grocery shopping on a budget

I’m going to dedicate this post to a passion of mine- GROCERY SHOPPING.

When I started this blog I was just about to start graduate school, where I flirted with the poverty line for about 4 years. Even though I have a real job now, I still try to keep my spending under control, especially when it comes to groceries. I think there’s a lot on the internet about this topic, but I don’t trust all of it.

Like when you see a recipe for linguine with shrimp under the heading “$5 Dinners!” Um, did you already have the shrimp in your freezer? Because that’s cheating.

A non-$5 recipe that I want to re-create

A non-$5 dinner recipe that I want to re-create

In general, I love love love the Mint app for budgeting. It links to your bank accounts, credit cards, student loans, car loans, etc. and allows you to create custom budgets based on your lifestyle and income. Warning: if you enter in your student loans, it will tell you on a daily basis that your net worth is negative 3 million dollars. Don’t let it hurt your ego. We’ll get through this together.

For groceries specifically, I try to keep it to $50 or less per week. Keep in mind that I’m usually only shopping for myself, with the exception of occasional family dinners with my roomies and the GS. So your budget might be higher than that, but here are some things I think about while behind my grocery cart:

Have a list. Always. I keep a note in my phone so that when I run out of essentials, I remember to grab them when I’m there. This prevents me from making extra trips which can sometimes result in extra purchases. Like if I forget to buy toothpaste at the grocery store, I go to Target and end up buying nail polish, a sports bra, a tank top, and hand towels. Because why not?


One example of an impulse Target purchase… #sorrynotsorry

Have a recipe. Sometimes. Sometimes I get it in my head that I want to make a certain dish and it has to be right now. I go into the store specifically in pursuit of those ingredients. This is wonderful. More often, I go to the store feeling uninspired and just check to see what’s on sale. I have the Pinterest and Foodgawker apps on my phone for this exact reason. If something random is on sale, like short ribs, I type it into one of my apps to browse for ideas. I don’t necessarily follow any of the recipes I find, but it gives me some kind of idea of a direction to head in. Sometimes these end up being my favorite meals!

Don’t be a brand snob. I used to be guilty of this. The best example is Greek yogurt. I used to ONLY buy Chobani, even if something else was on sale. Because I buy like 10 at a time, it adds up. Now, I try to buy whatever is on sale. Obviously you might end up finding a brand that you don’t like (looking at you, Yoplait). I’m not advocating that you’re miserable while eating, but it’s good to try other things for the sake of saving yourself some dinero.

Go to the grocery store once a week. Or four times a week. This is a personal preference thing. I used to be a once-a-weeker, where I would stock up on everything I needed and try my hardest to keep it under $50. When I lived in Rochester and Wegmans was oh-so-close, I got in the habit of going much more often. I think if you’re going more often, you have to be more conscious of how you’re shopping in those trips. Are you buying only exactly what you need for dinner that night, or are you also browsing and grabbing random ingredients because you feel like it? That’s where it can get dangerous.

Buying a whole fresh fish? Probably best to grab that the day of.

Cooking a whole fresh fish? Probably best to grab that the day of.

Never throw away leftovers. The concept of wasting food makes no sense to me. I get that if you’re only cooking for yourself, you might get sick of eating the same thing for dinner 4 nights in a row. This doesn’t happen to me, but I understand it. There are so many ways to mix up your leftovers to keep them interesting that I can never justify throwing out perfectly good food. This pulled pork is a great example- we had it as breakfast burritos, regular tacos, and quesadillas. None went to waste. If you’re someone who really gets sick of eating the same food, you could always try to get some friends to do a recipe swap where you each make 4 servings of something and pass it around. I don’t have enough friends for this, but if you try it definitely let me know.

Never throw away anything. In keeping with the non-wasteful theme, I always hear about people who get really excited and buy a bunch of stuff at the store and then it just goes bad before they get around to cooking it. This is why it’s good to have a plan in mind of what exactly you’re going to do with that acorn squash. On that same token, if you open the fridge and see that you have some zucchini that’s looking not-so-hot, figure out something to do with it TODAY instead of tossing it tomorrow. I just checked- I have 14 recipes including zucchini. Get after it.

