Thursday, January 30, 2014

Frugal Friday Pasta with Bacon and Sauteed Spinach

bacon and sauteed spinach being stirred with pasta. Cooking Chat recipe

OK, quick confession: there's actually not a lot of bacon in this dish, but I thought it might catch your attention! But as I've said before, it doesn't necessarily take a lot of bacon to add some nice flavor to a dish. Just enough to punch up the flavor of a pasta featuring what was still remaining in the fridge at the week's end--in this case, some spinach and a bell pepper were the main ingredients I sought to use. Here's the simple recipe, vary it according to what's in your fridge!

bacon crumbles to go with pasta and sauteed spinach
1 strip or so bacon crisped (I keep some bacon in the freezer for occasions like this)
1 onion, chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
1 yellow or orange bell pepper, chopped
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups or so spinach
handful of Parmesan cheese, plus more to serve
1/2 tsp dried basil
12 ozs elbow macaroni or other short pasta shape
salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large skillet on medium high with a bit of oil spray on to coat. Add the bacon, cook until nice and crispy, turning once. Place a paper towel on top of a plate, and remove the bacon to the plate when it's done; the paper towel will absorb the bacon grease. Drain most of the excess grease, but leave a bit in the pan for flavor.

Start heating a pan with water to cook the pasta as you get going on the rest of the sauce. Return the skillet to medium heat with 1 tbsp of the olive oil, then add the onion. Cook until nice and soft and beginning to brown. Add the bell pepper and cook until the pepper and onion are starting to caramelize (i.e. get brown and sweet). Add the dried basil, or fresh if you have it. At this time, start cooking the pasta according to package instructions.
peppers and onions getting stirred up for Pasta with Bacon and Sauteed Spinach

Stir in the garlic with another tbsp of olive oil when the pepper and onion have browned, cook for another minute or so. Gradually stir in the spinach, letting some begin to wilt to create room for more. Once all the spinach has been added and started to soften, turn the heat to very low and cover to wait for the pasta to finish cooking.

Drain the pasta when done to your liking. Toss with the final tbsp olive, the spinach/onion mixture and a handful of cheese. Plate the pasta and serve with extra cheese at the table.

Frugal Friday Pasta with Bacon and Sauteed Spinach

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Artichoke Dip with Roasted Broccoli and Garlic

Artichoke Dip with Roasted Broccoli and Garlic served with chips
Here's the second recipe I came up with from my Whole Foods Market "Mystery Bag", posted in time for #AppetizerWeek and the upcoming Super Bowl! As I discussed in this post, I'd gotten a bag of ingredients featuring the Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value® line to see what recipes I could come up with to feature this products. This linked to the recent Whole Foods Market Woburn 5% day, which raised $3,517 for Social Capital Inc. My first priority was to fix something for dinner the night this bag landed in our home--Super-Tasty Meat Sauce was the result. "Hmm, what next?" I thought as the meat sauce simmered.

Well, the next evening we had a church potluck supper on the schedule. Having signed up for an appetizer, I decided this would be the perfect time to concoct a new recipe (confidence or hubris, you decide!). Well, the can of 365 artichoke hearts seemed like a nature item to use in a dip. Perusing the web for some ideas, I saw artichoke and spinach always seemed to be paired in dips. Tasty, to be sure, but I wanted to do something a little different.

I've been getting into roasted broccoli this winter, and thought I'd add that along with a nice dose of garlic to my artichoke dip. Once I remembered to set out a serving spoon next to the dip, it got eaten up pretty quickly--in part because Jodi was extolling its virtues to people she was chatting with. Most people who tried this really seemed to like it. But you definitely need to like garlic! And if your feelings about broccoli run along the same lines as President George H. W. Bush, well, you might stick with spinach and artichoke dip. Those caveats aside, give this tasty dip a try!

