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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Eat-Well Eating During the Holidays

The holidays are a time that we mostly think about eating well in a context that we don't typically mean it here at Eat Well, Eat Cheap. With all of the celebrations and parties and plates of treats, we all tend to eat well around the holidays. Maybe a little too well.

Like us, you probably have a love-hate relationship with holiday food. It's mostly love, of course. We have a great excuse: We're celebrating — and it's only once a year. Well, only one season, but it goes on from Thanksgiving to New Year's.

The hate part is that we all know we're eating things we shouldn't. And so we pledge in our New Year's resolutions that we'll clean up our act just as soon as the  champagne and chocolates are finished.

Because of our pantry-emptying project (post to come), we'd been thinking a lot about what we've been eating — with more than a little horror. So we decided to try to put together a healthy Christmas dinner that was in keeping with our year-round philosophy here at Eat Well, Eat Cheap.

We had a wonderful meal, which we did not intend to be vegan, but in a healthy, happy coincidence, it  turned out that way, much to everyone's surprise and astonishment. Here's what was on the table:

We roasted brussel sprouts: trimmed, cut in half, and cooked in a 400-degree oven with a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper for about 20 minutes. When they were hot out of the oven, we doused them with a  little balsamic vinaigrette. Nutty and delicious.

We boiled potatoes and mashed them with about 1/3 cup of soy milk and two tablespoons of Earth Balance butter substitute. We know that these butter-substitute things can range from awful to OK, but Earth Balance rarely lets us down when we use it in cooking.

We made a mushroom gravy that got lots of raves at the table. We'll follow this up with the recipe, along with some variations, depending on what you're having with this essential sauce. For the extreme skeptics at the table, who didn't believe that gravy could be good without meat, it was a revelation.

For a bit of relief from the warm, traditional servings, we served Laurie's Cranberry Conserve, which we'd made the day before.

But what about the main dish? you're wondering. We bought something from the Field Roast company called a Cranberry-Hazelnut Roast En Croute. It's sort of a paté or meat-like loaf in a pastry crust. It's only available at holiday time—we found ours in the freezer case at Whole Foods—but it is available online.

The roast will surprise you, as it did us. (Some skeptics will never buy it. But just tell them it's full of meaty goodness and they'll love it.) When we took stock of the meal with our guests, we all agreed it was one of the best, and certainly the healthiest, Christmas meals we'd had in a long time. And then we realized there wasn't even any dairy in it. A vegan Christmas. Who would have guessed?

But it really was delicious and satisfying.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Laurie's Cranberry Conserve: Start Your Own Holiday Tradition

The holidays are right for cranberries. They help cut through the typical celebratory turkey, gravy and spuds. The stores are full of cranberries, and if you time it right, you can get them pretty cheap.

Some people love the cranberry jell, right out of the can. Others prefer homemade cranberry sauce. It of tens depends on your family's tradition. The right cranberries will take you right back to mom's table and happy memories.

Want to start your own cranberry tradition with a cranberry conserve that most guests will rave about? Here's a recipe from our friend Laurie Sloan. It's not too sweet, and it's full of citrus, crystallized ginger and Grand Marnier liqueur.


3 cups cranberries (one bag)
1 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 small orange, cut in pieces and coarsely chopped in food processor (reserve juice)
1 small lemon, cut in pieces and coarsely chopped in food processor (reserve juice)
2 T coarsely chopped crystallized ginger
½ cups pecans, coarsely chopped
3 Tablespoons Grand Marnier (most of one mini-bottle)

1.     In large heavy pot, cook cranberries in water over medium high heat until they pop
2.     Stir in the sugar, oranges and juice, lemons and juice and ginger. Bring to a boil. Reduce eat to medium and simmer, stirring frequently, until mixture is thick and clear. Place a small amount of the syrup on a spoon and raise it from the pot; if large drops form on each side, the conserve is ready to remove from the heat.
3.     Stir in pecans and Grand Marnier
4.     Pour mixture into hot sterilized half-pint jars, seal and process in a boiling water bath according to manufacturer’s directions.
Makes 2 pints

Friday, December 9, 2011

Holiday Cookie Ideas: Are These the 10 Best?

This is our favorite cookie all year around. Our version of the chocolate chip classic. But is suggesting 10 other cookies for the holidays. sent its daily eLetter to us this morning. Its topic was "The 10 Best Holiday Cookies." We would differ with its choices of cookies, but if you are looking for some quick ideas for cookies to make for the upcoming holidays, here are 10 you might want to try.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What Will Food Be Like in 100 Years?

Michael Pollan, who has written three of the most important food books of the recent past — Omnivore's DilemmaFood Rules, and In Defense of Food — answered readers' questions in a New York Times Magazine special on Food and Drink.

