BrokeAss Gourmet

BrokeAss Gourmet

One of the most gratifying things about being a food blogger is hearing from a reader that my blog helped solve a problem. Whether it's that someone needed the perfect dish to bring to a party and found the winning recipe on my site, or a reader who previously felt he or she didn't have the skills or money necessary to cook well at home, and then found recipes on BrokeAss Gourmet to overcome that, I get all warm and fuzzy when I hear I was able to make a difference in someone's culinary life.

In that spirit, I'm excited to introduce to you a new feature here on BrokeAss Gourmet: #DearBrokeAss, wherein I attempt to help solve your food and cooking dilemmas. Read on for some of the queries I received this week.

Got questions? I want to help you out! Email gabi@brokeassgourmet.com, or Tweet them to me with the hashtag #DearBrokeAss

Dear BrokeAss,

I'm trying to follow the Paleo diet but I keep struggling with lunch options. Sandwiches, burritos and wraps are so easy to make in the morning when I'm rushing out the door, whereas paleo bag lunch options seem daunting. What is an easy-to-make, Paleo lunch option that I can pack for work?

- Jeremy in San Francisco

Dear Jeremy,

I totally relate. The truth is, if you're on any diet that minimizes refined carbohydrates, your grab-and-go options become seriously diminished. Cut out all grains, as on the Paleo diet, and you're looking at even fewer options. But don't worry, there is hope.

One of my favorite low-carb, grain-free substitutes for bread or tortillas is nori seaweed, the kind used to make sushi. It can be found in nearly all grocery stores, usually near the soy sauce.

I fill it with all kinds of things, like cooked fish, leftover grilled chicken or beef, vegetables and avocado. It's especially good rolled around kimchee, beef and avocado. 

You might also consider roasting a whole chicken on Sunday night and taking pieces of it, along with a container of mixed greens to work for healthy, tasty low-carb salads throughout the week. The key here is just a little bit of planning and shopping at the beginning of the week. Get that done, and then you'll be set for a week of easy, healthy, good-tasting lunches. 

                                                      *** 

Dear BrokeAss,

Green smoothies cost like $10 at my local juice shop, so I tried making one at home and it was bitter and super chunky! Eating your smoothie is no fun, and eating a not-good-tasting one is even less cool. What gives? How can I make healthy green smoothies that taste good and are actually smooth?

- Helen in Brooklyn

Dear Helen,

I love green smoothies! Such a delicious way to get lots of healthy greens into your diet, especially if the rest of the day's eating has been less than stellar. But yeah, $10 is pretty steep for a beverage, especially considering you can make it at home for a lot less.

The key to combatting the bitter flavor is to balance out bitter greens like chard or kale with a little bit of sweet fruit. I like blueberries and banana (the latter of which helps yield a creamy smoothie texture as well).

And for a really smooth smoothie, you're going to need to let your blender work hard. I start by combining about 2 cups of roughly chopped kale or chard (leaving the stems on is fine) and 1 cup liquid (I like almond or coconut milks, but juice, water, soy or regular milk will work too) and let it blend for at least 30 seconds. 

Then I add my fruits one at a time, and blend thoroughly to ensure a super creamy consistency. I also taste as I go, and adjust the texture using more liquid as needed. You might also consider getting a cool to-go cup (I like this one, from Aladdin) since smoothies are so great for taking on the run.

                          

                                                       ***  

Dear BrokeAss,

My husband and I are mediocre cooks at best. This wouldn't be a big deal, except for the fact that our two children are extremely picky eaters, and we are losing our minds attempting to get them to eat any vegetables other than mashed potatoes. Any tips for convincing our 4 and 6 year-old kids that there is good food beyond boxed mac and cheese? Family dinners at our house are starting to get ugly.

- Jessica in Minneapolis 


Dear Jessica,

Ugh, how challenging. I'm sorry you're dealing with that! But alas, as you probably know, it's fairly typical for children to be picky and vegetable-averse. Most of them eventually grow out of it.

Meanwhile, it sounds like your problem needs 2 solutions for 2 separate but related issues: one for the immediate (how can you get vegetables into your kids' diet without a fight tonight?) and one for the future (how can you help your kids become people who elect to eat vegetables for the rest of their lives?). 

My first piece of advice is to look at foods they already eat that you might be able to sneak vegetables into. You mentioned they love mac and cheese, so perhaps your plan of attack for dinner tonight should be homemade mac and cheese made with whole wheat pasta and some unsweetened, pureed pumpkin added to the cheese sauce. They'll never know it's there, and pumpkin is a great source of Vitamins A, C and E, as well as fiber.

