Savor The Earth

eat tastier, eat greener, eat cheaper

Do the Math. Hit it! Houston May 27, 2010

butter up!

It’s simple arithmetic.  Not Going To The Y plus Not Writing equals More Time For Cleaning.  When a second batch of yogurt turned out curdly and separated, I knew the yogurt maker needed a scrub, so I gave in and hit the housework.  I just can’t do it all, unfortunately, and with our recent road trip to H-town rounding out a whirlwind spring season, the house (and my figure) reveal embarrassing signs of neglect.

The next time you find yourself in Baghdad of the Bayou (I just had to throw that one in ), check out chef Monica Pope’s T’afia restaurant for Czech-inflected Clutch City cuisine, locally flavored with the bounty of the Third Coast.  Joined by another mom and gradeschooler, we enjoyed kind service, tasty food (loved the chorizo-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates!) and a noisy atmosphere impervious to energetic kids.  On a rare night of imbibing, Austin Frugal Foodie gratefully knocked back a flight of five Texas wines to accompany the five-course local tasting menu.  Our party partook of silky Swiss chard, heavenly cream-drizzled grits, fat shrimp, great bowtie mac-n-cheese, balsamic caramel beef(!) and more.  On Saturday mornings, T’afia hosts a farmers market that sounds incredible.  We might pencil that in for our next trip to Space City.  By the way, Motel 6 on the Katy Freeway furnishes THE most comfortable mattress I’ve ever slept on!  (I like ’em firm.)

If you’re hauling your kids to the Energy Capital of the World, be sure to visit the amazing Children’s Museum of Houston.  Our frugal friend, Austinfrugalmom, recently purchased a Premier Membership from the Austin Children’s Museum, and the reciprocity program allowed free entry into the Houston location for all of us.  Great savings for itinerant summer-breakers!  Check it out before you hit the road with young ‘uns.

Back to that “yogurt”.  I can’t bear to throw away honest local goat milk (from Wateroak Farms), even if I did screw up the preparation.  Well-whisked, the fine-lumped fluid still works as a buttermilk substitute for most recipes.  Like this here easy, easy quick bread fortified with Richardson Farms freshly ground whole wheat flour.  Crunchety-crusted and sweetened just enough to highlight the fresh wheat, this craggy loaf craves the caress of rich and lightly salted Organic Valley Pasture butter.  Accompany this bread with Dai Due‘s meaty hot boudin and you’ve got lunch—don’t forget the Texas peaches for dessert!

IRISH-STYLE BROWN BREAD makes one 8″ or 9″ round loaf

  • 182 grams (1½ cups) organic all-purpose flour.  Whole Foods 365 brand in the 5-pound bag is usually the best value.
  • 3 3/8 ounces (1 cup) organic whole wheat pastry flour.  Look for this in bulk departments or try Arrowhead Mills or Bob’s Red Mill.
  • 6 ounces (1½ cups) Richardson Farms whole wheat flour (available at their Barton Creek farmers market location) or organic whole wheat flour.
  • 1½ teaspoons cream of tartar, sieved
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda, sieved
  • 1½ teaspoons salt.  I use Real Salt.
  • 3 Tablespoons organic sugar.  Buy this in bulk or look for Central Market’s brand in the 2-pound bag.
  • 2 Tablespoons organic butter, softened, plus 1 Tablespoon melted.  Organic Valley is my favorite all-purpose butter.  If you didn’t stock up when Natural Grocers offered their near-clearance-priced sale, click for a coupon.
  • 1½ cups organic or local buttermilk or yogurt.  I make my own yogurt from local goat milk and I usually do a better a job than the last two batches.  Click to see howSwede Farm Dairy is back from babymaking (SFC market at Sunset Valley).  Wateroak is taking a market break but will still be available at Wheatsville Co-op and Whole Foods.

Preheat the oven to 400°.  If you bake your loaf in a handleless pan, you can use the toaster oven.  A heavy 8″ or 9″ round pan works best and cast iron is ideal.  Lube the pan how you please and sprinkle the bottom with wheat bran or cornmeal.

Whisk together the dry ingredients (flours through the sugar) or just dump them into the food processor and let ‘er rip.  Add the butter and process to blend or rub the fat in with your fingertips.  I recommend the machine if small children are about.  They have a way of knowing just when to soil the carpet or bust their lip and you might not want to get caught butterfingered at that moment.

Pour the flour mixture back into your bowl and add the buttermilk or yogurt.  Stir quickly with a fork to evenly moisten the dough, then use a flexible dough scraper to fold the dough over itself just a few times to bring it all together and develop a bit of structure.  Using the scraper, place the dough mound in the pan.  Slash a large “X” in the top of the loaf with a sharp knife before placing the pan in the oven.

