Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

Recession-Proof Espresso: Become a Barista

I must say, I'm a little torn these days between supporting my local coffee shop and saving some money by making my own espresso drinks. They need the money. I need the money. I'll probably just split the difference.

I love the community that local, independent coffee shops provide, but having worked as a barista in college, I also know that the process of creating coffee drinks is easy (and yes! even fun!) once you get the hang of it.

Espresso!

How much can you save? Let's run the math... When you figure about 75 tablespoons of ground coffee per pound of coffee beans, that's about 37 espresso servings in a pound of beans.

At roughly $7 a pound for beans, you can make a serving of espresso for 19 cents. Like lattes? Tack on about 50 cents per serving for organic milk or 25 cents for the conventional stuff.

At about 5 cents per tablespoon for chocolate syrup, you can make an organic mocha latte for just 74 cents. A small mocha latte (with conventional milk) at a coffee shop normally costs between $2.50 and $3, so that's a significant savings. Compelling, no?

My Moka Pot

And yes, I think anyone would love to have a gorgeous espresso machine like J's big red FrancisFrancis!, but at $800-$1,000 apiece, that's just not reasonable... or even necessary.

Instead, I suggest making espresso on the stove using the same inexpensive tool that Italian families use at home: the moka pot or stove-top espresso pot.

This type of espresso pot is cheap ($20 or less) and simple to use. Since they don't have breakable parts, they last and last, so if you figure that a single shot of espresso costs about $1.50 at most coffee shops and amortize the cost, it'll take you less than 20 drinks to pay off a moka pot.

Once you follow the money, it begins to make dollars and sense to learn a little espresso magic.

All you have to do to use one is buy the very fine-ground espresso coffee or, better yet, grind the beans very fine in a coffee grinder.

To make stove-top espresso with a moka-style pot:
1. Unscrew the top of the espresso pot, setting it aside for a moment.
2. Fill the bottom with cold water to just below the safety valve on the side.
3. Fill the funnel-shaped section with about two tablespoons of fine-ground coffee, tamping the top gently to flatten the grounds.
4. Place the funnel back into the bottom section and screw the top back on.
5. Place the pot over medium-high heat. It'll take about 3-4 minutes for the espresso to bubble up to the top. (It's okay... you can peek under the lid while it's bubbling if you want.)
6. When the espresso fills the top section up to the bottom of the pouring wedge, you can remove the moka pot from the heat and pour out the espresso. Yay! Just rinse everything out with water to clean.


Inside the Moka Pot

Dead simple, right? And once you can make espresso, you've opened the door to the giddy world of espresso drinks.

A number of espresso drinks utilize hot milk, which you can obviously just use a saucepot or microwave to produce. A fancy electric milk frother can make quick work of the decorative milk foam, but you can also simply froth the milk with a little dedication and a cheap whisk.

Here are an array of basic recipes for the most common espresso drinks.
Latte
Espresso + 1 cup hot milk + 1 tablespoon decorative milk foam

Mocha Latte
Espresso + hot milk + 1 tablespoon chocolate syrup

Breve
Espresso + 1 cup hot half & half + 1 tablespoon decorative milk foam

Cappuccino
Espresso + 1/3 cup hot milk + 1/3 cup milk foam

Americano
Espresso + 1 cup hot water

Cortado
Espresso + 1 tablespoon hot milk

Macchiado
Espresso + 1 teaspoon milk foam

You'll also find an array of cute coffee construction images over here. And clearly, once you know the process, you can go all crazy with flavored syrups and whipped cream, if that's what you're into.

Now go forth, my friends and caffeinate! (Don't forget to tip yourself.)

Cheers!
Miss Ginsu

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3.22.2009

Recession Proof: Rumsford's Soup

If you read much food writing, you may have encountered writer MFK Fisher's notes on thrifty cuisine.

In her 1942 recession-proof tome, How to Cook a Wolf she wrote of an inexpensive, nutritious meat-grain subsistence loaf (writer Jeffrey Steingarten later taste-tested that very recipe in The Man Who Ate Everything).

But far earlier than that, in the late 1700s, a remarkably multi-talented scientist/inventor named Benjamin Thompson (later known as Count von Rumford) was also interested in nutritious subsistence food, which led him to the creation of Rumford Soup.

Soup Bowl

The original Rumford Soup was composed of nothing more than pearl barley, yellow peas, potatoes, salt, old, sour beer and maybe a bit of vinegar. Cheap eats, indeed.

In today's prices, Rumford's recipe makes a meal for less than $1 per person, the most expensive ingredient being the beer.

This soup (as well as his efficient stove innovations) caught on in Europe and America and led to the establishment of the soup kitchens that nourished generations of the poor.

The traditional version of the recipe goes something like this:
Classic Rumford Soup (Serves 6)

1 cup pearl barley
1 cup dried yellow split peas
4 cups diced potatoes
1 tsp salt, or to taste
3 cups water
3 cups (2 12oz bottles) wheat beer (hefeweizen)
Malt or cider vinegar (to taste)

1. Put the barley, split peas, potato cubes, salt and water in a large stockpot. Slowly simmer the mixture for 1 to 2 hours, adding additional water, as necessary.
2. When the soup begins to thicken, add the beer and continue to simmer for 20 minutes.
3. Season to taste with a little vinegar and more salt, if needed. Serve with bread.

I think this recipe could be improved immensely by replacing the beer with some flavorful stock and adding some ground black pepper, a liberal sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of fresh parsley... but all that would obviously add a few cents onto the per-person price.

I've come up with a revisited version of Rumsford's famous soup, which is a little more dolled up and comes out to about $2 per serving if you make your own stock.
The Rumsford Redux (Serves 6)
4 cups chicken, beef or vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups split yellow peas
2 medium potatoes, diced
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 cup pearl barley
1 to 2 bay leaves
1 to 2 carrots, peeled and sliced (1/2")
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt & ground black pepper, to taste

Soup Garnish (optional)
1 small red onion, minced
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
Juice of 1 lemon

1. In a heavy-bottomed stock pot, combine the 4 cups broth with the peas and the potatoes.
2. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to a steady simmer. Covered and cook until the peas and potatoes are tender, about 45 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion in the oil about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and add to the potatoes and peas.
4. Add the barley and carrot and continue simmering until the barley is tender, about 40 minutes.
5. Prepare the garnish by combining the chopped onion, parsley and lemon in a small bowl.
6. Remove the soup from the heat, and if it seems a bit thin, add a little more water. Stir in the grated cheese, and season with salt and pepper. Serve with small spoonful of the garnish (if using) atop each portion.

Obviously, Rumsford's soup was vegan-friendly, and my modernized version can certainly be made vegetarian or vegan as well... just make sure the stock is veggie and skip the cheese.

AND as promised, here's the solution to yesterday's soup crossword.

Yours in tasty thrift,
Miss Ginsu

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1.14.2009

Top Ten Tips for Recession-Proof Recipes

The Cooking for the Recession topic recently came up at NPR's Planet Money blog, so I was compelled to comment, having written on the topic for nearly a year now.

As I typed it out, I realized I should probably do a similar top-ten roundup herein. And so, voila!
Top Ten Tips for Recession-Proof Recipes

1. Roasting makes just about anything taste rich and decadent.

2. Full of vitamins, protein, fiber and flavor, beans are your new best friends.

3. Homemade soup stock is a classic way to use kitchen scraps to make thrifty meals. When I worked at restaurants, we used nearly every vegetable scrap for the stockpot, leaving out only the potato peels, lettuce cores and broccoli stems.

4. Look to the world's peasant foods for delicious inspiration on the cheap. Soups, sandwiches, quiches, casseroles and omelets taste luxe but cost little.

5. Use extenders -- inexpensive ingredients that stretch out the use of other, more expensive ingredients. (Rice, pasta, bread, croutons, etc.)

6. Eat in-season produce. It's generally cheaper and tastier at its peak.

7. Don't pay a labor upcharge. Chop your own single-serving fruit/vegetable finger foods and mix your own workout drinks in reusable containers.

8. Stewing/braising turns cheaper, tougher cuts of meat and uglier vegetables into delicious dishes.

9. Inexpensive, flavorful sauces (peanut sauce, roasted red pepper sauce) can help you bring joy to noodle dishes, entrées and salads.

10. Double your batches of dinner and brown-bag the excess for your workaday lunches.


Soup Week!

You'll notice that the recession-proof theme offers up a lot in the way of soup — just in time for soup week! I'll be blogging all about soup this week, so tune in tomorrow for more warm comfort.

