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Friday, July 30, 2010

Don't Toss That Old Take-out Rice! Make Fried Rice Instead

Anybody who gets Chinese, Thai, or Indian takeout ends up with containers of leftover rice that tend to dry up, forgotten and neglected, on a back refrigerator shelf until they are one day unceremoniusly purged, tossed into the trash or the compost bin. But there's a way to avoid the waste.

Fried rice may be one of the best leftover saviors ever invented (as well as being one of the best comfort foods if you're feeling down, poor, or just a little agoraphobic). Provided you start with cold rice, you can toss anything in; with a dash or two of soy sauce and a few minutes' stirring at high heat, you have a nice, easy meal.

Even though fried rice is one of those dishes so simple that they say any moron can make it, we are not your average morons: we struggled with a lot of failed, sticky versions before we figured it out. The key is using cold rice. This is why leftovers are great. If you make your rice from scratch, be sure to chill it first; otherwise you will end up with a gummy mess.

Also, if you're making rice from scratch, bear in mind that brown rice has a crunchier texture than white, so it works particularly well in this dish.

Looking at the photo above, you're probably wondering what those black squares are. They are fake bacon, which tastes best—most bacony—when it is fried just to the verge of burning.

This recipe is an adaptation of the one in the legendary Henry Chung's Hunan Style Chinese Cookbook.

Fried Rice with Scrambled Eggs and Bacon

4 T. peanut oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 c. chopped bacon or ham*
1/4 c. scallions, chopped
1/2 c. red pepper, sliced and cut into one-inch pieces
1/2 c. peas
3 c. cooked cold rice
2 T. soy sauce (you may want more or less, depending on taste; if in question, start with a tablespoon and add if needed)
1 T. sesame oil

1. Heat wok over highest heat. Add one tablespoon of oil, then lightly scramble eggs; remove to separate plate.

2. Add two tablespoons of oil, then stir-fry the bacon or ham until it's crispy. Remove to the plate with the eggs.

3. Add remaining tablespoon of oil, then stir-fry the scallions, red pepper, and peas until just  done—it should only take a minute or two.

4. Add the rice, eggs, and bacon or ham; stir for a couple of minutes until heated and starting to brown.

5. Add soy sauce; remove to a platter and garnish with sesame oil.

* Any leftover meat would work well in this, but bacon and ham add a nice salty bite to the dish.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Chuck's Surprising Salsa

Our friends Chuck and Sandy have a plot in a community garden that is producing loads of tomatoes. (This is in stark contrast to our own three tomato containers, which thanks to the Evil Stalker Groundhog now bear only a few green fruit.) This means lots of gazpacho, tomato sauce, and salsa—and luckily, it means enough salsa to share. Chuck has made the most of his garden bounty by incorporating surprising ingredients like tarragon and oregano, with delicious results.

The lesson: Don't be afraid to play around with flavors. Experiment with what you have on hand, and chances are, you'll come up with a winning combination.


8 medium-size tomatoes
2 small onions
2 cloves of garlic
1 medium cucumber
2 small hot peppers, with seeds
1 generous t. thyme
1 generous t. parsley
1/2 t.  oregano
1/2 t. tarragon
2 small hot peppers, with seeds
Hot sauce, salt, and pepper to taste. 

 Chop vegetables and place in blender with herbs, hot sauce, salt, and pepper. Blend, then strain to desired consistency—if you like it wet, leave the juices in. If you like it thicker, the strained juice makes a good, spicy Bloody Mary mix!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sage-and-Walnut Pesto—Great in the Summertime

As we've noted, although sage flourishes in the summer, it tends to be used in autumn and winter recipes, and often in its dried state. But it's a shame to limit this velvety, pungent herb to the cold weather months.

You can use this sage-and-walnut pesto to coat pork and chicken before grilling. You can also add it to hot pasta for an easy vegetarian dinner, or mix it with cubed potatoes before roasting them, for an interesting side dish. Play with the balance of ingredients until you find a mix you like. These are the proportions that work well for us:

Sage and Walnut Pesto

2 cloves garlic
1 cup sage leaves
1/2 cup walnuts
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Thrifty, Light, and Wonderful: Pavlova

Because we make a lot of Caesar salads, we end up with a lot of leftover egg whites. We can't stand to waste them, so we put them in a bag in the freezer, and when we have four or more saved up, we make one of our favorite desserts: Pavlova.

