Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cleaning out the perishables

Since we have to move in ten days, it becomes imperative to clean out what's left in the freezer/refrigerator. Made more difficult by the fact that they were full to begin with.

So here's what I've got in the freezer, and here are my options:
1 whole chicken: probably chicken salad (bonus points for using up some of the celery and mayo)
Frozen corn, frozen spinach, potatoes: corn chowder (bonus points for bacon and vegetable broth)
More frozen corn, frozen lima beans: more lima bean, corn and bacon succotash
4 lbs of Italian sausage: this will be harder to use up, since I typically only use a link or two at a time, for flavoring. I may leave this alone and see if it can survive cross-country in a cooler.
4 lbs of andouille sausage: ditto above.
3 boxes of puff pastry shells: harder since these are shells and not sheets. I may have to resort to a whole crapload of eggs benedict served on the shells, with frozen spinach, without hollandaise sauce (since I don't have enough eggs to go around).
13 bags of frozen peas: sigh. So far I've got peas and proscuitto; peas and feta (got a half-pound of feta that needs to go); and just peas. Ideas, anyone?
1/2 lb of parmesan and 1 pound of pecorino romano: see above re: sausages.
Several pounds of butter: ditto.
The rest of the frozen spinach: okay, now I'm done. My brain hurts.

I do have a block of mozzarella that'll need to be used up, so maybe I can make a couple of frozen spinach, feta and bacon (or proscuitto) pizzas. Which will also use up some of the parmesan. And maybe I can use some butter and the rest of the cream to make a nice alfredo something-or-other. (I've got a bunch of penne...)

This doesn't even begin to cover what I'll make to take with us for road food, but I can't think about that right now. I have enough to worry about with the packing.

So, dear readers, if you have any suggestions on how to use up all this stuff, and/or for good road food, let me know!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Lima bean, corn and bacon succotash

The recipe is in the title. Continuing the "clean out the freezer" initiative, I cooked a few chopped slices of bacon; then added a bag of frozen lima beans and four handfuls of frozen corn directly to the cooked bacon/bacon grease. Stir, let cook for a few minutes. Maybe add some chopped parsley. Serve with salt and pepper. Yum.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Broke Foodie is moving!

That's right, folks, my husband has just accepted a new position outside of Boston. So Broke Foodie is moving from its current luxurious digs in San Diego to the western 'burbs of Boston. Get ready to hear a lot of bitching about the weather.

The good news is that I'll be able to find all the fresh seafood my heart desires, which for some reason is difficult to do in San Diego.

The bad news is that my access to year-round, fresh, local produce and fruit just completely disappeared. The Boston area has some great CSAs, which I'll be checking out of course, but not in winter. I'll be going back to my old New-York-winter recipes--lots of frozen spinach and peas, dried fruit, and canned tomatoes. I'll have to be extra creative, I guess.

Especially since we'll be in temporary housing for the next sixty days, which means I will not have my full kitchen at my disposal. It's already making me nervous.

Readers: anyone from Boston/New England? Advice?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Turkey meatloaf

Since we have to be out of our apartment in less than two weeks, I find myself in the position of having to eat away the entire contents of my freezer/refrigerator. Step one: the five pounds of ground turkey in the freezer. Which makes two nice-sized turkey meatloafs. (Meatloaves?)

1 chopped onion
A few chopped cloves garlic
2 tablespoons each Worchestershire and ketchup
1/3 cup broth (any kind)
2 lbs ground turkey
1 1/2 - 2 cups breadcrumbs (I used panko)
2 beaten eggs
salt and pepper

Saute the onion and garlic in a little olive oil until soft. Add the Worchestershire, ketchup and broth, let cook another minute, then let cool. Preheat oven to 375. Add the rest to the onion mixture and combine. (It will be wet.) Spread some foil on a cookie sheet and spray it down with some nonstick spray, then arrange the turkey in a meatloaf shape on the foil. Top with barbecue sauce, and cook for one hour. Let rest a few minutes, and serve with more barbecue sauce.

I know that picture doesn't look too appetizing, but boy, was it tasty.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Guest post at Mom-in-a-Million today!

Today I have a guest post over at Mom-in-a-Million! Pay no attention to that part where she claims we were all drunk at college and saw various people in their underwear. I certainly had no part in such shenanigans.

Of course, I'll never be able to run for public office, due to certain proofs from that era. But that's another blog post entirely.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cookbook review: The Pioneer Woman Cooks

I luuuuuurve The Pioneer Woman. After living in LA for many years, she married a cowboy from Oklahoma and promptly moved to a cattle ranch in the middle of nowhere. She then started a blog about it, and turned it into one of the most popular, most profitable blogs in existence. Turning THAT into a best-selling cookbook, an upcoming autobiography/romance novel, and several television appearances. Which is pretty much exactly what I want to do with this blog.

Anyway. I love reading her blog, because it's very funny and very well-designed, and she's a kick-ass photographer. She also homeschools her kids, so props for that.

