Monday, January 17, 2011

Playing the Coupon Game

I admit it -- I'm a coupon-aholic.  I know the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.  But using coupons is an addiction that I'm not sure I want to overcome.
This past weekend we bought 3 copies of the Sunday paper so that I would have 3 sets of the coupons which proved to be a good move.  Our local grocery store was offering double coupons plus sale items that I had coupons for already.  Then more local stores, like CVS, Rite-Aid and Walgreens also had some great deals for things I had coupons for making it easy to stock up and keep a full inventory of things that I buy and use almost every day.
One tip about stockpiling:  Be sure if you are buying things like medicines or beauty products that you'll use them before they expire.  Yes, they have expiration dates.  Same for food products.  Boxed items and even canned items have expiration dates.  But more than likely you will use them before they expire since most expiration dates are a year away from purchase.  Still its a good idea to check even when you buy something to replace something you've used.
Another tip about stockpiling:  Don't over buy.  If you have plenty of storage room and you get a sale item with a coupon that makes it worthwhile (check the price tag for the price per pound, the price per item or the price per ounce to make sure its worth it) then go ahead and stockpile especially for things like paper products -- T.P. and paper towels. But if you are planning on stockpiling flour or sugar be sure that you have safe storage like food grade storage containers to keep the bugs and rodents out.
If there is a deal that you just can't pass up and believe me they will come along occasionally, you can always start a separate box or bag for your local food pantry.  Yes, your pantry will take toothpaste, mouthwash, toothbrushes, soap etc.  As a matter of fact those are the things they need more than anything since people think they aren't needed.
So here's the conclusion:

           Grocery Store

  • Bought $300.30 worth of food, health beauty products and paper products
  • Paid $186.82
  • Saved $113.48
So for a novice couponer I think I did pretty good.  I know I have a long way to go before I can compare myself to the extreme couponers that I've seen on Youtube.
So to all my fellow coupon-aholics if you have any tips you would like to share, I would LOVE to hear them.  Just use the comment section below.  And I'm sure that as I get more adept at couponing there will be more posts with more tips.

New Year -- New House Part 2

Well, as far as our house goes, we are still in a holding pattern.  Now there is an issue with the septic.  But with that said I would still like to outline a few things to keep in mind when house hunting.
Last time I said make your wish list and then go for it.  And with a great agent like the one we used -- Wayne Perras of Coldwell Banker -- they will do what they can to fulfill your wish list and stay realistic to your budget.  Also an agent like Wayne who has been in the real estate market for over 20 years will have contacts in other areas --  like inspectors or a reputable finance company.  Your agent will work for you as a buyer's agent, and that's what you want.  You want to be able to take advantage of all their knowledge of the area and the market and all the connections you need to make the purchase of your dream home go smoothly.
After you find your dream house and you have an offer accepted (which is a thrill in and of itself), and you are ready to go get your loan I have one tip that I think is VERY IMPORTANT: Have your financial house in order.  In other words, know where all your bank statements are, know where your tax information is,  be sure that you have all your financial records where you can find them.  Even if you think you aren't going to need, you probably will.
Once you get your loan secured then the inspections start.  Our property is considered a rural property so we had to have a well inspection along with the house itself being inspected.  We also had to have the septic inspected and it had to be made clear that the well, septic and leech field were all 100 feet away from each other.  When you have an inspection you will learn lots of things about the house you are buying so its probably a good idea to be present for the inspection.  You can actually be present for any of the times that either the house, the well, the septic or the plumbing  (well basically anything) in the house needs to be looked at again.  Like I said for us it was the well, the septic and leech field placement.  If anything comes of the inspections that needs to be fixed then it will be up to the seller to make sure that it is fixed. If its something really major in our case the septic, and they don't want to pay for it, you can bail.  Which makes it a little more comforting if something is found.  But more than likely the sellers will fix the problems and everything will be fine.
The most fun part of buying a new house for me is the house hunting itself, looking at different properties.  The financial stuff -- not so much.  But it has to be done and its very important to know what you can afford, what you want and what you are will to give up.
We are going to have a septic inspection later this week, fingers crossed that nothing needs to be done.  Buying a house in winter is not ideal and we might have to wait until spring to have the septic fixed if we need to.  So right now its just another unknown.....
But I'm confident that it will get it taken care of one way or another so I better start packing!

