Thursday, September 24, 2009

Recipe Redux: A Crazy Rant

Almost every time I read the "Recipe Redux" column in the New York Times magazine, I am reminded that I should have been born at least fifty years earlier. "Recipe Redux" works like this: the Times' food editors choose an archived recipe, reprint it, and create a similar, more updated version. It's the updated part that I can't come to grips with, that sometimes spirals me into the darkest of depressions.

Take, for instance, Huguenot Torte, a recipe Craig Claiborne printed in 1965 with permission from The First Ladies' Cookbook. This recipe was featured in the chapter on Mrs. Martin Van Buren - anachronistically, it turns out, since the recipe postdates President Van Buren's term by an entire century. Whatever its origins, it looks like one for the Economical Epicurean's files: a few easy steps yield a crisp crust and a custardlike filling with apples and pecans, which are likely the only ingredients you might need to go out and buy.

Fast forward to the present: Huguenot Torte 2009 is not a torte, or anything you would bake in a dish, but "Thyme-Meringue Cookies with Boozy Apple," created by a woman who wrote a book called Organic and Chic. Go figure. In my nostalgic discontentment, I created this chart to compare the two recipes:

Recipe Name Huguenot
Thyme-Meringue Cookies with Boozy Apple (2009)

Number of words
in name



Number of



Amount you
might have to
spend (in 2009)
to have a
ingredient list


$30 (Maker's Mark
is an ingredient)

Number of steps



"rotary beater"
(I think this means electric mixer),
whisk, baking

two baking sheets;
parchment paper; small, heavy-bottomed pan; food processor; standing mixer; piping bag with tip; cup for piping bag to "rest in"

Maybe you can appreciate my consternation by now? And it's not only the multitude of steps and the extensive and expensive batterie de cuisine needed to make Huguenot Torte 2009 that bring on my existential crisis. It's also the social ramifications! Let me clarify: torte is a group dessert, it's something you cut into and pass around; cookies are more often eaten alone, frequently on the fly, or sometimes while you sit at your cubicle, staring at your computer screen with dead eyes. Torte brings people together; cookies encourage isolation. And notice how these thyme-meringue-boozy cookies are piped out onto a cookie sheet: identical but spaced apart, conformist without coalescence. Cookies -- and, in particular, cupcakes, which are in essence cake for loners -- are tearing at the fabric of society!

Thank you for letting me get that off my chest. I have a flair for the melodramatic and a bad case of PMS. A cookie or four will help me feel better.

(Above photo credit:

Monday, September 21, 2009

"Sometimes we all got to swim upstream"

[If you can identify the above lyrics without googling, I will make you breakfast.]

Attention, shoppers! Trader Joe's now sells Smoked Salmon Pieces for $1.99 a pack! Now you can soak up some alpha omegas, enjoy wholesome salty deliciousness, and stay true to your Economical self.

What are Smoked Salmon Pieces? Why, they are pieces of smoked salmon, just like the kind you might buy if you were rich! The main difference, I guess, is that they are smaller than the ones normally encountered on a bagel. I think these are the leftover bits that are not big enough to sell for six or eight bucks. But, you do the math and tell me which is the better deal!

I've been buying Smoked Salmon Pieces as if the apocalypse were coming. Lately, my work-a-day lunch is crackers and cream cheese with the smoked salmon and a few capers. (To keep costs even lower, I buy generic brand cream cheese by the block - it's a lot cheaper than the kind that comes in a tub.) Last night I decided to be a bit more creative and, if I may boast, made one of the most delicious quiches I have ever eaten.

Recipe: Deconstructed Lox Bagel Quiche
Serves 8, and lasts for about a week. Great hot, cold, or at room temperature. I think it tastes better a day after you make it than it does fresh out of the oven. The custard filling is made with milk instead of heavy cream, so it's a bit lower in fat than most quiche recipes. But the consistency is still very creamy, thanks to the cream cheese (hmm, maybe it is not that much lower in fat than most quiche recipes - so much for my birthday diet). The flaky pastry crust is delicious and easy. Crust is best when the fat mixed into it is very cold, so I recommend putting the butter, after it's been cubed, and the shortening into a bowl and freezing them for about 10 minutes before mixing.

