Thursday, January 29, 2009

Repost of "It's the Corn"

I'm reposting this as it posted out of order due to my starting it as a draft last weekend and posting later. For those of you who have already read this my apologies for my formatting failures

Corn - From Wikipedia... Maize (IPA: /ˈmeɪz/) (Zea mays L. ssp. mays), known as corn in some countries, is a cereal grain domesticated in Mesoamerica and subsequently spread throughout the American continents. After European contact with the Americas in the late 15th and early 16th century, maize spread to the rest of the world.

Concerned about corn you ask? What has me concerned is that things are going really well with this whole $200 a month thing for us. Concerned about it going well you ask, well I'll have to back up a bit...
For those of you that don't know my background, I'm a type II diabetic, diagnosed about 5+ years ago. With meds, and a semblance of watching what I eat about 1/3 of the time (I watch what I while I sleep sometimes so for about 7 hours a day) I've been able to keep the blood sugars at a high but not yet deadly number. I have high cholesterol, hypertension and occasional attacks of gout that can be severe enough to keep me off my feet for days at a time. In other words I'm the picture of health what with being nearly 49 years old, overweight to the point of obesity, but I love food and everything about it and the beverages that wash it all down more than just about anything else in my life. I like to drink myself silly on occasion, I'm a former chef so I know how to make food taste good but I never really worry about the nutrition stuff and other assorted sundry issues but enough about all that crap...
... What's got me so worked up is that I've been on this for nearly a month now, haven't worried about portion control and have pretty much let the weekly grocery circulars dictate my diet since 1/01/09 concerning myself more with keeping within the budget than the health aspect. Although I said it has to be a variety of foods, fresh and somewhat healthy or this wouldn't work out it still had to be somewhere near the budget guidelines. Well, here's some good news. I made my last trip to the grocery for the month of January and have managed with little effort but just a bit of consciousness about what we have and about not purchasing any extraneous stuff while at the grocers, this first month I have beaten my goal by 15.53% for food and have kept my alcohol budget well under the $50 as well w/o a single raid on the wine cellar. That's right, I've spent less than $170 this whole month and done it with minimal effort. Now for the really good news, in the first 25 days I've dropped 3 lbs (remember I'm not dieting or even really watching what I eat so this is pretty good), I have money left at the end of the month and (a drum roll please), my blood sugar has not only stabilized but has dropped by over 50%; that's right from around 250 continually to about normal at 110 to 120. This is for the first time in over 5 years and just in case you hadn't heard me before, with minimal effort. OK, OK I'd like to take some credit for all of this but who I'm really going to give credit for this somewhat miraculous change, is ADM (Archer Daniels Midland), General Mills, Cargill, Con Agra and all the other corporate food giants that are poisoning us with processed food, fractionated beyond any resemblance to what our ancestors ate even 50 years ago into "nutrients" and empty calories. As my old and wise friend Bill the Cat used to say, "ACK!" (my apologies to Berkeley Breathed).
The reason I give the credit to these vast corporations all boils down to a few simple words my friend said when I told her my blood sugar had stabilized in such a short time, "it's the corn". It was like a huge light bulb had just gone on... what I have not been ingesting is corn products; products processed and fractionated from that giant grass we all love when we have it slathered with butter and copiously sprinkled with salt. If all we were eating was corn on the cob it would be a far different story but it's in over 25% of every food in our supermarkets, Nearly every food that's been taken from it's natural state and manipulated in some way has vast amounts of added corn "products". High fructose corn syrup was not even invented (food can be invented?) until less than 30 years ago and now it accounts for 66 lbs of the 158 lbs of added (very important) that every man, woman and child in America consumes each year and this is only a small part of the overall problem...
Yep, I'm concerned.

