Monday, March 28, 2011


I would looooove if I could talk a non-cook into testing these basic egg recipes. Any takers? Puh-leeeease?


Eggs are great for breakfast with buttered toast or home fries, and also with ketchup or salsa. For later meals, eggs are great in salads, as egg salad, or eaten hard boiled and whole, as a snack.

There has been much worry over the quantity of cholesterol in eggs. However, research has shown that a person’s cholesterol has more to do with eating saturated fat than with eating cholesterol. And, in fact, cholesterol is something that young children need in their diet. Eggs have so much to offer nutritionally, that leaving them out of your diet would be tragic.

(More nutrition info on eggs to be added later. . .)

Scrambled Egg (quick meal)

Put a tablespoon of butter in a skillet, and melt over medium heat. Break the desired number of eggs into a bowl. Add a dash of salt and pepper, and then beat with a fork until evenly mixed. Pour the beaten eggs into the skillet, add stir with a rubber spatula until the eggs are cooked.

Fried Egg (quick meal)

Put a tablespoon of butter in a skillet, and melt over medium heat. Break one or two eggs directly into the pan. Sprinkle on a dash of salt and pepper. Once the egg white has solidified, either put a lid on the pan to cook the top of the egg, or use a spatula to ever-so-gently flip the egg. Serve promptly for a runny yolk, or leave in the pan a little longer for a cooked yolk.

Fried egg with solidly-cooked yolk makes a great breakfast sandwich. Toss some grated or sliced cheese on top of the egg while it finishes cooking, and then serve on toast.

Omelette (quick meal)

Put a tablespoon of butter in a skillet, and melt over medium low heat. Break one to three eggs into a bowl. Add a dash of salt and pepper, and about a tablespoon of milk or water per egg. (The milk or water make the omletter puff up a bit.) Beat with a fork until evenly mixed.

Pour the beaten eggs into the skillet, and do not stir. When the egg mixture is almost cooked through (which you can judge by jiggling the pan) sprinkle grated cheese on top, or other fillings such as chopped greens, cooked vegetables, or cooked meats. Use a spatula to fold the omlette in half, and continue to cook until the cheese begins melting out the sides of the omlette.

Hard Boiled Egg (ingredient or quick meal)

Hard boiled eggs are great as egg salad, or chopped and added to a salad of leafy greens. They also make a fantastic breakfast or lunch finger-food for small children.

Hard boiling is a great way to use up eggs which are approaching their expiration date, because older eggs are easier to peel. Kept refrigerated in their shells, hard boiled eggs can be kept for a week.

Quick Method: Put the eggs in a sauce pan and cover with water by one inch. Heat until boiling. Boil for about six minutes. Use running tap water or ice water to cool the eggs.

Longer Method: This method of making “hard boiled” egg supposedly results in a better quality result. Put the eggs in a sauce pan and cover with water by one inch. Heat until almost boiling. Then turn off the heat, put a lid on the pan, and let the eggs sit for about 15 minutes. (If you have extra large eggs, add a couple of minutes. For small eggs, subtract a couple of minutes.) Use running tap water or ice water to cool the eggs.

Soft Boiled Eggs (quick meal)

The perfect soft boiled egg has cooked whites and a runny yolk. Soft boiled egg can be eaten straight out of the shell with a spoon, or can be scooped out onto torn-up buttered toast, and served with a dash of salt and pepper.

Put the eggs in a sauce pan and cover with water by one inch. Heat until boiling. Boil for about three minutes. Use running tap water or ice water to cool the eggs. Serve at once.

Egg salad (quick meal)

To make egg salad, follow the recipe for tuna salad, substituting about two eggs per each can of tuna.

Frittata (quick meal)

A frittata is basically a family-sized omelette. Like soup, frittata is a great way to use leftover ingredients. You can throw in leftover cooked vegetables, cooked meats, raw chopped greens, or cooked pasta. If you do not have leftover cooked meats or vegetables to use, you can first cook some in the same pan that you will then cook the frittata in. The exact number of ingredients used depends on the size of the pan. This recipe assumes that you are using a small pan (about 12 inches in diameter), and the results feed about three people.

Frittata can either be cooked entirely on the stove top, by putting a lid on the pan and cooking at medium-low heat, or the frittata can be cooked in an oven-proof pan and finished under the broiler. Broiling results in a nicely browned top, and can be used to melt some additional cheese on top, if you desire.

Serve frittata by itself, or topped with a sauce (such as marinara or cheese sauce) or you can make a sandwich from a slice of frittata.

6 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup grated cheese
Salt and pepper
1 or 2 cups cooked vegetables, cooked meats, raw chopped greens, or cooked pasta
2 or 3 tbsp butter

If you are starting with raw meats or vegetables, first cook these in a tablespoon of butter until cooked. Set these aside and use the same pan for the frittata.

Melt 2 tbsp butter in the pan on medium low heat. Tilt the pan to butter the sides. In a mixing bowl, beat together the eggs, cheese, milk, salt and pepper. Pour this mixture into the pan, and do not stir. After a minute or two, sprinkle the veggies and/or meats into the egg. Put a lid on the pan and continue to cook until the frittata is solid all the way through. Or, cook without a lid until just the surface remains runny, and then place the pan under the broiler until the frittata is browned on top and solid all the way through.

Sauce Fail

The beef stroganoff I made for dinner this evening was just about perfect, and I managed to get it cooked in time for Chris to eat before running off to the community garden meeting. And then I added Worcestershire sauce, because that's what Chris likes, and he puts it in his stroganoff. So I dump some in. . . and my milk sauce curdles. Dang it!

It turns out Chris adds the Worcestershire sauce while he's browning the meat. And then I'm not even sure if he uses milk or just sour cream. And he can't remember, either.

Grumble grumble stupid curdled sauce.

At least Gabe liked the buttery noodles, and the orange he pilfered while my back was turned.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Pizza Bread

Pizza Bread was a staple of my childhood! It was one of the few recipes that my dad regularly made.

Tomato-Paste Pizza Sauce

If you are making pizza, either from scratch, from store-bought dough, or if you are making pizza bread, you can use marinara sauce as your pizza sauce. However, marinara sauce is a bit watery as a pizza topping. This recipe makes a thicker sauce that is less likely to leave your crust soggy.

Usually when vegetables are canned, they lose nutrition. Tomatoes are an exception to this rule, however, and tomato paste is the most nutrient-rich form of tomatoes you can find!

1 small can tomato paste
¼ cup water
Dried or minced garlic to taste
Dried or minced onion to taste
Other Italian herbs to taste, such as oregano or basil
(optional) sugar to taste

Mix all of the ingredients, then use in your pizza recipe.

Pizza Bread (quick meal)

You can make your own pizza at home as a quick meal using bread or English muffins. This is a great meal for children, especially if you get them involved in making the pizza.

Toasted bread slices or toasted English muffin halves
Pizza sauce or marinara sauce
Mozzarella cheese, shredded or sliced thin
(optional) pepperoni, chopped greens, cooked sausage, onion, or any other pizza topping that you like!

On top of the toasted bread, add the tomato sauce, cheese, and optional toppings. Put the little pizzas in a casserole dish or on a cookie sheet. Cook them under the broiler or bake at 350 degrees until the cheese melts. Serve and enjoy!

Two Russian Salads

This is my first attempt at reverse-engineering at two of my favorite salads from the Russian grocery store. I have not tested these yet.

Russian Beet Salad (quick side dish)

This slaw is a glorious hot pink color, and surprisingly sweet, given that it contains garlic.

1 cup cooked or canned beets, chopped finely, or grated
2 tbsp mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, minced, or 1 tsp dried garlic
¼ cup chopped or smashed walnuts
Salt and pepper to taste
(optional) raisins, or chopped prunes

If using fresh beets, peel, boil, and cool first. Then chop them into fine bits, or grate them using the largest holes of a cheese grater. Combine all of the ingredients, and serve!

Cucumber Radish Salad (quick side dish)

If you have ever wondered what to do with those little red radishes from the garden, this salad is a great way to use them up.

1 cup cucumber, sliced
1 cup radish, sliced
3 tbsp mayonnaise
Chopped scallions

Combine all of the ingredients and serve!

Broiled Chicken, Chicken Soups, Borscht

My friend Jen gave me the recipe for broiled chicken after I ate about a dozen of her chicken legs at one sitting. And I had thought baked chicken was the pinnacle of chicken! Now I know what a difference in flavor broiling makes.

Chicken soup has been a staple at my house for quite some time. Almost anything can go into it. But I never really experimented with cabbage or beets in my chicken soup until my Russian friend Ilya introduced me to our local Russian grocery store. Oh. My. God. I never expected to love Russian food. The best part of this store: they have a hot food bar, and usually all of the ingredients for the foods are listed. And the lists of usually look like this: chicken, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, onion. Or beets, walnuts, mayonaise, salt, pepper, garlic. Nothing fancy, nothing expensive, but everything is magnificently flavorful.

Their soups inspired me to make my own version of borscht, loaded with purple cabbage and beets. Holy delicious!

Broiled Chicken (quick meal)

Cooking chicken under the broiler gives it a barbecue flavor that you can’t get by baking or boiling. This is a particularly fast way to cook smaller chicken pieces, such as drumsticks or wings.

