Friday, May 29, 2009

Mado Review in New York Times

If you've been thinking about trying out Mado, better go soon. It's being positively reviewed in the New York Times Travel Section this Sunday. (The review is already online, though - you can find it here.)

It couldn't happen to a better restaurant, in my opinion. I've only eaten there once, but it was one of the more enjoyable meals I've had in a long time. I especially liked looking down the list of their suppliers and realizing that a lot of them were the same vendors from whom I was buying my produce at the Green Market.

Hat tip: The Local Beet

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Baking Class: Brown Sugar Chewies

I saw Paula Deen make these on her Home Cooking show a while ago, and they looked simple and quick and I love brown sugar sweets, so I decided to whip up a batch the other night. They looked like blondies, for which I have neither made nor searched out a recipe. I'm not sure why.

And they were quick, and easy to make. And they tasted . . . a little disappointing. They weren't overly sweet, but they were rich - and I can't believe I'm saying this - a little too rich for my taste. I think I'd be better off just tracking down a good blondie recipe and giving that a try.

For some reason I also decided that these didn't need the pecans. I can't explain it, because I actually had them on hand. I'm glad I didn't add them, because it would have made them even more rich.

I suppose the best thing about these is that they have finally inspired me to hunt down and make a batch of blondies.

If you want to try these, you can find the recipe here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ad of the Week: Jif Peanut Butter

This one has been bugging me for years. "Choosy moms choose Jif," says the commercial. I wasn't completely sure what that means, and I didn't want to presume, so I went to their site to find out why they are making that claim. Guess what? I couldn't find anything. So moms who care about their children and families would only want the . . . what . . . the best? . . . the cheapest? . . . the most convenient? . . . the prettiest jar? . . . the shortest name?

Here's the product information for their creamy peanut butter: "Hot roasted peanuts sealed warm for creamy, smooth, fresh-roasted flavor". But guess what? There's more in that jar than just hot roasted peanuts. Let's take a look at the ingredients:
In addition to the peanuts, there's sugar, molasses, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, fully hydrogenated vegetable oils, those pesky mono- and diglycerides, and salt.

There are no trans fats in fully hydrogenated vegetable oils, according to the Harvard School of Public Health, but there are trans fats in this product that choosy moms are supposed to choose. Here is how Jif has chosen to respond to the trans fat issue (from their website):
Should peanut butter be avoided because it is high in trans fats?

No. Based on the newly proposed FDA regulations about trans fat labeling, peanut butter would declare ZERO (0) trans fat. Independent analyses of peanut butters by The Peanut Institute have shown extremely low levels of trans fat. Some peanut butter contains a very small amount of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil to help prevent oil separation, which is preferable to most consumers.
I love how they have sidestepped the trans fat issue. Thanks to the FDA regulation, the label will be able say Zero (0) trans fat, even though there are trans fats in there. And they only have those trans fats in there because it's what their consumers prefer.

I paid a visit to the Peanut Institute's website and after a little searching found information on the independent study mentioned above, where it mentions a USDA study that says the trans fat levels are undetectable in commercial peanut butter. It also says that "To be called peanut butter, both commercial and 'natural' types must contain a minimum of 90% peanuts." Can you say chocolate?

I found a solution to the oil separation, thanks to my brother. If you store the jar upside down, the oils end up more towards the bottom of the jar when you open it, so there isn't that big pool of oil on top that makes for all that messy stirring. It only takes a minute or two to stir the oil back into the peanut butter when it's spread more throughout the jar, so it's not that much of a problem. Once the oil is stirred into the peanut butter, I store it in the refrigerator so it doesn't separate again.

Call me wacky, but I prefer for my peanut butter to be 100% peanuts. The brand I use doesn't even have salt. And the funny thing is (although maybe not so funny) that when I made the switch to natural peanut butter several years ago, it tasted the way I remember peanut butter tasting when I was a kid, thick and sticky and fresh-roasted.

