26 2 / 2012

I’m really drawn to the idea of stuffed vegetables- a bite inside a bite, secret layers of different deliciousness. Unfortunately, whenever I’ve eaten them in the past- whether it’s been at someone’s house, or at a restaurant- it only takes about a few bites before I start feeling heavy, and I always finish the dish feeling much more tired than re-energized. 

A few summers ago in the south of France, my mother and I took a personal cooking class with a woman who lived down a dirt road, in a house surrounded by a field of basil plants. We met outside a café in the nearby town first, and she, a old-world French woman, all traditional-cooking and rules, guided us through the city market, turning over vegetables in her hands, making notes on a little worn notebook drawn from her pocket about the different weights, blemishes, prices per pound. Back at her house, she handed us freshly-picked peppers, and all three of us got down to work on her wooden kitchen table. Our main dinner dishes were Salade Nicoise and Stuffed Vegetables; we were to cook, slowly, over the next several hours, in the hot, old-fashioned little kitchen, and then we were to eat it all, just as slowly, on the side of the house with the setting sun. I don’t remember the details of her recipe, but I do remember anticipating that particular lesson, mulling over the reputation for French meal-size portions and the size of their women, thinking that surely this stuffed peppers recipe would shed some light on how to make elegant a meal so easily overwhelming.

It was the traditional recipe and it included a list so long it covered two sides of a sheet of notebook paper. There were herbs, breadcrumbs, and at least three kinds of ground meat- this I remember because one of them, unbelievably, was veal. I couldn’t believe the expense and effort that went into these stuffed peppers, and at the end of it all, I found them fine enough, but not at reflective of the typical mouth-watering French style.  At first, I figured that if the French couldn’t do it, no one can. But I think this recipe I created recently is at least a step in the right direction.

Stuffed Peppers

4 cups/24 oz Orzo (or other small pasta), cooked
2 eggs, beaten
2 onions, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, minced
4 handfuls of fresh spinach, chopped
4 cups mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
2 zucchini, diced (optional)
2 cans diced tomatoes
12 bell peppers
2 ½ cups shredded Mozzarella, divided
2 tbsp olive oil
dried Italian herbs of choice
salt & pepper

Set oven to 350 degrees. Foil the bottom of two large baking pans. Cut a sliver off the bottom of each pepper, so it can stand upright. Cut off their tops, and gut each one. Slice the stem off each top, and dice the remaining pepper.  

Pour a little good olive oil into a big frying pan, and set over medium-heat. Sauté the garlic and onion. Add the diced pepper, spinach, mushrooms, and zucchini. Pour in a cup of water. Cook the vegetables on high until the water boils down, then reduce the heat and simmer a few more minutes. If necessary, add a sip of olive oil to the pan. When the pepper and zucchini pieces have become soft, remove the pan from heat.

In the largest bowl (or big soup pot) you have, mix the Orzo (cooked according to directions) with the beaten eggs, the diced tomatoes, and the veg from the pan. With a decent wooden spoon, mix well. S & P. Add in a couple pinches of herbs. Add two cups of the mozzarella and fold in carefully.  Taste-test, before adding more herbs or salt and pepper as needed. If desired, you can add a dash or two of cayenne pepper at this point.

Stand up the peppers on your two foiled pans. Olive oil up each of their insides a little, just enough to help coax their skin into sweet while they’re baking. Spoon Orzo mix into each other, pushing it down to their bottoms and stopping only when you have reached their open mouths. Using the remaining ½ cup of Mozzarella, top each pepper with some of the cheese.

Bake for 25-35 minutes, until the cheese has melted, the peppers have softened and their skin is beginning to brown.

Note: I’m pretty sure I had a decent bowl of Orzo-and-Veg mix leftovers, but can’t remember how much. If you make this, feel free to let me know herehow much you had left over, so I can adjust the measurements a bit. Eating the stuffing by itself is still great. Try a good scoop of it heated up, topped in some quartered tomato pieces, some melted cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.

