Monday, October 25, 2010

Warm Corn, Tomato & Cilantro Salad

My side dish with corn has a cool Latin flavor with the addition of cilantro. Just chop a large tomato, along with cilantro, while you zap a package of frozen corn in the microwave for a few minutes -- then bring this dish together with a squirt of lime or lemon juice. It is a light and flavorful accompaniment to any favorite entree; or set out a bag of tortilla chips and use my Warm Corn, Tomato & Cilantro Salad as part of your next party platter.

I'm a fan of frozen corn. It tastes less processed than canned, the flavor is more subtle, and I like the texture -- I think the liquid in canned is a little off-putting, while frozen has none to pour down the drain.


My local Latin market always has tomatoes for under a dollar per pound, and a bunch of cilantro is frequently on sale for a quarter. I usually get my frozen corn at this 99c only Store. Frozen bags of corn cost more than a can, but you get about 3 cans worth, so it all evens out.

My latest dish is great warm, but just as brisk and tasty straight from the refrigerator the next day.

Ingredients
Bag of frozen corn - about one pound (16 ounces), or drain 2 cans of corn.
1 small bunch of cilantro - chopped
1 large tomato - or a couple of small ones.
1 tablespoon of lemon or lime juice - fresh or from a squeeze bottle.
1 tablespoon of water for microwaving corn.

Directions
 Empty package of frozen corn into a large ceramic bowl, sprinkle in a tablespoon of water,  and microwave (I cover with wax paper) until corn is hot -- usually about 3 - 5 minutes.


Stir a couple of times during micowaving to get an even distribution of heat. Frozen corn is usually already cooked, so you are just heating it up -- but try a few kernels when done to make sure (and microwave longer if necessary).

Add chopped tomato and cilantro to the bowl of warm corn. Squirt in a tbsp. of lemon or lime juice. Ready to serve with you favorite entree; or with tortillla chips at a party, picnic or barbecue.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Eggplant Parmesan

Luscious and cheesy, with crunchy coated eggplant, this Italian deep-dish classic is a bit of work, but well worth it, especially when The 99 Cent Chef shows you how to do it on the cheap!

It's old school this time -- I fry the eggplant in oil, for an extra delectable crunchy breadcrumb crust, instead of the calorie-conscious baking method. But, I do substitute a lighter ricotta for typical mozzarella, and I use dried grated parmesan cheese instead of  fresh shaved. It's cheaper this way and just as flavorful.

And yes, you can make an Eggplant Parmesan with 99.99 cent ingredients. I picked up everything, including: a large container of ricotta, dried parmesan cheese, tomato sauce, breadcrumbs, and a package of 2 medium sized eggplants -- each for 99.99 cents.


Now if you don't have a 99c only Store, all these ingredients are less than you think - ricotta cheese is often cheaper than cheddar -- or substitute with budget cottage cheese. Jars and cans of tomato sauce are cheap anywhere; and a can of bread crumbs will last forever (after all, we are talking stale dried bread), so pick up a couple next time they are on sale.

Ingredients (serves 3-4)
32 oz. (2 lbs.) ricotta cheese - 1 large or 2 small containers. Allow to reach room temperature. Okay to substitute with cottage cheese.
3 oz. container of dried parmesan. You can use fresh grated.
1 small package of mozzarella cheese for topping - optional. I had a small 99 cent puck of Mexican Queso Fresco that I crumbled up and used.
1 large can or jar (about 28 oz.) of tomato sauce - your favorite. I used crushed tomatoes.

Ingredients for Breaded Eggplant
2 medium eggplants - I use medium slices so they will fit into a baking pan.
3/4 can of dried bread crumbs - about 4 oz.
1 1/2 cups of flour - for breading sliced eggplant.
3 eggs
1/4 cup of milk
2 tablespoons total of dried Italian herbs - oregano, basil, thyme and/or parsley.
1 cup of vegetable oil for frying - add more if needed, depending on size of pan.
1/4 cup of salt - for sweating eggplant.
Pepper to taste


Directions for Fried Eggplant
First slice eggplant into 1/2 inch thick round slices. Salt each side and place on a pan with a rack for draining off liquid. The eggplant should "sweat" for about an hour to take out any bitterness. (If you're pressed for time, this step is optional.) Next rinse off eggplants and pat dry with paper towels.

