Sunday, August 30, 2009
My friend Laura of Cloves and Cream wrote this guest post for a quick and tangy pie that just happens to keep with the resourceful Poor Girl Gourmet theme.
Coloring inside the lines was never for me. Perched at the sun bleached yellow formica table in my great-grandmother's kitchen I would scribble wildly, weaving in and out of well marked boundaries. Disney princesses, kittens, and crossword puzzles wound up a dizzying array of Crayola's color canon. Wild Strawberry and Macaroni & Cheese (Predictors of my future food obsession? Possibly? Okay, that's a stretch.) wound up in frayed nubs the quickest. While I busily set about deconstructing stacks of newsprint, my great-grandmother, or Mama as we called her, would hold court in front of the stove. Most often her time would result in one of three treats: chicken 'n' dumplings, homemade (warm!) chocolate pudding or lemon icebox pie. I can't claim that I have a favorite of the three, that just wouldn’t be fair, but I will say that that pie pops up in my kitchen today more often than I can count. I have the recipe forever etched in my mind along with an emergency stash of Eagle Brand condensed milk.
When searching for a key lime pie recipe earlier this summer, I fell back on Mama's classic lemon icebox pie. Why not try it with lime? My suspicions proved true; it worked. With an extra egg yolk in tow this pie is rich, creamy, and almost custard like with a bright citrus kick.
Lime Icebox Pie:
Filling and meringue:
zest of one lime
1/2 cup lime juice (from approximately 4 medium limes)
4 eggs, separated
1 can condensed milk (such as Eagle Brand)
1 pinch cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar
10 to 12 graham crackers, crushed
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon honey
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Combine the butter, sugar, honey, and graham cracker crumbs in a bowl. Press into a pie plate and bake for 5 minutes or until the crust turns golden brown. Keep the heat at 400 degrees.
Meanwhile, mix the condensed milk, egg yolks, lime juice, and lime zest. Set aside.
Whip the egg whites until stiff. While beating, gradually add the cream of tartar, confectioners' sugar and vanilla extract. Once stiff set aside.
Pour the lime mixture into the piecrust and top with the meringue. Bake until the meringue peaks are browned (5 to 10 minutes depending on your oven), then refrigerate for 3 hours prior to serving.
Estimated cost for one pie: $7.74. Four limes should cost you no more than $2.00. The eggs should cost no more than 26-cents each, so that's $1.04. The condensed milk costs $2.99 for one can. The cream of tartar will run around 24-cents, the confectioners' sugar 2-cents, and the vanilla extract is 22-cents. The graham crackers cost $3.99 for 14 servings - 8 crackers per serving - so 12 graham crackers will cost around 43-cents. The butter is 54-cents, the sugar is 1-cent, and the honey is 25-cents. Each of your eight servings will run you 97-cents.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
It's difficult to determine whether or not this has been a successful summer for our zucchini plants. On the one hand, my early bug smooshing efforts paid off with a bounty of blossoms for stuffing and frying. On the other hand, the squash bug nymphs that emerged from the eggs that I missed appear to have won the battle for plant-dominating supremacy, and one by one, my squash - all types, in fact - are being cut down in their prime by those nymphs. This is the winter, I think, that I become well-versed in organic ointments for my garden, rather than continuing with the entirely holistic, companion-planting, bug-squashing, egg-destroying approach I've embraced thus far.
Still, we have more than enough zucchini for two people, and my secret zucchini plant - shhhh, don't tell anyone, those horrendous nymphs and their friends the squash borers might hear you - is still producing in its clandestine location behind the asparagus patch, which is fortunate, because as soon as I tasted this zucchini bread, I wanted to make another. Just to be sure we had enough. There appears to be a trend here, first, the secret zucchini plant, then, a secret zucchini-pesto loaf. And a good thing that I made that second loaf, for the first was devoured in a mere three days. We had it with sliced tomatoes and fresh mozzarella that we had for dinner in the garden last night - it's far too hot to cook dinner, yet, somehow, I found myself baking bread during our first-of-the-year heatwave - and also makes a mean grilled cheese and capicola sandwich. It is so good with summer snacks, in fact, that I might try zucchini-pesto crackers next. I'm making myself hungry just thinking about it, so without further ado, I present to you, a zucchini bread of the very highest order, Zucchini Pesto Bread:
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup fresh ricotta
1/2 cup basil pesto (approximately two-thirds of a 6.5 ounce jar if you're using purchased pesto)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, divided
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup grated zucchini (from approximately 1/2 pound, which is half of a large, but not enormous, zucchini)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 by 13-inch rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, and grease a 9 by 5 by 3-inch loaf pan with butter.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, ricotta, pesto, and 4 tablespoons of the melted butter. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt, and stir well to combine. Add the zucchini to the flour mixture and give it a good stir to coat the zucchini.
