Monday, August 31, 2009

No-poo, AKA Homemade Shampoo!

What we need to keep our hair clean, soft, and shiny is soap. The end. But if you use shampoo, what you're doing is stripping your hair's natural oils, which creates a need for conditioner, which makes your hair limp and greasy, which creates a need for more shampoo... and on and on. It's the ideal situation for advertisers!

Add to that the fact that shampoo, even the fancy salon brands and many organic formulations, contains sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate (an industrial surfactant used to de-grease engines -- it's also an irritant that has been rumored to cause everything from skin lesions to cancer), and you too might be motivated to switch to a more gentle, natural product to suds your locks!

Because shampoo strips the natural oils from your hair, it causes your scalp's sebaceous (oil-producing) glands to go into overdrive to keep your hair moisturized -- that's why people like me have to wash their hair every. single. day. to keep from looking like, say, Amy Winehouse after a three-day bender. So when you go "no-poo," your scalp will probably have a little adjustment period while it figures out how to regulate, after which you'll find yourself going longer between shampooing. It took my hair maybe 4 washes to get jiving.

Here's the skinny on how to make a simple, crazy cheap "no-poo" that gets the job done and leaves your hair soft and healthy. (Thanks to Ivory and T.L. over at my FAVORITE blog ever, Little House in the Suburbs, for this awesome technique which I tweaked.)

Grate a bar of plain soap (like Ivory or homemade soap) without added glycerine and put it in your blender. Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil* and about 1/2 cup warm water**. Blend, dribbling more water in a bit at a time until the mixture looks like thin pudding. Weird, I know, but that's what it looks like! Scrape the sides of the mixer down and blend again, adding any essential oils you like. I added lemon oil, tea tree oil, and wintergreen oil. Funnel into your shampoo bottle and you're done. It should be thinner than normal shampoo -- it will thicken slightly as it sits, and you want to be able to get it out of the bottle!

Then make a scalp-soothing conditioning rinse that will also de-tangle and smooth your hair. Mix 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar and four cups of water in your old conditioner bottle or another bottle with a cap or a squirt-top.

Now. The use of this stuff is a leeetle bit different than normal shampoo and conditioner. Scrub up like normal shampoo, but when you rinse, really rinse well, until your hair squeaks when you run your hand down it. (I was VERY worried at this point, y'all. My hair felt WEIRD. But hang in there, ok?) Saturate your hair with the vinegar rinse, making sure you get all your hair, even the underside!***

Give it a good rinse, and you're ready to go! Smooth, soft hair with no chemicals!

It helps in the first few days if you give your hair a good once-over with a natural bristle brush a couple times in between washings -- it distributes the natural oils down the hair shaft, which is a GOOD thing! And even though my hair was weird and a little oily the first few days, it was never as greasy as it used to be when I skipped a shampoo (or two, God forbid).

I love this stuff, you guys. I'd totally encourage you to break the shampoo-conditioner cycle and give no-poo a shot.





* I eliminated this, because it was making my hair (not scalp) oily. If you have really dry hair, you can leave it in. I use the remaining, oil-containing stuff as body wash and it's amazing.
** Blondes can substitute brewed chamomile tea, brunettes can substitute brewed black tea, for all the water in this recipe.
*** This is the point at which my fears began to subside. Oh, it feels like hair again! I can do this! And don't worry. It's not going to make you smell like a pickle!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

One-Bowl Blueberry Dinette Cake

My mom has a 1970s copy of the Betty Crocker cookbook, tattered and faded from its original poppy red to a very dingy-looking orange, a testament to its frequent use in her kitchen. I think it was a wedding present.

Some of the recipes are distressingly canned-soup-centric, but others are terrific and (I think) much more practical for the home cook than many modern cookbooks aimed at the average American housewife. Dinette Cake is a cute example of this practicality. It's based on the "economy cake," which excludes both rich ingredients like cream and butter, both of which were rationed during WWII, and time-consuming techniques like creaming and sifting -- Rosie the Riveter didn't have time to be a pastry chef! But it's smaller than the typical cake, scaled down to serve a small family or two couples, so it's perfect as a weeknight treat for the grownups or a coffee accompaniment for unexpected guests.

A dinette cake is meant to be casual, homey, and not-too-sweet. Recipes abound on the interwebs, so I borrowed a little of this recipe and a little of that, combined it with what I had on hand, and came up with a very tasty cake that will work for breakfast tomorrow as well -- plus, I made it low maintenance by using one bowl and one spoon. Simple! Oh, and I used butter instead of oil because I don't have to save up ration coupons to get the Real Deal, you know? You can use oil if you prefer, but it won't be as yummy!
1/4 c. butter
1 c. sugar
1/3 c. milk
1/3 c. yogurt
1 egg
juice and zest of half a lemon
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. salt

1 1/2 c. flour
2 t. baking powder

1/2 c. fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 375 Fahrenheit In a large microwafe-safe bowl, melt butter. Add sugar, milk, yogurt, the egg, lemon zest and juice, nutmeg, and salt, and mix thoroughly. Add flour and baking powder and mix thoroughly again.

Grease an 8x8 baking pan or #5 cast iron skillet, pour in the batter, and bake for 30-40 minutes or until a pick inserted into the center of the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs. Cool slightly and serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

This Yogurt Method is Even Simpler!

Many of you read and commented on the post I did awhile back on making yogurt in the crock pot ("Dairy/Non-Dairy"). Thanks for all the awesome feedback! Well, I recently stumbled across a method of yogurt making that involves a microwave and a cooler... and I thought it sounded like it was worth a shot. So I made it yesterday and oh, boy!

It's even simpler than the crock pot method, if you can believe it! Y'all, seriously, if you or your kids go through carton after carton of pricey store-bought yogurt, you need to take this method for a spin. Sorry, no pictures this time; this was a spur-of-the-moment creation motivated by my need to get a half-gallon of milk out of my fridge.

A note on incubation: there are several ways you can keep the inside of your cooler warm for incubation. I put about two inches of hot tap water (around 140 Fahrenheit; if yours isn't this hot, put a little boiling water in as well) in the bottom of the cooler, and filled three quart jars with hot water to set around the jar the yogurt was in. Then I covered the yogurt jar with foil and placed a big towel down over the tops of all the jars and zipped the cooler shut.


Hardware:
- large glass bowl
- small glass bowl or measuring cup
- stainless steel (or other non-reactive) spoon
- mesh strainer or cheesecloth or tea towel
- thermometer that goes up to 190 (I used my cheapo meat thermometer; you can use a candy thermometer or I'll tell you how to gauge the temperature without one)
- large glass jar or several smaller glass jars (you can use any clean, empty food jar)
- incubation jars (see note above)
- medium-sized cooler
- towel

Software:
- half-gallon of milk*
- 1 cup nonfat powdered milk
- 6-8 oz cup of plain, unflavored yogurt with active cultures
- 2 T. sugar (optional; the addition of sugar makes the end product MUCH less tangy, so if you prefer a tangier yogurt, just omit this)

1. Pour milk into glass bowl and place in the microwave. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Stir, and microwave for another 2 minutes. If you have a thermometer, begin checking the temperature now -- you're aiming for 180-190 degrees Fahrenheit. If not, keep an eye on the milk and continue microwaving in 1-minute intervals until milk bubbles around the edges and steams vigorously. 190 is just shy of boiling. Don't let it boil.

2. Remove bowl from microwave and stir the milk gently for about a minute. Stir in the powdered milk. Allow the milk to sit at room temperature for 30-60 minutes, or until it is between 110 and 120 Fahrenheit. You can test the temperature against your wrist if you don't have a thermometer; it should feel quite warm but not make you say, "Ouch!"

3. Take out about a cup of the warm milk and put it in the small bowl or measuring cup. Stir in the small container of yogurt. Add this mixture back to the large bowl of milk. Add the sugar, if you're using it.

4. Strain the mixture into jar or jars. This step isn't totally necessary, but I found that it strained out the bits of powdered milk that hadn't dissolved completely. Cover jar(s) with foil.

5. Place the yogurt jar(s) into the cooler along with the jars of hot water. Cover with a towel and incubate for 8-14 hours. Overnight is perfect for this! If your kitchen runs cool or when you're making this in the winter, give it a little boost of hot water an hour or two before you're going to take it out. A longer incubation tends to make thicker yogurt, but I only did about 8.5 hours and still ended up with yogurt that's plenty thick -- thick enough to stand up on a spoon! :)

6. Remove the yogurt jar(s) from cooler and refrigerate until cold. Keeps for two weeks. To flavor, stir in jam or preserves, honey, fresh or frozen fruit, granola, or any combination of the above.

