Poor Man’s Paella

Paella is a dish that for years was wrapped in mystique, seemingly out of reach of the average American. It’s a darn shame because a simple Paella is a stunning dish and very doable dish for a week-night dinner.

Poor Man's Paella - chicken, regular rice. Fantastic, even on a budget.
Poor Man’s Paella – chicken, regular rice. Fantastic, even on a budget.

While gourmands may search out ingredients from far-flung places, buy special spices and hardware, Paella is really just rice, flavorings and whatever meats, poultry and/or seafood one wishes to add. A person posted on Epicurious that he’d lived in Spain for six months and “true” Paella almost always has seafood. My answer, below:

Am I being unkind? I am, I know, I know, but sometimes the sarcasm comes out, and I always loved the Lion King. I just can’t imagine a Rabbit or some of other many and varied Paella dishes combined with Seafood. I’ve heard, too, that this same issue is often debated amongst the Paella experts in Valencia. I’m betting there are many Spanish families who put out marvelous Paella for their families but only go to great lengths for company, get togethers and parties.

There’s no more an “authentic” or “true” Paella than there is a an “authentic” or “true” stew! It can be truly gourmet or down home, have saffron or not, wine or not, be plain or spicy, have sausage or not, seafood or not…well, you get the idea. Make it how YOU want it and you’ll be guaranteed to love it.

Poor Man's Paella - made with chicken
Poor Man’s Paella – made with chicken

This recipe is a fantastic method for an easy indoor Paella and will work very well with almost any Paella I can think of. You can go all out and add whatever ingredients you wish and you won’t go wrong. Pull out your Paella pan, more power to you, and if you want to use or order a special rice, go for it! A little seafood, some sausage and a touch of Saffron are always welcome additions – and please ask me to dinner!

If you just want a marvelous dinner made with what’s on hand – that’s fine, too :) and still a wonderful way to go. You can see how beautifully this cooks up in my cast iron skillet. :) One “gourmet” addition that’s really worthwhile to seek out is the saffron, and it’s not as expensive as you might think – a small amount weighs hardly anything and adds a ton of flavor, and it is possible to pick up a “second” grade instead of a fine or fancy.

Sofrito, onions, peppers, tomatoes cooked to a jam.
Sofrito, onions, peppers, tomatoes cooked to a jam.

I often make this Paella with my Sofrito, a blend of onions, peppers and tomatoes cooked up into a jammy deliciousness and packaged for the freezer. Having a bit of Sofrito on hand is a smart thing and a great time-saver. Directions are in the recipe to just saute up your own vegetables along with a note on how to add and use Sofrito, instead. Use a good, flavorful stock or this dish may not be at it’s best.

Fiesta Friday Badge Button I party @I think I will go ahead and bring this over to Angie at the Novice Gardener for this week’s Fiesta Friday, an ongoing extravaganza. Angie has given bloggers a platform to show off their best dishes, and this humble paella, in spite of being made with chicken, is one of mine.

Judge the amount of chicken by the appetites of those eating; this makes about 4 cups of rice so just add what’s appropriate for your family. And, by the way, if you’d like to use Chorizo (or a local sausage) and/or seafood, the instructions are below. Serve with lemon or lime wedges or red wine vinegar passed at the table.

Poor Man's Paella
Poor Man’s Paella

Poor Man’s Paella, serves 4 to 6

  • 3 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 8 boneless chicken thighs, enough for your family
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 small or one large bell pepper, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed & minced
  • 3 tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 cups Arborio (or medium or short grain rice, see note)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pimenton, 1/2 teaspoon saffron or 1 teaspoon of turmeric
  • salt & pepper to taste for the broth

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and adjust oven rack to about four to five inches from the bottom. Warm stock and wine in a medium sauce pan. Shortly before using, add saffron if desired.

Unroll thighs, trim any fat or undesirable portions. Season chicken with salt, pepper and pimenton if using. Roll back up. Heat oil in a 14 inch oven proof skillet or paella pan over medium high heat. Brown chicken, seam side down (it helps to keep it together) for several minutes per side until nicely browned. Transfer to a plate.

Add onions, peppers and garlic. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes. Cook, stirring, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in rice and toast for a moment or two, stirring constantly. Add the broth mixture, then bring to a boil, cooking for about two minutes, stirring often. Taste and adjust any seasonings keeping in mind the broth will be flavoring the rice. See note.

Nestle the chicken into the rice, cover and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with peas and recover. Let stand for 10 minutes before fluffing the rice with a fork and serving.

Notes:

  • Instead of using the onion, pepper and tomato in this recipe, I often use a cup (or two) of my Sofrito. I simply add it in along with the rice after removing the chicken, but even when I do so, I still add the garlic. I used one cup in the above photo – but far prefer two cups!
  • I have used “special” rice and plain old rice, both are delicious and cook beautifully with this method.
  • If upon tasting the broth, add any more salt, pepper, pimenton, saffron, etc. to the dish if necessary. If the broth still needs help, consider an “emergency” save of a little chicken base, Sazon, Goya Adobo seasoning, etc. If the broth isn’t good and tasty and strongly flavored, the final dish will be dull, dull, dull.
  • Putting the dish towards the bottom of the oven will hopefully give some crustiness to the rice at the bottom and sides of the pan.

