Thursday, December 31, 2009

Lentil burgers

It sounds like something vegan hippies would eat, I know. But I recently had a bout of food poisoning from ground beef of indeterminate origin, so I've vowed to no longer eat ground beef unless it's organic, grass-fed, and all comes from the same cow. Seeing that grass-fed ground beef is WAY more expensive than I can afford on a regular basis, I've been trying out inexpensive burger alternatives.
This is one of my favorites. The burgers are actually really good, and you can add cheese and bacon to the end result if you like. I also made a sort-of aioli out of Sriracha chili sauce and mayo that complemented these perfectly.
Plus, since they're so cheap and healthy, you can add extra bacon and not feel guilty about it.
3-4 handfuls dried lentils
1/2 chopped onion
chopped sundried tomatoes
1/4 cup or so breadcrumbs
parmesan cheese
1 egg
seasonings (paprika, etc. as you see fit)
Dried lentils can be prepared in the same way as dried beans. To wit: soak in water overnight. The next morning, throw them in the crockpot and cook on low while you're at work. The next day, use them to make these lentil burgers. This method has the advantage of cooking out all the gastro-intestinal difficulties, and dried lentils are incredibly cheap.
Take the lentils and combine with the other ingredients. You may need to add more breadcrumbs/another egg to get them to hold completely together. Form into patties, and cook with a little olive oil, 3-4 minutes on each side.
Depending on how many sundried tomatoes you use (I used about 3/4 of a cup, chopped) and how much parmesan, you could conceivably make a batch for less than $1. Cost of hamburger buns and condiments are extra, of course; with a bag of 8 hamburger buns ($1.99), you're still looking at 8 big burgers for less than $3. I'll assume you already have ketchup and mustard in your fridge.That's about 38 cents each--a third of the cost of a Dollar Menu burger from McDonald's, and way healthier (and best of all, no chance of food poisoning).

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


The best way to use up stale bread or bread that is in danger of going stale. You can use any kind of bread--sandwich bread, French bread, Italian bread, English muffins, hamburger/hot dog buns, dinner rolls, etc.

Take all your stale bread and cut it into cubes. Place on a baking sheet. Drizzle the cubes with a little melted butter, and sprinkle with herbs and/or garlic powder. Bake at 225 until crispy and browned, stirring occasionally. This could take an hour or more, depending on how much bread there is. But that's okay--it's important to make sure the croutons are completely crispy, or they will mold in your pantry. Once done, let them cool, and throw them in a Ziploc bag for future use. If crisped all the way through, they'll keep indefinitely.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Corn fritters

1 cup corn (frozen is fine)
1 separated egg
2 tablespoons flour
2-4 tablespoons butter
2-4 tablespoons olive oil or bacon fat (although duck fat is particularly nice)
Salt and pepper

Combine corn, egg yolk, and flour in bowl, mix well, and add salt and pepper. Beat the egg white into stiff peaks, fold carefully into the corn mix. Heat 2 tablespoons butter with 2 tablespoons oil or fat in skillet. When almost smoking, drop small spoonfuls of corn mix in pan, fry until crisp and brown on each side. Serve hot.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Mushroom sauce

This is great with bread.

1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons minced onion
a couple of handfuls of sliced mushrooms, any kind (shittake and portobello are especially good)
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream

Saute onion in butter until wilted, add mushrooms and stir until they give up their liquid. The trick is not to crowd the pan. Do a few mushroom slices at a time if necessary. Cook until the liquid evaporates. Sprinkle with flour, whisk rapidly. Add broth, continue whisking until blended and smooth. Cook, stirring occasionally, another 15 minutes. Add cream, simmer 5 minutes more.

I've tried making this with reconstituted dried mushrooms (advantage: much cheaper than fresh) and the fresh really do taste better. But you don't have to use fancy expensive mushrooms; plain old white button mushrooms will do just fine if that's what you can afford. If the final result with those is a little bland for you, you can add salt or fresh thyme to jazz it up a bit.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Slow-roasted pork shoulder

There are two great things about cheap cuts of meat. 1. They're cheap. 2. They taste better. Yes, they take longer to cook; but I find that something like short ribs or lamb shanks, cooked down for many hours, are much more flavorful and versatile than steak. A big pork shoulder will run maybe $1-2 a pound. Buy the biggest one you can.

Take the entire pork shoulder, skin and all, and pop it into a big cast-iron Dutch oven. Put some quartered onions and carrots on the bottom of the Dutch oven; maybe a little leftover wine, as well. Cover. Cook at maximum (475 or so) for about 20 minutes, then turn the oven down to 250 and cook until meltingly tender, 9-12 hours or so.

That's all you have to do. You can start this first thing in the morning and leave it, producing a wonderful entree for dinner. You don't even have to stay home--this doesn't need to be stirred, or flipped, or checked, and since it's cooking at such a low temperature, you don't need to worry about overcooking or burning it. Just throw it in the oven in the morning and take it out when you're ready to eat it. The skin and bones will fall right off the meat, and the meat will be so tender you can shred it with a fork. Serve with barbecue sauce, or a white wine sauce, or over white beans, or over braised greens, or whatever.

