Monday, January 31, 2011

The Bad Streak

Argh. February is always a bad month around here, it seems.

It's just so cold all the time, first of all. It's been consistently in the twenties at night for the past week or two, and everything (especially my ears and nose) tend to freeze at those temperatures. I'm stupid enough to ride a motor scooter to work sometimes. Chilly.

Second of all there just never seems to be enough money floating around in February. To throw a horrible pun your way, perhaps my account has frozen. (Wow, that was bad!) It promises to be a pretty good year, but it's gotten off to a rocky start. My car has also been voraciously consuming my paychecks this year, not leaving a lot of cash for things like, oh I dunno, food?

But hey, nobody likes being down in the dumps for too long. And our motto and battle cry is "For poorer folks tired of eating just hot dogs." So I shall stick by that battle cry and proclaim to the world that we have not been beaten down! Zizi and I intend to impress this year even more than last year, with more delicious stuff you can make on a shoestring budget. We will also be including some recipes for food that are not quite so shoestring, just for the fun of it. Tax refund, here I come!

All of that said, is it ironic that I bought hot dogs today?

(Hey, hot dogs have their place.)

-- Nick

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Welcome to the New Year, or, When Life Hands You Lemons....


We haven't posted anything in a while. I apologize; the last few weeks have been a little rough. Our car is on it's last wheel, and the internet connection only works every three or four days. And the Amazing Omnivorous Child has decided that he doesn't need naps anymore. It must be because he's two; so we're all kind of tense and tired. Of course, the Amazing Flying Child just can't be left out; he's trying really hard for those teeth. So, we haven't really had the energy to cook a lot, much less write about it.

What have we been eating these last three weeks? I can't remember. A lot of pasta, some rice and a few potatoes. We have less vegetables to work with this year, and I've run out of flour, oatmeal and coconut. I've been avoiding eggs; the last time I made deviled eggs I got sick (although it may have been the flu) so that's understandable. The Amazing Omnivorous Child and I have been making No Bake Cookies about once a week. I don't know what we're going to do next week as we have no more oatmeal. Even dinner tonight is last night's leftovers: pasta fried with onions, tomatoes and corn, with lemon vinaigrette to keep it moist. I did make salmon cakes for lunch today. I figured we needed a boost of protein and omega 3. I served them as sandwiches with cheese and lettuce. But as I have no camera I don't have a picture to show you.

Oh wow. That all sounds kind of depressing. Not what I was going for. I also don't want you to feel sorry for us; we're okay. A little tired (and about to kick the car) but doing alright. I did pick up some pork earlier this week and I'll cook it tomorrow. I promise to let you know what I did with it.

I was wondering: What do you think? This blog was born of the idea for a cookbook and Nick's genius. I wanted to do something with a lot of easy recipes and ideas for those on a tight budget. But then, we had a lot of food (and the money for it) over Christmas that doesn't exactly count as “tight budget” food. This month we're tight; next month will be better. So my next big idea was this: alternating “tight budget” meals and ideas with recipes that are for the more financially independent. I have tons of recipes that I have either never made or not made in several years. We wouldn't be able to make everything and tell you the results. But it would keep us active (which is probably what we need). So, what do you think? Would you like that? Also, what would you like to see more of?

Okay. So for now I'll leave you with my Lemon Vinaigrette recipe, tomorrow I'll give you the pork chops and later I'll do something about tea, and maybe one of my old candy recipes.

Ciao!

Lemon Vinaigrette

¼ C oil
¼ C vinegar
3-4 tbsp lemon juice (to your taste)
2-3 tbsp mustard (Dijon is generally preferred)
1 tbsp lemon&pepper spices (if you have it)

Mix well. Keep refrigerated.

--Zizi

P.S. I hate the smell of antifreeze... -- Nick

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The American Way: The Short Cut


We try very hard to make things easy on ourselves. To make things shorter, lighter, faster or more fun for us. We avoid that which takes time or effort; the things that might make us sweat (unless you're a teenage boy, then you're in sports and sweating is cool). We have dishwashers so that we don't have to take the time to wash the dishes by hand. And that's not a bad thing; if I had a dishwasher I could spend more time playing Dinosaurs with The Amazing Omnivorous Child. We have treadmills so that we don't have to take our walks out in the cold. That's fine too, exercise in the cold triggers my asthma. And we have short cuts to get to our destination faster. Sometimes that's okay.

