Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Homemade Viniagrette

The front page article in the Chicago Tribune today featured several recipes for making vinaigrette. (It was actually the front page of the Good Eating section but to me, on a Wednesday, that is the front page.) I make my own vinaigrette all the time. It is a great way to save money and get a fresh, great tasting, preservative free salad dressing that tastes so much better than any bottled dressing.
There are so many different varieties of vinaigrette one can make. Just changing the vinegar or adding an herb makes a new dressing. I even made my own herb vinegars by purchasing bulk vinegar and flavoring it with herbs from my garden but one has to wait until the end of summer when the herbs are plentiful to do that so I'll save that for another time.
To make it, I start with some vinegar (balsamic, white wine, red wine, Champagne, sherry...the options are endless), add Dijon mustard, chopped shallots, garlic, or onions, a chopped herb if I am using one, salt & pepper, and combine. Then I whisk in some oil. I almost always use a canola oil as it has a very neutral flavor and as I usually make extra to have in the fridge, it does not solidify like olive oil would. The standard ratio is one part vinegar to 3-4 parts oil. Many times I use less oil than that to make it a little healthier. This does make it pretty acidic but it also forces me to use less - even healthier.
The dijon and shallot, garlic or onion act as emulsifiers. Adding those will help your vinegar and oil from separating. It is not necessary to add either of them but they add a lot of flavor also.
Some other additions that I like are lemon, lime or orange juice, chipotle, blue cheese, avocado, yogurt, and black olives.


1/2 cup Vinegar (any good quality vinegar will work: balsamic, white or red wine, sherry, Champagne)
1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1 tablespoon Shallots, Onions, or Garlic, chopped (you may want to use less garlic)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh herbs (optional) - My favorites are tarragon or rosemary
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups canola oil (can use less if desired)

Mix all ingredients except oil together. Slowly whisk in oil and continue whisking until mixture is emulsified (totally combined). Taste and make any necessary adjustments. Let stand for 1/2 hour for flavors to mix. Can be refrigerated for up to two weeks.
Any other additions can be added. For example, whisking in some blue cheese and yogurt makes a creamy blue cheese vinaigrette. If you add the citrus juice, you will not need as much vinegar.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Roasted Corn Salad

I just got some really good corn from Stanley's for $.20 and also saw the same price at Jewel this weekend. So, I decided to make a roasted corn salad. I boiled the corn for a minute, threw it on the grill to caramelize a little, and then cut it off of the cob. I mixed it with some cilantro, lime juice, red pepper, red onion, cumin, and salt and pepper. It turned out great and went along well with the grilled flank steak and spicy shrimp we were also having.

Roasted Corn Salad

6 Ears of Corn on the Cobb, shucked
1/2 Cup Cilantro, chopped
2 Limes, juiced
1 Red Pepper, chopped
1/2 Red Onion, chopped
1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
Salt & Pepper to taste

Place the corn in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil for one minute. Remove corn and grill it for a couple minutes until it just starts to caramelize and darken. Let corn cool and cut off of the cobb. Mix together with the remaining ingredients and season with salt and pepper.
This recipe can easily be doubled of halved.
You can omit the grilling step to make it easier but will loose some of the added flavor.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Seasonal Produce

Eating seasonal food is one of the best ways to save money. Food, primarily produce, that is in season is less expensive, tastes much better, and depending on where you live may be grown locally. Things that I've mentioned recently like strawberries and artichokes are harvested in the spring which is why one can get them for a good price now.
Some other great spring seasonal things that are on sale right now are asparagus, peas, apricots, and morel mushrooms. One of my favorite ways to get seasonal produce is going to farmer's markets. The first in Chicago are just around the corner and I cannot wait. Just a couple weeks away...

Friday, May 8, 2009

Fresh herb vinaigrette

When things come out of hibernation and start growing in my garden it makes me happy. In particular I love my herb garden. Growing fresh herbs is so easy and is a great way to save money. I try to grow a large variety every year. There is not much action yet but a few of the perennials (those that come back every year) are back in full swing - the chives and oregano. I decided to use these two herbs in an olive vinaigrette to put over a whole roasted red snapper.
A great place to buy fresh fish is Isaacson & Stein Fish Co. on Halsted and Fulton. They have a great selection of very fresh seafood and their prices are good. Last time I was there a couple weeks ago they had a special on frozen whole red snappers for $4 a pound so I stocked up on a couple of them. Fresh is always better than frozen but it is very convenient to have some fish in the freezer that I can defrost whenever.
Roasting a whole fish is so easy and delicious. All you have to do is heat up the oven to a high temperature, add a little salt and optional herbs to the fish, and roast it in the oven for about 20 minutes. That's it.
Here is the recipe:

Whole Roasted Red Snapper with Fresh Herb Olive Vinaigrette

For Fish
1 whole red snapper
salt & pepper
fresh herbs for stuffing fish (optional)

For Vinaigrette
2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs - Chives and Oregano are great
6 black olives, pitted and chopped
1 tablespoon capers
1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar (can also use red or white wine vinegar)
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt & pepper (optional - taste first)

For fish, preheat oven to 450 degrees. Wash fish, dry, and place on baking sheet (I put it on tin foil so the fish skin does not stick to the baking sheet). If using fresh herbs for stuffing, put them in the fish and salt and pepper the outside of the fish generously.
Roast the fish in the oven for about 20 minutes. The fish should fall from the bone easily when it is done.
For vinaigrette, combine all ingredients and let sit for 20 minutes to 2 hours.
When the fish is done, spoon vinaigrette over it and it is ready to eat.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


One might suspect that I like yogurt a lot as I have shared a couple recipes using yogurt already: Artichoke Dipping Sauce, Strawberry Shakes, and Yogurt Sauce for Grilled Pork. Well, I do. I make my own yogurt using a yogurt maker. It is so easy and very economical. I use 6 cups of milk to make 8 portions of yogurt. If I can get milk for around $2 a gallon (and I can almost always at Costco, usually at Jewel, and for just a little more at Trader Joe's) it only costs about 75 cents. That is less than 10 cents per yogurt serving.
As frugal as I am, I don't even make my own yogurt to save money but because I get a more natural product without all of the additives that store-bought yogurt has. You can use organic milk to really get a healthier product but the cost will go up quite a bit. Also having a constant supply of plain yogurt (the yogurt is made plain but fruit and sweeteners can be added if desired) allows me to use it for sauces anytime I need one.
  • I add pureed chipotle to the plain yogurt for a creamy Mexican sauce for tacos or fish.
  • I add some dill with a little salt and pepper to the yogurt for a great sauce for grilled salmon.
  • I finely chop some cucumber and a little green onion with some salt and pepper, add it to the yogurt for a sauce that's great with indian flavored dishes or grilled meats.
  • I make smoothies using 1/2 cup yogurt, frozen fruit (that I purchased cheaply at the peak of the season and froze), some milk, vanilla, and maybe some additions like cinnamon, almonds, and flax seed.
I use fat-free milk to make my yogurt. The yogurt is much richer using 2% or especially whole milk but I don't need the extra fat. The process is very simple. You heat the yogurt up to 200 degrees (10 minutes in a microwave), cool it down to about 110 degrees, add some live culture (basically a spoonful of already made yogurt), and incubate it for 10 hours at about 110 degrees. You can make yogurt at home using a quart size canning jar and a cooler that will keep it at the right temperature. There are a lot of instructions for this on the internet. I find having a yogurt maker really convenient and the 1/2 cup containers are a good size for individual portions or making a sauce.