25 January 2017

Frugal Cookery for January (and bonus midcentury cookies)

As I said in my "Resolutions" post, I planned to cook at least one meal per month from one of my historical cookbooks.  We had a sleet/snow storm at the beginning of this week and it seemed the perfect time to try a menu, since I was working from home.

The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Maria Child, first published in 1829 as The Frugal Housewife, Dedicated to Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy, seems a fitting choice for January.  Mine is the commonly-available Dover reprint of the 1844 edition.

The book is not only a cookery book, and the majority is about general household economy, including "Simple Remedies" for various ailments and how to remake bonnets, clean brass, and get rid of ants.  She also tells how to choose meat and store vegetables, and an Appendix at the end includes additional items such as getting rid of ear wax, preserving various fruits, and something appropriate to my current weather:  "Icy Steps - Salt strewed upon the door-steps in winter will cause the ice to crack, so that it can be easily removed."  Two substantial sections are stories (really, moralizing lectures) about living economically, intriguing for their perspectives on the society of the day.

Browsing the main sections, I found this recipe:
A pound of fish per person sounds like quite a lot, but this is fish entire, with the bones and skin and fins and such.  Fillets would be about half that quantity, and I happened to have some salmon in the freezer that I thought would do, once the skin is removed.  In the interest of frugality and using my current pantry, the only item I needed to buy was a potato.

Fish chowder alone isn't a full meal, so I looked for a dessert.  In terms of simplicity, frugality, and midwinter-ness, a pudding seemed the best option.  Given that most of the puddings were boiled, and I've never done a boiled pudding, the one baked pudding was the answer.  Finally, to round out the meal further, some vegetable is in order.  Browsing that section, which speaks more of storage than cooking, I noticed a recipe for stewed tomatoes.  That may not sound practical in January, but I had put tomatoes by in the freezer during the summer when my CSA had them in plenty, and that seemed a nice, easy way to round out the meal.  Plus, the chowder recipe mentioned adding tomato catsup (the recipe she included, not the insipid sweet stuff available commercially today) so it sounded as if the tomatoes would be compatible.

First to be prepared is the pudding, as it takes longest - "three or four hours" - to bake.  I had a pint bottle of milk in the 'fridge from another recipe that didn't get made, so halved the ingredients - and made a few adjustments.

I do not have molasses in the pantry, and my supply of maple syrup (my usual go-to with corn porridges) is running a bit low.  However, preserves and jam can be used as sweetening; I have some recipes that call for it specifically.  After checking what I have, I selected some peach jam as it is on the runny side (no pectin used) and I thought would go well with the ginger.

Although we don't need to scald milk for safety since pasteurization became the norm, I did heat the milk to just below a simmer.  Then I stirred in three and a half tablespoons of cornmeal; a half-teaspoon of salt; and a heaping teaspoon of ground ginger.

How much jam to add?  I estimated that a teacup would hold 4-6 ounces of tea, so I added four tablespoons (two tablespoons to a liquid ounce).  I whisked everything in the pot, and then poured it into the enameled cast-iron casserole, which is a family item that was passed down to me a number of years ago, and seemed appropriate to use.
Stirring in salt and ginger; cornmeal
has already been added to the milk.

The jam fell under the surface quickly!
Oven at 300(F) and I went away for two hours.  I wasn't sure how long the chowder would take, but I guessed it would be about half the time that the pudding requires.  I decided to bake the chowder because of the "don't look" instruction.

Two hours later, beginning the chowder.  This time I was making a one-fourth recipe, since I had about a half-pound fillet, but given that there are no specific amounts in this recipe other than the meats (fish and salt pork) and crackers I went by guesswork.  I skinned the filet and cut it into pieces.  Having been frozen, it was somewhat soft, so I had some slices and some bits.  At least they get hidden in the course of the cooking!
Pantry ingredients, plus potato.

Salmon, thawed, beginning to slice.

For the salt pork I used three slices of bacon.  I fried it in a pot, then poured the grease into the bottom of a Pryex® casserole.  I thought if the layers were pretty, I'd get a side shot.  I followed the layering pretty much as instructed, using all of the onion and about three-quarters of the potato.  I'd guesstimated the packet of crackers would be equal to about one and one-half common crackers.
Fish on the bottom, then sliced onion,
potato slices, and cooked bacon.

Second set of layers, crackers more
visible this time.

