Easiest Frittata

frittataKelli’s thoughts about brunching reminded me of one of my standby meals.   Everyone has, or should have, a few meals that can be assembled and cooked quickly, easily, and without a recipe, for those nights when the schedule is even more compressed than usual. One of my favorites is a frittata. It is generally gluten-free, and can be vegetarian and/or dairy-free depending on your preferences and what’s hanging around in your refrigerator.

Pictured is tonight’s dinner – a spinach-summer squash frittata topped with a few bell pepper rings. These freeze well and make excellent leftovers for lunches.  Leftover vegetables or potatoes or grains from a previous dinner will speed dinner still more.  I’ve tried various ways of cooking these – stovetop, oven, and both, and I’ve found no textural or flavor differences, but I prefer the below oven method for ease. In the summer, I bake in a toaster oven on the porch to avoid roasting us all out of the house.

The 30-minute baking time is sufficient to prep a salad and clean the dishes generated in cooking, so cleanup is quick, too.

Frittata (6 servings)

  •  6 large eggs
  • vegetables, sliced thinly (tonight’s used 1/2 pound frozen spinach and 1 medium crookneck squash; onions, peppers, asparagus and green beans work well also. )
  • potatoes, in small cubes, or cooked grain or pasta, if desired
  • seasoning to taste – fresh herbs are nice when available – chives, basil, parsley
  • optional: cheese – I’ve used everything from cheddar to chèvre

Oil a deep 9″ pie plate and preheat oven to 350F.

Saute the vegetables (if using potatoes, start these earliest, and cook until done) dry or in a small amount of olive oil until most of the moisture is removed. Stir in seasonings.

Beat the eggs until your arm is really tired. Put the vegetables into the pie plate and pour the eggs on top. Using a fork, gently move the vegetables around here and there to mix in the eggs. Make a design on top if desired, with pieces of pepper, asparagus, thinly sliced carrots, etc.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until eggs are thoroughly cooked and the frittata is beginning to brown.  Serve with salsa or ketchup if desired.

Brunch on the Patio Plans

It’s a grey, slushy Saturday 2 days post April blizzard, my husband has been with my father-in-law at the clinic all day, and I’m needing happy, sunny thoughts of friends and summer.  So!  I’m going to “plan out loud” right here on the blog.

I’ve been missing a lot of longtime friends in the time since our littles have come along.  Many of them already had their own littles, or have had some since as well.  We have a fantastic back yard with a great deck and now a huge play structure!  So!  I was thinking a few months ago, why do we always stress out about a restaurant that we have to figure out where to go, where to park, and entertain the kids instead of talking and enjoying each other, all at the cost of approximately $1,000,000 for the meal?  We could be enjoying our backyard on unlimited time, a far cheaper meal, and the kids don’t even have to behave.

That time has come!

I want to have a menu that is the same every time, to save on stress, mainly.  The easier this is, the more likely it will be to happen.

I polled the members of a local women’s group about a set menu for friend brunches on the patio.  Requirements:  some kind of main that is gluten free (for me), and pretty much otherwise – just easy.  I posed the idea of an egg bake and they riffed on it.  These lovelies came up with tons of scrumptious ideas for meatless or meat-full, and other customizable ideas like fruit and yogurt parfaits.

Egg bake ideas:

  • With hashbrowns for the “crust” so it’s GF – saute the hashbrowns before adding egg & baking
  • Mushroom, asparagus & gruyere
  • Bacon, cheddar & chives
  • Veggie only for vegetarians, breakfast meats on the side
  • Sausage, onions & peppers with or without cheese
  • Tex Mex egg bake
  • Cheesy Croissant Brunch Bake with caramelized onion, brown sugar ham, sauteed spinach, cheese, and croissant crust (though I’d omit that for GF purposes)
  • Biscuits & gravy egg bake
  • Baked eggs with tomato, cottage cheese, Monterey Jack or Colby cheese, broccoli or spinach

Side dish ideas:

  • Cut fruit
  • Bread
  • Yogurt granola cups – bake the granola in the bottom of a muffin cup and top with yogurt, or just have yogurt with a bag of granola and some little bowls/cups
  • Mimosas & bloody bar
  • Baked bacon

 

 

 

Toasty English Muffins for a Snowy Day

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Happy Cat on the laundry in the basket on the chair in the sunshine!

Travel for much of February has been inadvisable to impossible. When another snow-ice-snow sandwich was promised for Saturday, I decided that we would begin the day with a leisurely breakfast, and started dough for English muffins on Friday night.

