Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Sometimes I think if I have to hear Andy Williams or Burl Ives one more time that I’ll go ballistic. I can take about 2 hours of it at work—unfortunately a lot of days at work are 12 hours long.
But, to me, Christmas has always been, more than anything else, about music. Over the years I have performed Christmas music in school choirs, church choirs, in informal groups, in quartets, solo in my car along to favorite recordings and sometimes out of either loneliness or a desire to express what’s hiding deep inside yearning to come out.
I’ve sung fun, silly Christmas songs to my children. I’ve listened as a child to my Dad singing snatches of his favorite Gene Autry Christmas music. I’ve sung solos before church congregations as part of a Cantata. I’ve sung as a member of a congregation in a boisterous basso or a haunting tenor depending on the carol being sung.
It’s hard to describe in writing how the music has moved me and been part of me over the decades of my life. Twenty years ago, I was working in the Detroit area as a business executive. My family had yet to join me and still lived in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Our office closed as usual on Christmas Eve and I was driving the 500 miles back to Wisconsin to spend Christmas and New Years with my family. I had done the drive previously and knew to go to my apartment after work, take a nap and start the drive about 9 or 10 p.m. and drive through the night. That way I would miss the traffic of both Detroit and Chicago.
It was about 1 a.m. and I was driving across the short stretch of Indiana that leads into the southern portion of Chicago. It seemed as though mine was the only vehicle on the interstate highway—there weren’t even any semis rolling along.
The radio was on and playing Christmas music. The next selection came up. “For Unto Us A Child Is Born” from Handel’s “Messiah”. This is my absolute favorite piece of music from the “Messiah”—especially at Christmas. The purity of the opening phrase from the Sopranos always moves me. Done well, it’s a sound like crystal.
I slowed my car. Then I pulled over onto the shoulder. I cranked up the stereo as loud as it would go. The night was pitch dark out in the Indiana countryside—glowing with stars. I got out of the car and stood on the shoulder, the radio blaring and I sang. I sang from my heart and soul. Better than the many times that I had performed this piece of music from a church choir loft. I was amazed that I remembered the bass part without the benefit of the sheet music and I let my voice soar tears streaming down my face.
When it was over, I got back in my car and finished my drive arriving home at about 7 a.m. to a house filled with Christmas and children and love.
I miss singing at Christmas. Interesting but a couple of years ago, I happened across a CD that refreshed and made Christmas music new again. It’s the Bare Naked Ladies Christmas album. Here’s a song from it.
I guess as long as we have the music in our hearts, we'll have Christmas.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
We just managed to “score” 4 London Broils, 6 chicken breasts, 3 pounds of bacon and 2 pounds of sausage. For a total of $1.80 at Albertsons. That’s about $87 worth of meat at “full retail”.
And that's pretty good because I hate Gift Cards. Know why? Because you have to pay the full price. I like giving $50 gifts that I buy for $30 or even less. But a $50 Gift Card costs $50. The damn stores want you to do that! But, this was essentially 20% off the cost of the Gift Card (OK, so it was a bonus, but we go
So now we’ve got 2 coupons from Albertson’s for $20 each. Mrs. CB went out shopping with her Mom today and scored 2 London Broils (bottom round) and a couple of packages of chicken breasts which she had Mama Stella take home with her. Total “out-of-pocket” was 60 cents.
So we did just a bit of planning. Their thick sliced, smoked bacon was $2.99 a pound which is about half a buck off. And their London Broil was $1.99. Cool. I want a couple of chunks—one for Swiss Steak and one for Chinese Steak and bottom round will work just fine, especially for the braising in Swiss Steak and as for Chinese Steak, I’m going to pound the crap out of it anyway.
And then I picked up a couple of pounds of bulk “country sausage” which was $1.99 a pound—a buck less than at Staters. This I’ll use to make sausage patties to go with homemade biscuits or to augment with a bit of fennel and red chili flakes and make pork “burgers”.
Why am I writing about this. First to brag. Second to say, if you put just a bit of planning into meals and the food you buy you can save money. This was a case in the extreme. But, it was sure a lot of fun going through the checkout line and seeing the look on the cashier’s face.
Well, maybe that’s because, when she said $1.20 I said something like, “What? That’s not right, it should be less than that.” Leave it to a Cheap Bastid to not be satisfied with 98% off! But I apologized for not seeing the “computer” take the discounts. Hey, I’m not Scrooge, I’m Cheap Bastid!
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
We’ve been talking about what to get everybody for Christmas and that includes my granddaughters Raegan and Emma—except we call them MissChiff and Spike. (It’s a long story). Raegan’s going to be 3 in January and Spike’s going to be one in March.
My son Mike and grandaughters Raegan and Emma on Halloween
Anyway, we had talked about a big, cuddly, stuffed bear for Spike (Emma). She’s still crawling and isn’t quite ready for a lot of toys yet. (Besides we have a rule that toys should be fun, not “educational” or battery operated). So Carolyn was out and about yesterday and her shopping took her into Walgreen’s.
While she was looking around, she happened to look up on top of a shelf and spotted some really cool stuffed bears. These were about 2 feet tall, plush and cuddly. But she wasn’t too fond of the colors—mostly white, beige and tan; not the best colors for a toddler who’s going to drag it around, drool on it and maybe even worse.
