Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

Friday Food: A Weekend Trip

This past weekend Jason and I attended the Mother Earth News Conference in Seven Springs, PA, about an hour away from our home. I’ll write up a recap soon because it was a great place to learn how to do and make just about anything you can think of that revolves around food, livestock. gardening, home, or energy.

But for now, I’ll tell you how we frugally prepare for a weekend trip.

Even though our lodging was free, we didn’t have much to spend on food. That whole renovation thing is looming, along with a family wedding in San Francisco in a few weeks.

On our first weekend alone in 4 years and 8 months (but who’s counting?), neither of us wanted to spend time cooking. But eating out is expensive, and we don’t like much fast food.

Before our trip, I went to Trader Joe’s. That’s the secret, right there. Of course, you could go to any grocery store, but that’s just what I was nearby when it occurred to me that we should pack a few meals rather than eating out the whole weekend. I really did put exactly that much thought into it.

I bought a roasted vegetable frozen pizza, toaster waffles, fruit and vegetables that traveled well, and fruit and vegetables for juicing (of course I took the juicer!). I also packed up most of the fruit we had in the fridge. Let me stop here and say that we don’t usually eat toaster waffles or frozen pizza, preferring whole foods, but there is a reason these things are made. They taste fine, they are convenient, and are much less expensive than eating out!

I have a sturdy box that I keep in our storage “area” (read: shelf) and use that to pack food and the juicer to take to my mom’s when I visit. With that and one of our small, soft coolers, I packed quite a bit of food. We also took coffee, creamer, sugar, already assembled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and some cookies. And some wine.

For both breakfasts we had toaster waffles, asian pear, clementines, fresh green juice, and coffee. Lunch on Saturday consisted of pb&j sandwiches, carrots and apples eaten on the fly during and between sessions. Saturday evening we found an inexpensive restaurant and treated ourselves by taking two pieces of cake back to the condo. Sunday we bought both an early lunch and late lunch (both small meals) at the conference, managing to snag the very last drops of chili from an amazing vegan mobile food vendor.

A vendor who is locally-based but for whom I can find no contact info on the web! Ranita’s. Anyone know it?

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Do you pack any food when you travel?

 

Foodie Friday: Cooking Once A Week

Crockpot on low

This week we had one doctor’s appointment each day, several volunteer obligations, and some friends to see as well. The week culminates today in us leaving the kids with Jason’s aunt & uncle so that we can have our first weekend away (that doesn’t involve a general anesthesia) since having them. Woohoo!

(You know we’re probably going to play Scrabble and be asleep by 10pm, right?)

We’re attending the Mother Earth News Conference, which I’m pretty excited about. They offer tons of sessions about everything from solar panel installation to my favorite, worm bins!

This means that I wanted to spend almost no time cooking this week, but still keep our foods up to my standards. So I cooked on Sunday.

Granted, much of our food for the week was already prepared in the deep freeze and unearthed in last Saturday’s freezer move. But here’s what I found in the freezer, and here’s what I cooked on Sunday:

Freezer Meals:

  • Blueberry Oatcakes
  • Pumpkin Prune Oatmeal
  • Organic Hot Dogs (part of our Aunt & Uncle’s freezer clean-out a few weeks ago)
  • One-Pot Spaghetti
  • Joy’s Cincinnatti Lentil Chili
  • Rice
  • Broccoli Cheddar Soup
  • Mushroom Barley Soup

Cooked Today:

  • Carol’s Granola x2
  • Papa John’s Crockpot Roast Beef
  • Red Lentils (made to taste and be used like mashed potatoes–delicious!)
  • Braised Baby Bok Choy (we ate all of this at dinner & loved it)
  • Barbeque Chicken Crockpot Packet (I couldn’t find this recipe on the site, but I know it’s available in this e-book–that was offered free when I signed up emails)

So I had two crockpots going from early in the morning, and then while I was making the lentils and bok choy for dinner, I made and baked the granola. Dessert Sunday night was spoonfuls of hot granola–yum!

I am preparing for a bulk cooking morning with a friend next week by trying to eat up odds and ends in our freezer, which will hopefully make room for the new meals. The things I cooked or thawed today will cover us for most breakfasts and dinners this week!

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How do you prepare for a busy week?

Foodie Friday: Harvest Soup

Fall is my favorite time of year. I love the smell of fall, the colors of the leaves and playing in them with my kids, and the cooler weather that is so appreciated after Pittsburgh’s steamy summers.

And I love the food. We celebrate fall in our family by preserving lots of the harvested produce, including making applesauce, roasting peppers, and roasting and pureeing pumpkin. We also celebrate with farm visits to pick pumpkins, football, long hikes, and evening walks.

I’ve long lusted after the recipe for Whole Foods’ Triple Squash Soup. After trying four or five recipes, this is the one that comes the closest for me. I love this soup and will happily eat it every single day for a few months. Like most meals around here, this is made in mass quantity and frozen. We’ve kept it frozen for up to 7 months in an upright deep freeze, and it was delicious reheated. In fact, this is one of those meals that’s even better the next day.

