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Pithy and Cleaver » budget

Archived entries for budget

Healthy Comfort Food: Baked Zucchini Sticks

Sometimes, I have the energy to prepare a whole meal on a weeknight, even when I’m on my own for dinner. Sometimes I even plan ahead for lunch the next day.

And other times I can barely lift a finger to dial Grand Sichuan for an order of Gui Zhou chicken. To be delivered. One block. (Cough.) Well, one and a half blocks, really.

Resisting the delivery urge, I decided to treat myself to a somewhat silly supper the other night. I was craving something salty, and simple, and comforting. I’d seen the recipe for these parmesan-crusted zucchini sticks on Closet Cooking awhile back (he adapted it from For the Love of Cooking) and couldn’t get the idea out of my mind.

As you may know by now, I have a thing for zucchini. A thing my otherwise-quite-wonderful partner does not share. I like zucchini in frittatas. I like it with spaghetti. He would just as soon zucchini not exist.

So, with no one around—but you, I guess—to judge my faux-junk-food/forbidden-vegetable meal, I dipped quartered baby zucchini in an egg wash, and crusted them up with panko (with a bit of herbs and garlic for a little savory punch), popped them in the oven, and served myself up a giant plateful, alongside a bowl of marinara for dipping. 

Add in the cable finally working again (new episodes of Gossip Girl! and Project Runway!) and I had myself a much-needed relaxing evening. Here’s wishing you the same.

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Such stuff as dreams are made of: Stuffed baked peppers

In my world, there are certain flavors that just belong together. Mint and chocolate. Peanut butter and chocolate. Basil and garlic. Sage and onion.

The last one evokes something particularly visceral in me; I think it is related to the fact that sage and onion are major players in my favorite food of all time, Pepperidge Farm’s bread stuffing (yes, I know, prefab, processed blasphemy. But it was an important part of my childhood!). As far as comfort food goes, for me it’s the absolute tops. However, as woman cannot live by bread alone (even delicious, herbed, buttery bread), I have to find ways to introduce the flavor combination into different dishes so as to avoid my inevitable butter-induced coronary just a little bit longer. One of my favorite ways to do this is to use it in stuffed peppers.

peppers

I made my first stuffed peppers when I was still in college and had no idea what I was doing. The filling was some sort of terrifying, flavorless TVP monstrosity, and the peppers themselves were incinerated at the top and still raw at the bottom. Which was, you know. Fine (in that they weren’t poisonous), but they were certainly a confusing state of textural affairs. No, actually, let’s be brutally honest here: the great pepper fail of 1999 was so extreme that I didn’t end up trying them again until, oh, last year, whereupon I stumbled across The Smitten’s adventures in peppers, and her absolutely genius, genius tip that revolutionized my life: pre-bake the peppers. Not long, just enough to soften them up a bit, but not so much that they lose all structural integrity. It was just the stroke of genius my poor peppers needed.

stuffing

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More Zukes! Light Zucchini Frittata with Basil and Mint

One of the greatest things about summer, to me, is avoiding the grocery store. Except for a few staples—we go through Cheerios like you wouldn’t believe—everything we eat in the summer can be purchased at the farmer’s market. There’s fabulous (though sometimes pricey) meat, all the vegetables we could desire, vivid-yolked eggs, and even homemade pastas and freshly-milled grains. It’s funny that my life in New York City brings me to a farmer’s market at least four days a week—I’m not sure I could hope for that if we moved somewhere quieter.

This light vegetarian supper was pretty locally sourced, if you’ll forgive me a splash of olive oil, a few spoonfuls of yogurt, and some quite necessary pinches of salt and pepper. The zucchinis were just too cute to avoid, even though I’d eaten my fill of them last week. The eggs were from a farm upstate, and had quite sturdy yolks—all the better for separating them. I probably could have bought the yogurt at the farmer’s market too, if I’d thought of it ahead of time. But this budget meal was assembled from what was already at home—extra vegetables from a stir fry, eggs I bought awhile back. The sweet zucchini is even brighter with a little of our balcony-grown basil and mint. A few fresh peas would have been great, as well.

My standard frittata is heavier on the yolks and usually includes some cheese. Feel free to riff, of course—a spoonful of soft goat cheese would be nice, as would a pile of shredded gruyere or asiago. But I’m experimenting with lighter meals and found this quite fresh and satisfying. The Greek yogurt adds a bit more substance (and is a good source of calcium and protein), though you must be certain to salt adequately, since it doesn’t have the salinity that cheese would add.

