Friday, August 29, 2008

Baked Eggplant with Mushroom-Tomato Sauce: An Acceptance Speech

My fellow Americans,

It is with great pride and a few extra green peppers that I, Cooking Light’s Baked Eggplant with Mushroom-Tomato Sauce, accept your nomination for Best-Ever Eggplant Dish on CHG.

Yes, the contest has been mighty. Baba Ghanouj, Ratatouille, Roasted Eggplant Spread, Broiled Eggplant Japonaise, Eggplant Mini-Pizzas, Angel Hair Pasta with Eggplant-Tomato Sauce, and of course, Cheesy Eggplant Bake … you’ve been noble, wonderful competitors, and I salute your staying power.

But … was it ever really in doubt?

My thick, hearty substance …

My deep, rich flavors …

My truly welcomed hint of cheesiness at the end…

These are qualities – AMERICAN qualities – that must be gained through learning, effort, and an hour in the oven.

There were changes, yes. I won’t deny that. My supporters suggested adding red pepper flakes, a cup of chopped green pepper, and ridding the eggplant of its initial bitterness. I reflected on these ideas, and then accepted them. In the end, they didn’t make me weak or flip-floppy. No – the alterations only made me MORE DELICIOUS. And isn’t that what you want in a leader?

Some may criticize my newness, or my smaller portion sizes, which might only feed three people instead of four. To that, I say we MUST re-adjust our conception of what constitutes a normal serving. Or, for those unwilling to change, perhaps SERVE ME WITH BREAD OR PASTA. It’s that simple. Do you think the other dishes would suggest such maverick ideas? I think not.

Ultimately, I am a dish of change, my friends. Change and hope. By eating me, you are no longer bound to heavy, messy, fat-saturated globs of rancid eggplant parmesan. Nor are you subjugate to the oppression of thin, tasteless substitutes. I am the perfect combination of ferocious vegetable nutrition and monumental culinary triumph.

And with that, I turn this convention over to the weekend.

Good night and godspeed.

Baked Eggplant with Mushroom-Tomato Sauce
Serves 4
Adapted from Cooking Light.

1 peeled eggplant, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 1 1/4 pounds)
Cooking spray
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped green pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 (8-ounce) mushrooms, sliced
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, divided
1 (8-ounce) can no-salt-added tomato sauce, divided
2/3 cup (about 3 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmesan cheese

1) Salt eggplant slices and place in colander on top of a plate. After 30 minutes, rinse eggplant thoroughly and pat down with paper towels.

2) Preheat broiler. Line a baking sheet with tin foil and spray with cooking spray.

3) Lay eggplant out on the sheet. Broil 8 minutes, flipping once, until both sides are a little brown.

4) Turn oven to 375°F. Coat a 1 1/2-quart baking dish (round if possible) with cooking spray.

5) In a large nonstick pan or skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, green pepper, pepper flakes, Italian seasoning, salt, garlic, and mushrooms. Cover. Saute 7 or 8 minutes, until soft, lifting cover to stir occasionally. Jack heat up to medium-high. Take cover off. Cook a few more minutes (not more than 4 or 5) "until liquid evaporates."

6) Pour 1/2 mushroom/onion mixture into baking dish. Place 1/2 of the eggplant in a layer on top of that. "Sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon pepper." Spread 1/2 cup tomato sauce on top of the eggplant. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup cheese.  Repeat layers, leaving off the mozzarella at the end. Cover (with tin foil or dish lid) and bake 60 minutes. Uncover. Sprinkle with remaining 1/3 cup mozzarella and all the parmesan. Bake 5 minutes. Cheese should melt. Remove from oven and cool for a few minutes.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
178 calories, 6.7 g fat, $1.66

Calculations
1 peeled eggplant: $1.24
Cooking spray: $0.02
1 teaspoon olive oil: $0.04
1 cup chopped onion: $0.44
1 cup chopped green pepper: $0.50
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning: $0.02
1/4 teaspoon salt: $0.01
2 garlic cloves, chopped: $0.06
1 (8-ounce) package presliced mushrooms: $1.99
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, divided: $0.01
1 (8-ounce) can no-salt-added tomato sauce, divided: $0.70
2/3 cup (about 3 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided: $0.94
1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmesan cheese: $0.67
TOTAL: $6.64
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): $1.66

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Veggie Might: When Did I Falafel in Love?

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

For Christmas, from my dear friend Miss T, I received Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Embarrassingly, I’ve only used it a few times. That thing is overwhelming. Most cookbooks are to me, which is why I rarely use them.

It’s hard for me to envision, while flipping through a 907-page tome (sans index), what’s in my pantry/fridge, whether my tiny kitchen can accommodate the gadgetry, and if I have the skills to pull of the recipes. These are the reasons I tend to improvise.

That said, I love to make things from scratch. Gone are the days when I would cobble together a meal from a box of this mix of, a can of that sauce, and a packet of whatever that powder makes. But sometimes, just sometimes, I need help figuring out where to start.

When I first became a vegetarian in 1990, I was living in a small town in Western North Carolina. Salad days indeed. Luckily, my tiny conservative college was a mere 20 miles from a progressive, hippie enclave nestled in a Blue Ridge valley, and there were several vegetarian and veg-friendly restaurants and cafes.

A favorite hang out was a bookstore/café that fit my college-student budget and Seattle-scene sensibility. It was cool; it was cheap; and it was where I first fell in love with falafel.

Having discovered something delicious, healthy (if you don’t count the deep frying), and exotic (to my Midwestern/Southern tastes), I ate it all the time. When I found the Fantastic Foods falafel mix, I started making it for myself at home at least once or six times a week. Frozen veggie burgers and other meat analogs were not as readily available then as they are today, and not nearly as affordable as a box of chick pea powder.

But my college obsession with falafel took its toll on our romance. By the time I moved to New York—and could have authentic Middle Eastern food prepared by Middle Eastern people—I had broken up with falafel. It took years, and a great little Israeli restaurant in my ‘hood, to rekindle the romance.

Last week, thumbing through the seemingly impenetrable HTKEVeg, I came across a falafel recipe. What? Falafel either comes from Azuri Café or a box. But there it was and it looked pretty easy. Plus, I had a weird looking Japanese cucumber making me crave yogurt sauce; and what goes great with yogurt sauce? Falafel.

I only have a mini-food processor, so I tried to mix this in my blender. Well, as my Southern kinfolk would say, “Bless her heart.” That was not a good idea. The mixture was much too dry (it’s supposed to be) and came out very coarse no matter how much I mashed the puree button. So, one little serving at a time, it went into the mini-food processor. The texture became finer and more workable.

Instead of balls, I formed the mixture into small patties (5 patties = about 4 oz) and fried them in my cast iron skillet coated with canola spray. They came out great, and much more healthy than the deep fried version. They were still crispy on the outside and had great flavor, though next time I would up the cumin, coriander, and cayenne.

I’ve been eating falafel all week in sandwiches and salads with homemade tzatzki from this Cooking for Engineers recipe, and I’m still in love. Tzatzki is Greek yogurt sauce, similar to the traditional yogurt sauce served with falafel. I whipped this up with full-fat Greek yogurt, 3 times the garlic called for in the recipe, and sans the oil. It’s so amazing it could eat it with a spoon (and have). Be still my heart, that’s good.

Falafel
from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman
Yields about 12 4-oz servings

1 3/4 c dried chick peas (Note: I used 1 2/3 cups of dried chick peas for no good reason other than I misread the recipe. It turned out fine.)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed (Note: I minced 6 cloves. Mmm garlic.)
1 small onion, quartered (Minced again. I can’t help myself.)
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 c chopped parsley or cilantro (Note: I added 1/2 cup chopped cilantro in addition.)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice (Note: I was out of lemons [again!] so I subbed a little bit of vinegar.)
Neutral oil (grapeseed or corn) (Optional: I used canola cooking spray.)

