Martha During a Recession

September 23, 2010

Recently a comment was posted questioning how I can afford to cook Martha. How does one afford Martha on a budget? Everyone can afford this. I think there is a perception that Martha’s recipes are extravagant and pricey. For the most part, that isn’t true. Yes, she sometimes makes over the top things, but I find most recipes to be doable for the average person. I cook dinner 7 days a week. I want food to be healthy and tasty and I love to try new things. If I’m going to be cooking anyway, why not try something new and fun? Martha’s recipes are not unapproachable in any way. In fact Everyday Food recipes are pretty easy and accessible. Here are some tips for how to afford good food on a budget:

-Make recipes that appeal to you. If it doesn’t sound good, you probably won’t eat it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stretch yourself. I’ve been surprised many times when I’ve tried something new. But if I know that I just hate duck, I don’t make duck recipes. Look for recipes that allow you to punch up your dinner routine without going crazy with totally unfamiliar or unpalatable  food.

– Look for recipes that can replace some of your boring same old, same old recipes without a change in cost. Instead of baked potatoes, try potato au gratin, for example. Instead of spaghetti and meatballs, try a recipe for a bolognese pasta. Virtually the same ingredients and cost, but hugely different in taste. Try new veggies. Instead of peas and carrots, try Swiss chard and parsnips. Swapping one veggie for another usually ends up to be similar in price on average.

– Cook at home instead of eating out. You can buy an awful lot of food (or treat yourself to some expensive options ) for what it costs to buy a meal at a restaurant. And you can control how it tastes. I’m really off restaurant food lately. It’s never as good as I want it to be and I would rather just make my own food the way I want it.

– Choose recipes that will give you bang for your buck. I’m unlikely to try something that is filled with expensive ingredients because I can find a different recipe for something more affordable that is equally delicious. New chicken recipes are invaluable to me because I’m ALWAYS cooking chicken. If I can discover a new chicken recipe that delights me, it gets added to my repertoire.

– Buy ingredients on sale and use your freezer. Stock up on things you know you use often when there’s a sale or you have a coupon. I use a lot of chicken, so if organic chicken breasts are on sale, I buy a boat load. I buy flour in bulk because I use so much. I fill the cupboard with chicken broth when it’s on sale.

– Eat leftovers. I often eat leftovers for lunch. We don’t waste any food and I have no problem figuring out what to have at noon the next day! Plus this way, the pleasure lasts for two meals.

– Plan menus. I try to take some time each weekend to pick out what I want to cook in the next week. There are lots of things I always have on hand, but if there is something particular I need for a recipe I want to buy it and have things planned out so I will use and not waste it. In the past I have been guilty of having big plans to make things and then letting life get in the way so that the particular produce or dairy item goes bad before I get to it. I try to set manageable menu goals for myself based on my schedule, so I’m not trying to make 2 hour dishes on a crazy Thursday night.

– Doctor the bad recipes. If you read my blog, you know that from time to time I encounter a Martha recipe so bad (or so badly executed by me) that I dump it. This doesn’t happen often because in the words of the lovely Tim Gunn, I try to “make it work.” I’m always tasting as I’m cooking and making adjustments. When you try something new, you can never be sure if it is going to turn out, so you’ve got to stay on top of it. I sample and I adjust flavorings or seasonings.  There have been times when I’ve completely altered the recipe to the point of it being unidentifiable, just to make the food edible. Once in a while though, something ends up in the trash. It happens and I think it happens no matter what kind of food or recipes you’re cooking.

– Substitute ingredients that fit your budget. Martha demands the best. And sometimes I cheat. I’ve been known to use store brand chocolate chips instead of fine chocolate, bacon instead of pancetta, vanilla extract instead of a vanilla bean, generic frozen spinach instead of fresh, and milk instead of cream. And I often used dried spices instead of fresh (though I can tell you there really is a big difference, so I really want to try to grow my own). I often use bottled lemon juice instead of a fresh lemon. Yes, there is a slight taste difference, but sometimes it just doesn’t make that much of a difference in the dish.

– Cut the recipe in half. If it’s something you’re not sure you’ll like (or if it is just too big), cut it in half and sample it. If it’s bad, you aren’t wasting much and you still got to sample something new.

– Accept that good food takes time. You have to be willing to spend the time to get the result. Everyday Food recipes are often quick and easy and I love them for weeknights, but I also love to make things that take more time on other nights. I enjoy making bread, even though I have to dedicate a day to watching it rise. For me, that’s fun and is better than a lot of other activities I can think of. It’s easy to buy packaged food that can be microwaved or reheated but you definitely get better food if you make it yourself.

