Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tightwad Tuesday-Things to buy this week (even if you refuse to use them on Thursday)

Today's Tightwad Tuesday post is a simple list of ten things that will be a good deal if you buy this week. Some of these things are suspiciously Thanksgiving-y in nature (duh. that's why they are on sale) but you'll find that you will  probably use them year round, so get 'em while the gettin's good.

Tightwad Tuesday's Top-Ten

  • Turkey (again.duh.)-grab an extra for the freezer, the price per pound can't be beat.
  • Ham- so versatile, sandwiches, casserole, ham salad, chef's salad, breakfast meat- I LOVE PIG!!
  • Cubed bread/stuffing- I love this for topping casseroles, food processing into bread crumbs, saute into croutons... and hey...its already stale bread so it will keep for a long time.
  • French Fried Onions- Yes, I know they are franken-food but they are soooo good for coating baked chicken and pork.
  • Canned vegetables and fruit
  • Frozen vegetables
  • Last week’s bakery arsenal list
  • Butter
  • Clementines
  • Prepared chicken/beef/vegetable stock
 You'll be glad you did. Really.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

One Frau, One Oven, One Mission

I come from a large extended family of many cooks. A typical Thanksgiving meal might consist of 3 or four meats (turkey, duck, ham, and some type of roast) and enough sides to feed a small army. With 6 or seven people cooking, you end up with a lot of dishes. The first holiday I spent away from home posed a bit of a problem. How could I fix at least a good portion of our favorite dishes without taking off work the day before? And how would I get it all to be done at the right time? Would I have to spend the entire day on the kitchen?

First I decided that this meal would not be for the lunch hour. I love my family but I won’t get up at 4 am to start cooking for anybody. It's questionable that I would get up at 4 am to escape a house fire. We would eat mid afternoon or later.

Our Thanksgiving is admittedly low-brow and very ‘southern.’

Gravy-two kinds: giblet & brown
Stuffin’ Muffins’
Green bean casserole- Classic Hausfrau
Mashed potatoes
Cranberry sauce
Sweet potato pie
One or two other favorite desserts-in rotation, often pretzel pie, dutch apple, or cream cheese pie

The trick to pulling this off is to spend a little time each night leading up to the holiday doing whatever you can to make things easier on Thursday. Do some prep (chop, dice, cook pie fillings) and cook things that will keep nicely, perhaps even improve when left overnight (cranberry sauce, succotash, pies, vegetables for stuffing).

My biggest peeve is to shop when everyone else is shopping. So I usually shop Sunday night or Monday. No later or you will end up in a fist fight with other raging Fraus.

Shopping list- By Store section
Meat-Bacon (I use at least 2 lbs), turkey, chicken liver (if you make giblet gravy), salami, cold cuts for Thursday lunch snacks
Produce- garlic, celery, onion, scallions, portabella mushrooms, yukon gold potatoes, bagged cranberries
Dairy- eggs, butter, heavy cream/whipping cream, sliced cheese for Thursday snacks
Dry goods-Chicken Stock/Broth, crackers/breads for snack tray, corn starch, several loaves of dense, hearty bread (stuffing), onion,cream of mushrooms soup, French's onions, canned green beans, whatever bread/rolls you are serving.
Frozen corn, green beans, & lima beans
Apple cider
The following is a schedule rather than a collection of recipes. Fill in your family favorites or new ones from a cookbook. And if you have helpers...delegate, delegate, delegate.
Monday Night: 1.5 hr (mostly shopping)
  • Shop if you haven’t already
  • If your turkey is frozen, place in bottom of fridge on a cookie sheet
  • Dice hearty bread and spread on  cookie sheets to dry out; you can also toast in the over on  low heat, if you prefer.
Tuesday Night: 1 hr depending on your pie/dessert prep
  • Cook any pie fillings- for me that means 'Microwave sweet potatoes, whole'
  • Boil two dozen eggs-we like to snack before our afternoon meal, deviled eggs, summer sausage, cheese, veggies, dip, etc. Prepare everything but the deviled eggs now so its ready Thursday morning.
  • Boil 2 C cranberries, 1/2 to 1 C sugar, lemon/orange zest, 1C cider/water/juice until the cranberries pop, refrigerate
Wednesday night 1.5 hr
  • If you are brining, prepare your white-trash turkey bath
  • Prepare deviled eggs
  • Prepare/bake your pies
  • Peel potatoes and store in fridge just covered with water
  • Dice 5 yellow onions, 10 green onions, 5 cloves garlic, 2 bunches of celery
  • Caramelize onions, celery, garlic in butter
  • Cook succotash- saute a little bacon & onion, add frozen vegetables, simmer until veggies are done
Thursday Morning: 3-4 hr-mostly turkey time
  • Roast turkey according to whatever recipe you are following
  • Slow cook bacon-reserving drippings
  • Simmer giblet/turkey neck for an hour or so, skimming periodically
  • Prepare stuffing- We do stuffin' muffins' round here. Caramelize mushrooms, adding some of yesterdays onion/celery saute from yesterday. Mix coarse dry breadcrumbs, saute mixture, and bacon   adding enough stock/melted butter to moisten just slightly. Pack into buttered muffin tins and bake until tops are starting to get dry. maybe 30 minutes or so after the bird is out of the oven. 
  • Mix green bean casserole-mushroom soup, green beans, onions-ready to go in oven
  •  One hour before turkey is done put yukon potatoes to boil-drain, add butter, cream, S&P.
  •  Giblet gravy- Remove grody stuff from simmered stock (neck, heart, gizzard) add extra liver, diced celery, scallions to broth, simmer 15 minutes. Thicken with corn starch slurry (add cold water to a few Tbs starch), boil 3 minutes, remove from heat. Add chopped boiled egg, dash of cream if you want.
  •  After turkey is done, pull to rest, cover with foil
  • IMMEDIATELY put green beans & stuffing into oven. They’ll be done in ½ hr.
  •  Remove turkey to serving platter. Scrape bottom of pan, add scallions, garlic, stock and simmer for 15 minutes. Season w/ salt/pepper to taste. Puree any veggies from roasting the turkey into this.
  • If you are serving additional rolls/bread, you can warm them after the stuffing/beans are out of the oven.
It sounds like more work than it is. But I think you'll find it's not so bad. You'll have time to drink some wine, nibble your antipasto platter, and suck some sweetened condensed milk out of the can while no one is looking. And unless you invite them, you don't have deal with difficult relatives. And you don't have to share the the leftovers.

