Food, Budgets, Children & Husbands

Every time I see a mother out shopping with her children trying to keep her goals in mind while the young ones clamor for everything the mother is not going to put in her grocery cart, I recall my own moments. Children are born with taste buds already acclimated to junk food and parents battle their inclinations from day one.

Children like recognizable food. If they can’t conveniently pick it up in their hands, they might not eat it. And, if the food, can be fried, grilled, or breaded, so much the better.
Unfortunately, the week before payday doesn’t always allow us the luxury of chunks of meat or chicken. This is when the bane of most children appears . . . casseroles!
Casseroles were invented when there was one shred of meat, two carrots, and a sprouted potato left in the larder. Whether it is a larder or refrigerator of today, we often have the same culinary scenario. This is when your motherly skills all come into play.
“Mom! What is that brown, crusty stuff on top of my food?”
“It is melted cheese. Eat it! Don’t take it off or you will be sorry!”
“Mom! There’s no meat under the brown, crusty stuff!”
“See! Didn’t I tell say you’d be sorry!”
For variation, all you have to do is add liquid to leftover casserole and you have soup. This is about as popular as casserole. Your children carefully skim tiny spoonfuls of broth from the surface of their soup bowls. There are whispered discussions and long, intent looks into their bowls. You get the impression that the appearance of the Loch Ness Monster from the depths of their soup would come as little surprise to them.
All the cookbooks and meal planners suggest stretching meals with a big salad. Salad often fits into my week before payday budget. Unfortunately, the children are all for drowning it in their soup and covering it with brown, crusty stuff.
Husbands should be supportive but, sometimes, they just can’t help what happens. Faced with a big bowl of mixed salad greens (two-pound bag on the ‘next stop, eternity’ used vegetable counter!), he tries to be encouraging.
“Children! Your mother works hard all day to fix us this wonderful dinner . . .”
“Dad! I don’t recognize this leaf!”
“It’s nettles, dear.”
“Dad! Nettles aren’t edible! It’s probably crab grass. Mom put crab grass in our salad!”
“Sweetheart! It’s not crab grass. I meant to say endive not nettles.”
“Dad! Do I have to eat the curly leaves?”
“If you want dessert, you do.”
“We have dessert tonight?”
“Well, no, but if we were having dessert, you could have some if you ate the curly leaves, too. Since we aren’t having dessert, you still have to eat the curly leaves so you don’t die of starvation by morning!”
“Dad! I think I saw something crawling in my salad . . .”
“Enough! I have heard enough complaints about dinner. I want you to all be quiet and eat your weeds! I mean, salad!”
Marriages are made in Heaven but I bet they happen before the salad course.

Adventures in the Kitchen

My husband is a man of few dreams as he is quite content with a mostly clean house, housebroken pets and a good dinner on the table. Clean laundry is a plus, too. One of his dreams, however, has been to have a kitchen trash can that automatically opens when you want to make a deposit. Shopping one day, his wish was granted as there was the prize of his dreams and it was on sale, too, always a plus to get me to agree. He happily brought it home and set it up.

He came over to the new kitchen ‘family’ member with trash and held it over the lid. Nothing. He moved closer and . . . not a whisper of cooperation. He touched the lid and it opened rather reluctantly (as far as I could see as I can’t read appliance demeanor of any genre).

My husband took it apart and put it together, again, to insure it was done perfectly. It was still reluctant to accept his offerings of trash. He packed it up and returned it to the store and replaced it with another one. It was a very close cousin as it seemed to have the same stubborn streak as the first one. My husband gave up at that point, walked across to the kitchen sink to wash his hands . . . and the lid happily popped open. When the lid closed again (Much to the dismay, wonderment, and shock of our cats), my husband rounded up a trash offering and approached it. Nothing! Not even a glimmer of cooperation. He raised his hands in exasperation and, naturally, with a suppressed appliance grin, it immediately opened up.

