Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Last Minute DIY Christmas Gift

Hello friends, it has been a few weeks.  I have been busy with the new baby, but I will be posting a Great Grocery Project update soon.

In the meantime........are you on a tight budget and looking for a quick last minute DIY Christmas gift?

Then this post is for you!!

Note:  If you are not a canner, (ie. you do not have supplies on home for home preserving) this gift can become pricey pretty quickly.  However, if you have canning supplies on hand....this is the last minute DIY gift for you....*drumroll*


It is so easy to make - easier than jam even!  Just keep in mind that your jars need to sit for 24 you have until about 10am on the 24th of December to whip this up (depending on when you do your Christmas).

Head on over the Bernardin website for this wonderful recipe - I like to substitute 50% of the water with pulp free orange juice.  Trust.  It's delicious!!

This recipe is quick to make and tastes excellent with any poultry.  You will be the hit of any dinner if you bring a long a little jar of this homemade goodness.

MONEY SAVING TIP:  If you live in Ontario, Metro has bags of fresh cranberries on sale this week 2 for $5.00.

PRO TIP: Cranberries can be frozen and used later to make this recipe.  So if you don't have time to do it now - you could always buy $5 or $10 worth of cranberries and stick them in the freezer to make cranberry sauce for an Easter turkey.....just saying.


Monday, October 24, 2016

The Great Grocery Project: Part 3

The end of October is slowly (or quickly) approaching.   After going through a pile of receipts this morning and updating my grocery tracker (also known as an Excel spreadsheet), I thought it might be time for an update.

You may recall that September was a pretty big spend month on groceries in our house.  We came in just shy of $700.00.  So far this month the grocery tally is less than half that amount, with our current October grocery spending sitting at $323.51.  Although I have done a bit of stocking up this month it is much less than in September as the sales are not as plentiful.  I expect our next big spend month will fall between late November and early December as holiday sales come out in full swing.

How have we saved money so far this month?

Aside from shopping the sales...

Our big savings this month came from redeeming our annual cash back cheque at Costco.  I love Costco.  Last year when our membership was up for renewal, I decided to go with a regular membership instead of the Executive Membership.  Partway through the year it became apparent that I should have stuck with the Executive Membership, so I renewed it at a pro-rated amount.  And so, this month I used our annual rebate coupon (which was for $84.04) in order to get the following:

A large box of Quaker Quick Oats                                                  $6.99
A large bag of Kirkland semi-sweet chocolate chips                      $12.99
24 pack of Nano Iogo Yogurt Drinks                                              $10.89
2x454g Salted Butter                                                                       $2.95 each
3x454 Unslated Butter                                                                     $2.95 each
3x500g tubs of Liberté Vanilla Greek Yogurt                                  $9.49
Large Parmesan Cheese                                                                   $10.49
2 x 4L 1% Fine Filtered Milk                                                           $4.79 each
1 x 4L Homo Milk                                                                            $4.95
2 x 12 large eggs                                                                               $5.19

It was fantastic being able to pick up all of these things free of charge.  We have decided that this year we are going to renew with the Executive Membership for the entire year - we will see if it turns out to be worth it.  Costco is aggressively expanding in Canada and in many cases I find their prices are becoming even more competitive.  In addition, they are starting to carry more and more products that we use in our house.  For example, Costco recently started carrying Dove's Men Care deoderant/antiperspirant in packs of 5 for just under $15.00.  This is an excellent price.

The next few weeks I will be trying to keep the grocery spending pretty low....and we will see the full breakdown at the end of the month.  In the meantime I am starting to turn my attention towards some DIY Christmas gifts which I am looking forward to sharing with you soon...

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Recipe Share: Cranberry Oatmeal Maple Muffins

The season is upon us for fresh cranberries.  Do not limit yourself to using fresh cranberries only for cranberry sauce!  Recently I had some extra fresh cranberries on hand, and I decided to try out this fabulous recipe for Cranberry Oatmeal Maple Muffins.  They are incredibly moist and delicious.  I love them!

This recipe is published in French, over at one of my favourite recipe finding websites.  I am reprinting a translation below.

