Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cheap Eats Part II: White Beans & Smoked Sausage

When I calculated the cost per serving in this dish, I almost fainted. I could not believe that a little over $8.00 could feed at least six people (or two people thrice) and still taste pretty darned good - kiss it, Dollar Menu! This recipe was born from a contemplative look in the pantry and fridge and a strong desire to put off going to the grocery store for just one more day.

Here's what I saw sitting around:

a couple of cans of Great Northern white beans
a can of diced tomatoes
one pound of smoked sausage
white rice

Here's how I put it together:

1 lb smoked sausage, sliced into thin rounds
1/2 cup of diced onions (you could also add diced green bell peppers)
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1 (14 oz) can of diced tomatoes
2 cans white beans (Navy/Great Northern)
1 tbsp chopped Italian parsley (optional)
1 tbsp lemon juice (optional)

In a large pot, cook the sausage over med-high heat till browned. Add onions, lower heat to medium, and cook till translucent.
Add minced garlic and cook for a couple of minutes (taking care not to burn it).
Add the beans and tomatoes and simmer for about 20 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Just before serving, mix in the parsley and sprinkle with a little lemon juice. These two ingredients add freshness and brighten up the dish.
Serve over rice.

This is what I would spend if I went out today and bought all the necessary ingredients:
sausage, $2.50 (it's even cheaper if you use smoked turkey sausage)
2 cans of beans, $1.16 (if you cooked your own beans, you'd spend less money but it might take a bit longer)
1 can of tomatoes, $.63
1 onion, $.79
1 head of garlic, $.99
1 bunch Italian parsley, $.79
1 lemon, $.30
1 lb rice, $.98

$8.14 total ($1.36/serving), and you'd still have ingredients left over for your next cheap eats recipe.
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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fruit & Nut Bark

Pretty much everything I did today was for my Secret Santa gifts. I went to Central Market and the Botanical Gardens to prepare...I've already decided (and I hope she doesn't yet know about my blog, otherwise the secret is blown!) what I'm going to do for her three gifts.

The first gift is a vase with pebbles and paperwhite bulbs. The hint in this gift is that my dad was a botanist, though the green thumb seems to have skipped a generation.

The second is going to be a print of a picture I took at the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens today. The hint in this gift is that I like to take pictures. This isn't going to be a very good hint since we're doing our Secret Santa with the Photography team (haha!)

The last gift will be this fruit and nut chocolate bark. The hint here is that I like making food. I'd originally considered doing peppermint bark but then I wouldn't have had an excuse to go to Central Market today.

At Central Market, I headed right for the bulk foods section. (Have I mentioned before this is my favorite part of the store!? The cheese and bread section are tied for second place.) I picked up dried apricots, dried cranberries, raisins, and whole almonds.

I got this fruit and nut bark idea from an episode of Barefoot Contessa. Ina Garten used white chocolate. I'm not a big fan of white chocolate. First, it's not really chocolate. Second, it's way too sweet. Instead, I used a combination of milk chocolate and dark chocolate chips. About a 1:1 ratio. I put these in a ceramic bowl and microwaved for 30 seconds, stirring, and microwaving another 30 seconds, and so on until the chocolate was just about melted.

I spread out the chocolate on parchment paper, and (oops, I forgot to tell you that I chopped up the dried fruit and nuts) sprinkled the fruits and nuts on top. I sort of patted them down so that they would set in the chocolate when the chocolate hardened.

This big chunk of chocolate went into the fridge for about 45 minutes. After the chocolate hardened, I cut irregular chunks using a big hefty knife to make it look like bark.

I guess the beauty of this treat is that you can't feel too guilty about eating it. Dark chocolate is good for you and your mood. Almonds are good for lowering cholesterol. Cranberries are full of antioxidants and can cut bad cholesterol. Apricots have betacarotene and lots of fiber. Raisins also contain some antioxidants as well. Basically, if you eat this treat, you will feel happy and antioxidated!

Note: Try all sorts of combinations of dried fruits and nuts when you make yours!

