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! 

Snack attack strategy: Pickled Eggs. The good kind.

Snack attack strategy: Pickled Eggs. The good kind.

To be honest, I was very, very late to discover the joy that is pickled eggs. I worked in restaurants and bars and saw plenty of giant jars of rubbery, bouncy, sketchy ones, and was never tempted. And then I got chickens.

Adapt to the fluctuating abundance of raising your own eggs, and wow. What the supermarket has left out when it comes to categories, flavors and textures in order to focus on extended shelf life and easy transport is a real paradigm shift.

Homemade pickled eggs are perfect because they extend the storage life of good eggs, are delicious, quick, and easy. Good brine can be reused, so when the jar’s empty, you can replenish several times, just make sure the next batch is completely covered with brine.

This weekend odds are good that you’re going to find your fridge crowded with a bunch of hard boiled eggs, and there’s only so much egg salad any person can take. Pickled eggs give you a nutritionally perfect, protein-packed snack on the fly, especially when made wth truly pastured eggs. They make fast and fantastic sandwiches, toppings for salads and hashes, drop into broth,  Deviled eggs are next level made wth pickled eggs, and, if you want to get ambitious, bake some into a meatloaf, or use them to make Scotch eggs.

There’s lots of recipes for brine flavors online too; I’m not a fan of the sweet/sour beet one, though it is popular. I prefer flavors like this, plus bonus for being simple and quick.

I found some fresh takes from this book on options for making full use of my CSA shares last summer, and highly recommend it. At the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, they have 6 copies, go get you one! Now is an excellent time for perusing the library for summer ideas.

Sriracha Pickled Eggs

From Kevin West’s very fine book about preserving the seasonal harvest, “Saving the Season.”
Servings 12 eggs

Equipment

  • quart jar very clean and sterilized with scalding water

Ingredients
  

  • 1 dozen eggs Go for the good ones - preferably truly pastured
  • 1-1/4 cup white-wine or apple-cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Sriracha Hot Chili sauce adjust for taste
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 bay leaves

Instructions
 

  • Put raw eggs into a pot large enough to accommodate them in one layer, and cover by at least 1-inch of water. Bring to a boil, turn off the heat, and simmer for 11 minutes. Immediately plunge the eggs into a basin of ice water.  Crack the eggs gently, and allow them to rest in the water for about 5 minutes to loosen the shells, then peel*. 
  • Pack the cooked, peeled eggs into a very clean sterilized wide mouth quart jar. You can press them in gently, but to jam too many and push too hard will cause the eggs to split. 
  • Combine the vinegar, Sriracha, salt, and bay leaves in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Ladle the hot liquid over the eggs to completely cover, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Put a lid on the jar and allow to cool at room temp, then store in the refrigerator. 

Notes

*Note: if using very fresh farm eggs, it can be a struggle to achieve perfectly peeled eggs. I prefer to use older eggs, and resting the carton on its side will help center the yolks before boiling. 

Irish as it gets…

Irish as it gets…

Ireland has a lot to offer in the way of lessons about the intersection of food soveriegnty and empire-building, but she also has much magic, mirth, and devotion to the ingredients of home. While other peasant cultures are colorful and spicy, Ireland’s unique gift was the juxtaposition of salty sea air and arguably the best grass in the world. Hence, legendary cattle and dairy. So, the basic ingredients of much Irish cuisine are white in color, and rooted in the devotional ways of tending the family cow. Because of the extraordinary quality of the raw milk, the foods may be white, but are anything but bland.

Darina Allen, commonly known as “The Julia Child of Ireland”, has written several books that have brought much joy to my table and garden. While very wordly and modern, Darina is also very much rooted iin the old ways and traditions of Ireland, using raw milk from her own pastured cows, eggs gathered from free ranging chickens, foraging for wild herbs, mushrooms and hedgerow fruits.

About this bread, she says, “In our household of nine children, Mummy made this bread virtually very day of her life, well into her 80’s. She always had a light hand at baking. Whevever we were, her bread was on of the things that we looked forward to when we came home for a few days. So many happy memories are made at the kitchen table.”

And what could be more fitting than to, on this day of celebrating Ireland, to bake a simple, inexpensive bread with instructions calling for blessing the bread, and letting the fairies out? However you celebrate, highly recommend you spend a minute learning about and reflecting upon the Irish “Troubles.”  Spoiler: It was more than a crop failure. And then, do what the Irish have always done and get on wtih keeping on and making merry with what you’lve got.

St. Patrick’s Day blessings to you – “Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig dhuit!”

