Sunday, February 28, 2010

Black bean vegetable chili

Feel free to leave out/substitute/add in other vegetables as you see fit. This is definitely a dish that can stand up to experimentation. (It's also a dish that can happily absorb all those vegetable remnants hiding out in your refrigerator.)

1 cubed eggplant
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
2 diced onions
2 diced zucchini
1 diced red pepper
1 diced yellow pepper
4 large chopped garlic cloves
8 cubed plum tomatoes
1 cup vegetable broth
1 cup fresh parsley
1/2 cup fresh basil
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 1/2 tablespoons cumin
1 tablespoon oregano
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cups cooked black beans
1 1/2 cups corn
1/2 cup fresh dill
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 bag cooked lentils
1 can garbanzo beans
sour cream for garnish

Let eggplant sit in colander over sink, heavily salted, for one hour, to leech out the bitterness. Pat dry. Heat 1/2 the oil and saute onions, zucchini, peppers and garlic on medium-low for 10 minutes. Cook eggplant 10 minutes with rest of oil, add to the rest. Add tomatoes, broth, 1/2 the parsley and the rest of the spices to the veggies. Cook on low for 30 minutes. Add rest, cook 15 minutes. Serve.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Glazed carrots

I participate in a CSA (community-supported agriculture), which means I pay $177 every three months to an organic farm, and every other week I get a huge Rubbermaid bin full of organic fruits and veggies. (Which works out to $29.50 per box--not bad for a Rubbermaid bin full of organic fruits and veggies.) In the last box, for example, I got two heads of lettuce, kale, broccoli, a bunch of beets, a bunch of carrots, a bunch of leeks, 12 oranges, 4 apples, 3 boxes of strawberries, a bag of peas, and a couple other things I can't remember off the top of my head.

So, the carrots. A big bunch of lovely purple-and-yellow carrots, fresh out of the dirt. I cut off the tops (carrot greens can substitute for parsley in most dishes) and decided to make glazed carrots for dinner last night. Glazed carrots being merely a delivery system for a sugar, butter and Grand Marnier sauce, you understand. I peeled the carrots roughly (that accounts for the wonderful technicolor look to them) and started the glaze.

Melt around 3-4 tablespoons of butter in a skillet and add a couple tablespoons of sugar. Stir this around until it incorporates and starts to look vaguely syrupy. Add 1/3 cup or so of chicken broth and a healthy dollop of Grand Marnier. Add the carrots and stir occasionally, until the sauce has cooked down and started to coat the carrots.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Homemade sandwich bread your kids will actually eat

For years I avoided making my own bread. I had irregular success with it--sometimes it worked, sometimes I got a charred lump of something that might once have been Play-Doh. Then I discovered the no-knead bread recipe, and lo, bread-making was always a 100% success. Ever since, all my homemade breads have been of the artisanal loaf variety. I use that bread for everything--sandwiches, toast, croutons, French toast, everything. Lately I've been experimenting with adding different flavors--fresh rosemary, whole wheat flour, cracked peppercorns, etc.--to the dough.

However. Children will not eat free-form artisanal bread dusted with parmesan and fennel pollen. I have no idea why. Seriously, I'm not being sarcastic. I can understand some hesitation at the crust, but bread is bread, right? Apparently not. Suddenly all my bread-making efforts were for naught, when faced with a 10-year-old who proclaimed that "REAL" bread was white, flavorless, had no crust, and came from a plastic bag.

Some further investigation yielded that he would happily eat peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches for every meal, every day. "Well," I thought, "at least PB&J is marginally nutritious." Certainly it's a lot more nutritious than the frozen processed crap he gets at his other home. But the poor kid's bloodstream is already about 87% high-fructose corn syrup, so I stocked the pantry with organic peanut butter and homemade strawberry and blackberry jam. No high-fructose corn syrup in sight. (And, p.s.--if you peel the label off the homemade blackberry jam and tell the kid it's grape, he'll eat it.)

But the sandwich bread was still problematic. I'll be damned if I buy Wonder Bread for ANYONE. If you've looked at the list of ingredients on a loaf of white bread recently, it resembles the documentation of the Geneva Peace Accords. A couple of months ago, I bought a package of plain old white hamburger buns from Sam's, used some, and tossed the remaining few into the pantry. Last week, I unearthed them, hiding behind a jar of macaroni, and discovered that in the intervening months they. had. not. changed. at. all. Not one bit. They weren't moldy, they weren't stale, they were exactly. the. same. I was horrified. My homemade bread, sans all chemicals and preservatives, starts to go stale within a matter of days. And God knows how long those buns sat on the shelf at Sam's before I bought them. I didn't want to buy a loaf of white bread filled with all those chemicals and preservatives and high-fructose corn syrup, regardless of the 10-year-old star of approval, but I also knew any bread would have to come out of a plastic bag.

