Sunday, May 31, 2009

Give peas a chance

I've never had fresh peas, that I remember, until tonight. Darling Husband shelled them, and I was amazed at the size! Each of these was probably 2-3 times larger than the average frozen pea. They were like peas on steroids. Trust me, you could be a pretty dense princess and still feel this rock under your mattress!

I blanched them in salted, boiling water before adding them to my saute pan with garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, scallions, ground cayenne and parsley. Once everything was fragrant and lovely, I added a jar of alfredo sauce, then almost another jar full of milk to rinse out all the goodness from the jar and to thin the sauce. Glue has a place, but it's not on pasta. I set the pan to simmer and added in some raw shrimp, allowing them to slowly poach to pink while linguine cooked. Just before adding the cooked pasta to the sauce, I threw in some more fresh parsley and snipped chives, for freshness and color.

It was a great dish, springy and comforty all at once. Plus, there was good heat that sorta snuck in at you from the red pepper. I like creamy and spicy together; I dip my wings in ranch, for example. The heat here was sort of CIA stealthy, infiltrating your system before you realized it. We served with bread, lovingly sent home in a care package from Darling Husband's parents. We'd spent the weekend at their camp, visiting family from out of town, and were happy to have a quick meal to come home to. Made up, I should add, from almost all stuff I had (frozen shrimp, left over herbs and scallions, peas I bought a week ago and forgot to make).

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Icebox Frugality

Isn't "icebox" a fun word? It's like "davenport."

Tonight's dinner required the addition of a $0.73 can of black eyed peas. I think I could've gotten it cheaper at Wegman's, but I had to go to Giant Eagle for time. (I actually stopped at Dollar General across from my office first, but refused to pay $3 for a can of beans!)

The black eyed peas, rinsed and drained, were combined with a can of corn, some chopped red onion, fresh parsley, fresh chives, chopped bean sprouts, lime, salt and pepper.

I seasoned some chicken tenders and seared them in a pan with a little olive oil. Then I covered the chicken with shredded cheddar, turned off the heat and covered. Once everything was melty and fantastic, I dollopped on some spicy guacamole.

We served the chicken over the bean and corn salad, and topped with crumbled taco shells. I was pleased with how well the flavors meshed while staying distinct. The herbs in the salad really punched up the freshness. For me, the unexpected star of the dish was the cheese that had melted in the pan and not on the chicken, getting a little chewy and soaking up all the chickeny awesomeness from the drippings. Mmmmmmh.

I have one more planned frugal meal left!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I was just musing about my escargot experiences.

Escargot are a childhood memory for me, and are really comfort food in that way. I don't remember the first time I had them, but I do remember being in my grandmother's house in France and my mom and my uncle poking at a bucket and my father telling them not to let me play with them before we eat, lest I become emotionally attached to them. (I had been playing with the snails in the garden earlier the afternoon. These were different snails entirely.) It wasn't a problem.

Escargot themselves have very little taste. They are traditionally served in the shell, packed with butter, garlic and parsley. You taste the fabulous garlicky, buttery goodness, with a little bit of fresh, sharp herb taste from the parsley. The escargot itself comes in with texture more than anything. Often they're toothsome, slightly chewy. Sometimes they're rubbery. Occasionally they're tender and yielding. It's like calamari in that way. That being said, there is something about them that's wonderful, a certain je ne sais pas, if you'll forgive the phraze.

Whenever I see them on the menu at a fancy restaurant, I'm tempted. Often I order them, because I think, "my God! Sign me up!" Although, I have to say, it depends on who I'm with.

I'm pretty lucky that I have a husband who doesn't really blink about being served snails. I can't remember if he had a hard time with it at first; I think he might have, but he's pretty easy going about these things. Pineapple on pizza, too. But I digress.

Ordering snails isn't something you can do in all company. Actually, it probably is, but I'm really not a fan of people telling me the food I'm eating is gross. I've been told my french onion soup looks like a bowl of worms, that my tea looks like urine, and that my tofu looks like slimy styrofoam. What makes people think this is acceptable dining conversation?