2 stalks of broccoli, chopped into florets
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp 365 Everyday Value® Extra Virgin Olive Oil
bit of salt an pepper to taste

1 14.5 oz can 365 artichoke hearts
2 tbsp olive oil

8 ozs cream cheese, left out of fridge for about 30 minutes to soften
1/2 cup sour cream
1 scallion, chopped
generous pinches of tarragon, red pepper flakes, basil and 365 Organic Healthy Earth Seasonings spice blend for meat, seafood and veggies. You can, of course, vary the spice combo...but tarragon is definitely a good one here.
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp roasted garlic (you could do one clove raw garlic, minced, if you don't have roasted garlic on hand or time to make it)
1/8 cup milk
365 Multi-Grain Tortilla Chips for serving

roasted broccoli, a flavorful ingredient for artichoke dip and more!
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the broccoli and the garlic with the olive oil in a roasting pan. Add a bit of salt and pepper to taste. Put the broccoli in the oven to roast, about 20 minutes. You want to get the broccoli browned and tender when checked with a fork. Remove from oven when done and set aside to cool.

Set up your food processor with a chopping blade. Drain and rinse the canned artichokes. Add the artichokes along with 2 tbsp olive oil to the food processor and chop the artichokes into small pieces. Add the broccoli and chop it along with the artichokes and set aside.

Place the cream cheese in a large mixing bowl. Stir it up with a sturdy spoon so it starts to get soft and pliable. If it seems to hard, put it in the microwave for 5 or 10 seconds and try again. Stir in the broccoli artichoke mixture so that the veggies are well combined. Then stir in the remaining ingredients from the sour cream to the milk. I added the milk to make the dip a bit less thick. It was still on the thick side, you could add a bit more milk or sour cream for consistency if you'd like.

Serve with tortilla chips or pita chips. I liked the hearty flavor of the 365 multi-grain chip with this dip. Now, I realize beer might be your beverage if you're serving this on Super Sunday, but we enjoyed it with some good Napa Chardonnay from Ramey!
Artichoke dip and other appetizers served with Ramey Napa Chardonnay

Monday, January 20, 2014

December Wines of Note


Well, if I'm going to make a habit of sharing my wine highlights for each month, as Matt and Annie have been doing for awhile on their Hoot N Annie blog, I figured I better get December's posted while we're still in January. The holiday season provided for plenty of chance to enjoy some good wines. Here are my favorites: 

2010 Bonny Doon Le Pousseur Syrah A nice big red wine for a cold night. Musky on the nose, blackberry fruit. We enjoyed it with Roasted Sirloin, winemaker Randall Grahm suggests it goes well with braised meets. More on the wine and my Twitter exchange with @RandallGrahm here.

2011 Peter Franus Napa Zinfandel Our final wine of 2013, enjoyed along with our Filet Mignon with a Garlicky Rub and Balsamic Pan Sauce. A subtle scent of violet on the nose, plum and blackberry fruit, and chocolate on the finish. Nice lush mouthfeel.

2011 Sipp Mack Gewürztraminer A bit of residual sugar gives this honey-like sweetness to go along with ripe pair fruit. This is a good option for spicy food, such as this Indian meal I blogged about here.

Enkidu Reds At one holiday gathering, a friend supplied a mixed case of wines from Enkidu. This included a Pinot Noir, a Zinfandel and the Humbaba blend. I'll give them all a shout out here; you'd do well to try any of these Sonoma wines.

I will wind up the December notes by mentioning two value wines that come in well under $15 per bottle

2012 Colle Secco Terre di Chieti Pecorino: Yes, Pecorino is a wine too! I love Pecorino Romano cheese so had to give this Italian white grape varietal a try. Nice crisp acidity, bit of lemon, medium bodied. Moderately priced (well under $15 as I recall), worth picking up! I'm planning to get another bottle to try with a pesto dish instead of the go-to pesto pairing-Sauv Blanc.

