Culinary Confessions: What We Pay for Groceries

Culinary Confessions

This is the first post in a new occasional series we’re calling “Culinary Confessions,” a feature focused on opening the books on our eating habits and sharing our shopping, cooking, dining and diet strategies with you. We hope you enjoy!

We take great pride in our home cooking and the recipes we share through #FoodieScore. We’re also quite resilient and proud to seek the best deals we can find on food, both at grocery stores and in restaurants.

When it comes to groceries, we see no point in paying more than necessary for items in our cart. Why should we buy milk for $2.50 when we can get it for $1, or a bag of chips for $3 when we can get it for 75 cents? That mindset is the reason we buy a lot of non-name-brand products, and it’s why we shop at Aldi, which operates stores in 35 U.S. states.

We fully endorse Aldi’s model built on its own unique brands, a discount-shopper-friendly store layout and self-bagging. We rarely prefer the name brand of a product to a generic-style version, and in some cases we actually much prefer the generic! Aldi’s double-stuffed chocolate cookies, for example, have more cream and a better chocolate cookie taste than actual Oreos. And Doritos, we’re sad to say, taste no different to us than a simple bag of ‘nacho-flavored tortilla chips.’

Since switching 95 percent of our grocery shopping to Aldi—we do still relegate occasional products to other stores when necessary for a recipe ingredient—we’ve cut our grocery spending for our household by half. There are two of us, and we use about $150 of our budget each month for groceries, whereas we spent about $300 a month before making changes. We shop twice a month, planning ahead with a list to avoid forgetting items that will send us back to the store—a trap for unnecessary extra purchases that are as dangerous to your wallet as those impulse items at the checkout.

The new total is still higher than it could be. We’ve made a healthy shift in our eating, but we still allow treats in our diet, so we haven’t cut our food allowance to the bone. Still, we try to shop based on what meals we have planned, with a heavily calculated list prepped before going to the grocery store. That way we roll right down the aisles when we shop, passing by most of the impulse buy temptations. And we buy less food that gets wasted because we purchase based on what we’re already anticipating we’ll eat.

So what do we pay for common items that are part of our basic everyday diet? Take a look:

Grocery List

How much do you pay for these same items? Are you willing to pay less by sacrificing brand loyalty? If the answer is yes, you could save quite a bit of money that you can enjoy for something else, or you can bank that savings each month!

Let us know what you think of our basic strategy. And share your own food tips with us! You just might have a Culinary Confession!

Movies We Love Because of the Food

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Perhaps there’s a reason the cliché date of choice has long been dinner and a movie. Food and film just fit together well. And what’s better than enjoying one after the other? That’s right, consuming both at the same time. Here are some movies we love—in addition to other reasons—just for the food!

 

A Christmas Story (1983) For starters there’s “mommy’s little piggy.” Then throughout latter parts of the movie, Ralphie’s mother works tirelessly to prevent his father from sampling the turkey before it’s done, only to watch the neighbor’s dogs enter the house and tear the bird apart before Christmas dinner. That relegates the family to a Chinese restaurant for a unique meal that includes a duck that’s “smiling” at them—until the staff chops the head off in front of their eyes.

 

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) This animated favorite is predicated on food that falls from the sky. Need we say more?

 

Elf (2003) Will Ferrell plays Buddy, an elf who leaves the North Pole for New York City to find his real father. We assume he also needs diabetic testing supplies due to the extreme amounts of sugar he consumes. After all, elves prefer to “stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corn and syrup.” Buddy pours syrup in his spaghetti. He adds candy and crushed toaster pastries to his leftover spaghetti for breakfast. He downs a whole two-liter soda in one massive gulp. Oh, and he eats ABC (already been chewed) gum from public railings, too.

 

Good Burger (1997) One of several cult classics from the 1990s on this list, Kenan & Kel star in this movie that forever has us craving cheeseburgers and repeating, “Welcome to Good Burger, home of the Good Burger, can I take your order?”

