Save Money with Me! Groceries and Creativity.
Putting the Fun Back in Food
Overthinking meals takes all the fun out of food. Trying to cook in a drab kitchen takes all the fun out of it. A messy kitchen is frightening and anything but fun. Buying in bulk takes the fun out of it. Trying to buy enough for two weeks (I live a long way from the store) is not fun. Buying produce picked from a vine six weeks ago in a foreign country that is basically tasteless is not anyone’s idea of fun. Extreme carb consideration is SO boring and un-fun. And not buying any “fun” food takes – you guessed it – the fun out of food.
One at a time, beginning with overthinking it. “We can’t have spaghetti because: too many carbs; don’t have parmesan; out of basil, need Italian sausage to go with the beef, have to have salad with it, and only have two leaves of romaine left and no dressing . . .” Forget about carbs and think more about not eating like a horse. There is absolutely no law that says you must have parmesan (except the one in your kids’ heads). No basil is a thing, but you can use other herbs – do some research. If you must, turn this idea into a kid-friendly dish, which usually means fewer herbs. You can turn any ground meat into an Italian sausage of sorts with the addition of Italian herbs, or just use whatever sausage you have on hand and see what happens! As for salad, it’s nice, but the main thing is a happy atmosphere, and spaghetti of any kind lends itself nicely thereto. Or, take those two romaine leaves and add whatever you have – a few grapes, radishes, the last carrot, a bit of cauliflower, fresh herbs, scallions, and just have a salad small in size but large in taste. The easy and delicious dressing for this salad is simply olive oil and either vinegar or lemon juice, with a bit of sea salt, pepper, and a touch of honey. It’s all fun!
The Drab Kitchen. I have noticed that the more sophisticated, granite-laden, ultra-modern and clean a kitchen is, the less the cooking going on. The more brown, beige, and blah, the more drab and dull, the more the cook stays away. Paint that baby! Go garage and estate sale-ing, antique store browsing, and best of all, go looking into your own closets and cupboards and see what’s right under your nose to brighten things up. You can get 10 daffodil stems for less than $1.50 at Trader Joe’s right now. Instant bright cheer!
The Messy Kitchen. I have entirely changed my mind about tackling a messy kitchen. Rather, I look at it as one of the best time investments ever. That is, there is a huge return on satisfaction for not that much time and effort. And one of the ways I’ve changed my attitude is by doing lots of dishes by hand. Get an organic dish soap (or not, as you like) which smells lovely, and splash away! Fill the sink up nice and hot with plenty of soap and stack as many dishes as possible to be soaking as you’re doing other things – clearing the counters, washing the stove top, perhaps putting those daffodils right under your nose, or on the breakfast table.
Once I get going (and my fingers do fly when I do dishes by hand), I pause long enough to put something in the crock pot and something in the clay pot. I got my clay pot at an estate sale and it’s one of my favorite cooking utensils. Everything I’ve ever cooked in it has been wonderful (do some research on this if this intrigues you). If the kitchen is especially messy, with lots of dirty dishes (I use the dishwasher as well in such times) I let out the dirty water and run nice, clean, hot and sudsy water so I can soak and clean as I cook. I could go on about cooking in one afternoon enough for an army for a week, when it looked like there wasn’t that much to work with, but let’s stay with formulating fun.
Buying in Bulk. Buying in bulk is only fun, and only works if: it’s groceries that don’t go bad; if you don’t eat much more than normal because, again, it may go bad, or simply because it’s there; you really are getting a great deal buying things you would buy and use regardless. If it’s fun for you go have enough Pace Picante Sauce to feed your teenage boys for the next six months (that actually sounds wonderful to me) and the bulk prices were worth finding the storage for the Pace, then by all means, buy in bulk. I’m just saying, believe it or not, grocery shopping can be fun, and buying in bulk is usually not.
Shopping so you don’t have to go back to the store for two weeks is also not my favorite fun thing, and not really cost-effective. It’s better to buy only two or three organic on-sale red bell peppers, and just run out and do without for the second week, than to try to buy enough for any and all eventualities, ignoring that certainty that they’re not likely to last two full weeks. A stuffed-to-the-gills fridge, with crispers crammed to the max is a recipe for stress – there’s the rush to cook things and the regret over wasting and the inability to even see what’s available.
It’s much more fun to have a few truly delicious, in-season and hopefully even locally grown items in the fridge, just waiting to be creatively combined into something wonderful.
The Low-Carb Drag. If your something wonderful happens to also be low-carb, so much the better. But always focusing on carbs can really be a drag. Better to focus on simply cooking something nutritious and delicious, and perhaps, if needed, to cut back on carbs, rather than totally trying to eliminate them.
For example, for breakfast have omelets and sliced tomatoes, or a protein shake some days, and on other days make pumpkin/walnut pancakes, sausages, scrambled eggs with cream cheese and a nice pot or two of tea. Then let that be the end of the bread and sugar for the day.