Jif does have a new, natural product for those health-conscious choosy moms. Here's what it contains:
Most of the other "natural" peanut butters I've seen only have peanuts, and maybe salt.

So here's what I want to know: How choosy can a mom be if she's choosing Jif?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Cooking on a Budget: Turkish White Bean Stew

This is another dish I wrote about back when this was a knitting blog. It didn't seem like much when I first tasted it, but by the next day the flavors had integrated and it was full of flavor. I made it once or twice more, then forgot about it.

It was one of the first recipes I thought of when I thought about cooking more economically. It uses a surprisingly small amount of ingredients and practically cooks itself. And the lemon and cayenne play beautifully against each other, highlighting the carrots, celery, and onion. The ingredients really shine in this dish.

Oh yes, and the beans are quite good, too.

The original recipe called for 10 cups of water, which made this seem more like a soup than a stew for me. Only adding 8 cups gives it more the texture of the stew that it calls itself. It also calls for 1/2 cup of chopped parsley to be added at the end. Since I forgot to add it the first time, I like it just fine without, but if you want a little extra color/flavor at the end, you can add it back in.

Total Cost: $6.36
Cost per Serving: $0.80

Home Cookin Chapter: Soups and Stews


Makes 8 Servings

1 lb. dried white navy beans, soaked overnight
8 cups water
1/4 cup olive oil
3 medium onions, chopped
4 ribs celery, chopped
2 large carrots, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup tomato paste (or 1 6-oz. can)
1/4 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp cayenne
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup parsley (optional)

In Dutch oven, combine beans with water. Bring to a boil, lower, simmer, cover, and cook one hour.

In saute pan, heat olive oil and saute onions, celery, and carrots until they begin to color. Add to beans, along with garlic, tomato paste, lemon juice, sugar, and cayenne. Season to taste with salt.

Continue simmering for another hour, covered, until very tender.

Just before serving, stir in the chopped parsley. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Adapted from The Bean Book, by Roy F. Guste, Jr. (W. W. Norton, 2001).

Exported from Home Cookin 5.7 (

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Baking Class: Pistachio Cherry Chip Cookies

Last summer Mary brought me some cherry-flavored chips she picked up in Michigan. I held onto them because I wanted to make something I could share with her and both of our schedules have been kind of crazy. Now that I'm baking more, I wanted to make these sooner rather than later.

While chocolate and cherry seem like a natural pairing, Mary can't eat chocolate so I had to find a different flavor that would combine well with the cherry. I decided pistachios would do the trick. Pistachios are often paired with fruit in middle eastern cuisine so it seemed like a no-brainer.

Cookies seemed the way to go. This is a simple variation on a familiar chocolate chip recipe. I changed some of the amounts so it would make a smaller batch. Sometimes what stops me from making cookies is how many I have to cook at a time. Unless I'm making them for a group or an event, a few dozen is just the right amount.

I think if I made them again I might use lemon extract instead of vanilla. It might brighten up the cherry flavor just that little bit extra. Either way, these were delicious, and everybody loved them.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes


Makes 3 dozen cookies

1-1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup firmly-packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp water
1 egg
3/4 cup cherry-flavored chips
1/3 cup chopped pistachios

Heat oven 375 deg.

Combine flour, soda and salt; set aside.

Cream butter and sugars; add vanilla and water and mix well. Add egg and mix together.

Add cherry chips and pistchios and mix together.

Drop by heaping teaspoonsful onto cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake 10-12 minutes, until cookies are golden brown.

Let cool.


Exported from Home Cookin 5.7 (

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ad of the Week: Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bar

"What makes a Hershey's Bar pure?" asks their latest commercial. It certainly isn't the chocolate.

According to this most excellent post by Cybele at Candyblog, Hershey's has slowly been degrading the quality of the chocolate in their products over the past few years. Back in 2006, they started using the emulsifier and extender PGPR on several of their products, and last year they finally expanded the practice to include their trademark milk chocolate bar.

So if you've been wondering why your Kisses and your Mr. Goodbars and your Krackels just don't taste the same anymore, it's not you. They aren't the same. They aren't exactly chocolate anymore.

