The Ultimate Condiment: Caramelized Onion Jam

Every other week, I get a delivery of local fruits and vegetables from Washington’s Green Grocer. They deliver in-season fruits and veggies year-round and straight to your door. It’s a total indulgence, but I have loved doing it. (Incidentally, their website has a great blog and a whole host of yummy recipes for using their deliveries in the right way)

The issue I have about using the Green Grocer is trying to figure out how to use the entire contents of the box each week. It can be tricky, but I hate throwing away food so I try to get creative. Recently, they’ve been big on onions, so this past weekend, I took advantage of the rainy Sunday to make caramelized onion jam.

The beauty of this stuff is that it’s good on everything and it keeps for weeks. You can use it to top chicken or pork, add it to softened cream cheese and serve it with crackers for an hors d’oeurve, toss it in chicken salad, or my personal favorite, add it to a grilled cheese sandwich. Total perfection.

It does take a while, but you don’t have to pay much attention to it so you can get other things done. I highly recommend it. Here’s the recipe (adapted from America’s Test Kitchen).

Caramelized Onion Jam

3 tablespoons olive oil
4 pounds onions, halved and sliced through root end into ¼-inch-thick pieces
Salt and pepper
¾ cup dry red wine
½ cup water
⅓ cup sugar
¼ cup balsamic vinegar (preferably aged/good quality)
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme

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Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and place the rack to lower-middle portion. Spray the inside of Dutch oven with vegetable oil spray.  Add oil and heat until it shimmers. Stir in onions and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover, put the pot in the oven, and cook for 1 hour. (The onions will be moist and slightly reduced in volume.)

Remove pot from oven and stir onions, scraping bottom and sides of pot. Return pot to oven, partially covered, and continue to cook, until onions are dark golden brown, about 1½ to 1¾ hours. Stir the onions and scrape bottom and sides of pot about every 30 minutes to ensure they cook evenly. Transfer onions to cutting board, let cool slightly, and then chop into rough 1-inch pieces.

Put the chopped onions back into the dutch oven, stir in wine, water, sugar, vinegar, and thyme to deglaze the pan. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat. Cook until liquid is reduced and rubber spatula or wooden spoon leaves distinct trail when scraped across bottom of saucepan, about 8 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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Transfer jam to jar with tight-fitting lid, let cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate. The jam can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks. Bring to room temperature before using.

Here is the finished product. It’s hard to imagine that all of those onions are jammed into this one little jar (no pun intended…well, maybe a little).

 

 

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There are a million variations to this recipe, so you can feel free to experiment as you like. Here are some other versions to get you started – try this from the Green Grocers site, this one from Oh Cake that uses sweet and regular onions , or this one which uses bourbon to add the sweet, tart flavor.

Make Your Own Microwave Popcorn

This fabulous snack suggestion comes from my cousin who runs an adorable Bed and Breakfast in Jericho, Vermont.  Incidentally, her brother was our tour guide during our recent trip to St. John. I guess that side of the family digs the hospitality business.

Anyway, her suggestion is something that I’ve actually done before – not only to save money but also to have a diet-friendly snack food on hand at home. I crave salty snacks so homemade microwave popcorn really hits the spot and isn’t as bad for you as potato chips.

All you have to do is buy a set of brown lunch bags and a pack of popcorn kernels (I get bags of it in the bulk aisle at the Safeway). I put about 2 tablespoons of kernels in the bag, folder over the top a few times, and toss it in the microwave for about a minute and a half. The same microwave popcorn cooking rules apply here – if the popping noise starts to space out  then it’s probably done. Keep a misto sprayer on hand for when it’s done. I usually do a couple of sprays and add some seasoning. My favorite is Tony Chachere’s Cajun seasoning, but you can do all kinds of things.

Thanks to my darling cousin for doing the math. Here is the budget breakdown.

