February 2011 Archives

Oatmeal, Cheap and Tasty

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oatmeal-banner.jpgRolled or Steel Cut - Organic oats from Whole Foods are $1.69 per pound. The rolled style are cut, then steamed before being rolled. These cook slightly quicker and have a creamier texture than the ones on the right that are just cut. Neither one of these has any resemblance to the  cardboard and sugar taste in a package of instant oatmeal. Both are far cheaper than any convenience food.

oatmeal-measured.jpgOrganic oats from Whole Foods are everyday priced at less than 9 cents per ounce. A package of oatmeal on sale and in 30-package quantities can be as little as 30 cents per packet, which contains less than an ounce of oats, sugar and manufactured flavorings - 4 to 5 times the price of bulk organic any day of the week.

Read my toasted oatmeal recipe if you want some tips about how to make oatmeal, where I've added some ways to save time or fit the breakfast making into your schedule, so that you can see that making oatmeal from 'scratch' takes little more time than boiling water and ripping open the bag.  And much less time than making an extra stop at Target, after searching flyers and weekly specials, to nail the the best price.

I serve my warm cereal with the absolute finest Bulgarian Pro-biotic Yogurt, (White Mountain Bulgarian), the sweetest blueberries available in winter - Whole Foods 365 brand, frozen wild blueberries and organic milk. And my breakfast is still CHEAPER than packaged instant oats. Look at the breakdown, below: Cost of Packaged (Instant) vs. Home-made (Mine).

Ingredients in roughly equivalent quantities Instant (cents) Mine (cents)

Oats: 2 packets, 8/10th of an ounce at best (46 grams)

          Organic steel cut oats: 8.7 cent per oz. (46 grams)

ORGANIC WINS: everyday price nearly 4x cheaper

65.6

14.28

White Mountain Bulgarian Yogurt: 2 Tbs   11.53
Frozen Wild blueberries:   1/2 oz.   21.5

sugar and additives: .85 oz. in flavored packets; guar gum, salt, calcium carbonate, caramel coloring, Vitamin A palmate, reduced iron .4 oz. in traditional oats.

non-dollar costs?

none added; no total cost

ORGANIC ADORNED SAVES 18 CENTS PER SERVING: 65.6 cents 47.31 cents
Milk, 1/2 cup (reg for instant; organic for mine) 5.86 11.29
My breakfast with ORGANIC MILK is still CHEAPER
72 CENTS
59 CENTS


oatmeal-blueberries-yogurt.jpgThe argument for organic food is that it's better for the environment. Everyone agrees. Everyone can also agree that organic is not worse for our bodies. The usual argument against organic food is that it is SO DARNED EXPENSIVE, but look PACKAGED OATMEAL is the bloated one. Shall we calculate this out for a family of 4, 6 or 8? The savings over a year's time? Or a lifetime?

Someone is selling Americans, particularly the poor, the idea that they can't afford good food. What they really can't afford is processed food, the extra cost of which goes not to farmers but big companies. 
 
Instead of just voting once every four years for the candidates I think might help improve the food supply in this county, I vote every time I go to the store. I vote for organics.

Just imagine how the price of organic food would come down if that was how everyone grew food.

Clear Beef Stock

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Clear beef stock in easy to use cubes. That's the final product of a long process -- not a hard one -- that is the basis of some many great recipes, and that's beef stock.

stock.pngPlease feel free to read the post I wrote last winter about making beef stock for more details on the process, but essentially it's this: roast beef bones in a hot oven until they are brown. Cover them with cold water and vegetables and simmer without boiling for hours. You want every bit of flavor to leave your solid ingredients.

Strain out the solids from the broth and let the stock cool without covering.

clarification.pngYour broth is ready to save at this point, or you can clarify it with egg whites. Harold McGee explains how to make the stock clear. Pour in two egg whites into 4 quarts of cold stock, heat to a simmer for at least fifteen minutes while the egg whites collect into a raft and put all the particles left in the stock on board. It's a cool process and really fun to watch in action. Look at this stuff go.

clear-broth.pngJust skim the raft off and you have a beautiful clear consumé. It's easy to do. We just used a slotted spoon. Because we had cooked the beef broth down to a very concentrated level - less bulk in our freezer - the final product was dense and very concentrated. If you're isn't so dense McGee suggests you cook your stock with some new additions of meat and bones for about an hour before your clarify it.

broth-cubes.pngHere's our secret for storage. Let the clear stock cool a little while you clean and ice cube tray. Pour it, or unclarified stuff, into the trays and freeze. Use whenever you want.

This might seem like a long process, but we do it once a year and have stock cubes all year long. And once you do this, you can't go back to cans.







