Purple Cauliflower Pickles

Sooooooo, these aren’t necessarily the best of the best pickles I’ve ever made … but I’m really excited about this purple cauliflower so I kind of have to write about them anyway.

I mean, seriously. look at this:cauliflowerand when you make these pickles, it does this: cauliflower pickles(The brine was originally kind of yellow. I made them and then opened the fridge a few hours later and got really excited.)cauliflower pickles 2I really like the finished product, but I actually felt like something was kind of missing something.  More salt? More vinegar? Maybe some honey? I dunno.  If you have a revelation, please tell me. Usually I try to get recipes as close to perfect before I put them here, but since the ingredients were farmers market produce, I’m not sure if they will be there again when I go shopping today. Either way, they’re fantastic snacks when it’s 108 degrees outside (like right now) and they’re really great served along side some of the dinners we’ve been having during this hot weather.  One night we had homemade falafel, grilled eggplant and butter lettuce topped with a feta-yogurt-cucumber sauce.  Another night we had jerk chicken with white nectarine salsa, coconut rice and drunken black beans, all wrapped up in purple cabbage cups.  A few pieces of purple pickled cauliflower really escalated these meals up into the stratosphere.

I guess my goal is not just to have these pickles in the fridge, but a whole bunch of different icy cold crunchy vegetables……. I just made a big batch of these pickled radishes, (which I’m crazy about and can’t stop eating — you should make some today!), and we have a jar of dilly beans in there too.  Then I’ve got a big jar of wild blackberry jam and another jar of homemade homegrown grated horseradish from my sister-in-law’s farm.  We have a whole selection of good food in jars in there, which is wonderful.  Especially because it’s 105 and I don’t want to go outside to the garden (or, god forbid, the grocery store), let alone actually turn on the stove to cook something.  When I think about how long it will take for the air-conditioning in my truck to start actually doing anything……..  it makes me want crawl into the back of the fridge and eat cold pickles all day.

PURPLE CAULIFLOWER PICKLES, adapted from the White on Rice Couple’s recipe for Curry Cauliflower Pickles

Makes: 1 quart and 1 pint jar

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 large head of purple cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/4 large red onion, sliced into thin wedges
  • a few sprigs of fresh cilantro
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, sliced into rounds

for the brine:

  • 5 c. water
  • 1 1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp. curry powder
  • 3 tsp. tamari
  • 2 1/4” thick slices of fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. sugar

Combine the ingredients for the brine in a nonreactive pot, and bring up to a simmer. Meanwhile, pack the vegetables and cilantro into the jars.  One the brine is simmering, pour it over the vegetables leaving about 1/2”headspace.  Cover and refrigerate.  The pickles will be best after about 5 days, and will store in the fridge for up to a month.

Because Lots Of People, Including Myself, Are Pretty Broke

I’ve been working on this post for a full week longer than I meant to, and this morning I decided just to put it up the way it is.  There’s so much to say about this  that it could easily grow into a whole cookbook, and there’s no sense in waiting for that to happen.

Several different things inspired me to write this post. First of all, I’ve been working on our budget for the year and thinking a lot about how we need to spend as little money as possible on food (preferably growing it all ourselves), cause man oh man, my bank account is pathetic looking right now.  Last week there was also a great event called Food Bloggers against Hunger, inspired by the film A Place at the Tablewhich is working to bring awareness to the issue of hunger in America.  One in four children in the United States don’t know where their next meal is going to come from, and food stamp participants only receive $4 a day for food.  To cook three meals a day using $4 is already a virtually insurmountable challenge, but the food stamp program (SNAP) is at risk for severe cuts which would greatly affect millions of families across America.  Please take a moment to click this link and send a letter to congress to tell them that we need to protect the federal nutrition programs that help feed the nations children.

Another thing I should mention while I’m on this subject: the Ukiah Farmers Market has a fantastic food stamp matching program which has  a big fundraiser going on.  The program helps both shoppers and vendors: a customer with an EBT card (food stamp/calfresh) can swipe the card at the farmers market manager’s table for up to $15. The customer receives $15 in market tokens plus an additional $15 in tokens because of the program.  Customers get extra fresh produce, vendors get the additional income which helps support local farms, and we all can go home happy.  To read more, click here.  There’s a 5K race on May 4 which fundraises for this program, and it’s really easy to donate.  Just click this link and scroll down to farmers market food stamp matching program.

So, with all that said….