As I've progressed along our budget guidelines for the month, I've learned a few things and I'll continue on with some of this as we move forward:

  • I don't drive all over town and shop at 12 grocers just to get a bargain, that would eat up a substantial amount of the savings we are enjoying, have an adverse affect on the environment and be just downright silly and annoying. This is not to say I don't occasionally make a special foray somewhere out of the way for something none of the local grocers carry but I pretty much stick with my main 3 grocery stores, 2 of which just happen to be rated by the Seattle Times as the high end of the grocery scale when it comes to prices.
  • I read labels now for things other than just the caloric and nutritional breakdown and concentrate on two things - the number of ingredients and where the food actually comes from. The longer the list of ingredients the less likely the food is to be "whole" or in somewhat close to it's natural state and the location of origin is important to me as I just don't feel right eating blueberries that are transported using vast amounts of fossil fuels from 12000 miles a way just because I can. Plus I want to spend my money in this economy in these hard times. I can plow my savings back into things like local independent bookstores, places that are trying to make a difference through the products they sell and how they sell them and even the businesses that build products that although I don't use them all the time (airplanes come to mind) the building of them is still essential to our local and national economy. With a little luck, the people that I help keep in jobs will turn around and help keep me in one as well
  • I will continue to eat more local products and also concentrate on those ingredients that are fresh in season understanding that if I want things like cinnamon or coffee I'll have to buy those things from a great distance just because I won't get them in my own garden or in the next neighborhood.
  • My 10 year old still needs to like the food and enjoy this project, lifestyle, whatever we want to call it or it will fail.
  • Food treats are good, but they need to stay treats and not become habits. Pretty easy not to buy sugary, fatty crap all the time when the budget is tight but also easy to fit a treat in now and then as long as we make it and know what's in it.
  • I don't want to eat feedlot beef ever again.
  • Processed foods are poison, period. No more food broken into separate "nutrients" which pretty well leaves out anything that is in a cardboard box @ the supermarket.

I'm not here to get all huffy and puffy or tell anyone how or what they should or shouldn't eat. Look, I still don't like fresh tomatoes, especially those big beefsteaks that I grew up around and my family still can eat sitting in the garden (retch!) and that still seems to surprise nearly everyone I meet but they're just not for me alright? What's got me in such a state is The Omnivore's Dilemma, a tremendous book and working really well with my current project (hopefully turning into a lifestyle change that will stick this time) and it's not the book or the author but the book tells us just how bad food corporations have gotten and I just want to stop eating the processed crap as I'm feeling so much better in such a short time and saving money to boot. Whole foods I'm learning are more filling, more satisfying and as I lose some of my built up tolerance to salty and sugary flavors dare I say even more tasty than the sugary, salty, hydrogenated crap that I've been eating for so long. I won't go into the treatment of our livestock meant for our tables or the government subsidy programs meant to keep corn and all of the vast products made from it or any other political, moral or emotional issues around this and I'll get off my podium now but frankly I'm pretty disgusted and I don't want to proliferate these habits or have Henry eat stuff that's been processed beyond recognition as a food. If your grandmother wouldn't recognize it as food, it probably really isn't. I'll let you read it for yourself in the writing of Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman and others and I hope you will.
OK off the soapbox

Monday, January 26, 2009

I ate chicken feet

Happy year of the ox!

I stepped outside the guideline today as I thought I probably would and mentioned earlier in my posts. It was tremendous to go to dim sum on Chinese New Year and listen to a native speaker engage with the servers and get us all the good stuff. I never would have eaten chicken feet is another circumstance and now I can say I did it. OK, so you all wanna know how they were? Tasty with a weird texture and too many bones. they are cooked for what I assume is a long time to get the skin and little bit of meat tender and by that time the cartilage has broken down to the point that it is kinda gelatinous. Spicy with chili, ginger and soy. I'm glad I did it but I spent just as much time spitting out the tiny toe bones as I did chewing and it won't return to my menu anytime soon (unless of course I'm in the same situation as today)

Even with the bill today I'm still under my grocery budget if I choose to include it but more on that later.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Yogurt and chili, not necessarily in that order...

