk, or 2 tbsp. whole milk powder and ½ c. water. If using the milk powder, add just the powder to the wet ingredients and mix. (see my post on powdered whole (it does exist!) milk in “How to Save Big” in the categories on the right). 

Alright: Now the flours, oat and Self Rising (this flour should have a superman “S” on the front- it’s my hero).

Dump in your oat flour, mix, then half of the milk or water. Wait until that’s incorporated, then dump in the self-rising flour ( 1 C), mix, then the other half of the liquid. Batter will be thick and like a cake batter.

You will need about a cup of blueberries.

The Thing About Blueberries: They turn your batter purple. Or worse, grey. Even if you are using frozen or canned, and drain and rinse (eek, watery berries!) like the old mixes instruct you to do.

How to avoid this: dump a couple tablespoons of the same flour you are using on them and stir them up. Then you fold them in by hand.

Okey, dokey! Use an ice cream scoop to fill the muffin cups or tins (greased) almost to the top, and pop them into that hot oven. This will make the tops rise up the way you want them to.

After 5 minutes, lower the temp. to 375 F.

True to form, I didn’t time these. I don’t even own a timer… my nose does that job for me. When they are golden brown, take them out. The smell is like - oh, I don’t know- heaven. That’s another indicator they are done. Your teenager will even come out of their room. So you see, you won’t burn them. I’m guessing it takes 12-20 minutes (what? You mean other recipes don’t have a +/- factor of 8 minutes?).

Cool them on racks, or leave ‘em in the pan to cool, and while that’s happening…

Take the juice of the other half of that lemon, ½ tsp. vanilla, 1 tbsp. butter, and ¼ c. cream cheese. This is going to shock you, but I don’t measure my cream cheese- I cut it into cubes and eyeball it. Why put it into a measuring cup, when you have to pry it back out? Yuck. Mix together and add enough powdered sugar to make frosting. No, I don’t really know how much that is….. Lots, though. About 1 ½ cups, or 2? You know when you have it right, because it looks like frosting.

Please do not buy that goo in a can they call frosting.  It's shortening.  With artificial flavors and preservatives.  And powdered sugar.  I think the trend towards instant foods is apalling- unhealthy and expensive.

Frost while the muffins are still warm… I garnish sometimes with candied lemon peel. But the kids just pull it off, so mainly, that’s for me. Try sprinkling some granulated sugar on top for fluff.

I actually ended up with 10 muffins, but you can stretch to 12. I just LOVE muffin tops, and I wanted them big.

Did you notice that half of the flour was whole grain (oats)? The kids never knew the difference, the muffins tasted like lemon cake with blueberries- same rich, dense but fluffy flavor.  And the muffins are… gone!





I read statements by moms of young children all the time that go something like this: “You have to TRAIN your child to like vegetables.” Almost without exception, these moms have very young children. To make matters worse, they are hearing this from scientists and experts, so of course, it must be true. Some of it is, but those scientists never met MY kids.

Mine are really spaced out. I have a 17 year-old, an 8 year-old, and a 2 year-old. My toddler is not very picky at all, and will eat vegetables, because I always provide them. Sound familiar? Well, that was what I thought, too, twelve years ago.

And then my firstborn, at the ripe old age of 5, suddenly decided he hated melted cheese. What child doesn’t like melted cheese? Regular cheese was fine. You just couldn’t melt it. You should have seen the looks I got when I had to order our pizza. Half without cheese. For the child. Didn’t he know he was supposed to demand cheese pizza?

Now, he’s a foodie, like me. And he shares my philosophy: Most Problems Can be Solved With Cheese. I almost gave him a wheel of cheese for Christmas last year, but decided in favor of his arteries and gave him something else. And he loves sardines and anchovies. Blech! How did that happen? I had nothing to do with that…

At the moment, my eight year -old is just starting to eat french fries. Hates corn, and mashed potatoes. Apparently nobody filled him in on the “Universal Kid’s Code of Favorite Kid Foods,” either. And for you young mothers out there, let me just say he loved those things when he was two.