I began with a recipe from my mom’s 1980 Fanny Farmer Cookbook, which, despite its cover declaration of complete revision, has a lot of recipes that appear to be from a bygone era.  I combined instructions from the Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book, and of course added some whole grain flour. Finally, I gave the dough an overnight refrigerator rise, making it much more convenient for breakfast as well as more flavorful.

I cut all breads like this into squares; it saves time and eliminates the need to re-roll dough.

IMG_1628English Muffins
1 c milk, scalded

½ c water
1 t salt
1 t sugar
1 T butter
¾ tsp yeast
1.5 c whole wheat flour
1.5 c unbleached flour

The night before you’d like an English muffin breakfast: Mix milk, water, salt, sugar, and butter, and cool to below 110F. Add the yeast and half the flour, and beat batter thoroughly. Beat in remaining flour; the mixture will be something between a thick batter and a soft dough. Cover loosely and let rise a couple of hours. Mix a little more, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, about 2 hours before you’d like to eat, remove the dough from the refrigerator. Stir it down and add more flour if needed to make it stick to itself more than your hands. On a well-floured surface, pat out the dough into a rectangle about ½ inch thick, and then cut with a dinner knife into approximately 3-inch squares. Place the squares on an oiled baking sheet and cover with a second baking sheet. Let rise 60-90 minutes, until increased in size at least 50%.

Heat a large stovetop or electric skillet to medium/300 degrees. Quickly, slide a thin, sturdy spatula under a muffin and add it to the skillet; fill the skillet with about ½ inch space between the muffins. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, then turn (reduce heat if muffins are browning too quickly). Repeat this until the muffins have cooked twice on each side for a total of 20 minutes.

Remove to a cooling rack and add the next batch of muffins to the skillet. With a fork, pierce along all edges of each muffin so that it will split easily. Split and toast.

Thrifty Thursday – The Grocery Budget

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Photo by Liz West, cc-by-2.0.

I don’t always monitor all expenses, but I periodically track for a few months to see how close we’re adhering to our budget. Groceries are one area where there is some flexibility in the monthly budget, but with the numerous decisions made in a week’s shopping and cooking, it’s easy to exceed intended expenditures. After reviewing the past two months of spending, I found that our grocery spending is slightly less than half of the USDA thrifty food plan estimate for our family, even in the winter when we don’t have free garden produce. A year ago, before Mari became a vegetarian, we were exactly at the half-of-thrifty mark. I was so startled by this that I’ve checked it twice. I guess I should look elsewhere for places to save in our budget.  Every week I ask Thom and Mari if there’s anything they’d like in the coming week’s meals, and it’s usually the same things, with no unusual grocery purchases.

Our grocery routines appear to be working for us. They are
1. Buying in season and shopping the deals. I buy groceries primarily at Aldi and Costco, with periodic trips to Fresh Thyme, Trader Joe’s, the Asian markets, and the food coop, depending on what we need, averaging 2 stores/week.
2. Pantry and freezer. I never worry about running out of groceries in a snowstorm. And very rarely will I stop at a store to get one ingredient. Fewer trips generally result in less spending.
3. Near zero food waste. I freeze leftovers in meal-sized portions, and many of them become my workday lunches. I cook a lot of produce without seasoning so that it can be refrigerated or frozen until I’m ready to add it to other meals (and season then).
4. Cooking everything. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, every day. It is the routine now and it makes a meal out far more special than when Thom and I ate out most weekdays in our early years together. And it should be a special event, because a decent restaurant meal for 3 costs as much as a week’s groceries.
5. No soda or junk food. If we want dessert, we make it. Our usual snacks are fruit, popcorn, homemade bread, or homemade trail mix. I think that my great-grandmothers would recognize all the foods in my pantry, aside from the large array of spices for foods of the world.  (Except the broccoli.  My dad tells me that he never saw broccoli when he was a kid.)

Summer in Winter

soup_cornHaving lived in the low desert, I truly appreciate the 4-season climate of Minnesota.  I enjoy every season, and make efforts to celebrate the wonders and joys of the seasonal cycle, but there are times when I’ve had too many subzero winter days, or too much of summer’s humidity, or too much spring rain.

This has been a mild winter overall, although we’re currently experiencing extreme cold that has closed schools for most of the week.  Oddly enough, soon the temperatures will be warmer than normal and it will feel like spring.