Questions? Post to the FB page. I'll try to answer asap.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tackling Turkey

It's that time again. And I have become aware of a few Frau-friends that have never tackled turkey. If this is not you, you can skip it.

Talking Turkey
First you have to decide whether to buy a fresh or frozen turkey. Frozen turkeys are usually cheaper and that is the only one I have had experience with to date. Every year I plan to buy a heritage bird and every year I decide I’d rather save the money and be able to celebrate Christmas instead. Pollan can bite me on that one. At least for now.

Allow for 1 lb of turkey per person. I always buy a bigger bird than we need because we like leftovers and, eventually, turkey & dumplings.

Thawing the Bird
The USDA recommends thawing your turkey, over several days, in the refrigerator. If you shop early (and you should) this is your best, and safest, bet. Least amount of work, too. Use the following guidelines, straight from USDA(40 °F or below)

Allow approximately 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds
4 to 12 pounds 1 to 3 days
12 to 16 pounds 3 to 4 days
16 to 20 pounds 4 to 5 days
20 to 24 pounds 5 to 6 days

Keep the turkey in its original wrapper. Place it on a tray or in a pan to catch any juices that may leak. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. If necessary, a turkey that has been properly thawed in the refrigerator may be refrozen. But that’s stupid…why would you do that? USDA also says you can thaw a turkey in the microwave but that’s disgusting AND stupid. I think we can all agree that the USDA is full of government assholes just waiting for the opportunity to ruin your holiday.

If things get crazy and you find that you can’t shop until later in the week, thaw your turkey using the water bath method. You can also use the water bath method if you are a moron that forgets that you have a 20 lb turkey to thaw. Been there multiple times. Wrap your turkey securely (I put mine inside a strong garbage bag). Submerge your wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes (HAHAHAHHAHAHA…what?) Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed.

Submerge in Cold Water-Allow approximately 30 minutes per pound
4 to 12 pounds 2 to 6 hours
12 to 16 pounds 6 to 8 hours
16 to 20 pounds 8 to 10 hours
20 to 24 pounds 10 to 12 hours

So, this is basically a Thanksgiving morning thing, and while it can be done, it can also be a pain while you are trying to do other things. Plus, you will have to get up at dawn for a large turkey. Nice work.

Since I am both a forgetful and lazy Frau, for the last few years, I have combined the water bath method with the newly popularized brining process. Brining is not necessary but it makes me feel fancy and hip which I need since I am cooking an industrially produced franken-bird instead of a heritage Bourbon Red. And since I do it in a cooler, it also makes me feel kind of white-trash, which is a nice contrast to the fancy & hip. I am a complicated Frau.

On Monday, I buy the turkey or pull it from the freezer to have a few days in the fridge to thaw gently. Wednesday evening, I get my cleanest, small, ice chest, fill it half full of ice water. Dissolve 1 C kosher salt and ½ C brown sugar into a quart or so of warm water. Pour brining mixture into the ice chest. Remove the wrapper from the turkey.

Do not forget to remove the giblets from the turkey cavity. They will usually be wrapped in a little packet of paper and placed inside the bird.
I have had the following proud moments:

1) The first time I cooked a turkey, I never even thought to look for a packet of giblets. So I cooked them, paper and all, right inside the turkey. Not always a huge problem but it can affect the flavor of the turkey, so avoid it.

2) I once searched and searched inside the cavity for the packet and never found it. I was convinced I had been robbed of my rightful giblets. The injustice! As it turns out, this company had stuffed the packet up in the other end instead of in the body cavity. Moral: If you don’t find it in one end, check the other.

3) I once forgot to take them out because I was in such a hurry to get the bird in the oven.

Allow the bird to chill (i.e. relax) in his ice bath in a cool place, turning every few hours, and adding more ice if necessary. No, you don’t need to get up in the night to do this. Just make sure there’s lots of ice in there before you go to bed.

Roasting Your Turkey
You really need a turkey roasting pan if you want great drippings for a better gravy. They are usually pretty cheap this time of year. Bed, Bath, & Beyond usually has decent ones for 15-30$. But, as always, buy the best one you can afford.

Remove the brined turkey and rinse inside & out with cold water. Place on the roasting rack. Now here is where you can add your own special touch depending on your tastes. In the past, I have done variations of the following:

Tucked fresh rosemary or sage sprigs under the skin; rubbed with olive oil & smoked salt; rubbed with softened butter; stuffed the inside of the bird with apples & oranges, or onions & garlic; basted with hard cider, regular cider, white wine, beer, and broth.

I don't stuff turkeys. Mushy. Gross. Questionable microbiology. More about stuffing methodology later.

Most years the turkey has come out very nicely no matter what I have done to it. However, for the last four years I have done the same thing and I doubt I will ever change it much.

