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

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Strawberry Soup

Way back in the 80's, perhaps inspired by the culinary successes of a lady from just up the road named Martha, my mother and the neighbor ladies started their own cooking explorations. For my mother, a food-lover for whom cooking delicious meals was a snap, this meant some new ingredients (endive), retiring some standards (Chicken a la King, thank goodness) and taking up the new ideas and reinventions of cookbooks such as The Silver Palate and Martha's own Entertaining.

My favorite dish to emerge from Mom's new cooking was this pretty, pink soup. As a little girl the idea that something tangy and sweet (and the best color ever) could be called soup blew my mind. I requested it as soon as the strawberries were in the supermarket and snuck into the kitchen all summer long for a spoonful or two.

This soup is a great no-cook starter or dessert for a hot day. It's also a nice light lunch alongside a salad, and the perfect excuse to invite over those neighbor ladies. Just be sure to use the good china.

Strawberry Soup

1 pint strawberries, washed, hulled and split in half
1/4 c. orange juice
1 c. 1% milk
1 Tablespoon lemon juice (about one half's worth)

In a blender combine the milk and lemon juice and let it sit for 5 minutes. Behold: you now have buttermilk!

Add strawberries and orange juice and blend it 'til smooth.

Serve chilled in perky, pretty bowls and cups. To be a little naughty, swirl in some sour cream.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Lunch II, Bigger and Bolder

So that little old bowl of chickpeas with some chimichurri mixed in...that's not just another leftover, it's a fantastic opportunity for a lunch sequel. And unlike most sequels, this dish won't have a re-hashed, dull flavor. It's a whole new enchilada, or falafel as the case may be.

I had my first falafel in Germany. Yes, in the land of snausage, even I-Love-Salty-Meats herself needed a break in the wurst way possible (sorry, I couldn't help myself.) That's when the two vegetarians in my study abroad program and I discovered the Turkish falafel stand. Fried balls of chickpea aren't exactly healthy, but the food was fresh, spicy and filled with green-goodness. I fell in love with it at first bite.

I usually bake falafel to keep this easy dish diet-friendly. Baking won't make it as filling, but you still get a lot of the good flavor without all of the deep-fried calories.

Baked Falafel Leftover Mashup

1 Tablespoon lemon or lime juice
2 Tablespoons plain yogurt
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
Ground pepper
1 Tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Pre-heat oven to 420F.

Place leftover chickpeas and sauce and all ingredients in the food processor. Combine until it looks like a paste. **If you are making this as a new dish, just put all of the ingredients for the chimichurri in the food processor along with these ingredients doubled and the chickpeas.

This was looser than my usual mixture so instead of shaping patties, I dropped the falafels like you would cookie dough.

Make about 10 small falafel "piles" on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes one side. Flip falafel and bake another 10 minutes. These spicy falafel-ettes will be crispy on the outside and a little gooey on the inside.

Since I'm not eating too much bread these days, I replace the pita with a big romaine leaf and scatter the falafel with tomato and sliced scallion.

Serve with:

"White Sauce": 1/4 plain yogurt + 1 Tablespoon lemon juice + 1 minced small clove of garlic

Pickled Cabbage: Another leftover sequel! Shred about 1 cup cabbage (I used green) and cook in 1/2 cup of leftover pickling liquid and all the garlic from Garlic-Cumin Refrigerator Pickles. Cook until cabbage looks bright and slightly wilted. Cool before serving.

Leftovers get a makeover with some pantry pals
Healthy and flavorful lunch in half and hour
Thriftier and healthier than the food truck falafel

Monday, June 28, 2010

Lunch, The Sequel

I'm a big fan of previews. Before a tv show is even over, I'm already excited for the "Scenes from Next Week," anticipating the next plot twist. (I'm also one of those people who actually likeswatching all those trailers at the movies. I know, weird.) In the same way, lunch leftovers can often get me excited about new recipes that offer their own plot twist. Rather than eat the same-old same-old each day, I try to incorporate leftovers into my lunch plans, usually as a salad, or better yet to make a dish that can transform into something entirely new the next time lunch comes around.

So today when I opened a trusty can of chickpeas, I thought not only about the immediate plan for a salad with "chim-me-churri" dressing, but about what I'll do with the leftovers. Can you guess? Stay tuned to find out. No spoilers here!

