Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Baked Eggs Forentine

Luxuriate after a long workweek with The 99 Cent Chef's luscious Baked Eggs Forentine. Go ahead, you deserve it. It's the most delicious edible bonus, a rich-tasting creamy spinach sauce crowned with a soft cooked egg. The name makes it sound haute, but it's not.

All you do to make the sauce is saute some onion, add the spinach to wilt, then pour in some milk, and finally, thicken with a little flour and dried parmesan. Or, you can substitute the parmesan with any favorite cheese you have on hand, even cream cheese. Just blend it in when the spinach sauce is warmed through.

I added the spinach sauce to a small ceramic ramekin and topped it with an egg. You want to bake it at 375 degrees about 20 minutes, until the whites of the egg have set. If you want the yoke slightly cooked through, then the cooking time will be about 25 minutes total.

It's certainly economical, especially when you take home a meager paycheck. Eggs, spinach, onion, milk and dried parmesan - check. Yeah, they're all cheap and I get the ingredients at my local 99c only Store and Latin grocery store.

I used fresh spinach from the bag. You could use one bunch of fresh spinach, or a small package of defrosted and drained frozen spinach.With a bunch of spinach from the produce section of your local market, just make sure cut off the long stems and wash the leaves.

My Baked Eggs Florentine is a great way to start the weekend, along with a hot cup of coffee and pleasant company.

 Ingredients (2 servings)
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups of spinach leaves - I lightly pressed them into a measuring cup. Okay to use a small package of defrosted frozen spinach, drained. A bag of spinach is easy to use.
  • 1/2 cup of milk - any type, 2% or whole milk. Okay to use half and half cream, for a richer sauce.
  • 1/4 chopped onion - white or yellow onion.
  • 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg - optional. I've made it without and it tastes fine.
  • 1 tablespoon of dried parmesan - okay to use any cheese you have on hand. About a 1/4 cup shredded.
  • 1 teaspoon flour
  • 1 teaspoon cooking oil - for sauteing onion and spinach.
  • Black pepper to taste - I find dried parmesan has plenty of salt.
  • 2 ceramic ramekins - for baking.

Add 1/4 of a chopped onion to a medium hot pan with a teaspoon of oil. Saute onion for a couple of minutes until softened.

Add 4 cups of fresh spinach to sauteed onion and cook and stir until wilted. The spinach will quickly shrink and soften after a couple of minutes.

Sprinkle on a teaspoon of flour and mix well. Pour in half cup of milk or cream. Heated through for a couple of minutes then sprinkle on dried parmesan.

Finally add 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg (optional) and a little black pepper to taste.

Get the oven heating to 375 degrees. Add spinach sauce to the ramekins. I fill them no more than half way, as the sauce will rise and bubble. Top each ramekin with an egg. You can sprinkle on a little salt and pepper if you want. It's a good idea to put a wide pan underneath the ramekins, in case some of the spinach sauce overflows.

I guess this is the trickiest part is: how well done do you like your egg? I like my egg yokes runny so for a 375 degree oven it takes about 20 minutes. For a yoke that is still just barely soft, then the time will be closer to 25 minutes.

You will know by checking that the eggs white is cooked solid. And if the yoke has a little give when pressed with your fingertip.

Of course, be careful when you are handling an oven-hot ceramic ramekin.

You might want to wait a minute for cooling, when serving right out of the oven. The spinach sauce will be hot like the ramekin, so eat carefully and enjoy. For serving to kids, then allow it all to cool down longer.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Veggie Pasta Salad

My pasta salad is made cheaply with veggies found at my local Latin grocery and supplemented by pasta from the 99c only Store - it's the best of both worlds.

Green bell peppers are cheaper than red and yellow ones, so that's what I usually get. Mexican squash is cheaper than yellow squash. Broccoli is frequently on sale and celery is cheap everywhere.

Just because I'm a cheap$kate, doesn't mean I have to eat unhealthy. I've gotten gluten free and whole wheat pasta from my local 99c only Store. It's not always there, but when it is I get a few packages. I like the flavor and it's good to mix it up, instead of always cooking with regular white flour pasta.

