Thursday, January 31, 2013

Fish Stew

(adapted from Peasant Cooking of Many Lands)

1/4 c olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c diced onion
1/2 c minced red or green pepper
2 c chopped ripe tomatoes (or 1 can diced tomatoes)
1/2 c water
1/2 c dry white wine
1-1/2 lb Swai nuggets
3 T roasted chopped almonds
minced parsley

Sauté vegetables in olive oil.  Add water and wine and bring to a boil.  Add fish and cook gently until fish is just done.  Remove fish to heated serving platter and pour sauce over it.  Sprinkle with almonds and parsley.

Caribbean Fish Chowder

(adapted from a recipe at

2 lb fish fillets or nuggets
1/2 c burgundy wine
2 c water (or fish stock)
1 T oil
1/2 c chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3 celery stalks, diced
1 can chopped stewed tomatoes
1 green pepper, diced
1 t basil
1 t oregano
2 bay leaves
2 t paprika
1 t celery seed
1 t dry mustard
1 t dried cilantro
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper or to taste

Heat the oil in a large soup pot. Sauté the onion and garlic until the onion is translucent. Add all of the other ingredients except the fish. (You may add 1/4 cup rice to this recipe as it is good that way too.) Simmer for 1 hour or until the vegetables are tender. Add the fish and cook for 7 to 10 minutes at a low boil.

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. If you only have white vinegar, just use a tablespoon of it. You could also use half a cup of red wine vinegar.

Brazilian Seafood Stew

(loosely based on a recipe from

1 lb Swai nuggets, cut into bite-size pieces if necessary
2 T lime juice (fresh is best, but bottled will do), divided
1/4 t Tabasco sauce, divided
1/2 t salt, divided
1 T olive oil
1/2 c chopped onion
1/2 c chopped green bell pepper
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 can (14 oz) canned tomatoes, undrained
1/3 c coconut milk (preferably not light)
1/2 c chopped green onion
1/2 c chopped fresh cilantro

In a shallow, non-aluminum bowl, combine fish, 1 tablespoon lime juice, 1/8 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Toss to mix. Cover and marinate in fridge for 30 minutes. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, green pepper and garlic and sauté until tender. Add tomatoes, coconut milk, and remaining tablespoon of lime juice, 1/8 teaspoon of Tabasco sauce, and ¼ teaspoon of salt. Mix well. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 2 to 3 minutes. Add marinated fish and simmer 15 minutes, or until fish is cooked through. Just before serving, stir in green onion and cilantro.

How to Buy Herbs and Spices

Herbs and spices (they’re herbs if you use the leaves, spices if you use the roots or flowers or seeds or other parts) are usually hideously expensive if you buy them in the little jars at the grocery store. Walmart and Aldi, though, have jars of the commonly used spices for less than a dollar. They’re 64 cents a jar at Walmart or 99 cents for a larger jar at Aldi. They don’t have all of the things I use, but they have a lot of them. The last time I checked, Walmart had chili powder, cinnamon, dried parsley, Italian seasoning, garlic powder and onion powder. Aldi had chili powder, cinnamon, cumin, dried parsley, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, paprika, and onion powder.

They are expensive in the little glass jars. Even though you usually just need a tiny bit and a jar of most things will last practically forever, you still have that initial outlay. One way to avoid that is to buy your herbs and spices in bulk at Bloomingfoods. The price per pound is sometimes higher than if you buy it in the glass jars at the grocery stores (most of Bloomingfoods’ herbs and spices are organic and cost more, but if they have the unorganic kind they’re usually cheaper per pound than in the grocery store), but because you only have to buy a tiny bit, it’s not so bad. Just be sure that you do only buy a tiny bit, though! I keep buying a lot more than I intend to. Here are a couple of ways to make sure you’re only buying what you want. First, reuse old spice jars. You can weigh the jars before you fill then, so you aren’t paying for the weight of the jar. Use the scale at the store and write the weight on the jar. Be sure to wash the jar first, of course, and dry it very well. Put a tablespoon of salt in the jar and draw a line on the outside to show how much that is. Take the salt out. Then, when you get to Bloomingfoods, only put in enough of the herb or spice to come to that line, or maybe even a little less. That way you’re only getting a tablespoon or less, and most recipes only call for a teaspoon or less of any given seasoning. A similar though less precise method is to put that tablespoon of salt into a small plastic bag, and give it a good hard look so you know how much it is. Then get the same amount at Bloomingfoods.