1 1/2 cups of all purpose or whole wheat flour
1 cup of quick cooking oatmeal
2 tsp of baking powder
1/2 tsp of salt
1 cup of sour cream (5 or 14%)
2 tsp of baking soda
1/2 cup of canola oil (I used vegetable oil)
1 cup of maple syrup
2 eggs
2 cups of fresh or frozen cranberries
2 tbsp of maple sugar or brown sugar

Step 1:
Preheat oven to 350F.  In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, baking powder, and salt.  Cut or chop cranberries and set aside.

Step 2:
In 2 cup liquid measuring cup, mix together the baking soda and sour cream.  Allow to rest and expand.

Step 3:
With an electric mixer, combine oil, eggs, and maple syrup.  Mix well.  Gently add and mix the expanded sour cream.

Step 4:
Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing carefully with each addition.

Step 5:
Mix the cranberries with the maple or brown sugar, then fold into batter.

Step 6:
Add batter into paper filled muffin cups.  This recipe will make approximately 20 muffins.  Cook for 20-25 minutes.


Friday, October 14, 2016

Money Saving Tip: Sale Whale!

This week I came across a relatively new Canadian website/App to help you save money on grocery and household items.  Having explored other related Apps and websites let me just say that I really, really like this one for a number of reasons.

First - what is Sale Whale?  Sale Whale is a Canadian website (also available to download as an app) that helps you compare grocery flyers.  By entering your postal code and your desired shopping radius, all the flyers for the stores in your area are pulled up for you.  Very cool.  Especially because it even includes the Warehouse Coupons for Costco.

What makes Sale Whale extra special? 
A few things:
1.  When you click to the view the flyer for the store, you do not get a page view of the flyer.  I love this because it makes it particularly easy to scroll through items, in particular on your mobile phone.  You can go through the entire flyer by item, or you can filter it so specific categories like Baby, Meat, Dairy, etc.

2.  You can create a customized sale alert list, that allows you to specify by brand what you are looking for.  For example, I set up email alerts to notify me of great sales on Natrel Milk, Philadephia Cream Cheese, Cracker Barrel Cheese, etc.  The list of things you can add to your alert list is extensive and the element of detail is bonus.

3.  Brand Search.  At the bottom of the website (I don't know why it isn't at the top), there is a BRAND tab.  If you click on the tab, it allows you to search by brand name for deals that are available that week.  I tried this out with a more obscure brand (La Roche Posay) and it did work - in fact it pulled up a current Optimum bonus points deal that Shopper's Drug Mart is offering with the purchase of La Roche Posay products.

4.  Front page deals:  On the homepage, there is a brief pull of some of the top "Front page deals" from various flyers in the area.  A great way to quickly see some of the week's top sales.

5.  Catch of the Week Blog: One of my favourite features, on the blog section of the website there is a Catch of the Week series which highlights the top 5 deals on particular food items (cheese, butter, coffee, etc.) in an area for that week.  This blog is done for major metropolitan areas like Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal.  A really great feature.

I love paper flyers and I read them for my preferred stores weekly, but Sale Whale is a fantastic website that has already made my weekly grocery planning easier.  Check it out and save!!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Great Grocery Project: September Recap

Now that September is over, I have had sometime to go over all of my grocery data for the month.  September, October, and November are typically big spend months for me, as this is a time of year when there are many good sales on staple items (think holiday baking and gatherings) to take advantage of.  That is why I want to analyze our spending for an entire year, so that we will see how everything works out over an annual period.  Some months (like September) we will spend a lot more than others.  Having said that, there were a few things that significantly increased our grocery spending this September....let's recall:
a) our oven was broken for just over 2 weeks
b) half of our house is currently gutted as are completing a major (unanticipated) renovation
c) due to some pregnancy related health issues, I have had to purchase some food items I would not normally be spending money on.

