Eating better food for less and other tales from a no-moneymoon

Monday, December 6, 2010

A New Year, A Renewed Challenge

We've thrown another log on the fire. And not just because it's cold.

While we're holding steady with a food budget of about $40-50 per week (packing lunches does bump up the budget a bit), and we're still primarily eating healthy options, we're now also trying to cook for the week on Sunday. The occupants of Lemonville (Pop. 2 1/2) have fortunately gotten rather busy (thus the gap in posting -- oops!), and that means we have to counter the evil forces of the UTO (Urge-To-Order-in).

Cook for a Day, Eat For a Year

Lots of great ideas are out there for cooking one day and eating for a week!, month!, year!..ok, not a year, but you get the drift. I'd looked into this a while back when I was in lazy cooking mode and while the concept of only cooking one day really appealed, and the premise seemed doable, it didn't really fit with my type of cooking. I've found I like the *idea* of planning for a week, but really I want flexibility in my diet. Some nights I need Mexican, and other nights all I want is a light and lovely French meal. If Thursday is Turkey Soup night but I'm thinking Veggie Lasagna, I'm not going to be very happy.

So here's what I've come up with that works (at least since December): over the weekend, I turn out one convertible meal, one meal with straight up leftovers, and one dish that goes straight to the freezer, with some variations. So I'm gradually building up and cycling through my very own version of the Trader Joe's frozen food section. In terms of time, usually one dish take about 2 hours, so I cook the others in the interim and we do one round of clean up.

What Last Week's Sunday Cooking Looked Like

Convertible Meal: So far this means roasting a chicken, which I serve as is, reheat as leftovers, freeze the darker meat and white scraps for quick weeknight recipes, make and freeze stock. One chicken, two people, 3-4 meals. We ate the roast chicken for Sunday dinner, I made Cheater's Pan Sauce one night with stock and slices of breast meat, and we froze stock and chicken picked off the bones.

Straight Up Serve It: Beef Bourguignon. We rang in New Year's Day with something rich and satisfying (if deeply unhealthy.) After 2010, we needed it. The Joy of Cooking (new edition) recipe is brilliant. Reheated two days later, even better.

Direct to the Freezer: Cranberry Meatballs and Meatballs (without cranberry.) Confused? It's just one recipe for meatballs with or without sauce. Both freeze beautifully. Mom's recipe with my substitution of ground turkey.

For lunch, we've been packing a lightly dressed lentil salad. Make it once, dish it out throughout the week.

A post about posting. Really?

So here's what this means for Always Lemons. I'm still going to post recipes and photos (when they are decent), but they may not be chronological in part because some items will go and come straight from the freezer. Others will certainly be made the night of, and still others will be fresh but with components from the freezer. And the grocery bill will vary week to week, but still hover in the $40-range. One week in December I never made it to the store, but the previous week's $60 of cooking and freezing carried us through. If I cook up a good one, I will post some Sunday meal "creation" plans and keep posting new recipes during the week, since some well-worn and freezable favorites are already on the site.

And finally, a recipe...

Cheaty Ziti
Serves 4-6

1 box (1 lb.) ziti or penne, whole wheat works well
1 large jar tomato sauce
1 block low-fat mozzarella
1 package sweet Italian turkey sausage
1 clove garlic
some dried organo and basil, optional depending on sauce

Preheat the oven to 425F.

In a large saute pan, remove the sausages filling from their casing. Honestly, I squeeze out the filling since the casings are often slimy and hard to cut away. Fry turkey, crumbling until cooked through. Add one clove of garlic, minced or grated and the contents of the tomato sauce jar. DO NOT THROW OUT THE JAR. Allow the mixture to get hot, but not reduce, for about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat.

In a large baking or casserole pan, pour out the dry pasta. Add the turkey and tomato sauce. Take the tomato sauce jar and fill to the top with water and add that to the pan. Stir around so the water-sauce-pasta are evenly distributed. Grate a small block of skimmed mozzarella on top.

Cover tightly with foil. Place in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes or until the cheese topping brown. Let site 5-10 minutes before cutting and serving. Cool completely before freezing.

Variations: You can add mushrooms and zucchini to the sauce. I frequently add half an onion to the turkey while it cooks. If I have Parmesan on hand, I sometimes grate a little on top of the mozzarella for some additional flavor.

Thrifty note: This is actually one of my pricier recipes since it includes not one but two ready-made items. I try to make this when I find a good deal on either the sauce or the sausage, both of which are frequently on sale. I can almost always find a sale on pasta. Mozzarella is rarely on sale, but I've tried generic and quite frankly if it isn't fresh mozzarella, there isn't a whole lot of nuance to mess up so go ahead and buy the store brand.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Stuffed Pork Chops Florentine

Sometimes I get bored, very bored, with my food. To switch things up I look to a new locale or a new ingredient, but sometimes I look in the fridge and decide it is time to deconstruct. So instead of adding spinach served on the side of the pork chops that I had picked up on sale, the green leafy goodness went right inside the main event. Add a little mozzarella (on sale, but of course), some garlic and some acid with a white wine and roast pepper sauce and it's a Florentine feast.

Stuffed Pork Chops Florentine
2 pork loin chops (there was no bone, but you could do this with bone in)
Olive oil
3-4 cups spinach
1 clove garlic
3 oz mozzarella, cut into thin slices
Salt and pepper
nutmeg, freshly grated
1 roasted red-orange-yellow pepper
1/3 cup white wine

Preheat oven to 375F.

In a saute pan heat 1 Tablespoon olive oil and saute 3-4 cups fresh spinach, chopped and dried along with one clove garlic grated. Cook until spinach has wilted down and is a dark green, but before it gets slimy. Remove from pan, drain on paper towel and squeeze out extra liquid.

Reheat the same pan with olive oil, about 1 Tablespoon, depending on how much oil is still in the pan. Turn it up high. Meanwhile, slice 4-6 thin slices of skimmed mozzarella.

Take two thick pork chops and make a deep pocket. Here's what this means: on the side that doesn't have fat, use a paring knife and make a thin slit. Then insert the knife and move back and forth on each side to make a larger space inside.

Stuff spinach and mozzarella into pocket. I placed the mozzarella in, then the spinach and closed the "gap" between sides with another thin slice. Season chops with salt, ground pepper and freshly grated nutmeg.

Fry those chops till they are browned on each side. That's about 3 minutes a side. Turn over gently with a spatula. Then transfer to a baking sheet and roast the chops in the oven for 15-18 minutes. I went with 18 minutes and was very happy with that decision.

Meanwhile, make a sauce: Chop some roasted peppers and cook them in the drippings and deglaze with about 1/3 c of white wine. Salt and pepper.

While stuffing pork chops with greens made them seem only a little bit healthier, it certainly made the evening meal a lot less boring.

A (Fridge) Harvest Feast

I had the chance to spend a lovely day upstate (up the river, if you will) and fall was definitely in the air. Being surrounded by the bright foliage and all-around-foodiness of the Hudson Valley put me in the mood for some fall harvest-y grub. But this harvest was coming directly from an overstuffed fridge.

For a dinner gathering the other week I'd found a New York Magazine recipe for butternut squash crostini which I'd subbed in as a salad topping for some arugula. Butternut squash roasted with olive oil, sea salt, honey, capers and walnuts. Yum. So I thought maybe some of the same flavors could be spread out over a whole meal. The acorn squash that had been hanging out in the fridge for a week got a little roasty-roast with some honey and olive oil and lots of sea salt. Capers' saltiness balanced out the bite of arugula and sweet orange sections in a salad. And for some added harvest festival feasting, I roasted potatoes with apples. Even though this was a veggie-only dinner, it was rich in flavor and left us happily full on this fall evening.

Roasted Acorn Squash With Honey

1 Acorn Squash (served 2 easily)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 Tablespoons honey
Sea salt

Heat the oven to 350F. Slice the acorn squash into slices. You need a heavy chefs knife. Be careful! Place into a baking dish and drizzle with olive oil and sea salt. Roast 20 minutes. Take out and drizzle with honey and bake another 30 minutes. Then turn up the heat to 400 and bake another 10-15 minutes until the tops of the squash look golden brown.