From there, try making pizza at home with lycopene-rich tomato sauce and veggie toppings.

My second piece of advice is to include them, as much as possible, in your family's food preparation process. Take them to the grocery store and let them pick out a few foods (including vegetables) for you to eat together. Include them in your menu-planning. Let them help you measure, stir and taste as you cook. Often, when they helped make the meal, even the most stubborn of children will willingly try a taste. It may be a slow-going process, but it's a worthwhile one. Good luck!    

Got tips to add? Share 'em in the comments!             

Creamy Sweet Potato Leek Soup

  • Prep Time 15 minutes
  • Cook Time 20 minutes
  • Estimated Cost $5.50
  • 1 Comment

You may recall that I am of the somewhat unpopular opinion that regular, starchy potatoes aren't all that great. It's not even a health thing; I just don't get what the fuss is all about. I mean, sure, if they're covered with cheese and other flavorful stuff I can get into them, but even then, it's in a, "hmm, this potato is a viable vehicle for these other things I'd like to put in my mouth right now," not in an, "OMG, please smother me with buttery potato starch immediately" kind of way. They just don't do very much for me. I'd rather have sweet potatoes any day.

So when I got a bushel of beautiful leeks in my CSA box this week, I knew I wanted to make a creamy leek soup, and I also knew that regular potatoes wouldn't be involved. Enter this bowl of farm-fresh magic.

There is very little to this soup, and yet, thanks to a few simple techniques, it tastes like much more than the sum of its parts.

And speaking of techniques, whenever you work with leeks, it's very important to clean them well. I do this by soaking them in a bowl of cool water for 10 minutes, and then rinsing them several times until they're completely free of grime. 

Next, they get melted down in a generous amount of butter until silky and soft, then cooked with sweet potatoes and water. I really could not be easier.

The resulting soup is ultra-creamy, but not heavy as with traditional potato-leek soup. Since I always have half-and-half on hand (for coffee, and every other time I need a creamy element in a dish), that's what I use here, but if you happen to have milk or heavy cream in your refrigerator, any of the above will work. I've even seen a similar soup prepared with soymilk.

I like to reinforce the oniony flavor of the leeks by garnishing each bowl with thinly sliced scallions or chives, but a shower of chopped fresh parsley or thyme would also be lovely.

As a sidenote, if you don't already own an immersion blender, I implore you to consider buying one. They're relatively cheap, and beyond making pureed soups a snap, they're also great for sauces, smoothies, hummus, mincing garlic, onions, ginger and fresh herbs, whipping cream, and so much more. If you have limited funds and limited space in which to cook, this is an investment you should absolutely make. 

Ingredients

  • 3 medium leeks $1.50
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter $1 for a stick
  • 3 cups peeled, diced garnet yams (don't by white-fleshed sweet potatoes) $1.50
  • salt and pepper to taste Pantry
  • 1/8 cup milk, half-and-half or heavy cream $1.50 for a pint

Recipe Serves 4

Directions

  1. Rinse the leeks and remove any dirty outer layers.
  2. Cut off the ends of the leeks as well as the dark, tough top leaves, and discard.
  3. Slice the leeks into 1/4" rings.
  4. Fill a mixing bowl with water. Add the sliced leeks, and soak for about 10 minutes. This will help loosen any remaining dirt or sand.                                                      
  5. Once the leeks have soaked, drain and rinse them several times until they are completely free of dirt.
  6. Heat the butter in a large soup pot over medium heat.
  7. Add the leeks and reduce heat to medium low.
  8. Stir the leeks to comletely coat them in the melted butter, then let cook, undisturbed for 15 minutes. Make sure they do not brown.
  9. To the pot, add the peeled, diced sweet potato and water to cover.                          
  10. Cover and turn the heat up to high to bring to a boil.
  11. Once the mixture boils, reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 12-13 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are very soft. 
  12. Remove the soup from heat and use an immersion blender, regular blender or a food processor to puree until completely smooth.                                                       
  13. Add the milk, half-and-half or cream and stir to fully incorporate.                                   
  14. Return to the stove and simmer over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soup is very creamy.
  15. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  16. Ladle into bowls and garnish with sliced scallions, if desired.                                   
  17. Serve immediately.

