Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fisherman's Pie

Thanks to Crash Kitchen for this idea, although I made no effort to actually follow their recipe. I was skeptical of an English fish pie but this creamy concoction of smoked and fresh fish was a huge hit. It's basically a shepherd's pie but with fish and a bechamel. For the topping, I tried the latest "perfect mashed potatoes" method from the OCD folks at Cook's Illustrated. You steam the peeled, cubed potatoes for 10-15 minutes, rinse them in cold water, and then steam them anotgher 20 minutes until mashable, then rice them. The result really is some insanely light, fluffy mash that's perfect for a dish like this. This method is also fasterand easier - the riced potatoes incorporate with no effrt and you don't have to wait for a pot of water to boil (just a feew cups in the steamer). Any fish will work as long as some is smoked. In fact, using pimenton (smoked paprika) in the sauce might even make up for having no smoked fish.

Ingredients: 8 med. potatoes (about 2 lbs), 1/2 stick butter, 1 15 oz can of mackerel (large bones removed and "dark meat" fed to Marcel), 1 lbs smoked fish (I smoked some whiting fillets out back and used a can of Trader Joe's smoked trout I had opened earlier for a snack), 1 leek, 4 shallots, 3/4 lbs of peas or green beans, 2 cups milk, 3 tbsp. flour (Wondra is best), Worcestershire sauce, paprika and pepper to taste

  • Make mashed potatoes with 1/4 stick of butter; set aside
  • Melt 1/4 stick butter butter on low heat in saucepan
  • Whisk in flour and add leeks and shallots; saute a while
  • Add milk and seasoning. Some people say to use warm milk, but I just crank up the heat and whisk it to death
  • Add a 10 oz block of frozen vegetables such as peas or green beans (I used blanched fresh green beans because they were already in the fridge) and the fish (if your fish is raw, dice it and throw it in. If cooked, simply break apart.
  • Pour sauce in greased casserole dish. Top with mashed potatoes
  • Bake at 375 for 30 minutes
  • Eat right away or somebody else will

Serves 6-9 (depending on whether Dave and Heather are over and have seconds and thirds)

Frugal Factor: As prepared, this is a really frugal dish. You could go all out with cream instead of bechamel and something other than the two cheapest fish at the grocery store, but I'm not sure if it could get much tastier. 15 0z can mackeral, $1.10; 1 lbs whiting, $3.00 (plus the cost of some wood for smoking); frozen peas, $1.25; $0.35 for 2 cups milk; $0.35 for 1/2 stick butter ($2.79/lbs at TJ's - wow); $1.60 for 2 lbs potatoes; $1.50 for the leek, shallots and spices. At $9.15 for 6 servings, thats $1.53/serving.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Stuffed Acorn Squash w/ Quinoa, Dried Fruit and Nuts

If you have been reading this blog from time to time, you know I'm no vegetarian. But sometimes a meatless meal is a nice change from ham, sausage, pork chops... Anyway, I came up with this recipe as a vegan entree for festive holiday meals. Quinoa is a superfood of sorts in that it has a very high amount of complete protein, so it's all you need. This recipe does have that 1970s Rodale Cookbook feel, but it's a great winter dish anyway. Just don't serve it with steamed brown bread.

Ingredients: 2 acorn squash, 1/2 cup quinoa, 1/4 cup dried fruit (apricots, cranberries, currants, cherries are all good), 1 diced onion, pinch of sage, pinch of thyme, cinnamon stick, 1/4 cup chopped pecans, 2-3 tbsp. shredded unsweetened coconut.

  • Halve each squash and scoop out the seeds (The truly frugal will roast those for later snacking. I will not).
  • Slice just a little bit off the bottom of each half to make a flat surface
  • Roast open side down at 375 for about 45 minutes or until soft but still structurally sound
  • In a rice cooker, combine quinoa, fruit, onion, herbs, cinnamon and 1 cup vegetable stock or lightly salted water (you can of course make it on the stovetop, but maybe w/ more water)
  • Scoop out 1-2 tsp. of squash flesh and stir into the quinoa pilaf (this helps it hold together)
  • Sprinkle the coconut and pecans - you can spray a little oil to make it stick, and press the nuts in a little.
  • Bake at 375 for 30 minutes
Serves 4

Notes: The pre-roasting of the squash and the cooking of the quinoa pilaf can be done a day or two ahead. This is also good with curry powder. The natural sweetness of the squash and fruits may make you want to go all out and make this a sweeter dish. I haven't tried, but I will warn you that unsulphered apricots can get a little bitter and when cooked this way, so taste the pilaf before you stuff.

