The Lettuce Experiment and a Giveaway

THis giveaway is closed– long ago, actually. So sorry.

2 wk lettuce bowl

In anticipation of post-Superbowl guilt and regret regarding food choices and excess, I’m revisiting the whole salad-in-a-jar idea this week.  It is my number one skinny secret.

I’m also celebrating the 6-month anniversary of this blog.  Leave a comment to be eligible to win the giveaway at the end of this post.

Several commenters on the first post of this blog, Salad in a Jar, have asked questions about using other methods to preserve lettuce.  To validate my claims about why vacuum-packing lettuce is better, I did a scientific experiment right here in my very own lab kitchen.

On Sunday, January 17, I cleaned, chopped (with a regular knife–no plastic knife or hand tearing here because I don’t have time for that) and vacuum-packed Romaine lettuce fresh from the store.

Can’t be sure how fresh the lettuce in the store was and I realize it could be a factor.  Nevertheless, I pretty much ignored that fact since it is out of my control.  I always try to buy the latest date I can find–as I’m sure you do also.

In addition to the vacuum-packed lettuce, I  prepared a plastic bag full of lettuce with a paper towel to absorb moisture.  I also packed lettuce in quart jars but did not vacuum pack it–simply put the lid on.

01-18-10 lettuce Second Day

01-20-10 lettuce Fourth Day

01 22 10 lettuce

Sixth Day

01 24 10 lettuce Eighth Day

01 26 10 lettuce Tenth Day

01 28 10 lettuce Twelfth Day

1-30-10 lettuce jars Fourteenth Day

What you cannot see here is how moist the lettuce is in the vacuum-packed jars compared to the other lettuce. Which means it’s crisper.  Of course, there are no brown edges like the plastic bag lettuce and  lettuce from the unsealed jar because there is no oxygen inside a vacuum-packed jar.

Let me reiterate that ALL LETTUCE WAS STORED IN THE REFRIGERATOR for the entire two weeks.

Only Romaine lettuce was tested.  I would expect results with other types of lettuce to vary.

Observations:

1.  Up until the fourth day, there doesn’t appear to be much difference in the brownness of the edges.  However the vacuum-packed lettuce is crisper and more moist compared to the others.  Guess you’ll have to take my word for it.

2.  Unsealed, cut lettuce goes downhill after four days.

3.  If you do not cut the lettuce, the results may be different.  However, my whole reason for vacuum-packing lettuce is to make a grab-and-go salad that requires absolutely no preparation on a busy workday morning.  Therefore I have NO EXCUSE for not taking a healthy lunch–every single day.

If you have been thinking about purchasing a vacuum-pack machine and aren’t sure if you will use it, here is my advice.

1.  If you want to pack lettuce as I have shown, you ABSOLUTELY MUST have a wide-mouth lid attachment.  You cannot pack lettuce in plastic bags.

You may also use plastic canisters sold with some systems but my experience with them is bad.  They crack. Quickly.  Don’t waste your money.  Besides, the glass quart jars are cheap and you’ll want several of them.

2.  Do you regularly shop at warehouse stores?  If so, you can use it to freeze smaller portions. (Remember the plastic bags are expensive to buy.) Vacuum packed food does not turn icy like  it does in plastic wrap or regular plastic bags.

3. Do you like to seal your flour, sugar, cornmeal, pasta, rice, etc?  Quart and half gallon canning jars work well.  Again you will need the wide-mouth lid attachment.

4. Do you like to keep your leftovers? If so, this is a great way to store them in the freezer while maintaining maximum freshness. Avoid the “icies”.

To summarize, if you don’t cook much, don’t buy much food, don’t think more than one day ahead about what you will eat, and/or have no interest in storing lettuce or fresh produce longer than 3-4 days, I would not recommend a vacuum-pack machine.

If, on the other hand, you cook a lot, buy in quantity, or want to get serious about eating right even though you have a tight schedule (i.e. salad in a jar), think about  buying this handy gadget.

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If you came to this post without any prior knowledge of “Salad in a Jar”, check out my video for a quick lesson in how to do it.

Are you still with me?  If so, I am giving away a brand new vacuum pack machine from FoodSaver to celebrate the 6-month anniversary of this blog.  It will come with a wide-mouth lid attachment which is essential for packing salad in a jar.

