"True wine enthusiasts don’t collect wines.
They collect memories of wines shared with friends and family."

-Dario Zucconi

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Gourmet On A Budget

I love cooking on Saturdays because I have more time to "play" with my menu unlike during the week when I am rushing to put dinner on the table before the kids have to go to bed. On Saturday mornings, we usually take the kids to Oakland's Lake Merritt (we go for a run around the Lake with the kiddies in strollers, then we go to the playground and let them burn off some energy, and finally we go to the Lake Merritt Farmers' Market).

This Saturday, we had a couple of events to attend during the day. So, after I went on a solo run around Lake Temescal early in the morning (running helps me relieve stress), the whole gang loaded up in the car, and we went to the Farmers' Market. The kids love the market because they get to sample all kinds of things (peaches, strawberries, watermelon, etc.).

One of my favorite desserts in the summer time is grilled white peaches with either vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. It is so easy, you will want to go make some right now (if you have peaches or nectarines or apricots). While I was at the Farmers' Market, I had a desire to make grilled peaches (at the Market, they are $2 per pound). Then, when I saw all the fresh produce and herbs, I wanted to make something "gourmet" for dinner, but of course on a budget.

So, here is what was on the menu on Saturday night at our house. NOTE: You can substitute any meat you want, any starch you want, and for the dessert, you can also use nectarines, apricots if you have them in the house. For this dinner, we only had to buy the wine, lamb, bacon, and of course, peaches (total: ~$30). We had everything else in our refrigerator or pantry.

Dinner: Roasted Rack of Lamb, with Risotto and peas (see how to make these below, very easy, except for the risotto that requires some attention. You can substitute orzo or any small grain pasta if you want; it takes less time).

Lamb: Since I "splurged" on the wine a bit, I got a great rack of lamb from Trader Joe's for $12. The Lamb was a juicy, high quality lamb from New Zealand. I prepared it by first rinsing it off, I patted it dry, seasoned it with salt and pepper, and rubbed some butter on the ends to prevent drying. Then, I prepared an easy, but tasty, rub for it: chopped fresh rosemary, thyme, and Italian Parsley. I mixed that with some horseradish (which is always great with roast meat), olive oil, salt and pepper. I rubbed the mixture all over the meat. I placed it in a roasting pan (bones down), then into a 400 degrees oven and roasted it uncovered for about 18 minutes (medium rare but with a nice yummy crust). Then, I let it sit for 5 minutes (covered). I sliced and served it with the side dishes.

Risotto: For the risotto, I put a box of chicken broth in a pot on the stove to warm up. In the meantime, I chopped up 1/2 red onion and a clove of garlic. I also diced a couple of slices of Applewood Smoked Bacon that I got from Trader Joe's (it's smokey and flavorful). First, I cooked the bacon in a non-stick pan until crispy. I set the bacon aside on a paper towel. I drained the bacon fat out, put some olive oil in the same pan, and sauteed the onions (about 5 minutes). Then, I added the garlic and sauteed it for about 1 minute (don't burn it). Then, I added about 1 1/2 cup of risotto (I always just eyeball it, I like leftovers), and stirred the risotto to mix with the onions and garlic. Then, I added about a cup of the chicken broth at a time in the pan to cook the risotto. I stirred it often so it does not stick to the pan. I repeated the process of adding the broth 1 cup at a time until the risotto is cooked. Then, I added the drained bacon pieces, with some grated Parmesan cheese, and some chopped fresh parsley. I served it with the lamb.

Vegetable: As our green vegetables (I always try to have some vegetable with dinner), I boiled some frozen peas for about 3 minutes (I don't like mushy peas). Then, I drained the peas, and mixed in a teaspoon of olive oil, salt and pepper, and served. [I had intended to use fresh green beans that I got at the market, but some guy took my beans by accident and I did not realize that until that night. So, I substituted frozen peas.]

Wine: An absolutely amazing bottle of wine (Beaulieu Vineyard's Dulcet Reserve 2004). It is a blend of 74% Cabernet Sauvignon and 26% Syrah (can you tell I love blends?). I was at Safeway on Saturday, and I saw that it was on sale. It is normally $43, but Safeway has it on sale for $19. If you have a Safeway Club Membership, and you buy 6 or more bottles of wine or other drinks, you get an extra 10% off. This wine truly is a special wine.

Dessert: Grilled Peaches, with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. I preheated the oven to 350 degrees. After washing a large peach, I cut it in half and took the seed out. Then, I buttered a grill pan and placed the peach halves on the pan with the flesh down. I grilled them on medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes until lightly brown and with grill marks. Then, I placed the grilled peaches on a baking dish (grilled sides up), I sprinkled some cinnamon, nutmeg (you don't have to use this if you don't have it), vanilla extract, some sherry (you can use brandy or whatever flavored liqueur you like or no alcohol), then I topped them with brown sugar. I placed them in the oven and baked them for about 1/2 hour. I took them out when done, let them cool slightly, and served them with a scoop of ice cream (you can use a spoonful of whipped cream if you like). For a nice color contrast, add a mint leaf on the side (or a basil leaf, if you have some).

After dinner, Patrick and I relaxed and watched Slumdog Millionnaire that we rented from Safeway for $1 (what a great and thought-provoking movie!). A delicious and budget-friendly dinner, with quality time with each other -:)

Hey: If you have a good recipe for summer fruits like my peaches or for a roast, post them in the Comments Section. I would love to try it!

Until next time. . . Cheers!



  1. I tried the grilled peaches and they were so yummy! I topped them with the frozen yogurt from Trader Joe's which is slightly tart. It was a nice balance to the sweet peaches.

    Summer is also a great time for heirloom tomatoes. I bought some at the farmer's market this week. I just sliced them and fanned them out on salad plates. Between each slice I place a slice of fresh mozzerella and a basil leaf. Season with sea salt, fresh ground pepper and balsamic vinegar. A refreshing summer salad!

  2. The frozen yogurt sounds like a great idea. What flavor?

    Reading about the heirloom tomato salad makes me hungry.

  3. It is plain frozen yogurt. I think it is a Trader Joe's brand. It is lightly sweetened so it is not as tart as the plain yogurt. It does not take away from the cinnamon, vanilla, and brandy in the peach.

  4. Awesome! I'll try it next time. Thanks for the tip.

  5. We loved the BV Dulcet Reserve! It was smooth and paired nicely with our steak. Thanks so much!

  6. You're welcome! Glad you liked it.