All's well her in the PNW and we're well within budget plus a few other good things.
This week I've made a chicken & white bean chili for the big meal o' the week and it has turned out deliciously if I say so myself. Another batch of yoogurt has come through very well and I believe it will be just too easy going forward. It's all been pretty easy so far, a bit of mindfulness about what we're eating, what we have in the current larder and what we need to fill in. Tonight I had a burger on whole wheat toast and I'm (almost) ready for another week of work and brilliant sunshiney weather - oh wait, we live in Seattle, we don't have sunshiney weather and in fact today even saw more snow flakes, briefly but even as close to the water as I am we have a few evil little flakes a floatin'.
This week I tried another lovely little Italian number from Fattoria di Bibbiani called Treggiaia, consisting of 90% sangiovese and 5% each of caniaolo and cabernet sauvignon. It's got lovely fruit, a bit of acid to keep things interesting and comes in at $10 on sale @ the local natural foods market. This is where I've been finding the best, most interesting of the bargain wines although this market tends to have high prices regularly, the specials are worth looking into... I would buy this one again but it is still not the best of the low pricers I've had so far but more about that in another post. This one went very well with the burger tonight and will yield another couple glasses during the week.

Chicken and White Bean Chili
1 lb dry navy beans
Soak overnight, boil in ~ 6cups water for ~40 mins and drain 1/2 the cooking water
1 Tbl peanut oil in a large stock pot
1 large onion (~12oz) and
8 cloves fresh garlic and add to the oil
Sweat over medium low heat unit nearly all moisture is gone
4oz can fire roasted green chili (Ortega, etc) diced (whole has better flavor so dice these yourself)
1.5 lb roasted chicken, pulled from the bone and broken or cut into .25 to .5 inch pieces
1 Qt chicken stock
.5 C La Victoria salsa verde
1 tsp El Yucateco green habanero salsa
1 Tbl Pico Pica hot sauce
1 Tbl cumin
.5 tsp kosher salt
.5 tsp black pepper

Stir and simmer all together over low heat for about 90 minutes and serve
The yogurt chronicles

OK, the yogurt has gotten pretty simple, today I made the same recipe as I have in the past couple weeks and strained it for 2 hours at room temperature through doubled muslin layerd in a colander. I caught the drained whey and will save the 3 cups I got for bread making as it is sweet and has a lot of the protein from the milk / yogurt. The yogurt is nice and thick, maybe even too thick so I'll see what it is like after 1 hour next time but it is so very good and doesn't need any sweetener and I like this Greek style yogurt anyway. Here are some photos of my yogurt rig and the finished product, notice how lovely it is on the spoon...

Milk in my yogurt "maker", I like these jars from IKEA for this as I had them around, they are inexpensive and fir in the microwave for heating the milk and in the heating pad for fermentation

Milk at the right temperature for fermentation

The rig without...

...and with...

And insulated for the 6 hour journey to thick and rich yummy goodness

Finally ending here >>>>>>>>>>>>

<<<<<<<<< where it counts


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Catch up time

Sunday morning and the livin's easy...foggy here in the Puget Sound and after a Saturday of getting stuff done and some good outside time (sunny & beautiful but colder than a well digger's hind end) with the dog I can catch up here with how it's going.

This past week has been very successful for our program; boeuf bourguignon was tremendous and actually worked out to a 2nd dish as well with the addition of some of my homemade yogurt - POOF! and it was pseudo stroganoff for topping leftover homemade noodles and even some leftover brown rice. The refrigerator brioche dough was a big hit - with me as tarte tatin and with both Henry and I as sandwich rolls so I made another full batch and turned it into cinnamon rolls for a going away party at work where it again drew more enthusiastic nods of approval. Here is a list of the kind of food we've been enjoying on a budget:

  • Boeuf bourguignon

  • Beef stroganoff

  • Chicken parmesan

  • Tarte tatin

  • Pizza w/ salami, roasted red peppers and olives

  • Steamed broccoli

  • Buttered carrots

  • Salads with assorted fresh veggies

  • Cinnamon rolls

As you can see we're not starving and as I wrote in an earlier post I've even dropped a couple lbs and continued to have good blood sugar readings. I'm getting to the gym regularly, sleeping well (almost too well, been hard to get to work this past week) and even after running out of flour and having to purchase more for my contribution to the going away party, I'm still under budget slightly. This next week is a week where Henry will be with me only two evenings so it may be a bit more budget friendly but last night we made homemade ice cream from the Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Cookbook so we're using heavy cream, whole milk and Rolos (Henry's choice) so the candy was a special purchase but still within budget so far.

