The Discount Chef

The Discount Chef
Save, cook and eat well!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

In honor of hard work - crock pot jambalaya

Living in a converted barn really leaves a lot of room for improvement. There is always something that can been updated, fixed or remodeled. Always.

Unfortunately, my husband and I don't exactly have the motivation to bust all of the projects out in a timely manner. Both of us have been struck by a terrible case of project ADHD, easily distracted by more exciting endeavors, for him beach volleyball usually and for me cooking or baking. On rare occasions we get crazy and start working on the barn again. This time around we were lucky enough to get a helping hand from a good friend who is the ideal project cheerleader and hard, intelligent worker. Let the fire pit and paver project begin.

It's busy days like this that scream for an easy crock pot recipe. Jambalaya is an easy to make, delicious and hearty meal, a perfect way to full empty hungry bellies after working outside all day.

Jambalaya is a Louisiana Creole dish consisting of essentially, meat, veggies, rice, seasonings and stock. For this jambalaya, I used some key Creole ingredients including the holy trinity of celery, peppers and onions, andouille sausage, rice, tomatoes, shrimp and chicken. And the best part is that it takes about 10 minutes to throw it all together at the beginning of the day and ready by dinner time with no fuss. Love it! Oh and did I mention that your house will smell fabulous?!

Crock Pot Jambalaya
Serves 4 generous portions

Adapted from Robin Miller, Food Network

1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
8 ounces andouille sausages, diced
1 28-ounce can tomatoes
1 medium to large onion diced
1 red pepper, 1 yellow pepper seeded and chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 jalapeno, diced
6 gloves of garlic, smashed and chopped
1 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
2 teaspoons oregano
2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning
Several shakes of hot sauce
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lb. peeled and deveined shrimp (here's a video on how to devein shrimp)
2 cups brown rice, cooked

In a crock pot, combine chicken, sausage, tomatoes, onions, garlic, peppers, celery and chicken broth. Stir in hot sauce, spices and seasonings, cover and cook on low for eight hours. At the eight hour mark, stir in the shrimp and cook until pink and cooked through, about five minutes. Discard bay leaves and ladle mixture over cooked rice. Enjoy!

Sorry, no finished product picture, we were too hungry and the jambalaya smelled way too good to stop for a photo session!

Friday, October 22, 2010


When I was a kid I went on a school field trip to a marshmallow factory. My memory is a little fuzzy but I do remember we drove a long way in a big yellow bus and we got to eat fresh marshmallows in many colors. Who knew marshmallows came in that many pretty pastel colors? At five, I sure didn't. The fluffy fabulousness that came from that factory had me on cloud nine and started a life long marshmallow obsession.

A few tools are essential to marshmallow making including a candy thermometer and stand mixer. I have needed a reason to get a candy thermometer for a while now. What have I been thinking parading around the kitchen without one for so long? Thank you marshmallows for again exposing me to cool stuff.

Marshmallow making seemed like it should be such a complicated endeavor. Maybe because my only experience in making them involved an industrial factory. Fortunately, it's not scary or difficult at all. In fact, it's quite easy. So easy I wondered why I don't make them all of the time. The fresh marshmallows are heads and shoulders above the store-bought variety. Try it out, you'll be hooked too.


1 cup confectioners sugar
3 1/2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
2 cups granulated sugar (plus extra for optional dusting)
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup hot water (about 115 F)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla (click here to see my favorite vanilla)

Oil bottom and sides of a 13x9x2 inch rectangular baking pan and dust bottom and sides with some confectioners sugar.

Preping the dish.

In a bowl of a standing electric mixer or in a large mixing bowl sprinkle gelatin over cold water and let stand to soften.

In a large, heavy saucepan with a candy thermometer attached, cook granulated sugar, corn syrup, hot water and salt over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to moderate and boil mixture without stirring until the candy thermometer hits 240 F, about 12 minutes. Remove pan from heat and pour sugar mixture over gelatin mixture, stirring until gelatin is dissolved.

With standing or a hand-held mixer, beat mixture on high speed until white and thick and nearly three times in volume, about six minutes. The mixture will start looking like marshmallow fluff.


