Saturday, July 30, 2011

Chicken, Second Draft

I was pleased to see that the first draft of the chicken chapter was already so solid! I have refined much of it for clarity. As I worked on it, I had my friend Kristen in mind. Hopefully she will have time to try some recipes. If I can teach her how to bake a chicken, then I'll know I'm on the right track. Baked chicken can seem so intimidating when you have never cooked one before, but it's such a staple among the carnivorous crowds, and it really is simple, once you are over the OMG SCARY NAKED CHICKEN reaction. Once you can bake a chicken, you can use the meat in an ungodly number of quick recipes.

Speaking of which, I have finally stopped planning each week's worth of dinners in advance. The system worked marvelously well, and I still highly recommend it. But I have been having a lot of fun flying by the seat of my pants. As long as I start each week with a pot of grains and a baked chicken, a fridge full of fresh vegetables, and some frozen beans, dinner each night is spontaneous and as quick (or slow) as I want.

I have been using the notation "(recipe #)" to indicate that a recipe number (in the printed version) or a link (digital) should be included later.


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 to put in various recipes. (recipes #, #, #) A single chicken can provide meat for three or four meals for a small family. If you are cooking with boneless chicken breasts, you can use the broiled chicken recipe below (recipe #) or you can use the pan-fried meats recipe (recipe #). However, chicken that is still on the bone is more economical; and whole chicken is even more so.

Before cooking a whole chicken, you must reach inside the body cavity and pull out the package of giblets. The giblets are an assortment of innards and parts, and usually includes a heart, gizzard, liver, and neck. These bits and pieces can be used with other leftover chicken parts to make chicken stock (recipe #), or can be cooked and (minus the bones of the neck) can be chopped and added to a chicken gravy (recipe #). You can even do both at once by simmering the giblets in a cup or two of water (along with a pinch of salt, and an onion, or some carrot and celery, if you have some on hand) for a half hour or so to make a quick stock. Then use the stock and the giblets to make gravy.

Before cooking, it is also a good idea to look your chicken over for feather stubble that was not properly plucked when the bird was processed. If you find any, pull them out and throw them away.

Chicken can carry the disease salmonella, which is dangerous to people. Chicken must reach 165 degrees to kill salmonella. The most accurate way to know if your chicken has reached 165 degrees is by cooking with a meat thermometer. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, you can cook your chicken until the meat is falling from the bone to be sure it has surpassed 165 degrees. Overcooking your chicken in this manner, however, will make it dry and less tasty.

Whole frozen chickens should be thawed in the refrigerator for a day or two. In a pinch, a microwave (on the “defrost” setting) or cold running water can be used to thaw a chicken. However, leaving a chicken at room temperature to thaw is not safe.

Boiled Chicken
(make in advance)

Boiling is the simplest way to cook whole chicken. Simply put the chicken into a pot, cover with water, add a tablespoon of salt, and boil until the meat falls off of the bone when you stick a fork in it. This will take about an hour and a half. Remove the chicken from the pot, allow it to cool enough to handle, and then pull the meat from the bones. Discard the bones, but do not discard the cooking water.

The meat is then ready to be used in any number of recipes, including chicken salad (recipe #), quesadilla (recipe #), enchilada (recipe #), and, of course, chicken soup (recipe #). The meat can be refrigerated and used over the next few days, or it can be frozen for use later.

Boiling produces chicken stock - the cooking water - at the same time. This stock will have a layer of melted chicken fat floating at the top, which needs to be skimmed off. Let the pot sit so that the fat comes to the surface, and then scoop the top half-inch or so gently into another container. Put this in the refrigerator for later, so you can use it to make chicken gravy (recipe #).

Your stock is then ready to be turned into chicken soup (recipe #), or other recipes. It can also be refrigerated or frozen for use later.

For a more flavorful broth, boil a couple of carrots, celery sticks, and an onion along with your chicken. Black pepper and garlic are also good additions, as are the giblets. You will want to discard these solids when the chicken is done cooking, because boiling them for so long reduces them to flavorless mush.

Your home-made stock may be less salty that you are used to, if you are used to stock from cans or made from bullion cubes. Add salt or other seasonings to taste when you cook with it.

Baked Chicken (make in advance)

Baked chicken tastes much better than boiled chicken, provided you do not overcook the chicken. You can bake a whole chicken, or any chicken parts, with or without bones. Plain roasted chicken is delicious with gravy and side-dishes.

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.

When baking whole chicken, you can stick an onion, or apples, 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. If you want stuffing, see recipe #.

To bake 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. (See the spices section # for ideas.) 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. If you are using a probe thermometer, this is when you insert it into the bird. Insert the thermometer into the middle of the thickest part of the meat, in the thigh area 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. This method can be used to check any bone-in chicken pieces, as well as whole chicken, but it does have the disadvantage of letting the juices out of your meat before the meat has “rested“. For boneless chicken pieces, cut into the chicken and look at the color of the meat. 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 bones. And save everything else: bones, gristle, and the liquids and crusty stuff from the bottom of the baking pan. These can all be used to make chicken stock.

Chicken Stock (make in advance)

After baking a chicken, all of the leftover bones and gristle, and the liquids and crusty stuff from the bottom of the baking pan, can be used to make chicken stock. If you wish to do this at a later time, then they can be refrigerated for a few days, or frozen indefinitely. If you have a large enough pot, you may want to save up three or four chicken carcasses to boil all at once. Save those giblets for this as well.

To make stock (or broth, as it is called if vegetables are included) put the leftover chicken parts in a large pot, cover the carnage with water, add a tablespoon of salt or more, and boil or simmer. The pot needs to cook for several hours for best flavor.

For a more flavorful broth, boil a couple of carrots (scrubbed clean or peeled), celery sticks (washed), and an onion (peeled) along with your chicken. Black pepper and garlic are also good additions, as are the giblets.

When the stock is done, strain or scoop out all of the solids, and throw them away. Then allow the broth to sit for a while, to give the fat time to rise to the surface. Once the fat has accumulated at the top of the pot, skim it off by scooping gently with a large spoon or a measuring cup. Reserve this fat in the refrigerator for use in chicken gravy (recipe), or to sauté vegetables in (recipe #).