Carolyn swears she felt something looking at her. It was from above and behind her. She turned around and looked up. There was another bear. Bigger. Lots bigger. Looking down at her. Big, furry and chocolate brown. It was luxurious.
She looked up at him and stretched up on her tip-toes to squeeze his foot and check out the price tag. She got a sense that he was talking to her in that sage, silent way of stuffed bears. “I can take care of your granddaughters,” he seemed to be saying.
Carolyn turned around to check out the other bears again and when she did, Wilfred fell off the top shelf and landed right behind her. She jumped a bit and turned around, saw him on the floor and picked him up. “Hmmmm, I guess you want to come home with me then,” she said to him.
She lugged the 4 foot tall bear to the front of the store and paid for him. There wasn't a bag big enough for him but she didn't want to put him in a bag anyway--he was about to become "family". She paid for the bear and brought him home and set him in the middle of our bed and then kneeled down in front of him.
“You know, you have a job—to watch over two very special girls,” Carolyn said.
"You might get barfed on or drooled on, but just that means you’re loved."
"Even if you end up in the closet you still have a job to do."
Carolyn Looked at his face. It seemed as though he was not just ready, but eager. She saw patience and wisdom, almost like a Grandpa Bear. And then she noticed. He looks like Wilford Brimley. And that's how he got his name. Wilford.
"That’s your name, she said. "Wilford. And their names are Raegan and Emma but we call them MissChiff and Sidekick Spike. OK?"
And you know, Carolyn swears that Wilford somehow managed to tell her that he was looking forward to it. "I got shivers on my arms," she told me, "It was uncanny and eerie."
"Well, I think you’ve got a job," Carolyn announced. " You just have to get Walt’s OK when he gets home."
"They got a good momma & a good daddy who take care of them and provide for them.
Little girls still need a friend looking out after them—OK?"
Wilford seemed to be totally all right with that.
Anyway, Carolyn plopped him sitting up on our bed. And when I got home from work she forgot to tell me about it. I went into our bedroom to change and spotted this huge, brown object sitting upright on the bed and got the crap scared out of me.
Then Carolyn came in and told me the story of how Wilford the Guardian Bear came to be in our home. That's the story I just told.
Oh, and yeah, I'm totally all right with Wilford. He's got my official Okey Dokey!
I hope he enjoys his trip to his new home in Lincoln, Nebraska. A big brown bear in a big brown UPS truck heading to his new home with MissChiff and Sidekick Spike.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Last year’s winner was a group of 5 young men from Puerto Rico who could really bring it. And last night’s “premiere” featured 10 groups from across the nation ranging from a high school group from Ohio to a jazz group from Seattle to a gospel group from Alabama.
What I like about this show is that it’s all about the music. It’s all about the harmony. And yes, there are soloists who may or may not be narcissistic divas but what we see and hear is the music not the melodrama of a Rachel or Puck or Shue.
I sat for 2 hours enthralled. I have always loved vocal ensemble music, especially performed a capella. I spent many years singing in groups in high school, college and as an adult in church choirs, barbershop choirs and quartets and even a Victorian type Christmas ensemble doing a capella tight harmonies.
Doing this right takes something that is rarely, if ever, shown on Glee. It takes a lot of work. It takes practice and conditioning the diaphragm, vocal chords and ear. It’s all about achieving synergy and ultimately performing the music, not just singing it. I've sung in enough groups in my life to appreciate the constant tiny adjustments each singer makes to key off their fellow singers, stay in pitch and create something memorable.
That’s what I love about this show. It shows the results of all that.
Now given that it’s a competition, it has to have judges. And a la American Idol it has three. But their musical expertise goes beyond Randy and Paula and Simon. Ben Folds is a composer, arranger and leader of the Ben Folds Five—he knows the music. Nicole Scherzinger was lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls and serves as the fluffy female Paula-esque warm and fuzzy judge. And Shawn Stockman is in Boyz II Men.
The musical acumen of especially Folds and Stockman is incredible. They hear the harmonies beautifully and know the dynamics of music which make for a memorable group a capella performance. Their insights are tremendous. And Nick Lachey who was in 98 Degrees serves as the “host”. He knows something that Ryan Seacrest doesn’t—it’s about the performers, not him.
Yeah, as far as I’m concerned, this is the “real” Glee. This year’s groups includes arguably the “granddaddy” of a capella music, Yale University’s “Whiffenpoofs” (apparently they want to see if they can do better than the 2nd place finish last year of “Beelzebub” from Tufts University). There’s also “Jerry Lawson & Talk of the Town” from Oakland, CA. Lawson was a member of “The Persuasions” for 40 years. (Think the kind of group that is on all the public TV fundraising marathons).
There’s a jazz group from Seattle called “Groove for Thought” which has a decided “Manhattan Transfer” sound; “Street Corner Symphony” from Nashville with a country/rock-a-billy sound and “Committed” from Huntsville, Alabama which is a gospel group performing pop “a capella” for the first time.
