Happy Birthday, iTunes!

I tend to be a sporadic iTunes checker these days. I got really excited when I brought home my first iPad and downloaded all kinds of crazy stuff only to realize I had no idea what I owned. Needless to say, I dialed back the purchases.
But, last night a friend tipped me off that iTunes was celebrating its 5th birthday this week. Apple is offering free apps to the masses to commemorate the occasion. My friend said it was mainly games, but I decided to check it out anyway and I’m glad I did. They are offering some gold mines in there! My favorite score: the iPad version of How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. It’s normally a $10 app (and $20 if you want the book version from Amazon), but for me, it was FREE.
For those of you who don’t know, I have a healthy obsession with Mark Bittman. He’s the lead food columnist for the New York Times. He’s a great cook (and dare I say, a great American!). I’m currently trying to live a VB6 lifestyle which he details in his latest book. I also love his Kitchen Express (a great purchase for people who have a fridge full of food and no idea what they are going to do with it). I have been meaning to pick up HTCE for a while, but I have no space for it in my tiny apartment (and no dollars to buy it either). Clearly, the cooking Gods smiled on me today!
In addition to my great find, iTunes is also offering a DJ app, which I downloaded to see of I can up my cool factor, and a map app with details on all the countries around the world. Oh, and there are games too. Lots and lots of games. It’s definitely work checking out.
Happy birthday, iTunes! I’ll be sure to bake you a cake from my new cook book.

Crawfish Boil Cornbread

This weekend was my friend Dave and Sarah’s annual crawfish boil.  For those of you who have never been to a crawfish boil before, this is what it looks like.

Dave and Sarah had those suckers shipped in from Louisiana. This thing is no joke. We had 4 pots that looked just like this. It’s seriously a full-time job to get everything cooked.

Anyway, they always do such a great job with the party, so I wanted to bring them something to contribute. I went to my cupboard to see what I could come up with, and I decided on cornbread. Not only did I own all the ingredients, but I thought it would be a good complement to the crawfish. And, if we’re being totally honest, a little extra bread product is good to have at these things. You don’t really get a full meal from the boil, so the beer (or in my case, mint juleps) tends to catch up with you.

I adapted a recipe from one of my many Junior League cookbooks. It was a hit, especially with the kids who couldn’t handle the spice in the boil. I even had disposable tin pans to bake it in, so I didn’t have to worry about clean up! Double bonus.

Here’s the recipe.

Cornbread

1 1/2 c. yellow cornmeal
1 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp baking powder
2 eggs
1 1/2 sticks of butter (12 Tbsp), melted and cooled
1 1/2 c. milk

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Sift dry ingredients together. Beat the eggs lightly, add the butter and blend. Stir in the milk.

mix

Add the dry ingredients and mix until smooth. You can do this with a whisk, no fancy beater needed! Dump the mix into a buttered baking dish (I cheated and used Bakers Joy to grease the pan cause I’m lazy).

cornbread

Bake for 30 minutes (but start to watch it after 25, so it doesn’t get dry). Serve hot or cold. Crawfish optional.

Springtime Sunday Dinner – Menu of Champions

DinnerSetUp

Last night, my brother and I collaborated on a long overdue birthday dinner for my dad and stepmother.  We put on a spectacular party if I do say so myself – all very Discountess-friendly.

We planned a menu that used a lot of the same ingredients, which helped make the grocery shopping more efficient and cut down on waste. I don’t know about you, but it really fries me when I have to buy a bunch of fresh herbs only to use one tablespoon and have the rest go bad.  I felt totally vindicated when we conjured up this menu because it used up most of the ingredients we had to buy!

We started with Ina Garten’s Tuscan Mashed Chickpeas on a toasted baguette. Not only was the recipe easy, but it used basic pantry items that I had on hand.

For the main course,  we had roasted salmon. Since it was the star of the meal, I didn’t scrimp on the cut of the fish. I headed to an old family favorite, Cannon’s Fish Market, in Georgetown. They gave me a center cut of an 8 lb fish (I only needed about 3) for $28.89. I roasted it with a bunch of dill, parsley, lemon and green onions in the center, finished off with some salt and pepper. I drizzled olive oil on the top, added thinly sliced lemons, and tossed it in the oven at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Doesn’t it look pretty?