I've had great luck with this as a party dish, served with barbecue sauce. Sorry, folks--I may be willing to give up my bacon chocolate recipe, but my barbecue sauce recipe is a trade secret.

Cost: Last time I made this was in New York; I believe I got 8 lbs of pork shoulder for $10-12, and it fed...well, that thing could have fed 20 people. I served it at a party and was still eating the leftovers for days.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bacon chutney

This recipe came to me from my friend Eric. I haven't tried it yet, but I have no reason to doubt its deliciousness. It makes one cup or so.

1 Pound Smoked Bacon (thick cut or un-sliced slab)
1 Medium Onion (sliced thin)
1/4 Cup Brown Sugar
1 Teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Mustard
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
1/4 Teaspoon Chipotle Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Dried Thyme
1/4 Teaspoon Dried Rosemary (crushed)
1/4 Teaspoon Black Pepper (ground)
1/4 Teaspoon Onion Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
Braising Liquid:
1/2 Cup Dry White Wine
1 Tablespoon Cider Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
1 Tablespoon Molasses

In a bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients and mix well. Place the slab of bacon into a dutch oven and sprinkle both sides of bacon with dry rub. Pat the dry rub into the sides of the bacon (use all of the rub). Cover the dutch oven and refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the ingredients for the braising liquid and mix well. Microwave on high for 1 minute. Remove the bacon from the refrigerator and sprinkle with onions. Pour the braising liquid into the dutch oven. Do not pour on top of bacon.Cover the dutch oven and braise in oven for 2 1/2 hours. Remove pan from the oven and place on burner. Remove lid and, over medium high heat, reduce liquid in pot until it is thick and glaze-like. Pour contents of pan into food processor. Pulse bacon mixture until it is a thick, but chunky consistency. Pour into serving dish or lidded jar. If not using immediately, refrigerate. (Let the bacon chutney cool to room temperature before putting the lid on it and putting it into the refrigerator.)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Shrimp creole

Shrimp creole is similar to shrimp and grits, except it's served over rice instead of grits. Again, try to use fresh (never frozen) shrimp. The taste and texture difference is really worth the extra money.

I made this last at my sister's place along the Gulf Coast, where I could get fresh-out-of-the-Gulf shrimp. I started with two pounds of enormous shrimp. I peeled all the shrimp and put the heads and shells in a pan of water to make shrimp stock. Whole shrimp are surprisingly easy to peel; the head snaps right off, the legs come off with the tail, and then all you have to do is run your thumb up under what's left of the shell and pop it off.

I chopped up all of my sister’s ripe tomatoes--about 27, seriously, her garden was a little out of control at the time--and started by sweating out chopped onion, garlic, celery, green pepper, and a little jalapeno in butter. I added a couple smoked alligator and pork sausages, then reduced that in a little white wine. I added the tomatoes, tomato paste, and shrimp stock, along with a healthy dose of salt (to help the tomatoes break down) and seasonings--bay leaves, paprika, chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, oregano, basil, parsley, and thyme. At the last minute I threw in the shrimp and a handful of chopped okra.

Serve hot, over rice, with Abita beer. Sit in the backyard and watch the fireflies.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Shrimp and grits

Shrimp and grits is an endlessly versatile dish. Have it for breakfast, have it for dinner. Make it with sausage, make it with cheese, the only ingredients that remain the same are the shrimp and the grits. I recommend fresh (never frozen) shrimp and real grits, not the quick kind.

Start with bacon or some type of smoked sausage/pork (andouille, tasso, alligator, I've even used leftover country ham) or at the very least some bacon fat.  Add part of a chopped onion and some garlic; when that's cooked down, deglaze with some white wine. You can add tomatoes, green onions, green beans, mushrooms, or any combination of the above. Add a little butter just at the end, along with the shrimp, and cook just until the shrimp are done. Serve immediately over the cooked grits (or cheese grits!).

Another way to do it is to start with a roux. Melt three tablespoons of butter in a large skillet; then whisk in two tablespoons flour and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the flour is a light caramel color (about six minutes). This is a blond roux. Add onion, bell pepper and celery, cooking 8-10 minutes until tender, and then add sausage. Add a little chicken broth, bring to a light boil, reduce to medium, and simmer 8-10 minutes until slightly thickened. At the end, add the shrimp and some heavy cream. This version doesn't have the tomatoes, but is much thicker and creamier.

Don't forget to serve with hot sauce!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Lemon chess pie

A chess pie is a custard pie with no top. This can be made with lemon juice, rather than the juice of fresh lemons, meaning you can throw this pie together in the dead of winter with basic pantry ingredients. In fact, with bulk dry ingredients, lemon juice, and a homemade pie shell, you could put this whole pie together for less than $1. Fresh lemons are best, though.

