27 September 2012

Frugal French Friday: French Toast

As we close the book on September, I'm reminded of the year we were lucky enough to spend more than two weeks in France, watching summer turn into fall in the Midi Pyrenees and in Paris.

Our previous trips to France had been in the spring. A few years previous, we had spent a week at a lovely little house in the vineyards, where the air was perfumed with the scent of lilac and juniper and filled with the song of cuckoo and rooster.

We wanted to return, this time in a different season. And so we did, and it was like coming home. The little house, which bears the patina of age so gracefully - it is nearly 300 years old - and still smells of must and lavender, seemed to welcome us back.

Nights were long and clear and cold and each night before bed I would open the north-facing window before sleep so that I could listen to the silence. We woke to the proud cacophony of roosters and the sweet murmur of doves and the aroma of the rich African coffee my husband likes to sample when we are in France.

There is too much frugality in me not to find a use for day-old bread, and so every morning, I made some new version of French toast. Honey and walnuts, creme fraiche and cherries, orange and pecan, and blueberry are my favorites. In Paris once, I found a bottle of cassis syrup in our hostess's cupboard. That was an excellent addition.

To make basic French toast for two, you will need:

  • 2-3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup cream or 2 percent milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • dash sea salt
  • splash of Calvados or Cognac
  • 6-8 slices of day-old baguette
  • 1-2 Tablespoons butter

Blend eggs, cream, vanilla, sugar, salt and Calvados in a wide bowl or baking dish. Soak the dry bread slices until thoroughly drenched. Add more cream if necessary.

Melt butter in a frying pan or skillet under medium heat. Using a large spatula, carefully removed the soaked bread and brown both sides in the pan, turning frequently. Serve with more butter, nuts, fruit and maple syrup.

Cost: I have made this for breakfast in France for under $1.75 for two servings. The cost is comparable here. This is truly a frugal breakfast, and it's a great way to use leftover bread, as well as eggs close to their "use by" date.

21 September 2012

Frugal French Friday: Croque-Monsieur

If you want to a truly inexpensive and quick French meal, serve Croque-Monsieur.

Serve this simple ham and cheese tartine with a green salad and a bottle of simple rose table wine. Gussy it up a little. Make sure the presentation is special. Call it by its French name. Don't call it a grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich.

Your guests will be impressed.

They serve this in Paris. They do. I've ordered it, and I've ordered its mate, Croque-Madame, which has an egg on top.

The first time was a cafe near Gare d'Austerlitz. The waiter was appropriately snooty and snarky, right out of a movie.

"He thinks you're a hick because you ordered Croque-Monsier," speculated my husband.

"It's on the menu, " I countered. "If it's gauche to order it, why is it on the menu?"

I suspected it was on the menu so Parisian waiters would have a reason to be arrogant with American diners.

But I ordered it again, this time on Boulevard St. Michel. And the waiter was, well if not warm and welcoming, not snarky.

So there.

I made a Croque-Monsieur last night. I ate it with a simple fresh vegetable salad with green and red peppers.  I've been eating some version of this traditional French bistro meal all my life.

Croque-Monsieur means "crunch mister" and it's been around since about 1910, according to this article.  Add a tomato and it's a Croque-Provencal. I do that a lot. In fact, that's one of my standard breakfast dishes and it has been for most of my life.

Cost: I bought a small baguette for $1.19. I used about half. The rest of the ingredients totaled about 75 cents, so the entire tartine cost me only $1.35 per serving. 

Wine Pairing:  More often than not, I have ordered a rosé from Provence with this dish. But I've also paired ham dishes with Beaujolais, and I think that's a good choice, too.

19 September 2012

Stuffing Big Red

This pepper was nearly the size of a football.

For an entire weekend, this red pepper of rather behemoth proportions lurked in my crisper.

In deference to my Wisconsin education, I dubbed him Big Red, even though his origins are just over the Michigan border, about 25 miles from Wisconsin in the gardens of Immerfrost Farm.

Big and proud, I figured he was a Badger at heart: Like me, born and raised in Michigan but residing in Wisconsin.

Big Red demanded the royal treatment. I thought I should stuff him with something very exotic. I toyed with a lot of ideas.

But since it is still Clean Out the Fridge Month, I wanted to use food I had on hand. Here's what I ended up with:

Vegetable Stuffed "Big Red" Pepper with Cheddar Cheese and Walnuts
  • 1 very large red pepper (or three medium peppers)
  • dash sea salt
  • 2 cups wild-and-brown rice blend, cooked and seasoned
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 small sweet onion, diced
  • 2 large carrots, sliced and chopped
  • 2/3 cup green beans, sliced
  • 1/3 cup peas, cooked
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
Cut the pepper in half, remove seeds, and season the interior with sea salt. If it is a normal-sized pepper, just clean it out, discarding seeds. Arrange in a shallow, greased baking dish.

