Thursday, December 31, 2009

99.99% Organic in 2009

These are a few of my favorite things - that is, 99.99 cent organic things! Just because you are cheap like me does not mean you have to eat unhealthy.

Fresh produce, jars of organic carrots, beets and chopped garlic from 99c only Stores have been loaded into my shopping basket this year. While not stocked for every visit, I frequently find organic canned beans and cartons of organic chicken, vegetable or beef broth for cooking and soup stock. I have picked up fresh mushrooms, spinach, asparagus, oranges, onions and berries of all types including: strawberry, blackberry, blueberry and raspberry.

I also visit local farmers markets for fresh produce and herbs. Keep a lookout at your regular market for seasonal veggies and fruit - this is when they are priced lower. This Chef recommends keeping a window box with fresh herbs; they are easy to grow, and if you have a patio or yard, plant a few favorite veggies. My thumb is not green; more of my plants wilt or are unproductive - my beefsteak tomatoes grow to look more like cherry tomatoes, but sometimes one bush will make up for all my gardening shortcomings. Don't be discouraged -- it's good to get your hands dirty.

So here is a photo roundup capturing some of my fresh organic finds this year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas & New Year Recipes - Compilation

Your holiday present from The 99 Cent Chef is this post, where I compile my various videos, appetizers, entrees, and desserts you can use over the next week of Christmas and New Year's Day festivities. Just watch the embedded videos or click on underlined, bold-lettered recipes to see my culinary penny-pinching holiday party ideas. And don't worry, I can keep a secret -- I won't tell any of your revelers that they are dining on cheap, but tasty, 99 Cent Chef cuisine!

Let's start with appetizers. Nothing gets a gathering off to the right start like creative finger food.
Roasted Asparagus Wrapped in Genoa Salami is a decadent and delicious kickoff. Want to go even cheaper? Try toasting some sliced French rolls and chop a can of drained black olives for Black Olive Tapenade with Crostinis. Carrots are the cheapest vegetable and Orange Honey Glazed Carrots are toothpick-ready. Party healthy and ethnic with my Armenian and Thai Salad; or get your controversy on and serve The Chef's politically charged Cesar Chavez Salad. Devilish Deviled Eggs are spicy and a platter of Mini-Banana Puddings sweet, along with Cranberry, Orange & Coconut Cookies.

Ever cook in a wig? This may be your last chance in 2009 to don one for a sure-fire flammable party hit - Crepes Suzette. OK, you may be too shy, and your Julia Child accent weak -- well, then just gather your friends around the computer screen and bathe in the warm glow of my Julia Child Crepes Suzette Video - where this bejeweled and coiffed Chef channels the original Top Chef, Julia Child. Another festive holiday favorite of note is my Eggnog Recipe & Tipsy Tree Trimming Video. I take you step-by-step through the making of a homemade egg nog; then join in as I attempt to trim the tree after one egg nog too many! Another party beverage is my revolutionary rum drink video for a 99 Cent Mojito.

Eggnog Recipe and A Tipsy Tree Trimming - Video
Play it here. The video runs 5 minutes 19 seconds.

Let's get substantial.
A hearty and colorful Roasted Pumpkin With Pasta is a great way to take advantage of seasonal squash sales. Leftover turkey? How about serving it as a topping for my Pita Pizza Party recipe (pairs well with a beshamel cream sauce). My Stuffing Cupcakes With Cranberry Frosting served with gravy will give your guests plenty to talk about. This week whole chicken, is on sale, and my Pollo en Mente Chicken (mint chicken) recipe is an unusually fragrant spin on typical holiday roasted poultry fare; or sex-up your bird with my Russ Meyer Lemon Chicken recipe. And Swedish Meatballs are tiny, scrumptious, and warmly inviting in a group gathering.

The 99 Cent Chef wishes all his visitors a great holiday & New Year!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Holiday Cranberry, Orange & Coconut Cookies

This is one addictive holiday cookie! This basic cookie dough is flavored with orange, cranberries (or raisins) and coconut flake, all budget items this time of year. Dried cranberries are cheap at our local Trader Joe's; 99c only Stores carry coconut flake and cheaper raisins; and oranges are inexpensive anywhere.

Bake them for five minutes and they will be chewy, or bake for 10 minutes for a crispy version. The cookies can be made small, so you can have enough to hand-out as holiday treats to all your neighbors -- you will be fielding calls of thanks later. 99 thanks to Amy for this recipe idea. She made them, I loved them, and so did our neighbors!

