Friday, December 19, 2008

May I Present the Simple Potato

Living frugally does not mean that you have to eat Top Ramen or generic Macaroni & Something Vaguely Resembling Cheese. Fortunately for us the Indians of the Andes Mountains discovered the rugged Potato about 7000 years ago thus allowing we newly poor people a delicious alternative to cheap, processed fast food.

I think that most Americans today probably believe that the potato originated in either Ireland or Idaho. But the fact is that until the Conquistadors marched into Peru the people of the West had never heard of it. When they took the small brown spud to Spain around 1570 the humble vegetable did not exactly get a warm welcome. Europeans considered it to be food for the very poor and sometimes used them to feed prison inmates.

Finally in 1780 the potato made it to Ireland where it finally became the star of the show. The Irish could grow the durable potato in their rough soil. It provided a fully nutritious source of food for the family. And even more important for the economically challenged you could grow enough potatoes on a acre of land to feed 10 people.

Which brings us back to where we started. This wonderful jewel of a vegetable is still cheap. I bought a 10lb bag of the biggest Idaho spuds you ever saw at Costo for 7.99. Twice these last two weeks I've served them as our entree. The baked spuds make for a very satisfying meal with a side salad. The first time I topped them with some chopped up leftover ham and some cheese. The second time I pulled a recipe out of my files for Yorkshire Buck. The recipe was originally printed in the Jan. 5, 2005 Seattle Post-Intelligencer. It is similar to Welsh Rarebit and is meant to be served on toast but it tasted just fine on a potato. The stronger and darker the ale the stronger the beer flavor will be so keep that in mind when shopping for your brew.

Yorkshire Buck

1 T Butter
1 Lb sharp cheddar, grated
1 cup dark ale
1 egg
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp dry mustard
1 T Dijon Mustard
2 dashes Tabasco sauce

Melt the butter in the top of a double boiler. Add the cheese, and as it begins to melt, add the ale slowly, stirring constantly. Beat the egg and add along with the remaining ingredients. Continue to stir until the mixture is smooth. Keep the mixture hot.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Real Comfortable Cookies

At Christmas I always stick to a couple of cookie recipes that my recipients of cookie tins appreciate and look forward to. For the last few years it has been Mexican Wedding Cake Cookies with Pistachios and Cherry Flavored Cranberries and Jam Thumbprints.

The Mexican cookie recipe came from Bon Appetite in the December 2006 issue. They are made with cake flour and so just melt in your mouth. The Jam Thumbprints recipe came from an episode of the Barefoot Contessa in 2002. They are easy, delicious and pretty to look at.

I also like to try something new each year. I was uninspired however by anything that I read or saw on television until I received my January 2009 issue of Bon Appetite. According to them Peanut Butter is one of the new "it" foods. That is fine with me. I actually try not to keep it in my house because I like it so much. So anyhoo, tucked inside the covers was a recipe for Peanut Butter and Jelly Shortbread Wedges.

As you can tell from the picture I was inspired to create these totally fantastic sounding bars and I have been very pleased with the result. First of all they were quite easy to make. I didn't use a spring form pan but just a regular one that I sprayed with Pam. They didn't require nearly as much cooking time as is stated in the recipe. That may have been because I used a different pan type but you might want to check your shortbread after 20 minutes or so.

The resulting bars taste like the best peanut butter cookie you ever had dipped in jam. Not a bad thing in my opinion. In the future I will spread the jam a bit thicker on the crust for a bigger burst of flavor. So far the reviews of these cookies have been great so go ahead and give them a try. Just click on the link for the recipe.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Speaking of Date Night

My Mother was wonderful at making a normal day something special. She didn't do it frequently but she did it enough to leave her kids with a wealth of wonderful memories. One example of that would be her picnics in front of the fire.

Every once in a while my Mom would put together a special picnic dinner, build a fire in the fireplace and place a blanket on the floor in front of it. We would all gather around the blanket and stuff our faces. If we were really, really, really lucky she would have marshmallows and after dinner we would toast marshmallows over the fire. I mean how great is that. Here you are having a normal day and all of a sudden it's a picnic with marshmallows and everything.

I'm afraid I don't have my Mother's knack for creating special moments and memories but I've never forgotten the romance and excitement of dinner in front of the fire. This last Friday as a rare snow storm loomed upon us my husband and I decided that we'd be better of eating in for our date night. A homemade pizza in front of the fire was just the ticket.