Eat breakfast and lunch on the cheap. If you’re really money conscious like I am, keep your first two meals inexpensive. I’m a cereal or oatmeal girl, but eggs are also very affordable. For lunch, I eat a PB&J and a Greek yogurt every day. I’ve been doing this for about 5 years now and I’m still not sick of it. Lunch probably costs me around $2 per day. Because of this, I feel okay when I want to splurge on something fun for a dinner recipe.

Not every meal needs meat. Usually your protein is the most expensive part of the dish, but there are a lot of filling meals that don’t have any meat. My favorite lately are these corn and poblano wraps with black beans. As I said in the post, the GS ate one and then after he was done swallowing said, “Was there meat in that?” Beans are CHEAP, people!

Not every meal needs side dishes. As lovely as I think it is to serve a main course with a starch and a veggie just like your mom does, this isn’t always realistic. If I make myself a chicken cordon bleu sandwich, I don’t actually need to also eat some rice pilaf and steamed broccoli. I’m full after just the sandwich. Obviously if you’re entertaining it’s nice to have options, but if you’re flying solo? Probably not necessary.

That one astronomically-priced ingredient. I remember agonizing over this when I made homemade falafel. I think the jar of tahini was $9 and I couldn’t fathom spending 20% of my week’s budget on that stupid paste. But I reaaaaaaally wanted to make falafel. In that case, the chickpeas were cheap, and I already had the majority of the other ingredients (spices, flour for the pita bread, etc) at home. All in all, it wasn’t a massive sacrifice to buy the tahini. When this happens, look at the quantity of said ingredient, think about what it’s actually adding to the dish, and whether you will use it again. It might be worth the investment, or it might be worth leaving out or substituting. Especially if it’s something that’s going to go bad before you might make another dish that includes it.

Thank you, Lisa, for introducing me to this "astronomically priced" ingredient. At least in my world.

A gift from Lisa. I can’t buy stuff like this because I have no self control.

Pay attention to the unit price. This might seem like an obvious tip so I apologize if you’re offended, but it’s one thing I noticed when I started shopping for myself. Sometimes things that are advertised as being on sale aren’t the cheapest option. Within a given product, the unit prices should be standard (i.e. peanut butter is price per ounce). It’s a good habit to start checking this, because you might find that you’re saving a little bit here and there by paying more attention to the labels.

Buy in bulk, but only if you’ll eat it. Certain things will always be cheaper in bulk. The first example that comes to mind is chicken. I may balk (HAHA BAWK-CHICKEN. Get it?) over spending $12 on a big package of chicken breasts, but it’s something that I know I will use. It’s annoying to go home and do the trimming, individual wrapping, and freezing, but once it’s done I probably have built in protein for at least 3 meals waiting for me. Don’t get seduced by the Costco effect where you buy 15 pounds of flaked coconut because you just need to make magic bars. I understand the need, but you will never go through all that coconut. This is why I find extreme coupon-ing so ridiculous. Cool that you bought 500 packages of Ramen noodles for 3 cents, but now it’s just taking up space in your weird-ass pantry. Waste.

Freeze it for later. Especially now that we’re getting into chillier weather, there are so many great and easy recipes that can be made in bulk and then re-heat beautifully. I have this post on make-ahead meals, and if you’ve got the space in your freezer this can be both a money-saving and time-saving endeavor.

Beef bourguignon could be done in the crockpot in advance! Make your mashed potatoes right before.

Beef bourguignon could be done in the crockpot in advance! Then all you have to do is make your mashed potatoes .

Holy cow are you still with me? This ended up being way longer than I anticipated, but I hope you found something in here that might be helpful for your future shopping adventures!

sausage & peppers pizza w/ smoked gouda

Last week I went out to California to support an intro workshop for audiologists who are learning about our cochlear implant system.

Sounds riveting, I know. But actually it was really fun. Despite working 12-15 hour days, I got to meet some cool people from all over the country and brag about how awesome our stuff is.

Over lunch one day, one of the audiologists mentioned that she has an allergy to onions and garlic.

I was basically like HOW DO YOU LIVE, WOMAN?!

