Monday, December 21, 2009

Cheap Bastids Holiday Green Bean Casserole (without cream of anything soup)

Green bean casserole is a tradition at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. It seems as though this is another of those dishes that only get made for these holiday feasts.

We all remember those limp green beans in a pyrex dish topped with canned fried onion rings and swimming in some mysterious beige/grey mystery sauce—usually cream of mushroom soup. So I thought I’d try to come up with something with a bit more freshness, flavor and color. Something that hasn’t had all the taste baked out of it. Something with a hint of both spice and texture.

At Thanksgiving, I looked up a bunch of recipes and synthesized several into what follows. I’m going to make it again for Christmas, so I’m going to share it now in case anyone else out there wants to give it a try. Sorry, but there aren’t any photos. (If you make this, take some and send them to me along with what you think of the dish).

Cheap Bastid’s Holiday Green Bean Casserole
4 tbsp butter or margarine
3 tbsp flour
1 ½ tbsp mustard (yellow, Dijon, brown whatever you’ve got on hand)
Salt (a couple of healthy pinches or shakes to taste)
tabasco or hot pepper sauce (to taste put a little kick in it)
1 lb fresh green beans (or fresh frozen)
1 cup milk
1 cup broth (chicken or vegetable or some of the liquid from blanching the beans)
1 cup diced onion
1 small can fried onion rings

This is pretty simple to make but it takes a medium skillet, cooking pot and 1 to 1 ½ quart casserole dish so get them out first. (Grease the casserole dish with butter or margarine).

Put about ½ gallon of water into the pot and put it on the stove, burner set to medium-high. Prep the beans while the water is heating. Pinch off the stem end and snap them so that each piece is about 2 inches long. Put in a colander and when done, rinse them off.

By now, the water on the stove should be starting to boil. Dump the beans into the pot, let the pot come back to a boil and then let them cook for about 5 more minutes. Put the colander in the sink and pour the beans into it. Then, using the rinse hose, rinse the beans with cold water to “shock” them and stop the cooking process. (If you’re going to use “bean water” rather than broth, make sure to keep a cup of it before you dump the beans into the colander). Note: if you’re using frozen beans, just dump them into the colander for a few minutes, and rinse them with cold water to let them thaw just a bit.

Now put the skillet on the stove and turn the burner to medium high. You’re going to make a roux. Start by putting the butter or margarine into the skillet and letting it melt. Then add the flour—shaking it around the pan into the melted butter/margarine. Start stirring or whisking this mixture and turn the heat down just a skosh. Keep stirring until the 2 ingredients are blended together and golden yellow in color. Turn heat to medium (6 o’clock on the clock for the dial on an electric stove). Now, add the mustard, salt and Tabasco and stir into the roux. Then it’s time to add the milk and the broth. Stir all this together and let it heat until it just starts to bubble a bit.

Now it’s time to add the diced onions and the beans. Turn the heat off. Then mix everything together. Pour the contents of the skillet into the casserole dish. Taste it! You might want to add a bit of salt or pepper or even more Tabasco or some garlic. Season it to YOUR taste! Open your can of fried onion rings and sprinkle them on top in one thin layer. Cover either with a lid or foil. Put into the oven, preheated to 375 for about 40 minutes. Enjoy!

That’s it. Several steps, but they’re pretty straight-forward, easy steps. This is really tasty! It’s creamy, yet has just a bit of kick thanks to the mustard and Tabasco. And, no cream of whatever soup.

Feel free to play with this a bit. If it looks like the diced onion is more than you’d like, don’t put it all in. I sweated the onions in the melted margarine and then remove them before adding the flour for the roux. You can also add some finely chopped fresh mushrooms. Or try adding some almond slivers or cashews.

What you’ll like is that this has color and flavor rather than blandness and drabness. There’s still some “tooth” left in the beans rather than the usual squishy, school lunch texture. As I mentioned before, I tried this on family at Thanksgiving and they loved it—especially when compared to the “traditional” green bean casserole I made last year using cream of barf soup.