Although I can make a pizza crust by hand I try and keep a Trader Joes pizza crust around because they are easy and tasty. At $1.99 they are also an excellent buy. Taking stock of what else I had on hand I came up with a barbecued chicken pizza idea. One of the things I keep in the freezer is a Costco 6 pack of boneless, skinless chicken thighs. My husband and I usually split 1 packet of thighs into 2 meals so it comes to about $3.00 per meal.

I cut up the chicken into bite size pieces, seasoned them with salt and pepper, and cooked them in some olive oil until done. Then I put together my own sauce with stuff from the refrigerator like peach butter, hot sauce, ketchup, brown sugar and garlic salt. Once the dough has been placed on the pizza pan spread it with barbecue sauce, spread cooked chicken over sauce along with chopped fresh tomatoes and fresh cilantro. Top with either skim Mozzarella or Fontina. Bake in 450 degree oven until top is golden brown...about 15 to 20 minutes.

Let me assure you that your husband will not be disappointed to join you for a tasty pizza in front of the fire. Add a bottle of wine (see Trader Joes wine selection for great bargains) or if he must a couple of mugs of beer (also see Trader Joes beer selection for same reason) and your evening will be complete. Our dinner in front of the fire, including wine and lots of leftovers, cost approximately $12.50 for two. That is something we can live with.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Seattle Soup Line Says Eat Out if You Can

Friday night is our date night. For years my husband and I bucked the national trend and rarely went out for dinner together. We are still well below the national average by going out once a week but it’s been working for us. Now that our country is in a recession and I’ve been laid off we have been forced to reconsider our date night.

Eliminating it entirely is out of the question. We shouldn’t have to sacrifice time spent together just to save some money. We also want to consider the restaurants and their staff’s livelihoods. When you cut something out of your life somebody down the road may lose his or her job. So our plan is to continue to go out but to seek out deals. Lombardi’s in Issaquah has a great happy hour menu and the beauty of it is that they offer it at 8P so you don’t have to eat at the senior citizen hour.

Last week we went to one of our favorite restaurants in Issaquah, Mandarin Garden. The place has been here for more than twenty years in the hands of the same owner. Restaurant seating at Mandarin Garden is typical of a casual Chinese food place meaning nothing special but the seating in the bar is a beautiful experience. Mahogany furniture, a burning fireplace and warm colors make it a very inviting place to dine. We always order the Garlic Chicken Sticks (8) that are served hot with lemon wedges and last week we tried their highly recommended Pot stickers and found them to be equally fantastic. These 2 items and a couple of glasses of wine shouldn’t set you back more than $25.

There are ways and ways to make ends meet and still live your life. It is also good to keep in mind that you live in a community and that everything is connected. So good advice is to help out when you can and if that means eating out sometimes then so be it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Something Special from the Seattle Soup Line

I've been experimenting with a lot of different ways to save money on food lately. This is wise because prices are going up and wages are falling or, like in my case, disappearing all together. All of a sudden leftovers are in fashion again in my house.

But just because you are trying to save money doesn't mean that your food needs to be anything less than delicious and beautiful. For a super yummy, physically impressive, and still inexpensive meal try my Eggs Benedict with Oven Baked Hash Browns.

Personally I had never tried to make hollandaise sauce and it wasn't something on my list of things to try because I'd heard that it was a. fattening and b. hard to make. But as I was riffling through the old Sun Valley recipe book I referenced in my Pear Chutney blog I found "Fool Proof Hollandaise" submitted by Pat Parris. It looked easy and it turned out that it was.

This recipe has a number of components that need to come together at the same time so unless you have your own sous chef you should plan out your attack. The base for my Benedict is a small, savory waffle. I purchased this waffle maker for my husband, (a huge fan of waffles), a few years ago and instead of making one big round or square waffle it makes 3 small ones. So I made my waffles in advance using a normal recipe but omitting the sugar. Keep them warm in the oven and refrigerate your leftovers since they can be popped into the toaster for breakfast the next day.

Next I cut up my ham steak. I wanted perfect rounds so I used my metal 1 cup measuring cup like a cookie cutter and cut up my ham. I then put a nice color on them in the frying pan and then put them in the oven with the waffles. You will want to do the egg poaching and preparation of the hollaindaise sauce last.

