On The Gathering of Things

By now you’ve probably noticed that I am not much of a material girl. I don’t want or “need” the trappings of a sex in the city type and I just downright enjoy getting a bargain and NOT paying 300 bucks for a pair of jeans.  I am, however, occasionally hit by the bug and just want to get a little sumthin sumthin for a little variety to my mostly obtained through donation closet collection or the house in general.

A few weeks back, we were out walking in Hillcrest and I spied a sale rack at a cute boutique stating that “everything on this rack $20”. Well, of course I had to look and of course found a super cute dress that Shawn said would no doubt become my new “uniform”. I tried it on, bought it and left the store wearing it. Normally, I only buy clothes from thrift stores or just have them given to me by my daughter and my friend Anita, but it just kinda happened, you know?

The very next day, this stupid dress started falling apart at the seams, literally! I had to get ol’ Betsy the sewing machine out and sew the bottom ruffle back on as it came almost completely off at the back . Ok, didn’t want to take it back cuz it IS cute and comfy. A couple days later, put it on again and this time the adjustable strap thingy wouldn’t keep the boulder up,so I tied a knot in the strap near the tiny plastic adjuster. About an hour later, I noticed the boob slipping down and lo and behold the damn plastic thing had cracked and half of it had fallen off! I was PO’d. But, no receipt to be found so I will have to just sew the strap in place I guess.

But how wrong is that? Cheap ass junk. Maybe  the old saying about you get what you pay for may apply here, but bear in mind this dress originally sold for $60. The bumpersticker moral to this story, for me anyway, is “I’d rather be shopping at Amvets”.

So with new dedication, the Amvets on the frontage road off Pacific Highway is now my go-to place for virtually everything. I guess I can’t buy panties or a bathing suit there, but whatever.Well, I guess I could. But nah.

Recently I have scored the following:

*2 pairs of gorgeous, nearly new, Pier One lined curtain panels for $19.95. They had been priced the day before at $19.95 per pair, but the next day when I went back they had a 50 percent off sale! Jeez, lucky! One pair is now hanging in my bedroom and the other pair may get used to make pillow covers and maybe even a new “uniform” dress for me!

*a huge and awesome wine decanter just like my wine broker friend’s for $2.95

*a pair of barely worn Lucky jeans for $7.95!!! They were 50 percent off the already incredibly cheap $14.95 and totally fit me (gasp!)

*a cute slightly trampy (ok, pretty trampy) Bebe top for $2.95

*Tommy Bahama shorts for Shawn, totally pressed and new looking for $5.95

*Brand new with tags Callaway Golf shirt for Shawn for $5.95

The only problem is, I have become a little obsessed with checking there a little more often than I should and I’m probably buying more stuff than I normally would just because of the awesome deals. Dear god, I can walk to the freaken’ place! I think I even have the recorded store information they play over the loudspeaker memorized. I’ve even been almost able to zone out and not hear the occasionally screaming kids. Maybe I’ll give it a rest for a few weeks….or days…..or , hmmmm,  I wonder if they have any cool random chairs for my budding dining area?


Greens Gumbo for a Gray Day

My garden is absolutely exploding with greens right now. I’ve given them away to neighbors, friends and my daughter, I’ve incorporated them into every recipe I can and I am still swimming in them! My fear is they will be wasted when they bolt (go to seed) and I hate wasting food, so today Shawn and I are making a Greens Gumbo which will be a bastardized version of a Paul Prudhomme Gumbo recipe. To go with the soup, we are also making a really yummy Biscuit Muffin also from Chef Paul. I’m really hoping that we can use up a good mess of the Collards, Mustard, Rainbow Chard and Lacitano Kale in this tasty and rich soup.

Looking at that basket of produce, can you see why I haven’t ordered my FMB today? My garden is really paying off now! Shawn was able to use all the carrots and all but just a few of the greens in the soup today. I will admit that my only contribution was to go down and collect this basket of goodies for him, then he was on his own. Remember I said I’ve been distracted? Well, today I had a hair up my ass to work on sanding that deck. I probably could have finished the whole thing except for the forecast of rain made it not a good idea to paint or seal anything, but I did get alot done!