In a large bowl using clean beaters (I used my hand held) beat egg whites until they just hold stiff peaks. Beat whites and vanilla into sugar mix until just combined. Don't over mix here. Pour mix into baking pan and sift 1/4 confectioners sugar evenly over top. Chill marshmallows uncovered until firm at least three hours and up to one day. For me, the marshmallows were plenty firm at the three hour mark.

Egg whites and vanilla mixture

Take a butter knife to the sides of the baking pan to loosen the marshmallows, they should easily come out of the pan. Slice with a knife or cookie cutter into the desired size and shape. For extra sparkle the marshmallows can be rolled in granulated sugar. For fun, I put a few on a candy sticks to make marshmallow pops.

Ready for the fridge

Let your imagination run wild and have fun! I'm thinking some orange pumpkin marshmallows are in order next.

Marshmallows, pillowy, dreamy goodness!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I'm baaacckkk! Gringo-style crock pot pozole

It's been way too long. For those of you wondering what rock I was hiding under it's called "10 year high school reunion." Oy vey, just hurts thinking about it doesn't it? Now that it's over and went better than I thought, (never mind those extremely low expectations I had) it is about darn time I get back into the swing of things. The recipes are stacking up next to me so look for more to come real soon.

Here in San Diego fall is in the air. Shocking to hear there is a season other than perfect here, right? It's been raining here (okay misting too) for a few days now. The gloominess really put me in a soup mood. This week pork butt roast was on sale at Stater Bros. for $1.29 per pound making dreams of pork pozole dance through my head.

Pozole is a Mexican soup, which comes in many forms - this is a recipe for red pozole. Essentially, pozole is a soup consisting of hominy, a meat, chili peppers and seasonings. Learn more about the history of pozole here - kinda interesting. Hominy, one of the main ingredients in pozole is corn minus the germ and hull. Here in the U.S. you can find hominy hiding amongst the canned veggies. It's a pretty cheap item, I paid $.99 for a 30 ounce can. My favorite part about pozole are the garnishes, cilantro, radishes, cabbage and lime. Yum!

In researching how to make red pozole, almost every recipe looked a little different. One person even said that it's impossible to mess up a pozole. Things like that only stress me out more, I mean, what if I mess up? I'd never be able to show my face at Sur La Table again. To make things even more stressful, I decided to try it out in the crock pot. Leaving all of those ingredients with no cook-supervision all day, who knows what could happen. The onions could have easily got into a fight with the hominy and I wouldn't know it until I got home.

Paranoia aside, the dish turned out great. Here's what I did:

Gringo-Style Crock Pot Pork Pozole
Serves 4 generous entree sized portions

2 lbs. pork butt cut into 1-inch cubes
6 cups homemade chicken stock (you can use canned, I'll let you.)
1 small can diced green chilies
12.5 ounces of enchilada sauce (this is where the gringo comes into play)
1 diced onion
1 teaspoon New Mexican chili powder
1 teaspoon pasilla chili powder
6-8 cloves garlic smashed and chopped
1 tablespoon Mexican oregano (yes it's different from other oregano)
1 teaspoon cumin
30 ounce can of hominy

1/2 head of shredded cabbage
1 sliced avocado
2 limes quartered
1/2 bunch chopped cilantro
4-5 sliced radishes

Plate of garnishes - pre avocado. My husband doesn't like radishes, those are all mine!


In a crock pot combine all ingredients and mix together so they get to know each other better. I promise, the onions and hominy won't get into a fight, they're friends. Cook on low in crock pot for 8 hours. Skim the top of the soup to remove some of the fat and prepare garnishes. Ladle into bowls and top with garnishes. If your crock pot is anything like mine, the soup will be really, really hot so be careful and then dig in! The soup works great as an entree, no starter soup here!

