BrokeAss Gourmet

BrokeAss Gourmet

I have always loved vegetables. As a child, I happily wolfed down salads, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, carrots and just about everything else my mother put in front of me. Unlike my little brother who could really have done without the baby carrots my parents tucked into his lunchbox, I was a veggie lover from the start 

These days, I'm happy to report that my brother eats most veggies with gusto. But it's not uncommon to encounter adults who claim to simply dislike most or all vegetables. Sure, they might occasionally reach for a cheese-covered or deep-fried appetizer that started out as a vegetable. Do onion rings count? they ask. But vegetables for the sake of vegetables? A resounding NO.

I'm going to go out on a limb (note the plant-based expression) and suggest that perhaps the people who claim to dislike vegetables are talking about limp, boiled-until-mushy vegetables. You know the ones. The previously frozen, margarine-glazed, often microwaved vegetables that were seemingly on every table in the 1980's. Convenience vegetables that served to round out a meat and starch. Sure, hate those. I hate them too. They're gross.

But if that's all you think vegetables are capable of, you are in for a treat. With a little good olive oil, some basic flavoring agents (we're talking garlic, onions, chili flakes, salt, pepper, lemon, etc.) and some very simple techniques, you can transform your Farmer's market haul into a deeply flavorful, addictively good dish, that is so much more than a side dish. Here's how.

Start with the good stuff. Cooking vegetables well starts with the freshest possible veggies (for help navigating the produce section, I like this handy guide from Wisebread). 

Don't fear fat. Really, don't. Obviously it's important to show some restraint, but a little bit of fat (especially a heart-healthy one like olive oil) not only makes vegetables much more palatable, it also helps our bodies absorb their nutrients.

But, getting back to how good it makes veggies taste: you haven't lived until you have had broccolini tossed liberally in olive oil and roasted at a high heat with lemon, chile flakes, and salt. The florets crisp and each stalk takes on a lovely, gently caramelized taste. The olive oil seems to coax every single flavor molecule out, and it inevitably ends up being your favorite thing on the plate.

Another great fat to work with is brown butter. Simply cook a few pats of butter (I usually use unsalted butter so I can control the saltiness of the final dish) in a pan just until it begins to brown then remove from heat and toss with roasted or sautéed veggies.

Don't forget salt. Perhaps the most common mistake made by novice cooks is not using enough salt. Salt is a conduit for flavor. Whatever you add it to tastes more like what it is, because salt emphasizes its innate taste. Take a pinch of salt (don't use a shaker--salting with your hands gives you much more control) from high above food to make sure it distributes evenly. And don't forget to taste as you go. Nobody knows your taste buds like you do, and, even if you don't think so, you know how much salt is too much. My general rule is that food is salted enough when it's nearly too salty, but not quite.

Cook at a high heat. Most vegetables taste better with a little bit of color. A hot, heavy-bottomed pan (like a cast iron pan) over high heat, or an oven turned up to 425 degrees Fahrenheit will yield a fabulously tendercrisp product with gorgeous caramelized edges. 

Flavor it up. I love adding chopped garlic, freshly ground black pepper, chili flakes, and lemon to just about every vegetable I cook. But thinly sliced fresh chilies, fresh rosemary or thyme, chopped shallots or onions, or citrus zest also make for wonderful add-ins. Check out what's in your fridge or pantry and add accordingly.

Toppings aren't just for ice cream. I always top my cooked vegetables with some sort of extra flavor element. Whether it's a whisper of grated Parmesan, chopped fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro, basil, or mint, toasted bread crumbs or chopped toasted nuts, cooked veggies deserve a little extra love just before serving. 

How do you like your veggies? Let me know in the comments! 

 

A little careful planning and a discerning eye can help you stock your kitchen with healthful real food without giving you cause to declare bankruptcy. 

I'll admit it: I love Whole Foods. The stores are clean and pleasant to shop in, the salespeople are knowledgeable and helpful, the produce is beautiful and always fresh, and the meat and seafood departments are impeccable. Yes, Whole Foods is notorious for being expensive (California stores got into big trouble for overcharging recently), but I have found that with a little bit of planning and insight, it is indeed possible to complete a Whole Foods shop without bankrupting yourself. Read on for my tips and tricks for getting out of Whole Paycheck with most of yours still in the bank. 