2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons flour
juice of two lemons
1/2 stick melted butter
2 tablespoons cornmeal
1/4 cup milk
3 slightly beaten eggs

Mix sugar, cornmeal and flour. Add eggs. Add rest, pour into an unbaked pie shell. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Green beans with balsamic vinegar

Another variation on green beans.

1 lb green beans, cooked
chopped country ham or several slices of proscuitto, diced
1/2 red onion
balsamic vinegar
Toasted almond slices

Caramelize the red onion; when almost done, add the ham or proscuitto. Deglaze with (1/3 cup or so?) balsamic vinegar. Let the vinegar cook down until reduced by 2/3. Toss the green beans with this mixture, add toasted almonds, and serve.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Green beans with Rocquefort and walnuts

Any kind of blue cheese (gorgonzola, etc.) can be substituted for the Rocquefort.

1 lb green beans
several strips of bacon
4 oz cheese
1 1/2 cups toasted walnut halves

Cook the beans. Cook the bacon separately and remove. Add the beans to the bacon fat for two minutes. Add cheese, toss for 30 seconds. Sprinkle with walnuts, pepper and the bacon bits.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

No-bake cookies

Yet another family classic. Technically this is supposed to cool in the refrigerator, and then be cut into squares. I can't remember a batch ever making it that far--usually we all huddled over the saucepan with spoons, eating the hot mixture until it disappeared. This is another one of those things that can be made entirely with pantry ingredients.

2 sticks butter
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup cocoa
2 cups sugar
1 cup peanut butter
2 1/2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal (not quick oats)

Place first four ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Boil for two minutes. Pour into a 9x13 inch pan into which the peanut butter and oatmeal have already been added. Stir as you pour the hot mixture over the peanut butter and oatmeal. Let cool, cut into squares. Or just huddle over the hot pan with a spoon.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Ultimate cheesecake

This is cheesecake for everyone, even for people who don't like cheesecake. Every person who's ever had this, without fail, has raved about it.

2 cups finely ground graham crackers
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 stick melted butter
2 8 oz blocks cream cheese, softened
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 pint sour cream
1 lemon, zested
1 dash vanilla

Combine the first three ingredients with a fork until evenly moistened, then lightly coat the bottom and sides of a springform pan with cooking spray and press the crumbs into this using the bottom of a glass into the base and 1 inch up the sides of the pan until evenly distributed. Refrigerate at least 5 minutes.

In electric mixer, beat cream cheese on low for 1 minute, until there are no lumps. Add the eggs one at a time and continue to beat slowly until combined after each one. Add sugar gradually and beat until creamy, 1-2 minutes. Add sour cream, zest and vanilla. Pour filling into the springform pan, smooth top with a spatula. Set pan on large piece of aluminum foil and fold the sides around it. Place the pan inside another large roasting pan, and pour boiling water into the roasting pan until the water is about halfway up the sides of the cheesecake pan. (The foil will keep the water from seeping in.) Bake for 1 hour or so at 325. The cheesecake will still jiggle in the middle (it will firm up after cooling). Let cool in the pan 30 minutes. Chill in the refrigerator, loosely covered, for at least 4 hours after that.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Brandied cranberry relish

A slightly different version of cranberry sauce.

2 cups cranberries
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup Calvados (or other brandy/applejack)

Place cranberries in a greased 2-qt baking dish and sprinkle with sugar. Cover and bake at 300 for 50-60 minutes, stirring twice. Uncover and stir in Calvados/brandy. Pour into an airtight container, let cool, and refrigerate covered for at least three hours.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Oyster fritters

A family classic, although this is because my family was centered around the Chesapeake Bay for many generations. Regardless, a great way to eat oysters. These make an amazing BLT--just add the fried oysters to the BLT. Kind of like an oyster po' boy, but with bacon. Mmmmm...bacon.

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 beaten eggs
1 cup milk
fat (bacon fat, lard, frying oil, etc. -- not butter)
1 pint oysters

Drain the oysters and chop. Sift the dry ingredients together, then combine the wet separately. Pour the wet into the dry. Stir, add the oysters, and fry.

Crab casserole

Alright, this is not a dish that really makes the rounds outside of my family. But I loved it as a kid, and it's much tastier than it sounds.

1 lb crabmeat or imitation crabmeat
1 teaspoon horseradish
1/2 cup mayo
2 teaspoons ketchup
3 eggs
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons flour
salt and pepper

Mix together, pour into greased 8x8 casserole dish. Add mixture of grated cheddar cheese and bread crumbs over the top. Bake at 350 for 1 hour.

Cost: depends on whether you're using real or imitation crabmeat, although imitation works just fine for this recipe. Let's say $4 for that; the other ingredients might set you back $1.50, depending on how much cheese you put on top.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Scrambled eggs in puff pastry

Last night, while attempting to think of a use for a last sheet of puff pastry, I came up with this. It's a great recipe, with endless variations. At its simplest, it's scrambled eggs in a sheet of puff pastry. (Thank you, Captain Obvious.) Just let the puff pastry thaw a bit, add the slightly undercooked scrambled eggs, and fold the pastry over diagonally. Seal the edges with a fork and bake at 400 until done (between 15 and 30 minutes, depending on how many pastry packets you have going). For more people, use two sheets of puff pastry, laying one over the other instead of folding diagonally; and so on.

