A forgotten weeknight meal technique

This one used to be part of my repertoire, something I learned from my mom in the 1980s.  It’s actually something that was popularized back when *she* was a kid back in the 50s and 60s.  It takes 30-50 min to make, but most of that time is just rice being cooked (the difference in time is if you’re using white vs. brown rice)… actual prep time at the stove is closer to 10 min depending on how much you want to chop vs just throw in.

We rediscovered it one night when, anxious to make something the kids wouldn’t complain about, we dug out the complete I hate to cook cookbook by Peg Bracken and stumbled upon Doc Marten’s Mix which I’d seen mentioned in the comments of a recent frugal girl post (indeed, I’d dug out the book precisely because the comment jogged my memory).  This is a simple one pot recipe where you fry sausage and green peppers/onions/celery (the New Orleans version of mirepoix), add rice, then water, and cook until the rice is done.

But this simple technique is not limited to Doc Marten’s mix.  It’s anything where you saute veggies and possibly meat, add a cup of rice, two cups of water, and then cook as if it was rice.  I used to have a weeknight chicken cacciatore recipe on rotation (from my mom), which was sauteed chicken, onions, then put in one cup rice, then whatever kind of canned tomato produce we had and water to make 2 cups (or a bit more) of liquid and cook until the rice was done.  There’s another version where I used pork sausage and sage and onions and apples.  And you can do ground beef and tomatoes and onions and chili seasoning.  Or frozen mixed veggies and soy sauce with eggs (for a not at all greasy fried rice when you didn’t have any already cooked rice lying around).

The kids had thirds of the doc martin’s mix and gushed about it even though there were peppers and onions and celery in it.  (Our kids’ pickiness is often unpredictable.)  They were willing to have seconds the next day.  It was unheard of.  (DC2 has since gotten over hir most recent picky stage, but DC1 is still in the middle of it.)

I’m not sure why I forgot this was something I used to do.  Probably because we’ve been doing so much cookbook cooking rather than cooking based on memory and inspiration.  And it just isn’t a technique that’s “in” right now, so it’s not showing up in our books.

What are your favorite weeknight one pot meals?

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Ask the grumpies: How to eat gluten free frugally

We’re totally stealing this question from delagar.

Delagar asks:

I’ve been sick for about six months now. My PCP has no real idea what’s wrong — she thinks maybe a parasite, though two long courses of antibiotics have not really cleared up the issue. Her next move is to send me for (expensive) tests.

These tests will mean $$$, and that will be $$$ out of my pocket, obviously, since my health insurance has a huge deductible. (It’s something like $5000, though I’ll admit I haven’t checked the exact number yet. I don’t even want to know at this point.)

So before I agree to the expensive tests, I’m think I’ll try other things. According to Doctor Google, one other thing that might be wrong is a gluten allergy. I know going gluten-free is very woo, but I’m trying it. It’s better than putting a couple thousand dollars on the credit cards.

On the other hand, my current diet is very gluten-heavy.

So! Recommendations for gluten-free foods?

Cheap gluten free foods, if possible. (Currently I am living on oatmeal, oranges, and potatoes. I can see that this diet will get old fast, however.)

Here’s a thread from when I was allergic to wheat during pregnancy:  https://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/wheat/

Words of wisdom:
Don’t think of it as you *can’t* have wheat things, think of it as you get to try new things you wouldn’t have had before.  (It’s hard, but… )

Non-wheat versions of things that are normally wheat are generally pretty expensive.  There are a lot of inexpensive foods that aren’t “new-American” that never had wheat to begin with.  Focusing on these feels less like deprivation.  (Much like eating things that are naturally sugar or fat free feels less like deprivation than their artificial versions.)

Arepas are one of those new things you should absolutely try.  They’re wonderful.  If you can do cornmeal there are many amazing inexpensive things you can do with it.  Arepas are my favorite.  Super simple to make from scratch too– easier than pancakes.

Most fancy noodles that mimic Italian noodles are expensive.  Cheaper option:  Chinese rice noodles.  These are usually naturally gluten free and they’re kind of like angel hair (and reasonably priced).  They’re better with Asian food than Italian sauces, but they do help with a noodle craving.

When I wanted Italian, instead of rice noodles, I would often use beans.  This didn’t spark joy, but it also allowed me to eat spaghetti sauce with the rest of the family and wasn’t weird like trying the rice noodles.  Polenta is also a reasonable substitute for putting under Italian sauces.

Rice is great.

Veggies and stews and soups are good.  Just don’t focus on the lack of rolls or crackers.

Corn tortillas are helpful– but make sure you read labels and the ones that have no gluten you usually have to double up on (two tortillas) or they fall apart.

Rice cakes with melted cheese on top are pretty good.

Real labels very carefully– wheat/gluten shows up in the oddest places.  Like Worcestershire sauce.  Or frozen sweet potato fries.  (I would throw said object up and be unable to eat it again for another 12-15 months, even after the pregnancy and allergy had passed.)

There are some pretty good and reasonably priced gluten-free toaster waffles out there.  But most other stuff is expensive or yucky (or both!).  Even the best gluten-free pizza (expensive, small, not as good as real pizza) is only good while it is still hot and turns disgusting as a leftover.

For desserts– things naturally made with oats or rice flour tend to be better (and less expensive) than things made with gluten-free mixes.  Almond flour tends to be a bit more expensive (best price for us is TJ’s in the city), but makes pretty good cookies if you need a cookie fix and like chewy cookies.  If you google gluten free oat bars, there are a lot of options that mix oats and peanut butter.  I liked adding jam and chocolate to these kinds of recipes (or you could just flat out make dump cookies, though they are far too sweet for my palate these days).  And, of course, you still have a wide range of fruit and milk desserts available to you.

