Saturday, July 30, 2011

Corvallis Farmer's Market Escapade

Saturday has finally arrived. And once again, I was able to indulge in a few favorite pastimes. After watching the new episode of Aarti Party (my favorite tv cook since her days on The Next Food Network Star), I made my way downtown to the farmer's market. The abundant produce is a feast for the eyes. The pie cherries were glowing little gems while the blackberries enticed with their gleaming, dark flesh. The smells were divine, as well.  I could smell sun-kissed strawberries before I could see them through the throngs of people trying to get their paws on a few berries.

Last week I was surprised by the mounds of zucchini and cherries. Today, I was pleasantly taken aback by the abundance of blueberries. Also making an appearance are bushels of green beans. I do not know how many varieties of gorgeous heirloom tomatoes I saw. Some were green and striped, others were varying shades of red, and many pints of tiny, golden orbs.

Chili peppers have arrived at the market! One of my favorite vendors, Springhill Organic Farms (our go-to kale vendor), had a variety of pepper I have never seen before called padron peppers. Here is a little article about padron peppers and a few nice pictures. The sign at the stand described them as a Spanish tapas pepper. They were an interesting shade of green, about two inches long, and had an interesting shape. Hopefully I will get to try them. I did leave the stand with a couple of serranos. Yum!

Every week I have been stopping and looking at the produce at the Corvallis Saturday Market Community Table, where small producers can sell their produce on consignment. Today, I purchased a small bunch of rainbow chard for $1. I have never tried chard but every year I return to the farmer's market, my eye is drawn to the chard. The green, leafy portion of chard looks similar to a number of leafy greens, like collard or mustard greens but the stalks of chard can come in a multitude of colors. My chard has yellow, red, and cream colored stalks. My plan is to create dolmas - grape leaves stuffed with rice, nuts, and spices - instead of using grape leaves I will use chard.

I bought one more giant $0.50 zucchini from Wonderful Garden. My plan this week is to make a 1/2 batch of zucchini muffins, fajitas with zucchini, and zucchini pancakes or fritters.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Pasta Salad

Zucchini has descended upon the farmer's market...well, the Corvallis Farmer's Market, at least, and I could not be happier. Everywhere you looked were mounds and mounds of zucchini. Just the week before, you might have seen a few bushels of small zucchinis. If price and finding the best deal are concerns, I generally suggest buy what is on sale at the grocery store. The best deal on zucchini can be found at the farmer's markets from smaller farms in my experiences where the vendors sell the zucchini individually rather than by the pound. This last Saturday, I bought 2 giant zucchini that probably weighed between 4 and 5 pounds for $1(!!!) from the lovely proprietor of Wonderful Garden.

I have a few suggestions as to what you can do with all that zucchini. There is always zucchini bread or zucchini muffins like I did. Another possibility is to use the zucchini in a stir-fry or yakisoba. Since Z. created his pasta salad for a work potluck less than a month ago, we have made this 4 or 5 times already. What is so special about this pasta salad? You can use whatever additions you like and have one hand.

  • Diced grilled chicken
  • Diced salami or pepperoni
  • Beans, such as black beans, chickpeas, white beans, or even kidney beans (if canned, just drain and rinse well)
  • Feta cheese
  • Chopped kalamata olives
  • Diced pickled peppers or pickled garlic
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Raw bell peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Broccoli or cauliflower
  • Green beans
Don't like raw onions? I love their crunch but the flavor can be a little pungent at times. Marinating the vegetables, especially the onions, in the balsamic for a brief time mellows the harsh taste of the onions while keeping the delicious crunch. Or just leave them out!

Our favorite frugal additions, excluding the onion who was hiding out in the refrigerator
Z. discovered that white balsamic is delicious in this salad. If you do not have white balsamic, I would suggest lemon juice for a similar bright and light flavor. I discovered my love of white balsamic thanks to the Trader Joe's. Their store-brand white balsamic is only $2.29 for a bottle. If you have tasted balsamic before, you would recognize the taste, just without the familiar brown color. The taste of white balsamic, though, is light, slightly sweet, and not nearly as acidic. It is not only delicious in this salad but it makes a great vinaigrette and can be used in place of lemon juice in millet salad. Enjoy!

