Eating healthy and keeping to a tightwad budget is easiest when choosing produce that’s in season. You get fresh fruits and veggies at the peak of their flavor, an abundance of supply driving prices to the lowest point in the season, and one very happy gourmet cheapskate.
As we welcome fall, it’s time to start adjusting our in-season cookbook. You can find what’s in season in your area by a quick search or if you want something a bit more fancy, check out this interactive map at epicurious.com.
Here’s a fall dinner that is fresh, never fails to please and is easy on the budget.
French Onion Soup
Alton Brown makes a great French Onion Soup. Here’s an easy place to print the recipe. The recipe I use is similar to his–I make my own beef and chicken stock, I do not add apple cider and I cook my onions for five hours when I have the time–but his version is still wonderful. And onions are a fall veggie and usually quite cheap.
If you want to cheap out on the cheese, you can use a cheap Swiss instead of the more traditional Gruyère or Emmentaler, but cheese is one place I don’t mind being a little less frugal about.
Because it’s so tasty and filling, what with the bread and cheese and all, I find this soup to be a great single course meal. Maybe it’s because we don’t have big appetites here in our household, I dunno, but if you want another course then behold:
Roast Chicken with Vegetables
Thomas Keller is one of the world’s greatest chefs yet his Roast Chicken is marvelous in its simplicity. I’ve made this many times and it never fails to please. Stores like Safeway often have whole chicken at 79-99 cents a pound. Try to use fresh thyme (tips on growing your own herbs in containers coming soon) but dried will do well too. If thyme is not to your liking then we can’t be friends. Substituting rosemary or oregano will begin to mend our relationship, or just leave it off and go with butter or olive oil.
Since your oven is already on, pair this with some roasted cauliflower and sweet potatoes. Roasting veggies like this is easy. Just cut into bite sized pieces, toss with some salt and olive oil, place them in a pan and roast at about 400-450°F until done–about 40 minutes to an hour. Stir the pan a bit every 15 minutes or so to get a nice even brown color and sprinkle a bit of fresh ground pepper before serving. Tasty, healthy, delicious and cheap. Life is good.
Poached Pears in Reduced Red Wine
I don’t eat dessert that often and I’ll be surprised if you still have room for it after all this good stuff. Have something simple like pears in yogurt or, for a more rustic flavor, poached pears in red wine. I like to use a similar recipe but I like a single clove in each pear. The ancient Romans used to make this very recipe and while this has no relevance to our conversation here it’s something you can bring up to your friends to make you look like a real gastronome. I made this recipe a few times using canned pear halves (hey, they were on sale!) and it came out fine, if a bit on the sweet side. A little lemon counteracted the sweetness, which I then completely undid with a dollop of fresh whipped cream.
Cooking in-season is easy, cheap and tasty. It’s what countless generations of cooks had to do before supermarkets shipped out-of-season produce from one side of the world to the other, and so it’s also a very planet-friendly thing to do. Give it a shot and let us know how it turned out.