Considering that the sponsor herself at thursday night smackdown was unable to keep her deadline (for good reasons) I am hoping that my tardiness will not eliminate me from participation. And since I am relying on her good nature (HAHAHA) I am going to confess that not only did I not make this on Tuesday for Hobo Tuesday; I did not even make it for dinner! It was my lunch, today, Thursday.

Whew, I feel better now that I’ve gotten that off of my chest.

Actually, I don’t know if I would let myself participate, because I didn’t even follow the theme. I don’t do spicy, but I do do things that could be spicy if you wanted them to be. Take this:

Heuvos Rancheros en Cocotte

You got your Mexican in my French! No you got your French in my Mexican!

In a fit of literalness I have decided to call this exactly what it is:

Huevos Rancheros en cocotte from my own demented little mind

Hardware: a cute oven safe ramekin and an oven.

Software:
1/3 C doctored up canned black beans
2 eggs
2 T milk
2 big pinches of shredded cheddar cheese
1/8 C salsa (I use Pace, so sue me)

My beans were left over from burritos a few days ago, I start with a can of black beans and add a bunch of garlic, cumin, oregano and Liazano Salsa until they taste good; hence doctored up. Take your cutsey little ramekin and lube it up with butter (hey, this dish is 1/2 French – gotta work butter in somewhere) and pre-heat the oven to 375 or so.

Put the beans into the ramekin and make two beds for your eggs by pushing things around with a spoon and then carefully crack the eggs into their little troughs. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on them and then drizzle the 2 T of milk over top. Put in oven for about 8 minutes (or until things start to bubble and the whites look opaque) and then pull out and sprinkle the cheese around the bubbling edges and slide it back into the oven for a few more minutes. Take the eggs out when they still look underdone and let it rest for a couple of minutes. Spoon salsa over top and you are done.

Talk about a protein bomb! I guess you could work in some veggies with the beans if you are so inclined – but I thought it was great as is. Now, there are several locations where one could make this spicy. Jalapenos in the beans would be an obvious choice, but more sneaky would be sprinkling some cayenne over the eggs so that it looks like paprika. The hotter the salsa, the hotter the entire dish. I am a wuss, so mild all the way baby!

The Damage:
1/3 can black beans = .30
2 eggs = .42
Milk = .05
Cheese = .15

Everything else is pantry. I feel comfortable including Salsa as a pantry item considering it outstripped Ketchup as the most purchased condiment in the US.

The total comes to .92. I only cooked for one, but my hubby would have loved this had he been here – doubling the cost comes to $1.84 to serve 2 people, actually, to fill my husband we probably would have had to use more beans so lets call it an even $2.00.

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As an homage to the originator of this challenge at thursday night smackdown I am going to “Live Blog” my contribution to this months competition. Except for the fact that there is no way anyone would possibly be reading this real time. So in actuality it will be in “Live Blogging” format without the fun of it actually being, you know, live.

Step One:

The theme is picnic foods so what the heck can I make – hows about a “Hand Pie”? They have sufficient picnic type cred to qualify right? I hope? And the first thing a hand pie needs is a crust. For a hand pie, or pasty if you will (and considering the connotations that you dirty birds might apply to that I think pasty is much more fun), you need a crust that will stand up to some abuse. My go to for this, and actually most pie type applications, is a hot water dough. I like them because they are not even remotely fussy and are pretty much idiot proof. Say what you will about the idiots. And I know you are going to read it and be in total disbelief that it could be a decent pie/tart dough.

3:45 pm – Try it. I DARE you.

1 1/2 C Flour
1/2 t Kosher Salt
1 egg, well beaten
2T + 2 t Water
1/3 C Vegetable Shortening

Combine flour and salt in a heat proof bowl, whisk lightly to get major lumps out. Put a small saucepan on the heat and combine water and shortening over low. Make a well in the flour and add the beaten egg, cut egg in with a knife. This process will seem similar but nowheres near as hard as the whole cutting butter in. As with the pain in the a$$ butter version you are looking to end up with something that is homogeneous and with clumps the size of peas or a little smaller.

