Saturday 25 February 2012

Corned Beef and Cabbage Casserole

In our part of the world, there’s corned beef and then there’s corned beef--by which I mean that there’s the sliced corned beef in the deli (brisket cured in a spiced brine) and there’s corned beef in a tin (brisket cured in a salt brine without the deli spices, shredded, and canned). 

What we here call corned beef in a can is known in Britain as Bully Beef.  It was one of the main field rations of the British armed forces from the time of the Boer War right through WWII.  Here’s what the tins look like:

My husband loves the stuff, straight from the tin, in sandwiches.  Me…not so much.  It tends to be fatty and has a fairly bland flavour.  It works well in cooked dishes though, making an excellent hash or a good addition to mac and cheese.

Tonight I made a casserole using tinned corned beef and cabbage.  I got the recipe from my good friend Judy, who is the most frugal household manager I know.  I aspire to her skill set and this recipe is a good example of why.  It stretches a single 12-ounce tin of meat into a dish that, when served with boiled potatoes and another vegetable, will easily feed four adults.

Corned beef contains nitrites, and this recipe contains a fair bit of butter too, so I certainly wouldn’t make it all the time.  It makes a lovely change to our routine though, and is a good recipe to have on hand when I'm looking for a meal that can be assembled from the pantry.

To make Corned Beef and Cabbage Casserole, you’ll need:

  • 1/2  of a small head of cabbage

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 1 12-ounce tin of corned beef

  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 3 Tablespoons flour
  • 1-1/2 cups milk (I didn’t have fresh milk so I used 3/4 cup low fat evaporated milk diluted with 3/4 cup water)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup of bread crumbs 

Coarsely chop the cabbage and then steam it until it’s tender-crisp.

Melt 2 Tablespoons of butter in a frying pan over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and the corned beef, breaking the beef up in the pan.  Sauté until the onions are translucent.

In a small saucepan, melt the 3 Tablespoons of butter over medium heat.  Add the flour and cook it for 3 to 5 minutes, until the mixture foams up a bit and the raw flavour is cooked out, but the roux doesn’t take on any colour.

Whisk in the milk, and stir over medium heat until the sauce boils and thickens.  Add in the salt and pepper.

In another saucepan, melt 2 Tablespoons of butter.  Add the crumbs to the pot and toss until the crumbs have absorbed the butter.

Assemble the casserole in a 1-1/2 quart casserole or large loaf pan. 

Put the cabbage in the bottom of the casserole, and layer the corned beef mixture on top.

Spread the sauce over the corned beef mixture.

Top the sauce with the buttered crumbs.

Bake the casserole for 30 minutes.  The crumbs should be browned and the sauce bubbling.

Let the casserole sit for a few minutes before serving it so that it comes out of the pan more easily.

If you have leftovers, they won’t keep more than a day or two.  It’s best to use them up as quickly as possible.  They make a good base for soup or for a simple hash.
This post is linked to Delicious Dish Tuesday hosted by Coping With Frugality and to Gallery of Favoriteshosted by Premeditated Leftovers and The 21st Century Housewife.

Gallery of Favorites

Friday 24 February 2012

Cocoa Muffins

I was a young homemaker in the early 1980’s.  There was a recession then and many people, especially young people just starting out and elders living on fixed incomes, found themselves hard pressed.  Sound familiar?

The 80’s were actually a good time to be introduced to the art of household management.  Frugal habits were not only desirable but essential, and the back-to-the-earth movement was still exerting enough influence upon the thinking of my generation that we were conscious of the importance of reducing waste.  There was, among my contemporaries, a resurgence of interest in home gardening, in cooking, and in putting food by.  Those lessons have served me well over the years.

There was not the foodie culture then that we have now.  There was no Food Network, no internet, no smart phones or apps.  Chefs had not attained the same level of fame as movie stars.  We did still have access, though, to a generation of women who had lived through the Great Depression and through the rationing and shortages of the Second World War.  We also valued the resources provided by cookbooks, our public library, and women’s magazines like Good Housekeeping and Family Circle.

Specialty food publications like “Cooks Illustrated” had not yet made their way to newsstands in the early 80’s—or at least not in my rural community—but the recession gave rise to special editions by women’s magazines that focused on smart shopping and on stretching the family food budget.  As a young wife, I was especially grateful for these resources and some of the recipes they provided me are still a part of my kitchen routine, even today.

