Monday, January 19, 2009

Snow Day Traditions

For those living in areas where you deal with snow on a regular basis, a snow storm inspires different reactions from different people. Growing up on the Canadian border, we had a lot of practice with snowstorms, and my mother's reaction was pretty much always the same: drive to the store and buy milk and eggs. Even if we had milk and eggs.

Now that I'm living in the urban half of the title of the blog, I don't really need to do anything to prepare, other than shovel the sidewalk. I can take a train anywhere I need to go, if I wanted to buy milk and eggs, I could walk to the corner store, I don't have to dig out the car. So what do I choose to do? Stay home and eat. (oh, and watch football).
Yesterday's slow roller (lots of light snow, all day) required something complicated, long simmering, and warm. I had read an article in Gourmet a while back about a family that owned an Italian restaurant in Long Island, and when their grandfather died, the family decided the best way to memorialize him was to publish his meatball recipe in Gourmet. The gentleman in question had a fantastic nickname: "Squatty". I found it hard to believe something entitled "Squatty's Meatballs" could be anything but fantastic, and I was right. I won't go into the details, and will instead let you read it for yourself here, but I will say this: any sauce and meatball recipe that requires 5 different forms of meat, including a beef shin bone, is alright in my book. Thanks, Squatty.

Monday, January 12, 2009

French Canadian Magic

If you've never experienced the wondrous creation that is Poutine, you are missing out. Served in roadside shacks, bars and ski lodges in Quebec, a basic description is cheese fries with gravy, but it's so much more. It's gotten pretty trendy in the last year or so, so you'll probably see it on a bar menu at some point, but it may not be authentic. Here's the real deal, in three acts:

I. Fries. Skinny, shoestring fries. No potato wedges.

II. Cheese curd. This is difficult to find outside of Wisconsin or Upstate New York. Cheese curd is a very mild, white cheese that "squeaks" as you chew it. The beauty of the curd is that it's quite mild and it melts well without dissolving. If you can't get it, queso fresco is a decent substitute, and if you can't get that, get the mildest white cheddar or Monterrey jack you can.

III. Gravy: Canned please. In Canada, it seems to be a beef gravy with a bit of a tomato taste, but any canned gravy will work.

You can imagine how to make this: cook the fries, add the cheese, pour the gravy.

If you're as fascinated as I think you might be, check out the mack-daddy of poutine restaurants:
Chez-Ashton in Quebec. (Note: The "Galvaude" version is not for the faint of heart).

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Can Jam, part 2

I love Dilly beans. I love the homespun name of them, plus they are mmm mmm good. Fresh dill sure does look purty in the jar, and the judge at the county fair will recognize your talent over that know-it-all Ida Sue. Who does she think she is?
Sorry. Went off on a County Fair reverie for a second. Here's the recipe.
2 pounds green beans, trimmed
1 tsp cayenne pepper
4 garlic cloves
4 sprigs fresh dill
1/4C. pickling salt
2 1/2 C. white vinegar
2 1/2 C. water
Sterilize jars and lids.
Pack beans lengthwise into hot, sterile pint jars. Add 1 sprig of dill and 1 garlic clove to each jar. Combine salt, vinegar, and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour, boiling hot, over beans, leaving a 1/4 inch headspace. Seal with lids and sterilize. Yield: 4 pints.

Can Jam

Ah, canning. There's nothing more satisfying to a Homespun girl than seeing rows of full Mason jars on a shelf. Its almost difficult to open them up, but oh, the sound of that seal releasing!
Let's clarify for those new to the game that canning does not refer to sealing things in cans, but rather putting things in glass jars and making the lids airtight. Another nice turn of phrase often used in the South is "putting up", as in "My Mama fell and hurt her hip, so the ladies from the Baptist church came over and helped her put up her okra."
Canning can be hot work, especially in the summer, what with all those jars simmering away on the stove, so I usually wear a bikini, and not just any bikini: the canning bikini. This is the top to a bikini that a friend gave me that I would never wear in public because it's too skimpy, and I am not that type of girl. But, for standing in a kitchen with four burners blazing in August? It's perfect. (I'd recommend actually wearing shorts or pants rather than a bathing suit bottom- you need a little coverage with all that boiling water).
You can start with the easiest thing to go into a jar: jam. Crush some berries, add whole bags of sugar (well, practically), cook it, and seal it up. This is really very easy, but with one caveat: your mental state. One time, I was in what I thought was a serious relationship, only to be broken up with without actually being told. (True story. Perhaps for another time). Anyway, while I was alternately on crying jags or angrily throwing plates, a friend and I decided to make jam. Although we had done it many times before in the same kitchen, it burned. Horrible. Scorch drawn all the way through. She maintained it was my attitude, and we named the jam "bitter berry". Bad attitude = Bad jam.

Canning is a way to take the best of the season and make it last all year. The specifics of how to can are like a science experiment from high school: be properly outfitted, read the directions, take care around an open flame. That said, don't be intimidated- even something that gets messed up can still be used. A jam that doesn't set? It's a fruit sauce! Pickles that don't seal? Eat them that week!
All that needs to be said and learned about canning can be done by reading the Bible of home food preservation, the Ball (that's a mason jar to you) Blue Book. If you'd like to can, the BlueBook is the best investment you can make. You can even buy it on with a little kit that includes some canning tools.

So, How can canning work for you? On with the show, my bikini-clad friends!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Take that, Martha Stewart

I inadvertently came up with a Thanksgiving idea so cool that Martha herself will be stealing this by next year. Shows you what not much planning and a cocktail will do.
I had bought some chestnuts just because I like having them around this time of year, and I threw them in the oven to roast. (Caveat: Chestnuts, even when you cut a slit in the skin, have a tendency to explode if they cool too fast. And I do mean EXPLODE. If I had been standing a little nearer to the tray I would have had a face full of chestnut). The family and I then printed out pictures of the people coming to dinner, printed them in yearbook size photos, taped it to a toothpick and stuck it in the chestnut. Each dinner place had a fun photo (of course we picked the embarrassing ones), and a tasty snack.