You’ll be amazed at how cheap things end up this way. Cayenne pepper, for example (hot red pepper) was $10.29 per pound when I checked there last. Sounds expensive! But that’s only about 11 cents a tablespoon, and most recipes just call for a half or a quarter of a teaspoon. Buying just a single tablespoon brings all of the herbs and spices within reach of even a limited budget. And, because you buy just a tiny bit at a time, you replace it more often and the herbs and spices stay fresher and taste better, and you can use less of them than if you were using stale herbs and spices. But I do still buy the really common things at Aldi or Walmart.

Another tip for bringing down the cost of seasonings is to make your own blends. Emeril’s seasoning blends are expensive, but you can find copycat recipes online and make your own. You can also make your own ethnic seasonings – chili seasoning, taco seasoning, pumpkin pie seasoning, Moroccan seasoning, Hungarian seasoning, and so on. You’ll save lots of money doing this and have a much wider variety of seasonings to draw on.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Savory Bread Pudding with Vegetables and Cheese

This version calls for kale and mushrooms, but you might try using spinach, leeks, green beans, corn, carrots, summer squash, or whatever else you have on hand. You could also incorporate chicken, ground beef, sausage, or other meat products—just cook them thoroughly before adding (perhaps by sautéing them with the vegetables in Step 3).
1 bunch kale
½ pound mushrooms
1 tsp fresh thyme, or ½ tsp dried thyme (optional)
2 garlic cloves, minced (optional)
Salt and pepper
¾ cup cheese, grated or diced (try Swiss, Cheddar, Jack, Gouda, Mozzarella, or your favorite)
½ pound stale bread, chopped into one-inch cubes
4 eggs
2 cups milk
  1. Wash and chop kale and mushrooms (or the vegetables of your choice).
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  3. In a frying pan over medium heat, sauté vegetables in butter or oil with thyme, garlic, or other herbs and spices until tender but still colorful. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. In a bowl, whisk together eggs with milk and add ½ tsp. salt.
  5. In a large baking dish, combine bread cubes, cooked vegetables, and egg mixture. Stir to mix evenly.
  6. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until browned.
Adapted from Martha Rose Shulman’s recipe for the New York Times (January 31, 2012).

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Ham and Cheese Sandwiches on the Cheap

(Note - this post was written in January of 2014, and is based on prices at that time. However, the basic ideas for making cheaper sandwiches are likely to hold all of the time. Even when not on sale, spiral sliced hams are likely to be a lot cheaper than deli ham, and slicing your own cheese will be cheaper than buying sliced deli cheese. Cooking and slicing your own roast beef and turkey breast will be cheaper than buying deli meats, too.)

Marsh has Hormel Cure 51 Spiral Sliced Hams for $1.29 a pound. True, there’s a big bone in it, so the meat itself probably costs about $2.00 a pound. Compare that to meat from the deli, which will probably run you anywhere from about $4.99 on up. The ham is sliced, which means you’ll get nice even slices, and a lot thinner than if you were slicing it yourself – or at least if I were slicing it myself! Cheese to go with the ham is on sale in various forms at most of the grocery stores. Aldi has 8-ounce blocks of several kinds of cheese for $1.79 each. Kroger has block cheese for $3.29 for 12 to 16 ounces. They also have some sliced cheese at $3.29 for 24 slices. Personally, I would go for the sliced cheese because the slices are thinner and more even than I could cut them, and they’ll go further. It depends on what kind is sliced, though. I’d rather have real cheese than a processed cheese. Even if I cut the cheese myself, it will probably end up cheaper than buying it at the deli counter. Beyond the meat and cheese, the last time I looked, Aldi had mayo and “whipped salad dressing” for $1.99 for almost a quart. I think it was 30 ounces instead of 32. A few different varieties of mustard were $1.19 a bottle, I think. When it comes to bread, remember to compare the price per slice rather than the price per loaf or the price per pound. Unless the slices are unusually large or small, two slices of whatever size you get will make a sandwich. If you go for a hoagie type roll, think about how many sandwiches – how many “servings” – you’re going to get from them, and compare the price to the same number of “servings” of regular bread. 

Garlic Bread Snacks

You can take a loaf of French bread that is split in two, spread each side with garlic butter, and bake until hot. Or take that same loaf of French bread, cut it vertically into slices (but not all the way through) and spread garlic butter in between the slices, and bake until hot. Or go ahead and cut the slices all the way through, put them flat on a baking sheet and spread the top side with garlic butter, then bake until hot and somewhat crispy. Or take regular old bread (or sliced sour dough would be good, too), spread one side with garlic butter, put them in a single layer on a baking dish, and bake until toasted and crisp. Or make your garlic bread however you like to. Or even buy a loaf of garlic bread! However you make your Garlic Bread, it makes a good base for spreading either the SPINACH ARTICHOKE DIP or the COPY CAT FRITO LAY BEAN DIP on top of. Or other dips, too, for that matter. You may need to spread the dip instead of dipping the bread, depending on the dip.

