Tuesday, 4 May 2010
Spring cleaning not only applies to the house, but also to the pantry! This is the time of year when I start to make a concerted effort to eat up goods the goods I preserved last summer. Soon enough I'll be pulling out the canning pots and filing jars with this summer's bounty and packing the freezer with fresh berries. This means I must start preparing now. The last thing I want is to end up with jar and jars of stuff from years past and have to throw some of it away. I'm not one to waste food, especially food that I spent time and energy growing and preserving.
This is the perfect time of year to start using up pantry goods. With the coming of warmer weather comes the feeling of optimism. I no longer feel the need to conserve my food resources to make sure they last through the long winter. Those feelings give way to the hope of summer bounty and I finally feel safe eating up the last few jars of tomatoes. I know that in a few months, my tiny tomato seedlings will be producing pounds of fresh summer fruit that will be eaten fresh and canned for next winter.
I find myself often in the pantry looking over jars of goods deciding what I want to make for dinner. If I spot a few jars of tomatoes, pepper relish, fire roasted red & jalapeno pepper, and a few jars of chutney, I'll make a big pot of chili. From the freezer I'll add some ground venison, beef stock and some frozen beet greens or spinach. If I'm lucky I'll have a bottle of beer as well to add for good measure. A few heirloom beans will also get added to the pot if there are any left in the pantry. If we have some frozen milk left from our winter stores, I'll make some fresh mozzarella, and who doesn't love a sprinkling of fresh spring chives on top of any dish this time of year?
If I find myself with a lot of extra tomatoes, I'll make up a big batch of marinara. This will top fresh homemade pasta, or even a pan of lasagna if I have the time and energy to make cheese and noodles.
Not only do all these dishes help clean out the pantry of last year's bounty and make way for the new, they help save me time during this busy season in the garden. A big batch of of chili can be eaten on for many days as can a big pan of lasagna (and they get better with age). If I make an extra big batch I'll freeze it in meal sized portions for quick meals during the busy days of spring and early summer. My goal is to have most of the jars in the pantry empty by tomato canning season and to have most of the berries eaten from the freezer before the strawberries come on.
Do you make a concerted effort to eat up items in your pantry to make way for the new season's bounty?
I can also be found at Chiot's Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Not Dabbling in Normal.
Friday, 10 April 2009
In my garden every year, one 50' soaker hose makes up the "Fruiting Bed". This includes my tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and chiles - all started from seed inside in early Spring and set out as plants in June. I always try to have 5-6 bell pepper plants, 5-6 big roasting-type chile plants, a jalapeño or two to use fresh and freeze, and then 2-3 plants of a different hot pepper each year. Last year, I grew a couple of Cayenne pepper plants, and one Habanero. Before that, Ancho chiles; year before that, Paprika.
The fully ripe hot peppers, I hang up to dry. A length of peppers sewn together for drying is called a ristra, the Spanish word for string. Using a big needle threaded with a doubled length of heavy-duty carpet thread, I make a big knot in the end then thread through the thickest part of the stem just above each fruit, pushing each one down to the end and turning them different directions. I make a hanging loop in the top end, wrap a little label with type of pepper and the year around the string, and hang them up. The wall between my kitchen and living room has a big cutout area. Aries took a big dowel, slid a bunch of "S" hooks on it, and attached it to the top of the cutout for me to hang my ristras (that's corn up there too). They're both decorative and tasty.
A lot of the dried chiles I grind into powders to use in cooking. I have a coffee grinder that I use only for grinding spices (when I'm finished grinding something, I clean it by grinding some rice into powder, then dumping it out - that absorbs any flavors and oils, and keeps my chili from tasting like curry). When I need some chile powder, I'll take down a ristra, rinse the chiles to remove any dust, and hang it outside to make sure they're completely dry again before grinding. I'll break the chiles apart (wearing gloves), remove stems, the pithy inside ribs and the seeds (saving some for when I want to grow that variety again), and grind just the red skin. I re-use yeast jars to store the different powders - they have a rubber rim inside the lid that seals tight, and the dark glass keeps the flavor and color from fading.
This year, I'm starting extra Jalapeño pepper plants. These short thick peppers are too fleshy to hang and dry - they tend to rot instead. However, they can be preserved by drying in a smoker - then they're called Chipotle peppers. Chipotles, either ground or a whole one removed before serving, add a wonderful smoky heat to winter's bean crockpots or soups. I also use them, plus the big red dried New Mexico chiles and fresh tomatoes, to make enchilada sauce to can in a pressure canner. I have a little bit of the powder left in the jar, and a couple of whole Chipotles left, so it's time to replenish my supply. Later, in the fall when I harvest the Jalapeños, I'll take photos and post directions for making a smoker out of a cardboard box. If you want to grow your own Chipotles, start your Jalapeño plants now.
