Monday, August 27, 2012

Squash Blossom Omelet

First thing in the morning squash blossoms are at full bloom - that's when you want to pick them to add to a Squash Blossom Omelet. Before full sun shrinks them, grab a handful, but be sure to look inside the flowers to shake out any bugs, unless you like the extra protein.

You could also pluck a few hidden in the shade of large leaves anytime of day, and store them in a Ziploc in the refrigerator until the next morning. The leaves will collapse and shrink some, but still be colorful and flavorful cooked inside an omelet.

Every garden planting spring I get these stray squash plants. At first they were a nuisance -- the leaves are huge and block the sun of my newly planted tomato plants. But with judicious pruning, I leave 2 or 3 plants on the edges of my garden. And in a few weeks, the blossoms proliferate to a delicious degree.

I quickly realized they can be used in many recipes, just click on the following names, Squash Blossom Quesadilla and Stuffed Squash Blossoms, to see what the chintzy culinarian gardener has come up with thus far. They are also tasty raw -- shredded or whole (if they are small enough) on a salad. And now you can add a delicious breakfast Squash Blossom Quesadilla to the recipe list.

If you have a favorite cheese omelet recipe, just add a few squash blossoms. They wilt once the omelet is folded close. And the subtle texture and flavor mixes nicely with melting cheese.

Ingredients (One Omelet)
  • 2 to 3 eggs - It's up to you how large the omelet is.
  • 1 tablespoon of milk - optional. I like just a little mixed into the eggs.
  • A favorite cheese - enough to cover 1/2 of the omelet.
  • Handful of squash blossoms - enough to cover 1/2 of an omelet.
  • 1 teaspoon of oil - or cooking spray for omelet pan.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Heat omelet pan and spray with cooking oil, or add teaspoon of oil.

In a bowl add shelled eggs with milk. Whisk together until blended to your satisfaction - about 30 seconds or so.

The squash blossoms can be whole or roughly chopped.

Add blended eggs to your omelet pan and cook for 30 seconds. Add cheese to one side and squash blossoms to the other.

I like to wait until the eggs are almost done, about 2 - 4 minutes, depending how hot the frying pan is. When the eggs mixture is spongy and there is still a little dampness on top, take the spatula and loosen the edges all around the omelet. Now you are ready to fold it in half by gently working the spatula under 1/2 of the omelet and folding it. Some eggs liquid may leak out of the edges, but that's okay.

Allow the omelet to cook about 30 seconds to seal it. You can slice a couple of slits into the top to check for desired donenss. It should finish cooking quickly in about a minute.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Lola's First Bite 4.0 - Video

Lola speaks! Like Greta Garbo's first anticipated "talkie" after Hollywood's silent movie era, two-and-a-half-year-old Lola's vocal prowess will fascinate and surprise my blog visitors as she name checks the tasty tidbits offered by The 99 Cent Chef.

And do I have an eclectic selection of West Coast cuisine for her to nosh on! In Lola's First Bite 4.0, she samples Steamed Edamame, a California Sushi Roll, and finally, fresh squeezed Wheatgrass juice-- courtesy of Deb, my filmmaker friend and nutritionally inclined neighbor.

First up is steamed and tender Edamame. As Lola's mother says "I've been trying to get Lola to eat more greens," and boy does she ever. It takes a couple of tries figuring how to pry them out, but in no time the green pellets are shooting from their pods!

She even munches them Japanese style: dipped in soy sauce, with a side of pickled ginger. (And her expression when first tasting sour ginger is priceless.) I sometimes find bags of cooked frozen edamame in the deli case of my local 99c only Store, but in this case I got a bag for about $1.29 from Trader Joe's.

Next up Lola takes apart (literally), the California Roll -- this sushi classic was invented here in the 1970's. But don't worry, I'm not feeding her raw fish. A California Roll is typically composed of sesame seeds, rice, dried seaweed, avocado, a crunchy vegetable slice (carrot and/or cucumber) and cooked crab (or, in this case, imitation krab.)

