Day 266–Starting Week 39–Budget and Menu

We’re enjoying the last of the field tomatoes!

The weeks sure are speeding past! I always feel like the time between Halloween and New Years is a big slide and woooosh! Before you know it, you’re into the next year, looking around thinking “what the heck just happened?” We are definitely into our fall growing season, although there are still some vestiges of summer left. This week we are getting acorn squash AND a watermelon. Weird, but I’ll take it!

Our fall greens are doing well so far–no bunny damage yet, thanks to some product Tom sprays on my raised beds. I think it’s some form of coyote urine, which baffles me. We are actually paying for pee. If someone’s dog came and sprayed my raised beds, I would be highly irritated, but when it comes from Lowes, it’s ok.

We are rocking this week’s budget, which is mostly vegetarian and totally yummy. In addition, I’ll be making some maple oatmeal bread, which will be breakfast along with some more crock pot applesauce. Now that I have put up about 100 quarts of tomato sauce, my trips to the farmer’s market are a bit more contained, which is helping our budget also!

We spent $87.21 this week on groceries, which I’m thinking is a record low for us, but I will have to check. The eggplant we are using came in last week’s produce box, so that’s a carry over, which helps! Here is how the budget breaks down for this week:

  • The Produce Box (apples, watermelon, green beans, acorn squash, yellow squash, tomatoes, red and green bell peppers): $23.00
  • Farmhand Foods meat csa (Local hangar steak): $12.00
  • Hillsborough Cheese Co (mozzarella): $6.00
  • Mae Farm (eggs): $4.00
  • Trader Joes (frozen fruit, yogurt, soy milk, olive oil, shampoo, oats): $42.12

What are we having this week? Here is our early fall menu:

  • Wednesday–leftovers or cereal (Girl Scout night)
  • Thursday–Eggplant Parmesan
  • Friday–Acorn squash and apple soup with yellow squash muffins
  • Saturday–Leftover Eggplant Parmesan
  • Sunday–Grilled hangar steak, green beans, mushroom risotto
  • Monday–Pepper steak stir fry w/leftover steak, rice
  • Tuesday–Baked sweet potatoes stuffed with apples and pecans

Enjoy all the wonderful bounty of local vegetables that fall brings us! Happy shopping and eating this week!

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Day 254–Reducing Food Waste

How much food do you think your family throws away each year?

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, Americans threw away more than 34 million tons of food in 2010. That is absolutely appalling. Food waste is the largest component of municipal solid waste. FOOD! Not paper (that was second) or plastic, but food. You know, the stuff we pay to eat and then complain about how expensive it is. Yikes! Is it me or is it horrifying that people around the world are starving and we are throwing food away at a staggering rate? And can I tell you how weird it is to realize I’m starting to sound like my grandmother?

I have been completely and totally guilty of this myself. Leftovers that go uneaten, grocery store produce that goes bad before you can cook it and trash bags full of peelings and odd veggie pieces. Our change of eating habits has helped that a great deal, but we can do better.

Want to know how you can reduce the amount of food you toss? Here are some helpful suggestions:

  1. Buy less. This is hard for me, especially at the farmer’s market, but I’m getting a lot better. I’ve found that I really didn’t understand how many carrots or tomatoes or heads of lettuce we REALLY needed in a week. Putting our family on a budget along with buying more organic produce makes me very conscious of how much we really eat. And it’s nowhere near what I was thinking. I’m still very tempted during our peak seasons to buy, buy, buy, so I haven’t mastered this yet.
  2. Compost your kitchen scraps. We have two compost systems in our back yard and we probably need another rotating bin. If you have just a bit of space, you can turn your produce scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells, corn husks and even some paper into rich garden compost. We have been amazed at how empty our garbage bin is when we take it to the curb each week.
  3. Eat your leftovers. I know, I know. Leftovers can be boring. The old me used to throw most leftovers away because I knew no one would eat them. The new me plans our menu a week ahead and PLANS to eat leftovers at least once a week (you’ve seen this on my menus). Some weeks this is a buffet with a little of this and a little of that. Some weeks we are just trying to finish up a huge pot of chili or soup. Regardless, that is what we eat because that is what is on the menu. Also, to save money, I bring leftovers for lunch. This isn’t a hardship because I rather like my cooking, and it tends to be a lot healthier than eating out.
  4. Freeze extra produce. Did you know you can freeze most produce whole? If you freeze tomatoes and peaches whole, they are easy-peasy to peel once they thaw. Beats blanching any day in my book. Some of our summer produce boxes were so huge that we couldn’t possibly eat everything. Enter–the freezer! We have corn, green beans, field peas, tomatoes, fruit, pasta sauce, pesto, chopped onions and more stashed away for use at a later time.
  5. Donate. Have a bunch of extra tomatoes or squash or cucumbers? Share with your neighbors! Not only will you make them extremely happy, but you’ll reduce the amount of food you’re wasting.

