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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bargain Wine of the Week: Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay 2008

Chardonnays can be as grassy or light as a Sauvignon Blanc -- or as thick and buttery as fresh-squeezed fruit juice. Depending on your mood or what you're eating, either type might work very well.

Chateau Ste. Michelle's 2008 Chardonnay is somewhere in the middle between these styles. That's not a bad thing. For fish especially, sometimes you want a wine that won't overpower the food. After all, at dinner, wine is supposed to be a rhythm guitar, not the lead.

We tasted it next to the very California, very buttery, very thick and very rich Sonoma-Cutrer Chard, which we love. The Ste. Michelle could sit in the band right next to the Sonoma-Cutrer if the food isn't too rich.

This is an $8.45 bottle of white that rated a 90 by Wine Spectator, which said, "Bright and jazzy with pretty pineapple, grapefruit, elderflower and spice flavors that linger on the finish without excess weight."

The good news: this wine is widely available throughout the United States.

The bad news: it should be drunk before 2013 to be at it's best.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Bargain Wine of the Year: Odfjell Armador Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Chilean wines are among our five current regional defaults for great bargain buys: Washington State, Australia, Rhone River in France, Spain and Chile.

The only problem with Chile is that there are still enough swill wines coming out of South America that you have to be as careful as you would be picking fruit in a grocery store without being able to touch it.

Here's a sure thing from Chile, and it's a whopping bargain to boot. Armador Cabernet Sauvignon from the Odfjell Winery in Chile's Maipo Valley was one of Wine Spectator magazine's Top 100.

We defy anyone to taste this blindly and not guess that you're drinking at least a $20 to $30 bottle of Cab. At $8.45 a bottle, it is far and away our Bargain Wine of the Year. This isn't an overly complicated wine, but it's got light cassis and berry fruitiness, and it'll make you smile every time you drink it -- if not from the exquisite flavor, then from the incredible steal you've got in your hands.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bargain Wine of the Week: Di Majo Norante Sangiovese 2008

Italy's Tuscan region is one of the most civilized and beautiful in the world. Florence is full of great paintings, world-class cathedrals, tremendous culinary offerings and centuries of history.

South of Florence, in the Tuscan countryside, vineyards of Sangiovese grapes cover the hillsides and form the basis of Tuscany's celebrated wine.

These red Tuscans can be expensive, but unlike France's Bordeaux, there are bargains to be had if you search for them. Many are obscure, and take some undercover work to find. One way to get a great Tuscan-style wine without the high price is to search for an Italian Sangiovese in a neighboring region such as Molise, southeast of Tuscany.

One low-priced and very tasty Sangiovese from Molise that we love is relatively easy to find in small wine stores throughout much of the U.S.

We've been buying this wine for at least three years and have noted it before: Di Majo Norante Sangiovese. We found bottles of the 2008 edition online for $8.95. This is a wine that critic Robert Parker gave a 90 rating.

While it's a good enough food wine, it's fruit-laden tastiness also makes it great for conversational sipping and enjoying with friends. No sharpness in this pleasing pasta and meat wine, and a finish long enough to carry you to the next course or topic.

This wine was one of the fantastic 90-plus bargains we found last month online. If you see it at your local wine stop, by all means pick up a bottle for your next Italian dinner.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mulligatawny Makes You Feel Better

There are many upsides to being a vegetarian, but one undeniable downside: it's tough to find comforting soup when you're getting sick. There's simply nothing that can compare in restorative properties to chicken soup. At least, that's what Ruth always thought, until weekend before last, when she started feeling bad.

She wasn't sick exactly, just achy and sniffly, with all the warning signs of an impending head cold. As it happened, Tim was craving Indian food—not just any Indian food, but the food served by one of our favorite local restaurants. The wind was cold and blowing in circles, so we bundled up and trundled off.

Chilled and cranky, Ruth only wanted soup, so she decided to try mulligatawny for the first time. Why had she never tried it before? Maybe there was always something more enticing on the menu, but that night, after the waiter assured her it was vegetarian, she hopefully ordered a big bowl.

She was glad she did.

Hot, lemony, subtly spicy from cayenne and subtly sweet from coconut, the soup made her feel better instantly. The next night she made a big pot at home, working off several Internet recipes. She intended to freeze half of it, but there wouldn't be enough left to freeze: in a cold, achy week, mulligatawny was the only thing either of us wanted.

But that head cold? It never happened (note: sadly, it did happen, not long afterward—R&T). Mulligatawny might work even better than chicken soup.

This recipe seems infinitely adaptable—some versions call for apples, some for green peppers and cabbage—so feel free to experiment. Just aim for a balance of spice, sour, and sweet.


1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 cups chopped onion
5 chopped garlic cloves
1 1/2 T. garam masala
1 1/2 t. ground coriander
1 t. turmeric
3/4 t. cayenne pepper
a couple of whole dried red peppers (optional, depending on how much heat you like)
2 bay leaves
2 cups dried red lentils
8 cups vegetable broth
1 medium-size potato, peeled and chopped
1 big carrot, peeled and chopped
1 1/2 cans coconut milk
4 T. lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
lemon wedges

1. Heat the oil in a big pot over medium-high heat.

2. Add the onions and cook until starting to brown, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes

3. Add garam masala, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, dried peppers, and bay leaves. Stir for a minute. Add the lentils and stir until they are coated in spices.

4. Add broth, potato, and carrot and bring to a boil, then simmer until the vegetables and lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Discard the bay leaves.

