Fresh & Frugal

How to cook fantastic, fresh food on a tight budget

Month: August, 2010

Surplus-of-Plum Preserves

Let’s say, hypothetically, that you’re in possession of a surplus of Italian plums. You know the difference: slightly smaller, more elliptical than your average, run-of-the-mill plum. Rather than quietly flashing their reddish highlights your way, they boast a pale blue almost powdery appearance sometimes. The first time I laid eyes on some, I thought they were some strange super-huge grapes. I know, laugh it up.  The thing is, I often worry about the beginning of a love-affair with these plums.

So when you find yourself swimming in too much of a good thing, what is there to do but make preserves? Using a similar recipe to that which I used for the peaches, with the exception of maybe half the sugar, I set to work pitting the little gems. Really, is there anything prettier than the finished product when it comes to jams, preserves, and jellies? Oh, wouldn’t apple jellies be lovely? That’s an idea for another day, a little further into autumn, maybe.

I’m already feeling the pressure and the term hasn’t even started yet — oh, sorry, I’ve changed gears and am talking about grad school, now. With orientation out of the way, things seem like they’ll be running pretty smoothly. It’s just going to come down to keeping all the balls in the air, I think. Fingers crossed, I’ll be able to keep you updated as I go, but please let me apologize ahead of time if, by some horrible twist of fate, I let the blog slip through my fingers. All I can promise is ample coverage of holiday meals, should such a travesty occur.

Italian Plum Preserves

2.5-3 lbs Italian plums, cleaned and pitted.

1c sugar

Yes, it’s that simple: two ingredients. Thinly slice the plums and pop ’em into a pot set on low heat. When they start to appear mushy, begin stirring in the sugar, a little bit at a time, so it has time to dissolve before you add more.

Stir every so often, but leave cooking for 2-3 hours. I was finished in 2. Turn off the heat and ladle into warm, sterilized jars. Apply the warm, sterilized lid. Set aside to cool for 24 hours, then store in a cool, dry place, or just add it to everything you can think of.

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Courgette Fritters

This is another story that starts with Caitlin and ends with one knife, one girl, and a buncha food. Before she left, Caitlin always talked about the free library and how much time she’d spend there, exchanging books every weekend and camping out at Whole Foods, reading. I’ve been meaning to see the courthouse-like building for some time, but finally got the nerve after Terra and I had a glorious little picnic in the  Azalea Garden, behind the Art Museum. Below are some of the lovely pictures from our short walk down there and our sit.

Anyway, back to the story. So I finally made it in, after a long, rain-soaked walk with Terra and hunted down the cook book section. Even though I was looking for Good to the Grain, I wandered out with The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, Chez Panisse Vegetables, and Jamie Oliver’s Italy cookbook. Flipping through each book slowly and carefully, reading each recipe word by word, I flipped the back cover of Oliver’s book shut and knew when I saw Spaghetti Fritters, that I wanted to give it a go. But I don’t have any spaghetti… ZUKES!

What I wound up with felt a little more like a very dense handful of frittatas than a fritter, but I completely blame the courgette-water for that. Despite my repeated attempts to completely dry it out after grating it, there was still too much water wedged in the summer squash. I should have just left out the two egg whites that Jamie says to add, but .. well, I’ll give it a go later this year or maybe next. They were still outrageously tasty, though.

I can’t claim this idea as my own, but it stemmed from Rachel’s (check out my blogroll: Rachel Eats) peaches in wine. I left work dying for a tall, thin glass of sangria, packed with apples and peaches and oranges, but alas! I had none of those fruits left. I did, however, have a tiny honeydew melon so made a pitstop at a little Wine and Spirits store  near Reading Terminal Station. See the reoccurring theme, here? Anyway, I picked an incredibly (but naturally) sweet white and popped two slices of honeydew in for dessert. Mmmm!

