Monday, February 28, 2011

Blackened Shrimp Alfredo

Want a great go-to meal when you don't have much time? Check out this Blackened Shrimp Alfredo recipe we tried over the weekend.


  • 1 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 2 tsp. blackening seasoning
  • 1 pound jumbo shrimp
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 8 oz. cut veggies (mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, etc)
  • 8-10 fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup sherry
  • 1 (16 oz) jar Alfredo Sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. shredded Parmesan cheese


Preheat large saute pan on high 1-2 minutes. Place both seasonings and shrimp in bag; seal tightly and shake to coat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Arrange shrimp, flat in pan, in single layer; cook 2 minutes without turning.

Add vegetables; rotate shrimp to top. Cover and cook 3-4 minutes, stirring often, until vegetables are tender.

Stir in remaining ingredients (except cheese); cook 1 minute.

Serve over prepared fettuccine. Sprinkle with cheese.


CALORIES (per 1/4 recipe) 490kcal; FAT 16g; CHOL 205mg; SODIUM 830mg; CARB 51g; FIBER 3g; PROTEIN 30g; VIT A 20%; VIT C 70%; CALC 10%; IRON 25%

A is for Asparagus, B is for Banana

I don't know about your family, but in ours it seems the youngest came out of the womb scrambling to keep up with the bigger kids.

Hannah was a restless baby. She didn't want to nap. She wanted to be in the thick of the action. She walked early, talked early, and hasn't stopped pushing the boundaries since. Just today say asked when she could dye her hair. She's 10. She wants to dye it ... burgandy. I told her she'd have to wait at least until she's out of elementary school!

When Olivia decided to start a weekly cooking project highlighting foods from different countries, Hannah - of course - needed her own special series. After a lot of debate, she settled on The A to Z of Fruits and Veggies.

For her debut meal, she chose Roasted Asparagus and Not Yo' Mama's Banana Pudding (mostly because we didn't have any clue what some of the other fruit & veggie options were. Arracacha, anyone?!?)).

Of course, being a meat-a-tarian she had to add JaFaxby's. It's our family knock-off of Zaxby's (Jason's Fake Zaxby's = JaFaxby's. Yeah, we're muy creative!)

Ingredients (measuring advice from Jason -- "make it up as you go"):

  • flour
  • salt and pepper
  • parmesan cheese, grated
  • chicken, cut into strips
  • egg
  • milk
  • canola oil

Directions -- Cover the bottom of a heavy pan with 2-3" of canola oil and heat over medium-high. Beat the egg with a little milk in a bowl. Put some flour, S&P and parmesan in a sealable plastic bag (or, if you're like us and don't often have plastic bags on hand, just put it in a large bowl). One by one, dip the chicken strips in the egg/milk mixture, then into the flour mixture, and then into the hot pan to cook.

Roasted Asparagus

Directions -- Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange asparagus in a shallow metal pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Salt and Pepper. Cook for 25 minutes.

Not Yo' Mama's Banana Pudding

This recipe comes courtesy Paula Deen and


  • 2 bags Pepperidge Farm Chessmen cookies (OR, if you're like us and have lots of Girl Scout cookies in your living room... just use some Trefoils)
  • 6 to 8 bananas, sliced
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 (5-ounce) box instant French vanilla pudding
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 (12-ounce) container frozen whipped topping thawed, or equal amount sweetened whipped cream

Line the bottom of a 13 by 9 by 2-inch dish with 1 bag of cookies and layer bananas on top.

In a bowl, combine the milk and pudding mix and blend well using a handheld electric mixer. Using another bowl, combine the cream cheese and condensed milk together and mix until smooth. Fold the whipped topping into the cream cheese mixture. Add the cream cheese mixture to the pudding mixture and stir until well blended.

Pour the mixture over the cookies and bananas and cover with the remaining cookies. (OOOPS! We clearly forgot this step!)

Refrigerate until ready to serve. Lick the bowls.

The finished product:

(Okay, the beer is just for Dad. We may allow hair dye at 12, but certainly not Levitation Ale!)


Chef Hannah -- I thought the chicken was fabulous. It was really, really crispy.  The asparagus was a downer. I've never really tried it, but when I did it tasted all mushy.   I think I might like it better if it was just raw.  I like most of my vegetables raw.   The banana pudding -- I liked the trefoils 'cause they had a really,  really good crunch and I liked the bananas because the softness was a complete opposite to the cookies. The downer, though, was that the pudding was really sweet. If you don't like sweet then you won't like this pudding because it was very, very sweet.

This dinner was very easy to make.  If you tried to make this whole meal in about 10 minutes you couldn't do it.  It would take more like 20 or 30 minutes. But compared to other dishes that's really, really low. You could make this dish and even add some of your own ideas.

Olivia -- Chicken, good.  Asparagus needs to be black.  I like it burned to a crisp.  I agree with Hannah - the pudding was too sweet.  I could only eat one bite. But the Simply Lemonade was exquisite.  Make sure you write "exquisite".