5. Using either a hand blender or a regular blender, purée the soup until smooth. (If using a regular blender, do it in small batches to avoid burning yourself.)

6. Add the coconut milk and lemon juice, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve with lemon wedges.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Easy Peasy Roast Chicken

Guest Blogger Amy Friedman shares her recipe for a classic comfort dish:

Every recipe book says roast chicken is THE easiest thing to cook. However, according to my friend Ruth, the lovely lady who helps run this fab blog, roast chicken is actually surprisingly tough to do well. For everyone, the tough parts are different: is it having moist meat? Tasty meat? Crispy skin? Hating basting? Could even be as simple as just takes too much darn time and attention. 

After several years of experimenting with various techniques, I finally hit on a surefire way to get a lovely moist roast bird with an absolute minimum of fuss and bother. Warning: If you're a huge fan of crispy skin, skip this recipe, as there won't be a lot - just some over the breast and around the legs.

The most important piece of equipment you'll need is a three-quart Dutch oven with a lid. 

Easy Peasy Roast Chicken

1. Buy a 3 1/2 -pound chicken. Unwrap, take out the giblets, and rinse. 

2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

3. Put the chicken, breast side up, in the Dutch oven. If you want, you can dice an onion or two and sprinkle on the bottom. Sometimes I do, sometimes no. Put the neck (if it came with the giblets) next to the chicken.

4. Sprinkle the chicken inside and out with your favorite mix of spices. I like black, red, and white pepper, garlic powder, oregano and dill. 

5: This is important: Take a largeish whole onion, slice off the top and bottom, skin it, and put it inside the chicken. This will keep the chicken from drying out. If you don't have an onion, an apple works fine. The onion's better, because you can eat it after the chicken has roasted.

6. Once the oven has heated, put the lid on the Dutch oven and stick the whole thing in the oven. 

Timing: 20 minutes per pound, plus an extra 20 to 30 minutes. If you've got a three-pound chicken, the bird will be in the oven for about 1 1/2 hours. 

For crispier skin, it's okay to remove the lid for the last half hour or so. However, I've found I get enough crispy skin for a happy husband without lifting the lid.

Once the timer bings (always use a timer!), turn off the oven, let the chicken sit in the oven for about ten minutes, then take it out. Uncover the chicken, let it rest for about 15 minutes, then remove it from the pot. 

Every time I've used this method, I've gotten very tender, moist, falling-off-the-bone chicken with nicely spiced, crispy top skin. If the chicken's fatty, I also get a lot of nice drippings, which I save and reuse.

The last chicken I cooked this way must have been an athlete, because there weren't a lot of drippings! What there was, however, was densely flavorful, so I used it to cook the snow peas I was serving with the bird.

The cool thing about this method is that you can break up the cooking time. For larger chickens, I've started it the night before, on very low heat (250 degrees), turned it off in the morning, and then restarted it at 4 p.m., turning the oven up to 375. (I leave the chicken in the oven during the day; the Dutch oven retains a lot of heat, which keeps the cooking process going almost like a barbecue.) 

Moist meat, crispy skin, no basting, no fuss. Pop it in, do your laundry or take a nap, and awaken to a great dinner. What could be easier?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mushroom Sauce without the Can of Campbell's—Easy and Much Better

The stores are always full of cremini (button) mushrooms, and often they are on sale. They're always good for you, and we've found that prepared correctly, they can enhance many, many dishes. So why do we insist on using canned cream of mushroom soup as a liquid binder in so many recipes when the glop is nearly tasteless and always too salty?

It turns out that making your own mushroom sauce or cream of mushroom concentrate is really easy—and it tastes so much better.

We purchased a bunch of cremini mushrooms and another bunch of shiitakes for a faux-chopped liver appetizer and had about two cups of each left over. We also had lots of turkey and lots of cooked green beans from our Thanksgiving feast. Sounded like a casserole to us, so we decided to make our own cream of mushroom soup to hold it all together—with a bit of help from our trusty old New York Times Cookbook.

We chopped the mushrooms roughly and chopped a good-size onion as well. Then we melted two  tablespoons of butter (we used Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread, which is remarkably like butter and doesn't burn when used this way) in a saucepan and heated the onion until transparent. We tossed in the mushrooms and sauteed them another ten minutes, until they had given up their liquid and started to dry out again. Then we poured in a half cup of white wine and a half cup of red wine and simmered the mixture down to a slightly wet sauce.

At that point, we took the mixture off the heat and stirred in three tablespoons of flour, a teaspoon of leftover gravy and a teaspoon of Braggs Liquid Aminos (for flavor). We added added a bay leaf and two turns on the pepper mill and a cup and a half of water (we'd have added stock, but we didn't have any handy). We added the water slowly, stirring constantly, and put the saucepan back on the burner to bring it to a boil before then reducing the heat and simmering the mixture for another five minutes.

After the five minutes of simmering, we removed it from the heat, removed the bay leaf and had a beautiful silky mushroom sauce that we could have served with steak, or pork chops, or chicken filets. We put it in our turkey (and faux turkey) casseroles with the leftover beans, dressed up with a half cup of cream and a pinch of kosher salt.

With double the stock and cream, we'd have had cream of mushroom soup. But our sauce was perfect for, well, a sauce—and for a casserole. It would work just as well in tuna-noodle casserole or any of those comfort-food favorites that we have stopped making because want to avoid the salty can of Campbell's.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Breakfast Rice

Sometimes necessity is the mother of deliciousness. Last week, caught up in Thanksgiving lists and plans, we forgot to buy fruit and bread for breakfast, and we also forgot to make granola. One morning we woke up with virtually nothing to eat.

