Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Cajun Firecrackers

Each Christmas we decide to go with a light lunch usually sandwiches, chips, dips, cookies and snacks as the focus of the day will be on exchanging gifts and letting the young ones open all their presents and play with all their new found treasures. Generally, the adults do not exchange gifts anymore, but there is always someone who breaks the rules. Anyway, I digress….

One of the snacks that we make every year for christmas and possibly New Years is an old family favorite known as 'Cajun Firecrackers'. Now, I am not going to lie to you and tell you I know where they got the name 'Cajun Firecrackers' as the reality is that they are not made with what one would call traditional Cajun spices. But so be it, Cajun Firecrackers they are. I am going to list two recipes for you here, the first one is made with ready made powdered 'Ranch Seasoning' packets, and the second recipe is made entirely from scratch.

Both recipes are easy to make, but if you do not already have dried powdered buttermilk in your pantry, then purchasing the ready made 'Ranch Seasoning' packets may be the way to go for you. Personally, I recommend purchasing the 12oz container of dried buttermilk powder as it costs almost the same as 4 individual 1oz packages of Hidden Valley Ranch mix. Anyway, which ever way you decide to go, I am sure you, your family, and your friends will enjoy these home made snack crackers.


Now I am not going to lie to you, these are not exactly what I would call a healthy snack. In fact, they are quite high in sodium and oil, but they taste so good. I realize that the amount of oil specified in these recipes seems like a lot, but trust me if you reduce the amount of oil then the seasoning will not be evenly distributed over the crackers. Follow the same directions whether you are making the fire crackers from the quick or scratch recipe. I warn you, the original recipe for these crackers is hot! When I make these for my family, I only use 1 to 2 teaspoons as opposed to 1 to 2 tablespoons ed pepper flakes. You can definitley see the difference in the color of the two batches of crackers at the end of the article, the full on spicy version made with 2 tablespoons of red pepper flakes has quite a bet more red color.

Cajun Fire Crackers (Quick Recipe)

1 box saltine crackers (4 sleeves)
2 1oz packets of dry Ranch Seasoning
1 1/3 cups Canola oil
2 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

Remove crackers from sleeves and place in 1 gallon zip lock bag. Then in a large bowl, combine the oil, Ranch seasoning, crushed red pepper flakes and cayenne pepper (if using) and mix well. Add the oil mixture to the ziplock bag, seal and lay the bag on it's side. Flip the bag over every 15 minutes for 1 hour (a total of 4 times). The crackers can be eaten right away after the first hour, but are better if left overnight.

Chef's Note: Over the years, I have abandoned the plastic ziplock bag and have begun making my firecrackers in a plastic container that will hold all four sleeves of crackers. It is a cheap rubbermaid container that we bought at Walmart many years ago.

Cajun Fire Crackers (Scratch Recipe)

1 box saltine crackers (4 sleeves)
1 1/3 cups Canola oil
4 tablespoons dried buttermilk powder
2 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes
3 teaspoons dried parsley, divided
1 teaspoon dried dill, divided
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried minced onion
½ teaspoon granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon paprika
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

Chef's Note: The only downside to using the Saco cultured dried buttermilk is that it does get kind of hard over time. Not a big problem if you are mixing it with liquids, but it does make it more difficult when using it in dried mixes. So I combine all my ingredients in the small food processor you see in the following picture and process the mix before adding it to my oil.


These crackers are quick and easy to make, not necessarily healthy, but hey, we do not eat them everyday. Try some of these the next time you are getting together with your friends and family, or when your just having the guys and gals over to watch the football game. BTW, these make a great snack to take to the Super Bowl party. I hope you and your family will enjoy these firecrackers as much as ours does. As always, if you have enjoyed this article, please share it with your friends and don't forget to send us a friend request on Facebook and Google+ so that you will not miss out on any of our new articles.

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One Sauce To Rule Them All

I have to say up front I know the title for this article is kinda corny, but I just could not resist the urge to borrow from J.R.R. Tolkien's 'The Lord Of The Rings.' After all, most Italian tomato based sauces are simply a regional variation of the basic marinara sauce. The great thing is anyone can learn to make a delicious, inexpensive full flavored marinara sauce. This recipe for a classic marinara sauce is probably the easiest sauce you will ever learn to make. With a good marinara sauce as your base, you can create a wide variety of authentic Italian tomato based pasta sauces such as the ones in this article. While the sauces in this article are similar, they are uniquely different, with each having it's own specific flavor signature.

