No post yesterday for a couple of reasons – Wednesday was all about the leftovers so there wasn’t any cooking or shopping happening here (but there was some re-heating going on), and on Thursday I went to the MFA, one of my favorite places in the world. And here I’ll give you a how to have fun on a budget tip (especially if you think nothing is more fun than a museum) – did you know that libraries have free or discounted museum passes? They do! I called the library to see if they had the pass on the day I wanted it, reserved it, picked it up and headed on my way. The pass program is funded by grants so the museum gets revenue and I get to save money by using the pass – it’s quite awesome. I have the ICA pass reserved for next Thursday – I’m dying to see the Shepard Fairey show.
I had a great time at the MFA. There is a big show on Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice opening on March 15th and yesterday was one of the members’ preview days. As I was entering the museum, the clerk asked if I’d like to see the show and I quickly said “Yes!” adding that I love Titian. Then she realized that it was for members only (and I was bummed) but then she decided, what the heck, she’d let me have a ticket anyway. I was pretty happy about that and enjoyed the show immensely.
I thought that was going to be the highlight of my day but it only got better. One of the reasons I went to the MFA was to see the special photography show – Photographic Figures. As I walked into the gallery, I saw a man with a dog which threw me for a loop. Then I realized that it was a service dog (because, duh, you can’t just bring your pup to the MFA.) Then I realized that the woman with him was describing each and every one of the photographs to him because he has some kind of sight impairment. So I sat on the bench in the middle of the gallery and eavesdropped (I am an avid eavesdropper.) Their conversation was fascinating – she’d start by reading the tag, then she’d describe the picture and then he’d ask follow-up questions and they’d occasionally go off on tangents. Once they left, I walked around the gallery and looked at each of the pictures myself – it was really interesting to see them for myself after “seeing” each of them them through their words.
She was quite good at describing what was happening in each photo. I actually got busted right after snapping this shot – no photos in special exhibitions!
I had a lovely time at the museum and then I gave myself a special treat. See, I drove into Boston. Normally I’d take the train in but I had to go to Acton first thing to sign some papers, so I just continued into town from there. So what was my treat? I drove around Boston for a bit. Most people I know think that driving in Boston is akin to torture but I actually really love it. I lived in Boston for a long time and know it well, so getting lost isn’t much of an issue, and I love how all of the streets are twisty and crazy and make no sense. I took a Sunday drive through Boston and some of the neighborhoods and had a delightful time before heading home on the highway (highway driving? Hate it!) Once in Lowell, I hit the Basket for supper-fixins.
- 1 head of cauliflower for $2
- 1 pint of heavy cream for $1.69
- 1 quart of whole milk for $1.59
- 1 dozen large brown eggs for $1.39
- 1 lb. of Café Solar* French roast whole bean coffee for $7.99
- 4 cans of Swanson vegetable broth at $1 each, total $4
- 1 quart of canola oil for $1.99
My total? $20.65. I have spent $29.36 so far, leaving me with $30.64 until Sunday. What did I make? Cauliflower soup, popovers and salad.
Both the soup and popovers are Mark Bittman recipes. I adore Mark Bittman and his cookbooks, How to Cook Everything (I have the original version) and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (he has others, I just don’t own them.) He also writes the Minimalist column (that made the No-Knead Bread famous) and the Bitten blog for the New York Times – both are excellent reads. He specializes in simple, yummy, basic foods for the home cook. The How to Cook Everything books are amazing reference books that tell you all about all sorts of food and how to prepare them. The format explains what it is (it being soup or chicken or apricots or broccoli – you get the picture), how to buy it, how to store it, how to prepare it for cooking and then there are some simple recipes and some ideas for how to expand on those recipes. I think that everyone should be given How to Cook Everything when they move into their first apartment.