Z.'s Pasta Salad, serves 2 for dinner or 3-4 as a side dish (easily doubled)

2 servings pasta (rotelle or rotini works great)
drizzle of olive oil, about 2 teaspoons
2-3 tablespoons white balsamic, or until taste
1/2 cucumber, diced
about 1 cup diced zucchini
2 carrots, diced
1/2 red onion, chopped
parsley, optional
salt to taste
Garnishes: red pepper flakes or grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Prepare pasta according to package directions. After cooked, place pasta in a bowl and coat with a drizzle of olive oil. Allow to completely cool.
  2. When pasta is cool, combine all remaining ingredients up to garnish. May be served immediately, or as we prefer, chill a little longer in the refrigerator. 
  3. Serve and enjoy with red pepper flakes or grated Parmesan cheese if desired.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Coconut Curry

Yum! Yum! Yum! is pretty much all I have to say about my coconut curry. Okay, we all know that is not true. I may not always admit it but many of the recipes are actually Z.'s creation or he was the one who perfected the recipe. Not this one! Although, all my memories of making coconut curry do involve my dear boyfriend.  I have referred to this as my famous coconut curry. I like to pretend my recipe is famous. Well, I created a feast... okay, Z., myself, and my roommate at the time...for a celebratory I-am-graduating-from-college dinner with two of my grandparents and my parents. We served coconut curry, both vegetarian and with chicken, rice, naan, celery with cream cheese, and deviled eggs. I packed seven people into the middle of my apartment's living room and we ate off of a card table. My dad absolutely loved the curry! I could not have been prouder. Within the realm of steak and potatoes, my dad does experiment a lot with seasonings and will only make delicious food for himself.

When I was younger I would never consider going out to a restaurant and ordering a dish that was completely brand new to me; I could make the $10 to $12 that dinner would have cost stretch pretty far if I were only buying ingredients. So, I would do just that! If we are not talking about classical music or pretty I am, we are discussing food. There were a few dishes Z. had eaten in restaurants that he loved and kept talking about. I heard over and over how awesome coconut curry is. I had no idea what he was talking about so I did a little research, we purchased the ingredients, and made coconut curry together. My life would never be the same. Okay, I say that every three posts or so but it is true. Amazing food, particularly food made by your own hands, can really do be life changing. This coconut curry experiment changed my approach to cooking in several ways. This was the first time I ever used (and tasted) curry powder. Secondly, coconut had always been reserved for pie or piƱa colada flavored drinks before this recipe.

We enjoy our coconut curry on the simple side but the possibilities are endless. Possible additions:
  • chicken or shrimp
  • chickpeas
  • potatoes
  • bell peppers
  • yams
  • water chestnuts
  • baby corn
  • kale 
  • broccoli
Just keep in mind that these ingredients have different cooking times, adjust accordingly.

I wanted to highlight two ingredients that were a part of my recipe. Now that we have been making Indian food for quite some time and have an awesome little Indian market in town, Z. and I have accumulated a number of curry powders and spices. Certain dishes call for particular curry powders. We have found that a madras curry powder from the Market of Choice is our preferred curry powder for coconut curry. When I was in Wyoming one summer, I made coconut curry for my grandma and I used some McCormick madras curry my dad had purchased after tasting my coconut curry(!) in Oregon and the taste was great. 

The second ingredient I want to discuss is the shallot. These little bulbs are incredibly important for cheap cooking. Shallots help make the dish taste luxurious and like it came from a restaurant. In one of his books, Anthony Bourdain, wrote that the biggest difference between the food he cooks in a restaurant and what a schmuck like me makes at home, is shallots (and butter). I have heard the flavor of shallots as described as a mild cross between onion and garlic. If you have eaten red onions and garlic, the flavor of shallots will be familiar but I think shallots have their own distinctive flavor. Try them! One shallot is only like $0.30. Trust me, this is thirty-cents well spent. Enjoy!

