Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Things I love: Bulk Barn

This will probably make me sound like a bit of a dork, but few things in day to day life make me as excited as having a reason to go to Bulk Barn. It's a store that basically has everything you could think of, from nuts to beans to soup base and muffin mix, for sale in bulk bins. You can buy as much or as little as you like... you don't have to buy a giant jar of ground cinnamon when all you need is a little bit, and you don't have to buy half a dozen small boxes of baking soda when what you want it a large tub of it.

I have a good time just wandering the aisles, thinking of all the things I could do with all of the various ingredients. Ground flax seed, turbinado sugar, blanched almonds or adzuki beans. Hee! Don't get me started on all the herbs and spices! I buy my steel-cut oatmeal here, which I have for breakfast every morning. Last time I got a huge bag of the stuff for less than $2, woot! B was not nearly as excited by this as I was, oddly enough ;)

Granted, this isn't the place to go when you want to be assured that what you're buying is as fresh as possible. I'm sure the stock is rotated often, possibly more often than what you can get at the grocery store, but still. I don't mind that detail so much though because I can buy relatively small amounts, especially of the spices, that will ensure I get through it all in a short period of time and can go back for more. Buying a jar at the grocery store usually means I get more than I can use before it turns to nicely scented dust in my cupboard.

As an aside.... let's talk about herbs and spices for a second. (Why do I feel like the Colonel every time I write 'herbs and spices'?) The basic rule of thumb is to use them within three months. Sadly, I must admit I have a few jars of ground something or other in the cupboard that has moved with me more times than I can count. My relationship with a few of these spices is longer than my relationship with B... and that's not good. If you have a bulk store like this near by, I highly recommend going there for your spices. It will save you wasted time and wasted food.

If you don't already have an established spice rack, start simple... get a few of the most commonly used items like basil, paprika, cinnamon, etc. After a while you'll realize what ones you constantly go through and what ones are just languishing in your pantry. This varies based on your tastes, as well as your cooking habits. Personally, I often reach for things like ground cumin, coriander, various peppers and chilies, as well as Montreal steak spice, so keep those stocked, while I can get away with 'Italian seasoning' blends instead of having individual jars of basil, oregano and the like.

How you store your stash is surprisingly important, too. I remember various tins and jars of spices in the cabinet when I was young that were still there when I moved off to college. Best are dark or opaque glass containers or tight-sealing metal tins. Keep them away from humidity, light and heat, as any of these factors will speed your spices on to a dusty, flavorless death. If your kitchen is small like mine is, you might not have a lot of choice as to where you store them, but do your best to avoid those things and it will extend the shelf life of your herbs and spices.

Anyway... spices or otherwise, Bulk Barn is worth a trip if you've got one near you. You can get as much or as little as you like, and it's a great place to go for unusual ingredients you want to experiment with, or when you just need a bit of something for a recipe. With their prices, it's also a great place to get a lot of something... I get my bouillon cubes, dried beans, nuts, grains even pasta there and it's much less expensive. You just need to have something to store it all in once you get it home, luckily they sell storage containers too!

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