But the variations are endless. Other possible additions are caramelized onions; cheese; bacon, sausage or ham; salsa; truffle oil; all sorts of veggies and herbs; peppers; mushrooms; really anything that you could put in an omelet. I'm a big fan of crab omelets--a can of crabmeat (the canned actually works better than fresh, in this case) with seasonings of  your choice, though I particularly like green onions, purple or Thai basil and Old Bay. I think one of those would be lovely in puff pastry. My sister is bringing me some Gulf specialities at Christmas--tasso, boudin, alligator sausage, stuff that is plentiful there that I can't get here to save my life. I'm particularly excited about doing a variation of this with tasso, peppers and hot sauce. And how decadent would it be to load up the scrambled eggs with truffle oil and have this for brunch with a nice bottle of Champagne?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Parmesan brussel sprouts

Brussel sprouts have gotten a bad rap over the years, probably because most people boil them until they're mush. Gross. This recipe, as far as I'm concerned, is the only way--and the tastiest way!--to eat brussel sprouts.

3 lbs Brussels sprouts, ends cut off and sliced in half
½ cup bacon fat
½ cup parmesan

Toss sprouts with bacon fat, roast at 425 in shallow baking pan for 20 minutes or so. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, cheese and serve.

The bacon fat is key. If you really wanted to, you could substitute olive oil and make this vegetarian, but man, roasting anything in bacon fat is just so good. The cost is minimal, too--I save all my bacon fat, so it's just however much you pay for the Brussel sprouts and the parm.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Bacon chocolate

On Friday, I bought a bacon chocolate bar. I was pretty excited about it; but it turned out to be somewhat disappointing. First, and most damningly, it wasn't very bacon-y. Despite a very large and prominent picture of a slice of bacon on the bar, the bacon flavor was incredibly subtle. It was more a salty chocolate bar than a bacon-y chocolate bar. And it was milk chocolate--only 45% cocoa. Dark chocolate would have served the concept much better.

So I decided to make my own, the way I wanted it. I took some very dark chocolate (Lindt's 85% cocoa, although you could also substitute two bars of unsweetened baking chocolate with 1/2 - 1 bar of semi-sweet) and melted it in a double boiler. While that was melting, I chopped some smoked bacon and cooked it until it was very crispy and let it cool. When the chocolate was melted, I spread it on a cookie sheet that had been covered in parchment paper, and sprinkled all the many bacon pieces over it. I pressed those in with my rubber spatula, and then added a lot of applewood-smoked salt. I let it sit for a few hours, then broke it apart and ate it.

Wow. REALLY good. I could have put even more bacon and salt in there, but the final product made me much, much happier than the store-bought bar.

Bacon makes everything better.

Butternut squash pizza

This was, hands-down, one of the best pizzas I've ever made.

I made two variations: one with roasted butternut squash, caramelized onions, and goat cheese. I covered a pizza crust with olive oil, added the onions (cooked down for about half an hour, with a bit of balsamic vinegar), added the roasted butternut squash on top, cut up into little squares, and spread around two big handfuls of goat cheese. This was my favorite of the two. My better half raved about it, and he's not one to rave about squash.

The second variation involved roasted butternut squash, caramelized onions, ricotta/parmesan/mozzarella (the standard pizza cheese trio; I'd used up all the goat cheese), lots of baby sage, and bacon.

The winning combo would of course be the first pizza, with bacon. The second one was pretty awesome, too, but I really really liked the goat cheese.

Proof positive that pizza can be a repository for all sorts of leftovers! Even butternut squash.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Linguine with clam sauce

This is another one of those great dishes that can be made entirely from what's already in your pantry.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
6 canned anchovy fillets, chopped, or the equivalent amount of anchovy paste
3 chopped garlic cloves
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 14.5 oz cans tomatoes
4 6.5 oz cans chopped clams
½ cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 lb linguine, cooked
Parmesan and fresh parsley

Heat oil, sauté onion for 3 minutes. Add anchovies, garlic and pepper, and sauté 2 minutes. Mix in tomatoes with juice, clams with juice, wine and tomato paste. Bring to boil, reduce to medium-low and simmer at least five minutes; more if you want a slightly thicker sauce. Add linguine, toss to coast. Sprinkle with parm and parsley, serve.

For white clam sauce, leave out tomatoes.

Don't be offended by using anchovies--they add a wonderful depth of flavor (umami) and are a secret ingredient of cooks everywhere.

Cost: a tin of anchovies is about $1.50, 2 cans of tomatoes are 57 cents each if you buy them in bulk, canned clams usually run about $1.50 or so each (you can cut back to three cans if you want), and a box of linguine is probably another $1.50 (less if you buy in bulk, and you can substitute spaghetti). The rest you should already have on hand, let's say another $1 for the rest. That's roughly $11 total, maybe a little less, and this will easily feed 6 adults as a main course, for a total of $1.83 (or less) per serving.