The only vegetable I can get him to eat is olives, and that’s a fruit. I think I’m making a breakthrough on broccoli, though. Really, he does eat vegetables all the time; he either doesn’t know it, or can’t get around it. Like the chopped spinach that’s in a lot of my food, and is too small to pick out.

Somewhere in my memory banks was the knowledge that taste buds change. I decided to look it up, and I found what I think may be the answer: Taste buds change every 5 to 7 years. Which explains why this seems to happen between the ages of 5 and 7 with my kids, anyway. What about yours? Any comments?

Here’s a short article:


Then there is that indefinable individuality factor, the “I can do it myself” phase that means your child’s sudden dislike of broccoli may have absolutely nothing to do with food at all. If your child suddenly gives you a hard time at meals, you may be engaging in a power struggle. And guess what?

There exists all sorts of advice on this subject. The only advice I can give you is that you will suffer, because you can’t win. Even if you win, you lose. I hate that. I’ve been there, and I think I’m finally over that particular hump. But I must have tried a zillion different tactics, read almost as many articles. Good luck! I’m not smart enough to give you advice, and I don’t have a finger to point with, so I’m just going to pretend like I’m successful. Humor me, ok?  Anyway, it seems to be working.

In the meantime, just keep telling yourself it’s just a phase (that can last for years…). And keep shoveling the veggies at them, both incognito and otherwise. Most likely, if kids are required to taste vegetables at least periodically, they will like most of them eventually. A healthy lifestyle and diet really will become a part of their grown-up lives if you make it part of their lives as children
Just don’t make the assumption that it will be easy.


Forget about buying pancake mix. Pancakes are easy and fun to make! Here’s my basic recipe, with add-ins listed at the end. In another section, I mentioned organization: I like to do a Rachel Ray move, and load everything into a bowl before I begin. It also keeps me from forgetting things.

Making the batter takes 5 minutes. Let it rest for 5 more, while the griddle heats, and you will be rewarded with fluffier pancakes. The only time I ever sift anything, is when I am making certain special cakes. I just throw everything together and it still works just fine.

2 eggs, beaten

½ c. yogurt, plain or vanilla (you can use sour cream, too, or in a pinch, leave it out)

¼ c. canola oil, or melted butter

3 tbsp. sugar

3 tbsp Nido dry whole milk and 1 cup water, OR 1 c. milk

With a wisk, or a fork, beat these together.

Now add in 1 c. self-rising flour, and stir just until moistened. If it’s not thick enough, add more. Too thick, add a little water. I like mine pretty thick, because when you drop blueberries or bananas in, it just holds them well.

The trick: Don’t over-mix your batter. Think biscuits.

Bake on a griddle at about 350 degrees (when water jumps around on the surface for thermostat challenged individuals). When bubbles form, and the top is a little opaque, flip it- you can peak underneath to make sure the color is good before you flip.

Here’s the thing about butter on the griddle: nonstick doesn’t need it, and just a light glaze (nearly or no oil) will work. You’ll get “perfect” pancakes this way.

Lots of butter: funny-looking pancakes that taste amazing. The butter browns, and the sugars in the batter caramelize, and the surface is splotchy. But really, really, good.

Pick your poison… Add-ins:

Fruit of any kind: blueberries, any other berries, bananas, apples

What about nuts? Spices like cinnamon or nutmeg (only grate that fresh- it’s amazing the difference it makes)… Chocolate chips.

I add flax meal to mine, and sometimes wheat germ, and oats. Quick oats will melt right in, or you can grind any kind of oats in a magic bullet to make oat flour, and substitute for some of the white flour. If you do that, add a 1/2 tsp. of baking powder with the flour.

Top with maple syrup, or something resembling it (unless you have a maple tree), or cinnamon sauce. I have to check with my mother before I give you that recipe, or she will never forgive me. It’s actually a very big deal. Forget I even mentioned it, okay?

