Sunday, December 14, 2008

If by "sexy" you mean "soupy."

I need to just post this recipe, once and for all, before I forget and before it loses seasonableness. All I have to say about it: it's delicious; it's cheap; it's sophisticated; it's great for cold weather, football, and loneliness; you should make it.

Oh, and I believe it's called a bisque because the original recipe calls for a significant amount of whipping cream. Well, I can't afford no whipping cream, nor does this soup need it. I have made it about a dozen times and never once thought to myself, "Man, if only I had some whipping cream." (That thought does pop into my head a lot, but not this time.) Sadly, I think that, without the cream, this creation no longer qualifies as a sexy bisque, but as a soup. Not sexy. Just call it a bisque, and call it a night.

Recipe: Butternut Squash and Roasted Garlic Bisque

Adapted significantly from Epicurious. Serves 8. Reheats well in microwave and lasts about 5 days.

2 large butternut squash
2 heads of garlic
4 T olive oil, divided
2 C chopped onions
5 C chicken or vegetable stock (or, preferably, the turkey stock you made over Thanksgiving!)
3 T chopped fresh sage

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut both butternut squash in half, lengthwise. Wrap each half in aluminum foil and bake for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, cut each garlic head crosswise. Brush exposed garlic cloves with olive oil, wrap heads in foil, and bake about 20 minutes. Remove butternut squash from oven, unwrap, and let cool. Heat remaining olive oil in a heavy pot over medium heat. Add onions. Meanwhile, peel squash and chop into 1-inch chunks. After onions have cooked about 10 minuts, add squash, stock and sage to pot. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer uncovered until squash is tender, 20-25 min. Meanwhile, "unwrap" garlic by squeezing pulp out of cloves (and unpeeling if necessary). Squeeze all garlic pulp into a bowl and mash with a fork until smooth. Stir into soup. Puree half of soup in blender, or using an immersion blender. Return pureed soup to pot. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Taste of Winter..., for me, I've recently discovered, not a soup or stew. It is a raw, crunchy, delicious salad composed of some of the only produce whose star turn occurs during this frigid time of year.

It started with what I thought was an overabundance of grapefruit. Thinking I'd come across a great deal, I bought a bag of seven ruby reds for $3 at Safeway. It turns out Shopper's is selling three for a dollar, which, I realize, after much pitiful brain-wracking, is a better deal. I'll just have to buy more, anyway, because this salad is my new obsession. Actually, slaw might be a better name for it, but I've always hated that word (and the mayonnaise-saturated connotations that go along with it). In my quest to not gain 10 lbs this winter (the snowbirding of my bicycle, which I can't seem to get over, has not helped this cause), this salad may be just the answer: it's so crunchy that, thanks to all the chewing involved, you end up eating less than you expect -- not that it matters since the thing is practically fat-free and chock full of fiber and vitamins, e.g. A, B, C, K, and B6. A sprinkling of sunflower seeds adds a crucial nuttiness -- for a lack of a better word -- as well as some much-needed salt.

I believe that in the last post I said something about a cornbread-crusted chili. I might postpone it till January/Super Bowl season. I'm saving my calories for Christmas.

Recipe: Grapefruit, Fennel, and Red Cabbage Salad

Like a lot of things I create, it tasted strange to me at first, but, after a few more bites, I couldn't stop shoving it into my mouth.

Serves 8 as side dish (4 as light main course). Keeps well for a few days.

2 grapefruit
1 head of red cabbage
2 fennel bulbs
1/2 C roasted, salted sunflower seeds (may substitute cashews, pistachios, peanuts, or probably any salty nut)
1/4 C rice or white wine vinegar
1 T sugar
1 t salt
1/4 t red pepper flakes
1/4 t ground pepper
1/4 C olive oil
fennel fronds, for garnish

Peel the grapefruit and chop flesh into bite-size pieces. Chop cabbage into thin strips. Chop off root of fennel and separate the pieces (it's similar to a celery stalk, but with fennel you want to use only the bulbous white parts near the root). Chop off the celery-like stems, which are too tough to eat, and save for stock, reserving some of the fronds. Take the bulb pieces (the large, white-ish parts) and chop into bite-size pieces. In a large bowl, mix together the grapefruit, cabbage, fennel, and sunflower seeds. For the dressing, which can be made a few hours in advance, whisk together the vinegar with sugar, salt, red pepper flakes, and ground pepper. Slowly add the olive oil, whisking, to create an emulsion. Drizzle it over the grapefruit, cabbage, and fennel, and garnish with the fennel fronds.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Kaling Me Softly

Kale is an underappreciated vegetable, and I know this for two reasons. One, Trader Joe's doesn't sell it and, at least here in Bethesda, Trader Joe's decides what everyone eats at home. Two, a pound of it costs only a buck-twenty at Safeway. Do you know how much kale it takes to get to a pound? Considering that its weight is comparable to looseleaf paper, the answer is quite a lot.

BUT! Kale is great, and everyone should eat more of it, especially when you are feeling as zaftig as I feel now. Thanksgiving came and went, and all I got was this lousy back flab. Until recently, though, I did not take full advantage of kale's health benefits. I would cook it for a very long time, usually in bacon fat. I'm no scientist, but I surmise that whatever vitamins (K, C, A, and B6) and other nutrients (fiber and potassium come to mind) kale offers somehow disappear when cooked this way, leaving you with little more than a discolored, if quite tasty, slop to pair with your boiled ham.

The kale in the following recipe is cooked for a much shorter period, which I hope makes it healthier and I know makes it better for reheating as leftovers. Also, thanks to the addition of beans, it rises among the side dish ranks and is possibly up for promotion to main course. Certainly, it makes an ideal light main course for those of us who fear we might soon develop cankles. Oh, who am I kidding? Next post will feature cornbread-crusted chili.

Recipe: Add-a-few-years-to-your-life Kale and Beans
This recipe is inspired by, but loosely based on, Deborah Madison's kale with cannellini beans from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I omitted rosemary, which probably would've been good, but I didn't feel like buying it. I added some sugar as well as lemon, since I happened to have one and since I thought it would somehow make the kale taste fresher. Her recipe calls for white wine, which I don't usually buy -- but I had some red on hand. I plan to continue to use red, as the reduction sauce looks much more dramatic this way. You could also use vinegar, if you or your budget prefers. But you definitely need some kind of acid here to temper the bitterness of the kale. Assuming you already have the majority of the ingredients, this recipe need not cost much more than $2, or about 33 cents per serving.
Serves 6 as light main course.

1 lb kale, ribs removed
1.5 T olive oil
1 shallot or small onion, minced
1/2 t sugar
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 C red wine (preferred) or white wine or vinegar
1.5 C white beans (may use any other bean, too)
juice of one lemon quarter (optional, but highly recommended)

Place all of the kale in a large pot and fill it with water so about half the kale is covered. Bring to a slow simmer on medium heat. Reduce heat to low-medium and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Drain and return to pot. This technique is sort of a lazy man's braise. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in another relatively large pot over medium heat. Add the minced shallot or onion and sugar, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, cooking an additional minute. Add the wine or vinegar, and increase heat to medium-high. Cook until wine or vinegar is reduced to a syrupy consistency, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low and add beans, kale, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to your taste.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Save the Dead Turkeys Project

Do you know where your turkey carcass is tonight?

If the garbage man hasn't already taken it away, remove it from the garbage immediately. Then remove any leftover skin, and return that to the garbage, holding tightly to your precious carcass. Then remove any large pieces of meat, and consider using them to make a turkey salad (recipe follows). Or add them to soup. Or make a turkey sandwich. Or just eat it straight off the dead bird with your fingers. I don't care, as long as you waste nothing. Then return to the almost-clean carcass. Then begin dreaming up all the delicious soups you will soon make with your very own homemade turkey stock.

Recipe: Turkey Stock
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking, 1997 ed. Makes 12 to 20 cups of stock.

1 turkey carcass from a 12- to 25-lb bird, broken up, plus any rogue bones lying around
1 onion, quartered
1 carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 small bunch parsley (optional)

Put the turkey carcass in a large stockpot and fill the pot with cold water so that turkey is just barely covered. Bring water to a boil over medium heat, reduce the heat and simmer gently about 30 minutes. Skim often to remove impurities floating at surface. Add remaining ingredients and simmer, uncovered, for 3 hours. Continue skimming impurities and add water as needed to cover contents of pot. Strain into a clean pot or heat proof container. Let cool, uncovered, then refrigerate. Remove the fat when ready to use. May also be kept frozen for up to one month.

Recipe: Curried Turkey Salad
So good! I usually make it with chicken, but it's equally good, if not better, with turkey. Great on sandwiches. Makes 4 servings.