French Bread Chips

I assume that there’s a name for these, but I don’t know what it is. Take some French bread and cut it into “fingers.” You might need to cut the bread into about 4 slices first. Then put the fingers on the baking sheet, brush very lightly with a bit of olive oil in which you’ve had a clove of garlic soaking, and then bake until crisp. You could use regular bread, too, if that was what you had on hand. Or maybe rye bread? Try baking different kinds of bread at different temperatures. You want them to dry out and get crisp without burning. Watch them closely!

Tortilla Chips

Cut small (5 or 6 inches?) wheat or corn tortillas into wedges, put then on a baking sheet, spritz them or brush them very lightly with a bit oil (actually, you don’t really need any oil), and bake at 350 for about 5 minutes to crisp.

Pita Chips

Buy a pack of thin pitas (round bread that separates in the middle). Separate each pita into two rounds, then cut each round into six or eight wedges. Put the wedges on a baking dish in a single layer. Spray them with a bit of oil if you have a spritzer, or brush them very lightly with a bit of oil. Bake at 350 for about 5 minutes to crisp.

Copy Cat Frito Lay Bean Dip


1 can (15 oz) refried beans                       
5 slices bottled jalapenos (nacho slices)
1 T brine, from the jalapenos                    
1/2 t salt                                                        
1/2 t sugar
1/4 t onion powder
1/4 t paprika
1/8 t garlic powder
1/8 t cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients in food processor or blender and puree on high speed until smooth. Cover and chill for at least an hour before serving.

Spinach Artichoke Dip

(based on including reviews)

1 c shredded parmesan cheese               
1 c shredded Italian cheese blend (or mozzarella or another cup of parmesan)                
1 box (10 oz) frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 can (14 oz) artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
2/3 c sour cream
1 c cream cheese
1/3 c mayo
2 t minced garlic (or more to taste

Preheat oven to 375. Mix together parmesan, Italian cheese blend, spinach, and artichoke hearts. Combine remaining ingredients, mix well, and add to spinach mixture. Mix well. Bake for 20 – 30 minutes. Serve hot. If you have a small Crockpot, use that to keep the dip warm. On the other hand, it may disappear so fast it doesn’t have time to get cold!

Sweet Hot Mustard Chicken Wings

(based on

2 pounds chicken wings, separated at joints, tips saved for making stock
Salt to taste                                                  
2 T Dijon mustard                                        
2 T prepared yellow mustard
3 T honey (or maple syrup)
2 t cider vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
1 t hot pepper sauce                                   

Preheat oven to 450. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil; coat the foil with cooking spray. (The foil will make it a lot easier to clean the baking dish!) Arrange the wings on the baking sheet so they do not touch; season with salt. Bake in the preheated oven until browned and crispy on top, about 20 minutes. Flip the wings with tongs and cook until no longer pink in the center and the juices run clear, about 20 minutes more. Meanwhile, combine the remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix well. Add the cooked wings and toss with a spatula to coat evenly. Allow to sit for about 5 minutes, then toss again to recoat. Transfer to a plate and serve. (These are messy to eat. You might try cooking them the same way as the Buffalo Wings, above. Or at least try baking them again for a few minutes after you put the sauce on them.)

Unbelievable Baked Buffalo Wings

(based on and reviews)

1 lb chicken wings, separated at the joints and wing tips saved for broth
1 T cayenne pepper                                    1
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
2 t salt, or to taste
1/2 c Louisiana hot sauce
1 T butter or margerine

Fill a large pot halfway with water and then add the chicken, cayenne, red pepper flakes, and salt. Bring the water and wings to a boil and boil for 15 minutes. (It’s this initial boiling before baking that makes the wings so crispy.) Coat a baking dish with cooking spray (or better yet, line it with foil or with parchment paper or you’ll be scrubbing that pan for a long time!), then add the wings in a single layer. Bake at 450 for 15 minutes, turn, then bake them for another 15 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the hot sauce and butter in a microwave safe dish and nuke for 2 minutes. When the wings are done, add them to the sauce and coat thoroughly. Put the wings back on the baking dish and cook for another 2 minutes on each side. This will make the wings extra crispy and will make them less messy to eat. Serve with ranch dressing and celery sticks. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

No Knead Bread

This recipe makes enough for four 1-pound loaves and can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. I use it to bake 4 crusty boules, but you could also use it for cinnamon rolls, or incorporate other ingredients (nuts, dried fruit, olives, cheese) before shaping and baking. The flavor really improves when it sits in the fridge for a couple of days. (Adapted by Kayte Young, from Cooking Club Feb/March 2011) 
Total preparation time: 3 ½ hours, plus at least a half hour to cool. Most of that time is hands-off, so you can do other things.