1 Basic Pastry Dough (see recipe below); a store-bought quiche crust, though not as delicious, is a time-saving alternative
about 8 or 10 dried beans for weighing down the crust during parbaking process
4 eggs
1.5 C milk
3 T flour
1/2 t ground mustard
1/2 t salt
1/2 t ground pepper
about 1/4 block of cream cheese, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 medium tomato, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
2 T capers
2 T minced shallots (optional, but recommended)
Smoked Salmon Pieces (use the whole bag if you're feeling spendy; if not, just use about half of it)
a few teaspoons of chopped fresh parsley (optional; dill would also be good if you have some)

Press the pastry dough into the bottom and sides of a pie or tart pan, making sure it's very thin and evenly spread. Poke several holes in the bottom and sides with a fork. If using a pie pan, use the fork to create decorative indentations around the edges of the crust. Chill in the fridge for a half hour. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Remove crust from fridge, and scatter the dried beans around the bottom to weigh it down. Bake it for 20 minutes; remove from oven, remove the beans, and bake the crust again for another ten minutes. Remove from oven and cool on a rack, keeping the oven turned on.

Meanwhile, make the custard: whisk together the eggs, milk, flour, mustard, salt, and pepper. Set aside.

Once crust has cooled down, scatter the cream cheese, tomato, capers, shallots, salmon, and parsley around as if decorating a pizza. Pour the custard over the crust, and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. The center might be a little jiggly, but not liquid. Cool on a rack for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Recipe: Basic Pastry Dough
Adapted from the Gourmet cookbook. Makes enough dough for 1 regular pie pan or 10-inch tart pan. There will probably be extra dough, which you can shape into muffin tins or freeze for later. This is a really good recipe for flaky pastry, and it has become my standby for quiche, tart, and pie crusts. When I use it to make a dessert, I add a tablespoon of sugar.

1.25 C flour
3/4 stick cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 T cold vegetable shortening (yes, Crisco -- don't hate, appreciate)
1/4 t salt
3 T ice water

In a medium bowl, blend together the flour, butter, shortening and salt with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs (a few lumps can be pea-sized, but the rest should be crumbly). Drizzle in the ice water evenly and continue mixing until a dough is formed. Squeeze a handful or so -- if it crumbles apart, add more water, just a tablespoon at a time, till the dough comes together. (For even less work, you may do all the aforementioned steps in a food processor -- make coarse crumbs and a few pea-sized pieces, then add the water and pulse a few times till dough is formed.)

Turn the dough onto a work surface and divide into four portions. Using the heel of your hand, push down on each portion once to distribute the fat. Roll them all together to make a single ball of dough again. Cover it in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator at least an hour.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Eat more beets

From whence this back flab and these love handles? I thought we were supposed to lose weight in the summertime.

But the summer is over, I'm about to turn 27, and I'm fatter than ever. Well, probably not fat by American standards, but heavier than appropriate for my frame. I think I'm even starting to grow jowls.

Time to stop making this and that, and stick to just vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. In particular, I must stop baking so much. Even when I bake for the sole purpose of gift-giving, I end up eating the raw dough equivalent of about 12 cookies. I also need to stop buying lunch, so that's adios to tacos con chivo and empanadas from NoPe's many fine dining establishments. And I really need to cut back on the alcohol, or at least modify my habits. By the way, did you know a frozen margarita contains roughly 700 calories? Vodka martinis from here on out, hold the vermouth and olive. Better yet, I'll just have ice water and get bored after 30 minutes at the bar. What fun my 27th year is going to be.

I can seek both consolation and a smaller waist in the crunchy deliciousness of good salads, like this one I made recently. Partially inspired by a recipe in Gourmet's September issue, it contains beets, which took me all of 27 years to learn to like. The beet was just about the only vegetable I disliked, and wrongfully so. I mean, it's a cheap root vegetable with some edible greens attached! It's like we were made for each other! In this salad the beets are chopped into cute little matchsticks, making the transition to beetlove a lot easier than it might be if you tried to boil up a bunch and eat them in one sitting. It's similar to dating: you think the guy's ill-mannered and unattractive at first -- and let's not even talk about his sweating problem and tendency to overuse "whatnot" -- but slowly, surely, you will cave, and come to appreciate that he's actually good for you and has a nice dark pinkish-purple interior. I get a little crazier with every passing year. Happy birthday to me!

Recipe: Beginner's Beet and Apple Salad

Makes 6 side dish servings. Inspired by Gourmet, whose recipe is just beets, parsley, and goat cheese. No goat cheese in my version, and it's fine without. But I still wanted it to be a fairly substantial salad, so I added some greens and an apple, which is also chopped into matchsticks like the beets. This salad is really good, really good for you, and really crunchy! To make it more filling, consider adding walnuts, sunflower seeds, or almonds. Also, unlike most dressed salads, this one actually tastes better the next day. Oh, and if you have just gotten a manicure or you are having tea with the Queen tomorrow, don't make it -- or wear gloves if you do. Beet juice stains like whoa.

