Feb 6, 2006

Guest Blogger #8 - Up A Creek Without A Patl

I'm happy to welcome Pat as my Monday Guest Blogger! Her blog Up A Creek Without a Patl is full of all sorts of wonderful things from food to travel. Pay her a visit, she has many interesting things to discuss.

Speaking of Guest Bloggers, pay a visit to Robert over at White Trash BBQ today, I am his guest for today (thanks for having me over Robert!) I'm sharing a favorite family recipe.

OK, without any further ado... here's Pat!


When I first began thinking about being a guest blogger for Chef Michele, I had to stop & think for a minute ... do I even qualify? What do I do that's frugal? It's not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of how I do things. But after some brow-furrowing concentration, and much sighing, and a bit of hair-twirling, I realized that yes! There are some things that I do out of habit that are, in fact, pretty darn frugal.

So, yes, I qualify. I think. You decide. Here's the scoop.

For years, The Huz and I both worked full time, often working until 7 or 8pm. So we ate out every weeknight, most weekday lunches, every Sunday brunch, and sometimes other meals, too. I kid you not. I love to cook, but cleaning up the kitchen at 10 at night just wasn't my
idea of a good time. Even if The Huz helped. Which, to give him credit, he often did.

But one thing we have always done is to buy extras of favorite items when they go on sale. Yes, it costs more today, but it will be there when we need it later, at a cost savings and a terrific convenience, as well. One recent month I made it a point to cook only with meats from my freezer. I needed to use it up and I also was avoiding driving in the snow. Our food bills were amazingly low that month, as you can imagine, and the meals were delish!

[small diversion] Did you know that the dramatically low-priced items are known as loss-leaders?

These items are priced pretty darn close to the store's cost for that item, and sometimes below cost. That's where the "loss" comes from. The "leader" comes from the way you're led through the store past lots of other more profitable items on your way to the ones on sale, and then led past others on your way to the checkout counter. They're counting on you picking up a few other things on your way back to or from, so they can make some profit. But you don't have to! (Usually, that is. Occasionally I see a minimum purchase requirement. But even then, of course, you can just purchase enough loss-leaders to meet the minimum.)

[back to our regularly scheduled program] So, anyway, we do stock up with the items that I know we'll use. We have some extra space for canned goods, etc in the basement, and a chest freezer in the garage. (Here in snowy New England, sometimes the garage is colder than the
freezer, so the freezer never has to run! But I digress ... )

But it's rawther ironic that such abundance can lead to waste:
  • It's so easy to forget about what's in the freezer until
    it's old and freezer-burnt.
  • It's also easy to get slack and
    start throwing away half-used cans of this and that, knowing that the
    rest of the case of cans is in the pantry, and it didn't cost all that
    much anyway because it was, you guessed it, bought on sale.

  • And then, of course, there are the wilted veggies that I didn't
    get to in time, and the moldy leftovers that simply have to be tossed
So much food, so much waste!!


A few years ago, I cut back on working, which opened up major requirements --- um, opportunities --- to save money by eating at home rather than eating out. Nowadays the
only meal we routinely eat out is Sunday brunch. Other than that, we're almost always eating at home. Another cost-saver is that The Huz is very willing to take his lunch to work, and fortunately, he doesn't mind eating the same thing every day, as long as it's not the same
thing for both meals. So on weekends, I make a big batch of something. Some of his favorite items are braised ribs in tomato sauce, macaroni & cheese, chicken gumbo, pasta with pesto, any kind of chowder, and a simplified version of cassoulet that is just divine, imho. You can
find most of those recipes at my recipe website.

Cookbooks for using up this & that:

When I cooked only occasionally, I confess I was a "recipe cook." Yep. Cooked exclusively
from recipes. I know, I know, but there you have it. I always had a stack of recipes that I wanted to try, and would buy precisely those ingredients when I was ready to cook the recipe. I really didn't know how to cook without a recipe, outside of scrambled eggs and other such
simple items.

Once I began cooking more regularly, though, that became pretty inefficient. I needed to be able to throw together a meal that would use up whatever odds & ends were hanging around in the fridge & pantry.

So I was delighted --- let me repeat that, DELIGHTED ---to discover Pam Anderson's How to Cook Without A Book. Rather than listing specific recipes, she shares general techniques, and then gives examples of how the techniques can be applied to create a variety of dishes. Those of
you who like cookbooks with lots of pictures ... try not to think of it as a cookbook. Think of it as a cooking manual, or a cooking class on paper.

I also love Vegetables Every Day by Jack Bishop, which is organized alphabetically by vegetable and has several great recipes for each, along with tips about how to choose, prep, and store each vegetable.

This book, likewise, has few pictures and lots of great information. I look in my fridge to see what needs fixing, look it up in VED, and in most cases I'm on my way, no questions asked, hitting the highway to suppertime.

