Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Cajun Stew? Soup? or Stoup?

I have been trying to use all my existing freezer stash since this summer's produce season is already knocking at the door.  After doing no grocery shopping for a month you would think we would have used most of the inventory but you would be wrong.  I don't know if I just seriously overbought groceries during the year, or maybe we ate at restaurants a few countless times too many.  Or perhaps it was a combination of the two.  No matter which is to blame, I am still using any and everything I can for the next few weeks.   I really do need to have it almost empty and defrosted before I begin filling it again with summer's bounty.

I stood at the door of the freezer looking through the frozen veggies, trying to decide how to use several packages in one meal.  I wanted a vegetable dense meal so I pulled out a pack of lima beans, okra and tomatoes, yellow squash, tomato chunks,
and a bag of individually frozen pepper strips.  I still had no clue what I was going to do with it all until I actually started putting it in the pot, then an idea began to gel.

Cajun Stew or Soup

1 pack frozen lima beans*
1 pack frozen okra and tomatoes
1 pack frozen summer squash
1 pack frozen tomatoes
1 bell pepper cut in strips ( or the frozen equivalent)
1 can diced tomatoes
1 large onion, julienned
1-2 teaspoons cajun seasoning ( I used Tony Chachere)**
1/2 cup uncooked rice
2 shrimp bullion cubes ( no idea why these were ever bought but I have them so why not use them)
water as needed ( start with 2 cups and add more as necessary to keep the food from sticking)
1 pound smoked sausage cut into "coins"
1/2 pound crawfish tail meat
Add the first 10 ingredients to a large covered pot.  Cook until the vegetables are tender and the rice is cooked. Keep a close eye on the liquid in the pot adding more water to thin it down to a more soup like consistency if desired.  Add 1 pound smoked sausage and 1/2 pound crawfish taill meat. Heat through till everything is bubbling. Serve in bowls with cornbread for a complete meal.

This is similar in flavor to gumbo but has quite a different texture.  ( Plus there was no standing there stirring a roux for an hour!) Everyone seemed to like it which is a very good thing since it made enough to feed eight people.  I am putting some in the fridge for the weekend.  Can you say leftovers?

* These packages of frozen veggies are all home frozen in quart bags.  There is probably slightly less than a quart of produce in each package since I like them to freeze them as a flattened pack so I can stack them for easier storage

** Taste this for salt.  I thought between the cajun seasoning and the bullion cubes there was more than enough salt, but I do not like salty food.  You might need to add a tad more to taste.

p.s.  This was much better reheated and served 2 days later.  The flavors had time to meld into bites of deliciousness.  The entire dish was smokey flavored with undertones of crawfish.  I will definitely make this again, but I will wait until the weather is cool again!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

What's Cookin? Nothing!!!

There are times when I am doing a few things other than cooking, and right now is one of those times. We purchased a home at the lake for our someday retirement.  I have been playing a game with myself to try and spend less than 3 thousand dollars total to outfit the house. I have been busy gathering odd lots of used  furniture, knowing I would recover anything upholstered before putting it in the lake house.
Last month a local fabric store closed and all of the upholstery and drapery fabrics were only 3 dollars a yard. Needless to say, I went a little fabric crazy.  As of today 3 of the pieces have been stripped of all their former "glory" and have had a little additional fluffing and stuffing. 1 has  even been completely
re-habed.  This particular chair was a 10 dollar purchase.  It has nice bones but was wearing a pretty ugly dress.  Not only is the fabric not my taste, but the skirt ( not shown in the picture) looked like it had been subjected to a lot of cat frustrations.  It was shredded, and I removed it before I took the picture. There was no way I was touching it again, so just use your imagination

                                       It is pretty isn't it!

I did not want a skirt on the newly covered chairs mainly because they are going to sit on a black polished concrete floor, and I feel like I need a little visual break between the dark fabric and the dark floor.  ( And no! The floor in the picture above is the carport unfinished, including oil spots, floor.)

After removing thousands of staples and adding a bit of batting it was time to get to the tacking, pulling and sewing phase.  This is the almost finished project but I had not yet finished tacking the bottom back, so you still see a few rough places toward the back of the seat.  They are gone now!

If you are as sharp eyed as my mother you can point out that the plaid is cut 2 ways.  That was by design, but it is driving my mother nuts.  I had intended to paint the legs, but once I got the whole chair uncovered, I realized the legs were in 2 pieces rather than 1 solid leg, so they had to be covered.  Someday I might replace those legs but this is not the time for that. It took 2 yards of fabric for this chair.  Add the 6 dollars to the 10 dollar price of the chair along with about 1 dollar's worth of staples and tacks and this chair is a whopping $17 investment.  Chair 2 will be finished this weekend  and possibly I will get around to starting Chair 3. 