Now time for frying.* Heat oil to medium/high (375 degrees). Oil should be about 1/2 inch deep in the frying pan. In one bowl whisk together 1/4 cup of milk and 3 eggs. On one plate spread out flour, and on another spread out bread crumbs. Mix dried herbs and pepper into flour and crumbs.


First dredge each side of an eggplant slice in flour, then coat each side in egg wash. Finally coat both sides of wet eggplant slice in breadcrumbs. Repeat flour, egg, and breadcrumb steps for enough eggplant slices to fill the pan of hot oil.


Add each coated slice carefully to the hot oil. After 3 - 5 minutes (you should see bottom sides of eggplant browning), turn over each one to brown the other side. When the first batch is done, remove from pan and place on a rack or plate with paper towels to drain off excess oil. Don't handle fried eggplant too much, so the tasty crust stays intact.

Repeat coating and frying eggplant rounds until they are all done and draining.

Directions for Assembly
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Empty softened ricotta cheese (that is at room temperature) into a large bowl, and add dried grated parmesan cheese, mixing well.

Into a large baking dish** (about 8 x 12 inches, and 2 inches deep) add a thin layer of tomato sauce, then half of the fried eggplant slices to cover the pan bottom. Next add half of the tomato sauce on eggplant slices and half of the ricotta/dried parmesan mix. For the next layer add the rest of the fried eggplant and top with most of the tomato sauce. Finally spread out the last of the ricotta and drizzle the rest of the tomato sauce on top. Now you can add a small package of shredded mozzarella or crumbled queso fresco cheese - optional.


Tomato sauce in assembled dish should not come all the way to the top, or the melting cheese and liquid from the eggplant will be too much, thus overflowing as it all heats. Just to be safe you can place a cookie sheet or a layer of tin foil on a rack underneath.


Now time to bake it. Cover Eggplant Parmesan in foil and bake at 375 degrees. After half an hour remove foil on pan and allow the cheesy top to brown for another 15 minutes.

Allow to cool for a couple of minutes, then dig in!

*And if you must substitute baking for frying: bake the coated eggplant slices about 15 - 20 minutes each side, in a 375 degree oven until browned. Then build the dish using directions above.
 **If you do not have a large, deep baking pan, it's okay to work with a couple of smaller ones, just make one layer of fried eggplant, tomato sauce, and ricotta cheese. Reduce baking temperature to 350 degrees.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Deal of the Day - Italian Wedding Soup

This Deal of the Day is in miniature - tiny meatballs and rice grain-sized orzo pasta in a rich chicken broth. But if any Italian wedding served this canned soup as an entree, I think the cook would wind up in concrete boots!

I was drawn to try this item by the "All Natural*" labeling, and was curious what kind of soup is served at an Italian Wedding.

This can provides a filling one-pound, 3 oz. serving that's as good as Campbell's Chicken Soup. The most interesting thing is how small the meatballs are. They should be called meat pellets -- as the size is no bigger than a fingernail -- and the meat has an unexpected baloney-like texture. The best part is the broth, enhanced by the extra flavors of the chicken, veggies and herbs. The small, tender orzo pasta is soothingly soft.


I looked up this recipe by  Giada De Laurentiis (click here) on the internet: she uses endive, and instead of pasta, she whisks in a mixture of beaten eggs with parmesan - kind of like a Chinese Egg Drop Soup.

So while this soup may not be the meal you want just before your honeymoon, it is fine as late night bachelor or bachelorette food. On a scale of 1-9, 9 being best, I give All Natural Italian Style Wedding Soup by All American, a generous 5.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Honey & Soy Glazed Tuna

A sweet & salty flavor profile is front and center for The 99 Cent Chef's budget tuna entree. If you are a frequent visitor to this blog you know how I like to cook with 99 cent ( or one dollar) 4 ounce frozen fish fillets in the frozen deli case bargain bin.

Most markets are now stocking these single serving packages. I've found enough variations to make a seafood paella (click here), or a fish chowder (future recipe), including: scallops, baby bay shrimp, flounder, cod, tilapia, shark, salmon and tuna.

I guess the knock against packaged frozen fish is that it is not fresh. Well, I spent one high school summer working on a shrimp boat, and here's a little secret: all fish caught wild from the ocean gets frozen -- the main difference is how long it's been that way, that's all. Any commercial fishing boat puts their fish on ice; and it is frozen by the time it arrives in your local market seafood case, then defrosted and advertised as "fresh". The only fish that is fresh is what you catch yourself!

Well that's my rant about so called "fresh fish" from the market -- now back to my cheapie Honey & Soy Glazed Tuna.

This recipe is quick and simple to make. Just pour some honey into soy sauce to make a fish marinade, and then quickly saute the tuna steak. I use low sodium soy sauce because the salt will overpower the delicate tuna taste, although honey helps out with this.

My honey and soy marinade will work with almost any firm fish, like tilapia or salmon. So try out my latest tasty budget fish entree that is ready to eat, from start to finish, in barely 10 minutes.

Ingredients
4 ounce fish steak - any firm fish will do, I used tuna.
2 tablespoons of honey
1/4 cup of soy sauce - low sodium is preferred, but any type will do.
1 tablespoon of oil for sauteing.
Pepper to taste - optional.
Soy sauce has plenty of salt.

Directions
Add oil to saute pan over medium heat. In a wide bowl, pour in soy sauce and honey and whisk together to mix well. Add fish fillets and coat well. Season fish with pepper (optional).

Add fish to heated saute pan, and cook one side of fish until it is almost done, about 3 minutes, (depending how thick the fish steak is). When fish starts to firm up and brown on one side, turn it over and add leftover marinade - be careful when adding liquid to a hot pan. Cook fish in sauce for a minute then remove it to a plate. Turn heat up to reduce marinade to a syrup thickness, should take a minute or two.

Serve Honey Soy Glazed Tuna with reduced marinade -- or serve cooked tuna on a salad. Allow the marinade to cool, and add a splash of balsamic vinegar for a soy salad dressing.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Portabella Crab Rockefeller

Like an Ex-President George W. Bush Jr. - era billionaire's tax break, or a President Obama Wall Street half trillion dollar infusion from TARP, The 99 Cent Chef's Portabella Crab Rockefeller is a rich edible windfall; one that will make you feel like you're dining in a private jet heading to a convention on the Las Vegas Strip, paid for by a lobbyist from the turgid military-industrial complex.


After enjoying this luscious entree, you'll eat another few meals with the dollars I've saved you; while you go back to perusing website job boards and praying for that unemployment extension bill to pass.

Or serve this at your next Tea Party gathering; your guests will be envious of all the green they'll see, and I don't mean Benjamins -- but chopped spinach, blended into a rich cream sauce with real crab, nestled into a meaty portabello mushroom and topped with melted mozzarella. And it's all made with dollar store ingredients!

This newly minted dish is named after a high priced, members only, country club classic, Oysters Rockefeller - in which fresh baked oysters are topped with a creamy spinach sauce. I haven't seen oysters at dollar stores yet (except as canned pieces), but I often see canned crab, which makes a fine substitution.

This dish looks expensive, while easy to prepare - involving minimal chopping and some quick sauteing. While canned crab doesn't compare to fresh lump crab, it still adds a sweet seafood flavor to creamy spinach -- especially when served on a tender portabello mushroom.

I've been picking up small packages of portabella mushrooms and canned crab at my local 99c only Store. Spinach and half & half cream comes cheap at most markets.

After dining on The 99 Cent Chef's Portabella Crab Rockefeller you'll feel like a million bucks, even in these cash-strapped times -- so open the humidor and light up that fat cigar you've been saving for the arrival of a new grandchild (never mind that your adult kid is moving back in with it).

Ingredients (serves 2)
  • Portabella mushrooms - Two packages containing four medium sized (or 2 extra large mushrooms). Remove stems, chop and save.
  • 1 package spinach - 6 oz. or 1 bunch (cut-off stems), well-rinsed and roughly chopped.  
  • 1 can of crab - (4-6 oz.) drained
  • 1 cup of half & half - cream or whole milk is fine.
  • Cheese for topping - I used 3 oz. pack of mozzarella, or your favorite.
  • 1/4 onion - chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic - chopped
  • 3 tablespoons parmesan cheese - I used dried, grated from can.
  • 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs - or 1 tablespoon of flour, as thickener.
  • 1/4 cup of 99 cent white wine - optional, for deglazing.
  • 1 tablespoon of oil.
  • Salt and Pepper to taste.