Chicken pieces
Oil (preferably olive oil)
Salt and pepper
(optional) other herbs or spices, such as paprika, sage, curry spices, Mexican spices. . . You name it!
(optional) barbecue sauce
(optional) Italian salad dressing

Arrange the chicken pieces on an edged cookie sheet, or in a casserole dish. Drizzle the chicken with oil (or barbecue sauce, or Italian dressing), then sprinkle on salt, pepper, and optional spices. Set the chicken in the oven so that it is about two inches below the broiler. Then, set the broiler on high.

You will need to stay close while broiling your chicken, because it is easy to burn food under the broiler. Use your nose to tell when the chicken is cooking, and when it starts to get a little burned. (A little burning helps to give it that nice barbecue flavor.)

When the chicken starts to get a little burned, slide out the oven wrack and flip the chicken pieces over.
You can tell when the chicken is done by cutting into it. Cooked chicken is no longer pink in the middle, and the juices will run clear. To be safe, you can check the temperature with a meat thermometer. 165 degrees or higher is “done”.

Smaller pieces of chicken may only take 20 minutes to cook. If you are cooking pieces of various sizes, you may need to take the smaller pieces out of the oven as they finish cooking, to prevent them from getting over-cooked.

Chicken Soup (quick meal)

There are many, many ways to make chicken soup. The ingredients you can use are almost endless, and you can toss in all sorts of odds and ends, including leftover pasta, leftover rice, leftover vegetables, and leftover meats. You can make a pot of soup small enough for just yourself, or big enough for a large crowd. Here are some possible variants that you can try:

Quick Chicken Soup (quick meal)

Cooked chicken
Chicken broth or stock
Leftover cooked rice or pasta
Leftover vegetables (or frozen vegetables, or fresh, chopped vegetables)
Salt and pepper to taste
(optional) herbs and spices
(optional) milk or cream

Heat the chicken broth or stock to a boil. Add the vegetables first, if they are fresh or frozen, and, simmer until they are cooked to your liking. Add everything but the milk or cream and return to a simmer. Add the optional milk or cream, and heat just until steaming. Season to taste. Serve, and enjoy!

Classic Chicken Soup (quick meal)

Raw chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces, or cooked chicken
Chicken stock or broth
Uncooked pasta or rice
Carrots, chopped
Celery, chopped
Onion, chopped
Garlic, minced (or garlic powder)
Salt and pepper to taste
(optional) herbs such as bay leaf, thyme, parsley, sage, rosemary

In the bottom of the soup pot, first sauté the onion and the chicken in a bit of oil (if using raw chicken). If using minced fresh garlic, throw it in just as the chicken is almost done cooking. Then add everything else. Bring to a gentle boil, and cook until the pasta or rice are done.

Borscht (quick meal)

Borscht is a traditional vegetable soup from Eastern and Central Europe. There are many variants. This is not a traditional borscht, but like many versions of borscht, it contains beets, which turn the soup a wonderful pink or purple color. Purple cabbage will make this soup even more vibrantly colored, and gives it a sweet flavor.

This soup is also fantastic with ham in place of chicken. A vegetarian version can be made with vegetable broth and no meat.

(optional) cooked chicken, or ham, or cooked sausage
Chicken, pork, or vegetable stock or broth
Shredded cabbage
Potato, cut small
chopped beets
salt and pepper to taste
Chopped or dried onion
Garlic, minced (or garlic powder)
(optional) dill
(optional) herbs such as bay leaf, thyme, parsley, sage, rosemary
(optional) heavy cream or sour cream

Put all of the ingredients except for the cream in a soup pot, and simmer until the cabbage and potato are soft. Remove from heat and stir in the cream, or add sour cream as a garnish.

Turnip Fail

I just attempted to make baked French fries from turnip. They came out soggy, AND burned, AND tasting like raw turnip. Triple fail.

Turnip in soup, however, came out indistinguishable from potato. I guess that was a win, because raw turnip flavor is pretty blargh.

Gabe got points for tasting one of the fail fries, at least. He then handed me the uneaten half.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Excuses excuses. . .

I've dropped the ball with the cookbook these past couple of weeks. On top of the baby in my belly sucking the energy out of me, I got one of these lovely chest colds that just stays and stays. I'm sure that the temptation to read Wise Man's Fear (a novel I have eagerly awaited for the past year) has had nothing at all to do with my sudden streak of unproductiveness. . .

Thankfully I'm done with the book now, and the cold is on the decline. Last night I was motivated to make pizza from store-bought dough. While I don't think such a meal would be a good fit for the cookbook, the sauce I made for it might be worth tossing in. A can of tomato paste plus herbs and seasonings and a little water makes a much better pizza sauce than marinara sauce does, since it isn't as runny.

In two and a half weeks we'll be a family of four! And last week will be my final week at work. Assuming I don't spawn early, I'll have a few days with nothing better to do than cookbookery and nervous nesting.

I think I was too ambitious to expect to have the whole first draft written by my due date. But I suppose as soon as Steve's wiki is ready, I can start dumping recipes into it, regardless of where the book is at.

And dang, I have learned a ton researching this thing. I'm sure I have already posted this somewhere, but this website has been invaluable.

This article is little more than a condensed version of something in the Journal of HortScience, which I can't read without subscribing, but it summarizes nicely the various reasons why produce is less nutritious than it was 50 years ago. This further convinces me that obesity is tied to lack of nutrition in food.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Some Reading

"Only 26 percent of the nation’s adults eat vegetables three or more times a day, [the Center for Disease Control and Prevention] concluded. (And no, that does not include French fries.) These results fell far short of health objectives set by the federal government a decade ago. . . only 23 percent of [American] meals include a vegetable. . ." From this article. Says one person interviewed: "'I’m not afraid of zucchinis, but I just don’t know how to cook them.'” "Women, as well as people who are older and more educated and have higher incomes, tend to eat more vegetables." ". . .students who gardened ate one and half servings more of fruits and vegetables a day than those who [didn't]."

"All of this raises the possibility that those cafeteria ladies, with their hairnets and their soup ladles, may be doing more to change the way America eats than all the independent documentaries and Michael Pollan books and Whole Foods markets combined. It’s an astonishing fact considering they operate on a food budget of $1 per meal." I'm glad to hear that some schools are getting lunch right. But wow, that's a small amount of money to work with.

"Diet and exercise do matter, they now know, but these environmental influences alone do not determine an individual’s weight. . ." " "Struggling against the brain’s innate calorie counters, even strong-willed dieters make up for calories lost on one day with a few extra bites on the next. And they never realize it. “The system operates with 99.6 percent precision,” Dr. Friedman said." From this article. I haven't read enough to support this, but my theory is that the body has two goals: given that the body has a target number of calories, it likely also has target nutrition levels. If a body is consistently getting fewer nutrients than it needs, perhaps that is what causes it to consistently demand more calories. And on top of this, I doubt a body can emit the proper urgings to eat genuinely nutritious foods, such as kale, if it never gets a first taste of it to begin with.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Bread Pudding Refined, Kale Chips added.

I tested this recipe again today, using a casserole dish instead of a loaf pan. The results were just as delicious, but took less time to cook.

Savory Bread Pudding
(cook in advance)

This bread pudding makes a filling meal for a whole family. Only the eggs, milk, and bread are necessary - everything else can be substituted with other things or left out. This recipe is also good for hiding vegetables in, if you have picky children to feed.

The necessary parts:
6 cups of torn-up stale or toasted bread (6 slices of sandwich bread)
6 eggs
1 ½ cups milk
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper

Optional ingredients:
ham, cooked chicken, cooked bacon, cooked sausage, or other cooked meat
Cheese, grated or cut into cubes
Chopped or grated vegetables, including onion, winter squash, greens, or peas
Other spices of your choice, including sage, rosemary, cumin, garlic, or whatever sounds good.

Fill a loaf pan or casserole dish with the torn bread, plus whatever optionals you wish to add. Beat together the eggs, milk, salt, pepper, and optional spices. Pour this mixture over the bread. If any bits of bread remain sticking out of the liquid, push them down into the liquid. Bake at 400 degrees for about 50 minutes if you use a loaf pan, or 35 minutes if you use a casserole dish. The pudding is done when it has become solid all the way through the middle. To take the guesswork out, you can also use a thermometer. The pudding will be done when the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.

If you cook this in a loaf pan, then cook the loaf pan on top of a cookie sheet to catch the overflow.

I had heard talk of kale chips being delicious, so of course I had to try this. My first attempt was overcooked and over-salted, but to my shock, my toddler not only tried the chips, but loved them. He saw me washing some greens this afternoon and ran over yelling "kale chips!" I need to double check the salt quantity again, and come up with some variants, but this is essentially it:

Kale Chips
(quick snack)

As odd as this recipe sounds, if your kids like potato chips, chances are they will love kale chips!

2 cups kale, torn into chip-sized pieces
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp oil

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Wash the kale, and pat it dry with a clean dish towel. The more dry the kale, the better the chips will be. Tear the kale leaves off of the thick stems (which you can discard) and into chip-sized pieces. Then, in a mixing bowl, toss the kale with the salt and oil, mixing it thoroughly with your hand until the leaves are evenly coated.

Spread the kale on a cookie sheet, and bake for about 10 minutes, until the leaves are crunchy but not burned.