1) "Soak chick peas overnight, adding water if necessary."

2) Drain chickpeas. Add to food processor with garlic, onion, coriander, cumin, cayenne, parsley (or cilantro), salt, black pepper, baking soda, and lemon juice. "Pulse until almost smooth." You can pour 1 or 2 tablespoons of water in if necessary, but try to keep mixture as dry as possible. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

3) Here MB tells you to add 2 inches of oil to a deep saucepan, but I used canola cooking spray in a cast iron skillet. Either way, medium-high heat is the way to go.

4) Using a heaping teaspoon to measure the mixture, make small patties (or balls if you are using oil) and fry until golden brown on both sides.

5) Serve on pita bread with greens, tomatoes, and tahini, hummus, or yogurt sauce.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
84.8 calories, 1.4g fat, $.17

Calculations
1 2/3 c dried chick peas: 935 calories, 17g fat, $.21
6 cloves garlic: 24 calories, 0 fat, $.08
1 small onion: 20 calories, .1g fat, $.25
1 tsp coriander: negligible calories and fat, $.02
1 tbsp cumin: negligible calories and fat, $.04
1 tsp cayenne pepper: negligible calories and fat, $.02
1 cup parsley: 22 calories, 0g fat, $.79
1/2 cup cilantro: 11 calories, 0g fat, $.39
1 tsp salt: negligible calories and fat, $.02
1/2 tsp black pepper: negligible calories and fat, $.02
1/2 tsp baking soda: negligible calories and fat, $.02
1 tbsp vinegar: negligible calories and fat, $.10
cooking spray: 6 calories, 0 fat, $.02
TOTALS: 1018 calories, 17.1g fat, $1.98
PER SERVING: 84.8 calories, 1.4g fat, $.17

CHG Favorites of the Week

A quick word before we get to this week’s FotW: the comments on yesterday’s post have been GREAT. Thank you guys so much for chiming in with suggestions. I’m already planning an Advanced Life Skills Class for next week’s article, so keep ‘em coming!

Food Blog of the Week
Simply Recipes
Elise has been at this for 60,000 years now, and it shows – beyond the enormous catalog of back recipes, she’s mastered the art of the Food Blog Post. It’s pretty pictures, good writing, and great dishes as far as the eye can see. Well worth an afternoon of browsing.

Food Comedy of the Week
“Foux de fa fa” by Flight of the Conchords
In which New Zealand’s fourth-most popular comedy folk duo use elementary French to parody Gallic pop songs. Worth it for Bret’s riff on “baguette” alone.



Food Organization of the Week
World Hunger Year
Simply, “WHY advances long-term solutions to hunger and poverty by supporting community-based organizations that empower individuals and build self-reliance, i.e., offering job training, education and after school programs; increasing access to housing and healthcare; providing microcredit and entrepreneurial opportunities; teaching people to grow their own food; and assisting small farmers.” Nice. Donations here.

Food Quote of the Week
“We dare not trust our wit for making our house pleasant to our friend, so we buy ice cream.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Non-Food Quote of the Week (also from Emerson)
This is one of my favorites, so I figured I’d get it in while the gettin’s good: “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered by your old nonsense.”

Food Video of the Week
“High and Dry” by Radiohead
Much like last week’s “Fake Plastic Trees,” this Radiohead tune has very little to do with food, money, or disillusioned isolation brought on by technological advancement (a common theme for the band). BUT. It’s set in a diner. Enjoy!



Totally Unrelated Extra-Special Bonus of the Week
“The Story” by Brandi Carlile
Man, I’m 12 months and 4 million Grey’s Anatomy reruns late to the party on this one, but – OOOO. This woman has one heckuva voice. About 2/3rds of the way through, she hits a note that’s practically inhuman. Well done.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Life Skills 101: A Curriculum for Food, Finance, and Other Real World Basics

“They didn’t teach this in high school.”

How often do you spit out that phrase in frustration? Monthly? Weekly? Minute…ly?

What are you doing when it happens? Are you struggling with scrambled eggs? Trying to make sense of your paycheck deductions? Wondering why your kid’s Transformers Underoos suddenly turned Barbie-pink? Puzzling over how your parents could afford a two-story colonial in their mid-20s, when you can barely make rent?

Sure, Mom and Dad were supposed to teach us basic survival skills growing up, but in many cases, they didn’t have the time, resources, or background to prepare us for everything. So … what if schools picked up the slack? What if they expanded curriculum beyond reading, writing, and 'rithmetic to include cooking, budgeting, and understanding mortgage interest rates? It might look something like the curriculum attached below.

In honor of the new school year (and probably about three weeks too late), this is a basic outline for a 12-week course entitled “Life Skills 101: Food, Finance, and Other Real World Basics.” It’s REALLY ambitious, requires a classroom with a kitchen, and could take significantly longer to execute in a normal school setting. (Also, 17-year-olds + bathroom cleaning = unlikely.) But hey - it’s a start.

(Side note: A long, long time ago in a mid-sized American city far, far away, I taught high school English. To my knowledge, none of my students have yet overthrown the government, so I consider the experience a success. At the very least, it taught me how to plan a class unit.)

Readers, since this is a work-in-progress, what lessons would you add? What exercises should be included? What the heck would you assign for homework?

Essentially … what do you wish you were taught in high school?

WEEK 1
Getting Started

  • Aspirations (1 day) - what do students want for themselves as adults?
  • The Realities of the American Dream (1 day) - costs of owning a home, having kids, going to college, etc.
  • Syllabus and Objectives (1 day) - what the class is covering and when, suggestions from students about other areas to cover
  • Searching for a Job (2 days) – how to find gainful employment/match skills with an opening, looking in old and new media, networking
PROJECT: Students will write a summary of their personal aspirations for adulthood (job, family, home, etc.), along with a short description of how they plan to pay for associated costs.

WEEKS 2 & 3
Get a Job, Punk!

  • Writing a Resume (3 days) – basic formatting, word usage
  • Writing a Cover Letter (3 days) – basic formatting, word usage
  • The Interview: Part I (2 days) - what to know/do before the interview
  • The Interview: Part II (2 days) - what to say
PROJECT: Students will have a usable resume and cover letter by the end of the unit. They will also have conducted mock interviews with other students.

WEEK 4
Budgeting & Money

  • Your Paycheck (1 day) - how it’s distributed, what those symbols mean, what you take home
  • Taxes (1 day) – why you pay them, where they go, different kinds of taxes
  • Bills (1 day) – what they are, how to pay them, why they should be paid on time
  • Elementary Budgeting (2 days) – keeping a rudimentary budget
PROJECT: Students will devise a basic personal budget.

WEEK 5
Credit & Savings

  • Introduction to Credit Cards (1 day) – trends and issues with credit today in the U.S., how it can affect your life, common credit mishaps
  • Terminology (1 day) – explaining FICO, APR, interest, and other exciting terms
  • Establishing Credit Responsibly (1 day) – doing the research, warning against bum deals, paying bills on time
  • Savings (2 days) – different types of savings accounts, the magic of compound interest, saving for bigger purchases
PROJECT: Students will create a plan to save for a large purchase.

WEEK 6
Insurance & Retirement: Advanced Cash Management

  • Retirement Plans (2 days) – what they are, why it’s good to start early, IRAs and 401Ks
  • Health Insurance (2 days) – current issues in the U.S., why students need it, what it covers, how it’s commonly obtained
  • Other Insurance (1 day) – what kind exist, what students might need, how they might find competitive pricing
PROJECT: Students will research one kind of insurance and find out how much it costs and what it covers.

WEEK 7
Buying a Home

  • Buying a Home (3 days) – home ownership vs. renting, what owning a home really costs, what to look for, how to start searching
  • Mortgages (2 days) – what they are, what they do, what they cost, what kinds there are
PROJECT: Students will find their ideal house online and research a mortgage to go with it.

