Hollandaise Sauce

Here is the post implied by the ending of the recent herb steamed asparagus post, in which I finally tried making hollandaise sauce almost but not exactly as indicated in this recipe. I had bought two bunches of asparagus, and planned to do this with the second one, just because.

Weird, right? It doesn’t smack of frugality, and I have no reason to want hollandaise, having never, as far as I can recall, eaten it before in my life.

The thing is, the perceived difficulty of cooking eggs and keeping them liquid intrigued me. The idea of mother sauces intrigues me, especially since I rock at sauces and gravies generally. The presumed similarity to making homemade mayonaise intrigues me.

Finally, it’s part of the quest to make variants of plain old asparagus.

So. The recipe. I used 4 yolks, as it said. Most recipes I perused called for 3 yolks. My eggs were extra large, for what it’s worth, not large. I’ve had a goofy little egg separator for 30+ years and, as far as I can recall, have never used it. Until now! For one egg. Which told me doing it with my hands, as I have seen TV chefs do, was vastly better. The gadget was too small, and failed to separate the white as fully or quickly as my fingers. I saved the whites for another experiment, in a cake, since it was my birthday and I am the cook here.

I got about 3 tablespoons of juice from a lemon I had remembered to buy for the purpose, and used one for the hollandaise. See the aforementioned cake for the fate of the rest.

Now, every other recipe I looked at called either for (mostly) a tablespoon of water or (less often) a tablespoon of cream. Or maybe it was milk. This recipe had neither, but I used water anyway, and good thing. I could see it being even better with cream or milk.

I used salted butter. I do not as a rule have unsalted in the house. I buy it if I plan something I know calls for it, and care enough to comply. Some recipes specify unsalted. Some do not. I melted it carefully in the microwave, managing to come out with a complete melt that was no more than room temperature. In just one place I saw mention that sometimes clarified butter is used in hollandaise. I thought that sounded right, so as best I could, I mostly skimmed off the foamy milk solids. (If, like me until relatively recently, you have no idea what is meant by “clarified butter,” that’s all it is: melted butter with the light colored scum you see floating on top skimmed off. It sounds fancier and more intimidating than it is.)

The pinches of salt and cayenne were as directed, though I went very light on the salt, considering the salted butter.

The recipe describes the lemon juice and yolk mixture doubling in volume. I’m not sure mine doubled, though my dubiousness was mooted by seeing that it did increase in volume.

The method described for using a stainless steel pan with a saucepan is great as a makeshift double boiler. Granted, doing this made me pine for a double boiler, and I even found that there are pans sold that come with both steamer and double boiler insets. I checked, since logic suggested the possibility to me.

I would emphasize that pretty much continuous light whisking/stirring is imperative to keep the egg from cooking into solids. It has to cook as a liquid. When it was obviously done, I set the metal bowl into another bowl with shallow, cool water in it. That arrested the cooking process. Shortly after, I changed the water for warm so the sauce wouldn’t get too cold.

I steamed the asparagus with herbs, but less strongly than I had the first time. I thought the flavor would go well, even though the sauce would add flavor and a change of texture profile. That sounds all fancy.

The result?

It was tasty, but too lemony for me. I can’t imagine it is meant to taste that lemony. It was a bit thicker than perhaps is ideal. And that’s with the water the recipe didn’t include! I could have put in a tiny bit more to thin it, but didn’t bother. If I make it again, I would start by reducing the lemon. I would probably use milk or cream instead of water. I might experiment with seasoning the sauce. Heck, I’d be interested in using the basic technique for an eggy sauce to diverge into doing my own thing entirely.

Was it hard to make? No. I didn’t find it tricky at all. I can see how it could go terribly wrong, sure. But I had perceived the making of a sauce in which eggs are cooked liquid to be extremely difficult. Anyone paying adequate attention could do it. Now I know.

Herb Steamed Asparagus

I love asparagus. It’s expensive, except briefly each year, when it’s more affordably expensive. I usually buy some then, having it once or twice a year. One of the kids eats some, but basically it’s exclusive to me. All the less incentive to buy it much.

It was on sale at Hannaford for $1.99/lb in time for Easter, so I got two of the standard bunches, super fresh.

