Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Bouchons au Thon

I am an avid reader, journeying through at least three books at a time. There is a system to my madness: one or two education-related texts, a challenging non-fiction book, and lastly, something that is purely for entertainment. I usually find these last books by wandering aimlessly through the stacks at the public library until I find an interesting sounding title. I usually take home memoirs that have to with food, homesteading, or domestic poultry, sometimes all three at once. I live on the edge, don't I? One of the food books I have read a few months ago was A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from my Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg. In this book, Wizenberg shares vignettes and memories from her life that each precede a recipe. One of the recipes that I kept was bouchons au thon, a baked tuna dish, which I finally made today. It was very yummy. If you would like to read more about Wizenberg's experiences and recipes, she has a charming blog, Orangette.

Here is Wizenberg's ingredient list for bouchons au thon:

180 grams canned tuna in water
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons crème fraîche
3 large eggs
1 cup finely grated gruyère cheese
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup minced onion

I would love to try Wizenberg's recipe; I am sure it would be lovely. I adapted her recipe to reflect my cheap  pantry and my sensibilities. I think her dish is more quiche-like than mine but I still enjoyed my dish very much. The texture was very light and the tuna was nicely subdued. This time, instead of simply listing the changes I made to a recipe, I decided to include the reasoning behind my decisions.

  • 180 grams canned tuna in water: Alright! A recipe for canned tuna! How do I get 180 grams of tuna when a regular can is around 140 grams? I'll just use one can and call it good.
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste: Tomato paste and tuna? I am intrigued, this could be really yummy or really weird. 3 tablespoons sounds like a lot. My solution is to use about one and one-half tablespoons of tomato paste since I am using a smaller amount of tuna. If I do this, I can get four to five batches of bouchons au thon from one can of tomato paste, costing me just $0.12-$0.15 a serving. 
  •  Crème fraîche: I wish. I have only been able to purchase crème fraîche in the town I live in since October when the Market of Choice opened. I have never even tasted crème fraîche. I could use the same amount of yogurt if I had some in my fridge. Well, I think we're going along a quiche route so I will use a little milk, instead.
  • 3 large eggs: How about I use two and then I can still have scrambled eggs for breakfast?
  • Gruyère: Wouldn't that be nice! When was the last time I had gruyère? I would guess the last time Market of Choice sampled gruyère. Thank you Fred Meyer for having Tillamook shredded cheese on sale last week!
  • Flat-leaf parsley: Mmm...fresh grassy parsley with canned tuna sounds like a great idea. I want some parsley! When I thought of this, I replayed a conversation Z. and I have almost every day:
Ace: I want some (in this case, flat-leaf parsley)!
Z: Of course you do. Whatever it is, you don't need it.
A: Of course I do! It's to make my dinner.
Z: Yeah, I want a tall, un-weird girlfriend with a real job but I don't have that. What's our motto?
A: Cheap grown-ups don't always get to buy whatever they want.
Z: And what do you have to show for this?
A: Health insurance and a retirement account funded by part-time work and a wonderful boyfriend who took me on vacation to the east coast for his birthday because he is really good at not spending money.
Z: How is this possible?
A: I save my money by not spending it.
Z: ...Who's the smarter person?
[Insert bantering and teasing here.]

Cheap not Frugal Eats Bouchons au Thon
adapted from Molly Wizenberg 

1 can tuna, drained
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup shredded cheese
Salt and pepper
chopped flat-leaf parsley or 1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1/4 cup (or less according to taste) finely diced onion

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. If using a 12-cup muffin tin, spray 8 wells with non-stick cooking spray. In a mixing bowl, use a fork to break up drained tuna into as small pieces as possible. Add all the remaining ingredients and mix well. Spoon mixture evenly into muffin tin, about 1 and 1/2 tablespoons for 8 wells and 2 tablespoons for 6 wells. Bake for 20-25 minutes until firm and golden. May take 30 minutes if using 6 six wells of the muffin tin. Enjoy!

P.S. With the leftover tomato paste, I portioned it onto squares of plastic wrap. I then wrapped the paste like a burrito, placed it into a ziploc to keep them all in once place, and tossed the package into the freezer.