Happy eating,
Miss Ginsu

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1.12.2009

Smoked Chops & Apple-Kissed Kraut

I had grand plans for a gorgeous autumnal Choucroute Garni, but life interfered (I'm certain you're well aware of know how life tends to do that) and I realized that a long-cooking dish in the Dutch oven simply wouldn't do.

Food needed to appear on the table STAT.

Luckily, a deconstructed Choucroute Garni happens to make for one of the quickest meals out there. And a darn tasty one at that.

Chops & Kraut

Enter... Smoked Chops and Apple-Kissed Kraut.

Easy! Fast! Tasty! Seasonally appropriate! Exactly the kind of thing you want in your weeknight dinner arsenal, no?

I've configured this recipe for two, but if you want to serve more, just double the chops and kraut.

If you can't find smoked pork chops, you can use the standard ones, but the smoked ones (a German specialty) are really quite tasty, so I'd recommend you try to track them down.
Smoked Chops and Apple-Kissed Kraut (Serves 2)
1 apple
1 onion
2 tsp vegetable oil or bacon fat
2 smoked pork chops
1 cinnamon stick
3 cups sauerkraut
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp honey (or a little more, to taste)

1. Chop the apple into 1/2" cubes and slice the onion.
2. Heat 1 teaspoon of the oil or bacon fat in a medium-sized saucepan and the remaining teaspoon of oil in a skillet.
3. Saute the chopped apple and sliced onion in the saucepan for 5-10 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, begin searing the pork chops over medium-high heat in the skillet.
5. Add the cinnamon stick, sauerkraut and cider vinegar into the apple-onion mixture. Let the kraut mixture simmer for 10-15 minutes.
6. When the pork chops have a little color on each side, remove from the heat and allow them to rest. (Smoked pork chops are already fully cooked. If you're cooking raw pork chops, make they reach an internal temperature of 160°.)
7. Season the apple-kraut mixture (to taste) with a little honey, divide it between two plates and serve each of the cooked pork chops on its own little bed of kraut.

Around here, this is the kind of meal that's typically served alongside a crisp green salad (maybe with apples, walnuts, goat cheese and a cider vinaigrette?) or steamed Brussels sprouts, but you'll have to gauge your own tastes.

In any case, it certainly makes an excellent autumnal meal (those apples! that cabbage!) for not a whole lot of money or time investment. And who couldn't use a few more of those?

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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11.19.2008

Not the Lunchlady's Goulash

At the tender age of six or seven, I had a clear moment of decision in the school lunchroom.

As most epiphanies are, this revelation was heartfelt and simple. Though I'd traditionally devoured nearly anything that crossed my path — poisonous or not — I discovered a newfound hatred for goulash.

Little did I know that the bland hamburger-macaroni combo they'd scooped onto my plastic tray and billed as goulash was actually a low-rent impostor.

After what was essentially a simplified Hamburger Helper, imagine my shock upon learning that goulash was actually supposed to be full of meat chunks, vegetables... flavor!

Spicy Pork Goulash

True gulyás was something entirely different — a beloved, often spicy dish that had a long heritage with the cattlemen of Hungary.

In keeping with any traditional dish, it seems there's a million ways to make a goulash. You'll find that the Wikipedia page on the topic is robust.

I've enjoyed goulash with beef stew meat and chicken, but at the moment I'm particularly in love with a take on the dish that Ryn brought into work for us to sample last week.

She found this spicy pork version in the superb Staff Meals from Chanterelle — a cookbook I recommend highly.

Unlike many of the products of haute restaurants, the recipes in Staff Meals are varied and delicious, but because they're from the back rooms of Chanterelle and not the fancy front tables, they're actually easy for the home cook to reproduce. Yay!

Spicy Pork Goulash

But on to the reformation of goulash...

Despite the whole chunks of meat in this dish, I think it still qualifies as a Recession-Proof Recipe. The meat in question is all about cheaper cuts, and the rest of the dish is filled up with spices and sauerkraut — about as cheap as it gets.

You can, of course, serve this entrée with hearty dark-grained bread or buttered noodles and/or mashed potatoes, if you like, but I really love the fact that the dish itself is high-flavor and low-carb. We're a bit mindful about how and when we're carbing it up around this household, so that's an important consideration.

And, like any stew, this goulash improves with a bit of mellowing in the fridge... thus, the leftovers are dynamite.
Spicy Pork Goulash (Based on the Staff Meals recipe)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
3 lb pork stew meat (shoulder is best), cut into 1"-2" cubes
2 large onions, halved and sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup chopped bacon
4 cups flavorful stock (vegetable, chicken or beef)
1/4 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup sweet Hungarian paprika
1 Tbsp Aleppo pepper (or hot Hungarian paprika)
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
2 lb fresh sauerkraut (avoid the canned stuff)
Salt, to taste
Chopped parsley (Optional, for garnish)
Sour cream (Optional, for garnish)

1. Heat the first portion of oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven. In several batches, brown the pork cubes on all sides, moving the seared cubes to a dish while you work.
2. When all the pork is browned, use the same pot to cook the bacon. Add the onions and garlic and cook about 10 minutes.
3. Add the pork (and any juices it releases) back to the pot along with the stock, wine, paprika, caraway and bay. Bring to a boil and then either cover the pot and reduce to a simmer on the stove or move the covered pot to a 375°F oven. Either way, you'll let it cook for one hour.
4. Stir the sauerkraut into the pork mixture and either return it to the oven or keep it cooking on the stove-top for another 20-30 minutes or until the pork is very tender.
5. Carefully remove the stew from the heat and pluck out the bay leaves. Season to taste with salt and more paprika. Garnish (if desired) and serve.

I still find it amazing that this delicious dish and that junk that the lunchlady served with an ice-cream scoop go by the same name.

The sour cream is an optional — but really delicious — accompaniment. It does something magical with the flavors that's hard to describe. I recommend it.

Bon appetit!
Miss Ginsu

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11.06.2008

What's For Dinner? Autumnal Arugula-Apple Saute

On Monday night, I cooked a turkey breast roast. With some roasted Brussels Sprouts and pan gravy, it was a fine dinner.

I cubed the rest of the roast, and this week I've been using up the cubes in various ways. The turkey-black bean burrito on a whole-wheat tortilla. The turkey cubes in my antipasti salad at lunch.

Autumnal Saute

Tonight's meal might be my favorite of this week's leftover turkey dishes. An Autumnal Turkey-Apple Sauté in just 15 minutes flat. Good on vitamins, pretty low in the carb department, seasonal, economical and tasty, too.

You can't beat that with a stick, as my pa used to say.

Sauteed apples and onions

Now, you could used cooked tofu cubes or seitan cubes or pork cubes or chicken cubes or whatever protein you like, but I happened to have turkey on hand.

You could also go all crazy and peel the apple. I didn't. Why? Well, because I'm lazy and because I justify my behavior with the thought of extra fiber and nutrients in the peel. So there. It was just as tasty with the peel on.
Autumnal Arugula-Apple Sauté (Serves two... or one with leftovers)

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, halved and sliced thin
1 apple, cut into 3/4" cubes
1/4 cup pecans (unsalted)
1 bunch arugula (or spinach), washed and chopped
1 cup cooked turkey cubes (1") (or whatever protein you like)
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
A pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper

1. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed pot or skillet until it shimmers.
2. Add the onion slices and the apple cubes. Sautée 10 minutes, or until the onions soften and begin to brown a bit. Add the pecans to the pan.
3. Add the arugula or spinach, along with the cooked turkey cubes. Keep it moving in the pan, cooking down the greens, for about 5 minutes.
4. Season to taste with lemon juice, salt and pepper, and serve.


You could serve this with a starchy side dish (couscous?) or a hot buttered roll or something, but I'm going low-carb this week, so no bread for me.

Still, it's a tasty dish... the apples provide sweetness, the pecans are nutty and rich and the turkey fits right in. I also have leftovers for lunch.

I'll do this one again soon, leaving out the protein cubes, and serving it as an autumnal side to a pork chop or something.

I bet this'll also be a good dish to keep on file for the days after Thanksgiving when turkey is in abundance and both ideas and energy to cook are running low.

Bon appetit!
Miss Ginsu

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10.16.2008

Recession-Proof Recipes: Apple-Bacon Chowdah

As economic worries become yet worse and more frightening, what could be a better Recession-Proof Recipe this week than a soothing mug of chowder?

