Saturday, September 24, 2016

Grandma's Pinto Beans

Grandma (my Mom) cooked on a wood stove for most of her life. A very common meal was pinto beans, fried potatoes, corn bread, home made cottage cheese and wild greens, all washed down with sweet iced tea. It makes my mouth water even now.

When soaked in water or cooked, pinto beans swell to two to three times their size, so keep that in mind when deciding how many to prepare. It takes several hours to cook them, but how long depends on your altitude and the age of the beans. High altitudes can mean cooking them all day, while if you're close to sea level, they will be done in a couple of hours.

If you buy pinto beans from a local regular grocery store, the chances are that they are at least a year old and often older than that. They will be fine once cooked, but they will take longer to cook than fresh beans. If you can buy pinto beans from a farmer, do it! Also, most of the time, organic pinto beans are fresh, at least within a year of being picked, and of better quality than grocery store beans. The price isn't that much higher, so they're well worth a few cents more. If you have a choice, look for bright, clear colors and beans that are pleasantly firm but not rock hard. Those are the freshest.

Here's what you'll need:

Ham, ham hocks, bacon or turkey equivalent with smoked seasoning

Look through the beans and remove any stray rocks or seeds and any shriveled beans or any that have black spots or are deep brown. Broken beans are fine. Rinse them thoroughly, then put them into a large pot. Cover them with cold water, making sure there are at least three inches of water above the beans, then bring them to a boil. Turn off the heat, check the water level and let them set overnight. You won't have to refrigerate them; just leave them in the water in the pot.

In the morning, drain off the soak water (use it in the garden or to water house plants) and replace it with cold, fresh water. Put the pinto beans back on the stove, bring to a good, rolling boil, then turn down the heat until they are at a brisk simmer. Put a lid on the pot and let them cook, but keep an eye on them and replace water as it's needed.

When the pinto beans are about half way done, add seasoning meat. Bacon, ham hocks or pieces of ham have some salt in them so don't add them too early in the cooking process or the beans will be tough no matter how long you cook them. Don't add salt at all until the beans are done.

When everything seems cooked and tender, let it cook another half hour or so. At this point, add salt to taste and Mom's secret ingredient: A tablespoon of sugar. If you let the beans set another 15 to 20 mminutes before serving, so much the better. You can put the cornbread in the oven and when it's done, the beans will be ready.

Serve with cornbread, fried potatoes or hashbrowns and cooked greens of your choice. Radishes and green onions go well with pinto beans cooked this way.

How to eat leftover pinto beans

Pinto beans are even better the second day, but second helpings can be dressed up. too.

First, add cornbread to the beans, with plenty of the soup. Add chopped raw onions if you like. You can also add ketchup with or without the cornbread and onions.

If your family doesn't want to eat beans again, they freeze very well. Just make sure to have enough liquid to cover them.

You can also make refried beans with them. Sautee onion and garlic in a skillet (cast iron if you have it), then add drained beans, mash lightly and heat through.


Pinto beans are low on the glycemic scale and are a good source of fiber. They provide a variety of minerals, including manganese, magnesium and potassium, are also a good source of several vitamins, including folate and Vitamin K. If you eat cornbread or another type of corn with pinto beans, you are providing your body with a complete protein.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Breaded tomatoes your way

Tomatoes are in abundance this time of year, whether you grow them yourself or buy them from the grocery store. If you find yourself with tomatoes that you can't use up, breaded tomatoes is the perfect answer. Breaded tomatoes are so good, they're worth buying a few extra for.

Making them is simple enough and you can easily adjust the "recipe" to suit yourself. Here are the basics

Peel two or three tomatoes, either by plunging them in boiling water for a minute then in cold water and slipping the skins or by peeling them with a knife. Using the boiling water method will save more of the tomato.

Put the tomatoes into a large saucepan and add about a quarter inch of water; just enough to keep them from burning when they first start to cook.

Add whatever spices and seasonings you prefer: Onions, garlic and oregano, or cilantro, chili powder and onions or try sage and minced celery. Whatever your preferences are, add a little salt, smash the tomatoes with a potato masher or a fork and mix everything together.

Simmer for a quarter to a half hour, then add stale bread, torn in small pieces. Add enough bread to soak up the liquid without making it dry.

That's all there is to it. You can make it so many ways that you can have it often if you have a glut of tomatoes from the garden.

