Saturday, March 7, 2009

A fairly frugal feast with friends

This morning we met our frugal friends Janet and Ken at Caputo's Cheese Market in Melrose Park, just north of the intersection of North Avenue and 15th Avenue, in an industrial building bearing a huge "Wisconsin Cheese" sign. It's a great place not only for cheese (much of it made locally) but also for wine, pasta, deli meats, Italian canned goods, pastries ... all at very reasonable and sometimes unbelievably low prices.

Our plan was to buy whatever inspired us at the cheese market, then go to Caputo's Fresh Market in Elmwood Park for equally inspirational produce. If you click on the link, you'll understand how this could turn into an ecstatic experience. Baby Brussels sprouts at 79 cents a pound! Avocados at 79 cents each! A good-sized handful of fresh asparagus for 60 cents! Plum tomatoes at 49 cents a pound! Seven limes for a dollar!

Eventually we tore ourselves away and drove to Janet and Ken's condo in Chicago. There we sliced and diced and chopped and stirred and baked and boiled and poured and sipped, and this is what we came up with:
  • Baguette rounds topped with caponata di melanzane (ready-made in a tin)
  • Salad of baby spring lettuces, sliced pear, feta cheese, walnuts, and green onion
  • Orrechiete with fava beans, ricotta, and shredded mint (we used canned beans, not fresh; you can see our actual concoction above)
  • Assorted cheeses (Siciliano with walnuts, Eiffel Tower triple-cream, Fontinella, Cheddar, Gruyère)
  • Individual ricotta cheesecakes, made spontaneously and with ingredients at hand. This time we added a little diced candied orange peel, a few chopped walnuts, and lemon zest (see picture below; you will notice that we couldn't wait to take that first bite)
It was a feast, but a fairly frugal one. All ingredients were wonderfully priced, and plenty of food was left over for future meals. We had wine with dinner, and that pushed us beyond our daily budget. Still, when you can buy a Chianti classico that usually costs between $15 and $20 for only $5.99, it seems sinful to pass it by. So we didn't.

Yesterday's fare

Fish tacos without the tortillas. Trader Joe's gave out samples of fish sticks a few days ago, and they were really quite nice. Such a classic choice for a Friday in Lent! Serve them on a bed of sautéed onion, red and green bell peppers, and garlic, surrounded by baby spinach leaves lightly sautéed in olive oil, top them with crumbled queso fresco and diced tomato, and there's no need to feel penitential.

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