Coconut-lime fish curry

coconut-lime fish curry

Eating fish is tough. Not in a flavor sense — I could likely eat it every day (though we all know what happens when you get what you wish for in that department). But financially, it’s difficult to get enough into our diet. Fish is one of those things where you get what you pay for — I’m no longer a fan of my old-standby bargain tilapia (for reasons such as these), and I’d like to buy wild-caught. For a while I thought I’d found a solution by purchasing mostly at Trader Joe’s, but then read this, and have since avoided that supply (insert mantra here about something seeming too good to be true, and therefore likely being so).

So instead, I wait for big sales at Whole Foods (some friends like Costco fish, but we aren’t members) and buy when the price is right. While we occasionally get the rare treat of bright-red wild-caught salmon, I most often buy cheaper cuts like cod (used in our fish sticks) or other inexpensive whitefish.

I like to use mild white fish in dishes with amp’d flavor — cod especially needs help beyond the simple lemon-dill roasting that lets a good piece of salmon shine. A few weeks ago I had purchased cod on sale, and brought it home, only to realize I just wasn’t in the mood for fish sticks. The thought came to me that it would likely hold up well in a curry, and the strong spices would lend a hand to its inherent blandness. Using other curry dishes as a base, with the added color and flavor of canned tomatoes, I believe we’ve found a way to get more fish on our dinner plates without breaking the bank.

As a bonus, my kids (ahem… 2 out of 3) actually love it. And Tim says it should go under the “Slap Yo Mama” section of my eternally non-existent cookbook. Taken as a compliment, and not as a passive-aggressive directive to my children, we’ve labeled this curry a keeper.

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Recipe: Coconut-lime Fish Curry (dairy-free, grain-free)

: serves 3-4

If you don’t have unsweetened coconut cream, omit it and the water, and replace with 3/4 cup canned unsweetened full-fat coconut milk. Make sure your curry powder is fresh — the fragrance should fill your head the minute you open the container — a stale curry powder will leave this dish flat.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • salt & black pepper
  • 1/2 cup coconut cream (see note)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup fish, chicken, or vegetable stock
  • 1 (14 oz) can diced tomatoes, drained & rinsed
  • 3/4 pound fresh mild white fish, such as cod or sole, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • chopped fresh parsley or cilantro, to garnish
  • 2-3 Tbsp fresh lime juice

Instructions

  1. In a large saucepan, cook the onion in coconut oil over medium heat until translucent (do not brown), about five minutes.
  2. Add the garlic & ginger, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  3. Add the curry powder, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper. Cook, stirring, another minute.
  4. Add the coconut cream, water, stock, and tomatoes to the pan. Reduce heat to low, cover, and gently simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. Add the fish to the pan, cover, and continue cooking another 10 minutes, or until fish is opaque.
  6. Stir in 2 Tbsp lime juice. Taste for seasoning, adding more lime juice or salt if necessary.
  7. Serve immediately over hot basmati rice.

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2012.

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This post was linked up to Simple Lives Thursday, via GNOWFGLINS, and Seasonal Eats at Delectable Musings.

 

Simple pot roast for a comfort-needy Monday

pot-roast-vegetables

Many thanks for all the birthday wishes last Friday, via comment or otherwise — it was, to say the least, an exciting day. This was foreshadowed by a comment from my big sister (by a mere 15 months) on that post:

Sorry to be a big bucket of cold water… but please be careful of the weather today. You are headed to an area that has an almost 100% chance of tornadoes.

And, I mean, I knew this. I have access to weather.com, knew that schools in the Southern part of the state were letting students out early. But it was my FORTIETH BIRTHDAY. We had reservations at a great restaurant, had pricelined a something-star non-refundable hotel room for the night. My in-laws had come to town to keep our kids, my BIL & SIL were driving from Lexington to meet us. The plans had been in place for weeks. In short, we would be driving to Louisville that day. Weather be damned.

But then a few hours later, we found ourselves waiting out a second tornado warning in a rest stop off 65-south, just three miles north of Henryville, IN — where the most intense damage occurred. Late Friday night, looking at a map of the tornadoes that touched down that day, the biggest cluster was exactly where we were Friday afternoon. We literally drove into tornadoes.

This fact flies in the face of each of my family members. Of the females in my family, I am the only one without a tornado phobia (we can discuss the phobias I *do* have at a later date). All three of them, I’m sure, considered us certifiably insane.

