Friday, January 31, 2014

Herbs and Spices and Fish Stew

Remember last week, when I gave you a couple of recipes for Chicken Wings? Well, wings are on sale this week at IGA in Ellettsville and Bedford - $1.29 a pound. 14-ounce bags of frozen meatballs are 99 cents each. Eckrich Cotto Salami, Sliced Bologna, and Franks are $1.00 for a 16-ounce (1 pound) package. (Some of the franks are in 12-ounce packages.) Broccoli and cauliflower are both two for $4.00, or $2.00 each. How good a price this is depends on how big the heads are. Both make great dippers instead of chips. “Jumbo” lemons and limes are two for $1.00, or 50 cents each. 5-pound bags of red potatoes are two for $5.00, or $2.50 each, or 50 cents a pound. Friday and Saturday (January 31 and February 1) only, 1-pound bags of baby peeled carrots and pints of grape tomatoes are 99 cents each.

Kroger has asparagus for $1.49 a pound and sour cream for $1.00 a pint. Pears are 99 cents a pound, as are Roma tomatoes and jalapeno peppers.

Aldi has organic baby carrots for $1.29 a pound and organic grape tomatoes for $1.49 a pint. Those aren’t bad prices even for regular unorganic baby carrots and grape tomatoes. Cucumbers are 99 cents for a three pack, mushrooms are 99 cents for 8 ounces, and broccoli crowns are 99 cents for a one pound package. Celery is 89 cents a head. All of these make good dippers, too. Avocados are 49 cents each. Avocados are really good for you and go great in a lot of Mexican dishes.

It’s not a very inspiring bunch of specials this week. Seems like a lot of the “specials” are prepared and processed foods and drinks for watching the Super Bowl. Check last week’s column about how to keep the cost of your Super Bowl down to a reasonable level. Of course, the actual prices will be different this week, but most of what I said still applies.

Since the specials didn’t give me any ideas for what to talk about, I’m going to talk about seasonings (herbs and spices, mostly) and three recipes for fish soup. Kroger still has Swai (catfish) nuggets for either $1.29 or $1.39 a pound, or at least the store near Seminary Park did when I checked there about a week ago. Or you could use the catfish fillets that the HUB has had recently instead of the nuggets.

The three fish soups are very similar, although they come from all across the globe. All are made with Swai (catfish) nuggets (though that’s not the fish in the original recipe – I substituted Swai for the more expensive types of fish called for) and all have onion, tomatoes, pepper and garlic. They’re very similar – but they’re also very different! The difference is in the seasonings. I hope it will inspire you to vary your menus with different herbs and spices.

I’ll get to the recipes in a minute, but first I want to talk about herbs and spices. They can be hideously expensive, especially if you have to buy a whole jar and only need a tiny bit. However, BUYING IN BULK can bring the cost way down.

The first recipe, BRAZILIAN SEAFOOD STEW, originally called for shrimp in addition to cod, striped bass, or snapper. What makes it different from the others is coconut milk and lime juice. I come up with a cost of about $4.00 for this, depending mostly on how much the green onions and cilantro cost. You’d lose the visual effect, but you could substitute a fourth of a cup of chopped onion for the green onion. If you don’t want to spring for fresh cilantro, you could use Italian parsley instead, though I’m not sure it’s any cheaper. Or you could use a couple of tablespoons of dried cilantro. Be sure it’s the leaf, not the seeds. Just be aware that you’re losing some of the ethnic flavor of Brazil by not using fresh cilantro. However, it should make a good fish stew anyway, even if it’s not very Brazilian. This looks like it should make about six cups, or four servings of about a cup and a half each. That seems a bit skimpy for a main dish soup, without something to go with it. You could add another pound of Swai nuggets, bringing the cost up to about $5.40 and the servings up to about two cups each. How about some cucumbers in sour cream to go with it? Or leave the fish at one pound, and have devilled eggs and carrots and celery (or maybe some broccoli or cauliflower) with ranch dressing. Either way, the total cost of the meal would be around $6.00, or $1.50 per person.

The second recipe is for CARIBBEAN FISH CHOWDER. The original recipe called for shrimp and clams in addition too generic “fish fillets.” What makes it different is the burgundy wine (a red wine, and usually white wines go with fish) and all of the herbs and spices. Don’t be put off by all the ingredients; most of them are just dabs of seasonings. This one is definitely the soupiest of the three.

If you don’t have burgundy wine, or you don’t have wine at all in your home, there are some substitutions you can make. Any wine made with Pinot Noir grapes will be similar to burgundy. Examples are Merlot and Cabernet or Pinot Noir. If you want to avoid the wine altogether, you can use a non-alcoholic wine, or a combination of rice wine vinegar and grape juice. Try about 2 tablespoons of vinegar and 6 tablespoons of grape juice in place of the half cup of burgundy. If you only have white vinegar, just use a tablespoon of it. You could also use half a cup of red wine vinegar.

This will come to about $6.00 by itself, but should make about ten cups, or two and a half cups per serving. That doesn’t leave any room for something to go with it, but the servings are big enough that they should be enough on their own. Or call it six servings of a little over a cup and a half each, and add some salad as I suggested for the Brazilian Seafood Stew.

The final recipe, FISH STEW, isn’t identified as to country but looks like it may be Mediterranean. Not that either of the others is necessarily at all authentic, either, especially after substituting Swai nuggets for the fish and shellfish in the original recipe! It has the more usual white wine to go with the fish. The original recipe calls for fillets of “sole, halibut or other firm white fish.” Unlike the other recipes, the original recipe does not call for shellfish in addition to the fish. It’s interesting that it says to serve it on a platter and not in a bowl. The almonds are another unusual touch. This should make about eight cups, or two cups per serving, which is a reasonable size for a main dish soup. It comes to a little over $4.00, which leaves about $2.00 for something extra to go with it. Again, the salad suggestions from the Brazilian Seafood Stew would be good. Or Marsh has jumbo cantaloupe for $2.99 each (not a great price – they were $1.50 each a couple of weeks ago), and you could have four nice wedges for $1.50.

You didn’t hear it from me, but GARLIC BREAD would go well with any of these soups. Or hard rolls. You can buy pre-made garlic bread, but you might as well make you own. It's cheaper and better and better for you, too. 

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