No Fun Foods, No Fun. And then for not ever buying fun foods – bad idea for me. I’ll just end up eating out because I’m bored to death. Fun foods include spices, especially those we grind at home. There is such a lovely difference in freshly ground nutmeg and black pepper, both in taste and in health, from the pre-ground versions. Having some good seasonings, such as a dried veggie soup mix (no MSG or MSG equivalents needed for great soup), or a taco blend, or simply buying everything in the blend plus some variations of chili powders makes it fun to put together a deliciously seasoned meal.
For me fun foods include raiding not only the bulk spices, teas, and seasonings, but also the bulk foods. It’s so much fun to have three colors of lentils, wild rice, black eye peas, chick peas (don’t buy someone else’s hummus!) Anasazi, black, pinto and navy beans, split peas, giant golden raisins, dried apricots, pecans (apricot/pecan scones and a tea party, anyone?), macadamias (white chocolate macadamia cookies, perhaps, to go with the mango black tea I found in the bulk teas?). Cooking with homemade vanilla (beans found in the bulk spice section) is more than fun, it’s fabulous.
I want to make homemade mustards, too, because I have never met a mustard I didn’t like. But until then, having a variety of mustards on hand is a cheap and real thrill. Fun food, already done. Trader Joe’s is my favorite place for these kinds of foods. Mocha Joe Joe’s, Almond Windmill Cookies, Truffle Pizza, SO good bacon ends and pieces, Virgil’s Root Beer, Rooibos and Honeybush Tea, and Cherry Cider are among our family favorite fun foods from Trader Joe’s, and here’s the thing: all of these are remarkably inexpensive. Fun atop fun!
This fun quest is not frivolity. My hope is that these ideas will spark more ideas for you, the goal being we make the most of the gift of cooking at home, where the real fun begins.
Do Try This at Home
I don’t usually say much about money, because I don’t have the II Corinthians 9:8 “enough for all my needs and an abundance to give to every good work” bank balance. So, I figure I’m not really qualified to give financial advice.
But then, I look at people who earn more money than we do in our single-income, many-membered home, and who live without many of the luxuries that for me definitely qualify as “needs.” A fire in the fireplace in wintertime is a need and a luxury, and one I never intend to do without, so help me, God. Making my own chemical-free skincare is a need (especially in the high and dry Rocky Mountains) and a luxury. Having money to do a little traveling, and more importantly the time and presence of mind to enjoy it, is a need and luxury (N&L).
The list goes on: green coffee beans for home roasting; homemade Dijon mustard and money to buy books such as The Kitchen Pantry Cookbook, wherein such recipes are found; and Ree Drummond’s The Pioneer Woman Cooks.
Melissa Gilbert’s My Prairie Cookbook was a gift, and having the time as well as the beautiful stamps and stationery at the ready to send a prompt and heartfelt thank-you note is, of course, both N&L. And the time to peruse this book and suggest my daughter use it to bake sweet-tart apple muffins, to the delight of all participating parties, is the epitome of N&L.
The time. So often people say they don’t have time for such shenanigans as enjoying the making and partaking of muffins with their daughters. They don’t have time for this or that. For what are they working?
I’ve been there and done that – the endless, mindless, thankless grind, and the eating out and on the fly of non-food substances; the bounced checks and astronomical service charges because I didn’t have the presence of mind that “taking the time” gives us.
We all have the same 24 hours, and we can either use time as a tool, or it can be our enemy. We deceive ourselves when we think we don’t have time to cook from scratch, to balance a checkbook, to write a friend a thank-you note.
Most people think the goal of time management is to get more done. I say the goal of time management is freedom from enslavement to the clock. Rather than getting more “things” done, how about getting more people loved and enjoyed?
And how does all this tie into money? First of all, it leads to peace and satisfaction, something that we so often try to buy. A great example is a breadmaker. I used my breadmaker plenty until it went kaput, and now that I know the satisfaction of making the boule for artisan bread, now that I’ve tasted my child’s authentic French bread, I will never again clutter my kitchen counter with a breadmaker.
New tools are great for my husband’s shop (yes, I do have and love some kitchen tools, but there are limits). My kitchen is a place where romance reigns, where money is saved and even made. I am, in effect, making money, learning a new and fun skill, impressing other people (I’d like to say this isn’t important to me, but alas . . . ) and making an amazing treat when I make pear butter from the pears that have been too long in the window sill. Said pear butter demands the making of super flaky biscuits for brunch, to which we invite the neighbors, adding eggs scrambled with cream cheese and a delicious homemade and homegrown turkey sausage (Christmas gift from same neighbors) and serving it all with a giant pot of delicious tea (giant and lovely teapot another gift which merited the sending of a thank-you note).
