Monday, December 20, 2010

Budget meals

It's the last week of holiday shopping, and you're likely pretty busy right about now, so there's not a lot of time, or money, left over for fancy dinners. Or so you think...................

You're not really THAT busy to skip cooking, are you? Think about it: in the time it takes to choose a place to eat, wait to be seated, get menus and make a selection, wait for the food, eat the food and pay the check, you've long since put your dishes in the dishwasher at home. And not to mention the cost of eating out: wow! Wouldn't you rather spend that money on a gift for yourself?!

Here are a few ideas for dinner that take very little of both time and money. They are also a lot healthier than what you'd eat out and we all could use a little more healthy food during the holiday season!

Both recipes feature eggs as the main focus. Not just for breakfast, they also make great, inexpensive dinners. The first recipe combines the techniques of a souffle and an omelet for a lovely puffed up wrap for spinach and cheese.

Souffled Spinach Omelet

1 pound spinach, washed and stemmed
1 tablespoon butter
1 shallot, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch nutmeg
4 eggs, separated
2 tablespoons finely grated fresh Parmesan cheese or Gruyere

Wash the spinach and cut off the stems. Spin the excess water out. Drop the spinach into a large pot on the stove to wilt, about 3 minutes. (There will be enough water still clinging to the leaves to steam it.) When the spinach is cooked, drain, and plunge it into an ice-bath to seize the color. Remove the spinach and squeeze dry in a tea towel. Chop the spinach.

Heat half the butter in a frying pan, and gently saute the shallot. Add the spinach, and season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. When hot, turn off the heat, and set aside.

Put the yolks in a metal bowl and set over a pot of gently simmering water (make sure the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl.) Season the eggs with salt, and pepper, and whisk until thick and frothy. Remove the bowl from the heat. In a separate bowl, beat the whites to stiff peaks, and fold into the yolk mixture.

Heat the remaining butter in a large non-stick frying pan for the omelet.

Pour the egg into the pan and cook until the bottom is set, and golden, and the top is still fluffy and soft, about 3 to 5 minutes. Scatter the spinach mixture all over the omelet, then the cheese. Cover the pan for a few minutes to soften the cheese. Uncover, and fold the omelet in half, and slide it onto a plate. Serve immediately. Serves 2-3.

Recipe courtesy of Laura Calder's cooking show on the Cooking Channel, French Food at Home.

Next up, crepes. Another very inexpensive way to dress up savory fillings like vegetables and lean protein. Crepes can also be filled with sweet fillings, such as fruit, and served as dessert.

French Pancakes (Crepes)

3 eggs
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
2 Tbsp. butter or margarine

In a blender or food processor, blend eggs and flour. Gradually add milk, mixing until smooth. Refrigerate for 1/2 hour. This helps create a more tender crepe. In a flat-bottomed fry pan over medium heat, melt 1/4 tsp. butter and swirl to coat. Pour in about 1 1/2 Tbsp. of the batter, tilting pan so that batter flows quickly over the entire flat surface. If heat is correct and pan hot enough, the crepe sets at once and forms tiny bubbles. Cook until edge of crepe is lightly browned and surface feels dry. To turn, run a side spatula around the edge to loosen. Lay spatula on top of crepe and very quickly invert pan, flipping crepe out onto spatula. Then lay the crepe, uncooked side down, back into the pan and cook until lightly browned. Turn crepe out of pan onto a plate. Repeat with each crepe, stirring batter occasionally and stacking crepes. Use within a few hours or let cool and package tightly, and refrigerate up to one week. Freeze for longer storage. Bring crepes to room temperature before separating else they tear if cold. To reheat, stack crepes and seal in foil. Place in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 min. Makes about 16 crepes.

Spinach and Onion Crepes

3 Tbsp. butter or margarine
1 large onion, thinly sliced and separated into rings
2 pounds spinach (bagged and washed would be easiest)
2/3 cup whipping cream
1/2 tsp. each salt and lemon juice
2 cups (8 oz.) shredded swiss cheese
12-16 crepes at room temperature

In a 5-6 qt. sauce pan over medium high heat, melt butter. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally until soft (about 20 minutes).

Add spinach to the onions, cover and cook until limp. Stir in cream, salt and lemon juice. Cook over high heat, stirring until most of the liquid has evaporated. Spoon filling and cheese equally down center of each crepe, roll to enclose. Place desired number of crepes in a single layer in a shallow casserole dish. Cover and bake in a 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes.  Remove cover from crepes and bake 5 minutes more or until ends are crisp. Serve with sauteed mushrooms, accompany with sour cream.

Sauteed Mushrooms: in a wide frying pan over medium heat, melt 2 Tbsp. butter, then add 1/4 lb. sliced mushrooms and cook, stirring, until liquid has evaporated and mushrooms are slightly brown. Sprinkle with some finely chopped parsley. Spoon over crepes.


  1. Spinach leaves an astringent mouth-puckering taste after I eat it. I will use kale instead. Walnuts also have tannins. I soak and rinse them to reduce the astringent sensation. No matter how much I wash the spinach, the tannins are still bothering my taste buds.

  2. Yes, but spinach (and walnuts) are so healthy! All that iron and omega-3's! I think spinach benefits by adding something creamy to it to cut down on the astringent factor. That's why I think this recipe is great because it calls for butter, cream and cheese!


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