Wednesday, 8 February 2012
Cooking from scratch doesn't necessarily come to mind when one thinks of convenience foods. We have been trained for several generations to purchase ready-made goods. It started out innocent enough, but now people are yearning to go back to an earlier time and sets of skills and do more for themselves. Whether it be cooking, gardening, farming, or other lost skills it's all the same, we thought we were saving time and ended up getting busier and busier with no time (we were told) to do for ourselves. But really we lost a lot by not paying attention. I call myself Throwback for a reason. I am a throwback to an earlier time, when tasks like cooking, sewing and all the ins and outs of gardening were common knowledge. I'll give the luck of the draw some credit, I grew up on a farm, my parents were older and still kept some of the old ways, likewise with their circle of friends. My husband and I joke that our habits are so old, that they're in again.
As I prepared soup for dinner today, I went about my work gathering ingredients. We grow most of our food and preserve the harvest in a multitude of ways to last us through the dark days until the growing season starts in earnest.
You know, it sure is convenient to just go to the fruit room, freezer or root cellar and go shopping for meal preparation. I grabbed home canned roasted tomatoes, garlic, onions and potatoes from dry storage, ground beef, peppers, cilantro pesto and corn from the freezer, and grabbed a quart of chicken stock from the fridge. This task made me realize just how convenient it is to have great ingredients on hand to prepare meals with. We grow our own, but if you're not there yet with your pantry stocking from your gardens, you can still load your pantry with purchased goods. The key is having it on hand. Many good meals have been made on the spur of the moment - as long as you have the basics you're good to go.
I guess what I want to say is, if you're a new cook or gardener slaving away trying to master the skills, it's worth it. We need to rethink the idea of convenience food, nothing is more convenient than having good food on hand for preparing a home cooked meal.
Here is the recipe for our dinner made possible by our pantry and my guess and by gosh cooking. This recipe is just a general idea that can be changed to match what you have on hand. In the summer my chilies, corn and cilantro are fresh, in the winter the freezer stores have to do. Pork or chicken are good in this soup too - just use what you have. This recipe is convenient too because of the long cooking time, I can leave this to cook on the back of the woodstove, or even in the slow cooker if I wanted to. Truly convenient.
Beef Stew with Cilantro
1 pound ground beef or stew meat
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup coconut oil or butter
1 quart whole canned tomatoes
1 pint roasted whole tomatoes
1 quart chicken or beef stock
2 pounds potatoes, coarsely chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 or 3 anaheim chiles, chopped
1/3 cup chopped cilantro or cilantro pesto
1 cup frozen corn
sugar to taste - 1 teaspoon or not?
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
In large saucepan over medium high heat, brown onion, garlic and chopped pepper in 1/4 cup coconut oil or butter. When onions are caramelized, add meat and cook until brown. Remove meat and alliums from pan and set aside. Over medium heat in same pan, add all other ingredients, bring to boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, add meat and alliums. Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours over low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove the cover and simmer for an additional 30 minutes. Serve. Much better the next day.
Friday, 16 October 2009
Earlier this year when posting here about my pepper pantry, I mentioned that I would be growing extra jalapenos this summer to replenish my chipotle (che-POAT-lee) supply. I promised I would post instructions for putting together a make-shift smoker, and turning jalapeno peppers into chipotles.
Start with ripe jalapeno peppers, ideally those that have turned completely red. This year, we had a late spring, reasonably cool summer, and snow the first week of October. Only a couple of my jalapeno peppers had just started to turn red when I had to pick everything (the golden ones on the left are habaneros - they too were picked green, but are faster to change color).
No problem. Peppers, like tomatoes, will continue to ripen after they're picked if left unrefrigerated. I let the peppers set out on the counter for a couple of weeks. They can set for quite a while, but try to process jalapenos before the stem starts to separate from the body of the chile. Some peppers with thinner walls will continue to ripen and then dry, but jalapenos are too fleshy - they tend to rot before they'll dry. Smoking them is one way to preserve your jalapenos - canning them as nacho slices, or freezing them whole, sliced, or stuffed with a cream cheese mixture to turn into poppers, or whipping up a batch of jalapeno hot sauce are other options (that link also has a recipe for my habanero-orange hot sauce - my absolute favorite, and why there are also habanero peppers ripening on my counter).
