Backyard Gourmet III: Backyard On A Budget
edited: Monday, October 10, 2005
By E D Detetcheverrie
Rated "PG13" by the Author.
Posted: Sunday, October 09, 2005
Become a Fan
2 can dine especially well for only $50 a week!
Yeah, it's okay...I've had plenty of people express utter disbelief when I've told them what our grocery bills run. The catch, I suppose, is that neither Em nor I usually consume breakfast, both of us eating one decent meal a day, perhaps with a snack. But don't be disheartened! Our methods should still help you lower your own bills if you're willing to make some adjustments to your purchasing and cooking manners.
Only on very rare occasions do I ever pay more than $2.00 a lb. for any meats we consume, and we mainly consume fresh meats--seldom canned or pre-frozen. Thus, our diet includes such delights as chicken wings prepared with a variety of spices and/or sauces, London broil, steamship round, whole racks of ribs, cubed veal, whole smoked chickens and turkeys, the occasional crab or other seafood, Polynesian and Jamaican pork roasts, German braised pork chops, grilled glazed chicken breast halves...all this at less than $2.00 a pound? Yup. How do we do it?
First of all, never plan menus in advance. When we shop, we check out the meat specials and buy whatever's in our price range--including large "family" or "value" packs or monster-sized cuts of meats which we then cut down to portions to suit us, freezing the rest. A giant $30 roast can be cut into a couple of smaller roasts, a few thick steaks, and even leftover chunks for stew or julienned for Chinese dishes. Whole turkeys and chickens can feed us for days, and entire birds are always less expensive than pre-seperated parts. Once we've selected our meats, we then decide what we'd like to accompany them with, and this decision is also influenced by what fresh produce is on sale (I hate frozen veggies) or what goodies I can find at our local scratch-n-dent shop.
Yes, I know some scratch-n-dent stores are rather...uncouth, and I've learned my lesson with them: Never buy pastas, rice, cereal, microwave popcorn, mayonnaise, creamy dressings or medicines from them. However, when I happen to spy an imported tin of brie, or a sealed jar of Amish apple butter, mincemeats, LeSeur baby canned vegetables, six dollar gourmet Angus beef sausages for two bucks a package, a hard to find type of tea, or baked taro root chips...ah! then I know how fortunate I am to have such a place within walking distance of my tiny abode!
A little heads up for those of you who don't take cooking or dining as seriously as I do... genuine Angus beef comes from herds of Angus cattle, and only the best 10% cuts from each animal are actually labeled "Angus". When you're eating "Angus brand" meat or other misleading items, you're usually just getting grossly overcharged for regular ol' American beef with a fancy name stuck on it. Angus is not just pricey and not just especially good...it actually tastes DIFFERENT than regular beef, and not because of the way it's been prepared by some chef. When you've had the real thing, you will always be able to discern the difference and know who's lying to you.
But I digress...
Any-a-hoo, I happened to have two .75 lb., 2 inch thick London broil steaks marinating in the 'fridge this weekend, and Em claimed not to be hungry enough for them after our jaunt to a local Oktoberfest celebration, but I refuse to marinate beyond three days (nor less than!) so I told her I'd cube them into rice or something we could easily heat up later whenever we got hungry. Then she spoke to me those three little words that always make my spine tingle with delight..."Make us stroganoff!" Ahh! Rich, dreamy, succulent beef stroganoff! I'd grilled London broil the previous weekend and served it with mushrooms in a stroganoff sauce, so now she wanted the real thing--and this early in the season, too! Generally, I consider this French-created Russian dish hearty and excellent wintertime fare, but I could not resist the challenge! "I'll need mushrooms," I announced thoughtfully. "They're on sale at Publix right now...and more sour cream..." The dish is usually paired with pasta or rice--particularly broad egg noodles or linguini--but I still think I might have a wheat allergy, so I decided to run with a blend of rice and barley. I picked up a bag of yellow onions at a local produce stand, and then I began to improvise, working sans a cookbook net, relying on memory to guide me through this simple and inexpensive entree.
3.5 c water
1 c barley
1 box Zatarain's garlic & herb rice
16 oz. sour cream
1 stick butter
1 lb. sliced mushrooms
2 large garlic cloves
2 yellow onions
1.5 lbs. marinated London broil
Put water in large pot with lid. Dump in barley and rice mix. Bring to boil. Meanwhile, saute onions and thinly sliced garlic in .5 stick butter 'til tender. Add mushrooms and remaining butter, saute 'til soft and darkened. Dump into rice/barley mixture. Slice steak as thin as possible, .25 inch or less against the grain. Saute in skillet 'til browned on both sides, sprinkling well with pepper, nutmeg and paprika, splash with about seven hits of soy sauce, then dump in pot with onions. Boil, cover, simmer 20 minutes. Add sour cream and stir over low heat until well mixed. Correct seasoning with sea salt and pepper if necessary.
The London broil was originally a huge cut, well over five pounds, on sale for $1.99 a pound, which I then portioned into smaller steaks and marinated, two at a time in Ziplock bags. I froze what we weren't going to eat immediately. The meat I used in this particular recipe soaked for three days in a few hits of soy sauce, assorted pepper blends, crushed red pepper, a dash of oregano, and whatever else I thought might go well with meat when I dumped it in the bag. I rarely make the same dish twice due to my spur of the moment methods, but my goodness! we're never bored with the results! The stroganoff, by the way, will probably make enough to feed two people nicely for three or more days. Just add a hit of water or milk before reheating to desired creaminess. Traditional stroganoff usually calls for a touch of red wine and a tablespoon or two of tomato paste, but you won't miss it here.
