Saturday, December 25, 2010

Sick sick sick

Sorry for the no posting. I even had this great stew from thanksgiving turkey and a bunch of other stuff that I made last Sunday that I was going to share. But I don't see the point now since all I've got is a picture, and I don't remember exactly what is in it. Turkey, potatoes, tomatoes, bean. Other stuff. Crockpot. Kinda chili-like.

I am lucky that my spouse still remembers how to cook. Esp this week. Time to get more sleep before the boy wakes us up at 6 am for presents.

On a positive 3lbs in four days.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tangerine Jamalade

Pardon for not posting for awhile. Busy, tired, under-the-weather.

One tool in the box of the frugal cook is preservation. Freezing, canning, drying... I have used all three now and then. Probably in that order.

For freezing, I often freeze surplus CSA or farmer's market finds. Fruits (strawberries, blueberries) and vegetables (steamed kale, collards, garden fresh tomatoes - use only cooked).

For drying, it is mostly herbs right now. I don't have a dehydrator (anymore anyway), so I tend to dry herbs by...letting them sit on the counter until they are dry. Very scientific. :)

For canning, my experience is limited...sort of. I grew up in the country of western PA. We had a large-ish garden and an acre. So as a pre-teen and early-teen, I spent the summers "putting up" with my mom. So much so that one summer, I had the dill pickle, green bean, and strawberry jam recipes memorized. I remember it being fun. Then again, I would help the neighbor do her laundry in a tub with a "wringer" to dry them out from wash to rinse, so take that with a grain of salt.

As an adult, I started with freezer jam. It's easy, it's good, it uses a LOT of sugar. Last year, we graduated to making strawberry jam in the water-bath canner. We only made a few pints, and they were gone lickety-split.

This year, our teeny tiny tangerine tree in the back gave us a bumper crop of tangerines. That my spouse decided to pick almost all at once, right before he left on a business trip. The thought of doing anything with them while working full time and doing double-duty at home was too much.

But then he came back. Sick. Wait a few more days. In the meantime, my boss brought a bumper crop of tangerines from his tree. I swiped a couple of pounds.

I decided to make tangerine marmalade. I looked up several recipes. The one that I liked the most was here. But I also looked here and here. I have the Ball Blue Book and the instructions that came with the pectin recipe. Which ended up being very helpful. Marmadale is not supposed to need pectin, because there is plenty of pectin in the peels of the fruit. But despite boiling our mixture for an hour and half, it wasn't "setting", so we added pectin. Which clumped. So we used the immersion blender. Which pulverized our peels. Which is why my friend Angela dubbed it "jamalade".

As much as it was a lot of work - 2.5 hours on Friday night, chopping the fruit, and 2.5 hours the next day, cooking the mixture and canning - we both felt proud of ourselves. There's some bit of satisfaction with taking food from your own tree and turning it into something yummy.

So here goes:

Tangerine Jamalade:
8 lbs tangerines: $ 0
1 grapefruit (we had it): $0
1 lemon: $0
14-16 cups sugar: $3.28
1 package Pomona pectin: $2.50

Total: $5.78 for 14 pints of jamalade, or $0.41 per pint. Plus the cost of the jars, which is about $0.90 each. You can reuse the jars, but that doesn't work if you give some of the stuff away. Which we do.

You can see that if you have a free source of fruit (or cheap in season), it can be worth it to can it. Especially if you live somewhere where produce is scarce in the winter. (I don't.)

Peel the tangerines. Dice small, painfully, so as to avoid the seeds, until you get through 8 lbs and realize that you only found 3 seeds. Promise next time you are going to use the food processor, as a couple of the recipes recommended. Slice the peel.

Place the fruit and peel with 6 cups water. No wait, that wasn't quite enough. I used closer to 8 cups of water in my largest pot. Let soak 12-18 hours.

Add sugar. Here's where it's tricky, because a lot of recipes say one cup per pint of fruit mixture. Now the original recipe said about 13 cups for 8 lbs tangerines. But I only had 7 pints of fruit mixture. Until I realized that the graduated lines on the side of my pot was for QUARTS not PINTS. Then, the 14-16 cups makes more sense.

Cook the sugar and fruit until boiling. It should get to about 220F, so it boils and starts to thicken. Ours didn't really. Some reading I've done suggests that marmalade will thicken in the jar over a few weeks. I didn't want to take that chance. So we added the pectin. The Pomona pectin recipe for marmalade actually suggests using pectin (of course it does, they are selling you pectin). Most others don't. But you are supposed to add it with the sugar. Presumably, if you do that, it won't form little dry balls of pectin. Ours did (hence the immersion blender).