Although I'm trying to stick to a menu plan as I've found that to be a successful strategy in the past, sometimes especially when shopping with a 10 year old it pays to be somewhat flexible. I need to remember if our food isn't making us happy as well as healthy (physically, mentally and financially) then the whole thing goes up in smoke. The plan was for a pork roast tonight that was on sale for $1.39lb but the grocery was sampling flat iron steaks last night and although the cost was well more at $5.99lb it was really great as usual and Henry asked if we could change our plans. He accepted my explanation that in order to stay on budget that would mean another meal or 3 of grilled cheese or vegetarian pasta and what not rather than having the more vast amount of leftovers and he was OK with that so it will be steak tonight for our "big" Sunday dinner.

Although I linked to the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes website, I feel I really need to share their brioche dough that while certainly being a special occasion bread for it's expense both monetary and calorically, it is so easy and soooo good for so many things so here it is with a couple slight modifications to method:

1.5 C lukewarm water
1.5 Tbl yeast
.5 C honey
1.5 C melted unsalted butter (3 sticks)
8 large eggs, lightly beaten
7.5 C unbleached all purpose flour
1.5 Tbl kosher salt

Stir together water, yeast, honey, butter and eggs
Add the flour and salt and mix completely
Cover and let sit at room temperature for about 2 hours
Cover and chill completely or overnight in the refrigerator

The dough is ready for use once it is completely chilled. I have found that rolling is difficult unless it is allowed to slightly warm from the fridge temperature as it is just too elastic and doesn't spread easily so a preliminary quick pat out or roll on a heavily floured board and then a rest period of 15 minutes or so makes a world of difference.

I used this dough for the pastry on a tarte tatin, for large sandwich rolls and for cinnamon rolls so far. Although a very rich dough and certainly a special occasion bread, it is so good and so easy it will become a staple for our use. Thank you Zoe and Jeff of Artisan Bread in 5!!!

I made our second batch of yogurt yesterday from 2% this time but still powdered whole milk as that's what I had and about 6oz of last weeks batch and it has turned out nicely. I will work on straining this batch for a couple hours through muslin to see what the texture is like and report back on it. A friend at work after trying my last batch asked if I didn't know that I could occasionally buy yogurt for 10 for $4 or something but I still think this is pretty darn cheap and also far better for us. Organic yogurt containing only milk and culture is usually $1.09 for a 6oz container. So far this is what I've come up with:

.5 Gal organic milk = $2.99
4 Tbl organic powdered milk = maybe $.25
6oz organic yogurt starter = $1.09 the first time then free after that
Ferment time = free while I'm doing other stuff

All equals roughly 12 each 6oz portions for just a little more than $4 for a savings of about $.75 per portion over commercially available organic products. Not bad on $ and the taste is superior to commercial products as well as a huge savings in all that packaging.

Over the past 2 weeks I have spent 60+% of my booze budget on some interesting wines. The first of which was a Masciarrelli Montepulciano; nothing much to write home about so no need to run out and get this one. Light and with a bit of dried cherry fruit it might appeal to some but there are better for the price, this one came in at $9.29 before tax. It has received nice reviews out there in the wine world and even a nice one from our own local paper the Seattle PI but I just didn't see it

The next adventure was more successful and is a local product so it supports a nearby (~20 miles from my home)business here in Washington and saves on shipping costs and environmental impact. For the on sale price of $9.99 the Willis Hall Symposium red blend is tasty, has good fruit and what I assume is a bit to much new oak as it had a bit of vanillin on the palate that I just haven't ever experienced in a red wine before now. As I wrote, it is a nice bottle for ~$10 but the regular price is $18.99 and I would be hard pressed to pay that for this bottle as there are others at that price (and under!) that are superior juice.