Miranda -- It was good. The chicken is better than Zaxby's. I didn't try the asparagus (she says with a sheepish smile). The banana pudding was amazing. No way was it too sweet!

Jason -- As always, the chicken is very good.  We tried baking it once, to make it healthier. But it didn't turn out nearly as well.... so back to using oil to fry it.  I think I'd rather saute the asparagus to keep it a little crisper.  I don't usually like sweets, but banana pudding is my weakness. I thought it was great! (he even ate two bowls)

The chicken and asparagus paired really well with the beer -- Levitation Ale by Stone Brewery.  I usually drink heavier beers, like Russian Imperial Stouts. But for a 4% beer, the Levitation Ale is unbelievably good.

Tanya -- Is it bad that I think of JaFaxBy's as mostly a barbecue sauce delivery system? I could take or leave the the chicken, but boy do I love me some Sweet Vidalia BBQ Sauce! The asparagus is my favorite, although I agree with Olivia it could've been a bit more crispy. Perhaps upping the temp to 400.
I, too, like the banana pudding (a lot!), though I think I still prefer the more traditional Nilla Wafer in place of the Trefoil, which was too hard, IMO.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

What We're Reading, Hearing, Watching - Pt. 2


Jason is juggling a couple of books this week. He's still reading The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century. He also just started I is an Other

This is how the Wall Street Journal's review begins:

"Metaphors are dangerous—or so we've been told of late, as various rhetorical tropes have been called "hate speech" and blamed for a dangerous climate of incivility. But politics has never been beanbag. Candidates wage campaigns; they fight for supremacy in battleground states . Strategy and tactics do much to decide who will be the victor and who will suffer defeat. And when an opportunity arises, the bold seize the initiative — which is what any number of commentators did within hours of last month's Tucson rampage. They accused their political foes of trafficking in metaphors that primed the gunman's mind to mayhem."

"There proved to be no evidence for the accusation, but it did reflect a general suspicion that language— figurative language in particular—can move us and manipulate us in harmful ways. Which makes James Geary's "I Is an Other" especially timely. Mr. Geary proposes to show that metaphors are a key to how we think and may often determine our thinking without our knowing it."

Tanya is slowly making her way through Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor's My Stroke of Insight.

Bolte Taylor is a brain scientist who, in her mid 30's, experienced a stroke that changed her life. The book explains the basics of brain science and then documents what Bolte Taylor went through the day she had her stroke and during the recovery process afterwards.

It's been a slow read because, quite honestly, the book is rather simplistically organized and written and it doesn't really capture the imagination. BUT, Bolte Taylor's appearance at a TED event is absolutely captivating. Watch the video -- You won't be disappointed!

Her interview with Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air is also quite interesting.


Lucinda Williams 10th album Blessed comes out March 1st, but we're taking a first listen at

While Jason is actually doing yoga...

Tanya is listening to author Claire Dederer talk about Learning to Embrace Mess and Chaos Through Yoga.


There's only one thing we'll be watching today -- and if you're anywhere near Birmingham we hope you'll join us. It's the final performance of Children of Eden at the Virginia Samford Theatre.

Freely based on the story of Genesis, Children of Eden is a frank, heartfelt and often humorous examination of the age-old conflict between parents and children. Adam, Eve, Noah and the "Father" who created them deal with the headstrong, cataclysmic actions of their respective children. The show ultimately delivers a bittersweet but inspiring message: that "the hardest part of love... is letting go."

The kids have been working really hard on this production, as you can see in this dressing room shot (Miranda's the one who's passed out. Juggling two shows in one month really zapped her!)

Now that you know what we're Reading, Hearing, Watching .... tell us what's capturing your attention this week! Have you seen a great movie? Read a good book? Let us know!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Groceries Pt. 3: Making (and Sticking to) a Plan

In Groceries Pt. 1 we asked the question "How Much Do You Spend?" Our monthly budget is $800, which government data suggests is pretty reasonable for a family of 5 (plus 1 dog and four cats) that tries to eat local/organic/humanely-raised as much as possible. Some months we're right on target, other months ... not so much.

One thing that really helps is making (and sticking to) a meal plan. Each weekend we check to see what's left in our fridge and pantry and start planning a week's worth of dinners from that. We then make a grocery list and try really hard to stick to it.

When the kids were younger, and we weren't spending endless hours toting them to gymnastics/theatre/soccer/girls scouts and helping with homework, we had the meal planning down to science. We even did Once A Month Cooking for a while -- it's a great way to save money and time.

In our highly-unscientific survey of Facebook and Twitter friends, we uncovered some other Grocery Store Rock Stars. We asked them to share their secrets to meal planning.

