Fresh & Frugal

How to cook fantastic, fresh food on a tight budget

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

About this time last year, when we’re all just about at that point of going absolutely stir-crazy, a curious thing happened. Rhubarb appeared. I don’t mean I suddenly saw oodles of it at the farmer’s market or at Reading Terminal. It stormed across nearly every blog I knew, dragging poor little strawberry along in its wake. It dug its heels into tarts and cobblers, burrowed into scones, and slid into jams and compotes. Let’s not forget the famous rhubarb pies, either. Absolutely everywhere, I was seeing something I had never tasted before.

You can imagine how badly I wanted to try some of it. The weekend after I was absolutely swamped in images of red celery (that’s what I always thought it was. No, seriously.), I trolled through the farmer’s market. No luck. On to general grocery stores. Nothing. Trader Joe’s? Zero, zip, nada. Finally, at this little Asian convenience store in West Philly, I found it. Well, I found one twisted, sad, withered little stalk, almost purple, and certainly bordering on mushy. Foolishly, I pinched a piece off with my thumbnail and stuck it in my mouth.

My eyes just about popped out of my skull. It was all I could do to inconspicuously leave the store before spitting that little bit out. It was far past its prime — that was my first mistake. The second mistake came, I think, in eating it raw. It tasted like moldy week-old mown grass smells. No, I thought to myself. I don’t care how pretty it is, I am never ever ever ever eating this stuff willingly. Never. Ever. And I didn’t. Not until yesterday.

I had seen it at Reading Terminal, bright and frisky, sitting up where only the tall people can reach. If you’re short, you’ll know what I’m talking about — I’ve been asked to reach for things by little ladies more often than I can recall. It hid behind the mound of yellow wax beans, and I probably wouldn’t have spotted it were it not for the fact that I stopped to scoop out about a pound of wax beans. Such a bright reddish-pink, brilliant and stunning in the drab hum-drum of the very last stretch of winter. What better way to welcome spring than to give it a go? Six stalks of rhubarb and two pints of strawberries later, I was zipping through the checkout and on my way to catch the bus.

Let me tell you — the grassy taste didn’t completely leave. I think that bit is seared into the crannies in my brain. But when baked with strawberries and a smattering of sugar, oaty goodness, and just enough flour to make it gooey? That, my friends, is what should usher in spring every year.


Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

1 Pint of strawberries, cleaned and sliced

6 Rhubarb stalks, cleaned and sliced

1/2 lemon (juice only)

1 tbsp flour

4 tbsp sugar

light sprinkle of salt

 

Topping:

1/2 c oats

1/2 c flour

4 tbsp chopped walnuts

3 tbsp sugar (I like brown or raw, but all I had was white)

1/2 stick butter, melted

dash of salt

 

Preheat to 400.

Toss all the ingredients except those for the topping together in a bowl. Dump into an oven-safe container.

Mix all the ingredients for the topping except the butter. Mix well, then add the butter and stir until.. well, crumbly. Top the fruit mixture, and slide into the oven.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the top becomes a golden-brown.

Allow to cool for 15-20 minutes.

 

Tip: Delicious with vanilla ice cream!

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Belated Chili

Alright, so I’ve had this post in the works for about a month. Maybe a little bit more. Seriously. It’s not really the right time of year for it anymore, and with the weather warming, I doubt you’d want to make this just now unless we all get another cold snap (knock on wood), but here it is anyway. This recipe is too good to not share with you all. I should definitely warn you though, to go a little easy on the spices if you’re not a huge fan of spicy food. With that said, I unveil: Hungry Girl’s 10-Alarm Turkey Chili!

We had just gotten slammed by another winter storm/snowpocalypse when I realized I had everything in the house that could be tipped into a pot and set on simmer for hours and hours to yield a delicious dinner. Even better? It would feel as though I’d done nothing to prepare the dinner itself, since all the work would have been done hours earlier, and the only bit left was to taste and check its progression. Honestly, there must be something about that ripe-tomato smell, sweet mingling with the chipotle and cumin seasonings that doesn’t just make your mouth water, but warms the room. Add a slab of garlicky, crusty bread and you’re in heaven.

It does make me miss my mom, though. The feeling of coming in from a freezing day to see that mom’s got something going in the crock pot, as rare as a crock pot meal is at home, makes it impossible not to smile to yourself while hanging up your coat. Speaking of mom, she’s going to come visit in a couple of weeks, and I just can’t wait to see her. Hopefully we’ll get to cook together, so you’ll have something else to read about. With any luck, it won’t take me two months to get it posted, either!

This makes a huge amount, so unless it’s headed for a Superbowl Sunday (or any other kind of) party, you’ll want to have plenty of containers ready for refrigerating and/or freezing.

 

Hungry Girl’s Ten-Alarm Chili

http://www.hungry-girl.com/newsletters/raw/1183

 

Roasted Purple Carrots

Remember that purple potato goop called purple potato and leek soup? I swear it tasted so much better than it looked. Well, I’m on to purple carrots, now. Alright, so they’re not purple all the way through, but that just adds a gorgeous sunburst to the equation. There’s not much to say on this front, except that these are ever so slightly spicy, and ought to have fresh slices of avocado added (oh that green color), but for $3 a pop the last time I saw them, they had to be left out this time.

Hopefully they’ll be cheaper in August, as almost all lovely produce is. For right now though, spring is still yawning and stretching in Philadelphia. It’s all I can do to eat a grapefruit for breakfast — that bright splash of brilliant orangey-pink first thing in the morning, the snappy citrus making a much better wake-up call than coffee could do. It also makes me want to take a shot at a recipe for orange-butter I spotted over at The Kitchen Sink last late-winter-slash-early-spring. The color, the citrus… It just screams hurry up and sprout! to spring. I just can’t wait for the bright green snap peas, the dreamy-purple chive blossoms, and brilliant red rhubarb.