The last and most successful is not surprisingly from a well established budget winery in California that is an old favorite, Big House Wines. The Slammer syrah was delicious and on sale at $9.99 was a hell of a bottle of wine for the under $10 pricepoint. Rich and deep red with blackberry and plum notes, it went great with last night's baked ziti in marinara and 3 cheeses. Well worth seeking out -

Not much more for now, still on budget for the month so all's well in frugal land:

$128.11 for groceries and $32.05 on booze

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Why I'm doing this...?

Here it is Wednesday evening and we've just finished chicken parmesan with homemade fettucine alfredo and a big salad with red bell peppers and romaine hearts dressed in lemon vinaigrette and I'm thinking this is actually pretty easy, in fact easier than I thought it would be. Really the big thing seems to be consciousness; being conscious of what we have and what I can do with it. Not thinking we don't have what I want and making a store run or heading out to a restaurant. This is not to say it's not tough at times especially at work where we have dining choices in the building (nothing great mind you but even a mediocre burger and fries sometimes sounds better than reheated leftovers) and numerous more choices in the neighborhood but so far consciousness has prevailed and we're on day 14.

The question I seem to be asked again and again is "why?" Why are you doing this, is it monetary, health reasons, etc... Well, I think it boils down to something one of my friends at work likes to say when we make a decision for all the right reasons; it's the right thing to do. Sometimes we make difficult decisions that end up causing someone a great deal of work or costs some money to save some money but still requires a great effort or may not directly benefit us or the company but for example will be less of an impact on the environment. Regardless we can always come back to this simple statement, it's the right thing to do.

Why is it the right thing to do? With the economy where it is and having lost 40% of the value of my retirement recently just as everyone else has I could say it's because of money, or that we overindulged in spending over the holidays and again we could say the same thing. We could say it's for health reasons because we can control the amount of salt and sugar we put in ourselves if we make our food from natural whole foods from scratch and make reasonable size portions in order to lose some of my excess weight or control my blood sugar; we could say it is for health reasons for all of these things. Environmentally it is far more sustainable in practice to make all our food from scratch and minimize waste and packaging. All of these things would be right and all of them are part of what I'm trying to do but if we return to the simple statement of it's the right thing to do it encompasses all of these reasons but doesn't really bring up the most important reason of all... I have a 10 year old son that I want to know how to prepare, eat and enjoy whole, natural foods and live more sustainably all while minimizing his and our footprint on this big round blue ball spinning through the universe. How to enjoy food that doesn't necessarily come in cardboard boxes or wrapped in plastic wrap or handed through a window. How he can enjoy the farmer's market and local foods and crafts that are passed along from generations to generation like bread making or organic farming, this is all how I want him to grow up. Maybe, just maybe if he continues to enjoy making the pasta with his Dad or learning how to bake a brioche a tete he will retain these skills and this love for making things with his hands throughout his life and will remember us standing shoulder to shoulder covered in flour and cranking that pasta machine or kneading that brioche dough.

I'm not trying to get on a soapbox and I have no ill will towards anyone that drives through for food or sends the kids out to get a soda pop, in fact I still indulge on occasion and always will. Sometimes you just need a chili dog and a coke, or at least I do but that doesn't mean we have to live on them all the time. I'll just keep on keepin' on and so far this is kinda fun and I hope it stays that way because in just the last 2 weeks my blood sugar has dropped to acceptable levels and stabilized and I've lost a couple pounds without dieting or heading to the gym on a daily basis. I think there's something to this whole foods and eating the way we've always supposed to have been. It feels great, there was money in my account after paying all my bills this month, I'm spending more quality time with my son, we're not throwing out or recycling a lot of packaging and so if for nothing else I can fall back on all of these things but it's still just the right thing to do.