Refined Recipes: Oats, Chicken Nuggets

I made the oatmeal pancakes again this morning, testing out the stove-top batter-heating method. When my husband and our visiting friend wake up, I'll get to surprise them with pancakes - and I'll get to see how the batter holds up to being refrigerated. (Supposedly they get better when the batter has time to sit.)

Yesterday I was at home with a sick child, so I tested two kid-friendly recipes further: the oatmeal cookies, and chicken nuggets. The oatmeal cookie recipe, originally from a container of oats, is fantastic, as usual. However, I was reminded that it makes a crazy amount of cookies, so I have cut the recipe in half.

I froze most of the nuggets after cooking, so as to have a stash of quick toddler food for the first weeks when the new baby arrives. Chris and our visitor then reheated some under the broiler for a midnight snack, and proclaimed them to be yummy.

Also, I used ground turkey thighs this time, and a mix of potato and parsnip. They made nicely moist "chicken" nuggets. Gabe liked them.

These recipes are pretty darn final now. Would anyone like to test them for me?

Oatmeal Pancakes
(quick meal, or make in advance and freeze)

Makes about 12 small but filling pancakes. In order for this recipe to cook properly on the griddle, the batter needs to be heated. This makes the oats absorb water and get soft.

1 cup rolled or quick oats
1 ½ cup milk or water (or some of each)
½ cup whole wheat or white flour
½ tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
(optional) 2 tbsp melted butter or bacon grease
(optional) ½ tsp pumpkin pie spices
(optional) 1 tbsp brown or white sugar or honey
(optional) frozen or fresh berries, chopped dried fruit, chopped nuts

Preheat a griddle or large skillet at a medium-high heat. While this heats, combine the oats and milk or water in a pan on the stove over low heat. Beat in the egg, and then stir in the remaining ingredients (except for fresh fruit), and continue to stir and heat the batter until it is warm, and looks like a pot of oatmeal.

Alternatively, the batter can be heated in the microwave in a microwave-proof mixing bowl.

If you are using a skillet with a non-stick surface, you may want to add the optional butter or grease. This will prevent the pancakes from sticking to the cooking surface.

You can tell that the griddle or pan is the right temperature for cooking pancakes by flicking a few drops of water on the surface. When the drops skitter around, the skillet is the right temperature. If the drops immediately become steam, the skillet is too hot. If the drops don’t move around, the skillet isn’t hot enough.

When the skillet is the correct temperature, spoon the batter into the pan. Cook the pancakes for about four minutes, until golden brown on the bottom. If you want to add optional berries, fruit, or nuts, sprinkle those on top of the pancakes now while they cook. Push them down into the pancakes with your fingers if necessary. Then flip the pancakes, and cook for an additional four minutes or so, until cooked through.

Serve with maple syrup, butter, honey, or jelly.

If making large quantities of pancakes, or cooking in many batches, you can keep all of the pancakes warm by stacking the finished pancakes on a plate in the oven, with the oven on its lowest setting.

Pancakes can also be frozen, and reheated later in a toaster, in the microwave, or under the broiler.

Oatmeal Cookies (or Oatmeal Bars)
(quick treat, or make in advance)

This recipe makes about 25 cookies. Cookies can be kept in an air-tight container at room temperature for several weeks, and even longer in the refrigerator or freezer. When you make your own cookies, you know exactly what is in them, and you can tinker with them to make them a little more healthful, if you desire, by adding such things as dried fruits or nuts.

1 stick of butter
3/4 cup brown (or white) sugar
1 eggs
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 ½ cups oats (rolled or quick)
(optional) 1 cup raisins, other chopped dried fruit, or chopped nuts
(optional)1 tsp vanilla
(optional) ½ tsp cinnamon or other pumpkin pie spices
¼ tsp salt

Let the butter and eggs come to room temperature. (If you are in a hurry, put the wrapped sticks of butter under your clothes, against your skin for a few minutes!) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Once the butter is soft (but not melted) put it in a mixing bowl along with the sugar. Use a fork to “cream” the butter. This means that you smash the butter through the tines of the fork, mixing it with the sugar as you go. Do this until the butter and the sugar are combined.

“Creaming the butter” is the most difficult step in making many baked goods. It can be done with an electric mixer, if you have one. The reason that the butter can’t be too soft in cookie recipes is because melted butter will cause the cookies to be too flat and too crispy.

To the creamed butter, add the eggs and vanilla, stirring until the eggs are beaten and thoroughly mixed in. Then add the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt, mixing well. Next, add the oats. The mixture will be very dry, and you may have to mash it with your hands to work in all of the oats. Lastly, add the optional dried fruit or nuts by pressing them into the dough with our hands.

Spoon out rounded tablespoons full of this mixture onto an ungreased baking sheet. As they bake, these little balls will melt and expand into the size and shape of cookies, so leave enough room for them to grow!

Bake the cookies for 10 to 15 minutes. You will want to remove them from the oven when they still seem undercooked, because they will continue to firm up after being removed from the oven. As soon as you can use a spatula to remove them from the baking sheet without breaking them, move the cookies to a plate so that they can cool.

This mixture can also be made into bars. Simply pour the cookie dough into an ungreased 13 by 9 inch baking pan, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes.

Chicken Nuggets (make in advance)

This recipe can be used to replace fast-food chicken nuggets for children. If you make your own chicken nuggets, you can control what sort of filler goes into them, and you can hide vegetables in them. These chicken nuggets have the additional benefit of being baked instead of fried.

These nuggets freeze and reheat well, so you can make lots of chicken nuggets and then have them on hand as a quick frozen meal for kids.

1 pound ground chicken (or turkey or pork)
1 ½ cup grated or finely chopped white vegetable, such as potato, parsnip, or cauliflower.
(optional) 1/2 cup white cheese, such as cheddar or parmesan
1 small onion, grated, or 1 tbsp dried onion
½ cup dry bread crumbs or oats
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
1 egg
(optional) ½ teaspoon each of garlic powder and paprika

Grate the vegetables finely (using the smaller holes on the grater), and squeeze out as much moisture as possible, if using wet vegetables like potato or onion. (To squeeze water from grated vegetable, squeeze a handful at a time over a bowl or the sink.)

Mix together all of the ingredients except for the meat and egg, using your hands to break apart clumps of grated vegetable. Then add the meat and egg, and finish mixing. Roll into 1½ inch balls - but leave them a bit misshapen for that “nugget“ look. Place on a lightly greased cookie sheet or casserole dish with space between the nuggets, and bake at 350 degrees for fifteen minutes. Serve with ketchup or mustard.

Chicken nuggets freeze very well, and can be reheated in the microwave or under the broiler.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Today. . .

Did a double-check of the chicken nugget recipe, and the oatmeal cookie recipe. Debating whether to include instructions for cooking bacon and for turning leftover rice into fried rice. Exhausted from cooking and caring for sick toddler.

I was intrigued to find this food bank cookbook, written by professional chefs, that I sent off for a copy. However, I see that the "monthly" recipe on the website was posted last August. That doesn't bode well. Hopefully they are just concentrating their efforts in non-internet applications. I suspect that food bank clients are largely webless.

More disturbing is that the August recipe, a chicken dish, makes no mention of how, or even whether, the chicken is supposed to be cooked. Hopefully this was just left out when the recipe was copied onto the website. Possibly it's just a typo, but it's a dangerous typo.

Yes, dangerous. Recently I heard a non-cook coworker talk about following a recipe for making chicken quesidillas. Because the recipe said something along the lines of "add cooked beef, chicken, or blah. . .", he assumed that the chicken could be added raw. And he ate the half-cooked results, which makes me shudder. Let this be a reminder to myself to be absolutely watertight in the instructions that I write. I must be sure to follow the advice I once gave a friend on writing papers for law school: start by explaining that water is wet. (I still take pride in that tidbit of wisdom. I must have learned it from my father back in my school days.)

I was also stopped in my tracks recently when a friend mentioned the deliciousness of raw bacon. He was unaware of the danger of trichinosis.

I must remember not to take my knowledge of food safety for granted.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What Exactly Is the Pantry Cookbook?

Check out the new digs! Things over in the garden blog were getting too cluttered up with recipes and rough drafts, so I have opened up shop here. This blog is not meant to be anything final or fully organized or complete or pretty. It's just a staging area, so that I can get feedback on what I am doing, and so that the folks at Franklin's Food Pantry can keep an eye on things.

So what is the Pantry Cookbook? In case someone new wanders in here, let me explain. There are people who need the services of food banks who do not know how to cook. If you get all of your meals from fast food and heat-and-serve prepackaged foodstuffs, that's a surefire way to A. not get enough nutrition, and B. become obese, since the cheapest of premade calories are refined carbohydrates - empty calories.

Most frequently it is families with children and the elderly who need the services of food banks. But it can also be college students, or adults who have found themselves in between jobs.

This book is primarily going to be a collection of recipes that follow these guidelines:

1. The ingredients are all "whole foods", meaning as unprocessed as possible, with the exception of such things as bread and cheese.

2. The ingredients are as cheap and readily available as possible.

3. The recipes are as simple as possible.

4. The recipes are designed not just to help someone cook that single dish, but to teach them the fundamentals of how to cook. Thus the cookbook includes instructions for making things as simple as fried eggs or sauteed greens.