Oh, and a quick aside: After a brief word with tall-dark-and-beefy, the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen call himself Farmer (and as we all know, that’s something, since I’m from Indiana: the land of corn and cattle), he agreed to bring in some squash blossoms for me next week. If, that is, I remember to call and remind him. Somehow I don’t think I’ll be forgetting this any time soon.

Courgette Fritters

A tweaked version of Jamie Oliver’s recipe

3 small courgettes, grated

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 handfuls freshly grated parmesan cheese

2 eggs

1 egg yolk

1 handful fresh chopped parsley

a little oil (for coating the pan)

Grate your courgettes on a fairly large … er… use the big holes, not the little ones. This is the hard part: getting all the water out. I pressed — HARD — with several layers of paper towel (only because I don’t have any clean dishtowels left. I promise I’m not so un-green!) on either side of the courgettes to try to get rid of all the water.

Dump what’s left into a bowl, then add all the remaining ingredients (except for the oil for the pan). Give it all a good mix, breaking all three yolks and stirring them in well.

Heat a pan on med-high heat and drizzle a little oil in the pan. Using a fork, add hunks of the mixture to the pan and cook until they’re golden-brown on each side, flipping as necessary.  Jamie suggests you use a higher temperature setting to achieve a golden crust while keeping the inside soft and almost (but not quite) gooey. Mmmm!

Purple Potato and Leek Soup

Our first taste of autumn is here. Yes, you read that correctly. It begun yesterday, cooling off slowly but surely, a few quick showers sprinkled in there. Then this morning, laying in bed and throwing Kitty’s toy for him again and again (my cat fetches. Yes, like a dog.), it was suddenly like that first taste of pumpkin ice cream, the first bite of a chilled pecan pie, and like the first time you have that urge — all year — to wrap up in a scarf. Of course it was only that chill from crawling out from underneath the covers, but the open windows had chilled the air in my apartment. What a fresh, wonderful way to wake up and prepare for grad school orientation.

As a result, however, I’m in the mood for soup. It’s been raining on and off all day like it would when Aunt Mary and I would meet in London and troll the museums only to search for the perfect spot for a curry. They were usually damp but gleeful days, sometimes the only real fun I’d have for a month.

So today I’m thinking about London — the blues and pale grays in the sky, the artichoke-heart-purple streaked bottoms of the clouds just after the sun set behind them. That barely-ripe, rich and yet pale purple color. The color of blackberries in clotted cream. The color of plum-flavored tapioca. Grape creamsavers (yeah, remember those?). Purple potatoes with… with…

Purple potato soup! What’s warmer and more satisfying (other than broccoli cheddar soup or corn chowder) than potato and leek soup? At the end of a long day, at least a girl knows she can still make soup — a beautiful soup — out of potatoes. What a perfect end to a London-like day.

Purple Potato and Leek Soup

2 large purple potatoes

1 large leek

2 cups chicken/veggie stock

1 clove garlic

a splash of milk (maybe 3 tbsp?)

freshly chopped chives to flavor and garnish

salt and pepper to flavor

Bring the stock to a boil while cleaning the potatoes and cutting them into decently sized hunks. After all, we just need to soften them. Throw ’em in and then peel the garlic and toss that in, too. Wash and cut the leek as well, and drop them into the pot. Add a splash of milk. Let simmer for at least 20 minutes.

Remove from heat and let it cool just a little before pouring it into a blender or processor. Make it as creamy or as hunky as you like, then transfer to bowls and serve immediately.

P.S. Thanks for the encouragement, Shana!

Simple Courgette

So sorry to be posting twice in one day, but I really do feel like I ought to make up for my absences, which seem to stretch longer and longer. I swear it’s that I’m absolutely knackered when I get home from work, and then worry about whether I’ll go to sleep early enough or wake up on time. Silly, but true. So I’m sorry for all of the quick and rather sparse posts.