– Make things yourself. Martha is a big believer in making your own stock, breadcrumbs, pie crust, jelly, etc. If you do this, you save lots of money. Of course it takes time. These things are almost always better tasting when you make them yourself. I admit I don’t do as much of this as I could and it’s something I’m working on.

– Cook with seasonal ingredients. Usually you get a magazine one month before the issue date, so the September Living issue arrives in August. This means there may be recipes for produce that are not yet in season when you get it. It’s tempting to want to make these delicious recipes when you get the magazine, but they will be more affordable when they’re actually in season. I also buy large quantities of seasonal ingredients (for example, I get a half bushel of apples in the fall) and cook with them a lot while they are available.

– Be critical. Yes, Martha is a doyenne of taste, however she doesn’t live in the middle class world. She often recommends kitchen tools that I think are too expensive or makes outrageous statements such as saying everyone should have 30 kinds of pasta in their pantry. Scale down what Martha does to make it possible in your world. She has fantastic ideas, but they have to be filtered and downsized. Actually I find that her magazines do a good job of doing just that – they provide recipes anyone can make for the most part.  When you watch her on her show she will say outrageous things sometimes, but that’s the fun of Martha.

– Think about how you can save money in other aspects of your life. For me, organic food is non-negotiable. But it costs more. So we make sacrifices in other areas. That means being frugal in our daily lives and evaluating how to save money.

– Make choices. We don’t drink alcohol and that’s a major expense for many people,but one I don’t have. As far as I’m concerned, this increases the money I have available for food.  I know I would rather cook good food than go to the movies every weekend, so that’s a choice I make. As far as I’m concerned, it’s about recognizing what’s important to you and making it work in your life. We can’t all live Martha’s life where she can have anything she wants, any time. Instead, it’s about prioritizing and for me, good food is at the top of the list.

– Change how you think about food. I would rather have a delicious healthy dinner than all the potato chips in the world. So our house is mostly devoid of packaged food. If we want dessert, we make it. If we want a snack, we make popcorn or have cheese or fruit. Food is something you *make,* not something you take out of a package, in my opinion. Yes, sometimes it is expensive to buy goat cheese and organic eggs, but I don’t spend any money on packaged food so I think I come out ahead in terms of cost.

– Splurge when it’s worth it. Last year I ordered my Thanksgiving turkey from Martha. It was organic, free range, and pasture raised. It cost an arm and a leg. But it was the best turkey I have ever had in my entire life. It was worth every dime. Choose special things like this to spend your money on and the joy will carry over as you’re being creative with inexpensive meals at other times.

– Don’t just throw dinner together if you can avoid it. Enjoy what you’re making and eating. It makes me a happier person to eat something that I’ve anticipated for a few hours and which has new, interesting, or delicious flavors. Eat consciously and allow the money you spend on food to translate to real satisfaction.

Do you have any tips to share about how you afford to cook Martha? I would love to hear them.

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Yorkshire Pudding

September 22, 2010

Old flames have staying power don’t they? Young love just stays with you. And so it is with me and Yorkshire pudding. My mom used to make this with roast beef and it was one of those things I just loved as a kid. It’s called pudding, but it is not dessert. I serve this with things like roast chicken, brisket, or a sirloin roast.  It is incredible and every time I make it myself, I cannot believe how easy it is. Even a monkey can make this. Seriously.

Dude Martha had a hankering for this recently, so I whipped it up. You will not believe how simple it is. First, turn on your oven to 425. Into the oven, place a round casserole dish with 1/4 cup vegetable oil. Let it come up to temp.

Meanwhile, mix 1 cup flour, 1 egg, 1 cup milk and 1/2 tsp salt. It’s ok if it’s a little lumpy like pancake batter. Once the oven is at temp, pour the mixture into the pan. Bake for 40 min. Simple. You’ll know it’s done when it is puffed up and the middle is completely set. It’s obvious when it’s done.

Now, when I make this, I usually triple the recipe because my family is like vultures with this dish. They keep swooping back in for more. So in the photo, you’ll see I’ve used an 8×13 baking dish. Before Dude Martha was so hooked on this, I usually just doubled it. A single batch works well for two people.

Now for why this is so divine. There are 3 heavenly layers. On the bottom you get a dark brown, greasy, crunchy layer. It’s shiny and glossy and gorgeous.  Like the best chicken skin you’ve ever had. The second layer is pale yellow, moist, dense, and eggy. Like a custard, but set much harder. The top layer is golden brown, slightly crunchy with darker brown bits here and there and kind of airy and light. Sheer heaven.