So the next morning, at breakfast, my big sister sent an email to my whole weather-phobic family. It included a tongue-in-cheek list of upcoming vacation ideas for me and Tim:

  • Sightseeing in the Gaza Strip
  • Deep sea fishing off the shores of Somalia
  • A “Hugs, Not Drugs” mission trip to Northern Mexico
  • Camping trip to the Fukashima nuclear site in Japan
  • Cageless-shark diving just offshore from South Africa, in chummed waters (because chum actually makes great white sharks sleepy)
  • Time travel back to June, 1944, for an lovely picnic for two on the seashore in Normandy, France

She’s a funny one, my big sister.

Once we got there, it was the perfect celebration; but even late-starting birthday trips must end. When ours did, we returned home to a sick child (confession: he was sick when we left — do you now get how badly I wanted to go to Louisville?). Between nurse-playing for the past 48 hours and getting caught up on laundry, I wanted to start this week with something easy and comforting for dinner: enter the slow-cooker pot roast.

pot-roast-seared

(the chuck roast after being seared, before hitting the slow-cooker)

I love this recipe because it’s simple, cheap, and makes its own gravy (a stick blender helps in making this a sort-of one-pot meal). The long-braising makes what can be a tough cut of meat fall-off-the-bone tender. All you need is mashed potatoes and a green vegetable, and you’ve got the perfect comfort dinner.

Just what a girl needs after a birthday-bashing, sick-kid-nursing, tornado-chasing weekend.

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I use a small (2#) bone-in chuck roast, because that’s what came with our beef quarter. The bones give the dish more flavor, and since the meat falls off anyway, there’s no reason to get a boneless chuck (though that should work if it’s what you have). If you have a larger roast, you can use the same amount of vegetables, but might need more stock or water for adequate braising.

Recipe: Simple Slow-Cooker Pot Roast

: serving sizes vary; a 2-pound bone-in roast will serve 2-3 adults

Ingredients

  • 2-5 pound bone-in chuck roast, preferably grassfed
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbsp rendered fat or olive oil
  • 5-6 sprigs fresh thyme, tied with a string
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 or more cups stock or water

Instructions

  1. Season the beef roast on both sides with salt and pepper.
  2. In a large heavy-bottomed skillet, heat the fat until just starting to smoke. Sear the roast on both sides until brown, about 4 minutes per side. Place in slow-cooker, and lay thyme sprigs on top.
  3. In now-empty skillet, saute the onion, carrot, and celery over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute just until fragrant.
  4. Pour 1 cup stock (or water, though not as flavorful) into the saute pan, scraping up any bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Pour vegetables and liquid over the roast in the slow-cooker.
  5. Add more broth or water, if necessary, so that the liquid level comes halfway up the sides of the roast.
  6. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours (or low for 6-8 hours, this is a dish that can go longer since it falls apart anyway).
  7. Remove roast and bones from crockpot. Using a stick blender, puree the liquid in the pot to use for gravy (use a food processor if you don’t have a stick blender).
  8. Serve with gravy and mashed potatoes or winter squash.

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2012.

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Emperor Polpettine

polpettine-1

Sorry. I couldn’t get around the title. When my kids came home from school yesterday, and asked their customary question what’s for dinner, and I answered polpettine, they looked at each other wide-eyed, and almost simultaneously and smirkingly asked if we were having Emperor Palpatine for dinner. And thus began a long string of corny, nay ridiculous jokes that ended with more than one groan from the maternal kitchen gallery.

Where were we? Oh, right. Polpettine, as in, tiny meatballs. I saw Mario Batalli make these on Food Network about 8 or so years ago. They’ve been my go-to recipe for meatballs ever since. I prefer them small — a giant single meatball sitting atop a pile of pasta and sauce has never been very appealing to me. They are also the perfect recipe to double (or triple) and make large quantities at once — I mean, once your hands are dirtied up with raw beef and pork, you might as well sit there a while and do the work for more than one dinner. I make them up, lay them out on a lined baking sheet, and stick them in the freezer. Once frozen solid, I transfer them to ziplock bags, ready to dispense as many as I need to make a quick(ish) dinner.

polpettine-2

These are classic Italian meatballs — I typically use a combination of beef & pork, but have used veal as well when I’ve had it. Very simply seasoned — primarily garlic — and tossed in a homemade marinara (my favorite recipe is below). Historically served atop a pile of pasta, these days I’m opting for strings of spaghetti squash (for obvious reasons) and am surprisingly enjoying the change.

So try them, and see if they don’t find a place in your dinner rotation (with or without a side of jokes about the ruler of the Galactic Empire).