One recipe that has stuck with me all these years is the California Cocoa Muffin.  I found it in this magazine,

which, although now tattered and taped together, still has a place on my cookbook shelf.  I’ve made only a couple changes to the recipe over the years, replacing the vegetable shortening called for in the magazine with butter, and omitting the walnuts. 

This muffin is simple to prepare and makes a wonderful breakfast or brunch treat.  It’s sweet enough that it can serve as dessert should you find yourself in need of something you can put together in a hurry.  The muffins are wonderful hot or cold, served plain or with a little butter but—if you want to fancy them up a bit—you can top them with some sliced fresh fruit and a sifting of powdered sugar, or a dollop of whipped cream.

To make California Cocoa Muffins, you’ll need:

  • 2-1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 2 eggs
  • 1-1/4 cups milk

 Whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.

Cut in the butter or work it in with your fingers, until the butter is broken into small pieces about the size of a pea.

Add the raisins and stir them through the dry mixture.

Beat the eggs and add them to the dry mixture, together with the milk.  Mix just until the wet ingredients are incorporated.  The batter will still be lumpy.

Spoon the batter into buttered muffin cups.

Bake the muffins on the center rack of a 400˚F oven for 20 minutes.

Store the cooled muffins in an airtight container.  They freeze very well.

Thursday 23 February 2012

Darn It!

Those who know me will not be surprised to hear me say that I don’t much like to go clothes shopping.  I get very attached to my clothes.  If they’re comfortable I want them to last as long as they possibly can, if for no other reason than to avoid shopping for new ones. 

I want my clothes to be comfortable, clean, and functional.  I want them to be modest.  I would like them to be somewhat appropriate for the situation in which they are worn, but fashionable?  Up to the moment?  The latest fad?  That really doesn’t matter to me.

My attachment to my clothes means that I do a lot of mending.  I’d rather repair a garment than replace it, any day, and that philosophy extends even to my socks.  

Darning is kind of a lost art these days.  I know that a person can zip off to WalMart and for just $10.00 or so buy three brand new pairs of socks but, these days, $10.00 is not to be taken lightly, especially when the socks I have can be repaired for just a few cents.

Darning is basically a process of needle weaving: creating fabric to cover a hole or to replace fabric that has worn away.  Once you’ve mastered the basics, the same technique can be used to mend tears and holes in even the finest fabrics.  I’ve used the same technique (with finer thread) to repair everything from my husband’s plaid work shirts to my favourite silk blouse.

You don’t need much to darn a sock; just your sock, something to stretch it over (I often use a light bulb), some yarn, and a darning needle.  

I’ve used yarn of contrasting colours for this project so that you can more easily see what I’m doing.  If you’re repairing your own socks, you’ll probably want a yarn that is closer in colour to the sock you’re repairing.  In the normal course of events, I would have used a mix of black and white yarn to repair this sock.

Put the light bulb inside the sock, and stretch the sock over the bulb so that the hole is centered and the area around the hole is pulled taught.

You don’t want to make knots in the darning yarn.  Start some distance away from the hole, and a little bit above the area that needs to be mended, and make several stitches over top of each other in one place, then work a few stitches of running stitch toward the area being repaired. 

Draw the yarn across the width of the area to be mended before stitching it again on the other side.  

Make a small stitch perpendicular to the long piece of yarn you’ve just placed and run a new length of yarn in the opposite direction, parallel to the first.  Continue on, back and forth, until you’ve covered the entire area to be mended with parallel strands of yarn.  These parallel strands will make the warp, through which you’ll weave your needle to darn the sock.

Once all the horizontal threads are in place, turn the sock—still stretched over the light bulb—90 degrees.  Now the threads are vertical.  

Start a new piece of yarn and use your needle to work it over and under the existing threads, as if weaving a basket. 

Continue working back and forth, weaving through the vertical threads. Use the tip of the needle to gently move the woven rows as closely together as possible.

When you’re finished, the darned area will look something like this.  

