Thursday, July 31, 2008

Veggie Might: Desert Island Gadgets

by Leigh

As a wholly self-taught home cook, I had never given much thought to gadgets, small appliances, or even utensils. Most of my supplies were hand-me-downs, gifts, or just magically appeared in my kitchen. Oh sure, I would stare at the utensil wall at Bed, Bath and Beyond but mostly to wonder what the heck most of that stuff was for and who really needs an egg separator? Doesn’t the shell do the job pretty well?

Of course, then I didn’t cook. My first five years in New York, I made my living as a waitron and was fed well by others. When I did cook at home, my culinary adventures never strayed far from ramen noodles, box mac and cheese, and grits. All I needed was a saucepan and a spoon, which my mother had supplied me when I went off to college.

Then I switched day jobs. Suddenly, I had to either cook for myself or spend my meager earnings on take-out, which, on my receptionist’s hourly wage, meant the former. I got good at creating easy, cheap, healthy meals with the tools I had. Enter a decent paring knife.

Until my pal C (thanks!) got me started watching cooking shows, I didn’t know what I was missing. My thrifty sensibility remains intact, but the gadgets are harder to resist. Some folks have a weakness for shoes or comic books; mine has become kitchen gear.

Oh, I try to play it cool. Alton, I scoff, do I really have to have silicone baking sheet liners? RR, I most definitely do not need a $15 Garbage Bowl™, thank you very much. Even I have a line; and this from a woman who bought a Martha Stewart cookie shooter on impulse.

Close-out stores are a great way to keep the gadget budget in check. Whenever I’m in the market for a new toy, I mean tool, my neighborhood Jack’s World (upstairs from Jack’s 99¢ stores) is the first place I check. Jack’s World is similar to Odd Jobs, Big Lots, and the like. I’ve gotten most of my indispensable implements there. (The cookie press was only $5! How could I resist?)

Factory-reconditioned small appliances can save big bucks when upgrading your kitchen or starting from scratch. You have to do your homework, but a little diligence will pay off. Sites like Amazon and Overstock can have great deals on brand names, and you never know what you’ll find.

I never aspired to KitchenAid appliances. They always seemed the stuff of TV chefs and people with that one-two punch of bridal registries and wealthy relatives. But when my $30 blender flamed out after 6 months of heavy hummus duty, I needed to go one better. On Amazon, I found a reconditioned KitchenAid blender for $50, more than half off the original price, and just $20 more the discount-store brand. Not only does it do an amazing job, it’s so, so pretty.

Now when I find myself leaving a trail of drool through Bed, Bath and Beyond, pooling at the utensil wall, I pull myself together, make a list, and try to contain myself until I can get to budget safety. (Sometimes I will appease myself with a little trinket, like silicone basting brushes or another inexpensive, absolute necessity. C, I really needed those ice cube trays.)

But when it comes down to it, I survived with very little for many years, and could do it again. Here are my desert island kitchen gadgets/tools that I cannot live without. These are the implements I’d save from fire, flood, and locusts. And I paid full price for none of them.

10” cast iron skillet—A cast iron skillet is an indispensable piece of cookware. It stews; it fries; it bakes; it does it all. And you don’t need to spend the college fund on Le Creuset to get a good one. As long as you care for it properly, a cast iron skillet will get better with age and last forever. Close-out store ≈$8

Silicone spatula—When you want something out of a bowl, food processor, blender, pitcher, pan, pot—especially glass—this thing will grab on and get it out. All of it. There’ll be no hummus left in that blender, no batter left in that bowl, no sauce in that pan. I had no idea how much magic this little do-hickey would do. Plus, silicone is heat resistant, so you can use it with your sensitive cookware when it’s piping hot. My cast iron skillet loves its silicone spatula. Close-out store ≈$2

Mini food processor—Because I have a tiny kitchen (my counter-top is about 1’ x 3’), nothing can sit out. The mini food processor is easily stored and is great for mincing garlic and onions, emulsifying, chopping herbs, and the like. It’s a great time-saver and perfect for a small space. Close-out store ≈$12; Factory-refurbished ≈$30

Blender—Shiny. I love my blender. Factory-refurbished ≈$30

Utility knife—For my birthday, my good friend, A, got me a brand-spanking-new knife, and my world has changed for the better. It has a pretty pink handle, it actually cuts (instead of crushes, like most of my crappy old knives do), and it makes me feel like a real chef. Now I understand what all the fuss is about.

What can you not live without in the kitchen? Any tips for finding them on the cheap?


If you dig this article, you might also like:
(Photos courtesy of Flickr member The Daily Planet and noshtopia.)

CHG Favorites of the Week

Food Blog of the Week
Hungry Girl
Extremely bright, mind-bogglingly cheery, and packed to the fargin’ gills with good eating information, Hungry Girl is a young dieter’s dream site: realistic without being too lenient and healthy without being too restrictive. The drink recipes alone are precious, precious resources, but be sure to look around for lots of solid tips.

Food Blog of the Week #2
Elastic Waist
For the weight conscious who might not dig the somewhat Rachael Ray-esque tone of HG, Elastic Waist is a solid alternative. More of a blog than a whole website, its operating theory is that happiness is “healthy living, the occasional bacon binge, and accepting the size of your ass.” Dude. Word. It’s been added to the blogroll here, so if you can’t go right now, give it a shot later.

Food Comedy of the Week
"C.C. Sabathia, Prince Fielder Keep Imagining Each Other As Giant Talking Hot Dog, Hamburger" at The Onion
This made me giggle like a giggly little girl with the giggles. Sabathia’s on my fantasy baseball team, and had the worst April and May in the recorded history of sports. He’s turned it around the last few months (knock on wood), but I reserve the right to make fun. (Thanks to Serious Eats for the link.)

Food Organization of the Week
Charity Wines
It’s an age-old question: how can one drink profusely, support her favorite shortstop, and donate to a major philanthropical organization all at once? The answer, my friends, is Charity Wines. Though I advise STRONGLY against purchasing the Chipper Jones Chardonnay (it will poison your soul and alter your DNA, much like Larry himself), 70% of the proceeds from fine varietals like Santana Select and CaberReyes go to directly to MLB-associated charities. If I may be so bold, I'd call it a home run.

Food Quote of the Week
Building off yesterday’s Simpsons article, this suggestion came from reader Sarah.

(Lisa announces she is becoming a vegetarian)
Homer: Are you saying you're never going to eat any animal again? What about bacon?
Lisa: No.
Homer: Ham?
Lisa: No.
Homer: Pork chops?
Lisa: Dad, those all come from the same animal.
Homer: Heh heh heh. Ooh, yeah, right, Lisa. A wonderful, magical animal.

Food Video of the Week
“I Need Some Fine Wine and You, You Need to be Nicer” by The Cardigans
Nifty, fairly recent pop-rock tuneage from the same Swedish maestros who bestowed "Lovefool" upon us so many years ago. I wondered where they’d been.

Extra Special Totally Unrelated Bonus of the Week
Puppy Dreams from Cute Overload/Jezebel
OMG. OMG. OMG. I want one. Can I have one? Right now? Please mom?

(Photo courtesy of The Onion.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Cutting Calories and Saving D'oh: 25 Lessons "The Simpsons" Taught Me About Cheap, Healthy Eating

The Simpsons TV show turns the big Two-Oh next year, making them older than Miley Cyrus, post-Soviet Russia, and everything I own, save a dearly beloved 5th grade softball jersey. Like all good Americans, I adore the show, and always have. I owned a Bartman tee in 1990, can quote “Treehouse of Horror IV” word for word, and even as an adult, model myself after eight-year-old Lisa, who is everything that’s right about our society.