*Re: milk. I've found that full-fat milk works best for thick, creamy yogurt and that the lower-fat your milk is, the runnier the set tends to be. I also used non-homogenized milk, so I ended up with cream-top yogurt! Yum!



If you have ANY questions or if something in my instructions isn't clear, please let me know in the comments section and I'll do my best to clarify or adjust!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Really, Alton? It is NOT that hard.

So tonight's episode of "Good Eats" made me mad. God bless Alton Brown, because he is a seriously good cooking show host, and I normally love his no-nonsense style, but seriously?

The episode starts like this: after burning one roux and ruining a dozen others by various methods, Alton comes up with a brilliant idea -- let's eliminate the direct heat source altogether and instead make the roux... in the oven!

Sigh. Fine, look, if you want to make Cajun food but are the kind of person who burns boxed mac and cheese, by all means make your roux in the oven. But if you have even the most basic of cooking skills and a modicum of patience, you will be richly rewarded with a beautiful dark roux (and the resulting indescribably rich and complex gravies and gumbos) by implementing the fine art of stirring.

Last school year, I made a shrimp etouffee that got the stamp of approval from an honest-to-goodness Cajun, on my first try. It's seriously not hard AT ALL. There's this whole mystique around Cajun food that makes people think it would be foolish even to attempt, but y'all, it's peasant food at its finest, born from necessity and tradition. It's darn delicious and Cajun mamas can for sure make it in their sleep better than I can, but it's SIMPLE STUFF. Really.

All you have to do is put equal parts flour and oil in a pan over medium heat, and stir the dickens out of it for about 25 minutes until it's a bit darker than peanut butter. Go ahead and do all the standing yoga positions you can think of while you stir. It ain't rocket science. Then you add 2 parts minced onion and 1 part each minced celery and green bell pepper, salt and pepper that business, stir it for another, oh, five minutes or so, throw in some crushed garlic and a can or two of crushed tomatoes (dodge the spatters!), a bay leaf, and a few shakes of hot sauce, give that a stir, cook it until the veggies are soft, and toss in some raw, peeled shrimp. Switch off the heat, stir until the shrimp are just cooked, and then serve it over hot rice. Could it get easier? Maybe, but you'd have to buy your roux in a jar.

Anyway, Alton's overcomplications aside, go on ahead and make you some Cajun food this weekend, why don't you? It's goooood.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Homemade Deodorant (Caution: TMI Ahead!)

So. You know that there are all these rumors about aluminum and its supposed harmful effects on the body, right? Cancer, Alzheimer's, and other health problems seem, in some tests, to be associated with the ingestion and absorption of aluminum into the body. Now, I tend not to just jump on bandwagons when it comes to health issues, but on the other hand, I also think it's pretty wise to err on the proverbial side of caution until we know for sure. I take this approach with plastics, non-stick, sulfates, cleaning products, and triclosan as well as aluminum. My theory is that it's best to stick with the materials and methods proven safe by hundreds of years of human history, rather than glom onto a bunch of new (as in last 40 years new) products whose safety is just plain not known.

Anyhoodles, probably the major source of aluminum absorption for most of us in the West is our deodorant! Any deodorant that has anti-perspirant in it uses one of a variety of aluminum salts as its active ingredient. Check out the back of your deodorant container and you'll see: US labeling laws require that the percentage of aluminum salts be listed -- the percentage for over-the-counter anti-perspirant/deodorants seems to range from around 12% to around 19%.

As I said in a previous post, I have lately not been relishing cramming aluminum into my pores every morning, particularly since aluminum has been linked to breast cancer. Eep! So, filed under "better safe than sorry," here's a recipe of sorts for homemade deodorant. You will need:

  • an old empty deodorant container (make sure you rescue the bit that holds the deodorant as it gets pushed up!
  • about 1/4 cup coconut oil (you can use the fancy extra-virgin kind or just the cheap Lou-Ana stuff from the grocery store)
  • about 1/4 cup baking soda (NOT baking powder, which often contains... you guessed it, aluminum!)
  • about 1/4 cup cornstarch or arrowroot
  • 10-20 drops essential oil (lavender, tea tree, cedar), optional

Put the coconut oil and essential oils in a small bowl. Add about half of the baking soda and the cornstarch. Stir and mix until smooth. Add more baking soda and cornstarch in equal proportions until the mixture is a stiff paste. Spoon into deodorant container, shaking and tamping down after each addition. Refrigerate for 30-40 minutes or until quite solid.

Now. Stuff you need to know:

This is NOT an antiperspirant, if by antiperspirant you mean "a chemical that keeps me from sweating." It will reduce the amount that you perspire, and it will absorb the perspiration. That being said, some people theorize that the reason you tend to sweat a LOT when you go a day without using your ordinary a-p/d is because your body is taking advantage of the aluminum hiatus and trying to clean the chemicals out of your pores. I have definitely found a reduction in the amount of sweat, and I also don't have that awful "crap, my deodorant just gave out" sensation in the middle of a tough day. The difference between natural deo and commercial a-p/d meltdown is sort of like the difference between the spillway on a dam and a total failure of the dam. Does that make sense?

This is a VERY effective deodorant. If, like me, you're prone to get a little whiffy by day's end, you will LOVE this stuff. Coconut oil is naturally anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, tea tree oil and other essential oils are antiseptic, and baking soda is known to eliminate odors. You know what my armpits smell like right now? Tea tree oil. That's it. And it's been a good ten hours since I applied my natural deo. And I've been outside in the August humidity, and I ran around at school for a couple hours!

But speaking of temperature and humidity, coconut oil tends to liquefy at around 75 degrees (that's Fahrenheit, y'all). So if you're the type to keep the A/C set at 80 in the summertime, you're probably going to have to keep this in the fridge for a couple months out of the year. No biggie, but there it is. In the winter, keeping it solid shouldn't be a problem.

One of my biggest problems with commercial a-p/d's, aside from the aluminum, is the fact that after a few months of using one brand, my body seems to develop a resistance to it, and it quits working. (Same thing happens with shampoo, too. Weird.) But supposedly, as you go along using natural deodorant and your body gets used to not having chemicals stopping its natural processes (hello, God made us sweat for a reason! It's called detoxification!), you'll end up sweating less. I'll let you know how that goes! ;)

Verdict: thumbs up. One less chemical in my life. Good riddance!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Yes. You Can. No, Really. You can make this bread. Quit arguing and just go to the kitchen, okay?

If any of you has the slightest foodie inclination, you probably already know about the no-knead bread sensation that swept the internet a few years ago. It began when Mark Bittman, the New York Times' "Minimalist", finagled the recipe out of Jim Lahey, a NYC baker. It's never really gone away; variations pop up periodically as people experiment and rediscover the thrill of triumphing over the daunting task of bread-baking. Alton Brown has a version. Cook's Illustrated did one. Jaques Pepin made a take on it on his "Fast Food My Way" show. There was an NPR special on it. Whole books have been published on the subject. Some skeptics remain -- no-knead bread must be about culinary laziness; it requires expensive equipment; it takes too long; it's fussy.

Au contraire, my friends; the no-knead technique is a most forgiving and obliging one, one that results in an end product greater than the sum of its parts and much greater than the amount of required labor would suggest.

In other words, it's dead simple, and it makes great bread. So, without further ado, here's what you need to do RIGHT NOW. I mean it.

Take four cups of flour, and mix them with one teaspoon of sugar, two teaspoons of salt, a half teaspoon of instant yeast, and two cups of ice water. Keeping in mind variations in humidity and flour measurement, adjust the amount of liquid and flour so you have a sticky, shaggy mass of dough. It should be too soft to "stand up" but not soft enough to pour. Stir that vigorously for about ten seconds, cover and forget about it for about 18 hours.

Then give the mix a quick stir, cover it again and let it sit for about two hours, more or less. About a half-hour before you want to bake the bread, turn your oven to 450.

Put a baking vessel of some kind in the oven as it preheats. You can use a cast-iron skillet, a dutch oven, a fancy Le Creuset, a terra cotta planter, anything, as long as it's safe to heat it to 450 degrees when it's empty. If it's got a lid that's oven safe, great; preheat that too. If not, fill another oven-safe vessel with water and put it on the bottom rack while the oven preheats.*

When the dough is ready, have a spatula at the ready, pull out the baking vessel from the oven, scrape the dough into it, cover it if you've got a lid, and put it back into the oven. Let it bake for 55 minutes. If you're using a lidded vessel, take the lid off at this point and let bake for another 15-20 minutes. If you're not using a lidded vessel, cover the top of the loaf with foil to prevent over-browning and let bake for another 15-20 minutes.

Remove the loaf and let cool completely before slicing.