So, I went to Whole Foods and bought one of those organic, preservative-free loaves of white bread. Cost: $4.99. The last time I paid $4.99 for a loaf of bread, it had truffles in it. But he ate it, happily, complete with organic peanut butter. So I kept the plastic bag that bread came in. And I turned to this recipe, courtesy of my favorite frugalist at The Simple Dollar, for a wee bit of bread-making deception.

And it worked! The recipe produced a loaf of soft, evenly dense white sandwich bread, with a very soft, thin crust. I sliced it into relatively even slices, slid it into the plastic organic bread bag, and threw it in the fridge. He ate it happily, with organic peanut butter.

Now if I could only get him to eat the crusts.

Anyway, the great thing about this recipe (other than the pictures, which are very helpful) is that it will in fact produce a loaf of white sandwich bread that is near-identical to Wonder Bread, without all the sawdust and carcinogens. Plus it actually tastes like bread. Some notes on the recipe: you do actually have to knead it for 15 minutes. This breaks down the glutens and helps the loaf to form that smooth, evenly dense grain that sandwich bread has (unlike the big open weave of artisanal bread). And I would recommend letting it rise in the loaf pan a little longer than it calls for. The very center of my loaf still had the telltale fold in it, but I just ate those slices myself. A little more rising would have taken care of that.

Cost: using the flour and yeast I bought in bulk...maybe 30 cents? A vast improvement over $4.99. That's even an improvement over $1.19 Wonder Bread.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Buttermilk cornbread

Also known as "skillet cornbread," because this is cooked in a cast-iron skillet. Which, for my money, is the only way to cook cornbread. A good cast-iron skillet will already have a built-in layer of bacon grease (that's what it's there for! To flavor the cornbread!), and, come on, isn't that the most appetizing-looking cornbread you've ever seen?

The Northern version of cornbread is typically sweet and not very dense, essentially a corn muffin rather than cornbread. This is incorrect. Every good Southerner knows that cornbread is a salty delivery system for fresh butter, and should be generally flavored with bacon grease.

2 cups yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 - 2 cups buttermilk
3-4 tablespoons bacon fat, lard, or vegetable oil

Sift the dry ingredients together, and add the eggs and buttermilk. Mix into a loose, soupy mass. Heat the fat or vegetable oil in a cast-iron skillet until smoking. Swirl it around the pan, then add to the batter and mix in well. Pour the batter into the pan and bake at 425 for 20-25 minutes, or until brown spots begin to appear on top. Serve hot.

Cost: a small bag of yellow cornmeal will run about $1.59; two quarts of buttermilk are about $3.59. Assume around 50 cents each for the cornmeal and buttermilk, 17 cents each for the eggs, and everything else should already be in the pantry. Around $1.30 for a big ol' pan of fresh buttermilk cornbread, which will yield at least 8-10 servings. For a true Southern experience, crumble it up into a glass of buttermilk and eat with a spoon.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A bit of shameless self-promotion

Broke Foodie now has a Facebook page! Follow the link to the left. If you'll be my fan, I'll be yours! Also, read me on Twitter!

Frugal kitchen tricks

Part of saving money in the kitchen has to do with kitchen maintenance, as well--it's not just about the food. Here are some of the ways I save money--oh, and p.s., save the earth as well.

1. Quit using paper towels. I keep a roll around for the gross stuff, like cleaning up bacon grease and cat puke, but otherwise I don't touch them. I have a stash of cloth towels, dishrags, and cloth napkins. These clean up spills and dirt just as well as paper towels, and they can be washed and reused. I might go through a roll of paper towels every two or three months.

2. Use a dishrag instead of a sponge when possible. I love those little green-backed scrubby sponges, but dishrags last forever (see above). I keep a sponge around for the tough scrubbing jobs--but you can throw the sponge in the dishwasher when it starts to get gross. Kills the germs AND cleans the sponge, extending the life of the sponge for at least another few weeks.