And in the meantime, here's a quick, flavorful and healthy lunch option for a hot day.

Chimichurri, Chickpea and Radish Salad
Chimichurri is a South American sauce that usually includes cilantro as well as the parsley featured here. I had a lot of parsley to use up from our CSA shipment, so I skipped the cilantro. If you want to add it in, use about 3:1 parsley to cilantro. While it's usually eaten with grilled meats, I think I'll eat just about anything with chimichurri and chickpeas can always use a flavor-packed boost.

1 scallion (or 1 small onion)
1 c. parsley
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Salt and Pepper
1 can chickpeas
Romaine lettuce
2-3 small radishes

In a mini-Cuisinart, pulse until well mixed the scallion, parsley, garlic, oregano, red wine vinegar and olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Combine this mixture with the drained chickpeas.

Wash and tear romaine lettuce. Sliced radishes into thin disks. Dress salad with olive oil and lemon juice.

Scatter half of the chickpeas on top of salad mixture.

Reserve the other half of the chickpea mixture.
To be continued...

Healthy lunch in minutes
Heat-less cooking for a steamy day
Chickpeas offer great protein at a low price

Friday, June 25, 2010

To Marrakesh, Stat!

Long before the drag queens, er I mean Ladies, of Sex and the City 2 ventured into a desert in their caftans, I was truly taken with Moroccan culture. (In case you want to see those dunes and souks they featured in the movie, it was filmed in Morocco.) I loved the tiles, the fabrics, the little leather slippers, the poof-like footstools and, of course, most of all, the food.

After many years of hunting Moroccan food in Manhattan, I had the chance to go and try the real deal: Casablanca, Fez, Marrakesh. It was a whirlwind trip and everything you imagine a trip to an exotic locale will be. And the food? Divine.

With the recent heat wave, I've been thinking a lot about that trip to the desert and the cool refreshing dishes that Moroccan feasts kick off with. The traditional five salad starter has dozens of variations, so the combos are seemingly limitless, and are all veggie-loaded and health-friendly.

Plus they use a lot of the same ingredients in different combinations, so it's easy on the budget. Here's the ingredient list for the whole thing:
Veggie drawer: beets, carrots, eggplant, onion/scallion, cucumber, celery, tomato,
Fridge staples: garlic, parsley, mint, yogurt, capers, *always* lemons
Pantry pals: cumin, cayenne pepper, olive oil, vinegar (white, balsamic), bulgur wheat

These are all so easy, I went with some recipe short hand.

Moroccan Beet Salad

Roast cleaned, trimmed beets (3-4) at 375F for 1 hour individually wrapped in foil. Cool. Peel: the skins rub off with paper towel, which also protects your hands from getting dyed. Cut into 1/2 inch pieces.

Combine with 1/2 teaspoon cumin + half the juice of a lemon + 2 Tablespoons olive oil + 1 clove garlic, minced + salt and pepper.

Make at least 2 hours to one day ahead.

Cucumber Salad

Peel and dice 1 small or 1/2 medium large cucumber.

Combine with 1/2 cup plain yogurt + salt + half juice of a lemon + 1/2 clove of garlic, grated + 6 mint leaves, cut into a chiffonade

This can be thrown together quickly right before serving.

Moroccan Carrot Salad

This is my favorite of the bunch and the salad I'd been dreaming of for a while. I found this recipe with video instruction. I'm not sure what it is about this video, but I find the chef so charming. He seems to care a lot about these carrots. Maybe I'm projecting.

I cut his recipe in half and skipped the cilantro. In short: steam 4-5 sliced carrots. Mix while hot with 1 Tablespoon white vinegar + 1 Tablespoons olive oil + 1 cup parsley minced fine + juice of half a lemon + 4 grated cloves of garlic + sprinkle cayenne pepper + 2 teaspoons ground cumin + salt.

Let it sit overnight. The carrots soak up the sauce. Yum.

Eggplant Caponata

Ok, more Med than Moroccan, but it was too hot to roast the eggplant for Baba ganoush.

Saute half an onion, diced, and 1 rib celery, diced, in 2 Tablespoons olive oil.

