A site for sore tastebuds and a woeful wallet

Posts tagged “budget

You Won’t Eat this and Think about Cabbage…or Money

Eureka! I have found a recipe that is brimming with health benefits for mere pocket change. Cabbage casserole, how did I never come across such a delicious AND nutritious casserole??  In one of my late night Pinterest “How to Install a Natural Water Feature” moments I made one more click to a recipe off on the sidelines.  I saw a beautiful, colorful, 7 ingredient recipe of pure healthy genius; an I-have-all-the-ingredients-in-the-fridge-and-pantry meal serving up to six.  Click! and my life changed.

I don’t remember the pin. I had to go to bed because the recipes can easily turn me into a wee-hour Pinterest zombie.  This is what I remember and it worked out fine…so fine:

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil in a deep heavy pot
  • 1 onion diced
  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1/2 head of large red cabbage sliced in thin strips (you will want to make it again with the other half at the end of the week)
  • 1/2 bunch collard greens (about 5 leaves stemmed and sliced chiffonade style
  • 1 Tsp Steak seasoning plus a couple of pinches
  • 6 oz hand shredded pepper jack cheese
  • 100_1776Preheat oven to 375°. Dice your onion, slice the cabbage and chiffonade the greens and keep them in separate piles. Heat the oil until it shimmers on the bottom of the pot.  Add your onion and cook on high heat until they are clear and beginning to brown. Brown the ground beef with a teaspoon of the steak seasoning. Add the piles of cabbage and greens and simmer until the mixture softens down to about a third its volume.  Give it a good stir.

Empty the pot into  a 9″x 9″ casserole dish and spread it evenly.  Top with your pepper cheese and sprinkle a pinch or two of the steak seasoning around on top sprinkle a little Parmesan to brown the top nicely, then bake for 20 minutes.

It’s fast, it’s delicious, it’s easy, it’s delicious it’s healthy, it’s delicious, it’s affordable, it’s delicious!


Streamlined Yogurt Making

All you need is a microwave oven, a Mason jar and a thermometer that goes to 200°F (93.3C), a quart of whole milk (better if it is antibiotic, hormone and GMO free), and about 1/4 cup Greek yogurt or the same size sample from a batch of previously home made yogurt.  Using the microwave saves you the extra step and clean-up of a pan on the stove. This method is so easy you may never need to purchase the expensive stuff from the store ever again!

Step one: Have your 1/4 cup sample of yogurt ready to “seed” the quart of milk in your pre-sanitized Mason jar (boil half a quart of water in it prior, then cool it by slowly add the milk).  The milk in the mason jar goes into the microwave for approximately 5 minutes or until the thermometer reaches 180° (82.2C).  Stir occasionally to ensure even temperature top to bottom and skim light skin when it appears.


Just needs another minute…

Step two: Cool the scalded milk back to a temperature you would be comfortable bathing in; about 110°F (43.3C). Add the culture; about a quarter cup of plain yogurt from an earlier batch, or you could use a sample of store-bought plain Greek yogurt; the more organic the better.  Not all commercial yogurts are created equal but FAGE is a brand highly recommended for taste and quality ingredients if you need to go that route for your culture. About half of a single serving tub is sufficient. Stir it in, mix well and screw on the lid.  As long as you make the next quart of yogurt from your own stock you will never have to purchase yogurt from the store again!  The taste and quality of home made is superior to anything mass produced.


The Cool-down and the Culture

Step three: Set the jar somewhere it won’t be disturbed but will stay warm the whole day; about 10 to 12 hours.  Because it’s summer the temperature outside is perfect for culturing yogurt; about 90°F (32.2C) average.  As long as the temperature stays between 80° and 100° it will be fine. This temperature range is the perfect temperature for the lactic acid producing bacteria to thrive and multiply causing the milk  to thicken but not curdle. Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus are the common strains of bacteria which produce a creamy, thick, gut-health boosting yogurt.  If you start this process at 7:00 a.m., by 7:00 p.m. the bacteria will have done its job. Watch the temperature outside carefully that it stays within the range I mentioned earlier.  In this case the temperature outside was 80°F by 8:00 a.m. when the cooking and cooling was done and that was perfect.  It got to the mid 90°s and by 7:00 p.m. it was 85°;  again, perfect.


