Saturday, August 22, 2009

A simple thrill

There are simple thrills in life. Today I discovered one that is simply delightful. I learned how to make cheese.

Being in France has given me a chance to explore some of these age old arts, but ones that I never ventured to try before. Growing up in the Midwest one would have thought that these kinds of skills would have been passed on. But my parents were of the space age generation. They wanted everything new and store bought and wrapped in plastic or aluminum. Plus my mother was always afraid she would somehow manage to poison all of us if she tried her hand at things like making preserves or canning. And cheese making! Forget it! Milk? Cream? Those can “turn” too easily.

But cheese making is natural and safe. There is no need to be an expert artisan cheesemaker in the hills of France to create a delicious, homemade, gourmet cheese for next to nothing. So, here is the simple recipe I used to make a batch, albeit a small one, of simple cheese.

1 Cup of whole milk
On small individual container of plain yogurt
1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
Salt to taste

A few coffee filters
A few deep coffee cups

All you need to do is heat the milk until a few small bubbles form, add the yogurt and stir until you have a smooth liquid consistency. Keep on heat continuing to stir. This process should take not more than 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add the fresh lemon juice. Give it a couple of easy stirs and just let it sit for about 10 minutes. You should see the difference between the cheese curd and the liquid whey.

Layer several coffee filters into several cups. Pour in the curd and whey mixture. You will see it draining through the filters almost immediately. You can let this sit for about an hour. Drain. Now open the filters and find your creamy, delicious cheese! Remove the cheese from the filters and put in a small bowl. Add salt to taste and chill.

And guess what? If your budget does not allow you fresh milk, powdered milk will work too!

This will make just a small amount of simple spreadable but delicious cheese. That is the beauty of it. You only make as much as you need!

Enjoy the simple thrills! Savor life!

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Solar Oven...make one today!

A friend of mine pointed out a great article recently all about solar ovens. Apparently these have been around for a long time. The Peace Corps had started promoting them in the 1960s as a way to assist folks in the third world with their cooking and safe water needs. They have since caught on with everyone else from campers and hunters to environmentalists and the simply curious.

Keep in mind that a solar oven will get close to 300 degrees if properly constructed. This is hot enough to cook potatoes and carrots as well as bake bread and boil water. Many things can be cooked in solar oven. I am making one to hang out my window in Paris.

I suggest as a first attempt in solar cooking something very simple. The humble yet honorable baked potato.

Interested in making your own solar oven? All you need are a couple of cardboard boxes (one should be able to fit in the other with at least an in inch or so of space all around), aluminum foil, black paper and some crumpled newspapers. Get that all together. Line the bottom of the smaller box with the black paper to absorb heat. Then, line the inner walls of the small box with foil. Now, put the crumpled paper in the bigger box to act as heat insulation. Place the smaller box inside the big box now. Place a sheet of plastic wrap or even an acrylic sheet over the opening. Using the large box flaps that you would normally close the box with, now line those with foil to reflect more heat into the box. you are done! Now if I have completely confused you, go here for more details:

Give the solar oven a try...I am making one just big enough to cook my beloved baked potatoes!

Bon apetit!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Poverty Food Shopping List

It is time to talk about more recipes...

I started this blog long before the recession hit simply because I was experienceing my own recession. Living in one of the most elegant cities in the world without resources allowed me the privilege (yes, privilege) to experience truly hard times. You never really look at the world and people in quite the same way after experiencing financial hardship.

I thought that for this installement I would share with you a classic shopping list I used during the roughest times. Now that times are better for me, I am actually sticking to this list as much as possible. It is wonderfully satisfying to know that you can survive on nearly nothing.

Keep in mind a couple of things. This list was used to sustain two adults, one male and one female and represents food that should last for a period of no less than '4-5 days. The budget was about 10 Euros.