The finished product. A bowl full of yum.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Roasted Chicken

Tonight I cut my finger. I thought I could have all of the dishes done before it was time to eat. The food processor was broken down into several pieces, my chef’s knife laid out next to the items with beads of water still dripping off. The kitchen towel was underneath doing it’s best to keep up but failing miserably. The bamboo cutting board, still dripping sat in waiting, carefully balanced over the sink.
I started to wipe down the counter to make space for the cutting board and that’s when it happened. My finger caught the edge of the brand large food processor blade. It’s quite sharp. I could feel the blade opening my skin and inviting the blood to rush out. Usually when you cut yourself on something sharp you don’t notice it right that second. For whatever reason tonight it happened in slow-mo and I noticed every part of it.
It was especially a bummer because Rees is sick today. I was making this dinner to encourage him to feel better. Suddenly I was bleeding all over the place, which was of course the same time the oven timer was annoyingly beeping at me. Frustration!
I have lovely visions of me being Suzy Homemaker, wearing pearls 24/7, a fluffy skirt and heels and pulling beautifully cooked birds and roasts out of the oven. All awhile, the dishes are already done and sparkling and the house is cleaner than a hospital. Oh and, there is a photographer in my tiny kitchen taking gorgeous photos of my food throughout the entire cooking process. And he uploads them for me too. (Not sure why he’s a he but I can say that he definitely doesn’t talk or throw in any unnecessary feedback.)

In reality I wear stained sweats with Crocs (the Balarina Crocs of course!), I live and cook in what used to be a horse barn and my kitchen is extremely tiny. Like really tiny. Somehow I manage to cook in that same small space every night - quite well if I do say so myself. And my husband is one happy man, pearls and perfect chicken or not. I may be shooting for an unattainable goal but I have no plans on stopping, it gives me something to work towards.

Tonight my chicken turned out perfectly, even if it took two rounds of having sick Rees pull it out so I could stick the thermometer in to check the temperature. And no one cared that I microwaved Trader Joe’s three minute rice because in the process of focusing on the dishes and slicing open my finger, I forgot to make rice or any other side dish to accompany our lonely chicken. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect, not all the time at least. The best compliment I could have received was Rees looking for more. Despite being sick, he still wanted seconds.

This recipe is a take on a chimichurri sauce. This happened by accident so I really can’t say it’s a chimichurri recipe but it does have a lot of the same elements.

Roasted Chicken

5 lb. whole chicken (insides removed)

8 garlic cloves

half an onion, quartered

several sprigs of fresh thyme, oregano and rosemary

2/3 of one bunch of flat leaf parsley

lemon zest from one small lemon

a few clugs of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)

a pinch of red pepper flakes

a splash of red wine vinegar

20 cherry tomatoes, halved

20 baby carrots

2 tbl. butter

salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 F

Prep the chicken. Remove the insides. (Warning! This will require you to stick your hand into the cavity of the chicken.) Place the gutted chicken into a baking dish and pat it dry with a paper towel. With your fingers, separate the skin from the meat, leaving the skin still attached.

In a food processor combine the garlic, onion, parsley, thyme, oregano, rosemary, lemon zest, EVOO, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and red wine vinegar and crank it on. After about 45 seconds stop the processor and take a look at the mixture. It should look like a bright green runny paste and not be too watery or oily. Taste it to make sure you like it. This is important. It’s always important.

Rub the chicken with the green paste and tuck some in between the skin and meat. Season with salt and pepper. Add the carrots and tomatoes to the baking dish, scattering them around the chicken. Dot the chicken with butter. Bake for 1 hour, 20 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165 F. Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes before carving. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Roasted Tomatoes

Seriously? Three pounds of Roma tomatoes for $1? If you know me, you know my love for tomatoes. This is my time of year. Last Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Henry's Market ran a great sale on you guessed it, TOMATOES! I loaded up on few pounds with big plans to make a ton of things when I returned from my weekend getaway. The excitement continued this evening when I back to Henry's post sale and discovered that through Wednesday, the tomatoes are two pounds for a $1. Not too shabby.
I was shorter on time than I anticipated so I went with roasting all of my tomato bounty. I figure I can use them maybe for a marinara sauce, on a panini, as a pizza topping, on a toasted baguette with cheese, in a salad and many more ways...

Here's what I did:

5 - 6 pounds of Roma tomatoes

A few clugs of extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

a few pinches of rosemary, thyme and oregano

7 garlic cloves minced (optional)

Preheat oven to 225 F. Slice the tomatoes long ways in half. Arrange on a lipped pan with the tomato guts facing up. Cover the tomatoes with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper and the herbs. Roast for 4 hours. Let the tomatoes cool. From here you can refrigerate them for up to two weeks or freeze them for up to four months.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

50% off at Vons in Encinitas!