Shop on the outside aisles. The outside aisles contain the bulk section, the produce section, the meat and seafood counters, and the dairy and egg refrigerator cases. These are the best things to shop for at Whole Foods. Not only do they tend to be the healthiest items in the store, but Whole Foods also has a great selection in (and often very good sales on) these departments. The prepared, processed, and packaged foods tend to be where the highest-ticket items are. If you want affordable cookies, crackers, bread, and shampoo, head to Trader Joe's. They're not worth buying at Whole Foods.

At the meat and seafood departments, go with the cheapest items: Whole Foods has very high standards for all their products, so even their least expensive cuts of meat and seafood are very high quality. Opt for chicken thighs and drumsticks over breasts, and sirloin, flank, and skirt steaks over ribeye. Get the sole over the wild salmon. And while you're in the meat and seafood department...

Ask the butchers and fishmongers to help you out. In addition to being knowledgeable about the products they sell, the people behind the meat and seafood counters are the ones who clean, de-bone, skin, filet, grind, and trim the proteins they sell. As such, don't be shy about asking them to do some of the prep work for you. If whole fish are on sale, buy them (they're much cheaper per pound than skinned, pre-cut fish filets or steaks), and have the fish monger clean, skin, and filet them for you, free of charge.  

Buy in-season produce for the best prices. There’s a simple reason why a locally grown tomato in July costs less than a flown-in-from-Chile tomato in January: airfare. When we buy fruits and vegetables grown near where we live (which is only possible when they’re in season), they cost less because the produce doesn’t have to travel as far. Whole Foods generally has most of their produce available year-round (often flown in), but they also work with many local farms to bring in the best of the best when it's in season. Though my preference is to buy as much produce as possible at my local farmer's market, the on-sale, seasonal stuff available at Whole Foods is also very good.

Learn to love the bulk section. Some of the best deals at Whole Foods can be found in the bins of the bulk section. When you buy in bulk, you are paying only for the food itself, not packaging, so the pricing is significantly lower than pre-packaged goods. It's great for when you need a lot of something, but it's also wonderful for when you need only a little (why buy a twenty-four-ounce package of walnuts when you only need a quarter cup of them for a recipe?). It’s worth the annoying twelve-seconds it takes to wrap a twist-tie around a plastic bag and write the product code on it. Invest in a pack of cheap jumbo-size mason jars to store things like flour, sugar, rice, beans, pasta, oats, nuts, and dried fruit from the bulk section. Keeping them in an airtight container like a mason jar will keep them fresh for longer.

Shop like a European. I know this isn't possible for everyone. When you have a nine-to-five job and children and errands, it can be hard to regularly practice the classic European way of shopping, which is to keep a pantry stocked with basic non-perishables, and then augment a few times a week with small quantities of fresh items: a piece of meat or fish, here, some cheese and eggs there, and whichever fruits and vegetables are gorgeous and seasonal. It means more frequent stops at the store, but when you can, this is one of the most cost-effective ways to shop. Since it requires you to grocery shop on an as-needed basis (as opposed to the more traditional American style of filling a cart with enough food for two weeks), you are far more likely to actually use all of what you buy (how many times has the lettuce you optimistically bought a week ago been left to turn to mush in your crisper because you never got around to eating it?). Nothing is sadder than a compost bin full of never-used produce gone bad.

Remember, these principles can be applied to other supermarkets and health food stores too. Whole Foods is obviously the most ubiquitious whole food grocer in the United States, but, if you're lucky, there are other good options available where you live as well. Remember: just because a store is generally expensive doesn't mean it has to be off-limits. A little careful planning and a discerning eye can help you stock your kitchen with healthful real food without giving you cause to declare bankruptcy. And whatever you do, don't forget your reusable bags

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Grilled Strawberry Shortcake

  • Prep Time 10 minutes
  • Cook Time 5 minutes
  • Estimated Cost $9.50
  • 1 Comment

We should all grant ourselves freedom from complicated, involved cooking on this day and instead focus on enjoying the fun with our friends and family as much as possible. 

