Fresh & Frugal

How to cook fantastic, fresh food on a tight budget

Month: December, 2010

Bacon-Wrapped-Chicken

A while ago, someone left a zillion comments on every post (which I did not approve because they all said the same thing): add bacon and this would be amazing. Okay, I love bacon as much as the next person, and it was the hardest thing to give up when I went vegetarian for a few years, so I know. Trust me, I know. Every Sunday, the one thing I would look forward to the most at brunch, would be the crispy (not burnt) bacon.

So when I saw this recipe in the newest issue of Everyday Food, in the section which is solely about bacon (honestly, if you haven’t bought it or received it already, please go do so for the sake of bacon everywhere), I knew this would be a hit with the crowd at home. I also knew I did not want to eat 20 bacon-wrapped chicken tenders all by myself in my apartment after my final paper was turned in. So last night, my mom grabbed her phone to snap a few shots of the cooking process when I panicked halfway through, realizing I hadn’t been taking photos all along and that my camera was still swimming somewhere in my luggage.

And a HUGE thank you to the author of Try It You Might Like It — after seeing that yours turned out exactly like the photos in the magazine, I felt like I could do it, too. Keep up the magnificent and (thank GOD) frequent, delicious posts!

Bacon-Wrapped Chicken

8 chicken tenders (tendons removed)

8 large fresh sage leaves

8 strips of bacon

glug of olive oil (if you’re not using a non-stick pan)

 

Heat the oil on low-medium. Once defrosted, hold the chicken breast in your left hand and place one large sage leaf in the center with your right hand.

Holding the leaf in place with your left thumb, grab a slice of bacon with your right and lay it across your left thumb, so that the middle of the slice of bacon overlaps the leaf and you can remove your thumb. The bacon holds the leaf in place.

From there, wrap the bacon around the rest of the piece of chicken, and place into the pan, leaf-side-down. I left each piece in the pan with about 8 minutes on either side.

In the mean time, mom whipped up a delicious salad, some toasted bread, and leftover steamed broccoli from the night before. If nothing else, all that meat certainly cries out for some green plopped on the plate beside it.

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Classic Pecan Pie

Alright, so I baby myself sometimes. Just last night I was talking about that last-ditch effort at cramming food into my mouth without having to really stop the studying portion of my day, and today I’m calmly compiling information for my last paper of the term, and baking. Yes, that’s right. I’m baking.

Dear God, I’m baking. The holiday spirit hit hard today, and I’m not really sure where it came from. Yes, Christmas music has been on the radio for almost a month now, and yes, I am almost finished with all of my gift-buying-duties, but just now — just now — am I getting into it. Lets blame it partially on school, but the truth of the matter is that my Christmas Clock is hardwired like a baby boomer’s (Thanks, Mom): Give yourself time to recover from Thanksgiving, earn a little extra cash, and only then is it really Christmas time. Well, that, and I saw my very first snowflakes of the year this afternoon.

Though most people would plop a pecan pie into the Thanksgiving category, I think it’s distinctly Christmassy. It’s painfully sweet, unlike pumpkins (Ding! Anything pumpkin is automatically Thanksgiving), and perfectly crunchy. There is nothing crunchy about Thanksgiving, people. Think: turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, wine… What, of all of that, is crunchy? Nothing. My point stands. But Christmas dinner is something else. Nuts abound, and I’m not talking about my family. Mom puts nuts in the jello, all day our snacks are designed to top chips and triscuits, and the edges of the rolls are… well, crunchy. Then there are the crispy-edged cookies, the candy canes, hard candies, and toffee-smattered chocolates. Christmas, the blessed holiday, is a crunchy one, and all of this rambling is only to say that you can’t have a christmas without at least a bite of pecan pie.

Pecan Pie

2 c roasted pecans

3/4 c corn syrup (dark or light)

3/4 c brown sugar

2 eggs (with whites)

2 egg yolks

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

2 tbsp bourbon

1 tsp salt

1 pre-made pie shell (okay, I’m lazy today)

 

If your pie crust needs to be baked a little first, do so. Then preheat to 350.

If you have raw pecans, roast them. If you don’t know how to do this already, it’s easy: pop a handful onto a plate and into the microwave, and microwave for 1 minute. Flip them over and microwave again. Tadaa! Roasted pecans.

Divide the handfuls into two cups: chop one, and leave the other whole if you want to decorate the top of the pie. If not, chop ’em up.

Combine the brown sugar and salt. Add the corn syrup, vanilla extract, and bourbon.

Whisk the eggs and yolks, then add to the mixture. Finally, add the chopped nuts and pour into the shell. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour. If the edges of the crust begin to brown too much, cover them with aluminum foil.

 

Hint: Top with one scoop of vanilla ice cream, sprinkle with a little cinnamon and nutmeg.