Rock Star #1: Jessica

She's a single working mom with two kids and two dogs. She spends $250 a month on food.
  • I usually choose 3 main dishes each week and make enough to have leftovers the next day.
  • I make spaghetti sauce once a week because I can do so many different meals with it (i.e.: lasagna, ziti, meatball subs, any kind of pasta). My sauce is loaded with pureed and diced veggies. 
  • We reserve one day for “snack trays.”  The kids can choose between the 12 cup muffin pan or the 6 cup jumbo muffin pan, and they fill each cup with whatever they want to nibble on. I started doing this when they were toddlers, so I always got all food groups involved. They have kept it up even though they now make their own choices. I let them scour the pantry and refrigerator for whatever they can find. Often it's nuts, dried fruits, fresh fruits, cut veggies w/ homemade dips, yogurt, cheeses, crackers, etc. They love it!
  • My favorite cookbook is The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl and one of the best recipe websites is Epicurious.
  • Typically, I power cook on Saturday or Sunday, making 2 meals. I divide and freeze them for later in the week when we are just too busy with our schedules to fix a real meal. 

Rock Star #2: Danielle

Danielle is my sister. She's a teacher who lives in San Diego with her three kids and husband, who's in the Navy. They spend $360 a month on groceries.

  • We generally only shop twice a month (usually right after payday on the 1st and 15th). We plan enough meals to get through to the next payday.
  • I use sales and coupons to stock my pantry with the basics and then I base my meals around what we have. Sometimes I have to get a little creative!
  • We stick to a routine. Each week we eat:
    • "Breakfast for Dinner".  We make pancakes lots of different ways based on what's on sale (add fruit, applesauce and cinnamon, chocolate chips, etc. to mix it up).
    • Mexican -- quesadillas, tacos, burritos, enchiladas.  I'm trying a frittata recipe next week. 
    • Salad.  I buy the salad kits when they're on sale and we add meat to it to make a meal. If it's a BOGO (buy-one-get-one free sale) I can spend a little more on the meat. 
  • I crock pot at least once a week (sometimes multiple times!).  It saves time and money because I can use cheaper cuts of meat and from what I've read, using the crock pot is more cost-effective than using the stove, which heats up the kitchen.
  •  I double duty meat for, what I like to call, Meal Maximization. I'll buy whole chickens when they're on sale (I can get them as low as $3/chicken and I stock up). I boil the chicken till the meat comes off. I separate the meat into two containers. One can be used for enchiladas and the other for chicken salad. I strain the broth and I use it when I crock pot. By doing that, I'm able to use one $3 chicken for three meals! 

Rock Star #3: Krista

Krista is my other sister. She, her husband, their infant son and 75 pound lab Jack spend just $250 a month at the grocery store.  Krista's husband is a firefighter, though, so he eats at the firehouse 10 days a month.  And when he does, Krista and baby Will often eat at our parent's house. If you can keep your food expenses down by visiting the folks regularly, maybe these tips from Krista will help:

  • I'm an inpulse buyer. Shopping once a month helps with not buying unneeded items, especially if it's a "good deal".
  • I have about 10 cook books I regularly cook from. I woudl say on average, I cook the same meal twice a year or so.
  • I do alot of substituting based on what I have on hand or what I can buy real cheap in bulk at Sams. Different types of pasta, rices, sauces, cheeses, and even sometimes spices. 
  • I am almost always willing to try the store brands (just not for toilet paper!).

Jessica, Danielle and Krista all leverage their buying power with coupons. They may not be Extreme Couponers, but they swear by coupons to save 25-50% off their food budget. And sometimes more. In "Groceries Pt. 4: Queens of Coupons" they'll share their secrets.  

Hannah's A to Z of Fruits and Veggies

Olivia's got her World of Food series, and Hannah didn't want to miss out on the fun.

So she's decided to tackle one fruit and one vegetable each week. Who knew there were so many options? We are going to be mighty busy!

Banana -- Not Yo Mama's Banana Pudding
Bell Pepper
Coconut -- Coconut Cupcakes
Cucumber -- Cucumber Salad
Date -- YumNutty Date Truffles
Ugli Fruit

VEGETABLES (and fruits that like to dress up like vegetables)
Asparagus -- Simple Roasted Asparagus
Aubergene (a.k.a. eggplant)


  • Azuki Bean
  • Common Bean
  • Drumstick
  • Fava Bean
  • Green Bean (French beans)
  • Groundnut
  • Guar Bean
  • Horse Gram
  • Hyacinth bean
  • Lentil
  • Lima Bean
  • Moth Bean
  • Mung Bean
  • Ricebean
  • Runner Bean
  • Soybean
  • Tarwi
  • Tepary Bean
  • Urad Bean
  • Velvet Bean
  • Winged Bean
  • Yardlong Bean
Beet Greens
Bok Choy
Broadleaf Arrowhead
Brussels sprouts

Ceylon Spinach
Chinese Artichoke
Chinese Cabbage

Dabberlocks (winged kelp)
Dandelion Nettles -- Nettle Pasta (a.k.a. "Snakes in a Kitchen")


Fiddlehead Fern
Fluted Pumpkin
Florence Fennel

Golden Samphire


Irish Moss

Jerusalem Artichoke
Jicama (Mexican Turnip)

Kai-lan (Chinese broccoli)

Lamb's Lettuce
Land Cress
Lotus Roots

Mizuna Greens (Japanese mustard)

  • Bolete/Cep/Poricini
  • Chanterelle
  • Cloud Ear
  • Enoki
  • Morel
  • Oyster Mushroom
  • Paris and Coffee Mushrooms
  • Portobello
  • Shiitake
  • Truffle

Nori (laver)


Prairie Turnip


Salsify (oyster plant)
Scorzonera (black oyster plant)
Sea Grape
Sea Lettuce
Sweet Potato
Sea Beat
Sea Kale
Squash Blossoms
Sweet potato

Ti Plant (good luck plant)


Wasabi (Japanese horseradish)
Water Chestnut
Winter Purslane
Winter Squash (Acorn Squash)



Shrimp Po' Bubba Sliders

Sometimes, a girl's just gotta eat a sandwich that's half the size of her head.