Ingredients (about 3-4 dozen)
1 1/2 cups of sugar
3 cups flour
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries - OK to substitute raisins
1 cup of sweetened coconut flake
1 cup of soften butter or margarine
1 tbsp. grated orange zest - the grated peel of one large orange.
Juice of one large orange
2 tsps vanilla
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt

In a large bowl add softened butter, sugar, vanilla, and orange zest. Mix well with a mixer or potato masher and spoon. Add the rest of the dry ingredients to bowl, including flour, baking powder and salt. This will form a typical soft cookie dough when mixed for 5 - 10 minutes by hand or with a mixer. Add juice squeezed from the orange for additional flavor, and to moisten the dough so it 'makes.' Finally, fold in cranberries (or raisins) and coconut flake.

(For a plumper cranberry or raisin, soak the dried fruit in hot water for 1/2 hour prior to starting recipe).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray or grease cookie sheet. Form cookie dough into 1 inch balls and arrange on the cookie sheet - leave an inch or two separation between each cookie. Bake for 6 minutes for a soft cookie or about 10 minutes for a crunchy one. (These cookies don't turn brown except along the outside edges). Allow to cool for a few minutes; you can also serve them warm.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Coconut Rice

A sweet and savory side, Coconut Rice takes typical boring rice to a whole new level of flavors. You can make this recipe with white, brown rice, or a combination of both. Just follow your normal rice cooking directions, substituting flavorful coconut cream instead of water.

I find coconut cream or milk on sale all the time and rice is just plain cheap anywhere. Coconut juice or water is more subtle and may not be enough to flavor the rice, so stay with coconut cream or milk. One can is enough for cooking with a cup of rice.

I also found some shredded coconut on sale for a more intense coconut flavor. Just mix in some.

So get out your favorite stir-fry recipe, or use one of mine, or serve my festive Coconut Rice with your holiday roasted bird - it will please your guests and family.

  • 3/4 cup of Rice - white or brown rice.
  • 1 can of Coconut Milk or Cream (about 13 ounces).
  • Shredded Coconut - optional. Add 2 tablespoons for garnishing.

Add rice and coconut milk or cream to a pot with a cover. 

Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to set for about 10 minutes. 

Brown rice takes longer, about a 1/2 hour, again follow rice bag directions. Instant rice is the quickest. 

For extra coconut flavor sprinkle on some shredded coconut.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The 99 Cent Chef Cooks in Seattle - Video Diaries

The 99 Cent Chef will travel for food. I was invited to shoot a segment for Public Televisions' KCTS in Seattle, Washington last week.

Emmy-awarded journalist Jenny Cunningham was our kind host and responsible for the visit. I was to prepare appetizers for her book group to be filmed from start to finish. Was it a disaster? Or a success? Either way, you will enjoy the next five days as I assemble a video diary of my fun time in cool Seattle -- and post it here. I don't know how many short videos are on the way, but come back and you will know about as much as I do.

Over the next 5 days, the videos will include: "Breakfast in Seattle", "Dining in Ballard at King's," "Throwing Salmon at Pike Place Fish Market," "Great Figgy Pudding Caroling Competition," and "KCTS Cooking Show."
Seattle Diary - Part 1

Play it here -- 43 seconds.

To view or embed from YouTube, click here.

The internal monologue from Queens' Bohemian Rhapsody becomes a comedic, angst-ridden song delivered by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at the Great Figgy Pudding Caroling Competition.

The Chef, his wife, and hosts Jenny and Kevin mingled with carolers competing on Pine Street in downtown Seattle. The real winners are the 10,000 or so scarfed revelers wearing floppy-horned reindeer and Santa hats who get to hear multiple caroling groups on every corner singing and performing Christmas classics - some performed straight, others tongue-in-cheek. I had a camera to record this once-a-year festive street party and is happy to share it with you.
Figgy Pudding Caroling - Seattle Diary Part 2

Play it here -- I minute, 48 seconds.

To view or embed from YouTube, click here.

My Seattle video diary continues with brew pubs, blue-cheese burgers, and furry hats! The Chef gives you a two-minute tour of Ballard, a waterfront community just Northwest of downtown Seattle. It's bohemian - similar to L.A.'s Silverlake neighborhood, and I liked it immediately.

