Monday, April 20, 2015

White Cheesy Bean Dip

Several months ago, I posted a cheesy bean dip, which is super simple, cheap, and which we love. It uses pinto beans (in their refried form). But not everybody loves pinto beans. In fact, I've found in my vast study of people's bean preferences (and by vast study I mean just watching various family members), that pinto beans rank a little low on the bean favorites list. Perhaps you've met these folks--they'll eat a white chili, but won't touch one with pinto and kidney beans. White beans do tend to have a milder flavor and a thin skin (as opposed to, say, a kidney bean). Or maybe it's a psychological thing--those white beans just tend to blend in better. When your loved ones eat them, they don't have to confront the fact that they are eating something from the magical fruit food group; all they see is cheese. Whatever the reason, there was a need for a cheesy white bean dip. I, my friends, have answered that call. I have to say that I like this one even better than our last bean dip (although--in all fairness, Kip says the original bean dip is his favorite, and the truth is we both like both).

I realize that dips often get relegated to the appetizer or "super bowl foods" categories, but I like to pluck them from their aperitif status and knight them into full main course glory (best metaphor ever). Bad metaphors aside, however, dips really are a great, easy dinner. All you need is a bag of corn chips (and maybe something cruciferous on the side if you want to be all righteous about it) and you've got a fairly healthy dinner on the table. Think of it as a casserole if it makes you feel better about things.

White Bean Cheesy Bean Dip
adapted from Heartbeet Kitchen
Servings: 4-6
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Cost: $8.00 with chicken and peppers; $6.500 without (about $1.00-1.50/serving)
beans: 1.25, sour cream: .70, lime: .25, chicken: 1.00, corn: .50, cheeses: 3.00, peppers: .50, salsa verde: .80

2 14 oz. cans white beans, drained (or about 2-2 1/2 C of your homemade white beans)
2/3 C sour cream
2 cloves garlic, minced
juice of a lime
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1 C shredded, cooked chicken (optional--it's good with or without)
1 C corn (1 can, drained works for this, or fresh or frozen)
2 Tbsp cilantro, minced
1 C mozzarella cheese
1 1/2 C cheddar cheese
2/3 C red peppers, diced (optional; I love them, but Kip hates them, so I skipped this time around; they make it pretty though)
2/3 C salsa verde (note: I was running out when I made this and only used about 1/2 C--the world did not stop spinning)

Preheat oven to 375. Brush oil onto the bottom and side of a casserole dish (or a cast iron skillet--about 12-inch or an 8x8 inch square pan)

Add beans, sour cream, garlic, lime juice and cumin to a food processor. Puree until smooth. Taste and salt if needed. Stir in chicken (if using), corn, cilantro, and 1 C of cheese.

Spread this on your casserole pan. Then sprinkle on red peppers (if using) and top with the salsa verde. Cover this with the remaining cheese. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until it's bubbling and just browned on top.

Serve with corn chips or carrot sticks or whatever sounds good to you.


Monday, April 13, 2015

Two-Minute No Knead Pizza Dough

So apparently Gwyneth Paltrow is now on the food stamp budget bandwagon. She's gotten plenty of push back too and, while I admit that in some ways, she seems perfectly oblivious to the plight of some of us commoners, the push back is sometimes annoying to me too. One thing I read recently criticized her because she can go to the store and buy food as opposed to the poor who, apparently, cannot go anywhere at all ever. Except McDonald's. The article pretty much said that poor people can't make it to the store, that's why they have to eat fast food. Because as we all know, grocery stores are millions of miles away from poor people, but Taco Bells just sprout off of their poor people trees.

Listen. I don't think there's anything wrong with a person (poor or otherwise) going out for fast food now and again, but when journalists start talking about the poor as though they're destined to live off of cheeseburgers and Big Gulps, it gets my little britches all in a wad. It's just so unempowering (spell check says this is not a word), and in this unempowerment (also not a word), it's super insulting. If you're poor, then I guess you'll just be stuffing your face with cheap hamburgers.

Well, not today. Today we're making pizza. Beautiful, homemade pizza. We can do it if we're poor because it's inexpensive, delicious, and easy to make. Or we can do it if we're not poor because it's inexpensive, delicious, and easy to make. We can do it if we're anywhere in between because it's inexpensive, delicious, and easy to make. Oh sure, I hear you, Mr. Condescending Journalist--the poor don't have time to make homemade pizza. Well today they/we do. The dough takes two minutes--TWO minutes--of assembly time and can be thrown together (almost literally) the night before, the morning of, or that afternoon depending on your needs. (Note: It will need rise time, so some planning is necessary. Please don't tell me the poor cannot plan.) Add to this some 5-minute marinara sauce (or a can of $.99 Hunts if you will), and some mozzarella and you've got yourself a perfectly respectable poor man's meal that tastes like a rich man's meal. All together, a 15x12 inch cheese pizza with this dough will cost you about $3.50. In fact, you've got yourself a poor man's meal for 6--that's about $.60/serving (teenagers not yet included). Yes, you could go to Little Caesar's. And, again, I'd like to point out that there's nothing inherently wrong about that. But this dough tastes better. And has less sodium and sugar than a fast-food pizza. It's also a little cheaper and a little bigger (it can feed our whole family whereas a Little Caesar's pizza can't). And has been prepared by your very own hands. You can personalize it with any toppings you wish if you've got the cash and inclination for that.

You do have to get your booty to the grocery store at least once a year for these pantry stable ingredients, but I'm pretty sure if Gwyneth can do it, you can too.

