Most people probably wouldn't look at Penzey's Spices and think "hey, that's a frugal gal's best friend!"
I'm here to change their minds.
I love Penzey's. They make cooking at home an adventure, and at the same time still save me money. Here's how:
MYO Vanilla Extract:
This is pretty cut-and-dried, pun completely intended. Grab a 3-pack of Madagascar Vanilla Beans from Penzey's (currently $7.25). Buy a bottle of the cheapest vodka Walmart has on sale. Split the beans and put into a glass jar. Cover with vodka, let sit for about 6 weeks. You have just made your own vanilla extract! And the real beauty here? When you get down to about half the liquid, refill with vodka again. You can get away with doing this quite a few times before you'd need to start over again. With the prices of vanilla extract in the stores right now being what they are, this is definitely a money saver.
Ahhh, salty, garlicky croutons. Yum, yum, yum! But, the way my family goes through them, we could spend a pretty chunk of change at the grocery store on those hard, dried-out little nuggets. How to remedy that? Keep your bread heels in the freezer. When you've got three or four, dice them into about 3/4 inch cubes. Put in a frying pan over medium heat. Add some evoo (and please be generous!), a tablespoon of Sandwich Sprinkle, and stir them until they become golden brown. Transfer to a plate to cool (they will harden just a bit) and store in a closed container. Your salads will never be the same, and your guests will look at you in awe!
MYO Salad Dressings:
We eat lots of salads in our house. At the same time, it's hard to buy expensive bottled salad dressings when you read the lists of unreadables in the ingredients. My DH is completely stuck on Penzey's Greek dressing. A frugal option, and a super healthy one, too!
The Freebie in Each Mail Order Catalog:
(was going to post a picture, but my paper got lost during our move)
There's a coupon for a free spice on *every* catalog they mail you (hint: you can request a catalog here)(or, if you mail order, you can google "Penzeys free spice code" and some generous blogger will have it posted somewhere). I have walked into the Penzey's store in Columbus and just got my free spice, but only once. I'm not really fond of the staff there (it's in a wealthy area and they don't seem too impressed with my yoga-pants-and-hoodie idea of couture), and the shipping rates aren't oppressive, so I prefer the mail-order option.
The Freebie in Each Shipment:
Yes! It's like a little bit of Christmas every time you open their box! A different sample spice from them, something unexpected to try. It's a great marketing tool, too. One I use with my cheesecakes...
And Penzey's as a Gift:
Something I really love about Penzey's is their gift boxes. They tend to be a little pricey, yes. But I love how they use spices as their packing material. Cinnamon sticks as spacers, bay leaves instead of bubble wrap. So environmentally conscious! My go-to wedding gift is the Wedding Gift Crate. The spices are a wonderful gift, but what I especially love are the wedding charms - the lore attached to the whole nutmeg in your cupboard to keep your marriage whole, the few sprigs of rosemary for love, I adore how they package these things in the crate. And the crate itself is pretty eye-catching. The last time this was our gift to a newly-married couple, I just slapped a pretty ribbon around it (being careful to cover the Penzey's logo) and stuck it on the gift table. Everyone was curious what was in the wooden box! We didn't stay to see the newlyweds open it, but they came back with nothing but praise for their gift. It was worth the extra money we spent to have something to offer them that would be put to good use.
One more thing - may I also tell you how I love to use their Cake Spice? It's probably my favorite thing, we buy it in the larger bags. Great with french toast, pancakes, oatmeal. But my favorite? When we make banana bread, we sub cake spice for cinnamon. A tip from my friend Shari - grease the loaf pans with butter-flavored shortening, make cinnamon sugar (again, using the cake spice), and use that to "flour" the pan. Pour in the batter, sprinkle cake spice sugar on top of bread, and bake. Oh, heavenly!
If you're fortunate enough to have a Penzey's in your area, I recommend that you visit (but you may want to dress up for it!). It's a wonderful place, all the spices are in jars - you can see them, smell them. What a heady experience, you'll leave there inspired to get out your pans and cook up a storm.
(no, I wasn't compensated in any way for this endorsement. But Penzey's, if you wish, I'd love to be...with spices!)