My mom used to make this using the drippings from beef, but I don’t ever get that many drippings (nor do I really ever hook a big honking piece of roast beef), plus I just prefer to use vegetable oil.

No one wants to eat it the next day, but here’s the secret – it’s really, really good cold!

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Blueberry Nectarine Buckle

September 21, 2010

Recently I raved about John Barricelli’s cookbook, The Sono Baking Company Cookbook. My second try from the book was also very good, Blueberry Nectarine Buckle. I made this for my parents.  It was incredibly easy.

Streusel topping:

1 cup flour

1 cup brown sugar

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 unsalted butter


1 1/4 cups flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 cup unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

1/2 tsp salt

4 eggs

2 tsp vanilla

2 cups blueberries

2 cups diced nectarines

Preheat oven to 350. I made the streusel in my mom’s Cuisinart. John says to work it together with your fingers.

To make the cake, beat butter, sugar, and salt until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time then the vanilla. Mix in the dry ingredients. Fold in the fruit. Pace in a 9 x 13 baking pan and put streusel on top. Bake for 30-35 minutes.

Now for my notes. I actually used twice as much cinnamon as the recipe said since I like a lot. I would really recommend tossing your fruit with some flour before mixing it in, since all of mine sunk to the bottom. Other than that, it was very good. It could use a bit more fruit if you wanted to add more. The cake was very moist and the topping very crisp and deeply flavored. It was good for days afterward, kept in the fridge.

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Martha Mondays: 9/27

September 20, 2010

Teresa at A Homemade Iowa Life has chosen pear and apple phyllo crisps from October Living for next week’s project.  Let me know if you need the recipe!

Martha Mondays: Roasted Fall Vegetables Soup

September 20, 2010

Today’s project was chosen by Pru at Perfecting Pru. This (click here for recipe) is a great fall dish. And I have to say it was pretty easy to make. You roast all of the vegetables (red potatoes, red onions, garlic, butternut squash, and carrots) at 450. Then you puree them with water (I used chicken broth and I used a handheld blender to puree instead of the blender method). You push it through a fine mesh strainer (this took a while), then add more liquid, a little lemon juice and salt and pepper. I added some cream and a pinch of dried mustard, as well as a pinch of salt. I served it with a dollop of sour cream in each bowl.

I loved, loved, loved this. It’s fantastic. It has a really deep, rich flavor that is very complex. And it is really something you can have made in about an hour and a half (an hour of which is just roasting time). I will definitely make this again and will probably play with the ingredients. Parsnip or rutabaga might be fun to try. I often make butternut squash soup in the fall, but this has a deeper, more complex flavor that I really loved. Mr. MarthaAndMe liked it, even though he generally is not a fan of butternut. Dude Martha did not care for it. Sigh.

This made a lot and I froze some for future dinners, so that’s a big plus!

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John Barricelli and Me (and Choc Pie)

September 17, 2010

John Barricelli has been on Martha’s show many times and he’s also appeared in the magazines and is a host of Everyday Food. He’s one of her cast of characters. He kind of fascinates me because there’s something weird about him. Is he nervous around Martha? Uncomfortable? Annoyed? I don’t know what it is but I keep watching. He always seems so very confident about his baking and Martha always raves about his bakery cafe. He’s got a new cookbook out called The Sono Baking Company Cookbook, which I just got. So far I’m in love.

My first try from it was the chocolate cream pie. Now this is something I love, but never, never have. No one serves that anymore, but they should.

This pie was to die for. Major OMG moment. The crust is incredible. I know it sounds simple (graham cracker with chocolate) but it ends up having this fabulous nutty flavor and crunchy texture. And the filling. Well. It was stupendous. I put whipped cream on top of mine as instructed, but next time I wouldn’t bother. It doesn’t need it.


1 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs

5 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

3 tbsp sugar

1/8 tsp salt

1  2/3 oz semisweet chocolate, coarsely grated on large holes of a grater (about 1/2 cup)


6 large egg yolks

3/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup cornstarch

3 cups milk

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

4 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

1/4 tsp salt

1 tbsp vanilla

4 tbsp unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9 inch pie pan.

To make the crust, mix the crumbs, melted butter, sugar and salt. Add the chocolate. Press into the pan. Chill for 30 min, then bake for 18-20 min.

