Category Archives: the basics

emerging from hibernation

Good evening readers and eaters! As I mentioned two posts ago, I have an exciting life project that occupies my evenings—hence the lack of recent recipes. I have indeed been cooking and photographing lovely meals to share with you. Warning: this blog is about to grow in its proportion of heart-healthy, veg-filled delights.

Andrew and I are really cutting back on saturated fats these days: it’s not about a fad diet or vegan trends. As we venture into our fifth year of marriage, we’re unhappy with the weight gain we’ve experienced in this brief time—over 20 lbs. between the two of us. Neither of us is overweight, but 20 lbs. in 5 years is a scary trend considering the inevitable metabolic slow in the coming 5 years. A generous topping of high-fat cheese was making its way into too many of our meals.

My two years immersed in Nutrition grad studies taught me that the most realistic way to weight loss is small, simple dietary substitutions. One less soda a day, less fattening milk, etc. For Andrew, this meant switching from sandwiches to soup for most workday lunches. For me, this meant cut-up fruits and veggies as snacks before meals insteaPhoto & Video Sharing by SmugMugd of my infamous feed-a-family lunch portions. Smaller portions, more frequent meals. Now Andrew eats breakfast. We eat smaller dinners and finish the evenings with yogurt fruit smoothies.

So now I must share my thrilling very-recent discovery: ethnic markets. I had heard about the affordable produce prices for years, and finally visited my local Korean and Hispanic supermart. Not only were the prices one-third of what I paid at Shoppers (which I had found less expensive than my other local chains), but the produce was fresh, abundant, and varied beyond my imagination. Where Shoppers has carried three to four moldy eggplants the past five months, Fresh World had hundreds of firm, blemish-free eggplants—five different varieties! I realize I am spoiled in my metropolitan area, but if you have the opportunity to explore an international market, this is a wonderfully affordable way to incorporate far more fresh ingredients into your meals. I left with seven stuffed produce bags  for barely $40.

Sometimes, we’ve just got to stop complicating dishes with steps and stress. Have a simple, fresh meal. Give yourself a break, your body a boost. Here was our light Friday night…Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Pita and Feta with Vegetables

inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Very Full Tart” recipe (minus eggs, heavy cream, buttered pie crust)

do substitute/omit ingredients per availability

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 yellow bell pepper, chopped

1 medium eggplant, peeled and diced

handful cherry tomatoes, halved

1 sweet potato, peeled and diced (1-inch)

1 zucchini, diced

1 large onion

4 tbsp. grapeseed/vegetable oil

4 oz. feta, crumbled

whole wheat pita for serving, cut into wedges

Preheat the oven to 400F. On at least two baking sheets, scatter the chopped vegetables into an even layer. Drizzle with oil and toss to coat. Sprinkle with dried thyme or oregano as you like. Roast the veggies about 30 minutes, tossing halfway through, until potatoes are fork tender and browning occurs. Season with ground pepper and sprinkle with feta. If you have fresh oregano or chives, add them here.

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We spooned this vegetable mixture into whole wheat pita pockets, dunking the pita into homemade baba ganoush as well. Surprisingly satisfying.

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family dinner

Like my recent bean posts, today we’re talking about discovering new foods on my journey to be a Less Picky Eater. You say picky, I say vegetarian. Tomato, tomahto.

There are people who think they are not squash people. I did not grow up a squash person, only the occasional zucchini—which, I’m sorry, hardly counts. It was only three years ago I ventured into acorn squash (halved and roasted as cheesy basmati bowls), butternut, and mostly recently spaghetti squash.

I love that you can purchase butternut squash pre-cut in the grocer’s deli section (it makes this recipe a breeze). Despite my sharpest knife, I have nearly severed limbs attempting to break into that son-of-a-gourd. A few dollars more, this is true, but I find the cost of pre-cut butternut squash absolutely worth the 20 minutes, tears, and blood loss that accompanies the raw gargantuan gourd.

This is a spectacular, I mean truly remarkable soup worth adding to your repertoire. There are few dishes I make twice (too many new recipes bookmarked!), and this has already become one of them. It has two steps—roasting and blending—six ingredients, and can feed a grateful crowd without a drop of sweat on your end.