Her cookbook features a lot of beef, as you might expect from a woman who lives on a cattle ranch. Which is fine, it's just that I don't eat a lot of chili, cheesesteaks, chicken-fried steak, pot roast, meatloaf, beef brisket, rib-eyes, or beef tenderloin, and man, were there a lot of potato variations to go with that. But hey, lots of people like meat-and-potato recipes. If you're one of them, you'll love this cookbook. It's simple, filling stuff, perfect for feeding four kids after a day on the ranch, but perhaps less useful if you like a little more variation/innovation in your food. Or you're a vegetarian.

The best part about the cookbook for me was the photography. She's got tons of pictures of her husband, her kids, her dogs, the ranch, and those amazing Plains sunsets. And, of course, the food.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cookbook review: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day is the perfect book for hesitant bread-makers. Essentially it uses one basic no-knead bread recipe, which you can make in bulk, store in the refrigerator, and then customize for dozens of variations.

The "five minutes a day" is making the dough in bulk, and then pulling off a loaf's worth at a time. The catch to this is that you need room in your refrigerator to store that much bread dough, which I typically don't. The good news is that yes, you can store pre-made bread dough in the fridge, and then turn it into everything from challah to sandwich bread to pizza dough. Pre-mixed, pre-risen, high-moisture dough keeps well in the refrigerator.

It also doesn't require a sponge or starter. Which is great, because I never had much luck with those.

So I'll definitely be trying this approach in smaller quantities. Just as soon as I make some room in my fridge.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cookbook review: Cooking for Geeks

Cooking for Geeks by Jeff Potter is my new favorite cookbook.

And it has nothing to do with the fact that I'm a nerd.

(OK, a little.)

It sounds cliched, but this really is a great book for beginners and advanced cooks alike. It breaks down the science behind cooking, in a very readable and interesting and non-initimidating way. Think a cross between Alton Brown's "Good Eats" and "Mythbusters." It's similar in scope to On Food and Cooking, but On Food and Cooking is like the Encyclopedia Brittanica on the subject. It's not something you want to sit down and read cover to cover, you just keep it around for general reference purposes.

But Cooking for Geeks presents the same sort of stuff in a much more accessible way. It moves seamlessly between denatured proteins (what makes bad calamari rubbery, among other things), the difference between baking soda and baking powder, and the best way to hardboil an egg. (If you drop the egg into rapidly boiling water, it will be easier to peel. If you put the egg in the pan of cold water at the beginning, it will taste better. I always used the cold method, but I had no idea why. Now I do.) Gluten, error tolerances in measurements, wet- vs. dry-aged steaks, how your sense of smell affects how you taste--even (insert angelic chorus here) recipes for no-knead pizza dough and fat-washing alcohols.

Fat-washed alcohol = bacon-infused bourbon.

Oh yes.

As you may know, I have a long and mixed history with bacon-infused bourbon. While I'm completely enamored of the concept, my efforts to produce it have so far not yielded anything worth drinking. However, now--NOW!--I have a recipe that breaks it down, so I know exactly what I did wrong before and how to correct that. Stay tuned.

Typically when I get a new cookbook, I just skim it. I look through all the recipes and mark all the ones that look interesting. If I mark more than, say, 5 recipes, it's a keeper. Less than that, I'll just Xerox the interesting ones and keep those rather than the entire book. (Keeping in mind that I usually audition cookbooks by checking them out of the library first.) But this one demanded a full cover-to-cover analysis over the weekend.

It totally shot down all the other reading I was going to do.

THAT is an awesome cookbook.

Monday, August 23, 2010

And the winner is...

Melanie! That pork loin recipe sounds amazing. You have 24 hours to claim your prize by emailing me at brokefoodie@hotmail.com.

Tomorrow: my new favorite cookbook is revealed.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Another giveaway!

Today I'm giving away a jar of Catalina's Cabernet Sauvignon wine jelly, which is exactly as delicious as it sounds. It's especially yummers on cheese. (I know the picture has three jars, but you only get one. I ate the others.)

To win, leave a comment (before midnight PST tonight) about what you would do with wine jelly! Pork marinade? On crackers? A really decadent PB&J? One winner will be chosen randomly and announced tomorrow!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

What's not on this blog

1. Chicken breasts. The most boring, tasteless meat known to man. And completely overpriced.

2. A lot of beef, either ground or in steak form. After a particularly virulent case of food poisoning from a restaurant hamburger, I no longer trust ground beef in any pre-packaged form--whether it's from a restaurant (even a good one) or the meat counter at the supermarket.

The ONLY way I'll eat ground beef these days is to buy a whole, organic, grass-fed piece of meat at a reputable butcher and watch them grind it in front of me.

And frankly, for that amount of money, I might as well have the steak.

I use sausage meat, ground pork and ground turkey in recipes to substitute for the beef, and when I want a burger, I use the above or make veggie burgers.

