When the days shorten and the temperatures begin to drop, I think about a few things: wearing tights, turning on the seat warmers in my grocery getter, and making soup. My only problem with making soups, as previously written, is I can’t make a small batch. The monthly Chicago Food Swap has helped me distribute some of that extra soup, but how do I handle a last minute soup craving during the workweek?  That’s when Frontier Soups come to the rescue!

Frontier Soups are a family based business located in Waukegan and offer a variety of soups with state and regional themes. They also offer heartier meals, dips and other items, all for sale on their website, online retailers and locally at Sunset Foods, Jewel and Whole Foods. They were introducing their new gluten-free West Coast Kale & Quinoa Vegetable Soup, and asked that I give it a try.  I loved seeing all the ingredients of the soup in a clear pouch – filled with good-for-you stuff. I needed to add a can of tomatoes (which I bought on sale at HarvesTime Foods), a butternut squash (picked up an organic one for $1.50 at Amish Farmers) and some vegetable broth.

Grocery Gal Frontier Soup Kale & Quinoa SoupThey suggested cooking the butternut squash first in a microwave. I live in a microwave-free home, so I cooked it the old fashioned way – I just simmered the squash in the broth first for 10 minutes and then added the rest of the ingredients.

Grocery Gal Frontier Soup West Coast Kale SoupIn about 30 minutes I had a great tasting, super healthy soup for dinner! One package serves 4-6 people, so I had some leftovers which I froze in jars for lunch, and I was going to bring one jar to a friend who was a little under the weather.

Why do I freeze my soups if it takes a day to defrost? Probably because I can’t can them. Canning is something I want to try, but I’m totally intimidated by it. I pour my hot soup into glass jars and the heat does a good job of almost sealing it, but I know it needs to be frozen to stay fresh. I’d love to show up to the Chicago Food Swap with a variety of soups I made and canned, but as close as I can get to that (right now) is filling my soups in a Ball mason jar and telling people to freeze or eat it within 2 days.

Since the soup was a for a friend and not for my lunch, I felt sheepish pouring it into an old salsa jar. I felt I had to class it up a notch with by putting it in a beautiful Ball Heritage Collection jar.

Grocery Gal Ball Hertiage JarWhat is the Ball Heritage Collection, you ask? They’re limited edition jars from Ball which celebrate 100 years of mason jar designs by the Ball brothers. They’re the same quality you know and love from Ball, but in a vintage style and wonderful colors. They first were launched in 2013 with the blue “Perfect Mason” jar, which I need to order for when my kitchen is redone one day. I’d love to have quart size jars on display filled with my different gluten-free flours, but I didn’t find out about them until the larger jars were sold out. I guess I’ll have to search eBay for those. 2014’s spring green jar is called “Perfection” which goes well with Grocery Gal’s current website colors, I might add! I loved the raised letters and the period-correct reproduction of “PERFECTION” on the front of the jar.  I can’t wait to see what they launch for 2015 – I’m wondering if it will be yellow/amber/red colored glass?

Grocery Gal Ball Perfection American Heritage Mason JarIn the end, I brought my friend a delicious, hearty soup that took little effort to make in a beautiful vessel. She loved it, so I hope she’ll return the favor by trying a different Frontier Soup (I’m hoping Illinois Prairie Corn Chowder or New Mexico Mesa Spicy Fiesta Soup Mix) and bringing me a batch in the same jar!

Frontier Soups. Locally made in Waukegan, Illinois.

Ball Heritage Collection.

Dinner has always been a special occasion in my family. It’s almost always served at the dining room table with records being played in the background. It helps us unwind from our day, and we’re always cooking something from scratch.

The biggest challenge in cooking for us, as well as many families, is time. I leave the house at 6:45 and  don’t get home until after 5:30. Then it’s a hustle to think of what to cook, make it, serve it, clean it up and then the next thing you know it’s 8pm and I’m haven’t had a chance to sit (other than shoveling food in my face). I’ve found some time savings with delivered meals like Home Chef, but that’s a luxury we can’t always rely on.

With the onset of fall, I want something warm, delicious and ready to eat when I come home. This way, I can enjoy family time outside of the kitchen. Slow cookers are a great solution for people with schedules like mine. The only reason why I didn’t rely on a slower cooker more often was because mine was 30+ years old. While it worked like a charm, I would be out of house longer than the 4-6 or 6-8 hours most recipes called for.  Then I found Hamilton Beach’s Set & Forget It 6 quart slow cooker, with its programmable timer and meat thermometer that put me in slow cooker heaven!