 

Recipe: Polpettine (tiny meatballs)

: inspired by this recipe from Mario Batali
makes about 60 1 1/2″ meatballs

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground beef (grassfed if possible)
  • 1 pound ground pork or veal
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup blanched almond flour (or all-purpose flour)
  • 3 Tbsp freshly grated parmesan (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 quarts marinara sauce (recipe below)

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, combine beef, pork (or veal), eggs, garlic, flour, parmesan, and salt & pepper. Using your hands, mix quickly and thoroughly to combine and distribute seasoning.
  2. Roll into balls 1″ – 1 1/2″ in diameter, according to preference. (At this point, meatballs can be place in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet and frozen for future use. Transfer to a freezer zip bag once frozen. When ready to use, thaw completely before proceeding with recipe.)
  3. In a large skillet, heat 1/4 cup oil or rendered pork fat over medium heat until shimmering. Add meatballs in a single layer. Cook without disturbing for about 3 minutes, or until browned on the bottom. Gently turn meatballs, continuing to cook, until brown on all sides.
  4. Pour marinara sauce over meatballs, and allow to simmer gently for 10-15 minutes to allow flavors to meld.

Number of servings (yield): 6

 

Recipe: Marinara Sauce

: makes 2 quarts sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 (28-oz) cans diced or crushed tomatoes
  • dried bay leaf
  • sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. In a large saute pan or dutch oven set over medium heat, saute onions, celery, and carrot until soft — about 5-8 minutes (do not brown). Add garlic, and saute until fragrant, about a minute.
  2. Add tomatoes and bay leaf to pan, and bring to a simmer.
  3. Simmer gently for 45 minutes (don’t rush this!).
  4. Using a hand-held stick blender, puree the sauce in the pot. Alternatively transfer to a blender or food processor and puree.
  5. Season to taste with salt & pepper.

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2011.

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This post was linked up to Simple Lives Thursday, via GNOWFGLINS.

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A cheap, quick dinner with endless possibilites

frittata_mushroom

Back in design school, we used to say that if you needed design work, you could have it cheap, good, or fast, but you could only pick two options of the three. This is a dinner that defies the unwritten laws of good design: with this meal, you can have them all.

A few posts ago, I mentioned that we were hosting a brunch a couple days before Christmas. I won’t honor the brunch with its own post, simply because, as is usual in those settings where the kitchen is a den of chaos from last-minute preparations, I didn’t take a single photo. It was a great time, though, having a house full of new friends who are easy-going enough to not mind the relative circus, and who all saw fit to spend some precious holiday time with our family. Definitely a heart-warmer, in my book of life.

One of the dishes I served was a frittata. The original plan was to go the tried-and-true asparagus/smoked meat route, but in the end I wanted to experiment, and go a more true-to-season direction (asparagus, while easy to get, isn’t really in season just yet). Since I’m so fond of stealing ideas from my favorite restaurants in Athens, I took a leisurely internet stroll over to the 5&10 website and pillaged their late-fall brunch menu. I walked away with a frittata with roasted mushrooms, cream cheese, and herbes fines.

I had no idea what herbes fines were. A quick search later, I found out that they are the more delicately-flavored herbs (“fine herbs”) used in Mediterranean fare: parsley, tarragon, chives, and chervil. Unlike the herbs found in a bouquet garni, their flavors don’t withstand long cooking. Makes sense for a frittata, since the omelet-type dish is cooked very quickly. The second ingredient unfamiliar to me was the roasted mushroom; I’ve used mushrooms in many ways, but never roasted. Turns out, it’s as easy as it sounds — you coat mushroom caps with some olive oil and salt, and bake them in the oven for about half an hour. The roasting intensifies the flavor, giving every morsel an earthy meatiness that won’t overwhelm the eggs.

Last, there was the cream cheese, which I felt was pretty self-explanatory. Substitutes could be homemade cream cheese, yogurt cheese, or ricotta (it might be too bland, but worth an experiment) — any mild soft cheese would lend a balancing creaminess and flavor without hijacking the dish.

The best things about a frittata: it’s a very budget-friendly dinner (even locally-produced pastured eggs will only put you out $2.50 for enough to amply serve 4 people as a main course) and, like its cousin the omelet, has limitless possibilities for fillings. Just sauté your fillings (or pre-cook them in another manner), then put them in the pan before adding the eggs. Add your cheese at the same time, or mix it, grated, into your beaten eggs before pouring into the pan. The main requirement is a stovetop- and broiler-safe nonstick pan — we have a 12-inch nonstick that I use only in situations as these where it’s completely necessary (otherwise, I avoid Teflon); for the photo above (I know — it’s not a great one — food photography after dark is not my strong point), when I halved the recipe to serve 2, I used a well-seasoned cast-iron pan, and it worked perfectly.