Sometimes it's not. Taking short cuts in the kitchen is a very touchy thing. I've taken some, and some of them worked, some of them were epic failures, and some were just okay. When I was working at the restaurant we had to make our mashed potatoes fresh every day. Left over mashed potatoes are gross and no one would think of serving them to a paying guest. Besides, we generally ran out or almost ran out every night. We boiled something like 50 large russet potatoes every day—just for the mashed potatoes. I needed another 25 every 2 days for potato salad, and a few extras for the lunch menu. It was the job of second shift to take care of the 50 that they needed for the dinner rush (I had different potatoes at lunch), but it was an easy thing for me to bring up a pot full of potatoes and set it to boil while I was getting ready to open. Especially if I had to make potato salad the next day. So I took a short cut and made life a little easier on myself and second shift by doing the potatoes for them. No biggie.

And I've taken short cuts at home; I'm sure you know the kind that I'm talking about. Like adding the milk, butter and cheese packet to the macaroni instead of making the cheese separately and adding the noodles in like the box tells you to. I've been doing that for years, and it makes making the macaroni so much faster. I didn't realize that it also cuts down on the presentation of the dish.

So it's macaroni and cheese for lunch. It's not like it's a filet mignion with a side of braised cabbage and roasted fingerling potatoes! True, but as a chef can I tell you something? They say that “It's 50% presentation.” That's true. Very true. And as good as macaroni is, it's even better when it looks right. I've been making macaroni that looks like it came out of a greasy spoon diner. I was taking the short cut that really only saved, what, five minutes? Then one day, I was trying it differently to get ready for Christmas (I wanted to see if I could still make a cheese sauce before I went and ruined the one that Nick wanted for Christmas Eve dinner). I ended up with a plate of macaroni that looked like I'd paid upwards of $15.00 for AND that would have made my southern grandmother proud.

I had come up with the creamiest, cheesiest cheese sauce to ever grace a macaroni noodle. And the only thing I had done differently was the procedure. I set the noodles aside after they were done; I simmered the butter and milk, and I whisked in the cheese packet. Then, after I had let it simmer a bit more, I added the noodles back in. The sauce got thick after I took it off the heat. It really didn't taste any different, or better. But it did.

So if there is any point to these ramblings, I guess it would be that, while some short cuts are good, sometimes it's better to take the time to do something the hard way, the long way. Sometimes it's worth the extra effort.

Ciao!

--Zizi

.PS. I'm sorry about the lack of pictures, my camera broke.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Birthday Cake!

The Amazing Omnivorous Child had a Birthday earlier this month. He turned two! (It hasn't really sunk in yet that I'm a mother and my first child is already two.) We had a party of epic proportions. Nicole and Nadine came for a visit, so we went for the works (as much as we could, and they brought a lot).

We had gone shopping a few days before and picked up a boxed cake mix (being less than a dollar and cheaper than getting flour, eggs, sugar and butter), and I let the Amazing Omnivorous Child pick it out himself. He chose Devil's Food Chocolate and insisted on carrying it around the store, saying, “Caye, caye, caye.” 

On Friday, the Party being on Saturday, I let him help me make the cake. He was nap-deprived, so it was a volatile afternoon. But Nick had picked out a pack of birthday candles. The Amazing Omnivorous Child had no idea what they were for, but he knew they were fun. He learned his colors that day, too!

The next morning, The Amazing Omnivorous Child woke up to balloons all over the house. That afternoon I decorated the cake. I'd forgotten how much I love working with pastries, breads and desserts. We put more than two candles in just because they're fun, and it was the first birthday for either boy (the Amazing Flying Child turns one this summer!) that we've used candles.

Nick made rice with beef and a white sauce, and after that we got down to the serious business of a party. Nicole made everyone Narnia's (a cocktail), and while Nadine made stuffed mushrooms Nicole made Bacon wrapped bleu cheese stuffed dates. WOW! As soon as I find a way to credit the source I might think about posting it (even though it's not a budget friendly food).

With the hors de'ouvers and drinks we played many rousing hands of cards. And exchanged belated Christmas gifts. All in all it was a most pleasant evening.

Narnia

Maraschino Cherries
Vodka
Birch Beer
Ice

2 cherries and a little juice in the bottom of a glass. 2-3 ice cube on top of the cherries, and a shot of vodka poured over that. Fill the glass up with birch beer. Enjoy the taste of winter, with the small hope of spring at the bottom of the glass.
Courtesy of Nicole!

–- Zizi

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Fear of Food

We are afraid of our food. Let's face it: socially speaking, most of us never ever want to see our food while it is still walking around on two or four feet. Many of us would never want to slaughter a chicken and pluck its feathers out, or care for a hulking porker hell-bent on getting itself (and you) as dirty as possible. A lot of us probably wouldn't really care to sow and reap corn either, or pick string beans in the burning sun, or debug lettuce. I even know a kid who, when asked where milk comes from, said in reply in a “duh” sort of way: “The grocery store, of course!” In other words, he had no clue.