3. Quit buying cleaning supplies. I hate using harsh chemicals to clean things--they smell weird, they're expensive, and plus my cats are always drinking out of the toilet, so I don't want any chemical residues in there. Baking soda and vinegar will clean pretty much everything. "No way!" you cry. "How will baking soda and vinegar clean better than 409, or Soft Scrub with Bleach, or Tide Daily Shower Cleaner with New Fresh Lavendar Smell?"

One of my favorite blogs is The Simple Dollar--see this post for some of the many household uses for plain old boring white vinegar. You can use vinegar instead of fabric softener, or instead of Jet-Dry and fancy glass cleaners in the dishwasher, or instead of Windex (bonus: you can use newspaper and vinegar to clean your windows, works just as well as Windex and a paper towel and see? You just saved a paper towel!). Got a clogged drain? Pour baking soda and vinegar down the drain, cap it tightly, and wait a little while. A paste made of baking soda and a little water will clean just about anything, including grody toilets, mildew, and rust stains. Put baking soda on the carpet instead of carpet cleaner, put it in the litter box to cut pet odors, put it in shoes to cut shoe odors. More uses for baking soda here.

I've tried making my own dishwasher detergent, but turns out I have hard water, so I had to go back to the storebought kind. But if you don't have hard water, it should work for you.

4. Use less. You can use about half what the manufacturer recommends, on all cleaning supplies. I fill the dishwasher cap up halfway, I use about 1/8 cup of laundry detergent per load, I cut dryer sheets into quarters and use 1/4 dryer sheet per load. My dishes and clothes are just as clean as if I'd used more, and it saves money (and chemical backwash into the water supply). Speaking of laundry detergent, I buy the five-gallon bucket of generic at Sam's Club. It gets my clothes just as clean and fresh-smelling as Tide. Cost: $14 for five gallons. At 1/8 cup per load, even at 4-5 loads of laundry per week, it'll last me a year.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Leftover Magic: Further uses for things you never knew there were uses for

1. Pickle juice. When you finish the last of the pickles out of the jar, save the pickle brine. Slice up a cucumber and add it to the brine. In 2-3 days, you'll have new pickles. Repeat ad infinitum.

2. Potato water. After cooking potatoes, don't pour it down the drain. Use it to make bread--as in this Potato, Parmesan and Cracked Peppercorn No-Knead Bread.

3. Squeezed-out lemon halves. Drop one in your garbage disposal--keeps things smelling fresh and lemony!

How to make your own vegetable stock

Because I don't buy pre-packaged products, my kitchen waste is pretty minimal. So I noticed whenever I threw an onion end into the trash can, invariably I ended up having to take out a half-full bag of trash in a few days because it reeked so abominably of onions. This method keeps stinky garbage to a minimum, and also keeps regular garbage to a minimum: a gallon Ziploc bag in the freezer.

This bag holds all the vegetable waste I generate. When it gets full, I make a batch of vegetable stock. Here are some of the things that can go into the bag:
Onion ends and peels
Garlic skin
Celery ends and leaves
Carrot ends and peels
Potato peels
Mushroom stems
Leek tops
Stems from herbs, chard, spinach, etc.
Brussel sprout ends
Tomato cores
Pea pods
Corn husks and ends, and corn cobs
Anything soft, mushy, spotted, half-spoiled or otherwise suspect (but only half-spoiled--if it's moldy or stinky, just throw it out)

And so on. Fill a large stockpot with water, dump in the full Ziploc bag. Add salt and a bay leaf or two. Cook on low overnight. In the morning, strain out all the vegetable bits, and pour into jars (if you're going to keep it in the fridge) or Ziploc bags/Tupperware (if you're going to freeze it). Tons of fresh, homemade vegetable stock, essentially for free (since you've already bought all the things that go into it). Then reuse the Ziploc bag! Never buy stock again!

Americans are estimated to throw out anywhere from 10%-40% of the food they buy. That's right, 40%. Imagine if your grocery bill were suddenly reduced by 40%. Using (or reusing) every edible scrap that comes into your household is like getting that magical reduction in your grocery bill.

Plus, no more stinky garbage.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Buttermilk-honey dressing

I can't find fresh shrimp in San Diego but I can find fresh goat's milk and fresh buttermilk. What's that about?

So anyway, I have a half-gallon of buttermilk to experiment with. Expect some buttermilk recipes coming up.

Whisk together:
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons honey
some minced garlic or garlic powder
salt and pepper, cayenne pepper
minced scallions if you have it
Add 1/2 cup or so olive oil to this in a slow, steady stream, whisking all the while.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Red quinoa, spinach and feta salad

Any color quinoa will work, of course, but I felt like using red.

