Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Crockpot sun-dried tomato spaghetti sauce

Oh crockpot, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

This is a really deep, velvety sauce. The sun-dried tomatoes give it an extra dimension of flavor, and if your kids balk at the mushrooms and carrots, you can puree the whole thing when it's done.

2 large cans of whole tomatoes, with juice (or 4 14.5 oz cans)
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, the kind packed in oil, chopped
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 chopped green pepper
1/4 cup chopped carrots
2 bay leaves
3 minced garlic cloves
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cups broth or water

Combine all, cook on low for 9 - 10 hours or high for 5 hours. Serve over pasta.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Duck tenders

I got these in the most unprepossessing bar the other day. I'd stopped in with a coworker for a quick beer, in what was by all appearances a dive. But I don't mind a dive--especially when the dive has Guinness on tap, and it's cheap.

And they had duck tenders, which are just like chicken tenders, only with duck! Slathered with a Thai chili sauce. I was so intrigued I had to order them. They tasted like fried duck, as you might imagine. But fried duck is yummy, and I may have to try to recreate these at home.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Crockpot red bean and sweet potato chili

I've been on a crockpot kick lately. (Can you tell?) I also paid off one of my student loans the other day. Which is awesome, but it means I have no cash to go grocery shopping with. That isn't really a problem--I have a fully stocked pantry, as you know--but I am completely out of green things, even frozen spinach, and I'm starting to run low on other basics.

In the meantime, I'm trying to get nutrients without greenery. This combination of red beans, sweet potatoes and tomatoes has lots of vitamins and such, and best of all, requires a bare minimum of effort to throw together. That's why I've been using my crockpot so much lately--been eating a lot of beans and lentils, because it's the end of the month, and because I'm lazy.

1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped (I used 1 1/4 jarred roasted red peppers)
6 small sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
4 cups pre-cooked red beans
1 14.5 oz can tomatoes, with juice
Chili powder, cumin and cayenne to taste (I used 2 tablespoons, 1 tablespoon and a healthy sprinkle, respectively)

Saute the onion, pepper and garlic in olive oil in a skillet (on the stove) until soft. Add the seasonings and the sweet potatoes, and cook for another minute. Dump all this into the crockpot and add the beans, tomatoes, and enough broth to cover. Cook on Low for 6 hours. Salt and pepper to taste.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Pistachio vinaigrette

Mmmm, pistachios!

If your pistachios are not already roasted/shelled, shell them and toast the nuts in a low oven (or in a cast-iron skillet over a low flame).

Pulverized toasted pistachios (just pulse them in a food processor until powder consistency)
Sherry vinegar
Olive oil
Chunks of toasted pistachios

Add the pistachio powder to sherry vinegar, and add the olive oil in a stream, whisking constantly, to emulsify. Add chunks for texture and serve.

I didn't add amounts, but you want roughly 2-3 times as much oil as vinegar (depending on how vinegary you like your dressing) and enough pistachios for the final product to taste like pistachios. Tinker with the amounts until you find a combination you like.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Brisket

Made correctly, this drink will taste like barbecue.

Seriously! One of the bartenders at work came up with this concoction, so I can't take credit. But I was so enamored of the final result that I attempted to recreate it at home.

My home version was very tasty--but alas, did not taste just like barbecue.

Here's the original recipe:

1 1/2 oz Ron Zacapa rum
1/2 oz Laphroig scotch
1/4 oz black tea simple syrup
tiki bitters

While I didn't have either Zacapa or Laphroig specifically, I did have an aged golden rum and some scotch. The black tea simple syrup was easy enough (equal parts sugar and water, heated and stirred until the sugar dissolves, add black tea bags to steep until it cools); tiki bitters I don't have, but the flavoring is heavily cinnamon and nutmeg, so I thought to improvise with fresh cinnamon and nutmeg. I even added some liquid smoke (since Jura scotch is more funky/peaty than smoky, like Laphroig).

A very tasty drink. But stick to the original recipe if you want it to taste like barbecue.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

So it begins! 2012's container garden

Yesterday I planted most of this year's container garden.