Something cool:  If you add applesauce, or mashed bananas and cinnamon to the leftovers if you have any, you can turn those into muffins.  You can also cover and keep in the refrigerator and make more pancakes in the next couple of days.






I’m always interested in what other moms have to say about how they save money on their food bill. So, when I saw an article in MSN Money about how to save, I was intrigued. They asked for feedback, and so I gave mine- along with a whole bunch of other people. Their responses were so good, I knew you’d like to see them, too. Here they are:

MSN Money Message Board: How do YOU save on your food bill?


We have a weird new tradition in the family: Cupcake night. It all started with a conversation between us, the Cinchi Moms. Incidentally, the Cinchi-EZ-Bib started out the same way, along with a lot of other stuff. But essentially, this is how it went:

We were talking about macaroni and cheese. I mentioned to my sister, the other Cinchi Mom, that we were doing the one-pot creamy version (no fake box mix!) because I didn't want to take the time and effort to bake it. Really, that's not it. I didn't want another pan to wash. We got to talking about the yummy crunchy topping you put on top when you do the baked version, though.

"It's so not fair that everybody eats up the crunchy part before you ever get to the dish- that's my favorite part," my sister said. She was talking about the way that moms always end up with the dregs in the dish, or the burnt toast, if you will. Then, "Hey!" she said, you should put the mac and cheese in cupcake holders! That way, everybody gets the same amount." Leave it to my sister to think of something so cool...

"Yeah!" I said, "Only it's a pain in the butt to wash those pans (of course, this was what I thought of). How 'bout putting them in the paper or foil liners first?" And so it began. Mac and cheese, some with crunch topping, some not (for the persnickety ones). Individual meatloaves, mashed potatoes, reincarnated left-overs. Freeze them and pull them out when you need them.

And Cupcake night: those nights when you are too tired to cook and you have all these left-overs, which usually go over like a lead balloon. Food looks festive this way, and everyone has fun picking and choosing. Just load them into the cupcake pan and heat with foil on top, removing to brown up the tops at the end. Add some garnishes, and poof! Instant fun!


As our population grows, and the food supply chain grows accordingly, the odds are greater and greater that food will be contaminated.  Add to that, the fact that hundreds of people per day are touching the vegetables and fruits in the market before they buy them- or not.  How many people have touched that tomato before you buy it?  

Unfortunately at the moment, this is a fact of life.  So I think the real question is how do we get our fruits and vegetables clean once we buy them?

This article was very interesting:
Peroxide is safer than chlorine, and I use that on my vegetables, then rinse it off after it does its job.  It's not fool-proof, but it helps.  You can also clean with vinegar and use baking soda as a scrub. 

Beyond growing your own, I really think the best overall solution is to buy fresh fruits and vegetables locally from people you know.  Support your local growers.  The positive side to the energy crisis may be a sort of localization of the food supply.  But why not start now?



I absolutely love making pizza at home.  First of all, I don’t think I ever want to eat another slice of pepperoni or cheese, or Hawaiian style pizza, ever.  If you have kids, you know what I’m talking about. 

Oh, there are moments when I feel like eating like a kid, but when I make my own pizza, I can literally do anything.  Half cheese, half my kind, whatever that happens to be today…  this works for me!  It works for my 17 year-old foodie son, too.  He is proof positive that kids will eventually gain an appreciation for food other than hot dogs.
Don’t have a pizza stone, or even a pizza pan?  Well, as I mentioned before, when I began this project, I didn’t have either of those things.  This recipe uses foil!  And I think I’ve got it down to a science now- I know it will work for you, too.  Here we go: 
One Large Pizza

1/3 to 1/2 of the Easy Bread Dough recipe, depending on whether you like a thin crust or a really thick, bready one.  Also, size matters… It works best at room temperature, too.  If you are in a hurry and working with refrigerated dough, work it in your hands like playdough, or with a wine bottle filled with pretty warm water (make sure your cork is tight!), and it will warm right up.

If you use it cold, the dough is easy to work with: just put it into a cold oven and put it on 400 degrees then.