That was Saturday. Sunday I decided to smoke a whole turkey. It didn't stay in the paper too well and the additional 7% broth solution they add now makes it sputter when you try to light it...no, no, no...do not try to roll and smoke a turkey doobie. And if you're already high enough to try it, then you're well beyond help, my little toasted friend.
Anyways, if you've been following these insightful and ego-lifting cooking articles, then by now I hope you've acquired a water smoker and have begun experimenting. If not, you can smoke using a gas grill or even a wok (if you have a wok big enough to roast a whole turkey, I'd be impressed!) but I'm not telling you how because you're already on the Internet, so you can just look up the instructions like I did. Smoked turkey is pretty pricey if you get one already done for you, but after learning how easy and economical it is to do your own, I doubt you'll ever consider purchasing a pre-smoked one again.
CAJUN SMOKED TURKEY
1 whole turkey 12 lbs. or less
1 bag mesquite wood chunks
mesquite BBQ briquettes
several pieces of oak small enough to fit in the fuel bowl of your smoker
.5 stick butter
a few healthy sprigs of fresh oregano
Wash bird, remove any feathers and internal organs. Massage with generous handfuls of Cajun spice all over. I start my fire by making an arrangement of oak twigs in the bottom of the smoker, filling a plain paper bag with wood chunks and briquettes, setting the bag on top of the twigs, soaking the whole thing with lighter fluid, goofing off for a minute or two to let the accelerant soak in, then light it and leap backward simultaneously. The bag ignites, then bursts open with an anticlimactic "boof", spilling lit fuel over the twigs. The twigs allow air to circulate beneath the burning debris, nearly always ensuring you won't have to discover for yourself that a second application of lighter fluid can indeed cause fire to leap up along the stream to the unlucky bottle you're squeezing. Yeah, yeah, get on wit it, eh? So you let the fuel burn until the briquettes begin to grey more than just along an edge or corner, then you fill the water bowl with a gallon of water (or tea, juice, wine, broth--but not lighter fluid) and set it atop the base. My smoker has a thermometer in the lid, so I usually set it on top before I place the meat on the cooking rack above the water bowl so I'll know when the temperature is optimal to begin cooking. If you don't have that, God help you. The general rule of thumb with smoking is twenty minutes per pound of meat. The coolest thing about smoking is the water bowl, because if you want to leave the meat in longer because of your acute fear of e.coli and salmonella, the meat will only get juicier! So you put the lid on and never ever remove it until you're ready to eat! Every half hour or so, check the temperature, and if it's low, toss in some more wood chunks or briquettes. An unfortunate oak tree parted ways with us this week, so I was blessed with an abundance of still-"wet" branches. I chose a few about ten inches long and maybe as big around as (you dirty-minded gourmet, you!) Em's wrist, and added them one at a time every hour instead of soaked wood chips. The water in the wood smoked the bird, and then the hot wood dried and caught fire, keeping the heat in the optimal range for me. NEVER use soft woods to smoke--only hardwoods or fruitwoods! Herbs are fantastic for smoking also. Toward the end of the cooking time, I tossed in a few oregano tops from Em's garden. Thus, aside from paying attention to the temperature, once you've set your meat in the smoker you can pretty much ignore it 'til it's done. One of the downsides of smokers--they can sometimes consume a considerable amount of briquettes or wood chunks, and the stink is always trapped in their clothes and hair.
Once the bird is done, the skin will be dark brown and damn near inedible. That's when you take it indoors, lube your hands up with softened butter and massage that thing like a little pre-meal foreplay. The meat will be pink or even red--particularly near the bones--and this is completely normal for smoked meats and not an indication that it's undercooked. Seperate the wings and legs with a sharp boning knife (who knew there were so many sexual innuendoes in the culinary arts?), then carve the bird as thin as you like by slicing through the thickest part of the breast at an angle, following the slope of the meat from the breastbone. The flavor will have penetrated to the bone...and excuse me...I, uh...is it getting kinda warm in here? Whoa...
So, to wrap it up, you've got a tender, juicy, sensuous partner, er, I mean succulent...titillating...well, there's a whole lotta meat to get you and your family through the rest of the week. So that's what? Ten dollars for the steak, ten dollars for the .99 a pound bird, a buck for sour cream, a buck for barley, slightly more for rice, already had the butter and seasoning, a buck for onions, three dollars' worth of mushrooms, always keep fresh garlic on hand, buck for soy sauce...and we've got enough food now to last us 'til payday with leftover stroganoff, turkey wraps, turkey salad, turkey and rice, turkey sandwiches... Neither Em nor I ever come home from work and cook, and almost nothing I cook (aside from smoking) takes longer than half an hour and more than two pans. We do quite nicely on our $50 a week budget, and that includes household items like toilet paper and deoderant and such, too. There's no such thing as spaghetti night, or meatloaf, or tuna casserole here, though we do bring home a pizza maybe once a month and pick up fast food burgers every other week or so.
I apologize if you were hoping this was the highly anticipated Polynesian porking article, but I hope you found it satiating anyway...uh, satisfying... Gee, was it good for you, too? Well, everything but the terrifyingly high cholesterol count in the stroganoff, huh? Stroganoff...that reminds me of a dirty joke...