Tuck herbs under the skin and rub the entire bird lightly with softened butter (or olive oil, if you prefer) & kosher or smoked salt. Toss a few onions, peeled & quartered, along with a few whole peeled garlic cloves in the cavity. Pour whatever kind of liquid you like, broth, cider, wine, beer into the bottom of the pan to prevent the drippings from burning. I have found I like broth & hard cider best. Place in a preheated, 500 degree oven for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 325. Take the pan out of the oven and create an aluminum foil tent over the pan/bird. This will keep things moist & juicy for now. Roast according to the timetable below:

8 to 12 pounds 2 ¾ to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds 3 to 3 ¾ hours
14 to 18 pounds 3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds 4 ¼ to 4 ½ hours
20 to 24 pounds 4 ½ to 5 hours

Watch your liquid level and keep it sufficient to protect your drippings from scorching. You can baste every ½ hour or so if you want. But it’s really not required if you proceed with the next step.

Approximately 2 hours before you expect the bird to be done, remove the pan from the oven and remove the foil tent. Roast for 45 minutes to an hour to allow for some browning. Remove bird from oven and lay strips of thick cut bacon across the top of the bird, overlapping across the breast. I create a woven 'blanket o' bacon for this. Lay a few slices over the legs & thighs. Place back in the oven for the remaining time.

Ignore whatever pop up thermometer may have come with your turkey. They may or may not have been invented by extremists for the sole purpose of ruining Thanksgiving. After the bird has cooked for the recommended time, check the internal temp by inserting a food thermometer in the thickest part of the inner thigh and the thickest part of the breast without touching bone. When the internal temp has reached 155 to 160, take it out and let the bird rest. It will continue to cook and will reach the safe temp of 165.

The baco-basted turkey has been a huge hit. Only once has the timing been off where the bacon was overcooked due to a lagging turkey temperature. I think it was due to overzealous basting (i.e. opening the oven and wreaking havoc on your steady oven temp). If it looked like that was going to happen again, I would sacrifice the bacon to save the bird. Once the fat has rendered, it really has served its purpose from a culinary standpoint if not an aesthetic one.

So, that’s the bird-the toughest and scariest part of the whole deal. If this particular bird sounds too freaky for a first timer, just follow the cooking times and baste, baste, baste. But remember-bacon covers a multitude of sins.

A shopping list, more recipes, and master plan soon to follow. Pinky swear.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tightwad Tuesday: Build your bakery arsenal

Hello Frugal-Fraus,
Now is the time of year to stock up on your baking staples. The weeks leading up to the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are VERY competitive for grocers. The result is that a lot of items you will use now and throughout the year are deeply discounted. Below is a list you might find helpful:

Sugar (granulated, powdered, & light & dark brown)
Baking Soda, baking powder
Karo syrup (shut up-no CS/HFCS debate here-ITS CHRISTMAS!!!)
Dried fruits
Spices (nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, etc.)
Vanilla and other extracts
Yeast (yes, you can freeze it)
Corn Starch
Flours (but these are best not stored for long...3-6 mo tops)
Butter (freeze it..its fine)
Food coloring (if you like your food freaky colors)

If you think of others, add them in the comments section.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Quinoa Salad-Last taste of summer

The temperature dipped into the 30s a few times this week, and while I am not exactly sad to see summer go, it does mean saying goodbye to a few of my favorite things. The good fruit is gone, replaced by the inedible, and the tomatoes are soon to follow. This was my favorite new concoction that made good use of the abundance of sweet summer cherry tomatoes. And if you've never tried quinoa, give it a whirl. It is really tasty and healthy in ways that most grains aren't.

Quinoa Salad
Prepare quinoa according to package directions, usually 2:1 H20:quinoa ratio. Using chicken or vegetable stock is nice in place of the H20. Cool.

Chop any or all of the following: scallions, cucumber, bell pepper, celery, cherry tomato (halved), and fresh cilantro. Mix well and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Letting this ‘rest’ for 10-15 minutes allows the juices of the vegetables to be drawn out of the flesh, which makes a nice base for the dressing. Drizzle with olive oil and your favorite vinegar; white wine or white balsamic is especially nice but any will do. Add a can of drained, rinsed chick peas. Combine with quinoa and add feta cheese prior to serving. A day in the fridge does a lot for the flavor of this dish.

If you need to feel fancy and pretentious (as if eating something called ‘quinoa’ wasn’t enough) adding olives or artichokes is also very good.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A recipe for those extra special occasions-Rated PG-18

I’m too crabby to write a real post. Don’t judge me; it will be your turn soon enough.

On My Period Pie
Pie crust- graham, chocolate, shortbread whatever…it’s your period; I don’t pretend to know what your needs are.
Softened, high-quality ice cream- by high-quality I mean not crap: milk/cream, sugar, maybe eggs, chocolate, or nuts. Don’t screw up a perfectly decent pie with cheap, nasty ice cream.
Jar of Nutella
Two bananas
Package of Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies
Toasted hazelnuts if you don’t live in a shitty town in the Midwest with NARY A SINGLE DECENT GROCERY STORE WITH HAZELNUTS WITHIN 150 FRICKIN’ MILES.
Whipped cream if you are into that

Spread layer of Nutella over the bottom and sides of pie crust. Slice and layer bananas over the Nutella. Smoosh ice cream over banana layer.

Smash Milano cookies and hazelnuts to pieces. Sprinkle on top. Drizzle melted Nutella, criss-crossing the pie…would it kill you make something pretty once in a while?

Put back in freezer for a few hours to solidify. Or eat it now. I don’t care.

Calcium, Potassium, Magnesium, Fiber, Vitamin E, Folate, Protein, and Iron and you get to smash something in the process. But let’s face it…that’s all irrelevant and pointless. Just make the damn thing.

