Fresh & Frugal

How to cook fantastic, fresh food on a tight budget

Month: September, 2010

Italian Soup

Another recipe for which I must thank Rachel. Rachel, Rachel, Rachel. How do you do it? The weather has been horrendous this week here, only to give way to a breezy 65- or 70-something weekend, for which I will disappointingly be absent. The rain has been absolutely soaking, somehow humid and warm instead of the refreshing and crisp, as it ought to be in an ideal autumn. What’s with that?!

Either way, as day gives way to night, the apartment gets a little chilly and I can’t help but pull a blanket up higher around my shoulders and snuggle in, even if I am writing for school and not reading by a roaring, crackling fire. What I wouldn’t give for a fireplace sometimes. You know, I was thinking — why don’t they make channels that are images (like a fish aquarium, or roaring fire) for your television the same way they have those zillion music channels on cable. I would definitely leave the fireplace channel on!

But back to food. Oh, food. I had to sort of cut corners with this recipe, soaking lima beans overnight and all day before throwing them into the mix, using Israeli couscous instead of ditallini or orzo or any other sort of authentically Italian pasta.  It still turned out so well, though! After spending a few long hours infront of the computer screen with a few, sparse trips into the kitchen to chop and add a little something else, one heaping bowl of bean and noodle soup was exactly what I needed. Sure, it’s not for the calorie-conscious, but it still feels light, lovely, and is absolutely brimming with taste. Oh, Rachel. Rachel, Rachel, Rachel.

Italian Soup

1 bag of soaked beans

2 carrots, chopped

5 celery stalks, leaves included, chopped

1 red onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed with the flat of your knife

2 rosemary sprigs

1 small chili, chopped

1 parmesan rind

1 liter water

2 glugs olive oil (or more)

1-2 c dry pasta (depending on how watery you want your soup)

Prepare your beans. Follow the instructions that came with the beans, but cut 30 minutes off the cooking time. Set them aside when they’re nearly-ready and start the rest of the process.

Heat a large pot on the stove. Drop in the olive oil, onions, and garlic, and cook them until the onions are clear.

Add the carrots, celery, rosemary and chili, and stir to coat them in the oil. Let cook 10 minutes.

Add the beans, stir to coat them in the oil too. Let cook another 10 minutes, stirring often.

Pour in the water and drop in the parmesan rind. Bring the soup to a boil and then let it simmer for 30-40 minutes.

Remove the parmesan rinds and the rosemary, and then put about half of the mixture through a food mill, or blender. I literally ladled half of mine into a blender, blended until pretty smooth, and then poured it back in.

Regroup: all the soup back into the same pot. Add a good amount of salt and pepper, then mix in the pasta. Depending on whether you want more of a soup or stew, you may want to add more water. I didn’t. As Rachel says, “stop cooking once the pasta is tender but firm to the bite.”

Finally, let the soup rest for 10 minutes or so, then serve.

Note: this is absolutely fantastic, especially with crusty bread.

Delicious Autumn

That’s right. Autumn is absolutely delicious. Truth be told, I’m reverting to some of my eating habits from my freshman year of undergrad (i.e. not much) to make time for studying. It’ll also be cheaper, but I hate to say it, less pretty and special. So no more purple potato and leek soup for a while, guys.

You know it’s here when you wake up and mumble to yourself about adding a blanket to the bare sheet on your bed. You know it’s here when you can hear the neighbors grilling on their back porches, children shrieking and giggling. The leaves begin to line your path, and you find yourself (if you’re a girl) waiting for the perfect day to whip out your favorite pair of boots from last year. You start to crave things like toast and apple pies and chai tea. For me, one of the biggest cravings is tomato soup.

I loathed tomatoes as a child. I mean, I was pretty good about eating everything on my plate, but I really despised tomatoes. Then, unexpectedly, something clicked during my freshman year at Indiana University and I couldn’t get enough of those little ready-to-microwave cups by Campbell’s that Target happily pumped into my eager hands. For a while there, almost every day I would grab a handful of tortilla chips and one of those little cups for lunch, especially toward the end of fall when my open windows made sitting on the floor too chilly. That’s what I remember: Sitting on the floor, wrapped up in my fuzzy red blanket, eating tortilla chips and tomato soup, and reading about the history and philosophy of science.

Today’s meal is a little more preservative-free than those ones, since I used a recipe for tomato soup from RachelEats.wordpress.com, and froze the remaining portions. I love Rachel’s posts. So after reheating (and adding a little milk) to that recipe, it was only a matter of working out what kind of grilled cheese I wanted to go with it. Anyway. Here it is:

Tomato Soup and Spicy Cheese Quesadillas

Tomato soup (Check out Rachel’s recipe: http://www.racheleats.wordpress.com)

2 flour tortillas

1/4 c mozzarella cheese

1 crumbled hunk feta cheese

1/2 jalapeno

sprinkling of salt

Begin heating the tomato soup.

