Ok, so we are all still home. WE ARE HOME, ok? As such, I do find myself in the kitchen more often than not. I try hard not to waste anything because doing so is like a death knell to my frugal heart. I also am forever creating cheap, easy to create flavor bombs that essentially come from scraps and leftovers found every day in your kitchen. Some of my favorites are:
- Roasted vegetable anything. I never met a vegetable that I could not make better by roasting. Even older, wilted or god help me, greenhouse winter grown vegetables that otherwise would be tasteless, are magically transformed by roasting them. The technique is absurdly easy, you slice your in-need vegetables, lay them on a cookie sheets (I always use parchment paper for easy clean up) and then sprinkle with olive oil, a REALLY generous scattering of Kosher salt and a healthy amount of cracked pepper. That’s it. You then roast at 300-degF or so (carrots can take 350) oven until sweet and transformed, 45 minutes or so. Tomatoes can take less time so keep an eye on those treasures. You can do this with any old root vegetable and always with winter grown tomatoes that are essentially worthless and tasteless if you don’t. I adore roasted tomatoes and feel like I have won some secret prize when I roast winter grown Roma tomatoes in particular. I then use them in everything from BLTs to sauces to bruschetta. They are the ultimate flavor bomb for many of my Mediterranean dishes.
- Broccoli stems. Many vegetables work for this but it is broccoli in particular that I like for the stems. Shredded they make a great slaw. Chopped finely and cooked, they also make a cheesy broccoli soup that is nearly the exact replica of the one you can get from that bakery-food place with lots of sandwiches and breads. You know the place. My version is a little better, I think and not just because I didn’t spend a fortune making it. I also save the cores of cauliflower and dice finely and mix with cheese sauce. It makes a great dip. Cauliflower has been the darling of the food industry as of late but I have been doing fantastic things with cauliflower for decades.
- Herb stems. I know it sounds like chef-y work but really, it is not. I save the stems of my herbs, simmer then gently in flavorless vegetable oil, cool and then blitz in the blender. I then let it sit in the fridge for a week before straining up to three times. And there you have it, expensive flavored herbal oil for the cost of plain oil. I find cilantro and mint are particularly flavorful and work well. Plus, they are delicious. They add the perfect touch to my polenta, risotto and soup dishes as well as dipping for toasted breads. Fine dining restaurants charge a fortune for a bowl of soup garnished with herbal oil. You can make yours for pennies.
- Juices but not how you think. I buy pomegranate and mango juice when they go on special at the discount grocery store. Usually found in a box, I then simmer them down to a syrupy goodness for use in sauces, glazes and even baked goods. Talk about a flavor bomb.
- Egg yolks. Hear me out on this one. Yolks are fatty, unctuous and the delicious base of many sauces and baked goods. They are also cheap as proteins go. When I make meringues and macaroons or anything else that uses up egg whites, I treasure those yolks and make homemade Hollandaise and other sauces. I also use them in my pasta dishes whenever I can. Nothing beats a delicious fatty egg yolk.
- Bacon. Now you knew this one was coming. My partner loves his basic American potato salad and he loves his warm German potato salad even more. A couple of slices of crisped up bacon is magic in many dishes including my BLTA and in my warm German potato salad which is really easy to make. I wait until my potatoes are getting old, getting up there in age for a potato I mean, and then I use them to make German potato salad. Bacon works on nearly anything so when it goes on sale, I stock up. Because bacon is so fatty, it freezes well.
- Mustard. I keep several flavors in my fridge and I also keep dry mustard powder in my spice cabinet. I also actually adore hot mustard and make it using the dry powder mixed with a little water. It’s HOT, don’t get me wrong it is not for everyone, but I personally love it. Other less lethal mustards are great for anything from a marinade for meats and chicken to vinaigrettes. A spoonful of mustard whisked into oil olive and vinegar takes a salad dressing from blasé to a flat out flavor bomb.
- Peppers. Everything from sweet to the ones that bring the super heat, peppers are great roasted (see flavor bomb Number one of this blog) but also raw or sautéed and then tossed into everything from stew to polenta. I keep finely diced very hot green peppers in my freezer and will often break off a chunk to spice up all sorts of dishes from rice to chili.