3 ½ cups lukewarm water
4 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 teaspoons salt
5 cups unbleached all purpose flour (or white bread flour)
2 ¼ cups whole wheat flour
1.     Combine water yeast and salt in a large bowl. With spoon (or mixer with paddle attachment) stir in flour (dough will be wet).
2.     Place dough in 5-quart lidded container; cover with lid (do not snap airtight). Let rise at room temperature 2 hours. Refrigerate overnight or up to 14 days, or go ahead and bake a loaf, and put the rest in the fridge to bake at your convenience.
     To Bake a Crusty Boule (a small, round, free-form loaf)
Take 1 lb (grapefruit sized) portion of dough from the Master Recipe (above)
1.     Hold dough and dust top with flour; quickly shape into ball by stretching surface of dough around to bottom on all four sides, rotating a quarter turn as you go (pinch the dough at the bottom). The dough may feel wet, and not easy to handle, but you don’t need to handle it much. Just shape as quickly as you can, creating a nice tight surface on top (without tearing the dough). Don’t worry too much about how round it is, it will look lovely and rustic, whatever shape it ends up.  Just try to resist the urge to add a lot of flour and knead it. You want to preserve the nice pockets of air that are already in the dough.
2.     Place the dough on a pizza peel or baking sheet, sprinkled liberally with cornmeal or lined with parchment (I use parchment, sprinkled with cornmeal). Cover loosely with lightly floured plastic wrap. Let stand in warm, draft free place for 1-2 hours, or until dough is slightly puffed and no longer chilled. If you are taking dough from the fridge, this will take at least 2 hours.
3.     Thirty minutes before baking, place a baking stone (or a cookie sheet) on center oven rack; place an empty broiler pan on the bottom oven rack. Heat oven to 450 F
4.     Dust the loaf with flour or brush the top with a little water and sprinkle (heavily) with sesame seeds (or other small seeds). With a thin, sharp knife or blade (straight razor is best, but a sharp paring knife will work) make 3 or more slashes in the top of the loaf. Try to get them at least ¼ inch deep. You are giving the air a place to go when the extreme heat hits it. If you don’t do this, the loaf will “blow out” somewhere else (which is fine, but may not look the way you hoped it would).
5.     Heat 1 cup of water to boiling. Slide the loaf onto the baking stone or cookie sheet (this is easy with parchment paper--don’t remove the paper, but make sure it is cut small, so it doesn’t flap over the bread). Quickly pour the hot water in the broiler pan (don’t have your face right over it!) and shut the oven door. Do these two things quickly, and shut the door in between, if needed, to avoid losing too much oven heat. You want the dough to receive a blast of extreme heat and steam. This helps with the rise, and also makes a crisp crust.
6.     Bake 30 minutes or until deep golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on bottom (I always use my instant-read thermometer to make sure the interior has reached 205 F). Cool completely on a wire wrack. The bread continues to bake a bit after it comes out, so resist the urge to cut right into it. Let it cool for at least 30 min. Store in a paper bag the first day, then store in a sealed container or plastic bag (if there is any left the second day J).

Note. The loaf may seem a bit small. If you need more bread, make two loaves rather than trying to make one big one. This particular recipe works best with small loaves.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Homemade "Maple" Syrup

Did you know that you can make your own "maple" syrup? This is what I grew up with. Just combine twice as much sugar as water (so maybe two cups of sugar and one cup of water) in a saucepan. Bring it to a boil, and boil it until the sugar dissolves and the syrup is clear. Then add half a teaspoon or so of Mapleine (an imitation maple extract – you should be able to find it with the vanilla and other extracts and flavorings) and stir it well. It tastes very much like maple syrup for a fraction of the cost. You can use brown sugar instead, without the Mapleine, which I think I liked better. Or sometimes we made it with white sugar and no Mapleine, and it was still good over pancakes and French toast and so forth.

Maple Mustard Baked Chicken Thighs

(unknown source)

8 chicken thighs, or 4 chicken leg quarters
1/2 c spicy mustard (not the yellow stuff)
1/4 c maple syrup
1 or cloves of garlic, minced

Combine the mustard, maple syrup and garlic, and coat the chicken with it. Put the chicken in a shallow baking dish and bake at 375 for about an hour, or until the chicken is done. 