And yet, as someone who has engaged in almost all of the above food-production activities, I can tell you it really is fundamentally transformative of the way one looks at and respects food.

Most of us I would assume are used to buying our food pre-grown, pre-picked, pre-packaged, pre-canned, pre-frozen, and in all other ways pre-processed so that by the time we get the finished product, it sometimes barely resembles what it originally came from. Take ground beef, for example. It is in essence long pink mushy noodles. I can assure you the cow wouldn't even recognize it. Instant stuffing mix is another good example. Does it really look anything like the bread and spices it purportedly comes from? Not to me it doesn't.

Like I said, let's face it: for many Americans today, it is scary when our food production is too close to our food consumption. Somehow it is distasteful to have the chicken we will consume in the next couple of hours running around outside our home pecking for bugs. Or the cow we will grind into hamburger hanging around in a field nearby. Or it is distasteful that we would even think about working for the actual production of the food, like bending over in the hot sun picking beans. We should just be able to flash money and have our food delivered pre-everythinged.

Why should the production of food be so shameful? Why should everything we eat be approved by some government department, or be declared safe to eat by some higher power after many unhealthy chemicals are added, like homogenized milk? And, the most important question of all, why should somebody else produce all of the food we eat?

Food is one of the most wonderful things God gave us on this planet. In a way it is Earth's most abundant and most renewable resource. It grows and thrives and produces seed that will grow into next year's crop. It is an ever-renewing cycle of birth, fruition, nourishment, and replenishment, and it will continue for as long as the good Lord wishes it to. Unlike mined gold or silver, or any artificial thing man has devised for his own happiness, food has real worth. It nourishes our bodies, which allows for the flourishing of our minds. It brings us together for our meals, which promotes joyful community and cooperation. When a person owns the soil and the seeds, he in a way owns more of himself than the man who is rich with money. Money can only be used to trade for food; the man who has the means of producing the food needs nothing but work, rain and sunshine in order to eat.

The proper production of food also brings us closer to the world we live in, not to mention the God Who created it. Why would we abuse the soil and the air and the water, if all of us made our own food? It would be a far greater motivator to keep the planet a clean place than any tax incentive or government program. Also, there is nothing to compare to the sheer joy of growing and picking your own food. One of my favorite activities when I was younger was to pick apples in the autumn near sunset. It is a delicious feeling to reap the overabundance that seems to characterize all of God's creation. To loosely quote, one author wrote that God's indulgence is almost shameful when speaking about the amount of extra beauty and fruit this world produces.

We live in one of the most productive times in history when it comes to food, and yet most of the land in the United States that we tend to see are people's front yards. One of the most widespread “crops” in our country is grass. There is something wrong with that picture.

Let's not abuse our food, our planet, or ourselves. Let's not delude ourselves into thinking that our world should be a faraway place that we visit once in a while when we go picnicking. There is just as much beauty and goodness in nurturing the food we eat as there is in the preparing and the eating of it. Food is the truest work of human hands.

Let us not divorce our food from its beginning. Let us enjoy it from start to finish.

--Nick

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Wonders of Fondue


Nick's father has been making wine for a few years; this year he considered it good enough to bottle, and he asked Nick to design a label for him. He gave us a bottle Christmas Eve. They also gave us a piece of smoked salmon, and two plates of Christmas cookies and candy. My parents sent us money to get stuff for Christmas Eve Dinner, and we got shrimp and cocktail sauce, crackers, and cheese to make the fondue.

Being young, poor and on our own, we are trying to figure out what we can (and want) to have as our family traditions. I don't anticipate we'll have shrimp cocktail every year; but the cheese sauce might be a keeper.

Earlier on in the month Nick had decided that he wanted to learn to make a cheese sauce, and kept asking me what was in it. I made Welsh Rarebit (a beer based cheese fondue) at the restaurant and kept giving him that recipe. Somehow we were misunderstanding each other. I finally gave him the minimum that he needed to make the most basic cheese sauce—a liquid base and cheese. He then told me that he did have an ingredients list.

So when we began to plan for Christmas Eve dinner we bought what we needed and I made the fondue. I added Dad's wine as an afterthought, but it turned out to be the best thing for the cheese. The cayenne and honey were added after tasting it and deciding that it needed a kick, and just a touch of sweet. We dipped crackers, sausage, chips and even the smoked salmon in it Christmas Eve, and sipped wine. It was a marvelous dinner. We then made the cheese again for a New Year's Party the next week.

Cheese Fondue

1 qt milk
1 glass white wine
½ block melting cheese—shredded (or cut as small as possible)
dash cayenne
smidgen nutmeg
3 drops honey
salt&pepper
1 tbsp cornstarch

Simmer the milk over low heat; add cheese and stir occasionally till melted. Add wine and spices and simmer.