Ok, so with this knowledge I am re-committing our family to reduce our food waste. What about you? Do you have suggestions to help us? Share!

 

Day 245–End of Summer Baked Corn Casserole

In preparation for the winter, I’ve been blanching and freezing corn. A LOT of corn. I do believe we have enough frozen corn to last us clear to next June! It’s so good in soups, stews and casseroles that I am confident we will be able to use it all up. But last night I found myself with some extra ears of corn, but lacking the will power to blanch them. So, I made a casserole to welcome fall instead. This is a bit hilarious since “fall” in North Carolina is still about 8 weeks away and all week our temperatures are in the 90s. But still, we made it work!

This recipe is a weird but wonderful combination of creamed corn and corn pudding. It is very rich and creamy and definitely a repeat in our house. In the future, I will probably add some chopped chili peppers. You could also use a milder cheese like Gruyère and sprinkle the top with nutmeg and I think that would also be pretty super. 

Baked Corn Casserole

  • Corn kernels from 6-8 ears of corn (about 6 cups)
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 4 oz. cream cheese
  • 1/4 c. whole milk or half and half
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (we used leftover pepper jack)
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a small casserole dish or 8 x 8 baking dish.
  2. Over medium heat, melt putter and cream cheese in a saucepan.
  3. Mix in the corn, cream, salt and pepper.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese.
  5. Pour mixture into prepared dish and smooth the top.
  6. Sprinkle with bread crumbs.
  7. Cook for about 30 minutes, until top is lightly browned.
  8. Let cool slightly and serve.

Day 237–Baked Pasta with Three Cheeses

We had one of those freakish weekends where the weather was downright chilly and I must say, it didn’t take me long to kick into cool weather food! This baked pasta used our homemade Roasted Tomato Sauce, pesto from our garden basil, a green pepper from our little garden and Italian sausage from one of our favorite farms, Mae Farm. It was easy to make once the sauce was done and it made enough for two dinners and a lunch (and none of us had just one serving at dinner). If you’re looking to welcome fall, but still have plenty of tomatoes (or have some frozen/canned sauce) this is a great bet!

Baked Pasta with Three Cheeses

  • 1 lb. penne pasta (rotini would be good, too)
  • 1 quart Roasted Tomato Sauce
  • 1/4 c. basil pesto
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • Olive oil
  • 1 lb. Italian sausage, removed from casing and cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 8 oz. fontina cheese, cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 8 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs, toasted
  1. Heat a pot of water for pasta. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cook pasta according to directions, but take pasta off heat 2 minutes before directions call for since pasta will bake in the oven. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta water for sauce.
  3. In a saute pan, heat 2 tbsp. olive oil over medium high heat. Cook sausage until no longer pink.
  4. Add onions and green pepper and cook until soft, about 3 minutes.
  5. Add the Roasted Tomato Sauce, basil pesto and reserved pasta water. Stir well and reduce heat to low.
  6. Mix together pasta, basil/tomato sauce, and cheese, reserving 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese for topping.
  7. Oil a 13 x 9 baking dish. Pour pasta mixture into baking dish. Top with remaining cheese and breadcrumbs.
  8. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes until bubbly and hot.

Day 227–Planting a Fall Garden

Although it is still hot and humid here, we have visions of fall veggies growing in the garden. As much as I hate to see summer go, I do love me some fall vegetables. Broccoli, beets, sweet potatoes, autumn squash, pumpkin, kale, collards…yum!

