Why You Should and Can Cook at Home

Sometimes, an afternoon spent playing in the dirt with your son seems like a much better idea than cooking dinner.  In my eyes, practically any afternoon spent playing with my children was not time well spent, but time best spent.  When I speak to people about food, I get many defensive responses.  At the top of the list are: 1) I can’t cook, mostly because I never liked cooking and have grown to hate it, actually, which is very uncool these days because I can’t post a picture of what I just cooked on Instagram; 2) I can’t afford organic food.  It’s ridiculously expensive, and 3) I don’t have the time.  But there are many counterarguments for why you should and can cook at home.

Yes, You Can Cook

I am about to begin publishing a series of posts with recipes that are simple and straightforward, that even the most culinarily-impaired person can prepare.  I promise to include ingredients that most people use and eat on a regular basis.  No special kitchen tools, no ingredients that you have to buy at a specialty store or purchase online.  The goal is to encourage you to get into your kitchen.  Bring your children; bring your wife; bring your husband; bring your dog (ours are very good with clean-up when stuff “hits the deck”).  If you know how to turn on your stove, you are qualified to prepared these recipes.

Yes, You Can Afford Some Organic Food

Organic food is more expensive than conventional food.  I discuss this in another post.  But if you eat at a fast food place, and are feeding a family of four, you will probably spend about $25.  A pound of grass-fed organic beef runs about $6.50.  Add on $2.00 for rolls, $1.29 for organic leaf lettuce, less than a dollar for an organic tomato (less if you grow a tomato plant in a pot on your patio).  And maybe you get frozen fries for $2.50 (Not hard to make your own, but intimidating, so we’ll go with the frozen food section) and a bottle of soda for $1.99 (but you should drink water – it’s a lot better for you and much less expensive if it comes out of your tap and you filter it), you have spent less than $16, had some good bonding time with your family, and eaten organic food, and saved $9.00.

And you’re thinking, ‘Nine dollars?  All that for a nine-dollar savings?”  But let that add up.  Let’s say that you get fast food once a week.  Now it is $9 x 52 weeks a year, which is over $400.  Still not enough to get your attention? What if it also meant that your cholesterol levels returned to the normal zone and you could stop spending money on a prescription or two?  We tend to look at these kinds of things in a small context, but the truth is that what we eat and how we eat affects our physical and mental health.  So factor in time spent at the doctor – what is your time worth an hour?

Time is Relative

And speaking of an hour, the biggest complaint/defense I hear is “I don’t have the time.”  This is also a matter of perspective.  Some days are ridiculous.  We have them, too.  But many days are not; they are more I’d-rather-crash-on-the-couch-than-cook.  Let’s see if we can start to change that.

We can start with

Simple Burgers

  • 1 lb. of ground meat (you choose what you want to use, beef, lamb, turkey, etc.)
  • 1 t salt
  • ¼ t ground pepper
  • ¼ t onion powder

Mix all of this together and form four patties.  Fry them in a pan over a medium heat, about 6 minutes a side.  Put them on a platter in a warm spot.

If there isn’t any fat in the pan, add 1 T olive oil or butter and heat it.  Add 1 T flour and stir it around in the fat.  Add ½ C of milk, and stir until it thickens.  If you have some Worcestershire sauce, you could add a dash of that, but it isn’t necessary. Pour the sauce over the patties and take it to the table.

You can serve this with a salad that you have one of your family members make, or just slice up a head of lettuce and put some dressing on.

Start to finish, this takes about 25 minutes.

Back to School?! Breakfast

Already?

I cannot believe that the summer has slipped by so quickly, and that I am getting ready to go back to school.  No, I am not ready.  Although I don’t think I ever am ready.  Between working on the house and working on my book (Food Empowerment, the book, will be released in the Spring of 2015), I feel like I didn’t get a lot of other things done.

But here we are.

Summer breakfasts are fun.  Most days, I am like a short-order cook, taking requests, because we have the time to cook it and eat it!  Once school starts? That is another story.  I’m not even home when my children eat breakfast.

Here are some ideas to keep you from picking up that package of frozen waffles:

  1. Make your own waffles and put them in the freezer.  Separate them with a sheet of waxed paper so they come apart easily.
  2. Make a double batch of pancakes, and put them in the freezer.  My kids heat them up with butter, sprinkle them with cinnamon sugar and roll them up.
  3. Using a wide-mouth pint canning jar, put in 1/2 C of rolled oats and 1/2 C milk. Then add 1 C of frozen berries.  Put a lid on it and leave it in the fridge over night.  Grab and go in the morning.  You could use dried fruit, as well.  I also like this with applesauce.

 

Too Many Slicing Cucumbers?

The slicing cucumbers are still coming in. Slicers usually aren’t much good for pickles, not even Bread and Butter. There is only so many cucumber salads a person can eat. How do I preserve slicing cucumbers? Relish, of course. This is my “hot dog” relish, but it is great on lots of things from bratwurst to grilled fish. This recipe makes about 4 pints.

  • 7 or 8 large slicing cucumbers, halved and seeded
  • 4 large sweet onions
  • ¼ C sea Salt
  • 3 C sugar
  • ½ C All-purpose flour
  • 1 t turmeric
  • 1 t ginger
  • ½ t celery seed
  • 3 C white vinegar
  • 1 C water
  1. Grate the cucumbers and onions. The food processor will make this go quickly. In a large bowl, combine the grated cukes and onions with the salt. Lest stand 12 hours (or overnight).
  2. The next morning, squeeze out as much water as possible (see Note below).
  3. In a heavy, non-reactive pot, begin to heat the vinegar and water over medium-high heat.
  4. In a bowl, thoroughly combine the sugar, flour, turmeric, ginger and celery seed.
  5. Whisk the dry ingredients into the vinegar mixture, being sure that there are no lumps.
  6. When the mixture is all smooth, stir in the cucumber/onion mixture.
  7. Bring to a boil, and cook for about 15 minutes, until thickened. Stir frequently to prevent scorching.
  8. Ladle into prepared jars, and process 15 minutes for pints, 10 minutes for ½ pints.