So why do you need to learn to make a bunch of different pasta sauces, after all you have your own family spaghetti recipe that you love right? Well for those of us cooking on a budget, Italian style pasta sauces are a great way of stretching your food dollars. My family loves spaghetti, but if I served the same dish three or more times a week, they might get pretty tired of eating pasta and pasta sauces. A good strategy for adding pasta and tomato based sauces into your menu rotation is to have a few different recipes in your repertoire to help you keep things fresh. After all no one wants to hear their kids or spouse roll their eyes and mumble “what spaghetti again.”

There are few things that take up more space on grocery store shelves than pasta sauces. They come in all brands and flavors. Hunt's brand alone has 11 different flavors: meat flavor, Italian sausage, traditional, four cheese, cheese and garlic, garlic and herb, roasted garlic and onion, mushroom, chunky vegetable, zesty and spicy, and no added sugar. I am not picking on Hunt's, I actually have four or five cans of their traditional pasta sauce in my pantry for quick, inexpensive emergency meals. Rather I chose Hunt's brand because a 24oz can of their pasta sauce is $0.98 everyday at Walmart making them very minimalist pantry friendly. Heck, a 29oz can of Corina tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes is $1.00 at the Dollar Tree, and more at most grocery stores unless you can find it on sale. So you can actually purchase a ready made sauce for almost the same price as you can make it from scratch.

If you have read any of my other articles, then you know that I do not generally promote the purchase of premade, prepackaged items. In fact, most of the time I try and discourage you from buying them. Hunt's pre-made pasta sauce is one of my minimalist pantry recommendations and one of the few exceptions to my rule simply because of it's value. When it goes on sale for $0.78 for a 24oz can I buy 4 to 6 cans of traditional or meat flavor and put them in the pantry. Having said all of that, to truly enjoy the variety of styles of Italian pasta sauces you need to make your own.

Basic Marinara (One Sauce To Rule Them All)

This simple, classic Italian tomato red sauce made with onions (optional), garlic and oregano is the all-purpose Italian red sauce and can be served over pasta, used as a pizza sauce or used in a variety of pasta and meat dishes such as lasagna etc. It is a good foundation for making other Italian inspired tomato based sauces in this article. Btw, just in case you are wondering any premade pasta sauce you can buy at your local grocers labeled 'Traditional' is a basic marinara sauce.

Basic Marinara Recipe (Yield 4 to 6 servings)

1 28-ounce can whole or crushed tomatoes
1 8oz can tomato sauce
1 medium onion, diced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic (6-7 cloves)
¾ teaspoon iodized salt (or 1 teaspoon kosher)
¼ to ½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (use 1/8 teaspoon if you like it less spicy)

If using whole tomatoes, place the tomatoes in a medium sized bowl and crushed them with your hands, then add 1 cup of water to the bowl and set aside.

Chef's Note: If you prefer a smooth and not chucky style marinara sauce then substitute a 29oz can of tomato sauce for the whole or crushed tomatoes. Simply open the can and add it to the skillet after you have sautéed the vegetables, do not add any additional water when using tomato sauce.

Place the olive oil in a medium sized skillet and heat over medium low heat, then add the onions and saute them just until they become translucent (if you are making any of the other sauces that contain vegetables saute them with the onions). Then add the garlic and sauté for another 60 seconds stirring to make sure the garlic does not burn (if you are making any of the other sauces that contain capers, mushrooms and or anchovies, they should be added with the garlic at this time as well).

Add the crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce (and any other liquids required) to the skillet along with the remaining ingredients (salt, red pepper flakes, and oregano) and bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes or until thickened.

Chef's Note: Traditionally Italian pasta sauces do not have sugar added to them, however the premade sauces found on the grocery store shelves tend to have some sugar added. Persoanlly, I have found that most of the time that the crushed or whole tomatoes tend to be sweet enough for my family, but if you want to add a small amount of sugar to your sauce do so in small increments such as an 1/8 of a teaspoon at a time.

