Cook Le Cirque on le cheap

You might think that haute cuisine requires lots of time, money, and at least 50 different difficult-to-obtain ingredients, like truffles, guanciale, or squid sperm. But a true master chef knows how to make a delectable dish with the most humble of ingredients.

Alain Sailhac is just such a master. After nine years as head chef at Le Cirque, one of New York City’s finest restaurants, and decades more as a chef and teacher, Sailhac can turn a simple potato into a masterpiece. He explained how in the January/February 2001 issue of Saveur magazine with his recipe for potato galette. Take a read, and you’ll be able to turn a potato, some butter, olive oil, salt and pepper, into a side dish so beautiful your guests won’t want to cut into it. When they take their first crispy bite, they’ll be glad they did. The recipe’s after the break. (more…)

Bringing K-town home

Since I started working in Koreatown, I’ve had the opportunity to immerse myself in a completely unfamiliar cuisine–at least as much of it as they serve at Woorijip, the only K-town joint I can afford. But nothing’s cheaper than cooking at home. So I was happy to come across a recent article by Leslie Kaufman in the New York Times about immigrants who cook their country’s specialties at home, complete with recipes.

dscn3540The first dish I took a stab at was pa jun, Korean pancakes filled with scallions, or with anything else you feel like throwing in. The recipe is as simple as they come–just mix flour, egg, salt, and chopped scallion together with ice water, and fry it all up in oil. The result is more like a crepe than a pancake, thin and delicate and just a bit crisp on the edges. Dipped in a simple vinegar and soy sauce that’s also included in the recipe, the pancakes make a delicious appetizer that’s salty, sweet, and incredibly cheap and easy.

Check out the recipe here. And not to question the master chef, but I’d recommend adding more scallions than she calls for, and perhaps less vinegar in the dipping sauce.

Well fed with a bad red

dscn3528To unintentionally complete my two-part series on what to do with an undrinkable bottle of wine, a friend recently (well, actually, not so recently) brought over a 2006 bottle of Bear’s Lair Merlot, which after one sip we promptly declared too bad even for our cheap tastes (I let her say it first). Since then I’ve been waiting for the right recipe and the right supermarket sale to magically appear at the same time. I waited quite a while. But finally, this week I found $2.49 a pound chuck steak and an old school Venetian recipe from my recent go-to man, Mark Bittman.

The recipe is extremely simple: it calls for boiling your wine with a few spices and sugar, marinating your steaks for a few hours, and either grilling (my personal choice), broiling, or frying dscn3532them up. Bittman’s recipe does ask for ribeye and a nice Amarone, but he points out that the recipe was traditionally used by peasants, on horse meat. So I figured what I had on hand would do the job. Even with my inferior ingredients, the steak was succulent and tender, sweet with very clear flavors of clove and cinnamon.

Check out the recipe here, and never let your wine shop miscues go to waste.

Keep the tips, can the recipes

The old axiom says that writers should write what they know. Jennifer Maughan, a freelance writer from Utah, knows it’s not easy to feed a family of five on a freelancer’s budget. In her upcoming 100 Meals for $5 or Less (Gibbs Smith, 2009), she shares the lessons she’s gleaned as she struggles to put food on the table and stay sane.

dscn3472The book is worth checking out for its first three chapters. Here, Maughan provides clear, useful tips on grocery strategy: how to use the circular to plan your meals in advance, how to keep a price list to make sure you’re getting the best deals on your regular purchases, and the importance of approaching your supermarket aisles with a suspicious eye.

Then, from chapter four on, Maughan presents the 100 recipes that give the book its name. The main course is disappointing after the useful appetizer. Of course I was not expecting gourmet recipes to come in under $5, but a lot of Maughan’s recipe suggestions are not even palatable. They generally include mixing several prepared foods together: a fish stick casserole that combines frozen fish sticks, processed cheese, and dry onion soup mix, or a mixture of ground beef, condensed cream of mushroom soup, and condensed chicken noodle soup. Even the recipes that don’t feature canned food disappoint, like an herb-crusted potato recipe that mysteriously doesn’t include a single herb.

I may not know 100 recipes that use fresh ingredients for under $5, but there are certainly a hundred out there, and I’m inclined to wear them out before I let Campbell’s take over my kitchen.

Published in: on January 30, 2009 at 8:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A shoulder to feast on

With the long weekend before Martin Luther King Day, I decided to have a dinner party. Unfortunately all my roommates were out of town, which meant I’d be cooking, and paying for, all the food myself. I headed for the circular and leafed through until I found just the right thing: pork shoulder for 79 cents a pound.

pernilA good spice rub transforms the plain-sounding pork shoulder into pernil, a tender Puerto Rican roast that cooks for a whole afternoon. When it’s done the rich and spicy skin crackles, the smoky meat falls off the bone, and the fat and juices mix with the excess spices to make a sinfully delicious gravy. And your house will smell like heaven all day while it cooks.

