Monday, March 30, 2009

A.U.R.A. - Red Lentil Coconut Curry

I know what you're thinking: "A.U.R.A.? What the heck is that?"

Well, on the heels of Recession: Party of One came another flash of inspiration for the blog, this one borne of hours spent perusing and collecting recipe upon recipe that have always been relegated to the dark annals of an overflowing notebook. Until now!

Introducing A.U.R.A.: Actual Use of a Recipe's Awesomeness (have I ever mentioned how obsessed I am with acronyms? And don't even get me started on alliterations).

That's right, the Fearless Cook, she who wouldn't dream of reading from a book - a BOOK! - while in the kitchen, has broken down. I just decided that it would be wrong to deprive you (not to mention myself) of so many delicious concoctions - regardless of whose concoctions they may be.

And I don't think that this idea conflicts with my Fearless philosophy: I'll still be making the recipes with the AURA label for the first time (since I seem to be allergic to making a recipe more than once), and of course, I'll be tweaking the hell out of them, and it should go without saying that I'll still give my honest and witty (?) commentary on the whole process.

May I present the first installation of AURA: RED LENTIL COCONUT CURRY.

(I guess we can add curry to the list of obsessions.)

I can't remember exactly where this recipe came from, but I had seen a recipe awhile back that incorporated red lentils - which are just so darn cute I had to pick some up from the Whole Foods grain bins - and coconut milk. I thought it sounded delish, so I Googled "red lentil and coconut recipe" and found this one, reprinted here exactly as I found it, asterisk bullets and all.


* 1 medium onion, finely chopped
* 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
* 1 tablespoon finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
* 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
* 1 teaspoon ground cumin
* 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
* 1 teaspoon turmeric
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1 (2 1/2-inch) fresh jalapeƱo or serrano chile, finely chopped, including seeds
* 2 cups water
* 1 1/2 cups dried red lentils (10 oz)
* 1 (13- to 14-oz) can unsweetened coconut milk
* 1 lb zucchini (2 medium), cut into 1/4-inch dice
* 1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro sprigs

* Accompaniment: white rice


Cook onion in oil in a 3 1/2- to 4-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until edges are golden, about 6 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add cumin, coriander, turmeric, salt, and chile and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Stir in water, lentils, and coconut milk, then simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Stir in zucchini and simmer, covered, until lentils and zucchini are tender, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and serve with cilantro sprigs scattered on top.

Now for my tweaks and thoughts:

1. I added the last of my butternut squash, just so I could stop looking at it every time I opened the fridge. It was a yummy addition.

2. I made less than the recipe calls for - I'd say I cut it down by about 1/3, although since I'm not a dedicated measurer, who knows.

3. I used a greater ratio of coconut milk to other liquid - I did about half and half. On that note, I used chicken broth instead of water to add more flavor.

4. Rather than use all those different spices, I used about 2 - 3 T. of my leftover Thai Red Curry powder from the Spice House.

5. I used some fresh chopped cilantro IN the sauce, not just on top.

6. I used much less than a whole onion - only about 1/4 of an onion.

7. I didn't dice the zucchini; I halved it then cut it into thick half-moons.

8. I only used about a cup of lentils.

As an elementary school student, I was bright in most subjects, but I always failed miserably at tasks that required following strict directions, and at - oh yeah - math. (Some things never change.)

I think this is a great example of what I'm always trying to tell my friends who meticulously measure each ingredient: eyeballing it usually works, and most things are OK to substitute for similar other things (not that I'd criticize how anyone else cooks - everyone has their own style and comfort level).

This curry came out great, but with one caveat: it was really, really spicy. And that's coming from someone who looooves spicy food. I have a pretty high spice tolerance, so I'd advise anyone who wants to whip this up at home to at the very least remove the seeds from the serrano pepper (that's the hot part), and maybe even use only half of the pepper flesh. It was far from inedible, but let's just say my sinuses are crystal clear.

I hope you've enjoyed the first AURA installment, and I really can't wait to get back in the kitchen and try out some of those horribly neglected recipes I've been hoarding over the years.

Thanks for reading! More soon...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Fearless Shrimp Scampi with Roasted Tomatoes

My beautiful friend Shawn (she's a lady, thank you very much) came over for a chill Sunday night of wine-tasting (we had Toad Hollow Dry Pinot Noir Rose) and pasta-shoveling. She is a first-time Fearless Cook guest, a lover of all things feline, and an all-around wonderful gal. She loves pasta just as much as yours truly, so I knew she'd be into Shrimp Scampi. I've made a few dishes like this in the past, but none so lemony and delightful as this one. Read on to see how it all came together.



1 T. olive oil, plus more for tossing with tomatoes
2 T. butter
1/4 white onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 handful fresh parsley, chopped
juice of 1 and 1/2 lemons
about a dozen large shrimp, peeled, deveined, and tails removed
6-7 large broccoli florets
about 12 large graperoma tomatoes, halved
4-5 large basil leaves, chiffonaded
1/3 c. chicken broth
1/3 c. reserved pasta cooking water
salt and pepper
pinch red pepper flakes
pinch all-purpose salt-free seasoning
1 12-oz. package whole wheat linguine, fresh (refrigerated); [or use any refrigerated fresh pasta]
nonstick spray
grated Parmigiano Reggiano for garnish


Preheat the oven to 375. Coat a baking sheet lightly with nonstick spary. In a bowl, toss the halved tomatoes and the basil with a little drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Place on the baking sheet in a single layer and roast for about 15 minutes, until skins are wrinkly and tomatoes are very soft. Set aside.