* Notes:

1. I use a 10-inch cast iron skillet, and fill my great big roaster pan with water. The key to this bread's crust and texture is steam. One of the reasons artisanal bakeries can make such great bread is that they often have multi-thousand-dollar steam ovens that create the necessary environment for the crackling crust they charge a premium for.
2. For the love of little green apples, don't underbake this bread! An 70-80 minutes is a LONG time compared with most home-baked bread, but it's completely necessary. The water content of the dough is extremely high, and if you don't bake it long enough, you'll wind up with a weird, gummy interior.
3. Once you've baked the original version, you'll find this bread to be infinitely adaptable. You can use a light-flavored lager in place of the cold water. You can use half rye flour and stir caraway seeds in. You can use honey in place of the sugar and half whole-wheat flour. You can add rolled oats or wheat germ. You can stir in sunflower seeds, millet, and pumpkin seeds just before the second rise. Or walnuts and dried cranberries. Or fresh rosemary and roasted garlic. Or... you get the idea.
4. The rise times aren't hard science. If you can't do 18 hours but you can do 14 or 16 or 20, great. If it's going to be more than a day until you can get to it again, it can sit in the fridge for up to 24 hours at any point in the process -- just think of it as the "pause" button.
5. If this isn't the best bread you've ever made at home, I will... be extremely surprised. It's so good, it's kind of magical. Do yourself a favor; get it started tonight.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

YESSS! INDIAN FOOD!!!

Ok, peeps, let me just make a confession here: I could probably eat Indian food every day, but I typically suck at making it. I can make a half-decent but totally fake-o curry. I recently mastered aloo gobi (which is stupid good on the grill) and chicken tikka masala, the most popular dish in Britain -- so popular, in fact, that despite the fact that it's completely inauthentic, it's also become wildly popular in India. But your average Indian restaurant anywhere in America could plum cook me under the table -- and that's not even factoring in the thousands of Indian Aunties who could out-cook me with their mental powers alone!

BUT! BUT! Some of those Indian Aunties have YouTube channels!

So, Navrataan Korma. For the uninitiated, "navrataan" just means "nine vegetables" and "korma" refers to a mild, creamy sauce that often contains yogurt, sometimes thickened with nuts. It's my favorite thing at my favorite Indian place, but homegirl does not have the liquid assets to be eating out all the time, mmkay? So, thanks to Aunty Manjula, and (young) Aunties Hetal and Anuja, I have learned how to MAKE this AMAZING DISH. And now you can too. Here's what you'll need.

Hardware:
a large, deep pot or skillet
a blender
a wooden spoon or similar
a knife and cutting board OR food processor OR mini-chopper

Software:
2 T oil
1 bay leaf
1 inch piece cinnamon
3 green cardamom pods
7 whole cloves
10 peppercorns
½ c. cashews or walnuts
2 medium onions finely chopped (in food processor/chopper or by hand)
½ t. turmeric powder
1 t. salt

2 T chopped garlic
2 T chopped ginger
1-2 chopped green chiles (all these can be chopped together in the food processor)
1 can crushed tomatoes

½ T. cumin powder
1 T. coriander powder
1 12-oz can evaporated milk
6-8 cups mixed veggies, any kind
1 cup water

1/2 cup golden raisins
additional nuts for garnishing

1. Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat and saute next 9 ingredients until onions are golden brown. Add garlic, ginger, and chiles and saute until fragrant
2. Put this mixture in the blender with tomatoes and blend until very, very smooth, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides once or twice. Do not remove the spices! The point is to grind them all up with the onions and nuts and everything to flavor the dish. Return to pan and cook over medium-high heat until you begin to see oil separating from the mixture. Add the cumin and coriander and stir briefly.
3. Add evaporated milk, vegetables (I used green beans, peas, carrots, lima beans, corn, spinach, and zucchini; you can use any combination of any veggies you like), and water. Cover and simmer until veggies are tender. Salt to taste.
4. Add more water if needed, then sprinkle raisins and nuts over the top of the dish, stir in, and serve with hot rice.

Now, some of you are going to be all, "WHAT? Where am I going to get coriander powder and what the heck is green cardamom and I thought this was a frugal-type blog but ALL THIS IS GOING TO BE EXPENSIVEasdfajfkajwef."

First of all, whoa, dude. Simmer down.

Secondly, don't even worry about it. There are two ways you can get your hands on these spices for crazy cheap. The first way is to head to your friendly neighborhood Indian (or other ethnic) grocery store. If there's an Indian restaurant in your city, there will be an Indian grocery store. They have all these spices and a million more for the most insane prices -- I have NEVER spent more than $4 on a single spice and that's for a 3 or 4 ounce bag. The second way, which would be best if you live somewhat more remote than I do from such a delightful establishment, is to check out Indian food and spice purveyors online.

Thirdly, this IS frugal! I mean, dig the ingredients list. Apart from the handful of spices, we're talking totally ordinary stuff: canned tomatoes. Garlic and onions. Evaporated milk. Veggies -- heck, I even used FROZEN veggies! You could add potatoes or cauliflower, both of which are CRAZY cheap! You could use this to happy-up boring leftovers and it would be even MORE frugal! It's also NUTRITIOUS! It's packed with veggies and so flavorful that you'll never miss the meat OR the fat.

AUGH! I mean, people. Really. You HAVE to make this ASAP. It is AMAZING, and if you don't love it, you are CRAZY. CRAZY I TELL YOU!

Ummm... apparently, it's time for me to calm down as well. Just make it, ok, before I have a coronary? You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Zucchini Fritters!

I, like many in the northern hemisphere this time of year, am dealing with a slight overabundance of zucchini. They're practically giving the stuff away at the farmers' markets and grocery stores (seriously! When was the last time you saw a fresh local veggie being sold for 70 cents per pound?). Zukes are a good source of potassium and vitamin c and an excellent source of fiber, so in addition to being inexpensive, they're nutritious. But really, how many stir-fries can a person eat? If you're overstocked with these delicious summer squashes, give this yummy -- and incredibly simple -- recipe a try!

Zucchini Fritters
makes 12-14 3" fritters

4-5 thin medium zukes* (see note)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 egg
1/4 t. cayenne pepper (optional)
1/4 t. baking powder
salt and pepper to taste
oil for frying

Coarsely shred the zucchini. In a medium bowl, mix all ingredients except oil. I used my hands and found it much easier than using a spoon or fork. Heat oil in a heavy skillet (I used coconut oil and a cast-iron skillet) over medium-high heat. Form zucchini mixture into 3 inch patties and drop into oil. Press slightly to flatten them so the edges get extra crispy. Fry fritters for 4-5 minutes per side, turning only once during cooking. Don't be afraid to let these babies get good and mahogany-colored! You definitely want to give them a chance to get nice and crunchy on the outside. Drain on paper towels or lint-free cloths. Serve hot.

* Note: I feel your pain with the whole "what size zukes should I use" quandary. Really. These puppies vary from skinny, cornichon-like dainties to ones as big around as my arm. For the purposes of this recipe, I used 4 zukes that were about 1.5" in diameter and about 7" long. That's as close to scientific as I could get, y'all, but fortunately this recipe is very forgiving. Use your discretion in selecting zukes that aren't massively overgrown, because the freakazoid ones can be a little (or a lot) bitter. Use the enormous ones for zucchini bread, because the sugar helps hide the bitterness.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Oh Gosh. I'm the Worst.

This always happens.

Every Summer, I end up taking a looooong sabbatical from blogging, totally unintentionally. At the end of May, I really should just say, "Ok, see you guys in August!" But I never think about it until it's been two months since my last post. The lack of a schedule in Summertime makes blogging a real challenge, and because I generally have less to think about in the Summer, I have less inspiration. Seriously, though. I'm back. For real.

On the long drive home from Colorado, I listened to "The Five Aspects of Woman" -- a series of lessons by Barbara Mouser on the ways that the Scriptures describe women -- on cassette tape, if you can believe those dinosaurs still exist, and was really struck by the "Mistress of the Domain" aspect (taken from Genesis 1, if you're curious). That particular teaching encouraged me to get off my butt and start exercising dominion over my condo.