Put your own Spin on it:

  • A Spanish chorizo is marvelous in this dish. Slice very thinly and brown up and remove before the chicken goes in. The amount of fat may vary so keep behind about 2 tablespoons to cook with. Add the chorizo back in with the chicken.
  • Shrimp is a great addition, and if they’re small, they can be tossed in with the peas to steam, but do so quickly and recover. Larger shrimp or prawns should go in a few minutes before the dish is done.

Inspired by Cook’s Illustrated’s method of baking Spanish Rice, Martha Stewart and Epicurious,

Bacon Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts, bacon? Wow, I thought when I first heard of it…why mess up a perfectly good vegetable with bacon? Well, because it’s delicious! It’s still a favorite after all these years, especially when the occasion calls for going all out!

Brussels Sprouts sauteed with Bacon
Brussels Sprouts sauteed with Bacon

I served these recently on Valentine’s Day with my Beef Medallions in a Red Wine Reduction. Although shown in the photos on that page, it wasn’t until today I had a chance to post this recipe. These are fantastic for almost any holiday and go so well with many types of food.

These little beauties are par cooked until just barely tender, a method that allows them to brown beautifully without being over done or a little too crunchy. I usually use water, but a little chicken stock, if you’re so inclined adds a touch of flavor.

The best bacon is a beautiful thing in this recipe and a few shavings of a hard cheese, Asiago, Parmesan, or Pecorino does this dish no harm. If this is a special occasion and you’re making a salad with one of these cheeses, don’t hesitate to save a bit out for this and carry that flavor through the meal. Barring that, a few sprinkles of Feta marry nicely with the Brussels.

Bacon Brussels Sprouts, serves 6

  • 1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • water or chicken broth to cover the sprouts
  • 3 to 6 slices center-cut bacon, chopped
  • 1/2 cup finely diced onion, 1/2
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Trim the Brussels sprouts by removing the tough outer leaves and stems. Halve lengthwise. Cook the Brussels sprouts in boiling salted water or broth for 6 to 8 minutes until just tender. This is going to vary depending on the size of your Brussels.  Don’t overcook these – you’ll be browning them next.  Drain and set aside.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add bacon and two tablespoons water. Saute for about five minutes or until bacon renders fat and begins to brown. Remove the bacon from pan with a slotted spoon. Discard all but one tablespoon of the drippings.

Add the Brussels Sprouts to the pan and return pan to medium-high heat. Toss Brussels to coat, then add finely diced onion and sliced garlic. Saute until the Brussels Sprouts begin to pick up some color, stirring and tossing frequently. Add the bacon back in and serve. Taste for salt and pepper and add if desired.

Healthy Italian Wedding Soup with Chicken Meatballs

This healthier Italian Wedding Soup is a huge favorite. Tender chicken meatballs, flavored with old world spicing and a touch of ricotta make the soup. Nestled into a rich broth brimming with hearty vegetables its so delicious, no one will notice how healthy it is!

Italian Wedding Soup with Chicken & Ricotta Meatballs.
Italian Wedding Soup with Chicken & Ricotta Meatballs.

This recipe was a long time coming, mainly due to issues with the meatballs. Nearly every recipe I tried failed me until I finally came up with my own. I just couldn’t let it go and I’m glad I didn’t. The Chicken & Ricotta Meatballs are so fantastic, sometimes they get gobbled up before the soup is made…

Chicken Meatballs with Herbed Yogurt Sauce
Chicken Meatballs with Herbed Yogurt Sauce

Italian Wedding Soup is a Minestrone, and the name comes from the marriage of flavors. Once you have a great meatball, well the rest of the recipe is easy!

Use a good broth, preferably home-made, as the broth is a huge part of the flavor and the body is important. Fill the rest up with healthy veggies and perhaps a little pasta. We like orzo best. If desired, add a can of well rinsed white beans can make this a bit heartier and stretch the soup.

Fiesta Friday Badge Button I party @I think I’ll bring this soup over to Fiesta Friday since it’s a special soup that I’d serve to company any day! It is a dual recipe, of course, with the Chicken & Riccota Meatballs.

I’ll make sure you get a taste! :)

Italian Wedding Soup with Chicken Ricotta Meatballs.
Italian Wedding Soup with Chicken Ricotta Meatballs.

Italian Wedding Soup, serves 8

  • 1 recipe of Chicken & Ricotta Meatballs *
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 finely chopped onion
  • 3 carrots, cut into 1/4″ slices
  • 2 stalks celery cut into 1/4″ slices
  • 10 cups homemade chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3/4 to 1 cup small pasta such as orzo
  • several handfuls of chopped kale

Chicken & Ricotta Meatballs may added to this soup in two ways:

The meatballs may be baked as directed in recipe, the pan deglazed with the wine and/or broth and both added to the soup, the wine/broth when the mixture is brought to a boil and the meatballs when the pasta is added.

Alternatively, the meatballs may be added in a raw state once the broth and wine are brought to a boil and cooked for a total of 10 to 12 minutes. Add to the broth, bring to a simmer and let cook for five to six minutes before adding the pasta.

