Saturday, June 25, 2011

Draft 2

I am now compiling recipes into chapters of what is officially Draft 2. I also semi-successfully made a lasagna-type casserole, and ruined another attempt at a cheese sauce when trying to make potatoes au gratin. What is it with me boiling the %&$*ing cheese sauces?

I have decided that instead of page numbers, recipes should be numbered in a more biblical chapter-and-verse arrangement, since I may not have much control over the number of pages the final book is printed at. The numbers will be added at the end, when I finish adding and removing recipes.

The first two chapters, revised:


For the beginner, eggs are simple and gratifying to cook as a breakfast food. But eggs are more than just a breakfast food. Egg is the glue that holds together balls, patties, and loaves (see recipe ###), stuffings (see recipe ###), pancakes (see recipe ###), and other baked goods (see recipes ###). Egg is also an important part of the custard found in French toast and bread pudding. (see recipe ###)

Eggs can be kept, refrigerated, for several weeks. Older eggs are particularly good for hard boiling, because they can be peeled easier. Do not eat an egg that is damaged. Handle raw eggs as you would handle raw meat, because raw egg, like raw chicken, can carry salmonella. Eggs and egg dishes much be cooked to 165 degrees to be safe to eat. Technically, this means cooking the egg until both the white and yolk (the yellow part) have become solid. However, many people consider it worth the risk to eat runny eggs and raw cookie dough.

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, or some greens (try leftover cooked spinach or kale!), 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 (see recipe ###), or chopped and added to a salad of leafy greens (see recipe ###). 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 on medium heat. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the eggs into a bowl of cold water to cool them down.

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 a slotted spoon to transfer the eggs into a bowl of cold water to cool them down.

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 (see recipe ###), substituting about two eggs per each can of tuna.

Frittata (quick meal)

A frittata is basically a family-sized omelette, and it can be served for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. 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 sandwiches from slices 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 or oil 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.

Store-Bought Bread

This section covers things that you can make with bread bought from the store. For recipes that use stale bread, see stuffing, recipe ###; for bread pudding and French toast, see ###.

Most commonly available breads are made from wheat flour. Wheat flour comes in two varieties: white, and whole wheat. White flour and whole wheat flour are made from the same plant, but the outer portion - the bran and the germ - of the wheat berries have been stripped off to make white flour. This gives white flour a longer shelf life, but unfortunately also removes more than half of the nutrients that are found in whole wheat. So, white bread contains a lot of empty calories. Use whole wheat bread when possible.

Did you know that sliced bread freezes nicely? Buy more than you need when it’s on sale, and put the extra away in the freezer. Frozen slices can be thawed in the microwave, or put directly into the toaster. A frozen loaf can be moved into the refrigerator to thaw.

Frozen bread doesn’t work well for instant sandwiches unless you like your sandwich bread toasted. However, if packing a lunch, you can make a sandwich in the morning using frozen bread, and by the time lunch rolls around, the bread will be thawed and ready to eat.

One slice of sandwich bread torn or cut up makes about a cup.

Remember that when cooking anything under a broiler, but bread in particular, you will need to stand and watch, ready to pull the food out of the oven. Bread is particularly tricky, because when it starts to brown, it will then quickly start to smoke and burn. Always pull out the oven rack to get to the bread. Do not reach under the hot oven element.

How to make a Lot of Toast (quick meal)

You can make a lot of toast at once by broiling the bread in your oven. This technique can also be used to toast multiple slices of frozen bread.

Put the oven rack as high in the oven as it will go. Then put your slices of bread either on the rack directly, or on a cookie sheet. Turn the oven on broil and push the rack in, but do not shut the oven door entirely.

Flip the slices over as they reach the desired level of done-ness.

Toast topped with Southern Breakfast Gravy (recipe ###) makes a wonderful (if high calorie) hot meal. Or top toast with bruschetta (recipe ###) for light summer fare.

Cinnamon Toast (quick snack)

This is a great treat for children. First, lightly toast your bread. Then put the bread on a cookie sheet, and top with butter, sugar (white or brown) and a sprinkle of cinnamon (or other pumpkin pie spices). Broil until the butter and sugar bubble. Remove from heat and let cool before serving.

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.

An even simpler variant of this is “cheese bread”, which is just toast with cheese melted on top. Cheese bread goes well with soup or salad.

Grilled Cheese (quick meal)

Grilled cheese is one of the first things that most people learn to cook from scratch. Quite simply, it is a sandwich made with bread and cheese, cooked in a little butter or oil in a pan over medium heat. The trick is to let the sandwich cook slowly, at a low enough heat, so that the bread doesn’t start to burn until the cheese has melted.