So, along those lines, here are my projects for this school year:

- improve my sewing skills and start using my sewing machine more regularly, especially to bless my friends with young kids.
- make a rag rug (I love the look of knotted shag rugs, but they seem to involve an awful lot of steps!)
- remember how to knit (knitting is awesome. It's such a portable craft!)
- make liquid soap AND bar soap
- keep up with my homemade laundry detergent, which works great!
- continue to phase out chemical body-care and cleaning products and replace them with homemade versions
- use extra money to replace nonstick and aluminum pans with safe, nonreactive cookware (partly done now since I just rescued three cast-iron skillets from my parents' garage) and plastic storage products with glass

What about you, friends? What's on your project list?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

I Love Risotto AND A Good Day's Work

So. Risotto. Is there a reason you're NOT eating risotto for dinner a couple times a month? If it's because you don't know how, here: let Marcella teach you. That's really all you need. Recipes? Psshhh. Risotto is a method, homeboy. And it goes a little something like this:

Take some fat. Heat it in a pan. Add a few aromatics. Throw in some long-cooking veggies if you like. Sizzle them for a little bit. Meanwhile, boil some water or broth in another pan. Add some arborio or carnaroli rice to the pan with the fat and aromatics. Stir it around until the edges start to look translucent. Don't let it brown. Add a splash of white wine. Add the water or broth a half-cup or so at a time, stirring constantly, until each batch is absorbed. When the rice is al dente, taste, adjust seasoning, and add quick-cooking veggies and a few flavor enhancers. Butter. Cream. Cheese. The texture should be creamy and loose, but not soupy. Add an egg yolk or two off the heat if it tickles your fancy.

Does that sound easy enough? Think of the variations.

Cajun Risotto
Fat: bacon grease
Aromatics: onions, peppers (capsicums), garlic, bay leaf
Long-cooking veg: none
Liquid: water or chicken broth
Quick-cooking veg: peas
Flavor enhancers: cream, very aged gouda
Bonuses: andouille sausage, shrimp

Springtime Farmers Market Haul Risotto
Fat: olive oil
Aromatics: onions, garlic
Long-cooking veg: morels
Liquid: H20
Quick-cooking veg: shredded zucchini, spring onions
Flavor enhancers: butter, parmigiano reggiano, egg yolk

-------------------------------------


Also, a good day's work would be... the 7 half-pints and two pints of strawberry-rhubarb jam and 4 half-pints of serviceberry-raspberry jam. Have I mentioned that I love canning? Because I do. It's probably my favorite all-time kitchen activity. Narrowly above baking bread, but there just the same.

Monday, May 18, 2009

What Can You Do With... Leftover Pasta?

Make a baked pasta. Toss together leftover meat (sausage, chicken, cubed meatloaf) with the pasta. Add jarred pasta sauce, thin slightly with water, wine, or stock, sprinkle with cheese and bake. Other add-ins: peppers/capsicums, onions, zucchini, bits of ricotta, fresh herbs, spinach, pancetta, cherry or grape tomatoes.

Make pasta salad.

Make a pasta frittata. Saute pasta briefly in a little oil. Scramble a few eggs, and add in whatever you like. Pour eggs over pasta, move pan to oven and bake until eggs are set. This is a great place to use up all the little odd bits of leftovers in your fridge.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Potato Salad

This has to be a quick one because I swore to myself I'd be in bed before 10:00 tonight. Lame, I know, but when the alarm rings as early as it does at Chez Frugal, these are the necessities of life.

The second the weather starts to warm up, I start craving potato salad. Now, as an adult, I've become an equal-opportunity potato salad lover, but when I make it myself, we are talking stupid simple. I just peel, boil, slice, and cool some potatoes (any kind, I'm not particular -- everything from plain baking potatoes to those swanky purple fingerlings from the gourmet shop), and mix them with very, very finely minced Spanish onion (sweet onions are good, but strong, spicy, tear-making onions are better for this application), a heap of mayo*, a squeeze of plain yellow mustard, and salt and pepper. Really. Frugal, and delicious. Better the next day, and the next. And the next.

Gee, I kinda wish I had some potatoes. Uh, grocery run tomorrow!





* N.B. I am the least brand-conscious person on earth, and you know how I hate to spend money, but people, mayo matters. Do not, I repeat do NOT, buy store-brand mayonnaise! Hellmann's (if you're east of the Rockies in the U.S.) or Best Foods (if you're west of the Rockies) should be the only brand in your cart. Seriously. I will allow the purchase of 365 brand mayo, and Kraft in a pinch. ALSO. This is important: low-fat mayo is not food, you dig? It is franken-food at best. Buy the real stuff and just eat less, mmkay? Your non-freakshow offspring will thank you later for not cramming your body full of chemicals and weird laboratory-based stabilizers in the name of health.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What Can You Do With... Leftover Rice?

Make "Faux-sotto": saute onions in olive oil, deglaze with white wine. Add chicken stock and leftover rice. Stir like crazy until rice looks creamy. Add anything else you like in your risotto -- peas, mushrooms, cheese, greens, herbs, crispy bacon, cream, etc. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Use it as a binder or filler in meatballs, meatloaf, fish croquettes, etc.

Make rice patties: add a little flour and an egg or two, plus any shredded veg you like (onion, zucchini, carrot, sweet peppers/capsicums), salt and pepper and any seasonings you like. Fry in a bit of olive oil and serve on a salad or with soup.

Freeze it! Rice freezes beautifully, and reheats in the microwave in seconds.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

What Can You Do With... Stale Bread?

Make bread crumbs. Store in the freezer. I ALWAYS have breadcrumbs on hand, and I use them for a million things.

Make croutons.

Make french toast.

Toast it and pour gravy, chicken broth or soup over it.

Make a sweet or savory bread pudding or a breakfast casserole.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Pickles!

Hey, y'all! I was just making some pickles yesterday and thought of you!

I love canning, but that love does NOT extend to canning pickles.* Instead, I love to make refrigerator pickles, which couldn't be easier or more yummy. The basics are simple: you make a quick brine, add seasonings, and put sliced vegetables (which are sometimes blanched) into the brine. Then refrigerate overnight, and voila! Pickles!

The pickles I made yesterday went a little something like this (all measurements estimated -- this ain't rocket science, y'all):

1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 cup warm water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/3 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
pinch red pepper flakes
few grinds of black pepper

1 large (seriously massive) English cucumber, sliced thinly
1 large carrot, sliced thinly
2 spring onions (scallions), sliced lengthwise a couple times

Throw all that together in a jar. Give the brine a taste -- it should be tangy but not elicit a "whooo." Adjust seasonings, remembering that the spices will become stronger as they steep in the brine. Let it all sit overnight, and then nibble away.

Of course, just about any firm-textured vegetable will work for this: blanched cauliflower, green or wax beans, pearl onions, sweet peppers, roasted beets, etc. Beet pickles should certainly include much more sugar.

It's a frugal way to deal with a surplus of veggies because it extends the life of that veggie, and it's also MUCH cheaper than your average store-bought condiment. Great accompaniment to a simple dinner of bread and cold meat. Mmmm...



*Notable exceptions to this rule include bread-and-butter pickles and cinnamon pickles, which hold up well to canning. Hmmm... those would be good tutorial posts for my mom to do, since I've never made either on my own.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

ANOTHER Bread Recipe -- Round Loaf Herb Bread

Seriously, when there are bread recipes like this, why would you ever be tempted to buy store-bought bread? I've already written a love letter to my favorite ever cookbook, "More-With-Less;" my adoration for it is pretty well-known among my friends. So when I got a baking bug but hit a wall in my "Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking," I turned to the trusty, earthy, frugal goodness of MWL. Here's what I found:

Round Loaf Herb Bread (adapted from the divine "More-With-Less Cookbook" by yours truly)

Dissolve 2 packets of active dry yeast (or 5 teaspoons, or 1 tablespoon of instant yeast) in 1/2 cup warm water.

Meanwhile, saute in a small skillet until golden brown:
  • 1/4 c. cooking oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (or 3 cloves roasted garlic, chopped)

Add to yeast mixture:
  • 1 can evaporated milk OR 1 1/2 c. milk plus 1/2 c. powdered milk
  • 3 T. sugar
  • 1/2 c. chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 t. dried dill
  • 1/4 t. dried thyme
  • onion mixture

Stir in:
  • 1 c. cornmeal
  • 2 c. whole wheat flour (I used King Arthur because it's very finely ground)

Knead in:
2 - 3 c. additional whole wheat flour, or until mixture is smooth and only slightly tacky, then knead for about 5 minutes. Shape into a round, place in a greased bowl (flip it over so the whole lump of dough gets oiled), cover with a damp towel and let rise about an hour or until it's doubled in volume.

Turn out of the bowl, divide in half, gently shape each half into rounds. Line a sheet pan with parchment and sprinkle parchment with cornmeal. Place each round loaf onto parchment, cover all with a damp towel and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350. Allow at least 20 minutes for your oven to preheat, regardless of when it says it's preheated!

When loaves are doubled, get about 1/4 cup of water in a cup, put the bread in the oven, and toss the water on the oven floor (unless you have a gas oven -- I don't know if you can safely do this with gas). IMMEDIATELY close the oven door or you'll get a face full of steam! (The steam created by the water helps with two things: the "spring" or initial oven rise of the dough, and the crust -- your loaf will definitely have a sturdier crust this way. Yum!)