Begin to heat a pot of salted water for the pasta. While that's coming to a boil, heat the butter and olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute. Add the lemon juice, chicken broth, broccoli, parsley, a little salt and pepper, all-purpose seasoning, and red pepper flakes. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, until the mixture has reduced a little (do not let all the liquid evaporate).


Add the pasta to the boiling water and have a colander ready - fresh pasta only takes 2-3 minutes to cook. Add the shrimp and the reserved pasta water to the saucepan and add a little more salt and pepper (taste first). Stir in the roasted tomatoes. Cook for 4-5 minutes over medium heat, until shrimp are pink. Meanwhile, drain the pasta and return pan to stovetop, off the heat.


Return the pasta to its original pot, and pour the entire contents of the saucepan into the pasta, tossing to combine (pasta should still be very hot when this happens). The pasta will soak up some of the sauce. Garnish with grated Parmigiano Reggiano and top with a little more chopped parsley if desired.


SHAWN: This is delicious. I can really taste the lemoniness. I love the parsley in it. It's so good.

Thanks, Shawn! You're one sweet guest.

MY VOTE ON MY DISH: I'm going for 9 stars! I agree with Shawn - this came out super-yummy. It was just the right ratio of sauce to pasta to shrimp, and while other people may have found the generous smattering of parsley and bold lemon flavor overpowering, I think the whole wheat pasta really stood up to it well. And roasting the tomatoes really brought out their sweetness. I could've eaten a whole other bowlful (and you'll never know even if I did...wink.

Thanks so much to Shawn for coming over, and thanks for reading! More soon...

Chicken Salad and Granola: Cook Once, Eat All Week

I love Saturdays. Even rainy, cold, not-quite-Spring Saturdays. In fact, I might love those the most, because they're the perfect excuse to wander through Whole Foods, grazing on niblets of cheese and sipping on fair trade coffee, fantasizing about all the delicious foods I have all day to lovingly create.

And it's even better when those delicious things will guarantee tasty and healthy breakfasts and lunches on the dreary, tired workdays.

I've grown a little tired lately of deli meat, and have vowed to stop calling a Venti drip coffee "breakfast." A few indulgent hours in the kitchen, and I had crunchy, homemade granola to sprinkle over yogurt in the mornings, and creamy chicken salad to eat on whole wheat for lunches at work.



2 c. dry oats
1 c. crushed flake cereal, such as Special K Protein
1/2 c. raw pumpkin seeds
1/2 c. dried cranberries
3 T. honey
2 T. brown sugar
2 T. vegetable oil
nonstick spray

Preheat oven to 325. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet that is well-coated with nonstick spray, and bake for 15-20 minutes, watching closely so that it doesn't burn. Cool, and store in an airtight container.


1 large or 2 small chicken breasts
1/2 c. chicken broth
1/3 c. organic mayo
1/3 c. 2% Greek-style yogurt (such as Fage)
handful large green grapes, quartered
1/3 c. walnuts, roughly chopped
handful fresh parsley, chopped
juice of 1/2 a lemon
salt and pepper


In a shallow pan with a lid, cook the chicken breast in the chicken broth on medium-low heat, covered, until the chicken is cooked through (you're basically steaming the chicken). Save the broth for another use. Cool chicken on cutting board until it's cool enought to touch.


Mix the remaining ingredients in a large bowl (one with a matching lid works perfectly for storage later). When the chicken has cooled, chop into small dices. Mix into the sauce mixture. Refrigerate until ready to use.

This week, there will be no excuse for liquid-caffeine breakfasts and vending machine "lunches." Just fresh granola and yummy chicken salad!

Thanks for reading; more soon...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Recession: Party of One - Cabbage & Apple Saute with Kielbasa

Hunger will make you do crazy lick the mayo knife, eat leftover croissants in the office kitchen that are clearly past their prime, and, ahem, start obsessive cooking blogs on which you hang your every future hope and secret dream.

And sometimes, hunger will inspire you to create something that is so utterly ridiculous, it actually comes out delectable. And that, my friends, would be the case this evening.

I had a minor fiasco at PetSmart (not worth recounting) which sent me far out of the way for cat food for my (very hungry) kitty. On the way home, I considered stopping at every take-out place I passed, and even started fantasizing about a char-dog from you-know-where. Only the drive to write this kept me going the (excruciating) 5 or 6 blocks home.

This dish is exemplary of "what-the-hell" cooking. For those of you not familiar with the technique, it's when - blinded by ravenousness - you keep seeing things in your refrigerator that you feel compelled to chop and add to your skillet.

Hence, my inner monologue went something like this:

"I still have that half a's like that cabbage is neverending...almost magical. And I have a little more butternut squash...and that half an apple that's wrapped in plastic...ooh! And kielbasa! More kielbasa than Poland ever DREAMED of! That could be good...maybe I'll just put it all in a skillet. Oh, and - should I serve it with a fried egg over the top? Ah, what the hell."

