Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Budget Wise Cooking

I love cooking especially for friends and family. I started cooking when I was 5 years old, standing next to my mother and grandmother, learning the treasured family secrets. I was raised as a city girl but both my parents came from farm families, so I learned a thing or two about cooking.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned how to adapt many of our family recipes into healthier yet still budget wise meals. I have learned to combine a meat eating and vegetarian cooking style along the way, and I would like to share some of my favorites.

Beans and lentils are the most versatile foods among meat eaters and vegetarians alike. There is such a wide variety of this protein packed supper food that you could eat them several times a week and never get bored.

I have a book called 366 Delicious Ways to Cook Rice, Beans, and Grains. This book has some of the best ideas I have found. I never realized there could be so many.

The way I cook beans depends on the type of bean it is. Pinto beans I always cook on the stove top while white beans I cook in a slow cooker. I like soft beans with a thick juice, and unless you cook them on the stove, pintos are too hard and soupy for my taste.

When it comes to slow cookers, there are many to choose from. I have three in my home and use all of them. May favorite slow cooker is the Hamilton Beach 33967 Set 'n Forget 6-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker. It’s programmable and has a locking lid. I am always taking food somewhere so the locking lid is a big plus.

I take a 1-pound bag of pinto beans; sort and wash, then let them soak in cold water all day or overnight. I drain, rinse and place in a pot, covering with 4 cups water and 2 cups chicken broth. Turn stove on high and let boil about 10 minutes then turn down to a low simmer. Cover with a lid and let slowly boil about two hours.

Tip: To avoid gas associated with pinto beans, cut a russet potato in half and add to beans when cooking.

Next I add a chopped onion and smoked ham hock. If you are a vegetarian, you can skip the hock and had a drop or two of liquid smoke. Bring back to a slow boil and let cook for another hour or until beans start to thicken and are tender.

If your beans are too soupy, take about a cup out and mash, then return to pot. Add your spices and salt let simmer for another 30 minutes. It is important that you do not add anything containing salt until the beans have cooked. Adding salt before cooked will make your beans tough. As for spices, you can add anything. I add chopped garlic, season salt, and cumin and ground oregano. I like to add chopped jalapeno for a spicier dish.

With this one pot of beans, you can make several meals. The first meal, serve beans with cornbread or fried potatoes. Take your leftovers and make into chili. Just add meat, or leave meatless, tomatoes, chili seasonings and fresh peppers. With your chili, you can eat it plain or make Frito pie or chili spaghetti.

Turn your leftover beans into refried beans for a south of the border dinner. You will want to use a heavy frying pan. I prefer a cast-iron skillet. Heat 1 tablespoon of lard, bacon fat or oil to pan. Strain your beans and add to skillet, mixing well then add ¼ cup water and stir. Using a potato masher, mash the beans while they are cooking in the skillet. Add more water as needed, keeping your beans from drying out. Mash until they have a puree consistency.

Another easy, economical dish that will appeal to vegetarians is Veggie Noodles. Just serve this quick, nutritious meal with garlic or Italian bread for a satisfying meal.

You will need:

2 small zucchini squash

2 small yellow squash

1 egg plant

2 cans of Italian or other spiced tomatoes

¼ cup olive oil

Cooked fettuccini

Grated parmesan cheese (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Cut vegetables in small chunks, leave skins on. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook on medium-low, stirring constantly until vegetables are tender but not mushy. Mix in cooked fettuccini and add tomatoes. Cook until heated through. Add cheese and mix well.

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