I have made California Rolls at home with fake crab for way below $1 each. (It's really easy to make and it's in my blog recipe bucket list.) But this time, I got a pre-made sliced sushi roll, again from Trader Joe's for about $4 -- way over my budget, but for Lola, no expense will be spared. Plus, their California Roll was made with nutritious brown rice.

Finally, Lola gets "green nectar of the goddess," a shot glass of  Wheatgrass juice, a favorite of health food enthusiasts everywhere. The touted benefits of this elixir, including detoxification and improved digestion, are  especially needed after Lola has finished off a bag of Edamame beans and torn apart a California Roll with questionable imitation krab!

The Wheatgrass didn't cost a nickle, since my filmmaker neighbor Deb grows flats of the stuff as part of her healthy eating regime. It was freshly squeezed in a hand-cranked juicer, so no heat was generated, and the juice is as raw and nutritious as possible for Lola's developing immune system.

Of course all these beneficial maneuvers could be for naught, if this temperamental tot won't bite. Well, you will have to play The 99 Cent Chef's latest video, Lola's First Bite 4.0, to see the delicious denouement to this tale.

photo by Bob McGuinness

An extra 99 thanks go to Lola's parents Bob and Lori for allowing the cheapest cinematographer to record Lola's eating exploits. So click below for Lola's latest and cutest video yet!
Lola's First Bite 4.0 - VIDEO

 Play it here. Video runs 4 minutes, 7 seconds.

To view or embed from YouTube, click here

And if you can't get enough adorableness, I have 3 more Lola's First Bite videos (just click on a title): Lola's First Bite 1.0, Lola's First Bite 2.0, and Lola's First Birthday Party.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Veggies in Cream with Pasta

' Tis the season for harvesting your garden, and searching out what's in season from your local farmers markets or roadside produce stands. And almost any you can get on sale can go into my latest scrumptious recipe, Veggies in Cream with Pasta.

Picked up a fresh ears of corn from the roadside stand on the way home from work? Are your farmers market rickety folding tables creaking under the weight of carrots and other root vegetables? Did you just get back from foraging in the dank corners of your secret forest floor hideaways for exotic local mushrooms? My garden is bursting at the seams with fava bean pods -- those shelled beauties are going into my next Veggies in Cream with Pasta for sure.

Use what you got, what's in season, and on sale for this rustic pasta dish. When you braise the veggies in cream to tenderness, you know it will taste great. And finish it all off with a few tablespoons of dried or fresh shaved parmesan. I've been finding cream and whipping cream at my local 99c only Store, so you will be seeing a few more recipes using rich sweet dairy.

The latest 99 Cent Chef entree is simple and to the point, and I hope you will enjoy the harvest of fresh flavors in my Veggies in Cream with Pasta.

Ingredients (1 to 2 servings)
  • 1/4 to a 1/3 package of pasta - about 4 to 6 ounces. I used wheat spaghetti, but you can use any favorite pasta.
  • 1/2 cup of cream - whipping cream or half and half. Okay to use whole or low fat milk.
  • 2 cups total of chopped veggies - I used carrots, broccoli, onions, mushrooms, zucchini, squash and bell pepper. It's okay to use any veggies you have on hand. Add or subtract from my list -- make this recipe your own!
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic - from jar or fresh
  • 2 tablespoons of shaved or dried parmesan cheese - optional.
  • 1 tablespoon oil - for sauteing veggies. Use a favorite flavorful one.
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Water for boiling pasta

Chop veggies into bite-sized pieces. You can use almost any you have on hand: cauliflower, peas, spinach, plus the ones listed above. (Carrots can be pre-cut, or just slice up one whole carrot.)

Start water boiling for the pasta. Okay to pre-cooked pasta as well. Add pasta about the time you start cooking the veggies. Cook until done then drain. I used wheat pasta this time and was impressed with the texture and taste.

Add one tablespoon of oil to pan, over a medium heat. I cooked the onion, carrots and mushrooms for a couple of minutes first, as they take longer to cook through -- then added the rest. Saute and stir veggies for about 3 - 5 more minutes. The veggies will finish cooking once the cream  (or milk) is added.

