Frugal cooking: Making crispy eggplant and roasting peppers; also, fish

Even though it’s hot, I cooked today, meaning: baked.

You gotta do what you have to do.

It had been a while, making do on the stove, eating cereal, sandwiches, cold salads. It’s summer.

But at some point you do have to bite the bullet and turn on the oven and this morning was that time.

It all starts at Kroger. If you hit the reduced produce section at the right time, i.e. just as they stock it, it looks like this:

The cart is not my cart. It’s part of the reduced section, an overflow that would not fit on the regular shelves.

Anything in a red net bag is 99 cents. I bought a bag of red peppers and a bag of orange peppers. I got a bag of lemons, a bag of two eggplants, two trays of cherry tomatoes- one red and one orange- and regular tomatoes.

See? They look perfectly fine. Usually red peppers are $1 each or even more. In the bag they are 33 cents. I saved $12 on produce with what I got.

Anyway, if I buy the reduced produce I am essentially making a commitment to it, both as a promise not to waste food, not to deny someone else the opportunity to buy fresh produce for a good price, and also to financially shepherd my resources well. So that means use it/cook it/eat it in some way.

The produce is the first stop. Depending on what I can get, I make my menu from there. Sometimes soon I’ll get a shallow dish frozen pie crust and make a red pepper tartlet. For now, I roasted the peppers and I’ll use them in antipasto and in scrambled eggs.

I cut them up into strips, toss them with oil, salt, and pepper, and roast till soft and the edges are brown.

Since I got tomatoes and eggplants, I’d decided to bake the eggplants and use the crisp rounds in sandwiches. I’ll need cheese. I headed over to the reduced cheese section

Mozzarella and provolone are both great with eggplant. I went to the reduced cheese section and what did I find? Mozzarella and provolone. 50% off, down from $4 to $1.99. There’s enough to even make a casserole later if I want. Since I already cooked the eggplants, making a casserole would not take long, essentially I just need to heat it through and melt the cheese. I bought a tiny can of tomato sauce just in case I want to do that later in the week.

Here is how I bake eggplant. Cut into rounds. You can peel or not peel. I peel. Sometimes I peel each round after I slice them or sometimes I peel the whole eggplant first.

Dip rounds in egg scrambled with milk, and then bread crumbs. 2 eggs were enough with the two eggplants. Do not use a fork. Once you pierce the eggplant, whether frying or baking, it makes the eggplant round soggy as the oil or the egg-milk mixture seeps into the flesh. Use tongs or your fingers to dredge and turn over the rounds. You can add spices like oregano or salt-pepper to the bread crumb mixture, also Parmesan cheese too. Or you can sprinkle your preferred seasoning over the cookie sheet rounds.

I try to maximize space by filling the cookie sheet but also try to have the rounds not touch each other or overlap. It causes uneven cooking. As the baking process progresses, the eggplants shrink since the heat evaporates the water int he flesh. So if they are touching a little bit, that’s OK. They’ll each be an island unto themselves soon enough, lol.

Two smallish eggplants filled three cookie sheets (of varying size). Bake until crisp on one side then flip. Depending on your oven and the temperature you bake them at (I go 375) it might take 7-10 min on one side then 5-7 on the other.

Yum! Crispy eggplant! I pop two or three of these onto some crispy bread, a couple slices of tomato, and cheese and make a panini on the griddle. You can also use tomato sauce and make a sub sandwich. Or just eat them on the side as a vegetable. You can re-crisp them in the toaster oven, on a griddle, or bake or roast for a few minutes.

I drifted over to the fish section and got a stuffed crab for $1, a salmon filet for $2 (2 meals), and a tilapia filet for $1.35 (fish chowder, 3 meals). 3 proteins for $4.35 and will last for 6 meals.

Tomorrow I’ll reveal a cute, perfect, zen cabin in a bamboo garden I plan to vacation in next spring!

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