WEEK 8
Maintaining a Home

  • Basic Fixes (2 days) – average home maintenance costs per year, introduction to plumbers and electricians, repairs a student can take care of him/herself, what tools to always have on hand
  • Cleaning a Home (2 days) – average cost and labor, how to clean bathrooms/kitchens/bedrooms/vacuuming/dusting, what happens if houses AREN’T kept clean/effects on property values and health
  • Organization and Paperwork (1 day) – what to expect, what to keep, what to throw away
PROJECT: Students will successfully identify 10 tools and 10 cleaning products and/or clean a room at home and bring in a picture or signed parents’ note certifying the deed. (Okay, wishful thinking. I was stuck on this one.)

WEEK 9
Feeding Yourself

  • Basic Nutrition (1 day) – caloric intake, vitamins and minerals, rounded meals, portion sizes, buying whole foods vs. pre-packaged ones
  • Food Budgeting and Menu Planning (2 days) – realistic food costs, benefits of cooking at home, creating healthy meals, planning ahead to save cash
  • Basic Kitchen Equipment (1 day) – introduction to commonly-used items, how they work, what they do
  • Safety (1 day) – basic food handling, knife skills, how to work with heat and treat burns
PROJECT: Students will create a well-rounded menu for themselves for one week, with costs included.

WEEK 10
Breakfast

  • Why Eat Breakfast (1 day) - health benefits, what makes a good breakfast, international breakfasts
  • Mastering the Egg (2 days) – scrambling, poaching, frying, etc.
  • Pancakes and Waffles (1 day) – how to make batter and cook
  • Other Breakfast Items (1 day) – meat, fruit, starches, etc.
PROJECT: Ideally, students will be making food in-class all week. If not, they are to keep track of what they eat for breakfast for one week, then devise a new menu to make it healthier.

WEEK 11 & 12
Lunch & Dinner

  • Vegetable Mains and Sides (2 days) – why veggies should make up most of a meal, the basics of boiling/roasting/sautéing, simple sauces
  • Pasta, Rice, Noodles, and Potatoes (2 days) – why starches are included in meals, the basics of preparing them, simple side dishes
  • Meat and Meat Substitutes (2 days) – why meat should be minimal in each meal, the basics of preparing it, simple main dishes
  • Salads and Sandwiches (1 day) – packing a healthy lunch, mix-and-matching salads, making dressing
PROJECT: Ideally, students will be cooking in class all week. If not, they are to create a well-balanced meal for their families and show proof of the accomplishment.