Comforting, delicious, endlessly flexible and — oh yes! quite economical — chowder is there for you when your 401k looks sad and wilted.

chowder

We talked about classic Manhattan and New England chowdah last January, but now that the season of summer corn is on the wane and the season of autumnal apples is on the rise, it seems appropriate to think about a combination of apples, corn and smoky bacon. Very nice for the crisp days of late summer-early autumn, don't you agree?
Apple-Bacon Chowder (Makes about two quarts)
4 slices bacon, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 small or 1 large potato, diced
3 ears sweet corn, kernels cut away (or use 16oz frozen corn)
2 golden delicious apples, diced
2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp black pepper or cayenne pepper (optional)
1/4 cup chopped parsley (optional)

1. In a heavy-bottomed stockpot over medium heat, cook the bacon until it begins to brown, about 15 minutes.
2. Add onion and cook an additional 10 minutes, keeping the bacon and onion moving to prevent uneven cooking.
3. As the onion begins to look translucent, add the diced potato, corn kernels and diced apple pieces. Cook 10 minutes before pouring in the chicken stock and milk.
4. Simmer 20-30 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Season to taste with the salt and black or cayenne pepper. Garnish with chopped parsley, if desired.

If you like a thick chowder, purée about 1 cup of the soup in a blender or food processor before stirring it back into the pot, or simply use a stick blender to crush some of the potato and apple pieces.

And if you're not a bacon person, just skip it entirely and use a little olive oil to cook down the onions. You could also dice a red pepper in place of the apples. See? Versatile. Easy. Tasty.

Serve up a cup alongside a crisp green salad and a crust of bread. And it goes down easy with the last of the summer ales and lagers they're clearing off the grocery store shelves right now.

So try not to think about the banking crisis. Enjoy your soup. And think about all the lovely, thrifty lunches you'll pack for yourself this week.

Bon appetit!
Miss Ginsu

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9.16.2008

The Problem with Chickpea Masala

You know what the biggest problem with my Chickpea Masala is? I can't get it to look good. It smells great. It tastes wonderful. It looks... homely.

Oh, sure. I can toss some chopped cilantro or some parsley over the top of it. But come on... that's just putting lipstick on a pig. (Or is that a dog? Who knows these days?) Curry is just a homely dish.

Chickpea Masala

This is really the problem with all the bowl-foods. Delicious, yes. Tasty, yes. Recession-proof? Of course. Easy to make on Sunday and then take to work as leftovers? Without a doubt.

Just not good-lookin' enough for shmantzy guests, that's all. This is peasant cuisine.

Still, that's not going to stop me from sharing the recipe. It's so quick, easy and good for work-a-day lunches, I can't resist its humble charms.

Fast Chickpea Masala (Serves 2 (with leftovers) or 4)

1 Tbsp vegetable oil or ghee
1 medium-sized onion, halved and cut in 1/4" slices
2 cloves garlic, minced or mashed to a pulp
1 2" piece ginger, peeled and minced
1 jalapeño, seeded and sliced thin (optional)
2-3 Tbsp Masala Spices (see below) or a mix of your own
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
1 15-oz can chickpeas (drained and washed)
1 to 1 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
3 cups cooked rice (for serving)

Optional Garnishes
Chopped cilantro
Plain yogurt or cucumber raita

1. Heat the oil/ghee over medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed pan and add the onion slices.

2. Cook until the onion goes from white to translucent (about 10 minutes) and add in the garlic, ginger and jalapeño slices. Cook 5 minutes more.

3. Add in the spice mixture. Cook an additional 3 minutes. The spices should begin sticking to the pan.

4. Add the tomatoes and chickpeas. Lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 30 minutes.

5. Season to taste with the salt. (At this point, you may wish to add either a pinch of sugar, or a squeeze of lime juice, as needed, to please your palate.) Serve immediately with rice and garnishes, or pack up for work-week lunches.

Masala Spice Mix

1 Tbsp cumin seeds
1 Tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 cardamom pods
1 tsp fennel
2 whole cloves
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp turmeric

It's best to use whole spices, toasting them in a pan and then grinding them up for this mix, but you can get away with ready-ground spices if that's all you can find. The turmeric, for example, is almost always found pre-ground, so if you're grinding, just add that at the end.

If you're going to skip anything, don't skip the cumin and coriander. They're essential. The others are all negotiable. If you like more heat in your mix, add in some cayenne. I enjoy using fresh chilies when possible, so I like to leave it out.

Store the surplus in an empty spice jar and use within a week or so.

A pilaf of white basmati rice would obviously be the traditional choice to serve with this curry, but I've been liking the brown basmati lately. It has extra fiber and extra nuttiness.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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9.11.2008

Recession-Proof: Bahn Mi Sandwiches

One of the first food adjustments people consider during downmarket days are meats. Like eggs and dairy products, meat is one of those commodities that shows an immediate rate jump. Those Porterhouses and T-bone steaks start looking mighty dear.

And you'll also note that the traditional foods of most cultures tend to embrace "scrap" meat and cheaper cuts. Ground meat, sausages, scrapple, haggis, cured belly bacon, tougher cuts long-stewed to tenderize... these are the foods of the commoners.



Thus, the bahn mi, a Vietnamese-French fusion sandwich made of chopped fresh vegetables with pate, roast pork or ground meat on a baguette, is a classic recession-proof recipe.
Banh Mi (Makes 4 sandwiches)

For the carrots
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp sugar
Dash fish sauce (optional)
3-4 carrots, shredded

For the sandwiches
2 baguettes (or 4 long sandwich rolls)
1/4 lb roast pork or ham
1 small cucumber, peeled & cut into long strips
1/2 bunch cilantro, leaves picked
1 Tbsp mayonnaise
1/8 lb pork liver pate
Chili sauce (I like Sriracha), to taste
Chili peppers (optional)

1. Prepare the carrots: Mix vinegar with water, sugar and fish sauce (if using). Brine the carrots in this mixture overnight in the refrigerator.
2. To make the sandwiches, slice the baguettes in half, cut each one open and distribute the mayonnaise and pate across the bread.
3. Top each dressed baguette with a thin slice of roast pork/ham. Distribute the carrots, cucumber and cilantro leaves. Add chili sauce or peppers to taste and serve immediately.

Not only does this recipe conservatively use its meat component, you'll note it also makes good use of the recession-proof extender factor in the use of the bread as a cheap and tasty tummy filler.

Happy Eating,

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8.21.2008

Recession-Proof: Spicy Peanut Soba (or Slaw)

I feel a great sauce is like one's most reliable suit or best basic dress. It proves its thrift and usefulness again and again.

A spicy peanut sauce turns out to be one of those go-to recipes. I know I just covered peanuts yesterday, I'm going to run the risk of making it peanut week around here (Heck... why not just make it peanut week around here?), and propose a good peanut sauce as part of your recession-proof recipe package.

Soba Noodles

As ag booster (and legume-hacker) George Washington Carver popularly pointed out, peanuts are supremely useful little legumes. Not only can you use the humble peanut to make paint, dye and nitroglycerin... they're also cheap and tasty.

Use this sauce on shredded cabbage and carrots, and you've got yourself a savory slaw. Use it over soba noodles for a lovely lunch or dinner. Use it as a salad dressing. It's also great with thin-sliced grilled meats in the style of a classic peanut saté sauce.

Veggie Slaw

Thus, a savory peanut sauce is not merely versatile, it's also a flexible meal-maker in which both meat lovers and vegetarians can rejoice with equal fervor.

Ginger-Peanut Soba, Salad or Slaw (Serves 4)

For the Base

1/2 lb soba noodles, cooked according to package instructions, rinsed and cooled

or

1/4 head cabbage, finely sliced & 2 carrots, shredded

or

1 head boston or butterhead lettuce, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces

For the Sauce:
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
1-2 tsp hot sauce (or more, if you like it hot)
1 tsp toasted sesame oil (optional)
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp lime juice
2 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
2/3 cup vegetable oil

Optional Accessories:
3 radishes, thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro or mint, roughly chopped
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup (1 ounce) peanuts, chopped
1/2 cup cooked, sliced chicken, pork or beef

1. Blend peanut butter, vinegar, hot sauce, sesame oil, soy sauce, lime juice and fresh ginger. Whisk in vegetable oil slowly.

2. Toss peanut sauce with cooked soba noodles or cabbage/carrots or torn lettuce.

3. Top with your choice of optional accessory ingredients and serve. The soba and slaw keep well, but if you're not serving a lettuce salad immediately, wait to dress it until just before serving.