To enter the contest, tell me your favorite kind of food to see on this blog.  It could be a specific dish or a general category such as desserts,  low-calorie food, salad ideas, quick and easy or family favorites.

Please don’t enter more than once–thank-you very much. Winner will be chosen at random.

The contest will close Thursday evening, February 11! 2010 at 10:00 CST.  Winner will be announced Friday morning February 12, 2010.

p.s.  If you are reading this in your email, please leave a comment on my actual blog–online–to be entered in the contest.

p.p.s.  This contest is sponsored only by me, Paula

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{ 116 comments… read them below or add one }

Julie Alexander February 7, 2010 at 5:45 am

I enjoy new recipes for low-calorie main dishes.

Enjoy your recipes and ideas!!!

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Susan February 7, 2010 at 6:53 am

recipes for main entrees and vegetable side dishes. Your blog is on my favorite bar.

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Nancy February 7, 2010 at 8:28 am

I wore my vac. packer out…I had one of the old ones that first came out about 12 years ago! Thanks for your ideas….I particularly enjoy family favorite recipes!

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Joanna February 7, 2010 at 8:39 am

The new Food Saver is a real improvement over the older models – glad you have one. I prefer salad ideas. Thanks so much for the basic idea, too!

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Scooter February 7, 2010 at 8:49 am

I have been doing salad-in-a-jar for 6 months now. I started when Paula started her food blog and did step by step instructions. I first became intrigued with the idea about 2 years ago when she explained it to me at a mutual friends wedding but never followed through.

I do change my actual salad up a bit. I use equal parts iceberg and romaine. I also add cilantro, scallion greens, and fresh basil. I vacuum pack all of that in jars. I grab my salad and various toppings and I always have a wonderful healthy lunch.

As for my favorite kind of food to see on the blog, I don’t think it would be a specific category. One of my favorite parts of your blog is when you introduce us to new stuff or old stuff used in a new way.

Thanks to your blog I now:
Eat fiber one cereal as a topping on my salad.
I add smoked sun-dried tomatoes to any thing that needs some extra pop.
I heat up my granola bars in the microwave.
I make chicken broth from left-over rotisserie chicken bones and then
Freeze my chicken broth in loaf pans.
I buy uncooked flour tortillas from Costco
Julienne cut sweet potato fries (Costco) Thanks for this tip!
And I add Instant Espresso Coffee by Medaglia D’oro to just about everything chocolate.

Thanks for the past 6 months!

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Sharon February 7, 2010 at 8:56 am

I am on my third foodsaver. I have worn 2 out. With having three teenagers, it really helped to repackage food and keep the freezer stocked and still have good quality after freezing. Now we love it for freezing the fish my husband catches at our house in Mexico. We package the fresh fish, vacuum seal, deep freeze. When we go home, we fill a small soft sided ice chest with the vacuum bags and throw it in our suitcase. The airlines have never given us a problem with this. The fish is still frozen solid after a 5 hours flight. We get to enjoy fish all winter long thanks the foodsaver. I’d like another one so that we do not have to keep carrying our old one back and forth with us on the plane.

I like the salad ideas and the low calorie main dishes. Healthy food can be good food! Thanks for all your efforts. I really enjoy your blog.

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l February 7, 2010 at 9:09 am

I am excited about all of the foods you post but I am most interested in entree dishes. I just love desserts and I participate in baking along with other bloggers. But, honestly, sometimes I pass on some recipes because I just can’t bring myself to serve such high-calorie, fat laden foods to those I love. I will be baking a cupcake recipe with a group that is over 700 calories per cupcake!!! (My husband calculates calories on FitDay). It uses 6 sticks of butter! Woah!

Sorry about my rant :)

Your giveaway is the best! I would be delighted to be entered!
Kindly, ldh
PS I have searched unsuccessfully for a cook-along blog that features more main dish/side dish recipes, maybe recipes from Giada de Laurentiis. Are you aware of any blogs like that?

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Sandee February 7, 2010 at 9:54 am

Low-cal entrees and salads.
I’ve been using a Foodsaver since the 80’s and love it. Vacuum-sealing also extends the storage time and is wonderful for cheese.

