Posts Tagged ‘food’

In Bulk

I’m trying to get better about the mindset that I can save money by buying more. Take for instance, the pomegranate juice I like to drink. Normally priced, it is $8 a bottle, which is a lot of money for a beverage. Every 6 months or so, my grocery store will have the juice on sale for buy one get one free for a month. Which means that each bottle of juice then costs $4, which is a completely reasonable amount. This most recent time that it was on sale, I bought a lot of juice. I bought 6-8 bottles every time I went to the grocery store for a month.

In the moment, it hurt to spend that much money. But I reassured myself that I was saving money in the long run.

On the positive side, the bottles from the juice also make superb storage containers for the dry goods that I have started buying in bulk. I have been trying to get away from buying things like canned beans and focus more on using dried goods. It does take more planning and effort to use dried goods, but there is less packaging (better for the environment), the food often does genuinely taste better, and–most importantly–it’s less expensive.

For a while, I had a problem, though. I so loved how nice my juice jars looked all filled up with dried goods that I didn’t actually want to eat my dried beans. But currently, I am in a bit of a budget lock-down situation, thanks to some unexpected recent expenses, so I have resolved to do better about eating what I’ve already got at home. And not buying extra at the grocery store just so I can have a pretty jar.

From left to right, white beans, green lentils, red lentils, black beans, steel cut oats, brown rice, brown rice, chickpeas, and more white beans.

This week, to use up both beans and rice, I made one of my more favorite recipes. It comes from The New York Times, and is a soup that consists basically of beans, rice, and leafy greens. In other words, it’s perfect for me. I already had everything on hand, except for the swiss chard, so it made this a particularly cheap recipe, as well.

White Beans with Swiss Chard and Rice
3/4 pound Swiss chard (I used two bunches)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped (I use onion powder)
2 to 4 garlic cloves, minced (I use 6 to 8 cloves)
1/2 pound (1 1/8 cups) white beans, washed and picked over
1 bay leaf
1 Parmesan rind (Or, just a chunk from a wedge of parmesan cheese)
1 cup rice
Freshly ground pepper
A few drops of fresh lemon juice

1. Stem the Swiss chard, and wash both the stems and the leaves in at least two changes of water until thoroughly clean. Dice the stems if they’re wide, and set aside. Stack the leaves and cut in wide ribbons or chop coarsely. Set aside separately from the stems.

2. Heat the oil in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, and add the onion and diced chard stems. Cook, stirring often, until the onion softens, about five minutes. Add half the garlic, and stir together for 30 seconds to a minute until fragrant. Add the beans, bay leaf, Parmesan rind (tie the bay leaf and rind together with a kitchen string to make retrieval easier) and 2 quarts water. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce the heat and simmer one hour. Add the remaining garlic and salt to taste, and simmer for another 30 minutes to an hour until the beans are tender.

3. Add the rice and pepper, and simmer 15 minutes until the rice is tender. Stir in the chard leaves, and simmer another five to 10 minutes until the chard is tender but still bright. The mixture should be soupy but thick. Season to taste with salt and fresh black pepper. (Make sure you remove the bay leaf.) Squeeze on some fresh lemon juice — 2 to 3 teaspoons — if desired, and serve. (Or divide it up into bowls with for your week’s lunches!)


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As I recently established, I do not eat fruit. With one notable exception. I do like fruit leather.

My biggest problem with most fruits is the texture. I like foods that require a lot of chewing, and fruit has always just seemed way too slimy to me. Fruit leather, if you can’t tell from the name, does not have the textural issue. It’s fruit that’s been blended together and then dehydrated to the point that it becomes nature’s fruit roll-up.

I’d been buying the Archer Farms brand at Target, which, at $2.99 for a box of 10 strips, were the most reasonably priced that I’d seen. But then, one of the baking blogs that I read posted a recipe to make your own fruit leather at home. No dehydrator required. I couldn’t wait to try it, and I was shocked when it was actually a success. I’ve now been making it pretty much every week.

It has been such a surprising experience to go to the grocery store, and actually buy fresh fruit. I get to look at what’s in season, and consider what mixture of fruit sounds appealing. I typically use several apples to make up the bulk, and then add in berries and plums. I have tried using frozen raspberries (organic! on sale!) and that was also successful.

It’s really pretty simple to make, although there is some mess involved. After your fruit is prepped, you simply cook it a bit to soften it up.

You blend it in your food processor. And if you’re smart, you don’t fill your food processor to the point that it is exploding.

Then pour it into the baking sheets, which have been prepped by covering them with plastic wrap and brushing it very lightly with oil. It’s weird to bake on plastic wrap. It feels wrong. Rebellious!