Meanwhile, sterilize the jars and the lids. You don't want to boil the lids, just simmer. This is where I now remember that canning takes all four burners. One for the fruit, one for the boiling jars, one for the canner, and one for the lids.

When everything is ready, start pouring your fruit into your jars. We used a big funnel and the pyrex 2 cup measuring cup. Wipe the rim of the jar, and place the lid on top. My tweezer skills from work come in very handy here - getting the lids out of the simmering water. Screw on the top. Finger-tight. Remember to use an oven mitt, and don't forget to tighten it. We had one jar that we didn't tighten. It's runny.

Place in boiling water bath and can for 10 minutes. Remove to cool on the counter on a towel. Repeat with remaining fruit. Feel proud. Enjoy on bread.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Is it no wonder that I'm confused?

Here are a few of my new favorite blogs:

Penniless Parenting (cooking, bulk buying, food storage, rock bottom prices)
Broke Foodie (shops once every three months, and uses her pantry the rest of the time)

The Everyday Minimalist (who only has just enough in the fridge to last the weeLinkk)

There are aspects of both approaches that I find appealing. Having food on hand so that I don't have to go grocery shopping, and saving money by buying in bulk = goood.

But planning exactly one week's meals and not having to dig through this and that to find what I'm looking for, only to realize that I'm out = also very appealing.

But they are polar opposite ways of doing very similar things.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Curried Cabbage

Sometimes, the essence of frugal and simple cooking is in what you DON'T do, not what you do actually do. Case in point: traveling. My husband travels. Not a huge amount, but still. It's pretty difficult to try and hold down a full time job and be a single parent, even if only for a day or two. I'm expected to work 40 hours per week (actually, I'm expected to work closer to 50, but good luck with that). But on travel days, with drop off AND pick up at school, I can only be at work from 8:30 to 4:30 pm. Which makes the math hard on getting in 40 hours, and makes me tired.

Last week, when my spouse traveled, I did no cooking. Really. I'd made a couple of items over the weekend - caponata and eggplant curry. And that's what my son and I ate for the week. The cabbage languished in the fridge - why make something special for only two? As my husband traveled again this week, I though about doing the same thing. I made turkey alphabet soup (for the sick husband) and homemade bread on Sunday. So, why not? Then I remembered the languishing cabbage. And the fact that when I go really "simple" like that, my veggie intake suffers, and this doesn't make me feel very good. My digestion suffers.

Last night I pulled out the cabbage and threw some stuff together. It was pretty delicious. There's a little bit of uncooked cabbage left, two nights in a row is pushing it for me as a single parent. Tonight, it's frozen veggies. And more soup and bread.

Curried cabbage
1 T canola oil: 0.03
1/2 onion, chopped: 0.10
1 lb chopped cabbage: 0.40
1 clove garlic, minced: 0.05
1/4 tsp EACH cumin, turmeric, coriander: 0.05
1 T Bragg's liquid aminos: 0.10
juice of 1 lime: 0.20
1 tsp sugar: 0.01
Total: $0.95 for 4 servings, or $0.24 per serving.

Saute the onion in the oil until brown. Add the garlic and spices and saute 30 secs. Add the rinsed cabbage with the water still on the leaves and the Bragg's. Cover, reduce heat and cook about 5-10 min, or until soft.

Remove lid and turn up the heat to get some browning action (10 min). When almost done, sprinkle on the sugar and squeeze on the lime. Stir, cook 2 more min and serve.

On a side note, I discovered kabocha! Yum! Better than butternut even. After reading about it from HEAB and others, I had to try it. (It was on sale).

And, I had a delicious salad at some point.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Eggplant and Potato Curry

Finally, a delicious recipe that I can take credit for. Kind of. You see, there's this little Indian restaurant here with a great eggplant curry dish. I haven't eaten there in at least 5 years. But for about that long, I have wanted to try eggplant curry. Now, considering how many vegetarian/vegan/Indian cookbooks I have, you'd think I'd find a recipe easily. Not so. In the end, I found a vegan eggplant stew, an "Indian eggplant dish", and one other eggplant and potato dish in various cookbooks. I decided to make it vegan and use only the items that I had. And I wanted to have a tomato based curry.

This recipe is basically a combination of the three. I used the spices that I had, the ingredients that I had and like. And ... it was very tasty. My husband said "this is great!" unsolicited. Not that he doesn't appreciate my cooking normally, but it's nice when he pops out with a compliment on a new dish.

We ate this over cooked brown rice and quinoa, and topped it with avocado. I had a feeling that it would be better with something creamy/ avocado, yogurt, eggs, or nuts. And I got a bunch of delicious avos at the farmer's market this week.