I handled it less aggressively, but for real I don’t know what I would eat. There was another person there with an allergy, but it was to gluten and she wasn’t very nice.

When I got back from California, I returned to chilly Baltimore weather and a non-existent hurricane. That’s right, after a mouthy flight attendant scared everyone on the plane by saying “Maybe we’ll have to circle around for a while!! And possibly land at a different airport!!”, we arrived to sub 60 temperatures with a drizzle and a breeze. Joaquin was nowhere to be found.

(Can you still eat chives and scallions? What about leeks?)

The chilly air and my depression over one woman’s lack of garlic and onions in her life made me want PIZZA. So on Saturday night I threw myself, the GS, my brother-in-law, and his two friends a pizza party. There was also adult Jenga happening.

(What if the garlic is roasted? Then can you have it?)

I made 3 pizzas using this dough recipe. The first was buffalo chicken, the second was classic with pepperoni, and the third is the recipe I’m sharing because it was the unanimous crowd favorite. I also did a Snapchat story of the process which was really entertaining. For me at least. You can follow me! (eemcd). Hey Mom, this means you should get Snapchat.


Sausage & Peppers Pizza with Smoked Gouda

pizza dough, homemade or store bought

1 lb mild Italian sausage

1/2 green bell pepper

1/2 red bell pepper

1 sweet onion

2-3 cloves garlic

1/2 cup smoked Gouda cheese, shredded

olive oil, salt, pepper

Start by cooking the sausage in a skillet. I left it in relatively large chunks. While the sausage is cooking, julienne the peppers and thinly slice the onion. Once the sausage is browned, remove from the pan with a slotted spoon. Leave a tiny bit of the sausage fat behind.


In the same skillet, saute the peppers and onion over medium-low heat with some salt and pepper. Once they’re almost done, add the garlic.

Roll out your pizza dough on a floured baking sheet (or pizza stone) and drizzle with a little bit of olive oil.  Spread the peppers and onions evenly over the dough. This is your “sauce”. Top with the grated smoked Gouda cheese, and then the sausage.

FullSizeRender_1 (5)

Bake at 425 for about 15-20 minutes or until the crust is lightly browned and the cheese is melted.

FullSizeRender (11)

(But what about garlic powder? Garlic salt? Granulated garlic?)

Tell me you’re allergic to cheese and I’ll keel over.

seared salmon with forbidden rice

My little buddy Kev is sick!

They think he might have mono. Instead of being a cliche big sister and making the “who have you been kissing??” joke, I made a more productive suggestion for all this school time he’s missing.

FullSizeRender (8)

So rude.

Luckily now I have a NEW BROTHER (in-law) who returned from his honeymoon with my lovely sister on Sunday night. They brought back about 600 bottles of wine, so it was only fair that the GS and I take care of dinner.

The GS had a meal similar to this at work one day. He works in this very cool start-up incubator place with free beer and food! I know. He sent me a picture of his lunch one day and asked me to re-create it. So here’s our attempt!

Forbidden Rice

1 cup forbidden rice

3 1/2 cups water

1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped

seeds of 1 pomegranate

3-4 scallions, chopped

2-3 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley

1/2 cup roasted pistachios, roughly chopped

1-2 tsp balsamic vinegar

2-3 tbs olive oil

juice and zest of one lemon

1 tsp honey

salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes (optional) to taste

Start by cooking the rice. Combine the rice, water, and a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to low and simmer for a half hour, stirring occasionally, until water is absorbed. Remove from heat, and let it sit for a few minutes. Fluff with a fork.

While the rice is cooking, roast the squash at 425 degrees with some olive oil, salt and pepper until browned. About 10-12 minutes.

Remove the seeds from the pomegranate. Make sure you’re not wearing anything you really like. Luckily I dress like a slob the majority of the time, and this $5 size large shirt from Old Navy wasn’t a huge loss. I should get a rubber apron like Dexter for the next time I work with pomegranates.
FullSizeRender_1 (3)Chop up the pistachios, scallions, and parsley. Put them in the bottom of a big bowl with the squash and pomegranate seeds.