More than likely, I will not be cooking much for the next few days!

p.s I don't know why the plaid appears to "bend" in the picture.  It is straight in real life

Monday, May 5, 2014

Wrapping Up The No Food Shopping Challenge

Day 29

Breakfast: Clementine, Coffee, Toast
Lunch: Leftover Italian Bake
Dinner: Pork Chops in Mexicanish Seasonings, Brown Rice, Broccoli, Chocolate Chip Muffins
Used: 2 clementines, 1 slice bread, remaining Italian baked pasta, 1 small pk frozen pork chops, 1 large frozen chicken breast (Thought it was another pork chop until it thawed.  See why labeling is important!) 1 small can tomato sauce, 1 onion, I clove garlic, minced, assorted spices and herbs, 1/2 pack of instant brown rice, 1 bag of frozen broccoli, 1/2 pack chocolate chips, 2 cups flour, 1 stick butter, 2/3 cup various sugars, 2 eggs, 3/4 cup milk ( Son2 bought some while we were at the lake)

Day 30

Breakfast, Coffee, Clementine, Leftover Chocolate Chip Muffin
                  Son2 Leftover Chocolate Chip Muffin
Lunch: Me, Leftover Weird Cheesy Mac Stuff
            Son3 ,Elbow Mac With Leftover Steak And Asian Seasonings
Dinner: Swedish Meatballs, Elbow Macaroni and Rigatoni, Broccoli Salad

Used: 2 leftover chocolate chip muffins, 1 clementine, remaining weird cheesy mac stuff, elbow macaroni, 1 leftover steak, soy sauce, asian seasonings, pack of homemade frozen Swedish meatballs, remaining elbow mac and remaining rigatoni noodles, leftover broccoli, chopped fine, 1 tablespoon raisins, 3 tablespoons minced onions, 1 tablespoon (maybe) mayo

Yay! We made it through with just a couple of minor slip-ups.  Since we were running back and forth to the lake, we had to stop and buy a couple of things I forgot to pack.  Olive oil, bread (twice) and optional vanilla wafers for banana pudding for TheHub.  TheHub picked up fruit 2 times at the store.  He carries a banana to work nearly every day and it does not take long for bananas to get overripe.  After having to eat some very mushy bananas, he switched to clementines.  They last so much longer in the fridge.

I am very glad I did this, mainly to see how extravagant I can be when buying food.  I tend to overbuy vastly more than we could possibly eat in a month.  My pantry would still be thought of as full by most people.  I would not call it anywhere near empty, but it is reasonable now.  In fact I know what items I need to purchase and what items I can wait a while before buying again.  I also know the only protein I will purchase in the immediate future is ground chuck.  Sometime over  the weekend while we were away Son2 had a friend and her kids over.  My frozen hamburger patties took a big hit, which is fine since they were frozen to be cooked and eaten in the first place. But The Pig is having a ground chuck sale this week, so tomorrow I will get enough to make about 20 burgers for the freezer.  I have a feeling we will be cooking quite a few of them this summer at the lake

What I learned during this process:

1. I buy and freeze entirely too many things,   I  do not need enough frozen food to feed the marauding hordes every single day. I can go to the store if I find they are coming.
2. If I really think about it, I can be quite creative in the kitchen.
3. We eat the same meals on a regular basis because it is the easiest option, not the best or tastiest.
4. I REALLY like having salad everyday and REALLY missed not having it.
5. I don't need to freeze as much squash as I did last year, because frozen squash is not our favorite.
6. I need to freeze more tomatoes since we use a ton of them in stews, soups and sauces.
7. Ditto on freezing turnip greens and collards
8. A huge bag each of frozen diced onions, celery and peppers would be great to have on hand all the time.
9. Label EVERYTHING !  The bag of spaghetti sauce is not going to look like only  spaghetti sauce once it is frozen.  It will look just like the chili, red beans and rice, and gumbo.  I have sharpie markers. USE THEM.
10. Freeze chicken, turkey and beef broth in 1 pint freezer bags.  A quart is too much for most of the times I use broth.  If I am making soup I can easily use 2 packages.
11. Keep a bag for the leftover bit and pieces of veggies and meats.  When it is full, make soup.
12.  Freeze leftover soup in silicon large muffin cups  Once frozen pop them out put them in a large freezer bag. 2 "muffins" are enough for lunch.
13.  Ditto for cooked dried beans. 2"muffins" are approximately a can of beans
14.  Cook a whole pack of bacon in the oven until softly done.  Drain and freeze on a cookie sheet.  Once frozen place it in a freezer bag.  Microwave 2 slices on a paper plate for 1 minute
15. Pour the remaining 1/2 cup of red wine into an ice cube tray.  Freeze, pop out into a plastic ziplock and use for cooking. Important aside, label the bag with the type of wine.  A dry red really helps Cuban food but a sweet wine will destroy the flavor.
16. Ditto for white wine, though we rarely drink white.
17.  Think of alternate ways to use frozen fruits.  Man can only drink so many smoothies or eat so many cobblers.
18. Believe it or not I miss the act of going to the grocery store.  I am one of those goofballs who enjoys food shopping.
19.  Don't be afraid of screwing up yeast bread.  All these years I have tried with little success and I find the answer to success is as simple as instant yeast
20. The double large bag of yeast from Sam's is a great deal.  It lives in a jar in the freezer and should last well over a year.
21.  Don't worry about serving less than spectacular food.  It is just sustenance and even if it is not great today there is always the chance it might be tomorrow or at the latest some night within the week.
22. Peanut butter and graham crackers are a perfectly good breakfast or lunch occasionally.
23. Each week at least 80 percent of my food purchase should be produce we are going to eat that week.
24. Buy bread flour in bulk.  Those quick dinner rolls are so good it should be illegal to run out of bread flour.
25. Leftovers should be consumed and not left to die in their little refrigerator coffins. ( I have eaten tons of leftovers this month instead of stopping somewhere and picking up lunch.  Has it been what I want? Mostly not, but it's just lunch.)
26. Try something new each week.  Doesn't matter what as long as it is using food in a different way.
27. Use the rest of that stuff in the freezer.  I just got an email notice that local organic strawberries are ready.  It is time to start freezing and preserving the new seasons bounty and I need space!
28.  In every recipe when I used reconstituted powdered milk it worked perfectly.  Food does not know or care if the milk came straight from the fridge or first from a  box.  If you are like us and don't drink milk, use the instant stuff and keep from throwing soured milk out.
29.  Commit substitution rules to memory and never have to run to the store for 1 of anything again.
30.  Cook as much as possible from scratch and  use organic if possible and stay away from GMO foods.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Chocolate Chip Muffins...E.Z. Update

