Sunday, September 11, 2011

Mini Cookbook for the Harvest Festival

Anne Marie asked me if I could put together a few sample recipes to distribute at the Franklin Food Pantry booth at the upcoming Harvest Festival. Of course! Here is what I have put together. Step 2: lay these out in a nice format, get them printed, and drop of the shiny end product at the pantry.

Four Recipes Every Family Should Know

Anyone who has a family to feed can benefit by knowing these four basic recipes: how to boil beans, boil grains, bake a whole chicken, and sauté vegetables. With these basic recipes, some spices, and a few additional ingredients, a home cook can make chili, stir-fry, curry, soup, burritos, and numerous other healthy meals. By cooking beans, brown rice, and a chicken on Sunday, a busy family can throw together quick dinners each night for most of the work week.

These recipes are part of a larger cookbook being written for the Franklin Food Pantry. For more information and more recipes, visit pantry

Baked Chicken

One whole chicken, or any chicken parts
1 tsp salt
1 tsp any other spices (optional)
1 tbsp butter or oil (optional)

You can get the most chicken for your money by cooking a whole chicken and then picking all of the meat off of the bones. A single chicken can provide meat for three or four meals for a small family. Or instead of whole chicken, you can bake any chicken parts, with or without bones.

Whole frozen chickens take a couple of days in the refrigerator to thaw. In a pinch, a microwave (on the “defrost” setting) or cold running water can be used to thaw a chicken. However, leaving any meat to thaw at room temperature is not safe.

When baking whole chicken, you can stick an onion, or apple slices, or other vegetables in the body cavity of the bird to add extra flavor to the meat. However, you will want to discard these things after cooking. It typically isn’t a good idea to cook stuffing inside of poultry, because the stuffing may not reach the necessary safe temperature.

Before baking a whole chicken, you must first reach inside the body cavity and remove the bag of giblets, or confirm that no bag of giblets is present. Then sprinkle the chicken with a teaspoon of salt, and any other spices that you would like. You can also rub the chicken with oil or butter, for more flavor.

Place the bird breast-side-up in a pan or casserole dish. A probe-type thermometer (with a wire that runs out of the oven and connects to a counter-top digital device that beeps when the desired temperature is reached) is the most reliable way of judging when chicken is fully baked. If you are using a probe thermometer, insert it into the middle of the thickest part of the meat, near the chicken‘s leg. In order to get an accurate reading, the tip of the thermometer must not be touching bone.

Cook the chicken until the thermometer reads 160 degrees. Take the chicken out of the oven and leave it out uncovered, and the residual heat in the outer part of the bird will cause the internal temperature to continue climbing to 165, which is the safe “done” temperature. Then, if you can, leave the chicken to “rest” (i.e. don’t cut into it) for another 20 minutes or so, so that when you do cut into it, the juices don’t run out and leave you with dry meat.

If you are cooking chicken pieces, remove them from the oven when they reach 165 degrees, as there may not be enough residual heat in the meat to fully cook the interior of the meat.

If you don’t have a thermometer, you can test for doneness by sticking the thickest part of the chicken with a knife. If the juices run clear, the chicken is done. If the meat falls away from the bone, the chicken is over-done - which means it is quite safe to eat, but may be a bit dry. For boneless chicken pieces, cut into the chicken and look at the color of the meat to determine if the meat is done. White meat is fully cooked. Note, however, that in parts of bone-in chicken, there will be some pinkish or reddish bits of meat against the bone, even when the chicken is fully cooked.

After you have carved off and eaten pieces of the whole chicken, don’t forget to pick all the remaining meat from the bones! There may be a meal or more worth of meat hidden on the carcass. Don’t forget to flip the chicken over to get the back meat! And save everything: bones, gristle, skin, and the liquids and crusty stuff from the bottom of the baking pan. These can all be used to make chicken stock. Refrigerate these leftovers for up to five days, or freeze them indefinitely.

Cooked chicken meat can be used to make quesadillas, burritos, soup, chili, or omelette. It can be used cold on top of salad greens or in chicken salad.

Boiled beans

Nothing could be simpler than cooking dry beans: simply cover them with water, put a lid on the pot, and set them to a simmer or a low boil. Stir every 20 minutes or so. Cook with a lid on to keep too much water from evaporating. Add extra water to the pot if the beans seem to be crowded. Taste a bean every so often. When the beans are as soft as you like, use them in any recipe that calls for cooked or canned beans.

6 or more cups water
2 cups (1 pound) dry beans
1 tsp salt (optional)

There are many types of beans. Each type of beans has its own cooking time. Additionally, the older the beans are, the longer that they will take to cook (and the less nutritious they will be). This makes it tough to judge how long it will take to cook a pot of beans. Unless you are cooking lentils, which can take as little as a half hour to cook, assume it will take at least two hours to cook your beans.