I couldn't find a list of ingredients on the Hershey's website (surprise, surprise), so I did a little guerilla work and smuggled a Hershey's Milk Chocolate bar into the pasta aisle at Treasure Island so I could snap a picture of the actual ingredients. The back side is a little fuzzy (and this is the best of the three I pictures took, believe me), but here they are:
In addition, as Cybele also reported, Hershey's joined with the Grocery Manufacturer's Association to petition the FDA to change the definition of chocolate so they could still call their new inferior product chocolate instead of having to call it "chocolate flavored" or "chocolatey". According to this article from CSRwire:
A part of the proposed changes in the Citizens Petition presented by the Grocery Manufacturers Association to the FDA is a change in the strict Federal "Standards of Identity" for chocolate products which would permit the use of cheaper vegetable fats instead of the traditional cocoa butter and lower-cost milk substitutes instead of genuine milk products. This change would permit the resulting products to still be called "chocolate."
Luckily, they were not successful, so a product still has to have some cocoa butter in order to be called chocolate. It doesn't, however, have to be 100% cocoa butter, apparently, as evidenced by the current Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bar.

So, what does make a Hershey's Bar Pure? Why, "pure gooey goodness", of course. You don't still think the answer is "chocolate," do you?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Cooking on a Budget: Fettucine and Baby Bok Choy with Peanut Sauce

I wasn't sure how this dish would fit into my new "Cooking on a Budget" category, but I have been wanting to make peanut sauce for the longest time and I had most of the ingredients on hand already so I thought what the heck? If it turns out to not be so economical, I just won't put it into that category. Even the most financially challenged need to splurge every now and then.

But while it wasn't the least expensive thing to make, it turns out that it's actually cheap enough to justify having every once in a while, if not every day. The baby bok choy looked super fresh and tasty at the grocery store and a bunch of scallions seemed like it would round out the green factor. I also bought a bunch of cilantro to throw in at the end, but forgot all about it, which happens often. I need to remember to pull it out and chop it when I'm prepping all of the other ingredients instead of leaving it for later - more often than not I forget and it never finds its way into the dish.

I also meant to put peas into this, but forgot to take them out of the freezer. I don't think my mind was completely on what I was doing when I was putting this together. The good thing is that, while it would have been that much better if I had remembered to put everything into it, it was pretty damned good without.

The picture doesn't really do it justice. The sauce is pretty much the same color as the pasta so it doesn't look like there's much on the plate, but there's definintely enough sauce to coat all of the pasta quite nicely, and give it a rich texture and a creamy, satisfying mouth-feel. If I'd thought about it in time, I would have chopped up some peanuts to garnish as well. I'll do that next time.

The recipe only uses about a fourth of a cup of coconut milk. In the past I would find other uses for the remainder right away, but in these more budget-conscious days, I divided up the rest and froze it for the future.

Total Cost: $9.02 Cost per Serving: $2.26
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes


1 pound whole wheat fettuccine

1/4 cup peanut butter
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons Thai fish sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup water
1/4 to 1/2 tsp red chili flakes (to taste)
1 clove crushed garlic

2 Tbsp canola oil
4-5 baby bok choy, trimmed and chopped
1 bunch green onions, some of the green tips chopped fine for garnish, the rest sliced into 1-1/2-inch pieces (greens and whites)
1/2 cup frozen peas (they don't have to be defrosted, but they can be)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Optional for garnish:
chopped peanuts
finely chopped fresh cilantro
lime wedges

Place large pot of water over high heat and bring to a boil.

While the water is heating, mix together the peanut butter, soy sauce, fish sauce, brown sugar, lime juice, coconut milk, water, red chili flakes, and garlic. Set aside.

When the water is boiling, salt liberally and add fettuccine, cooking until two minutes less than package directions.