Our summer garden was miraculously unproductive. Someone picked all our tomatoes and eggplants before we could get to them, and our cucumber plants bit the dust early (although we did get a decent number of cucumbers before that happened). Our herbs fared better than the vegetables, so that may be the way to go in the future. Because apparently, my neighbors don’t like herbs 🙂

The urge to plant things is apparently greater than the urge to give up until I have new neighbors, so I’m planning on giving over some energy to a fall garden. And maybe installing a video camera.

What about you? What do you like to plant in the fall?

Day 220–Red Pepper Tart

I’m not sure why this isn’t called “Zucchini Tart” because it has more zucchini in it than red pepper, but the pepper sure makes it look pretty. This is another recipe adapted from the Under the Tuscan Sun Cookbook, which is rapidly becoming a favorite of mine. This tart was delicious–it is like a quiche, but with more vegetables and MUCH less fat (no milk or cream in this baby!). So light and delicious–I will definitely make it again. Ellie didn’t care for the zucchini, but she might try it with another vegetable subbed in. I think it would be great with asparagus in the spring or even with thinly sliced potatoes. Or Kale…or broccoli…or…well, you get the picture. Super easy, healthy and versitile. That is MY kind of recipe!

Red Pepper Tart

  • 4 farm eggs
  • 3 medium zucchini, sliced very thin
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced very thin
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil, plus scant amount to coat pepper
  • 1 c. shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1 9″ pie crust
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced into strips
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Roll the pie crust into a 9″ pie pan and keep refrigerated until ready.
  3. In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until soft and translucent–about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the sliced zucchini and cook another 3 minutes until soft.
  5. Spread the zucchini and onions onto the bottom of the pie crust.
  6. In a bowl, wisk the eggs together. Add the cheese and blend. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour over vegetables.
  7. Toss the red pepper slices in a scant amount of olive oil to coat. Arrange red pepper slices on top of the tart in a spoke pattern. Press them into the egg a bit.
  8. Bake tart for 30 minutes or until eggs are set and crust is lightly browned.

Day 219–Starting Week 32–Budget and Menu

This week I am trying to feature those summer vegetables that will not be available too much longer–tomatoes, zucchini, okra and eggplant. We’re also featuring our Julia Child 100th birthday dinner, which costs more than most of the week 🙂 But, totally worth it. And, we are astonishingly under budget at $75.24. That helps make up for last week!

Budget

  • The Produce Box (cantaloupe, heirloom tomatoes, okra, eggplant, sweet peppers, squash, garlic, onions, cherry tomatoes): $22
  • Various farmer’s market (new potatoes, zucchini): $4.00
  • Rainbow Farm (whole roasting chicken): $12.00
  • Locals Seafood (pink snapper): $18.00
  • Hillsborough Cheese Co (mozzarella): $6.00
  • Trader Joes (frozen mango, yogurt, soy milk, shallots): $13.24

Menu

  • Wednesday–Red Pepper Tart, tomato and cucumber salad; leftover peach cobbler
  • Thursday–Pan seared pink snapper w/cherry tomatoes, corn, roasted okra
  • Friday–Tuscan eggplant parmesan w/roasted tomato sauce, leftover tomato and cucumber salad
  • Saturday–Homemade pizza
  • Sunday–Julia Child Birthday Dinner–roast chicken, roasted new potatoes, sautéed grated zucchini in butter and shallots, stuffed tomatoes, peach tart
  • Monday–Leftovers from Sunday
  • Tuesday–Carryover local pasta with roasted vegetables

Day 218–Cook for Julia!

August 15 of this year would be Julia Child’s 100th birthday. As someone who came woefully late to cooking, I love the story of Julia Child and her role as a mentor to chefs and home cooks around the world. She was an exceptional woman and an exceptional teacher. And, I have to say, I love her quirky sense of comedic timing and mannerisms. We recently watched many of the first episodes of The French Chef on Netflix and one of the things that strikes me is her use of simple, honest ingredients prepared with surprisingly little effort. Of course, her shows also feature some complicated dishes and topics, but there is no high-end truffle oil from halfway around the world or peppers from South America or exotic meat from a half-extinct animal. No food towers. No plates of mostly garnish. No smoked underbelly of mustard leaf (ok, that one I made up). Real food, olive oil, salt and pepper, butter and fresh herbs. For. Reals.