Schlosser & PHO

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Pho - in Denver is - cheap. Pho is beef broth, rice noodles, nearly raw meat, chili, bean sprouts, lime and a mounded pile of green-leaf herb, usually Thai basil and a saw-toothed cilantro.

Fast-Food-Nation.jpgEric Schlosser wrote about our desire for cheap food in Fast Food Nation. He spoke at Denver University last night as part of the Denver Post Pen & Podium series. I was one of the many believers who filled the auditorium to hear Schlosser talk about how fast food has killed our food supply. How Ray Kroc made a fortune making our food Uniform, Cheap and Fast. I wouldn't be caught dead in a fast-food place, but I do find myself willingly going out for a PHO.

One taste worldwide. That's what Schosser said was McDonalds slogan. The thought of that, he said is 'really creepy.'  And I'm feeling proud of myself for being an adventurous eater dining at local-ethnic places. I won't conform; I want to eat everything and I want it different every time. I breath in the Pho broth that I slurp up with a horde of other diners who are less discerningly dumping in chili sauce and other strong condiments. I try places with nice ambiance and those where we're packed in on cheap cafeteria tables. I form an opinion that Pho79 has a much more balanced and aromatic broth than Pho95 just down the block on S. Federal.

Then Schlosser said another creepy thing: one fast-food burger patty born in 2011 can contain meat from up to 100 animals. He reiterated what we, the audience, already knew about how long the scare of an outbreak of food-borne illness can last. Problems are hard to contain because of mass distribution, we can't easily trace trouble to a source and then correct the cause. Take for example, the salmonella eggs last summer. Think of mad-cow disease.

pho.jpgThen, I thought about my Pho restaurants. I don't ask where the beef broth comes from. Or the beef. Of course, there's the language barrier. I don't speak Vietnamese. Maybe what I want is ignorance, and it's accompanying bliss. Maybe that's what the food industry has been trying to provide for me and the fat people walking into McDonalds. Ignorance and bliss.

A woman in the audience at DU asked, 'I'm a vegetarian so I don't have to worry about what you're talking about, but what do you think about alfalfa now being Genetically Modified?'

Alfalfa, he answered, is a perennial. (I didn't know this or that it's now GMO) The concern, he continued, is that once a genetically modified perenial is introduced, it will propagate. No reining it in when we decide we don't want genetically-modified alfalfa. And yes, he said 'when.'

Because as Schlosser pointed out our food system changed without our knowledge over the past 40 years. We didn't debate it, vote for it. It changed without our knowledge because industrial food suppliers didn't, and still don't, want us to know what's in our food - it would scare us. So, slowly local butchers became rare, tomatoes became tasteless, one-off diners disappeared and mcRestaurants propagated. Behind the curtain was the industrialization of fruits and vegetables and cultivators turned to assembly-line workers. Until we started demanding organic and local. And this is why Schlosser thinks we are on a path to change the food system back to something better.

But the organic food movement is being criticized, Schlosser said, being called 'Elitist' by Sarah Palin. Yes, organic, non-processed food is more expensive, he said. "Right now it's only 1 percent of our food production, but calling it elitist is like calling seat belts elitist. The wealthy will always had access to good food. It's the poor who are suffering most (from the change to cheap, uniform and industrial food.) Just look at obesity rates, he said: 1 in 3 nationwide; of the poor: 1 in 2 people are obese.

If I'm an elitist because I support organic food, someone will probably also assume I'm a liberal - because I am open mind and will order tripe and tendon in my Pho.

But I'm Conservative - that's what I really am - Schlosser pointed out, saying that he, and I, want to conserve the land, keep our resources clean and uncontaminated, and we want people and animals treated with respect. The big-business pork lots and corn- and soybean-subsidy funded industrial farms are UnAmerican.  I'm the true American.
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This American makes a Fresh Dinner: I look up the recipe for Pho.  If I want that taste must I go out where the beef isn't guaranteed to be organic or decently treated.

'Rock candy. Buy Pho spices in a packet. If you've read any of my blogs or articles you know I hate recipes like this. Corn syrup is not necessary for my health, but I'll bet it's in the rock candy and maybe the spice packet, too. And I can't read non-Roman characters even if the ingredients are labeled.

I know Pho is generally made with beef stock, and instead of opening a can, I use homemade beef stock from a cow whose previous address I know. Added to that are a couple of star anise, a nutmeg, clove, cinnamon stick, white pepper, (from Savory, my local spice shop), an onion outer layer, a slice of fresh ginger, sage from the garden and a tablespoon of local honey. And some anchovy paste. Anchovies are what fish sauce is made from, and I know that my tube of anchovy paste is made in France where they have regulations about what they put in food. I'm not so sure about the fish sauce. It's minor, I know, but I'm on a mission tonight. To make a cheap meal in a pure way.