While the fettuccine is cooking, heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add bok choy and saute for 1 minutes. Add scallions and cook for an additional minute. Add peanut sauce and cook for about five minutes, until it thickens. Reduce heat as low as it will go until the pasta is ready. Just before adding the pasta, add the peas and stir into the sauce.

Drain pasta, reserving some of the liquid, and add to the sauce. Mix well. Add more pasta liquid if needed to achieve smooth, creamy consistency.

Serve topped with more cilantro and chopped peanuts, with additional lime wedges.


Exported from Home Cookin 5.7 (

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Baking Class: Brownies

I don't know why, but I hardly ever think about making regular brownies. I make graham cracker brownies on a regular basis, especially around the holidays. They're easy to make and they always get rave reviews. Regular brownies seem kind of ho-hum in comparison, and more of an effort to make.

But I've had some unsweetened baking chocolate around for what seems like forever, and decided it was time to start using it up. I wasn't sure how I wanted to use it, so I looked for some recipes.

And kept coming back to brownies. I have a recipe that's been in the family for years. I think the reason it always seemed like such a hassle to make them was that you had to melt the chocolate over a double boiler, and that always seemed like it was more trouble than it was worth.

But melting chocolate is a cinch in the microwave. I just zap it for 10 second intervals, stirring in between, and take it out when most of the chocolate has melted and let the residual heat take care of the rest. And just like that, it's done.

I'm always surprised at how good these brownies are. They're not loaded with three different kinds of chocolate, and they're not frosted. They don't look like much when they come out of the oven.

But they're everything a brownie should be. Moist and chewy, and full of rich chocolate-y goodness. Now that I've rediscovered them, I expect to be making them more often.

And they aren't terribly expensive to make, even with the higher quality flour and butter that I am still able to use. The chocolate was Nestle's because it's what I had on hand.

Total Cost: $5.52 Cost per Serving: $.035
Home Cookin Chapter: Cookies


1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2/3 cup oil
2 1-oz. squares unsweetened baking chocolate
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup nuts, coarsely chopped
Powdered sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Melt chocolate in the microwave by placing in a small bowl and cooking it on high for 10-second intervals, stirring after each interval. Remove when most of the chocolate has melted and let the residual heat melt the rest. Or, melt the chocolate over a double boiler on the stove.

Sift flour, baking powder, salt into a bowl. Beat the sugar into the eggs. Add the oil, chocolate, and vanilla and mix well. Add the flour mixture and stir until just blended. Add nuts. Turn into buttered 7 x 11-inch pan.

Bake for 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the pan comes out clean.

Cool for 5 minutes, then turn out of the pan. Cut into 2-inch squares. Dust with powdered sugar (optional).

Exported from Home Cookin 5.7 (

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ad of the Week: Ore-Ida Steam n'Mash Potatoes

Ah, the joys of being home more often. More TV-watching time. More commercials. Like the one I just saw for Ore-Ida Steam n'Mash Cut Russet Potatoes. (What's with the one apostrophe? Doesn't the a merit a placeholder?)

Apparently, this convenient little bag of spuds saves you cooking time and effort so you can have mashed potatoes any time. All you do is add your own flavor enhancers and it's just like home made.

Or is it?
Ingredients: Potatoes, Salt, Disodium Dihydrgen Pyrophosphate (I'm pretty sure that's supposed to be Dihydrogen).
I know it's just a little thing, but I'm pretty sure I've never added disodium dihydr(o)gen pyrophosphate to my mashed potatoes.

I do not doubt that this product does cut prep time by quite a bit, and I am sure there are many people who don't have the time or inclination to boil up their own potatoes before they mash them. And I would never criticize anyone who chose to use this product; I'm all for shortcuts in the kitchen.

So what's my issue with this product?
"For real home made, real fast," is what the commercial says. And it's a lie.

This method doesn't take that much longer, and doesn't dirty more than one pan (and the serving bowl, if you use one). And they taste really great under braised oxtails.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

Makes 4 servings.

