Category Archives: Cooking

Needs to be Home Made, Again

We bought a package of croissants Sunday. They were terrible. As DH said, “Never even smelled butter.” Obviously no butter in them, and lousy chemically after-taste. This is the reason we don’t get donuts at the big chain, in every town, donut shop, ick. The refrigerated/partial prefab croissants aren’t too bad, they at least have masked the chemical taste or actually use enough butter that you can pretend it’s not “imitation” food.

I have recipes of course. And I usually have all the ingredients. So it’s just the doing. One more thing to add to the list of things we need to make here.

bakery

You’d think to read this that we’re total food snobs.

In some ways I guess I am? My Dad grew up eating au cuisine food, although to hear him tell it he didn’t realize that until he was an adult. When I grew up we ate really well, if not fancy.

When things got tough (and they did) we ate out less and ate more pot roast which then became other things. But the meat was decent, because he wouldn’t eat anything else. In those days, meat was still the centerpiece of the meal.

Like most people in the US I think, I’d forgotten what beef tasted like, really. We had an occasion to buy some fancy prepackaged ground beef, not the supermarket grind, and it was yummy, like the stuff I’d grown up with, and unlike McD’s where the meat is just a platform to pile other foods, with no taste of its own.

So I decided I should buy only the fancy stuff. That was a few years ago. And slowly, over that time, we keep learning that the stuff at the supermarket is tasteless (or tastes bad). Like the “ministeaks” last month or the corn tortillas last week and the croissants last weekend.

I didn’t set out to be a gourmet cook, a food snob or a DIY cook. I’m getting there because I can’t afford good restaurant or supermarket food, and the cheaper foods mostly taste bad.

It’s like Christmas cookies. We got a batch last year which had obviously been made with cheap margarine, flour, sugar and “stuff” (sprinkles and chocolate chips.) I swear the chips were scented? Anyway, all of it was so bad, we both tried one cookie and the rest wound up in the trash. Another plate was given to a mutual friend who said they arrived burnt. Why would you do that??? For heaven’s sake folks, if you’re going to make something as a gift, make one thing, well, and spend the money or don’t do it at all. Also, don’t give away things you wouldn’t want to eat yourself!

Honestly. I think people in this country’s taste buds are so inured to lousy food they think that anything that slightly resembles traditional foods is okay. I’d rather someone just said “Happy (whatever)” and that’s it. Really! Food doesn’t have to be made of premium ingredients to taste good, but these days apparently, if you make it as cheaply as you can, it’s possible to ruin vanilla wafers, sweet pickles, tortillas, ground beef, croissants, and no doubt a lot of other things.

So, on my list to master this year: pie crust, croissants, tortillas. DH is working on crackers. On my list to make again (or keep making): apricot jam, marmalade, bread & butter pickles, apple butter. I need to learn how to can, so the stuff I make will last longer. Every jar of food I make winds up in the fridge, as it’s put into sterile jars, but not canned.

I’m grateful I work from home so I can do things like start a pot of marmalade simmering.

What do you make rather than buy?

J

Four Leg Quarters — 13 portions

I have never knowingly bought (or eaten) the major brand of chicken. Battery-raised chicken somehow has never appealed. I’m sure I’ve eaten plenty of it and probably bought some which were sold without the brand name on it too, but I’ve tried!

A month or so ago, I got a package of “ministeaks” at our local market, on sale. When cooked up, these things cupped? Okay, I figured that was just the part of the cow, the way they were cut.

But they tasted “odd” too. Not like nearly-going-bad beef, like something else. We both tried the “steaks,” then I pitched all of it. I’d read things about meat purveyors “jigsawing” steaks together with “meat glue.” (See link.) I never thought I’d suspect our local chain supermarket of such a thing. I do now.

My gut reaction was simple. I want better food than this. The way to do that is to find it elsewhere, so I did. We went to the local tiny “health food market” and bought 1 lb of ground beef (about $9) and 4 leg quarters (about $15).

The ground beef we had hamburgers from one night (2 servings), then meat loaf, 2x (4 servings). That makes 1 serving about $1.50. Not great, but I can live with it.