When I roast my own organic coffee beans nice and dark and aromatic, and convince my mostly non-coffee drinking family to share a small cup as we talk about what we’re writing, plotting, or planning, I am living in the rhythms of grace not often observed by today’s families.
I first heard of roasting green coffee beans at home from financial advice guru Mary Hunt, who convinced me there’s no comparison between brew-ready and home roasted coffees. Mary Hunt also echoes wisdom I once received after praying about finances: You can have anything you want if you stop eating out.
We are back to taking and making and managing time so that we can be creative and artisitic in the kitchen. A functioning and active kitchen is at the top of the N&L list. Let’s make a list, asking the question, “What do we gain when we cook and eat at home?”
- Joys of creativity
- Better tasting food (after a little learning in some cases)
- Family fun
- Self esteem
- Real mealtimes
- House that smells like a home
- __________________________________________ (your turn)
So here’s my money advice in a nutshell: If at all possible, do it at home. In many cases you will find what’s done in your kitchen is much more satisfactory than that made to exist on a shelf for six months, and often less expensive.
But money management isn’t about what’s the least expensive, it’s about what satisfies the most, what’s really worth it, what is both N&L. You may think chocolate covered peanuts are both N&L, but I say make them at home from quality ingredients (real butter for starters) and you’ll have more of your needs met (we NEED to create) with more luxury to boot.
Enjoy them over conversation with home roasted coffee, or perhaps while watching Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle in Pride and Prejudice. At home, where all good things begin and end, anyway.
P.S. For more inspiration and ideas, join me Fridays at 2:00 Mountain Time, on 1360 AM radio, The Lion, in Johnstown, CO.
Burdens vs. Rewards
I want to talk specifically about turning kitchen burdens to rewards.
The first step is to see cooking as a creative means to a lovely reward. An attitude adjustment is what’s needed, beginning with yours truly.
I came to realize some years ago that if all Hell’s attacks on a thing were an indicator of its importance, then my cooking healthy and delicious meals and enjoying them with my family, must be extremely important.
So, when I started that mental whine about not wanting to cook, not feeling like cooking, being tired of cooking, not having anything to cook, I just said, “Whoa there, Girly. You are blessed beyond most of humanity in that you have a kitchen complete with running water, modern appliances, and get this – FOOD!”
You’re not a two-year-old, so get up and do the kitchen dance. Sing a song to your fridge, shake your booty at your stove, sing opera to your pantry, turn on the beautifully running water and soap up your hands and splash, both before and after you take out the trash.”
There are some people who don’ t have enough to fill a kitchen trash can.
Burdens to rewards, that’s the attitude change we’re talking about. Satan is the author of burdens and God is the author of rewards. I didn’t earn many of the rewards in my kitchen – they are blessings and the fruit of labors of those gone before. But perhaps I maintain them by appreciating and making use of them.
En-JOY-ment and Breakfast
The root of “enjoy” is the Latin “gaudere” which means “rejoice”. I believe enjoyment is a responsibility and a choice and a life skill which can be learned. But first I think it’s worthwhile to understand what enjoyment is NOT.
True enjoyment has no sorrow added to it. In other words, a movie that I feel “smarmed” from afterward, doesn’t cut the mustard like a long walk in the snow. Deep wet snow, like today’s, may be a bit difficult to traverse, but there will be no sorrow in this trek. Rather, there are feelings of accomplishment and invigoration and the righteous earning of homemade hot chocolate, made by yours truly while someone else builds a roaring fire, and we continue discussing whatever came to our stimulated minds as we tried to identify animal tracks in the snow and discussed what we wanted to cook for Easter dinner.
Or I might read a bit and fall asleep on the couch. Now that’s enjoyment.
Yesterday the forecasted 2-4 inches of snow was closer to two feet. The power went off for many in our area, and because ours was flickering, I cut my quiet time short and began cooking: a double batch of biscuits, huge pan of scrambled eggs, elk sausages, canned peaches, and two pots of black tea. What says enjoyment like not just a pot, but TWO pots of tea?
This wasn’t difficult because I prepped almost everything the night before. I pulled my homemade baking mix out of the freezer, cut in the butter, added cream and milk, rolled out and cut out the biscuits, then put them in a baking dish thickly covered with coconut oil (makes the biscuits nice and crispy/crunchy on the bottom) while the oven was preheating to 450 and baking the sausages (the biscuits will take about 12 minutes at sea level, longer at 8,000 feet). The kids made tea, set the table, got out the butter, honey, peanut butter, cream pitcher, cinnamon, and peaches, and when the biscuits were five minutes from finished I put the eggs on to scramble.
It takes the stress out of breakfast (where everything needs to be hot) to heat up the plates and serving dishes (it’s more fun if you take your time and serve everything in dishes at the table to be passed around) and to heat the tea pot. If we’re having coffee (cream cools it) I leave the cream pitcher on the stove and preheat the mugs as well.