Mummy’s Brown Soda Bread, Darina Allen, “Forgotten Skills of Cooking” p199

 

Mummy's Brown Soda Bread

Darina Allen is often called the Julia Child of Ireland. What could be more Irish than her Mother's brown soda bread?
Prep Time 15 minutes
Servings 1 large loaf

Ingredients
  

  • 2 cups White Whole Wheat King Arthur White Whole Wheat works well
  • 2 cups All Purpose Flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda sifted
  • 1-1/2 - 2 cups buttermilk

Instructions
 

  • Preheat the oven to 450°F.
  • Mix flour in a large, wide bowl, then add the salt and baking soda. Lift the flour up with your fingers to distribute the ingredients evenly. 
  • Make a well in the center and pour in 1-1/2 cups of the buttermilk. With your fingers stiff and outstretched like a claw, stir in a circular movement from the center to the outside of the bolt in ever increasing concentric circles. When you reach the outside of the bowl seconds later, the dough is made. (Should it still be dry, add the remaining 1/2 cup buttermilk and distribute).
  • Sprinkle a little flour on the countertop. Place the dough onto the flour. (Fill the bowl with cold water now so it will be easy to wash later.) Wash and dry your hands to make it easier to handle the dough.
  • Sprinkle a little flour onto your hands. Gently tidy the ball of dough tucking the edges underneath with the inner edge of your hands. Pat the dough gently with your fingers to flatten it slightly into a found loaf about 1-1/2” thick. Slide one hand underneath, and with your other hand on top, transfer the dough to a baking sheet. 
  • Cut a deep cross into the bead (this is called “blessing the bread”) and then prick it in the center of each of the four sections to “let the fairies out.” There’s also a tactical reason for doing this - the last part of the loaf to bake fully is the center, so cutting the cross opens out the center during cooking, allowing the heat to penetrate more evenly. 
  • Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 400°F and cook for a further 15 minutes. Turn the bread upside down and cook for a further 5-10 minutes, until cooked (the bottom should sound hollow when tapped). Cool on a wire rack.

Rashers, homemade brown soda bread slathered with butter, and pastured eggs ☘️

 

What to do with a local mushroom share?  Pan-Cooked Mushrooms recipe…

What to do with a local mushroom share? Pan-Cooked Mushrooms recipe…

How great is it that locally raised mushrooms are a focus of local producers now, and they are easily found at farmer’s markets and as add-ons to CSA shares? Mushrooms are delicate though, and prone to mold, so a method to extend their usefulness helps make the most of your fungi.

I love this little appreciated, kind-of-plain book I picked up long ago, and many of my basic kitchen ways are based upon things I learned here. Sadly out of print, and probably often overlooked in favor of more visually beautiful photo books, but if you are truly wanting to learn some foundational kitchen skills and habits, I highly recommend this one. Available used online, for cheap, so it is a good one when the budget is tight.

In the Light Basics cookbook, Martha Rose Shulman’s recipe for pan-cooked mushrooms gives you dense little chunks of deep, earthy flavor, which works for pretty much all mushroom varieties.

I make this recipe as soon as I get my mushrooms, and save them in a jar to add later to salads, greens, accompany steaks, pizzas, omlettes, saucy meats, pasta.  Really, what isn’t made instantly richer and fancier with some herby, garlicky, flavorful chunks of mushrooms cooked in booze? 

King Trumpet and Nameko Mushrooms, fresh rosemary, garlic and thyme.

Personally, I can’t resist nicking them straight from the jar, so preserving them is rarely a problem, but if you find yourself with an abundant haul, this recipe is a good way to extend their life – simply put in a sterilized jar and top with olive oil. Make sure your shrooms are submerged – the flavored oil when the mushrooms are finished is a lovely ingredient in its own right, too. 

Because the moisture has been released, and there is salt and olive oil, your mushrooms are intensified in flavor and much less vulnerable to mold.

Pan-cooked Mushrooms

Deliciously savory mushrooms cooked with a little wine, garlic, and herbs
Servings 4 generous

Ingredients
  

  • 1-1/2 pounds mushrooms
  • 1/2 tsp salt or to your taste
  • 1/2 cup dry white or red wine brandy, or vermouth
  • 1-1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves or 3/4 tsp dried
  • 1-1/2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves or 3/4 tsp crumbled dried
  • 1-1/2 TBS olive oil
  • 2 - 4 large garlic cloves peeled and minced or pressed
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 TBS chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

Instructions
 

  • Trim away the tough stemps of the mushrooms or remove the from portabellos, for regular mushrooms just cut the very ends of the stems off. Rinse briefly in cod water to remove any sand and shake or wipe dry with paper towels. Cut into thick slices, halves, or for sall shrooms, leave whole. If using a clumpy variety like oysters, tear in half or cut away the bottom of the stem and separate.
  • Heat skillet over medium-high heat, add the mushrooms and salt. Watch carefully, the mushrooms will soon begin to release liquid. Stir and cook until the liquid has evaporated, which can be anywhere from 5 - 15 minutes, depending on the moisture content and type of mushroom. Stir in the wine, thyme, and rosemary. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring, until the wine has evaporated, 5 - 10 minutes. Add the olive oil and garlic. Cook, stirring, until the garlic begins to color and the dish smells very fragrant, about 5 minutes.
  • Season with pepper, stir in the parsley, adjust salt if needed, serve.
No-cook tomato sauce for the freezer…

No-cook tomato sauce for the freezer…

I don’t have much time, or kitchen space for elaborate preserving projects anymore. So, I have to be really selective and spend my time making the one tomato-y thing that will be quick, flexible, but still remind me in the heart of January that the dark, frozen nights will again be soft and desk, with tomatoes, still warm from the garden. See, that connection to my own Pennsylvania summer is a real spirit lifter – one which canned tomatoes from the supermarket just cannot match.