Villa Pozzi Nero D'Avola Bright cherry fruit, easy drinking red from Sicily. Enjoyed with our Pesto Lasagne.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Pan-Seared Mahi Mahi with Orange Soy Marinade

Pan-Seared Mahi Mahi served with noodles and peas

Mahi Mahi might sound a bit fancy for someone writing about tips for keeping the grocery shopping under budget. Don't worry, this post doesn't mean our saving plans are off track before January is done! This one actually ties into the theme in two ways...First, I had Mahi Mahi on my mind when I saw it included in the Whole Foods Market Woburn sale flyer for the week (which runs through Tuesday 1/21/14 and may be found at other Whole Foods in the area, too), which I typically get by checking out their Facebook page. Second, comparing price per pound of different fish and meat items can be a bit misleading. I got the Mahi Mahi on sale at $9.99/lb, but just needed a bit over 1/2 pound to feed the 3 of us. So the actual cost can wind up being less than something like a pork chop or steak that might have fat or bone that doesn't get eaten and thus weighs more. And point three--making your own marinade is very easy and is another way to save!

OK, enough of the budget talk, we're still focused on food that is tasty as well as affordable here. I decided I'd try cooking the Mahi Mahi in similar fashion to the way I've come to cook salmon, at least when it's not grilling season. The basic approach is derived from a salmon recipe in Barbara Lynch's Stir: Mixing It Up In The Italian Tradition, adapted for Mahi Mahi.

1/4 cup soy sauce (low sodium version preferred)
1/4 cup OJ
1 tsp brown rice vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1 clove garlic minced
pinch of dried ginger
1 scallion, chopped
10 ozs or so Mahi Mahi fillet
oil spray
Mahi Mahi soaking up some tastiness!
Mahi Mahi soaking up some tastiness!

Take the Mahi Mahi out of the fridge before you get ready to put the marinade together so it starts coming closer to room temperature. Combine the marinade ingredients, from the soy sauce through the scallion, in a mixing bowl. Rinse and pat dry the Mahi Mahi, then place it in a large bowl or plastic bag. Pour about 2/3 of the marinade over this fish. Set the remainder of the marinade aside. Turn the fish over gently a couple times so that it becomes well coated with the marinade. Let the fish marinade for 10 to 15 minutes before cooking. Unlike a marinade for something like steak tips, where the goal is to tenderize the meat over an extended period, you don't want to marinade fish like Mahi Mahi or salmon for long, or it will get too salty. A short soak in it gives it a nice flavor and leads to nice juicy fish.

Pan-Seared Mahi Mahi with Orange Soy Marinade
After the Mahi Mahi has marinaded for 10 minutes, spray a skillet with cooking oil and heat the pan on medium high. When the pan is good and hot, remove the Mahi Mahi from the marinade and gently shake off some of the excess marinade--but you'll want to keep some to cook in with the fish. Place the fish skin side down, and cook for 5 minutes without moving the fish. The skin will be getting nice and crispy underneath. After 5 minutes, use a spatula to turn the fish over.

Turn the fish back to the skin side one more time. Spoon a couple tablespoons of the reserved marinade over the fish after turning it, and let it cook in for about 2 minutes. At this point, gently cut open the fish at a thick spot to check for doneness. You want to get it so it has turned white throughout, but not overcooked. The actual time will depend on the thickness of your fillet. My times are based on having a portion that was about an inch plus thick at some spots. When the fish has reached this point of doneness, remove from the pan to a plate, and loosely tent with foil. Let it rest a couple of minutes, letting it cook a bit more. The skin will sometimes come off during the cooking process. If it doesn't, it can be easily pulled off with your fingers or a knife prior to serving.

Serve the Mahi Mahi, offering the reserved marinade* at the table. Ours didn't actually need more, having cooked in just the right amount. We used the marinade on our Asian style noodles, which we had leftover from the other night.