Cut 1 small-medium eggplant into 1-inch pieces and add to pan. Salt and pepper, and cook stirring until eggplant turns yellowish brown and is soft. Over medium heat this takes about 15 minutes. Then again, I have an electric stove, so gas-guzzlers you'll be done in no time.

Add 1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar + 1 Tablespoon capers and lower heat. Add 1 tomato, diced. Simmer for 10 minutes.


Pour 1 cup boiling water over 1 cup bulgur wheat. Bulgur wheat is a Always Lemons Allstar: a cheap, healthy, quick, pantry dweller. Let stand 15 minutes.

Mix in: juice of 1 lemon + 2 Tablespoons olive oil + 1 scallion sliced into disks + 1 cup parsley minced + 1/2 cucumber peeled and diced + 2 cloves of garlic grated.

I have a lot of variations on this. Sometimes I add mint. Sometimes I add celery in place of cucumber. I've seen recipes that add tomato. The main flavors are the wheat, parsley, lemon and garlic. Add what you like. Feta, olives, and so on.

Serve with pita.

Monday, June 21, 2010

In a Pickle

A while back, I had the opportunity to take in a lovely pickling crock from my mother's family. Now, to be clear, this was no country affectation. Her "people" (yes I am from people who refer to other folk's families as their people, which caused me a great deal of confusion as a child) are pickle makers from way back and I grew up expecting a relish tray at each and every one of our family gatherings in Pennsylvania. If you've never been to a table with a relish tray, you are missing out.

Modernizing the process, my grandmother had turned to stove top and refrigerator methods by the time I came along, so the smell of slow simmering vinegar means I'm home (that plus a heady cloud of bacon fat lingering in the air.) But back to the crock which had been sitting pretty in my bedroom for months, mocking my pickle-less life.

That all changed in the past week. First, I picked up a wondrous bag of Kirby's from that good ol' bargain bin, and then I saw what the always-inspiring Smitten Kitchen had up her apron with some bread and butter pickles. Clearly pickles and their briny scent were on the early summer breeze.

Of course, I didn't have all of the right ingredients, and I wasn't about to go out and buy the spices I needed. But that's ok. The pickle is a pretty resilient recipe, and these semi-sweet, mildly garlicky pickle chips brightened up the snack hour on our terrace. Yes, there was a relish tray. I'd put them somewhere between sweet & sour and dill (minus the dill) refrigerator pickles. Make sense? Sure it does.

Cumin-Garlic Refrigerator Pickles

10-12 kirby cucumbers

2 Tablespoons course salt (sea salt)

3 cups watter

2 cups white vinegar

¾ c. sugar

4 cloves of garlic, minced

pinch of cumin*

Clean and slice cucumbers into ½ inch slices. Place in a colander or sieve over a large bowl. Toss with salt and place in refrigerator for 1 hour.

Drain the cucumbers and wash off the salt. Dry the cucumbers and place in a large bowl. Mix in a pinch of ground cumin.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan combine the water, vinegar, sugar and garlic. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Let cool 5-10 minutes.

Pour liquid over cucumbers and let sit in refrigerator, covered, overnight or for 8 hours.

Keep for up to a week in the refrigerator, if you can.

* A pinch is in the fine tradition of my grandmother's recipes, which also included smidgens and dollops. This pinch is for you, Grammy Ru.

A Tale of Two Squash

I believe I've mentioned it before, but Mr. Lemon and I have found the equivalent of an overflowing garden patch here in the big city. It's the bargain bin at our local gourmet market and our veggie bin-ges lead us down some interesting paths.

What we end up with for $1.50 is a large quantity of one vegetable--one vegetable that we wouldn't normally buy in such quantity or might not even purchase at all. But it's a fun challenge that spurs creativity and usually a new healthy side dish or entree. The key is to diversify your veggie product or make one big batch if it will freeze well.

But sometimes, the veggie binge goes off the rails. This is the frightening story of the two squash--one very good and one very naughty. Read on, if you dare.

Our story begins with a large bag of yellow squash. Now, yellow squash when sauteed has to be carefully watched so as not to go slimy--it's all those seeds, I swear. But when battered and deep fried, yes I said DEEP FRIED, it becomes a very fine summer treat of silky sweet goodness wrapped in a light crispy shell. Deep Fried is a dirty word in these parts, so I break out the veggie oil about once a summer for this delicacy that I picked up from a Southern friend (and one of the best cooks I know!) Bless you, Nicki, for sharing your squash-frying wisdom.

