Okay, I’m a sucker for bargains and seem to have a jacket fetish.  When I saw this Adrienne Vittadini jacket dangling in front of my eyes at Ross (what was it doing there?), I thought it was darling, and then my eyes zeroed in on the price: 10 dollars.  Who could resist owning a little white jacket at that price?

My darling friend, Dee Dee Bowman was recently bemoaning the fact that in NYC, the high level stores have contracted with the city to DESTROY the designer clothing.  What a waste.  I understand that the designers don’t want every bag woman and man walking around in top of the line designer originals, but the idea is kind of intriguing.  Can you imagine panhandlers wearing outfits from “Sex and the City” or “Gossip Girls”?  They’d be out of business in no time (I think I’m being politically incorrect).  But instead of destroying these outfits, can’t we just have a national CHEAP BITCH on-line auction. OMG, the outfits I could stuff away in my closet. And the profits could go to charity, like Haiti or to the NYC needy. But on to soup, beautiful soup.

Watercress is a wonderful green that doesn’t get its due share.  All anyone thinks about, when they hear the word “watercress” is those damn tea sandwiches which take forever to make.  But watercress makes a wonderful soup.  My mother use to make it for us in the summer since it can be served hot, or chilled.  More elegant and delicate in flavor than Vichyssoise, add a little cream, a sliver of butter, garnish with freshly cut chives and a leaf of the watercress.

Watercress Soup – makes 4 – 6 cups.  10 minutes prep, 20 minutes cooking

32 ounces (1 quart) of water

Chicken bouillon – a soup spoon worth of Better than Bouillon (you can use chicken broth but reduce the water accordingly)

3 peeled white potatoes

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 bunch of watercress, chopped and trimmed – save a few leaves for the garnish

Milk or Cream

Sweet butter – use Plugra if you can find it

Tablespoon of chopped chives

DIRECTIONS

In a soup pot, add water (or broth), bouillon (don’t add if you are using broth) and potatoes.  Come to a boil; reduce heat until potatoes are cooked (stick a fork into the potatoes to test).  Remove potatoes and put them through a pulse cycle of a food processor (a blender will make them too mushy) until they are finely mashed up.  Return potatoes to the pot.  Add chopped watercress and return to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer for 1 minute.  Add salt and pepper to taste.   In the soup bowl, put a little cream or milk, add soup and garnish with a sliver of fine butter and chives.  Serve cold in the summer.  And don’t forget to make a fresh salad using the SaladSuccess Dressing Shaker.

spaghetti-plate-croppedWhen my great Lord and Master of the house (ha) made condescending remarks about spaghetti and meat balls, did I wisely ignore him and recreate my mother’s masterpiece of Spaghetti a la Francaise or did I wimp out?  You guessed wisely, I never made a pot of that stuff for the first 22 years of our marriage.  After all the great Lord had been traumatized by eating spaghetti daily for a year while living off campus during his college years.

My mother’s spaghetti sauce was a work of art of wines, herbs and tomatoes.  It would sit for hours on top of the stove, simmering away while my mother would baby it by stirring, degreasing and tasting.  Finally it would make it way to our dinner table, a platter of the most heavenly smells.  The only issues I had with this concoction were the meatballs, which I avoided.

Now I’m not a huge ground beef fan, and meatballs was, in my mind, a close cousin to meatloaf, my arch-enemy. Nasty brown dry stuff, and it had legs.  It was in the stuffed  tomatoes, stuffed green peppers, stuffed zucchini; it was everywhere.  I’ll forgive mom for the stuffed veal; that was actually good but her meatballs needed help.  Everyone’s meatballs needed help.  When I’d order a plate of spaghetti and meatballs at the restaurants, I’d usually get this hideous meatball the size of my head on top of the plate of pasta.  Forget it, no more meatballs.

So twenty-two years later I was watching my Tivo’ed cooking shows and saw Ina Garten on the Barefoot Contessa, making meatballs.  To my surprise, they actually looked good; plum, dainty and juicy.  My memory of Mom’s sauce came back to tantalize me. The next day, with the recipe in hand, I went shopping for the ingredients.  Ground veal, ground pork, no way I have the time for that.  And the expense, just forget it.  Quickly I saw that the large breakfast sausage was on sale and so was ground turkey.  It will have to do for now.  Other parts of the recipe got streamlined and there was no way that I’d use a good bottle of wine on this recipe.   Also the recipe had to hold up in a salt-free version (my mother is on a restricted diet), so lots of herbs, not just parsley.  And the results, a family favorite, even from my Lord and Master.