*Note: When I refer to putting "reserved marinade" on food at the table, this is marinade that was set aside before combining with the fish. The portion that the fish actually marinaded in gets discarded. You don't want to be serving liquid that marinaded raw fish or meat in terms of food safety. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Super-Tasty Meat Sauce for Whole Foods 5% Day

pasta with meat sauce served with salad and Herbes de Provence dressing

Every now and then, I get to combine my passion for good food with the community building work we do at the local nonprofit organization, Social Capital Inc. (SCI). This coming Wednesday, January 15, Whole Foods Market Woburn will be hosting one of their special "5% Days", whereby 5% of the net sales gets donated to a local charity--in this case, SCI. This will support SCI's work to build social capital to foster youth success and healthy communities. SCI carries out this work in our hometown of Woburn and throughout Eastern Massachusetts, where we currently serve 12 communities.

Now, I could simply encourage those of you in the area to head over to Whole Foods Market Woburn on Wednesday to support a good cause, and leave it at that. But I thought it would be fun to share some recipe ideas and tips for things you might want to pick up when you head over to Whole Foods on Wednesday. Perhaps I should be extolling the virtues of the filet mignon and truffles to maximize revenue--those are great to be sure if you are so inclined! However, if you're like our family, you might be thinking in the new year about how to eat healthy while staying within budget. In fact, I just wrote about 8 Steps for Feeding Your Family Well and Under Budget. One point I'd highlight is the value of checking out the store flyer before heading to the store. I look at the Whole Foods Facebook page for weekly specials and keep my eye on their Twitter and Instragram feeds @wfm_woburn for late breaking specials and ideas.

I conferred with local Whole Foods marketing team leader Jon Latessa about ideas for this post, and he suggest focusing on their 365 Everyday Value® pantry items, as that is certainly a great way to stock your kitchen with healthy food at a good price. He offered to put together a bag of these items for me, and see what I could come up with for recipes. Sounded like fun!
my mystery Whole Foods Market bags!
Well, a well-stuffed Whole Foods bag with some mystery ingredients is much better than a Christmas stocking for this foodie! I set out the items and began cooking up some ideas. It was after 5:30 at the end of a busy week, so for last night I figured I'd focus on some familiar terrain, and save the items that might stretch the creativity more for later in the weekend (stay tuned!). A value pack of 85% Lean Ground Beef and 365 Organic Crushed Tomatoes, along with a couple jars of dried organic herbs, seemed to call out for a meat sauce!

I make meat sauce pretty often here, especially in the winter. I tend to have the key ingredients on hand--I usually have canned tomatoes and often some ground beef in the freezer. But in the spirit of the mystery bag challenge, I wanted to mix it up a bit. I was glad I did, as this sauce came out great! A good sign was Jodi, who appreciate good food but doesn't tend to be super-curious about the cooking process, asked after a few bites, "Mmm, what did you put in this sauce?".

Well, you can see the full ingredient list below, but I'd say the keys were high-quality beef and tomatoes, along with the spice blend that was in the bag. I noted the blend was comprised of roasted garlic (yum!) and organic mushrooms...I correctly thought this would add an interesting flavor profile to the sauce! Also, I often use whole canned tomatoes, but I think the crushed version really helped that great tomato flavor burst forth. Now, I'm a fan of people trying their own versions of things, but if you are able to get over to Whole Foods, I'd really encourage you to go with as many of the items I mention as you can, because this really was a notch above our typical sauce in terms of flavor. Okay, enough preliminaries, on to the recipe! (note: I simply refer to "365" items as shorthand for the Whole Foods Market "365 Everyday Value®" product line.

1 medium onion, chopped
a key ingredient!
1/2 of a medium carrot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 or 2 tbsp 365 Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 lb or so ground beef--I used the 85% Lean Ground Beef, which the prepare each day at Whole Foods. Note: for a sauce I would not go with the super lean versions, you want a little fat content for flavor.
1.5 tsp Organic Healthy Earth Seasonings spice blend for meat, seafood and veggies
salt at that time
1/2 cup stock or wine (I used leftover homemade chicken stock I had on hand)
healthy pinch red pepper flakes
28 oz can 365 Organic Crushed Tomatoes with Basil
1/2 tsp rosemary
1/2 tsp dried basil
1 tbsp tomato paste
dash 365 Aged Balsamic Vinegar
1 lb. 365 Whole Wheat Elbows
Grated Parmesan cheese to serve at the table

Heat the olive oil in a medium pan. Add the onions, cook on medium heat until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots, cook another few minutes, then stir in the garlic. Cook for another minute or so, then add the ground beef.