I've also had snotty coworkers suggest I'm la-di-dah elite, telling people I'm probably making escargot and filet mignon and pate and bacon wrapped scallops for another coworker's office baby shower. (I was making potato salad, egg strata, fruit tray, cheese and crackers...) What was so hurtful about this is yes, I like these things. It's good food! But I know not everyone does, and I don't push these things on people. Why get all class-warrior about this stuff?

It should be noted that escargot are not all that expensive. You can get a little foil cup tray with maybe 8 prepared, frozen, in the shell for $4, but you can do it yourself for much less. I bought a can of escargot for $2.99, which had about a dozen in it. How much does a stick of butter cost? A few cloves of garlic? A handful of parsley? For a decadent extravagance, it's on par if not better than a pint of Ben & Jerry's.

I also remember a time, a few years ago, when I found a huge bag of large, prepared, frozen escargot at the Erie County Farms for $25. I think there were 100 in the bag, and it would've lasted forever. Unfortunately, we were at a time when our finances were pretty crunched, and while I had the money, I couldn't justify spending it on such a frivolity. I don't regret that decision, but I wish I could find that deal again.

I happened to have some left-over escargot on hand for yesterday's dinner because it was one of Darling Husband's chopped ingredients from Sunday night. He had escargot, mint, beef shoulder, instant mashed potatoes and hearts of romaine. The tasty results will be revealed in a future post.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Frugal mealplanning

I had a few extra minutes at work this morning, so I took a piece of paper and listed everything I could think of in my fridge and freezer. Usually, when my fridge is overflowing, it's a good time to take leftovers for lunch. For some reason today, I have more ingredients than actual leftover food. Some of it has been served before, some is just extra from a previous meal, but I hate to throw it out and I can't justify shopping for food when my bounty is bursting, so to speak.

It's a particularly Western decadence to look at a closet of clothes or a cupboard of food and say you have nothing to wear or to eat. Beyond Western, it's modern opulence. I think my grandmother would be offended at those sentiments. What we're really saying, of course, is, "I don't feel like wearing any of these clothes." Perhaps, "None of these food stuffs is what I had in mind to eat." "Oh, I have food; I just also have money and time. Maybe I'll let this rot and just buy more." Of course, the more I type, the more it sounds like pompous Western snobbery.

Making new dishes out of leftovers isn't a new idea. It's been the goal of many a maker of quiche, stew, pot pie, stir fry, hash, curry and omelet. (The British are particularly proud of these kinds of food, and tend to name them esoteric things like Bubble and Squeak, to make people feel like they're part of the in-crowd, I'm guessing.) That being said, I'm not proficient at these sort of dishes. It's a skill, though, and in this economy, a useful one.

So tonight we had cod, seasoned with Kickin' Chicken (orange peel, peppers, crushed red pepper, other herbs--it's in a grinding contraption, sold at Sam's Club) and cooked with garlic butter. As a starter, we had escargot with garlic butter and bread. For our side, we had an orzo dish with edemame, fresh mushrooms, parmasean cheese and lardons of pancetta.

I cooked the orzo with some leftover chicken broth. That dish was a wonderful variety of flavors and textures. The lardon were particularly crunchy and lovely. The cod was very flavorful and moist, although slightly too buttery for my taste. The escargot were sin on french bread; in other words, sublime.

On any given day, would I have cod, escargot and fresh mushrooms? No, but I did today. We bought crusty bread, $2, and froze half for another day. We also bought a large bunch of parsley, $1.99, of which we used maybe 1/5.

I have two more meals planned out of my fridge! Stay tuned...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

being a helpmate

Tonight Darling Husband left for work at 9pm and won't return until after dawn tomorrow, maybe not even before I leave to take Baby Girl to daycare. This very unusual occurrence has really thrown off my week! (okay, maybe I won't blame the whole week on this, but definitely my day).

