Carrot Cake Jam

We’ve been harvesting a lot of carrots this week…carrots and basilAnd even though I really can go through all of them fresh without any problems (carrot soup with coconut and ginger), I made a few jars of things to stash away for later, the most important of which is this carrot cake jam.carrot cake jam It’s kind of a ridiculous recipe; I made it last year on a whim just because I had a ton of carrots and kind of didn’t think much about it at the time, but it’s one of my little brother’s favorite flavors that I make.  He’s crazy about it, so I made more this year.

The original recipe is one of these charming, vaguely retro recipes from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.  It’s got a great color and a surprisingly delicious flavor that does taste vaguely reminiscent of carrot cake.  With six cups of sugar, canned pineapple and powdered pectin all on the ingredient list, though, it was due for a bit of updating. I tried two different ways, one with low-sugar pectin and the other with no pectin in at all (for a looser, less jello-y set on the finished jam).  After tasting them both, I actually really prefer the one with low sugar pectin.   The set is much firmer than I’d ordinarily like, but the longer cook time on the no-pectin version made the whole thing basically just taste like pineapple. (Which is okay, but if that were the plan, I’d rather just make a jam from pineapple without a bunch of other junk in it.)

I almost never buy fruit from the grocery store, but you have to compromise your morals every once in awhile.  Please note the plastic tag attached to the pineapple, a telltale sign of incredibly high quality produce. *ahem* pineapple

If you have a bounty of carrots, you should absolutely give this one a try…. It’s great on a toasted bagel with cream cheese, as an ice cream topping, and as a super unique filling for pb&js.

CARROT CAKE JAM:

Cook Time: an hour or so, if you including washing and grating carrots

Makes: 5 half pint jars

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 c. grated carrots
  • 1 3/4 c. diced fresh pears
  • 2 c. diced fresh pineapple
  • 1 tbs. lemon juice
  • 1 c. water
  • 1/2 c. sugar + 2 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 box of sure-gel low sugar pectin
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 5 cloves

Prepare boiling water canner, jars and lids.

Combine the carrots, pears, pineapple, lemon juice, water and spices in a large, nonreactive pot and bring to a simmer.  Cook for 30 min. on low to soften everything up. In a separate bowl, stir together 1/2 c. sugar and the box of low-sugar pectin. Stir the pectin mixture into the carrot mixture and bring to a full boil.  Quickly stir in the 2 1/2 c. sugar and bring back to a full rolling boil. Boil hard for one minute, stirring to prevent the carrots from sticking, then remove from heat.  Remove the cinnamon stick and discard.  Ladle hot jam into hot, clean jars using 1/4″ headspace.  Process for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude as necessary.

Quick Beef Stroganoff

Earlier this week, the San Francisco chronicle posted an article that claimed that it’s hard to find fresh, affordable food in Mendocino County. It was a ridiculous article, written by someone who ignored all of the local farmers markets which are filled with … um….. fresh, affordable food.  The girls at Eat Mendocino have already written an excellent response to the article, explaining why the Chronicle was completely wrong, so I won’t rehash what they’ve already written.  Their whole conversation made me want to share this beef stroganoff recipe with you.

This whole blog is about cooking with fresh, local, affordable foods, but a lot of the time I make the recipes affordable by making them vegetarian, since a lot of locally sourced meats can be prohibitively expensive. I love eating all this hippie crunchy food, but sometimes it’s nice to have something a little bit more… meat and potatoes.  Maybe you’re cooking for picky eaters, maybe it’s cold out an you want some comfort food, maybe you’ve been slaving away all day in the garden and you’re craving something with protein and carbs. Whatever the occasion, this beef stroganoff is delicious.  Since this recipe makes a flavorful sauce to serve over mashed potatoes or noodles, you really only need a pound of meat to make a big pot of food.  Also, it cooks up in a flash. Also it’s cheap. It’s easily adaptable to different ingredients.  The leftovers (if there are any) make a great lunch the next day. beef stroganoffOh, and I realized after I started writing about this…. it’s basically just a homemade version of hamburger helper in the stroganoff flavor.  Because we like eating classy stuff like that.  beef stroganoff 2There are several ways you can adapt this recipe.  First, the meat: the cut doesn’t really matter. You can use ground beef, which is almost always one of the cheapest meats at the farmers market.  If you use a steak that’s more on the tender side (sirloin, ribeye, strip) keep the cooking time to 30 minutes.  If you want to use stew meat, an add extra cup of stock to the recipe and cook it for an extra hour or more. You can substitute mushrooms for the beef if you want something vegetarian. You can add all kinds of vegetables while you’re browning the beef: shallots, leeks, onions, some chopped swiss chard, peas, mushrooms. Whatever looks good at the farmers market that week will be great.