May I present the fruits of my (stream-of-consciousness as well as my) labor:


I'd like to tell myself that this is something that would pique my interest on the cover of Bon Appetit, but rather, I can only chalk it up to temporary hunger-induced insanity.


1/3 kielbasa, cut into thin slices
1/5 head of red cabbage, thinly sliced
1/3 of an apple (any kind), cut into small chunks
1/4 of a butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into small chunks
juice of half a lemon
1 egg
1 T. olive oil
1 T. butter
salt and pepper
fresh thyme leaves


Heat the olive oil and butter in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add the squash and apples in a single layer in the pan. Season with salt and pepper, and allow to sit in the pan without stirring for a few minutes, until they're starting to get some color (don't be a wimp - let them get brown edges). Stir them around until they begin to get tender.


Add the cabbage to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Cook for a few minutes, then add the lemon juice and thyme. Cook for a few more minutes, until the cabbage is crisp-tender. Remove the mixture from heat, leaving the pan on, and keep warm.


Add the kielbasa to the pan in a sigle layer, and let the first side get nice and crisp and dark. Flip each piece and cook on the other side. Remove from pan and drain excess fat on a paper towel. Leave a little grease in the pan, and return to heat. Crack an egg in the pan and fry for a couple minutes on each side, until the white is set and browning at the edges, but the yolk is still runny.


Place some cabbage mix on a plate, top with the sausage, then top with the egg. Enjoy!

This dish may seem a bit bizarre at first (and I PROMISE, this will be the last of the cabbage-and-squash posts), but it actually did have some root in classic flavors; cabbage and apples are often cooked together, and both of those things are served frequently with kielbasa (it's a very Polish-food-inspired dish). The fried egg, admittedly, was a last-minute addition, but I think it actually did work.

It was a good meal - not the best meal, maybe not even a great meal, but a good one. It was arguably healthful (I ate about half of what I cooked) - high in protein, with lots of flavorful veggies to round it out. Kielbasa is by no stretch of the imagination a lean meat - it is sausage, after all, but a lot of the fat cooks out in the pan, and if you drain it, it becomes a lot better for you.

If I were to change this meal in the future, I'd actually cut the kielbasa into little dices, rather than slices - like pancetta - and cook it during the last few minutes of the cabbage saute. In fact, this meal would be glorious with pancetta in place of the sausage - or even regular old bacon. As for the fried egg, it gave it a really earthy, rustic taste and feel; it just made it rich and filling, in a good way. I can even see modifying the dish a bit and serving it for brunch.

And lest we forget, it's time for the PARTY OF ONE PRICE INDEX!

KIELBASA: 49 cents
CABBAGE: 44 cents
APPLE: 28 cents
LEMON: 50 cents

I got about one and a half servings out of this, which brings our per-serving GRAND TOTAL to...


Frugally delicious.

If there is a moral to this post, it would be that standing in front of the glow of the fridge and saying to oneself, "What the hell," can really pay off. I'd like to think that that's what the world's best chefs do, on occasion. (But maybe only when they're really, really, hungry.)

Thanks for reading! More soon...

Monday, March 23, 2009

Recession: Party of One - Detox Soup

After a particularly indulgent weekend, it's nice to have a meal that erases the guilt - if not the sordid memories - just a bit.

Since this past weekend was all about celebration, I thought I should eat something wholesome, light, but still really satisfying. Soup, for me, almost always fits that description.

I had never really tapped into my love of soup until I moved to bone-cold Chicago, but I have to say, the world of soup it's opened up to me makes the winters almost worth it.

This is a soup that takes just a little bit of chopping to prep, and not much hands-on cooking at all, unless you count the occasional stir.


NOTE: I use the word "detox" loosely - this is not part of an actual detox diet.


1/4 of a small red cabbage, thinly sliced
1/3 of a small butternut squash, cut into small chunks
3 c. chicken broth
1 can stewed tomatoes
1/2 c. chickpeas
several sprigs thyme, leaves only
1 T. butter
1 T. olive oil
1/4 c. wild and brown rice blend (or any rice)
1/4 c. protein-enriched angel hair pasta, broken into pieces
salt and pepper
dash of cayenne pepper
a few dashes white wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced

1 thin slice French bread
grated Parmagiano Reggiano


In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about one minute. Add the cabbage and thyme leaves, and cook for 5-6 minutes, seasoning with a little salt and pepper, until it begins to soften.


Add the rest of the ingredients with the exception of the pasta. Cover, turn heat to medium-high, and cook for about 20-30 minutes, until rice grains are tender. Add the pasta about 8 minutes before you're ready to serve the soup. Give it an occasional stir.


Toast the bread in the toaster. Grate the Parmesan over the bread as son as it comes out, and melt it in the microwave for about 10-15 seconds if needed. Serve with the soup. Enjoy!

Easy, right?

This soup came out really tasty - whether or not health is the goal, it would be delicious either way. The only thing I'd change is the rice & pasta - I'd replace them with orzo (whole wheat orzo, if that even exists, would be ideal). The rice didn't get quite as tender as it should have (although when I eat the leftovers, it will most likely be perfect), and the pasta was just a little annoying, as it kept sliding off my spoon.