Bake 30-45 minutes or until loaf sounds hollow when you thump it. Let cool slightly before slicing, if you can bear it.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Best. Pancakes. Ever.

So I got my favorite cookbook back from some friends a while back. What's my favorite cookbook, you ask? It's called "More-With-Less" and it's a cookbook compiled from the recipe books of hundreds of Mennonite missionaries around the world. I KNOW, right? It HAS to be the best cookbook in the WORLD!

I grew up with the recipes from this book -- my mom has the first edition from 1976, and that sucker is falling apart, stained, dog-eared, and loved. It's a gold mine of that delicious German-Mennonite home cooking, AND of ethnic recipes from around the world. Kedgeree, chapatis, nasi goreng, moussaka, yakisoba, empanadas, West African peanut stew... right on down to grits casserole, fried chicken, corn fritters, ham and bean soup, shoofly pie, and coleslaw.

And it's not just a cookbook, it's a cooking-philosophy book. It was commissioned by the Mennonite Central Committee "in response to world food needs." It gives super-practical advice for simplifying our diets, eating less meat, buying unprocessed foods, gardening, becoming adept at traditional cookery, serving guests without breaking the bank, and so much more.

Basically, it's an amazing resource. So when I wanted a kind of sweet breakfast, I flipped through the "Yeast and Quick Breads" section and found Whole-Wheat Buttermilk Pancakes. Here's my version:

Blend together in the blender:
1 cup milk
2 heaping tablespoons of yogurt
2 tablespoons cool butter
1 egg

Stir together:
3/4 cup King Arthur whole wheat flour (my favorite brand)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients in blender. Blend just until barely mixed, then add:
1 small apple, peeled and chopped
1/2 t. apple pie spice

Pulse 2 or 3 times. Cook on a heated griddle and serve with butter and honey, syrup, or brown sugar syrup. Devour.

Simple, right? You betcha. I cannot over-emphasize what a great cookbook More-With-Less is. You can easily find them used on Amazon and other used bookstores. If you're trying to eat healthily and responsibly while saving money, it's the perfect resource.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

I'm a Junkie

A green smoothie junkie, that is.

Sara (The Happy Foody) turned me on to the green smoothie concept, which is basically: get all your daily servings of fruits and vegetables in one go in a smoothie that tastes like dessert. Boost health! Get shiny hair! Improve digestion! Fight free radicals! Sounds good to me, you know?

So several weeks ago I started with a parsley-blueberry-apple smoothie, thinned with plain water. It tasted so clean and fresh and delicious that I kept right on, making another one each day. I love strawberries, so I started adding those, and oranges, and bananas (which I HATE, but I wanted something smooth and creamy-textured). I felt incredibly healthy and awake and great after just a few days. And then something awful happened. I ran out of greens, and had to go like three days without a green smoothie. It was terrible. Terrible!!

I finally got some more greens (2 pounds of organic spinach, which is like half a bushel, no lie -- it's a HUGE amount) and a bunch of other stuff, and made a green smoothie first thing when I came home from the store. It was a total revelation, and let me tell you why:

I've been trying to figure out a way to get myself to eat avocado. The texture massively squicks me out, and the flavor isn't my favorite either, so despite the fact that I know avocados are one of the healthiest foods you can possibly eat, I just haven't been able to get over my general feeling of yuckiness toward them. But I thought to myself, "They don't have a very strong flavor... and they're definitely creamy... what if I used them instead of banana in my green smoothies?" Best idea I've ever had. Seriously. So here's what was in that smoothie (and, uh, pretty much all my smoothies since then):

2 kiwis
1/2 a medium avocado
3 huge handfuls baby spinach
2 or 3 big handfuls mixed frozen fruit (includes strawberries, mango, pineapple, and peaches)
1 t. raw local honey
enough water to blend

I don't know if I can describe how good this smoothie is. It might sound strange, but it tastes like an umbrella drink you'd sip by the pool in Cabo, y'all. The pineapple and mango come right to the front -- if your eyes were closed I guarantee you'd never guess it had anything remotely vegetable-related in it.

I'm planning on doing a detox/cleanse with the green smoothies sometime in April. Has anyone else done one like it? I want to make sure I'm getting all the nutrition I need. Can anybody see gaps that I'll need to fill, if I'm having smoothies like the one above? Let me know.

Head over to Happy Foody and take the Green Smoothie Challenge, why dontcha?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Making Your Own EVERYTHING

A friend asked me a few days ago, "So, Laura, is there anything you're not making right now?" And the answer to that is pretty much no. Here's what's on the list:

Toothpaste: Thanks to "Seeking the Old Paths" for this awesome recipe. Super-simple, too. I tweaked it a bit -- equal parts coconut oil and baking soda, plus spearmint oil and tea tree oil for flavor, and xylitol (a non-nutritive sugar alcohol that the bacteria in your mouth can't use) for sweetness. I'm putting it in a little half-pint glass jar and just dipping my toothbrush into it. It's a little salty-tasting but I like the creaminess of the coconut oil. It's nice, and let me tell you, my teeth are insanely clean-feeling when I use it!

Shampoo and "conditioner": inspired by, who else, but Little House in the Suburbs. The shampoo is just soap and water, blended up with olive oil and some essential oils. The conditioner is a mix of apple cider vinegar and water in a squirt bottle. I'll let you know how these work when I run out of my regular stuff.

Basil-rosemary sugar scrub: another Little House recipe. Mine wound up being about 1/4 cup powdered herbs, 1 cup sugar, 3/4 cup olive oil, and 30 drops or so of tea tree oil. Can you tell I'm obsessed with the tea tree oil? I just found a great price for it online, too. Fab. Just used the scrub on my face and it feels amazingly smooth and not the least bit greasy. I'm already in love.

Anti-perspirant/deodorant: Yes, I'm totally serious. Yet another Little House concoction, made all the more brilliant by the fact that you put it in your old deodorant container. Luuuurrrve this idea -- cramming aluminum in my pores day after day kinda freaks me out, honestly, so I'm stoked about not having to use commercial deo anymore. It's just baking soda, cornstarch, anti-bac essential oils (geranium, tea tree, etc.), and some coconut oil. Easy-peasy.

Plus, I'm using coconut oil for face moisturizer (I have combination skin that's pretty blemish-prone, and it works beautifully for me), and making my own soap is on the horizon.

Man, I just love NOT having to buy stuff. Saving money, AND cutting chemicals out of my life at the same time? Yes, please!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Cleaning!

Cleaning chemicals, generally speaking, are bad. They give off nasty fumes, they're expensive, the packaging is wasteful. Manufacturing them can be pretty harmful to the environment. Some companies are getting the message that a lot of us are trying to get rid of the chemicals in our lives, and so they're making eco-friendly cleaners with minimal packaging. This is great! But those cleaners are still really expensive -- sometimes as much as $4 or $5 per bottle!

So what can you do? Why, make your own, of course! All of these cleaners cost just pennies to make and work every bit as well as commercial cleaners -- plus, I can clean my entire house with just these three cleaners. To get started, you'll need a spray bottle or two and a shaker-top jar, and you're set!

Glass cleaner: equal parts white vinegar and water. It's best to use newspaper or newsprint to wipe the glass -- I don't know why, but it scrubs really well and leaves the glass streak- and lint-free. Smells a bit like a pickle, but the smell dissipates once it's dry.

All-purpose cleaner: 1/2 cup borax, 1/2 cup white vinegar, a pump of dish soap (hand washing soap, NOT dishwasher detergent), 20 or so drops of tea tree oil if you like. Put this all in a spray bottle and fill it up with water. It's a fantastic bathroom cleaner -- I used it to clean my old dirty tile in my shower and the tiles are, I'm telling you, gleaming. Spray on surfaces until they're very wet, let sit for a few minutes, and scrub gently with a wet scrubbie sponge. No need to rinse unless you're using it on food-prep surfaces. Can be boosted with the soft scrub cleaner below for extra-tough stains.

Soft scrub cleaner: 1/2 cup borax, 1/2 cup baking soda, a few drops essential oil if you like. Mix in a shaker-top jar and sprinkle onto surfaces as needed. You can mix it with glycerin, dish soap, or Dr. Bronners to make a liquid soft scrub, but I'd recommend mixing it as you clean instead of all at once.

Note: Borax is available in grocery and hardware stores. I buy white vinegar in gallon jugs and baking soda in a five-pound bag for next to nothing at Sam's Club (a warehouse store).

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Thrifty Linkage!