3. Seafood. You'd think you could get good, fresh seafood in Southern California. But noooooooo. Apparently it is impossible to find fresh-never-frozen shellfish of ANY kind, and finding fresh-never-frozen fish (of any sort) is a crapshoot. Previously frozen shrimp is just as tasteless as chicken breasts, so I don't bother.

It breaks my heart, because I love seafood, I really do. I'll try to post more seafood recipes, even though I may not be making those recipes in my own kitchen right now.

4. "Ingredients." I put the word in quotations because I see a lot of these recipes, based around pre-made convenience crap. There will be no recipes posted here utilizing any of the following:
  • condensed cream-of-anything soup
  • canned fruits or vegetables (especially green beans)
  • "pie filling," whatever the hell that is
  • frozen, pre-made pie crusts or pizza crusts
  • brand names (Bisquick, Oreos, Jell-O, Rice Krispies, etc.)
  • lunch meat
  • Spam
  • "cheese product" (think Velveeta and that cheese-flavored dandruff that passes as Kraft parmesan cheese, in the green can)
  • biscuits in a can
  • pre-made cookie dough (seriously, it tastes like chemicals)
  • cake or brownie mixes
  • icing in a can
  • soda
  • potato chips
  • tater tots
  • and so on. Basically, anything that comes from the middle of the supermarket.
Not because I'm against convenience--it's because all that shit tastes bad.

Plus it's expensive.

What IS on this blog:

1. Eating well, really well, on a hard-core budget.

2. Lots of creative ways to use fresh vegetables.

3. More pizza and soup combinations than you ever thought possible.

4. Really flavorful, cheap cuts of meat. Oxtail, pork shoulder, short ribs--the stuff you cook down on low heat for hours at a time, and then tastes amazing. So much more flavor than steak, and cheaper, too.

5. Bacon chocolate.

Need I say more?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Gruyere souffle

Yummy! Admittedly, this is not something for the beginner cook. But even though there are a lot of steps, it's actually not that difficult to put together. You just need a souffle dish (like in the picture). This is one of the very few things I make where I measure, so it is important to be precise. The top on this one got a little darker than it needed to be, but fortunately that didn't change the taste.

Oh, and you can use any cheese you want, even cheddar.

Room temperature butter for greasing soufflé pan

2 tablespoons parmesan
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 1/3 cups milk, hot
4 large egg yolks
6 oz grated cheese
5 egg whites
1 teaspoon cream of tartar

Use room temperature butter to grease soufflé mold. Add grated parmesan, roll around the mold to cover sides. Cover with plastic wrap and place in freezer for 5 minutes.

Heat the 3 tablespoons butter in a saucepan, and allow all of the water to cook out. In a separate bowl, mix flour, mustard, garlic powder and salt. Whisk into melted butter. Cook 2 minutes. Whisk in hot milk and turn heat to high. Once it reaches a boil, remove from heat.

In separate bowl, beat egg yolks until creamy. Temper the yolks into the milk mixture, whisking constantly. (NOTE: to temper them, add some hot milk to the eggs first, beat, add a little more, beat, then add the eggs to the total milk mixture. Dumping the eggs into the hot milk without doing this first will cause them to scramble.) Remove from the heat and add cheese. Whisk until incorporated.

In separate bowl, whisk egg whites and cream of tartar until glossy and firm. Add the whites by thirds, folding very gently. Pour into soufflé, bake 35 minutes at 375. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR. Serve immediately.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bacon chocolate is back!

(And it's bad!)

Or rather, freakishly good. Note the Etsy badge off to the side there. Now you too can order the infamous bacon chocolate for your very own, only $14.99 per pound, shipped priority right to your door. Please disregard the crappiness of the picture, I know I gotta take a new one.

Now I just gotta figure out a way to market and ship my barbecue sauce...

Beet, carrot and zucchini slaw

I don't know why I didn't think of this sooner. It's the easiest summer dish to make--just throw two or three big carrots, three or four small (peeled, raw) beets, and a zucchini in your food processor. You don't even have to peel the carrots or the zucchini. I used the shredding blade.

Then I made a sort-of dressing; two parts mustard, four parts red wine vinegar, and a little horseradish. Mix, then whisk in two parts olive oil. Season to taste. Mix that into the slaw.

I also added a handful of chopped parsley, and salt and pepper. It's cheap, healthy, fast, and not drowning in mayonnaise like most slaw. A perfect summer dish!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Green tomato pizza

All hail the wonder of the green tomato.

I planted a couple of Roma tomato plants on my patio this past April. They've spread like wildfire, threatening to take over the balcony like that plant from "Little Shop of Horrors," and produced tons of lovely green Roma tomatoes. However, because we've had a particularly overcast and cloudy summer, not one of them has ripened. Not one.

So, I got tired of it one day and picked most of them. Because they're Roma tomatoes and fairly small, fried green tomatoes wouldn't work too well. So I decided to make green tomato pizza instead. Yet more proof of my theory that you can in fact put anything on a pizza.

However, the pizza wasn't nearly as good as I wanted it to be. I guess I'm a fried-green-tomatoes kind of gal at heart.