Guacamole Deviled Eggs

  • Prep Time 10 minutes
  • Estimated Cost $5.25
  • 0 Comments

Deviled eggs are kind of having a moment, and for good reason: Not only are eggs inexpensive and highly nutritious, but deviled eggs are gluten-free, paleo and generally vegetarian (sorry, vegans. Here, check out this delicious beet soup). Even better, deviled eggs are super-customizable. Here, I swap out traditional mayonnaise for creamy avocado (which I prefer over mayo on sandwiches anyway), mash it together with my egg yolks and add in classic guacamole flavorings.  

Since these are a riff on guacamole, I mash the filling by hand with a fork, rather than pureeing in a food processor, so as to keep some of those delicious lumps that guacamole is so famous for. If, however, you prefer silky-smooth yolks, feel free to use a blender or food processor.

I love these on their own, as part of an array of appetizers, or atop lightly-dressed greens for a high-protein, low-carbohydrate lunch. Whatever you do, be sure to eat these soon after you make them, since the avocado will start to brown slightly if you wait too long. I don't think it'll be a problem though--I barely got through taking photos of these without devouring them. 

Ingredients

  • 6 eggs, hardboiled $1.50  
  • 1/2 ripe avocado $1.50 for 1
  • 2 green onions, minced $0.50
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro leaves (a very small handful)$1 for a bunch
  • 1/4 jalapeño (seeds intact if you like spicy--discard them if not), finely chopped $0.25
  • juice of 1/4 lime $0.50 for a whole lime
  • salt to taste Pantry
  • red pepper flakes Optional

Recipe Serves 2-3

Directions

  1. Let the eggs cool completely after hard-boiling them.
  2. Slice each egg lengthwise and gently pop out the yolks. place the yolks in a bowl and arrange the eggs on a serving platter.
  3. In a mixing bowl, combine the egg yolks, avocado, green onions, cilantro, jalapeño, lime juice, and salt. Use the back of a fork to smash well. (It's OK to leave a few lumps: you want the mixture to be creamy, but not perfectly smooth).
  4. Use a spoon to heap the guacamole mixture into the egg whites. 
  5. Top with a thin slices of lime, jalapeño, and/or red pepper flakes, if desired.

Marinated Goat Cheese and a Young & Hungry Preview

  • Prep Time 5 minutes
  • Estimated Cost $4.50
  • 0 Comments

I live for food TV. Ted Allen on Chopped is reason enough to spring for cable (or, um, to sweetly ask to "borrow" your parents' Comcast log-in). You can keep your Angelina Jolies and Brad Pitts--the celebrities who make my heart skip are the Alex GuarnaschellisTom Colicchios, and Michael Voltaggios of the world. 

That said, I do think that cooking shows can sometimes have the unintended effect of making good food feel unattainable, impractical and expensive to the amateur cook. After all, the food you see on television is always beautiful (thanks to a small army of on-set food stylists), and often prepared with high-tech, pricey equipment by trained professionals. It's easy to watch Bobby Flay pour foie gras-infused custard into the Iron Chef America industrial ice cream machine and think to yourself, "Yeah...no." 

But guys, it doesn't have to be that way. Don't worry: I'm in no way advocating that we all buy industrial ice cream machines (though, if you can swing it, this at-home one is awesome). Rather, I think we need to change the way we look at food and cooking. Truthfully, if you like to eat, chances are good that you already possess the skills necessary for cooking food that you enjoy--but you have to get out of your own way first. 

Instead of attempting long, complicated recipes with hard-to-find, expensive ingredients, start with simple, satisfying dishes. Taste your food as you cook. Don't fear salt and fat--they're what gives food flavor. Always opt for fresh vegetables over frozen or canned. It's much cheaper to learn a few basic techniques than it is to buy a fancy piece of kitchen machinery that you might only use once. 

To help build your confidence, start with this wildly easy cheese preparation: marinated goat cheese. It literally could not be easier. It's just stuff you probably already have on hand (and if you don't, it's common, affordable stuff that you can find at any grocery store), sealed in a jar and left in the fridge. 

Just let it marinate for at least 3 days (and up to a week), and serve with slices of crusty bread, crackers, sliced vegetables, or over a salad. It couldn't be easier, and it's a great object lesson on the joys of simple food. The flavored oil left in the jar also makes a wonderful base for a salad dressing.

And since we're on the subject of food TV, I wanted to share the newest trailer for my forthcoming sitcom, Young & Hungry on ABC Family, premiering Wednesday, June 25th at 8 PM. The show follows Gabi Diamond, a "feisty young food blogger" and her adventures in and out of the kitchen. Here's a full description. And you know what goes great with fabulous food TV? Marinated goat cheese on toast.