Warm a skillet (oil/grease/butter it if it’s not non-stick), and lay one of the tortillas into it.

Sprinkle the top of the tortilla with the feta, then the mozzarella.

Chop the jalapeno roughly, then sprinkle those pieces onto the melting cheese. Top with the other tortilla.

Flip before the bottom of the first tortilla burns. Toast through, so the cheese melts and tortillas become crunchy but not burnt.

Sprinkle with salt if you like (I didn’t), and serve with the bowl of piping-hot tomato soup. Dunking recommended.

Arthur Guinness

Not my image, needless to say.

This is something all of my favorite people have probably seen coming — at least in some sense. It’s inevitable. Of course I have to devote a post to this: my favorite drink in history (second only to really good coffee, but it’s close!). It’s not water. It’s not tea. It’s not juice or squash or sprite or a cocktail. That’s right. It’s Irish. It’s dark. It’s cold, it’s tall, and it’s glory in a pint glass. And it’s Arthur Guinness day today! I know it’s a little late to let you know, but if you can scrape together an hour, run down to the pub and have one for me. And Arthur, of course.

Artichoke as Study Food

It’s gonna be short and sweet tonight, folks! This post was from Saturday (I think?) when I was struggling to cut down one of those awesome monster-papers to a feather-light 7.5 pages. Believe it or not, I’m still hacking away at it. That particular night, however, I steamed me up a couple of entire artichokes, and sat down at the computer.

We’re right there — right at the cusp of what’s left of summer leading into the crispy crunch of autumn. Unfortunately, leaves here in Philadelphia are turning, and turning quickly, a sort of baked-too-long-brown, due to the dry dry dry summer.  Already, little pumpkins and decorative squash are popping up at the market. Last Sunday, I spotted an entire bag of apples from a local orchard for a dollar — gonna have to remember that one. Early morning air grips you when you dip out on to the front step, like that first lovely, sweet, crunchy bite of an apple. Man, I love autumn.

Simple Artichokes

2 artichokes

1/2 lemon

2 tbsp butter

sprinkling of sea salt

Get some water boiling.

Grab one of those handy steamer-racks, and pop that on top OR boil lots of water (if you’re going to just drop in the artichokes).

Cut about an inch off the bottoms and tops of the artichokes. If you want them to stay a pretty, bright green while steaming, then rub the cut top and bottom with a wedge of lemon (I didn’t).

If you like, cut off the ends of the petals.

Drop either into the pot or the steaming rack.

In a small, separate bowl melt butter. Squeeze the lemon into it, sprinkle the top with salt (if you like).

After roughly 20-30 minutes, extract the artichoke, drain and cool (5 minutes?). Enjoy!

If you haven’t eaten an artichoke before, check out youtube for some quick tutorials. I love youtube how-tos!

Mushy Magic

One mention of them, and my friend Ben is sent into a maddening spiral of chanting. I don’t eat them at every meal, but I do love me some. Beans, that is. Unfortunately, I blanked on picking up s’more garbanzo beans this past weekend and all I had in the cupboard was a can of black beans. Not that there’s anything wrong with those, but they make me think of mexican food, not what I was craving.

On hot summer days, the lowest maintenance and maybe most delightful meal I can make, without having to necessarily heat anything, is composed of a little olive oil, salt, chick peas, and lemon. If it’s around, I’m happy to throw in an herby handful of parsley or a couple pinches of chives. As a sort of ode to the end of summer, I give you: The Magical Fruit.

Mushy Magic

1 can chick peas/black beans

1/4 lemon (just the juice)

half glug olive oil

sprinkling of salt

pinch of chives and/or parsley and/or red pepper flakes and/or other… thing

Drain and rinse the beans, and toss them into a bowl.

Mash ’em.

Squeeze the lemon over ’em, and give ’em a quick dash of olive oil.

Sprinkle the herbs and salt in. Give it a mix.

Slap it on some toast, pita, or chips and you’re good to go.

PS – these look much better when they’re made with chick peas.

Baked Eggs in a Buggy

Yes, this sounds crazy, but lately a lot of blogs I read have been streaming baked eggs across their screens. Baked eggs, you ask? Why, whodathunk? After the somewhat plasticky layer that settled on top of the eggs on that pizza, baking eggs again did make me a little nervous but not nervous enough to avoid giving it another shot.