Shawn and I are both big proponents of using what you have on hand and not running to the store unless you absolutely have to. Gumbo usually calls for Gumbo File, Paprika,Okra, which helps to thicken it and Cajun cooking’s trinity calls for a red pepper. Of course we did not have any of this stuff. The paprika we had is the Spanish smoked variety.

Lo and behold, he still managed to make an absolutely delish Gumbo that was thick and seasoned beautifully. I will post the actual recipe for you soon. I’ll have to quiz him in detail to figure out everything he did. For certain, he started with a beautiful and rich Roux.

I ended up making the biscuit muffins, although we were so hungry the smell of them baking almost made me swoon!

They are super easy to make. These Southern Biscuit Muffins were easily modified using buttermilk instead of milk (which of course we were out of) and were perfect with the gumbo. I pigged out on about four of these bad boys.

The batter came out quite a bit thicker because of the buttermilk and they were not as pretty as the last time I made them, but oh so tasty! There is a little sugar in them which gives them a bit of a crystalized texture on the crust and the slight sweetness complimented the spicy Gumbo.

This is definitely the fullest I have been in days….mmmmmmm

Finding A Way: frugal ideas for the beginner’s kitchen

I’m really getting interested in finding ways to help new and beginner cooks. I was thinking that one of the first obstacles a person might face in a new quest to cook and eat at home is having a properly supplied kitchen and how expensive that might seem to a novice cook.

My first suggestion to someone who has very little to no kitchen equipment is to let friends and relatives know what you are looking for. Free is awesome! Many people love to buy new stuff and then give away their old stuff. Me? I rarely buy anything new. If I look around my kitchen, most of it was gifts, freebies from friends or stuff I found at the thrift store.

Maybe you may not think of the thrift store (or flea market, swap meet,garage sales etc.) for kitchen essentials, but it is definitely worth a peek now and then and is my new favorite way to find things that I “need”. Look over items carefully before buying for chips or cracks. Check the label on the bottom because sometimes you may see that the item is for “decorative purposes only” or “not for use with food”, yikes!  I always try to find quality items, which really is not as hard as you may think. Sometimes, you may have to go to more than one store and a few different times to find everything you need. Thrift store prices vary greatly, so shop around and look before you buy.

Recently, my husband and I had really gotten into Asian soups. The only problem was the bowls we had totally did not work for sipping broth out of. We checked Target first. A simple bowl was over 6 bucks! To me, that is way too much. We then decided to go check out the awesome Amvet’s Thrift Store (very near Specialty Produce!). Within minutes, I had a little basket full of matching bowls at a whopping 65 cents apiece. Plus, I found a wonderful lidded rice server (3 dollars, made in Japan) and a pretty Japanese serving dish for around 1 dollar. Took it all home, ran through the dishwasher and ta-da! Fully stocked on bowls for slightly more than it would have cost me for just ONE bowl at a giant, big box retailer. Plus, I stuck to my ideals about reducing, reusing and recycling.

If you can’t find what you need either for free or at the thrift store, try checking Ross. Take it one step further though, and look for the clearance items. Usually they are buried in the back of the shelves. Takes a little time, but is definitely worth it.

To successfully feed yourself at home, at least in the beginning, really takes pretty simple equipment. As far as pots and pans go, stay away from dangerous, environmentally un-friendly non-stick cookware. Also, I recommend not purchasing cheap, light weight aluminum either. Here is my list for a starter kitchen which assumes most people already have a few forks, bowls and plates on hand:

  • Large heavy soup pot, preferably with a lid
  • Small saucepan with lid (to  hold about 2 cups or a little more)
  • Large Cast Iron frying pan ( I will post a tutorial on “seasoning” and using this pan. You will love it once you really use it!)
  • Small skillet
  • A medium size pyrex or corning type baking dish
  • A cookie sheet
  • Stainless steel spatula (or plastic in a pinch, try to stay away from plastic if you can)
  • Wood or Bamboo large spoon for stirring
  • Bowl scraper
  • Large mixing bowl
  • a couple of smaller ones
  • a measuring cup set and measuring spoon set
  • A decent chopping knife. (no, I do not own any really nice knives. I’m using an old Ginsu brand that I’ve had forever. By decent, I mean one that is sharp, is comfortable for you and has a wide flat blade.)
  • A cutting board
  • A  fine mesh strainer
  • A colander
  • Food storage equipment such as lidded bowls (I save containers and wash them to use over and over again)
  • Hot Pad