END OF WEEK 12
The Rest

  • Laundry (1 day) – what to do, how to separate, how to fold and care for clothes
  • Student Requests (1 day) – try to cover whatever students requested at the beginning of the quarter
  • Later, Everyone (1 day) – what students learned, evaluations
Readers … suggestions?

~~~

If you liked this article, you might also dig (Photos courtesy of Upslope, UToronto, and ecofabulous.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Skillet Chicken Fajitas: The Reckoning

Three brief points before today’s recipe:

-Pa and I were perusing his local CostCo on Sunday, when my old parish priest dragged his humongous shopping cart into the supplement aisle. I had never seen Father T. off the altar, much less wearing shorts, sneakers, and buying 250-count bottles of vitamins. As he pulled away, we wondered what else clergymen might obtain at bulk stores – vestments? Hymnals? Laminate siding for the pews? That place really does have everything.

-Whatever candidate you’re voting for, it can’t be denied that Michelle Obama was wonderful last night. Bright, beautiful, and ten feet tall, she’s everything I ever wanted in a First Lady. Henceforth, I’m calling her Michelle DaBomba (...sorry) and ordering stock from her dressmaker.

-I leapt back on to Weight Watchers yesterday, in hopes of dropping a few pounds before a friend’s wedding in October. My favorite part about this isn’t the PointTracker or the magic vegetable soup. No – it’s reading the Before and After stories on the WW website. Every time a Joan from Jacksonville or Sammi from Setauket loses 100 pounds, I do a little cheer inside. Like, if that 55-year-old mother of 17 can lose the equivalent of a 5th grader from her stomach? I can make my butt slightly smaller.

In honor of my return to WW, The Boyfriend and I ate a particularly healthy meal last night: Skillet Chicken Fajitas from Cooks Illustrated’s 30-Minute Best Recipe book. I’ve mentioned the tome before (along with intricate plans to stalk/mercilessly compliment editor Christopher Kimble), but I need to reiterate: I LOVE this cookbook. And I’m not talking the, “I love you as a friend” kind of love. I mean the, “if you accept my hand in marriage, we can run away to Tahiti and live in paradise with our 14 cookbook/human hybrid children” kind. It’s been invaluable for prepping quick meals after work, and the use of actual food-like ingredients prevents final products from being too Sandra Lee-ish. (Meaning: they’re not gross and/or infested with gloopy chemicals.)

CI’s directions are usually right on, but for nutrition’s sake, I did change two big things:

1) I chopped the oil significantly. Though a full ½ tablespoon is very necessary for the marinade, you don’t need a lot for sautéing purposes.

2) I altered the way the chicken is cooked. The book asks you to brown a whole breast and then finish it in the oven for 10-15 minutes. Instead, I sliced the breast into chicken tender-sized pieces, browned them for 3 minutes on each side, and then kept them warm until it was time to eat. This worked perfectly, and didn’t rob the meat of any moistness whatsoever. RAWK.

We ate the fajitas with black beans, though I’m sure they’d be faboo on a bed of yellow rice, as well. Either way – make sure you get as much of the marinade as possible. It is the stuff of addiction, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll drink leftovers like a milkshake. Um … not that that happened.

Anyway – enjoy!

Skillet Chicken Fajitas
Makes 2 to 3 servings
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated’s 30-Minute Best Recipe book

10 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 bell pepper (or two halves of different peppers), cored and sliced thin
½ red onion, sliced thin
1 tablespoon water
½ teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon lime juice
½ tablespoon minced fresh cilantro
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ teaspoon brown sugar

1) Slice chicken breasts to ½-inch thickness (like a chicken tender). Pat dry with a paper towel and season one side with salt and pepper. Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in non-stick pan over medium heat. Add chicken seasoned side down and brown (about 3 minutes). During that time, season the side facing up. Flip the chicken and brown on the other side until cooked through (about 3 minutes). Remove from pan. Either place chicken on plate and tent with tin foil OR keep warm in oven.

2) While chicken rests, add 1/2 teaspoon oil to skillet. When hot, add bell peppers, onion, water, chili powder, and 1/4 teasoon salt. Cook about 5 or 6 minutes, until onion is softer and a little translucent.  Using tongs, place pepper mixture in serving bowl.

3) In a large bowl, combine remaining ½ tablespoon oil, lime juice, cilantro, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, and 1/8th teaspoon salt. Set aside.

4) Slice chicken into bite-sized strips. Add to marinade. Toss to coat. Serve on a tortilla with pepper mixture OR over rice.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
2 servings: 258 calories, 9 g fat, $1.17
3 servings: 172 calories, 6 g fat, $0.78

Calculations
10 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast: 312 calories, 3.5 g fat, $1.24
1 tablespoon vegetable oil: 124 calories, 14 g fat, $0.01
1 bell pepper: 24 calories, 0.2 g fat, $0.54
½ red onion, sliced thin: 45 calories, 0 g fat, $0.33
1 tablespoon water: negligible calories and fat, $0.00
½ teaspoon chili powder: 4 calories, 0.2 g fat, $0.01
1 tablespoon lime juice: 4 calories, 0 g fat, $0.13
½ tablespoon minced fresh cilantro: negligible calories and fat, $0.03
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce: negligible calories and fat, $0.03
¼ teaspoon brown sugar: 4 calories, 0 g fat, $0.01
TOTAL: 517 calories, 17.9 g fat, $2.33
PER SERVING (TOTAL/2): 258 calories, 9 g fat, $1.17
PER SERVING (TOTAL/3): 172 calories, 6 g fat, $0.78

Monday, August 25, 2008

Monday Megalinks: Can This Recipe Be Saved?

After flubbing a savory zucchini quickbread earlier this week (thus rendering it un-postable), I was all set to present this Pancetta-Wrapped Peaches recipe from Yumsugar this morning. I made it last night at the last minute, figuring (perhaps stupidly) that stone fruit + pork + basil = couldn’t possibly go wrong.

Alas - ENNNH. Thanks for playing. Please try again later.

What I expected to be a new addition to Mount Appetizemore instead turned out to be a slightly bitter dish with a strange, lingering aftertaste. When solicited for opinions, five of seven visiting friends gave it a resounding, shruggy “meh.” (Note: the other two were a vegetarian and a baby.)

Don’t get me wrong: there were good aspects. Though I broiled rather than grilled the peaches, they cooked perfectly, and the texture had a nifty crunchy-on-the-outside-soft-in-the-middle thing going. Still, based on the ingredients (Fruit! Fancy bacon!), I wanted something better.

So, sweet readers – I need your help. What would you do to make this recipe work? Would you add brown sugar? Try a different kind of stone fruit? Replace the basil? Add cheese? Try it again on the grill? Any suggestions are totally welcome. THIS DISH WILL BE DELICIOUS if I have anything to say about it. (And I do.)

That said, here’re today’s links. Watch for a new recipe tomorrow, and a small surprise in the next week or so.

Chow: How Long Can You Keep Dry Spices?
According to this, my nutmeg should have been thrown out in 1977. (Which is about right.) Good reference for denizens of the spice rack.

Chow: Nectarine dessert at Zuni is just that
Wow. I thought this was a joke at first, but several follow-up articles are corroborating the story (albeit with a $4.50 price tag). Essentially: a customer at Zuni Café ordered an $8 nectarine dessert, which turned out to be a whole nectarine on a plate. No garnish, no fancy presentation – nothin’. Just a roly-poly piece of fruit. Needless to say … wha?

Culinate: Green Vegetables Kids Will Eat
Kale chips, edamame, artichokes: all these greens and more are waiting to tempt your toddlers. It’s such a neat list, I might even change the title to read “Green Vegetables Kids, Picky People, and My Sister Will Eat.”

CNN: 'Exercise pill' burns fat -- if you're a mouse
Questionable miracle drug may cure obesity. If nothing else, the pictured researcher looks a lot like Kurt Vonnegut. (Thanks to Get Fit Slowly for the link.)

Consumerist: NBC and General Mills are planning on launching a "Biggest Loser" line of food this fall.
… I’m still deciding what to think about this. It might take awhile.

Consumerist: 8 Tips That Will Keep Your Refrigerator Healthy and Your Bills Low
Though I fear what horror #1 (“clean your coils”) will reap, this is still a great guide to maintaining Whirlpool efficiency.

Epi-Log: Cheap Eats - Boston Market and ... Lobster?
Move over, Spam! There’s a new economy meat (economeat?) in town. Apparently, an abundance of the scarlet-hued crustaceans has made them a popular go-to for restaurants and home-eaters alike. NICE.

Holy Taco: The Most Disgusting School Lunches
Beware! Perusing this piece may evoke the following reactions:
1) “AUGH! Why would any right-thinking school district inflict these lunches upon its students?!?”
2) “AUGH! Is that a taco? Is it a burger? I can't tell.”
3) “AUGH! Why haven’t the authorities intervened? Or the parents? Or God?”
(Thanks to Serious Eats for the link.)

New York Times: Thinking Globally, but Growing Locally
Farmers’ markets and backyard gardening have finally hit Eastern Long Island. And here, you thought all they had were fish and lighthouses.

Salon: Our cupboard was bare
