Saturday, November 5, 2016

Money Emergencies: Cheap Eats

I am putting this up quickly for a specific person in need, so no pretty pictures (for now) and no real formatting. I hope this helps!

If you have followed my page you know all about the Cheepah Chicken. If not, just click the link. It shows how to create a number of meals from one chicken, and of course broth for your cooking needs. Get them on sale when you can and just do up a lot of stock ahead of time to freeze if possible. I freeze in 2 cup increments for my family size, but use what works for your cooking style and family size. The first recipe tastes better with broth rather than water, so that is why I am starting with this. If you do use water, consider using more seasonings to your liking to make up for the lack of depth. Or a little soy will often help round out the flavor a bit.

Ground Beef Soup

I easily feed four with this recipe with left overs, so it will likely feed six.

1 pound ground beef
1 onion (peeled and chopped)
4 carrots (peeled and chopped)
2 stalks celery (chopped)
6 cups chicken stock, broth or water
1 28 oz can of tomatoes (I used chopped, but honestly any type will do. If you want chunks of tomato the diced are treated to not fall apart, for better or for worse)
2 cups frozen corn
And other frozen vegetable that you like, green beans, cauliflower or nothing at all. Use up leftovers too, it doesn't have to be frozen)
Salt
Garlic powder (if you have real garlic, mince and cook with the vegetables)
Seasonings as you wish. You like Italian? Use some oregano or Italian seasonings.. more of a south of the border person? A little cumin and cayenne would be very nice

Cook ground beef in soup pot. If you are using a cheaper ground beef, no worries! Just drain off much (not all) of the fat before continuing the recipe once it is browned.
Add in chopped vegetables (and minced garlic if using). Cook and stir until onions start to go translucent.
Add chicken stock and tomatoes. Salt well. Add seasonings as desired, but no fresh herbs. Those must wait until the very end if using.
Bring to a boil, lower heat and partially cover. Simmer until carrots are soft as you like. 
Add your frozen vegetables and turn off heat.
If you have leftover veg, go ahead and add them (chopped bite sized) at the very end. If you are using a lot of frozen veg, you may need to heat up the soup again.

To stretch this meal, serve with pasta, rice or bread. This will make it serve more than six, or six really hungry people.

I think this next one is in most households recipe box, but I am putting it here because this is another one you can stretch with more tomatoes and pasta. a pound of ground beef can go a long way when necessary. This is also known as American Goulash.

American Chop Suey

1 lb ground beef
1 onion, chopped (if you have onion powder, that can be used instead)
1 bell pepper, chopped (doesn't matter what color, green are often cheaply purchased)
1 rib of celery (I have left this out, still tastes good)
2 garlic cloves, minced (again, if you don't have fresh, just use powdered, I have done it both ways)
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 14.5 oz can petite diced tomatoes
OPTIONAL: 1/2 cup of mild cheddar will add a creamy touch at the end
Again, with the tomatoes you can use what you have on hand. No diced? Add more sauce, or just throw in a 28 oz can of crushed or chopped up whole tomatoes, this recipe is quite flexible)
1 1/2 cup chicken stock/broth or water 
8 oz elbow macaroni (I have used other types of pasta, just be aware that some take less or more time to cook)

Brown ground beef in a deep, skillet that has a cover of some sort. If using a cheaper type, pour off some of the fat when cooked through
Add in chopped vegetables and garlic. If using the powdered stuff (1 1/2 teaspoons each, or more to taste) add that now too. Cook and stir until onions are translucent and peppers are slightly softened.

Add tomatoes and broth. Bring to a simmer and let cook for 20 minutes. 

Add pasta, cover and cook 20 minutes more.

When pasta is cooked as you like it, stir in cheese if using.

I have also been known to add some grated carrot with the vegetables for some added nutrition, plus, carrots are cheap!


Here is a Southern type dish that is often served for breakfast but is just as tasty for dinner. Good if there is ground pork on sale.  If you are so inclined, you could grind your own pork from cheap cuts, just remember that you need fat for it to cook properly, either oils or pork fat.

1 pound ground pork
4 tablespoons flour
4 cups milk
scraping of nutmeg (optional, just the tiniest pinch, my Swedish heritage is popping up here)
Salt and LOTS of pepper!

Simply brown the pork in a deep skillet. Use oil or pork fat if the sausage seems dry. We need some fat for the rue we make in the pan.

Stir in flour. Cook and stir a few minutes to cook out the "raw" flavor of the flour. (this is the rue, doing it with the meat is perfect in the case)

Make sure the heat is on medium and slowly stir in the milk. Stir until combined and begins to thicken. It will thicken further as it cools a bit. Allow to simmer a few minutes.

Serve on biscuits with vegetable(s) of your choice. On bad weeks we have eaten this as the whole dinner, but if you have some vegetables it is a good idea to have that to round out the meal. Biscuit recipe below.

Biscuits

This is not my own recipe as I cannot find the darned card, but this is very close to what I use. I have substituted the buttermilk for 1tsp of vinegar with milk poured up to the 1 cup mark and also, I have mixed milk with yogurt or sourcream and both also work well. 

