Food Friday: Casserole Sizes

A quick tip for Food Friday this week, courtesy of this month’s Real Simple magazine. Ever have those weird-sized casserole dishes that you don’t know how to translate to 9×13, etc.? Here’s the relationship of ‘typical’ casserole size to volume:

9x13x2 = 3.5 quarts
9x9x2 = 2.5 quarts
8x8x2 = 2 quarts

Simply pour water into your mystery pan until it’s full; pour out the water and measure, and voila!

Food Friday: Budget cooking recs

The Bay Area used to be expensive to live in primarily for cost of housing, but most other costs of living were comparable to cheaper parts of the country. Gas was a tad more expensive, but some food was actually cheaper, like vegetables in the winter since a lot of them are grown nearby. Whether it’s due to the drought, the perception of the drought (almond farmers raised their prices before the cost of water irrigation even went up this spring), or alien waves from space, groceries have gotten a lot more expensive recently. There’s even been an outbreak of avian flu, and changes in regulations about conditions for laying eggs, both of which have raised egg prices astronomically.

I’ve tried several strategies to reduce grocery costs, but it’s really hard to do without compromising on nutrition or spending tons of time comparison shopping. I’m not complaining too much, though, because there are a lot of people much worse off than we are. Anyone who’s on SNAP (US food benefits, aka food stamps) is currently given $4 per day per person of benefits. $4/day for groceries. Sit and think about that for a minute – it is not much at all, and I’m impressed that anyone can manage it.

I’ve run into two resources recently that touch on budget cooking and the SNAP limits. Budget Bytes is a recipe website with great, simple recipes. This month she’s also doing a $4/day challenge and sharing her costs along the way. Her site is well worth a gander.

The other resource is a new cookbook by Leanne Brown, called Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day. The recipes are basic and well-written, and it would make a good first cookbook for someone going out on their own, or learning to cook, even if budget isn’t your primary concern. I almost made her ‘Deconstructed Cabbage Rolls’ for dinner the other night, but was vetoed by my spouse, who’s got a family recipe for Cabbage Rolls from the Hungarian side of his family that he’s very particular about.

[Book link is an affiliate link.]

Food Friday: The Kitchen Ecosystem

A quick book recommendation for this Friday – Eugenia Bone’s The Kitchen Ecosystem: Integrating Recipes to Create Delicious Meals. It’s a sizable cookbook organized by ingredient, and each section includes ‘regular’ recipes as well as those for canning/preserving, and then recipes that use those preserved items. It’s basically what the subtitle says – a way to think about cooking and your ingredients differently. If you’re interested in seasonal cooking, occasional canning without making it a big project, and generally getting the best bang out of your food purchases, I’d recommend it. Nothing is particularly esoteric but everything’s interesting enough to feel like I hadn’t read it before.

[Link is an affiliate link.]

Food Friday: Tres Leches Cake

I had to share this cake recipe with y’all even though I haven’t tried it yet, because it sounded so interesting. It uses the same device for moistness that my favorite Jello ‘poke’ cake does, except instead of Jello poured over the hot cake it’s a milk/cream mixture. It’s from Ina Garten’s new (2014) cookbook, Make It Ahead.

Tres Leches Cake with Berries

from Make It Ahead, Ina Garten

1 1/4 c all-purpose flour

2 t baking powder

3/4 t kosher salt

3 extra-large eggs at room temperature

1 c plus 5 T granulated sugar

2 t pure vanilla extract

1/2 c whole milk

1 1/4 c heavy cream

1 12-oz can evaporated milk

1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk

1/2 t pure almond extract

Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean

8 cups mixed fresh raspberries and sliced strawberries, for serving

sifted confectioners’ sugar, for dustin

whipped cream [there’s also a recipe in the cookbook for this, a make-ahead version that stays whipped for a while thanks to the addition of creme fraiche]

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9x13x2″ baking pan.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a small bowl and set aside. Place the eggs, 1 cup of granulated sugar, and the vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium-high speed for 10 minutes (really!) until light yellow and fluffly. Reduce the speed to low and slowly add half the flour mixture, then the milk, and finally the remaining flour mixture. Mix with a rubber spatula to be sure the batter is well mixed. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and bake for 25 minutes, until the cake springs back when touched lightly in the middle and a cake tester comes out clean. Set aside to cool in the pan for 30 minutes.

In a 4-cup liquid measuring cup, whisk together the heavy cream, evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, almond extract, and vanilla seeds. Using a bamboo skewer, poke holes all over the cooled cake and slowly pour the cream mixture over the cake, allowing it to be absorbed completely before continuing to pour on more of the mixture. Cover the cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

To serve, toss the fruit with the 5 tablespoons of granulated sugar. Dust the cake with confectioners’ sugar, cut in squares, and place on dessert plates. Surround the cake with the fruit, put a dollop of whipped cream on top, and serve.

Meal planning service face-off: No More To-Go vs 5 dinners, 1 hour

For several years I had a subscription to eMeals, and tried several of their plans. They were always more oriented toward other parts of the country with their grocery store choices, and toward families with small children (read: boring ‘white people food’ without much spice or variation). So when my subscription was up last year I let it expire. During the same period I got several deliveries from Blue Apron (which I wrote about a little here) that were a little too fancy and involved for what I wanted to cook on a weeknight. What I was looking for was something in-between: recipes that were interesting but not too involved.