I recently served this for the entire family to accompany my favorite asparagus ravioli in brown butter sauce. Andrew does not consider himself a fan of squash or mushrooms, but he always gobbles this up with compliments to the chef (c’est moi). Pops, also not a known for a squash preference, took home the leftover soup! As Kramer would say: Oh mama.

Roasted Squash Shittake Soup

adapted slightly from Martha Stewart, serves 4 as an entrée, 8 as an appetizer

2 3/4 lb. butternut squash, pre-cut into 2-inch pieces

1 onion, peeled and quartered through the stem

4 shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps wiped clean with a paper towel

4 small garlic cloves, unpeeled

olive oil

5 cups homemade or store-bought low-sodium vegetable stock (I love Pacific Organic)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Combine squash cubes, onion, mushrooms, and unpeeled garlic on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with enough olive oil just to coat (about 1/2 cup) and 2 teaspoons salt (sea salt or Kosher). Toss and spread in a single layer. Divide onto two baking sheets if needed; there should be space between all the vegetables or they will steam and not brown.

Roast until squash is tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, about 30 minutes, rotating pan and tossing vegetables halfway through. Let cool, then remove skins from the garlic by squeezing out the pulp.

Transfer vegetables to a medium saucepan; heat over medium. Pour in 2 cups stock; puree with an immersion blender until smooth (or you can do this in an upright blender, transferring the veggies straight from the oven to the blender).

With the blender running, slowly add remaining 3 cups stock, and puree until smooth. (If serving later, refrigerate in the pot at this point). Bring soup just to a simmer. Remove from heat, and season with salt and pepper. Cover to keep warm.

A brief bit about broth: I used vegetable broth upon the first trial of this soup, and while I usually do not prefer the flavor it did work well here. I used chicken broth on the most recent batch, and while the different was subtle, I preferred the vegetable broth. Moral of the story, use either.

For what soup was your grandmother best known?

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hungry husband 101

This is the story of one hungry carnivore, his vegetarian chef, and $70 to feed the couple for one week.

The dilemma: packaged chicken tenders and thighs suffer neglect in our freezer, and are often frost-bitten within the month. Hence, we regularly throw away $5 of the $7 spent on pre-cut chicken parts (leaving less room in the fridge for useful things like asparagus and potstickers).  The other problem: meat-eating hubby does not prefer to partake in the post-work cooking hour his wife so enjoys.

This is a week of particular budgeting, and meals that work with ingredients in the fridge (always an effective method for a frugal menu): tacos, spaghetti, bok choy with potstickers, and tuscan white beans with grilled bread. The common denominator: these all work with chicken. And Chicken is Andrew’s middle name.

With my birthday dutch oven in mind, I picked up a 5 lb. chicken at Trader Joes for $6.17. That’s less than (quality) chicken breasts alone.

Now, I created A Pear to Remember to be a place for accessible cooking, and I realize many cooks do not own a dutch oven. Well let me tell you that I made my very first roast chicken in a 9 x 13-inch ceramic casserole, and it worked out just lovely (read more about Tweety McCluck, and my adoption story, here). Do not allow the lack of a handsome green pot (known affectionately here as Monsieur Pesto) to hinder you from conquering a little chicken.

On a personal note, there is something wholly satisfying about preparing and presenting a juicy, golden bird to the chicken lover(s) in your life. This recipe produces a truly succulent, flavor-packed entrée to last throughout the week. And the house will smell fantastic.

Poulet en Cocotte

“Chicken in a Pot”

adapted slightly from February 2008’s Cook’s Illustrated

1 whole roasting chicken (about 5 lbs.), giblets removed and discarded, wings tucked under  back

2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 teaspoon table salt

1/4 teaspoon black  pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion, sliced into wedges

6 medium garlic cloves, peeled

1 bay leaf 

1 medium spring of rosemary

1/2-1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice (optional)

Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 250 degrees.  Pat  chicken dry with paper towel and season with salt and pepper.  Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat until just smoking.  Add chicken breast-side down;  scatter onion, garlic, bay leaf and rosemary around chicken.