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mike February 7, 2010 at 9:49 am

This post is like crack (not that I use it), but I eat lettuce daily. For year, I haven’t missed a day. Red leaf, romaine, green, butter… I grow it during the spring/summer/fall, it’s like water to me! How fantastic!!! What a great experiment – but what do you thing about the “green bags” – those “keep fruit, etc” fresh? I bought a bunch, but didn’t see a tremendous difference. But I am bad – I’ll eat wilty lettuce, slighly brown lettuce, etc – it’s all good, and not to be wasted. BUT, I’ve never kept it in a jar (or a food saver, for that matter)! My salad spinner is home – in the fridge, it gets used so often! GREAT post Romaine!

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Karen February 7, 2010 at 10:52 am

I would love to try the salad-in-a-jar idea. I love salads, but won’t take the time to prepare the lettuce everyday. I especially like recipes for family meals, things that can be made in bulk and frozen are always good. And veggies. We can’t see to get enough of them.

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Karen M February 7, 2010 at 10:58 am

What an AMAZING give-away! That would be perfect for us budget-minded moms. I am always looking for a way to save (money, food, my mind!) It would be great to buy in bulk and vacuum pack everything. Thanks for the chance!

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Crystal February 7, 2010 at 2:25 pm

I would love to see low calorie salad dressings, I feel like I get stuck in a rut.

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Suz February 7, 2010 at 2:59 pm

vegetable ideas please.

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Randi February 7, 2010 at 4:09 pm

I LOVE looking at the photos of the baked goods. My daughter likes to bake, so I try to find interesting things for us to try out. Thanks for all the gorgeous pictures and easy instructions.

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Gina February 7, 2010 at 4:16 pm

I love all of your bread recipes. We make your basic roll recipe frequently. Thanks for all the great recipes and pictures!

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Sue February 7, 2010 at 5:47 pm

I love the pictures and step-by-step instructions, and the personal storeis that accompany the recipes. I made your Browned Butter Pecan Pie twice during the holidays and it was a hit with everyone.
My favorite category would be your family favorites, especially the vegetables and other sides.

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Susan February 7, 2010 at 9:05 pm

I bought a used Food Saver at a yard sale, about 5 years ago. It cost me $10. The best $10 I’ve ever spent. I used it again tonight (though it’s getting tired) to seal the cookies I baked for my soldier. I would love to see more low-calorie main courses, and, of course, salads!

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Mamacita February 7, 2010 at 10:25 pm

Microwave recipes. You do things with your microwave that I would never ever think of. Love the blog, thanks for the give away!

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Sis February 7, 2010 at 10:36 pm

Your wonderful pictures inspire me and challenge me to try new things, but my waistline is being to show it! Guess I had better start concentrating on the “skinny secrets”. Maybe a Food Saver would start me down the right path.

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Cindi February 7, 2010 at 11:19 pm

I like the quick and easy meals…..and your family favorites!
Thanks for the give-a-way!!

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bing February 8, 2010 at 1:17 am

I love desserts. One of my favorites is choco lava cake. I also like slow cook recipes and breads. I have used your two bread recipes such as favorite dinner rolls and twirly seeded buns. They came out very delicious. I even made dinner rolls for my 3 co-workers and they all loved it. Thank you for sharing your recipes and for emailing me the choco bundt cakes.

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Susie February 8, 2010 at 6:53 am

As a young family, I’m always interested in things that make only 2-4 servings over huge casseroles. Many of your recipes can be modified for more people or less people, which I like. What a great prize! If I win, will you teach me how to use it? I still have a GPS I’m trying to figure out. Oh, and my coffee maker just died, so my suggestion for a future prize is a coffee maker like you have at your house. :)

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Kyle February 8, 2010 at 7:09 am

Guacamole!

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Debbie February 8, 2010 at 7:17 am

I have really been into Breads this past week so I would have to say Bread recipes. Although, just like you said about getting back to eating healthy after the superbowl, that would be ME!! Thank you for your blog and this giveaway!

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Prudy February 8, 2010 at 9:37 am

What a fantastic give away! I love everything, so you can’t help but please me. Breads, desserts, veggies-bring it on!

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baileybakes February 8, 2010 at 11:28 am

I am always looking for new dessert recipes, they’re my favorite

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Janell February 8, 2010 at 11:38 am

I like new salads and low fat food recipes.

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Amanda February 8, 2010 at 12:13 pm

I love most things you post, especially easy main dishes and sides that freeze well! I have been using my food saver like crazy and make anything that you say “this freezes well”. Huge time saver! Thanks for all of your posts that I stalk regularly!