Also, I’ve have served these in the past with a few strips of shake-and-bake chicken (recipe soon to come!). Or, perhaps a side of soup would be a good match?

Serves 12.

Meal Cost:
32 oz Orzo- $2.00
2 eggs- $0.40
2 onions- $0.40
6 cloves of garlic- $1.00
4 cups fresh spinach- $4.00
24oz cups mushrooms- $1.50
2 zucchini- $2.00
2 14.5oz Trader Joe’s Diced & Fire-Roasted Tomatoes- $3.00
12 bell peppers- $6.00 (would be less at the farmer’s market)
2 ½ cups shredded Mozzarella, divided- $7.00
olive oil - pantry
dried Italian herbs- pantry 
salt & pepper – pantry

Total Calories:
4 cups Orzo- 2400
2 eggs- 140 
2 onions- 82
6 cloves garlic- 26
4 cups fresh spinach- 28
4 cups mushrooms- 26
2 zucchini- 62 
2 cans Trader Joe’s Diced & Fire-Roasted Tomatoes- 175
12 bell peppers- 360
2 ½ cups shredded Mozzarella- 800
2 tbsp olive oil- 240 

Total cost of this dinner party entrée is $27.30. Each stuffed pepper comes to around 365 calories per person.

Questions? Contact me here.

16 1 / 2012

Yeah, okay, spinach in Tortilla Soup is not generally a thing.

Spinach has been referred to as a “superfood” in recent media, the kind of new-agey jargon term that would normally set off scam/fad alarm bells in my head- but this is actually a legitimate claim based in nutritional science. This leafy green is filled with fiber, and all kinds of vitamins and minerals your body needs.

I thought spinach was the most disgusting thing in the world as a child- but since the household rule was to clear your plate, I eventually came to lukewarm terms with it. After moving a college with a notoriously limited and unhealthy dining hall, (no, Bard, a “pudding bar” is NOT a suitable replacement for tonight’s main entrée) I rediscovered spinach as one of the very few fresh, raw foods available. In retrospect, I think spinach definitely gets a bad rap- it’s often listed as a least-favorite among children, and yet there’s no need to serve it up solo, boiled and slimy, like it so often appears on plates. Fresh spinach salads are a whole different taste experience, and in soup, spinach’s off-putting texture is literally swallowed up by its surroundings, so it adds to the taste and the nutritional value without grossing anyone out.

Light, delicious, easy, and hot, tortilla soup is a great comfort when you’re warding off a cold, or any symptoms of our various springtime plagues. The spinach in my recipe also serves to give your body an extra boost. 


Tortilla Soup with Spinach

1 large red onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
½ 28oz can crushed tomatoes
1 lb boneless chicken thighs (or breasts), cut into strips
6 cups chicken broth
multiple handfuls of spinach
3 medium tortillas
1 lime, juiced
½ tsp cumin
salt, to taste
red pepper flakes, to taste
PAM

Optional Toppings:
shredded cheese, scallions, avocado, tomato

Give the inside of a soup pot a quick PAM, and set it to medium-low. Cook onion about 5 minutes, before adding in the minced garlic and cumin. Add a pinch of salt, and however many red pepper flakes you think fit your own heat-level preference (note: better to under-estimate yourself at first than to be sipping the soup in between gasping and gulps of cold milk).

Pour in the chicken broth and crushed tomatoes, and then stir in about half of your freshly-squeezed lime juice. Add spinach. Simmer on low for a half hour while enjoying a glass of wine and assembling little bowls of prepared toppings (if family-styling).

Many tortilla soup recipes call for frying your tortilla strips in a pan of deep, sizzling oil. There’s no need to commit to that many calories to find fantastic flavor. Instead, set your oven to broil. Using a pizza cutter or small knife, slice your tortilla (1/2 a person is enough, but if you want a whole one, feel free) into medium-sized strips. Then layer out some tin foil on a baking sheet, throw the strips on it, sprinkle on a little of your lime juice and a tiny bit of salt, and bake only a couple minutes, until crisp. Set aside.

Blend the soup in batches, before returning it to the soup pot.

