Saturday, January 30, 2010

My mama's biscuits

The best, and easiest, biscuits ever.

2 cups White Lily self-rising flour, 2 cups heavy cream.

Yep, that's it. The secret is the White Lily self-rising flour--you will NOT get the same results with any other brand of self-rising flour. White Lily is made from soft winter wheat, giving it a different gluten structure than other sorts of flour. It's not great for yeast breads, but for biscuits, cakes, pancakes, etc., Southern cooks have prized it for years. The downside is that it's difficult to find outside the South--so if you can find it, grab two or three bags and make some biscuits.

Mix the above two ingredients until just blended, being careful not to overwork the dough. Cut into rounds and bake 10-12 minutes at 425. That's it. It takes less time than opening and cooking a can of pre-made biscuits, and these taste so, so much better.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Quinoa with corn, cilantro and tomatoes

In addition to being cheap and gluten-free, quinoa is also a complete protein. Grain-like, it comes in three colors--regular, red and black. The red and black taste a little nuttier than the regular, but the regular is most easily found, so don't worry too much about the color.

To cook it, just add a cup of quinoa to about a cup and a half of water or broth. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until the little curly grain inside the beads of quinoa is revealed. That means it's done. You can do pretty much anything you want at this point--adding frozen corn, chopped cilantro, and some halved cherry tomatoes is quite lovely, but you can also add frozen peas, edamame, walnuts or pecan, dried cranberries, olives, whatever. Go nuts. It's filling and very good for you.

One cup of quinoa plus additional veggies will feed 3-4 as a side dish or 2 adults as a main dish.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Cheese grits

I didn't like grits growing up. To me, they tasted too plain and mushy, like Cream of Wheat.

Then I had cheese grits.

Now, of course, I understand that plain grits are just that--plain. They are a base. Add cheese and you have cheese grits. Add shrimp and a sauce and you have shrimp and grits. Bake them and you have baked grits. And so on. Cheese grits, while not exactly healthy, are wonderful--and also very filling. Serve them at any meal, with sausages, barbecue chicken or quail, shrimp, tasso, salad, oh hell, just about anything.

If you're using instant or quick grits--which I do NOT recommend--just add grated or diced cheese and stir until it's melted. If you're using real grits, warm four cups of milk (preferably whole milk) until hot but not boiling. Add one cup of grits, stir, and cover. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for 15 or so minutes, whisking occasionally. When the pot resembles a thick soupy mass, add the cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. I've used sharp cheddar, goat cheese, parmesan, blue cheese, smoked mozzarella, smoked gouda, and any combination of the above. This is a great way to use up a lot of little bits of different kinds of cheese.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Pesto is one of the world's great all-time sauces. I make batches of it in the summer, when basil is plentiful, and freeze it for the winter. (Yes, it freezes beautifully.) It's not just a pasta sauce--you can also add it to soups, or use it on pizza instead of tomato sauce.

2 cloves chopped garlic
2 c basil leaves
1/3 c pine nuts
1/2 c olive oil
3/4 c Parmesan
Blend basil, garlic, salt and nuts in mixer. At high speed, add oil slowly. Blend to smooth paste. Transfer to bowl, add Parmesan.

(Note: the recipe calls for adding the parm at the end, but I always threw it into the food processor with everything else and never noticed a difference between the two.)

Note, also, that I tend to go light on the olive oil when I'm going to freeze the batch. When you thaw it for use, it will resemble a brick of green sludge, but here's where you add the olive oil back in to reconstitute it into a sauce-like consistency.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Chocolate chip cookies

1 cup soft butter
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ¼ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 pkg. semisweet chocolate chips

Beat butter, sugars, eggs and vanilla until fluffy. Add dry ingredients, mix. Add chips. Drop 2 inches apart on ungreased sheet, bake at 375 for 10 minutes.

I also like to add 1 cup chocolate chips with 1 cup dried cranberries and 1 cup walnuts or pecans.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Menu planning

One of the key steps to eating frugally is menu planning. "I don't have time to sleep," I hear you saying. "How am I supposed to plan a menu?"

