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19 Apr

Information Overload

Posted in Shop Smart, Smart Ingredients, Uncategorized, vegetarian, Win at Dinner on 19.04.12 by Smart Ingredients

There is so much information out there about groceries — what’s on sale — what you should eat — what you should buy. I am frankly tired of my customers being so confused about what they should buy and their general feeling of inferiority that they don’t know the “right” answer. So my guidance to them, and to you, is to not listen to anyone about what to buy, except your family. Take a close look at your family’s eating habits and learn what are your family’s Smart Ingredients. What oil to use is a great example. I can’t tell you how many times I get the questions “Does it have to be extra virgin? Should I only use olive oil? Someone told me I should only buy grapeseed oil, what do you think?” I often answer all these questions with “Use butter.” Not because I don’t love oils and think they have a superior health value, because I do. I just want to make the point that in most applications, like searing or basting foods, fat is fat and whatever you have, use or prefer will work just fine. Listening to the information overload will never get you to the “right” answers. Playing the Smart cooking game, getting in the kitchen and working hard to win at dinner will.

My youngest child is a preschooler. So if the tv is on during the day, it’s typically Sprout or the Disney channel. If I listened to the food influences from those channel’s commercials, I would be feeding my young child noodles with processed dehydrated cheeses and sauces, bottled dressings, pop tarts and frozen dinners and feeling great about doing it. I don’t feed her those things, and I am not influenced to do so by what I hear and see. Because knowledge is power, and I already know what to feed her that is healthy and she likes. I encourage you to take control over what you need and what you should buy at the grocery store.

Then, your approach at the grocery store will become what I call “shooting straight” versus “casting a net”. Casting a net means buying some of this and some of that… many things that don’t always add up to feeding your family. Shooting straight means buying more Smart Ingredients (stock up!) and less clutter. If your family is eating a lot of processed foods and you want to move into more healthful options, start by buying the same one or two things you know your family will eat and prepare them in different ways. The chance that you’ll end up using them is much greater than if you decide to try an entirely new healthy food regime with foods you aren’t sure the family will eat. Don’t try to change the world (your family’s entire dinner process) in a day. Take it one day at a time and if you are using Smart Ingredients and building off of the 3 or so favorite “types” of meals your family likes, you will have 20-30 “go to” recipes in no time.

My Mom has jumped on the green smoothie craze, encouraged to do so by her chiropractor. She loves them and feels great about what she eats for breakfast, has even got the rest of us joining in, and I’m proud of her for her dedication. Then her hairdresser — the end of all information sources — told her that by blending her produce she’s losing all the nutrition value and it’s a waste of her time. Now my Mom is doubting her efforts. I told her to hold it right there, tell the hairdresser to stick to dye jobs and highlights, and to keep drinking her smoothies. I tried to find any scientific evidence that blending changes the health value of vegetables, and I couldn’t. The safest bet is that the food is still raw, and it’s still more greens than she would have been eating otherwise. But the more important thing is that the green smoothies are working for my Mom, and they are much healthier than the scones she used to eat for breakfast.  No one should be derailed by what someone else tells you you should or shouldn’t eat or buy.

Here’s my Mom’s favorite Green Smoothie Recipe

Ratio 60% fruit to 40% greens

  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Fresh Pineapple
  • Parsley

Combine all ingredients with water and ice. Blend.


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31 Mar

Super Couponing… the Smart Way

Posted in 70 meals one trip to the store, Shop Smart, Smart Ingredients, Win at Dinner on 31.03.12 by Smart Ingredients

Last year I was getting asked all the time if I “Super-couponed” by either passionate couponers or those who felt like they should be in on the latest thing. I get it – couponing can make the grocery store a game and the money saved can make you a winner. But like a kid who graduates from hungry Hippos to Monopoly, it’s time to learn a better game that makes more sense and works for life, both saving you money at the store and bringing you success in your kitchen. It’s called Shopping Smart.

