Category Archives: bargains

Simple Roasted Tomatoes

Pretty much every grocery store has a reduced-for-quick-sale section. Ever wonder what to do with large quantities of over-ripe produce like these tomatoes I bought for under three dollars?

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Whenever I see decent reduced-price tomatoes, I feel compelled to try to replicate my friend Meetal’s ridiculously delicious roasted tomatoes. I’ve never quite matched her results, but I keep trying.

The first time I tasted them was a couple years ago when Meetal, our sisters, and I went to a big flea market and Meetal volunteered to bring lunch. She sliced a loaf of ciabatta bread into two layers, pulled out some of the bread-y bits to make more space for filling and loaded it up with roasted tomatoes, arugula, and fresh mozzarella. She cut the overflowing loaf into four sections and individually wrapped them for us to enjoy while wandering through the flea market.

I’m not sure if it was our reaction to how delicious the sandwiches were, or just how good they looked, but a couple passersby asked where we bought them. Boy, were they disappointed to found out Meetal made the sandwiches!

Separately, each ingredient was good. Combined, they were even better. But the richness of the roasted tomatoes was by far the star ingredient.

That day, Meetal told me how she slow roasts the tomatoes and finishes them off by adding fresh basil and a dash of balsamic vinegar.

I can never remember the specifics of her recipe, so if I’m wrong I hope she’ll chime in and correct me. (Then again, she might not want any of us knowing her secret for perfect roasted tomatoes.) The truth is, as long as you slow roast the tomatoes it’s hard to go wrong.

I started by washing the tomatoes and removing any bad spots. Then I splashed some olive oil in the bottom of two shallow baking pans. I cut the tomatoes into large chunks and tossed in a few whole, peeled, cloves of garlic and a few chunks of onion. (One time I put in a little red bell pepper, too, which lent a nice hint of sweetness.)

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Although I couldn’t remember the temperature Meetal uses, I knew it was low. So I set the oven at 300F degrees.

The hard part comes next. Waiting. Because these are slow roasted, expect to wait at least five or six hours before it even starts to look like this:

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It’s more than worth the wait, though, since the flavor intensifies as the moisture evaporates and the ingredients caramelize.

At this point, you can use a fork to peel off and pick out tomato skins if you like. I picked some of the larger skins out then used a potato masher to work the mixture into a chunky sauce.

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Next I added some basil (sadly it was dried, not fresh), a splash or two of balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.

If you don’t like chunky sauce, let it cool a bit and pop it into a food processor or use an immersion blender to achieve the consistency you prefer.

While I didn’t have ciabatta bread, fresh mozzarella, or arugula on hand, I had some gnocchi in the freezer so I made this:

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There’s still a lot of roasted tomatoes leftover, so I might yet make the sandwiches. You can uses this sauce with almost any pasta or just dip some nice rustic bread in and enjoy. It would probably make a great pizza sauce, too.

Have you ever bought bulk quantities of over-ripe produce? What did you make with it?

 

 

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For the Love of Remnants

I can sew well enough to make simple things with straight lines, and do a little fabric piecing (it’s like puzzles with fabric!), but sewing isn’t really my thing. Yet when I walk into a fabric store, I usually head straight for remnants.

Remnants are great for quick projects. You can get small pieces of expensive fabric for a tiny fraction of the original price. Good drapery and upholstery fabric can cost anywhere from $15 to $50 a yard, maybe more, but remnants of the same fabric might only be $5 per yard. I happened to stop in on a day when the $5 drapery and upholstery fabric remnants were on sale for $4 per yard. I spotted this thick, textured fabric in colors that work with my hodgepodge of a living room:

It was three-eights of a yard – exactly wide enough for a pillow form I’ve wanted to recover for a while now. I knew I could get a smaller pillow out of the remainder, too.

Total cost of fabric: $1.50 (plus 12¢ sales tax).

I only had to make one cut – I folded the fabric right sides together, ensured I had enough to cover the pillow form and allow about half an inch for seams, then made a straight cut. I pinned the edges, leaving a gap to turn it right side out and insert the pillow form.

See the white pins? I should have left a little more space to fit the pillow form in. I had to pull out a few stitches to get it in.

For a cleaner look, I sewed along the folded edge, too. Once it was turned right side out and the pillow form was in place, I folded the raw edges in and hand stitched the opening closed.

Once that pillow was made, I folded the small remaining piece – the remnant of the remnant – to see if I wanted a long, thin pillow or a fatter rectangle. I chose the fatter rectangle and followed the same procedure as the first pillow, only filling it with fiberfill (leftover from the pink sock monkeys) instead of a pillow form.

I might add some of those silky pre-made tassels at a later date, but I think my $1.50 was pretty well spent.

I wish you could feel the texture. I love my new pillows. Imagine what I could have done with a full yard of that fabric!

Similar deals can be found in the remnant bins of your local fabric store, so why not recover a tired old throw pillow or two?

What good bargains have you found lately?

Spools on Display

While my sister and our friends bought lots of little things at The Pec Thing flea market this weekend, I only found one thing I couldn’t live without:

The thread was included, too!

Not only do I love the rich patina of the aged wood, but it’s an item that makes you say, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

It’s basically a piece of varnished wood with 24 evenly-spaced small-headed nails, plus one hole drilled at the top for hanging. (There’s also a larger nail at the bottom – not quite sure what that’s for.)

Do you have any sewers on your gift-giving list? Why not make them their own decorative spool holders? You could customize them in any shapes or sizes you like.

You know why I love flea markets? My big purchase was only $3. The thread that came with it is worth more than that!

What great deals have you found at flea markets lately?

A Blooming Bargain

Not every house has window boxes, so if you’re lucky enough to have window boxes you really ought to use them. Don’t you think there’s something sad about empty window boxes during the growing season?

Until the other day mine were sad and empty, but that’s because I’m slowly slogging away at painting the exterior trim (whenever weather and time allow) and wanted to paint the window boxes, too.

For some reason, the brackets supporting the boxes were painted brown to match the siding, so while I had the paint out I painted the brackets white, too. I think it makes the window boxes stand out a bit more. (This is when I wish I’d thought to take before & after shots.)

It was also time to replace most of the potting mix in the boxes (I only remove about 2/3 of the soil since the old dry dirt and bits of broken clay pots help with drainage), so I bought two 16-qt bags of potting mix at $4.99 each along with flowers for the boxes and three flower pots:

  • 3 white Geraniums – 88¢ each
  • 1 flat (half flat?) of 12 plum-ish Petunias – $7.99
  • 2 6-packs of white Impatiens – $1.58 each
  • 2 6-packs of mixed Portulaca – $1.58 each

Last year the portulaca did really well in the gorgeous strawberry jars my brother’s family gave  me, but I’m down to one now, so I moved that to side of the porch that gets the afternoon sun. I put the rest of the portulaca and geraniums in terracotta pots and set those on each side of the stoop where the strawberry jars were last summer. Here’s the strawberry jar, but the other pots look scraggly so no photo of those until they fill in:

Hey – check out how great Mark’s new porch rail looks with a couple coats of brown paint!

Best part of all? With a $15 store rebate on the paint and $9.17 worth of unused, unopened merchandise I returned, the grand total – tax and all – was just $3.74.  Don’t you love a bargain like that?

If  you’re lucky enough to have window boxes, too, what did you plant in yours this year? If not, what are some of your favorite summer flowers?

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