One of the questions, and his answer, intrigued us enough to post it here. Good food for thought, as they say.

Q: What will our food system be like in 100 years?

A: My best guess is that the food system will look very different in 100 years, for  the simple reason that the present one is — in the precise sense of the word — unsustainable. It depends on fossil fuels that we can't depend on and exacts a steeper price in human and environmental health than we can afford. So it will change, whether we want it to or not.

We certainly won't be eating nine ounces of meat per person per day, as Americans do now — there won't be enough feed grain, worldwide, to continue that feast, and presumably we will have faced up to meat-eating's disastrous toll on the environment. If we haven't, we'll have much bigger problems on our plate than what to have for dinner.

What do you think? Crystal ball or ignorant negativism?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mashed (Sweet) Potatoes with Garlic

Few foods are better for you than sweet potatoes. Yet many people  associate the yellow spuds only with maple syrup and marshmallows at holiday meals.

We think that there are lots of ways to better appreciate the flavor and healthy goodness of sweet potatoes than the overly sweet, often gloppy Thanksgiving dish.

We came across an old Vegetarian Times sweet potato recipe for garlicky mashed sweet potatoes the other day in a VT eNewsletter. We had four of the tubers in our pantry and needed a side for dinner, so we, ahem, whipped some up. They tasted very good and were a great accompaniment to savory piece of protein.

With four peeled and diced sweets, along with two peeled and diced apples, and teaspoon of balsamic vinegar and two teaspoons of salt, you're almost ready to go.

First you cut the top off a head of garlic, drizzle it with olive oil and rosemary, and then roast it in the oven for an hour.

Meanwhile, put the diced sweet potatoes, apples and salt in a dutch oven, and bring it to a boil on top of the stove. Lower the heat to medium and simmer until the potatoes are soft. About 10 minutes.

Drain the spuds, saving a cup of liquid. Squeeze the garlic out of its peel into the potatoes, add the teaspoon of balsamic and whip or mash the mixture. Add some cooking liquid if it is not creamy enough. Add some ground pepper and serve hot.

Here's the recipe on the VT website.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Great App(etizer): Brie with Honey and Thyme

Here's a great — and quick — appetizer that will satisfy cheese lovers and also guests with a sweet tooth at the same time. It comes from Chris Kimball, editor of Cook's Illustrated.

Buy any old brand of Brie cheese in an 8-inch round. With a serrated knife, carefully slice off the top rind, leaving the side and bottom rind. Place the round on a microwave-safe serving plate, drizzle the brie with honey and sprinkle thyme or rosemary on top.

Heat in a microwave until the brie bubbles, probably about a minute or two. Serve with crackers to the delight of your guests. Easy, peasy!

For this recipe and other holiday cooking tips from Chris, click on this link, then click on "See the Recipes."

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Video: A Fresh Side of Pears, Cauliflower, Sage and Hazelnuts

Here's another recipe video from John Ross. He made it for Fine Cooking, the magazine and website. It features pears and cauliflower in a delightful side dish that is perfect for the holiday season — and very simple, too. Unfortunately, our layout cuts off part of the video, so we've included the link, so that you can go to to see it in wide screen.
Watch the video at

A Beautiful Banana

This beautiful banana photo was taken by our friend John Ross, an up-and-coming food videographer whose recipe videos we have featured here (pasta w/ pumpkin, sausage and kale) and here (easy baked eggplant) on Eat Well, Eat Cheap. The banana photo was chosen as Photo of the Day by See it in all of its glory at the link below:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bargain Wine of the Week: 2010 Pacific Rim Riesling

If you're in a quandary about wine for Thanksgiving dinner, here's a last minute tip that'll get you by with the dozen or so people gathered around your turkey on Thanksgiving.

Pacific Rim winery in Washington state is making superb Rieslings. If you think that Rieslings are too sweet for serious wine drinkers, here's the catch: Pacific Rim makes four 2010 Rieslings varying from dry to sweet and only one of them is too sweet for our palates.

There are two more notes about these wines that are worthy of mention. The first is that the three we like all scored 90 or 91 on Wine Enthusiast ratings. These are seriously good wines, no matter how sophisticated your mouth.

The second is that at our local liquor store, they range in price from $9.99 to $12.99. That's a tremendous bargain for three such high rated varietals from the same winery.

The three we like are Pacific Rim 2010 Dry Riesling, rated 90 points by Wine Enthusiast magazine. It's got only 1% residual sugar.

The next is Pacific Rim 2010 Riesling, which is an medium-dry wine that your sweet-wine friends will enjoy. It garnered a 90 from Wine Enthusiast. It's got a colorful label that says only "Riesling," without characterizing its level of dryness.

