Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Costco List

I have been a Costco member since 1999, the same year I became a father and yes it is no coincidence, my daughter was a Kirkland diaper baby, we had massive boxes of Q tips, tubs of powder the size of the baby herself etc., etc.

I remember my first voyage to Costco, I had to drive 25 minutes to a suburb, and then spend what felt like another 25 minutes in the lot looking for parking, to do my Costco shopping so it was a "once every 6 weeks" type of adventure. I recall being sensory overloaded with the quantity of goods, and remember they don't even sell wine here, but the deals were too good to pass up, we paid for our membership in diaper savings alone for the first two years. After daughter was out of diapers though things changed and I recall on more than one occasion wondering if it was worth the annual membership fee plus gas plus parking lot frustration . Then in 2006 everything changed when Costco opened their first ever Canadian "urban" location, not only was the store located in the downtown area, right beside a skytrain station but it marked a departure from the products in the suburban stores. The "urban" Costco stocked a wide range of organics, a vastly expanded produce section, many more upscale food items, a broad selection of good quality frozen foods and a huge section of deli foods and HRMs (home ready meals) to cater to the condo living locals. Along with the improved product line was the fact that it was now only a seven minute drive and a had MASSIVE underground parking garage that was not free but was very reasonable.

So I reupped and now I can't imagine groceries without Costco, the store is so convenient that I usually shop there every couple of weeks. Still there are pitfalls, first there is the size of packaging it's large so fresh produce is often not a good idea for a small family but there are some go-to items even in that category. You also have to be careful about impulse buying, especially when you see great prices and then 2 months later are still trying to eat your way through the 7 kilo box of cookies, just kidding (I think) and the lineups at the cash register can be brutal. I've often advocated an Costco "express" line, less than $250 worth of goods, but I don't see it happening any time soon. To me though the benefits outweigh the pitfalls, especially if you can avoid the pitfalls, and one of the biggest benefits is the quality of goods. Costco does not stock crap, their house brand Kirkland Signature is always top quality, believe me I would never have let inferior nappies touch my daughter's butt, so you can shop with confidence. They constantly upgrade their product line and the non House Brand staples they sell are always from top suppliers, though I have heard complaints that their potato chips are stale but I've never bought them so I don't know.

Price wise you have to know your pricing, it's not always the cheapest though generally it will be, and you don't have to hunt for sales, if you want baby back ribs, and there are going to be 6-8 for dinner then just go and buy a slab.  Costco is a better value for larger households but even with just two of us there are certain items that I will likely always buy at Costco, these are staple items that are always much less at Costco, they are the items that pay for the membership so here is my: 

"Costco Essentials List" 

  • Butter, Costco sells butter for roughly 60% of regular chain grocery price, apparently all dairy but we use very little milk/cream so it's not worth it for us
  • Cheese, again it's not close roughly 60-70% of RCG (regular chain grocery) with a broad selection and excellent quality, I'm not talking about picking up your post dinner cheese plate stuff here, leave that to "Les Amis", but for sandwich cheese, Balderson's cheddar and good quality Romano for pasta etc. the big box can't be beat
  • Olive Oil - Kirkland Signature Organic EVOO is just great olive oil at a price that is 30-40% less than anything comparable on the market
  • Frozen fruit, both regular and organic, great for when I feel up to smoothies plus excellent for baking
  • Frozen fish, we eat fish generally twice a week, Costco carries a broad selection of frozen wild fish, often line caught, at prices that are cheaper than anyone else. I currently have  Yellowfin Tuna and Barramundi in my freezer that I would not generally be able to afford.
  • Cucumbers, 3 pack of English cukes so not unmanageable, always good quality at a regular price that pretty much is the same as RCG sale price
  • Peanut Butter, okay it's a big package, 2*1kg jars, but it's all natural, unsalted and organic plus we eat lots of Peanut Butter and the price is less than 1/2 of what you would pay for a similar product.
  • Nutella - daughter's one true love. Again mere mortals might find the package size daunting but it's a laugher for us and 1/2 price
  • "Happy Planet" Smoothies - it's a convenience factor, we could, and do, make our own but some mornings having an organic smoothie in a bottle in the fridge is just good sense, and 2*1L for $7 is too good to pass up
  • Stuffed Pasta, they stock a wide variety, it's all good, much of it is organic and it's 1/2 the price of anywhere else plus the selection is better. I just bring home the massive package and parcel it out into one meal portion sizes and freeze them.
  • Brita water filters - 25-30% cheaper than anywhere else
  • Stoned Wheat thins - again, not for everyone 'cause it's a huge package but we eat lots and they are 1/2 RCG price
  • Bacon - again, big package but c'mon ............ it's BACON
  • Rotisserie Chicken - like the smoothie it's a bit of a cheat but the Costco birds are big, perfectly cooked and much cheaper than anywhere else. Particularly in winter I will grab one bring it home and strip the meat, having the roast chicken for one meal with enough left for at least one more meal plus a couple of sandwiches plus the carcass for stock. Once again it's real value is the quality, not just the price.
I'm sure there are some others but those items alone make me a Costco member, toss in the fact that unlike Walmart or Target Costco actually pay their staff good wages and provides excellent benefits and it's an easy choice.

