Monday, October 27, 2008

Eat Better and Save Money with Easy Home Made Soups

Monday Morning Blog

The next time you're in the grocery store, check out the never ending varieties of soup that stock the shelves, round out the salad bar and wait patiently in the freezer case. There's a lot of soup out there.

Stores and manufacturers love selling soup becaue it's a high profit item and they make a bundle.

When you buy you're wasting your hard earned money. A two serving size can of brand name soup easily sells for $2.00. Gourmet, take out soup jumps the tab to 6 bucks.

Non cooks think making soup is hard. It's not. People pressed for time think soup is time consuming to make. It isn't.

For fraction of the cost and in less time than you think, you can make soup that's better, fresher and healthier than any you can buy. Every penny counts these days.

Home Made Vegetarian Split Pea Soup

The ingredients are so simple, just peas and water. Jazz things up a bay leaf. Add some carrots and potatoes if you'd like. Even a splash of cream.

Serves 4-6

1 (one pound) package dried green split peas
12 cups water
1 bay leaf (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Wash peas by putting them into a deep bowl and covering them with tepid tap water. Swish peas around and drain into a colander. Repeat 2 more times. Remove and discard any badly shriveled or discolored peas.

Put washed peas into a large pot. Add water and bay leaf (optional). Partially cover pot and bring to a boil on high. Reduce heat and simmer about an hour or until peas have disintegrated and soup is desired thickness. (If the soup is thicker than you'd like, stir in some water.) Add salt and pepper to taste.

Old Fashioned Ham Hock and Split Pea Soup

Prepare Vegetarian Home Made Split Pea Soup omitting bay leaf. Add one or two ham hocks at the beginning of cooking. When soup is done, remove ham hocks and cool until easy to handle. Shed meat and return to soup. Discard bones and rind.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Home Made, No Knead Artisan Bread Takes the Bite Out of Sky Rocketing Food Costs

Monday Morning Blog

Bread shouldn't cost $5.00 or more a loaf. It just shouldn't.

Get your food budget under control and enjoy crusty, homemade artisan bread with this super simple recipe. Costs about 65 cents to make.

No special equipment or bread making experience needed.

Time Is On Your Side

Time, not effort, is what turns flour, water and salt into crusty, artisan bread. Nature does the work. You get the credit.

Just five minutes of your time is all it takes. No kneading. No kidding.

No Knead, Crusty Sour Dough Bread
Got gourmet pals coming for Sunday brunch? Start the dough Friday night. Bake it Sunday morning.

Makes one loaf
Pan size: A seasoned, cast iron pot with lid that's 8 inches round X 4 inches deep works well but any similarly sized, heavy, heat safe pot with a lid will work. Make sure the pot and lid handles can take the heat of the oven.

3 cups all purpose flour (bread flour not recommended)
1/4 teaspoon dried yeast
2 1/4 teaspoons Kosher salt (or 1 3/4 teaspoons regular salt)
1 3/4 cups warm tap water (about 100 degrees - see tip below)
2 teaspoons regular or quick cooking grits or polenta (instant not recommended)

In a large bowl, mix flour, yeast and salt. Stir in water (just use a spoon) mixing only enough to combine. Mixture will be a sticky batter. Cover bowl (a plate works well). Put bowl out of the way (where it won't get bumped or jostled) in a warmish, room temperature place for 24 hours.

Next day, stir dough and fold it over itself once in the bowl. Replace cover and put out of the way for another 18-24 hours. (The longer, the better.)

After second rising, you're ready to bake. Position over rack so bread will bake in center. Place empty pot and lid separately into cold oven. Do not cover pot. Set oven temperature to 450 degrees. Let pot and lid preheat along with the oven.

When oven is pre-heated, carefully remove pot and lid placing on a heat safe work area. A well seasoned, cast iron pot will not need greasing. For other pots, lightly mist the inside bottom with cooking spray. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of grits or polenta over the bottom of heated pan.

Gently and without stirring, quickly pour dough all at once into center of hot pan. Try not to disturb dough more than necessary. Use a rubber or plastic scraper to guide dough into pot.

Don't fuss with dough or try to smooth out dough. The loaf should look free form and ragged-y.

Immediately sprinkle remaining 1 teaspoon grits or polenta over top of dough and cover with hot lid. Carefully place hot pot back into preheated oven.

Bake (covered) 30 minutes. Open oven. Remove cover without removing pan from oven. Continue baking (uncovered) until loaf is nicely browned - about 15 minutes more.

Remove pot from oven and immediately tip to remove bread onto a cooling rack. (Bread will easily fall out of a well seasoned pot. An unseasoned pot may require coaxing.) Cool bread completely (top side up) before cutting. Store uncovered (even after cutting) or in a paper bag to preserve crispness.

Karla's tip:
No thermometer to test the temperature of the water? Use your finger.

Here's how: Measure the water then stick in your finger to a dept of one inch. If you can leave your finger in the water to a slow count of 5 and it feels comfortably warm, it's the right temperature. If you have to remove your finger, it's too hot.

Rosemary Sour Dough Bread
Crush 2 teaspoons dried rosemary between the palms of your hands and add to flour mixture before adding the water. Continue with recipe.

Monday, October 13, 2008

How Fresh Is The Fresh Fish You Buy?

Consumer Wise
Getting the biggest bang for your hard earned buck

Everyone knows that eating fish is a healthy thing to do but take a close look at what you're buying. Things can get pretty fishy!

The next time you're in the fresh fish department of your favorite grocery store, take a good look at the tags that identify the fish. Does it say "previously frozen"?

There's nothing wrong with buying frozen fish. It's convenient, usually less expensive and is great to have on hand for family friendly, budget conscious meals. Since it's often frozen right at sea, it's "fresher" than fish that's been refrigerated for several days.

The problem with thawed, previously frozen fish being sold as fresh is that it's marketed as if it was "fresh" with prices higher than if you bought the same fish frozen and thawed it at home.

Lets not forget, too, that it's been sitting on ice for a while loosing moisture and getting stale. Not exactly what you envision as fresh is it?

So what's the solution?

If you live in a coastal area, it's easy to find places that sell really fresh fish but for most of us, you just have to shop around.

In Warrenton, Virginia, there's a darling gourmet food, wine and gift shop called The Town Duck that uses a clever method to market their guaranteed fresh, never been frozen fish.

Each week, e mails are sent out listing what fish will be available that week depending on the season, market prices and what's been caught.

Customers email back their orders and arrange for pickup on the designated day.

You'll see interesting fish like bronzini, black cod, wild rock and artic-char in addition to perennial favorites like salmon and tuna.

"Our scallops are particularly good because we get them dry, says long time owner Annette Johnson. "They're unprocessed, nice and white and plump-y. They don't shrink with cooking like wet scallops do. Wet scallops (the typical kind available) are processed and come in a preservative liquid."

Johnson aims for American fish but doesn't shy away from quality. "Prince Edward Island (Canada) has some gorgeous mussels right now and there's marvelous salmon coming from Scotland." Johnson insists that the fish she gets comes from waters she knows to be unpolluted.

The Town Duck
New larger location
100 Main Street
Warrenton, VA 20186
(540) 347-7237

Open 7 days a week

Fresh fish must be ordered in advance so get on The Town Duck's email list.


Easy, Town Duck Fish
Spread fresh fish fillets or steaks with a little crushed garlic and a thin smear of "Lemonaise". Bake until fish flakes.

(Lemonaise is a prepared sauce made by Ojai Cook. It's available at the Town Duck and gourmet shops everywhere.)