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I just don’t feel like blogging.  I keep hearing Obama’s speeches telling us to just wait, and Ron Paul supporters wanting uninsured people to die.  I keep seeing executions and Pakistan and it’s hard to have much hope.  The whole family seems in a funk.  We are in a holding pattern and all starting to get noodgy.  The weather has been hot and humid and we are waiting for fall.  We are waiting for our car to give its dying gasp.  Waiting for someone to call and just offer a damn job.  Waiting and waiting to see which fork in the road we are going to take.  Will I be waiting tables at night?  Will we be on food stamps?  Will we ever be able to sell this house?  Move to Vermont?  Buy new jeans? Will we be able to pay someone to fix all our broken shit?  Or renovate the third floor so the kids don’t have to share a room into their 20’s?  Just trying to hold on, but the consistently high cortisol levels are taking their toll.  Four more weeks until we are cut off our unemployment insurance.

In the meantime.

I’m in squirrel mode.  I was so resistant to getting the freezer in the basement.  J talked me into it and I will begrudgingly concede that I like it.  We got a 13 cubic foot Energy Star model like this one and filled it fairly quickly.   We have had it for five years now, but never really depended on it.  It just sort of expanded our storage space is all.  Now that I’m in Food Hoarding Mode, It has become a lifeline.

Cheeto™ hoarding may lead to cat hoarding

Someone asked me the other day why I don’t do the extreme couponing.  Aside from the fact that I don’t want a full-time job that pays nothing but sixty jars of mustard and a gross of toothpaste, there are just never any coupons for anything I need, and that is because I don’t need much.  I’ll be doing a post soon about how I save on toiletries for the family, and how I make my cleaning products but generally I think most people, including myself, have far too much crap and don’t need more.  For now though, I’m cleaning out my freezers and stockpiling food as I make room for more.

There are certainly not coupons for half a cow, but I can still get healthy, high-quality, ethical food for a good price with a little legwork.  It is definitely worth my time to drive far with my coolers in tow and get a large measure of food.  My freezer gives me that freedom.  Right now I’m cleaning out the old stuff to make room for new so we can go into this depression with at least a bunch of meat and veggies.  Preferably in the form of half a cow.

I was able to make dinner tonight for the kids and for J and I with just the freezer and pantry items.  Per usual, I made tons- as much as I had time and ingredients for.  I left enough out for tonight’s dinner and lunch later in the week then repackaged it all into stackable pint containers to freeze again.  I estimated that the entire meal cost $5.00 for four people plus leftovers.  That’s not per person.  What allowed me to do that was the squirreling away of about six pounds of roasted winter squash purée from last year.  My father-in-law came to acquire something just shy of a Shit Ton of unidentifiable vegetable of the winter squash variety and couldn’t manage to eat it all himself, so he trucked it down from Vermont and we shared in the bounty until we were sick of eating it.  I roasted, puree and froze the rest in one pound bricks.

I also discovered a pound of apple cider caramelized onions from two years ago deep in the recesses of the freezer and a light bulb went off in my thinking parts.  I whipped up two batches of soup; one with apples and onions and maple syrup for the kids, and one with chipotle mecco powder for the grown ups.  I made about two quarts of each soup, using up the last of my amazing chicken foot stock.  I also discovered two pounds of ground dark meat turkey from a local farm in there, and thought some mini-meatballs might be nice in the soup.  The recipe I used required some futzing to make it Paleo, but they actually turned out to be just the best meatballs I have ever had.  And I hate turkey meatballs.

I wish there was some way to calculate how much money that freezer has saved us.  I am confident saying that its had the best return on investment of anything in our house aside from maybe the spray foam insulation in the basement.  Anyhoo, here are the recipes I invented today.  I’m very happy with the cost breakdown and the flavor of everything.  Please not that all measurements are approximate.  My cooking style is more like “cross fingers and throw shit in a pot”.  Those bitches, the Fates, decided to throw me a bone and make something work out in my favor for a change.

Inexpensive, not cheap.

Sweet Apple and/or Chipotle Winter Squash Soup 

2# winter squash, roasted and pureed

3c chicken stock (bonus for chicken foot stock!)

