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 ☘️

 

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.
Whole Grains: Wild California Rice

Whole Grains: Wild California Rice

Wild California Rice. Have you tried it?  It’s obviously not local to Pennsylvania, but it is a sustainable, healthful, and tasty addition to your year-round pantry. It’s perfect for stretching meats or mushrooms, stuffing poultry, making cabbage rolls, stuffing squash, tomatoes, or peppers, and adding to substantance tol cold salads and soups.

Wild rice is actually not a true rice, but is instead an aquatic grain. It is an extremely important food in Native American traditions, where the ritual of harvest, drying and hulling is an important cultural touchstone to old ways. Nutritionally it is a powerhouse, near quinoa in protein content. It is not certified organic, but no pesticides or herbicides are necessary, and the water used is carefully managed to conserve and reuse before allowing it to drain back to the source.

This California wild rice is a more production-oriented product than the wild indigenous product. It is farmed from similar grains as the truly wild rice, but is instead intensively managed making it more productive and reasonably priced. The flavor is hard to describe, being somewhat floral, nutty, and smoky at once. The texture when properly cooked is toothy and substantial; and a 1/4 – 1/2  cup portion is really filling.  It really is a different ingredient entirely from regular rice – a direct substitution would certainly work, but might not be exactly what you had in mind.

Wild rice takes longer than more common white rices; about 45 – 55 minutes. Cooked rice also freezes well, so packets of precooked rice or other whole cooked grains like farro, spelts, or rye berry is a handy ingredient to have at the ready in your freezer. I really had no recipe in mind, just wanted to spend some time getting to know the rice, so I cooked the entire pound bag, even though I was cooking just for myself.  I mean, if I am going to boil a grain for almost an hour, I want to make that hour count, right?

From my pound of dry rice, I got about 14 loosely measured cups of cooked rice, of which I scooped approximate two cup portions into zip lock freezer bags, squeezed the air out as completely as possible, flattening and sealing the packages. I lay them flat on a plate and freeze, then the packages once frozen will stack neatly upright and fill as little freezer space as possible.

So, now I have seven 2 cup portions of frozen rice, ready to quickly steam as a side or toss into soups and recipes. Your milaege may vary. What are we gonna make? When cooking Rancho Gordo products, I always return to their Rancho Gordo Recipes for inspiration. Steve Sando rubs elbows with some diverse and interesting food people, and the recipes and ideas always give me if not specifics, direction.

The linked recipe for stuffing caught my attention. Of course I did not make it exactly, since my rice was already cooked, and I didn’t really have all the ingredients, but I was close. And just because it is called stuffing, doesn’t mean it wasn’t good in a bowl, by itself, as a main dish. I did stuff a roasted squash for lunch, brushed first with Swad coriander chutney, garnished with a plop of thick whole milk yogurt,  it was a bright spot in a dark, dreary, rainy day.

The recipe makes about six cups, and I only used one, so once again, I have cooked for both now and later, and when summer squash and chickens arrive, I am so ready with a frozen quart ready and waiting. By the way, freezing grains has very little effect on their quality, particularly if you cook them a tiny bit al dente. Mushy overcooked grains will not magically improve in the freezer.

Okay, here we go, to the printable recipe:

Wild Rice Stuffing

This recipe will stuff a 12-pound turkey or half a dozen game hens. It's delicious as a side dish for meats, as a filling for cabbage rolls, squashes, ingredient in soups & salads, or simply on its own.
Servings 6 cups

Ingredients
  

  • 4 cups cooked wild California Rice
  • 1/2 - 2 tsp Mexican Oregano
  • 1 pound lean ground beef, pork, elk, venison, or bison
  • 1 can green chilis
  • 1/2 large red onion, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped and lightly toasted pecans
  • 2 Tbs fresh orange zest

Instructions
 

  • Sauté meat in heavy large skillet over medium heat until cooked through, breaking up with a wooden spoon, about 10 minutes. If your skillet has excess grease or liquid, drain the beef, and remove excess from pan. 
  • Add chiles and onions to the meat. Continue to sauté over medium heat until onions are soft, about 10-15 minutes, adding a bit of liquid if necessary to keep beef from becoming dry. 
  • Add the cooked wild rice (frozen is okay), sauté gently until heated through, again taking care to keep it moist, not wet. Stir in the pecans and orange zest. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Can be prepared a day ahead. Cover and refrigerate once cool. If you'd like to serve as a side dish, re-warm covered in 350°F. oven for 20 minutes.) Transfer to bowl and serve. 
  • If using as poultry stuffing, cool completely and fill bird. 

Notes

When I purchase a bag of wild rice, I cook the entire pound, which I then portion a loose two cups into ziplock pint bags for the freezer. Cooked slightly al dente, the rice is a really handy ingredient to have ready for fast meals and saved cooking time, as wild rice takes about an hour.
*Also, about the orange zest - whenever I have good oranges, I always scrub the outside and zest the orange before peeling, saving the zest in a freezer container for later recipes. If you don’t have it, you could substitute chopped apple, parsley, lemon zest, raisins or cranberries for a fresh bit of bright flavor; it's a flexible recipe overall.