Real Food for Real Life

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Grocery Bargains

I love looking for bargains in the grocery store; even if I am just picking up an item or two I will usually take the time to make my "bargain round." Bargains, in the form of sometimes quite dramatic mark-downs, are usually found in the fresh, or perishable, areas of the store, located around the perimeter. So if, for example, I am at Kroger, I will start in the produce and organic foods section, on to the bakery, then the deli and cheese cases, the meat section, on to dairy, and before I make it back to the check out lanes there will be a table of non-perishable bargains.
In produce I will often find reduced price apples, potatoes, and red bell peppers (one of my favorites), which if unblemished I find that I can easily keep around for a week or two. More fragile items like lettuces, greens, mushrooms, and bananas I will put into the fridge and plan to use in a day or two. The so called "day olds" at the bakery are perfectly good, and if I want to keep them for more than two or three days I put them in the fridge. Meat markdowns I stow in the freezer until needed, and most dairy markdowns still have useful life, just check the expiration labels. I know I haven't covered them all, but please don't be afraid of those mark-downs, they are very friendly to your budget, can be sources of inspiration (aw, what to do with this beautiful bag of chilies?); just look them over before you buy and use common sense.
Last week I scored a huge bag of yellow bell peppers at Meijer for $2, as well as a 5lb. bag of apples for $1.41. All were in perfect shape and went right into my shopping cart! We have been eating the apples and I have been cooking with the peppers, but with five left, they needed now to be used. One of my all time favorite dishes is a spicy red pepper sauce over pasta, so I decided to make that and substitute the yellow peppers for the red, and while I was at it, substitute red wine (I already had an open bottle) for he white. This is one of those dishes that quantity varies with what I have on hand, some I'm just going to give the ingredients and some general guidance here.

Spicy Red Pepper Sauce

red bell peppers (yellow or orange will work), diced
a large onion, diced
tomatoes, preferably romas/plums, diced(about 1/3 as much as the quantity of bell pepper used)
extra virgin olive oil
garlic, minced
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
red pepper flakes
dry white wine (or red)
tomato paste

Dice the peppers, onion, and tomatoes, but not to small, this sauce should be chunky. Saute over med-high heat in olive oil until softened and the onion is starting to turn golden. Stir in the garlic (as little or as much as you like), salt and pepper, and as much red pepper flake as you dare (or not, if you like it mild). Saute a minute or two, until the garlic is fragrant, then stir in a cup or so of wine and bring to a boil. The amount of wine you put in is determined by how "saucy" you want the final product, more sauce = more wine. Stir in a tablespoon or two of tomato paste, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for at least 1/2 hour, or until the sauce comes together.

Serve over pasta of choice- if the sauce is lighter (w/o much tomato paste )a fine pasta such as angel hair is appropriate), a heavier suace (more tomato paste) really needs something more substantial. Tis sauce freezes very well and that is exactly what I did with the leftovers this time around. Substituting the yellow peppers and red wie created a sauce just as tasty as the red peppers and white wine, but I think I find the vibrant ed of the original sauce more visually appealing.
This is one of the most versitle dishes, as long as you have the basic ingredients, how much you use is up to you. The sauce can ultimately be thick or thin, and "saucy" or a bit drier. It is good with some grilled (or browned in the oven) Italian sausages, sliced and simmered into the sauce. Also good is to use the tomato paste sparingly, leaving a lighter sauce and serving with grilled shrimp. And always, always bring extra pepper flakes to the table for serving.
The original sauce, with sliced Italian sausage added.

The substitution sauce, no meat added, but served over another bargain buy, Butoni spicy sausage ravioli that I got for 79 cents a package (I bought enough for several meals and put them in the freezer).

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