I didn't really measure anything (shocking, that). I made a batch of quinoa (1 cup dried) and added most of a bundle of fresh spinach. I then added a small handful of feta cheese, a couple tablespoons each of olive oil and red wine vinegar, and some diced shallot and garlic. A little cumin and salt and pepper on top, then mix it all together. It makes a great you-don't-need-a-microwave lunch!

Friday, February 19, 2010

More wedding menu planning

I spent the morning analyzing the wedding menu and making it a little more streamlined. I originally wanted to do a big crawfish boil for the rehearsal dinner on Friday, but the logistics of overnighting 200 pounds of live crawfish, then finding two 80-pound boiling pots to cook them in, plus providing all the fixin's for 75 people, were proving difficult. Not to mention that overnighting 200 pounds of crawfish would cost me about $1000, and who knows whether the FedEx guy could find our little house way up in the mountains in time? So I eliminated the cost and the panic factor by cutting the menu back to crawfish gumbo. I can use frozen crawfish for that, and I don't have to find an 80-pound boiling pot to cook them in.

Same process for the pig roast on Saturday--I was having a hard time finding a caterer willing (and able) to roast a whole hog and then deliver it. Either I had to get the pig with all the trimmings, which I didn't want, or I'd have to drive three hours to pick it up myself, which I didn't want either. So I'm going to roast several huge pork shoulders instead. Same great taste, no "ewwwww" factor from guests unfamiliar with picking through a hog carcass, and significantly cheaper. I'm hoping to channel all the saved money into more beer purchases.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lentils with sausage and swiss chard

Oh, swiss chard, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I used plain green lentils, and the last of the gator sausage my sister brought me from the Gulf Coast, 'cause I'm cool like that. Any kind of sausage will be fine.

Several links of sausage
1/2 cup each chopped carrot and onion
2 minced garlic cloves
1 1/3 cups dried lentils
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon each fennel seeds and fresh rosemary
2 1/2 cups (or more) water
1 big bunch swiss chard, roughly chopped

Saute the sausage over medium heat in a big skillet until cooked through. Add the carrot, onion and garlic, and saute until the veggies begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in all except the chard, bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to medium-low. Let simmer about 20 minutes, or until lentils are done. Stir in the swiss chard and cover, cooking until chard is wilted and tender, maybe 5 minutes. Add more water if necessary. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Cost: A big bunch of chard runs about $2, maybe a little less, this time of year. Lentils in bulk cost next to nothing; I'm gonna estimate about 40 cents for a cup to a cup and a half. Let's say $2 for however much sausage you put in, plus 50 cents for the rest. A little less than $5 total, and this will serve 4 as a main course, for about $1.25 per serving.

I whipped up a batch of cheese grits (I used gruyere cheese) and served this over top. YUM.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Another take-out classic. I used to order multiple batches of samosas from the Indian place down the street in Brooklyn and call that dinner whenever I had an Indian food craving. But now that I'm no longer in an Indian food delivery zone (boo), I had to learn how to satisfy my samosa craving myself.

They're surprisingly easy. Granted, I cheated and used puff pastry, instead of making my own dough. But whatever. They were really good--so good I was forced to eat one right out of the oven and consequently burned my mouth.

These are a great way to use up leftover mashed potatoes and peas--which, providentially, I had left over from V-Day. Mix the mashed potatoes and peas together, and add ginger, coriander, garam masala, a little chili powder, a little salt, and between half and one grated jalapeno. Cut the (thawed) puff pastry sheets into 9 squares each. Fill the center of each square with a little spoonful of the mix, press the edges together diagonally, and bake at 400 for around 15 minutes.

For the green sauce, puree one bunch of cilantro along with the juice from half a big lemon, the same spices, and a little more jalapeno. As you are whizzing it in the food processor, add a little peanut oil. Now you have samosas and green sauce, for essentially the cost of two puff pastry sheets ($4-5) plus one bunch of cilantro ($1), since everything else you already had in your pantry. For $6 from the Indian place, I got two big samosas plus three sauces, although I only ever ate the green sauce. This way, I get 18 samosas plus all the green sauce I can handle. And it only took about 20-25 minutes total--I would have had to wait 45 minutes for the delivery guy.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Chocolate chip-Nutella pastries

The name says it all. Who can resist?