 

Julie & Julia (2009) Before Paula Deen, Rachael Ray and the Pioneer Woman, there was the legendary Julia Child. This movie tells the story of how she became Julia Child and, in turn, how she inspired Julie Powell to become a food blogger and learn to cook. In the movie, Julie says, “You know what I love about cooking? I love that after a day when nothing is sure, and when I say nothing I mean nothing, you can come home and absolutely know that if you add egg yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk it will get thick. It’s such a comfort.” Ahh, that’s when we knew we were kindred spirits with this movie.

 

I Love You to Death (1990) Kevin Kline plays a pizza parlor owner whose serial womanizing leads his wife to attempt to poison him with spaghetti. Do you need another reason to grab a bowl of popcorn and watch? Eh, with that plot teaser, maybe say no to the popcorn for this one.

 

Matilda (1996) A great family-friendly movie starring Mara Wilson (of Mrs. Doubtfire and Miracle on 34th Street remake fame) that includes a particular scene in which schoolmate Bruce is commanded to eat an entire chocolate cake in front of the entire student body. It’s not the most appetizing food scene in film, but it certainly is memorable.

 

Michael

Michael (1996) John Travolta trades his Saturday Night Fever dancing shoes for angel wings and a roadtrip in this touching story also starring Andie MacDowell, who hails from Gaffney, South Carolina, right down the road from #FoodieScore’s home base. In one scene, the movie’s main characters visit a shop, order basically everything on the menu, and MacDowell’s character sings, “pie, me oh my, I love pie.” That’s enough to hook us.

 

My Blueberry Nights (2007) This beautifully filmed movie stars Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Rachel Weisz and Norah Jones, who also performs much of the music on the soundtrack. Much of the movie is a depressing story of a soul-searching woman and the other sad souls she encounters, but it repeatedly sets scenes in a diner managed by Law’s character, who serves up blueberry pie a la mode. It makes us crave blueberry pie every time we watch.

 

The Big Lebowski (1998) Another cult classic from the 1990s, one in which the Coen Brothers broadcasted the delicious Western U.S. wonder that is In-N-Out Burger to the world. There are many other entertaining reasons to watch this movie, but all you really need to know is “Those are good burgers, Walter.”

 

The Green Mile (1999) Likely the most well-produced, Academy Award-worthy film on this list, it was nominated for Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Screenplay and Best Sound. It’s a strong, memorable story adapted from Stephen King’s serial novel of the same name, and it lacks nothing in the realm of food either. There’s death row trusty Toot-Toot’s (Harry Dean Stanton) “fried chicken dinner with gravy on the taters…” And there’s miracle-healer John Coffey’s (Michael Clarke Duncan) final meal request of “meatloaf, mashed taters, gravy, okra…maybe some of that fine cornbread your Misses makes.” And in between, there are meals at both warden Hal Moore’s (James Cromwell) and cell block boss Paul Edgecomb’s (Tom Hanks) houses. With all the power in the story and the acting, the food packs an almost equal punch.

Our Search for the Best Chicken-Cheese Biscuit

Time-Out Biscuit

In a happening university town in central North Carolina, we discovered a dynamite chicken-cheese biscuit we just can’t stop thinking about. Each bite of this biscuit delivers a combination of soft and buttery bread, plump and seasoned chicken, and melty cheese. It’s a huge sandwich for one equally huge appetite, or for several friends to share.

You can get your hands on the “Chicken n’ Cheddar” for $5.49 on the “Oversized Biscuit Sandwiches” menu at Time-Out, a 24/7 diner on East Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. But that’s just our trouble: We can’t make a regular three-hour, one-way drive from our home in western North Carolina to get our mitts and mouths on this Southern specialty. So we decided to do the next best thing and explore the available chicken biscuits at fast food restaurants in our town, asking each to add cheese to the order.

We developed a grading scale of 1 (lowest possible) to 5 (highest possible) in the categories of Chicken, Cheese, Biscuit, Overall Freshness and Price, for a total of 25 possible points. Based on the delicious Time-Out biscuit, we laid out desirable criteria for each category. To get a perfect score in each category, a chicken-cheese biscuit needed to meet every demand with the same zeal as Time-Out’s Chicken n’ Cheddar.