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Jules February 8, 2010 at 12:35 pm

I love looking at your desserts. Though I should probably cook the healthier things….

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Jennee February 8, 2010 at 4:49 pm

Your pictures are wonderful and your comments are so creative…you are a great writer. I can’t wait to see your upcoming cookbook. I would like to see more main dish recipes or recipes for a special dinner for a crowd. Thanks for an inspiring blog!

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Rhonda February 8, 2010 at 5:02 pm

I have been following your blog for about a month and was so impressed! I went back thru the archives so curious as to why it was called Salad in a Jar. What an EXCELLENT idea! Our family is always in a hurry do to work and church!

I would love to see more main dish recipes and look forward to future posts!

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Liz February 8, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Thanks so much for doing the giveaway!

I started coming for the Tuesdays with Dorie posts (and still love them) but would love to see more healthy/quick-and-easy meals. Balance can be so hard to find (as my waistline can attest to!), but it seems to be something you do really well-kudos!

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Winnie February 8, 2010 at 8:12 pm

Oh, Paula, you’re the best!! I love it all, but probably more salad and healthy family favorites. I agree, your pictures are so beautiful and I love your whole website! God bless all your efforts, I know He does!

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Madam Chow February 8, 2010 at 8:19 pm

I love seeing everything that you’re making, but if I had to pick one, it would be desserts.

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marielle February 8, 2010 at 9:37 pm

I love seeing the family favorites because I’m big on dirt, um family history LOL.

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John February 8, 2010 at 11:39 pm

I would like to see flourless chocolate cake. Do you have a recipe for this?
Also, I would like to see how to make BBQ beef brisket.

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Romaine February 10, 2010 at 5:18 am

John, I do not have a tried and true recipe for flourless chocolate cake. But I’ll work on it. I do have a good brisket recipe. I’ll work on that too.

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Carol February 9, 2010 at 8:55 am

I like the family favorites and the salad ideas. Usually not too many left overs, but the salad in a jar is a wonderful idea.
So happy you share all these great ideas with everyone.

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Sandy February 9, 2010 at 10:20 am

Romaine,
I love all of your family favorites and the stories that go along with them. I really appreciate having the recipe for Beefy Sausage pinwheels. It is a favorite of mine. I also like the fact that you post all the different categories. There is something for everyone to try. It’s amazing looking back at past recipes just how many you have shared. The pictures are fantastic and are really inspiring. Thanks for sharing your God given gifts.

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Debbie February 9, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Probably desserts, but guess I would have to say I like everything really. I always find something intriguing, a good variety of foods, and a unique way to cook. Did not know you were writing a cookbook but you could certainly use all of this information in a book. And I certainly agree that you have used your gift of creativity in your cooking and the sharing on this web site. It has been a fun experience to see it all develop!

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Mimi February 9, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Paula,
I pretty much like everything you post. You are a very versatile and creative cook and baker.
Mimi

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Elizabeth February 9, 2010 at 6:33 pm

Just found your great site while looking for instructions to make Greek yogurt. It’s very attractive and the recipes sound wonderful. You asked for suggestions for using the whey from the yogurt. Research has shown that whey diluted with water (1 part whey, 3 parts water) can control powdery mildew on grapes and other susceptible plants! I’ve used milk (diluted 1 milk/9 water) and it worked. Whey from yogurt will be the experiment this year. Thanks for the recipe. I’m always looking for lower fat recipes.

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Katie February 10, 2010 at 2:14 pm

I love reading about quick, low-cal main dishes! Healthy eating doesn’t always have to take tons of time, just prep. ahead and planning!

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Romaine February 10, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Oh Katie, I couldn’t agree more. That’s what salad in a jar is all about. Planning ahead and prepping so you can grab and go/eat. So important when you’re hungry and want to eat immediately!

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Wayne Bryant February 10, 2010 at 3:55 pm

Paula, what a great website. Vegies in a jar! What a great concept. We own a foodsaver, however we have never used the vacuum saver containers that came with the system. I think it’s about time we used them.

