Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bargain Hunting- Buying a New Mattress

I’m a bargain hunter. I like a good deal no matter what it is that I buy. So when we went to look at a new mattress and box spring for my daughter’s room we started at one of the major mattress stores.  I’m always hesitant when I go to buy a big purchase item like this, because the salesmen are always so pushy.  We started at Mega Mattress, which is a store that is local to the Saratoga area.   They carry all the major brands so it’s really a one stop shop and since it was Memorial Weekend we were able to get what I thought was a pretty good deal.

Mike the salesman wasn’t pushy but gave us a lot of information and options.  The deal came in when he told us about buying a floor sample.  A lot of people might be turned off by buying a floor sample, but as Mike pointed out, people lay on these mattresses for about 30 seconds; and besides we could get a plastic protector so she will never actually be lying on the mattress.  The protector will also ensure that the mattress lasts longer.

The final deal worked out this way:

She wanted a full size bed.  After trying out several she decided on a Trump BeautyRest  The best thing about this bed is that not only does it have individually wrapped coils but it also has a layer of memory foam.  This bed retails for $1080 but since we were taking the floor sample (because they are changing out mattresses in the store) we were able to get it for half price, $540.  We decided to pick it up ourselves since we live so close and that saved us the $60 delivery fee.  So that actually paid for the plastic sheet protector.   We added in a new bed frame for $70 making our total after tax $721.  Not bad for a luxury bed.

Memorial Day weekend is traditionally the weekend where you can find great deals on mattresses and furniture.  But everything has a good time to buy. 

 For example things to buy in June include:
Tools:  With Father’s Day being in June lots of stores will put tools on sale for the handy dad.

Gym membership:  Think it’s too late to get in shape?  Not so, this time of year might be a great time to get a good deal on a gym membership while everyone else is working out outdoors you can keep cool in the gym and maybe save some money at the same time.

Dishware:  Since June is known as “wedding month” it’s also a good month to get good deals on dishware that would make a nice wedding gift.

Have a money saving idea?
Please feel free to share.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Taste Of Home Cooking Show – May 14th- In Saratoga Springs

It’s that time again. Time for the Taste of Home Cooking Show, to be held at the Saratoga City Center.  The show offers live demonstrations of recipes, gift bags and door prizes.  There are still tickets available and can be purchased at four Price Chopper stores- Rt. 50 in Saratoga, Railroad Place, Malta and Wilton. General admission tickets are $15 and VIP tickets are $60.    Tickets can also be purchased at the Saratogian  located at 20 Lake Ave. (who is  a sponsor) from 8 am to 5 p.m.  The show will be on May 14th (that’s a Monday) with the door opening at 4 pm for VIP ticket holders and at 5 pm for general admission ticket holders. The show will start at 7 pm.
I’ve never been to a Taste of Home Cooking show but I understand it’s lots of fun with the opportunity to win some pretty great prizes and of course learn new recipes and techniques from the chefs .   I’ve also read Taste of Home magazine and have gotten their cookbooks at Price Chopper so I’m sure that the recipes and techniques will be ones anyone can benefit from.  Personally I prefer a hands-on cooking class, but the live demonstrations will still give you lots of information and tips.
The Saratoga City Center has had a complete face lift in the last couple years and now is an expanded venue and is located on Broadway in downtown Saratoga Springs. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Cooking from the Garden Recipe – Zucchini “Lasagna”

This recipe originated when I lived in St Louis and had a good sized garden. Once you’ve planted zucchini you will realize that it’s very prolific.  I was trying to come up with recipes to use it in a new and different way. This is what I came up with – lasagna.  Now it’s not a true lasagna, its more of a zucchini parmesan. But I prefer to call it lasagna since I used slices of zucchini instead of noodles, layered with sauce and cheese.  Whatever you call it, it’s a delicious way to use your abundance of zucchini.  This recipe could be made vegetarian very easily by substituting mushrooms for the sausage. If you do I would add a little sprinkle of fennel seeds just to give that sausage flavor.

This recipe isn’t a quick recipe so I thought it would be a good one for #SundaySupper.  I made my components from scratch but I’m sure that if you want to use ready- made sauce, that would be fine. But add a splash of red wine, trust me, you’ll thank me later.

To make zucchini lasagna you’ll need:
4 large zucchini thinly sliced by using a mandolin or a sharp knife
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

For sauce:
1 large onion diced
Olive oil
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
Italian sausage, about 3 links
1 large can crushed tomatoes
Splash of red wine
Dried basil
Dried parsley
Red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
Ricotta cheese (2 large rounded spoonfuls)
8 ounces of shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large skillet add enough olive oil to cover the bottom. Once the oil is hot add slices of zucchini (being sure not to crowd the pan) and cook until the zucchini is soft. It’s not necessary to brown, just cook until pliable. These will be used in the place of lasagna noodles.  You will have to cook the zucchini in batches. As they cook remove them from the pan and set aside.

For the Sauce:
In a large high sided skillet add enough oil to cover the bottom.  Once the oil is hot add the onion and cook until translucent but not browned. Once the onions are cooked add the garlic and season with salt and pepper.  Cook the garlic for a minute or two.  Add the sausage to the pan and crumble.  Once the meat is brown deglaze the pan with a splash of red wine (about ¼ cup) and season with salt and pepper, red pepper flakes, dried basil and dried parsley.  Add the large can of crushed tomatoes.  Bring the sauce to a boil then simmer until all the zucchini are cooked.  Add in a couple of large spoonfuls of ricotta and stir. The sauce will blush.