But I digress. We're supposed to be making a smoker to turn jalapenos into chipotles. Commercial smokers, that have been previously used for meat, can give a greasy, and later rancid, taste to the chiles, so it's best to use something just for the chipotles. Unless you're planning on going into the chipotle business, a temporary smoker made from easily acquired items is the way to go. The main thing to remember is that you don't want to cook the jalapenos, but rather let the smoke waft away the moisture in the chiles as it also infuses them with flavor. The best way to do that is to make a separate firebox, and then connect it to your smoking box with a piece of pipe. Of course, the firebox portion has to be able to withstand fire, so I've used some cinder blocks and a piece of steel pipe. I used some crumpled foil to fill in the areas between round pipe and square blocks, but it doesn't have to be perfectly airtight. The smoker section, on the other hand, only has to hold the chiles suspended in the smoke while it acts as an offset chimney, so a cardboard box works fine. In the past, I've found taller boxes (that held a windshield, or a washer) but this year I just picked up a couple of smaller ones. They were two different diameters though, and instead of trying to fit them together, I found a piece of roof vent flashing, set that on the bigger box, then the smaller box, and taped the flaps of the bottom box to the upper box, just in case the wind came up (and notice that there are bricks holding down the flaps of the bottom box for the same reason). For a more primitive option, depending on your soil type, you could dig a firepit and smoke trench, covering both with metal or even rocks, and then add your cardboard smoke box.
Next, you need some way to suspend the peppers in the rising smoke. A pan poked full of holes could work, but isn't ideal - the peppers would tend to steam in their juices more than dry. In the past, I've strung the peppers on lengths of string, and hung that draped across dowels poked through the box. That's not too bad, depending on how you want to use your chipotles. If you're just dropping them whole into a pot of soup, it's ok, but if you're planning on grinding some into powder or making some in adobo sauce the string can be difficult to deal with. A wire basket or a rack that won't allow the chiles to drop through is best. I bent a piece of hardware cloth into a tray, supporting it with the (cut-down) cardboard divider inside the box plus a couple pieces of coat hangers stuck through either end of the box.
The best woods to use for smoking the chiles are from fruits or nut trees. If that's not possible, hardwoods are the next best. You just don't want to use pine, mesquite, or other resinous woods. I lost a nectarine tree to borers this year, and always save the prunings from my fruit trees, so I had a nice supply of smoking wood. The night before, I soaked half the wood pieces so they'd burn slower and cooler. Be aware that once you start up with the smoke, you will be perfuming your entire neighborhood. But smoking chiles smell like food, not smoldering leaves, so the neighbors just might drop by with their mouths watering to see what's going on.
It's always best to be prepared when playing with fire, so I pulled the hose over, on at the faucet and closed off with a twist valve. Aries also brought the fire extinguisher out of the garage, just in case. I started a small fire in my firebox, and while I waited for it to get going, I pulled the stems off the jalapenos and loaded up the basket. I used all my red ones, those partially changed, and then some of the green ones with white corking (very desirable in chipotles - don't ask me why).
Once I had a nice little bed of hot coals in the firebox, I added a couple handfuls of soaked wood and then put a piece of metal over the top, held down with a couple smaller bricks. I sat out to watch for a while, just to make sure everything was holding together ok. Every hour or two, I'd add more wood, and turned the chiles a couple of times.
Low and slow is the way to go with chipotles - both for the best flavor and to ensure ones that will last in storage. It's better to stretch it out over a couple of days than to try and hurry up the process with more heat. Let the fire burn out overnight, and start it up again the next day. I smoked my chiles all day, but rain was forecast for tomorrow. I just pulled the cardboard boxes away from the pipe and set them in the garage for the next day and a half. The photo above is after another afternoon of smoking, and I have them going again this afternoon. If you're in a hurry, the jalapenos will dry faster if cut in half and seeds removed. You can also dry them in a dehydrator or your oven until wrinkled but not stiff, and then smoke them (doing it in reverse will also work, but your house will smell like smoke for days). Finished chipotles are hard, lightweight, and dark brown in color. Ones that are still leathery won't store as long. Once the chipotles are dried, store them in jars with a rubbery seal or in an airtight plastic bag.
To use, drop one into a pot of beans or soup, and remove after cooking (or dice the rehydrated chile and stir bits into the pot to taste). They add a rich, smokey, bit of heat. If you want to grind them into powder, they might need to be dried further, until they can be broken in half. I use lots of mine to make a big batch of enchilada sauce (pressure-canned) every couple of years. Or make up a batch of chipotles in adobo sauce, rehydrated chipotles pickled in a tomato-based sauce.