So, I’m like the group from Huntsville—committed. This is a great way to spend the evening. Great harmonies and vocal music without the drama. The finals will be Christmas week rather than dragging out the competition for 4 months
Give it a try. The next installment is Wednesday night. There are 8 groups left. If you like this kind of music, you’ll love “The Sing Off”.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
All that came crashing down around me the other day.
It was a Saturday morning. A Saturday morning when I had to go to work for a 10 hour shift. I got done in the bathroom doing my usual “3-S’s” (guys will know what that is) got dressed and went to the kitchen to rummage around for breakfast. I opened the pantry and reached up to where I keep the cereal.
“Hmmmm,” I thought, “I’ll finish off the Faux O’s.” (For those uninitiated into the world of Cheap Bastid, “Faux O’s” are fake/storebrand Cheerios). I pulled out the Faux O’s along with “mega-bowl” from the cupboard and poured the cereal into the bowl. There was only about a third of a bowl’s worth. Now that would have filled up a normal sized bowl but not mine.
“Hmmmm,” I thought again. “What should I do now?” I looked back up into the pantry. Nothing in there but a box of Honey Bunches of Oats and Captain Crunch—both of which were bought on special recently at for $1.99. (I thought that in keeping with my Cheap Bastidliness that I should explain why I’ve got “namebrand” cereal in the pantry). “Naw,” I thought, “That won’t go with Faux O’s.”
So, I saw a stack of those individual little mini-boxes of cereal that we used to think were cool when we were kids. OK, we thought the packages that had Sugar Pops and Sugar Crisp were cool but Mom always bought the package that had the Corn Flakes and Special K rather than the good stuff. Seems like I always got stuck with the All-Bran.
Anyway, so I had a stack of about 8 of those little boxes that I get free every once in a while as a promo stuffed into the bag with my daily newspaper. “Why not,” I thought. So I looked at what I had. There was Honey Nut Cheerios and Multi-Grain Cheerios. “OK, we have a winner.”
I pulled down a box of Honey Nut, opened it and dumped it into my bowl. Still not enough—either they’re putting less into those little boxes or my bowl’s a lot bigger than I thought. So I pulled down a boxlet of Multi-Grain and dumped it in. Still a little meager but it’ll do. I poured on some milk, grabbed my big spoon and plunged in.
“Bleeeeeeech!” (think Snoopy giving his opinion to of a lousy supper to Charlie Brown).
It wasn’t like cardboard, it was more like eating a bowl of cellulose insulation. Soft, spongy with some honey taste to it. Really, really horrible stuff. I mixed up the bowl of cereal trying to make sure that the stuff from the big box was thoroughly incorporated with the stuff from the little boxes. Didn’t work. I ended up dumping half the bowl down the disposal.
I fished one of the boxlets out of the garbage can. Hmmmmm, yep there’s an expiration date. I adjusted my bifocals to read it easier.
And I thought this cereal would survive either the “big one” (SoCal earthquake) or nuclear armegeddon, but I guess not.
What’s the moral of this? Hell, I don’t know. Unless it’s sometimes a Cheap Bastid can out-cheap himself. But, there’s still a half dozen of those little boxes left. Hmmmmmmm.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
But then again, we don’t buy a whole bird. Nope, there’s just the 2 of us—plus Carolyn’s Mom and brother and daughter Megan for Thanksgiving. Enough for a bird—but I get a whole turkey breast instead. Lots easier, and everyone seems to prefer white meat anyway. (Actually we’ll get 2 to make sure we can send Mama Stella home with a whole “lobe” of breast for left overs and so that we’ll have plenty of leftovers too). Now, that’s decidedly un-Cheap Bastardly but, what the hell, it’s Thanksgiving.
I’m looking for the Dolly Parton of turkey breast. Triple-D’s! Or bigger.
Then when I cook it on Thanksgiving, I’ll put it on the grill. I set up a “2-zone” fire with one burner turned off and the other burner set as low as it’ll go. This will let me cook that breast (in a foil pan with a small rack under it) to perfection in about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes. And that leaves the oven available for all the other baked dishes.
And let me tell you, there’s something sensual in mixing up a couple of sticks of softened butter with garlic and chipotle and thyme and rosemary. Then slowly peeling the skin back on that breast and sliding your fingertips under the skin—kind of like how you always fantasized about sliding you hand under your girlfriend’s blouse to caress and fondle…oops, nevermind, that’s getting just a little bit weird.
Anyway, you have to season the meat. The meat is under the skin. So you’ve got to either stick your hand in there with the butter/seasoning mix or scoot a table spoon under there and squish it off through the skin. And all I do to the skin is a thin skim of cooking oil and then sprinkle some of the seasoning on it.
We’re all out there on a quest to find the perfect bird. Full-breasted. A bird that sings to us—“Hey, big spender!” A bird that our fantasies tell us should look like this.
Except I can’t buy it today. All the cooking shows and recipes say that you should thaw your bird out in the refrigerator. Now, how many people—other than 22 year old guys living in an apartment with a full size fridge with the only thing in the fridge being 8 beers, a third of a left over pizza and a half eaten sub sandwich—have enough room in their fridge for a whole bird to sit there for 2 or 3 days thawing? I sure don’t.
