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

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Other Thing Best Served Cold

When I was growing up, my mother was not only a pro at cooking delicious, quick dinners (faster than 30 Minutes, Ms. Ray, so there), but also at turning them out twice a night. My father often worked and, therefore, ate later in the evening, and my brother and I, being young, didn't. So she often cooked two dinners or made something that could easily heat up fast.

Me? I'm a bit lazier. So when Mr. Lemon was going to be out later than usual, but would still need dinner, I turned to dishes that could cool their heels, so to speak, until he was ready for them. Better yet this was a chance to make some dishes that actually improve off the heat and with time, but frequently don't get the chance with this hungry cook in charge. And with the return of the humid weather, dishes best served cold are not only handy, but refreshing.

So, cold poached salmon**, pesto orzo and cucumber salad were on the menu for dinner, whenever that happened.

Cold Poached Salmon
Salmon filet (any size fits this recipe)
1/2 lemon, sliced

In a saute pan fill almost to the top with water and lemon slices. Bring to a simmer--steaming, no bubbles--and then slide in the salmon filet. Turn back the heat to medium to keep from boiling. My filet always sticks out a bit so I do something that is probably verboten, but it works for me. When only the part sticking out is still bright pink, I turn over the filet and turn off the heat, but leave the salmon in to keep poaching about 3 minutes longer. This is a lovely and super easy way to have moist, just cooked salmon.

You can poach in leftover white wine, with bay leaves and peppercorns, and probably a dozen other possible ingredients, but really the lemon and water have always served me well. Plus, I always have lemons on hand, and the wine doesn't last long enough in these parts to be leftover.

Pesto Orzo
This dish does not really need a full recipe and is entirely forgiving, so add away.
[In a food processor: 10-12 leave basil + 2 cloves garlic + 3 Tablespoons olive oil] + 1/2 cup cooked orzo pasta + sliced tomatoes (from our little plant on the terrace.)

And here's another easy one:

Cucumber Salad with Basil
1 cucumber cut into 1-inch chunks + 5 basil leaves + 6 mint leaves + 1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar + salt

**I don't always go into great detail here about cost (blame my upbringing), but as I've mentioned I keep the weekly expenditure to around $40 give or take. I really admire the creativity and thrift-inspiration of the folks at 30 Bucks a Week, and reading their fine grocery-cutting work got me revisiting my own grocery bills after I had already started this blog and aimed for $40. If they could do $30, my "challenge" of $40 certainly was in reach! We're not totally strict, and sometimes we go a little over when there's a good deal that I want to stock up on, or if a nicer staple needs to be refilled. This week, with about $23 going to our CSA for fruit and vegetables, the rest went to milk and eggs, pork chops, black beans (tonight), lemons. So in short, almost a 1/2 lb. of salmon at $9/lb was totally within reach.

Succulent salmon, but we're still on budget
Omega-3-rich meals make us Fat Resistance happy
Cold dish for a hot night meets cold dish for a late night

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

3 Ingredient Ideas

When I first started cooking, and not just the delicious dishes my mother and grandmother had handed down, but really exploring flavors on my own, it was at a time in my life when I didn't have a lot of cash. So I'd read my various food magazines (this was pretty much before food blogs) or trawl the pages of cookbooks I was working on and I'd think, that would be a delicious meal if only I could afford to buy all those ingredients.

And then I came upon a cookbook author and chef who seemed to speak to my predicament -- the desire to expand my flavor and cooking know-how without buying out the grocery store. Vibrant and complex flavors, as I found in Rozanne Gold's fantastic 1-2-3 volumes, can come from just three ingredients. Now these are not necessarily thrifty ingredients, and some can be quite pricey. But being able to keep it to three ingredients meant being able to cook more than one new dish a week. Eureka!

I'm back to watching my grocery bills, and so I've been thinking a lot about Ms. Gold's approach. Many of her recipes call for ingredients that aren't "processed foods" but do include several elements: anchovies with capers in brine, garlic oil, flavored vinegars and so on. I thought of her when I had Mr. Lemon pick up Ras el Hanout on his adventures to Brooklyn's Sahadi's Grocery. (We call it going to the souk, and it really can be as exotic and exciting.) One ingredient, but so many spices in this delicious Moroccan staple that literally means "top of the [spice] shop."

