Category Archives: buys

Middle Eastern Feast

I’ve made all of the components of this meal separately, but this weekend I thought I’d put them all together to make a fun, informal meal for guests. This is a low-stress dinner party because almost everything can be made ahead and you can supplement with store-bought extras like pita bread, olives, and a tasty feta (try the Hungarian feta from the deli case at Sonia’s). For dessert, pick up some good dates – or if you are lucky like us, one of your guests will bring a delicious olive oil cake.

Bonus: this makes for great leftovers. I have to admit that the photo below is actually the leftovers, which we ate tonight with a couple of friends!

Middle Eastern Feast

Here are links to the recipes I used (or similar ones, because some of these live in my head):

If you’re in the Providence area, we picked up most of our ingredients at these two stores:

The Urban Greens Buying Club

If you haven’t heard of Urban Greens, it’s a group of people (around 330!) who are working to start a cooperative food market in Providence. Even though the market is not yet open, you can order food through the buying club, which has been active for over ten years.

I have an confession to make – even though I was on the board of Urban Greens for a couple of years, this month was my first time ordering from the buying club! Previously, the buying club had separate membership fees, but now all member-owners of the future co-op (a 1-time payment) can order through the buying club at no additional charge.

What can you order? Items from two catalogs – a catalog of local goods, and the Associated Buyers catalog which has natural, organic, and international products. Individual products can be ordered a la carte, and bulk goods with ordering minimums can be split by co-op members using a convenient feature on the website: you can indicate how much of a bulk order you want (for example, 5 pounds of oatmeal), then other members will see the split and can add their order to it. The catalog includes not only food, but also natural body products, cleaning supplies, vitamins, and more.

How does it work? The order is placed once a month, and pickup is the following week. You can volunteer for only 1 hour a month to get the goods exactly at wholesale catalog prices, but if you choose not to, you pay a 10% surcharge (I’m pretty busy these days, so the 10% is still a good deal).

What I ordered: A very small order to start, and easy to bike home. Both of these were a lot less expensive than they would be at the store.

  • 1 lb of New Harvest Coffee – Steamroller Blend
  • 1 lb of chia seeds (I had them once recently and my curiosity was piqued!)

How can you join? More information about Urban Greens is available at http://urbangreens.com. I recommend becoming a member-owner of the co-op instead of just the buying club (haven’t you always wanted to co-own a store?) Joining is a one-time payment of $160, but you can also pay $40 a year for 4 years.

Grocery Shopping on a Budget

I’m lucky to live two miles from a Price Rite. Price Rite is so magically inexpensive, I always feel like I’m going overboard and the bill is rarely over $20.  To keep prices down, the store has simple shelving, limited brands, no free grocery bags (I prefer to bring reusable bags anyway).

Here’s what I bought today, which combined with our pantry and freezer, will be the basis of many meals for two:

  • 2 large heads romaine lettuce
  • 1 large bunch broccoli rabe
  • 4 cubanel peppers
  • 2 jalapenos
  • 6 limes
  • 1 lb dried great northern beans
  • 1 lb dried chick peas
  • 1 lb dried black beans
  • 1 lb white rice
  • 1 package 6″ flour tortillas
  • 1 package 8″ flour tortillas

and the total was… $14.86

What are your favorite places to shop when you’re on a budget?

Ribs for Breakfast

A few days of bland food finally helped me recover from the Wings from Hell, and I was ready for another food adventure. Jeremy caught a segment about Parker’s Maple Barn, a southern New Hampshire sugar house and restaurant, and once we saw ribs on the breakfast menu, we decided it would be the perfect Saturday morning outing.

After a surprisingly short and pleasant drive, we arrived to find the giant barn hopping. We ordered two huge breakfasts: him, the Maple Baby Back Ribs and Eggs with a side of pancakes, and me, the Mini Parker’s Special. My breakfast was anything but mini, with pancakes (I loved raspberry – the flavor of the month), an egg, bacon, sausage, ham, large pieces of toast, and Maple Baked Pea Beans in place of the usual home fries. As for the ribs, I’ve never had ribs cooked outside of the barbecue style, and these were good, but we both agreed that once is enough and our next visit would probably be for a “normal” breakfast.

Ribs for Breakfast at Parker’s Maple Barn
Maple Baby Back Ribs and Eggs at Parker’s Maple Barn

After breakfast we stopped in the store and picked up some maple syrup. I love the more flavorful Grade B syrup, especially because its flavor holds up better in baking. The next day, I discovered it made my maple granola even more delicious than usual. I can’t wait to return to Parker’s Maple barn during sugaring season next year.

RI’s Secret Gourmet Store

You probably think I’m going to write up some little charming food boutique in a hidden corner of the state. Wrong – it’s a store that you’ve probably already seen. Even more, it’s a chain: Ocean State Job Lot.

Job Lot has been around since the late 70s and sells items unwanted by the manufacturer or stores, like overstocks and overruns. This includes everything from clothing to tools and, as you can guess by my title, food.

Since my first visit a few years ago, the store has become a regular stop in my shopping rotation. Sometimes I pick up staples there, but often I go for the unusual and international products.

My top Job Lot food picks (in no particular order):

1. Teddie Natural Peanut Butter – This natural (non-homogenized, peanut only) peanut butter is delicious and usually around $2 a jar.

2. Gnocchi – Vacuum-packed soft gnocchi are available with or without herbs for only $1. These cook up in minutes and are a tasty alternative to the usual pastas.