Slice the chicken into strips- if desired, you can roll each piece in some cornstarch, which helps retain more of the meat’s moisture. Add the chicken strips into the simmering soup carefully and wait at least 5 minutes, to ensure full cooking. At this stage, take a sip to see if you need to adjust for spice or salt.

On to toppings! I know this totally undermines the soup name, but sometimes I eat this soup without the tortilla strips on top, and it’s still good. Other options include a few pieces of chopped avocado and tomato, thinly-sliced scallions, and shredded cheese which can be sprinkled over top.

For the purposes of this recipe’s costs & calories, I’m going to go with my usual toppings- half a baked tortilla and about ¼ cup of shredded Mexican cheese per person.

This soup is best served hot, but also keeps really well in a frozen air-tight container.

Serves 6.

Meal Cost:
onion- $0.10
garlic- $0.30 
crushed tomatoes- $0.40
chicken thighs- $2.00
6 cups chicken broth- $2.80
1 large bag/3 cups fresh spinach- $3
3 whole wheat Trader Joe’s tortillas- $0.33
1 lime, juiced- $0.50
1 ½ cups shredded Mexican cheese- $6.00
cumin- pantry
salt- pantry
red pepper flakes- pantry
PAM- pantry

Total Calories:
1 large red onion- 60
4 cloves garlic- 18
¼ can crushed tomatoes- 64 
1lb chicken thighs- 1113
6 cups chicken broth- 60 calories
3 cups spinach- 21 
3 medium tortillas- 300
1 lime, juiced- 11
1 ½ cups shredded Mexican cheese- 600

This recipe costs $16.10. At first, that may seem like a lot, but it also feeds 6 people, which means it’s $2.68 per person. Each serving is around 375 calories. Without cheese, that’d be 275. Possible toppings-wise, ¼ an avocado is around 72 calories, ½ tomato is 12 calories, and a sprinkling of scallions is really not worth counting. Enjoy!

Questions? Contact me here.

26 10 / 2011

2 large cauliflower heads, broken into florets
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp garam masala
1/8 tsp powdered ginger
2 yellow onions, diced (or two leeks, washed & sliced)
4 cloves garlic, minced
5 small to medium tomatoes, chopped
8 cups chicken stock (1/4 cup half & half)
Maesri Thai Green Curry Paste
3-4 bay leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste
PAM

Do you not have garam masala in your pantry? It’s a pretty good Indian ingredient to have around, but it can sometimes be hard to find without sending away for it. Here’s a do-it-yourself recipe for ¼ cup of the elusive spice blend:

1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tsp black pepper
12 cardamom pods
8 whole cloves
1 2-inch cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
½ tsp ground nutmeg

PAM a small skillet and cook all spices (except nutmeg) over a medium-high heat until they become aromatic and begin to smoke. Mix in the nutmeg, and then immediately take the pan off the stove. Let cool completely before finely grinding your toasted spices, and storing them in an empty spice bottle or other small jar. If you’re fancy and own a coffee grinder, you can clean that out and use it here- but I prefer my mini mortar-and-pestle kit. If you don’t own one of those either, in college, I got by just fine scraping the spices into a deep dish and pounding them with a can of beans.

*

Set your oven to 450 degrees. Foil up a baking pan.

Roughly chop the cauliflower, then, in a mixing bowl, toss it with the olive oil, spices, and a pinch or two of salt. Shake the pieces out onto your baking pan, and then cover them, tightly, with another layer of foil. Bake for 12 minutes, or until the vegetable becomes tender. Then, remove the top foil layer and set the oven to broil. Roast the cauliflower for just a couple minutes, until it is aromatic and slightly crispy. Set aside.

PAM a large soup pot, and put it over a medium-heat. Sauté the onion and tomato for a few minutes, before adding in the garlic. (I got a deal at the farmer’s market on leeks, but generally the cheaper option is sticking with yellow onions, as stated above.)