Cook until  breast is lightly browned, about 5 minutes.  Using a wooden spoon inserted into cavity of bird flip chicken breast side up and cook until chicken and vegetables are well browned, 6  to 8 minutes.

Remove Dutch oven from heat and cover tightly with lid.

Transfer pot to oven and cook until an instant read thermometer registers 160  degrees when inserted in the thickest part of the breast and 175 degrees in the  thickest part of the thigh, 80 to 110 minutes. Clear juices from the thigh are also a simple indicator of doneness.

Transfer chicken to carving board, tent with foil and rest 20 minutes. Actually, I placed the chicken on a large serving platter with a lip to catch the juices, and moved it to the cutting board just before carving. This is a handy time to watch a video on carving a chicken, in case you also needed a little guidance (I found this one incredibly helpful).

At this point, I let the chicken cool and packed it all in one container for Andrew to enjoy throughout the week. Okay, let’s be real: I first took photos while Andrew pulled bits from the carcass. Two thumbs up from a very happy husband.

If you are interested in serving it right away, you can continue with the following: Strain the chicken juices from pot through a fine-mesh strainer into fat separator, pressing on  solids to extract liquid; discard solids (you should have about 3/4 cup juices).  Allow liquid to settle 5 minutes, then pour into saucepan and set over low  heat.  Carve chicken, adding any accumulated juices to saucepan.  Stir lemon juice into jus to taste (jus: a sauce from natural juices; pronounced zhoo). Serve the chicken, passing jus at table.

Not to brag, but for a vegetarian carving a chicken for the first time, I was pretty dang thrilled the cuts resembled recognizable pieces of meat.

And the onions? Beauty incarnate.

See more of my food budget and shopping tips here.

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pears well with meals

I promise you would not need a fancy-schmancy pot to make the following, but it adds a little fun if you do. Allow me to introduce my birthday and Christmas surprises, Mademoiselle Plum and Monsieur Pesto:

 

I grew up on applesauce, and that’s not a criticism. Sometimes on our drives home from Grammy and Pop-pop’s house, we stopped at Catoctin Orchards for jars of cider, applesauce, and other fresh goodies. I’ve had a thing for homemade applesauce ever since.

Tried the peel, slice, core, simmer with juice technique—it’s a long wait. If you have a casserole dish with a tight lid, this apple-pear sauce will make itself. With a friend and two peelers, this is especially fun.

A quiet New Year’s Eve with close friends just screamed for roasted pear sauce, and here it is, dear readers, a side dish for the years to come. Because this is ideal for breakfast, dessert, and an accompaniment to of each course, double the recipe below, as we did.

Roasted Apple and Pear Sauce

from Ina Garten, makes 2 quarts

zest and juice of 2 large navel oranges

zest and juice of 1 lemon

3 lbs. sweet red apples (8 apples, any kind will really do)

3 lbs. ripe Bosc pears (7 pears; do use Bosc)

1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed

2 tbsp. unsalted butter

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

peel leisurely at the kitchen table with a friend, you would never believe this is work

Place the zest and juice of the oranges and lemon in a nonreactive Dutch oven (or large covered casserole). Peel, quarter, and core the apples and pears and toss them in the juice. Lindsey’s note: I core the apples very quickly by peeling, quartering through the stem, and—with the quarter flat on the board—making a diagonal slice just beyond the seeds and stem. This preps the fruit in one swift step.

Add the brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon and cover the pot.

Bake for about an hour and a half, until the apples and pears are tender. Mix with a whisk until smooth, but still a little chunky. Serve warm or at room temperature. Or eat right from the fridge.

this pear sauce isn't so bad with beef brisket, grilled haricots vert, and potato-brie gratin

 

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best of 2011

Drumroll please… the most delicious, memorable, must-make dish from our kitchen in 2011…

Asparagus Ravioli with Brown Butter Sauce

 

In case you didn’t catch it the first time around, here is the post again. Here’s to a healthy and delicious 2012!

 

There are things only some of us can do. Things that require unique talent and skills few possess (unless you’re my friend Mark, who actually has one of these rings at home).