Or, if you don’t have time to wait for the fat to rise to the surface of the pot, pour the stock directly into storage containers and move it into the refrigerator un-skimmed. By the time the broth cools, all of the fat will have congealed in a white layer at the top of the stock. Spoon the fat into its own container, and then use the stock within a few days, or freeze it.

Your home-made stock may be less salty that you are used to, if you have only tasted stock from cans - or worse - made from bullion cubes, which are mostly salt and MSG. Add salt or other seasonings as necessary when you cook with it.

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 (recipe #)
(optional) Italian salad dressing (recipe #)

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, but don‘t overdo it!)

When the chicken starts to get a little burned, slide out the oven rack and flip the chicken pieces over.
To check for doneness of boneless chicken pieces, cut into the chicken and look at the color of the meat. White meat is fully cooked. 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. Check for doneness with a meat thermometer (165 is done) or stick a knife in the thickest part of the meat, and look for juices that run clear.

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
Cooked grain (recipe #) or pasta (recipe #)
Cooked vegetables (recipe #) or frozen vegetables, or fresh, chopped vegetables
Salt and pepper to taste
(optional) herbs and spices of any sort (recipe #)
(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 boil. Then, remove the soup from the heat, until the pot no longer boils. Add the optional milk or cream, and heat just until steaming (but don‘t boil it). Season to taste. Serve, and enjoy!

Classic Chicken Soup (quick meal, or cook in advance)

Raw chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
Chicken stock or broth
Uncooked pasta or grain (you may want to use a grain with a shorter cooking time)
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. Add the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic just as the chicken is almost done cooking. When the chicken is cooked, add everything else. Bring to a gentle boil, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta or grain are tender.

Chicken Enchiladas (or cheese enchiladas, bean enchiladas, etc.)
(quick meal)

This is a great week-night recipe for use with the chicken that you baked over the weekend. Or you can use another pre-cooked meat, or frozen or canned beans. Or you can make plain cheese enchiladas by using more cheese. You can also make a fun variant for kids using raisins instead of meat.

This is another recipe that doesn’t require precise measuring, or exact ingredients. Use whatever you have on hand.

1 cup pre-cooked chicken, or other pre-cooked meat, or frozen or canned beans, or ½ cup raisins
1 ½ cups Monterey jack and/or cheddar cheese
1 package of tortillas
1 can enchilada sauce (or about 1 ½ cups of home-made, recipe #)
2/3 cup chopped greens, such as frozen kale or spinach, or cooked onion or mushroom, or other chopped vegetable

In a microwave-safe, small (9 x 9 inch or so) casserole dish, pour about a third of the enchilada sauce. Dip one tortilla in the sauce so that both sides are wet. Then put cheese, meat, and veggies in the tortilla. Roll up the tortilla and move it to one end of the pan. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, until the pan is full and all of the ingredients are used up. Pour the remaining sauce over the enchiladas, and grate little extra cheese over the top. Then microwave the casserole for about ten minutes, or until the whole dish is hot and melty. (Alternatively you can bake in a 350 degree oven until the sauce bubbles.)

Serve on its own, with or without such toppings as salsa or sour cream, or with a side-dish such as rice or refried beans. Serves two to four people.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Refining the Pineapple Bread Pudding. . .

I made the pineapple bread pudding again, and refined the measurements. Alas, I forgot to throw in nuts! It would be so good with pecans. But I still need to confirm that it would be good made with canned peaches instead of pineapple.

I must include a snacks section in the cookbook, with spiced nuts included. And energy bars (a.k.a. fancy rice crispy treats.)

I have made an executive decision to leave casseroles out of the cookbook, because they represent such a stupid amount of work, followed by a stupid amount of cooking time. They are recipes designed for the 50's-era stay-at-home mom. And the "convenient" casseroles call for cans of this and cans of that. And, especially, cans of "cream-of-blah" soup that contain no actual cream. Yum, hydrolyzed soy protein! (Which is just another way of saying "MSG".)

And for a disjointed change-of-subject, this evening, for the first time, I cooked and ate lambsquarters. Most people know of this plant only as a weed, but it is, in fact, one of the most highly nutritious green plants a human can eat. I had hesitated to cook it, because it tastes pretty blargh when raw. Cooked, however, it was like an improved spinach! I need to see if there is more growing in the yard. Free greens!

Fruity Bread Pudding (dessert, make in advance)

This dessert bread pudding is pure comfort food. It’s as tasty as pie without all of the work. Eat it hot or cold, by itself or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. This makes enough for about four hungry people.

1 20 ounce can of pineapple, peach, or other canned fruit, plus the liquid from the can
3 or 4 cups torn-up stale bread
2 eggs
¼ cup butter
½ cup sugar
(optional) 1 diced banana, apple, pear, or other fresh fruit
(optional) ½ cup raisins or other dried fruit, or nuts or seeds
(optional) pumpkin-pie spices, such as nutmeg and cinnamon

If the canned fruit is in large pieces, cut it up into bite-sized chunks. Beat together the eggs, sugar, and the liquid from the canned fruit. Combine this with the bread, fruit, and optional ingredients. If the bread is particularly dry, give it ten minutes to soak up the liquid, stirring once or twice. Then put the mixture into a baking dish and bake at 350 until the pudding is firm all the way through, or when the center reaches 165 degrees.

Friday, July 22, 2011

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, at a ratio of about ½ cup breadcrumbs (recipe #) to 1 egg.

Balls, patties, and loaves can be made from almost any ingredient. The possibilities include minced vegetables (fresh, frozen, or cooked); raw ground meats; grated cheese; canned tuna; canned or frozen beans; cooked 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, when fully cooked, 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 grain, 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!

Tuna Burgers, or Tuna Cakes (quick meal)

These tuna patties can be served on bread, like a hamburger, or as part of a salad or along with side dishes, as a fish cake. A tasty dip can be made for the latter by mixing equal parts of mayonnaise and Dijon mustard.

This makes two patties:

1 small can of tuna
½ cup bread crumbs
1 egg
½ cup chopped vegetables, such as onion, celery, or red pepper
Salt and pepper to taste (careful with the salt, as canned tuna tends to be salty)
(optional) other herbs, such as dill

Drain the tuna. Mix the ingredients thoroughly and form into two patties. Cook in a little oil - if the tuna is in oil rather than water, you can use a tablespoon of that to cook in - over medium heat for about five minutes on each side. Turn the patties carefully, as they are a bit fragile.

