Savor The Earth

eat tastier, eat greener, eat cheaper

Cheap Tricks—Maximizing Micronutrients on a Budget April 27, 2010

Filed under: capital area food bank,hunger awareness project,thrift,vegetables,vegetarian — Austin Frugal Foodie @ 6:03 pm

For folks in direst need, the main food goal is obtaining sufficient calories.

We Texans face another frustrating dichotomy in that our citizenry ranks 14th nationally in obesity rates for adults despite our next-to-the-bottom food security standing.  Again, problems with resource distribution and food quality (to oversimplify the situation, mind you) pave the path to an underfed/undernourished population.  Coupled with a pandemic lack of knowledge of nutrition and health, often compounded by inexperience in good food preparation and lack of time to cook, these features of the modern Western world lead to both an unhealthy, overfed burden on our health care system as well as the unacceptable hunger accompanying poverty.  Regardless of circumstances, education or income, an empty belly begs for fullness, without any bargaining power to negotiate macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat), let alone micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and phytochemicicals.  The USDA’s MyPyramid Food Guidance System may as well be in Egypt, as far as the hungriest Texans are concerned.

spaghetti special supper

Fortunately for the hungry in central Texas, a respectable 80% of the Capital Area Food Bank’s provisions place in the top 1 or 2 nutritional scoring categories (out of 5).  But for fresh produce, the sample food pantry distribution for our Hunger Awareness Project offered only a five-pound bag of potatoes.  Fairly full of nutrients, and certainly belly-filling and high in energy value, spuds have nearly single-handedly sustained entire populations.  We humans derive maximum health benefits, however, from a polychromatic plate—taste the rainbow.  (Skittles® was right!)  A typical food bank allotment provides deep red in the spaghetti sauce, the sunny yellow of canned corn, and even a bit of green from canned green beans (and jalapeño slices for those who can take the heat).  The canned fruit, with its diluted pastels, certainly seems to promise less nutrition than peak of season local glories such as strawberries, peaches, melons, apples and citrus, but current theory (and the gastric growlings of empty bellies) behooves us to accept its comparability to fresh.

But what’s for dinner?

Spaghetti and “spaghetti sauce” of course.  There’s our scarlet, loaded with lycopene, actually rendered more bioavailable by the cooking and canning process.  Tonight there’s no meat on the table (remember the food pantry allowance must be stretched for an entire month), but we’ve got our brown in the form of meaty Texas-grown portobello mushrooms, purchased on sale (today’s the last day!) at Central Market for $3.99 a pound.  That comes out to about a dollar per large ‘shroom, each one sufficient for an adult.  Quickly sauteed with a spot of olive oil plus a pinch of thyme and antioxidant champ oregano (bought dried in bulk for just pennies), the seared chunks lend textural and nutritional heft to our simple pasta meal at minimal cost.

these roots were made for plantin'

We’re fresh out of canned green beans around here, and in the spirit of the challenge I’m shopping minimally.  So broccoli stems it is!  Hastily trimmed and coarsely shredded from a $2 locally grown (and chemical-free) head, this throwaway vegetable contributes good green while bulking up our sauce.  Brown it a bit in a hot pan, the same one you just used to cook your mushrooms, with a restrained drizzle of olive oil.  Add a little more verdigris to the mix by topping each portion with fresh basil chiffonade.  Basil grows easily in our long season here, even in a pot.  For our garden we never purchase a plant or even seeds.  We buy fresh local basil from the produce department (located with the other herbs) for a dollar or so and root the fecund fronds in a glass of water at home.  Pluck leaves as you need them, and the readily rooting cuttings will be primed for transplanting in three weeks or so.  Fancy and nearly free!

Buon appetito!