Pasta Alla Bolognese This sauce gets it's name from it's place of origin Bologna, Italy, although it is also known simply as a 'ragu' sauce in other part's of the country. Bolognese is a meat based sauce traditionally made with ground beef or pork, pancetta (or bacon), tomatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, celery and milk. Omit the milk, and this is the sauce that most Americans would recognize as an 'Italian American' style spaghetti in which most of us are familiar with. In Italy it is customarily served with large flat noodles such as tagilatelle, pappardelle, or fetuccine, as well as being used to make lasagna.
  • To make a bolognese sauce from our basic marinara recipe, add 1lb of ground beef, pork or combination of both, 3 slices of bacon or panchetta, 1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped, 2 ribs of celery finely chopped, ½ cup white wine, ½ cup milk, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, and ½ teaspoon black pepper. If you like a spicy sauce leave the red pepper flakes otherwise omit them.
  • To Prepare: Mince uncooked bacon, then place in skillet with ground beef or pork, and cook until done, remove the meat and drain the pan leaving two tablespoon grease/oil then add the onion, celery and carrot and saute over low heat until softened. Then follow the directions for making the basic marinara sauce adding the milk and wine with the tomatoes or tomato sauce.

Pasta Alla Giardino – Pasta from the garden or 'garden style' is a term sometimes used when referring to a tomato based sauce made with, onions, bell peppers, celery, carrots, mushrooms, zucchini, oregano, basil and or marjoram. Rather than meat, the rough cut or chopped vegetables are the primary ingredients in this pasta sauce. It can be made from anything you have growing in the garden, and makes a great end of the growing season pasta sauce.
  • To make a giardino sauce from our basic marinara recipe, add 1 green bell pepper (diced), 1 red bell pepper (diced), 1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped, 2 ribs of celery finely chopped, 1 zucchini (diced), ½ cup mushrooms (sliced), ½ cup white wine, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, ½ teaspoon black pepper, ½ teaspoon basil, and ½ teaspoon marjoram. If you like a spicy sauce leave the red pepper flakes otherwise omit them.

Pasta Alla Pomodoro (Golden Apple)Originally made with yellow tomatoes hence the name golden apple”. This is a very basic tomato sauce now made with whole red tomatoes, onions, garlic, basil sautéed in olive oil and seasoned with salt and black pepper. It is believed by some chefs that using canned peeled whole red tomatoes that are crushed by hand or pulsed in a blender give the sauce a sweeter taste as they are generally packed and processed at the height of their ripeness.
  • To make a pomodoro sauce from our basic marinara recipe, add one yellow onion (diced), and substitute dried basil for the oregano. Then follow the directions for making the basic marinara sauce. If you like a spicy sauce leave the red pepper flakes otherwise omit them.

Pasta Alla Puttanesca – Also known as 'street walker's sauce' or 'spaghetti garbage style', the joke or urban legend was that this sauce was so fast and easy to make that Italian streetwalkers could make this sauce between seeing their clients. This deliciously salty and fragrant pasta sauce is a quick to make pasta sauce made of tomatoes (and or tomato sauce), onions, black olives, capers, garlic, oregano, and optional anchovies, simmered with olive oil.
  • To make a puttanesca sauce from our basic marinara recipe, add one yellow onion (diced), ½ cup black olives, 1 tablespoon capers, 1 anchovy fillet, and ½ teaspoon of dried basil.
  • To Prepare: Dice the onion and saute over low heat with two tablespoons of olive oil until softened, then add the remaining ingredients (including the garlic) and saute for 60 seconds, then follow the directions for making the basic marinara sauce.

Pasta Alla Vodka – A late entry onto the culinary scene, but one that has become popular since the early 1970's. This sauces is simple and tasty, it's primary ingredients being tomato sauce, vodka and heavy cream. In it's most basic form, it is a marinara sauce with vodka (said to release the full flavor of the tomatoes) and heavy cream (for smoothness and mouth feel). It is typically served with penne pasta or rigatoni.
  • To make a vodka sauce from our basic marinara recipe, substitute dried basil for the oregano and add one yellow onion (diced), ½ cup vodka, ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, and 2/3 cup heavy whipping cream.
  • To Prepare: Dice the onion and saute over low heat with two tablespoons of olive oil until softened, then add the garlic and saute for 60 seconds. Then follow the directions for making the basic marinara sauce adding the heavy cream and vodka with the tomatoes or tomato sauce. Then follow the directions for making the basic marinara sauce.