5. The recipes are divided into quick recipes, longer-cooking recipes that can be made in advance, and recipe components that can be made in advance.

6. The recipes require only the most basic of kitchen equipment. No electric gadgets, with perhaps one or two exceptions.

Friends and kind strangers have generously made contributions to this collection - thanks! Please do continue to pass along recipes that you would like to share! I can't promise that they will make it into the cookbook, or that they will remain unchanged if they do, but even the ones I have to discard inspire me.

Would you like to test recipes for me? I do need feedback particularly from people who aren't already good in the kitchen. I want to know if my recipes are easy to follow, and if they result in a tasty outcome.

The cookbook currently has about 60 recipes, and needs at least another 40 to be fully rounded. The book will also contain a list of the whole foods that the recipes are based on, including nutrition and basic storage and processing information. It will also contain a section of other information, such as general food and kitchen safety, and examples of how to plan a week's worth of meals.

Thanks to some terrific feedback from friends about how people use their cookbooks, I think I have an index scheme that will help to guide new cooks through all of this. It will go something like this:

Part 1: instructions on how and why to use the book, table of contents.

Part 2: an organized list of common, inexpensive whole foods, including nutrition, basic cooking, handling, and/or use instructions. Each food item will be followed by a list of the recipes it appears in, with page numbers.

Part 3: recipes, divided up into entrees, side dishes, desserts, etc.

Part 4: miscellaneous information on food safety, basic kitchen equipment, planning for a week's worth of meals, etc.

Part 5: index.

My first goal is to get all of this written and compiled into a format that can be shared online as a document, and cheaply printed. Printed copies can be made available to food bank users, and also used as a fundraising tool.

Franklin Food Pantry Steve Sherlock also envisions this becoming the start of a wiki, complete with glorious hyperlinks!

My basic goal is to get this up and running for the Franklin Food Pantry, but I dearly hope it will be good enough that other food banks and nutrition programs will want to use it.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The 100 Day Challenge Blog

This family took on the challenge of eating only foods made from healthful whole ingredients for 100 days. Then, they did the same thing, but on a weekly budget of $125!

$125 is about what our weekly grocery bill looks like, though we are still only a family of 3. And most of what I buy for us is whole and healthful! What an ego boost it is to see that we have arrived at such similar results.

There are recipes on the blog, including recipes for toddlers - hooray! But now I must put down the blog and get back to work. . . Thanks for the link Steve!

Pulled Pork, Coleslaw, Baked Apple

I feel like I'm really getting in touch with American cooking with this project.

And now I must wake up my little sleepyhead so that we can go pick up another pork butt for Test 2 of the pulled pork recipe. This time, I'll try the full 7 pounds, which scares the crap out of me! That's enough meat to give someone a concussion, should you choose to wield it like a weapon. We still have frozen leftovers from the 4-pounder. This one will be turned into chili on Tuesday, for my company's yearly chili competition.

Pulled Pork
(cook in advance)

“Pork shoulder“, also known as “pork butt” or “whole Boston butt” is a large and economical cut of meat. It needs to be cooked slowly over a long period of time in order to make it tender and flavorful. The process takes a while, but the results are mounds of perfect pulled pork. This is a great way to feed a crowd of people. Leftovers can also be frozen for later.

Pork shoulder ranges in size from four to seven pounds, and a pound will make enough meat for up to four sandwiches. If you cook a large pork shoulder, you will need a very large casserole dish - preferably with enough room so that the meat is not touching the sides of the pan. If you do not own a large casserole dish or roasting pan, a disposable aluminum pan will do.

You will also need a container to brine the meat. While this could possibly be done in the casserole dish, it’s much less messy (and less likely to splash dangerous raw meat juices in your refrigerator) if you use a container with a lid, or a two-gallon Ziploc bag.

“Brining” is the process of soaking a piece of meat in "brine", which is salt water. In this recipe, the salt water not only helps to carry the flavors of the sugar and spices into the meat through osmosis, but it also adds moisture to the meat, which will prevent the pork from drying out during its very long cooking process.

This recipe requires that the meat first be brined for at least eight hours, and then that the meat be cooked for 1.5 to 2 hours per pound. So, you will either need to start brining the meat in the morning of the day before, and cook the meat all night; or you will need to brine the meat all night and then cook it all day.

A probe-style thermometer with an alarm is a good idea for this recipe, to take out the guesswork of when the meat is done. While the pork will be cooked and sliceable at 170 degrees, the pork will become soft enough to be pulled apart only as it reaches 200 degrees. But if you are in a hurry, 185 degrees will do.

This recipe is just one of many ways to make pulled pork. It is not necessary to use exactly the spices listed here. Wet recipes use barbecue sauce rather than a dry rub, and many recipes do not call for brining at all. Pulled pork can also be cooked in a slow cooker.

The meat: one pork shoulder, from 4 to 7 pounds

The dry rub:
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup brown sugar

The brine:
4 tsp dry rub mix
2 bay leaves
½ cup salt
½ cup brown sugar
8 cups of cold water

First mix up the dry rub; then mix up the brine, starting by adding the salt to the water and stirring until as much salt is dissolved as possible. When the brine is ready, put the pork shoulder into the brining container, and pour the brine over the meat. If not all of the meat is submerged in the brine, then you will want to flip the meat over halfway through the brining process.

Put the container of meat and brine into the refrigerator. If your container is not leak-proof, you may want to set a towel on the shelf under it, to absorb any spills.

When it is time to cook, set the oven to 225 degrees. Notice that this is only 25 degrees higher than the temperature that you want the meat to hit!

Pour the brine down the sink. Coat the meat liberally on all sides with the dry rub mix, rubbing it in with your hands as you go. Then place it fat-side-up in the casserole dish or roasting pan, and insert the thermometer probe. Set the thermometer’s alarm to ring at 200 degrees, and put the pork in the oven.

If in the final hours, the temperature of the meat seems to be going up too slowly, turn up the oven temperature to 250 degrees. Your oven may be running cold, and you should test it later with an oven thermometer to see what temperature it actually is.

When the meat is cooked, you can either pull it apart immediately, or you can leave it to cool in the turned-off oven until the temperature reaches 170.

If there is a lot of fat in the pan, drain the pan before pulling the pork. Also remove the fat from the top of the meat and discard before shredding the pork. Then “pull the pork” by holding the meat down with one fork, and ripping off chunks of meat with another. If the pork needs more flavor at this point, sprinkle on more of the dry rub mix.

If it is going to be a few hours before the meat is eaten, refrigerate it, and reheat in the microwave, or in a 350 degree oven until the meat hisses and smells delicious. The meet can also be frozen for longer storage.

Serve on bread or buns, with mustard, barbecue sauce, pickles, coleslaw, and/or lettuce.

(quick side dish)

There are many possible variants on coleslaw. This is a basic recipe that can easily be added to or changed. Coleslaw is particularly good with pulled pork.

Coleslaw can also be made with broccoli instead of cabbage.

¼ head of green or red cabbage, shredded, OR one crown of broccoli, sliced thin
1 tsp sugar
1 grated carrot
Mayonnaise or salad dressing to taste
Salt and pepper to taste.
(optionals) vinegar, milk, mustard, raisins, grated cheese; chopped apple, bell pepper, pineapple, walnuts, onion

Cut the core from the cabbage quarter, and then slice as thinly as you can manage. Mix the dressing and then stir everything together. Serve at once.

Baked Apple
(quick side dish or dessert)

This is a quick way to get more fruit into your diet. Children especially love this. Per person, you will need:

1 apple
A little brown or white sugar
A little cinnamon (or other pumpkin pie spices)

Peel and slice the apple onto a cookie sheet or casserole dish. Sprinkle both sides of the slices with cinnamon and sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for fifteen minutes, or broil for about three minutes on each side. (Broiling will result in slices which are more dry on the outside, which makes them good as finger food for kids.) Eat them while they are hot!

Baked apples are particularly good with pork. They can be dipped in yogurt as a snack or a dessert, or they can be served alone or with ice cream as a dessert.

Planning Meals a Week at a Time

I'm going to include a section in the cookbook that is examples of a week's worth of dinners at a time. This is what I write up every Saturday morning before I do my grocery shopping, and since I've started doing it, my food budget shrunk, the wasted food from my kitchen shrunk, I'm feeding my family more vegetables, and I eliminated the weeknight "oh crud, I don't know what do do for dinner" panic. Also, I have in theory eliminated boxed foods. . . except that I sometimes throw out the list halfway through the week and improvise, which sometimes results in boxed mac-n-cheese. :)

What I have jotted down so far. The final version will have page numbers for each of the recipes. Each week will also include the purchase of one or two cupboard staples, such as spices, as well as suggestions for freezing certain things to "save for another week", such as cooked beans. I need to add desserts, too.

Cooking Dinners for a Week at a Time

Staples in cupboard: salt, pepper, flour, butter or oil, . . .

