Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Oatmeal Raisin Applesauce Cookies

Maybe it’s the cold weather, or perhaps the fact that because of my lack of employment I am home all the time, or maybe it’s pastry withdrawal since I don’t get them free from work anymore, but whatever the reason I’ve been on a baking kick lately.


I am really not a cookie person, I don’t generally make them or eat them but at this time of year there is something very appealing about them. Plus they make the perfect snack to bring to a party. So for a recent get together I made a batch of oatmeal raisin applesauce cookies from Martha Stewart’s Cookie book. This is the first recipe I have tried from that book but generally I find her recipes to be well tested and very reliable. This one was no exception.


The addition of applesauce to a traditional oatmeal raisin cookie allows you to cut down on the butter without sacrificing any of the moisture. (Plus I got a chance to use our homemade applesauce!) My only addition was a little bit of cinnamon to the batter (because I like my oatmeal raisin cookies spiced). I even followed her recipe for the frosting; it is just water, confectioner’s sugar and maple syrup.



The cookies were fabulously moist and chewy (I’m not a fan of dry cookies) and they were quickly devoured. I don’t think I will even consider making oatmeal raisin cookies without applesauce again.


Since my copy of this book is a loaner from the library I will have to test a few more recipes before I decide if it’s useful enough to own so keep you eyes out for those too!


P.S. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Homemade Holiday Gifts: Part 3

Here is the last installment of the series of posts about the gifts we made this year.

Baby bibs for one of my younger fans:


We came up with the pattern through some trial and error. Here is a close up of the embroidery:


This is the first official piece of S.Y.F.O.S. merchandise.

I also made a couple more bracelets:


I buy the chains already assembled and add the beads. I also got these cute tins to send them in:


Next we have a hat that mom knit for dad. She used brown yarn for the ribbing and a variegated yarn for the rest:


Mom also made throw pillow covers as a gift. She made piping to match using bias tape and the piping filling cord you can buy at craft stores.


Finally we sent out some of our own canned goods. We dressed them up with nice cloth covers and added legible labels so people would know what they were getting.


That's it for now. Hopefully now that I don't have to be so secretive I can post more regularly.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Latkes

Although I will return to the homemade gift themed posts I'd like to take a break to tell you about the extent of our Hanukkah celebration.

We always light candles on the first night, and usually the second, and occasionally we make it to the third night before we forget completely. This year we didn't even make it to the third night but we did make latkes!

So why as such bad followers of tradition do we feel compelled to still make latkes every year? Because they are ridiculously good that's why. Actually I'm not sure why we don't make them more often. (That's a lie, it's because they are fried and mom only lets us make fried foods on rare occasions.)

We use the Molly Goldberg Jewish Cookbook for our recipe. For our potatoes this year we tried russets and they worked fabulously. The latkes were crispy on the outside but still mushy on the inside (you want a little of that) and the potatoes were dry enough that the strips of shredded potato held up and didn't become one amorphous glob of potato and egg. And although you can grate the potatoes by hand if that is your only option a food processor makes it much easier.


We served our latkes with our own take on the traditional accompaniments of sour cream and apple sauce. In past years this has meant Mott's and sour cream for me and dad but not mom (lactose intolerance).

This year we did much better: we used our homemade applesauce in place of Mott's. As a substitute for sour cream we used mom's homemade yogurt (made with lactose free milk so she can eat it). If you haven't had much experience with plain unsweetened yogurt it might sound like an odd substitute for sour cream but it really works.


Keep an eye out for future posts where I will explain how we make yogurt and its many other varied uses.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Homemade Holiday Gifts: Part 2

As promised here are more homemade gifts and again I didn't actually do these:



My boyfriend did this for his 10 year old sister who coincidentally has the same name as me.



This t-shirt is for his brother. He got extra use out of the stencil he made for the picture by using it to make this shirt. (Please ignore the ugly comforter, it is old and I'm sure was more attractive before it faded.)

More soon! Enjoy the rest of your Xmas eve and Xmas day!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Homemade Holiday Gifts Part 1

Like so many other bloggers I have been busy working on holiday gifts but haven’t been able to post about them for fear of ruining the surprise.


For certain people I think it’s safe to start posting their gifts so here is the first round.


And I must be truthful; I didn’t have anything to do with this really (with the exception of some consultation). The boyfriend is giving these to his family:


This one is for his mom, it is an older piece that he just matted and framed. Although it's not typical of what he usually does it was one of the few things we could actually picture in his mom's house.



This one was done specifically with his little brother in mind and if you knew him you'd know just how appropriate it is.