That being said, it was still pretty good.

Here's what I did, in order:

Pizza crust
Olive oil
Sliced green tomatoes
Fresh herbs (in this case, fresh basil and marjoram)
Goat cheese

And baked at 475 for 15 minutes or so.

Now, a fried green tomato pizza...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

And the winner is...


Riva, send your address to brokefoodie@hotmail.com. And congratulations on your upcoming wedding! As a newlywed myself, I feel ya.

I may start a new thing where I start giving stuff away on a regular basis. Readers, what do you think?

Monday, August 16, 2010


Today I'm giving away a box of Cafe du Monde beignet mix, straight from New Orleans.

Leave a comment by midnight tonight (PST). A winner will be selected randomly from the comments!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Soup architecture

I can hear everyone in the 147-degree heat in the rest of the country groaning. "Soup?! Really? When it's 147 degrees outside?" Well, sorry. Southern California is currently experiencing the coolest summer since 1916, with an average July temperature of 69 degrees. Feel free to send some of that heat my way.

But eventually, fall will come, and you'll want to make soup again.

I don't think I've ever made the same soup twice. "Soup" to me is a catch-all term, more to do with ratios than actual ingredients. I use the following as a template. You can mix and match and end up with a great soup every time. You can call it "minestrone" or "ribolitta" or something fancy to impress your dinner guests.

Foundation: Onion and/or garlic. One onion, any color, chopped; or the equivalent amount of green onions or shallots, plus a few cloves of garlic. If you're allergic to onions like my mom, just use a whole lot of garlic instead. (Maybe an entire head.)

Saute this in some sort of fat or oil. I use bacon fat or olive oil most frequently.

If you have carrots and/or celery, chop those and add them to the soft onion and garlic. If not, skip it.

Optional: Meat. Any kind. I've used bacon, Italian sausage, turkey sausage, alligator sausage, andouille, tasso, kielbasa, ham, proscuitto, ham hocks, country ham, ground beef, ground turkey, ground pork, leftover salami, and leftover chicken. Add what you have and let cook a little.

First floor: Tomatoes. Once the base is soft and translucent, add tomatoes. I use whole canned tomatoes, and chop them or smash them with my hand before adding. Add the juice too. 2-3 14-oz cans worth, or the equivalent amount of fresh tomatoes.

Second floor: Beans. Any kind, any color. Maybe 1 14-oz can's worth, plus juice.

Third floor: Pasta. Any shape. Macaroni, penne, rigatoni, farfalle, even broken-up spaghetti. Whatever. A couple handfuls. Alternately, potatoes (any kind) or roasted winter squash.

Now add broth--chicken, vegetable, beef, or any combination thereof, preferably homemade--to just at the level of the solids.

Add a bay leaf.

If you have the rind from a hunk of parmesan cheese, throw that in.

Let that cook on low, covered, for a while.

When your kitchen smells really good and the pasta/potatoes are cooked through, add seasonings. Several tablespoons of Italian seasoning (parsley, basil, thyme, sage, marjoram and rosemary, mixed), plus a teaspoon or so of cumin and dried red pepper flakes if you've added meat.

Let that cook some more.

Fourth floor: Something green. A box of frozen spinach, a head of kale, beet greens, arugula, frozen peas, frozen or fresh green beans, zucchini, broccoli, whatever. Those weird things you get from the farmer's market will do very well here. Put the greens in at the last minute and cook until they've just wilted into the soup.

Stir the whole thing, add salt and pepper to taste and maybe some croutons on top, and serve.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Zucchini pizza with goat cheese, avocado and cilantro

Man, this was a good pizza.

I got these baseball-sized squash in my CSA box this week. Aren't they cute?

My cat thinks so, too.

I used my standard pizza crust recipe (1 cup of warm water + 2 teaspoons or so yeast; when the yeast bubbles, add two cups bread flour and mix well; knead in another cup of flour; let rest until doubled) and added to it, in order:

olive oil
a thin layer of ricotta
one zucchini and one yellow squash, sliced very thin, in a thin layer (I had some left over)
lots of goat cheese
a thin layer of parmesan

I baked that at 475 for 15 minutes or so, then when I pulled it out of the oven, I added a sliced ripe avocado and a good handful of chopped cilantro.

Can I just say: YUM.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Razor, A Shiny Knife + Room Forty = Awesome

I've blogged about my adventures with A Razor, A Shiny Knife before (here, here and here). They're my most favorite of all the underground restaurants/supper clubs I've been to. If I were independently wealthy, I would totally just give big awesome underground dinners for the rest of my life.

But I'm not independently wealthy, and so I volunteered to help out at their latest shindig in LA. Here are the takeaways from Saturday's event, in no particular order:

1. My ass is TIRED.

2. I realized at the end of the night that essentially I'd just waitressed for 12 hours, in inappropriate shoes, for free. I didn't get to taste any of the dishes or the wines. There wasn't even a lot of cooking to watch, as much of it was done offsite ahead of time and trucked in.

