Holiday Cooking on a Budget

Holiday Cooking on a Budget

No time of year warrants sticking to a budget quite like the holidays, yet December is probably the most difficult month to be a penny-pincher; especially when it comes to food. First you’ve got the turkey. A good one will set you back at least $60-70. Then you’ve got to figure out what sides to pair with it. Everyone has their favourites so there really aren’t any you can eliminate. You can’t forget dessert either. Christmas chocolates? Yes please. But $15 for a box of Quality Street or Turtles, say what?

Thankfully good food doesn’t have to be expensive. Here are 3 dishes you can prepare to serve up to 6 people, for less than $30. If I did my math correctly, that’s less than $5 per person.

Your friends and family may throw a fit if you don’t have turkey for the holidays, so instead of cooking a whole bird, try opting for legs instead. They are dirt cheap – between $2.50 to $3 per leg – and braising them ensures they stay moist and tender, unlike that dry breast meat that no one likes.

For a side, try making a chickpea salad. Beans and legumes are a great way to add bulk to your meal and are a blank canvas to add a plethora of other flavours. The red and green colours of pomegranate and brussels sprouts scream “holidays” to me!

Finally, dessert is required at all holiday meals, regardless of how full you are. Grandma’s coconut snowballs are the easiest treats you will ever make in your life. You don’t even have to turn the oven on. Still they are a crowd favourite year after year.

I don’t know about you but that’s one tasty sounding budget meal right there. It will have everyone at your table saying “Merry Christmas”, your wallet included!

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BRAISED TURKEY LEGS

Serves 4-6 – costs $14.50

Ingredients

  • 4 turkey legs
  • 1 sweet onion, chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2-3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp. dried herbs (I used a combination of rosemary, thyme and oregano)
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. Season the turkey legs with salt and pepper and brown them in a large skillet over medium-high heat. You are just looking to sear them, not cook them through.
  2. Remove the browned turkey from the skillet and place it in a large, oven-proof dish.
  3. Add the vegetables and dried herbs to the same skillet you browned the turkey in. Deglaze with chicken stock and bring to a boil.
  4. Pour the vegetables and stock over the turkey legs. Cover with foil and bake at 350F for 3-3.5h, or until tender. You can then use the braising liquid to make a gravy if you like, or you can serve the turkey as is. The turkey can also be braised a day ahead of time and just warmed up when you are ready to serve.

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CHICKPEA SALAD WITH BRUSSELS SPROUTS AND POMEGRANATE

Serves 4-6 – costs $5 total

Ingredients

  • 1 14 oz. can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed thoroughly
  • 1 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1 1/2 cups raw brussels sprouts, shredded
  • 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • 2-3 tbsp. white wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. To make the dressing, whisk together the mustard and honey until smooth. Whisk in the vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Combine the chickpeas, pomegranate, and brussels sprouts in a bowl. Pour in the dressing and stir to combine.
  3. This salad is best eaten after a couple of hours because it allows the dressing to marinate the chickpeas and brussels sprouts. You can ever make ahead of time to serve the next day.

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COCONUT SNOWBALLS

Makes 20 balls – costs $7.50 total

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 6-8 oz. chocolate chips (about 1/2 of a typical 350g package)
  • shredded coconut, as needed (about 1-1 1/2 cups)

Instructions

  1. Stir together all ingredients except the shredded coconut.
  2. Roll the mixture into bite-sized balls and coat each with coconut.
  3. Refrigerate if not eaten immediately.
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Lemon Souffle and Baked Falafel

You may have noticed that things look a little bit different around here. I was getting sick of the old Starving Student page. It just felt too busy, too messy for me. So I flipped everything on it’s head and went back to basics. Plus I added a few fancy buttons on the side, rather than the obnoxiously gigantic “Follow me on Facebook and Twitter and this and that and the other thing!!” links that used to be there. I’m happy with it. For now at least. It will hold me over until I finally make the big step to have it professionally designed. Maybe I’ll do it when I make the other big step to go out a buy a nice, expensive camera to take prettier pictures. All in good time my friends, all in good time.
This past weekend we spent some time out in Canmore. My fourth weekend in the mountains in a row in fact! And the last time until after our upcoming trip to Seattle/Alaska. Unlike my usual “fly by the seat of my pants” self, I actually made 2 things following 2 actual, legitimate recipes! Astounding, I know.
The first was nothing to write home about. Frankly Martha Stewart’s lemon soufflé was pretty darn disappointing. It looked beautiful. But it tasted like nothing. If it weren’t for the berry coulis that I made to go along with it, it really wouldn’t have tasted like anything. I was expecting a bright, lemony, sweet yet slightly tangy, zippy lemon soufflé and all I got was boring blah-ness. In hindsight the recipe called for way too many eggs in relation to lemon juice and zest so it was pretty diluted. Live and learn. 