Actually I came up with a solution to that a few years ago. Ice chest! Just put the bird in it, close the lid and let the bird thaw. If need be you can add a bag of ice to maintain the thawed temperature.
So, here’s my idea of the perfectly cooked turkey breast. If I can get it off the grill looking like this I know that we’re going to have some great eating, some great leftovers and some great stock when I cook down the carcass the day after Thanksgiving.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Part of it is because I thought that flour is cheap, baking powder is cheap, milk is cheap and lard is cheap too. Yes, I said lard. Cheap Bastid is becoming a lard fan. It’s without doubt the “fat” of preference in all sorts of baking and even better, it’s cheap—a lot cheaper than shortening and cheaper than butter. Sure it’s fat but so what. I’m not using a whole lot at any one given time and the taste and texture is fantastic. Besides I get it for $.98 lb at the grocery store and it takes 1/3 cup to make a dozen biscuits.
The holidays aren’t my sole reason to try baking biscuits. There are several. Bacon has gotten so damned expensive that I recently broke down and bought a big tube of Jimmy Dean sausage—the long, fat 3 pounder that you slice through the plastic casing just like I remember my Mamaw and also my Dad doing with the farm sausage wrapped in cheesecloth and hung in the smokehouse on the farm in Kentucky for several weeks.
Anyway, the 3 lb. tube of Jimmy Dean was $2.21 a pound. Bacon is now $4 a pound. I can do that math. Ground pork versus pork from a pig’s belly. So what, they’re both good. But, the sausage patties really beg to be fried up and served on a homemade, hot buttered biscuit.
And the other reason. Baking is relaxing. It’s also precise. It takes me back in time when that was the only way to get biscuits. And yeah, a batch of biscuits cost less than a dollar to make and Cheap Bastid likes that. I’m actually having some fun working on getting the technique down—a technique that my Mamaw would never have considered “technique”; she just knew how to do it.
Mamaw’s Country Biscuits
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup lard or shortening
2/3 cup milk
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt (if you want to add just pinch of baking soda go ahead and add it now). Cut in the lard until the mixture resembles small peas. You can use a pastry blender or a fork. (Note: I keep the lard in the freezer and then cut ¼ “ slices and dice them). Gently add the milk and stir with a fork to make a soft dough. Put a bit of flour on your hands and form the dough into a round.
Turn this biscuit dough onto a lightly floured surface. Use the palm of your hand to pat it down to about the size of a sheet of paper. Then fold it like a letter into thirds and press it down. Now you can either roll or pat out the dough until it’s about 3/8 inch thick. Use a floured biscuit or the edge of a glass (about 3” in diameter) to cut out your biscuits and put them on an ungreased cookie sheet about 1” apart.
When you’ve used up the dough, form it back into a ball, press to 3/8” and cut some more out—now these won’t be quite as flaky, but that’s OK because you’re getting more biscuits. You should get about a dozen biscuits. Put the cookie sheet of biscuits in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for about 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.
(my 2nd batch ever--hot, flaky, golden homemade biscuits)
And that’s it! Get ready for goodness. Serve these at your Thanksgiving meal. In fact, double the recipe because you’ll want plenty. If you’ve never made scratch biscuits before, here’s a couple of tips that I learned the hard way:
1) Once you put your liquid in and stir, you can’t add more liquid—the dough will turn to paste. You can make drop biscuits out of this but you can’t really work the dough or cut the biscuits.
2) Practice at least once before you want to serve them for Thanksgiving or Christmas. That will help you get your timing down and learn just how little you have to work this dough to make flaky, tasty biscuits.
And, don’t just do these for Thanksgiving. It only takes about a half hour to make these from the time you start until you’re pulling them out of the oven. Bake ‘em for breakfast. Use them in biscuits and country sausage gravy. Make a biscuit, sausage patty and fried egg breakfast sandwich. It’s tastier and a lot cheaper than McDonald’s or Jack In the Box or Carl’s, Jr.
But most of all, getting your hands and heart involved in your cooking is a great thing to do. It’s the way food is supposed to be and you can be proud of your accomplishment. And besides, I know that Mamaw is up there in heaven, smiling down and saying “Bless your little heart”, which was her favorite saying.
That’s the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Good. Eat Cheap. Be Grateful!
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
But anyway, some things change just a bit when you’ve got another female in the house. Especially in the bathroom. Here’s an example:
Now, please notice that there are 11 bottles of “stuff” sitting on the tub plus a razor, puffy thing, jar of stuff, brush and 2 bars of soap—a white one and a green one. The green bar of Irish Spring is the only thing of mine in the whole damn tub! I use that to shower. I use it to wash my hair and, yep to clean my “rungi schmelli”.
That’s OK. It’s the price of being the only male in a 3 person household.
But, one thing I noticed the other day is that the already copious consumption of toilet paper has increased exponentially (even though Meg is gone most of the time). I mean, geesh, we bought a package of a dozen rolls 2 weeks ago and another dozen pack last week because it was on special. Now, that would have been enough to last me maybe a month or more.