Roast Apples and Potatoes
3 red potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 apple, cored and diced
olive oil

With the oven turned up to 400F, toss the potatoes and apples with olive oil on a foil-covered baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes (while acorn squash is cooling for 5 minutes).

Arugula, Orange and Caper Salad
2 cups arugula, rinsed and dried
1 teaspoon capers, drained (I pull them out of the jar with a fork)
1/4 cup parsley, minced
1 orange
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
olive oil

Wash and dry the arugula. Toss in capers and parsley. Cut an orange in half and cut out the sections. Add the orange sections to the salad. With the two leftover orange halves, squeeze the juice into a small bowl. Add the Dijon mustard, olive oil, black pepper and salt and whisk. Toss the salad with the dressing.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Gougeres Means "Being Neighborly"

As we roll along in the no-moneymoon, I've learned that even when you're not feeling your shiniest, you can still share what you do have. What we have is the rental of a kind relative's apartment...with a terrace. Don't hate us. Blame the apartment fairy* and a market that no one wants to sell in.

And here is what you need of an evening for some fine terrace sitting: hearty nibbles. Dainty is all well and good when there's dinner on the stove or a roast in the oven. But for an extended terrace sit with friends, watching the sun go down and turn the landmark building to the east a lovely shade of orange, I try to make 2-3 heavier items and the like to go with the inevitable bottle of wine.

No matter how charming and elegant that may seem, I'm still me -- trying to stick to a budget, inserting veggies wherever possible to be "healthy" and making use of the ingredients I have on hand. The good news is that even some fancier nibbles are pretty thrifty. So here's what we shared with a lovely neighbor the other night:

Gougeres (aka cheesy poofs)
I used this Alain Ducasse recipe and would definitely add a little more cheese next time. Bonus, these were frozen from a previous entertaining venture and quickly reheated at 350F for 25 minutes. Perfect.

Potato & Leek Croquettes
4 small - medium red potatoes
1 large leek
3 Tablespoons olive oil, plus some more for frying
1 egg
Black pepper, lots of it, Salt, too

People make croquettes with leftover mashed potatoes, but since I loathe mashed potatoes, I have to start from scratch. That's where the microwave comes in to play. Wash and prick the potatoes with a fork, lay them on a paper towel in the micro and nuke 'em for about 5 minutes until they are very soft and the skin looks wrinkly. Set aside until cool enough to handle and then peel off the skin and cut them into 1-inch cubes

Meanwhile, in a medium-sized saute pan heat 2 Tablespoons olive oil. Wash and slice the leek (I always put them into a bowl of cold water to let the grit fall to the bottom of the bowl -- this really works!) and then saute until very soft. Turn off the heat and turn your attention back to those potatoes.

Start mashing the potato cubes. Then add in the leeks and all their cooking oil. Mash some more. Add lots of black pepper and salt (you have to season this a lot.) When the mixture is well mashed add in the egg. If the mixture looks like it isn't holding together you can add another Tablespoon of olive oil. I did, but it would depend on the potatoes I think. You could also add a little flour to boost the binding. I didn't.

In the same saute pan where you fried the leeks, heat some olive oil until hot but not smoking. Make little patties with the potato mixture and slide into the oil. Fry until browned on one side then flip to finish cooking. Keep warm in the oven until ready to serve.

Roast Pepper Nibbles
1-2 red, yellow or orange peppers, roasted
1 Tablespoon capers
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
Black pepper and salt
1 onion bagel

Sometimes I find big bargains and recently I lucked into an assortment of sweet peppers on their last legs. Not ok for a grocery shelf or a salad, but totally fine as roasted (and skinned) peppers. These had been adding some zest to our dining last week, so I had them on hand. Here's how to make them from scratch: Turn oven up to 420F. Wash peppers and remove any soft spots. Place on a baking sheet and roast until the skin turns brown-black in patches and looks wrinkly, about 30 minutes. While still piping hot, use an oven mitt or tongs to place them in a brown paper bag. I *never* have brown paper bags, but I do have parchment, so I make a packet with that and it works fine. This is to steam the skins so they are easier to pull off. I let them sit until they are pretty much cooled. Not worth a burned finger tip!

With the skins off, you can put these in to the fridge with some olive oil and they keep nicely for about a week. To make nibble topping, take about 1-2 peppers and chop finely then mix with olive oil, rice wine vinegar and salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, make a little delivery system for it: bagel chips. I hate to pay for those expensive mini toasts, even though they are delicious! So I've come up with this solution. I slice an onion bagel cross-wise and continue slicing to produce coin-sized rounds. You can get about 20-25 thin slices from one bagel, and the weird triangles you are left with are a nice treat for the cook--eat them before you drink that wine and you prevent tipsy hostess syndrome. Bake at 350F for 5-8 minutes on a baking sheet. No oil needed and they are perfectly tasty and crispy. And better than baguette, these are truly bite-sized nibbles.

The only ingredients purchased for this fun evening: Gruyere, wine and one bagel.

*Don't believe in the apartment fairy? Ever visited a rent-controlled classic six on Central Park West? Apartment fairy. It happens but once in a lifetime, so put keys under your pillow and see what happens.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Can, A Plan, A Curry

This is the tale of two cans, a plan, and some curry paste, in no particular order.

We were very fortunate to receive a present: some essential ingredients of Thai cooking that a friend (who is Thai herself) felt would be useful to me as a homecook. I was excited to start exploring and immediately broke into the oyster sauce, which I put with some dark greens for a delicious meal. But the small and potent-looking can of curry paste...well, it just sat there. I'm going to admit that it kind of scared me and so, it lingered on a shelf, taunting me.

But I had a plan for this can: some leftover chicken, some corn from a lonely old cob, the remnants of the hot chili and two cans: coconut milk and pineapple rings. Boil, boil, a little toil, no trouble at all.

Thai Curry with Chicken and Pineapple

1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
Half an onion, chopped
1 red pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 inch of chili pepper, seeded and membrane removed and cut fine
1 carrot, sliced thin
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon thai curry paste (which is fish + chili + tamarind + MSG...oh well.)
1/3 can of coconut milk, about 2/3 cups
1 cup chicken stock
1 cob corn, kernels cut off
2 1/2 cups cooked chicken, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1/2 can pineapple cubes or rings in juice, drained and cut into bite size pieces

Heat a large saute pan with some olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion. While the onion starts to soften chop your pepper (red and hot) and carrot. Add these veggies in and cook until softened. The carrots might still be a little hard, but that's ok.

Now, the fun: spice. Add in the spices and salt and stir into the vegetables. Cook for a minute or two. Add in the coconut milk and chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Add in the curry paste. I was trying to use only a little due to the MSG and it really went a very long way. I was relieved I didn't use more!

Cut the kernels off the corn cob and add to the pan along with the cooked chicken. Cook for 3-4 minutes. Drain and cut pineapple and add it to the mixture and heat through.

Mr. Lemon and I tasted it and threw away the Thai take out menu. It was seriously tasty, spicy and balanced savory with sweet nicely.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Root-ing Through the Fridge

We're in the final throws of our CSA deliveries and this means our fridge looks like a root cellar. Peering into the cold storage, we had some beets that I'd roasted but left adrift in the veggie drawer, an overflow of carrots, and miraculously two eggplants, each a week or more old, looking perky.

With that in mind, I thought this dinner might take root in the souk -- my favorite Moroccan carrot and beet salads, as well as the tabbouleh that pops up so frequently Chez Lemon.

The Baba Ganoush is hiding...can you find it?

And I broke out my version of baba ganoush. I love baba ganoush more than most and for years thought I was eating a healthy treat from my favorite falafel spot until I asked for the secret ingredient. What was it? Mayo. Yes, MAYO. Spoonfuls of mayo, I had been eating as my healthy afternoon snack and my "light" lunch option.

So, that said, I started making my own baba ganoush, and I didn't feel bad about subbing in ingredients. If mayonnaise could make it's way into a real falafel joint, then my consistent lack of tahini was not an impediment. Here's what I use instead: toasted sesame oil. It lasts a while in the pantry, I use it in Asian dishes and it gives a lot of sesame flavor with just a sprinkle or two. I also use it in my hummus. That's my secret ingredient.

