Frugal Foodie Challenge: Mozzarella

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When the blog Food Revolution announced the first Frugal Foodie Challenge, both Jay and I got very excited. The challenge? Make a complete meal for two people using the required ingredient, mozzarella cheese, without spending over $7 total for both people.

 Like most things in life, I was determined not to do this challenge at the last minute, but at 9PM on Thursday, walking out of my last class for the day, I realized that Jay and I hadn’t even thought about the challenge, much less shopped for it, and the due date was the next day. What I had hoped would be a carefully planned shopping trip ended up being a kind of a shopping blitzkreig, avoiding the areas in Kroger that were being remodeled and circling the store for items that had been relocated.

For once in my life, I was the one saying we couldn’t buy an item because it cost too much money. Eventually we decided that I would make pasta, something that includes mostly pantry items and a few bought items. I knew that I wanted to add meat, but what kind of meat would be cheap enough to allow for other ingredients, not to mention the mozzarella? Jay at first suggested andoillie sausage or chicken thighs, but at 3 or 4 dollars a package, it just wasn’t going to work. I had also originally planned on making a sauce, but all the elements required for a decent sauce just wasn’t going to work.

We had to think outside the box. I decided to take the tomato out of the sauce and put it in the pasta, adding tomato paste to a basic egg pasta recipe. That cut costs in a big way. After dissuading Jay away from the fresh meat, we headed to the can aisle and decided on some vienna sausages and canned chicken. Personally, I’ve never had canned chicken, and the last time I ate vienna sausages I was at my grandmother’s house, the same grandmother who served us fried spam sandwiches. Needless to say, it was a different world of meat products for me.

When we got home, this was the total damage (I pro rated the eggs):
Valley Fresh white chicken in water: $1.50
Prarie Belt smoked sausage: $.89
Kroger Tomato Paste: $.50
2 large eggs: $.34 ($.17 each)
Kroger Mozzarella: $2.29
1 head of garlic: $.24
Total (including 4% tax): $5.98

I was very proud of our frugal-ness. Now the challenge was cooking something that tasted good. Given the fact that we were using canned meat, Jay was very skeptical right from the beginning. I even remember telling him, “You just wait, you’ll love it when I’m done.” I wasn’t 100% sure of this statement, but the duck terinne challenge reassured me that not all hope was lost, and that the dogs in fact were not going to get a second dinner.

Although making the pasta took a while and we ended up staying up pretty late Thursday night, I think it was all worth it. Our dish in the end actually ended up tasting pretty darn good. The tomato pasta really added a depth of flavor that is absent in plain pasta dishes, and combining melted mozzarella with the roasted garlic paste also substantially increased the flavor profile. Searing the meat with a bunch of spices and pepper didn’t hurt either, neither did the fact that the pasta was brand spanking fresh. Rather than throwing everything out, Jay actually saved (!!!) the finished dish for lunch the next day … all after he downed an entire bowl.

I’m really glad that I participated in this challenge, even if I did wait until the last minute to get rolling. It’s amazing what a little bit of seasoning and searing can do to really basic ingredients, and how you can dress up even the cheapest of meat. It reminded me of a Top Chef challenge where the contestants had to make a dish out of very common ingredients like American cheese. After some pretty creative thinking, some of the contestants came up with some really good dishes, and you wouldn’t have been able to guess that the dishes included those very cheap ingredients. Even with a restricted budget, you can still cook like a gourmet, and I think it speaks more about a cook or chef that he or she can create something out of nothing, rather than being able to create something amazing out of already amazing ingredients.

If you’re skeptical about using canned meat, try this recipe. It’ll only cost you a little over $5, less than a price of a movie, and I guarantee you you’ll have fun discovering a new way of cooking.

Update: I originally wrote this post last night around 2 in the morning, which could be why some of the sentences are interesting (i.e. not written very well). I just returned home from the gym and warmed up a bowl of this pasta, and let me tell you, a little goes a long way! It is very filling and definitely keeps well, which just means you can stretch your dollar even further with this dish. Another frugal plus!

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 Tomato Pasta with Chicken, Sausages, and Garlic-Mozzarella
Note: I’m not the best with exact measurements on seasoning, I usually just eyeball things, so when I give a measurement for things like dried parsley and ground pepper, they are pretty approximate.

