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.


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


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?


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.


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:
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...

Monday, February 2, 2009

Garden 102 -- Planning

Look. I'm just going to go ahead and put this out there: in my opinion, the REASON you have a garden is for TOMATOES. Period. If you have other stuff, great. But you could be a legitimate, passionate gardener and grow nothing but fifteen varieties of tomatoes.

It could have something to do with how I was raised -- I remember as a child walking through a veritable jungle of seven-foot-high tomato plants by the dozen, suckering or watering or spraying blossom-set, filling five-gallon buckets with gorgeous Romas and Brandywines. Tomatoes were always the main crop for my parents, and they still are!

But ultimately, you have to decide what your family will eat, not just this summer when your determinate 'maters are all turning red at once, but into the fall. What will you preserve? How can you take advantage of limited space to make the most impact and extend your harvest into next summer?

For those in need of specifics, here's what I would plant if I were feeding a small family (mom, dad, two or three kids) from a 15' x 20' plot, with plans to can, freeze, etc. in the autumn:

at least ten tomato plants, including at least 5 sauce-type tomatoes (Roma, San Marzano, etc.), a few different heirloom varieties for slicing (Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, etc.), and one or two (at the most!) cherry or grape tomatoes for eating out of hand (Sweet 100s or a similar variety). It sounds like a lot, but if you're planning on preserving, having this much crop will keep you in canned tomatoes until next year, which is the goal, right?

a half-row or a full row of green beans. I prefer pole beans over bush beans, because they're more vertical and thus easier to harvest from. Good for baby food.

a half-row or a full row of peas of any variety. English peas also make good baby food.

a half-row of zucchini. Zucchini does not preserve well, although it is good chopped or shredded in pasta sauce, which you'll make from your sauce tomatoes. It's also EXTREMELY prolific!

a half-row or full row of cucumbers. I like English or seedless cukes. These only keep if you pickle them! The large ones at summer's end can be used to make cinnamon pickles, which sound very strange but taste a bit like candied apple rings. They're delicious!

several hard or winter squashes. Pumpkin, butternut squash, acorn squash, etc. all keep very well in dry, cool, dark places and make great baby food. These can be trained against a fence or planted in the back of a flower bed if you prop a trellis against your house! Try to keep them out of your normal gardening space, because they take up quite a bit of room and take a LOOOOONG time to mature.

a half-dozen or so pepper plants. More if you're planning on doing hot peppers (chillis) for salsa as well as sweet peppers (capsicums) for eating. If you plant both sweet and hot peppers, for the love of your blessed tastebuds, PLANT THEM ON OPPOSITE ENDS OF THE GARDEN. Most of you have probably never experienced the delight of biting into a bell pepper that was as hot as a jalapeno. It's called cross-pollination, people, and I'll never forget THAT science lesson ever again.

eating greens like lettuce and spinach, plus "cooking greens" like chard (silverbeet), collards, or kale. Do several plantings of these -- plant a yard or two early in the season, again two or three weeks later, again after another two or three weeks, etc. This will keep you supplied with greens all season long rather than having a single huge harvest.

root vegetables: carrots, onions, turnips, garlic, and radishes.

herbs: basil (LOTS), chives, parsley, rosemary, thyme.

No, really! Flowers encourage bees, which encourage pollination! But be strategic. Marigolds are great at keeping away bugs, so I'd plant those for sure.

If I had more space, I'd add: broccoli, eggplant, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and melons. Actually, I'd probably just add more tomatoes... but that's just me.

If I knew I'd be in the same house awhile, I'd also add rhubarb, a rare perennial in the bunch.

Garden 101 -- The Basics

I assume you've already decided you'd like to garden. This is a great decision -- it'll save you money while you save the planet. You can't get more locavore than eating out of your own garden!

So, what do you need?

Dirt. (Ahem. "That's soil," my grandfather would say right now. "Dirt's what's under your fingernails.") Preferably the highest, sunniest spot in your yard. Full or nearly full sun is extremely important. Big containers (don't buy, scrounge) on your patio, balcony, or deck will also work. Turn or till this dirt a few weeks before the official "frost-free" date for your area, working in soil amendments (like compost, peat moss, or other rich organic matter). Turn or till again shortly before you plant to aerate the soil so the new plants can root deeply.

Seeds. You can buy plants, too, but seeds are MUCH more economical. If you live in the Northern Hemisphere and haven't bought seeds yet, get to it! You'll need to start seeds indoors very soon in order to get them in the dirt... er, soil in time to produce well over the summer.

A plan. Ah, now here's where it can get tricky. Winter is the time when gardeners plot and scheme, and the winter is already half gone! You'll need a basic idea of three things: what grows in your area, what you want to grow, how much space you have. Once you have that figured out, check out the upcoming "Garden 102" and "Garden 103" for more planning advice.

That's it! Simple, right? Once you have dirt, I mean soil, seeds, and a plan, move on to Garden 102.