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Cranberry Bread

For Thanksgiving this year, we had a pretty traditional menu: roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, cornbread dressing, caramelized carrots, and green bean casserole.

We invited Garth's mom over for dinner, and when she asked if she could bring anything, I asked if she would bring cranberry sauce and maybe dessert.

She brought both, and the dessert she brought over was this cranberry bread which was delicious! When she left us that night, we had nearly a whole loaf of it. It lasted only two days.

I asked her for the recipe; she told me it was on the back of the bag of cranberries. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Cranberry Bread

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup orange juice
2 TBSP oil
1 TBSP grated orange peel
1 egg, well beaten
1 1/2 cup fresh cranberries - coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I like pecans)

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Grease 9 X 5 loaf pan.
Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, & baking soda in a medium mixing bowl.
Stir in orange juice, oil, orange peel and egg. Mix until well blended.
Stir in cranberries and nuts. Spread evenly into loaf plan.
Bake for 55 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Cool on rack for 15 minutes.
Remove from pan and completely cool.
Makes 1 loaf.

*Doris (Garth's mom) also left us with some cream cheese to spread on top of the bread. That made for a great quick breakfast.
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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Cheap Eats Part I: Beef Stew

Frugality, for me, is always a hobby and sometimes a necessity. While I do like to experiment with fancy foods and exotic ingredients, my base recipes (those I make on a regular basis) are almost always cheap eats. Consider this your first installment in a series dedicated to recipes that cost very little per serving yet satisfy our need to have delicious nourishment.

Now you may not think that "beef" and "cheap" belong in the same sentence, but this is not the case in beef stew. Let's check it out:

Beef & Vegetable Stew

1 lb stew meat ($3.25 or less)
2 tbsp AP flour (I'm not counting this - you should have this on hand)
1 tbsp canola oil
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes ($1.25)
1 16-oz carton beef broth ($1.50)
1 16-oz bag frozen mixed vegetables ($1.50)
1/2 an 8-oz package of dried tortellini ($2.00 for the whole bag)
1 cup water
Salt (or soy sauce) & pepper to taste

Toss the cubed stew meat in flour and shake off the excess - add a little salt and pepper to season. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or other large pot. Brown the beef on all sides.
Add diced tomatoes, beef broth, and vegetables. Season with salt (or soy sauce) and pepper. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for about an hour. Check for seasoning and adjust as needed.
Add one cup of water, bring back to a boil, and add the dried tortellini. Cook for about 15-17 more minutes. Check seasoning and adjust if necessary.
Serves 4-6.

So that's $9.50 for the whole meal to serve at least 4 people ($2.38 or less per serving). And yes, you can leave out the tortellini and add navy beans instead ($.60 a can) and save $1.40. You can even leave out the beef altogether and save yourself another $3.25.

If that isn't cheap eats, I challenge you to show me what is. Except ramen. Because you can't beat the price of ramen.
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Apple Pie

So simple, yet so delicious is apple pie that I couldn't resist posting this recipe I used for my apple pie project a few weekends ago. I really have to admire Ina Garten and her simple and classic recipes. I used her recipe (slightly modified) and prepared pie crust instead of making my own (too lazy).

Apple Pie

3 lbs Granny Smith applies, peeled, quartered, and cored
1 lemon, zested
1 orange, zested
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp kosher salt
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 egg, beaten with 1 tsp water for egg wash

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut each apple quarter in thirds crosswise and combine in a bowl with the zests, juices, 1/2 cup sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Roll out half the pie dough and drape it over a 9- or 10-inch pie pan to extend about 1/2-inch over the rim. Don't stretch the dough; if it's too small, just put it back on the board and re-roll it.

Fill the pie with the apple mixture. Brush the edge of the bottom pie crust with the egg wash so the top crust will adhere. Top with the second crust and trim the edges to about 1-inch over the rim. Tuck the edge of the top crust under the edge of the bottom crust and crimp the 2 together with your fingers or a fork. Brush the entire top crust with the egg wash, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon sugar, and cut 4 or 5 slits.

Place the pie on a sheet pan and bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, or until the crust is browned and the juices begin to bubble out. Serve warm.

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