This made about 3-4 servings of soup - definitely enough to have for a few days of lunches. Which brings us to the PARTY OF ONE PRICE INDEX:

CABBAGE: 44 cents
CHICKPEAS: 20 cents
TOMATOES: 55 cents

Everything else I already had or is a pantry staple, which brings our per-serving GRAND TOTAL to:

78 cents!!!

Wow, that might be the most economical R: P of 1 meal yet! No wonder soup has been a peasant staple for centuries.

A few more nights like this, plus a bikram yoga class or two, and I should be back to my fighting weight in no time.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Fearless Thai Shrimp Peanut Curry

I'd like to share with you all something very exciting: this weekend, I completed a marathon.

A food marathon.

With my better half in town for his birthday, a buck-wild caloric rodeo was inevitable; we kicked things off at our favorite neighborhood Mexican place, Tarascas, and a mere 12 hours later indulged in a great breakfast at Deleece, in our old 'hood, Uptown. After snacking on some sharp cheddar in the afternoon, we headed north once again for dinner at one of our favorite Italian haunts, Fornello Trattoria (where we got complimentary tiramisu and topped everything off with house-made limoncello shots). On Sunday, we had a great lunch at the new pizzeria La Madia, then stimulated the economy for a bit on Michigan Avenue.

I decided that after a weekend of eating out every meal, a nice home-cooked dinner in would be the perfect way to end the fantastic weekend and linger over goodbyes, which brings me to the Thai Shrimp Peanut Curry.

Oh, and...did I forget to mention the birthday cake? (This is one you won't want to miss.)

Read on to see how to make one tasty, simple Thai dish (it's almost as easy as speed-dialing your local noodle place - promise).



(makes about 4 servings)

about 14-15 large shrimp, peeled and deveined (mine were frozen)
1 can light coconut milk
4 T. natural-style peanut butter (no sugar or salt added)
1 T. vegetable oil
2 T. Thai curry seasoning blend (available at the Spice House and specialty stores like World Market)
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1/2 white onion, thinly sliced
juice of one lime
2-3 T. brown sugar
squeeze of Sriracha (to taste)
handful cilantro leaves, chopped
more cilantro leaves for garnish

1 c. dry basmati rice
water and a little salt


Cook the rice according to directions on package until done. Keep warm.


Heat the oil in a large pan with semi-high sides. Saute the onions and peppers until beginning to soften, about 6-7 minutes. Remove from pan, but keep the heat on about medium.


In the same pan, mix the peanut butter, coconut milk, Thai seasoning, Sriracha, brown sugar, and lime juice. Whisk together until smooth.


Bring the heat up to medium-high and stir in the cooked onion and peppers, and stir in the shrimp. Cover and cook until the shrimp are pink, about 4-6 minutes, stirring/flipping the shrimp as neccessary. Stir in the chopped cilantro. Taste and season with salt accordingly.


Serve the shrimp curry over rice in shallow bowls. Garnish with more cilantro. Enjoy!


ROSS: Thai Shrimp is about two things: sauce and not overcooking the shrimp. The shrimp was crisp and not chewy. And the sauce had a little kick, which I like. It feeds my fantasy that spicy foods increase your metabolism.

MY VOTE ON MY DISH: I give this 8 stars. The shrimp was well-cooked, and the Thai flavors really came through. I have made a version of this before using Jif peanut butter (for PBJ's, I'm a total Jif loyalist), and the natural peanut butter really enhanced the texture - not to mention, it's nice to be able to control the salt and sugar in the dish. This would be great of course with chicken, and especially tofu. Next time, I'd probably throw in some broccoli florets just to pump up the health factor, but overall it was really delicious, and it came together really quickly, which I love.

I'm sure you're all dying to know about the birthday cake! After the German Chocolate Cake Disaster of 2008, I was really nervous to attempt a chocolate-based birthday cake this year, but when I found this recipe on Closet Cooking, I was confident that I could pull it off - and the best part is, the recipe involves beer! Cake + chocolate + beer = the perfect birthday treat.

I used Kevin's suggestion about using chocolate stout, and made the cake with Rogue Chocolate Stout (and there was a whole pint leftover to enjoy while the cake baked - a definite plus in my book).

Instead of a cream cheese icing, I decided to take the chocolate level waaaaay over the top and "ice" it with a dark chocolate ganache. I used Dagoba super-dark chocolate (something like 65% cacao), and it came out really delicious. I poured it over the cake right when it came out of the oven, and it sort of soaked in, making it that much more rich and chocolately.

NOTE: Making chocolate ganache is really easy. Just heat a pot over low heat, and break a bar of good-quality dark chocolate into pieces. As it begins to melt, stir in some heavy cream - I usually just eyeball it, but it should be roughly the same amount of cream as chocolate. Whisk together, never bringing the heat above low, and pour over whatever you want! Or just eat it with a spoon, whichever.


ROSS: Mmmmmm…chocolate, need I say more? Okay, I will. This cake tasted like a brownie right out of the oven. The ganache? Ohmygosh. Even the next day, it was still soft and delicious. It’s got stamina, like Lance-Armstrong-stamina.