As you may remember, last year, we were living in a house in the 'burbs, with a huge backyard. I turned most of that backyard into a garden, planting all kinds of things. I ended up with a bumper crop of tomatoes, but I had to kill 31 chipmunks to do it, and it was an awful lot of work. I also spent $760 on everything (seeds, weedeater, hoe, rake, shovel, pitchfork, buckets, hose, seed-starting lights and equipment, potting soil, etc.), and you know, $760 will buy an awful lot of tomatoes.

Of course, last year I didn't know that I wouldn't be able to put in a garden this year--those costs, especially for the gardening equipment, would have amortized out. This year, since we're in the city, in an apartment, I'm back to container gardening. Fortunately, I have a ton of containers, and lots of seed left over from last year, so my gardening costs this year so far are a grand total of $21.60 (for seeds and Miracle Gro).

I dumped out the old potting soil, mixed it with some fertilizer, and redistributed it amongst all the pots, with a sprinkle of seed-starting dirt. I planted spinach and cilantro outside (the mild winter means that hopefully I'll have a crop of spinach in a few weeks), and herbs inside: basil (regular and purple), parsley, sage, thyme, tarragon, rosemary, marjoram, dill, lavender, chives, oregano, lovage, sorrel, and purslane. I had a few stragglers from last year, puny-looking but still alive, that I hope to revitalize with Miracle Gro. If not, I'll replant those too.

I'm hoping my $20 investment will bring me hundreds of dollars worth of fresh herbs (and spinach) in the months to come.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Crockpot potato soup with pesto

Another easy win for dinner.

3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
5-6 medium Yukon Gold (or other) potatoes, peeled and diced
6 cups broth

Place the oil and garlic in the crockpot and turn to High and cover while prepping the potatoes. Add the potatoes and broth, stir, and cook on Low for 4-6 hours. Puree (in a food processor or with a stick blender). Serve with a spoonful of pesto swirled in, and salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Crockpot black bean soup

The best part about this recipe is that you don't have to soak the beans first.

That's right, you can just throw dried beans into the crockpot, and end up with great soup 9 - 11 hours later.

Which means you can throw this together at night, and have great soup waiting for you at lunch. It also means, if you work like normal people, you can throw this together in the morning, and have it be ready at waiting for you for dinner when you get home at 7 pm.

Note: it's kinda bland, on its own. Feel free to spice it up with more chili powder, cayenne, cumin, salt and pepper.

3 onions, chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons chili powder
6 cups broth
1 pound dried black beans
4 – 5 celery ribs, chopped
3 - 4 carrots, chopped
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Hot sauce (optional)

Mix together onion, garlic, olive oil, and chili powder in a medium bowl and microwave for 5 minutes. Then transfer to slow cooker. Add broth, water, celery, carrots, beans, and bay leaves to slow cooker and cook on low for 9-11 hours.

Remove 1 -2 cups of the soup and place in a medium to large bowl and mash with a potato masher or fork. Transfer back to soup and stir. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with a splash of hot sauce if desired.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Food find: Aldi

Aldi is like the TJMaxx of grocery stores. Lots of close-outs, lots of bargains, constantly rotating inventory. I've read a lot about Aldi, mostly on money blogs, so I was excited to learn there was one near me.

I'll admit--it's not the greatest shopping experience ever. Leaving aside the fact that it was in a sketchy neighborhood and you had to pay a coin deposit for a shopping cart, 85% of the inventory is stuff I would never buy. Off-brand cereals and cola, dented cans of beets, Mexican candy. That sort of thing. And you had to bring your own bags.


The produce was dirt-cheap.

There wasn't much produce--no lettuce, and nothing beyond the basics. But I got grapefruits and plantains for 29 cents each; a 10-pound bag of potatoes for $3; a 5-pound bag of sweet potatoes for $1.29; heads of garlic for 25 cents each; a 5-pound bag of onions for $2; and a gallon of milk for $2.59. I spent a grand total of $12.82.

Let's break that down. A gallon of milk at Sam's Club is $2.99; in regular grocery stores it's at least $3.29. The local supermarket chain was running a $1-each sale on grapefruits. Plaintains typically run $1.99 a pound,  and I'm happy to find onions for less than 80 cents a pound. I figure I saved at least 50%, maybe 75%, off that same haul anywhere else. And hey, an onion is an onion is an onion. It doesn't matter if the produce isn't top quality, for things like potatoes and onions and garlic.