3. Which means that next time these guys are in town, I will just cough up the $160 a person. That way I can actually eat the food, which is the whole point. Plus I'll be able to sit down.

4. Nevertheless, it was great fun.

5. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming article about it in the LA Times. (Possibly with a mention of me, with my new last name.)

Here's the menu:

They paired up with LA-based Room Forty to present a seven-course, eight-hour extravaganza in the lobby of the Variety building on Wilshire Boulevard, across from LACMA. Yes, it was in the lobby. That was sort of neat, actually. Here are some pictures:

I set that table.

Yep, that one. 52 place settings.

Michael Cirino giving a cooking demonstration.

Short ribs cooking sous vide--at rare, for 48 hours.

Fun with liquid nitrogen.

Course 1: Caviar, Duck Fat, Creme Fraiche, Potato. The potato was fried in the duck fat. That's a chive and black salt on top.

Course 2: Sea Bass, Stone Fruit, Verjus, Chervil. Wild striped sea bass carpaccio with peaches cooked sous vide, with a strawberry coulis and fresh chervil on top.

Course 3: Duck Egg, Duck Leg, Goose Liver, Summer Truffle. The round of duck confit was topped with a duck egg yolk cooked sous vide. The mache was topped with a foie gras vinaigrette, and as we served, we shaved frozen foie gras and black summer truffle on top.

Here we are prepping the duck course.

Can I just tell you about the foie gras viniagrette? This was one of the things I managed to taste. I wanted to bathe in it. I wanted to get down on all fours and lick the bowl. That's how good it was.

Also? Heaven smells like truffles.


Course 4: Short Rib, Red Wine, Bone Marrow, Carrots. Here's the sous vide short rib, crisped in duck fat, with a bone marrow sauce and peas and carrots.

Course 5: Triple Cream, Nuts and Berries. A French triple cream (brie) turned into a cheese "snow" and served with a pecan brittle and fresh berries.

Course 6: Chocolate, Strawberries, Methocel, Ultratex. Modern gastronomy magic. I can't even begin to explain this one. My brain had turned to mush long before this course.

There was another course, an amuse bouche in there somewhere, involving potatoes and liquid-nitrogen-shattered-blackberry "caviar," but again, my brain was much and I didn't get a picture of that one.

Here's a final shot of the crowd, with Michael pontificating:

Note the addition of a second, smaller table off to the right.

There were wines, and a cocktail, and a ton of photographers. Everyone had a great time (I think), and Michael was in true showman mode.

These guys are based in Brooklyn, but they travel pretty regularly. I highly recommend going to one of their dinners if at all possible. The cost is worth it. (And they're doing good to break even on the food and beverage costs, so it's not like they're making a profit.)

Now if I could just do something about my still-aching feet...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Huge Chocolate Chip Cookie Baked in a Cast-Iron Skillet

I don't usually repost, but this recipe for a huge chocolate chip cookie baked in a cast-iron skillet demanded it. Really, is there anything a cast-iron skillet can't do?

Quinoa oatmeal

This makes a great low-cal filling breakfast. Throw some dried or fresh fruit on top for extra flavor. Best of all, quinoa is actually a complete protein (all eight essential amino acids). I've made this in big batches instead of regular oatmeal (when I ran out of steel-cut oats), and reheated a little each morning at work.

1 cup quinoa, cooked with 2 cups water and a pinch of salt
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon each cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and allspice
2 teaspoons brown sugar

Cook the quinoa; bring it to a boil, lower heat, and simmer 12-15 minutes or until the spiral-y things come out of the grains and the water has been absorbed. Meanwhile, add the spices to the milk and cream and bring to a boil. Immediately remove from the heat and let steep until the quinoa is done. Add the spiced milk to the cooked quinoa, let boil over medium, and let simmer until the mixture has thickened. Once it cooks slightly, it will thicken even more.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Weird veggies and CSAs

When I tell people about my CSA, the most common comment is, "I tried one, but I didn't know what to do with (fill in the blank), so it all went to waste." For shame, people. Has no one ever heard of Google?

For vegetable noobs, I highly recommend Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Even if you're not vegetarian. Also, good old all-purpose The Joy of Cooking.

Don't fear the strange vegetable. Like I tell my extremely picky 10-year-old stepson, what are you afraid of? Afraid you might actually like it?
A few tips on unfamiliar vegetables and fruits:
1. Don't ever boil anything. Boiling makes the freshest, crispiest vegetables taste like sludge. Even corn on the cob can be vastly improved by grilling it. I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say I'm not really a fan of steaming, either.
2. When in doubt, give it a very quick saute in a little olive oil and garlic. Better yet, roast or saute it in bacon fat.
3. A surprising number of vegetables can be sliced and eaten raw. Zucchini, yellow squash, beets, and asparagus can all be sliced raw into ribbons or grated and eaten as salad.
4. Most vegetables can be roasted--including greens, if you put them on pizza. See #5.
5. Any vegetable can be added to soup or pizza or a pasta dish.
6. Any previously roasted vegetable (beets, butternut squash, turnips, parsnips, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, fennel, spinach, ad infinitum) along with some caramelized onions will make an absolutely smashing pizza. (See #5.)
7. Unfamiliar fruits--persimmons, blood oranges, pawpaws--can often make an interesting fruit salsa or pork marinade. At the very least, they'll jazz up a margarita.

