Fresh & Frugal

How to cook fantastic, fresh food on a tight budget

Month: January, 2011

Simplifying with Salmon

You know how it is: you want to eat now now now now now but you don’t want it to be an entire large pepperoni pizza or 5 beers and a burger. Okay, maybe you do want that. I do. But instead, we’re going the fresh and frugal route. Fresh! And Frugal! HOOOOOOOO! (That was a la Thundercats, for those of you who weren’t children in the 80’s.)

Anyway, long story short with this one: New years. Want the noms, but not the cals. Say no to pizzas. Say yes to salad, right? And fish. Fish. Oh man, do I hate fish. There is nothing in the world, short of oysters themselves (food poisoning story there), that I loathe more than seafood, bane of my gastronomic life.

Trader Joe’s has come through for me again. Have you ever had Chimichurri sauce? Garlicky and green, it’s pretty, appetizing, and absolutely delicious. You could roll just about anything in this stuff and I would beg for a bite. Sorry this post is a bit scatter-brained, short and ADD, but I’m on a roll, getting things done tonight, including a writing assignment, working out, making dinner, and working ahead. You might not know this, but uh… I’m kind of a big deal.

Salmon and Salad

1 package Chimichurri Salmon from Trader Joe’s

6 Romaine lettuce leaves, torn

1/2 persian cucumber, sliced into coins

10 cherry tomatoes, halved

6 green olives, sliced

6 kalamata olives, sliced

1 thick slice of colby jack, chopped

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil


So simple: Dump the salmon into a pan on medium/high. Cook it on each side for 8-10 minutes.

While that’s going, throw everything else together, into a salad. Add the vinegar and oil at the very last second, right after you drop the perfectly cooked, delicious salmon onto the plate.

Eat. It. Up.


Candied Lemon Peels

Alright, so there are three things I don’t think I could cook without: good olive oil, coarse sea salt, and lemons. That’s right. I love me some lemons, and even more so when we slip into the steady after-holidays slink of shame. The temperature lingering around or below freezing, those few sunny days are so treasured. Even more so with all of this snow! It seems like everyone is getting slammed with the stuff, from those caught in Memphis to others who just finished digging themselves out in Philadelphia.

After the holidays, I’ll admit it: I’m ready for spring. In the somewhat bitter, gray world of post-holidays winter, lemons provide a striking reminder that yes, spring is coming. ┬áTart and faintly sweet, there’s not much you can’t do with a lovely lemon, which is what made me wonder how hard it would be to make candied lemon peels. As luck would have it, it’s not very difficult at all!

Candied Lemon Peels

1.5 c sugar

2.5 c water

5 lemons, peels only (or 3 lemons and one large grapefruit)

wax paper


Put 2 c of water on to boil. Scrub the lemons and then peel them.

Dump the peels into the boiling water for 10 minutes, to remove the bitter oils.

Drain the water from the peels, and using the back of a spoon, scrape any remaining pith away. In the mean time, dissolve the half cup of sugar in the remaining half cup of water to form a simple syrup on medium/low heat.

When the sugar has completely dissolved into the water, add the lemon peels and allow them to simmer in the syrup for 15-20 minutes.

Withdraw the peels from the syrup, and dip them in the remaining sugar. Coat them, then let them harden on the waxed paper. Store in an airtight container.


Maya Mayhem

One of the later moments in which I suppose my love of food came to the surface — and one of the more unexpected — was when the opportunity arose to take a course called Food in the Ancient World. I had latched onto one particular professor in the anthropology department whose teaching style and personality I absolutely adored, and one day after class, she mentioned that I might find this course interesting. Without skipping a beat, I took her up on her offer and, despite my status as an undergrad, enrolled in her graduate seminar. Every Wednesday between 9:30 am and 12:30, a rag-tag group of grads and a smattering of undergrads sat in a room and discussed everything from what constitutes a feast to the history of bread, from beer as payment (those Incas knew a thing or two) to elite food items. This is the class and this is the woman who piqued my interest in chocolate.

Don’t get me wrong. Like most other women, chocolate and I have a complicated but loving relationship. Sometimes after one of my worse days, when he’s in a particularly dark mood, we meet with a little vino: likely a dry cab sav. Usually we try to stay away from the alcohol though and keep it healthy with milk. Sometimes though, when we’re feeling particularly rich, he brings along a few friends: dried cranberries, almonds, sometimes he even wraps up a little turkish delight and brings it home. Anyway, enough about that relationship. I’ve gotten a little sidetracked.