Frittata with Roasted Mushrooms, Cream Cheese, and Herbes Fines
serves 4-6 as main course

  • 8 oz mushrooms (button or cremini), wiped clean and stems trimmed flush with cap
  • 2-3 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 Tbsp herbes fines (combo of at least two of parsley, chives, tarragon, or chervil), finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 8 eggs (local, pastured eggs if you can get them)
  • 2-3 oz cream cheese (block or soft)

About an hour before dinner (or, earlier in the day), preheat the oven to 450º and adjust your baking rack to the middle position. In a medium bowl, drizzle the mushroom caps with olive oil, then add 1/4 tsp salt and pepper to taste. Toss well, making sure the mushrooms get coated with the oil (they will absorb it quickly). On a parchment-lined baking sheet, place the mushrooms stem-side down, spaced across the surface of the baking sheet, and roast for about 15-20 minutes, or until the bottoms are browned. Using tongs, flip the mushrooms and continue to bake another 5-10 minutes, or until the tops are browned. Remove to a bowl, and drizzle with more olive oil if they seem dry. Set aside or refrigerate until ready to use. Before using in the frittata, chop the mushrooms into quarters.

Preaheat your oven broiler, and move the baking rack to the upper third of the oven.

Heat a 12-in nonstick oven-proof skillet over medium heat, and add the butter.  While the butter melts, lightly beat your eggs in a large bowl with a pinch of salt and pepper and the herbes fines. Once the butter is melted, pour the eggs into the pan and stir with a rubber spatula. Add the chopped mushrooms to the eggs, scattering them evenly over the pan. Continue stirring, gently, until the egg starts to set through, about 4-5 minutes. Toward the end of the cooking time, dot pieces of cream cheese over the surface (if using a block, just break off chunks with your finger; if using a softer cheese, use a small spoon and dollop the cheese on top). Once frittata is almost fully set (it will still have some spots of liquid egg on top), transfer to the oven.

Broil for about 3-4 minutes, until the top is puffy and brown. Remove from the oven and immediately slide onto a serving platter. Cut into wedges and serve immediately.

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Pasta with Italian sausage and stewed fresh tomatoes

pasta_sausage_tomatoes

If you’re looking for ways to use up the last of the season’s tomatoes (I got three in my box this week… that’s two more than last week… maybe late ripers?), this is a dinner we’ve eaten all summer, a few times a month. It’s easy, quick, and a little different every time you make it. The recipe below is just a guide, as I’m sure I varied the proportions each go-around, depending on what I had on a Sunday night.

Inspired by a dish I was served at my friend Megan’s house last June, it relies on ripe tomatoes (for once, the quality can be a little lacking and it won’t hurt much), fresh Italian sausage, and will benefit lots from fresh herbs and good-quality parmesan cheese. My current favorite source for sausage is Whole Foods; I buy a ton of it when it’s on sale ($3/pound) and freeze it in half-pound portions. It’s my favorite because it’s full of black pepper, but not too heavy on the fennel (the sausage I used to buy from Earth Fare was fennel-packed, a little out-of-balance). Of course I love getting fresh sausage from The Goose, and his tastes the best, by far; but for some reason (probably a good one) it falls apart very easily when it cooks a bit, and I prefer nice chunks of sausage in this dish.

I’ve used everything from romas to cherry tomatoes; the only difference would be to seed larger tomatoes if you desire (skipping this step will just make a soupier sauce). Since, in September, your garden basil might have long-ago flowered (and therefore turned funky), you can replace it with Italian parsley (a great herb to always have on hand… it’s cheap, and if you buy it at the grocery it’ll keep in a jar of water on your counter for a week or more). Add red pepper flakes if you want a kick; this is an easy supper that can handle heavy customization.

Pasta with Italian sausage and fresh tomatoes
serves 3-4

  • 1/2 pound (about 2 links) fresh Italian sausage
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • about 1 pint roma or cherry tomatoes, or 2-3 slicers, chopped  (seeded if large)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3/4 pound short pasta (bowties, rotini, penne)
  • fresh-grated parmesan
  • chopped fresh basil, for garnish
  • olive oil

Fill a large saucepan or dutch oven with water and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Remove the sausage from its casing, and crumble into the saucepan. Cook until brown, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until fully cooked (about five minutes). Remove the sausage to a plate, and pour off all but a couple tablespoons fat from the pan (you might not have to pour off any, if your sausage was on the lean side).

