Thursday, January 19, 2012

Occupy: Your Kitchen (a series)

Or: how to turn $1.00 of homemade pasta; $0.75 of stewed, canned tomatoes; $0.75 of avocado; $0.30 of green beans; $0.25 of egg; $0.10 of broccoli soup and $0.05 of olive oil into a $13 entreé of fresh pasta.

Times are tough and money is short. This doesn't mean that one should be forced to resort to the hash slung out of those neon-lit palaces of corn by-products and sad, corn-fed matrix failure meat. Of course, if the price of a Double Cheeseburger were adjusted to fairly represent the labor, transport, fair price of oil, and fair price of commodities that went into producing that salty, greasy mess on a soft roll then no one would be able to afford to eat at McDonald's.

And one's brain must be trained to despise this dreck: cheap non-food that anyone my age and younger has been brainwashed into eating. Of course, salt, fat, sugar and all the little tweaks and so forth rigorously researched and added to McFood are designed to hit all our irrational little pleasure points: we like salt, we like fat, we love love love sugar. The stupid toys and mascots, the whole culture surrounding this sort of food, are aimed right at the brains of young children.

San Francisco has had its share of ill-conceived legislation and voter initiatives, but banning toys in Happy Meals is one I support. Also, fast food chains are required to post the caloric value of each item clearly on the menus inside the restaurants and on the drive-through. When confronted with a 1800 calorie Big Mac, drink and fries -- fully 72% of an adult male's daily average calorie intake -- the thought of casually scarfing down this crap gives me pause.

(Full disclosure - I have been known to treat myself to a 240 calorie medium fruit swirlie thingy after a long walk or bike ride.)

Of course, when you are down to looking under couch cushions for change, even McDonald's is not an option. At this point, you are throwing stuff together with what you have in the pantry. And having a well stocked pantry at all times means you eat, and eat well, even when you are in between paychecks.

The Doctor's Pantry:

Spices
  • Kosher salt
  • Black pepper (whole)
  • Cumin seed (whole)
  • Coriander seed (whole)
  • Cardamom pods (whole)
  • Cinnamon sticks (whole)
  • Cloves (whole)
  • Nutmeg (whole)
  • Dried dill weed
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • Smoked paprika
  • Madras curry
  • Frozen fresh laurel leaves (bay)
  • Frozen fresh thyme
  • Frozen fresh sage
  • Frozen fresh rosemary
Baking
  • Sugar
  • Brown sugar (or sucinant, or dried sugar cane, or turbinado)
  • Molasses
  • Honey
  • Baking soda
  • Baking powder
  • All-purpose flour
  • Vegetable oil
  • Lard
  • Eggs (in the fridge pantry)
  • Milk
  • Unsalted butter
  • Good olive oil ("the good stuff")
Root Cellar
  • Onions
  • Shallots
  • Garlic
  • Hands of ginger
  • Fresh, hot peppers (habañeros, jalapeños, anchos, serranos, etc)
  • Dried peppers
  • Lemongrass
Sauces
  • Soy or tamari
  • Nom Pla
  • Cock sauce (Sriracha)
  • Grey Poupon
  • A good, stone ground mustard. We love Lev's Probiotic Hot Mustard.
  • Ketchup. Yes, ketchup. Make your own, if you're going to be a snob about it (recipe to come)
  • Mayonnaise. I like Best Food's Real Mayonnaise (AKA Hellman's on the east coast). Also fairly easy to make your own (the list of upcoming posts grows OMG WINTER IS COMING ARGH)
  • Tapatio or similar Mexican hot sauce
  • Krystal or Tabasco (or both!)
Fridge
  • Seasonal vegetables - if you aren't going to use right away, I suggest blanching - that will stop the vegetable from "staling" (eg, green beans, broccoli, asparagus)
  • Mushrooms - always store in a paper bag
  • Kale/Cabbage - cabbage can last a while but kale won't. That said, I like to turn my cabbage into slaw or sauerkraut or whatever right away when the cabbage is freshest
  • Stock, frozen in one or two cup portions
  • Frozen off-season vegetables (corn, peas, lima beans)
  • Mirepoix (celery, carrots, onions) frozen
Protein.. is expensive. Eggs are a must for me, and I will use them as a "substitute" for meat if I'm on a no-meat budget. Chicken, even a good free-range or organic, is usually pretty affordable at $3-$5/lbs. Freshwater fish is often less expensive. Farmed tilapia is not only cheap, but it's a farmed fish that is easy on the environment.

Then we get to larger animals: pigs, sheep, goats, beeves.

Back when things were good, chumps and yuppies would pay a premium for the tender, flavorless parts of anything that walked on four legs: beef and pork tenderloin being the most expensive cuts traditionally.

Then Tony Bourdain, Michael Symon, Mario Batali and the rest of them opened their big mouths and the price of hangar steaks, cow's tongue, pork butt, pig's ears, pig trotters, leg of lamb and any kind of cheek shot up (really, I don't blame them...that stuff is good and the world needs to be saved from boring filet mignon).

Still, a good roast is an economical choice if you are watching your wallet and a few choice braises will get you tender meat for the week. A series on braising is in the offing, but the idea is this: brown your meat, give it a flavorful rub, cook it slowly at a low temperature "up to the shoulder" in liquid.

Back to today's lunch:
  • a fist full of pasta dough (recipe below)
  • two stewed roma tomatoes hand crushed, plus canning juice
  • 1/3 cup of broccoli soup (broccoli, water, salt)
  • handful of blanched green beans, cut into 1 1/2 pieces
  • 1/3rd of an avocado, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 egg
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • "the good stuff" olive oil
Roll pasta out as thin as you like it and using a long slicing knife or a pizza cutter, slice into roughly 1/3rd inch thick strips. I usually add a good amount of bench flour, so for our fist-full of dough maybe a couple tablespoons of flour.

Boil about a quart of cold water with a good amount of salt.

While waiting for the water, heat a saucepan over medium high heat and dump in the tomatoes, garlic and avocado (I cooked my avocado because, despite a week and a half of ripening, it was rather firm) and the soup. Turn heat to high and let that bubble up and "tighten up" (some of the liquid will reduce). Add pepper, to taste, and less salt than you think it needs. Crack the egg into the middle of the sauce and cover.

When the sauce starts to tighten up, dump your pasta into your boiling water. Fresh pasta only needs to boil for a couple of minutes. You can tell when it is done because the pasta will float.

Add the blanched beans and then the cooked pasta with a splash or two of the pasta water. Toss, cover and cook for another minute or so. Turn off the heat, check for seasoning (does it need salt? pepper?) and plate in a shallow bowl.

Hit it with a good drizzle of the good stuff, a first-press virgin olive oil.

Total prep time was about 15 minutes, total cooking time was about 10 minutes. Can you afford not to cook at home?

Broccoli Pasta:
  • 1/2 cup of pulp of Puréed broccoli, chilled and strained.
  • 1 large chicken egg or 1 duck egg.
  • 1/2 cup flour + up to 1/3 cup of bench flour.
  • Pinch of salt.
Mix flour, broccoli and egg in a bowl until it forms a solid ball.

Rest for 20 minutes covered.

Using a wooden rolling pin or a straight sided wine bottle, roll into a thin sheet, adding flour as needed liberally to prevent sticking.

Using a knife or pizza cutter, cut into 1/4" strips. Arrange on a floured cookie sheet-pan and allow to air dry for several hours.
 
And now, a word from Comrade Shatner: