Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Orange zest sugar

Frugal File #2 Orange zest sugar

As I mentioned in my first Frugal File, I am looking for ways to stretch our food dollar. Some of the ideas that I classify as frugal, also become matters of convenience. I love citrus in every form, but I don't always have it on hand when I need it. Since I have organic citrus available right now (thanks to NGD, my co-op), I began to look for ways to have my citrus and save it too. That led to a recent experiment in making orange extract (look for an update in the near future regarding that extract). Since I already have extract steeping, I decided to try a different approach.

Many recipes call for zest, so I have always hated tossing the rind when I ate an orange or juiced a lemon. As a result, I am also making zest sugars using raw sugar and zest. Zest sugars can substituted for plain sugar to add flavor in desserts and tea, baking and even hot cereal. One word of caution, if you use the sugars in tea, the zest will settle out to the bottom of your cup.

•Zest of 3 oranges (I highly recommend organic)
•2 cups of sugar (I used raw coarse sugar)

Wash oranges, then remove the zest (being careful to avoid the white pith).
Alternate adding sugar and zest in to the jar of a blender or food processor. I found that using the pulse option was helpful, as well as stopping to loosen the sugar. When the sugar and zest are thoroughly blended, spread the sugar out on a cookie sheet lined with parchment and allow to dry. Once the sugar is dry, you can pull the sides of the parchment together and pour the sugar into a jar. Don't forget to try lemon zest or lime.
*added note: If you only have one or two pieces of citrus on hand, you can just adjust the amount of sugar. Just use 2/3 of a cup of sugar per each piece of fruit.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Frugal File #1 Bacon Stock

At this point in the economy, I find myself looking at everything a bit differently. Dimes are getting thinner and further between, and while I hope things get better for us all, I am not entirely disappointed in the change that is happening in me. I find myself thinking before I throw things away, and those thoughts have resulted in this part of my blog.

I decided that my first "Frugal File" would be an entry about bacon stock, timed to coincide with an article about Bean with Bacon Soup. As you may know, after reading some of my other entries, I buy organic and all-natural food as much as possible. I have also made a commitment to be a conscientious omnivore. That is a big term for the idea that I am committed to buying meat sourced from animals that were raised humanely, without antibiotics and hormones, and allowed to lead a natural lifestyle (for example free-range chicken, grass-fed beef, etc.). The meat that we buy is more expensive, so we buy less, which means that I want to make it go further.

I save the bacon grease for occasional use in cornbread or frying, but I also began to notice all the caramelized brown glaze that was left behind when I cooked bacon. Eventually I realized how much flavor I was sending down the drain when I washed the pan, and that I could use that flavor in soups and vegetables. Now I keep a second canning jar in the refrigerator for the deglazed bacon stock. When a jar is full, if I don't need it at the moment, I put it in the freezer (with sufficient head space to allow the liquid to freeze without breaking the jar). 

Fry bacon to desired crispness
Drain grease into a jar or dispose of according to your needs
allow pan to cool
add water and place pan on low heat
use a wooden spoon to ‘scrub' the brown glaze from the pan until you have a rich brown liquid
drain into a jar and refrigerate or freeze according to your needs (especially freeze the liquid if you are not going to use it in the near future)
add the resulting stock to the cooking liquid for dried beans (after they have been soaked and rinsed), or green beans, etc. 

I hope you find this as helpful an idea as I did. I can hear the ghosts of women from the depression era rooting me on as I do this, but I know some people probably just think I'm nuts, LOL. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bean with Bacon Soup

 I have had to give up many things because of my MSG-intolerance. Most salad dressings, flavored chips or crackers, dips, frozen food, restaurant food, and canned soups contain some form or another of this food additive. As hard as it is to give up things that I like, it is even worse when those items are comfort foods, those things that you ate while you grew up. One of those items, for me, is bean with bacon soup. The canned version that I grew up eating became one of the items that I had to give up, and I really missed it, until I decided that it was time to make it from scratch.