Add the onions to the pan, and cook until beginning to soften but not brown. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the tomatoes plus salt and pepper to taste; reduce the heat to low, and let cook gently for about 10 minutes.

In the meantime, when your water has come to a boil, add salt (1 Tbsp for every 5 quarts) and cook your pasta to al dente. Drain well.

You’ll know your sauce is ready when the tomatoes are soft and cooked down a little; just add your pasta and cooked sausage right to the skillet, and toss to coat. Serve, topped with basil, grated parmesan, and a drizzle of olive oil.

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Recession Meal #4: Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

Since 2009 could potentially, in that Chinese-calendar-sort-of-way, be known as The Year of The Financially Burdened (at least for us, anyway), I figured life was calling for another Recession Meal. I also thought it was about time I included one of a carnivorous variety, leaving the afore-utilized lentils behind. But just this once.

For old times’ sake, let’s begin this story with reminiscing my childhood. I believe I’ve mentioned before that I grew up on a diet consisting mostly of self-prepared meals boxed by Kraft. That was the case Saturday through Thursday, and every other Friday. Two Fridays a month, I went to my dad’s house for the weekend. He, in the early-to-mid-80’s, was in his “running phase.” So most Saturdays he ran a race (we always asked if he won, and he always answered with a short lecture on how ‘winning isn’t everything’ — hmmm…), and wanted to get in his carb-heavy meal the night before (not to help him win, mind you — Dad, are you reading this?) So he made spaghetti with meat sauce. Probably the squarest meal I had, twice a month. He would brown a pound of ground beef, and then pour a jar of Prego or Ragu over the top, and stir. We ate it most Friday nights, and I, for one, loved it.

And, again, for old times’ sake, fast forward with me. It’s sometime in the late 90’s, and I’m living in Knoxville. My roommate begins to make spaghetti one night, and opens a jar of something a bit more high-class than my dad’s fare — maybe Barilla? Another friend of ours walks in the door and — I believe — takes the jar from her hand, refusing to let her go through with it. She explains that homemade meat sauce is so simple to make, and here is my grandmother’s recipe we can make it right now! And that’s what they did. It was quite yummy, and I strolled for a bit down memory lane, back to all those spaghetti dinners at my (non-competitive) dad’s house.

So I got the recipe, and began making it for myself. Over the past 7 years, I’ve changed a few things, mostly adding a sauté step to bring out more flavors and shorten the simmering time. If I have an open bottle of red wine (um, right — a recession meal should most definitely not include red wine — but just in case) I add a quarter cup or so before adding all the tomatoes, and that makes it even tastier. This is not a bolognese sauce — but if you are interested there’s a fantastic one at cooksillustrated.com. This is a bit simpler, chunkier, and more along the lines of comfort food.

Oh, and the reason it qualifies as a recession meal is because you can make the sauce for about $8 (including pasta) and it feeds a family of four (sort of… small children included) for 2 nights. You’ll notice some optional ingredients — use them if you already have them on hand — they all add flavor, so the sauce is better with them, but is also good without). It also freezes well, and doubles well, so it can feed a crowd if so desired.

Meat Sauce for Spaghetti

  • 1 pound ground beef (lean beef works well here)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bell pepper (green or red), chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped fine (optional)
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped fine (optional)
  • 4 to 8 ounces mushrooms, sliced (optional)
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 1 (14 oz) can Italian style stewed tomatoes
  • 1 (14 oz) can tomato sauce
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried oregano

In a large saucepan or dutch oven, cook the ground beef over medium heat until no pink remains. Remove the beef with a slotted spoon to a bowl and set aside. Discard all but about a tablespoon of fat from the pan, add olive oil, and return pan to heat. Sauté onions, carrot, celery, and bell pepper until vegetables are soft, about 7-8 minutes (try not to let them brown). Add garlic, and sauté for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, until it starts to turn brown and is well-combined with the vegetables. Add the mushrooms and cook until they soften a little, 2-3 minutes. At this point, if you have that wine sitting around, pour in 1/4 cup or so and scrape the bottom of the pan. Let cook a few minutes to release alcohol, then add the stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce, water, bay leaf, thyme, oregano, and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, and let cook barely simmering for about an hour, stirring occassionally. Taste for salt and pepper, and add a few tablespoons chopped fresh parsley if you have it. Serve over spaghetti, topped with grated parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.

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Recession Meal No. 2: Lentil Salad with Bacon

I confess that in one past post I lamented the fact that our menu contained this recipe, inspiring the title “Summer Blues.” Which goes to show, when you find something cheap and good, it doesn’t mean you can eat it every day, or even every week, ad infinitum. And I can tend to try and do that, especially when something is cheap, easy, and relatively good for you. Love to beat the proverbial dead horse.