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. sirloin steak, sliced into thin strips, or 1 lb. ground beef
  • 2 tbs. butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/4 c. whole wheat flour
  • salt and pepper
  • a big splash of cognac or brandy, if you have it on hand
  • 2 c. beef or vegetable stock
  • 16 oz. sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • a few sprigs of fresh tarragon (or parsley is fine too)
  • optional add-ins: sliced mushrooms, sliced shallots, peas, chopped spinach, etc.
  • for serving: buttered mashed potatoes or egg noodles

Heat the butter in a large skillet.  Add the steak and garlic and cook for a few minutes on medium-high heat to brown the steak.  (If you want to add extra vegetables, now’s the time).  Season everything with salt and pepper.  Once the steak is browned, add the whole wheat flour and saute everything for another minute or two. Deglaze the pan with a splash of cognac, if you have it.  (If you don’t, it will taste good without it.  Just deglaze the pan with the stock instead). Add the beef stock, sour cream, paprika and tarragon and stir everything together. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.  Serve over buttered egg noodles or mashed potatoes.  We like having this dish with a big green salad or sauteed green beans.

White Nectarine Preserves

A  friend of mine gifted me a box of white nectarines from his farm.  They’re sweet, ripe and juicy, and once we ate as many as we could, we turned the rest into this simple, lovely preserve.  white nectarines

I’ve been playing around with a couple different variations on this recipe.  I think my favorite is spiced with vanilla bean, but I also really enjoy a version with warm pie spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, some ground ginger.  nectarine jamWHITE NECTARINE PRESERVES

(Makes: I forgot to write down how many half pint jars. 7? I think it was 7.)

Cook Time: an hour, plus overnight to macerate the fruit.

Ingredients:

  • 4 1/2 lbs. white nectarines, pits removed and sliced into quarters
  • 2 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 1/2 oz. lemon juice
  • optional: 1 vanilla bean

In a large, nonreactive pot, combine the sliced nectarines, sugar,  and lemon juice.  If you want to add the vanilla bean, scrape the seeds into the fruit mixture and then nestle the pod in with the sliced fruit as well. Cover with saran wrap (right up against the fruit to prevent browning) and refrigerate for around 24 hours.

Bring boiling water canner to a boil and prepare jars and lids.  Cook the jam, stirring to prevent burning, until it gels (click here if you don’t know what I’m talking about) or reaches 220 degrees on a candy thermometer.  About half way through the cooking time, I mashed the fruit up with a potato masher to make it more of a jammy consistency.  You don’t have to; you could leave the fruit in bigger pieces to make it more like a preserve.  Alternatively, run half of the cooked jam through a food mill to remove the skins and really make it like a jam instead of a preserve (thicker, with fewer big chunks of fruit). It’s up to your own personal preference.

Ladle hot jam into hot, clean jars leaving 1/4″ headspace.  Process for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude as necessary.

P.S. You could make this recipe with yellow nectarines too, but you might not need as much lemon juice since they’re more acidic than white nectarines. Taste them and see.

Honey Sweetened Blueberry Butter

I’ve been trying to write some recipes that don’t use refined sugar.  I really don’t like the taste or how it makes me feel after I eat it….  and it seems like there are a lot of other people out there that are on the same page as me.  I don’t like looking at my pantry and seeing all this beautiful fresh fruit I’ve preserved drowned in a ton of sugar.  Organic or not, I don’t feel like I can incorporate it into a healthy diet.  My most recent attempt came out pretty darn good ….

The little market right near where I live has been selling these amazing blueberries from one county over, and even though I don’t usually by fruit at the store, I’ve been buying huge bags of them several times a week.  My favorite way to eat blueberries is with milk and cornflakes, which is boring but insanely delicious.  cereal and berriesMy family used to go to Cape Cod every summer for vacation, which sometimes involved a trip to a local u-pick blueberry farm.  I have such distinct memories of being in our little rental house eating this for breakfast. I loved it then and I love it now!  It’s the perfect way to start off a gorgeous summer day.