Discount chef alert! Vons on Santa Fe Drive in Encinitas is closing for a remodel and marked the entire store to 50% off. Everything, seriously! As I type I'm waiting in a 75-person deep line with two carts. If you're planning on getting in on this discount bonanza, you'd better hurry!

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

"Middle of summer, it's still chilly at night here" sausage and lentil stew

Something is clearly wrong with the gravitational pull or something here in San Diego. We haven't seen many sunny days while other parts of the country are blindingly sunny and blisteringly hot. Our nights have been on the chilly side, I still have flannel sheets on my bed for pete's sake! To keep us warm and use up some knockwurst we had in the freezer, I made a batch of sausage and lentil stew. The ingredients for this dish are pretty inexpensive. Lentils are cheap when buying in bulk - $.99 lb. to be exact and this week bunches of spinach are on sale at Henry's Market. The recipe also includes staples such as celery, carrots and onions. The recipe is based on Tom Fundaro's Lentil and Garlic Sausage Soup recipe from Food and Wine Magazine, 2005, with a few tweaks from me...

Sausage and lentil stew

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1/2 pound knockwurst, cut into 1/2 cubes

2 to 3 slices of thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2 cubes

2 large carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 large onion, coarsely chopped

1 medium fennel bulb, cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 bay leaf

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 cup French green lentils (rinsed and picked over)

1 quarts chicken broth

2 cups veggie broth (if you want you can do 6 cups of chicken broth total instead of including a veggie broth)

1 quart water

1 teaspoon chopped rosemary

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1lb. fresh spinach ( I always add extra veggies. If you're not a big fan of that idea, add a little at a time. Remember that spinach wilts and will greatly reduce in size.)

4 ounces Comte cheese (or any nutty but mild, alpine style cheese, shredded. Chef Fundaro suggested Manchego, which would also be great.)


Heat the 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the bacon and cook over moderately low heat until it starts to brown, about 7 minutes. Add the carrots, garlic, onion, fennel and bay leaf and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the wine and boil over moderately high heat until the pan is almost dry, about 5 minutes. Stir in the lentils, broth and water and bring to a boil. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Discard the bay leaf. Add the knockwurst and stir in the chopped spinach and rosemary.

Sausage and lentil stew right after adding the spinach

Turn your broiler on to high heat if the option is available. Ladle stew into oven/broiler safe bowls and top with cheese. Arrange bowls on a cookie sheet and place under the broiler to melt the cheese, about 2 minutes. Serve on plates with toasted baguettes. Even my uber-carnivore husband loved the soup. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

World Peace Cookies - all you need is one, okay maybe three or four

I made these cookies for a small BBQ and they were a big hit. That morning I didn't feel like going out to fetch any ingredients so I figured out what I could make based off what I already had. These cookies are super delicious and easy to make. So easy that I might make some dough and keep it in the freezer in case we have unexpected guests or receive impromptu invitations.

World Peace Cookies

Baking: From My Home to Yours, Dorie Greenspan

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, I used a combo of one Vosges Bacon Bar 41% cacao and two 72% cacao chocolate bars (because that's what I had on hand!)

Makes about 36 cookies.

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more.
Turn off the mixer. Pour in the flour, drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to protect yourself and your kitchen from flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time. Take a peek — if there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of times more; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough — for the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don’t be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.
Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking — just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.) (P.P.S. I was short on time and threw the dough in the freezer for 90 minutes and then baked it and the cookies still turned out great.)
Preparing for baking: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Working with a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you’re cutting them — don’t worry - just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them.
Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won’t look done and they won't be firm, but that’s just the way they should be. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.
Then eat them up!

Portobello Mushroom Panini

This past week at Henry's Market, a two-pack of portobello mushrooms were on sale for $2.50 each. Not Earth-shattering prices but I thought it would be fun to play around with some good 'shrooms. For whatever reason, all I could think about were portobello paninis. I threw in some other veggies for extra interest and on my husband's, added sliced leftover New York steak. (Why do some men think they need meat at every meal? Oy vey!) The red peppers were $.50 each and the zucchini was pretty darn cheap too, if I remember correctly, $1 per lb. Bags of Spinach were buy one get one free at Vons.