HERE’S HOW TO BEGIN: Put the sausages on (I prefer the oven rather than stove top). Put the tea kettle on and/or prepare the coffee (another thing to do the night before if you really want to make things nice and easy). Put the plates (number of eaters plus one to put food on, or simply to stack under or over to help keep the plates hot) in the oven on 175 degrees until you need to preheat for biscuits, or to bake leftover boiled potatoes cut into wedges. Take the plates out and wrap in dish towels to keep them warm.
Eggs: We do two eggs per person, add sea salt, pepper, nutmeg and a little cream. It’s nice if you’ve whipped them up the night before and just have to pull the bowl out of the fridge. Heat your pan a bit, then right when you’re ready to pour the eggs in, add your oil of choice (I prefer organic lard).
Right after you put the eggs on to scramble (remember this is when the biscuits have about five minutes to go) pour your steaming water into the teapot – I keep my teapot on the warming zone on my new Hallelujah stove (you can also heat by filling with hot water from the sink – then dump the water, put in the tea bags and you’re ready when it’s time to brew). Stir the eggs, give further instructions to kids (“don’t forget napkins, put milk in the cream pitcher,” etc.), and give a “5 minutes til breakfast” call, then remove tea bags – this is according to taste, of course. I don’t usually brew as long as the package says, and I usually use four bags per tea pot, and loose tea I sort of eyeball – about half the tea infuser full usually does it.
If something is awry (say your sausages aren’t ready) just go ahead with everything else – someone pouring tea, passing the eggs, giving thanks, and get the sausage to the table a little late – no problem. Sausage is welcome whenever it arrives! If you burned the eggs a bit, just add more pepper and call them Cajun-style.
When you get all this on the table you will truly be the MVP, the Star of the Snow, the Queen of the Castle. And no one will say “I’m hungry for a very long while.”
P.S. About that baking mix – DO NOT BUY THIS AT THE STORE. JUST SAY “NO TO YUCK!”
My recipe, which, as all recipes, should be tweaked and personalized by you:
10 cups of various and assorted, or simply one kind of flour – in this particular batch I used 6 cups of unbleached non-GMO wheat flour, three cups of white whole wheat (again non-GMO – I get this at Wal-Mart or Sprouts, and it’s Wheat Montana Farms and Bakery), 1 cup of quick cooking oats.
3 Tablespoons of baking powder (non-aluminum)
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 Tablespoon of sea salt (less if regular salt)
1/2 cup of powdered milk (I still add whole milk and cream, but the biscuits will turn out with water only)
Stir these dry ingredients together very thoroughly and separate into freezer bags according to your preferred outcome. I made three 3-cup bags and one 2.5-cup bag. This is a lot for most people. The 3-cup bag makes 15-18 large biscuits, of which I put back some for leftovers to wrap in foil and heat in the oven for the next day’s breakfast.
For the 3-cup mix I used two sticks of butter (will turn out with just one if you’re butter-conscious) and 1.5 cups of milk/cream (this was mostly milk with about 1/4 cup of heavy whipping cream). I also added about a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to the milk (makes buttermilk of a sort). If your mix is a little too moist, put flour on your hands, on top of the dough, and extra on the counter (or wherever you roll out your biscuits). If it’s too dry, add a little more liquid. No fretting allowed. ENJOY this.
VARIATION: Before adding butter and milk, stir in some (maybe two Tablespoons) organic sugar, about a cup (1/2 is fine) of chopped walnuts, pecans, flaked coconut, dried apricots or raisins, or any combination thereof, and call them scones. Yum for sure.
ALWAYS: Serve with butter and love, as butter, after all, is love.
Whether or not you homeschool, your children are watching and learning your attitude about homemaking. If you’re like most moms, things get a bit messy at times, especially in our minds! We need a bit of decluttering, a little refurbishing, direction, and refreshment. I give you the beyond-anything book, Home Comforts.
Home Comforts, by Cheryl Mendelson, is one of my two favorite books on making home a haven (the other is Alexandra Stoddard’s Creating a Beautiful Home). Cheryl (she is a friend even though we’ve never met) has done her homework. A former attorney, she’s very diligent and disciplined, and has the intelligence required to make a good job of homemaking.
As this book is over 800 pages long, and covers anything and everything you can think of, I can’t begin to do it justice here. But as an example here’s a quote from the chapter on home cooking: “Good meals at home satisfy emotional hunger as real as hunger in the belly, and nothing else does so in the same way.”
Cheryl goes on to discuss how and why not to use cookbooks–I am vindicated! I believe a recipe is only someone else’s creation, certainly nothing written in stone. Of course, if Julia Child wrote it I will pay attention. But someone telling me to make pumpkin cake without salt, or that you don’t need all those walnuts in your oatmeal raisin cookies? I don’t think so.