Plus don't get me started on the electronics prices, thankfully I can't afford any new toys so I don't even wander down that aisle anymore. Anyway, leave me a comment on what your Costco essentials are, maybe I need to expand my list.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Orzo Salad

First off let me say that I love orzo, the little grain shaped pasta that got it's start mostly in soups and then graduated to other usage. The name actually means "barley" in Italian and it is also sometimes referred as risoni which translates to "big rice".  I cook it like regular pasta but apparently it can be prepared in a similar manner as risotto, sauteed then slow cooked in liquid in which case the finished dish is called orzatto, I will likely give this a try in the winter.

Orzo is quick, around eight minutes to al dente, versatile and holds well which is always an asset. For years I used it as a side dish, just tossed with some butter, cheese and some herb like basil or Italian parsley, as an addition to soups and of course in pasta salads. Now pasta salads have a bit of a bad reputation in the foodie world for some reason but in the summer I like them because I can make a large batch and use it a couple of times during the week without heating up the house. I also do this with potato salad, Greek salad and coleslaw, without dressing the last two, so that I can just quickly cook some protein and dinner can be ready in fifteen minutes or so.

We are off today for a combined family father's day BBQ, along with watching the Canadian women's soccer play their round of 16 match against Switzerland, at friend's home and I volunteered to bring starch. We are having leg of lamb as the main so I thought "Hey, let's make an orzo salad" because to me orzo has always been "Greek pasta", though I'm not sure why except it is often found in Greek restaurants here in Vancouver baked with lamb in tomato sauce, a dish known as youvetsi. I woke up this morning and looked at what I had to make the salad, went to work and came up with something I thought would work based on what I had in house, plus the fact that some allergies/picky eaters meant I couldn't use nuts or tomatoes, two items I would normally use in an orzo salad. Also I knew there was going to be a Greek salad on the menu so I wanted to eliminate olives and feta and go easy on the peppers, challenge accepted.

I cooked the orzo al dente and then tossed it still hot with goat cheese and a lemony vinaigrette, the standard vinaigrette ratio is three parts oil to one part vinegar but I figured the creaminess of the orzo and goat cheese needed more citrus so I made a large batch of vinaigrette at 3:1 and then took 1/2 cup and added the juice of one lemon, whisked it and tossed the still hot orzo/cheese combo in the vinaigrette. Meanwhile I chopped a head of broccoli into bite size pieces and tossed it with a chopped red pepper, four cloves of finely sliced garlic, salt and pepper and then drizzled it with olive oil and roasted for 12 minutes at 425 degrees. When the broccoli/pepper combo was done I tossed it with the orzo along with some chopped scallion and minced Italian parsley and left it on the counter.

Twenty minutes later I went back to taste and it was amazing, the flavours worked so well, the creamy pasta/cheese with the raw scallion/parsley and the earthy taste of the roasted veg and garlic. This is definitely a keeper, served room temperature is better than chilled so if you make ahead give yourself time to let the salad warm up, better still make it an hour before dinner.

Anyway, here's the recipe, remember cooking is art so measurements are as close as I remember but not 100% accurate.

New Orzo Salad

  • 500 grams Orzo
  • 100 grams goat cheese
  • 1/2 cup vinaigrette (3:1 oil:vinegar, a touch of Dijon and salt whisked)
  • juice of one lemon
  • one big head of broccoli, cut into florets, stem cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1 red pepper, bite sized pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced very thin
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallion, green part only
  • 1/4 cup Italian parsley, minced 
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • some olive oil
Preheat oven to 425 degrees

Add the juice of one lemon to vinaigrette and whisk.

Cook orzo in a large pot of boiling water until al dente, taste at about 7 minutes and expect it to take about 8, drain pasta and toss with goat cheese and vinaigrette. It's always important to check pasta while cooking it, the times are just general estimates

Toss the garlic, red pepper and broccoli in enough olive oil to coat, don't drown it, and add salt and pepper to taste. Spread the mixture on a baking sheet and cook for 10-12 minutes in the 425 oven, stirring once or twice. The broccoli should be browned aroud the edges and the garlic browned but not burnt.

Toss roasted veg, parsley and scallions with pasta and let sit for 30-60 minutes to reach room temperature and serve. If you make ahead refrigerate and then take it out 60 minutes before service to allow it to come to room temperature.

I have a little bit of this reserved so I can try it for lunch with leftover grilled chicken some time this week, I have a good feeling about it.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

North of the 49th

It is 9:33pm as I write this.

It is still light enough outside that I just came in from reading on the front porch without the assistance of any artificial light.

I know I'll hate it in December when it's dark at 4pm, but right now it's awesome.