Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The *Pow* Factor, for a Buck and a Half

Here's another lesson for eating locally on a budget: Zing up a humble, inexpensive dish with a dab of pow.
The *pow* we are talking about in this case was a hunk of Point Reyes Farmstead blue cheese worth $1.50. A mere one and five-eighths ounce (an odd measure, yes, because I cook by feel, and then had to weigh the chunk in order to know how much it cost).
And what did it *pow* up? A humble potato soup.
I can't even remember how I came up with the idea for this meal; maybe Cranky thought it up. What I do remember is that a week or two earlier I had been having dinner with friends at a restaurant when the server described that evening's soup. She said it had cream added to it. "Not a cream soup," she clarified, "but as a liaison."
How elegant. Not a cream soup! A cream soup is too rich (and too expensive), but a frugal binder of cream? I could do that. One-quarter cup cost only 50 cents. And that's when the idea of some blue cheese materialized.
You may recall that the chicken stock was practically free, but I charged myself 17 cents for 2 cups of it. The Kennebec (russet-style) potatoes, which made up the bulk of the soup, were only $1.30 (for a wacko 10-3/8 oz., but really, I couldn't coax those cute little taters to come in at a rounder number... I used three small-to-medium ones and that's just what they happened to weigh). There was also a little salt.
This meal for two, which in my daily notes I called "ethereal" and "restaurant quality," cost a total of $3.47.
Other ideas for letting more-expensive, more-flavorful items do the zing work, while letting cheap starches bulk out the meal, include using tiny dabs of bacon (in a chicken hash; that story is still to come) or moderate amounts of some awesome braised beef in an otherwise vegetabley, potatoey cottage pie. I topped a salad of baby romaine with some toasted walnuts; yummy, nutritious, and maybe just a teensy bit well-priced. And the homemade mayonnaise for our lunch of artichokes was so intensely flavored that even though the oil and eggs were spendy, we didn't eat much of the mayo.
It's doable.
Cranky said it's like eating from the food pyramid. Good for your health. And when the tiny bits of expensive protein and oils are so flavorful, they really do a lot of the work for next to nothing.
Technique: Cook peeled, cut-up potatoes in boiling, salted water until just tender. Drain and allow to cool a bit. Place in blender with stock. Blend until smooth. Return mixture to pot and stir in cheese, over medium heat, until cheese is melted. Stir in cream and heat to desired temperature. Taste, and add salt if needed.


kudzu said...

I really like these ideas -- and they make it even more obvious that we can, with care, create pow in our own kitchens for so much less than they would cost on a restaurant menu. Not that we shouldn't patronize restaurants: we should be happy to try this at home. I appreciate the time and effort you and Crankie contributed to this experiment!

Dagny said...

This sounds similar to the potato leek recipe I use but the veggies are cooked until tender in the stock, instead of water. I might have to try it with blue cheese instead of the usual sharp cheddar.

Ilva said...


Katie said...

Admittedly I'm living in the land of olive oil and dry-cured ham - but I have discovered that one, thin slice of the local, Vendeen ham (Proscuitto-like) can add a big flavor to soup, pasta, risotto, vegetables, whatever. I can't tell you the cost 'cause I'm out of it at the moment.
But, there's a guy that comes around in his truck twice a year and sells it so I know it's local.

Glenna said...

Love the idea of bleu cheese in potato soup. Yum!

lucette said...

I use cream this way in soups and sauces--just a bit to cream it up, but now I can call it a liaison, which is cool.

Anonymous said...

Good quality cheese is an excellent way to add oomph to dishes, yum! And I love the photo, it really drives the point home while looking gorgeous in the process. :)

(Baking and Books)

Kevin said...

That sounds perfect, well, nearly so.{g} And Point Reyes is the best domestic blue I've ever had -- next to it Maytag is only a 3 to its 10.

Linda said...

what a great photo. that light in the left... adore it!

cookiecrumb said...

Kudzu: What a sweet thing to say. Thank you.

Dagny: Yeah, a little similar, but I was leery of combining allium flavors with blue cheese. (Somebody tell me if I'm wrong.) The chicken stock had a strong green garlic component, so we felt that was enough. Try it!

Ilva: Coming from you... What a compliment!

Katie: Yeah, can you believe we actually used to stuff gobs of pure meat in our mouths and call it a meal? Oof. You are very lucky, where you live.

Glenna: I'm excited to have turned so many good eaters on with this idea.

Lucette: Yes, it's so much tastier when you use a French accent, too. :D

Ari: Just luck. An accidentally good recipe idea, and an accidentally good ray of sun. Thank you.

Kevin: I'm so glad you said that. I was at a meal with the local food mafia some years ago, and when I mentioned that I liked this cheese, they all said in unison "Oh, it's so acidic." As if they'd all read the same review and taken it as gospel. (I believe they did, by the way.)

Linda: It's like photographing birds -- you just stand there with your camera long enough, and eventually the right picture comes along. (It's really 10-Commandments-y isn't it?)

Catherine said...

sounds rather decadent to me! hard to beat local cheese for pow!