Archive | April, 2010

Hunger Awareness Project: Hunger is Unacceptable

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I had a cooking class tonight that I’d scheduled before we started this project so I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk about why I think this project is important.  You might be wondering why I choose to give my time to the Capital Area Food Bank, the driving force between our Austin Food Bloggers Hunger Awareness Project. The simple answer is I believe Hunger is Unacceptable and that it is much too widespread in this country.

You might be sitting in your living room reading this thinking that you don’t know any people who are hungry, but I bet you do. I’m not just talking about the homeless person that you pass on the street, that person is obviously hungry.

What you might not realize is that 1 in 5 adults and 1 in 4 children in Texas don’t know where their next meal is coming from and almost 13% of families in Travis County live below the federal poverty level.

So who’s hungry? It could be your child’s teacher or the person who waits on you at the dry cleaners. Maybe its the checker at the grocery store or the librarian who helps you find the book on the shelf.

There’s a good chance that they child playing next to yours on the playground at Zilker park doesn’t have enough food to eat, not to mention the right food. Over 60% of AISD students are eligible for the free or reduced lunch program.

Or, it could be the elderly man or woman you passed on the street. The elderly are particularly vulnerable to hunger because of their limited income and the effects of hunger on their health is even more poignant.

It wasn’t that long ago that I lived on a very limited budget and had to make choices between buying groceries or paying a bill with the last $10 in my account that month.  Luckily, I have lots of friends and family in town who were willing to feed me dinner and I learned to stretch $10 into a full week of meals.  It wasn’t easy, but I made it work.

Whether you realize it or not, you are surrounded by hunger every day.  With just a small donation, you can make a big difference in the life of that hungry person in your life.

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Hunger Awareness Dinner #3: Beans & Rice

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42819-1After the trauma of the Chicken Helper last night, I rewarded myself tonight with an easy, comforting meal – Beans and Rice.  I didn’t do anything fancy; just a nice big pot of beans that simmered away while I was working in the other room.

Beans and rice remind me of my grandmother.  She used to tell me how she always cooked them on Monday because it was laundry day and she didn’t have to think about it while they cooked.  I didn’t think to cook them on Monday, but I did do laundry while I was cooking so I got it at least half right.

Normally, I would have added a nice smoked sausage, but I didn’t have any today so I relied on the ham hocks to give it flavor.  They did a fine job.I also would normally use an onion, but I was out so I added an extra clove of garlic.  I used some of the chicken stock that I made on Monday and was happy that the chicken has now made its way into two of my meals.

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The pot made 4 big dinner servings and, again, I have leftovers.  This week has definitely reminded me that I don’t know how to cook for one well and my freezer is overflowing as evidence to that fact.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I threw out the Chicken Helper leftovers today.  I had an MSG headache when I went to bed last night and felt gross when I got up this morning, so I tossed them.  I hated throwing out food, particularly something that had good veggies in it, but I just could not eat that again.

Tonight’s meal cost was by far the cheapest so far:
$  .86    1 bag pinto beans
$1.94    1 lb ham hocks
$  .15    3 garlic cloves
$  .07    1 cup rice
$  .83    1 onion (used in the chicken broth)
$  .80    1 serving of mixed lettuce
$  .67    1/3 radishes from bunch
$5.32     Total

I was happy to be reminded tonight how much I love red beans and rice and how something so inexpensive can be so tasty and healthy.  I’m going to have work it back into my cooking rotation on a more regular basis.

42810_3Beans & Rice
1 lb pinto beans
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 tsp cayenne
2 tsps cumin
1 lb ham hocks
6 cups chicken stock
1.5 tsps salt

Combine all the ingredients except the salt in a large pot.  Bring the ingredients to a boil over medium heat.  Reduce the heat to low, cover and allow to simmer for two hours, stirring occassionally.  When the beans are tender, taste the beans and add the salt, adjusting the amount as needed.

Remove the ham hocks and bay leaves from the beans.

Serve with rice.  Garnish with onions, jalapenos or Tabasco sauce.  (I used chives and Tabasco.)

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Hunger Awareness Dinner #2: Chicken Helper with extra veggies

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42710_1I have been dreading dinner tonight since I went to H-E-B last Friday.  One of the items on the list was 1 ready-made dinner (Hamburger Helper.)  Oh, please no.

The thing is, I knew it was coming before we got the list.  I’ve sorted enough food at the Food Bank to know that a lot of prepared meals come through the doors.  I just didn’t think I’d be cooking one.

42710_2Don’t get me wrong – I’ve eaten plenty of Hamburger Helper in my day.  I was raised by a single mom with two kids and things like Hamburger Helper and frozen meals played a big part in getting food on the table every night.  As a matter of fact, when I was old enough, I helped cook those meals.

But, as with many things in life, I’ve learned there was a better way and I can’t remember when I last bought a prepared meal. Until this week.  I considered not cooking it or not using the flavor packet (the most offending part of the meal since it contains the preservatives and MSG), but that would have been outside the spirit of what I wanted to do this week so I sucked it up and cooked it.  Oh, the things I do for the Food Bank and this blog.