I added a few extra steps to the sandwich making process. It took a while but I thought it was worth it. You can take the short cuts if you would like, I won't judge.

Here's how it all went down in the kitchen:

Sandwich Ingredients:
2 ciabatta rolls, sliced open sandwich style
2 portobello mushrooms, marinaded 
1 zucchini, sliced thin length wise, marinaded
1 handful of fresh spinach
1 red pepper or canned roasted red pepper
1.5 to 2 ounces of soft spreadable cheese per sandwich - I used Fromager D'Affinois for Rees and Cypress Grove Chevre Log for mine
Mayonnaise to taste (optional)

Veggie marinade:
2/3 cup Extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup Balsamic vinegar
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 sprigs fresh thyme
salt and pepper

Extra special equipment:
Panini press - you can also use a heavy pan or even a foil wrapped brick to get a similar effect.

Turn on your broiler to high heat if you have the option.

Prepare the marinade first. In a freezer size zip lock bag, combine evoo, balsamic vinegar, minced garlic, thyme and salt and pepper. Seal it up and give it a good shake. Add the portobellos and sliced zucchini, seal it up again and give it another good shake. Let marinate in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

The roasted red peppers are up next. If you have the already roasted peppers, skip this step. If not, arrange your peppers on a baking sheet and slather with evoo and season with some salt and pepper. Place the peppers directly under the broiler and keep an eye on them. This part can go kinda fast. You're looking for the peppers to get a char on the outside. That means they're going to be a little black on the outside. That's a good thing. Rotate the peppers so that all sides get the beautiful char love. Once complete, take them out and place the peppers on a plate or in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. The steam will help the thick outer skin to separate from the meaty pepper part. See, I wasn't going to make you eat burnt pepper after all. The separation process can take any where from 10 to 15 minutes. Once ready, remove the plastic wrap and peel off the skin. Watch out, the pepper will still probably be quite hot. Remove the top and the seeds and slice the roasted peppers length-wise. Set aside until it's sandwich arranging time.

Start preheating your panini press if necessary. My press needs a good 10 minutes to get properly fired up. I used it to grill my marinaded veggies before making the sandwiches.

With the grill/panini knob turned on and the temperature on medium, I grilled the portobellos and zucchinis until they had nice grill marks on both sides.

Next up, slice your ciabatta rolls or baguette in half. Spread with your creamy cheese of choice (Your cheese will spread better if you let it sit out for a little bit so it can come to room temperature. It also tastes more flavorful that way.) Add your grilled veggies next, then your spinach and roasted red pepper. Spread some mayo on the bread side that is naked and press down. This is important. You want to make sure that your ingredients aren't going to slide off the sandwich once you get it to the panini press. Once you feel good about your sandwich, brush some olive oil on the top and bottom and put it on the press.

For whatever reason I like to hold down my press although I realized this was totally unnecessary. I guess it made me feel like I was full-contact cooking, which is fun. All together, the sandwiches were on the press for about 7 minutes.

Slice the sandwiches in half and enjoy! I served our paninis with potato chips and a salad. Yum, yum, yum!

A little something for lunch

Where I work, there are only refridgerators, nothing else. That means what I bring for lunch must be okay cold or room temperature. Sounds limiting but somehow I find a way. Today, I packed a nice mix of bulgar wheat, sauteed eggplant, pistachios, basil and goat cheese. Everything is really simple and the beauty of it is you can add whatever combo of veggies, herbs or cheese you would like. Be creative!

Henry's Market had decent sized eggplants on sale for $.99 each, I used half of one for dinner last night and while I still had the pan out, I sauteed the other half for today's lunch. Bulgar wheat is a wonderfully nutty grain that I buy in bulk when it's on sale. It's a great staple. Right now at Trader Joe's you can buy a ginormous basil plant for $2.99, it's the gift that keeps giving all summer long. To mean, basil tastes like summer. Mmmm!