Hamilton Beach Set & Forget Slow Cooker Grocery GalMy favorite type of food is Indian, and I’ve had a Indian slow-cooker cookbook for years that was just collecting dust on my shelf. Why? Every recipe needed only 4-6 hours which wasn’t going to work with my schedule. Yeah, I could’ve bought a timer… and at one point I did, but I couldn’t figure out how to work it! I didn’t want to arrive from work one day to see my home burned to the ground, so the cookbook remained on the shelf.

The first recipe I tried with my Set & Forget slow cooker (mind you, I’ve used this three times in 10 days – that’s how much I love it!), was a traditional yellow dal recipe. I put all the items in the cooker, used the locking mechanism to keep the heat in and cover in place. I’m not one to read the instruction manual, but I easily figured out how to program the slow cooker. In addition to the timer, this slow cooker offered low, medium and high settings, which was a nice change from my low/high settings. Five hours later and wa-la! Perfect dal for dinner. I now have a bunch of Indian slow cooker recipes earmarked to make over the next few weeks.

Hamilton Beach Set & Forget Slow Cooker Grocery GalThe locking mechanism on the Set & Forget (best name ever) slow cooker helps keep the heat in, so the food inside seem to self-baste. If your recipe calls for water or broth, I’d recommend using half of  what they recommend; you’ll have a much thicker soup/gravy/sauce/what-have-you.

Two days later, I satisfied my carnitas tooth (yes, I do have one), with Rick Bayless’ Garlickly Carnitas Slow Cook Sauce and some pork shoulder. Married to a vegetarian, I whipped up some tofu taco meat for him, and we were ready for dinner in about 20 minutes. Perfect after a long day. I loved the smell of the carnitas cooking when I came home, but my husband, said vegetarian, wasn’t a fan of the pork goodness wafting throughout the house.

Hamilton Beach Set & Forget Slow CookerTonight’s meal (counting down the hours till I get to try it), uses rump roast I had in the freezer. I didn’t know how to cook it, so I went to the trusty interweb for some ideas. The website PaleOMG had a great recipe which featured mushrooms, onions and garlic. I prepared everything in about 15 minutes before I got into the shower.

Hamilton Beach Set & Forget Slow CookerAs I mentioned, my husband doesn’t eat meat, so I “Set & Forgot” about it on our back porch this morning to minimize the meat smells. I wanted to use the meat probe to gauge when to turn the slow cooker off, but I didn’t know what temperature I needed the meat to be. Maybe if I had read the instruction manual I could’ve found the answer (!), but I needed to get into the shower! Instead, I set it for 7 hours on low and am confident there will be a delicious dinner waiting for me at home.

Hamilton Beach Set & Forget Slow CookerWith school starting, daylight fading and the temperatures dropping, I cannot think of a better way to be inspired to cook a delicious, healthy meal for my family than with Hamilton Beach’s Set & Forget Slow Cooker. The 6 quart size is big enough for any large family and perfect for my small family of three. I love this product so much, I’ll be giving one Hamilton Beach Set & Forget slow cooker to one lucky Grocery Gal reader! To enter, leave a comment saying what you would want to make with your Hamilton Beach slow cooker. Get two entries if you attach a recipe/link to recipe! Contest is open until October 15, 2014. One entry per email.

Hamilton Beach Set & Forget 6 Qt. Programmable Slow Cooker with Spoon/Lid. MSRP $59.99



As I’ve written before, I love to host and cook for friends. We had an impromptu brunch with a friend who was visiting Chicago for the weekend. It was last minute, so I had to come up with whatever I had in the house.

Grocery Gal La Criolla

Spanish tortilla adapted from La Criolla’s recipe

We had enough potatoes and eggs to whip up our go-to brunch recipe: Spanish Tortilla. My husband follows an authentic recipe from friends in Barcelona, and I’ve been adapting mine from a spice-filled recipe from La Criolla’s website. While his thinks it’s tortilla blasphemy to add garlic and spices, I love it. So we created a scenario that was the best of both worlds: my husband’s authentic one, my spice filled one, and our friend could try both. I had gotten some garlic tops from Amish Farmers the previous Friday and I added those to my tortilla. I even cut the potatoes two different ways so there was not questioning which tortilla was which.