The third is Pacific Rim 2010 Organic Riesling, which is also medium dry and we find it the best of the three — as did the Wine Enthusiast folks who gave it a 91 rating. Look for the totally white label and the word "Organic" at the bottom. This bottle is three bucks more at $12.99, but well worth it.

Buy one of each and see which one is the favorite at your holiday meal.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Happy Hippie Eggplant Casserole

Ro Ann Redlin sent us this wonderful sounding—and wonderfully named—recipe in August, when tomatoes were ripening on the vines, and we're sorry to only be posting it now. Blame France, work, general life stresses, but this recipe has been in the back of our minds all along: whenever we spot a sleek, fat eggplant, we think, "We've got to try Ro Ann's recipe." She assures us that it's just as good in the cold months as in the summer. On this, as on all matters of cooking, we trust her. 

Happy Hippie Eggplant  Casserole

2 large eggplants, peeled and cubed ( I don't salt and wipe my eggplant. No need.)
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 to 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
A handful each of fresh basil and thyme, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, sliced

1. Throw the eggplant cubes, onion, garlic, basil and thyme into a cast-iron skillet or heavy skillet. Cook it down until the eggplant cubes are soft and the onion is translucent. 

2. Spread half of the eggplant mixture into a baking dish and top with sliced tomatoes and half of the cheese. Spread the remaining eggplant mixture on top of the tomatoes and cheese. 

3. Top the casserole with crushed butter crackers. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. 


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Don't Toss That Old Cast-Iron Pan! Restore It

It seems that for our entire cooking lives we've heard, "Nothing cooks better than a cast-iron pan." But we associated cast-iron with the heavy, rust-prone, pain-in-the-neck pans of our parents, so we went on to amass a collection of Circulon, Calphalon, All-Clad—anything but cast-iron.

But when Ruth's mother moved into assisted living and Ruth had to clean out her house, she found the old skillet that her father had used to fry sausage, eggs, pastrami, and other cholesterol-laden delights under the disapproving eye of his health-minded wife. The pan had fallen into neglect since his death, covered with rust and dust, but Ruth could not bring herself to put it in the Goodwill box. She took it home and—well, we'd like to say that she used it religiously, but she put the skillet in a out-of-the-way cupboard where it went on to collect years' more rust and dust.

Then we moved to a different house, leaving a few things behind for our occasional trips back to Connecticut. On these trips we discovered that we needed a good frying pan, and we remembered the old skillet in the back of the cupboard. Could it be restored?

Indeed it could. We were amazed by how easy it was to clean—and how well it cooked. We feared food, particularly proteins, would stick, but the cast iron released food at the perfect moment of doneness. The skillet held heat evenly—better, in fact, than our much more expensive pans in Virginia.

The handle is smooth from decades of use; the inside is scarred from decades of spatulas; the outside is as rough as an old ship's bottom. When we use it, we remember Ruth's father defiantly cooking his beloved sausage in a long-lost kitchen in upstate New York. We love this pan.

How to Restore a Cast-Iron Pan

First, we gave the skillet a good scrubbing, washing off as much of the accumulated crud as we could.

Then we set the empty pan on top of the stove, added about a quarter-inch of vegetable oil, and heated it at a medium setting until the handle was too hot to touch. That took about ten minutes.

We added about a third of a cup of kosher salt and—wearing a rubber glove on one hand and clutching a potholder in the other—rubbed the oil-and-salt mixture into the pan with a wad of paper towels, making sure we cleaned every bit of the inside surface.

We washed the pan with soap and water, then dried it completely and—important!—wiped a tiny amount of olive oil onto the cooking surface to prevent further rust.

As long as we apply that small dab of oil after each washing, the pan stays rust-free.

Did we say that we love this pan? It's true: Nothing cooks like cast-iron.

If you don't have a pan of your own, it's worth checking your local flea market or thrift stores, which always seem to have a lot of them, in varying stages of rustedness. Don't let their abused appearances scare you; chances are they can be salvaged.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Make It Yourself: Pizza Dough

Actually, this may be a pointless post, as we are possibly the last people on earth to have figured out that there's nothing easier, and few things cheaper, than making your own pizza dough.

Why did we put off trying this? Maybe we thought it was a time-consuming process, with lots of kneading and rising times; maybe because we feared that the dough wouldn't rise. We don't even remember our thinking; we just got in the habit of buying raw dough from the supermarket. To be fair, there's a lot of good dough out there (as well as some bad dough—we're looking at you, Trader Joe!).

But when we went to the store the other day, there was no raw dough to be had. As we were craving pizza, we decided to take the leap.

