Ten simple things to do now to eat better and save money.

Ten simple things to do now to eat better and save money.

1. Simplify and organize your food hub (kitchen & pantry), and stock it with simple storage/freezer containers sized for your refrigerator size and usual meal size, masking tape, and sharpie for labeling placed within easy reach. Maybe add a radio or speaker so you can listen to books or podcasts as you work and make it an uncluttered, peaceful space so kitchen maintenance will become a meditative time you look forward to instead of a rushed and chaotic chore. 

2. Cabbage is your all-season Friend. Cheap, delicious, healthful, fresh in all seasons, and good for so many satisfying preparations. 

3. Start a simple kitchen herb garden and/or grow sprouts. Plants are available now from all the best local growers, and you can often buy plants with SNAP benefits. Herbs and spices add up. When you buy fresher foods of more flavorful varieties, you will find you need few expensive spices, marinades and rubs. 

4. You paid for it, get your money’s worth!  Don’t cut fat from meats before cooking, instead cook, and skim the fat to use for later browning and sautéing. When you buy well raised meat, the nutritional benefits of the meat are also in the fat. There is nothing hydrogenated or highly processed, so it is a nutritional, flavor-enhancing, and budget friendly practice.

5. Select foods for nutrient density instead of portion size or habit. Bone-in skin-on meats, Fruit vs juice, whole grains vs refined flour and processed quick seasoned sides, plain frozen fruit and veg instead of those with added sauces or microveable packages, whole milk dairy vs reduced fat, pastured eggs vs lowest price, local in-season produce and fruits, whole cheese vs pre-shredded, minimally processed vs convenience, more basic staples and less ready-to-cook one-offs. 

6. Select whole in-season vegetables grown locally for flavor rather than shipping and shelf stability, with leaves & stems on. Use said leaves and stems right away. 

7. Maceration. Harness the natural juices from your fruits and vegetables and your crock pot roasts and stretch the value of the purchase. This works best with local items grown for flavor, as they are the most naturally flavorful and juicy, and that juice has nutritional value. And, if you find yourself with some fruit or produce about to go bad, chop them up, add a bit of sugar or salt, and put them in the fridge to release their juices. Later strain them, and use the juice separately for beverages or to make syrups, and you have bought yourself a little additional time to use the produce. 

8. Replace bread, rice, processed side dishes, and pasta with whole grains. Simple farro, pearled barley, wheat, spelt,  and rye berries, all can be used in place of rice for risotto, fried rice, and hashes, or as a cold salad, or side dish. Easily batch cooked and frozen for later, or just keep a container in the fridge ready to go.

9. Invest: if you can, level up with even a small additional freezer to enable you more space for buying meat and produce in bulk. Don’t forget to check for Marketplace/Craig’s List used options. 

10. Make simple jams and syrups. This is easily done with most fruits and many items of produce and replaces extracts in pies and baked goods, ice cream and dessert garnish, enhancer of purchased sauces, and is a great way to make your own beverages, kicking the soda/Gatorade habit. You don’t have to become a depression-era full time canner, just a little here and there alongside your regular meal prep and cleanup goes far. 

 

Produce season is about to begin – you’ve got this! 

Solstice Rituals: Seed Cake

Solstice Rituals: Seed Cake

Solstice traditions and magical tales and rituals come from all corners of the world. I enjoy reading about all of them, but mimicking the rituals of peoples exotic to me feels strange, and does not really feel like a receptive mindset for the significance of an important marker of time in my own real life. 

Fire, attention, cleansing, making space, seasonal decoration, silence, spending time with nature, and ritual foods feel more fitting and less forced. Seed cake, while not exactly Yule specific, does feel like a suitable choice for the here and now. 

Today, in the US, grocery bakery goods, frozen cakes, and cake mixes with canned frostings are what we imagine for “cake”.  Light, fluffy, very sweet, often almost gummy, mostly crowned with sugary vegetable shortening frosting and intense artificial coloring and extracts.

Europe however, has retained more of their historic connections to food, and tends towards more dense, heavy baked goods flavored more often from nature than laboratories. Seed cake is one such cake you will not often find in the US.  One reason is because it’s texture is dependent upon a certain inefficient manner of architecting the ingredients.  It’s joy, like that of many British and Irish foods, is dependent upon the sheer exceptional quality of the simple ingredients – pastured eggs, homemade butter from the well-fed family cow, and local flour not readily available or “affordable” in modern times. 

Expensive and/or unavailable indeed when measured with our American focus on efficiency and productivity. I wonder though, if my ingredients cost more errands and money, yet also are important nutrients in their own right instead of a guilt-inducing dietary derailment of artificial junk guaranteed to make me feel ill, which is more expensive? 