These two cookbooks have enabled me to be much more flexible about what I cook for dinner and to avoid wasting food. Now, that's frugal!

Soups as Frugal Superstars:

I thought today I would share with you Pam's instructions for soup. Soup makes a lovely meal in the winter time, and it's the be-all and end-all of waste eliminators. Little
bits of vegetable and meat that don't really add up to much any other way suddenly became superstars in a steaming bowl of hearty supper soup. After all, if you liked it enough to buy it in the first place, the odds are good you're going to like it in soup! Besides the frugality of it, I love having a nice hot soup on the stove. It makes the house smell great, and all I have to add is some crusty bread or toast or a bit of salad, and we've got an economical and healthy meal. And usually leftovers.

So here's the basic formula for a quick supper soup:
  • Olive or vegetable oil for sautéing
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 pound vegetables, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 pound meat (boneless, skinless chicken thighs, Italian sausage in the casing,
    kielbasa sausage, ham, medium shrimp, or firm-fleshed fish)
  • Starch: 1 pound potatoes, cut into medium dice OR 2 cans (16 oz each) beans (white, black, or chickpeas) OR 4 ounces small pastashapes or egg noodles OR ½ long-grain white rice
  • 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes (optional)
  • 2 cans (16 ounces each) or 1 carton (32 ounces) low-sodium canned chicken broth
  • Herbs, spice, or flavoring of choice
  • Salt and ground black
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or soup kettle. Add the onions and sauté to soften slightly, about 2 minutes. Add remaining vegetables, meat of choice*, starch of choice, tomatoes, chicken
broth, and dried herbs or spices. Partially cover and simmer until vegetables are tender and flavors have blended, about 20 minutes. Add fresh herbs, season with salt and pepper to taste. Serves 4.

*Shrimp, cooked chicken, and pork tenderloin should be added during the last 5 minutes of cooking.

And here are some examples:

White Bean Soup with Ham and Escarole

1-pound chunk of ham (preferably bone-in), shredded into bite-size pieces or cut into cubes (this recipe is also good with Italian sausage or kielbasa)
8 oz (about 1/2 medium head) escarole, rough-chopped
2 medium carrots (about 8 oz total), peeled and cut into 1/2 inch rounds)
2 cans white beans, such as cannellini, rinsed and drained
2 tsp minced fresh rosemary

Chicken Vegetable Soup with Wide

I make this often with whatever vegetables are in the bin. I like to use shredded cabbage, added about 10 minutes into the simmer so it still has a bit of crunch at the rib. I usually substitute frozen shelled edamame for the peas, but have also used
frozen corn. In the summer we have lots of green beans from our garden, so in they go, cut small. Sometimes I use cooked chicken breast, which I add when I add the cabbage so its more delicate chicken flavor doesn't all leach out into the soup.
1 pound raw boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into medium dice (about 8 ounces)
2 medium celery stalks, cut into medium dice (4-5 ounces)
1/4 cup frozen green peas
4 oz wide egg noodles
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
Follow the basic soup recipe, removing chicken thighs after 10 minutes of simmering. When cool enough to handle, shred into bite-size pieces and return to soup.

I hope this has given you enough information and inspiration to improvise a delicious supper soup from whatever is in your pantry tonight! Let me leave you with some soup titles from How to Cook Without A Book to stimulate your creative juices. I'll add the suggested spices in parentheses, since that's one area where I like to have a little guidance when I'm cooking.

Happy souping!
Ham and Potato Soup with Leeks and Peas (dried thyme leaves)
White Bean Soup with Sausage, Peppers, and Kale (fresh rosemary)
Sausage Soup with Mushrooms, Zucchini, and Chickpeas (ground cumin)
Sausage Soup with Spinach, Cauliflower, and Noodles (none)
Pork Soup with Hominy and Peppers (fresh cilantro)
Chicken Spinach Soup with Rice and Lemon (lemon)
Curried Chicken Soup with Potatoes and Zucchini (curry powder)
Fish Soup with Cabbage and Potatoes (bay leaves, fresh parsley)
Gumbo-Style Shrimp Soup (bay leaves, parsley)

P.S. If you try a variation and it turns out great, we'd love to hear about it!


Anonymous said...

Yes. cooking withot a book can be quite fun. Sometimes I just add some curry powder and some wheat germ to my recipes. And they turn out great!

Patti said...

Great Post Michele and Pat. Thanks!

PatL said...

Hey, Miza, Patti, thanks for stopping by, and especially for leaving a little hello!

HeavyDluxe said...

You Rock, Pat! Thanks for sharing the yummies with us...

Someone said...

I am just getting to the point where I can cook without a book and have results that my family will eat (toddlers not included; people who eat crayons and refuse potatoes don't count in the food edibility polls). And I love making soups. Creamed corn is a staple. Corn chowder can contain just about anything, I've discovered.

Thanks, Pat!