Boy, did we feel stupid. What could be easier than this:

Homemade Pizza Dough

3 cups flour
2 t. salt
2 t. yeast
1 cup warm water (let your faucet run until it's almost hot)
2 T. olive oil, plus a little extra for the dough bowl

1. Put flour, salt and yeast in the bowl of a food processor. Give it a quick spin to mix things up.

2. Turn the processor on, and pour the water through the feeding tube, followed by the oil. After about 30 seconds, the ingredients will form a clump. (It will be pretty sticky at this point.)

3. Turn the dough out on a floured surface and knead it for just a few seconds until it's a smooth ball.

4. Oil a bowl, drop in the dough ball, and turn it until it's covered in oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit for an hour or two, until it doubles in size.

5. Remove the dough from the bowl and let it rest on a floured surface, covered, until it puffs up again (maybe 20 minutes). Then it's ready to use.

Makes one good-sized pizza or two small ones.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Frugal Pantry: Brown Rice Syrup

This liquid sweetener is less sweet than honey or maple syrup, with a rich caramel flavor that works well in many desserts. The other night we sautéed some apples that had turned mealy, as we sometimes do, and we decided to try our brown rice syrup instead of the usual brown sugar. The resulting dish tasted fantastic, like a hot, soft caramel apple.

Brown rice syrup is also a good addition to oatmeal cookies and quickbreads—basically, to any recipe that would benefit from a shot of caramel.  You can find it in health food stores or, if you're lucky, near the honey and molasses in your supermarket.

Caramel Sautéed Apples

2 T. butter
Three apples, cored and sliced into crescents (we don't mind skins, but if you do, pare away!)
1/4 cup brown rice syrup
Pinch of salt (more if you like the flavor of salted caramel)

1. Melt the butter in a frying pan. Add the apple pieces and turn them until they are covered in butter. Stirring occasionally, let them fry until they are soft and golden, about 20 minutes.

2. When the apples are cooked, add the brown rice syrup and let them fry for another few minutes, until the syrup and apples have gotten to know each other.

You can either eat these plain or use them as a topping for cake or ice cream. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

What Happened to Us?

This photo pretty much shows how we feel when we consider our poor blogging output of the past month or so. But we hope to get some new posts up this week—please bear with us!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

How to Mince Lemongrass

Sorry for the long drought of blog posts—it's our damn jobs; they really cut into our free time! Anyway, it's good to be back, and we'll start with a small but important tip that we discovered just today.

Much as we love Asian food, we've never found a good way of cutting lemongrass. No matter how much we peeled it, no matter how far down the stem we cut, we always ended up with woody little pieces that stuck out like bits of toothpick in whatever we were cooking. We tried lemongrass paste, but that was expensive and lacked flavor.

However, today we watched the Food Network show Chopped during lunch. If you haven't seen it, the premise is that contestants must whip up delicious dishes in very short time periods for the usual panel of picky foodies. On today's episode a contestant attacked a stick of lemongrass with efficient genius—she didn't bother chopping it, she simply grated it. Genius!

We'll cook something Vietnamese or Thai this week just so we can try this.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Château de Nages in Costières de Nîmes

We have for some time admired the red Réserve from Château de Nages. A Syrah and Grenache blend from the Rhône, it is a superb bargain at less than $10. It's white sister, made from Grenache Blanc and Roussanne, is also a very good bargain.

So when we found that on our trip to southern France we would be staying within 15 miles of the winery and its vineyards, we made an appointment to visit. Michel and Tina Gassier agreed, but apologized that since they were in mid-harvest, something less than a full winery tour was to be delivered. We understood, and showed up at the appointed time.

Michel is the great grandson of Joseph Torrès, who started the winery. Michel is the wine brains. Tina, his wife, is the marketing brains and described by everyone there as the "dynamo." We found that to be the case. But instead of the shortened tasting-sans-tour we were promised, Tina took us on a "no BS" tour that started in the vineyards to walk in the Grès, the rolled pebbles on red clay, and to taste the (in this case Carignan) grapes that were about to be harvested.

We have been on a lot of winery tours, but this apologetically shortened tour was our best yet. (Unlike the U.S., where it is typically OK to just show up at a winery, in Europe the custom is to call ahead or arrange your visit beforehand.)

As we noted earlier, this 2011 harvest is a puzzling one, and we saw that in the overripe seeds swaddled in under-ripe meat and skins.

Back in the winery, we toured the wine storage tanks as well as a carbon dioxide filled room of viognier filled oak barrels that left us all woozy. Deep inside the winery bowels, a small room of glass vessels and implements serves as Michel's chemistry lab, next door to the room that holds the framed photograph of JT, Joseph Torrès and the three bottles of wine that Michel seeks to emulate: a Chateauneuf du Papes from the other side of the Rhône, a German Riesling and a Burgundy from La Tâche.

Michel and Tina believe that their Mediterranean terroir should speak loudly in their wines; that "we do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children;" and that since turning to organic farming, their grapes and wine are better than they have ever been.