I’ve been brainstorming meals that are really super cheap to make. It can be so easy to get stuck in a rut when you’re on a tight budget, but it’s kind of silly because there are a lot of options.  Last night, getting my grocery list together for the week, I checked this list for some ideas.  I’m hoping that other people on a budget can bookmark this to get some inspiration for dinner too.  (I don’t know that it’s so helpful for me to include a lot of recipes for all this stuff, so I haven’t. Most recipes are just a quick google search away….)

dried beansBEANS & DRIED LEGUMES:

We all know how cheap it is to cook a pot of beans.  Plain old beans and rice can get really old, really fast, though, so here are some other ideas:

  • Top beans and rice with some fresh cilantro, salsa and sour cream. Add eggs to make huevos rancheros.
  • Make Daal & steamed white rice for an Indian twist. Chutney from the pantry adds bonus points.
  • Beans & Bones: add a bone leftover from a roast to the pot of dried beans while it’s cooking to make a wonderfully rich stock. Serve with cornbread and greens to make this meal extra amazing.  (Split pea soup is in this category….)
  • Puree leftover cooked beans into a spread to put in pita sandwiches with some sliced vegetables, use it as a filling for vegan quesadillas, or serve with chips for a snack.
  • A pot of garbanzo beans can turn into Chickpea curry  or hummus.
  • Entree salads: Cold leftover beans are wonderful tossed with some chopped red onion, olive oil, lemon juice and some random other veggies from the fridge or garden. (Cherry tomatoes and cucumber are great with this!).
  • Chili, of course
  • Beans are amazing in all sorts of Mexican inspired dishes: tacos, burritos, empanadas, chilaquiles, enchiladas.

eggsEGGS:

Eggs are hands down the cheapest source of organic animal protein, so if you’re on a tight budget, they’re perfect. I love eggs — they’re these perfect little servings of protein and vitamins.

  • quiche
  • frittata
  • egg salad
  • egg in a basket/toad in a hole/ whatever you want to call it
  • savory bread pudding: add some random veggies or breakfast sausage to make a fantastic casserole
  • egg sandwiches with sliced tomatoes
  • breakfast for dinner is always cheap and simple

sausage gravy, greens, delicata squashPOTATOES:

  • potato pancakes (make them huge and fancy them up with canned applesauce from the pantry, sour cream and sliced scallions),
  • baked potatoes topped with random vegetables and cheeses from the fridge
  • potato soups
  • hash browns with some onions, bell pepper and scrambled eggs
  •  mashed potatoes with sausage gravy and greens.
  • Roasted potatoes topped with some shredded cheddar cheese and dipped in homemade ketchup taste amazing.  

pastaPASTA

is an obvious cheap dinner….

  • buttered noodles topped with parmesan and chopped parsley
  • tossed with herb pesto (it doesn’t have to be just basil!)
  • pasta primavera with random garden vegetables
  • macaroni and cheese
  • pasta with red sauce
  • tuna noodle casserole

RAMEN

This should be a subcategory of pasta, but it deserves it’s own heading, don’t you think? I know it has MSG in it and tons of sodium, but sometimes if you’re broke, you’re broke, and ramen’s kind of delicious. I like to add any or all of the following to pretend that I’m not eating something so processed:

  • an egg
  • dried seaweed
  • radishes
  • sliced scallions or leeks
  • steamed vegetables
  • leftover sliced meat (pork or beef, usually) from a dinner the night before

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread, from Grow it Cook it Can itBREAD

  • homemade pizza is dirt cheap, as are calzones, both of which can use all kinds of random things for topping/filling
  • homemade biscuits and gravy with  a salad
  • grilled cheese and soup
  • peanut butter and jelly
  • open faced sandwiches with random veggies and cheese
  • pancakes
  • scones, either savory or sweet
  • cornbread topped with mixed vegetables or beans
  • homemade bread is hard to beat, especially with some fruit and cheese

polentaGRAINS:

  • fried rice with random vegetables from the fridge or garden is one of my favorite way to use up leftover random vegetables
  • rice and beans, steamed grains (quinoa, brown rice, etc.) topped with stir-fried vegetables or vegetable stew, sprinkled with cheese if you have it. 
  • grain salads:  mix some cooked grains with chopped fresh or dried fruits, nuts, or random vegetables
  • polenta topped with eggs/sauteed vegetables/roasted vegetables/butter, or, in the same vein, all kinds of variations on grits. A bowl of warm cooked cornmeal topped with some butter, a sprinkle of cheese and fresh herbs is dirt cheap and delicious. Top it with a poached egg and it turns into something a hipster restaurant would have on the menu for a lot of money. 