1 sheet of thawed puff pastry
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/4 to 1/3 cup Nutella (or more, as you like)
1 egg
2 tablespoons water
slivered almonds

Mix the chips and the Nutella together. Cut the puff pastry into squares. Make an egg wash of the egg and the water, mixing them well, and apply the egg wash to the edges of each square. Place a spoonful of chip mix into each square and fold them diagonally, sealing the edges well. Put a little more egg wash on top of each one, and sprinkle some slivered almonds on them. Place on a parchment paper-covered baking sheet and bake at 400 for 15 minutes.

There might be a little chocolate-chip-Nutella mixture left over. But what happens in the kitchen, stays in the kitchen.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Oatmeal bread

A dense but flavorful (and filling) loaf.

3 cups flour
1 1/4 cups quick oatmeal
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/3 cup honey
1 1/2 cups milk

Mix together the dry ingredients, then the wet in a separate bowl. Add the two together and mix well. Pour into a greased pan and bake at 350 for 1 hour.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day pork belly

Pork belly is good anytime, not just for Valentine's Day. But it made a lovely V-Day dinner, complete with mashed potatoes, fresh snap peas and roasted carrots. And chocolate mousse. And a good bottle of wine, of course.

Pork belly is essentially uncured bacon, and is one of the easiest and most fool-proof things you can put in your oven. First, procure a piece of pork belly (you may have to go to an actual butcher, as opposed to the meat counter at the supermarket). It should have the skin still attached on one side. Cut into the skin, into the layer of fat beneath, but not all the way into the meat. Do this a few times across the top of the slab, then rub salt into the cuts. Put this skin-side-up into a roasting dish and roast at 425 for 30 minutes. The skin will be bubbly and crackly and the meat will have puffed up a little. Turn it down to 350 and roast for another hour. Take the pan out of the oven, take the meat out, and throw a couple of sliced carrots, ribs of celery, and quartered onions into the bottom of the pan. You can also add some thyme, Stir this all around into the fat at the bottom of the pan. Put the pork on top of the vegetables, and be sure to baste it with some of the fat. Roast for another hour.

There, done. You can serve the veggies with the pork, or not. You can also turn all that lovely drippy fat at the bottom into a nice gravy, or not. (How much juice you get will depend on how big the piece of pork belly is--mine was just big enough for two people, so I just got enough fat and meat juice to cook the veggies, not enough for additional gravy.) Serve by slicing into 1-inch sections, being sure everybody gets some of the nice crackly skin. How better to show your love than with pork?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Candied grapefruit peel

An old family recipe. Never throw grapefruit rinds away again! A great treat with after-dinner tea/coffee, or during the holidays.

Peel of three large grapefruit; try to cut as much of the white pith off as possible
2 1/2 quarts water
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water

Cut the peel into strips, cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Change the boiling water three times and boil until the peel is tender and not bitter. It will take a while for the bitterness to leach out, which is why you need to change the water. The kind of grapefruit you use, plus how much of the white pith is left on, will all affect the level of bitterness. Just keep going until it no longer tastes bitter. Make a syrup of the sugar and water; combine the two and stir constantly over medium-high heat until it reaches 212 on a candy thermometer, or forms a distinct thread between the spoon and the pan when you lift the spoon up. At this point add the peel and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the syrup is absorbed. Roll each strip in additional sugar and let cool.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Spoon bread

Spoon bread is a kind of cornbread with the consistency of pudding. It's like corn pudding, only, you know, bread. ("Spoon" bread = you need a spoon to eat it.) It's an old Southern speciality, traditionally served with fish (especially fried catfish), but it's cheap and good any ol' time.

4 cups milk
1 cup cornmeal (enriched)
2 teaspoons butter
2 teaspoons salt
4 eggs, separated

Heat the milk in a double boiler (don't let it boil); add the cornmeal and stir until a mush is formed. Cook 5 minutes. Add the butter and salt, then add egg yolks. Whip the egg whites into stiff peaks and fold them in gently. Pour into greased casserole dish, bake at 450 45 minutes.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The underground foodie scene in Pamplin, VA

Well, I'm just gobsmacked. The teeny-tiny town I grew up in (Pamplin, VA: population 200) has finally developed a few links to the outside world. Yesterday, while reading Serious Eats (one of my favorite foodie blogs) I discovered an old article about Frog Bottom Farm, an organic CSA farm in Pamplin. My reaction ran the gamut between "WTF? In PAMPLIN?!" and "That's so (expletive deleted) cool," and "Why didn't anyone tell ME about this?" I checked out Frog Bottom's website and discovered that although I don't know the owners (they moved down from Northern Virginia), they're the sort of people I want to know. Small, locally-owned, organic CSA farms are exactly what I was searching for all those years I lived in New York, and now here's one in my (former) backyard. What are the odds?