1/2 C plain yogurt, preferably Greek-style
1 T plus 1 t curry powder
1/4 t salt
1/4 t pepper
1/4 C sliced almonds
1/4 C golden raisins
2 C shredded turkey meat
salt to taste

Mix together the yogurt, curry powder, salt and pepper. May be made a few days in advance and kept in the refrigerator. Stir together almonds, raisins, turkey, and yogurt. Season with salt to taste. Keeps in the refrigerator for up to about 5 days.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Turkey Day Recipe Ambush

Not going to go off on my usual multi-paragraph introductory tangent. Just getting down to business for everyone's favorite gastronomical throwdown and typing up the recipes for three items I'll be contributing to this year's smorgasbord. But I would like to take a moment to reflect on how very economical Thanksgiving can be. First of all, a turkey is not exactly a highfalutin' bird. It feeds a ton of people and leaves behind a carcass big enough to make a whole vat of delicious stock. Secondly, the sides are almost as proletarian as the main course. In no other American holiday do homely tubers and root vegetables play such a starring role. Thirdly, these homely tubers and root vegetables often originate in cans, and are then sprinkled with marshmallows and served in casserole dishes. And fourthly, gelatinous sliced cranberry sauce. That sentence doesn't even need a verb.

Above picture stolen from but at least attributed to the Dallas Morning News

Recipe: Sweet Potato Chips (not pictured above)

These are kind of labor intensive, but everyone loves them. And they are a lot less labor intensive now that I have a mandoline. Mine's kind of fancy (Cuisinart -- it was a gift) but, even so, it was around $30 according to the gift-giver. And now that there's, you know, a recession, you could probably find one a lot cheaper than that. Terra Chips, be damned!

Serves about six people sitting in front of a football game. No matter how many chips you make, there ain't never enough!

2-3 large yams or 5-6 sweet potatoes
1/3 C olive oil
2 T cumin
2 T nutmeg
peanut oil for frying - as much as you need to fill your pot 1.5 in.
sugar for dusting
salt for dusting

Peel the yams/sweet potatoes as thin as you can without slicing off your fingers. Roll them around with the olive oil, cumin, and nutmeg, so all are fairly evenly coated. "Marinate" them for a couple hours or up to 24 hours. Heat the peanut oil in a heavy pot at medium-high heat. You'll know it's ready to go when you drop in one of the smaller chips and it immediately sizzles. Fry the chips in several batches to avoid overcrowding in the pot. You definitely don't need to fry them in just a single layer, but be prepared to do some stirring around so they don't stick to each other. Each batch should be done and crispy in about 3 minutes. Remove the chips from the pot with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel on top of a plate. Add the next batch and, while it's frying, sprinkle the chips that are drying on the paper towel with salt and sugar. Once they seem fairly dry, transfer them to a large bowl. Change paper towels every couple of batches. Repeat these steps with the remaining batches. Very good with cilantro-garlic yogurt sauce as dip.

Addendum, or On The Joys of Peanut Oil:

I've used other oils to make these, but peanut oil definitely works the best. I find that canola and vegetable oil can be hard to control, and the chips end up either soggy or charred, plus they taste too much of the oil and not enough of sweet potatoes. Olive oil is absolutely out of the question for deep frying. However, peanut oil is not all that cheap (I usually find it on sale at Safeway for around $17), and I think people are hesitant to buy it since it only comes in monstrous jugs. What if you never need to use it again?!?! Well, my friend, once you start frying in peanut oil, you will never go back. Its good qualities are its mild flavor and high smoking point. Its bad qualities are none, except maybe the price. But let's think about these sweet potato chips as an example: all you really need to buy are 2 yams ($1?). To fry up a large batch, you will use roughly a quarter of the jug of peanut oil -- less if you use a pot with a smallish diameter. So, really, this awesomely impressive appetizer that serves a crowd of football-frenzied, hungry Owen men costs about $5. An impressive feat, to say the least.

UPDATE: Shopper's sells peanut oil for $12! So now you really have no excuse to avoid it.

Recipe: Sausage and Cornbread Stuffing

I made this for the first time last year, and it was a hit. Unfortunately, I cannot locate my original source for this recipe. If you've ever heard me harp on some of my former students' sneaky ways, you know that nothing boils my blood like a plagiarizer, but I hope you will forgive me this one indiscretion.

My family also still serves the
Joy of Cooking's traditional bread stuffing, since Owens can be somewhat hunkerous about their traditions. Hence, the cloying sweet potato casserole continues to feature prominently, despite my years of protest. But this stuffing was quite popular among the more progressive members of the family. Yes, I realize sausage and cornbread stuffing is not exactly newfangled, but we're a gelatinous sliced cranberry sauce kind of people.

Serves 12-14.

5-6 hot Italian sausages
4 T olive oil
2 C chopped carrot
2 C chopped celery
1 C chopped onion
1 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1/2 C fresh sage leaves, chopped
1 13" x 9" pan of cornbread, double Mark Bittman's recipe or use two boxes of corn bread mix
6 eggs
1 C chicken stock, plus more if needed

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Remove sausage casings and heat 1 T olive oil in large pot over medium-high heat; add sausages and break up and brown them. Remove from pot, drain sausages on paper towel, and set aside. Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the same pot, and add the vegetables, salt, pepper, and sage. Cook about 10 minutes, until veggies are slightly soft. Crumble the corn bread in a very large bowl and add to it the sausage, veggies, egg, and chicken stock. Stir everything together. If it seems dry, add a bit more chicken stock. Transfer to a 2-quart baking dish and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or till browned and crispy.

Recipe: Flourless Chocolate Cake

I've already overdosed on the pumpkin desserts, so I will be bringing this cake. I have not made it before, but the recipe comes from the Cook's Illustrated Holiday Baking Book (on sale today at grocery stores nationwide!), and was created by Alice Medrich, aka the Queen of Chocolate, so I know it's going to be fabulous. I love that it requires only three ingredients: eggs, butter, and chocolate.

In all
Cook's Illustrated recipes, the cook/author has an extremely specific goal in mind, and tests as many versions of a particular dish as necessary to meet that specific goal (after all, they do work at America's Test Kitchen). Alice describes her vision of the perfect flourless chocolate cake as follows:

"I wanted something dense, moist, and ultrachocolaty, but with some textural finesse. I wanted a texture somewhere between a substantial marquis au chocolat--that dense, buttery, and just slightly aerated chocolate mousse with a characteristic dry but creamy texture--and a heavy New York-style cheesecake. I wanted the flavor and character of good, eating-quality chocolate to reign supreme, with no unnecessary sweetness and not even a grain of sugar on the palate. In short, I wanted an intense bittersweet "adult" dessert -- no sticky kid's stuff."

Wow. While I'm happy if any dessert I make is merely intact, Alice's lofty goal yet inspires me to do better! Her description also puts to words exactly how I think a flourless chocolate cake should be. The family will no doubt be blown away by the ultrachocolaty finesse of this intense bittersweet "adult" dessert, so long as I take extra care not to miss some important step.

Serves 12-16. Best made a day in advance, and stored in the refrigerator overnight.

2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces, plus extra for greasing pan
8 eggs, cold
1 lb semisweet chocolate, chopped coarse
1/4 C strong coffee or coffee liqueur (optional)
powdered sugar or cocoa powder for dusting (optional)

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line bottom of 8-in. springform pan with parchment paper and grease the sides of pan. Wrap outside of pan with 2 sheets of aluminum foil and set in large roasting pan. Bring a kettle of water to boil.

Beat eggs in large bowl (preferably with whisk attachment, if your mixer has one) at high speed until the volume doubles, about 5 min.

Meanwhile, melt chocolate and butter (with coffee or liqueur, if using) in large heatproof bowl set over pan of almost simmering water until smooth and very warm (about 115 degrees on instant-read thermometer), stirring once or twice. Using spatula, fold one-third of egg foam into chocolate mixture until only a few streaks of the egg are visible; fold in half of remaining foam, then last of foam, until mixture is totally homogeneous.

Scrape batter into prepared springform pan and smooth surface with rubber spatula. Set roasting pan on oven rack and pour in enough boiling water to come about halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Bake 22 to 25 minutes, until cake has risen slightly, edges are just beginning to set, thin-glazed brownielike crust has formed on surface, and instant-read thermometer inserted halfway into center reads 140 degrees. Remove cake pan from water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

About 30 minutes before serving, remove sides of pan, invert cake onto sheet of wax paper, peel off parchment paper, and reinvert cake onto serving platter. Sieve light sprinkling of powdered sugar or cocoa powder over cake, if desired.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Two New(ish) Cheap Eateries in Chevy Chase

It's Chicken Madness here!

I have yet to try the new Don Pollo (that's "Sir Chicken" to you), the Peruvian rotisserie chicken place in Chevy Chase, but I used to frequent the Rockville location all the time and, damn, was it ever good. I'm not sure how much the Chevy Chase location charges for the generous Quarter Chicken meal (includes either a breast and wing or thigh and drumstick; two sides from your choice of rice and beans, plantains, fried yucca, and a couple less exciting options; and two awesome dipping sauces - a spicy chimichurri type thing and an aioli type thing), but in Rockville it was only $5.25. It's such a filling meal that even I would pay more than that, and I suspect I will have to at its fancy new digs in the 20815. But the fried yucca alone is worth every penny.