What amazes me most about The Simpsons (beyond the college classes and bible studies) is the effect it’s had on my vernacular. Each day, I’m guaranteed to quote a four-fingered Springfieldian at least once – usually unconsciously, usually “D’oh!” (“Excellent,” and “You don’t win friends with salad” creep in there, too.) And when a show’s been around for so long that it actually CHANGES THE WAY YOU SPEAK, you’re bound to pick up a lesson or two along the way.

So today, sweet readers, CHG is taking a temporary pop culture detour. With the assistance of the characters themselves (or at least their dialogue), here are the 25 rules of cheap, healthy eating I’ve gleaned from 19 years of watching Homer & Co.

1) There is such a thing as being too frugal.

Marge: Lisa, I made you some homemade Pepsi for the dance; it's a little thick but the price is right.

2) Keeping a budget and paying with cash are two of the easiest, most effective ways to regulate expenditures. Without them, you might not be aware of how much you’re spending.

Moe: Say, Barn, uh, remember when I said I'd have to send away to NASA to calculate your bar tab?
Barney: Oh ho, oh yeah, you had a good laugh, Moe.
Moe: The results came back today. You owe me seventy billion dollars.
Barney: Huh?
Moe: No, wait, wait, wait, that's for the Voyager spacecraft. Your tab is fourteen billion dollars.


3) Mass-market food companies are there to make money, not to make you healthy.

[Marge has decided to go into the pretzel business.]
Marge: What's my territory?
Frank Ormand: Your territory? Well, let me put it this way: wherever a young mother is ignorant as to what to feed her baby, you'll be there. Wherever nacho penetration is less than total, you'll be there! Wherever a Bavarian is not quite full, you'll be there!
Marge: Don't forget fat people! They can't stop eating!
(passing by) Hey! Pretzels!

4) Those same corporations spend billions marketing junk foods towards American consumers, and despite our best intentions, we’ve become both accustomed and prone to their suggestions.

Homer: Hey, it's the first day of the month. New billboard day. [Drives by, reads first billboard] "This year, give her English muffins." Whatever you say, Mr. Billboard.

5) It helps to stay current on news about food, nutrition, cost, and cooking, but don’t believe everything you read.

Marge: I don't have e-mail. (crowd gasps)
Homer: Oh Marge, you got to get on the Net. It's got all the best conspiracy theories! Did you know that Hezbollah owns Little Dolly Snack Cakes?


6) Diet and exercise are the only consistently proven, non-surgical paths to weight loss. Everything else is bunk.

Marge: Homer, has the weight loss tape reduced your appetite?
Homer: Ah, lamentably no. My gastronomic rapacity knows no satiety.


7) Portion sizes have increased tremendously in America over the last few decades, and are a giant factor in U.S. weight gain. This is especially true for restaurant food and takeout.

Homer: Is this the biggest steak you got? 72 oz.? I thought this was supposed to be a steakhouse, not a little girly, underpantsy, pink doily, tea party place!
Waiter: Well, we do have one steak available upon special request. We call it Sir Loin-A-Lot. It's the size of a boogieboard.
Homer: Ooh, I'll have that one! And to drink ... meatballs.


8) Eating at home as much as possible is a simple way to regulate nutritional intake and save money.

Apu: Poor Mr. Homer! Could it be that my snack treats are responsible for his wretched health?
[A customer enters.]
Customer: Gimme some jerky.
Apu: Would you like some vodka with that?


9) Planning menus and shopping ahead of time will prevent last-minute supermarket sprees and oft-pricey impulse purchases.

Marge: Homer, I have to go out to pick up something for dinner.
Homer: Steak?
Marge: Hmm, money's too tight for steak.
Homer: Steak?
Marge: Eh, sure. Steak.


10) When grocery shopping, it helps to look for whole foods and stick to the perimeter of the store. It’s healthier and less expensive overall.

Homer: Olive oil? Asparagus? If your mother wasn't so fancy, we could just shop at the gas station like normal people.

11) Instead of purchasing pre-made sauces, mixes, and dressings, create your own at home. The end product will be way tastier, and it’s often cheaper and better for you, as well.

Homer: Got any of that beer that has candy floating in it? You know, Skittlebrau?
Apu: Such a beer does not exist, sir. I think you must have dreamed it.
Homer: Oh. Well, then just give me a six-pack and a couple of bags of Skittles.


12) Cutting down on meat will make a significant difference in your food budget and calorie intake.

Apu: Let's see ... Farmer Billy's smoke-fed bacon, Farmer Billy's bacon-fed bacon, Farmer Billy's travel bacon ... Mr. Simpson, if you really want to kill yourself, I also sell handguns!

13) The surest way to diet/budget defeat is to make absolute changes without allowing for the good stuff. Don’t forget to indulge every once in awhile.

Lisa: (to Homer) Is it really worth risking your lives for some sugar?
(from kitchen) Dessert's on! I steamed some limes!
Lisa: Godspeed.


14) Read labels and be wary of health claims. A lot of times they’re just plain bogus. Whole, untouched foods will always be the best way to eat.

Homer: Wanna bite of my doughnut?
Lisa: No, thanks. Do you have any fruit?
Homer: This has purple stuff inside. Purple is a fruit.


15) While you’re at it, don’t forget to check expiration dates. Especially on bargain-priced foods. Sometimes it’s been marked down because it’s about to go bad.

Homer: Apu, I'm returning a yogurt I wasn't completely satisfied with.
[opens the bag] OH MY GOD! If a dead fish and a homeless person had a baby, and the baby puked, and the dog ate the puke, this smells like the rear end of that dog! I'll give you any yogurt in the store just take that thing with you when you go!

16) Know that fat isn’t always a bad thing. There are good ones – usually naturally-occurring – like those found in avocados, peanuts and eggs.

[Homer has just snatched and stomped on Lenny’s egg sandwich.]
Homer: I saved your life! That egg sandwich could have killed you -- by cholesterol.
Lenny: Sheesh -- forget it, Homer. While it has been established that eggs contain cholesterol, it yet has not been proven they conclusively actually raise the level of serum cholesterol in the human bloodstream.
Homer: So, one of those Egg Council creeps got to you too, huh?


17) Just because a food is fat-free doesn’t mean it’s low in calories or better for you. Sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and other sweeteners can be just as deleterious to your health.

Dr. Hibbert: Sugar is not only fattening but it's also terribly, terribly addictive. … Uh, is my carton of Pixie Sticks in?
Apu: No, it hasn't come in yet.
Dr. Hibbert: Dammit. When they come in you call me at this number.
[hands over a card]
Apu: 911?

18) Condiments, toppings, and add-ons are a quick way to pile on fat and calories.

Homer: I'm on a bit of a health kick, so I'll take the low-fat vanilla. With the following toppings: Snickles, Gooey Bears, Charlottesville Chew, Nice 'n Many, Kat Kit, Herschel Smooches, Mrs. Badbar, and Milk Dudes.

19) Parental habits are key (if not THE key) in how kids learn to eat. Children mirror what they see at home, so it’s important for moms and dads to model healthy behaviors.

Homer: Don't fill up on those vegetables, kids. Save room for nachos!
Lisa & Bart: All right!
[disapprovingly] Mmm…

20) Make eating an experience rather than a chore. Use all your senses to enjoy it fully. The overall slow-down means you’ll consume less.

Homer: I smell cake! Cake that says (sniff sniff) "Farewell" and (sniff sniff) "Best Wishes"!
Nelson: Your old man has an awesome nose.
Bart: Oh, that's nothing. He can hear pudding.


21) Buy recycled grocery bags. They’re frugal, better for the earth, and you never know when they’ll come in handy for something else.

Belle: Are you wearing a grocery bag?
Homer: I have misplaced my pants.

