Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sun-dried Tomatoes

Cheap Eat Challenge, Part 2: Watch as our family of 6 eats on $10/day.

Let me start by saying there's no sun involved in my drying process. Today it was approximately 78 million degrees outside with 100 trillion percent humidity. You walked outside and felt like you were swimming. In fact, if I leave the dried tomatoes on the counter for too long instead of throwing them in an air-tight container, I feel like they begin to rehydrate from the water in the air. 

But just because we don't have dry air doesn't mean we don't have tomatoes. About this time of year, the little ones start coming out of my ears. They're fun for snacks and salads, but eventually, eventually, it gets hard to be excited about them. They drop to the ground, unloved, and decompose. Unless you have a brilliant idea like I did last year: cut the little boogers in half and dry them. 

Sun-dried tomatoes are super pricey. Drying them is super easy. This seemed like a win win. 

Last year it was Sweet 100's. This year it's these little yellow pear shaped ones. I get them from my garden and my CSA. The thing is, yellow tomatoes are fun and all, but they're not really my favorite. Apparently, I like a more acidic kick. Which is one of the great things about drying. It takes a mild tomato and concentrates all of its flavors. Even if you don't eat them to the point of mouth soreness like I do, they're delicious on pastas and in other recipes. They're a little piece of summer in the middle of winter. And although we're swimming through humidity right now, there's going to come a time when we can all use a little piece of summer in the middle of winter. 

After you've cut your tomatoes in halfsprinkle them fairly generously with salt (sprinkle them enough so that they're good to eat before drying--punchy, but not crazy salty). If you've gotten them too salty, they'll burn your mouth up when dehydrated. However, the salt is a really wonderful accentuator (of course that's a word; why do you ask?) for the tomatoes. It's especially nice if you like to snack on them.

Line the halved tomatoes on your dehydrator and set it for about 135 degrees. Yup, if your oven goes that low, you can do them in there too.

It's going to be several hours. Mine tend to take between 8 and 16 hours to dry, depending on how big the halves are. I always check after 8 hours, pull off the ones that are done, let them cool, and put them in a sealed bag with the air squished out. I repeat this every 4 hours or so until they're all done. You don't want them getting crispy dry and you don't want them juicy at all. They should be chewy throughout. If they're nearly done and it's bedtime, just turn your machine off and then turn it back on in the morning. 

I use a Nesco American Harvest Dehydrator that was a gift from my mother-in-law. It's awesome. If you're looking for something a little cheaper, they've got them on sale at Aldi through Tuesday (in these parts) for $19.99, but I don't know how good they are, (although I bet they're good enough for tomatoes and herbs).

To store them, put them in a tightly sealed Ziploc bag, with as much air as possible squeezed out. They'll keep like this for several weeks, but I always throw them in the freezer to store them for the long term. I know that sounds a little weird since I just went through the hassle of drying them. And I assure you that dried they will last for a while just sitting in a bag on your counter top (provided it's sealed with very little air). But the freezer just guarantees that they last longer. It extends their life and preserves the nutrients even longer. It protects them from bugs and other pests. And it acts as an extra safety just in case I didn't get quite enough of the moisture out. Why take a chance? They take an itty bitty amount of freezer space and that way I don't have to worry about them.

The Skinny on Sun-dried Tomatoes:

1. Rinse and dry your tomatoes.
2. Cut smallish tomatoes in half (larger ones you'll want to cut in small pieces).
3. Salt or sprinkle with any other herbs you wish.
4. Place on food dehydrator with none touching or overlapping.
5. Set dehydrator to 135 degrees and dry for 8-16 hours or until tomatoes are chewy throughout. Check tomatoes throughout drying and remove those that are done before the others.
6. Remove from dehydrator and let cool.
7. Place in Ziploc bag and seal tightly with as little air as possible left in the bag.
8. Store for several weeks on the shelf or right on through the winter in the freezer. (I like to double bag the freezer tomatoes.)
9. Eat on pastas or as snacks when the dreary cold days of winter leave you longer for sunnier times.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Five Minute Blueberry Sorbet

Cheap Eat Challenge, Part 2: Watch as our family of 6 eats on $10/day.

(We're a little melty here. It's 80 degrees in the house and it didn't help that Emma was banging on my leg with  her bowl in eager anticipation while I tried to get a few pictures.)

Five minutes from start to finish. That's what I'm talking about.

Because blueberry sorbet is always pretty. And blueberry sorbet is always tasty. But blueberry sorbet is not always fast. Usually, you have to freeze it for a day or put it in an ice cream maker for 40 minutes. I'm not opposed to that or anything, but I tend to lack foresight. I tend to get to dinner and think, "Oh yeah, I wanted to have blueberry sorbet with this." Do I go through my life this way? Let's just say I have my days.

Besides speed, beauty, and blueberry lemon punchiness, the other great thing about this is that there's very little sugar in this blend. Normally with a sorbet, you have to have a certain amount of sugar to get it to freeze right. Not with a blender sorbet. With a blender sorbet, you can use however much you want.

Now if I could just get someone to gift me a Vitamix...

Five Minute Blueberry Sorbet
makes 4 servings
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cost: $1.40
(blueberries: 1.29/pint on sale, kale: .05, lemon juice/sugar: .06)

1 1/2 C frozen blueberries
1 large kale leaf, spine torn out (or 1/2 C raw baby spinach leaves)
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
4 ice cubes
6-8 Tbsp water (you want to get away with as little as possible in order to get it as thick as possible)
a few scrapes of lemon zest for extra kick (optional)

Combine all ingredients in blender and pulse until completely smooth. Taste and add a bit more sugar if necessary (it will depend on how sweet your blueberries are). If your blender is awesome, this will take a minute. For me it took a little more. I kept having to shove my stuff down and mix it up, which leads me to the best smoothie making tip EVER. Seriously, I might give it its own post one of these days.

Best Smoothie Tip Ever: Use a celery stalk or carrot to mix or shove your fruit and ice down while the blender is blending. That way you will not end up accidentally breaking your wooden spoon or shattering your plastic spoon or bending your metal spoon or your blades while trying to shove food down to get your smoothie moving. I have broken a spoon at least 3 times and ended up with inedible shard-filled smoothie/hummus/sorbet. It pretty much always ends in tears. Better to get a teeny bit of carrot chopped up in your smoothie/hummus/sorbet. I promise you won't feel it go down the way you will with a bit of rubber spatula.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tomato Corn Pie

Cheap Eat Challenge, Part 2: Watch as our family of 6 eats on $10/day.

Do you see this beautiful food?

 I kind of managed to ugly it up. (Apparently, I do this with pies.)

Additionally,  it has a name that isn't going to win me any awesomeness contests either.

But before your eyes shift to the ugly picture below (oh wait, they already did, didn't they--shift them back, okay), let me say that ugly or not, weird sounding or not, you should make this. Because it is ridiculously, obscenely, perhaps unrighteously good (for that, we'll blame the mayonnaise). Which is more or less what Deb, from said when she posted it a year or two ago. I made it then because I had leftover ears of corn from the garden--the misshapen, the half-developed, the unloved. And I needed something to do with them. What better thing than to shave the kernels off the cob and use them in a pie. My husband could think of plenty of better things to do. Fortunately--for him and for me--he doesn't do the cooking around here. Oh--and yeah--even he likes it. Although I have a little confession about that later.

I made this homely little pie and I swore I would make it again every summer for the rest of my life. But only in the summer. Because it must have fresh corn and fresh tomatoes and, for a smile from heaven, fresh herbs as well. I'm afraid that if you made it in January with canned tomatoes and canned corn and dry herbs (though you might be able to get away with the herb part), this pie would not be the glory that it deserves to be--the glory that everything that is heaven hidden in a slightly homely shell deserves to be. Amen and amen.