 

Food Pantry Manifest—Provisions To Live By April 24, 2010

Here’s the list of groceries participating bloggers received of items typifying a share of food provided recently by a local food pantry.  This allotment represents a family’s one month allowance:

2 cans spaghetti sauce
4 cans veggies (choice of green beans and/or corn)
4 fruit cans (choice of sliced pears and/or mixed fruit)
1 meat selection: Anything and everything HEB has. Most of what was available was whole chickens, fryers and pork chops. But we really get everything from pig trotters to ham.
3 drink items: choice of large bottle of cranberry apple juice and/or powdered milk (shelf stable milk) boxes and/or apple juice boxes
1 bag spaghetti or bag of egg noodles
1 bag of pinto beans or white navy beans
1 bag of white rice
1 package of jalapeno slices
1 ready-made dinner (hamburger helper)
1 bag/container of rolled oats
1 bag of cheerios
5 lb bag of potatoes

I see potential here!

spoonful o' oats

We already eat oatmeal almost every morning.  I’ve come up with a method for cooking rolled oats that conveniently yields a less-sticky texture, with the individual oat groats nearly separate.  For my two children and myself (my husband’s not on board for this breakfast), I measure a rounded cupful of oatmeal into my pan and turn the burner on to HIGH.  I swirl in ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon and let the oats toast a bit.  Then I pour in just over ¾ cup water and swirl the pan to distribute the liquid (do NOT stir to achieve this texture).  As soon as I can hear the water steaming, I turn the heat off and let the pan sit there for a couple minutes (my stove is electric).  For the fluffiest texture, you can soak and steam the oats over boiling water, but I find my method a texturally-satisfactory compromise.

Lactating moms appreciate medium-chain fatty acids so in my normal life of luxury I dollop some coconut oil on top.  The kindergartner enjoys honey on his share.  A qualifying food pantry recipient’s food stamp benefits, which max out at $50 per week for one adult, may not leave room in the budget for such gilt, but the canned fruit off the list would complement the morning’s porridge.

I had stocked up on organic bulk rolled oats, quick oats and steel-cut oats when Newflower Market last had a great sale on those items.  We had already eaten our way through the rolled and quick oats (the quick oats I buy for baking but I’ll cook them for breakfast when necessary), and now are working on the steel-cut.  In the spirit of the challenge, and frankly, keeping within my  own budget, I am trying to hold out on purchasing more oatmeal until another sale comes along.  So, steel-cut it is!


 

Beans and Rice, Always Nice April 23, 2010

Filed under: beans,capital area food bank,easy,hunger awareness project,rice,thrift — Austin Frugal Foodie @ 4:45 pm

beans and rice, dependable staples at our house

We’ve been eating our pinto beans and rice for a few days now.  Actually, we eat some kind of beans and rice almost every day.  Click “beans” on my categories for more posts on leguminous variations.  This current batch of beans, very basic, contains a couple of chopped onions (nutritious and generally inexpensive), some garlic, a homegrown bay leaf, toasted backyard Mexican oregano and a bit of paprika.  I used the slow cooker and added a dab of bacon grease to the pot—never throw away tasty fat!

For the kindergartner’s lunch I make quick tacos:  I heat up a flour tortilla in the toaster oven with a little cheese (the glue!) and fill it with the beans and rice.  It’s portable and requires no utensils, perfect for a young bean lover.

Beans—good and good for you!

 

Hunger Story

Filed under: capital area food bank,hunger awareness project — Austin Frugal Foodie @ 2:36 pm

beans & rice, included in a typical food pantry allowance

Austin area food bloggers have embarked on a cooking & blogging project to promote hunger awareness in Central Texas.  Given a list of contents from a current local food bank allotment, we are challenged to cook from the box and recount our experience.

Fortunate kitchens we food bloggers inhabit, our participation in this adventure constrained by such happy conditions as our children’s snack day at school or soccer, a weekend festival, groaning larders that must be purged promptly, lunch dates, dessert addictions and other hallmarks of a comfortable life.  Plus our gardens groweth over:  local asparagus season is short, sweet Texas strawberries beckon, and few foodies can resist the prickly charm of spring artichokes.  Happy circumstances allows us to pick and choose, experiencing food insecurity by proxy, on our own terms, not having to decide between food and rent, food and utilities, or food and medicine.

When I read Addie Broyles’ post on the project, I was disturbed (although I can’t say surprised) to learn that Texas nearly tops the list of states in percentage of hungry residents.  Mighty Texas—whose nearly teflon economy dipped much later than the rest of the nation’s, never sank to the widespread miserable depths, and began its recovery ahead of the other states—ranks second from the top in state GDP yet second from the bottom in food security.  The economic mechanisms, politics and cultural schisms underlying the gross inequalities in distribution of wealth, power and access to resources are worldwide topics for (mostly) another blogger, however.