With the chicken, we wanted seasoning, size and cooking perfection. The cheese needed to be melty, plentiful and flavorful. In each biscuit, we sought a crunchy outside and soft inside. Ultimate freshness meant a hot biscuit sandwich that wasn’t too hard or crumbly. And price, well that’s obvious. We’re a couple of foodies always on the search for a great meal and a great deal. So we didn’t want to pay too much for any one sandwich, and we ordered the cheapest possible chicken-cheese biscuit available on each menu.

It’s important to note that we surveyed Bojangles, Chick-fil-A, Hardees and McDonalds in this search because those are the common fast food establishments in our town that serve a chicken biscuit we could buy. This search did not include local, one-of-a-kind restaurants, which are our normal preference for any kind of meal.

Without further ado, here are our findings. We hope you enjoy, and we encourage you to share your thoughts and experiences with chicken-cheese biscuits in the comments or via social media @FoodieScore on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

Chicken-Cheese Biscuit

Fried Dressing, a Family Tradition

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This special guest post is introduced by our cousin, Pam Upton Waters, of Rutherfordton, N.C. Her mom Betty Quinn Upton, our great aunt, started the fried dressing tradition years ago, and it’s a delicious meal staple we continue to enjoy today.

No holiday get-together would be complete without this treat.

People have asked for the recipe. My mother’s response is always the same. “I don’t have a recipe. I just put what looks right.”

“How do you know when it looks right?”

“I don’t know. I just know.”

Well, that is just as clear as mud to the rest of us. Anyway, several years ago we did put together a recipe of sorts for a friend. They loved it, so we use that one.

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Aunt Betty with her fried dressing

The Recipe

Ingredients

  • One recipe each of biscuits and cornbread, all baked, cooled and crumbled.
  • Broth—enough to make the breadcrumbs moist, about ¾ to 1 cup or so.
  • Onion, finely chopped. Two handfuls, about 1 small to medium or half a medium to large.
  • Meat, finely chopped. One turkey or chicken leg will do. Liver, gizzard and wings can also be used.
  • Sausage seasoning to taste. We start with ½ teaspoon per cup of breadcrumbs and go from there. You can start with ¼ teaspoon or so with the dry ingredients because it mixes better then. Just remember you can add more as needed, but you can’t take it out if you add too much.
  • Oil for frying.

Directions

  • Mix the crumbs together.
  • Add onion and meat. Mix well.
  • Add broth slowly to moisten while mixing. Hands are best used here, although a spoon will work, too.
  • Add sausage seasoning. Taste to make sure it is the heat level you like. Watch who you let be the taste tester if you have a relative with no taste buds.
  • Continue adding broth and mixing until it’s soft like play dough.
  • Pat out portions about the size of hamburger patties.
  • Fry patties in a pan in a low layer of oil until brown on each side.
  • Serve warm with gravy.

Recipe by Betty Quinn Upton

5 Affordable Foods to Help Your Health

Healthy food

Last year I dropped just shy of 70 pounds, simply with a better diet rich in healthy, less-processed foods and hundreds of miles of walking. No expensive weight-loss programs, gym memberships or personal health coaches were needed.

For my entire adult life, I’d had the same thought many others do around the holidays: I should resolve to lose weight next year to improve my health. Year after year, I’d plan to eat better and exercise more, but it didn’t happen until a major change in my career path and my life as a whole.

In April 2017, I started walking two or three miles every day of the week, just a brisk pace and a consistent routine. At the same time, I quit making regular visits to fast food restaurants, I started eating less overall red meat, I cut out all added sugar in my drinks (bye bye, sweet tea, concentrated fruit juices and sweet coffee, in other words), and I started allowing myself to fall in love with simple foods.