1c cider caramelized onions (or, just sliced yellow onion)

2 cloves garlic

2 apples, chopped (I leave skin on, but you can peel or use unsweetened applesauce)

salt, pepper, maple syrup (optional)

butter or ghee

Roast squash in your preferred way (I cut in half, cut side down in roasting pan with about 1″ water, roast at 400 or so for about 45 minutes or until soft).  Purée in food processor or with immersion blender.

Sauté onions until translucent and starting to brown (or just add caramelized onions), add minced garlic and sauté just until fragrant.  Add chopped apples and season with salt.  Cook just until apples are starting to get soft.  Add stock and bring just to a simmer on low heat, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat and purée with an immersion blender, or in batches in your food processor.  Return to heat and bring back to a low simmer.  Season with salt, pepper and maple syrup.

To make it spicy, omit the apples and add a half a can of chopped chiles in adobo ( to taste), rehydrated chipotle mecco chiles or chipotle powder.  Serve with crème fresh.

Paleo Turkey Meatballs

2# ground dark meat turkey

2 eggs

2/3c almond meal

1 small yellow onion, minced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2c freshly shredded Parmesan cheese (optional, if you don’t do dairy)

1/4c paprika paste (or, tomato paste but the paprika paste is really incredible)

1/2c flat leaf parsley, minced

1 T olive oil or other cooking fat of choice

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix all ingredients together with hands just until blended.  Don’t over mix. Heat fat in heavy bottomed dutch oven or skillet.  Roll into medium-sized balls, about two inches in diameter.  Place in frying pan just until browned, flipping gently once.   Put the browned meatballs on a baking sheet into a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes or until cooked through.

Sometimes knowing that something is really good for you is not enough to overcome the cultural taboo.  Or even the gross-out factor.  I have saved the carcass from lobsters and chickens for a while and using them for stock.  I have a pretty good system going- I just keep a freezer bag going and when i have some bones, I add them in there.  When the bag is full, I get to stock-making.  It has worked well and I have all manner of shellfish, chicken and beef stocks frozen all over the place.  I have never really been able to get my stock really gelatinous, though.  It gets thick sometimes, but not solid and I want solid.  Here is some really in-depth information about the benefits of gelatin and broth, but this is the gist of things:

To summarize, gelatin (broth) can be considered for use in the following conditions: food allergies, dairy maldigestion, colic, bean maldigestion, meat maldigestion, grain maldigestion, hypochlorhydria, hyperacidity (gastroesophageal reflux, gastritis, ulcer, hiatal hernia) inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut syndrome, malnutrition, weight loss, muscle wasting, cancer, osteoporosis, calcium deficiency and anemia.

This stuff is good for you.  But what is the best source?  Why, chicken feet, of course.  Chicken feet.  My only experience of chicken feet prior to this was a horrible childhood memory burned into my mind’s eye that involved a Sunday brunch of dim sum.  I have successfully avoided such things since.  I believe that using the whole animal is the most humane thing.  I believe that animal-based food is imperative to our best health, and I believe that our cultures over-reliance on “clean and pure” muscle meat has left us deficient in many things that are only found in the parts of the animal that other cultures in other times have used liberally.  That doesn’t help when I find myself doing what I was doing in my kitchen the other day.

I special ordered the chicken feet through a local butcher.  It took about a week for them to arrive, and I paid about $6 for two pounds, which seemed kind of pricy.  But, It’s not like I’m going to shop around.  I brought home my paper package very excited to start in on my project.  I used this recipe for chicken foot stock because I listen to Elise in all things related to cooking, second only to Saint Julia.  So, I unwrap the little buggers, and they are kind of gross, but nothing I can’t handle.  Then I start to read the recipe, and  kicked myself for not reading it sooner.

Chicken? Or ugly baby?

I initially boiled the feet for five minutes to clean them, but later learned that it’s not necessary if the feet are already cleaned and no longer have their bright yellow membrane.  Mine were already clean, and I wish I had know that because this is where it got really gross for me.  After boiling the feet, I drained them and had to chop off the talons at the first knuckle, but that’s not the gross part.  When boiled, the feet become waterlogged and warm which transforms them into  something with an uncanny resemblance to a human hand.  A deformed hand from a human child.  A child about the age of my child after never trimming her tallons fingernails.  I was sort of gagging and yelping, weeping and wailing, swearing and shouting.  I was chanting, “It’s the right thing to do.  It will be worth it.”  It took an eternity, but I got all those fingertips off the warm, fleshy, chubby baby hands and go them back in the pot with the mirepoix and covered up.

