Thrifty/Nifty: Five easy tips for food shopping

Marking dates on cans and bottles as they come into the pantry helps you keep rotating the older items to the front. Photo by Laura Groch

Marking dates on cans and bottles as they come into the pantry helps you keep rotating the older items to the front. Photo by Laura Groch

We’re well past the holiday hangover, but perhaps still paying the bills for it. I’m thinking we’re overdue for some Thrifty/Nifty tips to help make shopping and managing a kitchen a little easier:

— Look high when you choose  produce, especially when it’s piled high and deep. The stuff at the front, which is within everyone’s reach, is what’s been handled most. Reach farther back, or higher, in the pile to choose a pear or tomato or head of lettuce that hasn’t been bruised and battered by everyone else.

— Remember to look low on store shelves. We naturally scan shelves at eye level, Continue reading

Easy, hearty shepherd’s pie takes the edge off winter

shepherd's pie

A scoop of piping-hot shepherd’s pie will warm you on a cold evening. Photo by Laura Groch

Wet, wintry weather makes me want hearty, hot meals. Soups and stews come to mind, warming the kitchen as they cook and warming the body as we eat.

The humble but sturdy shepherd’s pie also fills the bill. This is an easy-to-make, forgiving dish that can be as economical or as extravagant as your budget allows.

It’s also extremely flexible: You can use whatever’s at hand without having to rigidly adhere to a list of ingredients, which freaks out some cooks.

(And p.s., looking ahead to Super Bowl feeds, this would be just as bowl-worthy as chili for your crew.)

My pie — baked in a casserole dish, not necessarily a pie plate (see? flexible) — Continue reading

Struffoli: Not all it’s cracked up to be


Mom and me and the struffoli: Sometimes traditions are better remembered than observed. (Photo by Laura Groch)

With most of the holiday fun and fuss behind us, it’s a good time to look back on tradition: what family rituals still work, which ones should be adjusted, which ones need replacing.

I offer you the story of the struffoli.

One December afternoon after school, my little brother and I returned to my paternal grandmother’s house, where we would do homework and watch TV until our parents came home from work to pick us up.

Throwing my book bag on the floor and shedding my winter gear, I was suddenly aware of something out of the ordinary. It sat proudly on Continue reading

Need a gift for teacher? How about a chicken-bone necklace?

reporter interviewing state trooper

On the job in Indiana, interviewing a state trooper. Photo by Mary Patchett

My first reporting job was on the education beat in a small Indiana town, and near Christmastime I thought of how my mom used to puzzle over what to give my teachers as gifts. No gift cards then, and cold cash was frowned upon. On the list were gloves, scarves, candy, dusting powder and lotions  (most grade-school teachers were still women).

I wondered what the teachers’ reactions were, and the result was this story (and I wonder how this story would read if it were redone today!). Here it is, slightly abridged. Hope you enjoy:

Most teachers know, when they open a Christmas gift from a student, it’ll probably be something conventional, like gloves or after-shave.

But once in a while, a teacher gets a doozy of a present that brings back Continue reading

Enjoy your holiday, but don’t forget to look around

I wouldn’t leave you high and dry for Thanksgiving Day without pointing you to a few trusted recipes.

First up, the sweet potato-and-apple dish that brought me back to the sweet potato fold: You can find it here.

Nor would I leave you without a peek at our Italian family’s stuffing recipe, which you’ll find here.

And, in case you’d like to be reassured that even seasoned cooks can make kitchen blunders, check out the tale of my 2014 turkey here.

I do hope you can relax and enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner, whether it’s a Continue reading

Happy Pre-Thankgiving!

impossible pies

Besides bagels, cream cheese and salmon, we served Impossible Ham ‘N’ Swiss Pie (left) and Impossible Green Chile-Cheese pie at our Pre-Thanksgiving. Photo by Laura Groch

We just finished a casual but fun family gathering. What? When Thanksgiving is just around the corner?

Well, yes, because family and friends are often heading to other in-laws’ or other friends’ homes to share this holiday and/or Christmas. So our branch comes together sometimes before Christmas, or in this case, before Thanksgiving, for a get-together.

I’ve heard other folks have christened this idea as “Faux-” or “Fake- Continue reading

When life gives you portobellos and peppers, sauté them

portobello mushrooms, onions, peppers, tomatoes

Portobello mushrooms are great in a stir-fry fajita-style with peppers, onions and tomatoes. Photo by Laura Groch

Necessity is the mother of invention, and sometimes bargains can be the parents of creativity. Especially in the kitchen.

I snagged a package of three portobello mushroom caps for 99 cents in the marked-down produce section of my supermarket recently. I knew portobellos were expensive, so this was truly a deal. But if you can’t figure out what to do with your deal, it’s money down the drain.

I also picked up a bag of three bell peppers for 99 cents. Hmmm. I had Continue reading