Bented and Dented

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Lisa Parsley
Sunday, May 27, 2012

A three day weekend is upon us and that means (for us anyway) a grilling extravaganza. We have planned no less than 3 meals revolving around the grill, culminating in an effort to cook the world’s most perfect steak. We are going simple, just the beef and a big tossed salad. The salad is the biggest problem because I have to decide how to dress it. I now have so many options at my fingertips that I’m like a kid with an old fashioned Christmas catalog and a bookmark on every page.

Here’s the story.

Upon the advice of a friend, I recently went to one of those “Bent and Dented” grocery stores—you know the ones that have out of date or damaged goods that are sold at a greatly reduced price. I had never been in one before, and, like most people I’m sure, had a somewhat cautious view of that type of establishment. I mean, I don’t even like to sniff my milk past the sell-by date.

But, in a previous blog about cleaning out my mom’s cupboards, someone had berated me a bit for donating older canned goods to a food pantry. Something along the lines of “Think of the children you are poisoning with your toxic canned goods.” At least that’s the way I remember it…

(For the record, none of my mom’s donated stuff was expired; she just didn’t need to move seventeen cans of green beans--that type of thing.)

Anyway, on that same post, another reader had wrote in that canned goods are perfectly fine past their stamped date, so long as the can is not compromised and opened to air. They just may lose a bit of flavor or perhaps texture, but are perfectly edible. So I decided to get past my squeamishness and check out the “Dented Can Store”. (I’m not going to endorse a particular store. If you want to do so, please write with your experience.)

I have to say, there were bargains to be had. Not just canned goods, but dry goods such as pasta and rice and also personal products (does shampoo and toothpaste really have an expiration date?) There was a vast selection of good quality, name brand canned goods, with slightly to more than slightly expired dates. And slight to more than slight dents. I’m a big advocate of fresh fruits and vegetables, but I think such a store is a good option for a family on a very tight food budget. I could envision a lot of meal ideas on those shelves for very little money.

I personally scored with their generous selection of vinegars and olive oils. I mean, vinegar is meant to sit around and age, isn’t It? So, I had no qualms about ignoring the expired sell-by date. I filled my cart with several 75 cent bottles of balsamic, malt, rice wine, red wine, lemon flavored, herb infused, pomegranate, blackberry and chili laden vinegars. Score! I have salad dressing fixings for well into next year and saved a ton of money.

The olive oils were also a bargain. I cook pretty much exclusively with them (unless a recipe calls for a flavorless oil and we go with canola). I bought about a half dozen bottles, which are now sitting on the shelves of my cool dark pantry below my basement stairs until needed. I’ve opened the first one and am pleased to report a great tasting EVOO, no rancidness or funky taste detected.

The salad maker in me is very pleased. The bargain hunter in me is elated. But now I have to figure out which one to use. So many choices, so few salads…

Do you have an experience with this type of store? Do you agree with me that as long as you are a careful consumer, there are bargains to be had? Have a great and safe Memorial day!

Basic Viniagrette

Adapted very little from Mark Bittman’s recipe from the NY Times

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons or more good vinegar (whatever you like—I’ve been using balsamic lately)

Salt and black pepper to taste

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 large shallot (about 1 ounce), peeled and diced

  1. Combine all ingredients but the shallot in a blender and turn the machine on for about 30 seconds until a creamy emulsion forms. [Note: this doesn’t work very well in a food processor—not enough volume. You can also just whisk it by hand if you chop the shallot very fine.] Taste and add more vinegar a teaspoon or two at a time, until the balance tastes right to you.

  2. Add the shallot, and turn the machine on and off a few times until the shallot is minced within the dressing. Taste, adjust seasoning and serve. Keeps for a few days refrigerated but bring back to room temperature and whisk briefly before using.

Light Asian Flavors Dressing

2 medium sized carrots, peeled and cut in chunks (To make it even easier, I use about a cup of baby carrots-already peeled)

1 (1 1/2 to 2 inch) piece fresh ginger root, peeled and grated fine

1 Tbsp soy sauce

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

1/4 cup orange juice

1 ½ Tbsp peanut oil

1 tsp dark sesame oil

  1. Combine all ingredients except for oils in a blender. Blend until carrots and ginger are pureed.

  2. Add the oils and pulse to combine. Refrigerate. Keeps for about a week.

Last updated: 10:46 am Wednesday, August 28, 2013

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