To assemble:
Layer the bottom of a casserole dish with enough zucchini “noodles” to cover.  Ladle the sauce on top of the noodles, the cover with mozzarella. Repeat the layers until all the ingredients are used.

Bake the casserole in a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the lasagna is bubbling.  Serve with some warm, crusty bread and a salad. 
It's a great way to cook fresh from the garden.  
Happy #SundaySupper!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Pasta Secrets from a Real Italian Mama- Part 2- Ravioli

“I love to cook with wine and sometimes I even put it in the food”—Mama Theresa Viva

I don’t consider myself a chef by any means. I’m just a mom who likes to experiment with recipes and flavors.  I learned to cook by doing, trial and error or trial by fire in some cases.  I watch cooking shows (and have since I was a teen – Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Frugal Gourmet , the whole PBS line up on Saturday mornings) since I learn much better by seeing rather than reading a recipe.  That’s why I love to take a hands-on cooking class.

Mama is hard to photograph.  She is constant motion!

I recently had the pleasure of taking a class at Forno Bistro here in Saratoga Springs with Mama Theresa. I have to admit I had never been to Forno Bistro before, so I really didn’t know what to expect.  The restaurant itself looked like what I thought a restaurant in Italy would look like.  I was greeted at  the door by Mama. She told me where to hang my coat and to wash my hands thoroughly. What Mama says you do!
From there we went into one of the dining rooms that was all set up for the class.  

Mama gives us "the scoop" on what size scoop to use to fill the ravioli

The class is busily filling, folding and crimping the ravioli

The tables were set up in a square, covered with brown paper.  Mama stood at one of the tables with her pasta machine and all her ingredients for making ravioli dough.  This wasn’t a dry, step by step instructional class.  Mama has anecdotes that range from how and why she lost weight to her relationship with her Italian husband.  Her humor keeps it light and entertaining while you’re still learning all her secrets.

Mama makes her pasta dough in a bowl using a simple spoon.  The dough is made from all purpose flour, eggs, salt, water and olive oil, with a little bit of a secret ingredient. She tears fresh basil right into the dough.  The class was full of tips and tricks like this.  Mama made some sample ravioli using different techniques to gives us ideas on what to use to seal the ravioli. Some of them included  simple cookie cutters, pastry wheels, a shrimp fork, a cutter/crimper tool and a skeleton key that she used to use when she made ravioli with her grandmother. 

The fillings.

The filling that she prefers is made with ricotta. To make the ricotta filling she recommends that you wrap the ricotta in a towel, weigh it down and let it drain at least overnight.  Then the filling won’t be too wet for the dough.  On top of the ricotta you can add other fillings too, as long as they have been cooked beforehand and cooled. Some suggestions: salami, prosciutto, artichokes, spinach, mushrooms, sausage, and shrimp just to name a few.

Mama uses a simple pasta machine to roll out the sheets of pasta dough to make the ravioli then she cuts them into squares. Once the dough is cut, brush with water and fill. To create the ravioli Mama suggests that you either fold it over and crimp it or use a cutter. She absolutely doesn’t recommend using a mold that comes in two pieces.

Mama shows 2 of the students how to roll dough with a pasta machine.

Mama encourages you to experiment with all the fillings and to come up and try the pasta machine. It’s a complete “hands-on” class.  Get the feel for the dough, use the machine, try the different cutters and  create a one of a kind ravioli. 

Some finished ravioli

At the end of the class (which ran about 2 hours) we went into the dining room to feast on our creations.  

Yes, there were as delicious as they look.  Lost count how many I ate!

The dining room was set up with two tables complete with china and wine glasses.  Once we were all seated platter after platter of ravioli came out of the kitchen, cooked and covered in Mama’s marinara sauce.  We lunched family-style on bread, wine and our delicious ravioli. We passed around the huge platters of ravioli that came out of the kitchen seemingly endlessly.  While eating we were able to chat with each other and fill out a comment card that was left at our place.

 I’d like to share all the secrets that Mama shared with us, but I think you’ll just have to take the class yourself to learn them all.  But I will share a few….

In the instructions for the pasta maker it says never to wash it. Mama says wash it (once a year) and then put it in a very low oven to dry. That way it will never rust from being put away wet.
Ravioli can be frozen. Prepare them,  then lay them out on a sheet.  Once frozen then,  store then in a zip top bag.
Be gentle with the ravioli. Cook them in a large pot, with salt. Bring the water to a boil, add ravioli and stir gently.  Remove with a slotted spoon – no colander.
Lastly, when you serve them – heat your serving platter first, either in a very low oven or by running under hot water and drying completely.  You should never put hot food on a cold platter.

There are many, many more secrets that Mama shares along with stories and fool proof methods that will have you making ravioli like a true Italian!  But to get all these secrets, and have the experience of learning from Mama Theresa well, you’ll just have to take the class yourself!  If you’re going to be in Saratoga Springs or live in Saratoga Springs taking a class at Forno Bistro is the perfect way to spend  a Saturday afternoon.  Meeting other foodies, eating delicious food you created yourself in a warm and beautiful atmosphere. And on top of that you get to meet and learn from Mama Theresa!

Not interested in learning to make ravioli?  Forno Bistro offers other classes too.  Give them a call or check out their website for more info.  As for me? I need to take the sauce class so I can top my homemade ravioli!

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