Gosh, I think that may be it! Of course, there is a ga-gillion different products out there and tons of different gadgets, but for basic cooking, that is really all you need.

That’s it for now, folks! Please let me know if this was useful for anyone.

Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

The Vegetable Broth Tutorial

Brace yourselves, people. Today’s post may be a bit lengthy:

  1. I have a cold, so I plan on sitting on my keaster all day
  2. I’m just heating up the last of my freezer broth so I need to make more
  3. I enjoy making broth, so it’s easy to write about

If you have read my post “Yay for FMB Day” then you already know a little bit about my broth making. Upon reading it, you might say”The girl’s got skills!” , or “man what a cheapo!” or “waaay too much time on her hands”, but in my opinion it’s just healthy and smart to use up vegetable trim to make nutritious and handy stock.

Up until a few years ago, before the vegetarian /flexitarian urge took over, I used to make stock from chicken carcasses or beef bones. My husband had learned years ago about browning the bones first and them simmering for several hours. We almost always used up leftover meat and bones for stock. Since then, it’s all changed.

I only started making veggie stock about a year ago, when we moved from Little Italy to Mission Hills. Living in Little Italy, we went out to eat quite a bit and my husband did most of the home cooking. Since taking up home vegetable gardening here in San Diego’s most perfect gardening habitat, I have begun to branch out into the endless possibilities of Vegetable Broth.

Remember that giant rainstorm a couple months back? Silly question, sorry! Well, that’s when I really got creative with broth and started playing around with flavor profiles. The house we live in has no heat and is pretty drafty, (and I wouldn’t trade it!) so making broth helped warm up the house and us so I experimented quite a bit. Since then, I almost always have several quarts in the freezer and a container of fresh on hand. I do like to have a seasoned, rich broth version and a light, basic version handy.

I started out following a basic broth recipe from one of my favorite books “The Culinary Institute of America: Vegetables”, and then expanded and really totally changed how I was making broth.

There can be a lot of waste when you are prepping veggies, and I have learned to keep my “Trim Bowl” handy on the counter when I prep. Here is just a sampling of trim I’ve used:

  • Carrot peel, ends and trim
  • Green onion root ends, tops
  • Bell pepper stems and seeds
  • Leftover/getting wilty herbs such as Cilantro, Dill and Flat Leaf Parsley
  • Leafy parts of the center of a Celery bunch, and trim
  • Trim from Chard/Collards/Mustard Greens
  • Beet Tops (very little)
  • Ginger trim
  • Lemongrass tops
  • Artichoke stem peel
  • Lettuce trim
  • Mushroom stems
  • Cauliflower trim (very little)
  • Turnip greens and trim
  • Leek tops
  • Kohlrabi greens
  • Green Garlic trim

The only hard part about this method is getting your partner to keep trim for the bowl! I hate looking in the garbage and seeing great trim I could have used. Ideally, of course, we would be composting veggie trim and even the cooked vegetables from making broth. It’s on my to-do list, I promise!

For my most basic, unseasoned broth I put whatever trim I have, usually about 3 to 4 cups in all,  and a quartered up onion with a little peel left on in my soup pot and cover generously with water.  I bring it up to a good steady simmer and let it cook for about an hour, more or less.  I then strain the broth thought a mesh sieve and allow to cool. If we aren’t using it right away, I may freeze in ice cube trays or other containers. This basic broth is great to have on hand if you need liquid without too much competing flavor to add to a recipe or use as a base for another soup. You can use it instead of water for making rice to add nutrients or to thin a cooked soup that has thickened too much.