Slowly bring to a boil, stirring constantly—and hard. Add cornstarch. Remove from heat when it starts to get thick. It will get thicker as it cools, and we really like it cold.

Have fun!

-- Zizi

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Devilled Eggs


I promised Nick that I would write this recipe up for you, and I'll tell you why it's so important to us. And, as we seem to have it very often I figure that it's relatively inexpensive.

There is one food that I can make that will fix any and every bad day. Take today, for instance (and please don't feel bad for us from reading this; I'm assuming that everyone has days like these). The Amazing Omnivorous Child wasn't eating what we'd given him—he wanted my food and threw a fit when I wouldn't give it to him. The Amazing Flying Child just wanted to be held, and screamed every time I put him down. I was upset because I'm getting a cold and I'd let the dishes get out of control, so I wasn't speaking. Nick couldn't figure out what was wrong, and couldn't fix it.
Then, at work, none of the equipment works the way it should; there were stupid shows on tv during Nick's break, and I suspect he is getting a headache. Compounded by the fact that he can't fix my bad mood, and the house feels too small, and we haven't had access to the internet for over a week. On top of all that, this month is just going to be tight because of when the bills and paychecks fall.

A typical bad day, and reading or sewing won't help, I pull on the one thing I have left. Cooking. The smallest, simplest, cheapest and most favorite of all of our foods that I can offer; something that won't take up too much of my time, and that I can leave if I need to and come back to. Deviled Eggs.

On a completely different track, it's an odd thing about marriage that I can do something for my husband and the act of doing it for him is what calms me down. Especially with the deviled eggs. I'm having a bad day and just want to take my book and run away. He is also having a bad day, and because I love him I want to make him feel better. I know that he's looking forward to getting off work and coming home. Having the eggs ready for him is a small surprise that comes out like a rainbow. Anticipating his pleasure at finding them and knowing that I've helped him is what pulls me into a better mood.

Here, I offer you the smallest measure of our good day. I hope you enjoy it.

-- Zizi


Deviled Eggs

A small note on boiling the eggs:
For deviled eggs you want them hard boiled. Bring the water to a rolling boil before adding the eggs, then let them cook at the rolling boil for 12 minutes. Then immediately drain the hot water and run cold water over the eggs till they are chilled. The idea is to stop the cooking process (which would continue if the eggs were left hot) so you don't end up with little rubber bouncy balls. If you peel the eggs within an hour they will not get that green tint around the yolk, but that is purely cosmetic.

The mixture:

I have never measured this out, so what I'm going to give you is as close an estimate as I can figure—I always eyeball it and hope it works!

1 tbsp mayonnaise to each egg yolk
salt&pepper
squirt of mustard
dash of pickle juice
2 spoonfuls sour cream

Mix all of this with the egg yolks until you have a nice, creamy mess. Spoon (or pipe if you're fancy) into the egg whites. Sprinkle with paprika. Serve chilled.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Pineapple + Burgers = Awesome!


It was the last working day of the year, and I had some vague idea of making a special meal. Then Nick surprised me and came home early, so dinner wasn't even started. When I started looking for somehting to cook I found a pound of hamburger; I thought I'd make some chili. I'm beginning to realize that I make chili when I can't think of anything else.

I had gotten out all of the ingredients and opened the hamburger when I found a recipe for Hawaiian Burgers on the back of the package. After looking over the ingrediants list I determined that we did have everything (and I was already planning to add some extras) and I put the chili stuff away. On a bright and cold winter day we had Hawaiian Burgers with baked beans and sweetend iced tea.

The burgers tasted great and were large enough that we could only eat one each. I'll write up my Iced Tea for you when it gets a little warmer. (Apologies for the lack of burger pics, but we were hungry!)

Ciao!

--Zizi

Hawaiian Burger1lb ground beef
2 onion cubes (half onion chopped)
2 tbsp yogurt
4 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1 egg
garlic powder
sage
salt&pepper


Sauce
1/4 c applesauce
1/8 c pineapple juice
1/8 c bbq sauce

1 pineapple slice per burger
texas toast--buttered&garlic toasted


Mix beef, onion, yogurt, worcestershire, egg and spices together; form into patties and fry (or broil, if that's your preference). Mix sauce together and baste burgers while they cook. Serve on toast topped with a pineapple slice.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Biggest Christmas Music Artist Ever!

The top-selling artist of Christmas music was not Bing Crosby, oddly enough. The winner is... drumroll please... Elvis Presley! Weird, huh? I thought so too. I guess they were contemporary crooners.

-- Nick