Meatballs (make in advance)

Meatballs can be made with any sort of ground meat. They can also be used to sneak some vegetables into the diet of picky kids. Meatballs do take some time to make, but can be made in large batches and then frozen. Meatballs can be served in sauces over rice or noodles, or they can be put in soups or stews, or they can be served all by themselves.

1 pound ground meat
1 cup of oats or breadcrumbs
1 cup of finely chopped or grated vegetables, such as sweet potato, winter squash, kale, mushrooms, carrots, onion, etc.
1 egg

Mix together all of the ingredients. Roll into 1½ inch balls, and place on a lightly greased cookie sheet or casserole dish with space between the meatballs. (Ground beef will need to be cooked in a container that can hold the grease that cooks out of them, and this grease will need to be poured off halfway through cooking, and again at the end.) Bake at 350 degrees about 15 minutes, or until the meatballs are no longer pink inside. Err on the side of overcooking if you aren’t sure that the meatballs are fully cooked. The meatballs can then be served with a sauce over rice or noodles, or frozen for later use.

Serves 2 or 3 people.

Swedish Meatballs (quick meal)

Make up a batch of Southern Chicken Gravy (recipe #), with the addition of dill. Combine with meatballs or chicken nuggets, and serve over rice, pasta, or egg noodles.

To add additional vegetables to this meal without dirtying extra pots, first sauté some chopped onions and/or mushrooms, then proceed to make the Southern Chicken Gravy on top of them in the same pot.

Meatloaf (make in advance)

Meatloaf is just like meatballs, but instead of being cooked in balls, it is cooked in a loaf pan. It takes less time to prepare, but longer to cook. It is also a good idea to use a meat thermometer when cooking meatloaf.

2 pounds ground meat
1 to 2 cups of oats or breadcrumbs
1 to 2 cups (optional) of finely chopped or grated vegetables, such as sweet potato, winter squash, kale, mushrooms, carrots, onion, etc.
Other seasonings, such as sage or rosemary
1 or 2 eggs

Mix all of the ingredients thoroughly, and put in a loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees, which will take about an hour. Serve with ketchup or gravy.

If your meatloaf is made with a ground meat that includes a lot of fat, you will need to remove it from the oven to pour out the grease after about 40 minutes of cooking. Pour out the remaining grease when the meatloaf finishes cooking. You can save the grease for making gravy, or wait until it cools, and dispose of it in the trash.

Leftover meatloaf slices can be frozen for use later. Leftover meatloaf can also be used to make chili or marinara sauce with meat.

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.

Tofu Veggie Fingers, or “Dip Sticks” (cook in advance)

This is a great recipe for children who are picky about eating vegetables. The results look a bit like chicken nuggets, and can be dipped in ketchup or other sauces. If you call them “dip sticks”, your picky eaters never have to know what’s in them. You can make these in large batches and then freeze them for later.

Specific ingredients and exact measurements aren’t necessary, but for particularly picky eaters, try sticking only with white ingredients.

1 block of firm tofu
2 cups of finely grated or finely chopped white veggies. Possibilities include cauliflower, parsnip, and potato.
1 cup dry bread crumbs and/or oats
2 eggs
1 cup grated white cheese, such as cheddar or parmesan (optional)
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
1 tbsp white or brown sugar (optional)
1 tbsp vinegar (optional)

Preheat the oven at 350 degrees. Grate or chop the vegetables. If the veggies are particularly moist, squeeze out the extra water.

In a large mixing bowl, crumble the tofu with your hands until it is broken into crumbs. Add all the remaining ingredients until thoroughly mixed.

Squish a large handful of the mixture onto your chopping board. Use a knife to cut it into finger-sized slices, and use the knife to transfer these slices onto a baking sheet. Bake for about fifteen minutes at 350 degrees. Serve with ketchup or other dipping sauces.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Another Food Bank Cookbook

Hey, I found another food bank cookbook! And it's sequel! This one originates with the Oregon State University's extension service, and overall it looks pretty darn good. The spread of recipes looks excellent, and tasty, and doesn't rely too much on unnecessary gadgets or disposables. There is a heavy focus on nutrition, which is excellent! The food safety tips are excellent. But the nutrition info is flawed, thanks to the government; see below. Additionally, the book has the typical cookbook fault of featuring individual recipes, rather than teaching techniques. (As Alton Brown would put it, the book gives driving directions rather than a map, which makes getting lost a tragic ordeal.)

I will have to steal their idea of having a page of ingredient substitutions. That's highly useful.

About that nutrition info:

It's not the cookbook's fault, but their use of the food pyramid makes me sad. This is because the food pyramid is deeply flawed. Thanks to Michael Pollan's book In Defense of Food, I now know that the nutritionist who was responsible for the design of the pyramid originally made the bottom of the pyramid vegetables - I repeat, vegetables! - while diminishing the grains section to a much smaller slot, and specifying that the grains be whole grains. Then politics got involved, and lobbyists undermined the eating habits of a generation of school children by making it sound as if refined grains, and lots of them, were a required part of a healthy diet.

I remember when that food pyramid was enshrined in our school cafeteria food line. It seemed so helpful! So friendly!


This pyramid that replaced it was not much of an improvement. Look, all of the food fell off! I am deeply suspicious of those proportions, but that's irrelevant anyway, because it's impossible to read.

Finally, it seems like the FDA has realized the error of trying to squeeze too much info into one image. This is much clearer. But it also makes one glaring fault stand out: a major swath of the population can't digest milk. Clearly, dairy is not necessary to a healthful diet, at all, and yet our government persists in telling us that it is, thanks to dairy lobbyists.


The Basics of Cooking

This section will teach you the basics of applying heat to food. Not all techniques of heating food are covered here, but these techniques should be enough to tackle most of the recipes in this book.

Boiling Water

Put a couple of inches of water in the smallest pot that you own, and put it on a burner. Turn that burner up as high as it will go, and watch the water.

First, you will notice that small bubbles form on the bottom of the pot. These bubbles (which are full of steam) will occasionally pop to the surface. This is called a simmer, and it indicates that the water is between 180 and 205 degrees. Most cooking that involves boiling is done at a simmer, because the higher temperature and the violent motion of the water can damage the food that is being cooked.

