Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Perfect Dinner for a Cold, Cold Winter Night

It has been really, really cold lately here in Michigan.  For people in other parts of the country or world, who may not know what "really, really cold" is, I'm talking about real temperatures below zero.  That's Fahrenheit.  That kind of cold doesn't stay outdoors.  It seeps into your house and, if it goes on long enough, it can seep into your soul.  Okay, that was just cheesy, but that's the way it feels sometimes.  And those sometimes are the perfect time for a warming meal like pictured above:  hearty corn and potato chowder, fresh whole wheat bread with butter and/or homemade strawberry freezer jam, a pleasant taste reminder that summer will return someday.  I could just tease you with the picture, like some people's blogs, but I'm nicer than that.  Plus, this blog about thrifty living, and this was a really thrifty meal.  I'm not even sure how cheap it was, since the potatoes were from my mom's garden, the corn and strawberries were from the farmers' market when they were peak in season (aka at their cheapest), and a few cups of flour doesn't cost that much.  Quite likely, the most expensive thing in this picture is the butter!  Your results will vary, depending on when/where you get your ingredients (and how many of them you grow yourself...a blog post for another day), but I think all in all, I spent less than $5 for this meal, which fed 3 adults, 3 kids, and there is enough chowder and bread left over for my husband to take to work tomorrow for lunch.  I will warn that this isn't a quick, throw together type meal, since the jam has to be made at least 24 hours in advance and the bread recipe includes several hours of rising time.  The chowder is fairly quick though, if that is all you want.  Without further ado, here are the recipes:


This recipe is adapted from the package insert for Sure-Jell Certo Fruit Pectin, so that's why it calls for liquid pectin.  This makes approximately 4 cups of jam, far more than you'd need for one meal!

1 quart ripe strawberries
4 cups sugar
1 pouch liquid pectin
2 tbsp lemon juice

Wash strawberries and discard stems.  Mash them thoroughly.  Measure exactly 2 cups of mashed strawberries for making jam.  (If you have extra, use them for something else, like strawberry shortcake.)  Stir in sugar.  Let stand 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Mix together the pectin and lemon juice in a separate small bowl.  Add the pectin mixture to the strawberry mixture and stir for at least 3 minutes, or until the sugar is dissolved and no longer grainy.

Immediately fill clean freezer jars or other freezer containers to within 1/2 inch of the top.  Wipe off top edges of the containers and close tightly.  Let stand undisturbed at room temperature for 24 hours.  The jam can be used immediately, refrigerated for up to 3 weeks, or frozen for up to a year.  Let frozen jam thaw in the refrigerator before using.

This recipe is adapted from the book Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, so this recipe will actually make several loaves.

5 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tbsp granulated yeast
3/4 tbsp sea salt
1/4 cup vital wheat gluten
4 cups lukewarm water

Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl (I use a 5 quart ice cream pail with lid, so I can refrigerate it in the same container I mix it up in).  Mix in the water using a spoon.  Use wet hands to get the last of the flour mixed in.  Don't knead! Cover the dough loosely and let rise at room temperature 3-4 hours.  Refrigerate and use within 14 days.

On baking day, dust the top of the dough with flour and cut off a grapefruit sized portion using a bread knife.  Dust the ball with more flour and shape it into a more uniform shape by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all sides .  Elongate the dough ball into an oval and place it into a greased loaf pan.  Cover loosely with a kitchen towel and let it rise for 1 hour 45 minutes.  A half hour before baking time, preheat the oven to 450 degrees, with a broiler tray on the bottom rack.  Right before baking, paint the top of the loaf with water.  Use a bread knife to slash several parallel diagonal cuts, 1/4 inch deep, on the top of the loaf.  Place the loaf in the oven, near the center.  Pour 1 cup of hot water into the broiler tray and quickly close the oven.  Bake for 40-45 minutes.  Let cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes before removing it to cool completely on a rack.


This recipe is originally adapted from an old version of 1,001 Low-Fat Vegetarian Recipes, but my version isn't necessarily low-fat (since I use whatever milk is on hand) or vegetarian (since I usually use chicken stock). This recipe is supposed to serve 4 (but with that hearty bread as a side, you may be able to stretch it out more, even as good as it is!).

2 cups frozen whole kernel corn, thawed, or fresh
1 medium onion, diced
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 cups potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2-3 tbsp flour
1/3 cup water
1 3/4 cups milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Saute corn and onion in oil in a large saucepan until the onion is tender, approximately 5-8 minutes.  Process 1/2 of the vegetables in a blender or food processor (or if you discover after starting the recipe that your blender is broken, like I did yesterday, just omit this step) with the stock until finely chopped.  Return the mixture to the saucepan.  

Add the potatoes and thyme to the saucepan.  Heat to boiling; reduce heat and simmer, covered, until the vegetables are tender, about 10-15 minutes.  Combine the flour in water in a separate container; mix together well.  Add the flour mixture to the soup and return to boiling.  Boil and stir about 1 minute, or until it thickens.  Stir in the milk and cook until it is heated, about 2-3 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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