But we gave it a rest, and it’s now returned to acceptability. Even goodness. It’s adapted from the April 2004 issue of Everyday Food, and is a great spring and summer light dinner:

Lentil Salad with Bacon (serves 3-4, depending on appetite)

  • 1 cup green or brown lentils, rinsed
  • 4 strips bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp dijon mustard
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • your choice of salad greens, enough for 3-4 people (the original recipe called for frisée, and while I do think that would be a lovely choice, I never have it on hand, and to buy it would somehow negate the inherent money-saving attributes of this meal)

In a medium saucepan, combine lentils and 4 cups water. Bring to a boil; reduce to simmer and cook until lentils are tender but not mushy, about 15-20 minutes. Drain well.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain.

Pour off all but about 1 Tbsp of bacon fat from your pan. Add onions and carrots to pan, and cook over medium heat until carrots are tender, about 10 or so minutes. Add the garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 2 more minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, and olive oil, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Using about 1/4-1/3 of the dressing, dress your salad greens in a separate bowl. Add the lentils, onion mixture, and reserved bacon to the remaining dressing in the bowl, and toss to coat. To serve, divide the greens among serving bowls, and top with lentil salad.

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Another wild and crazy Saturday night

I could tell you stories about the years before we had children — how we thrived on utmost spontaneity, spent nights going to late-night shows and afterparties, ending our forays by watching the sun rise from our booth at the local Waffle House. I could tell you these stories, but they would be entirely fictional. If you know me, you also know that while I enjoy going to a good show now and again, it’d better start before 9 o’clock, and I’d better be home and in the bed by midnight. Otherwise, I might very nearly fall asleep wherever we are.

Most times, I don’t mind being a person who tends to drift toward routine. I do rebel in certain areas of my life, and one of those areas tends to be food. Now wait — stop laughing. It’s true that I plan my menu every week, and, well, ok — I grocery shop every Monday, without fail. But that’s not the kind of routine I’m talking about. I mean I avoid eating the same menu on a regular basis. Example: I once dated a guy who’s mother cooked the same thing, every week, for his entire life. There might be some nuances here and there (a different sauce for “Pasta Wednesday” perhaps), but for the most part, it was the same. I would go completely insane. It would be like Chinese water torture. I would probably just stop eating, my tastebuds in full revolt.

Some people find comfort in that type of routine — and in one teensy way, I’ve joined them. I don’t remember when it happened, but at some point in the past few years, during the cool months, Saturday night has become pizza night (this tradition turns into “grilling night” when the weather turns warm). The foremost reason we do this is because we like homemade pizza. We’re actually spoiled now, having gotten so accustomed to our delicious creations that we’re inevitably disappointed when we have the take-out version. A secondary reason is that it makes it easier to plan the menu; I always know what’s going on Saturday night.

A few things have made this an easier venture for me. First, I make a pizza dough recipe that is enough for two 12″ crusts, and I par-bake and freeze the one we don’t use — so I can just pull it out of the freezer the next week. I also make my tomato sauce in triple batches, so that’s another item I’m only making once every few weeks. (My favorite tomato sauce is “No-cook Tomato Sauce” from The Cook’s Bible. Kimball makes the astute point that twice-cooked tomatoes lose their freshness, so he just purees canned tomatoes with some garlic, olive oil, and seasoning. It’s PERFECT.) The toppings vary by the week, but we’ve recently been on a kick of Italian sausage, caramelized onions, and sometimes sautéed mushrooms.

My dough recipe is adapted from one passed on by a friend. This makes more of a thick crust, and it has become my favorite because of its consistency and ease. I’ve made thin-crust doughs before, and while they are delicious, I find them harder to work with, and too much hassle for even a bi-weekly venture. I now make the dough in my Kitchenaid, but for a year or so I made it entirely by hand, so that’s the version I’ll share. Little details make a big difference here: brushing the dough with olive oil, salting the crust before it bakes, adding a touch of whole wheat flour to the dough. It all adds up to a Saturday night that others will envy. Others in very small, introverted, pizza-loving circles.

Saturday Night Pizza Dough

This method uses a pizza stone, but if you own/prefer a pizza pan, adjust accordingly. Also, I’ve found a pizza peel to be quite handy in sliding a formed crust onto a hot stone; but if you don’t have one, you can accomplish the same purpose by using a large, inverted baking sheet.