Now, I love peppers. They’re so pretty, especially the ones I can find at Reading Terminal, all green and orange and red, adding not one but three colors to any given dish. The problem, for me at least, lies in the flavor. While I will eat thin slices of bell pepper with (gasp!) a glop of zesty ranch dressing, I don’t particularly like its strongly grassy flavor. The crunch of raw pepper is fantastic, almost like an apple in the way it pops through your teeth and the way the thin juice leaks out when you chew. I just don’t like the flavor all that much, so imagine how I jumped at the opportunity to roast it (to sweeten out the grassy flavor) after layering sliced tomatoes into its hollow.

The final touch was the egg. Though I could have eaten it without our little yolky buddy, it was impossible to pass up the idea of trying it. So there you have it: the piecing together of this particular conglomeration. It’s more a layering of crap to throw in the oven than a real recipe, but it’s good nonetheless!

Baked Eggs in a Buggy

Like that? I made that title up all on my own.

1 bell pepper

2 eggs

4 cherry tomatoes

dash of olive oil

Preheat to 400.

Slice the pepper in half and core it, scooping out the seeds.

Cut the tomatoes in half and lay them in either side of the peppers, sliced side up.

Drizzle VERY lightly with olive oil, and pop into the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until just starting to soften.

Remove pan from oven and crack an egg into either side of the pepper. Slip it all back into the oven and bake until the egg is just set. Serve.

Peachy Keen Scones

Scones always seemed like one of those somewhat exotic, difficult things to bake. What if it doesn’t rise properly? What if they all come out heavy? How much fruit is too much? After discovering last weekend that I’m not a complete scone-failure, I thought I’d give it another shot on Thursday night.

Let me say that I don’t usually eat as many baked goods as you’ve seen on here, and had only recently broken from the forced habit of salad at lunch every day. After sliding into a pair of pants that had been quite loose around spring-break-time and realizing that oh crap! they’re a little on the tight side now (but still look kinda cute), I’m reverting to my veggie-ful lunch. This only means I can eat these baked goods now (and spaghetti Bolognese!) without the residual guilt.

So I found myself staring into a vat of gooey, fruity dough again. For some reason, this dough was a little harder to work with, only because I think the peaches were a little more juicy than the blueberries. Maybe next time I’ll add s’more flour and see what happens. All that talk of baking being more a science while cooking is an art makes me really nervous about messing with any baking recipes — never was much of a science person. Well, not as far as the hard sciences go, at least.

With this recent temperature drop, the baked fruit is exactly what my appetite called for (which I haven’t been able to put my finger on lately). Peaches are such a wonderful, warm taste. Yeah, they’re fresh, but when slowly cooked in an oven they become almost honeyed and unbelievably tender. Well, you all know what I’m talking about, so I don’t need to ramble. Just make them.

For this recipe, check out my Bunches O’Blueberry Scones recipe and substitute 1-2 c of peaches for the blueberries.

Fried Zucchini

I know you’re probably sick of hearing about courgettes, so here is a completely and thoroughly all-American Zucchini recipe. I stumbled upon this fantastic blog called Try It You Might Like It, which for the most part plays host to several items or recipes I have tried and loved or cannot wait to try and love. For instance, doesn’t Sea Glass Jello sound fantastic? I’m not a huge Jello fan, but the photos look absolutely beautiful. I don’t care how it tastes, I’d like to eat something that pretty. After all, we are what we eat, right?

So getting back to these zukes: perfect late summer/early fall veggie, especially because of their value right now. At the market they were only 50 cents per pound, and the smallest summer squash I could find was 3 pounds! Unfortunately this also means that there’s less flavor per … er… there’s less flavor in the large ones. So what do we do with it? Hmm…

At home in Indiana, the first week of every October is Fall Festival time: the third largest street festival in the world takes place in downtown Evansville (third only to Brasil’s Carnival and Louisiana’s Mardi Gras, last time I checked). I’m not kidding when I say that people from far and wide congregate to eat insane concoctions like brain or tongue sandwiches, icky lickies (lollipops with bugs at the center), and a fried version of everything from Oreos to Snickers bars, ice cream to meat.  The first stall my brother and I always search for is the one with the fried dill pickles, then we go our separate ways (or take turns picking what we wanna eat). On my list is always fried zucchini.

When I gave this recipe a shot, I completely forgot I didn’t have bread crumbs until the egg was cracked, the zucchini sliced, and the oil heated.  Coincidently, my mom slipped a container of wheat germ (which I put on the back shelf thinking what the heck am I ever going to use this crap for?!) into the last batch of goodies she gave me. What a perfect substitute! It was crunchy and nutty and almost sweet. Delicious! It was, however, very difficult to make it stick to the slices of squash. Maybe try breadcrumbs next time.