I have left Deb's recipe completely unaltered, save one thing (here comes the confession): I only made half of the pie with the tomatoes. Kip hates tomatoes. I knew I couldn't get away with it. So his half contained only corn. As such, it wasn't half bad either, though if you're going to do a corn pie, I'd up the corn by another cup. Last summer I had some tomato sauce on hand (he loves tomato sauce; it's a texture issue I'm told) and I drizzled some on his corn half.

Tomato Corn Pie
from smittenkitchen
makes 1 pie
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Cost: $2.50
(flour: .20, butter: .25, milk: .10, mayo: .05?, tomatoes: mine were free, but I'm going to say 1.50, corn: .40, herbs: mine were free, but fresh will cost you at the store)

2 C all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt, divided
3/4 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes (reduce salt if using salted butter)
3/4 C milk
1/3 C mayonnaise
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 3/4 lb tomatoes (about 2 large)
1 1/2 C corn, removed from cob and coarsely chopped (2 cobs for us)
2 Tbsp basil, chopped
1 Tbsp chives, chopped
7 oz cheddar (about 1 3/4 C)

Note: This makes a sort of biscuit-like pie crust, which is awesome. However, if you'd like to use a pre-prepared pie crust, I will not judge you, and I think all will be well because the inside sings a pretty stunning song.

In food processor, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Pulse. Add butter and pulse until it resembles coarse meal. Turn to low and add milk just until it forms a ball of dough. If you haven't got a food processor, whisk together the dry ingredients, work the butter in with your fingers or with a pastry cutter (oh, the torture), then add the milk and shape it into a ball of dough without overworking it.

Divide dough in half. Roll out half and put it in your pie pan. Throw the other half in the fridge, while you do the fillings.

Whisk together mayo and lemon juice. Set it aside.

The tomatoes: I blanched them, meaning I threw them in boiling water for a minute and then into ice water for another minute so I could peel off the skins. It took about 5 minutes (get your water boiling while you whisk up your lemon/mayo sauce) and to me it was worth it because the skins didn't get in the way in the final product. However, I think it'd still be great with skins on and that does make it less fussy. Still I must say that the blanching really isn't as fussy and painful as it sounds.

Slice the tomato along the middle and scoop out most of the seeds.

Slice the corn from the cobs and give it a chop (again, sounds fussy--takes a minute).

Chop your herbs.

Grate your cheese. This can be done in the food processor you used to make your dough. (No, it's not a 30 minute meal, but it's worth every minute that it takes.)

Layer half the tomatoes, half the corn, half the herbs, and nearly half of the cheese. Repeat. Then pour your mayo/lemon sauce on, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and top with remaining cheese.

Roll out your other pie crust. Place it on top. Cut off overhanging edges and pinch the sides together. I kind of rolled mine together for what I like to tell myself is a rustic look. Oh, look, my pie pan has a sort of rustic (read: old) look too.

Cut a few steam vents into the top of the dough and if you wish drizzle a little melted butter over the top.

Bake at 400 for 25-35 minutes.

Note: It's best to cool this a bit. If you cut into it super hot like we did, it will run a bit (as all pies will), but we were hungry and we didn't care. Today when we had the leftovers, they sliced up beautifully.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mostly-Raw-Peaches Peach Pie

Cheap Eat Challenge, Part 2: Watch as our family of 6 eats on $10/day.

I got this recipe from my friend Vanessa. I'm not entirely sure she'll even want to claim it because of how ugly I managed to make the finished product (it's a thing I have a knack for) when this is actually a very beautiful, not ugly at all kind of pie. Unless you mess a few things up. Which I did (also a knack). However, ugly or not, messed up or not, it still tasted delicious--better even than many a cooked pie I've enjoyed in the course of my life.

Now I'll let you in on how you can not mess this up.

1. It requires a pie shell that is already baked and cooled or mostly cooled. Have your pie shell ready.

2. If you're making your own pie shell, it may shrink a bit. (This means you put it in to bake with the dough up the sides and when you take it out, it's shrunk and fallen down the sides). If this happens you will have to pipe whipped cream onto the sides like I did. Not the end of the world, but still... I'm not 100% sure how to keep you pie crust from shrinking, but I know that mine was a bit too thin and just barely big enough. I'd recommend making it a wee bit on the thick side and having a bit to spare at the edges of the pie pan--not hanging over or anything, but not just barely to the top and thin as mine was.

3. Pour the sauce on the peaches as soon as you can. The longer you wait and the cooler it gets, the more it will set and you don't want that happening before it is poured.

4. Soft peaches are best for this. Mine were somewhat hard. It wasn't the end of the world; they still tasted good. But for cut-ability and extra sweetness, soft peaches will be best.

5. I left my peaches unpeeled. It's very pretty that way and that's how I'd do it again, but if you've got picky folks in your family who have texture issues, you might want to peel them. Kip ate this and he liked it, but he would have liked it better with peeled peaches, beauty be darned.

Mostly-Raw-Peaches Peach Pie
given to me by Vanessa and to Vanessa by Deanna Dowdle
makes 1 pie
Prep time: 20 minutes (this includes a pie crust done in a food processor)
Cook time: 5 minutes (stove top)
Cost: $2.85
(peaches: 2.00 in the summer; pastry shell: .70, sugar: .13, other stuff: .02)

1 9-inch pastry shell
6 C sliced peaches or about 6 peaches (you can actually get away with less than 6 C, but you must have at least enough for one solid layer of sliced peaches on the bottom of your crust, plus 1 more cup)
1 Tbsp lemon juice
3/4 C sugar
3 Tbsp cornstarch
3/4 C water
1/8 tsp almond extract
1-2 drops food color (I didn't use; maybe it would have made my finished product prettier)

Have you pie shell ready and cooled. (Vanessa used a tart shell and said it came out perfectly in it.)

Combine peaches and lemon juice. Remove 1 C peaches and mash. (If they're soft and peeled, this can be done with a fork; I wiped out the food processor I'd used to make my crust and used it). Set this aside for a minute.

Arrange remaining peaches in pie crust (at least one layer, but don't be afraid to double layer them) and set aside.

Mix sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan. Add water and whisk. Add peach puree. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until it begins to thicken. Simmer 2 more minutes. Remove from heat. Add almond flavoring and coloring if using.

Pour this mixture over the sliced peaches in your pan. Refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Note: If you've messed it up and it looks a disaster, don't despair. It will taste great, no matter what. And aesthetically, it's nothing a little whipped cream can't fix (even if your whipped cream piping skills are so remedial your husband asks if there are marshmallows on the pie). And as I said earlier, this is normally a very very pretty pie that slices wonderfully.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tomato Cucumber Salad: A Template

Cheap Eat Challenge, Part 2: Watch as our family of 6 eats on $10/day.

When I got married I didn't know how to cook a thing except my sister's cookies and my mother's hot cross buns--you know, the important things. I had spent my life up to that point in low-fat, study hall land, meaning I didn't often eat fat (except for those cookies on occasion) and that I'd been a student for--shall we say--a rather long time. Suddenly, there I was with a husband and some kind of primal desire to feed the man, without any skills whatsoever. So it happened that one day in summer when tomatoes and cucumbers were exploding out of everywhere, I decided to make a tomato cucumber salad. Imagine my surprise when I realized this salad I considered sophisticated (because as we all know any salad that lacks lettuce must be sophisticated) took a whopping 2 minutes and 4 ingredients to prepare (not counting salt and pepper).You'll find recipes galore on the internet, but at their heart, they're singing the same song. And so today I present you with a template.