3-4 red potatoes, cut into 1-1/2 inch pieces
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup milk
1 oz crumbled bleu cheese
salt and pepper to taste

In 3-quart saucepan, combine potatoes with salted cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover loosely and cook until potatoes are knife-tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Drain potatoes and place pan back over low heat. Add butter, milk, and cheese. Use a potato masher to combine all of the ingredients, adding more milk or butter to achieve desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

If you don't want the potato skins, use a food mill to puree the potatoes. I like to leave them in so you can tell that it's a red potato mash.


Exported from Home Cookin 5.7 (

Monday, May 11, 2009

Oxtails Braised in Red Wine

Back in the heart of winter I bought some beautiful fresh oxtails from the Apple Market. I put them in the freezer because I wasn't completely sure what I wanted to do with them. After I braised them, of course. Soup or stew? Plain or fancy? Now that it's finally getting warmer, I decided I had better do something with them sooner rather than later.

Given my father's predilection for the odd, cheaper cuts of meat and his experimental nature, I'm surprised oxtails never made it to our table. I was not at all familiar with them. But everyone who's had them seems to love them and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

And I'm glad I did. It's a little work to get the meat off the bones, but it's worth it. There's a lot of fat and gristle that you have to work through, but what's left behind is full of flavor. It was especially tasty with new potatoes mashed with bleu cheese.

In the end, I decided against either soup or stew. I strained the vegetables out of the braising liquid and reduced it, thickening it with a beurre manie. It made for a most elegant presentation, n'est-ce pas?

Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes
3 lbs. oxtails
1 Tbsp flour
2 Tbsp canola or vegetable oil
1 Tbsp butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chicken stock
2 cups red wine
1 cup water, or more as needed
2 bay leaves
1 tsp thyme
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 325 deg F.

In a large pot, soak oxtails for at least one hour in cold water. Drain and pat dry. Season both sides with salt and pepper.

Heat the oil over high heat in a dutch oven (or any pot that can move from stovetop to oven). When it is hot, add oxtails and sear on all sides. Sear the oxtails in batches if necessary; do not crowd the pan. Put them on a plate and set aside.

Add onion, celery and carrots to the pan (add more oil if necessary) and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes. Add garlic and salt and pepper to taste and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are well browned - 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the oxtails, nestling them into the vegetables. Pour in the chicken stock, the wine, and the water to cover the oxtails about 2/3 of the way. Use less water, or add more, as necessary. Add bay leaves and thyme, and more salt and pepper if desired. Cover and place in the oven.

Cook for 2 to 3 hours, until the meat is falling-off-the-bone tender. Turn off the oven. Remove the oxtails from them the pot, and put them in a dish that has a lid. Strain the liquid from the braising vegetables and pour it over the meat. Cover and put in the refrigerator overnight.

When ready to serve, remove the dish from the refrigerator and remove the fat that has settled on top. (There will be a lot.) Place the liquid in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Reheat the oxtails in a 350-degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until hot.

Combine the flour and butter into a paste, then add it gradually to the liquid in the saucepan, pea-sized bits at a time, stirring until it's thoroughly blended before adding more. Continue to cook until the sauce coats the back of a spoon when you lift it from the pot, or to your desired consistency.

To serve, place oxtails on a mound of mashed red potatoes. Pour the gravy over the oxtails. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley.

Adapted from Elise Bauer's website at

Exported from Home Cookin 5.7 (

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Baking Class: Chess Pie

Now that I have more time on my hands, my thoughts have turned to baking. It's not something that comes easily to me. I was talking to my sister over the weekend and we both agreed that to us, baking seems like more work than cooking. It's more of a hassle, you have to be more exact with measurements and ratios, you dirty up more equipment, and it's harder to keep the kitchen clean.

That being said, there's nothing like the warm, toasty smell of something sweet baking in the oven. And now that I'm watching what I spend, I'm less inclined to indulge in any impulse chocolate or ice cream splurges.

