Monday, April 27, 2009

Frugal Feasts - and a fajita recipe

Am I the only one to remember a couple of food shows from the seventies and eighties - The Galloping Gourmet and the Frugal Gourmet? I remember making crepes along with the Galloping Gourmet and placing rose petals in the butter that coated the crepe pan - when turned out a delicate layer of rose petals peeped through the batter - such sophistication!
Gourmet and frugal are making a comeback in tandem with one another. Was just listening to NPR and a story on a challenge to 10 top chefs to create a "gourmet" meal for four people with a maximum budget of $10.00. "How Low Can You Go", the apt title.

I guess for most of us, gourmet means fine, pleasing to the palate and all that and frugal, well one man's frugal can be another's splurge. One thing is for sure though, just about everyone I know is paying attention to the cost of food (read about Genny's efforts to keep the food bill down) and those of us of a more than certain age are remembering how our mothers and grandmothers stretched the food budget and are dusting off or re creating recipes for old favorites. I used to breeze through the supermarket paying little attention to cost; I now shop more consciously and judging by the pondering going on in the aisles, I'm part of a major movement.

The upside to going frugal is a return to basics approach to food and cooking. Let the ingredients work their magic based on herbs and spices, gentle simmering; a brisket slow cooked in Guinness and then 'pressed' while hot yields wonderful, sweet meat for salads and sandwiches. I saw brisket in the supermarket Saturday for $1.99 a pound. If we are to believe all that we read, sales of pre-cooked and frozen meals have taken a nose dive and sales of vegetables are way up. Certainly the interest in growing your own veggies is more than chic now.

We had family lunch here yesterday. Seven adults and two children made short work (but lingered five hours!) of chicken, beef and shrimp fajitas. Can't remember how much the shrimp cost because they came from the freezer but the chicken breast meat was $6.99 and the beef $3.60. From the farmer's market came beautiful, huge, juicy red and yellow sweet peppers - $1.50 each and I used one of each. Spring onions came from the garden and the red onion I used was $0.40 . A dozen fresh flour tortillas were $4.00 from the farmer's market. Chili powder came from the pantry and the limes from my tree. I paid $3.00 for a perfectly ripe seedless watermelon (dessert) and the appetizer platter was a "pico de gallo" of thinly sliced jicama ($1.40) and mango (two for $1.50) sprinkled with ancho chili powder and lime juice. $16.89 for a feast for nine hungry people all cooked and eaten outdoors on a perfect day. Honorary family members brought a fresh guacamole, my son whipped up a salsa from what he had in the fridge and my daughter made a wonderful "aqua fresca" of fresh watermelon, honey and mint. I'd say lunch met the definition of gourmet! and if frugal means cost efficient, we met that standard too.

You really need a large flat cooking surface to seal all the juices in and cook evenly without "steaming" the veggies. The idea is to seal the exterior surfaces quickly. It's not really a dish that lends itself to a frying pan. I have an EVO outdoor gas grill. You can pinch hit with a large cast iron frying pan.

For 8
2 - 4 oz (maximum) meat or fish per person
2 large sweet peppers in 1/4" strips
2 bunches spring onions cleaned, trimmed and left whole
1 medium red onion cut into strips
Add other vetables if you have them - chunks of zuchini and tiny tomatoes work well.

  • Cut meat or fish (firm white works best) into 1 " chunks. For chicken sprinkle with a good, smokey chili powder, drizzle with lime juice , gently mix and let marinate for at least an hour.
  • For shrimp, sprinkle with chili powder and marinate in fresh orange juice.
  • For fish use either citrus marinade.
  • For beef just season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • Heat a large griddle pan, or flat surfaced grill to smoking, toss on the vegetables, sprinkle with good sea salt and fresh or dried Mexican oregano. keep them moving and cook until just a tad brown in spots . Judge your cooking time so that vegetables are still cooking when you toss on the fish or meat.
  • Either heat the tortillas through on the griddle or stack and wrap in a damp, clean tea towel and microwave for 1 minute. Keep them covered and 'steaming' while you finish up.

I love to cook and I'm no longer shy about responding when people ask what they can bring. Sharing a meal is a great stress reliever; it brings people together; gets the conversation flowing. I love it when guests (and 99.9 percent of the time mine fall into this category) pitch in and the gathering becomes a communal effort.

Check out a couple of other frugal feast recipes at Connections for Pizza, smokey paprika stew, Cornish pasties and pasta primavera.

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  1. Hi,

    would you like to enter your dish in our “Grow Your Own” roundup? More information on how to enter is here:


    House of Annie food blog

  2. I have published over 20 fajita recipes and I've never seen one with shrimp. Interesting!

    Anyway, one of my favorite is the Jalapeno-Smoked Chicken Fajita, check it!

  3. Thank you for the link Jalapeno-smoked chicken fajita sounds delicious. Will try it. How about sharing some of of your great recipes with us via a food blog?


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