Homemade ravioli is not among these feats.

A Pear to Remember is the place, after all, for deliciously do-able cooking. Homemade ravioli is impressive, elegant, divine in every way, but not impossible. Not even hard. Not even hours of work.

Pasta from scratch?? Not today. Won ton wrappers are these magical pre-cut pasta sheets Giant stores carry adjacent to the bagged salads. They are ever more common at grocery retailers, and Asian specialty stores would surely carry them, too. You can also make this without a food processor so it’s not such a fussy equipment endeavor. There are several steps, but few take more than a minute and a half. With a friend, these could easily be ready to go in 40 minutes. (Trader Joes, where speciality cheeses are not overpriced, also makes this an affordable meal).

This marks our most special meal to date. And, in my book, the most delicious by far. Here’s to memory-making on Monday nights!

Asparagus Ravioli with Brown Butter Sauce

Fine Cooking (April/May 2011), serves 4

1 lb. thick asparagus, trimmed, spears cut into 1-inch pieces, tips reserved

6 tablespoon marscarpone

1/3 cup whole milk ricotta

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano; more for serving

1 tsp. anchovy paste (optional)

cut the tips at an angle for topping at the end

1/2 tsp. minced garlic (must be fresh, the jarred stuff is too harsh)

Pinch cayenne pepper

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

36 wonton wrappers

4 oz. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter

1/2 cup blanched almonds, chopped

finely grated lemon zest to taste

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat (using this same water for the pasta later maintains nutrients!). Have ready a medium bowl of ice water (if you have a colander to rest inside, this is one less draining step). Boil the asparagus tips until tender but still bright green, about 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon (thanks, Kathy!), transfer to the ice water. When cool, transfer with the slotted spoon to a small bowl and set aside. Cook and cool the asparagus spears in the same manner; dry them on paper towels.

In a food processor (or by hand), chop 1-1/2 cups of the spears very finely and transfer to a medium bowl. Add the remaining spears to the tips.

Add the marscarpone, ricotta, Parmigiano, anchovy paste, garlic, and cayenne to the chopped asparagus; mix well. Season to taste with coarse salt and fresh pepper.

Let’s stop for a sec to talk minced garlic.

I knew nothing about fresh garlic growing up; if this is your first encounter with it: welcome!

To mince garlic well, whack a single clove with the side of a wide knife—makes peeling a snap. To chop the garlic very, very fine, slice the clove a few times, sprinkle with a big pinch of coarse salt, and chop away. Just keep running over the clove with your knife; the salt will help mash it into a paste to blend beautifully into your dish.

You can also rub your garlic clove on a microplane for the same, quicker, effect! (Use the same zester for the lemon at the end; no need to clean between).

Arrange 18 wonton wrappers on a work surface (a cookie sheet is perfect for both prepping and post-boiling) . Put 1 level Tbs. of the asparagus filling in the center of each wrapper (don’t get too caught up in measuring).

Using a pastry brush, moisten the edges of each with water. Top each with another wrapper and press the edges firmly to seal, expelling any air bubbles as you seal. If you don’t plan to cook the ravioli immediately, cover them with a damp cloth.

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a rolling boil over high heat (ideally, the same pot with the blanched asparagus water).

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat and add the almonds, shaking the pan. Cook until the butter turns light brown, about 6 minutes, and then immediately transfer to a small bowl.

Add the ravioli, about 5 at a time, to the boiling water (I lowered the boil so the pockets would not explode; it worked). When they rise to the surface, after about 1 minute, use a slotted spoon to transfer them to warm plates or pasta bowls. Spoon the brown butter mixture over the ravioli. Top with the reserved asparagus pieces, a grinding of pepper, a sprinkle of Parmigiano, and a little lemon zest, and serve.

Thanks to the Bitten Word for inspiring me to try (and conquer) this recipe!

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recipe for success

I love cookbooks with photos. I want to know exactly how to plate a new dish, and how appealing it will look after my labor. With holidays and company and potlucks upon us, it’s time to peruse the ol’ cookbook collection for a photo of Stellar food. You’ll know it: the page on which you pause, salivate, and remind yourself that it’s unhealthy to consume paper. If you are looking for Something Different this year, and seeking inspiration beyond this baby of a blog, spend some one-on-one with a cookbook from days of yore.