Baba ganoush

1 medium eggplant, 2 Japanese eggplants, split in half
olive oil
1 clove garlic
1/2 lemon's juice
4-5 sprinkles of toasted sesame oil
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1/4 teaspoon cumin

Turn the oven up high -- 420F. On a lined baking sheet (tin foil works fine, parchment is nicer), place the split eggplants cut side down. If using tin foil, drizzle a little olive oil on the foil so it doesn't stick to the eggplant. With a paring knife, make a few shallow slits on the skin to release steam. Roast for 30 minutes, or until the skin starts to look really wrinkled. The time depends on the size of your eggplants. Remove and set aside to cool.

Once cooled, scrape out the eggplant flesh away from the skin. It should be tan colored and very soft. Discard the skin. If there are still larger pieces, run a knife through the eggplant. Usually it is pretty goo-ey by this point.

Mix in the minced or grated garlic, lemon juice, cumin, sesame oil and yogurt.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A (Slightly) Steakhouse Dinner

This fall weather, and a bit of a lingering sniffle, made me think we needed some heartier--but no less healthy--fare in these parts. That's want sent us (bargain) hunting to the meat aisle for something beyond the usual lean cuisine.

As it turned out, the meat manager was smiling down on us and had put out an odd combo pack: a sirloin roast, cubes and thin sliced steaks. Three pounds of bright red beef for $10 at Fairway. Deal! Visions of restocking the freezer danced in my head and we were quickly on our way to a steak dinner -- or my mock version of one.

I wasn't sure what to do with a sirloin roast. It's a tender cut (so the meat manager said) and therefore not a good match for slow cooking. Said manager gave me his advice and it turned out pretty well, I think. Almost a roast beef consistency if I hadn't sliced it so thick. Also on deck: oven fries from our CSA potato supply and a low-fat version of creamed spinach using some bigs leaves also from the CSA that week.

Sirloin Roast Straight Up
2 pound beef sirloin roast

Salt and pepper the roast and place in a roasting pan with rack. Cook at 350F for 40 minutes, 20 minutes per pound. I guesstimated the weight (must get kitchen scale...) but it was a lovely dark pink inside so I think I guessed correctly. Two tips: 1. Let it rest for a while. 2. Slice as thinly as possible. Mine were a little thick which made the slices a bit less tender than anticipated.

Meanwhile...make those:

Oven Steak Fries
5-6 small-medium potatoes, red and yellow
olive oil
salt pepper

I'm usually very disappointed with "oven" fries. But I finally realized that it's all about the expectation. Oven roasted fries are not real fries. They are an approximation and if you give up the hope that they will be magically as crispy as real fries you will be way more pleased than you might imagine with the final product here. They were crispy, and soft on the inside, and full of potato flavor, but in a way totally different from a deep fried potato.

Cut the potatoes, skin on, into thin wedges. Coat on the baking tray with olive oil, a clove or two of minced garlic, salt and pepper. Bake 40 minutes at 350F along side the roast, then with the roast out turn it up for 20 minutes at 420F.

Now with the fries roasting, the roast resting, it's time to saute the spinach and make it creamy.

"Creamed" Spinach
1 onion, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon oil
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup milk, 1 %
Spinach, about a 1/2 pound
nutmeg, freshly ground
salt and pepper

What we're doing here is faking a bechamel sauce, since it's just a tiny bit of butter and flour, and a splash of low fat milk. In a medium saute pan, melt the butter and oil together. Add the chopped onion and stir around until the onions are translucent, but not brown. Turn down the heat and sprinkle flour right on top. Mix it around and let the flour absorb any liquid. Cook the floured combo for about a minute. Now dribble in some milk and stir. You don't want the milk solids to stick to the pan. Keep adding milk slowly until you begin to see a very little bit of white sauce. Now add the spinach and stir as it wilts. Grate some fresh nutmeg and salt and pepper. Done!

And of course, add a big glass of red wine.

Spicing Up Chicken Soup

I like spicy food, but real chili peppers put me in a panic. Small, cute...dangerous.

So sure enough, the grab bag that is our CSA turned up a red hot chili. Remaining calm, I carefully picked it up by the stem, dropped it in my "market" bag (a Domino Magazine R.I.P. freebie) and then forgot about it for a week.

As part of the freezer swap (we are loading in anew, but first the hoarded treasures must come out), I had two chicken breasts, bone in skin on, perfect for some soup. I also had a couple late summer ears of corn that needed to find their way into a meal, stat, and that darn little chili. Soup, spicy, chicken, corn...Mexican.

I won't pretend this is a Posole stew, since I didn't have hominy. But fresh corn subbed in nicely.

Spicy Mexican Chicken Soup

Olive oil
1/2 larger onion, diced
1/2 inch of hot red chili, seeded and minced
2 chicken breasts, bone and skin on
Salt and Pepper
2 corn cobs, cut off kernels and reserve cobs
5 cups water
1 lime
1/2 tomato
1/2 avocado
4-5 sprigs cilantro

In a dutch oven (or any big heavy pot) drizzle olive oil to cover the bottom (about 2 Tablespoons) and turn the heat to medium-high. Chop up half an onion and mince a very small part of a red hot chili. Saute until they start to look translucent.

Push aside the onion and chili, place the chicken skin side down in the center of the pot. Season the chicken with salt, pepper and a sprinkling of cumin. Cook for about 4 minutes. The skin will begin to look brown. Do not turn it! But add in the two corn cobs and 5 cups water and more salt.

Turn back the heat and cook the chicken at a simmer about 8-10 minutes. Pull a piece of the chicken out and check to see if it is cooked through (white) inside. If done pull out chicken and set aside to cool.

Turn the heat back up and bring the broth to a boil. Cook for 5-8 minutes until it has reduced about an inch down the side of pot. Remove the corn cob and scrape off any corn bits and put them back into the pot.

Meanwhile, remove the skin and shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Add the corn kernels in to the soup along with the chicken and turn off the heat. The heat of the broth will cook the kernels perfectly. Squeeze in the juice of one lime. Taste and adjust flavors. I added a little more salt.

Spoon the soup into bowls and add on top tomato, cilantro and avocado.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Layers of Fun, and Collards

I've got certain tv-watching habits that fill a need. Hoarders? Inspires me to clean. Martha? Keeps me crafty. (Yes, I worship at the Church of Martha.)

And then there's my pal Guy Fieri. You heard me. Guy, the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives dude. With the hair. He provides me with the emotional face-stuffing I no longer participate in. Now I do it virtually. I watch him do my over-eating for me. I hope he feels good about it.

Aside from his total worship of very indulgent comfort food, triple-D dude gets line chefs to fess up their signature recipes. And while I'm sticking with my healthier eating ways (there have been results afterall...but more on that when I'm feeling brave), I've been thinking a lot about how so many of their recipes boil down to a ton of ingredients roasted/cooked and then blended into sauces with layers of flavors.

Which brings me, magically, back to collards. Yep, got more of them from the CSA. And in the past I've had some nice success in keeping them simple. But why not build them into something more, something with layers, both literal and figurative.

With some leftover tortillas, home-made chorizo from the freezer (part of a freezer swap that's mid-stream), and some lovely red peppers, I thought I'd make dinner a mash up: Portuguese Chorizo and Kale soup meets veggie pizza.

Next time, I'll add cheese to hold things together, but this was crunchy, salty and smoky, filling and full of collard-goodness. Guy might have done the "hunch" to fit it all in to one big bite. We used a fork.

Chorizo, Collard and Pepper "Pizza"

1 red pepper
6 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
olive oil
1/2 pound chicken chorizo
6-7 collard leaves
3 tortillas

Heat oven to 420F. Rinse off red pepper and place on baking sheet. Roast for 25 minutes or until the skin is wrinkly and brown in spots. Remove from oven and steam in paper bag. I never have a paper bag so I create a little pocket by folding over parchment paper. In fact, if I'm feeling bold I toast on parchment and then carefully fold it over. (Watch those fingers!) When it is cool enough to touch, peel of skin and scrape away stem and seeds.

Place the red pepper in a mini Cuisinart along with 2 cloves garlic, 2 Tablespoons olive oil, salt, pepper and 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar. Blend until very smooth. Add more olive oil if you need to.