Add olive oil to Dutch oven, heat to medium and add onion, carrots and celery until nearly tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add stock and wine (or stock, wine and drippings) and bring to a simmer. If cooking meatballs from the raw state, add them as soon as the soup comes to a simmer, return to a simmer and cook for about five minutes. If using cooked meatballs, simmer the broth for about five minutes.

Add pasta and simmer an additional five minutes. Add pasta (and if using precooked meatballs, add them now) and simmer until pasta is nearly tender, five to seven minutes. Add kale and cook for a moment or two until wilted but still fresh.

Taste and adjust any seasonings.

Chicken (or Turkey) Ricotta Meatballs

A chicken meatball with a great texture, moist yet firm, slightly yielding and tender, juicy with a great flavor? How about all of the above and great baked, sautéed or in a soup? Impossible? Not any more!

Chicken Meatballs with Herbed Yogurt Sauce
Chicken & Ricotta Meatballs with Herbed Yogurt Sauce & Kale

You’ll love these meatballs! You’ll love them in Italian Wedding Soup, cooked in or served with Marinara, and you’ll love them with my Herbed Yogurt Sauce, the same one I use for my Summer Squash. The lemon in the sauce just works with the spices in the meatballs. You’ll love them just plain, cold from the fridge, perhaps in the middle of the night. Don’t ask how I know this. I *just* do.

I first tried chicken meatballs in 2002, a recipe by a respected celebrity chef  – I know this because I called up my sister and ranted on about how awful they were! I asked her last week if she remembered that phone call, and she was like OMG, yes! This doomed recipe was followed by a variety of “healthier” chicken meatballs, burgers, patties, etc. I found that even though they looked perfectly cooked, a check with a thermometer showed them hovering around 140 to 145.

Chicken & Ricotta Meatballs with Marinara.
Chicken & Ricotta Meatballs with Marinara.

A temperature of 165 left them dry and tasteless. If you cook ground chicken, you need a thermometer. This really made sense to me when i noticed the hot water from my cleanup turned all the little pieces perfectly white, and that water wasn’t nearly hot enough to cook with.

And so began a series of experiments involving a lot of chicken meatballs. Finally I hit on the perfect formula, one which stood up to the heat and stayed perfectly moist. I was just ready to blog about it when I came across multiple posts on Lady Melady on meatballs with Ricotta. Wow. Thank you Audrey! She wasn’t kidding on just how good meatballs with Ricotta are! I had to rethink my recipe and cook a few hundred more! :) Just to make sure they were good, mind you.

Michael Chiarello's Fennel Spice Rub
Michael Chiarello’s Fennel Spice Rub

These meatballs may be cooked off in the oven and then browned, later, if desired (or not); they hold together when dropped in soup raw or cooked or they can be sautéed until done. It’s interesting how different elements of flavor come through with a change in the cooking method, but all are delicious. I prefer to bake them and keep them on hand for what ever end for them comes to mind.

A few notes on the recipe:

  • The spice Fennel Spice Rub will need to be made ahead for this recipe. Feel free to cut the recipe down, but you’ll be surprised at how good it is in so many things – and I don’t even like Fennel.
  • I have made these in many variations, with dairy and without, with bread crumbs and without, with different herbs, with and without cooking the onion and so on, and found the best texture includes the elements, here, in the recipe.
  • Although ground turkey or chicken will work, the best texture (and I think the safest product) is also dependant on pulsing your own chicken in the food processor.
  • You may wish to double or triple and keep them, after being baked or before, in the freezer for handy meals.

Fiesta Friday Badge Button I party @I think I’ll bring this soup over to Fiesta Friday since it’s a special soup that I’d serve to company any day! It is a dual recipe, of course, with the Italian Wedding Soup.

I’ll make sure you get a taste! :)

Italian Wedding Soup with Chicken Ricotta Meatballs.
Italian Wedding Soup with Chicken Ricotta Meatballs.

Chicken & Ricotta Meatballs

makes about 50, serves 6

  • 1  pound cold boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut in chunks
  • 1/2 onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil plus extra for the pan
  • 1 slice of bread, preferably in crumbs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup Ricotta (may use cottage cheese that’s been blended) *
  • 1 slightly heaping tablespoon Michael Chiarello’s Fennel Spice Rub
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg

In a food processor, working with about half of the chicken at a time, process into fine bits with some pasty chicken and some noticeable small chunks. (See photo.) Place in refrigerator while you continue with the recipe.

In a small pan, heat oil, add onion, cover and cook over medium heat for two to three minutes, uncover and stir occasionally until softened. Add garlic and cook for a moment. Add to a bowl.

To the onions, add the rest of ingredients except chicken and the additional oil for the pan. Mix together well, then add the chicken, thoroughly mixing. Cover and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to an hour to allow time for it to firm up enough to work with.

When ready to cook, heavily oil a cookie sheet, lower an oven rack to the lowest setting and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Portion out the chicken into balls the size of a level tablespoon using two spoons or a scoop. They do not need to be perfectly round, and it may be likely that they will not hold a perfectly round shape. Bake about 12 minutes or until thermometer registers 165 degrees in the center of one of the meatballs. Preferably check more than one, particularly ones near the center of the sheet.

Alternatively, heat oil in a skillet or electric frying pan and saute until desired temperature is reached. May simply be dropped into simmering broth or water and cooked for about 10 minutes.

After meatballs are baked, they may be sautéed until nicely browned. If making soup, the pan the meatballs are cooked on or in may be deglazed with wine, stock or water and the resulting liquid (defatted if desired) added to the finished dish.

* Note: original recipe without Ricotta used 2 cups bread crumbs and 1/2 cup of milk, 1 garlic clove and 2 teaspoons spice rub. The cheese dulled the flavors considerably, so they had to be increased.

Bird’s Eye Steam-Fresh Frozen Broccoli & Cauliflower

Bird’s Eye Premium Steam-Fresh Broccoli & Cauliflower? Mostly water and what’s left is shriveled, discolored shreds.

The plate is 5 by 5, there was 1 1/2 cups of vegetable, 5 ounces, 7 ounces of water.
The plate is 5 by 5, there was 1 1/2 cups of vegetable, 5 ounces, 7 ounces of water.- to get some perspective, the large piece at the top was about the size of a quarter.

I haven’t gone off on a convenience product rant for awhile, in the process of updating I came across the photos for my One Dish Ham Bake, a simple down home casserole that I used to be comfortable making with frozen vegetables.

You might remember I reviewed Frozen Broccoli awhile back, and listed many of the reasons why I’m not convinced that frozen is as good as fresh – a phrase that’s morphed recently into a common belief held by many that frozen vegetables are now better than fresh. I don’t buy it.

That broccoli was not a “premium” brand, so not wanting to make the same mistake, I picked up the best brand our store offers.

After opening the package, I am convinced that crappy frozen vegetables are the main reason we have a society of people who won’t eat vegetables, or if they eat them, do so grudgingly.

  • The quality one expects is so often not there. They’re not visually appealing nor are they tasty.
  • The pricing is almost always more than fresh, and this is even more apparent when fresh is in season.
  • The weight of the vegetables is always based on the water in the vegetables, usually nearly half water, sometimes more.

Seriously, would you want to eat this or would you just eat it because you “should?” I imagine a lot of vegetables in many homes end up doused in cheese and/or thrown out. I do have to say this looks much better in the photo than it did in my kitchen.

Birds Eye Premium Vegetables - on a 5 x 5 plate
Birds Eye Premium Vegetables – five ounces of shreds, one large piece the size of a quarter.

Since I had bought this 12 ounce package for a casserole, I was very disappointed to find, once thawed, that it only contained FIVE ounces of vegetables! SEVEN ounces of the bag was water. Luckily, I wasn’t totally dependant on the purchase and supplemented my dish with veggies I had on hand.

I don’t remember the pricing, but at any price, this was NOT a bargain! Of interest, the package said 4 servings with each serving 3/4 cup, yet the bag contained 1 1/2 cups of vegetables.

I live in Minnesota, and while I do need to rely on some frozen vegetables, I’ll avoid the “common” ones from now on! I nearly always find peas to be a good value, the small onions are usually great. I’ve even been happy with collard greens and the baby limas. But these steamers? Yuck. No way I’m paying more for what takes minutes to make and costs less fresh.

Final Frugal Judgement:

No Way!

Russell’s Cream of Broccoli Soup with Cheddar Crust

If you’re like me and love a good Cream of Broccoli soup, one that’s a soup and not a gloppy, glorified cheese sauce in a bowl, this is the soup for you. Absolutely luscious, with a few French twists, this soup stands by itself. Add a “raft” of good cheddar and broil until bubbly and lightly toasted. Amazing.

Cream of Broccoli with Cheddar Crust
Cream of Broccoli with Cheddar Crust

I came by this recipe quite by happenstance; it was a write in request to Bon Appetit, “As a student at Bloomsburg University, I spent many Sunday afternoons at Russell’s restaurant in downtown Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania,” writes Marganne Hoffman of Lebanon, Pennsylvania. “A decade after graduating, I still crave their cheddar-crusted broccoli soup.”

The recipe ratings looked good, but a reading of the comments (148 reviews) indicated all but three people had changed the recipe beyond recognition and this little soup was vilified and reviled. Wow. There was certainly a disconnect between the request (the word crave always gets my attention), the recipe and the comments. That piqued my curiosity! I’m glad it did, as this soup has become a family favorite.

Cream of Broccoli - just so you can see the thickness/texture
Cream of Broccoli – just so you can see the thickness/texture

I think many Americans aren’t familiar with a simple cream soup – named so because the texture of the soup resembles heavy cream, not just because the soup has cream, although this one does. The expectations of many of my friends, mostly due to eating at mediocre restaurants, is to think cream or cheese soups should be “stand up your spoon” concoctions.

My guess? Those expectations, combined with a lack of understanding of the techniques in the recipe and some vague instructions led most of the reviewers to panic when they made this recipe. They went mad in a wild flurry of blending and tossed the cheese topping in the soup, all in an attempt to rescue what was already perfection!

The reviewers who said the Cream of Broccoli with a Cheddar Raft was bland? They must be cray cray! Onion, garlic, tarragon, chicken broth and the flavor of two pounds of broccoli all over layed with the cream and cheddar? If that’s not flavor, what is? As far as salt, it didn’t need a touch; the cheese adds a saltiness on its own. My guess: blending the soup alters the flavor profile – the broccoli, which is beautifully flavored in the soup when in pieces may have “dulled” down the flavors once it was blended.

Cream of Broccoli with Cheddar Crust - just out of the oven.
Cream of Broccoli with Cheddar Crust – just out of the oven.

Tarragon is an herb I don’t use often, and I’m not a huge fan, but it was just the herb for this soup. I wouldn’t change it for the world, but add it, fresh or dried, with the onions so the flavor has a chance to bloom. If you don’t think you like tarragon, try using just a little less, taste, and add more if you like it; you may very well be surprised. I do think I might, though, change this soup up and make this with some of the Cajun or Creole seasoning one reviewer recommended, perhaps with a little ham!

This is a nicely thick soup, but I’m guessing there were three issues that altered this outcome for some, so here’s how to fix them. Some of this applies to ANY broccoli soup!:

  • Use fresh, not frozen broccoli, or alter the recipe to compensate. The chicken broth decreases in volume as the fresh broccoli simmers for 15 minutes, so you’ll need to use less broth or simmer it to concentrate the broth. You will not want to cook the frozen for 15 – 20 minutes, and a pound of frozen broccoli is 10 ounces of broccoli and six ounces of water. You’ll need to thaw and drain and increase the amount of broccoli to compensate.
  • Use the cup of cream in the soup for the right texture. The cream adds a nice thickness on its own, and the outcome without it, while still delicious, will not be as thick as expected. So don’t use milk or half and half and wonder why the soup turns out thin.
  • This recipe uses a Beurre Manie to thicken the soup; flour and butter kneaded together. Whisk into the finished soup, but only at a bare simmer, not at a boil, for a minute, maybe two, tops. To be safe, you can turn off the heat and cook in the residual heat. Any more cooking will thin the soup and leave the flour uncoated, which will bring out the starch and cause a distinct raw flour taste. Too much heat will also destroy the thickening power of the butter.

So there you have it, all the hints and helps you need to make this lovely soup. I know my family will want to thank Russell’s Restaurant, the young lady who requested the soup in 2001, Bon Appetit and Epicurious! Without them, we’d have never tasted this perfection, and it never would have become a family favorite. I hope you’ll like it as much as we do!

Serve this with a loaf of bread. Perhaps a good Crusty Bread? Plan ahead and make sure to mix up the Crusty Bread the night before if you use my recipe. As you may have guessed, a bowl of this soup is a meal in itself, and it’s hearty and filling. It’s so good, I’m glad I ran the Nutritional Values before I had a second helping…

This in not an especially “cheap” soup to make, running about $4.91, but only with great sales priced ingredients and working a deal with the cheese. Cheese is an item that is absolutely worth buying on sale with a coupon. Of course, if you go high-end with the cheese, then who knows! :)

Fiesta Friday Badge Button I party @I think I’ll bring this soup over to Fiesta Friday since it’s a special soup that I’d serve to company any day! Thank you Tina @ Mademoiselle Gourmande and Juju of Cooking with Aunt Juju for co-hosting!

I’ll make sure you get a taste! :)

 

Cream of Broccoli with Cheddar Crust
Cream of Broccoli with Cheddar Crust

 Russell’s Cream of Broccoli Soup with Cheddar Crust

6 servings

  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, room temperature, divided
  • 2 pounds fresh broccoli, stems peeled and florets separated, all chopped into bite-size pieces. Bite sized is important as this soup isn’t blended.
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon or 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • 6 1/2 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups (packed) grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese (about 8 ounces) *

Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in heavy medium pot over medium-high heat. Add broccoli stems and onion and dried tarragon if using; sauté until onion is translucent, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and fresh tarragon if using; sauté 1 minute. Add stock; bring to boil. Simmer uncovered until broccoli is tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in cream and florets and simmer three to four minutes until florets are just tender.

In the meantime, mix a Buerre Manie with the remaining three tablespoons of butter and flour. This is easiest done in a small bowl, first mashing with a fork, then using fingertips to make a paste, but not to the point the butter is melted. Refrigerate if mixture becomes too warm.

Whisk paste into barely simmering soup and cook for one to two minutes, but no longer, until soup has a nice, cream like consistency. If in doubt of your ability to maintain a very slight simmer, the burner may be turned off – if the Buerre Manie is added immediately; it will cook in the residual heat.

Soup may be made a day or two ahead. Cool slightly, then refrigerate uncovered until cold. Cover and keep refrigerated. Bring just to a light simmer to warm the soup before continuing, but do not allow it to continue to simmer and cook. Turn off the heat.

Preheat broiler. Place 6 oven proof soup bowls on baking sheet. Divide soup among bowls. Sprinkle 1/3 cup cheese over each. Broil until cheese melts and bubbles around edges, about 4 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving, or wait a moment or two before eating!

* Note: a nice, aged cheddar becomes a bit “crusty” but in the photo, I I used 6 ounces of cheddar and two ounces of mozzarella, which produced a meltier topping. Just as good! I think a cheddar Parmesan crust would be great here, too, and there are many possibilities!

Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
  • Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.

Strategies Applied:

  • Broccoli: Broccoli is one of those vegetables that looks like it might be a better deal frozen, but generally is not. Read my rant on frozen broccoli, if in doubt. Do watch the per head and per pound sales – while broccoli may seem, at first glance to be more than frozen, generally the heads at my store, at least, are much larger than a standard package. A great price in our area is 89 to 99 cents a pound, and up to $1.49 a head is still okay. Look for bright, dark green heads, broccoli is also one of those items that keeps well in the fridge. Cost,$1.29 a pound,$2.58.
  • Butter:  A bit of a splurge, cost and calorie wise – but for taste and health, I’d rather use real butter than trans fat laden margarine or oils. Yes – they do have trans fat, even if the label says they don’t. Harvard, for instance, says unequivocally: “The key to a healthy diet is to substitute good fats for bad fats and to avoid trans fat.” While butter isn’t a healthy fat, many feel that trans fat is worse than saturated.
  • Buy on deep specials, often around the holidays with store coupons. I shoot for $2.50 a pound and freeze, where it stays fine for months. Cost for this recipe: 6 tablespoons, 48 cents.
  • Flour: Buy around any holiday when it is on a great sale price, especially the winter Holidays. I freeze all flour products when I bring them into my home for three days to avoid any issues. The five-pound bags are often much less expensive than the larger bags and are on sale so often, that it isn’t necessary to buy the larger bags unless one does a lot of baking. Sometimes coupons are available for the brand names during the sales. 5 pounds for $1.55 (Aldi) is about 17 cups, unsifted, 9 cents a cup. Cost for the recipe a penny.
  • Onions: They keep well, so try to buy on sale. Aldi is a good place to find reasonably priced onions. Always less expensive in the fall/winter months, the pricing in my area runs from 33 to 66 cents a pound. Store them in a dark, cool place but not near potatoes. If you’ve bought too many onions, don’t let them go bad.
  • Slice or dice them, saute and portion into Ziplocs labeled “onions” and freeze. You’ve just saved yourself a step for next time you make a dish. If you have enough, consider making French Onion Soup. If you use half an onion, consider if you can sauté the rest and put it in a Ziploc in the freezer. If not store in the door where you’ll see it when you’re cooking next. 1 at 33 cents a pound, about 10 cents.
  • Garlic:  I look for a price of about $2.99 a pound, or about 54 cents a head. Check the pricing of the bulk per pound as opposed to the packaged. I never really find it on sale, but I use so much, I pay attention and buy a bit more when I see the price is lower.  Cost for 2 cloves, around 2 cents.
  • Fresh Herbs: I grow my own in the garden, and keep a few ones I often use on the back steps in a strawberry pot. When winter comes, I bring indoors. Indoors is not always ideal for herb growing, but since a plant costs about the same as a bunch, there’s really no loss, even if it dies off; just snip and dry. Cost: nominal.
  • Whipping Cream: Whipping cream varies wildly in price – look for it on sale around any holiday. Store brands are often less expensive than brand names, often half the price. If you aren’t using it to whip, consider if 1/2 and 1/2 will work and be less expensive. If you’re looking at a pint container, milk is about 8 cents a cup, so a pint of half and half should be roughly half the cost of the 8 ounce whipping cream, less the 8 cents to be cost-effective. If you just need a bit, consider if you can use the rest in another recipe or save out a bit from another recipe to use in this one. This whipping cream was $1.79 for 16 ounces (a pint) at Aldi cost for this recipe: 80 cents.
  • Cheese: Cheese is an item that I almost always buy on sale. Often with store specials, coupons and special offers from the producers I can get cheese very cheaply, and sometimes at no cost. I’ll stock up then – if it’s not open, it keeps forever. If I have to freeze, I will sometimes do this – it’s ok when used in a casserole, but not very good for eating. I look for a price of a dollar (or less) for an eight ounce block of store cheese. Cost $1.00.

Nutrition:

Per Serving, calories 492; Total Fat 39g; saturated fat 25g; Monounsaturated Fat 11 g; Polyunsaturated Fat 1 g; Trans Fat 0 g; Cholesterol 125 mg; Sodium 989 mg; Potassium 595 mg; Total Carbohydrate 20 g; Dietary Fiber 4 g; Sugars 5 g; Protein 19 g; Vitamin A 46 %; Vitamin C 228 %; Calcium 38 %; Iron9 %

Slow Cooker Bolognese . $11.64

While I’m a bit iffy about tomato based spaghetti sauce, what I am a huge fan of is a Bolognese.  Deep, rich, winey, this meat based sauce is out of this world fantastic. Tossed with a simple pasta or layered into Lasagna Bolognese? Heaven!

Slow Cooker Bolognese
Slow Cooker Bolognese

Bolognese is made from the simplest of ingredients, but the problem? It needs to simmer forever, lovingly tended, and ain’t nobody got time for that. :) In steps Cook’s Country with their fantastic Slow Cooker Bolognese. Seriously, its the main reason my crock pot hasn’t been passed on to someone else, and the other is my Slow Cooker Pulled Pork.

Recently, though, I read a post by Kenji from Serious Eats, and wondered, “Is my Bolognese all it could be?” I started tinkering with my Cook’s recipe, and in the end settled on just a touch of gelatine. It adds a silkiness that I found missing when I use the less expensive ground pork & beef in this recipe rather than veal.

Sometimes I’ll start out by rendering a little pancetta, which is a pricey ingredient to be sure, but adds such flavor. Other times I may use just a bit of bacon fat* for a little added flavor instead of the butter. Now and then, I’ll add just the faintest whisper of freshly grated nutmeg.

Slow Cooker Bolognese -ry to avoid carb on carb
Slow Cooker Bolognese -for a healthy meal avoid carb on carb

Speaking of price, if you’re frugal, you’ll probably be thinking this recipe might put you into sticker shock. If you dress your pasta lightly, as they do in Italy (and this is very flavorful) you’ll find that this goes far. I generally serve one meal with pasta, freeze a bit for another night and use the rest for Lasagna (a pan is two meals for my family.) If you’re having a big dinner party, this is a fantastic budget dish!

Of course, for a special dish like this, you’ll want some good Parmesan, great noodles (believe it or not, egg noodles catch the sauce beautifully!) and probably a glass or two of wine! And don’t forget the vegetables! Lovely broccoli, broccolini, or chard and a salad would be beautiful. Too many of us Americans simply eat huge plates of pasta with nothing on the side! The plate in the photo? Sorry, but it’s probably the worst way to serve pasta – with bread!

I’ve noticed, in my search for the ultimate Bolognese, a few common complaints about the Cook’s recipe. A few hints that might help:

  • Don’t try to make this in a small crock pot – it won’t all fit and won’t reduce properly.
  • When the recipe is started, place the lid on the crockpot and preheat on high.
  • Simmer the Bolognese after adding the milk until all noticeable liquid has evaporated, except for a little fat.
  • Bring the mixture to a vigorous boil after adding in the rest of ingredients.
  • Quickly add the hot sauce to the crock pot, lid it immediately and wait for the sauce to come to a boil before removing the lid.

Seven or eight hours later, you’ll be richly rewarded. Best of all, this makes a huge amount, plenty for dinner with leftovers one night and a pan of lasagna on another. Like many sauces, this freezes beautifully.

Slow Cooker Bolognese - Don't just plop a ton of sauce on a plate of noodles! Not Frugal or healthy
Slow Cooker Bolognese – Don’t just plop a ton of sauce on a plate of noodles! Not Frugal or healthy

Slow-Cooker Bolognese, serves 12

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 large onion, finely minced (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 4 stalks celery, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 4 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 4 teaspoons)
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 3 lbs meatloaf mix, or 1½ pounds each of ground chuck and ground pork
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 1/4 cup whole milk (2% works well, too)
  • 1/4 cup parsley
  • Good pinch sage
  • 1  packet powdered gelatin
  • 3 cups dry white wine
  • 1 (28-oz) cans whole tomatoes, pulsed in blender until smooth
  • 1 grating of fresh nutmeg (optional)

Heat butter in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until foaming. Add onion, carrot, and celery and cook until softened but not colored, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and tomato paste and cook until fragrant and slightly browned, about 1 minute.

Add meat, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper and cook, breaking up meat, until crumbled into tiny pieces and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. A potato masher works well for this.

Note: Although the original recipe does not call for it, I like to drain some of the fat from the ground beef.

Add milk, bring to vigorous simmer, and cook until milk evaporates and only clear fat remains, 10 to 15 minutes. Add gelatin, wine, tomatoes, sage and parsley. Add nutmeg if using. Cover and bring to boil. Transfer mixture to slow cooker, cover, set temperature to high, and bring to boil, about six to seven minutes.

Once mixture comes to boil, remove lid and simmer until sauce is very thick,  7 to 8 hours. Season with salt and pepper to taste, if desired add a grating of nutmeg.

To serve, cook and drain pasta, reserving a little of the pasta water. Allowing about 1/2 cup of the sauce and desired portion of pasta, toss the sauce and pasta together. Add a bit of the pasta water if mixture needs to be moistened.

Reheat Left overs: This mixture will thicken and gel a bit in the fridge, making it easy for family members to miscalculate a serving – reheat with a little water, stove-top or microwave, then portion.

Make Ahead: This recipe can be partially made the night before so that it’s ready to place in the slow cooker in the morning. The next morning, bring the mixture back to a boil, transfer it to the slow cooker, and proceed as directed.

Additional Hints:

  • Because steam rises from the sauce as it cooks, make sure there is nothing over your crockpot, like a cabinet, when you use it.
  • If you’re commuting and working full-time, you may be away more than seven to eight hours. Cover the crock pot partially with a lid and the evaporation will slow, buying you more time.
  • If the mixture still seems too soupy when you’re ready to serve, put back in a pan and simmer vigorously, stirring often, to quickly reduce.
  • Freezes well. Cover the top with a plastic wrap, then lid.

Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
  • Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.

Strategies Applied:

This is really only a bargain meal if you manage the Bolognese – use reasonable servings and make good use of the left overs. Large pots of food like this are likely to get reheated willy, nilly then get pushed to the back of the fridge where they languish. Portion it out up front and freeze part and you’ll easily get several meals out of it.

