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Week 3 - Monday - Improvisation

Week 3 - Monday - Baked Chilaquiles and SaladSince I cook from scratch, people automatically ask about the time it takes. But what I do requires some equipment that you may not yet have in your own home.

I buy oils, grains, beans, yeast, dried fruit, pasta, and many other items in bulk. That means that I scoop them out of a large store bin into a bottle, jar or bag, before I buy it. Some people use the plastic bags the co-op provides for that purpose, and at home, some keep their dry goods in that same plastic bag. I have learned not to do that.

Our last apartment had an uninsulated pantry, designed with a little space between the boards to allow for air circulation. I think it was designed for cool storage, though in the summer (in the Mission District) it was a heater.

That apartment was teeny. Once I placed a plastic bag of whole wheat flour into that storage space until I could use it. Of course, a little mouse made his way into that cupboard from the outside and chewed a hole into that bag. Not only that, he made himself a little bed in that bag and lived there. It was probably the best house he ever had. He could sleep in a protected spot, and if he ever got hungry, he could just turn his head and have a nice, wholesome snack.

Now I use canning jars in 1-cup, 1-quart and 2-quart sizes. They aren't too expensive, the glass is non-reactive, and I can see what's in each one. And I like the way they look.

I used to freeze my stock in canning jars, but I had a few incidents where (I believe) the jar lid sealed, causing the jar to break when the liquid inside expanded as it froze. For a while I tried Meg Hourihan's method of portioning stock into ziplock bags before freezing, but I found the bags to be a little harder to clean than I liked. (You may not be surprised to learn that I re-use my bags until they develop holes or the fastener no longer works.)

I have a yogurt maker that I got for Christmas one year. I don't think they make my model anymore, but this basic one is pretty close. Or, Fiasco Farms has a number of suggestions for incubating yogurt without a commercial yogurt maker.

I'm not usually enthusiastic about single-use items (my yogurt maker excepted). I got a new food processor specifically so that I can chop vegetables and knead bread. As it turns out, I use it almost exclusively for the second purpose. It's rarely worth the trouble to set up and then clean the whole unit just to chop a few things. Only if I'm doubling or tripling a batch of something that requires chopping a lot of vegetables do I even think of using a food processor to do it.

I recently bought King Arthur Flour's Whole Grain Baking. For making the best bread they recommend, in this order, a bread-making machine, a standing mixer with a dough hook, and a food processor.

In thinking about how to fit my way of cooking into a more typical 9-5 lifestyle, I've come to realize that a bread maker could be one of the most practical items a home could have. It may do only one thing, but it does it extremely well, there are dozens of reliable, from scratch recipes available, and it can be set to have bread ready when you want it. If you eat a lot of toast or sandwiches—or just like bread with every meal—I think a bread maker would be an excellent investment.

Finally, Jesse uses this lunch container every day: the Zojirushi Mr. Bento Stainless-Steel lined Lunch Jar. It's terrific and big fun, and would be ideal for a Japanese-style lunch that centered around soup and rice. Unfortunately, as much as I love this box, the American-style Bento Box Jennifer McCann uses for her son's Vegan lunches would offer me more flexibility. (She also sometimes uses this 2-Tier Stainless Steel Food Carrier. Think about what you like to eat and choose accordingly.)

By the way, if you like this blog you will love hers.

The weather has turned cool again, and the Weather Underground (I pronounce it "Voon-der-ground", for its URL) tells me it will be so for the remainder of the week. I put the flannel sheets back on the bed.

I have muesli & yogurt for breakfast. Lunch is leftover Barley Soup, a salad, and an orange. Jesse has a snack of peanuts and saves his salad for tomorrow.

Tonight for dinner, I make an improvisational version of Black Bean Chilaquiles from The Greens Cookbook. I will use some of the leftover Lentil Chili—you could use any highly spiced bean mixture, I think—the leftover salsa, the rest of the asparagus, and 5 ounces of Monterey Jack cheese.

Spread a little of the leftover salsa on the bottom of a baking dish and then tear 8 corn tortillas in half. Cover the bottom with the tortillas, placing the straight torn edge against the side of the dish for good coverage. Layer leftover Lentil Chili, about half of the remaining salsa, half of the asparagus (chopped), and half of the cheese. Repeat, ending with the cheese. Cover and place in the oven for 40 minutes.

I don't fry the tortillas as her recipe and many others require. Dishes that are layered onto crispy things can be annoying, messy. With soft tortillas, this dish is like Mexican lasagne. I open a bottle of beer for Jesse, and a new bottle of 2-Buck Chuck's for me, and serve all of it with a salad.

Sunday total: $5.91. Remaining weekly allowance: $55.59.

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It sounds like you're happy with your current setup, but if any of your readers are toying with a breadmaker, I highly reccommend checking out Goodwill and other second-hand shops... especially on the Peninsula and other more-suburban areas outside the City. My mom tells me (and I have seen myself) that she could buy a new bread maker every week just from Goodwill finds.

I'm just ducking in to ask you, Rebecca:

How have you been keeping up with eating all the asparagus in the Terra Firma box?

I can manage the carrots, but the asparagus is really killing me!


Hi, I'd suggest that - before purchasing a bread machine - you try a loaf of 100% whole grain bread made with a machine. I have a Zojirushi, the so-called 'best' bread machine, and it cannot make whole grain bread nearly as well as I can make it by hand. We are not happy with whole grain machine-made bread, and I have never known anyone happy with *whole grain* machine-made bread, no matter what King Arthur Flour may say.

That's a great reason to pick one up on the cheap - to give it a try without too much of an investment. I'm going to start keeping my eye out for a cheap one.

I am thoroughly enjoying your blog. I came across an article in today's Washington Post featuring two congressmen who are participating in the Food Stamp challenge. Kudos to you, them and others who are bringing attention to this huge problem.

The article can be found at:

I have a multi-use bread machine that I bought at a 2nd hand shop very cheaply because it had no instruction book. The manufacturer was happy to supply me with a photocopy free of charge.

Mine makes bread and will also cook jam and marmalade. I don't like sweet foods much but my husband adores the home made marmalade recipe that was in the instruction book.

If you don't want to spend money on a bread machine but you want excellent bread, check out for a no-knead bread recipe. All you need is time. I mix mine right before bed and bake it the following evening in a cast iron dutch oven.

I also created a pumpernickel and rye bread which are much higher in fiber than the white in the recipe at the NY Times. I'd be happy to share those with anyone who is interested.

Google nytimes no knead bread for many more links.

I found freezing stock difficult too, until I tried using my icecube freezer bags (like this one: - worked like a charm, very easy to portion and store.

100% whole wheat bread in Zojirushi bread machine:
Add 2T gluten flour and reset machine after the first kneading to start again. (Develops the gluten strands.) Set machine to "dough only" Bake loaf conventionally in oven...gets a better crust.

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» How did it begin?
» Week 1: Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday | Saturday | Sunday | Photos | Summary: Under budget - $3.20
» Week 2: Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday | Saturday | Sunday | Photos | Summary: Under budget - $13.34
» Week 3: Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday | Saturday | Sunday | Photos | Summary: Under budget - $7.15
» Week 4: Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday | Saturday | Sunday | Photos | Summary: Under budget - $6.41
» Week 5: Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Photos

other food challenges

» Above Average Jane
» The Eat Local Challenge
» The April 2007 Penny-Wise Eat Local Challenge
» Half-Changed World
» Slow Food for Low and Moderate Income People
» Tinotopia's Food Stamp Diet

other food projects

Food is a Munition of War: living for one month on UK WWII rations

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