The Discount Chef

The Discount Chef
Save, cook and eat well!

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!