Sunday, August 13, 2006

A Trip to The Bargain Bin
Four Bucks and a Little Imagination!

I forced myself out of the air-conditioned comfort of home the other day. Didn't wander too far, with the price of gas and my conscience nagging at me to conserve, I went about a mile down the road to the little shopping center that houses Clemon's Produce.

I wandered the aisles taking in the large selection of produce, much of which was a little shop worn. I don't buy iffy, over the hill produce, regardless of price. But all was not in vain, rounding an aisle I came upon beautiful, crisp, bright green leeks. A large bunch of three lovely leeks was only $1.99.

Mireille Guiliano has a marvelous recipe for leek soup in her popular book, French Women Don't Get Fat. The soup is used to jump start a weight loss plan and I gave a split second thought to making that one but my mind quickly jumped to Mollie Katzen's wonderfully comforting Potato Leek Soup, simply made with carrots, celery, potato, leeks and enriched with butter. Mollie's version calls for the addition of milk. I substitute evaporated milk in soups that call for milk or cream. Evaporated milk provides the rich, smooth mouth feel of heavy cream without all the calories or the artery clogging fat and it's easy to keep on hand.

Potato-Leek Soup
3 fist sized potatoes
1 large carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
3 cups cleaned, chopped leeks
4 TBS unsalted butter
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups water
1 can evaporated milk
freshly ground pepper

Potato - Leek Soup

Scrub the potatoes, peel and cut into one inch chunks. Place them in a saucepan with the leeks, celery, carrot and butter. Add the salt. Cook the vegetables, stirring over medium heat until the butter is melted and all pieces are coated.

Add the water, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are soft (20 - 30 minutes) Check the moisture level and add more water if needed.

When the potatoes are tender, remove the pan from the heat and either puree the entire contents in a blender or food processor or as I've done, puree half. (I like the soup chunky). Return the soup to the saucepan, add the evaporated milk and freshly ground pepper. Taste for salt. Heat the soup gently, until just hot. Try not to let it boil.

After picking up the leeks, I found a pint of grape tomatoes for .99 and a quart /pound of strawberries for .99.

While the soup was simmering, I slipped the tomatoes, which I'd washed and sliced in half, onto a foil lined cookie sheet, sprayed them with a light misting of olive oil and sprinkled on a pinch of kosher salt, and then put them into a 275 degree oven to roast off. An hour or so later these luscious little oven dried tomatoes were ready. Once cooled, I stored them in the fridge in a covered container with a little olive oil to patiently wait to be the star of an easy pasta dish.

Oven Roasted Grape Tomatoes

Angel Hair Pasta w/ Roasted Tomatoes

Add a couple of minced garlic cloves to 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil. Saute with a dash of cracked red pepper flakes. Mince 8 pitted Calamata olives add to saute pan with oven dried tomatoes. Toss with angel hair pasta and a little pasta water. Top with pan roasted pine nuts and fresh basil. Fast, easy and good!

A few weeks ago, Amanda Hesser had an intriguing article and recipe in the New York Times for fresh strawberry sorbet made with lemon courtesy of those marvelous chefs, Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray of the River Cafe in London. You know, the ones who brought us that wonderful pork chop with lemon roasting technique.

Fortunately, the cylinder for my ice cream maker was tucked into the freezer ready to go, but unfortuntely, the veggie bin held many limes but nary a lemon. One of the great things about cooking is the fun and challenge of improvising . Without hesitation, I exchanged a lime for the lemon and proceeded to process this refreshing dessert.

Strawberry / Lime Sorbet

1/2 lemon or lime chopped

1 cup of sugar

1 pound strawberries, hulled

Juice of 1 lemon or lime

Place the chopped lemon or lime and sugar in the food processor, pulse until combined. Puree the strawberries along with the citrus juice of choice. Add to the chopped citrus/sugar mix, taste and add more juice as desired. The citrus flavor should be intense but shouldn't overpower the strawberries. Pour the mixture into an ice cream machine and process until frozen. I like to add a tablespoon of vodka at the end to keep the sorbet scoopable.

So there we have three great dishes. Easy to prepare and about as economical as you can get, short of eating plain beans!

'Till next time. . . keep on cooking!

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