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September 2013

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The Basics...

Our Belated Introduction
and
The Ubiquitous Stock Pot



We've done some test entries for our Starving Artists in the Kitchen series, and should have started with an intro! Here's who we are, in the kitchen--

We both enjoy cooking–and eating, of course. We’re frugal and health conscious, and we find all kinds of ways to satisfy those diverse needs. We’re happy omnivores, but choose the healthiest options we can, most generally, without getting TOO paranoid!

He’s a retired Navy man and I’m a self-employed artist and writer, so spending our money wisely is VERY important to us–but we don’t intend to suffer through what passes for nutrition with the homogenous, ubiquitous fast-food, frozen-dinner, microwaveable industry, either.

The key to a lot of good and fairly inexpensive eating is to make it yourself. Even the more elegant, high-end meals cost a LOT less when you’re the chef! We just avoid the boxed dinners, canned stuff, and jars and boxes of this and that with ingredients we can’t pronounce. All too many ready-prepared foods are heavy on high fructose corn syrup and salt, anyway, and it's amazing how much the extra convenience costs!

The Paleo Diet by Dr. Loren Cordrain actually makes sense to us, and I’ve checked out the Cave Man Diet (and a variety of other diet books for heart health, arthritis, weight loss and one thing and another, which you'll no doubt see here eventually!), and eating what your body has evolved to tolerate best seems pretty sensible, to us. (Of course, sometimes you just have to have cheese, and some recipes don’t work without cream, sour cream, or yogurt, and you just GOTTA have some sort of breading on fried green tomatoes...so we choose the best option we can without getting overly fanatic. Needless to say, we’re not lactose intolerant, at least any more than any other adult, or allergic to wheat.)


Making Choices

* Of course, the best ingredients (and the least expensive!) are those fresh from your garden.

* In lieu of that–and in town, here, we’re SO in lieu–consider a food co-op or farmer’s market with local, organic veggies and meats grown without hormones, etc. Do try to buy locally, for freshness and those indefinable benefits that just make us feel good! (Hey, support the little guy and eat foods that are adapted to your locale. Some folks say that helps with allergies, as well–and it’s fun to get to know the people who produce your food.)

* In lieu of THAT–and we’re often that “in lieu,” too, especially since the cool little “Naturally Local” store went out of business–shop the fresh section of your grocer’s–meats, vegetables and fruits. Some are marked organic, even! Learn to pick for freshness and ripeness (more on that in another entry.) The less that’s added to your food, be it preservatives, coloring, sweeteners, extenders, artificial flavors or other chemicals, the better. (Hey, who knew that some citric acid is manufactured from corn?!)

The better, and cheaper, often, too.

Besides, it’s a lot more colorful and interesting, and doesn’t take as long when shopping–no need to stand around in the supermarket aisle trying to decipher the ingredients list!

So come along with us for adventures in frugal, healthful, and delicious eating–believe me, we are not really starving, as J. reminds me! (Hey, we would have liked to call it The Frugal Gourmet, but that was already taken–and the shoes were too big to fill, anyway. Jeff Smith is sorely missed!)


Basic, Everlasting, Ongoing Soup Stock



Here's the start of the NEXT stockpot--
and yep, I use a small pan when I have a small amount,
then add that liquid to the container in the freezer...



Soup may be among the oldest things we figured out how to cook–right after fire and a nice roast of pterodactyl. No matter what your culture or nationality, there’s probably soup in it, from borscht (yum! We’ll share our recipe for that, soon) to won-ton. Minestrone, cockaleekie (next up!), Irish stew, you name it and we ate it, with gusto. Most cultures have early examples of pots for stew–the Anasazi and other native cultures of the American Southwest managed to create waterproof baskets into which they dropped hot rocks to cook their soups! Check out Native American Ethnobotany by Daniel E. Moerman if you’re really into food history on the North American continent.

Now THAT is ingenious–and American forebears are not alone in that technology! Here’s a similar technique I found when digging for similar hot-rock cooking: http://www.saudicaves.com/mx/soup/index.htm, and many Asian cultured did the same...

(And no, this is not the same Stone Soup in the old folk tale–you can find any number of re-tellings of that one, and even a cartoon by that name. >;-))

My cookbook collection includes a set of International recipe books that have kept me well fed and intrigued with world cooking for decades. Interesting thoughts on soup and stock are here: http://www.souphoopla.com/, a fun site, and http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodsoups.html

Traditionally, kitchens from the simplest cottage to a castle kept soup stock simmering on a low fire, self-renewing as more was added daily. Even most restaurants don’t have that kind of stock, as the above website points out, and instead I keep a container of soup stock in the freezer, adding to it each time I have veggie trimmings or leftovers or bits that are a little too tough to eat–the ends of green beans, the outer leaves of cabbage, the big stringy celery stalks. I just chop them up and cover whatever it is with a bit of filtered water* and simmer till I’ve extracted the nutrients. The current batch had the remains of the liquid from the winter squash we steamed the other day, what was left of a homemade soup, a stock made with green beans, onions, and mushroom trimmings, and the liquid from boiling up chicken bones. Each batch of stock is different, but they’re all good, and all full of nutrients that would go down the sink or out in the trash, otherwise. Even leftover lettuce or the tender pith inside a stalk of fresh broccoli makes an addition to a great soup stock (besides, you KNOW those cole family members are full of antioxidants.)