Jenny and Kevin kept things moving; it was a grab-a-pint/burger-and-go tour. We landed in King's, a dark pub with a long bar serving Hamms on tap for $2.50 a pint, and a rustic dining room that extended outdoors. I ordered a B & B Burger, it comes with blue cheese and bacon, a great combination on a chilly day. Also, I ordered sweet potato fries - I think I am over it; you can't eat these fries with ketchup, so I'll stay with regular potato from now on. Hale's Creme Stout was my local beer of choice. It's served with a creamy head and the flavor is thick, sweet, and bitter. Delicious. Ballard Ave is a great street to browse.
Ballard Ave. - Seattle Diary Part 3

Play it here -- 2 minutes, 11 seconds.

To view or embed from YouTube, click here.

Bears are not the only mammals that can snag a flying slippery salmon -- just watch The Chef display his catching skills in Seattle's famed Pike Place Fish Market, where salmon tossing is a lively tradition.

Located on Elliot Bay, Pike Place Public Markets' colorful food stalls hold bins stacked with every variety of Washington apple: from Aurora and Jazz to Pink Ladies and Honeycrisp. This is the place to get locally grown, gold-hued Chanterelle mushrooms, black truffles, and of course, all manner of seafood, especially salmon. My wife wisely selected a tasty variety of Washington apples for our holidays -- all I got was this video! I hope you enjoy it.
Throwing Salmon - Seattle Diary Part 4

Play it here -- 2 minutes, 12 seconds.

To view or embed from YouTube, click here.

A strong cup of Seattle coffee gets conversations going at Jenny and Kevins' breakfast table located in Seattle's historic Queen Anne neighborhood. Listen in on my latest video diary entry.
Breakfast in Seattle - Diary Part 5

Play it here -- 1 minute, 6 seconds.

To view or embed from YouTube, click here.

The KCTS show, About The Money, features The 99 Cent Chef's segment called "Gourmet For Less" which aired Friday night. I'm featured in a book club party atmosphere -- cooking 4 recipes behind the scenes in the kitchen: Roasted Red Pepper Hummus Martinis, Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwiches, Stuffing Cupcakes With Cranberry Frosting and Mini-Banana Puddings. Host Jenny came up with the theme and we managed to pull it off.

Gourmet For Less - TV Segment
 Play it here - 3 minutes, 9 seconds.

To view or embed from YouTube, click here.

Lights, camera, makeup, and cue laughter! In this last Video Diary from Seattle, I take you behind the scenes of shooting my cooking segment for Public TV's KCTS, Channel 9. Our intrepid problem-solving, and new 99 Cent Players, producer/hosts Jenny and Kevin helped in and outside of the kitchen to make the shoot entertaining and fun. They deserve a heartfelt 99 thanks. More thanks to the cameramen and crew at KCTS for making this Chef look good. And final thanks to my wife Amy for the companionship and sous chef kitchen duty!

KCTS Backstage Footage - Diary Part 6

Play it here -- 6 minutes, 12 seconds.

To view or embed from YouTube, click here.

Also, I'm featured on the foodie site Good Bite with my feature "Shop Like A 99 Cent Chef", click here.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Thai Cucumber Salad

This light, sweet salad has plenty of crunch. You can make it in a minute and serve it with your favorite stir fry recipe, or click here for a 99 Cent Chef recipe fave. The Chef's Thai salad also adds a healthy course to dorm room ramen dining.

Slice one large cucumber and a quarter of an onion, then marinate in rice vinegar and sugar - that's it. Sometimes simple is best. If you want more heft to your salad add a few wedges of tomato. You can use a sugar substitute, honey, or whisk in any organic sweetener into the rice vinegar dressing. These ingredients fit well into this cheap Chef's budget profile, so there is no excuse not eat your veggies.

  • 1 large cucumber - sliced and half-peeled. I like to leave some skin on for color. Any bitterness is reduced by the sweet dressing.
  • 1/4 onion - thinly sliced; minimizes strong onion taste some people find unpleasant.
  • 1 medium tomato - optional, cut into wedges
  • Cilantro - optional, a handful, chopped.
  • 1/4 cup of rice vinegar - any vinegar will do.
  • 1 tsp. of sugar or any sweet substitute - add a little at a time and taste dressing for desired sweetness.
  • 1 pinch of salt

Mix vinegar and sugar in a medium salad bowl. Adjust sugar amout to desired sweetness. Partially peel and slice and cucumber. Thinly slice onion. Cut tomato into wedges. Mix veggies into bowl with dressing and serve.
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