INA GARTENS FABULOUS SPAGHETTI & MEATBALLS – Sorry, Ina for the bastardization.  This recipe takes an active hour to make and an additional ½ hour to simmer.

There are 2 tricks to this recipe.  One is to add ¾ cup of warm water to the meatballs.  This keeps them very moist.  The other is NOT TO SQUEEZE THE MEATBALLS, but gently roll them into shape.

Meatballs:

  • 1 pound of breakfast sausage, like Jimmy Dean
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 4 slices of bread, rough chop (I’ve even used bagels (2) and the recipe works)
  • ¼  cup seasoned dry bread crumbs
  • ¾ cup of warm water
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 teaspoons salt (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼  teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 extra-large egg, beaten
  • Olive oil or vegetable
  • Herbs from the garden – basil, thyme, oregano

Sauce

  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced  or pressed garlic
  • 1/2 cup of wine – I use good cheap wine – 2 Buck Chuck if you are lucky to have a Trader Joe’s near you.
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, plum tomatoes in puree, chopped or a good marina sauce.  If you have garden fresh tomatoes, that is even better, but they need their peels off (boil them for 1 minute and the skin comes off easily)
  • 1 – 3 tablespoon chopped herbs – parsley, basil, oregano, thyme
  • Several bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

meatball-platterDirections

In a food processor, place herbs, parsley and bread.  Pulse about 10 times until the ingredients are finely chopped.

Place the turkey and sausage, food processor ingredients, bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan, salt, pepper, nutmeg, egg, and water in a bowl and combine, using your hands if you’re courageous. With your hands, lightly form the mixture into 2-inch meatballs. You will have 14 to 16 meatballs.

Pour oil into a large skillet covering well the bottom. Heat the oil, placing the meatballs in the oil and browning them well on all sides over medium heat, turning carefully with a spatula or a fork. This should take about 10 minutes per batch (I usually have 2 batches-it’s a big pan). Don’t crowd the meatballs so that they can cook easily. Remove the meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels.

saute-onions2In the same pan, add onion and saute over medium heat until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for 1 more minute. Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all the brown bits in the pan, until almost all the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, herbs, bay leaves, salt, and pepper.

Return the meatballs to the sauce, cover, and simmer on the lowest heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through. Serve on a bed of good spaghetti – I like Barilla or Trader Joe – and have some freshly grated parmesan cheese available.  Right now Reggiano is too pricy for our budget, but there are other similar hard cheeses available. Costco sells an excellent parmesan cheese that is half the cost of their Reggiano.  And don’t forget a lovely wine at the table (you can afford it, you saved bucks making this meal) and a fresh garden salad with a dressing from SaladSuccess.

pea-soup-finalThe holiday trimmings are all packed up, the deep fryer is clean and up on the high shelf of the pantry, and any sweet has been devoured.  Things are back to the dull roar of life, and the house seems lighter and breezy.  My wallet is also feeling lighter, but my butt is heavier.  So it is time to put a lid on all unnecessary spending and indulgences.  Fair well, oh luscious garlic mayonnaise, good bye cream puffs, au revoir pommes frites.  Hello 2010 and austerity.

Well, that is not exactly going to work well with me.  The reality is to find economic meals that are “planet-sustainable” (that’s my kids talking) and delicious.  Which brings me to soups: split pea soup in particular.

What I like about thick soups is that they can become an easy meal, especially if you have made the soup ahead of time and have freeze it.   With my split pea soup (which I turn into a concentrate by reducing the liquid) I have had enough soup for 11 -12 servings.  Delicious, filling and low in calories, it is a perfect lunch for me.  And if you don’t think that it, along with fruit and a beverage, will be enough to get you through the day, add a spoonful of oat bran and flaxseed just before serving and mix well.

HEAVENLY SPLIT PEA SOUP

1 ham bone or ham hock

2 packets of dried green peas – approx. 2 lbs.