Lisa Goddard, Online Marketing Director of the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas, gave the Austin Food Bloggers a tour of the 60,000 square foot CAFB warehouse, located in south Austin.  Working with 350 partner agencies in 21 surrounding area counties, the warehouse distributes 1.2 million pounds of food per month to local food pantries, feeding 48,000 people each week.  A key asset in supporting the food bank’s goal to reduce area hunger 25% by 2014, volunteers give some 6,000 hours of help every month to the CAFB.

Austin Farm to Table‘s Kristi Willis, a longtime volunteer with the food bank, revealed that many people in need of food delay seeking assistance as long as they can, ashamed to ask for help.  I’m reminded of a story told by my musician friend, Amanda Hickey, whose 5+ siblings never realized as children that the wolf was at the door.  Her mother didn’t let on about the hardship and uncertainty of feeding the brood.  The occasional visits from the grandparents, bearing sopa, fresh garden produce and homemade tortillas, seemed a celebration to the kids, not a graciously answered—reluctantly voiced—call for help.

The partnering of local food bloggers with the CAFB supports the mission of the food bank “to nourish hungry people and lead the community in ending hunger” and reinforces the ideal of fellowship in our society.  The CAFB’s “Hunger is UNacceptable” campaign encourages all of us to take steps towards ensuring that no one, in this world of more than plenty, goes without food.  My own beat, on this blog, springs from an eco-friendly angle, so I recall my current favorite quote, from environmentally outspoken chef Dan Barber, who asks, “How can we create conditions to allow every community to feed itself?”

The myriad answers to that question are varied and complex.  As always, we begin with awareness.  We brainstorm and plan.  We come together as a community and we take action.

We hope to help.  Check out Goddard’s bloggings for updates on the project.

 

My Crème Brûlée Brings All the Boys to the Yard April 19, 2010

Filed under: dessert,easy — Austin Frugal Foodie @ 9:15 am

Couchbound during the first trimester of my second pregnancy, I watched my now favorite movie, Top Hat, over and over.  Funny—verging on naughty—and appeasing, the film showcases Fred Astaire‘s irresistible charms as he sings and dances to woo his consort Ginger Rogers.  (Sylphid Rogers nearly made me puke— over-stuffed with Thanksgiving provisions and fuel as I was—the first time I saw the opening scene of Gold Diggers of 1933, when she sang “We’re in the Money” in pig-Latin.  Do NOT watch that number with an overly full belly topped-off with scullery lube!

“No Strings (I’m Fancy Free),” the first song in Top Hat, brings to mind more carefree times, say, before you had children.  Remember that summer you stayed at the lake almost every weekend?  Jamaican jerk turkey thighs, wild salmon, grilled steak, summer veggies, pasta salad and watermelon.  How did you ever have time to make dessert?  You probably whooped up a simple ice box cake.  Because it must be made 2 days ahead and comes together very quickly, an ice box cake saves you plenty of time for marinating your meats and cutting your vegetables.  Plus it’s delicious!  Who besides Austin Farm to Table 😉 and my own kindergartner doesn’t love whoop cream—and chocolate cookies?

If you find yourself in the neighborhood of low-price champs Natural Grocers, pick up a quart of Iowan Farmers’ Creamery whipping cream for only $5.79.  You’ll be creamed up for two sets of cool desserts:  the easy, easy Ice Box Cake and a seductive Crème Brûlée.  Can’t beat butterfat!

ice ice cakey

ICE BOX CAKE serves 6-8

  • scant pint of heavy or whipping cream, organic or local.  Look for Organic Valley (organic) and Promised Land (Texas) at the usual stores or the non-homogenized, low-heat pasteurized Farmers’ Creamery brand at Natural Grocers.
  • 1 Tablepoon turbinado sugar.  I buy this in bulk and we go through a lot of it—for iced coffee and ice tea.  I bring an old 3# peanut butter jar and have the staff tare the weight for me.
  • 1 Tablespoon instant espresso powder.  Medaglia d’Oro is the standard.
  • 2 Tablespoons Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur)
  • about 54 Salem Baking Company “Artisan Chocolate Blend” Moravian Cookies.  That’s a little more than one box.  These labor-saving cookies aren’t cheap—at $4.99 a box (Central Market price) they’re a treat.  They are all natural and trans fat-free, however, unlike Nabisco’s Famous Chocolate Wafers.