Fried Yellow Squash

Vegetable oil, about 3 cups
2-3 medium sized yellow squash
Salt and pepper
1 cup flour
About 1/4-1/2 c. skim milk

In a deep sided pot or dutch oven, heat several cups of vegetable oil.

After removing the top of the squash, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices, lengthwise. Salt and pepper well on both sides and set aside.

Set out a plate with 1/4 cup flour. In a bowl mix about 3/4 cup flour with skim milk. Add the milk slowly and whisk. Once the batter starts to look like a smooth paste, stop. You've got your batter. You don't want it to be too liquid-y, or it won't stick.

Check that oil. It should look kind of shimmery and if you carefully slip in some of the batter or a piece of bread (which I never have), it should hold together and have little bubbles all over it. That means your oil is ready. No bubbles? Not ready. And please BE VERY CAREFUL! Hot oil is no joke and you want to avoid splatters.

Dredge the squash slices (dip on both sides into plain flour and shake off excess.) Dip slices one at a time into batter and slide into the hot oil. The squash will float and sizzle. Only cook about 3-4 slices at one time so the oil can maintain it's heat.

Now here is the Nicki Wisdom: only flip your squash once. In fact, never turn any deep frying lovely more than once, ever, ever. This prevents sogginess.

When the batter starts to look light tan/brown on one side, gently flip the squash and allow the other side to crisp up about 2-3 minutes. Remove the squash and place on paper towels or a brown paper bag (way to recycle!) to drain off some oil. Serve immediately. Delicious as a meal all by itself. And don't they kind of look like fish?

So what about the rest of that squash? A healthier take:
2-3 squash cut into half moons + 2-3 Tablespoons fresh oregano minced + 8 leaves basil cut into a chiffonade (Roll it and slice thin) + 1 Tablespoon olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste.

Makes a great slightly rich-tasting side dish for some leftover pork and, of course, green salad.

One bargain buy, two different dishes, naughty and nice
Deep fried but inexpensive summer treat
Healthy summer side dish spruces up leftovers
$1.50 can't be beat.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Thai Chicken Salad

Like all good New Yorkers, Mr. Lemon and I have a stack of beloved take-out menus. Now that we're in full thrifty mode, we don't really order in, but we're still reaching for those take out menus for ideas of what to eat. So, what are we eating?


Sure it doesn't *sound* good, but it is. Larb is one of those Thai restaurant gems that is surprisingly easy to reproduce at home. Really. This one is so easy and yet tastes EXACTLY like the dish from the pros. Plus, it's super healthy, beyond quick, and a great way to combine a little inexpensive protein with a whole lot of veggies.

We'll just call it Thai Chicken Salad.

1 lime
1-2 Tablespoons Thai fish sauce
1 Tablespoon sugar

1/2 lb.-1lb. ground chicken or turkey works, too.
1 small onion, half sliced, half diced
1 red pepper, seeded and cut into slices
1 head romaine lettuce, torn
1/2 c. cilantro, minced
1/4 c. mint, cut into strips

Over medium high heat cooking the chicken and half the onion, diced. I usually add a tiny bit of olive oil to the pan to cut down on the meat sticking.

Meanwhile, make the dressing by combining Thai fish sauce, sugar and the juice of one lime in a large bowl. I try to balance the amount of lime juice to Thai fish sauce, so eyeball it. You can use this dressing separately on a salad with leftover flank steak, too, for another yummy combo.

When the chicken is cooked through, add it to the bowl with the dressing and toss. Let the mixture cool slightly. (If the meat is hot, it will wilt the salad.) On to the salad!

Make a salad with lettuce, onion, red pepper, cilantro and mint and scatter the chicken on top. The dressing on the chicken is salty, flavorful and delicious -- and enough for the whole pile of veggies.

Easy, quick, make ahead=the perfect dish
Salad gets a salty kick from a fishy fridge staple
A delicious way to use up half a package of ground chicken or turkey

Saucy Sardines

For years I had a serious prejudice against sardines. The problem lay not in the fish, itself, but in the tin and its ubiquitous appearance in old cartoons and children's books as the perfect sized bed for a mouse. Am I the only one with this hang up? I suspect the answer is yes.