The blueberry season is short here in Northern California, so I made this recipe hoping to preserve the flavor of these sweet berries for another few months.  The idea is from the Food In Jars blueberry butter recipe; I just changed the amounts a little and used honey instead of sugar.  Since this is a low-sugar preserve I’m not 100% sure about the shelf life…. I’m going to say that it should be used within three months of canning. blueberry butterI’m sure this would be great in all kinds of tarts and baked goods (it would be epic as filling for a donut) but right now I’m just mixing some with plain yogurt to have for breakfast.  It’s not very exciting to look at, but I feel like it’s an actually real thing I can eat whenever I want and still be healthy, which is incredibly exciting for me. breakfast

BLUEBERRY BUTTER

Makes: 8 half pint jars

Cook time: a few hours, but it’s really easy

Ingredients:

  • 5 lbs. blueberries, washed
  • 1 c. water
  • 2 c. honey
  • zest and juice of 2 lemons

In a large, heavy bottomed pot, bring the honey and water to a simmer.  Stir to melt the honey.  Add the blueberries and keep simmering.  Once they’re soft, puree the mixture with an immersion blender.  Turn the heat to low and cook until it’s thickened (just like making apple butter….) It will need several hours on the stove to get to the right consistency.  Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Once it’s gotten to the right texture, add the lemon juice and zest.

Transfer the blueberry butter to 1/2 pt. jars leaving 1/4″ headspace.  Process in a water bath for 15 minutes.

 

 

Nectarine Sorbet Sodas

nectarine sorbet sodaOur weather forecast is super depressing.  I’m trying to come to grips with the fact that nothing is really going to get done this week because I’m going to spend most of the time sitting around sweating and complaining about how hot it is.  I can deal with temperatures up to about 104, but once it crosses that….. when it’s in the 110s, I basically give up on life.  I did have a lightning bolt of inspiration that’s making these week a little bit more tolerable, though….. these nectarine sorbet sodas that I’ve been making are so refreshing and cold, I can’t stop drinking them.  I found some amazing nectarines at a farm stand near us last week, so juicy that they ended up dripping all over us and making a huge mess when we tried to eat them.  They’re perfectly ripe and sweet and it would be a shame to fuss with them too much.

The nectarines turned into a honey-sweetened sorbet which has then been going into sorbet sodas. I’ve been playing around with different combinations: the sorbet floated in plain seltzer water is barely sweet at all (how I like it), but for something a little sweeter, I’ve tried adding a splash of lemonade and some syrup from the pantry.  Right now I have elderflower syrup and rhubarb syrup, both of which go wonderfully with nectarine sorbet, but I’m sure that lots of other fruit syrups would be really nice.  (Blackberry? Blueberry? Why don’t I already have these in the pantry….?)

NECTARINE SORBET FLOATS

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Makes: 1 float

Ingredients:

  • 1 scoop of nectarine sorbet (recipe follows)
  • seltzer water
  • lemonade or soda syrup (optional)
  • nectarine slices, for garnish

Put a scoop of sorbet in the bottom of a glass.  Add a splash of lemonade or soda syrup if you want some sweetness to your drink.  Top with seltzer water and garnish with nectarine slices.

 

NECTARINE SORBET

(I want to emphasize: this is really not that sweet. I’m not a big fan of sugary things  at all, but if you are, you’ll want to taste it and sweeten the mixture accordingly to your own taste. I was going for light and refreshing more than a sweet dessert with this recipe.)

Cook Time: 30 min, plus several hours in the fridge to cool the fruit puree

Special Equipment: ice cream maker

Ingredients:

  • 1 c. water
  • 1/4 c. honey
  • 8 large nectarines, quartered

Bring the water and honey to a simmer in a medium sized pot. Add the nectarine slices and simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove from heat, and puree with an immersion blender (or whatever you have…)  Put the nectarine puree in the fridge to cool completely.  Once it’s cold, just prepare the sorbet according to your ice cream maker’s instructions.

Dandelion Green Fritters

This recipe uses a lot of greens.  It also begs the question: if you fry an ingredient that’s generally considered good for you, and then eat a lot of the finished product, are you actually eating junk food? or is it health food?dandelion green frittersWe’re just going to ignore that whole issue since I really like eating these.   If you’ve ever been overzealous planting your swiss chard patch and ended up with a ridiculous amount of greens, this is one to bookmark.  Also if you end up buying lots of greens at the farmers market because they’re pretty and you figure that you’ll deal with them later.  Also if the farmers who grew your CSA box were overzealous planting their swiss chard patch and now you’re suffering the consequences.