Grocery Gal LaCriolla spice

Her and His spanish tortilla components

Along with two types of Spanish tortilla we also had manchego cheese, a staple in the Grocery Gal household. Unfortunately we were out of Cava (my stash from Vin Chicago had been exhausted), so we couldn’t make our standard brunch drink of Cava with apricot nectar. It seemed as good of a time as any to continue our Spanish theme and open up a box of Beso del Sol Sangria. Sangria for brunch? Why not!

Beso del Sol Grocery gal Caputo's

Beso Del Sol Sangria – 3 liters in one handy box

I am usually skeptical of premixed drinks. I found Beso Del Sol at Caputo’s, and after reading that it was imported from Spain, I thought I’d give it a try. My original intentions were to bring the sangria to a barbecue I was going to later that day, but with 3 liters hidden in one handy box, I thought it was ok to test out a few glasses in advance.

We drank the sangria straight, with no fruit. The only reason the drink was sans fruit was I couldn’t  remember what type of fruits to put in the drink. Apples, yes… but I’d have to go downstairs and get some out of the fridge. Oranges, oh yeah! But I didn’t have any in the house. Had they recommended fruits to add on the box, I would’ve bought them when I bought the sangria. Fortunately the sangria was perfect on it’s own – it didn’t need any fruits.

What I loved about it was it wasn’t too sweet. It had a slight sweetness to it, but nothing so sweet that you couldn’t drink more than one glass.

So round one of entertaining with Beso Del Sol’s sangria was a success. How would it be a few hours later at a summer barbecue? I’d have to wait and see.

There were beverages a plenty at the barbecue, but I seemed to be the only one enjoying the sangria. It had cute, bright packaging – but no takers. Was it the boxed wine stigma? Perhaps. Had I transferred it from a box to a pitcher filled with fruits, it might’ve sparked more interest. It wasn’t until the hostess brought the box and some glasses to a table of friends that everyone tried the Beso Del Sol, and subsequently fell in love with it, too. They agreed with me – it wasn’t too sweet and was refreshing on a warm summer day. They couldn’t believe that tiny box held 3 liters of tasty goodness, and was only $19! Fortunately, all my friends have an outpost of Caputo’s near their homes or work, and I’m pretty confident they’ll be picking up a box or two real soon: one for brunch and one for their next barbecue!

Beso Del Sol Sangria. I bought mine at Angelo Caputo’s in Elmwood Park.


I have a really old hand mixer. It still functions, but sometimes thick batters slow the motor down. Hamilton Beach offers the Soft Scrape 300 watt hand held mixer, so I thought I’d give that a try. I had recently purchased the Healthy Gluten-Free Life cookbook, stocked up on a ton of different gluten-free flours at Kamdar Plaza, and wanted to find out how a gluten-free banana bread would taste. The recipe was also dairy free, so I thought this might be a thicker batter and as good of a recipe as any to test out that 300 watts of power in the Soft Scrape hand mixer.

Grocery Gal Hamilton Beach 62637 mixer

Starting to mix the wet ingredients with the dry ones

I plugged the mixer in, and it immediately turned on. The thumb switch to the 6 levels of speeds engages rather quickly. I wish there was a type of safety between off and “1.” Fortunately, the ingredients didn’t go flying, but I knew I had to keep that in mind in the future.  I often cook with my stepson, who absolutely loves being in charge of the hand mixer, but with the ease of this mixer turning on we would have to exercise some caution.

Hamilton beach 62637 blender reviewThe ergonomics of the hand mixer were a little off. My thumb kept on hitting the “boost” button, which I didn’t intend to do. The mixer actually doesn’t need the boost button. There’s so much power, I rarely had to go above 3. It definitely is a powerhouse, but it needs a better way to harness it. My four different types of flour, starches, applesauce, coconut oil and other ingredients mixed together in a snap.Hamilton Beach 62637 product reviewThe mixer features a new soft-scrape beater which I tried for another recipe, but I prefer the traditional stainless beaters that comes with it. The single whisk will be a great piece when making whipped cream, too.

One of the things I really liked about the Soft Scrape 6 speed hand mixer was the case that keep everything organized in one place. My current hand mixer is in a pantry while the beaters are in a drawer. This give the mixer and nice flat edge to stand up with all the accessories contained in one place. How did the gluten-free treats taste? Pretty great; I’ll definitely be trying more recipes from the Healthy GF Life!

Hamilton Beach Soft scrape review 62637

End results with my mixer in one nice neat package.