Southern Biscuits

Recipe By     :
Serving Size  : 0     Preparation Time :0:00
Categories    : Bread

  Amount  Measure       Ingredient -- Preparation Method
--------  ------------  --------------------------------
  2               cups  flour
  4          teaspoons  baking powder
     1/4      teaspoon  baking soda
     3/4      teaspoon  salt
  2        tablespoons  butter
  2        tablespoons  shortening
  1                cup  buttermilk -- chilled

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using your fingertips, rub butter and shortening into dry ingredients until mixture looks like crumbs. (The faster the better, you don't want the fats to melt.) Make a well in the center and pour in the chilled buttermilk. Stir just until the dough comes together. The dough will be very sticky.

Turn dough onto floured surface, dust top with flour and gently fold dough over on itself 5 or 6 times. Press into a 1-inch thick round. Cut out biscuits with a 2-inch cutter, being sure to push straight down through the dough. Place biscuits on baking sheet so that they just touch. Reform scrap dough, working it as little as possible and continue cutting. (Biscuits from the second pass will not be quite as light as those from the first, but hey, that's life.)

Bake until biscuits are tall and light gold on top, 15 to 20 minutes.


Another note, if you don't have a cutter and don't want to use a glass, you can always just pat it out into a square or rectangle and cut out square pieces. Just keep them around the same size to ensure even cooking.

Leftover Popover

I usually get breakfast sausage when they are on sale for a buck or less a box and use that, but any leftover will do and will determine if this is a savory or sweet dish.

8 oz cooked meat (or cooked sausage links) You can also mix in vegetables, but be careful with the ratio, too much won't allow the popover to "pop"

2 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
1 Tablespoon oil
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt

Grease an 8 inch pan (I use a square). Heat oven to 400 F
Beat together all ingredients except the meat/vegetables, until smooth.
Pour into pan and sprinkle the meat/vegetables over the top.
Bake 35 minutes. The top should be puffy.

Serve with condiments as suits the fillings. Ketchup for savory is one idea and syrup if going for sweet, as I usually do with the sausage. Sides of fruit or vegetable would also be appropriate. This only serves four with a side. If doubling, use two 8 inch pans if possible, otherwise the puff might not happen and the center may not cook thoroughly.

If you have some foods from a pantry and some chicken, you might be able to make this chicken dish. Breast meat is best for this one, but if you are taking apart chickens you should have some. 1/2 of a large breast half will easily feed one person, so the four should feed 8 with regular appetites.

Tropical Chicken with Fruit Sauce

4 tablespoons butter (margarine will work. a mild oil may also work)
4 skinless, boneless breast halves, sliced in strips
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 Tablespoons flour
1 cup applesauce (chunky, regular, even cinnamon will work use what you have)
1 can pineapple chunks, halved and undrained
1 large banana, sliced
3/4 cups seedless grapes, any color, halved. Now, this is how the recipe goes, but lets face it, grapes are often pricey, so use some canned mixed fruit! Believe me, it will work.
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon (you may want to cut back if your applesauce is prespiced)

In a deep skillet, heat 2 tablespoons butter. Add chicken and sprinkle with garlic powder. Cook until done and lightly browned.
Remove chicken to a plate. Do not clean the pan.
Melt last of butter and add flour. Stir and cook for 1 minute.
Add all other ingredients and heat until bubbly and slightly thickened.
Add chicken, heat through and serve on nice plate of rice.

Super Easy Bean and Rice Burrito

                          Bean and Rice Burritos

Serving Size  : 8     Preparation Time :0:00
Categories    : Basic Recipe                    Vegan Friendly
                Vegetarian

  Amount  Measure       Ingredient -- Preparation Method
--------  ------------  --------------------------------
  2               cups  rice -- cooked
  1              small  onion -- chopped
  2               cups  red beans
  2 1/2    tablespoons  taco seasoning mix
  8              whole  flour tortilla
     1/2           cup  salsa (see note at bottom)
     1/2           cup  shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees

Peel the onion and chop it into small pieces

Drain the liquid from the cooked or canned beans

Mix the rice, chopped onions and beans in a bowl with the taco seasoning

Put each tortilla on a flat surface

Put 1/2 cup of the rice and bean mix in the middle of each tortilla

fold the sides of the tortilla to hold the rice and beans

Put each filled tortilla into a baking pan

Bake for 15 minutes

While burritos are baking, grate cheese

Pour salsa over the baked burritos, add cheese

Don't have salsa? I know it can be ridiculously expensive for what it is. I have made my own mixed some chopped canned tomatoes with some onion and garlic powder and a handful of chopped parsley if I have it on hand. It will do the trick.

Back to the chicken! Since I tend to cut up whole chickens, I also have legs and thighs left over to use. One way I use them is to bake them sprinkled with a bit of salt and pepper in a 350 degree oven until done and the fat on the skin has rendered. (alternately, I sometimes take the skin off entirely). When cooked, throw on some BBQ sauce (which I likely bought on a good sale over the summer) and cook 15 minutes more. Served with rice, or potato salad and some vegetables. Very tasty, and can be very cheap.
Another recipe I use with the thighs and legs is Oven "Fried" Chicken. Delicious with a crunchy outer layer.