    Sunday, March 27, 2011

    Return to Roxy Dawgs

    I made it back to Roxy Dawgs in Corvallis, Oregon! I still really like it. Here is a summary of my first visit to Roxy Dawgs. If you haven't been yet, Roxy Dawgs is a low-key place where you pick your sausage then top it yourself from the toppings bar. The first time I went, I had the Double Smoked Sausage (made with 20% bacon!). This visit I tried their namesake, the smoked Roxy brat. Their menu describes it as "A traditional Oktoberfest bratwurst filled with pork, beef, black pepper and garlic." I can understand why it's called the Smoked Roxy Brat. It's a pleasant, straightforward bratwurst. I went with my usual toppings of sauerkraut, red onions, mustard, and a couple of spicy peppers. There are lots of choices! For my lunch, I just had the sausage and a glass of water. This is the best deal for my frugal pocketbook.

    Some of the other sausages you can choose from are : blonde bockwurst, a mild white bockwurst sausage; smoked kielbasa; Louisiana red hot, a beef sausage with three kinds of pepper; my favorite so far, the double smoked sausage, a pork sausage made with 20% bacon; frankfurter; chicken apple gouda; and a vegan dog. I am looking forward to my next tasty visit to Roxy Dawgs.


    Tuesday, March 22, 2011

    Toor Dal Soup

    Oh, yellow split peas! They are cheery, miniature suns. It makes me smile just to look at them. Yellow split peas, otherwise known as toor dal, is the one food that reminds me exclusively of the home and life Z. and I have created together. I think this has to do that all my memories of toor dal involve Z. and sharing a meal with him. Well, until this soup, he has made all every meal that has involved toor dal. It's not that I'm lazy or not trying, Z. really likes to cook Indian food and is really good at it.

    I am on vacation for the week so I thought I should make myself a pot of soup that could be my lunch for a few days. I was looking through my the soup edition of Cook's Illustrated for inspiration. I thought their Creamy Split Pea sounded yummy (I would never have thought of adding lettuce to a soup!) but there weren't green split peas in the pantry and I didn't have butter lettuce. There were yellow split peas, though! I used Z.'s dal as a jumping board and played with the spices. I thought it turned out very good! The sweetness of the toor dal balanced nicely with the cutting spiciness of the Serrano and savoriness of the garam masala.

    A few notes on this soup:
    • This soup took some time to make. The onions take awhile, the dal has to simmer for about 45 minutes, and then allowing it to cool enough to put in a blender or food processor takes time, as well,  but is worth it.
    • I used two cups of toor dal. This is a lot compared to the amount Z. uses in our dal. For the same amount of soup, I am pretty sure 1 1/2 cups of dal would work just great. 
    • Don't bother using stock or broth! Save that for another time. Water works just fine for this.
    • Cook the onions until they are very brown. Z. has played around a lot with how much he cooks the onions in his dishes. We have found, the browner the onion, the tastier the dish. Getting the onions really brown can take awhile. I think my onions cooked for about 20 minutes before they were the color I wanted.
    • Because I blended the soup, using whole spices wasn't a problem at all.
    • Dal freezes very nicely. We have found that when possible, we like to freeze our leftovers in a ziploc freezer bag and flatten it out so you can stack multiple bags on top of each other. 

    Leftovers ready to be put in the freezer.

    Toor Dal Soup or Yellow Split Pea Soup
    Canola oil
    1 1/2 -2 cups yellow split peas
    8-10 cups water, more as needed
    1 onion, chopped finely
    1 Serrano chile, finely mined
    1 inch ginger root, finely minced or grated
    4-5 cloves garlic (or to taste), finely mined or grated
    1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
    2 teaspoons ground cumin or cumin seeds
    2 teaspoons garam masala
    1 teaspoon coriander seeds or ground coriander

    1. Look through split peas and remove any stones or any other debris.
    2. Heat one tablespoon canola oil in large soup pot over medium heat, add onions, cook until browned, stirring occasionally.
    3. Add Serrano chile and ginger. Cook about 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
    4. Turn down heat slightly. Add more canola oil if needed. Add garlic and cook for about 3-5 minutes, until garlic is cooked.
    5. Have some of the water ready to add to the pan. Add spices to the vegetables and mix thoroughly. Do not leave the pot. Toast spices for about 30 seconds then pour in water. 
    6. Add the rest of the water and yellow split peas. Bring to a boil then lower heat and let simmer gently for about 45 minutes, until the split peas are spot.
    7. Be very careful when blending warm food in a blender or food processor. Let yellow split pea and vegetable mixture cool slightly. In batches, process soup in a blender or food processor. Add 1/2 cup of water at a time if needed. Return blended soup to a pot and reheat gently over medium low heat. Serve and enjoy!
    Price Breakdown