Eggplant and Potato curry
4 T canola oil: 0.16
1 chopped onion: 0.18
1 eggplant, diced in 1/4 to 1/3 inch cubes: 0.90
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup water
2 cloves garlic, pressed: 0.10
1 T fresh ginger, grated: 0.05
1/4 tsp turmeric: 0.05
1/2 tsp garam masala: 0.05
1/4 tsp chili powder: 0.05
1 tsp cumin: 0.05
1 lb potatoes, diced small: 0.10
1 14oz can diced tomatoes: 0.58
1/2 tsp salt
Total: $2.27 for 5 generous cups, or $0.45 per generous cup.

Saute onion in 1 T canola oil until soft, and then add garlic and ginger and saute one more minute.

Add the spices and cook another minute. Or, forget to do that like I did. Add the eggplant and 1/4 tsp salt and the rest of the oil, and cook for 5 min. Add the water, reduce heat, and cover. Then remember that you forgot the spices. Add the spices, stir, and cook, covered, 20 min.

Meanwhile, peel and dice the potatoes and steam (I did in the microwave) until cooked.

Puree the tomatoes and add to the eggplant after the 20 min are up. Add the potatoes. Cover and cook 10 more min or until potatoes are fully cooked. Add the 1/2 tsp salt.

We served this over rice and quinoa, which was $0.85 for 4.5 cups, or $0.19 per cup. I generally eat 1/2 cup, spouse eats 1 to 1.5 cups. The avocado for the topping was $1.05

All told, this will be 2-3 meals for two and a half people, for $6.27, and that includes the three avocados.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Take a Shopping Trip with Me

My shopping habits change with the year and the season. During the CSA season (now 46 weeks long), I always pick up our fresh veggies on Thursday after work. (except next year, I think I signed up for Tuesday. After 10 years on Thursday, how much do you want to bet I'll forget the day?)

When my son was in daycare, I would often shop once per week at Tri County Produce because it was close to his child care provider, and had very good prices. When I was working Sundays, I would hit the farmer's market at lunch time near work. The Saturday farmer's market is one of the largest and is my favorite, but during the year or so that I was training for half marathons or triathlons, I always almost missed it.

When I worked part time, I shopped several days per week as I needed things, because I simply had more time. When I went back to work full time and got tired of that, I decided to only shop once per week (not counting the CSA pick up and farmer's market). When that got to be too stressful, I took a page out of some others' books (those who shop once every month or two or three), and attempted to shop only every 2 weeks. My thought was that I still had the CSA to pick up every week for vegetables, and there was now a farmer's market at my son's school on Wednesday, so I could shop without an extra trip.

I found the challenges to every 2 weeks were milk and fruit. It's not that if I ran out of something else, I couldn't work around it. I have a lot of practice with that. No bread for sandwiches or toast? Eat oatmeal or rice or pasta or soup. Milk does not stay fresh for 2 weeks. I know that you can freeze it, but I wasn't able to find 1/2 gallons or organic milk in the plastic jugs, and I didn't want to attempt to freeze paper cartons. And we eat a LOT of fruit. I eat 2-4 pieces a day and the spouse and child eat 1-3 pieces each. Our CSA supplies little fruit (some weeks, none at all), and the farmer's market choices are heavily dependent on the season (as expected). The market at my son's school is very small (1/8th the size of the Saturday one), with few vendors. I found myself having to shop at least once a week for milk and fruit, so I gave up the "every 2 weeks" shopping pretty quickly. I think I lasted 6 weeks.

The frugalness of my shopping trips has varied over the years and months too. A lot of frugal shopping and cooking habits can be learned and practiced bit by bit. Using a price book. Shopping loss leaders. Buying (and cooking) in bulk. Putting up "excess" (yours and friends'). Avoiding convenience foods. However, like healthy eating habits, it's pretty easy to find yourself drifting away from the good habits over time. One holiday party here and a pizza lunch at work there, and you find yourself hitting the bread or chocolate or wine a bit too much. Likewise, a week or two of craziness at work, a sick kid, or a traveling husband can mean you find yourself ordering pizza more often, or not using your price book, or buying convenience foods, or shopping at only one store because it's easier than shopping at three.

My shopping habits have also changed because of my reading habits. What to Eat, The Omnivore's Dilemma, Eat for Health, The China Study etc... now I purchase organic dairy whenever possible. We eat less meat (a LOT less) and buy organic and free range (local when possible). We eat about 5-10 lbs of meat in a typical month (for a family of 3). We try to eat organic for the "dirty dozen" fruits and vegetables also.