“I had a master's degree. I had a job. But to feed my three children, I had to swallow my pride and go to a soup kitchen.” After her divorce, struggling writer Ryan had to provide for her family, and had no way to do it alone. This is her story, complete with heartless commentary from board trolls at the end.

Serious Eats/A Hamburger Today: 12 Burgers in 8 Hours, a Burger Bender
WHOA. It’s neither cheap nor healthy, but man-o-man, does this look good.

Serious Eats: Man Walks 12 Miles for Free Cheeseburger
There’s a fine line between frugality and insanity. This man … walks that line for 12 miles.

That’s Fit: 100 best foods for women
Lots of orange and green items make the top ten, along with a healthy dose of flax seed and dark meat. Mmm … seeds. (Thanks to Slashfood for the link.)

The Simple Dollar: Cheap Supper Night - Hacking One Meal a Week to Save Money Replacing one meal a week with a frugal/nutritious combination of soup and bread can save hundreds of bucks per year. Here, Trent explains how.

YumSugar: 5 Dinners That Improve With Time
See also: anything from Barefoot Contessa . Seriously – that stuff goes from delicious to out-friggin-standing when left alone for a few hours.

(Photos courtesy of Yumsugar, AllSorts.com, and Sunset.)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Buttermilk Cucumber Soup: Weird, But Good

Between the summers of 10th and 11th grade, three friends and I discovered an awful, wonderful secret – one that never dared make itself known to humanity, lest we be overcome by its sheer power and general lunacy. I choose now to disclose it here, as I believe that the ensuing 15 years has prepared us for just such a revelation.

So prepare yourselves, dear readers, for you are about to be shocked (and perhaps terrified) by a disclosure so grand, you just might be driven mad.

It’s …

It’s …

It’s … Tostitos dipped in vanilla icing.

“EW!” you might say. “That’s DISGUSTING! I’d rather eat HAIR. What the crap were you doing?”

But we were young, see. Our metabolisms were working overtime, and summer nights afforded us the opportunity to experiment with food. (Not drugs. We were nerds. Food is the drugs of nerds.) We thought we had reached the zenith of available cuisine when we discovered raw cookie dough, yet it was nothing compared to the Tostito/icing combination. My friend A tried it on a lark, and quickly passed it around, until we had all fallen under its sweet, salty, chemically-enhanced sway.

In some ways, cold Buttermilk-Cucumber Soup is like Tostitos and Icing: it mixes two divergent flavors to form a single, pleasing concoction, it’s ridiculously easy to make, and yes – admittedly, some people (probably kids) might find it repulsive.

To be honest, I’d never even heard of BCS until yesterday, when I read about it on The Joy of Soup. Apparently, it’s been around for awhile, and there are several dozen variations on the theme. (See here, here, and here.) This version asked for dill, scallions, salt, and pepper, which I rather liked. It tasted like Scandinavia, and would go well with lox, bread, or any food bought at IKEA.

Again, it’s not to everyone’s taste, but those who give it a shot might be pleasantly surprised. And if you DO try, and you DON’T like it … try Tostitos and icing. It won’t make you proud (and it's not cheap OR healthy), but it will make you wonder what other flavors are out there, just waiting to be paired. And that's the point, right?

Buttermilk-Cucumber Soup
Makes 2 1-cup servings
Adapted from The Joy of Soup.

1 cucumber, peeled and chopped (seeds optional)
2 cups low-fat buttermilk
Fresh dill
Kosher salt and freshly-ground pepper
Scallions

1) Add cucumber to food processor. Pulse it about 3 times, or until it’s chopped small and/or about the size of a small dice.

2) Add buttermilk, dill (however much you want), salt, and pepper to food processor. Pulse 2 more times. Adjust seasonings to taste.

3) Garnish with scallions

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
114 calories, 2.3 g fat, $0.89

Calculations
1 cucumber, peeled and chopped: 24 calories, 0.3 g fat, $0.50
2 cups low-fat buttermilk: 196 calories, 4.3 g fat, $0.99
Fresh dill: negligible calories and fat, $0.15
Kosher salt and freshly-ground pepper: negligible calories and fat $0.03
Scallions: 8 calories, 0 g fat, $0.11
TOTAL: 228 calories, 4.6 g fat, $1.78
PER SERVING (TOTAL/2): 114 calories, 2.3 g fat, $0.89

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Veggie Might: Sesame Rice with Burdock - Take a Walk with the Wildman

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

There are New York legends of all stripes: athletes, entrepreneurs, politicians, activists, socialites, artists, criminals, and freaks. You hear about them and wonder if the stories are true. I’m not sure how I first heard of “Wildman” Steve Brill, part activist, part criminal (see the section on his website about his arrest), and part freak, but he is the real deal.

Steve Brill is an environmental educator, naturalist, and expert on wild things you can put in your mouth—and those you can’t. For the last twenty or so years, he has led foraging tours in the city parks and has developed a reputation for being knowledgeable, intrepid, and not a little kooky.

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently followed the Wildman’s pied pipe (mouth claps) through lovely Prospect Park in Brooklyn, NY. CHG contributor Rachel organized the outing that also included her beau, J, and Kris’ Boyfriend. We couldn’t have ordered a better day, and properly appointed with The Boyfriend’s spade, Rachel’s pocket knife, and my whistle from a 2003 Polyphonic Spree show, we were ready to forage.

Along with 20–30 other urban adventurers of all ages, we were barely inside the entrance to park before the Wildman pointed out something we could eat: lamb’s quarters, a diamond-shaped leafy green with a spinachy taste. There was a whole mess (a Southern unit of measure) of it right there, and we were encouraged to take what we wanted.

Since joining my oft-mentioned CSA, I’ve called upon the Wildman’s website for recipes utilizing some of the more unusual greens that have come my way. This made me something of an intermediate forager on the walk. I recognized, sampled, and harvested a bagful of lamb’s quarters before the Wildman got the instructions out of his mouth.

Next up (above our heads) were carnelian cherries, which sent everyone into frenzy. Fruit?! Wild fruit?! It was a free-for-all. Most of the ripe ones were on the ground, and people were scrambling, myself included. We encountered some tiny black cherries and elderberries too. The fruits were the most crowd-pleasing, but I wanted more herbs and greens.

Rachel and I got down and dirty when the Wildman showed us how to dig up burdock root. Putting to use the spade, the knife, and the Barbie garden gloves my mother gave me for my birthday last year, I dug around the root, and cut it free. My cup runneth over with handy friends and good stuff to eat from the good earth.

If you’re considering a foray into foraging, I heartily recommend the Wildman. It was not just inspiring for the adventurous eater/cook, but a total blast. Here’s what I learned on the Wildman trek:
  • Never pass up a chance to spend a day with a legend.
  • You are responsible for what you eat.
  • It’s possible to mouth-clap Chopin’s funeral song to comic effect and then let it go on just a bit too long to still be funny.
  • A pretty flower called soapweed is a natural, sensitive-skin cleanser.
  • Wood sorrel looks like kind of like clover and tastes like lemon.
  • I’d rather pee in the woods than in a portable toilet.
  • Four hours is just a touch too long for this kind of thing; three would be perfect.
  • If you raise kids on this stuff, they will like it.
  • There is plenty to eat in the wilds of New York City.
  • You need a lot more burdock root than I dug up to make today’s recipe, but it was still really good.
I used everything I brought home from the trek, and though I didn’t get enough of some things to do a lot, it was fun trying everything. This recipe is from the Wildman’s website (it won’t allow a direct link) and his book. I halved most of the quantities for my purposes and tastes, and paired the rice with sautéed green beans and amaranth greens to make a meal.

I substituted wild rice for the two kinds of brown rice in the original recipe, and replaced fresh basil for dried rosemary because that’s what I had on hand. This dish has made me the envy of my co-workers all week long. Wildly delicious!

Sesame Rice with Burdock (adaptation)
From THE WILD VEGETARIAN COOKBOOK by Steve Brill
Serves 4

2 cups water
1 cup burdock root, very thinly sliced (Note: I only gathered 3 small roots, which came out to about 1 tablespoon.)
1 cup wild rice
1 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
1 tablespoons tamari soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon fresh basil
1/4 teaspoon ground dried wild ginger or regular ground ginger (Note: I used ground ginger.)
1 teaspoon chili paste or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

1) In a large saucepan, bring all the ingredients to a boil over medium heat.

2) Drop heat to low. Cover. Cook/simmer about 40 minutes, or until burdock and rice are tender. Serve.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Cost
157.5 calories, 1g fat, $.46

Calculations
Wild rice: 571 calories, 2g fat, $1.33
Sesame seeds: 19 calories, 1g fat, $.10
Tamari soy sauce: 11 calories, 0g fat, $.25
Fresh basil: negligible fat and calories, $.02
Dried ginger: negligible fat and calories, $.02
Chili paste: 29 calories, 1g fat, $.06
TOTALS: 630 calories, 4g fat, $1.84
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 157.5 calories, 1g fat, $.46

CHG Favorites of the Week

Food Blog of the Week
Start Cooking