Ingredients

  • 6 oz. goat cheese (chèvre) $3.50
  • 3-4 small sprigs of fresh rosemary, chervil or thyme $1 for a bunch
  • a few grinds of black pepper or a few whole peppercorns Pantry
  • extra virgin olive oil Pantry 

Recipe Serves 3-4

Directions

  1. Run a sharp knife under cold running water, just to wet it. 
  2. Use the knife to slice the log of cheese into medallions about 1/2" thick.                        
  3. Layer the cheese medallions into a small glass jar.                                               
  4. Tuck the sprigs of herbs into the jar, in between the cheese medallions. 
  5. Sprinkle the pepper or peppercorns on top of the cheese.
  6. Pour in extra virgin olive oil to cover.                                                                
  7. Seal the jar tightly and refrigerate for at least 3 days, and up to a week.                  
  8. Serve with bread, vegetables, or on a salad. 

Candy Cane Beets with Yogurt and Pistachio-Mint Pesto

  • Prep Time 10 minutes
  • Cook Time 25 minutes
  • Estimated Cost $8
  • 0 Comments

Early on in my relationship with Evan, our friend Ellie commented that Evan and I were perfect for each other because I cook, and he is invariably the loudest, most enthusiastic eater at the table. She was right--his moans and groans and fluttery eyelids last throughout most meals, no matter how seemingly simple the food. The guy simply loves to eat.

The first time I saw him eat sushi, we were on a double date with a friend of mine and her new boyfriend, and I was slightly embarrassed (every piece of every maki roll got plenty of verbal and nonverbal attention), but mostly, I was enamored--and felt damn lucky: Somehow I had managed to find the greatest guy in the world, and he REALLY loves food. Obviously, this was meant to be.

Of course, not every dish warrants a standing ovation. He's honest about when something needs a little salt (or has too much of it--sometimes I have a heavy hand in that department). And by the same token, some dishes go above and beyond his regular (very optimistic) expectations. This dish, I'm happy to tell you is one of them.

I first made this a few weeks ago after a long Sunday of socializing and catching up with work. Our brains and nerves were fried, so we decided that a relaxing evening of dinner and an episode of Orange is the New Black were in order. I wanted our meal to be easy to make and fun to eat. I also didn't want to go to the grocery store, so, I worked with what we had. And what we had was beets, yogurt, pistachios and mint.

The result was Middle Eastern meets Sonoma wine picnic, and it was just what we needed. Tender-crisp, sweet beets, dragged through creamy Greek yogurt and a pistachio-mint pesto that tastes like much more than the sum of its parts. This would soon become a regular addition to our meal rotation. I was proud to have created something that illicited so much praise from Evan, but the truth is that the beets were just so sweet, the yogurt so creamy and the mint-pistachio combination so perfect, that the only thing I really deserved credit for was bringing them all together. 

As usual, we had a ball of pizza dough in the fridge, which I rolled and cooked into naan-like flatbreads, and served alongside to scoop up this platter of goodness. Quinoa, tabbouleh or brown rice would also be a good addition.

I like to serve this as the center of a meal, but it also makes a lovely appetizer, especially with chilled white wine or Prosecco. 

Ingredients

  • 3 large or 4 medium candy cane beets (red or golden beets will also work), tops removed and saved for another use $3
  • cup fresh mint leaves (about 1 small bunch) $1
  • 1/3 cup toasted, shelled pistachios (buy in the bulk section), plus a few for garnish $2.50
  • clove garlic, peeled Pantry
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste Pantry
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil Pantry
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice (from about 1/4 lemon) $0.50 for a whole lemon
  • 2/3 cup Greek yogurt (preferably full fat) $2 for 8 oz.
  • freshly ground black pepper Pantry

Recipe Serves 2-3

Directions

  1. Cook the beets in boiling water for 20-25 minutes, until tender.
  2. Under cold running water, slip the skins off the beets and discard.
  3. Slice the beets into 1/4" rounds. Set aside.
  4. In a blender or food processor, combine the mint, pistachios, garlic, salt, olive oil and lemon juice. Pulse until a thick paste forms, and stir in the salt.
  5. Spoon the yogurt into the center of a large dinner plate.
  6. Arrange the beets around the yogurt mound.
  7. Drizzle the pesto around the outside of the beets.
  8. Garnish with pepper and a scattering of pistachios.
  9. Serve immediately.