Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Asparagus Shrimp Spaghetti

Last night I made the best cream sauce I have ever made. Yay me!
We had company coming over and I had failed to plan dinner in advance past the idea of having some cranberry-cinnamon goat cheese that I've been craving for a month. All I can say is that it must be the pregnancy getting to me, because I've never put off planning a menu for a dinner that was booked a week in advance... Anyway, I went to Sobeys because that's the place with the amazing goat cheese and I saw that they had steaks on sale so I picked some up. Fortunately I also picked up shrimp because I remembered on my drive home that we were out of propane for the BBQ. Incidentally, I only buy raw frozen shrimp now instead of the precooked types. Much fresher flavor even if you have to peel them yourself.
Well, it was about 3:30 and I was starting to really worry about what I was going to be serving for supper. I decided to use the shrimp for a pasta dish and to use up the bundle of asparagus that I had sitting in my fridge. So first step, I cooked the asparagus. However, I had never cooked asparagus before so I actually had to look up how to do it. The combined help of 3 different sources got me through it. First off, I prepped the asparagus by breaking off the hard, woody ends. That's right - breaking, not cutting. Turns out that if you slightly bend the stalk it will naturally break clean at the point that it starts to harden. Beauty. Then I boiled some water in my frying pan, salted it, and when it was at a rolling boil I added the asparagus. My suggested cooking time was "until bright green" which I doubted but need not have. I fork tested one which had turned bright green after 3 minutes and, sure enough, nicely tender but firm. Then, I blanched 'em. A neat trick for aspargus and green beans... cook them in advance and then dip them in an ice water bath to stop the cooking process and keep them from going limp and losing their vivid color. You'll have to reheat them later, but really, it's worth it.
Anyway, I knew what I was making kind of, but I still needed a sauce. I had no heavy cream in the house however so I was a little stumped about how to make a cream sauce. Fortunately my lovely sister came to the rescue. She asked if I had cream cheese and told me to go to Well, I went there and while I didn't really find a recipe there, I found ideas. So I decided to wing it with my own sauce and it turned out fantastically! Here's my recipe for the dish.
Asparagus Shrimp Spaghetti:
1/2 bunch asparagus
handful spaghetti
lemon wedge
1/4 c. butter
1/4 c. cream cheese
2 cloves garlic
3/4 c. chicken broth
1/4 tsp basil
1/4 c. white wine

Cook asparagus in advance and set aside. Boil water and add pasta. In frying pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add garlic and cream cheese. When sauce starts to boil, add chicken broth and whisk until combined. Turn up heat to medium-high and add basil and wine. Whisk until creamy. Add peeled and defrosted shrimp and cook until pink. Add asparagus and cook until heated through.
Pour sauce, shrimp and asparagus over strained spaghetti. Sprinkle generously with grated parmesan and squeeze lemon wedge over top. Toss until thoroughly mixed. Serve!

Well, in addition to my most successful cream sauce ever, I am now selling Pampered Chef for sure. My first show will be my sister-in-law's Bridal Shower and after that, who knows? I'm actually quite excited for it. I've already gone through and picked out which recipes I'll use for shows and what items I want to get next. They've got some awesome stuff that my kitchen is without. Like their double boiler - I don't have one but their's is better than a normal one because it has handles on it. Anyway, I am excited and I do foresee it being mucho fun.

Well, my parents just got home from Maui yesterday so we're going to go see them! TTFN!

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Easter is Coming!

