Hedgehogs are tasty and frugal

Before you call PETA, let me explain…  I’m not advocating the hunting of hedgehogs or even collecting roadkill to eat.  The hedgehogs I’m referring to are fudge-like bars filled with dried fruit, nuts and cookie bits.  I’ve never heard of hedgehogs until recently but these sound a lot like bars I’ve seen in candy shops called “bark”.  From the web sites that talk about hedgehogs, I’ve gathered that it’s some kind of British and/or Australian comfort dessert.  Do we even have real hedgehogs in the US?

I’ve not tried to make the following recipe but the ideas were too good to keep to myself.  I don’t keep a lot of dessert materials on hand so it’s unlikely I’d get around to making this for several months.  I hope someone can try this and report back.  Since I’ve not made it yet, I don’t have any exact measurements or even specific ingredients to recommend.  Maybe someone can make it and post back their recipe…

American Hedgehogs

  • Chocolate chips (any kind leftover from something)
  • Sweetened condensed milk (or evaporated milk and sugar)
  • Nuts (any kind, chopped)
  • Cookies (any kind, fresh or stale, crushed into chunks)
  • Candies (any kind, chopped into small bits)
  • Dried fruit (any kind, chopped)
  • Anything else that might taste good in this like marshmallows, pretzels, candied orange peel, etc…

Mix equal parts chocolate and sweetened condensed milk to make a simple fudge.  You could also add some vanilla extract, butter and/or marshmallows.  If you’re really unsure, just follow a fudge recipe.  Then add in any or all of the remaining ingredients to make a lumpy sticky mess.  Pour into a baking pan lined with parchment or foil and refrigerate until firm.  Cut into bars.

If anyone gives this a go or has a good hedgehog recipe, feel free to post a comment.  Wow, just typing up this post is making me want to run to the store…

Incredible shrinking curry

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I started this blog to keep track of recipes that I come up with that I want to be able to make again.  This curry recipe is one of those.  It’s an Indian-style curry with lots of inflammation-reducing (hence, “incredible shrinking”) ingredients like turmeric, ginger and garlic.  These ingredients are known to help reduce pain in those suffering from arthritis and fibromyalgia.  It’s also super low in carbs and really satisfying.

Incredible shrinking curry

  • 1T oil
  • 1t turmeric
  • 1t curry powder
  • 1t mustard seeds
  • 1/2 onion, chopped finely
  • 1 tomato, chopped finely
  • 1/2 can coconut milk (about 1 cup)
  • 1t chicken bouillon
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 chicken breast, sliced thinly

Heat the oil in a wok or deep pan over medium heat and add the three spices.  Fry for 1 minute and then add the onion.  Fry another 5 minutes until onion starts to soften.  Add tomato and cook until tomato is soft.  Add coconut milk, bouillon and water and simmer for 5 minutes until smooth and creamy.  Add the chicken and stir until just cooked.  This makes enough for 1 or 2 depending on your appetite.

This recipe is super flexible.  There are a ton of vegetables that could go into this.  It could easily be made all vegetarian or vegan as well by omitting the chicken and bouillon and substituting tofu, tempeh or seitan.  Great vegetable additions would be peas, carrots, potatoes and cauliflower.  A quick and easy thing would be to use frozen or canned vegetables.  If you’re not watching carbs, serve this with basmati rice to stretch it out further.

Old recipes back in style

I just read a great article in the South Bend Tribune (online) about how the comfort food of our parents and grandparents is coming back in style.  It’s no surprise considering that dishes like tuna casserole and meatloaf were developed to weather bad economic times.  Sound familiar?

The article offered up some great general tips for making frugal food choices.  I’ve summarized them here.  A link to the full article is below:

  1. Choose less expensive cuts of meat like whole chicken and whole pork loin
  2. Add grains and legumes to stretch out a meal
  3. Go vegetarian a few times a week
  4. Stick with simpler recipes and avoid buying spices that you won’t use again
  5. Cut down on food waste by freezing and cooking leftovers into new recipes

The full article has a lot more detail along with some frugal recipes at the end.

Cow soy

I’m obsessed with classic dishes.  I’m not talking about handmade plates.  The classic dishes I’m talking about are those regional recipes that are so ubiquitous in their area that life just couldn’t be the same without.  One of the best examples in the US is chili.  Even if you aren’t a big chili fan, you still have to admit that chili has become an integral part of American culture.  So when I find a classic dish that I’ve never had before, I get excited- and obsessed with trying to recreate it.  That’s what happened when I had the Northern Thai dish Khao Soi.

Khao Soi or Kao Soi (pronounced like cow soy, *I think*) has this strange personality disorder.  It’s a soupy, spicy, curry-like dish with noodles and meat.  Yet, it’s not really a noodle dish, nor a soup, nor a curry.  It is a brilliant blend of flavors and textures commonly served in Northern Thailand and Laos. I had this at a local Thai restaurant last week and am now hooked on this simply yet complex dish.

I did some googling and found quite a few recipes for Khao Soi that were all really similar and very simple.  This made it quite easy to put together my own version.  The key is keeping each part of the equation that makes this so tasty- sweet, sour, salty, spicy and creamy.  The classic recipe is already pretty frugal so it’s easy to make a ton of this on a budget.