I love everything about this cake, though I did dial up the fancy a little by pouring syrup over the hot cake, which makes me love it more, and I enjoy eating it with a schmear of good butter.

It is substantial, filling, and the ingredients are not without calories or fat, but are also nutrient dense. There is sugar, which is always going to be a conundrum, and for which I have no natural solution other than moderation. Since the cake is filling in a nutritionally satisfying way, moderation is naturally easier. 

Anyway, this is a really nice tradition to bring into all your winter weeks, not just for Solstice, though in the day, it would be a luxurious choice during months when eggs and butter were scarce. Like now, which is why such cakes in December are so celebratory.

I happen to be rich in pastured eggs at the moment, so, bring on the hobbit-y cakes!

Darina Allen's Seed Cake

Adapted from Darina Allen's wonderful book, "Forgotten Skills of Cooking."
Servings 8

Equipment

  • ` Round cake pan 7” and 3” deep Size matters; a standard loaf pan works well also

Ingredients
  

  • 3/4 Cup Butter Room Temp
  • 3/4 Cup superfine sugar Domino's Golden Cane works well
  • 3 Chicken Eggs Pastured if possible
  • 1/2 tsp Pure vanilla extract
  • 2 Cups All purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 TBS milk or water
  • 1 TBS caraway seeds optional

Optional Glaze

  • 3 TBS Grand Marnier Brandy or whiskey can be substituted
  • 2 tsp water
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 TBS butter

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease your baking pan with butter and flour. 
  • Sift the flour and baking powder together. 
  • In a separate bowl, using a mixer, whip the butter first, then add the sugar, and continue whipping until light and fluffy. Do not rush this, or combine the steps, it does make a difference to the texture of the finished cake. (In the day this was done by massaging by hand the warmth of your hands creaming the butter faster, and supposedly producing a lighter cake.)
  • Whisk the eggs and vanilla extract together, and gradually add to the whipped butter and sugar mixture. Mix well.
  • Gradually fold in the flour, taking care to not over-beat. Darina Allen calls the desired texture “dropping consistency.” It will be heavy and stiff, but should not be crumbly. Gently mix in the caraway seeds. Add the milk, liquor or water only if the batter is too dry. 
  • Fill into the prepared baking pan, do not worry of it is lumpy, it will spread into the pan as the batter warms in the oven. 
  • Bake 50 - 60 minutes, taking care to not overtake, which will toughen the texture. To make the glaze, simply warm the glaze ingredients gently in a saucepan until sugar is completely dissolved- do not boil. Pour over hot cake and let cool in the pan.
  • Remove from the oven, pour the glaze over the top if using, and allow to cool in the pan.
“Lucy Light; The Shortest Day & The Longest Night!”

“Lucy Light; The Shortest Day & The Longest Night!”

St. Lucy’s Feast Day is celebrated December 13, though since Gregorian calendar reform, the feast day no longer lands on the eve of Winter Solstice as it once did, so the focus on light may feel a little puzzling at first.

I find St. Lucy’s Feast to be a nice advent to Winter Solstice, reminding me to pay attention and  give presence to the significance and power of the shortest day & longest night. Though the worst of winter lies just ahead, the significance of knowing the days are growing longer is a huge lifter of spirit, and truly a yearly event worth celebrating.

To mark a feast day with many food references to sunshine and magic, what could call to mind sunshine more than yellow corn cookies in the shape of the sun? Simple, gluten-free, and virtuous while still being delightful and celebratory.  Plus, simple, earthy, and unfussy.

I am all for a category of sweets that is regular part of a nutrient dense, locally sourced everyday diet, not a shameful guilt-inducing lack of discipline, how about you?

Masa Zaletti (Cornmeal Cookies)

Not-too-sweet but perfectly delicious Italian cornmeal cookies. Vegetarian, gluten free. From my tattered-and-stained favorite whole grains cookbook, "Whole Grains For A New Generation" by Liana Krissoff.
Servings 28 cookies

Ingredients
  

  • 1/3 cup dried currants
  • 1-1/2 cups masa harina
  • 1 cup raw fine yellow cornmeal
  • Pinch salt
  • 10 TBS unsalted butter melted
  • 3 large egg yolks beaten
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • Grated zest of 1 large lemon