22) Speaking of a frugal item with several applications: buy white vinegar. It’s more than a foodstuff. It’s an EVERYTHING.

Mr. Burns: I need to have my eyes re-balled and my brain flushed out with vinegar.
Smithers: Oh and your legs will be back from the shop tomorrow.
Mr. Burns: Excellent.


23) Read reviews. For all things, everywhere. Restaurants, cookware, recipes – you name it. You might not unilaterally agree with a commenter, but an unbiased opinion (or several hundred unbiased opinions) will keep you from wasting valuable resources and time.

[Homer has become a restaurant critic.]
Sea Captain: I had enough of Homer! His bad reviews are sinking our businesses!
Akira: Then why did you put yours on the window?
Sea Captain: Yarrrr. It covers up the ‘D’ from the health inspector.

24) Food is almost always tied to emotions. Exploring how and why you eat is vital to understanding issues you may have with it.

Comic Book Guy: Oh, loneliness and cheeseburgers are a dangerous mix.

25) Remember, true dietary or financial change is possible only through repeated action. It takes a lot of tries to change a behavior fully, so don’t panic if you foul up. Of course, you have to commit in the first place.

Homer: [after watching Barney's movie] Wow, I'll never drink another beer again.
Vendor: Beer here.
Homer: I'll take ten.

And that’s it. Readers, do you have a favorite Simpsons quote that taught you something valuable? Post away!

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tuesday Megalinks

All Financial Matters: How Cheaply Can You Brown Bag Your Lunch?
One Wall Street Journal columnist is paying almost $5 for his bagged lunches ($0.38 for a slice of tomato?), but still posts a 50% savings over a $10 sandwich from the local deli. (Thanks to The Simple Dollar for the link.)

Being Frugal: My Square Foot Garden Overfloweth
Summer’s here, and Lynnae finally reaped what she sowed back in late Spring. It’s a lot. It’s giving me serious garden envy.

Best Week Ever: The Top 10 Most Tasteless Cakes
Nice roundup of the worst of the Cake Wrecks blog, with #4 being particularly hideous. Why … would … anyone … eat … GAH.

Consumerist: Get Ready for More Supermarket Price Hikes
According to the Chicago Sun-Times (home of Ebert), “grocery prices are expected to rise 5 percent to 6 percent this year.” Yikes riding bikes. I wonder if costs will keep climbing at that rate. They’re already outpacing salary earnings.

Get Rich Slowly: Hidden Price Increases at the Grocery Store
JD weighs in on ever-shrinking packages of processed foods.

Jezebel: Cultural Understanding Goes Down Better With French Fries, Chicken Nuggets
Yay! Fantastic clip from Tony Bourdain’s No Reservations trip to Saudi Arabia (yes, I call him Tony), in which native Danya Alhamrani guides him through the country’s most prominent fast food selections. The city of Jeddah isn’t exactly representative of the rest of SA, but what an interesting cultural view nonetheless. A must-see.

Jezebel: Telling A Friend She's Fat: Do You Even Go There?
Last I checked, this post had 511 comments. Join in on the fun/rage.

The Kitchn: Tip – Drying Fruits and Vegetables in the Car
This is the most fantastically frugal thing in recorded history. Has anyone out there ever tried it? I would give it a shot, but it might not work as well in the subway.

Money Saving Mom: Lower your grocery bill without clipping coupons
So, you don’t want to blow your Sundays whittling away at newspaper inserts. I understand. So does Crystal. Here, she lists eight effective ways to save cash while avoiding coupons. Plus, billions of commenters sound off with their own valuable suggestions. Super-worthwhile reading from folks in the grocery shopping trenches.

New York Times: A Locally Grown Diet With Fuss but No Muss
It’s like a CSA Santa Claus! “For a fee, Mr. Paque, who lives in San Francisco, will build an organic garden in your backyard, weed it weekly and even harvest the bounty, gently placing a box of vegetables on the back porch when he leaves.” I hope I’m on the Nice list.

New York Times: Food Makers Report Profits as Eating in Gains Favor
There’s hope!

Reader’s Digest: Eat Smart When Dining Out: 20 Tips
In spite of the following Retuers article, diners are increasingly looking for easy ways to health-up their restaurant foods. Here, RD has some suggestions. (Thanks to Consumerist for the link.)

Reuters: U.S. food portions - Monuments of decadence?
We’re Americans! We eat giant food! As we used to say in third grade, “Doy.” (Thanks to Eater for the link.)

Serious Eats: Nintendo DS Cooking Guide Will Help You Make Dinner
Somewhere, The Boyfriend just drooled.

Serious Eats: Out-of-Context Eating
All you need is the first line of the first comment: “I once saw someone open a microwave popcorn bag for their child during Mass,” and you will be totally sucked in. (My sweet Catholic Ma might have killed the popcorn person, sixth commandment or no.)

Serious Eats: What to Eat on a First Date
I realize I might have successfully made myself sound like a lush the last few weeks, but I’d like to add something to this post: beware of overdrinking. Once, on what could have been a fun first date, I downed two too many glasses of champagne. Nothing got sloppy, bad, or out of hand EXCEPT MY BRAIN, which was unable to form halfway interesting thoughts for most of the night. Fortunately, the failed date led me to The Boyfriend, so I guess it wasn’t all bad.

Slate: The Pasta Salad Manifesto
Pair this with Casual Kitchen’s How to Create Your Own Original Pasta Salad for the ultimate in side dish tutorials.

(Photos courtesy of Flickr members Biggie*, Khaled A.K, and UHLMAN.)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Barefoot Contessa's Barbecue Sauce: Gettin' Potlucky

Every coupla weeks, I get together with a group of lovely ladies (including Veggie Might’s own Leigh) for a themed potluck dinner. It’s not your everyday, run-of-the-mill potluck, though. For one, there’s usually copious amounts of beer. For another. everybody gets completely freakin’ nuts with their creations. Nearly all of us are enthusiastic cooks, and it’s a rare chance to go crazy for a non-holiday occasion. We’ve had Mediterranean, Tailgate, and Vegetarian Nights so far, and I don’t think there’s been a dud dish in the group. Plus? THERE’S SO. MUCH. FOOD. By the end of each eve, we’re all like that “KILL ME” scene in Aliens, except our chests are bursting with meats and cheeses instead of hideous HR Giger monsters.

A different chick hosts the potluck each month, and Saturday, it went down at Casa el CHG in lovely Brooklyn, New York. Since our 109-year-old apartment building has a small backyard equipped with a medium-sized Thermos barbecue, a Grill Night theme seemed like the logical choice. So, the ladies (and their respective SOs) came over at 4pm, and we got busy applying some fire to some foodstuff. Seven hours later and EIGHTEEN dishes later, we finally stopped eating. It was heavenly.

The menu looked something like this:

A: Mango Gazpacho and Sugar Cookie S’mores
C: Swordfish, Scallop, and Vegetable Skewers with Lemon-Olive Oil Marinade
J: Grilled Honeysuckle Pineapple and Grilled Peaches with Honey Nut Cream Cheese & Honey
Kris: Fresh Lemonade, Cantaloupe with Prosciutto, and Grilled Flatbread with Eggplant, Gorgonzola, & Prosciutto OR Zucchini, Red Onion, Goat Cheese, & Parmesan
Leigh: Potato Salad and Tempeh Skewers with Peanut Dipping Sauce
M: Barbecue Chicken, and Grilled Corn with Parmesan & Butter
R: Tri-Tip Steak with Cherry Tomato Salsa
S: Taco Dip

A’s husband A also made a sweet corn dish called Tomalito (delicious), and our manfriend B brought along some sweet, spicy Betty Crocker Guacamole. The weather was unusually non-humid, and to top it all off, THERE WERE TWO PUPPIES. (Well, one puppy and one truly adorable Snack. [Who is Leigh's dog, not an actual snack.]) Really, the whole shebang was perfect. I’m aglow. (And still stuffed, 37 hours later.)