We often serve this with homemade wheat bread toasted for dipping, and balsamic-glazed brussel sprouts on the side.

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Harvest Soup

One of the easiest ways to make this soup is to use vegetables that have already been roasted. Each fall I roast lots of butternut squash  and sweet potatoes, mash them and freeze them, and then I can add them to recipes as needed (or reheat & eat alone). It still cooks the same amount of time, but the amount of time spent chopping is considerably shorter.

Diced Squash carrots apple sweet potato

A huge bowl of diced squash, carrots, apples and sweet potato. This was only one half of one butternut squash–the rest of the three went into the pot later since they take a few minutes each to peel and cut.

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil/butter
  • 2 shallots (or small onions)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 very large sweet potato, peeled and cubed (or previously baked and peeled)
  • 1 peeled and cubed butternut squash (or  a roasted & mashed butternut squash, no skin)
  • 1 cup diced carrots (2 large)
  • 1 granny smith apple, peeled, cored, and diced
  • 2 quarts chicken/vegetable broth/stock
  • 1 tsp chicken/vegetable stock concentrate
  • a few dashes of your faorite seasoning salt (I use Penzey’s)
  • 2 large bay leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • pepper to taste

Optional

  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup light cream

Directions

1. Add butter/oil to a large pot over medium heat. Stir in all onions, and cook until the onion is just starting to brown a tiny bit, about 7 minutes

2. Add the potato, squash, carrots, apple, stock. Yesterday I had to add a quart of water here to cover the veggies, but then my soup turned out a little thinner than I like. Not sure it’s necessary that all veggies be covered since they all have so much water in them.

3. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, add bay leaves, cover, and simmer until the vegetables are soft, about 20 minutes.

4. Season with nutmeg, seasoning salt, salt and pepper.

5. Puree the soup (I use my awesomely handy stick blender).

6. Stir in optional ingredients if desired and simmer gently for 5 minutes.

Enjoy!

Usually I make this soup vegetarian with homemade vegetable broth and concentrate, but this week I realized I had a huge supply of chicken broth in the bottom of the upright freezer.

We don’t use any of the optional ingredients–we rarely have cream or white wine around the house.

Last night, we decided to have an homage to fall, skip the typical green side, and serve it with Baked Spaghetti Squash and Bread Machine Buttery Rolls.

This was my favorite soup last fall and winter. I made a triple batch of soup this afternoon; it’s a lot of chopping, but I now have 12 quarts of this heavenly soup on reserve. And, in case you’re wondering, one quart makes a nice serving size for all four of us at a meal.

Foodie Friday: Homemade Vegetable Stock

Vegetable scraps

photo by krugerin50

A friend reminded me of something that I do but hadn’t considered a recipe.

I make my own vegetable stock. 

It’s so easy, it’s almost criminal. Here’s my high tech system:

  1. Write on a medium to large container with lid or ziplock bag “VegStock”.
  2. Place the medium to large container or ziplock in freezer.
  3. When you cut vegetables such as celery, garlic, carrots, onions, anything except potatoes or tomatoes, really, throw the scraps into the bag/container.
  4. When the container/bag is full, take it out and dump the contents into a 6 quart or larger crockpot.
  5. Fill the crockpot with water.
  6. Turn the crockpot on low, and leave for 8-12 hours.
  7. Turn it off, take the crock out of the heating element in order to let it cool, and let sit for an hour.
  8. Ladle the stock into containers through a mesh strainer to catch any chunks, label and date, and freeze for future use.

So easy, a toddler AND a preschooler can help.

Two other little tricks:

1. After straining the vegetables and herbs out, I’ll often throw them back into the crockpot, fill with water again, and then cook on low overnight (because the initial straining and freezing process is always happening in the evening). In the morning, I have what I call “VegStock2.” Not quite as flavorful or nutritious as the original VegStock, but great for using instead of water to make rice, quinoa, or any savory grain.

2. To make a stock with strong flavor of a particular vegetable, I sometimes have multiple stock bags going in my freezer. I use garlic and onions in my refried beans, but those vegetables are removed well before eating. Since we use lots of garlic and onions, I mark a bag “Refried Bean Stock” and add all garlic and onion scraps. When I’m ready to make refried beans, the day before I make the Refried Bean Stock exactly as outlined above. Then, after soaking the dried beans, I’ll add as much of the Refried Bean Stock as I have and usually don’t need to add any additional water, onions, or garlic.

Oh, think about adding hot peppers to make a spicy broth. Doesn’t that sound like it would be an awesome remedy for a winter cold?

Foodie Friday: Green Juice

I recently bought a juicer and shortly after that, I gave up caffeine. Why would I do such a crazy thing?

Juice, that’s why.