Olive oil
Coarse Salt (optional)
Sauce of any sort (I’ll put some ideas at the bottom of the recipe)
Foil:  Larger than the finished pizza.  I buy the large size of heavy duty foil, so it’s big enough for anything.

Step 1:

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Lay out your foil shiny side down.  The shiny side is reflective, and will brown your dough on the sides too quickly.  The frosted-looking side will absorb heat, like a pizza stone would.

Hold your dough in your hands, thumbs on top, fingers on the bottom.  Pull from the top to the bottom to form a round ball, tucking the ends into the middle of the bottom of it.  Don’t worry too much… just get it round. 

Step 2:

Place your dough on the center of the foil, no oil; just as it is.  It sticks to the foil, see, and doesn't go springing back to where it was.  This is my trick for getting the dough stretched out:  Flatten it out into a disc with your hands.  Then, using the heals of your hands, work from the center outwards.  Turn the foil, like a little turntable, so you can get all around it without being a contortionist.  Work your dough out into a circle, of the desired thickness.

Using a brush, or even your hands, coat the top with a fine layer of olive oil.  This is mostly for flavor.  Prick with a fork, all over, so you don’t get big air bubbles.

Step 3:

The coolness of this step impresses me every time I do this, even if I say so.  You now have a beautiful looking pizza on your foil, oiled up and ready to go.  But if you cook it like this it is going to stick, and that would not be good. 

So lift the foil up and fold your pizza in half, foil and all.  Then gently peel the foil away from the half on top.  Oil it up, then do the other side the same way.  Bring the second side back down, so you are right where you started: But now the bottom is oiled too.  You might need to reshape your dough a bit.   

Sometimes I sprinkle with my coarse salt here, maybe some fresh herbs and pepper.  For kid pizza, it’s probably best not to do that, though.

Step 4: 

I use a pizza peel to move my dough, but if you don’t have one, you can lift the foil up and move it that way.  Put the whole thing, foil and all, directly on the middle rack of the oven and bake until it just begins to turn golden.  About 10 minutes, but keep an eye on it… I never use a timer!  Your nose will tell you all you need to know.

Step 5:

Remove from oven, foil and all, and put your toppings on it.  Return to the oven without the foil, directly on the rack for a crisp crust.  Leave the foil out on the counter, though:  When the finished pizza comes out of the oven, you can place it right back on the foil, for cutting and serving. 

My favorite part:  the cleanup- none!  No flour, no pans. 


Quick kid sauce:  Ketchup- squeeze it directly on the crust, add a shake of balsamic vinegar to counter the sugar in it (there is lots), and a few shakes of garlic powder (not salt) and basil.  Fresh basil if you have it, but dried works just fine.

Another quick kid sauce:  Ranch dressing.

Olive oil, coarse salt and herbs is one of my favorites.  Try olive oil, fresh thyme, pear (or apple), and crumbled bleu cheese, with coarse salt and pepper, and a bit of lemon zest- Heaven. 

Who says you can’t eat well on a budget?  The key here is to use expensive ingredients as flavoring agents, rather than making a meal of them.  Less fattening this way, too… The French have always known this secret.


Try to work vegetable in here, if possible. 

Ground beef, or left-over meats from other meals- already cooked. 

Seafood, like shrimp, already cooked and thawed.

I keep some turkey pepperoni around for the kids. 

Cheese:  Don’t limit yourself to mozzarella, anything goes.

I try to think of simple combinations:  bbq chicken and peppers, ground turkey or beef and cheddar, with broccoli, for example.  My kids do not look with favor on my attempts to make things healthy, so I usually have to be sneaky, and add pureed carrots to my sauce.  Sprinkle frozen chopped spinach on, right out of the bag, using it like parsley, only healthier.

EZ Pizza sauce: 

1 c. concentrated crushed tomatoes (save the rest of the can if it’s large in a jar)
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. garlic
1 tsp basil
1 tbsp. sugar

Pepper, other herbs to taste

Combine all in a jar and shake.  Save what you don’t use for later.