Big Flavor, Little Budget

I've been attempting to cook on a tight budget lately. No easy feat as I work in a new Wine Shop, Market, and Wine Bar and am surrounded by a plethora of awesome culinary delectables. Also I like my meals to impress. But, I have two recipes below that I made recently that were particularly delicious and fancy, all the while lessening the strain on my wallet. I've included a few general tips about cooking on a budget as well. I hope you'll try these recipes and see how easy it is to make satisfying and impressive meals for not much money or effort.

Buy inexpensive cuts of meat:
There are some super flavorful cuts of meat out there that won't break the bank. Chicken thighs for one (bone-in, skin-on), are always priced well. I have also recently discovered lamb shoulder chops.  - a less expensive option in the lamb section of the grocery store. We should all be eating more lamb. It's often reserved for special occasions so grabbing an inexpensive cut makes it an easy 'fancy affordable' choice. The lamb benefits from slow cooking to yield tender results so it's the perfect thing to prepare on the weekends. Chicken thighs cook quickly and are perfect for a busy mid-week dinner.

Have a go-to flavor bomb:
Spend a little $ on a jar of flavor. It could be tapenade, pesto, or my pick, Harissa paste. It's an immediate flavor boost and so versatile. From marinades, glazes, dressings, sauces, and dips. From chicken, pork, fish, potatoes, and veggies. You don't need much to make an impact and it will stay good in your fridge for months.

The well-stocked pantry:
Things I always have in my pantry/fridge: canned tomatoes, garlic, onions, chicken and beef broth, shallots and onions, lemons, plain yogurt, some variety of fresh herbs, and wine. These are handy tools to making delicious meals anytime. And they are things that don't cost much, even the wine. You can find some well-priced bottles that enhance your dishes. Just don't buy anything you wouldn't drink on it's own.

I hope you like these recipes, they really deliver a lot of flavor for very little effort and not much dough.

Harissa Chicken and Potatoes with Cucumber- Radish Salad 
Serves 4


1 1⁄2 lbs chicken thighs
1 1⁄4 lbs baby red potatoes, sliced
2 1⁄2 tsp kosher salt
1⁄2 tsp black pepper
2 tbl harissa
1⁄2 tsp ground cumin
4 1⁄2 tbl extra-virgin olive oil
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1⁄2 tsp lemon zest (from 1/2 lemon)

Cucumber-Radish Salad:
1 small garlic clove, grated 
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1⁄2 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tbl olive oil
Pinch of sugar
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
4 oz English cucumbers, cut into chunks
4 oz red radishes, trimmed
1. In a large bowl, whisk together harissa, cumin and 3 tablespoons oil. Add chicken and potatoes and stir to coat. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes, or up to 8 hours in the refrigerator.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine leeks, lemon zest, a pinch of salt and the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil.

3. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Arrange chicken and potatoes on a large rimmed baking sheet in a single layer. Roast 15 minutes. Toss potatoes lightly. Scatter leeks over pan. Roast until chicken and potatoes are cooked through and everything is golden and slightly crisped, 25 to 30 minutes longer. While chicken cooks, prepare the radish and cucumber mixture.

4. Combine garlic and lemon juice in a small bowl and let sit 5 minutes. Whisk yogurt, oil, and sugar in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper. Whisk in garlic mixture and herbs.

5. Using a rolling pin, meat mallet, or the at side of a chef’s knife, press cucumbers and radishes so they begin to gently split apart. Tear cucumbers and radishes into bite- size pieces with your hands and fold into yogurt mixture. Season salad with more salt and lots of pepper. Serve Chicken and Potatoes with cucumber-radish salad.

Braised Lamb Shoulder Chop
Serves 4

4 lamb shoulder chops, each 10 to 12 oz. and 3/4 inch thick 
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 Tbl olive oil
2 large shallots, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 Tbl minced fresh rosemary
1 Tbl tomato paste
1/3 cup dry red wine
Beef broth, to cover (1-2 cups)
1 - 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1. Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees. Generously season the chops on both sides with salt and pepper. Place a dutch oven over medium-high heat and warm 1 Tbs. of the olive oil. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the chops without crowding them in the pan, and sear for 2 to 2 1/2 minutes. Turn the chops over and sear for 2 to 2 1/2 minutes more. Transfer to a platter. 

2. Reduce the heat to medium-low; add the shallots and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, rosemary, and tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Add the wine and deglaze the pan, stirring to scrape up the browned bits from the pan bottom. Simmer the liquid until reduced by about half, about 4 minutes.

3. Stir in the tomatoes and their juices. Return the chops to the pan, add beef broth to just barely cover the chops. Transfer to oven and cook for 3 - 4 hours or until the meat is very tender and breaks up easily. Discard bones and serve over pasta or with saffron risotto.


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