Thursday, January 26, 2012

Chickpea Salad with Chorizo

I get recipes from everywhere - from websites to newsprint - but I never duplicate them word-for-word. Mainly, that's because a lot of recipes rely on expensive ingredients (which I must change,) or the list is so long that I have to take a machete to it! But, I've managed to pull a rabbit out of the pan more times than not. It's easy to substitute cheaper chicken for costly bovine, or peanuts for pine nuts. However, every once in a while I manage to find all the ingredients in a recipe for the right price.

I always look forward to the food section that's published every Thursday in our local newspaper, the Los Angeles Times. I've also gotten my share of recipe ideas from the Times' food blog Daily Dish (click here.) They generously encourage their readers to try out the published recipes. In the first week of January they highlighted the 10 Best Recipes of 2011 (for all the recipes, click here.)

One entree really caught my eye: Chickpea Salad with Chorizo, which uses Spanish Chorizo. This chorizo is a cured meat, somewhat  like prosciutto and salami. (But very different from easier-to-get Mexican Chorizo, which I've used for several recipes, like here.) I picked up a few packages of thin-sliced Chorizo at my local 99c only Store. For this entree, the chorizo comes straight from the package - just roughly chop and mix with veggies for a Spanish-style tapas. (A tasty cheap substitution would be easy-to-find salami.)


It's a luscious dish made with budget priced chickpeas (or garbanzo beans,) black olives, cherry tomatoes, parsley, green onion, and garlic; in a tart dressing of lemon juice and olive oil. Of course, I couldn't help changing the recipe a little bit -- you should feel free to do so as well (original recipe is here.) I doubled up on the amount of black olives and tomato. I served the recipe during an impromptu viewing party for the Golden Globes earlier this month, and it was a hit -- eaten up even before Ricky Gervais' opening monologue was through!


So, props to the Los Angeles Times food section for serving up another hit recipe -- and I get to bask in all the glory! You will too, if you give the chintziest of chef's latest recipe a try, literally ripped off the pages of my great daily big city newspaper.


Ingredients (about 2 servings)
  • 1 can chickpeas (or garbanzo beans) - 15 ounce can drained.
  • 1/2 package of chorizo - about 1.5 ounces. I used 1/2 package of Hormel brand Chorizo that was thin sliced. A tasty substitution is salami, or your favorite cured meat. Chopped or sliced.
  • 1/4 bell pepper - L.A. Times recipe used red bell pepper. I used orange, but any color is fine.
  • Handful of parsley - chopped, about 2 tablespoons. Optional. I have an herb garden so it's free!
  • 2 green onions - chopped. Original recipe called for one -- not enough for me.
  • 8-12 cherry tomatoes - slice tomatoes in half. Okay to use a regular medium tomato, chopped.
  • 16 black olives - drained from a can. Original recipe called for 12, but I wanted more.
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic - fresh or from jar.

Chickpea Marinade
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice - fresh or from a bottle. Okay to substitute with vinegar (any type.)

Directions
Drain chickpeas and lightly rinse. In a bowl, add chickpeas, olive oil and lemon juice (or vinegar.) Mix well and allow to marinate for a few hours, or overnight. (To be honest, I made this for a Golden Globes viewing party and just mixed everything together at once, then served it a half hour later -- it disappeared in a flash.)

Slice cherry tomatoes in half. Roughly chop the parsley and garlic (if garlic is fresh.) Slice the green onions. For the olives, slice depending on size - I left half of them whole and sliced the rest.


Real Spanish Chorizo comes as a link about the size of a jumbo hot dog wiener. The chorizo I found for 99.99 cents was thin sliced and quite large in diameter, so I just roughly shredded the slices into bite sizes. If you use hard salami (or a favorite cured meat,) then slice or chop into bite sizes.


Finally just add the marinated chickpeas (including the marinade) in a large bowl with all the other chopped and sliced veggies. Mix well. It's ready to serve at either room temperature or chilled. Store any leftovers (not likely) covered in the refrigerator.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

5 Cheese Lasagna - Deal of the Day

Michelina's Lean Gourmet 5 Cheese Lasagna is a winning entree for a light lunch or dinner. The slabs of noddles swim in a herb infused tomato sauce, and the 5 melted cheeses are quite flavorful.