Of course there is no quantity or proportion for the "flour and water", just to pour it to the top level of the contents of the dish.  I started with 3/4 cup of water and two tablespoons of flour.  Then I added another half-cup of water to bring it just to the top.
Peeking at the pudding.

Something I didn't photograph was adding a couple tablespoons of apple cider vinegar just before putting the chowder into the oven.  Why?  If you look at the recipe, she suggests a number of things to add flavour.  Lemons were $1.49 at the store, not very frugal!  I don't have homemade tomato catsup and didn't want to create it when I needed a most a quarter of a cup.  I don't have clams, and I didn't want to use beer since I wasn't doing anything with the rest of the bottle.  But vinegar often stands in when something tangy is wanted, and I do have that, so I thought I would add just a bit, about as much as one-fourth of a lemon.

I took a look at the pudding when I put the chowder into the oven.  It's hard to see in the photograph, but it is still somewhat runny, although medium-thick.  I would eat it at this stage for morning cereal.

A little under two hours later, I put the tomatoes (partially thawed because I had not taken them out very early) in the pot that still had a bit of the bacon grease in it.  Mrs. Child's recipe says to add butter, but I figured I would be frugal and use what there is.
So I heated the tomatoes and cooked off the water that separates out when you freeze and thaw tomatoes.  It's not a problem if you are turning them into sauce or another cooked preparation, and it meant I didn't add the recommended "spoonful of water, to keep them from burning".

After two hours of baking the potato slices in the chowder were soft, so I decided that dinner is ready to serve!
The pudding has an almost cakelike crust on the sides.
I am very glad that I thought to grease that casserole!
My opinion on the meal?  Tasty!  OK, the tomatoes were "meh" because they were just tomatoes.  After a couple of spoonfuls I added some Vulcan Fire Salt to amp the flavour.

The chowder was definitely a good item.  Unlike modern chowders which are soup this is a solid casserole of a dish.  The fish was not prominent, probably because I didn't have much of it.  The vinegar was just barely there, alleviating what could have been pasty-white blandness.  Ditto the bacon, which of course softened but added a bit of smokiness that might not have been present had I used uncured bacon or salt pork.  I could have chopped it into smaller bits and the bacon would have blended in better, but it was pretty good.  The crackers and flour-water dissolved to bind everything together silkily.

As for the pudding?  WOW.  I love Indian pudding and similar things anyway.  I can see why people serve it with thick cream, that would really have made it wonderful.  Even without anything on top it's still very good, with the ginger showing up on about the third spoonful.  There's no distinct taste of peach, the jam just added sweetness.

These left plenty of leftovers.  I heated up some of the pudding for breakfast today, and it's still light, not dense, with the ginger a bit more prominent.  I'm going to top it with some vanilla yoghurt to finish, and will heat up the chowder for lunch.

BONUS RECIPE:  I am in a couple of book clubs, and this month both are reading Hidden Figures.  I decided to make a recipe from a cookbook of about that era to serve as snacks, and selected "Gumdrop Cookies" from the Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book, Revised Edition © Meredith Publishing Company 1953, 1962:

Because this post is so long already, I am not going to add lots of photos of the process.  It was very straightforward because this is a modern recipe.  I halved the quantities and used Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose Baking Flour because one club has some people who need to avoid gluten.  This made the cookies a bit more crumbly that the cookies might have been otherwise.  Also, I used butter because I didn't have shortening.   I used only the green gumdrops, because I thought it would be more palatable to keep to a single flavour, and I don't like green gumdrops.
After baking - firm, brown underneath but still light on top.
Verdict?  Surprisingly better than people anticipated.  The lime gumdrops blended well with the cocoanut in the cookies.  I waited a few minutes before removing the cookies from the baking trays, which helped keep them intact.  Even halved the recipe made a lot of cookies, because the dough was fairly stiff and I rolled balls instead of dropping the dough from a teaspoon.   It's hard to see but I made sure that each had a least one piece of gumdrop, you can see a bit of green in the cooky at the bottom.

15 January 2017

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 - Milwaukee!

Maybe going to Milwaukee for the weekend when the temperature hovered around zero Fahrenheit was not the best planning, but other than the stark cold the weather was nice: clear and sunny.  People were in a good mood because the Packers (boooo!) are in the playoffs.  All the travel items were cheap because of the time of year (even with the Packers being in the playoffs).  And I am a hardy person.

