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How to Eat Out on a Budget

The answer is .. you don’t.

At least, if I do, it’s very rare these days.

Dim sum, sushi and Red Lobster are my only dining out treats, but even they are quite rare … a few times a year.

Let’s do the math of dining out in comparison to cooking at home.

The last time I went out for AYCE sushi, I spent $17 and change. And that didn’t include a $3 tip.

In comparison, I spent $10 ($14 regular price with a 30% discount 30%) on a smoked picnic shoulder ham, and another $7 for a package of 4 fresh, skinless, bone in chicken breasts. Sometimes you can find boneless chicken breasts on deep discount.

After boiling the ham, I ended up with 18 cups of broth. I used half of the broth to make 11 cups/servings of ham and bean soup. I used 2 cups of diced cooked ham in the soup and still had enough ham left over for eight generous servings for other meals.

As to the chicken breasts, which were big enough to serve two people each if just simply breaded and baked, the possible usages are plentiful. Another option is turning the meat into breaded cutlets or chicken fillets.

Admittedly, chicken and pork are the most inexpensive proteins available … $2 – 2.50 a pound. Fish and seafood are a lot pricier. And a premium steak. The savings of cooking at home aren’t as obvious, but it’s still cheaper than dining out … two meals in for the price of one meal in a restaurant.

Every time I get tempted to dine out, I do the math.

Although, being frugal in my grocery shopping means that I CAN afford to treat myself occasionally.

What’s your favourite dining out treat? Do you eat out as much as you used to 5 yrs ago, 10?

ETA: I spent $18 on this name brand (Butterball) turkey bought frozen for $1.49 a pound. Lots of breast meat, thighs turned into a spicy Indian curry dish, roasted wings and drumsticks, turkey and rice soup, giblet and rice dressing, delicious gravy and the carcass will end up in a big pot turkey stock.

Easy Korean Beef Bowl and Matzoh Ball Soup

I’m always up for trying another cuisine and one of the blogs I follow often has very interesting Korean recipes. Of course, the most famous Korean dish is probably kimchi … and one day, I may try to make my own. However, I’m not fond of fermented vegetables and cabbage is a new addition to my palate so it will be a while.

Beef however, as found in the famous grilled dish, bulgogi, is something that this meat lover can get all over. Getting sirloin or rib eye steak sliced paper thin for the dish isn’t in my budget, though, so this much more affordable ground beef dish is a tasty substitute. You can google for a recipe but I started with this one. I added two things … 1/4 tsp of gochujang for heat and 1 tbsp of fish sauce for a more complex flavour.

Easy Korean Beef Bowl

Plating was pretty simple though, if I LIKED kimchi, I would have served some on top of the beef bowl. Sauteed bok choy is something I want to add next time. A fried egg over easy or a poached egg adds a creamy texture when broken up and stirred into the meat and rice below.

Matzoh Ball Soup

I used the recipe on the Manischewitz matzoh meal box for the matzoh balls.

I haven’t made matzoh balls in ages but I ran across a canister of matzoh meal in the cupboard so I dug out a container of turkey stock from the freezer and made this. My dad would have enjoyed the matzoh balls almost as much as he liked my mom’s home made egg noodles.

You want a nice spongy texture inside your matzoh balls so have a light touch when shaping them.

Beef Duo – Curry and Individual Pot Pies

NOTE: I made the curry and the duck fat pastry as directed by the recipes in the links … ok, I used water instead of vodka in the pastry cause I didn’t want to waste the vodka. The filling for the pot pies started with the recipe on Allrecipes but I made some changes as briefly noted below.

I made the mistake of freezing an entire tray (2.6 lbs) of stewing beef when I brought it home so I wanted to get creative when I cooked it.

I recently saw an intriguing recipe for Punjabi Beef and Spinach curry which I wanted to make. It’s not a pretty dish when done, but the combination of herbs and spices sounded like they’d make a flavourful dish. I browned all the beef and set aside 1 pound for the second dish, a pot pie.

Beef pot pies are a great way of stretching your meat to serve more people and getting some veggies into your diet at the same time. I chose to do individual pies so I could freeze away the extras for future meals without worrying about the filling oozing out and making a mess or drying out.