Cheap Bastid Test: How’d this dish do? Well, I got the beans for $.49/lb, the butter was a half-stick for a quarter, a nickel’s worth each of flour and mustard, $.50 for broth (free if you use bean juice), $.20 for onion, a quarter’s worth of milk and $1 for the canned fried onions (at the dollar store! They’re $1 and ounce at the grocery store). Total cost for this casserole that will feed 6 was $2.79 or about $.47 per serving. I love it when food tastes good, is made with just a bit of love and is CHEAP!

And that’s the Cheap Bastid way: Eat Good, Eat Cheap, Be Grateful!

Merry Christmas to All!

Of Christmas, Fred Waring, Ralphie and NORAD

Oh Boy! It’s Christmas week and I can hardly wait! I’m 58 years old and still get excited. Now, I’m not going to get silly and wait all night for Santa to arrive. I spent too many years myself as Santa to do that. But we are going to have fun.

One of the ways I have fun is to remember. I’ll remember Christmas with my own children. To me, the meaning of Christmas became evident when I became a father. When I could watch the magic that is Christmas by watching my children’s eyes and expressions of awe and wonder, surprise and delight as they encountered a tree filled underneath with presents. When they were little, Christmas Eve was a combination of lasagna dinner followed by church followed by getting them to bed and then followed by several hours of assembling the toys that “Santa” was giving them (all toys had to be assembled and functioning).

I confess to evenings spent grumbling and growling at balky parts. I also confess to falling asleep on the living room floor in “mid-elf mode”, waking at 2 a.m. and finishing the task before stumbling off to bed only to be awakened by the laughter of small people at the “butt crack of dawn”. (Just let Santa/Dad get a cup of coffee first, pleassssssseeee!).

But before I let this go on and on and on, I really wanted to touch base with a couple of songs that by today’s standards are dated but which were delightful and fun-filled when I was just a boy and when Mike and Susan were little. We played Fred Waring’s “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and “Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer” incessantly. It’s a wonder my Mom wasn’t totally loopy before Christmas arrived having to listen to those 2 songs on the stereo over and over and over each day. Mom recorded the album onto a cassette when my kids were young but I doubt that these children of the ‘80s ever got the same joy that I did back in the ‘50s.

So here they are. I hope you enjoy them as much as I still do:

One of the things that Carolyn and I look forward to is the “24 Hours of Ralphie” on TBS that will start at 8 p.m. Christmas Eve and run through 8 p.m. Christmas Day. We love this movie and overdose on it each year. It’ll be on in the bedroom all night too and we’ll each wake up several times during the night, watch a few minutes and then drift off back to sleep (I in my kerchief and Ma in her cap….settled down for a long winter’s nap). Have you ever noticed though that you seem to wake up or tune in at the same point in the movie when you’re watching a “marathon”?

And last but not least. We came across a wonderful website last Christmas. It’s perfect for every single kid—from 4 to 84! It’s the NORAD website which tracks Santa’s trip around the world. Even better, using NORAD personnel and volunteers, there are brief vignette’s about Santa’s journey and about the various locations he is visiting on his journey. It’s fun. It’s educational. It’s magic. And it’s an obvious labor of love for the people of NORAD. Check it out!

The website is

Have a wonderful Christmas.

Friday, December 18, 2009

We Need a Little Christmas (Music) Now!

All day, every day I sit in a cubbyhole that’s 15 feet from a compact stereo which is tuned to a radio station which is playing Christmas music 24/7.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Christmas music. I love Christmas music. I love to listen to Christmas music and I love to sing Christmas music. But it gets kind of like sharp fingernails scraping across a blackboard the 8th time each day when I have to hear Karen Carpenter sing “Logs on the fire, fill me with desire” (that just sounds so “wrong”—kinky—even though I know there’s another innocent line about wanting to be with a loved one). And if I have to hear “We Need a Little Christmas” one more time, I swear I’ll go postal on the first friggin’ elf I see.

I’ve performed Christmas music ever since Junior Hi although much more sporadically since I’ve been an adult. Christmas cantatas in a church choir are, I think, much more enjoyable for those singing than those who have to dress up and silently suffer through them. (By the way my wife just asked me what a Christmas cantata is and I told her that it’s when a choir performs this “hoity toity” classical-type Christmas music that has a lot of notes and that nobody particularly likes to hear because it doesn’t have a real good beat or snappy lyrics or a toe-tapping melody—although I still consider Handel’s “Messiah” to be kick ass even though most people don’t really seem to get that at Christmas the song is “For Unto Us A Child is Born and at Easter it’s the “Hallelujah Chorus”).

