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spend too much on food...


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I looked at my bank account today and something occured to me, I spend more on food than I do my rent! There are only my husband and myself in the house and my monthly food bill can total way more than 600.00/month! Now for two people in Oklahoma thats a lot!

Now normally I would not complain, I figure I would rather spend the money on good quality food than on all the doctor's bills I would get from eating swell for years on end. And eating healthy is more expensive, but worth it in the long run.

But every so often I begin to wonder if there could be a different way, a way to eat good quality stuff and do it cheaper than I do now. So my question is this to my fellow foodies, what do you do (if anything) to keep the food bill down? Do you have certain staples that you eat all the time and only cook the fancy stuff every once and a while and that keeps the cost down? Or do you figure who cares about the cost as long as its good and you like it?

Thanks! I am very interested in other people's thoughts on this that is just as big of a food lover as I am!

kat

"I eat fat back, because bacon is too lean"

-overheard from a 105 year old man

"The only time to eat diet food is while waiting for the steak to cook" - Julia Child

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I looked at my bank account today and something occured to me, I spend more on food than I do my rent! There are only my husband and myself in the house and my monthly food bill can total way more than 600.00/month! Now for two people in Oklahoma thats a lot!

Now normally I would not complain, I figure I would rather spend the money on good quality food than on all the doctor's bills I would get from eating swell for years on end. And eating healthy is more expensive, but worth it in the long run.

But every so often I begin to wonder if there could be a different way, a way to eat good quality stuff and do it cheaper than I do now. So my question is this to my fellow foodies, what do you do (if anything) to keep the food bill down? Do you have certain staples that you eat all the time and only cook the fancy stuff every once and a while and that keeps the cost down? Or do you figure who cares about the cost as long as its good and you like it?

Thanks! I am very interested in other people's thoughts on this that is just as big of a food lover as I am!

kat

Do you cook from scratch?

"Half of cooking is thinking about cooking." ---Michael Roberts

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And what sorts of things do you cook? (braised lower cost meats as opposed to well-marbled steaks? foie gras and caviar weekly?)

What, in other words, do you think you spend too much $$$ on? Take out?

I think there has been a similar thread in the not -too-distant past. I'll see if I cna hunt it down.............

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Don't know if this is what you are looking for:

I try to buy what's on sale. I know that my supermarket sales go in cycles, pork one week, chicken another, beef another. So I try to buy on sale a freeze, this week skinless boneless chicken breasts were on sale for 1.99 a lb and whole chicken legs for .49. Sometimes I'll get the large family pack and freeze in serving size portions (or cook the whole thing and freeze that way). I use the supermarkets shopping card each time I shop to qualify for discounts & free"stuff". Free turkey or ham for Thanksgiving, one time during the year they have a promo - for each 500 (or was it 250, can't remember) you spend you get a 10% off coupon. During one period I accumulated 5-10% coupons. I saved 50% on a very large shopping order.

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I too have been astounded at times when I look at my checkbook and realize how much I spend on food. Like you, it is just my husband and I at home, yet food costs seem to make up a large portion of what we spend.

To keep it in check, I have gotten in the habit of buying meats and seafood on sale when possible and freezing them. I have a chest style freezer, and this really helps. I tend to cook basic, hearty fare during the week and then we celebrate with "the good stuff" on the weekend. I tend to cook mostly from scratch and this helps save money.

I also try to balance costs throughout a meal. i.e. if I am cooking a bacon wrapped pork tenderloin (not the cheapest cut of meat) I will serve it with a side of potatoes of some sort (very economical).

I also cook many dishes that get served with rice (red beans and rice, gumbo, swiss steak). The rice, which is very cheap, helps stretch the meal a little without sacrificing taste.

Finally, if I just really want a big blowout meal (king crab legs, lobster, T-bone steaks), I figure I only live once and I can't take anything with me and it is my duty to eat and enjoy while I can.

Preach not to others what they should eat, but eat as becomes you and be silent. Epicetus

Amanda Newton

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Finally, if I just really want a big blowout meal (king crab legs, lobster, T-bone steaks), I figure I only live once and I can't take anything with me and it is my duty to eat and enjoy while I can.

Amen, brother !

:laugh:

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Try to eat what is in season. I love fresh fruit and the best buys, as well as the best flavor, are found by sticking to whatever is in season. Strawberries, blueberies, peaches in summer; apples and grapes in autumn. I buy few oranges until the inexpensive Florida crop is available (even though that might not work out this year.)