One of the (many, many) highlights of this round was M’s chicken, slathered in Barefoot Contessa’s Barbecue Sauce. Ina’s recipes inevitably make one or two appearances each potluck, and they’re generally met with oohs, aaahs, and lots of satisfied burping. Her BBQ concoction was no different. Several other bloggers have raved about it before, and - woof - right on the money. There’s this initial sweetness followed by an unexpected heat, and it’s better than any jarred stuff I’ve ever had. What’s more, BC’s recipe makes a staggering 1-1/2 quarts (48 oz) of sauce, which compensates for the initial investment. Without exaggeration, it will last FOR MONTHS.

One caveat, though: to be totally honest, thanks to a few calorie-packed ingredients (including a half-cup of vegetable oil), it’s not exactly a light sauce compared to most supermarket brands. Nor is it a particularly cheap one. One ounce has about 30 more calories than the average KC Masterpiece or Bullseye and, depending on your local grocery prices, will probably cost more, too. BUT. (But but but.) Great googly moogly, I promise the taste will make up for it. And remember - this is universal sauce. It can be applied to much more than chicken.

So, thanks to M, thanks to the potluck ladies, and be on the lookout later this week for another faboo potluck recipe (hopefully J's pineapple, which ... oh my).

Barbecue Sauce
Makes 48 ounces of sauce
Adapted from Ina Garten.

1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion (1 large onion)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup tomato paste (10 ounces)
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup honey
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 cup Dijon mustard
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 cup hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes

1) In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat vegetable oil over low heat. Add onions and garlic. Cook 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Onions should be softer and translucent when done, "but not browned."

2) Add all remaining ingredients to pot. Cook/simmer 30 minutes. Serve or keep in fridge.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
73 calories, 2.6 g fat, $0.21 per ounce

1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion (1 large onion): 63 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.71
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves): 13 calories, 0 g fat, $0.10
1/2 cup vegetable oil: 970 calories, 109.7 g fat, $0.48
1 cup tomato paste (10 ounces): 233 calories, 1.3 g fat, $1.00
1 cup cider vinegar: 50 calories, 0 g fat, $0.21
1 cup honey: 1031 calories, 0 g fat, $1.44
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce: 227 calories, 0 g fat, $1.20
1 cup Dijon mustard: 240 calories, 0 g fat, $2.13
1/2 cup soy sauce: 68 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.76
1 cup hoisin sauce: 563 calories, 8.7 g fat,
2 tablespoons chili powder: 49 calories, 2.6 g fat, $0.09
1 tablespoon ground cumin: negligible calories and fat, $0.03
1/2 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes: negligible calories and fat, $0.30
TOTAL: 3507 calories, 122.5 g fat, $10.33
PER SERVING (TOTAL/48): 73 calories, 2.6 g fat, $0.21

Friday, July 25, 2008

Experiments in Meat: DIY Turkey Breakfast Sausage

Jaime’s tremendous Seitan post on Tuesday got me thinking about meat. More specifically, it made me wonder if I could create my own variety of turkey sausage using ingredients I had lying around the kitchen. (What? It’s a logical leap. … Kind of.) I’d tried it before with some success, but really wanted to nail it this time.

After some searching, I stumbled upon these instructions from Free Cooking Recipes. They looked simple enough, and I had all the flavorings stashed on our spice rack/IKEA-CD-tower-we-use-as-a-spice-rack. So, I defrosted eight ounces of ground turkey, gathered my courage, and went to work.

For the first batch, I tried the recipe almost as-written, substituting ground sage and thyme for poultry seasoning and forgetting the ginger by accident. The end result was salty, a little powdery from all the sage, and definitely more of an evening sausage. I might serve it with pasta in a pinch (after halving the salt).

Batch #2 was more successful, but in a different way. Based on the results for Batch #1, I added some fennel seed, eliminated the poultry seasoning entirely, slashed the salt by 25%, and jacked up the liquid smoke to 3 drops. (P.S. When I say “jacked up the liquid smoke to 3 drops,” I actually mean “accidentally poured 3x the asked-for amount into the bowl.” Hey, if it worked for vulcanized rubber...)

Somehow, someway, this created a decent breakfast sausage. Despite being (still) a tad salty, it had a pleasantly smoky flavor with a nice kick of cayenne at the end. The meat held up well in crumble and link form, and The Boyfriend and our roommate C both gave it the thumbs up.

The recipe for Batch #2 is what’s listed below. Compared to two ounces of yer average turkey breakfast sausage, you save 40 calories and 6 grams of fat per serving. Price depends on how much you pay for the ground turkey, but I worked the cost of this out to $0.14/oz. Not too shabby.

Readers, have you ever tried this? Does anyone have their own recipe for turkey sausage? Maybe something more suitable for the evening? Let’s go MAD WITH MEAT POWER together.

P.S. I just discovered the Enhance function in iPhoto, so my pictures are now guaranteed to be 14% less hideous. I'm comin' for ya, Annie Liebowitz!

DIY Turkey Breakfast Sausage

Makes 4 2-oz links, patties, or crumble servings
Adapted from Free Cooking Recipes.

½ pound 93% fat free ground turkey
2-3 drops liquid smoke
½-¾ teaspoons salt
2/3 teaspoons ground sage
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 pinches fennel seed
1 teaspoon olive oil (a little more if making patties)

1) To a large bowl, add turkey, liquid smoke, salt, sage, sugar, black pepper, thyme, cayenne, and fennel. Combine gently using your hands. If making patties or links, shape the meat into loose-but-stable form.

2) Heat oil in pan over medium-high heat. Add sausage to pan. Cook until no longer pink. Do not overcook.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
95 calories, 4.25 g fat, $0.27

½ pound 93% fat free ground turkey: 325 calories, 16.2 g fat, $0.75
2-3 drops liquid smoke: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
½-¾ teaspoons salt: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
2/3 teaspoons ground sage: 4 calories, 0.2 g fat, $0.16
1/2 teaspoon sugar: 8 calories, 0 g fat, $0.01
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
¼ teaspoon dried thyme: 1 calorie, 0 g fat, $0.03
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
2 pinches fennel seed: 1 calorie, 0.1 g fat, $0.04
1 teaspoon olive oil: 39 calories, 4.5 g fat, $0.04
TOTAL: 378 calories, 21 g fat, $1.08
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 95 calories, 4.25 g fat, $0.27

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Veggie Might: Summer Squash Salad, Goldilocks, and the Three Boxers

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

Last weekend, I was invited to hang with one of my old waitron pals at his sister’s house in central Massachusetts. The sister and her family were on vacation in their ancestral homeland; C was there to watch the three big, awesome dogs and take care of the pool. He definitely needed my help. Oh yeah.

I was instructed to bring nothing but my bathing suit. “They have everything here,” C promised. The bus schedule and my CSA pick-up time conspired to force the vegetables along for the trip. Perfect, I thought, I’ll cook for us. We made a quick stop at the grocery on the way from the bus station to the house for a few little things like 99-cents-a-pound Vidalias and 6-for-$1.99 corn-on-the-cob.

As I unpacked the groceries, I spied with my little eye a perfect summer squash on the kitchen counter, and C pointed to the vegetable garden in the backyard. “Use whatever you want. There is plenty.” It was so perfectly yellow and nubby; I wanted to eat the squash that very minute, but we had swimming to attend to.

When it was time to make lunch on Sunday, I took a quick scan of the cupboards. I didn’t want to use much more than what I brought. I was already sleeping in someone’s bed, swimming in someone’s pool, and eating someone’s squash.