I found many discouraging trials in my early days of self-taught cooking when my meal rarely resembled the recipe’s promises. Should you find yourself apprehensive about risking your time and ingredients on the unfamiliar, here are some thoughts you may find helpful upon opening your cookbook:

Serves Eight

In our home, I’m cooking for two. When it’s a meat dish, that’s only one and Andrew is not always up for a week’s worth of leftovers. Be practical with your ingredients; a freezer-friendly casserole or soup may be more economical to double. On the other hand, if you also have a small household and consider the recipe more daring, cut the recipe in half to avoid waste. As I suffer arithmophobia, I usually pencil the ingredient adjustments directly in the cookbook to avoid simple, serious errors. Because that’s what happened on my math tests.

Unfamiliar Ingredients?

An impearative (ha!) disclaimer about Indian cuisine here: I insist you step out of your cabinent comfort zone for this wonder. However, a lengthy list of ingredients, especially the exotic, are a frequent turn-off in other circumstances and perhaps not your best bet for weeknight experimentations.

Pantry Finds

Similar to the idea above, seek out recipes with items you keep in stock. This makes a recipe more accessible and budget-friendly.

Serve Immediately

Beware the Serve Immediately finale. Many of my favorite dishes (egg noodles + brown butter + feta) need be served straight from the stove. However, a new recipe for company is not the time for a dish that risks sogginess as it sits. For company, those recipes recommending “flavors meld at least several hours or overnight” are ideal for cooking in advance and attending to your guests. The Serve Immediately dishes are wonderful, but be sure it works with your meal’s timing.

Read the Recipe to the End

This got me in a lot of trouble in my early repetitive cooking flops. If I did read it to the end, I often did not read the recipe through several times. Those painful paragraphs with four steps-in-one often led to my skipping crucial components. Familiarize yourself with all the aspects of the ingredient preparation and techniques, and look up any pieces that may be confusing. This is why the Internet was invented. YouTube has wonderful tutorials for cooking techniques.

Equipment and Tools

Understanding what tools you need for a recipe will prevent much frustration, and precisely why it’s important to read all the way through a recipe. After drooling over endless recipes stating, “Now with your food processor…”, I skipped many appealing recipes due to equipment limitations. For me, the food processor investment has been worthwhile: a 2-cup Cuisinart miniprep got me through college, now I find plenty of use for my 11-cup Kitchenaid.

It is important, too, to consider whether a paring, serrated, or chef’s knife is most appropriate for ingredients that require slicing. A 6-inch skillet also does not count as a “very large saucepan”. If your pot or pan is not large enough for the amount of food, simply divide the food evenly between two pans. This is crucial for searing and roasting where ingredients must have space to caramelize. Before I invested in a 12-inch skillet, I found much more success dividing my dishes between two medium skillets than crowding and steaming foods in one pan.

Assessing your recipe before committing will hopefully lead to greater success with your culinary endeavors. As recipes are rarely perfect, be certain to taste your creation about 3/4 through cooking and also before serving. Salt is usually the answer, but you can never take it away—underseason first.

What’s new in your kitchen? It’s Lebanese on our stovetop, recipes soon! Click here for some favorite cookbooks from my shelf.

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rethinking the bean

Research Andrew’s favorite vegetable on wikipedia and you find the unfortunate truth:

Green beans are often steamed, boiled, stir-fried, or baked in casseroles. A dish with green beans popular throughout the United States, particularly at Thanksgiving, is green bean casserole consisting of green beans, cream of mushroom soup, and French fried onions. Green beans are of nearly universal distribution. They are marketed, canned, frozen, and fresh.

Precisely the problem.

I’ve told you before, I am not a green bean gal. Perhaps because I knew them only in canned form for most of my life.

The market on Saturday had a few touches of summer remaining: eggplants, peppers, peaches. Then I spied a few crunchy beans, encouraged to find there is still time to try something new. Before we move into canned casserole season (good grief!), give it a try: grill your greens.