One bag of sliced bread - 1.00
One box of frozen hamburger patties- 10 in a box- 3.89
One jar canned tomatoe sauce- about 12 ounces- .80
One package pasta or rice- .70

Two fresh onions- .45
3 fresh carrotts- .35
2 Courgettes- .70

Carton of Milk - .60
Bag of coffee- .80

Bag of lentilles- .95
Tomato paste- .20
Can of stewed tomatoes- .20

You will notice that this list is sorely lacking in the fresh fruits and vegetable area. These are some of the most expensive items in most shops as we all know. Not to worry, I have another 10 Euro fruit and vegetable list that would be used for the same sustaining purposes. Here is that list.

One 2.5 kilo sac of potatoes - 1.95
2 kilo bag of onions- 1.45

One bag of fresh courgettes- 1.65
6 carrotts- .70

One jar of tomatoe sauce - .80
One box of dry couscous- .75

One 10 pack of fresh eggs - 1.00
Carton of milk- .60
Box of tea- .45

One 2.5 kilo bag of apples- 1.50

Each of these lists is bare bones food. There is nothing here by way of condiments, spices, etc...
For such a list of basics to season, I recommend spending not more than 9 Euros as follows:

Salt- .60
Pepper- .55
Mayonnaise- .65
Mustard- .35
Harissa red pepper paste- .45
Curry powder- .55
Herbes de Provences (an herb blend of 3 green herbs) .55

Balsamic vinegar- 1.55
Olive oil- 3.65
Sugar- .75

Now, what can you really do with list number one?

I guaranty that you can get at least 5 dinners, 5 lunches and 5 breakfasts from that list. Here is how you do it...

Pasta Bolognaise- Half an onion chopped: half a carrot chopped fine; saute with 1 of the beef patties (no need to add oil); Once fully cooked add half the jar of tomatoe sauce and allow to simmer on low for a good 20 minutes. Serve over rice or pasta- This is enough for 2 persons.

Hamburgers using sliced toasted bread served with grilled onions.

Vegetarian lentil stew- begin to cook about one third of a small sac of lentills in 3 times its quantity of water. When water is reduced by half and the lentills are beginning to get soft, add half a chopped onion and half a chopped carrot, roughly chopped; add either half a can of stewed tomatoes or a small can of tomatoe paste. Allow to simmer until lentils are fully cooked and the stew is thick and hearty. Serve with toasted bread.

Meatballs- using 2 beef patties- crumble one slice of torn or shredded bread into a bowl; add defrosted beef patties. Roll into balls and saute on low in non stick pan. Once fully cooked, add a couple of tablespoons of tomatoe sauce over the patties and continue to simmer. Serve over rice.

Dolmas- Cut the courgettes in half (NOT lengthwise!)... you will now hollow out the courgette portions creating courgette tubes... fill the tubes with a beef and chopped onion mixture. Saute in non stick pan until center meat and courgettes are fully cooked. Add a tiny amount of water. Serve with rice or couscous. Did you save the courgette centers? You should have!

Hamburger helper, your own version! - cook rice; transfer to larger pot and add a beef pattie or two; add finely chopped half an onion and the courgette centers you saved; add remaining tomatoe sauce. Transfer to a pyrex pan and bake for 10 minutes until top is crusty.

What is lunch you ask?

Lentil stew- another round! ( make the rest of the bag- enough for two days)

Vegetarian lentils and rice with carrot ( make the rest of the bag- enough for 2 days)

Open face hamburgers

What is breakfast?

Cafe au lait + Toast

This is survival folks, not the Ritz!

Do this for one week and I guaranty you that by now your mouth will be watering over the thought of saltines and ketchup! List number two is frankly far easier to deal with. Omelettes and egg salad; couscous with vegetables; potato soup; onion soup; vegetable soup; potato salad; baked apples; legumes Provencal; onions farcis au couscous; fried or poached eggs; scrambled eggs with home fries; And a lovely cup of tea every morning!

It's not easy folks but you can do it! If you have the luxury of the condiment list, the possibilities are far more interesting....not endless, but more interesting.

Good luck!