There's a lot of stuff at Aldi I won't ever buy (frozen seafood? Nope), but I'll definitely be going back to check out the produce sales.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Spicy cheese grits

I used pepper jack cheese in this batch of cheese grits. You know what? REALLY tasty. Next time I think I'll add some chopped jalapeno, as well.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Spinach and red pepper lasagna

This is a variation on both regular lasagna, and sweet potato and red pepper lasagna. I used jarred roasted red peppers and two boxes of frozen spinach, thawed. Essentially it's this lasagna recipe with spinach and red peppers added between the layers. Same tomato sauce and everything.

It's one of my favorite lasagna variations so far; lots of greenery, and the roasted red peppers really give it a nice kick.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Blue potato and corn hash

I used the last of the blue potatoes I got at the farmer's market for this. I really have to get some more; they're so beautifully colored.

The recipe called for spinach leaves; but I was out of frozen spinach. Instead, I used a combination of parsley and cilantro for the greenery.

5-6 blue potatoes, diced
2 cups frozen corn
3 cups fresh spinach leaves; or one box of frozen spinach, thawed, with all the water squeezed out; or a combination of fresh parsley and cilantro
3/4 cup shredded cheese (I used gruyere)

Boil the potatoes until cooked through. Drain well. Heat some vegetable oil in a large skillet, and cook the potatoes until crispy and browned. Add the corn and the greenery. Cook until the greenery is just wilted; season well with salt and pepper; and stir the cheese in and mix well. Serve.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Chicken cacciatore

There are an almost infinite variety of ways to do chicken cacciatore, but they're all basically a rustic braise of chicken, tomatoes and vegetables. So feel free to substitute.

I used this recipe from the New York Times. I adapted it a bit; I left out the dried mushrooms and garlic (didn't have any), added more wine, and instead of using chicken legs/thighs, I just used one whole cut-up chicken.

The advantages to using a whole cut-up chicken are that's far cheaper than buying chicken parts by the pound (2 whole chickens at Sam's Club: $8.80, for $4.40 each, for a 5-6 lb chicken. That's around 75 cents a pound, and the scraps can be used to make chicken broth). The disadvantages of using a whole cut-up chicken are that you have to cut up a whole chicken. It's not difficult, especially if you have a really good set of kitchen shears; but if you don't have good kitchen scissors, and/or are squeamish about cutting up a whole chicken, well, I can't help you there. Try to find chicken thighs on sale.

Also, chicken cacciatore is usually served with pasta or rice. I am happy to report that it goes very well with cheese grits.

1/2 oz dried mushrooms (optional)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
6 to 8 skinless chicken legs and/or thighs (thighs can be boneless); or one whole cut-up chicken
1 small onion, minced
1 small carrot, minced
1 rib celery, minced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh minced Italian parsley
1 heaped teaspoon minced fresh rosemary, or 1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried rosemary
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 pound mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
1/2 cup red wine (I used 1 to 1 1/2 cups)
1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes in juice

If using, place the dried mushrooms in a bowl or heat-proof glass measuring cup and pour on 2 cups boiling water. Let sit 15 to 30 minutes, until mushrooms are softened. Drain through a strainer lined with cheesecloth or a paper towel and set over a bowl. Squeeze out excess water and chop coarsely. Set aside. Measure out 1 cup of the soaking liquid and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large, heavy nonstick skillet. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and brown, in batches, for 5 minutes on each side. Transfer the chicken pieces to a bowl as they are done.

Turn the heat down to medium, add the remaining oil and the onion, carrot and celery, as well as a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, parsley, rosemary, red pepper flakes and salt to taste. Cover, turn the heat to low and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes, until the mixture is soft and aromatic. Stir in the fresh and dried mushrooms, turn the heat back up to medium, and cook, stirring, until the mushrooms are just tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the wine and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring, for a few minutes, until the wine has reduced by about half. Add the tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Cook over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring often, until the tomatoes have cooked down a little and smell fragrant. Stir in the mushroom soaking liquid that you set aside.

Return the chicken pieces to the pan and stir so that they are well submerged in the tomato mixture. Cover and simmer over medium heat for 30 minutes, until the chicken is tender. Taste, adjust seasoning and serve with pasta or rice.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Pear-caramel ice cream

This is officially the best way to use up overripe pears ever.