Grocery list: whole chicken, a small ham, brown rice, split peas, carrots, celery, onion, dill (dried), garlic (whole or dried), soy sauce, Swiss cheese, tortillas, Monterey jack cheese, fresh or canned tomato
Saturday: Cook brown rice; freeze any that you don’t expect to use during the week, refrigerate the rest. Bake a chicken and pull all the meat from the bones. Refrigerate the meat and the carcass. Dinner: chicken salad sandwiches with celery and carrot sticks.
Sunday: Use the chicken carcass plus onion, celery, and carrot to make chicken broth. Discard the solids and refrigerate the stock. Dinner: stir-fry (sauté) onion, carrots, and celery with soy sauce and garlic; add chicken, and serve over rice
Monday: quesadillas with salsa made from chopped tomato and garlic
Tuesday: Chicken soup with rice, carrot, celery, onion, milk, dill, and garlic. Add diced ham if the chicken is running low.
Wednesday: grilled cheese sandwiches with leftover chicken soup
Thursday: cook diced ham and carrots in a milk gravy; serve over brown rice
Friday: split pea soup with diced ham, tomato, and garlic. Dice and freeze the remaining ham.

Grocery list: pork shoulder, bread, cabbage, carrots, apples, dry beans, lettuce, cheddar cheese, potatoes, canned tomatoes, corn meal, eggs, milk, pasta
Saturday: Cook a pot of beans; drain and freeze what you don‘t expect to use during the week. Refrigerate the rest. Brine pork shoulder all day for pulled pork. Put in the oven before going to bed. Keep enough pulled pork in the refrigerator for two and a half meals, and freeze the rest for another week. Dinner: Bean and carrot soup, cheese bread
Sunday: pulled pork sandwiches with lettuce, Cole slaw, baked apples
Monday: tuna salad with chopped apples over lettuce.
Tuesday: cheesy potato soup with a little bit of pulled pork added
Wednesday: pulled-pork chili, corn bread
Thursday: Southern gravy over toast, sautéed carrots
Friday: mac-n-cheese, sautéed cabbage

Are You Testing My Cookbook?

I am a scatterbrain! I can't remember who all I have sent draft 1 of the cookbook to. If you are testing for me, please be aware: the recipes I had marked as "needs testing" are the ones that I haven't tried cooking yet. It is the recipes I have tested and revised that I most need feedback on! Thank you so much.

Community Gardens, Pulled Pork

Chris has been helping to get the Community Gardens in Franklin up and running, and the project made it to the news today.

I've been watching Gabe while he's off at the meetings, or staying late to put together snazzy 3D images to show people what's possible. Ironically, he dug up some 3D models of garden plants out of mothballs to populate the virtual beds - 3D models that I made probably eight years ago! So, in a remote sort of way, I'm helping, too. . .

Progress on the cookbook continues. I decided that I need to learn more about cooking meat, so that I can have a reasonably comprehensive meat section. I cooked ribs a couple of weeks ago, but they turned out a bit tough, so I'll have to refine that recipe. More recently, I made pulled pork. Huzzah! It was glorious. Pork shoulder is a wonderfully economical cut of meat. Brine it all day, cook it all night, and viola, delicious, perfect sammich makins.

I used this awesome recipe for the pulled pork, and shortly I'll be writing up my own revised version.

With these long-cooking meats, I am looking for recipes that not only freeze well, but can be done without a slow cooker. As it turns out, when searching for recipes for chunks of meat that require extended cooking times, it's actually tough to find non-slow-cooker recipes online, because everybody and their mother wants to share their fabulous shortcuts. Not that I have any beef with slow cookers, mind you, but the pantry cookbook is for those who can't afford one and likely don't already have one.

I have also so far avoided recipes that call for disposables, such as plastic bags and aluminum foil. This is to save my audience a bit of money, but also because my ulterior motive is to keep that single-use garbage out of the landfill.

However, I still see no good alternative to my addiction to semi-disposable plastic boxes. They're just so darn useful. And so long as you prevent them from falling out of the freezer (which causes them to shatter) they do last a while. Are there any good alternatives that aren't single-use or painfully expensive??

It also seems that my microwave is conspiring to teach me how to cook foods without its sleek convenience. The old geezer went kaput yesterday, just in time for me to learn how convenient the broiler is for reheating pulled pork.

Potato Recipes

I suppose the advantage of organizing the cookbook by food type is that when the food bank is given a crate full of potatoes, they could easily print out the potato section, and make copies available to anyone who goes home with potatoes.

Chris told me a depressing story of bok choy sitting at a food bank until most of it rotted, because so few of the patrons knew what to do with it.


Mashed Potatoes
(quick side dish)

You will need about one large potato per person. The potatoes may be mashed with the skin on, if you like it that way. If you leave the skin on, be sure to scrub the potatoes thoroughly under running water with a scrub brush. You may want to trim the eyes off of your potatoes even if you leave the skins on.

You can speed the cooking time by cutting the potatoes into pieces. The smaller you cut them, the faster they will cook.

Watch out – when boiling the potatoes in water, if your pot is very full, the water may suddenly boil over the top, due to the starch in the water. If your pot starts to boil over, reduce the heat and stir the pot.

about 1 large potato per person
salt and pepper to taste
(optional) milk, cream, or butter
(optional) garlic powder

Scrub and/or peel the potatoes. Slice them into medium chunks into a pot, and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil. In ten minutes or so, stick a fork into one of the potato chunks. When the fork slides easily into the potato, it is time to drain and mash.

Drain the potatoes using a colander, or by holding the potatoes in the pot with the lid while pouring the water in the sink. Add some salt and pepper, and a little of the optional milk, cream, or butter, and garlic powder. Use a potato masher to mash the potatoes. Taste, and add more seasonings and optionals as necessary.

Serve as a side dish with gravy, ketchup, or butter.

Leftover mashed potatoes can be used to make Cheesy Potato Soup.

Cheesy Potato Soup
(quick meal)

This soup can be made from scratch, or can be made from leftover mashed potatoes. For one serving of soup, you will need:

1 large potato (or about a cup of mashed potatoes)
½ cup grated cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
(optional) milk, cream, chicken stock, beef stock, etc.
(optional) some cooked sausage, cooked chicken, or other leftover cooked meat, or ham
(optional) other herbs and spices
(optional) chopped vegetables

The basic soup is made by slicing the potato into rough chunks, covering with water (just like mashed potatoes), boiling until a fork easily slides through the potato, mashing with a potato masher, and then adding cheese and seasonings. If starting with mashed potatoes, add water to the mashed potatoes and heat until boiling; then add cheese and seasonings.

Using just potatoes, cheese, and seasonings, you can make a hearty soup. However, this recipe is a blank slate waiting for other things to be added to it! Here are some possible variations:
Italian Potato Soup. Start by browning the meat from one or two Italian sausages (squeeze the meat out of the casing like toothpaste, and discard the casing) and a chopped onion Put the cooked sausage and onion aside, and cook the potatoes. Drain off half of the potato water, mash, add grated parmesan cheese, and then add chicken stock until the desired consistency is reached. Add the sausage and onions, and Italian seasonings. Salt and pepper to taste.

Potato Soup with Carrots and Ham. Sauté some sliced carrots in the pan, then put the carrots aside while the potatoes cook. When the potatoes are done, drain off half of the water, mash, add cheddar cheese, add the carrots, add diced ham, and add milk until the desired consistency is reached. Salt and pepper to taste.

Potato and Greens Chicken Soup. Cook the potatoes in chicken stock, along with a few peeled cloves of garlic. Mash; add cheese, cooked chicken, and chopped greens. Salt and pepper to taste.

Home Fries
(quick breakfast or side dish)

You will need about 1 large potato per person.

1 large potato, diced
½ an onion, diced
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel or thoroughly scrub your potato, then cut into bite-sized pieces. Cut the onion into pieces of about the same size. Heat the butter and oil in a pan on medium high heat until the butter melts; then add the potato and onion. Stir to coat with the butter and oil, and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. (Go easy on the salt and pepper - you can always add more later.

Stir often, browning the potatoes, until they start to stick to the pan, at which point, turn down the heat to medium low. Continue to stir about once every 45 seconds. After about five minutes, test a piece of potato (by tasting it). When the desired tenderness is reached, remove the pan from the heat, add additional seasonings to taste, and serve.

Possible variations: add ham. Add curry spices. Add hot pepper flakes. Toss grated cheese on top when the potatoes are done cooking. Serve with Southern style gravy and sautéed greens, and call it a meal.

Cookbook Structure - Need Advice!

I've run into my first real hurdle with this cookbook: how the heck do I structure it to help a beginner find what they need? Initially, I started by food type in alphabetical order, just like an index. Example:

beef dish A
beef dish B
spinach dish A
spinach dish B

But that was getting increasingly cluttered as this thing grew. And, it duplicates what the index does. So I've reorganized it by food category:

beef dish A
beef dish B
chicken dish A
chicken dish B
cheese dish A
cheese dish B

But I'm having doubts. For one thing, even the most basic food categories seem up for debate. With plant products, should I proceed directly to standard culinary subdivisions of fruits, grains, vegetables, beans, nuts? Do peanuts go under nuts, or beans; do tomatoes go under vegetables, or fruits? Most importantly, how do I make these arbitrary decisions and not lose an audience of non-cooks in the process?

I would love feedback on this. Thanks.

[edit] How do you use cookbooks? How would you expect a total beginner to use a cookbook?