These days, the trash can is mostly kind to my husband but always obeys me. I don’t know why. Perhaps, I deliver more interesting trash. Then, again, I didn’t call it any names which I will not mention here.

Seamlessly Blending Carrots Into Meals

When my children were in their formative years, ur budget was such that getting ten pounds of carrots for under three dollars made them a fixture on my weekly shopping list. Unfortunately, my children didn’t sympathize with me on this aspect of saving money. I had several unsuccessful attempts in disguising carrots at mealtimes. My children had radar when it came to sensing a carrot in their vicinity. I am sharing my failures with you so you can avoid the same dinner-time pitfalls. For some reason, they just didn’t work.

1. I tried passing off steamed carrots as hot dogs. One attempt at the subterfuge and relish and ketchup were never applied after that until the children tested the contents of the bun on both the dog and cat.

2. I tried something trendy. I told them it was orange sherbert but the unsuccessfully pureed carrot bumps cued them in.

3. Mixed mashed carrots into their liver and they still wouldn’t eat it!

4. Told them it was actually hashed, orange rutabagas, not carrots. They threatened to call 911.

5. Painted red stripes on carrots and put them into their Christmas stockings. Told them Santa left the candy canes. You don’t want to know.

6. Tried honesty . . . told them carrots taste like chicken.

7. Found a recipe for ground carrots and cottage cheese that was suppose to fry up ‘just like a hamburger patty’. My children’s first question was, “Mom, why are you frying cottage cheese and carrots?”

8. Told them they couldn’t have dessert unless they ate all their carrots at dinner. Almost had a mutiny when they discovered dessert was Carrot Cake.

9. Told them they weren’t carrots but odd-colored zucchini. Actually refused to believe me!

10. Chopped up the carrots into cubes and told them it was tofu in their stir fry.

Catfish Creole From My Friend, Ellen!

Summer will eventually simmer down and, hopefully, there will be some cold, rainy days that require a warm meal. This recipe is easy, different, and tasty. Also, a good one to earmark for Lent which always shows up way too soon!

Catfish Creole

Ingredients for Sauce:
½ c. butter
1½ c. chopped onions
1 c. chopped celery
1 c. chopped bell pepper
¼ c. diced garlic
2-3 whole bay leaves
1 16-ounce can tomato sauce
1 28-ounce can peeled & diced tomatoes
½ c. water
½ c. green onions
1 tbs. sugar
1-2 tbs. dry thyme
1-2 tbs. dry basil
Salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Other ingredients:
1 pound catfish (or red fish) fillets, any white fish will work wonderfully.
6 cups cooked white rice

In a 2 quart heavy sauce pan (a cured heavy black iron pot is traditionally used if you have one), melt butter over medium-low fire. Saute onions, celery, bell pepper, and garlic until vegetables are wilted, stirring occasionally for about 15-20 minutes. Add bay leaves, tomatoes, sauce, water, and green onions. Bring mixture to a low boil, reduce to simmer, and cook an additional 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add spices and fillets. (Salt may be reserved until the fish is cooked.) Cook until fish breaks apart easily, about 10-15 minutes. Serve over steaming white rice.

Bargain Baking . . . Sort Of!

In the pursuit for savings, we all know the less we frequent the grocery stores, the more we save! However, we often need that certain cake, cornbread or muffin mix. Now, not only are these boxed conveniences expensive when you are counting pennies, the temptations you pass in the aisles can put some items in your shopping cart you didn’t even know you needed.

I have found that premixing packages of baking mixes saves time in the long run and last-minute trips to the store. The concept is simple, you mix up the necessary dry ingredients for your recipe, seal it in a bag along with a stapled on note card with what you will need to finish it. Start simply. Make up one supply, try doing it a week later and see how it works into your schedule. You increase your supplies as you begin to include them into your family’s requirements.

A good, nutritious breakfast or lunch bread is easy to have on hand.