As usual, I am loving the sound of my own horn tooting, and it’s time to get back to the marvelous book at hand. Home Comforts covers anything and everything you might ever want to know about homemaking. You will be sorry when you’ve turned the last page, and if you’re like me, determined to read it again.
And to share it with others, especially family.
Do you want to excel at the high and highly rewarding calling of homemaking? This book, so aptly named, will inspire and gladden your heart, and perhaps best of all, it will convince you that what you do at home truly matters.
Slow But Sure – Cooking with and for a man
“Give me (said she) a well-cooked, well-served meal, a bouquet and a sunset and I can do more for a man’s soul than all the cant ever preached. I can even do it without a sunset!” – Anne Ellis, in The Life of an Ordinary Woman
Balance – is anything harder to achieve? You may think sliced garden tomatoes and fried yellow crookneck squash are the very thing for lunch. Your husband says, “Where’s the beef?” and your kids just get bug-eyed and wonder what has possessed you to think yellow slimy vegetables are actually edible, and more to the point, why you want to torture them?
When John and I married he was so happy to be free of convenience store burritos three times a day (he still says they saved his sorry single life) that he would eat whatever I put in front of him. As long as there was a healthy serving of “protein” that is. Any red-blooded American male worth his salt will tell you red blooded American males need both red-blooded meat and plenty of salt.
John actually wooed me with the very worst of (in my minority opinion – he has since corrupted our children) red meat. “If a strong wind comes along you’ll regret it,” he’d say, regarding my skinniness and disinclination to eat during lunch in favor of getting more work done (yes, I’ve grown in many ways since those days). I ignored him, so he took matters into his own hands. Thinking store-bought burritos weren’t evidence of true love, he made his signature sandwich:
My Own True Love Bologna Sandwich (MOTLBS)
Two slices of fake wheat bread – you know the stuff – with the split (wow!) “butter” top
Slathered, and I do mean slathered on both sides with Miracle Whip (John claimed God prefers Miracle Whip – I laughed and it only encouraged him)
THICK sliced bologna – the tasty cheap stuff with all the chicken tongues and pigs feet
Iceberg (what else would God eat?) lettuce and plenty of it
And here’s the best part – “pasteurized processed American cheese” (at least they didn’t add ‘food’ to the description).
You, oh discerning reader, have likely determined two things, but you may only be right about one of them. If you think I loathe every ingredient in MOTLBS you’re quite right. But if you think it follows I didn’t eat, or certainly didn’t enjoy eating this concoction, you’d be mistaken. Maybe there was love all over it, maybe it was just the melding (can you say “melding” about such things as iceberg lettuce and American cheese?) of the flavors. Or, and this is likely, it’s the fact that I was hungry all the time in those days. Whatever the reason, the MOTLBS was delicious. Simply and utterly delicious. Healthy, well, no, not so much. But then, I always say when something is off-the-charts delicious, “Isn’t there health value in food that makes you so very happy?”
Balance, ladies and gentlemen. That’s the trick. How does a girl keep herself trim and healthy even as she keeps her husband happy. She gets tricky. Once in a blue moon (It didn’t take John long to learn I detested most of what he loved) when I’m way too busy and tired to cook, I bring home MOTLBS ingredients. Ecstatic John happily makes his own sandwich(es), those for the kids, and lovingly prepares one for me, adding his concession to my healthy ways – lots of sweet onion. So, rather than thinking he’s dead on his feet and wishing he didn’t have to cook, he’s thinking what a sweet dear wife am I.
Now, just in case you’re wondering why John’s tired feet are more relevant than mine, let me assure you there are number of reasons why it’s better for me to be the Great Kitchen Master. You’ve already seen what our health might look like if John were in charge, and later we’ll talk about the money savings due to my Kitchen Master-ness. That’s right, I’m the Kitchen Master. I’m no lowly slave, nor will you be if you stay with me. You’ll be living in Kitchen Rhythms and Graces, and lovin’ it.
So, back to cooking for a husband (or anyone else with lesser culinary tastes than those possessed by your inimitable self). Here’s my mantra, regardless of the issue: “A smart girl like you oughtta be able to figure this out.”
A smart girl knows it is unwise and unkind to say, or to illustrate with your deeds, “Your mama sure raised an idiot child. I think I’ll slap her next time I see her. What was she thinking letting you put ketchup on steak?” That’s right. True story, ketchup on steak and just about anything else. (The other side of that is that my mother-in-law taught John to be appreciative and considerate, perhaps moreso than his wife ever learned to be.)
Are you getting the feeling here that my healthy habits might have been as hard for John to take as was his SAD for me? I began to search for foods we both liked, and ways to make his diet a bit more healthy. Another key: I began slowly, improving John’s salads as follows.