I even bought a tin, cleverly hidden in a regular old box, but nothing could get me to open that sucker. It lingered like a boat adrift on the vast horizon of my empty cabinet.

And then, Mr. Lemon and I started adhering more closely to The Fat Resistance Diet. I wasn't losing my heft fast enough in this balancing act of thrift-diet-comfort. More omega-3's were needed. And the answer was there the entire time.

That's right, I resorted to the lonely sardine tin, and it all turned out beautifully as a sauce for some slim leftover lasagna noodles.

Sardine Pasta Sauce

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 small onion, sliced
1 can sardines in marinara sauce
1 teaspoon capers
3-4 leaves rosemary
1 Tablespoon parsley

In a small saute pan, cook onion until softened and translucent. Add the can of sardines and their sauce and break up the sardines with a fork. Once the sardines have started to fall apart a bit, add the capers and rosemary. Just before serving, add the parsley. Serve over a small amount of pasta.

Omega-3 packed protein at a low ($2.50) price
Quick, flavorful dinner with a few ingredients
Fears of mice popping out of tins, conquered!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Out of the Box Cooking

Although I love teriyaki and California roll as much as the next person, what I really enjoy about bento boxes at a Japanese restaurant is that little section with the surprise dish. Sometimes it's shumai or a type of pickle I'd never think to order. And "surprise!" it's usually delicious and the part of the meal I remember most.

So when Mr. Lemon and I picked up our first batch of veggies from our CSA this week, the whole shopping trip was filled with little surprises. I'd anticipated some lettuce (check) and some spring onions (check), but then we found ourselves bagging up kohlrabi. Surprise!

Later that day we happened upon a good deal for sweet potatoes, which reminded me of the delicious cooked squash at our favorite Japanese spot--the one with the green walls and handwritten menu on 8th Street that we wander up and down the street to locate. It was enough to get me making up a bento "bowl" dinner. (Bento refers to a boxed meal, but we can use some imagination here, I think.)

Kohlrabi with Garlic and sesame seeds
Cut away rib of Kohlrabi leaves (about 8). Blanch kohlrabi in boiling water for 3-4 minutes. Remove and place in ice water to stop cooking (an ice bath, how fancy!).

Cut the blanched greens to bite sized pieces, and saute in a frying pan with olive oil (two good glugs) and two cloves of minced garlic. Salt and pepper to taste. If this tastes bitter to you, add some rice wine vinegar to soften the taste.

Scatter sesame seeds on top.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Miso and Scallions
Epicurious had a recipe for sweet potato and miso paste, here. I took the idea and went in a slightly different, healthier direction:

4 small sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon white miso paste
1 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoons water
1 scallion, cleaned and sliced

Roast sweet potatoes with olive oil at 425 F for 20 minutes until tender.

Mix miso paste, olive oil and water together and drizzle on sweet potatoes. Return to oven for 1-2 minutes.

Top with scallions.

Edamame: We keep a bag of frozen edamame on hand for speedy snacks and fast protein fixes. Japanese groceries are a great and inexpensive source for freezer staples.

Cucumber Salad: On-sale cucumbers sliced thin, plus equal parts rice wine vinegar, sugar and water. I used a 1 Tablespoon measure to go light on the sugar. This is my family's PA Dutch recipe but uses rice wine vinegar in place of our beloved apple cider vinegar.

Pantry staples from the Japanese grocery come out to party
Surprise ingredients from the CSA inspire a veggie-centric meal
Variety keeps us from missing meat
Frozen edamame offer a great healthy and thrifty protein

Banh Me

I mentioned that after the Chopped Liver vs. Pâté experiment, I found some other ways to use the leftovers.

One of the tricks I've picked up over the years, not just on the no-moneymoon, is to mix up national cuisines within the same week. It keeps me from ordering in more than I should (and now not at all), and it means the same ingredients and leftovers can feel a little less repetitive.

Fresh herbs play a huge part in how I switch up my cooking--but they also don't last very long in the fridge, so I buy them in pairs. For example, if in winter I buy mint, I'll also buy cilantro. Mint and cilantro partner in Thai food. Cilantro on its own brings a big flavor to Latin and Southwestern dishes. Mint on its own is lovely with fruit and finds its way into my attempts to go "Greek." In one week I've hopped three continents without leaving my apartment.