So, without further delay, our total grocery spend for September was:

Where did we shop?  The breakdown is as follows:
Michael Angelo's $218.67
Metro                    $150.53
No Frills               $105.02
Costco                    $83.96
Food Basics           $51.33
Coppa's                  $39.11
Longo's                  $36.87
Shopper's Drug Mart $4.00

What did we spend our money on?
Our biggest spend was on produce: $167.04.  This is quite a bit.  I spent a lot of money in September on Honey Crisp Apples.
I love them.  I really, really love them.  But they are so expensive, usually $3.99 or $4.99 a pound.  I splurge and buy them when they are fresh and in season (September/October) but after that it is back to the less expensive apples.

We spent $106.98 on pantry supplies this month, which is right on track as it is a big stocking up month.  I stocked up on things like canned pineapple, stuffing mixes, tea, baking supplies, etc.

We spent $98.30 on meat.  In September I start stocking up on frozen turkeys when they are on sale for $0.99/lb.  I will buy a few more in December when they do on sale again before Christmas.

Next up, is dairy on which we spent $92.66.  Our family drinks a lot of milk.  We consume quite a bit of dairy when you consider cheeses, yogurt, and milk.  Unfortunately these items are just pricey in Canada.  We purchase most of our dairy at Costco, where I find the prices (particularly on cheeses) are the best.

We spent $47.35 on prepared foods which is just fine with me given that we had no oven for several weeks.

Rounding out the spending for September was $42.92 on beverages, $33.74 on bread, and $11.00 on frozen foods (vegetables).

Money Saving in September:
The biggest money saving this month (aside from shopping the sales) came from three things:
1.  Ebates - This was not grocery related, but we ordered a number of items for our renovation through Ebates and earned about $50.00 in cashback.

2.  Shopper's Optimum - I redeemed $170.00 worth of Shopper's Optimum points to purchase some needed household and cosmetic items.

3.  Shopping the Reduced Grocery Items - At one of my favourite grocery stores there is often a great selection of reduced items.  Whenever I am in the store, I make sure to check out the areas where the reduced items are kept.  This month I got some great deals on produce, meat, and premium orange juice.

So where does that leave us?

There are three main areas where I want to significantly reduce our spending next month.  Two of them should be straightforward, the third a bit more challenging.  I want to spend less on prepared foods (easily done now that our oven is fixed).  I want to spend less on beverages (easily done as the big spending was due to some health issues for which I need to buy certain beverages), probably only $10.00-$15.00 maximum instead of over $40.00.  Finally, bread.  I would love to make all our own bread from scratch, but I just do not have the time.  Making bread is not difficult, but you do need a few consecutive hours for mixing, proofing, and rising.  At this point I know it would be unrealistic to start trying to make all my own bread, but my new goal is to make our own bread at least once a month.  Maybe twice.

And so, we will see where October takes us.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Great Grocery Project Part 2

So far this month I have spent about $540.00 on groceries.  That is more than I would normally be spending, but remember that we were without an oven for a few weeks.  Some other things that have been going on which increased this month's spending, but I will go over them in more detail when I do my end of the month analysis next week.  All things considered, I am comfortable (but not thrilled) with how the spending was going.

I am just going to share a few money saving things that I have done since my last post in this series.

Money Saving Tips:
Right around Thanksgiving (the Canadian Thanksgiving is coming, as well as Rosh Hashanah this coming weekend) means lots of great deals are to be head on baking and various "Thanksgiving related" food items.  I carefully read the flyers all year, but during September and October I pay very close attention and there are a few sales I always watch for:

1.  Frozen Turkeys - Many times, I have written of my love for frozen turkeys.  This is still one of the best deals for a great protein out there.  They used to always go on sale this time of year for around 0.88 a pound.  Lately, the price seems to have bumped up to 0.97 a pound, but that is still incredible value for money.  No Frills had them on sale for this price last week, Food Basics has them on sale this week, and I would not be surprised if this week's flyers show that Walmart will have them on sale next week.  I have been picking up 2 turkeys a week and popping them in our deep freeze.  I try to get 6-8 turkeys a year at this price.  Not only is the price right, but roasting a turkey is super easy.  You really can't go wrong...