And you thought you were getting some schmaltzy, romantic dinner recipe. Please. Try to touch me and you’ll pull back a stump.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Who's the 3rd FAIR-est Frau of them all?

So, last week marked the beginning of the DuQuoin State Fair, which is the down-state version of the Illinois State Fair. Since I am not such a fan of deep-fried anything, livestock, and the mouth-breathing masses of fair-goers, this event would normally hold little appeal for me. However, the fair does have one event that I find irresistible; the Mystery Sack Cooking Contest.

It is as it sounds. Each contestant shows up with an electric skillet, utensils, and three 'spices or condiments of their choice.' You are handed a bag o' groceries chosen by the hosts of the contest. You have one hour to cook, name, and present to the judges a dish using at least some of all of the ingredients in the bag. Using your own ingredients is optional. After waffling all day about what to bring, I decided on my three ingredients: cream, butter, and dijon mustard (thanks to all of the facebook friend Fraus for the suggestions.) The first year, I showed up having forgotten that you often need things like mixing bowls to prepare a meal. This year, I brought half of my kitchen, just to be sure. This Frau was prepared for anything...until I got my bag o groceries. This year the bag contained:

polish smoked sausage
one new potato
a cup of water
about 1/2 c of oil
salt & pepper
a baggie of shredded cheese
a baggie of tortilla chips (emcee kept pronouncing the hard-L...Tor-tiLL-a)
an orange
a red bell pepper
1/4 head of cabbage
a can of beenie weenies
and 5 oreos

I said an 'F' word and trust me, it wasn't 'Frau.' But with only an hour, you can't cry over dropped F-bombs. I set to work steaming lengthwise slices of new potato while I chopped and thought. Hard.

I hate oreos and beenie weenies. Gross. What the hell am I supposed to do with that?

But as it turned out, I am a pretty clever Frau, in the kitchen, anyway. After my potato was steamed I proceeded to:

Melt butter and scraped-out insides of oreos to create a sweet syrup-set aside.

Sauteed bell pepper and sausage. Smashed beenie weenies to a paste. Added potato and cream. Mixed in small amount of beenie-weenie paste (Asian chefs everywhere cringe) which helped to thicken. Topped with cheese and crushed Tor-tiLL-as, baked in the skillet until done. Meanwhile, I sliced the cabbage razor thin, tossed with a citrus vinaigrette of orange juice, oil, and dijon mustard. Remaining cream was whipped to stiff peaks, and oreo syrup and crushed cookies were mixed in. I presented 'Porky's Skillet Bake, Citrus Dijon Slaw, and Oreo Cookie Cloud' to the judges.

I won third place and 20 bucks. Not bad for haute cuisine on the fly, including beenie weenies. Gross.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Bandera Chicken

This dish is kind of a partially deconstructed enchilada for the lazy Frau. Also freezes well so why not double the recipe, make two, and freeze one for later. You can easily modify the ratios here to produce a dish to suit your tastes. More chicken, more beans, vegetarian, etc.


1-2 C cooked, shredded/diced chicken(grill leftovers or deli rotisserie work great)

1 Can of evaporated milk 16 oz-ish

16-20 oz shredded cheese (cheddar, Colby, jack, etc)

2 cans diced green chilies

1 can of diced tomatoes with chilies (or Rotel) drained, with liquid reserved

1 can of beans, rinsed (we like black or red beans)-optional

8-12 corn tortillas

1 tsp cumin

½ tsp salt

Mix evaporated milk, 1 can chilies, and juice from the tomatoes in a bowl. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350. Coat the bottom & sides of a 9x13 casserole pan with your choice of cooking oil. Mix cumin, salt, and 1 can of green chilies into the chicken using fingers to ‘work it in.’ Tear corn tortillas into quarters. Layer tortillas, sprinkle 1/3 of meat mixture along with a smattering of tomatoes, cheese, and beans if desired. Work your way to the top of the casserole dish and top with your ‘sauce’ of evaporated milk, chilies, and tomato juice. Top with cheese and bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until sauce/cheese is brown & bubbly.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tightwad Tuesdays: Saving Money By NOT Shopping at Walmart

Today’s post is inspired by my dear friend’s facebook status about her desire for change in her shopping habits. I quote " the hunter/gatherer is on the mission for new and better hunting grounds. The toxic swamp of WalMart will be avoided." Since she lives in rural Mississippi, this is no easy task. While we haven’t discussed it, I believe her motivation for this is to avoid WM for the same reasons so many of us have decided to avoid WM; poor customer service, low quality products, poor employee relations, etc. I am not going to get into the politics of the WM debate here because, let’s face it; WM isn’t the only entity guilty of the above. I will however, refute a widely held belief that the way to save big on groceries is to shop WM. Au contraire, Sister-Fraus…au contraire.

As a side note to all my Metro-Fraus who have a glorious Trader Joe’s at their disposal; suck it! We don’t have Trader Joe’s here and we hate you because you do…but I digress.

You see, WM is big enough to make up their own rules about pricing. When doing a side-by-side comparison of items at regular grocers vs WM, the ‘everyday’ price is nearly always 10-20% cheaper at WM. As the largest retailer in the country, they can buy product in large enough quantities to secure a better wholesale price, resulting in a lower price overall to pass on to the consumer. But as you may have noticed, WM doesn’t really have ‘sales.’ Sure, they put out a flyer every week and have their creepy, little yellow dot flying around the store lowering prices. But overall their prices stay about the same.