As the water continues to heat, the bubbles will form more rapidly, until the water churns violently. This is called a rolling boil. In this state, the water has reached its highest possible temperature: 212 degrees. Liquid water can’t actually get any hotter than that.

Careful! The reason that water can’t get any hotter is that at 212 degrees, the water is turning into is gaseous form: steam. Steam can and does get hotter than 212 degrees, and it can burn you.

Foods can be cooked in steam. but for the most part steaming isn’t covered in this cookbook, because it isn’t as easy to guess-and-check with steaming as it is with techniques like sautéing.

Try dropping an ice cube into your pot of water. Chances are, the speed of the boil will slow down a little, but not much. Now add a whole tray of ice cubes. Chances are the pot will stop boiling, because the temperature has dropped quite a bit. This same effect will happen when you add anything to a pot: vegetables, meats, pasta. The more you add, the more the temperature will drop. Therefore, if you want to maintain a simmer or a rolling boil when you add food, you must start with a large quantity of boiling water.

Now, if you continue to boil your pot of water, eventually you will be left with an empty pot (because all of the water has turned into steam) and quite likely you will burn your pot. (Yes, you can burn a pot by heating it empty. Never heat an empty pot unless your recipe calls for it.) So turn off the burner while there is still water in your pot. You can use the hot water to make yourself a cup of tea or to clean out your sink.

Sautéing, Pan-Frying, and Stir-Frying

The terms sauté, pan-fry, and stir-fry refer to culinary techniques that are similar enough that in many recipes, they are used interchangeably. All refer to cooking food in a hot pan with a little bit of fat (in the form of oil, butter, or rendered fat). A sauté uses just a little fat, and the food is allowed to rest on the pan long enough to brown the surface, before being flipped around e pan a bit to cook the food on all sides evenly. A pan-fry uses more fat, and the food is tossed around less. Pan-frying is how you would cook a steak, or other wide, flat piece of food, while sauté is used more for bite-sized pieces.

A stir-fry is just a sauté, only the food is moved around in the pan even more. A wok is not necessary to use the stir-fry technique, not is the technique reserved for Asian cooking.

It is important to note with any of these techniques, that if a brown crust is desired on the food, the food in the pan must not be crowded. Too much food in the pan will cause the food to steam or boil instead of browning properly. Not that there is anything wrong with steaming or boiling, but that brown crust is where the flavor is.

If you are new to this method of cooking, start with the following experiment. Put a pan over medium heat, and drop in a pat of butter. First, the butter will begin to melt. By the time it is completely melted, it is ready for cooking. Tilt the pan so that the butter coats the entire bottom of the pan. Add more butter if parts of the pan are still bare. Then, continue to heat the pan to see what happens. The butter will start to boil. This is a critical point with butter: if you were actually cooking with it, you would want to add some food to cool the butter a bit, or you would need to move the pan off of the heat source to prevent the butter from burning.

Go ahead and continue to heat the butter. Notice how it starts to get brown in places. It’s starting to burn. At this point it will start to taste bad. Continue until the butter is a pale brown. Now you know what burned butter looks like. Don’t bother cooking with burned butter. Take the pan to the sink and (carefully) run some water in it, to rinse out the burned butter and to cool the pan.

In general, oil can tolerate higher temperatures than butter. If you repeat the butter experiment with oil, you will see that first the oil becomes more runny. Then, if it is olive oil, it will give off a lovely smell. Some recipes call this the “fragrance point”. Then, the oil begins to smoke. While some recipes specifically call for heating oil to its “smoke point”, in general you want to keep it from getting that hot, because you could burn your food.

If there are small children about, don’t forget to turn pot handles to where they cannot be grabbed. Or, better still, cook on the back burners.

Cooking on a Griddle

A griddle is just a flat metal surface that cooks food with dry heat. Although there are fancy stove-top and electric counter-top griddles available, a frying pan can just as easily be used, if it is large enough.

The only real difference between cooking griddle-style and pan-frying is that griddle recipes sometimes don’t require any fat. However, in the absence of oil or butter, it is difficult to tell when the griddle is at the correct temperature. To judge a griddle’s temperature, flick some drops of water onto the hot surface. If the droplets sit in place, the griddle is not hot enough. If the drops instantly evaporate, it’s too hot. The ideal temperature for most recipes (such as pancakes or French toast, recipes #) will make water droplets skitter around the pan.

This method can also be used to judge if a pan is the right temperature to add butter.


To bake a food is to cook it with dry heat in an oven. Technically, when a food is cooked in an oven with a covering, it is being braised, not baked. But the term “bake” is often used to mean “put the food in a hot oven”, and that’s really all that you need to know when the term “bake” is used in this book - with one exception. “Baking” refers to cooking with heat coming from both the bottom and top of the oven. Another technique, called “broiling”, uses only heat from the top of the oven. Broiling is covered below.

When baking, arrange the oven shelves (they are designed to be taken out) so that the food is as close to the center of the oven as possible. Keep in mind that the food is being cooked by a combination of radiant heat and heated air, so whenever you open the oven door (and get hit with a blast of hot air) you are cooling the oven, and therefore increasing the cooking time. So no peeking!

The typical temperature used for baking foods is 350 degrees. Cooking food too hot will result in the outside of the food being overcooked, and the inside being undercooked. A temperature that is too low will in most cases just make the cooking process take too long, but it may also mess up baked goods like bread or cookies.

An oven thermometer is useful, because the actual temperature of the stove can vary wildly, even if your oven claims to be cooking at a specific temperature. However, most of the recipes in this book are not dependent on a highly exact oven temperature.

Many of the foods in this book can be reheated in a 350 degree oven. It takes longer to reheat food in an oven than in a microwave, but the flavor is often superior.


Broiling is a technique of cooking in the oven that involves using only the heat source at the top of the oven. At first glance, it makes no sense: why would cooking with only with one heating element make enough difference from baking to bother with? The answer is that broiling replicates the flavors and textures of grilling. It also allows you to briefly expose foods to hotter temperatures.

To broil food, raise the oven’s top rack as close as possible to the heating element. The food should be within a couple of inches from the heat source. This works best with foods that are flat or small, such as steaks, chicken legs, or zucchini halves. The food will need to be flipped over halfway through cooking, just like cooking on a grill.