Grilled cheese can be made both more fancy and more nutritious by adding other things to it. Try tomatoes, fresh spinach, leftover cooked greens, pickles, cooked meats, deli meats, sprouts, or grated carrot.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cookbook revisions

I rewrote the cookbook's intro. I don't know, is it too wordy? I've retitled the book. And I've fiddled further with the structure of the book. It's starting to feel right. I just need to force myself to learn how to cook a few cassaroles (ugh! Not my favorite thing to cook at the best of times, and especially not in the heat of the summer) and fiddle around with tomatoes and zuchini when they are in season. Then, compile the recipes in order. And write the essays. Okay, so I still have a metric crap ton to do. But it feels doable, especially now that I have reclaimed my evenings. (Now if I can just keep myself away from Portal 2 long enough to be productive. . .)

Mom’s Cookbook
How to cook nutritious meals from scratch, on a budget, when time is short.

It is not hard to cook good food “from scratch”. Meals made from common, whole ingredients are less expensive and better for us than packaged, premade foods. And cooking from scratch doesn’t have to take a long time. Let me explain:

The American diet of pre-made “convenience” foods is making us sick. We shovel “snack foods” into ourselves at all hours of the day, we eat alone in a hurry instead of socially and slowly, we eat too many animal products and too many refined grains instead of fruits and vegetables - and we focus on foods being a delivery system for nutrients, which lets us be fooled into thinking that a package of cookies labeled “heart healthy“ is actually good for us. Other cultures do not suffer from heart disease, diabetes, and obesity - that is, until they adopt our foods and food habits.

Though traditional diets around the world come in all types, what they have in common is that their foods are cooked from whole ingredients, with customs that limit the amount of food eaten and extend the enjoyment of meals. If we do the same - and if we combine good cooking habits with the American customs of family dinners, pot-lucks, and cook-outs - we can live healthier lives.

Some people insist that pre-made foods are more affordable than whole food ingredients. This is only true when comparing the most bottom-of-the-line premade junk food with exotic and out-of-season whole foods. American staples such as potatoes, cabbage, whole raw chicken, oats, and in-season greens are a bargain compared to breakfast cereals, fried chicken, and “low fat” microwave meals. Such staples are also far more packed with nutrition than any packaged food - including the packaged foods that claim to be good for you.

Cooking fancy meals from scratch can take a long time. But time is fleeting for working families, so there are two kinds of recipes in this book: “quick” recipes that can be made in a half hour or less, with practice; and “make in advance” recipes, which produce foods that either store well, to be reheated at your convenience, or which can be carried easily to a pot-luck.

The recipes and strategies in this book are what I used to feed my family during my time as a working mother, so I can tell you from experience that it is possible to have a career and a family and home-cooked meals that don‘t require sacrificing all of your scant free time or money. It is my sincere hope that you will use this book to foster a love of cooking, a love of sharing food, and a love of eating that brings you good health, family bonding, and a deeper connection to your community. May the fork be with you!

Table of Contents


Basic cooking equipment
Food-handling safety tips
Freezing and thawing tips
Basic seasonings and spices
Preparing a week’s worth of food in advance
Weights and Measurements


Eggs (scrambled, fried, etc.)
Bread (simple stuff-on-bread recipes)
Bread puddings and French toast (bread plus custard)
Pancakes (the humble pancake has so many variations!)
Beans (boiling and freezing)
Salads, salsas, and marinades (raw veggies, salad dressings, and meat salads)
Whole meats (whole chicken, roasts, chops, pulled pork, etc.)
Balls, patties, and loaves (tuna patties, meatloaf, fritters, etc.)
Veggies (stir-fried, baked)
Stir Fries (combinations of meats and veggies)
Pastas (and ideas for topping pastas)
Grains (whole grains, variations)
Greens (cooked greens)
Sauces (marinara, cheese sauce, gravy, pureed veggie)
Soups and Stews (stocks, soups, chili, stews, curries)
Casseroles (enchiladas, gratins, baked pasta)
Baby food

Sunday, June 19, 2011


Heh. Just as I was wondering if I should even bother including nutrition information on specific foods, I started reading Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food. His take on the Western diet's shift towards valuing the nutrition in food rather than the food itself - "Nutritionalism" - is damning.

Well now, that will save me some work. I was dreading the research. Anyway, it makes more sense to teach good eating habits from a perspective of "see how yummy this diverse array of whole foods looks!"

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Reorganizing my thoughts

I'm still cooking! And I'm noticing that I am now thinking of recipes now as categories. First it was the pancakes. I made several kinds of pancakes in a short period of time, just winging it, and that taught me that one master recipe would be more useful in a cookbook than several variations. This week, it has been balls and patties. There is amazing variation in what you can glue together with egg. Maybe it makes more sense to put them all into the same technique bucket, instead of splitting them up by ingredient, as I had been planning. Here is what I am thinking:

Balls, Patties, and Loaves

What do fish cakes, meatloaf, rice balls, hamburger patties, and chicken nuggets have in common? All of them are made from ingredients which have been ground up or finely chopped. Most involve a combination of meat and some sort of non-meat filler, as well as spices, and most are glued together with egg and breadcrumbs.

