Additional bookkeeping

5 Feb

It’s now been a little over one month since our big grocery shopping trip and, though it looks like we are definitely going to get through the eight weeks I’d estimated our haul would last, we both are craving fresh vegetables. That is the major downfall to doing a giant shopping trip all at once: though it maximizes savings on store reward cards, it limits diet somewhat if you stick to it rigidly. Milk, bread, and fresh veggies only last so long and generally are things a family cannot do without.

This week we needed to make a run for staples — in our world that means a half gallon of milk, coffee creamer, a loaf of bread, a dozen yogurt cups, eggs, cereal and cereal bars, etc. — which ran us just about $40 without any store savings or coupons. I also splurged on a trip to Pittsburgh’s Strip District, stopping at a year-round, indoor/outdoor vegetable market for some winter veggie goodness. All in all I spent $15.31 at Stan’s, coming home with a shopping bag nearly bursting with:

  • one pound of kale
  • three stem tomatoes
  • one large red onion
  • two large garlic cloves
  • two 1.5lb acorn squash
  • one 3lb spaghetti squash
  • two pounds of turnips
  • two pounds of beets
  • a pint of blueberries

Between these two shopping trips, I’ve added $0.16 to each meal served over the course of an eight week period, meaning each meal is now costing me $1.25 per person. My yearly food expenditure currently totals $416.69 for a two month supply of food for two people, or $104.17 worth of food per person a month. According to the US government’s food stamp criteria data that I posted back in July of last year, we are still $0.25 under what is deemed a “low income” grocery budget — eating primarily whole ingredients in homemade meals, none of which have taken more than an hour to prepare.

Not too shabby.

Advertisements

Shrimp and Grits

24 Jan
20120124-165844.jpg

Get in my belly.

 

I have been obsessing over the idea of shrimp and grits since seeing it served as a brunch item in a New Orleans episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. How could anything combining those two foods possibly be bad? So I set to work researching recipes, and in the end I pulled what I liked best from each to make my own simplified, quick-cooking version (in some cases the recipes were projected to take up to 40 minutes to prepare!).

This meal was easy, spicy, filling and delicious served alongside a dish of wilted greens. I’ll be making this again — probably with a few tweaks and maybe the addition of some diced tomatoes or green onions to the shrimp and garlic mixture — but Steven and I both loved it as it is.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups grits, prepared according to box directions (I used Quaker brand — 2 cups boiling water, 2/3 cup dry grits, done in 5 minutes)
  • 3/4 lb medium-sized frozen cooked shrimp, tail-on — thawed, rinsed, and drained
  • 4 tbsp butter, divided in half
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • juice of one lemon
  • salt and pepper
  • cayenne pepper to taste
  • dash Frank’s Hot Sauce

Preparation

  1. Prepare grits according to package directions (don’t forget to salt the boiling water before adding the uncooked grits).
  2. While grits are cooking, melt 2 tbsp butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant.
  3. Add shrimp and lemon juice. Cook until shrimp are warmed through and starting to curl. (At this point I drained off all of the cooking liquid, which was a considerable amount. Next time I’ll probably save some to thin out the grits and add a bit of briny, seaside flavor to the entire dish.)
  4. Add salt, pepper, cayenne pepper and hot sauce to shrimp and toss to coat. (I added quite a lot of spice to mine, probably 1 1/2 tsp cayenne.) Cook 2-3 minutes to allow flavors to blend.
  5. Remove prepared grits from heat. Add 2 tbsp butter and 1 cup cheddar cheese, stir until cheese has melted.
  6. Divide cheesy grits between two bowls. Top with the shrimp and garlic mixture. Serve immediately.

Makes two adult-sized portions.

Shepard’s Pie

19 Jan

It’s a cold, snowy day here in Pittsburgh — the kind of day that begs for warm, hearty comfort foods eaten in pajamas by a fire. So I decided to take my first crack at a longtime favorite dish: Shepard’s Pie. It’s barely healthy — and definitely not low calorie — but it is filling and deliciously rich. Traditionally it’s made with lamb, but I used ground beef since that’s what I had on hand. The taste definitely did not suffer, especially after a few tweaks to amp up the mashed potato topping.

20120119-172219.jpg

That's one sexy casserole.