I served my completed dish with some easy but tasty hash browns. Cube one large Idaho russet potato, spray a cookie sheet with Organic Pam, spread potatoes on pan, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with seasoning salt. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes in 425 degree oven. Give them a toss about halfway through baking.

Fool Proof Hollandaise

2 egg yolks

1 1/2 Tbs. lemon juice

1 1/2 Tbs. cold water

1/8 lb. hard butter

Put everything together Cold in a saucepan over low heat. Stir with a whisk constantly. If too thick add 1 Tbs. Cream.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Getting Crafty For the Holidays

Early in my life I discovered that I not only didn’t have much talent for creating art I also didn’t have much patience for it. I’m talking about at the very beginning when I couldn’t quite stay within the lines when using my coloring book. I’m not sure if I worked it out that if you couldn’t do well in something it’s best to not do it at all or if I just decided that if I wasn’t any good at it then I must not like it very much.

Now in my later years I’m starting to create again. I’m talking about all kinds of things whether it be cooking, drawing, painting, candle making, photography, etc. It is not that I have developed an actual talent for any of these things but it is the process that is so rewarding. When I’m working creatively my mind is a million miles away from the usual struggles of everyday life. A study conducted in a Health Journal in 2007 showed that people who are more creative live longer, happier lives.

So not only does it save you money to get crafty it is good for you too! Over the weekend I made some candles. Candles were the one thing that I made as a kid that I enjoyed creating and that I couldn’t make too big of a mess of. That is why I decided that candles were a good choice for homemade gifts this year. While shopping on the Internet for supplies however I was appalled at the cost. Why in the world would anyone spend over a $100 on a candle making kit when they can buy candles already made for less than that?

My solution was to drive to the Redmond, WA. Ben Franklin store and see what I could find there. They had no kits but they did have the stuff it takes to make a candle. Once again my eyes popped at the prices. For 3 tin votive candle molds they were asking over $16! While next to it a much larger travelling candle mold was $1.99. Wax was $6.99 a pound! A package of 3 inch wicks $2.99, color for wax $3.99 and the scent was $6.99.

I ended up buying 2 pounds of wax, a package of wicks, a package of color and 1 bottle of Sandalwood scent. I also bought the $1.99 travelling candle holder and then spent another $1.99 on a small Christmas tin that I thought would work just as well. I did not get online and get instructions or get any special equipment such as a thermometer or a container to melt and pour wax. I did it like I did when I was a kid. I got a large empty can, filled it with broken up wax, placed it in a pot of simmering hot water and when it melted I poured it into the mold. Simple.

I used a whole pound of wax on my first candle and since my second tin was even larger I realized that I was going to need some extra wax. I also did not want to use yellow again since the Christmas tin screamed for a red or green candle. Creative thinking was required. I realized that I had many old red and green candles that had been burned to stumps or burned so far down that they were difficult to light. I broke up all the red candle wax that I had and mixed it with some of my store bought wax and Presto one pretty red candle. I also had some left over wax so I was able to create 3 more votive sized candles in green. When tallied up it worked out to about $5.00 per candle. Not bad.

If you throw some pretty decorations on it your friends or family members won’t know whether it’s homemade or made in China since, as far as I can tell, are the only 2 places where things are made anymore. My picture also includes some of my Pear Chutney Gifts. Do you like the little serving suggestions I have included? Very cute. So have a happy holidays people and Get Creative!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Saving Money Deliciously

Over the weekend I got serious about saving money and started working on my homemade Christmas gifts. My number one assignment was to create something out of a beautiful box of Bosc pears that my husband and I had purchased near Orondo, WA. They were holding up pretty well in the garage but it was definitely time to use them or lose them.

Recently I was paging through an old cookbook that came from my mother in-law. It was a collection of recipes from Sun Valley, Idaho. The cookbook was at least 30 years old and the recipes were reflective of a 1960’s eating style. But a few of the recipes caught my eye and one of them was for "Isabel’s Fresh Pear Chutney," from Joan and Don Anderson. I am a big fan of chutney so this was the perfect solution for my pear quandary.

The recipe is easy and makes for delicious chutney. I love to pair it with a pork loin for an elegant but inexpensive meal. I will print the recipe as it was originally written but I did make some minor changes during the cooking process. I did not use a spice bag but put the spices directly in the mixture. I also added about a Tablespoon of cornstarch at the end to thicken it up just a bit more and add a little gloss.
The recipe made 11 ½ Pint Jars of delicious pear chutney that is now destined to be very inexpensive Christmas Gifts.