Hasta, I'll get back on and talk more about food in the next couple days...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Start of the 2nd full week

Here we are on Sunday with the morning coming to a close and I've just put on a large slow cooker full of boeuf bourguignon for the week. It's been a relatively easy morning for me, sleeping until 8 when the dog woke me and then the paper online with coffee and then fresh yogurt and toast. In between all of that I started a 1/2 batch of brioche using the recipe from the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day blog here:

I have now been perusing this blog for more ideas as I work to perfect my bread and still keep the preparation down to something I can handle as we work our way through the week and I must say they 2 are onto something here; making a dough once each week or so and then refrigerating it for up to 2 weeks (5 days for the brioche because of it's inclusion of eggs) and then pulling off just what you need as you need it. A brief rest and rise period after shaping and into the oven for fresh bread, rolls and pastry. Now if the brioche works I'll be a seriously happy camper. I do have to say that one of the things I like best about bread making is that I can accomplish something and still have down time to run the wash, read my book, clean the kitchen, read the paper or play with the dog all while I'm doing something else. This is why I've always loved bread making but if I can still get those same things in without the longer preparation steps then I'm sold. So far it is working and the loaf of sandwich bread I baked last night is the best so far in my 10 days or so back at it.

This morning after the paper and before the coffee ran out I stumbled onto a new blog that I find very interesting as it is in the same vein as this writing insofar as it is about eating frugally. How it differs though is the writing is far more accomplished and dare I write it out loud, more amusing than my own. Hmm, this I'll have to work on. It just seems like such a serious subject but there will have to be humorous moments of which I'll obviously need to share with you all. The blog is Poor Man's Feast and it was started roughly the same time as mine and for roughly (very) similar reasons as my own; using everything that comes through the door and frugally eating very well however I have not yet turned to a roast duck and rendering the fat from it as part of my frugality but who's to say I won't? I do have to confess though that I still have commercially rendered duck fat leftover from the holidays in my fridge so it may not be on the menu for some time as Henry has let me know he is averse to eating the wee water fowl.

Back to my living on the cheap, I was able to consolidate shopping into other travels yesterday and concluded all my grocery needs as I subjected the auto to it's biannual emissions test and getting Henry off to a play date with a friend a few miles away. Without going out of my way I shopped at 4 stores (one of which was only to pick up powdered milk from a bulk section for the yogurt experiment without purchasing an army's worth but more on that in a bit) for groceries and 1 for dog food. Trader Joe's will probably be more of an every other week stop for me because of it's more specialized foodstuffs and lack of bulk produce; everything is pre-packaged, even the fresh produce which although the pricing is very good it calls into question just how "fresh" is the fresh produce and also I just don't like all the packaging. TJs will still be my store of choice for lower cholesterol eggs high in Omega-3s for a reasonable price as well as chocolate, everyday cheese and other such stuff but most of their food is of the pre-prepared/pre-packaged variety and that is what we're doing our best to avoid with this project. I did spend a bit more this week than last but I believe I also have laid in some stock which will carry us into the following week as well. It may well be a pattern that one week the bills are lower and the next a bit higher but still the goal is for the month overall. I've also started tracking my purchases with some detail ins a spreadsheet that includes separate categories for the groceries, liquor/beer/wine and pet food and this weekend I spent $53.78 on people food, $38.65 on dog food and $10.12 including tax for wine. I also had to make one more quick stop last week so in addition to the $34.71 I reported earlier I added $4.58 more last week for $39.29 and this takes me to a grand total for the month to date of $93.07 and I expect that to carry us well through the next week even with this being a Henry week with me.

Speaking of a Henry week, he assisted yesterday with some menu planning and is still interested like some of you to see if this can actually be successful. He requested chicken parmesan and on Friday nights we usually do some variation on a pizza theme (pizza, stromboli, calzone, etc.) in front of a movie on the tube where on the weeks he is with me only 2 evenings I have no problem eating more leftovers and quick foods when I'm by myself so that may be where some of the every other week higher cost may play out as well, we'll see.

