Tag Archives: Trader Joe’s

Safeway Snobbery

A fireplace and wifi at Safeway? Okay, that is kinda nice.

Two new Safeway grocery stores have opened up in Washington, DC in the past couple of weeks. One is just off Capitol Hill in the Waterfront neighborhood and the other is in Georgetown. The one at Waterfront is nestled between public housing projects and riverside condominiums; the Georgetown store — long dubbed the “Social Safeway” in reference to the well-heeled single yuppies eyeing each other longingly across the cereal aisle — has a parking lot filled with Lexus SUVs tagged with diplomatic license plates.

I will say up front that I am a Safeway Snob, and not necessarily in a good way. My experience with Safeway in DC goes back more than 20 years, when I first frequented the “Soviet Safeway” in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood, nicknamed for its tendency to run out of everything, leaving its shoppers to peruse shelves bare of pretty much every basic necessity except the occasional loaf of Wonder Bread and a half-eaten banana.

Things didn’t improve when I moved to Capitol Hill, where my husband and I would wheel our portable shopping cart on the three-block trek to what some called the “Social Security Safeway”; that particular store’s claim to fame came from some snappy investigations in the 1960s by local resident and Washington Post columnist Marguerite Kelly, exposing the store’s practice of raising prices — coincidentally, of course — on the same day that welfare checks were issued to low-income families. There were not a whole lot of grocery stores in the city at that time, so the aisles were so crowded that you could barely move your cart. We used to try to shop during Redskins games, since we didn’t really care about football and it was the one time when you could count on the store being empty.

My hairdresser was really excited about the new Safeway by the Waterfront and told me that it was beautiful and that I needed to check it out — she’s a Safeway Snob, but in reverse. Actually, I have a lot of friends who swear by Safeway and shop there religiously, but it has just never been my cup of tea; they just never seem to carry the kinds of foods that I like to buy. I’m sure my friends think I’m a Whole Foods Snob or a Trader Joe’s Snob, and they could be right.

But there was such a hubbub about the Social Safeway on opening day last week that I impulsively pulled into the underground garage as I was passing by. Crowds of shoppers streamed up the escalators clad in carefully-distressed jeans and Gucci loafers; my first vision was a gleaming sushi bar nestled beside a gourmet cheese display where a cheerful employee gave out samples of an imported Gouda being sold for $17.99 a pound. Black truffles were located in a locked plexiglass case in the produce section for $999.99 a pound. Welfare moms need not apply.

I’ll admit that I called my husband and gushed “Wow, this place is really cool!” I was standing next to the automated deli kiosk where I had just placed an order for a roasted vegetable sandwich on focaccia with garlic aioli, which seemed like a steal for $6.99. Excited shoppers were lined up at the gelato bar, bursting with over two dozen exotic flavors, the cabernet gelato beckoning like an amethyst jewel.

Alas, I had no time to shop, so my husband and I decided to stop at the Waterfront store on Sunday. It was all there — the sushi bar, the Starbucks, the wi-fi café featuring a central gas fireplace. And, as we began going through the aisles in search of food, there were all the other things I remembered: the Wonder Bread, the cans of Hormel Chili (on special with your Club Card), the towering pyramids of Spam. The produce section was definitely better than I remembered from the past, and I was pretty intrigued by the fresh garbanzo beans, like miniature tomatillos in their papery green husks.

But, yeah, for me, it’s still just Safeway. Some people dislike Trader Joe’s in the same way, while I can look past its deficiencies (like those shrinkwrapped packages of zucchini — why, Joe, why?) to find well-priced food that I want. Safeway sure doesn’t need me, serving its purpose for so many others as it continues to thrive, building a Shining Store Upon a Hill that brings yuppies together to share cappuccino and coy glances and provides candy-free checkout lanes for tired working moms with three kids under the age of 5 stuffed into a shopping cart with a week’s worth of juice boxes and Rice Crispies.