John’s Favorite Salad (JFS)
Iceberg lettuce (of course!)
Gobs of shredded cheapo cheese
Fake bacon bits – gobs again
Those stale chemicalish croutons
And why not drown it all in Thousand Island Dressing?
I will not insult your intelligence by attempting to convince you that this salad is, well, edible.
My solution began as follows:
Mix iceberg lettuce half and half with Romaine (now he eats what he calls “weeds” with only an obligatory grumble).
Add sweet yellow or red onion slices (as time went by I added more and more goodies until now he’ll eat anything called salad.)
Use real bacon bits – just put bacon (nitrate and nitrite-free) in the oven all nicely spread out on a cookie sheet, bake nice and crispy, and crumble it up. Of course, the cook gets samples, and if she wants to be in good with her man, she gives him a slice or two as well.
Buy that ridiculously expensive Thousand Island dressing in the refrigerator section- at least it’s free of the chemical plethora/extravaganza found in most store-bought salad dressings.
Now for John’s New and Improved Salad
Any and all organic salad greens you like
Any and all other veges – I like radishes, sweet green peas, sweet onions, scallions, homemade croutons, home grown tomatoes, mushrooms, bacon bits or ham or turkey, and a homemade white dressing or Thousand Island! If you prefer an Italian dressing (just use lemon juice or your favorite vinegar, olive oil, a little honey, salt, pepper and additional herbs if you like) add your choice of cheese – I recommend herbed goat or sheep cheese. John says he hates any and all things sheep or goat, but he likes herbed goat and sheep cheeses if they’re done lightly and in salad. Parmesan and Feta are more palatable to the unadventurous palate, however.
One easy way to eat with the “sensitive” palate (doesn’t that sound better than “oafish and boorish”?) is to simply separate their food before adding herbs and extra spices and seasonings (extra being those things other than black pepper and salt). While some dislikes may seem unreasonable and be quite exasperating, in many cases there are physical reasons for such preferences. While I can never have too much cilantro in my salsa, John is actually nauseated by it. So, I just separate the salsa into separate containers before adding cilantro.
Mexican food is a great food to make at home for a man, and other unadventurous eaters. You can hardly go wrong, whether feeding a husband, kids, or company, and it’s easy to make it healthy and delicious for yourself as well. This is a great recipe for delegation. Give the kids chopping and cheese shredding assignments, as well as a lesson on proper handling and cooking of raw meat. We always use colorful and festive dishes witb Mexcian food – green plates and glasses garnished with lemons and graced with bendable straws. A fruity herbal tea makes an inexpensive and refreshing drink.
You have no need to apologize to guests if you simply serve water. We all need more of it and it saves the confusion over who likes what when you have a large group. If your guests insist on contributing something, here’s a great opportunity. Tell them you’ve got it all covered, unless they need desserts or drinks other than water (or whatever you have planned). This way they can bring something without getting under your feet.
One of my favorite recipes, which is excellent when company includes kids, is a buffet dish we call Brush Piles. Basically Brush Piles are simply tacos in a pile.
Ground beef, cooked and seasoned ahead, even the day before,
Season beef with dried onion powder (kids often detest cooked onions), garlic both fresh and dried, chili powder of choice, cumin, and cayenne (go easy and consider your guests’ tastes when cooking for a crowd).
Shred cheese ahead of time and set out to reach room temperature. Raw white cheddar is an excellent choice, but in case of budget constraints I also like Tillamook cheeses.
Chop onions ahead (same day), cover and refrigerate.
Chop tomatoes and lettuce same day – leave tomatoes out, refrigerate lettuce until about an hour ahead. The lettuce may wilt if left out too long. The reason for getting things out is we don’t want to put cold veggies on hot meat and get that not-so-attractive brilliant orange grease effect.
Pace Mild or Medium Picante Sauce (as all other ingredients, put in serving bowl with serving utensil) or make your own salsa with all your favorite salsa ingredients.
Corn chips – I heartily recommend organic, non-gmo chips.
Arrange the above as you want people to put on plates. We put the chips on first, then the beef (very hot) then the cheese so it melts, then the onions, tomatoes and lettuce, topped by salsa.
Options: Sour cream, Guacamole, Bean Dip
Easy and Delicious Guacamole
Avocadoes – I like to use one per person – all smashed up. We’ll pretend you have five diners.
Freshly squeezed lemon juice (the stuff in the plastic lemon will do in a pinch). Simply cut a lemon in half, then ream it out by squeezing it around a fork as you twist and turn the fork (I put a colander over a bowl to catch the seeds). One lemon should be about right, but if you’re not a lemon lover, or if the lemon is extra juicy, start with ½ and then taste test.
Lime juice is optional (just a teaspoon for starters).