1 cup bulgar wheat
1/2 of an eggplant (approx. 1/2 lb.) cubed into 1-inch sections
1 to 2 garlic cloves minced
A splash of olive oil
a handful of pistachios
7 medium sized basil leaves, chiffonaded
2 to 3 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled (I used Cypress Grove's chevre log)

Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a small pot. Add the bulgar wheat and season with salt. Bring to a boil and cook for five minutes. Remove from heat and fluff bulgar with a fork. Let stand, covered for 10 minutes or until bulgar is tender. Let cool. (It doesn't have to be totally cooled, we have things to do!)

Meanwhile, in a sauce pan, saute the eggplant and garlic in a splash of olive oil. You're going to have to eye-ball the eggplant to see if more oil is necessary. If it's looking a little dried out, give it quick splash. Remember you can always add more but you're stuck if you add too much. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the sauteed eggplant, goat cheese, pistachios and basil to the cooked bulgar wheat. Mix it all up so the flavors get to know each other better and check for seasoning. You'll probably need to add salt and pepper to taste.

Pack it up and go!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Birthday Cupcakes - Banana cupcakes with peanut butter frosting topped with candied bacon

Dear Food Network, Cupcake Wars has nothing on me. That's right, I say bring it on, because I'm convinced that my birthday cupcakes would demolish the battle and kill the war.
Most normal people would be stoked on birthday cakes and normally I'm one of those people. For whatever reason this cupcake came to me. Banana cupcakes with peanut butter frosting topped with candied bacon.
I love banana cake so much it was awarded two layers on my wedding cake and it was awesome. Peanut butter is a spread that I can put on almost anything, burgers included. (Thank you Rees for that revelation.) And candied bacon - HELLO! It plays perfectly on the sweet and savory and adds an great crunch. Plus it's just become a fun thing to add bacon to the most random things.
Here's how I did it:

Banana cake:

Peanut butter frosting:

Candied bacon:

8 oz. bacon - (I usually use thick cut applewood smoked bacon from Trader Joe's. There's 12 oz. in the package. I made the entire package and used the leftovers for salad.)
handfuls of brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cover a jelly roll pan (cookie sheet with sides) with parchment paper and arrange sliced bacon so that it touches. Generously cover with brown sugar. Flip bacon and cover the other side. Bake for 22 minutes or until crispy and gooey.

The parchment paper here is key. The bacon will be so oozy-gooey you'll be thankful you'll be able throw the paper away instead of scrub. Make sure you use parchment paper over wax paper because wax paper has a layer of huh, how about that, wax - while parchment paper has a layer of silicone that won't intermingle with your candied bacon goodness.

Let the bacon cool on the pan for about five minutes then remove and place on a wire cooling rack. When cool dice the bacon and set aside until ready to use. (Note, don't put your candied bacon on a paper towel lined plate like you would for bacon straight up. I did that the first time around and was peeling paper towel pieces off the bacon. Not fun.)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Lay

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Dad's Salsa AKA The Salsa I Judge All Salsas Against

The other day someone told me there are two types of people in the world - pro-cilantro and no cilantro. Apparently, it's an internal thing inside of us that either can't get enough of the green stuff or can't stand it. I'm of the can't-get-enough of it variety. It's one of my favorite flavors of all time.

My Dad is a pretty good cook, the man really knows his way around the kitchen. As a kid, I used to spend the weekend at his house and it seemed almost every weekend we ended up making salsa. It was fun to help and after making it over and over, I got pretty good at it.

This is hands down my favorite salsa recipe of all time. I crave it. It's always one of the first things I make when tomato season comes around. Nothing beats a grilled chicken breast seasoned with only salt and pepper loaded sky-high with Dad's salsa and maybe a side of avocado. (Because avocado is good with everything.)

Here's what you'll need:
P.S. All measurements are approximate, I usually eyeball it and taste until I can't stop tasting.

5-6 tomatoes - I love tomatoes on the vine for this recipe but many other varieties work well
1 bunch of cilantro, stems removed
1 white onion, rough sliced
1 jalapeno - I like mine really spicy, if you don't add a little bit for flavor
3 limes, juiced
Salt, to taste

In a food processor (fp), add the cilantro and onion and crank it on. When finely diced, scrape the goodness into a medium sized bowl. Next, add 4 tomatoes to the fp and crank it on again. Add the diced tomatoes to the bowl. Roughly hand-dice the remaining tomatoes and add them to the bowl. (I like the salsa to be a little chunky, if you don't skip this step and instead add all of the tomatoes to the fp.) Add the jalapeno to the fp and add it to the bowl at your discretion. Since every jalapeno varies a little in potency, add a little bit at a time, tasting as you to to make sure it's not going to freak out your mouth. If you make the salsa too hot it's not easy to turn back. Add the juice of the 3 limes, season with salt and stir.