The leg quarters? The first thing I did was to disjoint them into drumsticks and thighs. The drumsticks became broth/meat in a chicken soup (4 servings). I froze the thighs. A while later I cooked 2 of the thighs in a chicken stew (3 servings). The last 2 thighs were used in a chicken and barley dish (2 servings). The remains of the chicken stew, the bones, and the meat left on the thighs became chicken soup (4 servings). That makes my expensive chicken @ $15 about $1.15 a meal, per person.

So, my “expensive” meats weren’t so expensive. If you buy a pound of ground beef and make 4 patties and the burgers are dinner, these days at the cheapest, it’s $5/lb, or $1.25 a serving. My beef dishes cost about .25 per serving more than that, but the chicken was .10 a serving cheaper.

In general, meat prices from lowest to highest usually are:

chicken < pork < beef < veal

chicken pig cow.jpeg

Although not on that list, if chicken and turkey are the same price and are whole birds, turkey is almost always a better deal. Why? Because there’s more meat on a whole turkey per pound than there is on a whole chicken.

Yes, this and other “odd” food facts are mine. Blame it on of one of my weirder hobbies: I read about wholesale prices, retail prices, supply and demand, etc. for food and food industries. I read old publications (some very old) and newer ones too. I find them interesting! YMMV.

J

Menu Planning That Isn’t

I discovered that one of my war-time books has a chart with how much food should be used, how often, and what that corresponds to for stored foods (canned, brined, frozen or dried).

Yes, I know the nutritional amounts are likely off, but the last information I found like this was how many row feet of each veggie you needed to grow, per person, per year.

That’s great, if you grow most of your food,  in feet rows; I don’t. I have a few garden beds and get food from markets and a CSA. Also, I don’t regularly buy things like 25 lb bags of wheat berries from Honeyville or other such suppliers.

What I had/could find made it hard to have any idea how much food I’d need to store. Do I have room? Do I really want to do this? (Probably not.) But it was an impossible question to answer before I found this chart.

I believe in the pantry principal, as a money saver, and have for years. (See Barbara Salsbury’s Cut Your Grocery Bills in Half.) But again, how much is sane? What is ridiculous? Where will it just be too much and wasted?

I’ve been working on it. The CSA runs 6 months a year. The plan has always been to not only use the fresh stuff while it runs, but set aside enough to use the rest of the year. Otherwise, it isn’t worth it as it increases our food budget 25% for the year. But if we can buy less during the other 6 months, then it means that I suddenly can afford to feed us organic, fresh or home-preserved food.

I haven’t managed this yet. Two reasons: year one I had no idea how much food I was going to get. Last year (year two) our fridge broke then worked then broke — and we tossed a huge amount of produce accordingly.

But now I know what I SHOULD have!

On the “I’m trying to empty the pantry and freezer by June 30” quest. . . I had one large loin pork chop in the freezer. We had it baked over sweet potatoes, onion, a small amount of raisins, and water. I made gravy from the drippings. Turned out exactly the way I planned, yummy. Today we ate the other 1/2 of this, I diluted the gravy for stock, added some more Better Than Bullion (chicken), chopped the meat added some thyme and made cornbread of a sort. Great lunch. One $3 piece of meat, 4 meals. (It was on sale.)

Not only did I use the pork chop from the freezer, but sweet potatoes and onion from the pantry as well as raisins, BTB, thyme and the fixin’s for cornbread. No recipe for the entrees, no preplanning, just the seat of my pants. I did use a recipe for the bread.

Tonight we should do meatless, but I have a partially picked chicken in the fridge to deal with . . . we’ll see!

One of my other discoveries from the WWII booklet is that I probably should feed us more elaborate meals, I usually do 2  items a veg and entree, sometimes salad. When you’re trying to stretch things the plate gets a bit empty sometimes, more items would help that and also with the empty the stores project too.