Ingredients

For the filling:

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 lg onion, diced
  • 1/2 lb baby carrots, chopped
  • 1/2 lb frozen peas
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp dry mustard
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 tbsp butter plus a pat to butter casserole dish
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the topping:

  • 6 medium-sized red potatoes, skin on, boiled and drained
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tbsp horseradish sauce
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (for sprinkling on top of potatoes!)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

For filling:

  1. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat, add onion and carrot. Cook until onion becomes fragrant and begins to soften, about 2-3 minutes.
  2. Add raw ground beef to veggies in skillet and season with salt and pepper, garlic powder, thyme and dry mustard. Brown meat over medium heat, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Drain off fat.
  3. After draining fat, add tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, and peas to beef and veggie mixture. Stir to combine.
  4. Sprinkle flour over beef and veggies. Stir until well incorporated and flour taste has “cooked off”, approximately 2 minutes.
  5. Add beef broth all at once and stir to combine. Continue to cook over medium heat until gravy begins to thicken, 5-7 minutes. Set aside.

For topping:

  1. Mash boiled potatoes with butter, heavy cream and milk. Add more milk if necessary to achieve desired consistency.
  2. Add horseradish sauce, sour cream and 1 cup cheddar cheese to mashed potatoes. Stir until cheese has melted. Salt and pepper to taste.

To assemble:

  1. Butter an oval casserole dish and pour in beef filling.
  2. Spoon mashed potatoes over filling, using a spatula or fork to create swirls and ridges.
  3. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup shredded cheddar.
  4. Bake in 400 degree oven for 30 minutes. Potato crust should be browned and crispy on top; if it isn’t after 30 minute bake time, pop it under the broiler for an additional 3-5 minutes.
Serves six.
As if the pie itself wasn’t enough, I served mine alongside quartered turnips roasted in olive oil with a dash of salt and freshly cracked black pepper (wrap in aluminum foil and bake at 400 degrees for one hour), jarred pickled beets and a hunk of crusty bread to mop up the gravy.
20120119-172249.jpg

A winter masterpiece.

Add It Up

9 Jan

January 2nd was big shopping day at our house, and I do mean BIG shopping day. The contents of the refrigerator were reduced to a quarter of a half gallon of milk, two pounds of butter (left over from Christmas baking), condiments, and a few sad and lonely onions floating around in the crisper. The freezer and cupboards were nearly as empty, except for the baking cupboard full of sugar and flour not used in the holiday cookie tray. So it seemed as good a time as any to start tallying up our food expenditures for the year.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that last year marked our first foray into a CSA, receiving a disbursement of farm-fresh veggies every other week during the summer. This year we plan to purchase a whole share from a different farm, meaning from late spring to mid-fall we’ll receive a weekly goodie box. However, being that Old Man Winter has settled into Pennsylvania for the next several months, I will be doing all of our food shopping at the grocers.

We are fortunate enough to live in a good-sized city with a plethora of grocery options — there are myriad specialty stores in addition to several big chain markets and the Super versions of one-stop big-box stores where you can throw your oranges and new underwear in the same cart. However, I tend to stick with my two favorites: Giant Eagle (Pittsburgh chain equivalent to Piggly Wiggly, FoodChopper, or Kroger) and Trader Joe’s. Every month I go to both — that is tip #1: Do your research, in both competitive pricing and nutritional content of the product.

You don’t need to be a nutritionist or an economist to figure this out, and it doesn’t require use of a calculator. I keep it simple with basic guidelines that can be answered with only a quick scan of the label:

  • Fewer ingredients are better than more
  • No preservatives is better than preservatives
  • Few or no unpronounceable words are in the ingredient list
  • Product is as minimally processed as possible
  • Product has nutritional content other than fat, carbs, sugar and fiber
  • Product is best nutritional value at best price per ounce/pound

I split my grocery shopping between two stores because some things are cheaper at one versus the other. Some things there is a large difference, some things the savings are only a few pennies. If the latter is the case, I estimate the savings gained with my perks card before I decide which place to purchase the item. Tip #2: Always, always, always participate in in-store card savings programs. Giant Eagle’s Advantage Card program allows shoppers to earn 1% off groceries for every 10 gallons of gas purchased at the chain’s Get Go gas stations, and in reverse awards $0.10 off per gallon for each $50 spent in the store. Thanks to this program, our gas expenditure for the last eight weeks earned us 11% off our total grocery bill, which then earned us $0.50 off per gallon on our next tank of gas.