When I made these  last week, we had them as a side dish with jerk chicken, along with white nectarine salsa, purple cabbage slaw, and a garden salad.  I served them with a dipping sauce that was just homemade sriracha mixed with mayonnaise.  You could also serve them as an appetizer, put them in a wrap (think: falafels) for a vegetarian lunch, and they’re even good cold out of the fridge. There’s lots of room to experiment with seasonings, too.  A little curry powder and they could go with your next indian dinner, or some lemon juice and feta cheese could give them more of a greek flavor. You could serve them with tomato sauce instead of sriracha-mayo, or maybe sweet chili sauce.

DANDELION GREEN FRITTERS

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Makes: I forgot to count them before we ate them all.  It makes as many as there are in that picture up top.  A big plate full.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs. butter
  • 2 big bunches of greens, roughly chopped: I used a mixture of swiss chard and dandelion greens, but anything you have is totally fine
  • 2 large tomatoes, diced
  • 2 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 4-5 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • a pinch of black pepper
  • safflower oil for frying, or any high-heat oil that you have

Heat the butter in a large skillet on medium-high heat.  Add the chopped greens and tomatoes and saute, stirring often, until the greens are tender (how long totally depends on what kind of greens you use).  Season this mixture with salt and pepper.  Taste it to make sure it tastes good (you could almost serve this as is…)

Now, put the greens in a mixing bowl with the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper.  Add the eggs a little bit at a time, stirring, until the mixture is about the consistency of pancake batter.  If it’s too dry, add another egg or some milk.  If it’s too wet, add some more flour (it should be pretty wet though).

Heat 1/4″ of oil into a large frying pan.  Working in batches once the oil is hot, drop small spoonfulls of batter into the oil.  You’ll want to cook them for about a minute, then flip them over to cook the other side and cook for another minute or two.  They should be a nice shade of fried-food-golden-brown when they’re done.  Let them cool on a paper towel for a minute, then serve with whatever dipping sauce makes you happy.

One last thing: if you decide to make these with swiss chard, go ahead and put the stems in too, they taste great!

 

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.

Preserving Fresh Greens

I meant to write this post last year around this time, but I never did, because let’s face it: frozen spinach doesn’t sound all that exciting.  Rhubarb jam is much sexier, or these fancy rhubarb granita cocktails I was obsessed with last year too.  Really, though, if you’re trying to grow and preserve your own food (or just eat locally all year long), this project is so important.   spinachLast spring, I started making a real effort to make packs of greens for the freezer.  I get  spinach from one of my friends who grows a huge amount of it, but the process works the same for any other dark, leafy green.  Kale, chard and collards all do much better when you regularly harvest the big outer leaves.

The process is simple:

1. Wash the greens thoroughly.

2. Chop them into whatever size you want them to be later.

3. Blanch them for a minute or two (shorter for spinach, longer for kale or collards).

4. Drain and rinse with cold water (or transfer them to an ice bath if you’re super organized, but I never bother with this.  A cold water rinse works fine for me).

5. Vacuum seal or pack the greens into freezer safe ziploc bags for later.  I like to make a variety of sizes: some as individual portions to mix with scrambled eggs, and some in big batches for making spanikopitas or other casseroles. _MG_9892If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, it doesn’t really matter, but I think they really work well for the freezer.  Plus, they’re fun, and you can vacuum seal random stuff like spoons just because it looks cool.  _MG_9897The first time I tried doing this, I blanched and froze two bushels of fresh spinach.  I was absolutely shocked at how fast we used it and how happy I was to have the packs ready to go in the freezer.  I  love making jam, but I have problems incorporating it into my regular diet.  I don’t really eat bread very often, and I don’t really like eating sugar, so……..  But man, spinach! I started pulling out a bag at night to thaw and then I’d scramble it into some of our eggs in the morning with a little goat cheese.  When I eat a scramble like that for breakfast, I feel like a rockstar all day.  Plus, when I’m just getting up  in the morning there’s no way I’m going out to the garden and to harvest and wash spinach for breakfast, but if all the work is already done, I find eating greens with breakfast every day, which is always a good thing.  Frozen greens have absolutely joined canned homegrown tomatoes as a pantry/freezer staple that I like to always have on hand.  When I have plenty of time to cook, I’ll walk to the garden and harvest some fresh greens, but when I’m pressed for time (I usually am), the frozen ones really are a life saver.