Add the flour-and-zucchini mixture to the egg-cheese-pesto concoction, and stir diligently to combine. I say diligently because this is not a runny dough, and therefore requires a little extra elbow grease (or stand mixer stirring) to thoroughly blend the dry with the wet.
Transfer the dough to the loaf pan and top with the remaining 4 tablespoons of melted butter. Place the loaf pan on the foil-lined baking sheet to protect against butter-steam should your butter runneth over during the baking process. Bake until the loaf is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the middle of the loaf emerges clean, 55 minutes to 1 hour. Allow the bread to cool in the loaf pan, set on a cooling rack, for 10 to 15 minutes, then turn the bread out of the pan onto the cooling rack and let cool until ready to serve.
Remove from the oven and cool on a cooling rack for at least 10 minutes before cutting into it. If you are so inclined, make a sandwich with two thin slices of mild provolone and four thin slices of sweet capicola per each, and grill as you would any grilled cheese.
Estimated cost for the 12-slice-minimum loaf: $7.25. The eggs should be no more than 26-cents each. The ricotta costs $5.99 for 1 1/2 pounds, and we used about a third of that, so that's $2.00. The pesto I used was made from basil grown here in my garden, but a 6.5 ounce jar of the Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value brand pesto costs $3.99, so using two-thirds of it runs us $2.66. The butter costs 70-cents for one stick, again using the Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value brand. The flour costs $4.49 for 19 cups, so our 3 cups cost us 71-cents. The baking powder costs a little less than 1-cent per teaspoon, so we'll just go ahead and call 1 tablespoon 3-cents. The zucchini would be around 1/2 pound, and at $1.25 per pound (or free because you and/or your neighbors are actually overrun with zucchini), that adds 63-cents. As previously mentioned, you should get at least 12 slices from the loaf, and at that, the cost is 60-cents per slice. If you went ahead and made the grilled provolone and capicola, that would add, per sandwich, another 31-cents for the provolone, which costs $4.99/pound, and the capicola costs 35-cents at $5.59/pound. You're using less than an ounce of each per sandwich, but we like to round up here, so round up we will. I'd figure on 2 additional tablespoons of butter for cooking the sandwiches, and that adds 18-cents for four. Your total sandwich meal cost for four, then, would be $7.62. Oh, and they are filling and delicious. Not too shabby for $1.91 per person, is it?
Dinner tonight: It's still quite hot out, despite allegations that Hurricane Bill would cool things off a bit. We'll have more tomatoes with fresh mozzarella and a couple slices of this zucchini bread again. Estimated cost for two: $9.45. The tomatoes are from the garden - or, more accurately, from the brown paper bag grouping on the top of our wood stove where the rescued-from-late-blight tomatoes live. If you were buying field tomatoes, you'd pay somewhere in the range of $2.75 to $3.25 per pound, so we'll call it $3.25. The mozzarella was $8.99 for about 3/4 pound, and we'll have half of that, so that's $4.50. We'll toss a few basil leaves from the garden over it and drizzle the plate with a tablespoon or so of fancy extra virgin olive oil (as compared with the everyday extra virgin olive oil I use), and we'll add in another 50-cents for the oil. As you know, the bread costs 60-cents per slice, and we'll each have one.
Monday, August 17, 2009
While it may seem to some that it's all just chicken slaughter and hijinks over here at my house, we've actually been dealing with a slaughter of a different kind over the last month or so.
I noticed the first yellowing leaves with brown spots on my gloriously full, abundantly-producing tomato plants late-July. Being sort of a learn-as-you-go kind of gal, I thought not much of it, trimmed the leaves off, and sat back down in my garden chair, glass of wine at the ready. Typing that makes me realize just how old I sound. I'm not that old, I swear, but I am financially embarrassed, so instead of barrooms or restaurants, I can be found getting my drink on in my garden. I supervise the growth of my future food while being absolutely certain to take in polyphenols daily. They're good for you. I've read that it is so. Quantity-per-day limits be damned.
