Budget Food Can Make a Gourmet Meal

cooking foodWhen talking about well-prepared food, it’s easy to get caught up in the notion that you have to use some sort of blend of exotic spices and ingredients you’d be hard-pressed to find at your average grocery store. But that’s not always feasible for most people’s budgets, especially in these hard times.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. I was reminded of this last week when I went to shoot a video with Chef Chris Plemmons, an Olympic College culinary instructor and former of the Washington Chef’s Association. I was working on a story with another reporter about a new cookbook the association created for people who shop at food banks.

The whole concept was to make user-friendly recipes and help give food bank clients more options.

“You’re not just going to have to take something in a pouch, pour it into boiling water and call it good,” he said.

It’s a lesson for the rest of us too. Inexpensive ingredients combined with creativity can be used to make meals with a little flair. And, I should mention, the shelves were a little bare at the food bank, and I bet that’s not just at the Bremerton Food Line (hint, hint).

He showed us the process of looking through items at the food bank and then making it into a good-looking meal …

He took a can of pink salmon, removed some of the skin and other less-than-tasty bits that were there, he added some panko (rice bread crumbs) and about 1/3 to 1/2 cup mayonnaise, a little salt, a little pepper. He mushed it up with his hands formed it into little flattened balls that he popped in the oven for 10-15 minutes (turning once) and finished up the meal with a potato and apple hash, which essentially was thick diced apples and potatoes sautéd in a pan with oil and diced onions. He placed two cakes on the hash, added a sprig of mint and a sprinkling of rosemary flowers from his garden.

And, just in case you’re curious, I pulled out a couple recipes from the book that I thought were interesting:

Pan-Seared Halibut in Grapefruit Cilantro Butter Sauce

Yield: 4 servings
1 pound halibut steaks, bones and skins removed
1/4 cup flour
1 Tbs margarine
3 Tbs vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Place halibut portions in flour, dredge all pieces and shake off excess. Heat margarine and oil over high heat until the margarine is melted and the oil is hot. Place floured halibut into hot oil, skin side up, and sear 3-4 minutes until brown. Turn halibut and repeat. Pace fish on a cookie sheet, sprayed with a cooking spray. Bake halibut for 10-12 minutes or until fish is cooked through. Serve with Grapefruit Cilantro Butter Sauce.

Grapefruit Cilantro Butter Sauce

Yield: 1/2 cup

2 grapefruits
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 stick margarine, cut into 4 pieces
2 Tbsp minced cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste

Juice one of the grapefruits and place into the juice in a small fry pan. Pell and section the other grapefruit, and place the fruit sections in a cup and set aside. Pour the chicken broth into the pan with the grapefruit juice. Bring to a boil over high heat until liquid reduces by half. Remove pan from heat and place margarine or butter in the pan. Swirl as it melts to emulsify the sauce. Add cilantro, continuing to swirl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour over halibut to serve, and garnish with grapefruit sections. Serve hot.

Polenta Cake

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 egg yolks
1 Tbs orange zest, finely grated
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup almonds, natural
1/2 cup coarse polenta or yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp baking powder
4 egg whites, room temperature
2 tsp powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 325-degrees. Generously butter an 8″ square cake pan. In a large bowl, combine 1/2 cup sugar with butter, egg yolks and orange and lemon zests. Add vanilla extract and beat at high speed with an electric mixer until smooth, light and creamy – about 2 minutes. In a food processor, finely grind almonds with cornmeal, cornstarch and baking powder. In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer with the remaining 1/4 tsp sugar until they form soft peaks. Gently fold the dry ingredients and 1/2 the beaten egg whites until just incorporated.

Gently scrape the batter evenly into the prepared pan and bake for about 30 minutes or until the top of the cake is golden and a cake tester comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack for 10 minutes, then invert to cool completely. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

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