Category Archives: Cheap Cooking

Pasta with Bacon & Brussels Sprouts

After a particularly stressful week at work, plus a long battle with a cold, I was very ready for Friday to arrive. All I wanted to do was spend a restful, relaxing night at home. And I did just that. As soon as I walked into my apartment, I changed into pj’s, turned on some music, and just lay in my bed, decompressing from the strenuous week.

Two hours of lounging later, I mustered up the energy to whip up some dinner. One good thing that came of this busy week was that my fridge was overflowing with food. I had gone grocery shopping the previous weekend, as usual, but between my cold and getting home late, I hadn’t found a chance to cook. Envisioning myself in an episode of “Top Chef,” I set out to use the ingredients on hand for a delicious Friday night dinner.

Going through the fridge, I found some brussels sprouts, a package of bacon, a lemon, parmesan cheese, and whole wheat pasta. I remembered eating the best brussels sprouts a few months back at Father’s Office in LA, which were pan fried with bacon and pine nuts. I thought I could try to recreate that dish (sans pine nuts) with the addition of lemon juice (for acidity and freshness) and whole wheat pasta.

The results were fantastic. Think smoky bacon intermingled with slightly crisp, nutty brussels sprouts and hearty whole wheat pasta, with the occasional burst of lemon juice and parmesan. It was such a simple dish to make, yet it presented such sophisticated flavors and textures. And plus, the ingredients cost under $10 ($5.49 for bacon, $1 pasta, $3 brussels sprouts, $0.79 lemon) and many are pantry staples that most already have on hand.

If you’re a fan of bacon, brussels, or both (like me), then this is the dish for you. Try it on your next Friday night in!

Whole Wheat Pasta with Bacon and Brussels Sprouts

1/2 lb brussels sprouts, chopped in half with ends cut off

4-5 slices of bacon, chopped (can do more depending on your preference)

1 lemon

1/2 of a 14.5 oz  box of whole wheat pasta

Parmesan cheese (optional)

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (optional)

1. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water, according to the directions on the box.

2. Boil another pot of salted water. Cook the brussels sprouts in the boiling water until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Drain.

3. Heat a saute pan over medium-low heat. Add the bacon and let it crisp, 7-10 minutes (depending on how crisp you like it). Take the bacon out with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel to drain. Reserve some of the bacon grease i the pan.

4. Fry the brussel sprouts in the leftover bacon grease over medium heat, until the outside becomes brown and crisp. Add the bacon back in for about 1 minute.

5. Turn off the heat. Toss the past with the bacon and brussels sprouts. Squeeze lemon juice onto pasta and grate parmesan cheese. Add salt, pepper, and olive oil to taste if desired.

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Snowmageddon Cooking: Whole Wheat Apple Muffins

Gorgeous icicles adorning my window

Thursday was my third (and last) snow day. Even though the intense wind and snowfall had subsided, I still found it quite difficult to navigate my way outside. Snow still covered the roads and sidewalks, slushy puddles began to form in the walkways, and the already huge icicles outside my window (pictured above) grew even larger and longer. With conditions outside still treacherous, I resigned myself to spending another day indoors.

I had been resisting the urge to bake all week, but with another snow day to keep me indoors, I decided to throw caution (and my “diet”) to the wind and bake up a storm. I wanted to stay semi-healthy though, and found these whole wheat apple muffins on Smitten Kitchen which fit the bill perfectly. Even better, the recipe uses several basic ingredients which I already had in my pantry. The only things I had to buy were whole wheat flour ($3 at Whole Foods) and 2 Granny Smith apples.

The muffins were a cinch to make. The only thing I found worrisome was the ratio of batter to apples. I had WAY more apples than batter, and the batter was really thick–almost like bread dough. To thin it out, I added a bit more yogurt and a splash of milk (but did not change the consistency dramatically).