A spot whose goodness and low prices I can attest to is Saveur India, conveniently located below the Trader Joe's. It's been around for probably about a year now. I've had their lamb curry lunch special (excellent), which I think cost around $7 or $8, but last night, when leaving TJ's, I noticed a sign for a new lunch special: $5 gets you a quarter tandoori chicken, naan, a salad, and I think one other thing. Specificity never was my strong suit. But you should try it, or you should join me and we should try it together! Only five buckaroonies!

Don Pollo
7007 Wisconsin Ave
Chevy Chase, MD 20815

Saveur India
6831 Wisconsin Ave Suite, #29
Chevy Chase, MD 20815

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Paean to the Incredibl[y cheap] Edibl[y amazing] Egg, Part I

[To the tune of Sheryl Crow's "All I Wanna Do." I apologize in advance - it came to me this morning while assembling my fried egg sandwich in a bleary-eyed state.]

All I wanna do
Is eat some eggs
I got a feelin'
I can eat cheap for days

All I wanna do
Is eat some eggs
Until my carton runs out and I
Gotta make a run to the store

Even if the price of eggs has increased significantly over the past couple years, they are still a great value when you consider that one egg can be a pretty filling snack (or a whole meal for someone with better portion control than the average Owen). Plus, they do really cool things, like make your food puff up or help it stick together!

The Dutch Baby, or baked pancake, is a true testament to the egg's magical powers. Minutes after being placed in an oven, a seemingly mundane pancake batter morphs into an otherworldly balloon of fluffy deliciousness. Owing to the addition of a few more eggs than your typical pancake batter, the result is thrilling.

I got to know the Dutch Baby at The Original Pancake House. The first time I saw one, I was mesmerized, both by its dramatic aesthetic and by my amazement that a lone individual could consume something of such impressive size. But mine eyes deceived me: the Dutch Baby is, upon closer inspection, a hollow bowl with a texture far more delicate than that of a regular stovetop pancake. Even a non-Owen should be able to polish off the whole thing in a few minutes.

You could order one at the Original Pancake House for about $10, or you could make one at home for about $0.65. I've experimented with three different recipes, courtesy of Orangette, Alton Brown, and The Joy of Cooking. I hesitate to disparage anyone else's recipe, since I am famously inept at following directions of any kind. But Orangette's recommendation of an extravagant four eggs produced a Dutch Baby that was too puffy and misshapen to even fit on any plate I own. Alton Brown's recipe is too fussy and particular - not my style for a lazy Sunday breakfast (or any time, really) - and calls for only two eggs. That's just not enough puff. The Joy version calls for too much sugar. And Joy and Orangette both require more butter than seems prudent. The following recipe borrows from all three sources and, if I may say so myself, gives birth to the perfect Dutch Baby.

Tragically, my camera broke, so I recommend that you go to Google Images and search for "Dutch Baby." The search will yield pictures of dramatic pancakes and blond infants wearing funny hats.

Recipe: The Most Delicious Baby You Ever Did Eat (aka Dutch Baby aka Baked Pancake)
Serves 1. This recipe was MADE for the lonely people. You could make more than one, but you would need one cast iron pan for every person at the table.

3 T butter
3 eggs
1/2 c whole milk or half-and-half
1/2 c flour
2 T sugar
2 lemon slices (optional)
powdered sugar for sprinkling

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Melt the butter in a 10-inch cast iron pan over medium-low heat. Meanwhile, mix together the eggs, milk, flour, and sugar to make a batter. Pour the batter into the pan, without stirring anything, and cook for one minute. Transfer pan to heated oven and bake 12-15 minutes, until puffed up and starting to brown. It's okay if the center seems a bit undercooked. Remove from oven, transfer to a plate, and serve immediately with lemons and powdered sugar (I recommend sieving the powdered sugar for evenness and conservation).

Monday, November 10, 2008

Double-teaming some good sauce

By my standards, a recipe is good if I make it more than once. So what does it mean when I make a recipe four times in a span of ten days?

Pure deliciousness. That's what it means.

The geniuses at Cheap Healthy Good got me hooked on this particular puttanesca sauce, which I then modified based on my own refrigerator supply. As with any homemade tomato sauce, it should be suitable to your own taste and kitchen inventory, so the following recipe is only a relaxed guideline.

Puttanesca, by the way, means something like "in the style of a whore." Well, this whore done me right. It's spicy, complex, and good with just about anything. Ergo, I give you not only the puttanesca recipe, but a week of delicious sauciness rationed into two impressive and long-lasting dishes. Of course, you could always spread the love: invite a bunch of friends for dinner and serve it over any pasta. I promise there will be no sloppy seconds left over.

Recipe: Puttanesca Sauce You Might Sell Your Dignity For
Serves 6 when used as a pasta sauce

2 T olive oil
1 small or half of a large onion, diced
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
1 T Worcestershire sauce or 1.5 t chopped anchovies
1/4 C chopped olives
1.5 T capers, with a bit of brine
1.5 t crushed red pepper flakes, or 1/2 t ground cayenne pepper
1/2 t dried oregano
1/2 t dried basil (may also use one teaspoon of either basil or oregano, if you don't already have both of the herbs)

In a saucepan over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and saute till translucent. Add the garlic and saute for another minute or two. Add all of the remaining ingredients. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes.

Recipe: Wanton Baked Ziti
If you, too, live in a household of two people or fewer, I recommend making two small pans, baking one of them and freezing the other. One 13" x 9" pan serves 8, heartily.

1 lb dried ziti or penne rigate
3 cups puttanesca sauce, see recipe above
1/2 c grated Parmesan, divided
1 C ricotta or cottage cheese
1 C shredded mozzarella, divided

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and cook the pasta till al dente - tender but slightly firm. Drain and return to pot, off burner. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Stir in the puttanesca sauce, about half of the Parmesan, all of the ricotta or cottage cheese, and half the mozzarella. Add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a greased 13" x 9" baking dish, or divide into two smaller dishes (I've used pie pans, loaf pans -- anything, except maybe a cookie sheet, works as long as you keep an eye on it while it's baking). Sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan. Bake about 30 minutes or until golden and bubbling.

Then, use the remaining sauce to dip homemade calzones!

Recipe: Lascivious Spinach Calzones
Makes 3 calzones.
Trader Joe's sells pizza dough for 99 cents a pound. I would steer you toward a recipe for homemade, but it's not like Anthony Bourdain is critiquing this blog.

1.5 T olive oil
1 small onion, minced (optional)
1/2 lb fresh spinach (about two very large handfuls)
1 lb pizza dough (I used whole wheat, which turned out well)
1 C shredded mozzarella
1 beaten egg (optional)
remaining puttanesca sauce for dipping

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion and saute till translucent. Add spinach and saute till wilted, stirring, just a few minutes. Remove from heat. Divide pizza dough into three fairly even sections. On floured surface, roll each section into a circle as flat as can be without causing holes. Spread a third of the spinach and onion mixture over half of each of the circles. Sprinkle each half with a third of the mozzarella, and salt and pepper to your taste. Fold over the dough in the other half of each circle, and squeeze together so that none of the filling escapes. You may want to water your hands to do this. Brush each calzone with egg if you desire. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until puffed up and just starting to brown. Reheat the puttanesca sauce and use it to dip the calzones.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

If it's good enough for the president-elect, it's good enough for me

In honor of Barack Obama's historic victory, this post features a treat that I know he likes, or at least pretended to like while on the campaign trail. When he was stumping for the primary early this year, he stopped at Mayorga Coffee in Silver Spring. I used to study and grade papers there sometimes, and happened to just miss him by a day. While placing my coffee order, I eyed the stack of plastic-wrapped coffee cake slices by the cash register and, probably, as is my way, asked, "The coffee cake: is it delicious?" The barista answered, "Well, Barack Obama had it yesterday." Sold.

The coffee cake at Mayorga wasn't actually that great, but the coffee cake in the recipe below is. I've adapted it from a Barefoot Contessa recipe, which may come as a surprise given Ina Garten's rather anti-proletarian approach to food. I've made many of her recipes, and liked them all, but I find the items in her ingredients lists are geared more toward the budget of, I don't know, a Food Network star. But you don't have to live in Easthampton or have unlimited access to fresh lobster tail to make this coffee cake (obviously, since coffee cake with lobster would be gross). I didn't even have to buy any new ingredients. And I overbaked it, as I tend to do, and it was still good. It's cake we can believe in.