I noticed that there are a number of folks responding to your blog that are looking for a simple, easy to prepare, healthy dish. We prepared this simple party food receipe and took it to the recent superbowl party…it was a hit. Wanda and I have been taking a Vegan Cooking Class at Baylor Medical in Fort Worth and this receipe is one from our class. It is as follows:

VEGGIES IN A BLANKET
1 cup low-fat hummus or bean spread
8 whole wheat totillas
4 carrots, grated (organic)
8 lettuce leaves or 1 cup spinach leaves (organic)
1 red or orange bell pepper
365 Organic Mild Salsa

Spread hummus thinly on the tortilla. Add the carrots and lettuce and/or spinach, spread a small amount of salsa lengthwise in the middle of the totillia, place a strip of bell pepper across the tortillia. Roll up each tortillia and slice into 5 even pieces (have toothpicks available if you need them). Place them cut side down in a dish and serve immediately or cover tightly and refrigerate. I like to add sliced olives and cucumber strips to mine.

Per Serving (5): 122 calories; 2.8g fat: 0.3g sat fat; 18% cal from fat; 0 mg cholesterol; 5g protein; 206g carbs; 1.5g sugar: 4.9g fiber; 251 mg sodium; 27mg calcium; 2mg iron; 2.1mg vitamin C; 1424mcg beta-caritene; 0.4 mg vitamin E.

It can be made with your favorite bean spread and fresh vegetables, and kids love them. Take a whoe wrap as a to-go lunch–it’s filling and loaded with health-promoting nutrients.

Thanks again for the blog. We look forward to future blogs.
Wayne & Wanda

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Helen February 10, 2010 at 5:04 pm

I have never won anything nor do I expect that I will this time, but I want you to know how much I enjoy your Blog. Your recipes, photos, cooking tips, and commentary are great!

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Mary Sue February 10, 2010 at 5:59 pm

I am enjoying the site. You have such a great variety. I like entrees and the veggies to compliment them. Keep the ideas coming.

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Eva February 10, 2010 at 8:38 pm

I love baked goods so that’s what I’m drawn to but the info you have on healthier options is also great.

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Nicki February 10, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Just found your site today, and have so enjoyed reading it. I’ve used the vacuum bags with pump for sealing food, but they don’t stay totally sealed very long. The bags I froze last year, I ended up putting a piece of tape over the vacuum hole to keep it sealed.

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IRENE KEGEL February 11, 2010 at 7:56 am

i could use a way to bring my lunch to work and for my kids to be able to take salad to school…
thank you love you blog

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Stan February 11, 2010 at 8:56 am

Hi. Paula

I wrote a few weeks ago about my Pump N Seal experimenting, and I am glad to report I am fairly satisfied with the results. I will say, it seems to be an expensive piece of kit, for what it is. And the Tab-Chek item is reliable, if not also a bit pricey–for a band-aid like piece of tape with a swatch of latex(?)material for the actual valve, in the center of the vinyl tape. It is elegantly simple, yet effective.

Since I ordered the Pump N Seal and learned how the system works, I have found yet another alternative, the Ziplok Vacuum Pump. It is a similar to the Pump N Seal, but MUCH cheaper. I have seen them in Dillons (Kroger) Supermarkets for $4.00 and it includes 3 vacuum zipper bags in the box. The bags I have tried are useful, but inconsistent, in terms reliability. The Foodsaver Vacuum Zipper Bags are better. Foodsavers valves on their zipper bags look EXACTLY like the Ziplock Vacuum Bags but for some reason the Foodsaver Zipper Vacuum Bags just hold WAY better. I’d trust them for short-term freezer usage, but Foodsaver doesn’t recommend them for freezers at all.

BOTH of these pumps will work for jars nicely, with the following addition: Tab-Cheks. Tab-Cheks are a must, but I am aware that there are homebrewed valves. I have been unsuccessful with the homebrewed alternatives–so far–but am still trying. The supplied Tab-Checks from http://www.pump-n-seal.com/ work nearly flawlessly, making this alternative VERY portable and electrically independant.

If I can find a way to duplicate (or approximate) their excellent Tab-Cheks I will report back. Here is one idea: http://www.judyofthewoods.net/pump.html

Sorry I took so long to post my promised follow-up.

P.S. Your salad in a jar idea is my favorite, with ANY bread recipes a close 2nd!

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Lowell February 11, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Great giveaway! I love main dish recipes.

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Mary H. February 11, 2010 at 5:20 pm

Hi-I really enjoy your recipes. I would like to see more bread machine recipes. Thank you, Mary H.

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