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Archive for the ‘Saving money’ Category

Hopefully, the advantages of roasting a turkey every once and again, even if it’s not a holiday, are obvious.  Depending on how many people you’ve got around raiding the fridge, you could be picking meat off of that sucker for weeks.  Possibilities for leftovers are endless: cold sliced turkey breast sandwiches (with swiss cheese and the bread spread with leftover cranberry sauce), hot turkey sandwiches smothered in gravy, turkey pot pie… etc.

I recently picked up a “post-holiday sale” turkey from the freezer bin at the grocery store, and my husband said, “How big of one are we getting?”  I responded, “The biggest one they’ve got, of course!”  Seriously, your level of effort is the same for a 22-pounder as a 10-pounder, and the leftovers will freeze well.  So if you’re going to go for it, you may as well go all the way.

Now, this is not a post on the best way to roast your turkey.  That is a holy war I’m not about to jump into right now.  (I’m stilled nursing my wounds from suggesting to my mother that she shouldn’t stuff her turkey to prevent overcooking and dryness of the meat.)  Rather, this is a post with a “recipe” for possibly the best leftover result of putting in that roasting effort – turkey carcass soup.

That’s right – when you’ve picked all the meat you could possibly want to pick off of that bird, there is still an odd collection of meat scraps, fat scraps, cartilage and bones that, when slowly simmered, makes a delicious stock.  Don’t even think of tossing it in the trash!  Here at Home Cooking Well, we’re dedicated to the food bang for your buck, and what better way to derive value than to use every last bit of your $0.69/lb masterpiece in the pursuit of deliciousness?

Admittedly, this is not so much of a recipe as a “throw whatever you like and have on hand in there,” but this is what worked for me tonight.  Be liberal with your variations.

1 turkey carcass, as stripped of meat as you want
1 cube chicken boullion (or 1 tsp “Better than Boullion”)
3 carrots, halved lengthwise, then thickly sliced
4 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
8 oz mushrooms, halved then sliced
1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise then sliced
1 sweet onion, finely chopped
1 c. brown rice
1 bouquet garni
1 bay leaf
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp sage
1/2 tsp thyme
2 tsp salt
generous grinding of black pepper
1/2 c. dry white wine

Put all ingredients in large crock pot. Fill with water to cover ingredients, or to 1-inch below the top of the crock. Simmer on low all day long.  This can also, of course, be done on the stove top, though it’s not quite as busy-lifestyle friendly — just use a large stock pot, bring to the boil, and then simmer gently at least until rice is cooked (about 1 hour), but ideally 2 hours or more to properly infuse flavor.

The results of my 10 minutes of slaving this morning before work. Not a bad meal, with a few good lunches to take to work, besides.

Serve with store bought or homemade rolls – the big yeasty kind, for sopping up the soup.

Remember to avoid eating the bouquet garni or bay leaf (though neither will really hurt you) or the turkey bones (could hurt), or fish these things out before serving.  If you have any suggestions about how to strain the bones out while still letting those delicious meat fragments cook off into the soup, I’m all ears.

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meatless_main_dishes

In a move that would happen in the United States only over the dead bodies (er, so to speak) of the U.S. Beef and Poultry industries, the city of Ghent, Belgium has begun asking its citizens to give up meat once a week.

Last year, Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, suggested that the most useful step ordinary citizens could take to help combat climate change would be to stop eating meat. In Belgium, an entire town is taking his advice to heart. The Flemish city of Ghent has designated every Thursday as “Veggiedag” — Veggie Day — calling for meat-free meals to be served in schools and public buildings, and encouraging vegetarianism among citizens by promoting vegetarian eateries and offering advice on how to follow a herbivorous diet.

Why? Because it’s almost universally acknowledged to be better for your health, the environment and your pocketbook. That’s doesn’t mean meat doesn’t taste good and isn’t nutritious. It doesn’t mean eating meat is wrong or evil. But it does mean you probably shouldn’t eat it every day, either.