Lindsey’s Grilled Green Beans

1 lb. fresh green beans

olive oil

balsamic vinegar

crushed red chili flakes (preferable not from a jar living in your pantry since the last presidential election)

three cloves fresh garlic, crushed

coarse salt, fresh black pepper

Wash the beans well. Using kitchen scissors (one of my favorite tools), snip just tip of the closed ends.

With the side of a large knife (or bottom of a small skillet), whack each clove of garlic until it comes out of its papery skin and is well smashed. Into a gallon-size bag, put the washed and trimmed beans, a drizzle of olive oil to coat the beans, a small drizzle of balsamic vinegar, the garlic cloves, salt, pepper, and pinch of red chili flakes.

Marinate the beans at least 20 minutes—though you could refrigerate for an hour or so; they’re hardy.

Distribute the beans on the grill (or grill pan) over medium heat, turning occasionally. Cook until they have grill marks and are tender when pierced with a small sharp knife.

Should you want to dress things up a bit, sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds or freshly toasted almond slivers.

If you don’t have a grill or grill pan, use this same recipe for green beans roasted on a metal baking sheet (or two, don’t crowd the veggies!) at 400F until tender—about 30 minutes.

What food do you love that your significant other absolutely does not?

 

 

 

a vintage photo, ringing in the new 2010 with more spectacular string beans… roasted sicilian-style for my closest girlfriends.

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much ado about a (new) kitchen

Hi. I’ve missed you, and I can’t believe I have yet to tell you about last week’s memorable cheese flautas or pistachio pesto! But my final exam in Epidemiology is tomorrow, and then life will resume.

an announcement

It’s time to say goodbye to my cooking days… in our itsy apartment kitchen!! Okay, maybe sufficient for the average Joe, but not for those Lindseys who love using five bowls, two pans, and four appliances…

My present disaster zone:

looks deceivingly spacious with this panoramic camera feature.

The new place (we get the keys on Friday!) is just around the corner from our apartment. It has a charming, spacious stone patio where Andrew intends to grill to his heart’s content. Though we’ll need a grill first.

Besides converting the dining room to a music room (my piano + flute + retro reading chair), here’s the kicker:

A kitchen! With space! And counters! A built in pantry! And a new stove going in this Saturday!

This photo is taken from the breakfast room, yes a charming little spot for our teeny table beneath a second window looking out to the woods.

Two windows! In a kitchen! Oh, imagine.

Look around. Do you notice anything missing that may be in your kitchen? I’d love to see if you can guess in the comment section. If you’re closeby, perhaps the first commenter with the correct guess will win an invite to dinner?

Over on the left side with the 16 foot blank wall, I would like to put my cookbook shelf and storage island with cooking surface (as affordable, but maybe not as unattractive/boring as this). Suggestions?

the view from our breakfast room

Being vertically challenged, I am eager to organize our kitchen within my reach—Andrew will love the fewer calls to “fetch the brown sugar, pretty pleeeease. Any thoughts? Innovative systems in your kitchen?

Come back soon for some memorable meals and do-able recipes I made last week (it’s whole grain pasta and frozen veggies for Lindsey during Study Days). And remember to answer the What’s Missing In This Kitchen Photo puzzle below in the comment section!

side yard and guest room view

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a mighty (frugal) menu

I love cooking grand things, but the reality is the only adjustable expense in our budget is groceries (trickier to negotiate car payments, tuition, insurance). So I still cook grand things, just with minimal ingredients. Of course you can find recipes aplenty on this blog with less than five ingredients.

Feast on the Cheap is a stellar blog that calculates each meal expense for readers. No time to do that here, but I do want to share a few ways we have managed to keep eating healthy, delicious, fresh meals. You know, on top of paying the bills.

I know frozen meals are cheap, but I simply won’t compromise health for “easy”(ouch, look at those sodium counts). Meals often need to be homemade if controlling fat, calories, salt and nutrients is important to you. But I’m a super, super busy full-time grad student this summer, so I’m looking for do-able and delicious budget meals. A few thoughts…

Keep the cabinet/fridge/freezer stocked with the basics. Like ravioli.