Taken from The Perfect Scoop:

3 medium-sized ripe pears, peeled and cored
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1/8 teaspooon coarse salt
a few drops of fresh lemon juice

Dice the pears into 1/4-inch pieces. Spread the sugar in a large, heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat, carefully watching and stirring occasionally with a heatproof spatula until melted.

When the sugar is a deep amber, stir in the pears. The caramel will seize, that's okay. Continue cooking and stirring occasionally (again with a heat-proof spatula – caramel will burn heck out of you) for ten minutes. The sugar will have dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in 1/2 cup of the cream, then mix in the rest of the cream, salt, and lemon juice. Cool to room temp, puree until smooth, press through a strainer. Chill according to your ice-cream maker manufacturer's instructions.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Sometimes you're just not feeling pizza, you know?

I had some pizza dough ready to go last night, but for whatever reason, I wasn't excited about pizza. Then, suddenly I thought: calzones! I haven't had calzones in forever! They're basically folded-over pizza pockets!

I used this pizza dough recipe, which can be a little sticky, so use plenty of flour to roll it out, and put a piece of parchment paper on your baking sheet. Also, if you divide the dough into four pieces, each fourth will be enough to make four decent-sized calzones. (So if you want more, use more sections of dough.)

Pizza dough
3/4 cup ricotta
Handful of greens (spinach works well; I used carrot greens and parsley), well chopped
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1/4 cup shredded parmesan

Divide the dough and roll out into thin circles. Mix the ricotta and other ingredients well, and place a scoop of filling in the middle of the dough circle. Fold it over and bring up the opposite edge, to seal it tight. Place on a baking sheet. Cut vents into the top of each, and brush with a little olive oil to give it that nice brown color. Bake at 450 for 25-30 minutes, or until browned on top. Serve with tomato sauce.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Butternut squash curry

This is a great four-ingredient curry; five if you count the olive oil.

1 big butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced into a small dice
1 can coconut milk
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons curry powder

Heat a couple tablespoons of a neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn (instead of olive oil) in a big pan with a tight-fitting lid over medium heat, and add the garlic and curry. When the garlic starts to color, add the squash and coconut milk. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer over low until the squash is tender, about 15 minutes. Uncover, raise the heat to medium-high, and let the liquid reduce down, stirring occasionally, 5 to 10 minutes. When it's thick and saucy, salt and pepper to taste, and serve with cilantro and rice.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Mustard greens salad with black-eyed peas and peanut vinaigrette

Ooooh, I just love raw winter greens salads. This one, with mustard greens, black-eyed peas and peanut vinaigrette, is easy to throw together and is an interesting mix of flavors. (In my opinion, it's not as delicious as the mustard greens salad with anchovy dressing, but it does have more stuff.)

For the peanut vinaigrette, I took bottled Thai peanut sauce and cut it with a little rice wine vinegar.

Mustard greens leaves, torn
1 cup black-eyed peas
2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
1 cup shaved carrots
1/4 cup feta cheese

Combine and mix with the peanut dressing.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Skillet pizza

Did you know you can make pizza on the stovetop, in a cast-iron skillet?

This is news to me, too. Glorious news! Now, as long as you have some pizza dough handy, you can make a personal-size pizza in minutes, without pizza stones or hot ovens or shaping dough.

Warning: you will have to watch the dough while it's cooking in the hot pan. It's VERY easy for it to blacken and burn. Although, my first effort burned twice (once on each side), and it was still tasty. So it's not the end of the world if it does burn.

Get a cast-iron skillet hot, over medium heat, and sprinkle some cornmeal in it. Lay a round of pizza dough in the bottom (you won't need much). Cook, shaking occasionally, over medium-low heat until the dough is crispy and golden. If it starts to burn/scorch, flip it over.

Then add toppings. I added cooked bacon, clams, some mustard greens, and parmesan. Let cook another few minutes, until the cheese is melted, and then just slide the finished product onto a plate and eat.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Egg baked in an avocado

I got the idea from this post. An egg baked inside an avocado half. Easy, filling, yummy. I was a little leery about eating hot avocado, but with the egg, it was delicious. The whole thing was really creamy.