According to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, meat production accounts for 18% of annual greenhouse-gas emissions — more than transportation, which accounts for roughly 14%. Each year, millions of acres of rain forest are cleared for cattle ranchers and suppliers of animal feed, further accelerating climate change. Then there are the urgent human-health issues: the world feeds much of its grain to cattle and other animals even as millions of people starve. Those wealthy enough to consume fatty animal products are themselves at higher risk of certain health problems, including heart disease and some cancers.

Yes, you read that right. Meat makes more greenhouse gas each year than cars, trains and planes combined. Rainforest in Brazil is being felled every day to clear more land for soybean fields planted for cattle feed.

Now I hate environmental guilt trips as much as the next person, but if you read my other blog, you know I care deeply about all of the amazing, weird creatures on the planet. And it turns out a lot of them hang out in the Amazon. We’re cutting down their homes so we can enjoy cut-rate stir-fry beef. That makes me sad. Really sad. Because slime molds need homes too.

If you couldn’t care less about climate change, rain forests, or slime molds, consider this:  a pound or so of tofu rings up at about $1. Can you say the same for a pound or so of steak? If you couldn’t care less about climate change, rain forests, slime molds, OR your budget, consider the health case for cutting back on meat.

Now I’m not a vegetarian. You can have my bacon and sausage when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers. But I do try to minimize how much meat I eat. I estimate I eat meat about once a week. I’m what’s called a “flexitarian”. And I like it. I can have my tofu and bacon both.

You can too. I’ve spoken about how I believe it’s important to avoid all-or-nothing thinking (unless, of course, one has a violent nut allergy, etc.) There’s no reason you have to eat all meat all the time or all vegetarian all the time if you don’t want to. There is a middle ground.

In America, the closest thing we have to Ghent’s resolution is this:

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, for example, recently spearheaded a “meatless Mondays” campaign in which it and 28 other public health schools run local outreach programs that promote a meat-free start to the week.

So if you haven’t already, consider trying a meatless day yourself once a week. Crack open a cookbook and see if it has a meatless section. Because when even that bastion of Southern Cooking, The Southern Living Cookbook, now has a chapter called “Meatless Main Dishes”, you know it’s probably time to get on board.

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Over time, I have discovered there is a small thing I can do that will greatly increase the chances I feel motivated enough to cook the meal I have in mind for the next day. It isn’t hard. It doesn’t even involve will power. All I have to do is set out the ingredients I will need for the next night the night or morning before. For example, two nights ago I made sweet potato risotto. Here’s what my setup looked like:

Prep for sweet potato risotto

So in the picture, you see bulk arborio rice (never goes bad – saves money!), the dregs of a week-old bottle of white wine I saved for this purpose (but carefully stored in the fridge), some rosemary I dried, sweet potatoes (were on sale at King Soopers for 79 cents a pound!), bulk vegetarian chicken broth powder (more on this in another post), parmesan cheese, garlic, nutmeg, onion, etc. Note I’ve also carefully placed the cookbook open to the appropriate page with a nice friendly picture of the finished product gently, yet firmly, urging me to cook my own d*** dinner rather than another box of mac and cheese.

Somehow the sight of this when I get home is very motivating. I don’t know why this is, I’ve just noticed it is. It doesn’t guarantee I’ll actually cook it (let’s face it — we all come home exhausted most nights), but I’ve noticed it helps a lot, and it definitely helps me get ahead of the game when I get home from work. Sometimes I even pre-measure the spices into little bowls.

And while I’m at it, I’ll mention a quick thing about cooking recipes that you learned in home ec but probably forgot: Prep, chop, measure, and cut all your ingredients before you start cooking. This will save you much grief and help ensure your recipe comes out as it should. Here’s what my stove looks like just before I started cooking (and yes, I microwaved my sweet potatoes before mashing — the book with the microwave cooking table is open in the back of this photo).