When we are in the midst of an arctic blast, are feeling like moles due to the short daylight hours, or are tired of shoveling snow, a few of the things we like to do to are

  • Visit an indoor garden or zoo
  • Swim indoors
  • Cook summery foods
  • Have an indoor picnic
  • Watch movies set in sunny, warm locations
  • Look at photos from past summers

Today I put together this soup, not even thinking of summer, but when I sat down to eat, its bright colors and warm aroma breathed the word to me.

Summer in Winter Soup

1/2 lb great northern beans
1 very large onion, or 2 of average size, chopped fine
1 large red bell pepper, in small dice
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 c frozen corn
1 small red potato, in small dice
salt, pepper and crushed red pepper to taste
1/2 tsp turmeric
stems of 1 large bunch cilantro, chopped

Cook the beans by your favorite method and reserve the cooking water (or use 1-2 cans). Saute the onion and bell pepper, then add garlic, beans and cooking water, potato, corn, and cilantro stems.  Add sufficient water to just cover, then season with turmeric, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper.  Cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.  Use an immersion or regular blender to puree a small amount of the soup, and stir.  Garnish with more cilantro if desired.

Welcoming the Long Winter

book_pages_reading_fireplace_flame-892494.jpg!dDecember was busy. Somehow we fit all the activities and travel preparations for the holidays into our usual routines, and that time had to come from somewhere. I know that one place I skimped was meals. No one complained, and maybe they didn’t even notice, but I did… I noticed in my added few pounds, in my craving for green vegetables, and in having to dispose of a few things from the refrigerator, which is never necessary when I’m on top of things.

But all of that busy-ness is long over now.. and I’ve even undecorated. The winter months are upon us, and it is likely that this weekend’s thaw will be the last until April. It’s time for those braising, roasting, and simmering recipes that heat and scent the house. Since we returned from our holiday travel, I’ve cooked more than I did for most of December, when I nearly emptied our freezer and pantry. The freezer is again full and our weeknights should be easy for a few weeks.

I spent about 4 hours cooking this weekend and turned out a large loaf of bread, a quart of homemade yogurt, pasta with broccoli pesto and chickpeas for lunches, raw vegetables for this week’s lunches, and a cabbage-potato dish. Our Sunday dinner was the rajma recipe from Merra Sodha’s Fresh India, and it was delicious. There’s another meal of that in the freezer, along with chili, lasagna, black bean soup, scalloped potatoes, and various cooked beans and grains awaiting some type of quick preparation. I am feeling caught up.

The biggest bonus of cooking ahead is the time to focus on other projects. And sometimes, especially this dark and cold time of year, a project is as simple as a good book.

Thrifty Thursday

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Evelyn Simak / A traditional cottage garden (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Most days are thrifty at Cottage Berg, so I admit succumbing to alliteration, but I do find regular reminders to be helpful when working toward a goal. Today’s thrifty habit is Meals that Clean Out the Fridge (or Freezer). Having learned to make use of random bits and scraps of leftovers has been a key skill in reducing food waste in our house. They are all either refrigerated or frozen in containers, and about once weekly I make a meal that can use up random vegetables, legumes, potatoes, or meat.

This is probably where casseroles originated. My mom never really made them, so the first time I saw a recipe I was stunned at all the work involved. But when everything is already made and leftover from another meal, they are very cost- and time-efficient. And that is true of most of these meals. Most are adaptable to use either cooked (neutrally seasoned) or raw vegetables; cooked vegetables should be added just in time to heat through.

Sometimes little containers get shoved to the back of the freezer or fridge.  I really hate to throw out food or clean moldy containers, so nearly emptying the fridge between shopping excursions is a good habit, and if I don’t have an idea for how to use something within a few days, I move it into the freezer.  The things that get lost in the deep freeze may become dessicated over time, but are still perfectly useful in a soup or chili.

Examples of perfect vehicles for random leftovers:

Frittata or omelet
Fried rice or bibbim bap
Soups (minestrone, for instance)
Enchiladas
Chili
Stir fry
Flatbread with toppings, or filled crepes

And then there’s always the Leftover Buffet.

Tonight I drive the carpool, and I need a quick meal to cook when I get home that will use up about two cups of cooked cabbage.  Soup is a good candidate, but I won’t have time to cook it after I get home, and am gone far too long to consider the slow cooker (after about 6 hours, in my opinion, it just tastes overcooked).   Plus, it’s Thursday night, the Night of Greatest Fatigue (I completely understand why Thursday night was meltdown night in Mari’s first years of school).  So, it will be simple: an unfilled omelet with green onions and Jarlsburg cheese, with leftover roasted potatoes and cabbage.  And then I will don my pajamas and read with a purring cat.

How have you reduced food waste? What are your weeknight go-to meals?