So what’s a Frau to do? If it’s cheaper there ALL the time, how can I save by shopping somewhere else? Three concepts: The Loss Leaders, the Sales Cycles, and the Pantry Padding (Amen). These three concepts will do more to save you money than almost any other penny-pinching activity. A perfect storm that, once you get the hang of it, will consistently save you an average of 50%. Some definitions are in order:

#1 Loss-leader

A loss-leader is an item with a sale price that is very, very low perhaps half price or less. These items are chosen by corporate marketing types with the sole purpose of bringing you into the store. They often price these items so low that they may even lose money on it. Why? Because they know that once you are in the store, you will likely buy other stuff that is not on sale. The regular priced (i.e. overpriced) stuff is where they make their money back. But if you are smart, as I know all of my Sister-Fraus are, you can use this system to your advantage. Hold that thought.

#2 Sale Cycles

Sale Cycles are the schedules that the corporate marketing types use to rotate sales. Let’s say you love Cheerios. If you watch your grocery store flyers, one week Cheerios will be on sale for about ½ price, maybe less. Approximately, 4-8 weeks later, Cheerios will once again be on sale for ½ price. It is as predictable as a hangover or a Diane Lane movie.

#3 Pantry Padding

I used to refer to this practice as stockpiling but then I met a weirdo, up all night, conspiracy theorist and it started to remind me of them, so I changed it. Pantry padding is just another word for having a very well-stocked pantry.

So here’s the really complicated part…watch out…I might just be about to blow your mind.

• View the weekly flyers in your Sunday paper or online and list the ‘loss leader’ items that you would normally buy at full price anyway

• Buy enough of them during the current sale cycle to ‘pad your pantry’ until the next sale cycle, 4-8 weeks later

• Resist buying anything that isn’t on sale and deeply discounted because chances are it will be on sale and deeply discounted within a few short weeks

That’s it. About 20 minutes of planning and a resolve to not buy anything that isn’t a loss-leader. When you do this and do it consistently you will always pay 30-50% less for those items. If you can do this with most of your grocery items, the result will be a much smaller grocery bill with nary a coupon in sight. If you add coupons into this mix, you start getting into free or even profit-generating shopping, which, admittedly, is not for everyone.

If you are still not convinced, think of it this way when it seems like too much trouble. If you averaged a 50% savings on most of what you buy, you could save $2400 a year. If invested in a mutual fund every month at a conservative 9% return it will equal nearly $40,000 after 10 years.

But I don’t care about the money. I just want to be sure I have enough Frank’s Hot Sauce in the basement to last me through the revolution…shudder the thought, it keeps me up at night. Weirdo.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Moron-proof recipes

My last few recipe posts were a little ingredient/skills heavy so this week we will tackle an area near and dear to my heart-recipes that even the stupidest among us (kitchen-wise) can not destroy. Yes, Laura, that means you. Excellent for company and one of my mom's favorites.

Shrimp Victoria

1lb of uncooked shrimp from anywhere the water is not ruined for generations
1 onion (or several shallots if you are feeling uppity)
1 16 oz package of fresh mushrooms
bottle of dry white wine
16 oz sour cream
as much butter as your conscience will allow

Melt the butter, saute' the onions and mushrooms til tender. Deglaze pan with 1 C white wine, add shrimp and cook for 3-4 minutes until pink. Remove from heat, sir in sour cream. Serve over rice. Drink the rest of the wine.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Promised recipes.

Nice for when warmer weather sets in and regular chili seems too heavy. For me this is a 'Non-recipe recipe.' Saute chicken and whatever vegetables you want. Add spices, canned green chilies, tomatoes, and drained rinsed beans. Simmer for 30 minutes. For you die-hards who want/need a recipe, see below.

Chicken Chili
1-2-lbs Chicken Breasts or thighs
1 T oil
1 T cumin
1 T paprika*
1/2 t cayenne*
1 t pepper
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 large bell pepper, chopped*
3 stalks celery sliced*
2 cans beans, rinsed and drained.
2 Can diced tomatoes or rotel
1 can diced green chilies

Cut Chicken into bite sized chunks. Heat 1 tbs oil in pan on med high. Sauté onions, celery, and peppers until caramelized. Add meat and garlic, sauté until brown. Add cumin, cayenne, pepper, and paprika. Add undrained cans of tomatoes, chilies, or rotel. Add drained/rinsed beans. Simmer for 10 minutes and salt to taste. Continue to simmer until chili is thick and flavors meld, ~ 20 -30mins.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mad Skills-Gumbo

As someone who is known for having fairly mad kitchen skills, I often get requests for recipes. I freely share what I can, but more often than not I find myself at a loss as to how to go about it. See, the problem is that, for the most part, I don’t cook using recipes. The overwhelming majority of things I prepare come from my head and never contain exactly the same blend of ingredients. This is not a problem until you want to share a dish via recipe OR you want to teach someone how to cook the dish in question. Additionally, I want to start archiving some family recipes for my daughters as two of them seem to be taking an interest in cooking (the third is still all about the boob-milk). But as I start writing recipes down, I notice that it isn’t combining the proper ingredients that makes these dishes great. Recipes are a dime a dozen and do not a delicious dish make. It’s the technique that makes things taste…well…the way they taste.

For example, I recall a request by a dear friend to teach her how to make a real Cajun gumbo. Now gumbo’s list of ingredients is fairly simple and can be quite varied by region. But the truest predictor of a good gumbo regardless of the ingredients is the quality of the roux. ‘Gumbo’ without roux is chicken and rice soup and if someone serves you chicken and rice soup and calls it gumbo you should throw it in their face and punch them in the throat while they are screaming about the hot soup you just threw in their face. But I digress…

Roux is a mixture of equal parts flour and either oil, lard, or butter that is the foundation of many French sauces. It is also the basis of many, many Cajun dishes. You can buy a good quality roux in southern grocery stores but I always require that anyone who wants to learn to make gumbo, make their own roux first so they know how it’s done. I taught my friend to make a roux and I think she even grumbled about it at first but now she’s an old pro and actually makes roux more than I do. Yes…I usually buy roux and my Maman says that’s ok, so suck it.