In this case, it's the yummy Paula Deen Shrimp Po' Bubba Sliders that Jason made for dinner tonight.


  • Uncle Bubba's Fry Mix: 6 cups self-rising flour, 1 cup cornmeal, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper (Mix ingredients together and store in an airtight container for up to 4 months.)
  • 2 pounds, uncooked shrimp, peeled (tails left on), deveined and butterflied
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup Louisiana hot sauce (Paula Deen suggests Texas Pete)
  • 2 cups Uncle Bubba's Fry Mix, recipe follows (OR use a store-bought seafood fry mix, like we did.)
  • Peanut oil, for deep frying
  • Tartar sauce, for dressing
  • Lettuce and tomato slices, for topping


Lightly sprinkle the shrimp with salt and pepper. In a small bowl mix the eggs, 1/4 cup water and hot sauce. Place the fry mix in a shallow dish. Dip each shrimp in the egg mixture and then into the fry mix.

Heat 3 to 4-inches of peanut oil in a Dutch oven or deep-fryer to 350 degrees F.

Place the shrimp in the pot and fry until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Remove with a clean strainer or slotted spoon and drain on paper towels for a minute.

Serve on a toasted hoagie roll with tartar sauce, lettuce and tomatoes

Consensus is it's quick, easy, and tastes pretty good. We served it on hamburger buns we had in the freezer because

A) they needed eaten

B) it's easier for small hands/mouths to manage hamburger buns than big hoagie rolls

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Groceries Pt. 2: What the Government Thinks You Spend?

So, an interesting thing happened while we were researching Groceries Pt. 1: How Much Do You Spend?

We wanted to know how much the average American spends on groceries each year. We googled and googled and googled and came across some interesting things.

Like this Census doc that breaks down the Average Annual Expenditures of All Consumer Units by Region and Size (translation -- how much people in various size families in various parts of the country spent on groceries).

It confirms something our friend Bunny...

said on Facebook. Bunny, by the way, is single and lives in New York City.

"This is horrifying. I spend way more than $200 on groceries a week. And then there's wine and special treats and all the other non-grocery drug-store stuff that, were I to live someplace normal, I could actually get at a real market. Can I blame New York? Tropicana OJ got six bucks at my local!"

So, yes Bunny! The Census agrees you can blame NYC. Move back to the south and your food bill should drop precipitously. (Though given your killer cooking instincts, your bill will likely be higher than the Average Joe no matter where you live. Seriously, folks... check our her blog!)

Here's another interesting tidbit. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the amount of money spent on food at home goes up as your income goes up, but the percent of income spent on food at home is highest among lower-income earners. Families with an income of $10,000 to $14,999 spent 37% of their income on food ($413/month), while families making $70,000+ a year spent just 9% of their income on food ($870/month).

We were curious: how much do families on food assistance (formerly called Food Stamps, now called SNAP -- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) receive each month for food?

Turns out the allotment varies according to household size and net income. But here are the Maximum Monthly Allotments:

1 person -- $200 or $46/week per person
2 people -- $368 or $42/week pp
3 people -- $526 or $40/week pp
4 people -- $668 or $39/week pp
5 people -- $793 or $37/week pp
6 people -- $952 or $37/week pp
7 people -- $1052 or $35/week pp
8 people -- $1202 or $35/week pp
(each additional person $150)

The amounts are higher for people living in Alaska and Hawaii.

What's interesting is how these numbers stack up against our informal (a.k.a. highly unscientific poll) of our Facebook and Twitter friends. They reported spending, on average, $41/week per person. And if you take out the family that spent $125/week per person (what do they buy?!?), the average drops to $37/week per person. And we asked our respondents to include food, alcohol, toiletries, cleaning supplies and dog food. SNAP money can only be spent on food, non-alcoholic beverages and food-producing seeds or plants. It does not cover heated (prepared) foods, pet food, toiletries, cleaning supplies or other non-food items.

Sounds like there may be an interesting follow-up story there!

Next in our Grocery Series, we'll share some ideas for saving money at the store... starting with a Plan!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Olivia's World of Food: Afghanistan

Olivia is a very logical kid. And after deciding she wanted to cook a recipe from each country in the world, where else would she start than with "A"? And that means...


These days the country is well-known as a place of conflict; but it also has a rich cultural and culinary history.

Afghan food is a melting pot, with influences from the three major ethnic groups (Pashtuns, Tajiks and Uzbeks), as well as India.