Mint and cilantro are also happy partners in Vietnamese food. Here's my pork-less take on the Banh Mi sandwich. These divine creations are known for their perfect combination of French and Asian ingredients. Pate and leftover baguette, please meet mint and cilantro. Wonder-herb powers activate! Take the form of a Banh "Me."

Or you can just spread pate on a split baguette. Add chopped mint and cilantro, sliced onions. You can also add in lettuce, thinly sliced red pepper, cucumber and carrot.

I was a little bummed I didn't have any roast pork or these veggies on hand, so I just stuck with the herbs. In turned out to be more than enough flavor for one sandwich.

Leftovers make a splashy second appearance
Herbs offer some green goodness as well as major flavor
Inexpensive lunch option with lots of protein
Baguette = not so healthy. Oh well.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Piles of Brown

Now that I'm photographing my food, I've noticed that I make an awful lot of brown piles. Hm, maybe not so appetizing to look at. I'll work on that.

This one is no exception because it's a nice way to use black beans. Cheap? Goya O-Boya you bet. Nutritious? Si. Attractive? Maybe.

One way to keep ourselves feeling good about the no-moneymoon and trying to get healthy has been to transform ingredients into a meal reminiscent of richer fare. Black Bean Burgers turn yet another can of beans into something bueno.

Black Bean Burgers
1 can black beans, drained
1 egg
1/4 c. bread crumbs
1/4 c. corn meal
1/2 green pepper
3 cloves garlic
1/2 small onion
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 dash cayenne pepper

Place spices, pepper, onion and garlic in food processor and blend. Add in the bread crumbs and drained black beans and pulse to combine.

Mix in by hand the egg and the corn meal. You may not need as much corn meal. The goal is a mixture that holds together slightly.

Heat 2-3 Tablespoons olive oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Pat together burger-sized patties. This is a loose mixture but it will hold together when cooked! Slide into hot oil. Cook 5 minutes or until well-browned. Flip! Cook until browned on both sides. Serve with fruit salsa to compliment the smoky, spicy bean flavor.

Fruit salsa: lime juice + apple chopped + half pink grapefruit segments + chopped onion + cilantro + mint + salt (You could easily skip the grapefruit and the mint.)

Vegetarian food that satisfies
Fiber-licious "burgers" offer lots of good nutrition
A new way to serve up a cheap source of protein

What Am I, Chopped Liver?

It's not news that organ meat and other long forgotten animal "parts" have made a trendy resurgence in the last couple years. I often find myself reading or watching chefs wax poetic about the bits and pieces that time and more expensive tastes have left behind.

But what about chicken livers? I know, I know, chopped liver has a bad rap. But I think like so many things in life it just needs a little re-branding. If being cheap can be "thrifty" and using old stuff for new tasks can be "recycling," then can good old chicken liver become pâté?

I wasn't so sure. My mother made wonderful chopped liver that I grew to appreciate when I was old enough to ignore its appearance, but it certainly didn't taste like the slabs of duck and truffle pâté that appeared for special occasions. I liked both, but didn't think of them as kin.

So what's the difference in taste? Well, it turns out that aside from a different fowl the answer is two fold: butter and spices/liquor. And while the high cholesterol in butter and the chicken livers themselves doesn't really stick with my efforts at healthy eating, they prove an amazing source of vitamins, iron, and protein. Personally, I need iron in my diet even if its source isn't "diet" food. I'll make up for it. Oh, and they are super cheap, er, I mean thrifty.

I found this nice NYTimes piece in which Mark Bittman pondered the same question and offers the flavors I'd need to add to Mom's chopped liver. Then, per usual, I did it my own way to cut back on the fat and to adhere to my mantra of using what I have on hand. Here's the recipe:

You Say Chopped Liver, I Say Pâté

1 container chicken livers (check the date-- you need these *fresh*)
1 c. chicken stock/broth
1 small onion
1 1/2 Tablespoons brandy
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice (finally another use for it!)
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
4. Tablespoons unsalted butter
Heavy grind of black pepper
Salt to taste

In a saucepan heat chicken stock or broth. Meanwhile, clean chicken livers. They are gross, but you can do it! Wash in cool water and look to make sure no large purple balls are attached. I'm pretty sure those are gallbladders and you don't want to eat them. Or at least that's what my mother told me.