Five hours later, I drained the stock, added more water and did it again.  At the end of the day, I had about six quarts of stock which I then reduced to two and a half quarts.  Today when I pulled it out of the fridge, I had a solid block of beautiful gelatin.  This stuff tastes so rich and smells just like Grandmas Chicken Soup.  I’ll never go back to plain old bone stock, or at least I’ll always throw a couple of feet in with my bones.  I used some tonight to replace the water I made my kids rice in, and I had some with my shrimp scampi to replace the wine and it’s just lovely and silky and delicious.  It was worth the strange images that now have replaced the dim sum episode, and I’ll hopefully have the elastic skin and springy, lubricated joints of a 16-year-old.

Natures Restalyene™

So, I don’t know how much money this saved in the end.  A quart of store-brand organic chicken broth is $2.00, and this works out to about the same price.  However, clearly what I have here is a very different product than the stuff from the box.  This tastes better, looks better, and most importantly, I know exactly what is in it.  I think that for me, that is reason enough to never go store-bought again.  It’s chicken feet for me.

All the raw materials for some lacto-fermented salsa.

If last year was a year of canning, this has been a year of fermenting.  It sounds a lot more intimidating than it really is.  It’s actually quite easy and really just facilitating a natural process.  almost anything can be fermented, but I’m just doing dairy and vegetables now.  I think ill save the meat for the folks in Scandinavia and the Sudan.  If you think you wouldn’t like fermented food, then I hate to tell you but beer, cheese, wine, coffee, chocolate, crème fresh, yogurt and sauerkraut are all fermented foods.  Fermented foods are an amazingly rich and alive source of probiotics.  They are so healthy for you and make your belly happy.  I try to eat some every day, especially with a very protein-rich meal.  They are especially important because they are amazingly cheap to make and I can easily and quickly preserve a lot of our CSA veggies for the winter, which is what this whole thing is all about anyway.  Lacto-fermentation is about the most basic and primitive form of food preservation.  Fermented foods saved entire cultures that did not have constant access to food year round.  We have come to fear bacteria in this day and age, and making friends with and living symbiotically with bacteria is a strangely profound experience.

Kraut, Sriracha, and eggs scrambled in home made ghee. Breakfast for under a dollar!

Anyway, here are some of my projects from the last couple of weeks in getting ready for the Slim Winter.  I made a bunch of ghee from some Kerrygold butter.  I love it, so I’m sure I’ll need to make more soon.  I made a couple of quarts of sauerkraut, kimchi, and fermented salsa.  I have a bunch of turnips that I’m going to shred and ferment, and I’m sure I’ll be getting more beets from our CSA before the year is over, too.  I have about five hundred huge squashes someone gave us that I roasted and pureed put up in the freezer.  I made ricotta that was one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted, but unfortunately after doing the math, It’s really not very cost-effective unless you also need a bunch of whey (which I do, but already have about three quarts frozen) so I don’t think I’ll be doing that one again.  We also have the meat of almost an entire school of Atlantic cod, hake and haddock in the freezer from last years Community Supported Fishery which we unfortunately signed up for the months I fell pregnant with Elias and COULD NOT

Dill pickles fermenting away.

TOLERATE the smell of fish, let alone the idea of eating it.  Into the freezer it went.  We bartered for some tasty pastured meat with some farmer/hunter friends, too so we have a bit of wild venison (and I’m looking for recipes!), bacon, sausage, medallions, roast beef and a pork shoulder.