On to the fun stuff...
The yogurt experiment was a rousing success and I used kind of a combination of techniques. I did use the slow cooker but only for a form with which to keep the heating pad secure around the jar in which the magical mixture fermented into it's thick and silky wonderful-ness. Many of the recipes I found encouraged the use of whole milk for your first attempts as it apparently is easier to get and keep the thickness up and I chose to use a natural organic local product that contains only milk and live cultures, no pectin or added sugar of any kind. So here is my first recipe:

Homemade Whole Milk Yogurt

  • 32oz Whole milk ($1.49)
  • 2 Tbl Powdered whole milk (~$.25)
  • 6oz Organic whole milk yogurt - Room temperature ($1.19)

  1. Whisk the powdered milk into the whole milk and warm to 120 F in the microwave
  2. Pour most of the milk mixture into a clean glass jar w/ a cover retaining about 1/2 cup
  3. Take the temperature of the milk mixture and be certain it is not over 115 F
  4. Whisk the room temperature yogurt into the retained 1/2 cup of milk and add to jar
  5. Cover and wrap with a heating pad set to medium
  6. Check temperature periodically and keep between 110 F and 115 F. Too hot will kill the cultures and too cool and fermentation will not take place.
  7. Ferment between 3 and 12 hours depending on how much "tanginess" you like, I did 5 hours
  8. Cover and refrigerate overnight
I had this today with a tablespoon of no added sugar strawberry freezer jam from this past summer with toast and it was delicious. A little thin but I could strain it and get it a bit thicker and keep the whey to add to my bread recipes since it is full of protein but that's a different post...

And now, I'm off and to the gym... Stay tuned for a review of my boeuf bourguignon and tarte tatin for Sunday dinner soon.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A few days in

So I have been working through the food in the fridge and still have spent no more money on food this week. I have canceled my lunch engagements for the rest of January at work except for a Chinese New Year celebration for dim sum and the jury is still out on that but I may cut myself some slack with regards to the no dining out for January rule since it is a special occasion. It is being arranged by a Chinese friend from work and I have never had the opportunity to dine at a dim sum room with a person that REALLY knows their way around I may have to break the rule or at least bend the guideline.

I have been working on a fast and easy bread recipe for an everyday loaf that even if I get behind in my daily tasks I can still get in the oven with minimal time commitment. Artisan loaves are typically $3-$4 dollars and even one a week can bite into a $50 budget by 10%. I have tried both the recipe from Mark Bittman "The Minimalist" in the New York Times and found it to be too wet and very difficult to work with and completely too loose to be shaped. I have also tried the "almost no knead" bread recipe from Cook's Illustrated and found it to be easier to work but requiring more ingredients including "mild-flavored lager" which I can't really close back up and it doesn't use an entire 12oz, it can be found here

Where I've ended up so far is with a mix of the two plus the substitution of some whole wheat pastry flour for 1/2 the flour. Here is my recipe:

  1. 1.5 C whole wheat pastry flour
  2. 1.5 C unbleached all purpose flour
  3. 1/2 tsp yeast
  4. 1.25 tsp kosher salt
  5. 1.33 C water

  • Stir together all dry ingredients, add the water and combine until a dough ball forms. It is easy and there is no need to incorporate all the flour. The dough will be shaggy and not very pretty; that's OK. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a relatively warm place (I keep mine on top of the fridge since I leave my house in the mid-fifties most of the time) for 18 - 24 hours.
  • Lightly spread some flour on the counter, turn out the (now quite loose and bubbly) dough into the flour and with floured hands, knead 10 times and stop. Form it into a ball and place on a floured kitchen towel seam side down for 2 hours.
  • Preheat the oven and a covered pot (mine is ceramic 2.5 qt Corning) to 500. Turn the loaf into the hot, dry pot (don't worry it won't stick) seam side up and cover. Reduce the heat to 425 and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for 20 more minutes or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
  • Cool completely to allow the texture to fully develop and enjoy.

I just received the highest approval as Henry tasted a toasted slice with some peanut butter and has declared it "SOOOO GOOD!". I haven't yet done the math to confirm this is less expensive than store bought but I am pretty certain it should come in less than 1/2 the price and really all told the effort is about 10 minutes not counting the actual cooking time. It takes 5 minutes the first night, 2-3 minutes the 2nd night to form and then a minute to preheat the oven, another to drop the risen dough in and another to test and remove the loaf.