Eat more vegetables and starches and have smaller portions of meat and fish. As said before, plan a menu around what is on sale. I'm not good with freezing things. Right now there is salmon and a pork tenderloin in my freezer because of a sale, but I tend to forget they are there and don't plan well around anything that needs to be defrosted before cooking.

What do you tend to spend the largest part of your food budget on? That might help get more thoughts from the folks here if we get an idea of what you like to eat.

KathyM

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I'm sorry, I'm still crying about the fact that you only pay $600 in rent. Sigh.

As another food-lover on a budget, I recommend shopping only for what you need, and not buying delicate or easily spoiled things in large quantities - I always feel like crap when I have an unexpected series of late nights at work or last-minute dinners out that lead to wilted herbs and spoiled meat.

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

Queenie Takes Manhattan

eG Foodblogs: 2006 - 2007

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People came up with some good ideas in this thread. . .

It's more of a mind-set thing, it seems to me. It's very easy to spend a certain amount if you are accustomed to doing so. . .whether that amount is larger or smaller just depends on history and circumstance :biggrin: but it is the shift to either spending more or less that can be difficult.

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As another food-lover on a budget, I recommend shopping only for what you need, and not buying delicate or easily spoiled things in large quantities - I always feel like crap when I have an unexpected series of late nights at work or last-minute dinners out that lead to wilted herbs and spoiled meat.

Good point about the wilted herbs. We grow what we can during the summer, but other then rosemany, which lasts well into the winter, we spend about $3 - $4 a week on fresh herbs. Most recipes call for small amounts and stores sell them in big bunches. At least flat parsley keeps well and is reasonably priced. We use it almost every day. Mint and cilantro are fragile and we throw out a lot of soggy, black stuff if we don't use it within the week. We can't give them up! Just like we must always have fresh lemons, limes and oranges on hand for cocktails. :biggrin:

KathyM

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Thank you everyone for your wonderful replies....I guess I didn't give enough information. My hubby and I eat out only once a week, at a usually nice resturant (Oklahoma City, where I am at, has mostly chain food resturants, so when I say nice, I don't mean *real* nice...It cost us maybe 40 week to go...) the hubby eats fast food maybe twice a week..I never touch the stuff.

I cook from scratch always, with the exception of bread and canned tomatoes, and bought pasta, and frozen veggies you won't find processed food in my house. I cook alot of japanese and chinese food.

I guess what I am looking for is everyones basic staples that can make cheap but quality meals. Are the meals you make have simple, few but good ingredients?

The thread that was linked to gave me alot of good ideas. At first I thought my hubby and I just simply ate alot, but when I went to the grocery store it seemed the fresh stuff just cost more. I was asking around to my friends and see what they do and they tend to eat alot of processed meals....(ie: hamburger helper...YIKES!) I will suffer than go there...LOL..:)

Thank you for your ideas and replies, I am very grateful....

"I eat fat back, because bacon is too lean"

-overheard from a 105 year old man

"The only time to eat diet food is while waiting for the steak to cook" - Julia Child

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Good point about the wilted herbs.  We grow what we can during the summer, but other then rosemany, which lasts well into the winter, we spend about $3 - $4 a week on fresh herbs.  Most recipes call for small amounts and stores sell them in big bunches.  At least flat parsley keeps well and is reasonably priced.  We use it almost every day.  Mint and cilantro are fragile and we throw out a lot of soggy, black stuff if we don't use it within the week.  We can't give them up!  Just like we must always have fresh lemons, limes and oranges on hand for cocktails. :biggrin:

re keeping cilantro: rinse the bunch, make sure

there are no spoilt bits near the stems, and stick in in a glass

of water like flowers in a vase. Put the whole thing in the fridge.

Keeps ~ 2 weeks that way. I do this all the time because I can't

stand throwing perfectly good stuff away. I use quite a lot of

cilantro, and manage to use it up within 2 weeks.....

Perhaps you can freeze them, depending on usage?

Keeping in a glass of water may also work on mint.

Freezing works on mint if you want

the minty flavor and don't care about smushy leaves.

Re keeping costs down:

1) I buy what's on sale and is in season (fruits, vegs, whatever).

2) I try and stick to my list

3) I stock up if there's a good deal going.

4) in most cases, brand loyalty is not my friend.

I don't do anything extraordinary like drive from store

to store looking for the lowest price of something,

but we average around $ 100 to 120 a week for

a family of 4, with a LOT of fresh fruit and vegs.

We don't eat much processed food at all

(those get REALLY expensive).

