Friday, October 22, 2010

Farmers Market & The Secrets to Shopping

Going to a Farmers Market gives me such a high; I know I'm weird, but I'm just being honest. I absolutely love doing fresh, seasonal shopping outside with my monogrammed shopping bag hanging on my arm (if I remember to bring it that is). The last Saturday I went was no exception to my past previous experiences; it really just keeps getting better every time I go. I am learning the secrets to shopping with the farmers.
You didn't know there were secrets? Well there are, and knowing these key secrets will help you and give you confidence to conquer the sometimes intimidating Farmers Market, which has many benefits.
1. If you are in the market for something in particular get there when it opens; sometimes even after the first hour they have already run out. For instance, one time I was dying for some fresh from the farm eggs. To be able to open the carton and stare at their beauty, knowing they were laid just two days earlier can be a euphoric experience (again I know I'm weird). To my uttermost dismay they were gone by 9:00 AM that morning! Now for those of you that are not early risers, especially on a Saturday, I totally understand, but it's worth it! I''m telling ya....
2. Always bring cash. I'm really not for sure if they take checks, some of the farmers may. But I do know they almost always round down to the nearest even cent when you check out, which I so appreciate! For "the pennyless cook" every penny counts as you know.
3. Make friends with your local farmers there. They are some pretty interesting characters who are full of knowledge when it comes to their local fare. They can tell you how to cook certain items that may be unfamiliar or how to grow certain plants, or how to keep them alive in my case. You can even get some of their personal cell phone numbers. Why you may ask? No, not to hang out with later, but to ask them if they would mind to set aside certain items for you that day before they sell out. My son also shot one of the farmers a smile and he let him take home a small yellow pumpkin, on the house (or farm I should say)!
4. Every weekend Farmers Markets are happening usually till close to December. Perfect time to buy for Thanksgiving dinners.
5. My recent addictions that I suggest you look into getting this season are local eggs, honey, goat cheese, potatoes, green beans, herb plants, squash and apples. There are also usually a variety of meats, which do not compare to those you find at the super market.
Buying local at a Farmers Market is much cheaper than buying local in the supermarket. Every dollar goes straight from you to farmer so there is no middleman, and the food goes straight from the farmer to you, so there's no big company manufacturing or messing with how the food is made to actually grow. Everything you buy is how God intended it. Eggs are straight from the chicken instead of assembly line regulated and then being placed on the shelf already 2-3 months old! That's why you can keep farm fresh eggs in your refrigerator for up to 3 months!
I hope if you haven't already become a Farmers Market shopper you'll try and tell me about your experience. Once you've had a an apple, this Autumn, straight from the farm instead of the supermarket you will never be able to go back to eating those from the grocery store.

Share with me any "pennyless" recipes that you've made with your Farmers Market finds. Here's a recipe of mine.

Everything But the Kitchen Sink Vegetable Soup
Makes 8-10 servings @ about $0.85 a serving

1 14 oz can of tomato juice
8 small potatoes
2 cups green beans
1 cup of corn
1 cup of peas
1 cup of carrot, chopped
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
1 tbsp garlic
fresh herbs (I used 1 tsp thyme & 1 tsp sage, finely chopped)
handful of fresh parsely, chopped
2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 tbsp of butter
2 cups of water
Pinch of salt & pepper

Place a large stew or pasta pot on medium heat. Add oil carrot, onion, celery, and garlic. Sautee till tender. Add herbs, salt & pepper and 1 tablespoon of butter. Stir till butter is melted. Mix well; this will make your kitchen smell, O so good! Add tomato juice and rest of vegetables with remaining tablespoon of butter. Stir well, and add water. Bring to a rolling boil, cover and then let simmer for at least 30 minutes, the longer the better of course. I start mine around lunch time and let simmer until dinner, stirring ever so ofter. You could also place soup in a crock pot on low for several hours.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Food 411

The church I attend, Springdale Community Church, which I will unashamedly plug @, put on an event called Food 411 last Thursday. With men not allowed; this is a night for women to get out and enjoy a few hours with other women, watching some live food demos and even more importantly tasting the demoed food. Our evening was themed around Fall Finger Foods. We demonstrated food that you can serve at your fall gatherings or even upcoming Halloween parties. My friend Michelle hosted the event and kept the mood hilarious, yet enlightening. First up was my friend Sheila demonstrating the madness behind her Spiced Apple Cake (modified from William Sinoma) and topped it with a ridiculously delicious Caramel Frosting (modified from our good friend Paula Deen). Next my friend Bonnie made a yummy Pumpkin Spice Latte ( and some of her addicting Caramel Corn! Then it was my turn; I demoed a Pumpkin Cheese Ball and Taco Scoops. This was so much fun!
It was just a wonderful evening getting to know, and even meeting for the first time different women who came together to enjoy each other and of course food!