So here's a dinner with 2 dishes, 6 ingredients (not counting olive oil, salt and pepper), that takes about 25 minutes from start to finish. Easy as 1-2-3. Thrifty as $5.

Pork Chops with Ras El Hanout

1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Ras el Hanout
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 pork chops, bone in

Combine the Ras el Hanout and olive oil and spread on all sides of the pork chops. Let sit for 10 minutes while you get the grill ready. Grill until white inside, about 8 minutes a side.

Grilled Collards and Potato

5-6 large collard leaves, rinsed, thick rib removed and torn into large pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablspoons olive oil
4 small potatoes (white or red, but waxy), thinly sliced

Create a "bag" with tin foil, using two sheets. In the bag toss the sliced potatoes, olive oil, garlic, and torn collard greens. Add salt to taste. Cook over direct heat, 20 minutes on the grill.

Easy and healthy dinner on the grill
Investing in spices is worth it for this dish
A balanced meal in two steps
On sale pork chops find a new flavor from Morocco

Chard-Filled Quiche Cups

Everyone couldn't stop talking about how HOT it's been, and then the sweltering weather stopped. Just like that, yesterday was warm with a breeze, but not so hot that you couldn't walk around, wear something more than a swimsuit, or bake.

I'd recently become a big fan of Muffin Tin Mania, a clever blog devoted to creative cooking with, you guessed it, a muffin tin. But of course, many of the delicious recipes involve turning on the oven--a big no-no in our AC-free apartment. The Swiss Chard Quiche especially called to me, since our CSA drops a pile of chard in our lap each week and eggs are a favorite inexpensive protein around here. And as Matthew at Muffin Tin Mania points out, muffin-sized food is diet-friendly because it's automatic portion-control. Half the size, double the fun. Count me in.

Since it wasn't too hot to bake, I made these quiches last night but subbed in Parmesan since cooked goat cheese usually doesn't agree with my stomach. Along with a German apple wine (on sale), the last of our CSA salad and some cooked carrots with parsley, we gave ourselves a taste of fall on a cool summer night.

Chard Quiche Cups
Adapted from Muffin Tin Mania

5 eggs
1/3 cup 1 % milk
2 cups chard, washed, trimmed of larger stems and chopped
2 Tablespoons basil, cut in a chiffonade
2 Tablespoons Parmesan, grated
Olive Oil

Grease a silicon muffin pan with olive oil. The original recipe recommends silicon pans and I have to second that. These would not have neatly come out of a regular pan.

Place the chard in a bowl of cold water and let the dirt/sediment fall to the bottom. In the meantime, cut basil in a chiffonade, whisk together eggs and milk. Dry and remove the thicker part of the chard stem, then chop into pieces about 1/2-inch squared. Mix the chard, basil and Parmesan with the egg and milk. Salt.

Distribute evenly in greased muffin pan cups. My silicon pan has 6 cups and it worked out perfectly. Bake at 350F for 25 minutes.

The chard and basil offer a nice herby flavor alongside the egg in this easy, satisfying and cute main dish.

Chard finds a new and tasty medium
Quiche that's crustless and portion-control friendly
Eggs offer protein at a low price

Monday, July 26, 2010

On the Waterfront

Sometimes, Mr. Lemon and I are lucky enough to get our thrifty-selves out of the city for an adventure. We're very fortunate to have wonderful friends like Mr. and Mrs. Tomato (they chose their name) who invited us out to their beautiful boat on the Northfork of Long Island this weekend. It was, in a word, lovely.

Boats may appear larger in rearview memory

I'm not a full-fledged sailor yet, so my job was to figure out dinner. For all those NY cooks who think that their apartment's kitchen is small, try getting dinner ready in a real galley kitchen. It's a fete that calls for using as few pots as possible and ingredients that you can use up in one night (because the boat's refrigerator can only hold so much.) Zero waste, easy clean up...just my kind of cooking.

And being on the waterfront, we had to make something fishy for dinner. Mrs. Tomato and I splurged, picking up a locally caught slab of monkfish, which the gentlemen-sailors grilled on shore with a little lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper. It was delicious and hearty in a way that white fish rarely is. Almost like lobster, is how Mr. Tomato described it.