At this point, I added in about 1 tsp of this green curry paste I opened a week ago, and have used several times since. It is incredibly hot, and I think even 1 tsp was a little too intense, so while I definitely do recommend this paste’s flavor, be careful to only add the tiniest bit at first, and wait until the flavor expands into the soup before deciding whether you want to add any more. You can also totally choose to leave this luxury-level item out, and save $$ by using red pepper flakes from your pantry instead.  

Add the chicken broth and bay leaves to the soup pot, and raise the heat to bring everything to a simmer. Carefully shake in the roasted cauliflower; using a plastic spatula, scrape as much of the spiced oil from the baking sheet foil as possible into the soup. Keep at a gentle boil for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the pot from heat and let cool.

Fish out the bay leaves and discard. Blend the soup in batches. When you return all the batches to the pot, the soup will have thickened. As needed, stir in up to another ¼ cup broth, to bring the soup to a desired consistency.

Serves 12, or 8 really hungry and enthusiastic eaters.

Meal Cost:
2 large cauliflower heads- $6.00
2 onions- $0.20
4 cloves garlic- $0.30 
Farmer’s market tomatoes- $1.00 
8 ¼ cups chicken broth- $4.25 
Maesri Thai Green Curry Paste- $4.00 
olive oil- pantry
turmeric- pantry (if you don’t have this, it costs $5.40, and a lil goes a long way)
chili powder- pantry
garam masala- pantry
powdered ginger- pantry
bay leaves- pantry
salt and pepper- pantry
PAM- pantry

Total Calories:
cauliflower- 420 
olive oil- 480 
onions- 128
garlic- 18
tomatoes- 100
chicken broth- 82.5 
green curry paste- 2

SO. This recipe comes to a total of $15.75, for what at first seems like 12 people, but as soon as everyone has their first taste, they’re gonna eat way more than initially expected. If you leave out the curry paste in favor of red pepper flakes, the total is $11.75. So if there are 8 people partaking in this meal, it rounds out to about 154 calories each. I know- spectacular all round.

Questions? Contact me here.

05 10 / 2011

A different creature entirely than its American counterpart, this salad is elegant, refined, light, and crisp. This picture features this recipe made with herbs all fresh from my garden.

6 medium red potatoes
1 large garlic clove
2 tbsp red onion, minced
1 ½ tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard (or other whole-grain mustard)
2 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp black pepper
salt, to taste
4 tbsp of mixed French herbs:
-     1 tbsp fresh parsley
-    1 tbsp fresh tarragon
-    1 tbsp fresh chives
-    1 tbsp fresh dill or chervil

You can totally use a combination of dried French herbs instead- I’d recommend a Herbes de Provence mix. Just keep in mind that much less will be needed than the stated fresh quantity, so add to taste as you’re making the dressing.

If you don’t grow herbs yourself, grocery stores like Wegmans sell fresh herbs for about $2.60 a bundle. That’s pretty steep, so I recommend sticking with dried herbs, and then making an exception to purchase the chives fresh, if you can afford it.

*

Carefully thinly slice off both tips of the garlic clove, then peel.  Fill a large saucepan half-way with water.

Slice each potato into 5 to 7 slices, and drop them directly into the water. Add a pinch of salt, and then bring the pot to a boil. Blanch the garlic clove by adding it to the pot for about 45 seconds, then pull it back out with a spoon, and set aside.

Lower the heat somewhat, and simmer the potatoes until you can slide a small knife into a slice with no resistance- about 5 minutes. Drain the potatoes, but keep about 1/3 cup of the saucepan water. PAM a baking sheet and carefully lay each potato slice out on it, so they may cool without breaking into pieces.

Mince the garlic. In a small bowl, mix it with the olive oil, white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, and pepper. Pour in the reserved potato-cooking water, and stir to mix. (This water contains starch, and works to bind the dressing to the potatoes.) Add the herbs (if fresh, shredded) and minced onion, and toss well. Move the potatoes to a serving bowl, spoon the dressing out carefully over the slices, and gently mix.

Serves 6, as a side.