Lemon Souffle

Lemon Souffle
On the other hand, the baked falafel recipe I had bookmarked from Sprouted Kitchen was delightful! Super simple and it packed a punch. The only faux-pas I made was adding way too much salt, not realizing that I had bought salted pistachios. But that was user error, otherwise the recipe itself is golden. I could eat these things by the handful. Which is ok because they are a lot healthier than your typical deep-fried falafel. Although I’m not averse to those either… Falafel and I have quite the history. As seen here. And here. Oh and here. But most importantly, here. The rest of the world might have meat, but us vegetarians, we have falafel. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

Baked falafel
falafel mixture
baked falafel
baked falafel balls
Baked Falafel
Adapted from Sprouted Kitchen
Makes 12 falafel balls
1 handful parsley, Italian or curly
5 mint leaves
3/4 cup shelled pistachios
1 398mL can chickpeas (a little under 2 cups)
2 cloves garlic
1/2 small yellow onion
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
salt and pepper, to taste
You have 2 options with this. The easy route would be to throw everything in the food processor and pulse until it’s chopped but chunky. You want it to retain some of it’s texture. Option b) is a little bit more labour intensive but it guarantees the texture part. Just chop it all by hand. For me this was more of an adaptation than a choice. The original recipe says to use a food processor but I didn’t have one on hand. I mean a food processor is just a really fancy, fast moving, scary knife right?
Anyways, whichever method you choose, get all of your ingredients chopped and into a bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Tip of the day – make sure you check if your pistachios are pre-salted or not. Because if they are you should probably refrain from dumping in half the salt container and then tasting and realizing it’s way too salty. But you wouldn’t do that right? I mean who would? Not me that’s for sure…….
Heat your oven to 375F and form the chickpea mixture into 12 golf-ball sized falafels. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden and slightly crispy on the outside. Serve with pita or atop a fresh, summer salad!

Veggie Burgers

Labour Day is over and for some that may suggest that outdoor grilling is slowly drawing to a close. Unless of course you are Canadian like me and force any and every male body in your family (too bad it’s only my dad) to get out there and grill in -40 degree weather. Sure the bbq won’t start and if it does, the wind quickly puts an end to that. But you just wait, give it an hour, maybe two, and you will get your steak eventually.
So I know that no one wants to think about snow yet but when it comes (and let’s be honest, that will be sooner rather than later) you need to be prepared. Which means cooking inside. And who wants meat grease splattering everywhere? Enter; veggie burgers!
 veggie burgers

Veggie Burgers

– 1 can mixed beans (I used Scarpone’s which was composed of a melange of red kidney beans, white beans, black eyed peas and chickpeas but any variety or varieties you like will work)
– 1/4 cup uncooked wild rice, cooked in veg stock until tender
– 2 large stuffer mushrooms
– 1/2 to 1 cup panko bread crumbs (I know this is quite the range but it really depends on the moisture content of your burgers – they won’t hold together if they are too soupy)
– salt and pepper, to taste (I indulged in a healthy amount of truffle salt)

Ok simple as pie. Except we are actually making burgers. Really all you have to do is blend everything in a food processor. However there are 2 key points to consider. First of all, save some of the rice and beans to pulse in at the last minute for extra texture. We aren’t making baby food here. Secondly, the recipe isn’t as important as just knowing what you are looking for. For example, with the bread crumbs, you need to add enough so the mixture is almost to the point where it starts forming a ball in the food processor. Then you can form it into patties. Otherwise you will have yourself a bean hummus/dip of sorts. Which would also be delish, just not what we are looking for. Once the patties are formed it does help to refrigerate them. They will set up a bit which eases the cooking process. You can grill them but I prefer to cook them in a pan with a little bit of olive oil to develop a nice crust (also helping to enhance the texture). 3-4 minutes a side and you are good to go. It’s not meat so you’re not concerned with cooking the burgers as much as simply ensuring that they are warmed through. Serve as desired with the condiments and toppings of your choice, or simply the burger on a nice toasty bun!

veggie burgers
veggie burgers

 

Coconut Curry with Lentils and Green Beans

How about something on the savory side for a change?
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Coconut Curry with Lentils and Green Beans

Ingredients

1 cup green lentils, soaked overnight, drained and rinsed
1 bunch asparagus, sliced into bite-sized pieces
1 can coconut milk
1 cup vegetable stock
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
2 tbsp green curry powder
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup basmati rice

Ok there’s a lot of steps here but fear not, it’s all pretty basic stuff. First let’s start with the lentils. I prefer to soak mine because I find that they cook drastically faster this way. So after allowing them to soak and re-hydrate I cooked them in UNSALTED water on low heat for only about 15 minutes and they were good to go. Remember, always hold off on seasoning your legumes as salt prohibits cooking.

To make the curry start by sauteing the onions over medium heat with a pinch of salt until they begin to soften. Then add the ginger and curry paste until they begin to release all of their delicious flavor (you’ll smell it). Next comes the coconut milk and veg stock. Bring this to a boil, add in your cooked lentils and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook it gently on low for 20-30 minutes to allow all of the flavors to come together.

While this is cooking away you have time to blanch the asparagus and cook the rice. Blanching simply involves cooking the asparagus in salted boiling water until it is as tender or crunchy as you like it. Then strain it and run it under cold water to set the green color. Set these aside to be added into the curry just prior to serving.

As for the rice, basmati only takes about 15 min so time accordingly. For 1 cup of rice I use 1.5 cups of water (if you use the 2:1 ratio it is way too soupy). Bring the rice, water, salt and pepper (to taste) to a boil, immediately turn it down to a simmer, cover and don’t touch it for 15 minutes. Then you can take it off the heat and let it continue to steam before serving.

See that wasn’t too difficult at all. Now you can serve. Just make sure to check the seasoning on the curry, adding salt and pepper as you see fit. Don’t forget to add in those asparagus to warm them up. Spoonful of rice on the bottom, curry on top and c’est finite!

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