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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!


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:





  • 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


  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.

Acorn Squash with Turkey and Apple Stuffing

10 Oct



Fall is here! Time for skinny jeans and leggings with boots, snuggling under blankets on the couch, and — most importantly — delicious, rich and filling dinners.  Without a doubt fall is my favorite season to spend in the kitchen. It’s finally cool enough to make having the oven heating a comfort rather than a curse. The more frequent outdoor dreariness encourages me to get creative with the colors on my plate. And, best of all, fall produce overlaps with the last of summer’s bounty to provide an amazing variety of ingredients.

Last Thursday we entered our final full month of CSA deliveries for the season. Snuggled in among the ears of corn, new potatoes and honeycrisp apples in our crate were two big, beautiful acorn squash — a first for our kitchen. After some thought, I decided that it would be best to let this new vegetable play a starring role rather than a measly, ho-hum side dish. I am so glad I did.

I served one squash half per person with a scoop of brown rice and apricot pilaf, garnished with the toasted squash seeds (why throw away good nutrition?). Recipes follow.

For the stuffed squash:


  • 2 acorn squash
  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 scallion, diced (white part only)
  • 1 apple, cored and chopped
  • 1 large sprig rosemary, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Halve the acorn squash and scoop out the seeds and membrane. Prick squash halves all over with a fork and place in a baking dish.
  3. Combine all other ingredients in a bowl. Using hands, mold mixture into squash “bowls”, mounding if necessary. Pour 1/4 inch water into base of baking dish.
  4. Cover tightly with foil and bake for one hour. Remove foil and bake for an additional 15 minutes, or until squash are fork-tender.
For the squash seeds:
  1. Place seeds in a colander and rinse under water, separating them from squash membrane.
  2. Dry seeds thoroughly.
  3. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, toss to coat.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until crunchy.
For the rice pilaf:


  • 2 cups cooked brown rice
  • pat of butter
  • 1/3 cup dried apricots, diced
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • dash of nutmeg
  • dash of cinnamon


  1. Prepare brown rice according to package directions.
  2. Melt butter in small skillet over medium heat. Add apricots and cook until warmed through and softened, 2-3 minutes.
  3. Stir apricots and parsley into rice. Sprinkle with nutmeg and cinnamon and stir to combine.
  4. Serve garnished with toasted squash seeds.
Recipes serve four.

Better Than Takeout

10 Oct

Steven and I both work rotating twelve-hour weekend shifts in very busy  hospitals, which makes Sunday night family dinners a laughable idea. No matter how much one loves the kitchen, the last thing anyone wants to do at 8pm is cook! Usually I try to make a big batch of something easy to reheat like chili or soup that I can carry through from Friday to Monday, but even that proves to be a challenge on the Fridays when we indulge in a dinner out. So instead I’ve learned to keep certain items — like leftover pastas, rice, or lean baked chicken breasts — on hand for quick recycling into new meals that take next to no time at all. This one took less than twenty minutes to throw together and, if the chicken salad is made the night before, only five minutes of that time involves being in the kitchen. The rest takes care of itself!

Easy Chicken Salad Sandwiches with Kale Chips


For the chicken salad:

  • 2 baked and cooled skinless, boneless chicken breasts with your choice of seasoning, chopped
  • 2 scallions, diced
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 tbsp mayonnaise
  • salt
  • pepper
  • paprika
For the kale chips:
  • one bunch kale, washed and spun in a salad spinner
  • olive oil
  • salt


  1. Preheat oven to 35o degrees. Line two cookie sheets with foil.
  2. Using a sharp knife or kitchen shears, separate the kale leaves from the tough stem. Tear the leaves into chip-sized pieces.
  3. Pile the kale pieces on a cookie sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and toss to coat.
  4. Bake for 10-15 minutes until the kale is crispy and edges are beginning to brown. (Be careful not to let it go too long or you’ll just have a pile of crumbly, burned kale!)
  5. While the kale chips are in the oven (or the night before), mix all chicken salad ingredients except the paprika in a large bowl. Divide salad between halved crusty rolls with 2 lettuce leaves and 2 tomato slices per roll, garnish with a dash of paprika. Serve each sandwich with half of the kale chips.
Makes two sandwiches.

Easy chicken salad sandwiches with kale chips


10 Oct

Life has gotten in the way of The Grocery Project.

In the coming weeks, I hope to resume blogging with a slightly different format. Our CSA is drawing to a close at the beginning of November, and the winter season of grocery store dependence is approaching. In the spirit of The Grocery Project, I plan to continue blogging tasty, economical and healthful recipes through the fall and early winter.

My hopes are to begin tracking our spending again in January, with the start of a new year (which will include our first year of full membership in a CSA) and hopefully a much calmer home life.

There should be lots of delicious things to share, so stay tuned!

Grocery Poll

24 Jun

If you’ve stumbled upon this blog, please take the time to participate in the poll.

Searching for a purpose

24 Jun

As I write the first entry for this blog, I’m at a loss to find a succinct purpose for beginning without resorting to statistics. Horrific, frightening statistics, such as:

“Obesity now affects 17% of all children and adolescents in the United States – triple the rate from just one generation ago…”

“In 2009, only Colorado and the District of Columbia had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%…”

“An estimated 32.7 percent of U.S. adults 20 years and older are overweight, 34.3 percent are obese and 5.9 percent are extremely obese…”

“The medical care costs of obesity in the United States are staggering. In 2008 dollars, these costs totaled about $147 billion…”

(All quotes from

But the statistics are only a small portion of the obesity equation, and none of them address the sources of the problem. Yes, as a society we are less mobile. We are more stressed. We are overworked, overtired, and overwhelmed with the number of decisions we have to make every day — including one of the most important decisions we make: what we put in our bodies. It is so easy to reach for the quick fix, the drive thru, the convienience foods. All of which compound the problem. So what do we do about it?

There are the questions of taste, of affordability, of culture, of temptation. In a world where industrialized countries still search for ways to water food deserts with fresh produce, where family-owned farms have been replaced by corporate food factories, and restaurants use toys to market a full day’s worth of calories to toddlers, is the whole system rotten from the root up? And, more pressing yet, is there any way around it? How far off the grid does one have to go to eat well, and on budget? How much time and effort does that really take?

This is the story of one couple (and two pugs) trying to answer those questions.

We are more fortunate than some — despite living in Allegheny County (which a recent study found leads the state of Pennsylvania in number of USDA identified food deserts), we reside in a zip code categorized as a “food oasis”. Though it remains a low-income neighborhood overall, enough gentrification has set in to provide more options for obtaining healthy foods. Within a slightly-less than three mile radius from our home (10 minute city drive or approximately 20 minute bus ride), are a Giant Eagle Market District, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and numerous family-owned meat/bakery/produce shops. We also have access to multiple City Parks farmer’s markets and Pittsburgh’s Strip District, as well as city delivery farm shares. We are childless, middle class, white and college-educated — all which, according to the CDC’s statistics, make us less at risk for food insecurity.

So this may not be the most scientific experiment, or the most original blog. However, it is the personal account of two people who have chosen to be concious of what they are eating, and who are desperately curious about how that stacks up financially against those who choose otherwise.