3:51 – By this time the mixture on the heat should be close to boiling, and that is just where you want it. Once it has come to a boil and is trying to spit little blobs of molten fat at you – turn off the heat and pour directly into the bowl of flour. Did I mention that the bowl needs to be heatproof? I really wouldn’t use plastic. Stir everything together until it cools enough to mush it around with your hands. Make sure everything is combined and then pat into a disc shape (or 2, I did one but in retrospect 2 would have been better) and wrap in plastic wrap. Park them in the ‘fridge for about an hour.

4:00 Now – aren’t you glad that this is only faux live-blogging. If it were real you would be all like, crap, now I have to wait an hour and I would be all like HAHA I’m gonna go play Bejeweled Blitz …

4:30 – For the Filling: things I had laying around the kitchen

If this Pasty had a size it would be DD

If this Pasty had a size it would be DD

1/2 lb ground Pork
1 small apple, grated
1/2 C Cheddar Cheese, grated
1 med onion, chopped (1 C)
1/2 t Salt
1/4 t each Pepper, Cinnamon and Ground Ginger

Put some olive oil in a pan and cook your ground pork adding the spices at the end of the cooking time. Remove to a holding bowl. Add more oil and toss in the onions, saute until you think that all the gunk on the bottom of the pan is going to burn and say “OH CRAP” and add a little bit of water to “deglaze” the pan like you are all professional and stuff. Cook it until just before the “OH CRAP” point again and then add the grated apple. Go to directly to “OH CRAP” and pull the water stunt again. Add a pinch of each of the above seasonings for good measure. When most of the water has cooked off, but before everything starts sticking to the bottom of the pan again – dump it all into the bowl with the pork. Allow to cool. Preheat your oven to 375.

5:00 – When your pie dough is ready you need to make it into 2 roughly dinner plate sized discs. If you are a good little reader you have 2 discs to work with and voila! If you are like me and didn’t think of it, you will have to divide the dough into 2 before you roll. Mix the cheese into the other glop and divide evenly between the two discs. Stick your finger into a little bit of water and run it along the bottom 1/2 edge of the discs and fold the suckers into 1/2 moons. Get all fancy pants with a fork and crimp the edges. Put on a sprayed baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes.

The Rest of the Story:

I also made a roasted potato salad to go with this, but this has already gotten way longer than I would want to read – so why should I inflict it upon y’all? I’ll do that at a later date. Also on the menu was a garden fresh sliced tomato – a perfect southern picnic food if there ever was one. What I will let you know is that the “dinner plate” sized pasties are much too large if you have a normal appetite. What should have happened was to divide the dough and fillings into quarters and make 4 of the puppies. With 1 1/2 lbs of potatoes you have enough ‘tater salad for 4 and a single sliced tomato can feed 4. So realistically this was a meal for 4 instead of 2. In actuality my husband ate his whole pasty and so will go hungry for lunch tomorrow when I am eating my leftovers.

Not really, but it is fun to imagine.

The Low Down:

Pork: reality – I bought a 2 pack Boston Butt from the warehouse store and butchered it up into roasts, cutlets, stew chunks and ground meat and put it into the freezer. Did the math and it came out to $1.40 per pound. But that isn’t realistic for most people. Lets say I got a good deal @ $1.99/lb and count this as $1 for the meat.
Apple: ~ 8 oz bought @ .99/lb = .50
Cheese: again the reality is that I bought it in a 5 lb bag and froze in 8 oz portions and it comes out to about .90 for a 1/2 lb. So my half cup cost about .23. On normal sale @ Kroger they run $1.60 per bag so that call it .40.
Onion: .25
Flour: I know you are gonna kill me, but I buy this in 25 lb bags and keep it in my freezer. Lets just skip the math and say .15.
Egg: 2.50/12 = .21
Shortening: no clue, lets say .10
Potatoes: were given to me free by my neighbor but lets say 1 1/2 lbs @ 5 lbs for 2.50 = .75
Tomato: also a freebie from my neighbor.  Lets say I bought it for .40.