My CSA take included purslane, a mild, delightful wild green that kind of looks like a cross between a jade plant and watercress, and a very small head of red leaf lettuce. I thought a salad with squash would go great with our corn-on-the-cob.

While the corn boiled, I blanched the squash to cut down on the sauté time (have you noticed I love to sauté?) and prepared a little marinade/salad dressing using a just a bit of the family’s dried herbs, oil, and vinegar. It only took one tablespoon of oil to make enough to coat the squash and have enough left over to dress the salad.

Everything turned out beautifully. Light and summery, it was the perfect poolside meal. C mmmed as he ate; and I was feeling pretty good until I looked over at his plate where the squash remained. “I don’t really like squash,” he sheepishly admitted. “But the salad part is good! And the corn is great.”

He was so sweetly diplomatic. I felt bad for not asking if he liked squash in the first place. The dogs didn’t like the squash, either, but then, they were only interested in giant bones anyway. I didn’t take it personally. If nothing else, I can boil water like a pro.

Summer Squash Salad
Yields 3 servings

3 cups purslane
2 cups red leaf lettuce
1 small summer squash
2 slices Vidalia onion
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried marjoram
2 tsp salt

1) In a ramekin or small bowl, mix dried herbs, 1 tsp salt, and olive oil and set aside.

2) Wash and set aside purslane and lettuce. Dry in a towel if necessary.

3) Cut squash lengthwise into quarters, then slice into half inch pieces.

4) In a small saucepan, bring two cups of water to boil. (Normally when blanching, you would prepare bowl of ice water to quickly stop the cooking, but I skipped this step since I planned to sauté immediately.)

5) When water boils, add squash and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Drain into colander.

6) Dry out the saucepan, add 1 tsp (not the whole tbsp) of herbed oil to pan, and add squash, coating well.

7) Sauté squash until tender but not mushy, about 5 – 7 minutes. Add remaining tsp of salt while stirring.

8) Let squash cool while assembling salad. Toss together greens and add sliced onion in medium salad bowl.

9) Add vinegar to remaining herbed oil mixture for salad dressing.

10) Top with squash. Toss with dressing and serve.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
82 calories, 5.3g fat, $.62

3 cups purslane: 21 calories, 0g fat, $1.00
2 cups red leaf lettuce: 8 calories, 0g fat, $.40
1 small summer squash: 72 calories, 2g fat
2 slices Vidalia onion: 12 calories, 0g fat, $.12
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil*: 120 calories, 14g fat, $.08
2 tbsp red wine vinegar: 6 calories, 0g fat, $.19
1 tsp dried parsley: 2 calories, 0g fat, $.02
1 tsp dried thyme: 2 calories, 0g fat, $.02
1 tsp dried marjoram: 2 calories, 0g fat, $.02
2 tsp salt: negligible calories and fat, $.02
TOTAL: 245 calories, 16g fat, $1.87
PER SERVING: 82 calories, 5.3g fat, $.62

CHG Favorites of the Week

Food Blog of the Week
You Won’t Even Miss It
Here ye, here ye, folks with food allergies! Nancy and Chef Rick are here to help. The DIY duo’s created a neat little video series concentrating on meals without “milk, eggs, nuts, or shellfish,” along with a nifty accompanying recipe page. The half-hour vids are pleasant and competent, and the theme song has a soothing Bruce Hornsby/Tupac-esque quality that’ll make you forget all about the missing ingredients. (P.S. I’m pretty sure this is the first time in recorded history the phrase “soothing Tupac-esque quality” has ever been written in relation to food. Discuss.)

Food Comedy of the Week
Brian Regan on serving sizes

Food Organization of the Week
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Bill recently retired from Microsoft to throw all his energy into this, one of (if not THE) largest private philanthropical organization on Earth. Their reach and sheer number of programs are unparalleled, but foodies might be particularly interested in Nutrition initiatives, Priority Diseases and Conditions (many of which are related to drinking water), and Emergency Relief. The fund doesn’t generally accept donations directly, but you CAN contribute to grantee organizations, which can be found here.

Food Quotes of the Week
(A few more from Estelle Getty’s Golden Girls years.)

Angela: May your legs grow old and gnarled and withered like an olive branch... [looking at Sophia's legs] you should be so lucky.
Sophia: May your moles grow hair thicker than Jerry Vale's!
Angela: May your marinara sauce never cling to your pasta!
Sophia: Oooooh [biting her own fist], that does it! Come back here and say that to my face!

Sophia: My name is Sophia Petrillo and my idea of a good psychiatrist is a bartender who pours without a spout.

Sophia: Sorry Dorothy. There are two things a Sicilian won't do: Lie about pizza, and file a tax return.

Food Video of the Week
“Under the Milky Way” by The Church
Hmm … in retrospect, this may not be about the candy bar. Still, it’s delicious in its own way.

Totally Unrelated Extra-Special Bonus of the Week
Groverfield from College Humor
SPOILER WARNING: If you haven’t seen Cloverfield yet, this will reveal important details.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

10 Foods You Should Always Splurge On

We spend a lot of time talking about cheap food on this blog, and for good reason: oftentimes, it’s just as tasty as the pricey stuff – especially when it comes to everyday meals. See, most dishes can be prepared with inexpensive ingredients without a massive dip in quality, and family and friends will never be the wiser. Because, really? NOBODY knows you’re using generic butter to make an omelet, and only Thomas Keller could identify Brand X sugar in a batch of Christmas cookies.

Yet, there are some foods where it pays to go a little more upscale. Either their bargain-basement brands aren’t up to snuff, or a lesser-quality version would:

A) ruin a dish,
B) make someone sick, or
C) anger the four-headed demon god of culinary aptitude, Anthalice Batalicchio.

This isn’t to say that all low-priced items are terrible. I like Ragu Red Pepper and Onion Tomato Sauce, and as god is my witness, that will never change. But if you’ve ever bought generic pasta, and had to serve it as Capellini a la Clump, you know what I mean.

With that in mind, here are ten edibles on which you might want to splurge.

10) Coffee. The disparity between cheap, bulk, pre-ground joe and a pound of fresh beans from Dunkin Donuts is immeasurable. One is bitter, weak, and flavored with evil, while the other (for a few dollars more) will keep you awake, happy, and gastrointestinally balanced for hours. If my office replaced their bottom-dollar devil’s brew with … well, anything, I bet worker efficiency would increase tenfold.

9) Pickles. Given a choice between this at $1.50/lb:

And this at $1.69/lb,

which would you go with?

Pickles are the rare food for which a minor difference in price means a gigantic difference in quality, so there’s no excuse to skimp out. If possible, always buy fresh.

8) Premade pasta sauce and salad dressing. My kitchen’s hovered around 95°F for the last month, and that’s without turning an oven on. I am not whipping up a batch of tomato sauce anytime soon. It’s times like this I turn to Ragu or Prego to fulfill my pasta-dousing needs. Though they’re not exactly Rao’s or Newman’s Own, they’re way better than Francesco Rinaldi, which tastes like what would happen if tomatoes farted, exploded, and were able to jar their own remains. Blech. Same goes for $0.99 salad dressing. If I wanted pink goo with a corn syrup aftertaste, I’d have a McDonalds milkshake.

7) Lemon juice. No doubt about it, individual lemons cost more than bottled juice. Yet, I find the preservatives in the former give it a chemical flavor lacking in the untainted fruit. Whether it’s lemonade, lemon sauce, or Lemony Light Hummus, buying straight-up lemons will create a fresher, truer taste. Plus? Not only do you get the lemon zest for free, but they make great decorations until it’s time for a juicing.