So I was just sitting there minding my own business the other night, watching TV, getting caught up on all the old episodes of NCIS now that I've gotten hooked on that show (to which again, I say "damn those marathons!"). From out of nowhere it came, the desire for something sweet. But I had nothing sweet in the house. I did not feel like doing any heavy baking (see above), so I racked my brain for something quick and easy. And I thought of Chess Pie.

Chess Pie is an old southern tradition, apparently. I did not know that, even though I grew up with it. It was available pretty much every day at every school cafeteria in which I spent my lunch hours, elementary through high school, and it was a favorite. Every once in a while they would go all out and offer lemon chess pie, which was good, but I actually preferred the original plain vanilla version.

There is some question about where the name comes from. One theory is that it comes from the British "cheese" pies, so-called because of their custardy (cheesey) textures even though they contained no cheese. Another story (and the one I personally like although it doesn't seem likely) is that a dinner guest, inquiring of the cook what kind of pie it was, received the answer "It's jes' pie."

I don't know where I got my recipe. I think it was from a cookbook but I can't remember which one, and this recipe doesn't match any of the ones I found online. I started making it because it looked so easy, and I already had most of the ingredients around. Except for the pie crust, of course, but in those days I thought nothing of buying pre-made crusts.

But I did not have any ready-made piecrust available. And these days, of course, my standards are higher and my budget is lower, but I decided not to let that deter me from satisfying my sweet tooth. I decided it was time I tackled the art of the home-made piecrust.

I did a little searching for a recipe that did not use shortening, and I was lucky enough to find Elise's recipe for All-Butter Crust for Sweet and Savory Pies (Pate Brisee). I love Elise's site. It is full of wonderful recipes and beautiful pictures. Her piecrust recipe was straightforward, and in very little time I had my piecrust ready.

It only takes about five minutes to mix up the custard, and half an hour to bake it. The hardest part is waiting for the pie to cool. Once it does, it's pure sweet heaven.

After doing the breakdown, it's easy to see why it was such a staple in the school cafeteria. It's really cheap!

Total Cost: $4.21
Cost Per Serving: $ 0.53
Home Cookin Chapter: Cakes and Pies


1 stick butter
1-1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp flour
1-1/2 tsp vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
3 eggs
Prepared pastry shell

Melt butter, add other ingredients and mix well. Pour into pastry shell and bake at 350 deg. for 35 mins.

Exported from Home Cookin 5.7 (

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Healthy Life Bread: All Natural?

I just watched a commercial for Healthy Life Bread that told me that not all whole wheat breads are the same and their product is all natural so I should buy their bread if I want to be healthy.

These days, skeptic that I am, when I see or hear the word "natural" in conjunction with advertising, all sorts of red flags pop up in my head.

Thanks to Eric Schlosser, I know that companies can legally use the word natural even if they use all kinds of chemicals in their products, so I always check the ingredients to see what they consider to be natural.
INGREDIENTS: Whole wheat flour (whole grain), water, soy fiber and/or oat fiber or wheat fiber, wheat gluten, high fructose corn syrup, yeast, molasses, salt, contains 2% or less of the following: dough conditioners (monoglycerides, ethoxylated mono and diglycerides, sodium stearoyl lactylate, ascorbic acid, azodicarbonamide, enzymes), yeast food (monocalcium phosphate, ammonium sulfate, calcium sulfate), calcium propionate and/or potassium sorbate (to prevent spoilage), vegetable gum, soy flour.
Contains: Wheat, Soybean.
Call me a cynic, but when I see the words "High Fructose Corn Syrup" I don't see healthy. There's more HFCS than yeast in this bread. And even though I suspect that it's not all that much, why use it at all in a product that you're claiming is healthy?

I'm not a food Nazi. I don't believe that HCFS should be banned. But I do believe that anyone who truly wants to offer healthy food products should not use it. And anyone who does use it should not be claiming that their product is all natural and healthy.

The evidence indicates that mono and diglycerides are created by a partial hydrogenation process, but they are not considered fats so they don't have to be included in the transfat content of the nutrition label. The concern is that manufacturers will use more of these to replace the transfats they would have to list if they used. Given a choice, I would opt to leave them out of my diet as well if I am trying to be healthy. And again, if I used them in my products I would not make the claim that my product was all natural and healthy.

