Thursday, April 29, 2010

Last Minute Appetizer Panic Allayed with Gorgonzola Egg Spread

It was Easter Sunday, and friends were coming for dinner. Unfortunately, I neglected to plan an appetizer. I’m not sure how either – I’m usually pretty on top of these kinds of things (Oh, who are we kidding? I’m completely anal retentive when it comes to menu planning). So as the leg of lamb roasted away in the oven, I scurried around the kitchen in an attempt to come up with something to serve with a pre-dinner glass of wine.

The obvious (and sadly clichéd) thing to make for Easter appetizers would be some sort of deviled eggs, but of course I didn’t. Why? Because first, it’s cliché. Second, it’s boring. Third, because I’m not a huge fan of deviled eggs. But eggs do go along with the traditions of Easter: rebirth, spring, renewal. And I had eggs. And some cheese. And pita bread. And not much else to work with. So, instead I came up with this Gorgonzola Egg Spread with Pita Sticks.

I must say that even I was impressed by how it went over. It just goes to show you: panic and ingenuity can sometimes win over careful preparation.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Welcome Home Brunch - Salmon Frittata

Our good friends just returned home after being gone for almost a month (first grandchild). We couldn’t wait for a night on the town – we wanted to see the baby pictures! So we invited them over for Sunday brunch. On the menu: Salmon Frittata served on a bed of dressed arugula, Brunch Potatoes, and Cheddar Biscuits.

Brunch is a great way to entertain on a budget. Eggs, potatoes, bread – all cheap stuff. As long as you accent them with the right ingredients, it can be quite an elegant affair. Salmon always makes things feel expensive. Granted, I would much rather use fresh or smoked salmon with eggs, but I’ve found that when it’s not a stand-alone ingredient, canned salmon can be surprisingly good – and a lot less expensive. To go along with the salmon, I want a mild cheese. You can’t be much more mild (or inexpensive) than cottage cheese. (If you don’t like the idea, then you can substitute ricotta, cream cheese, or mascarpone cheese.) Additionally, a mild onion flavor will keep from overpowering the eggs and salmon. I used scallions, but you could also use some shallots – just sauté them in the butter for a few minutes before adding the egg mixture. Additionally, I always like to add a little hot sauce any time I make eggs. Not for the heat. I find that the vinegar and the peppers add some background flavor that accentuates the eggs. (I really don’t like heat first thing in the morning. I know a lot of people do – so sue me.)

Additionally, potatoes are such a blank canvas that you can add just about any flavor you want. It’s also a fantastic way to round out a simple menu. And being a rural Midwestern boy, I can make biscuits about 654 different ways (give or take). Again, not wanting to overshadow the salmon, a simple cheddar flavor worked well for this menu.

The brunch was a big success. The baby pictures are just precious, and the new grandparents are grinning from ear to ear. All in all, it was a good day.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Grillin' Weather for Mushrooms - and Pasta

The weather here has been absolutely gorgeous for the last couple of weeks: 78 degrees, low humidity, the sun is shining. There is absolutely no way that I want to turn on the oven and heat up the kitchen, so I’ve been doing a fair amount of grilling. It’s great to stand around in the breeze and cook. I’ll still grill once the summer heat and humidity gets here, I just won’t stand over the grill and sweat like a pig while things cook (what can I say? I’m a wimp).

Just as an aside - have you ever noticed that grilling sounds odd compared to grillin'?

Last night, I ended up making the entire dinner out on the grill – including the pasta (we got a great deal on a nice grill with a side burner at the end of last summer). This is such a simple dish, that I decided to use some homemade pasta I had in the freezer. The grill adds so much to the flavor of button mushrooms, and marinating them in herbed olive oil for a few minutes beforehand sent it over the top.

Hope you like the pasta recipe for Lemon and Grilled Mushroom Pasta.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Caramelized Dinner

One of the keys to inexpensive eating is squeezing out every last drop of flavor from your ingredients. It’s pretty easy to take a mundane item and either roast it or grill it to develop the most flavor imaginable.

That’s what I did with a couple of onions I had that were getting a little advanced in age. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with them, but by cooking them, it gave me a few more days of useful life before I had to decide. It takes about 30 minutes to caramelize the suckers, but it’s well worth the time. (You need to slice the onions very thin – this increases the surface area of the food: more surface area means more space to caramelize. More caramelization means more flavor. Get it?) The nice thing is that you don’t really have to babysit them while they’re cooking. I did it on a Sunday afternoon, and threw them into the fridge until I figured out what to do with them.

Skip to Tuesday. It’s a TV night - the final season of Lost is on (if you aren’t a fan, then you wouldn’t understand), and I needed finger food to eat in front of the television. I decided to turn the caramelized onions into a pizza. Not bad either (of course, it’s hard to go wrong with pizza). Paired it with some faux-fried zucchini sticks (which still need some work before I share the recipe) that we dipped into some store-bought pesto which I thinned with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.

Grab the pizza recipe in PDF form here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Wine Find

My friends know that I am not a real wine aficionado, but I know what I like. I tend to like big, bold reds that have a real earthy quality to them – lots of smoke and chocolate and tobacco notes are what I gravitate towards – my favorite varieties being Malbec, Shiraz/Syrah, and Pinot Noir.

Turns out that not being a wine snob is a positive thing when you’re on a budget: I’m not afraid to try really cheap wines. Most of the time, I get exactly what I expect – fairly bad, raw stuff whose only good quality is that you taste it less on the second or third glass. But once in a while I come across something that’s acceptable. I really lucked out this time. Not only is this one acceptable, it’s actually good. And only $4.75 a bottle at my local Albertsons!

It’s a 2009 Pinot Noir from Crane Lake, a California vintner. (I just did a quick Google search, and looks like you can find it all over the place.) It has a wonderful, smooth texture and finishes pretty well (not that acidic after-burn you find in most cheap wines). Goes great with the more robust meals I cook.

If you find something that’s both a steal and tastes great, let me know: I’d love to try it out.

I should point out that I intend to post an entry like this any time that I come a cross a really great find. It’s not an advertising ploy – I’ve never met (or talked to) the Crane Lake people, their distributor, or the Albertsons people. Any advertising that I do will be more overt – ads down the side and such – you will definitely be able to tell the difference.

Monday, April 19, 2010

In The Beginning...

Welcome! I'm Scott, a heavy-duty foodie. That's me, on the left (the pork loin is on the right). I love to cook and eat and experiment with food.

Unfortunately, the current economic climate makes it difficult to indulge in my favorite exotic ingredients. That's why I've come up with a new plan - to work on inexpensive, flavorful dishes that still feed my foodie soul without breaking the bank. My goal is to experiment with dishes and post the results (and recipes) here. I hope you like it.

By the way, this picture was taken during my foray into running a restaurant. It lasted one night (don't ask).