Add half a cup of cream (okay to substitute with whole or low-fat milk.) Bring liquid to a low simmer and cook until veggies are desired tenderness. I cooked mine for about 3 more minutes - I like a crunchy texture. If you like them well-done then cook more, but you may need to add more liquid the longer you cook it all.

Add dried parmesan cheese (or fresh shaved) to cream sauce just before serving. If you have a large saute pan you can add the pasta into the cream sauce -- otherwise just pour on the sauce, with veggies, over the cooked pasta.

I sauteed all the veggies together, but you could steam the most crunchy and longer cooking ones first, to desired tenderness. Kind of depends on what veggies you have on hand.

Some tender greens and veggies like fresh spinach or green peas can be added during the last couple of minutes when the cream is added -- they will cook fast enough.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Asparagus & Red Potato Salad

Colorful, tart and tasty, the latest 99 Cent Chef recipe will have you going for seconds and thirds!

I'll cook asparagus anytime I can get it on sale, and thanks to 99c only Stores, that is happening a lot lately.

This recipe is a hearty side with the addition of red potatoes, which I always get cheaply at any grocery (white potatoes will work as well.) The finishing touch is a tart dressing of Dijon mustard and olive oil.

In these sweltering days of summer, pull out The Cheapie Cuisiniers cool Asparagus & Red Potato Salad for your first Summer BBQ.

  • 3 to 5 red potatoes - about 4 cups when cooked and cut. Okay to use white potatoes, or any cheap type you can find.
  • 1 pound asparagus - or one bunch. A cheaper substitution would be steamed broccoli or chunky sliced carrots.
  • 1/4 cup olive oil - Okay to use less, to your personal taste.
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Slice red potatoes in half and cover with water in a pot. Low boil about 20 - 30 minutes until fork tender. When done allow to cool for 10 minutes (or, run some cold water over them for immediate use.)  Chop potatoes into large pieces.

If asparagus spears are extra large, I like to use a veggie peeler and take off some of the stem skin -- I peel off about half. Chop asparagus into 1 to 2 inch pieces. Place in a pot, cover and low simmer asparagus in a 1/4 cup of water for about 3 - 5 minutes, or until desired tenderness.

Add potatoes and asparagus to a large bowl.

In a small bowl whisk together Dijon mustard and olive oil for a minutes, until well blended -- okay to pulse in a blender until mixed.

Pour Dijon vinaigrette over potatoes and asparagus. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm or chilled.

If you want to cut down on the Dijon mustard tartness, just add a little of your favorite sweetener.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Tomato & Basil Bruschetta - Video Recipe

It's like an Italian version of fresh salsa, but served on toasted bread instead of tortilla chips.  My latest video recipe, Tomato & Basil Bruschetta, is made with my garden-grown tomatoes and basil. This light and fresh appetizer is a real taste of summer that's so easy to make. 

All there is to it is a bit of veggie chopping, and then grilling bread slices.  Instructions are cleverly presented in the stop-motion animated video below, which runs a brisk 2 minutes, 25 seconds. For your next gathering, you can prepare this treat ahead of time and refrigerate.  Just keep the chopped tomato, garlic and basil separate from the toast until party time. (If you want warm toast, pop the bread in the oven as guests arrive.)

The Chintzy Chef is no expert gardener, but my tomatoes, along with my basil bush, are thriving this summer. Nothing tastes better than a fresh garden-grown and sun-warmed tomato. You don't want to cook these beauties; they're best enjoyed in the raw state, sliced, with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

If you don't have a summer garden, tomatoes are cheapest this time of year. As for basil, it's so easy to grow in small window box or a corner of your garden. Your local farmers market is often the cheapest place to buy a basketful. Fresh oregano and parsley can also be used in a Bruschetta.

Italian-style Bruschettas comes many ways: with fresh or jarred vegetables, on bread or with sliced, cured meat and cheese.

So, for a delicious bite of summer try out The 99 Cent Chef's vegetarian Tomato & Basil Bruschetta.
Tomato & Basil Bruschetta - VIDEO

Play it here. Video runs 2 minutes, 25 seconds.

To view or embed from YouTube, click here.