What do you need for a tomato cucumber salad? Tomato, cucumber, some kind of vinegar, some kind of oil, and maybe some kind of seasoning. You can go as fancy and crazy as you want, using pretty differently colored heirlooms, dressed up in fancy vinegar with finely chopped herbs from the garden. Or you can pull out the Costco tomatoes, douse them with the same white vinegar you use to clean your bathroom sink, throw in some oil, and sprinkle it with salt and pepper.

You can peel the veggies or not. You can chop them large or slice them as thin as a fairy's wings. You can use what you have on hand. You can get creative. And you can pretty much be guaranteed a good little salad no matter what you do (although I really must insist on some type of fresh tomato--don't make this in January and expect it to come out fabulously, unless of course, you live in Chile).

Got fresh herbs? Here are a few that are great in tomato cucumber salads: basil, dill, oregano, mint, mustard. Don't let that limit you--get as creative as you wish. But those are popular add-ins.

Want it creamy? Add a dollop of mayo or a dollop of sour cream.

Tomato Cucumber Salad: A Template
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cost: next to nothing in the summertime

1 large tomato
1 small cucumber
1 Tbsp oil (I prefer olive oil)
1/2-1 Tbsp vinegar (I prefer some type of wine vinegar and I've heard rice vinegar is awesome as well)
salt and pepper
other herbs if desired
1 Tbsp mayo or sour cream if you want a creamy sauce

Chop the vegetables to their desired size. Drizzle oil over them. Add a dash of vinegar. Add other herbs (chopped) if using. Add mayo/sour cream if using. Add salt and pepper to taste.

If you let it sit for 20-30 minutes, the flavors will meld. However, the vegetables might sweat a bit from the salt as well, leaving you with a tasty puddle at the bottom of your bowl that is difficult to get to stick to your veggies. If you'd like you can sweat the vegetables beforehand by salting them and leaving them in a bowl or on a paper towel or two to get some of that excess water out. I know this works well for cucumbers, but haven't tried it with tomato.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Falafels with Cheater Sauce

Cheap Eat Challenge, Part 2: Watch as our family of 6 eats on $10/day.

Q: Do you know what I love even more than a recipe that gets my husband to eat a vegetable he normally wouldn't touch? 

A: A recipe that is comprised almost entirely of foods he professes to hate (cilantro: check, chick peas: check, onions: check) that he ends up really liking. How is this even possible? I will tell you: it's all in the cheater sauce. My husband loves a good sauce. And this is a very good sauce (which, for the record, still contains an ingredient he professes to hate; yes, I'm confused about it too).

I never even would have tried to feed Kip falafels. Fortunately I didn't have to. Way back on Easter, some friends invited us over for some "Jesus food," which turned out to be falafels. Yum. And there Kip was eating them up, and not just to be polite. The man actually seemed to be enjoying them.

So as soon as I had a good bit of cilantro in the house, I gave them a go myself. I found a fabulous recipe for falafels on allrecipes and I was careful not to forget my friend's falafel sauce. Normally, you use some type of cucumber yogurt sauce on falafels. This is very yummy. However, my friend just whipped up a packet of ranch dressing per the directions and added a handful of finely chopped cilantro. Wow. It is good. It is so good you will be surprised how very good it is. Should I say good again. Okay, I will. Good. So good.

Falafels with Cheater Sauce
adapted from Sean on allrecipes (thanks, Sean, it was awesome)
Makes 9-12 falafels (enough for 2-4 adults)
Prep time: 8 minutes
Cook time: 10-15 minutes
Cost: $1.00, probably $1.50 if you buy fresh herbs
(chick peas: .66, onion: .10, egg: .10, parsely: mine came from the garden: free, cilantro: again from the garden, but it was on sale at Walmart a few weeks ago for .64/bunch: bread crumbs: .05, other stuff: .05)

1 (15 oz.) can chickpeas
1 small onion
1/2 C fresh parsley (you could probably sub 2 Tbsp dried, but you'll loose a bit of the fresh taste)
1/4-1/2 C fresh cilantro (the original recipe called for 1 tsp ground coriander, but I love fresh cilantro)
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 egg
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
1 dash pepper
pinch cayenne pepper
1 tsp baking powder
1 C dry bread crumbs
oil for frying (optional)

Note: I made this in a food processor. It was way easy. I recommend it. If you don't have one, you could use a blender unless your blender is really nice, in which case it will get everything too mushy/thin. If you have to, you can just chop/mash the stuff together.

In food processor, combine onions, parsley, cilantro, olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic. You might have to scrape the edges of the processor a couple times. You want them very finely chopped. Add the chick peas and process till it's mashy (which is a purely scientific term meaning somewhere between smoothy-like and chopped-veggie-like). Add seasonings and baking soda and pulse. Add egg and pulse, scrape the sides and pulse again. Add bread crumbs and pulse. You should have a batter (for lack of a better word--and that is rather what it looks like, only green) that can be rolled or patted into patties. I made 10 or so. I believe they were about 2 inches in diameter.

Heat your oil. I just use enough to create a millimeter or so of oil in a cast iron skillet. Note: Olive oil will smoke. You want some type of vegetable oil (I used canola) or coconut oil. Drop a small tester plop in. It should sizzle in the oil, but not smoke or burn. When your oil is ready, add the patties and cook till golden on each side. Important note: You don't want to flip them until they're good and golden because the more often you flip them, the more likely they will be to fall apart on you. Flip them once, maybe twice and they'll hold just fine.

Put them on a paper towel to drain.

Note: Instead of frying, you can bake these. I did both. Yes, I liked the fried ones better. The fat brought out the flavor and gave them a delightful crispiness. However, the baked were good as well.

To bake: 

Bake the patties at 400 degrees for about 17-18 minutes, flipping them after the first 10 minutes.

And now for the magic.

Cheater Sauce: 

1 packet Ranch dressing mix 
1 C milk
1 C mayo
good handful cilantro leaves (I'm going to say 1/2-1 C leaves)

Whisk Ranch dressing mix, milk, and mayo until combined. 

Chop cilantro until it's really chopped up well. Combine to dressing and whisk.

Serve over falafels. Don't tell your husband the sauce he so adores also contains cilantro.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Zucchini Blueberry Bread

Cheap Eat Challenge, Part 2: Watch as our family of 6 eats on $10/day.

Have you ever seen a recipe in a magazine (like a parenting, fitness or other non-food magazine) with a picture that looks so good you simply cannot stop thinking about making it? Have you ever then made it and had it come out so awful that you were quite sure that said magazine was overrun by aliens who slapped together an ingredient list with some instructions and then stole a picture off-line? It seems to happen a lot more than it should. I often wonder if they (the humans, not the aliens) test the recipes at all? Or if they really just sort of compose something in their heads that they think will work out well and then use a plastic replica of what they think the recipe will look like for the photo. At any rate, it bugs me to waste time and food on something that was doomed from the start. It bugs me a lot. You couldn't tell, could you?

This is what happened with this recipe. I found it in an issue of "Parents" magazine (motto: we publish the same 7 articles in every issue and our recipes are created by aliens studying human food patterns). It had a beautiful picture of  the most plump and perfect loaf of zucchini blueberry bread you've ever seen, along with the promise that the bright color of the blueberries would distract your youngsters from the green flecks of the zucchini. Well, I should have known there were aliens involved right away, because as any self-respecting human parent knows, nothing short of the apocalypse (and even maybe that) is going to distract your youngster from something green in his sweet bread. Certainly not (in our family anyway) another member of the fruit and vegetable family.

But I wanted this bread for me. And one thing the mag did manage to get right is that zucchini and blueberries come along at about the same season. The recipe was also low-sugar and whole wheat and I can't resist a good breakfast bread.