Frugal Khao Soi

  • 1T oil
  • 1T Thai red curry paste (spicy)
  • 1t turmeric
  • 1 cup (or 1/2 a can) coconut milk (creamy)
  • 2T fish sauce (salty)
  • 1t chicken bouillon (salty)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1t sugar (sweet)
  • 1 raw chicken breast, sliced thinly
  • 2-3 cups Chinese egg noodles, cooked
  • 1/2 lime, juiced (sour)
  • Fresh cilantro

Heat a wok or other deep pan to medium and add oil, red curry paste and turmeric and stir constantly for a minute or two until the paste has fully mixed with the oil and is getting fragrant.  Add the coconut milk, fish sauce, bouillon, water and sugar.  Simmer for a few minutes until everything is well blended.  Add the chicken and simmer until just cooked.  Put the cooked noodles into two bowls (or one if you’re really hungry).  Pour curry sauce over noodles and add a squeeze of lime and some fresh cilantro.  Add more fish sauce if it’s not salty enough for your taste.

This was delicious but not spicy enough for my tastes.  Next time I’m going to add some hot chile too.  Don’t be scared off by the Thai red curry paste or fish sauce.  Most supermarkets carry both items in the Asian food aisle.  The Thai red curry paste comes in a small jar and lasts a long time.  The fish sauce is in a larger bottle and also lasts a long time.  Both add incredible depth to this dish.  It’s definitely worth getting them.  The Chinese egg noodles are often refrigerated near the tofu but you could also use spaghettini, spaghetti or angel hair pasta.

The new frugal Jamie Oliver

There’s been enough news lately on various celebrities jumping on the frugal bandwagon that I should probably create a new category.  The term “bandwagon” often has a negative connotation, much like the term “fair-weather fan” for sports.  I actually think it’s great that so many people are finding frugality as something that helps you live a better life and feel good about doing it.  The more celebs that spread the word the better as they seem to be role models for so many, for better or for worse.

NPR ran an article this weekend (11/8/2008) about how celebrity chef and UK national hero, Jamie Oliver, is now advocating healthy and frugal cooking. Jamie is also commonly known as the Naked Chef from his popular cooking series on the Food Network.  I’ve seen the show several times and like his simple style that was already fairly frugal.  In case you were wondering, I’ve not seen a single episode where he was actually naked.

The heart of Jamie’s frugality seems to be getting more people into the kitchen and cooking for themselves instead of eating out.  This is definitely a start in the right direction considering how much money most people spend on eating out and how badly overweight so many people are.  Now if only we could get some mandatory nutritional education in schools.  Hmmm…

Lox, stock and bagel

One of my favorite meals involves a good bagel with cream cheese, tomato, red onion and lox.  Most of the ingredients for this are pretty inexpensive, except for the lox.  Good Nova Scotia lox usually runs at least $20/lb or more.  I could probably go through a half pound myself on a Sunday morning with a couple of bagels and it would be well worth the money.  But why do this when you can make your own lox at home very easily.

Real Nova lox involves curing and then cold smoking filets of wild North Atlantic salmon.  It’s a similar process to making bacon, which is also still raw when finished.  This is vastly different from hot smoking methods that simultaneously cook the food, like for smoked sausage and real barbecue.

The following recipe is my frugal version of Nova lox.  Instead of $20/lb, this barely costs more than $5/lb and maybe even cheaper if you find a good deal on salmon.  I’ve had great luck with farm-raised salmon, which is much less expensive than wild salmon.

Frugal Nova Lox

  • 2lbs of raw salmon filet, cut into two pieces of the same size and shape
  • 1 cup kosher salt (or sea salt, just don’t use table salt)
  • 2t liquid smoke (I prefer the mesquite type but hickory would work too)
  • 1t black peppercorns, cracked

Mix the salt, liquid smoke and pepper together.  If the salmon still has the skin, cover just the flesh side of both pieces with the salt.  Stack the pieces together with the skin side out.  For skinless salmon, cover both sides with salt.  Wrap tightly in several layers of plastic wrap.  Place into a gallon freezer zip top bag.  Press all the air out by folding the bag around the fish and then seal tightly.  Put into the refrigerator and let sit for 2-4 days.  When ready to eat, remove from the bag and plastic wrap and soak in cold water for 5 minutes to remove the pepper and rinse off some of the salt.  If it still tastes too salty for you, soak it in water for another 5 min.  Slice thinly at an angle to get the largest slices possible.  This should keep in the refrigerator for at least a week, maybe longer.

Any herbs and spices that go well with salmon would be great in this.  Try adding dill or ground coriander to the salt.  You could also try white pepper instead of black.

My favorite way to eat this is to split a freshly baked bagel (I NEVER toast them) and cover with cream cheese.  Then top with thinly sliced red onion and tomato slices.  Place the salmon on top of this and add capers, if you like.  I can hardly think of a better Sunday brunch food.

You can also scramble the salmon into an omelete or use instead of Canadian bacon in Eggs Benedict.  It’s great as an appetizer on top of crackers or toast points.  You can also mix this into cream cheese for an easy bagel spread or use in a dip for crackers or chips.

Enjoy the wonderful flavor and the fact that for 2lbs of fish you just saved about $30!

Oh yeah, my last batch of lox was so delicious that I decided to make homemade bagels to go with it.  Here’s a photo of the bagels just out of the oven.  I’ll post a recipe for these another day.

Fresh from the oven
Fresh from the oven