2.  Pantry Items Sale - This is the time of year to be buying things like canned pineapple (for cooking and baking), StoveTop stuffing (I love it), cranberries, cake mixes, icing, baking supplies, etc.  This week, Food Basics had some great pantry items on sale - mostly for $0.99 each or less.  I stocked up on the above mentioned items which will result in some significant savings long term.  I am looking forward to reading this week's flyers to see what other deals I can find.

3.  Reduced for Quick Sale Items - One of my favourite grocery stores is a high-end privately owned store located near my work.  This store has a one page sale list every week.  This is part of their marketing strategy - they have very few items on sale, but what is on sale is at an excellent price.  I went to the store last week to pick up some fresh boneless, skinless chicken breasts which were on sale at a great price.  While I was there, I quickly checked their Reduced for Quick Sale Items.  There were some beautiful Filet Mignon medallions 2 days before their "Use By" date and reduced by 50%.  I love filet mignon, but we never buy it because of the price.  I snapped up two medallions and we thoroughly enjoyed eating them that evening.  The other reduced item I picked up was bananas.  The great thing about this store is that because it is a very high-end retailer, they often put things on the reduced racks before other stores would.  I was able to pick up a package of 14 large bananas for $0.99.  We ate some of them fresh, but most of them were used for some make ahead and freeze baking.
What did we make with all these bananas?

Southern Living's Cream Cheese Banana Nut Bread.  I love this recipe - and it makes two loaves.  

Ricardo's Double Chocolate Banana Bread.  Seriously, this recipe will change your life. - amazing and incredibly moist.
Image from

Paula Deen's Not Yo Mamma's Banana Pudding - An incredibly rich (pudding, cream cheese, cool whip, butter cookies...) and delicious banana pudding.  I did find it a bit runny - I think that if I made it again I would actually make the pudding according to the package directions and then mix it in as the recipe instructs.  The recipe says this dish will make 12 servings, but it is such a rich dessert you could likely get about 20 servings out of the 9x13 pan.

4.  Clearance and Reduced Items - This one is not a grocery savings but it was a money savings for this week.  Almost all of my adults Christmas gifts this year are going to be DIY, actually some of them will be DIH (Do It Husband) because I cannot handle certain materials while pregnant.  Anyway, I needed to pick up some Kyrlon spraypaint for my projects.  I went to Michael's Craft Supplies where I had a coupon for 40% off one item.  While there, I noticed that some Hunter Green Krylon spraypaint was on clearance for $3.49 a can (regularly $10.99).  This was not the colour I had planned on using, but I realized it would be great for Christmas gifts and would pair really well with a gold glitter.  The savings allowed me to purchase the Hunter Green on clearance, a small can of gold glitter spray, and this freed up my 40% off coupon for a can of textured white spray paint (40% off $16.99).  Hurray savings! I am looking forward to sharing some of these DIY projects and gift ideas once they are complete.

That is it for now.  Next week I will post the full monthly analysis of the grocery totals.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Great Grocery Project - Part 1

As I mentioned before, we are going to be very carefully tracking and analyzing our grocery expenses over the next year - looking for ways to save money without cutting back on the quality of food that we eat.  The plan at the moment is to provide brief weekly or bi-weekly updates, and then at the end of each month a details analysis of where the spending money went.

Let's just say the first week and a half of September did not go exactly as planned.  We are in the middle of an unplanned total basement renovation which is taking up lots of time (and money of course!) and our oven broke.  We spent two weeks without an oven.  Needless to say, this meant we spent a lot more money on prepared foods and quick snacks than we normally would.  Thankfully, we ordered a new element and my husband was able to repair our oven.  That sound you hear is a huge sigh of relief on my part.  Hopefully this means that over the next few weeks our grocery spending will even out again.

I'm a little sad to say that I spend $176.87 on groceries over the past few weeks (mainly due to the no oven dilemma).  But this is life, and it will all even out.

Over the weekend I went to No Frills and there was a great sale on cabbage.  I have an amazing Creamy Coleslaw recipe from Bonnie Stern's Friday Night Dinners that is super easy to make and delicious.  I plan on making a large batch of coleslaw this afternoon to eat with our dinner, and also to throw in our lunches for the next few days.

