Category Archives: Cooking

Two More Down

I realized a little while ago that my bucket list is almost entirely foods to make rather than places or events. I’m weird, no surprise!

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Photo by Sarah Boyle on Unsplash

Yesterday I made noodles and a cheese rind broth. Both have been on my to do list for a long time. Both will work, both will be repeated. The noodles were cooked in the broth, making an almost Parmesan sauce. Interesting.

 

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Getting Ready for Retirement: Food & Fuel

We have been, slowly, trying to change our eating habits and others, preparatory to DH’s retirement, at some unknown future date. We don’t want him to retire particularly, but it will happen, and because he works on contract 1 or contract 2, if the company loses the contracts, he’s likely to lose the job he has supporting them, then. It’s entirely out of our control.

To that end, I’ve been for years slowly but surely moving us along a pathway towards lower monthly expenses as much as possible, and of course the easiest, first way to do that is almost always food.

You can’t really control what the bank charges for a mortgage. You can’t control what the oil man wants for heating oil or propane. You can control the cost of the food you buy, so that’s almost always the first place people start to cut down, including us. The only problem with this is that for many people, food is only 10% of their total expenditures, so even cutting the cost in 1/2 isn’t a significant saving overall. Of course it counts, but don’t kid yourself you’ll suddenly be awash in available funds if you cut your food bill in 1/2.

For us, this is complicated by the fact that we’re food snobs, and like it that way. There are traditional cheap foods we could use.

  • MAC & CHEESE: I don’t like mac and cheese, even homemade. I’m fairly certain they gave it to me, with orange soda (which I also abhor) one time I had stomach flu. DH likes it. I like cheese on pasta, but not baked and BROWNED, and not cheese food.
  • BEETS: DH hates them on principle. They are an economical food to grow because you eat all of the plant: roots and leaves. I can take them or leave them. Yellow beets I can sneak into stews sometimes. The greens I can add to soups & stews, sometimes.
  • HAMBURGERS: Unfortunately, I grew up eating prime beef. I like beef that tastes like beef. Much of the “beef” out there doesn’t taste like anything! Form without substance. (Also see ground beef, below.)
  • STEAK: See above comment about prime beef. My reaction to the insane price of beef these days is to buy very small hunks of steak, when I can find them on sale at the co-op and freeze them. I only buy and keep one. Steaks this size aren’t very efficient foodstuffs, it’s an expensive piece o’ protein and usually only one meal. I try to use it as a condiment rather than as a plate filler when I serve it.
  • BREAD: We bake our own. When a decent loaf of bread is as much as about 2/3- 1 lb of beef? I’ll bake it. I also buy enough flour between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31 to last until about April. Why? Staples are cheapest between the holiday sales, prethanksgiving to New Year’s Eve. Because of that, the prices go up the MOST they do all year after New Year’s and during the month February. They level off by the end of March. Staples, like flour, go on sale again for Easter.
  • OTHER PROTEIN/FISH: I stopped eating fish long ago, because I heard something which indicated to me that we were overfishing. As someone who grew up on the Pacific Coast and dearly loves fish, this wasn’t easy. And, yes, I admit, I slip about once or twice a year. DH isn’t fond of fish, which helps.
  • OTHER PROTEIN/CHICKEN: We use bulk pack chicken thighs from the co-op, approx. $2.50 a lb. I buy a 5 lb bag and divvy it up into 3 piece portions, approx. 1 lb each. That’s 2 meals worth, a dinner and lunch the next day. This works for us. I no longer buy whole chickens, chicken breast in any form, etc. Chicken thighs are mostly white meat, some bone and for our household each piece is about 1 portion. It works and it’s cheap.
  • OTHER PROTEIN/GROUND BEEF: I’ve been known to buy meat from a friend who raises cattle, but mostly I buy a pound or two at the local natural food market. The stuff tastes great (see hamburgers, above) but it’s expensive. I get 2 meals from a pound of meat. We have friends who add black beans to ground beef and although this was yummy, I never remember that when it might be useful!
  • OTHER PROTEIN/VEGETABLE: I’ve been known to make lentil burgers. They weren’t bad, but not the success I’d hoped for. Let’s say this is a work in progress. My long-term notion for these is to combine lentils, black beans and ground beef, but it is, as I said, not finished. . . .

Other ideas:

Switch to wood heat, almost entirely. Why? Because we live on just under an acre of land. I can grow some of our fuel. Not enough to keep us warm all winter, but some of it. I can’t grow propane, fuel oil or pellets.

Along this line, we have registers to install between rooms to distribute the wood heat more evenly. We also will maybe buy an ecofan or other fans to help distribute the heat. We have one big fan on our staircase that in summer is used to pull the hot air up to the ceiling and in the winter to push down the hot air.

We’ve been concentrating on things we can do to stay warm and fed. That base layer of Maslow’s, right?

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Photo by Anna Popović on Unsplash

Pantry Soups & Other Ideas

This was started in February, just so you know!

Twice now I’ve made what I call “Yellow Hand Soup.” The first time it was mostly carrots with a butternut squash and 1/2 a sweet onion. This time it was mostly sweet potatoes with a butternut squash and 1/2 a sweet onion, no carrots at all.