It feels right to lighten up our meals a bit in the summer, focusing on super-fresh produce and quick preparations. (I am also suffering, I must admit, from fear of a Certain White Dress and really, really hoping I can get it to fit in a few weeks time. 32 days. Not that I’m counting.) But if that means farmer’s market shopping from here on out, that’s ok with me.

How are all of you taking advantage of the season? Does anyone have a favorite light summer recipe to recommend?

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Pantry Panzanella: A Fresh Meal for All Seasons

When I first moved to New York, my roommate Emily and I calculated that we had ten to twelve dollars a day to spend on food. She stocked up on towers of canned tuna. (Her mercury levels may have been a little high that year.) I experimented with stir-fry, and we frequented the five-for-a-dollar dumpling places in Chinatown and the “half price” sushi across the street. (Eww.)

This classic Italian bread salad recipe would have served us well back then.

I’ve made panzanella twice in the last few weeks. It’s filling and tasty and uses up whatever you have around and whatever is well priced and in season at the farmer’s market: as many vegetables as you can afford, basil that’s about to wilt in a vase on your table, a dried-out piece of a baguette left over from a dinner party, and a can of beans for protein. A ton of garlic punches up the flavor of the croutons and the beans, and half an anchovy deepens the earthiness of the dressing.

I served this one with a (pricey) hunk of creamy burrata, but any fresh mozzarella is nice (I bet soft goat cheese would be too!), and a shaving of parmesan is adequate if that’s what you’ve got.

If you don’t have walnut oil, feel free to use good olive oil instead, though I like the nuttiness that the former brings to the dish. I plan on keeping a little bottle in my fridge so I can make this salad more often: with green beans, kirby cucumbers, and asparagus, with the first fava beans I can find, then, (yay!) with kernels of sweet corn and really good tomatoes. In the fall, you could make one with mushrooms and endive or lightly blanched kale…it’s a dish that encourages improvisation.

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Moroccan Chickpea Stew: Reliving a Memory

A few years back, we were at a group dinner celebrating the end of the semester when I asked our friend Adrian about his summer plans.

“I’ll be home in England for a bit,” he said, “and then we’re going to the south of France!” He began regaling me with stories from the previous year’s trip. I told him that Matt had a conference coming up in Europe and we were scheming a vacation there together, but hadn’t decided on a specific destination. “You should join us!” he nearly shouted, inviting us then and there to stay with his family and a crew of his university friends in Mediterranean paradise. When I said I’d never won a contest or sweepstakes, I may not have been entirely honest. Scoring that invitation was like winning the lottery.

gigaro, france

We spent mornings wading in sparkling water and attempting to paint the scenery, then enjoyed leisurely lunches topped off with slices of plum tarts from the nearby farmstand. One friend played Spanish guitar while the others philosophized and occasionally threw each other into the pool. Evenings, we took turns cooking decadent meals that started with pastis and local saucisson, anchoide and tapenade that we picked up at the outdoor market. Adrian grilled spicy merguez over charcoal, and we made huge platters of couscous piled with vegetable stew to pass around the long outdoor table. We drank rosé from the vineyard down the road, and devoured cheeses which melted as we cut them. I cannot imagine a better week.

When I heard that one of the boys from the trip was visiting New York, I schemed a dinner party that might remind us a little of those late summer outdoor meals in France. I put Adrian and Ed in charge of cheese, and delegated dessert to another guest, making my responsibilities pretty stress-free.

We started with a sweet and savory olive-fig tapenade recommended by Kari from Anticiplate. (Here’s the recipe.) Topped with creamy Humbolt Fog goat cheese, it made the perfect accompaniment to a flute of sparkling wine.

Since they’re Adrian’s favorite, I fried up some merguez in my heavy cast-iron pans (it was too rainy to grill). But I think the star of the show was the Moroccan braised vegetable dish I made to serve with couscous. Smoky with cinnamon and harissa, sweetened with fresh apricots, carrots, and tomatoes, this easy stew was deeply satisfying, inexpensive, and perfect for making ahead of a weeknight dinner party. It definitely improved with a day’s rest, as many braised dishes do: the flavors deepened and blended overnight. You could add butternut squash, zucchini, cauliflower, or whatever vegetables you have on hand. Just make sure they are cooked through before you chill the stew.

It may look like I’m asking you to add a million spices to this dish, but believe me, it’s worth it. The original recipe is simple and perfectly nice, but the added spices make the sauce haunting and deeply flavored. If you happen to have Ras el Hanout on hand, you could substitute it, but most of these spices should be in your pantry already, so there’s no need to hunt down a premixed blend. (If you’re looking to use up some Ras el Hanout, check out this recipe from Shiv for spicy glazed carrots!)

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