And a final parting thought: don't get hung up on separating leaves from stems. I chop entire bunches of greens and herbs, stems and all, and have yet to encounter any significant taste difference. (Yes, the stems are usually more fibrous than the leaves. That doesn't mean they taste bad.) In the case of broccoli and cauliflower stems, you can peel them and chop the tender insides. Tastes just like the florets, and you're not wasting anything. Often the greens are just as tasty and nutritious as the root vegetable they're attached to, albeit in a different way (think carrot greens, beet greens, turnip greens).

I have yet to encounter a food that couldn't be made to taste good some way, some how. If you don't know what to do with something, just leave a comment! I'm happy to help!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Make it or fake it: Substitutions in recipes

Cooking is like driving a car. No one is a gourmet chef right off the bat, just like no one is a Formula One racecar driver right off the bat. You accumulate that knowledge through practice. The best way to learn how to cook is to cook, a lot, and learn from your mistakes. You can't learn to cook from reading cookbooks or watching cooking shows any more than you can learn how to drive via correspondence course. You just have to get out there and do it. One day after many years, you find yourself effortlessly switching lanes at 90 miles per hour in rush-hour traffic on I-95. You don't get behind the wheel at 16 knowing how to do that. I didn't start off knowing how to free-hand a souffle. I just did it a bunch of times until the recipe was instinctual and I didn't need to refer to it anymore.

I realize the idea of cooking is intimidating to a lot of people, but following a recipe is just following directions. Anyone can follow directions. Don't worry about screwing it up--most kitchen mistakes are still edible, and it's virtually impossible to over-season a dish. (It IS possible to over-salt a dish, or to make it too hot, so be careful with salt and spicy things.)

Once you've done it a few times, it's easier to look at a recipe as a suggestion, rather than a rule. I almost never follow a recipe to the letter anymore; I'm always substituting in what I already have, adding seasonings, cutting back on the amount of sugar, whatever.

The key to substitutions is substituting like with like.

You can't substitute water for milk and get the same effect. You CAN substitute watered-down cream or half-and-half, buttermilk, evaporated milk, condensed milk, reconstituted powdered milk, soy milk, coconut milk, or goat's milk. Sometimes you can even substitute sour cream.

If the recipe calls for chard, you can substitute any other kind of bitter greens: kale, beet greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens, dandelion greens, sorrel, tatsoi, even spinach or arugula. And vice versa.

Meat-as-flavoring is similarly interchangeable. I've used bacon, bacon fat, Italian sausage, turkey sausage, alligator sausage, andouille, tasso, kielbasa, ham, proscuitto, ham hocks, country ham, ground beef, ground turkey, ground pork, leftover salami, and leftover chicken in the same minestrone recipe and ended up with yummy soup every time.

Ditto root vegetables and winter squash. I've made fries with sweet potatoes, turnips and parsnips when I was out of potatoes; thrown all those things into soups; used butternut squash instead of pumpkin or sweet potatoes, and vice versa.

Ditto herbs. It depends a little bit on what you're making, but see above re: it's impossible to over-season a dish. No one ever added too much oregano to spaghetti sauce. I combine frequently-used dried herbs into a big jar called "Italian seasoning"--basil, parsley, sage, thyme, marjoram, oregano, and a little rosemary--and use a big scoop of that whenever I need any one of those. Fresh is always better than dried, but dried is better than nothing.

Broth or stock (I use the words interchangeably) is just that: broth. I use vegetable broth, chicken broth and beef broth in the same recipes, or a combination thereof, depending on what I have on hand. If the recipe calls for beef broth and you're vegetarian, you can use vegetable. If you're making chicken soup and all you have is vegetable broth, well, use that. I also use broth instead of water when cooking rice or quinoa. More flavor.

These are pretty instinctual, but here are other substitutions you can make:

Ricotta = cottage cheese
Sour cream = plain yogurt
Buttermilk = milk with white vinegar added (for 1/2 cup buttermilk, substitute 1/2 cup milk with 1 1/2 teaspoons of white vinegar added to it and let it sit for a few minutes)
Rice vinegar = white wine vinegar + sugar + salt
Baking chocolate, 1 oz = 1/4 c cocoa for cakes and cookies, 3 tablespoons cocoa + 1 tablespoon vegetable oil for frostings and sauces
Carrot greens = fresh parsley
Heavy cream, 1 cup = 1/3 cup butter (REAL butter, not margarine)  + 3/4 cup milk
Cornstarch, 1 tablespoon = 3 tablespoons flour (arrowroot is also a very effective thickener, and won't turn your sauces cloudy like cornstarch or flour will--it is more expensive, though)
Saffron = turmeric
Brown sugar = white sugar + molasses
Cake or pastry flour = put regular all-purpose flour in the food processor and whiz it a couple of times
Superfine sugar = put regular white sugar in the food processor and whiz it a couple of times

In chocolate recipes, you can substitute bourbon for the vanilla. The bourbon makes it taste more chocolatey.