                            Oven Fried Chicken


Serving Size  : 4     Preparation Time :0:00
Categories    : Basic Recipe                    Poultry

  Amount  Measure       Ingredient -- Preparation Method
--------  ------------  --------------------------------
  1              whole  egg -- beaten
  3        tablespoons  milk
  1                cup  dry bread crumbs
  1           teaspoon  dried thyme -- crushed
     1/2      teaspoon  paprika
     1/8      teaspoon  black pepper
  2             pounds  chicken pieces (skinned)
  2        tablespoons  butter -- melted (can use any oil you have on hand, just be aware of the flavor. I have also used margarine in a pinch)


Grease baking dish

Combine egg, milk thyme, salt (to taste) in a shallow dish

combine breadcrumbs, paprika, salt, and black better in another shallow dish or gallon sized storage bag.

Skin chicken and pat dry.

dip chicken in egg mixture, then breadcrumbs

Place in baking dish and drizzle with butter

Bake at 375 degrees 45-55 minutes until done. Do not turn

This is a typical main dish and can be served with whatever starches and vegetables you have on hand.

You want to make vegetables a little special? Drain cooked vegetables and put in a pan on medium high heat. Toss a bit to dry them out, ESPECIALLY if you are using frozen. Do not used canned vegetables for this. Add some oil and dry breadcrumbs and salt and pepper to taste. Toss until bread crumbs stick to the vegetables.

You have canned vegetables? Try a seasoning mix sprinkled over them. We have used all kinds and it really makes the vegetables something a little more special. You can do the seasoning trick with any cooked vegetable.

Here is one more recipe. While the basic ingredients are in the recipe, you can make this any way you want. We often use dairy instead of meat because, although it is more per pound, we don't use nearly as much per person. (usually)

                           Twice Baked Potatoes

Serving Size  : 4     Preparation Time :0:00
Categories    : Basic Recipe                    Main Dish
                One Pot Meal                    Vegtables

  Amount  Measure       Ingredient -- Preparation Method
--------  ------------  --------------------------------
  4             medium  russet potato
  1                cup  sour cream
  3        tablespoons  butter
  2             cloves  garlic -- minced
     1/4      teaspoon  salt
     1/2           cup  shredded cheddar cheese
                        bacon -- if desired

Scrub potatoes, prick all over with a fork and bake in a 425 degree oven 40-60 minutes.

When cooked, remove from oven and slice a thin stripe off the top of the potato. Carefully dig out potato meat, leaving a nice thick shell.

Mash the potato with garlic, sour cream, 1/4 cup cheese, butter and salt.

Spoon or pipe mixture back into shells

Put in baking dish and bake for 20 minutes more. Sprinkle on remaining cheese and bake until melted.

Sprinkle with cooked bacon if desired

With or without bacon, this will fill you right up and is especially nice on a cold day.






Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Filling in the Awkward Spaces

You know that space above the cabinets? At least those of us with the lower end "builders" cabinets do. They do not reach to the ceiling, and in my kitchen, there was only an 11 inch clearance. I would have loved to extend them up, but I also didn't want to spend a fortune and have to work within my physical limitations.
Enter the answer: fabric. I love fabric. It can cover a multitude of sins, and in this case, it gave me some more storage that did not have to look like a house magazine to not feel cluttered. This is a very inexpensive project, less so if you have scraps of fabric to use instead of having to buy new.
Other resources could be sheets at the Goodwill, or yards sales, and a teeny bit of sewing know how. I did these on the machine because with all the straight lines I would have been bored silly doing it by hand, but a back stitch is all you need to know how to do.

This is the finished work. The curtain extends on both sides to the ends of the cupboards.
These are held in place with cup hooks and long dowels from the hardware store. To keep them in the ceiling, I suggest using a lightweight anchor to keep the cup hooks in place. To keep the look streamlined, I slit a very small hole in the fabric where ever there was a hook, I did keep the sections as panels, rather than one long piece. This is to avoid dealing with the whole thing when putting thing away, and will also make washing and putting it back up easier later on. This set up does not have anchors (yet). I was very impatient and just wanted to get them done, but I do strongly suggest a lightweight anchor. Unless your fabric is heavy, that is all you will need.
The top has a pocket hem of just and inch and a half, and the bottom was cut using pinking shears, so just a 1/4 inch hem was needed, but if you worry about strands of threads popping out, you may want to double the hem to hide the edges. The pinking shears tend to keep the fraying down.

Here is is above the sink
The curtains are a little slapped up there. It was a practice embroidered towel I did, but I couldn't bear to wash dishes with it after all that work, so I split it in two, hand sewed a seam and voila!



Monday, June 1, 2015

Strawberries!