As you can see, my rows were not perfectly parallel, nor were they equally spaced.  Just try to make sure that there are no spaces large enough to make a visible hole, and no lengths of thread that are not included in the weaving.  Trim off any little ends of wool left where you stopped or started new lengths of yarn, then you're done.

That was easy, wasn't it?

The new, woven area you’ve darned will be as durable or more durable than the original knit, allowing you to continue wearing your sock for a long time to come.

Wednesday 22 February 2012

Muffins for Breakfast

I’ve been sick in bed today but my husband has been taking very good care of me.  He took over the housework and the cooking.  

This morning the big guy made me freshly baked muffins and brought them to me on a tray, with nice cup of tea.  He used this recipe to make the muffins, but subbed in a pint jar of my homemade Bing cherry pie filling for the pear sauce and added 3/4 teaspoon of almond extract.  They were very good indeed. I wish I had some photos for you.

We often enjoy freshly baked muffins for breakfast.  Muffin ingredients are usually quite inexpensive and we almost always have most of them on hand in our pantry.  These quick breads are easy to make and there are few things nicer than fresh baking, hot from the oven, first thing in the morning.

Since I enjoyed his baking so much this morning, my guy suggested that I make a post gathering all the muffin recipes from my blogs together in one place.  Good idea!  It will certainly make it easier for you to find them.  I do hope you'll have an opportunity to give at least one of them a try.

(makes excellent corn muffins)

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Pretty Good Pickings

Another month has gone by already!  Yesterday was Good Food Box day; a day I look forward to every month.  Good Food Box day is what Christmas would be if Santa grew a garden.  We never know what we’re going to get but we’re always pleased to receive it.

We still have potatoes and onions on hand from last month’s purchase so I chose to buy two boxes this month, instead of three.  You can see the contents of one box pictured above.  Our two Good Food Boxes (a $20.00 purchase) brought us ten pounds of potatoes, two English cucumbers, four broccoli crowns, six apples, six large mandarin oranges, two bunches of celery, four pounds of carrots, four beautiful heads of lettuce, four pounds of onions, six kiwis, and two lemons.  Pretty good pickings, I think.

We were especially happy to see the broccoli.  I’ve been doing my best to vary our menu, but it’s a pleasure to be able to plan meals that include something other than the cabbage, carrots, and frozen vegetables that have accompanied most of our suppers for the past couple of months.   

The kiwis will make a welcome change to our breakfast and lunch routines.

It’s interesting to me that, since I’ve been cooking mostly from our pantry and relying so much upon our monthly Good Food Boxes, the focus of my daily meal planning has shifted from what proteins we’ll eat to what produce we have on hand.  It’s probably a far healthier approach in the long run, and it makes me grateful that we are such adaptable creatures.  This kind of cooking fosters creativity.  It also helps me to understand and appreciate the abundance available to us. 

Our grandparents, and even our parents, ate more seasonally than we do now. Late summer and early fall were busy times in the kitchen, as home cooks put by the fruits and vegetables that would add variety to their winter diets.  Apples were harvested in the fall, not imported from Zealand in spring, and few people would have imagined a time when, on any winter’s day, they could choose between asparagus from Mexico and vegetables flown all the way from Chile.  The February arrival of California oranges and Florida grapefruit was eagerly anticipated.  New potatoes and fresh peas were the flavours of springtime, and the appearance of the first lettuce in the garden was cause for excitement.

I’m not going to wax rhapsodic about “the good old days.”  I know that our diets are richer and more varied now, and that we have a nutritional treasure trove available to us year round.  I do think, though, that we take all of this variety and abundance for granted.  This winter has renewed my appreciation for what we have.  It’s been good to regain an attitude of gratitude.

Monday 20 February 2012

What We Ate, February 13 - 19

On Monday I asked my husband what he would like for Valentine’s Day dinner and he replied, “Fish sticks, smashed potatoes, and baked beans from a can.”  


I guess it just goes to show that one man’s treat is another man’s…not. 

We buy packaged food so rarely that stuff like fish sticks and tinned beans have taken on the status of treats for my guy, and I’m fine with that.  His tastes are very simple and he’s been a really good sport about the changes we’ve made to our diet in the past year or so.  If he wants fish sticks for Valentine’s Day, he’s going to get them.  It made a nice evening for me too, because supper involved so little preparation. 

