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Mouthwatering, Cozy Winter Meal on a Budget

Luckily, what happens in Vegas doesn't always stay in Vegas.

Chef Alex Stratta runs two of the finest restuarants on the Vegas strip - "Alex," an award-winner, and "Stratta" - and he brought his considerable culinary talents East, just for "The Early Show on Saturday Morning."

As our "Chef on a Shoestring," Alex tried to make a three-course, cozy winter meal for four on our paltry $40 budget.

The menu? Chickpea and Vegetable Soup, Red Wine Braised Short Ribs, and Coconut Tapioca with Fresh Fruit.

Vote on Next Week's "Shoestring" Main Course
"Early Show" Recipes Galore!

And his chef's hat was automatically entered in our "How Low Can You Go" competition, in which the "Shoestring" chef whose ingredients cost is lowest gets invited back for our big year-end holiday feast - which is, of course, right around the corner!

Not only that but - you get to help choose the entree our "Shoestring" chef prepares next week. Would you prefer Baked Salmon, Roasted Chicken orBraised Pork? Click here for the numbers to dial and vote.

Alex is a two-Michelin star fine dining restaurant serving the cuisine of the French Riviera, while Stratta provides a more casual dining experience, with rustic Italian fare, such as wood fired pizzas and homemade pastas.

FOOD FACTS

Source: "The Food Lover's Companion"

Chickpea or Chick-Pea: Slightly larger than the average pea, these round, irregular-shaped, buff-colored legumes have a firm texture and mild, nutlike flavor. Chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans and ceci) are used extensively in the Mediterranean, India and the Middle East for dishes such as couscous and hummus. They've also found their way into Spanish stews, Italian minestrone and various Mexican dishes, and are fast becoming popular in many parts of the western and southwestern United States. Chickpeas are available canned, dried and in some areas, fresh. They're most commonly used in salads, soups and stews.

Kombu (aka konbu): Particularly popular in Japanese cookery, kombu is one of the two basic ingredients used for dashi (soup stock). It's a long dark brown to grayish-black seaweed, which, after harvesting, is sun-dried and folded into sheets. Kombu is sold in Japanese and health-food markets and when stored unopened in a dry place it will keep indefinitely. After opening, store in a cool, dry place for up to 6 months. Kombu has a natural white-powder covering that delivers considerable flavor. For that reason, the surface should be lightly wiped off, not washed. Kombu is used to flavor cooked foods as well as for sushi. It's sometimes pickled and used as a condiment. Kombu is also called simply kelp.

Spelt: Native to southern Europe, where it's been used for millenniums, spelt is an ancient cereal grain that has a mellow nutty flavor. The easily digestible spelt has slightly higher protein content than wheat and can be tolerated by those with wheat allergies. Spelt flour, available in health-food stores, can be substituted for wheat flour in baked goods.

Short Ribs: Rectangles of beef about 2 inches by 3 inches, usually taken from the chuck cut. Short ribs consist of layers of fat and meat and contain pieces of the rib bone. They're very tough and require long, slow, moist-heat cooking.

Tapioca: A starchy substance extracted from the root of the cassava plant. It's available in several forms including granules, flakes, pellets (called pearl tapioca) and flour or starch. The most widely available forms are tapioca flour (also called cassava flour) and pearl tapioca. The flour is used as a thickening agent for soups, fruit fillings, glazes, etc., much like cornstarch. Pearl tapioca is used mainly to make pudding and comes in several sizes, regular or instant forms and in a variety of prepackaged flavors. Pearl tapioca is available in most supermarkets, whereas the other forms are more commonly found in health-food stores and Asian markets. If stored in a cool, dark place, all types of tapioca will keep indefinitely.

RECIPES

Chickpea and Vegetable Soup

INGREDIENTS:
1 cup dried chickpeas (soaked overnight)
1 ounce dried kombu
10 cups vegetable stock
1 1/4 cups cooked spelt

METHOD:

Soak the chickpeas overnight.

Wipe the kombu down with a damp cloth to remove all the excess dried salt and white film on the seaweed. Add the chickpeas and the kombu to the vegetable stock and bring to a boil then simmer and cook until chickpeas are soft (for around 45 minutes). Wait until they are cooked and then season with salt and white pepper.