So I did some more Googling and discovered a wealth of local wineries, small organic free-range pig/poultry/lamb/goat farms, local apiaries, microbreweries, and even more CSA farms. There's a WINERY. In PAMPLIN. (Until about a year ago, Appomattox County was completely dry.) There's even an off-the-grid modern Danish kit house in Pamplin now, complete with solar panels and recycled insulation. The community of food outliers I'd always sought in New York, hanging out in the wilds of Central Virginia.

I was appalled that no one had bothered to tell me of these new developments, so I called my parents and asked them why they hadn't told me. "Well, you don't live here anymore," my mom helpfully pointed out. So I asked them about these new farms. "Whatever. Hippies," my dad said. I'm sure these small farms are struggling--the locals are notoriously wary of outsiders, and an organic CSA farm will win no favor with the townspeople, the vast majority of whom already maintain their own extensive vegetable gardens. In New York, when your options are 1) buy organic from the farmer's market or 2) go to the corner deli and pay $3 for a head of lettuce that's doused in pesticides, shrinkwrapped in plastic, and flown in from Chile, it's no wonder that people are increasingly turning to #1. But out in the country, where people already grow their own vegetables, there's no incentive to pay the premium for "organic" at either the grocery store or the farmer's market. I get that. I'm sure Frog Bottom's customers all come from the bigger cities in Virginia.

But it still warms my heart to see a burgeoning community of people who share my passions about food right in my own hometown. Now I want to locally source the food for the wedding, featuring the local organic veggies and pork and maybe even some local wines/microbrews. I realize I'll be the only person at the wedding that cares. But that's what the locavore movement is about, right? Supporting the farmers around you? I hope these ventures take root and become successful. I'm having pleasant daydreams of living in Appomattox Country again, surrounded by fresh-grown organic fruits and veggies, free-range chickens and pork, local wines and microbrews, sitting on the back porch after a good meal talking about all those things with fellow foodies. And trust me, never ever before this did I ever have a pleasant daydream about living in Appomattox County again. If they manage to conjure up a good cheese store, all hope may be lost for me.

Sesame noodles

Sometimes you really want take-out, I know. There have been many nights when I sat in the front of the TV, wishing like hell for General Tso's chicken or naan and samosas or a fiery green chicken curry, knowing I didn't have enough money for any of it. Which is one of the reasons I started cooking--so when I wanted samosas, I could just whip up a batch and not have to worry about the balance in my bank account. This is one of those dishes--tastes just like takeout, takes no time at all to whip up, costs virtually nothing. How can you lose?

1 tablespoon peanut butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil or chili oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
½ lb cooked and cooled spaghetti
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Whisk together, add noodles, stir to coat and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Feel free to experiment with the proportions--I tend to add extra chili and sesame oil, as I like it spicy.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sloppy joes

A childhood classic. Great for cold winter nights.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ¼ lbs ground beef (though I've also used a combination of ground beef and ground pork)
¼ cup brown sugar
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 cups tomato sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Rolls/hamburger buns

Heat oil in skillet, add meat. Break it up, add brown sugar and steak seasoning (barbecue dry rub is also lovely) if you have any. When meat has browned, add onion and pepper with vinegar and Worcestershire, cook 5 minutes over medium heat. Add tomato sauce and paste. Stir to combine. Reduce heat, cook 5 minutes. Serve on toasty buns.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Slow cooker chicken

For those days when you just want something waiting for you when you get home.

2 cups sliced onions
2 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
2 lbs chicken pieces, with bone
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons rosemary
1 cup chicken broth
½ cup cream of celery soup
Cooked rice

Arrange onion and apple in bottom of slow cooker. Place chicken on top and sprinkle with rosemary, salt and pepper. Combine broth and soup, pour mix over chicken. LOW 6-8 hours or HIGH 3-4 hours. Serve over rice.

Monday, February 8, 2010

"Three Ps": Penne, pesto and peas

This is one of those great dishes for when you don't feel like cooking. It comes together in under ten minutes, is cheap, and very healthy.

It helps if you have some pesto on hand (see previous pesto recipe). I try to keep some in the freezer for just such an occasion. The title IS the recipe: cook a box of penne. Add a bag of frozen peas just at the end, about thirty seconds before you drain the pasta. Mix it all together with the pesto. Voila.