Set it out in the Hot Summer Breeze

Step four: Now put the jar in the refrigerator overnight and by 5:00 a.m. or so the next day you will have a delicious creamy, tangy, treat to eat for breakfast.  If your end product is too thin you can strain the whole jar of its whey in a strainer with cheesecloth or a large coffee filter until it is the consistency you desire.

Bonus: Don’t throw out the whey!  It can be used in soups, mashed potatoes, smoothies, etc…anything you usually add milk and water to will get a boost of protein and added flavor, plus the probiotic benefit.

The Greek yogurt business is in the 1.7 billion range today.  I really get a kick out of taking away at least one customer.  At the store at nearly $2.00 per serving you get 7 oz of a product in a plastic tub with an aluminum lid glued to it and who knows what else added. Give this pure and simple method a try!  You too will keep that money in your own pockets and be so much more satisfied with the taste, and the knowledge of exactly what you are eating from a sterilized glass jar.  Take charge!  I’m having mine with chunks of home-grown tomatoes. YUMMO!100_1718

Oven Fried Catfish with Homemade Tartar Sauce

I dread frying anything for two reasons.  One, the calories; even though back in my restaurant employment days the executive chef told me over and over, “Fat equals flavor.”  He wasn’t lying but I found a way around that conundrum in this recipe.

The second reason for my disinclination is the greasy mess to clean up in the end.  Why not contain the mess in a pan rather than wipe down a multitude of surfaces including the range hood.  I can do without all the acrobatics this late in the evening.

100_1468A while ago I found a super deal on catfish nuggets at the store.  It was locally caught and freshly frozen…I could tell, so I jumped on a five pound bag of those babies.  About one and a half pounds were gently thawed in the microwave then placed in a container of milk to soak.  In the food processor I pulsed about a cup of corn bread stuffing mix with a tablespoon of butter and a glug or two of olive oil.  I added another 2/3 cup of crispy panko 100_1469breadcrumbs into a large enough plastic bag where I combined all the crumbs.  The fish was dropped into the bag in batches and shook until well coated then laid out skin-side-down in a baking pan (and a pie plate because there was more than I thought).

With an oven preheated to 450°F, I let the fish bake for about 25 minutes.  Without the fuss of turning and possibly getting burned from popping grease, I removed the fish from the oven and let them cool down slightly.

While they cooled I quickly whipped up a tasty tartar sauce to accompany this crispy delight with the following:

  • 100_14784 round tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp tarragon, freshly chopped
  • 1 tbsp finely minced red onion
  • 1 tbsp sweet pickle relish
  • salt and pepper to taste

As I plated up dishes for the family the fish was very delicate and flaky, not over greasy.  Because of the butter and oil I added to the crumbs, they toasted up nicely and tasted like grandma’s deep south recipe; all the flavor of fried fish.  As a bonus this diva doesn’t have to worry about an extra 120 or so calories.  It’s been a good day.


Lets Have a Hand for Arm Roast

100_0096Sometimes the cheaper cuts of meat make the most delicious dishes.  Most times they are enough to feed a good size crowd too.  The part I like best is that they are an easy plate to prepare… those set and forget it meals.