It’s amazing how much you can make with ingredients from your cabinet alone. One of our favorite Indian meals is mostly canned goods (beans, tomatoes) with ingredients from our spice rack and a scoop from our basmati rice supply. Click here for my cabinet basics. When truly stuck, roasted garlic linguine is always a favorite and delicious possibility.

Plan your meals for each day of the week.

This also includes days you know you will be going out or provided dinner somewhere—less meals to purchase/plan for the week! This seems easy enough, but for me this requires sitting down for about 20 minutes with a few favorite cookbooks/cooking blogs to decide what is compatible with ingredients we have + meals for which I have time. Oh, yes, and the double task of planning ways to make each meal vegetarian/carnivore-compatible. 20 minutes is truly sufficient with a pen, paper, and some inspiration. Easier to make meals you’re excited to eat. This saves tremendous time when you know what you will have each night of the week—nothing so expensive as indecision. Indecision is the gateway to carry-out.

Double-duty ingredients.

Have a plan for all your perishable ingredients. Do something interesting and different with chicken on both nights, make small salad variations to use up your romaine (or grill it!), use mushrooms in a pre-made sauce one day, on pizza the next. Have a plan for all your food so it won’t go to waste, and freeze what you can.

Cook and eat smart.

Preheating the oven when you don’t have to? Not in our hot apartment. Quick methods make for time-saving meals (one skillet; salad in a single bowl). We cook on this stovetop grill to save time and cook our non/vegetarian meals simultaneously. Plus grilling is fun. We also do leftovers for lunch, so our sandwich supplies tend to last us through the weekend.

Know what is in your fridge at all times, and clear out leftovers every week. Eat leftovers within four days, according to the mayo clinic’s food safety recommendation. I find a stuffed fridge unappetizing.

Buy wisely.

We keep our weekly grocery store bill to $70 a week. Not intentionally, it just almost always happens this way; the more expensive weeks are when we let our “stock” items get too low and we’re desperate.

I do not do coupons because they are often for processed/unhealthy stuff I wouldn’t purchase anyway.

Now, there are only two of us, yes, but $70 each week gets us both meals for the week on top of the basics to re-supply (milk, OJ, cereal, olive oil). We find Trader Joes far more affordable than the grocery stores more geographically convenient, but worth the drive when we’re paying nearly half. Really.

What does this look like?

Last week’s plan (all purchased at Trader Joes to complement current cabinet supply):

MONDAY:

cookout with family and friends for the Fourth

I contributed this completely free-from-the-pantry appetizer

TUESDAY:

burgers (him) and mushrooms (me) on the grill with Indian potatoes

bought whole-wheat hamburger buns (freeze the rest for free meals in the future), beef patties, bag of baby red potatoes, pre-cut baby bellas

WEDNESDAY:

grilled pepperoni (him) and mushroom (me) pizza with cantaloupe salad

bought whole-wheat refrigerated pizza dough, small whole cantaloupe, head of lettuce

THURSDAY:

chicken (him) and eggplant (me) on the grill with Indian corn

bought free-range chicken thighs, small eggplant, and one bag frozen corn kernals (student time saver)

FRIDAY:

chicken (him) and paneer-mushroom (me) masala with cumin-basmati and naan bread

one jar curry sauce (me), one jar masala sauce (him), frying cheese, frozen naan

IN-BETWEEN:

breakfasts, snacks, desserts

bananas, apples, strawberries, whole-wheat pretzels, almond-flaxseed butter, assorted juices, milk, eggs (French toast is a bi-monthly go-to), whole-wheat sandwich bread, sliced turkey, cheese, yogurt, nuts, bag of lemons, coffee, tea

This week:

Dinner with Andrew’s family

Greek salad with flatbread

Grilled cheese quesadillas with corn-scallion sauté

Stir-fry with rice

Improvisation on Artichoke in A minor

Barley with corn and basil

Cold pesto tortellini salad

(free! frozen tortellini + lots of windowsill basil)

frugal Fridays: happy hour picnics at a vineyard just 6 miles from our house. free music! cheap wine!