Sauté the onion and green pepper in olive oil until lightly browned. Place the rice mix in a bowl, and add the onion and pepper. Next, blanch the carrot and green beans. Plunge into cold water before chopping; add this to the rice and vegetable mix, along with the peas. Add the walnuts for crunch, and about a 1/2 cup of cheese.

Stuff this mixture into the peppers. You will have about a third of the mix left over for another use, such as a side dish.

Bake in a preheated, 400-degree oven for about 40 minutes. Top with remaining half of grated cheese. That's all - really simple.

The pepper was sweet, tender and true - that is, it tasted like a fresh pepper.  Never mind that it was larger than a small squash. The walnuts add crunch, while the cheese adds tang.

Most of the ingredients were local, in fact, most came from Immerfrost Farm. The cheddar cheese was from a Wisconsin source, Laack Brothers. Only the rice, olive oil, peas, sea salt and walnuts were purchased at the super market.

Go Bucky!

15 September 2012

Size Matters

My community has three different farm markets and I love them all.

The vendors are friendly and welcoming. They often set aside produce they know I will like: Potatoes that look like people and carrots in provocative positions.

The growers from Immerfrost Farm saved this monster red pepper for me. To show you how big it is, I photographed it with two smaller pepper. It's about twice the size of a red pepper you might find at the supermarket. You can actually see this pepper's skin strain.

Oh, baby. If you've been following this blog for very long, you know red peppers are probably my favorite vegetable. I believe they enhance just about everything short of apple pie.

This specimen is huge. I'm probably going to stuff it, because to cut it into stripes or squares would be a culinary travesty.

Size matters, honey. And this pepper had the audacity to grow to near-behemoth proportions. He's the size of a small squash. He deserves the best.

I'm pondering a strategy for giving this pepper  an appropriately fancy demise. As always, your suggestions are welcome.

14 September 2012

Frugal French Friday: Tomato-Onion Tart with Gruyere Cheese

Tomatoes from the super market are a poor substitute for tomatoes from the farm market. But I have some and I must use them up. This post, from 2012 has inspired me: 

Today's recipe for Onion-Tomato Tarte with Gruyere was easy to make after work, taking only about 40 minutes prep time and about an hour in the oven; mine took only 45 minutes.

The tomatoes came from a variety of local sources, including my own back yard, and the onions were from Immerfrost Farm. The herbs came from my own garden. The cheese was in my cheese compartment and was part of my ongoing Clean Out the Fridge Month effort.

I cheated and used store-bought puff pastry.

I used two types of tomatoes, one large robust-looking burgundy heirloom tomato, and about a dozen cherry tomatoes. I used plain black olives, leftovers from another meal. I also tossed in about two tablespoons of chopped thyme, and added a dash of herbes de Provence before popping it in the oven.

To keep the bottom crust from getting soggy, I let the tomato slices dry for about 30 minutes on paper towels before using layering them in the tart.

The tart was delicious: Juicy and tangy with a slight herb-y undertaste, and not soggy when reheated. I paired it with a green salad and whatever leftover I had on hand, including my Sautéed Turkish Orange Eggplant.

Cost: This meal was pricier than most of my frugal efforts. The total came to about $15, but the recipe gave me five generous servings for a cost of $3 each.

Wine Pairing: A Sauvingon Blanc is recommended; I think I'd go with a simple white table wine. These wines may get a bad rap from wine snobs, but they are often very versatile.

10 September 2012

Sautéed Turkish Orange Eggplant with Parmesan Cheese & Black Olives

I don't mind telling you I'm a little stressed these days. I have 13 or 14 working days left, and a lot to do. Meanwhile, there is no word on whether or not they've hired a replacement.

Adding to my stress were these adorable little Turkish Orange Eggplants lurking about in my crisper. They are the most heavenly little creatures I have ever seen, the color of persimmons. But they are best eaten when still green and mine were no longer green. So I knew they would be bitter.

No big deal. I can fix that.

And I did, with some success. This was, after all, a first time thing.

If you can find these eggplant at your local farm market, try this and see what you think.