When I heard reports on NPR about the dreaded late blight, a fungus-like pathogen (yeah, that doesn't sound good) that had caused the Irish potato famine, and that was impacting tomato growers in the northeast because of the very rainy, quite cool conditions this summer, I privately gloated, for the tomato plants in my New England garden were robust. Hundreds of flowers had appeared, and while they may have been later than usual in their arrival, no fear of blight had I. In fact, I sat, sipping my nightly Negroamaro, trying to determine how, exactly, two people could possibly eat all of those tomatoes we had coming. I had already factored in giving some to friends and family. I had even calculated donations to the local food pantry. All flowery evidence pointed to JR and I still being overrun with tomatoes. I would can them. And roast them. And sun-dry them. And use them in breakfast dishes. And lunch, and dinner, of course. At this fall's physical, my doctor would smile as I described a diet rich in tomatoes, and therefore lycopene. I would also be sure to let her know about the polyphenols. We would have two, maybe three, solid months of tomato enjoyment. Perhaps even evolving into tomato fatigue. It was going to be glorious. This tomato triumph thought of mine interrupted JR's garden thoughts - likely to do with chicken husbandry - with the tapping of my fingers against one another, my hands held just below my chin, and an involuntary - well, seemingly involuntary - sinister laugh erupting from within. Yes. The tomatoes would be mine. All mine.
Or I would be mightily punished for my gardener's smugness. The incurable blight had already landed on my plants, and soon thousands of spores from those few affected leaves had attached themselves to all eight of my plants. The yellow and brown spotted leaves at the bottom of the plants deteriorated to dark brown touch-them-and-they'll-turn-to-dust crumpled paper bag-looking things, lying listless, though still attached to their stalks, the yellow and brown pre-death spreading upward, along with my panic that our tomato crop, a crop that all gardeners hold so dear - especially in colder climates, where the growing season is short, and winter acutely long - would have to be destroyed.
After an online consultation with a garden-blogger friend, I compared my plants and fruit with photos of infected plants on the Cornell University website. It wasn't good. Many of the fruits already had the light brown blemish resembling a burn that was indicative of the blight, and the plants were more than ten percent engulfed in it, the point from which, I read, there was no return. The plants had to be destroyed.
I called JR. "They really do have blight," I said, "I'm going to pick all of the fruit that isn't damaged, and then we have to burn the plants."
"Why don't you wait until tomorrow? We'll see how they're doing then."
"No, we can't wait until tomorrow," I replied. Now, I do have a slight flair for the dramatic, but in this case, we really couldn't wait - the plants had deteriorated badly in just two days. Despite JR's attempt to talk me down from my conviction that tomato-picking was the only solution, I hung up the phone and made haste to the garden, where I harvested more than 130 green tomatoes as thunderstorms loomed in the distance. Over the course of just a few, short days, the tomato plants had gone from dear friends to demon weeds; I pushed their spore-infested stalks around callously in my quest to save their fruit, where just days earlier, I had gingerly removed suckers - non-fruit producing growths that grow out of the joints of two fruit-producing stalks - from these same plants. Depressing, to say the least.
I carried piles of green tomatoes in a basket back to the house, stemmed them, washed them all by hand to remove the spores - spores so nasty that when I washed my hands, the suds were day-glo yellow - and then placed them all into brown paper bags - 5 or 6 tomatoes per bag. Any that remained suspect were sequestered in their own, private bags, and all stems were thrown into the trash.
JR arrived home to find my new, shall-we-call-them-trashy, yes we shall, decorations in the living room. Our entire wood stove was covered with brown paper bags. Still skeptical about the fate of our plants, JR tried to remove all of the blighted branches in an attempt to salvage them. Three days later, we pulled them up, JR conceding that bagged tomatoes were the way to go; our only hope of a tomato harvest appearing on our plates this year.
Last week, our first tomatoes ripened. Of the rescued tomatoes, only four have developed blight - they were promptly thrown away - and more are ripening each day. We had a BLT for lunch over the weekend, and then for lunch today, I had this. A stale-frozen bread with leftover goat cheese, rescued tomato, and two pitted kalamata olives crostini. Is that too long a name? Yes, okay, it probably is. So let's just call it "Rescued Tomato Crostini", then, shall we? The stale, frozen bread - once thawed and heated - actually comes right back to life, though I recommend this only with good-quality bakery bread, not pre-sliced mass-produced bread.
