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cheap and labor-intensive food-- do you do it?

The lamb neck in the butcher's case of my neighborhood market looks rather out of place amidst expensive fillets of this and that. But they butcher whole local lambs, so there it is, the cheapest thing in the case. So I bought it and made a Rogan Josh sort of curry out of it, but it sure was a lot of work to braise the necks and get the meat off the bones.

So while up to my wrists in lamb grease while pulling the meat off with my fingers, I had plenty of time to think about cooking cheap ingredients by putting hours of work into it: wontons or ravioli would fall into that category. It's almost a different species of cooking from buying something expensive like steak or scallops and cooking it quickly.

Last summer a fishmonger gave me five salmon frames after cutting off the fillets, and I scraped off the shreds of flesh and made stock with the bones, and wound up with pink gefilte fish. But i rather enjoyed the labor and the feeling of thrift and old-fashionedness, if you know what I mean.

I wonder how many people still cook like that: it's the way my grandmother cooked. I can't be the only one; they're not selling lamb neck only to me, I'm sure. At the same time, it's hard to find tongue or heart or anything like that anymore; I have to go to either a Chinese-owned or Mexican-owned market to get it.

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  1. I'm right with you! There's just something very satisfying about turning $1.00/lb odds and ends into a savory stew or sauce or stock. Or making homemade bread, or even just making a pie or cake from scratch (this is positively magic to some of my friends).

    It's sad to admit, but my mother never taught me to cook (I do remember her cooking, making jam once or twice, and such, she just never showed me how) so I've had to teach myself after a lot of years of very bad eating. But this summer my mother-in-law has promised to teach me how to can tomatoes, and I'm going to try my hand at jam, as well.

    6 Replies
    1. re: dietfoodie

      We do some canning as well, but only if the backyard is over-producing something. I've never bought something in order to can it. I need to hear the plums or apples screaming at me for a while first, and then I need my husband's help. Generally he helps peel and chop, I cook, and he cans. The hard thing is that once you start, you can't stop until you've finished and it always takes three times as long as you remember, and you go to bed at 2 a.m.

      1. re: wearybashful

        I'm horribly envious now! My 'backyard' at the moment is a very tiny, very dark apartment patio -- I'd love to have plums or apples (oh, especially plums! Nothing like a ripe, tart-skinned plum, juicy and warm from the sun) needing attention. But we have a good local grocery with great produce, and the farmer's market is just a few weeks from starting up again.

        Thanks for the heads up on the work involved -- I was going to try a batch of jam at home, but my kitchen is so small, it sounds like it might not be the most practical of jobs. That's the main reason I haven't dared canning yet, actually -- most recipes make so much, and I'm just not sure what I'll do with all those jars, since it's just the two of us.

        1. re: dietfoodie

          that has always been one of my most satisfying things about canning when
          you can go out in your back yard and pick some peaches and santa rosa plums
          and make some jam/jellies for your friends and neighbors. making jams/jellies
          is one of my hobbies and I have taught alot of different people how easy it really
          is, preparing the fruit is the most work of the whole deal. I made a batch of
          peach jam last year and I came up with this recipe, You take 6-8 large
          elberta peaches (don`t peel them) wash them, cut them up to put them in your
          blender, add a 20oz can juice and all of crushed pineapple,pectin, and blend
          until almost smoothe. after you place the peach/pineapple mixer in a stock pot
          add 15-20 cut up marascino cherries. then just cook them the way you make
          jams/jellies. my family really loves it and it has a nice look to it also..

          1. re: dietfoodie

            dietfoodie, I'm sorry I scared you about canning. Our problem is that we are always dealing with large quantities. If you are buying produce to can, you can get that under control, you can start small and see how you like it without the going to bed at 2 a.m. part.

            1. re: wearybashful

              Hee, I'm not so much scared as lazy! And afraid of what I'd do if I had six or seven jars of jam that I couldn't bear to let go to waste -- I might have to eat it all myself. But bigjimbray's recipe looks very enticing! How many jars does it make? And should I use the small jars, not the big ones? And do you think I could scale it by half?

            2. re: dietfoodie

              It's very simple to make and can just a few small jars of jam, start-to-finish in an hour or so. Ditto tomato sauce. The marathons are for those (like me) who decide they have to have a year's supply of tomato sauce in their pantry. This takes several days and considerable space.

        2. Do you do it?

          Yes--making stocks and mother sauces. All organ and funny meat bits because they're all readily available in Latin America. Quick preserves for fruit surpluses.

          Sometimes--ravioli, momos, tamales, empanandas, dim sum. Take momos. These are so labor intensive and good that they get consumed as they're made; and the person making them usually has much less of an appetite for them at the time. Cheating for some things is best: using fresh pasta and ravioli ingredients to make a dish encountered in Rome--a single large, flat "ravioli" per person. Still light and flavorful with thin fresh pasta and sauce, but without all the time doing normal sized ones.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

            Sam, what is a momo? Your description makes me really want to know!

            1. re: wearybashful

              A momo is a small hand-filled and formed steamed dumpling filled with a meat mix from Nepal.

              1. re: wearybashful

                A momo is a tibetan/Nepalese dumpling that is sort of like a potsticker... can be steamed and/or pan fried.

            2. If it tastes better, like ravioli, I'll do it. But, if it doesn't, like buying preshelled nuts or crabs, I'll buy them processed. I'm no where near as handy as the people who shell them and I end up with bitter nut pieces of pieces of crab cartilege so I'll pay extra to have them already done.

              1. Absolutely. When I have the time for it, I love to take the labor intensive route. I often will call the butcher at my grocery store and have him hold bones for stock making. I like to be able to control the ingredients going into the basics which better allows me to control over all quality. (it also allows me to make free range stocks for cheaper) Making the basics allows for interesting improvisation as well. For example, for spanish devilled eggs, rather than using store bought mayo I made mayo with extra virgin olive oil and sherry vinegar. It added tremendous flavor that regular mayo can't provide. I tend to avoid premade pastes and seasoning mixes now. I just tried my hand at jerk paste for the first time last week. it wasn't perfect, but I have hope that a few more tries should dramatically improve it. i also make my own cajun seasoning, garam masala, and thai curry pastes. I have dreams of self sufficiency; i'd love to be able to buy only raw ingredients.
                I am also a huge fan of making ravioli, pirogies, samosas and the like.

                1 Reply
                1. re: kolgrim

                  There it goes again. I tried to make a small grammatical change in my reply and it printed both my corrected copy and the old copy.

                2. I bake bread every Wednesday both family traditional and "therapy." Sure I could buy a number of fine made breads from local sources but I'd miss the work, the glorious smells from my kitchen and the smiles from family and friends.

                  I agree a good relationship with your butcher is a glorious thing! Our local guy works closely with regular customers to stretch our dollars and to nearly guarantee great holiday results. Same with local fresh mongers, farmers and vineyards. My grandmother (a Russian baker for 60 years) said, if you can appreciate the love of hard work from folks who provide food for your table, you've got a soul .