Coconut Curry, serves 2-3

2-3 tablespoons canola oil
1 shallot, finely minced
3-4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 small cauliflower, or about 2 cups chopped
2-3 carrots, chopped
1 14 oz. can coconut milk
1-2 tablespoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric, optional
1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt
red pepper flakes and cilantro to garnish
  1. Heat two or so tablespoons oil in a pan over medium-low heat. Add shallot. Saute until soft, about 4-5 minutes. Add garlic and saute another 4-5 minutes, until soft. Tip: Do not let the pan get too warm or the garlic and shallots will brown. 
  2. Add carrots and cauliflower. Allow to saute for 4-5 minutes. 
  3. Move vegetables to the side, creating a clearing in which to toast the spices. Add a drizzle of oil, enough to create a paste with the spices. Add the curry and turmeric to the pan and toast in the oil, about one minute. 
  4. Add coconut milk and salt. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook until the vegetables are tender, depending on the vegetables used, about 10-12 minutes. 
  5. Serve with jasmine or basmati rice, garnish with red pepper flakes and cilantro if desired.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Recipe Review: Zucchini Muffins

Source: Cooking Light June, 2009

I do not have a zucchini bread recipe in my arsenal so I decided to review a few different recipes. This first recipe came from an old issue of Cooking Light. What drew me in was the cheapness. When I determine how cheap a recipe is on the Cheap not Frugal Eats scale, I look at a few specific ingredients. I know I have discussed this before but I will lay out my thoughts more clearly this time:

Common Ingredients Found in Baked Goods that Do Not Pass the Cheap Not Frugal Eats Test:
  • butter
  • milk
  • eggs
  • oil
  • honey
  • dried fruit
  • nuts
Common Ingredients Found in Baked Goods that Do Pass the Cheap Not Frugal Eats Test:
  • flour
  • spices (due to the amount of spice needed to get a lot of flavor is so small I put spices on this list)
  • fresh vegetables and fruit (on sale!)
  • and Ingredients that Do Not Pass the Cheap not Frugal Eats Test in moderation 
Do not get me wrong, I will more than happily consume anything with any of these ingredients. In my own cooking and baking, I try to limit the amount of ingredients I use that do not pass my cheap-ness test.

Back to the recipe. If you have not yet noticed, I am really dense and do not notice similarities until after I have made the recipe. I realized after making the dish that I have used this recipe before, just under a different name. This happened with these zucchini muffins and with my Honey-Sesame Dressing. I have baked Garam Masala Carrot Muffins using an almost identical recipe, which I thought was clever and had adapted all on my own. I admit, I will be trying the ratio of leavening in the zucchini muffin recipe next time I make my carrot muffins.

Well, if you are looking for an easy, plain (in a good way) zucchini bread or muffin, I would suggest this recipe. I had plenty of freshly grated nutmeg. After many batches of granola and this recipe, I am finding the key to yumminess in this household is nutmeg. The recipe had you sprinkle a little cinnamon-sugar with nutmeg in my case, over the top of the muffins. I would not have thought of this small touch, which turned out very nice. Enjoy!

Zucchini Muffins

1 cup whole-wheat flour
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups shredded zucchini (about 2 small zucchini or 1 large Italian zucchini)
1/2 cup fat-free milk
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 large egg
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray muffin tins with cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. Combine the first seven ingredients (the dry ingredients) in a bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the wet ingredients, or zucchini, milk, oil, honey and egg. Add milk mixture to flour mixture and combine until just mixed. Spoon batter into muffin tins.
  3. Combine the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar and remaining cinnamon; sprinkle over the tops of muffins. 
  4. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden. Remove from pan and cool on rack.
  • Add nutmeg!
  • I left out the honey but I am sure it is a nice addition.
  • I substituted water for the milk. I was worried because I know the milk helps make for a more tender muffin. The substitution was no problem. If you do not drink milk, you could use fruit juice, water, or a milk substitute.

    Saturday, July 16, 2011

    A Few Recipes Revisited

    I have not been doing much cooking lately, mostly just assembling and making old favorites. As much as I love to cook and talk about food all the time, I think Z. has been doing the bulk of the cooking. Let's examine this further. What have I cooked in the last two weeks? I did make Pasta with Kale and Chickpeas the other night for the two of us, while Z. made chana masala single-handedly for us and two guests last night after he came home from a long day at work. I even made him chop the onion. I contributed by acting as a well-behaved and charming hostess who made sub par tzatziki for a platter of raw veggies. What have I accomplished? I have perfected my granola recipe! I have made this three times since the original post.

    I will dedicate a whole post just to the granola but let me just say, follow the earlier directions for the granola but only heat the oven to 350 degrees.