I think we'll have these crostini in the garden tonight, where we can take in the view of the barren tomato patch, empty but for my Trophy Tomato twig. I thought that this one, formerly bushy, plant might be able to make it, so I spared it, ripping off all of its fungus-like pathogen-infected branches, and leaving nothing but 4 small green tomatoes and a baby leaf. It has blossomed into a rather attractive tomato twig - complete with one full branch of green leaves and four new flowers. There is hope yet for months of tomato enjoyment. Only much more limited in quantity than previously expected.
Rescued Tomato Crostini:
4 (1-inch) slices stale-ish bakery bread
2 ounces goat cheese
1 medium tomato, rescued or otherwise, sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces, then halved
8 pitted kalamata olives, halved
freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the broiler.
Spread one-quarter of the goat cheese on one side of each of the slices of bread. Top with one-quarter of the tomato slices, and top with four kalamata olive halves. Place under the broiler and cook until the edges of the bread are light golden-brown - careful to keep an eye on it, you know how the broiler can be - 2 to 3 minutes (depending, of course, on your broiler. Did I mention to be watching intently so as to avoid burning? I did? Okay, good. Do that, then.). Serve the crostini forth, in the garden or some other al fresco location, and appreciate the splendor of summer despite the blight it has wrought.
Dinner tonight: Yeah. It's really hot today, so I'm thinking leftover chicken salad, these crostini, and, some of the blueberry-lemon cake I made again yesterday. If you like blueberries and lemon even a little, wee bit, I suggest you make that cake. I am committed to one per week until the blueberries go away, that I am. Estimated cost for two, including dessert: $10.15. Okay, so the chicken cost $5.32 for a whole bird. We ate half of that for dinner last night, so I've got about $2.66 left in chicken. I'll use mayo - let's say just a few tablespoons for I like a light hand with mayonnaise, and that costs around 7-cents per tablespoon, so that's 21-cents. I'll use dill and parsley from the garden, which is free for me, but if you were to purchase it, let's say you'd use one-quarter of each bunch that costs $1.99, so that's $1.00. We'll have these on day-old rolls that were $1.25 for 8, or around 16-cents each, so that's 32-cents. The sandwiches are then $4.19, however, I'll bet we have leftovers for JR's lunch tomorrow. The crostini - this is shaping up to be a bread-heavy dinner, but there we are - will cost $4.66. The bread cost $4.29 for 3 small loaves. That's $1.43 per loaf. The four slices are about half of a loaf, so that's 72-cents. The goat cheese is half of a package that costs $3.99. The tomato was free from our garden - or mostly free, aside from the trauma of picking that quantity green tomatoes and then destroying all but one twig - but if you were to purchase a nice field-tomato, it would cost in the range of $1.63, figuring around $3.25 per pound. The kalamatas are such a small amount, somewhere in the range of 1/2 ounce, so even at $9.99/pound, that's 31-cents. The blueberry-lemon coffee cake (tea cake?) costs 65-cents per slice at my house - we get the full 12 slices out of that bad boy.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Sundays at our house have a familiar cadence to them developed over more than a decade of practice: sleep in - a welcome change, particularly for JR who is up at 5am during the week; coffee made on the stove top, perhaps a fried egg or a frittata with freshly gathered eggs, then the start of my own personal bake-off, which typically leads directly into some elaborate Sunday meal.
This past Sunday was no different. To a point. A little after noon, as I was pulling the cake - the cake that this post is ostensibly about - out of the oven, JR summoned me to the equipment bay of the barn. There, at the edge of the middle bay, stood what he called his "guillotine" - a make-shift wooden contraption designed to hold a chicken upside down inside a traffic cone for slaughter.
This was our first bird of eleven to be slaughtered. We lost a chick early on - perhaps the fatigue of life had already taken its toll just 4 days into what would have been a brief existence anyway, or it may just have been that it was cold and we humans weren't doing an adequate job of keeping that particular chick warm. I collected the chicks from our local farm supply store at the end of April, and we delayed the first kill until after I had delivered the manuscript for the cookbook. It is my intent to kill one of these chickens myself, but after this first go-round, I think mine may be Number Eleven. We clearly have some work to do on our technique - the details of which, I will spare you. For now.
The chickens do some natural selection of their own. The phrase "pecking order" is an actual way of life within the walls of a chicken coop, and one unfortunate rooster had been beaten mercilessly all day long on Saturday - so badly, in fact, that we weren't certain he'd make it until morning. He had been pinned to the ground repeatedly by the other roosters - there is but one unfortunate hen in the group - and limped around the coop, tail feathers pointing down and shaking, in stark contrast to the upright and proud tail feathers of the other men of the coop. As he attempted to get some food - bullied and pecked at the entire time - JR went to fetch a black marker. I kept a close watch on our abused rooster, to be certain we marked the proper one - though I am fairly certain there would be no way to mistake him for another, hobbled as he was. The rooster cowered as JR put a black mark on his back - the black mark of impending death - and we returned to our usual seats in the garden, only to hear the attacks continue until dusk.