And it's priced right -- for one dollar, if you have a Ralphs card. I'm not sure how long this Deal of the Day is going on at my local grocery chain store, but I would stock up on a few of these for cheap workday lunches. If you make a salad to go with it, like my 2 Minute Salad (click here,) you'll have a satisfying dinner, too.


This entree microwaves perfectly. The cheese melts over the lasagna, while the noddles steam fork-tender in the rich tomato sauce. The sauce is flavored with earthy herbs and sweeten with red wine (according to the ingredient list.)  There's just is enough sauce to dredge all the pasta though -- and, you will mop up every last drop!

As you work your way through 4 wavy sheets of pasta, you are first hit with the tart and sharp Parmesan, Asiago, and Romano cheese, which then gives way to sweeter and creamier Ricotta and Mozzarella. It's so good you'll wish there was as much cheese as your grandmother would normally add. But, to keep it calorie conscious, I guess they decided to cut back on the amount of 5 cheeses.


 So, on a 1-9 scale, 9 being best, I give Michelina's 5 Cheese Lasagna a perfect 9. I could take off a point because I wanted more cheese; but I can't really complain about a delicious entree that only costs a buck!

There are a slew of Michelina selections in the frozen grocery case, including a Chicken Alfredo Florentine and a Cheese Manicotti  for 99 cents. I tried both of these and would recommend them as well. The Manicotti was loaded with cheese (my favorite of all that rates a perfect 9!) -- while the Alfredo Florentine's chicken cubes were cut from a chicken baloney-like mystery loaf (typical of most frozen poultry entrees.) But, the creamy Alfredo sauce with spinach lifted the pasta entree over the top in taste (rated about a 7?)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Meet Your Food Blogger - Magazine Bio

Here is a cool article on yours truly, recently done by LA's excellent (and my personal favorite) local magazine, LA Weekly (website here.) What a great way to end 2011 -- or start 2012!)

Their online magazine carries a food blog section called Squid Ink that covers the city's vast and bustling cuisine culture -- everything from a review of ink., the happening new restaurant from Top Chef Michael Voltaggio, written by Pulitzer Prize-winner Jonathan Gold, to a month long series "30 Burger in 30 Days" by Elina Shatkin, along with daily national and international food headline coverage. I have Squid Ink bookmarked under Favorites. (If you want a great foodie resource, I would recommend you bookmark it as well, here.) The editorial slant is progressive and eclectic, just like my frugally-fashioned unconventional food blog.


I was contacted by LA Weekly journalist Daina Solomon just after Christmas. She wanted to revive a series the magazine last published in February of 2010 called "Meet Your Food Blogger." And, she wanted to resuscitate the series with an interview of the chintziest of culinarians, The 99 Cent Chef.

We first discussed it on Tuesday - did the interview at the LA Weekly on Wednesday - and the article was online by Friday.  Daina is a great interviewer, and she fashioned a comprehensive article in which she wrote about my blog origins and influences, while at the same time creating links to some favorite recipes and video posts from my last four years of blogging.

I especially like that she embedded a video from Restaurant Nocturnes, my  noir-lit nighttime collage of Los Angeles eateries from high-end to humble. I'm up to Restaurant Nocturne VII in this series and was wondering when the local media would pick up on it. It's an evocative photo/video/art series like no other. So, be sure to play Restaurant Nocturne I, which Daina embedded on page 2 of the article. (The other six Restaurant Nocturnes are linked on the right side of this blog - just scroll down to the heading "Restaurant Reviews - Videos & Photos" and click on any of them.)

This journalistic piece covers everything you wanted to know about The 99 Cent Chef (but were afraid to ask.) The first page is below. Click on the following links to see the original LA Weekly post: Page 1 and Page 2.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Dried Fig Smoothie

I am on a liquid diet since the overstuffed holidays! And, I don't mean booze -- it's back to fruit smoothies in the morning for the much heavier frugal foodie.

I am more of a grab-an-apple-and-run type in the AM. I like an omelet every once in a while, but my usual morning meal is frozen fruit blended with low-fat yogurt, a banana, and soy milk. I try to mix it up with frozen raspberries, strawberries, grapes, peaches, blackberries or pineapple.