Pork Chops Bakes with Cabbage and Cream

(from  Lose Weight the Smart Low Carb Way)

1 small head (1-1/2 lbs) green cabbage, cored and finely shredded
4 boneless pork chops (6 oz each), each 3/4” thick (or whatever pork chops you have)
1/2 t salt
1/4 t pepper
2 t olive oil
1/2 c half-and-half
1 t caraway seeds
1/2 t sweet Hungarian paprika
1 t dried marjoram or thyme
1/2 c shredded Swiss cheese

Preheat the oven to 350. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.  Add the cabbage and cook until soft, 4 to 5 minutes.  Drain in a colander and dry it well with paper towels. Season the meat with 1/4 t salt and the pepper.  Heat the oil in an oven-safe, large, heavy skillet over high heat.  Add the meat and cook until just browned, 1 to 2 minutes.  Remove to a plate. Discard any fat in the skillet and heat over low heat.  Stir in the cabbage, cream, caraway seeds, paprika, marjoram or thyme, and the remaining 1/4 t salt.  Cook and stir until heated through, about 1 minute.  Remove from the heat and arrange the pork over the cabbage, adding any juices accumulated on the plate.  Sprinkle with the cheese.  Bake until the pork is done, about 25 minutes for medium-well.

Steamed Pork Chops

(very slightly adapted from a recipe in A Little Bahamian Cookbook)

4 pork chops, preferably thin-cut loin chops
1 t oil
1 medium onion, sliced
1 green pepper, sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 c diced canned tomatoes (about half a can)
1-1/2 T tomato paste
Salt and pepper
A drop or two of Tabasco or other hot sauce

Season the chops with flour and salt and pepper and brown them in a little oil. When browned, remove them from the pan. Fry the onion, garlic and green pepper slowly until soft, then return the chops to the pan. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste and thyme. Allow to boil for a couple of minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then lower the heat and simmer until the meat is tender, about 45 minutes, adding more liquid if necessary.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Easy Chicken Divan

(adapted from a recipe in Better Homes and Gardens Casserole Cook Book, 1961)

2 pounds frozen broccoli
3 c sliced cooked chicken breasts (about 1-1/2 lbs raw boneless, skinless breasts)
2 cans condensed cream of chicken soup (or equivalent CREAM OF WHATEVER SOUP)
1 c mayo
1 t lemon juice
1/2 t curry powder
1/2 c shredded sharp cheddar (2 ounces)

Cook broccoli until done; drain. Arrange in a greased baking dish. Place chicken on top. Combine soup, mayo, lemon juice and curry powder; spoon over chicken. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes, or until thoroughly heated and bubbly.

Use turkey instead of chicken.
Use leftover chicken instead of the cooked chicken breasts.
Use fresh broccoli instead of frozen.
Use cauliflower instead of broccoli, or use a combination.

Orange Chicken

(based on a recipe from Better Homes and Gardens Meat Cook Book, 1969)

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (1-1/2 lbs)
1/4 c frozen orange juice concentrate (just the concentrate, not made into juice)
2 T butter or margarine
1/2 t ground ginger

Put the chicken breasts in a shallow, foil-lined baking pan. (The foil is because the orange juice will burn and be hard to get out of the pan.) Combine the orange juice concentrate, butter and ginger. Heat it (the 1969 recipe says in a saucepan, but I think a microwave would work better, if you have one), and pour it over the chicken. Bake about 20 minutes at 350, or until the chicken is done. Put the chicken in a serving bowl, then stir the pan drippings to blend. Pour the sauce over the chicken or serve it separately.

Parmesan Almond Chicken Breasts

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced about 1/2” thick
1/2 c grated shredded parmesan (preferably the real stuff, not from a green can!)
1/4 c sliced or slivered almonds (or almond flour)
1 T dried parsley flakes
1 t garlic powder
1 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1 t poultry seasoning
1 T oil (Mom uses Pam, but I prefer oil)

Put everything but the chicken and the oil in a small blender jar and whirl it a few times. You’ll probably need to scrape down the sides. When it’s fully mixed and the parmesan and almonds are broken up, put the mixture on a plate or in a flat bowl. Dip the slices of chicken in the parmesan almond mixture. You want a fairly thin coating or there won’t be enough for all of the chicken. Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium high heat. Add the oil to the hot skillet and heat for just a few seconds, then put in the chicken. Cook it, turning occasionally, until done. We used an electric skillet at Mom’s house, set to 300, and it took about 10 minutes. The chicken wasn’t completely thawed, though, so it might not take as long for you. If some of the coating sticks to the bottom of the skillet, scrape it out and eat it! Cook’s privilege, you know.