Frugal Factor: Hard to estimate on this because most of the ingredients are pantry items I usually buy a lot of. The squash were $3 for 2 at the discount produce; at $4/lb bulk, the quinoa would be $0.70, everything else was maybe $1.50. That's $1.30/serving.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Spinach Feta Endive Poppers

I may have created a new appetizer. Well, it needs dome work but it's getting there. I like Belgian Endive cooked, like in a gratin, but I didn't have any melty cheese. I has feta though. And spinach. I like spanakopita, but I had no filo. I did have panko though, and I finally got around to fixing my deep fryer a while back. (Ugg, that was a pain. I had to buy a special scredriver just to take apart some kind of switch with a broken spring.) Anway, the pictures tell the story. No frugal factor, because endive is expensive because it has to come all the way from Belgium.

Liberty Cabbage (Ham n' Sauerkraut)

When I was a kid, my dad used to get a whole bunch of wursts and pork from the German butcher and cook them with sauerkraut in a Romertopf - a semi-porous clay roasting pan and lid. Today, I use my slow cooker. It's pretty much the same idea.

Any collection of pork products will do, particularly the large or fatty pieces that need slow cooking like shoulder, hock, etc. Cured sausages and franks are great too (uncured ones will dry out). In this case, I used some ham that's been in the freezer since Thanksgiving (to make way for a new ham) and some German-style franks that were getting a little freezer burned.

I also added potatoes and a few herbs and spices which really add to the flavor, mainly coarse mustard, caraway seeds and savory. The latter two are rumored to reduce the social liabilities of cabbage. I don't know if that's an issue with a fermented product like sauerkraut, especially after six hours of cooking, but they are mighty tasty.

I'm not much for these raw food people, but raw sauerkraut is loaded with vitamin C. Canned sauerkraut is not, so I suspect cooking reduces the vitamin. That is why I reserve 1/4 of the kraut to stir in after slow cooking the rest with the pork. At minimum, it adds a little crunch that is lost in the cooking. If it wards off colds and improves your digestion, even better.

1 32 oz. bag sauerkraut, 2 lbs diced potatoes, 1 sliced yellow onion, 1-3 lbs of pork, 1/4 tsp. caraway, 1/2 tsp savory, 1 tbsp coarse grain prepared mustard.

  • Put potatoes and onions in bottom of slow cooker
  • Drain sauerkraut and put 1/4 aside for later
  • Layer kraut with the meat and herbs and spices
  • Cook on medium (autoshift) for 8 hours or so
  • Stir in reserved raw kraut.
Serves 6

Frugal Factor: Hard to say. The kraut was on sale for $1 (that's why I bought it) but usually it's $1.50. I went lighter on the meat - 3 franks and 1 lbs ham. That's $5 or so. The mustard, savory and caraway would probably be about $0.50. Potatoes about $1.60. So you're looking at about $8.60 for 6 servings. That's $1.43/serving. You could do it for less or more.

Note: One nice variation if you have more time is to make buttery mashed potatoes separately instead of cooking the potatoes w/ everything else. If you really want to go nuts, fry up some crispy diced bacon and sprinkle on top. That's how you change this from a weeknight meal to Das Sonntags-Abendessen. And hey, if you have a Romertopf, break it out (just remember to soak it in water and put it in a cold oven).

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Going Whole Hog. Well, Quarter Hog Anyway.

Because I think pigs are lovable but delicious, I have been trying to avoid factory farmed pork. It's unspeakable cruel to animals, workers, neighbors and the environment. Also, supermarket pork shops taste like crap. But buying from farmer Tom at the Saturday market is, A) Expensive, B) I overslept, C) Not possible until the market starts again in April, D) All of the above.

Lucky for me, my uncle is a member of the Winter Harvest buying club and has a freezer of his own. So we split a half pig, pasture-raised on a Pennsylvania farm. For $300, you get approx 70 lbs; cuts include (approx weights): chops with bone 12 lbs; ham 16 lbs; 2 shoulder roasts 6 lbs total; bacon 6 lbs; country sausage 12 lbs; scrapple 10 lbs; ground pork 8 lbs. So I have half that in my freezer. Well, less than half that. I ate some bacon and scrapple for breakfast, gave away a pound of scrapple (5 pounds is seriously more than I will eat in a long time) and I made pork chops stuffed with apple stuffing in a cider sauce.

So, needless to say, stay tuned for lots of pork recipes soon. I may even attempt The Bacon Explosion.

Frugal Factor:
To buy all this a' la carte from the buying club would have cost me $245 and possibly even more at the farmer's market. Well, to be fair, I would have bought less scrapple. I love scrapple and all, but c'mon. But let's just say $245. I spent $150. That's 39% off. So for the ham, usually $8/lb, I spent only about $4.89. I paid $3.99 for a Smithfield on sale around Thanksgiving, so that's not too much more to pay for something much more delicious and less cruel.

Of course, the some of the other stuff is much more expensive either way. Supermarket pork is often only $1-$2/lb for chops or sausage. But really, meat should not be that cheap. It's a little obscene in this country that a pound of pork costs less than a pound of broccoli. No wonder everybody's on Lipitor.

To further alleviate my omnivorific dilemma, I also made a donation to Heifer for three shares of a pig for a family in some country nobody wants to visit. Holy man that I am, I'll still have a heart attack if I eat that bacon explosion.