This fruit-topped meringue is easy, cheap, and great in the summertime, because it's light as air. We don't know anybody who doesn't love it.

There are many good recipes for Pavlova, including Fine Cooking's fine recipe for a six-egg-white version, but we tend to use a variation of Nigella Lawson's simply because it's so easy:

Pavlova with Fresh Fruit

4 egg whites at room temperature
1/4 t. cream of tartar
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
2 t. cornstarch
1 t. white vinegar (you can also use cider vinegar)
1 t. vanilla
whipped cream
fresh fruit*

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

3. Using a mixer, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until satiny peaks form. Beat in the sugar, a third at a time, until the meringue is shiny and stiff.

4. Sprinkle the cornstarch, vinegar, and vanilla over the meringue, and briefly mix to combine.

5. Mound the meringue on the baking sheet, forming a rough circle, and flatten to about an inch and a half in height. Place in the oven, and immediately reduce the heat to 300 degrees. Bake for one hour.

6. When the hour is up, turn off the oven, but leave the Pavlova in until the oven has cooled.

7. Place the cooked Pavlova on a big plate, top with whipped cream—this is a matter of taste, but we find that just a light layer works best—and pureed or sliced fruit.

* Any fruit works: strawberries, raspberries, mango, kiwi, passion fruit. We often thaw a bag of frozen raspberries and use that. For the photo above, we didn't have whipping cream, so we mixed fresh strawberries with half-and-half and a little sugar, and that also was good.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tomato Vinaigrette with Blue Cheese

Ro Ann Redlin has come through again for Eat Well, Eat Cheap with this recipe for tomatoes topped with vinaigrette and blue cheese. It makes delicious-sounding use of fresh tomatoes, which are coming into season for some of us. RoAnn notes that this is one of her most-requested recipes; we can't wait to try it, as we're starting to get a few tomatoes.  (We'd have more of them, but our arch-enemy the giant groundhog apparently followed us to Virginia; we caught him snacking the other day. Talk about Groundhog Day . . .)

Tomato Vinaigrette

4 large sliced tomatoes
1 package crumbled blue cheese
1/2 cup parsley
1 T. tarragon, fresh or dried
1 clove garlic
1 egg, room temperature
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar

Using a food processor, pulse parsley, tarragon, and garlic until blended. Add the olive oil, vinegar, and egg, then pulse again until blended. Pour over the sliced tomatoes, and crumble the blue cheese on top.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Bargain Wine of the Week:

For some reason most people we know are hesitant to buy wines on the Internet. Some states won't let Internet dealers — or any direct sellers, for that matter — sell in their states. Chalk one up for the powerful liquor wholesale lobby.

And now there's a move in the U.S. Congress to ban direct sales of alcohol. So much for free enterprise.

But many people who really like wine, and who buy everything from socks to computers online, are not inclined to have wine shipped to them. Maybe they don't trust their judgment without seeing the bottle in front of them or having the store clerk's recommendation.

Every Night at Midnight a New Bargain is Announced

If this is you, you're missing out on some astonishing bargains. And the great thing is you are often given every wine rating the bottle has achieved. Our rule is generally: Less than $10, but a rating higher than 87 (and often higher than 90).

We've purchased wine from lots of Internet merchants, but our latest favorite is Wines Till Sold Out,, which posts a new bargain every night at midnight. It runs until it's sold out or until midnight the next night, whichever comes first. If the wine sells out, then it posts a new wine bargain. But always a new offering at midnight.

The typical price cut is somewhere between 40 percent and 60 percent.
There are only two minor catches: only one wine is offered at a time; and they don't have a customer service department. Part of the bargain price is low overhead.

On the plus side is that in addition to the bargain price, shipping is free on any purchase of four or more bottles.

