Terra Incognita

I tried a 'new to me' recipe tonight that I found  a few weeks ago while trolling through blogs at random. The recipe was 'Polish Stew' on the now apparently abandoned 'Emily's Experiments'

I made it pretty much as written and served it with fresh-out-of-the-oven bread. It was quick, easy, warming on a chilly day, and everyone ate it quite happily. I believe I'll be making it again. In case she takes down her blog, here's the recipe:

Polish Stew

Small head of cabbage, cut into thick shreds
kielbasa sausage, sliced
1 c corn
2-3 potatoes
1 small onion, diced
4-5 cups chicken broth
Spicy brown mustard

In a large pot, saute in the sausage until starting to brown. Add the potatoes and onion and cook, stiring, until the onions soften and the potatoes begin to brown.
Add the shredded cabbage, corn and a couple of tablespoons mustard. Cover with chicken broth.
Simmer until the cabbage and potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally.  Serve with more mustard. 

Simply Bread

We don't eat a whole lot of bread around here, but when we do, we want it to taste good and be free from unnecessary and unhealthy ingredients. Most commercial breads are nothing I would consider feeding my family. Even though bread requires no more than flour, water, salt and maybe yeast, the list of ingredients on the average bread package is usually long and includes things like trans fats, HFCS and vegetable oils. Artisan breads may be made with better ingredients but can be quite expensive.

The solution, of course is to bake my own. I tried a bread maker for a while, but didn't like the texture. A friend gave me a recipe that made two loaves at a time of excellent bread using the food processor. Even so, I was never able to stick with it long term. I'd make bread regularly for a few weeks, but eventually I was back to buying from the store or a local bakery and spending far too much money.

In the past year, I've  resorted to buying bread only a handful of times. Now we have fresh baked bread any time, any day - for dinner after a long work day, or for breakfast on a busy morning.

I realize I'm blowing my reputation here as being so together and organized - but it's too good not to share. My 'secret' is  Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Now I mix up a batch of dough in a few minutes that will supply us with fresh bread for the next two weeks.

I often shape it in the evening and leave it to rise in the refrigerator overnight so we have fresh bread for breakfast. Baking in the early morning was especially helpful in the hot summer months.  Now that it's Fall, though, I'm looking forward to thick slices of fresh bread, dripping with butter alongside a bowl of one of our favorite soups. It's not bad toasted with more of that butter and honey or homemade jam, either.

I did make a few adjustments to the recipe to suit my family and conditions. For now, I'm using the following proportions:

6 1/2 C flour - roughly 2/3 unbleached, unenriched white flour and 1/3 whole wheat (I know, I know, but notice I said 'for now' )
3 C filtered water
1 T yeast
1 T sea salt

I bake it at 450 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Instead of a pan of water in the oven to get a crisp crust, I bake mine in a covered casserole with the lid on for the first half, then remove the lid for the remainder of the time.

Chocolate Syrup

Yes, I confess. I'm one of those adults who never outgrew chocolate milk. I grew up drinking Ovaltine, and as a teenager it was my breakfast of choice. Even after we switched to a healthier diet in our house, I continued to buy it. I figured it couldn't be as bad as the other chocolate drinks since it has all those vitamins in it. I'm sure it is better than some other chocolate drinks, but I'm suspicious about the quality of the vitamins and I'm not thrilled about  the mono and diglycerides, either.

I'm not abandoning chocolate milk entirely, though. I'm just making it myself. It's simple and inexpensive - and best of all, it's a multi-tasker, doing double duty as topping for ice cream and whatever else you think would be even better with a drizzle of chocolate syrup on it.

This recipe makes a slightly thicker sauce that mixes easily, but can be spooned out of the jar.  I prefer a strong chocolate flavor with less sweetness, which is why I used equal parts cocoa and sugar, but you can adjust to taste.

Chocolate Syrup

1 C sugar
1 C good quality cocoa
1 1/2 C water
dash salt
dash vanilla

Stir together to eliminate any lumps. Simmer for 3-5 minutes. Bottle and store in the refrigerator.

I'm not sure yet how long it keeps - but I doubt it will be around that long anyway.

Freezer Food

Last night I didn't feel like cooking dinner. I was well enough to go to work, but that was the extent of my energy for the day. By the time dinnertime rolled around, I was tired and achy and couldn't face the kitchen.

I also couldn't face eating out. Another expensive,  probably unhealthy meal that I don't usually even like, just because I'm not feeling well. The solution, of course, is 'Freezer Food'. Something I've made double (or more) of in the past and squirreled away for just such an occasion. Since Thursday in our house is 'Soup/Salad/Pasta night' (I still haven't done that menu planning post yet), not to mention my husband had just had work done at the dentist,  the obvious choice was pasta.

Some point in the past I made a huge pot of spaghetti sauce - the way my Italian grandmother taught me - and filled a shelf in my freezer with pint sized, freezer safe jars just waiting for an occasion such as this. I prefer jars because they are reusable, easy to clean thoroughly and don't contaminate food with plastic residue. Besides freezer safe jars, I've also got a supply of rectangular glass storage containers just the right size for a single meal for my family. I use those for everything from soups and casseroles, to slices of pie.

Right now my inventory is intentionally a bit low, since I've been waiting for fall to defrost and reorganize. I'm hoping to get to that this weekend so I can start stocking up lots of casseroles and comfort food which will be so welcome on the coming winter nights.

Easiest dinner ever

Chicken and whatever vegetables are on hand that will roast nicely. In this case potatoes, butternut squash, parsnips and green beans.

Shop talk

One of the things on our agenda for the weekend is our big, once-a-month grocery shop. Really. We shop once a month and I love it. Or at least as much as I can love grocery shopping.

About a year or so ago, I decided there had to be a better way than having to find time (and energy) every week to go grocery shopping. I also figured that the fewer times I was in the store, the less opportunity there would be to overspend.

I knew many people did once-a-month cooking - so I decided to try once-a-month shopping. I don't mean I never set foot in the store the other 27-30 days, but I only do one big shop with brief trips to pick up things like milk and vegetables. We are able to do much of our mid-month shopping at a small store that only sells food from local producers.

At the end of every month, I decide on the menus for the month ahead. I make a list based on those menus and buy all the items that will keep, plus perishable items for the coming week only. I cook from scratch, so I don't need a lot of storage for cans, packages and boxes. It used to take me ages to make up the menus, but I finally hit on a method that makes it easy, but that's a topic for another day.

It's a method that works out very well in our family. We shop together and make it more enjoyable with a nice lunch before and maybe something special from the store to enjoy after the food is all put away.  What I like best is the knowledge that we don't have to do it again for a whole month.