Against my better judgment I included all the 3 eggs (most recipes call for only 1), the normal portion of oil (I believe it was 1/2 C), and meager cup (or was it 3/4 C?) of whole wheat flour. Lo and behold, I got an extremely runny batter. To this I added (and here I must confess some fault) finely grated zucchini (my attempt at hiding it was to get it nearly pureed rather than largely grated) and blueberries that had been frozen and then thawed releasing some water/juice, which I dumped in with the berries. For my efforts I got a lump of eggy, oily, wet bread that did not even make an attempt at rising. It was...edible, but not really by much. I ended up salvaging my ruined bread by frying it up as you would a scone (the egginess seemed to be begging for something French-toast-ish) and serving it with syrup--not quite the healthy recipe I had in mind.

But the concept, and that picture of somebody's beautiful bread kept coming back to me. Today I got to re-creating it. It's not the heaven that you get in the zucchini coconut bread (but you can't compare 1 C of sugar with 6 Tbsp--it's just not fair), but it's still a very good and very healthy bread. Do not be ashamed to eat it for breakfast. Or to feed it to your young. Although, if you want your children to overlook the zucchini, you're going to have to peel it.

Zucchini Blueberry Bread
makes 1 loaf
prep time: 10 minutes with food processor, 15 without
Cook time: 50 minutes
Cost: $1.04
(egg: .10, oil: .05, sugar: .06, zucchini: .30, whole wheat flour: .20, blueberries: .30 on sale at Aldi, other stuff: .03)

1 egg
1/4 C oil
6 Tbsp white sugar
1 C grated zucchini (if you've frozen it and thawed it, drain the water off before using)
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 C whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
dash salt
1/2 C blueberries (fresh, frozen, or dried, but not frozen and then de-thawed--I used fresh)

Mix egg, oil, sugar. Add zucchini and vanilla.

Combine dry ingredients.

Add dry to wet. Stir until just combined with a few whisps of flour remaining. Add blueberries and stir 2 or 3 times to combine.

Pour batter into a greased 7-inch loaf pan. (You might want to use parchment or wax paper underneath and draped over the sides, as mine took a bit of coaxing to get out of the pan.)

Bake at 350 for 50 minutes or until a knife inserted comes out clean.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Stir 'Em With a Spoon Chocolate Chip Cookies

Cheap Eat Challenge, Part 2: Watch as our family of 6 eats on $10/day.

We interrupt this week with squash to give you a really great and fabulously easy chocolate chip cookie recipe.

Several weeks ago Lisa from Sweet as Sugar Cookies went on a quest to find her perfect chocolate chip cookie. It put a bee in my bonnet that I haven't quite been able to shake free. We really really--and did I mention--really love chocolate chip cookies in these parts. I love Kip's, and mine of course, and my sister Katie's, which will one day make a noble appearance on this site (pinky promise). I like the New York Times recipe. And I liked the one that Lisa put as her top pick. But none of them has really been my holy grail in chocolate chip cookies. If you want to know the truth, I'm beginning to believe that the holy grail of chocolate chip cookies doesn't really exist. There are just so many good ones (and yes, some dreadful ones too) that I find it hard to say that one is It.

In this way cookies are a little like love because (warning: horribly un-romantic comment will ensue) at the end of the day we choose to love the person we love, even when they have flaws. We choose to accept that they aren't perfect and won't ever be perfect. And we hope that they will accept us, flaws included as well. It's kind of refreshing (who am I kidding; it's totally refreshing) to give up the illusion that there is one perfect one out there waiting to do and be all that we have wanted them to do and be since we started dreaming about such things at age 12. Of course that one we choose to love can still be mighty tasty and really quite a few things we've dreamed of as well.

And now I've digressed so very much that I'm finding it hard to segue back to cookies. Oh dear. My point is that there are a lot of cookies out there with a lot of great qualities. And I'm sure we can all be friends. But at some point I'm just going to have to choose a favorite and stick with it.

Kip--a more loyal person, apparently, than I--has already done this. I'm not quite as ready to settle down. I still flirt with other recipes here and there. And one of the lovely things about cookies is that they don't care. Sometimes when you're in the midst of a very committed life (one in which your children quite regularly fight over your lap), this can be a little refreshing. And sometimes it can yield a really great recipe. Which is what happened on Sunday. (Note: I do not, for the record, take this same approach to marriage. And I don't think you should either. Stick with your man. Flirt with your cookies. That's my motto.)

Not only is this recipe really really delicious--it's also easy to make. You melt the butter (which is supposed to make the cookie chewier and I believe it does), which means there's no creaming the butter and sugar and you can mix everything with a spoon. I really love recipes I can mix with a spoon. Oh, I love them so very much.

Now I should warn you: The dough comes out very wet. It comes out so wet that I was sure these cookies would all run together and be a big flat pan of cookie with some bumpy chocolate chips sitting in it. To my shock, they kept their shape better than any other cookie I've made that contains all butter. Cheers to you, Best Recipe. Cheers to you, spoon-only cookie recipes. Oh--and if you wanted to take it a step further and brown your butter, well maybe, just maybe, you will have found that cookie recipe you've been looking for all your life. I'll let you know when I do.

Stir 'Em With a Spoon Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from Best Recipe
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 12-18 minutes
Cost: $2.17
(flour: .20, butter: .45, egg: .20, brown sugar: .32, white sugar: .10, chocolate chips: .90)

2 C plus 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt (omit if using salted butter)
12 Tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled a bit so it's not, you know, hot
1 C packed brown sugar
1/2 C white sugar
1 large egg, plus 1 large yolk
2 tsp vanilla
1-1 1/2 C chocolate chips

Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Melt your butter if you haven't already. Mix it with the sugars. Add the egg and yolk and mix them up good to incorporate. Add vanilla. Add dry ingredients and mix until just combined. The add the chocolate chips. (I did 1 1/2 C and thought it a bit much).

Drop onto baking sheet. Bake at 325 (yes, it's much lower than normal) and bake for 12-18 minutes (yes, that's a wide range--the first time I made these they were big; the second time, the dough was cold; thus mine took a while, but I'd hate to tell you 15-18 minutes and have yours get too brown, so have a peek at 12).

Note: These are great if you throw them in the oven as soon as you make the dough, but they're a bit better if you let the dough chill for a day.


Linked to Sweets for a Saturday and Something Swanky.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Zucchini Coconut Bread

Cheap Eat Challenge, Part 2: Watch as our family of 6 eats on $10/day.

I'm currently working on a zucchini blueberry bread. Well, technically, I'm not yet working on it. Technically, I'm thinking about working on it. But I'm thinking hard. Very hard.

In the meantime, I thought I'd share my very favorite in the universe zucchini bread. The recipe comes from all recipes. I leave out the currants and the nuts and sub in some whole wheat flour. But I don't mess with the sugar (and you all know I love to mess with the sugar) or the oil to try to reduce them. There are some treats that are just too right to be messed with and I believe this is one of them. I even eat it for breakfast sometimes anyway. Because everyone needs a guilty pleasure, right? Except that I usually forget to feel guilty about it. Oops.

Let me tell you another story about this bread: The first time I made this, I tried to ruin it in every way. I underbaked it, but didn't know, so I let it cool and then cut into it and it was gooey--like, really gooey. I put it (that's right--the cut-in-half loaf) back in the oven and pretty much re-baked it for an hour. I thought all was lost. The edges were dark brown. And the middle--who knew--I suspected it was hopelessly dry or still gooey. My friends, it came out delicious. The overly dark edges seemed to have gotten a crispy browned sugar edge and the middle was moist and perfect. Ah, merciful loaf.

So, thank you, Carol from , for making my zucchini life complete.