My strawberries this year are much smaller than last year. I believe fertilizing at the proper time will fix that for next harvest, but until then, the small berries are delicious to eat, if not a little more labor intensive.
When I posted about them on my Facebook page, I noticed that there was interest in growing them, even from people who didn't normally seem inclined towards food gardening before. With that in mind, I am going to share what I have learned about growing strawberries and hook you all up with a couple of places on the internet that I used for sources on growing them. My Sweet Charlie, that I got three years ago was the first time I tried strawberries. I have noticed, as I have gotten older, waiting a year for a good harvest isn't such a big deal. I have heard of people getting a harvest on first year plants, but my first year the blossoms were spare, so I nipped off the buds to redirect that energy towards establishing themselves. Boy, was I rewarded last year!
Other things that are in the works is a video series dealing with cooking from scratch. The point will be to really teach the basics, hopefully in the style of Julia Child. I think that a lot of the issues with people not cooking is that it seems so time consuming and complicated. It can be time consuming if you want to be very complex, but most real cooking was invented by women who did not have the time to spare either as they worked the farm and cared for children and, though many may not believe this, work for money too. Women have worked from the beginning of time, it wasn't until the mid 20th century that there was an expectation of women staying home with the kids.
So, the series will help people learn things like cutting up a chicken, how to make the "mother sauces" only five very simple sauces from which you can make any sauce simply with things you have on hand. There will be lessons on braising (the best way to use cheap, meat cuts if meat is your thing), how to cook vegetables and some down and dirty lessons on fast cooking from what is on hand in your home.
I have other things floating around as ideas for this blog, but they are not formed enough to discuss, but there are things in the works. Remember how I said that thing about patience? I am trying to learn to have some with myself too, as it takes me much longer to create here than I would like. Be patient with me please,

Strawberries 101

First and most importantly, choose your strawberries well. The strawberries you get at the grocery are often hard, and tasteless. This will also be true of your strawberries if you pick the same variety, which is grown for size and toughness. The one thing you really don't want your berries to be are "tough", they are delicate and that is why this time of year is eagerly awaited by my family as this is when the "real" berries come out, reminding us why, despite the heat, summer is one of the very best times of year.
Strawberries have two major types. One is "June bearing" which is exactly what it sounds like. The other consists of varieties that are "everbearing", which means that they do not give one large crop, but continuously bloom and produce as long as the weather is good. June bearers do flower out of their season, and it is up to you to allow it or not. I prefer to take off the blooms after the June crops have finished to help focus the plants attention on renewing itself (themselves) for the next year. This year I also planted a bunch of everbearers, but they are in their first year, so I am not expecting anything.
You also want a berry that is good for the climate you are in. The Sweet Charlie is good from zones 5-8, for those not understanding the zones, 8 is pretty much the coldest the US gets (outside of Alaska, poor Alaska, we never count you lol). I am in Zone 6a. "A" represents a "microclimate" large enough to be named within the zone. That means that while I have a cold night, often, just up the road, there is actual frost on the ground. This is important to know when protecting plants. I learned about the microclimates when researching why my rosemary always dies when left outside, even when sheltered. Zone 6 is the most cold a rosemary plant can handle, and then, only certain varieties living in certain microclimates survive our winters. This is information you want regarding your strawberries. Sweet Charlie has a lot of disease and pest resistance, and it one of the more popular varieties for the colder areas of the United States. If you are interested in the specifics, please refer to StrawberryPlants.org, and they have everything you would want to know about strawberries. What I put here is what I have learned so far, which isn't nearly as much as is on the site, but should be good as a "quick start" for someone wanting to give strawberries a try.
If you want a nice cold weather perennial garden, there are ways to grow strawberries in the same beds as Asparagus for a great Spring crop.

First Things First

Choose a place for your beds. There are many ways to grow strawberries, and I chose the easiest at the time for me, but not necessarily the best. I learned the hard way that I need to make use of the internet about everything I plant, because even though I grew up with gardens, there is still a lot I do not know.
You want one of the sunniest, most well drained spots in your yard. For me that meant growing in a mound. I planted six plants in two rows of three, well spaced apart. As they establish themselves, they throw out "runners" which have daughter plants (clones), which will take over if you do not keep an eye on them. This will matter in the finally configuration of your bed.
You want to dig down about six inches if you are making a traditional bed. Into that mix good amounts of compost that has been well rotted, or well rotted manure, or both. Strawberries like a nice rich soil, and compost is the best (and cheapest) way to achieve that. The plants can be spaced pretty far apart (up to two feet) and will fill in very quickly. If you want neat rows like you see at pick it yourself places, you will need to keep an eye on the runners and carefully lift and set into soil where you want them. If you have had spider plants, you should recognize this type of reproduction in plants.
Strawberries also needs lots of water. I mostly hand water, but as soon as my gutters are fixed, I will be putting in a barrel and hooking up a system of drip irrigation with that. Until then, I hand water. The first year they will not need any fertilizer if you prepared your beds, or rows, well.