The typical price cut is somewhere between 40 percent and 60 percent. So, we often buy $20 bottles for $10 — and pay no shipping. And four bottles at a time is a great way to try lots of different wines. The bottles arrive about two or three days later via FedEx or UPS in a well-packed box.

Today, for example WTSO offered a $22 Chianti Classico that was rated 91 by Wine Spectator magazine for $15, a 32 percent price break. It also offered up a Chateau La Tour Carnet Grand Cru Classe Haut-Medoc Bordeaux Blend 2006 for $15, a 44 percent drop in price. The wine was rated 91 by famous wine-rater Robert Parker.

Signing Up is Easy; Buying is a Two-Click Experience

Sunday's are a busy day (everybody is on the Internet), so WTSO also offered a $28 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon for $14 and a 90-rated Spanish Tempranillo for $19.

All you have to do to qualify is to sign up for the daily emails that notify you of the bargains and give them a credit card number and your address (the first time you buy). When you buy, it's a two click experience that takes seconds. Two days later you're enjoying an incredible wine bargain.

We've never had a bit of a problem with WTSO's service. And our wine rack is the better for it. We're tasting and enjoying wines that we'd never have purchased or even found in our local wine store.

Sunflower Seeds Part II

Last winter guest blogger Jim Randall posted a recipe for Sunflower Snappers. They sounded delicious, but we only got around to trying them recently, and they were just as good as he promised. They not only make an easy and healthy snack, they would also make a good substitute for overpriced pine nuts.

Thanks again, Jim!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

An Inexpensive Substitute for Pine Nuts

For decades we thoughtlessly tossed handfuls of fried pine nuts into salads and pestos, without giving a thought to price. True, a one-pound bag cost about $12 at Costco, but that bag lasted a long time.

That carefree attitude evaporated this year, when pine nuts disappeared from Costco's shelves for months, then reappeared with a shocking $30-a-bag price tag. Apparently, the usual suspects—supply and demand—are to blame. Crummy harvests combined with high summer demand sent prices skyrocketing.

Though we swallowed hard and bought a bag of Costco's $30 pine nuts, we now dole them out more carefully. We'll still use them in basil-based pestos, but the days of devil-may-care salad garnishing are over for the foreseeable future.

Thankfully, there's a cheap substitute: roasted, salted sunflower seeds. The seeds work well in salads, just as crunchy and savory as their hideously expensive pine-based brethren. And a one-pound bag costs less than $3 at Trader Joe's.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Got Roasted Peppers? Here's an Easy Summer Spread

For years, it seems, we've been reading about muhammara, a Middle Eastern dip made from roasted red peppers, walnuts, breadcrumbs, and pomegranate molasses. Though intrigued, we couldn't get our minds around how those flavors would add up, and in any case, we never seemed to have them all on hand at the same time.

But a few weeks ago we had a few leftover roasted peppers, as well as a rarely deployed bottle of pomegranate glaze from Trader Joe's, so we decided to try making the spread, using a recipe from Saveur.

It was easy and fast—requiring only a food processor—but we ignored Saveur's advice to let it sit overnight before we tried it, and we found the immediate results disappointing: the dip just tasted like mealy mushed peppers.

We should have listened to Saveur. When we tried the muhammara the next evening, we could no longer pick out peppers or nuts or pomegranate; the flavors had melded into something special. We spread it thickly on toasted pita bread and ate it for dinner with a green salad.

Lesson: No matter how much of a hurry you're in to taste something, sometimes you just have to wait for the magic to happen.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Chimichurri: Fun to Say, Even More Fun to Taste

For us, grilling season never ends. We fire up the grill in snowstorms, thunderstorms, and even pitch blackness, armed with our trusty snake light. As far as we're concerned, almost everything tastes good on the grill, from pizza to freshly shucked corn. But sometimes grilled fish and meat get a little monotonous. That's where chimichurri sauce comes in.

This Argentinean green sauce peps up fish, chicken, pork, beef, and, yes, tofu. Here's Ro Ann Redlin's recipe, which she says she may copyright, it's so good.