But I rely on things like canned beans

to make cooking much easier. They're really cheap

too, and my Indian cooking background means

beans / lentils are the first and foremost part

of most meals. And they taste wonderful - e.g.

it's astonishing how chana masala is both

quick AND delicious (and depending on

what all you put in it, is AND healthy too).

I also like some frozen veggies (e.g. chopped spinach,

or green beans) to make quick meals during the week.

Other veggies (e.g. okra) are abhorrent when frozen

so they're only bought when in season and cheap.....

I have job, commute, 2 kids, spouse, etc.

so things HAVE to be easy and quick to make

and homemade and cheap and tasty....

Occasional splurge for festivals and parties .....

Milagai

Edited by Milagai (log)
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Before I retired we also spent a bundle on food, primarily because we had no time and ate out and bought carry out so much. I now cook from scratch every day while my poor wife continues (her choice) to work for another year.

We have found we love soups, stews and braised dishes and the bonus is that the ingredients are relatively inexpensive. We are also fortunate to live in an area with many farms for low cost fresh vegetables. We seldom have left over because I make my rounds locally on a daily basis for our purchases. Bulk purchases are individually packaged with my wife’s vacuum bag do hicky, and frozen.

After looking at my old Quicken files I see that we use to spend even more than you on a monthly basis. We now spend about half as much, but eat much better. My wife tells me she is usually disappointed by our visits to restaurants now because I can do a better job and the food is better. By cutting out 4 dinners a month eaten out that saves about $400 in this area. If we cut out our wine bills we would be rolling in the money, but that ain’t happening anytime soon. :biggrin:

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Thank you everyone for your wonderful replies....I guess I didn't give enough information. My hubby and I eat out only once a week, at a usually nice resturant (Oklahoma City, where I am at,  has mostly chain food resturants, so when I say nice, I don't mean *real* nice...It cost us maybe 40 week to go...) the hubby eats fast food maybe twice a week..I never touch the stuff.

I cook from scratch always, with the exception of bread and canned tomatoes, and bought pasta, and frozen veggies you won't find processed food in my house. I cook alot of japanese and chinese food.

I guess what I am looking for is everyones basic staples that can make cheap but quality meals. Are the meals you make have simple, few but good ingredients?

The thread that was linked to gave me alot of good ideas. At first I thought my hubby and I just simply ate alot, but when I went to the grocery store it seemed the fresh stuff just cost more. I was asking around to my friends and see what they do and they tend to eat alot of processed meals....(ie: hamburger helper...YIKES!) I will suffer than go there...LOL..:)

Thank you for your ideas and replies, I am very grateful....

If you cook a lot of Asian meals, you should be able to cut down on the use of meat. We (Americans) are used to having a big portion of meat for our meal, when I cook stir fry, for example, I reduce the amount of the meat (chicken, seafood) down to 3-4oz. per person and/or incorporate tofu for protein. Meat is the highest % of cost in home-cooked meals (and the fresh herbs are a killer). Agree also that buying bulk packs and portioning/freezing is another huge cost savings if you have the freezer space.

"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast" - Oscar Wilde

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My suggestions will echo many of the others posted above, but I think they deserve multiple mentions.

-Eat less meat

This will dramatically cut your costs. My family (2 adults, one toddler) eats meat maybe twice a week, tops. Otherwise legumes, pulses, and whole grains make up the bulk of our meals. Now, keep in mind I make quite a bit of stock (chicken, shellfish, veal) and freeze in smallish containers, and we also use a good amount of pork fat; doing both of these things provide a substantial boost in flavor.

-Buy seasonal produce

Not only will this save you money, but you will benefit from eating fruits and veggies when they were intended to be eaten-when they are their most delicious. Call me kooky, but I think our bodies are supposed to eat seasonally.

-Shop at ethnic markets

Produce and specialty ingredients and substantially cheaper at latino and asian markets. For example, dried chiles at my neighborhood tienda are about $1.50 a bag, where Melissa's itty bitty bag is almost $4.

-Join a CSA

This is one thing I've been meaning to do, and hope to next spring. A couple of my neighbors share a membership, and spend total of about $350/year. They get a delivery every week for 44 weeks (fresh flowers too!) and not only are they eating fantastically fresh produce AND dairy, but are supporting local farmers as well. I'm sure Oklahoma City has these.

Trust me, I am capable of blowing some serious cash on food. And sometimes I still do, but I make sure to spend the bulk of my money where it really makes a difference like good olive oil and chocolate.

"Godspeed all the bakers at dawn... may they all cut their thumbs and bleed into their buns til they melt away..."