On a baking sheet lined with foil (for easy clean up) drizzle a little olive oil. Slide your tortillas in the oil on both sides to be lightly coated. Bake on the sheet for 10 minutes at 320F. You don't want them to burn, but you do want them to get a little stiff. Pull them out and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a medium saute pan, heat some more olive oil and throw in chopped collards. Mince 4 cloves garlic and place on top of collards. Let it wilt and then stir around until collard are softer but still a nice bright color. Remove and set aside.

In the same pan add the chorizo. I had homemade loose chorizo that I made with ground chicken, but any uncooked chorizo would work. Crumble with a fork as it begins to cook. You'll also pick up some bits of collard, which is fine. Cook fully.

Now, time to layer. Spread the red pepper sauce on the tortilla, then the collards, then the chorizo with a little more pepper sauce on top. Into the oven for 10-15 minutes and you've got some big flavors, high fiber and lots of leftovers in one meal.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Beets Beeter Beetest

I love beets. Mr. Lemon does not. So when beets crop up in the CSA line up (a little agri-humor for you), I get excited, but know that there's a dinner challenge ahead. Hearts and stomachs must be won over with some creativity:

Beet this.

What's great is that in one lovely fresh bunch of beets you've got two veggies with two different flavors. So off come the tops to become the centerpiece of a quiche and into the oven the pretty magenta roots go for an hour of roasting to make them soft and sweet.

I've made quiche before with swiss chard and liked how the creaminess of egg and the nutmeg worked out the kinks of a bitter green. So the beet greens were an experiment. Also an experiment? A potato crust. I've wanted to try one of these out for a while and I would definitely make it again. While I am quite familiar with my rolling pin, sometimes make a pastry crust seems a little fussy to me. And with the potatoes, there's starch for sure, but not the fattiness of a full butter crust.

And as it turned out, this us an unbeetable combo for a healthy, but filling veggie dinner.

Potato Crusted Beet Green Quiche
4-5 red potatoes, medium, peeled and grated
2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch beet greens (tops), washed and rough chopped
3 cloves garlic, grated
1 leek, sliced thin and soak to get out any grit
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup low fat milk
freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper

Heat oven to 425F. Grate 4-5 medium sized peeled red potatoes. Mix this with olive oil to coat (about 2 Tablespoons) and add salt and pepper. In a cake pan or tart pan with a solid bottom, brush lightly with olive oil and press the potato mixture into the bottom and up the sides. Mine was pretty thick (about 1/2 inch thick) but I'm betting you could cut down on the potato. Bake for 30 minutes. Mine could probably have gone longer in order to get the "crust" out more neatly. Next time I might also add a little flour or egg to glue the potato together better.

In a saute pan, add a drizzle of olive oil and the beet tops, rinsed thoroughly and chopped into 1 inch pieces. Saute over medium high heat and add 3 cloves of grated garlic. When the greens are wilted and the stems look day glow bright, pull them off the heat and into a bowl or plate to cool. In the same pan add a little more olive oil and add 1 leek, rinsed and sliced into disks. Over medium high heat, these leeks will cook quickly and any brown bits on the bottom will come up and combine with the leeks. Cook until soft and add to the greens.

In a separate bowl, whisk 4 eggs and 1 cup low fat milk. Grate fresh nutmeg (more than you might expect) and some salt and pepper.

Scatter the greens and leeks into the potato crust and pour the egg mixture over it. Pat down any stems that pop up and pop the whole thing in the oven at 350F for 30 minutes until a knife inserted in to the middle comes out clean. Let sit for five minutes then slice and serve!

Meanwhile, there are those lovely pink globes of goodness roasting away...

Roast Beet and Arugula Salad
5-6 beets, tops trimmed
2 cups arugula
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper

Trim off the tops and rinse the beets. Wrap each individually in tin foil and put on a baking sheet. Roast these at 425 for 45 minutes, while you're baking the potato crust and then a bit longer while the potato crust is cooling. Let cool in the tin foil and use a paper towel to rub off the skin. Slice and dice and add to a vinaigrette of 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard + 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar and 2 Tablespoons olive oil plus salt and pepper. Serve over arugula.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Happy Sunny Tacos

Maybe it's because I associate them with sunny California and all my fun West Coast visits, but when I need a little cheering, tacos can go a long way.

Directions: Pile. Fold. Stuff face.

Long before they were in fashion, I was mildly obsessed with taquerias, specifically those that are mobile and a little dirty looking. The first time I visited California to see a college friend who'd moved home, we were in search of cheap eats and, naturally, we hit a taqueria. I wish I remembered where we went (someplace in LA, how's that for vague?), but I fell in love with the soft tortilla, the salty meat and the fresh mix of cilantro, onion and lime. And there were surprises, too: cabbage was a revelation, fish tacos, radishes, tomatillo's tangy green sauce. This was not the Old El Paso!

So for a little mood elevation, I pick up tortillas and the ingredients for any number of taco combos that are a dependable part of the Lemon menu. In this case I found a deal on beef eye round slices. I'm not a big fan of thin sliced beef because it is such a challenge to keep it moist, but for a quick dinner these worked out perfectly. Cook 'em fast over high heat on one side then turn off the heat and they'll cook themselves while you assemble the rest of the taco fixings. And oh what fixings: Add some black beans and sliced avocado, shred a little leftover cabbage, throw together some pico de gallo and a happy memory comes to the table.

Sliced Beef Tacos with The Works

1 can Goya black beans, low sodium
1 teaspoon white vinegar
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 package small flour tortillas (you can find them trans-fat free)
3-4 thin-cut beef round eye
chili powder
1/2 large tomato
1 bunch cilantro
1/2 red onion, diced
1 lime
1/2 avocado
1 cup green cabbage, shredded
2 ounces cheddar, thin sliced or shredded

In a small saucepan, add one can of black beans with their "juice" plus 2 cloves grated or minced garlic, a teaspoon of white vinegar and sprinkling of oregano (maybe a 1/4 teaspoon if you're measuring) and a pinch of salt. Heat over medium heat and move on to the beef...

Heat a nonstick pan over high heat and add a little olive oil. When it's very hot, add your sliced beef and sprinkle with 2 cloves minced garlic, salt, pepper, chili powder and cumin. This is one of the only times I use the sprinkling-cover (what is it called??) that comes with most grocery store spice bottles. Just a little, not too much. When the edges of the beef look brown, flip it over and turn off the heat.

Now for the rest of the fun: throw together in a bowl some chopped cilantro, onion, tomato and the juice of one lime. Slice some avocado and shred some green cabbage and if you've got it, cheese. Take the beef out of the pan and slice in strips. We used three rounds and saved the other half for the next night (with some Chimichurri.)

Pile it on a flour tortilla (heat them in the microwave if you are so inclined) and fold it over. Stuff face and feel the joy of a warm sunny California afternoon (ignoring the smog and traffic, naturally.)

Great use of half-used vegetables (tomato, onion, cabbage, avocado!)
A touch of beef makes this not too unhealthy, not too pricey
Taco happiness lifts the mood on an ordinary night
Leftover toppings + leftover beans = lunch the next day

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Temptation of Two (Chicken) Breasts

A few weeks ago, a dear friend walked down the aisle. In and of itself, this has nothing to do with chicken.

BUT, pre-nuptials, we were recently talking about what changes once you're cohabitating, shacked up, etc. Here's what I've noticed: topics such as What's For Dinner become a looping dialogue. You know, the "What do you want?" "No, what do you feel like eating?" on repeat, every night, week after week, forever and ever amen. Really, someone making a decision on dinner should be part of the marriage vows.

The answer, so often in Lemonville (population 2.5) is not chicken. When do we ever say I want CHICKEN? Nearly never. (The Canine Taste Tester, our .5 member, would argue this but rarely has the vote because all we would eat is chicken if she could choose!) But we might come up with a regional cuisine, a flavor description or more often a shrug. Chicken is just, well, boring. It's the stuff you add to it that makes it special, or at least flavorful.

And that's what inspired this bi-cuisinal exploration -- two huge chicken breasts, staring me in the face this week. We'd had a holiday weekend of dietary debauchery (Ribs, Burgers, Hot Dogs, S'mores, in no particular order) over Labor Day, and we needed healthier dinners stat. And skinless, boneless chicken does offer a lean protein. Our local grocery was selling a "family pack" of two enormous chicken breasts for $5. Seriously, they were at least B cups, possibly C. But in my eyes they were a tempting call to action: let's divide and conquer, let's raise the bar here, let's make chicken a little more interesting than a dinnertime cliche.