A new grocery store with an excellent produce section (I'm a bit of a produce snob) opened a few weeks ago right between where I work and where my son goes to daycare.  This is really great for me, because I like to buy fresh produce regularly so that none of it goes to waste.  Wasted food = wasted money.  The new store will be a great place for me to stop and conveniently pick up whatever fresh produce I might need, thereby (hopefully) meaning even less food waste (or money wasted!) in our house.

Big Money Saving This Week:
The big money saved this week in our house came from household items rather than grocery, but is worth mentioning.  Regular readers know that I am a big fan of Shopper's Drug Mart Optimum Rewards.  This week, many regular items we need and use were on sale - so I redeemed 95,000 ($170.00 worth) of Optimum points.  With this points redemption I was able to pick-up:

4 packs of President's Choice Bathroom Tissue ($4.99 each)
1 Box of Pamper's Swaddlers Diapers ($22.99)
1 400mL bottle of La Roche Posay AP Lipikar Baume lotion (33.00)
1 bottle of La Roche Posay Children's Sun Block ($29.95)
1 Box of Pampers Training Diapers ($22.99)
1 Box of Pampers Newborn Diapers ($22.99)
1 Box of Always Pantiliners ($5.49)
3 various sizes packs of Energizer batteries (for a total of $29.97)
2 24 bottle cases of PC Spring Water ($1.99 each)

The subtotal of all these items came to $209.44.  I redeemed $170.00 worth of Optimum points and ended up paying a balance of $39.44.  That's a pretty great savings!

Our other big savings this week, was repairing the oven.  Yes, we spent more on groceries by going without an oven for almost two weeks - but if we had rushed out to buy a new oven immediately after ours caught on fire and broke we would have been spending between $1000-$3000.00.  Instead, we ordered a $50.00 party from Amazon and my husband repaired our oven himself.  Hurray husband!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Great Grocery Project: Introduction

The past few months have been pretty crazy around our house.  My husband was in a serious car accident near the end of winter, thankfully (very thankfully) he is just fine - his car however was totaled.  Although we did get some (some) money through insurance we had to unexpectedly purchase a new car.  *the sound of money flying out the window*

About a month ago we found some water leaking into our basement.  I'll spare you all the details, but as a result we are now having to do a completely unplanned total basement renovation.  *the sound of money flying out the window*

Last week, our oven caught on fire.  We think (we hope) that it was just the element dying and needing to be replaced.  The replacement part is ordered and I am hoping when it arrives this week that will solve our problem, because I really really do not want to have to buy a new oven right now.

These things happen.  They are unfortunate, but life goes on.  Everyone in our house is in good health and that is really what matters.  Close friends of ours have a child fighting a terminal illness, and I am positive that they would take 100 unexpected basement renovations if it meant they could save their child or alleviate some of her suffering.  Perspective.

I am also pregnant again and about to go on maternity leave.  This means my income will be reduced by 50% for the next year.

Needless to say, with all the (major) unexpected expenses and the maternity leave quickly approaching we have been combing over the budget.  I regularly budget for our groceries, but I am really looking to cut down on our expenses - which brings me to the Great Grocery Project.  Over the next year, I am going to be carefully (minutely) tracking our grocery spending and hopefully sharing some helpful money saving tips with you along the way.  My goal is to reduce our grocery spending without compromising the quality of our food.  We drink a lot of milk and eat a lot of cheese in this house, and I don't really plan on cutting back in either of those area.

Watch this space - I will be posting regular (probably bi-weekly) updates and tips as we go.

P.S. - They Friday Night Dinner Project is nearing completion.  I have about 5 menus left, and I will be completing them as the food budget allows.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Top 10 Quick and Dirty Meal Ideas

You know those days when you:
a) don't feel like cooking
b) are almost out of groceries
c) don't have time to make anything
d) all of the above

Why yes, yes I do.  Despite all efforts to keep the fridge and pantry stocked, there are times when I really have to just throw something together.  Here are a few of my favourite "emergency" meals:

1.  Hard boiled eggs.  Why?  They are good for you.  They can go with just about anything - whip up a quick egg salad wrap or sandwich, a deviled egg, just eat a plain old hard boiled egg with toast.  Put some egg salad on crackers.  Make it work!