  • 1 1/3 cups wrist-temperature water
  • 3 Tbsp light brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (or 2 tsp instant yeast)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp table salt

In a large glass or ceramic bowl, combine the water, honey, oil, and yeast. Stir gently to dissolve the yeast. Add the flour, then sprinkle on the salt. Using a wooden spoon, stir until a scrappy dough is formed. Knead in the bowl for about 3 minutes. (The dough will be quite sticky, but this is ok — avoid adding more flour, only flouring your hands to assist the kneading.) Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few more times, until dough is fairly cohesive and lumps of flour are dispersed (it will not be as smooth as a bread dough). Rinse out your bowl, and dry thoroughly. Lightly oil the bowl with another Tbsp of olive oil, and turn the dough around in the bowl so it’s coated with the oil. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let sit in a relatively warm place in your kitchen until the dough doubles in size, about an hour. After about 45 minutes, preheat your oven to 450º, and place a pizza stone (if using) on a rack toward the bottom of the oven.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and divide in half (best done with a bench scraper or a knife). Knead each half into a ball, and let rest, covered, for 10 minutes.

Shape the first crust on a floured surface, by pressing the dough outward, beginning in the center. Stretch, pull, and continue to press gently (you don’t want to tear it!) until it’s about 12″ in diameter. (If it gets tough and refuses to be shaped, let it rest, as-is, for another 10 or so minutes, then continue to shape.) When crust is almost shaped, transfer carefully to a parchment-lined peel or inverted baking sheet. Finish shaping, then brush the top with olive oil, prick all over with a fork (this helps avoid bubbles), and sprinkle lightly with salt. Slide the parchment and crust carefully onto the hot pizza stone. Bake for 5 minutes. If for future use, let the crust cool completely, then wrap in plastic wrap and aluminum foil, and freeze. If using immediately, top the pizza as you wish, and return to the pizza stone for another 10-12 minutes.

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Recession Meal No. 1: skillet potato frittata

Over the years, my grocery shopping habits have drastically changed. When we first moved to Athens, we were childless, and my husband was a full-time PhD student. I was attempting to start my own freelance business, and my paychecks were trickling in at a slow, heart-stopping pace. Trying to be as frugal as possible, I did virtually all of my grocery shopping at Super Walmart. At the time, it supplied most of my needs, at the cheapest available price, and even though I left angry each and every time I went, I considered it a small sacrifice for my family’s financial stability.

Then I had my first child, and at the same time Tim was learning more about sustainable agriculture. I made a decision that, since I was going to be making all of my daughter’s baby food, we could afford to buy all organic foods for her. Simultaneously, we were becoming more convinced that big, commercial agriculture was doing way more harm than good in this world, and that we wanted to try our best to support local and/or organic farmers. This is a big challenge, and impossible for us to do across-the-board — i.e., we did it when we could. I started to shop at our local whole foods store in addition to Walmart, buying more bulk foods, planning my meals more efficiently, and trying to use every last bit of what I bought.

Now, we have two children, one who is severely allergic and sensitive to a sometimes incomprehensible list of foods. I have to buy my son expensive food things — not because I think he’s cute and deserves it, but because if I don’t he breaks out in full-body eczema. I finally decided that the weekly increase in blood-pressure from my experiences at Walmart was likely to shorten my life, so I now spend about half our weekly budget at Earth Fare, and half at Kroger (I still go to Walmart about once a month, and buy out their entire stock of Rice Dream). Long story short (ahem, I know it’s way too late for that) — I am finding it nearly impossible to stay within our relatively generous grocery budget. And it’s about to drive me batty.

One way I’ve always tried to offset our expensive food items (i.e., free-range chicken and beef) is by serving two or three meatless (or almost meatless) entrées each week. I try to utilize something in my kitchen that has been sitting around a while, or is a staple that I always keep handy. These can be very simple dishes, and are a good balance for the palette as well as the wallet. I thought I’d start sharing some of them, and call them Recession Meals, because we are there now (depending on which economist you hear), and we are all gonna be feeling it at the grocery store. Some much more than others. Last night, we enjoyed a modified version of Skillet Potato Frittata, from The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook. It was really good, and used only things I had sitting around: bacon from the freezer, eggs, potatoes, onion. I made biscuits as a side, because it was fairly brunch-y.

Some friends visited last weekend, and we had a discussion about the elusive grocery budget. They have a new rule that, on weekends, they have to eat what’s in their house. I.e., no quick-trip to the store to get that one little something for dinner (which inevitably ends up being a $40 trip). One Sunday night, they ate pasta with butter. That was it. Seems like something you would’ve done in college, right? But they ate within their means, and went to bed full. What more can we ask for?