Yours in good, cheap eats,

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8.06.2008

Recession-Proof Recipes: Cool Beans

Back around tax time when I started this series, basic black bean soup seemed like a really tasty idea, but after a week of 90-degree days, I must admit that thick, hearty soups seem far less appealing. Just turning on the stove seems far less appealing.

Chickpea Salad
Chickpea, Yellow Zucchini & Sweet Corn Salad w/ Red Wine Vinaigrette

Thank goodness for canned beans. Cheap, tasty protein... no flames required. I've been making bean salads with my CSA vegetables for the past two weeks. And thanks to the remarkable versatility and variety of beans, I'm still not sick of them.

While blanching corn cobs, fava beans or green beans does require a pot of boiling water, there's plenty of veggies out there that are perfectly happy to hop into your salads in raw form.

Market-Fresh
Market-Fresh Succotash

And since bean salads are so simple, it hardly seems worth it to write up a recipe. So but I'll just do a little quasi-mathematical formula:

1 can of your favorite beans (washed & drained)
+ 1 cup sliced zucchini, cucumber, bell pepper, tomato, shredded carrot (or whatever veggies you like)
+ 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (basil, mint, dill and parsley all work just fine)
+ 2 Tbsp olive oil
+ 1 Tbsp citrus juice/vinegar (white wine, red wine, cider, malt, balsamic...)

= Tasty Bean Salad


White Bean Salad
White Bean, Cucumber, Tomato & Parsley Salad w/ Lemon Vinaigrette

Beans are already little protein powerhouses, but if you're mad for protein, or just really love meat, you can toss sliced, cooked beef, chicken, tuna, lamb, sausage, etc. atop any of these salads.

I particularly love bean salads with the olive oil-soaked tuna like the Spanish Ortiz Bonito Del Norte, but that kind of blows the economical angle. :)

Bon appetit, ya'll!

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7.22.2008

Recession-Proof Recipes: French Lentil Salad

Never does a cold salad sound so good as on a sticky, hot, lethargic day.

That's when there's nothing finer than slumping over to the fridge and finding a tasty stash tucked away. Yes, some generous former version of yourself (perhaps that productive weekend you?) had the foresight to prepare and place this delight in the fridge for your current lazy enjoyment. Thanks, past-tense self. You rule.

Using the spicy horseradish mustard whipped up in last week's post, it's quick (and tasty) work for you (or some former version of you) to make a one of this household's summertime favorites... the French Lentil Salad.

This is a terrific salad to have around because it's full of protein, it's easy to make vegetarian or meatetarian, it's easy to make in advance (and travels well to picnics), it doesn't take long to cook and it keeps in the fridge for several days, so you can make a large batch on a Sunday and eat it for your weekday lunches and lazy midweek moments.

French Lentil Salad with marinated artichokes
French Lentil Salad with marinated artichokes

The accommodating French Lentil Salad also welcomes a variety of ingredients. This week, we happened to have baby leeks in the CSA box, so sliced baby leeks replaced the scallions I usually use.

If I have a can of marinated artichokes around... in they go. A few extra olives in the fridge? Slice 'em up. Sun-dried tomatoes? Delightful. J really loves this salad with oil-packed tuna. (At $10 a jar, it's a splurge, but we really love the Ortiz Bonito del Norte. Mmm...)

French Lentil Salad with Serrano Ham
French Lentil Salad with Serrano ham

Basic French Lentil Salad (Makes about five cups)
The lentils
9 oz dried green lentils
1 tsp salt
1 bay leaf
Water, to cover

1. In a large pot, soak the lentils, covered in salt water, for 1 hour.
2. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer until tender, but not overcooked, about 15 minutes.
3. Drain, spread on a sheet tray to cool, and combine with the salad ingredients.

The vinaigrette
1/4 cup spicy mustard (or DIY mustard)
3 Tbsp wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pinch sugar (optional)

1. Mix the mustard and vinegar.
2. Whisk in the olive oil until smooth.
3. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar, to taste.

The salad
1. Mix the cooled lentils in a large bowl with the vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
2. Add in your choice of additions. Use whatever you have. I usually mix in:

1/2 to 1 cup chopped herbs (parsley, mint, cilantro or a combination thereof)
2-3 slices Serrano or Proscuitto ham, diced
1/4 to 1/2 cup dried currants, softened in hot water for 20 minutes
2 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

While French Lentils aren't the cheapest legume on the shelf, I can still pick up about 18 oz for less than three bucks, so a basic version of this recipe can be made for as little as 80 cents a cup (the olive oil, lentils and any dressy bits you add in being the expensive ingredients).

Not a bad price for such a delightful source of protein and fiber.

Cheers!

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6.18.2008

Recession-Proof Recipes: Lamejun

As long as there's been flour, there's been flatbread. And about as long as there's been flatbread, there's been folks tossing sauces and tidbits atop their flatbreads. Much later of course, such things were called "pizzas," (there's really no point in denying the lengthy, pre-Italian pizza history...) and now, pretty much any old cracker, bagel or tortilla with sauce on it is freely referred to as pizza.

Lamejun

But let's not forget those tasty flatbread precursors in our current age of pizza mania. Pizza, or pide or paratha or any of the other tasty members of the flatbread family are, at heart, basic peasant foods.

Lamejun

Anya Von Bremzen's book Please to the Table features a pizza/pide cousin she spells as lachmanjun and refers to as an Armenian pizza. I believe the more popular spelling is lahmacun or lamejun, but however you spell it or say it, this dish makes for a tasty, economical meal.

Lamejun

My version of lamejun is based around Von Bremzen's. I reckon you could probably use a food processor to chop the veggies if you felt like it and you could make it with beef (or no meat at all) if you feel some sort of aversion to lamb. I'd serve it alongside a rich red and a crisp bowl of dressed greens or a tomato-cucumber salad, myself.
Lamb Lamejun (Turkish Pizza) (Serves 8)

For the Crusts:
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 tsp sugar
1 1/4 cups water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 tsp salt
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
+ Extra flour for kneading

For the Toppings
1 lb ground lamb
2 medium onions, minced
1 red or green bell pepper, minced
3 Tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup diced tomatoes (canned or fresh)
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp Aleppo pepper (or substitute 1/2 tsp sweet paprika and 1/2 tsp hot paprika)
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
2 Tbsp parsley or mint, chopped (for garnish)
2 Tbsp crumbled feta or mild goat cheese (for garnish)

1. Combine the yeast, sugar and water in a large bowl and let stand about 5 minutes. 2. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the oil and the salt.
3. Add the flour, about a cup at a time, blending well after each addition. Transfer the dough to a work surface. Coat your hands with some of the remaining oil and knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, adding just enough of the remaining flour to prevent sticking.
4. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a large bowl. Drizzle with the remaining vegetable oil and coat the dough. Drape with a vaguely moist linen kitchen towel and let the dough rise in a warm place about an hour or until it doubles in bulk.
5. Meanwhile, make the topping in another large bowl. Simply combine the lamb, onions, diced peppers, tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, spice and salt and mix well.
6. After the dough has risen, divide into eight equal balls. Place on a floured surface and let rest, covered with a towel for 10 minutes.
7. Preheat the oven to 450°F and lightly oil two large baking sheets.
8. Using a floured rolling pin, flatten out each ball of dough into a circle about 4 inches across.
9. Divide the topping into eight portions, and spread one portion across each circle.
10. Arrange the dough circles on the prepared sheets and bake until the crust is crisp and the topping is browned, about 15 minutes.
11. Serve immediately as is, or sprinkle with chopped parsley/mint and cheese before serving.

Feel free to halve it or to freeze some of the dough balls for later use if you're only serving two.

Cheers!

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6.05.2008

Recession-Proof Recipes: DIY Tamales

I've noticed that after you've been blogging for a while, you find that your commenters often come up with even better material than you do. Oh, how I love online community!

A couple of my favorite blog comments can be found at the bottom of this post, in which commenter M. delves far beyond my sci-fi depth and in this post, in which an anonymous commenter has an astoundingly vast knowledge of butter.

This weekend, I received a very cool note from wine wizard Eric Hazard, who convincingly pitches this week's Recession-Proof Recipe: Homemade Tamales. What a gift!

Just about the only thing he doesn't provide is a wine pairing... although I think I'd prefer these little guys with horchata or an icy lager, myself.