Once the rice is cooked, stir everything to combine. My “dressing” was a little balsamic vinegar, juice and zest of a lemon, a few glugs of olive oil, a drizzle of honey, and some salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes. Stir to combine. We ate this hot, but the leftovers were awesome at room temperature and cold, so you can judge what temperature is appropriate based on your occasion. It’s just so pretty!

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

We bought four salmon steaks that I seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper on both sides. I seared them on the grill pan on the stove for about 5 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the steak. I love how the outside got all crispy. The only disadvantage to this cut is that there are still some bones in there so you have to be careful.

FullSizeRender (7)

Serve! With wine. And friends.


Kelly said this was her favorite thing I’ve ever made. Kevin is still a picky eater, but I think someday he’ll appreciate forbidden rice. And hopefully the Forbidden Forest as well.

See what I did there??

lightened up hash browns

…for dinner.

At least for me it was dinner. I almost never eat eggs for breakfast, but I would say I do eggs for dinner at least 2-3 nights a week. Omelette, sunny side up over sauteed spinach, or two fried eggs with toast and a bowl of peas.

Oh, is that last one not a thing?

FullSizeRender_1 (2)

This hash brown recipe is a little more high-maintenance because it requires planning and prep ahead of time. The trick to crispy hash browns is making sure that you get as much water out of the potatoes as you can so that they crisp up and don’t just steam through. Obviously adding zucchini and onion adds even more water, so this means extra dehydrating (?) time.

I usually overdose on zucchini over the summer, but for some reason this year I really didn’t. Maybe it’s because I was playing the real life version of Where in the USA is Carmen Sandiego?

Speaking of which, I miss that game. And Oregon Trail. And JumpStart! JumpStart 4th Grade, specifically.

Back to the zucchs. (No?) I’m not quite ready for butternut squash season yet (although I am guilty of drinking a pumpkin beer over the weekend- Flying Dog’s The Gourd Standard Pumpkin IPA YUM), especially while summery produce is still on the shelves.

These zucchinis were small- I used one per serving for this recipe. One potato and one zucchini makes you feel like you are eating double hash browns but it’s better for you than eating two potatoes <– math.

Lightened Up Hash Browns

1 Yukon gold potato, grated

1 small zucchini, grated (or about 1/2 cup)

1/4 yellow onion, grated

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

salt and pepper


canola oil


Grate your potato, zucchini, and onion. I mixed it all together and tried to squeeze out as much water as I could with my hands. Then I wrapped it up in a paper towel and wrung out some more. Then I stuck it all in a strainer and let it dry out EVEN MORE. Catch my drift?

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 preset

Heat some canola oil and butter together in a skillet. Canola oil for the higher smoke point, buttah for flavah.

Add the potato/zucchini/onion mixture and let it brown on one side, then flip over. Add the garlic to the mix at some point. Season liberally with salt and pepper. And maybe garlic powder… you can never have enough garlic in my world.

FullSizeRender (6)

Fry an egg for the top. I may have also added a little bit of cheese. Which is an essential component of all “lightened up” meals, right?

Processed with VSCOcam with p5 preset

the wedding

I talk about this with so much reverence that you would think it was my wedding. Nope, my sister’s. But it was seriously amazing and deserves an entire post devoted to some of my favorite photos from that day.

It’s also a post basically boasting about how awesome my mom and my Aunt Pat are. #pinterestqueens

This was a headboard. My mom turned it into a welcome sign.


A little tribute to where the guests traveled from to get there.


That dress though.

FullSizeRender (4)

Obviously the Baltimore beer needed representation in the beverage canoe.


Rustic bread bar during the cocktail hour? Yes please.

FullSizeRender (3)

Being the beer snob that I am, I was thrilled that they had an IPA and Octoberfest on tap. Also a selection of wine, including white zin (with ice) for one of our favorite ladies.


These enormous balloons were SO much fun. To blow up (the humor of a helium tank knows no age limit), and to pose with for photos.


The barn was just magical.

As was the tent. I can’t wait until the professional pictures come out, because the table formation and everything in the tent was so cool. Plus, beers for days.

