Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sausage Spaghetti

This is dinner tonight--a super fast, delicious, cheap meal, especially good in the winter (we're supposed to get the county's first freeze of the season tonight!). I predict the DDH will like it, though he's in class right now and hasn't eaten it yet. He likes a good tomato-and-meat pasta sauce, though, and this is delicious!

I defrosted a big kielbasa in the microwave, sliced it up, and browned it to bring out the flavor:

In retrospect, doing this with garlic would probably be even better.

Boiled up some pasta water and cooked the pasta until al dente:

Dumped a can of diced tomatoes (in retrospect should have drained this first), a can of tomato sauce, the three or four remaining little fresh tomatoes from the garden (chopped), one of the last little jalepenos (chopped), some frozen shredded zucchini (don't tell the DDH), basil, oregano, and a bit of salt into a sauce pan and heated it all up:

Mixed it all together, and ta-da! dinner in less than 30 minutes, including defrosting the sausage:

I think I'm going to go get seconds now. ^_^

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Butternut Squash Soup

It's that time of year now where I start making a lot of soups, many of them featuring various winter squash. My squash experiments, most of which tend to be vegetarian, are bravely tolerated by the Darling Devoted Husband, a bona fide "I'll take some bacon with my pork chop, hold the green beans" carnivore. He professes to like this soup, however, though like most pureed soups it's not very substantial-feeling and does best accompanied by or as an accompaniment to something you can chew.

The recipe is from Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything.

Heat three tablespoons butter in a deep saucepan on medium. When it melts, add 1 pound butternut (or other winter) squash, cut into 1-2 inch cubes; 1 pound crisp tart apples (such as Granny Smith), peeled, cored, and roughly chopped; and 1 large onion, roughly chopped:

Cook, stirring, until the onion softens, 5-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, I cooked up 4 cups of stock (because bouillon and broth base are cheaper than canned stock, I have one of those on hand in chicken and one in beef. The problem of course is that I have to remember to boil up the appropriate amount of water instead of just tossing in a can of liquid. Worth it, though):

I think I used chicken, but you can use beef or vegetable; use the latter and the soup's vegetarian.

Once the onion was softened and the broth was ready, I added the stock, 1/2 cup dry white wine (I may have tossed in cooking wine, in which case I didn't season with salt earlier, or sherry; I don't remember), and 1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon (or 1 tsp. fresh):

Turn the meat to medium-high and bring to a boil:


Turn the heat down to low, partially cover:


and cook for about 30 minutes or until squash is very soft. Cool slightly, then puree. I used my handy dandy immersion blender, but you could also pour it into a blender or use a food mill (honestly this looks very tedious. I suppose there is a point to food mills and maybe some time when you would want them and not anything else (a power outage, perhaps?), but I am just saying that I love my immersion blender. Maybe the food mill rices things. That would be handy, I guess). Once it's nice and smooth:


you can either refrigerate, covered, for up to 2 days (reheat before proceeding) or cook gently over medium-low heat until heated through; do not boil. Stir in 1 cup heavy or light cream:


until well blended and cook, stirring, until hot, about 1 minute. Ta-da! Butternut squash soup:


It really makes a lot, so unless you're having a party, I suggest freezing some of it before you add the cream and just keeping what you're likely to eat within a week out--adjust the amount of cream used as necessary.

On this occasion, I also cooked up some chicken breasts in a pan with the extra diced apple and some more onion:

 It made a very tasty dinner, and the soup served as a good lunch for several days, accompanied by salad and/or chips or whatever I could rustle up for crunch. The soup's a great fall standby: not too difficult or time-consuming but warming and full of fall flavor: apples, squash, and cream. Yum!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Shop Smart

I always have Wednesdays off right now, so that is when I do my big grocery shopping trips. I do plan these out in order to be as efficient and economical as possible. Getting good meals on the table during the rest of the week begins with a well-planned grocery trip. The ingredients you need for recipes do not just magically appear in the pantry (though I wish they would! Actually, right now, I just wish I had a pantry).