Meal Cost:
6 medium red potatoes- $3.90
1 large garlic clove- $0.15
2 tbsp red onion- $0.05
white wine vinegar- pantry
Dijon mustard- pantry or fridge
1 tbsp fresh chives- $2.60 
olive oil- pantry
black pepper- pantry
salt- pantry
dried parsley- pantry
dried tarragon-pantry
dried dill or chervil-pantry

Total Calories:
6 medium red potatoes- 600 
1 large garlic clove- 8
2 tbsp red onion- 8
1 ½ tbsp white wine vinegar- 0
2 tsp Dijon mustard- 10 
2 tbsp olive oil- 240 
1 tbsp fresh chives- 1 

Total cost for this recipe (using a dried herb mix and a fresh bundle of chives) comes to $6.70! As this feeds 6 people as a side, a serving is around 145 calories per person! Or, you could split it between 3 people as lunch, which would come to 290 calories per person. Neat-o.

Questions? Contact me here.

02 10 / 2011

This one is easy, cute, and continual crowd-pleaser. Everyone I serve it to always responds in a super impressed way. However, the appearance of these mini lasagnas is deceiving- in fact, the recipe is the farthest thing from complicated. All you need is some patience and a cupcake pan.

24oz lean ground turkey
28oz can crushed tomatoes
1 ½ large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 tsp dried Italian herbs of your choice
¼ cup cheap red wine
salt and pepper, to taste
olive oil, as needed
6 cups shredded Mexican cheese mix    
2 packs of square wonton wrappers (need 72 wrappers)

Set the oven to 375 degrees.

PAM a large-bottomed pan, and sauté the onion and garlic. Quickly follow with the turkey, by crumbling it between your fingers as you add it in; cook  about 10 minutes on medium-high heat, occasionally stirring the meat to ensure it’s all cooked through. If PAM isn’t enough to keep the ingredients from sticking or burning, add a tbsp of olive oil to the pan.

Add the can of crushed tomatoes and your dried herbs. Throw in a sip of red wine, for depth. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, and leave 10 minutes. Taste, to adjust if needed. S & P. Remove the pan from the heat, and set aside.

PAM your handy 12-cup cupcake baking trays. (Or if you’ve just the one, you can repeat the whole process after pulling your first cooked batch out of their baking cups). Open your package of wonton wrappers, and push 1 wrapper down into the bottom of each cup, so it’s pressed right up against the cup’s bottom and up the sides.

Spoon a little meat sauce mixture into the bottom of each cup, leaving space so a bit of the wrapper is visible around all sides.

Sprinkle liberally with cheese.

Working carefully, close the first layer and introduce a second by pushing a second wonton wrapper down around the meat & cheese filling and higher up the sides of each baking cup; this wrapper layer will reach out of the cups- rather than pushing these sides down, let them stay pointing up over the tops of the cups a little. Once cooked, you can easily remove each lasagne by taking gentle hold of this protruding crispy corners and pulling.

Repeat the meat & cheese filling process on the second layer. You can choose to leave the lasagna open, but I like to close them with a final layer, because then they not only more closely resemble regular lasagna, but biting into one is more of a juicy, savory surprise.

So, push a final wonton wrapper into each cup. Be careful to press it down on and around the second layer’s filling. Again, let the wrapper’s sides stay protruding from the cups. If you’d like, you can add a final light sprinkling of cheese (in this picture, I’d just added a thin shaving of parmesan to the tops of each lasagna).

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes. Let the lasagna cool somewhat, then remove them from the pan as described above, and serve!

Meal Cost:
24oz lean ground turkey- $4.00
28oz can crushed tomatoes- $1.00
1 ½ large onion- $1.00
4 cloves garlic- $0.30
¼ cup wine- $0.50
Italian herbs- pantry
salt and pepper- pantry
olive oil- pantry
24oz shredded Mexican cheese mix- $7.00
2 packs of square wonton wrappers- $6.00

Total Calories:
24oz lean ground turkey- 960 
28oz can crushed tomatoes- 210
1 ½ large onion, diced- 96
4 cloves garlic- 18
¼ cup red wine- 43
olive oil- 120
cheese- 2352
72 wrappers- 1440 

The total meal cost is around $20- but that serves 12 people, and you’ll have some wonton wrappers leftover. Serving size is two little lasagna, which comes to around 440 calories per person. Make it dinner by adding a side of steamed broccoli with black pepper- which brings the meal to 470 calories per person.