I have to apologize (again, s’more) for the rare posts. I’d love to tell you I’m out living life to the fullest, running from one falling star to another (thanks Kerouac), but I’m holed up, writing presentation papers in every waking moment. I can’t complain, though — already I realize how much I’ve learned about the Bronze Age Aegean during my first year in grad school, and can’t wait for the chance to see the sites in person this summer. Oh, and look at my little daisies coming up!

 

Roasted Carrots

1 lb purple carrots (they can be expensive, so I went half purple and half orange)

1 tbsp olive oil

1 lime

2 sprinkles cumin

1 sprinkle red pepper flakes

salt to taste

 

Preheat the oven to 400.

Peel the carrots and slice them into relatively thick little stumps. 1/2 inch, maybe.

Toss the carrots, olive oil, and spices together in a bowl so the carrots are well-coated, and lay them out on a baking sheet.

Slip the sheet into the oven for 20 minutes or more, until the carrots are tender.

Juice the lime and toss the juice over the carrots. Eat while warm!

 

Tip: If you grab an avocado, slice it up and add it to the top of the just-roasted carrots, then toss on the lime juice.

Panera Chicken Panini

Thank Hungry Girl — no, not me — for this delicious recipe! Panera is one of those 50-buhzillion calorie treats in which mom and I partake when christmas shopping or running a lot of errands when I’m home. Other than then, I really don’t get the chance to eat there. I must confess, however, that I am loyal to their tuna salad sandwich, and will be to the grave, despite the fact that they changed their bread from delicious and crusty to freakin’ white fluffy junk. It’s something about the dijon mustard and the onion…

But we’re not here to talk about tuna sandwiches. I’m here for the chipotle chicken sandwich. Though I’ve never had the “real thing,” this substitute must be at least as good if not better, and it’s super low on the calorie scale (a measly 256 calories!). You got your protein, your (few) carbs, and even a smattering of veggies. What’s not to love? And the best part is, that short of the grilling step, everything can be prepared the night before, and thrown together in the morning for a delicious brown bag lunch.

Panera Chicken Panini

1 1/2 tsp fat free mayo

1/2 tsp chipotle sauce (either the sauce from canned chipotles or from a bottle of the hot sauce, which is easier to find)

2 dashes onion powder

2 dashes garlic powder

1 skim milk cheese stick (Sliced or pulled into pieces)

3 oz boneless skinless chicken breast (I like it pulled into pieces)

1 100-cal flat sandwich bun

2 slices plum tomato

2 thin slices of red onion

1 tbsp roughly chopped fresh basil

 

Cook the chicken well, and prep the other ingredients while you wait: Slice the tomato and onion, pull apart the cheese, chop the basil (or leave it whole, like I did), and mix the sauce.

For the sauce, mix the mayonnaise, chipotle sauce, and onion and garlic powder.

Spread half of the sauce on one open bun face, and save the rest for the chicken.

When the chicken is finished cooking, chop or shred it (or leave it whole, if you like!), and cover it with sauce. Mix it well if you’ve picked apart your chicken.

Pile everything onto your sandwich and plop it onto your panini press thingie, mini george foreman, or your little skillet. If you’re heating it on both sides at once, leave ‘er on there for 3 minutes or so. If you’re not, use a spatula to press down on it for 2 minutes or so, then flip and repeat.

Snowpocalypse Oatmeal

Things have been more and less stressful than usual, probably not in the way you’re thinking. While resuming classes and working two jobs has somehow proven less stressful than anticipated, it’s the weather that’s making life a little difficult. Thank goodness mom wiggled a strong snow shovel into my car before I started the long haul back to the East coast, because it’s gotten quite a lot of use. For instance, a snowpocalypse struck a couple of weeks ago, icing Philadelphia in 11 inches of snow overnight.

Needless to say, classes were cancelled the night before, and I was left to dig myself out of both the apartment (no thanks to the wretched people living downstairs and a landlord who lives in Florida) and my parking space. Not that I had anywhere to go, but there’s no better time to dig yourself out than just after a fresh dusting. Anyway, I met all sorts of people: two willing to lease me apartments within a block, and one block manager. He’s an older man, very sweet and roughy-hardy, with hands that have seen plenty of work. Before I knew it, two hours of digging myself out turned into a morning of digging him out, and clearing the sidewalks on both sides of the block. By the time I got back inside, the coffee pot had switched off and the coffee itself had gone stone-cold.

So it was time to take matters into my own hands — after pulling on a dry pair of sweat pants and big, chunky sweater, of course. Oatmeal it is! It’s one of those foods that wouldn’t get me too excited as a kid, but is now a rare treat saved for those mornings when there’s enough time to slow down and take some time to make good, homey food. Mom used to glaze the mealy mixture with brown sugar, stud it with raisins, and pour just enough milk over the top to create a floating oatmeal island in the middle of the bowl. With a couple of itty-bitty tweaks, I made sure oatmeal was on the breakfast table that day, and for the rest of the week.

Snowpocalypse Oatmeal

1 c steel-cut oats

1 1/2 c water

Optional: brown sugar, walnut pieces, raisins, dried cranberries, milk

Put the water on to boil. When it’s reached a rolling boil, add the oats and boil uncovered for 5 minutes. Cover and allow to simmer for another 30 minutes.

Spoon into dishes and top with anything you like. Brown sugar and dried fruit are the best, I think. Add milk if you want to, and enjoy it!

Tip: I divvied up the remaining oatmeal into small containers and stuck them in the fridge, so I would have enough to get me through the rest of the week’s breakfasts. put just the oatmeal in the fridge. Stick it in the microwave for 1 or 2 minutes, and then add toppings when you pull it out.

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).

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.