  • About 2 - 5 tomatoes - or 1 1/2 cups when chopped. (Tomato sizes are all over the map, especially when home-grown, so tomato count will vary.)
  • 3 - 5 basil leaves - one tablespoon chopped. Okay to use 1/2 teaspoon of dried basil (or any favorite Italian herb like parsley or oregano.)
  • 1 clove garlic - about one teaspoon fine chopped. Okay to use from a jar.
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil - or your favorite tasty oil.
  • 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar - okay to use any vinegar you have.
  • 5 slices of Italian or French bread. Depending of loaf sizes, you could use more or less. Okay to use another favorite bread as well, including sliced dinner rolls.
  • 2 more tablespoons of olive oil to drizzle on the bread - optional.
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Chop tomatoes. It's up to you how chunky you like it. Some recipes call for squeezing out and discarding the seeds -- since I used fresh tomatoes from my garden I didn't want to waste one single seed! Anyway, I like to leave the seeds in, personally.

Mince or fine chop one clove of garlic. It's okay to use chopped garlic from the jar.

Chop the basil leaves. If you don't have access to fresh, then about 1/2 teaspoon dried should do.

Add all the chopped tomato, garlic and basil to a bowl. Pour in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar (or favorite vinegar.) Mix well.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve on toasted bread (directions below.)

Toasted Bread (Seems ridiculous to describe how to toast bread, but there are a few ways to go.)
Slice bread and drizzle on some olive oil (or brush it on.) Toast in the oven at 350 degrees for about 10 - 15 minutes until lightly browned. The bread comes out like thick Melba Toast - really crunchy.

You could also use a tabletop toaster oven, or broil the bread in the oven - you will want to watch closely as bread will brown quicker. This will give you a crunchy top and a soft side (depending how thick you slice the bread.) I like it that way, too.

If you don't want oil on the bread then just toast bread in a regular popup toaster. Then slice toasted bread into single servings (for a party appetizer.)

I've read that rubbing a clove of peeled garlic on toasted bread is tasty. You could also melt some cheese on the bread to go all-out decadent.

You can bulk up your Bruschetta with chopped black olives, artichoke hearts or drained and rinsed white beans. Beef it up with thin-sliced salami, pepperoni or any cured deli meat. Finish it off with some shaved parmesan, or melt a favorite cheese on the toasting bread slices.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Key Lime Pie - Deal of the Day

If this is a normal Weight Watchers dessert, where do I sign up? While not a perfect slice of heaven, this Key Lime Pie from Weight Watchers "Smart Ones" is a tasty dessert worth keeping  your eyes peeled for.

I found mine in the frozen deli case at this 99c only Store. You get 2 plastic packages per box, so I assume this means 2 servings -- since I'm not on the program I scarfed them both down. The portions are small but sweet tooth satisfying.

The tangy taste of key lime is mouth puckering and flavorful, and the topping of sweet whipped cream is a welcome contrast. The plastic wrap on top is a problem. Due to possible shipping and storage, the pie topping stuck to the wrap when peeled off; so you either lick it off, or reapply it to the pie -- not sure how Weight Watchers can solve this problem. Possible to fix if pie filling was firmer and wedged into a molded seat?

The key lime filling is very custard-like and soft when defrosted. I would have liked a more solid filling. And the graham cracker crust is very soggy, but I expect this with a frozen pie slice. I liked the crust, just wish there was more of it. Maybe the crust would have held up better if it was thicker?

The thawing directions have a microwave method which I would caution against. (It would be too easy to steam the pie to a watery puddle.) I let mine thaw out on the counter for 15 minutes. Even with slow defrosting, the slice softens into a blob.

I don't know the meanings to Weight Watchers nomenclature, but the box is clearly labeled. So I assume the calorie and fat counts are much lower than typical for a dessert. While the ingredient list is long, the main ingredients use real condensed milk, sugar, key lime juice and graham crackers.

So on a 99 Cent Chef tasting scale of 1-9, 9 being best, I give Weight Watchers Smart Ones Key Lime Pie a 7.

A couple of points are not taken away for any flavor failings; the deductions are for appearance (photo on package should match what's inside the packaging,) mushiness and a too thin crust (I wanted more!)

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