Questions? Contact me here.

20 9 / 2011

For my mother’s birthday this year, two of my younger brothers and I cooked her a multi-course dinner, complete with a fancy menu card propped up in the center of the table:

DINING MENU FOR MUM’S 52ND BIRTHDAY

September 2011 

AMUSE-BOUCHE

sweet peppers

stuffed with thyme & chevre

*

FIRST PLATE

spicy thai soup with shrimp

*

SECOND PLATE

summer roll

with peanut dipping sauce

*

THIRD PLATE

watermelon salad circle

*

DESSERT

french apple tart

We got a little carried away experimenting with the Thai soup, but everything else turned out impossibly well. We were so engaged in the celebration that it slipped my mind to take any more pictures, but I will definitely have to make those miniature sweet stuffed peppers again.

The middle brother makes a perfect Pâte Brisée, and so I may ask him to share his recipe here (although god knows how I’ve tried with pie crust, only to keep finding my hands full of dust-like raw-dough crumbs). And even though summer is just recently gone, I will probably go ahead and make that watermelon salad again, out of season, just because it’s so improbably delicious (you’ll see what I mean when I post its ingredient list).

Here following is the second plate special, brought to you by my youngest brother, a sixteen year-old Asian-cooking whiz.

Summer Rolls

6 (8½ inches in diameter) spring roll wrappers aka rice paper rounds
2 oz thin Chinese rice noodles (the REALLY thin ones), cooked according to package directions
12 medium shrimp, cooked, and sliced in half lengthwise
1 avocado, halved and thinly-sliced
2 large scallions, halved and thinly-sliced
½ cup fresh mint leaves
½ cup fresh cilantro leaves
½ fresh basil leaves
6 large leaves green lettuce
½ cup cucumber, peeled, seeded, and sliced into matchsticks
½ cup carrots, peeled and sliced into matchsticks

Other possible additions include bean sprouts, and seeded hot chile peppers sliced into matchsticks. This dish can be a little complicated anyhow, though, so I’m sticking with what my brother calls the basics.

Dipping Sauce:
1 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
2 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tbsp water

Once you wet a wrapper, you need to make it into a roll quickly, so organize your work station beforehand. Give yourself a decent amount of counter space, and put down a cutting board to work on. It’s helpful to prep all your ingredients first, and display them in separate bowls, in an easy-to-see formation around your board.

Prepare the roll wrappers by dampening a paper towel and using it to cover the bottom of a large dinner plate. Place the wrappers on top and cover tightly with cling film; set aside until needed.

Fill a large bowl with warm water. Only work with a single roll wrapper at a time. Soak the rice paper round in the warm water for not more than half a minute- you want it to become malleable, but not limp or soggy. Move it immediately to your cutting board.

My brother sometimes likes to put down a very thin spread of the peanut sauce first, but that can get messy easily if you don’t really know what you’re doing (like me). So start the roll by placing a lettuce leaf down in the center of the wet wrapper. Top with a line of 3-4 shrimp halves, and a leaf or two of each freshly washed and dried herb. Lay down some noodles, and then top with matchsticks of cucumber and carrot. Add a couple slices of avocado. Finish with 2-3 scallion strips, and you’re good to go. Be sure you haven’t overfilled the wrapper before you move to the next step!

This next part is hard to explain, so I found these handy pics elsewhere on the interweb:

1.   2.

3. 4.

Notes: Center the ingredients in a vertical position, about 2 inches from one of the edges. Pull up the bottom so there is good support. Then roll up the rice paper from one side to the other (above pictures show the paper being rolled from left to right). Roll tightly, so your end result resembles a neat cylinder with one open end.