Pumpkin Cheese Ball*

Yield: 16 servings
2 (8-ounce) blocks extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded (Remember it's cheaper ounce per ounce to shred it yourself)
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 (8-ounce) container chive-and-onion cream cheese
2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 broccoli stalk**
1 sprig of parsley
Red and green apple wedges
Combine Cheddar cheese and next 4 ingredients in a bowl until blended. Cover and chill 4 hours or until mixture is firm enough to be shaped.

Shape mixture into a ball to resemble a pumpkin. Smooth entire outer surface with a frosting spatula or table knife. Make vertical grooves in ball, if desired, using fingertips.

Cut florets from broccoli stalk, and reserve for another use. Cut stalk to resemble a pumpkin stem, and press into top of cheese ball. Serve cheese ball with apple wedges.

Note: To make ahead, wrap cheese ball in plastic wrap without stalk, and store in refrigerator up to 2 days. Attach stalk before serving.

*modified from Southern Living @
**I decided to use a braided pretzel stick as a stem instead; also you can use the remaining pretzel sticks on the platter with the apples, which is a wise use of your pennies. Add a sprig of parsley for added cuteness factor.

Taco Scoops

1 bag of Fritos Scoops
Fillers for Scoops (here are my two variations):

Variation #1 (Sheila's Idea)
1 lb ground beef, cooked and seasoned with 1 pack of low sodium taco seasoning or your own variation of seasoning-I tend to just go to my pantry and add 1 tbsp of Cumin, a pinch of Cayenne Peeper, a little salt and pepper
1 jar of pickled jalapenos
1 block of cheddar cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with wax paper. Spread out Scoops to cover the baking sheet facing up. Fill each scoop with seasoned ground beef, top with cheese and place one jalapeno on top. Bake until cheese it melted; 5-8 minutes.

Variation #2
3-4 cans of seasoned black beans-I cook these in my iron skillet over medium heat. Add Extra Virgin Olive Oil, chopped garlic, the beans, ground cumin, a pinch of Cayenne Pepper, sea salt, and cracked black pepper. Stir, bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes. Smash up the beans as they cook every so often as you stir occasionally. This makes the beans thicker and more flavorful in my opinion.
Feta Cheese
2 avocados

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cover baking sheet with wax paper. Spread scoops to cover the baking sheet facing up. Fill each scoop with seasoned beans and cheese. Bake for 5-8 minutes. Take out of oven and let set for a few minutes. Top with a tiny piece of avocado and a sprig of cilantro.

Serve both variations with sour cream and salsa or pico-de-gallo. Mmmm Mmmm good! O, also you can substitute Fritos Scoops for Tostitos Scoops; I don't know if Frito Lay likes that idea though.
Let me know which variation you like better; think the women at Food 411 liked the black bean version best, but my hubby dug into the ground beef ones like they were going out of style. Tell me what you think!

Also let me know if you want any of the other recipes, actually trust me you do. I don't think Bonnie or Sheila would mind; I know they wouldn't! Have fun hosting your fall parties!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Killer Sale

This week Meijer is having a killer sale, in my opinion. Beans are $ 0.59 a can, green beans & sweet yellow corn are 4 for $1, and 10 for $10 canned tomatoes plus get the 11th item free! Pasta is the same deal, as well as some frozen veggies. My favorite Kashi cereal was even on sale for $2.75 a box. I got my pantry stocked; you should too. Just thought you should know!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Dinner that the hood interrupted

Even with the slight delay of plans, along with the saddening fact that guests had to be canceled due to my husband coming down with a cold, by golly I was not going to be held back from this visionary dinner I had imagined and already begun to create! So after my husbands temporary-ingenious invention to cheer-up Bella (that's what I named her; my oven that is), I was ready to cook with her help again whether she was in the mood to or not!
So here's the visionary menu:
Jenny Mini-Shepherd Pies
Autumn Waldorf Salad with Vidalia-Honey Vinaigrette**
Made from scratch Banana Pudding**

I can't take full credit for these Jenny Mini-Shepherd Pies, thank you Jenny (hence the honorary title of the dish), your idea and comment was enlightening. My husband and son thank you as well; I've never seen a meal disappear so quickly! Seriously, when they saw the dinner I had to tell them to calm down, stop hyperventilating, and wait till I at least set down with them.
As I've mentioned before, I bought 2 pounds of ground-turkey for $5 at Mejier. This was the second pound of ground turkey and it was put to good use let me tell ya.