Because Southwest doesn't fly to or from Milwaukee on Saturdays, at least not to or from my town, I went on Friday evening and home on Sunday, perfect excuse for a weekend away.  Arriving on Friday I went immediately to the Milwaukee Art Museum, which had a Free First Friday (now moved to Thursdays) event.  I wanted to arrive for the gallery talk for "Haunted Screens: German Cinema in the 1920s" and was not impressed with the talk but did enjoy the exhibit.  Then wandered the museum to see as many others as I could before being thrown out when it closed.

Because I was hungry (there's a cafe at the museum but why waste time eating when there is art to see?) I located a nearby Culver's and obtained a fish sandwich (because it's Friday!) and concrete (peaches and blueberries).  I ate most of the latter while waiting for my sandwich.  Then to the hotel to check in, settle in the room, eat supper, and bedtime!

The hotel had a nice breakfast buffet included in the room price, and while the teens and tweens filled up on waffles I fortified myself with oatmeal with nuts and dried fruit, and hardboiled eggs.  With an apple and banana in my pocket, I headed out for adventures!

The Milwaukee County Historical Society staff was still setting up their new exhibit, "Melodies and Memories: 200 Years of Milwaukee Music", but they allowed me inside and it was quite interesting.  The museum is in a former bank, so some permanent exhibits are in the old vaults.  I've been in spaces with partially-installed exhibits so I know how to stay out of the way, and was able to watch as they did things like moving a piano into one of the vaults which was being set up for small concerts.

When I was done there I walked to the Grohmann Museum, crossing the Milwaukee River and wondering whether it's firmly frozen enough for people to skate upon.  There was a small outdoor rink on one bank, with a couple of hardy skaters moving slowly around.

The museum opened at noon, and it wasn't quite that, so to keep warm I walked around campus looking at other buildings, many from the brewers of the area, Pabst and Blatz.  When the museum opened, I had a fascinating couple of hours moving from top to bottom (at the recommendation of the student who admitted me, and advised that the rooftop gallery was closed but I could see it from the hallway) looking at "the world’s most comprehensive art collection dedicated to the evolution of human work."  The works are in groupings with very useful information cards, and range from agricultural to scientific to industrial, and in media ranging from sculpted bronze to paintings to a floor mosaic and ceiling mural.

I headed back to the hotel after this, because I wanted to drive to the next stop.  Of course, I had to first stop at The Spice House and do a bit of shopping!  I also stopped at the Usinger's store across the way, but without a way to cook I didn't buy anything.

It was a quick drive to The Pabst Mansion, which was still decorated for the holidays.  No photography allowed, but we could wander throughout and ask questions of staff and volunteers stationed on each floor.  They had recently opened the third floor, which had been offices, and are in the process of restoring the rooms.  We could see where they had taken down some later-added molding, or a mirror, and found original wallpaper behind it.

On the way back to my hotel I stopped at the Wisconsin Cheese Mart, which was also walking distance from my hotel, but since I could find a parking spot, I decided to skip the cold walk.  I bought several pieces of cheese (and tasted many more), and two kringles, and some toasted barley.  Then I moved to the connected bar for a brat (of course on a pretzel roll, with mustard and sauerkraut) and a Sprecher's root beer.  I was tempted by one of the many local beers or cider on tap, but had further plans for the evening and I am too much of a lightweight to risk it.

My plans involved a local holiday show, still running.  Since I go to so many quirky ones in Dallas every year (The Beulaville Baptist Book Club Presents: A Bur-Less-Q Nutcracker!Santa Claus versus The Martiansand others) when I saw a listing for In Tandem Theater's 
Holiday Hell: The Curse of Perry Williams it settled what I would do on Saturday night.  I scored a seat in the middle of the second row, and really enjoyed the show.  Five persons portrayed all the characters, which covered a wide range, and even though the ending was holiday-predictable it was a very fun show.

After another good night's sleep and another fortifying breakfast, I checked out and my friend Tori picked me up for a bit of visiting.  We went to the Milwaukee Public Market (where The Spice House has an outpost) for lunch, and then to the Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear, which Tori had never seen.  We got there in time for a tour, and enjoyed it so much we're planning to go back after a couple of the exhibits change in April.  Having worked up a bit of thirst walking around, we split a butterscotch root beer, which I had never heard of, but enjoyed.