100_0100A while back I purchased a good enameled cast iron dutch oven.  I’m getting lots of use out of it this winter.  It makes great stews, soups and is great for roasting about anything.  Arm roast was my latest item on the menu and it sure turned out great.  To begin this is some of the prep work:

  • Sear in olive oil a 3 lb. arm roast on both sides
  • cut six medium red potatoes in quarters
  • chop four carrots  in chunks
  • add a half cup of dehydrated onion
  • 1/4 cup dehydrated mushroom or 5 fresh in slices
  • pour in 1 cup red wine, a cup of water and halfway through, a 12 oz. beer
  • season with salt, pepper, garlic powder and dehydrated onions and mushroooms

100_0105Preheat the oven to 350°.  Once the roast is seared on both sides right in the dutch oven throw a few of the potatoes under the meat to keep it from sticking to the bottom.  Add the wine, a cup of salted water, some pepper, garlic powder and a 12 100_0113oz bottle of good beer.  Put the lid on and let it all cook for the next three and a half hours.  Make sure there is enough liquid bubbling around the 100_0115meat at the half way point.  It should reduce a bit and become an unctuous gravy but if your lid doesn’t fit tight all the liquid might evaporate.  Add more wine or beer if necessary. Sometimes using aluminum foil is better for sealing the pot well.  Do what ever it takes to keep the liquid from drying up.

After the cooking time give it a little rest and let the juices stop bubbling so you can eat it without blistering your tongue.

It was tough for us to wait with all the delicious aroma filling the house, but we managed.  Applause to the way the dutch oven cooks up a tender arm roast.  I didn’t have to do anything but fill it with meat, veggies, seasonings and leftover libations.  The results were outstanding!100_0118

A Veggie Tale Lunch

49112This veggie tale is not from a cartoon but has no less a religious theme.  It begins with the Holy trinity of food, the onion, carrot, and celery along with a few other things most of which came from the care, service, and sharing of friends.

A few days ago our church had a luncheon.  My friend, her husband, my husband, and a dozen other wonderful people helped prepare and serve a group of about 150.  We made my baked chicken parmesan with an Italian salad, noodles with butter, garlic and parsley, Italian bread, fruit, and cookies for dessert.

49113It went over very well.  Everyone was satisfied and we had a bit left over.  In particular were sliced red onions and artichoke quarters from the salad.  49115My friend who is in charge of the kitchen commitee let me take the small  container home so it wouldn’t go to waste and I promised her they wouldn’t.  I think I could live 49107on onions to be frank, then add artichokes and we go to an even more heavenly realm.  The fact that they were a gift…all the more gracious.

Well I kept my promise and have used them in my cooking for the last couple of days.  Today, I’m down to the last of them and it’s just me home for lunch.  Yesterday a friend came by after eating at a Chinese food restaurant, and brought me some steamed rice he couldn’t finish.  Again, I told him that I would find a use for it so it wouldn’t go to waste.  I think the world is on to me about my objectionable attitude toward waste.  Even so, it was very kind of him to think of me and share…another blessing.

So now, I’m finishing my last cup of coffee for the morning, which began at 5:00.  Breakfast is long gone and I’m hungry for lunch.  When it’s just me, I tend to not cook anything, but those lovely gifts are sitting in the fridge waiting to not be wasted.  I’m getting pretty hungry so I get out the little skillet, put in a spot of olive oil, crank up the heat and begin adding the onions and artichokes first,  then some pre-cut veggies I keep around for making school lunches and stacks.  I have a part of a tomato and of a poblano pepper to dice and add.  A handful of spinach is also added and folded in as it wilts, then the rice to give it some additional heft.  I season everything with a pinch of salt, pepper, garlic powder and  some soy sauce to give it that Asian loveliness.  Finally, I go outside and grab a sprig of fresh parsley that miraculously has made it through some deeply freezing temperatures.  It tastes as if it has been soaking in orange juice.  What a surprise flavor the cold has given it!

49108Veggies could not look and smell more divine as this plate before me does.  I will eat everything on it but not before thanking God for the food, friends, and benevolence around me that nourishes my body and soul.


Swai My Way

49041At our local market, a fish called Swai (I buy it frozen) from the rivers of south east Asia is available and usually for a pretty good price.  Most fish I like are at least $5.00 per pound here in the U.S.A.  but Swai is a dollar less per pound and the fillets are a nice size…about 6 oz.

