Acorn Squash with Turkey and Apple Stuffing

10 Oct

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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:

Ingredients

  • 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

Preparation

  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:

Ingredients

  • 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

Preparation

  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.
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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

Ingredients

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

Preparation

  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.
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Easy chicken salad sandwiches with kale chips

Evolution

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!

Lamb and Apricot Meatballs Over Couscous

2 Aug

This meal is a house favorite.

 

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Ingredients

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

Preparation

  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!

CSA: Week 7

31 Jul

Lately I’ve been neglecting this blog, as staying cool in the midst of a terrible heat wave has superseded discussing food in our family’s need hierarchy. When hiding out in one air conditioned room, dashing out to the kitchen to throw a few barbecued chicken breasts under the broiler to cook unattended is about as interesting as eating gets. We even skipped the farmers market last week!

This week, however, was our CSA pickup. As you may remember, our last disbursement was chockfull of a wide variety of delicious produce. Due to our small, sporadic meals over the last ten days, that box did last for a bit longer than the others. Our pickups are on Thursday, and by Tuesday of the week prior we were craving something farm fresh, so I don’t know that this box will survive quite as long.

In our latest disbursement, we received:

  • one small, perfectly ripe cantaloupe
  • one pint of blueberries
  • one pint of sweet orange cherry tomatoes
  • three cucumbers
  • three yellow summer squash
  • two huge sweet onions
  • one pound of green beans
  • three green bell peppers
Today I plan on turning some of those luscious cherry tomatoes and cucumbers into a lemon-basil vinaigrette drenched salad to accompany some fabulous lamb meatballs.
Every week that we pick up our disbursement is one of long discussion about the benefits of maintaining the variety of the farmers market versus paying double the CSA membership to receive weekly crates from the farm. One of my coworkers is a member of the same CSA farm we’ve been using, also with a half share but picking up on opposite weeks. She and I frequently compare, and occasionally swap, the items we receive. It does seem that opposite weeks receive slightly different disbursements — for example, she has twice received fresh bundles of beets, but has yet to get any squash; while we have had squash twice now without ever receiving beets. With a full share, and some effort thrown into freezing and bagging the vegetables that can survive until winter (such as green beans and snap peas) and some research into the storing of root vegetables (like the beets and onions), the stockpile born of a full summer’s share may offset the cost. Factor in the flexibility of the farmers market prices as summer draws to an end and the price of baskets of vegetables fall, and that may in the end be the cheapest option. Next year maybe we shall see.

Pesto!

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.

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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:

Ingredients

  • 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

Preparation

  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.

CSA vs. Farmers Market: Weeks 4 and 5

14 Jul

An interesting factor in the cost comparison between the CSA and farmers markets became apparent this week: the variability of supply and demand, and its effect on prices of items.

Just as the grocery store can adjust the costs of fruits and vegetables based on seasonality, crop availability, and transport milage; so can the farmer at the farmers market. For someone who shops with solely cost in mind and little interest in variety, this can be a good way to obtain a large volume of one or two types of vegetable fairly inexpensively. However, for someone who doesn’t relish the idea of eating the same item for a week’s duration (or someone who lacks an extra freezer to take advantage and stock up for winter!), it can push the farmer’s market into pricey territory.

For example, our farmers market is currently bursting at the seams with zucchini. It’s a good time of year for zucchini, when they ripen in droves. Nearly every stall has them 2 or 3 for $1. If I were willing to eat zucchini every day for a week, and forget the slightly-too-early-in-the-season tomatoes priced at 2 for $3 or the end-of-crop sweet cherries at $4 a pint;  I theoretically could purchase seven days worth of fresh produce for around $2. But who wants to eat that much zucchini? (Steven already has had enough from the first time around!)

This is where I see the farmers market losing ground to the CSA. With the CSA, we have purchased a share in the farm’s yield; so as the farm’s yield grows mid-season, ours follows suit. The particular CSA that we belong to promises at least eight items per week; their website states that at times of low production they “supplement” with fresh eggs, homemade jams and local honey to reach that eight item per crate mark. Likewise, when the farm is producing well, each crate is apt to have above and beyond that number. The one thing that does not fluctuate is our price, which is locked in at $23.63 per delivery. Some weeks it may be stretching it to say that the CSA is a deal, but other weeks (like this week) it feels almost like stealing.