Bake for about 40 minutes, until browned and the center of the loaf tests done when probed with a long bamboo skewer.

Carefully remove the loaf from the pan, brush it with the melted butter and let it cool for at least 30 minutes.  Serve warm or let cool completely.  This loaf tastes best the day of baking.  Chunk, crumble or slice leftovers to freeze for stuffing, bread crumbs or toast.

Welcome home!

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Can’t Beat Beet Greens May 11, 2010

Filed under: easy,fast,locavore,thrift,Uncategorized,vegetables,vegetarian — Austin Frugal Foodie @ 6:04 pm

good greens: good and green!

Local beets be ’bout gone, but big ruby beauties beckoned this past Saturday, all coyly coiffed with scarlet-striped greens atop scarlet stalks.  Who would dream of throwing away those leafy lagniappes?  I save the edible greens from most of my produce:  all the root veggies plus kohlrabi, and leek tops go straight into the freezer to await the stockpot.  Carrot tops I utilize the least, but I try to get to them as well.

Easy for creamin’, beet greens quickly cook up tenderly toothsome without disintegrating.  For my last batch I  wilted the rinsed leaves in hot olive oil (Central Market’s organic brand offers a great value or try Texas Olive Ranch for local), added a splash of organic cream (Organic Valley’s my top choice) and a small chunk of organic cream cheese (CM’s own brand is usually cheapest).  Seasoned with a dash of garam masala and salt to taste, these greens didn’t even need a squeeze of fresh lemon for brightening at the table, but it’s up to you!

 

Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive May 6, 2010

Filed under: capital area food bank,thrift — Austin Frugal Foodie @ 9:39 pm

booty for my bag

Time again for the 18th annual National Association of Letter Carriers Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive, the largest one-day food drive in the country.  Your mail carrier has already dropped off a paper grocery bag with your mail.  On May 8, you just leave your bag, filled with healthy non-perishables, next to your mailbox.  Your mail carrier picks the bag up and the post office delivers it to your local food bank (Capital Area Food Bank for my area).

I like this setup.  Picking out whichever nutritious foods you can afford and keeping an eye peeled for special finds, you can really personalize your donation.  No need to break the bank when shopping for your bag—hit up your nearby BigLots.  You never know what exactly you’ll come across there.  Organics, exotics, and even luxuries like Poppycock (I am a total sucker for toffee popcorn!)—all this and more for bargain prices at your local closeout store.  After filling your donation bag, you might even have some cash leftover for a couple of goodies for your own household.  The kindergartner picked out a big bag of sunflower seeds for only 80¢, and I went ahead and bought two jars of all natural Peruvian red and green chile relish at $1 each—one for the bag and one for me.

I was shooting for a $20 load.  Here’s what $20.45 got me:

  • 3 cans assorted tropical fruits—mango, papaya and tropical mix
  • canned peaches
  • canned mandarin oranges
  • raisins
  • canned green beans
  • canned peas
  • 2 cans organic garbanzo beans
  • 2 cans organic black beans
  • 4 jars organic turkey veggie baby food
  • 1 large can pink salmon
  • 1 can sardines in water, 1 can sardines in mustard sauce
  • 1 large can spaghetti sauce
  • 1 jar all natural Peruvian red and green chile relish
  • 1 bag walnut pieces

I went straight for the fruits first, as I saw from the Hunger Awareness Project that fresh produce can be lacking in food pantry allotments.  I was thrilled to find the tropical fruits.  BigLots offered even more varities than what I purchased.  Raisins are great on the go, couldn’t pass ’em up.  Canned veggies and (organic!) canned beans  are true staples.

Organic baby food was another good deal.  I wonder if the food banks get enough baby food.

I’m big on canned salmon (although I’m lucky to be able to shell out for the red stuff—sockeye reigns supreme in the world of shelf stable salmons.  Even so, it’s still cheap!), and $2.70 for the 14.75-ounce pink is a decent deal.  Sardines are another very healthy (one of the few foods to boast a naturally high vitamin D content), sustainably fished resource.

The spaghetti sauce is an obvious choice for getting nutritious tomatoes into hungry bellies.  Easy money.  And that jar of Peruvian chile relish?  Chiles are great for you (with vitamins A, B’s and C) and they sure do perk up a meal.

Lastly, the walnuts.  I love all kinds of nuts and eat a handful every day.  They store well in the freezer so you can stock up when you find them on special.  Walnuts are particularly good for you, and I hate to think some folks never get to eat any.  I’m happy that a hungry person here in Central Texas will enjoy them.

I had a blast shopping for my donation bag, even with the kindergartner helping!  It made my day.  I hope my effort does the same for a fellow Texan.

Please remember to set out your bag of non-perishable foods by the mailbox Saturday morning.  Let’s Stamp Out Hunger!

 

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!

 

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.