6) Garlic. Like real lemon juice, fresh garlic has a pungency and power unrivaled by its packaged counterpart. Though jarred garlic might be cheaper and less time-consuming to prepare, you’ll have to use twice as much for flavor, which evens out the financial playing field a bit.

5) Pasta. This is one of the few pantry standards I won’t even consider buying generic. Too many broken lasagna noodles, mealy gnocchis, and mysteriously fused angel hair dishes have taught me a valuable lesson: in pasta’s case, $0.25 makes a huge difference. Fortunately, labels like Ronzoni and Barilla aren’t much pricier than store brands, and it’s a quantum leap in quality.

4) Beer. Oh, Williamsburgian hipsters may think a $2 can of Schlitz is the height of fashion, but there’s no denying a simple, indisputable fact: it tastes like carbonated cat urine. Booze is one of the increasingly scarce items where price almost always dictates quality, and it should be purchased accordingly (especially if you’re trying to impress someone). Not to say that a Bud-lover should ever be denied and/or held up for ridicule. It’s just … life is short, man. Don’t waste it on bad beer.

3) Chocolate. First off, lemme say there ain’t nothin’ wrong with a bag of Nestles. Those delectable little droplets have flavored Ma’s chocolate chip cookies for a generation, and I will not sully their name here. HOWEVER. (There’s always a however.) Consider the average candy bar, which might contain the following:

Milk Chocolate (Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Chocolate, Lactose, Skim Milk, Milkfat, Soy Lecithin, Artificial Flavor), Peanuts, Corn Syrup, Sugar, Milkfat, Skim Milk, Vegetable Oil (Partially Hydrogenated Soybean And/Or Palm Kernel Oil), Salt, Lactose, Egg Whites, Chocolate, Artificial Flavor.

If you’re going for a treat, why not make it an actual treat, instead of a bar-shaped amalgam of brown chemicals? Why not try a dark chocolate bar, which could have this instead:

Cocoa Liquor, Raw Cane Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Cocoa Powder

For two dollars more, you’re getting a sating, delicious, somewhat healthier chocolate experience, not some corporation’s overly-processed idea of what chocolate might taste like.

2) Fish. Two words: food poisoning. Seriously though, folks. Buying graying, plastic-packed fish from the nether regions of a Wal-Mart seafood case may be frugal, but it’s also a straight-up bad idea. For one, supermarkets often freeze and defrost fish before selling it, robbing the piscine beauties of some of their natural flavor. For another, certain mass-marketed species are in serious danger of extinction, thanks to increasing demand for more at lower prices. And lastly … have you seen the salmon at my Brooklyn Key Food? It’s not even pink. *shudder*

1) Cheese. Whether it’s grated, stinky, hard, creamy, chunky or spreadable, bottom-of-the-barrel cheese is almost never a good idea, especially if it’s being featured in a dish or served as a standalone food. (A few grated wisps of Jack on a taco won’t kill anyone, though.) There are distinct taste (natural vs. chemical) and textural (smooth vs. rubbery) differences between low and mid-quality frommages, many of which are perceptible to the most lactose-clueless of dairy novices. Even refrigerator-case cheddar has a hierarchy, where okay brands like Cracker Barrel have distinct advantages over 10-pound bags of preservative-caked orange plastic. So, the next time you’re in the market for a hunk of brie, pass up the $2/lb grade Z brand for a mid-range wheel. You’ll be happier, gooier person for it.

Readers, how about you? Are there any foods you pay more for, no matter what the discount?


If you liked this article, you might also dig:

R.I.P., Sophia

New post coming a little later today. In the meantime, please enjoy this fine selection of food-related Golden Girls quotes from the late, great Estelle Getty.

Sophia: Blanche, a terrible thing has happened to you. But when life does something like this, there are a couple of things you got to remember. You got your health, right?
Blanche: Yeah.
Sophia: You can still walk, can't you?
Blanche: That's true.
Sophia: Great, go get me a glass of water

Sophia: If this sauce were a person, I'd get naked and make love to it.

[Sophia is noisily eating Fritos. Dorothy gets very annoyed]
Sophia: These are FRITOS, Dorothy. What do you want me to do, swallow them whole?

[The girls are sick. Sophia tells a story]
Sophia: In Sicily, we never went to the doctor. We went to the Widow Caravelli. Whatever you had, she had a cure. She was most famous for her green salve to cure ear infections. One day, she gave some to Salvadore, the village idiot. He misunderstood the directions and put in on his linguine instead of in his ear.
Dorothy: Well, I guess if you're an idiot with a hearing problem, you do things like that.
Sophia: Actually, it turned out ok. The stuff tasted great, so Salvadore decided to market it. At first, things didn't go so well. Linguine with Ear Salve wasn't very appetizing. But once he changed the name to Pesto Sauce, it sold like hot cakes!
Dorothy: Ma, you're making this up!
Sophia: So what? I'm old, I'm supposed to be colorful.

Dorothy: Anyway, Ma told me that once I started shaving I'd never be able to stop. I mean, she said I'd regret it for the rest of my life because my legs would have bristles.
Sophia: I was right! By the time you were sixteen I could grate cheese on your knees!

[Sophia is making dinner.]
Rose: Mmmmm, Sophia! The kitchen smells wonderful. Is it Chef Boyardee?
Sophia: [holds up a knife] Stick it in my heart, Rose, it'll hurt less!

(Photo courtesy of Stuff.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

City Kitchen Chronicles: Seitan (Make Your Own Meat)

City Kitchen Chronicles is a bi-weekly column about living frugally in Manhattan. It's penned by the lovely Jaime.

(Ed note: As an avowed and enthusiastic carnivore, I’m pretty wary of meat substitutes. Yet, I like Seitan. Not only does it have tons more heft and flavor than tofu, but the headline “Hail Seitan” is wonderfully applicable. But enough of me. Back to Jaime. – Kris)

When people think of vegetarian meat substitutes/protein sources, they usually think tofu. Which is all well and good, except then they usually think slimy, smushy, bland, weird. Which is, when it’s not done right, how tofu usually is: flavorless jello, sometimes with a weird tofu tang. At its best it tastes like whatever it’s cooked in, but tofu itself is nothing for which anyone should abandon bacon.

Okay, even this eleven-year vegetarian doesn’t think there’s much worth abandoning bacon for. But the real secret of great meatless eating, I think, is seitan. Sure, you can marinate and pan-fry your tofu, and tempeh has more texture and its own interesting and complex flavor, but if you want something meaty, seitan (pronounced say-tan) is where it’s at. Sometimes called “wheat meat,” by crazy rhyming people, seitan is every vegan restaurant’s secret weapon. It’s delicious, textured much like meat, and cooks up brilliantly. You can fry it, sautee it, bake it, shred it, and depending on the recipe, it can be a stellar stand-in for chicken, beef, or other non-jello foods.

The caveat, of course, is that seitan is made from wheat protein, aka gluten, so gluten-intolerant celiac folks should stay far far away.

The other caveat, which really isn’t a caveat, as I’ll explain, is that seitan seems like a pain in the rear to make yourself, and is pricey (and slimy) in its little box at Whole Foods. If you’re really hardcore, you start with flour, which you rinse until all the starch is washed away, leaving just the protein. (If you’re not very hardcore, you buy vital gluten flour.) Then you have to season and knead the stuff, then simmer it in broth, and it’s just more work than it’s worth, and it’s wet and not very appetizing at all. For years I thought seitan was reserved for fancy dinners at Candle 79. (That’s the best vegetarian/vegan restaurant in New York City, and probably the world. FYI.)