Monday, August 1, 2016

What Sour Cream Is and How to Make (Fake) It

Sour cream from the grocery store is not naturally sour; it's a mass produced version of it and like so many other foods that are mass produced, it's prone to spoilage. Since it is prone to spoilage, government (FDA) guidelines must be followed and it must be 1) made from pasteurized milk only and 2) have specific bacteria introduced rather than allowing what is there naturally to reproduce.

To put it another one, it's been cooked which kills enzymes as well as naturally occurring bacteria, then it's inoculated with the "right" bacteria to sour it.

The real question that never seems to be asked is, "Does it work?" Maybe because the answer is "No." It does not work. Sour cream, no matter how it's made will eventually go bad and it will start to turn pinkish.

Never use it when it turns pink. That's the result of the life and death of a dangerous bacteria that was not killed when the cream was pasteurized. Sometimes there will appear a greenish gray mold in sour cream; don't use it when that occurs, either. This mold is the result of introduced bacteria or mold spores and was not (or was not supposed to be) there when you bought the sour cream.

If you want to make sour cream last past its expiration date, don't dip into it with a spoon that's been used for anything else and keep your fingers away from it, even if they're clean. Keep the edge of the container clean and keep the sour cream in the coldest part of the refrigerator.

If you need sour cream for a recipe and don't have it or just want to save money by not buying any, here's an easy and cheap fix:

Add a quarter cup of powdered milk and a tablespoon of melted butter to a cup of whole milk, or butter to whole milk, or a half cup of powdered milk and a tablespoon of melted butter

It may curdle; if it does, mix the curds back into it.

You can use this in any recipe that calls for sour cream.
to a cup of 2% milk. Add a tablespoon of vinegar, mix well and let it set for a few minutes.

Monday, July 18, 2016

5 Ways You Can Love Zucchini Season!

You know what I mean. You planted two zucchinis, just in case one of them didn't make it. Of course, they both did and now, in the middle of the season, you can't give it away fast enough. Or your neighbor did that and keeps leaving sacks of them on your doorstep when you're not home.

It's a shame to waste good food, of course, but there are only so many ways to use zucchini, right? Instead of getting frustrated and just tossing them in the freezer, try out these five ways to learn to love the season of zucchini.

1. Make pickles from them, just like you would with cucumbers. Use the same spices and the same method, but don't try to ferment them like old fashioned pickles. Use the very young ones, around 4 to 5 inches long. You can make refrigerator pickles or can them, just like cucumber pickles.

2. Zucchini chips are a great snack any time. Slice them thinly, sprinkle a little salt on them and dehydrate until they're crispy. That's all you have to do, but be careful to not overdo the salt! (Make a few without salt and save them to use in soup and stew when the weather gets cold.)

3. Make a pie that tastes and looks like apple pie, but is made with zucchini. Even the larger ones work fine if you take out the more mature seeds. Peel and cut them in half, then slice into 1/4 inch slices and just follow your favorite apple pie recipe. You can freeze these before they're cooked, so make a few for winter eating.

4. Chunk zucchini and add chopped onions, cooked, crumbled sausage, diced or grated cheese and toss. Make up a bowl of cornbread batter and pour it over this. Bake at 400 for about a half hour.

5. Enjoy. Zucchini season only comes once a year. ;)
Got some big ones? Split them in half and remove the seeds, then stuff with a cooked meatball mixture or chicken and rice mix. You can also use rice, mushrooms, onions and tomato sauce for a meatless dish. Bake at 350 until the squash is tender. Let your imagination roam with this one.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Hot Summer? Make the Coolest Treats Ever

Summer heat means that anything cool sounds good! Frozen treats can be expensive from the store, but you can make the best and coolest treats at home.


Start with a chocolate pudding mix and be sure to use whole milk. You can even substitute a little cream or evaporated milk to make them creamier. Here's how to do it:

To a four ounce package of instant pudding mix, add two cups of milk and beat until it starts to set, then add a half cup of sugar and a cup of evaporated milk or cream (or even coffee cream, made liquid). Mix it well and pour into popsicle molds, small paper cups or other containers to freeze.


Have you ever tried to make popsicles with plain juice or flavored drink? It froze hard and solid, didn't it? Here's the secret ingredient: Jello.