Friday, 17 October 2008
Beauty That Moves
If you are visiting here as a regular reader of my blog, thanks for hanging in there for a few re-run posts. There will be brand new content from me next week, which I'm really excited about! It has been too hot around here to cook much lately. A family can survive on dinner of cheese, crackers, fresh veggies and ice cream for only so long. After a few days the veggies run out, and the body revolts, demanding to be nourished in a way that only a home cooked meal can offer. I'll graciously succumb and turn on the stove, but please don't make me go to the market, deal with the car, the asphalt, the crowds, the heat. As desperately as we need to go shopping, I just don't want to. I must have some ingredients of interest and quality around here.
The above is what I came up with. Inspired by the Spiced Peanut Sauce recipe from The Kripalu Cookbook, to which I tossed cooked (rinsed under cold water), udon noodles (or spaghetti), finely diced baby carrots (because we all have baby carrots kicking around no matter how low we are on groceries), and chopped fresh herbs from the garden. The herbs I used were parsley, chive, basil and lemon verbena which added a lovely, fresh Thai quality. Take the above list of ingredients for inspiration, change it to make it your own, and try the sauce recipe below, adapted from The Kripalu Cookbook.
Spiced Peanut Sauce/Dressing
3 Tbls. sesame oil
1 Tbls. ground cumin
1/2 Tbls. crushed mild chili peppers (optional)
1 tsp. ground coriander
tiny pinch cayenne pepper, or more for your taste
1 1/2 cups natural peanut butter
3 Tbs. tamari or soy sauce
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp, cracked black pepper
2 cups water
In a small skillet, heat the oil and saute the cumin, chili, coriander, and cayenne for 1-2 minutes.
In a blender, slowly blend together the spice/oil mixture, peanut butter, tamari, salt, pepper, adding water while blending to desired thickness. Toss with other ingredients, chill for a bit before serving, the salad and you.
There are a couple of things that I'd like to mention about this recipe. First, I know it seems to be a long list of ingredients for a "simple meal," but what I discovered as I roamed around my seriously understocked pantry on that hot summer day, is that most of us have the assorted spices listed on hand. This is not a recipe that is intended to get you to head to the market. There will be many other recipes to come on this blog, please don't add ingredients to your kitchen that you wouldn't otherwise use just to make this meal.
The second thing is that since I wrote this recipe we have begun growing a modestly sized vegetable garden, so it is unlikely I would be caught with such a slim veggie selection in the summertime again which is so great! This little realization made me smile. Isn't that why we are here? To deepen our understanding that the more we do for ourselves the better equipped we are to provide for our own needs? Yes, indeed. I enjoyed revisiting this post and sharing this recipe with you, but the fresh perspective for me was an added bonus, thank you.
Saturday, 1 August 2009
Many times when people first start cooking from scratch, there is a trend to try and duplicate commercial foods in the home kitchen because that is what we know and are familiar with. I usually don't agree with this thinking, but sometimes it is a hard sell to other family members and the words, "It's better for you... ," don't mean anything when textures and tastes are too different. And even for me, salsa is one of those home preserved products that I don't care for unless the texture is similar to what is available in the grocery store. So began my quest for a salsa recipe that I could home can safely, and that met my taste and texture criteria.
Here's a post from my archives (the photos and dates are from last fall, I have had one ripe tomato to date this year) that is timely right now as many people's tomatoes are ripening fast, and salsa is a good way to get rid of the glut. So I thought I would share my recipe, and all the trials and tribulations of making salsa and getting someone to eat it.
As you can see, my tomato plants are starting to look a little peaked. I haven’t watered them, since the first week in August, (this will concentrate the sugars) and I have been pretty rough on them, trimming back the new growth. This is my boring guy winner, Costoluto Genovese from Cook’s Garden. This is the one that tastes the best in the salsa to us. But finding a salsa recipe that is safe to can, and people still find palatable isn’t always easy. Too runny, too hot, not hot enough, isn’t like store bought. You name it, I’ve heard the complaints.
The general rule of safe canning is DON’T mess with a recipe, especially when you are combining low acid ingredients with acid ingredients. I think salsa is the number one home canned product that tenses out the Extension Service. But, you know me, I can’t leave well enough alone. It also helps to have a foodie friend that just so happens to have a food testing lab, who after eating my salsa, and then making her own, is still alive. We have tested this salsa for pH, and it is in the safe range, or 4.4 – 4.5. Just to make sure, it didn’t lose acidity over time, she tested a year old jar last week, and it was the same. So proceed if you want, but keep the quantities the same on the peppers and onions, if you want hotter salsa, use a hotter variety of pepper. I make this two ways, one with chopped fresh tomatoes, which is I use for cooking Mexican flavored stews, and one with roasted tomato puree that will have a thicker consistency similar to store bought salsa. I got this recipe originally from the cooking section of the newspaper, so the original recipe was a tested one. The changes I have made are:
* I doubled the quantity, but did not change the ratio of low acid to high acid.
