Tag Archives: food shopping

Food Shopping: Number 1 Sons Kimchi, Kraut & More

16 Apr

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Ever tried Korean kimchi before? Kimchi is a spicy, pickled, hot-as-all-heck mixture of fermented (read: pickled au naturel) cabbage that’s frequently a garnish, condiment and all-around addition to Korean cuisine.

It’s also delicious.

Which is why, when I ran into the Number 1 Sons booth at this past Saturday’s Silver Spring Farmer’s Market, I stopped, tasted, and purchased some kimchi-licious goodies.

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Food Shopping: World Market & Williams Sonoma

8 Feb

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Time for another food-venture in shopping! This weekend, to prepare for a Mardi Gras-fest with some DC friends (details and Jambalaya recipe pending!), I ventured to the foreign land of Friendship Heights — which really does sound like a foreign land — to hit up two favorites. First, World Market supposedly had a killer collection of Mardi Gras goodies. Secondly, Williams-Sonoma is always worth a perusal.

And, thankfully, I took my camera! Here’s a fun round-up of what I found at both stores. Let’s laissez les bons temps roulez at two fun chef-friendly outposts.

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Kitchen Tips and Budget Eats: Making a Menu and Using a Grocery List

6 Oct

Image sourced from themetapicture.com

This weekend, I — like many of you — will be heading to that mecca of munchies, that forum of food, that headquarters of hunger-quenching, the grocery store. (Did you like that one? I did, too. Hehe.) And while I love to head to my local Giant Grocery to stock my kitchen, pantry and fridge, I don’t love a recent trend: the steady, upward crawl of grocery prices.

Have you noticed this, too? Due to circumstances like the recent Midwestern drought, increased costs of shipping and/or production, and that pesky little inflation thing, food costs are continuing to rise in the U.S. (Granted, they’re still often lower than costs elsewhere in the world — Europe, I’m looking at you — but for us American consumers, it’s still noticeable.) Less rain = fewer harvested veggies = animal feed becomes more expensive = meat & dairy, inevitably, become more expensive. All this adds up to a bigger and bigger impact on your wallet every time you step through that produce section or frozen foods aisle.

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Budget Eats: Doctoring Store-Bought Ingredients

25 Sep

In the spirit of Sandra “Semi-Homemade” Lee, this “Budget Eats” entry focuses on taking things you can easily find in a grocery store (dry mixes, spice packs, sauces, and even pre-cooked meat products like chicken sausage) and turning them into something totally dynamite. Can you do it? Can it be done on a budget? Heck yes.

I’ve constructed this post with 3 categories: Mixes & doughs, meat products, and sauces. Each has its own tips and ideas for how to use those products in a pinch for dinners, desserts, snacks & more. Please (seriously!) feel free to leave comments with other ideas — this is a place to share what we’ve all learned, especially the shortcuts that keep us sane on a hungry weeknight!

MIXES & DOUGHS:

  • Take a standard mix — Bisquick, Jiffy mixes, etc — and play around with their use. Bisquick, in a pinch, is a killer ingredient in a single-breaded or double-breaded chicken dinner. And Jiffy mix? Jiffy is a whole nother ballgame of multipurpose cooking. My favorite use for Jiffy mix is Savory Corn Muffins — Prepare Jiffy mix as noted on box; add garlic powder, frozen corn kernels (up to 3/4 cup), chopped fresh chives & freshly grated black pepper; bake as usual and serve with chili, tacos or other Tex-Mex cuisine. See the above picture, or this one:

  • Biscuit dough — like Pillsbury Grands — is incredibly versatile. For example, you can make Easy-Peasy Cinnamon Donuts with a tube of Grands biscuits: Separate and lay biscuits out on a baking sheet; Using a shot glass or medicine cup, cut circles out of the center of each biscuit; either bake as directed or deep-fry in vegetable oil until browned; sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. NOM NOM! Here’s a great recipe (with actual measurements) from Make and Takes.

Image sourced from Makeandtakes.com. Amazing, right? And so easy!

  • Pizza dough — either Pillsbury or a store brand — can be used for its obvious purpose (pizza, kiddies), or for calzones, strombolis, or even mini-pizzas. Or, try these Holiday Hors d’OeuvresCut the pizza dough into 1″ X 1″ squares; top with pesto, chopped roasted red peppers, and feta cheese crumbles; bake as directed for pizza dough. (These also make a great light supper.)
  • Got Spice Cake Mix and a jar of pumpkin? (Of course you do, lovely GKG readers — you wouldn’t go anywhere without your trusty can of pumpkin!) Combine the two, bake according to the cake mix package’s directions, and poof. Instant Pumpkin Cupcakes. Top with store-bought cream cheese frosting with a splash of maple syrup mixed in, and WOWZA.