We also marinated vegetables from the Northfork's famous farm stands: eggplant, zucchini, onion, cherry tomatoes plus olive oil, garlic and salt. On (soaked) wooden skewers, these veggie kabobs cooked up quickly for a healthy side dish--and one dish cooking, as well, since we marinated, skewered and served all in the same bowl. And of course, no summer meal is complete without some sweet white corn and a generous glass of white wine.

Sadly, no photos were taken. These tired shipmates were just happy to enjoy the food, wine and good company in the dark, cozy galley.

As we were getting our fishy friend ready, I learned from Mrs. Tomato that I was not the only one who had a tin of sardines lurking in my pantry waiting for action. I shared my recent sardine savvy, including this recipe, which is sort of a re-constructed caponata that I took apart and put back together as a way to bring those sardines out of their tin.

Eggplant Stacks with Sardine, Ricotta and Capers
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tin sardines packed in marinara sauce
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon capers, drained
1 small eggplant, sliced into 1/4-inch disks
1/4 cup ricotta
basil chiffonade to garnish

In a small saute pan heat 1 Tablespoon olive oil and add onion and 1 clove minced garlic to cook over medium heat. When the onions begin to look translucent, add the entire contents of the sardine tin and start to break up the sardines with your spoon. Simmer.

In the meantime, in a larger nonstick saute pan heat 1 Tablespoon olive oil and when hot add the eggplant disks in one layer along with 1 clove minced garlic. Cook on both sides, turning once until the eggplant's interior starts to brown and is soft. It will look a little liquidy -- this is good.

Finish the sauce with the capers, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Plate the eggplant slices, topping each with the sardine sauce, a dollop of ricotta cheese and some finely cut basil.

This could be a nice starter, or a lighter supper to give a little seaside flavor to a land-lubber's weeknight.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Zucchini Pancakes Times Two

Zucchini may just be the tofu of the veggie world.

And if you join a CSA your zucchini cup will surely runneth over. Put it on the grill, make some muffins and, in this case, make some tender little pancakes. Try something new, because you'll have a big batch every week with which to experiment. I ended up making zucchini pancakes...twice.

Since we've also been entertaining frequently to share the lovely cool nights on our terrace, it seemed like a zucchini-focused nibble was inevitable. I had been eyeing zucchini pancakes for a while: a finger food that is filling, mostly nutritious, and can be made slightly ahead of time and kept warm in the oven. And it turns out they were a hit.

Ina's Barefoot Contessa Zucchini Pancakes seemed to best match my goal to use as much zucchini and as little flour as possible. Plus I trust her recipes implicitly. Since these were for company, I wanted to dress them up a little, so the lemon zest and thyme are my own addition since both flavors go so well with zucchini. This dish is adapted from Ina Garten's recipe:

Zucchini Pancakes with Lemon and Thyme

2 medium zucchinis, grated
1/2 spring onion or 1 medium onion, grated
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6 Tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
10 sprigs fresh thyme
Zest of one lemon
Vegetable oil

Grate the zucchini and the onion and squeeze out extra moisture in a towel (I used a paper towel and it worked just fine.) Place in a large bowl and mix in flour, baking powder, salt, lemon zest, and fresh thyme leaves pulled from the stem. Lightly beat two eggs and mix into zucchini mixture.

Heat enough vegetable oil to cover a large saute pan over medium high heat. You'll know it is hot enough when a little batter drop sizzles. Drop in small spoonfuls (about 1 1/2 Tablespoons) of batter and cook on both side until golden brown and the pancakes hold together. Keep warm in an oven up to 30 minutes.

This makes a two-bite sized pancake that can be topped with sour cream or mascarpone, too.

And then...I thought maybe there was a way to make these even healthier...

A zucchini favorite is Couscous Royale. I make this Moroccan dish with zucchini, carrots and butternut squash, cooking it in chicken broth with a touch of spice and a lot of ground pepper.
I had carrots and, of course, zucchini, so that was the inspiration for these Zucchini Pancakes.

Moroccan Zucchini and Carrot Pancakes

1 medium zucchini, shredded
3 small carrots, shredded
1 spring onion, shredded
1 egg
4-5 Tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4-1/2 teaspoon cumin
Salt and ground pepper
Olive oil

Shred vegetables and drain slightly on paper towel. Add in egg, flour, baking powder, cumin and salt and pepper.