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I did change it up a bit.  First, I bought the Creamy Chicken and Noodles Chicken Helper.  I thought it might be tastier and I knew I could get more mileage out of a whole chicken than hamburger.

Second, I used cooked chicken.  Like several other bloggers, to get the most out of the whole chicken I bought,  I roasted it and then used the carcass to make stock.  I used about half of the cooked meat tonight for the Chicken Helper.
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Third, I added veggies and herbs.  I added a head of broccoli and 1/4 pound of mushrooms that I’d forgotten about in the bottom of the produce drawer.  At the end of the dish, I added some fresh parsley.

42710_5It wasn’t awful.  It wasn’t good, but it was ok.  The extra vegetables and parsley made a HUGE difference.  The picture on the packet makes it look like there are vegetables in the mix.  There are a few dehydrated vegetables in the pasta packet, but even after cooking they were hard and crunchy.  If I had to cook it again, I’d just take those out.

Following is the cost for tonight’s dinner which also included another green salad with radishes:
$3.00    1/2 of a chicken
$1.50    1 box chicken helper
$  .75    2 cups milk
$1.25    1/4 lb of mushrooms
$1.00    1 head of broccoli
$  .80    1 serving of mixed lettuce
$  .67    1/3 radishes from bunch
$8.97    Total

The meal made four servings, just like last night, and the cost was almost the same.  Again, if you added the cost for salad for 3 more people, the price would be about $13.50.  So, the prepared food was as expensive as last night’s terrific dinner and it didn’t taste as good.  Food for thought.

I’m grateful that I don’t have to eat Chicken Helper any more (except for the leftovers of course, because I refuse to just waste it) and would love to help end hunger so that no one else has to eat it either.  If you’d like to help me, please click on the Capital Area Food Bank badge at the top of the blog and donate to the Capital Area Food Bank.

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Hunger Awareness Dinner #1: Grilled Chicken Sausage with Kale and Potato Spanish Tortilla

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Tonight I cooked my first meal for the Food Blogger Hunger Awareness Project with the Capital Area Food Bank.  When I put together my meal plan, I wanted to have at least one meal that would be a little special and would be worthy of entertaining.  After all, we all have special occasions in our life and, when times are tough, you can’t afford to go out to celebrate.

At H-E-B, I was surprised to find a package of their store brand chicken and feta sausages for a mere $3.14.  It seemed like a great way to add a special touch to a meal and it felt a little like a splurge for very little money.

I also wanted to do something with the bag of potatoes that was more exciting than the standard mashed or baked.  I picked a Spanish Tortilla recipe  – potatoes, eggs and onions cooked down in a skillet  – that also included kale, which I don’t really like and am always looking for a way to hide.  This recipe sounded perfect.

The tortilla was surprisingly easy to make, although I used a skillet that was too large so I couldn’t flip it like your supposed.  It didn’t matter; it was really delicious.

I made a salad with my mixed lettuces, radishes and balsamic vinegar and olive oil for the dressing.  Altogether, it made a pretty plate and I would have been proud to serve it to friends.  The meal made four decent sized servings.  Instead, I have leftovers for the next few days.

Here’s the rundown on the cost:
$3.14  H-E-B Chicken and feta sausage (5 links) $3.14
$  .83  1/3 of a 5 lb bag of potatoes
$  .83  1 onion
$1.16  7 eggs
$2.00  1 bunch kale (I’m estimating on this since it was part of my CSA delivery; kale was $2/bunch last week at the market)
$   .80  1 serving of mixed lettuce  (Again estimating based on size of bag and typical cost for mixed lettuce.)
$   .67  1/3 radishes from bunch
$9.43   Total

If I’d be cooking for others, I would have used all my salad makings so it would have been closer to $14, but when is the last time you entertained a party of four on $14?  Everyone deserves a nice meal – even on a budget.

42610_2Kale and Spanish Tortilla
from Gourmet Magazine via Epicurious.com

1 lb boiling potatoes
1 cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 lb kale, center ribs discarded
7 large eggs

Peel potatoes and cut into 1/3-inch dice (2 1/4 cups). Heat oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then reduce heat to moderately low and cook potatoes, onion, and 1 teaspoon salt, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

Blanch kale while potatoes cook:
Cook kale in a 4- to 6-quart pot of boiling salted water until wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain in a colander and immediately transfer to a bowl of cold water to stop cooking. Drain again, squeezing handfuls of kale to extract excess moisture, then coarsely chop.

Add kale to potato mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until kale is tender, about 5 minutes. Drain vegetables in colander set over a bowl, reserving drained oil, and cool 10 minutes.

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Lightly beat eggs in a large bowl, then stir in vegetables, 1 tablespoon drained oil, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt.

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Add 1 tablespoon drained oil to skillet, then add egg mixture and cook over low heat, covered, until sides are set but center is still loose, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, 15 minutes.

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Shake skillet gently to make sure tortilla is not sticking (if it is sticking, loosen with a heatproof plastic spatula). Slide tortilla onto a large flat plate, then invert skillet over tortilla and flip it back into skillet. Round off edge of tortilla with plastic spatula and cook over low heat, covered, 10 minutes more. Slide tortilla onto a plate and serve warm, cut into wedges.

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