Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Sea Bass and Shrimp over Grits

This is one of the most soul-satisfying dishes I have ever made, but also on the more expensive side, in comparison to some of the other dishes I've made. When planning my weekly menus I try to incorporate mostly less-expensive meals with one or two more-expensive meals and I'm still able to stay on track. This dish can be served by itself with a piece of crusty bread, over linguine pasta, or the way I enjoy it is over grits or polenta.

Equipment: Large dutch oven (similar to a Le Creuset) and a 2 qt or larger sauce pot

6 ounce bacon, about 5 strips - cut into inch cubes -- $1.49
1 medium onion - chopped medium dice -- $0.75
3 garlic cloves - smashed -- $0.10
1 red bell pepper - medium dice -- $1.29
1/4 cup dry white wine -- $0.31
1-28 ounce can whole tomatoes - rough chop -- $1.49
1 tsp dried Mexican oregano (if you have or can only find regular dried oregano that's fine too) -- $0.02
4 tsp hot sauce (whatever is your favorite) -- $0.08
1/4 cup heavy cream -- $0.31
2 tsp salt -- $0.02
1-8 ounce piece wild sea bass - cut into 2 inch pieces -- $6.49 
1 1b wild, raw, large 18-20 count shrimp (peeled and devained) -- $10.99
1/4 cup fresh parsley - chopped -- $0.42

1 cup dried corn polenta -- $0.87
3 cups water -- $0.00

Total cost of entire meal = $24.63

Render bacon in dutch oven until crispy. Drain bacon onto paper towel reserving the oil in the pot. Saute onion until translucent, about 5 minutes on medium heat. Add the smashed garlic and bell pepper and cook until garlic is fragrant, about 1 additional minute. Add tomatoes, Mexican oregano, cream, hot sauce and salt. Bring mixture to a boil and then lower heat to med-low and simmer for 20 minutes until all the flavors have melded together. About 10 minutes before you are about to eat you want to add the fish and shrimp. (If you do this step too soon the shrimp will be rubbery and the fish will be dry. You can even cook the mixture ahead of time, refrigerate it or freeze it and when you're ready to eat bring the mixture back to a boil and add the fish and shrimp.) Season the fish and shrimp with salt only and carefully nestle the fish and shrimp throughout the mixture. Add a lid and continue to simmer until fish and shrimp are cooked about 6-8 minutes. Fish will be firm and flaky and shrimp should be firm and pink. Mix in fresh parsley and cooked bacon from earlier, being careful not to break up the fish. Spoon mixture over grits or polenta. 

When maxing grits or polenta follow the directions on the package. Most corn polenta calls for a 3 to 1 ration but it's best to look at the package for cooking directions. 

Makes 4 large portions. 

How to modify for:
Vegetarians: Replace the bacon with olive oil and replace the fish and shrimp with vegetables like zucchini, summer squash and eggplant and make this dish more like a ratatouille if you will. Add the vegetables at the same time you add the red pepper and cook the mixture until the vegetables are tender about 20-30 minutes depending on the size of the dice. 
Vegans: Follow the same directions as the vegetarians but remove the heavy cream.
Pescatarians: Replace the bacon with olive oil. 
Lactose intolerance: Omit the heavy cream and try stirring in plain goat or sheep's milk yogurt right before serving. You will still be able to achieve the creamy effect without the heavy cream.
This is a gluten free meal!!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

All Things Fish

I am a huge fan of fish and all things seafood. Fish is a much healthier way to incorporate protein into your diet. Sea bass, for example, contains 19 grams of protein compared to chicken's 21 grams, but sea bass only contains 4 grams of fat and 114 calories per serving compared to chicken's 7 grams of fat and 190 calories, and that's without skin. Add chicken skin and you're up to 14 grams of fat and 239 calories per serving. If this is the comparison with chicken, imagine its match-up with beef.
But sometimes I feel like there is a stigma behind fish and seafood. Maybe because people are confused with what to buy or where to buy it. Maybe people are put off by the high price of quality seafood. I've even had people ask me about mercury in fish and their concerns for their family. Well let me put it to you straight and answer some fishy questions.