1 onion sliced finely

3 peeled potatoes,  rough chopped or sliced

3 peeled and chopped carrots

6 cups of water

6 cups of chicken stock, bouillon or broth

Salt and Pepper to taste

Oat Bran and Flax seed optional

DIRECTIONS:  Prep – 10 minutes, Cooking Time 1 ½ hours

In a large pot add water, chicken stock, peas, ham, onions, carrots, and potatoes. Using a medium setting,  cover and boil for ½ hour, then reduce heat to simmer for 1 hour.  Before serving either use a potato masher (easy to clean) or an immersion stick blender just enough to mash up the potatoes, however leaving some texture.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  If you want more fiber, add 1 teaspoon of oat bran and fax seed. Serve hot with croutons or oyster crackers (unless you’re on a diet, like me).  Give the dog the ham bone or strip the hock of the fat and give Fido the remains.  Woof, woof!

pea-soup-1pea-soup-2

Keep soup on simmer for another hour.  Soap will get very thick.  Cool down and place thicken mixture in plastic container.  Refrigerate or freeze.  To make a bowlful of soup, get approx. 1 – ½ cups of refrigerated split pea mixture and mix in ½ cup (approx) of chicken broth, bouillon or stock.  Microwave for 2 ½ minutes. Again season to taste, and for more fiber, add oatbran and flaxseed.

pork-loinSo after I spent a small fortune on New Year’s Eve Dinner – the lobster tail threw my budget out of whack- I’m back to being a cheap bitch.  This is going to really take the test, since my new year’s resolution is to cut back drastically on grain-fed beef, especially cattle that are fed predominately corn.  My eldest daughter, Suzanne, is particularly stressed to hear that most cattle are feed corn, and need antibiotics to keep them alive since the corn is not part of their natural diet.  Since my blood sugar has been elevated, I figure that keeping corn (you know, that starch-sugar-carb thing) out of my diet might be a good idea.  And I should cut down serving all meats for a healthier life. But when pork loin roll sells for $1.67 a pound (on sale), I’m a sucker.

Sometimes being cheap isn’t intuitive.  To really get me going, I visit Dee Dee’s blog at Every Day Frugal/ Every Day Green.  I’ve known Dee since I was a junior at Princeton High School in New Jersey and even in those days, she knew how to stretch a dollar.  As young women, we would hop in my car and go visit Pennsylvania outlets.  Our best score was the day we found the cashmere sweater outlet.  How we would agonize over which sweater to buy at outlandish price of $17.

Now when it comes to being cheap – oh, excuse me – frugal and thrifty, Dee has me beat.  She turns used cashmere sweaters into wonderful scarves, finds designer dresses at church bazaars for nearly nothing, can make dinner for two on a dime (no, she doesn’t have small children that throw tantrums if there is no steak), is committed to recycling, eating locally grown produce, and keeping a small footprint on the Earth (hers is size 5).  But if you have ever seen her house (pre-revolutionary war), her wardrobe and her life style, you would think that the woman lived the Town and Country dream life.  And she does, only with a lot less money and a lot less waste.

So these next three blogs are a salute to you, Dee.   There is no reason that inexpensive ingredients can’t make a wonderful meal.  The only thing that would make it better is to have you at my dinner table.

Pork Loin Roll with Tarragon, Onion and Fennel:  Prep – 20 minutes, Cooking time – 1 ½ hours

I usually buy a 4 – 6 lb pork roll, and cut it so that I can make at least 4 meals out of it.  I keep one for the night’s dinner and freeze the other 3.  Sometimes for veggies, I might use parsnips and turnips, or even apples.  Other times I just want fennel and onions (no potatoes, carrots or celery) and I would use ½ as much wine and water.

1 to 1 ½ pound of pork roll

2 finely sliced onions

2 sliced fennel bulbs – chop of the tops and cut out the hard center

¼ cup dried herbs – like herbs de Provence

½ cup white wine – I use “2 Buck Chuck ‘ that is found out Trader Joe’s

½ cup of water

4 – 6 potatoes – quartered or sliced – I use yellow or Yukon Golds.  Fingerlings or babies work well too.

