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Archive for February, 2009

This week for Mission: Appliances I pulled out a fairly common appliance, my blender. The thing is, I barely use it! One of those typical wedding gifts, the blender seems to be touted as a necessary gadget in everyone’s kitchen. But as far as I remember, I had only used it once before. Why not? Let’s find out.

mission-appliances2

The blender we own is the Black & Decker 48-Ounce Glass-Jar Blender. We received it for our wedding after having registered for it at Target. Now that I look at the reviews for this particular blender on Amazon, I fear we might have made a bad choice! Hopefully our unit doesn’t die like many others supposedly did (according to Amazon reviewers). I guess not all blenders are created equal.

Blender Vital Statistics

  • Brand: Black & Decker
  • Average Price: $50
  • Power: 500 watts
  • Size: 10 X 7 X 14 inches; 9 pounds
  • Features: 48-ounce chip-resistant glass jar, 5 speed settings, plus pulse and ice-crush functions
  • Complexity: Very easy to use
  • Versatility: Blends various foods or beverages
  • Cleaning: Very easy to clean since unit comes apart
  • Storage: Unit can be stored in separate pieces, so is a little easier to fit in tight spaces than other appliances
  • Safety Tips: Blending blades are very sharp
  • Pre-series Location: Inside a tall cupboard only reached with a chair
  • Pre-series Use Level: Used once before

blender

Project Blender

My husband and I really love dessert drinks, so we decided to use our blender to make chocolate milkshakes. Shakes are pretty costly ($3.50 for a 16 oz at Culver’s) so making them at home proves to be very cost effective. Furthermore, we had the ability to choose the ingredients so (we hope) our shakes were a little ‘healthier’ than Culver’s.

After some research on the Internet for milkshake recipes, I created the following recipe that we ultimately used for our own shakes:

2 cups vanilla ice cream
1/3 cup skim milk
4 TBS chocolate syrup
½ tsp vanilla extract

(makes 2 small-medium servings or 1 large serving)
(can add 2 TBS malt powder and/or 2 TBS peanut butter if desired)

blender-ingredients

We put all the ingredients inside the glass jar and began blending. We started with low speeds and worked up to higher speeds gradually. The problem was, we had to continually stop the blender to manually mix our ingredients because they were not blending! Additionally, the motor was beginning to smell because it was being overworked. Hmmmm.

blender-shake

After we finally got everything blending nicely, we enjoyed our milkshakes no doubt. But I’m a little concerned about the performance of the blender unit. If it can’t handle soft ingredients like ice cream and liquids, then how will it handle ice or other solids?

The Verdict

Well, it’s apparent from my analysis that we do not own the best blender on the market. However I hear that really awesome blenders can be quite expensive. All that aside, we still enjoyed great milkshakes, drinks we could not have prepared without the blender. I think in the future we will just have to be more careful about not overworking the motor since we now know that it is pretty sensitive. Not all appliances are perfect, right?

Reader Reflection

What kind of blender do you own? Have you ever had problems with the motor burning?

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During these difficult economic times, families seem to flock to fast food restaurants because they somehow think they are saving money. Fast food is ‘cheap’ right? Well, my gut tells me it isn’t. It may just appear cheap because in the end, most people don’t take the time to calculate the average cost of a home-cooked meal.

Well, my husband and I have been curious lately about how much our home-cooked meals actually cost. I love to cook and I have a lot of fun experimenting with all sorts of recipes. But when compared with fast food, does cooking at home really save money?

fast-food

McDonald’s vs. Hamburger Casserole

I don’t have too many guilty pleasures, but McDonald’s is definitely one of them. I especially love their french fries and apparently I have eagerly sought them out since I was a baby according to my parents. To be sure, my husband and I do not frequently dine at McDonald’s, or any fast food restaurants for that matter, because we understand that the food is just plain not good for us.

Health standards aside here, I would like to calculate the cost of an average meal from McDonald’s versus an average meal I cook for us at home. I want to find out what costs more and hopefully prove a point with some plain math.