Sweet potato risotto: Ready to rock and roll

Sweet potato risotto: Ready to rock and roll

Total time from start to finish: about 1:30. I know that’s  a lot for most people, but if I’d cooked and mashed my sweet potatoes ahead of time, it would have been a lot less. And I had my lunch all ready to go for today, and didn’t have to cook tonight — in fact, I had so much left over, I had my friend Dave Peascoe over to share a meal of the leftovers. And If I was tired of risotto, I could just freeze it for later. Here’s the finished product:

Finished sweet potato risotto

And here’s a simple, home-cooked meal all put together: sweet potato risotto garnished with rosemary and parmesan cheese, spinach with craisins (the house salad), and a cup of homemade (not from the box endorsed by Bill Cosby) vanilla pudding I made the night before. Bellisimo! The rosemary and nutmeg really make this risotto quite delightful. And no, in spite of the color, it doesn’t have saffron. This is a sweet-potatoes-only party.

A home meal cooked well

If you’d like to make this risotto yourself, it is from the Betty Crocker’s Vegetarian Cooking (1st ed.), but you can find the recipe here.

Happy home cooking!

Jen

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Every six months or so I go through an unsettling ritual. I buy the sugar in the 10-pound bag. Dentists everywhere cringe.

The bag that makes the dentists cry. Note the "use by" date. I can't fathom why sugar would have this, but then again, sand has a material safety data sheet.

The bag that makes the dentists cry.

But buying sugar in bulk is a great idea*. Let me tell you why: sugar never spoils. Oh sure, it can clump up if it gets too humid. But that’s nothing a good meat mallet, a plastic zip-loc bag and a standard dose of office-induced stress can’t take care of.

And therein lies my rule of thumb when deciding whether or not to buy in bulk: will this food spoil in the time frame that represents the worst-case scenario for me using it?

Here’s a common problem I see among home cooks: You go to the store, wander through the produce section, and discover asparagus is on sale. Oh boy! 16 pounds of asparagus for $.87! You buy said asparagus. You take it home. You place it in the crisper. You take a little asparagus for your meal that night, or forget about it entirely. Then, three weeks later, you discover a scene from “Crisper of the Living Dead” playing out in the back of your fridge. Haz-mat suits, bio-hazard bags, and respirators are considered de rigeur by the EPA for such situations.

So when you’re considering whether to buy in bulk ask yourself: Do I have a plan for using this by the time it’s likely to spoil? What is my history of using this item? Don’t be tempted to buy something just because it’s “a better deal”. If it rots in your fridge, it isn’t just losing you money — it’s wasted water, energy and food! If you hadn’t bought and wasted it, the grocery store might have perhaps donated it to a food kitchen that could — and in today’s economy, food pantries can use all the produce they can get.

So for produce, unless you have a family of 10, the answer is almost certainly no. I never buy the big bag of onions because I can only get through like two before the rest of the bag turns into a stinky, sprouty, slowly dissolving goo.

There is one exception: apples (and perhaps oranges). Since apples keep for at least a few weeks up to several months, buying them by the bag is a good bet. I find that the organic bagged apples are significantly cheaper on a per-pound basis than their loose brethren, and usually tastier, less bruised, and smaller too. I like smaller apples because I’m more likely to eat them when it appears I can get through one in one sitting. Your needs may differ. Right now I’m buying bags from the Ranier Fruit Company (based in Selah, Wash.) from my local King Soopers. They’ve consistently been sweet and crisp.

For spices the answer is a bit trickier: buy as little as possible of pre-ground spices (they slowly lose their natural flavoring oils over months to years), but go crazy with whole spices (coriander, cumin, fennel seed, nutmeg, etc.) . They’re virtually indestructible.

For dry goods like pasta, canned foods, dried beans and lentils, and baking supplies — hells yeah! Buy that huge-a** can of cocoa powder or 10-pound bag of dried chickpeas if you think you can get through it before you have to move again. Because let’s face it: no one wants to move a 10-pound bag of dried chickpeas.

So to sum up: if you’re making dinner for your local chapter of the United Steelworkers, you can buy the 15-pound bag of potatoes and the 10-pound bag of carrots. If not — save your money and prevent turning your fridge into a Superfund site. Buy only what you need.

*(assuming the per unit cost is less than that of smaller-sized bags. Always check — sometimes it isn’t and grocery stores are sneaky and inconsistent about this)

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