There are times when spending hours slaving in a kitchen is really worth it. Thanksgiving, Rosh Hashanah, a special romantic meal. But not on the Fourth of July. This is, of course, not to say that the Fourth of July doesn't deserve wonderful food--that's not the case at all. But it's a holiday celebrating freedom, and as such, I think we should all grant ourselves freedom from complicated, involved cooking on this day and instead focus on enjoying the fun with our friends and family as much as possible. 

With this in mind, I bring you what I believe is my cleverest, easiest summer dessert yet: grilled strawberry shortcake. It's really, really simple. All you need is cubed, storebought pound cake, though I suppose if you are more ambitious than I, you could make it yourself (if you don't eat gluten or are paleo, try this coconut flour version), plus fresh strawberries and bamboo or metal skewers. 

After being assembled, the skewers get grilled very briefly, just long enough to char the berries and crisp the cake. Then I top the finished product with a dollop of whipped cream (whipped coconut milk is also delicious and dairy-free/paleo and makes a good substitute for traditional whipped cream. Sprigs of fresh mint are lovely but totally optional.

Hey, you're grilling anyway. Why not throw your dessert on the grill too, while you're at it?

Ingredients

  • 1 10.75 oz. pound cake (I used one from Sara Lee) $4 
  • 30 fresh strawberries, cleaned and stems removed $4 
  • whipped cream, for serving $1.50 for a pint of heavy whipping cream
  • about 10 skewers (bamboo or metal)

Recipe Serves 6-8

Directions

  1. Use a sharp knife to cut the pound cake into 1-inch cubes.                                         
  2. Slide the pound cake and strawberries onto the skewers as pictured.                          
  3. Grill on a lightly oiled grill pan or over a gas or charcoal grill, over medium-high heat, just until the strawberries char and the cake gets slightly crisp.                               
  4. Serve immediately with whipped cream                                                                                            

 

Roasted Jalapeño Guacamole

  • Prep Time 15 minutes
  • Estimated Cost $5.25
  • 0 Comments

If you've been following along on Twitter and Facebook, you know I've been having a crazy Hollywood adventure the past few months.

Well, the show premiered and I'm still here. Back in my sweet city of San Francisco, in my tiny-but-perfectly-mine kitchen, thrilled to be cooking with the glorious bounty of summer produce that San Francisco's farmers markets have to offer right now. My kitchen table is currently overlfowing with ripe nectarines, heirloom tomatoes, Meyer lemons, apricots and white peaches. Every meal offers an opportunity to celebrate summer. Though I must say I surprised myself by developing a great fondness for Los Angeles, I am still quite happy to be home. 

Plus, I missed my writing coach.

And so, life goes on. The TV show is off and running (check it out Wednesdays at 8/7 Central on ABC Family!), and, save for a few trips back to LA for publicity, I am now returning to my regular life of cooking, writing and editing. 

But first, 4th of July weekend is upon us! Evan and I will spend the 4th in my hometown of Santa Rosa watching my dad's band play at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds (did I mention my father plays keyboard in a honky tonk band made up entirely of legal professionals, called Court 'n' Disaster? IS THAT NOT THE MOST AWESOME THING YOU HAVE EVER HEARD?). Whatever you have planned for this weekend, I implore you to include this guacamole.

Here, I kick my guac up one step further by fire-roasting the jalapeño, rather adding it in fresh. By holding the chile over a flame (or sticking it under a broiler), I'm able to impart a sweet, smoky flavor into the jalapeño, that adds a wonderful depth of flavor to fresh guacamole.

I don't typically add tomatoes to my guacamole, but if you wanted to, it would surely be delicious.

Finally, while canned green chiles aren't the same, they'll still do quite nicely if you prefer to skip the roasting step. 

Happy 4th of July! What are your plans for the holiday weekend?