Zucchini Coconut Bread
adapted from allrecipes
Makes 1 loaf (or 12 muffins)
Prep time: 10 minutes with food processor; 15 without
Cook time: 1 hour
Cost: $1.00
(egg: .10, oil: .10, zucchini: .20, flour: .07, whole wheat flour: .14, coconut: .35, other stuff: .04)

1 egg
1/2 C vegetable oil (I use canola)
1 C white sugar
1 C grated zucchini
1/2 tsp vanilla
3/4 C all purpose flour
3/4 C whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 C shredded coconut (I use sweetened)

Note: I use a food processor to shred my zucchini and even when I take into account the time to wash the darn thing, it saves me a bunch of time when grating zucchini. Also, if you have too much zucchini, freeze what remains in a bag labeled with the amount.

Combine egg and oil. Mix in sugar, then zucchini and vanilla. In separate bowl combine flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture. Mix in coconut.

Pour mixture in lightly greased loaf pan (I use a larger 9-inch one, although you could probably cram it into a smaller 7-ish inch one too).

Bake at 350 for 1 hour.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Squash Casserole

Cheap Eat Challenge, Part 2: Watch as our family of 6 eats on $10/day.

Do you know what I love? I love a recipe that contains ingredients my husband normally refuses to eat, but that is so good that he eats it, sometimes with enthusiasm. This is just such a recipe. My sisters both gave it rave reviews and I tried it because it looked good and because I had squash. But I tried it thinking I'd be eating it on my lonely. (I often eat good, vegetable-laden foods on my lonely.) And then, lo and behold, Kip liked it. Is it his favorite food? No. But when someone hates squash and goes in for a second helping, I consider that a mighty good thing.

The inspiration for this recipe called for yellow squash, which is what we used, but I bet it would work just as well with zucchini.

Also, if you'd like to make this a little lower fat, you can use olive oil to saute the vegetables and then omit the other 2 Tbsp of butter, but I like the buttery flavor it adds.

Squash Casserole
adapted from allrecipes
makes 9x9 inch pan
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20-25 minutes

2 1/2 C chopped squash (we like ours chopped small).
very small onion, (chopped, grated, or heck--just throw 1/2 tsp onion powder in if you man is going to object to onion)
20 Saltines (crushed small--not powder, but small chunks)
3/4 C cheddar cheese, shredded (I like it sharp)
1 egg
scant 1/2 C milk
4 Tbsp butter, divided
1/2 tsp salt
pepper to taste

Melt 2 Tbsp butter in a skillet and saute the squash and onion in it for several minutes until tender.

Meanwhile crush your crackers and shred your cheese. Put these together in a bowl and mix them up. When the squash and onion is read, take it off the heat and put it in its own bowl (or, if you are lazy like I am--and why not be--put it right in the 9x9 inch pan you'll be using). Add 1/2 of the cracker/cheese mixture to the squash onion mixture. Mix the egg and milk together and add that to the squash mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Put it in the pan (if you haven't already) and top it with the remaining cracker/cheese mixture. Melt the remaining 2 Tbsp butter and drizzle it over the top of your casserole. Bake at 400 for 20-25 minutes until lightly browned.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Summer Stew

Cheap Eat Challenge, Part 2: Watch as our family of 6 eats on $10/day.

This soup is summer in a pot. It's also a good way to use zucchini, which is why I made it.

The recipe comes from my friend Sally--she's like the Midas of food. All she cooks turns to gold (or better). Someday I wish to be like Sally. For now, I will merely steal her recipes. Especially when her recipes take a whopping 15 minutes to pull together.

I confess that I made this with canned tomatoes and canned corn. This is because my zucchini was withering. If, however, I'd waited another week or two I could have used fresh corn and fresh tomatoes. But then it would have been so good people would have started writing me fan mail and following me around trying to take my picture and asking me to sign their bellies. And then I might have touched them and then they might have turned to gold. And we all know how awkward that can be. Well, maybe Sally does.

Summer Stew
Serves: oh, I'm gonna say 6-10
Prep time: 5 minutes if using cans; 10 if using all fresh veggies
Cook time: 15 minutes
Cost: $3.00
(zucchini: well, for heaven's sake, find some cheap or free at this time of year, onion: .10 tomatoes: .75, corn: .45, canned milk: .79, bullion: .15, butter: .35, Parm. cheese: .25)

medium zucchini, chopped
1 onion, cubed (I used 1/2 and grated mine in the ridiculous hope that my kids might venture a taste of this amazing soup)
2 Tbsp fresh parsley
1 Tbsp fresh basil
1/3 C butter
1/3 C flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
3 C water
3 chicken bouillon cubes
1 tsp lemon juice
14 oz can tomatoes with juice (or 1 1/2-2 C fresh tomatoes, chopped)
1 can evaporated milk (I bet regular would work too, but I had one about to expire)
1 can corn, drained (or 10 oz frozen or 1-2 C cut off the ear)
1/4 C Parmesan cheese

Melt butter in a large pot (I used a Dutch oven). Saute zucchini and onion for just a couple of minutes (they should not be mush). Add parsley and basil. Whisk in flour. add salt and pepper and whisk. Whisk in water and add chicken bouillon and lemon juice. After it's thickened, add tomatoes, milk, and corn. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Stir in cheese (or let it float on top) just before serving.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Watermelon Gazpacho with Feta

Cheap Eat Challenge, Part 2: Watch as our family of 6 eats on $10/day.

This is my second month participating in the Secret Recipe Club and, oh boy, is it fun (and also humbling). This month I got Apron Strings. Formerly Fab Frugal Food, this mother daughter team was separated at birth and has only somewhat recently become reacquainted largely through, well, food of course. As if that's not interesting enough, the food they create is just so lovely. In fact, I like the blog so much that I have composed a poem in their honor:

Ode to Donna and Anne

Ode to Donna and Anne,
Of whom I've become a big fan.
They make amazing food from varied (sometimes odd) ingredients,
Which, for a cheapskate, is very expedient.

I do hope they'll forgive me for the meter in the 3rd line.

And now, on to gazpacho. It's always intrigued and frightened me--a cold soup made with vegetables, vegetables that are usually thrown into the food processor no less. And yet, when I perused (perose, pereesed, have perisen) the first page of their blog, they had not one, but 3 gazpacho recipes. In this one, they promised a sweet factor. I think we all know that I can't resist a sweet factor. That, along with the fact, that I had a watermelon begging for some love, is what I call fate.

I made it and had a bowl. Then I had another bowl. And another. It was so good. And it was the type of food that leaves your body craving more in a wholesome way--like a really good friend.

Just a note on combining watermelon, feta, and a bunch of vegetables. Okay, it's a little unusual (and perhaps just the slightest bit odd that I chose this non-traditional gazpacho to start with on my road to gazpacho-land). But have faith. And follow the recipe. And do not, under any circumstances omit the feta because it gives it that something something that just makes it right to add half a watermelon to a bunch of pureed vegetables.

Watermelon Gazpacho with Feta
taken from
Serves: 8-12 moderate human beings
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cost: $3.75
(1/2 watermelon: 1.40, cucumber: .50, onion: .05, cilantro: .05, lime: .45; tomato juice: .30, feta: 1.00)

Note on cucumber: If you've only got seeded watermelons, just cut it long-ways in half or quarters and scoop or scrape out the seeds.

8 C watermelon cubes
1 large English or seedless cucumber, chopped
1/2 C diced red onion (I used only half, and that worked for me)
1/2 C diced cilantro
juice and zest of one lime (I'm guessing if you've got lime juice in your fridge, that will do, though the zest is nice)
Dash of cayenne pepper sauce (I used a very wimpy dash of cayenne pepper--I can't help it; I didn't grow up in the west)
1 C tomato juice (I used generic and all was well)
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
Dash sugar if watermelon not sweet enough (mine was already sweet)

Put half of watermelon, cucumber, and all of the onion, cilantro, lime zest and juice in a food processor or blender and process until very smooth. Pour into serving bowl.

