Thursday, September 15, 2011

Slow Food $5.00 Value Meal Challenge

What a great long weekend Larry and I had not only in Upstate NY, but also our favorite city in Vermont, Burlington! Notwithstanding the gorgeous landscape of the green mountain state, we got to see our very special college girl and meet her lovely friends … but more on that later!

Lets chat about Slow Food: the Slow Food movement was founded in Italy by Carlo Petrini in 1986. It is basically promoted as an alternative to fast food, and strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine by encouraging the use of local farm products like vegetables and livestock. from its roots in Bra, Piemonte it’s grown to over 132 countries with nearly 800 chapters, 360 of which are in Italy. When I was in culinary school, in 2007, part of my practical training took place just outside of Parma, in a village called Colorno. From there we took field trips every week. One of the weeks we did a tour of Piemonte and I visited the University of Gastromomic Sciences, that was created in 2004 by Carlo Petrini and Massimo Montanari. It was quite amazing, I must say.

So how does all that tie in with this week? Well, Slow Food has issued a challenge to create the equivalent of a $5.00 “value meal” that is found in a fast food restaurant, using local fresh ingredients. (Slow Food Challenge) It sounds like it might be difficult, but as you will see below I managed to do exactly that, with some money to spare! Let me also say that many of the ingredients can be found in the grocery store, and some found at the farmers market. While farmers markets are just about the most awesome things on the planet – some of you may not be near one. Like I said in the previous blogs, look at everything before you buy it and make sure it’s fresh!

As you also know, from my previous posts, this blog is devoted to helping new apartment dwellers, in college or just out, learn to manage their way through the kitchen on a limited budget. I knew my work was cut out for me last weekend when I opened Elinor’s ‘fridge on Friday night and found mostly half used condiment jars, a prehistoric box that at one point contained a pizza and an empty butter dish. (Sorry for calling you out, babe.) No one said that balancing your budget was going to be easy. Choices are what life is all about. That’s what it all comes down to … a pack of cigarettes is about the same amount of money as a box of eggs, loaf of bread and a container of milk. However, my goal is to not be “preachy” -- everyone has to figure it out on their own – I certainly had to do so at your age. My goal here is to present you with tasty and healthy recipes for meals that are not going to break the bank!

So on Saturday night Larry and I asked Elinor and Julifer to invite some friends over for a “Slow Food” dinner. I was cooking a little “on the fly” (to use a kitchen term) that night with things they had in their pantry. After getting their input and comments, which were thoughtful, sincere and invaluable! I tweaked the recipes when I got home. So this post is dedicated to them!

You will notice inside the recipes I went through the exercise of estimating the value of all of the food, to give you an idea of how little these items really end up costing, in the final analysis. Also, each of the recipes are based on 4 servings. You could break them down to 2, but it’s just as easy to make enough for 4. If you have leftovers each of these dishes freeze extremely well and can be reheated easily. These recipes also take into consideration that you have a few things in the pantry and ‘fridge we discussed a few weeks ago. If you do need to buy a few of these items, they won’t push your budget too much.
Quinoa Cakes with Caramelized Vegetables
Serves 4

3/4 cup of Quinoa ($1.87)

1 1/2 cups of Water
Kosher Salt ($.03)
Ground Black Pepper ($.02)
3 Carrots, 1/4” dice ($.99)
1 Celery Rib, 1/4” dice ($.15)
1/2 Onion, 1/4” dice ($.25)
1 Garlic Clove, minced ($.04)
1 Egg, beaten ($.20)
2 tablespoons Corn Meal ($.19)
Carrot Greens, from the carrots
Canola Oil ($.24)

Add ½ teaspoon of salt and quinoa to a pot with the boiling water. Once the water comes back to a boil lower the heat and cover. Simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes covered. Lay the quinoa out on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and let it cool completely. This will take about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile sauté the vegetables with ½ teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon ground black pepper. Sauté for 5-10 minutes until caramelized. Remove from pan and mix in with the cooling quinoa.

Once the quinoa mix is completely cold add to a mixing bowl with the egg and sprinkle the cornmeal over it. Add another ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper and about 2 tablespoons of finely chopped carrot greens. (You will have more greens left to use with the chicken recipe below.) Mix well and form into 4 patties. Let the patties rest for about 5 minutes. In a non-stick pan heat 2 tablespoons of oil and gently place the patties in a hot pan. Cook for about 2-4 minutes on each side to get a nice golden crust. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Total cost of ingredients is $3.98, or .$99 per person.

