“I cheated,” says Dennis Marron as he pulls a couple of star anise out of a toolbox, not stocked with a hammer or wrench, but knives, a Silpat baking sheet, and the contraband star anise. He doesn’t look the least bit guilty.
Negotiating what constitutes a pantry item has been a regular part of the Frugal Foodie experience and, earlier, at the grocery store I had conceded on Bisquick. Marron was smart to smuggle in the star anise as it wasn’t in my mishmash of a spice rack.
Certain items—spices, fresh herbs, red meat, cheese, and a lot of produce—present more of a budget challenge than others. For this edition of Frugal Foodie, we challenged Marron to whip up a make-ahead brunch for six people for less than $20, and those items once again proved to be difficult purchases for the thrifty shopper. At the supermarket, Marron stays under the limit by trading Yukon Gold potatoes for sweet potatoes, a red pepper for a green one, and goat cheese for sour cream. He digs through the onion bin searching for the smallest one and asks the butcher for one lone sausage.
Standing in front of the herbs, he asks me what I have at home. Nothing. Do I grow any of my own, he asks? I laugh and explain that my green thumb is actually more of a black thumb of death. I offer up the Dorot herbs—a collection of herbs such as parsley, cilantro, and basil frozen in mini-cubes—that had been sent to me so I could test them. Willing to experiment with the frozen herbs, Marron settles on fresh thyme and we head for the check-out line where the bill comes to $20.72.
Marron explains that he grows lots of his own herbs, and he tries to persuade me it’s a good way to save money. At my apartment, we talk about where I could grow a few simple things. I promise to try, and he tells me the chefs who take on the Frugal Foodie challenge in the spring will be grateful.
Marron starts by blending a dozen eggs, a splash of milk, and a touch of flour for an egg roulade. He makes biscuits, following the directions on the Bisquick box, then jazzes them up by brushing them with a little of the egg mixture, some fleur de sel, and crushed black pepper. He pours the egg mixture onto a quarter-size baking sheet covered with the Silpat and puts both the biscuits and eggs in the oven. Then he starts the sweet-potato hash and a winter fruit salad.
To be certain everything will be good the next day, Marron has chosen a fruit salad that needs to soak for at least 24 hours and he undercooks the biscuits slightly. When the egg mixture is finished baking, he carefully removes it, keeping it together as one sheet of baked eggs. He spreads a mixture of sautéed spinach and mushrooms down the center and gently rolls it together. Marron wishes goat cheese had fit his budget—it would have helped keep the roulade together and added a nice flavor. Instead, he covers it with a damp paper towel to keep it from drying out, places it in the fridge, and uses a few defrosted cubes of parsley to flavor the sour cream, which he’ll use instead of goat cheese to top the roulade.
The next day, I heat up the biscuits and egg roulade in the oven. I warm the sweet-potato hash in a pan. The fruit soaked up most of the syrup, so I simply ladle it into a serving bowl. In ten minutes, brunch is on the table.
½ cup milk
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
About 2 cups spinach
1 clove garlic, minced
About 1 cup mushrooms, sliced
Salt, as needed
Pepper, as needed
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat.
In a blender, combine the eggs, milk, flour, salt, and pepper; cover and process until smooth. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan.
Bake the mixture until it sets, about 15 minutes. Carefully loosen the edges of the egg mixture from the pan.
Sauté the vegetables in a little oil, and sprinkle them down the middle of the eggs. Starting from the short edge of the pan, carefully roll up the roulade. Place it seam-side down on a serving plate and cut into six equal pieces.
Winter Fruit Salad
¾ cup sugar
3 star anise
Zest of 1 lemon
1 cinnamon stick
15 dried apricots, cut in half
4 dried figs, quartered
Juice of 1 lemon mixed with ¼ cup apple cider
2 firm pears
1 firm, tart apple
Almonds and currants for garnish
Fill a medium-size saucepan with 3 cups of water. Add the sugar, star anise, and lemon zest. Bring to a boil, and cook until all the sugar is dissolved. Add apricots and figs and cook for three minutes.
Meanwhile, peel and core the pears and apple. Slice them thinly lengthwise. Place the fruit in a large bowl and toss it with the lemon-juice-and-apple-cider mixture.
Once the syrup with dried fruit has cooled, pour it over the apples and pears. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill it overnight in the refrigerator.
The following day, using a slotted spoon, ladle the fruit into a serving bowl, sprinkle the salad with sliced almonds and currants, and serve.
1 sweet Italian sausage
2 sweet potatoes
1 green pepper
1 small red onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
Salt, as needed
Pepper, as needed
Cut the sausage into nickel-size pieces, and discard the casing. In a large skillet set over medium-high heat, brown the sausage. Chop the sweet potatoes, pepper, and onion into medium-size pieces. Add the oil and vegetables to the pan with the sausage and brown. Add the butter, garlic, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. The hash is done when the sweet potatoes are tender.