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A Quick and Easy Gourmet Winter Pick-Me-Up

Shel Horowitz's Monthly Frugal Fun Tip, Volume 3, #9 - February 2000

This is the time of year when I stare into my refrigerator and groan. All summer and fall, we feast on fresh organic vegetables. Our refrigerator is always green and overflowing.

But now, it's almost impossible to get decent greens at decent prices, we've used up the winter keeping squash, the last four potatoes of our 25-pound bag are sprouting, and there are eight inches of snow on the ground.

Still, it's possible to make some great meals with what veggies are around. Here's one I made the other night that was just scrumptious.

On our summer vacation in Montana this year, we took a side trip to Waterton Lakes, Alberta, where we had a wonderful meal. I'd ordered a portobello mushroom dish that was so good I asked for the recipe. It was quite complicated and involved heavy cream, Pernod liqueur, a sauce made of roasted red pepper, and various other things. I knew I'd never make it in that form, but I liked the idea.

This week, the big portobellos were on sale and I bought two (about $4, together). I also bought a red bell pepper. Got them home and cut the pepper in half and seeded it, threw both the pepper and the mushrooms into the oven for 40 minutes, then took the pepper out, put the mushrooms back in on broil for just four minutes--very important not to burn them, so watch them carefully. Meanwhile, I ran the pepper through the food processor, adding a little wine (since we don't happen to stock Pernod) and a touch of garlic. I skipped the cream entirely; this stuff was plenty rich enough without it. Then I took the pepper paste, spread it back across the mushroom's fins so it colorfully surrounded the thick stems--a brilliant splash of red against the deep rich brown of the mushrooms. As an added touch, I toasted a few pine nuts (bought months ago when they were cheap, and kept in the freezer) and sprinkled them as a garnish on top. It was a feast for the eyes, nose, and mouth; we got four portions out of the two mushrooms. Combined with a pasta dish that used basil frozen in the summer, it was a magnificent meal. Prep time, not counting baking, was only about ten minutes. Total cost was about $6, or a very reasonable $1.50 per portion. A good deal more expensive than our typical winter meals, but well worth it for the spiritual and sensory lift--and a whole lot less than we'd paid for the similar dish last summer.

Lots more great dining tips in my book, The Penny-Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty with a Peasant's Pocketbook. Order online at http://www.frugalfun.com or by phone at 413-586-2388 (8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern US Time)

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