Friday, July 29, 2011

Frugal Fridays - Summer Salad!

It seems that summer has come at last to Oregon. Given what some of my friends east of here have been going through, I’m not going to toss up too many complaints about our belated warm weather. Still, it is nice to break 80 now and again.

There does seem to be a temperature threshold for me when I become unwilling to cook, especially when it involves turning on any heat element of the stove. It usually happens when the temperature inside the house reaches 80 or so. Luckily, I haven’t quite reached that just yet.

But I did decide that rather than spending tons of time inside preparing a meal, I would spend the time OUTSIDE eating one, and so I opted to grab a rotisserie chicken (yes, the old standby) and turn it into a quick salad. I also had some pencil-sized asparagus that needed to be used up, and I thought I’d ramp up the flavor a bit by adding a compound butter - in this case one with garlic and saffron in it. The floral notes in the saffron blended well with the sun-dried tomato and herbs in the chicken.

I even discovered that while I wasn’t looking, my little bean plant was beginning to produce beans, even though it hasn’t been getting very big. But if I hadn’t been sitting there enjoying some quiet, I probably wouldn’t have even thought to check it.

Now if only the tomatoes would grow.

Cost breakdown:

½ Chicken (I was just feeding two of us) - $3.99
½ head of lettuce - .50
Olives, herbs and sun-dried tomatoes - $2.00
½ bundle of asparagus - $1.25
Parmesan cheese - $ .75
Butter - $ .32
Garlic and herbs - $ .15

Total: $8.96 ($4.48 per person)

As you can see, although it was still an economical meal, the ‘frugality’ here was more in time savings than anything else.

Putting it all together:

Pan-fried Asparagus with Garlic Saffron Butter

½ lb asparagus spears (I used the pencil-thin variety, which cooked quickly), washed and patted dry
½ Tbs olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
¼ cup white wine

½ stick unsalted butter, softened
¼ tsp salt (omit if using salted butter)
1 clove garlic
A small pinch of saffron (this goes a long way - 3 or 4 strands will do you)

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil, and when it is heated, add asparagus in a shallow layer. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the asparagus begins to brown in spots. Add the white wine, cover with a lid, and allow to cook 3 or 4 minutes, or just until crisp-tender (don’t overcook). Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, roughly chop garlic on a cutting board. Sprinkle with saffron and salt, and make a paste by dragging the side of a knife across the garlic and seasonings.

Toss with warm asparagus.

Italian Chicken Salad

½ rotisserie chicken, meat removed (about 2 cups)
½ cup mayo with olive oil
2 Tbs sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped
2 Tbs fresh basil, cut into a chiffonade
1 tsp fresh oregano, finely chopped
½ cup Kalamata olives
Salt & pepper to taste
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese**

Heat oven to 400º. Cover a small baking pan with foil. Place olives on the baking pan, season with salt and pepper and roast in oven for about 10 minutes. Remove olives from pan and set aside to cool. In the same pan, divide Parmesan in two equal portion, spreading out into a thin layer and leaving about an inch of space between the two portions. Return pan to the oven and allow the cheese to cook just until it turns golden, about 3 or 4 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool (the rounds will crisp up as they cool).

In a mixing bowl, combine chicken, mayo, tomatoes and herbs. Stir to combine. Chop the cooled Kalamata olives and add to the chicken mixture (the salt from the olives and chicken should be sufficient, but taste for seasoning).

Serve over lettuce drizzled with a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, if desired, and garnish with Parmesan crisp.

** As you can see from the picture, I didn’t have a pretty Parmesan crisp. I grabbed the wrong container of Parmesan, and the grated version had to be scraped off the foil. So I used it to sprinkle over the top instead. Same flavor, just not as pretty.

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