Living in England taught me so so much. Among these lessons are: No matter how small your garden, tend it religiously and if it’s small enough, you may use shears instead of a lawn-mower; cafes are not for sitting and talking, pubs are; always have an umbrella in your bag; simplicity is often best. On the culinary side of things, however, I learned that zucchini do not exist in the UK, but that courgettes do. Also, that near-relative, the purple-skinned and white-fleshed veggie, is not an ‘eggplant.’ Say ‘eggplant’ or ‘zucchini’  and people will think you’re a little off — trust me, I experienced it. Honestly.

So when I was a little peckish but not quite hungry, my first thought was vegetable and my second thought was simple. What’s more simple than thinly sliced courgette with a smattering of oil, parm, lemon, and chives? So while my itunes visualized away, I set knife to vegetation and soon had a tasty but light dish — the perfect thing to counter-balance all those sweets that keep appearing at work.

Simple Courgette

1 small courgette/zucchini

1 tbsp fresh chopped chives

1 tbsp freshly shaved parmesan cheese

1/4 lemon (for squeezing)

salt and pepper to taste

Thoroughly wash and thinly slice your zuke. Lay on a plate in a relatively thin layer, then sprinkle the parm, chives, salt, and pepper on top. Squeeze the lemon over the dish, and finally drizzle lightly with olive oil. Enjoy!

Caitlin’s Decadent Slow-Scrambled Eggs

Caitlin is an absolutely amazing woman. Not only does she have a mind like a steel trap (she can describe the flags of a zillion nations), is she tall like me, absolutely gorgeous, hilarious, driven, and fantastic, but she knows food. I mean, if Caitlin had a food blog, I would make every item she posts. Everything. Seriously. Everything.

Of all the things I learned to cook for breakfast, which really aren’t many, Caitlin’s slow-scrambled eggs are the first thing I want to make when there’s enough time. Just to give you an idea, I skipped an 8 am breakfast after an hour of yoga in order to get my errands finished before the droves come out (remember what I said last Sunday?).  Finally crawling home after waiting for the 48 for more than an hour with an armful of fresh produce, my first thought was not I gotta hurry up and throw in the laundry! but eggseggseggseggseggseggs… So I cracked a few eggs, mixed ’em up with a little love, and threw them into the pan.

The most important part of Caitlin’s eggs, I think, is keeping them slow. Yes, I know you’re hungry. Yes, I’m sure your night was rougher than mine and you just want to line your stomach, but these — ho buddythese are worth every second of waiting. These are the reason to get out of bed on a Sunday morning. If I ever (God forbid) get married, hubby is definitely going to have to learn how to make these, and I’ll hopefully score a breakfast in bed with Caitlin’s eggs as the main course!

Caitlin’s Decadent Slow-Scrambled Eggs

(A friend came over, so I doubled this recipe.)

2 large eggs

2 tbsp heavy cream/half’n’half/whole milk

Dash of red pepper flakes (if you like it spicy)

Salt and pepper to taste

One slice of heavily buttered toast (after all, this is decadent)

Crack the eggs into a bowl, adding the milk, pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Whisk it all together (I prefer fork to whisk in this case) and pour it into a pan.

Place the pan on a burner and turn that burner on to the lowest possible setting. Remember, these are meant to be slow scrambled eggs, so you shouldn’t really see anything happening for the first 20 minutes or so.

After about 30 minutes, you should see small curds forming. Stir it up using a spatula, scraping the bottom carefully, and then use the tip of your spatula to break up the curds (any solid, cooked egg). Keep doing this every 5 minutes or so for the next 20-30 minutes.

When the eggs start to glop together pretty well (though they’ll still be a thick but slightly runny consistency) sprinkle in some parmesan cheese. Stir them again.

While the cheese is slowly melting into the eggs, pop your piece of toast in the toaster, heavily butter it, and scrape the eggs either onto your toast on a plate or beside it. Hands down, this is the best breakfast I’ve ever eaten. Thanks, Caitlin!

Tarts and Crumbles

Oh hello there. With everything up in the air at work, it’s a relief to be able to come home and know that I have two leeks, a handful of tomatoes, some peaches and apples, soy milk, eggs, and cheese. Fact. Kitty will be waiting for me. Fact. The girls across the hall have a really attractive friend who always rings the wrong buzzer, whom I always wind up buzzing in. Fact.