The first time we had it with grated cheese. This time we had it with carmelized pecans.

Both times I cooked the squash in the micro then scooped the cooked flesh into the pot with stock, the onion and other vegetables.

The first time I had a new bag of carrots from the CSA to deal with and a bag full in the fridge. This time, I’m in the same boat, but with sweet potatoes, which we use much less often. Both times, the idea was to use what we have the most of, before it goes bad.

As a part of the food planning for this spring, I’ve also been researching how long various veggies last. The idea is that I’ll arrange menus to use up the most fragile foods first. I don’t have anything really fragile still in stock, but I will next spring!

There’s a buzzfeed list of how to store your foods, and how long. You can find it here. I don’t agree with all their times, but if you get your food from a market in a city, they’re probably right. I don’t, I get much of our food fresh from the farms where they’re raised, so no time is spent in warehouses, on market loading docks, or in walk-ins.

YMMV!

It’s another way to cut down that 40% we all supposedly waste, right? Use the foods which will go bad the fastest before the others.

Other Stored Food Meal Ideas:

Things we eat regularly from canned foods:

  • corn cheese soup (creamed corn, some onion, cheddar cheese, s & p)
  • bean soup. (rinsed beans, onion, mush with food processor or fork, add seasoning, onion, bacon or sausage if you have it)
  • fried rice: rice, LO meat, onion, other fresh or frozen veggies, as available.

From fresh foods:

  • ____soup (some veggie, appropriate stock, onion, celery. Can be curried, creamed, or just veggie or you can add meat and make beef vegetable soup, etc.) Or, you can make it stew by adding cream sauce, or making gravy instead of stock.
  • ____ stir fry (usually baby spinach, onion, maybe LO meat
  • meatloaf (ground beef, onion, seasoning) or meat balls (same) or hamburgers. If meatballs, can be with pasta or served in Albondigas soup.
  • chicken ______ , recently I’ve made creamed chicken with dumplings, curried chicken, fried chicken, lemon chicken with rice, chicken salad.

From frozen foods:

  • Sausage soup (frozen sausage, onion, frozen greens).

I rarely use recipes. Do you have standards you make with whatever you have to hand? I’d be interested to know what food you make! Because I don’t follow recipes, the quality does vary, it’s almost never horrible, but sometimes it isn’t as good as it could be.

 

 

Trying To Figure It Out

I want a way to track ingredients I’ve used up (a shopping list) and left over items going into the fridge or freezer. I’ve been fiddling with this for some time and haven’t quite gotten where I want it.

But while working on it, I came up with today’s menu. (Sunday is the only day we eat a formal breakfast.)

Breakfast: blueberry pancakes, which were supposed to use up the remaining container of blueberries (bought 2 yesterday).  We usually have pancakes, but nothing so high as blueberry pancakes, but we had the berries and they needed to be used. . . .  It used most of them, but not quite all. They’re out on the counter being eaten as hand food, and that should take care of the remainder.

Lunch: LO fried chicken in a chicken salad for lunch sandwiches, and the 3 pieces of lemon pepper chicken will be added to the freezer. I cooked 2 lbs of chicken during the week, 3 pieces as fried chicken and 3 more as lemon pepper chicken. The plain fried chicken I set aside the biggest of the 3 pieces so that I could use the meat for both of us.

Dinner: LO shepherd’s pie for dinner, with the remaining baby greens, sauteed. The pie was bought yesterday and we had 1/2 of it for dinner.

This will completely empty my LO shelf, which is the idea. My goal is to do that once weekly! But how do I make a system which will give me what I’m looking for? I don’t exactly know. Both of us think a spread sheet might help. It might, but it might not. And it won’t help at all if I don’t have some clarity about exactly WHAT I want to track. If I know that, then the rest is easy. But I’m still not exactly clear about how much info, for what period of time, or how I want it represented! That makes it difficult.

Of the forms I found online, this looks to be the most comprehesive and attractive, to me. Link

Frugal Food, New Ideas

Two or three things.

  • Because of the government craziness, I decided I would buy $10 (on non paycheck weeks) or $20 (on paycheck weeks) of shelf-stable food and donate it to our food pantry. Even with food stamps still being given out, there’s about 50,000+ new people and their families who might need those resources. There’s no way the system can just absorb that much without extraordinary help. This is what I came up with that I can do.
  • Because of that, I’ve been working hard at trying to figure how I can use what we already have, in new ways:

I went through the entire list of veggies, etc. available from the farm in 2018 and figured out what I’d do with all of them. This has been an on-going issue. I end up with green slime in my fridge every year and tossed  veggies and I hate that!

The answer? Use/designate what you want to use fresh for a week. Have a plan in place to deal with the overage of any extra and deal with it, so you start fresh each week. I have done some of that previously, but hadn’t done it EVERY WEEK, which is my new idea. I did it with greens at the beginning of last season, so I started winter with a jar of dried “savory” greens.