So here we go:
Chicken with Yogurt and Cumin: No really, that's the recipe. Cut up one large chicken breast into bite-size pieces and marinade in 1 cup plain yogurt + 1 Tablespoon Cumin +Salt +Pepper.

Grill or saute in a non-stick pan until the chicken is white on the inside, about 3 minutes then turn it. It's spicy, tangy and very tender on the inside. I served it with a melange of veg: yellow squash, onion and broccoli. Yes, this was the bottom of the vegetable drawer

Chicken with Olives and Thyme
Cut one large chicken breast in half lengthwise. It will STILL be abnormally large. Salt and Pepper.
Heat a medium saute pan and drizzle in olive oil to coat lightly. Get it hot. Throw in your chicken, salt and pepper it, and do not turn until it has made a golden crust on one side, flip over and turn the heat back a little. Add 1/4 cup sliced, pitted mixed olives and 4-5 fresh stems of thyme with the leaves pulled off if the stems are woody. Cook until white on the inside. Mine were still very thick and took 8-10 minutes a side.

The olives will get a little crunchy and offer a salty kick that goes well with the mellow flavor of the chicken and thyme.

Alternate ending: Yes, this recipe has an alternate topping for the chicken. I also sauteed up three medium leeks, cleaned and sliced, in 1 Tablespoon butter. Cook until the leeks are very soft and add salt and pepper to taste. I originally made this as a side dish, but scooped up with the chicken, it was a wonderful silky sauce for the meat's browned outside and tender inside.

Two huge breasts make two yummy dinners
Affordable lean protein gets some new flavors
Canine Taste Tester approved

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Plumy Good Time

Plums, I love. Mealy plums, I can't abide. And since the baking needed to stop with the zucchini tart (and some nut cakes that I am too ashamed to feature here, although they were delicious!), no pies or pastries could be used to break down my recent CSA supply into the tart and silky delights that are cooked plums. But a sauce-- a plum sauce! That's the ticket.

I wasn't sure that my plum sauce would really resemble what you get at the local Chinese restaurant. I'm always wary that recipes for Asian foods are missing some secret restaurant ingredient (um, MSG?) And already mine would most definitely be missing something -- since star anise is not in the Lemonville spice rack. We'd spent enough last week on groceries, so I figured maybe some leftover fennel stalks could sub in. And boy did they ever.

Serious Eats (a great food hub!) had the same thought about plums and had posted a recipe from Sherri Brooks Vinton's book Put 'Em Up. Aside from the star anise, this was an on-hand recipe list I could deal with and it turned out beautifully. Imagine a tart and spicy ketchup in a gorgeous shade of magenta. And best of all -- it keeps up to three weeks in the fridge. This plumy good sauce will be gracing chicken, vegetables and anything else I can think to put it on.

Fresh Chinese Plum Sauce
Adapted from Put 'Em up via Serious Eats

1 cup fennel stalk sliced thin (1 Star anise if you have it)
2 lbs. plums, pitted (I had about 15 small dark purple plums)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 Tablespoons freshly grated ginger
2 cloves garlic

In a non reactive sauce pan (stainless steel works), put a small amount of olive oil and the fennel stalks and let them start to cook down. When sliced really thin, this doesn't take too long -- about 4-5 minutes. If you have star anise, obviously you can skip this step.

Cut plums apart and remove pit. Leave the skins on! Add to the pot along with the vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, grated ginger and grated garlic cloves. Cook and bring to a boil for about 25 minutes.

Pour the mixture into a blender and blend until pretty smooth. Let cool and store in fridge for up to 3 weeks (If it lasts that long...)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Zucchini Tart Tale

Do you ever get recipe envy? I do. Sometimes a lovely recipe will stick in my mind, whispering softly "Make me..." until I just have to give in -- even if it means breaking my vow to stop the menace that is my baking habit (I bake it, I eat it...all of it.)

When a dear friend came over for some pear-inspired cocktails and dinner, I knew I'd found the very reason to try out Clotilde Dusoulier's magnificent zucchini topped Tarte Fine. The real attraction here was two fold: first, that this was a light appetizer that would pair well (pardon the pun) with our pear cocktails.

But second and the more fascinating point of interest is that genius cook Clotilde offers up a puff-pastry clone that uses yogurt. Yes, yogurt. I'd been hunting around for a puff pastry alternative (I am both too lazy and cheap to make or buy it, respectively) and this, well, this was perfect. Because what do I always have around...aside from lemons...yogurt! I'm fairly obsessed.

So I was off to bake when I re-read the recipe and saw that the zucchini was served raw. Clotilde had lovely, tender young yellow zucchini. Of course she did. I, scouring the remnants of the CSA veggie dump, did not. I had an ornery looking mid-size zucchini that had perhaps seen better days. Leaving him (the male pronoun is a given) uncooked, even sliced super thin, was not going to be pleasant. He needed some cooking to get tender. I also didn't have the lovely little cheeses that Clotilde describes to make a topping, so more substitutions were coming ahead.

And then I remembered Smitten Kitchen's Zucchini Galette. Bingo. I'd take the topping and cooking time from one and the pastry from another. A Frankenstein-ed recipe that turned out, well, perfectly. Light slightly crunchy crust with zesty, creamy ricotta and the peppery thin zucchini -- a great nibble for our cocktail hour.

Zucchini Ricotta Tart

Yogurt Puff Pastry

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plain 1% yogurt (Clotilde says full fat, but this worked well)
1/4 cup butter, chilled and cut into cubes
1/4 teaspoon salt

Place the flour in a large-ish bowl and make a well in the center. Add the yogurt to the center (you don't want too much whey, so if it is from the top of the container, mix it up a bit.) Using a fork or pastry blender combine the yogurt with the flour. Add the butter, cubed, and salt into the mix and "cut in" the butter to the yogurt-flour mixture until you can't see the butter cubes anymore. The mixture will be a little sticky and will hold together. If it doesn't hold together, add a little more yogurt.

You need to knead this lightly (ha!) and I just did this in the bowl, but the proper way is on a floured surface. Then form into a disk and wrap it in saran wrap. Chill for an hour (or up to one day) in the fridge. Roll out the dough between two pieces of parchment until it is about 1/4 - 1/2 inch thick. You will transfer the dough on this parchment paper onto a baking sheet. Now on to the topping...

Zucchini Galette Topping
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen's Zucchini Galette

1 medium or 2 small zucchini, sliced thin to about 1/4 inch
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, grated on the microplane
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 egg white

Slice the zucchini and lay it out on paper towels. Salt and let the zucchini sit for 30 minutes. (Do this before you roll out the dough!)

Mix the garlic and olive oil in a bowl. In another bowl place the ricotta cheese. Mix in 1 teaspoon of the garlic oil.

In the center of the rolled out dough, leaving a 1 1/2-2 inch border, spread the ricotta cheese. Pat the zucchini dry and to remove some of the salt and leeched liquid. Now, the fun part. Layer and overlap the zucchini in rows. Drizzle more of the garlic oil on top and salt and pepper to taste. I like black pepper and zucchini together so I added a lot of black pepper.

Fold up the sides of the dough to make a barrier. The cheese is unlikely to spill out, but a good step nonetheless. Brush dough with whipped egg white (or egg yolk).

Bake in a 400F oven for 30 minutes. The cheese will puff up a little and the zucchini will look melty and cooked but not browned. The crust will be a light tan color. Let the galette sit and serve at room temperature.

French flare comes to an ornery zucchini
Light but satisfying nibbles so we could keep the pear cocktails flowing
Ingredients on hand, so thrifty if not totally healthy

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Some Salads by the Sea Shore

We've been talking a lot about the beach in Lemon-land these days, and how we've pretty much been beach-less this summer. With August flitting by, a seaside visit was mandatory. And so last week, we hopped the LIRR and a ferry for a day trip to Watch Hill, which is, by far, one of the most beautiful beaches near NYC.

Normally, I find a day at the beach the perfect excuse to break out salty treats, sweet drinks and a big old hoagie (yes, my early beach memories are from the Jersey Shore.) But we've been trying to eat a bit heathier so some sea-side salads were called for and of course I had some CSA veggies to inspire me.

