Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Grocery Shopping and Freezer Foraging: Slow Cooker Philly Style French Dip Sandwiches

I’ve been a wife and mother for some years now and have learned a thing or two along the way. Some of my biggest lessons in the domestic arts have been learned in the aisles of my local grocery store. I would hate to even try to estimate the amount of money I have spent and all too often wasted on groceries over the years, so I have now decided that the madness has to stop.

In an attempt to curtail my over spending, I’ve clipped many a coupon from the Sunday paper. I’ve even watched those boring ass television shows on extreme couponing, but must admit that I just don’t get it. I mean do these families really enjoy dining on Vitamin Water and Colgate toothpaste, because it seems to me that's mostly all they buy. If they can get away with this more power to them. My family demands real food for our meals.

Now to top it all off, the manufacturers have decreased their product coupons in retaliation. The Sunday papers which used to be chockfull of colorful slick coupon pages now mostly contain ads for miracle magnets and orthopedic shoes. Thanks TLC, I am now an unarmed warrior in the inflation battle. To be quite honest I do think they are overreacting a bit, as I’ve never found a grocery store that would triple a $1.00 off coupon and pay me to take home an economy size box of Oreos.

Since extreme couponing doesn’t do me any good, I’ve decided to try a different tactic. Instead of going to the grocery store three to four times a week like I used to, I now make a list and strictly limit my grocery shopping to once a week. No more running to the store to pick up gallon of ice cream which would usually land up costing me $40 by the time I grab a bunch of other things I think I need and check out. No siree, now I don’t even walk in the place but once a week no matter what we need.

I think you'll agree that by the looks of this pantry no one's going hungry around here.

This has on occasion caused me to have to really think out of the box. Towards the end of my week I’ll admit that a couple of times I’ve had to secretly add a little water to my son’s milk and some extra breadcrumbs to my meatloaf to stretch them a bit, but we always manage to make it. We’ve also had some strange side dish creations but you’ll be glad to know that I have stopped short of penne in peanut butter and jelly sauce . . . well, so far.

After giving this new method a try for a couple of months, I now proclaim it a great success. I’ve not only cut my grocery bill in half, I’ve also discovered what’s at the back of my pantry and bottom of the freezer. I’ve also managed to free up untold hours of my precious time that I now devote to important stuff like talking on the phone and blog writing. So if you can’t find a grocery store that will pay you to shop there try a little discipline, it really is a miracle.

Normally I wouldn't show the inside of my freezer to my best friend, but I know you can keep a secret. As you can tell, eating our way through this mess is long overdue.

Since I choose to go to the store on Wednesday, Tuesday is usually a real challenge. A week ago I did some digging around and finally found out what the big dark blob was that’s been blocking the back of my freezer, a beef chuck roast. After pawing through my vegetable crisper I threw everything in my slow cooker and made a memorable meal for my family.

Philly Style French Dip Sandwiches

1 – 1-1/2 to 2 pound chuck roast or any other hunk of meat you find in the back of your freezer
Enough of your favorite seasonings to spice things up a bit
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons or so vegetable oil
2 cups water, divided
3 teaspoon beef bouillon granules, divided
1 bay leaf
1 large red, yellow or orange bell pepper, sliced into fairly thick julienne slices
1 medium size sweet yellow onion, sliced from end to end into julienne slices the same size as the pepper
1 French baguette
2 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature (optional)
4 slices Swiss or Provolone cheese

Sprinkle both sides chuck roast with seasonings, thyme and flour; set aside.

My beautifully marbled two pound chuck roast.

Pour oil into a medium size frying pan over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, brown the roast on both sides; transfer to a baking pan or slow cooker set on low. If baking in the oven, set at 300 degrees.

Add water to the frying pan and deglaze. After stirring for a moment or two add 1 teaspoon of the bouillon and stir to dissolve. Pour over the roast. Add the bay leaf, cover and cook until tender. Add the vegetables to the meat about 30 minutes before serving.

Sliced bell pepper and onion. Add this to the roast about 30 minutes before eating to keep them from getting mushy.

When the meat is fork tender, remove it from the pan and transfer to a cutting board. Shred meat by pulling apart with two forks. Remove the bay leaf before returning the shredded meat to the pan; keep warm.

Boil the remaining cup of water. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon of bouillon granules to the water and stir to dissolve; set aside and keep warm until ready to use.

Preheat broiler to low.

Slice bread lengthwise and open up to lay flat leaving a “hinge” if possible. Spread the bottom half of the baguette with the softened butter (optional). Lay cheese slices end to end on the top half of the bread to cover; transfer to a baking sheet. Place into the preheated oven and watching carefully toast the bread until it is brown and the cheese is melted.

Remove from the oven and cover the bottom half with the shredded meat mixture shaking off any excess juice from the pan. Cut baguette into the desired amount of pieces. Serve with equal amounts of the beef bouillon on the side for dipping.

This meaty sandwich will easily serve four hungry people. If you would like, you can stretch the meat a bit by adding another half baguette and serving 2 more people.

Serves 4 - 6

A really great meal anytime of year.
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