I wont pretend that this taste just like the canned version, I honestly don't know exactly what that would taste like anymore, since it hasn't been in my pantry for several years. I use all organic, and it has been a huge hit, but I swear the reason it is so tasty is the bacon stock. Bear in mind that while I spend hours mincing onions, carrots, celery, and bacon, I just don't think this soup would have the same depth without it. Here's a link to my "Frugal File" on Bacon Stock.

Feel free to adjust amounts of any vegetables to suit your own taste

3 cups navy beans (I soak mine for app. 2 days, periodically draining them and rinsing with fresh filtered water)
6-8 cups of filtered water (substitute 4 cups of bacon stock)
¾- 1 package of bacon (browned and minced)
3 medium carrots (minced)
3 stalks of celery (minced)
onion (minced)
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp basil
½ tsp garlic powder
4-6 oz tomato sauce
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Soak beans at least overnight (if longer, periodically drain and add fresh water). Drain and rinse. Add water and bacon stock, bacon, carrots, celery, onion, thyme, basil, garlic powder, tomato sauce, pepper, and crushed red pepper. Simmer until beans are tender. Puree 1-2 cups of soup and add it back into the soup. Add balsamic vinegar and salt to taste.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Acorn Squash Cookies

A few days ago, I promised you a second acorn squash experiment. I'm sorry it took longer than expected to get the recipe figured out, baked, photo'd and posted. These cookies have a soft cake texture, and have a mild, buttery taste.  Alone these cookies are lightly sweet, they are wonderful with an orange glaze (see below), or they would make great Whoopie Sandwich Cookies (see cream cheese filling below). Both glaze and filling amounts are generous, and will probably have leftovers. (Cream cheese filling is great on toast.)

Half glazed (upper right), and half plain cookies.

Cookie Ingredients: 
1½ cup flour
½ cup butter
¼ tsp salt
½ baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¾ cup sugar
1 cup acorn squash puree (app. I roasted & pureed 1 acorn squash- don't forget to reserve the seeds to toast for a snack)
1 large egg
½ tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350°(app. 175°C*), line baking sheets with parchment.
Mix all dry ingredients.
In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar, add egg and vanilla. Mix well.
Fold dry ingredients into butter mixture, until well combined.
Drop rounded Tbsp's of dough onto parchment, app 1" apart. Bake 10 or so minutes, until a toothpick inserted into cookies comes out clean.
Cool for a few minutes on cookie sheets, then remove to cooling racks.

1½ cups confectioners sugar
4 Tbsp fresh orange juice
½ tsp vanilla

Whisk together ingredients. Either drizzle over cookies, or dip cookies in glaze.

Cream cheese filling
3 cups confectioners sugar
½ cup butter
8 oz cream cheese (room temp.)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Cream butter, add cream cheese until well combined.  Add confectioners sugar and vanilla, mix until smooth. (Can be made in advance and refrigerated; bring to room temperature before spreading.)

*I use an online conversion chart and round up or down, as seems appropriate. Please adjust according to your judgement, and send me a message if you find an error. Thank you.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Spinach Quiche

In a recent co-op basket, we received savoy spinach. I was a little bit intimidated by the idea of cooking spinach, since it brought back less than pleasant childhood memories, but I tried to keep an open mind. As an adult, I have mostly eaten spinach raw in salads, but over a year ago I was challenged by an acquaintance to create a spinach pizza. Drawing on pleasant memories of that meal, I determined to try to cook spinach again.

Since I knew that I didn't really savor the idea of a pot of cooked spinach, I decided that this time around a quiche might be just the ticket. Eggs, cheese, spinach, spices, and crust seemed likely to come together to make a meal that we could enjoy, and for added insurance, I included bacon. The result was a meal that we savored, leftovers that heated well, and both hubby and I look forward to a repeat performance. Maybe there was something to Popeye's passion for this leafy green, LOL!