SalmonDinner

I made a “salsa verde” to go with the salmon that used up the rest of the fresh herbs. It was a sleeper hit! We rounded out the main course with a new potato salad and fresh asparagus. Wine was courtesy of my trip to California. And for dessert, individual strawberry shortcakes, recipe courtesy of Bisquick.

All in all a lovely meal, and for my part, the total tally did not exceed $80 (which will eventually be split between the two of us). Not bad!

For those who want it, I’m including the Salsa Verde recipe below. I highly recommend it! Easy and delicious. I don’t know how capers and mint go together, but trust me, THEY DO.

Salsa Verde

1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, pressed

1 handful capers

1 large bunch parsley, washed and coarsely chopped

1 handful fresh mint, washed and coarsely chopped

Juice of  1 lemon

1/4  cup olive oil

Salt and cracked pepper to taste

Place the garlic, capers and fresh herbs in a blender. Add half the lemon juice and olive oil, and pulse a few times. Add more oil and lemon juice as needed to create a sturdy, herb-heavy sauce, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with salmon. Can be made a day or two in advance.

Chicken Meatball and Orzo Soup

I’m getting ready for my Caribbean vacation this week. I leave on Thursday – woo hoo! Anyway, I’m attempting some money-saving and healthy eating this week, so I can afford to eat in St. John AND look good while doing it.

I found this recipe in an old Food and Wine that I’d forgotten to throw away. I decided to go through the magazine one more time before getting rid of it, and this little gem emerged. Not only did it look easy and healthy, but I owned most of the required ingredients. Double score!

I made this soup yesterday, and it will be starring in my lunches this week. It’s a soup triple threat–healthy, easy, and delicious. Here’s the recipe.

Chicken meatball and orzo soup

1 cup orzo
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
6 cups chicken broth
1 pound fresh chicken sausage (you can choose any kind. I did roasted red pepper and garlic), cut off the casings and divide the meat into 1-inch meatballs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
One bunch of red swiss chard cut into bite size pieces (the original recipe calls for a 5-ounce bag baby spinach, but I happened to have the chard on hand).

Cook the orzo in salted, boiling water until it’s al dente. Drain and rinse the orzo under cold water until it cools.

In a another soup pot, heat the olive oil. Add the chicken meatballs and cook over medium high heat until lightly browned, about 4 minutes.

image-4

Transfer the meatballs to a plate. Add the chopped garlic to the pot and cook over moderate heat until lightly golden, about 1 minute. Add the broth, bring to a simmer, and season with salt and pepper. Add the meatballs to the broth and simmer until they are cooked through, about 3 minutes.

Add the chard and cooled orzo to the simmering broth and cook, stirring, until the chard is wilted and the soup is piping hot, about 1 minute.

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Ladle the soup into bowls and serve. And, this is what the end result looks like.

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The recipe makes about 4 servings. Here’s the budget breakdown.

Chicken Sausage – $5.19 (x2)
Orzo – $0.99
Supplemental chicken broth – $0.99
Chard, garlic, salt, pepper, most of the chicken broth, and olive oil – all owned, i.e. FREE.

Grand total for 4 weekday lunches was $12.36, or $3.09 per lunch. 

Bringing It, Potluck-style

I was invited to a potluck dinner party last weekend, and my job was to bring the appetizer. I was desperately trying to figure out what to bring when I remembered a recent post on fromage fort from one of my favorite cooking sites, Smitten Kitchen.

Fromage fort is the perfect contribution for the budget conscious guest. It basically takes left over cheese, mixes it together with wine and herbs, and makes it into a soft cheese pate. Depending on which cheese you use, it could taste slightly different each time. But, trust me, it is always yummy.

I used leftover brie, emmentaler, and parrano that I found floating around in the back of my fridge. This is what  it looked like in the beginning.

shreddedcheese

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On my way home from work, I stopped at my favorite local shop, Stachowski’s to get some fresh herbs. The owner didn’t have any out, but when I asked, he nicely gave me some from the back. FOR FREE. God, I love that place. I swear if they served coffee on weekend mornings, I would be there all the time.

Anyway, I used the grater attachment in my cuisinart to grate the hard cheese, and then cubed the soft cheese and added it in. I dumped in some fresh Stachowski’s thyme and minced garlic, hit pulse, and drizzled white wine through the feed tube until it meshed together into a consistency I liked.

I stuck it in the fridge overnight to let the flavor develop, and it was ready to go before my dinner on Saturday. I served it with pita chips, but it would be good with crusty bread or any other type of cracker. This is what the Smitten Kitchen version looks like (we ate mine before I could get a good picture!)