It's also one of those dishes you can throw together at the last minute for guests, and it tastes like you spent all day in the kitchen.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Corn and bacon chowder

½ lb bacon, coarsely chopped, grease saved
2 potatoes, diced
1 cup chopped onion
¾ cup chopped celery
2 bay leaves
2 cups milk
1 box frozen corn
1 14 ¾ oz can creamed corn
1 ¼ cups broth
½ cup chopped celery leaves
hot pepper sauce to taste

Cook bacon in large heavy soup pot and remove with slotted spoon. Into same pan with bacon drippings, add potatoes, onion, celery and bay leaves, and sauté 5 minutes until vegetables are tender. Add milk, corn, creamed corn, and broth, bring to boil and reduce to medium-low. Cover and simmer, 15 minutes. Add rest, including bacon, simmer 5 minutes. Serve.

Cost: a box of corn runs about $1, another $1 for the can of creamed corn, say $2 for a half-pound of bacon and $2 for everything else. $6 total, and this will feed 6-8 as a main course or 2 adults for 3-4 meals. That's $1 or less per serving.


This is a great way to use up stale bread.

3 tablespoons olive oil
4 thick slices pancetta or bacon, chopped
4-6 chopped garlic cloves
Fresh rosemary
1 chopped onion
2 diced carrots
1 medium zucchini, diced
½ cup dry red wine
1 15oz can tomatoes
6 cups beef stock
½ lb chopped or torn stale bread
2 15oz cans cannellini or small white beans
4 cups chopped kale or chard
½ cup parmesan

Heat oil in soup pot, cook bacon. Add rosemary, garlic, onion, carrots and zucchini, sauce 7-8 min. Add wine and deglaze the pot. Stir in tomatoes and stock. When soup boils, reduce to simmer and stir in beans and bread. Pile greens into pot, wilt them into the soup. Simmer 5-10 minutes until it thickens to a very dense stew-like consistency. Serve with parmesan. 

Cost: If you make the stock yourself, and already have the bread on hand...say $3 for the canned ingredients, $2 for the greens and zucchini, and maybe $2 for everything else. Around $7 total, and this will feed at least 8. Less than $1 per serving!


Friday, December 11, 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Chocolate mousse

Mmmm...chocolate mousse. For my money, a much more satisfying (and crowd-pleasing) dessert than cookies and brownies. Two can share a ramekin, this stuff is rich.

3 oz best-quality bittersweet chocolate
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons soft unsalted butter
3 large eggs, separated
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons confectionary sugar, sifted

Combine chocolate and water in large heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. When the chocolate is melted, whisk it until smooth, then add the butter, continuing to whisk until the mixture is a silky cream with no lumps. Remove from the heat and whisk in egg yolks one at a time. Whisk the egg whites with the salt until they are white and foamy and hold soft peaks. Continuing to whisk vigorously, sprinkle in confectionary sugar until the whites hold stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, and turn into a bowl or individual ramekins. Refrigerate at least two hours.

Cost: depends on the quality of the chocolate, the other ingredients will set you back less than a dollar. I recommend splurging for Scharffen Berger. Just think: for a few dollars, you can have 6-8 ramekins of restaurant-quality chocolate mousse. Mmmm...chocolate mousse...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


12 oz (1 bag) semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup butter cut in pieces
3 eggs
1 ¼ cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon baking soda

Melt 1 cup chocolate chips and butter in pan over lowest heat until smooth (this will take a few minutes). Remove from heat, add eggs. Stir in dry ingredients and vanilla slowly. Add remaining chips, spread into greased 13x9 pan. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes.

Don't be fooled into making brownies from a $1.99 box of brownie mix. Those are usually dry and taste like chemicals. Homemade brownies will be moist, super-chocolately, and best of all, will actually taste like chocolate. For an added bonus, try substituting bourbon for the vanilla--the brownies won't taste like bourbon, but the bourbon will highlight the chocolate and make them taste even more chocolatey.

Pumpkin pie

Mmmmm...pumpkin pie. No holiday would be complete without it. Real pumpkin pie--that is, made from a real pumpkin, and not from a can of pumpkin pie filling--is a revelation. It's a completely different color, flavor and texture than the canned stuff. It's very light, very creamy and almost custardy, and tastes like pumpkin, not like pumpkin pie filling. I will admit making the puree is a bit of a hassle, but the final result is well worth it. You can make the puree any time of year you can find sugar pumpkins (the little ones, not the big jack o'lantern ones), and you can use the puree for pies, muffins, breads, pancakes, curries, soups, you name it. Freeze it and it keeps very well.

To make the puree, take a whole sugar pumpkin (or two, or three, or four). Cut into manageable pieces and remove the insides. Steam the pieces until tender all the way through—this will take a while—and let cool. Scrape the flesh from the rind into a food processor and discard rind. Puree. Freeze or make pie.