Chicken, Kale and Mushroom Roulades
Serves 4

½ Onion, ¼” dice (.$25)
1 Garlic Clove, minced ($.04)
8 oz of Mushrooms, sliced ($1.99)
1 bunch of Kale, about 1 pound, rib removed and sliced very thin ($.99)
1 17 oz carton of low sodium Chicken Stock ($1.00)
1 lb thin sliced Chicken Breast Cutlets, rinsed and pat dry ($3.99)
2 tablespoons Butter ($.24)
2 tablespoons Corn Meal ($.19)
2 tablespoons Grated Parmesan Cheese ($.35)
Kosher Salt ($.03)
Ground Black Pepper ($.02)
2 tablespoons Chopped Celery Greens
Olive Oil ($.50)

In a large pan sauté the onions with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper. When they just begin to get soft add the garlic, mushrooms and the 1 tablespoon of chopped carrot greens from the previous recipe. Add another ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper and sauté until the mushrooms become golden and most of the liquid evaporates. Add the kale to the pan gently tossing with the mushrooms. Add another ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper and ½ cup of stock. Cover and steam for 5 minutes, or until the kale is soft. Remove from pan and allow to cool on a parchment lined cookie sheet.

Lay your chicken out on a plastic cutting board. Brush both sides with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle each piece with a little corn meal and parmesan cheese. Divide the cooled kale mix evenly between each of the thin cutlets leaving a 1/4 edge around each. (The filling will spread out a little when you roll it.) Roll each firmly and fasten with either a toothpick in one or two places to hold the rolls together, or with kitchen twine. 

In a non-stick pan with a tablespoon of oil carefully sear the rolls all the way around. This will take up to 10 minutes. Once you achieve a nice golden brown all the way around remove the rolls and cover loosely with foil to keep them warm.

Now for the sauce: In the same pan melt the butter and add the cornmeal. (When I made this in Burlington, I had to improvise when I discovered Elinor did not have flour in the cabinet to make the roux, or thickener, for the sauce. But you know what? The cornmeal added a really nice earthy quality that everyone liked.) When it gets slightly foamy slowly add the remaining stock, 1/2 cup at a time. When the sauce reaches a consistency of thin to medium thickness add the chicken back along with a tablespoon of chopped celery greens. Lower the heat and simmer for another 5 minutes bathing the chicken rolls in the sauce.

Cost of ingredients is $9.60 or $2.40 per person.

*Cook’s note: If you are not able to find carrots with green tops parsley may be substituted. The cost difference will be a wash as the carrots with green tops are approximately $1.99 and a regular bag plus the parsley will be about the same.

When I realized I had a little money to spare I thought I would give you one of the easiest recipes I have in my box – focaccia bread. What follows is the most basic version. I have done toppings in all shapes and sizes … olives, red pepper, cheese, meat … you name it. The pizza dough is a blank canvas and you can be as crazy and creative as you like. All you need is a little olive oil and some herbs!

Focaccia Bread
Serves 4

1 ball of prepared Pizza Dough, room temperature ($2.00)
2 tablespoons of Olive Oil ($.50)
2 teaspoons of blended dry herbs (.50)
Kosher Salt ($.03)
Ground Black Pepper ($.02)

Place the dough in an oiled bowl and let rise until doubled in a warm spot in the kitchen. Punch down and press out into a small oiled cookie sheet, cover and let rise again for about 30 minutes.

Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with herbs, salt and pepper. Place in a preheated 450 degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes until puffed and golden. Serve warm or at room temperature.


 Cost of ingredients: $3.05 or $.76 per person.

Let’s recap:

Quinoa Cake: $.99
Chicken Roulade: $2.40
Focaccia Bread: $.76
Total meal = $4.15 per person! 

As you can see, you even have $.95 to spare or $3.80. You can use that for a nice dessert!

My last thought I will leave you with this week: Please don’t hesitate to send me your comments, questions or suggestions. I would love to make this blog interactive with you. I would also love to hear your suggestions for dishes you would like to learn how to prepare.

Until next week, buon appetito tutti!


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