Break up the beef with a sturdy spoon, then sprinkle in the Earth Seasonings spice blend. Stir the beef and spice blend to combine with the onion mixture. Cook the beef until it is browned, stirring occasionally. This will take 5 minutes or so. Stir in the stock or wine* and bring to a simmer.
adding crushed tomatoes to the meat sauce
After the broth has been mostly absorbed, stir in the tomatoes. Once the tomatoes have been mixed in well with the beef and onion mixture, stir in the rosemary, dried basil and tomato paste. Now, you simply let the pan simmer for at least 30 minutes (OK, it would probably taste pretty good after 15 to 20 minutes, but the flavors deepen the longer it cooks). I simmered it for about 45 minutes. Stir in the balsamic vinegar about 5 to 10 minutes before you intend to serve the sauce.
super-tasty meat sauce simmering on the stove.

The simmering time give you a chance to get a salad ready and to cook the pasta. I typically make my own dressing but do like to keep a prepared one in the fridge for when I'm in a pinch. I hadn't tried the 365 Herbes de Provence so I figured I'd simply combine some mixed greens with some red peppers, a few dried cranberries and some Parmesan cheese. This made for a simple, tasty salad with the herby dressing.

Start boiling the water for pasta about 20 minutes before you want to eat. Cook the pasta according to package instructions. When it's almost ready, reserve about 1/4 cup of the cooking water. Then drain the pasta, and gradually add the cooked pasta to the sauce, stirring it in as you go with a bit of the reserved water. Some folks like to eat salad first, but I prefer to have the pasta with the salad. So I plate the pasta to leave plenty of room for those good leafy greens, and serve! Pour a glass of your favorite Italian red wine and you've got a great meal!
pasta with meat sauce served with green salad and Herbes de Provences dressing

*Note: I typically use wine for meat sauce, but seeing the 365 Vegetable Broth in my bag from Whole Foods  gave me the idea of using some of the stock I already had on hand--keeping the container for another time soon! Not sure the extent to which doing the broth over wine helped the overall flavor result, so I will continue to experiment.

Full disclosure: Some of the 365 Everyday Value ingredients were provided to me by Whole Foods Market Woburn in a "Mystery Bag" as complimentary samples for this post--but I had a number of the basic 365 items already on hand from my previous shopping! Writing a post like this is not expected of charities participating in the 5% program; it's something I chose to do to share some healthy and tasty cooking ideas while spreading the word about this event to help the SCI cause. Not to mention the ideas of cooking up some recipe ideas with some great surprise ingredients sounded like a lot of fun!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

8 Planning Steps to Feed Your Family Well and Under Budget

As 2014 rolls in, it is our wallet more than our waistline that needs tightening here. Expect to see more posts like "Wait, don't toss that salad" and less recipes using filet mignon or fresh truffles. (but don't rule them out!) Though we had some nice splurges around the holidays, we actually began our quest to closely monitor our household budget in the latter part of 2012. But we start 2014 with some very clear budget goals, including the food and wine departments. I will share this journey both in the interests of public accountability and to offer some tips to others seeking to eat well on a budget.

My mission this year is to redouble my efforts to prepare healthy, tasty food while bringing the groceries in under our budget. We typically aim to spend $150/week on groceries for our family of three. All but a couple of our suppers are prepared at home. I do most of our shopping at Whole Foods, which I've found can be done on a budget with good planning...and by being sure to avoid shopping on an empty stomach! I value their standards for meat and fish, as well as the abundant choices of local and organic produce, not to mention limited processed foods. But what really has locked us in to shopping there is our son's multiple food allergies. Thankfully, newer regulations make it easier to find allergy safe food at other stores, too; but from the early days managing our son's allergies I came to depend on the product labeling and selection at Whole Foods. I should also note that purchasing specialty allergy-safe products is a cost factor that can be challenging.