2 small beets, peeled and chopped into matchstick-size pieces, plus their greens
juice of half an orange
1 apple, chopped into match-stick size pieces (squeeze a bit of lemon juice onto these -- it will keep them from browning right away)
1 quarter of a medium onion, thinly sliced
1 C loosely packed, chopped fresh parsley (I think some mint in here would also be good)
juice of one lemon (or a bit less if you want to lemonize the apple)
1/2 lb salad greens (arugula, spinach, frisee, or whatever you want)
a big drizzle of olive oil
fresh ground pepper

In a large bowl, stir the orange juice into the beets, then add the apple, onion, parsley, and lemon juice. Add the salad greens and a big drizzle of olive oil and toss everything together. Finish with some pepper.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Let them eat green goop

Awhile back I wrote about new uses for old -- or, to put it more gently, no longer very youthful -- herbs. As they say, age before beauty, though I may be the first person to apply that phrase to food. Anyway, one day I wanted to make pesto, but had neither basil, nor pine nuts, nor very much olive oil, three of pesto's most essential ingredients. Thus, I created Poor Man's Pesto, a rebellious yet delightful interpretation of the classic green goop.

Recipe: Poor Man's Pesto
Makes about 1 cup. Because I use less olive oil, it has a chunkier, more chimichurri-like consistency than commercial pesto does. You do not need to be as stubbornly spartan as I sometimes am; feel free to use all olive oil instead of my cheapskate mix of oil, vinegar, and water. I do feel strongly, however, that everyone should consider using sunflower seeds instead of pine nuts -- they taste great and cost about one-fifth as much. Also, because of the oil and water combination, the pesto will separate after refrigeration; just give it a stir and everything will be fine.

2 C loosely packed fresh herbs -- I used a mix of parsley, a bit of rosemary (don't go overboard on it), and oregano, all of which I had left over
1/3 C sunflower seeds
2 peeled garlic cloves
2 T olive oil
2 T water
1 T white vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor, pulse together the herbs, sunflower seeds, and garlic cloves a few times. Add the olive oil, water, and vinegar and pulse again till well blended. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Bridal Shower Feast

My cousin Ashley's wedding shower, which I hosted last weekend, went off without a hitch, excepting a couple episodes of belligerent Pomeranians trying to murder the cats (not really the dogs' fault, but mine for neglecting my feline brood). A few people have asked me about the menu, which I'm delighted to present here:


-Bruschetta: mine's very basic -- just a few tomatoes, chopped up, with a handful of chopped basil, a few minced garlic cloves, and a tablespoon or so of olive oil, plus salt and pepper. I serve it in a bowl rather than on each individual piece of bread. Much easier for the host!

-Cheese plate with some Stilton, Raclette, and Manchego, all found at Trader Joe's -- in my experience, the only place to buy good cheese without going into foreclosure

-Almost-No-Knead Bread, sliced up for bruschetta and cheese

-Bowl of mixed olives from Shopper's Food Warehouse, which has a surprisingly good olive bar

Main course:

-Special Occasion Chicken Salad -- meat from two roasted chickens, a cup of aioli, a big chopped bell pepper, a bunch of chopped scallions, about a quarter cup of chopped tarragon, a squeeze of lemon, salt, pepper

-Poached Salmon -- thanks, Mom! (The EE ain't in no shape to buy a whole damn fish)

-White bean and tomato salad -- you soak a whole bag of cannelini beans overnight, then boil them the next day till they're soft; then you roast a bunch of cipollini onions in olive oil and a few sprigs of fresh rosemary for about 25 minutes at 300 degrees; add a couple handfuls of grape or cherry tomatoes to the onions and continue roasting for another 15 minutes; mix in with the beans; add ample salt and pepper and parsley and a squeeze of lemon, and serve.

-Delicious late summer salad -- about two pounds of mixed arugula and spinach; a half cup or so of crumbled Stilton (cut off a hunk from the cheese plate); another half cup or so of raw almonds; and two peaches, cut into half-inch chunks. Serve with the best easy dressing: 1 cup of olive oil whisked together with a heaping tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and a heaping tablespoon of raspberry preserves. If dressing's too thick for your taste, thin it with a few teaspoons of water.

-Greek-style Scalloped Potatoes: my Aunt Mary had brought these to my Easter party and they were a huge hit, so I attempted to reproduce them -- with minor success. The cookbook I followed was too optimistic about cooking times, so this dish didn't come out till everyone was just about done with the main course (but, good girls they were, they piled it on their plates all the same!). Peel about 12 baking potatoes, and slice them to 1/8" thin, preferably using a mandoline to save time. Layer them in a baking sheet with about two cups of feta cheese and olives. Be sure to add lots of salt and olive oil to keep everything both tasty and moist. If you want, add fresh oregano or rosemary here and there. Bake for about an hour, or till potatoes are soft.