* I substituted roasted tomato puree for the chopped tomatoes, to make a thicker product.
MILD SALSA makes 7 – 8 pints
10 cups peeled, finely chopped tomatoes OR 10 cups roasted tomato puree*
2 cups sweet pepper, finely chopped
2/3 cup mild chilies, finely chopped
2 cups onion, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons minced garlic
1 cup cider vinegar (at least 5% acidity)
2 Tablespoons cilantro, chopped
2 teaspoons salt
4 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
Note: you can use any kind of pepper, just do not exceed 2 2/3 cups total.
Combine all ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Fill hot jars, leaving 1/2 headspace. Attach lids and process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath. (1001 – 6000 feet process 20 minutes; above 6000 feet, process 25 minutes) For an added degree of safety, in case you are using sweeter, low acid tomatoes, you can add 1/4 teaspoon citric acid per pint, or 1/2 teaspoon per quart.
*To roast tomatoes: Preheat oven to 400*, cut tomatoes in half, place cut side down in a jelly roll or roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Roast until golden and juice has evaporated. Depending on the variety of tomatoes this may take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. At this point, you can pluck off the skins, or puree in a food processor, or run the tomatoes through a food mill. If the mixture is still too runny for salsa, cook down in a crock pot to the desired consistency.
I have found that having home canned salsa in my pantry has been a great addition, lending just that perfect flavor to many dishes - rarely do we eat just chips and salsa.
Happy salsa making!
Friday, 30 October 2009
Living the Frugal Life
Dietary related illnesses are much in the media these days, being notably epidemic in the US and other industrial nations. Many of us want to eat a more healthy diet. Many of us are also feeling the need to cut costs wherever we can. So I thought I would put together a little list of my own "superfoods" that cost very little but provide excellent nutrition. Here are ten great foods to keep on hand in your pantry or kitchen.
Oats - Most commonly called rolled oats or oatmeal in the US, this simple staple comes in many forms and is known by many names in other countries. These whole grains are accessible even to those who cannot tolerate gluten, and they can be used in many ways. Excellent in cookies, as porridge, or added to breads for texture, pin oats (fine cut oats) also appear in a hearty soup called brose, in Scotland. Few foods are so easy to prepare, so universally appreciated, and also so very economical. Hot oatmeal with maple syrup and fruit is a mainstay winter breakfast in our home. Buy oats in bulk quantities if you can, then use them up.
Beet(root) - A nutritional superstar with a natural earthy sweetness. Plenty of people love to hate beets, pickled or otherwise. But just as many are won over by these marvelous root vegetables in roasted form, especially spritzed with fresh lemon juice straight out of the oven. Beets are an excellent source of Vitamin C and several key minerals. I love them in borsch and in pyttipanna. They're also wonderful simply boiled, peeled, grated and then dressed up with a dollop of mayonnaise, and a bit of finely minced garlic and parsley. If you're lucky enough to find beets with fresh looking leaves still attached, snap them up and then treat the greens as you would cooking greens.
Eggs - One of the most perfect sources of complete protein available to us, eggs are an excellent source of healthy fats, particularly when the hens that laid them had a healthy, diverse diet. If you can obtain eggs from hens kept on pasture or truly allowed to free range out of doors, you will be wise to buy them. Such eggs are lower in fat and cholesterol and higher in many essential vitamins and minerals. Learn to eat these eggs in place of costly meat. Eggs might turn up at the evening meal as often as breakfast in our home. Recently I enjoyed a dinner of Philippine garlic fried rice with an egg and some greens on the side.
The cabbage family - the brassica or crucifer family has long held a lowly status among the vegetables. This is quite fortunate for those who want to save money and yet get good nutrition from their food. Cabbage, kale, turnips, kohlrabi, mustard greens, collards, broccoli, cauliflower and even radishes are all part of this nutritional powerhouse of a family, and at least one member of this family is usually available for a pittance at any produce market. Cabbages not only store exceptionally well, but they can also be prepared in a huge variety of ways: slaws, soups, stuffed, casseroles, roasted, and as sauerkraut. I especially love it in colcannon, a traditional dish of the British Isles that pairs cabbage with potatoes. German and Eastern European cuisines have quite a touch with the cabbage family as well, so look to those areas for plenty of good ideas. Another favorite recipe of mine is Tuscan kale over pasta in a creamy tomato sauce.