3. Israeli Couscous - If you haven’t had Israeli couscous, it’s a larger version of the usual small grains. I’ve seen it in restaurants now and then, but it’s pretty rare – and expensive – in stores. Job Lot’s $1 packages disappear from the shelves fairly quickly.

Danish Garden jam

4. Danish Garden Jams – These jams from Denmark come in a huge blue bucket for only $2. My favorites are the blackcurrant and raspberry. The low-sugar versions don’t have artificial sweeteners, just less sugar, so they are the perfect consistency for stirring into yogurt. Lately we’ve found smaller jars with more exotic flavors, like strawberry mango and orange pineapple with lime and carrot.

5. Dried Figs – catch them in stock and you can get the traditional ring of figs for only $1. If you’re even luckier, you might find luxurious bags of soft miniature mission figs. Also check out other dried fruits like dates and apricots.

It’s hard to stop there. Some of my other Job Lot finds include Apfelschorle, crispbreads and crackers, Lindt truffle bars with flavors like cherry-chili and guava, oh…I could go on and on!

Do you frequent Job Lot? What do you usually buy?

Giant White Corn

Since my post about the Price Rite which opened near me, I’ve returned countless times. I have especially enjoyed exploring new ingredients in the Hispanic foods aisle.

One of my discoveries was Giant White Corn. The dried kernels were definitely giant – about the size of a penny. Inspired by the recipe on the Goya package, I prepared a stew with pork, making a few modifications based on the ingredients I had on hand. The result was delicious and I’ll definitely make it again.

Giant White Corn Stew
Pork Stew with Giant White Corn

A similar recipe can be found on the Goya site here. The modifications I made were:

  1. I used the whole package of corn (1 lb) and a bit more pork.
  2. I didn’t have the spices and the sofrito on hand, so I improvised, replacing some pork broth with water and seasoning with chipotle and cilantro flavor cubes made by Knorr.
  3. Last, I ate the stew with some hot sauce and liberal amounts of fresh cilantro.

Urban Greens Co-op

Providence has a co-op in its future! Urban Greens, who has been running a buying club for eight years, is going to be opening a cooperative market at 1577 Westminster Street. I’m excited – it’ll be a convenient way to eat local and fresh even if I miss the farmer’s market.

I bought a founding share today. If you’ve been hoping for a market like this, you should too!

http://urbangreens.com/join

Urban Greens Food Co-Op

Cheap Groceries

Just a quick note about two new cheap grocery options in Rhode Island.

First, a Price Rite moved to Eagle Square on the west side of Providence, filling the gap left by Shaws’ closing. It’s brighter and airier than the old location, and even has a little Cafe Bustelo serving up coffee and baked goods. The seafood counter was also quite impressive. If you haven’t been to Price Rite, the produce is really cheap and there’s a wealth of interesting international foods.

Second, I dragged my boyfriend all the way down to Warwick to go to the new Aldi last weekend. Aldi is a German discount grocery store which has opened a number of locations in the US. Having spent a lot of time in Germany, I think it’s an amusing import (much like if they put an Ocean State Job Lot in Berlin). It’s not absolutely remarkable, but we made a few good finds – a giant rack of ribs, cheap sauerkraut and bratwurst, and a frozen apple strudel which is the perfect coffee accompaniment. Luckily, they’re planning more convenient locations on Smith Hill, in Cranston and in East Providence.

Along the same lines, I have a post in the works about one of my favorite places to stock up on discount food in RI…stay tuned!

Harrods

A London institution since 1849, Harrods is a must-see for anyone who loves food. A good starting point is their food hall, filled with everything from tea to fresh fish and exotic fruits. The variety is astounding and the goods are laid out artfully. It’s more like a food museum than a grocery store – especially if you’re not ready to spend your entire vacation budget in one day.

After the food hall, don’t miss the chocolate bar on the second floor. We stopped by, eager to recharge after hours of walking, and I had one of my best food experiences of the vacation – a cup of traditional Italian hot chocolate. It was sweet, dark and as thick as mousse. And with the horrible exchange rate, it was over $10. But I do not regret a sip.

Harrods
Harrods: A luxurious cup of Italian hot chocolate, Macarons from Laudree

Right around the corner from the chocolate bar, you can ogle kitchenware and fancy appliances.

On a later day of our trip we returned for the Laduree store which opened in Harrods a couple of years ago. Laduree is a fancy French pastry store best known for inventing the sandwiched macaron, worshipped for its perfect texture and variety of flavors. Put off by the long line for a table, we bought a box to go. An exciting part of the Laduree macaron experience is picking out a box to house the delicate pastries. I found the perfect black box and chose a variety of flavors including rose, pistachio and cassis.

My Daruma Doll

When we moved into the condo, my uncle and his family sent this funny little man from Japan as a housewarming gift. As I read my uncle’s instructions (several times – they were in German) I found out the man was not just a statue, but a special wishing doll named Daruma.

Daruma doll

Here’s how it works: you make a wish and paint the pupil on his right eye. He sits around the house reminding you of your wish until it comes true – then you paint the other eye.

We’re still trying to think of the perfect wish. Being practical, I immediately wondered if I could use a dry erase marker and wipe him clean for next year. But in this case, perhaps it’s best to stick with tradition.

For more information, check out the Wikipedia article about Daruma dolls.