Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Baked Potato

Consider the potato. So cheap. Delicious. Can keep or quite a time.

Not to mention, that it is, along with fortified milk, a complete diet. It is easily made into many meals, so when you have the time, make extra - it doesn't take any extra time, except for scrubbing, and they make a quick, tasty, and above all cheap meal.

Baked Potatoes
For baking, you generally want the brown skinned russet potato. A light, flaky inside matched with a crispy skin is the ideal.

 So you have a bag of 30 cent/lb. potatoes. (Don't forget, to help keep your potatoes fresh, store a ripe apple with them. The apple gives off ethylenes and other organic alcohols as it respires, which suppresses sprouting).

Take the number you wish to use in the next couple days. Scrub them. Examine the skin - are there any green spots? Not good. Potatoes belong to the nightshade family, and produce solanine in the green bits (leaves and green flesh), and sprouts. It won't likely kill you, just give you gastric distress, but these toxins aren't destroyed by cooking, so trim any spots, and prick deeply with a fork (at least 3 times) per potato. If not, they will explode (been there, done that, have the t-shirt).

At this point most recipes will advise you to coat the skin with olive oil. Don't. Oil moisturizes. Instead, rub the exterior with a light coating of salt. Easiest way it to sprinkle your hands with salt before handling each potato, or just sprinkle them lightly.

Place directly on the rack in a preheated oven between 350-400 degrees (the flexible temp is to allow to cook other things at the same time). Time totally depends on the size of the spud. Smaller spuds, higher temp, check at 35 minutes. Larger spuds, lower temp, start to check at an hour. The largest potatoes will take about an hour an a half. So there's your window. You know they are done when a fork (not knife - too sharp) pierces them lightly.

Just enough time to do a bit of homework.

Pull the potatoes when done. Put any ones not for immediate use in the fridge to cool. So how to make a meal from your bakes potato? Take your hot potato, split from stem to stern and smother with butter, mayo, chives, salsa, chili, leftover veggies, bacon - whatever floats your boat. And enjoy a glass of milk.

Stuffed potatoes:
Take your hot potato and cut it in half lengthwise so you have two little boats. Scoop the insides out, put them into a bowl, and mash the insides with butter, stock, cream, cream cheese - whatever is handy, and refill with the mashed potato plus whatever you think is yummy - bacon, miso, cheese, leftovers etc. You can even whip up an egg white and fold it in for a souffle texture. Grill until hot.

Leftover Baked Potatoes 

While both of the above are best when hot, you can also prepare your spuds ahead of time and reheat them for stuffing. But for a change of pace, you can do some of the following:

Hash browns are an obvious choice. Grate or chop those potatoes, then grate or chop an onion in with it. Or don't - it's fine without it. Heat a generous amount of oil in a pan over medium-high heat. When the pan is nice and hot, put the mixture in and season with salt and pepper. Let it get a nice brown crust, then turn over to crust the other side.

Potato salad - while a hot baked potato is fluffy, a cold one is denser. While boiled potatoes are a better choice, leftover baked will do in a pinch.

Baked potato soup - Link Coming

Baked potato bread - this is an easy quick bread (quick means leavened by baking soda as opposed to yeast), so it takes little time to prepare. - Link Coming

Friday, May 1, 2015

Bean There, Done That - Using Dried Beans

I have to say, I love canned beans. Super easy, pretty cheap (especially if you get it in bulk from someplace like Big Lots or Grocery Outlet), and convenient. Always on hand.

However, you can get dried beans, often for less than $1 a lb. when buying 25 lb. bags, and those bags will last for frickin' ever. Mostly. It can also be inexpensive in the bulk section at the store as well. And when fully hydrated, the beans that you pay $1/can at the store for costs about 12 cents dry. 

So here are the basic steps for using beans (and dried grains). It does call for planning ahead. Hard, but doable. Here are the basic steps for any bean recipes.

Step One: Sort the beans
Most beans are packaged straight from the field, so they have rocks, bugs, and assorted nasties. Measure the amount you want and spread them on a light colored dishtowel. Spread them in a single layer, and keep a sharp eye for anything that is not a bean, including empty hulls. Scoop up the picked through beans, dump them in a colander, and give them a quick rinse.

Step Two: Soaking the beans
Beans roughly double in size when fully cooked, so figure how much you want to deal with. Add enough water to cover by 3 inches, and soak anywhere from 4 hours to 24 hours (beyond that, esp. in warm weather, they can start to ferment). I like to add salt to the soaking water (about a tsp.) since, contrary to myth, it doesn’t cause the beans to be hard. It’s acid that does that, so save the tomatoes for later.

Step Three: Cook the beans
Drain and rinse the soaked beans and put in a pot. Add a clove of garlic, 1 bay leaf, and  enough water (or stock and water, or water and some bullion granules) to cover by about an inch (inch and a half for garbanzos). Partially cover and bring to a simmer. Old beans take longer to cook; long soaked beans take less time to cook. Most beans take about 1 to 1-1/2 hours, chickpeas up to two hours, smaller beans less time. You can use a crockpot on low for this. Drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid if necessary for the recipe.

To protect from insects, use a double plastic system - rubber band the package it comes in, then put in a nice sturdy ziplock. If you have rodents, you need metal or glass containers - Ikea has cheap containers in a wide variety of sizes, and your local hardware store will have small garbage pails, ash cans, paint cans for low cost, not to mention the ubiquitous mason jar available almost anywhere.

The Musical Fruit

You know what I’m talking about.

This is from the US Dry Bean Board
"If high-fiber foods such as dry beans are not a regular part of your diet, the natural oligosaccharides (complex carbohydrates) in beans may cause temporary digestive discomfort. Research shows that adding beans to your diet on a regular basis — at least once or twice a week — reduces flatulence.

The best way to reduce beans’ naturally occurring oligosaccharides, tannins, phytic acid, and trypsin inhibitors is to use the quick hot-soak method to soften dry beans, then drain the soaking water and start with fresh water for cooking."

Ch Ch Changes

So, quick explanation - nobody reads this blog, it's still up and free, and I can't be arsed to change the theme.

Not to mention, I still make bentos, but it's so routine by now and why bother blogging about it when you have the excellent Just Bento.

So this new blog is all about helping my Darling Daughter, who now needs to start cooking for herself on a student budget, learn some of the ins and outs of cooking.

So quick, cheap, and off the cuff.