Dissolve whatever flavor of Jello you like with half as much hot water as it calls for, then add a cup and a half of cold water. Freeze in molds or other container.

Plain Ice Cream Without a Freezer

Mix two cups of milk with a quarter cup of sugar (or more; taste it to see if it's sweet enough for you). Add flavorings like chocolate drink mix or dry fruit drink mix. Put this in a can with a very tight fitting lid, then put that in another, larger can. Fill the open space with a layer of ice, then salt, then another layer of ice, etc., until the space is filled. Put the lid on (tape it closed if necessary) and shake or roll it for at least 15 minutes. Check to see if it's frozen yet, if not, continue to shake or roll the can.

Strawberry Yogurt Pie

You'll need a graham cracker crust, a cup of sweetened, mashed strawberries and a couple of cups of plain yogurt. Mix the strawberries and yogurt well, pour into the pie crust and freeze. Simple enough?

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

How To Bake an Almost Healthy, Frugal Chocolate Cake

We all like to indulge now and then, but guilt may stop you from enjoying common, traditional treats like chocolate cake. Besides that, buying a chocolate cake is not the most frugal of actions.

Baking a healthy cake might seem like an oxymoron, but it really isn't. You simply add or maximize the healthy ingredients and minimize the unhealthy ones.

Okay... cake recipes don't always take well to experimentation! So here's how to bake a chocolate cake that's as close to healthy as you can get. It started as a recipe that I copied from some long forgotten source years ago and adjusted it slowly over time to create a cake that I will and do eat with gusto!

First, dark chocolate is healthy, they tell us, and eggs are, too. Coconut oil? Yes. Oats? Definitely. Here's the complete recipe:

  1. 1 1/4 cup boiling water
  2. 1 cup quick cooking oats
  3. Scant cup of unsifted flour (whole wheat or spelt flour can be substituted for white wheat flour)
  4. 1 1/4 cup or slightly less of sugar
  5. 1/2 cup of baking cocoa
  6. 1 tsp baking soda
  7. 1/2 tsp salt
  8. 1/2 cup coconut oil
  9. 1 egg, beaten
  10. 1 tsp vanilla

Pour the boiling water over the oats and set aside while you mix the dry ingredients very thoroughly. Add the egg, vanilla and coconut oil and mix well, then add the oats and mix again.

Bake in a 14 X 9 inch cake pan at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes or until a toothpick stuck in the center of the cake comes out clean.

You can frost this with whatever frosting you prefer, but I enjoy it plain or with a dusting of powdered sugar.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Where to Find Free and Healthy Food

I'm not kidding when I say that wild food can make a dent in your food budget. Foraging is sometimes seen as one of those things that strange people do. It's not mainstream.

Foraging for wild food is a smart thing to do, though, not only for your budget, but for your health. As a rule, wild food is healthier than domesticated crops, delivering up to 10 times as much nutrition in the same amount of food.

There are two things you need to be careful of. One, make sure you know what you're gathering.  There are not many plants that are deadly poison, but be sure you don't gather the few that are.

The second thing is to never forage in areas that have been sprayed with any kind of chemical. Many city lawns have been treated with herbicides to keep down weeds and pesticides to kill insects. Don't pick anything from them.

Where to find free fruit

Not only can you forage for vegetable plants, there are plenty of fruits that can be foraged, in the wild or not. How many apples does a mature apple tree have? More than an average family can use! It doesn't hurt to ask when you see a tree loaded with fruit.

There are fruit trees, brambles and bushes planted as ornamentals on college campuses, business lots and city greens. Check into them; why not? The birds won't eat them all. Some of them may have been treated, but they are not always.

Foraging for vegetable plants is even easier

If you have a back yard, don't put anything dangerous on it. Leave a small part to grow "weeds" or deliberately plant them in a contained area. If you're in a hurry, you can buy seeds from many plants, including dandelion, purslane and lambsquarter.

Don't gather anything from a public park, as it is nearly always treated for weeds as well as insects. You can, though, gather seeds from there if you're careful to be there at the right time and plant them the next year. 

You probably shouldn't gather plants from roadsides, either, unless they're dirt country roads that see little traffic.

Get a good book for your area, since different plants grow in different areas. Here, I harvest lambsquarter from mid spring to fall, dandelions in the spring and again in the fall, purslane from late spring through at least the first frost, but your area may be different. Find out and go gather some free food!