Normally I steam it. When I was young, there was no steaming. You put veggies in water and boiled them into submission. I might still be doing that if my uncle hadn’t gifted me a small steamer pan some sixteen years ago. Asparagus can also be roasted/grilled, or can be sauteed/stir fried. I tried the frying pan with lots of butter and some seasoning method last year. It was good, though could have stood some improvement.

I started out planning simply to steam it, going medium-old school. Then I had an idea!

I put half the asparagus from one bunch into the steamer basket. I sprinkled that semi-liberally with tarragon, dill and celery seeds. I added the other half of the asparagus. I topped that with smaller amounts more of dill and tarragon, plus some black pepper and a little salt. Steamed until done as normal.

The asparagus smelled great cooking as a result of the herbs. Might not have hurt that it was exceptional asparagus, not at all bitter. Better still, it was fantastic! Normally I would slather asparagus with butter, maybe some salt and pepper, but it stood by itself, infused with seasoning in the cooking.

The choice of herbs was purely what sounded right to me, not a recipe or something I’d read. Your mileage and herb choices may vary. I mean, not everyone has tarragon or dill on hand! I’m blessed with a crazy big collection of seasonings. The tarragon was part of a gift pack of Penzey’s herbs, or I might never have bought any even now. I’ve found limited uses for it. I can be good on eggs, obviously with certain veggies, and the best thing I’ve done with it before the asparagus, in making potato soup. The dill I use more regularly. I am not a fan of dill or sour pickles. Sweet for me! However, it’s good in certain gravy applications. I make something I call faux Stroganoff, or a scrambled hamburger flavored the same, and dill is an important component. The sub for it, which I actually used before I had any dill, was a tiny amount of caraway seeds. I found those imparted a robustness to the gravy flavor. But I digress.

Highly recommended. I used the same method for the second batch of asparagus I made, but less heavily seasoned, and that’s a different experiment and post…

Iron Chef America

I set out to post about a different show, then I realized I had not commented about Iron Chef America. After watching the second set of Chopped episodes available on Netflix, that was the next food show to catch my eye. I blazed through all 25 episodes even faster than I had with Chopped.

Obviously nothing about it cries frugality, and it’s a game show that has far more to its production than what you see on the screen. However, it’s cool to see what the competing chefs make, and the tools they use in the process. Wouldn’t you just love that kitchen? I live in an apartment on the second floor. There is no such thing as “grilling” for me, let alone any kind of indoor grill. When I shared a house with a gas grill on the deck by the kitchen door, I used it all the time, even in the dead of winter, even if it was mostly just for burgers.

To me the worst ingredient might have been liver. I was made to eat liver a few times as a kid, but I didn’t like it, as much for texture as taste. My grandfather loved it, especially with onions. I have never eaten pate and don’t care for the idea. Of course, I don’t care for the idea of raw or rare meats, either. I’ve never tried sushi. Raw beef actually seems more appealing to me. Which is apparently the extreme end of my having come to like beef rarer than I once did, along with sometimes craving it intensely. I’d never make it as a judge on the show.

Frugal or not, it made me feel like I could and should be more creative and varied about what I make with the ingredients I can afford.

Baked Beans

In the past several weeks, I have twice experiemented with making baked beans. These are something we had homemade when I was a kid, but that I have never made. I started by looking at recipes.

I can’t take seriously any recipe that starts with canned pork & beans or even canned baked beans, notwithstanding that in younger, single days I made a darn good chili based on Campbell’s pork & beans. These days I focus on what I can make from inexpensive dry beans.

The first recipe I used came from a friend I first met in seventh grade, who turns out to be distantly related, as we are both Howland descendents. The identical recipe can be found online, as the classic Revolutionary War era savory Boston baked bean recipe. For my friend it is her mother’s Howland family recipe. I will distill it below, after I comment about it a little more.

The objective for me with baked beans is for them to be cheap. Tasty, too, of course, but the ingredients should not result in spending much for the amount of food obtained. Salt pork (bacon, in some recipes) was a huge surprise, and not frugal.