3 cups puree
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoon each salt, nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger
3 large lightly beaten eggs
1 cup heavy cream

Combine, pour into two pie shells. Bake at 425 for 15 minutes, then at 350 for 30-40 minutes. Serve with fresh whipped cream.

Squash muffins

Sounds gross, I know. But these are actually very tasty, and a great way to use up squash.

2 cups cooked mashed yellow squash
1 cup sugar
2 sticks butter, melted
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

Mix, spoon into muffin tin, bake at 375 for 20 minutes.

I've made this with a little less than two full sticks of butter (not exactly healthy, I know, and the butter is the most expensive part of the dish) and they turned out fine.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Crab dip

OK, this isn't my recipe, it's my friend Bob's. It's always been a hit at parties. Thanks, Bob!

8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 6 oz can crabmeat
½ cup mayo
2 minced scallions
1 teaspoon Worchestershire
½ teaspoon Tabasco
¼ teaspoon chili powder

Mix all except chili powder in an ovenproof bowl. Sprinkle chili powder on top, bake 20 minutes at 400. Serve hot, with bread or crackers.

A can of crabmeat is about $3, and a block of cream cheese is about $1.50, maybe a little less. The rest you should have in your pantry. This goes a long way, so you can splurge on the good crackers.

Cranberry sauce

1 12 oz bag cranberries, picked over
½ cup honey
2-3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 3-inch cinnamon sticks
6 whole cloves
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¾ cup water

Combine in pan. Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, 5-10 min or until berries burst and the mixture has thickened. Let cool. May be made two days in advance, covered and chilled. Serve at room temperature.

The bag of cranberries will run you $2 or less this time of year, and the other ingredients you should already have in your pantry. It beats that canned stuff all to hell.

Bourbon corn pudding

3 eggs
1 1/8 cups evaporated milk
3 cups creamed corn
3 cups corn
3 tablespoons melted butter
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 3 tablespoons water
¾ teaspoon nutmeg
4 ½ tablespoons bourbon (well, technically, but you can add more)

Beat eggs and milk, add the rest, and pour into a buttered two-quart baking dish. 350 for 45 minutes.

Cost: 1 bag of frozen corn is about a dollar; you won't use quite all of that. Two cans of creamed corn (you won't use all of the second can, either) = around $2.50. 1 can evaporated milk is around a dollar. 3 eggs at 17 cents each, plus 50 cents for the rest, and hey, you already had the bourbon, right? About $5 for a great holiday side dish, will easily feed 8-10 depending on portion size.

Make your own hot chocolate mix

Packets of Swiss Miss just don't cut it when you can make your own.

1/3 c dry milk
1 t dry cocoa
1 t sugar
1 cup hot water

That's it. Feel free to use the really good cocoa powder. If you buy the powdered milk and cocoa powder in bulk, you're looking at a few cents per cup of hot chocolate. For that, you can afford to throw in some peppermint schnapps and real whipped cream.

Pound cake

Christmas is less than three weeks away, so I'll be posting holiday favorites. Today's is pound cake--dense, delicious, can be eaten plain or with any number of toppings/sauces.

3 sticks melted butter
2 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
3 cups flour
8 eggs

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, beat until light and fluffy. Add flour ½ cup at a time while beating, add vanilla. Flour and grease bundt pan, pour in batter. Tap lightly to release air bubbles. Bake at 350 until done (when toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean).

With three sticks of butter and eight eggs, it's a heart attack on a plate, I know. But hey, it's the holidays. It's not like you're not gonna eat the pound cake.

Cost: 8 eggs x 17 cents each = $1.36, 3 sticks of butter = $3 (and that's REAL butter, not margarine), say 50 cents for the flour, sugar and vanilla. Just under $5 for the whole thing. As dense and rich as this is, that's a lot of pound cake.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Butternut squash ravioli with pomegranate sauce

On a whim, I decided to get all gourmet and stuff yesterday and this was the result. Inspired, if I do say so myself. I'm going to have to do more experimentation with exotic fruits, they're super-cheap out here.

So, first: the pomegranate sauce. The best way to de-seed a pomegranate is in a bowl of water--the seeds float to the bottom, the membrane floats to the top, nothing gets stained. I de-seeded two big poms and pureed them in the food processor, then squeezed the remains through cheesecloth to get 2-3 cups of pom juice. Then I added about a cup and a half of brown sugar and a couple tablespoons of black pepper to that, and cooked it down over low heat for about an hour until it reduced by at least half.

The ravioli filling: I roasted two big butternut squash at 375 for about an hour; cut them in half, de-seed them, then place in a roasting dish with a little oil cut-side up. Coat the exposed side with a little oil, cover the whole thing with foil. When done, let cool, then scrape out the insides and add ricotta cheese, a little curry powder, and a little grated parmesan.

The ravioli themselves: for the dough, add 5 to 6 eggs to three and a half cups of flour. You can mix it by hand or whiz in the food processor for 15-20 seconds. Knead until smooth and elastic, then divide into four pieces and let rest for half an hour. I rolled out the dough using my handy pasta roller KitchenAid attachment; but you can also do it by hand, with a rolling pin. When you've rolled out all the dough to the desired thickness, place a tablespoon of filling for each square, fold the other half of the dough sheet back over, and cut out the ravioli squares. Let rest again.