Yay! It's Martha Stewart Day! My monthly holiday to celebrate the goodness that is Martha Stewart Living came early this month - which is good, because it came late last month and I was worried it would again.
Easter is just over a month away and I must say, I'm quite excited! Granted, I've got lots going on between now and then, but I don't think it's too early to start planning for it!
Now, there's something I must confess to: I suck at decorating eggs. The eggs I dye look like a 5 year old did them. Basically, I haven't improved since the first time my parents let me dye my own. Depressing, eh? Thank goodness for Martha Stewart however. If anything can save me from this, she can. Last year I just dyed the eggs one color in different shades and I pulled it off reasonably well, but using regular, large chicken eggs didn't have quite the effect I had hoped for. My solution: Duck eggs! Martha listed in her magazine this month a link to a place that sells duck, goose, ostrich and emu eggs. They drill them, blow them and sterilize them. The duck eggs are $0.85 a piece so I'm thinking of maybe ordering a couple dozen and dying them in solid colors and making some permament centerpieces with them. Every April issue Martha lists ideas and tips for how to decorate eggs - things like using vinegar in the dye and precleaning, embossing and stickers... So I'll make sure I brush up my know-how before.
Plan B for fun decorating of eggs: I'm making cake eggs! I got a pan last year that is basically a cupcake pan that make egg-shaped cakes. I'll ice them all nice and have fun decorating those all pretty-like. Then I might brush melted chocolate into them and make chocolate eggs too!
As you may or may not know, I have two lovely ducks in my freezer just beginning to be cooked which will contribute to a great family dinner. Oh, and I found an adorable recipe for lemon souffles on... you guessed it,
I think I'll make these for some type of Easter get together too.
Oh, and I had never wanted to make soap before this month's issue of Martha Stewart Living came out. She had some gorgeous ideas for them! I might try and make those this spring and maybe I'll put Lilies of the Valley in my backyard :) That was in the magazine too!
I'm so excited!

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Saving money!

Well, it's everywhere in the news right now. Prices are rising. If you drive, you've noticed already. Economists say world food prices are at an all-time high (and rising) and housing prices in 5 provinces are hitting pre-recession heights while incomes sure aren't. Canada is sitting atop a strong dollar right now which is actually helping us alot more than most of us realize. The global oil market is in distress which makes the Alberta oilsands projects more profitable which will help drive up our economy a bit, but in reality, that sort of a hike will be fleeting and probably more harmful in the long run than anything. So while we may be in a little bubble in a sense, things are still going to get more expensive for basics.
So, here are some money saving tips! I'm cheap so I've always looked for low-cost ideas and alternatives - and now I get to share all my wisdom on penny-pinching!
Let's start with the basics - Grocery shopping:
1. Meal plan. Less waste = better use of money. Before you go grocery shopping, meal plan for the week. As you're planning your meals, start with two or three meals that you definitely want to make and think about what ingredients you'll need for them. Take your ingredient list and decide on what your other meals will be based on what ingredients you'll have leftover. Example: You want to make tacos. Buy hard shells so that you can store them and they won't go to waste if you don't use them all. You'll have sour cream, tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, salsa... Salsa can store or be a snack, the veggies make a nice salad another night and the sour cream you can use for baking or maybe have perogies another night that week. More extravagant example: You decide to have a roast chicken meal with asparagus and mashed potatoes. The next night you can use the leftover chicken in a pasta dish with the asparagus and a cream sauce. Save the mashed potatoes for a shepherds pie for another night. Don't waste!
2. Buy store brands. They are almost always cheaper, and some of them are pretty good. It might involve some taste testing to know what you can and cannot compromise on. I myself won't buy no-name or store brand ketchup, soya sauce or soups. However, Sobeys' Our Compliments brand has fantastic chips and pop, Save-on-foods' Western Family has great sauces and cereals and Superstore's President's Choice have really upped the bar over the last few years - all of their pre-made and frozen products are great.
3. Read the flyers. It's amazing how much money you can save by just watching for sales. I only really ever shop at Co-op, but occassionally hop over to Save-on-foods if they have a really good sale. However, before I start meal planning I flip through the Co-op flyer and see what's on sale that week. That helps me to decide what gets on the meal list for that week. Also, watch for Warehouse Sales or Buy 10 for $ deals and stock up on dry products whenever they're cheap.

1. Pick and choose people. I'm not saying don't buy anything, but don't buy everything. Do you have alot of weddings this summer? Save up for one absolutely fantastic outfit that you can mix up with accessories instead of buying a bunch of dresses.
2. Accessories. You want a different style. You feel the need to add some flair to your look. Don't buy a whole new wardrobe - buy accessories. Belts, scarves, bracelets, necklaces, etc. Mix it up.


Let's move on to some non-essentials. Here's a list I found in a Better Homes and Garden magazine from July 2010 about when things go on sale:
Appliances: Holiday Weekends
Cameras/Camcorders: February, March
Carpet & Flooring: January
China & Flatware: March, September
Computers: August, December
Cookware: May, June, December
Dining Furniture: October, November
Electronics: Spring and early Summer, Black Friday and Cyber Monday
Exercise gear: January
Furniture: January, July, holiday weekends
Holiday Decor: Day after the holiday
Linens: January
Mattresses: May through August
Organizational products: January
Paint: Summer
Patio Furniture: After Labor Day
Plants, Trees, Shrubs: Fall
Small Appliances: December
Snowblowers: April
Televisions: Early spring, also six to 12 months after a particular model is launched
Vacuum Cleaners: April, May

If you're looking to buy a big ticket item, consider holding off until these times.