Pantry Items: Spices, Olive Oil, Mustard, Garlic, AC Vinegar = .25

Total which I submit to Hobo Tuesday: 1+.50+.40+.25+.15+.21+.10+.75+.40+.25 = $4.01 (picnic for 4 unless you have a hungry man and then for 3)

Actual Total if you are an obsessive compuslive shopper like me who has a big chest freezer and a generous neighbor with a 1 1/2 acre “garden”: .70+.50+.23+.25+.08+.21+.10+.25 = $2.32

A post, a post! A post that is actually on topic! Making your own convenience foods, one easy place to start is with the humble potato. I love potatoes, in most any form I love potatoes. When your grocery runs a special, 10 lbs of potatoes for $3.50 and you are only feeding 2 – 3 people it is hard to take advantage of the bargain. Because a bargain isn’t exactly a bargain if it rots in your pantry. And that is what my 10 lb bag of potatoes was thinking about doing.

When you realize something is on the brink of going to the dark side what do you do? You do something with it! Don’t let it go to waste.

Having used 5 or 6 of the potatoes in the hulking bag of tubers I was faced with the need to Do Something with them before they went all Darth Vader on me. I was heating up the oven to make dinner, so I went through the bag and picked out the most pleasingly formed of the bunch. Your classic “baking potato” shape that is so happy sitting beside a steak. Wash, dry, assault with fork, rub with oil and sprinkle with salt – chuck directly onto the oven rack at about 375 until done (about 45 minutes).

While the bakers were baking I washed, dried and mostly peeled the rest of the bag. Cut into chunks and tossed into a large pot with enough water to cover I boiled them for about 20 minutes – until tender. Drain and return to the hot pot to allow some of the water to steam off (low flame can help if you need it).

I left those hanging out and removed the bakers from the oven. Then I went and watched Cars for the 2,345,24354,374th time with the Eman. Once he was down for the count I started the serious cooking. Cut the bakers in half longways and scooped out the flesh, careful to not pierce the skin and leave enough of a shell of ‘tater so they could stand up on their own. The ‘tater innards joined the boiled ‘taters in a large bowl (actually the bowl of my Kitchen Aide mixer) so that they could fulfill their special purpose.

******’tater fest 2009******

Is there a more comforting food?

Is there a more comforting food?

I have never mashed quite this volume of ‘taters before, but  it pretty much works the same way as always. Scald some milk, melt a stick of butter, salt & pepper to your heart’s content. Mix, mix, mix, using your spoon to redeposit the escapees (because my mixer was just that full). Once you have achieved mashed ‘tater Nirvana then you are ready to proceed.

I removed what I felt would be enough mash to refill the baker shells and then added some cheese, green onions and garlic powder to the mix. Spoon the mixture back into the shells, filling only to the top the first time around; and then topping off with the remaining mixture so that they are overflowing.

Here is where the amazing part comes. Place all of the filled baker shells on a sheet pan and deposit in your freezer. Allow them to freeze overnight and then wrap them individually in plastic wrap. Put them all in a freezer bag and you have your own – home made – frozen twice baked potatoes. When you are making a meal pull however many you want out of the freezer and put them directly into the oven (on a pan) with whatever else you are cooking. Cook until they are hot all the way through and browning on the top. I baked 7 potatoes so now I have 14 twice baked potatoes in the freezer.

The remaining mashed ‘taters? Those can be frozen also. I use quart freezer bags and fill them with what I consider a “family sized” portion, partially zip the lock and squeeze as much air out as you can. Once your bag is sealed lay it down on it’s side and squish the ‘taters out until you have a flattened layer around 1/2 inch thick. When you freeze flat like this it is much quicker to thaw whatever it is you are freezing, and you have the added bonus that you can stack things in your freezer. Or file them like they are in a hanging file. You can either thaw them in a simmering bath “boil in bag” style or cut the bag off and nuke their little spuds hot. I tend to nuke at 50% power, a few minutes at a time, stirring a couple of times in the process.

I ended up with 3 quart bags with a “family sized” portion in each. So, 14 2x baked potatoes and 3 meals worth of mashed potatoes all stashed in the freezer. And how much did it cost me? If you add in the butter, milk, cheese and green onions it might total $5.00.

$5.00

Isn’t that kind of savings worth a couple of hours in the kitchen? Don’t forget to add in the time you will save when preparing future meals featuring these ‘taters, you’ve got side-dishes for at least 6 meals for a family of 4, more if you are like me and only feeding 2.