For my first attempt, I did want to follow a recipe exactly, so I went looking for salt pork. I assumed this would be tough, having never noticed it in store. Nope. Walmart had it. Hannaford had it. Market Basket had it. Once I looked, there it was, large amounts. It came in small packs for something like $3.49 for 12 ounces. I pointedly bought navy beans, as they seem to be a favorite, though you can use whatever. My friend’s grandfather liked them with lima beans, which seems odd to me, to say the least. I like lima beans (she hates them), but have never had them dried and can’t picture them in baked beans.

I made a recipe-free attempt of my own a couple weeks ago, using pinto beans, no meat product at all, and substantially different everything else. I know this is going to run long, but bear with me and I’ll tell you what I learned from that adventure before the end.

Classic Howland Baked Beans

Soak 1 lb of dry beans over night in enough water to cover them generously. Par boil until fairly soft. Drain and rinse.

Put 1 large chopped onion and 1/4 pound salt pork in the bottom of a slow cooker or bean pot. Cover with the beans. Sprinkle beans with 1 teaspoon dry mustard, 1 tablespoon salt, and 3 tablespoons of brown sugar. Add 6 tablespoons of molasses, and boiling water to cover.

If you don’t want to soak beans overnight, it’s OK to use the quick soak method, but it is important to par boil the beans until tender and rinse them well. If they are not tender enough to start, the molasses will make them like marbles no matter how long you cook them.

Pea beans or navy beans may be used, or another variety if you prefer.

The traditional way of baking this recipe is in the oven all day, or over night at a low temperature. Use a covered bean pot. Remove the lid toward the end of the baking time to allow the top to brown and to evaporate some of the liquid.

I went a little heavy on the salt pork when I made this, using half, or 6 ounces, rather than 4 ounces. Just as well, since I did not find another use for the remaining salt pork before it needed to be tossed out, making for expensive beans. I used only part of a very large, sweet onion. I may have cooked the beans less soft before baking than I could have, but they were soft enough not be a problem. Then I promptly forgot that precaution, which does not seem to be included in other baked bean recipes, or in the responses on forums where people ask how to avoid their beans being too hard. Old beans? No.

We liked but didn’t love the result of the above recipe, but it had obvious potential. By “we” I do not mean the kids. I did like the salt pork in it, and would love to try that or bacon in the future, but in an otherwise modified recipe.

The next time I made baked beans, I experimented. I winged it, and used the pinto beans I already had on hand. Chili made with those is a staple here. We have it perhaps every two weeks. The exception was the time I tried making white chili, based on nothing more than a description of what my wife had had when visiting family in Oregon. For that I used dry cannellini beans, which had a great flavor and smooth texture. But I digress.

I can’t remember clearly what I used in the pinto batch of baked beans, but my objective was a sweeter flavor, albeit still centered around molasses. Which, incidentally, I also had to buy in order to make the first batch. For some reason, I had thought molasses was far more expensive than it turned out to be. It has the benefit of long shelf life. Not to mention one container of it covering a number of batches of beans or whatnot. Haven’t yet explored the whatnot angle.

The most important lesson od the pinto baked beans involved remembering to cook them soft before baking. They did indeed come out “like marbles.” It was edible, but not the texture I want from my beans. It made up for it somewhat that the beans were so utterly imbued with flavor and transformed, but no more chewy beans for me.

I’m afraid I don’t remember the details. However, I used some onion, as with the other recipe, chopped smalled and layered bottom and middle. I used plenty of molasses, layers of brown sugar, plenty of dry mustard, salt, and a spritz of maple syrup. Not that spritz is the right word for something of that consistency, but just a little, a couple drizzles. I may have used a touch of vinegar, too, and I might not have remembered that except for the hard bean issue. When I saw what had happened and was near the end of the cooking, I tried adding a wee bit of baking soda in case that would help. It naturally foamed up from the acidity. I had the anecdotal impression that it helped ever so slightly, but that could be illusory. At any rate, if it did, it wasn’t enough. I had forgotten the need for uncovering the beans at the end, but wound up doing so because there was too much liquid. That was an additional reason I kept cooking them longer than I had expected. Despite what the original recipe says, I found it didn’t need all day. Just a few hours.

Next I will try making them less sweet than the second experiment, but with beans cooked into submission ahead of time. They were delicious, and went fantastically with a burger or bread and butter, but less brown sugar would have improved them. If I can have some on hand anyway, perhaps from a sale, with the rest to be used for a different meal, I’d love to add some bacon.