Over the Christmas holidays, we went to Joshua Tree National Park with our Seattle friends Jenny and Kevin (meet them in my Seattle Video Diaries here.) We hit the hiking trails, enjoying the dramatic desert scenery of scrappy Joshua Trees and sun-bleached tan building blocks of skyscraper-sized boulders (to see what I'm talking about -- my previous Joshua Tree video adventure is here.) On the way back to Los Angeles we stopped for a date shake at the diner, Hadley's (website,) west of Palm Springs on the 10 Freeway. Along with Joshua Trees, the desert dryness and sun is perfect for growing fields of date palm trees. I love dates, and had forgotten how good they pulverized in a milkshake -- so cool, creamy and sweet.

 I was at The 99c only Store last week and saw dried figs for sale. I have seen small packages of dates before, but not this time, so I thought: "Why not make a Dried Fig Smoothie next time?" After all, figs are chewy dried fruit just like dates.


But, dried figs are not as sweet as dates, so I added a teaspoon of honey -- it turned out to be just the right amount of sweetness. I also used soy milk instead of ice cream (too rich for me,) a handful of ice cubes to get a slushy consistency, and some yogurt for creaminess.

So, until I see dates return to the 99c store, I'll use dried figs. If you have cheap access to dried figs or dates, give my smoothie recipe a try. It's a cool, tasty drink -- good anytime of day.


Ingredients
  • 6 whole dried figs - they have small stems. I went ahead and blended with stems (it's extra roughage,) but they are easy enough to slice off, too.
  • 1 small container of yogurt - about 6 ounces. I used a peach flavored yogurt, but you could just use plain.
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 cup soy milk - okay to use regular milk. For a Dried Fig Shake substitute with vanilla ice cream.
  • Handful of ice cubes - optional.

Directions
Add all of the ingredients into a blender and run until smooth. With the dried figs you may have to first pulse a few times, to get it all going.

Ice cubes will make a slushy cold blend, and the dried figs will reduce to into a ground pepper like texture.


I've also started adding a couple of dried figs to my normal breakfast frozen fruit and yogurt smoothie (that recipe is here.)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Annual Best Food Finds - Photos

These are a few of my favorite finds from our local 99c only Stores from last year. (Click on a photo to see it larger.) This 99%er Chef does not live on 59 cent canned tuna, 99.99 cent pasta sauce, and 79 cent packages of pasta, alone. I've made everything from smoothies with fresh Raspberries, to a Veggie Stir Fry with Organic Tofu; all with ingredients found here. What follows is only a small sample -- I take my chef's hat off to our local 99c only Stores.


Our local 99c only Store is unique to all others. I've been to the Dollar Tree, the 98 Cent & Up, and almost every other dollar store in town. They do not even come close to the variety of fresh produce and unique packed foodstuffs that the 99c only Stores carry. Now, there are problems of course -- you should be selective on what you ingest, and they do carry their fair share of junk and gimmicky ingredients. But once you've been a few times, it's easy to glean the good stuff. And, as you will see below, I've found plenty! (I was recently in Gonzales, Louisiana and spent an afternoon driving from Family Dollar to Dollar General and found cans of Collard Greens and Okra with Tomatoes and Corn, plus frozen Stir Fry Veggie Blend and Scallops -- I was impressed.)

One of my favorite budget recipes from last year used that sweet and tender mollusk, the most flavorful and luscious sandwich ever, a Scallop Roll -- based on a New England classic Lobster Roll. Click here to see it.


When I find fat and gluten free Beef Stock and real Italian Arborio Rice separated by an aisle, it doesn't take much culinary imagination to see a rich and lusty risotto entree coming soon from my chintzy kitchen. My Oyster Mushroom Risotto recipe, is here.

Whole grain bread, loaves of pungent sourdough, and delicate slices of specialty deli salami are usually stocked for your next picnic or party tray. Last summer we had a picnic in Marina del Rey's Burton W. Chace Park to see songstress Aimee Mann for free! I made a bushel of finger sandwiches using fresh cucumbers, various cheeses, a couple kinds of bread, and a delicious Hot Sopressata Salami. Watch the sandwich-making and some concert clips here.


They carried Tahini for a few weeks, so I stocked up with a couple of jars. It's great for Hummus and Baba Ganoush; and since you only use a couple of tablespoons at a time, it will last (click on names to see my recipes and video.)