ME: Wow. Eating a piece of this cake is as close to freebasing chocolate as it gets. Chocolate lovers: stop what you're doing and make this immediately.

My favorite thing about the cake was its dense, moist texture - it was sort of like the best things about a brownie and the best things about a cake in one incredible creation. And the ganache just took the whole thing to the next level. It was definitely super-rich - the kind of cake where you MUST have a glass of cold milk within close reach. Super-rich can be a good thing: rather than gorge myself on half the cake at once, the richness makes one small piece superbly satisfying (although it's worth mentioning that I snuck a little piece for breakfast this morning - I'm only human).

The only downside was that the cake didn't exactly turn out aesthetically perfect - hence the super-close photo. There are two levels of baking: the first level involves making things taste good, and the next level involves making them look just as amazing (something to work toward).

And the BEST PART: Ross loved it! He didn't eat as much of it as I did (story of my life), but it was so great to feel redeemed in the baking department after last year's travesty. And next year will be the BIG 3-0...I might just have to step it up and make a layer cake!

Thanks for reading! More soon...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Recession: Party of One - Heavenly Angel Hair with a Worldly Flair

It's been said, "What grows together, goes together." While I subscribe to that in theory, in reality, I'm more apt to follow the lesser known but maybe more universal adage, "If it tastes good in my mouth, I'm gonna put it in my mouth."

This Angel Hair dish is the perfect example of that. I mean, who does it think it is, globetrotting like this: starting in Italy, gallavanting through the Mediterraean, taking a detour through Latin America, and ending up on my plate in Chicago, Illinois?

If I were to really name this dish, I'd call it:



1 serving dry angel hair pasta, protein-enriched (like Barilla Plus)
1/3 head of a small red cabbage, thinly sliced
1/3 of a small butternut squash, peeled and cut into small chunks
1/2 white onion, thinly sliced
fresh thyme leaves
fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1/2 T. ras el hanout (more on this later)
2-3 T. olive oil
salt and pepper


Preheat the oven to 425. In a baking dish, toss the butternut squash with about 1 T. olive oil, salt, and the ras el hanout. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, until fork-tender.


In a nonstick skillet, heat the rest of the olive oil. Cook the cabbage and onions over medium heat, seasoned with salt and pepper (don't be a wimp about this), for about 20 minutes, until caramelized and tender. Add the thyme and cilantro about 5 minutes before removing from heat.


Boil the angel hair until al dente. Drain. Return to pot off the heat. Toss in the butternut squash and all olive oil left in the baking dish and the onions/cabbage with all their oil as well (the olive oil serves as the "sauce" for the dish). Serve hot. Enjoy!

Wow! Only 7 ingredients, and this was such a flavorful dish. The ras el hanout, which is a classic Mediterranean spice blend which means "best of the house," had a little sweetness which really complemented the flavor of the squash and caramelized veggies. I was most nervous about the thyme-cilantro combo clashing, but I thought they both added their own little spark of bright freshness to the dish - they may not grow together, but they seemed to work.

I think the keys to making this taste great were seasoning appropriately and really embracing the (heart healthy) extra virgin olive oil. This is one of my favorite things I've made recently, and it's also one of the healthiest - no meat, no dairy, just amazing flavors from all over the world.

If I were to add an element or two, I think I'd add an element of crunch - maybe toasted pine nuts, almonds, or walnuts; and I also think this would be divine with goat cheese (but what wouldn't?).

And to top it all off, let's check out the PARTY OF ONE PRICE INDEX:

CABBAGE: 44 cents
ONION: 50 cents
RAS EL HANOUT: 50 cents

Everything else is a pantry staple, which makes our GRAND TOTAL:

$1.80 ! ! !

Under two bucks for a delicious meal of global proportions. Once again, economical success!

Thanks for reading. More soon...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Recession: Party of One - Mozzarella-Stuffed Chicken & Wilted Spinach

Normally, I feel lost without carbs. If a plate is devoid of a pile of rice or pasta, my culinary mooring post is gone, and I'm a ship lost in a sea of meat and veggies. Ignoring for a moment, that this delicious chicken dish involves a generous coating of, ahem, breadcrumbs, I'm patting myself on the back as I write this for not scarfing a lump of processed flour for dinner, and actually enjoying the meal!

Yes, Recession: Party of One is back and meltier than ever. Read on to see how to make:


1 small chicken breast (I actually used half of a large one)
a couple spoonfuls flour
1 egg, beaten
1/2 c. seasoned bread crumbs
2 T. olive oil
salt and pepper
1 oz. mozzarella cheese

a couple handfuls spinach leaves
1/4 c. water
sprinkling of white wine vinegar
drizzle olive oil
salt and pepper


Cut the chicken breast almost in half, leaving it attached at one edge (butterflied). Pound it out thin with a meat mallet. Season it on both sides with salt and pepper.


In a shallow bowl, beat the egg. On one plate, sprinkle the flour. On another plate, lay out the bread crumbs. Dredge the chicken in the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs.


Preheat the oven to 375. Heat 2 T. olive oil in a nonstick pan. Fry the chicken on one side until it's crisp and brown. Flip and fry the other side until it looks the same. The chicken will most likely not be cooked through, so transfer it to a baking dish and bake for about 15 minutes, until there is no trace of pink in the chicken, and the cheese is melty.