As we never, ever, skip breakfast, this posed a challenge.

Foraging through our overloaded pre-Thanksgiving refrigerator, we found that we had leftover brown rice and soy milk, and we remembered a dish we used to make, from the undelicious-sounding but very good Ayurvedic Cookbook, by Amadea Morningstar. You simply simmer cooked white or brown rice with an equal amount of milk, along with a shake of cinnamon and a handful of raisins, for a delicate-tasting and surprisingly hearty breakfast dish. If you start with leftover rice, the whole process takes about five minutes—just long enough for the rice to absorb some hot milk and for the raisins to plump up.

We've said it before, but this experience reinforced our conviction: never, ever, throw out leftover rice.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks

Today, as we prepare our Thanksgiving meal and look forward to dinner with dear friends and a houseful of dogs, we are grateful for many things. Among them: the faithful readers of Eat Well, Eat Cheap (particularly Belinda, the world's best commenter!). Thank you all. Hope you have a great holiday.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good

This time of year, sugar pumpkins (also known as pie pumpkins) are in abundance, prized not only for their decorative value but for their sweet, velvety flesh. Listening to NPR one evening, we heard Dorie Greenspan share a recipe that immediately captivated us, both because of the ease of preparation and the NPR interviewer's rapturous description.

Dorie Greenspan calls this Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good, because you can put pretty much anything in a whole pumpkin, bake it, and wind up with something delicious.

The first time we tried it, we used the NPR recipe, which relied on breadcrumbs. It was good, but we should have doubled the amount of filling to fully stuff the pumpkin, and we should have used a lot more cheese. The second time, we used wild rice, brown rice, and almonds, and made sure to fill the pumpkin cavity, and it was wonderful.

In both cases, we served this as a main course, accompanied by a green salad. But it would make a great addition to the Thanksgiving table.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Retro Aprons Will Put You in the Mood to Cook

We're not very big on oversized and overequipped kitchens, having sadly observed over the years that there is too often an inverse relationship between décor and deliciousness. Give us some sharp knives, some good pans, some reliable heat, and a little bit of counter space, and we're generally pretty happy. But every so often we see something we covet, because we know it will make cooking more fun.

Case in point: Becky McFarlan Schreiner's wonderful retro aprons, which are available online and can be viewed on Facebook. For their anniversary this year, Tim gave Ruth an old-fashioned number with big red buttons, polka dots, and blenders (yes, blenders) on it, and she feels like Lucy Ricardo every time she puts it on. The apron is a daily reminder that cooking should be fun, and that even the occasional kitchen disaster can still be good for a laugh.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Shake Your Wine?

Who ever heard of shaking a bottle of wine to make it taste better?

The people at Mollydooker Wines in Australia claim that they use nitrogen in their winemaking so that they put in fewer sulfites. Shaking the bottle allegedly puts flavor back in the wine. It's like instant aeration.

You would not, of course, do this with sparkling wine. And, in fact, you really need a screw cap to guarantee that you don't dribble wine all over the place, because the secret is pouring a little wine out of the bottle, then recapping before you shake upside down for about 5 seconds or so.

After the first shake, open the cap to release any pressure, close it up and shake again. Let the resulting bubbles settle for a minute and pour.

Here's a link to the Mollydooker website page that contains a video of the owners showing you how to do "The Mollydooker Shake." Once on the page, click on the video link and have fun shaking your Mollydooker — or other inexpensive red wine for the matter.

Surprise Dinner Guests? Try This!

We've all been there: Beloved pals drop by for a surprise visit around dinnertime, and although you're delighted to see them, you're not sure what to feed them. Ro Ann Redlin rides to the aid of Eat Well, Eat Cheap readers with this quick, easy, delicious dish:

She notes, "If you have a well-stocked larder, this should be no problem. Suspend your thoughts about anchovies. The anchovies will dissipate in this recipe, leaving a deep, smoky flavor." 

Ro Ann didn't provide a name for this dish, so we kicked around a few, including Pearl Harbor Pasta and Apache Linguine. But finally, in the interests of offending as few readers as possible, we decided upon a name that seemed to describe the ingredients as well as the circumstances:

Delightful Surprise Linguine 

7 to 8 ounces dry linguine
high-quality olive oil
2 to 4 ounces good bottled or canned anchovies
2 cloves minced garlic
chopped flat leaf parsley to garnish

1. Cook linguine until al dente (it will continue cooking a bit), drain, and turn into a large pan. 

2. Add anchovies and olive oil to taste. The pasta should be nicely coated. Cook until the anchovies "melt" and add the minced garlic at the very end. 

Serves 3 to 4. 

Note: Do not add cheese. Anchovies and Parmesan are both 'braggarts'' and together can overwhelm your dish.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bargain Wine of the Week: McLaren Vale of Australia

We're going to break the rules here just a bit to give you an overall hint that will serve you well in the wine aisles of your local store.

Here it is: Look for wines from McLaren Vale in Australia. These are wines of conviction that will always go with everything on the table. But you will always be surprised and pleased. They are never boring and very rarely a disappointment.

We thought of this because we saw a promotion for Cape Barren Wines Native Goose from McLaren Vale for $14. It reminded us that we can't remember the last wine from the Vale that we weren't absolutely gushing over. This one is a GSM, common wine lingo, especially in the Vale, that means it is made with Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre grapes.