The rice noodles ingredient are rice flour and water. They're the extra large variety, meaning wide, and so they need to boil for 8 minutes. Yes, the package came from half way around the world, and I'm looking for a better option.

pho-ingredients.jpgRaw beef (flank steak, organic) has been in the freezer and it is cut thin. Bean sprouts, cilantro, Thai basil, slivers of fresh red chili pepper and lime are brought to the table. I substitute more lime and chili slices to avoid using the bright red chili sauce that we can't resist buying in the Asian market. The particular chili I'd bought just wasn't very hot. That's the trouble with natural produce - it's just not as consistent as "One Taste Worldwide."  But it was hot enough for sinus-clearing and smell enhancing. We slurped our soup and thought about what spice I'd used too little, and which one I'd used too much.

At one point, I squeeze in another wedge of lime and 'wow' it was zinging. Perfection. Right there in my bowl. Later, I ladled in another few spoonfuls of the left overs, I realized again how perfect it had been. The next taste is not much worse, but is constantly changing. I get very subtle new impressions with every bite. I want more of this. I want different basil options next time, my own cow's tripe and tendon. I want to make chili sauce. I want my little elitist arugula sprouts to get bigger so they can join in the PHO.

Super Bowl Special

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football-fries.pngFrench Football Fries:
These fries are so French. They're exactly like the wonderful fries we first appreciated at a French ski resort. Out in the cold, you come in for a steak and frites, and it's heaven. Then you find out these heavenly potatoes have been fried in beef fat. We decided they'd be perfect for the Super Bowl when every dish suggested seems to be filled with fat and other stuff not so good for anyone.  


Fries-For-Football.pngWe've been making beef stock, so happen to have beef fat around -- organic beef fat -- and we brush it on our organic Colorado potatoes. They're baked not deep fried. (Is this like shaving pennies from the national debt?)

It's Super Bowl Sunday, so we've cut the potatoes and shaped them into little footballs. Brushed them with beef fat and baked at 350 degrees for 30 minutes until they were golden brown.

We played around with variations on the onion lacing theme. And, of course, added the best French sea salt.

Great on their own or served with the Boeuf Bourguignon made yesterday for a hassle-free, après ski, Super Bowl dinner.

Boeuf Bourguignon

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beef-two-stages.jpgBeef Stew in Red Wine - Super any Sunday
Made this at least a day ahead. Day of - Go skiing, make the rest of the Super Bowl buffet or read a book and know that your Boeuf Bourguignon is getting better in the refrigerator. Just warm and serve.

beef-b-veggies.jpgCarefully, we follow Julia Child's recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1. Except we start by frying a piece of bacon in the Le Creuset because we don't have lardons (Bacon's flavor adds depth, salt pork works, too, but if you don't have it skip it. It the bacon is too salty, boil it for a few minutes and then pat dry before frying). Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Remove bacon. Heat the oil and 1 Tbs. olive oil to almost smoking. Brown 1.5 lbs of beef uncrowded on all sides. We used a package of stew meat from the freeze and it was cut a little smaller than we prefer. Julia suggests 2-inch cubes. This amount is perfect as a complete meal for two or serves four with other courses.

Put browned beef in a bowl with 1 Tbs of flour and a little salt and pepper. Brown 1/2 onion and a carrot in the Le Creuset, then return the meats to it, and cook uncovered in the middle of the oven for 4 minutes. Toss and return to oven for another 5 or so minutes. This browns the flour and forms a nice crust on the meat.

beef-burgandy.jpgRemove. Turn the oven temperature down to 275. (I know this is low but low is slow is perfect for Denver dryness and altitude). Stir in 1.5 cups of a good red wine (a pizza wine will do, but better won't hurt) and enough stock so the meat is barely covered. Add 1/2 Tbs of tomato paste, 1 clove garlic, thyme and 1 bay leaf. And the bacon. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove and set in the lower third of the oven. Check to make sure the liquid only simmers and let it go for 3 to 4 hours. The meat is done when it pierces easily with a fork.

 When the meat is cooked, we use a slotted spoon to take out the big chucks of onion and carrot. They've already given up their flavor. We add mushrooms and small white onions to the casserole and let it cool, uncovered. Then cover and refrigerate. Just warm up slowly in the casserole before serving. 

Roasted, boiled or mashed potatoes are great to help soak up the sauce, but bread, pasta or rice work, too. If you want a green vegetable, peas are great. Julia suggests you serve a young, full-bodied French wine with this dish, and she's right, of course.