chickensCHEAPER CUTS OF MEAT:

Ground beef and beef stew meat are always quite affordable at our farmers markets, so I end up making things like…

  • meatballs
  • beef stew
  • spiedies
  • grilled kebabs with garden vegetables
  • beef stroganoff using ground beef is fast and delicious…

Roosters…  If you raise your own chickens, you know you can end up with too many roosters that end up terrorizing the hens. Instead of having a nightmare in your coop, turn them into: 

Wild game is another great option. We barter eggs and jam with hunters who we know, so we don’t actually have to go out and get the meat ourself.

summer vegetable sauceVEGETABLES FROM THE GARDEN:

  • With just a quick walk to the garden to pick whatever you have, you can make a whole array of soups, pasta dishes, stews, stir-fries, curries, tacos, burritos, enchiladas, casseroles, and salads. (Check out this saucy summer vegetable dish that’s a staple in our house).  
  • Vegetable tarts and galettes are a great meal option, and can be made with either pie crust of puff pastry.
  • In the summer, if you have access to cheap produce, stuffed zucchini is a delicious, really cheap entree.  
  • Tomato sandwiches, as simple as they are, are divine with garden fresh tomatoes.   I also am quite fond of grilled eggplant sandwiches… especially with some tomato jam and goat cheese. 
  • Pesto can be made with pretty much any fresh herb (just google for some recipes) and is good on pasta, chicken, fish, pork chops, tofu, etc. 
  • If you don’t have a garden, hit up the farmers market in the last fifteen minutes that it’s open, and you’re sure to score some great deals if you haggle a bit with the farmers.  If you get to know the farmers at the market, on bad weeks for your wallet, you can say “I’m super broke this week. What can I get for $2?” and they’ll probably hook you up.  We do this with our market customers, at least…

The last things I remind myself when I’m trying to cook for next to nothing are probably obvious, but worth saying:

Grow the food myself.

Never throw away anything.  Herb scraps and slightly past their prime vegetables can always find their way into something good.

If there’s ever extra, can it! (or freeze it, or dehydrate it, or ferment it….) We’ll be happy that it’s there later on.

Be creative. Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it has to be boring. really amazing split pea soup I made this split pea soup last week that was a nice example of how to spruce up a basic cheap meal…. Instead of just a ham bone and green split peas, I added cubed butternut squash from our pantry, frozen corn from last summer, some wilted parsley from the fridge, and a few random fresh veggies we had on hand.  It was delicious. It fed us for many meals, and I really couldn’t think of a better lunch.

If you have any favorite cheap dinners, feel free to mention them in the comments.  There’s obviously a lot more recipes than I’ve mentioned here, but like I said…. this could easily turn into a cookbook that I could work on for several years.  There’s a lot to be said on the subject.

Chicken Tikka Masala, Because I Miss All the Restaurants In San Francisco

I am a country girl, through and through.  I love living wayyyy out in the sticks. I love it that if I want to wear my work boots with manure on them and dirty old jeans and carhartt jacket into town, no one looks at me funny.  My mud-covered pickup truck fits right in here. I love that I only have to brush my hair if I feel like it.  I can butcher a chicken but if you asked me for tips on applying eyeshadow I would be utterly clueless.sunny valley

BUT: boy oh boy oh boy, sometimes I really miss the days of living right in the middle of San Francisco, where I could walk just a few blocks and have my pick of some of the best (and cheapest) ethnic foods I’ve ever tasted, anywhere. Cities are awesome like that. One of my favorite spots was an Indian restaurant called Chutney, on Jones and O’Farrell.  When I’m in the city I make a beeline there and get the paneer tikka masala, saffron rice and garlic naan. It’s the stuff of dreams.

I like to be very self-reliant and DIY here in our homestead kitchen (remember last year’s Cook it! projects? we made our own pasta bread butter cheese and so much more), and one of the categories that I haven’t written about yet is: Cooking Exact Replicas Of My Favorite Restaurant Foods.  This is one of my favorite categories because I get to eat my favorite foods whenever the craving hits, all without ever having to change into real pants or figure out where I put my keys.

My most recent success story is this chicken tikka masala.chicken tikka masala

I won’t bother re-writing the full recipe, because it’s just from Serious Eats, but I want to add a few notes….