OK, darlins. Lately I've been obsessively trawling Ye Olde Intertoobz for some delicious and frugal recipes, and boy howdy, have I ever found some GREAT ones! Yowza! So instead of keeping these gems all to myself I figured I'd pass the love along. Here are a few of my finds:

1. Brown rice patties from "Beauty that Moves." I can imagine these with a great big crunchy salad, or on top of a big bowl of Cuban red beans, or even as a quickie breakfast on the run! Delicious. Made them today, and they're so simple -- crunchy on the outside and warm and almost creamy inside! You could seriously do a hundred variations on these. Roasted garlic with some finely chopped greens. Minced jalapeno and cumin seeds with some cheddar. Shredded apples with the shredded carrot and onion. And on and on!

2. Black bean burgers from allrecipes.com. I made these yesterday (a HUGE batch, from dry beans that I cooked in the Crockie, natch) and froze them. Great for lunches. My little tip -- lightly dust with a mix of cornmeal and flour before you fry these up, and you'll avoid the dreaded Disintegrating Veggie Burger Syndrome.

3. Snobby Joes from "Happy Foody." One of my new favorite food blogs -- this is one awesome vegan, dreadlock-sporting, natural-living Christian mama! Snobby Joes are a vegan variation on sloppy joes, obviously -- made of
lentils of all things! This is on the list for this week.

You might notice something about these three recipes. They're all vegetarian! Why? Well, first of all, everyone is feeling the economic pinch these days, and one of the quickest ways to alleviate that pinch is to reduce the amount of meat you consume. Just think of how much money you'd save if you cut out meat, which usually costs between $4 and $10 per pound, from your weeknight meals and substituted whole grains, fresh vegetables, eggs, and legumes, like the recipes above!

Secondly, we in the U.S.just eat way too much meat. We're eating from preference and habit, not need. Did any of y’all ever read the "Little House" books? At one point, Pa says to Ma that one of his goals with farming is to get to the point where they can eat beef once a week. Once a week! And we don’t even have to go back that far to see how much our diets have changed! My grandmother could stretch a pound of hamburger into four meals for four people! But nowadays, most of us eat WAY more (mostly meat-based) protein than we need, while failing to get enough health-boosting fiber, vegetables, and fruit. So, for the sake of health, it would be wise to eat less meat so that we can eat more whole grains, vegetables and fruit, right? Right.

And for the sake of space, I won’t even get into the discussion of how factory farming impacts God’s creation. Suffice it to say, growing plants uses much less of the resources of the land than huge feed lots do. If you’d like more info on this aspect of reducing meat consumption, check out THIS great article, from The Baptist Standard, of all places.

Give it a try, will ya? I'm not saying y'all need to become vegans, like, this week or whatever. But why not replace meat with beans or veggies or whole grains just one meal a week? Wherever you are with meat consumption, take just one step toward a more plant-based diet. Your body, and your wallet, will thank you.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Dairy/Non-Dairy

(Or: Adventures With Bacteria!)

Dear Friends,

You are all idiots. Or at least that's what I'm going to tell myself for the purposes of the first part of this post, because it's going to be a pictorial, step-by-step guide to making your very own homemade yogurt, and the only reason anyone would need such a guide is if he or she were an idiot, because it is JUST THAT STINKING EASY, PEOPLE. But humor me.

First. Obtain a crock pot. Place into said crock pot a half-gallon (two quarts, four pints, eight cups) of milk. Any kind you like. Go ahead.


Shout-out to my college dorm neighbor, Jenn, who got two of these as wedding presents and gave me one! Thanks, Jenn!


Turn your crock pot to low. I will demonstrate:

Yet another of my needlessly complicated culinary techniques. Tony Bourdain's got nothin' on me.


Got it? OK. Now, let the milk heat on low for three hours. Then unplug the crock pot.


Sigh... this was so hard, you guys. Maybe it's too difficult for you?


Clear enough? Great. Now, let the milk slowly cool for about three MORE hours.

Now obtain a half-cup of powdered milk. This is not strictly necessary, but it makes the yogurt thicker. And thick is good.

Shut up, I am fully aware that this is a 1/4 cup measure. My half cup was in the dishwasher. So sue me.


A teeny-tiny six-ounce cup of plain, unflavored yogurt, your favorite variety. I happen to luuurve this here Brown Cow cream top kind. It's so delicious it makes my eyes roll back in my head.

I doooooo, cherish yoooooooou...


And stir them together in a bowl with some of the milk from the crock pot, thusly:


Isn't my disgustingly stained rubber spatula... well... disgusting? I blame Indian food. Curse you, turmeric!!


Now. Here comes the tough part. Pour the yogurt mixture back into the milk, and stir it gently. Wrap your crock pot in a great big bath towel (or two, if your house gets really cold at night).

Cozy! (And boy, the edge of that counter's pretty over-exposed, isn't it? Hello, white balance!)


And walk away. That's right. Just walk away. Pretend that crock pot doesn't exist for the next twelve hours, or even the next eighteen hours. And then the next day, unwrap that lovely present, take the lid off, and squeal like a little girl, because you just made homemade yogurt. Put in mason jars or your old yogurt containers, refrigerate, and use within a week.


Ah, hippie-tacular. Homemade yogurt, represent! Woo-wooo!!


Now, for the non-dairy portion of this post. Check out THIS super-simple recipe for homemade almond milk.

"Homemade almond milk, Laura?"
you might ask. "I thought almond milk was for, like, weirdo hippie vegans from 1968 who never shave their pits!"

Well, at one time, my friend, I felt the same way that you do. Also, ew.

But I couldn't have been more wrong! You know who almond milk is for? It is for ME, you guys. This stuff is crazy good heated up with a smidge of honey, poured over cereal, as ice cream... mmmmmm.... it's so rich and almondy and creamy, and honestly, how did I ever get to be twenty *mumble mumble* years old without ever tasting this stuff?? It's rockin. PLUS, the ground almonds left over from the almond-milk-making process... well, I'm dreaming of almond macaroons, or some sort of crispy tuile, or a fruit tart with an almond crust? YES!

Now, friends, go and be fruitful and multiply (good) bacteria!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Guess What I Did

So, yesterday mid-afternoon, like a moron, I started making bread. Why is that so bad? Because I had a wedding to go to downtown at 5:00... which meant I had to leave the house at 4:15 at the latest. I completely forgot about it (the bread, not the wedding) until I was running around my house, dressed and made up, shutting lights off. I looked into my kitchen, and there on the counter was a lump of dough, way more than doubled in size, bone dry on the outside. AUGH. I scraped it into a bowl, chucked it into the fridge, threw a wet towel over the top of it, and ran out the door.

This morning I pulled the bowl out of the fridge and peeked at the dough with no small amount of trepidation. Whew! Slightly risen, which is just what I wanted to see. I tipped it back out onto the counter, cut it in half, and let it come to a manageable temperature for an hour or so. I shaped the loaves and let them rise for, like, three hours, which is how long it took for them to rise to an inch above the pans. Yow.

Anyway, disaster averted, which was awesome, because if there's anything in the world I HATE, it's throwing away food. Not the prettiest bread I ever made, but it worked, and it's still darn tasty if I do say so myself.

So now you know. You can rescue bread even if you forget about it, leave it out uncovered so it gets all dessicated and cracked, and end up having to leave it until the next day.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Canning-Day Cooking: Potatoes and Green Beans

Not going to win any beauty contests... but it's gooood.

When I was growing up, every weekend (and more often than that, usually) from early August through at least the end of September, we canned. Pint after pint and quart after quart of tomatoes, hot sauce, green beans, pickles, salsa, and spaghetti sauce... Many Saturdays after school started in late August, we spent all day putting up vegetables, filling the pressure canner six and eight times. Those days represent some of my fondest memories. Even now, the sound of a pressure cooker on the stove, burbling and hissing and chirping, makes me feel very nostalgic.

But when you have an epic canning day spent elbow-deep in produce, it's tough to find time to make lunch for your starving children. So what do you do? If you're my mom, you grab a few potatoes, throw them in a pot with some of the green beans you're canning, and let them cook while you're blanching and peeling tomatoes, making pickle brine, or dodging spaghetti sauce spatters.

My Mama's Canning Day Potatoes and Green Beans
serves 4-6 hungry canners
prep time: 5 minutes
cooking time 35-45 minutes

5-6 medium potatoes, peeled and roughly cubed
3/4 pound green beans (frozen or fresh)
3 slices bacon, diced
1/2 small onion, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Cook bacon in a large, deep pot over medium-high heat until rendered but not completely browned. Add onions and cook together with bacon until onions are soft and brown. Add potatoes and green beans. Add water, enough to almost cover vegetables. Stir. Season generously. Cover and simmer for 25-35 minutes or until quite soft. This ain't yer fancy al dente veggies, y'all! Taste and adjust seasoning and serve in bowls with the "pot likker." If you want something to soak up that pot likker, serve with cornbread, biscuits, or bread.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Frugal Friday: Chicken Stock!!