When making a Veggie Pasta Salad, you want to taste the veggies raw, just to see if you like it that way. If not then try blanching them in boiling water for a minute or two. This takes out the harshness, and leaves a more mellow and subtle flavor. It also removes any slight bitterness you may detect. But I find most veggies are delish even raw - once you've tried it that way a few times.

Broccoli, squash, asparagus, corn, green beans and cauliflower do well with a quick blanching. Carrots, onions, celery, cucumber, and tomato are easily eaten raw. As for the amount, you can adjust to your veggie preference.

Veggie Pasta Salad can be made with almost any vegetables you find on sale. As for the salad dressing I like to use vinegar and olive oil, although you can use any store-bought salad dressing you like. It's really simple and quick to make one. While the pasta boils, just chop the veggies. (And I usually blanch some selected veggies first and use that water to boil the pasta in - hey, it's extra flavor.)

And if you don't want to deal with chopping a bunch of veggies, just get a favorite frozen package medley like Italian, Oriental, or combine a couple of packages.

My Veggie Pasta Salad is even better the next day and makes a great meal to pack for the workweek. So give it a go, and let me know what veggies you add.

Ingredients (4-6 servings)
  • 1 package of pasta - about 1 pound. I like bow tie, spiral, macaroni or any short-cut type.
  • 1/2 bell pepper - chopped
  • 1 squash - Cut into cubes. I used Mexican squash, but easy-to-find zucchini or yellow neck squash will do.
  • 1/2 cup of carrot - thin sliced or julienned.
  • 1 medium head of broccoli - about 1 cup when broken apart.
  • 1 stalk of celery - chopped.
  • Water - to boil pasta and blanch some of the veggies.
  • 1 Tablespoon of salt - for boiling pasta.
  • Ice cubes - to cool down the cooked veggies. Or just run cold water on them for 10-15 seconds to slow down the cooking process (after blanching.)

Pasta Dressing
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil - or any favorite tasting oil.
  • 1/4 of vinegar - any type you like. I've used apple cider, rice, red wine or plain white vinegar.
*You could also use a favorite store-bought salad dressing.

Rinse off the veggies. Most just need some chopping and peeling. It's not too much prep, really.

Cut off tough and dried-out end of celery root. I peel off some of the celery treads off the rough side. You can use a potato peeler, or just take a knife and peel away some of the strings (you don't have to get them all.)

For bell pepper, slice it in half, from stem to bottom. Remove the seeds and white membrane from the inside of the bell pepper. Chop it into small pieces. For this recipe I used half a bell pepper because I find the flavor very intense.

I like to blanch some of  the veggies first. Slice Mexican squash in half, lengthways. Chop off tough stalk end and peel some of the broccoli stem, this will help tenderize the stalk when blanching.

When a pot of water comes to a boil then add the squash and broccoli. I usually cook the veggies about 1 to 2 minutes - just enough to slightly soften them. You don't want to overcook them until they get mushy. I think it's better to slightly undercook so there is some crunch left.

Remove the broccoli and squash to a bowl of cold water with ice cubes to stop the cooking. Or put the hot veggies in a colander and run cold water over them for 15 seconds or so.

Now I add salt to the water and cook the pasta according to the package directions.

While the pasta cooks, and once the broccoli is cooled, I break off the florets and chop the stem into smaller pieces. I also chop the Mexican squash into bite-sizes.

When the pasta is done, drain and run cold water on it to stop the pasta from over-cooking.

Now time to bring it all together. Add the pasta to a large bowl, along with all the veggies.

Pour in the vinegar and oil. Mix the salad well. You can add or subtract the dressing amount to suit your taste. Finally sprinkle on some salt and pepper (optional.)

Keep the Veggie Pasta Salad in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve.