While the chickpeas are cooking, place the spelt in a pot of cold, lightly salted water and simmer until they are soft, but not falling apart (for about 1 hour). Once the chickpeas are cooked, remove the kombu and strain the chickpeas from the liquid. Using a high speed blender, blend the chickpeas with some of the soup base and adjust until desired consistency, then blend until smooth and silky, straining through a fine strainer. Reserve the soup warm until needed or chill immediately for future use.

For the Vegetables:
1 cup carrot, Small Dice
1 cup Celery Root, Small Dice
1 cup Onion, Small Dice
2 cups Tuscan Kale, ¼ inch dice
2 cups reserved cooked spelt
Salt and white pepper to taste

METHOD:

Fill a pot with water and season lightly, then boil, cooking the diced vegetables until tender then ice in a container of iced water, drain well and reserve refrigerated until needed.

For the Garnish:
2 tablespoons fresh pomegranate seeds
1/4 Fuji apple, peeled
Pinch minced chives
1/4 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and cracked pepper to taste

METHOD:

Moments before serving the soup, slice the apple and cut into matchstick sized strips, placing them in a bowl with the seeds, oil, chives and seasonings. Toss them well and serve chilled on the hot soup.


For Alex's other recipes, go to Page 2.

Red Wine Braised Short Ribs

INGREDIENTS:
2 pounds beef rib
Coarse salt to taste
1/2 cup shallots
1/4 cup carrots
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
5 parsley stems
2 leek greens
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tablespoon black pepper
2 garlic heads, cut in half
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup red burgundy wine
4 cups veal or beef stock

METHOD:

Preheat oven to 300ºF. Cut the rib portions into 1-inch even pieces (about 3 to 4 ribs a piece.) Place a heavy roasting pan in the oven to get it very hot.

Remove the pan from the oven and place it over high heat on the stovetop. Add two tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and season meat with coarse salt and black pepper. Sear well on all sides. Add shallots, garlic and carrots. Roast for five minutes and then add honey. Caramelize honey until light brown and de-glaze with vinegar.

Reduce vinegar until dry and add red wine and parsley stems. Reduce wine by half and add the beef stock.

Bring to a boil and place in the oven for 4 1/2 to 5 hours until the meat falls apart. Remove ribs from just and strain the jus through a cheese cloth.

Blanch strips of leeks, 8 inches long and half-an-inch thick and tie around rib. Remove butcher's twine and place back in strained sauce. Finish with seasonings and reserve.


Coconut Tapioca With Fresh Tropical Fruit

INGREDIENTS:
For the tapioca:
1 ounce tapioca pears
1 1/3 cup coconut milk
5 teaspoons agave nectar
1/2 vanilla bean
1/4 cup soy milk

METHOD:

Soak about 1/2 cup of the coconut milk with the tapioca pearls overnight. Then, in a medium sized pot, bring the rest of the ingredients to a boil except for the soy milk. Put the previously soaked tapioca pearls from the night before in the pot and cook till the pearls become clear and translucent. Immediately remove from the heat and finish with the 1/4 cup of soy milk. Place in a shallow container and place in the refrigerator to cool.

For the Garnish:
1/8 cup diced fresh strawberries
1/8 cup diced fresh pineapple
1/8 cup diced fresh kiwi
1/8 cup diced fresh papaya
3 coquitos (baby coconuts), optional

METHOD:

Peel and dice all the fruit and mix in a bowl, using a sliced or hand mandoline, carefully shave the baby coconuts as thinly as possible.

ASSEMBLY:

Once the tapioca is chilled, spoon into a bowl, add the diced fruit on top and finish with the shaved baby coconuts.


So, how dir Alex fare in our "How Low Can You Go?" competition?!

Chickpea & Vegetable Soup
chickpeas $.60
kombu $3.87
vegetable stock $3.00
spelt $2.99
carrot $.35
celery root $2.33
onion $.18
kale $.99
pomegranate $.99
apple $.33
chives $.49
total $16.12

Braised Short Ribs
short ribs $8.98
shallots $.17
garlic $.39
wine $1.99
beef stock $2.59
total $14.12

Coconut Tapioca Pudding
tapioca $2.99
coconut milk $1.79
soy milk $1.49
mixed fruit $2.99
total $9.26

Grand total: $39.50

Our Leader's Board, in the very late going:

1. Bill Telepan $37.01
Telepan

2. Marc Murphy $37.11
Ditch Plains

3. Amanda Freitag $37.17
The Harrison

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