Another great feature with Giant Eagle’s Advantage Card is the ability to virtually load coupons with an account on the store’s website. Tip #3: Clip coupons, but only for items on your list — which then rolls right into tip #4: Make a list and stick to it. I plan meals for an eight week period with each shopping trip, including three meals per day per person plus snacks that can be quickly grabbed on the go (we always brown bag lunch and rarely stop for fast food on the fly). It only takes 30 minutes to flip through some cookbooks and compile a list of recipes and their ingredients. I usually do this with that week’s store flier close at hand, which brings us to Tip #5: Plan meals using ingredients that are in-season, on sale, and flexible. For example, if you are going to spend the money on a bundle of fresh thyme but the recipe you want it for only calls for a small amount, load your list with other recipes using the remainder of the ingredient. If you don’t want to spend a week eating thyme-heavy dinners, choose a recipe that can be frozen and reheated later in the month. Throwing away food is throwing away money.

So, back to our family’s grocery shopping. I work 42-48 hours each week, with multiple 12-hour shifts, and I’m starting back to school full-time as well. Steven is a full-time student in a program requiring rigorous study, and also works part-time (and is less than a whiz in the kitchen unless it involves pancakes and bacon). Since we’re both a bit pressed for time I shopped for two months instead of one, with an eye toward fast meals that can self-maintain in a crockpot or be thrown together hastily — while still steering clear of preprepared/prepackaged dinners, which are ridiculously overpriced and always full of salt and preservatives. Cost breakdown is:

  • Giant Eagle $206.20 after saving $32 even between Advantage Card discount, in-store specials and coupons. Items included: 5 large cans diced tomatoes, 8 pounds of hormone and antibiotic-free skinless/boneless chicken breast, 3 pounds skinless/boneless chicken thighs, one pound local organic stew lamb, 4 semi-boneless strip steaks, one pound thinly sliced sandwich steak, 2 pounds shrimp, thick-cut peppered bacon, 2 pounds hot sausage, 7 pound whole fryer chicken, 2 ham steaks, one dozen organic/cage-free eggs, 4 pounds shredded cheese, 5 pounds red potatoes, parsnips, carrots, celery, onions, half-gallon milk, 5 6oz cartons of Greek yogurt, 5 packages assorted frozen vegetables, 3 bags dried beans, grits, jar of pickled beets, ranch dressing, jarred spices, etc.
  • Trader Joe’s $155.19 with no savings (Trader Joe’s sells everything at lowest possible prices). Items included: 4 pounds 80/20 ground beef, 3 pounds ground turkey, 2 pounds mahi mahi, 2 tuna steaks, 2 pounds individually frozen chicken breasts, extra-firm tofu, 2 boxes of cereal, 4 pounds frozen veggies, 3 boxes fruit cereal bars, 2 packages dried fruit, couscous, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, 2 cheese wedges (Jarlsburg and espresso Toscano), crackers, 2 boxes frozen blueberry waffles, 2 pounds organic chicken sausages, bananas, fresh broccoli, broccoli slaw mix, one bag mixed green salad, one bag baby spinach, 2 packages lobster ravioli, 2 bags frozen cioppino, panko bread crumbs, 3 bags chips/snack foods, one package organic popcorn kernels, large container grated parmesan, 2 six packs of 4 oz yogurt cups, heavy cream, coffee creamer, guacamole kit, locally made bread, peanut butter, 3 pounds sweet potatoes, five cans albacore tuna packed in water, etc.

Luckily everything fit into our apartment sized freezer, though it took our combined Tetris skills to make it happen. In the end, our total for eight weeks of breakfasts, lunches and dinners, came to $361.39. That is $22.59 per week per person at three meals a day, which breaks down to approximately $1.09 per meal per person. Can you even buy a McDonald’s sandwich for $1.09 these days?

Ten Minute Lobster Ravioli and Peas in Parmesan Cream Sauce

5 Jan

In the past I’ve tried to refrain from plugging specific products and chains here at the Grocery Project. However, I’m a firm believer in giving some credit where credit is due — and Trader Joe’s definitely deserves some accolades. It’s difficult to argue with cheap gourmet foods that are ethically sourced and (most of the time) free of the extras that make some preprepared meals no better than a trip through the drive thru.