Just cut an avocado in half and take out the pit (leave the skin on). Put a cast-iron skillet in the oven and pre-heat both to 425. If you want, you can carve a little out of the avocado, so the egg will fit better; but I didn't want to waste any, so I just let some of the egg slop over the side. When the pan is hot, take it out and put the avocados in, skin down, and crack an egg into each half. Cook until the eggs are as done as you want them.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Savory bread pudding with kale and mushrooms

Savory bread pudding is just like the bread pudding dessert--eggs, cream, milk--but instead of sugar, it has vegetables and cheese. The great thing about a savory bread pudding is that is can be breakfast or dinner. Better yet, you can put a fried egg on top and get a runny yolk-y egg-y thing going on with the bread pudding.

Be sure, though, that the egg/milk mixture covers everything else. Otherwise you'll end up with a baked veggie casserole, with some custard in it.

1 bunch kale, chopped and blanched (drop it in a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds, then remove)
1/2 lb mushrooms, sliced
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 loaf stale bread, sliced into large cubes
1/2 cup shredded gruyere cheese
1/4 cup shredded parmesan
salt and pepper
4 eggs
2 cups milk

Saute the mushrooms in a little olive oil until browned. Add the garlic and thyme and cook for another minute. Toss together with the well-drained blanched kale. Butter a large baking dish, and combine the bread cubes, mushrooms and kale, and cheeses. Toss well, and pour into the baking dish. Beat together the eggs and milk, and pour over the bread mixture. (Use more eggs and milk if the liquid doesn't cover the bread mixture.) Salt and pepper to taste. Let sit 5 to 10 minutes before baking. Bake at 350 for 40-50 minutes.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The amazing under-$1 power breakfast

Most days, my breakfast costs around fifty cents.

One cup homemade Greek yogurt, with honey and almonds: I can get four batches of yogurt, 6 cups to a batch, out of a gallon of milk, $2.96 at Sam's, so that's 12 cents per yogurt. Add a teaspoon of honey and a sprinkle of crushed almonds (both also bought in bulk), let's say 20 cents per yogurt, total. Bonus: the cups are reusable, so no trash.

One piece of homemade bread with Nutella: flour, yeast and salt bought in bulk, which amortizes the cost of a loaf of homemade bread to about a dime. Nutella is around the same price as peanut butter, so maybe 15 cents total there. OK, you could use peanut butter instead. Or butter, or jam, or whatever.

One piece of fruit, bought in bulk: either an apple or a pear, another 20 cents per.

So that brings us to 55 or 60 cents, depending on how much Nutella I use. Plenty of protein, very filling, very healthy.

Another way I could go: a couple of eggs (36 for $3 at Sam's, so 8 cents each) with a toasted slice of homemade bread, for an egg sandwich. I could throw on some cheese, too. Without the cheese, it would be about 20 cents total for the egg sandwich; with cheese, let's say 60 cents.

Either way, I'm far below the cost of fast food breakfast. (Cost of an Egg McMuffin: $1, but then you also have to drive to McDonald's, wait in line, and really, whoever got only one Egg McMuffin? So that, plus coffee, plus hash browns, plus maybe another Egg McMuffin, suddenly you're at $5 plus gas money, plus all the trash that will now sit in a landfill for six hundred years, plus you're already at 900 calories out of 2,000-calorie-a-day suggested total intake, plus you know what? That stuff tastes gross, it's full of chemicals, and it's not like McDonald's needs more of your hard-earned money. They have enough already.)

Homemade breakfasts are portable, filling, healthy, and chemical-free. Also, cheap. When was the last time you bought yogurt for 12 cents a cup? (That yogurt machine paid for itself with the first batch.) And grabbing an apple, a piece of bread, and a cup of yogurt out of the fridge takes less time than pouring a bowl of cereal or waiting in line at Dunkin' Donuts.

I like to have a cup of tea, too. Bought in bulk, that'll push the total cost of breakfast up another 7 cents (for green tea, in bulk), or 15 cents for black tea.