  • Below you will see the cost breakdown for an average meal that my husband and I order at McDonald’s:

2 crispy chicken ranch snack wraps @ $1.59 each
1 large french fries @ $2.00
1 medium soft drink @ $1.90
1 Chicken Ranch BLT Extra Value Meal @ $6.00
Tax @ $0.72

Total cost= $13.80
Leftover potential = NONE

  • Now here’s the cost breakdown of a common hamburger casserole I make at home:

1 lb ground hamburger @ $3.70
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes @ $0.63
2.5 cups macaroni noodles @ $0.50
1 green bell pepper @ $0.50
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese @ $1.00
1 10.5 oz can cream of mushroom soup @ $0.70
1 6.5 oz can french fried onions @ $2.50

2 glasses of milk @ $0.40

Total cost = $9.93
Leftover potential = 3 more dinners worth

The Verdict

Obviously my experiment here is in no way scientific or even 100% accurate because I had to estimate a few prices I could not find. But the results speak for themselves. The dinner at McDonald’s cost us $13.80 and we had no leftovers. The casserole cost us $9.93 to make and it lasts for 3 more dinners beyond that first meal. So that, in effect, makes each night’s meal cost about $2.50!

One might argue that it takes time to cook meals at home and fast food is easy. Well, what about your driving time, or the price of gas? All in all, fast food is not an economically sound way to spend your money during hard times, or even good times. A treat every once and a while is fine (hey, I’m not ready to give up my fries), but making a habit out of it is not a wise way to spend your money.

Reader Reflection

Do you eat at fast food restaurants to ‘save’ money?

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Good morning! The meals I prepared this past week weren’t particularly elaborate because we were pretty busy. Nonetheless, I still managed to use five appliances! I guess that means that my series, Mission: Appliances, is off to a great start.

I forgot to mention last week that I made a significant change to my meal planning approach—I’ve begun to plan meals monthly instead of weekly. Obviously I’m only on my first month, but I like it already! It takes more time to sit down and actually plan one month of meals, but then I can go between meal planning for a whole month! That’s definitely my favorite aspect of this new approach.

Looking at this upcoming week of meals makes me hungry…yum! I can’t wait.

meal-plan-mondays

Monday 2/23/09

Leftovers

Tuesday 2/24/09

Leftovers

Wednesday 2/25/09

Spicy Tomato Soup (using frozen tomatoes from last summer’s garden!) and homemade bread

Thursday 2/26/09

Leftovers

Friday 2/27/09

Italian Breaded Pork Chops (NEW), wild rice, and green beans

Saturday 2/28/09

Leftovers

Sunday 3/1/09

Hamburger Casserole

* * * * * *

I posted my weekly menu to the I’m an Organizing Junkie blog, so be sure to check it out and participate if you’d like!

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Last week for Mission: Appliances I featured an appliance I use pretty regularly, my electric indoor grill. This week I dusted off one of my less frequently used appliances, my waffle iron. Waffles are pretty cool—in fact I usually order them at restaurants for breakfast. But it’s been a bit of a struggle to use this appliance very often. Let’s hope that can change!

mission-appliances2

The waffle iron we own is the Hamilton Beach 26200 Restaurant Style Belgian Waffle Baker. My husband bought it before we got married and frankly I’m not sure how often he used it either. We pulled it out a few months ago, but had a bit of a problem with the batter sticking, so we weren’t exactly eager to use it again. But this time I think we figured out the sticking problem, as explained later on.

Waffle Iron Vital Statistics

  • Brand: Hamilton Beach
  • Average Price: $25
  • Power: 1000 watts
  • Size: 11 x 4 x 12.5 inches; 6 pounds
  • Features: Fast-flip design, Cool touch handle and indicator lights
  • Complexity: Fairly easy to use
  • Versatility: Used to make waffles
  • Cleaning: Very easy to clean as long as waffle batter doesn’t stick
  • Storage: Unit is pretty compact so storage isn’t too hard
  • Safety Tips: Interior gets very hot
  • Pre-series Location: Deep inside a low kitchen cupboard (must remove several other pots, pans, and appliances in order to reach)
  • Pre-series Use Level: Used once before to make chocolate chip blueberry waffles

waffle-iron

Project Waffle Iron

As I stated before, I really do love waffles. The last (and only) time we used this waffle maker was to prepare chocolate chip blueberry waffles a few months ago. It was kind of a bust because the batter stuck pretty severely to the interior, likely due to the chocolate chips. This time, when preparing strawberry waffles, we knew to spray the interior with cooking spray first.