Here are five of those foods that I totally endorse for their digestive, weight management and overall health benefits, as well as their affordability. I hope they can help you reach your health goals the way they’ve enhanced my life. Best wishes to you on your journey, whether you’re making a New Year’s resolution to lose weight or you’re midway through the year and find the same motivations I did to live a healthier life.

 

Oatmeal

I love to start most days with a simple bowl of whole grain oats. At my local grocery store of choice—the amazing Aldi—I can get a 42-ounce canister of dry rolled oats for about $2, which buys me at least a month’s worth of servings of a healthy breakfast that’s high in fiber, contains no sugar, doesn’t break the bank on carbs and is low in calories and fat. Through a lot of experimenting, I’ve found I prefer to cook my half-cup servings of oats in a cup of water for a minute in the microwave. The biggest health benefit comes from the simple oats, but when I want a little extra flavor I add a teaspoon of honey, a few shakes of ground cinnamon, a sprinkle of crushed almonds or a quarter cup of raisins. When I’m seeking an extra-special breakfast that stays healthy and mixes up the routine, I like to join the overnight oats trend, soaking oats in milk overnight in a mason jar in the fridge, topped with some combination of nuts or flax seed, yogurt, cocoa and sugar (I’ve only done that one once and shared it with Molly), or other toppings. My diet improvements really started and continue with oatmeal.

 

Eggs

Eggs are such a versatile dietary component, and I’ve come to rely on them throughout the day. Whether it’s a quick scrambled egg for breakfast, a boiled egg on wheat toast at lunch or a poached egg on a plate of smashed avocado, the options and benefits are both endless. AND I can get a dozen eggs at my local grocery store for as low as 26 cents some weeks! Eggs do contain a major portion of your recommended cholesterol, but they’re also protein rich, while not delivering significant portions of fat, sodium or carbs to your diet.

 

Spinach

The whole bag of flat-leaf spinach I regularly purchase contains 50 TOTAL calories and ZERO fats and sugars! That’s a major victory, at just $2 a bag for three or more servings. Spinach is a great base for a fresh salad, but I love it even more when it’s seasoned with a little salt and pepper and cooked—wilted with just a water base—alongside a juicy grilled chicken breast. Each serving provides the benefits of fiber, potassium and even a little protein.

 

Tuna

Many American restaurant menus have a salmon option, but fewer seem to offer a tuna dish. Of course there are options to buy more expensive fresh-caught tuna, but on the regular we can get a package of light tuna in water—no oils, please—for 64 cents at the grocer. Each package recommends two servings, but I often eat both at once, which means I still only consume 100 calories, while eating nearly no fat, no carbs whatsoever, just 8 percent of my recommended daily sodium (not bad for canned meat) and 11 grams of protein. Tuna goes great with some saltines or wheat crackers, on wheat toast with a sprinkle of pepper, or cooked alongside some fresh spinach.

 

Greek Yogurt

Count me among the many eaters scared of Greek yogurt for many years. Then I found the flavored 100-calorie, 55-cent cups at Aldi and made a new close friend. I love the simple strawberry, blackberry, blueberry and peach flavors, and each cup gives me 12 grams of protein, NO fat, just a few carbs and only nine grams of sugar. (You have to remember there are sugars in food, and all sugar is not bad. The enemy is dumping that granulated stuff into your drinks and dishes.) Yogurt is great by itself for a snack mid-morning or mid-afternoon, but it also goes great in a jar of overnight oats, or alongside other breakfast, lunch or dinner items. Like everything on this list, it’s incredibly versatile, affordable and beneficial to your health!

 

To be clear, these aren’t the only foods I eat, but they start my grocery list each trip, and I build my entire diet around them. You can have that cheeseburger or that slice of pie—and I still do—but like we’ve always heard, eat those kinds of foods in moderation.

I realized late in 2017 that I have a much easier resolution to make now, heading into the new year. Instead of “lose weight,” I can just say “keep the weight off.” Instead of “get healthy,” I get to target “stay healthy.”

I’d love to hear your story and any go-to foods that help you. Just share below, comment on one of our social media channels, or email me.