Another clever trick: if you're out of butter, but have some heavy cream on hand, drop all the heavy cream into your KitchenAid and let it go for a while. It'll churn the cream into fresh butter.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Welcome new readers!

I'm glad to see yesterday's guest post at Get Rich Slowly struck such a chord!

To answer some of the recurring questions: I live in an apartment. Which means I have one regular-sized refrigerator and freezer combo to work with. I don't have a separate stand-alone freezer or anything. Granted, the kitchen itself, and the pantry, are bigger than what I've had before, but I also lived in New York for a decade before moving to Southern California. In New York, closets are often repurposed as spare bedrooms. (To which all my New York friends will reply, "What closets?")

So while I freeze a lot of stuff, my freezer is also packed to the gills. I rotate things in and out of there frequently. Same with the refrigerator. I don't have a lot of counter space, either.

Pantry Basics will give you a general idea of what I like to have on hand. Kitchen Basics tells you what I have to work with (I don't have a blender, a breadmaker, a rice steamer, or a pressure cooker; I have only four pans, but they're really really good ones--All-Clad Copper Core; I have a couple of specialty items, like the ice cream maker, but for the most part everything I own should be familiar to even a novice cook).

Notice what's NOT in my pantry. Cold cereal. Bisquick. Instant oatmeal. Mac n' cheese. Chips. Pre-made bread. Pre-sliced/grated cheese. Pre-made anything. I don't buy things that come in packages. I know a lot of people find that anathema. "But my kids won't eat homemade mac n' cheese! But my husband would kill me if I quit buying potato chips! But I work all day and by the time I get home, my kids are screaming at me and I don't have time to cook from scratch!"

It's true that it's a constant battle to get my stepson to eat anything, and it's also true that I've been blessed with a husband who eats whatever I put in front of him. (I will say that I refused to move in with him UNLESS he ate everything I put in front of him.) Once you get the hang of it, cooking dinner from scratch every night takes less time than waiting for the pizza delivery guy to arrive. That still doesn't mean my stepson will eat it, but I make sure he has plenty of fruit available when he visits us. Sometimes he eats nothing but apples the whole weekend, but my brother was also a very picky eater when he was little. I don't think he ate more than five things the whole time he was growing up, and ultimately he hit 6'2" and hasn't died of scurvy yet (surprisingly).

My menu planning is pretty loose and unstructured. Every couple of weeks I'll peer into the depths of the refrigerator/freezer and see what needs to be used up. Then I'll make a list of the dishes I could make, given what's on hand. Every day I pick something off the list, based on my mood/time constraints.

So, for example, we have a fresh box of CSA goodies. This is what we'll probably end up eating this week:

For breakfast: yogurt, fruit. When the yogurt runs out, I'll move to steel-cut oatmeal.

Lunches: salad (CSA lettuce, tomatoes, avocadoes, supplemented with homemade croutons, with olive oil and balsamic vinegar) and leftovers from dinner

I have red beans and andouille sausage ready to go, which will become red beans and rice. I also have garbanzo beans that need to be used up, plus a head of kale; that will become minestrone. Beets and beet greens can become roasted beet pizza or beet risotto; the tomatoes, green onions and cilantro will become a batch of tabbouleh.

After the more perishable stuff is used up, it gets even more unstructured. I have a tub of ricotta that will probably need to go soon; I could use that in pizzas, lasagna, ricotta pancakes, or spinach-ricotta gnocchi. Ditto some eggs: quiche, frittatas, or maybe a souffle.

After that, then I'll check the freezer again and see what's in there. There's a bunch of frozen vegetables (peas, corn, lima beans, spinach) plus frozen blueberries for muffins. There's a whole chicken, lots of Italian sausage, ground turkey, ground pork, and a pork butt. There's puff pastry, a bunch of frozen homemade broth, some chocolate chips, a tin of espresso, two wedges of good parmesan, a block of mozzarella, and some pecorino romano. Any of that can be pulled out and thawed and used in another round of dishes.

(I freeze the cheese in blocks, and shred only after thawing. Quite honestly, I've never noticed that the flavor of the cheese suffered from the thawing process, but then, I only ever use that cheese in cooking. When I want to eat cheese by itself, I splurge for the good stuff--not the blocks from Sam's Club.)

Between the freezer and the pantry, I can put together a healthy meal even without fresh fruits and vegetables. During the long, cold New York winters, when I didn't have a year-round CSA and couldn't abide eating the flat, tasteless, out-of-season produce flown in from Chile, I used a lot of frozen vegetables, canned tomatoes, and dried fruit. I learned how to utilize root vegetables--beets, turnips, parsnips, sweet potatoes--and what to do with dried beans. You get just as many nutrients from frozen spinach as you do from fresh, and if you're stirring it into a batch of vegetable soup or minestrone or spaghetti sauce, it's not like you'd notice a taste difference anyway.

