Alabama Gazette - The people's voice of reason

Southern Cuisine

 


Did you know that the third largest household expense is for Food? I think the two largest are housing and transportation. I cannot help you with where you live and how you get about, but I have touched upon, in past articles, ways to save on food. Keeping a well-stocked pantry and purchasing fresh local fruits and vegetables are not just money saving practices but also healthier.

I have stressed upon reading the fine print in the ingredients list hidden on the back of the food packaging. After reading some labels, I wonder if I should even eat the stuff. There is an alternative. I am a fan of Alton Brown on the Food Network because I like to learn how to make many items from scratch. If you watch him, you know that some of his alternatives for making food from scratch can be laborious tasks. To me, it boils down to Time and Money. A book by Jennifer Reese, “Make the Bread, Buy the Butter”, sums it up. There are things that you should not try to make thinking you will save money.

There are many choices to “store bought” products that can save you money and be healthier. Knowing how to make the alternative can be a lifesaver. Especially if you run out of an ingredient in the middle of some cooking project such as ten people are coming over for dinner tomorrow night.

I am going to break it down to “substitutions” and “alternatives”. Substitutions are quick fixes that you need when you find out you are out of an ingredient in a recipe. In the art of baking, many substitutions are used. There is no baking powder in the cupboard and your recipe calls for one teaspoon. Combine a quarter teaspoon of baking soda, one half teaspoon of cream of tartar and one-quarter teaspoon of cornstarch.

Alternatives are not always money savers but are mostly healthier choices. My favorite alternative is subbing pasta with spaghetti squash. Pasta can be a cheaper dish, but one cup of pasta has 200 calories and 35 grams of carbs. Spaghetti squash has 40 calories and 10 grams of carbs per cup.

That does not say that all substitutions and alternatives are going to be better in taste or outcome of the recipes. Peanut butter is a good example. I do not like to buy peanut butter because I do not like all the added sugar. However, the peanut butter that does not have added sugar is usually more expensive. Since I cannot get the creamy texture of store bought peanut butter from my food processor or blender I buy expensive peanut butter.

Many items are better homemade, and you can tweak the recipes to suit your tastes. Pesto is a good example. The store bought is expensive and seems to have too much oil. Basil is more expensive than spinach and the cheese in this recipe is milder and softer than Parmesan.

SPINACH-PISTACHIO PESTO

INGREDIENTS

Four cups spinach packed

One half cup grated Gruyere cheese

One third cup shelled pistachios

Two garlic cloves, chopped

Juice from half a lemon

One fourth teaspoon salt

METHOD

1. Using a food processor, pulse all of the ingredients until a coarsely chopped.

2. Scrap down the sides and then pulse while adding a steady stream of oil. Continue until pesto looks uniformly smooth.

3. Add additional oil and lemon juice to use as a salad dressing.

4. You can freeze leftover pesto in ice cube trays and then store in a zip lock bag for future use.

This is one of the best recipes to change to suit your taste and your pantry. Changing the base plant (kale, arugula, mint, cilantro) and changing the nuts (pine nuts, walnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, almonds) and the oil (walnut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, grape-seed oil) and the acid (white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, cider vinegar, lemon juice) makes for a myriad of combinations.

Other items to make at home should include granola, BBQ sauce, pancake mix, croutons, salsa, and soup. So what to do with that bumper crop of tomatoes you will have in your garden this year. If you plan it, you could go the whole winter and not have to buy any tomato products, such as tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, or ketchup. Now, remember when I said it boils down to time and money, this is the time you have to decide between the two. With the tomatoes you have, the first step to turning them into something different than slices for a hamburger or chunks for a salad, takes some time.

First, you make a tomato puree, and you can freeze some of that. The rest is cooked down to make tomato sauce. Freeze some of that and the rest goes to making tomato paste. Whatever your final product, you need to peel the tomatoes. My favorite way to peel tomatoes is the freezer, warm water method I saw on PINTEREST. First freeze the tomatoes. When ready, use a bowl or sink and fill with warm water. Working in small batches drop the tomatoes into the water and swish around to warm all of the skin. Then hold tomato in your hand and pinch the stem end of the tomato and the skin pops off. Of course this is basic information. What do you consider warm water. It makes a difference in the size and type of the tomatoes, and medium sized roma tomatoes work the best. A video to watch on PINTEREST takes about a minute. If you went through all the steps and ended up with your own tomato paste, then it is time to make your own ketchup. I do not go through all those steps because I lean toward saving time when it comes to ketchup and the fact that I cannot find my favorite Jalapeno Ketchup anymore. Therefore, I buy my tomato paste. If you shop like I do, you will find good and very inexpensive tomato paste. With this I can add whatever spices I want to make my custom ketchup.