It's not complicated, I promise.
Step 1: Look in your refrigerator. What's there already? What needs to be used up? What's about to go bad? Are there leftovers?
Step 2: Look in your cabinets/pantry. What's there? I find I can go weeks at a time without buying groceries, as long as I have a fully stocked pantry. Beans, rice, pasta, these are all pantry staples that can provide an endless variety of meals.
Step 3: If you really do have to buy groceries, gather up all the flyers. What's on sale this week? Start there. Try not to buy anything that's not on sale if you can help it. If zucchini is on sale this week, buy some and plan to use it in a meal. If ground beef is on sale, buy a lot and freeze some. And so on.

So, for example, yesterday I created this particular menu for the week. It took about five minutes total, and that includes the time to find the particular recipes I wanted. I've already done all my grocery shopping for the next few weeks, so it was just a matter of apportioning resources.

Breakfasts and lunches for two people: Mostly already done. Leftover lasagna and white bean-chicken chili. Two heads of lettuce = plenty of salads. Had some oranges and yogurt that needed to be eaten up; I sliced up all the oranges and had the yogurt for breakfast this morning. Tonight I'll put some oatmeal in the crockpot and that will provide breakfast for the rest of the week, reheated at work.

Dinner tonight: A crockpot Indian dish with chickpeas, lentils, canned tomatoes, and harissa. Last night I took out a handful of dried chickpeas to soak.
Dinner Tuesday: Crockpot chicken vindaloo. Took out some frozen chicken thighs this morning to thaw.
Dinner Wednesday: Crockpot French onion soup with cheese and croutons. Croutons are already made; there's plenty of cheese.
Dinner Thursday: Use up the last of the lettuce for a salad; there's some boudin (Cajun sausage) in the fridge that needs to be used up, so I'll have that, the salad, and maybe some cheese grits.
Dinner Friday: Quinoa with corn, cilantro and tomatoes. I'll use up the cilantro, the last of the cherry tomatoes, and some frozen corn. If I need the protein, I can add some frozen edamame.

So that's the workweek taken care of. There's also still plenty of cheese and charcuterie in the fridge. For next week, I'll tackle the greenery still left at that point: kale, broccoli, carrots, and fresh peas. Those will easily keep until next week.

The weekend gets a little trickier because there will be a picky child involved; but I foresee elk burgers (I have some ground elk in the freezer) with home fries; mac and cheese, because by then there will be lots of leftover bits of stinky cheese that will need to be used up; and biscuits and gravy for breakfast, because the milk will need to be used up. On Thursday I'll need to take the elk and the breakfast sausage out of the freezer to thaw, and I've already made a note of that on my dayplanner. In fact, I wrote down all the dinners on my dayplanner once they'd been decided.

Next weekend I'll stick my head back in the fridge/pantry and start the process over again. Repeat until you run out of food.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Lasagna variations

I tried something a little different with my lasagna recipe last night. I used spicy Italian sausage in the sauce, instead of ground beef and ground pork. I think I actually like that better, although it is pretty spicy. I may use half spicy and half sweet sausage next time. I was out of both ground beef and pork.

I also realized that a) I had less ricotta than I would normally use, and b) I was going to need something to counterbalance the spicy sauce. So I added a lot more mozzarella and parmesan than usual, and I also added lots of dandelion greens between the layers. Dandelion greens are a little bitter, like arugula, and are very good for you. Spinach would have worked here, too, but I only had frozen spinach and it wasn't thawed.

Overall it was a much more flavorful lasagna. Which is not to say that the original recipe isn't very good, as well, but I really liked the interplay between the spicy sauce and the greens.

So it just goes to show you--sometimes it's more exciting to use what you have, instead of strictly following a recipe. Viva la experimentation!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Roasted marrow bones

A leap into the world of adventurous food! Roasted marrow bones are not for everyone, I know. But for the courageous eater, they're oh-so-good. They also add a seriously gourmet touch to any meal, for not very much money. Best of all, they're easy to cook.