But I digress. In the cause of brevity, I offer up for your listening enjoyment a “medley” of Christmas music. It starts with one of my all time favorites, Gene Autry’s “Here Comes Santa Claus”. It’s included because it reminds me of my father who would wander through the house all Christmas season singing snatches of this delightful song in a Kentucky hills tenor twang. Every time I hear it, it reminds me of Dad and makes me smile.

The rest of the “medley” is some goofy stuff that I hope will make you smile just a bit. Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cheap Bastid's Scrumptious Apple Crisp

OK folks, Cheap Bastid hasn’t been around in a couple of weeks. That’s because I am now employed again as a bastion of the automotive industry fleecing people of their hard-earned dollars by selling cars.

Anyhow, before I have to hit the shower and get my game face on, I thought I’d post a recipe. It’s one I’ve “developed”, “synthesized”, “plagiarized” or created this past year and made enough times to finally start getting it “right”.

If you’re looking for a tasty dessert that’s quick and easy to prep and which meets the Cheap Bastid budget criteria (in a word—cheap!), give this Apple Crisp recipe a try. Have some vanilla it ice cream on hand to plop on it while it’s still warm too.

Cheap Bastid’s Scrumptious Apple Crisp
6 or so apples (Granny Smith, Gala, or Fuji)
1 cup water (or ½ cup water and ½ cup apple juice or cider)
1 ½ cups brown sugar
1 ½ sticks butter or equivalent amount (12 tbsp) margarine
1 ½ cups flour
1 ½ cups oatmeal or multi-grain raw cereal

Take out a 9x9 baking dish and 2 medium mixing bowls. Lightly grease the baking dish. Core and cut the apples into wedges and put into the baking dish.

In one bowl you’re going to make the “juice” for the apples and in the other you’re going to make the “crisp” topping. So for the “juice” combine the water or water/juice, ¾ cup brown sugar, ½ sick butter or margarine (melted), 2 tablespoons flour, salt (about ½ tsp), cinnamon (1 tsp or so—I use more because I like the flavor and aroma) and ½ tsp nutmeg (I use more). Whisk it all together in the bowl and pour it over the apples.

Then in the other bowl add the rest of the brown sugar (3/4 cup), ½ tsp cinnamon, ¼ tsp nutmeg (both of those more or less depending on taste), 1 ½ cups flour, oatmeal and 1 stick butter at room temp (or equivalent amount of margarine). Mix all this together really, really well with a spoon or with your fingers until it resembles a coarse, crumb-like mixture. Make sure to incorporate the dry stuff really well with the butter/margarine. Dig deep to the bottom of the bowl to make sure you get everything mixed.

Cover the apples with this mixture. You can use your fingers or glop it on with a spoon and use the back of the spoon to spread it out.

Bake at 350 in a pre-heated oven for 1 hour or until the apples are tender and crust is golden. I like to put the broiler on for 2-3 minutes at the very end to get the “crisp” topping crispy/crunchy but that’s up to you. One hint, put the baking dish on a cookie sheet in the oven just in case there’s a spill-over of the filling. That can help you avoid a gooey, messy clean-up in the oven. It’s easier to scrub a pan than the oven!

Serve this with some vanilla ice cream or by itself. You’ll love it. Like anything you bake, it may take a couple of times to get it “down” and you may find yourself fine-tuning the amount of apples and amount of “juice” you use. But this is old-fashioned, tasty-good stuff!

The Cheap Bastid Test: Here we go on the budget thing again. The apples were on special for $.77 per pound and I bought 2 lbs. So that’s a buck and a half. The next priciest thing was the butter/margarine. Margarine is cheaper/healthier and get it for $1 for 16 oz and used about 1/3 of a container. I get butter at the dollar store for a buck for a half pound. So using margarine, I spend about $.35 and about $.75 for butter. The cup and a half of oats costs about $.50. The rest of the ingredients will set you back about $.50. Total budget for this adds up to about $3! And, it makes 8 servings sized like the picture.

Give it a try. It’s tasty. It’s homemade. It’s “old fashioned Christmassy”. It’ll make your house smell good.