When I grocery shop, I try my hardest to avoid purchasing items that can be made at home, focusing on acquiring multi-use ingredients instead of one-time food products for both economical and health reasons. Why spend upwards of $3 on a tube of refrigerated dinner rolls when a tasty yeast-free (and therefore rise-free) recipe can be whipped up at home in forty minutes for less than 1/5 the cost, free of preservatives and additives? That said, there are some items that I have a difficult time fitting into that philosophy because…well, because they just take too damned long to make. Case in point: ravioli.

I tried once to make homemade pasta. As a hobby, as a bonding event between mother and daughter, as a way to impress the in-laws, I’m sure it may be worth it. For me, it was not; it took the better part of a Sunday and yielded less than two days’ dinners’ worth of fat, chewy noodles. I’m sure it gets easier with practice, if I had the desire to invest the time to better my techniques. I am a realistic, efficient woman — I do not have the desire. Especially not when there are so many alternatives. Alternatives filled with lobster.

Enter Trader Joe’s lobster ravioli. At $3 and change per package, they seem like an expensive item. However, this is lobster we’re talking about — fluffy, dreamy pasta pillows of salty, buttery lobster filling. They stand alone so well that I’ve even served them simply, drizzled in melted butter and sprinkled with grated pecorino. But when you add in a quick and painless homemade parmesan cream sauce and a handful of sweet frozen peas, you are looking at a filling and well-balanced meal for two — all in ten minutes for less than $3 a plate (glass of wine not included!)

20120105-072446.jpg

Half eaten already.

Ingredients

  • 1 package Trader Joe’s Lobster Ravioli (found in the refrigerated section)
  • 1/3 package Trader Joe’s petite frozen peas
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely minced (or smashed through a garlic press)
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream (may substitute half and half, but sauce will be thinner)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp Hungarian paprika
  • dash of nutmeg
  • black pepper to taste

Preparation

  1. Prepare lobster ravioli and peas according to package directions.
  2. In the meantime, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant but not brown.
  3. Add heavy cream and continue cooking over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until cream is warmed through.
  4. While stirring continuously, add parmesan to cream mixture. When parmesan is incorporated, add paprika, nutmeg, and black pepper.
  5. Allow to cook until thickened and starting to bubble, approximately 3-5 minutes, stirring continuously to prevent cream from scalding. Remove from heat.
  6. Drain cooked ravioli and divide between plates. Top each plate of ravioli with half the peas and parmesan cream sauce. Serve topped with freshly ground black pepper and extra grated parmesan if desired.
Makes two adult dinner-sized portions.

Christmas Baking Week!

19 Dec

Christmas baking has long been one of my favorite parts of the holiday. As a child, my mother always made three or four different kinds of cookies — generally standard chocolate chip, cinnamon and sugar jumbles, peanut butter “kiss” cookies and cut out sugar cookies. Every year I looked forward to helping her mix the dough (and stealing as many almost-too-hot-to-touch cookies from the cooling racks as I could while she wasn’t looking). Even after I moved into my own apartment, I would spend an evening drinking wine and putting up my little tabletop tree while break and bake chocolate chips baked in the oven.

The first Christmas that Steven and I were together was the Christmas that I first ventured into the territory of a cookie tray. I’ve done it every year since, and it continues to evolve as I try out new recipes and tinker with old ones. So far my record is eleven different kinds of cookie. This year I settled on seven recipes — two old standbys and five never-before tried ones — that I hope will turn out deliciously. I can’t take credit for any of the recipes I use, but in line with the Christmas spirit, I thought I would share.

1. Buckeyes

2. Trader Joe’s chocolate chip (recipe is also on the back of the TJ’s chocolate chip package)

3. Sugar cookies with lemon buttercream frosting

4. Gingerbread men

5. Pumpkin Gobs with Maple Cream Cheese Filling

6. Sweet Potato Pie Cupcakes with Marshmallow Frosting

7. White Chocolate Peppermint Brownies

Of course, all credit for the recipes goes to their original author. Can’t wait to sample them all!

Easy Maple Fried Apples

14 Dec

Last week I bought a tote of Cortland apples at a chain grocer, for a fairly inexpensive sum, only to get them home and discover that all but the top ones were deeply bruised — visibly marked with the fingerprints of someone who had handled them in the journey they took to get to my table. After a moment’s disappointment at the loss of a quick, fresh, grab-and-go snack, I started brainstorming for an easy use for nearly spoilt fruit.