Put the spinach and water in a small pot with a lid. Cover and steam over medium heat until spinach is wilted. Remove from heat and Drain. Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar, and season with salt and pepper.


Plate the spinach. Cut the chicken into slices and lay over the greens. Enjoy!


CHICKEN: $1.75
MOZZARELLA: 30 cents
SPINACH: $1.00

Everything else is a pantry staple, which brings our GRAND TOTAL to...


Nice! I haven't had one meal yet that wasn't cheaper than a fast food dinner. I must say, I'm impressed.

This was a really tasty meal. Next time, I'd season the chicken a bit more aggressively, and if I had more time and a bit more money, I'd make a quick lemony sauce to go over the top (although a marinara would be delicious, too). If I had just won the lottery, I'd add prosciutto to the cheese inside the chicken, and if I won the lottery AND received magical skinny powers, I'd serve it over a bed of lusciously carby a cream sauce!

A gal can dream...

Thanks for reading! More soon.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Recession: Party of One - Clean-Out-The-Fridge Tagine

One of my favorite ways to eat healthily is to take all the inevitable leftover veggie scraps from a week or so's worth of meals and throw them into one dish. I'm always surprised how much I can make out of so little, and it's nice to have a reason to get all that clutter out of the fridge.

This meal was a perfect example of that. Every time I thought I had found every last veggie, I kept stumbling across more little Ziploc baggies of goodness.

I have recently been reading up on how to make tagines, which are a North African dish named for their clay cooking vessel (the tagine), which looks like this:

For those of us who don't own a tagine (er...put that one on the future-wedding-registry-list), making a tagine can involve a CrockPot or just a simple pot with a lid. They are most commonly made with lamb or chicken on the bone, and simmered for long periods of time to tenderize the meat. And if you're one of those gotta-have-the-most-obscure-kitchen-tools types, check out this tagine site.

My inspiration for the CrockPot veggie tagine was my weekend trip to The Spice House, an amazing spice store in Old Town, where I outfitted myself with some basic Indian and Moroccan spices for about $11 (!).

When I set out to put together my tagine, I simply couldn't decide which spice mix to use, so I just mixed the Garam Masala and the Moroccan spice blends. They have similar base flavors, so I figured they'd go well together.

Read on to see how to make one mean tagine...



(mesaurements are loose approximations)

3/4 c. chickpeas
1/2 c. sweet potato, in small chunks
1 orange bell pepper, cut into chunks
1/2 white onion, in chunks
1 large can crushed tomatoes
1/2 c. raw peas
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
1/4 c. cashews, slightly crushed
1 T. Moroccan spice blend
1 T. garam masala

handful of spinach leaves, raw
sliced green olives

white rice
chicken broth
salt and pepper
1 tsp. butter

sour cream (for garnish, if desired)


(This can be done the night before, which is what I did. The inner part of my CrockPot is removable, so I just put all the ingredients in there and refrigerated it overnight, then stuck it in the CrockPot base to cook all day while I was at work.)

Mix the first 10 ingredients together in the CrockPot.


Cook on low for about 8 hours (basically, just cook it while you're at work). When done, stir in the spinach leaves to wilt, and also the olives. Taste, and add salt if neccessary.


Turn CrockPot to WARM. Cook the rice in the chicken broth, adding the saffron. When done, add salt, pepper and butter and fluff with a fork.


Serve the veggie tagine over the rice, topping with a little sour cream (or plain yogurt) if desired.

This was a really flavorful dish! The spices made it so complex that I would probably never think that it was a vegetarian dish if I hadn't known. I can only imagine how incredible this would be with some slow-simmered lamb...mmmm. I've also seen some great chicken tagine recipes with preserved lemon rind and olives.... Next time, delicious litte tagine, next time!

Let's check out the PARTY OF ONE PRICE INDEX, shall we?

CHICKPEAS: 20 cents
SPINACH: 66 cents
SWEET POTATO: 25 cents
PEAS: 50 cents
ONION: 10 cents (didn't use much)
CARROT: 15 cents
SPICES: around $1.00 total

I'm leaving out the rice and the sour cream, since I already had those before my bulk shopping trip. This made about 4 good-size servings (the leftovers are in my lunchbag for tomorrow and stashed in my freezer), which puts the per-serving GRAND TOTAL at:


Wow. What a great price for so much slow-simmered yumminess! Proof that you don't have to go halfway around the world to eat like it - that's what I call budget travelling ;-)

Thanks for reading! More soon...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Fearless Biscuits and Chicken Stew

As you well know, baking terrifies me (and with Ross' birthday just around the corner and a chocolate cake looming on the horizon, I'm really feeling it).

But if the time is right and fate dictates that only baking will do, I'll always rise (ha!) to the occasion. And Friday night, just such a situation presented itself: my dear friend Emily had just returned from 5 amazing weeks in Europe, and was craving American food.

I admit that I was momentarily stumped. Not only is "American food" a rather vague cuisine, but my love of all things ethnic (and specifically, Italian and French food) actually makes it that much harder for me to master simple American meals.