When he first mentioned it, it invoked for me images of coal miners, perhaps because it involves him visiting a manufacturing facility. I don't know why, exactly, but I fixated on him taking his lunch break at 3 in the morning, or whatever. I've had those nights where you can't figure out which way is up, where you're doing lots of busy things at unusual times. They can be kinda fun, but there's always this point where your body thinks it's time for a meal, even though you're certainly not used to eating at that time. But what meal is it?

Darling Husband slept all morning, then took an evening nap to prepare. We made spaghetti quickly for dinner, with jarred sauce. I felt funny, since I was making a second dinner and some snacks for him for later.

So what does he have in his lunch pail? (okay, soft sided cooler...) I decided to allow myself to get carried away with the coal miner image, and I packed him meat pasties, corn chowder, grapes and peanutbutter cookies. Oh, and a big thermos of coffee.

I've never made corn chowder, but I improvised as I went along. I made a quick roux with a bit of butter and flour, then added chicken broth slowly. To that I added a little half and half and some corn meal. Then I popped open a can of corn and one of green chilies and drained both, then added. A pinch of salt, a grind of pepper, and the soup was done. I snipped in some chives at the end for color and freshness. It's pretty good!

Meat pasties are traditional miner food, so what could be better? I made mine with diced potato (purple and russet, because that's what we had) and onion, with sage sausage. I baked it inside pie crust to make lovely little packets of fortifying goodness. Hope he enjoys it!

I haven't much felt like posting lately... remember the title of the blog? I'm really feeling that. I feel like our dinners have been a bit haphazard, a bit uninspired, or just not especially noteworthy. I'm trying to shake that self-censorious feeling and just let it be. For example, last night we made double decker tacos, where we coated the outside of a crunchy taco shell with refried beans and wrapped it in a flour tortilla. They are extremely hearty, and probably awful for you, but they keep the taco from self-destructing when you bite into it and, darn it, they're tasty. Maybe not highbrow, but so what?

Besides all that, I haven't managed to get to bed at a reasonable time in a while. My daughter and I are both reveling in the sunshine, too busy to rest or observe silliness like bedtime. It's exciting when summer comes; I'm sure I'll get used to it soon. Meanwhile I'm glutting myself on hobbies and crafts and projects, neglecting my more routine interests. You should see the quilt I'm hand-sewing...

Apparently in Alaska and such places where it stays light 24 hours a day people go through a kind of mania, not sleeping for days and days... it does eventually even out. :o)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

For Lance: clams, avocado and brie

As you may remember, Lance submitted three ideas for our reader-guided chopped appetizer challenge. He chose clams, avocado and brie.

Clams, avocado and brie?! Well, okay... As he didn't specify which type of clams, we were pleased to pick our own. We consulted the seafood case at Wegman's, where our three choices were littlenecks, cherrystone, or soft shell steamers. We chose the soft shell steamers, both for price and accessibility. Have you seen these kind of clams? They are frankly a bit frightening. Most bivalves, in my experience, react but don't seem to act. That is to say, out of the water, sitting on my counter, I don't expect them to do much. I certainly don't expect them to, for example, lick the spoon. Or attack me. More on that in a minute.

I should've taken a picture of one of these creatures alive and active, but I was too busy being creeped out and yet fascinated. Generally, bivalves are sold alive and it's important that you keep them that way right up until the moment you're cooking them, as decomposition happens very quickly. Many live bivalves have their shells closed or slightly gapped (I assume it's the bivalve equivalent of pulling the blanket over your head; they're hoping high tide will come again soon). Tightly closed is preferable. If you have one that's slightly gapped, you'll need to see if it's alive. To test if the creature is still alive and kicking, you tap on the shell.

I must digress quickly. Did you know that when the Pope dies, there's a specific ritual to see if he's really dead? Rituals in the Catholic Church shouldn't surprise anyone, but this specific one is interesting. He is asked three times, by name, if he's dead and hit in the head with a little hammer. Interesting, no?