Potatoes - I'm hesitant to include this wonder food only because of how heavily they are dosed with fungicides and herbicides in conventional agriculture. If you are able to find organic potatoes, or better still, grow your own, potatoes are a wonderfully versatile pantry staple. They pair beautifully with almost any fresh herb, and can either anchor a meal (stuffed baked potato, potato soup) or play sidekick to a main course (mashed, roasted, boiled). Few foods are priced to deliver so many calories so cheaply. If you refrain from deep-frying them, they're a reliable and healthy starch on which to base a winter diet. If you can find and store a 50-pound bag of potatoes, and use it up before they sprout, you can save even more money.
Homemade broth or stock - I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that everyone with access to a kitchen should aim to make broth or stock from scratch at least once per month. If you regularly eat meat, select cuts which include bones and save them until you have a good stash. Otherwise you can obtain chicken backs, necks, or wings quite cheaply from a good butcher shop. Homemade broth is cheap, nourishing, and intensely comforting. So long as you're at it, make as large a batch as is feasible, and consider making it double strength if storage space is limited. Freeze or can it in quantities that will allow you to enjoy it weekly. Nothing serves as a better foundation for homemade soups or bean dishes. (Tips for making stock at the end of this post.)
Homemade salad dressing - Though not a basic food, I'm including salad dressing here because it is a weekly or daily staple in so many homes. Purchased salad dressings often contain additives and even, at times, rancid oils. Then they are sold at exorbitant prices compared with the cost of the ingredients. Learn to make a good vinaigrette, or a small repertoire of your favorite salad dressings, and you will save money month after month. Good olive oil, vinegar, and a smattering of flavorful ingredients such as prepared mustard, shallots, freshly ground pepper, and lemon juice can create delicious, wholesome, and cheap dressings for your daily salad fix.
Peanut butter - Okay, most of us associate peanut butter either with childhood, or with dangerous allergies. If you're not allergic though, peanut butter could stand to be revisited. I won't deny I love it on a sandwich with good jam once in a while. But I also love the many Thai noodle and curry recipes that use this healthy source of fat and protein. Many African dishes also call for peanut butter in a main course, grown-up dish. I prepare peanut rice noodles with vegetables at the height of summer when using up the garden produce requires daily strategizing.
Garlic - Although most of us don't tend to eat garlic in large quantities, it is an essential pantry item in most homes where people cook from scratch on a regular basis. Aside from its wonderfully irreplaceable flavor, garlic offers many health benefits too. It lowers blood pressure and may help prevent damage to blood vessel walls from plaque. It's also credited with antimicrobial powers, and so is commonly believed to help guard against food poisoning and other ailments. Garlic by the head is usually well priced at the grocery store, and it's also been a great success in my garden for the past two years, with no pest damage at all. Apparently, only humans eat garlic.
Popcorn - While it's most commonly thought of as a snack food, popcorn is also a whole grain. How many snack foods can make that claim? If you buy popcorn in its simplest bulk form without paying for nasty chemical flavorings or microwaveable bags, this whole grain snack can be quite economical. And there's something downright convivial about a freshly popped bowl of popcorn. No one eats a bowl of popcorn alone if there's anyone else in the house. Here are some foolproof directions on preparing absolutely perfect oil-popped popcorn. Popcorn is another item to look for in bulk food stores.
Well, there you have my list. Do you have another favorite food that you rely on for cheap but healthy meals? Let us know in the comments. Or share with us your favorite way of using the foods listed here. And bon appetit!
Monday, 22 August 2011
I live in cabbage country. Everywhere you see farm fields you're likely to see cabbage. From glaucous blue to raucous red, cabbage is everywhere. That also means cabbage is pretty easy to grow here in the home garden too.
At a potluck one time I had the most delicious coleslaw, and was lucky enough to get the recipe from the cabbage farmer herself. It's light and crunchy, and gets better with age, the perfect dish to have waiting for you on a hot summer day. Featuring a few staples from the garden and pantry, this is the perfect time of year in the garden to make this easy slaw.
1 Medium head of cabbage, shredded or chopped fine.
2 – 3 carrots, grated.
1 medium sweet onion, grated.
1 green pepper, grated.
1 Tablespoon salt.
Black pepper to taste.
1/3 cup cider vinegar or strong Kombucha.
1/3 cup olive oil.
1/3 cup sugar or honey.
Mix first 5 ingredients, and let sit while you: heat vinegar, oil and sugar to just boiling. Pour over slaw. Mix well and refrigerate at least 2 hours before eating. The original recipe says it will keep six weeks in the fridge, but it never lasts that long – I eat this stuff for a mid-morning snack. There is usually dressing left over and I save that and use it on the next batch.
