It turns out that my bulk mashing post is one the more popular posts on this here blog. It kind of makes me feel better about myself knowing that there are others out there that cannot resist the bargain bag of ‘taters even when we know darn well that we cannot eat the whole thing before it goes over to the dark side.

But this time it wasn’t my fault – it was totally my Mom’s fault. You see, just after the holidays they pull up stakes and relocate to warmer climes which leaves me as the beneficiary of the “cleaning out of the perishables”. Not that I am complaining, free food – especially a staple – is always welcome in my home. And yet I found myself, once again, staring at the lumpy proliferation of tasty tubers in my pantry.

Which sat in my pantry.

And sat.

Until I said CRAP I gotta do something with those ‘taters. So I did, about a month ago (what you thought I had magic ‘taters that lasted from the end of December until February? – no chance, not with our humidity), but I waited to let y’all know until I had fully tested my plan. Because I don’t want to pass on any crappy advice, I have standards you know?

Like mashed potatoes - only you are supposed to eat a whole bowl.

The Initial Spud Soup Starter

The Hardware: A big honkin’ pot, immersion blender, ladle and quart freezer bags

The Software: A metric butt-tonne of russet potatoes and enough stock to cover, plus whatever spices you like.

Take your ‘taters, peel then chop them into chunks – toss them into your big honkin’ pot. Pour in enough chicken stock to just cover the spuds. If you are a vegetarian type person, I am sure that a vegetable stock would work. Cook the ‘taters until they can be easily poked through with a skewer and turn off heat. Now here is where we get crazy.

Don’t drain them.

Take your handy-dandy immersion blender and puree the tar out of those ‘taters. What you will end up with is something much to runny to be mashed potatoes but much too thick to be actual soup. I call this “soup starter”. You can season at this point – until you like the taste, but be careful with the black pepper. Black pepper intensifies even in the freezer. You can always add more seasoning later – but it is tough to fish it out. I added salt, a little bit of pepper and some garlic powder. Hmmm, I wonder what would have happened if I had cooked some garlic cloves with the ‘taters? Next time maybe.

The important thing here – do not add any dairy. No milk, no butter, no cream cheese, no sour cream, no cheese. These things do not freeze terribly well in a team environment. They like to go their own way, to seperate themselves. Bust out your ladle and fill up as many quart freezer bags as you can manage. Try to get as much air out of them as possible and lay them flat on a tray. Make sure you label & date them and then chuck them into the freezer. Freezing flat makes it easier to store the bags after freezing and makes the food thinner and more widely distributed; therefore easier to thaw.

The Spud Soup

This is why it took a month for me to post this – I wanted to make sure it worked. I had significant concerns about the texture of the soup after the freezing. Luckily I was able to thaw and revive our patient with little quality loss. Score one for Cryogenics!

Pull out a freezer bag of your soup starter and microwave it on very low until you can mush it around enough to decant into a large saucepan. Once the soup is in the saucepan – heat on low, stirring and mushing frequently until everything is thawed (or almost thawed, if you are like me an have no patience it will still work). Thin the soup to slightly thicker than desired consistency with stock (of whichever persuasion floats your boat).

If you are a vegan and used vegetarian stock – well, I cannot help you much beyond this point – it is going to get ugly for you so you might want to stop. The next things you want to add to bring your soup to it’s final luscious consistency are those prima-donnas who eschewed the freezer, milk and butter – the dairy divas. Add as much as you want – I won’t tell.

Season to taste, I like salt and a good bit of pepper, plus some more garlic and a wee bit of nutmeg. You follow your bliss. In the above picture you might notice some lumps – I actually dumped in some frozen corn because really, can you ever have too much starch?

Toppings can be applied with wild abandon. Personally, I cannot conceive of potato soup without bacon and cheese. While we were eating I mentioned to the hubby that some caramelized onions would have been delicious piled on top. If I had had a can of French’s onions handy – I can guarantee you they would have made an appearance.

What do you think would go well on top?

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summerfest-badge

What I should be posting right now is an entry for thursday night smackdown’s Hobo Tuesday. But I am a slacker, and a chicken. Specifically the theme for this month is super spicy food, and my idea of pretty darn spicy is the regular stuff at Taco Bell. When they ask me if I want some of the Medium sauce I am all like Whoaaaa there Nelly, let’s not get too crazy.

So I found another event to participate in – it is the Summer Fest! Apparently the whole shindig started last month with Herbs, but I always tend to be a little slow on the uptake. The theme of this month is tree fruits – and well, I live in Georgia and I really do not have any choice in the fruit I will be using. I mean really, could there be any other option?

So for this soiree I am getting back to one of the core values of this blog (since I have such a long and illustrious history, snort) and that is using one of my most precious commodities – time – to compensate for one of my more unsavory character traits – cheapness.

Straight from the Horse’s Mouth

One of the best cheap tips I can give you is to cut out the middle-man. If you can, buy your produce straight from the Farmer/Grower. Luckily I live in a State that believes in that very principle and sponsors the Atlanta State Farmer’s Market, a place where you can go year ’round and purchase produce directly from the Farmers that pulled it out of the ground, or off of the tree, or plant, or … you get the picture. There is even a meat market there that has three butchers there every week day – prices & sizes like a warehouse club without any taxes.

My mother and I toodled down there a couple of weeks ago and picked up a 1/2 bushel of peaches. Glorious peaches that smelled like … peaches, not those rock hard impostors you find at the grocery. Those, the best thing you can do with them is hot-glue on some googley eyes and try to recreate the ’70 pet rock craze only fuzzier. And the best thing, for our 22 lbs of peaches we paid $11. That’s right, .50 per lb. Does little cheap-ass happy dance.