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I think it worth mentioning that it's not just about the food for some of us. If I were just trying to keep us adequately nourished with good, well-prepared food, I could certainly do it for much, much less (and may soon have to!). BUT, food is also my hobby, my entertainment and my way of returning to my kids some of the great things they do for me. We don't eat out, rarely even go out, so I don't feel at all guilty. All those dollars that might go to pay for golf, restaurant meals, movies, etc. etc. etc. find their way onto my grocery bill. :biggrin:

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

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I cook from scratch always, with the exception of bread and canned tomatoes, and bought pasta, and frozen veggies you won't find processed food in my house. I cook alot of japanese and chinese food.

I guess what I am looking for is everyones basic staples that can make cheap but quality meals. Are the meals you make have simple, few but good ingredients?

One of the things I have not seen mentioned is whether or not you use "leftovers". In other words, do you start from scratch for every meal, or do you plan to get several meals from one basic ingredient, such as chicken. In other words, does that roast chicken one night become hash, and then chicken soup? Just an example.. Or in the case of Asian inspired meals, does that leftover steak make it into a stirfy the next night?

I am also wondering if you brown bag your lunches, say taking last night's main dish into work the next day, or some variaton thereof.

I know several people who state that they don't eat leftovers and their food bills are sky high.

Just some thoughts for your consideration.

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I buy a majority of my produce from the local chinese mega mart. Its way cheaper than at the local american grocery store. I get both my american and asian produce there. Once, I found asparagus for $0.99 a little over a lb. The asparagus weren't thin, they were really thick. I like the thick rigid kind better, but some people prefer the wimpy thin ones :biggrin:

BEARS, BEETS, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
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Don't forget eggs as a delicious way to keep costs down at mealtime. We feature them as the main course about once a week. An omelet and a salad makes an elegant dinner. And no one ever complains when it's huevos rancheros night around here.

If you are already cooking a lot of Chinese and Japanese foods, I assume you are buying large bags of rice at the asian market. Also consider Indian cuisine. Some of our most delicious dinners start with a cup of dal, and a cup of rice. Even when you add the seasonings/tomato/dollop of plain yogurt, it is still pennies per serving.

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ok..just for giggles I went in a took out my bank statements and totalled where all my food dollar was going.....fast food for the hubby that was a huge one..and the total for the month was over 1000.00 adding in grocery store, eating out, coffees out...all of it...I am floored at this moment.

No, leftovers rarely get eaten round here. I don't know how to make main course meals that can be used for two or three meals. I have never done it. It is from scratch every time. I think I am beginning to wrap my brain around what the problem is...we cook and eat HUGE portions...I mean HUGE....the idea of 3-4 oz of meat per person does not happen around here. It is nothing for the two of us to use a whole pound of meat and throw out the left overs, if there is any. Recipes that serve 4 according to the recipe will serve just the two of us.

When I looked at the thread that was posted here about feeding dinner guest on 12 bucks I was floored! 12 bucks!! Then it occured to me that people were eating "portion sizes" per person.....a food scale is on the shopping list for sure.

There is always leftovers that don't get eaten. I do brown bag my lunch, but its fresh stuff every time usually I get up that morning and fix it, or I take ramen noodles if I don't have time, of course breakfast and snacks get packed as well, oatmeal, powerbars...my hubby does not, he eats out... Dinners are what is lavish for two people every night. 5-10 ingredients. It seems processed food is cheaper here than fresh for some reason. I have gone to farmers markets and stuff for veggies and wind up spending more than if I go to the grocery store. Maybe a list of 10-12 standard meals for during the week and save the fancy stuff for during the weekend?

I love indian cuisine...I have cooked some, but I am not very good at it yet..do you know of any good resources?

thanks again to everyone!

kat

"I eat fat back, because bacon is too lean"

-overheard from a 105 year old man

"The only time to eat diet food is while waiting for the steak to cook" - Julia Child

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Well $600/mo is about $20 per day for food. $10 per day per person per day is not too bad for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Eat one lunch out and you spend more than that on average. The price of a sandwich has gone up these days.

Regardless, if you still need to cut corners start with the simple things. Watch for sales, use coupons, eat cheaper cuts of meat and chicken (leg quarters seem to be the cheapest in all of the stores around me), eat more beans, eggs and rice. I love "peasant food" dishes. Don't buy processed or prepared foods. Eat more leftovers. Turn leftovers into new dishes...........Hope this helps

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It would be interesting to see what the percentage is of money spent monthly on dining out (the four nice dinners, coffees, hubby's lunches, etc). It surely wouldl be an interestng exercise for most of us to calculate regarding our food budgets.