Monday, 28 June 2010
The long days of summer are full of activities, and I find I have less time to cook, even though fresh ingredients are abundant this time of year. Here is a simple recipe I gleaned from a local CSA newsletter. I use this frequently and mix and match greens depending on what is available in the garden. This week it is Bok Choy, Silverbeet, Spinach and garlic scapes. I don't have pine nuts or golden raisins on hand either, but have found that hazelnuts, or pumpkins seeds provide a good stand-in for pine nuts, and dried Italian prunes, cherries or cranberries can offer as much flavor as golden raisins. Just use what ever you have in your garden and pantry and experiment, that is half the fun of cooking!
Swiss Chard with Raisins and Pine Nuts
Adapted from Food to Live By, by Myra Goodman
1 bunch Swiss chard
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons garlic scapes, minced
grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup raisins (golden raisins have a nice flavor, but any kind will do)
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Rinse the chard and cut the ribs off the leaves. Cut the ribs into 1/2 inch dice and set aside. Stack the leaves and cut them into 1/2 inch strips. Set the leaves aside separately. Heat olive oil over medium heat in large, heavy pot or large, deep skillet with a tight fitting lid. Add the garlic scapes and chard ribs and cook, uncovered, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the chard leaves and cook, stirring frequently, about 1 minute. Add 2 tablespoons water, most of the lemon zest, and the raisins. Cover the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chard is tender and the water has almost evaporated, 4 to 8 minutes. If the water evaporates before the chard is tender, add an additional splash of water. Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the pine nuts, and season the chard with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately garnished with remaining lemon zest.
Monday, 22 March 2010
With moderate weather returning, I am finding myself working outside much more these days. We eat a large breakfast and snack throughout the day, so I need to have some things made ahead so we can come in, grab a bite and get back outside.
Cooking from scratch can seem daunting at first, but I view it as a method, rather than a recipe. If I keep my pantry well stocked with tasty basics and good ingredients, it's easy to put something together in a hurry. Not being a girlie girl, I'm a farmer first, cook last, so simplicity is the name of the game in my kitchen. Good hearty farm table fare. With that in mind, here is my method for a quick potato salad.
I try to keep on hand a bowl of potatoes boiled in their jackets. They are precooked, and ready for many applications. Each summer I make bread and butter pickles with lots of uses in mind. The brine from the pickles becomes the quick salad dressing for my potato salad. Vinegar and spices, how could I go wrong. After the pickles have all been fished out of the jar, there is always left over brine, and it is perfect for adding flavor to salads, etc. So keep that leftover brine and mentally go over your recipes - you can use it for many things.
I leave the jackets on the potatoes, but you can peel them if you like. If I make this salad for company, I chop the pickles, but if it is just for us, the pickle slices stay intact. In fact, I don't make pickle relish anymore, finding it easier to chop the rustic slices if I need a relish type texture. A huge time saver in the fall, when I am dealing with many things to harvest.
Have your pickle brine ready, if you follow this method, I'll soon explain that little tidbit.
Drizzle a little olive oil over the potatoes.
Season with salt and pepper.
Add half a diced onion.
Grate the other half of the onion over the potato salad. (This really adds flavor, since it will add onion juice to your salad. I wear safety glasses for this step. Refrigerating the onion overnight also will help take away some of the bite of the onion.)
Before your eyes start burning, add the brine, the vinegar will help cut the aromatics from the grated onion.
Stir to mix, and refrigerate for several hours to let the flavors meld. The salad is tasty this way, but it is a good way to use that extra aioli or boiled eggs too. And of course, mayonnaise if you prefer!
A simple meal, with simple on-hand ingredients, that can be customized to match what's in your pantry.
Friday, 8 October 2010
Southwestern, Tex-Mex, Mexican - the cuisine of the US southwest goes by many names. Tortillas, salsas, and chile peppers are much more likely to show up in the markets in other parts of the country now than in the past, and everyone has now heard of burritos, tacos, and refried beans. Many folks are familiar with green salsa or chili verde, but incorrectly assume they're made with green, aka unripe, tomatoes.
Those green soups and sauces are made with tomatillos (toe-ma-TEE-yos). The confusion is understandable. The word "tomatillo" looks like it could mean a kind of little tomato. Instead, the tomatillo grows inside a green husk, somewhat reminiscent of ground cherries or Chinese lantern plants.