Olivia chose a dish that hints at the Indian influence for tonight's dinner: Chicken Kabuli Pulao, a.k.a. Afghanistan's national dish.

One warning about this recipe: It's not well-written. The instructions are a bit confusing at times. But use your best judgment (and a little common sense) and you can figure it out.


  • 2 lbs chicken, cut up
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • sea salt, to taste
  • 1.5 pints hot water
  • 1/4 lb white basmati rice (though we used a bit more)
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
  • fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • healthy pinch of saffron, soaked in 1 tbs broth
  • 1 large carrot, cut into match sticks
  • 1/4 cup dark raisins (we used California Raisins. That's what we had on hand)
  • 1/8 cup chopped pistachios, toasted in a dry frying pan
  • 1/4 cup blanched slivered almonds, toasted in a dry frying pan (we skipped the blanching)

Here's Olivia cutting the chicken (not her favorite job)...

She wanted to be sure that you know there's "strange gooey stuff on the poulty that looks like snot!"

Olivia seems to be fascinated with comparing food to bodily fluids, as witnessed by her recent post about Paneer Saag.


Place chicken piece, onions and hot water in a large pot. Cover and simmer for about 1 hour. Add salt to taste. Remove chicken, reserving stock and discard the cooked onions.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Heat 2 tbs of butter over medium high heat and fry chicken pieces, salting as needed.

Cook the rice, according to directions with sea salt, for exactly 8 minutes. Set aside in a pot until ready to assemble.

To make stock sauce: brown sliced onions in butter and remove from heat. Add cardamom, cumin, freshly ground black pepper and saffron liquid. Mash with onion to form a paste. (note: ours didn't get very "pasty"). Add about 1/2 pt of the reserved chicken stock; simmer for 5 minutes and taste for seasoning.

Combine cooked rice and chicken in a buttered casserole dish. Add stock sauce if it looks like it needs more moisture. Fry carrot matchsticks in 1/2 tbs butter and add raisins to them at the very end. Sprinkle partially cooked carrots and raisins on top of chicken and rice and cover dish tightly with aluminum foil. Place in over for 35 minutes.

Chopped toasted pistachios or slivered almonds may be added over the dish just before serving.

We served Naan as an accompaniment.

Note: There will probably be leftover stock. Use it for a soup base later in the week.


Chef Olivia -- It's really good! I like the spices. They aren't too spicy. I think a kid would really like this and probably want a 2nd helping. I did.

Jason -- I like it. The spices are interesting. I was surprised to hear there wasn't cinnamon in it because it tasted kind of cinnamony (is that a word?!?). I'd definitely eat it again.

Tanya -- I liked it too. Great flavor... agree on the hints of cinnamon. Where does that come from (saffron? cardamom? cumin?)? It was a bit dry. Probably should have added more of the broth. And the recipe uses more butter than I'd like. When we make it again we'll try cutting that down or perhaps substituting a cooking oil.

Hannah -- It was really good. I'm surprised I liked something from Afghanistan. (note: she didn't really eat much of it, but hey ... she tried!)

Miranda -- I'd like to give you a really long, descriptive review but I'm trying to finish up the stupid science project my teacher assigned and I have a group that doesn't do anything to contribute so I'm having to build an ukulele and write the lyrics for a song about the color spectrum and yes I procrastinated, but whatever; and I could say the dinner was good, but really I only ate the naan, which is my favorite part, and a little bit of chicken. But yeah, say I said it was good. (yes, that truly was said all in one long run-on sentence on just one breath).

For the record, here's a pic of Miranda and Jason making the ukulele...

And the finished product...

Talk about a multi-purpose room... our kitchen was a dinner-cooking, math-homework-doing, ukulele-building beehive of activity this afternoon.

What it wasn't was a perfectly orderly location to spread a table, known as a dastarkhan or sofrah in Afghanistan. Regardless of economic status, Afghan families place a high value on creating an adequate dastarkhan, especially for guests. A large cloth is spread over a traditional rug on the floor or a formal dining table. Each guest is presented with a basin of water to wash their hands. The table is then spread with breads, relishes, appetizers, salads, rices, fruits, and main dishes. It looks like this...

Now that's impressive!

Us?!? We huddled on the couch, watching American Idol. And Tanya may have even used a newly washed and folded (but not yet put away) washcloth as a napkin. Just sayin'...

Groceries Pt. 1: How Much Do You Spend?

We went to the grocery store yesterday to pick up a few items.

Spaghetti for dinner. Cereal. Some veggies. Spices for Olivia's "A to Z of World Cuisine" meal from Afghanistan tonight.

Amazing how we can go into the grocery store convinced we'll keep it under $200 -- and totally fail!

(photo credit)

We've been thinking a lot lately about how much we spend on groceries. Back in the day (when the kids were little and we weren't eating organic fruits & veggies and humanely-raised meats), we could feed our family of five on $400 a month. But these days we budget twice that amount and still go over!