I may have to include a short section at the beginning of the book entitled "how to use this book". And I want this thing to be thoroughly indexed. But I don't want the index to be the default way into the book. Which is silly, because I always start reading cookbooks from the index. . .

Inspirational Food Pantry Visit, Oats, and Tuna

I finally visited the Franklin Food Pantry today, and I'm still giddy! After two years of following his blog, I finally got to meet Steve Sherlock, who is on the pantry's board of directors; and I also got to meet Anne Marie Bellavance, who was simultaneously running the pantry, directing a gaggle of volunteers, and giving me a tour.

I can't believe how excited they are that I am writing this cookbook for them! Right now I feel like I could wear a cardboard sign that says "will work for raw enthusiasm!" (A rather tasteless joke, I know, considering that the aim of this project is to help people who are out of work and out of grocery money. But I'm all bubbly, and I approve of off-color humor.)

Along with meeting these wonderful people, I got to see what exactly is on the shelves of a food bank. It turned out to be about what I expected: boxed prepared foods, canned whole ingredients, peanut butter, tuna, pasta (lots of whole grain), rice (including brown), bread (or at least an empty table where day-old Panera bread spawns at regular intervals) and some freezers and refrigerators containing ground meats, whole chickens, eggs, and sometimes cheese and frozen vegetables.

Food pantry users can stop in weekly for bread, and can schedule a monthly visit to fill up a bag of groceries. That doesn't strike me as very much, but I imagine when you are in dire straights for food, it would mean the world. And their policy is that when a new client comes in to sign up, they leave with a bag of groceries whether or not they are able to get all of their paperwork in order at that time.

Steve is working on the new and improved pantry website, including straightforward info on how to sign up to become a food pantry client, and how to sign up to become a volunteer.

I got to present them with a first draft of the cookbook. It's already 25 pages, and contains almost 40 recipes! Steve wants to eventually put it in wiki format, and he was excited at the idea of using printed versions to sell for fundraising.

After having made hundreds of mostly useless pieces of art that have gone under my bed or sold for a pittance, it is an amazing feeling to be making something that has such potential to immediately help people, both directly, by teaching them how to wisely stretch their food dollars, and indirectly, by raising money. Hopefully, this will be a useful enough tool that it can be passed along to other food banks around the country.

Now then; here are today's recipes. The pancakes are adapted from a Joy of Cooking recipe. I cooked the book's version this morning with great success, but have not yet tested this simplified version. (The original calls for cooked oatmeal. Surely that was meant to use up leftovers, and not a necessary step.) The second I will be testing for dinner, and the third is untested so far.

I need to consult my Joy of Cooking more often: it was published in the 50's and contains wonderful old-school tips, like the method of judging a pan's heat by flicking water into it.

Oatmeal Pancakes
(quick meal)

Makes about 12 pancakes.

1 ½ cups rolled or quick oats
1 ½ cups milk
½ cup whole wheat or white flour
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
(optional) 2 tbsp melted butter or bacon grease
1 egg
(optional) frozen or fresh berries, chopped dried fruit, chopped nuts

Preheat a griddle or large skillet at a medium-high heat. In a mixing bowl, combine egg, milk, salt, baking soda, and oats. Beat with a fork until thoroughly mixed. Melt the butter in the microwave, or by putting it in a metal measuring cup and setting it on the hot cooking surface. Stir the melted butter or grease into the mixture. (The butter or bacon grease should prevent the pancakes from sticking to the pan.) Add the flour. Stir until the mixture is mostly mixed, but still has a few lumps.

You can tell that the griddle or pan is the right temperature by flicking a few drops of water on the surface. When the drops skitter around, the skillet is the right temperature. If the drops immediately become steam, the skillet is too hot. If the drops don’t move around, the skillet isn’t hot enough.

When the skillet is the correct temperature, spoon the batter into the pan. Cook the pancakes for about three minutes, until golden brown on the bottom. If you want to add optional berries, fruit, or nuts, sprinkle those on top of the pancakes now while they cook. Push them down into the pancakes with your fingers if necessary. Then flip the pancakes, and cook for an additional three minutes or so, until cooked through.

Serve with maple syrup, butter, honey, or jelly.

If making large quantities of pancakes, or cooking in many batches, set the oven on its lowest setting, and stack the finished pancakes on a plate in the oven.

Pancakes can also be frozen, and reheated later in a toaster, in the microwave, or under the broiler.

Creamy Tuna Pasta
(quick meal)

This is a quick version of Tuna Noodle Casserole that uses whole ingredients instead of canned “ cream of” sauces. Such canned sauces are low in nutrients and high in sugar, salt, oils, and other things that would be best left out of one‘s diet, such as MSG. Feeds four or five people.

1 chopped onion
(optional) canned or fresh mushrooms
1 or 2 cans of tuna
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
1 cup milk
1 or 2 cups vegetables, such as frozen peas, chopped broccoli, frozen spinach, etc.
(optional) 1 cup of grated cheddar, Swiss, or other cheese
(optional) dill
Salt and pepper to taste
Egg noodles, or pasta, or rice

Start cooking the noodles or rice. In another pan, melt the butter, and sauté the onions and mushrooms for a few minutes. Sprinkle in the flour, stirring over the heat for another couple of minutes, and then add the milk. When the milk comes to a boil, add the tuna and veggies. Simmer until the veggies are cooked to your liking; then stir in the grated cheese, and add salt and pepper and optional dill to taste.

If you opt not to use cheese, try adding more tuna or more vegetables to fill out the meal.

Serve over egg noodles, pasta, or rice.

Tuna Noodle Casserole
(cook in advance)

Cooking tuna noodle as a casserole may take too long to be convenient on a busy weeknight, but comes in handy if you have more cooking time and a large group of people to feed. It also makes sense for pot lucks, because it can be cooked a few hours in advance, kept warm in the oven on low heat, and then brought to the potluck in just one container.

Tuna Noodle Casserole is almost the same as Cheesy Tuna Pasta, except that it is baked. To make tuna noodle casserole without using canned “cream of” sauces, follow the above directions, doubling or tripling as necessary. Egg noodles are traditional, rather than rice or pasta, but any of the above should work. Instead of adding the cheese and veggies to the sauce in the pan, layer all of the ingredients in a casserole dish, with the pasta or rice on the bottom. Top with extra cheese and bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees until the sauce bubbles.

[Edit] After testing this tuna pasta recipe again, and not getting great results, I have reworked these tuna recipes.



Oats are very high in dietary fiber. They are also the only grain that contains protein: a cup of oatmeal will provide you with more than 10% of your daily protein requirement. That, combined with the fact that bulk oatmeal costs less than half of boxed breakfast cereals, and oatmeal is the obvious good choice for breakfast.

Oats are also high in magnesium, vitamin B1, phosphorous, tryptophan, selenium, and manganese.

Oats generally come in two forms: “rolled oats”, and “quick oats”. Quick oats are the same thing as rolled oats, just chopped a bit finer, to make them absorb water faster.

Don’t waste your money on oatmeal that comes in individual-serving-sized packages with added sugar. If you buy it in bulk, you can add any flavor you like to your breakfast, and you will also be able to add the oats to other dishes, such as meatloaf or cookies.

(quick meal)

This is how to make a single serving of oatmeal in the microwave. Oatmeal can also be cooked on the stove top.

Rolled or quick oats
Milk or water
(optional) pinch of salt
(optional) sweeteners such as sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, blackstrap molasses
(optional) pumpkin pie spices, such as cinnamon or cloves
(optional) dried fruit, such as raisins, dried apple, chopped prunes, dried cranberries
(optional) chopped nuts or seeds, such as pecans, or flax seeds

To make a single serving of oatmeal in the microwave, put the desired amount of oats into the bowl, along with whatever optionals you want. Pour just enough water or milk over the oats to cover them, and stir. Microwave for a minute or two, until the oatmeal softens and absorbs the liquid. If the oatmeal is too solid, add more liquid. Add additional optionals to taste.

Oatmeal can also be topped with yogurt or fresh fruit.

Toddlers love oatmeal. Fix it with less water so that the oatmeal has a doughy consistency, give it a few minutes to cool, and it can then be eaten by toddlers as finger food - or it will stick helpfully to the spoon.

Beef Recipes

I cooked a pot roast today following the most basic set of instructions I could find, and then I turned most of it into a pot of basic, simple chili. I managed to overcook the pot roast a little by attempting to eyeball its done-ness, but it still made a lovely chili. Two more recipes for the book! Here is the start of the beef section:


Greasy, charred beef in excess is not very good for your health, but small amounts of lean beef are a good source of protein, vitamins B2, B3, B6, and B12, iron, phosphorous, selenium, zinc, and tryptophan.

Beef, in whole pieces, does not have the same contamination risks as pork, poultry, or ground beef. As long as the beef is cooked well on the outside, it should be safe to eat. Whole pieces of beef can also be stored longer in the refrigerator before cooking than any of those other types of meats, from a couple of days for small cuts of meat, to longer for large roasts. However, it is advised that you cook your beef within a few days of purchase or thawing, unless you are following instructions for properly aging beef.

But even though it is generally safe to eat whole cuts of beef that are undercooked on the inside, it is still good practice to use a meat thermometer. The minimum safe temperature, “rare”, for whole beef is 145 degrees. For “medium”, 160 degrees; for “well done”, 170.