Some ovens are designed to broil with the oven door partially open. If the instruction manual to your oven isn’t available, start by broiling with the door open.

Broiling easily burns food, and it cooks quickly, so you need to watch your food carefully as you broil it. Pull out the rack to get burning food away from the heat. Do not, under any circumstances, reach between the food and the heating element - that’s a sure way to get a nasty burn on the back of you hand. Use particular caution with broiling if there are small children about.

As a way to introduce yourself to broiling, try making a piece of toast under the broiler. Toast is one of the more tricky things to make with a broiler, because it cooks so fast. Keep the oven door open, and don’t take your eye off of the bread. Go ahead and let it get a bit burned just to see how quickly it happens. Be prepared to throw open a window to clear out the resulting smoke.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Salad Season

Salads galore! Draft 2, salad chapter. I'll have to add a salsa recipe recipe later, after tomato season starts.

So tired, must sleep now. . .

Salads: Greens, Salsas, and Marinades

It’s hard to pin down exactly what a salad is. A “salad” can be leafy greens, raw or cooked vegetables, or even cold cooked meats in a dressing. About the only thing that salads have in common is that they are served cold. (And even this isn’t true all the time.)

This section includes the obvious leafy greens, and also the less obvious category of salsa (because what is a salsa, if not a finely-chopped salad?) and antipasto, which is vegetables, cheeses, and deli meats served cold.

Leafy Green Salads (Quick side dish, or make in advance)

Any leafy green that tastes good raw is fare game for a green salad. As well as lettuce (of which there are several kinds) this can include young, tender leaves from green plants that are usually cooked, such as kale. (For recipes on cooked greens, see recipe #). Greens that are particularly bitter alone, such as celery greens, are good when added to a salad that is mostly bland lettuce. Some fresh herbs, such as basil, work nicely tossed in with salad greens.

Pre-washed salad greens are available, but expensive, and sometimes the quality of them is poor. It is much more economical to buy a large bowl with a tight-fitting lid, or better yet, a salad spinner. Washed and torn-up greens can be stored in the refrigerator, ready to eat, for a week or more when sealed up tightly in such a container.

Salad greens should be stiff (not limp) and green, with no yellow or brown on the leaves. Some greens, such as romaine lettuce, have a tough rib in the middle of each leaf that you may want to exclude from your salad. If you don’t use the ribs in salad, you can chop them finely and include them in balls, patties, and loaves (recipe #). But do note that freezing any salad greens will change their texture, making them unsuitable for some dishes. Don’t try to make a salad from frozen salad greens - yuck!

Washing greens can be a hassle. I suggest that you first tear the leaves (with your clean hands) into bite-sized pieces, right into your salad spinner or large bowl. Then fill the bowl with cold tap water. Stir the leaves, again, with your hand - and then using your hand, push the leaves to one side while you pour the water down the sink. (Or if using a salad spinner, lift the basket from the water.

As you pour out the water, look for grit at the bottom. If grit is present, rinse the greens again. Repeat until no more grit comes out of the greens.

Once the leaves are clean, either spin them to dry, or (if you don’t have a salad spinner) pick up double handfuls of leaves to shake excess water out into the sink. Then blot the salad with two or three clean, dry dish towels, stirring the leaves to bring wet ones to the surface. Then seal up the lettuce in its bowl, and refrigerate until needed.

If a salad spinner was not used, additional water may drip to the bottom of the bowl during storage. Pour this out before serving.

Other Salad Vegetables

Some vegetables are well suited to be chopped in advance and stored in the same container as your salad greens. Others will turn mushy, or turn brown, or make the lettuce unpalatable. The following raw veggies and fruits work well when chopped and added to the salad in advance, or stored in their own air-tight containers:

Carrot (scrub with a veggie scrub-brush, or peel, and then chop)
Celery (wash and chop)
Frozen peas (just add them when they are frozen)
Pea pods (break off the stem and peel away the “string”, if necessary. Taste one to see if they need such treatment.)
Jicama (peel and chop)
Cabbage (rinse the exterior of the head, discard ugly outer leaves if necessary, lop off a chunk, and chop)
Grapes (wash and add whole)
Bell pepper (wash and chop, discarding the seeds and stem)
Kohlrabi root (wash, peel, and chop)
Strawberries (wash, remove leaves, and chop)
Broccoli or cauliflower, raw (wash and chop. The stem is tasty, too!)
Onion (peel and chop)

The following are things that are wonderful in salad, but best if added when the salad is about to be eaten:

Tomato (tomatoes lose flavor in the refrigerator)
Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries (they might get squished if kept all week with the tougher salad components)
Apple, pear (it oxidizes)

Meats, Cheeses, and Eggs in Salads

There are no rules when it comes to adding meats and cheeses to salads, except one: unless you have experience making sushi, use only fully-cooked meats and hard-boiled eggs! (See recipes # and #) Leftover cooked meats of any sort can be a lovely addition to a salad, turning a simple pile of greens into a hearty meal.

Basic Oil-and-Vinegar Salad Dressing

The “vinaigrette” is the most basic and versatile of salad dressings. A basic vinaigrette consists of about three parts oil, to one part vinegar. Additional spices can be added to it, as can additional liquids. Lemon or lime juice can be used instead of vinegar. All of these things can be beaten together in a bowl using a whisk, or you can put the ingredients into a jar with a lid, to shake it up; or the oil and vinegar (if used without spices) can be drizzled separately onto the salad.

You can use almost any of the spice mixes in section # to add flavor to an oil-and-vinegar salad dressing. You could also add mashed berries, strong grated or crumbled cheese (such as parmesan or blue cheese), minced onion or garlic, or any other interesting flavor that you want to experiment with.

Olive oil is the best choice of oil for salad dressings, as far as flavor goes. However, olive oil becomes a solid when refrigerated. Cooking oils, such as corn, soy, cottonseed, canola, and grapeseed, don’t become solid when refrigerated, but are almost flavorless, making them uninteresting in salads. If you want to store your dressing in the refrigerator for a few days, either you have to wait for your refrigerated olive-oil dressing to come back up to room temperature, or use a boring cooking oil. Or, you can try a flavored oil. Sesame and tree nut oils are highly flavorful, and should be used carefully (such as in combination with a cooking oil) so as not to overpower your salad. Peanut oil is flavorful but not dangerously so.