To make the filling: whisk egg yolks, half the sugar, cornstarch, and 1/2 cup of milk.

In a saucepan, mix the rest of the sugar, the rest of the milk and the cocoa, chocolate and salt. Bring to a simmer, whisking. Gradually pour the milk mix into the egg mix, tempering it.

Pour the mixture through a strainer back into the saucepan then boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. Boil for 10 seconds, whisking, making sure it boils in the center of the pan, not just on the sides. It will thicken to a pudding like consistency.

Pour into a bowl and use a mixer for 2-3 minutes to cool it. Add vanilla. With the mixer running, add butter in small pieces, a little at a time. Pour it into the pie crust and chill for 2-3 hours.

If you want whipped cream on top, whisk 3/4 cup heavy cream with 2 tbsp powdered sugar until soft peaks form then spread on top of chilled pie.

Now for my notes! I goofed and dumped the cocoa into the eggs instead of the saucepan. I was not about to dump it out so I left it and everything turned out just fine.

I used a deep dish pie pan and I can’t imagine how you could use anything else since it was filled to the rim. Make sure you get that crust all the way up the sides. Next time, I think I am going to double the crust because I had trouble getting it to completely cover my pan.

I think it needs to chill longer than 2-3 hours. It wasn’t cold enough at that point in my opinion. Give it a good 5-6 hours.

This was fabulous. I’m going to try it with dark chocolate next time I think.

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Meet Manfred

September 16, 2010

I’d like to introduce you to a member of our family, Manfred. Manfred is a special starter I bought in Savannah at the Savannah Candy Kitchen (you must go there at least to see the pralines). It’s made by Miss Edie’s (check out the site to order the starter and also for recipes). It’s not a sourdough starter exactly – more of a sweet sourdough starter, which is why I like it so much. It’s not super sour at all. I picked some up when we were staying on Hilton Head several years ago and started using it after the trip. Dude Martha was little at the time, and fascinated with the fact that it was alive and I had to feed it. So of course, he gave it a name. Manfred. I don’t know why.

Manfred stayed with us for a year or two but at some point I lost track of the feeding and baking cycle (which can be exhausting since you’ve got to feed it every 3-5 days and at least dump some out at that point- or bake with it to avoid Manfred guilt) and Manfred died. Sniff. A friend went to Savannah this summer and I sent her a long email with all of my recommendations (where to eat and shop – the most important factors in any trip). I mentioned the candy kitchen and Manfred. To thank me for helping her, she brought back a jar of Manfred for me. Thanks Jay!

So Manfred lives again. And this time, I’m going to stay on top of it, or at least find out if I can freeze him. Dude Martha helped me make our first batch of Manfred. I first used Miss Edie’s white bread recipe from the site (go to the recipe section to see all of them), but subbed out some wheat flour. The bread was good. It is slightly sweet (kind of like challah is sweet, but it is a much heavier bread than challah). If you let it sit a bit after baking, it slices nicely (if you’re impatient it shreds all over).

Manfred was delicious as always, although he never seems to rise as high as Miss Edie says and always takes longer to bake for me.  One of my favorite things to do with Manfred is make hot pretzels. I use a recipe I have for pretzels and sub in Manfred for the water and yeast. They turn out very nicely.

I also tried Manfred waffles, using Miss Edie’s recipe. They were great. The

oat bread

recipe on her site says they make 12, but I ended up with about 6 big round Belgian waffles. I like that recipe because it uses wheat flour instead of white.

And I made Miss Edie’s whole wheat and oat bread using Manfred. This bread was fantastic, but time consuming. You have to mix the starter with some flour and water and let it sit overnight (beware: fruit flies LOVE this stuff), then make a sponge, let it rise, add flour and let it rise, then make loaves and let it rise before finally baking it.

In the past, I made Miss Edie’s recipe for cinnamon buns with Manfred and that was good too, so I’ll probably give it a try again soon. I want to try out the other recipes on her site and experiment with some of my own. Manfred is fun, but I’m already starting to feel pressured. He needs to be fed soon. It’s like Little Shop of Horrors in my fridge. Fortunately, Dude Martha is old enough to do the feeding if I remind him, so that helps. But I still can’t bring myself to dump some out when we feed (as you can see from the large amounts of baked goods I’ve already made!).

And on top of this, I’ve got a package of Alaska sourdough starter I bought on this summer’s vacation. I can’t handle two starters at the same time, so that one will have to wait in the cupboard until I’m ready to bring it to life. I wonder what would happen if I combined them?

Do you have starter that you use?

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