We’ll start with the soup – Cauliflower Soup, Italian Style from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. It’s amazing. And so simple. And vegan (although I added Parmesan to mine, what can I say, I love cheese.) Did I mention simple. Here’s what you need:
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 Onion
- Garlic (I used three cloves)
- Red Pepper Flakes
- 1 Head of Cauliflower
- 1 Quart Vegetable Stock
- Salt & Pepper
- Grated Parmesan (my own addition, not in the original recipe)
Chop the onion, mince the garlic and chop the cauliflower into florets. Heat some oil in a saucepan, add the onion and cook until it’s soft and just turning brown (about 10 minutes.) Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, cauliflower, salt, and pepper and continue to cook, stirring, until the cauliflower glistens – about four minutes. Add the stock, bring to a boil on high, turn down and let the whole thing simmer until the cauliflower is tender. Here’s where Mr. Bittman and I diverge – he adjusts for seasoning and serves the soup over croutons.
I think that presentation would be really good but Gist hates broth (so weird, I know!) so when I make soup it either has to be a puréed soup or I have to serve her portion using a slotted spoon. I thought this would be better as a purée, so that’s what I did. I used my immersion blender (one of my favorite tools), adjusted for seasoning and then added about a quarter-cup of grated Parmesan. It’s good without the cheese, better with. I wouldn’t hesitate to make this (without the cheese, of course) for any of my vegan friends.
To complement the soup, we had a green salad and one of my absolute most-favorite-est foods ever…
…Popovers. They are so delicious and really easy. I don’t have a special popover pan – they’re pricey and only good for one thing (but what a wonderful thing!) so I use a large muffin tin. My popovers don’t pop as much as they would with a popover pan, but they’re still mighty tasty. Popovers are good for breakfast with jam and butter or as an accompaniment to eggs and for lunch or dinner as the most amazing sandwich roll ever or served with soup. They’re also good for snacking. And (bonus!) they’re made with things that I always have in the kitchen:
- butter or oil
They’re easy to prepare – preheat your oven to 425F. Grease a muffin tin and put it in the heated oven while you make the batter – I’ve tried both butter and oil for this step and I think oil works better, YMMV. Beat together 2 eggs, 1 cup of milk, 1 Tbs of either melted butter or oil, 1 tsp sugar, and 1/2 tsp salt. Beat in 1 cup of flour, a little at a time – the mixture should be smooth. Pull your hot muffin tin out of the oven and fill the cups halfway. Put the popovers in the oven as quickly as possible and set your kitchen timer for 15 minutes. When it goes off, turn the oven down to 350F and re-set your timer for 15 minutes. When the timer goes off, look in the oven window (don’t open the oven while they’re cooking – they’ll fall and you’ll cry) to see if the popovers are puffy and brown, if they aren’t, continue baking them until they are. Popovers are at their absolute best when they are served right-out-of-the-oven hot.
So how much did this meal cost per serving? The soup used the head of cauliflower at $2, two cans of broth at $2, an onion at $.13 and garlic at $.10. I probably used $.50 of parm and the soup made six servings. $.78 a serving, not bad. The popovers? Harder to determine because I had everything on hand… Either way, I’d say the whole meal probably cost less than $2 per serving and I’m still well within my $60/week spending limit.
Yesterday I also bought both heavy cream and eggs but I didn’t use either when preparing this meal. I bought them because Gist got me an ice cream maker a couple of weeks ago. Its maiden voyage was the most amazing burnt-sugar ice cream ever. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head and I wanted to be prepared just in case I felt an irresistible urge to make it again…
* I love coffee and am a horrible and evil person in the morning until I’ve had my first cup. I buy my coffee at two places – Trader Joe’s, I love their whole bean Italian roast – and Market Basket. Market Basket is the only store that I know of that carries Café Solar (but you can also order it online.) If you’re in Lowell, you should check it out – it’s tasty (most important) and it’s also fair trade and organic. It’s dried and roasted using solar power and it’s a local business. It’s good, it’s green, it’s local and it sells at about the same price point as similar coffees – a win/win in my book.