The recipes that I found included instructions to cook the spinach before adding it to the quiche, or some called for frozen or canned spinach. I prefer fresh to canned or frozen, and I decided that I would rather not cook the spinach too much. To that end, I thoroughly cleaned the leaves and pulled the stem out of the middle of each leaf. Those leaves were then chopped and put into the egg mixture, and they cooked quite well.

1 generous cup chopped Savoy spinach
4 eggs beaten
6-8 slices of bacon, cooked crisp
1 cup milk
app 4 oz mozzarella cheese + 1 oz for topping
basil, pepper & salt to taste
Parmesan cheese
1 Roma tomato sliced
1 chopped green onion

Preheat oven to 350°F (app. 175°C*). Mix eggs, milk, cheese, basil, salt & pepper. Toss spinach, chopped bacon and shredded ‡ cheese to mix well, distribute evenly in an unbaked pie crust (see Galette (rustic pie or tart crust)). Pour egg mixture over the spinach, top with app. 1 oz mozzarella cheese and slices of Roma tomato. Bake until filling is set and lightly browned on top. Remove from oven and allow to cool 10 minutes, garnish with chopped green onion.

*I use an online conversion chart and round up or down, as seems appropriate. Please adjust according to your judgement, and send me a message if you find an error. Thank you.
‡ edited- I realized I had left this part out, so I am adding it now. My apologies to anyone that missed this notation.

Galette (rustic pie or tart crust)

I was reading recipes to get ideas for a crust for a spinach quiche, and from there I tweaked until this recipe came out. As you can see, my new favorite (blue corn meal) is making an appearance again, but you can use any cornmeal that you prefer. I really liked the combination, and suspect that the flour combination will make an appearance in a cracker recipe sometime soon.

½ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup all-purpose unbleached flour
¼ organic blue cornmeal
7 Tbsp cold butter (cut into ¼" thick pieces)
1/3 cup cold water
3 Tbs sour cream
pinch of salt

Dissolve salt in water, refrigerate to chill. Mix flours and cornmeal well, then add pats of butter. Cut butter into the flour/cornmeal mixture until the texture resembles a coarse meal. Mix sour cream into the cold water and add to the flour mixture until it forms a ball. Gather the dough and wrap it in parchment, press the package into a disc and refrigerate for at least on hour. Roll out on a floured surface, fold over the pastry pin, and move to baking pan or dish. Unroll and fill.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Acorn squash puree as a pizza sauce

Because we receive a weekly delivery from a co-op, we have been trying a wider variety of fruits and vegetables. In a recent delivery I got two beautiful acorn squashes, which I had always heard of, but never had a chance to try in all of their organic splendor. Some Internet research prepared me for a sweet, slightly nutty, earthy squash, but most of what I found as far as recipe ideas ran along the lines of:

roasted and candied as a side dish
served as a soup, or
pureed as baby food

Now, those ideas all sounded perfectly respectable, but I really wanted to try something new, to challenge the idea that squash has such a limited use. The result? I decided that this was a great opportunity to further explore my pizza experiments. I have already made sweet potato herb crust (and I have also substituted butternut squash, as well as zucchini, to make similar crusts), but I decided that I wanted to use my usual yeast crust, and this time use a squash puree in place of the normal tomato sauce. If you know someone that is allergic to tomatoes, has issues with acidity, or just likes to try "something different", I hope that this is giving you ideas.

***note: acorn squash is available year-round, and is in peak season October-December. This is a fresh option when tomatoes are not in season, and squash is a great source for  nutrients and fiber.

I removed the seeds, put them aside to toast later, and roasted both acorn squashes at 350° (app. 176°C*) for one hour. Removing them from the oven to cool enough to handle, I then scooped the flesh out of the skin, pureed each squash (reserving one for tomorrow's experiment . . . Acorn Squash Cookies ), and added basil, thyme and crushed rosemary to the remaining puree.

