Saturday, February 11, 2012

Stretching Meals & Stretching the Budget

That’s what it’s all about these days.  How can I spend less and love it more—or at least as much?  Joe just walked into the kitchen.  “It sure smells good!” he said.  “That’s what’s so great about living in this house…” and he walked back into his office, knowing there would be something good to eat in a bit, and I could have the satisfaction of a worthwhile effort.
We like to have a little snack late in the afternoon.  For him it was always a few crackers with a bit of low-fat Laughing Cow cheese.  And I am particularly fond of chips and salsa.  Trouble is, the crackers get expensive and can be challenging for someone trying not to put on extra pounds.  The same is true for chips.  So we’ve substituted crackers and chips with toasted tortilla chips that I make periodically.  And of course, it’s easy to make my own salsa and I like that I know exactly what it’s made of. 
Fresh Tortilla Chips, right out of the oven

Today Joe smelled a fresh batch of tortilla chips toasting in the oven.  And yesterday, I made a huge jar of salsa so we’re set for awhile.  I make the chips from tortillas that I get at Costco.  I think the bag has a total of 40 tortillas for less than $5 and it makes enough chips to last about a month (if I don’t use some of the tortillas for tacos or burritos or quesadillas…) so I think that’s quite a bit cheaper than crackers or bags of chips.  Besides, since they’re baked instead of fried, that means less calories for us.
Last night we had spaghetti with marinara sauce and a bit of Italian sausage.  The sauce was a leftover (of course), so I stretched it a bit with a little more onion sautéed with one link of sausage which we would share.  I added a little red wine to the sauce and let it simmer for a bit to develop its flavors while I cooked the spaghetti.  For some reason, I really felt like cream but I didn’t want to put it in the sauce because there would be enough sauce left for yet another meal.  Instead, when the spaghetti was done, I drained it and added about 2 tablespoons of cream to it and a clove of crushed garlic.  I tossed that in the pot and then served it with the sauce over it and a bit of Asiago cheese grated on top.  The creaminess in the spaghetti softened the acidity of the sauce just enough.  Italian comfort food, I think.
I’m still trying to come up with a good sourdough starter—without much success so far.  The first batch I tried smelled bad instead of sour so I threw it away.  The second batch I made smelled okay but the resulting bread was definitely less than sour.  Good, but not sourdough.  I thought maybe I could buy the starter if I couldn’t make it.  No store seems to carry anything like that.  I went online and saw a site that was selling starter for $6.95.  Finally I went to and may have finally found what I was looking for.  And the reviews were all really positive, so I’m trying again.
The suggestion was to put the starter mix in a bowl, loosely covered, and put it in the oven with the oven light on for gentle warmth.  Seemed like a good plan and when I peeked it looked bubbly the way it’s supposed to look and it was beginning to get that nice, distinctly sourdough fragrance.  Then I forgot the bowl was in the oven.  I set the oven to preheat for the chips I was making and remembered the bowl just in time.  It got a little warm, but hopefully not too warm to kill the starter.  It still looks okay so all I can do is wait a day or two while it finishes doing what it’s supposed to do—get sour.
Zinnia seeds just beginning to sprout

On another front, I’ve started some seeds in flats which I’ve placed at the south-facing window of my office.  Seeds from the incredible tomatoes we had last summer will be germinating soon in their new little beds—I hope.  Kim gave me some heirloom flower seeds for Christmas.  When I exclaimed about the price on each packet she said, “You want to know what I paid for those packets? Ten cents apiece!  They were on sale at the end of the season.”  Smart girl, that daughter of mine.  She knows how to stretch a dollar really well!
Precious tomato seeds

Here, then, are two recipes:
Creamy Spaghetti with Marinara & Italian Sausage
1 hot Italian sausage link
½ medium sweet onion
2 cups marinara sauce with mushrooms
¼ cup red wine
¼ package spaghetti
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 garlic clove, crushed
½ teaspoon each ground sea salt and herbs de Provence
Sauté sausage and chopped onion in small deep pan until sausage is cooked through and onions are translucent.  Add sauce and simmer a few minutes.  Add wine, stir to combine, cover and simmer while spaghetti cooks.
Cook spaghetti in salted boiling water according to package directions.  Using a spider, drain water from pot.  Stir in cream, herbs, salt, and crushed garlic.
Ladle into bowls and top with 1 cup sauce and ½ link sausage per serving.  Grate cheese on top and serve immediately.  Serves two.

Sourdough Starter (adapted from
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 cups warm water
2 cups bread flour
Mix together in large non-reactive bowl.  Cover loosely and leave in a warm place to ferment for a few days.  If you put it in the oven with the oven light on, don’t forget that it’s in there (like I did!)
When mixture is bubbly and has a pleasantly sour smell it is ready to use.  Replace what you use with a fresh equal amount of flour and water and a pinch of sugar.  So, if you use 1 cup of starter, add 1 cup of water and 1 cup of flour plus a pinch of sugar to remaining starter.

I haven’t made bread with this starter yet because I think it’s still too young and not ripe enough.  Besides, I still have a lot of bread left from the last time I tried making sourdough.  As I said, it’s still good, but definitely not sour.
Meantime, my granddaughter (age thirteen) sent me a picture of Challah bread she made.  It’s perfect and so beautiful, I can almost smell it through the picture!  Yet again, I’m reminded of the long and wonderful heritage we share that has taught us, from my mother to my daughter, to my granddaughter, that we can live frugally—yet splendidly.