But then I discovered – I kid you not, this is what it’s called – Seitan O’Greatness, from the fabled Post Punk Kitchen message boards. You start with gluten flour and then (and this is the genius) you bake it. No cutlets, no simmering, no storing in a tub of broth like, I dunno, a preserved brain. It’s dry-baked and delicious, and dang easy to make.

It’s also hella cheap. It’s such a concentrated protein that one batch, which at first seems pricey, makes eight delicious and inexpensive servings. It freezes well and is totally versatile.

What does seitan taste like? Well, the gluten flour itself is flavorless, but this recipe turns out something vaguely pepperoni-ish. And then there are the options – as long as you maintain the dry/wet ratio (replacing tomato paste w/ bbq sauce, but not w/ paprika, for example) you can vary the spices and even the liquids in the mix. You can make something hotter or milder, use asian flavors or bbq, sub in curry powder or Old Bay. Veggie-friendly stores even sell something like “chicken flavor,” a combination of spices that, well, you get the idea. The possibilities are pretty endless.

But here, untweaked and unvariationed, is the original recipe. (Okay, slightly tweaked, because the cinnamon made it weird. And notated.) Enjoy the greatness!

(A note on nutritional yeast, the second dry ingredient after the gluten flour itself. Nutritional yeast, or "nooch" as it’s nicknamed among silly vegans, is a frequent ingredient in vegan cookery. It shows up most often in fake cheeses and seitan recipes, as a flavorer and harbinger of tons of B vitamins. It’s got a great savory, almost cheesy flavor – I think it’s actually umami-heavy – and, after buying it for seitan-making, I’ve taking to sprinkling it on, um, everything. Especially eggs and cooked vegetables. It’s sort of like those green shakers of Parmesan, but more flavorful. And it’s full of protein and the aforementioned B vitamins. Strongly recommended and worth having around, even if you’re not a vegan. One $4 canister usually lasts me a good several months. And it makes eggs sooo good. Huh, I’m pretty hungry. Anyway.)

Seitan O’Greatness!
8 servings
Adapted from the Post Punk Kitchen message boards.

1.5 cups vital wheat gluten
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 tsp salt
2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cumin
1-2 tsp pepper (I forget this half the time.)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (You can use 1/8 tsp if you like it less spicy.)
1/8 tsp allspice (optional)
2 tsp garlic powder (I use a generous tsp of chopped garlic, which in that case goes with the wet ingredients.)

3/4 cup water
4 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp tamari (low-sodium doesn’t hurt.)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (or neutral oil, like canola or whatever)
2 tbsp vegetarian Worcestershire sauce

1) Preheat oven to 325°F.

2) In a large bowl, combine wheat gluten, nutritional yeast, salt, paprika, cumin, pepper, cayenne, allspice, and garlic powder.

3) In a medium bowl, whisk together water, tomato paste, tamari, olive oil, and Worcestershire sauce. Stir.

4) Pour wet ingredients into the dry ones. Mix really well, starting with a spoon (but then get in there with your hands). Knead for 1 or 2 minutes.

5) With your hands, make mixture into a log 6 to 8 inches long. "Wrap tightly in foil, twisting ends." (Wrap this good and tight – if it’s too loose you get meat-flavored bread, which is kinda gross. I also recommend putting foil or parchment paper underneath the log, because sometimes they pop open a bit, and then you get a seitany oven floor.) Bake 90 minutes. Remove from oven. Unwrap. Cool to room temperature. Store it the refrigerator, wrapped in foil or plastic wrap. Slice whenever you need some

And then what do you do with this? I cut the log into 8 pieces – that’s a serving for me – and wrap each individually. Sometimes they get cut into matchsticks for a stir-fry (it goes *great* with pineapple and bbq), sometimes little wedges for, um, a different stir-fry. Lately my favorite thing is matchsticks of seitan, blanched green beans, and wilted lambsquarter (you could use spinach, arugula, or any green) tossed in a little mayo (sorry Kris!) and a lot of Old Bay and black pepper. Heaven. You can use it as sandwich “meat,” too. If I’m in a bind for a snack, I’ll also just slice it and dip it in ketchup. Play with the flavors, play with the presentation, and know that no cows were harmed in the making of your meat-type thing. Only wheat. And the wheat had it coming, anyway.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
142 calories, 4g fat, $0.81
(Nutritional information provided by Post-Punk Kitchen.)

1.5 cups vital wheat gluten: approx $3.75
1/4 cup nutritional yeast: approx $1.40
1 tsp salt: $0.02
2 tsp paprika: $0.08
1/4 tsp cumin: $0.02
1-2 tsp pepper (I use 2 tsp): $0.05
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper: $0.02
1/8 tsp allspice: $0.01
2 tsp garlic powder: $0.08
3/4 cups water: free!
4 tbsp tomato paste: $0.18
1 tbsp tamari: $0.09
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil: $0.30
2 tbsp vegetarian Worcestershire sauce: $0.47
TOTAL: $6.47

That might be the cheapest 20g of protein (without a bucketload of carbs) you can get. 20g protein is 3 eggs - so, okay, about egg-priced. Still, that's good.

Tuesday Megalinks

Casual Kitchen: Favorite Food Photography Links
Need tips and practical advice on how to best set up and execute your food pics? Dan has a nice list of everything you ever needed to know, but couldn’t locate.

Chow: Eat Well and Save - Tips for spending less on good food
Quick and dirty rundown of highly effective grocery shopping strategies. Worth a gander if you’re new to the savings world.

Chow: Public Transit Picnic - Is it rude to eat on the subway?
I tend to agree with the columnist here. Yes, if it’s small, non-odorous, and you genuinely have no other time to eat a meal. No if it’s a ten-course curry banquet from the local Indian joint. Respect public transit!

Clever Dude: Dining as a Group. Paying as a Group.
To sum, Clever Dude and Ms. Clever Dude went out with a bunch of friends, ordered about half what everybody else did, and paid accordingly. (The split-11-ways bill came to $22.50 each, and they forked over $12 each.) While I understand the reasoning, I’m not sure I would have done the same thing. I figure it's a given that group gatherings necessitate equal bill-splitting and order as such. BUT. I’d love to hear opinions.

Consumerist: 13 Confessions of a Waiter
Summary of a longer Reader’s Digest article compiling the … take a guess. Confession #3 is for real, yo. I worked at Wendy’s in high school, and legend had it that one of our sandwich guys punished jerky customers in kind.

Cracked: 7 Most Bizarre Fast Food Industry Lawsuits
Super nifty countdown of cases like Krispy Kreme v. Entenmans, McDonald’s v. Hippies, and Hooters v. Another Chain That Wants to be Hooters. It’s like a law course and a VH1 countdown in the same article! Rated PG-13 for language. (Thanks to Eater for the link.)

Epicurious Blog: What’s the Longest You’ve Ever Waited in Line for Something Edible?
Shake Shack. Burgers. Would do it again.

Epi-log: The Great “Ghetto Latte” Fracas
There’s a controversy brewing over certain Starbucks drinks. Apparently, asking for an espresso, pouring it over ice, and adding free milk from the counter will save about 50% of the cost of a regular latte. Baristas hate this, since it messes with the pricing structure and the drink quality is less-than-great. Has anyone ever tried it? Do tell.

Festival of Frugality #135: Antishay Ventenne
This week’s festival takes a “Frugal All Over” theme, and CHG’s own The Booze of Summer: A Quick and Dirty Guide to Lighter, Cheaper Drinks is an Editor’s Pick. WOOT!

Get Fit Slowly: Want to Lose Weight? Use a Food Diary.
Whether you’re dropping poundage or trying to save some bank, one of the best things you can do is keep track of what you’re eating/spending. According to GFS writer Mac, this acts as a motivator, guilt inducer, nutrition guide, and secretary all in one. Read on for more of his insights…

New York Magazine: Eat Cheap 2008
New Yorkers, take note! And for you non-Bigappleites, How the Rising Cost of Food Trickles Down is interesting, too.