Since they have shallow root systems, mulch is a must. Mulch will help keep water from evaporating into the air and drying out the bed, and will also help supress weeds as the strawberries establish themselves. I prefer to use straw or saltwater hay for this. Both will contribute to the soil as they rot away. Straw is probably best, but the bales are large and I would be using it for my other garden plants as well. If you do not have guaranteed snow cover in the winter, it is advisable to heap straw over them in the Fall to protect them from the frigid temperatures when there is no benefit of snow cover in the offerings.

Now What?

Now that you have chosen your site and configuration of the bed, dug in some compost and made sure the bed would be well drained, it is time to plant. I planted my bare root stock, which is how strawberries are usually sold, 2 feet apart in a rectangle configuration. If you look at this post again, you will see that they filled out amazingly, so if you are going for neat rows, make sure that the root stock are planted at least three feet from each other, leaving a nice 2 foot path in between to make upkeep a bit easier to do. I am kind of lucky in that my mound is separating naturally, so I don't feel so badly about stepping in the middle to pick the berries. This is how they looked the very first year after planting them in the fall after raking away the salt water hay I used to cover them for the winter.


Here is a photo of the second year:


And here we are this year



They yellowing and upturned leaves show that when this picture was taken the soil was dried out, and I believe they needed a little magnesium. It is probably best to test the soil for this, but I went ahead and gave them a nice Epsom Salts drink around this time. They were not covered the year before due to not having money to buy the straw or hay, and we did not mow them over in the fall as we did the year before. Both of these things will be remedied this year.

So, you can see that they spread very fast. Make sure you keep this in mind when picking out a spot. This year we included some every bearers into the mix. They are growing on the borders of my vegetable patch.






The defined border was created just by piling rocks around the area prepared for the strawberries. These will have to be watched carefully to keep them from taking over the rest of the garden. At least if they do run roughshod, I get some juicy jewels out of the deal. That is a take over I can get behind.

Another thing to strongly consider is how to protect your berries as they ripen. The red will attract fruit and seed eating birds, so I would suggest picking up some cheap netting to protect your beautiful fruits.

To Sum Up

1. Research and purchase the best strawberries for your climate and needs.
2. Choose a sunny, well drain site for your strawberry rootstock.
3.. Dig in compost or well aged manure into the beds, water well.
4. Plant strawberries at least 2 feet apart, water in well.
5. In the fall of the first year, cover high with straw until Spring.
6. In the first year, it is better to go without the berries and pick off the blossoms so that they become well established.
7. In the second year, mow well and cover with straw in the Fall before the first frost is best.
8. Don't forget to start thinking about how to protect them as they ripen.

My second year I picked over 20 pounds of strawberries from six plants (I planted seven, but one was dug up by the squirrels.

I hope that this helps people looking to grow strawberries. I advise really researching anything you want to grow before purchasing seeds or plants. This is a suggestion based on my own experiences, I wish I had been more thorough the first year with my plantings, fortunately there were not huge losses, but lessons were learned.

Another site that I use to get information on specific plants is: Garden.Org which has planting guides and helpful articles regarding a number of plants and is an excellent jumping off point to begin your research. I also use this Garden Planner which you can try free the first year. If you choose to continue, you will be able to use your old plans in the next year to help plan around a rotation. The plans will flash red in places that a specific plant should not be grown that year. Totally worth the subscription, especially if you make use of the videos they made. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

My Eggsalent Adventure

I have a confession. I never knew how to boil an egg.
Sure, I would draw water over a pile of eggs in a pan, bring it to a boil, turn off the heat and let them cook in the ambient heat so that each egg was pure yellow (or gold) in the center with no hint of grey or green. The fail was in the peeling. Every time I would lose most of the egg white with the shell. Soaking in ice water, pricking shells, adding baking soda.. I tried it all. Still, to get half a dozen pretty looking eggs for say, deviled eggs, I would have to boil a dozen, and even the presentable ones would have mars to the white. I had about given up.
Then, one night, while re-watching The French Chef, I saw Julia Child prick the large end of an egg before boiling to prevent the eggs from spilling out if there were microscopic cracks in the egg shell. One of the main reasons for starting eggs in cold water is to prevent that from happening. She did a semi, not really, scientific experiment to show that pricking the egg does help the tension of the expanding, cooking egg, and seemed to prevent the spill out that sometimes happens.
I took it to the next level. My understanding of eggs, though limited in a scientific sense, was that sharp temperature changes are key to making the shell loose enough so that the inner membrane doesn't stick to the egg white. What if I started it in hot water? What if I used the pin prick technique in order to be able to reliably start the eggs with boiling water. Would that help? Indeed it did! A few dozen eggs later, and different types of eggs, I was convinced I had found the answer. What I do not have is access to super fresh eggs. I have used farm fresh eggs, but I am fairly certain they still sat around for a little while.
Now I boil eggs just for the joy of peeling them so effortlessly. They do literally fall right off if you follow this procedure. I would appreciate a shout out if it also works on those seriously fresh, straight out of the chicken, eggs.


How to Hard Boil and Peel an Egg

Gently prick a hole in the large end of each egg. It is better to do it while you are holding the egg. This way could get you some broken eggs.