The salsa is best if the flavors have time to get to know each other. Let sit for 30 minutes up to one day before serving.


Where's my motivation?

I haven't really been cooking lately and I'm not sure what I've been eating instead. Last week I took a spontaneous trip home to Las Vegas in the middle of the week so the most cooking I did was pouring milk into a bowl of cereal.

Since coming back to beautiful San Diego, I've been trying to get my groove back to no avail. My gourmand extraordinaire mother-in-law tried to assure me that everyone who cook goes through ups and downs like this.

But I don't want to! Boo-hoo!

This week, I plan to get back on the horse - And call up the poor soldiers that were sent to the freezer during my slump.

In perusing the weekly circulars for Henry's Market and Stater Bros. here's what I'm planning on making with what's on sale:

Cabbage slaw  - Stater Bros. $.59 per head
Spinach Pie - Stater Bros. Fresh Express spinach $2.50 per bag (no washing and spinning necessary!)
Mediterranean green beans - Henry's Market $.98 per lb.
Quinoa salad - Henry's hot house cucumbers $.98 each, grape tomatoes $.98 each, broccoli $.98 per lb.
Watermelon salad  & Watermelon margaritas or martinis (haven't totally decided) - Stater Bros. $.19 per lb.
Banana cupcakes with peanut butter frosting and candied bacon ('cause it's my birthday!) - Stater Bros. Applewood smoked bacon $2.99 per lb.
Boozcicles (also in celebration of my birthday) - Henry's Market raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and blackberries two for $3

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I heart onions

San Diego has a dark secret. It's called May Gray. That's right; it's actually not insanely perfect here every second of the day. I know, shocking. Right now, we're dead-smack in the middle of it. The worst part is that it looks like it's going to rain but never really does.

The gray always puts me in a comfort food-type mood. So with a basket of extra onions from my lack of cooking last week I decided to make some French onion soup. Not just any French onion soup mind you. That just wouldn't be fun. Thomas Keller's Soup A L’Oignon. Sounds fancy huh?

The recipe appears in his Bouchon cookbook. It's time-consuming, so make sure you can spend all day or at least five hours at home. (Seriously) But hey it's pretty darn cheap to make and that’s what I’m all about!

Thomas Keller's Soupe A L'Oignon adapted from Bouchon with minor changes from the Discount Chef


  • 2 bay leaves
  • 12 black peppercorns
  • 6 large sprigs of thyme


  • 8 pounds (about 8 large) yellow onions (You'll need about 1 1/2 cups of caramelized onions for the soup. The leftover onions can be used in other recipes)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons all purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 quarts beef stock
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Sherry wine vinegar or white wine/champagne vinegar


  • 1 baguette (Sliced 1/2 an inch thick)
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil or butter
  • Kosher salt

To Finish:

  • 1/2 lb. aged Gruyere cheese, grated (Gruyere can be a little strong, Emmentaler and Comte would also work.)

Caramelize the onions - Cut the tops and bottoms of the onions and then slice in half lengthwise. Discard the peel and tough layers. Cut a "v" wedge in each half to remove the core and pull out any solid, flat pieces from the core. Slice the onion along the lines of the onions - with the grain. This will help to soften the onion. It's important that the slices are uniform. Keep, going, there's a lot of tears to be shed here.

Melt the butter and oil in a large, heavy stockpot over medium heat. Add the onions, 1 tablespoon of salt and reduce the heat to low. Cook, stirring every 15 minutes. Keep an eye on the heat, it may need to be regulated to keep the mixture at a gentle bubble for about an hour. During this time the onions will be wilting and releasing a lot of liquid. Keep in mind slow cooking is the key in developing the maximum flavor.