Making Roux
It’s less about perfect measuring of flour vs oil and a lot more about the consistency of the mixture, proper heat control, and length of contact with the pan. You will need a pan with a heavy bottom, cast iron is best but any thick bottomed, heavy pot will do. Start by warming a pan to a medium heat. Add ½ cup of vegetable oil to the pan, and when the oil is hot start sprinkling flour into the oil, stirring constantly with a wooden or metal spoon. Continue to add flour until the mixture is about the consistency of runny paste (or as I prefer 'puppy poop'...gross but accurate). If its starts to smoke a lot, turn the heat down a bit, stir faster, or add a little more oil if it is smoking too much and seems too thick. The mixture will start out a beige color; darken to tan, then caramel, then almost brownie colored. To get from beige to brownie takes about 45 minutes of constant stirring and I DO MEAN CONSTANT. You see, what you are really trying to do is to slowly scorch the mixture, giving it that very distinctive, smoky flavor. If you leave it unattended for more than a few seconds, it will burn and you will have to throw it out. Most gumbo uses a brownie-dark roux, but other dishes may only require a caramel one. Many French dishes and even my homemade mac-n-cheese use a very light roux that is just cooked enough to take the ‘raw’ taste out of the flour. But gumbo is hardcore and therefore requires its roux to be pushed just to the brink of burnt.

And that’s it…a core technique of Cajun/French cooking in a nutshell. The roux is the hard part. In the right container it keeps in the freezer for a long, long time.

A Non-recipe gumbo recipe

Add as much or as little of the following ingredients as you like: Onions, celery, bell pepper, garlic, chicken, chicken stock, sausage, salt, pepper, green onions (scallions), and roux. Combine first 9 ingredients and season until it tastes like a good chicken soup. Add roux (again as much or as little as you like; I like a dark gumbo some prefer it lighter), simmer 30 minutes, adding green onions (scallions) at 20 minutes, serve over rice.

As the natives say..."Mais' Yeah!" loosely translated "Oh but yes" (emphatically so).

Monday, April 12, 2010


I have taken the day off to prepare for mushroom hunting after 1:00 pm (end of turkey hunting shooting hours). I have two hours to power clean,jacked up on coffee and sugar, music blaring...just shake the debris off of 3 rooms, ignoring daily chores like dishes and laundry sorting and folding. And the Frau is trying to convince me that now is the time to empty the closet, vacuum it, pull winter-insert-summer clothes, and dust mop. Also, the blaring music makes me want to ignore it all and sing and play guitar to Rico and the dust bunnies. Oy! What do I do, fellow fraus?


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

While the Smugavore sleeps….on to other matters.

Enough with the food journey. Let’s talk about the Haus.

Spring has sprung here in the mid-south and that usually brings a slew of additional items for the Frau’s never ending to-do list.  I need to come clean about the fact that the to-do list to which I am referring is not a constantly evolving, daily or weekly, ‘life-maintenance’ to-do list like most people have. I am referring to the to-do list containing all of the stuff I NEVER DO. The projects, the trash-to-treasure stuff cluttering the basement and my spare room, the shelves to hang on the wall, the curtain rods leaning against the window sill, the unplanted bulbs in the freezer…. THAT stuff.  See, I am a ‘junkie’ which means I drag stuff home from tag sales, junk store, and the side of the road because I think ‘ I can make something sooooo cool with this useless piece of crap.’ And given the time, skills, and resources, I probably could. But I don’t, so it all sits there, in my way of doing anything productive/creative/enjoyable at all.

So, I go about the business of deciding where to start. This is problematic for a number of reasons.  I’d like to blame it all on a lack of time but let’s face it…this has been a lifelong struggle for me. Even when I have more time, I can’t decide where to start. I choose activity A. But while I gather things mentally for activity A I think “wait…I can’t do this because activity B should be done first so it is out of my way and then I can move back to activity A.”  And so on, and so on, and so on. Like some Faberge commercial from hell, I find myself in this self –perpetuating, replicating spiral where I end up right back where I started. My mind tries to seek out the deepest, darkest corner of my house which seems like a good place to start and work my way out. I feel the need to find that farthest corner, reach my hand in, grab the end and pull it inside out. The layout of my house even provides a visual image of this. It looks like a DNA spiral that starts in the upstairs closet at the back of my spare room, spirals its way down two stories of house and into the deepest darkest corner of the basement, which has rooms and closets of its own. Somewhere along this strand, there is a fold in the time-space continuum and you always wind up back where you started. You could play the Kevin Bacon game and find far fewer than six degrees of separation between all of these projects. There is no way out.

A dear friend of mine once shed some light on this for me. At the time I considered myself to just be a slob who couldn’t organize herself well. But this friend suggested that I was, in fact, not a slob but a perfectionist. As two days worth of dirty dishes, two weeks’ worth of laundry, and two months worth of dust bunnies passed before my eyes, I was intrigued. Being a perfectionist is certainly more appealing than a slob right? She said that I was paralyzed to do these things because I felt like I couldn’t do them until I did them ‘just right’, wholly, completely, and…well…perfectly. And she was right. I have a hard time just straightening a closet for a few minutes; I need to empty it first. I usually can’t just cook a nice dinner for four people; I have to ‘power-cook’ multiple meals for the table and the freezer like I am cooking for a bunch of farmhands.  I know the old adage “you can eat an elephant one bite at a time” but I routinely kill my elephant and leave the remains to rot.  My dear, supportive husband just looks at me with that weary note of resignation on his face and says “you need help.”