Back to the clams. Tap on the shell; (are you dead yet?) it should close quickly. Again, presumably it's like knocking on the door (anyone home?) and they pull the curtain and throw the deadbolt. If it doesn't react this way, I tend to resort to drastic measures to make sure it's dead. I take a butter knife and gently poke the soft body of the clam. It should quickly close its shell. I'm sure if we listened closely, we'd hear it swearing at me for poking it. If it doesn't care you're jabbing at it, we generally consider it dead and throw it out (although, now that I think about it, what if it's just a masochist? It will enjoy dying a slow death in my garbage can, I guess).
After you've cooked them, any that haven't opened are dead and should be tossed, too. In any given bag of muscles, for example, I usually throw out one or two. With this batch, I didn't throw out any clams. If you're concerned about the grit some clams collect, you can "chip" them by putting them in a big bowl full of cold water for about an hour. Some people put salt in the water, some put cornmeal, some nothing. The end result is the clams spit out some of the sand they're holding. One should also scrub the shells to remove any ocean debris.

These clams did not sit privately in their shells. They put out their siphon (which looks like a big, black tongue, or a phallus) and, um, I don't know what they were doing. But they did it in the case at Wegman's, too, and always do whenever I've seen them. They seem to be licking other clams, or the counter, or a nearby spoon, or whatever they can get their gross siphons on. It's vaguely lecherous. I poked at one and it retreated into the shell and snapped closed, pinching the skin of my finger. I picked up another one to show Darling Husband, and used the blunt side of a butter knife to poke it. This one squirted me with a jet of water and clamped onto the knife--hard. These are spunky, combative bivalves, which made me anthropomorphize them more and made it a little harder to steam them alive. On the other hand, their obvious willingness to kill or be killed made the task a little easier.

I steamed, Darling Husband shucked.I chose to use the steaming liquid and expelled clam liquor to make a risotto, into which I put brie (sans rind) and avocado. It was creamy and amazing. Meanwhile, I blended up some more avocado with olive oil and parsley. I chopped and added in my clams close to the last minute, and plated as little shooters on the half-shell, dabbed with the avocado/parsley mixture. I then shaved a little of the reserved brie rind on top. It was sin on a half shell, considering how rich and decadent it was. I loved it.

Darling Husband made a frito misto, dredging the clams and the brie rinds in a tempura batter (rice flour and club soda) and frying them. These were served with an avocado and balsamic dipping sauce. He told me he attempted to make brie sticks, but the soft cheese disintegrated in the oil so he had to just use the outside. They were crunchy and wonderful! Our whole house smelled like fried clams for days, but it was totally worth it.

Brie, clams and avocado. Et voila.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mom-tastic day

Happy Mother's Day, one and all! This was my first official Mother's Day, and I am very thankful for my Baby Girl and to my Darling Husband for his help in making the little bundle that makes me a mommy. I got to sleep in this morning, by virtue of Baby Girl herself, who slept all the way until 7:30! (her usual rise and shine is 5:45) Then Darling Husband took her downstairs and sent me back to bed, but not before I got my Mother's Day present. It was hard to fall asleep with tears in my eyes... Only to be awoken later by breakfast pastries in bed and flowers! I'm lucky my family is so sweet to me, on this day and on every days, too.

But on to the food! I made the oatmeal cake (about which I've previously blogged), and showed remarkable restraint and discipline in doing so. I didn't add in stuff (not even the cocoa) and I measured everything (except the vanilla--I can totally eyeball a teaspoon). I did substitute pecans for walnuts, and put a crumb layer in the middle instead of just on top. Outside of that, it was exactly my mother-in-law's cake.

Remember the scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding where the two families meet? The WASPy family brings a cake to the Greek family's gathering. It's a bunt cake, and the Greek mom has never seen one before. She mispronounces it "BOOnt" and calls it a "keck." To serve what she clearly thinks of as a weirdo dish, she puts a potted plant in the middle. It's a funny scene, made funnier by the fact that my mother dissolves into hysterics at the mere thought of it. It's enough to say "bunt" and she'll giggle, start quoting it, then full on burst into laughter. We all do. It's one of those things that makes me love my mother.