Pot Roast
(cook in advance)

Pot roast takes several hours to cook, but is very easy to make. This method takes a tough piece of meat, such as a chuck roast, and slowly cooks in a little liquid until it is tender, moist, and flavorful. This is a great recipe for cooking in advance on a weekend. Not only is pot roast good with side dishes like mashed potatoes or broccoli, but leftover pot roast can be frozen and reheated, or used to make chili, sliced for sandwiches, or added to soup or other dishes.

Pot roast requires a large, heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid. It can be cooked on the stove top, or, if the pot is oven-proof (made entirely of metal) in the oven. If your pot is thin, the oven method may still work.

The larger the piece of meat, the longer it will take to cook.

You will not need a meat thermometer for this recipe. The meat is done when it comes apart with a fork - which means it is well in the safe temperature range. However, a meat thermometer can help prevent the meat from being overcooked. If the meat is cooked for too long, or at too high a temperature, it will be dry.

4 pounds of chuck roast, or other tough piece of meat.
1 tbsp oil
1 onion
½ to1 cup of a liquid (or a combination of liquids), such as tomato juice or sauce, the liquid reserved from canned tomato, red wine, beef stock or broth, etc.
4 cloves of garlic
(optional) chopped vegetables, such as carrot, potato, or parsnip. Canned tomatoes work well, too.

Sprinkle all sides of the meat with salt and pepper. If you like garlic, cut the garlic into quarters, poke some holes in each side of the roast with a knife, and insert the garlic into the holes. If you are using the oven rather than the stove top, preheat the oven to 225 degrees.

On the stove, heat the oil in the pot on medium to medium-high heat. Brown each side of the meat in the oil - this will take about three minutes per side. This makes the roast more flavorful. If you are in a hurry to get the meat in the oven, you can skip this step. While the roast is browning, chop the onion into large pieces.

Take the roast out of the pot, and put the chopped onion in. Then place the roast back in the pot, on top of the onions. The onions keep the meat from resting against the bottom of the pot, to ensure that it cooks more evenly. They also add flavor to the meat.

Pour the liquid over the meat, and heat on the stove top until the liquid boils. Then, place the lid on the pot, and (if you are cooking this on the stove top) turn down the temperature to low. (You may have difficulties getting the temperature low enough if you are using a gas stove. If this is the case, you can try using a ring of aluminum foil to raise the pot higher from the flame.)

If you are using the oven, then transfer the pot to the stove.

The roast will take about 4 to 5 hours to cook.

Optional: when the meat is done, remove it from the pot and add the chopped vegetables to the liquid remaining in the pot, and continue to cook for another ten or 15 minutes. This makes a nice side-dish to be served with the meat.

Pot roast can be kept in the refrigerator for several days. The cooking liquid can be used as a sauce as-is, or can be used for making a thicker gravy, or can be reserved for use in chili or soup. If you put the liquid in the refrigerator, by the following day all the fat will have formed a hard crust at the surface that you can easily skim off. Reserve that fat for use in gravy or to cook other foods in, such as potatoes. If you wish to freeze the meat for later, let it cool, and then freeze it in slices.

Pot Roast Chili (Also Meat Loaf Chili)
(quick meal)

If you make pot roast or meat loaf on the weekend and have leftovers, you can use it to make chili later in the week, for variety. This is a particularly good way to get rid of overcooked pot roast or mediocre meat loaf. You can also pull out frozen pot roast or frozen meat loaf slices from the freezer to make quick chili any time.

You don’t need to measure ingredients for this dish. Just start with your leftover meat, and add frozen or canned beans, and tomato, until you have a pot of chili big enough for everyone.

Leftover pot roast or meat loaf
Canned or frozen beans
Canned or fresh tomato
Salt and pepper
(optional) reserved liquid from Pot Roast
(optional) tomato paste
(optional) chili powder, cayenne pepper, oregano, garlic,
(optional) onion, green or red bell pepper, chopped carrot

Chop the meat into small pieces. Or, if the meat is frozen, just put it in the pot whole, and take it out and cut it up once it has thawed. Add beans (drain and rinse if they are canned) and tomato (with or without the can liquid). If you made pot roast and reserved the liquid, you can add that to your chili. Add some tomato paste if you like. Add other vegetables if you like. Simmer until the vegetables are cooked. Add seasonings and spices to taste.

Serve as-is, or topped with cheddar or Monterey jack cheese, sour cream, tortilla chips, or green onions. Or serve as a taco salad, on top of lettuce, with any of the above toppings.

Chili keeps for a few days in the refrigerator. It can also be frozen and reheated later.

Cookbook Intro

I would love feedback on this!

The Pantry Cookbook
How to cook nutritious meals from scratch, on a budget, when time is short.

Written and Compiled by Michelle Clay

This book is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported. This means you are free to share (copy, distribute, transmit) the book, and you are also free to adapt the work, so long as you attribute the work to Michelle Clay. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. However, you may sell copies of this book so long as all profits go to support food banks, school or community gardens, or similar programs that address hunger or nutrition issues.

We Eat the Wrong Things

Here in the U.S. we eat too many of the wrong sorts of foods. Fast food, restaurants, and pre-packaged foods leave out nutritious, whole ingredients in favor of cheap fats and sugars. Because these foods are so convenient, we eat too many empty calories, and not enough of the other nutrition that we need to stay healthy. The results are obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other health problems.

What Are the Wrong Things?

Sugary drinks: soda, energy and sports drinks, etc.
Fast foods: hamburgers, pizza, hot dogs, French fries, etc.
Snacks: potato chips, corn chips, candy, etc.
Grain-based desserts: donuts, cookies, cake, pie, sweet rolls, etc.
Dairy desserts: ice cream, etc.
Pre-packaged foods: mac-n-cheese, canned pasta, frozen meals, etc.
Fruit drinks: juice that contains less than 100% juice.

Any of these foods would be okay in moderation, but the fact is that we are not eating them in moderation.

What is in these foods that is so bad? Fats, sugars, and salt.

Some salt is necessary to a healthy diet. However, snack foods, pre-packaged foods, and food from restaurants, especially fast-food restaurants, tend to include far more salt in a single meal than is good for us.

Some fat is necessary to a healthy diet. Fats supply essential fatty acids, and help the body to absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K. In general, “solid fats” - fats which are solid at room temperature - are less good for you than “oils“. Food from restaurants, especially fast-food restaurants, tend to include far more fat in a single meal than is good for us.

Some sugar is necessary to a healthy diet. Sugar is a carbohydrate, and carbohydrates are what fuel our bodies. However, “added” sugars, such as white sugar and high fructose corn syrup, are not necessary at all. These added sugars are what make soda, sweetened fruit drinks, and desserts taste sweet. Refined carbohydrates from white flour and white rice are also bad for us in excess. Our bodies function best on “complex” carbohydrates, such as those found in whole grains.

Why Don’t We Eat the Right Things?

People used to eat more whole grains, until someone figured out that if the brown outer layer was processed off of the wheat or rice, then the grains had a much longer shelf-life. Similarly, salt, sugar, and oil were found to be excellent preservatives of food. Almost all preserved foods last longer at the expense of nutrition.

Storing foods for a long time protects populations from starvation when crop failures occur. So over the centuries, we have survived by developing a taste for foods that are overly salty, overly processed, overly oily, and less nutritious. This is in addition to an ancient instinct to eat high-calorie foods when we can get them.

Restaurants and food manufacturers capitalize on our taste for fats, sugars, and salts, because it is cheaper for them to cook from preserved ingredients than it is for them to make food from whole, fresh ingredients, and because the more extra salt, sugar, and fat that they add, the more we are willing to pay for and eat what they cook. Additionally, most restaurants do not consider themselves obligated to cook nutritious and low-calorie meals. By contrast, when we cook for ourselves and our families, and especially our children, we must strive to cook and serve nutritious food, in order to be healthy.

What Are the Right Foods?

The most nutrient-rich foods, low calorie foods we can eat are whole grains, vegetables, eggs and low-fat dairy, lean meats, poultry, seafood, nuts and seeds. When we cook with these things from scratch, the results are far better for us.

Isn’t it More Difficult to Cook from Scratch?

Yes and no. Cooking from scratch can be very difficult, but this cookbook focuses on recipes that are easy to cook.

Isn’t it More Expensive to Cook from Scratch?

Yes and no. This cookbook focuses on ingredients that are inexpensive and easy to find.

Doesn’t it Take Longer to Cook from Scratch?

Yes and No. This cookbook focuses on three types of recipes: those that can be cooked in a hurry, those that can be cooked in advance and then reheated, and those which can be cooked in advance and then used as an ingredient in a quick recipe.

Food Pantry Cookbook: First Deadline

Hello to everyone who has contributed recipes or who has considered doing so! On Saturday the 19th I will be meeting with Franklin Food Pantry board member Steve Sherlock (and checking out the food pantry, woot!). I intend to print out a first copy of the cook book for him to share with the board. It'll have about half of the final content in it, and will still be in a first-draft stage, but hopefully it'll give them a good idea of where I'm going with this, and it will help them figure out how they would like to make it available on the Food Pantry's webpage. Perhaps it could be used in printed form as a fundraising tool, too.