But it’s not rebellious, because you bake it at such a low temperature that nothing happens. My oven’s lowest setting is 170, so that’s what I bake it at, and I have no problems. (My oven runs around 10 degrees cool, so it’s really baking at around 160.)

A downside is that this stuff has to bake forever. Like, 6-12 hours. The biggest problem that I have is reaching the perfect level of done-ness. It all depends on how thick the layer of fruit leather is, and I am not particularly good at keeping that consistent. My most recent strategy has been to bake it overnight, and to continue baking it as-needed during the evenings in the week.

But in the end, assuming everything goes well, you will end up with delicious homemade fruit leather!

I cut it into rough strips, stick it into an airtight container, and if I start making a batch on a Sunday, it’s gone by Friday.

Of course, I actually wind up spending way more on a per-week basis to make my own fruit leather, and that’s because I make so much more of it than I would buy at the store. It doesn’t seem like a bad way to spend my money, though–on fruit I otherwise can’t stand to eat.

I am unclear on whether any nutritional value actually remains after it’s been slightly cooked, pulverized in the food processor, and stuck in the oven for 8-12 hours. But it’s still fruit! Fruit that I eat!

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Not a Lifestyle Choice

I am a picky eater, and I am picky in the strangest of ways. I love kale, spinach, and brussels sprouts. I hate carrots, peas, and tomatoes. I love tofu, beans, and lentils. I rarely eat meat. I don’t like unmelted cheese. Or cream cheese. Or eggs. Or milk.

While I make concerted efforts to expand my diet, there is one major food group that I consistently can’t stand, no matter how often I try to make myself like it. I don’t like fruit.

There are only three exceptions to this rule: I can tolerate apples, though I don’t particularly enjoy them; I like pomegranates (though I prefer just drinking the juice); and I like some dried fruits and fruit leather. However, those are the only exceptions.

(And, I suppose this is another exception, but I like lemons and limes, but no one actually EATS lemons and limes, so I’m not sure that counts.)

Whenever I tell someone about my dislike of fruit for the first time, the reaction is always, ALWAYS, ALWAYS exactly the same. People invariably being listing off their favorite fruits and asking me if I like them. “What about grapes? Do you like grapes? What about bananas? You don’t like BANANAS? What about oranges? I can’t BELIEVE you don’t like oranges! Mango? Have you HAD mango?”

This happens every. single. time. And every. single. time. I say, “No, I don’t like oranges. No, even the smell of a banana disgusts me. No, watermelon tastes like sand to me.”

I find it so odd that people just can’t believe me when I say that I don’t like fruit. My friends, I really don’t like fruit.

And it’s not that I haven’t tried. I have tried strawberries. I have tried watermelon. I have tried many of the fruits that other people adore. And I don’t like them. I don’t enjoy eating them. I don’t like the taste, and I don’t like the texture. Please, just let me be alone with my leafy greens vegetables.

My experience has been that being a picky eater is often viewed as a significant personality flaw, even when other phobias are accepted. (Especially by those who pride themselves on their adventurous tastes.) Are you afraid of heights? Well, that’s perfectly normal! Who can fault you for that? Do you dislike certain foods to the point of extreme psychological revulsion? Well, that’s because you’re not trying hard enough.

I was recently at an event with some family members. At the event, one of the Hors d’œuvres was shrimp with dill in a filo cup with cream cheese. I love shrimp, but I hate cream cheese, so I left them alone. My family members were swooning over how delicious this was, and I could tell that they were growing frustrated with my refusal to eat one. After all, they were DELICIOUS. “Just TRY one, Melody.” So, I ate one. And after I did, I’m pretty sure they fully expected me to see the error of my ways and pronounce that it WAS in fact DELICIOUS and that I’m never going to be a picky eater again!

But I didn’t. I choked it down and when they prodded me for a response, I said that I didn’t care for it. Because, after all, I don’t like cream cheese. Eating it didn’t change my mind, it just reinforced the fact that I seriously don’t like it.

Similarly, no matter how many times people say, “But peaches! How can you not like PEACHES? They are sooooo delicious!!” my answer is not going to change. I am who I am, people! It’s not a lifestyle choice!

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A few months ago, I babysat for a friend’s kids, and while I was there, I ate some fantastic chili. It wasn’t like any other chili I had had before, but I was IN LOVE and immediately asked for the recipe. I made a few modifications to make it more Melody-friendly, and it has become just about my favorite damn thing to make for myself.