Total cost to purchase some chemical-laden Orville Redenbachers: $5.59 for 10 packs

Total cost for the homemade version:
1 pack of brown lunch bags, $1.29
1 package of popcorn kernels, $1.99

For a grand total of 50 servings at $0.06 a serving.

In her own words: Ba da bing, good, low-fat popcorn. Thanks for the suggestion!

Have any other Discountess (and diet) friendly snack ideas? Send them my way!

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).

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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

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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?

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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.

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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. 

The Great Oatmeal Challenge – Complete!

Well, I did it. Yesterday, I completed my Great Oatmeal Challenge. It took me over 6 weeks and approximately 32 oatmeal breakfasts to finish. Talk about a feat!

Thanks to all of you who sent recipes and ideas to keep me from getting bored! Since I make my breakfast at work, it was a little hard to try all of them. I did manage to try a few, but mainly I stuck to oatmeal, flax-seed, cinnamon, and either berries or half a banana. You should see the cabinet where I keep all this stuff in my office. It looks like I knocked over the Harris Teeter.

The fruit was a great addition, and it helped the oatmeal be a more filling. I really need a stick to your ribs breakfast. Otherwise, I become ravenous in the afternoon, and I’m entirely inconsolable until I eat a bag of swedish fish. It’s a bad, bad situation.

My challenge did help me stay off the fish (mostly), and it also allowed me to save a BUNCH of money. By my calculations, each bowl of oatmeal cost a whopping $0.08. Not too shabby! The fruit cost extra, but even adding in the cost of fruit, the meal is still well under $1. Compare that to a $3 oatmeal from Starbucks, and I think you’ll see who the clear winner is…

ME.

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.

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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!

 

 

Red Carpet Chili Dinner

My Oscar party and critique session was a huge success! Thank God I strategized in advance – it turned out to be the perfect action plan.

For hors d’oeuvres, we had hummus and carrots and crackers with cream cheese and pepper jelly. And wine of course! I happened to own all of it, even the pepper jelly, which I actually made with a friend a few weeks ago.

The one-pot meal was ideal. It was delicious, inexpensive, and so easy. I’d highly recommend this for an easy meal for a big group. I was able to heat it up on its own, so I could concentrate on the travesty that was 2013 Oscar fashion (check out this excellent recap from my friends at Cardigans and Couture).

Here’s the recipe:

Firehouse Chili

1 Tbsp. Vegetable oil
11/2 lbs. ground turkey (you can use ground beef as well)
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
Salt to taste
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. cumin
2 Tbsp. chili powder
2 10 oz. cans Rotel tomatoes, undrained
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
2 16 oz. cans red kidney beans, undrained

Heat the oil in a large dutch oven. Add the meat, stirring to break up the lumps, and cook until brown. Add onion, garlic, and jalapeno and cook until the onion is limp. Drain off any excess fat from the pan.  Add salt, cayenne, oregano, cumin, and chili powder. Add tomatoes, sauce, and beans. Mix well and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes uncovered. Cover and cook for 1 1/2 hours more.

Serves 8.

For the fixins bar, I had red onion, cheese, sour cream, avocado, chopped tomato, fritos scoops, and fresh chopped cilantro. Of course, I forgot to take any pictures, but it looked something like this:

A friend contributed the salad, which she threw that together right before we ate. Another 2 ladies contributed cookies for dessert (including my favorite homemade molasses cookies – thank you Christina!). And the rest of the ladies brought wine and champagne.

Everyone ate a ton and talked even more. When I turned on my TV this morning to watch the news, the volume was at 74. Clearly, the TV couldn’t compete with our strong conversation skills!

But, I have to say the best part of the party was the clean up. One lap with a trash bag, and it was all done. Genius!

Here is my total tally for the dinner party (note: I made a double recipe of the chili to have some extra for dinner this week):

Turkey – $7.99
Kidney Beans – $1.89 x 2
Tomato Sauce  – $.65 x 2
Rotel – $1.99 x 4
Jalapenos – $.11 x 2
Fritos Scoops – $3.89
Sour Cream – $2.50
Cilantro – $1.09
Avocados – $1.70 x 2
Hot House Tomatoes – $1.65 x 2
Paper bowls – $2.29

Grand total to serve dinner to 8 of my dear friends and me: $37.72

Dinner for 9 under $40 = one happy Discountess!