-Flourless Chocolate Cake

-Upside-down Nectarine Chiffon Cake

-Cupcakes (provided by the lovely Erika, one of the bride's friends)

-Vanilla ice cream


-White wine sangria: this time of year, it's one big bottle of vino cheapo (get a sweet white like Riesling), a chopped nectarine, a handful of chopped strawberries, a third-cup of sugar, and about two cups of club soda. Stir everything well, and refrigerate at least an hour before serving. Be sure to double when hosting a lingerie shower for 20 ladies.

-Lemonade: a bag of 6 lemons has been going for just $1.59 at TJ's lately, and when life hands you lemons...anyway, my ratio for making a big pitcher consists of the juice of about 9 small lemons, a cup of sugar, and 5 cups of water.

-Iced tea (provided by Mom -- she won't tolerate anyone else's iced tea)

-Iced coffee: for some reason, people get all precious about the making of iced coffee, and some even buy special iced coffee makers like the Toddy. No need for that -- just brew hot coffee, remove it from the coffee maker and put it on a trivet to cool off, and put it in the fridge to get colder. Duh.

-Cava and Prosecco (much cheaper than good Champagne, and much better than cheap Champagne)

Of course, the bride-to-be and her guests were really the focal point. Everyone seemed to have a great time, and we all wish Ashley the best!

Oh, and a HUGE THANKS to my friend Sarah, the most competent person I know, whose help I could not have done without!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Economical Epicurean Now Caters!

...Or would like to!

Although it's still just in the idea phase, I'm getting to work on opening a (very small, to start) catering business from my home, and I'm really excited about it! This is not to say I'll be quitting my day job -- for now I will keep it a weekend and occasional weeknight gig only (assuming I can get any gigs in the first place!).

Catering businesses are a dime a dozen in the DC area, and I'm sure demand has declined significantly over the past year. I'm hoping I can develop a reputation as the dirt cheap caterer who uses a lot of seasonal ingredients and brings in da funk. Okay, not dirt cheap, but I do want the privilege of continuing to call myself the Economical Epicurean. And I do want to also bring in da funk, whatever that means.

So, if you or any of your friends and associates are planning a party of any kind (well, any party with 100 guests or fewer -- not sure if my kitchen is equipped for more!), consider me! You'll save a lot of money and time and the party will be awesome! I definitely need to come up with a catchier tagline than that.

For more information, email me at Thanks!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Quick Post About Pasta

I can't remember if I've ever posted a pasta recipe, with the exception of one the first recipes I ever put on this blog. That is strange, considering how cheap pasta is and how much of it I eat (apparently in secret). More often I write about beans. The following recipe contains both beans and pasta, and produces an easy and filling dinner that segues easily into a cold or room temperature lunch the next day. The mix of flavors here is not particularly original, but there's a reason we continue to combine garlic, tomatoes, and basil: they're delicious together!

Recipe: Pasta with Chickpeas and Tomatoes
Makes 4 servings.

1 C dried chickpeas, soaked overnight; or 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 lb. farfalle (bowtie pasta); may also use penne or rigatoni or some other pasta of similar size
1 T olive oil
2 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 t hot or smoked paprika (if you don't have hot paprika, mix 1 t regular paprika and a pinch of cayenne)
1/4 C loosely packed fresh basil, chopped
2 T chopped fresh parsley
1/4 C aioli; if you don't feel like making it, or if you are vegan, use about a tablespoon of minced garlic (the dish will not be as creamy, but you could add a splash of half and half or cream at the end if you want); however, I strongly recommend making aioli if you have time, as it has many uses and tastes heavenly!
salt and pepper to your taste

If using dried chickpeas, boil them in a large pot in the water you used to soak them (why waste?) for an hour or so, or until soft. Drain and set aside, rinse pot, and fill with 2 quarts of water to boil the pasta. Place on burner and set heat to high.

Once water is boiling, add a hearty sprinkling of salt and the pasta. Boil till al dente, about 10 minutes, and drain, reserving a tablespoon or so of pasta water. Add beans to pasta and reserved water.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a small or medium frying pan over medium heat. If using raw garlic (not aioli), add it now and cook for two minutes. Add the tomatoes and paprika and cook for two more minutes (tomatoes should not be cooked, just heated). Remove from heat and add the herbs and aioli. Stir tomato-aioli mixture into pasta-beans, season with salt and pepper to your taste, and serve.