Garlic powder – I put in a couple of teaspoons, but that’s a bit much for most people. Again, try one teaspoon and taste test.
Pace Picante sauce – just pour in about half a cup (less if you’re nervous about so much, and as always, taste test).
Now, stir it up and keep the plastic right on top of the guacamole until serving time, and stir if it’s dark on top. This will be fine left unrefrigerated for a few hours before serving.
Another possibility for guests who are contributing to the meal is suggesting they bring the chips, salsa, bean dip, queso, or guacamole. But be warned – theirs probably won’t be as good as yours.
Soup is Your Friend
News flash: Soup is not the stuff that comes in a can. Soup is the Kitchen Master’s bestest friend, the crisper cleaner-outer, the creativity outlet, and the soul-satisfier. To quote those guys who shall not be named, “Soup is good food.”
In order to be a Kitchen Master, to satisfy the masses, to feed the hungry, you must make good soup. And for most men, good soup includes meat and some form of homemade bread, or at least crackers and cheese. But let’s notice that excellent, healthy, aromatic soup can be made from the humblest of ingredients, ingredients you really should have on hand, as they are useful for any number of easy, healthy, budget- and family-friendly dishes.
“Crackers and water.” That’s what my mom used to say with a smirk which irritated me a little bit. Oh, but now I understand. “What’s for dinner?” is an aggravating question when you don’t know the answer, and frankly, don’t want to know.
But when you have it all under control with a delicious pot of soup . . . now that’s when you can say, “Soup!”
Friday was soup day at my high school, no doubt because it’s a great way to use things up, and because the cooks were tired by Friday. Most of the kids hated (or so they said) soup day, but it was my favorite, and I was one of the cooks’ favorites. I always came back for seconds with a big grin, and any cook will tell you it’s nice to be appreciated.
At my house soup can mean something they all love, like creamy bacon mushroom, potato, clam chowder, or beef stew, or it can mean something with a few too many vegetables, which they have finally come to love (OK, tolerate), maybe because they figured it was better than peanut butter.
I don’t do picky eaters. If they don’t like what I cook, they’re free to make a PBJ, but not to complain. As I told them all once in a fit of pique over complaining and picky kids, “God made it, so it’s good. If you don’t like it, that’s your problem, not mine.” That may sound mean, but I will not be guilty of foisting onto the world thankless, persnickety children.
Back to soup. I make it out of what I have, so no two pots are the same, but here’s a basic recipe that always turns out.
Meat of choice – I like chicken or hamburger. With hamburger I go with Mexican seasonings, with chicken it’s Italian. If you choose chicken, boil it the day before, cool and have kids debone. Or just chop up the half a breast you have leftover in the back of the fridge. Hamburger is also nice to have cooked ahead of time.
Fresh vegetables – carrots, celery, onions, garlic and potatoes (optional) and as many as you want. If you love carrots, put in the entire bag (if you have a big pan – this soup has a way of growing large). If you only have one carrot, cut it up small to spread the color. If you’re out of celery and potatoes, that’s not such a big deal unless you’re making potato soup. If you’re out of onions and garlic, well, you just need to go to the grocery store.
Canned and/or frozen: Tomatoes (in any form – tomato sauce or paste, diced, chili-ready or Italian depending on what sounds good, the last of the Pace Picante sauce), okra and japalenos (optional for you, but not for me) corn, green beans (frozen or canned).
Here We Go!
Begin with carrots – they take longest to cook. Peel (or not), slice, cover with water and cook on medium high heat. Add cubes of celery next, then chopped onions and garlic (dried and/or fresh – I use dried onion flakes, fresh chopped onions and freshly minced garlic) and bay leaf (I always add oregano before serving). I’ll leave it up to you if you want potatoes in your soup. If so, cube and put them in right after the carrots. How to decide? Do you have and love potatoes? Are they about to go bad? Then put them in! Soup is a creative and money-saving endeavor.
Now brown hamburger meat if you aren’t on top of your game with this chore already completed, or debone the chicken you cooked the night before. You forgot!!! Well, then, put that baby on right now to boil – you’ll need to turn off your veges until the chicken’s ready to go. It’s frozen? That never stops me, and I don’t have a microwave. Just put it in the water and turn on the burner (only be sure to pull out the bag of giblets just as soon as the chicken is thawed enough to do so). Now, make some cornbread and put out some butter to soften. You can snack on hot buttered, cheesey japaleno cornbread while you wait.
Oh, it sounds fattening? Then don’t eat three pieces! Just eat two and save one for the soup. Yay!
Back to the hamburger. You can put in lots or a little, or just serve your soup with cheese and bread to make up for a lack of meat
Brown the hamburger with still more onions and garlic, and sometimes oregano and/or chili powder and as always, salt and pepper. If I have it, I use sea salt. If I’m lazy or in a hurry I put the peppercorns in whole (yes, you’re allowed to use that cheapo Wal-Mart pepper – we’ve all done it, and speaking of that, I’ve found Wal-Mart is an inexpensive place to get dried onion flakes).