After taking the class on food in the ancient world, it became difficult to not take a quick look through the eentsy weentsy anthropology section at Boxcar Books, a volunteer-run bookstore in Bloomington where I donated hefty chunks of my time. They also stocked some text books, and I couldn’t imagine my luck when I came across one about the history of chocolate. Needless to say, I devoured it in two days. Images stuck in my brain like nuts to the outside of a truffle: Maya pouring a chocolate drink into a vessel on the ground, from their shoulder level to make it frothy; the cacao tree, pod, and guts; the all-too-familiar flashy Hershey’s logo. Tucked into these pages was the first I’d ever heard, however, about mixing chili or cayenne with dark chocolate.

Only a few days later, I flipped through a magazine while standing in line at the grocery. Somewhat to my surprise, it featured chocolate that month (maybe it was February?) and listed a number of recent, “interesting” chocolate products: bacon-infused milk chocolate, chocolate-covered potato chips, and chili oil infused dark chocolate. Chili oil! Like the Maya! … Kind of. With my hairbrained attitude of constant enthusiasm for everything ancient and everything food, what could be more fun? So I dashed to the candy aisle and after a moment of searching, popped a ($4.00?!) bar into my cart. Since then, any time I feel particularly sad or upset, I splurge on a bottle of red wine and one of those bars of chocolate.

My goal has been, for a while, to find either a cheaper but equally good bar of chocolate or a way to recreate it on my own, at home. Imagine my excitement and surprise when, as I flipped through Try It You Might Like It, I found Mexican Chocolate Icebox Cookies. One bite, and I realized that it was a little spicier than I had anticipated, but it was love. Love at first bite.

Maya Mayhem

1 1/2 c flour

3/4 c cocoa powder

3/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

12 tbsp butter @ room temp

1 c sugar

1 1/2 tsp vanilla

1 egg

Mix the butter and sugar together well. Add the vanilla and the egg.

In a separate bowl, stir together all the dry ingredients. Add these to the wet mixture, and mix thoroughly.

Form into two logs (about 9″ long) and wrap in foil or clear wrap. I tried to figure out how to coat the logs evenly in red sprinkles without making a mess, but failed miserably. Freeze overnight, or up to 6 months.

When you’re ready for the cookies, slice the logs into pieces (a la pillsbury) while preheating to 375. All they need is 8-10 minutes in the oven, and you’re in business.

Tip: If they’re too spicy for you while warm, give them a while to cool thoroughly. For some reason, room-temp spicy cookies are less painful than warm spicy cookies. Oh, and have a glass of milk at hand.

Deb’s Chickpea Salad

Y’know how sometimes you just get in a funk? Maybe you’re more quiet and reserved than usual, or maybe you’re a little more bummed than you’d like. Maybe you’re frustrated with a problem you just can’t seem to work out, no matter from which angle you approach it. Well, welcome to my world as of late. When this is how it goes, there is only one thing left to do: make stuff.

One of my artist friends jokes that “God must have been having one hell of a bad week when she spun everything into existence,” and I think I can sympathize. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to cook much recently, but any time I do, I feel so much better. It’s the tangible evidence of accomplishment I think, and even if it didn’t turn out quite as I had intended or expected, if it’s halfway decent and edible, I’m one happy camper again.

Things have been quiet on Fresh and Frugal lately because I’ve been a busy little bee. Forgive me? Between getting a new car, Christmas, mom’s birthday, new years, driving to Chicago, and now nursing a wisdom tootless brother on the couch, things have been a little scattered. Hopefully the last two weeks of my holiday break will be much more… blog-friendly. Here’s to hoping you have had a relaxing, delicious holiday.

Chickpea Salad

1 can chickpeas

1/4 c red onion

1 small can sliced black olives

1 large handful chopped fresh flatleaf parsley

2 glugs of good extra virgin olive oil

3/4 c halved cherry tomatoes

1 lemon (juice only)

1 tsp yellow curry powder (add more if you like)

1/2 tsp cayenne powder

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 pinch of cumin

sprinkling of salt and black pepper

Combine in a large bowl. Chill and serve cold, or mash the chickpeas before mixing for a more hummous-y concoction (and one that will stay on toast more easily).