Times are tough for everyone. Poor kids in Brooklyn being no exception. And, as my dear friend Dr. Booze once exclaimed, "My tasting menus don't pay for THEMSELVES."
With that in mind, my Sidekick and I have been eating at home with much more frequent regularity. This isn't really anything new as we both love to cook as much as we love to eat. It has, however, made us think more than we ever have about curbing our spending, especially on groceries. Lucky for us, I was raised in a house where budgeting was NEVER synonymous with eating things like Hamburger Helper. My parents lovingly instilled within me the ability and desire to use humble ingredients to delicious, fresh and noble ends.
So, we've started to think about each meal in terms of how we can stretch our hard-earned dollars. We've stopped letting basic ingredients like eggs, cheese, bread and milk sit around in our fridge to die a slow, lonely death.
Breakfast is an excellent place to start. I'm in a diner phase, which means I crave a hearty breakfast around 11:30 every weekend morning. My Sidekick and I pulled together this bagel sandwich with eggs, some speck and aged provolone from snacks the night before, and a fruit salad of bananas, Granny Smith apples, a tangerine, topped with a bit of mascarpone (left over from a pasta sauce a few nights before), drizzled with cinnamon and honey.
Toad in the Hole (or eggs in a basket, as I grew up with them) are one of my Sidekick's go-to breakfasts. I love this breakfast, but always feeling like it's missing one element.
It's obvious that I'm a grilled cheese fanatic. I would eat it every day if I had my choice. I've also hatched a theory that most of my favorite meals are just a variation on a grilled cheese sandwich. Bagels and cream cheese, quesadillas, cheeseburgers, pizza, all just different forms of the same unbelievably wonderful idea. Bread, cheese, other stuff, heat.
With that in mind, I've started tinkering with Grilled Cheese Toad in the Hole. The first one I made (above) looked awesome in the pan. But the hole was so much deeper than in a normal piece of toast, that the egg couldn't spread out to cook evenly.
In subsequent versions I've made my signature Drunk-In-College grilled cheese and cut a much larger hole in the finished product. I then return it to the pan, drop a little nubbin of butter in the cut-out, and pour in an egg (seasoned with a bit of sea salt and some chives, this really becomes something to be proud of). The heat of the pan is important, I've discovered. If it's too hot, your egg starts to freak out, and becomes a mix of big craters and crunchy brown edges. Keeping the heat lower means that the whites have more time to set, while you keep your yolk nice and runny for dipping purposes.
I'll continue to mess with this and report back.
Extending this buy-cheap-eat-famously philosophy to dinner, we've been eating a lot of root vegetables, especially beets. Beets are awesome for so many reasons. They make everything pretty, taste delicious, are so easy to cook a monkey could do it and top out at $2.50 a bunch. It took me a little while to win my Sidekick over to beets. Anyone forced to eat nothing but pickled pink disks from a can in their childhood will obviously have some reservations. Now, he's a beet fiend.
Our cheap and quick Valentine's Day dinner? Roasted beet and goat cheese risotto, with a salad of roasted shitake mushrooms, sticky-sweet cubes of rosemary roasted parsnip, watercress and a roasted garlic vinaigrette.
The next night, we had some leftover beets and beet greens. This led us to a garlic and mustard rubbed flank steak with creamy horseradish beets and sauteed greens.
With stuff this dirt cheap and pretty, who could ever eat tuna-noodle casserole again?
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