Speaking of pressed for time….

I have a bunch of projects I’ve been making with frozen greens that I want to tell you about, but definitely don’t have photographed since I’m not organized enough right now. I’m posting this today anyway though. You’ll just have to use your imaginations.

We made pupusas stuffed with oaxaca cheese and chopped spinach, which were amazing.pupusaThis is not a picture of the pupusas we made the other day. This is a pupusa from a spot in San Francisco that I love, just in case you have no clue what a pupusa is (since a lot of people have never had them before).  Ours looked really similar though.  The recipe I used is right here, from Saveur.  They’re basically homemade tortillas that are stuffed with whatever filling you like.  I thought they would be really difficult to make, but the dough comes together very easily and they fry up in just a few minutes.  We just changed the filling a little bit, using oaxaca cheese (it’s kind of like a Mexican version of monterey jack or mozzarella) mixed with chopped spinach.  I used purple cabbage in the slaw and which made it look cooler than plain old green cabbage.

Also, I made fresh spinach pappardelle. I still have some so maybe I’ll get my act together and take some pretty pictures to inspire you to make fresh pasta. For now though…..

think about pretty green noodles

are you imagining?

Maybe if I drink some more coffee you’ll come back to this post later and there’ll be some more pictures and recipes.  We’ll see what happens.

UPDATE 5/22/13

Apparently I’ve got my act together more than yesterday.  spinach fettucini SPINACH PASTA DOUGH

Cut this dough into whatever widths  you like.  I especially like it tossed with pesto, chopped heirloom tomatoes and parmesan cheese.

Cook Time: an hour or more, depending how fast you can make pasta. it’s not a fast one.

Makes: enough for about 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 3 3/4 c. semolina flour, plus a little extra for dusting
  • 4 extra large eggs
  • 3/4- 1 c. spinach puree*
  • 2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cracked black pepper
  • a liberal pinch of nutmeg

Mound the flour on a clean counter.  Make a well in the center, and add the eggs, spinach puree and oil.  Using a fork, gradually mix together all the liquid ingredients and begin incorporating the flour from the inside rim of the well.  Keep incorporating more and more flour, and once you’ve done as much as you can with the fork, switch to your hands and start kneading it together, trying to work all the ingredients together into a ball.  Semolina flour is more difficult to work with than all purpose flour, but if you keep kneading it should eventually come together.  Add a little spinach puree if it needs some more moisture.

Season the dough with salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Once the dough has formed a coherent ball, knead it for about five minutes.  Add a little flour if the dough is too sticky.  Let the dough rest for 15 minutes, then roll it out using the instructions for whatever pasta maker you have.

Once the pasta is cut, you can dry it on hangers and it will store in a cool, dark place for several weeks.  It can also be dusted liberally with flour and stored fresh in the refrigerator.

*To make the spinach puree, just thaw frozen spinach and then zap it in a blender or food processor.

The moral of this story:

Go harvest the extra greens you have in your garden and freeze them for later!

The next time you see gorgeous greens at the farmers market for cheap, buy a bunch and freeze ’em!

Do it. You’ll be happy.

 

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.

Wild Boar Osso Bucco

A friend of mine gave me a wild boar shoulder the other day….. wild boarand even though I don’t have a new recipe to share for it, since it was such a beautiful cut of meat, young and tender, I just have to mention it here. Jason and I talked about all kinds of different possible preparations, but I ended up making osso bucco with it, since I love osso bucco and basically make it with any nice piece of meat that has bones in it.

Usually, osso bucco is made with cross-cut shanks, often from veal, but I almost never have the kind of money in my wallet that I would need to buy that kind of meat. Instead, I’ve made it with lamb, goat, wild duck, chicken, venison and now, wild boar.  All that really matters is that there are bones in the meat.  It’s standard to start by dredging the meat in flour then browning it in a large dutch oven. I always add lots of mirepoix after that, some canned tomatoes and a whole bottle of white wine (my favorite part of this isn’t actually the meat, tender as it is, but actually the vegetables and the wine sauce. It’s so good.) Then: cook it all day, low and slow.

I’ve been eating the leftovers all week, and they’re wonderful.   My advice: If you have a friend that offers you wild boar, don’t scoff at it like some people might, take it home and cook it!

Here’s my original recipe for osso bucco.boar osso bucco