So. Why don't you make your own stock? Unless the answer is, "Because I'm vegetarian," you seriously have no excuse not to. Or at least you won't in about five minutes, because I'm fixin' to show you how to make some bang-up stock, otherwise known as Culinary Gold, from stuff you probably would have pitched anyway!

Look, if you only ever use this for soups, it would be worth it to make. If you add sauces, gravy, and risotto to your stock-using repertoire, it's just that much more valuable in your kitchen. Plus, let's not forget the incredible nutritional value of Jewish penicillin!

OK. Let's start.

You'll need the contents of your stock bag. I completely forgot to take a picture of this, which makes me feel like a moron, because it's essential. But here's a quick summary: I have a plastic bread bag in my freezer door. Whenever I use onions, carrots, celery, garlic, or parsley, I put the peelings, ends, tops, stems, etc. -- basically the "waste" -- into the stock bag. When it gets about half full (more or less... this ain't rocket science, people!), it's ready to use.

You'll also need the carcass, skin, giblets (which are in a handy-dandy little bag), and wings of a smallish roasting chicken -- just those little guys in the grocery store. I roasted mine (which is what I usually do with whole chickens) and then picked all the meat off the bones for use in various other applications. And then...

Here's my large stock pot, with the chicken carcass, giblets and wings, plus the contents of the stock bag, covered with water:


You'll also need one bay leaf...


And some peppercorns...


Then just simmer it for a few hours or all day or overnight or whatever makes your skirt fly up. Strain out the veggies and bones. If you want a clearer stock, you can strain through a tea towel or cheese cloth, which will remove the sort of particulate matter. But be warned: this stock WILL stain whatever you strain it through! Onion skins were once used to make brown fabric dye. I'm just sayin'. Don't come crying to me if you ruin the beautifully embroidered tea towel your dear departed Aunt Momo gave you. Got it?

Oh, also, I was going to show you a picture of the finished stock in the pot, but it basically looked like the beginning of an episode of Bones -- bits of skeleton floating in brown water, i.e., not appetizing. So I spared you. See? I'm not completely merciless.

Refrigerate for a few hours or all day or overnight or whatever cranks your gears. When the stock is chilled, it'll have a thin layer of solidified fat on top. Skim the fat off and pitch it. Or try this instead.

NOW! This is important, Stock Virgins: your stock will probably be gelatinous! Not only is this OK, it's fantastic! Have you ever watched Ina Garten? She's all homemade stock, all the time, and all of her stock is a sort of liquidy-jello texture. What it means is that you've successfully cooked the collagen out of the bones and skin of the chicken, giving your stock amazing nutritional value and lending amazing, unctuous texture to whatever you put it in.

Once you've skimmed the fat off, put your stock into containers...


And stash it in your freezer. As you can see, I use incredibly fancy and expensive storage containers. And boy, this is a whole new level of blog transparency, isn't it? I'm showing y'all pictures of the inside of my freezer. Geez.


You can also freeze your stock in ice cube trays, pop the cubes out and store them in a gallon zipper bag. Standard ice cube size is 2 ounces, so this works well if you make a lot of recipes that call for a half cup (2 cubes) or a cup (4 cubes) of stock. I could not possibly tell you how long these CAN last in the freezer, because they only last two or three weeks, tops, in mine.

Now, go forth and make stock! You can thank me later.

Sigh...

I need a sewing machine.

I can't tell you how many great ideas I've come across that would cut money out of my budget each month that start, "Go to your sewing machine..." My mother taught me to sew (and crochet, which I'm terrible at, and knit, which I'm equally terrible at) when I was a wee lass, but it never occurred to me until recently that sewing skills aren't just about making your own clothes.

In trying to switch to cloth everything (and yes, I do mean everything... I'll just leave it to you to fill in the details there), my progress is thwarted by the lack of a sewing machine!

Any thoughts? Sources? Offers of a free all-bells-and-whistles-included TurboStitch 3000 that just happens to be collecting dust in your basement? I'll take anything that doesn't have a manual treadle.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Links!

OK, so I thought I'd put together a links post of my favorite food- and frugality-related blogs for your reference. Umm... great intro, right? Shuddup. Let's just get to it, ok?

FOOD/COOKING:

Last Night's Dinner -- Jenn's beautiful and inspirational dinners, with an occasional post by her cocktail-loving hubby. This blog has really pushed me to seek out good local produce and meats, and to cook with what I have. Not to mention pushing me to put poached eggs on top of EVERYTHING. Poached eggs on toast? Yawn... so pedestrian. Why not... Poached eggs on risotto! Poached eggs on greens! Poached eggs on salad! Poached eggs on beans! Poached eggs on... poached eggs! YES!
CookEatFRET -- Claudia is just a ridiculously great cook and a foodie and a gorgeous dame to boot. She lives in Nashville, and proves that you don't have to live in Manhattan to eat incredibly well. Her recipes are delectable!
101Cookbooks -- Heidi's vegetarian food. More great photos, plus really creative and interesting meatless recipes, which is ideal for those of us trying to shave a few dollars off our grocery bills, eat healthier, and use less of our shared resources.
Smitten Kitchen -- Probably the best food blog on the 'net. What else is there to say?
The Chowhound boards -- An encyclopedic resource, kids. You name it, they've got the answer. I've found answers to some seriously obscure questions... not to mention the general foodie cameraderie. Fun and informative.
The Pioneer Woman -- rated one of Time Magazine's 25 best blogs. Home cooking, stunning photographs, plus some of the funniest writing known to man, put together by a beautiful home-schoolin', church-goin', horse-ridin' rancher's wife.


FRUGALITY and OTHER INSPIRATIONS:

Hillbilly Housewife
-- Great, great, great, for folks who are struggling with a recent job loss or otherwise straitened circumstances. She has an emergency weekly menu that'll feed 2 adults and 3 or 4 kids for just $40. It's also a really good place to start if you're new to this whole "frugal living" thing.
Ship Full O'Pirates -- Why did I not know about this fabulous blog until a few weeks ago? One of my main frugality principles is "Question Everything" -- in other words, don't let ANY purchase go by without scrutiny. And this gal has got it together. She's making, not just food from scratch, not just bread, not just cleaning products, but her own laundry detergent, shampoo, and deodorant! Talk about inspirational!
Little House in the Suburbs -- Hello, Gorgeous. Where have you been all my life? This is like the uber-frugality, natural-living, greenie-leaning, DIY NIRVANA, y'all. GO THERE RIGHT NOW. GO! SERIOUSLY, GO!

That's all I got right now.

Coming soon:
Stock!
Frugal recipes
Eating veggie to save big bucks
...and much more!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Marmalade Project

Hm. That sounds a little bit like a bad Disney movie about kids who rescue their parents' failing internet preserves business or something. But it's not! No! It's my weekend project. Take a look at the whole crazy process.

Aren't these pretty? They're yellow-skinned Texas grapefruit with a very delicate pink flesh. Delicious plain, but these grapefruits had a higher destiny.




Friday after school, I sliced them in half and put them in water in two pans -- my largest stock pot and my big roasting pan, and cooked them for a couple of hours until they were very soft. Here they are simmering away.




Then this morning, I cut them into pieces. I cut around the centers, which is where all the seeds were, then put the seedy parts into a sieve over the stock pot. Oh, and the reason the cutting board is sitting on my platter is so the juices wouldn't go all over the counter. Boy, am I GLAD I did that! I bet I poured a cup of juice out of that thing when I was done, and just the thought of cleaning that sticky mess up makes me twitch a little.


Into the Cuisinart they went. Can I just take a moment to say, "Praise the Lord for my Cuisinart"? Because seriously. This was a BUNCH of grapefruit, y'all, and if I had tried to do this all with a knife I would have a) chopped off a finger, b) quit and thrown the whole lot into the trash, c) cried, or d) all of the above.



Bubbling away in the pot, smelling amazing.



In the jars. Isn't that a beautiful sight?




And on toast. Oh, yes. Come to mama.


The verdict? Guilty. OF DELICIOUSNESS.

Seriously, though, a word of caution: if you aren't a fan of that grapefruity bitterness, I would strongly advise NOT attempting grapefruit marmalade! I happen to enjoy that sort of bitey, floral flavor, so I'm digging it a lot. But if you have a low tolerance for bitter flavors, steer clear of this. I hope to be able to post many more jam and jelly recipes in the coming months, so keep checking back!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Honey Whole Wheat Bread




(very loosely adapted from Williams-Sonoma's Essentials of Baking)

1 1/2 tablespoons active dry (NOT instant or quick-rise) yeast
2 cups whole milk, heated to bloodwarm
1/4 cup mild honey (or more or less to taste -- this makes a very mildly sweet loaf)

2 large eggs
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup rolled oats
4 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 - 2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour

Dissolve yeast and honey in milk and let stand until foamy, 5-10 minutes. Whisk in eggs, salt, and rolled oats. Stir in whole wheat flour and 1 cup AP flour. Add AP flour until mixture forms a shaggy ball. Turn out onto a well-floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5-7 minutes, adding only enough AP flour to prevent sticking.