Here’s the recipe (adapted from Smitten Kitchen):

1 pound mix leftover cheese, harder cheeses grated, softer ones cut into chunks
1 Tbsp soft butter
1 small clove garlic, minced, or more to taste
1/2 to 1 cup leftover white wine
1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, thyme, rosemary or chives
1 to 2 Tbsp. dry sherry
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Blend cheese, butter, and garlic in food processor until combined. Add the wine through the feed tube with the motor running until you get a smooth consistency, but it’s not too liquid. Add herbs and sherry and pulse until just combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Not only was the final result delicious and inexpensive, but it looked fancy and made a lot. I gave half to my mom for a dinner party she went to on Sunday night, and we both had leftovers!

 

 

Breakfast of Champions

I hibernated at my mom’s house all weekend to help out with some things (very good for the old bank account). We found ourselves in need of breakfast on Sunday morning and without anything to cook. And then, I rediscovered Swedish Pancake, a family staple recipe clipped from Parade Magazine early in my childhood.  Not only is this dish easy to make (and I mean EASY), it is super Discountess-friendly. It uses ingredients that are regularly in anyone’s fridge and pantry, and it comes out looking like you are the chef at the Four Seasons (which, for the non-Discountess types, has a totally decadent brunch).

breakfast

Swedish Pancake

1 stick of butter

1/2 c. milk

1/2 c. flour

2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Put the stick of butter in a cast iron skillet and place in the oven while it’s preheating. (Two notes: You can use a 9×13 pan too if you want it will just make a thinner pancake; Also, watch the butter to be sure it doesn’t burn). Whisk the eggs, flour, and milk together in a bowl until just blended. When the butter is melted and the oven is fully heated, add the mixture to the skillet. Cook for 12 minutes, until the pancake is puffed up and golden on top.

Serve hot with whatever you have. I used powdered sugar and berries. It’s also delicious with maple syrup or jam.

Perfect for a lazy Sunday or an impromptu brunch. Trust me, your guests will thank you.

Off the Beaten Path Birthday Dinner

So my brother’s birthday was this weekend, and as far as birthday’s go, it was a semi-big one so I felt a get-together was in order. Keeping an eye on my coins was important, but I also wanted it to be fun for him and our friends. Enter the best idea ever…

I got a reservation for 17 of our nearest and dearest at Thai X-ing, a local Thai supper club in Ledroit Park. Kudos to my mom for sending me the link! It turned out to be the perfect place. A dinner for 17 can be difficult to figure out – and this one was not without some logistics – but we managed to make it work.

Thai X-ing is actually a regular D.C. row house that has been converted into a restaurant. It has fabulous nooks and crannies for little tables. We were actually in an upstairs room at a big feast table. There was one other party in the room with us when we sat down. Sadly, they were no match for us, and they quickly left us to ourselves. It was probably for the best because at one point we commandeered the iPod speakers to play Top 40 hits and sing at the top of our lungs. This party was not for sissies.

If you’re thinking of hosting a group birthday dinner, I’d highly recommend this place. Here’s why.

1. The food was amazing. They were also very accommodating to one person in our party who had a food allergy. Granted to really enjoy it, you have to be adventurous and willing to try everything, but it was all so delicious I can’t imagine not wanting to taste everything!

2. No menus, one price. The meal itself was $50 a person plus tip. Our friends were gracious enough to contribute a bit extra to pay for my brother’s meal, so the per person grand total was $65 for everything. Not bad for a full 5 course, homemade Thai meal! Everyone brought cash, so we were able to count and pay quickly without having to deal with splitting the check over multiple cards.

3. BYOB. This was actually perfect, especially for the Discountess. As his birthday present, I provided the alcohol for everyone. I checked out my trusty Rodman’s circular. For those who’ve never been to Rodman’s, you’re missing out. It’s a great place to get wine, beer, specialty groceries, etc for good prices. Anyway, they had Beck’s 16 oz. can cases on sale for $20 – I picked up 3 cases and a magnum of delicious french red wine for $13.99 (no seriously, it was really good!). Mom contributed 6 bottles of white wine from her stash, and we were good to go! The beers were especially key, by the way. Much easier to carry into the restaurant and far better to deal with when cleaning up! They let us roll right in with a cooler. It was awesome.