I haven’t looked at this site in a little over a year. It was good then, but it’s gotten way better. (It might have been subscription-only then. I forget.) Highly suggested for kitchen beginners in general, there’s an entire series of bright, expertly-produced how-to-cook videos mixed in with a super-helpful blog and massive recipe index. Sublime.

Food Comedy of the Week
Eddie Murphy on ice cream
Classic bit from Eddie Murphy’s 1983 concert film Delirious. He was 22-YEARS-OLD when he did this. I couldn’t find matching socks at that age. (Rated R for language.)



Food Organization of the Week
Bread & Life
A Catholic food charity based out of Brooklyn since 1982, B&L’s mission is “to bring food to the poor and accompany them on their journey to wholeness by providing necessary services.” They have a pantry, soup kitchen, mobile soup kitchen and are involved with nutrition counseling and community supported agriculture, as well. Donations and volunteers are always needed.

Food Quote of the Week
“An apple a day keeps anyone away if you throw it hard enough.” – Stephen Colbert.

Food Video of the Week
“Fake Plastic Trees” by Radiohead
Off 1995’s epic The Bends album, FPT as absolutely nothing to do with food. BUT. (There’s always a but.) The video IS set entirely in the Supermarket of the Future. Watch, wonder, and remember: “I used to do surgery/for girls in the ‘80s/but gravity always wins.”



Totally Unrelated Extra Special Bonus of the Week
Springfield Interactive Map
Oh WOW. A random group of geniuses mapped out the Simpsons’ hometown in exhaustive detail. From Duff Gardens to Chez Guevara to good ol’ 742 Evergreen Terrace, it’s all here. And it’s AMAZING. (Thanks to Best Week Ever for the link.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Presidential Plate: Obama and McCain on Food

With November 4th looming ever closer, we Americans are being bombarded with political articles, ads, and (god awful) e-mail forwards, attempting to swing our vote one way or the other. The sheer quantity of information is mind-melting, and rarely very helpful: who’s more patriotic? Who wears nicer pants? Whose wife bakes better cookies?

Who cares?

I want to know the facts, man. I want to know what John McCain and Barack Obama have planned for my country, without all the obfuscating fluff. I want to know what they think about the economy and the war and well ... food. Insofar as this blog is concerned, especially food.

With that in mind, what follows is a brief guide to each potential president’s views on food issues. Obesity initiatives, agricultural policies, thoughts on the world crisis – it’s all here, with a slew of supporting quotes garnered from reliable sources (interviews, their websites, etc).

My goal isn’t to tell anyone what to think or how to vote, and the post is far from definitive. (With three months and 40,000 misquotes to go, I don’t know how it could be.) If I missed anything or got something wrong, let me know and I’ll correct immediately. Also, please note that the first word of every quote links to my reference.

(Oh, and for the hell of it, following the policy section is a short summary of the men’s favorite meals. If I DID vote purely on obfuscating fluff, I’d have to go with Obama’s “Mayo Hate in ‘08” campaign over McCain’s “Dude Food” platform.)

OBESITY INITIATIVES

McCain: advocates a combination of personal responsibility and prevention: “Parents must impart to their children a sense of personal responsibility for their health, nutrition, and exercise.” He believes that government has a role (though perhaps less so than Obama), stating “we should again teach nutrition and physical education to our children, and better inform adults what our foods contain and the importance of exercise.” According to a May 15th statement, he also, “supports providing marketing tools for the fruit and vegetable industry focused on promoting healthier American diets.”

Obama: will focus on prevention and “[address] differences in access to health coverage” with seemingly special focus on promoting nutrition and play within urban communities. He advocates both, “physical education in schools” and “changing eating habits for kids.”

U.S. FOOD PRICES: AGRICULTURAL POLICIES

McCain: is an adamant supporter of small farmers. He “opposes providing billions to subsidize large commercial farms,” promises to extend federal assistance to farmers in the event of natural disaster, and will “expand access for U.S. agricultural producers to foreign markets, providing a great and lasting benefit to American farmers.”

Obama: like McCain, is a vocal supporter of small farmers, and claims he will:
  1. Implement a $250,000 payment limitation so that we help family farmers — not large corporate agribusiness.”
  2. Close the loopholes that allow mega farms to get around the limits by subdividing their operations into multiple paper corporations.”
  3. Strengthen producer protections to ensure independent farmers have fair access to markets, control over their production decisions, and transparency in prices.”
  4. “[Support] immediate implementation of the Country of Origin Labeling law so that American producers can distinguish their products from imported ones.”
  5. Help organic farmers afford to certify their crops and reform crop insurance to not penalize organic farmers. He also will promote regional food systems.”
  6. Establish a new program to identify and train the next generation of farmers. He will also provide tax incentives to make it easier for new farmers to afford their first farm.”
U.S. FOOD PRICES: ETHANOL POLICY

McCain: is super anti-ethanol. Straight up, he “will roll back corn-based ethanol mandates, which are contributing to the rising cost of food.” He supports offshore drilling to combat rising gas prices and claims, “the second generation of alcohol-based fuels like cellulosic ethanol, which won't compete with food crops, are showing great potential.”

Obama: Strongly pro-ethanol in the past, Obama is willing to reduce subsidies and repurpose corn for nourishment instead of fuel if the food crisis continues to worsen. He says, “My top priority is making sure that people are able to get enough to eat. And if it turns out that we've got to make changes in our ethanol policy to help people get something to eat, then that's got to be the step we take.”

FEEDING THE U.S. POOR

McCain: wants to "[carry] out a robust Emergency Food Assistance Program at a time when high food prices are hurting the neediest among us … and indexing food stamps to reflect the current cost of living.”

Obama: supports a mentoring program for “all low-income, first-time mothers” called the Nurse-Family Partnership, and would create more like it, to “help improve the mental and physical health of the family.” He also wants to raise the minimum wage, and as previously mentioned, appears to be particularly concerned with food access issues within poorer neighborhoods.

GLOBAL FOOD CRISIS

McCain: is for free trade when it comes to the world’s food supply, proposing to battle the problem “through reduction of trade barriers and improved world markets.” On the science front, he’ll “direct the USDA to carry out a comprehensive research approach to help develop more drought resistant higher yield crops and increase production per acre. This will not only be critical to addressing our worldwide food needs but also necessary to combat global warming.”

Obama: will address the food crisis partly by combating global poverty in general. Among other initiatives, he says he “will embrace the Millennium Development Goal of cutting extreme poverty around the world in half by 2015, and he will double our foreign assistance to $50 billion to achieve that goal. He will help the world's weakest states to build healthy and educated communities, reduce poverty, develop markets, and generate wealth.”

FAVORITE FOODS TO EAT

McCain: shrimp, enchiladas, pizza, baby back ribs, BBQ

Obama: nuts, vegetables (especially broccoli and spinach), Dentyne Ice, Handmade milk chocolates from Fran’s Chocolates in Seattle

LEAST FAVORITE FOODS TO EAT

McCain:I don’t do too well with vegetables.”

Obama: mayonnaise, salt and vinegar potato chips, beets, asparagus (“if no other vegetables are available, he’ll eat it”), Soft drinks (he prefers water)

Readers …analysis? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

(Photos courtesy of nazret.com, city-data.com, and reddit.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

City Kitchen Chronicles: Eggplant Mini Pizzas for One Sad Poor Little Girl

City Kitchen Chronicles is a bi-weekly column about living frugally in Manhattan. It's penned by the lovely Jaime.

It’s been a rough week around this City Kitchen here. When I started this column, part of the premise Kris and I worked out was that it would be my personal take on my personal quest to live cheaply and well in this very expensive city, chronicling my cooking *and* financial adventures as I try to pay off my credit cards and not subsist on ramen.

This weekend my mother asked, “Are there any better-paying jobs you could have?”

“Tons,” I answered. “But I want to work in theatre.”

Later in the same car ride and conversation I said, “I’m kinda having fun, actually, learning how to cook healthy and cheap.”

And it’s true. But sometimes I wish I didn’t have to be quite so cheap.

Last week a friend was in town from California. Dinner out.

Next week I’m joining friends for a dinner party (and Risk tournament, because we are dorks). I’m bringing dessert – that’s a pile of ingredients I wouldn’t normally buy.

Oh, and did I mention the mysterious $90 electric bill? This is with a mere 2 nights of air conditioning all month. Are fans really so expensive?