Anyway, this next week would be a great time to get more recipes to me, if you have more to share. If you aren't sure that a particular recipe is entirely appropriate for this particular project, that's okay; I'll be testing and tweaking each recipe to make them suitable. Not all will make it into the final cookbook, but even the ones I filter out will be deeply appreciated. :)

Currently, these are the most conspicuous gaps in the cookbook:

beef (With an emphasis on dishes that use the least expensive cuts of beef, such as cube steak, or whatever cuts of meat go into pot roast. Ground meats are already pretty well covered.)
pork (Same as with beef.)
wheat flour, preferably whole (I would like a very simple bread recipe, for example. And maybe a cookie recipe.)

Got a recipe you would like to contribute? THANKS!

[edit] Suzi responded with the following:

Cube Steak is versatile, yet not as cheap as one would think. Typically, it is sirloin that is run through a tenderizer.

Here are a couple things I do with it. . .

1. Cut into slices and cooked (Fry in butter) with onions and mushrooms. Used as sandwich meat. Sauce can be as simple as Worchestershire or you can make gravy with the drippings!
2. Coat with batter and fry to make chicken fried steak

Anything can be made into potroast.
Simple rules I follow:
Meat 3-5lbs(Chuck Roast, Top or Bottom Roast, etc)
Sear it so that the outsides are browned (this will trap in the juices)
Add in Carrots, Potatoes, Celery, etc.
Add in just enough broth to cover the meat 1/2 way.
Then, pop a lid on a put into the oven at 275 for 3-4.5 hours - the more sinewous the meat, the longer as low temperature.
This can also be accomplished in a slow cooker - on low - for 6 ot 8 hours.

Simple is best.

Cheap Pork -

I get boneless porkchops.
They are relatively inexpensive.

I pound thin - and lightly coat with flour.

Then, I fry/sear the outsides to just a light brown in a bit of butter.

Then, I pop them on a pan and stick them in the oven at 350 for about 30 minutes. .

Perfectly done - moist bites.
Typically, I serve with a few veggies and potato. =)

Some Fun Reading on Food

Here is a great New York Times opinion piece on eating whole foods, the USDA, and the USDA's new wacky eating guidelines that try to give the public good advice while also not stepping on the toes of the (junk) food industry. Talk about walking a ridiculous fine line! I have not yet read the new Dietary Guidelines; note to self: do so.

[Update] Here's more on the topic from the article's author.

And another fantastic opinion piece! I don't agree with every sentence of it, but overall there is a lot of good sense here.

Here is a book I need to read: the China Study. Although I have to say I start from a stance of skepticism when I see that the book promotes a one-size-fits-all diet of eating only plants. Though perhaps I am mistaken that he is proposing a one-size-fits-all diet.

Last night I sat down at my computer to write down tuna recipes that I want to test, and instead ended up getting sidetracked by this voluminous gem of a website. Nutritional information for fresh produce! grains! meats! I love it. At the grocery store, the only foods with nutritional info slapped on them are the processed-n-boxed things, which makes comparison with whole foods impossible on the fly.

I have to admit, I was relieved to discover there that Alton Brown is totally wrong about eggplant. There is a lot of awesome nutritious quality in eggplant. Why the hell did my food idol say otherwise? Harumf.

Oats have protein! And not an insignificant amount. This is unusual for a grain.

Also, beef contains about as much tryptophan as turkey. Chicken has even more. So we can quit blaming the effects of over-eating on turkey's tryptophan!

Kelly's Easy Chicken Romano

Easy Chicken Romano

1-1 1/2 lbs chicken breast or tenders (boneless - skinless)
1 stick of butter
1 container of romano cheese (shredded - approx 12 oz)
1 cup of bread crumbs (any kind will do)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 clove garlic (pressed or finely minced)
1 teaspoon italian seasoning

preheat oven 350 degrees

cut chicken into strips or pieces
melt butter and add lemon juice, garlic, italian seasoning in a bowl
mix together bread crumbs and 3/4 of cheese in another bowl

add chicken to butter - lemon - garlic mixture and mix until coated well
remove chicken and add to bread crumb/cheese mixture until all pieces are coated

place pieces on a baking sheet (coat slightly if you want)
sprinkle over any leftover breadcrumbs and top with remaining cheese.

bake 30 minutes or until golden brown.

**if there is excess lemon butter you can pour over the top before cooking also.
***if cooking just for adults i have used thin cutlets and kept whole - buttered and battered. then rolled up - placed seam side down and cooked for the same amount of time.

its easy, quick and good! :)

Kelly's Potatoes Au Gratin

I can't wait to give this a test run. I've eaten her potatoes au gratin before, and they are heavenly!

Kelly's Potatoes Au Gratin and Ham Recipe

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Container: 3 quart casserole
Servings: 12
- 2 cups cooked ham, cubed
- 3 pounds baking potatoes, peeled and sliced thin (approximately 9 med. potatoes)
- 1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
- 2 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1/4 cup butter
- 5 tablespoons flour
- 12 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- 2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- salt and pepper to taste

* Preheat oven to 350º F. Grease baking dish.
* Layer 1/3 sliced potatoes, 1/3 chopped ham, 1/3 onions in the pan. Repeat layers, ending with sliced potatoes on top.
* In a sauce pan over medium heat, warm milk (do not boil). In a separate sauce pan melt butter and slowly stir in flour. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add warmed milk to the butter and flour mixture and continue to cook for 4 to 5 minutes while continuing to stir until thickened.
* Remove from heat, stir in shredded cheese, mustard, paprika, and black pepper. (Return to low heat if cheese does not melt.) Then, pour cheese sauce over layered potatoes.
* Bake uncovered for 1 hour or until potatoes are soft and top layer is golden brown.

***** I did not follow the recipe to the t. I mixed all the potatoes, onions and ham in a separate bowl. I found the cheese mixture way too thick to pour so i added more milk (about an extra 1/2 cup). This definitely needs to cook for the full hour. *****

Cabbage and Rice Recipes

Writing a cookbook makes me feel like Julia Child. No there was a real kitchen scientist! She tested every recipe that went into her cookbooks several times. And she didn't seriously learn to cook until she was 40. She is one truly inspirational woman.

Now that I think about it, I've never really seen any of her old cooking shows. I can only recall one television out-take in which she set a table on fire. What I know of her comes from the memoir My Life in France. Well, someday I'll have time for television again - perhaps when I also have time to cook from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which I've never really done, either. Traditional French cooking takes a lot of time.

The results of last night's tasty experimentation:


Cabbage is very cheap, and it is one of the world‘s healthiest foods. Red cabbage in particular is very high in vitamins K and C, as well as being high in fiber.

The cabbage family includes green, red, and Napa cabbage, and bok choy. Any of these types of cabbages can be used in the following recipes. The cabbage family also includes kale, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower, but these vegetables need to be cooked a little differently.

To prepare cabbage, cut the head into quarters, and then cut out and discard the tough center. Then each wedge can be sliced into thin shreds.

Shredded cabbage can be added to soups and stews, or cooked as a side dish, or made into salads called cole slaw.

Basic Cabbage

½ cabbage of any type, shredded
Salt and pepper to taste
(optionals) raisins, onion, butter, oil, brown or white sugar, vinegar, lemon juice, apple, pumpkin pie spices, ham, cooked chicken

Put a half-inch of water in a pot and set it to boil. While that heats, shred the cabbage. Toss the cabbage into the pot and put the lid on. Keep the heat between medium and high, steaming the cabbage. Give it a stir every few minutes. The cabbage will be ready in about ten minutes, or longer, if you prefer softer cabbage. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve as a side-dish.

There are endless ways to make a plain pot of cabbage more exciting! A combination of raisins, brown sugar, and a little apple cider vinegar make it a little sweet and sour. Toss in chopped onion and apple with the chopped cabbage for variety. Or add ham or cooked chicken and serve over rice for a complete meal.


Rice is a great side dish with any number of foods. Leftover cooked rice can be refrigerated and then made into fried rice, or made into stuffings, used as filler in meatballs, or added to soups.

Rice comes in two basic varieties: brown, which is more nutritious but takes longer to cook, and white, which takes less time to cook but is less nutritious. Just like white and brown wheat, white rice is brown rice that has had its outer coating removed to give it a longer shelf-life. Brown rice is particularly high in manganese.

To retain the nutrition in rice, do not rinse it before cooking.

Cooking rice on the stove top leaves a rice-encrusted pot which is difficult to clean, especially when the rice has burned. To quickly clean the pot, pour in enough water to cover the stuck-on rice, and heat on the stove until the water boils. Use a spatula to scrape away the encrusted rice.

If you eat rice frequently, you may want to include a rice-cooker in your kitchen. However, any pot with a tight-fitting lid will get the job done.

White Rice

2 cups water
1 cup rice
(optionals) salt, butter, oil

Bring the water to a rolling boil. Stir in the rice and let the water return to a boil. Place the lid on the pot and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 13 to 15 minutes, then serve.

The pot should continue to emit a little steam all throughout cooking. If the rice stops steaming, either the temperature has dropped too low, or the rice has run out of water and is about to be burned. If too much steam is coming out of the rice, turn the temperature down, or the rice will burn when all the water boils off.

Salt, butter, and oil can all be added to the water along with the rice for more flavor. Broth can also be used in place of water.