In short, this was a perfect place to have a fun dinner with friends. Everyone had a great time, especially my brother.  Sunday was a slower day for some, but it was a small sacrifice to make to the party Gods.

P.S. I know I owe you a November budget rundown. I’m working on it. It’s ugly, and I’m having a hard time facing it, especially in print…

The Discountess Does Baubles and Brunch

This weekend, I agreed to host a Stella and Dot party for a good friend who is a S&D sales rep. This is my first party as the Discountess, so it’s quite the budgetary challenge. I thought hosting a brunch would allow me to put on a lovely party for my 20 attendees without blowing my budget entirely. Here’s my thinking:

1. Brunches are kid-friendly. Many of my friends have small children, so brunch fits more easily into the nap schedule. Most of the kiddies are portable too, so I invited them to come along. After all, in order to have a party you need to have guests!

2. Less Expensive Food. I want to have plenty of food for my friends, and luckily, brunch food is a bit cheaper than a regular cocktail party menu. I can have an egg dish, fruit salad, some hor d’oeuvres, and viola! Brunch is served.

3. Curbed Cocktail Consumption. Buying enough wine and champagne for a cocktail party is pretty pricey, but I’m guessing brunch shouldn’t be too bad. I’m definitely planning to serve fun, brunch-y cocktails – champagne and Mimosas (coffee and tea will be served as well for those who are off the sauce). I’m assuming that people will have errands to run, naps to get to etc on Sunday afternoon, so I won’t need to stock the bar as much for this party as I would for a cocktail party.  We’ll see if they drink me out of house and home.

In addition to proving that this Discountess can host a good party on a dime, the other MAJOR benefit of hosting an S&D party is that the hostess gets awarded a certain amount of S&D credit based on how much people buy. I’m hoping I can get enough credit to offset the cost of a few Christmas presents, and maybe a present or two for myself.

For anyone who wants to do some early Christmas shopping, here is a link to the online store for the party.

And in case you need recommendations, I’m currently coveting the following:

Not-so budget vacation

Just returned from a fabulous long weekend visiting a good friend and her fiance in L.A. I was worried about maintaining my Discountess-ness while there, and it turns out I was right to stress. Here’s my current state of affairs:

1. Shopping budget – blown. Even with the money I saved from not heating or ACing my house this month, it’s all gone.

2. Food and Drink Budget – teetering on the brink. I have about $60 left, which anyone in DC will tell you is about 3 glasses of wine until the end of the month. Sad.

3. Transportation budget – blown. That included a $40 parking stint at Dulles airport, which was the cheapest option I might add!

The good news is that I had an awesome time. My friends and I cruised Manhattan Beach and saw all the surfers. I scored this awesome pair of earrings at a local boutique called BLVD. See below.

 

 

 

We also went to this adorable bookstore (like, the old-fashioned kind that has real books and is not hosted online). And, my life will be forever changed by the discount fish tacos at this place!

I’m deeming this a cultural/vacation success, but a budgetary failure. I have 6 more days in the month, but they include a visiting friend this weekend, a Halloween party (costume needed!), and two outings for drinks with friends. We’ll see if my bank account makes it.

 

Discount Dinner for Two

I had dinner with an old friend on Friday. Typically, when we meet up, we’ll go get sushi or have a few glasses of wine somewhere. However, I’m still in save mode, so I opted to cook a homemade meal­—pasta with onion and bacon and a green salad.  I have to say that this is actually one of my favorite dishes anyway, so it is even better that it’s so inexpensive to make.

Here’s the recipe:

½ c. pancetta or good bacon

1 onion, minced

1 28 oz. can whole plum tomatoes, drained and crushed

1 tsp. crushed red pepper or more (optional)

1 lb. pasta (I prefer penne, but linguine is also good)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Parmesan cheese

 

Boil salted water for the pasta.

Cook the bacon or pancetta in a skillet over medium heat until done. Remove the meat, and turn off the heat for a minute or two to let the oil cool down a bit. Turn the oil back on, add the onion, and cook it until it browns. Crush and add the tomatoes and the red pepper to the onion mixture (I think it’s easiest to crush them with my hands, but you can also use a fork). Turn the heat up to medium high. Cook, stirring occasionally until the mixture becomes saucy (about 10-15 minutes). Crush the bacon into bits and stir back into the sauce before serving.

Top pasta with sauce and Parmesan and viola! It makes 4 servings at about $2.50 per serving. Fast, cheap, and delicious.