Removal of the feathers from the rooster's carcass revealed scratch marks on his back where he had been pinned by the other, stronger birds. And last night, as we sat in the garden, we could hear the squawking of natural selection beginning again.
On a less troubling note, blueberries do not practice natural selection at all - it's really just a battle between we humans and the small, flying birds - who are also quite mean to one another, it should be noted, spend a little time watching them one day if you don't believe me - to see who comes away with the most fruit. Our farm family neighbors grow some of the most coveted blueberries in our area, with mid-summer visitors to our house invariably asking, "are those blueberries out yet?", the anticipation as audible as their words.
I typically make blueberry crumble with those coveted blueberries, but as I was only able to secure one pint for myself this weekend, and the crumble requires two, I devised this cake instead. Despite the coffee cake name, I'm thinking you could serve this forth as a dessert as well, and it would be a fantastic addition to a brunch. Which, of course, still falls under the coffee cake designation.
Blueberry-Lemon Coffee Cake with Lemon Glaze:
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup fresh ricotta (such as Narragansett Creamery's or other artisanal fresh ricotta)
2 large eggs
the zest and juice of one lemon
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 pint blueberries, washed, picked over to remove those moldy or mushy berries, and any stems removed
For the glaze:
2/3 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
the zest and juice of one lemon
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch springform pan with unsalted butter and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, mix the butter and sugar until well-blended. Add the ricotta and mix well to combine. Add the eggs, one at a time, until each is just incorporated into the mixture. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla extract, and mix until combined.
In a small mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt and stir to be certain all is evenly distributed. Add the flour mixture to the sugar-butter-egg mixture. Mix until it is completely incorporated and you have a smooth batter. Gently stir in the blueberries, you don't want to make blueberry mush, here, you know.
Transfer the batter to the springform pan, and bake in the oven until the cake is golden brown on top, 55 minutes to 1 hour. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before glazing.
While the cake cools, combine the sifted confectioners' sugar with the lemon zest and lemon juice, stirring until you have a thick, lemony liquid. Spoon the glaze over the top of the cake, covering the entire top surface. Cut yourself a slice, decide that all baked goods - or at the very least, all coffee cakes - need ricotta and lemon, and then serve a slice or two forth to your loved ones. Attempt to keep as much cake as possible for yourself while also trying not to appear Scrooge-like, then give up, and start planning for a second Blueberry-Lemon Coffee Cake. It's the only way.
Estimated cost for the whole cake: $7.77, which is 10 to 12 servings, so we're looking at 78-cents per slice on the high end, 65-cents per slice on the low end. So here's the deal: Sugar costs around 1-cent per tablespoon. We're using 16-cents' worth here. The butter costs 70-cents for the one stick. The ricotta cheese costs $5.99 for 1 pound, and our 3/4 cup costs around $2.25. The lemons cost $1.00 total. The vanilla costs around 6-cents. The flour costs 36-cents at 19 cups for $4.49. The baking powder costs less than 2-cents, but we'll call it two for the sake of rounding up. The blueberries should cost no more than $2.99, and the confectioners' sugar costs $1.29 for 15 (1/4 cup) servings, therefore 2/3 cup costs around 23-cents.
Dinner tonight: Please don't groan or cringe, because dinner tonight is that poor abused rooster. The meat chickens we bought are mutants - next time, we'll see if we can't find a heritage breed to raise instead of these that are bred to grow to enormous size, and quickly, at that. This runt of the group weighed almost six pounds gutted and feathered. There will be chicken salad, this is for certain. Estimated cost for two: $8.66. I am going to make a brown sugar barbecue sauce to go with Poor Rooster, and that will cost $2.32. I sense that I will eventually have 9 similarly named birds, resulting in an inadvertent similarity between me and George Foreman or the late Michael Jackson. He died, you know. The barbecue sauce is enough to feed four with ease, so we'll divide that cost in half as we'll be saving the remainder for a later use. I am also going to serve an acorn squash from our garden, the cavity of each half filled with fresh ricotta and topped with toasted walnuts. We'll figure $1.50 for the half cup of fresh ricotta I estimate I'll use, and 54-cents for the walnuts, plus 48-cents for olive oil used for roasting the squash. Our squash is small - no more than 2-pounds, so to purchase it would cost around $1.60. If you were buying a chicken, rather than killing one in the equipment bay of your barn, I would advise you to avoid 6-pound mutant-type chickens, and stick with a 3 to 4-pound roaster, which should cost you no more than $6.76. If you're only two people, you won't eat more than half of that, and that cost is $3.38. You will use the remaining $3.38-worth to make chicken salad for tomorrow's lunches, right? Yes. But of course, for we do not waste food, no we do not.