A caveat here--this dish is RICH. Be sure to eat something that's the opposite of rich with it--say, a big green salad made up of bitter greens (arugula, watercress, parsley) with a splash of lemon. Someone's thinking, "But you're eating so much fat!" True, but it's the good kind, the kind that lowers bad cholesterol.

I got a big bag of beef marrow bones from the butcher for about $6, which ended up being about 70 cents each. Put them in an oven-proof dish and roast at 350 for 15-20 minutes. You want the marrow to be soft but not liquified. (There will be a little liquified fat in the bottom of the pan. Save that for future cooking endeavors.) When they're done, scoop out the marrow with a fork and spread on toast. While the marrow is cooking, make a salad of chopped parsley, a small diced shallot, some capers, and a healthy squeeze of lemon. Serve that over the marrow toast, with another healthy pinch of sea salt. The pop of the parsley and capers and lemon pairs very nicely with the richness of the marrow.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Cheese for dinner

No recipes today, folks, sorry--last night I had cheese for dinner. I spread $78 worth of gourmet cheese in front of me, got out the charcuterie and the cornichons, and dug in.

Now, you are probably thinking, "You were just telling us how to make soup for 25 cents a serving, what are you doing with $78 of gourmet cheese?" To which I reply, "That's WHY I eat soup at 25 cents a serving." I have to subsidize the cheese somehow. Sometimes you just gotta eat $30 worth of cheese for dinner, you know?

I highly recommend it, incidentally. Should you be tempted to try this on your own, be sure to go to a good cheese shop. (NOT the cheese counter at your local gourmet grocery store--if it comes already wrapped in plastic, you don't want it. You want a guy who will let you taste the interesting cheeses first, then carve off 1/4 lb at a time from a big wedge and wrap it in blue wax paper.) Try some new and different cheeses. Generally, the stinkier the cheese, the creamier and deeper the taste. Which is contrary to popular opinion, I know, but don't let the smell throw you. The stinkiest ones are the best.

Highlights from last night included Grayson (from Galax, VA!), a nice tellegio, epoisses (pronounced eh-pwoss, one of my favorites--it comes in a little wooden tin and is not only stinky but stanky), a drunken goat cheese (meaning the rind was washed in wine), Humboldt Fog goat, and a few others, including one with truffles in it. To have cheese for dinner, open them all up and spread them in front of you. Get out a salami or two, and a dish of little French pickles (the cornichons). That way, you're eating something green, you can pretend it's healthy. Crack open a good bottle of red wine. Get a good knife. If you must, Carr's crackers are best for cheese. But I usually just eat the cheese off the knife. Why waste valuable stomach real estate on crackers, with all that good cheese?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

White bean and chicken chili

My crockpot is one of the kitchen appliances in heavy rotation. It gets almost as much use as my Kitchenaid. Granted, it got a lot more use when I lived in a colder climate--there's something so satisfying about a hot bowl of soup waiting for you as you come in from some nasty weather. Coming inside from 75 and sunny to a hot bowl of soup isn't quite the same. But the weather here has been especially gross this week--lots of wind, lots of rain, and so I deem it to be crockpot/soup weather.

The advantage to the crockpot, obviously, is that you can throw a bunch of crap in there before you go to work, turn it on, and have something yummy and hot waiting for you when you get home. Since I had a bunch of leftover chicken, I decided to go with a white bean and chicken chili. Admittedly, I cheated a bit and threw in a package of southwestern chili spices that I picked up in Santa Fe this summer. But you can do it without the package of spices. Just add a small chopped onion and a few chopped cloves of garlic, a couple handfuls of leftover chopped chicken, and three or so cans of white beans (or the equivalent). Add appropriate spices--cumin, cayenne pepper, chili powder, red chili flakes, etc. You can add chopped jalapenos if you like it spicy. Add chicken broth to the top of the pile of stuff, stir, and turn on low for 8 hours or high for four hours. Serve with shredded monterey jack and sour cream.