Frugality, New Ways

I’ve been working hard at wasting less food. Also been working at frugality. We needed oranges (used every day) and bought organic ones. I made marmalade again this morning. Five small oranges + 2.5C water +2C sugar+ time/energy = 2 ten oz jelly jars of marmalade. This will last 2-4 weeks. [Why oranges instead of orange juice, frozen or otherwise?  (Would probably be even cheaper!) Fresh-squeezed oranges have compounds which in a study seemed to stave off cancer. Family history of cancer, so, fresh oranges, not bottled, boxed, or frozen OJ.]

I can buy jams/jellies at the local discount/big box type store for $2-$3, not organic. But that doesn’t use the peels from the oranges I buy anyway. If I don’t have the inclination to make marmalade when we’re juicing oranges, I freeze the shells, then chop them and make marmalade, or chop them first — whatever. I’m not using extra resources until I make the marmalade and that’s water, sugar and power to heat the water (for the jars/lids) and cook the fruit. Can be made with complete oranges (less seeds and stem end) or just what remains after juicing, both work.

Lately, I’ve been trying to reduce our trash. For several reasons. Having to go to the dump less frequently is better for our budget, our cars and the environment. Less stuff to store and then discard. The paper shreds being burned in the woodstove are part of this.

I’ve been lotting up things for the antique store, almost everything in the lot is < $1 so if the lot is 6 items, it’s $5, for example. I hope this works because I’d really like to move the various items. But if it doesn’t work, I have a plan B.

A semi-local auction house has box lot sales once a week. Wooden crates almost always go for a fair amount in the box lot sales and I have 5 crates for sale at a friend’s shop. I could take the crates back and put in the unsold lot merchandise and sell both the crates and stuff, for perhaps more than I could otherwise. Hopefully I won’t have to retrieve the crates at all and I sell the lots. But if not. . . I have a plan!

Our old dining table is for sale at the antique store where I have a booth. Someone there offered to take it to the 2nd shop where he works and thinks it will sell there. I told him this week if that doesn’t work I’ll take it back. (And crate/ship it to the relative who wanted it if it didn’t sell.) Sold!

My car is going to the shop for critical repairs. After that, I can drive things around, as needed, but not now. Right now, I’m housebound or have to borrow DH’s car.

Bread is freshly baked and filling the house with wonderful smells. A winter pleasure is warm bread with HM marmalade or jam. Yum!

Found a simple recipe for vanilla ice cream. Not as complicated or extensive as the recipe I have used before. (I make fresh strawberry ice cream in summer.)  DH loves ice cream, year ’round. I will try the new recipe when he’s eaten up what we have. If he likes the new ice cream? I’ll make it for him, if the ingredients cost less than the market product.

For a time, I was making granola for us. Then I figured the cost was about equal to buying it, around $10/lb. So I only make it on occasion (I like mine better than commercial stuff.) and I gave up the idea that I could save money making granola.

The same yardstick applies to the ice cream. If it isn’t actually cheaper, I’m not going to do it routinely. If it is? Of course I will!

The difference between the ice cream/granola and marmalade is simple. The marmalade makes use of food we’re getting anyway AND DISCARDING! The granola and/or ice cream is replacing something we buy (sometimes in the case of granola) with home-made.

 

 

Slow, Snowy Day

except that I think I was rather busy!

Not only did I make soup (see the last post) but I cleared out the top shelf of the freezer, mopped the kitchen floor, made marmalade, kept the fire going and worked on a knitting design.

The yield today is: cleaner and more usable freezer, cleaner kitchen floor, better knowledge of what’s in the freezer, a design idea for the knitting, 1 pt of orange marmalade, less wood, and more warmth.

Much better than my yield for Storm Sandy. (You can read about that here.)

New Practices

I’ve been much better lately about using up our stored foods. I changed a few things and that has made all the difference.

  1. Rather than simply looking where I always have for food to cook, I make myself dig through the dark corners of the freezer or pantry before I start cooking. Frequently, I’ll find something which alters my proposed menu.
  2. I am trying really hard not to have leftovers, so I am actively working at using them  the following day if we aren’t using them outright for lunch.

Last night’s dinner, for example, was canned baked beans, with additions. The additions were smoked pork neck (needed to be cooked) and onion. There’s about 1/2C left. Also, after I cut the pieces off to add to the beans I still had a larger bony hunk, which I boiled.

