Friday, June 15, 2012

A Return to Basics: Making grocery lists

I cut my teeth on blogging about things other than my day by starting to write about food. I was just finishing up high school when I started my first food blog, which fell by the wayside when cooking became my career of choice and I suddenly had more important things to do with food than write about it. When my last cooking job essentially blew up in my face, I was bitter enough about the whole experience that I really stopped cooking altogether, never mind writing about it.

In much the same way as working with tea got me thinking about food again, writing about it's made me want to write again. I want to share something really basic I think that most people my age don't really know how to do... and that's write a grocery list.

Now, in a perfect world, I'd just stop off at a market every night and grab only the things I need to make that night's meal. Having said that, the world isn't perfect, and I really only have about one day a week where I can do any grocery shopping at all.

Step 0: Keeping an Ear to the Ground
It's important when you're working with food, whether it's at home or at a restaurant that does 200 covers a night, to know what's going on with food in your area. I'm not going to turn this into a locavore rant, because whether you're eating locally or you think the best basil comes from Genoa, you're looking at the same problem.

No two food markets are the same, just as no two communities are the same. What I'm able to get at Sobey's or the SuperStore here in Saint John isn't going to be the same as an IGA in Florida. What's available will move with the ceilings, and nasty cold weather in Mexico might mean that your cheap mainstay vegetable iceburg lettuce suddenly triples in price.

So, just as important as your tastes, you need to start with a general idea of what you're looking for. This is even before you check the flyers. The butcher shops at the Old City Market have wonderful halibut steaks right now and marvellous boar cuts that you wouldn't know about if you didn't at least occasionally pop in.

Step 1: First Reading
Now it's time to read the fliers. As a general rule, supermarkets are getting fresh produce, meat, and seafood from the same suppliers if they're in the same area, so right now, they're competing to you on price. I like to flag proteins that are on sale as a good starting point. This is also how I get an idea of which store would be the bulk of my shopping.

As a caveat, these days I pretty much exclusively get my groceries from one particular grocer, having no good means for transportation.

Step 2: Play Chef
Your next step is to play Chef for a bit and come up with a menu. Start by blocking out the days between grocery orders. For example, I get paid weekly on Friday, so I set up my menu running from Friday to Thursday. I refer back to the list of proteins on sale (chiefly seafoods) to figure out what the main will be on each day and come up with sides to go along with them. Then, I figure out breakfast and lunch, which are usually the same for the whole week. I also include a spot on the menu for snacks, since I will invariably desire a bit of salt and fat at some point throughout the day.

Step 3: Play Accountant
Break all these things down into their component parts and list them. For the most part, I usually have a pretty good idea of what the base price for things is at my store, as part of keeping an ear to the ground. With an itemised list I can estimate about what my order will cost, which is good when you're budgeting.

I also take this time to put the items in each store in order encountered to make it easier to go down the list, and to add any cleaning supplies or other consumables I've run out of.

A Few Other Tips:
Depending on your part of the world, the Locavore thing might be hard to do. I try and offset some of my food choices that way. I might get citrus and tea from abroad but in general I tend to hit local markets when I'm looking for jam.

The other thing you can do, since you're working up your menu in advance, is audit it from a nutritional standpoint. One week I made up an entire week's worth of food laden with heavy cream, which wasn't going to fly, so I made some changes.

No comments:

Post a Comment