In this week’s disbursement we received:

  • 1 pint of red raspberries
  • 4 huge perfectly ripe peaches
  • 2 sweet onions with greens attached
  • 2 bunches of green onions (5 onions per bunch)
  • 2 stalks of green garlic
  • 1 pound of green beans
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 1 pound of radishes with tops
  • 1 pound of fresh basil
Adding up estimated grocery store value, the gain far outweighs the price paid. It definitely is a much more interesting and varied haul than that of our take at the farmers market last week (3 zucchini, 3 cucumbers, 2 tomatoes and a pint of cherries costing a total of $9). Though with a Southern boy in the house, those four peaches aren’t going to be around very long.
Now I need to start researching uses for basil that extend beyond pesto and Caprese salad. Does anyone have a good basil recipe to share?

Fish Tacos in Twenty Minutes

13 Jul

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Ingredients

  • 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

Preparation

  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.

The Cost of Eating Well

12 Jul

According to the USDA’s Center for Nutritional Policy and Promotions May 2011 analysis of cost of food at home (on which food stamp allotments are based), a household of two adults 19-50 years of age is expected to consume $84.60 worth of food each week on the “thrifty” food plan — a plan that covers the recommended daily allowances of each food group as determined by the USDA. This factors out to an average of $6.04 per adult, per day. In short, this is what the USDA expects a “healthy” diet to cost if the household is eating according to MyPlate guidelines. By comparison, a 2008 New York Times blog posting (the most recent daily breakdown data I could find) quotes a research study completed at the University of Washington that reports the average American eating a mix of “healthy” and “junk” foods spends approximately $7 per day on food — $4 per day for those classified as low-income.

This week was BIG grocery shopping, a trip requiring the purchase of essentials — ketchup, mayo, flour, sugar, coffee and such — so I figured it would be a good week to do the math and see where exactly we fall in the numbers. The results actually ended up being quite suprising — even to me, knowing our pattern of spending in the past. Here’s the breakdown, after a quick stroll through our shopping habits.

Generally, I grocery shop at three locations: Trader Joe’s, our local Chain Grocer, and farmers markets. Most often I buy enough to food to fill our (apartment sized) freezer and cupboards with the intention of it lasting 6-8 weeks for 3 meals per day per person. (We never buy lunches out; we always brown bag it — money saving tip #1!) In that time period I make, on average, two more small trips for perishables like yogurt, milk, and fresh fruits and vegetables. I try to focus on ingredients that can be assembled into meals as opposed to stocking up on convenience foods, though we do usually have some things like boxed macaroni and cheese, cans of tuna, and snack items like cookies and cheese crunchies on hand for when we’re in a pinch. We do not drink soda unless using it as a mixer, so rarely do I buy any (this is strictly a water, coffee, tea household by taste preferences). During that 6-8 weeks between grocery trips, we eat out in restaurants approximately once a week so, for statistical purposes, all calculations will be based on a 7 week time period though most likely this grocery trip will feed us for slightly longer. (I’m not an economist, so this is bound to be less than scientific).

First, the cost of fresh fruits and veggies for the next 7 weeks will total $100.89 for three CSA disbursements and three farmers market visits (estimated at $10 each).

My trip to Trader Joe’s (for items such as ground turkey, ground beef, crabmeat, Fair Trade organic coffee, cereals, blocks of Manchego, parmesan, and Havarti cheese, canned/dry goods, and nuts/dried fruits/mini chocolates for trail mix) cost me $144.37.

My trip to the Chain Grocer (for items such as ground lamb, salmon fillets, 2 lbs of raw shell-on shrimp, 6 large steaks, just over a pound of olive bar olives for tapas snack platters, 5lbs of all natural chicken breasts and a dozen containers of Greek yogurt) came to $173.09 but was reduced after applying card member savings, doubling a few coupons on name-brand condiments, and the 10% discount earned through their gas/food perks program. My total cost after a combined $20.59 in savings amounted to $152.50.

I expect that in the next 7 weeks I’ll spend approximately $50 more, $25 for each of those small trips for perishables.

This brings our food cost total to $447.76, or $63.97 per week for two adults. Breaking that down further, that’s $31.99 per week each, or $4.57 per person per day — right around the estimated low income expenditure, according to the NYT article, and $1.47 less than the number quoted by the USDA.

Not too shabby. The question now is: is it possible to increase our consumption of farm to table items (reducing the grocery store’s role even further), maintain our current healthy food philosophy, and continue to save money?

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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Preparation

  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.