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?

Weeknight Meals, December

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A weekend dinner!

Some years ago I witnessed this exchange between two acquaintances, as we all picked up our children at 6PM from an activity:

“I guess now I have to decide what’s for dinner.”

“I’m going to get a pizza on the way home.  We had Subway last night.”

This really surprised me, because, in those years that I worked only about quarter-time, I saw DIY tasks, particularly cooking, which has the potential to save a huge amount of money, as part of my contribution to our living on one salary.  I thought that everyone would have started a crock pot dinner or have a plan for something quick to cook on their arrival home (“scrambled eggs and fruit” is one of my last-minute plans… but it beats fast food!).  Since returning to full-time (or more) work, I’ve honed my previous routines to save time.  Continue reading “Weeknight Meals, December”

Vintage Recipe: Butter Star Cookies

IMG_20181211_095713When I was a college sophomore in my first apartment, I asked my mom for a cookbook. I hadn’t yet mastered cooking rice, and I just wanted some simple instructions. She gave me my great grandmother’s 1932 Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, a cloth-bound binder with pages that had aged as gently as Louise, with her beautiful script on the back pages. I looked through it… and at some point returned it to Mom’s shelf. I was moving a lot and didn’t want things I wouldn’t use, and it wasn’t the book I needed at that time. I eventually figured out how to cook rice and a lot of other things, mostly without instructions.

Years later, I became fascinated with old cookbooks, Continue reading “Vintage Recipe: Butter Star Cookies”