What we needed were salads that can be made ahead, don't require too much refrigeration (no mayo) and will leave us feeling sated. I turned to an old favorite, Orzo with Pesto, Artichokes and Tomatoes which makes ahead beautifully. And then I found a new salad friend:

Beet and Bean Salad

3-4 medium red beets
1/2 lb. green beans, trimmed
2 small scallions, sliced thin
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 lemon, juiced
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper
Parlsey to garnish

Heat the oven to 375F. Trim off tops of the beets and wash. Then wrap them individually in tin foil. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Take out the beets when they are tender and a knife goes into them easily. Set aside to cool and use that same baking sheet for the green beans. Push the oven temp up to 400F, place the beans on the baking sheet (tin foil works here, too), and add some olive oil and roast for 10 minutes.

To peel the red beets, use paper towels to rub off the skin. It really does come off easily, but your fingers will get a touch red. Slice the beets into bite-size pieces. Do the same for the beans and add them in a bowl along with the scallions.

In a small bowl mix together the mustard, lemon juice, salt, pepper and olive oil. Dress the beets and bean mixture and chill. Before packing this up for the picnic, add the parsley.

Orzo with Pesto, Artichokes and Tomatoes
So easy, this dish doesn't need a full recipe and is entirely forgiving, so add away.
[In a food processor: 10-12 basil leaves + 2 cloves garlic + 3 Tablespoons olive oil] + 1/2 cup orzo pasta (cooked and drained) + 1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar + sliced tomatoes + 1 can artichoke hearts, quartered

A few ziplocs full of salad, some cherries and grapes...and yeah, I broke down and bought a bag of chips. It was a beachy good time.

A heathy picnic for us daytrippers
This was a no-shop, pantry-inspired meal = thrifty
Feeling light, but full in our bathing suits. No bloat for these beach bunnies!

A Break in the Summer Heat

Thank goodness the weather took a break from full-on swelter. Aside from the joy of not wilting as soon as I step out of the shower, the cooler weather finally gave me a chance to address the fall veggies that the CSA has been sending along each week. Turnips, carrots, fennel, apples and cabbage, oh my! Sure, these can all be turned into dishes for a hot summer night, but I think they are even better cooked together in the spirit of fall.

So that's just what we did: cracking open a bottle of pear cider (a Swedish brand that's been on super sale at the Pioneer), I started to gather my cool-weather roots and assembled a dinner with roast vegetables, thick pork loin chops (also on sale), and sauteed savoy cabbage with apple. Perfect food for a fall break from the summer heat.

Pork Chops
Thick cut pork loin chops
olive oil
salt and pepper

Roast Fall Vegetables
1 turnip, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 leek, sliced thin and soaked in water to get the grit out
1 small bulb fennel, tops trimmed off and sliced into 1/4-inch slices
5 carrots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Sauteed Cabbage and Apples
Olive oil
1/2 small Savoy cabbage, shredded
1 medium apple
Caraway seeds

Putting it together:
Preheat oven to 375F. Trim and and toss the root vegetables with olive oil, salt and pepper on a foil-covered baking sheet (easy clean up!). Start roasting, at least 25 minutes, but longer works, too. This is great if you're not sure when dinner will happen.

With the veggies in the oven, heat some olive oil in a medium saute pan. Add the cabbage and start stirring so it doesn't stick/burn. Once it has started to wilt a bit, add the thin apple slices and a generous sprinkle of caraway seeds. Turn back the heat and let this mixture get nice and soft.

Now, the pork. Heat some olive oil in an oven-safe saute pan. (No nonstick, metal handle.) When the oil is heated through add the pork chops and salt and pepper the chops. Let one side get a nice crust/browning and flip it. Once both sides look browned the middle will still be very raw. Now, put the pan, pork and all, into the oven. I liked mine at 12 minutes, but Mr. Lemon likes his pork d-o-n-e at 16 minutes. Mine was juicy. That's all I'm saying.

And that's it. Lots of vegetables, some succulent moist chops and a taste of fall on an August night.

Fall veggies from the CSA inspire a mid-summer roast
Pork and Pear Cider, deliciously on sale
Lots of vegetables, lean-ish protein, easy dinner

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Peach Chicken Cheap Out

Sometimes I am shocked at how this year has changed my 'tude. Let me put it to you this way. Even when I was an editorial assistant, scrounging around to figure out quarters for the laundry, delighting in a free (and bad) chardonnay-doused book event, unafraid to pick up my coffee/table trunk on Avenue A at 2 am (this was pre- the bed bug epidemic -- horrors!), I ordered in.

And there was one thing on the take-out menu that I ordered, no matter that it was an overpriced Chef's Special: Peach Chicken from China Fun. My brother, Brother Lemon if you will, introduced me to this rare treat--not to be found on just any Chinese take out menu. No the Peach Chicken is just, well, beyond. Basically, from what I can tell, because there is definitely a mystery to the whole affair, it's thickly-battered deep-fried white meat chicken covered in a sweet, sticky peach-juice sauce and accompanied by half a canned peach, some wilted broccoli, and always *always* a maraschino cherry. Yes, there is actually a cherry-on-top of this fried debacle.

So this year, I've held back. Peach Chicken has not graced our table but once. And to be honest, I miss it deeply. It was good at night, hot and a little greasy (although the broccoli somehow made it seem healthy.) It was even better cold and direct from the box the next morning. Yes, that's how much I love this dish -- it entered the ranks of cold pizza as a great morning after option.

But now, peaches are in season and I'm eating about 2-3 a day. And the old memory of my beloved fried friend haunts me. So it was time to figure out a DIY, healthier option. It wouldn't be pretty. It wouldn't be fried. But it certainly wouldn't be $12 (that includes the rice and fortune cookie...maybe not such a bad deal after all?)

I have almost no Chinese cookbooks, so an online search commenced and turned up healthy-food TV cook Ellie Krieger's version. It looked good and so I went for it, with a few slight changes. The result? Tangy sticky sauce, check. Peachy sweetness, yes indeedy. Crunchy? For crunch I roasted the broccoli, so a healthy answer to my take out urges.

Peach Chicken

1 Tablespoon oil (olive)
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, grated or minced
1 Tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon honey
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
2 Tablespoons orange juice
2 peaches
2 chicken legs, pre-poached
2 scallions, sliced into rounds

In a medium size saute pan, heat the oil over high heat.

Make the sauce by mixing the honey, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce and orange juice in a separate bowl. I added a little pepper and salt.

When the pan is very hot, pop in the ginger and garlic and stir to cook quickly about 30 seconds. Add the sauce and it will boil quickly, so turn back the heat. Slice the peaches thin and add them to the sauce, spoon to cover.

Now, I had those 2 chicken legs from the stock-making-paella-fest of Monday evening, so I took off the skin and shredded the meat. I think legs or thighs are a nice match here because they add a little richness, although the original recipe calls for breast meat. My inspiration is deep fried, so some tender thigh meat is hardly worse for me, right? If you don't have cooked chicken on hand, cook whatever cut you have until done in the pan before you add the ginger and garlic and reintroduce it at this point. Add the scallions and get this nice and steamy.

Roast the broccoli while the chicken and peach sauce are melding. At 400F, roast the broccoli florets with a little olive oil and a splash of water for 7-8 minutes. They will get a little brown and slightly crunchy.

A Chinese delight goes healthy
Using up my poaching poultry cleans out the fridge
A thrifty answer to my take-out urges

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Taco Salad That Won't Kill You

Yes, salad can be bad for you. That's been a recent item in the news, although how it's news when your floppy greens arrive in an oil-slicked taco basket, smeared with sour cream and piled high with queso, I'm not quite sure. But all that discussion of unhealthy salads sure did make me hungry for a version of my own.

So with one of Mr. Lemon's more practical Iron Chef game purchases (ground chicken), the leftover tomato puree from paella-fest and some onions, garlic and pepper from the CSA, well, it was spicy spicy taco time. I could have held back a little on the tomato to make this more like taco filling, but I figured the extra veggie couldn't hurt the ol' healthy eating effort.

