Saturday, April 21, 2007

Cheap Eats and the Zen of Cooking

I feel sorry for people who don't know how to cook or who don't like to cook. There seems to be many more of those types of people today. They are missing out on good tasting and nutritious meals that can be enjoyed at home. They are missing out on the pride of creating something delicious and beautiful to look at from humble ingredients. They are missing the Zen of cooking. The meditative and soothing motions of kneading bread. The free form creativity and spontaneity of adding an unexpected new ingredient or flavor to an old recipe. But most of all I feel sorry for them because they are spending way too much money on pre-prepared foods and eating out.

Home cooking is not only nutritious and is inexpensive. Having been at one time lucky to have two nickles to rub together, I learned that you can make cheap meals. I learned how to, as my Mother once said to me, "stretch a chicken three ways to Sunday".

Here is one of my favorite ways to use up some left over pork or beef roast. Caution: free form recipe, which means I change it almost every time depending on what ingredients I have on hand

2 cups dried pinto beans or a combination of dried red, pinto, kidney beans
Bring to a boil. Turn off the pot and cover. Let set overnight.

Next day:
1 to 2 lbs of cubed raw pork or chuck meat or 3 cups cubed leftover meat
1 large onion chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic
1- 2 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
pinch or two of chili flakes
1 large can of whole tomatoes

Simmer the pinto beans for a few hours before beginning the rest of the chili. Those little suckers are hard. Drain the pinto beans and set aside. In the same stew pot, using a little oil saute the raw meat until browned on all sides. If you are using the already cooked meat you obviously don't have to cook it as long. Add the chopped onion and minced garlic and spices sautee until the onion begins to be limp. Drain the tomato juice from the can into the pot. Coarsly chop the tomatoes and throw them in. Add the beans back in and enough water or beef broth to cover the whole thing. Simmer for another couple of hours testing the beans for doneness. As I said those little guys are hard. Taste for flavor. If you like your chili done 5 alarm style you can add a larger pinch of the dried chili. If you prefer to keep your tastebuds from overloading, skip the dried chili. Add more liquid if needed. About 15 to 20 minutes before done, stir in a tablespoon or so of cornmeal to thicken the chili. If you like thin more souplike chili...then don't.

Serve with cornbread and a green salad. This makes enough to feed an army. At least 8 servings. The cost per chili serving using pork at $1.99 a pound, is calculated by my Living Cookbook program as less than $1.00. How cheap is that??

Nutrition (per serving): 439.7 calories; 38% calories from fat; 19.0g total fat; 80.5mg cholesterol; 390.4mg sodium; 1228.7mg potassium; 35.6g carbohydrates; 9.2g fiber; 3.3g sugar; 26.4g net carbs; 31.3g protein

Thursday, April 19, 2007

52 Sunday Dinners and Cottolene

What the heck is Cottolene? It was a product that was invented in the late 1800’s as a substitue for lard. Lard was considered a lower class food item. Lard was messy. People were becoming modern and more urbanized. Marketing of pre packaged products was in its infancy. Cottolene was a combination of cottonseed oil and beef tallow: two of today’s worst offenders in the war on fats. Beef suet that was including in the frying mixture at McDonald’s was the ingredient that gave the fries their distinctive flavor. Here is a link to an informative article about the long gone Cottolene product.

52 Sunday Dinners, by Elizabeth O Hiller, was published in 1915 as a promotion for the Cottolene product. This was a common practice to bring new foods to the consumer. Many people collect these promotional publications from companies like Jello, Nestle and Crisco.

People had different ideas about meals and the importance of eating together than we do now. On any given Sunday now, we are all going different directions and may not even eat at the same time or same table. Sunday dinners were an occasion to feast on the day of rest. Day of rest.... well, maybe not so much for the housewife who spent the day preparing the meal.

A sample dinner from 52 Sunday Dinners on the fourth Sunday in March is like this:

Cream of Lettuce
Baked Ham with Hot Horseradish Sauce
Sweet Potato Croquettes (fried in Cottolene of course)
Grapefruit salad
Cheese Balls
Rhubarb Tart
After Dinner Coffee

Always there was the after dinner coffee!!! I suspect they ate a bit earlier than we do now.

Here is the Ham and Horseradish Sauce in their very own words:

Select a lean ham, weighting from 12 to 14 pounds. Cover with cold water (or equal parts water and sweet cider) and let soak skin side up over night.

Drain, scrap and trim off all objectionable parts about the knuckle. Cover flesh side with a dough made of flour and water. Place in a dripping pan, skin side down.

Bake in a hot oven until dough is a dark brown; reduce heat and bake very slowly five hours. Ham enclosed in dough needs no basting.

Remove dough, turn ham over and peel off the skin. Sprinkle ham with sugar, cover with grated bread crumbs and bake 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven and decorate with cloves;place a paper frill on knuckle, garnish with sprays of parsley and lemon cut in fancy shapes.

Serve hot or cold

Notice no temperature instructions. Our housewife was most likely cooking on a wood stove. A hot oven was a matter of experience. Objectionable parts? I have no real idea here. No measurements either. It was assumed that the gentle reader of the cookbook already had a knowledge of cooking that was most likely learned in her own Mother's kitchen who learned it from her mother and so on. I like to envision it as an endless reflection of people looking into a mirror showing a reflection of themselves looking into the mirror and so on and so on.

Hot Horseradish Sauce

1/4 cup freshly grated horseradish
1/4 cup fine cracker crumbs
1 1/2 cups milk
3 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 tbsp vinegar
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tbsp grated onion

Cook crumbs, horseradish and milk 20 minutes in double boiler. Add seasoning, vinegar and lemon juice slowly stirring constantly. Add grated onion, reheat and serve

I have made this horseradish sauce using the undiluted Tulelake horseradish. It is hot and my husband tends to temper it with some sour cream.

Old Cookbooks. A window into the past

I love to collect old cookbooks. I can buy some at a yard sale and happily sit down and read them like other people would novels. They contain much more than just recipes. A period cookbook can be a glimpse into ways of life that don’t exist anymore. A window looking in on how our parents and grandparents lived, cooked, entertained and the economics of the times. One book that I have was written during the ration years of WWII and involve how to make a cake without any of the standard ingredients that we take for granted today. Other books describe how to host a dinner party, during the Depression years, with less than the normal amount of servants, including lovely photos of how to dress your maid for afternoon or evening gatherings. There are descriptions of what the dedicated housewife of the 1950’s should prepare for the husband returning from work, with suggestions on how she should dress to greet him at the door.

Unlike today where we can go a super market and pick up any ingredient we want, imported from all over the world, there were times when ingredients were seasonal, local and just not available. Eggs from the chickens scratching in the backyard were abundant in the spring and scarce in winter. When there was such a plethora of eggs, our Grandmother’s coped by making Angel Food Cakes and Pound Cakes full of eggs.

Other ingredients that were commonly used have fallen out of favor or have been given the ax by nutritionists and the food police. Lard was replaced by Crisco. Now transfats like Crisco are being banned. Marbled beef is getting a bad rap. Butter was replaced by Oleo Margarine, however now we have gone back to butter again. Ingredients come and go. Gone but not forgotten in the cookbooks of yester-year.