Cheap and easy

Fine dining from Cumbies
By TODD M. RICHARD  |  July 25, 2007

Cumberland Farms | 730 Main Street, Westbrook | 207.854.2850
Convenience stores are not usually associated with culinary exploration, and for good reason. Mostly these establishments sell fructose, sodium, preservatives, and other things related to Yellow No. 5. But lately, the local Kwik-E-Marts have been challenging that reputation — at least in spirit, if not in practice.

So I marched into the Cumberland Farms on Main Street in Westbrook to see if I could construct a respectable meal from its shelves.

The most challenging thing to find at a convenience store is fresh. . . well, anything fresh. I was pleasantly surprised to find several things that looked, felt, and smelled like fresh fruits and vegetables. Things were looking up. A small plastic container of baby carrots and cut pieces of celery sat alongside ready-made sandwiches and other to go foods. A good start.

The biggest impediment to my mission was the scarcity of basic ingredients. Cumbies has aisles of chips, cookies, candies, and sodas, and a veritable library of jerkies. But kitchen staples, certainly not convenience store's bread and butter, are relegated to a few feet at the end of an aisle. Needless to say, there is not a lot to choose from. In this new, and crowded, context, however, I saw things in a new light. The peanut butter, divorced from its jelly, inspired this spaghetti-based recipe for spicy peanut noodles. (Okay, I did have to cheat with a few of the ingredients.)

While the water for the pasta is coming to a boil, slice the carrots and celery into matchsticks. As the spaghetti cooks, spoon 1/3 cup of peanut butter into a mixing bowl. Add three crushed cloves of garlic. (Now here's where I had to cheat and delve into my cupboard.)

Add 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1-1/2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper, and some cracked black pepper. Whisk this mixture until the peanut sauce is fully blended, then add a few tablespoons of the hot pasta water. (It completely change colors and textures.) When the pasta is done, drain it, put it back in the pot, and add a dash of olive oil. When the spaghetti has cooled down a bit, stir in the peanut sauce and serve. Top with the matchstick veggies and chopped peanuts and call it good.

My convenience-store dessert turned out to be pineapple upside down cake. There was, surprisingly enough, the option of fresh pineapple chunks, but I opted for the canned pineapple — because of the price and the juice in the can.

Make a double recipe of Aunt Jemima pancake mix, using milk instead of water to achieve a richer batter. Melt a few tablespoons of butter with 1/4 cup of brown sugar in a nonstick sauté pan, add the pineapple juice and some vanilla. When the sugar has dissolved, add the pineapple rings and cook a few minutes more. Spoon the pancake batter over the top, covering the pineapple and syrup. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, or until the top is brown. Remove the "cake" from the oven and let it sit for 10 minutes before turning upside down onto a large plate. Slice in to wedges and serve while warm.

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