Right now, I have three kinds of grocery shopping events: the weekly trip to the farmer's market for produce, quick runs to the grocery store for things that need frequent refilling (milk, eggs, yogurt, that occasional last-minute ingredient, things on sale at Reasor's), and major multi-store expeditions. Let me break down the latter according to last week's grand tour:

At Sam's Club I stock up on things we use a lot of (you'd be surprised how fast two people can go through 36 eggs) and that last a long time (canned and frozen food and paper goods).This trip I got a case of IBC root beer, some chicken bouillon, a big thing of garlic powder (really this is for the dogs, actually), a case of hot dogs (for dog treats), frozen mango chunks, and frozen green beans. I also gave in and got the Fall Entertaining issue of Cook's Illustrated. Altogehter: $40.22. Unfortunately, someone forgot to mention he had used all the sugar, so I had to run back for some ($5.90), which brings the total up to $46.12.

The WalMart grocery store is where I go for most items I need in smaller amounts or that aren't available at Sam's Club. For instance, I have nowhere to put fifty pounds of flour even if I could use it in a reasonable amount of time, so that comes from WalMart, where it's cheapest. Sometimes I'll also go to Reasor's, one of the area grocery chains. They have a bigger selection than WalMart, and some items (namely popcorn for my air popper and my favorite tea) are cheaper. I'll also get stuff on sale here when I find a good deal. If I'm just picking up some things I need, there's a Reasor's right by my gym, so I go there to be quicker.

This time I just hit WalMart, where I snagged some pork chops on clearance (use of freeze by the next day), beef liver for dog treats, ginger snaps for a recipe I'm planning on making soon, three pounds of yellow onions, and some ginger root for a total of $16.34.

Whole Foods is a dangerous stop, because I tend to end up buying more fancy cheese, sweet potato chips, and random bulk items than I need. I can get things here I can't find elsewhere, though, and some items are actually cheaper here than at the other grocery stores. Greek yogurt is about 20 cents cheaper than at Reasor's (WalMart doesn't carry it), and the bulk spices are a super great deal, especially if you're looking for something more exotic, like cardamom pods, and/or only want a small amount. This time I got some Greek yogurts, pumpkin seeds for the Darling Devoted Husband, cardamom pods, garam masala, thick cut oats, sweet potato tortilla chips, and a block of chocolate for a grand total of $20.41.

The final store in my repertoire is Braum's, because they have Chocolate Malt Ball ice cream. Two of these and a carton of vanilla set me back $9.77.

The trick is to limit things that are just snacks and resist impulse buys. The DDH and I have agreed to keeping root beer and ice cream around as regular treats; then, on a big grocery run, I'll get maybe one other treat for each of us--this time, sweet potato chips and pumpkin seeds. The pork was an impulse buy, but I tend to buy meat that way--when I see it on sale or otherwise really cheap (some chicken and hamburger were snagged at Reasor's yesterday for the same reasons). We ate some of the chops that evening and I froze the rest for later use. Other than that, only the magazine wasn't on my list, so I was pretty successful this time.

The other shopping rule I use is only buying things (as much as possible) that I can get multiple uses for. This doesn't work for everything (one cup of yogurt can either be eaten or used in a smoothie, but either way it's just one serving), but is true of most things on the list. Oatmeal, for instance, I use for eating and baking; I have several recipes that call for the spices I bought. This rule requires direct coordination with the quantity vs. longevity rule. I will eventually use the ginormous bag of frozen green beans--and, frozen, they'll last long enough for me to use them. I bought the cardamom pods and garam masala in bulk so that I could only take a little, since I'm unlikely to use an entire large bottle before it goes stale (also, they were cheaper per ounce that way). I could have bought ten pounds of onions at Sam's Club instead of three pounds at WalMart, but I don't use enough onion for two people to be sure some wouldn't go bad.

It can be a lot of work at first to juggle all these considerations, but it's worth it. Otherwise, you end up with shopping trips like those of the DDH. Sent to the store for eggs, he comes home with: eggs, as requested, a twelve-pack of giant muffins, a big summer sausage stick, and five books of stamps. The eggs were $2.85 plus tax. He spent $62.30. I'm not saying I didn't eat the muffins, and admittedly we won't need to buy stamps for a year, but obviously one can't do this every time. Managing a kitchen on a budget first means shopping smart.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Amish Friendship Bread

At an Alpha Phi Omega staff retreat a few weeks ago, the Darling Devoted Husband received a starter for Amish Friendship Bread. Since then, we've made two batches, with another due to be made today. I'm sure one could figure out what it's actually made of without too much trouble; probably pretty much yeast, flour, sugar, and milk. The DDH loves it, though, and the first one came due to be baked while I was out of town, so it's something he can do on his own, which always makes him proud.