    My other contributions to the culinary world has been several batches of Black Bean Salad and Bruschetta. I made bruschetta to celebrate my first purchase of Kirkland Signature balsamic vinegar. I changed things up in the black bean salad by adding corn. Our pantry is stocked with cans of corn so I just opened a can, drained it, and rinsed off the kernels before adding it to the rest of the ingredients. After I finished that salad, I made a version for Z. and I that was mango-free and used kidney beans instead of black beans (Z.'s idea, like every other good I idea I have). A great substitution!
    Black Bean Salad with Corn

    Kidney Bean Edition

    Monday, July 11, 2011

    Z.'s Red Sauce

    Red sauce, marinara, tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce...whatever you call it, the homemade stuff is easy and delicious. Does anyone else call it spaghetti sauce? My family always has. Why would we eat anything but spaghetti? Whenever we mixed all the pasta (and we did not call it pasta, they were noodles) and sauce together before serving, like one of my grandma's liked to do, we called it goulash. We were in the middle of Wyoming after all; we had no idea.

    Since Z. hates tomatoes, he had never tried tomato sauce until a year or so ago. I had accumulated a few jars of marinara sauce due to some expert couponing. Z. was willing to try a taste of pasta and tomato sauce. He loved it! After going through our stock, we decided to try making it ourselves. I will admit, I have actually only made our red sauce once...the first time. The rest of the time, I have been Z.'s assistant. Turns out, he makes an awesome red sauce!

    We like ours rather chunky, so we use a whole onion, diced rather finely. The trick here, is to let the onions get some color on them. The other important note is to let the sauce gently simmer for some time. If we wanted to have red sauce ready right away, we would omit the water. The little bit of water we add lets the sauce simmer for as long as we like without evaporating away. Another tip...DO NOT SKIMP ON THE OLIVE OIL. Use a little more than you would than normal while sauteing the onions or add a little drizzle before serving. Enjoy!

    P.S. This freezes great. Our preferred freezing mode for everything is to place it in a freezer bag, get out as much air as possible, and place it in the freezer as flat as possible. To thaw, I run some hot water over the bag and once the contents are pliable enough, I place them in a small pan on the stove to heat up.
    Z.'s red sauce gently simmering away
    Hillshire Farms sausage links that have been sliced and are browning for pasta with red sauce!

    Z.'s Red Sauce, serves 2-3

    2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes
    1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce
    1/4 cup water
    1 small onion, finely diced
    6 cloves garlic (more or less according to taste), minced
    1 teaspoon sugar
    1/4-1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
    1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
    1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
    kosher salt and black pepper
    1. Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium-low. Add onions and sugar. Allow to cook until soft and beginning to caramelize, stirring occasionally, about 25-30 minutes.
    2. Add garlic and a little more olive oil if needed. Season with black pepper and chili flakes. Cook until garlic is soft, about 5 minutes.
    3. Lower heat to medium-low if it is not already set there. Add diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, water, and season with salt, pepper, smoked paprika, and Italian seasoning. Let gently simmer for 20-25 minutes. Before serving, taste and adjust salt if necessary.
    • Ground meat seems pretty traditional. Sauteed chicken breast is also tasty with pasta and red sauce.
    • We like to slice sausage links - like kielbasa - and brown it and serve it with our pasta and red sauce.
    • Add 1/2 diced bell pepper, any color, to add some vegetables and delicious flavor.
    • Beans are a great addition. Kidney beans when allowed to simmer in the sauce for a few minutes, turn surprisingly silky. I had red sauce with kidney beans over leftover polenta loaf. See!

      Tuesday, July 5, 2011

      Farmer's Market Meal: Pasta with Kale and Chickpeas

      Saturday, Z. and I wandered through the Corvallis Farmer's Market. Our favorite vegetables to get at the farmer's market are kale, zucchini, peppers, and occasionally garlic. We normally do not buy anything when we go; we tend to window shop. It is free entertainment and a nice walk! I love the sights and smells of the market. I always stop near any basil and just smell the air (we are in the Willamette Valley, weirdness is just a part of the ambiance, here). There is nothing like freshly picked organic basil.

      This particular Saturday, I bought a bunch of dark, beautiful Italian kale from our go-to kale vendor. I love all types of kale but Italian kale is very special. The leaves are a rich, dark green and are wrinkled. Imagine crinkling a piece of aluminum foil and then trying to smooth it out. Italian kale has a similar wrinkled look about the leaves. Another name for Italian kale is dinosaur kale. If I were trying to get a child to try kale, I would make up a silly story about dinosaur kale.