Larabars, at around a dollar a piece, are ~200 calories of life saving goodness.  I wanted to kiss my OB after she recommended them and I was full for the first time in what seemed like forever.

Good luck!  Restricted diets are no fun, but once you figure things out they become more bearable.

Do you have any advice for Delagar?  Recipes for cheap, easy, gluten-free goodness?

What is your favorite kind of stuffing?

#1:  Stuffing is one of my favorite foods ever.  LOVE it.  I love all kinds.  We just had an amazing fennel and onion stuffing (with whole wheat bread crumbs) in a fancy pork tenderloin dish.  Amazing.

But my favorite stuffing is homemade cornbread stuffing with lots of butter and celery and onions and carrots and apples and either walnuts or pecans (whichever we have).  Delish!  I have been known to make up to four different kinds of stuffing if we have a lot of people to serve.  Sage wheat bread stuffing made with sage wheat onion bread (a recipe from a show that is no longer on PBS about a monk who baked).  Plantation stuffing that has cornbread and wheat bread and rice and takes a while to make.  I’ll add cranberries to another, and then just have one plain (with the standard onion/celery stuff but no additions) for picky eaters.   When I’m out and about I love seafood stuffing and sausage stuffing even though I don’t generally make them myself.

#2:  um, cornbread and andouille sausage?  I’m not a big stuffing fan, honestly.  Seafood is gross and chestnuts are meh.  (p.s.  I hate cooked celery and also wild rice.)

Mmmmm stuffing.

What’s yours?

Premium ice cream has spoiled me for non-premium ice cream

I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

Our local grocery store has been sending us special just for us coupons in the mail, and each time it sends us coupons for various ice creams.  It knows our eating habits well.

Most recently, in addition to the standard pints of fancy boutique ice cream and Haagan-Daaz and Ben and Jerrys, we got a coupon for a half gallon of Bryers.

Back in college Bryers was the best, fanciest ice cream I could afford (mostly vanilla with minimal ingredients– is their vanilla still good?).  A huge step up from the big gallon tubs of generic ice cream my father would bring home when I was a kid.  Since DH and I got real jobs, we generally only get pints of premium stuff (or make our own!).

DH used the Bryers coupon to get a half gallon of Rocky Road.

Readers, it was meh.  Too sweet.  Not rich or creamy enough.  Nothing like the Haagan-Daaz we get.  I had a little and then it sat in the freezer until the children were reminded about it enough times for it to disappear.  DH did not partake other than a spoonful or two.

And I realized– I can not appreciate this thing I used to like because I regularly eat a better version.  Just like I can’t truly appreciate the chocolate of my youth because I’ve had too much high quality single source dark chocolate.  Even my favorite reeses peanut butter cups aren’t as good as the TJ’s knock-offs.

These premium items come in smaller packages too.  So I eat less than I did when we regularly bought the lower quality product because there is less.  Pints instead of half gallons.  Little tubs instead of big bags.

Am I getting more pleasure?  Am I getting less?  Is this healthier?  Is it worse on the family pocket-book?  It is hard to say.

Are there things that access to better products has destroyed for you?  How do you feel about that?

How do you get enough fruits and veggies?

Our local CSA went out of business about a year ago.  That was great for getting more veggies in our diet because we’d get a box of mostly veggies that we would have to use up, so we’d plan recipes around what was in the box.

It’s harder to go the other direction.  We were brought up to plan meals around a meat, so when things get busy that’s the easiest thing to do.  We do pretty well on bananas and apples and whatever fruit is in season because those all make great snacks, but our veggie consumption is way down without the weekly box.

#2 has a subscription to Purple Carrot.  That’s really not a fit for our life since it’s optimized for 2 people and at $12/plate we could get pretty fancy take-out around here.

How do you get fruits and veggies into your diet?

Do you twirl your spaghetti?

And if you do, do you use a spoon to assist with the twirls?

What are your thoughts on cutting spaghetti noodles?  Pro/Con/Ambivalent?

#1:  I twirl but don’t use a spoon. A very small part of me cringes at the thought of cutting spaghetti noodles, but the bulk of me thinks it makes total sense.  This is somewhere around the level of split infinitives for me, maybe some other grammar thing that I don’t do in formal writing myself but don’t mind when others do it.  (I’m pretty sure I occasionally split infinitives in formal writing.)

#2:  Yes twirl, no on the spoon, I think cutting it is wrong but my dad does it (and I continually give him [excrement] for it)

Locally specific manners? Reading at the dinner table edition

Do you let your kids read at the table?  I feel like this used to be impolite but personally, I have no problem with it.  When I was growing up, at home we were allowed to read at lunch (my dad still does).  But we were not allowed to read at the dinner table.

I’m lucky that my parents supported and modeled that reading for fun is a great thing to do.  My dad’s mother was also a big reader, and as a result so are most of her children.  I think it’s ok to read in restaurants and bars (if you can concentrate).  My nightmare is a person who sits on a plane next to me and brings nothing to do except talk.  What did you plan to do for this six-hour flight, just stare into space???

Do you think reading at the dinner table is rude or perfectly ok?

#2 who has kids hasn’t really given this much thought but her kids do read at the dinner table sometimes.  We’re much more informal about meals than we were growing up though and sometimes eat standing up in the kitchen.  #2 also cannot handle the middle-seat chatterbox who has run out of the airplane magazine.  #2 wants to read novels uninterrupted on planes!