Place remaining ingredients in food processor or blender and process till it hits the small chunky stage. (I used a blender. Mine is un-fancy enough that I am perfectly capable of making chunky stuff in it; if you've got a super nice one that obliterates all food put therein, maybe you should go with the food processor.)

Stir in half the feta.

Taste and add salt, pepper, or sugar as needed.

Ladle into a bowl and garnish with remaining feta. (Don't skimp.)

I had leftovers the next day. They were good too, though not as quintessential as the day-of soup.

Also, I made it again later in the week, but my kids (motto: smells like ketchup, must taste good) had drunk all my tomato juice, so I subbed some roma tomatoes. It was still good, but not snark it down good. I think the tomato juice adds some more potent tomato-y-ness as well as some salt that does this recipe good. My point: follow their recipe (minus a bit of onion if you're that type); it's great.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Week on Waste: How to Limit Your Food Waste

Cheap Eat Challenge, Part 2: Watch as our family of 6 eats on $6/day.

About a month ago, I was talking to an uber frugal friend of mine. She said she wanted a post on how we waste so little food. I've been thinking about it on and off since then and it seems the perfect closer to our week on waste. (P.S. I've noticed that talking about waste is less popular than talking about chocolate--just saying).

1. We have a leftover night once or twice a week. It seems like a lot, but it works for us. We also have leftover night even when I know we don't have enough leftovers to feed everyone. On those nights I pull out things for sandwiches as well or make a sort of side dish type thing. The trick is to make sure people don't just eat sandwiches. I tell everyone they have to eat something leftover first.

2. Leftover meals. A little meat and some vegetables can go a long way with some rice or pasta, a white sauce or cheese.

3. I throw things in the freezer when I know they're going to go south soon. This is great to do if you've got good leftovers that people are bored with, but will be happy to eat in a month. It's also good to do with small portions of food that could be of use in a soup or casserole later. The only problem with this is that sometimes food is going bad because no one likes it. In this case, throwing it in the freezer is probably only going to prolong its life before you waste it. That's silly. If everyone really hates it and it's not going to get eaten, throw it away. But if it's perfectly good, toss it in the freezer. Some people even have a bucket or bag in the freezer for bits of leftover vegetables and meat. When the bag is full they make a soup. I've never had the guts to do it, although it sounds like a great adventure.

4. Make a plan. Yeah, boring tip, I know. It doesn't have to be a day by day plan, but try to get about 4 meals planned for the week and buy the things for them.

5. Keep your produce in the most whole form possible. If you know you'll be eating it, then by all means, chop it up. Just remember that as soon as something is cut, chopped, or shredded, it's going to go the way of all the earth much faster. Along that line, don't cook the whole head of broccoli if you know there will be leftovers and you know no one will eat them (because, I'm sorry, plain leftover broccoli is a gross leftover). There's not a rule that says you have to cook the whole head of broccoli or each ear of corn you bought. Chop and cook what you'll use and save the rest, well-wrapped in the refrigerator. I'm always shocked at how long my carrots, celery, and even salad greens last when I leave them alone. They can often last for months. Even the greens if they're a tight head will last for quite a while. Cut the stuff up, however, and it's got no more than a week.

6. When things look wilty and sad, but not rotten, make a soup, casserole, or smoothie. Or throw them in the freezer in order to make a soup, casserole, or smoothie later. Yes, the quality will decline somewhat, but if used cooked as part of a greater whole, it won't matter too much.

7. Buy and make quality foods. It is one of the ironies of being a cheapskate that we sometimes cut corners a little too much. The tastier and better your ingredients, the more likely you are to try to think of ways to use them up.

Which concludes our week on waste. Stay tuned next week when we attack the world of squash. Because, the summer squash, they are coming.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Week on Waste: Things You Can Freeze That You Don't Think You Can

Cheap Eat Challenge, Part 2: Watch as our family of 6 eats on $10/day.

1. Spinach in a bag. Okay, maybe it's salad days are over after it hits the freezer, but it has many smoothie days still to come. When I notice my spinach isn't going to last too much longer, I honestly just chuck the whole bag as is (tied with a twist tie) into the freezer.

2. Cream Cheese. Yes, freezing it gives it a slightly different texture and makes it a separate a bit. You probably won't want to spread it on bagels after you freeze it. If, however, you use it in a recipe, you will never know it has been frozen. I freeze mine all the time.

3. Broccoli. If you wind up with a little left over or a stalk you don't need, don't worry about blanching, just chop it and freeze it for a soup or chop it up really fine and throw it in an omlette or on a pizza sometime.

4. Herbs. Have a look at yesterday's post for more info.

5. Milk. We do this when we go on trips. You'll need to drink part of it because the liquid will expand in the freezer. Also, try to be sure it is completely unfrozen before using because otherwise you'll get the fattier stuff first (because it unfreezes first) and then you'll get the watery stuff at the end.

6. Eggs. Sometimes I wind up with a recipe that calls for a couple of yolks (or visa versa) and I think, "Oh, these leftover whites would be just great in macaroons, angel cake, etc. Only I don't want to make macaroons, angel cake, etc. right now. You can put the part of the egg you don't use in a freezer safe container and use them later. Just be sure to mark how many of the whites/yolks you've got because, seriously, you probably won't remember. Note: Some people buy eggs on sale and freeze them. I never do this because they last plenty long un-cracked in the fridge. However, if you're interested in doing this, you can't just throw the carton of eggs in the freezer. Rather, you'll crack and beat the eggs a bit with a fork before freezing (and you probably want to freeze them by two's because you can't just de-thaw part of a dozen eggs and use what would have been two).

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Week on Waste: Easy Tips to Stretch and Preserve Herbs

Cheap Eat Challenge, Part 2: Watch our family of 6 eat on $10/day.

Fresh herbs aren't usually cheap. And they don't last long. And your recipe usually calls for an annoying 1/4 cup. In a perfect world you would have lots of fertile sunny land and you would grow your own and occasionally snip off what you needed. In that same perfect world you would stagger their plantings so you always had the herb you needed. Yes, well. It is a lovely thought.

But let's head back to real life. Because in real life you've got a bunch of cilantro wilting in your fridge. Maybe it's even past wilting. Maybe it's to the parts-are-getting-slimy stage. Don't you just love that stage?

The thing is, there are lots of ways to keep our herbs fresher longer as well as a couple of ways to keep them fresh-like for several months.

Easy Tips to Stretch and Preserve Herbs

1. Put the herbs in a glass with water in it (as though they were a bouquet of flowers). You can keep this in the fridge for storage; your herbs will last a good deal longer. In the case of some herbs--basil is the one that comes to mind--you can even store your "vase" of basil on the counter or table. Basil will actually start to root from a cutting of it (meaning the roots will start to grow from the portion of the stem that is in water), so if you cut off a stem and put it in a vase of water it will last a very very long time. I kept some basil like this for a month or so last summer. It sat in my kitchen window and I'd just clip off a few leaves when I needed them.

2. Wrap your herbs in a paper towel, put the paper towel in a Ziploc bag and store it in the refrigerator. The paper towel wicks off extra water that would cause the herbs to quickly rot if they were merely in a plastic bag. Then the damp paper towel also serves to provide a pleasantly moist environment for those herbs. Do this and you'll give your herbs an extra week--probably even longer.