1) Wild vs. Farmed
Okay, so this is a tough question with no black or white answer. We buy most of our fish either at an Asian grocery store called H-Mart or through my husband's fish vendor. Those suppliers may carry farmed fish with little to no regulation of the fish's diet. In those instances, we always buy fresh. And this next statement may shock some people, but the fresh fish that we purchase at H-Mart is most likely the same fresh fish that is sold at let's say, Whole Foods. Sometimes, my husband and I will even joke that the same delivery truck will drop off fish to one store and then drop off the same type of fish at another store that charges twice as much. I'm not saying this to deter anyone from shopping at all-natural markets, but I think it's important to know what you're buying and how you can save money. However, if I am making something that calls for fish that may only be farm-raised (for whatever reason), I will spend the extra money and purchase it at a more reputable store. Some additional benefits to buying reputable farm-raised fish is allowing fresh fish to replenish themselves, helping the overall fish population.

2) What is mercury or methylmercury?
Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and can also be released into the air through industrial pollution. Mercury falls from the air and can accumulate in streams and oceans and is turned into methylmercury in the water. It is this type of mercury that can be harmful to your unborn baby and young child. Fish absorb the methylmercury as they feed in these waters and so it builds up in them. It builds up more in some types of fish and shellfish than others, depending on what the fish eat, which is why the levels vary.
Is there methylmercury in all fish and shellfish?
Nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of methylmercury. However, larger fish that have lived longer have the highest levels of methylmercury because they've had more time to accumulate it. These large fish (swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish) pose the greatest risk.
For a full list of mercury levels in commercial fish and shellfish, click the link below.

3) Quality fish and seafood can be expensive, and when you are trying to stick to a budget, it's easy to cross these items off your list. But it is possible to include fish in your weekly meals without it consuming your budget. Just like higher quality meats, sometimes eating fish and seafood means not making it the star of the meal.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Slow Cooked Lentils with Burrata Chesse

There are times in which I feel it could be absolutely possible to be a vegetarian and then I remember how much I love meat, but there are those instances in which I have meals that are so satisfying I could renounce meat forever. This is one of those meals.
Lentils are the perfect balance of healthy and hearty. They are an excellent source of folic acid and potassium, and a good source of iron and phosphorus. They are high in protein ( 9g per 100 g), low in fat and calories (0.4g and 116 cal), moderately high in fiber (3.9g) and best of all low in cost. One 16 ounce bag of dried lentils, enough to feed 4 people with leftovers cost me $1.59. This dish can be served by itself with the added protein from the cheese or as a side dish with roasted fish such as salmon or even with roasted chicken. I think the richness from the cheese works so well with the creaminess from the lentils.

What is Burrata cheese? Burrata is a fresh italian cheese, made from mozzarella and cream. The outer shell is solid mozzarella while the inside contains both mozzarella and cream, giving it an unusual, soft texture. It is amazing! Really, when I discovered Burrata a few years ago I felt like my life was forever changed. And yours will be too.

Equipment: Large dutch oven (similar to a Le Creuset)

2 Tbsp olive oil -- $0.10
1 medium onion - small dice -- $0.75
1 large carrot - small dice -- $0.35
2 garlic cloves - smashed and chopped -- $0.04
1 - 16 ounce bag dried green or black lentils (washed in a bowl of water) -- $1.59
32 ounces chicken or vegetable stock -- $1.83
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar -- $0.08
2 tsp salt -- $0.02
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper -- $0.02

2 balls of Burrata cheese - sliced in half -- $4.99


Heat 2 tbsp of oil in dutch oven on medium heat, add diced onion and saute until translucent about 5 minutes. Add carrot and garlic and cook for an addition minute. Add lentils and cover with stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer (medium low) and cover with a lid. Cook lentils until tender about 1 hour. When lentils are finished cooking they should be creamy and liquid should be reduced but not completely gone. Season lentils after they are cooked. One of the biggest mistake people make when cooking legumes is seasoning them before they are cooked. The protein becomes tough and doesn't cook properly. Finish with red wine vinegar. This gives the lentils a touch of acidity which is essential in achieving balance.  