After all of the touring and answering some questions from us, Tina turned us over to a lovely woman who led us through Michel's lines of wine. The Réserve is more of an entry to the line, which rises in quality through the Chateau de Nages Vieilles Vignes, the Château de Nages JT (for great grandpa Joseph Torrès), the Nostre Païs, and the chin-out aggressive Lou Coucardié.

Michel is one to watch, because he's always thinking, always inventing, but always letting his land and his grapes speak loudly.

The winery's website is

Green Olive and Caper Sauce for Meat, Fish & Tofu

At the exquisite Chaverdille restaurant in the little village of Caveirac, France, Tim's rare tuna steak came with a zesty sauce. He thought it would also be a great sauce for lighter fare such as pork, chicken or even grilled or sauteed tofu.

So, we tried to recreate it for our grilled tofu "steaks." The result was pretty close. This is a somewhat acidic sauce (but in a good way, as it helps take a somewhat bland piece of protein to a more interesting place. This is not a creamy sauce in the usual sense of what we typically think of as a sauce. It is more a collection of mildly pickled items blended in oil and wine.

We started with 2 Tablespoons of olive oil and 1 Tablespoon of butter or butter substitute in a medium-hot skillet. We added three diced shallots, three diced garlic cloves, and let them soften and become translucent. Then we added 14 diced green olives (we left the pimento in) and a Tablespoon of capers, followed by 1 Tablespoon of diced tomato (we used canned for convenience). After about 3 minutes of cooking, the mixture was ready for a quarter cup of white wine, which we let reduce and flavor the sauce. A little salt and pepper, and the sauce was ready to go.

It was great on the tofu we had marinated in red wine, soy sauce and olive oil, and it would have tasted great on the white meats and fish mentioned above.

This sauce would be good with either a crisp, non-oaky white (Sauvignon Blanc, unoaked Chardonnay or a Viognier).

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The 2011 Puzzling Grape Harvest in Europe

Throughout much of Europe the wine masters are puzzling over the 2011 vintage, which has been harvested over the last month. They say they have never seen a harvest quite like it.

After a lot of rain last winter — "perfect," says Michel Gassier of Château de Nages in the Rhône Valley of France — a good spring followed, but July and August were rainy and cold. The grape bunches stayed tight, letting in little air circulation. The Syrah grapes in the Rhône were drying out on the vine. The vineyard tenders waited and waited. Now they are rushing.

The white grapes are off the vines, but the wine makers found that while the grapes were barely ripe, the seeds inside were overripe, dark and turning bitter, instead of the almond taste they should have had at this point. The pulp inside the skins is still solid and holding onto the seeds tightly.

The aromatic maturity should match the maturity of the pulp and the skins. But it doesn't, so they'll have to pick their grapes and try to work some magic in the winery.

What does it mean for the 2011 European wines you will be drinking for the next 10 years? No one is quite sure. But they are harried and just a bit panicked in the world-famous vineyards of France, Italy and Spain. Stay tuned.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Arles, France: Land of Van Gogh and Spanish Influence

The city of Arles ("arl") is where Van Gogh painted sunflowers, starry nights and his apartment — and left part of his ear behind. The sunflowers are far past their prime in September, but Van Gogh's name is on many streets and businesses.

We happened to arrive on the day of the town's festival of the bull, which shows the influence of nearby Spain and the caballeros who work the nearby camargue on their white horses. Although we didn't have any, the meal of the day was paella, served as a special at every restaurant and the many street tents set up for the day.

The other dramatic influence here is in the form of huge stone amphitheaters and other buildings built by the ancient Romans, and still being used today in many cases. This is a rebellious part of France historically, much more Protestant than the heavily Catholic rest of France, and a place where the rulers in Rome or Paris could always expect trouble and an argument that led to violence.

But like the rest of France, the food is wonderful. We lunched on salads because we were still sated from our rich restaurant meal the previous night. Salad Niçoise is one of the regional favorites, and ours was refreshing, light and just the right amount to keep us walking and gawking.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

France: Eat Your Way Through the Country

There is one adjustment you have to make as an American when you go to France. You have to eat like the French. They typically eat small portions and don't snack. But the food is divine — and rich. And despite the photo above, usually not so obviously rich.

On our first full day, we went to the local market, not the supermarket but the building full of stalls with luscious vegetables, beautiful cheeses, olives of may flavors and meat and fish of every stripe. We were stocking up for the pantry at our villa in a little village near the Rhône River.

Once weighed down with bags and bags of produce and other food, we stopped into a little brasserie for lunch, where Ruth had the Cappuccino
 pictured above.

