Kitchen days!

September 20, 2018

Veggie quiche (dried tomatoes, broccoli, mushrooms), left, and quiche Lorraine (ham, cheese, added broccoli in this one too, since I had it.

I am kitchening. 

The toll so far is two quiches, four rounds of olive foccacia bread, four two-serving casseroles of chicken and dressing, and white chocolate macadamia nut cookies, as well as a pot of Tuscan white bean and sausage soup in the Instant Pot burbling away.

It’s rummage and bake sale weekend coming up at church. I took over a load of closet clean-out already, and will load them up with baked and canned goods tomorrow. Still to come are some muffins (apple cinnamon, and maybe some peach ones, or maybe lemon poppy seed) and some breakfast cups (canned biscuit, rolled out and fitted into a muffin pan, filled with potatoes, ham or sausage, cheese, egg and milk, and baked). I might make a couple of loaves of white sandwich bread if I get enthusiastic.

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I have let Hunger Action Month get mostly past me without commemorating it. I like to write at least a few posts focusing on what one can do to help alleviate hunger in one’s community, and one on how you can cook to meet the SNAP Challenge, i.e., cook on a food stamp budget of $4 per day. 

Let’s say you’re cooking for four. So that’s $16 to feed your family for a day. Whatcha gonna do? Well, here’s some suggestions.

Breakfast: Breakfast pizza. 

  • A can of crescent roll dough, $2
  • A pound of breakfast sausage, $3
  • 4 ounces cheddar or co-jack cheese, grated, $1.50
  • 4 eggs,  beaten, 50 cents 1
  • 1/4 cup milk, 5 cents
  • Two medium potatoes, peeled and grated, 25 cents

for a total of $7.25 for four people. It’s a good, healthy breakfast and should keep everyone full until lunch.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Unfurl the crescent roll dough onto a cookie sheet. Press seams together. Press to make a little larger than original shape, and make a little rim around the edge.

Lightly saute grated potatoes until barely done, and drain on a paper towel. Scatter over roll dough. Brown sausage, breaking up big chunks with a spoon; drain that on a paper towel, and sprinkle it around atop the potatoes. Sprinkle the grated cheese over that. Beat the eggs with the milk, and gently pour over the entire surface.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until edges are golden brown and cheese is well melted and eggs are set. Cut into squares with a pizza cutter and serve. Good for wolfing in the car on the way to work or school.

Lunch: PBJ or bologna sandwiches. I’m not going to dignify this with a recipe. You should be able to turn out either for less than a quarter a sandwich.

Dinner: My standby cheap/healthy/good Tuscan White Bean Soup.

  • 1 pound white beans, $1.29
  • 1 pound Italian sausage, $2.99 (hot or sweet, your choice)
  • 1 onion, 25 cents
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced, 25 cents
  • 2 or 3 carrots, 15 cents
  • 1 pound frozen chopped spinach, 99 cents 
  • 1 14 1/2 ounce can tomatoes, 99 cents
  • 4 cups chicken stock, free because you made it from the carcass of the last chicken you cooked and had it in the freezer
  • Italian seasoning (I’m calling this a pantry staple, like salt and pepper. Surely you have it)

for a total of seven bucks’ worth of ingredients.

Soak the beans in water overnight. The next day, in a big stock pot, saute the onion, diced, and the  minced garlic and the cubed-up carrots. Add the drained beans, the drained sausage, and the chicken stock. Cook until beans are tender. Add the can of tomatoes, and season with Italian seasoning, salt and pepper to taste. Simmer an hour. Add the frozen spinach and continue to simmer until it’s thawed; stir it through the soup and cook until it’s thoroughly heated and incorporated. Serve up with cornbread or crusty  Italian bread.

So that’s $14.25 for breakfast and dinner, and let’s say you made six sandwiches at a quarter apiece for lunch, that’s another $1.50. For a total of $15.75  for four people for the day.

It ain’t fancy, and it takes a bit of work. But it’s healthy, and tasty, meals for four for a day on a SNAP budget. You ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em have eaten a lot worse, for more money, I promise.

Just FYI, I’ll have my bologna fried for my sandwich, please. 

Long-time readers may remember previous posts extolling the virtues of The Cupboard restaurant in Memphis, a midtown treasury of Southern cooking and fine, fine vegetables. (I have never eaten an entree at The Cupboard. Been going there since 1977, been eating the vegetable plate the entire time. It ain’t broke. I ain’t fixing it.)

Corn, green beans with ham, eggplant casserole. Veggies R Us.

Said readers may also remember me bitching and moaning about having bought the Cupboard cookbook specifically because it had the recipe for their eggplant casserole, which is surely food of the gods. Except the recipe? Sucks. Out loud. Even taking into account they make it by the giant sheet pan full, and I cut it down. It was awful.

I took another run at eggplant casserole today. It’s not QUITE the Cupboard’s, but it’s close, and I can sure get it there next trip.

I bought eggplants at the Farmers’ Market Saturday morning, along with much other good stuff. We would have veggies for Sunday dinner, yes, we would, and veggies we had. And one of those veggies was the latest run at eggplant casserole.