This wine rated a 90 from Wine Spectator and here is what it said:

Deep crimson red in color, the nose delivers intense plum and prune aromas with a hint of cassis and five-spice. A big, tightly structured style offering dense black fruit flavours complimented by anise and mocha accents. The palate carries a long length of persistence with a hint of savoury oak and a delicious fruit sweetness on the finish.

Look for wines from McLaren Vale for something that will dance on your palate and wake up your taste buds.

A Carnivore Prepares A Vegetarian Meal

Vegetarian main dishes also make great vegetable sides.

Our friend Paul, who has been a guest poster a few times, recently volunteered to cook dinner for a bunch of vegetarians. Before you carnivores all run off to the next web site, remember that vegetable dishes good enough to be main dishes make stupendous vegetable sides. And these days, more and more of us are having to cook for vegetarian friends.

He didn't include recipes, but these dishes are self-explanatory to good cooks — or are the sorts of dishes that are easily found on the Internet. Many, like the grilled corn and tomato salad and the mango salsa and roasted potatoes are pretty easy.

Either way, this menu is good food for thought.

Hors d’oeuvres
·  Crostini (grilled ciabatta with toppings: garlic roasted with balsamic vinegar, mushrooms in
       butter and herbs, tapenade, roasted red peppers, mozzarella in garlic/herb infused olive oil)
· Sautéed zucchini blossoms stuffed with herbed ricotta or bufalo mozzarella

Pass-around main dishes
· Brown & wild rice with toasted walnuts, scallions, and dried apricots
· Butternut squash ravioli with toasted walnuts, chives, and apple-infused butter
· Grilled zucchini/summer squash layered with shaved goats-milk Gouda and fresh herbs
· Grilled corn and tomato salad
· Pan-roasted Portobello mushrooms with red pepper sauce and pecorino shavings
· Insalata Caprese with heirloom tomatoes and bufalo mozzarella
· Roasted potatoes with homemade pesto on arugula
· Mango salad or salsa (chunks of mango, cherry tomatoes, scallions, jicama, bell pepper, and mint)

· Grilled white peach halves filled with mascarpone and fresh blueberry/port reduction

See Paul's other posts: Red Pepper Sauce, Tapenade, Italian Salsa Verde (All-Occasion Green Sauce), and Make Your Own Chutney.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Bargain Wine of the Week: 2008 La Mano Mencia Roble

La Mano Mencia Roble is another of the 12 wines we purchased that had been rated 90 or better by a wine magazine but cost us less than $10. See our post about the wines we bought. This one was less than $8.

The Bierzo region in Northwestern Spain is not one of the country's well-known wine regions. It is home to the Mencia grape, one that we'd frankly never heard of. That's probably why a highly rated wine costs so little. The red Mencia grape so closely resembles Cabernet Franc that the local synonym is "Cabernet."

After some airing we discovered that this wine drinks much like a Cabernet Sauvignon. It's crimson color is deep, but the wine is not inky at all. We thought it smelled a bit of coffee, but the winery insists it's an earthy note. Either way, it keeps the wine's blueberry hints from being too fruity.

This is not a complex wine, but we had it with ribs and a pasta with heavy garlic on successive nights and it danced quite nicely with them both. The spiciness of the wine cut through the Bar-B-Q sauce and the heavy garlic.

Robert Parker gave this little-known gem a 90 and said it "has extraordinary depth and concentration for its humble price. We agree.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Wine Bargain of the Week: Pillar Box Red 2007

A week or so ago we offered up a recent wine order in which we bought 12 bottles of wine, all rated 90 or higher by a wine magazine and all selling for less than a 10-spot. This is as close as it comes to a fool-proof way to buy good-to-great — and cheap — wine that you haven't tried before.

We suppose it would be possible to buy this way at a fairly big discount store with well-marked counter cards identifying the wines that were highly rated. But the easiest place to to it is online, as we did with our recent order.

We've now tried a few of these bargains to bark about, and today we want to celebrate one that frankly surprised us. Pillar Box is a winery in South Australia that has been putting out award-winning wines for more than a century.

The winery is named for the proprietor of the 19th century mail service that picked up its boxes of wine for delivery elsewhere. The Padthaway area winery also makes Henry's Drive and Parson's Flat wines, but its Pillar Box Red refers to the color of the wine cases, which had been all hues of the earth until someone finally said all would be identifiable red.

The famous wine critic Robert Parker loves the Pillar Box Red and consistently gives it high ratings. We bought the 2007 red, which is a mix of 65% Shiraz, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot. Parker gave it a 90. We bought it for $9.95, but we've seen it a bit higher elsewhere. Even the winery's Reserve Red — also high rated — is less than $20.

The deepness of the red color scared us when we opened the wine. This was not the color of blood, or even dried blood, but a deep mountain lake filled with dried blood. It is so red, it's purple. But the flavors are wonderful. It was perfect with the homemade mushroom soup and popovers we were serving, because it is earthy, spicey, full of black currant sharp fruitiness.

We find unfamiliar Australian wines a crapshoot because the Aussies love to make distinctive wines of conviction. That means they are often unique, and sometimes just don't work on many people's taste buds. But this is one beefy, deep red, hearty wine that is great with lots of different foods.

Speaking of beefy, this wine would be perfect with a medium-rare steak or a lamb chop.