Despite our haul of goat cheeses, fresh green olives in brine, cranberry beans, tomatoes, leeks, eggs, eggplant tapenade, we decided to eat at the local restaurant, Chaverdille, because it is only open Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

It is the only restaurant in the little village, but the food was wonderful. Our theory is that it's difficult to find a bad restaurant in France, because they won't last.

The sauces are deep with flavors, and the preparation is almost always stopped at just the right line. And the wine is incredibly cheap. What's not to like?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bargain Wine of the Week: 2009 Chateau l'Ermitage Costieres de Nimes

One of the wineries we will visit during our stay in the Rhône region of France is Chateau l'Ermitage outside the city of Nîmes, where denim was invented and where the wineries blend the good taste of the Rhône with the low cost of the Languedoc and produce wines that are perfect for Eat Well, Eat Cheap.

We've tried both the 2007 and the 2009 red wines from Chateau l'Ermitage and they are a great bargain. Ruby red in color and fruity enough to enjoy before dinner, the wine also carries some hints of cinnamon and stone. But the tannins are very soft, so the taste is always pleasant.

This red is a combination of 50% syrah, 30% mourvedre and 20% grenache.

We've also tried the white blend from Chateau l'Ermitage, which is also widely available for around $10, and it is equally pleasing. The grapes are Roussanne, Grenache blanc and Viognier, and the taste is of peaches. This is a great summer sipper.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Arugula Pesto: Pesto di Rucola

Why all of the pesto recipes? Well, mostly because Saveur magazine celebrated pesto by publishing dozens of recipes. But also because you get a lot of ideas by exploring one type of food and seeing how subtle ingredient changes make for big flavor differences. It also helps when you crave a dish, but the key ingredient is missing from the pantry or fridge.

In wine, you'd call it a vertical tasting. Sip a bunch of chardonnays or syrah side-by-side and compare the difference between France, Chile, Spain and California — or between northern California and southern California.

We have a friend who loves pesto so much that she probably eats it weekly. We have another friend who loves it so much that he wants to be slathered in it when he's buried (presumably to have something good to eat in the hereafter).

This might be our favorite pesto. Since making it from the recipe in Saveur magazine's paean to pesto, we've tried it on pasta, vegetables, tomatoes, toast, tofu and chicken. This spicy concoction makes them all taste better.

Admittedly, we like arugula. We've mixed it with lettuce and spinach in salads to add a peppery flavor. We've put it on pizzas. We've even had salads that consisted of nothing but arugula and dressing. So, yes, we like it.

But this is arugula in a totally different context, and many people who eat it have to ask what the green ingredient is in this pesto. Along with the cilantro pesto, this was the most popular when we served a spread of pestos. The magazine says it's great drizzled over steamed artichokes or grilled fish.

Pesto di Rucola

2 cups packed arugula
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil (we used 3/4 and it was fine)
1/2 cup finely grated percorino or romano cheese
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
1/3 cup pine nuts
1 Tbsp. lemon zest
1 clove garlic, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Process all ingredients in a food processor and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Great Pesto Spread: Pesto Calabrese

Some pesto doesn't look or taste like pesto at all. But this great spread is from Rocco Arena, owner of San Rocco Restaurant in New York, and Rocco swears it is pesto. We found the recipe in Saveur magazine's big article in praise of pesto.

The magazine says this pesto is spicy, but we didn't find it spicy at all. We found it pretty bland, in fact, so our suggestion is to add a little hot red pepper to the mix. But even in its bland state, this spread will be a hit with your guests.

Pesto Calabrese

1 small eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2 -inch cubes
2 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and minced
1/2 small yellow onion, minced
2 plum tomatoes, cored and minced
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/3 cup packed basil
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Place eggplant in a colander, toss with 2 tsp. salt and let sit for 20 minutes.
Drain and dry on paper towels, and set aside.

Heat oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat, add pepper and onion, and cook, stirring often, until soft and lightly caramelized — about 10 minutes.

Add eggplant and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring, until soft, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a good processor and add ricotta and basil. Puree until smooth.

Season with salt and pepper.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Cilantro Pesto: A Happy Marriage of Mexican and Italian Flavors

As we've said many times before, pesto does not have to be made with basil. Instead you can use parsley, arugula, sun-dried tomatoes, asparagus, pistachio, sage, broccoli, red pepper, garlic scapes or cilantro.

We gave Mark Bittman's recipe for Light Cilantro Pesto that can be used as a dressing on vegetables or as an underlayment for any entree that needs just spark of pep. For example, we've smeared it on the plate under the stuffed roasted peppers we serve as an appetizer.

Saveur magazine's celebration of pesto includes a cilantro pesto made heartier by the inclusion of roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds). This pesto was the biggest hit when we laid out several pesto spreads as appetizers before a recent dinner party. It's salty. It's hearty. It's aggressively tasty. Saveur recommends it with roasted squash or grilled fish.