Although my pictures don't really do the colors justice you get the idea. More gifts to come!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Frugal Lunch: Winter Edition

Sometimes a cold lunch or leftovers just won’t cut it for me, I want something hot and maybe a little fancy....but I'm too poor to go our for lunch. Who am I kidding? This is pretty much the battle I have everyday. Good news, I've come up with at least one solution.

I recently got inspired by a lunch at a local diner and came up with this: baked pasta with cheese and sauce (although in Rhode Island I should really call it gravy). This may sound ridiculously simple (which is the point) but it had never occurred to me to make a version of baked pasta simple enough that it wasn’t reserved for nice dinners. Usually baked pasta to me involves ricotta (which in our case has to be homemade) and means a lot of baking. Finally it occurred to me, baked pasta could be as simple as just pasta, sauce, cheese and a toaster oven.

First cook any kind of pasta (I like penne with ridges myself) until it is done to your liking. This is where most recipes would tell you not to overcook your pasta, but who am I to tell you not to overcook it? Sure I like my pasta a little al dente but for all I know you like mooshy pasta, so I’m going to say cook it however you like it. Eat it raw if you really want to.

Once your pasta is drained mix it with a little pasta sauce. Jarred sauce is just fine but homemade would be good too if you have it around. Then top with shredded mozzarella and maybe a little Parmesan. You could even add some dried herbs and garlic powder if you felt really crazy (or if, like me, you find most store bought sauce not seasoned to your liking).

Now here is the trick for me: I’m lucky enough to have a baking dish that fits perfectly into my toaster oven so I can just use that to broil my pasta. Otherwise you’ll have to do it in your oven. I just broil it enough to heat up the sauce and brown my cheese. Again, I like some brown bits on the cheese but if you don’t that’s ok too.

Voila! You’re lunch is ready and it’s just that much more special then plain old pasta with sauce but it’s well worth it.


Here are your before and after broiling pictures. It should only take a few minutes for the cheese to get nice and toasty so you have to keep a pretty close eye on it.

P.S. Happy Winter Solstice and first night of Hanukkah!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Swamp Yankee Soda

What is Swamp Yankee soda? Well it's definitely not name brand soda because Swamp Yankees are too frugal for that. But at the same time it wouldn't be generic soda because Swamp Yankees are too self reliant and ingenious for that. I actually have no idea if there is Swamp Yankee soda and what it would be but I imagine Swamp Yankees with more adventurous palates might like some of my favorites.

We haven’t kept soda in the house for years but I have to admit, I am a sucker for carbonation. For a long time I bought the flavored cans of seltzer (which still have no sugar) but I eventually just switched to regular seltzer. It’s great to keep on hand because it is good plain (at least I think so, I’m sure there are lots of people who would disagree) but it’s also great for cocktails or homemade soda.


Lately, perhaps out of boredom (having no job will do that to you) I’ve gotten more creative with the flavors of soda I attempt. A favorite has always been seltzer mixed with a little almond syrup but an even better variation is with a drop of rose water.


I have also started to use the syrups we made like our rosehip syrup which is delicious and a source of vitamin C!


But the best and most popular discovery so far is…maple soda. I just mix a few spoonfuls of maple syrup (but it must be very good very real maple syrup) with a little bit of seltzer until the syrup is dissolved and then I top up with the rest of the seltzer. It is important not to mix all your seltzer too vigorously because you will lose the carbonation which is basically the whole point of seltzer.


With just seltzer, chocolate syrup and milk on hand you can make an authentic New York egg cream! (No egg or cream required.) Although purists and Brooklynites will demand you use Fox’s U-Bet chocolate syrup I won’t insist. I usually put a couple tablespoons chocolate syrup in a cup with an inch or two of milk and mix this and then top up with a couple more inches of seltzer.


Or, if you are feeling really crazy, you can make an alcoholic egg cream. Since I’d like to believe that I’m the only one who has come up with this brilliant idea I’m not going to research it so please don’t tell me if it already exists. The idea is very simple: you just substitute Creme de Cocao (chocolate liqueur) for the chocolate syrup and make the same way.


The makings of your basic egg cream.



First: just chocolate syrup and milk.



Mix well, in fact do a better job then I did.



Next: add seltzer and ignore our messy table. You may be thinking: is that a stuffed loon I see? In which case you aren't ignoring the messy table like I asked you.



The result: a very foamy egg cream. Try not to make your as foamy as mine, I got careless. And how did that Creme de Cacao get in the picture? I swear I didn't do that, I think someone was trying to send me a hint.


Any other good soda flavor ideas out there for me to try?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Squirrel Feeding

It was very interesting to hear from some of you that you are having very different acorn related conditions this year. I was even tempted to request donations for our poor squirrels.