Here's what we do:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees:

You start with the bag of starter: 

which you mush every day and feed every five days. On the tenth day, you follow the instructions to make more starters and bake some bread. In a large mixing bowl, add to the starter:
equal parts flour:
and milk:
Stir until combined (it says not to use metal spoons or metal mixing bowls, I'm not sure why):
Make your new starters by scooping one cup of batter into each of four gallon-size ziploc bags:
Three are to give away and one is to keep for the next batch:
To the remaining batter in the bowl, add three eggs:
more milk:
cinnamon, baking soda, and baking powder:
more flour:
Then stir until combined:
Butter two loaf pans:
 Mix together some cinnamon and sugar and coat the loaf pans with it, turning and shaking so it coats all sides and the bottom:
Put half the batter in each pan:
And sprinkle more cinnamon sugar on top:
Then bake. Obviously, it's really sweet bread and sort of more appropriate for dessert than anything else, but we eat it with breakfast. The DDH just loves it, and he's giving out all the starters to his friends and coworkers, which is cute. Eventually we will be overrun, however. Luckily, the starter can be frozen for future use when we (and our friends) get too sick of it. Also, Wikipedia claims the starter can be used to make other sorts of breads, too, which I need to investigate. For now, though, it's just for fun!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Chicken Breakfast Quesadilla

Sometime I'll post about one of the Darling Devoted Husband's and my favorite quick, lazy meals: chicken quesadillas. Suffice it to say, it's pretty much like this only without the eggs.

Heat a can of chicken in a skillet, seasoning with cumin, cayenne, and a dash of cinnamon:

Add two eggs:
Add vegetables to taste. I like tomatoes, jalapenos are also good; whatever you like:
Butter one side each of two tortillas:
When the egg of the filling is completely cooked, remove from skillet and set aside (or you can do the next steps in a separate skillet). Place one tortilla, butter side down, in the skillet. Add grated cheese to taste (cheddar and colby jack are both good; I suppose if you like it, pepper jack cheese would also work):
 Add filling:
 Add more cheese, if desired:
Place second tortilla, butter side up, on top:
Let cook until browned, two or three minutes, then flip:
 Let second side browned, then remove and serve:
 So delicious! It doesn't remotely qualify as a healthy meal, but it's fast, cheap, easy, and delightfully delectable. The DDH made this for breakfast the other day; if he's in charge of dinner, we're likely to get nachos or the egg-less version of this. I buy packs of cans of chicken at Sam's Club so we normally have it on hand; tortillas, eggs, and cheese are staples in our house, and I toss in whatever reasonable vegetables I have on hand, so it's a good emergency meal for us.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Green Beans With Almonds

This is something I do to add substance to one of my go-to sides: green beans. It doesn't take any longer than heating them up plain. Sometimes I'll eat just these for lunch, if I'm in a green sort of mood.
You can use fresh or frozen green beans; I usually do this when I have fresh, though, because they tend to have a better texture against the almonds. If using fresh, rinse them off:
cut off the ends, and chop into roughly 1-inch pieces (so they look like the frozen ones you get):
Stick them in the microwave and cook, stirring every 3 minutes or so, until hot all the way through and tender (tenderish, if they're fresh, or to taste, I suppose). For doing a large bunch like this I stick them in a Tupperware microwave thing that's basically a colander with a lid that nests with a bowl, to which I add water. A smaller amount of frozen ones will steam in their own ice melt; to a larger bunch of fresh or frozen you can add water directly to the covered microwaveable container you heat them in.
Meanwhile, heat some butter in a skillet:
 Add slivered or sliced or chopped or whatever you have lying around almonds:
 And cook until browned:
Add almonds to green beans, toss, and serve:
Delicious! Fast, easy, cheap, healthy, goes with practically anything: everything you could want from a side dish--and so much more. ^_~


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