Oaxacan tamale at La Loma, Minneapolis
Oaxacan tamales at La Loma, Minneapolis

From the man himself:
So, here's something to consider, since it is great way to extend meat and it is just so much fun to make: tamales.

Being from South Texas, I have long ago given up trying to find good tamales in NYC. So I took to making my own last year, and I've got it pretty well down.

Even though they look extremely difficult, the base ingredients are really simple.

Most crucial is Masa Harina. I had a devil of a time finding it in Manhattan, I'm sure it would be easier to find in the ethnic food markets in the boroughs. If not, $20 will buy plenty via Amazon. Corn husks can also be ordered, but this time of year, corn is plentiful so why not save the husks to be used later? (Plus, how cool is it to find a use for what most people would just throw away).

Tamale masa is basically a combination of the masa harina corn meal, lard, baking soda, salt and chicken stock. This forms the basis for whatever meat (or vegetable) you wish to put into the tamale. It is really tasty and really filling, making the more expensive ingredients inside go a long way.

For my filling, I use pork, cooked with green chilies, diced tomatoes, garlic, onion, cumin, chili powder, and enough chicken stock to keep it honest as it slowly boils. Once finished, I run it through the food processor to chop it up and evenly distribute the flavors.

Then it is a matter of spreading the masa on the moist corn husks, laying down some filling and rolling up. The batch is then steamed for 45 minutes and you're done.

Really filling, really tasty and you can make a ton to freeze and save for later. If I had to take a guess, I'd say I can make a dozen for about $10. Most of that being the cost of pork.

As an extra bonus, the Homesick Texan just recently posted about making your own lard, so you could really go to town on the DIY tip if you were inspired.

As far as quantities for the batter, you should probably go with about a cup of fat to every four cups of masa harina. That'll yield about 35 tamales.

DIY Tamales
1 cup lard or vegetable shortening
4 cups masa harina
1 Tbsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock

You'll also need
Your filling of choice (stewed pork, cheese, chicken, veggies, etc.)
About 40 corn husks, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes
Twine or kitchen string

1. Blend lard or shortening, masa harina, soda, salt and stock together.
2. Spread about 1/4 cup of tamale batter across the center of each husk.
3. Spoon about a tablespoon of filling along the center of the batter.
4. Wrap the batter around the filling, rolling in the sides and tucking the bottom of the husk. Bind top (and bottom, if necessary) with lengths of twine or kitchen string. Repeat this process with the remaining husks, batter and filling.
5. Place two or three dimes in the bottom of a large pot fitted with a steamer basket (while it boils, they'll jingle, letting you know there's still water in the pot) and add enough water to meet the basket base, but doesn't let that level rise above it.
6. Stand the filled husks in the basket, keeping them upright, but not cramped.
7. Bring the water to a boil, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to keep the water simmering gently. Steam about 45 minutes.


If you really go crazy for homemade tamales, you should definitely try some Brownie Tamales while you're at it. Invite a few amigos over. Bust out the cervezas. Have a fiesta on the cheap!

Muchas gracias a Señor Hazard por una buena idea!

Salud a todos!

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5.28.2008

Recession-Proof Recipes: Savory Green Curry

In a time of high food costs, people often look to cheaper proteins, but I think turkey is often overlooked because of its association with winter holiday meals.

T-Day Turkey
Not just for Thanksgiving anymore

Turkey is a flavorful, inexpensive meat, and if you get a small bird (some stores even sell half-birds or breast roasts), you don't have to spend all day cooking it. Just wash it, dry it, give it a quick massage with some oil, salt and pepper, set the oven to 375°F, put the bird (or half-bird, or whatever) in a roasting pan, set the timer for 15 minutes per pound of meat and go find something else to do for a while.

The cooked meat is great everywhere you'd normally use chicken. Use it for turkey salad sandwiches. Put it in chili. Make yourself a Turkey Pot Pie.

Or take it to the Far East and toss your turkey meat into a green curry. I haven't dined on the local birds thereabouts, but I'd be willing to bet that turkey's gamier flavor probably tastes more like Thailand's native poultry than the standard American chicken does.

Obviously a handful fresh Kafir lime leaves would be great in this paste (just nix the lime juice if you're going that route), but I'm not putting them in the recipe because they're not terribly easy for a lot of people to find. If you can't find the lemongrass either, go ahead and skip that, too. Fish sauce is usually available in Chinese markets. Feel free to sub in baked or fresh tofu and go all vegetarian on this if that's how you want to play it.
Savory Green Curry (Serves 4)
For the Paste
5 green chilies or jalapeños (or less, to taste)
1 medium white onion, quartered
2 garlic cloves
1" piece ginger root, peeled
1-2 lemongrass bulbs (white section of the stalk), chopped
1 Tbsp ground coriander
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 Tbsp fish sauce or dried shrimp paste (optional)
1 cup fresh basil (preferably Thai basil)
1 cup fresh cilantro
4 limes, zested and juiced
1/2 cup water
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

For the Curry
1 medium white onion, halved and sliced
1 green bell pepper, cut into 1" squares (or substitute 1 cup diced eggplant)
1 Tbsp oil
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 13 oz can unsweetened coconut milk
1 1/2 cups cooked turkey, cut into cubes (or cubed tofu)

Additional mint and cilantro (to garnish)
Lime wedges (to garnish)
Steamed rice or noodles (for serving)

1. In a blender or food processor, puree chilies, onion, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, cumin, coriander, black pepper, fish sauce, basil, cilantro and lime zest and juice. As you blend, add in enough water to make a smooth paste. Season to taste with salt and ground pepper.

2. Place a heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat and warm the oil to the pan. Add in the onion and green pepper pieces (or eggplant), cooking 15 minutes to soften.

3. Add the green curry paste to the vegetables in the pan and allow it to cook for 10 minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking.

4. Stir in the broth, the coconut milk and the cooked turkey or tofu cubes. Blend well and bring the mixture to a simmer. Season to taste. The mixture should taste bright and herbaceous. If it seems a bit too sour, add a 1/2 teaspoon of sugar to balance it out.

5. Garnish with additional cilantro, mint leaves and lime wedges (if desired) and serve with steamed rice or noodles.


Bon appétit!

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5.22.2008

Recession-Proof Recipes: A Foraged Feast

I remember Alton Brown once referred to quiche as "Refrigerator Pie," and while that phrase gave me the heebie-jeebies, I now see what he was getting at.

Quiche may sound a little stuffy or unapproachable, but if you think of a quickie egg custard in a pie shell as a tasty carrier for a world of little tidbits hanging around the fridge... that quiche suddenly goes from stuffy to sensible.

Have a random bit of cheese? Maybe there's a few herbs in the crisper? A mushroom or two? Some shriveling cherry tomatoes? What if all you have are onions? Never fear... dinner is close at hand.

The secret to making quiche a quick, easy and economical dinner is making sure you have a pie crust in the freezer. I know of no hungry person who's interested in rolling out a pie crust. Leave the crust-rolling and freezing to some lazy weekend day. Or just buy a pack of reliable frozen crusts from your favorite store.

When you meet up with that inevitable "there's nothing for dinner" day, just remember the handy pie crust in your freezer and do a quick forage through the fridge.

Mushroom Quiche and Lemon Greens

I always like to pair a richly flavored quiche with a crisp green salad.

Luckily, salads can also be great friends for the fridge forager and the hawk-eyed produce aisle sale watcher. One of my favorite salads of late has been the "bitter greens with a lemon vinaigrette" version. Something about a bitter green just loves the tangy bite of a fresh-squeezed lemon. Arugula, spring dandelion... even spinach works well for this recipe.

A word to the would-be lawn foragers: Picking baby dandelion greens from your own yard can be a terrific way to make a salad on the cheap, but you really have to be sure that 1. the dandelions haven't bloomed yet (for some reason, the blooms make the leaves inedibly bitter) and 2. nobody's chemically treated the lawn for at least three years. Nobody's looking for a mouthful of Roundup in their salad.
Forage Quiche
Quiche Base
1/2 cup cream, half & half or milk
3 eggs
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 9-inch pie crust

Add-ins
Grated cheese (up to 1 cup), sautéed onions, leeks or mushrooms, a tablespoon of chopped fresh herbs or a teaspoon of crumbled dry herbs, roasted red pepper slices, cooked spinach or arugula, cubed cooked ham, bacon bits, cooked spinach, marinated artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes or sliced cherry tomatoes, chopped roasted vegetables.