I’d forgotten about that bit of broth and boiled meat but when I dug into the pantry  this morning and found a lima bean and barley soup mix, I decided to make it for dinner (it had been on the bargain shelf at the market).

When I got to the kitchen,  I realized I had a pan of cooked, smoked pork and broth to use up too. So, I did the obvious. I used the broth (and the meat) with the soup mix. The seasoning packet is separate, and I may or not use it — depends on the flavor about 1/2 way, in 45 minutes or so.

Previously, I might or might not have used the soup mix (I gave away a bunch of these last year) and/or the broth (I made and tossed TWO batches of turkey broth in November). I am working hard at changing how I deal with food and wasting as little as possible. Getting better!

The Yummy Carrot Cake Disaster

So.

I decided to make that carrot cake, you know the one the guy (Ian Cumming) made on GBBO’s finale. Not 5 layers, but the same cake. The recipe is on BBC, you can find it (here).

Except, that I’m not a patient cook. Also my kitchen and supplies are all in disarray because of the great painting project and the long-still continuing refrigerator saga. In the midst of the long rennovation effort and my fridge dying (twice!) about 1/2 the food in the fridge was pitched. The food in the fridge’s freezer was moved by DH to the new freezer, etc.

This means a few things:

  1. I don’t have the supplies I usually have on hand.
  2. If I do, I’m not sure where they are or how much I have.
  3. The same is true of my cooking tools.

So I started to make a 4 egg cake with 2 eggs in the house. I’d bought pecans, but hadn’t noticed they were to be roasted and chopped. I finally (after looking in many, many markets) found star anise, but it wasn’t ground. (Our pepper may taste “peculiar” for a while, the pepper grinder was the only thing other than the coffee grinder I could find which would work. We use the coffee grinder EVERY DAY, the pepper grinder not as much and it’s smaller.)

I bought cream cheese to make the topping even though I shouldn’t eat it and DH isn’t fond of it, but decided tonight that I’d put the glaze on and maybe make up icing for a few other people. Put the glaze on.

Couldn’t resist — tasted the glaze: powdered sugar and orange juice. Should be yummy — right? Tasted like soap.

SOAP?????

Thought okay, it’s the knife, had soap on it. Got a new utensil, rinsed it, dip it in the remains of the glaze in the bowl.

More soap.

I’d already drizzled this on the warm cake layers. Cut them in 1/2. The unaffected 1/2 layers are just great big carrot muffins, unglazed or iced — right???

I can still taste that soap, and I have no idea wtf happened. The sugar was put in a clean canister < 4 months ago. All I can think is that I got something with an adulterant in it or a f’d up recipe  — which ruined mine!

The star anise is an ingredient used in the original recipe and omitted on the BBC’s version for some reason. (If you look at the baker’s twitter feed he talks about it there.) I love this recipe, will make it again, but will do these things:

  1. Do all the prep work beforehand I should have this time (like counting eggs! If I didn’t have a neighbor who raised chickens, that could have been a disaster too.)
  2. TASTE my glaze before I put it on the warm cakes.
  3. Remember that I don’t have a springform pan, but that one 9″ removable bottom pan and one 8″ removable bottom pan work just fine.

What do you do when you’re avoiding being stressed? If you’re me and you have several hours where you know you’ll be stressed, you start a complicated recipe, with many more steps and ingredients than you ever use and don’t do the prep work, you’re going to “wing it.”

I’m lucky it turned out as well as it did! If I’d only tasted that glaze first . . . .

Note: Acc to DH, the cakes are just fine. After both of us nibbling bits here and there, our conclusion is that I have an aversion to star anise, at least this much, this way, or maybe it’s the fresh-ground cloves. Either way, DH says the glaze and all is very tasty. Reminds me of what happened after the motorcycle accident: most foods smelled rotten to me, except garlic. I ate a LOT of marinara! I don’t know what this is, but the next time I make this (later this week, probably) I’ll omit the white raisins, cloves and the star anise and see what I think. If it’s okay, then I’ll make another batch. I loved the smell, but something in there. . . .