IMG_0135I didn’t even think to take food photos, but luckily fellow bridesmaid Nell took one for me. There was beef tenderloin, salmon, roasted vegetables, and this orzo dish. I’m a food snob, clearly, and I thought the food was awesome. Way better than the food at most of the 18 other weddings I’ve been to this summer, and they pulled it off without a real kitchen and needing to transport it through the rain into the tent. Just sayin’.


Nell’s still working on her food photography skills so she can guest blog.

Kelly and Aaron are on their honeymoon, which means I have no one to cook for this week. Just me and the Kitchen Aid as roommates until they get back.

I don’t hate it.

what’s on my kindle, part 4

Another Kindle post with random photos interspersed, solely for color! Most of them are of food I was eating while reading.

Don’t worry- I will discuss the best and most beautiful wedding of all time, but I’m a little frazzled at the moment and need to give adequate time to that post. So in the meantime, get reading!

Freakonomics by Steven J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt. Getting some non-fiction in! Makes me seem smarter, right? See  below for beach reads. The GS actually recommended this to me, because I peer-pressured him into listening to an audiobook.  It’s basically about correlations between everyday things that you may think are unrelated, and how data can be interpreted in real life. I found the beginning super interesting and then it got less exciting, but still recommend. Especially if you’re a math nerd (ahem, Kelly.)

typical airport

typical airport “meal” when I’m sick of fast food. which is always.

The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty. Okay, Liane. Start writing more books. I think I’ve read them all now. I just can’t say enough good things about her writing style. Big Little Lies is still my favorite. They are turning it into a mini series which is SO exciting except Sheila and I are beyond angry that Nicole Kidman was cast as Celeste. She is way too old for that role, and in no way does she look “naturally” beautiful. I would have chosen Rosamund Pike, personally. Moving back to reading.

Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan. I mentioned in my last post that I was planning to re-read this, because I loved it so much when I read it about 5 years ago. Still couldn’t put it down. I forgot that there is some gritty stuff in there about female sex trafficking, but the story lines of the four characters are so great and I just love how realistic they are. It almost made me wish that I went to an all-women’s college. Almost. #loyolaforever

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain. I listened to this one and LOVED it. Loved it so much that even if I was only going to be in the car for 5 minutes, I would turn it on. I’m not even sure I can tell you what it’s about without giving too much away, so you’ll just have to trust me.

oatmeal cookie frozen yogurt. it was AAAMAZING

oatmeal cookie frozen yogurt in Massachusetts. it was AAAMAZING

The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand. This is definitely a YA novel, but pretty good. I read it on the plane to and from Tulsa. It’s about a 16 year old boy who commits suicide and it’s told from the perspective of his older sister. It got 4 1/2 stars on Amazon, which leads me to believe that most of the reviewers are in high school. I would give it closer to 3.

The Beach Club and The Blue Bistro by Elin Hilderbrand. More Nantucket novels. I didn’t love either of these- I think they were both earlier books of hers.  I just really hated the main character in The Blue Bistro and I’m fairly positive that wasn’t Elin’s intent, so that one was tough to get into. I still have to get my hands on her new one (The Rumor) but obviously I need to wait until it’s free through my library. God forbid I give Amazon another $7.99 of my hard-earned money.

solid cold brew in AZ

solid cold brew in AZ. one of the only things I enjoyed about that trip.

Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont. Wah wahhhh. What a downer. I was SO excited to read this because I randomly really liked the cover (??) oh and it has all that New York Times hype. And the first chapter or prologue thing was really intriguing but then it’s just.. depressing. There’s also this weird part in the middle where she flashes forward and tells you everything that happens to the characters later on in life. Which really only works because it basically doesn’t have a story line. Do you think the New York Times wants to hire me to review books?

Dare Me by Megan Abbott. Okay true life, I didn’t read this book. I downloaded the audiobook after I saw it on one of those Pinterest pages like “If you loved Gone Girl…” I need to stop believing those. I listened to the first hour of it while I was doing yoga on the dock (the whole meditating to the sound of the waves just doesn’t do it for me), but it’s about high school cheerleading sooo… enough said.


yes, I took a photo of myself upside down. #basic

Liars, Inc by Paula Stokes. Came from the same “Gone Girl” teaser mentioned above. I actually read this whole book but should have invoked some kind of percentage-to-ditch rule. Just… no.

