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

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

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Quiche Love

I seem to be on a kick: forgiving food. Not food to ask forgiveness, or to forgive others with, but food that actually can stand up to a challenge. Sometimes you need a dish that can go the distance, or at least the length of a buffet without wilting, drying out or going bad. And the answer happens to be one of the easiest and most delicious options around, and did I mention that it's actually pretty thrifty?

Quiche can be made ahead, frozen and reheated, served hot or at room temperature, and can sit out for, well, usually as long as you need it to (I wouldn't go overnight, but...) And then there's the flexibility of ingredients. The basics are some sort of pastry base, some eggs and some milk/cream. Then, you just go wild: vegetables, meats, cheeses.

But even with swapping in skim milk for cream or using fewer eggs, the fact remains that quiche isn't exactly healthy. There's that little problem of, oh, the butter-laden crust and the cheese (and you DO want the cheese.)

So here's the solution: make it small. I like wee food in general, and I actually prefer my quiches mini. Over the winter I'd turned out batch after batch of itsy bitsy quiches that I froze for those "impromptu" guests. (Well, not impromptu so much as coming by when I wouldn't necessarily want to be rushing around before they arrived.) They were perfect as everything from proper cocktails to a starter for brunch.

And this weekend I had the honor of co-hosting an afternoon bridal shower for a dear friend, so another perfect time for my forgiving little friends. But this time I turned out a batch of 3-bite quiche using my handy muffin pan (regular size, not mini!) I filled a flaky crust from Martha with yellow pepper, asparagus and Gruyere; Gruyere, onion and bacon (aka Lorraine), and my personal favorite, leek and parmesan. Good things do come in small packages

Mini Quiche Universal Recipe
I studied up on my quiche recipes in trying to figure out a healthy option that would still taste yummy when shrunk down. And you know what? You can pretty much do what you want with quiche. So this is a universal recipe that swaps in ingredients, but I've also included some suggestions of what I used. And the thrift factor of being able to use what you have can't be beat.

This is from Martha Stewart and you can find her original mini quiche recipe here. I've changed mine to reflect healthier ingredients and different proportions. But Trust In Martha when it comes to pastry. She knows her stuff. This is her Pate Brisee recipe and I follow it to the T:

2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
1/2 cup ice water

In a food processor, combine the flour salt and sugar. Add all the butter and pulse about 10 seconds until the butter is no longer visible. With the machine running pour in the ice water and allow the mixture to come together. This will NOT take long so keep your eyes on the processor. I also hear a different sound because the blade is dealing with a more solid form. Divide the dough into two disks. I usually spread out two large pieces of plastic wrap and dump it onto them directly. Wrap tightly and refrigerate at least one hour. I've kept this stuff for several days in the fridge and it is totally ok.

Roll out on a floured surface and cut circles that are about two times the circumference of the base of your muffin pan. Haha, kidding. Grab a wide mouth glass or jar from your cupboard and play around to see what size circle fits nicely when nestled into a muffin pan, as pan sizes vary. I used a big old plastic cup from my college days that is about 3 1/2 inches across. Grease your muffin tin well and then start fitting the little dough circles into each spot. I often cut out a small wedge to make the dough fit more easily.Half the recipe above made about 15-18 3-bite quiches.

For 15-18 quiches, you need about 1 cup of filling, and cook anything that is not a soft vegetable (tomatoes can go in raw):
  • 1 leek, cut into 1/8 disks and soaked in water to get rid of any grit
  • 1/2 pepper, diced + 3 spears asparagus, sliced thin
  • 5-6 strips of bacon, cut into 1/4 inch pieces + 1 onion, diced

You *want* cheese in your quiche, and you need about 1 cup grated. I love my microplane and it does a great job of creating a fluffy mound of cheese that I can easily distribute into the smaller cups.

Egg Mixture
4 eggs
2 cups milk (I tried 1 % and it worked)
Freshly grated nutmeg (microplane, again, about 1 teaspoon)
A little salt

Put it together: evenly distribute the filling and cheese in the bottom of your dough-filled muffin pan. Pour in the egg mixture until it is even with the top of the pastry.

Bake at 350F for 35 minutes when a knife comes out clean from the center. Let sit about 10 minutes in the pan before removing to finish cooling.

I've used both my silicone pan and my regular old tin. Both work well.

Great party food that stands up over time
Thrifty way to use up bits and pieces of vegetables, cheese and meat
Bite-size dishes let guests determine how much they want to indulge
Put leftovers in the freezer and reheat whenever you need a quick nibble or lunch.