    .03 canola oil (purchased on sale with coupons)
    .46 yellow split peas  (.52/lb)
    .15 onion (.33/lb)
    .04 Serrano chile
    .14 ginger
    .10 garlic
    .15 spices (purchased in large quantities from the local Indian market)

    Total: $1.07 or $0.18 per bowl 

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011

    Chunky Black Bean and Corn Soup

    Time for another soup! This delicious soup was a gift from the pantry and freezer. There are always carrots, onions, and garlic in the refrigerator so I have come to consider those items a part of the pantry.  You can go crazy with the garnishes: avocado, fresh lime, cilantro (or parsley), sour cream, tortilla chips, plantains, and so on. Well, I am cheap and none of those things were in the refrigerator so I did without. I ate the soup plain for the first two days and by the third, a package of shredded cheese had migrated from the freezer to the refrigerator so I used a little and it was great.

    This is one of those recipes that changes every time I make it. This time, the spices were the biggest change. I didn't want a Tex-Mex flavor but I still added some of the same spices. If you want to go that way, I would go a little heavier on the chile powder and especially the smoked paprika or add some adobo sauce. I added celery seed but I didn't notice it in the soup. The biggest surprises were the coriander seeds (I added whole coriander seeds but I would suggest ground) and ground turmeric. I loved them! The coriander added a floral lemony flavor that balanced the chile powders and cumin nicely. The turmeric added great depth and earthiness.

    Here are some ideas for variations:
    • Add meat like ground beef or shredded chicken.
    • Adjust the vegetables to what is on sale (in-season) or on-hand. I have made this soup with canned tomatoes, which was a nice variation. I think squash or any dark greens like spinach or kale would also be great additions. Potatoes could add some more bulk.
    • Don't be afraid of canned or frozen vegetables. I will say it: I like canned corn. There, it is out in the open. At least Green Giant (that's all I have had in recent memory) is sweet and crunchy. I also used frozen bell peppers that we had frozen when peppers went on sale for $0.33 a pepper. Much cheaper than what I would be paying at the grocery store now.
    • Add a can or two of diced tomatoes.
    • Play with the spices and adjust to your taste.
    • Serve the soup with rice or a grain. Next time, I am going to try making this with The Pioneer Woman's Dumplings.
    The recipe below is a suggestion or a springboard for your own ideas and creativity. Don't forget to toast your spices! It really does open up the flavors.

    Left column: chile powder, red chile flakes, celery seed, coriander. Right column: smoked paprika, turmeric, dried Italian seasoning, cumin seed.

    Chunky Black Bean and Corn Soup, serves 2 for a few meals

    1-2 tablespoons canola oil
    1 medium to large onion, chopped
    4 cloves garlic, diced
    1-2 Serrano chiles, minced finely
    1-2 carrots, chopped
    1/2 bell pepper, chopped
    1 can black beans, drained and rinsed or 3 1/2 cups cooked dried beans
    1 can canned corn, drained and rinsed
    1 can broth (more if you're not as cheap as I am) plus two or so cups of water, about 4 cups of liquid
    1/2 tsp chile powder
    1/2 tsp red chile flakes, optional
    1 tsp ground coriander
    1 tsp smoked paprika
    1/2 tsp ground turmeric
    2 tsp dried Italian Seasoning or dried oregano
    2 tsp ground cumin
    salt and pepper

    1. Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add onions. Cook until browned, stirring occasionally, 5-10 minutes.
    2. Add garlic, Serrano, carrots, and bell peppers. Cook until carrots are just tender, stirring occasionally.
    3. Add beans, corn, and liquids. Lower heat. Meanwhile, heat a small pan over medium-low heat. Add spices. Do not leave the spices! Toasting will only take a minute or so. When you can smell the spices, add them to the soup pot. Season liberally with salt and pepper. While it's simmer and before serving, check the seasoning again and add more salt if necessary.
    4. Simmer gently for 20-30 minutes. Serve with garnishes if desired

    Price Breakdown
    .10 onion (on sale last week for $0.33/pound)
    .12 carrot (on sale last week for $0.33/pound)
    .12 garlic
    .06 Serrano chiles
    .16 bell pepper
    .60 black beans
    .50 canned corn
    .50 broth
    .15 spices (estimate) We get our spices from either the bulk section at the Market of Choice or from the Indian market in town, which costs much less than buying a jar of spices from the grocery store.

    Total: $2.31