Despite this, the muffins turned out wonderfully and filled my apartment with warm spiced aromas. They made a lovely afternoon snack with a cup of Earl Grey tea, and made a delicious and hearty breakfast the next day. To stop myself from gobbling up all of them, I took the rest to my office (which was, thank goodness, open the next day), where they were a big hit. I didn’t have a single one leftover!

These healthy yet heavenly muffins should definitely be added to your baking repertoire–I know I’ll be adding them to mine!

Whole Wheat Apple Muffins

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Yield: They said 12, I got 17.

1 cup (4 ounces) whole wheat flour
1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed (I used light brown sugar)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup (8 ounces) yogurt
2 large apples, peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped
Splash of milk and extra yogurt, if your batter is too thick

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Grease and flour 18 muffin cups and set aside.

Mix together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon, and set aside. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and add the granulated sugar and 1/4 cup of the brown sugar. Beat until fluffy. Add the egg and mix well; stop once to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl.Mix in the buttermilk gently. (If you over-mix, the buttermilk will cause the mixture to curdle.) Stir in the dry ingredients and fold in the apple chunks.

Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups, sprinkling the remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar on top. Bake for 10 minutes, turn the heat down to 400°F, and bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool the muffins for 5 minutes in the tin, then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Snowmageddon Cooking: Turkey Meatloaf & Potato Gratin

Snowmageddon redux

The scene above is what I woke up to this morning. And I thought the snow storm last weekend was bad–but boy, was I wrong. The winds gusted at 40 mph, sending tree branches and icicles flying through the air. The streets appeared to be completely abandoned without a single person in sight. The snow continued to fall and pile perilously high. Snowmageddon had indeed unleashed its fury on DC once again. And hopefully, fingers crossed, for the last time.

Although snowmageddon has wreaked havoc on my work and social life (so many snow days!), it has benefited one part of my life: cooking. Snow days are perfect for stocking up on groceries (which apparently, many other Washingtonians thought to do as well) and cooking up a comforting meal at home. There is something so therapeutic about cooking that makes staying indoors all day more bearable: the aromas and flavors spread through your house and make you forget about the frigid weather outside.

I felt like making something hearty and filling that would give me the sustenance I would need to bear the cold. I decided on turkey meatloaf from my Real Simple cookbook (which I highly recommend) and potato gratin from Smitten Kitchen. Luckily for me, I stopped at my Safeway in Tenleytown yesterday, before the store was shopped bare and left unmanned (see the bizarre story here).

The turkey meatloaf was surprisingly delicious. The spinach and parsley added fresh flavor and color to the dish. The turkey was anything but bland and extremely moist. I added extra ketchup on top, which became slightly caramelized after baking and gave the meatloaf an extra sweet and slightly tangy flavor. Even better, the dish cost very little to make since many of the ingredients were already on hand (e.g. wheat bread, eggs, mustard, ketchup). In total, I spent $9.21 on the rest of the ingredients, for a dish which has lasted me several meals.

The potato gratin was also heavenly and so simple to make. I added some leftover parsley from the meatloaf to the potatoes and it tasted divine. The parmesan cheese and milk infuse into the potatoes, making them deliciously salty and creamy. I was amazed at how such a simple dish, with so few ingredients, could pack much flavor. Altogether, I paid $2 for yukon gold potatoes (I thought I’d splurge a little bit) and used milk and parmesan cheese I already had in the fridge.

The soothing flavor and warmth of this food made me feel very nourished and blessed on an otherwise bleak, snowpocalyptic day. For any other DCers stuck at home tomorrow for the snow day, I definitely recommend making these dishes.

Turkey Meatloaf

Adapted slightly from Real Simple

1.3 pounds lean ground turkey
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 32 oz bag of spinach (use about half the bag or 2 cups, and if you have spinach leftover, sautee it with garlic for a lovely side dish), chopped
1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
2 T Dijon mustard
1 large egg white
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/4 cup ketchup

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees F. IN a bowl, combine the turkey, onion, spinach, parsley, bread crumbs, mustard, egg white, and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper.