At least traditional in my family. This is one of the side dishes that make the holiday complete, especially at Easter. My family’s traditional Easter protein is Ham, and really, nothing goes better with ham than CHEESE!

My Grandmother made this dish as does my mother, and I have been known to make it not only for the holiday but for pot-lucks. It really shines at a pot luck, just make sure that you get your dish back, because this cannot be made in just any old casserole dish; it must be made in a souffle dish.

With taste like this, who needs fancy schmancy poufyness?

With taste like this, who needs fancy schmancy poufyness?

When it comes down to it, anyone with a little bit of culinary savvy will read this recipe and say “Hey, that looks like a souffle recipe”. And well, they would be right. But in my family it has always been called a pudding and that is what I am sticking with. I have, on occasion, peered into the oven and seen it rising majestically over the rim of the dish. But who has time for the pussyfooting that a souffle takes when you are trying to churn out a holiday supper for the gathered horde?

If it falls, it falls and it is a Pudding. It tastes divine whatever you call it.

Grandma Willette’s Cheese Pudding

The Hardware:

Round Souffle dish, Stand mixer or hand mixer or masochistic tendencies + a whisk.

The Software:

10 Slices White bread, crusts removed
1 Stick Butter
3 Eggs separated
2 C Milk
1 lb Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese
1 t Salt
1/4 – 1/2 t Ground Red Pepper (also known as Cayenne hoo-ah!)
1 t Dry Mustard Powder

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and slice the crusts off of your bread. If you are doing some kind of traditional stuffing you might want to re-purpose the crusts – or feed them to your dog. Cut the bread into cubes about 1/2 square.

Melt butter in your baking dish and add cubed bread, set aside. Combine your egg yolks with the milk and add salt, red pepper (hoo-ah!) and mustard powder. Stir in the god-awful amount of cheese and then fold into the bread cubes and butter.

Beat egg whites until stiff, using a mixer is preferable but hey if you dig the pain of doing it by hand – who am I to judge? Fold stiff egg whites into the other mixture and bake for 35 – 45 minutes or until set.

The cooking on this one is a judgment call – sometimes it comes out perfect and sometimes it is a bit soupy. This year was a soupy year, but I think that was because my Mom assembled the whole thing early in the morning and then put it in the ‘fridge. Oops.

Busted!

Oooh yeah!

Oooh yeah!

I did not actually prepare the Pudding in the picture, but I did consume it – soupy-ness and all. Not only is it divine with the ham(assemble a fork with ham and then cheese in the same bite) but I poured the soupy part over my broccoli which made it much better.

Hacks:

Watch the red pepper in this, it can get really hot really quick – but some people like it that way. Also, you can easily double the batch and it comes out just fine, just make sure your dish is big enough.

When I made the Roasted Garlic and Rosemary Pork I did not set out to make pulled pork. After it was done cooking I looked at the roast that the original 2 1/2 lb chunk had become and thought “If we eat that in roast form portion control will be a goner”. At 2 1/2 lbs we should be able to get 10 servings (with the 4 oz serving of meat per person rule, technically). But have you ever sat down and carved a piece of succulent, dripping pork and stopped with only a chunk of meat the size of a deck of cards? I mean really? Who does that?

Hence the decision to pull the pork. By pulling it into shreds it filled up more visual space and gave the illusion of a large portion size without sacrificing my budget. I looked upon the mountain of meat I had created and said “It is good”. Apparently the biblical reference was not a good idea because the container in our ‘fridge has turned into a never-ending repository for pulled pork – loaves and fishes have got nothing on us.

Time to get creative, so now I am giving  you a non-recipe – more of an idea than anything else. How to change the flavor of an abundant leftover so that you don’t start eyeing the dog as a scapegoat.

Mmmm, cheesy and porky.

Mmmm, cheesy and porky.

BBQ Pork Pizza

The Hardware:

Actually up to you, I used a pizza pan but some people out there have a fancy pants pizza stone – whatever floats your boat.

The Ingredients:

Leftover Pulled Pork
Bottled BBQ Sauce (what, you thought I was gonna whip up some fancy sauce for lunch, no way. I busted out the bottle of KC Masterpiece lurking in the door of my ‘fridge.)
One small onion
Cheddar and Mozzarella cheeses (or whatever you like/got)
Pizza Dough*

Slice onion thinly and saute in olive oil over low heat until wilted and slightly golden.