I’ll try to remember to post about what I do and how it turns out.

Pinched in February

I see that I posted about the results for January as far as tracking spending on groceries and sundries. Now we’re in March, so I know that February’s spending was higher, even though it needed to be at least as low. Heck, I thought I’d failed to take it far enough in January.

Grand total in February was $718.42, which came to $643.01 after removing taxable items and tax, an inexact shortcut to reducing the number to groceries-only. That compares to a net of $543.86 for January, almost exactly $100 more.

Part of the difference is in spending on meat, assuming I recorded it accurately both months. February was $100.04 to January’s $51.50. That surprises me, but there were some good sales, and I ended up with a good amount in the freezer. This is going to help me skate through the first two weeks of March, when things will be even worse than they’ve been yet this year.

I also softened up my stance on soda, which frankly hasn’t been the source of financial damage I had assumed. Still, $42.34 and $2.95 in deposits is a lot more than $26.53 and $1.75 in deposits.

Finally, an easily identifiable anomaly was my daughter’s birthday. She wanted an ice cream cake. That was $18.99 I would never have spent normally. For dinner that day she wanted crepes with strawberries and whipped cream. I bought her fresh strawberries as a treat, on sale but still $2.99, and a 3 pound bag of frozen strawberries for the crepes. That was over $5. Not knowing what we’d need, I bought 2 spray cannisters of whipped cream, store brand, something like $2.79 each. Extra eggs, too.

Just figured out that stuff that was neither taxable nor food came to almost $32 this month, versus almost $34 last month. Almost a wash. I should probably change my spreadsheet to distinguish such things easily.

My big lesson from these two months is that we buy a ridiculous amount of cereal. I believe not buying potato chips has increased it, because it changes rather than eliminates the snacks. We also buy more tortilla chips, attributable to the same reason combined with kids discovering they love nachos. For the oldest, that is an alternate meal if she doesn’t like what I’m making.

I suspect things will level out when taken in a three month chunk, but we’ll see at the end of March. By May, money should be much less tight, but I can’t see going crazy.

Subpar Sub Rolls

Things have been grim here financially, and then I got sick and we had a blizzard warning on top of it. I’d bought two big packs of on sale ground beef at Market Basket, super fresh and tasty 85%, and the first of them had been partly used and partly frozen. The other sat in the fridge until the day after I’d normally have preferred to use. With everyone having suffered through fending for themselves the day before, and the burger needing to be used unless it had gone bad, I decided to make meatballs. Universally loved by all five of us, but not a meal I consider very frugal. The burger turned out to be as fresh as if you’d just bought it at an ordinary store. Given that it was well over 3 lbs, the amount that normally goes into meatballs, and that it wasn’t right on the edge, I made a big patty to freeze and at least got some freezer fodder out of it. While I was sick, with a blizzard expected, the wife went to the store and got a couple bags of ice to top off the freezer and help it keep should the power go out. Also, as a preventative to losing power, which worked. The alternative to meatballs was chili, but I could have done that on a pound of burger.

When I make meatballs, I usually make gravy and either egg noodles or potatoes. Neither were on hand. Sometimes we have them as meatball subs, for anyone who wants them that way, with red sauce (or just ketchup) and optional cheese. But there were no rolls, either! And not much bread, for that matter. I haven’t been buying sub rolls because I haven’t been buying cold cuts, because that’s expensive. When I could afford it, every 2-4 weeks we’d have subs for supper. If I’d planned the meatballs and been able to time a trip to Market Basket appropriately, I could have bought sub rolls, but would probably have bought egg noodles or potatoes instead.

Well, I’ve been experiementing with making bread, and in one case dinner rolls, so why not sub rolls? I focused on two recipes I came across, comparing what they involved if you made the batch size the same. This one looked tasty but looked like it might be too crusty compared to the result I wanted. This other one purports to be a way to match the rolls you would get at Subway. Now, I don’t know from Subway, but the picture looked like what I’d buy at Market Basket six for $1.50. With some trepidation about the volume of oil and lack of sugar compared to the other recipe and other breads I’ve made or looked at, I went for it.