I share the above information so you have some context on what's behind our budget number. I will share how we're doing related to our target, but I think what will be more useful are the tips and recipe ideas I share in the quest to bring our food bill under budget.

Reading these tips for eating organic on a budget yesterday on And Then We Saved was a great reinforcement to my own approaches. My only little quibble with it is that I'd say "Planning Ahead" is step #1! In fact, I find the planning piece can be broken into these 8 simple steps:

1) Check the family calendar: First thing I do is look at our calendar, and see if there are nights we won't be around, or where I'll be too late to do any cooking. Jodi and I both work full-time outside the home with several evening meetings per month. In the first full week of January, however, there weren't any meetings scheduled as people get back into work mode. So I was planning for family suppers at home every night.
pork and cabbage served over brown rice
leftover Pork & Cabbage was one part of this week's plan!
2) See what's on hand: I look to see what ingredients are on hand, particularly things I want to be sure to use up. For this week, I had leftover Skillet Pork and Cabbage that I made last Friday night, to use up some cabbage on hand and pork bought on sale and frozen. I scheduled these leftovers for Monday's meal--it's nice to start the work week with a meal on hand. I also saw I had half a bag of shredded mozzarella to use--this stuff gets moldy quickly! Also have a jar of store bought tomato sauce, so will make pizza mid-week with some store bought crusts. I favor from scratch over prepared items, but working 50 hours a week or so, a few time-savers in the mix make sense.

3) See what's on sale: My mind is already percolating with menu ideas looking at what's on hand, then I check the specials for the week via the Whole Foods Market Woburn Facebook page. If I have the opportunity to get into the store for an item or or two toward the end of the prior week, I also peruse the store for specials that aren't on the flyer--there are usually additional ones to be found. I'm particularly keen on building our meals around the meat and fish on sale--that's a key way to get their quality protein and stay within budget. Whole chickens were on sale, which set-up the perfect frugal weekend cooking plan: roast chicken on Saturday, turn the leftovers into stock and hearty chicken stew on Sunday. In addition to providing a foundation for Sunday evenings stew, there was enough stock to freeze for two more uses (saving $4 at least, not to mention the reduced sodium). And that stew cooked up enough for a leftover night during the week, plus a lunch. So let's see, that $8 chicken provided the protein for 3 family suppers and one of my lunches. #Winning!
bowl of chicken stew with a variety of vegetables
4) Create your meal plan and shopping list: Once you've done the first three steps, you are ready to map out your meal plan for the week that take into consideration schedules, sales and what's already in your kitchen. I tend to be pretty specific about the cooking I plan to do over the weekend, to try to build up some meals for the week, such as with the stew mentioned above. I look for things that have multiple uses. For instance, many meals need half a head of cabbage, so if I'm using some for a soup on Sunday I might plan to make Skillet Pork and Cabbage, a regular in our house, during the week. I'll be sharing a lot more sample menus in the coming weeks! Once I have the basic meal plan, I write down the ingredients I'll need as well as other basics we need for the week.

5) Aim for just enough to get through the week: As I said, I'm pretty specific about my weekend cooking. Then I'll typically have a couple things I plan to prepare during the week. I might have a rough idea of when I'll cook them but I build in some flexibility to see how much leftovers are generated from the weekend and early week cooking. Often two additional meals to be made during the week is enough along with leftovers. I'd rather run out of the planned meals toward the end of the week and need to go back for an item or two or simply get creative with what's on hand...this approach has generated many tasty "Frugal Friday" dishes such as this Pasta with Turkey, Chickpeas and Tomatoes.
pasta with turkey, chickpeas and tomato