Heat olive oil in saute pan over medium high heat. Drop in 2 Tablespoons of batter for each pancake, about 4 will fit in the pan. Brown on both sides, about 3 minutes each side and make sure the oil doesn't get too hot (just turn it back if it starts to smoke.)

These were moist, a little sweet and with a nice subtle spiciness. A great accompaniment for:

Moroccan Chicken Rub: Rub chicken paillard (thin cut) with 1 t. cumin + 1 t. cinnamon + 1/4 t. ground coriander + 1/4 t. ground cloves + salt/pepper. Grill.

Zucchini introduces veggie goodness to the cocktail hour
Inexpensive ingredients become something a little fancier
Using up the CSA supply makes us healthier and ready for more

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Vietnamese Grilled Pork Chops

Mr. Lemon and I are not vegetarians, or accidental vegetarians, or even flexitarians. If anything, we've become thrift-arians. That means when there's a nice "deal" in the meat aisle, as long as it's lean, we hit it.

Pork chops were on sale at the grocery around the corner and after all our CSA-inspired veggie dinners and lean chicken dishes and all-around healthy habits, it was time to indulge in some pig.

I've tried making pork chops pretty much every which way, and I always find them a bit dry compared to other cuts. The only time I've ever been blown away was by the chops from Asia Grill, back in the old neighborhood. Succulent, great sear on the outside and thin enough that the chops never became dry on the inside, they were a big part of my order-in rotation. Looking at my two big flat chops, I knew what I had to do.

Putting my fingers to the keyboard, I found Josh Friedland had covered Vietnamese pork chops on his great blog The Food Section. Of course, I didn't have all the ingredients, so this is adapted from his recipe.

Vietnamese Grilled Pork Chops

2-4 pork chops, thin
2 Tablespoons nam pla (Thai fish sauce)
2 Tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons lime juice

Combine the fish sauce, honey, sesame oil, garlic and lime juice in a shallow bowl. Add the pork chops and let sit for 15-30 minutes.

Grill chops over direct heat, spooning extra marinade over the chops, until chops are cooked and white inside. They will go pretty fast depending on your fire. Ours took about 12 minutes.

Succulent thin chops are a small but satisfying treat
This thriftarian special came in under $3
"Pantry" staples make this a quick and easy marinade

Monday, July 19, 2010

Cold Lentil Salad with Feta and Thyme

Sometimes a winter food needs to come out and play in the summer heat. Lentils, while wonderful in a hearty soup or a spicy Indian dish, don't usually conjure memories of hot summer days. But that's actually how I first came to enjoy them. My mother started making this cold lentil salad one summer and it became a favorite. And who can deny it's appeal: salty feta, tangy lemon, the subtle but persistent taste of thyme melding with the earthy lentils. It's a healthy, hearty salad that is best made ahead and allowed to soak in its flavors.

Of course, that means it has to make it to the refrigerator unscathed. Go ahead and have a bowl. Say you're adjusting the flavors. I won't tell.

So don't let those lovely, healthy and *thrifty* lentils waste away in the pantry until the first frost. With this salad, it's thyme for them to come out and party (and apparently inspire bad puns.)

Cold Lentil Salad with Feta and Thyme

1 - 1 1/2 cups lentils, rinsed
Water to cover
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lemon, juiced
2 Tablespoons olive oil
10 sprigs fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
2 ribs celery, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
Feta, crumbled, to taste (I usually use about 1/3 cup)

Rinse and sort through the lentils in a strainer to make sure there are no stones. I have only had this happen once, but why risk it?

Place lentils in a saucepan and cover with water. Cook on medium-high until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the lentils and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the garlic, oil, lemon juice and the thyme leaves. Yes, it is a pain to pull off the thyme from their woody stems, but totally worth it. It's easier if the thyme is not wet, so washing it ahead of time is a really good idea.

Mix in the lentils and when cool add the celery, onion, tomato and feta. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve cold as a lighter lunch or dinner or a side dish.

Lentils offer lean protein at a low price
Summer flavors make this a great cold treat for a hot day
A make-ahead dish, this is perfect for summer visitors

Getaway Grilling

Despite the odd year we've been having (see the no-moneymoon), Mr. Lemon and I are able to take a deep breath and recognize the sweeter stuff in life. Tops on that list: outdoor space. This steamy summer may have us hiding in the AC-cooled apartment during the day, but at nightfall, when the temperature drops, we've been eating dinner on the terrace.