Isabel's Fresh Pear Chutney

5 lbs. firm Ripe Pears (Bartlett or Bosc)
½ cup finely chopped Green Pepper
½ cup seedless raisins
4 cups sugar
1 cup candied ginger
3 cups cider vinegar
½ tsp. Salt
½ tsp. Cloves
½ tsp. Allspice
3 sticks Cinnamon

Pare, core and slice pears lengthwise into ¼ inch slices. Combine with peppers, raisins, sugar, ginger, vinegar, and salt in 6-quart saucepan. Tie cloves, allspice and cinnamon in cheesecloth bag. Add to mixture in saucepan. Simmer, uncovered until dark and syrupy (about 2 ½ hours). Remove spice bag. Spoon into hot sterile jars and seal at once. Makes 4 pints.

A note on previous blog: I complained last week in this blog that I was tired of receiving telephone books all of the time. A helpful reader turned me on to where you can opt out of receiving these monstrosities. Another helpful site is where you can stop many of the catalogs you may be receiving in the mail. It requires you to join and then list each catalog individually that you don’t wish to receive but it is worth it. Save the Environment.

Friday, December 5, 2008

We Consumers Must Give Too

Since I am a new member of the growing number of unemployed people in America I have been forced to look at things differently. Being laid off gives you a whole new perspective on life. The truly unfortunate part of it is that it occurred right before the holidays. Normally I have a pretty generous gift list. I enjoy the whole process and I love seeing wrapped presents under a tree. But that is just not going to be possible this year and I am okay with that.

For the last eight years it has become increasingly apparent that the fine people of this country have somehow devolved into something less then citizens. We are now "consumers". We are not just consumers when we go, no. We are consumers all the time. That is who we are in the minds of banks, corporations and, let's face it, our government. If nothing is more important then the ability to make a profit then consumers are like wolves running for their lives under a helicopter with Sarah Palin in it.

That is why it is perfectly okay for profiteers to send you robo calls all day and night. Or the reason I get 6 or 8 yellow pages a year at the cost of millions of trees when I didn't ask for them or want them. Ditto on catalogs. I could go on and on but I won't. As long as lobbyists rule Washington D.C. there will be no "citizen" or "consumer" protection. And, oh by the way, the environment, schools, science, and anything else that doesn't relate to making money can sit back there too.

So while our government is busy giving our tax dollars to the corporations who got insanely wealthy over the last decade it looks as if WE will have to take care of ourselves and others. When I asked myself what I really needed this Christmas I recognized that the answer was nothing. My friends and family are all doing well enough. So the next question is "Who isn't doing well?"

Charities! When times get rough it is the charities that suffer the most. When people have to make choices between putting food on the table or giving to a charity the choice is clear. But for those of us who can still put food on the tables and count our blessings this is the year to give to charity. I have asked the people in my life to give to a charity of my choice this year. My folks gave money to the Days End Farm Horse Rescue for me this year. My husband will contribute to Northwest Harvest on my behalf and I will be sending money in his name to the ACLU.

I have included a list of my favorite charities on my blog. All that I have listed have been vetted and given 3 or 4 stars from Charity Navigator. You will note that I have a soft spot for animals but I also recommend that you consider the charities that are helping the poor this year. They need it more then ever. You don't have to give a lot only what you can afford. All your help is appreciated, believe me! Consider this as well, donations are better for the environment! No packing, paper, boxes, bags, etc. Gosh, I feel better about things already.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Here is Something to Be Thankful For!

During the World Series this year Public Television presented the Ken Burns series "Baseball." It is an excellent series especially for those of us who love history. Burns focuses as much on the times in America when certain games and events occurred as he does on the sport itself. One of my favorite lines in the series, narrated by David McCullough, is his comment about the Great Depression and Prohibition "When Americans really needed a drink, they couldn't get one." So we can at least be thankful that we haven't done anything really stupid like reinstating prohibition!

We need cheering up in these hard times. As we turn on the news and realize that our 401k has just taken another brutal beating and we glumly deduct another year from our retirement it is time to do something nice for ourselves. And in the spirit of the upcoming holidays I have just the thing. It stores nicely in your freezer so with a little self control it can last you until Christmas. I offer you "The Best Hot Buttered Rum You've Ever Had".