The 99c only Store was family owned until last year. It was bought out for about 1.3 billion (article here,) and the stores are expected to expand beyond California and Texas -- so look for canned escargot (snails) coming to a city near you!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Holiday Turkey Post Mortem - VIDEO

Whew, the holidays are over! At least there's a break until New Years Eve. And, this Economical Epicurean learned a few culinary lessons on cooking the big bird during this holiday break. Plus, I shot a short stop motion video of the roasting turkey for the fun of it.


I was on the lookout for whole frozen turkey for less than a dollar a pound -- without the caveat of a $25 minimum purchase. I found my local Ralphs grocery sold Jennie-O whole turkeys for 79 cents a pound. I got a 13-pounder for just over $10 -- what a deal! But even if you prefer an heirloom, free-range, all- natural, hormone-, steroid-, and antibiotic-free heritage bird fed on an alfalfa pasture, protected by a 7-foot fence, and raised on a sustainable farm -- you can still apply my cooking tips.

I have only cooked turkey a couple of times, and at these prices, it was a good chance to get some more experience. Since we were having a rib roast for Christmas dinner with the in-laws, I thought I'd invite some friends and neighbors over for a cheap pre-Christmas fowl feast. Hey, I could feed seven, and still have leftovers though the New Year. Roasted turkey is notorious for being too dry.  I wanted to try brining it, which I've heard keeps the bird from drying out.


There has been a lot of bytes spilled on the subject of salt-brining a turkey. Well, I think brining is bogus! I tried it and I didn't like it -- maybe I did it wrong? I salted the turkey all over, which I read works as well as submerging a turkey overnight in a cooler of icy salted water. It's supposed to keep the breast moist and tender during roasting.

Well, if you overcook the bird, just a little bit, all that effort goes out the window, and you still get a dry bird. It's too much work for too little payoff.

The other problem with brining is you get over-salted turkey parts. It takes too much rinsing and soaking to get rid of all the salt. I like to chomp on crunchy turkey wing bits, and sink my incisors into the "oysters" (known to the French as: "sot-l'y-laisse,") which are two tender meaty rubies embedded in the bony undercarriage of the fowl's carcass. And, the jolt of an over briny bite is too much. You would have to run the turkey though a car wash twice to get out the salt from all those tasty tidbits.

The only sure-fire way to get a moist bird is to fill the bottom of your roasting pan with water and loosely cover the turkey with foil. If you keep a couple cups of water in the roasting pan throughout the baking process your bird will not dry out -- that's it, simple. And for a crispy skin take off the foil and let the skin brown for the last 20-30 minutes.


My method is not new, but it's underused. In my video I use this old school method.


Here are a couple delicious tips for you: I added fresh sage leaves under the turkey skin (I would even add more next time). It made a fragrant bird and added a light earthy herb flavor. Also, I added 2 cups of water to my roasting pan when I took off the aluminum foil during the last hour; then sloshed the water around to loosen the browned bits and mix in the drippings. I basted the turkey breast and legs about every 15 minutes until done. Sage leaves are such a tasty addition that you'll also want to bake your next chicken (or breast and thigh pieces) with them.


No one complained about the bird being salty in places. The Sausage Stuffing I made was perfect (see recipe video below), and my wife's Squash, Tomatoes and Onions (click here to see the recipe) made a welcome light veggie side  While not the best pre-Chrismas dinner, it was a success, and I learned a few things. So, check out my fun video of an imperfect turkey dinner.

And, if you learned any turkey cooking tips of your own this year, or have some tried-and-true advice to pass on, leave a comment for me and my visitors. Have an entertaining New Year!

Turkey & Sausage Stuffing - VIDEO

Play it here. Video runs 4 minutes, 25 seconds.

To view or embed from YouTube, click here.
 

Ingredients for Sausage Stuffing
  • Cheap package of sausage - I found a 12-ounce one for 99.99 cents, but you could use less or more, to your taste. Or, keep it vegetarian and use more mushrooms and veggies.
  • 1/2 bell pepper, chopped - any color
  • 1 onion, chopped - small or medium size
  • 1 rib of celery, chopped - I left it out in my video, but added it here anyway.
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped garlic
  • 1 large package of your favorite stuffing mix - follow package directions.
  • Water according to stuffing directions.
  • Stuffing mixes are usually over-seasoned, so I left it out extra salt and pepper.