This was not an entirely smooth process, given that I forgot to melt the butter before everything else was in the bowl, and that I don’t have a stand mixer. I could make a case for always moving on from recipes that assume you have a stand mixer. I usually do, but how hard could it be to just do things the old way?

Everything through the first rise and dividing the dough into eight rolls went fine. It rose enthusiastically enough not to provoke concern. The rolls, though… they would have taken hours to rise to where I thought they should be, at the rate they were going. After an hour and a half, I put them in the oven.

They tasted OK, if more like sourdough than the bread and rolls I am used to. You could definitely tell the lack of sugar. They were flat, though, completely unsuited to being a sub roll, especially for meatballs. Their best use seems to be as garlic bread, or cheesey garlic bread. Because it didn’t rise fully, the texture is pretty heavy.

I won’t make that recipe again, at least not without modifying it into something of my own. I don’t have enough bread making savvy yet to parse what went wrong without researching. Which, come to think of it, I had meant to do right afterward. “Why does second rise fail” or something like that fed to Google might give me insight. Or perhaps something on the science/principles of bread baking. That’s how I learned gravy. Best thing I found was something that described the principles of what you were doing, rather than trying to be an exact recipe, and gave insight into various types of gravy. Sometimes I have an imperfect batch, but in general I have never had gravy as good as what I make.


I’ve been neglecting things basically since work got intense during our peak season, then haven’t picked it back up now that work is unusually light. Between that and having spent through our tax refund and what savings I had, largely to supplement the grocery budget, we’re in a particularly tight spot. Voila, stuff to write about! Stretching the money is the whole point, here.

I’ve done some baking and meals I hadn’t normally done, and even taken a few pictures. But this post is about money itself, and tracking what we’re spending.

I started a Google spreadsheet for this year to track grocery purchases. It’s cruder than I’d like, since many purchases are mixed. Partly I can filter by figuring if it’s taxable, it’s not groceries. There are some items that are neither.

January is over, and the grand total came to $626.85. We’re a family of five. Mind you, this amount made everyone feel like they were put upon compared to normal, which suggests to me that our spending had been running a couple hundred a month more. Given that back when we were getting SNAP of about $500, I was supplementing it by about $300, that fits. The thing is, what I spent this past month was at least $100 more than I could afford.

The metric of taxable items and tax coming off for a measure of actual food makes it $543.86, but the receipts contain over $30 in non-taxable non-grocery necessities. Call it about $510, then. I’d say that we depleted the cabinets somewhat, but there’s stuff that’s been added to balance it out. Still, while cranberry sauce was inexpensive, I accumulated cans of it, and when the dust cleared there were 14 cans. We’ve used two, and probably won’t need to buy any for a few months, depending how often kielbasa or roasting chickens are on sale. The main uses are for sweet and sour kielbasa or as a side with roast chicken.

Today was the first entry for February; $68.55 total, of which $27.30 was meat on sale. Pork loin for $1.69/lb for the win. It was a trip to get cheese and butter where the price is lowest, frozen veggies for the lowest price and that are also the best, and ingredients like flour and sugar at the best available prices. Flour at the two loacal stores is $1.99 and $2.49, versus $1.69. I’d run out entirely, making bread multiple times.

We’ll see how it goes. I’d like to have the family on board with keeping this up, even when funds are more available.

The Great British Baking Show

I saw The Great British Baking Show on Netflix (later I noticed it was also on Amazon Prime, which might have saved me having the audio and video getting unsynchronized so badly) and couldn’t resist checking it out. Unusually for me, I watched all ten episodes within a few days. By comparison, I have yet to finish the second set of Chopped episodes. It was called The Great British Bake Off originally. Apparently, they thought American audience couldn’t handle Philosopher’s Stone Bake Off and needed it to be Sorceror’s Stone Baking Show instead. And it’s oh so British.

The contestants were great. I especially loved Martha, Chetna and Richard. Under its British name, that was season 5, while it was the first season shown under the American name.

Early on, I noticed the worshipful way contestants mentioned Mary Berry. “Who?” I looked her up, since I had never heard of her. Or Paul Hollywood, for that matter.

Highly recommended, if you haven’t watched it. It made me want to bake, and I learned some things.