2.  Tuna.  Tuna with mayonnaise - on a cracker, on a bun, on bread, on toast (tuna melts!!!), with leftover rice and peas or corn, with noodles, with pasta.  Another quick protein packed meal.

3.  Natural peanut butter - on toast, on bread, in a wrap, on crackers.  Especially great with a side of raisins and or banana.

4.  Chef Boyardee Mini Ravioli.  This is one of the few canned foods I buy to keep on hand for those Quick and Dirty meals.  A little Mini Ravioli with some fresh grated mozzarella on top goes a long way.

5.  Kraft Dinner.  I go through phases where I can and cannot bring myself to eat Kraft Dinner.  I don't know why.  I'm cyclical I guess.  I can also tolerate the President's Choice Macaroni and Cheese.  A small portion of this served with a side of corn or peas, maybe even some tuna, is always a hit with my little guy.

6.  BEANS!!!  Baked beans.  I like to make my own and have some on hand, but I also keep some canned ones on hand (always) in case I am out.  My son loves these.  And beans go with.......well.....toast, eggs, pancakes, rice, creamy corn, cornbread, chicken, a nice bun, grean beans....whatever you may have in your pantry or leftovers in your fridge.  One of my favourite quick and dirty meals.

7.  Pancakes.  They are super quick to make (especially if you use the Krusteaz mix from Costco.  I love serving up pancakes with eggs, beans, leftover ham, cheese, fresh fruit and whipping cream for a special treat, topped with natural peanut butter and maple syrup, or my husband's favourite - a little bit of Nutella.

8.  Grilled cheese.  I do not know why kids love grilled cheese so much, but I am not complaining.  Who doesn't love a hot grilled cheese with some Ketchup and nice glass of cold milk?  Perhaps served with a side of tomato soup.

9.  Quesadillas.  If I have a wrap or two hanging around the kitchen, I can stuff it with pretty much anything (cheese, veggies, meat - my favourite is cheese, cumin, mayo, corn and chicken) then toss it on my griddle for a minute or two and presto!  Dinner is served.

And finally....

10.  Buy a pizza.  No, this does not really count as making it yourself but when you consider the cost of cheese, I find it is a great deal to pick up a pizza from Costco or from Pizzaville (if you live in the GTA).  Plus - I usually have some leftovers I can take for lunch the next day.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Planning a 60th Birthday Party - for 60 Guests

Earlier this year my father celebrated his sixtieth birthday and we marked the occasion with a large party.  Because my father is an avid skier, the theme of the party was Après Ski Sixty.  Brilliant, non?  Having a party for this many people catered would cost much more than I wanted to spend, so I decided to make all the good myself.  This was a great money saving idea, but also a bit nuts.  I started cooking a few months before the party and freezing as much as I possibly could make ahead.  The format of the party was an open house in the afternoon - I was not really sure how much people would eat.  As it turned out, I had lots and lots of food - which is not a bad thing.  I definitely underestimated how much alcohol people would drink - but thankfully we had lots of wine and beer on hand, knowing that we could return any unopened bottles after the party.

So what did we make?

Let's start with what we made ahead:
Last year, Ricardo magazine ran a feature on bundt cakes that were well suited for a party.  They could all be made ahead and frozen, making it perfect for this party.  I made of the different bundt cake recipes from this feature:
Lemon Bundt Cake
Chocolate Bundt Cake
Yellow Bundt Cake
Vanilla Bundt Cake  (This recipe is particularly versatile, I always get asked for the recipe when I make it.  It is delicious topped with fruit and whipped cream, or covered in Dulce de leche.)
After baking these cakes and allowing them to cool, I wrapped them carefull in aluminum foil then placed them in labeled freezer bags and popped them in the freezer.