The rest of our week has been pretty routine.  There was lots of comfort food on the menu; the kind of food I can put together without even opening a cookbook.  I did try something new though:  I made flour tortillas for the first time.  It was fun.  I’ll be making them again.

We bought very little food this week. Even with the big guy’s Valentine menu, our total expenditures came to $12.89, brining our total for the month to $96.14.  That’s 64% of our $150.00 budget for the month. 

Here’s what we ate last week:

Monday, February 13:

Tuesday, February 14:
  • Breakfast – Raisin scones, brie, apple slices
  • Supper – Fish sticks, smashed potatoes, tinned beans, canned cherries

Wednesday, February 15:

Thursday, February 16:
  • Breakfast out
  • Supper – Quesadillas made with homemade wheat and white flour tortillas, leftover vegetarian red bean chili (from the freezer), and shredded cheddar cheese, carrot sticks, apples

Friday, February 17:
  • Breakfast – Yogurt and canned peaches
  • Supper – Soft boiled eggs, toast soldiers, and grilled tomatoes

Saturday, February 18:
  • Breakfast – Peanut butter and banana sandwiches on whole wheat bread
  • Supper – Pot roast and gravy, potato scones, peas and corn, oat rich chocolate cake

Sunday, February 19:
  • Breakfast – Applesauce bran muffins (from the freezer), sliced cheddar
  • Supper – Caramelized onions and cubed leftover pot in pot roast gravy, brown rice, sautéed carrots and sweet bell peppers (from the freezer), leftover chocolate cake.
This post is linked to the Eat From Your Pantry Challenge hosted by Coping With Frugality.

Sunday 19 February 2012

Soft Oatmeal Cookies

It’s great to be adventurous and try new things but, sometimes, you just want something comforting and familiar.  This week was like that.  Our menu included a lot of old recipes and family favourites.

These oatmeal cookies certainly fall within the “comforting and familiar” category.  They remind my husband of the ones his mom used to bake. I like them because they’re easy to prepare and quite inexpensive to make.  We both enjoy their soft texture and fine flavour.

I would love to tell you that I came up with this recipe myself, but the credit belongs to someone else.  Marion Cunningham included this recipe in her “Fanny Farmer Baking Book,"* and I’ve been making it just as she wrote it for decades.  I haven’t changed it at all.   It’s wonderful just the way it is.

If I have any reservation at all about Ms. Cunningham’s recipe, it would be her portion sizes.  Apparently she made very small cookies.  She estimates that this batch will make sixty cookies.  I usually get about twenty-five out of a batch, so I often double the recipe when baking these.

To make Soft Oatmeal Cookies, you’ll need:

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 cups uncooked oatmeal (not instant)
  • 1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (Not pictured.  I usually omit the nuts from the recipe to help keep the cost down.)

Cream together the butter and sugar.  Beat the eggs and add them to the bowl, along with the vanilla.  Beat the mixture until it becomes light and fluffy.

Add the oatmeal and mix it in.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and allspice.

Add the flour mixture and the milk to the oatmeal mixture.  Stir until the ingredients are well combined. 

Mix in the raisins.

Drop the dough by teaspoonfuls onto greased or parchment lined cookie sheets.

Bake the cookies on the middle rack of a 350˚F oven for about 12 minutes, until the edges of the cookies are browned.

Remove the cookies to a sheet of brown paper to cool.  Store them in an airtight container.  These cookies freeze well.

“Soft Oatmeal Cookies,” page 200, The Fanny Farmer Baking Book, author Marion Cunningham, publisher Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1984

Saturday 18 February 2012

Wheat and White Flour Tortillas

Please don’t dislike me for saying this, but I’ve always felt that tortillas were a waste of good flour.  I didn’t eat them as a child and, when introduced to them as an adult, didn’t like them at all.  They seemed to me to be extremely bland, with an unpleasant texture reminiscent of cardboard.  I thought them to be more a utensil than a food; a useful means of conveying tasty Mexican dishes from my plate to my mouth, while not adding any flavour to the equation themselves.

I’ve tried several different brands of tortillas from our local grocery stores.  No one brand seemed more appealing than any other and, when I read the lists of ingredients on the packages, I found that most contained a daunting list of preservatives. 