3. Freeze them.

Method A: Just pluck off the leaves, put them in a Ziploc bag, and throw them in the freezer. No, you won't be able to use them in a cold salad because they'll be ugly and wilted after they defrost, but you'll be able to cook with them and they will taste very nearly as good as they would have fresh. This is especially true of certain herbs like cilantro and parsley. I have also read that basil, dill, mint, oregano, sage, lemongrass, chives, tarragon, rosemary, and thyme freeze well, but I have not personally tried those. I find that this is the best and fastest method for me when I'm like, "Yikes, my herbs are getting slimy" but I don't have a bunch of time (or maybe a bunch of remaining herb) to preserve my herbs. I did it today with some cilantro and managed to salvage a good bit of it. It took me 3 minutes to pull off the good leaves and throw them in the bag (yup, I checked the clock).

Method B: Pulse the herbs in a food processor or blender with a little bit of olive oil, put this into ice cube trays, and then freeze the herb cubes in a freezer bag. You can throw these herb cubes into stews and sauces later. I bet this works well with all herbs, although something like thyme with itty bitty leaves might not work quite as well. It's an absolute charm for basil and other leafy herbs.

Method C: Chop the herbs or pulse them in a food processor or blender, put them in ice cubes with a bit of water and freeze. You can then use these herbed ice cubes as a fun garnish in drinks. Naturally, it works best with herbs you'd want to have with your water, lemonade, or iced tea--things like mint, tarragon, basil, lavender, or lemon balm.

4. Make a butter with it. Chop up the herbs, mix them with soft butter (not melted butter), roll the butter in wax or parchment paper, and freeze it till you want it. Chives work really well in this as do Italian herbs.

5. Dry them. This is the peskiest method in my opinion, but also the most effective if you've got a booty load of an herb you'd really like to preserve (usually a harvest from the garden). You can do this outside if you live in an arid place. Here in Indiana, a food dehydrator works best. However, you can also dry them in the microwave (keep a close eye on them, so they don't burn) or at a very low temperature in the oven (150 degrees or less if possible). Strip the leaves off the stems. Place them in a single layer on whatever it is you're drying. They're done when you can crumble them in your hand. At that point, put them in an airtight container or the humidity from the air will add some moisture to them again and shorten their storage life.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Week on Waste: Easy Homemade Applesauce

Cheap Eat Challenge, Part 2: Watch as our family of 6 eats on $10/day.

Oh sure, I could post this in the fall when apples are cheap and abundant and just falling off the trees. But the thing is, in the fall, apples tend to be really yummy--crisp, fresh, and perfect. They beg to be eaten as they are or to be baked into sweet oven-dependent confections like pie and crisp. In the summer, apples are usually coming to us from cold storage. They're a little pricier and generally just not as tasty. And yet we buy them anyway. Maybe we have a hankering for one, maybe we're making a salad that requires a few, maybe our CSA throws some in to fill in the gaps before the summer vegetables have come on crazy strong. At any rate we wind up with some apples. And those apples are mushy or bland or mealy. We could throw them away or feed them to our compost or make something sinfully sweet out of them. Or, I have discovered, we can make applesauce.

Why have I never made applesauce before? Because I remember it as a big fall project. My mother used an enormous metal appliance for making applesauce, which looked to be right out of a torture chamber. I can't even remember what it did, but its memory and the thought of trying to clean such a thing has intimidated me all these years. Not only that, but we would can our applesauce. Canning is not my idea of a pleasant afternoon activity in mid-July.

Yet when I found myself with several almost rotting apples from my CSA, I remembered a recipe I'd seen from a site about making baby food. She had just softened them in a pan. I figured that if it didn't work out, I had a toddler and could pawn the applesauce off on her.

I made it and, oh, oh it was so so easy and so so good. Tart and sweet and interesting. It could be made chunky or perfectly smooth. You could make just a little if you had a mere 4 apples left. Or you could make a whole lot more if you wished. With my mushy apples it took only about 10-15 minutes on the stove. Do you know what else? I bet you could make it in a crock pot if you had a bunch of apples. I plan to give it a whirl next time.

And if you do end up with a booty load, just throw some in the freezer.

Easy Homemade Applesauce
adapted from smittenkitchen
serves 4
Prep time: 10 minutes (possibly less if your toddler isn't helping you)
Cook time: 10-15 minutes
Cost: that of a pound or two of apples

4 C largely diced apples (I bet pears would work too, or a combination of pears and mushy apples)
1/2 C water
a few grates lemon rind (1/8-1/4 tsp) or perhaps a small splash of juice--you want it to help keep the color of your sauce
a good dash cinnamon (1/8-1/4 tsp)
2-4 Tbsp sugar (optional)

Note: If your apples are actually crispy, the cook time will likely be longer.

Put all ingredients in a pot and allow to simmer, covered, for 10-15 minutes. Give it a stir every few minutes. The apples will begin to break apart. When they're completely soft, you can leave the sauce chunky or use a potato masher to mash the fruit (which is what I did).

Taste a bite (make sure it's not too hot) and add sugar if you like. My apples were quite tart to begin with so I added 2 Tbsp sugar. This gave my son reason to accuse me of making our applesauce less healthy than that from the store. I believe that he is officially at the age of reason when and only when reason involves challenging your mother.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Week on Waste: A Stroll Down Refrigerator Lane

Cheap Eat Challenge, Part 2: Watch as our family of 6 eats on $10/day.

In Jonathan Bloom's book, American Wasteland, Bloom discusses the way Americans let their refrigerators get away from them (I'm trying to resist a refrigerator running joke here). To start with, we tend to have large ones. And into them we tend to put perfectly good new food as well as leftovers (both those we wish to eat again and those we don't, but feel guilty wasting) as well as condiments, and you know, everything else. If you're a slightly scatterbrained mother of four, you might even find your keys in there on occasion.

I knew that our fridge was getting a little packed. I actually find it easier to keep the refrigerator in check in the winter. I mean, potatoes, carrots, and the like--they stay good pretty long. And we just don't get as much mass in the winter. But in the summer when we're getting lots of fresh foods from our garden, farmer's markets, friends's gardens, or a CSA, and when we're getting these foods sometimes in bulk (20 zucchini anyone). Add to that the fact that these foods can often go bad in just a few days and I find that our refrigerator starts to get a little packed, disorganized, and generally discouraging to look at. Today, however, inspired by the goal of wasting as very little as possible, I decided to brave its four walls and take a gander at the things inside. I am happy to report that it did not eat me, or even threaten too. In fact, it only took about 10 minutes to find out (and organize) what was inside and... it was totally enlightening. Inspiring, even. I discovered/remembered all of these foods that were still edible and that I could use to make entire meals. That's right--entire meals that were about to be forgotten because their edible parts had been containerized and shoved to the back.

First, let's have a look at what I found (this is in the freezer above the fridge and the refrigerator--I'm not going to the chest freezer today):


-ice packs
-partially used juice concentrate
-bags of frozen fruit: raspberries, bananas, strawberries, blueberries
-partially used bag spinach
-partially used bag peas
-3 bags/cubes cheese, one partially used, the other two unopened
-old cookies in bags--these were ugly or broken and I kept them to use for some sort of sweet crust
-hamburger--partially used
-chicken--partially used
-bacon--just a bit left (I tend to separate my meat into small portions and bag it)
-one loaf bread, one homemade round of bread
-sourdough dough
-2 packages of yeast
-barley flour
-2 containers cooked brown rice
-1 bag cooked broccoli
-freezer burnt bread crumbs
-freezer burnt bits of broccoli
-sunflower seeds from a sunflower we grew last year
-a few toffee bits in a bag
-some chocolate chunks
-lemon zest in a bag
-home dried cranberries in a bag
-partially used thing of spinach (had used half a can of it in something and not wanted to waste the rest, but it was kind of gross, so I'd never found a use for it)

(here's the door; the main refrigerator is at the top of the post)