Place your completed roll on another large plate, seam-side down. Repeat process until out of wrappers. Cover the plate of rolls with another damp paper towel, and tightly wrap in plastic wrap; place them in the fridge right up until it’s time to eat.  

After that laborious process, the sauce is refreshingly easy: simply put the Hoisin sauce, peanut butter, and some sips of water into a small saucepan. Cook and stir, until all ingredients melted and well-mixed, andddd you’re finished!

We forgot to take our own picture of the finished product because we were too busy eating it.

Before serving, slice each summer roll in half on a diagonal slant. Drizzle sauce onto one of each roll halves’ open sides. You may want to double the sauce recipe so you can serve the rolls with extra sauce for dipping.

Serves 6.

Meal Cost:
6 spring roll wrappers- $1.00 
½ Thai Kitchen Thin Rice Noodles, Vermicelli-Style- $1.30
4oz (of 16oz bag) frozen shell-on shrimp- $2.25
1 avocado, halved and thinly sliced- $1.00
2 large scallions, halved and thinly-sliced- $1.00
½ cup fresh mint leaves- $2.00 (Herbs may be more, depending. Grow instead!)
½ cup fresh cilantro leaves- $2.00
½ fresh basil leaves- $2.00 
6 large leaves butter lettuce- $0.50
½ English cucumber-  $1.00
 2 large carrots- $0.80
1 tbsp crunchy peanut butter- pantry (18oz generic is $2.50)
2 tbsp Hoisin sauce- $2.00 (for 8.5oz- pantry investment)

Total Calories:
spring roll wrappers- 160 
rice noodles- 180 
shrimp- 80
avocado- 161
scallions- 6
fresh mint leaves- 3
fresh cilantro leaves- 3
fresh basil leaves- 3
lettuce- 6
cucumber- 22
carrots- 40
1 tbsp crunchy peanut butter- 95
2 tbsp Hoisin sauce- 24

Total cost is $16.85, which is just over $2 per person. This recipe serves 6, and each roll (with its serving of sauce) is around only 130 calories!

These are pretty light, so you may still be hungry. I recommend you enjoy the rolls alongside a serving of peas- boiled, drained, and drizzled in a little sesame oil.  If you’re down for that idea, 32oz frozen peas are an extra two dollars, sesame oil should be in your pantry. If it isn’t, go get it immediately- that’s an extra four bucks or so. Your total calorie count per person will be around 300.

Questions? Contact me here.

20 8 / 2011

Found today when cleaning up some computer files- an entry written in October of 2009, when I was just starting to find my own feet cooking-wise, learning to experiment and stray from recipes to develop my own taste and style. I was with my friend, Katie, who’s just moved to Spain (the lucky thing), and on this evening in particular, we came back from a long, crazy day in the city collecting flyers and stickers and free rainbow chapstick, and were just about starving for something good.

Katie wielded the camera as I stripped the shelves and drawers of all vegetables. I pulled out a bag of firm red peppers and four bunches of asparagus, four yellow and green zucchini, and found two huge red onions (I love when they’re as big as wheels!) in the pantry. I did end up broiling the zucchini separately, but we decided to make sandwiches.

We started off quartering (and again) the peppers, and cutting the onion into thick chunks, and laid them out- along with the asparagus- on baking trays. I drizzled a good deal of olive oil over the vegetables, until they were soaked, and followed up with a decent sprinkle of sea salt and black peppercorns. I laid out the asparagus so each stalk touched, side-by-side, and both trays went into the oven, set to broil.

I used to be one of those onion-slicers who would cut and weep. My eyes would be small and sore for hours afterwards, and often, I just had to abandon the task entirely. Last year, I read that the sharper the knife, the less you cry, which seems obvious in retrospect. Something about the faster and smoother the slice, the less essence released into the air. I’ve always been attracted to onions and their taxing ways; I think handling one says something about how you tackle life, and I’ve always said I would fall in love with someone who could eat a whole raw onion straight. My brother, Malcolm, found me an excellent trick recently for cutting onions, and I did it for this dish, to Katie’s camera curiosity and, consequently, a collection of bug-eyed, puffy-cheeked photographs that will never appear here. Fill your mouth with water and swill it vigorously around while slicing. No crying!