4-6 carrots nicely sliced

3 sticks of celery – rough chop

Olive oil

Salt & Pepper to taste

In a large Dutch oven, pour enough olive oil to cover bottom and when hot, sear all sides of the pork.  Take out the pork from the oven, place it on a cutting board on one of its flat sides (this will make it look tall) and stick a large knife deep into it down the center (don’t go sissy on me, use this to relieve tension).  You probably won’t be able to go all the way to the bottom but try.  Then stuff tarragon and the herbs into the opening.

Saute the onions and fennel in the Dutch oven.  When soft, add the pork roll, wine, water, potatoes, carrots and celery.  Cover and cook at medium temperature.  After 20 minutes, reduce the heat to a low setting.  Cook for another 60 -70 minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste.

japanes-cucumberIt is that time of year when cool creamy salads are delightful.  This is a wonderful, quickly-made greek salad that doesn’t need dressing or a shaker.  If you are planning to serve this immediately as a salad, there is no need to strain the yogurt or sweat the cucumbers.  However if the tzatzikis is to have a longer shelf life – go ahead, strain the yogurt and sweat out the water from the cucumbers.  Sweating is easy, an hour before making the salad, cut the cucumbers, – I use the fine slicer on the food processor – put in a bowl, salt heavily, and mix well.  An hour later there will be a lot of water in the bowl and the cucumbers will be limp.  Squeeze out the remaining water from the cucumbers and rinse well.   Sweating cucumbers gets rid of the water and any bitter taste.

Ingredients

3 large English Cucumbers – You can use any cucumbers, but if they have large seeds, cut them out.

1 Cup of Yogurt – Greek yogurt is the best, but recently I tried Nancy’s Low Fat Yogurt and it was excellent.   Dannon’s no-fat was a “thumbs down”! Nasty texture.

1 large clove of garlic finely chopped or pressed

5 large sprigs of dill finely chopped

Couple dashes of pepper

Directions

Finely slice the cucumbers – sweat them if necessary

Place in a large bowl

Add yogurt, garlic, dill, pepper

Mix well

Serve with pita bread or chips as a dip.  I love it with the pepper lamb bits I buy at Trader Joe’s or when I make a leg of lamb with rosemary, garlic and anchovies.  Side dish is rice cooked in chicken bullion and curry powder (1.2 a tsp.).

Hint – When I am using this as a dip, I use the shredder attachment of my food processor.  After the cucumbers have sweated, I chop them up as finely as possible.

garlicI absolutely adore cooking with garlic.  What I don’t love about garlic is eating it raw.  For me, it is much too strong of a taste and what it does to one’s breathe should be illegal.  So for my salads, I use a garlic infusion which takes minutes to prep, and has a wonderful soft garlic flavor.  Just peel all the cloves in a bud of garlic (skip those teensy cloves), give the cloves a rough chop, fill a container or a SaladSuccess bottle with a lovely olive oil, and put in the chopped garlic.  If you are in the least worried about any bacteria issues with garlic or any herb, blanch the garlic for a minute before chopping.  Usually after having the infustion for four days, I take out the herbs and garlic.

Sometimes, for camping, I’ll get ready a SaladSuccess shaker just to hold an herbal infusion of olive oil, rosemary, tarragon and garlic.  It adds a wonderful gourmet touch to the campfire when frying trout and potatoes.  I also love having it around for tomato salads, and to rub into steaks before they go on the grill.

Although garlic is available all year round, the bulb gets dug up in the summer.  Some garlic bulbs are exceedingly mild in taste, such as Chet’s Italian Red and Red Toch (both Artichokes garlic bulbs that are often grown commercially). Some are medium flavored like Inchelium Red (another Artichoke) or Burgundy (a Creole ) while others are very hot and strong, such as Metechi (a marbled Purple Stripe) or Chinese Purple (Asiatic).  You can get the more exotic garlic bulbs in fine food stores or at your neighborhood farmers market.  Try them all, and see which ones you love.

close-up-layout-722Remember, a  lunch salad with vinaigrette made fresh out of  SaladSuccess shaker will help you eat better and feel great.  SaladSuccess is just $9.95 and gives you perfect vinaigrette and salad dressings every day with no fuss.