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion. I gave the highest of praise to The Rosie Project in my last kindle post, so I was suuuuper excited to get into the sequel. I loved it. I wouldn’t say it was better than the first one, but definitely a solid sequel. I want more.

whole foods dinners are the best dinners

whole foods dinners are the best dinners

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova. I raved about Still Alice in an earlier Kindle post. This wasn’t quite as good as that, but I still really liked it. It’s about left neglect, which I learned about as an undergrad in speech-pathology. If you don’t know about left neglect (or even if you do) it’s a really interesting read. I think I also liked it because I identified with the narrator, who is a massive overachiever crazy perfectionist multi-tasker.

Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova. This one is about Huntington’s and ohhhh my goodness it’s so sad. And not in a cliche way that you would expect a book about Huntington’s to be sad. I loved the story, even though the end sort of leaves you hanging. Highly recommend.

As always, let me know if you have any other recommendations!

corn & poblano wrap

This is not an adequate title for all the lovely things in this wrap.

It is, however, what the Real Deal Deli in Dedham, MA called the wrap which inspired this creation.
FullSizeRender (12)I had this for lunch one day about a month ago when I was training in Massachusetts and I loooooved it. It’s always exciting to find vegetarian dishes that are really flavorful and filling. It makes me think I can give up meat.

And then I remember chicken wing dip and I change my mind.

Anyway, as soon as I had this I knew I wanted to try to copy it at home.

Lately I’ve been grocery shopping like a European. By that I mean, I go basically every day and buy exactly what I need for dinner that night.

Of course in Europe they’re probably shopping at farmer’s markets or adorable stands on cobblestone streets and not at Harris Teeter, but same thing.

Unfortunately because I’ve been shopping this way, I’ve run into the avocado dilemma more than once. Have you been there? You’re at the grocery store and you need an avocado and you need it to be perfectly ripe and ready rightthisminute.

There are 14,000 avocados at the store. For some reason they still cost $7 each but we’re ignoring that for the sake of a good recipe. You grope each and every avocado and try to find one with a little give to it.

All of them are hard as rock. Eventually you find one that might be almost ripe maybe it’s a little bit softer than the others?

Really your hand has just become stronger from all the squeezing and you now have superhuman strength like the magic hand Voldemort gave Wormtail in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

I’m even weirder than usual today.

Then someone walks up and starts doing the exact same thing you just did and you want to tell them not to waste their time because all the avocados suck except for the one you just picked. But you refrain.

Said avocado ended up being just fine.

FullSizeRender (11)

Corn & Poblano Wrap

Whole wheat tortillas

4 ears corn

1 can black beans

2 cloves garlic

2 tbs cilantro, chopped

1 poblano pepper

1/2 cup shredded pepper jack cheese

2 tomatoes, chopped

1/4 red onion, chopped

1 avocado, chopped

4-5 tablespoons mayo

1 can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

The wrap I had in Massachusetts said it included “black bean hummus.” I interpreted this as mashed black beans. I drained and rinsed them, mashed them with a fork, added some garlic and cilantro for extra color and flavor.

For the poblano, I stuck it right over the flame on the gas stove until it was charred all the way around. I put it in a glass bowl and covered it with plastic wrap until it cooled, and then pulled the skin off and removed the stem and seeds.

I boiled the corn for 8 minutes, then cut it off the cob with a serrated knife.

Mix the mayo with a little of the juice from a can of chipotle peppers. Exciting revelation- the sandwich/wrap area of the dining hall in college was called “Stacks & Rappz” (I think their attempt to be cool and trendy?) and they had this “Southwest sauce” that I was obsessed with. I had a wrap with grilled chicken, lettuce, tomato, onion, Southwest sauce at least 4 times a week. Said sauce is just chipotle mayo. It’s going to be a staple in my fridge now.


Now we assemble! Mayo- cheese- beans- poblano – tomato- avocado- onion- corn.

I got a little too excited the first time I made it and overfilled the wrap.

FullSizeRender_2 (4)


Night two was neater. Mine is totally prettier than the original, right?

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

PS the GS wolfed one of these down and then asked, “Was there meat in that?”

Vegetarians for the win.