Slashfood: Coffee – Suddenly, it’s good for you
Yay! I just had three cups to celebrate. Screw you, heart disease!

Slashfood: Fruit juice – an invitation to diabetes?
*Sigh* For every piece of good news about coffee, there must be an equal and opposite sliver of bad news about fruit juice. Apparently, eating whole fruits is way better for you. Which makes sense, when you think about all the added sugar in beverages.

Slashfood: My Conversion to Dried Beans
Okay. I’ve tried using Goya dried beans twice now (chickpeas), and both times they came out harder than a rock. I followed the directions to the letter, so what am I doing wrong? Is it me or is it Goya?

Slate: The Mac-and-Cheese Effect - Why family dinner makes working parents (especially moms) feel better.
Oh, what a great article. To sum: “Happily, according to a new study, family dinner appears to be good for parents, too. … Among 1,580 parents who worked at IBM, those who said their jobs interfered less with being home for dinner tended to feel greater personal success, and success in relationships with their spouses and their children ... even if they still worked long hours. They also felt more kindly toward their workplace. Parents who missed dinner at home because of work, on the other hand, felt gloomy about their professional futures.” (Thanks to Serious Eats for the link.)

The Simple Dollar: Ten Ways to Find Bargains on Fresh Food
Nice Top Ten list focusing on produce.

Wall Street Journal: The Candidates Dine Out - What Obama's and McCain's favorite restaurants say about the men
Extensive piece on the candidates’ preferred eateries/cuisines. Both like Tex-Mex, pizza, and burgers. Maybe they’re more alike than we believe… (Thanks to Eater for the link.)

(Photos courtesy of Helping Hands of Detroit, Associated Content, and Random Aussies.)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Peach, Nectarine, and Blue Cheese Bruschetta. Plus, Ramblings.

One of my favorite bloggers in the universe is Bill Simmons, a.k.a. ESPN’s Sports Guy. I’ve been reading Simmons since the late ‘90s, when he was Boston Sports Guy and I was a lowly intern with a Mets obsession and too much time on my hands. And while he’s had one-off classics (Is Clemens the Antichrist?, Destination: Destiny, etc.) his best columns are the running ones. Namely, The Mailbag and Ramblings.

Since my coffee’s unusually weak and I can’t seem to pull my brain together today, here’s my somewhat abridged version of the latter (but with no Celtics references). Essentially, it’s an assembly of random thoughts in no particular order, separated only by space, time, and a little dash at the beginning of each sentence. Maybe eventually, it’ll even become a running column in itself. (Because hey - if you can’t beat ‘em, you can at least pay them homage bordering on outright thievery.)

Here goes…

-Go to Food Blog Search. Do it now. You’ll never make another bum recipe and/or waste money on food again.

-Nine people have been in and out of my office the last three years, and I’m the only one left. Since my company’s moving, I’m forced to clean out a ton of left-behind possessions. So far, I’ve found: toothpaste, dishwashing liquid, a dancing menorah, a newspaper ad for “My Mother’s Jewish, My Father’s Italian, and I’m in Therapy,” 12 pennies, a pen that farts, two Sega Dreamcast controllers, and a sai. Last time I cleaned, it was nunchuks and a Night Ranger album. Draw your own conclusions.

-Friday night, I drank two pints of delectably lemony hefeweizen followed by a bottle of Bud Light. In retrospect, it was like watching U2 and Springsteen open a show for Color Me Badd. Never again.

-Wait, what?

-Has anyone been watching Next Food Network Star? The three remaining contestants seem like super-nice people, but I’m not sure I see any of them hosting a show. It’s not their fault, either. NFNS devotes the lion's share of each episode to contestants' weaknesses, and they come out looking like anything but skilled chefs. Why not play up their strengths more?

-Ma forwarded me the latest JibJab piece. Verdict: funny! Well done! Obama riding a unicorn!

-Ooooo … while we’re on it, the new Watchmen trailer is out. Dr. Manhattan alone made all my nerd synapses fire off at the same time. I’m now in a nerd coma, which is not unlike a regular coma, except you wear a cape and get superpowers at the end.

-Guillermo del Toro is way overrated. His visuals are gorgeous, but looks ain’t everything. Hellboy 2 was virtually plotless, and Pan’s Labyrinth should have been called “How Many Ways Can We Torture a Little Girl? Also, Fascism is Bad.” Yick.

-The New York press has been having a ball with the A-Rod/Madonna rumors. While I realize Madonna is Madonna, isn’t it a tad unfair to blame the whole affair on her? Who do you believe? Consider:
  • He’s a serially unfaithful ballplayer. She’s a 50-year-old married mother of three.
  • He likes blonde, buxom babes with exhibitionist streaks. She’s anything but a … never mind.
  • He’s a New York Yankee. She has a soul. (Oooo. Burn.)
-Every food tastes better: grilled, with cheese, or on a stick.


-Summery tops with empire waists and flowy bottoms are lovely for so many reasons, but they make me look at least five months pregnant. I’m afraid some well-meaning kid will soon offer me his seat on the subway, and I’ll have to A) crash diet, B) kill him, or C) say, “Why yes, I’m carrying quintuplets. Thank you for your seat, sonny.”

-Stone fruit and cheese has become my new favorite thing in the world. For my roommate M’s birthday this weekend, I made Peach, Nectarine, and Blue Cheese Bruschetta, taken from Sue Betts at Feel Good Eats (who got it from her friend Meredith, who got it from San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market Cookbook). After a few changes (halving the olive oil, peaches, and nectarines), and a coupla minutes under the broiler, our tongues were graced with a strange, yet delicious sensation unrivaled by run-of-the-mill tomato bruschettas. Highly recommended. (Oh, also: eaten in bulk, these aren’t exactly light. But three or four won’t kill anyone.)

-How I know I’m getting older: gray hair, crow’s feet, watching 60 Minutes and thinking, “Y’know, that Andy Rooney feller’s got a point.”

And … scene.

Peach, Nectarine, and Blue Cheese Bruschetta
Makes 20 pieces
Adapted from The San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market Cookbook.

¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1-1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ whole wheat or sourdough baguette, cut into ¼-inch slices
1 large peach, peeled and chopped small
1 large nectarine, peeled and chopped small
¼ pound blue cheese, crumbled

1) Preheat your broiler. Line a baking sheet with foil.

2) In a small pot, heat balsamic vinegar over medium heat. Cook about 10 minutes, or until vinegar is 1/2 of what it was. It should be syrupy and thickened when done. Pour into a glass bowl or glass measuring cup and let cool to room temp.

3) Spread bread out on baking sheet and brush each piece with a little olive oil. Broil 2 or 3 minutes, until ever-so-slightly browned. Take sheet out of broiler.

4) To each slice: brush a little balsamic sauce, add fruit, top with blue cheese. Broil another 1 or 2 minutes, until fruit is a little soft and cheese is totally melted. Serve hot.

5) Turn off your broiler. (I forget to do this sometimes.)

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
50 calories, 2.9 g fat, $0.29

¼ cup balsamic vinegar: 40 calories, 0 g fat, $0.30
1-1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil: 179 calories, 20.2 g fat, $0.15
½ whole wheat baguette: 260 calories, 4 g fat, $0.99
1 large peach: 61 calories, 0.4 g fat, $0.68
1 large nectarine: 72 calories, 0.5 g fat, $0.73
¼ pound blue cheese: 391 calories, 32 g fat, $2.99
TOTAL: 1003 calories, 57.1 g fat, $5.84
PER SERVING: 50 calories, 2.9 g fat, $0.29

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