That's the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Good, Eat Cheap, Be Grateful!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Cheap Bastid's Carnitas With Salsa Verde

Cheap Bastid hasn’t been around for a couple of weeks. I started a new job and it’s been taking all my energy and attention getting settled in. Plus, I haven’t been cooking as much because more than half the time I work until 8:30 and don’t feel like cooking when I get home.

Plus, last week’s Thanksgiving kind of took all my cooking attention. I developed a couple of new recipes that I’ll share soon. (I created a new Green Bean Casserole recipe that does not require “cream of anything” soup and it’s both easy and good tasting). And, I experimented and came up with a “new for me” pie crust recipe that I hope to try again at Christmas and “perfect” (it’s a “no shortening” recipe because Cheap Bastid won’t spend 3 and a half bucks on a small can of shortening). Here’s a picture of the pie when it came out of the oven.

Last week, I tried a new recipe that I concocted for Carnitas—basically burritos made from shredded pork—with Salsa Verde (green sauce). Now, the first thing you have to do to make Carnitas is to make shredded pork and that’s really simple. Just get a pork shoulder or butt roast at the grocery store when it’s on special (about $1 a pound). Take out your crock pot/slow cooker/dutch oven.

If you want, sear the roast on the grill or in a pan on the stove (I like the grill because the smoke from the high heat searing stays where it belongs—outside). You should be heating up your cooker while doing this and have about 3 cups of water in it. For a little extra flavor, add some beef or chicken stock along with a half cup of chopped onion and some chopped celery.

(I use boxed chicken stock or beef stock cubes that I make by pouring left over liquids from slow cooking a beef roast into ice cube trays and freezing then dropping 2 or 3 cubes into the cooker to get better flavor).

Now add some salt, black pepper and garlic, put the pork roast in the cooker and leave it alone for 4 or 5 hours on medium (just hot enough for the liquid to “roll” a bit). When it’s done, take the roast out of the pot, let it cool for a few minutes and then shred it with 2 forks or with a fork and knife—that’s the “hardest” part of this whole thing.

We used half the shredded pork to make pulled BBQ pork sandwiches and the other half to make the carnitas a couple of nights later. NOW you’re ready for the Carnitas with Salsa Verde recipe and here it is:

Carnitas with Salsa Verde
1-1 ½ lb shredded pork
1 pkg small burrito sized flour tortillas
1 can green enchilada sauce
1 can green chilies
8 oz shredded cheese (cheddar, jack or a mix)
Diced tomato
Shredded lettuce
Sour cream if you want

Put the shredded pork in a medium skillet over medium heat. You shouldn’t need to add oil to it due to the fat in the pork. Bring to heat and check bottom for just a bit of browning (about the same way you’d do hash browns). Then stir and flip for a bit more heating and browning. This will give just a hint of “crust” and “dry” the meat a bit more. Add the enchilada sauce and chilies. This is going to look “wet and mushy” and that’s OK. Turn heat down a bit and let everything simmer together and the sauce reduce down until it’s “dry” enough to spoon on a burrito without saturating the burrito. Taste test while simmering and if more flavor is needed add a bit of salt or garlic and/or some cayenne or chipotle or habanero for a bit more kick.
Have the other ingredients (tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, sour cream) ready. Spoon some of the meat mixture into a burrito, add some tomato and lettuce and cheese and sour cream and enjoy.

This smells fantastic when it’s simmering. It doesn’t look that pretty cooking but that’s the meat with light green stuff simmering in it. There’s a great marriage of the meat and chilies and enchilada sauce that will have your nose happy and your mouth watering. Then, when you’re eating, you’ll really be enjoying the flavor of this simple dish.

So, now for the Cheap Bastid Test. The cost of the meat for this meal is about $1.50 and the chilies and sauce cost about $1.60 at the Dollar Store. The most expensive thing is the cheese which costs about $2.50 for an 8 oz. bag and you’ll use about half a bag. Lettuce and tomato cost about 50 cents. So, the total for this meal is $5.20 and it’ll feed 3 easily. That comes out to $1.70 each. Try getting 2 or 3 Carnitas Verde burritos anywhere for that! Can’t be done.
And that’s the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Good, Eat Cheap, Be Grateful!