I guess the preservatives are there because most tortillas are made in distant factories and then trucked for days before they find their way to our grocery store shelves.  (This may go some way toward explaining the cardboard-like texture too.)

The cost of a bag of tortillas is dismaying to me.  It can cost well over $3.00 for eight flour tortillas and even more for corn tortillas.  I guess all those preservatives, all that packaging, and all that long distance trucking come at a price!

When I looked at recipes on line, I found that tortillas are made with just a few, relatively inexpensive ingredients.  The steps to make them seemed simple and straightforward to me so I was quite sure I could make them myself.  I suspected, too, that homemade tortillas would be tastier than store-bought.

I finally got motivated to make tortillas one day this week:  I'd let the day slip by me without making plans for dinner and didn't have the time or the money to run to the grocery store.  I had some all purpose flour in the pantry and a little bit of whole wheat flour too.  I had some lard. Pastry came to mind, but we'd recently had a chicken pie and I wanted to do something different. There was some chili in the freezer that could be heated in the microwave, and some cheese in the fridge.

Quesadillas anyone?  I'd just throw a few things together and make the tortillas.

It turns out that tortillas are as easy to make as the ingredients list suggests them to be but, lacking a tortilla press, the process of making them was unexpectedly labour intensive.  

It took longer than I thought it would to make them, but the end results were surprisingly good:  My homemade tortillas had much more flavour than tortillas from the grocery store, and a more pleasing texture too.  I liked them enough that I’ll make them again.

Given my previous take on tortillas, that’s saying a lot!

If you'd like to try making Wheat and White Flour Tortillas, you’ll need:

  • 6 ounces—by weight, not volume—all purpose flour
  • 6 ounces—by weight, not volume—whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup lard
  • 3/4 cup very warm water

Put the flours and the salt in the bowl of your food processor and give them a few pulses so that they are well mixed.  Add the lard to the flour mixture and process until it’s been incorporated completely.  The appearance of the flour will become sort of granular and it will want to stick to itself.  If you press it lightly in your fingers, it’ll clump together.

With the processor running, add the warm water to the flour, in a stream through the feed tube.  Process until the dough starts to hold together in a ball.  This won’t take long.

Turn the dough out of the processor and knead it a few times so that it forms into a ball.

Divide the ball into 8 equal pieces and form the pieces into balls.  (Some of my pieces were “more equal than others” but I’m okay with that.)

Place the balls of dough on a plate and cover them with plastic wrap.  Let the dough rest for at least half an hour.

Once the dough has rested, form the tortillas.  If you have a tortilla press, form the dough balls into disks, place the discs between sheets of plastic wrap, put them in the press, and press them into shape.  If you don’t have a tortilla press, form the dough balls into disks, place each disk between two sheets of waxed paper and roll them out as thin as you can. 

Roll outward from the center of the dough, always away from you, not back and forth.  Rotate the dough as you work, pausing occasionally to loosen the paper and smooth it out.  Hand rolled tortillas will be slightly irregular in shape but try to form them into something roughly circular.

Stack the rolled-out tortillas on a plate with sheets of waxed paper between each one.  (I stacked them between the sheets I’d used for rolling them out.)

Pre-heat a non-stick griddle or seasoned cast-iron pan to medium high heat.  Without adding any fat to the pan, cook the tortillas one at a time.  The pan should be hot enough that the tortillas make a sizzling sound as soon as they make contact with the surface, and start to bubble up almost immediately.

Cook the tortillas until they’re blistered and slightly browned.  This will only take about half a minute on each side.  Try not to overcook them.  Overcooking makes them brittle.

If you're planning to serve the tortillas as soon as the batch is cooked, cover the finished tortillas with a towel.  This will help to keep them warm and pliable. 

If you’re not going to use the tortillas immediately, let them cool to room temperature, then wrap them in plastic or store them in an airtight container.  They can be stored at room temperature for a few days, or they can be frozen.

You can reheat tortillas in the microwave, wrapped in a damp dish towel or dampened paper towels.
This post is linked to the Hearth and Soul Blog Hop hosted by Zesty South Indian Kitchen, Penniless Parenting, The 21st Century Housewife, and Premeditated Leftovers.

 Hearth and Soul blog hop at Zesty South Indian Kitchen