Keeping them in mind we have changed the way we look at food scraps. Instead of thinking first of the trash or compost we try to figure out a way to give them to the squirrels (and birds of course.)

A good recent example: we were negligent in our fire-keeping-going so our latest batch of dried apples ending up getting moldy.




It was quite disappointing, although it could have also been due partly to the type we used and not just our negligence. Instead of throwing them in the compost I decided to string them up all nicely for the squirrels.


The squirrels were so appreciative that they promptly ripped the string off the tree we had tied it to.



Dad rescued it from the soggy ground and I restrung them all onto wire. This worked much better and they stayed dry in the tree while the squirrels nibbled them off one by one.

Our next opportunity to recycle our leftovers was when dad trimmed the fat off pork while making posole. Instead of throwing the fat out it went into a cast iron skillet to be cooked over low heat. The yummy crunchy bits (a.k.a cracklings) went onto our posole in place of fried pork skins and the melted fat got mixed with birdseed and poured into plastic containers to make our own homemade suet. Although you could just save the plastic from commercial suet and use that as your mold dad took the easier route (note the sarcasm) and made his own metal suet cage to fit a more readily available size of plastic container.


The squirrels are so appreciative of this homemade suet that not only do they eat it all outside, they even found a way onto the porch to eat the extra we were saving!

More good news on the apple drying front: the recent arrival of an apple corer/peeler/slicer will make future batches much quicker.


It is amazing to see this thing in action, it is such an old invention but I couldn’t imagine anything that would work more efficiently. Unless maybe you attached one to a windmill so it did the turning for you. But I don’t think we have quite enough apples to warrant that quite yet.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Frittatatatatata

First some personal news relevant to this blog. I got laid off! That's right, I showed up at a mandatory meeting only to be told the store was closing that instant! The only upside is that I did get some severance pay but even with that I will still need to be even more frugal then ever. Although for the blog that is a good thing because it is keeping with the theme. Plus now I have more time to work on projects although I can't show some of them right now, at least not until after the holidays.

Back to the serious business of food: Frittatas are really a neglected egg preparation. Omelets get so much attention but they take more attention and need to be made right before eating. Frittatas are wonderful because there is a lot more flexibility, you don’t have to fold the darn thing or anything goofy like that and it can easily be made ahead of time. In fact I dare say that they are better leftover when served at room temperature. Finally, they are filling enough to be an entree but economical because even without meat they are still substantial and savory.

Although I previously included the recipe here I'm going to give it to you again plus a recent addition I made:

Ingredients:
olive oil
1 lb. zucchini
8 eggs
3 cloves garlic, chopped
12 fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
fresh grated pepper

Steps:

Grate zucchini into a colander, sprinkle with salt, let drain for 30 minutes or more, squeeze moisture from zucchini.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and saute zucchini and garlic on medium high until soft (2-5 minutes). Remove from heat, let cool.

Beat eggs, add basil, Parmesan, pepper, zucchini and garlic and mix well.

Preheat oven proof skillet (we use cast iron) with 2 tablespoons olive oil over low heat. Add egg mixture, cover pan and turn heat to very low and cook until eggs are cooked almost to the top (about 10 minutes).

Pre-heat broiler, put eggs under broiler until top is browned and puffed (about 5 minutes).
Remove from heat and let cool, loosen with spatula and invert onto plate. Enjoy!

(Adapted from Cucina Fresca by Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman.)


Is that a well loved copy or what?

So here is my recent variation: I added cooked pasta and black olives. You start with some cooked pasta, I used little elbows and mix it with a little tomato sauce (leftovers would work perfectly). Although some recipes want you to saute the pasta before mixing it in I'm not positive if this is necessary, it probably depends on how wet your pasta sauce is. Be forewarned it will probably stick to your pan pretty badly if you try. Either way when you are ready you mix the pasta and chopped black olives into your egg mixture along with everything else. I used 2 cups cooked pasta and black olives "to taste" (don't you hate when people say that?). The addition of the pasta may mean you have to add an extra egg or two.

Why pasta and black olives you may ask? Well I add black olives to pretty much everything I can get away with and pasta is a good way to stretch the dish economically without detracting from any of its good qualities, plus it adds good texture (as long as the pasta isn't too overcooked.)


This is the mixture when it is first dumped into the skillet.


Here it is turned out onto a plate. The dimple is where there was a bubble. It's ruined!!!! Not really but it is a little upsetting.


And here is is on my plate. With this version I tried to layer the zucchini and the pasta but I didn't have enough zucchini so it didn't really work. I'm sure it would have been cool but it is definitely not necessary.