6) Plan one meal with items that won't spoil: I like to have one meal plan waiting in the wings where most of the ingredients won't spoil if I don't get to it. Sometimes one meal generates a surprising quantity of leftovers, or there's a last minute meal out of the house that arises, so this approach helps avoid waste. Tacos with refried beans as the protein is common one in this department for us. We can add to that base veggies I've gotten for the week and any bits of meat that may have been left from a prior night--or make it a meatless night if there are no such leftovers. The soft 365 whole wheat tortilla shells can be frozen if needed, or sometimes we go with the hard shells which keep. Frozen ravioli or tortellini are another good option here, and I also like to keep tasty frozen sausages that can be incorporated into many things.
soft tacos with refried beans, avocado and other vegetables
humble refried beans can be dressed up with what's on hand!
7) Include things you DON'T need on the list: I make a point to check how much we have of basic things we use a lot--for us that includes bread, soynut butter, milk and apples. I write down what we need to re-stock and things we don't need...I think a lot of people miss that step, and just reflexively always buy certain things. If you're trying to save on your bill and manage cash flow, you don't want to spend $5 on a jar of soynut butter if you already have plenty (unless, of course, it's on sale!).

8) Eat before you shop: I guarantee you, if you shop at Whole Foods or another spot where you love their food, you will spend way over budget! I suspect many folks that tell me Whole Foods is expensive don't do this, go in and try some tasty samples and buy all the good stuff in sight. Eat first, stick to the list and stay strong! Now when I stay stick to the list, we still need to be on the lookout for specials. I'll also put things on the list like "2 vegetables for side dishes" so that I can see what either is on sale or looks particularly fresh (that's often seasonal and local).

Ok, so how's the first full week of 2014 going, as we near week's end? To recap, I roasted chicken Saturday, made stew with it on Sunday, two nights of leftovers followed by pizza with salad last night. Tonight, tacos with refried beans. As of today, we're $45 under budget for the week! I could probably pull something out of the freezer tomorrow, or I may swing by and see what's on special at Whole Foods and cook something that will still bring us in well under budget. Great way to start the new year!

Still looking for more tips? Read "5 More Tips on the Road to Eating Well and On Budget."

Saturday, January 4, 2014

A Great Gewürztraminer for Your Next Spicy Indian Meal

I feel morally obligated to share any good wine pairing for Indian food that I find.  The original post I wrote years ago on Pairing Wine with Indian Food is still my most viewed post of all time. So clearly people are hungry--or thirsty--for this information. As a public service, I will continue to to research the topic! (anyone who has seen me graze on Indian food, happily intermingling sips of wine, will chuckle at the notion that this is a selfless form of service for me!).

Last month, my wife and son had a fun birthday surprise for me. They had a ruse about where they were taking me but turned out we were headed for a local Indian restaurant. Jodi had consulted with our friends at Pairings to pick out the 2011 Sipp Mack Gewürztraminer from Alsace. Only trouble was that the restaurant recently got the beer and wine license and we could no longer crack open our own bottle. So the Gewurz needed to wait for another day. 

So the bottle came home with us from the restaurant unopened. I was eager to try it. I was tempted to open it to serve with a few other things,  but I was glad I waited to have it the next time I made Indian food a few weeks later. I picked out a new recipe to try from my FOOD and WINE Best of the Best Cookbook Recipes book, the Gingered Red Lentils with Garlic (a version can be found here on the Garlic Shoots blog). I started realizing that we were in for some kick, counting how many hot chili peppers I was putting in (3 serrano, 1 jalapeno plus two dried chilis) not to mention other spices. Not many wines can stand up to such heat, so I was pleased to have one that can chilling as I cooked. I also made Aloo Palak to go with it.

Sipp Mack 2011 GewurztraminerAs expected, Sipp Mack Gewürztraminer was a great pairing for this spicy Indian dish. has a nice mouthfeel, not quite full bodied but substantial. There's a bit of residual sugar, giving it some honey-like sweetness along with ripe pairs and cinnamon. That sweetness helped cool off and refresh the spicy bites I was taking. It was not over the top sweet, but a well-made wine with just the right touch to make it work with the spicy food--including subtle spice notes in the wine, as is typical with Gewurz. Generally speaking, Gewürztraminer can be a great option with Indian food, and this Sipp Mack in particular is worth trying if you can grab it.