Continue to cook the onions, stirring every 15 minutes. Scrape the bottom and sides of the pot to release more deliciousness. At this point, you only have four more hours of onion-caramelizing to go. Yeah for you!

By the way, I thought it would be a good idea to warn you the onions will start looking like a funky, brown paste. That is what you’re shooting for and it’s a beautiful thing.

You can cook the onions up to two days ahead and keep the batch refrigerated.

Prepare the sachet – Cut a 7-inch piece of cheesecloth. Place the bay leaves, peppercorns and fresh thyme in the center. Bring together the edges and tie with kitchen twine.

Transfer 1 1/2 cups of caramelized onions to a 5 quart pot. (If they've been refrigerated, reheat until hot.) Stir in the flour and cook over medium-high heat, stirring for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the beef stock and sachet, bring to a simmer and simmer for about 1 hour, or until the liquid has reduced. Season to taste with salt and pepper and add a few drops of vinegar. Remove from heat.

Prep the croutons - Preheat the broiler, cut slices of baguette and smear with butter and sprinkle with salt. Place the slices on a baking sheet and toast until browned and crisp.

Finish the soup - Ladle the soup in a flameproof bowl (the bowl should say if it's oven-friendly on the bottom) to the edge. Top the soup with two croutons (depending on bowl size) and sprinkle the shredded Gruyere cheese on top. Don't press the crouton/ cheese topping into the soup; you want it to float on the top. Place the bowls under the broiler for a few minutes until the cheese is bubbling and browned.

To make the transfer of the broiled soup bowls a little easier, I place the bowls on foil-lined baking sheet. And remember to be extra careful because the bowls and soup will be insanely hot!

Enjoy, and keep your chin up. June gloom is next!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


My little sister Eva and I had the amazing fortune of having our Granny as our baby sitter. Every morning my Mom would drive 15 minutes to pick up Granny from her house on Hassett and bring her back to our house to take care of us while my Mom taught school. Granny was an amazing woman. From a farm in the Midwest, my Grandmother's mom was a tough, German gal with spunk and a strong work ethic. She also had a knack for cooking. I used to love making tuna salad sandwiches and playing Barbies with her. (Granny was always Ken - she never argued that with me and she always made him a perfect gentleman.) Granny's cole slaw, split pea soup, scrambled eggs and cheesecake are still considered by me and the rest of my family to be the gold standard examples of those dishes. Some of my fondest and most proud childhood memories are of me trying to impress the best cook on the planet - Granny. One day after school, I found out Granny had never had an artichoke before, so I decided to make her one. I was probably seven. I boiled the water, trimmed the sharp points and steamed the chokes for what seemed like for-ev-er. Kid time is triple adult time after all. The finished artichoke was served with a pad of melted butter and an extra plate for the discarded leaves. Granny got the full artichoke-eating tutorial and I anxiously waited for her reaction as she slid the leaf between her dentures. She loved it! Yeah, victory! She loved it! She really loved it! (Relieved happy dance!) That one afternoon sparked something inside of me, a passion for cooking and eating. Realizing the power and the love that could be conveyed through cooking was magical. I had the ability to make delicious food and share new things with the people I love and look up to. Granny and I ate until we got to the best part of the 'choke - the heart. We cut away at the furry part and picked out the yummy bites. It was one of my favorite days ever. In this blog, I hope to share my experiences, stories, inspiration and most of all good food. All of course while helping you save some money along the way. Thank you for stopping by, I hope you enjoy yourself. I look forward to hearing from you! Love Becka Simple Steamed Artichokes 2 artichokes 4 sprigs of fresh thyme 1 sprig of fresh rosemary 3 cloves of garlic, smashed 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil salt and pepper to taste 4 to 6 cups of water, depending on size of the artichokes Melted butter for dipping Directions: Put the thyme,rosemary,garlic, water and olive oil in a large pot and bring to a simmer. Mean while, wash and trim the artichokes. Use a large chef's knife to trim the stem, cut off the top of the choke and trim off any stems near the base. Use kitchen shears to trim the thorny tops of the leaves. This way you can avoid any boo-boos later. Place the chokes in the simmering water mixture, stem side down, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. You'll know the chokes are done when the leaves are tender and easy pull off. Share and enjoy!