Cost: if you use dried beans (like I did; just be sure to soak them beforehand), this will cost you less than a couple of bucks for the whole crockpot full of soup, which will get you at least 6-8 full size servings. I used the chicken from a whole roasted chicken ($1.99/lb, not $6.99/lb for boneless skinless chicken breast or some such nonsense), and the broth from the carcass of the whole roasted chicken, so even with the cheese and the sour cream, it's still less than $2 for the batch. That's...what, maybe 25 cents per serving?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Barbecue chicken pizza

After making a batch of barbecue sauce this weekend, I decided I wanted to use some. I also had some leftover chicken, so this dovetailed nicely.

It's just a simple white pizza (use the pizza crust recipe; add a little olive oil to the pizza, plus a layer of ricotta cheese) with two handfuls of the leftover chopped cooked chicken, a handful of grated parmesan, and a lot of barbecue sauce. Cook at 450 for 20 minutes or so. Let cool enough to eat. Add more barbecue sauce if necessary.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Carl Sagan's apple pie recipe

Here's a link to Carl Sagan's apple pie recipe, from one of my favorite food blogs,

Chard stuffed with risotto

I found this to be a bit labor-intensive, made entirely from scratch--but if you have some leftover risotto, this is a great thing to do with it.

However, the real take-away on this recipe is the risotto itself. More on that in a moment.

To make the stuffed chard, take six or eight big leaves and poach them for a few seconds in broth. Place a ball of risotto, and maybe a chunk of cheese, in the middle of each one and wrap the leaf around the ball. Pack tightly in a casserole dish and pour a little broth in the bottom. Bake at 375 for about 15 minutes.

But the risotto recipe was actually more useful. It included saffron dissolved in lemon juice, and made what would have been a plain risotto a very light, summery, citrusy risotto.

Take a small chopped onion and saute in olive oil or butter until translucent over medium heat. Add one cup of arborio rice and cook for another minute. Add broth (chicken or vegetable) a little at a time, stirring almost constantly, until the rice is done (20 minutes or so). Dissolve a pinch of saffron (or turmeric if you don't have saffron) into the juice of one lemon and add that to the rice, along with a handful of grated parmesan, a couple tablespoons of butter, and salt and pepper to taste. At this point you should have a creamy mass. Eat.

While arborio rice is more expensive than the other kinds, risotto is one of those dishes that can be whipped up in under half an hour and makes a wonderfully decadent, rich dinner for very little money. And you can incorporate whatever leftovers you have--greens, herbs, cheese, tomatoes, chicken, seafood, frozen peas, roasted squash or pumpkin, the list goes on and on. Use the above recipe as a basis (perhaps without the lemon juice) and throw in whatever else you've got. One cup of arborio rice plus additions usually equals at least three adult servings as a full meal.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Spinach-artichoke dip

This is the link to the spinach-artichoke dip from one of my favorite food bloggers,

Note: I think I'll make this with gruyere instead of parmesan/mozzarella, and I'll add some chili powder and cayenne pepper.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A dinner to celebrate

To celebrate our engagement, I whipped up a romantic dinner for two: grass-fed flank steak, glazed carrots, and potatoes fried in duck fat and truffle oil. With a bottle of '99 Heitz Zinfandel. Not a cheap dinner by any stretch of the imagination--but I put it together for a third of what we would have paid in a restaurant, and we got to eat it in our pajamas.

After a particularly gruesome duel bout of food poisoning caused by cheap ground beef, I've vowed never again to eat cheap ground beef. Meaning: I don't know where it comes from. Most ground beef is cobbled together from different animals, sometimes even different factories. Add to that the fact that most beef is soaked in bleach--yes, bleach--to kill the germs, and that still doesn't kill them all. So I've switched to grass-fed beef. True grass-fed beef (meaning it was raised entirely on grass, not just during its last days--that's "grass-finished beef") has two-thirds less saturated fat than corn-fed beef and 85% less E. coli. Plus it tastes a whole lot better. It's leaner, juicier, and actually tastes like beef should. The downside is that it's expensive--the one flank steak cost me $22. But you know what? I'd rather eat that beef once in a while than the cheap crap all the time.