Video Recipe: Pasta with Pumpkin, Sausage and Kale

Here's another video recipe by our friend John Ross. This one was shot for Fine Cooking magazine. Now you have something to do with those leftover jack o lanterns. The recipe is for pasta with pumpkin, sausage and kale. Click the link or the video arrow below.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Good Cheap Cookware and Kitchen Supplies: Discount Retailers

We've written about how great discounters like TJ Maxx, Ross, and Marshalls are for marked-down oils, spices, and oddball gourmet items. After scouring our three local stores, we're convinced that these are also great places to buy cookware.

Our Marshalls outlet, for example, currently has a fairly wide selection of half-price Le Creuset. Some of these pots are marked as factory seconds, but we couldn't detect any imperfections. A nine-quart Dutch oven that costs $300 from the manufacturer can be had for $150 at Marshalls; a large oval French oven that retails for $400 was selling for $200. Marshalls also had half-price nonstick Calphalon (we couldn't resist the $60 large sauté pan, which came with a nice heavy cover).

There was also a good selection of baking dishes and pans, including Le Creuset casseroles, as well as knives and a wide assortment of kitchen implements that ranged from measuring spoons to mixing bowls.

If you need cookware, first check out your local discount stores; you may be able to find just what you need for a lower price than you would pay at a department store or kitchen store.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Comfort Food for Fall: Popovers

Now that the weather has turned cool and the days are shorter, we find ourselves craving soup: mushroom, vegetable, barley, miso . . . any kind of soup works for us. But soup barely makes a dinner by itself, so to supplement it we often make cornbread or cheese toast (stale bread, grated cheese of any sort, and a broiler; nothing simpler or more frugal). Lately, though, we've been making popovers.

Do people still make popovers? They remind us of the June Cleaver 1950s, maybe because we use a recipe from the old New York Times Cookbook. Or maybe because our mothers made popovers. In any case, we like them so much we invested years ago in a popover pan, which has deeper wells than a muffin tin. (Nothing against muffin tins—that's what our moms used, and they still work just fine—but a popover pan gives you bigger popovers.)  

Here's our version of the Times Cookbook recipe:

1 cup flour
2 eggs
1 cup milk*
1/2 t. salt
1 T. vegetable oil

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Oil popover pan or muffin tin and set it aside.

2. Measure all the ingredients into a bowl and, using either a rotary mixer or a hand blender, mix until the batter is very smooth. Don't be afraid of overbeating; you want it very well mixed.

3. Fill the cups of the pan about half full and bake for 30 minutes. DO NOT PEEK before that, or you might make the popovers collapse. After the time is up, take a look: if the popovers are brown and rigid to the touch, they're done; if they're still a little pale and wobbly, give them another five minutes.

4. When you remove the pan from the oven, pierce each popover with a knife to let the air escape. This will prevent them from getting soggy, especially if there are leftovers.

Leftover cold popovers, dressed with butter and marmalade, make a fine breakfast.

* One day we were out of regular milk, so we apprehensively subbed soy milk, and the popovers came out lighter and crisper than ever before. If you have soy milk on hand, give it a try!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Pasta with Tapenade and Veggies

Back in Connecticut, in the days when we visited more restaurants, we loved Carole Peck's Good News Café in Woodbury. Carole specializes in fresh, organic ingredients and always offers a selection of great vegetarian dishes. We adopted one of our favorites for home use, and over the years it has evolved into a dish we make any time we have nice firm green vegetables on hand—a big bunch of asparagus, say, or a bag of velvety green beans.

The recipe features three ingredients: very small pasta (sometimes known as "soup pasta"), such as tubettini or ditalini; a lightly boiled green vegetable; and a dollop of tapenade. You can prepare it in the time it takes to cook the pasta.

Pasta with Tapenade and Veggies

1 pound small pasta (such as tubettini, ditalini, or acini de pepe)
1 pound or so firm green vegetable (green beans, asparagus, and broccoli all work well), cut into bite-size pieces
3/4 cup tapenade (you may want more or less—if  you're not sure, start with a half cup and work up from there)
2 T. olive oil

1. Start boiling water for pasta and the veggies. You can cook the veggies in the pasta water before cooking the pasta, if you like, or you can use a separate pot to speed things up.

2. While the water is heating, trim and cut the vegetables. Cook them if you are using two pots for the pasta and veggies.

3. If you don't have tapenade on hand, now is a good time to make some.

4. When the water comes to a boil, toss in your pasta and cook until done. Drain it, place it in a good-size bowl, and toss it with the olive oil. Then add the veggies and tapenade, mixing thoroughly.

You can serve this either hot or at room temperature. Feeds four moderate eaters or two to three people of strong appetite.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Love Potatoes? Don't Try This

Sorry for the scant postings of the past week, but it's been crazy around here. We'll try to catch up over the weekend. In the meantime, here's a hilarious if disturbing story about the executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission, who in a misbegotten attempt to prove the deliciousness and versatility of his product, went a bit too far. Reading it, you may never want to eat potatoes again. We hope he recovers soon.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bargain Wine of the Week: 12 90s under $10

We don't really care where you buy your wine. We like buying ours from the local wine store. We happened to have good ones in both of our most recent places of residence. In Connecticut, it was a little shop that loved wine so much it had two big tastings for charity every year. In Virginia, we go to a big Mid-Atlantic chain that has a huge selection.

But we also buy a lot of wine online. We buy from an Internet outlet when we find a good bargain that we can't find anywhere else. We've already told you about the convenient way that you can search for bargains at most of these online retailers.