Friday, August 7, 2009
Ahhh, if only we in the northeast were not denied our beach time this year. It's been a rainy and dismal summer here in New England, the break finally coming at the tail end of July, at which time, JR and I - along with JR's entire family - traveled to my brother-in-law's house in Vermont for a surprise-birthday-party-slash-family-reunion. My brother-in-law, whose birthday it was, hosting - unbeknownst to him - until we all emerged from the dark, screaming "surprise!", when he stepped out of his car on that Friday night. At least when it's family, it's generally not considered breaking and entering, which is nice.
JR's niece and her husband supplied the clams for the all-day food fest on that Saturday. The fire pit blazed, sullying her white enamel pot - overflowing with clams, all 15 pounds of them - with soot so thick we were sure it would never come clean. Do not underestimate the ability of enameled pots to come clean or the determination of their owners to scrub them spotless. The clams, the likes of which have not graced my plate in over a year, were plump and sweet - the whole family stood, dripping butter from their fingers - we're a classy lot, we are - and groaning loudly as we polished off all but a handful of clams. Then we all moved slowly - possibly even gingerly so as to not awaken the angry-stomach gods - to our chairs around the fire pit and then groaned when a slew of side dishes appeared on the card table stationed a few feet from the fire.
It is easy to be gluttonous at a family party, particularly when someone aside from this financially embarrassed gal is paying, but the clams left me wanting more seafood, which, you may have noticed, does not make many appearances on this here blog. In fact, the last seafood JR and I had was Maine shrimp, and that was in January - seven long months between the shrimp and the clams.
I do love seafood - if it wasn't clear enough from the face-filling tale of the clams - however, to purchase seafood that is sustainable, you're going to spend a little bit more. And it's important to me that sea creatures abound long after I am gone, so I try to purchase only that which I know is sustainable. Lucky for us, then, that catfish was on sale last week at Whole Foods, and that two filets only weigh in at 12 ounces or so, which means that I was able to score seafood for dinner for a mere $5.34. It was actually hot as well - a surprise, given the way the weather has been to this point - so I made a quick salsa to go with it, and that was that. I'm still dreaming little dreams of clams, and when I see them on sale, clams I shall buy, but the catfish satisfied the non-shellfish craving, for we all know that summer is for seafood. And sun.
4 (5 to 6 ounce) U.S. farmed catfish filets
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
freshly ground black pepper
1 mango, peeled, pitted, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 medium Vidalia or sweet onion, approximately 1/2 pound, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
1 (15 ounce) can black beans or kidney beans, drained and rinsed
the finely grated peel and juice of one lime
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil for frying
Rinse and pat the catfish filets dry. Combine the flour and chili powder on a dinner plate or large shallow dish, such as a pie dish, and season with salt and pepper. Coat the filets with the flour mixture and transfer to a 9 by 13-inch rimmed baking sheet until you're ready to fry the bad boys up. If it's going to be a minute or two, place them into the refrigerator until the oil is hot.
Combine the mango, onion, garlic, jalapeno, black beans, lime peel, and lime juice in a large bowl. Add the cilantro, stir to combine, and let sit until serving time. Unless that serving time is tomorrow, in which case, you should cover and refrigerate the salsa immediately.
Heat the oil in a large non-stick sauté pan or well-seasoned cast iron pan. Working in batches, fry the fish until golden brown on each side, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain excess oil. Once all four filets are cooked, serve each one forth with one-quarter of the mango salsa.
Estimated cost for four: $17.20. This dish is a bit of a splurge, but, hey, summer is short, and you deserve a treat every once in a while. The catfish was on sale for $6.99/pound, and you'll use approximately 1 1/2 pounds, so that costs $10.50. The regular price is $8.99, so if you bought them while they were not on sale, they would run you $13.50. The flour costs 6-cents, the chili powder around 10-cents. The mango costs $1.99, the onion approximately 50-cents, the garlic 10-cents, the jalapeno is around 50-cents. The beans cost 99-cents, while the lime cost us 50-cents, and the cilantro would be approximately 1/2 of a supermarket bunch costing $1.99, so that adds another dollar. The olive oil for frying costs 96-cents.