I roasted five small to medium eggplants, whole, at 400 degrees for 40 minutes. Let them cool. Cut them in half and scooped out the flesh. I wound up with about two cups or so of eggplant flesh. Added two eggs, and four ounces of grated cojack cheese. Crushed a sleeve of Ritz crackers and added about half the crumbs. Added a splash of half-and-half. Stirred it all up. Mixed the remaining crumbs with another two ounces of grated cheese, spread the eggplant into a pie plate, and topped with the crumb-and-cheese mixture. Baked at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Close. Real close.

 — The topping was too heavy. There should have been about half that much.

— It wanted to be a little saltier. I may use grated Velveeta next time, as the Cupboard’s recipe calls for American cheese, and Velveeta is salty to the max.

— It could have stood some black pepper.

All that is eminently fixable. The Ritz crackers are key; they give the body of the casserole its buttery flavor. In fact, some melted butter in the casserole would not go amiss. (The Cupboard cookbook calls for saltines. It may have called for adding melted butter, I don’t remember. Take my word for it; use Ritz.) 

I’ll be back at the Farmers’ Market next Saturday for more eggplant, and we’ll give it another go. But I’m surely encouraged. You ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em stand by for the reprise.

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Sure enough home cooking

September 15, 2018

Ummm. Hello. I really do not intend to become one of those bloggers who splashes out four or five posts and then disappears for a period of time, but that certainly seems to be where I’ve landed. 

When it’s pear-picking time in Tennessee….

Life does interfere, doesn’t it?

Like the above. Since I last posted, I have been Up Home, up in West Tennessee, where I am getting ready to sell my parents’ “home place,” if I can bear to do so. So I gathered up Children A, B and C, and Amazing Grandchildren 1, 2 and 3, to spend a weekend up there and decided what we wanted out of the place. 

I knew I wanted pears.

There’s a wonderful old pear tree up there. I’d estimate it’s more than 50 years old, and it’s one of the few remaining of what used to be a near-orchard of peach, plum, apple, pear and cherry trees. It’s a pineapple pear, and its fruit is hard and not very juicy and it makes the best pear preserves on the face of the planet.

My daddy ate pear preserves for breakfast with his scrambled egg and bacon, sausage or ham and a biscuit, every day of his life except for Sundays, when breakfast was a bowl of cereal. And scrambled eggs with pear preserves, a biscuit and some kind of breakfast meat is still my choice among all breakfasts. 

So I dispatched the Thundering Herd out to pick  pears. The old tree only bears about once every three years now, but this year, it is loaded. We picked about 30 pounds of pears and brought them home.

About half the pears. Lucy was underwhelmed.

I set about peeling and slicing pears. First batch of preserves was about 8 or 8 pounds of sliced pears, enough to fill a Dutch oven and a stock pot. A cup of sugar to each pound of pear slices. A quarter cup of water in each pot. That’s it.

Just about to start cooking.

Then they simmer. Slowly. For about three hours. And by then, they’re a gorgeous reddish brown.

And then you can ’em up.

Damn, but I love ’em.

I canned eight pints out of the first batch of pears. The second batch, nearly as much more, is waiting for me to get to it (That’s on Monday’s agenda). Then I will get more pears when I go up next week, before pear season is over completely.

They taste like home. And I plan on making enough pear preserves to last me for a long, long time.

You ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em come on up and help me peel pears.

Woof. No cooking tonight.

September 3, 2018

Yep. This would be me.

Dear Sweet Baby Jesus. I’m whipped.

It is a testament to how big a mess I will tolerate in the kitchen, as well as my overall sloth, that when I finally bestirred myself to get me to the kitchen this afternoon and cook dinner, I looked at it and said to myself, “Self? You can’t so much as think about cooking in this kitchen until you clean it up some.”

And Self said, “Yep. You’re messy. And you’re a real pig.”

So I made Self help.

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Mid-point, holiday weekend…

September 2, 2018

Sweet baby Jesus pork steak from the smoker. Plus brats, because I had room.

…wherein I began the day sopping water out of the laundry room floor at 3 a.m.

At least the pork steaks were excellent.

How it was, was, like this. After busying around all day yesterday (Farmers’ Market, grocery twice, treating myself to breakfast, etc., etc., before Brock got here), I got around to putting pork steaks in the sous vide to cook overnight, with the action plan of then throwing them inthe smoker for a brief finish after church.

Pork steaks were marvelous. However…

One should never, NEVER, turn the tap off from filling one’s sous vide container with water, as it sits in the laundry room sink, in which the stopper always seems to magically and independently default to the “closed” position, without double-checking it. Because if one does NOT turn the tap COMPLETELY off, and then one goes to bed, leaving said pork steaks to cook overnight, but instead turns it back to a mere trickle, one will be up at 3 a.m. sopping water out of the floor with clean towels, because Friday and Saturday were laundry days, and there was only one dirty towel in the house, and there was about a stock pond’s worth of water in the floor. And yes, I know this from bitter experience.

