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Senses and sensibility

Twenty$pot celebrates Valentine's Day
By TODD RICHARD  |  February 6, 2008
WONDER BOWL: A lovely meal.

Total $24.11
$1.31 jicama
$2.00 bok choy
$0.65 scallion
$2.00 mixed bagged herbs
$1.19 wonton skins
$1.39 can straw mushrooms
$0.89  coconut milk
$0.89 rice vermicelli
$1.99  watercress
$0.50 2 tangerines at 4 for $0.99
$3.77  salmon fillet at $5.99/lb
$0.54 2 bananas at $0.66/lb
$6.99  Alice White Riesling
February is the month of love, and the shortest month on the calendar. It’s also a time where many, still recovering from holiday over-expenditure, are short on money. This Valentine’s Day dinner will borrow some ideas from pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup, while combining it with other great inexpensive ingredients to make an entire meal to remember for its romance, not regret for its lack of resourcefulness.

And if you don't have a pantry stocked with a few items (soy sauce, olive oil, garlic, lime), it'll run you only another $10. Start by boiling water for rice noodles. Rinse, pat dry, and skin the salmon, and (wait for it...) save the skin. We’re throwing away very little for this meal. Cut the salmon fillet into two equal pieces, and set them aside, covered with a paper towel. Boil the rice noodles for only three minutes, then rinse them thoroughly in cold water to stop the cooking. Drain, and divide two portions into deep bowls. Wash the scallions, basil, mint, and bok choy well (they can be sandy), and pat them dry. Trim the cabbage leaves from the white parts and leave them whole, but chop the rest of the greenery thinly.

In a small pot or high-walled sauté pan, sauté the fish skin in some olive oil over medium heat. Add soy sauce, black pepper, the bok choy remains, the root ends of the scallion, stems from the basil, loose cloves of garlic, a few things to just add a little flavor. Don’t fret when this mess starts to form a brown crust at the bottom of the pan; that is where the magic happens. When the veggie parts start to wilt and turn translucent, pour in a half-cup of wine and begin scraping the bottom of the pan with a spatula. The wine liberates all this flavor, and a broth is brewing. Once the goods have been scraped up, pour the liquid from the can of mushrooms in, add a cup of water, and reseason. Simmer while preparing the salad, strain with a colander, and then return to the rinsed-out pot. This should yield about two cups of broth. Right before serving, add the mushrooms and cabbage to the broth, just to heat them through. Place the salmon fillet on top of the noodles, pour the broth and veggies around it, and garnish with the chopped cabbage and herbs.

The salad of watercress, shaved jicama, and sliced tangerine sections is simple, colorful, and full of textures and flavors. A small drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lime from a stray one in the fridge, and a pinch of salt and pepper are all this salad needs.

For dessert, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Melt some butter over medium heat in a sauté pan and add the banana, sliced into one-inch chunks. Once it is lightly browned, remove it from the pan and set it aside. Add a little bit more butter and brown sugar to the pan, stirring while cooking. Stir in the coconut milk, then reduce the mixture to a caramel-like sauce. The wontons will make a pastry-like cup to hold our dessert. Place two wonton skins in a small oven-safe bowl, brush with butter, and sprinkle on cinnamon and sugar. If no oven-safe bowl exists, then make one out of tinfoil. Bake for roughly 10 minutes, or until golden brown, watching carefully to prevent the dessert cups from burning. Carefully place the bananas in the cups, place on a small plate or shallow bowl, and drizzle with the coconut caramel.

A bottle of Alice White Riesling is affordable, and its lusty sweetness will work well with this special meal. Cupid’s arrow busted the budget by a few bucks, but it’s a very small price to pay for making your sweetheart smile.

Todd Richard can be reached at

  Topics: On The Cheap , Todd Richard , Main Dish Recipes , Food and Cooking ,  More more >
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