You can make this salad with any fresh veggies you like, I sometimes add cherry tomatoes, too. The amount of each veggie can be adjusted to your preference - if you like a lot of broccoli, then add more. If bell pepper is too pungent, then leave it out. Use this recipe and make it to suit your taste buds and pocketbook.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Grilled Russet and Sweet Potatoes

This is my favorite patio BBQ meal. I have a cheapie gas grill and it cooks burgers and grilled potatoes perfectly. I've done it enough and figured out the timing - start the potatoes first and when they are done on one side, I flip them, then add the BBQ sauce slattered hamburger patty.

I like my burger medium rare, so the potatoes need to begin cooking first. And should they finish early, then I just move them to a cooler part of the grill, until the hamburger is done. If you like your burger well done, then the potatoes only need a minute head start.

I usually grill cheap russet potatoes. They are easier to work with and char slower. Lately I've been grilling sweet potatoes. They have more sugar so you have to check on them more often, as they will burn and blacken quicker. Well, I like the mix of soft sweet interior and charred smokey skin of the sweet potato.

And if your burger is done right and still juicy, then there is nothing better than using fries to sop up the meat juices after each burger bite.

And when grilling them I use the burger juices. I flip the burger to a different part of the grill and place some cooking potato slices on the greasy and flavorful used burger wet spot.

Potatoes are cheap. I've made grilled potatoes using russet, white and rose, yam and sweet potato. I simply season them with salt and pepper and sometimes a Cajun seasoned salt.

So, during this summer grilling season, make sure to throw on a few thick potato slices alongside your favorite slab of barbequing protein. They are a delicious combination.

Ingredients (about 2-4 servings)
  • 2 potatoes - I only peel the yam or sweet potato. Slice potatoes one inch thick. You can slice into ovals or stick shapes.
  • Salt and pepper to taste - I also use seasoned salt.
  • Oil - optional. Some grill grates are sticky so lightly brushing potatoes with oil will make flipping slices easier. 

If you have a traditional BBQ grill then fire-up the charcoal or wood chips. If you have a gas grill like I do, then start it a minute before adding sliced potatoes.

Lightly wash or scrub potatoes. You can peel them or leave the skin on. I only peel sweet potatoes and yams. 

Slice the potatoes. I like them sliced to about one inch thick. You can slice them any way you like, into ovals or like matchsticks (but thicker.) This will give you more of a potato soft center. I like to use larger potato slices because it's easier to handle on the grill. You can always slice the bigger pieces when you serve them.

Lay out sliced potatoes and sprinkle on salt and pepper and/or seasoned salt. Lightly brush or drizzle with oil if necessary - I usually go without it. Sometimes I even add some fresh chopped herbs.

Add the sliced potatoes to the hot grill. Depending on the heat of your grill cook the potatoes until one side is charred. This is when I add my hamburger patty. (If you are grilling chicken, then start chicken and potatoes at the same time - as chicken usually takes longer to cook than a hamburger.)

*If you are cooking a burger with the potatoes then flip the burger to a different part of the grill and add the cooking potatoes on the greasy burger spot - for extra flavor.

Cook the other side of potatoes until charred. That's it. Cooking time will vary depending on the heat of your grill. With my gas grill on low it takes about 5 minutes for each side.

Sweet potatoes or yams have a high sugar content, so they will char black if left on the grill too long, so they need more babysitting - check on them after a couple of minutes.

Potatoes are done when tender on the inside. Try one out to test for doneness.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Lightlife Soy Burgers - Deal of the Day

It's a tasty soy burger that comes cooked and frozen. All you do is zap it for a minute and a half and it's ready to eat. I'm wary of frozen factory-made veggie patties, but Lightlife Meat Free Backyard Grill'n Burgers were surprisingly savory.

I got mine at the 99c only Store and the package holds 4 patties - a great deal. As I've pointed out before, this type of Deal of the Day is often only stocked for a day or two before they sell out. So I can't guarantee if you can find them. But if you see them grab a few bags. Even for a regular price at a typical grocery, it would be worth it. A delish soy or veggie burger is hard to find.