Balls, patties, and loaves can be made from almost any ingredient. The possibilities include minced vegetables, fresh or otherwise; ground meats; grated cheese; canned tuna; canned or frozen beans; cooked rice, or other grains; uncooked oatmeal; crushed tofu; chopped nuts; and seeds. The mixture can be made up of whatever is on hand. If the mixture is too crumbly, add more egg to stick it together. If it is too gooey, add breadcrumbs to firm it up.

How much time do you have to cook? If you are in a hurry, form the mixture into hamburger-sized patties. Pan-fry the patties on medium heat for about five minutes on each side. Serve as a sandwich, or on top of some salad greens, or with a side dish, or with a sauce on top.

If you have a little more time, or you are cooking for young children who would prefer finger-foods, make small balls or nuggets. Pan fry them, or bake them. Small shapes freeze particularly well, and can be quickly reheated in small or large quantity under the broiler or in the microwave.

If you don’t have much time to fuss with the mixture, but have time for it to sit in the oven, then squish it into a loaf pan or casserole dish and let it bake in the oven. Depending on the shape of the loaf, this may take an hour at 350 degrees.

In all cases, the food is done when it reaches 165 degrees in the middle. For balls and patties, you may be able to judge doneness by cutting one open to see if the mixture has lost the look of gooey raw egg. If the mix contains meat, the meat will be gray rather than pink. A thermometer is advisable for loaves - but you may find that after making the same sort of loaf two or three times, there may be visible clues (such as meatloaf pulling away from the side of the pan) that you can use to judge doneness.

Balls, patties, and loaves are a great way to include foods in your family’s diet that are otherwise rejected, such as leafy greens. These recipes are also a good way to use up leftovers, such as cooked rice, or a stump of cheese, or a fresh vegetable that no longer looks its best.

The following recipes are just a small sampling of you can make into balls, patties and loaves. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

This would be a chapter heading, followed by a few sample recipes. The organization of chapters would look something like this:

Eggs (scrambled, fried, etc.)
Bread (simple stuff-on-bread recipes)
Bread puddings and French toast (bread plus custard)
Pancakes (the humble pancake has so many variations!)
Beans (boiling and freezing)
Salads, salsas, and marinades (raw veggies, salad dressings, and meat salads)
Whole meats (whole chicken, roasts, chops, pulled pork, etc.)
Balls, patties, and loaves (tuna patties, meatloaf, etc.)
Stir Fries and Sautees (simple cooked veggies, stir-fried combinations)
Pastas and Grains (plain pastas and grains for other food to be stacked on)
Sauces (marinara, cheese sauce, gravy, pureed veggie)
Soups (stocks, soups, chili, stews, curries)
Casseroles (enchiladas, gratins, baked pasta)

This would shift the structure of the cookbook away from nutrition, but towards technique and learning to cook without being confined by recipes, which might make the book more useful. Perhaps along with this, I could include an index of the most-used ingredients and their nutrition? Or should I leave that out in the name of keeping the book small and getting this thing done asap? Crap, I'm not sure. Maybe a short chapter on nutrition would suffice.

It's past my bedtime and I'm cranky because someone left an obnoxious comment on my gardening blog.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

If you want curry in a hurry eat at Ghandi's. . .

I think I just quited a kid's movie from the eighties. Shoot me now.

Curry was tonight's dinner. The sauce was based on canned sweet potato, which - and hell is freezing over as I write this - Gabe liked.

I threw together my own curry spice mix tonight kinda sorta making a conglomeration that's not really any of the three mixes listed in How to Cook Everything; I wasn't intending to be inventive, but I didn't have all of the ingredients for any one of Bittman's curry recipes. Since any of those Indian spices can be used together, I figured winging it couldn't hurt. The result was flavorful in a dark sort of way, and a little spicy. Chris liked it, so it's a win!

Not that I've ever had a disagreement with pre-mixed jars of curry spices, but I like to get to the source when possible.

I think that this sauce can also work with plain yogurt stirred in at the end, but I have ruined too many dairy recipes recently (I'm looking at you, cheese sauce) to say for sure until I have tested it.

Curry in a Hurry (quick meal)

With a jar of curry spices, a can of pureed vegetables, and some chopped vegetables and meats, you can put together a quick and nutritious meal.