Next time:
Playing the Coupon Game

Friday, January 14, 2011

Carlo's Bakery -- Is it Worth the Trip?

I could start this blog very simply and just answer the question -- Ah YEAH!  But I really think Carlo's deserves more than that.  So here goes.....
Carlo's Bakery for those of you who don't know is located in Hoboken NJ and is the subject of a reality show called "The Cake Boss" on TLC.  Carlo's Bakery is run by Buddy Valastro and his family.  Buddy is a fourth generation accomplished baker as well as a master baker and cake decorator, so to say that he knows about baking is an understatement.
Carlo's Bakery has been in the same location since 1920 and brings patrons from all over.  While standing in line I heard one woman say she was from Texas and another was from California.
We went right before Thanksgiving (as part of our trip to meet Rachael Ray) and as you can see there is quite a line outside.  We walked up to what we thought was the end of the line and was asked by someone else who was waiting if we were waiting to go to the bakery.  We said yes and she pointed behind her and across the street "There's the line."she said.  The line was almost 2 blocks long.  But there were bakery employees outside making sure that the line was orderly and moved as quickly as possible.  We were probably in line for about 45 minutes, even though it was New Jersey in November  it actually wasn't that bad outside.
Once we got to the front door we were given a number then we made it inside the bakery.  The scent when we walked in was one of sugar but not so overpowering.

Seems like we weren't the only ones who had that idea.

 The bakery was crowded with people waiting to be called and other people ordering.  Behind the counters employees scurried back and forth filling orders as quickly as they could, people wanting cookies, cupcakes, cakes and holiday pies.  When it came our turn to order I wasn't really sure what we wanted.  I had a request for cannolis from my daughter and cookies from my son.  So I was actually glad there was a little bit of a wait before our number was called.  That way I got to look at all the pastries, cakes and cookies available.  We finally settled on 2 pounds of cookies, 12 cannolis, 4 lobster tails (which is a pastry that looks like a lobster tail but is filled with the most luscious cream and a Happy Thanksgiving chocolate, chocolate cake.

Don't get me wrong, Carlo's is not cheap in price or quality so everything we bought came to close to $100.  But I wanted to whole experience and even though we were a couple hours from home everything made it back just fine, that is until we actually got it back and the pastries and cookies started to disappear.  I remembered a tip from the man we met in line at the book signing that if you put the pastries or cookies in a ziploc bag then into a plastic container they will last up to 2 weeks -- that is if no one gets to them first.  I really enjoyed the lobster tail.  Its reminded me of a pastry we used to get back in St. Louis called a cream horn, but this pastry was a lot lighter and the pastry itself was quite a bit bigger.
The cookies were buttery and melt in your mouth good.  Not sure how many adjectives I can come up with to describe the deliciousness of all the products we got at Carlo's.  
Was it worth the trip?  Well we were nearby anyway -- but YES!  Would I go back?  Most definitely even if its just to go to the bakery and for no other reason.
This photo doesn't do the cookies justice. They looked beautiful and tasted even better
So the next time you go on a day trip or even just take someone to the airport, why not try a new restaurant, bakery or other point of interest.  And if you do it might be a good idea to invest in a GPS!  Lastly I'd like to apologize for the quality of these photos.  They were taken with my phone and well.... it takes crappy pics.
That's Mauro, Buddy's cousin.  Fans of the show will recognize him.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Rachael Ray, Bobby Flay and My New Crush

