Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A-peeling Cuisine

U.S. economic and political honchos may debate it, but here at the Wheat-Free, Meat-Free Think Tank and Test Kitchen, our experts all agree that food and gas prices are eating up an ever-larger amount of the weekly income, so it's time for some serious belt-tightening.

Eating gluten-free means avoiding all those cheap, nutritionally-devoid pre-packaged ramen noodles, mac and cheese boxes, high-fructose corn syrup-infused processed foods that clog up most of the grocery aisles. The siren call of the gluten-free frozen dinners is tempting (especially during softball season and this busy end-of-the-school-year) but they are a luxury item that simply can't be shoehorned into our weekly food budget. What's a Gluten-Free Mama of two voracious teenagers to do?

Well, don't tell my kids, but they're dumpster diving in their own house these days. I normally consign vegetable scraps to the compost bucket for our garden (a significant part of my winter exercise program is suiting up for those hikes out to the backyard in knee-deep snow). I resurrected my vegetable scrap freezer container and fill it with onion skins, celery and carrot trimmings, leek leavings and other veggie detritus, a trick I picked up one summer as a waitress/kitchen grunt in a great restaurant. Make sure the scraps are rinsed free of dirt. I don't put in remnants from the cabbage family or peppers, because their taste would be overpowering in the pot broth I later make from these leftovers.

Whenever the scrap container is full, I pop as many scraps as I can into my large crock pot, fill it with water and a couple of teaspoons of salt, then cover and cook on high for 4-6 hours. Then I strain the broth and use it in soup or as cooking water for rice or quinoa. I made an awesome spinach risotto the other night (recipe in a later post) using some of this precious broth and even Popeye couldn't have elbowed his way in to get a serving after it was pounced on by my normally spinach-detesting teens.

I leave the skins on our potatoes in a lot of recipes, but for those dishes that require spud nudity, I save the peels for a delicious snack that I have modified from Volume III of Amy Dacyzyn's fantastic and entertaining Tightwad Gazette book (NY: Villard, 1996). You want to avoid peels that have bad spots and eyes, but the other peels can be used for a quick appetizer. I haven't found that potato peels freeze well, because they turn an unsightly grey once air hits them, so I make this snack the same day. If I am using the oven to cook up the rest of our meal I use that, but if not, it's more economical to whip these up in the toaster oven. Here's the recipe:

Spicy Potato Curls

Peels from 4-5 medium potatoes
1 Tbsp. vegetable shortening
3 Tbsp. grated Parmesan or Romano
2 Tbsp. of your favorite seasoning mix (steak seasoning, garlic pepper, or a mix from your spice cabinet. We like a blend of garlic powder, chili powder, salt, pepper and sage, but you could also vary this to be Greek, Indian, Mexican, or Italian with appropriate seasonings)

Grease cookie sheet or toaster oven tray with shortening. Toss potato peels with seasonings and spread on tray. Bake in a 400 degree F oven for 10-15 minutes, turning peels at least twice during cooking time to ensure that they are appropriately crispy.

Sprinkle cheese on potatoes and bake another 3-4 minutes, or until cheese is browned. Hover over your peels during this last baking time to make sure that they don't burn.

Serve immediately.

Makes 2-4 snack servings.


Natalie, aka "Sheltie Girl" said...

I love your broth and potato curls. I do the same thing. I save my vegetable bits and use them for making broth. I love how the flavor changes with the different vegetable bits that I use in it.

I have noticed the same thing with the food prices...gas prices have always been high in NY. My perpetually empty pre-teen son is the same as yours...always eating. I've been turning to nutrient heavy bean dishes to help fill him up. Thankfully he's delighted to snack away on my healthy dishes too.

Natalie @ Gluten a Go Go

Rachel said...

Hi Sheltie Girl:

You're right, bean dishes are filling and nutritious dishes for those growing childfolk. Think I'll make bean quesadillas tonight!


Unknown said...

Your right on about having to tighten the belt lately. I'm all about being resourceful and avoiding buying ready to eat gluten-free foods. I already save my veggie scraps for broth, but never though of feeding them to the family :) -Those Tater skins look good, I'll have to try them!