Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Great Food Discussion

Blame my friend Sharon, who blogs at Musings of a Midlife Mom, for starting this whole discussion.

Lately Sharon has been examining her family's budget with a magnifying glass, looking for ways to stop the pennies from falling through the cracks. One of her recent discoveries was that her family spent a whopping huge amount of money on food last year. ("Food" covering everything from groceries to eating out to a cup of coffee at the coffee shop). Sharon immediately vowed to cut her family's food budget in half for 2010 and followed that post with one in which she laid out her approach to curbing her food budget.

About the same time Sharon was writing her post about ways to cut her food budget, I was writing about buying my groceries at the small regional market rather than the behemoth chains that serve our community. In it, I mentioned our own food habits. "Given that we spend less than $200 a month on groceries most months, we're talking a very small pebble tossed into a very large body of water in terms of impact."

Sharon jumped on that in a heartbeat: " Given that we spend less than $200 a month on groceries most months" stopped me right in my tracks. You only spend $200 a month on food? Wow. Okay, April, you are holding out on me...that is a very frugal amount...what do you cook to keep your costs so low?

I replied:

Hmmn. What do I cook? We don't eat a lot of meat - red, chicken, or otherwise. Probably less than once a week. So there is a big $$ saver right there. I cook a lot with pasta. I make a lot of soups (bean soups, split pea) and chili, freezing most of it. This winter we are eating the vegetables I canned and froze last summer. We don't buy a lot of processed foods or "convenience" foods; we don't drink coffee; we don't drink alcohol. (All huge budget drains.)We rarely buy soda (I don't care much for it). I bake almost everything from scratch, especially desserts. Warren brownbags lunch; the rare days when I am not at home I often do too. We don't eat out a lot because our schedule is often so full that there is no time for that; when we do, we often split an entree. We also don't hesitate to buy marked down food when it is something we like and can use or freeze; tonight we bought two huge boxes (banana packing boxes) of culled apples for $7 total which we will peel, cut, freeze and I will use to make apple pies. I rarely use coupons, mostly because they tend to be for processed food items that we don't eat! This month I am tracking our food expenses: grocery, eat out, etc. So far, almost halfway through the month, we have spent $57.87.

I tacked on an addendum:

One clarification and further note. Warren read my comment and said we probably eat meat a few more times a week and as I think about it, he is right. I probably cook meat less than once a week but we may use anything I cook in several different dishes. The other thing Warren pointed out, that is important is note, is that we don't "work" to eat this way nor are we vegetarians; this is just how we happen to eat.

Or, as Warren would say, this is "just us."

This morning, my friend Patricia and I went walking and I brought up the great food discussion. When I got to the "less than $200 a month" part, Patricia stopped short and said "You spend less than $200 a month?"

Uh huh.

Now she is going to track her family's food spending for a few weeks to get a feel for what they are doing in that department.

I have loved the comments about my homemaking/homesteading skills. They crack me up for lots of reasons, not the least of which is having to reconcile my personal beliefs and activities with society's view of homemaking-type women. But as I have said before, just because I bake the best apple pie you will ever taste and then choose to write about it does not mean that I have parked my intellect at the door. Or that my life is trivial.

Sharon has paid me the supreme compliment of featuring me on her blog today and "hinted" she would like my apple pie recipe. Sharon, I love you! Apron up!

April's Apple Pie
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Dough for a two crust, 9 inch pie:
2 cups flour
4 teaspoons ice water
2/3 cup mayonnaise

Yes, you read that right. Mayonnaise. Stick with me.

Put the flour in a large bowl and set aside.

Measure the mayo into a smaller bowl. (Important Note: it has to be mayonnaise, not salad dressing, not fat-free or light, but the real stuff. The others will not work and you'll ruin your crust.) Measure the ice water into the mayo and whisk together until you have a white creamy liquid. It should be consistently smooth with no lumps.

Pour the liquid into the flour and stir with a fork to bind it. I usually put the fork aside after a few seconds and use my fingers. That way I can feel the dough's texture. If done correctly, the dough will come together in a fairly smooth mass. If it seems too dry, add a little more ice water a few drops at a time. If it seems greasy or super slippery, you can try adding flour a little at a time.

If it doesn't feel right at all, sometimes it is faster to dump it out and start over.

Note: A mayo crust is unusual, but once you get the hang of it, it is super easy. I have been making mayo crust pies for almost 30 years. If the apples are already sliced, I can get a pie made and in the oven in less than 10 minutes.

Apple Pie Spices
I usually stir together some sugar, cinnamon (lots), cloves, ginger, and nutmeg (a light touch). I have this set aside in a small bowl. If I am making a pie for my dad, who is diabetic, I omit the sugar and just use spices. No set amounts on any of this, but probably less than a quarter cup of sugar.

Putting Together The Pie
You should have your apples already peeled and sliced ready to go. I never use fillings or canned apples. The key to great apple pies is buy apples with good baking reputation. McIntosh, Granny Smith, Galas, Empires, for example. You can mix and match apples easily. Never ever make an apple pie with Red Delicious apples. Golden Delicious will work if mixed with other apples. I have made apple pies for so many years that I don't know how many apples a pie takes-4 or 5 big ones, maybe. If you are working with frozen apples, because you got a great buy on apples, thaw them first and add a little bit of flour - a teaspoon or so - to the apple pie spice mixture to help absorb the liquid.

Lightly flour your rolling surface. I use a rolling mat. Divide the pie dough in half and roll out the first crust and put it in your pie pan. (I love pie pans. I have a lot of them - ceramic, metal, glass. They are all wonderful.) Put the apples in. At the half-full point, I sprinkle about half the spices over the apples. I then put in the remaining apples, add the remaining spices, roll out my second crust and top the pie. Occasionally I will dot the apples with butter before I put on the crust, but that is really gilding the lily.

Note about rolling the mayo crust: it will break on you in places as you roll it and as you put it in and on the pie pan. Don't be discourage. Just patch the breaks.

Often I will glaze the pie with a sugar/water glaze, "painted on" with a pastry brush. I then sprinkle it with cinnamon. That is truly gilding the lily.

Baking the Pie
Slide into the oven on the middle rack. Back at 425 for 15 minutes, then turn down to 350 and bake another 30 minutes or so. Your pie is done when the apples are bubbling; juices may be bubbling out onto the floor of the oven. The crust should be a golden brown. (I have always wanted to write that phrase.)

Remove pie and cool. An apple pie hot out of the oven is a dangerous thing; it will burn you! My pies usually need to cool a couple of hours before they can be cut.

Serve to great acclaim.

Questions, comments, joys, concerns?


Sharon said...

Okay, April, the only thing I have to purchase is real mayo (I have the fat free stuff). But look out family, I am making pie....:)

thanks for the plug! :)

I am the working poor. said...

I am going to have to try that crust!

Captain's Wife - Jennifer said...

I'm impressed with your monthy food budget too! :) I'm definitely going to try your pie recipe! :)

Joni said...

When are you available for a personal pie baking lesson? ...touch, consistency and looks are all relative in baking/cooking terms. Plus I can only imagine the stories you could share as I learn the technique. Your house or mine? ;-)