Here’s an example of broth with a whole lot of Chinese Celery in it, Green Onion trim, Leek trim, Pepper trim and the top of an onion.

For a basic, lightly seasoned broth I follow the steps above adding bay leaf, peppercorns, a garlic clove or two and various herbs to the broth.  This makes a great base for pasta sauces, gravy, and Rissoto.  Of course you can use for making rice as well. You can also use this as a base for making Miso soup. Heat your strained broth until simmering, add a pinch of Bonito flake, 3 or 4 pieces of seaweed, and a very finely sliced green onion or green garlic and let simmer for about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and add a tablespoon or so of Miso. Stir with a wire whisk to make sure the Miso dissolves completely and serve. You can add some finely cubed Tofu if you like. Never cook the Miso, however. It kills the beneficial, live cultures in Miso.

For a richer broth, add another step. After straining your cooked vegetables out of the broth , return the broth to the stove and simmer until the volume is reduced by about 1/3 to 1/2. Then cool and store. This version is great to use in dishes that call for chicken broth .

Now for a fun one! I love to make a vegetarian version of a favorite Vietnamese Soup called “Pho” (fuh) which is usually made with a very rich beef broth. It is handy to make this one when you have plenty of Asian type vegetable trim around. I use lemongrass, ginger root, Chinese chives and bok choy trim etc.  For seasoning, you need an extra onion (over and above whatever trim onion you have) 5 or 6 whole Star Anise, 10 or so Sichuan Peppecorns,  A cinnamon stick, about a tablespoon of sugar and a splash of Fish Sauce. Strain and then simmer again over low heat until the broth is very rich, about another hour. Salt to taste if using right away and serve with cooked rice vermicelli noodles, Thai basil, fresh bean sprouts, lime juice and a little Hoisin sauce.  This version is soothing and tasty just to sip plain as well.

I could go on and on about this topic, but I think that is enough for now. Just remember that there is no right or wrong way to make broth and experimenting with it can be fun. And, it is so much quicker to make than a meat broth. If you don’t have stock on hand, you can easily start a batch while you are preparing something else. It will be done before you know it and be ready to use.  If you don’t have enough trim, just break up a couple of carrots, celery and quarter an onion and there you go!

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Dill-icious: My Big Fat Greek Rice Dish

Update! Chris and Kelly from Specialty Produce made my day by securing me an FMB today even though I forgot to order one. I love the personal service that everyone gets from this awesome LOCAL company!

So onward with the show! (I mean, blog)

It’s cool and cloudy out now, so no problem turning on the oven for dinner. I still have a large bunch of the Dill left from last week’s bag and I will be making that dish that I told you about  in an earlier post that my brother-in-law loves. It’s a Feta Cheese and Dill Rice Bake. For us, this dish is a little rich. But we have had an extremely light eating day and it’s the sum of all the parts that matters to us, not just one meal or one day.

First, chopped Onions and Peppers are sauteed in Olive Oil . We recently watched a show highlighting Greek cooking and were surprised to find out just how important wild greens have been in the Greek culture. We, of course, have a bounty of Mustard Greens right now and so adding some to this dish is perfect because it uses up some of those greens and makes it more nutritious AND deliscious. We sauteed the greens after the onions and peppers.

After the onions and peppers have become nice and soft, the rice is added and stirred to coat with the veggies, then transferred to a large baking dish with the cooked greens, the feta cheese, milk and PLENTY of minced Dill. The rice cooks in the oven and absorbs the milk, resulting in a firm rice pudding-like texture with a beautiful Dill fragrance.

What’s amazing to me is how much greens cook down. The picture on the left shows what they looked like in the beginning of the cooking process. Look how much they shrank down:

Looks like they lost about 2/3 rds their volume. Too bad people can’t do that! Here’s the rice mixture almost ready to go in the oven to bake to golden brown cheesy yummy-ness:

The results! A dill-icious comfort type food that works well for using up bonus greens and a large amount of fragrant dill. Oh, and leftover idea: Cook yourself a Greek Style Fried Egg and eat it on top of the warmed rice casserole for breakfast.  mmmmm.