The Ingredients

So why would you go to the effort to make your own pasta sauces if you can buy them already prepared for almost the same cost as the raw ingredients? First, even if you use canned tomatoes and or tomato sauce, you are going to get a more robust and fresher tasting sauce making it yourself. Second, you will have total control over the ingredients that you use in your sauce. For some of you that will not be a factor, for others the choice of ingredients used to prepare the food your family consumes is extremely important to you. Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle, neither side of the pendulum is more correct than the other. The bottom line is, do what you feel is best for your family, our goal is to give you those options.

Hunt's Original Traditional Pasta Sauce – Tomato puree, (water , tomatoes, paste), water, contains less than 22% of high fructose corn syrup, salt, corn syrup, soybean oil, dehydrated onions, sugar, carrots, fiber, spices, includes (soy lecithin), citric acid, and natural flavoring.

Homemade Marinara Pasta Sauce – Tomatoes, tomato sauce, water, olive oil, onions, garlic, salt, oregano, and red pepper flakes.

In it's most basic form, our marinara sauce has none of the high fructose corn syrup or soybean oil found in commercial sauces. Rather olive oil (which is good for you) and fresh vegetables such as tomatoes, onions and garlic make up the bulk of the sauce. In addition, you will find that the other sauces in this article are also all made with fresh ingredients and or fresh or dried spices with no preservatives.Making the decision to make your own versus buying premade sauces a matter of personal preference.

Cost Analysis

The cost of the ingredients need to make your own marinara sauce and the other Italian red sauces mentioned in this article will vary depending on what regions of the country in which you live and your choice of ingredients. For this recipe I purchased a 28oz can Corina crushed tomatoes for $1.00, onions were 5lbs for $0.99, 8oz can of Red Gold tomato sauce $0.20 (on sale 5 cans for $1.00) all the other items I had on hand, but overall cost for the herbs and other ingredients was less than $0.30. So for about $1.30, you can make a this quick and delicious marinara sauce. Adding additional ingredients to make sauces such as a bolognese, giardino, pomodoro, puttanesca or vodka will increase your costs, however you can still make better sauces at home that those you can buy at your local grocers. Below I have listed the prices for prepared brands of pasta sauces available at my local Walmart.

Barilla pasta sauces all varieties 24oz jar $2.00 ($0.08 per ounce)
Bertolli pasta sauces all varieties 24oz jar $2.12 ($0.09 per ounce)
Classico pasta sauces all varieties 26oz jar $2.16 ($0.09 per ounce)
Great Value pasta sauces all varieties 45oz jar $2.65 ($0.06 per ounce)
Hunt's pasta sauces all varieties 24oz can $.98 ($0.04 per ounce)
Homemade marinara sauce 36oz $1.24 ($0.04 per ounce)
Newman's Own All Natural pasta sauces all varieties 24oz can $4.54 ($0.15 per ounce)
Prego pasta sauces all varieties 24oz jar $2.00 ($0.08 per ounce)
Ragu pasta sauces all varieties 16oz jar $3.14 ($0.07 per ounce)

So as you can see, depending on the brand, making your own pasta sauces at home can save you up to 50% off store brands. Adding additional vegetables such as olives, capers, bell peppers etc. will increase the costs, but no commercial sauce of note will have a significant amount of these ingredients listed as part of their sauce.

Chef's Note: Do not be mislead by sauces that are labled 'meat' or 'Italian sausage'. They do not have any meat in them (or they have less than 2% beef and beef fat according to the Hunt's label of ingredients). It will cost you the same amount of food dollars to add meat to either your homemade marinara sauce as it would to if you wish to add meat to a premade sauce. If you want to add a meat flavor to your marinara sauce, substitute powdered beef bouillon for the salt and then add additional salt if necessary.