Meanwhile, here's what you need to make my Sautéed Turkish Orange Eggplant with Parmesan Cheese & Black Olives:

  • 3-4 Turkish eggplants, the size of tennis balls, sliced horizontally, about 1/3-inch thick
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed or diced
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup Italian bread crumbs
  • 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup black olives, sliced
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated or shaved

Crush the garlic and set aside, After slicing the eggplant, coat the slices in egg, then bread crumbs. Set aside. Pour olive oil into a large pan, add the garlic.When the garlic begins to brown, add the coated eggplant and sauté over medium heat, turning frequently. It only takes 3 minutes or so for the eggplant to become tender. Add salt as needed; the eggplant will be slightly bitter.

Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve with black olives. Roasted pine nuts would be a nice addition; so would lightly sautéed tomato slices. I think some fresh basil would add interest, too. I'm not sure why I did not think of that, although as I said earlier, I'm a bit stressed these days.

The dish itself is delicious, but for all their beauty, these little eggplant have a bitter aftertaste. That would not keep me from serving this as a side dish with pasta and Italian sausage as the entrée.

Because this type of eggplant does not retain moisture the way its purple cousin does, you do not need to salt it first and set aside. But I'm guessing this step might decrease the bitterness.

08 September 2012

Turkish Orange Eggplant

Look at my latest farm-market discovery: Turkish Orange Eggplant from Cindy at Coldwater Handmade Confections (produce as well as delicious muffins and candy).

Yes, although it looks like a tomato, perhaps a miniature version of these tomatoes, but it is an eggplant.

Not elongated and purple, but small and round.

My research reveals these babies taste best before they turn totally orange. So I've got a limited window of opportunity here.

What would you do with them?

Here's one idea.  And a few more.

07 September 2012

Frugal French Friday: Asparagus-Leek Soup

September is Clean Out the Fridge Month at our house. Now that retirement is so close we can taste it, a thorough cleaning of the refrigerator is also in the offing.

(What does impending retirement taste like? Sweet, slightly intoxicating. Like generous quantities of my favorite Riesling.)

Becoming more frugal is essential. I may be retiring, but I'm still young enough that I won't be receiving Social Security checks. With that in mind, I've made sure to save scraps from every meal I've made this summer. I see a long season of soups and casseroles ahead.

Since that's the kind of food I crave as soon as temperatures drop, I'm looking forward to a delicious fall.

I froze the leftover leeks from this tart, and I had some asparagus frozen earlier in the season. It didn't take much work to find this recipe, which I cut in half.

As you can see, I served the soup with shaved Parmesan cheese. I have some rosemary crackers that provided the perfect accompaniment, along with some apple slices.

The leeks were locally grown (Immerfrost Farm), but everything else was store bought.

Cost: The only ingredient I had to buy was sour cream, which brought my total cost to $6. I don't serve large bowls of soup, so I got six servings from this recipe for a total of only $1 per serving.

Wine Pairing: A French Chablis or an American chardonnay is the recommended pairing.

06 September 2012

Apple-Oatmeal Crisp

Although my school days are long behind me, I still love coming home after a day of work to find something sweet waiting for me, especially as cool weather sets in.

It's a ritual that makes me feel good. My mother almost always had some after-school sweet snack ready for us: Brownies, chocolate-chip cookies, cinnamon coffee cake or cupcakes. She liked a late-afternoon cup of coffee with hers; we kids shared the trials and tribulations of our school day over a glass of cold milk.

So last night, with skeins of Canada geese honking overhead, I made my traditional first apple crisp of the season.

Here is my recipe. Apparently in 2006, I could not wait for fall!

What is your favorite fall dessert?

02 September 2012

Tomatoes Stuffed with Brown Rice and Cheese

We've had a glorious weekend so far, all sunshine and blue sky and warm breezes. 

September is like that here. It is a month of shimmering shadows as the leaves prepare to make their departure in a blaze of glory.

But rain is in the forecast for most of the coming week, a rare turn of weather events.

The week just past was lovely, much more typical of late summer days here on the border of Wisconsin and Michigan. But it was busy, and I did not have much time to attend to my lovely stuffing tomatoes.

One night I needed an easy side dish, and there they were, easy to clean out as they have very little pulp and few seeds. I blended about two cups of brown rice with 1/4 cup of grated cheddar cheese and two heaping teaspoons of minced onions. I baked them for about 30 minutes in a 350-degree oven and topped with shaved Parmesan at the very end, allowing them a few more minutes so the cheese would melt.

The baked tomatoes gave this dish a wine-like richness. If you are watching carbs, this is a great way to keep servings small, as you can only get about 1/2 cup of rice inside the tomato.

Nothing exotic, certainly, but after posting a photo of the tomatoes, I wanted closure.

It was delicious.