1. The recipe calls for a lot of lemon juice. You may have noticed that it’s winter and there’s tons of lemons hanging around on the trees these days. I made meyer lemon marmalade the other day, but I still have a big bowl of meyer lemons, so what better way to use them up than curry?meyer lemons

2. ….obviously…… this is the perfect recipe to make use of that epic stash of canned garden-fresh tomatoes from last summer.empty jar!

3. I was all excited about using my cast-iron grill pan to grill the yogurt-marinated chicken, but I promptly set off the fire alarm. So instead of actually grilling the chicken first, I just threw the raw pieces right into the tomato sauce.  I’m sure I was missing some charred flavor, but I also didn’t have to cook dinner in a cloud of smoke. It turned out totally delicious and didn’t really matter that I skipped this step.

4. To serve this properly, it’s best with steamed basmati rice and naan or chapatis, but since we’re lazy and had tortillas we just used those instead.

The Simplest Pumpkin Pie

I’m not sure why I’m writing this, other than that I’m really not in the mood to see my post about killing chickens at the very top of the page anymore.  I started working on this pumpkin pie recipe on Saturday, which I was really excited about at the time (it’s so simple) but then, everything kind of derailed.

(It’s weird – even as I type this, I’m not sure I want to write about this here.  But I don’t know how I could possibly write about anything other than this.)

My grandma died.

I’m so sad. I miss her so much.

The weight of the changing seasons feels crushingly heavy now.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working on planting seeds for winter vegetables and gradually tearing out the fading summer vegetables and giving them to the chickens to pick through.  When I stand in my garden today and see the remainder my big tomato plants, yellow and tired looking, and then this huge span of tiny green lettuce and sweet pea sprouts coming up, the transition from one phase to the next makes my heart ache.  (Am I angry at the pink chard for germinating at a time like this? Maybe.)

The Simplest Pumpkin Pie

I might have to update this post when I’m in a better mood talk a little more about pumpkins and making pumpkin butter.   I will say, making pumpkin butter is really easy and it’s worth the space it takes up in the freezer.  I used this recipe here and some delicious pumpkins from C&A Organics here in Redwood Valley.  Since it was going in the freezer, I added a few tweaks, like some maple syrup and extra spices, which you could certainly play around with as well.

This pie isn’t incredibly decadent or over-the-top.  It’s just something sweet and nice that you can have with a cup of tea and not feel like you have to go run ten miles because of how many calories you just ate. I’m not a fan of those desserts. This pie is delicious, though, and we polished it off really quickly.

Cook time: lightning fast.  All the work was in making the pumpkin butter.  This seriously takes about two minutes to put together.

Ingredients:

  • 2 half pint jars of pumpkin butter, (thawed)
  • 3 fresh eggs
  • 1 pint jar of whole milk
  • 1 9″ pie crust

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a mixing bowl, combine the pumpkin butter, eggs and milk.  Pour into the pie crust.  Bake until set, about 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let it cool a little bit before you slice into it. 

On Killing Chickens – Graphic Post

This is the story of how we went from having too many roosters running around to having a freezer stocked with chicken: This post is graphic and may be upsetting to some people, so if you’re going to start crying/be traumatized/send me hate mail, you should click away right now and go read about baking cupcakes or something.

The other day, I was walking by the chicken coop and noticed that four of the roosters were terrorizing one of the hens.  They were grouped around her, taking turns mounting her, ignoring all the other hens in the coop.  When they weren’t on top of her they were pecking her right on top of the head, trying to keep her on the ground.  It was pretty horrifying, and I ran into the coop and rescued the poor hen the second I realized what was going on (she’s fine, don’t worry).

That was when I decided:
I have to get rid of these damn roosters.

Over the years, I’ve lost many of my chickens, but never on purpose.  The first time was when someone came over to my house with their dog, and even though my dogs love our chickens, this dog jumped out of the car and killed one of my hens within ten seconds.  I cried in the woods for the whole afternoon and wouldn’t talk to anyone.

I know, it’s just a chicken.

But there’s something so sweet about (most of) them, how they run through the grass chasing bugs and how they adore corn and will follow you around all day trying to get it.  I love how they can be such troublemakers, finding the one tiny hole in a garden fence and then eating a whole bed of seedlings in five minutes.  Gradually, I’ve learned not to be so heartbroken if a chicken dies.  It’s a natural part of raising animals and farming.  If I’m doing my best to protect them, there’s not much else that can be done.  Chickens die. It happens.