Adding Meat To Your Sauces

Of all the ingredients, adding meat to your sauce will have the most impact on your wallet, but there are ways to keep these costs to a minimum. For our basic marinara recipe or when using a premade pasta sauce (24 to 46oz) I recommend using only ½lb of ground beef or sausage as opposed to 1lb of meat. Ground beef or sausage will evenly distribute itself throughout the sauce when cooked and most people will not notice the difference between the too. This helps to keep down your costs and stretch your food dollars.

If you like Italian sausage, you can buy it bulk (not in casings) in 1lb containers. If that is not available then you can buy the package the 19.8oz package with 5 links (in casings) in the meat department, then cut open two or three of the links and remove them from the skins/casings and cook them as you would ground beef. We look for the Italian sausage at our local Walmart and buy them when they are marked down then throw them in the freezer for later use.

If you use the same amount of beef or sausage and make them into meatballs, you make get 10 to 12 if you are lucky and while I like meatballs, the perception is that there is so much less meat in your sauce and who wants to listen to your kids and spouse fight over who got the most meatballs...[GRIN].. So do yourself a favor, when adding meats to your sauces use ground meats to save not only the most money, but also any hurt feelings over who got the least among of meatballs, and it is faster saving you precious time. For more information about how to save money purchasing ground beef, check out the article 'Can Cheap Ground Beef Be Healthy? You Bet!' on our blog.


Pasta and pasta dishes are a great way to stretch your food dollars and feed your family a satisfying and delicious meal. They are quick to make, and once you have a good base marinara sauce recipe you will find that it is quite flexible and easy to make a variety of different tomato based sauces. I encourage you to make all of these sauces at least once and find out which ones you and your family enjoy, then add them to your menu rotation. Making your own pasta sauces can save you up to 50% over premade sauces leaving you more money to help feed your family. As always, if you have enjoyed this article, please share it with your friends and don't forget to send us a friend request on Facebook and Google+ so that you will not miss out on any of our new articles.

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Saturday, December 12, 2015

King Ranch Chicken Or Chicken Enchilada Casserole

Well thanksgiving is over and now that the relatives are all gone, what are you going to do with all the turkey leftovers? Canning is one good way of preserving any leftover meat and it has the added advantage of not having to be refrigerated once it has been properly processed, however many of you living on a food budget may not have access to the proper equipment to do so. Freezing is always an option, but if you are like my family, sometimes it gets thrown into the back of the freezer and get forgotten until it is almost to late.

Most often I have found one of the best ways to use any leftover turkey is to cook with it as a replacement for chicken in various dishes. One of the most affordable and easy type meals to make are casseroles. Like soups and stews, casseroles are a one dish meal in which all the ingredients are combined together and layered in one form or another into a dish and then baked in the oven. Popular in the 1950's and 60's they somewhat fell out of favor during the 80's and 90's as more people began to abandon leftovers and head to the fast food restaurant.

We make quite a few casserole dishes here on the homestead, as they are great way to use leftover ingredients from previous recipes. I have not blogged about many of them because casseroles just do not take good pictures. They just look like...well casseroles. Having said that casseroles are an important way to stretch your food budget and use up any leftovers you may have in the fridge. Now I am not saying you only have to make casseroles when you have leftovers, but they are a good tool to keep in your recipe box. In this article I will show you how to make one of our favorite casseroles “King Ranch Chicken” sometimes called “Mexican Lasagna” or “Chicken Enchilada Casserole” with leftover turkey in place of chicken. We also use rabbit in this recipe (which is delicious BTW) as we always can some up and place in the pantry after butchering. This recipe uses few ingredients, is a great budget stretcher, tastes great (no matter which meat you choose), is quick to make and is minimalist pantry friendly.

King Ranch Chicken

This casserole is a layered casserole such as the filling is placed between two or three layers of flour or corn tortillas depending on the depth of your casserole dish. We have a plethora of corning ware dishes here on the homestead that we use for a variety of dishes. Another great option is to make a few extra casseroles in small aluminum foil containers and freeze them uncooked so that you can pop one from the freezer straight into the oven. This can be a life saver if you are short on time. Below is my basic recipe for this dish, however I often modify or add ingredients depending on what I have leftover in the fridge. This time I added some sauteed banana peppers which are still growing in the garden and added about 4oz of green chile salsa leftover from making breakfast burritos. I did not put my additions in the basic recipe. I have included two recipes in this article, a small recipe for 2 to 4 people and a family size recipe for 4 to 6.