Study Snacks

Lets be honest — the house is never as clean as it is when you don’t have a deadline the next day. Unfortunately, food is rarely the same. When I know the week (or two or three) is going to be a rough, deadline-filled nightmare, I stock up on a few staples. Luckily, the end of the term only comes about at the beginning of winter and end of spring, so the fare is markedly different. The one constant: toast.

You can put anything on toast — it’s all about the presentation. Sometimes I go a little overboard (as you all have seen), and make a crap, 15-minute version of a Sunday Roast: two eggs, atop two wedges of toast, with a handful of quickly-seared tomatoes on the side. If I’m feeling really rich, we’ll stick a hunk of cheese on the plate, too. The point is, it’s quick and delicious.

Another toast-bedded go-to: tuna sandwiches. They always make me think of home, summer afternoons leaping down the stairs to skid into my seat at the table, across from my brother. Mom uses romaine lettuce and I use cucumber, but the tuna is always simple, just tuna and mayonnaise. I get creative over here with onions, tomatoes, spicy mustard, bits of jalapenos, olives, capers, or what-have-you. Regardless, I contest that a tuna sandwich on toast is the ultimate fresh comfort food.

I don’t have a photo of it here, but if you’re already having  a fat day and are just craving some cheesecake, cut a piece of toast in half, and slather some cream cheese on one half. Top with your favorite jam/jelly/preserves and you’re good to go. Nom nom nom on down. If all else fails, just find some crap and put it on toast. I promise it’ll be better than your brain initially tells you it will be.

Asparagus and Artichoke Dip

Do you ever go to the grocery, so incredibly eager to grab a handful of ingredients and dash home to whip up oh-my-god-its-so-good-food? Now, do you then forget one of the integral ingredients? I do this all the time. Thus, new recipes are born. Well, sorta new. Not really. I just make do.

Another issue I’ve recently developed: I don’t like measuring cups. What’s the point? It’s just gonna get all icky, and then you have to clean it between each measure? If you’re not baking, it will all taste basically the same if you just eyeball it, right? That’s what I did here, and I’m kicking myself for not making this instead of the asparagus tart the other night, when Sarah came over.

Oh, and before I forget: Get the vegetables for this frozen, especially the artichokes. You get more for your money, and there’s no pesky olive oil to mess with the dip’s texture. Also, this is one of those recipes where the more parmesan is used, the better.

Asparagus and Artichoke Dip

1.5 c artichokes

1-2 c asparagus, cut into bite-size pieces

1/3 c parmesan cheese

1/4 c mayonnaise

1/4 c sour cream

6 oz cream cheese

1 tsp red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp salt

 

Defrost and cook the artichokes and asparagus as directed on the package.

Mix the parmesan, mayonnaise, sour cream, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, and salt together in a bowl.

Soften the cream cheese (1-2 minutes in the microwave) and add it to the mixture.

When the veggies finish, drain and drop them into the mix. Mix them in.

That’s it! If you like your dip hotter, add it to an oven/microwave-safe dish and stick it in the oven for 10 minutes at 350, or into the microwave for 4 minutes or so.

Asparagus Tart

Since starting at Temple, I’ve learned a myriad of very important things. First of all, other graduate students (for the most part) aren’t your worst enemies — professors who despise your discipline are. Also, sometimes, retail therapy really is effective. Not everyone on the East coast is out to get me. Food really does bring friends out of the woodwork, though most of the people you’d invite over to eat your food are actually your best friends anyway. Last but not least, you should see your good friends as often as possible. This is something I’m still working on.

So tonight, Sarah came over for a little dinner. She eats about as much as my cat does in an hour (not much), so I could not heap gobs of pasta, tomatoes, basil, cheese, bread, etc. onto her plate and still expect her to finish it. I could, however, make something smaller, fairly simple, and absolutely delicious.

There’s really not much to tell right now. I’m still reeling from Thanksgiving and rushing to finish three term papers, all of which are due on the same day, while eagerly anticipating that which comes after those papers are handed in. Why does it never feel like the holiday season until Christmas (etc.) is practically upon us? I wish I could fast forward to the 20th, and then put on the brakes to make all the cookies, all the dishes, donate my time at a soup kitchen, wrap all the presents, visit with all the friends and family, make and send all the cards and gifts… But alas! There’s never enough time. Maybe that’s why this coming holiday is such a special time, anyway.

Asparagus Tart

1 bunch thick-stemmed asparagus

1 package puff pastry

3/4 c Gruyere cheese, grated (I substituted with the remarkably cheaper Parm-Reggiano)

pinch of salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 400.

Defrost the pastry and roll it out (if necessary).  Score an inch-wide border around the outside of the pastry, and prick the inside of the rectangle with a fork (about one stab per inch, but I went a little overboard). Pop into the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the pastry is golden-brown.

Take out, sprinkle with the grated cheese, and after cleaning and removing the bottom of the asparagus stalks, lay them top-to-tail beside one another, atop the cheese. Place back into the oven for another 20 minutes or so. Remove, cut, and enjoy.