Frugal Foodie: Evening Star Cafe’s Will Artley

Love is grand, but your grocery-store bill doesn’t have to be. Evening Star Cafe’s Will Artley whips up a Valentine’s Day dinner for two for less than $15.

Will Artley, it seems, believes in the spontaneity of romance. Although he has a notepad and short list of ideas tucked under his arm, the Evening Star Cafe chef just wants to wander around the grocery store and explore his options. For this Valentine’s Day edition of Frugal Foodie, we’ve challenged Artley to cook a romantic dinner for two on the cheap. Not including standard pantry items—sugar, flour, olive oil—his grocery bill can’t exceed $15.

We start with the most expensive items: meat and seafood. Artley chooses two oysters and seven shrimp. As he deliberates in front of the meat counter, the butcher asks if he can help. “I need a deal,” says Artley. “I have to spend less than $5 on meat.”

The butcher tells Artley about a few sales and weighs different cuts of meat, giving him the exact price. He settles on two pork loins and a single slice of bacon.

With his entrée settled, he meanders around the grocery store and chooses items he can use in multiple dishes. He picks up fennel and a shallot, which he’ll use in both the potatoes and a beet roulade. He grabs an avocado, two small Yukon Gold potatoes, and four cremini mushrooms. He wants raspberries for dessert and a topping for the oysters, but he can’t afford the berries. He opts for an apple and then finds a bar of white chocolate. He plans to use the apple for both the oysters and in a dessert of white-chocolate soup. We head to the checkout counter, but as the cashier rings up our groceries, Artley realizes he can’t have it all.

“I can’t afford the white chocolate,” says Artley.The bar would put him over $18, so he nixes dessert.

Back at my apartment, he dices and blanches potatoes. He chops shrimp, bacon, mushrooms, and cheese. He chiffonades spinach into thin ribbons, dices apples, and sautées, whisks, and sears his paltry provisions.

Artley explains that most people don’t think about how food sets the mood. To keep his diners from gorging themselves  into an Ed Bundy stupor, he avoids anything too heavy. He starts the dinner with an oyster topped with a spicy apple mignonette. He follows that with a beet roulade stuffed with shrimp, spinach, and avocado, then a main course that includes seared pork loin, “fantasy” potatoes, and roasted fennel.

It’s enough to make Cupid trade in his bow and arrow for a whisk and skillet.

All recipes serve two.

Oysters With Spicy Apple Mignonette

¼ apple
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
Pinch of red-pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Blue Point oysters

Finely dice the apple and place in a small bowl. Combine with the vinegar, honey, and seasonings. Taste and add more vinegar if desired. Spoon mixture on top of oysters just before serving.

Beet Roulade

1 golden beet
Olive oil as needed
Salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable oil as needed
4 shrimp, finely chopped
1 shallot, minced
½ fennel bulb, minced
1 cup spinach, thinly sliced
¼ avocado, diced
¼ teaspoon mayonnaise

Preheat the oven to 355 degrees.

Sprinkle the whole beet with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast for about an hour. Set aside.

Add enough vegetable oil to a skillet to make it shiny but not oily. Sear the shrimp. Take ¼ of the shallots (reserve the remainder of the shallots for the Fantasy Potatoes) and toss with fennel. Add the mixture to the shrimp. Add spinach to the skillet and cook until the leaves wilt. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

After the beet is roasted, peel it and slice it very thinly.

Lay a large piece of plastic wrap on the counter. Layer the thinly sliced beets into a small rectangle on top of the plastic.

Combine the avocado and mayonnaise with the shrimp mixture. Spoon the mixture down center of the beets.

Using the plastic wrap, roll the beets and shrimp mixture into a cylinder (roulade). Let it set in the refrigerator.

When ready to serve the roulade, slice it into equal portions and unwrap the plastic.

Garnish with avocado slices.

Pork Loin With Fantasy Potatoes and Roasted Fennel

2 Yukon Gold potatoes, diced
¼ tablespoon butter
Remainder of diced shallot from roulade recipe (about ¾ of a bulb, diced)
1 strip bacon
¼ teaspoon flour
1 cup milk
3 mushrooms, quartered
3 shrimp, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 ounce Gruyère, shredded
½ fennel bulb
2 pork loins (bone-in)
2 garlic cloves, sliced in half

Place potatoes in a pot of water and set over high heat. When the water boils, blanch the potatoes for five minutes, then drain and set aside.

In a saucepan, add the butter, shallot, and bacon. Sauté over medium-high heat. Sprinkle with flour.

Whisk in the milk, making sure the flour doesn’t clump. Simmer for about 12 minutes, lowering the heat if necessary. Remove from the stove.

Sauté the mushrooms in a frying pan, cut side down, over medium heat. When the mushrooms are golden brown, add the shrimp. Cook for one minute. Season with salt and pepper. Combine the mushroom-and-shrimp mixture to the bacon-shallot-and-milk mixture.

Keep the saucepan over medium heat and add the potatoes. Stir them until they’re coated. Remove from the heat. Stir in the Gruyère.

Cut half of a fennel bulb into quarters. Sauté them in a lightly oiled pan over medium heat until golden brown.

Sprinkle both sides of the pork loin with salt and pepper. In a pan set over high heat, sear them on each side. Add the garlic cloves to the pan. Cook until the pork reaches desired doneness (the amount of time depends on the thickness of the pork loin).

Serve pork over the Fantasy Potatoes and roasted fennel.

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