Two-Minute No Knead Pizza Dough
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
makes enough dough for one large pizza
Cost: $.40
flour: .35, yeast: .05

Note: You'll use 1/8 tsp yeast for a 24-ish hour dough,
1/4 tsp yeast if you make your dough the morning of (12-ish hour rise time),
1/2 tsp yeast if you make it around lunch time (5-6-ish hour rise time),
3/4 if you make it a few hours before dinner (3-4-ish hour rise time).
I believe this dough is tastier and chewier the longer you leave it to sit, but I don't always plan ahead enough, which is why you have the higher yeast adaptations (and it's still yummy made that way too).

3 C flour (I used 2 1/2 C all-purpose and 1/2 C of white whole wheat for righteousness' sake)
1 1/4 tsp salt
1/8, 1/4, 1/2, or 3/4 tsp yeast depending on how long you want to let it sit (see note)
1 1/4 C water

Combine dry ingredients. Add water and stir. It'll look like a lump of craggy dough (different than kneaded dough).

Cover and let sit for up to a day.

Take it out  (it will now be slightly sticky, and less firm than that craggy dough was originally). Fold it a time or two into a ball. Spread it on your pan and top it as you will.

Bake at 400 degrees until your cheese is bubbly. (Note: Pizza pros often cook their pizza at much higher temps. You can. Sometimes I do too, but usually I make a medium-thick crust and keep it at 400 or 425. I'm not a pro, but it comes out pretty tasty nevertheless.)


Monday, April 6, 2015

Dumb Easy Homemade Ricotta

The last few months I've been thinking about my blog and wondering if, perhaps, it has departed a bit too far from its original platform--cheap, delicious food that isn't too hard or too fake. I'm not opposed to the occasional pricier recipe, though lately I do feel that I've justified it a little too much. I'm inclined to think, "Well, it's cheaper than eating out; it's cheaper than buying boxed food." Which it absolutely is. But home cooking is always that, so any old recipe I give to you is likely to be cheaper than its restaurant equivalent. Point being that I hope to pull the old blog back more to what it originally was meant to be--a resource for those looking to eat super cheap, but super well.

Today's recipe kind of nails it. It's so cheap. And so so easy. It's the perfect solution for milk that is nearing its expiration date (but not sour) when you know you just won't be able to drink it all before it sours. This, I believe, is one of the principles of cheapskatery--finding ways to save/eat the foods you've bought.

Here, perhaps I should note, that it's kind of a cheater ricotta. Real ricotta is made after you've made some other cheese. You then take that whey, curdle it, and strain out the last little bits of cheesiness--and that is your ricotta. It is cheapskatery at its finest. However, making a real cheese with rennet and/or bacterial cultures, and love and time is not what this post is about today. It's more about making an inexpensive, wicked good spreadable cheese when you've got milk that needs using.

And it is the most delicious ricotta I've ever eaten. It is creamy (almost as creamy as cream cheese) with sweet-ish overtones (as opposed to plain yogurt with its tanginess). It's satisfying and perfect. In fact, I find that I want to go get myself a scoop as I write this. In short, it's the kind of ricotta that you could put on lasagna, but you might not want to because why would you waste it by hiding it among all that pasta and sauce when you could just eat it straight up out of a bowl. It'd also be lovely on bagels or crepes, or served in a bowl with fruit or honey or on the side of some sauteed vegetables.

It takes only 3 cups of milk (that's about $.30 if we're talking about our cheap Aldi milk), another $1.00 for the cream, and $.25 for the lemon. For this $1.55 you get about 1 1/2 C of ricotta. That's not a bad price for the best ricotta you've ever eaten. And--again--this is a very good way to use up milk that needs to be used.

Also it's about as easy as you can get when we're talking about making your own cheese (which we are). You will need a thermometer and a tea towel for straining, but otherwise it's crazy easy--heat the dairy products, add lemon juice, let sit, strain. I made it this morning while I cleaned my kitchen.

As an added bonus, the rich, creamy protein-filled food is a nice foil for the candied weekend that was Easter for us. Today at lunch I wanted something simple and not sweet.

If you'd like to use the whey, you can use it in most baked goods the way you'd use milk or buttermilk (muffins are my go to for whey). Or you can try this lovely.

Dumb Easy Homemade Ricotta
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
makes about 1 1/2 C
Prep/cook time: 15-20 minutes
Strain time: 1-2 hours
Cost: $1.55
milk: .30, cream: 1.00, lemon .25

3 C milk
1 C cream
3 Tbsp lemon juice (I used fresh squeezed)

In a saucepan, heat milk and cream to 190 degrees (Fahrenheit), stirring occasionally so it doesn't scald on the bottom of the pot (I heated mine on medium--you can heat it faster on high or slower on low, depending on how much attention you want to give it--you just can't let the bottom burn onto the pan).

When it hits 190, take it off the heat, and stir in lemon juice.

Let it sit for 5 minutes. It's going to curdle; it's supposed to curdle; that's part of making cheese.

Now line a strainer with a tea towel (or several layers of cheese cloth) and set that strainer over a bowl of some sort (so the whey can drip into that bowl instead of all over your counter). Pour the contents of your pot into the tea towel and let sit for 1-2 hours. At an hour, it will be runnier, but still definitely ricotta (also, it will firm up somewhat as it cools completely--at an hour, it will still be slightly warm). I let mine go for two hours because I wanted a firmer spreadable sort of ricotta. It was fabulous.

Eat it. I ate mine with a few blueberries and guys--you'd be surprised how wonderful and satisfying it was. Better than anything I've ever had from the store.



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