Thursday, March 29, 2012

Recipe Rescue: Calabacitas

Tonight was supposed to be frittata night.  But I didn't feel like eating Veggie Frittata. (It is one of my go-to recipes for Thursday night).  We had two huge zucchini left in the fridge from our produce share so I flipped through my slow cooker cookbook, remembering it had some scrumptious zucchini recipes.  Calabacitas? Have the ingredients. Perfect.

But I forgot to put it in the crock pot last night before bed, and I woke up late. It was a tough call, but I decided getting to work on time was more important.

After work today I still didn't feel like eating a frittata.  

The Calabacitas recipe says that the zucchini will break down in the slow cooker during cooking.  I don't really like my zucchini mushy anyway.  And I thought about the leftover black beans in the fridge which would make a nice addition to the dish...

Chop up part of an onion and one of the monster zucchinis.  (The recipe calls for two whole onions, but I don't really like excessive amounts of onion in my food. I just don't.)

Saute in pan with olive oil.  Add a cup or so of frozen corn.  (We prefer fresh over frozen, but I keep a bag of frozen corn and frozen peas in the freezer for emergencies. And sometimes Thursday night dinner is an emergency.)

Add leftover black beans and home-canned hatch chili peppers.  Salt to taste.  

Crumble feta cheese over top.  (Original calls for Monterrey Jack, but I. love. feta.)

Snip fresh cilantro from back porch (contented sigh) and sprinkle on top. 

Yum. And those hatch chili peppers pack some heat.

I'm envisioning the leftovers wrapped up in a tortilla for lunch tomorrow. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

On Yogurt Making

It seems as though almost everyone I know is making yogurt in their crock pot nowadays.  Easy and oh-so-yummy-goodness, plus less expensive than store bought. At the risk of arriving a little late to the party, here is the basic plan.

1. Pour 8 cups of milk into the crock pot. (Not ultra-pasteurized. We buy ours from a local dairy farm. YUM.) 
2. Cook on low for 2 1/2 hours.
3. Let sit for 3 hours.
4. Stir in 1/2 C plain yogurt (starter), wrap in a heavy towel or blanket and let sit for 8 hours.

I start my yogurt at 4:30, set the crock pot timer for 2 1/2 hours AND the kitchen timer for 5 1/2 hours (explanation follows).  When the kitchen timer goes off at 10:00, I stir in the starter and go to bed.

Whey and yogurt
5. After 8 hours is up, leave as is or, for creamier yogurt, place a colander in a bowl and line with cheese cloth. Pour yogurt into colander and let it strain for the day or so.

I personally like to let it strain for about a half a day to a day until it's the consistency I want. (Read it depends on when I remember I have yogurt draining in my fridge.) Then I take a large spoon and scoop 1/2 C into a small container to use as a starter in the next batch and then transfer most of the rest of it into a container with a lid.  In the bowl under the colander, you are left with whey which is worth keeping. (Find uses here.)  The remaining thicker yogurt still in the cheese cloth I allow to continue to strain to make yogurt cheese.  It is like cream cheese, but more tart.  You can experiment with adding salt or herbs to it.  Yum.

Note: Some people say that you should always start with a fresh (store bought) yogurt        starter. I have been saving my own yogurt as a starter for months now with no problems.

This is so stinkin' easy it's ridiculous.  The hardest part is remembering to stir in the starter and strain it in the morning (hence the setting of the kitchen timer.)  Last time I made yogurt, I forgot to do both.  When I went to pour it out the next evening, it actually looked like yogurt, not really sure what it was.  Ben jokingly suggested using one of the kids as a guinea pig to test it. Tempting, but seeing as how that could possibly end with me caring for aforementioned sick guinea pig, I decided against it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Much Ado About Chicken (and Kale Soup)

In a surprising twist of self-fulfilling prophecy (sarcasm), I have failed to consistently update my grocery budget spreadsheets since the second week of January.  My promise to blog about our grocery budget with money saving tips has also failed seeing as how my last post was January 22nd, and we are now in the middle of March.  Oops.

However, I can tell you that our grocery spending has gone down significantly since the first of the year and why. And I can tell you how we get our money's worth out of our chicken. :) 

Waste not, want not
Gone are the days when a whole chicken could feed my family for three meals via the "rubber chicken" method.  (Dinner 1: Whole Roasted Chicken, Dinner 2: Chicken Burritos, Dinner 3: Homemade broth to make soup)  I roasted a chicken for dinner the other night and all that is left is enough to make soup.  Two meals is still better than one, but this hasn't been the most efficient plan for our family.

This is the method that works best for us now, and allows my husband to play with sharp objects.  (See photo right.) We buy two whole chickens (or more if we want to stock up) from a meat market that sells free range chicken.  Ben cuts the meat into parts which yield 4 breasts, 4 legs, 4 thighs, and 4 wings--for us, that's two-three meals, plus the wings go to a bag to use as meat in soups or for chicken wings when we have enough accumulated.  The carcasses (fun word) go into a stock pot with water, vegetables, herbs, and 1 Tablespoon of vinegar to make around 15 1/2 C of chicken broth which we can and store in the pantry.  After the broth is made, we pull the extra meat off of the carcasses (there's that word again) which leaves us with 3 1/2 C of cooked chicken which we use to make soup, chicken salad, or burritos--another two meals.  All together, that's 4-5 meals, plus a little extra meat (wings), and 6-7 jars of oh so yummy homemade broth. 

Use what you have on hand
Inspired by a couple of other blogs I've been reading (and a lack of motivation to grocery shop), I started substituting and tweaking recipes and menu plans to fit what we had in our freezers and our pantries.  I've always done this to fit what vegetables we get in the coop, but never to this depth.  Here is what amazed me: we didn't go to the grocery store for three weeks in a row and still had plenty of food to eat.  We did still have our every-other-week fruit and veggie coop and dairy/meat run.  The result of shopping at the grocery store less? (drum roll, please) Our grocery bill went down an average of $140 a month from last year.  No joke.

Below is an example of how to tweak a recipe to fit what you have on hand.  The other night I wanted to make a chicken and kale soup.  I couldn't find one on the Internet that fit what I wanted, and I had a recipe for White Bean and Kale Soup which gave the option of including sausage. By the way, I actually liked this version better than the original, and the family devoured it.

White Bean and Kale Tomato Soup (from Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook)
Transformed to Chicken and Kale Soup

Three 14-ounce cans vegetable broth (changed to two jars of homemade chicken broth and 14 oz water)
One 15-ounce can tomato puree (two fresh tomatoes blanched and pureed)
One 15-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 C converted rice (changed to 1/2 C orzo added the last 10 minutes)
1 medium-size yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 t dried basil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound kale, stems removed and leaves coarsely chopped
1 pound sweet Italian sausage (changed to two cups cooked chicken)

1. Combine the broth, tomato puree, beans, rice (omit), onion, garlic, and basil in the slow cooker, season with salt and pepper, and stir to blend. Cover and cook on LOW for 5 to 7 hours. (I cooked mine on the stove for around 30 minutes.)

2. Stir in the kale and sausage (chicken), if using, cover, and continue to cook on LOW until the kale is limp and tender, another 20 to 30 minutes. When you add the kale, it will fill the cooker at first, you can add it in batches if you need to. (On stove around 15 minutes or so. Add the orzo with 10 minutes left.)

3. Ladle the coup into bowls and serve hot with Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. (I omitted the olive oil.)