Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Cheap Bastids Sometimes You Can Be Just Too Damned Cheap

I knew this would happen sooner or later. For a couple of years now I have been reveling in cheapness; celebrating frugality; turning feats of parsimony into heroism. I have become a legend in my own mind.

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

Cheap Bastid's The Bird, Bird, Bird--The Bird is the Word

Today’s the day. I’ve got the day off and then I’m working for the next 6. So today I have to do up my grocery list for Thanksgiving and check out where I can get “The Bird”.

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

Cheap Bastids Thanksgiving Biscuits Mamaw's Way

For years I have been either buying “dinner rolls” for Thanksgiving or baking up a tube or 2 of refrigerated “Grands”. Not bad, but not all that fantastic either. Recently, I started on a quest to come up with the “perfect” homemade biscuit.

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

It's Raining Kotex

I thought that at age 59 I’d be pretty much over this but I guess not. You see, three weeks ago my 21 year old step-daughter moved in with us. That’s no big deal. She works full-time and goes to college part-time. We’ve got a smallish 2 bedroom apartment and Carolyn has always kept her bedroom made up and she’s always spent at least one night a week here—usually on a night when she knows that I’m home and will be cooking.

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.

Cheap Bastids Mushroom Soupless Green Bean Casserole

Garrison Keillor has often included references to Cream of Mushroom soup in his monologues about Lake Wobegon on “A Prairie Home Companion”. According to him, Cream of Mushroom soup is one of the things that Scandinavian Lutherans and Germanic Catholics in his tiny town share in common. It’s a staple in the pantry and used to flavor all manner of “hotdishes” for the family table and the never ending church potlucks of the Upper Midwest.

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!

Cheap Bastids Thanksgiving Cornbread and Sausage Stuffing

(Note: I shared this story and recipe last year and thought I’d publish again with enough time for you to make plans to give it a try).

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

2 boxes Jiffy corn bread mix
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

My Wife Sleeps With Lenny

Today’s my day off. And it’s really hot here in Vista, CA today. Try 99 degrees. Thank goodness we had some rain recently or there would definitely be some fires in this first real Santa Anna of the year.

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.