So, yeah, things are really tight these days. For those reasons and who knows what else (okay, this is where not strictly budgeting and tracking my money starts to be maybe not the best thing), this past week was the first of a month of extra tightness. There just isn’t any cash to spare, and every dollar counts. Buying coffee one afternoon might mean I’m short of cash for eggs or cereal or whatever other cheap food I’m subsisting on this month. (My poor sister just got a mix CD for her birthday. An awesome mix CD, but a mix CD nonetheless. The piece of paper it was wrapped in? That doubled for her card.)

For all that I’m eating super-cheap, though, I’m still eating healthy. When I planned out my food purchases for the month – beans, soy milk, bread, peanut butter, etc. – money for vegetables was the first item on the list. It’s not very flexible – every Saturday I spend $10 a week at the farmer’s market, give or take a dollar, and that’s not negotiable. I’ll get my protein from beans rather than tempeh, stretch out my stir-fry with rice, eat a few extra pb &j’s, but my local, seasonal vegetables are not up for debate.

Yes, part of that is psychological. I’ve got my Saturday morning routine, my sense of eating healthily and kindly to the earth. But it’s also the foundation of a healthy week for me, filling up my fridge with local zucchini, green beans, collards or chard. (Come fall it’ll be winter squash, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.) If that food’s there – and frugal me is loathe to let it go to waste – then all week I’ll be eating right. (Kale also counteracts too many pb & j’s. Totally undoes the damage.)

The farmer’s market also gets me to try new vegetables all the time. Old Jaime might try to live on string beans, carrots, tomatoes, and red peppers from the supermarket, but red peppers are expensive (they get cheaper later in the summer) and kale is pretty cheap. Even cheaper? Wild greens like purslane or lambsquarter, which have been popping up at the market a bit. Off the top of my head, some vegetables I’ve tried and come to love, since starting to shop at the farmer’s market: purslane, lambsquarter, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, collards, beet greens, chard.

Also: eggplant. I know, they’re not adventurous or weird or rare at all. But other than breaded and fried and smothered in marinara and cheese, I’ve never been a huge fan. I stir-fry a lot, and any time I’ve stir-fried eggplant it’s either undercooked or dissolved into mush. My friend K. makes fantastic eggplant, but any time I’ve tried to duplicate her dish, I’ve been sorely disappointed.

Until this week. At the greenmarket last weekend I saw a lovely little single-serving eggplant, so adorable I couldn’t resist. Eggplant is blessedly light, so per-pound prices give you happy surprises, like a 25 cent vegetable that’s enough to anchor a dish. I brought it home determined to make something good, and, lucky me, I did.

The answer came, as answers often do, in the form of pizza. In the form of pizza, but (you low-carbers will be familiar with this trick) using the eggplant as the base rather than topping. I raided my pantry and fridge and came up with tomato paste for the foundation of the sauce, and happened upon a remnant from less stringently frugal days, a slice of goat cheese at the back of the fridge just begging to be used. With a little seasoning in the paste and some toaster oven broiling for the eggplant, I ended up with a plate of adorable mini-pizzas, full of vegetably goodness, and blessedly cheap.

Eggplant Mini Pizzas
(serves 1)
1 small eggplant
½ t olive or canola oil (or a few spritzes of cooking spray)
salt and pepper, to taste
2 T tomato paste
1 oz goat cheese
dried basil, to taste
dried oregano, to taste
dried chili flakes, to taste
fresh basil, to garnish (I took a few leaves from my anemic windowsill plant)

1) Slice eggplant into thin rounds, about ½ inch.

2) Salt eggplant and let sit in a colander 20-30 minutes. (This step leeches out the bitterness.)

3) Mix tomato paste and seasonings in a small bowl or mug.

4) Rinse eggplant and pat dry with paper towels.

5) oss eggplant with oil, salt, and pepper. (You can also spray your baking sheet with Pam, which I sadly don’t have on hand.)

6) Set oven or toaster oven to broil.

7) Arrange eggplant slices on baking sheet (covered with aluminum foil, if you like.)

8) Cook eggplant until lightly browned.

9) Flip the eggplant, and top each with some tomato paste mixture and goat cheese.

10) Cook eggplant pizzas until goat cheese is melty and ever-so-slightly browned.

11) Top with chiffonaded fresh basil, if you have.

12) Feel a little richer than you are.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
155 cal, 10.9g fat, $1.06

Calculations
1 small eggplant: 20 calories; 0.2g fat; $0.25
½ t oil: 20 calories; 2.2g fat; $0.05
salt and pepper, to taste: negligible calories and fat; $.02
2 T tomato paste: 12 calories; negligible fat; $0.09
1 oz goat cheese: 103 calories, 8.5g fat; $0.60
dried basil, to taste: negligible calories and fat; $0.02
dried oregano, to taste: negligible calories and fat; $0.02
dried chili flakes, to taste: negligible calories and fat; $0.01
fresh basil: negligible calories and fat; free! (I took a few leaves from my anemic windowsill plant)
TOTAL: 155 calories, 10.9g fat, $1.06

Tuesday Megalinks

Associated Press/USA Today: Recession? Eat, drink, smoke and be merry
Sin is in, ladies and gents. While lots of businesses are having gigundo problems staying afloat, the makers of cigarettes, booze, and candy remain pleasantly recession-proof. Bring on the cocktails, I say. (Thanks to Slashfood for the link.)

Culinate: On board - A closer look at your knife’s best friend
Nifty, extensive piece on the importance of purchasing a decent cutting board. It doesn’t sound like it’s a big deal, but really, it will save good knives some major wear and tear.

Daily News: City supermarkets are dying commodity
500 NYC supermarkets have gone kaput over the last decade, and local unions attribute the trend to competitions from CostCo-esque big-box stores. This is perhaps most damaging to elderly Big Appleites, who don’t necessarily have the financial resources or physical powers to shop in bulk.

Epi-Log: Top 10 Most Oddly Compelling Food Videos
Please note #1, in which Coney Island hot dog king Kobayashi challenges a Kodiak bear to an eating contest. Dude, if there’s one thing I learned in life (besides never start a land war in Asia), it’s DON’T CHALLENGE A BEAR TO AN EATING CONTEST.

Epi-Log: What Do Olympic Athletes Eat?
Answer: a lot.

Get Rich Slowly: U-Pick - The Next Best Thing to Growing Your Own
Great treatise on the fun/wonder/value of picking your own produce at a nearby farm.

Men’s Health/Huffington Post: Genius Junk Food - 6 Snacks That Are Actually Good For You
Beef jerky! Chocolate! Sour cream! Not so bad! I’m especially happy about the beef jerky part, since it’s a go-to on long car rides. Mmm ... dried cow on interstate highways ... (Thanks to Lifehacker for the link.)

New York Magazine: His Magical Elixir
One of the great advantages of being stuck in an airport for eight hours is the opportunity to buy and read magazines from cover to cover (ads included). I found this particular piece Friday night around 7:30pm, when a tornado threatened to tear through Manhattan, thus delaying down all outward-bound flights. That aside, it’s an EXCELLENT article on the spurious claims of vitamin waters, many of which aren’t backed by viable medical research.

New York Times: Hungry at 30,000 Feet? Pay Up
Speaking about travel, airplane food jokes may soon be a thing of the past, since airlines are increasingly forcing passengers to fork over cash midflight in exchange for baggies of honey-roasted peanuts. Suggestion? Bring your own and avoid the 300% markup.

New York Times: Los Angeles Stages a Fast Food Intervention
In an effort to combat inner city obesity rates, LA isn’t allowing fast food chains to open any new branches for the next year. Author Kim Severson says it best: “Even in a country where a third of the schoolchildren are overweight or obese, the yearlong moratorium raises questions about when eating one style of food stops being a personal choice and becomes a public health concern.”

Our Four Pence Worth: Festival of Frugality #139 (The Michael Phelps Edition)
When you’ve got a Festival of Frugality named in your honor, you know you’ve made the big time. Call me crazy, but I think this Phelps kid is going places. (Note: the page might take a minute or two to load, but it will eventually.)

Serious Eats: Why Don’t Recipes Include Salt Amounts?
Great question. I don’t often include them on the recipes posted here, preferring to let “salt and pepper to taste” stand in for a prescribed measurement. Folks, would you rather see a hard number? If yes, I’ll start adding them in.

Slashfood: Chocolate-Stuffed Bananas on the Grill (via Glorious Food and Wine)
Oh, holy moly. Has anyone out there ever tried this? If not, can you try it right now and mail me some?

Slate: Food Fight - The four barriers to the genetically modified–food revolution—and why no one is talking about them.
Soon, food production might not be able keep up with Earth’s growing population, meaning the genetically modified stuff has to happen. But there are obstacles, including accessibility and transparency issues, that may never be resolved. Read on and discover.

The Simple Dollar: The Frugal Whole Chicken (or, Waste Not, Want Not)
Trent ruminates on buying a whole chicken vs. just the breast.

The Simple Dollar: Winning the Battle Against Low Quality Generics While Still Saving Money
Lots of bloggers (me included) often advise readers to “Buy Generic!” to save mad cash, but very few (me included) explore why shoppers are hesitant to experiment with store brands. Here, Trent does the dirty work and comes up with some solid strategies.