MEAT PRODUCTS:

Image sourced from baltimorecrab.com. This may or may not currently be in my freezer …

  • Those bags of frozen Tilapia filets? Seriously your best friend. Use them to create Single Serving Foil Packs — stuff a packet of tinfoil with Tilapia, a splash of cooking liquid (broth, oil, butter or white wine), sliced veggies & spices to your liking; bake at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes, or until fish and veggies are cooked through. Win! This method also works for chicken and beef equally well.
  • Got frozen chicken nuggets? How about turning them into Chicken Parm Bites? Top individual nuggets with tomato sauce and dried basil, baking according to package directions; then, add shredded mozzarella cheese on each nugget and return to the oven for an additional 3-5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted, bubbly and brown. Mmm!

Image sourced from seriouseats.com. So much tasty!

  • Pre-cooked chicken sausage is incredibly versatile. Use brands like Al Fresco to whip up a Healthy Pita Pizza: Top individual Greek-style pitas with pesto or tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella, sliced chicken sausage, and shredded kale (thawed and formerly frozen is great!); Broil for 5-10 minutes or until cheese is melted and sausage is heated through. Mmm!

SAUCES

The players in Operation: Sauce Doctoring — fresh or dried herbs work well here.

  • Got jarred tomato sauce? Doctor up that boring blend with a few extras that you may have hiding in your pantry or spice cabinet: dried basil, dried oregano, dried parsley and a bay leaf. Add sauteed chopped mushrooms and peppers to create an instant Cacciatore sauce for chicken and spaghetti. Or, stir a little store-bought pesto into a jarred tomato sauce. Serious good eats. (I even used this method on my chicken parm! Shhh. Don’t tell the aunts and grandparents! 🙂
  • I’m counting mayonnaise as a “sauce” here, because it’s one of the most versatile condiments on the planet. Add some Sriracha for Spicy Mayo; stir in some pesto for a dee-licious Pesto Mayo on your panini; or crushed cloves of garlic (use a sprinkle of salt and a fork to turn garlic into a mushy, incredible paste) and a drizzle of olive oil to DIY your own aioli. Mmmskies.
  • If we count cake frosting as a “sauce,” too, then your possibilities are pretty much endless. As I mentioned above, add a drizzle of maple syrup (and a dash or two of cinnamon) to frost fall desserts. Or, try stirring mashed strawberries or raspberries into a whipped vanilla frosting for a light, fruity flavor to top your cakes and cupcakes. I’m also experimenting with adding — you guessed it, lovelies — some jarred pumpkin. I’ll keep you posted on how that turns out.

Here’s to getting creative! Using some pre-made, store-bought ingredients can save you time, energy and money. Wallet-friendly and fun? Sign me up! What are your favorite ways to add to what you’ve already found at the grocery store?

Cooking With: Fresh Herbs (Pronounce the “H” and You Can Sound Like You’re British!)

4 Sep

Time for a new adventure at GKG — I’ll be starting a series of “cooking with: what to do with fun or random ingredients” posts (New! Fun! Exciting!). I’ve come to love various ingredients that don’t always get the love they deserve (a la brussels sprouts — way more delicious than they seemed when we were kids), ingredients that are way off the beaten path (like flaxseed meal — post pending!), or ingredients I’ve come to regard as staples.

Like this one! Here’s a piece about growing and cooking with fresh herbs. First, I’d like to introduce you to the new additions to my household …

… Basil and Chives! (Ha! Fooled ya. I wish I could say I’ve added a pet to my household … I’m looking into teacup pigs. Y’know, in my dreams, where I live in a children’s book or in Iris’ cottage in “The Holiday”) I’ve been growing them for about 3 weeks, and so far, they’re still alive and ready to roll … into little rolls for chopping. Although …

Smaller, due to shame. Lots and lots of shame.

(The Parsley hasn’t fared as well. Meh. You live, you learn, you overwater slightly, herbs die, we all move on.)

Why use fresh herbs when dried are often easier? Having cooked with and enjoyed both, I can’t say I have a huge preference one way or the other. There are, however, a few times when having fresh herbs in the house is fun, helpful and tasty.

  • Adding flavorful garnishes to your dishes – everything just looks prettier with a chiffonade of basil on top.
  • Adding a fresh, bright burst of flavor to the last minute of cooking. Fresh herbs are best when added towards the end of a recipe, before they have a chance to go all brown and wilty on you.
  • Adding color – a quick gremolata of chopped fresh parsley, lemon zest, salt and pepper brightens up a basic bowl of spaghetti and marinara with color and visual interest.
  • Adding specialness (yep, totally a word. Even MS Word didn’t give it a red squiggly line. #winning) – when you’re living on a budget or just learning how to cook, fresh herbs lend your dishes a flair of style and a whiff of the gourmet.