And Here is Where you start Robbing Peter

We have beautifully high quality peaches at rock bottom prices, but we also have 22 lbs of highly perishable fruit that has to have something done with it NOW! So we pay for it with time. An entire day of canning with my Mother to be precise. But ooooh, the rewards.

Angelic & Delicious

Angelic & Delicious

The Yield:

6 Quarts of Peach Pie Filling
6 1/2 Half-pints of Peach Preserves
6 1/2 Half-pints of Ginger Peach Preserves
8 Quarts of Frozen Sliced Peaches

All total 20 quarts + 1 pint of peachy perfection to last us for the coming year. Trying to calculate how much money we saved would be difficult. Figure that each 1/2 pint of “gourmet” peach preserves that you buy at the grocery would run you at least $3 x 13 half-pints and you get $39. Already $28 more than we spent on the fruit. Of course you have to factor in the cost of the canning supplies – but those are re-usable and I really do not want to get into amortizing the crap. A quart sized bag of frozen peaches is going to run you at least $2.50 x 8 =  $20. The peach pie filling, and let me tell you this isn’t anything like the stuff that comes out of the can, you would pay at least $5 a jar for this x 6 = $30.

So, for our $11 basket of peaches and lets say and additional $15 in supplies (including sugar, spices etc…) we yielded $89 worth of the good stuff. $89 – $26 = $63, obviously not enough to compensate two such talented ladies for an entire day’s work (or at least one talented lady and one who can almost stir without drooling into the pot) but that is where the love comes in to play.

I think we might need to go buy more peaches before the season is over.

p.s. I haven’t included any recipes because they all came from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. I usually avoid posting recipes if I haven’t made some changes to them because that would run afoul of copyright issues. And anyone reading about home preserving will know full well that if you change anything then OH MY GOD YOU ARE ALL GOING TO DIE AND YOU WILL KILL YOUR FRIENDS WITH YOUR CANNED GOODS!!!!!!!!
I may exaggerate slightly.

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.

Well, new to me anyway. In my quest to actually consume leftovers instead of allowing them to languish in my ‘fridge in a misguided attempt to foster the evolution of new lifeforms I have stumbled on a new casserole technique. Now I am confident that many people reading this (assuming that many people will ever read this, which is a pretty big assumption to make) will receive my revelation with a Pshaw! Pshaw I say.

But having grown up on the Ohio River the concept of a Tamale Pie was about as unfamiliar and exotic as the pink sports-coats and palm trees on Miami Vice. And somehow, I remained blissfully ignorant of the Tamale Pie as my culinary experience grew. Possibly it has to do with the fact that some dishes are not considered classy enough to warrant an entry in a “real” cookbook. But here is where my JLC come in.

In my copy of  Talk About Good published by the Junior League of Lafayette, LA there are several versions of Tamale Pie which I have perused with much interest. When I asked my husband what his opinion of Corn Meal mush was, he made quite the face. I am pretty sure if I had told him we were having polenta for supper he would have thought me quite the gourmand.

Having made a couple of Tamale Pies I now feel fairly comfortable in their construction and can safely say that I feel they are an excellent addition to my arsenal against leftovers. So this isn’t exactly going to be a recipe as much as a technique for you to use. I am afraid you will have to find other resources for your science experiments, because your leftovers will not be hanging about much anymore.

Can you love Leftovers?

Can you love Leftovers?

Cornmeal Leftover Casserole

Basic Cornmeal Mush ratio: this makes enough to top a basic 8 x 8 casserole. Increase the amount based on your casserole size. I would say your standard 9 x 11 would start with 3 C dry cornmeal and increase everything else appropriately.

1 C Cornmeal
2 1/2 C Water or Stock
2 T Vegetable Shortening (other fats might work – I just haven’t tried them)
Seasonings to taste*

Put 1 1/2 C of water, shortening and seasonings in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Mix the remaining 1 C of water with the 1 C of cornmeal. When the water has reached boiling, add the cornmeal and stir. Reduce the heat and stir, cooking for about 10 minutes. You will have to stir pretty much the whole time, if it gets lumpy discipline it with a wisk.

*Because all of my leftovers for this afternoon were Tex-Mex I used the following seasoning:
1 1/2 t Salt
1/2 t Sugar
1/4 t each Chili Powder and Black Pepper

Before I started the cornmeal mush I assembled the leftovers in a small, greased casserole. Dinner last night consisted of burritos made with black beans and ground turkey taco meat. I mixed a can of diced tomatoes in with the beans and added garlic, Lizano sauce, salt & cumin then dumped it in as the bottom layer. The next layer was some chopped onion and I topped it with the ground turkey taco meat. For some added yumminess I scattered a layer of cheddar cheese on the meat.

And then you pour on the cornmeal mush and spread it all over the top to seal in the goodness. Bake in a pre-heated 350 oven for about 30 minutes and then hit the top with your broiler until it is nice and crispy. Voila! A brand new dish that kinda tastes like last night, but not really. And man will it stretch your servings of meat.

Potential Hacks:

Kinda pointless, I know, seeing that this entire “recipe” is pretty much a hack. But I was thinking about the whole “polenta” thing and it occured to me I could use this to make a casserole from leftover Italian flavored components. Put some Italian Herbs in the cornmeal instead of the chili powder and you could use it to top off … say … a leftover batch of meat sauce layered with mushrooms and mozzerella cheese. Or maybe leftover Italian sausage and peppers … it could get interesting.

note: A true Tamale Pie has cornmeal as both the bottom and top layer, to do this you will simply have to increase the amount of mush make proportionately. The positive part of this is the fact that cornmeal is CHEAP. It is an excellent method of making it possible to have large servings that fill you up – while not breaking the bank.

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.