Cost: a box of penne (retail, not bulk) is about $1.29. A bag of frozen peas will run around $1. The pesto I usually make in batches in the summer, when basil is plentiful; the cost of a homemade batch is around $1, including the pine nuts and parmesan. The cost of store-bought is usually around $4.99. Best case scenario, a little over $3 for this, and it will feed 3-4 adults as a main dish.

Chocolate syrup

For ice cream, milk, desserts, etc.

3/4 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup cocoa
1/2 tablespoon vanilla
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon light Karo syrup

Heat the water and sugar to a boil, whisk in the rest and continue whisking until the solids are dissolved. Continue cooking until reduced. Cool slightly and serve. The rest keeps for a long time in a jar in your refrigerator.

Cost: all these ingredients are pantry staples, so a batch will run MAYBE 50 cents, if you use the good cocoa. Considering a bottle of Hershey's syrup is running about $5 these days, and is full of crap, and this takes about three minutes to whip up, you can now have good homemade chocolate syrup all the time.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


For years I kept a box of Bisquick handy. Then one day I realized I was out of Bisquick and made pancakes from scratch. They taste completely different. The homemade ones are lighter, fluffier, and don't have that chemical aftertaste that Bisquick does. Besides, you have to add milk and eggs to Bisquick anyway, right? Making them from scratch takes maybe 45 seconds longer than making them from a mix.

1 1/4 cups White Lily flour (use the regular kind if you must)
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup milk
1 egg
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Combine the dry ingredients, then the wet, then add the two together and mix.

The secret to a good pancake is a really, really hot skillet or griddle. Heat it for several minutes, then put the butter on it at the very last second before adding the batter. Don't flip the pancake until you see bubbles formed all through the dough--that means you've got a good crust on the other side.

Serve with jam or real maple syrup. YUM.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

My mama's rolls (and cinnamon rolls)

(Not to be confused with biscuits--biscuits are biscuits, but rolls are yeast bread. Don't use the White Lily flour for yeast bread, use the regular all-purpose stuff for these rolls.) This is not the most accurate recipe, as my mother never measures anything. That's the beauty of cooking a lot--eventually you make one thing so many times that you know the proportions by sight, and you can leave the measuring cups in the drawer. This sounds like a lot of effort for rolls, since the dough rises three times, but you can start this in the morning and just periodically poke at it throughout the day. It makes A LOT of rolls. Don't even think about substituting rolls from the supermarket.

all-purpose or bread flour, probably 7-8 cups
1 tablespoon salt
2-3 tablespoons sugar (or half a handful)
2-3 tablespoons yeast (or half a handful)

Sift these together. To this add COOLED mixture of milk, water and one stick of butter that has been simmered and then cooled--too hot and you will kill the yeast and curdle the eggs which you will be putting in the next step. The mix needs to be lukewarm to the touch. Equal amounts of water and milk,  probably about 2-3 cups of each.
Mix the liquids and the flour mixture well, add 3-4 eggs. Continue mixing the dough and adding flour until you have the consistency of bread dough. Knead for several minutes on a well-floured surface. You cannot knead yeast dough too much. Beat out any aggression you have with the dough.

Place in a large bowl that will allow the dough to double, and coat the entire ball of dough with cooking oil. Let the dough rise, knead it, and place it back in the bowl to rise 3 times.After the third time, knead the dough in flour on your counter, have some melted butter ready and pinch off enough dough for a roll, work it in your hand , dip it in the butter, fold it over , dip it in the butter and place in a greased pan to rise. Let all the rolls rise, place in a pre-heated oven at about 400 degrees for about 10-15 minutes until golden brown. The amount of time will depend on how quickly your oven cooks. 
You can use this same recipe for cinnamon rolls, with a few modifications. Use four eggs, slightly more milk and slightly less water for a richer dough. Divide the dough into 3 pieces, roll out each third until an even 1/4-1/3 inch thick. Spread honey all over the dough to within about 1/2 inch of the edge, and sprinkle with a mixture of sugar and cinammon--2 parts sugar and 1 part cinnamon. You can use raisins or nuts if you like. Roll this up and let dough rest for about 8-10 minutes, cut into about 1-1/2 inch slices. Place in a greased pan, leaving enough room between each roll for it to rise, and bake at about 375-400 degrees until golden brown. Let the rolls cool slightly and ice with a mixture of confectioner's suger and either cream or half-and-half.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Peanut butter cookies

Mmmm...peanut butter.