So I was very excited to show up at her house today, bearing flowers and the keck. I had baked it in a springform pan to make it easier to serve, but was a little nervous as the middle had collapsed overnight almost to the bottom of the pan. When it was baking, it was difficult to tell if the cake was done. Plus, I was removing it from the oven at five minutes past midnight. Looking at it in the light of day, I realized I had underbaked it. Was it the pan's fault or just timing? I don't know.

I considered cutting the middle out and making an impromptu bunt, complete with potted plant. Instead I served it as-is. Turns out, my family likes raw cake. My brother-in-law especially seemed to like it, which is high praise coming from him. He's an honest man who doesn't offer false praise, and his mother is a renowned baker. He said it started as cake, turned to brownie and then to pudding--and that he thought it was great.

I was pleased, too. It wasn't quite like I remembered it, but it was gooey and dense and tasty. It has almost a coffee cake sort of quality, with the cinnamon and the crumble topping. The oatmeal adds a little chewiness but you'd never guess it was in there. All in all, a pretty rockin' desert.

So again, happy mother's day, one and all. It shouldn't take a note on the calender for us to appreciate those women in our lives who have created or nurtured life, who daily cook us dinner or offer words of encouragement. I'm lucky that my family doesn't need the note on the calender, but I also appreciate a day where people go out of their way to make your day a little bit easier. Where they make sure to tell you they love you and think you do a good job. Where they rub your feet, and get you a pop, and do the dishes, and let you sleep in. Most of all, where you're able to give yourself permission to sit back and enjoy it, because you truly earned it. Or, maybe that's just me.

Thanks, mom, for being there for me. For giving me life, and helping to mold it. For teaching me values and compassion, for cleaning out my skinned knees and kissing the bumped elbows. For showing me what it means to be a woman and a mother and a wife, and for supporting me when I veered from your path to find my own. I love you, mom.

Oh, and thanks for 30 years of good food...

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Coal Miner Pasta

Tonight Darling Husband made spaghetti carbonarra, which was nice of him considering I found myself standing in the middle of a huge grocery store at 7pm unable to think of anything appetizing for dinner. I could think of dishes, per se, but nothing I felt like eating.

Do you ever feel this way? You're hungry, but nothing sounds good? I think it's all tied up in emotions. Sometimes, it's caused by low blood sugar, I admit, but other times it's tapping into food as soul nourishment as well as body fuel. I distinctly remember being at college and working on my thesis one evening. It was dinner time and I was sitting upstairs from the student union in a large, airy common room/study hall. I could smell food from downstairs, I could see another cafeteria from the window. But I couldn't think of anything I wanted to eat. I thought to the pantry and mini fridge in my dorm room, the peanutbutter, the canned corn, the tuna, the spaghetti oh's, the cheese and crackers, the bagged salad. These clearly weren't cutting it. I remember saying to myself, "okay, if you could have anything, anything at all. What would it be? Even terrible for you stuff. Burger King. Mickey D's. Food court chinese food. A bag of peanutbutter M&Ms. Anything!" Still, nothing even remotely sounded appetizing.

I knew I was hungry, since I hadn't eaten much lunch, and worried I would reach the danger zone where my blood sugar drops low enough that I stop making rational decisions and get a headache. I started to feel really sorry for myself and imagined calling my mother, but didn't know what to say ("hi, mom, what should I have for dinner?") That's when it hit me. The only thing that sounded good was my mother's cooking. I didn't even care what it was, if my mom made it, I wanted it. I packed up my stuff and went home right then.

I remember what happened later, too. I was sitting in my parents' library, typing away at my thesis just like I had been in the student union, when my mom came in and handed me a beer. This really warm feeling washed over me, a mix of contentment, gratitude and... what's that feeling where you know you're being pampered and indulged but you're so happy for it and it's such a relief so you don't even feel guilty? That.