Recipe: Barack Obama Coffee Cake

For the cake:
12 T (1.5 sticks) butter at room temperature
1.5 C sugar
3 eggs at room temperature
1.5 t vanilla
1.25 C sour cream
2.5 C cake flour
2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt

For the streusel:
1/4 C brown sugar
1/2 C all-purpose flour
1.5 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t salt
3 T cold butter cut into small pieces

For the glaze:
1/2 C powdered sugar
2 T maple syrup

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-in. Bundt pan.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with a mixer, add eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla and sour cream. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add this mixture to the batter until just combined.

For the streusel, pinch together all the streusel ingredients in a separate bowl to form a crumble.

Spoon half the batter into the pan. Sprinkle it with about 3/4 C of the streusel mixture. Spoon the rest of the batter on top, spread it out, and sprinkle the remaining streusel over it. Bake 50-60 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Let it cool before removing from pan.

For the glaze, whisk together the powdered sugar and maple syrup until it's gooey. Drizzle it over the cooled coffee cake so it looks purty.


No cake flour? No problem! Combine 2 and a quarter cups of all-purpose flour with one quarter-cup plus one tablespoon of cornstarch. Allegedly, if you don't have cornstarch, you can just measure out a 2 and a quarter cups of the all-purpose flour and subtract two tablespoons.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Let's drink to thriftiness

Brrr! I said it's cold in here!
There must be a recession in the atmosphere!Link
It's not even Halloween yet, and already it's colder than a witch's tit. Before you crank up the thermostat, only to be left in the cold when your heating bill soars, consider warming up with a hot toddy. This drink is a miracle: it's super cheap to make, packed with antioxidants, and guaranteed to clear sinuses and cure scurvy, shingles, smallpox, gout, dropsy, dysentery, dyspepsia, diptheria, and the consumption. At the very least, it's liquid Prozac for anyone who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder.

The traditional hot toddy consists of about two parts tea, one part brandy, a tablespoon of honey, and a slice of lemon, but you can also make a delicious bourbon hot toddy. Drinkable bourbon, however, tends to be a lot more expensive than drinkable brandy, but the Washington Post has lots of suggestions on how to recession-proof your liquor cabinet (thanks, Sanders!).

I make my hot toddies with E&J's XO Brandy. It may not be the very cheapest you can buy, at around $12 for 750ml, but it's certainly palatable, and it lasts the whole winter as long as you don't develop a major habit. I also cut corners and save money by skipping the lemon and honey and using instead honey lemon black tea or, in a pinch, lemon ginger green tea. I've also used pomegranate white tea and plain Earl Grey (with no honey or lemon added) to good effect. And, to save more money, as well as brain cells, calories, and myself from hangovers, I add just one shot of brandy instead of the recommended two. After all, it's the kind of beverage you consume while reading a good book with a cat on your lap, not the kind you use to play Flip Cup. On second thought...

Recipe: The Cozy Cat Lady's Recession-Era Hot Toddy
Serves 1

1 tea bag (can be lemon ginger, honey lemon, pomegranate, Earl Grey, or any fruity tea, really)
1 mug of boiling water
1 shot of brandy

Brew the tea. After it has steeped about 5 minutes, add the brandy. Cure what ails ye.

What if you buy brandy and find you don't like the hot toddy? Make mulled cider!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Peasant Food, Truly

So I hear there's a financial crisis/likely-recession-possible-
depression-to-be. Why haven't I posted more lately?

Possibly because I have not been following recipes: they tend to require too many ingredients I can't afford.

I personally have not yet been hit by Wall Street's great fall, nor by the terrifying credit crunch, but I still feel a constant pressure to not buy. Where weather changes normally would've sent me to Loehmann's in search of a few new sweaters, I've been staying in most nights and spending a surprising amount of time fretting over the hypothetical costs of my upcoming heating bills. And, compared to so many people, I have it easy. It has been easy for me to feign frugality, when in reality I'm pretty self-indulgent. I go out to eat and travel frequently. I have more clothes than anyone who calls herself "Economical" should have. And I am pretty confident I will always have a safety net (though, clearly, confidence doesn't count for much).

In short, my so-called economical food repertoire has not changed a whole lot. Still eating a fried egg sandwich for breakfast almost every day; still eating bean- or grain-centric leftovers for lunch; still occasionally grabbing a cookie or four at Baked & Wired in the afternoon; and still munching on whatever's around or testing something new for dinner. Or going out. And let's not forget all the beer and wine I still consume (I gratefully scored five bottles for free last night at the Montgomery County Humane Society's Wines for Canines and Felines event. Volunteering at benefits that rich people attend is quite possibly the most economical thing one can do).

One recipe I have been using, and which is definitely worth posting in light of the global economic crisis, comes from Nepali and North Indian peasants. Seems melodramatic enough to compare my own very lucky financial situation to that of destitute farmers in a frequent war zone. In any case, the real working poor know how to get by in unusually tough times.

Recipe: Dahl Saag (lentils with spinach)

Adapted from a variety of internet sources for the sake of being as cheap to make as possible; spelling remains creative. If you ever come across a used copy of any Julie Sahni book, please buy it for me and I will pay you back in curry.

Traditionally, it pairs with ghee (clarified butter), though it is still tasty enough without. Please scroll to the end of this post for a recipe for ghee. Additionally, it is great in a pita or sopped up by roti or naan or served over rice, but still good on its own when extra carbohydrates are a luxury.

My own version is meant to be easily modified depending on what ingredients you already have; the only real necessities are lentils (or, really, any legume) and spinach (or, really, any green).

Serves 6 and reheats well in microwave.

1/2 bag of lentils
1 lb spinach (for your wallet's sake, please don't buy the bagged version)
1 small onion
1 /2 t ground turmeric
1 t mustard seeds (I used 1/2 t dijon mustard, which complicates the dish a bit with additional ingredients like vinegar, but which still worked well)
1/2 t cumin
1 t garam masala (optional, but highly recommended if you already have it.)
1 t salt
1 t chili powder
2 T ghee (see recipe, following; if you don't have butter to make ghee, use vegetable oil)

Rinse the lentils and chop the spinach. Boil 3 cups of water and add the lentils, turmeric, salt and chili powder. Cook for 5 minutes and add the spinach. Keep on a medium heat till most of the moisture has gone.

Meanwhile heat ghee and in it fry the onions, mustard seeds and cumin seeds till golden. Stir into the lentils and spinach along with the garam masala. Keep on a moderate heat till cooked. The dish is dry, but add a little water to prevent catching.

Recipe: Ghee (best word ever)
Adapted from Alton Brown's recipe

1 stick of butter

Place butter in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring butter to boil. This takes approximately 2 to 3 minutes. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium. The butter will form a foam which will disappear. Ghee is done when a second foam forms on top of butter, and the butter turns golden. Approximately 7 to 8 minutes. Brown milk solids will be in bottom of pan. Gently pour into heatproof container through fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth. Store in airtight container being sure to keep free from moisture. Ghee does not need refrigeration and will keep in airtight container for up to 1 month.


-If you don't have the exotic ingredients required to make a true dahl saag, don't fret: even with just salt and pepper, this dish is more than edible.

-Allegedly, quinoa is a "superfood," meaning it has enough nutrients to on its own sustain y0u for years. Consider serving this dish over quinoa.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The best cookbooks are (practically) free

Despite its mostly well-deserved reputation as a seat of snobbery and high-end retail chains, Georgetown offers a few delightful surprises for the Economical Epicurean--that is, on the rare occasion she can escape her overworked thesaurus and wretched iBook long enough to take a leisurely lunch break. One such surprise is Baked & Wired, her latest frenemy, who once forced her to order not one but four cookies and eat them all in the same brief sitting. Thanks, Baked & Wired, for introducing four new cookie varieties that the Economical Epicurean just HAD to try immediately. Including a small coffee, the check came to about $10. Economical, indeed.

By the way, though I disdain the cupcake fad of late, I would like to add that Baked & Wired beats the frou-frou Georgetown Cupcake at its own game -- and never has that inexplicable line out the door.

ANYWAY, this post is supposed to be about cookbooks, not cupcakes, which brings me to my next great Georgetown discovery, Bartleby Books, on 29th Street near the Canal. What drew me in was a used copy of Pam Anderson's How to Cook Without a Book in the display window. Inside, the store is musty and cramped, full of first editions and other rare treats. Behind the cash register hangs a collection of old maps, including a small 1650 rendering of North America, with California an island hovering to the left of the continent. At $1,300, it is something the Economical Epicurean can only dream of hanging in her house. Alas, used cookbooks are a much more practical pursuit! In addition to the rather ironically titled but nonetheless very helpful How to Cook Without a Book (great for amateur cooks like me who are still shaky with certain techniques), I came across a mint condition copy of Deborah Madison's famous Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. With its hardcover, 700+ pages, and beautiful photography, this book retails at $40, but Bartleby was peddling it for $10. I snatched it up real fast.