The other benefit is that you don't need to do anything to it. Just bring it up to room temperature, broil it a couple of minutes on each side, let sit about 15 minutes, and serve. That's it. I put a little salt on it, but you don' t need sauce or seasonings or even a grill. Slice along the grain and serve. The taste speaks for itself.

The glazed carrots were super easy--I peeled them, then started a sauce of a couple tablespoons of butter, Grand Marnier and beef broth with a pinch of sugar. I added the carrots and let everything cook down until the sauce was a nice syrupy glaze. The potatoes are the best potatoes ever. Slice and boil for a minute, then finish by frying in duck fat and truffle oil. Serve with a good salt. We drank martinis while we cooked, then popped open the good wine for dinner.

Granted, even with the flank steak being $22, the whole meal cost less than $25. Duck fat and truffle oil are a little expensive at first, but they last a while. You don't need much for the potatoes. Bacon fat would work, too, if you can't find duck fat. The wine was a different story, that shot the total cost of the meal into triple digits. But hey--what's the point of having good wine if you don't drink it?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Red beans and rice

Another Southern classic; cheap, versatile, filling.

There are a number of different ways to make this. The variation I made last night is in no way authentic; it involved chorizo, tomatoes and brown rice instead of white. But the great thing about red beans and rice is that you can make it in a bunch of different ways, depending on what you have in your pantry.

I use dried red beans (soak overnight, then cook all day on low in a crockpot; THEN cook in this dish. That eliminates all the side effects of beans. You can use canned beans, but then you still get the side effects and the texture is a lot mushier.). Start with some sort of meat; I've used chorizo, Italian sausage, andouille sausage, ground beef, ground pork, country ham, prosciutto, ham hocks, and bacon. Use any of the above, or whatever you've got. You could also increase the amount of vegetables and liquid and make this a purely vegetarian dish. Cook the meat down a little and add onions, garlic and green peppers. Cook for a few minutes and add the beans. At this point I add a couple cans of tomatoes; but tomatoes aren't an authentic part of the dish, so you can eliminate those if you wish and add broth instead. Add seasonings--chili powder, cayenne pepper and cumin are good, but whatever--and start the rice. I used brown rice last night because that's what I had, but you can also use basmati or just plain old regular rice. Serve a big heaping mound of rice with lots of red bean mix on top.

Cost: dried beans, maybe 50 cents. Two links of chorizo, a little over a dollar. Tomatoes, a little over a dollar for two cans. Rice in bulk, everything else a pantry staple...less than three dollars total, for at least 6 and maybe 8 full servings. That's between 40 and 50 cents per serving, and you can whip this together in less than 20 minutes.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Butternut squash stuffed with sausage and apples

I know, I know, again with the butternut squash. Well, it's in season! The key to eating cheaply (one of them, anyway) is to eat what's in season/what's on sale.

There's a bit of cooking time on this one but very little actual effort. Take two butternut squash, split them down the middle and scoop out the seeds, and roast at 375 for about an hour or until done. You know they're done when you can put a fork through them. Meanwhile, cook up a couple links of Italian sausage, squeezed out, until browned. Add a large tart cored and chopped apple. Cook another minute and take off the heat. When the squash are done, let them cool a little, then scoop out most of the inside (leaving a nice layer intact) and add that to the sausage pan. Mix everything up well, and add a couple tablespoons of soft butter, a little brown sugar, a little sage, and some salt and pepper. Spoon that back into the hollowed-out squash, and dot the tops with a little more butter. Bake again for 25 minutes or so or till crispy on top.

I used two small squash, so two halves were a full meal for one person. With bigger squash, you could serve one half per person as a meal. Squash are cheap this time of year, and Italian sausage in bulk will run about six dollars for 18 links, or 33 cents each. Maybe $1.50 for the squash, another 70 cents for the sausage, 50 cents for the apple. Less than three dollars total for at least one full meal for two people, possibly for four.

Butternut Squash on FoodistaButternut Squash

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Chorizo-tomato soup with poached egg

This is an adaptation of a recipe from Rachael Ray. Her recipe has more exact amounts; I played fast and loose with the measurements. It was still really good, though.