I'm sure glad I figured out how easy it is to just make my own bread.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Cooking on a Budget: Greek Lentil Soup (Faki)

Well kids, I have now joined the ranks of the unemployed. I'm not out on the street yet, but I do have to be much more conscious about how much money I am spending on food, and I don't want to waste any of the food I buy.

The up side (if you can call it that) is that I have been inspired to start using all of those impulse purchases that have been coming home with me in the past few years. In life as well as in business, it seems the more money you have the less aware you tend to be of where it is going, and I had gotten into the unfortunate habit of seeing something interesting on the grocery store shelf, thinking "Oh, I'd like to make something someday with that," throwing it into my basket, and taking it home with me.

But those days are over, at least for now. I'm putting myself on a food budget. I'm determined to keep it healthy, tasty, and inexpensive, while staying as true to my non-processed, local and organic principles as possible. That will be most difficult with regular milk, eggs, and meat, since they are so much less expensive than the non-organic, non-free range, antibiotic-filled brands to which I have gotten used.

I do still plan to take full advantage of the green market. I just need to curb my impulse to buy so much more than I can possibly use in one week, and stick to the produce. It starts this week and I'm already dreaming about baby greens, asparagus, strawberries, fresh garlic, and sugar snap peas.

I first wrote about Greek Lentil Soup and posted the recipe back in November of 2005, when this was still a knitting blog and I had just started to write about food. I used the beluga lentils back then, but it works just as well with the regular brown lentils you get in the beans and rice aisle of your local grocery store, and they are less expensive.

This is a deceptively simple recipe that is super delicious. The lemon juice really brightens up the flavor and takes it over the top. It freezes well, which is a good thing because it makes a lot. I always freeze half of it immediately, so I'm really getting two dishes out of one.

And here's a tip that will help spread your dollars that little bit more. I started doing this before I became budget conscious. It's even better now that I'm trying to save wherever I can.
Use two-thirds to half of the amount of prepared liquid (chicken broth, vegetable broth, drained liquid from canned tomatoes, etc.) called for in a recipe. Make up the balance with water.
I started this practice years ago when I made pork chops with Spanish Rice (something I haven't written about yet because after years of making it perfectly back in Austin, I can't get it right up here, but I'm working on it) and used the liquid from the canned tomatoes for the rice. There wasn't as much as I needed so I got in the habit of combining it with water to get the proper amount. And I find most brands of prepared vegetable broth to be overpoweringly strong so it just made sense to me to thin it out a little so it wouldn't take over the dish. That translated pretty quickly to chicken broth as well. Even when it's homemade, which I try to have on hand more often than not, I've gotten in the habit of thawing out less than I need and making up the difference with the water.

A new habit of mine (which is quickly becoming an obsession, I must confess) is to tally up the cost of my budget-conscious dishes. I want to see if what I think of as economical really is as cheap as I think it will be. I will share those results with you.

Total cost: $15.86
Cost per Serving: $1.98

At $1.98 a serving, this is a truly inexpensive meal.
Home Cookin Chapter: Soups and Stews

Serves 6-8

1 lb. (2 cups) dried brown lentils
4 quarts vegetable broth
2 cups chopped onion
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup sliced celery
1 Tbsp. chopped garlic
1/2 cup tomato sauce (I use an 8-oz. can)
1/2 cup olive oil (I use 1/3 cup)
1 Tbsp. crumbled dried oregano
salt and pepper
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 1-2
lemons) or red wine vinegar

Place lentils in large soup pot with broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 1 hour, or until tender.

Add onions, carrots, celery, garlic, tomato sauce, olive oil, oregano and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 30 mins longer, or until soup is slightly thickened.

Just before serving, stir in the lemon juice or vinegar.

From Beans: More than 200 Delicious, Wholesome Recipes from around the World, by Aliza Green (Running Press, 2004)

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