Hamilton Beach Soft Scrape 6 Speed Mixer. MSRP $34.99

There’s something super deluxe about French cookware. Is it the colorful enameled cast iron? The cute fluted cruets? Its iconic style? Lids so heavy that you could hospitalize an intruder with? Maybe it’s one or maybe it’s all those reasons. I have a few pieces by two well-known brands I either purchased on sale or were given to me as a gift. I love using them, but they’re so large and heavy that it’s really limited to a big batch of chili, soup or stew.

At the International Home & Housewares show I came across Revol, a French Cookware company, who has taken the traditional French cookware style and turned it on it’s ear. What drew me in were their sleek and modern white Revolution cocottes with bright colored lids. When I mentally prepared myself to hoist up one of those heavy lids, I was surprised at how light its was. How’s that? It’s ceramic!

Grocery Gal Revol French Cookware chicago

Image courtesy of Revol

Revol creates cookware that’s stylish, lightweight and so versatile. My pantry has been filled with CorningWare for years; it’s a powerhouse for baking, serving and freezing, but not for stove top cooking. Nor is modern day CorningWare super stylish. Revol takes that functionality to another level – it can be used on all heating surfaces (including induction!), is easy to clean, and yes, I’ll type it again, super stylish.

Revol Cookware Grocery Gal Chicago

Image courtesy of Revol

One thing I’m guilty of, though, is never reading directions. I had a lovely small Revol la cocotte, so lightweight and the perfect size for my small family. I first time I used it was to make pierogi. I boiled the potatoes, sautéed the onions and finally par-boiled the pierogis before their final sauté. The piece cleaned up after it soaked for a bit. There were some dark spots on the base from my1948 Universal Marlboro gas stove that needed to be scrubbed out with a scrubby pad.

Revol Grocery Gal

Oops -that was a little too hot

For something that was touted as so easy to clean, why did I have to soak it? Well, that’s when I dug out the paperwork that came with la cocotte. It was there, right in front of me (in fact, it was in French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and Korean), that Revol porcelain cookware should not be use with full heat, and should also use the same gradual rise in temperature as my other French cookware. Luckily I had only made that mistake during my first time using it, and now I know how to use it correctly. I just have to be patient while cooking!

Grocery Gal Revol

Fancy French cookware in my 1960 Winnebago trailer

I love Revol’s small size, the stylish look, it’s light weight and attractive price (for the small size). Online you can find my tiny cocotte at Chef’s Catalog, and larger versions there and at Sur La Table. I love being able to bring a meal from the stove to the dining room table in something pleasant to look at without worrying that I might throw out my back.  Bonus points for it not having a large handle sticking out of it, either. It’s perfect for everyday use, and we even took it camping with us – you just need to remember to cook slowly and at a low temperature.

Revol Porcelaine.



As a first generation American from European parents, there was always chocolates in my house. They were usually from Austria, Switzerland or Germany and unless they were Edelbitter, better known as dark chocolate, I hated it. My mom grew up in the same part of Austria where Milka hails from. Despite their cute purple and white cows and packaging geared toward kids, I never liked their chocolate. How could a child not love such delicious gifts from the cocoa gods? The milk chocolate was too creamy and the everything tasted like nougat, aka hazelnuts, to me. Yuck.

Fast forward many years, and now dark chocolate is in vogue with it’s health benefits being high in antioxidants all while reducing the risk of heart attacks. Who knew Grocery Gal was so ahead of the game? While I enjoy picking up an occasional bar of dark chocolate at Aldi or any European-style markets I shop at, I recently came across a brand that stopped me in my tracks.

I was unable to attend the Sweets and Snacks Expo in Chicago this year because it feel during the work week, but Marich Premium Chocolates out of California offered to send me some samples. It’s a second generation business of candy makers, and while they don’t offer your traditional box of chocolates where you bite into something and hope you like it, they offer chocolate covered items, which means you know exactly what you’re getting into. The box arrived and I felt like it was my birthday!

Marich Chocolate Grocery Gal packaging

Who wouldn’t love to get this in the mail?

The packaging was absolutely gorgeous. What a great gift for a client (I used to work in real estate marketing), hostess gift or just a gift for myself?

Grocery Gal Marich Premium Chocolates

Hey, that’s me!

I was floored. The attention to detail was something you don’t see nowadays. I loved seeing my name and reading a bit more about the family in their coversheet; a variety of chocolate goodness tempting me beneath the semi-transparent sheet. When I finally removed the sheet, the cocoa gods were finally smiling on me: a variety of chocolate covered almonds, cashews, sea-salt caramels and chipotle almonds…. ALL IN DARK CHOCOLATE!