I took two big chorizo sausages, squeezed the meat out, and cooked that with a little olive oil in a big stockpot for a couple minutes. Then I added a big chopped onion and some garlic, a couple ribs of chopped celery, some chopped carrots, and a small handful of Italian seasoning. I let that cook for a couple more minutes, then added three cans of diced tomatoes, with the juice, and most of a jar of chicken broth. Add salt and pepper, cover, let cook on low for 15-20 minutes.

While that was happening, I carefully poached four eggs. Bring a pan of water just to a good bubble (don't let it boil; you just want to see the bubbles forming at the bottom and sides of the pan) and add a couple tablespoons of white vinegar. Carefully crack the egg in (one at a time) close to the surface of the water. Let cook for a minute or two, depending on how cooked you want it. Make sure it doesn't boil.

Then I chopped a handful of fresh parsley and zested some lemon and lime over that. When the soup was done, I put a big handful of homemade croutons in the bottom of bowl, added the soup, then put a poached egg and some parsley mix on top. YUM. You could certainly eat the soup by itself, but the combination of textures and elements was really nice.

Cost: I got the chorizo in bulk at Sam's, and used two out of six. Everything else I consider a basic pantry ingredient. I'd estimate the total cost around $4 for the batch. 17 cents each for the eggs, 57 cents each for the cans of tomatoes, the croutons and chicken broth were homemade, a few dollars for the whole package of chorizo... comes out to 4-5 full servings. About a dollar, or less, per bowl.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Warm bacon viniagrette

For extra win, I used the wild boar bacon.

The salad was just tatsoi (an Asian green that looks like small leaves of spinach, but is more peppery, like watercress) and croutons, with a little parmesan cheese on top. I fried a few slices of bacon and added those to the salad. For the viniagrette, I whisked together 1/4 cup of cider vinegar plus a generous squeeze of Dijon mustard, with a pinch of sugar and garlic powder, and salt and pepper to taste. I whisked that into the warm bacon grease in the skillet (about two tablespoons worth), then poured that over the salad.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Coming up

Sorry guys! I don't have any new interesting recipes to share today--most of my weekend was spent (figuratively) head-butting a particularly picky child, who actually refused to eat anything for a 24-hour period after being served an enchilada containing beans. Oh, the horror. He eventually caved and ate 10 peanut butter crackers. Without a knife. I did sneak in the wheat crackers, at least.

I made a pilgrimage to Homegrown Meats in La Jolla, which specializes in organic, free-range, completely grass-fed beef. Expensive but oh so tasty, and no worries about nasty E. coli. I purchased a lovely flank steak, which I plan to sear just long enough to brown the outside, and which I will serve at some point later this week with a very nice bottle of Stag's Leap cab, to celebrate my recent engagement. Possibly I will also serve the world's greatest potatoes, which involves frying them in duck fat and truffle oil. They also had wild boar bacon, which is making me salivate just thinking about it. (Picky child: "I only like regular bacon! From a pig!" Me: "Wild boar IS pig." Pause. Child considers this. Picky child: "I only like regular bacon!")

Other culinary adventures on tap for this week: swiss chard stuffed with mozzarella and ricotta. Butternut squash stuffed with sausage and apples. Chorizo-tomato soup. And in honor of the waffle iron I got for Christmas, I'm planning a variation on an old Southern classic, chicken and waffles. Only: barbecued chicken, with caramelized-onion-and-jalapeno waffles.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Butternut squash, potato and mushroom au gratin

I know I know, enough with the butternut squash, already! Well, it's good. And there always seems to be one somewhere in my kitchen that needs to be used up.

The key to this is to slice everything very thinly. Peel, seed and slice a butternut squash and a few potatoes. Dice a shallot, and saute that in a pan with a little olive oil. To that add some sliced mushrooms (any kind). Mix together two eggs and half a pound of goat cheese until creamy. Then layer potatoes, squash, goat cheese mix, and sauteed mushrooms, in that order. Repeat until you run out of stuff, or room in the casserole pan. Then pour heavy cream over the lot until it rises to the top of the pan. Bake at 350 until done. The original recipe called for 50 minutes, but that turned out not to be nearly enough time. I'd say at least 90 minutes, maybe more, depending on how thick the slices of potato and squash ended up being. When you can put a fork all the way the lot, it's done. Remove from the oven and let cool before slicing, so the gratin can congeal.