"Back in the day" before I embraced the more-organic path, and when I was working part time, I would use cash to shop and could feed us for $70/week plus $20 for the CSA. We ate more meat, I shopped more often at Tri County, and my son was mostly fed on breastmilk and baby food. I sometimes think longingly of those days of shopping aggressively and cooking from scratch 5 days a week (with leftovers on the other two days). But my shopping and eating habits have had to change for my own sanity's sake.

So, frugal or not by your standards, here's a day (sort of) in the life of my family's shopping habits. I was able to shop myself (no kid), which was relaxing.

At the Wednesday farmer's market this week, I discovered something dangerous. The hummus guy. Oh my goodness. I was shopping for my son's school snack for the next day. I like making my own hummus, but there's that time factor again.

Weds Farmer's market: $15
3 tubs of hummus: $13
1 lb broccoli: $2

Weds Grocery store: $9
crackers and baby carrots

Saturday Farmer's Market: $34.50
raw almond butter: $8 (this stuff is GOOOOOD)
10 lb bag oranges: $6 (great deal! and they keep pretty well in the fridge)
3+ lb avocado: $5 (from the best avocado ranch around)
1 ripe avocado: $1.50 (from a different vendor)
2 heads lettuce: $2
24 oz honey: $9
2 lb carrots: $3 (vs. 33cents a pound at Tri County. Not the frugal choice, but they are tasty)

Contrast these prices (some good, some not great) with Tri County Produce (location of origin listed).
Total Tri County: $14.82
yellow onions (USA) at 0.33/lb
kabocha squash (USA) at 0.79/lb (oops, they charged me for acorn)
organic pink lady apples (USA) at 1.39/lb (best price I've seen all year for organic)
cabbage (USA): 0.49/lb
poppy and sesame seeds: 0.69/ea
celery (USA): 0.79
red bell pepper (Mex): 0.49/lb
eggplant (Mex, though the label on the shelf said USA!): 0.99/lb
soda (bad Marcia): $1.59

I read recently that our poor farmers feed our rich people and our rich farmers feed our poor people. I wish I could remember where. Probably from a link from another site, like Casual Kitchen. When you compare our farmer's market prices vs. our store prices, you can see that is true.

Trader Joe's: $56.94
drinks: prosecco, limade, grapfruit soda (for a party)
sparkling water, apple juice (for home). Yeah, I pay for bubbles.
milk (1 gal, leaking), 2 kinds of yogurt (32 oz each) - I haven't made my own in awhile
fruit applesauce pouches (a jar would be better, but it's a treat for my son)
olives, capers, pickles
whole wheat penne and fettucini, bowtie pasta
bananas, gorgonzola, sour cream, bread

So, there you have it. $115.44 for the week. And we ordered pizza one night.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Roasted Vegetables

Ah, there is something about the cold weather that just makes me want to roast stuff. I love roasted vegetables. The problem with them is that when the weather is warm, you just don't want to turn on your oven.

The weather is often warm in So Cal.

Still, I've got great recipes for roasted cauliflower, roasted root vegetables, roasted potatoes. I use "recipes" lightly because with the exception of the cauliflower, the recipes are "salt, pepper, oil".

I experimented a bit this week because I still have a lot of that 10-lb bag of potatoes for a $1. I also still had some green beans. I wonder if you can roast green beans?

Turns out you can. And later this week, I repeated the experiment with the potatoes, green beans and onions, and I tossed some broccoli in there too.

I do have a little trick to make it go faster: Pampered Chef has this great little black micro steamer that I LOVE. I love it so much I have purchased the larger size as gifts for friends. It microwaves vegetables quickly and perfectly. Then the oven is just the browning part. These days I am making two trays. We eat a LOT of vegetables in this house. Still with two trays, there were only enough leftovers for one lunch (mine).

Roast vegetables: (amounts are just what I had)
1.5 lbs potatoes, peeled and diced into 3/4 inch cubes: 0.15
1/2 lb green beans trimmed: 0.35
1.3 lb broccoli, cut into florets and the stems peeled and diced: 2.00
1/2 an onion, sliced: 0.12
1 Tbsp canola oil (yes I measure this out because I'm trying to lose weight): 0.03
seasoned salt (homemade) to taste

Total: $2.65. The broccoli was from the farmer's market.

Use the microsteamer to steam the veggies. I did it as I went:
green beans: 1.5 min
broccoli: 2.5 min
potatoes: 4 min

Put in a bowl with the spices/seasoned salt and canola oil and toss.

Line two cookie sheets with parchment (a nod to the spouse who does the dishes). Spread evenly.

Bake at 425 for 20 min. Stir. Bake another 10-15 min.