Around Christmas there was a discount offer for the meal planning service No More To-Go* on Amazon Local, and I decided to try it out. It’s similar to eMeals in that there is a new slate of recipes each week, and it includes a grocery list. They’ve recently revamped the site so you can tweak your plan before you print it out, with the ability to remove meals or add meals from the recipe archives, and see the changes reflected in your grocery list. It’s easy to use and all the recipes I’ve made have been tasty.

My only issue is that there’s no choice in type of diet included; however, everything is reasonably healthy, no crazy Paula Deen stuff here, but there are a lot of starches. I’m still trying to eat mostly low-carb without grains, so that’s less convenient for me personally. However, the recipes have really hit the sweet spot of being interesting enough without being too complicated, so I will likely continue to subscribe once my initial deal is over. In my opinion, No More To-Go* is worth checking out if you have a more adventurous palate but like the idea of a weekly meal plan.

[*Both of these links are affiliate links; if you visit NMTG and decide to subscribe, I get a small cut. I paid for my own subscription and am writing this review of my own volition because I like the service.]

5 Dinners 1 Hour is a new website that offers a weekly plan like eMeals or No More To-Go, with the difference that everything is prepped beforehand so that it can be cooked quickly on the night of. As you might guess, the claim is that you can do all of your grocery shopping and prep on the weekend, the latter taking less than an hour, and then have five meals ready to be cooked when you get home from work. Basically it’s intended to be like Rachael Ray’s Week in a Day, except actually save you time instead of keeping you in the kitchen all day long.

Unfortunately, I was less than impressed with the recipes. The built-in grocery list was handy, but the way the recipes printed out was a bit confusing, and overall most of the recipes were super-dull and obvious. I realize that novelty isn’t necessarily the prime factor that you might be looking for in this situation, but the recipes have to be at least as decent as my old standbys, or I might as well just make the same four things over and over, you know?

If you’re really tight on time, 5 Dinners 1 Hour might be right for you. They do have a 14 day free trial that you can try out, without having to give your credit card info, and during the trial you can see the archive of the current month’s recipes as well as the previous month’s, so you can get a pretty good idea if it’s going to be the service for you.

Food Friday: cookbook recommendation and pork & kale

Apparently Nigel Slater is some sort of culinary celebrity in the UK. I’d never heard of him until Marisa at Food in Jars mentioned his newest cookbook during her favorite cookbooks of 2014 roundup. After a while on my library’s hold queue, Eat became available this week and I really enjoyed it. I’ve not made anything from it yet – I added several recipes to my ‘try this’ queue on Plan to Eat – but I fully expect to enjoy the results. It’s written in a narrative style, in paragraphs without the ingredients being mentioned ahead of time, and that makes it a much less clinical experience to read (and, I presume, to cook with). If you’re looking for interesting but not crazy-complicated food to make at home, I highly recommend you check out Eat.

Next week I plan to post a review of two weekly meal planning services that I’ve been trying out. The below recipe is a modification of a recipe from one of them, 5 Dinners 1 Hour. In honor of Nigel Slater, I’ve written it in his style from Eat, even though he has absolutely nothing to do with this recipe.

Slow cooker pork & kale
Adapted from a recipe from 5 Dinners 1 Hour

Plug in your slow cooker and spray with cooking spray. Add 3-4 pork chops* to the bottom (preferably bone-in, about 1 1/2 – 2 pounds). Clean a bunch of kale and tear into medium-sized pieces, adding on top of the pork. Dice a medium onion and toss it in (or be super-lazy and use half a bag of frozen chopped onions). Open a 14 oz can of diced tomatoes (preferably with garlic) and pour on top. Add a couple glugs (~2 tablespoons) of balsamic vinegar. Cook until tender, 3-4 hours on high or 6-7 on low, I would guess, stirring the greens and tomatoes occasionally if possible. If you get home early and you have a bunch of spinach or arugula to use up, dump that on top to cook down for the last 30 minutes to an hour. Good alone or served with rice or couscous.

* I defrosted mine the day before in the fridge, but if you haven’t you could probably get away with starting from frozen, as long as you have a couple extra hours to let the whole thing cook. You might end up with too much water; I dunno.

Food Friday: Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry

Hello, world! I hope those of you that celebrated Christmas yesterday had a great time. After Food in Jars posted their best cookbooks/preserving books of the year list the other day, I went to my local library and picked up the three they carried.

This is not exactly a book review, given that when I started leafing through Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry, what would have excited me a year ago just left me feeling overwhelmed. When once I would have thought to myself, “yeah, hey, maybe I should try making my own cheese” or “gee, I didn’t know that’s how you smoked fish,” instead I thought “holy cow, I don’t really want to dedicate the time to do any of these things.”

I am a person of serial enthusiasms, some of which reappear in a spiral-like pattern after years. In college, it was houseplants; then for a while it was cooking, then gardening, then canning, then cooking again. Meanwhile there was sewing and quilting in alternating waves. In all of these hobbies my eyes tend to be bigger than my stomach and if I go whole hog at the beginning, I end up spending a lot of money on supplies and ending up with a lot of unfinished projects. I don’t know if I’ve gotten practical, or just depressing, in my advancing years when I realize that most of the things I want to try will never happen, not in the grand scale that I imagine them.

So if you want to learn how to make cheese, or smoke fish, or make bone broth, or can beans, I would recommend Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s – it really is a comprehensive and readable guide to all kinds of food preservation. I, on the other hand, am going to return the book to the library with a clear conscience (and maybe finish one of those unfinished projects hanging around instead).

[This post includes affiliate links.]