Spoon the lentils into bowls and serve with one half of Burrata per portion. Top each portion of Burrata with a drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper. 

Makes 4 large portions

This meal is vegetarian and gluten free. Remove the Burrata for a vegan and lactose free meal. Replace with roasted fish for a healthier lactose free option. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Back to Blogging

Blogging is a lot work and after spending an entire week in front of the computer I felt like my kids were being neglected. In fact my dad even started calling the girls blog-orphans. But after a much needed blogging vacay I am back in full force. That being said I'm going to take a different approach to blogging in the future. Instead of posting my weekly menus and recipes everyday, I will start posting recipes, thoughts and ideas specific to dietary issues; but not necessarily specific to me or my family. And not everyday!
I am also going to highlight certain ingredients and explain why with some simple changes to your weekly menu you can transform your budget and save more money.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Chicken Spiedies with Homemade Italian Marinade on Hogie Rolls with Fries and Green Salad

What are spiedies? The spiedie is a dish local to Greater Binghamton in the Southern Tier of New York State, and somewhat more broadly known and enjoyed throughout Central New York state. [1] Spiedie consists of cubes of chicken, pork, lamb, veal, venison or beef. The meat cubes are marinated overnight in a special marinade, then grilled on spits over a charcoal pit. The traditional method involves serving freshly prepared cubes of lamb, chicken, or beef on soft Italian bread, and occasionally drizzled with fresh marinade. However, it is frequently common to find them served on a submarine roll, and chicken is now the meat of choice due to cost. The marinade recipe varies, usually involving olive oil, vinegar, and a variety of Italian spices and fresh mint. The original idea for spiedie was brought by Italian immigrants to Upstate New York in the early 1920s. The specific origin of the spiedie is disputed. Traditionally the early Broome County spiedie was made only from spring lamb, but currently most commercial restaurants prepare spiedie using chicken or pork. 

Growing up I would always spend the summer in Binghamton with my dad, who grew up there, and we would eat spiedies until I never wanted to see another one again. And then we would do the same thing the next year. Buying the marinade can be pricey and sometimes hard to find depending on where you live. So I've always made my own. My recipe is:  1/2 cup red wine vinegar, 2/3 cup olive oil, 1 Tbsp kosher salt, 1 Tbsp Italian seasoning or poultry seasoning, 1 Tbsp dried Mexican oregano, 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Mix ingredients until combined and salt is dissolved. 

Equipment: Outdoor grill or indoor grill pan.


2 lbs organic boneless chicken thighs -- $5.96
1 marinade recipe -- $1.66

Traditionally the meat is cubed first and then skewered but I like to keep the thighs whole and cube them after they are cooked. It eliminates the need for skewers. Marinade chicken in quart container overnight. Make sure marinade covers all the meat. The next day drain meat reserving the marinade in a small saucepan. Cook thighs on a super-hot grill pan with a spatter-guard. Cook for about 5 minutes each side. While meat is grilling bring reserved marinade to a boil and cook for at least 8 minutes. This step is very important. You need to make sure any raw chicken juice in the sauce is cooked. When chicken is done, chop meat into 1 inch cubes and assemble on buttered hogie rolls. Add 1 Tbsp of cooked marinade/sauce on each sandwich. These sandwiches are not served with any other condiments other than sometimes you see hot sauce. 

6 Italian hogie rolls - toasted -- $2.79
3 Tbsp butter or mayonnaise for spreading on rolls -- $0.56

Oven Fries

2 1/4 lbs Russet Potatoes -- $1.75
5 Tbsp canola oil -- $0.25
salt and pepper

The best oven fry recipe is not my own. I found it in the Cook's Illustrated Cookbook and because of legal reasons I cannot share it with you. But if you buy their cookbook you can make them too. I am just sharing the ingredients for costing purposes. Sorry. 