Your move, Stewart.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Under Pressure

My husband came home from the store one day and remarked "Look at all the dried beans there are! And they're so cheap! I bought 5 bags!"

This was about 2 years ago. They're still in the pantry, but in a moment of hunger+below freezing temperatures+ I really wanted white beans= I'm starting an experiment. The problem with dried beans is that they need to soak overnight, then cook for at least an hour, so it's not something you can whip up after work. Another problem is that after waiting 16 hours or so for some type of food, you tend to want something more exciting, like ice cream, rather than, well, cooked beans that you could have had out of a can. However, the Homespun warrior never wastes food, so I'm taking down some of those beans. I think the trick is this: You still always need to soak them, but if you put them in water when you go to work, you cover the minimum soak time and can cook them when you get home in a pressure cooker. I realize not everyone has one of these, and I don't use mine that much, but I'm going to start trying because it's truly amazing. The beans are ready to go into the pot and the cooking time, as stated by the Presto Pressure Cooker Manual, is .... 1 minute. Seriously.
I'll report back later on the outcome, but I'm pretty fired up. Beans will do that to a person.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Promising something for everyone

We had a Halloween party at the Commune, and in looking for a 5 person costume came up with the Love Boat. Yes, that's Issac, Julie, Dr. Bricker, the Captain and his daughter welcoming you aboard. We had this in three apartments, so we made them into decks: the first floor was the boarding level, the 2nd floor was the Fiesta deck (midnight buffet) and the third floor was the Lido deck (bar). Food on the midnight buffet included such favorites as ham, pineapple and cheese cubes on sticks, stuck into a watermelon rind and Swedish meatballs. The Lido deck features Mai-Tais and tropical fruit. Richard Simmons made an appearance, as did a lovely retiree from Boca Roton. No Charo, unfortunately.
I loved the fact that two days before this party, no one had done anything, and then with the addition of a couple of wigs and a Just For Men beard dye kit suddenly we got our mojo back. A little effort always makes things more special, and we definitely set a course for adventure. Take your theme party to the next level by doing that thing that seems like "too much". It's not. And your passengers, I mean guests, will love it.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Cheap and Easy, just like your Mom part I

The mack-daddy of making one thing and getting a ton of meals out of it is a whole chicken. Even if you spring for the organic, grain-fed, college-educated chicken, you're still at around $8 for at least three meals.

Whole chicken can be adapted to whatever flavors you like. Take your chicken, rinse it out, make sure you remove the plastic bag of giblets in the cavity, and dry it off with paper towels. Rub olive oil or butter all over the skin (top and bottom). Sprinkle with salt and pepper and any spices you like. If you have a roasting rack, put the chicken in it. If you don't, cut up some onions or celery and put them in the bottom of a pan and put the chicken on top of them.
The temperatures and times for chicken come from a great recipe from Mark Bittman in his 'How to Cook Everything", which I like because it makes the skin crispy and the meat tender. He says:

1.Heat over to 500.
2.Put chicken breast side down and roast for about 25 min.
If the skin looks crispy, turn the chicken over. The easiest way to do it is take the handle of a wooden spoon, put it in the cavity, and then spin it with tongs and put down.
3.Lower the heat to 325. Roast for about a hour more, or until the temperature reaches 160-165. If you don't have a thermometer, you can make a cut near the thigh and see if the juices run clear, or wiggle the drumstick- if it moves freely, it's probably done.
4. Tip the bird up so the juices run into the pan, then let it rest for at least 5 minutes.

Carve it up! You can strain the pan juices and serve it with that, or make gravy if you're feeling super homespun. If you don't, don't feel guilty about it.

That's meal number one. You could even have thrown some cut up peeled potatoes in the pan after you turn the heat down and your meal is done.

Leftovers ideas will come....when else? Tomorrow.

Is it time for Mock Apple Pie?

For those into American food history, or those who just ate a ton of Ritz crackers as a kid, you'll remember the Mock Apple Pie. This is a dish made popular during WWII that tastes like apple pie (sort of) made with Ritz crackers and not a lick of apples. This frugal recipe recently sprang to mind after the recent (well, latest) economic crisis prompted all the millions of people who get hired to run their pie holes on cable news talk shows (the same people who came up with the gem "staycation") to start making pronouncements on how Americans will be changing their lives. Wow, if people have less money they might stop ordering takeout? What insight.
Homespun Urban already knows what to do with news like this. Use everything, buy food in its original form, and make/fake what you can't afford. With that in mind, we come back from our summer (well, and early fall) hiatus to introduce another series:

Cheap and Easy (just like your Mom)

Interpret that anyway you want. We'll try to post some ideas for meals that don't cost much and can be used for a few meals at the least. And if you really want to try that mock apple pie, go for it. Although now that I think of it, it might be cheaper to buy a bag of apples than a box of Ritz crackers. How times have changed.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Homespun-iest Urban-like Recipe I Ever Invented

Hi folks! I'm Richie Rich! Need a way to use up leftover pate? I know, me too!

Well, sort of. Stick with me, folks: I went out to dinner on Sunday to a French Bistro, ordered pate to start, and had way too much to eat before dinner, so I took it home. (Urban).

I wanted to have spaghetti and meatballs tonight, but I didn't have quite enough hamburger. (Homespun).

I mixed in the pate with the ground chuck, and voila (Urban) and hoop-de-doo (Homespun), I got some of the meatiest meatballs ever!

This could just be the essence of the whole damn book.