Small Recipe

8 ounces leftover chicken, rabbit, or turkey, diced
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
4 to 5 flour or corn tortillas
1 (10.5oz can) condensed cream of chicken soup
½ (10oz can) tomatoes and green chilies (total of 5oz)
1 teaspoon cumin, ground
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon cilantro, dried
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon salt

Combine all the ingredients except the tortillas into a large mixing bowl and mix completely. Spray your casserole dish or aluminum foil pan with non-stick cooking spray. Then tear the tortillas into small to medium sized pieces and cover the bottom of your casserole dish. Then place half of the casserole mixture ontop of the tortillas and spread evenly as much as possible and cover the filling with another layer of tortillas. Add the remaining filling and top with one last layer of tortillas.

Chef's Note: If using frozen tortillas you have may saved before they expired, you may want to cut them into wedges with a knife as they do not tear easily. If you do not have any tortillas, the crushed small pieces leftover in the bottom of a bag tortilla chips work great. We save these small pieces in a bag in the freezer and use them in place of the tortillas we we get enough.I generally do not add any salt when using the tortilla chips as they are usually lightly salted already.

Add a layer of cheese to the top of the casserole and lightly garnish with dried cilantro, cover and place in a pre-heated oven and bake at 350 degrees for about 60 minutes or until the filling is bubbling around the edges and the top of the casserole has browned. If you like your casserole to be more crunchy or brown on the top then remove the lid during the last 10 to 15 minutes.

Chef's Note: If you are cooking a pre-made casserole that has been frozen and take straight from the freezer or even if you bring it out to thaw and hour before it will probably take and additional 15 to 20 minutes to cook completely.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 to 15 minutes before serving. This allows some of the filling to firm up and cool some as it can be a mouth scourcher if you attempt to eat it strainght from the oven.

Large Family Recipe

16 ounces leftover chicken, rabbit, or turkey, diced
2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
8 to 10 flour or corn tortillas
1 (10.5oz can) condensed cream of chicken soup
1 (10.5oz can) condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 (10oz can) tomatoes and green chilies (total of 5oz)
1 – 2 teaspoons cumin, ground
2 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cilantro, dried
¾ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon salt


Using leftovers to create additional meals for your family is a great way to stretch your food dollars. By using the strategy of menu planning you can maximize your food dollars and minimize food wastage. If I take a pound of cooked meat from the freezer, I think of how many different meals can I use it in. Items like tortillas (flour and corn), tortilla chips and bread can be placed in the freezer when they near their expiration date and can be used in casseroles such as this without any loss of quality. I have in fact used corn tortillas that even had a fair amount of frost on them and they taste great in such recipes as 'King Ranch Chicken'. Don't forget to save the small pieces from the bottom of your tortilla chips to use instead of tortillas. Throw them in the freezer in a zip lock bag until you get enough, then make a casserole of goodness for your family.

This casserole is quick, fast, delicious and a whole lot easier than making chicken enchiladas. Give it a try, I am sure you and your family will enjoy it as much as mine does. As always, if you have enjoyed this article, please share it with your friends and don't forget to send us a friend request on Facebook and Google+ so that you will not miss out on any of our new articles.

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Friday, December 4, 2015

Saving Money At The 'Dollar Tree'

Ok, maybe the subtitle “Bargins abound, but buyer beware.” is a little harsh, but I wanted to get your attention. As you know shopping on a budget requires a little work if you want to successfully stretch your food dollars. This is especially true if you are just starting out and trying to stock your pantry with the bare essentials, what we call here 'the minimalist pantry'.

One of the great resources for stocking your minimalist pantry is your local 'Dollar Tree' store. Now I realize not everyone reading this article has a local Dollar Tree, but if you have a '$0.99' or dollar store in your neighboorhood, the same princples apply. With more than 13,500 stores here in the lower 48 states and in Canada many of you have most likely seen a Dollar Tree at one time or another. Like their name implies eveything in the store is $1.00 (sometimes a few items can be found for less, but rarely). This can lead to some great buys, but care must be taken because sometime items are cheaper at your local Walmart, our other grocery store chain.