49095My favorite way to cook this fish is to lightly dust it with flour and seasonings and pan sear it.  For two fillets (which was all I prepared for me and my daughter and all that would fit into my 9″ skillet) I placed about 1/4 cup flour 49096on a plate, sprinkled a bit of salt, black pepper, and paprika over it, mixed it up with a fork, spread it around on the plate, and dredged the fish through it before putting it in a hot skillet with a few glugs of olive oil.  With the heat on medium high, I seared it on both sides for about three minutes each, then lowered the heat just to warm for a few more minutes.  I flipped them over again once to make sure the fish was done throughout.

Letting it rest on the warm setting a while allowed me to prepare some complimentary side dishes.  Julia and I decided on broccoli as a vegetable.  It 49098was great steamed for 3 minutes in the microwave with a pat or two of butter and a good splash of water.   And for a salad, I looked in the fridge and found two things that were in the “use it or lose it” section (I hate to throw anything out…you know me, Cheapie Cheaperton…throwing out food is like throwing out money…wait, it IS throwing out money) so these two items 49099were my salad.  One was a beautifully ripe avocado, and the other an Indian River grapefruit also at its peak of ripeness.  I didn’t prepare This citrus salad  the beautiful way I’ve seen in the foodie magazines, all arranged in a 49100ring and perportioned perfectly.  I did take the time to ‘supreme” the grapefruit though, which is to cut out only the juicy flesh and leave the membranes behind.  I also took the time to slice the avocado and lay the salad out casually on a plate.  It was just me and my girl so we didn’t need to do it up fancy for just we two.  Bedsides, she doesn’t even like grapefruit and ate only the avocado.

49103Well, she and I both ate every bite on our plates.  When Julia was finished, she said,  “Mom, that was a great dinner!”  A mom can’t ask for a better reaction to fish, broccoli and avocados than that.  It made the meal all the more satisfying.  I think we’ll go and bake cookies for dessert.49106

A Year Of Bathing For About Five Bucks

Previously, I have explored a practical skill that Laura Ingalls-Wilder tells us about in her books.  I’ve made soap using a boiling method, but have found that the cold method makes a good bar of soap as well.  It’s much easier in fact, and I like the way this soap turns out even better.  It is so much easier to mold and manage.  Let the next few photos show you the steps to making enough soap for the entire year with these regular household items.  Each batch of about 25  two and a half oz. bars will set you back about five dollars. 

To begin you will need:

  • 48 oz. vegetable oil
  • 14 oz. water (distilled if your tap water is hard)
  • 2 oz. coconut oil (found in Asian markets) or cocoa butter
  • 6 oz weighed not measured in a cup, pure lye crystals (not Draino)
  • 2 tsp essential oil for scent (optional)
  • A large non metal pot dedicated only to soap making
  • a wooden spoon or spatula also dedicated to soap making
  • Hand and eye protection
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Two 32 oz. plastic containers like the ones cottage cheese comes in
  • an old plastic place mat or sheet of cardboard 12″ x 16″