I also tried to make piecrust, with the typical result, that is, that it didn’t work as planned. What do you do with this ball of dough with a stick of butter in it? DH came up with an answer for that one, he made a loaf of brioche. Worked fine! (I will try pie crust again, sometime.)

Last week I bought some fresh flat-leaf parsley and thyme. I used most of the thyme in a chicken dish last night, yummy and no left overs. But there was extra thyme. It got dried this morning and will be added to the spice bottle.

Because I have no recipes which actually use my dried greens — I have a pot of soup:  dried greens, potato, celery, leek, and stock simmering for lunch. (I’ve been just sprinkling a little in soups or stews and always had to toss about 1/2 a jar or more in the spring.)

veggies

(Not sure where this image came from, but it is NOT mine. It’s an image I’ve used before here, but I am not laying claim to it.)

I generated a list, by week of products from the farm, and how to put  any extras aside. This is ingredients rather than finished meals, like OAMC.

  1. Greens
  2. Herbs & Spices
  3. Stew/Soup Veggies and Greens
  4. Stewed Tomatoes
  5. A few dried Veggies
  6. At least one herbal tea mix

I’ve done this before, but not consistently. I don’t think I’ll put aside enough to get us through winter, but that’s the idea. And, of course, in the spring, there will be hardly anything left.

I’m out of farm greens, onions and celery. I have 2 more leeks. The carrots I’d put in the fridge are gone. That’s week 3 of 12.

Anyway, that’s my new idea. Have a plan in place to deal with any unused food, and get that done.

What do you do to avoid feeding your trashcan?

 

Convertible Tomatoes

My job today is to pick up food, specifically non-red tomatoes (seconds) at the farm so I can make a large batch of stewed tomatoes to freeze. (I really need to learn to can some day!)

Why stewed tomatoes? What I make the most with tomatoes is marinara or chili. I have other favorites: a tomato-potato-cheese casserole and a tomato-potato soup. (The casserole is from the Vegetarian Epicure #2; the soup from Joy of Cooking.)

I was trying to find a common base to freeze, rather than making separate batches, like last year. It seemed that what I was describing was old-fashioned stewed tomatoes.  If I freeze cooked tomatoes with onion, bell pepper, a little basil, and parsley, I can add pesto, garlic, etc. for marinara or add chilis or salsa verde for chili or other Mexican food.  I  can use the mix for marinara, chili, or the tomato-potato dishes. Win!

So rather than making 4 different recipes this year, I intend to make one. (Last year I froze batches of marinara and chili base with both red and non-red tomatoes: 2 recipes, 2 different ways.) With my much smaller freezer area, I don’t have room! I ran out of non-red tomatoes sometime in Januray.

I needed a different solution and this is it! A dozen quarts of stewed tomatoes in the pantry would greatly help, but as I said, I don’t can . . . .

stewed tomatoes

As usual the image isn’t mine. Genius Kitchen via images.google.com .

“Almost Instant” Chili from Fresh Ingredients

I dream about “bowls of red,” that is, slow simmered, meaty chili made with abundant quantities of traditional tomatoes. I grew up in So. Cal., so chili has always been part of what I eat by preference.

Except. I cannot eat red tomatoes in quantity any more. It isn’t worth the 3 in the morning gut ache, even when I make it myself. The result of this is that I make many “chilis” using salsa verde as the base, which I like. But it’s not the same.

Today was farm day and I was fairly conservative about the different items I got, in most cases I got more than 1 item. (You’re allowed so many items a week, this season, it has been 8 all year.) They had quantities of non-red, greenhouse tomatoes, so I got 4 lbs of tomatoes, or 2 items worth.

This was also the first PYO for peppers — jalpenos, so I got some of those too.

I put this together from what I had acquired today or already had on hand.

Take 4 large non-red greenhouse tomatoes, wash them and cut off any hard core or other not so great spots. Put the tomatoes into a sauce pan with a little oil and smash them down with a potato smasher. Simmer.

Stem, seed and then slice a med-lg jalapeno, add that to the tomatoes and keep cooking. In a small frypan, put in a little oil again, and cut up a fresh bulb onion in largish pieces. Saute the onion, add chili powder. Cook til almost cooked through but not quite. Add the onions to the still simmering tomatoes. Put 1/2 lb ground beef in the fry pan, add about 1T cumin and cook to crumbles (cooked not crusty). Add the leaves of about 1/2 bunch cilantro. Cook until well wilted. Add the meat/cilantro to the tomato mixture.

Pull some of the liquid from the pan, put it in another bowl and add about 1T flour, stir til smooth, return it to the tomatoes. Taste. Add beef demiglace to add richness, about 2t.

Serve with generous amounts of grated cheddar cheese.

This is acceptable  chili, but not an outstanding one. It would have been better for adding the meat and letting the entire thing simmer for an hour or so, but that didn’t happen. It’s closer to a “bowl of red” than I’ve had in more than a year, so I’ll take it! (The left overs, the next day, were better because the flavors had blended.)

NOTE: This is seasoned as it is because: I love cumin and my husband loves cilantro. I also like more salt than he does. He likes a lot more pepper than I do, so we add salt and pepper ourselves and I don’t cook with it.