Dinner tonight: Honey Mustard-Cider Marinated Pork Spare Ribs, More Coleslaw, and Potatoes from the Garden. Estimated cost for two: $6.15. The pork ribs cost $3.99 per pound. We'll use close to a pound, as JR can eat the leftovers for work lunch on Monday. The marinade costs $1.56, and the brown sugar costs 16-cents, so that's $5.71, but we'll cut the price in half because we have those lunch leftovers we discussed, so that's $2.86. The coleslaw costs $1.79, with the second half of the 75-cent head of cabbage from the neighbor's front yard being used, and half of the two-dollar-and-eighty-two-cent dressing I made two days ago. I really want to call the potatoes free, and, as this is my blog, I think that's what I'll do. I found the potato seed starts - this is what I am going to call them, not "the long-forgotten farm stand potatoes that had developed eyes and long, shooting sprouts over the winter", which is what some others might have called them - and planted them this spring. The rainy weather hasn't done the crop all that many favors, and some of the potatoes are bit waterlogged and rotten, but others are just gorgeous. Of course, we don't discriminate, for we are eating on a budget over here, we are. We simply cut the nasty bits off of the water-weary potatoes and use the remainder, and we are so in love with our potato crop that we have dedicated ourselves to planting more potatoes next year. Only they will live outside the garden as potatoes suck the life out of the soil and cannot be planted in the same location for 3 to 4 years after they are harvested. Oh, but so much fun to dig up potatoes for dinner. And we don't even have children - children would love it, I'm sure. In any case, I highly recommend a potato patch - it's like digging for fresh, starchy treasure each night. After writing all of that, I feel a bit guilty about calling them free, and I suppose it's only fair for me to add in the price of purchased potatoes, so we'll add in one pound, plus some olive oil for coating before roasting those potatoes, so that's going to cost us around $1.50. When you dig the potatoes up out of your yard yourself, the total cost of this meal drops to $5.15.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
During the summer following my kindergarten year, I walked the half-block from my house to the public library as frequently as my little 5-year old legs could manage, carrying piles of books to and fro. The library's children's room put on a reading challenge every summer - fill in the body of the centipede with the titles of the books you had read, and get a sparkly star for each completed centipede. I remember something about an ice cream cone gift certificate as well, and while that would have been quite the draw unto itself, I read for the sheer joy of it. Well, okay, also for the sparkly stars and the accolades from the librarian. And, perhaps, also for the ice cream cone gift certificate.
Since the time of sparkly stars, centipedes, and ice cream prizes, I have been enamored of books, and had always hoped to one day write one of my own. During my early 20s, I had a working title - and not much else, save for the horrifying oral history of my nascent television career - "The Malcontents". There was a subtitle as well, something along the lines of "Or The Life and Times of Disgruntled Young Professionals" or something similar. I think it was more clever than that, actually. At least, I'd like to hope so, seeing as that's all I had come up with. In any case, I'm sure you can guess the premise of said book.
Years passed by, and I busied myself with work - still a malcontent, but too busy to pull myself out of it long enough to write - and, lo, no book materialized on its own.
And then - quite suddenly, really - I found myself with so much less television work - um, like none - in October of 2008, that it seemed like it was finally time to start this blog. I had once, almost precisely two years earlier, when television work had also slowed down for me, thought that it would be a good idea to do a budget cooking blog, based around the tenets of cucina povera - the poor kitchen. Though the friends that I posed this idea to had all eaten at my house, and had all also purportedly enjoyed the food I made, the consensus was pretty much that no one was going to bother worrying about a food budget. Pshaw, silly television producer. And before I knew it, I was back to work, busier than ever, and this time, no blog magically appeared on its own. Until, of course, everyone else started having to worry about their food budget, too.
In November of 2008, I emailed my friends at Grub Street in Boston where I had taken a food writing class a few years earlier and let them know that I had started a food blog. This was something that the food writing instructor there had recommended to our class as something - a commitment - to get us writing more regularly. At the time, I could barely fathom writing down any of the recipes I made, so pressed was I for time. After receiving the email about my whoops-I-have-no-job-and-therefore-all-the-time-in-the-world-to-write-and-cook blog, Grub Street was kind enough to mention it in their newsletter. On the day after the newsletter had been sent, I received an email from a literary agent asking if we could discuss the potential for a book based on my blog.