                                                 Total cost of entire meal = $12.97

This is not a good meal for vegetarians or vegans. You could substitute fish but the whole point of this meal is authenticity. Even the Italian bread makes this sandwich.There are just some things better left unchanged. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Chicken and Hubbard Squash Coconut Red Curry over Brown Rice

Wait, you say...where is the recipe for Mojo Marinated Pork Shoulder Tacos with Cabbage Slaw, Cilantro Cream and Rice & Beans? Well I made them and despite the fact that I generally like everything I make this was not a winner. I am tweaking the Mojo marinade and once I have a recipe that I am proud of I will share it with the world, but until then I don't want to publish something I am not happy with. 

I love curry. I also love that when you make your own curry you can regulate how much fat and oil go into your meal. It is possible to have a meal so satisfying and flavorful, but also be low in calories. This is also a recipe where protein isn't the star. By adding squash you cut down on cost as well as adding nutrients to your meal. 

2 Tbsp olive oil -- $0.10
1 small onion - small dice -- $0.50
4 garlic closes - finely chopped -- $0.13
3 Tbsp red curry paste  (such as Mae Ploy) -- $0.25
1 1/2 lbs organic chicken thighs - cut into 2 inch cubes -- $4.47
3 cups Hubbard squash - skin and seeds removed, cut into 2 inch cubes ( you can also use butternut squash or even sweet potatoes) -- $2.46
1 - 13 oz can coconut milk -- $1.79
1 1/2 cups chicken stock -- $1.00
2 tsp fish sauce -- $0.03
1 Tbsp all-natural peanut butter -- $0.05

1 lime - 1/2 juiced & 1/2 for serving wedges -- $0.28
1/2 cup cilantro leaves -- $0.30
1/4 cup slivered almonds, roasted peanuts or pumpkin seeds -- $0.66

1 1/4 cups of your favorite brown rice -- $0.59
2 1/2 cups water

Heat oil on medium heat, add onion and cook until translucent about 5 minutes. Add garlic, cook for 1 minute. Add red curry paste, cook for additional minute or until curry paste is fragrant. Add cubed chicken and stir until curry paste and onion mixture covers all cubed chicken. Add squash, coconut milk, chicken stock, fish sauce and peanut butter. Stir. Bring mixture to a rolling boil and then reduce heat to simmer (medium-low). Simmer curry for 45 minutes, uncovered. Finish curry with juice of 1/2 a lime. Serve over rice. Garnish with cilantro, toasted nuts and lime wedge. 

Serves 4-6 people

How to modify for:
Vegetarians: Replace the chicken with a double portion of squash and about 10 minutes before curry is finished stir in rough chopped Chinese broccoli. Replace the chicken stock with vegetable stock and omit the fish sauce. Unfortunately most red curry pastes contain dried shrimp, but Whole Foods carries one that is vegetarian. Look in your local market for a shrimp free-version. 
Vegans: Follow same directions for vegetarians.
Pescatarians: Replace chicken with 1 pound shrimp or a firm, white fish such as halibut. Season shrimp or fish with salt and pepper and stir in to the simmering broth about 10 minutes before curry is finished. 
* This is a gluten and lactose free meal!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Lebanese Style Pork with Ras El Hanout, Cucumber-Yogurt Sauce in Warm Pitas with Moroccan Couscous Salad

Ras el Hanout is a unique spice blend that you see in a lot of Middle-Eastern and Moroccan cusine. You can buy the spice blend or make one that is similar with spices you already have on hand. I like to toast my spices until fragrant and then grind them myself in a spice grinder. My blend contains:

1 Tbsp ground corriander
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp tumeric
1 tsp ground ginger
                                          1 tsp ground fennel seed
                                          1 tsp ground nutmeg

I make these flatbreads with pork shoulder which is obviously not authentic since most people in Middle-Eastern countries do not eat pork. Traditionally it's made with beef or lamb which tend to be much more expensive. I love pork, but organic pork is hard to find and expensive. An important thing to remember when buying pork,  by USDA standards pork is never allowed to contain hormones. Can antibiotics and hormones be used in pork raising?
Now this doesn't mean the meat was sustainably raised and the pig had a good life. It just means that the meat I am eating does not contain hormones like a lot of non-organic beef does. Keep that in mind if organic, sustainably raised pork is out of your budget.                                        