      Kale is a great buy for us cheap folks. If you spend the extra time to cook them all the way, you can use the whole leaf, including the stems. Unlike spinach, which shrinks to a fraction of its original size when cooked, kale keeps its size and shape. Besides being a nutritional powerhouse, kale is delicious and filling.

      For this recipe I removed the stems and only sauteed the kale, so the kale remained slightly toothsome. I like that texture but if you are looking for a more tender green, I would add a little more liquid to the pan, allowing the kale to braise. Either way is wonderful. Enjoy!

      Pasta with kale and chickpeas for two
      2 servings pasta
      1-2 tablespoons olive oil

      4 cloves garlic, minced
      1/2 onion, diced
      1/2 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
      1/3 bunch kale, washed, stems removed, and chopped into bite-sized pieces
      1/4-1/2 cup of pasta cooking water
      1. Bring water for pasta to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1/4-1/2 cup of the pasta water before draining.
      2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil over medium heat in a high-sided skillet. Add onions and season with salt. Cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
      3. Add garlic, chickpeas, and kale. Stir and place a lid on the on the pan. Cook until kale is tender and garlic is done, removing lid to stir occasionally, about 5-6 minutes.
      4. When vegetables are done, add pasta and pasta water to the vegetable mixture and stir to mix thoroughly. Season with pepper, salt, and red pepper flakes if desired. A spritz of lemon juice would make a lovely addition.

      Friday, July 1, 2011

      Summer Rolls

      Ahhh, the delights of summer produce! Especially delightful when it is a a gift from someone's garden!! We had some guests over for dinner last weekend and they gave Z. and me a beautiful head of lettuce from their garden. That lettuce inspired us to make summer rolls the next evening.

      Since I am a hillbilly from Wyoming, my first experience with summer rolls did not occur until I was living in Eugene, Oregon and in my twenties. A summer roll consists of fresh veggies that are wrapped up by rice paper. Rice paper wrappers can be found in the Asian section of the grocery store. They are rather hard to the touch but soften and become pliable when soaked in warm water. There are a few tricks I have learned to working with rice paper:
      • I did not have a bowl large enough to hold a wrapper or a high-sided plate so I used our largest skillet to hold the warm water and soak the wrappers.
      • I soaked the rice paper in warm water for only about 10 seconds. I left it in the water just until I could bend it. If I let the rice paper get too soft, it would stick to itself or tear.
      • For assembly, I set the rice paper on a plate lined with a damp paper towel. This way, the rice paper was soft enough to roll when the time came and did not stick to the plate.
      • I had a container also lined with a damp paper towel ready to hold the finished summer rolls while I continued working. I made sure to keep the finished rolls covered with a damp paper towel to prevent the rice paper from drying out.

      The variety of fillings in summer is infinite. I would keep in mind that these are served cold and look for produce that is crisp and crunchy. Some ideas:
      • lettuce
      • cabbage
      • carrots 
      • sprouts
      • cucumber
      • jicama
      • radish
      • fresh herbs (cilantro and mint would be awesome!)
      • Granny Smith apple
      • bell pepper
      • noodles
      • shredded chicken
      • pre-cooked shrimp

      Just make sure all the veggies are thin like matchsticks and all ingredients are approximately the same length.

      We used bean thread noodles may also be found in the Asian section of the grocery store. To prepare the noodles, all I had to do was boil water and pour it over the noodles. At first, I tried soaking the noodles in warm tap water but the noodles were going to take ages to arrive at the proper texture. The noodles were done almost instantaneously with the boiling water. I then drained the noodles and ran them under cold water so they would not wilt the veggies when I assembled the summer rolls.

      My assembly line
      To assemble a summer roll, soak one rice paper wrapper in warm water until pliable, place desired filling on the bottom third, careful to not overfill, and then roll like a burrito.

      Dipping sauce can be as simple as lime juice with sesame oil or a little more fancy, like homemade peanut sauce. While I would have loved some peanut sauce, Z. and I made due with a mixture of Sriracha, soy sauce, and lime juice. We would each make our own, adjusting the ratio of ingredients to suit our own tastes. Enjoy!