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Kicking That Dining Out Habit: What to Cook During a Financial Meltdown

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When the stock market tanks, you may be forced to pass up that long-planned Caribbean vacation. And the kids may be asked to make do with less pricey back-to-school outfits.

But one thing you can't easily go without is food.

With growing numbers of budget-conscious Americans cutting back on restaurant dining -- roughly 45 percent of Americans are eating out less than in 2007, says Ohio-based BIGResearch -- eating at home is emerging as an attractive option.

The New York Times reported Oct. 6 that "food is flying off the shelves of grocery stores." But what to cook in these hard times? You want meals that taste good and that are healthful. But you also want them to rely on ingredients that don't further assault your bank account.

Dana Jacobi, a cookbook author and chef, is expert at designing nutritious, delicious and budget-conscious meals. Jacobi has authored 10 cookbooks, including The Essential Best Foods Cookbook and 12 Best Foods Cookbook, both from Rodale.

There's nothing sub-prime about the appealing recipes that follow; Jacobi gives a nod to belt-tightening, but insists on full flavor.

"No one should feel deprived, not even Masters of the Universe," says the chef and teacher, who contends that even fallen Wall Street titans will enjoy her creations.

1. Spiced Cafe au Lait
Sip this aromatic brew and you will forget those pricey lattes.

1 cup reduced-fat (2%) milk, plain soy milk, or almond milk
2 (3") cinnamon sticks
1 whole star anise
1 cup freshly brewed coffee
1. In a small saucepan, heat the milk over medium heat until it starts to steam. Remove from the heat and add the cinnamon and star anise. Cover and set aside to infuse for 10 minutes.
2. Remove the spices and return the pot to medium heat, stirring occasionally so it does not form a skin, until the milk is steaming hot, 2 minutes. Set out 2 drinking bowls. Holding the coffee pot in one hand and the pot of milk in the other, pour from both at the same time, dividing the coffee and milk between the two bowls. Serve immediately.
Makes 2 servings

2. Tuna Mufuletta
This over-stuffed sandwich uses one can of tuna to feed six generously. Instead of cured meats used on the mufuletta made famous by Central Grocery on Decatur Street in New Orleans, the fish makes a lighter, healthier sandwich as well as respecting your pocketbook.

2008-10-07-TunaMuffeletta_35.jpg

Photo: Mitch Mandell

Olive Salad
(Ingredients can be gathered from your supermarket's salad bar)
8 pitted Sicilian-style green olives, chopped
6 pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
3 Peppadew pickled red peppers, chopped
1 small celery rib, chopped
1 tablespoon drained small capers
Mufuletta
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (8") round Italian white bread with sesame seeds
1 cup lightly packed baby spinach leaves
4 thin slices Provolone cheese
1 (6-ounce) can water-packed albacore tuna
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 roasted red pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips
1. For salad: In a mixing bowl, combine the chopped olives, peppadews, celery and capers. The salad will keep for five days in the refrigerator.
2. For Mufuletta: In a glass or plastic bowl, combine the vinegar, garlic, 1 tablespoon of the oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 3 or 4 grinds pepper. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours, up to 3 days
3. Halve the bread horizontally. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette over the bottom of the bread. Cover the bread with the spinach, then the cheese slices.
4. In a bowl, mash the tuna with the oregano and remaining teaspoon of oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread the fish over the cheese. Spoon 1 cup of the Olive Salad over the fish.
4. Scoop most of the bread from the top half of the loaf. Pack it with the roasted peppers. Spoon on 3 tablespoons of the vinaigrette. Close the sandwich. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate 12 to 24 hours. A whole Mufuletta will keep for 3 days tightly wrapped in the refrigerator.
5. Using a serrated knife, cut the sandwich into 6 wedges, and=2 0serve.
Makes 6 servings

3. Spice-Rubbed Salmon Kebabs with Tzatziki Sauce
These colorful skewers serve four comfortably. Vivid vegetables and warm Mediterranean spices add to the satisfaction of this dish.

Tzatziki Sauce
2 Kirby cucumbers, peeled an d thinly sliced
6- or 7-ounce container low-fat (2%) Greek yogurt or reduced-fat plain yogurt
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Kebabs
1 tablespoon coriander seed
1 tablespoon fennel seed
1 pound Coho or king salmon filet, skinned and cut into 8 cubes
12 large cherry tomatoes
1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut in 1 1/2" squares
1 large red onion, cut in 3/4" wedges
Four 8-inch skewers
1. For sauce: Combine the cucumber, yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, and vinegar in a bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover, and set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes.
2. For kebabs: In a dry, heavy skillet, roast the coriander and fennel seed over medium-high heat until fragrant, 60 to 90 seconds, shaking the pan constantly. On a plate, cool the spices. In a spice mill or clean coffee grinder, whirl the cooled spices to a powder. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper. This mixture keeps n a container in the refrigerator for five days.
3. Place the spice rub on a plate. Pat the fish with a paper towel and dredge in the rub, pressing to help it adhere.
5. For each skewer, thread on a tomato, a pepper square, and a salmon cube. Add 3 outer layers from an onion wedge, another tomato, more onion, another salmon cube, a pepper square, and tomato. Assemble the remaining skewers similarly.
6. Coat the kebabs lightly with cooking spray. Grill or broil for 8 minutes, or until the fish is translucent just in the center, turning the skewers once. The salmon will be opaque by the time they are served. Pass the sauce separately.
Makes 4 servings