The different types of vinegars add different flavors. Apple cider vinegar is quite tart, and may need a bit of sugar to sweeten it up. White vinegar is more typically used for cleaning than for cooking, but it can add a nice zing to a dressing. Balsamic vinegar is quite sweet, and plays well with fruits such as berries and tomatoes. Other vinegars include red wine vinegar and rice wine vinegar.

Treat home-made oil and vinegar dressing like any other home-made food, and discard it after five days in the refrigerator.

The following makes a passable Italian-style dressing:

¼ cup apple cider vinegar
¾ cup cooking oil
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
½ tsp of the Italian spice mix (recipe #), or ½ tsp combined of any of the spices in that mix
1/8 tsp black pepper

Tuna Salad, Egg Salad, Chicken Salad (quick meal)
Serves two.

Tuna salad makes a great sandwich filler or salad topper. Tuna salad is made by mixing canned tuna with minced vegetables and mayonnaise. Chopped hard-boiled egg or chopped cooked chicken can be used in place of the tuna to make egg salad or chicken salad.

1 small can of tuna (or about a cup of chopped cooked chicken (recipe #) , or 2 or 3 hardboiled eggs, chopped (recipe #) )
1 cup or so of any combination of the following: chopped celery, onion, apple, sweet or dill pickle, cucumber, walnuts, pecans.
About ½ cup mayonnaise or Miracle Whip
Pepper to taste
(optional) other herbs or spices, such as powdered garlic, dill, parsley, cayenne pepper, or curry powder.

Drain the tuna by squeezing it with the lid of the can. Then mix in the vegetables, and spoon in mayonnaise to taste. Season with pepper and optional herbs or spices. Serve over salad greens (recipe #) or on toast (recipe #) .

Russian Beet Salad (quick side dish)

This slaw is a glorious hot pink color, has a nice garlicky flavor, and just a little crunch.

1 can of beets, or about 1 ½ cups cooked fresh beets, cut small
½ cup mayonnaise
2 cloves garlic, minced, or 1 tsp dried garlic
½ cup chopped or smashed walnuts or pecans
Salt and pepper to taste
(optional) raisins, or chopped prunes
(optional) 1 tsp brown or white sugar, or honey

If using fresh beets, peel, slice, and boil for five or ten minutes, until a fork can pierce them. Dunk the cooked beet slices into cold water to stop them from cooking further, and then chop them into fine bits, or grate them using the largest holes of a cheese grater. Add just enough mayonnaise to coat the beets. Stir in the remaining ingredients, and serve!

Coleslaw (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.

Roasted Vegetables, or “Antipasto”

Antipasti is a wonderful cold dish for hot summer weather. Basically, it is a plate full of cold roasted vegetables, deli meats, and cheeses. Olive oil and lemon juice make an excellent dressing for this salad. Here are some suggestions for items to include on an antipasti platter:

Roasted red peppers (broil them until the skin blackens, then remove the skin under running water, and discard the skin, stalk, and seeds)
Canned artichoke hearts
Roasted zucchini or summer squash (cook them under the broiler until soft, turning once or twice)

Picnic Marinade

There are no rules to this sort of salad - basically, just dice up any leftover cold meats, cheeses, and cooked or raw vegetables that you think would go well together, put them in a Tupperware box, and douse them with an oil-and-vinegar dressing (recipe #). Antipasto (recipe #) ingredients work very well as a picnic marinade. Give the box a shake, and then take it with you on a picnic, along with a few forks. You can eat it right out of the box!

Salsa and Bruscetta

A salsa is just a finely-chopped salad with a spicy dressing. By the same token, bruscetta (or more accurately, the topping which goes on bruscetta) is really just a salsa with an olive oil dressing instead of hot pepper.

Salsa can be primarily tomato, but it can also be corn. Or, for that matter, it can be made out of peaches, or mango, or apple. There really aren’t any rules.

Salsa can be used to dip tortilla chips in, of course, but it can also be served over salad greens, over meat, on toast, or eaten with a spoon. Toss some salsa with some cold cooked grains (recipe #) and you’ve just invented a whole new salad. It’s up to you.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Whole grains are SO EASY!

Draft 2 - here is the chapter on boiled grains. I tried Bittman's grain recipe this afternoon with barley, with perfect results, and much more control than I have with the rice cooker. I almost can't believe that I used to routinely burn rice on the stove top. Why don't people normally cook rice this way? Any other way is just asking for trouble. Bittman is my hero.

I have yet to try many of the combinations that I have suggested below, but grains with greens are *excellent*, grains with nuts have a nice crunch, and I just made a small pot of barley with cheese sauce, onion, and grated beet root that was not only yummy and filling, but also the color of Pepto Bismol.

Boiled Grains - Rice, etc.

Most home cooks only ever cook one type of boiled grain: white rice. However, there are many types of grains, most of which can be used in place of rice, and all of them are nutritionally better than white rice.

White rice is the same plant as brown rice, but in white rice, the brown outer layer of the seed has been removed. This outer layer is more prone to spoilage, but it is also where the fiber and other nutrients are. When removed, all that is left of the rice is carbohydrates. Which is to say, white rice is nothing but empty calories.

All grain should be rinsed before cooking, to remove dust - *except* for white rice that was grown in the US. Like white flour, white rice is “enriched”, which is to say some small part of the nutrients that were stripped off have then been added back in the form of a powder.

To rinse grain, put it in a bowl and pour water over it. Stir the grains around with your hand, and then pour off as much of the cloudy water as you can without also pouring out the grain. Repeat until the water runs clear, or until you are bored. (I always give up after about three rinses.) Whatever water remains can go right into the pot along with the grain.

Whole grains can be cooked in a large batch and then refrigerated for up to a week. These grains can then easily be used to make various side dishes (recipe #), used as filler in balls, patties, and loaves (recipe #), added to soups or stews (recipe #), or just reheated in a little butter or oil (recipe #). Cooked grains can even be frozen for longer storage.