All four poked

Place in a large saucepan

The egg with the "X" on it was not pierced. See what happens when I pour boiling water over them?

Carefully pour out the hot water after 10 minutes

Smash the eggs around a bit to crack the shells

Run cold water over them. Fresher eggs should sit in the water a few minutes. These are regular eggs, so I could peel them immediately.

Peel the eggs. Watch the video below and be amazed.

This is the egg I did not pierce first. It peeled easy though.

All done, the one in the upper left is the non pierced one.

Perfectly cooked. If you prefer them a little more done, leave to cook for an additional 2 minutes. I like them just barely cooked hard. So good with a dab of butter!

Here is the video my daughter took of me peeling one of the eggs. It just slips right off!



Now that you can boil eggs perfectly, why not try your hand at these little cutie pies this Spring? 



Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Waste Not, Want Not

In honor of Massachusetts passing a "no food waste" bill for places that serve hot foods, I am taking up a challenge of "no food waste" in my own home.
Having the privilege of a garbage disposal, it is very easy to lose sight of how much food, good edible food, gets wasted due to poor planning or simple laziness. While I do compost quite a lot, I am limited because of close neighbors and too much neighborhood vermin (not necessarily the same thing *wink*), as well as city laws which prohibit feeding the wild life. All it takes is someone to get a wild hair across their ass and I am being fined for "feeding the wild life". I know, I know.
So far, I have instituted a worm bin, and have a contained compost outside for some of the overflow of scraps and waste. I also have a "less is more" rule when it comes to food. Take a just a little. If you are still hungry, there is more (usually), but it is less likely that food left on a plate will be saved if not eaten.
Still, there is a LOT of waste. I am embarrassed to admit that I have had to throw out, in this past month alone, one whole roasting chicken and 2 smallish round roasts. Partly, it is because I had some flares and 'sodes that prevented me from taking care of it right away, and partly is was piss poor planning. This was food intended for processing and storing, but I had too much to do at once, and with the pain I could not do as much as I needed to. So, wasted food and money, money we do not have and will have to come out of something else, like my med and doctor co pays, or holding off on paying the monthly mortgage in full. That is not acceptable. It is also not acceptable that all of the resources connected to growing that food were wasted too. Meat uses a LOT of resources, so I am especially perturbed at wasting meat, which cannot be composted or used in another way.
The first step is to create a menu. I have often created weekly menus, using the sales flyer and current food stores to save money and cut back on waste. The problems with doing just a weekly menu is that it must be done more often, which means it is unlikely to be done every single week, increasing the problem of food waste. My answer was to come up with a monthly plan, based more on the types of sales one sees during that season. I plan to have several monthly meal plans set up to easily mix and match, so that eventually, I will not have to create one at all. Doing this in excel makes it much easier to play around with various menus so that each month is personalized, working with current sales and most importantly, what is in season to work with.
This months menu took me two full days to create, but please, do not let that stop you. First, it takes me longer to do things than it used to, so my timeline is not yours. Second, I used an Excel worksheet that someone else made up, so I had to not only make the menu, but go through all of the recipes and create a standardized way of converting all of the ingredients so that it would produce a workable grocery list. Since the menu is for an entire month, and there are still a couple months in Autumn left, if I cannot make another next month, this one is easy to reuse since there is a different meal for each day. A monthly rotation leaves a lot more variety than a weekly one.
Besides using an Excel workbook, I also made a cuisine for each day of the week. Monday is "meatless" or at least "nearly meatless", Tuesday is Italian, Wednesday is soup, Thursday is Pizza (homemade is the plan, but at least ordering one is  not' expensive), Friday is for family comfort foods, Saturday is up in the air as a way to either use up left overs or foods that were not used from the last shopping trip because, well, life does happen, And Sunday is a family dinner type meal like roast chicken or lasagna, something that I associate with big family dinners. I also try to keep leftovers from meals in mind while planning.
Here is a screen shot of my meal plan:

You should be able to find templates for many different types of planners, all free, just do a search using your favorite search engine.

When there are mistakes, there needs to be a way to take care of the possible waste. I like different preserving practices, and they all have excellent uses, but currently I am using the dehydrator because I find that it is easy to store, and easy to do.

My husband accidentally got 5 extra pounds of organic carrots and 3 English cucumbers too many for our meals last week, so I have dehydrated shredded carrots as well as sliced some and blanched them for use in soups and such. There is also 1/2 large cucumbers worth of slices flavored with cinnamon and sugar for crispy snacks, but that is an experiment I will share if they turn out properly tasty and edible.



Wednesday, September 17, 2014

I Have Yum Yums!

The pain has really been taking a toll on me the past few months. It is very difficult to think about food when concentrating on just getting important things accomplished. Still, with all the lovely fresh tomatoes coming from my garden, and the wonderful surprise of beautiful carrots, I had no choice but to cook (and preserve) the bounty. So far, I have canned up salsas and tomatoes (cut up and as a plain sauce) and dehydrated a lot of zucchini and such, which is terrific (and will be blogged about another time), but the real treats have been the new recipes I have created to take care of some of the glut.