Cost of home-brewed Starbucks coffee: $10 a pound, 5-6 full pots of coffee per pound, 8-10 cups of coffee per pot, that's around 25 cents per cup.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Squid ink spaghetti with anchovy sauce and fried bread crumbs

Right now I'm sure you're thinking, "Squid ink spaghetti? With anchovy sauce? That sounds nasty." In fact, it is quite tasty. It's counter-intuitive, but squid ink pasta is actually not fishy-tasting at all; it's got a lovely subtle umami to it, and a startling color, but no fish or ink aftertaste. Ditto the anchovy sauce--no fishy taste, just a lovely depth of flavor.

Combine the two, and this is one of the best--and simplest--pasta dishes I've had in some time. I had a package of squid ink spaghetti in my cabinets, from a rather expensive trip to a gourmet food store (what? You don't walk into a cheese shop and buy $140 worth of cheese, oils, fennel pollen and squid ink pasta?). Such things are not usually in my budget, but you know, sometimes you just need some cheese.

Anyway, it wasn't that expensive ($8.95 for a pound of squid ink pasta, which is less than it would cost to buy some squid ink and make it from scratch), and a tin of anchovies is maybe $1.69. This could be a great fancy party dish, that looks and tastes expensive and complicated, when in fact it took less than 10 minutes (and $12) to throw together.

1 lb squid ink spaghetti
Half a loaf of stale bread
Olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon
Fresh parsley, chopped
1 tin of anchovies in oil

Cook the pasta until just al dente. While it's cooking, place the stale bread in your food processor and whiz it until it's in varying sizes of crumbs. Heat some olive oil in a skillet, and add the bread crumbs when it's hot. Cook until golden and crunchy, and place in a bowl. Add half the lemon zest and the parsley, and mix well.

Then add the anchovy oil to a skillet, along with some olive oil, and mix well. Add the roughly chopped anchovies, and stir over medium heat until the anchovies dissolve into the oil. As soon as it becomes a smooth sauce, remove from the heat, and add half the lemon zest.

Drain the pasta well, mix well with the anchovy oil, and add the bread crumbs mixture.

This won't be a sauce-y dish; the oil just coats the pasta. But that's okay, because you want the flavor of the squid ink pasta to come through. It's also a surprisingly light dish, for pasta--because there's not a lot of sauce or cheese. It'll go smashingly with a nice frappato.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Calvados Cocktail

Calvados is French apple brandy (a fancy French version of applejack, if you know what that is). It's really nice to drink in the fall/winter; you can drink it neat and it tastes like apples. I use it in pate, as well.

But since I'm drinking down the more esoteric bottles in my bar, I'm drinking this.

1 1/2 oz Calvados
1 1/2 oz orange juice
3/4 oz Cointreau or triple sec
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake over ice, strain and serve.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Eating on less than $200 a month

I'm in the process of revamping this blog, so hang on. I'll be tweaking the format, changing the pictures, etc., and marketing it much more aggressively. It's about time this thing started paying for itself. So tell your friends!

But for those of you who haven't been here since the beginning, I'm feeding two people three meals a day, good healthy ones, for less than $200 a month. When my husband and I lived in San Diego, I could do it for $160 a month, primarily because the local fruits and veggies were so cheap. On the East Coast, it's a little more. Here's how the system works:

  • I cook. I plan ahead, I work the sales, I utilize every scrap of everything. (This sounds like a lot of work, but I spend an average of half an hour to 45 minutes a day in the kitchen, and about two minutes a day of planning.)
  • I buy in bulk. Costco or Sam's Club or whatever your local warehouse store is, at the very least buy your non-perishables there. I can get a year's worth of generic laundry detergent for $14, a gallon of milk for less than $3, 36 eggs for less than $2, and 25 pounds of flour for $6. The savings add up quickly. Granted, shopping in bulk will often push the per-month totals above $200, but it amortizes out across the year.
  • In summer, I join a CSA (community-supported agriculture, where you buy a share of a local farm's produce and get a box of fresh fruits and veggies from that farm every week); in winter, I shop the sales. Either way, I don't buy anything out of season. No strawberries or lettuce in January, no spinach in June. Not only is it more expensive, out-of-season produce usually tastes gross. Right now I'm eating a lot of winter greens (kale, mustard and collard greens), apples and potatoes, and I use frozen spinach in a lot of stuff.
  • Leftovers are lunches. 
  • I usually fix one thing per meal and that's it. Meat + side dishes is expensive; I make one thing (soup, rice and beans, spaghetti, whatever) and that's what we eat. 
  • Most importantly, I don't buy crap. No soda, no cereal, no deli meat, no convenience foods--pre-shredded cheese, microwaveable anything, canned soup--no chips, no snack foods, basically I avoid anything that comes in a package. I make my own bread and yogurt, I use dried beans instead of canned, and the only canned vegetables I buy are tomatoes. (In bulk.) Not only is not buying all that stuff cheaper, I'm also not buying a lot of chemicals and preservatives, I'm not buying a lot of disposable packaging that then sits in a landfill, I'm not giving my hard-earned money to a corporation that already has plenty, I'm not buying a bunch of empty calories, and I get to eat a lot of really healthy, fresh, tasty food. Plus, I eat as much cheese and bacon as my heart desires, and I'm still a size 8. 
So all the recipes you see on here are the product of the $200 budget, using whatever I've got on hand. I'm eating all these things. This month I've already spent about $150, replenishing the basics, so I won't be doing any more shopping for at least two more weeks. You guys can help keep me honest.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Amaretto sour