Frittatas are best at room temperature and makes a fabulous sandwich the day after. It is also a good option to bring to a potluck especially because it is filling yet vegetarian.

And if you figure out a way to make it without getting bubbles on the bottom tell me!

(Paid for by the Committee to Reelect the Frittata)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Where Have All the Acorns Gone?

You may have noticed that my posts don't generally refer to news events but tend more towards what I'm up to. But for once these two actually intersect. The news has just confirmed what we had already noticed: there are no acorns this year! A Washington Post article explains this more in depth with some possible causes, all I know is that our squirrels seem very dependent on our charity this year.


(This feeder was full yesterday. They empty it that quick.)

The subject of feeding the squirrels always causes some debate in my house. My dad prefers to feed the birds but this generally means that in reality you are feeding the squirrels and the birds might get their leftovers. Because of this in previous years his efforts have been to reduce squirrel interference in bird feeding but this year, because of the lack of other resources, he has become more sympathetic towards the squirrels and begun to feed them also.


(The temptation to add my own idea of whatever cute little thing he might be thinking is strong but I will try to resist.)

One way we are feeding them is with a squirrel bungee feeder (the link will lead you to an ad for one but it has a good picture if you haven't seen one before). We thought this would be a good compromise because they get corn and we get entertainment. But of course they outsmarted us, they managed to get the entire cob off and proceeded to just eat it on the ground. We should have known, it is very hard to trick squirrels.


(Don't let him fool you, he has already found a way to empty this feeder too, he's just biding his time.)

I'm sure there are lots of different views about whether or not you should feed the squirrels just because there is a shortage of food this year. One could argue that this is just the natural cycle of things and feeding them this year will only increase the number that could potentially starve next year. These are good points but personally, I don't really think I could take the sight of emaciated squirrels begging on my front step. Maybe we are setting ourselves up to become the neighborhood crazy people who feed all the squirrels but if worse comes to worse we could always eat them (just kidding....or am I?) I will leave you with that thought.



(Or maybe I will leave you with this...look at those cheeks!)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Most Fabulous Panini Ever

I will confess that when the panini craze had just begun to sweep the country I was anti-panini. My only experience with them had been from restaurants and they just didn’t work for me. I think it was because the bread soaked up too much oil or something.

But then we tried making them at home using French bread from our local grocery. These were fabulous! The crusty bread gets nice and crunchy but because it is crust in contact with the pan and not the porous sliced edge of the bread it seems to absorb less oil (or at least that’s what I tell myself).

The trick is to squish the sandwiches before they go on the pan (we use cast iron) and then place something heavy on top of them while they cook. All of this is unnecessary of course if you have one of those fancy panini presses but since I’m not allowed to get one (grumble grumble) I make do.

In addition to the wonders of French bread panini we also discovered what is possibly the best variation of this ever. This was actually a meal of desperation one night when we really didn’t feel like shopping and wanted some comfort food.

Onto the sliced French bread I spread some mustard. Then I laid on some nice sliced sharp cheddar (we like Cabot or Cracker Barrel because they are virtually lactose free and therefore acceptable for lactose intolerant people like mom). On top of that I placed some chopped scallions and here is the secret ingredient…chopped jarred jalapeƱos.

You then squish the sandwich with the palm of your hand, place it on a hot but not too hot skilled, place something heavy on top and wait for the crust to get nice and crunchy and a little brown. Then flip and repeat with that side. It should be hot enough that the crust gets crispy but not so hot that it browns before your cheesy is melty.

My accompaniment of choice for the best panini ever? My own chicken and stars soup which is also obscenely easy. I use either homemade stock or Kitchen Basics (which is also very good and comes in a no salt version) and I heat it up with a little splash of white wine. I then throw in a couple tablespoons of stars and that’s it! I also occasionally throw in an egg and make egg drop soup this way.

Sadly I don’t have a photo for you, they quite literally got devoured before I had time to think of taking one. How bout this instead?:



This is where we are keeping all the canning we did this summer. It was all made by us (with the exception of two jars of jam, can you tell which ones?). Having it all in one place to oggle makes me feel very productive.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Apple Drying

Farmer’s market season has just wrapped up (the last one for us locally is a Thanksgiving one which we went to this past Sunday) so this is the end of good apple season for us. We wanted to stretch it any way we could so we bought a couple of bags to dry.

Apple drying isn’t totally new to us; mom had some vague memory of doing it successfully a few years ago so we were trying to replicate that method. We tried several slicing methods. For all methods we started by peeling and coring the apples. Coring was a cinch thanks to my new apple corer!