The lone employee at Bartleby explained that some serious epicurean had just donated his or her entire cookbook collection. In the pile where I spotted Vegetarian Cooking, Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Vegetables and Dorie Greenspan's Baking with Julia also beckoned to me, though on this rare occasion the Economical triumphed over the Epicurean.

Probably half the cookbooks in my own collection came from used bookstores or book sales. I'm not sure how people can bear to give these up, but thanks to their poor judgment I've acquired dirt-cheap copies of The Silver Palate, The Silver Palate Good Times, a New York Times cookbook from the Craig Claiborne years, Barbara Kafka's Food for Friends, Marian Burros's Cooking for Comfort, and Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook, as well as a few other less notable titles.

One of my favorite finds has been Recipes and Reminiscences of New Orleans Volume II: Our Cultural Heritage, compiled in 1981 by staff and parents of the city's Ursuline Academy and dedicated to the nuns who ran it. I bought it for 50 cents at a Friends of the Library book sale in Rockville a few years ago. Spiral bound and slightly stained, it is classified not by course but, somewhat archaically, by cuisines special to each major ethnic group of New Orleans, such as the "Creole," "Acadians," "Germans," "Black People of New Orleans," and "Oriental and Polynesian." At the beginning of every section is a brief (but certainly lengthy for a cookbook) history of the particular group's role in New Orleans' culinary heritage. Though these histories occasionally take on a patronizing, essentialist tone -- "As the Black cook prepares it, it is unforgettable" -- the recipes themselves are short, simple, and all derived from local (i.e., authentic) sources. Below, my slightly modified and renamed version of Shrimp Creole, which is much easier than you would expect. If you want to spring for fresh shrimp, great -- but Trader Joe's frozen does the trick.

Recipe: Nun-on-the-Run Shrimp Creole
Adapted from Recipes and Reminiscences of New Orleans Volume II: Our Cultural Heritage.
Serves 4.

1 lb. shrimp, cleaned
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
4 T (half a stick) butter
1 green pepper, chopped
1 T flour
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 c water
1/4 t dried thyme
2 T fresh chopped parsley
1 t salt
1/2 t ground pepper
dash of tabasco
1/2 t lemon juice
1 bay leaf

In large saucepan, saute onion, garlic, and green pepper in butter for 8 minutes over medium heat. Blend in flour for one minute. Add shrimp, tomato sauce, water, thyme, parsley, salt, pepper, Tabasco, lemon juice, and bay leaf. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Serve over rice.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Quinoa Quinceanera

It's certainly not my quinceanera (and can anyone tell me how to type a tilde on the internets?), but there just aren't that many Q words synonymous with "extravaganza." And I write advertising for a living, so of course it has to be alliterative. Actually, instead of turning 15 (my would-be quinceanera), I am 26 as of one week, and you know you're getting old when you spent your birthday singing the praises of grains. I'm lame, yes, but I'm also happy to return to the EE after a three-month hiatus. And, with this return, I bring you a spectacular quinoa "recipe." The quotation marks are intended to convey that it's not really a recipe, but rather a concept, which makes it spectacularly improvisational and, thus, perfect for the parsimonious.

If you haven't yet joined the quinoa qlub (sorry), here's what you need to know: quinoa is a gluten-free grain that makes a great substitute for couscous, bulgur, or even rice. It's a bit denser and takes longer to cook than couscous; sizewise, it's bigger than the cous cous grain but smaller than the wheatberry. Most importantly, it's pronounced "KEEN-wah," and if you call it "kwin-OH-uh," as I once did, you might look stupid in certain circles. Here's what you don't need to know, but which may at some point in your lifetime prove useful in trivia: it originally hails from the Andes and it's one of the more famous siblings in a family of flowering plants known as the Goosefoots (goosefeet?).

This quinoa "recipe" is quickly becoming a national phenomenon since its accidental inception in San Francisco. Okay, "phenomenon" may be a smidge hyperbolic, but its lore has indeed traveled from coast to coast. Here's how I became acquainted with the very economical culinary marvel known as "Seth Quinoa Salad":

My friend Rachel B. (pictured at right!), whose boyfriend is the Seth of the dish's name, was visiting from California before setting off for Spain. We decided to make dinner at my house and, over the phone, rattled off the ingredients we both could contribute. I had a variety of canned beans, grains, a couple different cheeses, some trail mix, an aging zucchini, and a few other vegetables that had seen better days. Rachel had some tomatoes, avocadoes, peppers, and I think a couple other things (it doesn't matter what they were -- that's the beauty of Seth Quinoa Salad!). What could we do with these items, many of which were about to turn? (Truth be told, some of them already had turned, but the true Economical Epicurean has a stomach of steel and believes that "sell by" dates are for sissies.)

"The spirit of Seth Quinoa Salad," Rachel explained, is a commitment to using up whatever's languishing in the refrigerator or ripening on the windowsill. Somehow, the quinoa unifies all these disparate ingredients. In our case, we didn't even use quinoa, but whole wheat couscous (no sense in going to the store when the cabinet's already stocked with a perfectly good grain). I do think, though, that quinoa is better suited here; couscous grains are so tiny and delicate that they seemed a bit overwhelmed by the motley assortment of veg, cheese, and nuts.

Anti-recipe: Seth Quinoa Salad

Toss together:

-1 cup of dried quinoa, cooked according to package instructions (may substitute bulgur, couscous, or rice)
-A bizarre assortment of leftovers: diced tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, diced peppers, diced zucchini or other squash, really any vegetable, any herbs, any cheese (especially blue), any nuts, any dried fruit (trail mix was a particularly intelligent choice here, if I do say so myself). You could also go crazy with some grilled chicken, hardboiled eggs, or old bread made into croutons.
-Any beans - we used chickpeas. I want to stress that this component is very optional, since the whole point of SQS is to use up old stuff, and beans don't exactly go bad if still dry or in the can. Ideally, you cooked half a can of beans the night before and now have the rest standing by in the frigerator, eager to be eaten.
-An easy and cheap dressing: my favorite contains two parts olive oil, one part balsamic vinegar, and one part fruit preserves (can be any kind, but strawberry's extra good here), and salt and pepper. Rachel and I got jazzy this time and pestled together some olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and I think some kind of herb and some maple syrup. Really doesn't matter, as Casper will tell you.

"Heavens!" Casper exclaims. "Already 3 days old, and this Seth Quinoa Salad is still green as ever! Truly, it keeps nearly as well as Tender Vittles. Oh, ho -- if only!"

Other uses of quinoa:
Try it in lieu of couscous in my recipes for Sprightly Spring Couscous and Couscous with Personality!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Love them to death

For my friend Sarah's (count her among my four or maybe six readers) birthday, I made a dish that I had seen on Paula Deen's cooking show. Although I am not one of her regular viewers, I do appreciate Paula's total lack of fussiness and snobbery, as evidenced particularly in her use of a can of Cream of Mushroom soup in at least half of her entrees. Also, I happen to have a bizarre on-again/off-again love affair with Savannah, Georgia -- Paula's home base -- which may have something to do with why she's so appealing in a guilty-pleasure sort of way. The guilt, this time, and the pleasure, came in the form of deep-fried, bacon-wrapped macaroni and cheese. Because it's not enough to just deep fry mac 'n' cheese -- gotta add some nitrates, too! Anyway, my slightly modified version is worth posting, if only for thrills. Definitely a conversation piece anywhere. Happy Birthday, Sarah!

Recipe: Hurt So Good (Deep-Fried, Bacon-Wrapped Macaroni and Cheese)

[You could just make the mac and cheese and call it a high-calorie day. But if you really want to take five years off your life, continue all the way through.]

Serves 8 people with fairly normal eating habits or 3 Montgomery County cops.

3 C macaroni
1.5 C grated cheddar
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 C sour cream
4 T butter, cut into pieces
1 C milk
1 lb. bacon
flour for deep frying
2 or 3 eggs, beaten (may be substituted with 1/2 to 1 C milk)
plain bread crumbs for deep frying
peanut oil for deep frying (may also use vegetable oil, though results will not be as crispy nor as sinful)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Boil macaroni according to directions. While macaroni is boiling, stir together eggs, sour cream, butter, and milk. Do not worry about butter mixing in perfectly; it's in there for flavor. Drain macaroni and, while still hot, add cheddar. Stir in egg mixture. Spread macaroni with egg mixture into 13" x 9" baking dish and bake 30-45 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and slightly browned. Refrigerate at least a few hours or until chilled. Heat oil in deep pan (I used a stockpot -- frying pans never work for deep frying). Cut chilled mac and cheese into 3- or 4-inch squares. Wrap each square in one strip of bacon, securing with a toothpick. Roll bacon-wrapped squares in flour, then dip completely in egg (or milk), and roll in breadcrumbs. Test the oil to make sure it's hot enough by dropping in a tiny piece of the mac and cheese. If it immediately sizzles, you're good to go. Fry squares till dark golden brown (1-3 minutes, depending on heat of your stove). Eat cautiously.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Chicken with Pluck

Just over a week ago, I was advising, rather adamantly, that all four of my readers eat only beans and a few greens and bootlegged chicken salad. I think my fanaticism may have been a result of my unemployment, which, I'm pleased to announce, will be a thing of the past starting this Monday. So, I've decided to really let loose and celebrate with a chicken recipe! You know it's an official throwdown when there's poultry being served. Eating like kings, I tell you! We're even buying fresh herbs (but only because the cats kept sitting in my herb pots).