To qualify as a truly excellent recipe in my world, it must possess the following qualities:

– It must be inexpensive
– It must be vegetarian
– It must be healthy
– It must reheat well
– It can be modified to suit all of my picky food preferences
– It must be delicious

This recipe is ALL OF THOSE THINGS, plus, as an added bonus, it is vegan, too!

To give you an idea of how much I enjoy this, I will say that I ate it for dinner on Sunday and will be eating it for lunch every single day this week, and I actually feel excited about eating it. Like, I can’t wait until lunch. I wish I could eat it right now.

I actually went out and spent $20 on a coffee bean grinder so I could use it to grind spices, solely for this recipe. If you have any idea how reluctant I am to part with $20 under any circumstances, you should have a good idea of how great this is when you use freshly ground chilis and cumin.

My notes and modifications are in italics.

Pinto Bean Mole Chili

* 2 medium dried ancho chiles
* 1 dried chipotle chile
* 1 teaspoon cumin seeds (ground cumin also works fine)
* 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
* Rounded 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
* 2 medium onions, chopped (I use a generous shake of onion powder instead, because I have a weird problem with actual physical onions)
* 2 tablespoons olive oil
* 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
* 3 medium zucchini and/or yellow squash, quartered lengthwise and
cut into 1/2-inch pieces (I omit this, as I don’t care for zucchini or squash)
* 3/4 pound kale, stems and center ribs discarded and leaves
coarsely chopped (I use way more kale than this–usually three or four bunches, because I love it so)
* 1 teaspoon grated orange zest (I occasionally substitute lemon zest, but orange is better)
* 1/8 teaspoon sugar
* 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
* 1 (14 1/2-ounce) can whole tomatoes in juice, drained, reserving
juice, and chopped (I can’t stand the texture of tomatoes, so I substitute a can of tomato sauce and vegetable stock)
* 1 1/4 cup water (more or less, depending on how thick you want the chili)
* 3 (15-ounce) cans pinto beans (I often substitute a pound of dry beans, soaked overnight and cooked ahead of time)

Possible accompaniments: rice; chopped cilantro; chopped scallions; sour cream. (I sometimes use rice, but really, this chili doesn’t need anything else!)

Slit chiles lengthwise, then stem and seed. Heat a dry heavy medium
skillet over medium heat until hot, then toast chiles, opened flat,
turning and pressing with tongs, until pliable and slightly changed in
color, about 30 seconds. Tear into small pieces.

Pulse cumin seeds and chiles in grinder until finely ground. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in oregano, cinnamon, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt.

Cook onions in oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat,
stirring occasionally, until softened. Add garlic and cook, stirring,
1 minute, then add chile mixture and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Stir
in zucchini and kale and cook, covered, 5 minutes.

Add zest, sugar, chocolate, tomatoes with their juice, and water and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.

Stir in beans and simmer 5 minutes.

And now I am hungry.

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I haven’t had very much to say lately. In the interest of posting to this blog even sporadically, it seemed like a good idea to share some of what I’ve been making lately thanks to my (beautiful, wonderful) stand mixer.

I suppose the novelty of my stand mixer has worn off a little bit, but only in that I don’t feel the need to caress it every time I walk through the kitchen. I still find myself coming up with excuses to use it. It is so much better than the flat-screen TV my mom gave me the option of getting for Christmas instead. I haven’t attempted anything really adventurous yet, like, for example, homemade marshmallows, but my attempts at making the basics have been more than exciting.

Yeast fermenting in the mixing bowl.

I feel one area in particular where the stand mixer has made a big difference is in making homemade frosting. I was never patient enough with a hand mixer to beat the frosting for as long as I should have. The stand mixer changed all that. I feel like my frostings are getting better with every batch.

Cupcakes I was actually paid to make.

I’ve become a really big fan of homemade pizzas, though I can’t come close to making a pizza dough that is really spectacular. This is one thing where I can’t quite figure out where I am going wrong. The pizzas still turn out good enough that I really, really enjoy them, but there is something not quite right about the crusts. Fortunately, I have discovered that buying the good mozarella (in the globs, rather than shredded in the plastic packages) pretty much makes up for any other imperfections.

Homemade broccoli and spinach pizza.

There is something about yeast breads I just really have not mastered yet. I can’t figure it out, but they always seem to come out a little funky with not quite the right texture. I made french bread out of Beard on Bread, and I figured that I probably couldn’t really go wrong. And yet, there was obviously something about my bread that wasn’t right. Am I kneading too much? Too little?

My funky french bread.

Fortunately, I seem to do okay with non-yeast breads, like this molasses-walnut bread which was great for breakfast.

Molasses-walnut bread.

I suppose I just need more practice. Fortunately, flour is cheap!

