Haute cuisine for the thin-wallet set

BY KATIE HANSON | MARCH 27, 2009 7:30 AM

A quick flip through Gourmet magazine or the New York Times Dining section reveals numerous fabulous recipes — which require ingredients the average reader may not even recognize and certainly doesn’t have in her or his kitchen.

Karen Fjeldheim, a 2004 UI graduate, is not that kind of food writer.

After her husband’s general contracting work slowed down, Fjeldheim went fishing for ideas to rustle up some extra dough. The result is Just Recipes, tagged as “easy-to-cook recipes with inexpensive ingredients you already have in your kitchen.”

The book is slim, roughly 70 pages, but minimalism is the name of her game.

“Not everyone has a pristine electric mixer resting in the corner on their [sic] granite countertop,” she writes in Just Recipes’ introduction. “If you are like me, you do not even own one, or have granite counter tops. These recipes are for real people who use their hands or two butter knives to mix their dough. As for those who own an electric mixer, you sure are lucky, and you, too, will enjoy these flavor explosions.”

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Fjeldheim packs in a surprising amount of flavor in the meals because of her heavy reliance on spices. Fortunately, this is no tall order for someone with a decent pantry — the most obscure spices featured are rosemary and parsley flakes.

Just Recipes has sections for breakfast, lunch, appetizers, dinner, and a “Touch of Sweet,” which contain recipes such as White Cheddar Mac ’n’ Cheese and Shrimp Tacos.

Simply put, Fjeldheim’s début cookbook is fun. She grins on the cover in backpacking attire as if to say, “After this fantastic walk, I’m going to chow down on some Rolly Stromboli.”

Each recipe is divided into Ingredients, Prep, Make it happen, and Cook it. Many also contain an Additional Comments section, which typically lays out ingredient substitutes and often recommends what beverage best suits the meal, be it red wine or amber beer.

The ingredient amounts aren’t always precise: Funky Chili Stew simply calls for one can of chili, while Summertime Pasta requires two jars of Alfredo sauce (although one is plenty). But Fjeldheim encourages fledgling cooks not to sweat quantities, just “decrease or increase portions as you please.” In the words of Bart Simpson, “Do what you feel like.”

America’s economy may be in the toilet, but Fjeldheim ensures that not every aspect of life has to be depressed. Whenever the man has got you down, you can always whip up some Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip. I only had to make a Hy-Vee run for the artichokes and frozen spinach, and this was hands-down the best spin dip I’ve ever had. Eat it on warm French bread, and it is guaranteed to lift you up, at least for a little while.

Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Serves up to 10
1 C. frozen chopped spinach
1 C. frozen (or 1 large jar) artichoke hearts
6 oz. cream cheese
1⁄4 C. sour cream
1⁄4 C. mayonnaise
1⁄3 C. grated Parmesan cheese (plus 1⁄4 set aside)
2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1⁄4 tsp. salt
1⁄4 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. parsley flakes

1. Heat oven 325 degrees.
2. Thaw anything frozen.
3. Let cream cheese soften.
4. Chop artichokes into small pieces.
5. Large mixing bowl.

Make it happen
Mix together all ingredients except the additional 1⁄4 cup of Parmesan cheese.

Cook it
Transfer mixture to oven-safe dish such as a 9 1⁄2 inch pie dish (12-inch will work too)
To garnish, add 1⁄4 cup Parmesan cheese and sprinkle parsley flakes
Bake at 325 degrees until top is golden or until cheese is completely melted.

Additional comments
Serve with your favorite bread or cracker. If you want to impress people, warm the bread in the oven before serving.

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