To assemble: place the ravioli in boiling water just until they float, then finish by sauteing in a little butter. Place 4-5 ravioli per plate, cover with pom sauce, and crumble a little goat cheese and chopped fresh parsley over the lot. Sprinkle with reserved pom seeds. Serve with a nice California zinfandel, light some candles, and have a gourmet restaurant experience right in your own living room. You can even make your boyfriend do the dishes for you, completing the gourmet restaurant experience.

It sounds like a lot of work, and really, it is a fair amount. It's not something you want to tackle unless you have the better part of an afternoon free. But it was so worth it. Every time I get about halfway through the fresh pasta-making procedure, I think, "Why am I doing this?" Then I eat it, and I remember why.

Butternut Squash on FoodistaButternut Squash

Friday, December 4, 2009

Potato soup

My friend Lauren has a bunch of mashed potatoes she needs to use up. One of my favorite uses of mashed potatoes is shepherd's pie (here's a good recipe from Rachael Ray). Yet another is this potato soup.

4 slices diced bacon
1 cup chopped onion
2 stalks celery, sliced
Several large potatoes, peeled and cubed
Chicken broth to cover
2 cups milk
¼ cup chopped parsley
Salt and pepper
4 oz gorgonzola or other blue cheese

In large soup pot, cook bacon until crisp. Remove with slotted spoon, add onion and celery to bacon grease and cook until soft. Add potatoes and stock just to cover and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium-low and simmer, covered, 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Puree part of soup with stick blender, add milk and parsley, season, and heat through, about 4 minutes. Stir in bacon and cheese, serve.

To make this with mashed potatoes, just add a little more broth or milk and cook for less time, just until the mashed potatoes are heated through. Obviously you can skip the pureeing step. When the soup is the consistency/temperature you want, add the cheese and eat. Don't skimp on the gorgonzola, either--that's the best part! Well, that and the bacon.

Cost: well, if you already have the mashed potatoes...maybe $1 for the milk, $2 for the cheese (depending on the quality/how much you use), and $1 for everything else. $4 for a whole pot of yummy potato soup...mine usually feeds two adults as a main course for at least three or four separate meals.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Onion tart

And yet another use for puff pastry.

1 sheet puff pastry
4 very large onions, diced
1 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons (maybe a little more) heavy cream
¼ lb bacon, diced

Put a dinner plate over the slightly thawed puff pastry, and cut around it to form a circle. Place on a baking sheet and prick all over with a fork. Put onions and broth in pan, cook over low until the onions are very soft, about 30 minutes. Drain and let cool. When cooled, add heavy cream and salt and pepper. Cook bacon for just 2 minutes (the bacon will not be done). Remove and drain. Pile onions on top of pastry, scatter bacon pieces over, pushing them down into the onions. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes, serve immediately.

This is a great winter side dish, and doesn't taste onion-y at all. Roasted garlic tastes completely different from fresh garlic--very mellow and almost sweet. This is the same sort of difference--this tastes mellow and almost sweet, with a nice hint of bacon, not like raw onion at all.

Cost: $2.50 for a sheet of puff pastry, maybe 50 cents for the onion, let's say $1 for the bacon. I make my own broth, so that costs nothing. $4 for a great side dish for 6 to 8.

Goat cheese pastries

Here's something to do with that other sheet of puff pastry (leftover after you made the swiss chard tart). This is a quick and easy appetizer that tastes amazing and never fails to please guests. Oh, and plus? Only four ingredients.

1 T olive oil
2-3 large red onions, sliced
1-2 sheets puff pastry dough
1 cup goat cheese

Sauté the onions in olive oil over gentle heat 10 minutes or so, until very soft. Remove, let cool. Let the pastry sheet(s) thaw slightly and unfold on a cookie sheet. Cut into 9 equal squares for each sheet, and gently score ¼ inch inch around each square. Divide the onions equally among the squares, and top with lots of goat cheese. Bake at 425 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Serve piping hot.

Cost: $2.50 for one sheet of puff pastry (a package of two is $4.99), plus maybe 50 cents for the onions and another couple of dollars for the goat cheese, depending on what kind it is and whether you bought it in bulk (and how much you use, of course--I love goat cheese, so I use quite a lot, way more than 1 cup). Maybe $5 total for a set of 9 substantial appetizers.

Swiss chard tart

I was talking to my mom last night and she mentioned that she needed a way to use up some swiss chard--her garden was overrun with it. I go through a bunch of winter greens (chard, kale, collards, and the like) nearly every week, and there are a ton of ways to utilize them. They're full of vitamins, very versatile, and keep for a long time in the fridge. You can add them to soups, to risottos, to pasta dishes, or simply saute them with a little garlic. This is another one of my favorite ways to use chard.