-a bit of milk
-a bit of cream
-some pickles
-package lettuce
-2 partially used 32 oz. containers of yogurt (vanilla and plain)
-a bit of sour cream
-2 containers of leftover cream of wheat
-1/2 a watermelon
-bag carrots
-1 yellow squash
-3 small zucchini
-2 cucumbers
-2 1/2 onions
-1 bag red potatoes
-1 partially used bag russet potatoes
-1/2 a tomato
-a couple bunches cilantro
-partial block of cheddar
-2 little nubs of cheese (still good)
-3 tortillas
-partially used bag of cold cuts
-partially used feta
-partially used Parm
-unopened Parm
-homemade Italian dressing
-Caesar dressing, partially used
-Condiments: ketchup, BBQ sauce, worsh. sauce, soy sauce, mustard, generic Miracle Whip, sesame oil, teryaki sauce, plum sauce, fish sauce, curry, steak sauce
-lemon juice
-2 things lime juice
-1/2 lime
-tomato juice
-bit cottage cheese
-apples going south
-leftover green beans
-leftover gazpacho
-sour dough starter
-bit of corn
-2 slices leftover canned peaches
-leftover squash casserole
-leftover cheesy corn chip casserole
-stick butter
-leftover brats from friends
-poppy seeds
-bit tomato sauce (relegated to freezer)
-bit spaghetti for Emma
-a few artichoke hearts
-some squash already chopped
-Jams: strawberry, plum, grape, raspberry peach
-homemade lemonade starter

I know. I know. It seems like it could feed a third world country for a week.

The great thing about it was that with my new information about what we had and how much, I could plan several meals for us:

-Veggie pizza with artichokes and squash (dough from freezer, artichokes, squash, a bit of chicken or brats chopped up)
-Sitr fry with squash, cheese, brats, tomato (squash is really really good stir-fried in case you're wondering)
-Zucchini chowder (tortillas, cheese bits, brats, 1/2 tomato, squash)
-Fried rice with broccoli and carrots (rice from freezer, broccoli from freezer, carrots, green beans)
-Gazpacho (tomato juice, tomatoes, cucumber, cilantro, onion)
-Blueberry soup (yogurt, berries, milk, maybe a bit of cream if we're feeling good about ourselves)
-chicken with celery and cream sauce (chicken from freezer, celery, beans, corn, or squash, cream)

And the thing is that now I know that if I follow that meal plan, we'll use all the stuff that must be used by the time it must be used. I also know what to feed my kids when they're whining they're hungry. It makes my heart happy.

Today for lunch I took this:
a tortilla, 1/2 tomato, squash I'd chopped but not used in a casserole, 2 bits of cheese

And (added a little olive oil and) made this:

(saute the squash in oil with salt and pepper, add chopped tomatoes after the squash is tender and getting some color, throw in the cheese and serve on a tortilla)

I ate it with some leftover gazpacho and, besides the fact that they were both perfectly delicious (seriously, you've got to saute some diced yellow squash--it's one of my favorite summer staples), it gave me more than 3 C of vegetables in one meal.

Ah, refrigerator--how I love you when you're demystified and no longer frightening and standing there ready to feed me inexpensive ultra-wholesome foods.

Oh--and what did I waste today from my refrigerator purge and cleaning? Only some strawberry jam--very very little that was very very very old. I also sent a few foods to the compost: some freezer burnt bread crumbs and broccoli, and some old old freezer spinach. The rest, I aim to use.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Book Review: American Wasteland by Jonathan Bloom

Maybe you're getting old when a 308 page book about food waste gets you excited. Or maybe the book was just that good. The title and subtitle of this book read American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food. That got my attention. Throw in some cover art with a bird's eye view of a trashcan made to look like a plate and I was hooked. And I hadn't even gotten to such compelling chapter titles as "American Farms: Growing Waste, Selling Perfection" or "A Cold Case of Waste."

Jonathan Bloom begins his book with his definition of food waste: food which was once edible, but has been made inedible through our neglect or misuse. It doesn't include rinds, seeds, etc., or food that was just bad to begin with. He then proceeds to tell us just how much of this perfectly edible food we waste. It's a little shocking. And yet, if you've ever eaten at your child's school cafeteria or had a look around at a restaurant or maybe taken a gander into the back of your refrigerator, it starts to seem not so terribly shocking after all.

Bloom estimates that we waste nearly 50% of our food--enough to fill the Rose Bowl each day. Of course that's not just from the leftover pot roast and the bag of cilantro we allowed to go bad. Bloom follows America's food from farm to plate, stopping at a couple grocery stores and restaurants along the way. In his journey he takes note of edible food never harvested, edible food rejected because it doesn't meet industry standards for size, uniformity, and/or beauty, edible food sent away by the truck full from stores because it fails to meet the store manager's standards for loveliness or freshness, edible food culled from our grocery store shelves because it is either blemished in some small way or because it is getting close to a sell by date, edible food discarded by the ton from restaurants and schools because leftovers cannot be used the next day (either by law or per the standards of restaurant chains) or because patrons have wasted much of their over-sized plate-fulls, and finally--of course--edible food wasted by us in our own homes because we failed to use it, failed to save it, or failed to find it in the abyss called refrigeration.

In the course of his journey Bloom makes an excellent--and not too politically one-sided--argument about why we should care about food waste. And throughout the book he gives plenty of ideas about what we can do about it--some already being implemented by stores and restaurants and some that Bloom feels should be implemented (and would be if he were "king of the forest"). These ideas begin with a discussion of the way hunger and excessive food waste co-exist in our country and extends into a discussion of many of the things that are being done and can still be done by charities, farms, and businesses to distribute some of our excess food.

Furthermore, Blooms ideas for how to solve the problem of food waste extend far beyond feeding the hungry. The book includes ideas that range from making sell-by versus use-by dates less confusing to consumers to using the methane gas produced by food in landfills to power stuff that needs powdering. His last-chapter is packed with various ideas about how food-producers, schools, businesses, and governments can make food more, well, usable.

And yet, even with all of that, one of the best things about the book is that Bloom never takes himself too seriously. Come on, if you've ever read a book like this, you totally know what I mean. They can get heavy. And depressing. And a little preachy (or a lot preachy). Don't get me wrong. The man's got a mission. And he cares about food waste. And he really really wants it to improve. And he does a darn good job of making the reader want it to improve too. The book is full up with information, statistics, and ideas. But Bloom isn't afraid of a joke here and there. He's not above a little self-effacement. He's not even above hitting the scroungers table on a college campus and scrounging with the best of them (and by scrounging I do mean eating the free leftovers of the other students). It's kind of refreshing in a book like this.

The one thing I would have liked to have seen more of in American Wasteland is this: more at-home tips for at-home folks. There was plenty about what grocery stores, landfills, and the government could do. I understand why. I understand that these are big venues and that if one of them changes something, then big change is on the horizon. That's not a bad thing. Nor is it a bad thing for us to get involved in changing the businesses and government around us. However. However, I guess I'm inclined towards tips for the little guy. No, it won't save the earth if I in my modest house manage to waste less food. But to my mind, part of the problem with waste in America is a problem in the attitude of average Americans in their average kitchens. We have ceased to reverence our food (and apparently, some of our money as well). Bloom points this out, which is partly why I was so disappointed when the let's-make-some-changes chapter at the end included so very very little time giving to the individual and the changes we can make. I believe that there are plenty of changes we can all make. As respectable cheapskates it is, after all, our sacred duty. Less waste means less money spent. After reading Bloom's American Wasteland I realize that it means less of other problems too.

Which is why I've decided to dedicate some time on this blog to reducing waste, to more carefully using the food we have. It'll be a Week Without Waste (or maybe a month--we'll see how much material I've got). We'll have recipes for leftovers and some tips for how to use as much as we possibly can. For starters check out American Wasteland or Bloom's blog Wasted Food.

American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food by Jonathan Bloom


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