Suddenly, in a burst of inspiration I can only trace to my southern roots, I decided that creamy chicken stew ladled over hot homemade biscuits (which I've wanted to try making for awhile) is about as Not European as it gets. I kept imagining Puritan settler wives standing over giant cauldrons stirring chicken stew for hours...not that I have any idea if this is historically accurate, mind you.


NOTE: I am the Fearless Cook, not the Fearless Baker, so I used this recipe for the biscuits.


(makes about 4 servings)

3 smallish boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped into small chunks
1/2 cup peas (use frozen...more on this later)
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
1/2 c. frozen corn kernels
2 T. butter
3 T. flour
1 and 1/2 c. chicken broth
1/2 c. half and half
2 cloves garlic, minced
several sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves only
salt and pepper and red pepper flakes
basic salt-free all-purpose seasoning


Make the biscuits according to the recipe. They take about 15 minutes to bake. NOTE: I skipped the last part about rolling the dough out onto a floured surface and then cutting them with a cookie cutter - I have neither a rolling pin nor cookie cutters, so I just shaped them into roundish lumps and it worked out fine.


In a large pot, melt the butter. Add the garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Whisk in the flour to make a roux, and cook for about a minute. Whisk in the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Let it boil until the chicken broth is beginning to thicken. Reduce heat to medium low and stir in the half and half.


Add the rest of the ingredients. Cover. Cook on medium heat until the sauce is thickened, the chicken is cooked, and the veggies are tender. Taste and adjust seasoning if neccessary.


Cut a biscuit in half and place it in a shallow bowl. Ladle some stew over the top. Enjoy!


EMILY: The biscuits were amazing. And I think the stew was delicious. The only thing was, the peas were a little undercooked. And I love the carrots.

ME: Those were sweet potatoes.

EMILY: Really? Are you sure? Oh. Well I loved the sweet potatoes.

MY VOTE ON MY DISH: 6 stars.

I'd love to give myself more credit for attempting the biscuits, but I think I need more practice before I can really give Bojangles a run for its money. And the peas...the PEAS! What a disappointment. Something possessed me to get these fresh peas I saw at the market, and then of course I just shucked off the packaging and didn't read the cooking directions - they needed at least 30 minutes of cooking on their own before they'd be tender enough to put into the stew. They didn't taste bad per se, but the texture was unpleasant. Not a meal-ruiner, but not good either. Other than that I think it came out well. It was a nice consistency - not too thick, not too thin - and it was a nice, filling bed of goodness that helped us get through a night of good old fashioned American style dancing without any untoward incidences.

Welcome back, dearest Em, and thanks everyone for reading! More soon...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Recession: Party of One - Tortelloni Two Ways



Mmmm...cheese-filled pasta.

Here we are for another go-round of Recession: Party of One. Actually, two go-rounds. One of my most delicious CostCo purchases was a giant bag of cheese tortelloni - a very versatile pasta choice (although, all pastas are pretty versatile.) So I have not one but TWO delicious meals that took very little time or effort to make.

In another attempt at a yummy yet meat-free meal, I made a quick savory, brothy sauce to go with the pasta, including the veggies of the moment (at least in my world), broccoli and yellow bell pepper. And with the leftover tortelloni and the last of the ropa vieja beef, I made sort of a casserole, and as a side dish, of course I had more of the ubiquitous broccoli.

The great thing about this first meal - and this sauce - is that you could really put just about anything in it. Sausage, chicken, fresh tomato, zucchini, pine nuts, walnuts, rosemary, basil, squash, green beans, peas, pancetta, or bacon would all be lovely - just to name a few.

Think of it as a blank canvas - a hot, cheesy, delicious blank canvas.



1 1/2 c. dry cheese tortelloni (NOTE: I think tortelloni are just slightly bigger than tortellini - it really doesn't make a difference, except in boiling time)
1 orange bell pepper (or any color)
6-7 large broccoli florets, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. butter
juice of one lemon
1/2 c. chicken broth
1/4 c. milk
salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes
grated parmesan
mozzarella cheese, cut into small chunks


Boil the tortelloni for 12-13 minutes, until hot and tender. Drain. Keep warm.


In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat and add the garlic. Cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Add the bell pepper, broccoli, lemon juice, chicken broth, and milk. Bring to a boil and cook until reduced by about half and slightly thickened (sauce will still be broth-y).


Reduce the heat to medium and stir in parmesan and mozzarella until melted. Place tortelloni in a bowl and top with some sauce. Enjoy!

This came out pretty dang delicious! I demolished it in about 4 and a half minutes by my estimate, and even got a spoon so I could get every last drop of sauce. The sauce is rich without being heavy, and I really liked how the meatlessness let the flavor of the cheeses take center stage. In times of increased cash flow, I'd definitely add some fresh herbs - anything would work, but I'm partial to basil and parsley.

Now for the Party of One Price Index:

TORTELLONI: 20 cents
BROCCOLI: 54 cents
TOMATOES: 55 cents
LEMON: 60 cents
MOZZARELLA: 45 cents

Since everything else were things I had on hand before this CostCo endeavor, that brings the per-serving GRAND TOTAL to:


Well, I think it may be the most expensive R: P of 1 meal to date, but in the grand scale of things (when you think that a McDonald's Extra Value Meal is about $4) it's still a great deal for a healthy, homemade dinner. Now for the second Tortelloni dish...