My home bar is out of three key ingredients: vodka, gin, and St. Germain. So as an experiment, I'm going to see how long we can go before restocking those things. (I'm also getting perilously low on wine, but that's another matter.)

First up on the don't-spend-money-on-booze-until-it's-absolutely-necessary train: the amaretto sour.

Not something I'll drink on a regular basis, but my sister-in-law loves them. It's 2 ounces of amaretto to 1 ounce of fresh lemon juice. Shake with ice and serve. Simple enough, but amaretto is really sweet. If you're not into sweet drinks, you'll want to up the percentage of lemon juice.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Shaved winter salad

About this time of year, my body starts craving greenery. Too much starch, too much bean soup, not enough salad. That said, I don't want to buy lettuce that's been hosed down with chemicals and flown in from who-knows-where.

Enter this, the shaved winter salad. Lots of seasonal veggies (and fruit!), lots of fiber, and easy to throw together. It also won't get soggy, like a lot of salads.

1 cup cooked pearl barley or farro
1/2 cup shaved raw butternut or acorn squash (just peel it and take a vegetable peeler to it)
1 pear, shaved (ditto with vegetable peeler)
1/2 bunch carrot greens, chopped (or you could pick apart a few brussels sprouts into individual leaves)
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2-3 tablespoons olive oil

Just mix together and enjoy. Adjust the oil/vinegar/salt and pepper as you see fit.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

White bean soup with crawfish sausage and mustard greens

It's essentially a variation on white bean, sausage and spinach soup, but I really like the tang of the mustard greens. It offsets the creaminess of the beans very nicely. Of course you can use regular sausage, I used the last of the crawfish sausage from Louisiana (which, incidentally, also went very nicely with the mustard greens).

I was on a beans kick there for a while, but I think I'm over it.

The equivalent of four cans of white beans
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 lb sausage, sliced
6-7 leaves of mustard greens, sliced

Saute the onion, carrots and celery in olive oil or bacon fat until soft. Add the sausage and cook until it's a little browned. (Here, you can deglaze with a little white wine, if you have any.) Add enough broth to float everything, and let cook on medium-low for 30 minutes or so. Add the mustard greens and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Feta tart

The real gem in this feta tart is the crust. Sure, the feta part is good too--but as glorified cheese bread goes, this is pretty simplistic. The crust, though, came together with absolutely no effort. I may try to adapt it for pastry and/or pizza uses.

From Saveur:

6 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp. vodka (I used gin, being out of vodka)
1 egg
1 1⁄4 cups flour, sifted
1⁄4 tsp. kosher salt
1⁄8 tsp. baking powder
10 oz. feta, crumbled 
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

Heat oven to 500°. Put an 18" x 13" x 1" rimmed baking sheet into oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together 2 tbsp. oil, vodka, egg, and 1 cup water in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk flour, salt, and baking powder. Pour wet mixture over dry mixture and whisk until smooth.

Brush remaining oil over bottom of hot pan and add batter, smoothing batter with a rubber spatula to coat the bottom evenly, if necessary. Distribute cheese evenly over batter, and dot with butter. Bake, rotating baking sheet halfway through, until golden brown and crunchy, about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly before slicing and serving.