For a gardener, the annual plants are easy to grow. I start a couple of seeds inside in early spring, the same time I start my tomato, pepper, and eggplants, and set them out after the last frost (they can be direct-seeded, but start out so tiny that I find it easier to start them inside. They'll also volunteer if you don't clean them up well in the fall). Once established the plants will thrive despite abuse that can kill other, tenderer, crops. They're drought-tolerant, but lots of water just makes them grow even faster. The light frosts in early fall won't faze them, nor will summer heat. Mine have never been bothered by bugs, critters, or disease. They do take up a bit of space - they're a sprawling, almost weedy-looking plant. I set out two plants close together, allowing them a space at least 4 feet square. They're quite prolific too - two plants provide enough for the two of us to use fresh in summer, and to can for winter soups and enchiladas.
Seeds are easy to come by, especially if your local market carries fresh tomatillos in the produce department (or start with some ordered from a seed catalog and then save your own seeds after that). With a fresh tomatillo, tear off the husk, cut the green fruit in half, squoosh the inside seed-carrying flesh onto a piece of paper, and set it aside to dry (incidentally, the same way I save tomato seeds - that soaking and fermenting in water is completely unnecessary). The seeds are much smaller than tomato seeds - more like eggplant's. When the paper is dry, the seeds can then be picked off and planted right away, or the paper folded up and tucked into an envelope to wait until Spring planting time.
To pick tomatillos, just lift up the sprawling branches and feel for heavy fruits that completely fill out the husk. For the best flavor, harvest when the husk and fruit inside are both still green. If you leave them until the husk dries out and the fruit inside turns yellow, they're still edible but too sweet. Harvested when the fruit inside just fills the husk, unwashed and unhusked fruits will keep a month or two just piled in a basket on a cool, pantry shelf (not refrigerated or in plastic).
To use fresh, pull off the husks and discard, then wash the round fruits inside (they'll feel a bit sticky). For salsa, dice or puree, along with roasted chile peppers, garlic, onion, and cilantro. They're also one of the easiest items to can (tomatillos on the left, above, jalapeno jelly on the right) for later use. Just barely cover dehusked and washed whole tomatillos with water and bring to a boil. Simmer 20 minutes, or until the fruits are soft. While they can be canned whole, I use a potato masher to smush them into a lumpy sauce. Ladle into hot, sterilized jars, adding 1 teaspoon lemon juice to each pint. Leaving 1/4 inch headspace, seal, and process 30 minutes in a boiling water bath.
My favorite way to use canned tomatillos is to make a big batch of chili verde: pork cubes browned with chopped onion and garlic, add cumin and oregano, water or stock, chopped roasted and peeled chiles to taste, and a jar of tomatillos. Simmer until the pork is tender, and serve in bowls with tortillas or corn muffins on the side. It's even better the next day - try it smothering a scrambled egg and potato breakfast burrito, topped off with a bit of cheese. ¡Muy sabroso!
Saturday, 2 May 2009
If you were to ask what my current 'go to economical meal for my family' is, it would have to be Brown Rice Patties. I've written the recipe on my personal blog, but I think it is a good idea to have it on file for all of you here as well.
We all know that cooking from scratch is more economical, but what exactly can we cook that is kid friendly, whole, nutritious, and not pasta! It's too easy to grab that box of spaghetti. I love pasta, but grains are more important, and they need to be delivered in a way that my eleven year old will actually love. This fits the bill perfectly, I serve them with applesauce from the pantry and a green salad. Everyone is happy, especially the very particular eleven year old of mine. The first time I made these my husband thought they were potato pancakes. Now who doesn't love a potato pancake?
Brown Rice Patties
3 cups leftover brown rice
1 cup grated carrot grated in food processor
1 medium onion, grated in food processor
2 cloves minced garlic, minced in food processor
1 t salt
½ t pepper
½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
Vegetable oil of your liking for frying
If you do not have a food processor you can use a box grater instead. Just make sure any onion juice makes it into the bowl, lots of flavor there!
Combine all ingredients except the oil. If you have the time to make this in advance and let it sit for a bit the garlic and onion flavors will blend even more, but it's not necessary, just nice. If the patties don’t hold together because they are too dry then add another egg. If they are too wet add a little flour.
Heat a frying pan or griddle on med - med/high heat until hot and add oil. Use a ¼ cup measuring cup to scoop out the rice mixture and gently lay them on the frying pan. Use the back side of the measuring cup to flatten out each patty. Cook until golden brown on each side, you might want to keep the oven on 250 with a baking sheet in there to put the finished ones on as you cook the rest. Enjoy!
I hope you try it, recipes like this will seriously stretch your grocery dollars, and I think we can all use a little extra stretching right now.
Print this out and keep it handy, I bet you make it more than once!
Happy weekend everyone!