We're getting low on under-$10 reds (thus not many reviews here lately), so today we went to two of our online regulars and threw the dice. First we went to and asked for all of their under-$10 wines that were rated 90 or higher by a wine magazine. The results were pretty much a bust. Nada.

The advantage of doing this is that it takes a lot of the guesswork out of wine buying. Very seldom will you dislike a wine rated 90 or higher. And if you can find such wine for less than $10, you can figure you're getting a good-to-great wine at a bargain price.

Next we tried, another of our online faves. Jackpot. The results listed about 20 highly rated wines selling at less than a 10-spot. We knocked out the sparkling wine and all the other rosés and whites but one. That left us with about 15.

One we recognized because we've written about it before and remark how great it is every time we open a bottle. Bodegas Sabor Real 2006 made from 80-year-old vines in Toro, Spain, $9.95. We just drained our last bottle a week ago. So we ordered a case of that.

We put together 12 individual bottles for another case. We'll write about each as we open them, but here's what we ordered. Again, all rated 90+ and all selling for less than $10:

Las Rocas de San Alejandro Garnacha 2007, delightful Spanish red we've had before and loved, $9.95.

La Mano Mencia Roble 2008, another Spanish red, $7.90.

Red Knot 'Zork' Shiraz 2007 from Australia, $8.45.

Di Majo Norante Sangiovese 2008, a Tuscan-style from the Molise region of Italy that we've had before and loved, $8.95.

Odfjell Armador Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Wine Enthusiast Top 100 Best Buys, $8.45. This is a crazy value.

Yalumba Y Series Shiraz Viognier 2008 from South Australia, $8.95.

Urban UCO Malbec Tempranillo 2008 from Mendoza, Argentina, $9.45.

Bodegas Lan Rioja Crianza 2006 from Rioja, Spain, $9.95.

Pillar Box Red 2007, a blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from Australia, $9.95

Bodegas Olivares Monastrell Altos de la Hoya 2008, inky purple with smell of Indian spices from Jumilla, Spain, $9.95. Another crazy value.

Montebuena Tempranillo 2009, "a sneak peak of the great 09 vintage in Rioja and Northern Spain," $9.95.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay 2008, the lone white, but we know we like it, $8.45

We think that this is a smart way to buy great bargain wine. We'll let you know if there are any clinkers in the box. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Fast and Easy Appetizer: Spiced Nuts

Most people have a favorite quick-and-dirty recipe they pull out when they need to make a fast cocktail snack or party appetizer. For us, it's spiced nuts. We found this recipe years go in Martha Stewart Living, adapted it a bit, and have been relying on it ever since. As Costco shoppers, we always have big bags of nuts on hand, so this is very easy for us to pull together.

Any kind of nut works in this recipe, but we've found that nuts with lots of nooks and crannies, like walnuts and pecans, deliver the best results, as they can hold a lot of spices.

Spiced Nuts

1 large egg white
1/4 c. sugar
1 t. chili powder
1 t. salt
1/2 t. cumin
1/2 t. cayenne pepper*
1/4 t. allspice
2 1/2 c. mixed nuts (though they don't have to be mixed; if all you have are almonds, those will work fine)

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

2. Place the egg white in a medium-size bowl and rapidly whisk by hand until it is foamy.

3. Stir in the sugar, chili powder, salt, cumin, cayenne, and allspice.

4. Fold in the nuts, taking care to cover each nut with the spice mixture.

5. Spread on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the pan and stir up the nuts with a spatula, then return the pan to the oven, reducing the temperature to 250 degrees. Bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until the nuts are lightly brown and no longer wet.

6. Remove the nuts from the oven, stir, and let cool. They will keep for a couple of weeks in a covered container. They also freeze well.

* The amount of cayenne pepper is really a matter of taste. This amount works well for an average group of people with average heat preferences. Heat lovers will want more spice, though, so feel free to add more—Martha's recipe calls for 1 3/4 teaspoons!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Another Reason to Avoid Fast Food

Yep, we're bashing on fast food again. But how can we not, when we read stories like this? (Check out the photo gallery!)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Rave Review: "Artisan" Lettuce

OK, first off—we don't much care for the term "artisan," which is to this century what "gourmet" was to the 1970s and likewise is indiscriminately applied to everything from mass-produced bread to gummy Costco cheeses. Nonetheless, the sudden appearance of "artisan" lettuce, as it is obnoxiously labeled, in our local stores and, yes, Costco, has dramatically improved our salads.

Our longtime problem with pre-mixed salads is the high spoilage rate: the mixture of lettuce varieties always means that some leaves decay before others, forcing us to either pick out the slimy deadbeats from the remaining crisp leaves or toss the whole package, an act we find unacceptably wasteful. Still, because these packages are often economical despite the spoilage, we've continued to buy them.

But a few months ago, packages of "artisan"—sorry for the quotes, but this term really grates—lettuces began to appear in our local supermarkets: tight-packed whole heads of red and green varieties. Not only did these cost less than the typical mesclun mix, they had a much longer shelf life.

Last night we apprehensively opened a two-week old box with one remaining head, which had been neglected on the back of a refrigerator shelf. Astonishingly, the lettuce was crisp and entirely usable.

A one-pound box of lettuces runs less than $4 at Costco.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Summer's Over — Time for Soup!

Fall not only means the onset of cool weather—sweet relief to those of us who broiled in a summer heat wave—but truckloads of ripe vegetables. The harvest is in, the leaves are turning, the nights are chilly, and it's time to make soup. 

