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.

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 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…)

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.


The remains of the day, Part II

turkeycarcass1Earlier this week, I asked readers for tips on how best to use Thanksgiving leftovers. It seems that Penny watchers love their turkey in its purest state–sometimes without even reheating. But they had a few creative suggestions as well:

Dorothy Y. pointed out that there’s more to a leftover sandwich than the leftovers: she recommends piling turkey, stuffing, gravy and mashed potatoes on homemade rosemary bread. Try this bread recipe from

Turkey Lover is a fan of the turkey pot pie, “with a pie crust bottom, turkey and whatever other leftovers fit (for example, we have green beans every year) inside, and a top crust of mashed potatoes that gets crispy in the oven. A sprinkling (or more) of stuffing on top makes a great finishing touch.” For cooking instructions, check out this recipe from Recipezaar.

Karen B. likes an old world recipe for a new world holiday: she recommends Nigel Slater’s recipe for spicy turkey curry, which you can find at the Too Many Chefs blog.

And as Dorothy points out, be sure to boil your turkey bones and carcass, with any onion and carrot peels or celery ends you have lying around, for an hour or so to make stock. Use it in soups and stews, or in place of water when you cook rice or couscous or simmer veggies.

For more tips, check out these recipe lists from Better Homes and Gardens (our favorite: layered turkey enchiladas) and Gourmet (our favorite: the breakfast turkey hash).

Happy Thanksgiving weekend, and don’t feel bad about gorging—you’re just storing up layers for a cold winter.

The remains of the day

turkeycarcassOur country’s annual celebration of excess (and gratitude and humility, of course) is almost upon us. All that excess means a lot of leftovers. This Black Friday, I’ll offer tips for what to do with the messy remains of your Thanksgiving meal. But as much as I love my Mom’s turkey stew, I know some of the best suggestions will come from you (or your mom).

Leave your favorite secrets—sandwiches, casseroles, pies, soups, and anything else you’ve created—and stories here in comments, or contact us. I’ll cull all the best ideas I can find and report back on Friday in time for your first of many leftover meals.

Collard greens from the deeper south

churrascoWith all the heavy meat, beans and rice in Brazilian food, it’s easy to forget that Brazilians need vegetables, too. In fact, they wield their greens with as much skill as they do their steak. One of the most delicious, yet easiest and cheapest, of Brazilian green dishes is couve, collard greens sautéed in butter. If you’ve ever eaten feijoada—Brazilian pork, beef, and bean stew—you’ve probably had couve on the side. But it’s a perfect accompaniment to all kinds of protein, Brazilian or not.

dscn3131The cooking instructions, which I adapted from the Maria’s Cookbook website, are incredibly simple. Just wash one bunch of collard greens, roll the leaves together like you’re rolling a cigar, and slice them into ¼ inch strips. Then dice half a small onion and a clove of garlic. Melt about 2 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan and cook the onion and garlic over medium heat until they soften. Throw in the greens and cook over high heat, stirring constantly, until they start to wilt—only a couple minutes.

dscn3135That’s all there is to it, but your finished product will be delightfully crisp and flavorful. The bitterness of the raw greens dissipates as they cook down, leaving only a subtle bite that’s a perfect complement to the garlic and the sweetness of the onions.

The price? At my local supermarket collard greens cost 88 cents a pound; the bunch cost 69 cents. The couve served six, meaning a vegetable side dish for about 11 cents a person. That gives you plenty of money leftover for a few caipirinhas.