In all seriousness, this recipe's really, really good. I wish I could say I invented it myself, but, alas, it's another Mark Bittman gem. Actually, it came from one of his readers, who answered a request in "The Minimalist" column last year for recipes for summery ten-minute meals. I'm including the link here, as it features this chicken recipe as well as nine other keepers.

Below, my more detailed and slightly modified version of the "Basil chicken, Indian style." FYI, with the marinade time it takes quite a bit longer than ten minutes, though the prep time is quick.

Recipe: Basil Chicken

1/2 C basil leaves
5 cloves garlic
one-inch piece of fresh ginger or 1 t ground ginger
6-oz plain yogurt
2 T olive oil
1 T lemon juice
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1 t salt
1/2 t pepper
4 chicken pieces (boneless, skinless breasts are preferred; to save extra money, buy dark pieces or buy it with the skin and bones and just be sure to try to get the marinade under the skin)

Using a mortar and pestle, preferably a very big one, grind together the first 9 ingredients. You can also pulse them together in a food processor for a few seconds, but no more than that. Add to the chicken pieces and marinade overnight, or at least several hours (my mom has marinaded them for about an hour before and the results are still quite good, though not outstanding). Chicken may be broiled, baked, or -- ideally -- grilled.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Hace calor, mucho calor...

My sincerest apologies to all four readers for the nearly two month-long lapse. In between finishing my master's and looking for a real job, I've been subsisting mostly on granola bars, coffee, and the occasional fried egg. Despite this blog's claims to be economical, it also aspires to epicureanism -- and, clearly, the past month and a half's diet does not meet both criteria. Of course, now that I seem to have some free time, Washington area temperatures are topping 100 degrees and all culinary inspirations have melted away like the chocolates I accidentally left in my car over the weekend. What are the unemployed (me) to do in times of such dire heat and dire food prices?

I shall first list what the abject SHOULD NOT eat or drink in such conditions, despite how appealing these options may sound:

-Homemade lemonade: when lemons are almost a dollar each, you're looking at $6 or $7 for a medium sized pitcher. Who do you think you are, Dean & Deluca?

-Meat: it's expensive and you have to cook it. Do you really want to sweat both dollars and bullets?

-Ice cream: it's expensive, even if homemade, and it makes you fat. You can't afford to be fat!

And here is a brief list of what you SHOULD eat, in my alarmist opinion. The fresh fruit and vegetables in these recipes are available now, which is why you don't see any tomatoes. I will probably post a similar but more tomato-heavy list come August -- the DC area's most infamous month.

-Black bean and corn salad/dip: click here for full recipe

-Black-eyed pea salad: click here for full recipe

-Strawberry salad: toss 1 C or so of strawberries with a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar and pepper, add to 2 C of spinach, arugula, or some leafy mix, drizzle with olive oil and goat or feta cheese (for a small splurge). Serves 2 as main course.

-Cilantro-garlic yogurt sauce: combine 1 C plain yogurt, 3/4 C finely chopped cilantro, 1 finely chopped clove garlic, 1/2 t cayenne pepper; chill, covered, at least 30 minutes. Serve in a pita with chickpeas, or use as a dip for chopped raw vegetables.

-Chicken salad: DO NOT MAKE THIS YOURSELF. STEAL IT. It's very easy to get it for free this time of year at a graduation party or wedding shower from hosts who don't have enough room in their refrigerators. Serve in a whole wheat pita for added nutrition.

-Best caesar salad: for dressing, whisk together 3 minced cloves garlic, 3 chopped anchovies, 1 t salt, 1 t pepper, 1 T lemon juice, 1 t Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 t dijon mustard, 1 egg yolk, and 1/3 C olive oil. Add to 2 chopped heads of Romaine. Sprinkle with 1 C grated Parmesan. If you want croutons, cut up whatever stale bread you have left in the house into 1/2 in cubes; toss with 2 T melted butter, 2 T olive oil, 2 t salt, 1/2 t cayenne, and 1 t ground pepper. Toast in an oven preheated to 450 degrees until golden, about 10 minutes. Add chickpeas or white beans for nutritional value, if desired. Serves 4 as main course.

-Best smoothie for the buck: you have two options here; both begin with a banana.
1) Combine banana, 6 oz. lime yogurt (trust me, it's the best), 1 C orange juice, and 1 C ice in
blender, or
2) Combine banana, 6 oz. chocolate yogurt, 1 C milk, 1 T sugar, and 1 C ice in blender.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Cream of Poverty Soup

I was going to hold off on this one, but now that "food" and "crisis" are pretty much the only two words I hear hear/see/read in the news lately, it's time to throw together a pot of COPS. I think the total cost is about $4 and it feeds one person for an entire week of monotony. You will get so sick of it, but it's filling and healthy, and even tastes kind of good (I won't lie to you -- it's not delicious -- but I can't afford delicious and, according to all the alarmist news sources, neither can you). It's based on the recipe on the bag of Hurst's 15 Beans, but that recipe calls for a ham hock and a lemon. If you don't mind paying a whole dollar for just one lemon, go ahead and live it up. If you would rather put your dollar toward a forty-ounce to go with your bowl of poverty, follow my lead.

Recipe: Cream of Poverty Soup

1 bag of Hurst's 15-bean soup mix or Trader Joe's Bean and Barley Soup mix
a wee bit of oil
1 onion, finely chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 carton or 2 cans of chicken or vegetable broth (or, if you're really scaling down, use water)
1 28-oz. can tomatoes -- doesn't matter if they're whole, plum, diced. Buy whatever's on sale.
lots of salt and pepper
spices, only if you already have them: cumin, coriander, cayenne, and oregano are good in this

Soak beans overnight and drain the next day. Recipes always tell you to "sort" through dried beans, but I don't know what that means. They all look fine to me. Then, heat a wee bit of oil in a big pot and add onion. When onions are softish, add garlic. Cook a minute or so on medium heat and add the beans. Cook another few minutes and add the broth or water. Bring to a boil and add the tomatoes, and add spices if you are using them. Reduce heat and simmer for about 45 minutes. Add salt and pepper before serving.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Menu!

Savor this feast like it's your last!

(Disclaimer: I do know that the Last Supper occurred on Maundy Thursday, not Easter Sunday, but who throws a Maundy Thursday party?)

Sometimes the Economical Epicurean tires of always cooking for herself, eating the same leftovers all week, and subsisting mostly on coffee and porridge. So when the holidays arrive, she eagerly throws down. This Easter was no exception.

[Now switching to first person.]

I'm including here the worthwhile recipes from yesterday's feast of the Resurrection. It might seem untimely to be posting this menu after the holiday has passed, but I'm thinking these dishes could be replicated at upcoming Mother's Day and graduation parties or just served at home for brunch or a weeknight dinner. Nothing is difficult or even very expensive -- in lieu of splurging on the more traditionally Easter-y leg of lamb, I cooked up a $10 smoked ham from Shoppers. Likewise, fresh shrimp were sacrificed for frozen (though I guess the most economical thing would be to skip the surf altogether!), and the more desirable asparagus was substituted with green beans.

One thing I did not skimp on was butter -- it was a holiday, for crying out loud! But most of the butter-heavy dishes, with the exception of the scones, could be made with olive oil. Or, in the case of the tea sandwiches, one may omit all the butter and use only lite cream cheese.

If you notice there are no recipes for dessert here, it's because I didn't make any. Thanks to my guests who brought sweet treats!

Recipe: Tea Sandwiches
Makes about 30 sandwiches.
Spread can be made up to two days ahead.

2 sticks butter, room temperature
1 8-oz. pkg. cream cheese, room temperature
2 T chopped fresh dill
2 T chopped fresh parsley
2 T chopped fresh chives
1/2 t minced garlic
2 t lemon juice
2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1 8-oz. package smoked salmon
1 large cucumber, sliced thinly
1 loaf wheat or seven-grain bread, sliced extra thinly if possible

Combine first 9 ingredients with mixer or food processor. Set aside in refrigerator to chill a few hours. Spread on either side of bread, with a couple pieces of salmon or cucumber in between. Cut all the sandwiches into 4 squares or triangles and serve chilled or at room temperature.

Recipe: Mini Fried Egg Sandwiches
Makes 20 sandwiches.