Beans need to be rinsed before cooking, to remove dust. You should also sort through them before cooking to remove any pebbles or other agricultural debris that may have jumped into the bag. Also take out any beans that look particularly shriveled, discolored, or otherwise unfit to eat.

Cooking time can be reduced somewhat by soaking the beans overnight in cold water, but this is not a necessary step.

Most cooks will swear that adding salt to a pot of beans will cause the beans to take longer to cook. However, chef Mark Bittman has tested pots of beans side-by-side, one with salt, the other without, and reports that both pots of beans finished cooking at the same time. But if you want to add salt to the pot, and you wish to cover your bases, you can always wait and add salt then the beans are mostly cooked.

Beans double in size when cooked, more or less, so if you cook two cups of dry beans, you will get about four cups of cooked beans. One pound of beans is about two cups of dried beans.

Once your beans are cooked, you have several options. You can drain the beans in a colander, or you can keep them in the cooking water. (The cooking water can be useful for making soup or stew.) You can immediately turn some or all of the beans into soup or any other recipe. You can refrigerate the beans with or without their cooking water for use in recipes over the next five days or so. Or you can freeze the beans indefinitely.

Run cool tap water over your drained beans to cool them before moving them to the refrigerator or freezer.

Cooked beans can be used in chili, soups, stews, salads, or burritos. They can be mashed into dip or refried beans. Beans can be spiced with Mexican spices or Indian curry spices and served with boiled grains of any sort. Beans can also be mashed and combined with boiled grains, grated raw vegetables, egg, and breadcrumbs, and then rolled and pan-fried to make vegetarian “meatballs” or veggie-burgers.

Boiled Grains

This recipe yields perfect rice, barley, whole wheat berries, rye, wild rice, or hominy. The cooking time varies from 10 minutes to over an hour, depending on the grain used. (White rice is quickest, unhulled grains take the longest.) In general grains double in size when cooked. (Barley, however, triples in size.)

6 or more cups water
1 tsp salt
1 ½ cup rice, barley, whole wheat berries, rye, wild rice, or hominy

In a medium or large pot, boil the water, and stir in the salt. Rinse the grain and add it to the boiling water. Continue to gently boil the water, without a lid, stirring occasionally. Add more water if it looks like there is too little. Taste the grain every ten minutes or so. When they have reached the desired tenderness, drain them in a colander, and serve or use in another recipe.

Cooked grains can be saved in the refrigerator for five days or so, or can be frozen indefinitely. If you want to move the grain straight to the refrigerator or freezer, cool them first by running cold tap water or ice water over them.

Cooked grains can be eaten as a side dish with little more than salt and pepper, and perhaps a bit of butter or oil. Or cooked grains can be mixed with chopped cooked vegetables for a more fancy side dish. Toss chopped raw greens in with a hot pot of grains, and the greens will cook just from the heat of the rice. Cooled grains can be used with chopped raw or cooked vegetables and salad dressing to make a grain salad. Cooked grains can be used as a filler in meatloaf or meat balls or hamburger patties, and cooked grains can be added to soups and stews.

Sautéed Vegetables

Sautéing is possibly the best way to get to know an unfamiliar veggie. Sautéing brings out the flavor in food quickly. And, importantly, when you sauté vegetables, you can taste them as you cook.

2 or so cups of almost any vegetable, cleaned and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 pinch (about 1/8 tsp) of salt
A sprinkle of black pepper
1 tablespoon of butter or oil, preferably olive

Heat the butter or oil over medium heat until the butter melts or the oil is hot. Toss in the vegetables, salt, and pepper. Give them a stir every thirty seconds or so. If the vegetables get dry and start to burn in the pan, add some extra oil, or add a tablespoon or so of water.

As you cook, periodically taste what you are cooking. Note how the texture and taste change. When the texture and flavor seem to be at their best, remove the pan from the heat, and as quickly as possible, get the veggies out of that hot pan! Many a vegetable dish has been overcooked because it has been left sitting in a hot pan. For particularly delicate vegetables, such as leafy greens or broccoli, you may want to get the vegetables off of the hot pan before they have reached their peak of texture and flavor, because even out of the pan, they will briefly continue to cook.

Sautéed vegetables can be served immediately just as they are. Additional spices of any sort can be used to jazz them up. Or, the cooked vegetables can be cooled (you can put them under cold tap water to do this) and used in salads. Cooked vegetables can be refrigerated for five days or so, and used in any number of recipes: burritos, omelettes, pasta dishes, quesadilla, sandwiches, etc. Reheated vegetables on toast are delicious for breakfast!

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