It doesn't help that the girls are now teens/tweens who have opinions about food, like to cook their own meals, and tend to graze throughout the day. And when they have friends over -- Let's just say we know quite a few girls who can wolf down more food than a Jr. Varsity football team!

To get an idea if we're overspending, we asked our Facebook and Twitter friends how much they shell out each month on groceries. We asked them to give us the total spent (including cleaning supplies, personal hygiene, pet food and alcohol) and the number of people and animals in their house.

The results were surprising!

We heard from 21 families, ranging in size from 1 to 5 people. The amount spent (per person, per week) ranged from $19 to $125!

(To figure your own, take your monthly $ spent on food, multiply by 12, divide by 52, then divide again by the # of people in your family.)

Here's the distribution:

$19 - 2 families
$23 - 3 families
$28 - 1 family
$37 - 3 families
$39 - 1 family
$40 - 2 families
$46 - 4 families
$55 - 1 family
$67 - 1 family
$69 - 1 family
$125 - 1 family

Yeah, that last number is pretty stunning! It's a family of two spending $250 a week on groceries. What are they buying?!?

But the other outlier ($19/person per week) is also interesting. One family spending this amount ($250/month) is a single mom with two kids and two dogs. Money is tight. There's no other way to put it.

The other family is Tanya's sister Kris.

Kris is a Coupon Queen and knows how to pinch a penny to feed herself, her husband, their infant son and 75 pound lab. Kris's husband is a firefighter and eats at the firehouse roughly 10 days a month. On those nights, Kris often stops by the parents' house for a meal. So that cuts down on the food bill too.

So, does this little unscientific poll make us feel any better about the $9600 we spend each year on groceries?

Kinda. Break it down and we're only spending $37/person per week, which puts us towards the lower end of the distribution.

Still, many of our friends are middle or upper-middle class professionals. Do they simply spend more (than necessary) because they have the money to do it? Tomorrow in our series we'll write about how much the government thinks we should be spending.

In the meantime, tell us -- how much do you spend at the grocery store each month? What are your secrets to saving money? Do you have any great coupon tips to share? Maybe you have some money-saving websites or books to suggest? Can't wait to hear from you!

Monday, February 21, 2011

One Tween's Travelogue of World Food: A to Z

After her flirtation with Indian food last week, Olivia has decided we should embark on an international culinary adventure. For the next who-knows-how-long, she plans to work her way from A to Z making a new dish from a different country each week.

(Yeah, she may be small but she sure doesn't think small!)

It's a great chance for the kids (and us... and hopefully you!) to learn more about the world's countries and cuisines. But we could really use some suggestions. What's your favorite Angolan appetizer? Bolivian breakfast? Latvian lunch?

And pleeeeeeeze, give us a good suggestion for an Icelandic dish or she'll intensify her lobbying effort to build a shed out back so we can ferment raw shark for Hakarl!

So, here's a reminder of the countries... leave your suggestions for favorite meals in the comment box. And if you've got a link to a recipe, all the better!


Afghanistan (Chicken Kabuli Pulao)
Antigua and Barbuda

Belgium (Mussels Marinieres and Frites)
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Burkina Faso

Cape Verde
Central African Republic
Congo, Democratic Republic of the (Congo-Kinshasa)
Congo, Republic of the (Congo-Brazzaville)
Costa Rica
Côte d'Ivoire
Croatia (Baked Calamari and Potatoes)
Czech Republic

Denmark (Meatballs, Caraway Cabbage and Fruit Dumplings)
Dominican Republic

East Timor
El Salvador
Equatorial Guinea
Ethiopia (Ethiopian Honey Spiced Bread)

France (Chateaubriand with Bearnaise)

The Gambia
Ghana (Shoko - aka beef & spinach stew)

Hungary (Hungarian Goulash)

Italy (Italian Dinner Party -- a 5 course meal!)
Ivory Coast

Japan (Pork & Vegetable Soup and California Rolls)

Kenya (Vegetable Curry and Ugali)
Korea, North

Lebanon (Lebanese Meatballs)

Marshall Islands
Micronesia, Federated States of
Morocco (Rockin' Moroccan Meatballs)

New Zealand
Nigeria (Suya a.k.a. Nigerian Chicken Skewers)

Oman (Tandoori Chicken)

Papua New Guinea



Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Lucia
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
San Marino
São Tomé and Príncipe
Saudi Arabia
Sierra Leone
Solomon Islands
South Africa
Sri Lanka

Timor-Leste → East Timor
Trinidad and Tobago

United Arab Emirates
United Kingdom
United States

Vatican City



Did we leave anyone out?

Angry Birds Cake

Nothing we did in the kitchen today could trump this...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Olivia's Take on Indian Food

We found ourselves down two kids tonight. Hannah's at the lake with a friend and Miranda's at the theatre again. Friday night with no plans and a kid who's an open-minded eater? That means we're eating out!

Now you may be thinking: Alabama -- Barbecue is the obvious choice. And we've got some pretty great barbecue (ssshhh... the banana pudding's my favorite!).

But if you're a local (or a hard core foodie) you know that Birmingham has oh so much more to offer. In fact, there's a rich culinary scene here. Even the New York Times says so.