Grocery gal dark chocolate marich california

dark, dark and more dark chocolate

Now, don’t worry. If you prefer milk or even white chocolate, Marich has you covered. But for so many years I’ve had to pass on deluxe chocolates from Godiva, Guylian, Lindt, hell, even Fannie Mae, because I don’t like milk chocolate.

And the taste? Wow. Most dark chocolate is considered bitter, which I love, but Marich has this decadent cocoa butter taste in every bite, which is heavenly. I started with the sea salt caramels. I skimmed the nutritional label and saw “3” and “serving” so I rationed them out three at a time. Boy, did I enjoy them! Each piece melted in my mouth and had a rich cocoa butter flavor; not the creamy, nougart-y taste I despised. I was making them last for a long time with my 3 caramels per night… until I took a closer look at the packaging.  I read, “three servings per box?!?” so I gobbled up the remaining 10 or so caramels without hesitation or guilt.

Marich offers a variety of chocolate covered fruit (cherries, strawberries, blueberries), nuts (macadamias, cashews, almonds) flavors like chipotle and coconut curry!!, caramels, toffee, and espresso beans. Not a chocolate fan? They also offer jelly beans and licorice. Their flavors are all-natural and they also offer sugar-free varieties, too. What about prices? There are tons of options under $10, including snack packs at $2.50 each. I was surprised at the pricing and will definitely use Marich as my go-to place for gift boxes.  I’ll throw in a few extra things for me, too. You could give someone a delicious gift with a good variety for under $25. Make that two gifts and a little something for you, and Marich will ship it for free (orders over $55)!

Marich Premium Chocolates. 2101 Bert Drive, Hollister, CA 95023. 800-624-7055. www.marich.com

When I went to the International Home and Housewares Show earlier this year, I made some friends at Hamilton Beach. They offer a 6 speed stand mixer and asked if I’d try out their product and give my thoughts on it. Until recently, I thought mixers were just for people with large kitchens and/or lots of storage space. It was a great gift to add to a wedding registry; something I’d want but never buy for myself.

One of the selling points for the mixer is that it has same mixing action as KitchenAid stand mixers: a 300 watt motor, but at a substantially lower price. After reading that, I immediately asked if there were attachments available for the Hamilton Beach mixer. Unfortunately the Hamilton Beach was simply a mixer.

Grocery Gal Hamilton Beach Kitchenaid mixer

Hamilton Beach vs. Kitchen Aid

Side by side, the Hamilton Beach 6 speed mixer is more compact that a KitchenAid stand mixer. It definitely has a more modern look than the iconic KitchenAid mixer. It’s lightweight, which is helpful if you need to pull it out of cabinets or off shelves.  I did prefer Hamilton Beach’s speed control in it’s dial format. It was very easy to increase or decrease the speed while the mixer was running.

I tested it out by making some Italian style crackers, ciappe, for an upcoming party. I have found mixing dough for bread-based foods a little challenging at times; you definitely don’t want to overmix the dough. The Hamilton Beach motor was impressive – it did a really nice job kneading the dough together quickly, while keeping the mixer stable. I would say the motor was the most impressive piece of the entire machine. The three mixing attachments: a beater, dough hook and a whisk were lightweight coated metal and plastic.

Grocery Gal hamilton beach  6 speed mixer review

Cracker dough

So, how did the crackers come out? Well, not well enough to share the recipe. But you can’t blame that on the Hamilton Beach mixer!

Grocery Gal Hamilton Beach Mixer review

Mixer? Check! Dough? Check! Wine? Check!

Since the Hamilton Beach 6 speed mixer is rectangular in shape, it was easy to clean and store amongst other small appliances.  However, as someone with limited kitchen space, if I’m going to get something to automate my cooking, I need it to be multifunctional. I waited until my forties to get my first KitchenAid mixer, and I know they don’t come cheap (shhh… I bought a refurbished one!). I was choosing between a Hamilton Beach and a KitchenAid stand mixer, personally, I’d hold off, sell some stuff on Craigslist to get some extra cash, and wait for a coupon to get the KitchenAid model. For people who want to throw their ingredients in a bowl, flip a switch, and then walk away, then you’ll love the Hamilton Beach 6 speed mixer. For the more experimental cooks out there, you might feel limited.

Hamilton Beach 6 Speed Mixer. $129.99 MSRP