“But GKG,” you wisely note, “Aren’t fresh herbs absurdly pricey? I could just as easily buy a container of dried oregano that lasts for a full year, and I’d definitely be getting my money’s worth… without the guilt of using 15% of my grocery budget to buy them in those little plastic packs.”

And you’d be right – fresh herbs CAN be expensive … IF you buy those little plastic pre-packaged containers of them. Usually, these packages hang out by the lettuces and greens, looking delicious and flaunting their high prices. Boo.

HOWEVER! There are two ways around this predicament.

  1. Buy those tubes of pre-chopped fresh herbs, like these from Gourmet Garden. (Pros and cons: green herbs can still lose their flavor, but they apparently freeze really well. Check out the comments in this forum about Gourmet Garden products from TheKitchn for more thoughts.)
  2. Grow them yourself! Grocery stores or home improvement stores sell herb plants, and they’re easy to grow with sunlight, pots with good drainage, and regular watering. (NOTE: Check out these tips for individual herbs about this – otherwise, you’ll drown your lemon thyme like I did last summer. Tragedy!)

So go forth and multiply … your herb usage! Here are a few of my favorite ways to use the fresh herbs I’ve got growing right now:

  1. Pesto, pesto, pesto. Fresh basil leaves + pine nuts (or walnuts) + olive oil + parmesan cheese + salt & pepper to taste = instant deliciousness. For tips on proportions (and an actual recipe), check out Alice Currah’s recipe on Savory Sweet Life. Mmm!
  2. Quick gremolata (see above, or this recipe from the wizards at About.com) using fresh parsley. Lovely topping for tomato-based sauces and pasta, or even roast pork.
  3. Salad garnish: Chop basil & chives finely; mix with your salad ingredients just before serving.
  4. Scrambled Eggs: Add fresh chives with salt, pepper and other seasonings to scrambled eggs just before cooking.
  5. Creamy cheesy mashed potatoes: Add freshly chopped chives to ½ package softened cream cheese (or more, if you’re feeling decadent) and stir into roughly mashed potatoes. Voila: instant holiday side dish classic.
  6. Add fresh basil leaves to a tomato and mozzarella Panini for caprese salad in a sandwich. Mmm!

So preeeetty, right? Go for it — you’ll be glad you did!

Do you guys like using fresh herbs? Do you find it’s easy or difficult to grow them yourself? Are you more “dried herbs” people?

Food Shopping: My Hipster Farmers Markets Are Less Mainstream than YOUR Hipster Farmers Markets

1 Sep

Public artwork in Mount Pleasant. Love!

Disclaimer: I am far too mainstream to be any sort of legitimate hipster. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

2nd Disclaimer: Today I am consumed with college football. These photographs were taken last weekend. Can’t say I was at a farmers market while Notre Dame was playing Navy at 9am this morning. I was, however, at the only open watering hole in the DC metropolitan area. #Breakfastofchampions.

It’s been a while since I wrote a farmers market post, and after my recent venture to the Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant farmers markets here in DC, I felt inspired by seasonal goods and local vendors. Both markets are within a mile or so of each other in Northwest DC, easily accessible on the Yellow and Green Metro lines (Get off at Columbia Heights to hit up the CoHi market on 14th, then walk less than a mile due west to Mount Pleasant’s Lamont Square). Win!

For more information about both markets, hit up this site for Columbia Heights, and this one for Mt. Pleasant.

We’re now in that delicious late summer phase, when some of the summer’s best seasonal veggies are making their debuts (or singing their swan songs) at farmers markets. First, I found …

So many watermelons, so little time.

…watermelons! So beautiful and in-season, watermelons can be used in more versatile ways than just slicing up a wedge for a summer night’s dessert. Try topping a tomato-based gazpacho in diced watermelon for a sweet crunch to balance the soup’s tangy flavor, or dare to be … daring with this excellent Watermelon Feta Salad recipe from the folks at PBS. 

Next, I spotted these beautiful heirloom tomatoes.

Is it weird if I visualized one of these bad boys as Bob the Tomato from Veggie Tales?

While heirlooms can be a bit pricey, their flavor is unmatched and so unique from tomato to tomato. (Tomato, to-mah-to, to-tasty…) I recommend slicing them, salting them lightly, and adding to a grilled cheese sandwich with something distinct and flavorful — say, shredded Gruyere or a slice of soft, lovely Fontina? They’re also phenomenal in salads — try this lovely-looking take on a Panzanella (read: best use for stale bread aside from French Toast EVER) Caprese salad from Bites Out Of Life, using diced or sliced heirlooms.