We made a lot of this cilantro pesto, so we've used it as a sauce on pasta (delicious!), as a dressing on blanched green beans and as a topping for fresh sliced tomatoes. This is a very versatile pesto indeed!

Pepita and Cilantro Pesto (from Saveur magazine)

2 cups packed cilantro
1/2—2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup toasted pepitas
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Pulse cilantro, oil, pepitas, parmesan, lime juice and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped; season with salt and pepper.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Pesto Rosso: Substituting Red for Green in Delicious Pesto

We normally think of pesto as being green and made with lots of basil right out of the garden. Saveur magazine's recent celebration of pesto noted that it is merely a paste, usually made in using a mortar and  pestle, so it can be made with lots of different ingredients.

Today we tried a pesto that doesn't even depend on fresh greens from the garden (except a small amount of rosemary). Instead it's foundation is sun-dried tomatoes. We found it to be absolutely addictive and a wonderful hors d'oeuvre when spread on a nice slice of crusty peasant bread — or a cracker.

Pesto Rosso

1 cup virgin olive oil
1/2 cupe toasted almonds, chopped
2 Tbsp. rosemary leaves, minced
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. paprika (or Aleppo pepper, if you've got it)
20 pitted oil-cured black olives
10 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Process oil, almonds, rosemary, vinegar, sugar, paprika, olives, tomatoes and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped; season with salt and pepper.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bargain Wine of the Week: Chateau d'Oupia Les Hérétiques 2009

Our trip to southern France will include two major wine regions, the Rhône Valley and the Languedoc. We'll be based in a little village right on the border between the two regions.

The Rhône is by far the better known and produces consistently better quality wine. It's most famous output is Chateauneuf du Pape, and its wine tend to be a blend of Syrah, Grenache, and typically Mourvedre, Cinsault or Carignane.

But the Languedoc also has a very long and proud tradition of making wine since the days the Romans brought vines to this land nestled on the Mediterranean just north of Spain. Winemaking here has had its ups and downs, so it's wine is sniffed at by those who favor Burgundy or Bordeaux.

But we're in an up cycle, and that means bargains for the wine buyer, if you're willing to work your way through an occasional so-so bottle of vin.

The vineyards of Chateau d'Oupia are 100 years old and sit on the barren hillsides of the Minervois section of Languedoc. Proprietor André Iché has quietly been making good wine without the benefit of a big marketing campaign. He just keeps putting out what wine reviewer Robert Parker calls "ideal bistro wine ... with gobs of rich, peppery, red and black fruit."

This red wine, the 2009 Chateau d'Oupia Les Hérétiques, is a blend of Carignan and Syrah grapes. It probably won't get a 90+rating, but it should score in the high 80s, and at $10 that's still a great bargain.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bargain Wine of the Week: Beso de Vino Seleccion 2009 is 'Shockingly Good'

In our effort to taste the differences in Côte du Rhône wines in preparation for our trip to the region, we'll be mostly drinking wines made (as prescribed by local law) from Syrah and Grenache grapes.

It just so happens that a good deal of wine made across the border in Spain is made from the same grapes. Spanish wines, as we've noted often here at Eat Well, Eat Cheap, are a bargain that very often meets our criteria of less than $10 a bottle. And the quality is often superb enough to garner 90+ ratings from the big ratings "agencies."

As part of our testing, over the weekend we opened a Côte du Rhône and a Spanish wine from Cariñena. The Spanish red was a blend of 85% Syrah and 15% Garnacha (Spanish for Grenache). With a 90 rating from Wine Advocate, we knew it would be good, but we wanted to compare it to the Côte du Rhône.

Spanish wines in the lower prices often tend to be on the lighter side, but this one was not. It would have made a great wine for steak or lamb — very strong and hearty. Next to the Rhône, which was a good pre-meal wine in this case, the Beso de Vino was a perfect accompaniment to food.

Full of roasted coffee and muted fruit, this wine made Wine Advocate say that "it is shockingly good for the money." Can't disagree.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Oh, Yes, Another Recipe That Takes Advantage of Sage

When we posted the five things to do with sage a few posts ago, we forgot one of our favorites: Butternut Squash with Sage Risotto. We posted this old fave of ours during the brutal winter of '09.

But it also works as a great summer or autumn dish, especially when the squash and sage is prolific.

We had an old butternut squash sitting around, and we were clearly going to lose it before long. And our sage plant, after some pruning two weeks ago, is growing like a weed. So we uncorked two bottles of wine made from Syrah and Grenache grapes to let them breathe (in slowly disappearing glasses) and cooked the risotto.

The squash was smaller than called for. The sage ended up being twice as much as in the recipe. But the dish, accompanied by sliced tomatoes, was divine.