I fed five people that night, and so far I’ve had another three meals of leftovers with more to come. At 79 cents a pound, I was able to buy ingredients for Brazilian collard greens and cornbread and still come in under $10. Even when shoulder isn’t on sale, it’s a great deal at $1 to $1.50 per pound.

Pernil recipes abound, but the simple technique I used comes from Mark Bittman at the New York Times (it’s worth watching the video, too).

A good night with a bad white

chicken-cacciatore-twoEating and drinking on a budget is rewarding but risky. You’re bound to make a few bad choices in your search for the best deal. This is never more clear than when buying wine. There are some great budget picks out there, but sometimes you get that $7 bottle that just tastes like…well, a $7 bottle, or worse.

For me last night, it was a Nostalgia Sauvignon Blanc 2007. Rather than choke it down, I flipped through the myriad recipes that would allow me to make the best of my poor decision. I came across an old favorite: Marcella Hazan’s Chicken Fricassee, Cacciatora Style. As luck would have it, the front page of my circular blared “59 cent chicken leg quarters.” With an investment of about $4, my ghastly wine became a delicious dinner for five.

Marcella’s recipe is after the break, and is best served atop a pile of polenta (cornmeal + water = the poor man’s dream starch). (more…)

A cold weather remedy

potchili1To most New Yorkers, January means horrendous weather–as I look out the window now, the temperature is only barely high enough to justify a downpour of rain instead of delicate snowfall. On a brighter note, January also brings the NFL playoffs. So for this Giants fan, nothing complements the season’s highs and lows like a bowl of chili…or ten.

Making chili in bulk is a cheap way to get a lot of meals from a little cooking. Use inexpensive meat (I mixed ground beef on sale for less than two bucks a pound, and top round¬† on sale for $2.39 a pound), a few vegetables (onions, peppers, tomatoes, corn), anddscn3372 of course a load of beans (Texans might argue differently, but we’re a long way from the Lone Star State). The recipe I use is adapted from a 2002 issue of Bon Appetit. It makes a couple gallons of the stuff for less than $10. Once I’ve eaten as much as I can handle, I freeze the rest in serving size containers that I can nuke whenever I need to imagine a warmer climate.

My adaptation of Bon Appetit‘s recipe is after the break. (more…)

Penny Presents: A frugal gift guide

This Christmas everyone’s stocking is going to be a bit lighter than usual. Why not give a gift that keeps on saving? Here are three simple kitchen tools that will allow your loved one to indulge in common salary-suckers on the cheap in the comfort of home.

  • wafflerBelgian Waffler ($33.99, Kohl’s). Those luxurious Sunday brunches can be very relaxing…until you get the brutal bill. With a stovetop waffle iron, you can make crisp, fluffy waffles without braving the cold, and for pennies on the dollar. My family’s been making this easy Gourmet recipe for a decade.
  • stonePizza Stone ($24.95, Amazon). In college I spent twice as much on pizza as on books. I keep getting older, but pizza’s still addictive. So I bought a stone and started making my own dough. It’s cheap, fun, and easy. Check out this recipe, also from Gourmet. If you’re feeling lazy, Trader Joe’s sells fresh dough for a buck.
  • shakerCocktail Shaker ($6.99, Amazon). In stressful times, it’s tempting to drain a few cocktails. But if you’re at a bar you might as well be flushing your wallet. With a cocktail shaker you can make all sorts of relaxing potions without leaving a tip. With any luck, your friends will start tipping you.

Pancakes for dinner?

farinata_01After reading about the great deals on chickpea flour at Sahadi’s, Pennywatcher Jamie recommended I try a recipe with the same flour, but from the other side of the Mediterranean: Farinata Genovese.

A farinata’s like a giant Italian pancake, cooked in a cast-iron skillet. It uses remarkably few ingredients: just chickpea flour, water, olive oil, onion, and rosemary, but cooks up to a delicious consistency: crispy on the outside with a creamy interior.

The short ingredient list means it’s both simple to cook and cheap. The whole thing, which serves four as a meal or many more as an appetizer, costs less than a dollar to make and requires just a few easy steps. Find Jamie‘s favorite recipe, from Mark Bittman’s The Best Recipes in the World, after the break.


Skip the bread line

bread-riotsThe price of bread has been a major cause of riot and revolution throughout history. The three or four bucks we shell out today for a loaf hasn’t stirred us to looting, but it may start a revolution in our kitchens.

All you need to make bread that blows the supermarket bakery away is a few pennies’ worth of simple ingredients–flower, yeast, salt, and water–a dutch oven pot, and patience. This recipe, dscn3183from Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery via Mark Bittman of the New York Times, doesn’t require kneading, so no skill or experience is necessary. Just remember to mix the ingredients a day in advance, and nature will take care of the rest.

Find the recipe after the break, and save your rioting for the things that really matter, like sporting events and Rage Against the Machine concerts.