Inside the pot pie … I think I need to make a bit more gravy but just adding some more broth which would make the gravy thinner should solve the issue.

I used a recipe I found on Allrecipes though I made some adjustments to the technique including making a roux based gravy, with the liquid used to simmer the beef (~1/2 cup), to which I added a rounded tablespoon of dried French onion soup mix and about a cup of chicken stock.

And, instead of a frozen pie crust, I made a flavourful pastry with some duck fat instead of using all butter.

Duck and Pork Cassoulet/Casserole

I first tasted this dish at a very expensive restaurant in Chicago while visiting there with some friends. We stayed at the Renaissance Blackstone Hotel, in walking distance of other famous landmarks including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium which we visited. We even walked all the way to the Water Tower Place for some window shopping. It was a memorable visit long before my mobility issues.

For a simple French peasant dish, there are a lot of ‘expert’ opinions on what you should and shouldn’t do when making this glorified pot of baked beans.

As you know, for Christmas dinner, I roasted a duck very simply and sliced and froze away both breasts, one of the legs, the carcass and some trimmed meat from the back. I had visions of a hoisin duck wrap with the breasts. And with the leg … well, I made duck gravy with the drippings and froze that away as well. I can’t remember exactly WHY I decided to make a duck cassoulet. I think I saw one posted on FB and had an A-HA moment.

In any case, since I’m home this week and snow was predicted midweek, I thought it would be the perfect time to give the cassoulet a try.

Duck and Pork Cassoulet – single portion with a breadcrumb crust

Just a bit of broth left at the end makes for a perfect cassoulet

5 Steps in Making a Cassoulet

Step 1: Soak the beans – This step and the next can be eliminated if you buy canned beans. Drain and rinse well and go straight to Step 3. In this instance, I added a generous tablespoon of salt to the soaking liquid as I wanted to see if that would affect the cooking time. It’s also been suggested that this will give the salt more time to penetrate the beans and flavour them.

Step 2: Cook the beans – You don’t have to cook the beans until they fall apart, just until they’re no longer crunchy, as you’ll be cooking them some more with your meats.

Step 3: Brown the meat – The meat used is a matter of debate. Duck, lamb (mutton) and pork, in several forms, may be used. The lamb is often omitted, which I did as well. Chicken may be substituted for the duck. And then, there’s a question of fresh or smoked. I’ve already mentioned that I was using leftover roasted duck, about a pound in total. For pork, I went with fresh pork belly, with the rind removed, and cut into portion sized chunks, as well as two raw apple sausages. I wanted to use raw garlic sausages, but my regular butcher didn’t have any, and I forgot to check at the other one at the market. (duh!!)

Step 4: Prepare the crust – This step is also a matter of debate. Some cooks swear by a crunchy crust made of fresh bread crumbs fried in duck fat, spiked with garlic (fresh or dry) and fresh, chopped parsley with a bit of stock to moisten it before it’s spooned generously over the top of the cassoulet. Pat the crumbs down gently and bake your cassoulet until the top is brown and crunchy. For other cooks, a ‘natural’ crust formed by the broth as it cooks down is preferred.

I was GOING to make the breadcrumb topping but then found myself with only 2 TBSP of breadcrumbs in my breadcrumb jar and no bread in the house/freezer that I could make more out of. I was too lazy to run to the local bakery and buy breadcrumbs so I made a single portion of the cassoulet in one of my ramekins with the breadcrumbs I had.

Step 5: Assemble and bake – Use a casserole dish large enough to hold all your beans, meats and enough liquid to just cover the beans. You will bake the contents for at least an hour until the beans and the meat are cooked through and then uncover and continue cooking to reduce the amount of liquid. You’re not making a soup but you DO want some liquid left. If your bean mixture gets too dry, you can spoon some of the reserved bean cooking liquid or stock over each individual portion before serving.

Duck and Pork Cassoulet/ Casserole … finished dish

Duck and Pork Cassoulet – serves 6

Beans and meats for your cassoulet

1 pound dry navy beans, soaked overnight along with 1 tbsp salt
1 pound duck meat, legs and or breasts
1 pound fresh pork belly, rind removed and cut into 4-6 portions
1/2 pound (2) fresh pork sausage, garlic preferred but apple was used

For the duck stock

1 duck carcass
6 cups of water, enough to cover the duck carcass
~ 1 tsp salt
1 small onion, ends trimmed and outer skin removed
1 carrot, rinsed, trimmed and chopped into 2-3 pieces
1 stalk celery, rinsed, trimmed and chopped into 3-4 pieces

For the bouquet garni – wrapped in cheesecloth and tied closed

1 clove garlic, whole, root end trimmed and paper husk removed
2-3 dry bay leaves
6-9 black peppercorns
1/4 tsp dry thyme

Cooking the beans/making the stock

In a large stock pot combine the soaked navy beans, water, duck carcass and bouquet garni. Bring just to the boil, skim off any scum that floats to the top, reduce the heat until the contents are just simmering, cover and cook 45 min to 1 hr or until the beans are just barely tender. Remove the carcass to a bowl. Let cool and pick off any meat from the carcass which you’ll add to the cassoulet during the assembly.

Remove and discard the bouquet garni, onion, carrot and celery pieces.

Drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid for assembling and cooking the cassoulet.

For the cassoulet

6 cups cooked navy beans
2 – 2 1/2 cups duck stock or bean cooking liquid
2 tbsp duck fat
1 onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely diced
2 tbsp tomato paste

For crumb topping

2 – 2 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs
1 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 – 2 tbsp duck fat

Preheat the oven to 350 deg Fahrenheit.

Place a large dutch oven on the burner set to medium heat and when hot, add the trimmed off rinds from the pork belly. Render out the pork fat and then add the meaty cubes of pork belly. Brown on all sides then transfer to a large dish. Brown the sausages on both sides, cut each into 2-3 pieces and add to the dish with the cubes of pork belly.

Drain off all the pork fat from the casserole. Add 2 tbsp duck fat to the casserole and saute the diced onion over medium heat just until the onion is soft but not browned. Add the minced garlic and saute for another minute or two. Add the tomato paste and cook for a few minutes to dry out the tomato paste. Add a cup of the bean cooking liquid/duck stock and scrape up browned bits from the bottom. Add the beans and as much liquid to just cover the beans. Nestle the meats into the broth, bring to the simmer and then cover the dutch oven and transfer to the preheated oven. Cook for an hour.

Even without a crumb topping, you’ve got a tasty dish … a bit of fresh parsley scattered over the top would be perfect

Prepare the crumb crust by toasting the garlic in the duck fat, if using fresh minced garlic, in a large saute pan. Otherwise, toast the breadcrumbs, dried garlic powder and the dried or fresh parsley in the duck fat. Add a splash or two of bean cooking liquid to the pan. Remove the dutch oven from the oven and pat the crumb crust over the top of the cassoulet.

Return the dutch oven to the oven and continue cook for another half hour or so before checking the level of liquid left.

You may turn on the broiler on high for 2-2 1/2 minutes to finish the browning if your liquid has reduced enough. Check carefully as you don’t want to burn your crumb topping.

Spoon into each individual bowl making sure there’s a bit of sausage, pork belly and duck in each portion.

Garnish with some fresh parsley before serving.

Happy New Year! … Leg of Lamb Roast and Oreo Cheesecake

Sorry for the belated post but I’ve been a bit lazy so I’ve got a bunch of stuff to share.

I made an Oreo cheesecake to go with my simple boneless leg of lamb roast New Year’s dinner.

The slices I cut for my dinner were from the fatty end of the roast and a BIT underdone so the roast, including the slices you see on the plate, went back into the oven for another 15 minutes. (Lesson learned, try the directions ON the package before you get creative.) The lamb looked like the picture below when I ate it.

The much nicer end of the roast

I didn’t have a lot of inspiration for a pretty cheesecake plating so here’s a profile shot.

Most of the cheesecake went into the freezer.

December 2016 Cooking Wrap-Up

Cooking wise, if not in other respects, 2016 has been a successful year.

I made a second sourdough starter with canned pineapple juice and whole wheat flour and then made some great breads with it. I thickened it up quite a bit compared to the one I made in 2105 and that may have accounted for some of the success. Experience helped as well, as I’m less hesitant about trying new sourdough recipes. I did revisit the old stand-by, regular yeast, and made a delicious honey challah just before Christmas. Definitely something I’ll be repeating next year.

Bacon, Cheddar Cheese and Cracked Black Pepper Sourdough loaf and round Honey Challah

Crumb of the challah

Cooking on an even stricter budget than ever before resulted in having to be creative with simple ingredients bought on sale, like chicken, pork and ground beef, or leftovers, and the results were mostly successful. You’ll have to scroll back through the posts to see them. I do miss fish, seafood and steak however. I’m also grocery shopping less often and there’s less wastage as I try to use up what’s most perishable first. I’m also going back to basics with the dishes I’ve been making such as cookies and fudge. I haven’t been buying as many jarred sauces as in the past, while using up the ones I already have in things like stir-fries.

The meat sauce I made recently with a simple spaghetti sauce base was delicious as well as economical.  One pound of ground beef was stretched to make eight cups of sauce.

I turned some leftover mashed sweet potato into muffins with raisins for added sweetness using a recipe found on Rachel Ray’s web site.

And because I missed seafood … I bought a package of mussels in garlic sauce on sale, and one of cooked shrimp, and made this pasta dish with the spaghetti sauce.

Christmas Duck Dinner (2016)

Christmas for one doesn’t have to be dull and boring. I always set the table for two. This year, I used my mom’s Christmas china … I bought it for her at Canadian Tire many, many years ago. The turkey platter (only $10) picked up at the same place is perfect for this year’s duck. I found the old linen tablecloth tucked away under a stack of ‘good’ dish towels in the bathroom closet.

Duck and orange is a classic pairing but, instead of an orange sauce, I added oranges to my kale salad and dressing. Or rather, Kraft did.

Drippings from roasting the duck made a tasty base for gravy.

Bread pudding made with leftover Nutella, chocolate and pecan babka, Bree Drummond’s easy caramel sauce and a scoop of French vanilla ice cream

I spent a bit over $13 CDN for the duck (2.3 kg) but there’s enough meat for at least 4-5 servings. And the carcass (not in the picture) will end up as stock.

Simple Spaghetti Sauce/ Sunday Gravy

A while ago I bought a big (100 fl oz) can of peeled, whole San Marzano tomatoes with the intention on making Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce with onion and butter. But you know what they say about ‘intentions’.

And then, a couple of days ago I was brainstorming an idea for a “Sunday sauce”, a pasta sauce that varies with the household making it. I was going to throw in some ground beef, a couple of pork chops, even a chicken breast, all of which transform a simple pasta sauce into a ‘gravy’. Then I realized that that pound of ground beef that I had in my freezer … wasn’t there after all. And I didn’t want to just use the chops and breast.

So I went to the market and ended up with five pounds of medium ground beef. At which point, I was faced with a variety of culinary possibilities. Three pounds were immediately portioned into freezer bags of one pound each and stored away for the future. I browned off the other two pounds and made a quick spicy beef burrito filling with half.

The second pound of cooked ground beef was drained well and frozen as well.

And now back to that can of tomatoes … I took out my dutch oven and sauteed a finely diced onion and a large clove of garlic slowly, over medium heat, in 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil and 2 tbsp of unsalted butter until they were soft but not coloured at all. Then, I added about a teaspoon of dried basil (as I didn’t have any fresh), a half teaspoon of salt and a heaping teaspoon of sugar, and half the can of the tomatoes, crushed by hand and roughly seeded, along with their liquid. I had a bit of Parmesan cheese rind so I threw that in as well. After simmering the tomatoes, covered, for an hour …

… I pureed them with a hand blender and then simmered the sauce for another hour. Taste for seasoning. You might want to add another pinch or two of sugar if the sauce is too acidic.

The result was amazing.

Serve the sauce over pasta or polenta, as a dip for bread or pizza rolls/bites, dress a meatball sub or chicken parmigiana or use as an ingredient in a decadent pan of lasagna.