A good stock pot is a wonderful addition to any kitchen*, but shop carefully–you can spend from $30 to nearly $400! (Yes, you read that correctly! I couldn’t believe it either...) Everybody from Calaphon to Cuisinart seems to manufacture a stock pot–usually a largish, 8-12+ quart pot with straight sides and a lid–I know you can find something to fit your budget and the size of your family, we did! Stainless steel, anodized steel or other non-aluminum option seems your best bet.

I had a wonderful old enameled iron one for years, but finally it decided to scatter-shot small shards of enamel into the soup. Um. Not so good! I still mourn that thing, it was gorgeous–and 30 years of soup makes for a relationship that lasts longer than some marriages...

Of course, a good old Crockpot or other slow cooker is great for making stock...you can add the ingredients in the morning and have a luscious smell greet you by evening! (You may just decide to drink the rich, flavorful stock with a salad and a chunk of homemade bread...I’d be tempted myself.)

Leftovers strained out of the soup stock go into the compost heap (unless they’re meat bones, which attract raccoons and other backyard wildlife, which may then decide to investigate your basement or attic!) Nothing is wasted.

Back when I first became aware of eating healthy, frugal meals (yes, I am an old back-to-the-land hippie, why do you ask?!), I read a lot of books on organic gardening as well as cookbooks by Adelle Davis.* Some of her advice is still with me, I’m sure! She suggested putting a bit of vinegar in with the bones you simmer in order to bring out the calcium–try that if you like. It always tasted a bit too vinegary, for my taste. (She suggested drinking lots of water, too, something that’s become pretty common advice among health gurus!) French chefs roast the bones before making stock–you may want to try that, too.

Beef, chicken, pork or other meat scraps work fine in this stock, too, but I’d recommend keeping a fish-based one separate!

If you let the stock cool in the fridge before sticking it into the freezer, you can skim off any fat that rises to the top. It’ll keep better, and so will you.


Note: If you just want to use a little, you can stick the container of frozen stuff into the microwave for a few minutes to thaw, then pour off whatever you need.

Don’t like the microwave? Put the container down into a larger pot of hot water and let some thaw.

Patience works, too, of course, if you can muster some!  You can put the container of stock out on the counter for a while! Then, whatever stays frozen can go right back into the freezer if you want. And of course you don’t have to make soup–you can add some to chili, stew, chowder or sauce, baste with it, steam with it, or even make gravy if you want! It adds flavor and nutrition to whatever you put it in...

So we hope you enjoy your traditional--or non-traditional--stock pot!  It'll add nutritional value to your meal, and LOTS of flavor!

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* Adelle Davis inspired me 30+ years ago to think more about what I put in my body...this was the first book of hers I ever read: Let's Eat Right to Keep Fit--omigosh, you can still get this book!  A lot of it still seems to fit what we're doing today.

* This will give you an idea of the choices out there--there are lots and LOTS of stock pots!
 
* We've discovered we really like the taste of filtered water, to drink as is for use in coffee, tea, or cooking.  This is the Brita water filter we have...I’ve even written a 5-star review on Amazon, we like it so much! Brita has other models, including the larger counter-top dispenser, but this one’s easy to deal with, easy to lift, and pours quickly.  Replacement filter units are easily available, and seem to last a long time.  (You can taste when it's time for a new one, usually!) 

According to Brita, 99% of the lead and reduce chlorine, mercury, and sediment in drinking water is filtered out--that's gotta be good!.


Comments

I recently learned about the Paleolithic Diet too and was intrigued because it closely mirrors the way I have been required to eat for the past eight months or so due to being on steroid therapy which causes hypoglycemia. Basically I eat meat, fish and salads - pretty much the essence of the paleo diet. I am excited to have found your website just in time to follow your new recipes presentation!
Yes, it just seems to make a lot of sense to us...we DO eat fruit, since we don't have problems with hypoglycemia, but some recipes where we include fruit would be fine without...just adds a nice tang.

I'm delighted you found us!
Oh yes, fruit too, definitely, just in smallish amounts due to the sugar effect. Tomorrow evening I am fixing the kielbasa-sauerkraut recipe!
Let us know how you like it!

A lot of the things I put fruit in are just small amounts for flavor--they're like condiments!--so maybe it wouldn't be a problem for you...
argh, just noticed I wrote "hypoglycemia" when I meant hyperglycemia... oh well! You knew what I meant anyway, I am sure.
Yup, I did...
It turned out delicious! I sliced up the kielbasa, not sure that was what you did. Added some caraway seeds as the sauerkraut was not seasoned that way. Should have had a baguette alongside but... next time!
Wahoo, glad you liked it! Yes, sliced!

God, I haven't had a baguette in YEARS...yum.