RoAnn Redlin offers this simple but delicious menu for a fall dinner, using classic seasonal ingredients. 
She says: "I had a great dinner last night. I made the quiche lorraine from the New York Times Cookbook and a new soup: cream of carrot/parsnip. I had to make a dessert out of what I had on hand, so I sautéed some apples in butter and brown sugar. Then I threw the leftover pastry from the quiche on top of the apples with cinnamon sugar. Voilà! A great meal. I loved the soup." 

Cream of Carrot Soup

4 T butter
1 package baby carrots, chopped
1 pound of parsnips, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 32-ounce boxes of chicken stock
1/3 c. uncooked rice*
1/3 c. half-and-half
Sage leaves (optional)
1. Sauté first butter, carrots, parsnips, and onions for 15 to 20 minutes. 

2. Add the broth, and bring to a simmer. After about 40 minutes, add the rice. 

3. Once the vegetables are soft and the rice is cooked, purée the whole thing with a hand blender or in a food processor. Add warm half-and-half. Garnish with chopped sage leaves. 

All I had was wild rice, and it added an exotic flavor.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Frugal Pantry: Fermented Black Beans

"Fermented black beans" probably sounds better in another language,* but despite its unappetizing moniker, this Chinese staple (also known as "salted black beans") gives a quick and cheap flavor boost to any stir-fry.

This week we were too busy to shop or plan meals, and in any case we had no energy to cook them. One night we wrapped up work late and wondered what we could quickly make for dinner. We had little in the way of produce except some elderly green beans, onions, garlic, tofu . . . and ginger! The ginger tipped the balance: we would make a stir-fry.

We've learned how to make an all-purpose stir-fry sauce from oyster sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, mirin, and chili paste. Still, with our lackluster vegetable lineup, we knew we needed something else. So we reached for the fermented black beans. A couple of tablespoons, quickly mashed with the side of a heavy knife, tossed in with the garlic and ginger at the outset of the stir-frying, made all the difference, lending a flavor that was earthy, pungent, and unmistakably Chinese.

Don't make the mistake many before you have made and substitute canned black beans; you'll end up with something completely different. Fermented black beans are dry and velvety and can be found in any Asian grocery. One bag will last a long time; as far as we can tell, they last forever . . . except in our kitchen.

* Actually, it's douchi, but to our immature minds that is hardly an improvement.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Squash Pasta: An Autumn Delight

This is the time of year that our gardens and grocery stores are displaying a bounty of winter squash. Acorn. Butternut. Pumpkin. Spaghetti. And heirloom varieties of all kinds.

Our solution to this wealth of Cucurbita maxima from Central America used to be the tried and true Baked Squash with Butter and Maple Syrup. We got tired of it and, frankly, never like it THAT much. Last week we gave you a wonderful recipe for Pumpkin Soup.

Here's an idea that Tim's brother Ron picked up at a cooking class. It sounds weird, and looks a little boring. But it is very complex and works as either a vegetarian main dish or as a main if you add shredded poulty: Pasta with Squash Sauce.

Cut a large (3 lbs.) squash of any winter variety in half lengthwise, spoon out the seeds and bake cut side down in a 350-degree oven with a sprig of Thyme and a clove of garlic underneath and a drizzle of olive oil over the top. Test for doneness by spearing with a knife. It might take about 30-45 minutes depending upon the size and shape of the squash.

Spoon the squash meat and the garlic cloves into a food processor (remove the thyme sprigs). Add 3/4 cup of vegetable stock (you could use chicken stock), 2 Tablespoons of cream, a teaspoon of curry powder, a teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves (1/3 teaspoon of dried) a half-teaspoon of dried pepper flakes and salt and pepper to taste. You don't need much pepper, but you should start with a teaspoon of salt, and you can adjust again later if it's not enough.

Meanwhile, cook 1 lb. pasta (we used linguini) in boiling water. Drain the pasta and immediately mix in the squash sauce. (Taste the sauce again for salt, curry and pepper flakes before mixing.) Top with shredded chicken, if you're inclined. Either way, garnish with some thyme leaves and sprigs and parmesan cheese.

Serve with more grated parmesan at the table.

The curry and faint hint of heat from the pepper flakes give the otherwise mono-tasting squash a depth and complexity that is very fulfilling.

This recipe would taste great with a crisp and un-oakey Chardonnay, but we served it with a Zinfandel from the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma, which nicely complemented the spice in the dish.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Celebrate the Harvest with Curried Pumpkin Soup

Our friends Chuck and Sandy put in a big garden every year, and this year we really appreciated it, as our own garden consisted solely of an inadvertently massive herb bed and, thanks to the Evil Stalker Groundhog, three pots of lackluster tomatoes. Not only did we get to taste lots of good food at Chuck and Sandy's house, they generously shared their bounty. A couple of weeks ago, Chuck presented us with a sugar pumpkin, a bag of herbs and chili peppers, and a considerately printed-out recipe.

Though we're always sad to see the summer go, we love the harvest, and this soup makes good use of it.

One suggestion: Thrifty though we are, we try not to cook with those big Halloween pumpkins, which tend to be very fibrous. (Still, a friend of ours tells a great story about her extremely frugal mother, who used to drive through her neighborhood on November 1, make her humiliated children scoop up the smashed pumpkins, and then turn the road-kill vegetables into pies. We can't help admiring that.)

If you can, use a sugar pumpkin; butternut squash would also work well.