Wise Bread: Grocery Shopping for the Cheap and Lazy
WB mainstay Andrea Dickson compiles an off-the-beaten-path buying guide for real people. Stellar post with an even better comment thread. This week’s must-read.

(Photos courtesy of fohboh, TheChrisBerry.com, and American Feast.)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Stuffed Peppers and Michael Phelps (a.k.a. How I Spent Last Thursday)

If y’all get the chance this afternoon, head on over to this post at Gawker. They’ve set up a Michael Phelps compliment-a-thon (a la Chuck Norris Facts), and the 1100+ comments are pretty dang funny. Some samples:

“Michael Phelps can run a marathon in four miles.”

“Sliced bread is the greatest thing since Michael Phelps.”

“Michael Phelps' original cut of Howard the Duck was widely considered the greatest film ever made.”

“Contrary to popular belief - the songwriting team of Lennon-McCartney was really Michael Phelps. In fact, he wrote the White Album while doing a leisurely backstroke.”

Like these commenters/everyone else on Earth, I’ve developed a slightly unhealthy obsession with Phelps. I mean, c’mon, man - the kid’s got it all: a duffel bag of gold medals, a physique that’d make Mae West blush, and THAT DIET. At a mind-boggling 10,000-calories PER DAY, it’s enough to feed a women’s basketball team, with a little left over dessert.

According to news sources, Phelps gets most of his meals at restaurants, since cooking on his own would consume valuable breaststroking time. Admittedly, if I was whipping up “three fried egg sandwiches … three chocolate-chip pancakes; a five-egg omelette; three sugar-coated slices of French toast and a bowl of grits,” every morning, I wouldn’t have time for much, either. (Also? By the glistening Speedo of Pieter Van den Hoogenband, that’s a lot of food.)

Yet, like Phelps, there was an era when I didn’t cook for myself. (I didn’t know how, was the problem.) Most of my days were spent in the dining hall, wondering if hot dogs went better with rice or macaroni. My first Betty Crocker cookbook (and post-adolescent fun/exciting weight fluctuations) changed that for the better. Today, cooking is my meditation, only I get lasagna at the end instead of enlightenment.

Betty’s Stuffed Pepper was one of the first non-heat-and-eat meals I ever made on my own. Flavorful, filling, healthy, and fairly basic in terms of cooking skills, it’s become one of my favorite foods for nights sans The Boyfriend. I’ve messed with the directions over the years so it’s more to my taste (subbing ground turkey for beef, altering the sauté time), but there are endless variations on this basic recipe. What's more, it’s a great way to get rid of leftovers, and you can’t ask for more than that.

(Except for Michael Phelps’ phone number. Which I assume is 867-530PECS.)

Stuffed Peppers
Makes 1 stuffed pepper
Adapted from Betty Crocker.

1 medium green bell pepper
1/2 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 of a medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
4 oz ground turkey
1/3 cup cooked rice (I used brown rice. - Kris)
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/3 cup your favorite pasta sauce
1 or 2 T low-fat part-skim shredded mozzarella

1) Preheat oven to 350ºF.

2) Fill medium pot about 2/3rds of the way with water. Bring to a boil. Chop off top inch or so of green bell pepper. Take out seeds and white membrane-y stuff. Parboil the pepper for 5 to 8 minutes, until it bends ever-so-slightly when you touch it. Once finished, make sure there's no water in the pepper, and put it in a glass baking dish, open side up.

3) In a medium skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until not soft, but crisp-tender. Add garlic. Cook 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add meat. Cook it until it's browned, breaking it up with the back of a spoon as you go. Add rice, oregano, and about 2/3rds of the sauce. Cook until hot/warm throughout. Salt and pepper to taste. Dance.

4) Carefully use your spoon to stuff the pepper with the meat mixture. It should exceed the top of the pepper by about 1/4 to 1/2 inch. (You can eat the leftovers in the skillet later.) Pour the rest of the tomato sauce on top of pepper. Cover dish loosely with tin foil. Bake for about 25 or 30 minutes. Uncover. Top with cheese. Bake without cover for 10 or 15 more minutes. Cheese should be melted when done.  (If you're preparing several peppers, up the initial baking to 45 minutes, and keep the uncovered baking at 15 minutes.)

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
330 calories, 12 g fat, $1.88

Calculations
1 medium green bell pepper: 24 calories, 0.2 g fat, $0.50
1/2 teaspoon olive oil: 20 calories, 2.2 g fat, $0.02
1/4 of a medium onion: 7 calories, 0 g fat, $0.06
1 clove garlic: 4 calories, 0 g fat, $0.02
4 oz ground turkey: 160 calories, 8 g fat, $0.83
1/3 cup cooked rice: 72 calories, 0.6 g fat, $0.04
salt and pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
1 teaspoon dried oregano: 3 calories, 0 g fat, $0.03
1/3 cup your favorite pasta sauce: 26 calories, 0.2 g fat, $0.22
1 or 2 T low-fat part-skim shredded mozzarella: 14 calories, 0.8 g fat, $0.14
TOTAL: 330 calories, 12 g fat, $1.88

Friday, August 15, 2008

Peach-Blueberry Cobbler and My Face: United in Love

I don’t like to mess with recipes. Part of that comes from a lack of confidence in my cooking abilities, and part of it comes from too many experiences like this:

ME: Hm. It says here that there should be one cup of sugar in this cake. I’m out of sugar, so how about … rock salt! Yes! Rock salt! That’s it. It’s crystalline and white and about the same size. Nobody will notice.

(Cut to an hour later. My friends are strewn comatose across the living room furniture, pale and clinging to life.)

FRIEND (whispering faintly): Birthday cake … supposed to herald … year to come. Instead … brings only … pain. Please take me … sweet release … of death …

ME: Hm. I don’t think I did that right.


Peach-Blueberry Cobbler (found at Cooking Light, or with a slight variation at Closet Cooking) was a pleasant surprise, then. I didn’t substitute any ingredients, but DID use alternate preparation methods, both of which succeeded in spades (if I do say so myself).

(And I do.)

First, CL asks for a pastry blender or two knives for step 4, but I figured a single fork would do the job just as well. Using medium pressure, I pressed the tines through the dough, rotated the bowl, and repeated. In about 3 minutes, I had the requested coarse meal consistency.

Second, for the biscuits, the recipe says to flour a small surface, knead the dough, roll it out, and carve 16 uniformly-rounded pieces from the ¼” mat. Alas, I didn’t have a biscuit cutter, or the patience for all those extra steps. Instead, using two teaspoons, I dropped 16 similar-sized glops all over the top of the cooked fruit. It worked perfectly, and gave a neato, semi-spiky look to the cobbler when all was said and done. I was pleased, yo.

Four servings and two days later, I’m thoroughly happy I didn’t mess with the ingredients, because hot, cold – whatever - this stuff is farging DELICIOUS. Someone, somewhere had once mentioned that peaches and blueberries complimented each other like gangbusters. And man, she wasn’t kidding. Together, they form a single, bluish superfruit that strawberry-banana combos can only envy from afar.

Of course, if you’re not into cobbler, I highly suggest Leigh’s Oatmeal Peach Betty from yesterday OR Maple Walnut Apple Crisp from last October. They're frugal, healthy, and tasty as all get out - with or without vanilla ice cream.

Oh – as always with Cooking Light recipes, they provided the nutrition information, so only the price is calculated below.

Peach-Blueberry Cobbler
8 servings (serving size: 1/2 cup cobbler and 2 biscuits)
Adapted from Cooking Light.

1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 cups coarsely chopped peeled peaches (about 3 large – Kris)
2 cups blueberries
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cooking spray
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chilled stick margarine or butter, cut into small pieces
6 tablespoons low-fat buttermilk

1) Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat an 8x8 baking dish (glass if possible) with cooking spray.

2) In a large bowl, combine sugar, cornstarch, lemon rind, and cinnamon. Add peaches, blueberries, lemon juice, and vanilla. Toss very gently, so peaches stay in good shape. Pour contents of bowl into baking dish. Bake 15 minutes.

3) In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add margarine. Using a pastry blender, 2 knives, or a fork, mash ingredients together until mixture looks like big crumbs.  Add buttermilk. Stir everything until just barely moistened.

4) Using two teaspoons, drop 16 similar-sized glops of buttermilk mixture all over the top of the cooked fruit. Bake until topping is golden brown, about 20 more minutes. If you have mint lying around, it makes a good garnish. If not, no worries.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
212 Calories, 3.5g fat, $0.69

Calculations
1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons sugar: $0.22
1 tablespoon cornstarch: $0.03
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind + 1 tablespoon lemon juice: $0.66
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon: $0.01
3 cups coarsely chopped peeled peaches: $2.42
2 cups blueberries: $1.66
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract: $0.06
Cooking spray: $0.05
1 cup all-purpose flour: $0.09
3/4 teaspoon baking powder: $0.02
1/8 teaspoon baking soda: $0.01
1/4 teaspoon salt: $0.01
2 tablespoons butter: $0.12
6 tablespoons low-fat buttermilk: $0.19
TOTAL: $5.55
PER SERVING: $0.69

 
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