So PBS is sponsoring a Cook for Julia to celebrate her 100th birthday. Make a dish between August 5th and 15th, take a pic, post it to the website HERE. Or not. But isn’t it fun to celebrate someone who reminded all of America that maybe SPAM isn’t really a food and that a simple whole chicken can be an exalted thing when dressed simply and roasted with care? I think that’s worth a celebration. Here is a quote from Julia Child that I often think about when I’m cooking:

“Learn how to cook. Try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all, have fun.”

What will I make? I’m going all-out with simple, local ingredients. Here is my Julia Child Birthday Dinner:

  • Julia’s Roast Chicken
  • Oven roasted potatoes
  • Julia’s Grated Zucchini Sautéed in Butter and Shallots
  • Julia’s Baked Stuffed Tomatoes
  • Julia’s Peach Tart

We’ll have our feast on August 12 and I’ll post pics from our birthday party. Should be fun!

Bon Appetite!

Day 217–Stocking Up for the Gap Season

Summer Squash

Here in NC, we are rapidly approaching the Gap Season, where summer crops are tapped out or on the way out and fall crops haven’t yet started producing much. How could that be??? Didn’t summer just start, like, yesterday? I love summer–even with the mosquitoes. I’m feeling a little sad about the gap, really. I feel like I have so much unfinished food business. I have tomato and eggplant and zucchini recipes to try, more tomato sauce to can and I’ve only had okra one time this summer. Still not sure how that happened.

Fortunately, the summer season tapers off gradually and I have a couple of weeks to get my act together before the gap. I’ll be stocking up on what I can this week and next. Mostly peaches, blueberries, green beans, okra and tomatoes. I’m not sure if I can freeze summer squash and zucchini…any suggestions? While I finish canning and freezing our summer bounty, I am also–in the back of my mind–excited about one thing. Football.

Fall means football, which also means stews and chilis and braised short ribs. It also means sweet potatoes and pumpkin and collard greens. If there is one thing I have realized on our journey (and trust me, there is more than one), it is that when you eat local, you genuinely appreciate the sweetness of each growing season and the importance of paying attention to what is available to you at any given time. I will miss fresh, ripe peaches, but not enough to buy their tasteless, black-hearted cousins at the grocery store. I do, however, have 18 half pints of peach butter and 4 quarts of peach halves that I will ration out over the next year, and that will be enough to sustain me until peach season comes again.

 

Day 185–Starting Week 28–Budget and Menu

green beans

This week has been a busy one! The mid-week Independence Day holiday has my schedule all mixed up, and I’m a bit late getting out our weekly budget and menu, but that is life, right? We are a bit over budget this week (mostly meat for the holiday) at $105.70. Since I had to work on July 4th (outside!) I was not about to cook. Mae Farms prepared pulled pork gave us more than one meal and prevented me from having to cook (I love them!) Here is the list of what we bought this week:

  • The Produce Box (tomatoes, watermelon, peaches, corn, green beans, squash, snow peas, plums): $28.00
  • Mae Farm (pulled pork barbecue, steaks): $38.00
  • Other farmers market (cantaloupe, blackberries, potatoes): $10
  • Trader Joes (frozen fruit, soy milk, butter, yogurt, wine, turbinado sugar): $29.70

What are we eating for the kingly sum? Here is our weekly menu!

  • Wednesday–Pulled pork barbecue sandwiches, potato salad, cantaloupe
  • Thursday–Tomato sandwiches, watermelon and blackberry fruit salad
  • Friday–Grilled steaks, corn on the cob, snow peas; peach cobbler
  • Saturday–Out–date night!
  • Sunday–Pasta with grilled eggplant, squash and tomatoes
  • Monday–BLT sandwiches, homemade pickles
  • Tuesday–leftovers and/or quiche