2 T butter
1 dozen large eggs
1/2 C shredded cheddar
salt to your taste
pepper to your taste
10 slices sandwich bread (white or wheat), preferably toasted
Chopped fresh parsley for garnish (optional)

Heat butter in frying pan on medium/high heat. When pan is very hot, break eggs onto pan, about 4 or 5 at a time, depending on the size of your pan. Cook until over-hard, sprinkle with cheese, salt and pepper, and assemble sandwiches. Garnish with parsley if you're feeling superior.

Recipe: Cran-Orange Scones (click here to see link from Jan. 14 post)
For Easter, I doubled the recipe and made the scones slightly smaller than usual.
Serve with butter or lemon curd.

Recipe: Baked Brie
Jean Bernard's finest!
Never serves quite enough.

1 mini-wheel Brie (rind does not need to be removed)
1 can Pillsbury crescent rolls
apricot preserves
1 beaten egg
1 package water crackers

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a baking sheet and spread out about half the crescent roll dough (squeeze together the perforations). Place the Brie on top of the dough and spread the top of it generously with apricot preserves. Fold the dough edges over the top of the Brie, and cover with the remaining dough. Brush the dough with the egg wash. Bake about 20 minutes or until golden and bubbly. Serve with crackers.

Recipe: Zippy Black-eyed Pea Salad
Serves about 30 and is great for leftovers. Can be made up to two days ahead. I believe I made it a little too zippy yesterday, as it was not the most popular thing on the table. In the recipe below, I cut back on the onion to reduce the bite factor.

1.5 bags of dried black-eyed peas
1 red pepper, finely chopped
1 yellow pepper, finely chopped
1 orange pepper, finely chopped
1 half of a large red onion, finely chopped
1/2 C chopped cilantro
juice of 1 whole lemon
2 T olive oil
1.5 t cumin (optional)
salt to your taste
pepper to your taste

Rinse peas, pick over for bad ones, cover under water, and soak overnight. Drain the next day. Toss with remaining ingredients and serve chilled or at room temperature.

Recipe: Sprightly Spring Couscous
Serves about 15 as side dish. Can be a hearty meal on its own and can be made up to 4 days ahead. Once again, I'm proven wrong about couscous: it excites! I adapted this from a fantastic Mark Bittman recipe -- the first time I made it I didn't happen to have his ingredients on hand but had all the ones below. He uses bulgur, broccoli rabe, and walnuts in place of my couscous, broccolini, and almonds, all in the same proportions.

1 lb. broccolini
2 T olive oil
2 large shallots, minced
1/2 C chopped slivered almonds
2 C water
1.5 C dry couscous
1.5 C frozen peas, thawed (optional -- good if you want to save money and reduce the amount of broccolini)
1 T lemon juice
salt to your taste
pepper to your taste
1/2 C grated Parmesan (optional)

Bring water to a boil in medium stockpot, add salt. Add broccolini and boil until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Remove and add to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Wash out the original pot and return to stove. Crank heat to medium, add the oil, and add the shallots once oil is very hot. Saute about 3 minutes and add almonds. Reduce heat to low. Meanwhile, bring 2 C water to boil in small stockpot; add couscous. Fluff with a fork and remove from heat. Let stand about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, chop broccolini into one-inch pieces. Add couscous, broccolini, peas, and lemon juice to shallot-almond mixture. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with cheese, if desired.

Recipe: Green Beans
Serves about 20. Can be made a day ahead.

2 bags of Trader Joe's frozen haricots verts, thawed
half stick butter
6 garlic cloves, minced
zest of half a lemon
salt to your taste
pepper to your taste

Bring water to a boil in large stockpot and add beans. Boil until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Blanch in bowl of ice water. Rinse the stockpot and return to stove. In it, heat butter over medium-high heat. Add garlic and saute about 5 minutes. Return beans to pan, stir into butter and garlic mixture, and cook until heated through. Remove from heat and sprinkle with lemon zest and salt and pepper.

Recipe: Roasted Potatoes
Serves about 20. Can be made up to two days ahead.

1 C olive oil, divided
10 lbs. small potatoes (white or red, or both), scrubbed, freed of eyes, and quartered.
6 garlic cloves, minced
chopped rosemary leaves from about 5 short branches
1/4 C chopped fresh chives
salt to your taste
pepper to your taste
1/4 C chopped fresh parsley

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Brush a large baking dish (or two, if needed) with olive oil, add potatoes. Brush more olive oil over potatoes. Roast for about a half hour and remove from oven. Baste with the olive oil and sprinkle garlic, rosemary, and chives; return to oven and roast another 20 minutes. Add salt, pepper and parsley.

Recipe: Holiday Ham
Serves 20 sparingly (10-15 seems more accurate, normally). I happened to get a really good deal on a pre-cooked, pre-sliced ham. Usually it's cheaper to buy the partially cooked, unsliced hams, in which case doneness is determined when the ham's internal temperature reads 160 degrees on a meat thermometer.

1 7-8 lb. fully cooked, spiral-sliced smoked ham
1/2 C apricot preserves
1/3 C dijon mustard

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In roasting pan, bake ham about a half hour. Meanwhile stir together preserves and mustard to make glaze. When half hour is over, remove ham from oven and glaze the skin. Return to oven and bake another half hour or so, until skin is dark and crispy. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Putting the "ooh" in ragout

When I'm cooking for myself on a weeknight, I usually stick to one-pot meals that take almost no preparation, contain some combination of beans, potatoes, and greens, and don't look very pretty. If I were to assign them a name, it would be "peasant food," because they are so cheap and hearty. They are also very tasty, despite bearing a mild resemblance to the contents of a dry heave.

I was quite flattered, then, when I read the New York Times's "Dining In" section this past November and noted that food columnist Melissa Clark had not only bestowed on these types of dishes the somewhat elegant name, "ragout," but featured them as vegetarian main courses for Thanksgiving dinner!

Clark's gourmet-ified peasant food recipes all sound wonderful; I have yet to try them, but will offer you the link.

In the meantime, here are the details of a ragout I made the other night. What it lacks in presentation it makes up for in flavor, convenience, and nutritional value.

Recipe: Sweet-Savory Vegetarian Ragout
Makes 2 generous main course servings.

1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/2 in. cubes
2 T olive oil
1 C vegetable or chicken stock, divided, plus more as needed
1 small chopped onion
2 minced garlic cloves
1 15-oz. can chickpeas, drained
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1 t cumin
1 t nutmeg
big handful of spinach
2 T chopped slivered almonds (optional, but highly recommended -- though expensive, a bag can go a long way)
2 T raisins
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a medium to large pot on low-medium heat; add sweet potatoes and stir until potatoes begin to stick a bit to the pot. Scrape up browned bits and add about a half cup of stock. Turn heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Once potatoes are fairly soft, turn heat back down to low-medium and add onions, garlic, spices, and beans. Cook until onions and beans are soft, adding more stock as it's absorbed. When beans and potatoes are very soft, add spinach, almonds, and raisins and cook until spinach is wilted. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I've never met a buffet I didn't like

Disclaimer: I didn't much care for the $10 T-Bone Buffet at the now-defunct New Frontier Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. But such cases are rare (pun intended!).

The Economical Epicurean's culinary pursuits are not limited to the domestic. I remember reading an article reprinted from the Christian Science Monitor that claimed that the prices of groceries inflate at much quicker and higher rates than do the costs of entrees at restaurants. Of course, if you eat mostly vegetarian food at home and try to avoid buying produce out of season, it's invariably more economical to dine in. But there are certain cuisines that, I am convinced, are cheaper and more satisfying to enjoy at a restaurant. The two that come to mind here are Indian food and sushi. In the case of Indian, the spices are expensive and can be hard to find while the cooking can be terribly time-consuming; unless you make Indian food often, it might not be worth it to buy cardamom pods or tamarind.** In the case of sushi, fish is expensive enough in the grocery stores; once you factor in the "sushi-grade" requirement (which, in grocery stores, usually falls well below restaurant standards), it costs a fortune.

Overall, I think it's much more rewarding to go out for these kinds of foods. And where can you get more bang for your buck than at a buffet? Admittedly, buffets often feature the restaurant's homelier selections, which become extra homely after hours of sitting out on hotplates. But the following buffets offer delicious dishes that would be far more expensive to make at home. And they're all lunch buffets, which means you stuff your face early in the day, still can't bear the thought of food when dinnertime comes, and ultimately avoid that dangerous "late-night" eating.

The best part? Nothing remotely reminiscent of the tire-flavored "Vegas Strip Steak Special" on these buffet tables.

**Disclaimer #2: my spice rack contains two somewhat costly Indian staples, garam masala and ground turmeric, which I often use to flavor chickpeas, potatoes, and stews. But it would probably be expensive and time-consuming to make, say, an authentic Lamb Vindaloo at home.