One of my favorite people at work is leaving, and I’m rather bummed. While he’ll still be in the area, and I’m sure he’ll stop in from time to time, it’s still a complete bummer.  Long story short, we’re having a little surprise party for him (as we do for everyone who leaves so it’s not really a surprise at all), and I wanted to bring some really fantastic things because he’s been so great. While I’m pretty wiped from work and still haven’t quite scraped together dinner — does an avocado with a little lime and salt count? — I have somewhat successfully hit the market, come home, and turned random ingredients into two desserts that I hope the people will like at work tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

Peach Tart (same idea as the Pluot Tart)

5 medium-large peaches

1 c walnuts

2 c flour

3/4 c brown sugar

1 stick butter

1 tsp cinnamon

pinch salt

Preheat to 400.

Mix the flour, sugar, walnuts, cinnamon, and salt.

Chop the butter into smaller pieces and mix until the ingredients seem rather chunky. Dump these into the bottom of a tart pan and press from the center outward, forming a crust. Hold back 1/5 of the mixture if you would like a sprinkling of topping, or go ahead and make a slightly thicker crust. I usually save it, but the peaches were too pretty for me to cover.

Slice the peaches and arrange (or dump) on top of the crust. If you reserved any of the mix, sprinkle it on top and pop the whole thing into the oven for 30-45 minutes.

Note: coarse sugar looks lovely sprinkled on top, but the peaches are often so sweet that it’s not needed as far as taste goes.

Jay’s Apple Crumble

(Jay is the friend who is leaving. I completely made up this recipe for him!)

Fruit:

4 large, tart apples

1 large lemon (for juicing)

1 tbsp flour

4 tbsp sugar

1 pinch salt

1 tsp allspice/pumpkin pie seasoning

Topping:

1/2 c flour

1/2 c oats

1/2 stick butter (melted)

4 tbsp sugar

4 tbsp sliced almonds or walnuts

pinch salt

Preheat to 400.

Juice the lemon and put that in the bottom of a large bowl. Wash, core, and roughly chop the apples, putting them on top of the lemon juice. Every so often (I cut up apples slowly, I guess) toss the the apples in the lemon juice to keep them from turning brown. Add the rest of the called for ingredients in the fruit mixture section, mixing/shaking well, and dump into the dish to go into the oven.

In another bowl, mix all the dry ingredients for the topping first. Quickly mix everything in the bowl and then add the melted butter. Continue to mix (often I find this part is best/most fun with hands), then when it’s starting to crumb up, dump on top of the fruit mixture and pop into the oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the topping is golden-brown and the mixture below is bubbly.

I think this is best enjoyed warm, straight out of the oven, with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. However, I’ll admit to snarfing down a giant bite or two in the morning for breakfast — after all, it’s healthy, with the exception of the butter and sugar.