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Hello, September

September 1, 2018

Good dinner for fall, and on a budget, too.

Happy September, y’all.

Can it be fall yet? Not when it’s 90 degrees out, it can’t, albeit we’ve had about the weirdest summer weather I can remember. Hotter than five kinds of hell in June, and then unseasonably cool and wet in August.  But the calendar says it’s September, there’s football on the TV (and can I hear an Amen and a Wooo Pig for the Razorbacks, who are at least beating whatever cupcake school got paid to travel to Fayetteville this weekend, if they don’t win another one all year), and the MLB season is gearing down into the fun days (if you’ve got a team with a shot at postseason, which I do).

I have given up on the garden. It’s kaput. I think next year, by which time I should hopefully be in a new place, I will cut back to just raised beds, and buy what I want to put up. With the plethora of farm stands and the Farmers’ Market, that’s easy enough. I’ll have a herb bed, a few tomatoes, and maybe one that has a few hills of squash and cucumbers. Enough said.

Speaking of which, my only preserving left for the year is pear preserves, because the pear tree up home is loaded this year, and maybe some scuppernong jelly, as scuppernongs are coming in season. I overdid canning tomatoes last year, and have some left. I have plenty of pickles and other jams, jellies and preserves. There are peaches, peas and corn in the freezer. Enough. And I am turning my attention to soups, stews and braises.

And it’s Hunger Action Month, the month every year when we’re all asked to do something to combat the scourge of hunger. It’s just so ironic that here, in the breadbasket of the nation, at harvest time, there are people who just don’t have enough to eat. We all ought to feel guilty, and we all ought to do something to help out someone less fortunate.

One of the things that intrigues me is the SNAP challenge, or eating on the average food stamp recipient’s budget of $4 a day. And you can eat, and eat well, on $4 a day. You’re not going to eat out, and you’re not going to eat convenience food, and it’s going to require some time, planning, effort and knowledge in the kitchen, but you can eat, and eat well. I’ll try to cook and eat and post some good, wholesome, budget-friendly meals this month to offer my two cents’ worth (plus it’s good practice for October Unprocessed).

When you’re cooking on a budget, you have no better friend than dry beans. I was intrigued, a few weeks ago, by a recipe for beans, long-simmered chicken thighs, and white beans with lemon; it was a taste combo that had never occurred to me, and I determined to try it. The other day, I did.

Now, I’ll grant you that you can cook dry beans and chicken a lot more cheaply than I did; I used Rancho Gordo beans and farm-raised chicken, because that’s what I like. But you could use grocery store navy or Great Northern beans, and supermarket chicken thighs, and get by a lot cheaper, and this would still be good. (Not as good as mine, but good.)

In any event, here you go: First, dice up an onion and thinly slice two whole lemons crossways, keeping the peel but removing the seeds. Toss them both with a half-teaspoon of salt in a small bowl and set them aside.  Pepper some chicken thighs. The recipe called for eight, but I used four. Put them in  a skillet skin-side down, on medium heat, and let them simmer away for eight minutes or so, to let all the fat render out. Then turn them over and saute them for about the same length of time, until they’re mostly cooked through, and then take them out onto a plate and set aside.  In the same skillet, in that chicken fat, saute the onion and lemons, until the onion softens a bit and turns translucent. Add two or three minced garlic cloves stir a bit, and  when it gets to smelling nice, stir in about two cups or so of cooked white beans.

Stir those up, then nestle the chicken thighs back in. Cover the skillet, turn it down to medium low, and let it simmer for about 15 minutes, until all the flavors are happy together, and the chicken is cooked through.

The original recipe would have you add kale when you add the chicken back. I don’t like kale, so I didn’t. I diced up a yellow squash and a zucchini in about one-inch dice and tossed it in right before I put the chicken back. You could add most any kind of veggie — carrots or peppers when you first add the onions, green beans or corn when you put the chicken back. Spinach wouldn’t be bad. Or use your nasty kale. I’m contemplating green peas next time.

I also think it’d be good to use Greek seasoning on the chicken.

You can used canned white beans, if you want; just drain and rinse them. Total supermarket cost on this would be about — let’s see — 5 bucks for four big chicken thighs, a dollar for two lemons, 50 cents for an onion, a couple of bucks for two cans of beans, and pennies for a couple of cloves of garlic. That’s well under $10 and it’ll serve four people and take you under an hour in the kitchen. You could put a green salad and some good crusty bread with it, and it’d be a dinner fit for company.

I cooked the beans with no seasoning, just in a little chicken broth, in the IP; a half-pound bag was plenty. Be careful salting this; the salted lemons (the salting pickles the onions a bit, and softens the lemon peel) will lend lots. I made the mistake of putting oil in the pan to brown the chicken; you don’t need it, because the thighs will render out plenty of tasty fat. In fact, my only complaint with this dish was that it was a tad too oily; I might drain off all but a couple of tablespoons of the fat next time (mine had obviously been some plump little chickens).

So there’s you ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em one good budget-busting idea for Hunger Action Month. I’ll try to share a few more while September’s here.