Once a batch of yeast crust had risen, and been rolled out, I spread this squash mixture on the crust, topped with mozzarella and bacon, and baked at 450° for app. 15 minutes. The result was unexpected, but both hubby and I want to repeat this recipe in the future. We love tomato sauce (and the occasional Alfredo sauce), but while tomato sauce is slightly acidic and naturally sweet, this has an earthy sweetness that brings out something special in the mozzarella. Next time I want to use a whole wheat crust, and top with veggies (onion, mushroom, maybe some yellow, orange, or red bell pepper) along with the applewood smoked bacon for that slightly smokey salt that is the perfect foil for the sweetness of the sauce.

Yet again, do not adjust your monitor, LOL. This is the acorn squash  and herb  puree spread on the crust, before  I added  mozzarella and bacon. Once the cheese and bacon were in place, this just looked like a "normal" pizza.

*I use an online conversion chart and round up or down, as seems appropriate. Please adjust according to your judgement, and send me a message if you find an error. Thank you.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Making homemade pepperoni

As promised in my Sweet Potato Pizza Crust entry, here is the information about how I make my own pepperoni. If you wonder why I make my own, I have a couple excellent reasons.

When I make my own pepperoni, I know exactly what is in it, including grass-fed, humanely-raised beef.
I was able to choose to leave out curing salts that can contain sodium nitrates, sodium nitrites, propylene glycol, and artificial color (often used to make this type of salt easily recognizable).

NOTE: Without curing salt, the meat will brown over the time in the refrigerator, and turn a deep brown when cooked. Friends and family that tried the finished product liked the taste and said the appearance did not deter them from eating the pepperoni. Since this is not cured meat, I freeze anything that wont be used in approximately 1 week. Pepperoni can be sliced when frozen and used on a pizza without thawing before it is placed in the oven.

2 lbs lean grass-fed beef
2 tsp ground pepper
2 tsp mustard seed
1½ tsp fennel seed (lightly crushed- I use a mortar & pestle)
1-2 tsp crushed red pepper
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp onion powder
1 tsp paprika (preferably smoked)
½ tsp sugar
2 rounded tsp salt

The spices make a beautiful blend, and smell amazing.
These can be mixed ahead of time  and stored in a jar.

Step One
Sprinkle seasoning mix over meat and mix thoroughly with hands. (I found that adding the spice gradually as I ‘knead' the ground meat allows for a more even mix, as opposed to adding all of the spice in one amount.)
Cover meat well, and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Step Two
Remove from refrigerator, knead/mix thoroughly.
Cover well and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Step Three (optional, or skip to Step Four)
Remove from refrigerator, knead/mix thoroughly.
Cover well and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Step Four
Preheat oven 200°F (app. 95°C*)
Remove meat from refrigeration.
Mix and shape into logs (I prefer 4 app. equal lengths)
Place logs on a metal cooling rack, place rack on a cookie sheet, and place in preheated oven for 8 hours.
Rotate pepperoni every two hours during the cooking process.
After eight hours, remove from oven, allow to cool, wrap and refrigerate. Any amount that you will not use in a few days, wrap individually and freeze. (This never stays around our house more than a month, and we haven't had any spoil, but always watch for signs of spoilage.)

Obviously this is good for pizza, but we have also eaten sliced for cheese and fruit plates, and one person ate this sliced on a sandwich.