Elimination thinking makes my decision super-easy; this uncooked tomato sauce, straight from the freezer tastes exactly like summer,  is compact and efficient to store in my freezer, and quick and easy to use in lots of ways later. 

 

Before beginning, I’d like to make this one plea: Resist the urge to chef this one up until you’ve made it once exactly as it is. Yes, it’s a VERY simple, plain recipe, but therein lies the charm. The simplicity allows the special summertime quality of the tomatoes to shine which is exactly why I love it so much. You can add herbs and spices when you use it later if you wish. Oh, and this sauce plain is beautiful with fresh mozzarella… and allows a bit of good olive oil to really shine.

Here’s a link to the more specific recipe.  It makes four servings to be eaten right away but to preserve larger quantities for freezing, simply repeat as many times as you like ( I just figure out how many pounds of tomatoes I have and work it backwards), throw the milled batches together into one large colander, drain over a large bucket then freeze the concentrated sauce in single serving portions.

 

The split skins will peel right away – then toss into your food mill. I use a Roma and run the tomatoes through two or three times to extract every last drop… If you don’t have a food mill, just do your best to skin, seed and chop as finely as you can. The texture won’t be exactly the same, but don’t let that stop you – it’s still going to be awesome.

 

The tomatoes after processing. Add kosher salt and ladle into your cheesecloth lined colander. Maybe you’re not like me with large pieces of cheesecloth lying around. Not to worry, you can use a simple cotton dish towel or pillow case but be prepared for it to be forever stained. I toss my clean cheesecloth into the boiling water for a few minutes before using. Line a colander with the cheesecloth and you’re ready to pour in your tomato mixture. Place the colander over a large bowl or bucket and drain for at least a couple of hours or overnight

 

For me,  one cup portions in freezer bags is the perfect size. One cup feeds two with plenty of  leftovers for the next few days.  Looking at the chicken scratch I wrote on my recipe, apparently I used 24 pounds of tomatoes last year and today I know it was not nearly enough. A word of warning: a little of this sauce goes a long way. I use 2 or 3 Tablespoons to dress a serving of pasta. Really.

Fill your freezer bags, squeeze out any air, and stack flat on a baking sheet or plate to freeze. Onse frozen stiff, the packages can be stacked upright in a container, and are easy to see and access in your freezer, and take little space. 

 

Pouches of finished sauce, in my freezer stash. I freeze this in one cup portions in small freezer bags to use all winter. Thaw it in the bag and gently spoon over cooked pasta tossed with olive oil or butter. If you must heat the sauce, simply warm a little olive oil in a sauce pan and stir in the sauce until just warmed.

 

Because you are straining away most of the water, the volume will be greatly reduced.  I started with a nearly full 5 gallon bucket of tomatoes, and ended up with about 5 cups of sauce. This will vary based on the water content of the tomatoes and the amount of time you leave them drain.

Use your sauce to make summer-fresh Margarita pizzas, toss in the crock pot or dutch oven for a stew or braise, soup, with a pot of beans, anything that can use some fresh tomato flavor. Since the star of this project is the tomato, I wouln’t bother with thick walled, tough-skinned, weak flavored commodity varieties. This is meant as a celebration of the flavor of local, peak-of=freshness, sloppy, flavorful old-fashioned and heirloom varieties.  

 

Home made pasta, uncooked fresh tomato sauce frozen from last summer’s harvest and some good quality parmesan or pecorino – perfection in its simplicity!

 

Also, when you’ve finished making this sauce, especially if you made a bunch for freezing, you’ll have lots of nutritious tomato essence (the water left after straining the tomato solids for the sauce) left.

  • Base for Bloody Marys
  • Braising liquid
  • Reduction for intensely tomato flavored sauces
  • Added flavoring for beer or vodka
  • Base for gazpacho or cocktail sauce
  • Poaching liquid for seafood, shrimp, calamari or lobster
  • Dressing for fresh oysters
  • Marinade for white fish
  • Vinaigrette mix-in
  • Liquid for cooking rice or grains
  • Refreshing chilled beverage served over ice, with basil

 

Or, simply use it in place of any liquid next time you make stock, bread, rice, bulgur, barley or risotto. These are kitchen basics you know you’re going to do anyway, so why not add a little free flavor & nutrient booster?

An icy glass of tomato essence…. yummy and refreshing straight up, and so many great uses in coctails…

The most complicated part of this approach is using a food mill if you have never used one. It makes for a really nice texture and removes the peel and seeds. A food mill is not necessary though, and this sauce will be just as tasty finely chopped by hand.

If you could only do one, what would your single tomato preserving project be?