2. Transfer the mixture to a baking sheet and form into a 10-inch loaf. Spread the ketchup on top (I did not measure the ketchup; just spread it on to your liking.)

3. Bake until cooked through, 45-50 min.

Awesomely Simple Potato Gratin

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

4 large yukon gold potatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup low-fat milk
2 ounces cheese, grated or crumbled (Parmesan or Gruyere are the classics, but that doesn’t mean that goat cheese, blue cheese or any of your favorites won’t work as well)
Fresh parsley, chopped (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a 9- by 12-inch gratin dish with the pat of butter.

2. Slice the potatoes as thinly as you can (a mandoline works great for this) and arrange them in a layer, overlapping the edges slightly like shingles. Sprinkle the potatoes with salt and freshly ground pepper and don’t be stingy—this is where the bulk of your flavor comes from and a third of the cheese before before repeating this process with your remaining potato slices. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Depending on how thinly sliced your potatoes are, you should end up with approximately three layers, with a third of the cheese and parsley between each layer (I put parsley in every other layer). Reserve the last third of your cheese for later.

3. Carefully pour the milk over the potatoes. It should come up to the bottom of the top layer of potatoes; add more if this was not enough. Bake it for 45 minutes to an hour. Halfway through the baking time, take the gratin dish out of the oven and gently press the potatoes flat with a spatula to keep the top moist. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the gratin for the last 15 minutes of baking. The gratin is done when the potatoes are soft and the top is golden brown, and the milk has thickened.

Cloudy with a Chance of (Chicken) Meatballs

Spaghetti with chicken meatballs and simple marinara sauce

Many followers of this blog may be under 2 false impressions after reading my previous posts: 1. that I don’t cook, 2. that I only eat out in Dupont Circle (the tag cloud on the right, unfortunately, does not help my case). The next couple posts will hopefully dispel both notions.

I had a serious case of the Mondays this past (yup…you guessed it) Monday, so I decided to whip up some comfort food to cheer myself up. After browsing some of my favorite food blogs, I came across a recipe on Smitten Kitchen for baked chicken meatballs, which sounded absolutely delicious and (semi) healthy! I headed to Safeway with my grocery list in hand, already hungry for a steaming bowl of spaghetti and meatballs.

Chicken meatballs (before baking)

The recipe calls for pancetta, Italian bread (I used ciabatta), and ground chicken–ingredients which only seem more expensive than they really are. I certainly thought about replacing the pancetta and ciabatta with normal bacon and whole wheat bread, but reviewers of the recipe warned again and again that substitutions would sacrifice flavor. So I paid the extra $3 for pancetta and ciabatta. Was it worth it? YOU BET.

The meatballs were moist, tender, and very flavorful–more flavorful than most other meatballs I’ve had. As Deb from Smitten Kitchen writes, they do taste faintly of cheese. Which, I’m not going to lie, freaked me out at first (b/c there is no cheese!). I think the meatballs actually taste better the longer they sit, as the flavors really blend together and absorb into the chicken.

Deglazing the onions and tomatoes for the marinara sauce

I served the meatballs with one of my favorite tomato sauces–the Barefoot Contessa’s marinara sauce. The sauce is elegant and simple, with only a few ingredients that really showcase the sweetness of the tomatoes. Red wine (I used a California Pinot Noir which I had left over) adds warmth and depth of flavor while the parsley (the only herb in the entire recipe!) adds just the right amount of zest. In short, I LOVE THIS SAUCE (and Barefoot Contessa, but I’ll save that for another time). The simple flavors of the sauce complemented the richness of the meatballs perfectly.

In addition to how delicious it tasted, this gourmet meal only cost $16 total to make. Plus, I have enough leftovers to last me the entire week (I even froze some meatballs for later). That means, it cost about a mere $4/serving! Now, that’s what I call cheap eating.

YUM

For recipes, click on the bold links in the above post.