Saturday, May 16, 2009

$50 really stretches at Central Market

The international economic recession has hit hard. Lately American day time television shows as well as Australian current affair programmes and magazines have been buzzing with shopping smart tricks to save big bucks. Aussie celebrity chef Curtis Stone of Surfing the Menu fame amongst others was recently part of Oprah's Celebrity Chef Recipe Roundup geared to promote quality meals that guarantee savings at the check out. Listening to all the tips recommended by experts, I realised most of the advice they were doling out was already part of my grocery shopping regime.

A big believer in fresh food, I prefer shopping at Adelaide’s Central Market rather than Coles, Woolworths or Foodland (grocery stores that are conveniently located in every suburb). The produce is simply gorgeous – local, fresh and in fact cheaper than grocery store prices. The only downside is transporting everything home - usually a back-breaking load and bussing it! Oh, well it can’t all be easy right!
Adelaide's Central Market - view from Grote Street

The key to smart shopping is preparing a shopping list of everything you need. This helps you to stay focused and avoid impulse buying. Usually I plan three dishes I am going to prepare for the week, (since I live alone I make enough of each dish for two portions) note down the ingredients needed, checking my pantry and fridge for stocks before-hand. Prior to my shopping list days I would regularly be enticed by all the wonderful looking produce, often returning home with things I would not use that would eventually make their way to the trash, because they went bad (waste of money and waste of food).
The second important thing to cut down on shopping costs is keeping your eyes peeled for marked down items, specials etc. I prefer purchasing fruit and veggies loose – picking them myself to ensure they are not bruised or damaged, ripe to my liking etc. Sometimes, opting for pre-bagged fruit and veggies however is ok, especially if you can see through the plastic and examine the contents of the bag. You can often ask your fruit and veg vendor to have a taste if you want to be sure of sweetness etc.
Cooking seasonal produce is another way of ensuring your dollar really stretches, and while seasonality may be irrelevant in today's globalised world of abundant availability - food miles accumulate costs for both the planet as well as your purse. Replacing items that a recipe calls for with seasonal produce or something that is on offer is smart. For example if a recipe calls for turnips but parsnips are on a special, simply interchange the two - no one is going notice the difference and it surely won't be missed!
Central Market tends to throw their fruit and veggies into baggies as the afternoon wears on, slashing prices to attract customers, and the entire market atmosphere gets rather chaotic (not my favourite time to shop). While shopping at the market just before the shutters close ensures the best bargains, it often results in taking home dodgy produce – bashed pears, mangled capsicums, tasteless grapes and the fish monger and butcher are usually sold out of their catch of the day and prime cuts. I prefer heading to the market around 11 to score the freshest produce, (Saturday’s the market closes at 2.00 pm, Tues, Wed, Thu till 5.00 pm, and Fri till 9.00pm).
With $ 50 in my wallet (plus some spare change) and my shopping list this is what my environmentally friendly green grocery bags were filled with this Saturday:
500 g minced pork $ 4.50
50 g pancetta $1.20
220 g venison loin $ 8.50
1 kg beef skirt steak cubed $ 8.00
400g vongole (clams) $ 6.00
500 g parsnips (bagged) $ 1.00
1 kg carrots (bagged) $ 1.00
1 kg red peppers (bagged) $ 2.00
Bundle of red, long chillies (4-5) $ 1.00
1 kg brown onions (bagged) $ 1.00
3 shallots $ 2.50
3 Desiree Potatoes $ 1.50
500 g cabbage $ 1.50
Bunch mint $ 2.00
Bunch coriander $ 2.00
750 g Italian passata $ 2.50
3 Large Bananas $ 0.99
750 ml Mt. Hurtle, Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre, SA $ 9.00

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