Jenny Mini-Shepherd Pies
Vegetable non-stick cooking spray
1/2 cup Panko/plain bread crumbs
1/3 cup finely, chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup roasted chopped tomato garlic-herb marinade*
2 cloves finely, chopped garlic
2 eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons of milk
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
1 pound of ground turkey (I use lean)
1/2 cup mild shredded cheddar (buy the block; shred it yourself ahead of time. It's cheaper ounce for ounce and tastes better)
Mashed potatoes

*Prepare roasted chopped tomato garlic-herb marinade. This may seem annoying and you may be rolling your eyes just thinking about making your own marinade, instead of buying roasted tomatoes in a jar, but just trust me on this. This is cheaper in the long run because you can make a big batch and keep it in a sealed jar in the refrigerator. This is also delicious tossed in pasta, on a pizza, or simply on toasted bread. Make it ahead and save on prep time work, plus the longer the flavors mingle together the more your taste buds will dance happily around and chant, "thank you, thank you!" in a glorious chorus.

For this marinade you'll need:
1 large can of diced tomatoes (a staple in our household)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (also a staple)
1 tbsp garlic (again a staple; I just keep a jar of it in our fridge)
Fresh herbs, chopped-sage, basil, and thyme (yep, staple again, sitting on my window ceil in pots)
salt & pepper (obviously)
This is all you need to do:
Place oven on broil. Drain can of tomatoes and place on baking sheet. Drizzle olive oil on tomatoes and cover in salt and pepper. Broil for 8-10 minutes. Keep a close eye on the oven, take out as soon you see a brown bits forming on top . Take out, let cool, and remove any chard skin with a sharp knife. Place in a jar or air-tight container with another drizzle of olive oil, garlic and handful of chopped herbs combined. Add more salt and pepper and another drizzle of olive oil. Cover and shake to combine. Place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Ok now to the meaty goodness of the recipe.....
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Spray a muffin pan with cooking spray.

Grab a large bowl, stir together bread crumbs, tomato marinade, garlic, eggs, milk, salt and pepper. Add the turkey and stir gently. I use my hands, I know gross, but their clean and you just have better control on gently combining. Just try it, it's weirdly therapeutic to me. Make sure you don't overwork the meat.

Now it gets really exciting. Grab a handful of the mixture and place in one of the muffin tins. Help it to form the shape of the tin, until it reaches to almost the very top and gently place a thumbprint indention in the middle of each. Repeat this until all or most of the muffin tins are full. This recipe yields about 10-12 depending on how full you make each little meat loaf muffin/pie. Bake for about 45 minutes and keep a close eye on it the last 5 minutes or so. Internal temperature should be 165 degrees. While the meatloaf is cooking prepare your mashed potatoes. Let rest for about 5 minutes. Top with creamy mashed potatoes and sprinkle with cheese. Pop back in the oven for about 10 minutes or until cheese is just melted.

Serve with Autumn salad-a mix of greens, dried cranberries, and chopped apple with Vidalia-Honey Vinaigrette and rolls. O good golly! You don't even know! And then to top it off with banana pudding for dessert. I didn't even know you could make vanilla pudding from scratch, with basically all staples you have in your pantry! It made my arm a little tired whisking, but it was worth it, plus burned a few calories before adding about a thousand. Made the dessert the night before to let the cookies soften, but after a couple of days make sure the pudding is completely eaten; it's just not as good but for one or two days. But O the bliss of the first two days.

This dinner, especially the Jenny Mini-Shepherd Pies has quickly made it to the #1 spot in the McDougal household. According to my husband it's his favorite meal he's EVER had. Now, he's biased; so let me know what you think.

**These were recipes from; check it out. It's part of my inspiration!