Ingredients:
1 head of garlic
2 cups or so shredded mozzarella
1 tin Prarie Belt smoked vienna sausages
1 tin Valley Fresh chicken
2 teaspoons ground pepper
pinch salt
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons dried parsley
pinch or two of red pepper flakes (depending on desired hotness)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Olive oil
Tomato Pasta (see recipe below)

Method:
1. Cut the head of garlic in half horizontally. Wrap each half in foil and place them in a small oven-safe pan. Roast the garlic in the oven for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. When the garlic is cool enough to handle, unwrap the foil and squeeze the roasted cloves into a small saucepan. Mash the garlic with the back of a spoon. Place the saucpan over medium-high heat and add a few handfulls of shredded mozzarella. Stir the mozzarella and garlic puree together, mashing with the back of the spoon, until the mozarella is melted and the garlic is incorporated. Remove from heat and set aside.

2. Drain sausages and chicken and rinse each with water. Cut the sausages into small pieces. Break big chunks of the chicken into smaller pieces. Place chicken and sausages in a small bowl, and season with ground pepper, pinch of salt, paprika, dried parsley, red pepper flakes, and garlic powder. Heat about 1 tablespoon olive oil in the bottom of a medium-sized pan, enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken and sausages and let sear on one side for about a minute, then use a wood spoon or spatula to toss the meat in the pan for another few minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer meat to a bowl. Season to taste with more salt and pepper, if needed. Cover with foil to keep warm. (Note: you can reheat the meat in the pan immediately before adding to the pasta if you think it’s not warm enough.)

3. Cook the fresh pasta in salted boiling water for two minutes. Drain pasta and transfer to a large bowl. Add the seared meat and toss together with a tablespoon of olive oil. Tear bits of the garlic mozzarella into the pasta and toss again. Sprinkle pasts with dried parsley and serve warm.

Note: if you make the garlic mozzarella enough in advance, you can stick it in the freezer so it hardens enough for you to grate the mozzarella over the pasta.

Tomato Pasta
(method adapted from October 2007 Bon Appetit)
Ingredients:
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon olive oil

Method:
1. Combine flour and salt in food processer; blend 5 seconds. Beat together eggs and tomato paste. Add egg and tomato paste mixture to food processer along with the olice oil. Blend until moist dough forms.

2. Gather dough together; transfer to lightly floured work surgace. Knead until smooth and pliable, about 8 to 10 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand 45 minutes. Divide dough into 6 equal pieces. Cover with plastic.

3. Shape 1 piece of dough into thin rectangle. Set pasta maker to widest setting. Run dough through the machine 4 times.

4. Adjust machine to next-narrower setting. Run dough though machine 4 times. Continue to run dough through rollers, adjusting machine to next-narrower setting after every 4 passes. (Note: I stopped at three. I think my dough was a little thicker and the recipe calls for, but it was also more filling. And I loved it!)

5. When dough strip is 1/16 inch thick (and 20 to 24 inches long), place on floured surfance or large baking sheets; cover with plastic. Repeat with remaining dough. Uncover strips; let stand until slightly dry (for easier cutting), turning once, 30 to 40 minutes.

6. Cut each dough in half crosswise. (Note: because my dough wasn’t quite as long as this recipe suggests, my pasta was a little short). Fit machine with a 1/4 to 3/8 inch cutter attachment. Run strips through machine, cutting dough into fettuccine and dusting with flour if dough sticks.

7. Spread fettuccine out on large rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with flour and toss to coat.
Note: the recipe says to cover the paste loosely with kitchen towels and let it stand up to 4 hours, tossing occasionally. I skipped this step and went ahead and cooked the pasta, and I thought it tasted fine.

Note on amount of pasta: this recipe makes a lot! We used a little over half and had more than enough pasta for the two of us, but feel free to cook all of it!

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1 Response to “Frugal Foodie Challenge: Mozzarella”


  1. 1 CB January 26, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    This looks amazing! I totally want to try this! Looks like I have some FFC competition with this one. 😉 Great job!
    -Clara
    http://iheartfood4thought.wordpress.com


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