I'm sure most of you have seen these but when I recently decided I wanted one would you believe how hard it was to find? I ended up getting it at a very nice and very pricey kitchen store in Brooklyn.

Back to slicing: the first way we tried was to use my mandoline which was quick but the slices were a little too thin and they tended to fall apart as they dried. The second method was by hand. This worked out much better because we could get thicker slices.


(These are the slices the mandoline produced. They're cute but too thin.)

An important step is to dunk them in lemony water before laying them out to dry so they don’t brown. I think we used ¼ cup lemon juice for every 2 or 4 cups of water, I can’t remember now. (Bad memory seems to be a running theme in this post...I think we need more carrots or whatever it is you are supposed to eat for memory. Oh the irony that I can't remember that either!)

We also tried several drying methods. We tried doing them on baking pans, with and without clean dishcloths underneath and also using a needle to string them up. Although stringing them up worked fine it was a lot of unnecessary work because doing them on trays with dishcloths worked just as fast.


Although we have a nice toasty fire going in our woodstove to keep them next to most of the time, I suppose you could also try putting the trays on top of a radiator or near one. They take a couple days to dry completely and they need to be flipped quite often.

Apparently (this is only hearsay) you don’t want to dry them too fast (for instance in a hot oven) because then the outside can seal while they are still damp inside, or so they say. Also you want to make sure they are completely dry before storing them to avoid mold.


(I tried using Zoe the cat for size comparison but clearly she was not in the mood.)

I’m sure these would be great for dry cereal, trail mix or baking but so far we have just been munching on them as a snack. I doubt ours will last very long but I think once they are dry they keep fairly indefinitely (although I’m sure they deteriorate in quality) so they would make good emergency rations or lightweight camping snacks. If only it was camping season. Sigh.


(I tried using Toaster the cat for size comparison too. If that look doesn't say "I'm not in the mood" I don't know what does.)

But Toaster redeemed himself by letting me get this shot of him sleeping near the fire:

P.S. I successfully bought nothing yesterday although this was more a result of the fact that I worked all day then a conscious effort. That still counts right?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thrifting Isn't Always Thrifty

I am evidence that shopping at thrift shops is only thrifty if you buys things you need. Of course I don’t, I buy books and clothes that I want (I’ve got more clothes and books then I can ever need.) But at least I’m not buying the stuff retail so that is kind of frugal! Right? Clearly I still need some convincing.

But can you really beat this?:


These three cookbooks were from the library’s annual sale (a dangerous thing I know, but I wouldn’t have been there had I known, it snuck up on me!). Altogether they cost a grand total of…..two dollars! That works out to 7.5 pages per penny! I’m a sucker for old 70’s/80’s cookbooks, especially the ones with pictures of jello molds.

Another exciting recent find is this necklace:


Although not used this shirt was a really good find:


It is a little boy’s thermal shirt that I found for three dollars at Job Lot (which you probably won’t know about unless you are a Rhode Island resident) which can best be described as a bargain place that gets other places’ leftovers. I was planning to refashion it but when I got home it fit so well I didn’t have to. I also got another thermal for two dollars at Salvation Army. Can you tell I don’t like chilly weather?

My final crime against thrifty thrifting was my recent button-up-shirt binge at Savers. I got five of them and here they are:


Here are some of the labels. I really couldn’t care less about what brands I wear but I always feel a little smug knowing I got brands that others pay a lot for for a fraction of the retail price.

I'm a sucker for little details:
Brown velour with brown snaps (and some shmutz)!
Gold sailor logo and gold buttons, so camp!

Finally I got a bad Christmas sweater for one of those bad Christmas sweater themed parties. Have I been invited to one yet? Of course not, but I’m going to try to convince someone to have one. (I’d throw it myself but living in your parent’s basement isn’t exactly conducive to party throwing.) If all else fails I’m going to wear it to a regular holiday party and hope every gets that it’s a joke. Or not, that would be fine too.


Even I have to admit that the bears are kind of cute, and those are real gold beads sewn on the tree. It's so bad yet so good.

In other news I made a bracelet and since we are at the peak of holiday crafting time it is for…me. I know I should be working on the projects I had planned but I found the chain and then I just couldn’t resist making the whole thing. It only took a couple hours (and that is with the distractions of watching a movie, a Nick and Nora film specifically) and I am very pleased with it. It was a fairly thrifty activity since I found the chain for a good price and I had absolutely all the other materials already. Plus I de-stashed my beading supplies a little which gives me an excuse to get more!


I actually added two more little dangly things after this picture was taken to fill in the blank spot where the clasp is.



Action shot!

P.S. This is my 50th post!