The most expensive thing in here is the half-pound of goat cheese (maybe the cream). Maybe three dollars' worth of ingredients total in this thing? Especially if you buy it all in bulk, like I do. There were at least 12 servings in mine.

Butternut Squash on FoodistaButternut Squash

Friday, January 8, 2010

Jenn's spinach soup

Courtesy of my friend Jenn, who doesn't use measurements in her cooking either.

1 bag frozen chopped leaf spinach
I bag sweet corn
lots of garlic, some onion, salt and pepper, mustard powder
chicken boullion
olive oil
Throw all of that into a pot with 4-6 cups water. Bring to a simmer. Take butter and flour, make a roux, add in half and half (1 quart) and make a white sauce. Add in grated parmesan or monterey jack, at least 3 cups of cheese or more. Once all melted, fold into spinach. Bring up to a simmer and then serve.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Pig and accoutrements

This isn't a recipe entry per se, just some thoughts on the wedding menu.

The plan, as always, is to have a full pig roast. I found a restaurant that will roast an entire pig for me, big enough to feed 75 people (though I don't think we'll have that many), and if I go pick it up myself that morning, I can get it for $200. My family (and friends) and I will combine efforts to get the rest of the stuff together.

Here's a rough draft of the menu so far:
Pig (duh)
Barbecue sauce
Baked beans
Skillet corn
Green salad
Cole slaw
Some kind of fruit

Everything can be made ahead of time; the beans and corn can just be reheated that day, the buns and chips can be purchased in bulk, and I can make a 5-gallon bucket of barbecue sauce earlier that week. Excluding beverages and dessert, we should be able to pull together the rest of the menu for less than $100, meaning I can feed 75 people for $300. Who doesn't love a pig pickin'?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Spaghetti squash

Spaghetti squash are the big yellow cylindrical ones, so named because the inside looks like spaghetti once you cook it and serve it. This is a great way to fake spaghetti--roast one, shred the insides out with a fork, and put spaghetti sauce on it. Just like spaghetti, with no carbs and full of veggie goodness.

To roast them, just cut them in half, scoop out the seeds, and place the cut sides down on a lightly oiled baking sheet or pan. Roast at 350 for...oh, let's say an hour, maybe a little less. They're done when you can stick a fork in them. Let cool, and then run a fork over the cut side. The flesh will shred out in long, spaghetti-like strands. Put on a plate, add spaghetti sauce, and you're done!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

And now, for something completely different

I'm back from a two-week Christmas vacation in which the highlights were 1) I found out my sister is pregnant, and 2) I got engaged! That's right, folks, I can no longer think of myself as permanently unmarriageable. Sorry for the blandness of the blog recently, I had to post ahead for two weeks, since internet reception in many of our locations was spotty. I promise to make it a little more interesting in future.

On that note, now I get to pull together a low-key but fun wedding in five months, since my sister will be too pregnant to travel after May. Because my deepest passions are food and beverage, and because I have a deep-seated and burning need to entertain on a grand scale, we'll be renting a big house and hosting a week-long party for our friends and relatives. This way we can spend the money on what's really important--hanging out with our nearest and dearest, and eating. (Also drinking.) Wedding day menu ideas are skewing heavily toward a pig pickin', in which we roast a whole hog, give everyone a fork, and ice down some beer. Okay, it'll be a little more elaborate than that, but a whole pig will definitely be involved somewhere.

And because we'll be feeding people for several days before (and maybe even one day after), I'll be posting menu ideas as well as recipes and general food experimentation between now and then, designed to feed the most people for the least amount of money and still have everything be awesome.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Pasta e fagioli

Another hearty pasta dish that can be made entirely from things you already have on hand. You can add more tomatoes and broth to make this a soup (a box of frozen spinach is lovely in this, as well), or keep the liquid to a minimum to make this more like a standard spaghetti sauce.