And better yet, we've been making dinner out there, too. We've got a little grill and we're making the most of it. Grilling's a healthy way to get a lot of flavor out of not only lean meats, but those uber-healthy, CSA-supplied dark greens, too. So on a recent hot night, with some on-sale chicken breasts pulled from the freezer and a bag o' greens from the CSA, our little terrace turned into a Caribbean getaway.

Caribbean Spice-Rubbed Chicken
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
6 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 chicken breasts (this proportion could also 'rub' up to 4 breasts)

Combine the spices, oil, thyme and garlic in a shallow dish or bowl, and add the washed and dried chicken breast. Rub in the spices, all over. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in refrigerator for half an hour (or more.)

Grill over indirect heat, about 10 minutes each side until done. You could broil this easily, too.

Grilled Collards in a Bag
I saw the adorable Jamie Oliver make his greens this way on his Cooking Channel show, and whether it was his charming accent or his use of lemon, he had me convinced that this was the solution to my CSA-greens overload. And it turns out he is 100% correct. This method can't be beat and the greens are not bitter, have a silky texture and still keep all their healthy nutrients and fiber.

2-3 cups collards/greens/what-have-you, rinsed and trimmed (Take off the really thick part of the stalk)
1/2 lemon
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Salt and ground pepper

Create a bag with tin foil: use two sheets about two feet long each. Place sheets one on top of the other and fold over, then fold two sides, leaving the fourth side open and creating a "bag"

In the bag, place the greens, torn into large pieces, along with the olive oil, the juice of half a lemon, salt and pepper. Seal the fourth side and grill for 20 minutes.

It wasn't the deck of a boat, or a beach bungalow's porch, but sitting out there enjoying our spicy chicken and greens, we felt like we had found our own little tranquil island escape in the big noisy city.

Chicken breast w/bone, not the healthiest, but grilling drains some fat away
A flavor-packed way to get our "greens" in without adding porky bits
Grilling takes away a dark green's bitterness in one simple step (no blanching!)
Fast dinner that doesn't heat up the kitchen

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tart Tartier Tartest

As I've mentioned about our CSA hauls, we sometimes reach a limit-- a point at which Mr. Lemon and I start wondering who to pawn, I mean, share our produce bounty with. So when we found ourselves in week two of The Great Plum Purge (in more ways than one Mr. Lemon will tell you) from the CSA, something had to be done. Fortunately invites had been out for a while so we would be spared eating all those very tart plums by our lonesome.

Who were our lucky plum-eating pals? Last weekend, we had invited two couples over, one for a sit down dinner and the other for a brunch with their adorable baby son. If that seems ambitious and very un-lazy, allow me to explain why it is neither. I'm a big fan of the double-header weekend, either entertaining both Friday and Saturday nights, or Saturday night and Sunday brunch. There are several key advantages to be had. Perhaps most importantly, the dusting only needs to be done once for two visits. Win!

Another advantage is that I can put on my baking hat and eat all my naughty handy work over the weekend, but get back on track with the healthier stuff the rest of the week. And on the time-saving not-buying-many-different-ingredients spectrum, I can sometimes get away with baking once for the two separate meals.

So what's nice enough for dinner, but not too fancy for brunch and, of course, uses a lot of the too-tart-to-eat plums that we'd been juggling all week in our fruit bin? Only the easiest tart with the somewhat exotic name (don't be afraid to say it with gusto): crostata.

If you haven't seen a crostata, allow me to explain. It is the lazy person's tart. Yes, pie dough must be made from scratch, chilled and rolled. That's actually pretty easy once you realized that the dough does not need to fit a pan and doesn't have to be a specified thickness. Just roll and go.

Next, shift the rolled dough over to a parchment covered baking sheet. Drop fruit (cut, mixed with 1-2 Tablespoons cornstarch, 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar, juice of 1/2 a lemon, pinch of salt) in the center of your dough blob and start to fold up the sides around the fruit. To seal the overlapping edges, brush with one beaten egg.

Next step: into a 375F oven for 40-50 minutes, until the fruit is bubbling.