He’s right…but who can help me?  I am unaware of any 12 stepper, ‘messie’ meetings going on in my neighborhood. With this sort of pathology, I am really the only one who can help me. But I need some info, some support, some inspiration, and some accountability. So how about it fellow Fraus…anyone have experience in this area that you’d like to share?  Any recovering clutter addicts/perfectionists out there? Bring it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

So far--ee, so good-ee

Ok…so, admittedly, I abandoned my blog for a month. But my husband was gone for the ENTIRE MONTH OF FEBRUARY!   And I have that baby now that takes up all my free time. At the end of each day I ask myself “What did I actually spend all of my time doing before Cori was born?”  Unfortunately, the answer is “Not much.”

While I was playing single parent in February, the household made the switch to organic dairy and eggs and I still retained extra money in the food budget at the end of the month. This was kind of weird since that never happens.   I always spend it all. But hey, I was happy and hope we can do it again this month since I am paying for roaming chickens from the farm.  Admittedly, there’s still some crappy convenience food in the pantry and we will probably eat it this month. But I bought quinoa from the bulk bin at the hippie store; shouldn’t that count for something? By the way, the hippie store is our local food co-op, not a place where you can buy hippies.
The most exciting news is that I have signed up for a CSA share or Community Supported Agriculture share for the family’s produce. For the low, low price of $15 per week, my family will receive 6-10 lbs of produce direct from a family farm just a few miles from where I work.  This amount is actually a ‘half-share’ as we are splitting the share with another family until we get used to a constant influx of fresh produce that must be either cooked and consumed immediately or canned/frozen for later use.  And although the thought of that pile of produce staring me in the face each weekend is a little unnerving, I am very excited to let the bounty of the week decide what’s for dinner.  So organic produce just got cheaper, we’ve reduced our footprint by eating locally, veggies became the focus of our diet, and a farmer gets paid a fair price for his hard work. If you are interested in finding a CSA in your area, visit www.localharvest.org and search CSA.  
I have also tried to figure out a name for what I am trying to accomplish with the food thing. There are so many reasons I am doing this and some are harmonious while others just...are. So I thought about my motivations and they are as follows:
1) Health- The obvious reason.
2) Environmental- Reducing packaging, energy use, herbicide, pesticide, & fertilizer run-off, etc.
3) Community- Supporting someone locally to do something not many people do anymore.
4) Frugality- I am cheap and cooking from scratch saves money.
5) Humanity- The family farm is a lot friendlier to animals than commercial Ag is.
6) Stick-it-to-the-man-ity- The revolving door between agribusiness and the FDA is infuriating. The fewer dollars I give them, the happier I'll be. I also don't trust them to be stewards of my food supply...e.coli with your spinach anyone...? anyone...?
There wasn't anything that would take into account the above list and make a cohesive, coherent statement. So I decided I was taking myself far too seriously when it hit me. I thought of the one thing that would  be an undertone to all of the above, especially if I succeeded.
I am Smugavore. Welcome to the fold.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

An Inconvenient Convenience and Cheeses from Heaven

So, since my last post I have been poking around my overstuffed pantry to see what was in there that shouldn’t be. In the process of doing so, I realized that I really hadn’t stated my goals very well, neither to myself nor my legion of faithful blog readers (I think our count is up to 5). I guess at this point I am really straddling several bandwagons: elimination of unnecessary food additives, humane production of organic meat and dairy, supporting local agriculture whenever possible, and growing what we can ourselves. Understand, it will be several years before I feel superior enough to look down haughtily upon the masses and their proletarian cuisine. All of these are on a ‘baby steps’ basis.

So for starters, I pulled out the packaged pasta and rice side dishes that I sometimes buy. They usually cost about $1.50 but I get them for about 60 cents on sale with a coupon. I set about preparing a package of ‘Pasta N Sauce’. I glanced at the list of ingredients. There were about 20 but I wasn’t really surprised by that. I know the stuff is crap; that’s not the issue. What I realized while cooking it was that I had to stand next to the stove, watching the pot full of milk, water, and butter come to a boil. If I left it for too long, it would quickly boil over and make a mess. When it finally did boil, I had to stand there and stir to ensure that the pasta and sauce mixture did not stick together or get mucked up into little, un-dissolvable balls of starch/powdered cheese. So for the better part of 15 minutes, I was stuck by the stove anyway. How is that convenient? I can boil water and cook pasta without nearly as much supervision as my little ‘packet-o-crap’ took. In that amount of time, I can make a light roux, grate in some cheese, and finish off with a little half and half. Because I like to cook, I always have these items on hand. But I haven’t tested the theory in real time to see if my suspicions are correct: that convenience foods are not very convenient if you know how to cook for real what packaged food manufacturers are faking. I will test this theory this week.

I did, however, do something I have always wanted to do in my very own kitchen: I made CHEESE. Yes, CHEESE, GLORIOUS, CHEESE. In the last two weeks I have made homemade mozzarella three times and ricotta once. Last night I was shopping and found organic milk that was on its last ‘sell by’ date. $2.99 for the whole gallon. Score. I took it home and 30 minutes later I had fresh, organic mozzarella that will go into vegetarian lasagna tonight. I don’t know if it was the organic milk or my mad cheese-making skills but it was the best so far. Maybe I will make a béchamel to top the lasagne and test my 'conspiracy of convenience' theory.