waffle-iron-batter

We used the recipe for Blueberry Oat Waffles on allrecipes.com and just omitted the blueberries and pecans. Overall it’s a tasty batter! The recipe makes about 4-5 five inch waffles. We used a ½ cup measuring cup to pour the batter into the center of each grid and each waffle took about 5 or so minutes to bake (you can do two at a time).

waffle-iron-waffles

We kept the waffles warm in the oven while the others were finishing and then I topped each waffle with strawberry sauce (made with my food chopper!), whole strawberries, and whipped cream…yum!

waffles

The Verdict

I really did enjoy the waffles and they make a great post-church brunch meal. Furthermore, now that we know about the cooking spray issue, we will have no more troubles with sticking (which was a real pain to clean up the first time by the way!).

The issue I have with this waffle iron in general is that it is a unitasker appliance (as far as I know). I have a problem with unitasker appliances because I feel that the space they take up is not as worthwhile as appliances that are more versatile. Nonetheless, I don’t know of any other way to make homemade tasty waffles. 🙂

Reader Reflection

Do you have a waffle iron? Does anyone know of other creative ways waffle irons can be used besides for making waffles?

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Last week I spent some time talking about ways to maximize efficiency when grocery shopping. I ended my post with a short section on lists and a promise to revitalize my own list to share with you this week. Well, I’m happy to say that I was able to work on a new list and even give it a test run when I went grocery shopping last Thursday!

Six ways you can optimize your list

Before I get to my new list, here are a few general tips anyone can adopt to optimize their grocery list:

  • Keep your list visible at home so you can easily add to it when items come to mind.
  • If you keep your pantry stocked in a particular way, add items to the list to replace those you use right after you use them so you don’t forget.
  • Try to arrange your list by common items or by subject to make it easier to flow through it when you’re at the store.
  • Bring a pen and even a clipboard when you visit the store so you can cross items off your list and have a flat surface to write on.
  • Clearly mark items you don’t end up buying for whatever reason so you can easily transfer them onto your next list.
  • Consider making your list digital for easy editing and so you can carry it with you everywhere—try a cell phone or a PDA.

How I revitalized my list

Before revamping my own list, I followed most of those tips above.  However, one in particular I knew I needed to work on: arranging my list by subject. That is what I worked on this past week and I’m very excited about my new format! Here’s what I came up with:

grocery-list

Again, I shop primarily at Walmart Supercenter and I occasionally stop by a local supermarket called Trig’s. I have a planned route I take through Walmart each time I go so I thought it would be useful to arrange the items on my list to fit my route. Last time I was at Walmart, I took special note of actual aisles and locations of items I buy so I could make my categories. I also kept in mind aisles I visit frequently, versus aisles I almost never visit.

I decided to hang my new list on the refrigerator, right where I kept my previous version. But this time when I add an item, I add it directly to the section where it can be found in the store. That way when I am actually shopping, I will (ideally) never backtrack or retrace my steps. My first test-run went very well and it felt so efficient!!

Creative lists from around the blogosphere

Since my list is tailored specifically for Walmart, I thought it would be useful to look up other list templates created by fellow bloggers. Not only can you use these lists for yourself, but you can also borrow ideas from them (or mine) to apply to your own special list format.

I would also like to mention here that I had a great comment on last week’s post from a reader, Shannon.  She shared:

We keep a running list of items then meal plan and decide the rest of the list. Last month I make a print out of what items are on which isles at the store we frequent most. Now when I need to shop I get a copy of this, circle the items I need and off I go. It saves a lot of time to know beforehand which isles I can totally skip. The other magical thing I JUST thought to do last week is to start on the opposite side of the store from which I’ve been doing it for 20 years! Start with the dairy and end with the produce! Now everything fits in beautifully with the produce on top!

Thanks Shannon! 🙂

Reader Reflection

Do you use a special grocery list template when you go grocery shopping? Feel free to share here!

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Good morning fellow meal-planners. I’m in a great mood because looking back at this past week, I can say with excitement that we had marvelous meals!