One of my most loved rules of the kitchen is that no food should be wasted. I am the person who uses vegetable trimmings to make stock. Every scrap of fat or gristly cuts of meat go straight from our plates into our dogs’ mouths. The week before big grocery shopping I make “freezer stews” of a beef roast drowned in stock and the remnants of every less-than-a-meal’s-worth leftover frozen vegetables. Why waste good nutrition? It’s a truly modern American notion that any less than perfect piece of produce is damned to the trash; in any farmer’s kitchen these bruised apples would be trimmed down and recycled into another form, whether it be applesauce or apple dumplings.

And thus those apples met butter, maple syrup, and some wintery spices in a skillet to become a very tasty topping for sweet treats, or a great snack in their own right. I served mine warm over a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream dusted with graham cracker crumbs, but they’d also make a great companion for pancakes or french toast. No need to peel the apples — the skins will soften nicely and add a bit of texture.

20111214-065333.jpg

Ingredients

  • four large apples, cored and sliced into thin wedges
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla bourbon extract

Preparation

  1. Melt butter in a large shallow skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add apples to hot skillet.
  3. Add remainder of ingredients to apples.
  4. Stirring occasionally, cook over medium heat until apples are soft (nearly falling apart) and sauce is thickened to syrup-like consistency, approximately 10-12 minutes.
Makes approximately four 1/2 cup servings.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese with Pancetta and Spinach

21 Nov

I’m having a love affair with macaroni and cheese.

It doesn’t matter what form it takes; I love every bite in any shape or form. Big, soft elbow noodles  in a puddle of crayon-yellow melted Velveeta. Fancy al dente spiral noodles in four cheese white sauce with lemon zest. Fat egg noodles coated in a thick, gluey cheddar. All delicious. One of my guilty pleasures (and one of the few processed products we purchase in our household) is a box of name brand instant macaroni and cheese, with a cupful of frozen peas thrown in for good measure — comfort food at it’s finest. As far as I’m concerned, there is no bad macaroni and cheese. Some preparations are just better than others.

My favorite version of homemade macaroni and cheese is one of the oldest recipes in my arsenal; it is outdone in age only by a meatloaf recipe that comes from the same place, the first cookbook I ever bought. To this day, the only cookbook I really need is the same Better Homes and Gardens cookbook that has graced a shelf or drawer in everyone’s grandmother’s kitchen. It’s on it’s fifteenth edition for a reason; not only does it break down the cooking basics you need to be capable in the kitchen, it’s pages are full of amazing base recipes that can be tweaked and refined to the reader’s content. Christmas cookies, quick breads, impressively easy appetizers and casseroles — it’s all there waiting to be personalized.

Like most things I make, my macaroni and cheese recipe has evolved over time as I make the minor adjustments needed to graduate a ’70s era potluck casserole into a nutritious and balanced meal that I can feel good about feeding to my family. So far this is the best version I have produced: luxurious with the savory background flavor of miniscule pieces of pancetta, a combination of sharp and mild cheeses, and a crispy crust that makes an audible crack when it breaks. I like to serve a hearty scoop garnished with stewed tomatoes and drizzled with a few tablespoons of their juice, alongside a simple salad of arugula and thinly sliced red onion dressed in salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar. By no stretch of the imagination is this a low-fat meal, but using unprocessed ingredients and adding some fiber with whole grains and veggies cuts the damage.

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces whole wheat elbow noodles
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1 large sweet onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups milk + 1/2 cup, separated
  • 4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded gruyere cheese
  • 1 package Trader Joe’s diced pancetta (4-6 ounces, I think)
  • 1 bag organic baby spinach leaves
  • 1/4 cup Italian seasoned whole wheat breadcrumbs

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cook noodles according to package directions in well-salted water. Drain and set aside (do not rinse).
  3. In a small skillet, cook pancetta over medium heat until lightly browned and crispy, approximately 5 minutes. Drain grease and set aside.
  4. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and onion, cook until tender and fragrant, but not browned.
  5. Stir pepper and flour into garlic and onion. Mix well, and allow to cook for 1 minute to “cook off” taste of flour.
  6. Add 2 1/2 cups milk to saucepan all at once, whisk. Continue to cook, stirring continuously, until mixture thickens, 3-5 minutes.
  7. Add both shredded cheeses and continue stirring over medium heat until melted and combined. Sauce will be thick; you may need to add additional milk to achieve desired consistency.
  8. Remove saucepan from heat. Stir in pancetta and spinach. Add cooked elbow noodles, stirring until well-coated in cheese sauce.
  9. Pour contents of saucepan into a large casserole dish. Sprinkle top with breadcrumbs and bake uncovered in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes or until cheese sauce is bubbly and surface is browned and crispy.
Makes approximately 8 one-cup servings.