What’s cooking at your place?

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Filed under budget, dinners, health, here to share, lickety-quick, the basics

we can do this

There are things only some of us can do. Things that require unique talent and skills few possess (unless you’re my friend Mark, who has one of these rings at home).

Homemade ravioli is not among these feats.

A Pear to Remember is the place, after all, for deliciously do-able cooking. Homemade ravioli is impressive, elegant, divine in every way, but not impossible. Not even hard. Not even hours of work.

Pasta from scratch?? Not today. Won ton wrappers are these magical pre-cut pasta sheets Giant stores carry adjacent to the bagged salads. They are ever more common at grocery retailers, and Asian specialty stores would surely carry them, too. You can also make this without a food processor so it’s not such a fussy equipment endeavor. There are several steps, but few take more than a minute and a half. With a friend, these could easily be ready to go in 40 minutes. (Trader Joes, where speciality cheeses are not overpriced, also makes this an affordable meal).

This marks our most special meal to date. And, in my book, the most delicious by far. Here’s to memory-making on Monday nights!

Asparagus Ravioli with Brown Butter Sauce

Fine Cooking (April/May 2011), serves 4

1 lb. thick asparagus, trimmed, spears cut into 1-inch pieces, tips reserved

6 tablespoon marscarpone

1/3 cup whole milk ricotta

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano; more for serving

1 tsp. anchovy paste (optional)

cut the tips at an angle for topping at the end

1/2 tsp. minced garlic (must be fresh, the jarred stuff is too harsh)

Pinch cayenne pepper

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

36 wonton wrappers

4 oz. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter

1/2 cup blanched almonds, chopped

finely grated lemon zest to taste

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat (using this same water for the pasta later maintains nutrients!). Have ready a medium bowl of ice water (if you have a colander to rest inside, this is one less draining step). Boil the asparagus tips until tender but still bright green, about 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon (thanks, Kathy!), transfer to the ice water. When cool, transfer with the slotted spoon to a small bowl and set aside. Cook and cool the asparagus spears in the same manner; dry them on paper towels.

In a food processor (or by hand), chop 1-1/2 cups of the spears very finely and transfer to a medium bowl. Add the remaining spears to the tips.

Add the marscarpone, ricotta, Parmigiano, anchovy paste, garlic, and cayenne to the chopped asparagus; mix well. Season to taste with coarse salt and fresh pepper.

Let’s stop for a sec to talk minced garlic.

I knew nothing about fresh garlic growing up; if this is your first encounter with it: welcome!

To mince garlic well, whack a single clove with the side of a wide knife—makes peeling a snap. To chop the garlic very, very fine, slice the clove a few times, sprinkle with a big pinch of coarse salt, and chop away. Just keep running over the clove with your knife; the salt will help mash it into a paste to blend beautifully into your dish.

You can also rub your garlic clove on a microplane for the same, quicker, effect! (Use the same zester for the lemon at the end; no need to clean between).

Arrange 18 wonton wrappers on a work surface (a cookie sheet is perfect for both prepping and post-boiling) . Put 1 level Tbs. of the asparagus filling in the center of each wrapper (don’t get too caught up in measuring).

Using a pastry brush, moisten the edges of each with water. Top each with another wrapper and press the edges firmly to seal, expelling any air bubbles as you seal. If you don’t plan to cook the ravioli immediately, cover them with a damp cloth.

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a rolling boil over high heat (ideally, the same pot with the blanched asparagus water).

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat and add the almonds, shaking the pan. Cook until the butter turns light brown, about 6 minutes, and then immediately transfer to a small bowl.

Add the ravioli, about 5 at a time, to the boiling water (I lowered the boil so the pockets would not explode; it worked). When they rise to the surface, after about 1 minute, use a slotted spoon to transfer them to warm plates or pasta bowls. Spoon the brown butter mixture over the ravioli. Top with the reserved asparagus pieces, a grinding of pepper, a sprinkle of Parmigiano, and a little lemon zest, and serve.

Thanks to the Bitten Word for inspiring me to try (and conquer) this recipe!

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Filed under dinners, techniques, the basics