But tonight, I was saved by Darling Husband. I had just made up my mind that we should go home and take care of Baby Girl's needs and if we wanted food later, we'd deal with it then. (This was just after my decision to just make roast beef and brie panini, which was voted down in my head on the basis that it didn't sound good.) He picked up some pancetta and promised I could cuddle our daughter and he would make dinner magically appear. I definitely got the sweet end of that deal.

In addition to a wonderful meal, he also gave me a bit of trivia. Carbonarra refers to coal and coal miners. I googled it quickly, and found references to this and nothing to dispute it, so I'm going with it. For those unfamiliar, this pasta dish has an egg based sauce which is cooked by the heat of the pasta only. Traditionally it's made with egg, parsley, pancetta and parmesan, although many in this country add cream and peas. Darling Husband went with tradition tonight and it was spectacularly hearty and comforting.

The best part, hands down, was the pancetta lardon. These are made by rendering the pancetta, cut into little rectangles, until they're crunchy and dense, dry and chewy--which sounds bad but it actually a little lardon of heaven.

I'm glad Darling Husband was there to put on his super hero cape and rescue me tonight. He even did dishes.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The dreaded "B" word

Ah, the gentle rhythm of a leisurely Sunday. Drinking coffee on the back deck, perusing the Sunday paper and chuckling over the comics, staying in your pajamas until 11am, drinking in the sun and relishing in the going-nowhere-fast ambiance.

I vaguely remember Sundays like this. They happened before we had a baby.

Back to the image, though. Sleeping in, going back to sleep, reading in bed and listening to jazz, gently stroking a drowsy, sun-warmed kitty. Ahhhhh. Not for these days are the hastily eaten breakfast bar or the on-the-run peanutbutter half sandwich. These days call for an investment of culinary time. B--




Brunch. There, I said it!

When breakfast food isn't your thing, eating breakfast food at times when it's not breakfast is upsetting. And when Sundays are tinged with melancholy, reminding you that the weekend is over and the work/school week starts again tomorrow, maybe you even have to drive back to college, and everything closes early and people aren't allowed to play because they have church and Sunday school and are supposed to spend time with family and there's no good tv on, routine feels comforting. So when people make you eat big breakfast food meals late in the morning and then you're supposed to skip lunch and yet you don't eat dinner any earlier, it tends to throw the whole day off.

I was well into my 20's before the idea of a leisurely Sunday held any appeal, and I still can get feeling "Sundayish," as my family calls it. The dreaded "B" word still causes weird feelings in the pit of my stomach, although I'm okay with the actual act of eating a late breakfast as my mid-day meal.

Darling Husband and I used to make fancy breakfast once and a while on the weekend (although we knew enough not to call it anything else) and this weekend I was able to resurrect that tradition. He slept in while Baby Girl and I took a long walk, which put her right to sleep. I took advantage of her slumber (just rolled the stroller right into the kitchen) to bake biscuits, bake some bacon (non-brown sugared, put from freezer to oven), do up some hash browns and make a fritatta.

I wilted some spinach (didn't have much) in a small sautee pan, adding in frozen peas. I only had two eggs, so I whisked them with a bit of cream and waited until fairly the last minute to do anything with them. Searching the fridge for something to bulk up this egg dish, I found a container of left-over lentils and garbanzo beans with carrots and curry. Why not? Into the pan they went! I noticed fresh oregano in a glass of water on my windowsill. Sure! Tear a few leaves into the dish! When the rest of the meal was coming to a close, I stirred in the eggs and let them scramble in between all the yummy veg, then topped with cheddar and a lid. The egg set and the cheese melted.

How did it taste? Hopefully Darling Husband will post a comment to tell you. For me, the beans and lentils added a great chewyness to the dish, while the curry gave lots of exotic but not spicy flavor. The carrots in it were still al dente, which was nice. The peas were bright and fresh and provided well-needed counterpoint. The cheese was salty and gooey and paired surprisingly well with the chick peas. I lost the oregano completely, but I'm sure it was in the background, doing its thing.

Baby Girl snoozed obligingly 85% into the cooking process, then laughed while she watched me stirring and scooping, flipping bacon and doing Julia Child impressions. If this is what brunch is, I guess it's okay. :o)

Et voila! Dinner.