Stuffed Tomatoes

4 Nov

This week was our last disbursement from our CSA membership (*tears*). In addition to a lovely selection of storage-safe produce such as one dozen beautiful apples, two big butternut squash, and a plethora of leeks and sweet onions, we received what are probably the last decent tomatoes we’ll be tasting until next summer. Because of that distinction I felt they’d be better served dressed up a bit than simply sliced with salt and pepper.

Hence, I give you brown rice and parmesan stuffed tomatoes, accompanied by pan-fried chicken tenders and some delicious cucumber and feta Greek yogurt dipping sauce:

 

20111104-074825.jpg

 

Ingredients

  • 4 medium to large tomatoes
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup uncooked brown rice
  • 1/4 frozen spinach
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan
  • salt and pepper
  • drizzle of olive oil

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. On stovetop, bring chicken stock to a boil; add rice, cover and reduce to simmer (I like to undercook the rice slightly — the tomatoes’ interior is so moist it will finish fluffing the rice in the oven). Halfway through rice’s cooking time, add frozen spinach and stir. Cover and return to simmer.
  3. Meanwhile, core tomatoes with a paring knife, removing tops. Using a spoon, carefully hollow out each tomato, being careful not to puncture the thick exterior walls. Discard seeds and pulp.
  4. When rice has finished cooking, add minced garlic, grated parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir to combine.
  5. Drizzle olive oil around base of a shallow casserole dish. Carefully stuff tomatoes with rice mixture, mounding gently on top. Don’t overstuff — the rice will continue to expand in the oven. Place tomatoes in casserole dish and drizzle tops with olive oil.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, or until tomato skins appear slightly wilted and filling is warmed through.
Makes four tomatoes, which at our house serves two.

Pumpkin Recipes

15 Oct

We are definitely on a gourd kick at our house. And our favorite of all the gourds is pumpkin. Put it in everything — breads, pies, cookies, coffees, beers, stews, curries, pasta sauces — and I’m a happy girl. One of my favorite pumpkin dinner recipes is cheese ravioli with leeks and mushrooms in an easy, creamy, nutty pumpkin cream sauce.  In the interest of saving time I always use canned mashed pumpkin — though if you have the time and patience to break down your own pumpkin, I’m sure it would taste even more amazing.

Ingredients

  • 18 ounces frozen cheese ravioli
  • 1/2 cup butter (1/4 lb), divided in half
  • 1 large leek, chopped
  • 12 oz mushrooms (I like porcini or baby bellas)
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp nutmeg or sage (cook’s choice!)
  • fresh chopped parsley for garnish

Preparation

  1. Prepare ravioli according to package directions. Drain and set aside, keep warm.
  2. Melt half of the butter (1/4 cup) in a skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until mushrooms are browned and tender. Set aside.
  3. Melt remaining butter (1/4) in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add leeks, season with salt and pepper. Cook until softened.
  4. Stir in pumpkin and herb of choice (nutmeg or sage) and heat through.
  5. Remove from heat, add milk and half and half. Stir to combine.
  6. Slowly add parmesan cheese, stirring continuously. Return to low heat for 1-2 minutes to warm through, continue stirring so sauce does not scald.
  7. To serve: Divide ravioli  and mushrooms between four plates. Smother with pumpkin alfredo sauce and garnish with 1/4 of the fresh chopped parsley.
Serves four.

20111015-081959.jpg

Since the above recipe only required 1/2 cup of pumpkin from a 15-ounce can, and our cupboards were completely bare of cane sugar (I made this the day before big grocery shopping day), my old fallback of using bread as a vehicle for leftover vegetable ingredients wasn’t an option. Instead I scoured the internet for a quick pumpkin soup, and happened upon this recipe. To keep it savory, I used 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar instead of 1 tablespoon of cane sugar and added slightly more nutmeg and pepper. I also substituted leeks for the onion, since that’s what I had on hand. It was a big hit served with a nutmeg garnish alongside a snack platter of Manchego cheese, whole wheat crackers and beer jelly. And it only took 15 minutes to prepare!