Still, I have to admit, the fireplace and wifi is pretty nice, especially on a rainy and unseasonably cool spring day. Maybe I can learn to live with Wonder Bread.

Wonder Bread Soufflé

I used to adore this dish when I was a kid — it was a recipe that my mom would make only for dinner parties. She made amazing cheese soufflés from scratch using the recipe from the huge Larousse Gastronomique that graced our kitchen, but she also liked this recipe when she had to whip up something elegant after a long day at the office.

One loaf of Wonder Bread, crusts removed and each piece buttered

3 eggs

2 cups milk

1 teaspoon nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste

3 cups shredded cheddar cheese

2 teaspoons snipped fresh chives

Make the custard by combining the eggs, milk, nutmeg, salt and pepper in a bowl. Butter a 13″ x 9″ baking dish and place a layer of bread in the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle 1/3 of the cheese, then continue with two more layers of bread and cheese. Pour the custard evenly over the whole dish, being sure that all the bread is soaked in the custard, then sprinkle the chives over the top. Place in the refrigerator for at least one hour and as long as overnight, then bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 40 – 45 minutes, or until risen and golden on top. Serve immediately.

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A meal fit for a Coupon Queen

Paula in 9th grade

My friend Paula is the Coupon Queen. She regularly updates all of her friends on Facebook of her latest coupon conquests, and the results are impressive. On one trip to Publix, she saved $74.46 off her total bill, paying just $37.15 for milk, lunch meat, cereal, bread, trail mix, cookies, nuts, spaghetti sauce and other bits and pieces. As a busy mom with a family of five, Paula began her coupon fetish in an effort to curb hefty grocery bills; at the same time, she’s trying to figure out how to counter a lifetime of poor eating habits which has added 150 pounds to her once-tiny frame.

I’ve known Paula since I was 14 — we each probably weighed just over 100

That's me. Ah, the eighties...

pounds at the time. She was a pretty dark-haired horse fanatic, I was a mousy-brown-haired (on my way to blonde) beach girl. We worked on the school literary magazine together, Paula married her high school sweetheart, and I left the beach behind for greener pastures. Growing into womanhood, I added about 25 pounds to my girlish figure, which was well within a healthy range for my height. Paula, on the other hand, began struggling with her weight as she got older, beginning a lifetime of yo-yo dieting that brought her to where she is now — 250 pounds and totally frustrated when new friends think this must be how she always looked. Those of us who grew up with Paula know better.

I originally got the idea for this blog because Paula would ask me for advice about how to make her favorite foods healthier. As she told me, her own mom would actually add sugar to the kids’ Frosted Flakes at breakfast, so Paula did not have the advantage that I had, of having a great cook in the kitchen while growing up. Now Paula has started her own blog about her quest for lap band surgery, which is possibly covered under her insurance and that she thinks may be the key to getting her body back under control. You can read it here:

http://my1000milejourney.wordpress.com/

I do use coupons somewhat, but I am definitely not a Coupon Queen like Paula. My kitchen is regularly stocked with organically-grown (or at least pesticide-free) ingredients, and, inevitably, people always tell me that they “absolutely can’t” afford organic foods because it’s too expensive. This is an excuse that I just don’t buy. Anybody can purchase reasonably-priced,  good quality food that is not doused in unnecessary chemicals or loaded with hormones if they just shop smart. However, I think that shopping smart also requires people to think outside the box — something that Paula is working through right now. If you are accustomed to buying Hamburger Helper, then you probably have no idea how to make a comforting but healthful “Cheeseburger Macaroni” from scratch that your kids will love.

No coupons in this batch of groceries, but some smart buys nonetheless!

Last night, however, I made a different pasta dish which was decidedly low-cost and incredibly low-fat — perfect for a Coupon Queen who wants to lose 100 pounds. I purchased my ingredients at Trader Joe’s, and although I know that Paula doesn’t have a TJ’s in her area, she can still find all the same ingredients for the same low cost. My ingredients included a pound of spaghetti (99¢), a 16-ounce bag of fresh mixed Southern Greens ($2.99), olive oil (at 24¢ per ounce, then less than $1 worth), one lemon (40¢), two cloves of garlic (about 25¢), and a 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese (less than $1). I added a protein-rich side dish of Great Northern beans (14-ounce can = 99¢) mixed with one chopped tomato (45¢) and a handful of chopped green olives (at 29¢ per ounce, probably less than 50¢), drizzled with a bit of vinegar and salt and pepper. Total cost for dinner for 5: $8.52 , or $1.70 per person.

For Paula’s kids, it may take time to get used to food that has a lower sodium and fat content, but now is the time to make the change, while they are younger and less set in their ways. For Paula, it’s all about getting out of that box — and clipping coupons for foods that will help her find that thinner person that she knows is still inside of her, just yearning to be free.

Fresh, uncomplicated, and beautiful — a perfect recipe for life!

Spring Spaghetti with Greens

One pound spaghetti, cooked until al dente, then drained and rinsed with cold water

16-ounce bag fresh chopped greens (mustard, turnip, collard)

Juice and zest of one lemon

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 tsp. crushed red chili pepper (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large skillet or wok over medium heat (or, if you’re like me and you don’t like to do dishes, then just re-use the spaghetti pot) . Add 3 TB olive oil and then add chopped greens, stirring quickly to coat with oil. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. of salt and lemon juice and stir once more. Cover for two minutes, then stir and cover again. Repeat for about five minutes until the greens are wilted and the stems are slightly tender. Add garlic, lemon zest and spaghetti and toss thoroughly with another 2 TB olive oil until heated through (you can also add the crushed chili pepper if you wish). Add salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately, with grated parmesan on the side.

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Sing a song of sixpence

If you look in the branches, you can see those pesky little robins, who made a mess of my front porch but gave me a great idea for dinner.

You never know where you’ll get the inspiration for a meal. Last night’s dinner came from a flock of robins that I spotted perched yesterday morning on our storm-damaged crape myrtle tree — that is, the idea for the dinner came from them. A lot of people around our Capitol Hill neighborhood — and over into the Southwest Waterfront area — have been noticing that we seem to be invaded by flocks of robins just before a snowstorm hits. Seeing as how we had four storms in a matter of 10 days, we have all been seeing a lot of robins lately. Personally, I am beginning to wonder if they are harbingers of snow, and so I am suspicious now when I see them.

As my husband and I went outside in the midst of yesterday’s blizzard to begin doing battle with the snow piling up on our sidewalk, we noticed even more robins on our neighbor’s dogwood tree, which stretches across our front garden. When we came back up to the house later on, the flock of birds suddenly flew out from our front porch — we thought perhaps they were taking refuge from the storm and were feeling sorry for the little things until we actually walked up onto the porch and saw that they had decided to use the floor as a toilet. As if we hadn’t just had enough fun cleaning up another foot of snow. Jokingly, my husband said “We should catch those stupid birds and put them in a pie!”  At least, I think he was joking.

And, thus, dinner was born. Now I can’t get that old nursery rhyme out of my head: “Sing a song of sixpence/Pocket full of rye/Four-and-twenty blackbirds/Baked in a pie.”

Pot pie is one of those things that people don’t really make, maybe because it is associated with frozen t.v. dinners. But it is incredibly easy to make and really satisfying on a cold winter’s night. What I love about it is that you can literally clean out your refrigerator — all those bits and pieces of leftovers are perfect for a pot pie, and the transformation gives them new life. My pot pie included some leftover barbecue, herb-seasoned french fries, breakfast sausages, and carrot sticks, to which I added some vegetarian “chicken”, onion, green bell pepper, and frozen corn.