Combine the pork with about 1/4 C of the BBQ sauce and set aside. Par-bake your pizza crust for around 5 – 7 minutes at 425 degrees. Apply additional sauce to the par-baked pizza crust to the quantity of your liking. Don’t use too much or it will make your crust soggy.

Attempt to distribute the pork over the sauce with a spoon and then realize that pulled pork just doesn’t cooperate. Get hands dirty and evenly distribute the pork and onions over the surface of the pizza, leaving an edge of about 1/2 inch. Add cheese on top – again to satisfy whatever twisted lactose desires you might have.

Place in oven for about 10 – 12 minutes or until your crust is nice and brown and your cheese is hot and bubblin’. My crust achieved brownness before my cheese achieved bubblin’ness so I turned the broiler on high for a few seconds as I anxiously hovered nearby with the oven door slightly open so that I could monitor the process and prevent the inevitable result of an unattended broiler moment.

Slice and serve. If Wolfgang can put BBQ chicken on his pizza and found an empire, then I can very well put pulled pork on mine and find lunch.

* I would give you a pizza dough recipe but right now my attempts at pizza dough have not been what one would consider to be noteworthy. The crust on this particular attempt was very disappointing in texture, so you really don’t want the details. When I finally manage a consistent and predictable product I will certainly share it with y’all. For now, you are probably best on your own.

I like cheese.

One of my strategies to save some money and eat a bit more consciously is to reduce the amount of meat in our diet. We do this by having many vegetarian meals, but also by reducing the portion sizes of meat in the meat meals we do eat. I have found that one way to alleviate the feeling of “missing meat” in a dish is to add some cheese. Cheese always makes a dish feel special and luxurious (at least to me).

It is also a good source of protein and flavor and you can keep it on hand for a long time. You can also freeze many cheeses with little quality loss. But it can be an expensive item so I have had to work out some work arounds.

My local grocery store regularly runs a special on their store brand cheeses where you can buy three 8 ounce bags for $5, which is a pretty good deal compared to regular price. I would stock up on Quesadilla, Cheddar and Mozzarella cheese when they went on sale and chuck the extra bags in the deep freeze.

By the way, do you have a deep freeze? If not you might want to consider acquiring one. They really are an invaluable tool for food savings because of the very subject of this post, buying in bulk. If you think you do not have the room or the money you might want to do some research on deep freezes. You can find small ones about the size of the ‘fridge you had in college for well under $200 like this one:

Hmm, sidetracked…

Back to cheese. While my grocery store deal is better than buying full retail, we can do better. At the “Membership based wholesale club” that I go to I was able to find 5 lb bags of both shredded Mozzarella and Cheddar for about $9 per bag. And believe it or not, the shredded was cheaper than any of the block cheese prices that they had. So buying and shredding myself would not have saved any money.

I brought my booty home and proceeded to divvy them up into quart sized freezer bags in 8 oz increments. Why would you waste time on doing that you might ask? Well, my reasoning was threefold:

1) I usually buy cheese in 8 oz bags and that fits nicely into my ‘fridge’s deli drawer.

2) If I left it in the large bag then I would be tempted to use way more cheese than I need to because HEY LOOK HOW MUCH I GOT!!

3) Air is what damages frozen food, so repeatedly opening and closing a big bag of frozen cheese would cause faster deterioration.

Each of my 5 lb bags split up into ten 8 oz bags of cheesy goodness (talk about your higher math there). I tossed one of each flavor into my ‘fridge and put the rest into the freezer. It took me about 20 minutes to get it all done and I saved $6.00.

How did I figure that? Now is the time for the actual higher math.

3 – 8 oz bags of cheese for $5 = $1.60 per bag, 10 bags = 5 lb so:

10 x 1.60 = $16.00

$16.00 – $9.00 = $6.00

Yay! $6.00, don’t scoff. Think how many .10 coupons I would have to clip to save $6 bucks. But really, things can add up. Plus I have the convenience of knowing that if I run out of cheese I can saunter down to the freezer and pluck a bag out and be ready to go.