As I mentioned in posts for the past month, I have been using what I have rather than shopping.  My grocery bill for the month has consisted of 1 small bottle of olive oil, 2 loaves of bread and a box of vanilla wafers, though TheHub has bought fruit twice.

The other night Son3 wanted "something sweetish but not too sweet".  Usually I would have a White Lily chocolate chip muffin mix in the pantry, but not then and I couldn't go buy one until the no shopping challenge was over.  We googled recipes and found one here that had 5 star reviews, so we decided to try it.

The only thing I did differently was to omit the chopped nuts because Son3 hates nuts (How does anyone hate nuts?)  I love a recipe that can be made quickly using a minimum of dishes.  For this recipe I used one mixing bowl, a cup measure, wooden spoon, regular spoon and muffin tin.  I probably should have used a teaspoon measure but my regular spoon measures exactly 1 teaspoon and I can eyeball the half teaspoon of salt.

                                                        Chocolate Chip Muffins

2 cups flour
1/3 cup, packed, light brown sugar
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 eggs lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 12 oz. package chocolate chips ( I used 1/2 package cause that is what I had on hand.  It was enough)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a medium bowl mix together all the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl ( yeah right) combine the milk melted butter , eggs and vanilla and stir to completely combine.  Pour over the dry ingredients and stir until it is well mixed.  Add the chocolate chips and nuts and blend thoroughly.  Spoon into 12 greased regular sized muffin cups.  Bake for  15-20 minutes or until a toothpick cake tester inserted into the middle of a center muffin comes out clean.  Cool for 5 minutes on a wire rack then remove from the muffin tin to finish cooling. (Unless you are like us and just go ahead and eat them hot.  The 5 minute wait will prevent melted chocolate from burning your mouth).  If you have any left they can be left covered at room temperature for one day.  For longer storage pop them in the freezer.

These were a delicious, not too sweet muffin and not too large muffin.  The texture was slightly denser than a cake, but held together well.  We are going to try variations using the basic muffin mix, substituting sunflower oil for the melted butter. We decided we would try strawberries, blueberries, cherries,  and peaches when each comes in season.  We are also going to try some with butterscotch chips and some with combination chocolate chips and peanut butter chips.  Will be sure to get back to you on how the various muffins taste.


This morning I made a variation of this muffin.  All the dry ingredients remained the same, but I used 1/3 cup plain yogurt  ( had some about to spoil) and 1/3  cup milk.  Instead of melted butter I used 1/2 cup  sunflower oil, and rather than chocolate chips I used a 1 pint bag of thawed frozen blueberries.  Because the blueberries were unsweetened, the overall muffin was less sweet than one made with chocolate chips, but it was still good and actually almost perfect for a breakfast muffin.  I am not sure how I feel about the brown sugar in a fruit muffin.  I think next time I will omit the brown sugar and increase the white.  The richer brown sugar taste clashes with the mild blueberry flavor.
You will notice the picture of the blueberry muffin is much darker than the picture of the chocolate chip muffin.  this was the result of a user error and not a recipe thing . (Lesson 1,453,217:  Don't get busy doing something in a remote part of the house when muffins are in the oven)

                                                           Blueberry Muffins