In Mark Bittman’s fabulous cookbook “How to Cook Everything”, there is an all-purpose recipe for cooking almost any type of grain. The recipe is as follows:

Boiled Grains (quick side dish, or make in advance)

This recipe yields perfect rice, barley, whole wheat berries, rye, wild rice, or hominy. The cooking time varied from 10 minutes to over an hour, depending on the grain used. (White rice is quickest, unhulled grains take the longest.) The amount of cooked grain this makes depends on the type of grain and the amount of water they have been allowed to absorb, but in general grains double in size when cooked. (The big exception is barley, which 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 (see above for info on rinsing 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.

If you want to move the grain straight to the refrigerator, cool them first by running cold tap water or ice water over them.

Reheated Grain (quick side dish)

1 tbsp butter or oil
1 cup cooked, cold grain
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the butter or oil in a pan on medium heat. When the butter is melted, or the oil hot, add the rice. Stir occasionally for about ten minutes, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Grains with Greens (quick side dish)

Try reheating a cup of grain with the addition of a cup or so of chopped raw or frozen greens, such as chard, spinach, kale, collards, or beet greens. Because the greens shrink so much when cooked, this is a great way to get someone who doesn’t much care for greens to eat a decent quantity of them.

Add the greens once the rice is hot. Softer greens will be cooked instantly; tougher greens may benefit by spending a couple of minutes over the heat.

Grains with Roots (quick side dish)

Try reheating a cup of grain with the addition of ¼ or ½ cup of grated or finely chopped sweet potato, yam, carrot, onion, or beet root. (Beet is particularly fun, because it turns things hot pink.) Add the roots to the pot when you add the grains.

Grains with Nuts (quick side dish)

Try reheating a cup of grain with the addition of a quarter cup or so of chopped or smashed nuts, or seeds such as sunflower, pumpkin (the ready-to-eat green kind), or chia. It doesn't matter when you add the nuts to the pot.

Creamy Grains (quick side dish or main course)

For a heavy and decadent side dish, or even for a main course, try adding a cup of cold grain to a cup of freshly-made cream sauce (recipe #) or cheese sauce (recipe #). To make things even more exciting, add greens, roots, or nuts!

Friday, July 15, 2011


Okay, so this isn't exactly part of the cookbook, but I want to share. I've been smitten with bento boxes. A bento box is the traditional way to take food along with you in Japan. There are now people all over the world who avidly pack bento box lunches for family members, and post photos online of the results.

Frankly, I thought it was silly when I first heard about the trend, and saw pictures of fussily-arranged food. But then I started assembling my toddler's dinners into faces in order to entice him to try new foods. The decorative dinners were both easy to assemble, and successful in their stealthy mission of food diversity for the picky kidlet. It's a short step from there to putting the food in a box, and suddenly I had visions of picnics.

And school lunches! We're still a couple of years away from that, but already my mind has been going back to my high school days when I began to realize that every lunch from home was packed in multiple plastic bags shoved into a paper bag, along with a juice box or can, and all of it going to the landfill, day after day after day. And the alternative was a greasy, over-processed school lunch served on styrofoam and paper trays and milk in a carton, again, all heading to a landfill.

My children will not be a conduit through which our resources become trash! They will go to school with some sort of reusable container. And, unless school lunches get the overhaul they sorely need, I'm guessing their friends will look on with envy.

Anyway, here is the box, closed up, with a soda can for reference. It holds just enough to fill me about 80% full when I'm starved, which makes it a great method of portion control. (I'm still trying to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight, and I have a bad tendency to over-eat.) And when I'm not starving, I find myself hard pressed to eat everything I pack into it. You can squeeze a ton of food into one of these things.

The boxes come in all shapes and sizes. Gabe's looks like a panda. Mine also came from Amazon. Chris will be getting a sexy black box fresh from Japan. I got him one of the largest boxes I could find. If it's too big, he'll be eating extra salad. You can never have too much salad.

But back to cookbook stuff! What is in the box? The top layer is salad - just some plain greens and a few slivers of purple cabbage, grabbed from the leftover batch of prewashed salad. There will be a section in the cookbook on salad greens. With that are some pea pods from the garden, and a splash of salad dressing. The dressing wasn't actually home-made, but the book has a recipe for a similar dressing.

On the bottom is some leftover cooked grain - millet - and some cheese. The cookbook will include a general recipe for cooking whole grains. Next to that is some leftover chicken. The chicken started off this week by being baked - the recipe for which is in the book. Then, after a few days of eating off of it, I tossed some into a pan with taco seasoning - the recipe for which is also in the book - and onions and water, and this became the basis for a dinner of fajitas - yet another recipe which will be in the book.

I was in a hurry when I threw this box together. It took five minutes. And that included washing the box.

You may have noticed the little food flowers there in the box. . . I couldn't help it! I bought little cookie-cutters to make fun shapes out of cheese and veggies. So frivolous! And yet. . . it adds so much enjoyment to eating the food. You appreciate the food so much more when each bite is not as anonymous as the next. I bet that's one more reason why the Japanese are so slender.

I won't suggest to anyone who is on food stamps that they waste their money on miniature cookie cutters. That is exactly the sort of detail that makes professional foodies appear to be out-of-touch. Yet here I sit, looking forward to decorating tomorow's lunch box. . .

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Spices, Herbs, and Seasonings

Spices 101. I'm only familiar with about half of these spice combinations. I got the rest from the Penzeys website, because they tend to know what they are doing with spices. Don't ever go into a Penzeys unless you wish to come out with a lighter wallet. They seduce you through the nostrils.

Spices, Herbs, and Seasonings

A dish as simple as baked chicken can be made to taste many different ways simply by rubbing it with different sorts of spices. The difference between a European stew and an Indian curry is basically just the spices.

Technically, an “herb” is a dried leaf. “Spice” is a ground up stem, seed, or other part of a plant. “Seasoning” is salt and black pepper. However, this distinctions aren’t particularly important, and are frequently used in this book interchangeably.

Keep all spices and herbs tightly sealed. If you have extra, store the excess in the freezer. Ideally, ground spices and herbs should be used or thrown away after being open for a year. But as long as the spice still has a strong smell, it’s still perfectly good to use. If the smell has weakened, you can often just add more of the spice.