Baked Ziti

I had never made baked ziti. I had only had it when others made it, now and then. The kids had never had casseroles of any kind. Between wanting to try making new things and adding variety to the parade of meals, and thinking that casseroles might be some low cost menu items, I had wanted to spring casseroles on them. Baked ziti seemed like a good, passingly familiar place to start.

Having never made it, I had a misconception of what the dish entailed. My metal image was make meat sauce, make pasta, mix them together, put them in a casserole pan, throw some cheese on top, bake. I found myself thinking that it was pasta, but cooked redundantly.

Wednesday I looked at recipes online. They vary, but I was surprised to learn that many include ricotta cheese. I had never cooked with ricotta. While I happily ate completed lasagna when my sister or mother made it during my latter youth (until my father left, we never had things like that), I always thought the ricotta mix during the process looked disgusting.

I was also surprised it called for mozzarella cheese. Weirdly enough, I had already bought a pound of that. My oldest wanted to try it, since she loves string cheese. I had thought some of it could go on top of the ziti, since I knew I wanted cheese on top. My daughter hated it. I was shocked. It’s delicious! Nothing special; Market Basket store brand whole milk mozzarella. My perception of mozzarella had always been that it’s almost completely bland, and is used on pizza due to its melting properties. Having tasted pre-shredded mozzarella did nothing to change that notion. Having tasted mozzarella cheese sticks, fried and not, didn’t do enough to change that perception, though now I can see why they taste better than I’d have expected.

OK, so Thursday I stopped at Hannaford for ricotta so I could make baked ziti for supper. Bottom line: Success! Main lesson learned: Use less cheese next time.

Per usual, I followed no one recipe. Many of them call for sausage. That would be fantastic, but I had ground beef. I cooked the ground beef, slightly seasoning it, and got rid of most of the excess oil. That was perhaps 1.5 lbs before cooking. I added a jar of Francesco Rinaldi, my favorite sauce as well as the lowest cost name brand in jars. Unfortunately, the one jar left on the shelf was tomato and basil. I’d have preferred meat flavored or original for this. I added a small can of tomato paste to extend it and to modify the flavor of the sauce. A small can of generic tomato sauce would have been better. I adulterated the sauce with seasoning and brown sugar, so it wasn’t much different from what we would normally have on pasta.

Meanwhile, I cooked two boxes of ziti with lines. That was intentionally extra, to save some plain pasta for kids who wouldn’t want the baked ziti. I used something approaching 1.5 boxes in the actual casserole.

In keeping with many but not all of the recipes I had perused, I layered the bottom of a deep stoneware casserole pan (thank goodness for gifts or I’d not own something that nice) with the sauce. Not half. It took well over half to make an acceptable layer. On that I put some chunks of mozzarella and cheddar. The amount of cheddar used was modest. The amount of mozzarella was most of a pound.

Per some of the recipes, but not all, I mixed 16 ounces of ricotta with the ziti. I also mixed in a bunch of small chunks of mozzarella. That went in on top of the meat sauce layer, filling the casserole almost completely.

I dabbed the rest of the sauce onto the top of the ziti, sprinkled a generous amount of parm cheese on it, and completed it with more mozzarella and a lesser amount of cheddar.

It baked at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or so, in keeping with one of the recipes I’d referenced. It looked fantastic, but in retrospect could have used a bit more time for a crispier top.

The two kids who tried it liked it, though one of them picked out the meat. I thought it was great, but it lost a lot of appeal when it cooled down. The wife thought it needed more cooking time and less cheese, but really enjoyed it. As leftovers, the flavor actually improved. It’s tasty cold, and was better nuked hot than it had been fresh.

I’ll definitely make it again, as modified. Now I need to figure out what to make with the leftover ricotta. It was almost as cheap to get 32 oz as it would have been to get 16 oz, and I wasn’t sure just how much I’d actually need.


I had no idea glove requirements were a thing. As someone who loves to cook, I can’t imagine wearing gloves to touch the food. Worse, it would be like a crutch. Instead of my obsessive hand washing during food prep, I could see being tempted to rely on gloves as a crutch, even as they get dirtier and dirtier. Conversely, doing the equivalent of obsessive hand washing could mean dozens of pairs of gloves per day. That’s crazy!