My first two recipes were created in tandem. I was whipping up some American Chop Suey and decided that, as will all foods, bacon would be a perfect boost to flavor. I could not bear to waste all that flavorful fat, so I sauteed onions in it for the dish, but realized that I made too much, so 1/2 a cup of the now cooked onions were set aside for the salad.
I also made a delicious pot roast last night. My son came by in the morning, and after poking around in the garden in the cool morning air, we walked (or I hobbled) to the local butcher to see what he had. There, I picked up five pounds of chicken backs for stock as well as 2 1/2 pounds of chuck roast. There was little fat on it, especially for a chuck roast, but it cooked up nicely in wine and dried tomatoes from last season.

I do not have pictures of everything, that tends to be one of the last things on the list to do, and as I mentioned, it has been rough these past weeks.

Without further ado, here we go.


Beef Pot Roast with Mushrooms and "Sun Dried" Tomatoes

Ingredients:

2 1/2 pounds beef chuck roast
1 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup dried tomatoes, not in oil (I used dried cherry tomatoes from last seasons garden)
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, smashed and roughly chopped (I cut into quarters then slice them)
2 sprigs of rosemary
salt and pepper
3 large white potatoes, peeled and halved
1/2 pound or more of carrots (carrots have a strong flavor, so just enough to serve the number of folks eating) trimmed and scraped when necessary.
8 oz sliced mushrooms, roughly chopped if large
2 Tablespoons flower
2 Tablespoons butter

I use my slow cooker to make this, but it will work wonderfully on the stove top too. Just cook it on a very low simmer rather than use the slow cooking instructions. Alternative, you can use the oven on a low setting, but you will have to experiment as I have no oven to work with currently.

Since my slow cooker has an insert I can use on the stove top, I do that. Everyone else should use a heavy saute pan of some sort, just be sure it is non reactive as the wine can cause a reaction with some metals. Non reactive would be enameled cast iron, cast iron that is VERY WELL seasoned. My pans are well over a hundred years old, and I do not feel confident they are sealed enough, but that is me based on my having tried making tomato sauce in the darned things for years before figuring out why it tasted "off" all the time. Other pans to use are stainless steel or anything with a non stick surface, though the fond won't be as nice from non stick.

Salt the beef and sear in a pan on high heat using a touch of oil just to keep the sticking down a bit. The browned bits are full of flavor, so you don't need to keep it from sticking entirely, we just don't want burned bits rather than deep brown. Give it a really good sear, your patience will be rewarded (thank you Alton Brown).

Remove browned beef from the pan and add the onions. Keep an eye on it and stir until they start to get translucent. Add the garlic and cook until the smell of the garlic wafts up from the pan. Add the wine, starting with 1/2 cup to deglaze the pan. Continue adding the wine and let cook for a bit to help dull the alcohol flavor a bit. Add the beef back to the pan along with the dried tomatoes and set on high for one hour and turn to low for two more hours.

Prepare the vegetables. These are small carrots from my garden that were just gorgeous, so I left some of the stem and cleaned them very thoroughly, as well as scraping the skins off of the ones that were bumpy to be sure I removed all of the dirt. Peel the potatoes (I find the larger whites have tough skins, but if you are using younger white potatoes or red skinned types, you can leave the skin on)

Put the vegetables and rosemary in the pot, turn to high for one hour and then back to low until the vegetables are cooked through, another two hours.

To make the gravy, add the butter to a frying or saute pan and cook the mushrooms until the liquid escapes, dissipates, and the mushrooms start to brown. Season the mushrooms with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms and cook for a few minutes to get the raw flavor of flour out. Strain the pan juices and slowly add to the pan until you reach your desired thickness. Remember to keep it a bit thin as it will thicken as soon as it starts to cool a little.

Serve!

Are they not gorgeous?
I have no pictures for the next two recipes. At least I do not right now, but it was so delicious I could not, not share.

American Chop Suey Michele Style

1 pound ground beef
6 slices good bacon
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds of plum tomatoes, peeled and cut up
1 cup chicken stock (broth will work, but the gelatin in the stock makes this amazing)
2 cups shaped pasta (traditionally elbows, but I used campenelle which was perfect)

Cook the bacon until brown and just crispy. Do not over cook as it will taste "off". Remove the bacon to drain. Pour out the fat, leaving two tablespoons for cooking the onion. Add the onions and cook until translucent and just slightly starting to caramelize. Remove 1/2 cup of onion for use in salad. Add garlic to pan and cook until the smell of the garlic wafts from the pan to your face. Remove vegetables to a bowl.
Brown the ground beef. Leave some nice lumps, you want something to chew in this. Drain the beef and add the vegetables back in along with the tomatoes and stock, scraping up any bits from the bottom of the pan. Cover and simmer 10 minutes. Add pasta, cover and cook ten minutes more or until pasta is al dente. Add four slices of lightly crumbled bacon and stir. (the other two slices are for the salad)

Snow White Salad

I call this Snow White salad because that is the type of tomatoes I used and they are fabulous. Substitutions can be any sweet tasting tomato, preferably a cherry or grape variety.

