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.


Cooking with Michele said...

When I was a kid (one of 3) and my parents were (presumably) trying to live on a budget, my mom would plan a full month of meals on a steno notebook at the start of each month, then make a grocery list from that and shop once a month. I'm sure she must have gone for milk and lettuce in between, but what struck me was the discipline she put into it. We hovered around as she made the grid, trying to insert our favorites into the lineup for the next month.

Today, as I teach for Cooking Matters, we still talk about some important shopping points:

Only 2% of coupons printed are actually redeemed!

For every minute over 30 you spend in a store you spend another $1 - or more!

Shopping hungry makes you impulsively buy!

Karen Harris said...

Wow Michele, and I thought I was showing discipline going once a week! Now your story of your mother has raised the bar for me. I'll need to start stretching the time between my shopping trips little by little before I can attain such a lofty goal. She certainly has my respect. Thanks for the great info.

Craig said...

That looks great, I must try it soon. Why is it that we always add things to the freezer without using up what's already in there?!

Barbara | Creative Culinary said...

So if we're talking about habits from our youth, then I recall so vividly that my dad and I would shop on Saturday. My family only had one car so though my dad carpooled, it meant often there was no car for those last minute trips to the grocery and I suppose that was a good thing. We made a rough menu of dinner but to tell you the truth...with six kids, it was a big shopping day!

Know what else I remember? I got to keep the S&H green stamps that were given out based on your bill. Seems silly now but I LOVED when I got enough to redeem them for something frivolous. Thanks for that memory!

And see you soon...packing up in a bit. I would say Abbie is excited but truth is; she is her typical sleeping at my feet oblivious. If she knew she was going to the dog equivalent of Disney World I know she would be wagging her tail in anticipation!

DaniD said...

Karen I love the pictures of your freezer! I do not think I will reciprocate though haha, it is full of ice cream and things are just all over the place. I think I'm going to adopt your idea--I would love to spend less time stopping at the food store on the way home from work!

DaniD said...

Karen these sound delicious! I love that you showed us your freezer but I don't think I will reciprocate haha; lots of ice cream and things all over the place! I think I am going to adopt your food shopping habit, though. I hate stopping at the food store after work (but do probably 2-3 times a week!).

Lorie said...

I hear you on the couponing. Just this week I finally broke down and watched Extreme Couponing. I am impressed with the amount of free stuff they get, BUT most of it is stuff I wouldn't eat (or feed to my family on a regular basis). I think if you have a stockpile of sugary drinks, then your kids are going to drink sugary drinks all day long. I know when I have bad food in the house, it is hard for me to resist. I did some checking in my area for stores that double coupons and the HIGHEST coupon doubling I have found is 60 cents. Where are the stores that double one and two dollars? Not in my area for sure.

I am wanting to cut down on my grocery spending too, so I'm making new commitments not to be wasteful. And to dig all that venison out of our deep freeze and use it.:)

Denise said...

I'm bookmarking this as I so badly need all this good advice, and that recipe looks delicious. Thanks so much Karen!

George said...


Midwest to Midlands said...

That sandwich looks delicious! We used to go to Costco about every 4-6 weeks to save on the grocery bill. But then we came to the conclusion we always ended up buying more and more each time than we would normally, so it wasn't really a savings. (yet we liked the back up supplies.)
Karen, look at it this way, I was taught you should have an emergency cupboard, like if unexpected guests show up. So look at your overstock as a back up plan.

Yenta Mary said...

I don't get the couponing thing either, extreme or otherwise. They never give me coupons for anything I use, or they make me buy 5 items to get 10 cents off the 6th one ... pfft! And I don't have the storage space for all that stuff. But I'm the queen of the sales and Manager's Specials (push it on Mary before it reaches its expiration date!), so I find myself with a LOT of groceries and then not needing to go to the store for awhile. Of course, someone has to help eat all this stuff, and I live alone now. There's just no winning, no matter what you do!

Andrea @ said...

I'm not a couponer either. They aren't worth the effort for how we eat in our house. The weekly sales work better for us. But, it's still a challenge not to over buy. Every few months I do some pantry only cooking to use up the reserves. My will really gets tested when I go to the spice shop or those darn ethnic markets - as you saw firsthand.

Thanks for the inspiration to do more with what we already have. See you soon.

Lea Ann said...

I hate coupons. I can't be trusted at a grocery store either. I even tried the "no basket" theory. I assumed that if I went in for only the two items I needed, had to basket to load up, I wouldn't impulse buy. Wrong, I ended up looking like a fool arms loaded with far to many items to carry. Now that hubs in retired, I send him. He brings home nothing but what is on the list.

Mary said...

I'm impressed with your long range plans and that gorgeous sandwich. I don't coupon but I do do menu planning and shop with a grocery list. It helps to know where you are going and what you need to get there :-). Have a wonderful weekend, Karen. Blessings...Mary

Sara @ Saucy Dipper said...

I don't like to show off my freezer either! Hard to organize those things.

I recently made a french dip as well. Soooo good. Think I'm going to be making it again soon, too.