Category Archives: ad lib


714d7163-69e7-4477-bfa8-965537149405As longtime readers of this blog know, I’m no stranger to making my own pizza. At least, I wasn’t before I became a parent. These days, however, I’m not only short on time, but recognize that eating a big slab of white bread with cheese is probably not the best idea if I’m trying to keep energy levels up. Socca, a sort of flatbread made with ground chickpeas, is not only pizza-like enough to sate a craving, it’s inexpensive, gluten-free, full of protein and, best of all, can be made quickly and easily in a single cast-iron pan. It can also be topped with anything you happen to have on hand. You don’t even need cheese! (This time I’ve used feta, but other times I’ve gone without and it’s been just as great.)

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Pork and noodles in coconut-tamarind sauce: $1.52/serving

As a frozen bag of chipotle chiles in adobo (just empty out the can into a Ziploc) is to Mexican cooking, a frozen bag of tamarind paste is to Thai cooking: indispensable. It’s extremely versatile (you can use tamarind in place of lime juice) and you can always be sure you have some on hand. Tamarind paste can be found in brick form in pretty much any Asian market, and frozen, it lasts pretty much forever. I’ve probably had the same block in my freezer for almost two years, and I’m just now getting to the last little chunk. It’s great for any kind of curry or pad Thai, desserts, and thrown-together weeknight dishes like this one that could benefit from a little sweet tanginess.

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Roasted celery root and bacon soufflé: $1.80/serving

I make quite a few savory dinner soufflés on the $35-a-week budget, both because we can use our backyard hens’ eggs and because it’s a great blank canvas for odds and ends. This week’s stockpile consisted of a few stray frozen strips of bacon and a nice, firm celery root I bought after failing to locate any other appealing in-season vegetables. (It probably doesn’t help that I hate asparagus, which is everywhere right now. How someone decided that stuff was edible will forever be beyond my comprehension.) I knew the two flavors would work well together after the success of February’s celery root and beer soup, so I figured I’d try them out in a new format. I have to say, it definitely worked; roasting the celery root allowed for a concentrated-enough flavor to stand up to the bacon, and using bacon fat as a base for the béchamel infused the whole thing with noticeable but unobtrusive hints of pork and smoke. Très délicieux!

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Carrot cake muffins: 5 cents each

A few months ago, we purchased a Breville juicer with all the money we saved from not drinking this year (we did slip up a couple times in February, but we’re over the hump now). Not only is it a tangible reward for our efforts, but it’s another great way to clean out the crisper, since pretty much anything can be juiced, from lettuce and cabbage to carrots, ginger, and fruit, to make an inexpensive liquid snack. Of course, with carrots being so inexpensive (especially at Costco), that’s what we find ourselves juicing most often. This is my first time owning a juicer, and I have to admit I was surprised by now much fiber was left behind. Two cups of carrot juice can yield almost two cups of desiccated orange fluff. I started accumulating the fluff in the freezer, knowing I’d come up with a use for it eventually, and this week I finally did: these muffins. B. has declared them to be the best muffins he’s ever had, and I have to agree they’re shockingly good. I don’t know if it’s the fine texture of the carrot fluff or the amount of sugar that veers them dangerously close to unfrosted-cupcake territory, but if you have a juicer, they’re a must-try. (If you don’t have a juicer, you can probably substitute grated carrot.)

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Baked oat groats with mushrooms, epazote & cotija cheese: 96 cents/serving

Also known as Got Too Excited at the Mexican Market and Had No Idea How to Use Up What I Bought. I didn’t have any immediate plans for a bunch of fresh epazote and the little wheel of cotija cheese I found on markdown for $1. I had originally tried to make Salvadorean pupusas, which were edible, but the creation was too fussy and difficult to inflict on readers. (Believe it or not, I don’t post everything I make here; just dishes that are both worthy of making again and that I feel are possible for folks to successfully re-create on their own.) Instead, I decided to use the oat groats I still had on hand from the oat groats with blue cheese, walnuts & spinach and cook them as one would cook traditional arroz verde, in broth puréed with herbs. It turned out to be a great introduction to epazote, whose flavor can be kind of overwhelming on its own. If you can’t find fresh epazote (I don’t recommend dried), cilantro or parsley, or a mixture of the two, can be substituted.

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Xoconostle (cactus fruit) sorbet: 72 cents/serving

Despite my long-held belief that one did not exist in the Portland metro area, I have finally found a truly great Mexican market.* A voluminous produce aisle, bin after bin of dried and fresh chiles, banana leaves, you name it. It even had something I had never heard of or seen before: xoconostle. At first I thought they were prickly pears, but upon further inspection I discovered they were smaller, paler, and spineless. Throwing caution to the wind, I bought some. Once I got them home and cut them open, I was even more confused. Not only was the flesh pale and all the seeds centered in the middle, unlike a prickly pear, but the things were sour. Like, lemon sour. As in, would probably make a super-refershing sorbet sour.

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Cauliflower soufflé for people who hate cauliflower: $1.19/serving

Regular readers of this blog would probably not be shocked to know I don’t like cauliflower. I suppose I can understand how someone hundreds of years ago with limited options for sustenance could look at this odious, mealy brain-like thing and think “This looks edible!,” but today? In this day and age? Still, like most people in their 30s, it’s come to my attention that eating more vegetables is actually really important, so I’m always on the lookout for ways to sneak the ones I really hate into my diet. Making a purée seemed to work pretty well in the case of a broccoli pesto I made last year, so why not use the same technique with something equally versatile, like a soufflé?

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Farfalle with roasted sweet potato & sage: 68 cents/serving

Though we try to plan out all our meals in advance to make sure everything we buy gets used, sometimes things just don’t work out as intended. Given our shopping habits, we have a lot of staples in the house, such as grains and things that can be frozen long term, but not a surplus of fresh or particularly useful items, like produce or cheese—especially near the end of the week. That makes coming up with meals on the fly without having to stop at the grocery store or compromise upcoming dishes a particular challenge. This light but satisfying dinner (it would also make a good lunch) came together with nothing but scrounged items from the yard and basement—a handful of fresh sage leaves, half a package of pasta, some frozen bread crumbs, and a small, elderly sweet potato nearing the end of its useful life.

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White bean soup with caramelized apples & onions: $1.23/serving

This unphotogenic but fabulous soup was originally inspired by a white bean and apple soup in Lidia Bastianich’s “Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy.” I loved the idea of apples and beans together, but as for the recipe itself…I love you, Lidia, but really? Whole white beans and apple slices simmered in WATER, with only lemon zest and cinnamon for support? I’ve made enough soups in my lifetime to know that’s not going to end well.

To inject some much-needed flavor, I cooked the white beans in proper soup stock with a little bay and rosemary (I used turkey because it was on hand and free, but chicken or even vegetable is fine) and pureed them, then folded some caramelized apples and onions in at the end and topped with a sprinkling of bacon.

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Bone marrow mac ’n’ cheese: 64 cents/serving

In a revelation I’m sure will surprise absolutely no one, I admit I was not sober when I came up with this idea.

But, then again, I’d be willing to guess the person who came up with deep-fried butter on a stick was not sober at the time either, and that one made history.

Part of the difficulty in roasting marrow bones is getting all the marrow out in a solid—not rendered—state. Obviously this process is going to result in some inaccessible pockets of the stuff tucked above and below bone crevices and along walls too narrow to reach with a utensil. It will come out if it’s rendered, sure, but what to do with it then?

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