But I had to break out a new roll the other day right in the middle of taking care of my “business” and it was the last roll in the vanity. So when I got done in the bathroom—making sure to put the new roll on in just exactly the position of paper over the top that my wife insists on rather than the more manly under the bottom—I first made a stop in the hallway linen closet to grab a few more rolls (no man wants to endure the ire of a spouse who has run out of toilet paper with no replacement rolls readily available—i.e. able to be grabbed without having to rise from the “throne”).
So, I made a “pit stop” at the linen closet. And 2 things happened. The first was that immediately upon opening the door, a package of Kotex high up in the closet shifted and rained about a dozen of the plastic wrapped packs of sanitary napkins on my head. Upon looking, I noticed that these were a different brand than that usually purchased by Carolyn at Costco. No, her’s were pushed on a different shelf.
The second thing I noticed was that what was 2 dozen rolls of toilet paper 2 weeks ago was now down to about a half dozen rolls. Geez, are these 2 going out tee-peeing while I’m at work or something?
So I loaded a few rolls in my hands and stacked them in the bottom of the vanity for the next time I have to go in and do a little “reading”. And then I picked up the dozen or so Kotex which had rained on my head when I opened the linen closet the first time.
I think we’ll get by, but it reminded me of the famous quote from Robert Frost in “The Death of the Hired Man”: “Home is that place where when you have to go there, they have to take you in...”
…Just as long as no one finds my stash of Irish Spring.
I did just a bit of research recently and found that Campbells created Cream of Mushroom soup in 1934 and the recipe for Green Bean Casserole featuring Cream of Mushroom soup was “invented” in 1955 in the Campbell’s Soup Kitchen as a way of promoting use of their products.
Well, with that tidbit of history, let me just say that I have never, ever cared for anything made with “cream of whatever” soup. It’s bland. It’s ugly.
So, last fall I set out to come up with a different way of making a Holiday green bean casserole that tastes good and looks good. It took a bit of experimentation and researching multiple recipes. But I came up with one that works for me. It combines the natural goodness of green beans with a few ingredients that, to quote Emeril, “kick it up a notch”.
Give it a try. And let me know if you like it.
Cheap Bastid’s Mushroom Soupless 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 an 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!
Thanksgiving is just around the corner—although it’s kind of hard to tell with all the Christmas advertising that’s going on and it seems that Thanksgiving has evolved into “the day before Black Friday. So, I thought that I’d share a couple of recipes with you now just in case anyone wants to give it a try. But first, a little story about Thanksgiving:
The first Thanksgiving dinner I cooked was 27 years ago this year. Since then, I’ve tried to cook it each year or to cook at least a portion of this celebratory feast. The reason is simple, it’s my way to celebrate my daughter’s birth.
Susan was born on the Sunday before Thanksgiving in 1983. The funny part is that my wife went into labor on Saturday and we spent the entire evening timing contractions while I peeled 50 pounds of potatoes for a holiday lunch the next day at church (I was too stubborn to rely on “fake” instant potatoes and insisted on “real” mashed potatoes).
Anyway, Susan was born on Sunday morning and came home from the hospital Wednesday afternoon in the middle of an Iowa snowstorm. Our house was heated by fuel oil and as fate would have it, we ran out and the house was without heat. I called the oil company and was promised a quick delivery. In the meantime, I started a fire in the fireplace and put Susan’s bassinette in front of it.
She snoozed the afternoon away, snug and warm oblivious to the weather or to the lack of heat. A couple hours later, I called the fuel oil company back and inquired when they might be arriving. I also told them that we were out of oil and had just brought Susan home from the hospital. The response was, “Well why didn’t you say so, I’ll make sure that you’re next.” We had a full tank within the hour. That’s the blessing of living in a town of 6,000.
We were planning on not doing a Thanksgiving dinner that year but I got to thinking. “If there were ever a time to truly give thanks wouldn’t it be in celebration of the birth of a child?”
So I called my Mom for advice. Mom’s not the world’s greatest cook but she gave me a couple of tips for putting together a makeshift Thanksgiving dinner. The turkey was a boned and pressed one which didn’t take much effort to slap into the oven. Stuffing was packaged as were the sweet potatoes and cranberry relish. The gravy was jarred but the potatoes were real, peeled and boiled. Lastly, the pie was frozen.
Over the years, my cooking of this feast has gotten a lot more involved and sophisticated. But, each year, I take time to not only be thankful for all that life has provided but also for that special little girl in my life who, even at age 27, is still “Dad’s girl”.
Cheap Bastid’s Incredibly Fantastic and Simple Corn Bread & Sausage Stuffing
1 lb breakfast sausage (regular or spicy—I like spicy)
1 cup diced celery
1 cup chopped dried apricots
1 large chopped granny smith apple
2/3 cup diced green onion
2 cans reduced sodium turkey/chicken broth
Make the corn bread according to directions in a 9 x 9 pan (you can do this the night before too). Brown the sausage in a medium skillet. Drain and set aside.
Chop all the vegetables. Now, dump everything but the corn bread in a big bowl and stir it up. Add some black pepper (plus I like some chipotle too). Crumble up the corn bread and add to the bowl and mix in. Then slowly add one can of the broth and stir everything together. (You’re looking for the right consistency here—not too dry and not too moist). If you pick up a handful, it should clump and feel damp but not feel wet. If it’s not moist enough, add about 1/3 of the 2nd can then test again. You shouldn’t have to add all of the 2nd can—maybe half at the most.