Directions
Roughly chop spinach - wash well, and cut off stems if it is a fresh bundle. Remove stems from portabella mushrooms and chop -- you can also take a spoon and gently scrape out, and discard, the feathery "gills" from the stem side for a more meaty portabella.


In a medium heated frying pan with oil, add chopped onion, garlic and stems. Saute until soft, about 3 minutes. Deglaze pan with white 99 cent wine. Pour in cream and mix well. Add chopped spinach and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Finally, shake in grated parmesan and bread crumbs (or flour). Sauce will thicken when heated through another few minutes.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drain can of crab. On a baking sheet or large pan with a grate, arrange mushrooms, cavity side up. Spoon in enough spinach and cream to fill the portobello mushroom. Stack on a couple of spoonfuls of crab. Finally top with plenty of mozzarella cheese (or your favorite). Bake 25 - 30 minutes; check sometimes to make sure the cheese doesn't burn.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Fettuccine Alfredo

Crazy creamy and too rich for words, this chef has a new favorite pasta dish, and that is Fettuccine Alfredo. So easy and quick to make, this is instant satisfaction. I can see why flat noodle fettucine is used - more surface for the thick savory sauce to cling to. I used to cook Spaghetti alla Carbonara, made with eggs yokes mixed into crispy bacon, the most (my video recipe - click here); but it's time to set it aside, a new luscious pasta entree has taken it's place.

I've had this recipe compared to Olive Garden's Fettuccine Alfredo. Well, you'll have to make it and let me know if it passes muster.


And boy is it cheap, just the way this chintzy chef likes it. A package of fettuccine, a small carton of Half and Half milk, a pat of butter, and a plastic shaker container of grated parmesan can all be had for around a buck each, and you'll get several servings, too.


This is a dish best made with whole milk, half and half, or cream. You can go easy on the butter with all this high fat content floating around, but do use a little, the flavor is worth the calorie count.

Now, I use dried grated parmesa cheese that has probably been on the grocery shelf since the last century, not the best I know, but I look at it as "extra" dry aged! It has a grainy texture when used to sprinkle over pasta, but it actually breaks down and melts into the heating cream and butter to thicken and  flavor the sauce.

So for a quick, cheap, indulgent, and scrumptious entree, try out The 99 Cent Chef's minimalist masterpiece, Fettuccine Alfredo -- go ahead you deserve it.

Fettuccine Alfredo  - VIDEO

Play it here, video runs 1 minutes, 53 seconds.

My YouTube video link for viewing or embedding, just click here.

Ingredients (about 2-4 servings)
  • 12 to 16 ounce package of fettuccini pasta - or, any pasta type is delish covered in Alfredo sauce!
  •  2 cups of half and half, or cream - if you must, it's okay to use regular or low fat milk.
  • 1 pat of butter - make it a big slice! Okay to use your favorite butter substitute.
  • 3-4 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese - of course, you can use fresh grated.
  • Pepper to taste - optional


Directions
Start cooking pasta according to package directions - I usually shave off a minute or two for al dente (taste for amount of chewiness). Best to get water boiling then add pasta. Carefully stir for the first minute to separate strands of fettuccini. I don't add salt to the water, as the parmesan cheese has plenty of salt for my taste.


While pasta water heats up, in a large pan add milk or cream over a medium heat. Bring cream to a low simmer and stir for about 5 minutes.


This will reduce and thicken the cream sauce (especially when the pasta is added.) You want to scrape along the edges of pan too, as the cream may stick to the pan and get a little gummy.


Finally add grated parmesan and butter. Use a large fork or whisk to smooth out the Alfredo Sauce. Lightly whisk and stir another minute or so.


The pasta should be ready about now (if it finishes early then cool to stop cooking and set aside.) Drain the pasta (I usually just lift it out of the boiling water,) mixing it into the heated Alfredo Sauce. Sprinkle with pepper if you like, and serve hot and immediately!


Hindsight
This recipe makes a lot of Fettuccini Alfredo, enough for 3-4 servings. Surprisingly it reheats the next day fine. The sauce thickens, but you can drizzle on a tablespoon of regular milk to bring it back, close to normal.

For this recipe normally  use Half and Half, but in the video I used Whipping Cream. Half and Half is equal amounts of cream and regular milk - just a lighter version of whole cream. Make your own Half and Half by adding a half pint of Whipping Cream to a half pint of regular milk (one cup each for a total of 2 cups.)
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