Sometimes I feel like I’m preparing for nuclear winter.  I know a lot of bloggers do the food prep thing for fun, or for health, or for experimentation.  I used to do it for shits and giggles, too.  The “urban homesteading” movement took off some five years ago or so, but I have found that many of the people doing it are just playing house.  One can read through the comments sections of some homesteading blogs and see all kinds of gushing about paying $14 a pound for “organic, heirloom tomatoes at the farmers market” and then having a lovely afternoon just canning some purée, taking some pretty pictures on their fancy SLR and blogging about it before heading out to their graphic design job in Brooklyn or San Francisco.  I enjoy reading these blogs like I enjoy watching House Hunters International- they are fun and luxurious and totally out of my world.  If I didn’t have to be doing all of this, I probably wouldn’t.  Because kimchi stinks.

I know people mean well (or, sometimes they don’t) but I’m a little tired of getting this question.  It’s always during a lull in the conversation and brought up in a cheery, conversational tone that makes me think that it was deliberate.  I know that someone saw “the job numbers” on the TV machine and though, “Gee, I wonder if [token unemployed person] has seen these.  I’m going to ask them in a bland and non-offensive tone to communicate my empathy for their situation.”  Yeah.  It’s not working.  I don’t look at “the job numbers”, because they can be interpreted in many ways, and because it doesn’t get us a job. We watched them in the beginning for signs of hope, but they never seemed to correlate with our experiences.  So, if you want to help the Long Term Unemployed, don’t condescend to us. Just give some resources to your local food pantry, please.   Speaking of food…

I try to do one food project each day.  We are getting a glut of vegetables from our CSA now, and I’m working hard to keep as much of it as I can for the winter.  In the past I have done a lot of boiling water bath canning, and some pressure canning, too but It’s hard for me to think of anything messier, more time-consuming, or hotter.  I find myself dreading every canning project, especially after last summers 110# of tomatoes.  Yes, it paid off when I ended up with a bookshelf in the basement full of quart jars with fresh tomatoes in them, and I only just ran out of them a couple of weeks ago.  But man, that was a lot of messy work.  I don’t want to deal with it again, so this year, I’ll be oven roasting and freezing some tomatoes, and packing others in oil.  Much easier.  I can get one bushel (which is about 54#) of sauce tomatoes for $20 at a local farm.  I’m hoping to get two bushels processed before the end of the season.

Today I got a Groupon for $10 for $20 worth of meat from a local butcher, so I jumped on it and drove over there.  For less than $50, I got a pound of duck fat, three pounds of freshly ground lamb that they cryo-vaced into individual packages for me to freeze, 2.5 pounds of lamb shanks, 3 ham hocks, and 2 pounds of chicken feet for stock.  So everything went into the freezer except for one pound of the lamb that i made into some lamb meatballs with roasted eggplant sauce.  Yum.  We had everything on hand from our CSA or in the pantry, so it was almost a free meal.  That always feels good.

J talked to his recruiter today who had a great job at a growing company with fantastic people that he would be perfect for……in Baton Rouge.  I cried.  I just refuse to believe that there isn’t something here that he would be great for.  He is willing to commute to DC and NYC on the shuttle.  He is more than willing to telecommute with some travel to a home office.  We cannot afford to sell our home, uproot our family and move someplace with no job market in this economy when they could fire him in a  year.  It’s not fair.  He has a few more resumes in, but he always does.  One company who had expressed some interest in him suddenly decided to go in another direction with the job description.  At least he got a reason.  That’s incredibly rare these days.  Usually you send your résumé through an online form, and then the computer decides whether to put you in to the next step or lock you out.  If you move on to the essay portion (yes, the essay portion), then you have the opportunity to answer some questions in under 500 words about why you would be a  good fit for this job.  Then you hit Submit.  At this point, you either send it out into the ether with no further information and just wait for a phone call, or as is more likely to happen, you get a generic message saying that you’re not right for this position at this time.  Nothing has been reviewed by a human, no feedback is given, you have no one to contact, no phone number, name or interview.  It’s dehumanizing and disrespectful and these online HR systems are losing out on a  lot of great job candidates.  It’s just humiliating.  J read today in an article with tips on how to get around these systems that you shouldn’t even say “summa cum laude” on your résumé, and to change it to “high honors”, or your résumé will get screens out as porn!  We are not dealing with geniuses here, but there is seemingly no way though this impenetrable HR firewall.  Of porn.

Now, I’m off to watch the presidents jobs speech to congress.  Fingers crossed for a miracle.

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