1. Heat oven to 375°F. If you prefer a crispier crust, pierce the shell several times with a fork and pre-bake it for 25 minutes before proceeding to the filling step.

2. In a suitably sized bowl, whisk together the cream (or half & half or milk) with the eggs. Add the salt, nutmeg and pepper.

3. Spread about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of add-in fillings across the pie crust. Pour the egg custard mix over the fillings and place the quiche on a baking sheet.

4. Bake until the quiche is set in the center, about 35 minutes. Let it cool on a rack for 15 minutes to an hour before serving. Leftover slices are great for lunchboxes.

Lemon Green Salad
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 pinch sugar
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 cups tender greens
6 halved cherry tomatoes (optional)
6-8 hard cheese shavings or crumbles of goat cheese (optional)

1. Whisk together the lemon juice and sugar. Whisk in the olive oil in a stream until incorporated as a vinaigrette. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a little more sugar, if desired.
2. Toss greens and vinaigrette in a salad bowl.
3. Top with cherry tomato halves and cheese, if desired. Serve immediately.

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5.15.2008

Recession-Proof Recipes: The Saladwich

Confessional time: I love sandwiches. Truthfully, I'm rather sandwich crazy. This is probably a personality flaw on my part, but for some reason, everything tastes better when it's wrapped in some kind of starch.

J is generally the opposite. Bread is often too... you know, bready. Having been spoiled by homemade bread and Paris living, he's a bread nerd who'll just do without if he can't get something from the fine local bakers at Sullivan Street, Balthazar or, in a pinch, Le Pain Quotidien.

Now, I love a gorgeous loaf, but I'm not half so choosy. I mean, sometimes I really need a sandwich. If I always waited for the perfect loaf to roll into my fingers, I'd deprive myself of one of life's greatest pleasures.

It's a salad! It's a sandwich!

Enter the saladwich. This recipe provides not only an economical meal, but a problem-solver. J gets his salad, I get my sandwich, and we're both happy and well-fed. It's also a great meal for households in which someone's concerned about carb reduction or there's a split between veggies and meat-eaters.

Convertible Greek Saladwiches (serves 2)
1/2 hothouse cucumber, sliced thin
1/2 small red onion, sliced thin
1/3 cup cooked chickpeas
1-2 Tbsp fresh dill, chopped
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 head green leaf lettuce, washed and chopped/torn
1-2 whole wheat pitas, halved
Cooked chicken cutlets, tuna or leftover steak, sliced (optional)

Tahini Dressing
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
1 garlic clove
2 Tbsp tahini
6 oz plain yogurt
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Toss together the cucumber slices, onions, chickpeas, dill and tomatoes (as well as any meat, if desired) with the chopped or torn lettuce.
2. Blend the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, yogurt and tahini in a blender or food processor. Season to taste with the salt and pepper.
3. Dress the salad mix and serve to anyone who's eating the dish as a salad. Stuff 3/4 cup of the salad mix in the pita halves, drizzle with additional dressing, and serve in pita form to anyone who prefers a sandwich.

If you have extra dressing (and you should), save it for a future salad or use it for dipping raw vegetables. Mmm...
Bon appétit!

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5.07.2008

Recession-Proof Recipes: A Manageable Mole

The skinless, boneless chicken breast may be the monarch of the meat world these days, but thighs hold so much more flavor and are at least half the price of breasts.

Plus, legs and thighs are terrific stewed. Cook 'em long (braising or stewing is as good as roasting for making the most of cheaper cuts) season 'em well and serve 'em up over rice or noodles for some super-thrifty extender action.

I must admit, the disappointing part about stewing/braising is having to smell the wonderful stuff simmering away and knowing that it'll be hours before that pot of goodness is ready to eat.

The upside? Making your neighbors jealous. Oh, yes. They'll smell it. They'll ask about it. You might even receive sudden party invitations. The adorable Czech lass on the fourth floor recently wailed, "Are you the apartment that's cooking the curries? It's torture. You're making us all so hungry!"

Chicken thighs are terrific in curries. But today, we're going to Mexico. Just in time for next week's Cinco de Mayo, I'm in the mood for molé.

Pepper roasting on the stove
Avocado garnish: tasty, but not recession-proof

Now, I've cooked a lot of molés. With all due respect to the generations of dedicated mamas and abuelas who labored and sweated over the cookstove, those ladies who ground countless hours in their mortars, those solid individuals who gathered up 37 different ingredients and processed each separately...

I have the greatest respect for that kind of manual labor, but I have to say that the molés I've worked hardest and longest for did not taste markedly different from the ones I've thrown together and let simmer.

Or rather, there's a flavor difference, but it's not different enough. I don't know about you, but I've got a day job, and if I ever want to eat molé, it's going to be a supremely pared down version.

I initially wanted to make a Pasilla-Prune Molé, but the Key Food did not provide anything resembling a pasilla pepper. What did they have? Well, aside from the standard bell peppers, they had fresh jalapeños and I happened to find a jar of organic roasted piquillo peppers. (Woo hoo!)

I'd recommend you try to score at least three pepper varieties if you can manage to find 'em. Different peppers bring different personalities to the party, and since molé is essentially a flavor party, we want personality.

If you find dried peppers, you'll need to soak them for a few hours (or overnight) to soften them, so just plan that into your schedule.

Pepper roasting on the stove

If you're using bell peppers or jalapeños, you might want to char them. It's not essential, but it's extra flavor (yay, flavor!) and a nice char can be accomplished pretty easily if you have a gas grill. Just blacken them on all sides (use tongs to turn them) and toss them in a paper sack to steam for a half-hour or so. Then wipe off all the blackened skin (it should pull away easily) and use the peppers.

Those poor souls who only have electric ranges at hand can char their peppers in a skillet kept at high heat.

Those who are intimidated by even thinking about charring a pepper can probably find roasted peppers somewhere. But it's cheaper to roast 'em yourself.

If you're sensitive, remove the seeds and mind how many of the really spicy peppers you use. I found that a ratio of 8 oz piquillos to 4 oz roasted bell pepper and 4 oz roasted jalapeños worked well, (though I still wish I could've gotten my hands on some nice dried chilis.) Just remember, you can always pump up the heat before you serve it, but you can't really undo a too-spicy dish.
Three-Pepper Prune Molé (Serves 4, with extra sauce)
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
3 lb bone-in chicken thighs
1 large onion (halved, then sliced thin)
2 cups roasted peppers (3-4 roasted jalapeños, 1 roasted bell pepper, 8oz roasted piquillo peppers, for example)
14oz diced tomatoes (try to find fire-roasted tomatoes, if you can)
1 cup pitted prunes
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground cumin
2 oz unsweetened chocolate
2 Tbsp nut butter (almond butter or sesame butter work well)
1 tsp salt, or to taste

Nice options for serving
Steamed rice
Warmed corn tortillas
Wedges of lime
Cilantro leaves
Toasted sesame seeds or pepitas
Créme fraîche or sour cream

1. Heat large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the vegetable oil and coat the bottom of the pan. Brown the chicken thighs on all sides.
2. Hold the browned thighs on a plate while you brown the sliced onion in the same pan. Keep the slices moving to avoid uneven browning or sticking.
3. When the onions are soft and have some color, add the chicken back into the pan along with the peppers, tomatoes, prunes, cinnamon, cumin, chocolate and nut butter. Bring the mixture to a boil before turning the heat to low.
4. Let simmer, covered, for an hour, stirring occasionally to ensure the mixture doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.
5. After an hour, the chicken should be falling off the bone. Carefully move the thighs from the pan to a clean plate and turn off the heat.
6. Taste the sauce, and add salt to taste. If it's not spicy enough at this point, add a pinch of cayenne.
7. Allow the sauce and chicken to cool a bit, and remove the bones and skin from the thighs.
8. You could serve the sauce chunky, but a smooth molé is more traditional. Cool the sauce to a safe handling temperature and pour it in a blender or food processor. Blend smooth before transferring back to the pan to re-warm for serving.
9. Serve the chicken with warm corn tortillas and steamed rice and the warm molé sauce.

Because molé is such a monochrome brown color, I usually like to garnish the dish with lime wedges, sesame seeds or pepitas, cilantro and/or créme fraîche or sour cream. They all add good flavor and visual contrast. The sauce is even better the next day and it freezes very well. In fact, molé sauce is fantastic with leftover turkey, so remember that next Thanksgiving.

Salud, amigos!