Curried Pumpkin Soup

4 cups puréed pumpkin*
2 T. olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 t. fresh thyme leaves
2 T. chopped parsley
1 t. curry powder
1 small hot pepper, minced (optional)**
1/2 cup cream or 3/4 cup whole milk

1. To prepare the pumpkin, cut it in half, extract the seeds and strings, then bake upside-down in a pan with about an inch of water in a 350-degree oven for about 50 minutes, or until you can easily remove the pumpkin from the skin.

2. In a large pan, heat the oil, then sauté the onion and garlic until soft and golden.

3. Add the stock, thyme, parsley, curry powder, and hot pepper.  Bring to a boil, the simmer for about 30 minutes.

4. Using an immersion blender, stationary blender, or food processor, purée the soup until it is smooth and creamy. Put it back in the pan (if you removed it to purée it) and simmer for an additional 30 minutes. Before serving, add the cream or milk and heat for a minute or two.

Though the soup is good served plain, a dollop of sour cream or a few toasted pumpkin seeds finish it nicely.

*If you can't get four cups out of the pumpkin, adjust the recipe proportionately.

** Chuck added a finely chopped, tiny habanero pepper to give the soup a kick; we used a couple of very small but deadly Thai peppers, which provided a nice afterglow.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Favorite Things: Food Processor

We're still on the road, and won't be back in the kitchen until Thursday. But we've been meaning to write an ode to our beloved Cuisinart, and today Mark Bittman beat us to it. His column has a lot of tips for making the best use of this device, which we still find miraculous after 30 years of several-times-weekly use.

A lot of people own food processors but let them gather dust in cupboards because they're a pain to drag out and (people think) a pain to clean. Maybe today's Bittman column will liberate some of those forgotten pieces of equipment so they can do the jobs they were meant to do.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Road Food: Visit Farmers' Markets to Avoid Junky Restaurants

We've written quite a bit about eating on the road—basically, how to avoid junky fast food. This past week we've
been traveling around Boulder, Colorado, and the city's splendid
farmer's market has allowed us to eat particularly well.

Boulder's residents love both food and the environment, so the local market features almost exclusively organic produce and baked goods. We loaded up on tomatoes, peaches, bread, and cheese, confident that we would have some great picnics.

For the next few days we ate lunch in local parks, tearing apart our crusty bread to make impromptu sandwiches as we gawked at the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains. The September air was clear and crisp, and the peaches were the juiciest we have ever eaten; afterward, we had to douse ourselves with bottled water to keep the yellow jackets at bay.

Our lunches here have ranked among our best lunches ever  . . . and proved yet again that road food can be delicious and life-affirming, especially when it's eaten outdoors. If you find yourself traveling through a city with a farmer's market and have time to stop and shop, you're guaranteed of getting a better lunch than any fast-food or chain restaurant can provide. (The Local Harvest website will tell you if there's a market in the area you'll be visiting.)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sweet-Savory Fruit Preserve Tastes Good on Everything

Guest blogger Amy Friedman shares a recipe that turns blah leftover fruit into an amazingly flexible preserve that works great on everything from meat to ice cream. 

Sweet-Savory Fruit Preserve

Do you love summer sausage? I do. I especially love it with mustard and fruit preserves. Lingonberries work well, but I recently found I wanted something a little sweeter.

So I made up my own sweet-savory fruit preserve. 

As always with me, it's another "clean the fridge" recipe. I initially did it as an experiment, throwing all sorts of shleppy fruit I had around the fridge into it. 

When the fruit mix was ready to come off the stove, I realized it couldn't decide if it was a spread or a fruit butter. I've tried it hot on blintzes, cheese pierogi, and ice cream, and cold on toast, and it's just fine. Today I discovered that cold, and mixed with a little mustard, it's the perfect accompaniment for summer sausage. 

Here's how to make it: 
Pull out your glass or plastic liquid cup measurer. Into it, cut up whatever fruit you've got in the house, until you've got two to four cups. In my mix, I had an apple, a pear, a peach, about half a cup of shleppy red grapes, a handful of dying blueberries, and about an inch or two of finely chopped ginger. Other fruits that can go in there are gooseberries, nectarines, and plums.

Always make sure you've got an apple or a peach in whatever fruit mix you're making—the natural pectin means you won't need Sure-Jell or other commercial jellers. 

Dump the fruit into a bowl (or even into the pot in which you intend to boil the fruit—less cleanup! Just don't use an aluminum pot).  Add an equal amount of sugar. That is, if you've got four cups of fruit, add four cups of sugar. Put in less if the fruit is quite sweet.

Add lemon juice. To four cups of fruit, I generally add the juice of a whole lemon. That's about a tablespoon and a half to two tablespoons. 

This is important: LET IT SIT for two hours. The sugar has to do some digestive work on the fruit. Cover it up and head out of the house or something. When you come back, give it a stir, stick it on the burner, bring it to a boil, and then lower the heat as much as you can. (The sugars mean it can scorch easily, so you really want the heat low.) Cover it, and leave it there for two to three hours. Shorter if you want something more like a sauce, and longer if you want something thick and robust. Come back once in a while and give it a stir, to see how the consistency is maturing. I left mine on the burner for three hours. It came out nice and thick and very tasty, with the ginger giving it a lovely piquancy. 

Next time, I might sliver some of the lemon rind into it, and put in a bit more ginger. 

While your preserve is fone, go slice up some summer sausage, put a few spoonfuls of this on a plate, mix in some mustard, and dip in. Yum!