My Mother started making this recipe in the late 1970's. Fortunately for my sister and I the recipe works almost as well without rum since we hadn't reach drinking age yet. My mother cannot remember her original source for the recipe but it has become a favorite of family and friends ever since. I have never had a better hot buttered rum and I've ordered them in restaurants to see if they can compare. They are great after any outdoor winter activity and if you're careful even during! It can be packed in a thermos for expeditions in the woods to chop your own Christmas tree (not a bad option this year, price wise - check with your local Forest Service). Just remember to sprinkle a few drops of the sacred fluid at the base of your tree in admiration of it's beauty and spirit.

The Best Hot Buttered Rum You've Ever Had

1/2 Cup Butter

1 LB Brown Sugar

1 T Honey

Dash of Cloves

1/2 t cinnamon

1/4 t nutmeg

1/4 t vanilla

Dash of Salt

1 Qt Vanilla Ice Cream - softened

Cream together your butter and brown sugar..this will take awhile. Add remaining ingredients except Vanilla Ice Cream and cream together. Finally add the Ice Cream and beat until well combined.

Place 1 Tablespoon of mixture in mug, add 1 1/2 oz. of Rum, boiling water, stir, and then sprinkle with nutmeg. Sip with pleasure!

Apply as needed. Store in freezer between bliss out moments.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

This is what they mean by "Interesting Times"

It is difficult to comprehend the financial catastrophe that has enveloped the United States and the World. One day you're plugging along, doing your job, putting money away in 401K, and flat out doing pretty well. The next day you're laid off from your job, your family income is dramatically reduced, and you're left figuring out what the hell went wrong!

When the bad news first started to motor down the runway it didn't seem like it would effect us but it caught up with us quickly. Living in the Seattle area it seemed like we might be impervious for a while. You could see the cranes in Seattle and Bellevue working like bees. How could the financial systems be going bankrupt and yet all of this money was apparently available to build, build, build? Well, that has changed, almost overnight. The cranes have stopped moving and the building has slowed to a crawl.

For we Seattleites the failure of the housing market has also been a cold shower. In a remarkably short period of time we have gone from bidding wars on 500 square foot bungalows priced in the six figures to homes priced below their original purchase price. The average home sale in King County was $387,500 in October 07 and was $358,500 in October 08 a drop of 7.48%. This would be incredibly disheartening if the numbers elsewhere were not so dramatically worse. In our state's San Juan County average home prices in October 07 were $700,000 and in October 08 they were $395,000. Jimminy Crickets that will take the air out of you!

Which all leads to the question of how do we cope in our new world? There are many ways to live well within a budget and it can actually be enjoyable. Already I find my creative juices working overtime and that is good for the mind and the soul. To start off our eating and living well in tough times recipe collection I will start off with my Homemade Turkey Soup. For Thanksgiving this year we purchased a small 10 pound turkey at Trader Joes that the two of us have made last for 4 meals and counting. The soup is the final transformation and the tastiest.

Jenifer's Homemade Turkey Soup

1 Leftover Turkey carcass.

1 T Salt

2 Cups Trader Joes Brown Rice Medley cooked

1 to 2 Slices Hardwood Smoked Bacon

1 Cup Leftover Turkey Gravy

1 Onion chopped

4 Stocks of Celery roughly chopped

2 Carrots roughly chopped.

Pepper to Taste

Place leftover turkey in large pot. You will probably need to break the skeleton in pieces to make it all fit. Cover with water and add your tablespoon of salt. Place pot on burner and set heat to simmer. Simmer turkey until meat falls from the bones. Cool the broth until you can handle it easily with your hands. Sometimes I put the pot in the refrigerator overnight and start on it again the next day. Reach into the pot with your clean hands and start pulling out the bones and tossing them away. This can be messy but it makes the very best tasting soup broth.

In the meantime cook your rice. The brown rice medley usually takes 30 minutes or more to cook. Put rice in turkey broth. Cut up bacon slices into nibble size pieces and cook until starting to brown and then add sliced vegetables. Toss veggies in bacon and renderings and cook until just becoming tender. Add the lot to the pot including any bacon drippings. At the last add your leftover turkey gravy and then heat through. Season to taste.