Archive | January, 2012

Shrimp and Grits

24 Jan

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.


  • 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


  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.


That's one sexy casserole.


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


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.

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!)


Half eaten already.


  • 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


  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.