Even though we’ve been keeping chickens for years, I’ve never killed one of them myself, and I took this decision very seriously.  There are huge stretches of time where I don’t eat meat;  I like tomato-cucumber sandwiches for lunch and a bowl of chickpea curry for dinner, and I rarely crave steak.  There are a couple times a month that I do like to make something with meat in it, though, and I absolutely want that meat to be from a humanely raised, local and sustainable.  All of those pretentious sounding catch phrases seem more important when it comes to killing an animal.  The thing is, I’m not interested in the top-dollar, organic chicken from the natural food store — I’ve never met the farmer, I’ve never seen the chickens, and I know better than to believe a bunch of stuff written on plastic packaging.  When I want to eat meat, I want it to be venison that was a gift from a hunter friend with a stocked freezer, sausage from my neighbors pigs, or trout from a nearby stream.

I finally got up the nerve to call up another farmer and set a time to bring my roosters over to his house, where he graciously agreed to show me everything I needed to know.  I was nervous, and even though I knew I was doing the right thing, I couldn’t sleep the night before I was going to kill them.

The main thing I want to tell anyone who might be struggling with that same decision is that it turns out, it’s not that bad at all.  Thinking about it beforehand is much worse than actually doing it. It helped me a lot to have a very experienced farmer show me how to do everything quickly and without a lot of unnecessary emotional drama.  He told me “it’s okay to be friends with your food.”

There are a lot of ways to kill a chicken, but I’m sold on the method we used.  (I wish I could offer more step-by-step pictures here, but since this was my first time and it was almost dark outside still, I didn’t bother trying to take a lot of good pictures.  I know that a quick google search will show you if you want to see.)  My friend pulled a stump from his firewood pile, hammered two nails into it about 1 1/2″ apart, and then set a trash can right next to the stump.  He showed me how, in a matter of seconds, you firmly grab the chicken with one hand on its feet and the other on its neck, lay it on the stump so its neck is in between the nails, and then, holding its body onto the stump with one hand, grab your axe and just give it a really good whack on the neck.  You immediately toss the chicken into the empty trash can where it will bleed and flop around quite dramatically.  The most important thing I learned is not to hesitate once you decide to start, to be determined and strong about it.  My roosters were dead within seconds, before they really even knew what was going on, which is what I wanted.  I probably don’t need to tell you, but I want to emphasize two things: 1. Roosters hate it when you pick them up and will try to fly away.  Grab them strongly and be ready for this, because if they do fly away and you have to chase them all over the property trying to catch them, it will make the process much more traumatic for both of you.  2. This is not the time for a half-hearted attempt with the axe.  Go for it.  Roosters have stronger necks than you’d think and you need to put some power into it.

Once the killing part was over, the plucking and butchering was much easier than I expected.  We dipped the carcasses in boiling water for a minute and then plucked the feathers into the trash can, a process that was simple and finished quickly.  (I thought it would take a long time and make a huge mess — It didn’t).  My friend cut their feet off and then showed me how to take out the guts, which, although it was disgusting, I kind of… liked.  It’s a good kind of disgusting.  It reminded me of scooping out the seeds from the inside of a pumpkin, but warm and mushy. It was easy.  Then you just give the birds a rinse in clean water, pack them into freezer bags and stash them away for future dinners.  My friend told me that you should let them rest in the fridge for a couple days before you eat them because the meat will be more tender, so I haven’t actually cooked anything yet, but I’m excited to make chicken and dumplings tomorrow.

Now that it’s over, I’m hugely relieved.  I realized I was making way too big of a deal about all of this and getting way too emotional.  It’s really bad to have too many roosters, and it makes complete sense to feed your family with the extras.   When it was over and done, I felt a huge sense of pride and accomplishment thinking about how many meals I could make with all of this chicken.  That day, I actually ended up doing a bunch of other tasks that I’d been putting off, because I realized that if I could kill and butcher chickens before it was even light outside, these other things I was worrying about were also going to be a breeze.

If you’re at all like I was, torn about the idea of doing this, putting it off even though you know you should, I urge you to go ahead and do it.  It was a very positive experience and left me feeling very empowered.

For a fantastic tutorial on chicken butchering, including all the pretty pictures I didn’t take, I highly recommend the Girl’s Guide to Guns and Butter’s Chicken Butchering 101 post. 

Good luck!