I know in my last post I said that I would continue on about our house buying adventure but I wanted to post this before too much time went by and while it was still relatively fresh in my mind.  I will continue on about the house buying adventure in the near future -- I promise....
As many of you may know Rachael Ray is from the Saratoga Springs area, at least from some where around Saratoga Springs.  Anyway.... she recently came out with a new cookbook -- Look + Cook-- which features photos for every step in the recipes along with access to online videos minus commercial breaks so that you can see exactly how to make the recipes so its virtually foolproof.   Well there are 3 things that I dearly love.... 1.  writing, 2.  cooking and 3.  travel .... so I took the opportunity to combine all 3 of these things by going to Connecticut and meeting Rachael herself at a book signing.   I ordered the book online (also got one for my niece Laura who is a HUGE Rachael fan) from R.J. Julia's website.  They held the books there until we got there the day before the signing.  We decided to make it a late anniversary trip and got a room in the inn across the street from the bookstore.  No way was I going to stay somewhere that wasn't within walking distance of the bookstore and risk getting lost.  The inn was part of a restaurant and bar called The Inn at Lafayette.  There were only 5 rooms and were much nicer in the pictures and description on the website.  Since it was part of the restaurant and bar, it was very noisy and we were able to hear just about every word coming up through the floor from the bar below.
But it was across the street from the bookstore and Madison Connecticut is a picturesque little town so I was willing to deal with the accommodations.  We arrived on Friday night and the book signing was the next day at 2 pm.  We got continental breakfast with our room which was served at the coffee shop across the street, stale bagels and muffin and mediocre coffee....but there we heard someone say that people were already lining up for the book signing, so we finished quickly and went to the bookstore.  Outside were a man and his mother, then 2 sisters (one had her daughter with her) so we were essentially 3rd in line!!  One of the sisters was nice enough to loan us a camp chair that she had in her car, which was a good thing since it was 9:30 and the book signing started at 2!  While we were waiting (and freezing) we learned that the man in the front of the line is an avid celebrity hound and used to be a body guard for some pretty famous wrestlers and he has met some pretty famous people among them was Beyonce.  During the conversation I found out about Carlo's bakery in Hoboken, the home of the Cake Boss and Buddy Valastro.  He gave directions and it turned out that it wasn't that far from Madison so we thought that we would try it on Sunday on the way home.  But that's another story...
The time started to pass and the line grew longer and longer.  I was really glad that I decided to pre-order my books and get in line when we did.  Finally came the time to meet Rachael.  Someone from the bookstore came along and asked us who she was to make the book out to, then she wrote in on post it note and put it in the book, the book was then opened to the page she was going to sign.  I had planned in my head every thing that I was going to say, I knew I didn't have much time since there were no photos allowed and I only had 2 books to be signed.

I told her that we drove from Saratoga Springs and she smiled that big Rachael smile and said "Hey neighbor!"  The man standing on the side who I assume was some sort of security asked if we were driving back today.  I told him that we are staying at the Inn across the street.  While she was signing Laura's book I told her that Laura is a big fan and that when she came to visit we took her to some of Rachael's favorite places like Oscar's Smokehouse (then she gave me a high five and said "Isn't Oscar's awesome!") and Hick's Apple Orchard (which warranted another high five!).