I've been using Martha's corn meal-inflected crostata crust from her Baking Handbook. Here's the adapted recipe for Cornmeal Pate Brisee

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar (I bump this up to a 1 Tablespoon)
2 sticks unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water (I always use the full 1/2 cup)

Pulse the dry ingredients in a food processor until well combined. Add the butter and process until the mixture "resembles coarse meal, about 10 seconds." This happens quickly so pulse about 4 times for several seconds. I just make sure the butter is no longer visible. With the machine running, add the ice water through the feed tube and don't process for more than 30 seconds. I used to dribble in like the recipe recommends, but honestly I use the 1/2 cup every time, so I just add it in two parts.

Remove dough from the food processor and shape into two disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour. Martha et al say at least 1 hour and up to 1 day for the chilling time. I'm going to tell you a dirty little secret: this dough is pretty much indestructible. I've left it in the fridge for a couple days and had good results and I've frozen it, too.

Finally, dust liberally with powdered sugar, especially if your plums/fruit are super tart.

Tart plums get a little sweeter with lots of sugar and caramelizing
Easy dessert that doesn't risk sticking to a pie pan
No new ingredients to buy, just the pantry standards makes this thrifty
Crostata is fun to say, add as many accent marks as you want. They're free.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Salsa Verde Very Green Salad

We joined a CSA, which means our fridge this summer is full to the brim with greens--in more ways that one.** And while I love that this forces us to eat more vegetables (helping along that goal of 8-9 servings a day), well, it can sometimes seems a bit forced. So there's a lot of salad and also a lot of wondering what to do with the non-lettuce produce or the items we've never cooked with (hello, ramps!)

The solution seems to be to go even greener. I've been putting together salads with both raw and cooked CSA finds, but to pull it all together I'm throwing Salsa Verde on top. This dressing/sauce usually accompanies fish or chicken, and this night, pictured below, I threw it on top of salad with sugar snap peas, leftover cooked beets, roasted ramps and lettuce from the CSA, cold leftover tilapia and a fresh homegrown tomato. Delicious, refreshing, healthy and easy.

Salsa Verde

1/2 c. parsley
1/2 c. basil
2 cloves garlic
1 Tablespoon capers
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
Salt and Pepper
Olive Oil, glug it in

Combine all ingredients in a food processor. (I use the mini Cuisinart). Be sure to add enough olive oil that the sauce can come together easily. I'd guess about 3 Tablespoons.

CSA vegetables make it out of the fridge
Delicious and healthy sauce makes salad a little less boring
Thrift-tastic way to use leftover bits of fish, chicken or pork
Five servings of vegetable and counting...

** And its green-friendly in a couple ways: Our CSA costs about $17 a week for 6-7 vegetables a week. Some we use up in one meal (sugar snaps) but others take a while to work through and we often have the longer-lasting vegetables such as turnips and cabbage well into the following week. And don't get me started on the kohlrabi!!

I think we're breaking even on what we would normally spend vs. the CSA, but so far it makes life a little more interesting. The other green factor is that its all coming from an organic farm, which certainly offers health benefits when you're eating this many greens.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Persian Pomegranate Walnut Wonder

I recently had a project that took up some serious time, meaning the thrifty cooking efforts were at risk of falling by the wayside.

But rather than reach for the take out menus, I reached for my stash of frozen goodies. What goodies do I speak of? Well, I'll tell you.

A couple weeks before I'd found my winter-long chicken stock supply had finally been tapped out. To my great good fortune (yes, I do actually get this excited about this stuff), the local supermarket had a good deal on bone-in chicken breasts. I'd poached them with the usual stock subjects (carrot, onion, salt, pepper, parsley), pulling out the chicken when the meat was still tender and pulling it off the bone, then returning the bones to the stockpot to bubble and boil some more.

Which is all to say, I had some frozen cooked chicken. Yay! I had some frozen chicken stock. Double yay!

The aforementioned project included some Persian poetry which got me thinking about my favorite use for pomegranate molasses (another already there pantry item from a cocktail experiment that went, well, wrong.)

This is quick to throw together, kinda healthy (pomegranates are loaded with antioxidants, walnuts with omega-3's), and pretty inexpensive due to buying protein on sale and the occasional but long-lasting pantry investment. Tangy and satisfying, I'll make an authentic version of this someday...but for now, I'm happy with this concoction.