Ingredients:

1-2 cups of Snow White cherry tomatoes, cut in halves.
2 big handfuls of baby spinach, well washed and trimmed
1/2 cup of onions cooked in bacon fat
2 slices cooked bacon, crumbled
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
Pinch of salt, if required (to taste)

This is easy, just toss it all together in a bowl. The onions should not be hot, but warm is fine. The amount of mayonnaise is a suggestion, there is no need to use a lot, just enough to make a light dressing with the juices from the tomatoes and the flavors from the bacon and onions. Serve immediately, this salad does not keep well, to my eternal sadness.

Stay tuned for my laundry detergent tests, making dishwasher discs, and other fun things I have been doing this season aside from gardening.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Cheepah Chicken

Okay, maybe I am the only one who remembers "Father of the Bride" with Steve Martin, but hey, the title makes me giggle and it is what goes through my head whenever I get chicken. I am not a huge fan of chicken generally, which is unfortunate because a whole chicken is a budgeting dream. This fryer was regularly 1.49 a pound, and while the roasters are .20 cents less, they are also much bigger. With a small family and only one large appetite, the smaller ones work better for us. That and the roasters tend to be less tasty when fried, which is what the legs will be used for.
Since I am usually not well, the idea of spending "spoons" making a grocery list and menu within a budget, and then going to the store and fighting the masses, then lugging it all home, putting it away and starting to process meats and fruits for use, it is a bit too much. I have lost a lot of meat and vegetables trying to do it all, even in a few days, so now I often go through Peapod online. My husband can pick it up for free, and that way doesn't have to work so hard after working so hard at the job all day. I have learned how to keep within a budget this way, and have stopped buying some things that are much more expensive through the service than if we went down ourselves. All of that was a lead up to saying that I got two chickens by accident. This worked out for you all, because after I processed one bird, I had my husband come in and take some photos of the second one to share on this blog. I would like to apologize in advance for the photo set up. The pictures were great, but I had to compile them like this to keep the page from loading improperly. They also seem somewhat over-sized for the blogger format even though I used their settings. This is the smallest I could set them and still be able to see anything.

Each chicken left me with:

2 boneless chicken breast halves
1/2 pound of chicken tenders
2 drumsticks
2 thighs
2 wings
1 carcass, bag of innards plus scraps for stock
1 liver which I freeze in a container until I have enough to do something with.
2 quarts of clear chicken broth

Keep in mind that there are more than one way to process a chicken. If I were making a large fried chicken dinner, for example, I would have kept the breasts on the bone and cut each half in half again. If I wanted to also serve chicken wings at the same time, I would have cut them off slightly different, so that they would have more meat on them from the breast. In this case, my husband has been helping with the cooking a lot and is a bit leery of cooking meat on bones, so I went ahead and boned the breasts which gave me more bones for the stock pot.

The one thing that will save your sanity while doing this very simple task is preparation. Yes, processing a chicken from the market is pretty simple. Once you do it a couple of times you will be a pro and wonder why you haven't been doing this all along.
Clean your work surface thoroughly and remove any clutter. You will need:

1 large cutting board
Various knives, I use my 8 inch chefs, Sontuku and paring knives
Poultry shears, these are not a "must" but they do make some of the jobs easier
Soft headed mallet, OR a nice heavy cleaver
2 clothes, one sanitary one that is not to be used with any of the actual chicken or juices, and one that is okay to wipe your hands on, it should be immediately put in the wash after as salmonella bacteria spread pretty easily and cross contamination is how most folks end up sick from it.
Paper towels
1 bowl for livers
1 bowl for chicken wings
1 bowl or plate for finished parts
1 large stock pot, if you have any bags of scraps saved for stock, now is the time to put that in right off.
1 wash cloth
Dish soap for clean up and washing hands. You will wash your hands a lot.

Set up your work space, making sure everything is easy to get to. I keep the wash cloth rinsed and by the sink so I can use it to turn on the faucet to avoid cross contamination from my chickeny hands.

This is part of my set up. As you do this more often, you will find your own way that works best for you.

First, remove the wings


For a better view of the photos, right click and choose "open image in new tab". When your cursor is over the photo, you should see it become a magnifying glass with a + inside of it. Just click on the photo to make it original size.

Next we take the legs and thighs

Removing the back will help with boning the breast

De-boning a breast is easy!


When I was done I had a bowl of chicken parts, a stock pot of extra bits for the stock and froze the liver separately for another use one day down the line. I also freeze my wings separately until I have enough for a meal, because buying them pre-cut is ridiculously expensive.


I have a new found respect for folks who blog actual step by steps with photos now. Practice makes perfect.. right?  Practice applies to cutting up your own chicken too. My husband took a lot of pictures, but the best ones where the ones when I was not trying to show anything, because it has become second nature to me. It is like trying to say the alphabet without the song, something you have to think about, otherwise you just do it.


Seasonal Foods For Massachusetts