Have you found other wines you like with Indian food? Please do share!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Ending 2013 in Style: Filet Mignon with a Garlicky Rub and Balsamic Pan Sauce

filet mignon served with sweet potato and green beans
I struggled to answer the question, "What was your best bite of 2013?". Don't get me wrong, I had plenty of great food and wine over the course of the year! There were two wine club dinners, the most recent one featuring an amazing lamb stew to go with some wonderful Bordeaux. We had several very good meals during our getaway to Saratoga. I recall tasty Pork Tinga with our OTBN wine dinner, and several great meals with foodie friends and family. This Grilled Swordfish with Pineapple Salsa was a memorable new recipe.

So instead of writing about my best meal of 2013, I'll share our final meal of the year, because that was pretty tasty. Our lad has acquired a taste for filet mignon, and has been urging me to cook it again for awhile. New Year's Eve seemed like a suitable occasion to do so. We're going to be very focused on managing our food budget while still eating well in 2014, so this was a nice indulgence before getting fully into frugal mode. If you, too, seek to indulge a bit at some point soon, this simple recipe is certainly worthy!

4 five oz filet mignon steaks (mine were about 1.5 inches thick)
1 tbsp olive oil plus oil spray

For the rub
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp thyme
generous pinch cinnamon

For the sauce
1 shallot, chopped
3 tbsp butter
4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
pinch of sugar
1/2 tsp of truffle oil (optional)

filet mignon with garlicky rub on plate waiting to be cooked

Combine the rub ingredients in a bowl. Rub over the filet mignon to lightly coat the steaks, and set aside on a plate for 10 to 15 minutes at room temperatures. Place a sturdy skillet on the stove top. Heat the olive oil (and I also spray the pan with oil spray to make sure it's well covered), tilting the pan so it spreads evenly. Once it is good and hot, add the filet mignon to the pan. Sear on one side for about 4 minutes, then flip to cook for about 4 more minutes. This cooked them a nice medium rare; you'll want to adjust your cooking time based on thickness and how you like it cooked. (but please don't overcook it!)

When the filets are cooked, remove from the pan, place on a platter to rest, loosely covered with foil. Return the skillet to the stove on medium high heat. Add two tbsp of butter to melt. Stir it in and scrape up the bits of meat and fat to incorporate into the sauce . Add the shallots, cook about 3 minutes until they begin to soften. Add the balsamic vinegar and sugar, cook for about 3 more minutes so that the sauce thickens a bit. Finish by stirring in the final tbsp of butter until it is melted. You could cook longer to get it good and thick, but I was eager to get eating!

Pour the sauce into a bowl, stir in the truffle oil if you are using. Place one filet on the plate of each of your lucky dinner companions. You can serve it with the sauce or let them take what they want at the table. We served this with a choice of baked russet or sweet potatoes, plus green beans. The sauce is nice on potatoes, too.

back label of 2011 Peter Franus Napa Zinfandel
Wine pairing: A great bottle of wine can uplift a humble meal. For instance, splurging a bit on a nice cab to go with a simple grilled burger can be a nice option. But I was pretty sure the opposite strategy was a bad idea, so wanted to pick a nice wine fit for a special occasion. The 2011 Peter Franus Napa Zinfandel fit the bill very well! A subtle scent of violet on the nose. After a little taste, I figured this young wine could benefit from a little decanting. Thirty minutes later, it had blossomed nicely, with plum and blackberry fruit, and chocolate on the finish. Nice lush mouthfeel. A good pairing to end a good food year!

Inspiration: I browsed several recipes to get ideas for this. This one for Filet Mignon with Cranberry-Zinfandel Sauce looked really good, and helped nudge me toward the zin pairing. I'll probably make this one following Peggy's method one of these days. The cooking method and idea of using balsamic came via my
Williams-Sonoma Steak and Chop books. (Full disclosure: book links on the blog go to Amazon, I get a small share of purchases from these links...but only link to books and products that I enjoy!).