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5.01.2008

Recession-Proof Recipes: Veggie-Fried Rice

Last week, Recession-Proof Recipes discussed the satisfying (but cheap) crépe complete. This week, let's consider the lowly extender.

When I say "extender," I mean: an inexpensive ingredient that stretches out the use of other, more expensive ingredients.

Potatoes, pastas, rice, cassava and cabbage are some of the world's most popular extenders.

With a good amount of filler on hand, a meal can be made with very little meat (or none at all). Spanish paella. French gratin. Cuban black beans and rice. Indian curries. Irish cabbage and potatoes. Ukrainian cabbage soup. Have a glance at any of the world's poverty cuisines, and you'll quickly find extensive, creative uses of the locally available extenders.

Sometimes the use of extenders results in unique and beloved foods that are consumed even after the economic situation improves. Ground chickory root, for example, was once added to coffee as a filler ingredient, but chickory coffee later became a classic Louisiana beverage in its own right. Mmm... beignets and chickory coffee...

Likewise, thrifty Japanese long ago used toasted rice to extend their green tea supply. Genmaicha was the roasty-flavored result. It's actually one of my favorite teas.

As it's composed almost entirely of an inexpensive extender, the classic vegetable fried rice is dead cheap... not to mention extremely simple to pull off. And it's a great use of leftovers.

If you really can't stand the thought of a meal without meat, add some cubed ham. If you want to get all fancy, toss in some sliced mushrooms or bean sprouts or minced ginger or diced tofu.



Veggie Fried Rice (Serves 2)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil, divided in two portions
2 eggs, beaten
3 cups leftover rice
1 clove garlic, minced
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 cup frozen peas (or peas & carrots)
1/2 tsp soy sauce, tamari or shoyu
freshly ground black or white pepper, to taste

1. Heat half the oil over moderately high heat in a wok or a large skillet. Before the oil starts smoking, add the eggs and cook briefly, until soft but beginning to set up. Transfer to a plate.
2. Heat remaining tablespoon oil in wok, then add garlic. Cook for one minute before adding the rice, soy sauce and pepper. Stir-fry until hot and beginning to crisp, about 3-5 minutes.
3. Add scallions and peas and stir-fry briefly.
4. Stir in the egg and warm through.
5. Serve immediately.


Cheers!

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4.23.2008

Recession-Proof Recipes: La Crepe Complete

Last week's Recession-Proof Recipe examined stock and gave a fast variation for Pho. Pho is simple peasant food, and this week, I'd like to take an economical eating cue from yet another group of peasants.

Like yesterday's cassoulet, a humble country casserole that's often elevated beyond its original station, the sometimes pretentiously presented French crêpe is essentially just a thin pancake with tasty tidbits rolled up inside it. It's the peasant food of Brittany.

Several years ago I discovered I could afford a ticket to fly overseas and spend few days in Paris, but didn't have much money for lodging or food. So I ended up with a week of Paris hostels, student entry to museums and a host of street crepes.

For that week, my diet was primarily composed of the sweet crepe, or crêpe sucrée (it was supremely cheap and the whole transaction used up the only 15 words of French I could remember)... a charming banana-Nutella combo that I still remember fondly and order whenever I encounter it on a menu.

After traveling around with J a bit, I discovered his crepe preference invariably fell to the crepe complete, a classic buckwheat crepe filled with an egg (whites cooked, but with a runny yolk, please) with melted gruyere and ham. Simple. Filling. Complete.

Whether in Montreal...

crepe complete in Montreal

In Mediterranean Spain...

crepe complete in Girona

In Midtown Manhattan...

crepe complete in the Midtown CyberCafe

Or in Paris...

crepe complete in Paris

Across the universe, la crepe complete is his crepe of choice.

As you may notice in those photos, my crepe is generally in the foreground, and I always order something else. The vegetable crepe. The goat cheese and fig crepe. The ratatouille crepe. And then I find I'm always jealous of J's hearty, savory crepe. He's made a convert of me.

By using just the slightest bit of ham and cheese with the egg, this meal manages to be simultaneously inexpensive and satisfying. And the construction of the dish is somehow magically classier than some lowly pancake and egg with skimpy slices of ham and cheese.

Though you may have encountered sweet crêpe batters before, I must insist on the buckwheat in this recipe. The earthy flavor really does something special alongside the cheese and ham. Those Breton peasants knew something about flavor on a budget.

Ladies and gentlemen of the blog-reading public, may I present:
The Crêpe Complete (Serves 2-4)
For the crêpes
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
1/4 cup buckwheat flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

For the filling
4 eggs, warmed to room temp
4 pieces ham, thin-sliced (or skip it, if you're vegetarian)
4 pieces gruyere or Swiss cheese, thin-sliced

1. Whisk together the water, milk, eggs, flours, salt and butter or whir in a blender until uniform. Cover and chill for 1 hour (or up to two days).
2. Place an oven-proof plate in the oven and turn the oven on to 200° F. Remove the crepe batter from the fridge and stir it up to unite everything.
3. Heat a large (12-17") crepe pan or skillet over moderately high heat. Melt a dollop of butter in the pan, swirling to cover the surface.
4. When butter sizzles, add 1/4 cup of the crepe batter and, again, swirl to cover the pan surface. Cook several minutes until the bottom develops a golden texture. Then flip the crepe over with the aid of a spatula/pancake turner.
5. Gently break one egg into center of the newly flipped crepe (try to keep the yolk intact).
6. Cook the crepe and egg just until the white is set. Top with one slice of ham and one slice of cheese. Gently fold two sides (or four sides, as you prefer) of the crepe in to overlap the egg, cheese and ham.
7. Use a hot pad to remove the warmed plate from the oven, then move the cooked crepe to the warm plate with a spatula.
8. Keep your completed crepes warm in the oven while you repeat steps 3-7 with the remaining crepe batter, eggs, ham and cheese. Serve crepes hot with a crisp green salad and a cold mug of dry cider.

Bon appétit!

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4.16.2008

Recession-Proof Recipes: Soup of the Evening

Last week's Recession-Proof Recipe focused on the tasty, nutritious and protein-rich bean. This week we'll explore the legendary kitchen economy (and big flavor win!) provided by a homemade soup stock.

Gingered Duck Soup

I've mentioned the ease and wonder of homemade stock on a couple of occasions previously, so I was simply tickled when I happened to read a piece this week by MFK Fisher (found in With Bold Knife & Fork) on the joys of simple soups made of simple stocks.

I'm thus inspired to share a snippet of her insight taken from Especially of the Evening.

"There is excitement and real satisfaction in making an artful good soup from things usually tossed away: the washed tops of celery stalks, stems of parsley, skeletons of fowl, bones of animals... at home I do not hesitate, if a fine T-bone lies fairly naked on the platter, to make a stock from it, remove any fat when it is chilled, and use it within a few days for a soup base or a sauce."

Fisher goes on to write fondly of many soups, including a hearty egg-fortified broth she was served in the alps, a restorative beef broth she was given while convalescing as a child, and the lovely hot leek-potato soup that's served cold under the guise of Vichyssoise.

But I was most pleased to read an utterly simple, comforting recipe she includes for using up some of that economical stock:
A Life Saver
1 part good stock
1 part tomato juice or V8
1 part clam juice

Mix, heat to simmer point and serve, seasoning and garnishing as wished. Good alone or with a sandwich for lunch.

This can be varied for grown-ups, and indeed made quite sophisticated, by substituting for the tomato juice one part dry white wine added at the last...

Simple. Frugal. Brilliant. Because truly, what is pho or ramen or chicken noodle soup, after all, but wonderful stock to which we add yet more tasty things?

Part of the magic of pho (pronounced fuh) is that the soup arrives au naturel. Just a clean, fragrant, steaming broth with a pile of noodles (and maybe a few vegetables or meats) in it. Each diner garnishes his or her own soup to his or her own heart's delight... or not at all.

That said, the beef broth must be made with love. All success in this dish depends on the beauty of the broth.
Pho Bo Fast (Serves 2)

For the Broth
4 cups beef broth
1-inch piece ginger, sliced
2 whole star anise
2 whole cloves
6 oz flat rice noodles
2 Tbsp Asian fish sauce
1/2 tsp Sriracha hot sauce, or to taste (optional)

For the Garnish Platter*
Lime wedges
Bean sprouts, rinsed
Fresh basil sprigs, (preferably Asian basil)
Fresh cilantro sprigs
Sliced scallions
Thin-sliced strips of leftover steak
Serrano chili, sliced thin
Hoisin sauce

1. In a heavy-bottomed pan, bring the beef broth to a boil with the ginger, cloves and star anise. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
2. In a large bowl, cover the rice noodles in hot water and soak about 15 minutes, or until softened. Meanwhile, arrange the garnish platter.
3. Strain out the star anise, cloves and ginger, and add the fish sauce and hot sauce to taste.
4. Divide noodles into two bowls and ladle hot broth over the noodles. Serve soup alongside garnish platter. Dress your soup as you see fit with torn basil, cilantro leaves, a squeeze of citrus, a few chilis, a little steak...
*I consider the first three garnishes to be essentials and the others, nice options.