Chimichurri Sauce:

1 bunch parsley
1 small white onion
2 T. capers
2 cloves garlic
1 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 T. lemon juice
1 T smoked Spanish paprika
1 t. dried oregano

Combine all ingredients in food processor, and process. Store overnight. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ro Ann's Chicken Enchiladas

Given our unavoidable vegetarian bias, we realize that Eat Well, Eat Cheap has been more than a bit scanty on meat recipes. We've tried to rectify this by reaching out to the good cooks we know and asking them to contribute.

The first person we reached out to was Ro Ann Redlin. Originally from the Midwest, now living in the Deep South, Ro Ann is an excellent cook with a knack for making simple ingredients taste fancy. Maybe one day we'll post her recipe for chicken liver paté, which we've been making for upward of 25 years. We'll work to get her permission on that. In the meantime, here's her recipe for chicken enchiladas. 

Chicken Enchiladas

3 cups of cooked, roasted chicken, shredded 
1/2 cup sour cream
1 small can green chilis
1/2 cup salsa (regular strength)
shredded cheddar cheese
1 can enchilada sauce (mild, medium, or hot)
1 package of flour tortillas, small or large

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Combine first four ingredients.
3.  Place 1/3 cup of the chicken mixture in the middle of a tortilla, and top with shredded cheese. Roll up and place side by side in baking dish. 
4. Cover with enchilada sauce. Bake for one hour til bubbling. 
5. Before serving, top with fresh chopped tomato, lettuce, and onion.

Tomorrow we'll post Ro Ann's recipe for chimichurri sauce.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Guilty Pleasures

Sorry for the scanty postings, but we've been out of town for the past week. We'll be up and running again tomorrow. In the meantime, check out this slideshow of celebrity chefs' guilty pleasures.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Five Ways to Use Up Mint

Like everybody else on the East Coast, we're wilting in a vicious heat wave, and we're a little worried about our plants. Will the delicate lettuce seedlings make it? What about our basil? One thing we don't have to worry about is the mint we inherited with our herb bed—it is impervious to drought, rain, bad soil, pests, and it runs over everything else if we don't yank it regularly.

Even though the mint frustrates us, we can't bring ourselves to toss it out. Not only do we hate waste, mint is just so good in the summertime.

 If you have a surplus of this bossy offender, here are five things you can do to use it up:

1. Mint Tea: Let the leaves dry out for a few days, then cover them with boiling water—say, a half cup of dried leaves to a couple of quarts of water. If you like, you can toss in a bag or two of black tea. You can drink it after a few minutes, or you can refrigerate it for a cooling drink on scorching days.

2. Tabbouli. This Middle Eastern salad tastes great in hot weather, and you can toss handfuls of mint leaves in with the parsley.

3. Mint Chutney. But don't just use it with Indian food. It's also a great relish for grilled meat and roasted potatoes.

4. Cucumbers with Yogurt-Mint Dressing. Cukes are coming into season, too, so this uses up two vigorous garden plants.

5. Mojitos. It is summer, after all.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Fried Sage Leaves Make a Delicious Garnish

Amazingly, our potted sage plant survived last winter's low temperatures and six feet of snow. After the thaw, we moved the plant to our herb bed, where it's happily taken off, holding its own against an advancing army of mint.

Sage tends to be used in fall and winter recipes, as it pairs well with turkey, squash, and roasted potatoes. In the summer there's not a whole lot of call for it, unless we use it as a garnish.

Fried in a little olive oil, then sprinkled with sea salt, whole sage leaves make an excellent garnish. Last night we used them to dress up a plain pasta dish; they're also good on risotto. We've even been known to serve them with cocktails.

The only thing you need to remember when frying the leaves is to let them go a while, until they've turned crispy and a dark, kelp-y green. Resist the temptation to turn off the heat when the leaves are a beautiful emerald green—they will be too chewy and resinous.

You can find sage leaves in most supermarkets' produce sections year-round, but it's easy to grow. Some plants overwinter, others don't—there seems to be no rhyme or reason for this. But they all thrive on little water, which makes them excellent candidates for container gardening.