Everyone has gifts to buy at some point through the year. This one note is particularly for your spouse. Collaborate anniversary and Christmas gifts for eachother. Make your little budget go further. Matt and I alternate every year - one year we buy eachother individual presents and the next year we buy joint presents. That's how we got our beautiful piece of artwork (and its frame) and this year we're postponing Christmas shopping for ourselves until Boxing Week and then we're buying a new bedroom set!

The best general advice is to plan your purchases, check for sales and don't impulse buy!

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Pampered Chef

Let's have another round of my favorite game, Good Idea/Bad Idea, shall we?
My brother is getting married next month. (That's not what I'm wanting opinions on). As of yet, there are no plans for a bridal shower and considering that 2 of the 3 people who would actually plan one are in Maui, I'm trying to work out some details on my own. Now, what I really want opinions on is the unorthodox idea of having a Pampered Chef Bridal Shower. We'd put the bride's name down as the host so that she got all the free stuff, she could circle things in the catalogue that people could buy for her instead of bringing a gift, and even if some people didn't want to buy anything for her, anything they buy for themselves would actually help her get more free things from the party.
Now, at different times I've worried that either the party will seem too pushy and too "you didn't bring a present but you can't get out of buying one for her" and at other times I've worried that the party wouldn't be enough about her. Now, the latter of those I can fix by doing other bridal shower type things. The former of those I am a little worried about still but I'm hoping the no pressure to bring a gift scenario would outweigh the pressure to buy something scenario. Also, I'm hoping that some people would come to the party who wouldn't otherwise. I mean, everyone loves Pampered Chef, right? So hopefully we can wrangle in a few of the cousins and relatives on her side that might be sitting on the fence about coming. I originally had wanted to do a jewelry home party but I decided Pampered Chef would be more useful and .
For the bride's benefit, I think it's a good idea (obviously or I wouldn't have proposed it). How many people who are married got a load of things at their showers that they will never use? How many people wish that everyone would just stick to the registry? This way we can have a "registry" right on hand and again, even if people only buy things for themselves they'll be helping her get more free stuff. As for what if people already have gifts for her, well since there hasn't been any talk about a shower I doubt most people would have a gift for the shower yet.
Now, good idea/bad idea scenario #2 - should I become a Pampered Chef consultant? haha I know, it sounds so selfish and affected to bring that up after everything I said above, but hear me out! First off, I really came up with the idea for the party before the idea of being a consultant. I was trying to figure out if a friend of mine from town would be willing to drive to Calgary to do the show since I don't know of anyone who does Pampered Chef in Calgary. Then I was looking through the website and stumbled across the consultant kits and realized they were less than I thought they were. Then I realized that if I signed up under my consultant friend it would actually be helping her and if I did the Pampered Chef Bridal Shower as my first show I could make sure there weren't any strangers there, run it with less pressure than otherwise and probably make back my investment in the consultant kit with that first show. Sounded like a good idea. The issue is, I wouldn't do it really well. I mean, I could put on a mean show, and we all know I love cooking, but I wouldn't be one of those pushy people always trying to make shows and always trying to sell things. I'd probably just do a few shows a year and let my friends and family know to put my name in as their consultant if they ever want to order things online. I certainly wouldn't be in it for the money. I think the biggest thing is I would do it for friends and family - oddly enough. As I said, I don't know of anyone who sells Pampered Chef in Calgary. I've been to Partylite parties there and know a few people who sell that as well as Avon sales people and Amway people... and while I know of alot of people in town who sell Pampered Chef, there's no one in my circle in Calgary who does, and I know I've got some family members who like the stuff. My sister would probably enjoy throwing a Pampered Chef party and I'd love to help her do that.
So, would it be worth it to do it just half-heartedly? I mean, I'd make my money back at least, but would it be too much of a nagging feeling to do better? Or would it be okay if I just coasted?
I want your opinions!

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)