QUICK FRUIT-NUT BREAD

4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons salt (Can be reduced if you are watching salt intake)
4 teaspoons baking soda
4 cups rolled oats
4 cups raisins (or a mixture of your favorite dried fruit, coarsely chopped)
2 cups coarsely chopped nuts, your choice

Sift together the flour, salt and soda and divide into 4 strong plastic bags or air-tight containers. Add one cup of the oats, one cup of the fruit and ½ cup of the nuts to each container and shake well to mix. Store in refrigerator or freezer until needed.

Additional Ingredients required for baking one loaf:

½ cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Beat the sugar and egg until fluffy. Stir the lemon juice into the milk and set aside to sour. Add the soured milk to the sugar and egg and beat until smooth. Add the contents of one bag of your baking mix to the milk-sugar mixture and stir gently to combine. Stir in the oil. Pour the batter into a greased loaf pan and bake in 350 degree preheated oven for approximately 40 minutes or until golden brown. Cool, slice and serve.

The best part of having a homemade baking mix on hand is your ability to whip up another loaf of bread immediately since your first one is sure to disappear within seconds of leaving the pan.

Many of the recipes we make from scratch can be broken down in the same manner as the above bread mix. The trick is combining the dry ingredients ahead of time and attaching a note of what you will need when you want to bake. Think about the cake mixes I know many of us use. We bring home a box of flour, baking powder, spices and flavoring at a cost of over a dollar. And when we come home, we have to add our eggs, water and oil. We can drop the fancy box and the brand name and start using the house brand—our own!

Frugality is a handsome income. (Erasmus: Colloquia 16th century)

Easy Cheesecake!

Although we always called this a holiday cheesecake, I think it appeared many times at dessert time on ordinary days of the week. Naturally, any time cheesecake showed up after dinner, could be declared a holiday!

EASY HOLIDAY CHEESECAKE

Crust:
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
⅓ cup granulated sugar
½ cup melted butter or margarine

Combine above ingredients and press into a spring-form pan. The crust should come more than halfway to the top of the pan. Refrigerate until ready to use. Pan requirement: seven to nine-inch spring form pan.*

Cheesecake Recipe
3 8-oz. packages of cream cheese, softened
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups granulated sugar

Place softened cream cheese in a large mixing bowl. using an electric mixer, beat at medium speed until cream cheese is thoroughly creamed. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is well combined. Add vanilla. While running the mixer gradually add sugar, beating well. Mixture should be thick and smooth. Carefully spoon mixture into crust. smoothing evenly.

Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for approximately 50 minutes. Top will brown and crack. Cool and refrigerate eight hours or overnight before serving.

You can strike a festive note by spooning a puree of strawberries over each serving and garnishing with a mint sprig. Crushed pineapple also compliments cheesecake. Prepare about an hour ahead, a cup and a half of crushed pineapple combined with the zest of a lemon. Spoon over individual slices just before serving.

*A spring form pan is pictured above. Walmart usually sells them, three to a set for a budget-friendly price considering how often you will be baking cheesecake now!

Salad Bites?

Vegetable Soup was simmering on the stove and cheese bread was baking in the oven. It seemed that the meal needed something a bit more to satisfy a hungry husband who would have had to fight the Friday night traffic coming home from work and a daughter who is always nibbling.

Then, I remember something on Facebook where someone peeled a cucumber, sliced it lengthwise, scrapped out the seeds and then filled one side with lunch meat, greens, etc. and topped it off with the other side of the prepared cucumber and sort of an instant gluten-free sandwich. The moment had come for me to try this!

I prepared my cucumber and lay in a half leaf of Romaine, layered tuna salad with tomatoes on top of that with an extra touch of freshly ground black pepper. I ‘closed’ my ‘sandwich’. To stabilize the whole thing, I stuck in toothpicks every half inch or so and sliced between them. They were now easy to access at dinner and kept their good looks until dinner!