Combine the cream and the next 3 ingredients in a large mixer bowl.  Chill (the cream) while you count out your cookies.  You can use cookies that are broken in half.  I save any smaller broken pieces in the freezer for topping ice cream, making cookie crumb crusts or just eating with whoop cream for nearly instant emergency desserts.

Line a 1½-quart dish with two crisscrossed overhanging lengths of plastic wrap.  I use an old Pyrex baking dish approximately 8¼” X 6½”.  With a cold beater or whisk, whip your cream to firm peaks.  Please don’t overbeat the cream.  Keep it smooth.  Place a generous one-half of the whipped cream into the lined container, spreading it to the edges.  Insert the cookies upright into the cream.  For my dish I configure the cookies in three very slightly overlapping rows of 18 cookies each.  Scrape the rest of the cream into the dish to top the cookies and spread the cream evenly to the edges.

Rap the container gently on the counter top a couple of times to settle the cream, then wrap the cake snugly with the plastic wrap.  I like to turn the cake out at this point and replace it upside down into the dish, but that’s just being persnickety.  I’m sure the components will even themselves out if left alone.

Let the cake sit in the fridge for 2 days.  The cookies absorb the cream’s liquid and turn cakelike, leaving you with thin layers of chocolate bound and filled by a thick and flavorful whoop cream.

Now get onto your wakeboard and go!

I don’t remember who sang that milkshake tune, not that I even knew who the artist was when the song first came out.  But I do remember the mint chocolate chip shakes I used to get at Mad Dog’s a couple decades ago, and that reminds me about Central Market’s in-store coupon for free CM Organics ice cream pints (including their mint chocolate chip flavor, which kept our kids in good spirits on a recent drive to Rockne) when you buy a package of CM’s $4.99 frozen filled pastas (not organic, but all natural and handy).  We love the pumpkin variety, unfamiliarly accented with the bitter almond sweetness of amaretti cookies in the filling.  Tossed with fruity olive oil (or butter), grated pecorino romano and plenty of freshly cracked black pepper, these mezze lune rise to the occasion, quick to wax into a delicious dinner.

If you’re wondering where to put another pint of honest cream (onto your hips, of course, but let’s get gustatorial first), try a rich dish of crème brûlée.  Local egg yolks, organic sugar and real vanilla set your custard into a densely creamy bed onto which you burn a sweet, crackling taffeta of turbinado.  Light it up!

burnt cream

fire it up!

CRÈME BRÛLÉE FOR THE FAMILY makes about 6 servings

  • 1 pint organic or local heavy or whipping cream, see above for selections
  • 6 or 7 local egg yolks.  I like to weigh these out, in which case I go for about 120 grams.
  • 1/3 cup organic sugar.  Costco offers the best deal on Wholesome Sweeteners 10# bag.  Otherwise, check your bulk departments and Central Market and Whole Foods store brands.
  • small pinch of salt.  I use Real Salt.
  • ½ vanilla bean (best), or ½ Tablespoon vanilla bean paste (next best and easier), or ½ Tablespoon great vanilla extract (most convenient).  Nielsen-Massey brews full-flavored vanilla products, including paste and organic extract, and packages fragrant, supple vanilla beans.
  • 2 Tablespoons turbinado sugar, see above recipe

Special equipment:  household or kitchen torch

If you’re using a vanilla bean, split it down the middle with a sharp paring knife and scrape the seeds into 1 cup of the cream in a small saucepan.  Add the bean, 1/3 cup sugar and salt and set the pan on the stove over medium heat.  Bring the cream just to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Remove the pan from the burner, cover and let the cream steep for 15 minutes before removing the vanilla bean (rinse the pod well, let it dry and repurpose it, tucked into a bottle of homemade vanilla extract or a jar of sugar.)  If you’re using vanilla bean paste or extract, just stir the flavoring into 1 cup of the cream.

Preheat your oven to 300°.  Lay a washcloth on the bottom of a large (at least 11″ diameter) baking dish.  Heat up a quart of water to pipin’ hot.  I use a 1-quart glass measure and heat the water in the microwave.