How do I love cheese….let me count the ways. I have only met one very smelly one from Spain that I would not eat. It smelled very, very rotten. I think the ex-husband let it go bad en route from the motherland. But fortunately, the current husband feeds my need for cheese fairly regularly by stopping at the artisanal cheese shops in Wisconsin. The aged, the smoked, the sheep, the goat….all heavenly. I suspect I will be enjoying some of such cheese by Valentine’s Day, if not sooner. I long to create such cheese.

Something to aspire to, I suppose. The Frau aspires to much, indeed.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Now of the Frau

Since the Frau has disclosed that her attention span is debilitatingly short, she will disclose that while the food/consumption culture related posts may be full of wonder, passion, and determination this week, next week’s post may revolve around using dried tofu loafs as rustic doorstops. I just want to be clear that I am not on any kind of a mission to change anyone’s world but mine.

I bought organic milk, half & half, and broccoli from our local co-op yesterday. It cost me a little over $8 and that included a $2 coupon savings. If you know me very well at all, you will know this is not my normal modus operandi. I am, what is known in polite circles as, a tightwad. Moreover, I am an enthusiastic one and will generally share my knowledge of how to become one just like me with anyone who will listen. Having lived most of my life either teetering on the poverty line or living on a hardcore budget, it’s hard for me to live any other way. It’s really less about how much money I have and save than it is about who ‘deserves’ to get some of my money. For example, walmart, the cable company, and stores/gas stations without changing tables are not getting much money from me anymore. The quality of their products/services has rooted them firmly in the ‘undeserving' category. I feel I can and should give my money to more ‘deserving’ entities whether they be charities, someone in need, or another retailer.

So, I like to save money. I research purchases, shop off season, only buy on sale, clip coupons, and stock up on things when they are at their lowest price. There will be posts to this blog detailing those methods as I have promised to share that info with some people. However, I am attempting to make some changes in the way our household consumes goods, namely food. While pregnant last year, I started thinking about what was going in my body and I wasn’t terribly happy with the MSDS data sheet that resulted. I think ,food wise, we live in a very different world than we did the last time I was pregnant in 1993. As a biologist, I know some things.

So to begin, I’ve decided to start by switching at least some of our dairy to organic and sustainable sources available in our region. Since the portion of our food budget related to dairy is probably less than 10%, I am hoping that it won’t break the bank. But it does mean that something else will have to go. The stuff that will go first doesn’t really belong in our pantry in the first place; cheap, unhealthy, convenience foods with an ingredient list that looks like it needs an index. I am foodie, for pete’s sake. Why am I buying this crap?

This weekend we will start purging the pantry of said crap, one meal at a time. Yes, we are going to eat it. If you had any doubts and think my integrity is in question because of that, see paragraph two and stay tuned.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Tao of the Frau

Welcome to my blog. For the record, it’s not totally new. I’ve had the blank, titled blog for at least a year. Truth is, it might still be blank if my eighteen year old daughter Sara hadn’t shamed me into actually writing something to post in it. She did this by: 1) starting her own food blog and 2) asking me when I signed up for twitter if I was just ‘reserving the name’ again or if I was actually planning to use it. Brat.

My intention for the blog was initially to find a way to disseminate some of the useful information I’d gleaned over the years as a busy, broke, & frugal single parent. Since I recognize my ADD tendencies I knew without a doubt that I would be unable to keep things in any one category. Hence, the Random.

Now the Hausfrau. Let me first say that I use the title of Hausfrau with a great deal of affection. At a very early age, perhaps in the farm kitchen of my Cajun maman’s house, I began to love all things about the kitchen. My favorite parts of childhood books were the descriptive passages of mealtimes. I could smell Ma Ingall’s ‘corncakes’; I swear I could. I learned to cook pretty early in life and I’ve always enjoyed the process. After a weekend of campfire cooking in high school, I earned the nickname “Ma Joad” as in the family matriarch from “The Grapes of Wrath.” I took this as a supreme compliment because to me it meant I was skillful in a pretty meaningful way; I could feed a lot of people, very well and very cheaply, with minimal tools and resources. Even then at seventeen, I thought that rocked.

I also devoured any book about homekeeping published during what I call the ‘golden age of the American housewife.’ These snapshots of American home culture from another age were fascinating to me. And although I am now a professional working woman juggling parenting and life-maintenance chores with a supportive spouse, I still find myself longing for an existence that is focused on cooking a nice dinner, keeping clean underwear at the ready at all times, and not killing the houseplants. I also long for an existence where I have trouble fitting in my afternoon scuba dive between my morning massage and my all-inclusive, pre-dinner margaritas. The latter is why I work. I could say that it’s all about presenting a positive role model for my daughters, that education and hard work payoff in security and self-worth, blah, blah, blah and it would certainly be true to some degree. But I can’t say it’s the main reason.

Before you go thinking I am some sort of home management whiz with a well kept house and garden, I should let you know that I most certainly am not. And I don’t beat myself up for it. I enjoy time with the family, pursuing hobbies (mostly music), and sometimes (often) just being lazy. The Random Hausfrau has many alter egos. I am a great cook; I also burn stuff a lot. I love to plan & plant a garden; I am lousy at maintaining one. I hate it when the towels are folded ‘wrong’; I won’t say how long it’s been since I’ve mopped. I am certainly nothing to aspire to.

But my aspirations for myself are simple and probably seem quaint to some. Square, even. Perhaps an affront to feminists everywhere. I want to enjoy time spent at home making everyday life nicer for myself and those around me. Yes, I want to give of my time and money to make a difference in my community. I want to read books, keep apprised of current events, and be able to have intellectually stimulating conversations. But if I can share a meal and relax at home with my family at the end of the day, I can call it a good one.

If not there’s always tomorrow.