June 06, 2011

Grocery Store Observations

Now that I've started cooking again, I'm trying to eat at home a little more often. I had some leftovers in the fridge, but I needed a little something more to go with them, so off to the grocery store I went.

I enjoy grocery shopping. I know lots of people hate it, but I just love it. I can wander around, up and down every aisle (sometimes more than once), checking out what's new, what's on sale, that kind of thing. I also consider it exercise, given that most grocery stores around here are pretty big and I cover a lot of ground in a shopping trip.

I made some observations while I was shopping tonight and I thought I'd share them with you. And a recipe! Because I ended up making something completely different than what I set out to shop for, and it came out pretty darned well.

1. The price of frozen vegetables has gotten ridiculous. This won't come as a surprise to some of you, I'm sure, but it sure was a shock to me. I went looking for frozen chopped onions (because I really don't like chopping onions) and was stunned to see a low-end brand priced at $3.00 for one small bag...on sale! I looked at some of the other vegetables and they were all relatively expensive, even the in-house store brands.

2. A $3 bag of onions will make even someone who hates chopping onions go back to the produce section and buy a $.66 onion. Just sayin'.

3. The amount of processed foods in our stores is also ridiculous. I know we all value convenience but with all the attention being paid to childhood and adult obesity, it's not hard to see how we've gotten there. Don't get me wrong, I'm as guilty of it as the next person (if not more so over the years) but when you really start reading labels and looking at foods critically, it's an eye-opener.

4. Unless you buy a lot of it, fresh meat is really pricey when it's not on sale. This makes it challenging for a solo diner. I wanted to get a little bit of protein to go with my leftover stir-fry, as what was left had little meat in it. I couldn't bring myself to buy a $9 steak that was more than I could eat, or a pack of pork chops that was four times what I needed. (My freezer is maxed out, so freezing the extra isn't a good option.) So I started looking at everything, trying to find a deal. I ended up with a $2 package of pork for stew. Did you know they even had stew pork cubes? I can't say as I've ever seen it before. Beef for stew was over $6 for the smallest package...which wasn't all that small.

5. Having a smart phone with a data plan is a wonderful thing in a grocery store. I had the stew meat, so now I needed some stuff to, you know, make a stew. Having made few stews in my life, I wasn't entirely sure what I absolutely needed. I parked in an empty area of the produce section and whipped out my phone. Three minutes later, I knew what I needed to know and got to it.

6. Oblivious people with cell phones in a grocery store aren't such a wonderful thing. Not the most original observation, I realize, but it has to be said.

7. Some people are simply not cut out to use the self-checkout lane. They simply aren't. But, of course, they do. I won't bore you with the tale; suffice it to say that if the death stare worked, California would be minus one shopper tonight.

8. Remembering to bring your own bag in to the grocery store gets easier with time. I used to suck at it, to be frank. Stores that remind you to bring them before you get inside are hug-worthy.

9. Grocery store parking lots were designed by car insurance companies. They have to be. They're like white-lined death traps, preying on the unwary and the parking-impaired.

10. When you buy a bunch of ingredients and don't exactly know what you're going to make with them, the results can be fantastic.

That brings us to the recipe I promised. I found a few recipes when I checked on my phone, but none were exactly what I wanted. So I did what I often do: I combined parts from a few different recipes that sound good, to come up with something original. My friend, PsychMamma, coined the term "Frankenstew" on Twitter when I was talking about it, so that's what it's called!

If you try it, I hope you like it and encourage you to improvise and add or substitute ingredients you already have or like better; just know their cooking times and throw them in accordingly.


1 1/2 lbs stew pork, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 1/2 T. flour
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. black pepper
1 t. paprika
1 1/2 T. olive oil
8 oz. sliced baby portabella mushrooms
1 yellow onion, sliced
1 T. chopped shallots
1 T. chopped garlic
1 can reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup white wine (optional)
1 t. dried Italian seasoning
1 T. dried parsley
2 yellow potatoes, cubed
3 carrots, chopped
1/2 t. lemon zest or 2 T. fresh lemon juice
parsley (to garnish)

1. In a bowl, combine flour, salt, pepper and paprika. Toss the pork cubes in the flour mixture until completely coated.

2. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium to medium-high heat and brown the coated pork cubes in the olive oil.

3. Add the portabella mushrooms, sliced onion, shallots and garlic and sauté for 5 more minutes.

4. Stir in the chicken broth, wine and spices, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the potatoes and stir.

5. Cover the stew and cook over low heat for 45 minutes. Add carrots, re-cover and cook for 15 more minutes. Uncover, (add zest here if you’re using it) stir and cook for another 15 minutes or until the liquid thickens up a little.

6. Just before serving, stir in the fresh lemon juice (if you didn’t add the zest); garnish with fresh parsley (or cilantro, if you swing that way)

(Here is the original recipe that was the base for mine, from Food.com)