When you’ve got it the right consistency, test for flavor. You should get some spice, some meatiness, some sweet and just a little kick on your tongue. Adjust your seasoning if needed.
Put into a baking/casserole dish and either use a glass cover or a foil cover.
Put into the oven at 350 for an hour covered. Then uncover it and let it go another half hour. Check it then and remove if done or give it a bit more time. Enjoy it with your Thanksgiving bird!!
Like most of my recipes, this is country/southern inspired. It’s the result of trial and error over the years of developing it until I’ve got it down. Many of my recipes I know by heart and just throw a little of this and a little of that into it from memory. But I only cook this a couple of times a year and so I use the recipe.
Give this a try and then send me a PM to let me know how it went and if you’ve got any suggestions for making it better.
In the next day or so I’ll post another dish for the Holidays—Mushroom Soupless Green Bean Casserole! It’s another Cheap Bastid original.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
But that’s not what I’m scribbling about today. My beautiful wife just brazenly went into the bedroom to sleep with another man. She does is pretty much every day whether I’m home or not. Sometimes I get just a bit jealous. Who’s she sleeping with? Here’s a hint:
Yep, she’s sleeping with Lenny. Now, I’m about 10 years older than my wife. But she’s got this thing for Lenny. Always has. It must have something to do with that basset hound look that he always had and that rumpled, 20 year out of style fashion sense of his.
She’s not into Green other than as the ideal partner for Lenny—she never did like Benjamin Bratt somehow finding him too far beneath Lenny and his street smart, “been there forever and seen everything” demeanor.
Now I do have to admit that she’ll also go to bed with Lupo and Bernard but mainly because they’re like little kids needing the adult supervision of “the Loo”. She called them “the scruffy guys” and loved it when S. Epatha Merkerson as “the Loo” told them to shave because the look “just doesn’t do anything for me”. She liked their chemistry and we actually kind of miss that the show got summarily cancelled just when it was getting pretty good again.
So, Carolyn goes and sleeps with Lenny just about every afternoon. I know that he’ll get her to take a snooze with his sarcasm and with the absolute sense that he’s going to “get his man”.
Don’t I get jealous? Maybe just a little. Except when it’s my day off. Then I might be in there with her before Lenny comes on (if you know what I mean).
And besides, I really get the impression that my wife isn’t the only one with a “Lenny Fetish”. She’s in there sleeping with him now. She always gets up from a nap feeling rested when she’s been sleeping with Lenny.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Dear Mrs. Freshley and Dollar Tree,
(For those who are not aficionados, Buddy Bars are delectable chocolate covered wafers with a peanut butter center. They’re tasty, and cheap—or they were).
So anyway Mrs. Freshley and Dollar Tree, I took my new box of Buddy Bars to work. Later on I grabbed the box to open it. The contents were sliding around inside the box. Hmmmpf, I harrumphed to myself, “What’s up with that?” I opened the box and looked inside. It wasn’t full. It’s always been full before. I checked the outside of the box. It said 8 Buddy Bars. I counted up—4 packages, 2 per package. Yep, that’s 8. But the box has always been full. And I didn’t really think anymore of it. Until I got home.
Well, smack me upside the head. Mrs. Freshley and Dollar Tree pulled a fast one. The box of 8 was still a dollar. But the simple math I learned in 4th grade tells me that the price has actually gone up 50%! (For those of you who say it’s only 33% let me just tell you the simple fact that I used to be able to get a dozen for a buck now a dozen would cost me $1.50. That’s 50%.)
What do you have to say for yourself? Or are you trying to save me from myself and make me eat less? No you’re not. You want me to eat the same amount but spend 50% more. So is Dollar Tree going to become the Dollar and a Half Tree? Or will it be Dollar Tree—Get Less?
Ohhhhhhh Mrs. Freshley, that’s low-down mean and underhanded. And Dollar Tree—you’re the pusher. You push the product and then sneak a box in that has less product.
Of course what the Cheap Bastid does is to compute the price per ounce. My threshold for buying bottled ice tea is 2 cents an ounce. If it ain’t at that price, I don’t buy! And when I buy, I stock up. Drives Mrs. CB nuts but that’s the price of love.
So anyway, Mrs. Freshley and Dollar Tree, I think I got hosed. I think you hosed all your customers and I’m more than just a bit ticked off.
Not going to do anything about it are you? You’re like the cigarette companies—you know you’ve got me hooked. I can quit anytime I like. And I will, just as soon as I wipe the chocolate off my fingers and the wafer crumbs out of my beard.
Very Truly Yours,
Eat Good. Eat Cheap. Be Grateful.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
We eagerly awaited the premier of the new season of “Sons of Anarchy”. Last season they seemed to make a transition from bad-ass motorcycle club to “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight”. We were hoping they’d get back on track this year. But that hasn’t happened.
Ron Perlman continues to play the aging patriarch still able to get vicious when the mood or opportunity strikes but with more than a bit of resignation and with less finesse (if finesse is ever a part of a motorcycle club). And Katy Sagal has essentially turned into a mean bitch who wants to be protective of her “brood” and be a matriarch to her son and his cronies who follow Perlman.