Also on deck: tomato and raw corn salsa. Just a little PA Dutch dose of apple cider vinegar and sugar softened the corn's starchiness and brought out the sweetness of the tomato. And the leftover tomato-vinegar-sugar juice make a light dressing for the lettuce to boot.

Spicy Spicy (and healthy) Taco Salad

1 head of iceberg (yes, you need it's refreshing wateriness)
1 big garden rip tomato
1 ear corn
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons sugar
Olive oil
1/2 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium red pepper, diced
1/2 lb. ground chicken
14 oz tomato puree
1 heaping teaspoon cumin (heaping = throw it in!)
1 heaping teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (gives it the extra "spicy")
Salt and ground pepper
Cilantro, a handful washed and torn
Itty bit of cheddar cheese (optional)

In a larger saute pan, cook the onion, garlic and pepper until soft-ish in some olive oil over high heat. Push the veg. to the side and add your ground chicken. Salt and pepper heavily and cook, breaking it up as it gets firmer, until white through and through.

Add the tomato puree and all the spices. Bring to a boil and turn back the heat to let this simmer.

Meanwhile, get the salad and salsa ready: shred the iceberg and pile it high on the plate. Combine the chopped tomato and all its juices with the corn, sliced off the cob. (Save the cob for soup!) Add the vinegar and sugar (equal portions is the key), and let it meld together. I also added salt and pepper to help bring the flavors out. The corn will still be crunchy, though, so this is your greasy-taco-shell substitute.

Pile it high: iceberg + chili + salsa + torn cilantro + itty bits of cheddar.

Fast and easy dinner
Spicy chicken chili is filling and flavorful without being greasy
Thriftier then going to Applebee's

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Possibly Paella Plus a Week of Leftovers

Mr. Lemon and I honeymooned in Spain and somehow never managed to have a good paella. I know, loco. I travel with a checklist of food I want to try and while paella was certainly at the top of it, we found ourselves distracted by amazing ham, delicious fresh fish and other irresistible wine-friendly morsels. So a full year later, I still get a pang for paella.

Spanish Spaghettios anyone? At least it tasted bueno.

We recently played a variation on our Iron Chef game: Mr. Lemon shops for anything for $4 or under, with a total budget of $12, and I have to make the ingredients work for the week's menu. Among other items, Mr. Lemon picked up some fresh chorizo (uncooked, in casing). Half of the package turned into a sausage and pepper and onion dinner, but I saved two links with paella in mind.

This is Possibly Paella because I substituted brown rice to be a bit healthier and because I cooked it on the stove-top, pilaf-style. I found a Cooks Illustrated recipe for brown rice paella and then made it stove-top friendly since I didn't want to heat up the kitchen (oh, and didn't have all their ingredients). And since this is a lot of work (I'm not going to say this was easy), I made enough for a few rounds of leftovers.

Plus there is more than one type of leftover: I cooked up a batch of chicken stock for this dish, so I have half a pot left for soup (or the freezer) plus two poached chicken legs for more meals.

In terms of thrift, this was a great way to feature shellfish without breaking the bank (1/2 lb. for $3.50) and the chicken stock I made with just $2.50 of chicken legs. A big can of pureed tomato came in under $2 and there's half left for some veggie chili down the road. And I found a big 32 oz. bag of brown rice for a little over $2 which will live happily in our pantry for many weeks to come. And of course, this is a lot cheaper than a flight to Spain.

Possibly Paella

2 fresh chorizo links
1/2 large onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 yellow or red pepper, chopped
2 cups brown rice
14 oz. pureed tomato
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads (about 8)
1 dried bay leaf
5-6 cups chicken stock, boiling
1/2 lb. shrimp, cleaned and with shell on

In a dutch oven, cook the chorizo with enough water to come half way up the link. Cook until brown on all side. Remove and set aside. The chorizo is not fully cooked at this point, so don't nibble on it! Dump the water.

Back in the dutch oven, pour about 2 Tablespoons olive oil and saute the onion, garlic and pepper. Add the brown rice and stir in the pureed tomato, saffron and bay leaf. When the rice is fully coated, add 3 cups of hot/boiling chicken stock and bring to a boil. Turn back the heat a bit to a simmer, cover and cook for 40 minutes. I checked on it occasionally and stirred because it can burn on the bottom. You will need to add 2-3 more cups of stock to get the rice soft. It won't be as "fluffy" as a paella from the oven, but the flavor is definitely authentic.

Slice the chorizo and add into the mixture. Add stock if the rice is looking dry. Cook another 15 minutes, covered. Once the rice is al dente add in the shrimp and if you have it shredded chicken (I used one chicken leg's worth from the stock). Cook until the shrimp are opaque about 10 minutes more. Serve hot and enjoy your hard work.

A little wet, but it sure tasted right
Lots of leftovers and spin off meal ideas
A thrifty way to include some shellfish
A lot of fiber-rich brown rice with a hint of naughty porkiness

Friday, August 13, 2010

Pomegranate and Parsley Pork with Spicy Eggplant

Sometimes an entire dinner comes together to participate in my no-ingredient-left-behind policy.

There are two main ways I've found to stop ingredient-wasting pitfalls and both of them play a role in this evening's dinner.

First: keep track of what's in the fridge. I try to keep tabs on "investment" ingredients (condiments, sauces, salty/pickley treats) and cycle them through now and again, in different permutations to keep it interesting. Pomegranate molasses, I'm looking at you.

Second: Make friends with the freezer. Find a great deal on meat but don't want to eat the same chicken breasts all week long? Freeze it. Family packs are great for this, especially when you don't have a family.

So here's how this meal is a waste-saver: I'm using the pomegranate molasses dish-by-dish, I'm freezing the half of the pork loin chop family pack I didn't cook, and all the veggies come from the CSA vegetable dump, which is getting so big as summer comes to a close that I'm going to start freezing some items we don't get to each week.

Pomegranate and Parsley Pork

3-4 lean boneless pork loin chops
1 heaping Tablespoon pomegranate molasses
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 c. parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper

In a shallow bowl, mix the pomegranate molasses, olive oil and parsley. Add salt and ground black pepper. Slide the pork loin chops in and turn until well-covered with the marinade. Set aside for 10 minutes. Heat a nonstick pan with a little olive oil over high heat. (You can try it without the olive oil, too, but I just find my pan needs a little help to prevent sticking.) Cook pork on both sides. These were thin cuts so they cooked about 3 minutes a side.

Spicy Eggplant

1 medium-size Japanese eggplant
1 teaspoon Ras el Hanout
2-3 scallions, chopped
olive oil

Slice off the ends of the eggplant and cut in half. I cut 1-inch slices, but if you are short on time, go smaller. In a bowl mix the eggplant with the Ras el Hanout. Set aside.

Heat some olive oil (about 1 Tablespoon) in a saute pan over high heat. Chop the scallions and start to saute in the pan. Then add the eggplant on top and cook, stirring, until the eggplant has turned darker and is soft. The scallions will get crispy and the eggplant will be nice and tender.

Salad: lettuce leaves + juice of 1 lemon + olive oil drizzled + sea salt

Standard veggies and lean protein take a trip to Morocco
Pantry items find new ways to the table
Pork family pack's $5 split over two nights = thrifty

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Filet o' Fish with Fennel Salad

Sometimes, I brave parts of the fish counter for the sake of thrift and I live to tell about it. This is the true (fish)tail of a fishmonger visit that ended well, with just $5 spent, leftovers to spare and a happy discovery: basa. Basa!

I've read a lot about farmed fish and for the most part I'm not impressed verging on squeamish. They are, however, the best bang for your buck and the other night, in the mood for some light white fish, I entered the land of the basa fillet, a farmed mystery fish from Vietnam. Heaven help me.

But guess what? Basa turned out to be light, slightly firm and a somewhat sweet fillet that cooked up beautifully in my grill pan with a little olive oil and lemon juice. I topped it with a little fennel salad and threw some cooked green beans on the plate for good measure. A light and refreshing dinner that will have me returning to the fish counter for some more adventures.

Filet o' Fish with Fennel Salad

2 fillets basa
olive oil
1 lemon
1 small head fennel, shaved thin
1/2 medium onion, sliced thin
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon capers
1/4 cup parsley, chopped

Rub a grill pan with olive oil and heat. It should be hot when you put the fish in. Rinse the basa fillets and put in grill pan. Salt and squeeze lemon juice over the fish. Cook until edges are white and then flip it over to finish cooking. If the pan has gotten super hot, just turn off the heat. The fish will be opaque and flakes in big pieces (unlike flounder, for example.)

Meanwhile, toss together the fennel, onion, vinegar, olive oil, capers, parsley and the juice of half a lemon. I plated the fish with the salad on top, but this could easily be on the side.

Fresh fish is within the budget
A nice summery use of fennel
Fast dinner with leftovers for lunch the next day

Monday, August 9, 2010

Cool and Collected

It's mid-summer and the celebrations seem to be piling on faster and faster, squeezed in before the dreaded end-of-fun-times, Labor Day. That means that the weekend found us sharing steak at an unexpected sibling reunion, ribs to celebrate a boys' night in (and this girl's night out), and a burger in honor of a bachelorette.

It was time to detox. I'm not a big fan of "green" juice. I leave the wheat grass for cats.

But much tastier and in a similarly healthy vein of the vegetable mash-up is gazpacho. I make a version that is no where near authentic, but I'm going to call it gazpacho all the same. So there.

Mostly I go for a proportion (so you can make more or less):
3 parts tomato : 1 part green pepper : 1 part cucumber.
So that's 3 medium to larger vine-ripened tomatoes, 1 green pepper, 1 medium cucumber (or 1/2 a big one)

I throw in 3-4 cloves of garlic, a hefty grind of black pepper, salt and 2 Tablespoons each red wine vinegar and olive oil.

If you want a richer tomato flavor, you can add a cup of v-8 juice (I usually don't have any.) A dash of hot sauce can also be nice.

Put all ingredients in the Cuisinart and that's it. Serve cold.

Cool, collected and completely ready for the next end-of-summer chowdown.

CSA now stands for Cool Soup Always
So many veggie servings I stopped counting
With some salad or greens, a quick and light dinner

A Summer Soup Break

A few summers ago to be "healthier," I tried to cut corn out of my summer cooking repertoire. What a mistake. Fresh sweet corn offers a special taste of summer goodness that it turns out is actually pretty good for you.

So with a leftover cob and another whole one in the fridge, I thought I'd try my hand at a little chicken and corn soup. Also leftover? Two strips of bacon whose compatriots made my quiche of last week so tasty and the sole survivor of a 3-breast chicken package.

Put it all together and you have a wonderfully rich summer-time lunch. I usually lean on lighter cuisine when the weather is so steamy, but sometimes having something that's not too heavy but still hearty is a nice change of pace.

Corn and Chicken Soup

2 strips smoked bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large onion, diced
2 small potatoes, diced
1 corn cob (leftover, no kernels)
1 whole corn cob
2 cups 1 % milk
1 chicken breast
5-6 leaves basil

In a larger sauce pan or dutch oven, over high heat start to cook bacon pieces. When they begin to crisp up, add the diced onion and potato. Cook, stirring, until onions are translucent and potatoes are slightly tender. The potato is adding some starchy heft to the broth. You could skip it, but it makes it a little heartier and adds texture.

Meanwhile, cut the chicken breast into three sections (mine was huge.) Place it on top of the onion/bacon mixture and add the milk to cover. Bring to a simmer then lower the heat to keep it just steaming and poach the chicken until cooked the whole way through. (I pulled it out to check.) Mine took about 15 minutes, but it really depends on the size of the breast, so best to check.

Remove the chicken breasts and set aside. Cut the kernels off the whole corn cob. I've seen "easy" ways to do this that involve multiple bowls, etc. Um, no. Just go slow and cut from midway on the cob, downward, on a cutting board with a sharp knife. Then flip the cob upside down and repeat. If you don't get the kernels cut close to the cob, don't worry, you'll get all that goodness out when you...

Add the de-kerneled cobs to the milk-onion-bacon mixture and keep the mixture at a simmer. While the cobs are getting nice and warm, shred the chicken into bite size pieces. Remove the cobs with tongs and hold up on a cutting board. Scrape the cob with a knife to get out all the remnant corn bits and return the bits and their liquid to the pot. Add the chicken and uncooked reserve kernels into the pot. Salt to taste. Simmer 5 minutes. Stir in some basil leaves and serve.

Leftover bits and pieces come together for big flavor
A hearty summer soup to break up the lighter fare and fuels some summertime adventures
Corn's sweet summer flavor pops in this soup

Zippy Cucumber and Corn Salad

I come from a long line of "good cooks" and there are two things that stand out in both my mother and grandmother's recipe boxes, of which I am the lucky heiress: a love of fresh vegetable-laden summer "salads" (although lettuce is rarely an ingredient in these sort of PA Dutch salads) and a talent for creative naming. My grandmother didn't make Sloppy Joes (already a creative moniker.) She made Wimpies. Tuna Casserole? Try Fish Wiggle, instead. You get the idea.

So when I threw together this refreshing and healthy salad for lunch last week, I decided it was zippy. Yes, zippy. This would be a nice side to some grilled chicken or maybe some grilled salmon. But for just me, it was a healthy and light lunch with a dollop of ricotta that I had leftover from a recent gathering. Plus, with the basil from our terrace and the corn, onion and cucumber from the CSA, this budget-friendly dish helped me empty out the overstuffed vegetable drawer in the nick of time.

ZIPPY Cucumber and Corn Salad

1 medium onion, diced
1 cob corn, kernels sliced off
1/2 large cucumber, diced and skin on
10-12 basil leaves, washed
1 Tablespoon honey
3 Tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
Dollop of ricotta cheese

In a saute pan, heat 1 Tablespoon olive oil and cook the onion and corn until just cooked. Cool.

Meanwhile, in a food processor (my mini Cuisinart is salad-dressing sized) blend the basil, honey, 2 T. olive oil and salt and pepper. If you have trouble mixing you can add a little more oil or water, depending on how healthy you want to be.

Combine the cooled onion and corn with the cucumber. Toss with basil-honey dressing and top with ricotta cheese.

You could probably have the corn and onion uncooked for a raw dish, but uncooked corn can be tough on tummies, so go easy with it. And be sure to save the corn cob for's what my grandmother would have done.

Zippy salad that's healthy and filling
Summer "salad" cleans out the fridge
Using a rich leftover in small quantities = sort of healthy

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Pear Basil Sorbet

I have a dirty little 8-oz. secret:

For many years I've been serving up a pear sorbet that you make by freezing -- in the can!-- pears in heavy syrup. Then you open the can, pry out the frozen contents and whip it until smooth in a blender.

It is smooth, purely pear and delicious. I've never owned an ice cream maker, and this is my version of making a frozen treat.

So when I saw some forlorn pears at the bargain bin a couple months ago, I thought about freezing them -- and of course I thought about my favorite straight from-the-can dessert. After peeling and coring them, I cut the pears into bite size chunks and added sugar 8 : 1. I had a ton of pears, but if you're just cooking up 2-3, I would add 1/4 cup sugar and 2 Tablespoons water That's a guess, and it really depends on how ripe your pears are. Mine were super ripe (thus the bargain bin) and so they let out a lot of juice. I cooked them until I had a light syrup but the pears weren't browned, let the mixture cool and froze it in 2-cup quantities.

Now for the fun part. Between our terrace pots and the CSA, we are in basil heaven, a pesto paradise, an herbaceous fantasy. In other words, I'm looking for ways to use up a lot of basil. I added about 6 fresh basil leaves to the frozen pear mixture before whipping it smooth. The leaves won't totally blend, so you'll have some nice icy bits and pieces. The basil and pear are a wonderful pair (pun absolutely intended!) and this is a light and lovely end to a summer meal.

Pear "Sorbet" with Basil
2-3 large pears (any variety), peeled, cored and diced
1/4 c. sugar
2-4 Tablespoons water
6-8 basil leaves

Cook pears with sugar and water until soft and the mixture is slightly syrupy (it will thicken when cooled). Cool and then freeze until rock hard.

Put frozen pears in blender with basil leaves and blend until there are no more visible pear pieces.

Or, you can just seek out my old pal Del Monte.

Mostly healthy dessert is a cold and sweet summer treat
By can or from the bargain bin, this is a thrifty dish
Pear and basil mix for a sophisticated flavor