There are high-end joints like Frank Stitt's Highlands Bar & Grill and the seafood restaurant Ocean, great mediterranean cafes like Taziki's, and yummy sushi and Thai food at Surin West.

But for us, tonight's clear choice was:

We love Indian food, and the only thing better than stuffing our faces at our friends Archana and Hemant's annual Diwali party is Silver Coin. Even our friend Peter, an Indian food expert, gives it two thumbs up.

Tonight was Olivia's first time to visit Silver Coin, so she asked to write the blog review. Here goes:

We have a FOOD CRITIC and her name is OLIVIA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Editor Mom deleted the additional 34 exclamation points).

Tonight we went to Silver Coin. We ordered Paneer Saag, Naan with Mango Chutney, and Shrimp Tandoori. I also had a Mango Lassi. It was really good!

The service was good, and I liked the Paneer Saag, even though it looked like green snot. The rice looked like someone peed on it because of the yellow spices, but it was really good too. The shrimp was way too spicy for me. I thought it was GROSS! The Naan was my favorite.

What do Mom and Dad say?

Tanya -- Paneer Saag is one of my favorite dishes. Tasty!

Jason -- It was excellent.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Food Porn

Appetizer: Herbivoracious's Goat Cheese with Strawberry Granita and a Pretzel Crust

Main Dish: The Pioneer Woman's Beef Stew with Beer and Paprika, though we'd sub the Budweiser with a Sweetwater 420 Pale Ale.

Dessert: Citrus, Pomegranate, Almond and Poppyseed Cake from What Katie Ate.

Just sayin'....

Mash-Up: Grilled Chicken Tostado with Sweet & Sour Vegetables

We don't watch much TV round these parts, but Glee is always DVRed. Don't hate on us. We are, afterall, a theatre family and that means musical theatre. Hey - we knew who Lea Michele was even before Glee!

Of course one of the coolest things about Glee is the mash-ups, when they work. Like this:

When the mash-ups don't work (and there are some that don't) they can range from meh to stinkers.

It's with this in mind that we experimented with a little culinary mashup tonight. Our recipe of choice was Eating Well's Grilled Chicken Tostadas with Sweet-and-Sour Vegetables.

But here's the thing. This recipe called for 13 ingredients in the Mole Sauce. And Necessary Pleasures reader Stuart Oates shared his 4 ingredient Mole Sauce a couple of weeks ago and we've been waiting for a chance to try it.

And here's the other thing. We also didn't have some of the original ingredients for the Sweet-and-Sour Vegetables. And we had veggies in the fridge that needed used.

So, here's our mash-up version of Grilled Chicken Tostadas with Sweet-and-Sour Vegetables. Our substitutions are in parenthesis.

  • 4 teaspoons chili powder, preferably made with New Mexico or ancho chiles (see Note)
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin (we're out, so we left it out)
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 3 8-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed

MOLE SAUCE (Living Well's version)
  • 3 dried ancho or New Mexico chiles
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 3 medium tomatoes, quartered and seeded
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt

MOLE SAUCE (Stuart's version)
  • 8 ancho peppers
  • 2 - 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1tsp salt

  • 2 cups diced carrot (didn't have 'em)
  • 1 cup diced summer squash (didn't have 'em... used shredded bok choy instead)
  • 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

12 tostada shells (used tortilla chips instead)


1. To prepare adobo rub and chicken: Combine chili powder, lime juice, oil, cumin, onion powder, garlic power, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Rub 2 tablespoons of adobo rub generously all over chicken breasts (the remaining rub can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days). Let marinate for 30 minutes or wrap in plastic and refrigerate for up to 1 day.

2. To prepare mole sauce: Tear chiles into pieces; discard stems and seeds. Place in a bowl, add boiling water and soak until the chiles are soft, about 30 minutes. Pour the chiles and soaking liquid into a blender. Add tomatoes, onion, garlic, vinegar, flour, sugar, cumin, pepper, cayenne to taste and cloves; blend until smooth. Strain the sauce through a sieve to filter out any remaining seeds and skins, pressing out as much liquid as possible from the solids. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sauce and cook, stirring frequently, until it thickens and reduces to about 2 cups, 10 to 20 minutes. Season with 3/4 teaspoon salt. Set aside.

3. Stuart's version: Open, de-vein and remove seeds from the chiles. Place anchos in an empty ceramic or metal bowl. Bring two cups of water to a boil, then pour over the chiles, making sure the chiles are completely covered. Allow to soak for one hour. (Chiles can be boiled for faster softening time, but the aroma from the chiles is very strong when they are boiled. The soaking saves sensitive noses.) Take softened chiles and place in a blender along with the other ingredients.  Pour in two cups of chile soaking water. Blend to a puree.

4. To prepare sweet-&-sour vegetables: Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add carrots and cook for 7 minutes. Add squash, vinegar, oregano, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Continue cooking until the vegetables are just tender, 2 to 3 minutes more. Drain, transfer to a bowl and season with more pepper to taste. Set aside to cool.