So, welcome! Please feel free to ask any additional questions in the comments. I'll post later this week on substitutions in recipes, and how to use those weird CSA vegetables no one's ever heard of.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

I'm famous!

Not really. But I do have a guest post over at Get Rich Slowly. Check it out!

Don't worry, I'll have details about last night's underground restaurant happening up soon...

Friday, August 6, 2010

More frugal kitchen tricks

I've just about managed to cut our trash back to one regular kitchen-sized trash bag every two weeks. 85% of that comes from the cat litter box. I'm beginning to wonder if we need a trash can at all at this point.

But I digress. In experimenting with my container garden this summer, I've discovered uses for two more things I would have otherwise thrown away.

1. Eggshells. Wash them, pulverize them, and spread them around your tomato plants. They love the extra calcium.

2. Green tea. Let the used teabags dry out, then remove the bag part and spread the tea leaves on your plants (all kinds). They love the extra nitrogen.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Apple hot pocket

Somewhere between an apple tart and an apple hot pocket (think of those apple pie things from McDonald's) lies this apple puff pastry thingey I made last night. It's essentially apple pie filling, with a sheet of puff pastry folded over it. Yummy and fast. And portable, if you make them small enough.

Two Granny Smith apples, chopped
a sprinkling of cinnamon, salt and nutmeg
half a cup or so of brown sugar

Mix and let this sit for a few minutes. Thaw two sheets of puff pastry and spoon half the filling into each one. Fold the puff pastry over on itself to form a big triangle, and press the edges closed with a fork. Bake at 400 for 15 minutes or until brown.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

RIP, Wilbun's

Wilbun's is one of those small, third-generation-family-owned supermarkets that's been the mainstay of my small hometown for years. And now it's closing. They claim it's NOT because Wal-mart just moved into town, but I'm sure that didn't help.

Wilbun's carried a lot of the Southern specialities that the chain supermarket (first Harris Teeter, then later Krogers and Food Lion) didn't--White Lily flour, hog jowls, the good country ham. They supplied the 100 pounds of pork for my wedding, at $1.99 a pound. Now they've fallen victim to the cult of the new. When the new shopping center opened, people started buying groceries at the national chain instead. When the bypass around town opened, it was less convenient to go into town. When Wal-mart opened, everyone raved about Wal-mart, and how much money they were going to save on cheap toxin-laden mass-produced Chinese crap (that includes the food), and now the locally-owned businesses are biting the dust.

RIP, Wilbun's. I'll miss your White Lily flour and country ham. Sigh.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Corn Maque Choux

Corn maque choux ("mock shoe") is an old Cajun dish, also called smothered corn, which is not much different from skillet corn. (Yankees, take heart; all will be made clear). Given my unintentional largess of frozen corn, I decided this dish, along with some glazed carrots, would make an excellent summer dinner.

The recipe is essentially corn, an onion, some garlic, a bell pepper, a couple of tomatoes, and some sort of cream/milk/evaporated milk, cooked down until creamy. I left out the bell pepper, because I didn't have any. Jalapenos would work nicely, too. I also used evaporated milk, because I didn't have any cream or regular milk, but you could use any of the above. And you know, some seasonings wouldn't hurt. I threw in smoked paprika and cayenne pepper. I also added andouille sausage, 'cause I'm cool like that. You could leave it out and keep the dish vegetarian.

6-8 cups corn
one chopped onion
several chopped cloves of garlic
a bell pepper, chopped
a couple of fresh tomatoes or the equivalent amount of canned whole tomatoes, chopped
1/2 - 1 cup evaporated milk (or cream or milk)
1 package andouille sausage, sliced (optional)
1 tablespoon each paprika and cayenne

Saute the onion, garlic and bell pepper in olive oil or bacon fat until soft. Add the sausage, tomatoes and corn. Add the milk. Cook down on medium-low heat, 15-20 minutes, until creamy. Season and serve.

And you know, some grilled shrimp on top of this wouldn't suck at all.

Monday, August 2, 2010

What would you do with five pounds of frozen corn?

While rummaging around in my freezer this weekend, trying to extract a package of andouille sausage, I suddenly realized that hidden behind the ice-cream-maker bowl was a half-bag of frozen corn. On the other side of my freezer, in plain view, was--wait for it--another half-bag of frozen corn. Only these were both five-pound monster bags from Sam's Club. So somehow I have ended up with two half-bags of frozen corn, making at least five total pounds. The lesson here is: make sure you check the back corner of your freezer before going to Sam's Club.

That being said, I need a way to use up five pounds of corn. Normally my corn ideas run as follows: corn chowder, corn fritters, corn pudding. But I'm tired of soup and corn fritters/corn pudding sound too high-maintenance to me right now.

So the question goes out to you, my loyal readers: share your corn recipes!