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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.

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.

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.



  • 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


  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.


  • 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


  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.

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.


  • 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


  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.


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!

Lamb and Apricot Meatballs Over Couscous

2 Aug

This meal is a house favorite.




for the meatballs:

  • 2 lbs ground free-range lamb
  • 1 cup dried apricots
  • 2 shallots
  • 1 tsp ground corriander
  • 1/2 tsp dried mint
  • salt and pepper to taste

for the salad:

  • 2 cucumbers, diced
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 large onion, sliced
  • 2 cups whole wheat couscous, prepared according to package directions

for the dressing:

  • 1/4 cup good quality olive oil (I like basil-infused for this recipe)
  • juice of one lemon
  • several sprigs of fresh thyme, chopped
  • salt and pepper


  1. Using a food processor, finely chop the dried apricots and shallots together. In a large bowl, add to ground lamb along with spices. Mix well.
  2. Roll mixture into meatballs approximately one inch in diameter (should yield around two dozen meatballs). Place on cookie sheet lined with tinfoil.
  3. Broil meatballs for 8-10 minutes until browned and cooked through.
  4. While meatballs broil, prepare couscous according to package directions. Set aside.
  5. For dressing, whisk olive oil and lemon together. Add chopped thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
  6. To serve, divide couscous evenly between four plates. Nestle a portion of meatballs into couscous and spoon 1/4 of the salad over top. Drizzle with dressing. Garnish with crumbled feta cheese and a lightly toasted pita.
Serves 4.
Tonight I plan on serving the leftover meatballs with a side salad of slow-roasted fresh beets and wilted beet greens in a balsamic vinaigrette. Yum!


19 Jul

Though I made a valiant effort to expand my horizons, the appeal of turning a pound of farm fresh basil into delicious pesto was too much to resist (plus I already had all the ingredients on hand!). And it was delicious.


Pesto is an ideal way to extend the refrigerator life of a quick-spoiling herb like basil, which only lasts about three days bagged in the fridge. Store pesto in an air-tight container with the top of the pesto glossed in a thin sheen of good quality olive oil, and it will last up to two weeks. Or preserve it even longer by molding a tablespoon of pesto into each compartment of an ice cube tray to freeze. Pop the pesto cubes out into a freezer bag and use them to spice up soups and sauces.

Of course, ours never made it that long — I mixed a little over half of my recipe’s yield into some whole wheat elbow macaroni with a splash of pasta water to make a creamy, minty green pasta sauce. I served it topped with diced tomato and salty strips of prosciutto, which fed us as a main course for a night with leftovers to pack for lunch the next day. The remainder of the pesto we spread on melba toasts with Manchego cheese and olives for a TV time snack platter.

Here’s the recipe I used, which is a little different from the traditional preparation as it swaps out pine nuts for pistachios:


  • 2 cups fresh basil, packed
  • 1 cup shelled dry roasted and salted pistachio nut meats
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 — 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • juice of half a lemon


  1. Using a food processor, grind pistachios.
  2. Add garlic, basil and grated cheese. Blend.
  3. Squeeze in lemon juice and begin adding olive oil; use more or less based on taste and desired pesto consistency. Enjoy!
This recipe took approximately 10 minutes to whip together, and yielded about 1 1/2 cups of pesto.

Fish Tacos in Twenty Minutes

13 Jul



  • 1 lb of your preference of mild white fish fillets, thawed (we like mahi mahi best, followed by tilapia)
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 cups bagged broccoli slaw mix
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (we use four cheese Mexican blend)
  • 1/2 large tomato, diced
  • 1 medium-sized jalapeno, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 lemon or lime
  • 8 flour tortillas


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place fish fillets in a shallow baking dish. Squeeze lemon or lime juice over fish; scatter with garlic and jalepeno. Bake for 15 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork.
  2. Wrap tortillas in foil and place in hot oven to warm through. Using a slotted spoon, transfer fish to a plate and flake with a fork (don’t forget to include all of that delicious garlic and jalapeno!).
  3. Divide fish evenly between 8 tortillas. Top each with 1 tbsp of black beans and equal amounts of slaw mix, cheese and tomato.
  4. Portion two tacos per person; divide remaining black beans among plates and top with cheese. Serve with garnishes of choice (I like sour cream, guacamole or hot sauce).
Serves four.

Easy Cheese Ravioli and Summer Squash in a Green Garlic Cream Sauce

7 Jul

You may remember from my last post that I was a bit mystified about the introduction of green garlic into my kitchen vocabulary. Prior to last week’s CSA disbursement, the only garlic I was familiar with was the everyday kind purchased in the supermarket — papery layers of peel hiding sticky cloves garlicky enough to make my eyes water while mincing. Boy, was I missing out.

A quick tour around the Google results revealed that green garlic is in fact regular garlic, harvested before the plant fully matures and the bulbs differentiate into cloves. It resembles a scallion on steroids (greens included, ours were approximately two feet in length), and is similarly edible in it’s entirety.

Green garlic

Green garlic may be eaten cooked or raw, with a taste that is far less bitter and aggressive than the mature plant. The mild garlic flavor actually sweetens as it’s cooked.

We experimented with both raw and cooked versions to get the most milage from this new-to-us, farm-to-table produce: I served the greens with a side of sea salt on a crudite platter of pickling cucumbers and tomatoes, just as I would a green onion; and made the bulbs the star ingredient of a light and lovely cream sauce for pasta. Recipe follows.


  • 12oz frozen cheese ravioli
  • 2 small to medium summer squash, thinly sliced into rounds
  • 2 turn-of-the-pan swirls of good quality olive oil

(for the sauce)

  • one inch square of salted butter
  • 2 bulbs green garlic, finely minced (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon white flour
  • 1/3 cup half-and-half
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


  1. Cook ravioli according to package directions. Don’t forget to season water well with salt! Drain and set aside.
  2. While ravioli are cooking, heat olive oil in a shallow skillet over medium heat. Add summer squash and saute until tender and beginning to brown, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat.
  3. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add green garlic and saute until tender and fragrant, 1-3 minutes.
  4. Stir one tablespoon of white flour into butter and garlic, salt and pepper to taste. Allow to cook one minute to “cook off” taste of flour.
  5. Add half-and-half and whole milk all at once. Continue to cook, whisking occasionally, until mixture begins to bubble and thicken. It should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat.
  6. Divide ravioli between two plates and top with half of the sauteed squash, and half of the cream sauce. Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley or basil if desired.

Recipe yields two dinner-sized portions.