The goal of the Shopping Smart game is to NOT have to go the store more than once every 7-10 days. And, to buy only items that can be mixed and matched to add up to dinner success in your home. Not shopping Smart would mean going to the grocery store, buying a bunch of this-and-that that looks good/is new/would be great in one dinner. Shopping Smart means going to the grocery store knowing just what items to buy because they are items that ALWAYS add up to dinner in your house. If you read my blog often, you’re used to pasta being a frequent example. Forgive me, here I go again… but I’ll throw in a side of produce too. My family loves pasta. I make it at least once a week though rarely the same way twice in a month, alternating baked pasta, mac and cheese, fettuccine, pasta with vegetables herbs and olive oil, and many of the other pasta recipes you can see on my website. The low price on pasta around here lately has been $1.39. This week a great brand was on sale for $0.79 per pound, so I bought ten pounds. I saved $5!…I won! I didn’t have to scan the papers, find the scissors, cut anything out or make sure I brought it with me, and there’s no chance that it won’t get used or will go to waste, because it’s one of my family’s Smart ingredients. Spinach is another great example. In the winter, fresh spinach can be a bit pricey. With Spring on the horizon, I found a large bag for just $2.22 at my local fresh market-type Euro grocer. I froze the majority of it in sandwich-size Ziploc bags for use in soups, pastas, pizzas, quiche, strata and more, and kept in the crisper just the amount I’m sure I’ll use before it wilts. 

As one mother of five who uses my cookbook 70 Meals, One Trip to the Store, says, the Smart shopping method is “a godsend.” This Mom, Shelly Mabe of Warren , MI, and author of the blog, is using the cookbook to help her family get out of debt. She said “This falls right in line with our family plan to be out of debt in 1 year.” And, as a woman known for her tendency to grab her family a pizza for dinner, she is impressing her friends that she has actually making dinner every night — and that even her picky eaters loved the meals.

The fact that the “Super-coupon” phase seems to have faded speaks to it’s sustainability as a lifetime plan. By going to the store with the intention to save money using coupons you are risking two things: one is buying things that may not add up to dinner just because you have a coupon for them — and buying them in bulk for that matter. The other thing you’re sacrificing is your time. You don’t need to spend time accumulating, clipping, sorting, printing, and remembering your coupons. By buying only what adds up to dinner success you will save more money than could be put on a piece of paper. Think of it as a 40% off for life, with an added bonus of a lot of free time. And, this plan never expires!


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27 Apr

Who Wants a FREE Cookbook?… and Days 23 – 25

Posted in 70 Meals, 70 meals one trip to the store, Contest Winners on 27.04.11 by Smart Ingredients

The shopping plan and recipes presented in 70 Meals, One Trip to the Store can be summed up simply as this: spend way less money on groceries, make many fewer trips to the store, and yet make many more delicious weeknight meals for your family. Find out for yourself… comment on this blog post. From those comments, one winner will be selected at random this Friday to win a free copy for themselves.

Now, back to what I’ve been cooking….

Day 23

Menu: Chicken Enchiladas — have you tried our enchilada sauce? It’s melt-in-your-mouth good! (On our recipes page).

Game plays applied:

70 Meals, One Trip to the Store

Ahhh, it’s great to have everything you need ON HAND to make dinner.

Gifts to Self

Remember that chicken that I pre-cooked and froze? That made these enchiladas super easy to whip up.

Day 24

Menu: Baked Pasta

Game plays applied:

70 Meals, One Trip to the Store

I always have everything on hand to make Baked Pasta.


This is one of those recipes that I call a palette. Once you have the basis of the recipe, you can add whatever ingredients suit your fancy (or that you have on hand). Tonight we used meatballs and spinach.

Day 25

Menu: Pecan-Crusted Fish

This is my favorite fish preparation, mixing the sweetness of honey with savory pecans.

Game plays applied:

70 Meals, One Trip to the Store

There are recipes for Pecan-Crusted Chicken and Pecan-Crusted Fish in the book. Two more delicious meals I can make any night of the year with what I have at home.

It seems appropriate that all three meals in this post were from 70 Meals, One Trip to the Store, when it’s time for a giveaway. Don’t forget to comment for your chance to be this month’s winner.