Tori dropped me back at the car park, and I headed for a brief visit with Mari, whom I had met through KnitTalk, and her husband Scott.
We're wrapped in a scarf made of squares that various KnitTalk
members created when Mari first was diagnosed with cancer
many years ago.  The purple/pink flower in front of me is mine!

Then to the airport, where I had a long wait due to a delayed flight.  The delay meant a negative-minutes connection, so I could not check bags and had to consolidate to two.  I had just enough room to do it, but had to wear my winter boots (I wanted to switch to sneakers for the flight) and could hope the kringles didn't get crushed.  Happily, Southwest holds flights when it's the only (it was) or last (ditto) one of the day, so I got home just a bit late.

When I totaled up the adventures, I calculated that even without pushing myself to add activities I managed to fit 
five museums, four shops, three eating places, two friends, and one theatre show into forty-eight hours.  Plus of course a bit of walking, knitting, reading, and relaxing.  Not bad!

On the trip and in the week since I've been knitting pussyhats for people to wear at the various marches and rallies.  I managed to score some pink yarn at the end of last year, and managed to dye a sample skein for a class I am teaching today that came out in a brilliant, and quite hat-acceptable, shade of pink.  Luckily these are quick items to create!

01 January 2017

Resolutions, and all that New Year's stuff

I'm always a bit ambivalent about making resolutions, since it seems so trite.  Plus, doing them in public - which some say you should do to ensure success, because of accountability - triggers the dilemma of whether to do small, easy ones that you know you'll accomplish, or big ones that make you look ambitious and impressive, or reverse ones so you'll psych yourself out.

So, here's mine:
  • I will knit one item for charity every month.  Maybe (OK, likely) more, but at least one.
  • I will try to finish the two shawls for me that have been OTN for over a year each.
  • I will try to write on this blog at least once a month.  I know I've said this one before, and not achieved it, but I'm no quitter so I'll make this resolution again until I succeed!
One convenient element is that if I track how I am doing on this blog, I'll have achieved the third item and quite likely the other two.

I do have other plans.  I'm going to be traveling, and I can blog about that.  I should have blogged about some of last year's trips, but I always seem to be having too much fun experiencing the trip and don't make time after to blog.  I'll try to change that, but no promises.

I'm involved in two book groups, and talked one into reading the same book in January that the other one had picked, so I only have to read it once!  It's Hidden Figures and should be fascinating on so many levels.  Some of us are going to see the film but promised to read and talk about the book for the book clubs.  I'm going to try to find something in the book that is not in the film, or is different, and raise that as a discussion item.

Rebecca and I have talked (very quickly) about cooking out of old cookbooks and blogging about it. Rebecca said she wants to do a meal each month from Christine Terhune Herrick's Liberal Living Upon Narrow Means from 1890 and I thought it would be fun to do as well.  I have many older cookbooks, and as some of you know, have cooked full meals from a collection of sources, but I haven't done a meal from a single source just to cook a meal.  This will be fun!  Watch both of us blog about our experiences.  I'm not making it a resolution because since we're on a friendly challenge, it is already a commitment.

Now, if you want to make "serious" resolutions, go ahead.  Based upon a couple of pictures circulating on Facebook, I've decided to add a few.

One is to review this list monthly, and decide if anything has changed:

A second is to try to do this:

And a third is to try keeping a diary.  I'm not a diarist or a journaling person or whatever, possibly because I think that I live an excessively boring life to the point that I don't want to read about it, so I see no reason to write about it.  But I can write down things that happen, and maybe one of them will end up as that week's drop in the jar.

Before this gets only aspirational, I'll close with this, my contribution to this morning's monthly First Sunday brunch: "Champagne" (because I used a dry sparking wine, and true Champagne comes only from the Champagne region of France - and did you know the industry was saved by a woman?) cupcakes:
Luckily, the group isn't one that goes on ascetic diets on January 1st.  The cupcakes are sprayed with edible silver color or gold mist for some added festivity.  The tag warns that they are full of all the kinds of things people give up at New Year's: gluten, alcohol, butter, sugar.  That didn't stop people from eating them!

I hope you have a good 2017.  I am going into it with a positive attitude - there are many reasons to be worried about the year, but I believe that each of us has the power to make things change.  Whether we band together, or work individually, creating good in the world and working towards changes that need to happen may be the best resolution of all.