Post Thanksgiving / Pre-Christmas Doldrums in Cooking

If it weren’t for bread and soups, I wouldn’t be doing much new cooking at all these days. I’m not counting the six kinds of fudge I’ve made since Thanksgiving.

These are no knead sourdough breads where gluten development comes about from letting flour, water and starter autolyse for a long time at room temperature. Unlike high hydration doughs, which develop their gluten through a series of stretches and folds, and produce artisanal loaves full of large holes, the crumb of these loaves is more dense and you get lovely sandwich type breads as a result.

SweetDried Cranberry, Honey and Orange Zest

You can use various fresh or dried fruit, nuts and zest to make each loaf different.

SavouryBacon, Old White Cheddar and Cracked Black Pepper

I decided to stick with just a few ingredients so as to let them stand out in this loaf but dried herbs, and inclusions like black olives, pickled or fresh peppers (jalapeno or serrano), seeds and grains and even caramelized onion can be added.

A basic soup includes a liquid like a stock or water, a flavourful vegetable mixture, a starch (potato, pasta or rice), a protein (meat or dried bean or lentil), herbs and seasonings.

Italian sausage tortellini in a marinara broth and Turkey and wild rice in a light chicken stock

Beef and pot barley soup and Creamy turkey, potato gnocchi and veggie soup

Odds and Ends

Breakfast of sunny side up eggs, bacon and toasted sourdough bread

Pan-fried pork chop, mashed potatoes and coleslaw and home made ricotta filled beet (root) pasta ravioli in browned butter, sage and pine nut sauce with garnish of grated Parmesan cheese

Eye of Round Roast – a bit overcooked but I made a lovely gravy with the drippings/au jus

Purchased mititei/mici (skinless Romanian sausages) as part of a quick meal including several dips … marinara sauce, tzatziki sauce and hummus

Thanksgiving 2016 – An Economical 12 Pound Turkey

Sorry for the picture overload but I wanted to show how many meals you can get out of one 12 pound turkey … 16 servings of boneless breast meat, 10 turkey patties, at least 2 or 3 turkey mole wraps or whatever you want to do with the drumsticks. And then there’s the turkey stock from the carcass. Oh, and that wingette snack.

The best part was that it was only 99 cents a pound.

PICTURE HEAVY

This year’s turkey was a frozen, young male, utility grade and weighed twelve pounds. Tasty and, as always, economical. He’s missing his left wingette and wing tip, which is what makes him utility and not Grade A.

Thanksgiving 2016 Supper – four servings just from the tenderloin roll

Leftovers – Hassleback potatoes and the rest of the swiss chard and mushrooms stuffing instead of a salad.

Because I had boned a whole chicken before, I thought I’d be able to bone this turkey too. However, I forgot all the tendons and ligaments on the drumsticks (pliers would have helped), and, my less than optimal boning knife had a hard time removing the flesh from the bone. It didn’t help that I decide to try de-boning from the front. I ended up hacking up the skin of the back.

After spending about 15-20 min on one drumstick (the guy in the video I watched did the whole turkey in 20 minutes) I gave up on boning the other drumstick.

Mostly boned turkey – Those are most of the tendons found in the drumstick, on the blue plate.

The breast on the left was marinated with garlic, dried sage and rosemary, salt and pepper and lemon zest. The one on the right was stuffed with sauteed swiss chard, mushroom and diced onions as were the 2 tenderloins (pounded flat first) in the middle. All three were tied and baked at 350 deg F for about an hour.

Close-ups of the sage and rosemary marinated turkey breast

After baking and cooling, the two breasts were wrapped up tightly in saran wrap and foil and frozen away in a large freezer bag. Each one will provide 6 servings of boneless breast meat.

The wingette was baked along with the carcass (stored away for stock) and served on Saturday … my reward for that boning job.

Drumsticks, bone in and mostly boned, seared and then braised in mole sauce.

Thighs and some of the white meat (ie drumsticks and breast trimmings) were ground up along with green onions, water chestnuts, an egg, soy sauce, 1/4 cup of seasoned Italian bread crumbs, and salt  and pepper before being formed into 10 quarter pound patties.