Once the stock is steaming, slide the chicken livers in. One container usually has about 10-12 livers. Let the chicken livers cook until they are firm to the touch/fork poke. You want them to still be a little pink on the inside and brown on the outside. The cooking liquid will get a little cloudy with particles -- some of this is their fat.

Remove the chicken livers from the stock and set aside to cool. Discard the stock.

Once cooled, place the chicken livers with the roughly chopped onion, the brandy, spices and salt and pepper into a food processor and pulse, adding in the butter, until the mixture becomes a paste.

That's it. But here's the key to this re-branding: do not let anyone see your pâté in this state! Mr. Lemon declared it vomit-like but gamely tried it, then hours later after it had hardened in the fridge could not get enough.

Oh and there's no photo, because even with a new name, this stuff really isn't pretty.

High protein, iron-rich meal for under $2
A delicious dish to incorporate into multiple meals (more on that later)
Tasty new approach to an easy dish

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Portuguese Kale and Homemade Chorizo Soup

I'm not a shrinking violet when it comes to ground meat and its saucy cousin, sausage. I love me a link or two, and I kind of like the idea that I'm not only getting value and lots of flavor, but also helping to cut down on "waste" when I eat it.

But boy was I surprised when I read the label on my authentic chorizo's packaging. Lymph nodes. Yep, I was grossed out. I'm willing to pitch on waste, but even I have my limits.

So I got to thinking, what is sausage other than ground meat + spices? I have LOTS of spices, and I love using them. And yes, there are mystery parts in prepared ground meats, too, so maybe the effort was fruitless. But it didn't stop me from trying. I found a recipe here. This site's a bit bare bones, but the first recipe called out to me with it's title: quick and easy. Perfect.

Mixing some ground pork with a handful of spices and garlic, then letting it combine in the fridge for several hours couldn't have been easier. Since I didn't have casings, I turned the mixture out from a bread pan and sliced it into squares. It fried up beautifully and I served it as a little nibble for drinks with a Date Onion Confit (chopped rehydrated dates and their soaking water combined with sauteed onions to caramelize + a splash of brandy. Reduce.)

But pork isn't exactly healthy. So what about ground chicken?
Worked like a charm!

Portuguese Kale and Chorizo Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 lb. homemade (chicken) chorizo
1 small onion, diced
1/2 lb. kale, bite size pieces, blanched (and in my case, also frozen)
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup water

Heat olive oil in a deep sauce pan or dutch oven. Cut up chorizo into 1-inch cubes and saute until browned and cook through.

Remove chorizo and set aside. Add onions and kale into the same pot, then vinegar. I think you could add the kale without blanching it first and just cook it longer. I found that blanching it helped the "bite" of it quite a bit.

Add stock and water to cover kale mixture. Simmer and season with salt and pepper, heavily. Add the chorizo back into the pot and cook for 10-15 minutes.

Great way to incorporate a leafy green into a meal
Homemade chorizo may not look as pretty, but at least I know what's in it
On hand spices, especially smoked paprika, make ground chicken a spicy delight

Cheaty Cheaty Bang Bang

Oh dear, I need to confess. If this blog is truly about accountability, I'm putting it all out there, including the many non-healthy, non-thrifty moments from this holiday weekend. One word: ribs.

Overall, the meal was thrifty: pork ribs for two (and really enough for three or four!) were just $5, doctored up baked beans $.50, homemade cornbread approx $1. But that's no excuse.

And then I broke the bank with a 16 lb. watermelon to make Watermelon Mojitos. $7 dollars later, we had some lovely pink cocktails to welcome summer.

I'm making up for it. I promise.

Since the only thing remotely health-esque are the Watermelon Mojitos, here's how to make them:

Cut up 1/4 of a whole watermelon. Throw in the blender with 2 Tb. lime juice, a handful of fresh mint, a solid pour of cachaca (regular rum works, too), a cup of ice and 1 Tb. sugar. Blend it. You'll have some frothy pink foam at top. I thought it looked pretty, but it may give you a pink mustache (kind of fun, no?) If you're not into looking silly, strain the foam. Serves 2 for a long cocktail hour, 4 for a short one.