 After she was done signing my books I told her "We only waited 4 1/2 hours, no big deal."  After hearing that she grabbed and patted my hand.  I told her my hands are cold and she said "I'll warm them up for you."  and rubbed my hand between hers.  It was so nice to meet the person that I watch on tv day after day and find out that she as genuine in person as she is on screen.  And yes, it was worth the 4 1/2 hour wait even though our meeting was about 2 minutes long.  The one thing that I wished I would have told her was that this trip was to celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary!  Maybe then we would have gotten a photo with her.
Now onto the cookbook itself.  The title is Look + Cook and is perfect for the novice cook.  There are 600 photos that take you step by step through every recipe.  I'm not a novice cook but I still tried the recipes and found them to be easy and quite tasty.  My husband and son are fans of Rachael's recipes as am I for the flavors and ease of preparation.  My only complaint is that some of the ingredients can be pricey and a little difficult to find.  I've tried a good portion of the recipes in the cook book, among those that are favorites are Knife and Fork Burgers with Stewed Vegetable Gravy (p. 201) which is a frequent request.  Double-Bacon-Beer-Braised Cheeseburgers (p. 218) also known as the Adirondacker.  Bocconcini Stuffed Meatballs with Tomato-Pesto Sauce (p 181) which is a favorite of mine.  Like Rachael says: "What's better than big roasted meatballs wrapped around fresh mozarella cheese?"  There is also Crispy Curried Fried Chicken (p. 151),  Pork Chops Pizzaiola (p. 147) Crispy Parm-Crusted Fillet of Fish & Buttery Bow Ties with Peas (p. 136), French Onion & Wild Mushroom Soup (p. 86) Steakhouse Chili Pot (p. 76) and  Paprika Chicken with Egg Noodles (p. 41).  Those are only the ones I've tried so far!
To sum it up, I love the cook book, the recipes and Rachael!  The only thing that would make the cookbook perfect would be for it to be spiral bound so that it lies flat to make it easier to follow the photos.
Since our move from the Midwest to the Northeast we've been able to so many things that we wouldn't have been able to do before, among them: meeting celebrities such as David Hyde Pierce (Niles from Frasier and also from Saratoga Springs and of course Rachael Ray) traveling to some beautiful places like just about anywhere in Maine or Rhode Island, and seeing historic places like Plymouth Massachusetts and eating at restaurants owned by celebrity chefs like Bobby Flay.  Which brings me to the second part of my post.  My mother in law came and stayed with us for Christmas.  We decided that since there isn't a direct flight to Albany that it might be best for her to fly into Newark Airport (not a great idea but it worked out fine in the end).  When we took her back to the airport for her return flight we decided to try Bobby's Burger Palace in Paramus New Jersey.

Surprisingly the restaurant owned by a celebrity chef is in a strip mall but doesn't look like your usual fast food joint.  The decor was very modern with long counters instead of tables and modern light fixtures hanging from the ceiling.  The colors also were not like you would find in a fast food restaurant -- orange and green.  When you walk in the line splits in 2, one for dining in and one for take out.  The menu is large on the wall of the dining in side -- burgers of course, but gourmet burgers like Bobby Blue Burger (which is what my husband selected) Philadelphia Burger with provolone cheese, grilled onion and hot peppers, Buffalo Burger with hot sauce, blue cheese dressing and watercress and the Miami Burger (my choice) which is a pressed sandwich with ham, swiss cheese, pickles, mustard and mayonnaise.  When you order they will tell you that medium is more like medium rare and medium well is more like medium.  I ordered mine medium well which was perfect.  My husband ordered his medium which was still mooing.  The burgers are $7.50 a piece except for the Palace Classic which is a cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato and red onion.  That is $6.50.  Fries are $2.50 and sweet potato fries and beer battered onion rings (which we got and split) are $3.00.  We also decided to splurge and each got a shake ($5.00 each), mine was Mango which I thought would compliment the Miami burger and my husband got a black and white which looked like a chocolate shake.  The shakes were rich and thick, almost like pure ice cream. So thick that the straw looked like it was a half inch around!  While sitting at one of the long counters I heard someone say that the line is usually out the door so getting there around 3 pm on a Sunday was a good idea.
My husband and I split our burgers so each of us could try the other which was a good idea. I do have to say that I think I liked the Blue Cheese burger more than the Miami especially if it would have been cooked more.  Bobby Flay is the sauce guy so of course there are squirt bottles of different sauces including burger sauce, chipotle ketchup and hot sauce along with regular old ketchup.
The complete menu and more information about Bobby's Burger Palace can be found on their website
Now on to the 3rd part of my post -- My New Crush...... Michael Symon, restauranteur and iron chef.  What is it about him I'm not really sure.  Maybe its his brilliant smile, his contagious laugh or that beautiful bald head.  Or it could be his ease in the kitchen and the way that he instructs on "How to Cook Like an Iron Chef".  Whatever it is about him I like it and I like it ALOT!  So when we go back to visit family in the midwest his restaurant will be the one I want to try as we drive through Ohio.  Not sure when that will be so maybe I just settle for a t-shirt!

Next time:  Carlo's Bakery is it worth the trip?

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