*I use an online conversion chart and round up or down, as seems appropriate. Please adjust according to your judgement, and send me a message if you find an error. Thank you.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Sweet Potato Pizza Crust

Hubby and I love pizza, and that has developed into a new desire to experiment with crusts, sauces and toppings. This weekend we had our new favorite: sweet potato herb crust. When I conceived of the idea, I did a search online for existing recipes and found very little to go on. The crust is not what I am used to (ball of smooth yeast dough that rolls out into a beautiful crust), but is very moist, almost like a thick batter consistency, that I spread on the parchment. I debated on blind baking it, but I decided that a soft, chewy crust might carry the flavor better. I am still tweaking the recipe (and working on the yeast version as well), but for now, I can give you a an idea of what I am doing.  So far, everyone who has been at the house to try it has liked the light sweetness of the crust, balanced by the salt of the bacon. I have also substituted grated zucchini for the sweet potato puree, and it makes a beautiful green crust.

My Aunt visited, and she really wanted to try this after hearing about it during one of our frequent phone calls. Fortunately, our friends at Nature's Garden Delivered had sent some sweet potatoes the week before (have I mentioned that I love them?). We made the pizza, and she not only wanted seconds, she wants the recipe. I'll always smile when I make sweet potato crust, and think of that day. 

I also tried something different where my sauce would normally be. I had a few Roma tomatoes on hand (also from our co-op basket, along with the onion) that I lightly roasted in the oven. I chopped them and mixed them with minced onion and herbs (imagine an Italian salsa), and then spread this evenly across the crusts.  Then I added mozzarella and bacon on one pizza, mozzarella,  bacon and homemade pepperoni on the other. (I'll post about Making homemade pepperoni in a separate entry.)

Sweet potato and herbs make for an earthy, lightly
sweet crust, and bacon is the perfect accent.

I hope you experiment with this crust, and that you enjoy it even half as much as we do.
I will share the tomato topping first, but keep in mind that you can use your favorite sauce, if you prefer. Also, if you like salty food, you may want to add salt to the tomato topping. I tend to use very little salt, believing that everyone can add it later to their own taste. 

Tomato topping
2-3 large Roma tomatoes, cut into fairly equal quarters
½-1 onion minced finely (this is subjective, but we like onions)
basil, thyme, oregano to taste (I tend to cook using my hand as the measure spoon for herbs, but I like a generous mix of herbs)

Place the tomato quarters in the oven (a toaster oven is ideal here, I usually use a pie dish for tasks like this, but any baking dish will do) at 300° (I like a slow roast) until the tomatoes are tender.  Remove tomatoes from the oven and allow to cool, remove the skins and dice finely. Mix tomatoes, minced onions, and herbs into something resembling a fresh salsa. Set aside to allow the flavors to develop. This could be made the night before and refrigerated. 

1 large or two small sweet potatoes/ app. 1½-2 cups (I boil these whole, with the skin on, until fork tender. Remove from the water and allow to cool, the skin will come off easily, then mash thoroughly.)
1½-2 cups flour (preferably whole wheat)
2 tsp baking powder
generous measure of basil, oregano and thyme (to taste, I like at least a tsp ea.)
app 4 Tbsp cold water mixed with 2 Tbsp virgin olive oil
• salt to taste- I have recently begun to add app. 1 tsp of salt to this crust.

Preheat oven to 400°F (app. 205°C*) In a large bowl, mix sweet potato, flour, spices, water and oil. This will make a very soft dough. Mix thoroughly, then spread on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets (depending on desired thickness).  At this point I usually oil my hands and spread the dough, or you could use an oiled silicone spatula. Top with tomato mixture, shredded mozzarella, and toppings of choice (I strongly recommend bacon be included, since the salt of the bacon brings out the sweet, earthy flavor of the sweet potatoes. Bake for 15 minutes, or until crust is lightly browned on the bottom and cheese is melted. Again this is a soft crust, but the flavor is much better if you leave it so. We crisped one of our pizzas, but the flavor disappeared. The consensus between my aunt, Hubby, and me was that as much as we imagined we would like the crispy, we preferred the soft. Oh, by the way, leftovers reheat beautifully in a low-temp toaster oven.

*I use an online conversion chart and round up or down, as seems appropriate. Please adjust according to your judgement, and send me a message if you find an error. Thank you.