Some of you have been asking what I have eaten so far in order to keep to the budget and so here goes:

Toast (homemade bread) w/ peanut butter (already on hand before budget) for breakfast
Roast beef (already on hand before budget) sandwich for lunch
Chili for dinner (already on hand before budget)

Toast (homemade bread) w/ peanut butter (already on hand before budget) for breakfast
Roast beef (already on hand before budget) sandwich for lunch
TJ's potato gnocchi with broccoli, roasted red peppers and lemon brown butter for dinner

Toast (homemade bread) w/ peanut butter (already on hand before budget) for breakfast
Crackers and dip with chocolate cake (all brought in for an anniversary @ work) for lunch
Pan roast chicken breast, parmesan brown rice w/ peas and steamed carrots for dinner

As you can see, I am not really onto the budget part yet but we are eating out of the freezer and will soon be able to get crackin' on this. Henry is fully on board and wants to cook one night per week as well as help plan menus. He is so far seeing it as a fun project and we'll see if I can keep his interest. He can help with the budget as well so he can see math in the real world :)

Anyway, thanks for reading and I hope you all choose to follow the blog for a while and let's see how this all works out. I'll keep working on the bread and let you all know but this coming weekend I'm going to try and make homemade yogurt in the crockpot...More to come

Sunday, January 4, 2009

...And so it begins

I've often said that I could feed my family well on $200 in groceries each month so that's where this year will start for us. Granted my family is 1 adult and 1 ten year old boy that lives with me 1/2 the time but nonetheless many people believe this will be impossible or wonder how I can do it...well although a daunting challenge I believe it is a challenge worth taking.

I have read where one couple decided to try and live on $1 each per day for food and were able to pull this off but had to give up the things that keep us healthy such as fresh foods; fruits & vegetables. I have no desire to do this. What we eat must be good for us, our diet must consist of variety and fresh food is a big part of that.

Now going into this we know that I have food in the freezer right now and food in the pantry as well as staples such as Tabasco and Old Bay seasoning. I'm not going to clear everything out and throw it away as that would be not only wasteful but downright silly. In order to work through this I plan to take the average of the first 3 months of 2009 and see if indeed this can be done.

Also, I understand this to be a guideline and I know that one week I may spend $70 and the next $30 or some such thing but I will be doing my best to watch sales and experiment with new and less expensive cuts of meat as well as work with the majority of fruit and veggies while they are in season. This does not mean that I will change my basics of having frozen peas, corn or chopped spinach but I intend to clean out the freezer and have no more than what can be contained in the door most of the time.

Secondly, we have set a goal for no dining out for the month of January; this means no prepared foods from the grocery deli sections (other than cheese and cured meats, really there has to be a limit to this experiment). This goal may continue on a monthly basis or may continue on in some other modified capacity such as once per month, once per paycheck, etc.

Third, and those of you that know me understand this will be tough...I'm budgeting $50 per month for alcohol. That's right, it's over and above the $200 but if you think about it it's really only about $12 per week so even a moderate bottle of wine will eat that up in a hurry and I'm supposed to drink that much a week for my health at minimum right?

Today is the 4th day of the month and so far I have spent $34.71 on groceries. I believe this will be enough to last until next weekend when I will again need to head to the grocery to supplement what I already have on hand. We did go out for a last restaurant meal on 12/31; Lunchbox Laboratory for fine gourmet burgers. Not cheap but ohhhh so good. Henry even proclaimed his 1/2 lb fresh ground grass finished beef with bacon, cheddar and BBQ sauce to be the "best burger I've ever eaten". I must proclaim that my 1/2 lb freshly ground grass finished beef burger with balsamic onions and gorgonzola with a side of garlic pepper tater tots (served in an All Clad casserole of all things) to be a mighty fine sendoff to a month of no dining out as well. Here are some comments from the eaters at Don't forget to check out the photos...

So as I finish this up and head off to savor my glass of 06 Coffaro Estate Cuvee and warm up some chili from earlier in the week, I bid you adieu and ask for you well wishes and lucky thoughts to be with us on this journey. Remember though it will probably be more healthy (less sodium and refined foods) and it will need to be fresh. If it doesn't taste good though it doesn't really fit this idea at all...