It would be an understatement to say that I was excited. I called JR, but couldn't reach him. I called my youngest brother, but couldn't reach him. I called Ian, technically my nephew-in-law, for we had also discussed the possibility of a book based on the blog at the onset. I was nearly hyperventilating.
We discussed whether I did, in fact, need a paper bag, or if I could possibly just go for a walk and settle down before calling the agent. As it turns out, the walk worked out well - I didn't break into a sprint on the return portion - and I maintained my composure on the phone with the agent. I think, anyway.
Eventually, the agent became my agent. But only after I put together a book proposal between Thanksgiving and New Year's. Not having much of a clue about book proposals, I did the best I was able, soliciting advice from two author friends - now, that, I have to say, is a huge bit of luck, to have two author friends - and then submitted it to my not-yet-agent. She reviewed it with her editorial board, they decided to take it on, and then she submitted it to multiple publishers. We held conference calls with editors who were interested, and, finally, the book was bid upon by those editors.
During the pitch process, we had determined that four months would be a reasonable amount of time for me to write the book. In the end, it was just a smidge over four months, as I delivered the manuscript this past Monday. By the time I wrap up the photography, it will be exactly five months from the time the deal was made through final delivery, which is August 20. The book is due out next spring - May 2010. I'll be sure to keep you posted.
So, for the past four-ish months, I have been concocting budget recipes - 82, in fact. I start by thinking about flavors that I like, or an ingredient that I'd like to use, and then I build the dish around that flavor or ingredient. I'm not sure how other people do it, but this is my process, and while it may be boring to some, I'm guessing that there are one or two of you who might be interested. I then test the recipe, writing it down in my spiral notebook - that's it up above in that there picture - and if it works, I test it again. If it doesn't work, but shows promise, I tweak it, make it again, and then, if it is improved by the changes, test it again. As you might imagine, it's been a very busy spring and summer at my house, and I am thrilled to have finally written a book. Though perhaps not as dark and brooding a book as "The Malcontents", as food is quite a happy thing - especially when you can make high-quality food for not so much money.
Now that I'm back - to blogging, that is - I'll be sharing recipes for the late-summer bounty. JR and I are going as hyperlocavore as possible. As in, we're eating that which grows in our yard - which is about as local as it can get - as often as we are able. We have a decent-sized garden, and if I've managed to stave off the late blight on my tomatoes, there will be many a tomato dish to share. Last week, in the middle of the push to finish the manuscript, I stopped down to harvest over 130 green tomatoes, then stemmed them, and washed them all by hand to get rid of the late blight spores. Now they are ripening - I sure as heck hope so, anyway - in brown paper bags in my living room. It's quite the pretty picture - JR and me resting on the couch, scores of brown paper bags on top of our wood stove. We have also raised eleven meat chickens, which we will begin slaughtering this week - I'm right there with you, yikes - though I do intend to kill one myself. You can expect that I will then write about it, but, if chicken-gore doesn't pique your interest, I will also be making meals with garden-fresh food as well as preserving fruits and vegetables. I'm looking forward to it - maybe not the chicken-killing as much as the preserves and the garden-fresh food - and hope you are, too.
Dinner tonight: I've been craving a burger. And it's almost 90 degress out, so burgers it will be. Estimated cost for two: $8.56. I bought ground Black Angus for $5.45 - that's about 1 and 1/4 pounds. We will only use 1/2 pound of that, which is approximately $2.25. I'll freeze the rest for future burger cravings. I bought day-old Bolos Levedos - oh, how I love those sweet rolls - and being day-old rolls, they were discounted, so they cost $1.64 for 6. That's about 55-cents for 2 rolls. We are having bacon on these burgers, as well as avocado. The bacon cost $6.99/pound, two slices is approximately 2 ounces, so that's around 87-cents. The avocado cost $2.00. It would be a joke to say that there will be any avocado left after we snack on it while the burgers cook - with lime juice and kosher salt, of course. I guess I should add in the lime juice, then, and that's 50-cents. We will also have some cheese on these burgers, and that was on sale for $2.00 for 8 ounces, so we'll figure on an ounce of cheese each, so that's 50-cents. I am also making a coleslaw, and was fortunate enough to find a head of cabbage at my neighbor's farm stand for 75-cents. The dressing will cost $2.82. So, then, the coleslaw costs $3.57. We won't be able to eat even half of that, but we'll call it $1.79 just the same.