Persian Pomegranate-Walnut Chicken

2 cups (2 breasts) poached chicken (I had frozen mine)
1/3 cup pomegranate molasses
1/4 cup whole walnuts
A olive oil, 1-2 glugs, if the chicken sticks

In a non stick pan toast walnuts and re-heat shredded poached chicken. If you don't have cooked chicken, you could poach 2 breasts or cut them into small pieces first and saute in olive oil. Personally, since this is a 'fudged' recipe already, I like to maintain the texture of the soft, shredded meat as it allows the sauce to reach more chicken nooks and crannies.

Remove the walnuts when they start to smell and are toasted. Mine got a tiny bit of color on them (oops, the risks of multitasking!) and they were fine.

Add the pomegranate molasses and combine thoroughly with the chicken. Turn the heat back so that the chicken simmers in the sauce. Add the walnuts, broken up, back in.

While it's simmering, make some couscous and a green salad.

Speedy Dinner...Done.

This is pretty tangy, so if you don't like your proteins candied (if you don't, we can't be friends), add some chicken broth to mellow the molasses.

Chicken on sale turns into ready-to-serve dinner
Pomegranates and walnuts are healthy, Fat-Resistance friendly
This goes so fast you need to start making the salad first
A strong flavor from the pantry saves the day

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Fish Taco Time

When I think 4th of July, I think fish tacos.

Ok, I totally don't. But I do think of hot weather and beach holidays, and I really can't imagine visiting a beach without some grilled seafood. One of my favorite fish-eating formats is the fish taco. You have your fresh grilled fish, a cool crisp cabbage, some spicy crema, whatever salsa-like mixture you can conjure, smooth avocado and a soft tortilla to deliver this deliciousness to your hungry mouth. Plus, it's a thrifty way to fit in seafood, a healthy way to have lots of flavor, and a relatively fast and easy dinner or lunch. I made these last week before the weekend bbq-ing commenced.

Fish, itself:
2 filets tilapia
olive oil for grill pan
Salt and pepper
Rub a grill pan with olive oil and get it super hot. I throw a droplet of water on and when it sizzles, it's time for the fish. Grill tilapia sprinkling with salt, pepper and 1/2 juice of one lime. Turn once the edges start to turn white and repeat sprinkling. The fish should flake easily and you will lose some to the grill pan.

Guac-lite: Avocado + lemon juice + salt

Salsa: 2 tomatoes (from our patio!) + cilantro + 1 scallion + lime juice

Buena Faux-Crema

1/4 c. plain yogurt
Juice of half a lemon
1 garlic clove, grated
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

Cabbage Salad
3 cups shredded green or red cabbage
1 radish, sliced thin
1 carrot, shredded
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Sprinkle of cumin

Mix all ingredients together and set aside.

Low fat tortillas
Ok, so here's where the easy part ends. Even though the thrifter in me knows I'm not saving money, I like to try my hand at making tortillas. I found this Low Fat Tortilla Recipe, and modified it.

1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. white corn flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup warm water
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt

Mix the dry ingredients. In a liquid measuring cup stir the olive oil and water together. 1 Tablespoon at a time add the wet to the dry, stirring to combine. You will find yourself with a very sticky dough. Cover with a damp paper towel and set aside for 20 minutes.

Pull off golf-ball sized chunks of the dough, roll into balls and set on a plate, not touching. Cover with another damp towel and let rest another 10 minutes.

On a very well-floured surface, roll out each ball. Keep the dough moving and definitely keep adding a little flour as you go. Get the tortillas as thin as you can. I'm not going to lie, this is the hard part.

Heat a nonstick pan and add vegetable oil or olive oil. Sacrifice your first tortilla to soak up the grease. Now you're ready to fry the tortillas. Just add rolled out rounds to the pan and when they start to look un-dough like on the bottom, flip them. These move quickly and you don't want them to cook too much because you want *soft* tacos and they can become stiff. The whole roll and fry process takes me about 30 minutes. I usually finish it up as I'm grilling the fish and I make the sides before I get my hands doughy.

Put it all together and there you have it: summer in a soft tortilla.

Ready for mas? You'll have some tortillas left over. Save them and leftover "fixings" for an easy brunch:

Scramble eggs with scallions + tortilla + avocado + spicy crema + tomato + extra scallion