1 cup shortening (like Crisco)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
3 cups flour

Cream the shortening and sugars. Add eggs and peanut butter, beat until smooth. Add the rest, mix well, and drop by spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets. Press down with a fork. Bake at 350 until brown. (Maybe 7 to 10 minutes? Start checking them after that.)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Pasta with broccoli and feta sauce

I had a small head of broccoli that needed to be used up, but I was tired of my usual broccoli preparations. So I made a broccoli and feta sauce (which, handily, also used some of the feta cheese that needed to be used up).

1 lb broccoli, or thereabouts
olive oil
1/2 onion or two shallots, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped parsley
juice of one lemon
1/2 cup feta cheese
1/4 cup water

Lightly steam or boil the broccoli just for a minute. The broccoli stalks can be used too--if the broccoli is small and young, just throw them in whole. If it's one of those big tough heads of broccoli, peel the central stalk before adding it. (The stalk has just as much flavor as the heads, and since you'll be pureeing this later on, you don't need to worry about the aesthetic value of the stalk.) You want the broccoli to still be a little crisp and bright green. Meanwhile saute the shallots and garlic in the olive oil. Add the broccoli and saute for a few minutes, until the onion is soft. Add the parsley and cook until wilted. Add the lemon juice and cook for another minute or two.

Dump into a food processor along with 1/4 cup of feta and 1/4 cup of water. (But really, more cheese won't hurt anything.) Puree until smooth and serve over pasta, with a little olive oil and more feta on top. I used papardelle, but any kind will do.

Cost: depending on the cost of broccoli in your area, anywhere from $1.50 to $2.50 for a head. We'll say $2, plus another $2 for the feta (less, if you buy it in bulk), 50 cents for the lemon, 50 cents for everything else. I used two packages of papardelle from Trader Joe's at $2 each. That's $4 for the pasta and another $5 for the sauce, but I could have used a cheaper pasta (spaghetti, penne) and I did buy the feta in bulk. Anywhere from $6 to $9 for the entire dish, making four adult servings at $1.50 to $2.25 per serving.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Acorn squash soup

This recipe comes from my old roomie Shelby!

2 acorn squash, pricked and microwaved 8-10 minutes until soft and scoopable
1 tablespoon butter
1 chopped onion
1 can chicken broth (or about two cups)
½ cup cream

Scoop out squash. Cook onion in butter 3-5 minutes. Add rest, plus squash, and 2 cups water. Cook 10-12 minutes. Puree, return to pan. Add cream, season, serve.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Adult mac n' cheese

I make this with whatever leftover cheese I have--I've used all sorts of different leftover bits of stinky cheese, gorgonzola, mozzarella, parmesan, gruyere, fontina, asiago, goat, etc., etc. You can combine them all, or if you have kids, you can use plain old cheddar. If you have some soft cheese rinds, like the kind that come on brie (or stinky cheese), you can add those to the sauce as well. They'll melt down and add some more cheese flavor.

You can also use different shapes of pasta, not just macaroni--cavatelli, shells, whatever.

1 lb. pasta, cooked until al dente
6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
pinch of pepper and nutmeg
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 to 2 cups cheese, any kind, grated or cut into small pieces
1 thawed box of frozen spinach, with the extra water squeezed out; or a couple of bunches of fresh spinach; or really any kind of greenery (kale, chard, broccoli rabe, etc.)

Preheat oven to 400. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour, and mix well. Add the milk and the seasonings and whisk constantly until the mixture thickens and boils (a few minutes). Allow to boil very briefly. Add the cheese and cream and stir until the cheese is melted. Add the cheese mixture to the cooked pasta and the spinach and mix well. Pour into a large casserole dish. Top with grated parmesan or bread crumbs. Bake 35-40 minutes uncovered. Serve drizzled with truffle oil.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Three kinds of salsa

After I started making fresh salsa, I couldn't go back to canned. It tastes like chemicals to me. (Which it is.) Granted, sometimes it's hard to have fresh ingredients on hand every time I want salsa. I have fallback recipes--bean dip, spinach and artichoke dip--for those times. But if you have the ingredients, the taste is incomparable. And it only takes a couple of minutes to whip up.

The base ingredients are chopped onion (red or regular, as you prefer), chopped and seeded jalapeno, cilantro, and lime juice--all fresh, of course. To this base, you can add chopped tomatoes, mango or peach, for tomato, mango or peach salsa. Of course, you can extrapolate further. I've made pineapple, canteloupe and cucumber salsa as well, although with lighter ingredients like canteloupe or cucumber you may want to substitute mint for the cilantro.