Minimalist Pantry 'Best Buys'

So let's look at some of the items in which you can save a substantial amount of money on by buying them at the Dollar Tree versus your local grocer or Walmart. I use Walmart for comparison as theyare the largest grocery type retailer in the United States, usually have the most competitive prices, and it is the primary grocery store chain in our area. This listing of products is not all-inclusive, there are many things that you might find at the Dollar Tree that I do not use or vice versa, but this will give you a good indication of the savings you can find.

Dried Black Beans 1lb bag ($1.00 at Dollar Tree, $1.72 at Walmart), a 42% savings.
Dried Pinto Beans 2lb bag ($1.00 at Dollar Tree, $1.64 at Walmart), a 61% savings.
Dried Red beans 12oz bag ($1.00 at Dollar Tree, 1lb bag $1.22 at Walmart), a 5% loss.
Kosher Salt 16oz ($1.00 at Dollar Tree, $1.64 at Walmart), a 61% savings.
Lemon Juice 32oz ($1.00 at Dollar Tree, $2.48 at Walmart), a 60% savings.
Long Grain Rice 2lbs ($1.00 at Dollar Tree, $1.18 at Walmart), a 15% savings.
Molasses 8oz ($1.00 at Dollar Tree, 12oz $2.88 at Walmart), a 48% savings.

These items cost us a total of $7.00, had we purchased similar items at Walmart we would have spent $12.76. On this quick shopping trip we saved $5.76 or 45% by shopping at the Dollar Tree as opposed to going into our local Walmart. Now that is a way to stretch you food dollars! One tip we use to stretch our food budget is that we keep an updated list of the things we purchase at Dollar Tree and compare them with Walmart. Knowing which items we use on a regular basis and which store is the cheapest helps to stretch our food dollars and it only takes a minute to check out or list when we get ready to go shopping. 

Some items we did not purchase on this trip but keep in the pantry include: Butterfield canned chunk chicken 6oz can ($1.00 at Dollar Tree, 12.5oz $2.38 at Walmart), a 16% savings, Corina tomato sauce 29oz can ($1.00 at Dollar Tree, 12.5oz $1.29 at Walmart), a 22% savings. These are just a few of the canned goods we buy at Dollar Tree. We have found however, canned goods are usually cheaper at your local grocer or Walmart, so keep your eyes open, as there are always exceptions.

Buyer Beware (Comparing Apples to Apples)

Something to think about when shopping at the Dollar Tree is that each location is a little different. I have seen 'La Rosa' black beans in 1lb bags at one location and 'Iberia' black beans in 12oz bags at a different location both for $1.00. The black beans at my local Dollar Tree when I made these purchases were sold in a 1lb bag, but the same 'La Rosa' brand of red beans were in 12oz bags. Now here is what I mean about buyer beware. While the red beans at the Dollar Tree were $1.00 each, the bag was actually only 12oz making them $0.08 per ounce, while the 1lb bag at Walmart are $1.22 making them $0.06 per ounce. The red beans are actually cheaper at Walmart than the Dollar Tree. Because the black beans were sitting on the same shelf next to the red beans, I just grabbed a couple of bags of red beans without looking at the size of the bag assuming they were 1lb bags. While my mistake only cost me a few pennies, it is a simple reminder that you have to look at the size of or the weight of each container when comparing prices.


Not everything is cheaper at your local $0.99 or Dollar Tree store, but stop in and take a quick look around next time you are near one. This will give you an idea of which items the store carries that you use everyday making nurticious meals for your family. Knowing which items are available for $1.00 or less will help you to stretch your food budget and stock your minimalist pantry without breaking the bank. Just remember to check the labels and compare prices ounce per ounce when making buying decisions to maximize your food purchasing power. 

On this quick stop at our local Dollar Tree we saved we saved $5.76 or 45% compared to comparable items found at our local Walmart, and buying more with less is always a good thing! As always, if you have enjoyed this article, please share it with your friends and don't forget to send us a friend request on Facebook and Google+ so that you will not miss out on any of our new articles.

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