And Jax (Charlie Nunnam) just comes across as a punk. OK, so he’s somewhat justified at being pissed about the kidnapping of his son by the Irish “chapter” of “Sons of Anarchy” but he weeps and wails and screams and shouts and really doesn’t accomplish much. But he now seems to be the lead character. Maybe that’s because he’s young and Perlman and Sagal are “old” and the show wants to skew to a younger, grittier image.
One line in last night’s show that I liked was at the end of a stand-off in a house turned drug lab. A group of local no-good-nicks were trying to force their way in, shooting the house up. Members of the Sons of Anarchy were barricaded inside with the woman running the lab and holed up in the actual lab. A cell phone call summoned the rest of the club who arrived like an old style posse except on their bikes all pointing weapons on the now badly outnumbered “locals rednecks” who were marching the club members out of the house at gunpoint (in reality wouldn’t they have just killed everyone and then made off with the drugs?). The locals give up and drop their weapons.
One of the bad guy locals asks one of the Sons of Anarchy something like, “Hey, how come you care so much?” The club member butt strokes him with his sawed off shotgun and then says, “Because we’re the good guys”. Kind of an interesting perspective.
So, this morning Carolyn and I set about to try to come up with some scenarios which might help this show set in the mythical city of Charming, California.
How about if Perlman (whose Sons of Anarchy owns an automotive repair garage) ends up a member of the Board of Directors of the local Chamber of Commerce. That could be interesting. Going legit; having to occasionally revert to the “old ways” on behalf of the city’s business community.
Or what if Perlman and Sagal had a kid (Jax is Gemma’s son and Perlman’s step son in the show) who was an 8 year old girl into “girly girl” stuff who Daddy has to play tea party with or read books to at night and work to insulate his daughter from the less savory elements of his life/career.
How about normal life? Go grocery shopping and cold-cock a guy trying to rob the store. Have the new pastor of the local church come calling and get surprised and end up as the unofficial “chaplain”.
And one episode I'd really like too see--the "Sons of Anarchy" kicking the crap out of Paul, Sr.; Paul, Jr.; and Mikey of "American Chopper" or vice-versa.
Okay, so I’m not a motorcycle rider. But, one thing I’ve observed is that the bikes the “Club” rides seem to be decidedly “un-hoggish”, even kind of wussy for a group like “Sons of Anarchy”. Where did they get those sissy looking mini-fairings on the front? Not intimidating at all unless you’re a 40-something dude with the money for a “hog” but not the brass to really ride one.
Well let’s put it this way, “Sons of Anarchy” has gone lame. The good news is that it’s on at 10 at night, a time when I normally want to go to sleep. And I don’t even try to make myself stay awake for the whole show anymore. I’ll stay awake for originality and go right to sleep for lame.
Maybe I ought to check out pork futures on the Chicago Exchange or something but that increase is just ridiculous. I’ll just about guarantee that farmer’s aren't getting 75% more for their pork or that the cost of producing bacon at processing facilities hasn’t gone up 75%. Does the price increase have something to do with “foodies” watching every second of “Top Chef” and emulating everything those contestants do? It seems like on the cooking shows that everything is now accompanied by bacon. Or that bacon fat is considered the best flavor in the Western World and used in everything up to and including liquid nitrogen frozen ice cream.
The last bacon we bought was $1.69 a pound. I bought a pound and a half tray of “ends and pieces”. There was about a pound of good slices and about a half pound of trimmings including some almost pure fat and some almost pure ham. But that half pound translated into an incredible Spaghetti Carbonara. These guys are sure making it hard for a Cheap Bastid like me to stay cheap.
So, recently I came across a quickie recipe from one of the websites that send me stuff on food. It’s something I haven’t done in 25 or more years and we liked it so much that we did it again over the weekend this time taking a few requisite pictures for my occasional Cheap Bastid “Show and Tells”.
I’ve loved bratwurst for decades in all its forms and variations. And while this is almost the epitome of the kind of “proletarian” food I’m most fond of, bratwurst takes more than a bit of technique to cook so that it’s tasty and not some tube of charred plumbing pipe slathered with mustard on a bun. To me the “trick” has always been to parboil the brat first and then just to brown them on the grill—keeping the flavor and juiciness of the sausage.
Back in the time when I lived in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin and other parts of the upper Midwest, I’d come across brat patties occasionally—essentially bratwurst without the casing—and from time to time I’d buy some and cook it on the grill. Not too bad, but the “pre-made” patty often got over cooked and dried out just like it’s cased-cousin.
So I recently stumbled on an incredible solution. Make your own patties! Those looser, less precisely shaped patties that you make by rolling the meat into a ball and then pressing it into a patty with your hands. It’s looser and, like ground beef, makes for a better, tastier patty.
Here’s the “recipe”.
Cheap Bastid’s Brat Burgers
1 lb bratwurst or ground pork
1 can sauerkraut
Your favorite burger buns
If using brats, slit the casings, remove the meat and throw out the casing. If using ground pork dump it in a bowl and then add salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste (or look up bratwurst seasoning online—spice recipes I found used salt, white pepper, mace, marjoram, caraway seed and onion powder). Form patties (I like a 5 to 6 oz. patty).