Each tray only takes a few minutes, so don’t stray from the oven. Katie and I made pot after pot of Barry’s tea to stave off our appetites while waiting. We turned each vegetable once- this was easy with a spatula for the peppers and onions- and particularly painstaking with the asparagus, as each one needs to be individually turned over. I used two forks.

We assembled the sandwiches on Italian bread rolls: pesto, cheese, onions, ham, peppers, asparagus. I love delis. I love tomato pie, smoked meats hanging from the ceiling, homemade sausages, pepperonis, full hams and legs and thighs in the back room just waiting to be run through that hand-powered slicer. I read recently that delis are going out of business with the relatively recent health-food craze. I think we forget that Stromboli yes, is gorgeously greasy, with those layers of cheese and meat and fat, but it’s okay as a sometimes food. I don’t know what I’d do in all my Philadelphia streets of hometown delis, chock full of long white dishes of potato salad, pasta salad, meatloaf, macaroni and cheese… All things that aren’t favorites, or even close, but so comforting in their consistency and full, hearty tastes. Carlino’s is one such deli, but appears to be run by the Italian mob, so I don’t think it’s going out of business any time soon. Its doorway is always crowded by stout men in suits smoking and talking in low voices, ordering meatball grinders, yelling out for a selection of beef, Wedding Soup like mama made. And its Rosemary Ham is fantastic- delicately flavored, but for a girl who hates ham, it’s enough of a subtly in flavor that I’m in love.

Honestly, all we could find in the fridge was mild American cheese, so that’s what we used. If I’d had a choice, I would have gone for some Pepper Jack or Munster. Even Swiss, if you’re partial, would have been better. But even as it was, the vegetables were fresh out of the oven, so the cheese melted deliciously into the rest of the sandwich.

The broiling itself sounds incredibly simple, but it is so delicious, especially with fresh vegetables! Also, they’re an excellent leftover, and if a big batch is cooked up earlier on in the week, they can be refrigerated and eaten plain (or with a sprinkle of cheese), or if you want, used for lunch wraps or as a topping for rice or pasta, etc. I ate them on everything for the next few days until I had to go back to school.

Roasted Vegetable, Rosemary Ham & Pesto Sandwich

Italian Bread rolls
red bell peppers
asparagus
cheese of choice
red onions
rosemary ham
olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
pesto (either from a bottle or scratch)

As described above, quarter veg, snap ends off asparagus, drizzle on your olive oil. S & P. Broil.  

Smear both sides of sliced bread roll with pesto, and then layer on half a slice of cheese, 3-4 sheets of rosemary ham, 1-2 quarters of roasted bell pepper. Top with a few stalks of roasted asparagus, and then the other half-slice of cheese. Press down bread roll top.

If you’d like, you can either warm the sandwich in a skillet (PAM first) on low for a bit, or microwave it for a few seconds- just to get the cheese to fully melt, so the sandwich fuses together. This recipe can obviously serve as many people as you’d like, but for calories and cost, let’s go with two eaters, Katie and me.

Meal Cost:
2 Italian Bread rolls- $0.80
1 red bell pepper- $1.25 (or free, from your garden!)
10 asparagus spears- $3.00
2 slices American cheese- $0.50
1/2 red onion- $0.30
half packet rosemary ham- $1.50 
Wegman’s pesto- $1.50
olive oil- pantry

Total Calories:
2 Italian Bread rolls- 480
1 red bell pepper- 30
10 asparagus spears- 30
2 slices American cheese- 120
1/2 red onion- 30
6 slices rosemary ham- 180
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil- 180
2 tbsp Wegman’s pesto- 95

The total number of calories is 572.50 per person. A little much for lunch, but fine for your end-of-the-day meal, especially if it’s an exercise day. Total cost for two people is $8.85.

Questions? Contact me here.