Ingredients

  • 1 green jalapeño $0.25
  • 2 large or 3 medium-sized ripe avocados, pitted and peeled $3
  • 1 clove garlic, minced Pantry
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion (about 1/8 medium red onion) $0.50 for a whole onion
  • 1 handful fresh cilantro, finely chopped $1 for a bunch
  • juice of 1 lime $0.50 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt Pantry

Recipe Serves 4

Directions

  1. Use a metal skewer or tongs to hold the jalapeño over a gas stove flame, rotating until blackened (if you use a wooden skewer, make sure to soak it in water first so it doesn't catch fire). This can also be accomplished by putting the jalapeño under the broiler for a few minutes, then rotating to blacken it evenly.
  2. Rinse the jalapeño under cool running water and gently peel off the blackened part to reveal the soft flesh underneath.
  3. Slice off the stem and cut the jalapeño in half lengthwise. If you are sensitive to chile heat or are serving the guacamole to kids, carefully remove the seeds and discard. 
  4. Chop the chile finely and transfer to a mixing bowl.
  5. To the bowl, add the avocado, and mash roughly with the back of a fork. Don't go crazy though--the guacamole should be a little bit chunky.
  6. Stir in the garlic, onion, cilantro, and lime juice. Stir gently to combine.
  7. Add the salt and stir to incorporate.
  8. Serve immediately, or refrigerate, sprinkled with lemon or lime juice and covered, for up to 3 hours. 

Spiced Plantain Tacos

  • Prep Time 10 minutes
  • Cook Time 6 minutes
  • Estimated Cost $9
  • 0 Comments

Summer food should feature bright, bold flavors, capitalizing on the incredible bounty of produce available this time of year. 

Summer food should not be over-thought.

It should be light, so as not to weigh you down in the heat. It should feature bright, bold flavors, capitalizing on the incredible bounty of produce available this time of year. It should be portable and picnic-friendly. And, most importantly, it should come together quickly, so that you have more time to spend enjoying it with the people you love.

This recipe fulfills all of the above. Ripe plantains get coated with an addictive yet utterly simple spice mixture of Ancho chile powder, ground cumin, salt and pepper (which, by the way, is also the contents of those stupid packets of taco meat seasoning, so go ahead and stop buying those and make your own for a lot less money instead).

When buying plantains, it's important to look for ones that look like a nearly-rotten banana. Pure yellow or green plantains will be too hard to work with. Using very ripe plantains will ensure that they are sweet enough to counterbalance the smoky spices and onion. That said, do keep an eye on them while they cook. It's fine for them to be soft, but you don't want them to turn to mush in the pan.

These are great on their own, but if you want to round them out into a fuller meal, add black beans and perhaps a crunchy slaw.

 

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon Ancho chile powder $1.50 for 1 oz.
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin $1.50 for 1 oz.
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt Pantry
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper Pantry
  • 2 ripe plantains, peeled and sliced on the bias, into 1/2-inch thick pieces $1.50
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil Pantry
  • 8 6-inch corn tortillas $2 for 12
  • 1/4 red onion, chopped finely $0.50 for a whole onion
  • 1 avocado, diced $1.50
  • 1 handful fresh cilantro leaves $1 for a bunch
  • sliced jalapeño Optional

Recipe Serves 3-4

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, combine the spices, salt and pepper. Mix well.
  2. Arrange the sliced plantains on a plate or cutting board and sprinkle half of the spice mixture over them, making sure each one gets lightly coated on one side.
  3. Heat the oil in a large nonstick pan or griddle over medium-high heat.
  4. Cook the plantains (working in batches or using 2 pans, if necessary), spiced-side-down for 2-3 minutes, until a brown crust develops. While the plantains cook, sprinkle the remaining half of the spice mixture on the tops of the plantains.
  5. Flip plantains, and cook on the other side for 2-3 minutes, until a brown crust develops.
  6. Once the plantains have cooked, turn the heat off, and leave the plantains in the pan.
  7. Toast the tortillas by either toasting them directly over a gas burner for 30 seconds to a minute, or in a dry frying pan. You want the edges to crisp up slightly, and the tortillas to be flexible.
  8. To assemble the tacos, divide the cooked plantains between the tortillas, and top with onion, avocado, cilantro, and jalapeño, if using.
  9. Serve immediately.