Dump the sauerkraut into a pan you use on the grill (or you can heat it on the stove or in the microwave). When grill is hot, put the patties on it & flip after about 3 minutes. Put the pan of kraut on at the same time. Two flips (a total of 6-8 minutes) should be enough.
You’re looking for a nice crust on the outside with a middle that’s hot and juicy.
Put the patty on the bun, squirt with mustard, slather a good thick layer of kraut on top and add some onion. Now, enjoy! We like to accompany this with a can of cheap beans doctored up with spices and some heat.
It’s that simple. And this is surprisingly good. Really flavorful. The crust creates a great texture to go with the juicy meatiness inside. The kraut mixes in with the meat a lot better than when the meat is still in a casing. It’s an instant Octoberfest in your mouth! I’m salivating just thinking and writing about it.
The Cheap Bastid Test: Well, the best brat prices I can typically find at the grocer are $2.50 a lb. on sale. Ground pork is $2.99 a lb. I’ve done them both ways. For us, a total of 3 brats made into 2 patties is about right as is about 2/3 lb. of ground pork. So, we spent about $2 for meat and a whopping $.89 for sauerkraut and about $.25 for the buns and a buck for the beans. So, all total, the price was $4.14. That’s not bad.
That’s the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Good. Eat Cheap. Be Grateful.
Friday, October 1, 2010
It’s going on 100 days now that the State has been without a budget. OK, so let’s take a pause here to consider how the rest of this is going to go: Do I degenerate it into the profanity laced rant, which those wonderful guys and gals elected to the Legislature in Sacramento so thoroughly deserve? Or do I remain somewhat academic and philosophical, staying above the putrid political parsimony? I’m not sure yet.
Oh, to hell with it. Here’s the bottom line: The State of California is without a budget. It’s been 100 days. The amount of budget deficit the Legislature and Governor have to close is $19 billion. No progress has been made. The longer it goes the worse it gets. And no one seems to care in Sacramento. There is absolutely no thought or consideration given to the citizens and taxpayers of this state. Elected officials apparently couldn’t care less about the needs of the citizens and taxpayers of this state.
And the media devotes scant attention. There was a story in the paper today (San Diego Union Tribune) which was one column wide and maybe 8 inches long on about page 6. Of course the amount of attention given to Meg Whitman’s “scandal” of having employed a domestic worker who may be an illegal immigrant garnered plenty of front page attention.
You know, California has a long tradition of referred measures showing up on the ballot on all manner of different issues. I can think of 2 which might be more than welcome.
The first would be the “None of the Above” Amendment to the State’s Constitution. All State and local elections would require an additional option and box for each position on the ballot. That would be an option to vote for “None of the Above”. If “None of the Above” wins, then that contest would have to start over again from scratch. None of the candidates who were on the ballot could run for the office again in that election. Just a thought. When I think of choosing between Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman, I crave and yearn for a “None of the Above” option.
The other is a throwback to something that was a legislative tradition for decades in both the 19th and 20th centuries in many states. It would be the “Cover the Clock” law. If the Constitutionally mandated date for a balanced budget is not achieved the clock in the chambers of the legislature will be covered at 11:59 p.m. on the deadline date. That way the clock, officially, does not move.
Date and time are legally frozen until the members of the Legislature perform their duty. Oh, by the way, that also means that the budget for the Legislative branch stops at that point in time too. Legislators do not get paid. They do not get their car allowance. Their staffs do not get paid. And so forth. Let the Legislature be the first to sacrifice for its own intransigence and incompetence.
The bottom line, quite frankly, is that these people just really, flat out, don’t care. It’s all about power and the trappings of the office rather than safeguarding “the people’s” money and providing the best public service at public expense possible. By the way, I’m totally OK with the idea that you might think that naïve. And, finally it seems that lameduck Governor Arnold Swartzenegger has pretty much given up. He ran for the office to clean up Sacramento and bring fiscal responsibility back to California’s government and has dismally failed. He’s neither brokering nor leading an effort to solve an impasse or to create the prudent fiscal policy that California’s dire economic straits require.
Monday, September 20, 2010
Well, last week was a busy week at work. I wasn’t home for dinner until Friday evening. My beautiful bride, Mrs. CB informed me that we needed to use up the corn which had been sitting in the fridge for a week. So OK, it’s going to be a sweet corn weekend. Great. We both love sweet corn.
So we proceeded to eat up all the sweet corn. Every day for 3 days. But hey, we both love sweet corn. We boiled it and we broiled it. I even offered to make corn fritters but Mrs. CB prefers it still on the cob. And even though it was starting to get just a bit old, it was sure good; still sweet, still juicy. I like mine roasted with some charring on the kernels, Mrs. CB wants me to just show hers to the grill to warm it a bit.
The morning after snarfing down sweet corn you just gotta love the heady aroma of “Neutra-Air” spray wafting out of the bathroom.
Sweet corn season will be over pretty soon. And it’ll be 6 months before there’s anymore. We have to enjoy it while we can—and while it’s at a Cheap Bastid price.
When it’s all gone, here’s the only “sweet corn” we’ll have for a while: