Tasty Tuesday–Grocery Shopping Habits

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my grocery shopping habits, how they’ve changed over the years, and how they’ve influenced how I cook.

When Ryan and I were first married, our number one priority in buying groceries was sticking to a (small) budget. And really, that continued to be the driving force behind how I planned meals and wrote my shopping list for at least a decade. I shopped sale ads and clipped coupons. I was shopping at our local grocery store chain for the most part during that time, because Walmart Supercenters weren’t a thing in St. Louis back then, but if I could have shopped there, I would have. I did whatever I could to spend as little money as possible.

In recent years, while I still have a grocery budget (who doesn’t?!?), it is bigger, and I have more flexibility in what I can buy and where I shop. I do the bulk of our grocery buying at Walmart (now that we have Walmarts with groceries), because it’s both convenient and helps me save money. But I’ve added in some stores that I visit at least semi-regularly, which has really changed how I cook.

One store that you would have thought I would have shopped at during my more budget-conscious days was Aldi. Apparently, that would have made too much sense. I have to confess, I used to be a snob about Aldi. I thought that they sold items of lower quality. But a few years ago, when a new store opened in our area, I decided to give it a try, and I was pleasantly surprised! Now, it’s my go-to store for cuts of meat that I either can’t easily find other places (lamb, I’m looking at you!), or can’t afford at other stores (like the standing rib roast we had at Christmas and the tenderloin I prepared for Ryan’s birthday).

The other store that we’ve been visiting regularly for the last few years is the Asian market. Actually, “Asian” really doesn’t begin to cover it, because they carry other ethnic food items, as well. But we’ve encountered so many new items, some we’d never even heard of before, and that has really broadened our culinary experiences. Now one of our favorite things to do is just wander through the store for a while, looking for new things to try!

Here’s an example of some of the meals we’ve enjoyed in the last week, all influenced by my current grocery shopping habits. There’s gyros (which I’ve made before, but only after Easter with the lamb leftovers we sometimes have, because that was the one time of year I knew I’d be able to find lamb pre-Aldi!) made with lamb from Aldi and served on pita bread from a local bakery that Pan-Asia stocks. A new recipe of Moroccan lamb tagine (again made with Aldi lamb) appears in the center, prepared with some spices with which I don’t usually cook. And finally, beef shawarma, again served on pita bread from Pan-Asia, and also prepared with a marinade and topped with tahini I found the last time we wandered through the store.

I’m so glad I was both able to branch out and try new stores, and that I was finally able to let go of some (wildly incorrect) preconceived notions about where I shop…we’ve definitely benefited from both!

Tasty Tuesday–Gyros Night

One of my favorite things about making lamb for Easter is that we often have enough leftovers to freeze so we can enjoy gyros in the weeks following. I’m not claiming they’re authentic (I’m certainly not shaving the meat off of a vertical rotisserie!), but I do make homemade tzatziki sauce to go with them, so the flavor is pretty much what I remember from growing up in the Chicago area!

Tasty Tuesday–Lamb Stew

I tried a new lamb stew recipe for Easter dinner, and even though I hadn’t made it before, I made some changes to it as I went along. We were all very happy with the results, so it’s going in the permanent file!

  • oz. bacon, sliced into 1/4 inch strips
  • lbs. boneless leg of lamb, trimmed of fat and cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks
  • 1/2 Tbsp. kosher salt for the lamb, plus 1 tsp. for stew
  • 1 tsp. black pepper for lamb, plus 1/2 tsp. for stew
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 large white onion, diced
  • garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 2/3 cups red wine
  • 1 lb. mushrooms, thickly sliced
  • 4 cups beef broth or stock
  • 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp. dried tarragon
  • 1 1/2 lbs. small yellow potatoes cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 lb. baby carrots, cut in half on the diagonal
  1. In a 5 qt. oven-safe dutch oven, saute chopped bacon over medium heat until browned. With a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a large plate.

  2. While bacon cooks, season lamb pieces with 1/2 Tbsp. salt and 1 tsp pepper. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup flour and toss to coat. Cook lamb in two batches in hot bacon grease over medium heat until browned then transfer to the plate with bacon.

  3. Add diced onion to the bacon grease and sauté 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook another minute, stirring constantly. Add 1 2/3 cups wine, scraping the bottom to deglaze. Add sliced mushrooms, bring to a simmer then cook uncovered 10 minutes. While mushrooms are simmering, preheat oven to 325.

  4. Return bacon and lamb to pot and add 4 cups broth, 1 Tbsp. tomato paste, 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper, 1 tsp. dried tarragon, and 2 bay leaves. Stir in potatoes and carrots, making sure potatoes are submerged in liquid. Bring to a boil, then cover and transfer to preheated oven for 1 hour and 45 minutes. When done, potatoes and lamb will be very tender.

The Easter Feast

Let’s start by focusing on what I liked about our Easter dinner. I set a very nice table, don’t you think? I love getting out our table linens and china, and making some kind of centerpiece. The side dishes were our standard family favorites: roasted potatoes, carrots, and brussels sprouts, pan-fried asparagus, cherry cola Jell-O, and mini croissants. Nothing terribly fancy, but dependably delicious. And the dessert was great. I tried a new recipe for a lemon curd swirl cheesecake with a homemade strawberry sauce. It took hours to get the whole thing made yesterday, but it looked and tasted great, so it was worth it. Those are all good things about our Easter dinner!

You may have noticed I didn’t mention the lamb. Despite the fact that I followed the recipe exactly (a recipe I have successfully made in the past, for the record), the lamb was way overdone. I don’t care what anybody who was at the dinner table said…it was not good. And since that was supposed to be the star of the meal, that was a huge disappointment to the chef.

Anyway, I’m going to try to focus on what I liked about the meal. And maybe not make lamb again next year.

The 2016 Easter Feast

Of course a holiday means a family feast!

I went with a primarily gold and white table again this year…I think it’s very Easter-y. And as always, our new Paschal candle was the centerpiece:

This year’s menu was a little bit the same as last year’s, and a little bit different. We had roast lamb, a lovely trio of vegetables (asparagus, carrots, and brussels sprouts), roast potatoes, Jell-O “salad” and some mini croissants that were a huge hit!

For dessert, there was a choice of carrot cake or French silk pie…two of my favorites:

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We have enough leftover lamb to enjoy gyros for dinner tomorrow…it’s a feast that keeps on giving!

A Feast for a Festival Day

This year, I decided to try something new for Easter…I made lamb!

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We also had a variety of vegetables (including not only green, but also purple Brussels sprouts!), roast potatoes, and our favorite Jell-o “salad”:

For dessert, I tried a new recipe for a fruit and ice cream cake:

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I love any opportunity for a special family meal!