Cuisines from different parts of the world are defined by certain combinations of spices, and if you use these combinations, you can give your cooking an Asian flavor, or a Mexican flavor, etc. The following are some possible spice mixtures that you can make in advance and keep sealed in a jar, to be conveniently rubbed onto meat, sprinkled over vegetables, or mixed with oil and vinegar into a salad dressing. Or, you can use these combinations as inspiration when you are wondering how to flavor a dish. Some of these, such as Chinese Five-Spice, are commercially available. Some, such as French Four-Spice, are very specific regional mixtures. Others, such as curry, come in many different combinations.

Taco - dried onion, dried garlic, cumin, oregano, chili powder.
Adobo - dried garlic, dried onion, lack pepper, cumin, oregano, cayenne pepper.
Pumpkin Pie - cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, nutmeg.
Chinese Five-Spice - star anise, cloves, cinnamon, fennel seed, and Sichuan pepper.
Italian - basil, oregano, garlic, thyme, rosemary.
Lemon Pepper - lemon peel, black pepper, dried garlic, dried onion.
Curry - ginger, garlic, cardamom, star anise, cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, cumin, black pepper, fenugreek, allspice, chili powder, cloves, onion, mustard, fennel.
French Four-Spice - pepper, cloves, nutmeg, ginger.
Parisian Bonnes Herbes - tarragon, basil, chives, dill, chervil, pepper.
Old World Seasoning - paprika, sugar, pepper, onion, garlic, caraway, dill, marjoram, bay leaf, basil, rosemary, thyme.
Greek - dried garlic, lemon peel, pepper, marjoram, oregano.
Turkish - pepper, garlic, cumin, oregano, paprika, cilantro, cayenne.

In the News!

There is a nice article in the Milford Daily News about Franklin's food pantry and its ties to the community garden. And there's a nice photo of the pantry's director, Anne Marie Bellvance. Hi Anne Marie!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Picky Eaters

I am a voracious, adventurous omnivore, and I have little patience for picky eaters. But having to feed a toddler and a somewhat picky husband, I have had to learn about the patience, creativity, and downright sneakiness that is needed to coerce someone into expanding their palate. I figure this hard-won information would be put to good use in the cookbook.

How to Deal With Picky-Eater Children

When babies learn to walk, they suddenly become picky eaters. This is nature’s way of protecting them from poisonous plants that they might otherwise be inclined to taste. The byproduct of this is that children tend to reject new foods without even trying them. Unfortunately, many parents accidentally reinforce this, by reminding children that they dislike certain foods, or by never offering a food again once it has been rejected. It takes constant effort from parents and caregivers to steer children away from the seduction of junk food, especially given the bombardment of advertisements despicably aimed at children, and the prevalence of foods such as breakfast cereals, which claim on the box to be healthful, but which in reality are just another form of junk.

Toddlers and young children need to be encouraged, over and over, to try new foods - and especially vegetables and other whole foods. If a child rejects a food once, try cooking it a different way, or cooking it more or less. If the food is safe served raw, try that. Try serving the food frozen, if your child is old enough that frozen food doesn‘t pose a choking hazard.

You can also try changing the food’s presentation. Sometimes just cutting the food into different shapes is all it takes to garner a child’s interest. Try using cookie cutters to cut vegetables or sandwiches. Present the food in a bento box. Or arrange the food on your child’s plate into a smiling face.

Try turning a recipe hot pink by adding grated beets. Try offering the same food seasoned with a different set of spices. Don’t assume that children require their foods to be bland.

Try offering condiments. A child may reject carrots when they are plain, but may love them when dipped in salad dressing, or catsup, or salt. Toddlers love to dip foods.

Yet another thing to try are meals that can be assembled by the child. Have a build-your-own sandwich or burrito dinner. Or make a pizza, and let your child add the toppings.

Most importantly, let your child see that you are eating the food that you want him to eat, and continue to offer him that same food.

Hiding Vegetables in Food

Hiding vegetables (or any other rejected category of food) in a cooked dish is not an effective way to teach a picky-eating child to like vegetables, because they don’t realize what they are eating. However, when a child rejects an entire category of food, such as vegetables, hiding the vegetables in cooked dishes is a good temporary way of ensuring that your child is getting proper nutrition.

Balls, patties, and loafs (recipe #) are an excellent way to disguise a rejected food - just mince it up or grate it and add it in. Saucy foods, such as curries, stews, and soups (recipe #) , can hide vegetables in several ways: chop the vegetables into bite-sized pieces, grate the vegetables into the sauce, or make the sauce from a vegetable puree, such as canned pumpkin or tomato sauce.

Pancakes (recipe #) and French toast (recipe #) can both be made with pumpkin or squash puree. Grated vegetables can be added to pancakes or quick breads, such as zucchini bread (recipe #). Mashed potato (recipe #) can be used to hide other white vegetables, such as peeled zucchini, turnip, or cauliflower.

Grated vegetables go well in scrambled egg (recipe #) or omelette (recipe #) or frittata (recipe #) . Finely-chopped greens in eggs aren’t exactly hidden by doing this, but a toddler who rejects them in any other form may be happy to eat “green eggs and ham”.

Grated beets can’t exactly be hidden in a dish, because they will turn the food hot pink. However, a child may be intrigued by the novelty of hot-pink grain (recipe #), or pancakes, or meatballs.

Lunches for Work and School

Eating out for lunch at work gets expensive. School lunches are frequently below even the government’s own nutritional standards. A peanut butter sandwich wrapped in plastic and stuffed into a paper bag is both unappetizing and, with the use of all those disposable products, wasteful and expensive. Combined with a bag of chips and a soda, it’s also a nutritional travesty.

The Japanese tackle this lunch problem by using reusable boxes to bring their meals with them. These “bento” boxes are so much more than leftovers. A proper bento is a well-balanced meal that is as pleasing to look at as it is to eat.

Assuming that you spend ten cents per brown-bag lunch on disposable items, over 180 school days, that’s 18 dollars thrown away every year. Japanese bento boxes can be purchased online from for about that amount. Or, for a couple of dollars, you can use (and reuse) the “disposable” plastic boxes available at most grocery stores.

If you prepare beans, grain, and meat for the week, and have vegetables and bread on hand, you can easily throw together combinations such as a chicken sandwich with carrot sticks and an apple, or leftover stew with a side of brown rice, or meatballs with salad greens and leftover vegetables.

For inspiration on bento boxes, visit