Checking In On the Great Oatmeal Challenge

I’m about halfway through my tub of Oatmeal, which means I’m about a month in to my challenge. I’m not bored with my combos yet, but it’s dangerously close. I’ve mainly been doing one of two things to take my breakfast up a notch  – adding berries OR adding half a banana and a dash of nutmeg. The latter version tastes a bit like banana bread. Delish!

I did give the pumpkin “pie” oatmeal that my friend Kate recommended in my last post, but I have to say that it wasn’t my favorite. I could never get the sweetness to vegetable ratio right, so it just tasted starchy. Plus, it made my breakfast an unsettling neon orange color.

Any other thoughts for me as I start month 2?  I’m desperate for a new option!

Easy Skillet Pot Pie

My mom came over for dinner and Downton Abbey this week. She believes that On Demand is a magical thing that only occurs on my TV, so she has to come to my house (with 2 dogs in tow) to watch it. We had a great time hanging out and catching up on last week’s episode.

When I have a great cook over for dinner, I automatically get nervous about what I’m going to make. And my mom is a great cook. To add insult to injury, I  haven’t been to the grocery store in weeks! I did get a box of fresh veggies from my CSA last week so I decided to start there. I also had baked some chicken breasts earlier in the week, which I wanted to use up.

I decided to make a skillet pot pie. It was a first for me. I based my version off an Epicurious recipe, but had to be creative with some ingredients based on what I had. Plus, Epicurious’ version was a little too calorie-laden, so I lightened my version up with less oil and flour. Trust me, it did not sacrifice flavor.

I have to say despite many experiments within the recipe, the dish turned out beautifully. It was easy to make, and did not take long at all. I would highly recommend it for last-minute guests or a low-key dinner with friends.

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Skillet Pot Pie

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup frozen white pearl onions, thawed
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon herbs de Provence
1 1/2 c. shredded brussels sprouts
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 small butternut squash, peeled, cut into 1/2″ pieces (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 c. shredded chicken (I used chicken breast, but you could also use about 1/2 a rotisserie chicken as well)
1  sheet frozen puff pastry (I used Pepperidge Farm), thawed
1 egg

Place a rack in upper third of oven, and preheat to 425°F. Heat oil in an 8″ cast-iron or other heavy ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, about 4 minutes.

Reduce heat to medium-low. Add garlic and herb de Provence to skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic begins to brown, about 2 minutes.

Add brussels sprouts and season with salt and pepper. Cook, tossing often, until it’s a little wilted. Sprinkle flour over. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.

Stir in broth, 1/2-cupful at a time, then add squash. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until squash is just softened and broth is thickened, about 8-10 minutes. Add chicken to skillet, stir, and season with salt and pepper.

Unfold pastry and smooth out the creases. Place the pastry over the skillet, allowing corners to hang over sides. Mix the egg and 1 teaspoon water in a small bowl, and brush pastry with the egg wash. Cut four 1″ slits in top to vent before placing it in the oven.

The recipe said to bake pot pie  for about 15-20 minutes until pastry is beginning to brown. Then, reduce oven temperature to 375°F and bake for another 15-20 minutes until pastry is deep golden brown and crisp. Each oven is different, so I’d urge you to watch your puff pastry in the first 10 minutes (or so) to make sure it doesn’t brown too quickly. I ended up turning the oven down after 10 minutes and moving the pan to the bottom of the oven to cook for the rest of the time.

Let the pie cool for 10 minutes before serving with a salad on the side. Et viola!

NOTE: This is sort of a “kitchen sink” type recipe, so you can experiment with a lot of different combinations of veggies. You can also speed up the cook time by chopping the vegetables and shredding the chicken in advance. Easy peasy.