My two new recipes, Pico de Gallo Chicken Quesadillas and Penne with Spicy Vodka Tomato Cream Sauce, were both excellent. I made a few minor alterations that I’ll note here in case anyone is interested. With the quesadillas, I added red bell peppers and mushrooms, and as I mentioned in my Mission: Appliances post from Friday, I grilled them instead of frying them in oil in a skillet. For the penne, I use white wine instead of vodka and mild ground Italian sausage instead of links of sweet Italian sausage. Both recipes are going into the permanent recipe file!

This week will be a little hectic for us so I’m not planning as many complicated meals. Nevertheless, I’ve still got a few interesting things up my sleeve.

meal-plan-mondays

Monday 2/16/09

Black Bean Fried Rice (Invention)

Tuesday 2/17/09

Leftovers

Wednesday 2/18/09

Leftovers

Thursday 2/19/09

Dinner at in-laws

Friday 2/20/09

Dinner at a restaurant

Saturday 2/21/09

Ziti with Italian Sausage (bake), with green beans and garlic bread

Sunday 2/22/09

Leftovers

* * * * * *

I posted my weekly menu to the I’m an Organizing Junkie blog, so be sure to check it out and participate if you’d like!

Read Full Post »

This week for Mission: Appliances, I decided to work with one of my more newly acquired appliances, an electric indoor grill. This is one of those rare appliances we actually researched, sought out, and purchased by choice because of its glowing reviews. Even though we’ve used the grill several times already, I decided to include it on my list to explore its further potential.

mission-appliances2

The actual grill that we own is the Sanyo HPS-SG3 200-Square-Inch Electric Indoor Barbeque Grill. As I said above, we researched it heavily and bought it when there was a great deal on Amazon. In fact, I wrote a review for it right here at Lifestyles of the Organized because we love it so much (if you want more details than found here, be sure to read the review). Since the purchase, we’ve grilled hamburgers several times and chicken kabobs once.

Electric Indoor Grill Vital Statistics

  • Brand: Sanyo
  • Average Price: $35
  • Power: 1300 watts; Heats to 425 degrees F
  • Size: Measures 23-5/8 by 3-7/8 by 14-1/2 inches
  • Accessories: Drip pan, detachable power cord
  • Complexity: Very easy to use
  • Versatility: Used for all sorts of grilling
  • Cleaning: Surprisingly easy to clean as long as you take the proper measures
  • Storage: Storage is a little difficult since the unit is rather large. On the contrary, when compared to other grills, it is quite small and convenient to store
  • Safety Tips: Grill surface gets very hot
  • Pre-series Location: Hall closet, on a high shelf
  • Pre-series Use Level: Used about five times since purchase in November 2008

electric-indoor-grill

Project Electric Indoor Grill

I just love this grill. Grilling in general is a very tasty and often times healthier method of cooking, but it can also be so inconvenient. In the middle of winter we are not going to rush outside in subzero temperatures to wait 45 minutes for our charcoal grill to fire up. But with the indoor grill, you never have to worry about the weather!

Up until recently we had successfully grilled hamburgers and chicken kabobs with this grill. One of my new recipes for this week was Pico de Gallo Chicken Quesadillas and even though the recipe actually called for frying them in a skillet, I thought it would be a fun experiment to grill them instead.

I wasn’t exactly sure of a temperature, so we started out with a safe low temperature. Eventually we got the temperature up to about 300 degrees F and that seemed like a good pace for grilling the quesadillas—the tortillas got crispy and there was plenty of time for the cheese to melt and the filling to heat up nicely inside.

electric-indoor-grill-quesadillas

When we were all done, we had 6 yummy quesadillas that were really very easy to prepare! We were able to grill them 2 at a time, but I suppose we might have been able to squeeze three on the 200-square-inch surface if we had tried. Overall, it was a great success!

The Verdict

I’m not going to beat around the bush for this one—this grill is awesome! I fully expect and look forward to using it regularly in the future and I think our current storage location is pretty decent (on a closet shelf). Now I just wish I felt this excited about all my appliances—but I suppose that’s what this series is all about. 🙂

Reader Reflection

Have you ever used an indoor electric grill?

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