1 lb Swiss chard, stems removed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 minced garlic clove
1 15 oz container ricotta
½ cup parmesan
2 eggs
½ teaspoon each salt, pepper, thyme, oregano
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 sheet puff pastry

Cook chard in large pot of boiling water until just wilted, about two minutes. Drain and squeeze out liquid. Chop. Sauté garlic in oil for  one minute and add chard. Sauté until excess liquid evaporates, about 5 minutes. Transfer to large bowl, and let cool slightly. Add the rest except puff pastry and mix. Place the sheet of (slightly thawed) puff pastry on the bottom of a pie pan, and trim edges to 1-inch overhang. Fill with chard mixture, fold overhang back over the sides of the pie. Bake at 375 45 minutes, then let cool for 10 minutes.

You can also make this with a second sheet of puff pastry on top, like a pie.

Cost: chard runs about $2 a bunch this time of year (unless you're my mom, and have it in the garden in spades). A container of ricotta will run about $4, and one box of puff pastry (with two sheets) is $4.99, of which you'll need one sheet. $8.50 for the base ingredients, another 75 cents for the eggs, parmesan and spices. $9.25 total for a nice side dish for four, or a main course for two.


Fried tofu

I was having a craving for something fried last night, and I had a block of tofu in the fridge, so Lo! Fried tofu.

This is very easy and quick to make, and healthier than it sounds. I paired it with some Thai peanut sauce I already had. The key is to press all the moisture out of the tofu, since water + fry = mess. Sandwich it between two sets of paper towels and put a big heavy skillet, or any big heavy thing, on top. Change the paper towels as needed, until the tofu is no longer weeping moisture. (If you start with a block of firm or extra-firm tofu, this doesn't take long at all.) Then cut in half lengthwise, and cut each half into approximately five blocks. Meanwhile, start 1 cup or so of vegetable oil in a skillet (preferably cast-iron). When the oil is hot, lightly dip each side of each block of tofu into some cornstarch. Fry for a few minutes on each side. Serve piping hot.

Cost: a block of tofu is about $2, the cost of the cornstarch was negligible, and let's say the cost of the oil was 25 cents. $2.25 total for a great appetizer for two or meal for one, and it takes just minutes to prepare. An order of fried tofu at the local Chinese place runs $4.99, and you get less tofu.

A lot of people needlessly diss tofu, thinking it will taste like something vegan hippies eat. Au contraire--tofu merely takes on the flavors of its surroundings. It has very little flavor of its own, meaning you can add it to almost anything for a great cheap source of protein. Fried tofu tastes mostly like fried, with a nice creamy center. And let's face it--this dish was really just a delivery system for the sauce, anyway.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Peanut butter fudge

A childhood classic.

1 stick melted butter
1 box confectionery sugar
2/3 cup cocoa
1 cup peanut butter (creamy)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix, press into pan.

That's it. You can let it cool if you want, but I usually just took a spoon and dug in.

Cost: around $1 each for the butter and box of confectioner's sugar, add another 75 cents for the other ingredients. $2.75 total, and this will fill a standard 8 x 8 casserole dish. That's...several days' worth of fudge. This stuff is good, but rich.

Oatmeal cookies


I'm having a craving for sugar today, which is fairly rare (usually my cravings involve salt, or possibly a strong cocktail). So I'll be posting quick and easy cookie recipes.

For years my cookies always came out a little burnt on the bottom, and I could never figure out why. Then I realized it was due to a) crappy baking sheets, and b) an oven that heated irregularly. You can't do much about b), but a) is easy to fix. If you consistently have problems with your cookies being overdone, try these steps:

1. Dial the oven back by 10-25 degrees from what the recipe tells you. (If it says 350, try somewhere between 325 and 350.)

2. Get better cookie sheets (stoneware is awesome). Or you can try putting parchment paper over your current cookie sheets; this usually prevents over-browning.

3. Keep a careful eye on the cookies, and take them out just before you think  they'll be done. They'll continue to cook a little once you take them out of the oven. I usually take them out about a minute before the required time (if the recipes says cook 8-10 minutes, I'll take them out at 7 minutes).

4. Take them off the cookie sheet immediately upon removing them from the oven. Let them cool on parchment paper or a cut-open brown paper grocery bag.

So, for yummy-good oatmeal cookies:

½ cups sugar
½ c packed brown sugar
¼ c butter
¼ c shortening
½ teaspoon each baking soda, cinnamon, vanilla
¼ teaspoon each baking powder, salt
1 egg
1 ½ c quick cooking oats
1 c flour

Mix all except flour and oats. Stir in flour and oats. Drop dough by spoonfuls on ungreased sheet, and cook at 375 for 10 minutes. Remove immediately from sheet.

This usually makes 10-12 big cookies, and since I have all the ingredients in bulk, I'm guessing the whole batch doesn't cost more than maybe 30 or 40 cents. It takes two minutes to mix, literally, another 10 to cook...a quick and easy dessert, or a quick and easy fix to late-night sugar cravings. And hey, there's oatmeal in there, right? Oatmeal is good for you. Therefore, these are healthy.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.