Equipment: Large dutch oven (similar to a Le Creuset), grill pan, 2 qt. saucepan

Braised Pork

3 1/2 lbs boneless pork shoulder - diced into 2 in chunks -- $5.92 @ 1.69/lb
2 Tbsp Ras el Hanout blend -- $0.10
1 Tbsp Kosher Salt -- $0.02
2 Tbsp olive oil  -- $0.10
1/2 medium onion - rough chop -- $0.33
3 garlic cloves - smashed -- $0.10
1 jalapeno pepper - seeds removed and rough chop -- $0.21
1 cup chicken broth or water -- $0.75

Preheat oven to 350*

In a large mixing bowl, mix pork pieces with spices, salt and 1 Tbsp olive oil. Set aside. In large dutch oven heat 1 Tbsp olive oil, saute onions for about 3 minutes on medium heat. Add smashed garlic and jalapeno and saute for additional minute. Add pork pieces and cook for about 5 minutes until pork has light-brown color. Add chicken stock and cook until broth begins to simmer, additional 5 minutes. Cover and cook in the oven for 1 hour. After an hour remove lid and cook for 15 more minutes. Pork should be tender and shred easily and sauce should be reduced and glaze the pork.

Cucumber-Yogurt Sauce

2 Persian cucumber or 1/2 English cucumber - sliced in half and then sliced thin half moons -- $0.50
3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt -- $1.25

Mix sliced cucumbers with yogurt. Season with salt and pepper.

Moroccan Couscous Salad

2 cups quick-cooking couscous (I like whole wheat) can be found at Trader Joe's -- $1.35
1/2 cup raisins -- $0.40
1 1/2 cups boiling chicken stock or water -- $1.00
1/4 cup olive oil -- $0.20
1/3 cup slivered almonds -- $0.83
1/2 medium onion - small dice (the other half) -- $0.33
1/2 cup green onions (scallions) - sliced thin -- $0.43
1 15 ounce can of cooked chickpeas -- $0.79
12 ounce jar roasted red peppers - sliced into 1 inch strips -- $1.99
1 lemon - juiced -- $0.27
2 tsp cumin -- $0.03

Bring water or stock to a boil in 2qt saucepan. Place couscous and raisins in a large bowl. Pour boiling stock over dry couscous. Let stand for 5 minutes.

In the same saucepan heat 1/4 cup olive oil on medium heat. Add slivered almonds. Cook until golden, about 3-5 minutes. This part goes very quickly, do not step away from the stove. Remove nuts using a slotted spoon. Add nuts to couscous. In the same saucepan cook diced onions until translucent about 5 minutes. Add to couscous along with all the olive oil. Add green onions, chickpeas, red peppers, lemon juice, cumin and salt. Stir until combined. Adjust seasoning if needed.

Grilled Flatbreads -- 2 per person x 4 people = $2.00

Brush whole wheat flatbreads or pits with olive oil. Grill eat side on medium heat for 3 minutes per side. These can also be toasted in the oven.

                                    Total cost of entire meal = $18.90

* This is more than the $15.58 I usually spend but there were enough leftovers of both the pork and couscous salad for Maille and I to eat the next day.

How to modify for:
Vegetarians: Replace pork with 1 large eggplant cut into 2 inch pieces. Follow the same cooking process but substitute vegetable stock. Cook for 30 minutes instead of 1 hour. For the couscous salad substitute water for chicken stock.
Vegans:  Replace pork with 1 large eggplant cut into 2 inch pieces. Follow the same cooking process but substitute vegetable stock. Cook for 30 minutes instead of 1 hour. For the couscous salad substitute water for chicken stock. Instead of yogurt sauce mix the cucumbers with white wine vinegar, 1 tsp olive oil and salt and pepper.
Lactose intolerance: Try using sheep's milk yogurt, like Old Chatham's Farm. It does not contain lactose. It can be purchased at Whole Foods, Wegman's or online.
Gluten intolerance: Instead of couscous try this recipe with quinoa. What is quinoa? Omit the grilled flatbread.