Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Grad School Gourmet Cooks Dinner

I don’t have a lot of time to peruse the internet in search of good foodie blogs, but every week Saturday rolls around and I stare at my empty fridge wondering what to make for dinner. There’s always that one day where what’s in the fridge doesn’t sound appealing at all, but nothing else sounds good either.  On these occasions, I fantasize about my perfect go-to food blog.  It would be titled something like, “the Grad School Gourmet” and it would be full of quick, easy, cheap, one pot recipes proportioned for one or two people (or that keep a long time).  It would offer ways of spicing up left overs to make them more appealing after a week of eating the same thing.  It would have great tips about buying fresh fruits and vegetables and KEEPING them fresh.  It would offer advice about what’s available when with appropriate recipes so that the food I cook could mirror the type of local produce available for that particular season.  It would have suggestions for cheap, delicious wines.  Basically, it would offer tips, tricks, and recipes for satisfying my expensive palate on a tight budget. 

The more I think about it, the more I’m thinking I should probably START that blog myself, but I don’t know if I really have the know-how to be an expert on being a budget gourmet.  Most likely, someone has already gotten there before me and I just haven’t figured it out yet.  If you know of a great blog, send it my way in the comments.

I love to cook, but I generally cook from recipes.  When you’re cooking for one on a tight budget, there isn’t a lot of room for experimentation.  Failure means 20-30 bucks and a weeks worth of meals literally down the drain.  Tonight, however, I rolled up my sleeves, did a little (safe) experimentation, and I’m really proud of the recipe I created.  I call it:
Chef Elizabeth’s Moosey-Beardy Pasta Salad 
(because it's loosely based on two recipes: one from the Moosewood cookbook and one from James Beard.)
You need:
1 package orzo pasta (if you’re very adventurous, or like your pasta to taste like cardboard, you could use whole wheat or spelt orzo to make it healthier)
1 cucumber, peeled and  chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 large fresh tomato, diced
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1 15 oz can chick peas
1 package feta
Optional: pitted kalamata olives, quartered

For the dressing:

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, chopped
½ teaspoon of salt
Freshly ground black pepper (every recipe says “freshly ground” but I’ve done some actual taste testing and it REALLY does make a difference.  Invest in a good pepper grinder.)
A pinch of oregano

1.  Whisk together the ingredients for the dressing and set aside to get all delicious and flavorful

2.  Cook and drain the pasta according to the directions on the package. (note: orzo is a sticky little mofo so make sure you stir it once or twice.)

3. Chop up all your vegetables (while the pasta is cooking) and drain the chick peas.

4. Combine the pasta, vegetables, olives, and chick peas in a large sealable container.  Stir in the dressing.

5. Crumble in the feta cheese  

6. Seal up the container (or cover it with saran wrap) and put it in the fridge to cool for an hour or more.

7. Serve and enjoy all week long!  (Yields approx. 1 truckload of pasta salad)

Serving Suggestions:
(since we're imagining this is a post from my imaginary food blog, serving suggestions are critical!)

For vegetarians (or people who don't like to cook meat):
Serve with a green salad tossed with a pesto vinaigrette (equal parts pre-made pesto and red wine vinegar)

For Carnivores (and people who need fewer carbs)
serve as a side for chicken sauteed with lemon and rosemary.  Later in the week, try topping it with scallops cooked the same way.

Wine Recommendation:
Serve with a dry white wine.  I suggest Torrontes, an Argentinian grape that is generally both tasty and cheap.  Look for Uma-- it’s a wine seller out of Mendoza, Argentina and I’ve never had a dud bottle from them. Uma Torrontes runs about $8 here in Austin.

Happy Cooking and Happy Eating!


  1. How do I love this? Let me count the ways...

  2. Editor's note: I think this recipe would be good with shell pasta too, if you're not an orzo fan.