In a pot combine:

1 15 ounce can of pureed pumpkin, pureed sweet potato, or other vegetable, or a small can of tomato paste
1 or 2 cups of water
1 teaspoon curry powder
¼ teaspoon salt
(optional) minced or dried garlic
(optional) minced or dried ginger
(optional) 1 or 2 tablespoons sugar

Bring this sauce to a simmer. Then, if you want meat in your curry, add:

1 pound of raw meat, cut into bite-sized pieces

Simmer the meat until it is cooked through. While the meat cooks, chop up vegetables. You can use pre-cooked meats instead of raw meat; add it to the curry right before serving. You can also use tofu instead of meat, or omit the meat entirely. You could also substitute paneer, a delicious Indian cheese, if you are lucky enough to live near an Indian grocery store.

4 or more cups of vegetables cut into bite-sized pieces.

Possible vegetables for this dish include bell pepper, carrot, beet, turnip, broccoli, cauliflower, potato, peas, and onion. Frozen vegetables can also be used. Combine two or three vegetables for best results. Continue to simmer the pot, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender.

Serve over rice. This feeds 3 or 4 people.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Units of Measurement

The cookbook needs a cheat sheet of units of measurement, and it should include more obscure tidbits, such as how many cups of beans are actually contained in a 15-ounce can.


16 ounces = 1 pound
1 pint = 1 pound of water (Note that this only works for water, as pints are a unit of volume and pounds are a unit of weight.)
1 cup = 8 ounces of water
1 pint = 2 cups
1 quart = 2 pints
1 cup = 16 tablespoons
1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons

1 medium can holds 15 ounces, which is just a bit less than 2 cups.
1 15 ounce can of beans holds about 1 ½ cup drained beans.
1 pound of dry beans is about two cups of dry beans, for most types of beans.
1 pound of dry beans makes about 4 or 5 cups of cooked, drained beans, for most types of beans.
1 medium onion is about one cup of chopped onion.
1 stick of butter = ½ cup = 8 tablespoons.
Pasta doubles in volume when cooked.1 pound of pasta serves about 4 people as a mail course, or 6 to 8 as a side dish.
1 cup of dry rice makes about 2 cups of cooked rice.
4 ounces of grated cheese makes about 1 cup.
1 slice of sandwhich bread makes about one cup of torn-up bread.


I have been experimenting wildly with pancakes recently, and as a result I have to expand from my one oatmeal pancake recipe to a more useful universal recipe for making any sort of pancake.

Universal pancakes, woo!

Pancakes (quick meal)

Contrary to popular belief, in baking, it is not necessary to measure out ingredients exactly. As long as you don’t mind your baked goods turning out a bit differently from one batch to the next, it is perfectly acceptable (and fun!) to improvise with ingredients and quantities. This is especially true of pancakes. You can use what you have on hand - from leftover oatmeal, chopped or pureed fruits or vegetables.

For best results, mix together all of the dry ingredients first. Then stir in the wet ingredients, just to the point that the batter contains a few lumps, and cook immediately. The batter should be just wet enough that it can be slowly poured. If it is too dry, add more liquid; if too wet, add more flour.

At their most basic, pancakes need only two ingredients, in approximately the following ratio:

1 cup flour (of any sort)
1 cup liquid

For the liquid, milk is traditional. However, you can also use fruit juice, or pureed fruit or vegetables (such as canned pumpkin). Combinations work well.

But by themselves, those two ingredients make tasteless pancakes. For more flavor, add the following:

1 tsp sugar (of any sort)
1/8 tsp salt
a bit of vanilla or pumpkin pie spices

To add protein, add:

1 egg

To reduce sticking on pans which don’t have a non-stick surface, add:

2 tbsp oil or melted butter

For lighter, fluffier pancakes, add:

1 tsp baking powder (or baking soda, if an acidic ingredient such as orange juice or honey is used)

Finally, you can add extra things to the batter for additional taste or nutrition:

Up to 1 cup chopped nuts, chopped fruit, dried fruit, mashed overripe banana, fresh or frozen berries, cooked or uncooked oatmeal, chocolate chips, etc.

Heat the griddle or pan on medium heat. Flick a few drops of water on the surface of the pan to gauge the temperature. When the drops of water skitter around on the pan, the temperature is just right for cooking pancakes. (Water drops that just sit there indicate that the pan is too cold, and water drops that evaporate immediately indicate the pan is too hot.)

Pour the batter into pancake-sized dollops on the griddle. After five minutes, use a spatula to lift one pancake. If the pancake is browned underneath, flip all of the pancakes over, and continue to cook until both sides are browned.

Pancakes can be kept warm on a plate in the oven at the oven’s lowest setting. Serve with butter, maple syrup, honey, or jelly.

Pancakes can also be frozen to save for later. Use parchment paper between pancakes to keep them from sticking together when frozen. Frozen pancakes can be reheated in a toaster or under the broiler.