The carrots should be almost tender, and that’s all you want. Put your vegetables along with the meat into your big soup pan, including the cooking water and the meat drippings. Once the soup is refrigerated you can easily peel the fat off, although if you’re using organic meat there’s no reason to do so. The soup will be even better once it’s leftover.
Now for the fun and easy stuff: sliced okra, tomatoes, corn and green beans (frozen or canned) and enough water to cover everything with extra on top.
Once it’s hot, taste and add seasonings as preferred.
That’s it. Serve it with or without crackers, cornbread, or artisan bread. And may I suggest some thinly sliced sweet onions? Oh, and remember this soup is even better leftover.
P.S. Cabbage is also good in this soup – cook it ahead with the carrots and potatoes.
AND SPEAKING OF CABBAGE . . .
I had this big beautiful Chinese cabbage and not much else and it was snowing. Definitely souptime. I peeled and sliced three potatoes, chopped onion and garlic, and began simmering them in water as I chopped the cabbage.
Adding the cabbage along with the little heavy cream I had (about ¼ cup) and a quart or so of milk, I went flavor hunting. Ah ha! Bacon ends and pieces – so beautiful. There was no danger of anyone thinking this was merely cabbage soup. This was soup with bacon! About a cup sizzled as I added sea salt and cream cheese (celery would be good, but I was out).
When the bacon was crispy I chopped it and added it along with some of the drippings (matter of taste here and I’m not admitting how much I use) and a stick of organic Humboldt butter.
I got rave reviews on this soup!
Rave reviews are practically a given if bacon is involved. Here’s a soup that was a happy accident due to my need to use up several Crimini mushrooms:
Creamy Bacon Mushroom Soup
Begin by frying your bacon nice and crispy. I usually use about one slice of bacon per cup of liquid, so six to eight slices in this case. I prefer putting bacon on a cookie sheet and cooking at around 400 degrees (keep a close watch as it’s a sin to burn bacon) in the oven until nice and crispy. Remove promptly when finished.
Now chop (in all chopping look for kids with idle hands) the mushrooms (any kind you have on hand) – I first used about ten mushrooms, but I’ve made this with only three. Saute for a few minutes on low heat in an oil or oil mixture. I do almost everything with some combination of butter/coconut oil/olive oil. NEVER USE MARGARINE OR ANY OTHER KIND OF BUTTER ADULTERATION/ABOMINATION. How much oil? This is your soup – you decide! (I’m also not admitting how much butter I use.)
Now add milk, heavy whipping cream, half and half, or any combination thereof. I always use mostly whole milk with a little cream or half and half. Why can’t I be specific? Because I don’t want you thinking you can’t make this because you don’t have the exact ingredients. Again, soup is a creative endeavor, and as this particular soup contains bacon, you really can’t lose.
OK, I”ll get a little bit helpful. Let’s say you have a big group of healthy eaters and you want about six to eight good servings of soup. Use about eight cups of liquid, roughly half milk, ¼ cream, and ¼ half and half. It will be delicious using all milk, so long as it’s whole milk. So in this case it would be four cups of milk, two of cream and two of half-n-half.
As the soup cooks on medium/low heat, chop the bacon and prepare a thickener. I like to use a couple of heating tablespoons of cornstarch stirred first into a cup of warm water (or you could try using a roué of wholewheat flour and butter). When the soup is hot pour in the cornstarch and water mixture, stirring until creamy and well incorporated.
Continue to cook, stirring often, until the soup has bubbled for a few minutes. Turn off and test for saltiness, adding sea salt a little at a time until just barely salty. Depending on your preference for thickness, you can add more cornstarch/water mixture, and cook a few minutes more. You will love the taste, but it’s best if you serve this soup later. It’s going to be even better after refrigeration and re-heating (on medium low with stirring).
Variations: A couple cans of tuna or clams make this soup a delicious and even heartier meal. You might call it Southern Clam Chowder or Granny’s Cream of Tuna with Bacon. Also, Mushroom broths from the grocery store are delicious in this soup, as is chopped garlic. You can dress it up with a little parsley on top, and serve it with crackers and cream cheese. But really, it doesn’t need any help. After all, it’s made of mushrooms, cream, and bacon.
Tip for kids who don’t like the texture of mushrooms: Put the mushrooms in the blender or food processor and they won’t know they’re in there if you don’t tell.
Budget tip: Use only one or two slices of bacon, or just leftover bacon drippings, or even a little chopped ham or Spam. If none of this works for you, just up the butter a little.
Man-pleaser tip: This soup has bacon. Nuff said. But if you really wanna lay it on thick, make bread.
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