Skillet Potato Frittata (adapted from The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook, by Christopher Kimball)

  • about 4 fist-sized potatoes, any kind (including sweet), washed well and chopped into 1-inch cubes
  • one medium-sized onion, rough-chopped
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • about 2 Tbsp cheese, preferably parmesan
  • 3-4 slices bacon, chopped into 1-inch pieces (sausage would work here, too)
  • anything else you have that sounds good to you!

Cook bacon in a 10-inch skillet (non-stick or seasoned cast-iron would work best here) over med-high heat, until crisp. Remove to a paper-towel-lined plate, and pour off all but 2 Tbsp of the fat from the skillet. Add 1 Tbsp olive oil to the skillet, and when hot, add the potatoes. Cook for about 10 minutes, tossing frequently, until starting to brown. Add the onions, and continue cooking another 10-15 minutes, until everything is nicely browned and the potatoes are tender. Add salt and pepper to taste, and remove to a mixing bowl.

Pour the eggs over the potatoes in the bowl, and add the grated cheese and bacon. Stir to coat.

Add another tsp of olive oil to the pan, and pour in the potato mixture. Add a little more salt, and pepper to taste. After a couple minutes, flip the frittata (in sections, if need be) in the pan, and allow to brown on the other side. When nicely browned and the eggs cooked through, remove to a plate and serve.

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Tomato Pie!!

“You mean, like a deep-dish Chicago-style pizza?”

“Nope. Like an apple pie, but with tomatoes instead of apples.”

“Hmm… really? With two crusts?”

“Yep. With two crusts. In a pie dish.”

This is how most conversations go when I introduce the idea of tomato pie. I had also never heard of it when first served the glorious concoction by my dear friend Cassia, in Asheville, about 5 years ago. She, I believe, got the recipe from our friend Beth, but prior to that, the origins are lost (yes, if I really cared all that much, I’d call Beth and ask her; but who has the time, with all the pie-making and such?). The Pie had a very late presentation this summer, because of our tomato woes. We didn’t grow our own, and the current drought conditions (and subsequent watering restrictions) in Georgia have left everyone short-handed, ending the tomato season early. But I finally got my hands on some lovely heirlooms last week — the preparations were made, the Thompsons were invited (keeping with our annual tradition of sharing a TP with a family who, after the initial introduction 4 years ago, comes back for more every summer), and the pie was consumed at Sunday lunch.

You must taste it to understand. Truly, I have yet to witness someone eat it and not be astonished by how good it really is. The basic premise is that it is a savory deep-dish pie, with key ingredients being garden-fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, and good cheeses lending their complementary flavor to the fat in the crust. Warning: if you attempt to skimp on any of these key ingredients, a true Summer Tomato Pie you will not create — and you will miss out on a taste of heaven!

Without further adieu, the recipe, courtesy Cassia Kesler, Beth Lutz, and someone else before that.

Tomato Pie

THE CRUST:

  • 2 cups white flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup grated gruyere
  • 1/2 cup grated ementhal
  • 1 1/4 sticks butter, chilled, cut into small pieces
  • 7-10 Tbsp ice water

You make this like any traditional pie crust*: Stir together the flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. With a pastry cutter or 2 knives, cut in the butter until it resembles a coarse meal. Stir in the grated cheeses with fingers, making sure the cheese gets coated with the flour. Add 4 Tbsp icewater, and press the mixture together with a rubber spatula, adding more icewater 1 Tbsp at a time until the mixture holds together. Divide the dough in half, and press into 2 balls. Flatten each ball into a 4″-wide disc, wrap tightly in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1/2 hour. Let dough sit at room temperature for about 1/2 hour before attempting to roll.

*I usually make this a day ahead, and let it refrigerate overnight — it makes the pie-baking day less labor-intensive. Be sure to pull the crust out of the frig before you start the filling.

THE FILLING

  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 1/4 pounds assorted tomatoes (can use mixture of sizes and colors), chopped into bite-sized pieces (no need to peel or seed, but you should drain the chopped tomatoes in a colander for a moment after chopping, to rid them of some of the juice)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup grated gruyere
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • ground black pepper to taste

Sautée onion and garlic in 1 Tbsp butter or olive oil, until softened. In a large bowl, stir onions and garlic together with the rest of the filling ingredients. Roll out both pie crusts; press one into the bottom of a 9-inch pie dish, add the filling, and top with the second crust. Cut vents in top of crust. Bake at 375º for about 50 minutes, or until filling is bubbly (filling must bubble!). Allow pie to sit for a couple hours to set; serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

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