Baked Baby Eggplants

I love church. No, really. Go to church. Please. On Sunday, don’t think about anything vaguely related to food, but just whatever or whoever you talk to/worship/praise, because while you’re doing your thing, I’m at the market. The nice, quiet, packed-to-the-gills-with-fresh-produce market. All the newest goodies that are usually gone by the time I get there and just can’t be replaced quickly enough are lying there, relaxing on their backs with those brilliantly colored bellies bared and ready for my inquisitive hand.
Guess what I found this week?! Baby eggplants! They’re just coming into season, and I was lucky enough to grab a lovely handful (8, I think?) on the very first day they were laid out. Long but small green little hat-stems sprout from the tops of their little purple heads, and I couldn’t stop myself. So here I am, wondering what to make with them. Do I revisit the Moroccan Spiced Eggplant, but with a beefy twist since I’ve since invested in some tri-tip steak (which I promptly froze)? Or do I cut them into itty bitty pieces and marinate them with lemon and capers for a summery salad? Whatever I do, I want to preserve their lovely little shape. I KNOW! What do I do best? ROAST!
Well, so they’re baked this time, I guess. Well, I’m not really sure what you’d call it. They were in the oven, and then they came out, and now they’re in my tummy. The layer of Feta I added to cushion the tomato (did you ever doubt I’d find a way to wiggle my tomato obsession into this post?) is just right — briny and sharp and gooey — for playing up the leaf of fresh basil that tops each little veggie pocket. It’s hard to believe I didn’t like eggplant a few weeks ago. Mere weeks!
Baked Baby Eggplants
8 baby eggplants
10-15 cherry tomatoes/4 roma tomatoes
4 oz. Feta
1 healthy drizzle of olive oil
Preheat to 400.
Wash and slice the eggplants lengthwise, laying out on a foiled baking sheet. Top with hunks of feta.
Wash and slice the tomatoes, then lay those atop the feta. I had to sort of rest mine against one another because they kept trying to tip over. What the heck?!
Top with a drizzle of oil (and maybe a light sprinkle of salt) and pop into the oven for about 20 minutes.
Plate the eggplant bites. Serve immediately.
Note: I’m sure topping each of these with a fresh Basil leaf would be prettier and would still be fantastic.

Stone-Fruit and Rain

One of the best smells in the world is that second just before the rain. Everyone else seems to be so enamored with the after-the-rain smells that even candles (really? You’re going to use fire?) try to harness it. Sitting at the window today, all I could smell was the impending rain. Sure, it sprinkled for just a moment, but all day that glorious cool breeze brushed in one window and out another.

There are really only three smells that are up there with impending-rain-smell: lavender, peaches, and my mom. I don’t have any lavender, and my mom is about 800 miles away, so guess what ingredient I used today? That’s right. White peaches. Well, mostly. One standard yellow peach got thrown into the mix by accident, but it’s alright, I don’t mind. As I peeled and sliced the way through my nearly-three-pounds of peaches at the window, all I could think about was how well the honey-peachy scent mingles with that of cool, fresh air.

Before we go any further I need to first say that I wait with baited breath until Rachel (racheleats.wordpress.com, or check out the link in my blogroll) posts again. Lately all I can manage to do is eat peaches, and imagine how silly I look, waiting in the checkout with a hand-basket half-full of peaches? Today was no different, especially because Rachel nailed my craving: Peach preserves. Following her recipe (well, the best I could without a scale. Want to buy one for me?), I couldn’t help dipping the end of the spoon in throughout the day, tasting the developing preserve. It looks, smells, and tastes absolutely wonderful.

Oh yeah, and I had a special request for my pluot tart again last week, but alas!  The request-ee fell ill and I haven’t seen her since the day she went home early with a stomach bug. I’m hoping she comes in tomorrow, because I spent this afternoon (while waiting for the peach preserves to come to setting point) making a tart for her. I’m so flattered that she even asked for one!

White Peach Preserves

2 lbs. 10 oz white peaches (I figure that’s 10-12 peaches?)

1 lb. 2 oz. sugar (just under 2.5 c granulated sugar?)

Depending on the juiciness of your peaches, 5 tbsp of water.

If you wish, peel the peaches.

Slice all the peaches quite thinly and place into a pot. If they’re not juicy, add the 5tbsp of water, and heat on low.

When the peaches begin to soften and become mushy, add the sugar and stir until it’s well dissolved. Continue stirring every so often to be sure that nothing burns or sticks. After 2 1/2 – 3 hrs, your preserves should be finished (unless you added too much water).

Ladle into sterilized jars, seal tightly, and store in a cool, dry place.

Note: After a bit of googling, it seems that your preserves are going to be ready when, after a plate has been refrigerated for about 15 minutes, a little bit of the preserves is spread on the plate, it’s returned to the fridge for 5 minutes, and the edges of the mixture look slightly puckered when poked with a finger. Mine is a little thinner, no puckering, but good enough for me!