Resting on a typical cheap burger bun, the soy patty was the right size and thickness. I dress my burger with mayo, mustard, lettuce and tomato. The soy patty microwaves fast, as it's already cooked. I covered the patty with wax paper to make sure it didn't dry out, if it defrosted early.

frozen                          defrosted

I liked how moist the soy-veggie patty was. The main ingredients are listed as: water, soy protein, canola oil, wheat starch and eggs whites. Do eggs whites disqualify this burger as vegetarian?

As for the taste it was beef-light in flavor with a slight mushroom undertaste. The texture was slightly chewy, in a good way - similar to a well done beef patty, but still moist. It is under-seasoned, so you may want to add a little salt and pepper, or seasoned salt. The color is boring brown, but that's okay. (And topped with melting cheese would definitely bring the soy burger over the top.)

Overall I was quite impressed with Lightlife's soy patty. It reheats fast and is quite tasty. So on a Cheap$kate Dining Scale of 1 to 9, 9 being best, I give Lightlife Meat Free Backyard Gill'n Burgers an 8! It is a good all-around soy patty, with enough flavor to satisfy a meat eater. It's an excellent Deal of the Day.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Canyon de Chelly - Indian Summer Vacation Video Series

This is the last video of my Indian Summer Vacation Series, and while only running three minutes, it's a spectacular one. Our last day was spent in Canyon de Chelly  (info here,) near Chinle, Arizona. While part of the Navajo Nation, it's partially run by the National Park Service. And some Indian families still live there. You are required to have a guide to enter the canyon (except for the White House Ruin Trail.)

Our home base of Spider Rock Campground (see my video blog post, with links, here) supplied a tour guide at $75 dollars per person. While quiet-spoken, our tour guide, Ben, shared many interesting stories about Canyon De Chelly. You check in at a ranger station then just drive right in. We brought a picnic, as the tour lasted half the day.

It's a fertile valley with 2000 foot (in parts) high walls on 2 sides. Many plants and animals trive here - while just outside of Canyon De Chelly the landscape is harsh and desert-like. Various Indian Clans have settled here over time. The valley floods during a short rainy season, but while we were there our tour guide only had to drive through shallow stream beds.

We made many stops to look at petroglyphs and ancient Indian dwellings. Make sure to bring binoculars as the cliff dwellings are almost impossible to reach. Even the original inhabitants had to build long ladders to climb to the stone pueblos.

The ocre/red sandstone walls drop straight down with natural caves and ledges in the shear walls. Ancient peoples carved-out and built structures in the cliffs thousands of years ago.

The White House Ruins is one of the main stops. There are water stations and restrooms nearby. Gift tables manned by local natives carry all manner of jewelry, pottery and clothing. You can walk a trail to get closer, although we did not do it. Waves of different Indian Clans have taken refuge there. I asked out tour guide why anyone would live in the side of a cliff, he said it was because of the floods and wild animals (and probably to keep enemies at bay.) Another blogger describes a hike to the ruins here.

Driving along the majestic high walls puts you in humble space. We even passed a sandstone Arch or two. At the end of the trail was Spider Rock. At about 800 feet high, it looks nothing like an arthropod. The spectacular red sandstone monolith is said to be the home of Spider Woman, an ancient Navajo Deity, click here to read about the legend.

Spider Rock is indeed awesome and we stopped to have a picnic under the trees nearby. This was the end of the valley tour for us. We packed the leftovers and headed back.

(Here is the National Park Services website that gives you many details about: directions, visiting hours, a brief history, camping and free Ranger led activities.)

One last photo op was for Dog Rock, can you see the canine? Well, just watch my video below, were I trace the outline (if you can't quite make out the dog.)
Dog Rock

That's it. My Indian Vacation Series is over, but you can return anytime to view all 9 blog post and videos anytime. A big 99 thanks to my wife, Amy, for arranging and booking the trip (and for being a fun  travel mate,) plus all the cool tour guides, park rangers, and friendly and informative local Native Indians, for showing us the way.

Canyon de Chelly- Video #9

Play it here, video runs 3 minutes.

My YouTube video link for viewing or embedding, just click here.
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