In addition to these cakes, I made the Carrot Cake recipe from Bonnie Stern's Friday Night Dinners, and a Banana Cake.  Like the bundt cakes, these were made in advance and frozen.

The cakes were all used to make a Create Your Own cake buffet which I will say a bit more about later.

Other desserts that were made ahead and frozen were:
Almond Biscotti
Greek Wedding Cookies
Brazil Nut Biscotti
All of these recipes are from Bonnie Stern's Friday Night Dinners.

Those are all the sweet things I made in advance.  As far as more appetizer or entrée type dishes go, I made two pulled pork roasts (in the Crock-Pot) and two batches of chili using my own recipe.  Again, everything went into the freezer.

What did I make just before the party?
The day before the party I was still cooking like a madwoman, making a batch of Chuck's Chocolate Brownies, two batches of Peanut Butter brownies (this recipe is from a Bon Appétit cookbook - but I cannot find it anywhere online).  I also made Egg and Smoked Trout Salad from the Rosh Hashanah menu in Friday Night Dinners.  This smoked trout salad was a huge hit with the guests at the party.

So, how did it go?
Prepping all this food was a lot of work, but it was worth it.  It cost far less than if the party had been catered.

The kitchen was well stocked with glasses, stemware, coffee, tea, soft drinks, and lots of wine and beer.

A menu was posted and guests were invited to order up cups of hot chili or pulled pork sliders.
I also hired a university student I know to work as a bartender and server of hot food.

An appetizer buffet included fresh vegetables, an assortment of cheeses, the Egg and Smoked Trout spread, and fresh bagels (I did not make these myself - I bought them from What A Bagel - the BEST bagels - in Thornhill the morning of the party) and cream cheese.

The dessert buffet included all of the cakes mentioned above, and various toppings such as:
Maraschino Cherries
Butterscotch Chips
Crushed Peppermint
Dulce de leche
Cream Cheese Frosting
Raspberry Coulis
Strawberry Sauce

There was also some fresh fruit, the brownies, cookies, and some chocolates that I purchased 50% off in post-Christmas sales.

The final verdict:
With some careful planning hosting a party for a large number of guests can be done on a reasonable budget.  Do not be intimidated by a big crowd - just plan ahead and make good use of your freezer space.  Over 50% of the party budget was spent on alcohol, so if you are needing to really cut costs consider cutting back on the booze.  We had lots of food leftover, but that is ok because we shared it with guests and ate the leftovers ourselves (just remember - food should not be refrozen once thawed).  The key to planning a large party like this is to do as much in advance as possible.

Happy Party Planning!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Shopper's Drug Mart Optimum vs. Costco Executive Membership - An update

This post comparing the Shopper's Drug Mart Optimum Rewards program with the Costco Executive Membership generated a lot of traffic.

I wanted to update it with a few more thoughts and money saving tips.

To begin....I still think that Optimum is the better rewards program when it comes to what you spend versus your rewards, however this only applies if you are maximizing your points by making your purchases on bonus points days (such as 20x the points days) and then redeeming your points on bonus redemption days.  What I have noticed since Shopper's Drug Mart was taken over by Loblaw companies is that the bonus redemption days are becoming less and less.  They do still happen though so you just need to save up your points and watch out for them.  

Products: Although Shopper's and Costco carry many vastly different products, they also carry many similar products such as toiletries, household goods, etc.  Things that I like to pick up at Shopper's include items like: pop, toilet paper, Bounty paper towels, Kleenex, Pampers diapers, pads, liners, toothpaste, children's toothpaste, cosmetics, chips, President's Choice bottled pop or water, Mustela baby products, the list goes on.  Things that I like to purchase at Costco include items such as: milk, egg, cheese, flour, sugar, various baking supplies, Spectro Gel, deodorant, craft and office supplies, Neutrogena sunblock, yogurt and yogurt drinks, cheese sticks, POM Wonderful Pomegranate juice, Stonemill Bread, etc.  I could do a more detailed list - but this is just to give you an idea.  The key is to know what products you like for your family and then compare what is available at each location and their prices per unit at Shopper's and Costco.