Directions
Over a medium heat in a large pan or pot, saute the sausage until brown and cooked through. Break apart the sausage into bite sizes. You can drain off some of the fat -- I kept it in, to flavor the veggies and stuffing. Set sausage aside when done.


In the same pan, add the chopped onion, bell pepper and celery. Cook about 5 minutes until soft. Finally add the chopped garlic and cook another minute.


Prepare the stuffing according to the package directions. I cut the water or broth amount in half. If you add all the water they call for the stuffing is very mushy - fine if you like it that way. The stuffing will get more moisture from the roasting bird.

I like to add a couple extra slices of  toasted bread, sliced into small cubes. And if I have extra stuffing to roast at the end, well, just get some turkey pan liquid and add that. I have a tall loaf pan to add the extra stuffing


Now it's time to mix it all together. You may need to do this in batches, depending how much stuffing you are making. In a large bowl add the stuffing, sausage and cooked veggies. Mix well, and set it aside while preparing the turkey for roasting.


Ingredients for Turkey with Sage
  • 10-15 pound turkey - I got a 13-pound bird. If yours is larger, then follow package directions for baking times.
  •  Sage leaves -- a handful, depending how many leaves you can get under the turkey skin. You can use almost any fresh herb, including: basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano -- or any combination.
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Aluminum foil

Directions for Roasting the Stuffed Turkey
First remove any turkey parts in the chest cavity. Mine had a turkey neck, giblets, heart and liver. It also had a plastic pouch of gravy. Don't throw out the extra turkey parts - just throw them in a pot of water and low boil for about 2 hours to flavor your gravy (chop and shred the neck meat and add to your favorite gravy recipe.)

For the liver, I like to season it and roast it on the rack with the bird, about half an hour, or until done. This is the Chef's reward for all the hard work!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rinse off the turkey inside and out. Drain well and place in a roasting pan. Season the turkey, inside and out, with salt and pepper.


Loosen the breast, leg and thigh skin. I do this with my clean fingers. Watch the video to see how I did it. It's a yucky process, but done carefully, you will get a flavorful bird loaded with a pungent, earthy herb taste. Loosening the breast is easy, it's harder to do the legs and thigh. The skin is malleable, but will tear, so be gentle and work it loose slowly.

I used sage leaves from my garden, but you can use any fresh herbs you have on hand.. I spaced the leaves about an inch apart. But next time I would add more leaves.


Next, fill the chest cavity with stuffing -- don't pack too tight, just fill 'er up. If you add stuffing under the neck skin, do it before stuffing the breast cavity. Flip the bird on it's breast and fill up the neck cavity. I use a couple of  toothpicks to thread the skin closed.


Loosely wrap the the turkey in foil.You will remove the foil during the last 45 minutes. And add 2 cups of water to the roasting pan. Be sure to add more water as needed throughout the roasting process - usually a couple cups of water every hour or so.


My turkey was 13 pounds, so the baking time is 3-4 hours (okay to follow turkey package direction timeline for the weight of your bird.) Because the bird is steam roasting, you have a little wiggle room - the turkey will stay moist longer. After the third hour, it's time to start checking the thigh meat to see if it's done. I make a small slice into the thickest part of the thigh, that is attached to the body, and look for any pink or red juices. The bird is done when the juices run clear, or the internal temperature of the thigh meat is at least 165 degrees.

Add more water, if necessary, to the roasting pan once the foil is off. Slosh around the water to get all the tasty bits in the pan loose. The water and pan juices will be the base of your turkey gravy.

If you have leftover stuffing you can add it to a loaf pan, and bake it with the bird during the last hour of cooking. I like a tall pan, as opposed to a shallow dish, so the dressing doesn't dry out. (Add some of the turkey broth from the roasting pan for extra flavor and moisten.)

When turkey is done remove it and allow to rest for about 10 minutes. I also like to remove the stuffing while the bird is resting. I add the bird stuffing to a loaf pan and let it cook in the oven about 15 minutes, while the turkey rests. Often the stuffing is too mushy for me so this firms it up just enough, as well as cooking it through. Of course, you can leave the stuffing in the bird, for a nicer presentation on the dinner table (the internal temperature of the stuffing should measure at least 165 degrees.)

And should the bird still be a little dry, just spoon on some of the turkey broth over your freshly sliced turkey -- that'll fix it.
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