With everything in place, I begin outdoors by donning gloves and eye protection and add the 6 oz. weighed lye crystals to the 14 oz water.  NEVER add water to the lye!  It will result in a violent reaction that could harm you and definitely your working surface.  Be sure you use a sturdy glass container that can withstand a temperature of 200° F (that’s nearly boiling temperature).  That’s how hot the lye and water get.  It also will make nasty fumes while it reacts so I recommend doing this outdoors.   Stir with a wooden spoon until the solution goes from cloudy to clear.  Wait until the solution cools to about 105° F or about the temperature of bathwater.Now combine the vegetable oil and coconut oil in a non metal pot.  I use the barbecue grill to heat the oil to the same 105° F or bathwater temperature.  The lye should cool down while the oil heats up and both liquids should be roughly the same temperature when they are mixed together.Pour the lye solution carefully and slowly into the fat when they’ve reached similar temperatures, and always use gloves and eye protection when handling the lye.  This stuff can blind you so take serious precaution!  I can’t say it enough.  I do the mixing on an old glass patio table that can be easily cleaned with a hose.  I use this table to pot and divide plants most of the time so I don’t really care about this surface.  In other words, expect to spill or splash some harsh stuff on your surface.  I wouldn’t do this on your new granite counters.Once the fat is combined with the lye the danger is slightly less.  I even took off my glove to take pictures and blend.  Any equipment you use to make soap should be equipment dedicated only to making soap.  I’ve dedicated wooden spoons, a Corning-ware Dutch oven, and an immersion blender to this craft.  You could use a whisk to blend the acids and bases but it will take a long time (possibly 30 minutes) to reach the “trace” stage.  Just before this stage is when to add your fragrance.  I used burberry essential oil and lemon grass essential oil…a teaspoon of each. The trace stage is when a reaction called saponification occurs.  In chemistry the blending of acids and bases result in a salt, and soap is a salt technically.  After about five minutes of blending with the immersion blender this stage begins.  It thickens.  It is when a spoon or other tool is dragged through the solution and leaves behind a trace.  The solution will be now somewhere between  the consistencies of pancake batter and mayonnaise.You can see that the work surface needs to be one you don’t care about.  The blender can splash a bit.  At this point the soap is quite harsh but not nearly as harsh as the plain lye solution.  The fat has toned down its corrosiveness,  but if you happen to get some on your skin you’ll want to rinse it off thoroughly with warm water right away. Finally I’m ready to pour the soap into molds.  I use plastic yogurt or cottage cheese containers.  You’ll need containers that add up to at least 56 oz.  Two 32 oz. containers is good.  I used one of those and another 24 oz container, and it was just barely enough capacity.  They need a bit of lubrication and I used a jar of petroleum jelly that I got at Julia’s baby shower…ten years ago.   Though it has an amazing shelf life, I’m glad I’ve found a new use for it.   Now that the soap is in its greased containers, it’s time to put them to bed.  They do best curing wrapped up in a towel.  The longer the soap stays warm as it cool down the better.  These babies will need to stay snug as a bug over night.The next day they are ready to be removed from the molds.  If I’ve done a good job greasing the containers they will slip out easily and in one piece.  It takes a while to get them to release.  I squeeze the sides all around to allow air to slip in.  It takes a little working to get  an air pocket to get to the very bottom of the mold…or should I call it the top since I have to hold it up-side down.I get the soap to finally come out.   Wow this is the biggest bar of soap ever!  I think I need to cut it into more manageable pieces.  I use an old boning knife to cut up the soap into bars.  It has a straight smooth blade, is nice and thin, and does a neat job of cutting. This soap is still quite harsh, but will become milder as it cures.  It’s good to do all the cutting work on an old plastic place mat or a sheet of cardboard.  It still has a corrosive nature, so I don’t advise setting this down on just any surface to finish its curing.  Curing takes at least a week but three weeks to a month is better.  Handling the soap in the first few days, you will need to rinse your hands thoroughly if you feel it on your skin.  If you have very sensitive skin, just use gloves.  As the soap cures it will become very mild and even good for sensitive skin, but it will need to cure completely.The chemical reaction will continue as the soap cures over the next few weeks.  The bars will change color maybe even a couple of time during the curing.  In the end it should be totally opaque.  Right now I can see light through these bars but in a few weeks it will become more hard and solid, of uniform color, and light will not come through.  That’s when you know it is ready for use.  I can’t wait to use this lemony fresh soap but it smells pretty good just sitting there.

Arrange the bars on a your mat or cardboard and let them have a little air space in between each one.  Keep them in a dry place while they cure.  I wrap mine in coffee filters when they are finished, and store them in the linen closet or give them away to friends and family.  It’s so fun and rewarding to manufacture such a practical item, so I encourage you have a go at honing  this survival skill.   I hope this article helps you if you get the notion to try soap making.  There are videos and many other on line tools that will help and answer questions that I have not.  In the meantime take care and keep it clean!