Concord Grapes

grapes & scaleMy neighbor does not yet have time to use the grapes growing on the vines in her yard. She has little boys to chase and enjoy, and at nap time, she is still napping to recover from all the chasing and enjoyment. We aren’t sure how old the vines are. I know that they have been there for at least three owners of the house, and the owner before the present one was there for 17 years. What I do know is that they put out a lot of grapes!

In about a half an hour, I picked 14 lbs. of Concord grapes. Some of this will turn into jelly, the rest into grape juice concentrate. I like to use liquid pectin for jelly because I don’t have to worry about it clumping or clouding the final product.

 

Grape Jelly

  • 3 lbs. of grapes, washed and stemmed
  • ½ C water
  • 7 C sugar
  • 1 pouch liquid pectin
  1. Place grapes in a large pot with the water and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 5 – 10 minutes.
  2. Crush the grapes with a potato masher, or long handled meat tenderizer (I use the plunger from my grinder), and simmer another 5 – 10 minutes.
  3. Strain juice through a jelly bag (See Note below). Do not squeeze the bag!
  4. In a clean pot, measure 4 cups of the prepared juice.
  5. Stir in the sugar. Do not reduce the sugar if you are using standard pectin. If you want to reduce the sugar, use pectin made especially for low-sugar recipes!
  6. Bring the mixture to a full rolling boil – a boil that cannot be stirred down.
  7. Quickly stir in the pectin, and return to a full rolling boil.
  8. Boil for exactly 1 minute.
  9. Turn off hear and let stand for 1 minute. Skim any foam from the top.
  10. Ladle into prepared jars and process.

Note: I used an old sheet and made jelly bags that fit inside my chinois. When I am done, I can throw the jelly bag in the washer and it gets completely clean – no pulp hanging on anywhere.

You can do a “second pressing” to make another batch of jelly: Return the pulp to the pot, and add ½ C of water. Bring up to a simmer and return it to the jelly bag. This time you can squeeze the bag to get all of the juice out of it. The result will taste great, but will be a little cloudy.

Grape Juice Concentrate

  • 10 lbs. Concord grapes, washed and stemmed
  • 2 quarts cold water
  • 3 ½ C sugar
  1. Combine water and grapes in a large pot, and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 15 – 20 minutes.
  2. Pour contents into a juice bag (I use one of my homemade jelly bags), and squeeze it until you get all of the juice out of it.
  3. Return the juice to the pot and add the sugar. Bring this to a full boil and boil for 10 – 15 minutes.
  4. Ladle into prepared jars and process.

To serve, dilute 1:1. My daughter likes to make grape soda by diluting the concentrate with seltzer.

Eggplant Pickle: Preserved Eggplant at its Best

I was at Fernbrook Farm’s CSA this morning, and much to my delight, there was a bounty of eggplant!  I love eggplant.  I love eggplant parm and this roasted eggplant dip my husband makes that has taken the place of baba ganoush on our table. I like eggplant that has been thick sliced, salted, and then cooked on the grill, dressed with a little olive oil.  But what to do when there is more eggplant than can be eaten fresh?  As far as I am concerned there is only one way to preserve eggplant and that is to pickle it.  Pickled eggplant is wonderful.  I have tried drying it, and while it did keep very well, I was never happy with the results I got using the rehydrated eggplant in recipes.

Here are my two favorite eggplant pickles.  One is a hot-water-bath processed pickle that can be kept in the pantry.  The other is a “raw pickle” and MUST BE REFRIGERATED!

Eggplant Pickles 1

  • 1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2″x 1/2″x3″ sticks
  • 2 T sea salt
  • 3 C white vinegar
  • 1 C balsamic vinegar
  • Basil leaves
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 t whole peppercorns
  1. Salt the eggplant sticks, and toss them gently to distribute the salt.  Lay the sticks in one layer between on a cookie sheet covered with towels.  Cover with more towels and another cookie sheet, and put something heavy on top of the cookie sheet to press the excess water form the eggplant.  Let it rest for one hour.
  2. In a pan, heat both vinegars.
  3. Prepare jars.  In the bottom of the jar, add basil and garlic and peppercorns.  Add the eggplant sticks, being sure that the sticks are not taller than the 1/2 inch of head space needed.
  4. Cover the eggplant with the hot vinegar.
  5. Cover with lids and process in a hot-water bath for 10 minutes.
  6. Wait about three weeks before eating these!

Eggplant Pickles 2 (The Family Favorite)

  • About 2 lbs. eggplant, peeled and cut into 1″x1/2″x1/2″ pieces
  • 2t salt
  • 1/4 C red wine vinegar
  • 3 cloves of garlic thinly slices
  • 1/2 t hot pepper flakes
  • 12 basil leaves, torn
  • 1/4 c olive oil
  1. Toss the eggplant with the salt and let drain in a colander for 12 hours (or overnight).
  2. Gently press the pieces to remove anymore water.
  3. Toss the eggplant with the vinegar and let stand 1 hour.
  4. In a jar, layer the eggplant with the garlic, basil, and red pepper flakes, pressing down to fit as much as you can in the jar.  Cover the top with olive oil.
  5. Refrigerate overnight, and then check the oil level.  Add more oil if needed.
  6. Wait four to five days before eating, but 6 weeks is better.

Serve at room temperature.  These will keep in the refrigerator for a year.

Happy eggplant!!