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.

The Dutch baby, in all its simple glory.

Have y’all MISSED me? Do I have any faithful blog followers out there for a relatively faithless bloggess?

In my defense, I have been sick, rallied by main force of will enough to go out of town for my high school class reunion (which was a ton of fun), came home, got sick again and/or relapsed, gave up and went to the doctor, got on a ton of meds, and did not wish to eat for several days. And when I did, it was junk food or cereal. Read the rest of this entry »

The non-baker bakes

March 22, 2018

Lime pound cake, courtesy of fancy Bundt pan.

I’ve always said I was a cook and not a baker.

I guess I’m more of a baker than I used to be, by virtue of being a frequent baker of bread, but I’ve never been much  of one for baking cakes, pies and pastries, nor anything much beyond that. But you couldn’t tell it this week.

This week, I have made a lime pound cake, three little baby lime pound cakes, and four adolescent-sized lemon pound cakes. I will be well represented at the church rummage sale/bake sale this weekend.

What had happened was, I got in the notion for a citrus pound cake earlier this week. I had a bag of limes I’d picked up at Aldi because, well, they were $1.99 for a bag of 8, and it’s just hard to pass up cheap limes. I thought lime pound cake sounded good, so I found a recipe and made one. Indeed, I made four, because I made one in my fancy Bundt pan and three baby ones in my baby bundt pans. Decided the baby ones were plenty for us to eat at home, so I’d take the big one to the sale.

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Half of what I discarded. The rest went directly in the trash.

I am unconscionably proud of myself. I have cleaned out the refrigerator.

I am absolutely horrible at letting stuff get pushed to the back of the fridge, where it remains until it’s old enough to vote. (In the case of condiments in the fridge door shelves, they may live there until they’re old enough to draw Social Security.) But even I knew the fridge was getting out of control.

So…fridge cleanout time.

This project is hampered by the fact I cannot remove either the shelves or the crisper drawers from my refrigerator without pulling it out from the wall so I can open the door all the way back, something which, because of where it’s located adjacent to a wall, requires my 6’2″, 250-pound son-in-law to accomplish. But I did the best I could.

I unloaded a shelf at a time, cleaned it thoroughly with boiling water from my electric kettle (best thing to clean fridge shelves that have had gunk spilled on them, if you can’t get them out and get them over to the sink), and divided its contents into three categories: Keep, chunk, or put somewhere on a different shelf. I further divided the “chunk” category into two divisions: one that went directly into the trash, and another that went over to the sink, where the contents would be dumped down the drain and the containers washed, twice, in the dishwasher.

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