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 375° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • Put the currants in a bowl and cover with hot water, let soak until soft.
  • Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the masa marina, yellow cornmeal, and salt. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the butter.
  • In a medium bowl, whist together the egg yolks, sugar, baking soda, and lemon zest. Pour the mixture into the masa marina mixture and stir to combine. Drain the currants, reserving the soaking water; add the currants to the dough and knead gently in the bowl with your hands until the dough is thoroughly combined, sprinkling in up to 4 TBS of the currant soaking liquid little at a time to make a dough that holds together when you squeeze it.
  • Scoop up a rounded tablespoon-size chunk of dough and squeeze it into a ball; flatten it between your palms to make a 1/4-inch thick round and place it on the prepared baking sheet. (Or, drop the batter onto the cookie sheet and use a decorative cookie stamp to make it festive.)
  • Repeat with the remaining dough, arranging cookies 1" apart. Bake until golden brown at the edges and firm in the centers, about 12 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through so they brown evenly.
  • Let cool on the pans for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool.
A steamy cuppa Valentine Love  ♥️

A steamy cuppa Valentine Love ♥️

Grand gestures are showy, but quiet, small ones are sweeter.

Today is that favorite day of retailers, florists and restauranteurs everywhere, Valentine’s Day.

Here in Pennsylvania,  we’ve been very fortunate here with the mildness of our winter so far  – unlike those of you  suffering some real damage and hardship, we’re mostly just inconvenienced and fatigued.  The kind of weariness that can be soothed with a steamy, creamy cup of home-made cocoa.

I nixxed commercial hot chocolate powders a long time ago in favor of the old-fashioned, off the package Hershey’s cocoa recipe that my mom used to make. Real milk, cocoa, salt, sugar and a bit of vanilla – all things found in an average kitchen. At home, it’s not really any more work, and the results are so worth it. Once you’ve spoiled yourself, you’ll want to keep a pint jar in your fridge at all times.

But then, one day, this really lovely post from Molly at Remedial Eating stopped me in my tracks. Something I had to try ASAP. And I’m so glad I did. This is one of the nicest, sweetest DIY gift ideas around – a jar of chocolate ganache ready to spoon into heated milk for a perfectly delicious, creamy, real cup of steaming cocoa.

Hot Chocolate Base (Ganache)
Yield: 2 generous cups ganache (enough for 2 dozen+ mugs of hot cocoa)

This makes a light ganache (1:1), scoop-able straight from the fridge.  For firm truffles and heartier frostings, a 2:1 chocolate:cream ratio gives greater body and intensity.  FYI.

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream (not ultra-pasteurized, if possible)
12 ounces semisweet chocolate (3 – 4 oz. bars)

Snap chocolate bars into a large, heat-proof bowl.  Heat cream over medium, until the first bubble breaks, then remove from heat and pour over chocolate shards.  Let sit 5 minutes, then whisk gently to combine, 1-2 minutes.  Pour into jar, and refrigerate, up to 1 month.

To Make Hot Cocoa:

Heat milk (2% or whole), as much as you want, over medium heat, until steaming.  (Alternatively, for one mug, microwave).  Add ganache to hot milk: I use 1 heaping tablespoon per 8 ounces of milk, though there are those under my roof who argue 2 tablespoons are far superior.  And no, I don’t measure.  Eyeball it.  Stir ganache into hot milk until dissolved, 10-15 seconds, taste, and add more, if desired.  Pour into mugs, top as desired (whipped cream, marshmallows), wrap fingers ’round, and give thanks for winter.

Who am I kidding?  1-2 TBS? No way. Try 3, or even 4!

So, if you’re still struggling for not-too-big, not-too-small DIY gift ideas, here you go – you still have time. A nice jar of homemade chocolate ganache for a steamy cup of ready-made love for your beloved.

And, if heating milk sounds like too much work, there’s always spoon truffles. Spoon truffles? You know exactly what I’m talking about – no double dipping!

Yinzer Red Beans and Rice

Yinzer Red Beans and Rice

I’m a Pittsburgh girl, so maybe there are cultural Red-Beans-And-Rice nuances I am not getting here. Made on Monday, check.  Our own Auburn Meadow Farm Classic Cajun Andouille, check, check.  Slow cooked all day? Nope. This is a quicker version, because I had already cooked beans in broth waiting in my freezer for just such a day.

All you real-deal Cajun cooks? Sorry, but also, not sorry, because this is some really good, wholesome, hearty hygge for a dreary winter day.

Since COVID, people have been hoarding good culinary beans, which is sad if they are just being stashed in somebody’s bunker – the ten pound bags of pintos at Walmart do a pretty decent job of resting on a shelf.  The Rancho Gordo heirloom beans offer a range of flavor and texture that those ten-year-old warehoused beans just can’t bring. And, if you are planning a garden, those Rancho Gordos are good for planting too, so save some of your favorites and give them a go for some fresh shelling beans.