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A few years ago, my dad gave me his collection of cookbooks. I was so overwhelmed by all the new cookbooks that I haven’t done much with them, but when I got my stand mixer this past Christmas, it seemed like a perfect time to start paying more attention to the Breads of the World book sitting on my shelf.

English muffins have been one of my overpriced, processed food weaknesses at the grocery store. I like them for black bean burgers, or for when I’m looking for a vehicle for melted cheese. But still, regularly priced, they’re $3.99 for eight–a lot of money to spend on something with so little nutritional value.

So, I decided that making english muffins for myself was the perfect place to start.

The process:
Here was the down side of making english muffins myself. It took a lot of time. Between letting the dough rise, then cutting out the muffins, then letting them rise again, then cooking them all in batches, it took up a big chunk of a Sunday afternoon.

And it made a big mess, calling for nothing less than two floured surfaces, an electric skillet, and a stand mixer bowl all being dirtied.

My struggle, though, was in that the recipe didn’t seem to be working out exactly like it said it would be. The recipe says it makes NINE english muffins. I thought that seemed like mighty few, given that there are four cups of flour in it. And it was mighty few. Maybe I was making the muffins too small, but I wound up with twenty.

The recipe says to slowly cook them in the skillet, over medium heat, for seven minutes on both sides, or until they were brown. I don’t know if there was something wrong with my dough, but cooking them for seven minutes on both sides on what I call medium heat left me with muffins that were slightly golden on the outside and completely undercooked on the inside. Which I discovered, when I cut open a muffin, saw that it was undercooked, and then decided to eat it anyway.

(And then I ate another undercooked muffin like 10 minutes later. And then had a stomach ache for the rest of the day.)

My inability to figure out how long they needed to cook meant the process took much longer. I kept taking muffins off the skillet, deciding they needed longer, and then putting them back on. And then I’d get the batch of muffins that I had put back on confused with batch I had put on for the first time. It got a little tedious.

I finally figured out that I needed to crank the heat up considerably higher and let them sit on the skillet for closer to 10 minutes on each side in order for them to get done.

The verdict:
These english muffins are definitely less expensive. All the ingredients cost me about $8, and I still have enough left over to make at least two more batches. At 20 muffins a batch, that’s a cost of 13 cents a muffin, instead of 50 cents a muffin for store-bought.

Of course, I also spent over three hours making them, not counting clean-up.

Given the cost savings, along with the self-congratulatory back-patting that comes from having homemade whatevers rather than store-bought, it’s entirely possible that I’ll be sticking with the homemade english muffins from now on.

The unexpected consequence was just how good these english muffins are, compared to the store-bought kind. In the few weeks since I made them, I have discovered that I don’t want to use them for black bean burgers or for melted cheese. How dare I use them for something so mundane?! I want to eat them all by themselves. I want them for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner, for snacks in the middle of the night. This means that they are disappearing quite a bit more quickly than store-bought english muffins ordinarily would.

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My Christmas Gift

I tend to forget with Christmas that I get presents. It usually hits me on Christmas Eve, after I’ve returned home from the extended family gathering, that I am going to receive presents that I don’t even have to pay for. With all the other serious business that goes on during the holiday season, it’s easy to forget.

It wasn’t that way when I was a kid, because at that age (1) I didn’t have to do any of the work and (2) really, what could possibly be more important to an eight year old than a PILE OF EXQUISITELY WRAPPED PRESENTS? But now that I am undeniably an adult, the presents tend to be an afterthought.

However, this year, I got a gift that has excited me to levels that haven’t been seen since childhood. I got a silver KitchenAid stand mixer. It is amazing, full of promise, and I often find myself stroking it in loving admiration. I’m not sure I can convey how beautiful it is. This picture makes an admirable attempt at conveying the beauty, but even this does not fully succeed:

I used it to make “crusty” pizza dough on Saturday night, which was not terrible. If anything it was a little too enthusiastically crusty, which was so my fault, and so not at all the fault of the mixer.

It makes me want to bake things (LOTS of things), as if I don’t have huge quantities of leftover Christmas cookies sitting on my counter right now. I want to learn to bake every type of bread IN THE WORLD. (Very handily, I have a cookbook called “Breads of the World.”) I want to find more recipes like the oatmeal-sweet potato cookies which are delicious, yet not necessarily completely unhealthy. And then I will BAKE THEM ALL.

The degree of how much I want to bake things is many times the degree of how much I actually want to eat things. So, obviously, the best way for me to satisfy my overpowering! urge! to bake! will be to find some recipients other than myself, like the Ronald McDonald House or something. I believe I have found a project to occupy my time while my sister is away for the next six months.

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