1/4 lb diced bacon
1 chopped med onion
1 diced rib celery
2 diced carrots
3 minced garlic cloves
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb peeled tomatoes
1 qt salted water or broth
1 lb cooked beans, any kind
1/2 lb pasta, any kind

Fry first 5 until onion is golden in butter and oil. Add tomatoes, cook on medium for 40 minutes. Add water, boil, add rest, boil til pasta cooked.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons cumin
3 cups grated pepper Jack cheese
1 can black beans, drained
1 box frozen corn, thawed
1 box frozen spinach, thawed
Chopped onion or scallions
8-10 tortillas
Salsa and sour cream

Heat olive oil, add onions and cook until soft. Add beans, corn and spinach and cook gently until just heated through. Add half of cheese, stir to mix, and remove from heat. Fill tortillas with this, roll, and place seam side down in a greased baking dish. Cover with salsa and rest of cheese. Bake at 400 15-20 minutes. Serve with more salsa and sour cream.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Spinach baked penne

This is a great hearty winter dish, that can be made from standard pantry/freezer ingredients.

3-4 links hot or sweet Italian sausage
4 minced cloves garlic
2 chopped onions
1 28 oz can tomatoes
½ cup pesto (optional)
1 package penne or ziti
1 box frozen spinach, thawed
2 cups shredded mozzarella
1 cup parmesan

Squeeze sausage out of casings and brown in skillet, breaking apart. Add garlic and onion, cook 2 minutes. Stir together, cook until sausage is cooked through. Drain sausage, add tomatoes and liquid. Cook on low 10 minutes. Add pesto, stir. Cook pasta until al dente, drain, put in large bowl. Add spinach, mozzarella and half of parmesan, stir. Add tomato mix, stir. Pour all into greased 9 x 13 baking dish. Sprinkle remaining parmesan on top. Bake at 350 30-35 minutes.

This will feed two people for at least two days (lunch and dinner).

Friday, January 1, 2010


I have an enormous lasagna pan that I fill whenever I make a batch. One lasagna will feed me, morning, noon and night, for a week. Which means it'll feed a family for at least a couple of days. This also freezes very well--you can make a batch, eat half, and freeze half for those nights when you just don't feel like cooking.

Save any extra meat sauce for spaghetti. This can easily be made vegetarian--just leave the meat out of the sauce, add more tomatoes, and throw in sliced vegetables (zucchini, eggplant, tomato, etc.) between the noodles.

3 cups ricotta
16 oz grated mozzarella
8 oz grated Romano or parmesan
1 egg
¼ cup milk
3 tablespoons garlic
2 packages no-boil lasagna noodles
½ lb parmesan
Meat sauce (below)

Combine the first six ingredients in bowl. Spread 2 ½ cups of sauce on bottom of lasagna pan. Add layer of noodles, cover with layer of cheese, cover with small amount of sauce, repeat until you run out of cheese or noodles. Top the final layer with more sauce and parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 45 minutes to 1 hour. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Meat Sauce:
1/3 lb ground pork
1/3 lb ground veal
½ to ¾ lb ground beef
2 cups chopped onions
Lots of chopped garlic
2 28 oz cans tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
4 cups beef stock
Thyme, oregano, basic, crushed red pepper
2 bay leaves

Brown the meat in olive oil in large soup pot. Add onions, cook until soft. Add garlic and tomatoes, cook 2-3 minutes. Whisk tomato paste with the stock and add. Add seasonings. Mix well, bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer 2 hours.

Cost: The biggest cost will be the meat in the sauce, which can be cut back or left out entirely if you wish. A package of no-boil lasagna noodles runs about $1.99. The combined cost of the cheeses would be about $4-5, and the rest are standard pantry can put this whole thing together for less than $15, and like I said, it'll feed me for a week. 7 days x 3 meals divided by $15 is about 75 cents per serving. Not bad for a heaping mound of fresh, homemade lasagna.