4904 Fairmont Ave, Bethesda
Every day from 11:30am-2:30pm
$10.95 weekdays, $12.95 weekends

A few dollars pricier than your typical Indian all-you-can-eat, and justifiably so: this is The Mother of the lunch buffet. Highlights include the palak paneer (homemade cheese cubes cooked in a spinach sauce), chicken tikka, and lamb curry. Beautiful presentation and serene setting.

1341 University Blvd, Langley Park
Weekdays from 11:30am-2pm

The wait staff comes in extremes -- aloof or over-eager -- but the goat curry makes it worth it. A satisfying study break for the slaves of McKeldin Library.

8046 New Hampshire Ave, Langley Park
Weekdays from 11:30am-2pm

Fantastic vegetarian buffet; also a good escape from the library. I find the ambiance underwhelming but the food excellent. Don't think that just because it's vegetarian it's going to be low-fat -- you won't be able to stay away from the pakora (lentils fried in pastry) and dosas (fried crepes filled with spicy vegetables).

134 Congressional Lane, Rockville
Weekdays from 11:30am-2pm

Great selection of sushi and rolls at a great value. Friendly and attentive staff. Nothing out of the ordinary (it's a buffet, remember), but always satisfying. I'm a sushi novice, so don't take my word for it, but my sushi aficionado cousins and uncle frequent this place, too.

Any more suggestions? If you know of a great buffet, send the details my way! I'll continue to update this list as my waistline continues to expand.

Me and Mike Sanders enjoying his Christmas Party buffet!***

***The above picture was shamelessly stolen from

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Couscous with Personality

Winter weather and a weekend of nonstop noshing in New York have conquered my girlish figure. Time to swap the pasta and red meat for.....couscous? I used to think couscous was something only boring people eat (no offense to Israeli folks -- it's only boring when Americans appropriate it at home). But I was so wrong! Or maybe I'm just boring. But this couscous is definitely NOT boring! It's so unboring that you could bring it to a party and the hosts might even invite you back. In fact, this couscous is a party in itself!

I should also mention that it's filling and well-balanced enough to be a whole meal in itself, thanks to the addition of chickpeas, various veg, and cheese.

Recipe: Couscous with Personality

Makes 4 servings as main course, reheats well in the mike, and lasts almost a week. Although some of the ingredients may sound expensive, you will have enough left over to make this dish or use them for something else several more times. Around here, at least, Trader Joe's has the best prices on frozen, canned, and jarred ingredients, as well as cheese.

2 T olive oil, divided
1 small chopped onion
4-6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 15 oz. can chickpeas
1 C chopped frozen or canned artichoke hearts
dash of ground coriander
dash of ground cumin
big dash of dried basil
1/3 C frozen peas, thawed
1/3 C chopped sundried tomatoes
1/4 C chopped, pitted olives (any kind will do)
1 C couscous (wheat or white is fine)
big handful of spinach
1 t lemon zest (optional, but highly recommended)
2 T chopped fresh parsley or cilantro (optional, but recommended)
salt and pepper
crumbled feta or goat cheese (optional)

Heat 1 T oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook till softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook another minute or two. Add chickpeas, artichoke hearts, and spices, and cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add peas, sundried tomatoes, and olives. Turn heat to low. Meanwhile, bring salted water to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and add couscous and 1 T oil; stir well, then let sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Add spinach to chickpeas and veg mixture and cook till it wilts. Turn off heat and add lemon zest and parsley or cilantro, and salt and pepper to taste. Fluff up the couscous with a fork and add to pot. Serve sprinkled with feta or goat cheese, if desired.

UPDATE: My friend Mike, who's, like, enormously fat, just informed me that couscous is a "bad carb." I happen to use the wheat kind anyway, as I, too, am on the verge of rotundity. If you are worried about extra poundage or just want to eliminate the processed carbohydrates, opt for wheat.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A dip does double-time

This one's an old standby. I take it to parties when I'm asked to bring a dish but have just paid the bills or gotten another parking ticket. You can eat it as a dip with tortilla chips or alone as a salad (crush the chips onto the salad for crunchy effect). Or go chip-free and it's still delicious.

Recipe: Black Bean and Corn Dip/Salad
As a salad, I would say there about 6 servings, more as a dip. It keeps well in the frigerator for about 5 days.

1 15 oz. can black beans, drained
1 15 oz. can whole kernel corn, drained
1/2 of a red onion, finely chopped
Juice of one whole lemon
Juice of one whole lime
1/2 C chopped cilantro (I like cilantro in astounding quantities, but you'll probably want to use less)

Mix all the ingredients together; add salt and pepper to taste.

-Add one finely chopped bell pepper
-Add one large finely chopped and seeded tomato
-Add a cubed and not-too-ripe avocado
-Mix all the ingredients in the food processor with a bit of oil for a pureed dip
-Serve with grilled chicken, steak, or shrimp if you're richer than I am

"If I'd known THAT was going to happen, I wouldn't have gone to get BREAD!"

Maybe if the batty Acadian woman had had this bread recipe at her disposal, Sara wouldn't have totaled her car that fateful day in Nova Scotia. Who can say?

At any rate, this recipe is great for people who are lazy about kneading, like I am. I gave a pretty haphazard knead job and it still turned out as it should -- golden crust, chewy inside, etc. It's almost dense enough to be a meal on its own (thanks mostly to the bad kneading). Smear on some butter or blue cheese and you won't need to eat again for hours. That's a long time for me.

If you're the only one eating this bread, freeze half.

Recipe: Cuban Bread
Adapted from the 1961 New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne

1 package active dry yeast
2 C lukewarm water
1 and 1/4 T salt
1 T sugar
6 to 7 C sifted flour

Dissolve the yeast in the water and add the salt and sugar, stirring thoroughly. Add the flour, one cup at a time, beating it in with a wooden spoon or your hands. If you have an electric mixer with a dough hook or a food processor with a dough blade, that will work, too. You can stop adding flour once the dough is fairly stiff.

When the dough is thoroughly mixed, shape it into a ball, place in a grease bowl, and cover with a towel. Let stand in a warm place (80 - 85 degrees) until doubled in bulk. (Under the covers on my bed seemed to work well.)

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a longish, French-style loaf. Sprinkle a baking sheet heavily with cornmeal; place dough on baking sheet and allow it to rise for another 5 minutes.

Bring an oven-proof pan of water to a boil. Slash the top of the loaf three times with a knife and brush with water. Place in a cold oven. Set oven to 400 degrees, and put the pan of boiling water on the bottom of the oven. Bake the loaf until crusty, about 45 minutes.

-Remove bread from oven after about 25 minutes, brush with water again, and sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds. Bake for an additional 20 minutes or until done.
-For more glaze and less crustiness, brush loaf with an egg white beaten with one tablespoon of water (in place of just water).

(Above photo stolen from Maddy Read)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Italian Flag Soup

...So named because of its ingredients and color scheme!

January weather is finally making an appearance, so it's time to dust off the ol' stockpot. This is my favorite of my bean soups. Although its flagship ingredients come from cans, the addition of lemon zest, spinach, and parsley lends it an unseasonably fresh flavor.

This soup is equally good in warmer weather when you have easier and cheaper access to fresh herbs. Basil and rosemary are heavenly with the white beans and tomatoes; add them to the pot when you add the tomatoes, cayenne, and wine. See below for other variations.

Recipe: Italian Flag Soup
Makes about 6 reasonably-sized servings, or 4 Owen-sized servings
Prep time: 5 minutes; Cooking time: about 35 minutes

2 T olive oil
1 medium-sized onion
6 garlic cloves
2 15 oz. cans white (cannellini) beans
1 qt. chicken or vegetable stock
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
1/4 t cayenne (red) pepper
1/2 C dry white wine (drink the rest with din)
1 lb. spinach
1 T lemon zest
1/4 C chopped fresh parsley
1/4 C grated Parmesan (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in soup pot over medium heat. Chop onion and add to pot. While onion cooks (about 5 minutes), mince the garlic cloves and drain beans. Stir garlic and beans into pot and continue cooking about 1 minute. Add stock, increase heat, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer about 15 minutes. Drain tomatoes and add to pot, along with cayenne and white wine, and simmer another 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low and add spinach and lemon zest. Once spinach has cooked down, remove from heat and add parsley, Parmesan, salt, and pepper.

-Use dried basil and/or oregano; add when you add tomatoes.
-In place of spinach, use a bitter green like kale or collards.
-Give it a Southwestern kick (after all, the Mexican flag is also red, white, and green!). Use pinto beans or black beans in place of white beans; Goya Adobo seasoning, cumin, and oregano in addition to the cayenne; and cilantro in lieu of parsley. Omit the Parmesan and garnish with shredded Jack cheese or queso fresco and sour cream.
-Give it a Southern twist by substituting the beans and greens with black-eyed peas and collards and use bacon grease instead of olive oil to get the onions going, reserving the cooked bacon to add to the soup before serving.
-Use chickpeas instead of white beans and add cumin when you add the cayenne.