After that, I spotted these lovely little pints of raspberries. They looked fresh and juicy, ripe (heh heh, puns … oif.) for the taking.

Raspberries have about a million excellent uses in various recipes — top your morning yogurt and granola with raspberries and a drizzle of honey for a tart-sweet topping, or stir them into warm oatmeal with a drizzle of maple syrup for a pink-tinted breakfast treat. For a surprising twist, try this savory raspberry sauce with garlic, chicken stock and even jalapenos (!) over pork chops. Thanks to Amy’s Cooking Adventures for such a killer recipe.

I also discovered — hurrah! — some great-looking oyster mushrooms.

Yup, photobombed by a pint of tomatoes.

Oyster mushrooms impart a savory flavor to any dish, such as a stir-fry (add them towards the end — they’ll cook very quickly) or a rice bowl (cooked brown rice + sauteed mushrooms + 1/2 cup chicken broth + soy sauce + chopped green onions and sesame seeds = MMM). They’re best in the fall, and will likely keep showing up at your local farmers market for weeks to come. Here’s a slide show of recipes using oyster mushrooms from Martha Stewart, including a divine-looking Mushroom Soup.

Lastly, I spotted these plums at a great price, which is clutch when they’re in their peak late-summer season.

Oh yeah. Look at those bad boys.

Plums might be one of my top 3 favorite fruits, which is saying a lot for this fruit-and-veggie-loving gal. Try them in my Skillet Upside-Down Cake for a lovely dessert, or if you’re in more of a savory mood, this decadent Chanterelle, Bacon, and Plum Salad with Blue Cheese from Jaden Hair at Steamy Kitchen. Wow!

That’s all for this farmers market roundup. Get excited for fall produce! I’m seeing lots of dark greens in your future …

Kitchen Nightmares: What to Save When You’ve Lost Power?

6 Jul

When you experience power loss on a major scale (see: DC region. See: my sweatbox apartment, which lost power for 5 and a half days last week), one frustrating clean-up task is tackling your refrigerator. Your first instinct, if you’re like most of us, is likely to begin wildly throwing every possible item into the garbage. Toss baby, toss! No tainted mayonnaise for me, thank you very much!

Of course, you could always clean out your fridge this way.

If you’re anything like the History Teacher and myself, your first instinct is to pray that you won’t have to throw away every. Single. Item. When you’re cooking and shopping on a budget, the prospect of spending a few hundred dollars restocking your fridge is about as appealing as eating that 5 day-old tainted mayonnaise.

Just imagine there are wads of cash tucked between the bananas and celery stalks. (That’s how it feels, anyway.)

But take heart! After furiously Googling “How can I save my poor condiments?” I uncovered what might be the most useful government web site in the history of the interwebs: Foodsafety.gov. According to this page, you can actually save more items than you might think.

Thanks for helping me avoid self-infection-by-way-of-spoiled-food, Federal Government!

Top Nine Tips from Foodsafety.gov:

  1. Toss any kind of raw or cooked meat, fish, or poultry if the item has been above 50˚F for more than two hours. Unless you preserve it in a cooler with ice (or dry ice, apparently) soon after losing power, meat is a no-go.
  2. While you should toss soft, shredded or low-fat cheeses, hard cheeses, processed cheese (who’s surprised that Velveeta could essentially survive a nuclear holocaust? *crickets*) and cheeses like Parmesan that come in jars or plastic containers are fine. (She said, mourning the block of New York Extra Sharp Cheddar that she tossed, as it decomposed in some lonely landfill.)
  3. The only kinds of dairy that you should save are butter and margarine. Milk, yogurt and their other dairy brethren should be thrown out.
  4. Unless your fruit has already been sliced, you can save whole, dried or canned fruits (even open cans).
  5. Eggs, I’m afraid, are goners. Whether cooked or raw, toss ‘em.
  6. The only condiments that need tossing are creamy dressings, oyster / fish sauces, and open jars of spaghetti sauce. Makes sense.
  7. Basic breads, rolls, muffins, and wraps are fine, but refrigerated dough, cooked rice / pasta, and fresh pasta are out.
  8. Keep your fruit pies! Custard and cream pies, however, should be tossed.
  9. Raw veggies, mushrooms, and fresh herbs can stay (hurrah!), but cooked and prepared veggies are out.

Neither rain nor sleet nor dark of night shall keep me from pie.

For the complete chart, check out the link above. As for me, I’ll be having a mustard, cheddar, butter, fruit and apple pie sandwich. With a side of fresh vegetables, of course.