Leftover tortelloni (I had about a cup and a half cooked tortelloni left over)
1 can stewed tomatoes and juices
Leftover roasted beef (I had about a cup)
Grated parmesan
Grated mozzarella


If the broccoli is frozen, like mine was, you can boil it. I just microwaved mine for about 3 minutes in a bowl with a little water in the bottom, then drained it.


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a shallow baking dish, spread out the pasta. Pour the can of tomatoes, with juices, over the pasta, spreading around the tomato chunks. Cover that with a thin layer of the beef. Sprinkle grated cheeses on top.


Bake for about 30 minutes. Serve with the broccoli. Enjoy!

I had actually put this all together last night when I made the original Tortelloni dish, which made "making" dinner tonight a cinch - I just stuck it in the oven, and bam - dinner in 30 minutes, with no hand-on time. This was actually a really satisfying dish, even though it has so few ingredients. I waited until after I tasted it to add seasoning, and I just sprinkled a smidge of kosher salt on top - it had plenty of flavor from the tortelloni and cheeses.

This is one of my better examples of how to make what seems like a completely new and exciting meal out of things you have leftover from other meals. And, in true cooking-for-one fashion, I now have a ton of leftover tortelloni casserole! I think I'll freeze it, since the beef was made several days ago. But on a night when the last thing I want to do is cook, it'll be great to just pull it out of the freezer and stick it in the oven again.


TORTELLONI: 80 cents (that's 4 servings)
TOMATOES: 55 cents
BEEF: 74 cents
BROCCOLI: 54 cents
MOZZARELLA: 15 cents

Which brings our per-serving GRAND TOTAL to...

70 cents!

SEVENTY CENTS, PEOPLE! Suck it, Recession! You lose, Big Bad Economy!

That, my friends, is called beating the system. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Recession: Party of One - Ropa Vieja and Saffron Rice

I have a feeling that my Ropa Vieja on a budget will have Cuban abuelas rolling over in their graves from here to Havana. It's certainly not what you'd call traditional. But after a little research on what exactly ropa vieja entails (it's not much more than beef roast, tomato paste, and a little olive oil), I realized I had on hand some form of all the key ingredients.

Ropa Vieja, to the uninitialted, means "old clothes" in Spanish, and it's a traditional Cuban dish made with slow-roasted beef, served most of the time over rice. I FINALLY found my precious jar of saffron hiding in the back corners of my spice cabinet, so I made some savory saffron rice to go with it.

I can't wait to give you the Party of One Price Index breakdown!

INGREDIENTS (note: this is how I made it; if you want a traditional recipe, head to Google)

1 chunk very lean roasting beef (I'm guessing mine was about 1/2 pound); I used top round roast
1 can stewed tomatoes (that means cooked with onions and green peppers)
1 glug olive oil
a couple hefty shakes of oregano
3 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled, but left whole
salt and pepper
cayenne pepper to taste (you could use red pepper flakes or even Tabasco)

1/2 c. dry wild rice blend
1 c. chicken broth
pinch saffron
juice of 1/2 a lime
salt and pepper
pat of butter

fresh or frozen broccoli florets
minced orange bell pepper (optional; for garnish)


Put the beef, tomatoes (with all the juice), olive oil, oregano, cayenne pepper, and garlic into a CrockPot. Set on low, and cook for 6-8 hours. After the beef has been cooking for about 4 hours, remove it from the liquid and cut it into smaller chunks. After it has cooked for about another hour and a half after that, remove the pieces again and pull apart (going with the grain of the meat) with two forks (see photo). Return to CrockPot. With a wooden spoon or whatever you have on hand, smash the tomatoes that have remained in larger pieces, until the meat is basically in a chunky tomato sauce. Cook for about another half hour. Fish out the larger garlic chunks before serving.


Bring the chicken broth to a boil and add the rice. Stir in the saffron, cover, and bring it down to a simmer. Simmer, covered, until the rice has absorbed all the liquid. When done, stir in salt, pepper, butter, and lime juice. Keep warm until ready to serve.


Boil broccoli for a few minutes, just until tender-crisp. Drain. Serve the ropa vieja over the rice with the broccoli on the side. Garnish with bell pepper if desired.


BEEF: $2.23
TOMATOES: 55 cents
BROCCOLI: 54 cents

Everything else was basically a pantry staple, and therefore I'm not counting the cost. It's worth noting, however, that saffron is THE most expensive spice, but I got my jar at Trader Joe's for $6. I'm not counting the small piece of bell pepper I used as garnish, either, mostly because I would've much preferred some fresh cilantro (which I just ran out of, unfortunately).

This made 3 generous servings of ropa vieja, and two full-meal servings (including rice and broccoli). I'll count that as 2.5 servings. Which makes our GRAND TOTAL per serving...

$1.49 ! ! !

Dios Mio! That's a deal if I've ever seen one.

This was a really tasty dish, too. I can see, with a few recipe modifications, this being a great party dish - you could just throw some beef in the slow cooker in the morning, make some rice and maybe some roasted bell or poblano peppers, and have everyone serve themselves. Get the mojito bar going, and voila! Instant Cuban-themed fiesta.

Thanks for reading! More soon...
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