Bon appétit!


Related Posts:
  • Rotisserie Chicken Stock & Soup
  • Moroccan Stew
  • Chilled Yogurt-Spinach Soup
  • Cream of Celery Root Soup

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  • 4.09.2008

    Recession-Proof Recipes: Black Bean Soup

    Last week when I started up this series on good eating for bad financial times, I mentioned roasting, which magically makes just about anything tastier on the cheap. This week, I want to throw in a good word for beans.

    fresh chickpeas

    Packed with protein and fiber (nutritionists love 'em!), readily available, totally cheap (even cheaper if you soak and cook the dried ones), vegetarian-friendly and delicious for breakfast, lunch or dinner, beans are classic in haut cuisine and poverty fare alike.

    I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that legumes/pulses have sustained generations of people across this planet for thousands of years. Why not try to work a few extra into your diet?

    Here's ten classic ways to make beans a part of your week:

    1. Chili
    2. Lentil Soup or Salad
    3. Hummus
    4. Beans on Toast
    5. Bean Dip/Spread
    6. Channa Masala (Chickpea Curry)
    7. Minestrone
    8. Bean Burritos
    9. Vegetarian Cassoulet
    10. Beans & Rice



    And here's one more just for good measure: Black Bean Soup. It's what I'm eating this week. It's really easy to make this one vegetarian or meatetarian, as you prefer.
    Black Bean Soup

    2 cups dried black beans, washed
    1 bay leaf
    4 strips thick-cut bacon, diced OR 1 Tbsp olive oil*
    1 fresh jalapeño, sliced into rounds
    2 large onions, diced
    2 green bell peppers, seeded and diced
    4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
    1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
    Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

    Sour cream or plain yogurt (optional), for serving
    Chopped cilantro or scallions (optional), for serving

    1. Soak the beans overnight.
    2. The next day cover the beans with additional water to bring the level by 1 inch above the beans. Add the bay leaf, cover and bring to a boil.
    3. Turn down the heat to a low simmer, and cook until the beans test tender, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
    4. *If using bacon, cook that now, remove it from the pan (to drain) when done, and use the bacon fat to cook the veggies instead of using olive oil. If making a vegetarian soup, add the olive oil to a deep skillet and heat over a medium flame.
    5. Add the onions and green peppers and sauté until softened, about 12 minutes. 6. Stir in the garlic and cook a few minutes more.
    7. Add the tomatoes and simmer 10 minutes.
    8. When the beans are tender, add in the vegetable mixture (and diced bacon, if using). Let simmer another 20 minutes.
    9. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream, or refrigerate and reheat the following day to enjoy it after the flavors have melded a bit.


    Happy eating!

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    4.02.2008

    Recession-Proof Recipes for Downmarket Days

    I probably don't need to tell you that the US economy has been looking bleak for a while. You've probably noticed that much for yourself.

    Even if they're not yet ready to call it an o-fish-al recession*, those of us who read the paper or listen to the news occasionally know better. We have some hunch that these days won't be remembered in future history books as "The Roaring Oughts."

    While a little kitchen economy is always a great idea for your personal bottom line, this nation's recent period of economic growth and development may have left your sense of thrift in some forgotten corner of the pantry. Maybe it's hanging out back there alongside a can of butter beans and some dusty jar of unlabeled jam.

    Or maybe you've just never had the need to be frugal, you lucky soul!

    Whatever the case, a recession, er... make that economic downturn is the perfect time to dust off (or brush up on) some kitchen conservation cred.

    One caveat first: I'll not discuss a diet consisting of Top Ramen, Hamburger Helper or store-brand Cheerios here. You can find that stuff on your own (though I'm not sure why you'd want to...) These tips speak to real dining and real food (with actual nutritional value) on the cheap.

    baked apple

    Thrifty Tip #1: Roasting makes just about anything taste decadent.

    Ever baked an apple? Steaming, tender, candy-like... It's always hard for me to believe that it's the same fruit as a raw apple. Something magic happens in that oven.

    Sure, you can core an apple and stuff it with nuts, butter, sugar and rolled oats beforehand. You can maybe sprinkle on some cinnamon, but all that's totally unnecessary. Just a plain old peeled and cored apple baked in the oven for a half-hour or so is strangely heavenly.

    Serve warm with a drizzle of cream or sour cream or plain yogurt and a baked apple is positive bliss. Simple, delightful and dead cheap.

    And just about everyone knows about the wonder of oven-fried potatoes, but it might not have occurred to you that the same roasting magic works with all kinds of vegetables.

    Ho-hum cauliflower is suddenly heavenly after a little time on the roasting tray. Just chop down a head into florets of similar size, toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and roast until the cauliflower is tender and has a little brown on the tips (about 30-40 minutes at 350°F). Toss the florets around on the pan about half-way through cooking to ensure they roast evenly.

    One of my favorite inexpensive (yet decadent!) meals is the classic Roasted Vegetable Salad. Roasting concentrates the flavor to make the veggies rich and satisfying.

    It takes a little time to get the roasting done, but that's mostly the passive variety of "find something else to do" time while you wait for the oven buzzer to sound.

    Extra bonuses: the bounty of root veg gives it good fiber and nutrient value, you can play around with a wide variety of vegetables in the dish and you can adjust the end product to suit meat eaters or vegheads, as needed.

    Feel free to use whatever firm vegetables you happen to find on special at your favorite market. Try (similar-sized) cubes of hard squash (butternut, acorn, delicata), sliced fennel, zucchini, broccoli florets, potato cubes, roasted asparagus, celery root... I've even used roasted radishes.

    Just keep in mind that the slices or cubes of each vegetable to be roasted should be of similar size. Different vegetables also roast at different rates, if you're not sure about how fast a particular vegetable will roast, keep it segregated from the rest so you can easily remove it when it's tender.

    Roasted Vegetable Salad (Serves 2)
    2 medium-size carrots, peeled & cut into 1" pieces
    2 medium-size parsnips, peeled & cut into 1" pieces
    3 to 5 small beets, peeled & quartered
    1 large onion, cut in 1" wedges (or 4-5 shallots, halved)
    1 to 2 large portabello mushrooms (sliced into 1/2" strips)
    About 3 Tbsp olive oil
    Salt and black pepper, to taste
    1/2 head green leaf lettuce (torn into bite-sized pieces, washed & spun dry)
    1/3 cup dressing of your choice (I favor a vinaigrette or a sun-dried tomato dressing)

    3 to 4 slices thick-cut bacon or pancetta; diced, cooked & drained (optional)
    1 oz fresh Parmesan, feta or goat cheese, crumbled (optional)

    Preheat oven to 400°. Toss carrot, parsnip and beet pieces in a large bowl with 1.5 tablespoons olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

    Separately toss onion wedges and portobello slices in the remaining 1.5 tablespoons of olive oil olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

    Since the more dense root vegetables will need to cook longer, spread them across a baking tray and roast them separately from the faster-cooking onion and mushroom pieces (which you should spread evenly across another tray). Place both trays in the oven and roast for 15 minutes.

    After 15 minutes, stir tray contents to help them cook evenly and return to the oven for another 15 minutes. At this point, the mushrooms and onions should look shrunken and lightly browned. Remove them from the oven and stir the root vegetables again. Remove the roots from the oven when they're fork-tender.

    Cool roasted vegetables on the trays for 10 minutes before tossing them together with the torn lettuce, the dressing of your choice and the cooked, diced bacon (if using). Divide salad between two plates and top with cheese (if using).


    Roasted vegetables are also wonderful served over penne, baked into a quiche or just served as a side dish on their own.

    Look for another Recession-Proof Recipe next week!

    Cheers!


    * Such terrifying terminology is reserved for declines that persist for two or more consecutive quarters. Translate that as "eight or more dreadful months" if you're more into dividing your year via the Gregorian calendar.

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    3.27.2008