5. About 20 minutes before you’re ready to grill the chicken, preheat grill to medium. When ready to cook, oil the grill rack. Grill the chicken until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 165°F, 6 to 8 minutes per side. Transfer to a clean cutting board, let rest for 5 minutes and slice into 1/2-inch strips. (Or, if it's not grilling season - like February! - just saute in some EVOO on the stove)

6. To assemble tostadas: Place 2 tostada shells on each plate. Drizzle about 2 tablespoons of the mole sauce over each tostada, then top each with about 2 1/2 tablespoons of the vegetables. Divide the chicken among the tostadas and drizzle with more mole sauce. Serve with taco garnishes as desired. (We had guacamole and salsa on hand)

One tip (errrr... or confession): When I do this mash-up stuff I rarely tell Jason about it ahead of time. He's more of a recipe kinda guy and gets a little freaked out when I go all rogue in the kitchen. Better to ask forgiveness afterwards than permission before, right?!?

So, the reviews:

Chef Tanya -- It was okay. The bok choy was too bitter, but I don't think it was the veggie so much as the sauce. I suspect carrots and zucchini cooked in vinegar would've tasted icky to me as well. The chicken was good. Stuart's Mole Sauce was spicy (!) but good.

Jason -- I thought it was pretty good. Some of the things in it were sweet, and  certainly it was spicy. The bok choy was ... was it supposed to go in it?! (I smile coyly) It wasn't supposed to go in there, was it? I loved it when Tanya just makes things up ;-) (smiley face inserted by Tanya).

Olivia -- Spicy, spicy, spicy. And the bok choy, "ew!" And that's my full review.

Hannah -- I loved the chicken. It was spicy, but it was really good.

Miranda -- (was at the theatre again tonight ... remember, theatre family.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Jerk Pineapple Pork Chops with Sauteed Cabbage

Are there any foods you look at and say, "Um, yeah, I may be smart but I have no clue how to attack this thing!"?

Maybe you're not sure how to get the most out of an avocado (answer's here). Or maybe you turned your hands bright red but still don't have a good serving of pomegranate seeds (check out this video):

When making Jerk Pineapple Pork Chops tonight, this was the dilemma.

Now we could just start hacking, but we wanted the picture perfect round rings that you see in all the cookbooks. Thankfully, our recipe (from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food) provided a handy tutorial.

1. Cut off the leafy top and base.

2. Stand the fruit on one end and slice the thick skin off in strips, from top to bottom.

3. Cut into rounds or quarter the pineapple and cut out the core. (our recipe calls for both)

So, the recipe.


  • 2/3 of a whole (4 pound) pineapple, peeled
  • 1 bunch scallions, sliced crosswise into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 small habanero or 1 large jalapeno chile, stemmed and seeded (We used sliced jalapenos from a jar)
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 1.5 teaspoons ground allspice (Don't have allspice on hand? Use these common ingredients to make your own)
  • 4 bone-in pork chops (We used boneless. It's just easier.)
  • coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil


1. Cut four 1/2-inch-thick rounds from pineapple; set aside. Cut remaining pineapple into large chunks, discarding core.

2. In a food processor, combine pineapple chunks, scallions, chile, thyme, garlic, and allspice and pulse until coarsely chopped.

(TIP: We couldn't get our food processor to process. It just whirred and whirred and whirred without really chopping up the mixture. So we added a little water to "get things moving".)

Reserve 3/4 cup pineapple marinade and refrigerate (TIP: Remember you set this aside. We forgot and now we have orphaned pineapple marinade sitting in the fridge.)

3. Season pork with S&P and place in a 9"x13" glass baking dish along with pineapple rounds. top pork and pineapple with remaining pineapple marinade and turn pork and pineapple to coat. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour (or up to 4 hours).

4. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high. Working in two batches, brush pineapple mixture off pork and cook chops until browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes (depending on thickness), flipping once.

5. Add 1 tablespoon oil to skillet. Brush pineapple marinade off pineapple rounds and cook until golden brown in spots, 5 to 7 minutes, flipping once.


You'll notice that really big heap of whitish-greenish stuff in the foreground? It's Ina Garten's Sauteed Cabbage. So quick. So easy. So yummy!


Chef Tanya -- Loved it all, but my favorite is the cabbage. I'm a sucker for cabbage, even though I have to watch my intake because it's suspected to suppress the thyroid.

Jason -- It was pretty good. I always like the pork and pineapple combination. I thought the pork was a little dry, but if we'd remembered to serve the marinade that would have fixed that problem. (note: Tanya disagrees on the dry pork thing). The cabbage was a nice side dish.

Olivia -- Loved it all. I wanted seconds. Well, on everything but the pineapple. I hate pineapple.

Hannah -- The pork had some fat on it, which I'm not a fan of. But once I picked it off it was good. I didn't want to try the cabbage. But Mom convinced me. I think I waited too long, though, because it was cold when I ate it. It probably would be better if it was warm.

Miranda -- (still at the theatre)

P.S. Want to check out some other exotic fruits that might leave you a bit perplexed? Here ya go.