I like to cook a meal where the main dish has very little prep time and everything else can be prepped and cooked in the time it takes the main to cook. A convoluted sentence, but this is what I mean.

I found frozen swordfish steaks on sale at Wegman's. They were already portioned and individually frozen with vacuum seal plastic--perfect for defrosting! (or sous-vide cooking, but that's a different blog) All they required was a little seasoning and then we slapped them on the grill.

While they cooked, I boiled water for couscous. It's one of my favorite starch side dishes; for the taste, versatility, ease and cost, how could you not love it? We buy couscous both in bulk and in boxes with seasoning packets. Boil water with seasoning, stir in couscous, turn off heat, cover and you're done. Some people skip even that step and put the uncooked couscous in a serving bowl, pour boiling water (like from the kettle) and cover with plastic wrap until it's time to serve. It's hard to see where it could be easier. I like to throw in a few craisins for a little tart/chewy interest.

While my water was boiling, I sauteed crushed red pepper and minced garlic in a pan, then added fresh snow peas. They need only a little saute until the color becomes vivid but the crunch of the peas remains. For a little extra excitement, I halved tiny thai eggplant (they're a speckled green and literally the size of eggs, but perfectly round) and popped them on the grill next to the swordfish.

Both grill items were ready at the same time--and by then I was sitting with my feet up drinking a beer. Darling Husband brought in the fish and the eggplant. While the swordfish rested, I further cut the eggplant into wedges and tossed them in with the snow peas.

Dinner served.

Healthy, economical and quick. Who says you can't have all three? It's a challenge (you usually can do two of the three) but it can be done. We could have done it even cheaper with a lower cost fish, but the principle remains the same. Epicurious has jumped on the NPR bandwagon of budget family meals (or is it the other way around?) and I like it when people try to make it healthy as well as convenient. NPR encouraged reader submission of recipes and some seemed to totally ignore the price portion of the recipe, not even guessing at the totals for their ingredients and just showing off their recipe. Others seemed to assume that if they had it in their freezer or pantry to begin with, it shouldn't count towards the total (since they didn't pay for it that day to be prepared). Mostly vegetarian items, too...

And on a completely unrelated note, I found Israli couscous at Wegman's and am looking forward to trying it. It's a large, pearly, tapioca looking couscous that requires more cooking than the normal but is supposedly very tasty. It's often mentioned as a substitute for fregula, the enigmatic Sardinian pasta. Will have to try soon!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sweet potato salad

To quote David Sedaris (quoting his mother, actually), "I like a good steak done rare." Mmmh, and I sure do. We had a hankering for some red meat this evening, and steaks on the grill hit the spot. As accompaniment, we made creamed spinach and sweet potato salad. More on that in a minute.

I've never had creamed spinach that I didn't make, and I've only made it twice. As far as we can tell, though, it seems to be a steak house staple. I just made a basic bechamel and wilted in some fresh spinach, along with a dash of nutmeg. Tastes great but is it authentic?

I found a recipe for Sweet Potato Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing while searching for a good pot luck picnic dish for our office Memorial Day party. Typical of myself, I read it once, printed it out, then promptly ignored it and made it the way it seemed, with no measurements and only sketchy memory of the original.

First I cubed and boiled sweet potato, much like you would for regular potato salad, until fork-tender. The dressing was rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, a drizzle of honey, a bit of brown sugar, a few hearty dollops of sambal olek, a dash of sesame oil, and crunchy peanut butter. Whisked together, it looked a bit odd. Amazingly balanced, though. Not really sweet, not too salty, with a tang of sour but a wonderfully earthy nuttiness. I mixed in chopped scallions, then folded the potato, a bit at a time, until coated.

I really liked it! Very like chilled sesame noodles, but without the noodles. The original recipe called for mayo (ew! why?) and snow peas, too. Probably a bunch of other things as well, but we've already established the futility of a recipe. I hope I can recreate it at the end of the month for my coworkers.