With what you described, I bet it might be 50-60% of the total cost. This is an area where I personally would probably cut down on the frequency as I could eat much better on less money by cooking good things myself. I eat work lunches out a few times a week for social/networking reasons but brown bag the rest of the time. This has saved me money, time and and extra unneeded calories. Saving in this arena is also easier than adjusting ingredients in home cooking. I mean you can do both, but cutting restaurant dinners from 4 to 2 times a month will instantly save 100-200 dollars.

Time is surely a competing factor with two working people but I guess one would have to balance that against quality of food and money savings that can be used for other good things. Health benenfits might be a welcome side effect as well.

Regarding the size of meat servings, I do usually limit the size for normal meals to 3-4 oz and I eat vegetarian or nearly vegetarian meals several times a week. Include more bean and other legumes, the meals neat not be completey meatless; they can be 'flavored' with meat.

edited to add: I am kind of puzzled about your description of leftovers--i.e. you generate them but don't eat them! I would either cut down on the size of the original dish or consider eating the leftovers some time... Mine don't typically last more than one extra meal but they are cook's treat--an already cooked meal during a busy week. There are usually good things to be made in this situation; even easier if you tend to cook protein-centered dishes.

If you don't feel as comfortable with transforming leftovers into another dish you can also think of making things that reheat wonderfully and have it two days later.

Edited by ludja (log)

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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Speaking of leftovers - my wife and I spend part of the weekend making big dishes to spread throughout the week, like roasting a chiken for sandwiches and making a stew that we can take to work.

Trouble is, by Wednesday we are sick of it already and end up buying something out anyway. :blink:

My life's goal is to create the dish that has legs all week (Carnitas comes to mind) - to the point that my wife asks for it even on Friday.

"I took the habit of asking Pierre to bring me whatever looks good today and he would bring out the most wonderful things," - bleudauvergne

foodblogs: Dining Downeast I - Dining Downeast II

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Advice I saw in the newspaper years ago stuck in my mind, and I've found it helpful: "Cook everything you buy, and eat everything you cook. " Using that guidline, I found myself either buying less to avoid leftovers, or making sure to eat the leftovers.

I find it intriguing that you say processed food is actually cheaper. Are you buying out-of-season produce, or paying top price at a fancy greengrocer's? Even here in Israel, where fruit and veg are abundant and cheap, I could run up a large bill at the upscale greengrocer's, buying speciality produce on whim instead of getting less sensational stuff at the shuk.

Another way is to serve soup before the main meal of the day; good soup obviously, even if it's just a quick miso. My husband is not a vegetable lover, but I found that he'll eat almost anything in soup form, especially if it's blended. As he has several chronic ailments, I'm always anxious to boost his nutrition. I found that once the (vitamin-packed, mineral-rich) soup is consumed, he doesn't feel the need to eat vast quantities of animal protein, as he did before. Better for his health like that. And a pleasant surprise was discovering that our grocery bill has gone down. Getting adjusted to buying and cooking less meat took a little while, though. A few times, we had to face lefovers we were just tired of, for me to break the habit.

I guess the main issue for you would be finding an alternative to your hubbie's fast-food lunches. One suggestion: a wide-mouth thermos may contain not only soup, but stew, beans, all kinds of hot food. A goodly slice of cheese, a small salad, and some fresh bread on the side - I used to pack my kid's school lunches like that. I also remember that my co-workers's heads would turn towards my desk when I unscrewed the top of the thermos at lunch break, releasing the rich scent of chicken/vegetable soup, or of lentils and rice. Just leftovers, heated up quickly before leaving the house, eaten with a hearty sandwich or a big salad retrieved from the office fridge. Those gals would look hungry. Then they would all troop out to the falafel joint around the corner, wishing me a good appetite, a little sourly. Even the boss, on her way out to a restaurant lunch, was attracted by my meal. I was hard up in those days, but I believe I ate pretty well. It does take a little planning, is all. Would that work for you?

Miriam

Edited by Miriam Kresh (log)

Miriam Kresh

blog:[blog=www.israelikitchen.com][/blog]

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One suggestion---great book on the market called Big Food, which offers excellent recipes for those who shop in bulk (everywhere from Costco to farmer's markets). Lots of info on storing, freezing, re-purposing.

BeefCheeks is an author, editor, and food journalist.

"The food was terrible. And such small portions...."

--Alvy Singer

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