- Citrus. I happen to have a very productive lemon tree in my backyard and I use everything from that tree. The zest, the juice, the meat of the lemon, all packed with flavor. I like limes and oranges too of course but for the biggest flavor bomb in the citrus world, my culinary vote is lemon. From baked goods to flavored oil, marinades to fish and chicken, salads to sauces, lemons are my go-to flavor bomb for that perfect burst of mouth-puckering acidity. In my case they are basically free so even better.
- Coffee. You should never throw out that half cup of cold coffee you didn’t feel like drinking. Freeze it into ice cubes for everything from frappes and smoothies to the perfect addition to chocolate baked goods. Coffee and chocolate are BFFs in the culinary world. I also like to add a defrosted cube of strong coffee into a marinade for a tough cut of meat. Coffee can compliment your meats along with baked goods. I like to toss a melted cube in my brownies.
- Tops and tuffs. Carrot and celery tops are very flavorful and should never be wasted. I make a hummus-like dip from celery, carrot and radish or beet tops that everyone swears is better than the straight up chickpea variety. When making a soup that calls for celery, I always toss in a palmful of chopped celery tops to amp up the flavor.
- Onions. The ultimate cheap root that, when caramelized, turns to magic. Onion jam is probably one of the most magical foods ever created and it costs next to nothing to make. Most everything I cook from scratch starts with an onion and there is a reason for that. Onions are pure root flavor bombs and dirt cheap.
- Garlic. I could not do a blog on flavor bombs without mentioning garlic. Not only should you smash a couple of cloves into some oil and make garlic oil for use on basically everything, but as garlic is the love child of the culinary world, it goes with nearly everything and I would never think to make most meals without it.
Faked Out Frugal Broccoli Cheddar Soup
4 to 6 broccoli stalks, cut into 1/2 inch dice or sliced very thin
1/2 white or yellow onion diced
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups milk, warmed
1 and 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese or cheddar/jack cheese mix
1/2 cup or one stick butter
1/2 cup flour 3 cups chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Microwave the broccoli stems in a tablespoon or two of water until tender crisp, set aside to cool. Meanwhile, sauté the onion in the olive oil until translucent. Melt the butter and mix in the flour, stirring until the raw flour taste is gone. Slowly whisk in the warm milk until well blended. Add the cheese and stir until melted. Pour onion mix and cheese sauce into a slow cooker and add the broccoli and chicken stock, stirring well. Allow to cook on low for four hours. When done, allow to cool before pulsing in the blender until smooth. Note: you can use half and half, whole milk or two percent as you prefer. Taste at the end and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
Warm German Potato Salad
2 cups peeled potatoes cut into 2 inch dice, older potatoes are great for this
4 strips bacon, cut into lardons
1 onion, cut into small dice
3 green onions sliced small, both green and white parts
1/4 cup each of apple cider vinegar and sugar
1 heaping tablespoon spicy mustard
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
Place the potatoes in cold water to cover and cook until tender. Meanwhile, place the lardons in a cold pan. Fry on medium high heat until crispy. Remove the bacon a slotted spoon and cook the onion in the bacon fat until just turning golden. Remove bacon fat if there is too much, you will only need a tablespoon or so. Lower the heat and add in the slightly cooled potato chunks, coating in the bacon fat. In a separate cup or bowl, whisk the vinegar and sugar until the sugar and salt is dissolved. Add in the mustard and whisk until blended. Pour into the pan of onions and potatoes, add the bacon and stir well. Top with green onions and cracked black pepper. Serve warm.
Scraps for Humanity Hummus
3 cups of carrot tops, beet greens and celery tops, any mixture you prefer
1/2 cup chickpeas, cooked and rinsed (if from a can)
2 lemons, juiced and zested
Approximately 1/2 cup good olive oil
2 garlic cloves
Place everything except the olive oil in a food processor and pulse to combine as well as to break down the stems and tops. Slowly add the oil in while the motor is running until well combined. You can add in a generous pinch of red pepper flakes if you like it spicy. To make creamier, you can add in a quarter cup of full fat Greek yogurt or sour cream. Serve with dipping vegetables and pita chips.