A caveat here: I believe there’s more nutritional value to eating the entire plant rather than simply the extracted juice. My attitude about the juicer is that the juice I make is a bonus. I don’t count it if I ever sit down and think about how many servings of fruit and vegetables my family is eating every day. And I’m drinking kale at 6am instead of coffee loaded up with cream and sugar (the only way I like coffee), so I consider that a definite step up. Especially since Jason and I don’t like kale. It’s a texture thing. We keep trying it in recipes, but juice and smoothies are our favorite way to eat this superfood.

Below is our favorite juice recipe so far. Jason loves it, will drink as much as I make, asks for more, and is thrilled when I make him a jar and leave it in the fridge before I leave town.

Oh, and the kids drink it. Happily, and while making approving slurping noises. ‘Nuff said.

Favorite Green Juice

1 large bunch of kale, about 20 leaves with stems

3 smallish green apples (cored when I know the kids will be drinking some)

8 carrots, ends cut off

1 large cucumber, peeled

1 lemon, roughly peeled with a knife

Wash everything and cut apples if you don’t want the seeds. Peeling the cucumber and lemon is pure personal preference. We feel that the juice is a little too bitter with those left on. Bunch the kale up with one or two carrots–that helps keep it from being spun out without juicing in our. This makes enough for a family of four to have large, age-appropriate glasses of juice.

I read that the leftover pulp could be used to make a savory turnover, so I think I might try that soon by juicing the kale, carrots and cucumber first, saving that pulp to cook with, and then juicing the lemon and apples.

Right now, all the pulp is fed to our worms, who are devouring it. I think they’re happy to have the food so easily edible.

Foodie Friday: Two Farmer’s Markets, Spaghetti Squash, and a Pumpkin

Farmer's Market

Photo by Figmint77

It’s my intention to generally put a recipe in here, but I just don’t have one today. I think I stayed up too late talking to Jason on the phone about kitchen window options and bathroom vents with lights and heat optional.

So instead, I’ll tell you about our adventures today. I took the kids to an open-air farmer’s market. It was small, but mighty and covered by a large tent. There was a group giving away free children’s books and stickers, and I even saw a booth for face painting as we were leaving. There were only three or four farmers (yet lots of tempting baked goods!), but one had a sign up that his produce was chemical-free naturally grown, so that’s where we spent the bulk of our money.

We bought 6 cucumbers, 2 zucchini, 2 yellow squash, 2 spaghetti squash, 4 acorn squash and a pumpkin.

After we left that farmer’s market, we hopped over to another indoor market that’s actually a buyer and reseller of local food, hoping to find salad greens and kale. No luck. But we did find decent looking apples, so we bought about 10.

After lunch I cut the pumpkin in half, scooped out the seeds and fiber and placed the halves cut-side-down in two baking dishes and added about a quarter inch of water. Baked at 350 degrees, they took about 2.5 hours because this is the largest pie pumpkin I’ve ever seen. Once cool, I’ll scoop out the flesh and smash it a bit and then freeze it to use in recipes (like Pumpkin Oatmeal).

I’m debating on roasting the seeds–there aren’t many there.

I asked the farmer about the spaghetti squash and he told me how his wife prepares it. Simply cut the spaghetti squash in half, scoop out the seeds, and place in a baking dish cut side up. This is the genius part: his wife puts marinara on top of the squash at the beginning! And when you pull it out of the oven, there is a cooked spaghetti squash baked with sauce. A little parmesan on top and it’s complete. That sounds so easy!

Wait, that’s a recipe!

I’ll update this post with a photo of the finished squash once it comes out of the oven tonight.

**UPDATE: We ate it all, before I could even think to take a picture. Apparently, we were a wee bit hungry! The kids took a couple of bites and declared it yucky (but they both have texture issues, so whatev), but my mom and I ate 2 spaghetti squash by ourselves. We topped it with a little basil tomato feta and sharp cheddar cheese, because that’s what we had. It was delicious, and I will definitely be making this again soon.

Quick Review: Take the Fight Out of Food

This comes as no shock to those of you who know me well, but I worry about nutrition. I also worry about the chemicals used in producing our food and the healthiness of the animals who produce our meat, eggs and diary.

But the health of my children and husband–I probably give nothing else save laundry more thought. Sometimes I just want to burn that laundry pile! So I’m reading some parenting and nutrition books this month which serve as pretty valuable reminders, and often reinforce that I’m doing about as well as I can.

Take the Fight Out of Food by Donna Fish discussed the power struggles and food fights parents can have. As the parent of a 1.5 and 3.5 year old, I’m having many of the ones she outlines in her book. This was a quick read and had lots of pretty simple things to implement in order to get your kids to “eat for life,” by which she means eat healthily for life.

I found the parts about getting kids not to fixate on treats and sugar particularly helpful! In fact, we’re already implementing some of the strategies with J. In all, a solid book if your child is refusing to eat vegetables, fixating on sugary treats, or simply refusing to eat at all.