But hoarders can’t kill my bean joy. If you can’t have the bean you love, which for Red Beans and Rice would have been Domingo Rojas, then love the bean you have, which happens to be Ayocote Negro. Selecting beans by texture not color is key here. The Ayocote Negros are a gorgeous, substantial, shiny, black bean, and were perfect, if not red.

This should take ten minutes of prep and a half hour to forty minutes simmering, and serves four to six. Printable recipe here. 

Ingredients:

  • 1# smoked Andouille, sliced into 1/2” disks
  • 2 pint containers of pre-cooked cooked beans in broth* (or 2 cans of kidney beans, drained)
  • 1 TBS good cooking fat, I use lard or bacon fat*
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1 green pepper seeded and chopped
  • 4 ribs celery, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2-tsp to 1 TBS cayenne pepper dependent upon how hot you like yours. I omit entirely as I cook for people who don’t tolerate spices.
  • 1-28 ounce can whole tomatoes in juice
  • 1/2 tsp ground sage or poultry seasoning
  • Smoked ham hock (optional)
  • splash cider vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Mild hot sauce like Frank’s or Crystal for serving
  • Cooked white rice for serving

Method:

  1. In a Dutch oven, melt your cooking fat over medium heat, add onion, green pepper, and celery. Sautee until softened, do not brown.
  2. Add garlic and andouille disks and sautee to release fragrance.
  3. Add the tomatoes, ham hock if using, cayenne and sage.  Allow to gently simmer, allowing the flavors to develop.
  4. Add the beans, if you are using canned beans, strain the liquid before adding. continue to simmer to allow the beans to absorb the flavors. You don’t want to cook dry though, you are going for the texture of a thick soup. If your pot starts getting too dry, add some water (best boiled first – I use my teakettle).
  5. Taste and add salt, pepper, and cider vinegar to taste.
  6. Serve your beans with rice – this is important. It is honestly not difficult to make a perfectly cooked pot of rice. That detail makes a huge difference.

If you really want to eat like a farmer, try topping a bowl with a poached egg for breakfast 😃. It’s even better next day.

*Some astericks here, because I am a pantry cook, and have stored in my freezer and pantry items you may not. That’s okay though, it’s not a big deal this recipe is pretty flexible.

Get these ingredients from us*:
Classic very mild smoked Andouille from our pastured pork, smoked ham hocks, Ayocote Negro beans

*Inventory subject to change without notice

 

What’s in season: Celebrating strawberries with homemade Strawberrycello

What’s in season: Celebrating strawberries with homemade Strawberrycello

 

If I was going to name one skill to master to save money and really intensify the flavors of your home cooking, it would be to deeply start exploring the juices. We throw away so much flavor and nutrition because we don’t value that extra bit of juice in the pan. Yet we will buy a separate spice or sauce to do exactly what that discarded juice will do if you would only recognize it.

Seasonal fruit is a great example of how harnessing the power and flavor of those natural peak-of-freshness juices makes your cooking extraordinary. Most recipes solve the issue of too juicy in pies and jams by cooking the fruits down, and adding thickener. But reverse that thinking, and slow down your process, and I think you will be amazed at the difference.

Got my first strawberries from the local Amish farmer a couple days ago. Plain, simple, straight-up strawberry jam may be one of my very, very favorite kitchen staples. But last year, I made this. And it’s a pretty wonderful way to celebrate that unmistakable flavor of a fresh, ripe, local strawberry in January. And a really excellent DIY gift idea, if you are inclined to think ahead that way.

Strawberrycello

  • 2 pints strawberries, hulled and sliced, or 1-1/2 pounds frozen strawberries, thawed
  • 1-1/2 cups Simple Syrup*
  • 1 fifth vodka, 80 – 100 proof

Muddle the strawberries and simply syrup with a wooden spoon in a half-gallon jar. Stir in the vodka. 

Seal the jar and put it in a cool, dark cabinet until the liquid smells and tastes strongly of strawberries, about 7 days.

Strain the mixtue with a mesh strainer into a clean quart jar. Do not push on the solids to extract more liquid – it will make your Strawberrycello cloudy. 

Note: If you feel your berries may have been a little overripe, and the flavor of your liquor seems a little flat, add a Tablespoon of strawberry or raspberry vinegar to restore the balance.  

Seal and store in a cool, dark cabinet. Use within 1 year. 

Perfect for sipping on a summer day, for spiking a cosmo, mixing with a summery white wine like Prosecco – don’t forget to chill the glass! 

From the very fun book, Homemade Liqueurs and Infused Spirits by Andrew Schloss. 

Martha will show you how to make herb sugar here.

 

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