What a pleasant mid-summer treat.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bargain Wine of the Week: Domaine de Dionysos La Deveze Côtes du Rhône Villages 2009

Before any major exertion you should train a bit, so that's what we're doing in preparation for our trip to the Rhône and Languedoc in southern France. 

We've stocked up on $10 bargain wines from the area to form a base for our tastings while we eat and drink our way around the northwestern bank of the Mediterranean. We've already set up two winery visits — to two vineyards that we've reviewed.

In our effort to taste and determine the differences in Rhone wines, we opened a Côtes du Rhône that we bought online for $11, just a dollar over our $10 limit (thinking that in France it will cost $10 or less).

The Domaine de Dionysos La Deveze Côtes du Rhône Villages 2009 was rated 90 by Wine Spectator, so it was pretty much assured that it wouldn't be a loser. 

Indeed, this dark mix of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Carignane was a great all-around buy. It sipped well before dinner and accompanied our summer meal of tomatoes and pasta extremely well. It smells and tastes of berries, with just a hint of flint to keep it from being too jammy. 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Great Column on Mindful Budget Eating

Felisa Rogers has been writing a series of wonderful columns for Salon on eating cheap—but they're about much more than eating on a (very) tight budget. She explores the joys of foraging, of refusing to waste, of refusing to give in to financial despair, of appreciating. Her column today is a beauty.

We like Rogers's writing because it exemplifies our favorite quote from M. F. K. Fisher:

“ . . . there is a basic thoughtfulness, a searching for the kernel in the nut, the bite in honest bread, the slow savor in a baked wished-for apple. It is this thoughtfulness that we must hold to, in peace or war, if we may continue to eat to live.” 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Five Tasty Ways to Use Sage in the Summertime

Sage is a wonderful but weird herb—wonderful because its deep, resinous flavor complements pork, chicken, potatoes, and squash so well, but weird because it flourishes in the summertime, when we tend to eat dishes that call for greener, more delicate herbs, like cilantro and basil. But you don't need to limit your sage use to Thanksgiving.

Here are five delicious ways to use sage in the summertime.

1. Sage and walnut pesto on pork or potatoes. This hearty pesto even works on the grill!

2. Crunchy fried sage leaves to garnish pasta or risotto or eat by themselves as a cocktail snack.

3. Roast potatoes with sage. Line a pan with whole sage leaves, then cover them with halved potatoes. The result: crunchy, creamy bliss.

4. White beans with sage and garlic. There's nothing easier than boiling some white beans with sage, garlic, and a little olive oil. You can eat them hot or cool them to use in a summer salad.

5. Sage vinaigrette. Add some chopped sage to a mustard vinaigrette for a tangy dressing on grilled or steamed vegetables.

Sage is a very easy plant to grow; it's disease-resistant and likes dry conditions. Depending on your climate, some plants will "winter over," providing years of tasty service.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Best Bought Veggie Burger Ever!

As you know—indeed, as you are probably tired of hearing by now—we avoid processed food whenever possible, for reasons of flavor, cost, and health. But every once in a while we discover a processed product that is so wonderful—that's so much better than we can make ourselves—that we have to blab about it. Vegenaise is one. Morningstar Farms Chipotle Black Bean Burgers are another.

There are a few inherent problems with veggie burgers. Homemade ones can taste great, but they tend to be too soft to grill, so they can't provide the full burger experience. Processed burgers, on the other hand, too often are dry, bready, and tasteless.

But Morningstar Farms' chipotle-spiked black bean burgers grill beautifully, developing  a "meaty" crust that could satisfy the most bloodthirsty carnivore. They're firm, flavorful, and, at a quarter pound apiece, satisfyingly large. They are heaven.

We discovered them at Costco, promptly finished a box, then went back for more, with some trepidation; Costco has a habit of dropping products that don't quickly catch on. Up and down the frozen aisle we prowled, worried that we'd never see the burgers again at a Costco price. Nothing . . . until we turned a corner and saw that Costco had devoted the entire "end cap" of its freezer section to a gigantic display of the burgers! As Costco is hardly a vegetarian paradise, we have to assume that this product is catching on with everybody.

Try them! You may never go back to hamburgers.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Burning Man ... in Spirit, Anyway

August is here, and Burning Man is almost upon us. Admittedly, we won't be there—broiling in the Nevada desert is pretty much the last thing we want to do, even for the sake of art, community, and countercultural frisson.

Still, we're glad that other people go to Burning Man, and the website is a joy to explore. We particularly like the section on how to cook well for yourself in a place with no piped-in water or fuel. The tips and recipes would work just as well for camping, and some of them would be great even for air-conditioned suburbanites like us, looking for some easy, delicious, healthy food as the hot summer unfurls . . .