DAVID’S FAVORITE HOMEMADE KETCHUP

Word of warning: I usually, no, I always add more peppers or hot sauce to what I eat than the family can stand. If you are going to add heat to this recipe, start gently and add heat to your tolerance.

INGREDIENTS

One six-ounce can tomato paste

One fourth to one half cup apple cider vinegar

One half teaspoon salt

One half teaspoon dried oregano

One half teaspoon cumin

One eighth teaspoon ground black pepper

One-teaspoon Coleman’s English Mustard Powder

One or up to not too many drops of Melinda’s Original Habanero Pepper Sauce Extra Hot (to taste)

METHOD

1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk together.

2. The amount of vinegar determines the acidity you want for your ketchup.

3. Add water to vinegar mixture to always equal one half cup.

4. Will keep well in refrigerator a few weeks.

I noticed that my shelves in the pantry are filling up with salad dressing cruets. It seems that the company wants you to buy the cruets thinking that you will keep buying the packaged mix. And they price it so think that you are saving money by getting a free cruet. If you have more than three cruets, start making your own mix.

DRY SALAD MIXES FOR YOUR FANCY CRUET - ONION or GARLIC MIX

INGREDIENTS

One teaspoon onion powder or one half teaspoon garlic powder

One teaspoon parsley flakes, crumbled

One half teaspoon dry mustard

One half teaspoon salt

One fourth teaspoon pepper

Pinch of paprika

Pinch of sugar

Follow directions on side of cruet (one fourth cup vinegar, two tablespoons water, mix and shake. Let stand 30 minutes, add three fourths cup oil, shake well and serve).

ITALIAN MIX

INGREDIENTS

One half teaspoon sugar

One half teaspoon dry mustard

One half teaspoon salt

One quarter teaspoon each: pepper, oregano, onion powder, garlic powder, sweet red pepper flakes

Pinch of paprika

Same directions as Onion Salad Mix.

Remember the ten people coming over for dinner tomorrow night? Have you decided what to serve? You look in the pantry and find bread and a few pantry basics. In your refrigerator there is some leftover cheese and the usual milk, butter and eggs. And you are wondering what else to do with that bumper crop of tomatoes.

This next recipe dates back at least to the 18th/19th century and is the early days answer to a grilled cheese sandwich. Before preparing this dish, you will find interesting tidbits about it in WIKIPEDIA. A quick search of mine in one of my cooking apps, came up with over fifty variations for Welsh Rarebit. It can be a quick nondescript dish of cheese and bread or a gourmet delight with cheese and bread and prosciutto, curry powder, waffles, and portabello mushrooms. A great recipe to use up leftovers and try your hand at different cheeses. But your guest deserve better than a plate of leftover pantry items, so read the ingredient list and go to the store and pick up what you need.

WELSH RAREBIT

Adapted from Framed Cooks - Serves five

INGREDIENTS

Two cups milk

Three fourths cup butter

One fourth cup flour

Two cups grated sharp cheddar

One half cup English-style ale

One half teaspoon tomato paste

One teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

One fourth teaspoon dry English mustard

Ten slices of cooked thick sliced smoked bacon

Five slices of hard crusted sourdough bread, thick sliced and lightly toasted

Chopped parsley

METHOD

1. Turn on oven broiler

2. Heat milk in a small saucepan.

3. Melt 1/4 cup butter in another saucepan, stir in flour and cook for 2 minutes.

4. Whisk the hot milk into the flour butter mixture stirring constantly until thickened, about 5 minute. It is not just Cajuns that start every recipe with "First you make the roux."

5. Add cheese, ale, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, and mustard and stir constantly over low heat until cheese has melted, about 3-5 minutes.

6. Spread remaining butter on the bread and place on cookie sheet. Top bread with bacon then the tomato slices. Pour 1/2 cup cheese sauce over each bread slice.

7. Broil until lightly browned about two minutes.

8. Garnish with chopped parsley. Serve.

Growing up, I can remember my mother toasting a slice of bread, and then spreading mayonnaise on it, then adding a slice of tomato with a little salt and pepper, then a slice of American cheese on top. Putting it under the broiler until the cheese melted. Sliced the bread diagonally and served it with potato chips. Oh what memories!

Today's wisdom.

Kitchen (kich-uhn) noun a gathering place for friends and family. a place where memories are homemade and seasoned with love.

I just do not want to look back and think "I could have eaten that."

 

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