Price: Again, I have to say that since Shopper's has been taken over by Loblaw Companies I have noticed price increases on certain items such as diapers, pop, toothpaste, and peanut butter (just as a few examples).  When these items are on sale they are still competitively priced, but it is important to read the flyers every week and be aware of the price per unit at competitors.  Again, I stick to my mantra of shopping when it is a 20X the points day and buying almost exclusively sale items.

BeautyBoutique:  Shopper's Drug Mart launched their online store Beauty in order to compete with other online cosmetic retailers such as Sephora.  I have a love-hate relationship with the Beauty Boutique.  I love it because it allows me to shop for cosmetics from my couch while still earning Optimum Points (you can also redeem the points online).  The delivery is reliable and quick.  I don't particularly love it because the brands are limited to what is sold in the Beauty Boutique sections of Shopper's Drug Mart retail locations and does not include all cosmetics.  For example, I purchase a lot of La Roche Posay and Neostrata products for myself and my family at Shopper's - but these are not available through the Beauty Boutique online.

Nonetheless - they do have a large selection of cosmetics and here is where I get to my big Money Saving Tip for this post:
Not only can you earn Optimum Points shopping at, you can also earn CashBack through    Typically, offers 5% cashback on purchases at, but occasionally it is double cashback meaning you earn 10% cashback on your purchases.  This is what is ideal - earning 10% cash back AND 20x the Optimum points on your purchases.  You really cannot beat that.

Finally, despite the recent price changes and fewer bonus point redemption days I still think that Shopper's Optimum is one of the best consumer rewards programs.  I redeem about $1000.00 worth of points every year - and it is hard to find any other rewards program in Canada that offers me the same value.

Friday Night Dinner Project: Fast Food Fish

I realized this afternoon it has been almost a year since I posted an update on the Friday Night Dinner Project.  The cooking has not stopped - in fact I struggled a bit digging through old files trying to find my pictures of these menus.  Life has just been busy, and since this blog is just a hobby....a little outlet for me...getting the posts up has not been a top priority (obviously).  However, I am going to try and get some of the menus I have cooked up over the next few weeks.  Which brings me to today's menu from Bonnie Stern's Friday Night Dinners; Fast Food Fish.  This menu is exactly as it sounds....I LOVE this menu.  Love it.  I will tell you why as I walk you through it.

Marinated Goat Cheese
Yum.  I love goat cheese so this was right up my alley.  This recipe is so simple and easy to prepare - and as Bonnie Stern says in the liner notes it can be made up to a week ahead and stored in the refrigerator.  Her tip to slice the cheese using dental floss saved me a lot of frustration dealing with crumbling goat cheese.
This version of the recipe is slightly different than the one in the book (the book does not call for olives), but it is equally delicious.

Grilled Garlic Bread
This is a simple recipe to make garlic bread at home using a baguette as the bread.  It works well with a meal, but also as an appetizer with some goat cheese on top, or sprinkled with fresh herbs.

Salmon Piccata with Lemon and Asparagus
Let me talk to you about this fish recipe for a minute.  It is amazing.  It is fast, it is simple, it is delicious.  I first made this recipe about a  year ago and I have used it countless times since then.  The recipe calls for salmon but I have also used it with trout and had equally delicious results.  This has become my go-to fish recipe - not just because it is so quick to make, but it is good.  Even my two year old will eat trout fillets that have been cooked using this recipe (although he does also dip them in Ketchup...).  Sadly, I could not find a version of this recipe online (that wasn't copied without permission), and as readers know I do not reprint recipes without permission.  Buy the book!!  Try the recipes.

Roasted Potato Sticks
Well this is exactly what it sounds like.  They are good.

The dessert for this menu is affogato, essentially brownies drowned in hot espresso or hot coffee.  I imagine for some people this would be like heaven - but neither of the adults living in my house like coffee.  I did however, remake Chuck's Chocolate Brownies from the Dinner with Chuck Menu.  Mmmmmm.

That is it for this week's menu.  There is a reason it's called Fast Food Fish.

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