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10 Aug

Shopping Smart Means More Cabinet Space

Posted in 70 meals one trip to the store, Smart Ingredients on 10.08.10 by Smart Ingredients

Going shopping when you shop Smart can be so stress free, you may wonder what you’re missing. You know that feeling of “what am I forgetting?” at the grocery store if you’ve forgotten your list? I was hit with that feeling during today’s shopping trip, as after being out of town for a week, and with a nearly empty fridge, I expected I would need a lot of things at the store. But I quickly realized those thoughts as I knew what they meant – there really wan’t much that I needed.

I grabbed a package of fresh mushrooms knowing I have ground beef in the freezer (from last week’s stock up) and every thing else I need to make salisbury steak. I grabbed avocados, tomatoes, cheese and lettuce, knowing that with them I can make many variations of tacos/tostadas with the chicken, shrimp, beef and tortillas I have in the freezer.

Then, because I had room to spare in both the cart and the budget, I added a brisket and cranberry sauce to my cart to make my favorite elegant meal, Cranberry Brisket, from the Cook Once… Eat Twice! cookbook.

When I got home to unload, there was plenty of room in the cabinets to unload my groceries — and I don’t have that much cabinet space. The thing is, after you really get into shopping Smart, and buying ingredients that you use over and over in many different dinners, you are buying a whole lot less of “this and that”. Believe me, “this and that” can take up an incredible amount of room in your cabinets and storage space. And because it’s only rarely used, it doesn’t move. When you buy Smart ingredients, you use them. And you’re buying less clutter, so your cabinets become naturally organized.

My Smart ingredients are mostly the things on the 70 Meals, One Trip to the Store shopping lists (These can be seen, and printed, off the Smart Ingredients page of the website), along with a few of my favorite seasonings and frozen shrimp. Your Smart Ingredients can vary based on what dinners are a sure-fire hit for your family. What’s your family’s Smartest ingredient?

If you’re a blog subscriber you should have received a coupon code via e-mail for the new copy of the 70 Meals, One Trip to the Store cookbook, including beautiful photos, extras and a fantastic new design by Studio One Eleven If you own an original copy of the book, check out the Shop page for information on how to order a replacement copy at cost. Thanks Studio One Eleven, we love our new look!


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09 Apr

A 70 Meals Success Story

Posted in Smart Ingredients, Uncategorized on 09.04.10 by Smart Ingredients

I tell my students in my cooking  classes and the patrons at my cooking demos to “trust me” that the cookbook really works. I know it does because I use it myself. Truly, 5 meals out of 7 busy weeknight meals I make for my family are out of this book. But I’ve been using it for the 4 years since I started the first draft, and the book continues to surprise me.

I always have the majority of the ingredients on hand, at any given time. This means I can make nearly any one of the 70 meals in the book without a trip to the store for ingredients.

Yesterday, I began preparing for a nice media day on Monday, where my amazing publicist Meggan has booked me on the NBC-Milwaukee morning program “The Morning Blend.” I will be preparing three dishes from the book, Grecian Chicken, Meatball Sandwiches and Southwest Pasta. Immediately following, I will be doing a book signing at a local grocery store, Sendik’s, where I will be giving out samples of the Grecian Chicken and the Southwest Pasta. I know will need a lot of food. There will be three pounds of pasta, 2 crock-pots full of Grecian Chicken, and since I’m cooking anyway, I’ll be making enough meatballs to feed my family the night of the demo. As I assessed the recipes in my head on my way to the store, I could come up with very few things I didn’t have on hand at home. So I brought a copy of the book into the store with me, to reference the recipes and make sure I was covered. Sure enough, there were only a few needs. For the Grecian Chicken, all I needed was artichokes, for the Southwest Pasta, some green peppers, and for the meatball sandwiches: rolls, Mozzarella cheese and ground beef. I spent $20. Twenty Dollars! And ten minutes in the store. What I bought, combined with what I have on hand at home will feed more than 40 people in various proportions. And I have NO storage pantry other than my standard shelves.

It was a great reminder to me why I am out there at classes and events promoting this book. It really does work.  By shopping smart, buying less ingredient clutter, and stocking up on Smart Ingredients, I am truly manned for dinner success. Canned diced tomatoes? I always have them. Taco Seasoning? I buy McCormick’s bulk size for $4.39 and it lasts me one year. I have plenty of chicken in the freezer, and plenty of pasta on the shelves. A large amount of stress was eliminated from a lot of planning and a busy day.


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