Place dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 - 2 hours. Grease two 9 x 5 loaf pans (I prefer glass -- better browning!).

Gently deflate the dough and cut into halves. Press each half into a rectangle about 12" wide by 18" long. Fold the bottom fourth of the dough up, pinching to seal. Continue folding and sealing. Tuck the ends under and pinch to seal. Place loaf seam side down in one pan. Repeat with other half of dough.

Cover loosely with a towel and let the loaves rise until the top of the dough is about 2 inches above the rim of the pan. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375.

Bake loaves 35-40 minutes or until evenly browned and hollow-sounding when tapped. Do not overbake! Allow to cool as completely as you can bear before slicing. Delicious toasted.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Cocodrillo Bread

(Adapted from Williams-Sonoma's Essentials of Baking)

This is a beautiful artisanal-type bread that's made using what is called a "sponge method" -- allowing the yeast to ferment for a relatively long period of time with some flour and liquid. The advantage of this method is that it allows the flavors to develop and you end up with an incredibly full-flavored bread. The other advantage is that you spend five minutes on it before you go to bed, spend 20 minutes on it the next day in between doing loads of laundry or running errands, and voila! You have two huge loaves of amazing bread.

For the sponge:
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry (NOT instant) yeast
half a bottle of dark beer
3 cups cool water
1 cup rolled oats (or any rolled mixed cereal blend)
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups AP (plain) flour

Mix together, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit overnight at room temperature.

For the dough:
3 cups AP (plain) flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt (NOT iodized salt)

1 1/2 cup AP (plain) flour for work surface and pan

Mix whole wheat flour and salt into sponge, adding AP flour until mixture forms a ball. Turn out onto well floured work surface and knead for 5-7 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Do not add too much flour. The dough will be quite soft. Add only enough flour to prevent MAJOR sticking. I can't over-emphasize this! It's better to add too little flour than too much!

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 - 2 hours. Dust a work surface liberally with flour. Spread 1/2 - 3/4 cup flour on a large baking sheet. Gently deflate the dough, form carefully into a ball, and place on the floured pan. The book says at this point: "Do not be daunted by the softness of the dough." I think that's funny... but it's also true. It's a very soft dough! Sprinkle another 1/2 cup flour over the top of the loaves. Let rize for 30-45 minutes or until doubled.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees (200 Celsius).

When dough is doubled, using a large knife, GENTLY cut the round into halves, turn halves cut side up, spacing the loaves as far apart as you can get them, and place into the oven. Bake 35-40 minutes until they are lightly browned and sound hollow when tapped. Do not over-bake or the bread will be dry. Turn oven off and let the bread sit in the oven for ten minutes. Cool completely before slicing.

The Staff of Life

Bread of some description has been eaten by almost every culture everywhere since the dawn of time. Your grandmother almost certainly baked bread, and her grandmother, and hers before her, and on and on. So why don't we?

I think a lot of people are under the impression that making bread is difficult, that it requires expensive equipment, that it's messy and tedious, that it takes hours of work, and that it's just not worth all that time and effort. All those things couldn't be further from the truth.

The reality is that baking bread does take a bit of practice, yes, but the learning curve is short and even "failures" are cheap and never catastrophic (as opposed to experimenting with, say, pastry or a crown roast or deep-frying). And the end result is bread that's better than any you could buy, for a small fraction of the cost.

Let me give you a couple of examples. My cocodrillo bread recipe makes two enormous, craggy loaves that could be sold next to the $6 artisanal rosemary sourdough boules in any swanky bakery in America. It's beautiful, complex, and delicious. It requires just minutes of hands-on time and costs well under a dollar per loaf to make. Or, even simpler, the honey-whole-wheat bread I made last weekend, which runs in the 40-50 cents per loaf range and makes for a great everyday bread.

Both recipes will soon be available at MET, but in the meantime, why not set yourself a bread goal? Even if you don't swear off buying bread altogether like I have, you could start out baking every other weekend and see how you like it. Or you could make all your sandwich bread at home. Or make it your goal to master one kind of bread per month -- whole wheat this month, oatmeal bread next month, pumpernickel the month after that, and so on.

Give it a try!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Grapefruit Marmalade

A couple of days ago, I succumbed to the Bargain Sirens' song and came home from the grocery store with an 18 pound bag of grapefruit for $5.00. I'll probably eat a few of them with breakfasts the next couple of weeks, but most of them are going to become marmalade. If I buy ten pounds of sugar and use ten pounds of grapefruit, I'll end up with maybe 20 pints of marmalade that'll last a couple of years on the shelf. Waste not, want not! If you live in Louisville, you may end up with one of those jars!

Here's the recipe... or as close to a recipe as I can get.

1. Wash, then thinly slice or chop grapefruit, removing seeds
2. Boil in 1/2 gallon water for ten minutes, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 40 minutes
3. Return to a boil, add sugar, and boil until the mixture reaches 222 degrees Fahrenheit, about 15-20 minutes.
4. Ladle into jars and hot-water process for ten minutes. Let sit undisturbed for at least 12 hours, then check for a good seal. Wash and label sealed jars and store in a cool, dark place for up to two years. Unsealed jars should go into the refrigerator and be eaten on homemade bread as frequently as possible.

Kitchen Keeping Tips #5 -- Waste Not, Want Not

I just finished reading a long thread on the Chowhound boards about culinary gems that usually get thrown away. It was a great reminder to me to return to my blog and continue the Kitchen Keeping series with a post about using everything in your kitchen.

To me, frugality is, in large part, about stewardship. My desire is to make the best possible use of the things I buy, so when I shop, I think in terms of how I can use up every item, true -- but throwing food away is not the only issue! Anyone on a budget hates throwing away food. My previous posts on planning and shopping can help you cut down on (or even eliminate) food waste.

But what if you were discarding stuff that you thought of as trash, but that wound up actually being a highly valuable asset to your cooking? Here is a list of things I never throw away:

1. Stale or old bread. Dried out bread (or heels or crusts) should be ground and stored in a bag or canister in the freezer. You can dry it out in a low oven for easier grinding. Dozens of uses: as filler/binder in meatballs, as a crispy coating for any meat, as a thickening agent in soups, etc.

2. Vegetable scraps. Carrot ends, celery leaves, parsley stems, and onion and garlic skins go into my stock bag to be either made into a delicious veggie stock or added to chicken scraps to make a rich chicken stock. If you're just making a veggie stock, you can add any other kind of veggie scraps you have on hand. I wouldn't add potato peels, but other than that, the sky's the limit. Also, re-think what "scraps" are. Don't toss radish tops, use them like you would any other green. Don't throw away broccoli stems, peel them and thinly slice or shred to add to stir fries or salads.

3. Bones. Seriously, if you roast a chicken or use bone-in chicken parts or have a ham with a bone or beef or pork ribs or anything else with a bone in it, for the love of flavorful cooking, do NOT throw those things away!! Even if you don't have the time to use it right away, at least put it in the freezer and mark your calendar. If you have beef or pork bones, toss them in a vegetable soup to add richness (not to mention nutrition!). If you have chicken bones or a whole carcass, throw that in a pot with your veggie scraps (along with skin and, if you're lucky and you have a good chicken, the neck and innards), cover with water and simmer for a few hours, and you'll have the most delicious stock you ever tasted! If you have a ham bone, put it into a pot with any kind of beans, some carrot and onion, and let it simmer all day. You'll be amazed at how much flavor you can get from something most of us would just throw out.

4. Cereal. Almost any kind of cereal can be used to make muffins, and there are dozens of good recipes online. Yesterday I made honey-walnut-banana muffins because I had a couple cups of Kashi cereal sitting around, four black bananas in my freezer, and a few tablespoons of walnuts languishing in a bowl on my counter. Something I would have otherwise pitched out became my breakfasts for this week AND next week!

5. Milk. People: ignore, forget about, and reject the date on your milk carton, ok? The milk I put in my tea on Friday was three and a half weeks past the date, and it was just as sweet and fresh as the day I bought it. Here is the trick: every time you get milk out of the fridge, give it a quick shake before you put it back. It will last a good month past the date on the carton, easily. And if you forget to shake it for a few days and the last of the jug goes sour, bake something. Sour milk is perfect for biscuits, scones, cakes, pancakes, even homemade bread.

Next up: a fun new project...