Combine the remaining cup of cream with the yolks and whisk gently to blend well.  Pour through a fine-mesh strainer into the pan of cream, whisking it in as you go to distribute the heat.  Set an 8″ round baking dish into the larger pan on top of the washcloth. I use a Pyrex cake pan.  They’re cheap even when new but you can usually find all manner of Pyrex goods (and other bakeware) at the thrift stores. Pour the custard into the smaller baking dish.

Set the whole bain-marie into the oven on a middle rack.  Carefully pour the hot water into the larger pan to come up to about 2/3 the height of the custard dish.  Bake.  When the custard looks set, check its temperature with an instant-read thermometer inserted into the middle of the puddin’.  You’re looking for 170° to 175° F.  Start checking at about 35 minutes.

When the crème tests done, carefully remove the 8″ dish from the water bath and set it on a cooling rack to cool for a couple hours.  Once it reaches room temperature, place the dish in the fridge to chill for at least 4 hours, overnight is fine.

When you’re ready to fire it up, blot any condensation on the surface of the crème with a paper towel and evenly sprinkle the turbinado sugar all over it.  Light your torch and move the flame across the surface of the custard to melt and caramelize the sugar.  Let the fire lick it good, up close and personal, to quickly brown the turbinado.  Place the crème in the fridge, uncovered, to chill for 30-45 minutes before serving.  Eat right away, before the sweet crackling crust softens.  Although it will still taste delicious later, you’ll lose the dramatic contrasting crunch.  Then you can enjoy it as crème caramel!




 

Be Fruitful and Popsicle April 18, 2010

Filed under: blueberries,dessert,easy,locavore,sunset valley farmers market,thrift — Austin Frugal Foodie @ 7:05 pm

why yes, I did run out of time to put the sticks in

Spying an incredible deal at the SFC Farmers Market at Sunset Valley this past Saturday,  I snatched up eight baskets of locally-grown, chemical -free strawberries for only $2 a pint from Flint Rock Hill.  These fraises were priced to move and had to be processed very soon.  I remembered that big bag of organic blueberries from Costco still hogging up freezer space (I don’t think my cooking/eating style suits warehouse shopping).  And on a couple of recent warm-day walks home from school with the kindergartner, I recalled our refreshing Cantaloupe Popsicles that we enjoyed all season long last year, rewards for the brutal 20 minute Death Valley trek home.  So, popsicles it be!

I loosely followed my cantaloupe popsicle recipe, without the benefit of lemons or limes, replacing the Amaretto with Frangelico, adding Texas orange zest and playing around with varying proportions of strawberries to blueberries.  Local honey is a must!

We’re well stocked with frozen novelties for now.  Even on a cool spring day like today, a cold fruity treat revives the family.

 

Whole Foods Recipe: Cabbage and Cheddar Gratin

Filed under: easy,locavore,thrift,vegetables,vegetarian,whole foods — Austin Frugal Foodie @ 11:16 am

cabbage casserole

Last night I baked up a recipe from the Whole Foods website for a cabbage and cheddar gratin.  Using Texas-grown cabbage (only 69¢ a pound at Central Market), Full Quiver Farm’s medium-sharp cheddar, Arrowhead Mills organic yellow cornmeal and Central Market organic Dijon mustard ($2.09 for the 9-ounce jar), plus a dash (about 1/3 teaspoon, actually) of homemade garam masala, I baked up this easy, hearty and tasty vegetarian dish.  Nearly vegetarian in my kitchen, anyways.  I used my homemade turkey broth instead of the vegetable broth called for.

For the herbs I snipped backyard sage, rosemary and thyme and just for funsies threw in a minced large basil leaf—’cause we’re growin’!  A scant teaspoon of salt (Real Salt) seasoned the lot just right.

We enjoyed this mustardy, filling main course and the preparation was simple.  I forgot to take a photo of the whole completed dish (sorry!) but you can get a gander on the link.  I did use a bigger baking pan than the recipe suggested.  I don’t know how they fit all that into an 8″ square dish.  I buttered up my 2.5-quart Le Creuset buffet casserole, over 10″ wide, and baked the gratin in the toaster oven.  For the initial baking, I put the lid on it, instead of using foil.  I raised the oven temperature to 400° for the last 15 uncovered minutes to promote browning.

Texas cabbage won’t be around much longer.  So get your hands on a head—it’s cheap!—and enjoy a cool afternoon of carefree baking.  You’ll be glad you did at dinnertime.