Fried Zucchini

1 large zucchini (well, not 3 lbs worth. Maybe 1 1/2)

1/2 c breadcrumbs/wheat germ

1 egg

2 tbsp water

oil for frying (enough to very shallowly coat the pan)

a pinch of salt

Heat the oil just shy of smoking-point in a skillet.

Slice the zuke as thinly or thickly as you like, though I prefer fairly thick chips so they’re still pretty firm in the center.

Put the egg and water in a small bowl and whisk together.

Cover a slice of zucchini in egg, then drop into the bowl of bread crumbs or wheat germ and coat it to the best of your ability before dropping it into the oil in the pan. Be careful! It might spit at you a little.

After anywhere from 1-3 minutes, flip the slice over and cook the other side just as well. When it’s finished, place it on a paper towel to let some of the oil drain off (I even flip ’em over to get the other side!) Last, sprinkle gingerly with salt.

Keep doing this until you’ve finished your squash. Serve and enjoy.

Ugly Mushroom Pizza

Keeping it short and sweet today, folks. More savory than sweet, to be honest. Remember the Ugly Onion Pizza? This is along those same lines but is the result of some experimentation done a few days ago, and seeing as how I had the ingredients and no real time to think tonight, it seemed like a good dinner decision.

My friend Ben has a real sense for food, which is why I turned to him for dinner instructions (with a packed fridge) when he came over for dinner last week. We played with summer squash and ricotta and olive oil and all sorts of things, but what really stuck with me was the simplicity of his ideas. Ricotta and thinly sliced squash.  Olives. Mushrooms on ricotta on bread. You see now where I got this idea?

It just needed a little extra pizzaing-up, and that’s the mozzarella on top with a light sprinkle of good salt. Light! Sprinkle! Have I reiterated enough my distaste for a heavy salting? Anyway. Onwards and upwards!

Ugly Mushroom Pizza

10 crimini mushrooms

4 slices of bread

1/2 c ricotta

1/3 c shredded mozzarella

Drizzling of olive oil

Sprinkle of salt

Lay the slices of bread out on an ovensafe pan and preheat the oven to 350.

Spread the ricotta onto the bread as thickly or thinly as you’d like. Sprinkle the salt on top of this so it has something to hold on to.

Slice the mushrooms and lay them on top of the ricotta, then sprinkle (or douse, in my case) with the mozzarella.

Give a quick once-over drizzle of olive oil and pop into the oven for 12-15 minutes, or until the edges of the cheese start turning a little golden. Serve.

Bundle O’Blueberry Scones

Dare I say it again? It feels like autumn is finally here. Though it seems like it will be a browner fall than red or orange, that’s fine with me. Last week was (hopefully) the last real scorcher, giving way to a beautiful Saturday that didn’t dare dip its toe above eighty degrees. While this coming season is my absolutely favorite — Meg Ryan’s “bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils” springs to mind — I am almost ashamed to admit that I panicked.

What?! No! I haven’t had a chance to get to the shore yet, and I wanted to go camping with Terra, and take Kitty to the park! Where did the time go? What about all those berries?! My parents have a blueberry bush in the back yard and during my brief trip home (why didn’t I bring some of those berries back with me?!), I would detach a few from the bird-picked bush and pop them straight into my mouth. There’s nothing in the world like eating fresh blueberries in the overgrown, soft bluegrass in bare feet.

In honor of my parents’ yard and in my desperate attempt to cling to summer, I sifted through all the blueberry recipes I could find and promised myself not to buy the berries unless they were a reasonable price (thank God they were!), finally settling on blueberry scones, to take with me to work. Assuming, that is, I don’t eat them all tonight.

Bunch O’Blueberry Scones

2 c flour

1/3 c sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

5 tbsp butter (chilled and chopped into pieces)

1 1/2 c blueberries

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 c milk or cream

Cinnamon and coarse sugar for sprinkling

Preheat to 400 and line a pan with parchment paper.

Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.

Chop and add the chilled butter. Continue mixing.

Gently fold in the blueberries

Gently beat the egg into the cream and vanilla in a separate bowl.

Mix the egg-mixture into the dry mixture and stir just enough, until the dough starts to come together. Don’t mix it too much, or your scones will be heavy.

Move the dough onto a lightly floured surface and continue to knead a few times, then pat into a circle and cut it in half, then each half into 4 pieces so that you have a total of eight triangular pieces of dough.

Move to the baking sheet and top with cinnamon and coarse sugar.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out cleanly.