Cranberry Bean Antipasti

One of my aunts told me once, when we were spending a lovely few days of summer in Canada, that “we eat with our eyes”. Until she explained what she meant, I thought she was a little off. The more variety of color or the more unusual the color or shape, the more interested we become and the greater our appetite. The more I poke through food blogs, eat out, think and talk about food, the more right she seems to be. Remember that pluot tart? Such a brilliant reddish-purple! That’s one of the prime examples, of what I’m talking about, I think.

When it comes to culinary tastes, I fully admit to being completely in love with Italian: the native foods, the way food is considered, the active lifestyle, the markets, the pace… Given the chance, I’d happily move there. In my not-quite-wildest dreams, I take a pair of good jeans, my 5 favorite shirts, two dresses, and a cardigan, stuff them in a suitcase. Then my laptop is popped into my backpack, along with my wallet, favorite book, and a large empty notebook with a pen and pencil.  Arrangements for my cooking things to be boxed and shipped when I know where I’m settling, and send Kitty to live with his Grandma and Grandpa (my folks). Months, however long I please, in Italy with the food and the water and the people and the air and the history.

This dish is something I wrote down in a notebook a long time ago, though I’m not sure where exactly it comes from. Even though it calls for generic beans, these cranberry beans are giant, are beautiful, and a lovely texture for lying in olive oil, lemon, and parsley. Yes, that is literally all there is to it. This was my late-afternoon lunch today, perfect after finding a gorgeous new pair of jeans.

Cranberry Bean Antipasti

1 c cranberry beans, peeled from their shells

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 lemon

sprinkling of fresh parsley

sprinkling of salt, to taste.

Shell and rinse the beans, then boil for 20+ minutes, until no longer mealy.

Drain, drizzle lightly with olive oil. Squeeze lemon over, then sprinkle with salt and parsley. Enjoy!

Note: This would be good at any temperature. In summer, I like to make the beans early, then let them chill in the fridge before snarfing. Room temperature would be good, too.

Globe Squash: A Whole New World

I refuse to let a spherical squash defeat me. It’s just not going to happen. After the faint failure a little while ago with that rather tasteless green globe zuke, I couldn’t stop thinking about what I had done wrong. What would I use this time? So many options: feta, olives, ricotta, garlic… The strong flavoring possibilities are endless. So which would be my headliner? And which grain would I use to cushion everything else?

In the end, it just had to be the red quinoa. My mom found it on the shelf at TJ’s when we went through for that first massive food-purchasing run after moving into a new place. I swear, the new food is more exciting than the new apartment, most times. This time… well, it was close. Anyway! I’d never had quinoa before, but the first meal we made was carne asada with quinoa and broccoli, and it made such an impression! Crunchy and soft at once, nutty and decidedly a new staple for my pantry, we had just sprinkled some coarse salt over the top. It seemed like it would need something more to be a meal in and of itself, though.

Olives. All of this calls for olives. The textures, if not the colors and shapes, all call for one another:  round red tomatoes, round burgundy quinoa, round round round giant green olives. It all just fit so perfectly! But tomatoes always seem to call for some onions, but the onions would be so harsh… LEEKS! There we go. That’s the meal. Perfect after a long, hard day of moving books (yes, I’m still moving books for the renovation).

Glorious Globes

2 globe zukes/squash

1 c dry quinoa

8 grape tomatoes, chopped

1/2 thin young leek, rougly chopped

5 large green olives, sliced

2 small button mushrooms, sliced

olive oil for drizzling

salt for sprinkling

Preheat to 350.

Slice off the top of the squash and scoop the middle out, which could be saved later for fritters. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and pop into the oven to start cooking.

Get the quinoa going (generally 2 parts water to 1 part quinoa, boil and then cover and simmer for 20 minutes). When it seems finished, mixed in the olives, mushrooms, tomatoes, and leeks.

Pull the squash out for a minute, just to stuff it gently with the mixture of olives and quinoa, and then pop the top back onto it and put it right back into the oven. Keep it baking for another 20-30 minutes, so it’s been in the oven for a total of 50-60 minutes. Serve immediately.