  • Ground Beef: I always buy on sale and freeze – I don’t think there is ever a reason to pay full price. If I have a bit left over because the sale price doesn’t allow me to always choose the quantity, I put the remainder in a Ziploc and freeze, noting the weight on the package. I’ll add to it until I get enough to make something. Cost $2.69 a pound, 1 1/2 pounds is $4.00.
  • Ground Pork: is not always available at my store, and if it is, it’s expensive and not very lean. I use sales priced pork loin, $1.99 a pound on a deep sale, that I’ve stored in my freezer. Cost $3.00.
  • Butter:  A bit of a splurge, cost and calorie wise – but for taste and health, I’d rather use real butter than trans fat laden margarine or oils. Yes – they do have trans fat, even if the label says they don’t. Harvard, for instance, says unequivocally: “The key to a healthy diet is to substitute good fats for bad fats and to avoid trans fat.” While butter isn’t a healthy fat, many feel that trans fat is worse than saturated.
  • Buy on deep specials, often around the holidays with store coupons. I shoot for $2.50 a pound and freeze, where it stays fine for months. Cost for this recipe: 2 tablespoons, 16 cents.
  • Onions: They keep well, so try to buy on sale. Aldi is a good place to find reasonably priced onions. Always less expensive in the fall/winter months, the pricing in my area runs from 33 to 66 cents a pound. Store them in a dark, cool place but not near potatoes. If you’ve bought too many onions, don’t let them go bad.
  • Slice or dice them, saute and portion into Ziplocs labeled “onions” and freeze. You’ve just saved yourself a step for next time you make a dish. If you have enough, consider making French Onion Soup. If you use half an onion, consider if you can sauté the rest and put it in a Ziploc in the freezer. If not store in the door where you’ll see it when you’re cooking next. 1 at 33 cents a pound, about 10 cents.
  • Carrots: An inexpensive item even not on sale – but it keeps so well I buy a couple of packages if it is cheaper. $1.00 a pound is standard in our area, but the larger packages of 5 pounds are often on sale for $2.50 – that’s 50 cents a pound, or about 10 cents for two. Carrots will keep longer if you rotate the package, which is so often on the bottom of the drawer, so they don’t sit in condensation. About 10 cents.
  • Celery: Generally inexpensive, but does go on sale from time to time, so I buy extra when it does. Celery keeps so well, there’s no reason to not buy when it’s not on sale. Remember to use your leaves, they’re full of flavor, and if you don’t use them in your cooking, save them, along with the bottom parts for soup or stock.  Always wash your celery extremely well. To keep longer, slip a plastic bag loosely over the exposed top of the celery. A good price in my area is 98 cents a sleeve, with about 15 or so stalks in a sleeve. Cost 26 cents.
  • Garlic:  I look for a price of about $2.99 a pound, or about 54 cents a head. Check the pricing of the bulk per pound as opposed to the packaged. I never really find it on sale, but I use so much, I pay attention and buy a bit more when I see the price is lower.  Cost for 4 cloves, around 5 cents.
  • Tomato Paste:  Another item I generally don’t pay for with coupons and sales – keep it in a Ziploc bag in your freezer and thaw for a few minutes to use. Cost 0.
  • Fresh Herbs: I grow my own in the garden, and keep a few ones I often use on the back steps in a strawberry pot. When winter comes, I bring indoors. Indoors is not always ideal for herb growing, but since a plant costs about the same as a bunch, there’s really no loss, even if it dies off; just snip and dry. Cost: nominal.
  • Milk:  Buy on sale – unopened it keeps a bit past it’s “sell by” date – then you can pick up one for the beginning of the week, and another at the end of the week for the week following. In our area, it is often on sale for $2.99 a gallon.
  • Be careful with your milk, and even opened it will last a lot longer – pour, lid and put away, don’t bring it to the table or leave it on the counter while you eat dinner or down your cereal and you’ll notice it stay fresh last MUCH longer. We’ve cut way back on dairy, as most health experts suggest – putting it away helps with that, too. Cost for a cup and a half, about 12 cents.
  • Wine:  I really shop the sales and speak to the employees – I find I can find great wines for a pittance. If you have a wine shop you like, I find you can get mailings or emails for their best sales – often in the fall and spring. My last bottle of a basic white was $3.50 – I know, I know, they say always buy a wine you’d drink to cook with, but this was a decent wine, on a 1/2 price sale. About 3 1/2 cups in a bottle, cost $3.00.
  • Tomatoes, canned:  These go on sale periodically, and if you’re flexible about brand you can often find inexpensive prices at the same time the producer issues coupons or Catalinas (slips that print out at check out giving you money back if you buy so many. Catalinas are often unadvertised.) Check your coupon matching site and load up when they are at very low prices  My tomatoes were no cost, but I’ll price it out at 50 cents, which is an easily attainable sales price.
  • Gelatin: It keeps forever, so my apologies, but I believe my packet was $1.39 – four in a packet, so one is 35 cents.

Nutrition:

Based on 12 servings w/o pasta: calories 297; tot fat 15g; sat fat 7g; mono 1g; trans 1g; chol 82mg; sod 379mg; pot 383mg; carb 8g; fib 2g; sug 5g; prot 24g; vit a 42%; vit c 23%; calc 6%; iron 17%

* Bacon Fat: Sometimes I’d like a bit of bacon flavor but don’t necessarily want the bacon in the finished dish. I have a small jar in the fridge that I’ll pull out. This horrifies some – for me this is a plus because I so seldom eat bacon, maybe every few months. If I really want to splurge for a special recipe, if I didn’t have my little jar, I’d have to buy bacon and cook it. Then I would eat more!

Bacon Drippings
Bacon Drippings

Fabulously Frugal Cooking & Shopping

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