Being pretty tired from seemingly endless days of digging out from snowstorms, I went the quick route with the pie crust, using a food-processor method which takes a cup of flour, a stick of chilled butter, a little salt, and some ice water — the whole thing comes together in about two minutes flat. You can make pie crust in a food processor, as long as you don’t work the crust too hard; they tend to get tough if you spend too much time mixing and kneading.

If the idea of making a pie crust from scratch is going to keep you from making a pot pie, then just buy a ready-made pie crust. There are several good varieties out there; I have used the Trader Joe’s one a couple of times (it does not contain lard, as many others do) and it’s a pretty nice crust. If you want to try the food processor crust, here’s the link for the recipe by Alton Brown of the Food Network:

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/pie-crust-recipe/index.html

This recipe calls for a combination of butter and lard, but I just made it with 8 tablespoons of butter (1 stick).

Once you actually make a pot pie yourself, you will realize what a crowd-pleaser it is. What could be more cozy than a steaming slice of savory pie as the wind is howling around the eaves and you are plugging the drafts under the door with old towels? So make a pie, snuggle up with your family far away from the storm, and dream sweet dreams of springtime and flowers.

Now wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king?

Cozy Pot Pie

This is not going to be a standard recipe, so bear with me. Making a filling for pot pie is not rocket science, so I’m just going to give you some general guidelines. You’ll need about 1-1/2 cups of protein and about 3 cups of vegetables. Here are some suggestions for the filling:

Protein: Chicken, beef, turkey, sausage, to name a few. I remember as a kid in New England that pot pies also often had fish in them — of course, that’s when cod was still readily available. Any kind of chunky fish would work, though, such as salmon, tuna, or swordfish. In the mid-Atlantic area, pot pies often feature crab and ham.

Vegetables: Obviously potatoes, carrots, and onions. Also, peas, green beans, corn, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, leeks, and just about anything else you like. Fennel bulb is fabulous in a pot pie (a nice alternative to celery), and so are chunks of apple. I would stay away from tomatoes, or use them sparingly, simply because they tend to be a little watery for a pot pie.

Secret ingredient: I like to throw in chunks of cheese as I’m filling the pie pan (don’t cook it with the filling beforehand). I used an Irish Guinness Cheddar in last night’s pie — yum.

A pot pie filling should be pretty much cooked before it goes into the pie pan. The protein should be completely cooked, and the vegetables should be partially cooked (they’ll finish cooking in the oven). Start with sauteéing the onion in olive oil until it becomes translucent, then add the protein and brown it slightly. Then add the other vegetables one at a time, about a minute apart, stirring frequently. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, along with any other herbs and spices (I like to use thyme, paprika, and a smoked chipotle powder). While over medium heat, add about half a cup of milk and stir to thicken. Allow to simmer over low heat and add another half cup of milk until you get the right consistency. You want the sauce to be a little juicy but not too thin, otherwise it will drown the crust.

As to the crust: You should have enough dough for two crusts. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll out half the dough (leave the other half in the fridge for now) into a circle large enough to fill your pie plate,with about an inch hanging over the edge. Fold the additional dough up to the edge of the pan and crimp with a fork or your fingers. Line the bottom of the crust with a piece of parchment paper and fill with pie weights or raw beans (this keeps the crust from creating air bubbles). Bake for about 15 minutes, then remove the weights/beans/parchment and bake for another 5 minutes. This is called blindbaking — basically, cooking the crust about half-way.

To assemble the pie: Now that you have blindbaked the crust, you can add the filling. It should be a heaping mound — don’t worry about that, because it will settle in the oven. Roll out the other half of your pie crust, lay it over the top of the whole shebang and crimp the edges together with those of the bottom crust. Cut three or four slits in the top to allow the heat to escape. Brush the crust with heavy cream or an egg wash (one egg mixed with a teaspoon of water). Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the crust is golden and you can see the filling bubbling up between the slits in the crust. Let the pie sit for about 10 minutes before serving.

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