Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Welcome and Table of Contents

Welcome!  If you don't know where to begin, click the Introduction link below.  Everything is in reverse chronological order so start at the bottom and read up.

Pantry raid: the big box o' crap
Recipe: Veggie Burger Pitas
Recipe: White Bean and Spinach Pizza
Recipe: Spaghetti with spinach and veggie sauce

Part 1: "I don't know how to cook."
Lesson 1: Knife skills
Recipe: Roasted Vegetable and Fish Tacos
Lesson 2: Mise en place, Recipe: Lo Mein
Recipe: BBQ Tofu Chopped Salad
Lesson 3: Kitchen tools
Lesson 4: Food storage, Recipe: Roasted Pesto Shrimp
Lesson 5: Finding recipes

Part 2: "I don't know anything about food."
Lesson 1: Real vs. fake foods (the truth about butter)
Lesson 2: Convenience foods that won't kill you quite as fas
Lesson 3: Reading labels
Lesson 4: Freezer staples
Lesson 5: Pantry staples
Lesson 6: Eating the rainbow
Lesson 7: Stepping outside of your culinary comfort zone
Lesson 8: Where the flavor at

Part 3: "I don't have time to cook."
Lesson 1: Menu planning
Lesson 2: No sweat big batch cooking

Part 4: "I can't afford fresh food."
Lesson 1: Budget foods
Lesson 2: Rounding it out

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Links for 08/24/10

Bottled tea beverages may contain fewer polyphenols (antioxidents) than home-brewed

SproutRobot tells you when to plant your garden

Health Checkup: Who Needs Organic Food?

Cage confinement of laying hens increases Salmonella risk

Let's discuss food recalls

Yesterday the FDA announced a recall of 380,000 pounds of deli meat (that's 190 tons), most of which was sold at Wal-Mart in the form of sandwiches, for listeria contamination.

I'm a bit late to the party but my husband and I just watched Food, Inc. last week.  If you've seen the movie (or read any of Michael Pollan's books or any number of other books and documentaries out there), then this recall probably doesn't surprise you one bit.

What surprised me was learning that the FDA has forced 41 similar recalls since January 15, 2010.  There are a couple on the list that were recalled for mislabeling, but the rest are for E. coli, listeria, and salmonella.  And the truly horrifying "foreign material", "adulterated", "underprocessing", and "animal drug contaminant."

Now, knowing what I know about the FDA and how utterly powerless and, quite frankly, apathetic it is toward the American food supply, I can reasonably assume that the amount of things not recalled that should be is almost unfathomable.

I don't know why people continue to buy frozen ground beef patties.  It seems like there's a recall on those every other week.  The fact that they're mixed with filler that has been treated with ammonia notwithstanding.

Choosing to eat clean, real food is not your typical the-sky-is-falling worst-case-scenario type overthinking.  It's not like helicopter parents who don't let the kids out of the house because of course there's some psycho rapist behind every bush just waiting to snatch them away if they walk across the street.  This is about eating a fast food hamburger and ending up in the hospital.  It's about downer cows, crowded chickens who can't walk under their own weight, pigs whose feet are rotting from standing in their own feces, water supplies ruined from industrial farm runoff, Monsanto thugs putting family farms out of business, greenwashing, the obesity epidemic, the cancer epidemic, untested GMOs, and on and on.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Part 4, Lesson 2: Rounding It Out

Part 4: "I Can't Afford Fresh Food"
Lesson 2: Rounding It Out

Incorporating Exercise
Eating real, fresh food will give you more energy.  That's just how it is.  So as long as you're making major lifestyle changes you might as well get in some exercise to burn some energy off.  There are a million and one websites, articles, and magazines with ideas on how to incorporate exercise into your busy day.  Some of the ideas are impractical (join a gym!  Sure, I'll get right on that after I work my full time job, then pick up the kid and make dinner and clean the house and take the kid to soccer practice and put the kid to bed and maybe say a couple of words to my spouse before passing out and go back to work in the morning so I can continue to live paycheck-to-paycheck) or just plain stupid (jumping jacks in your cubicle!).  If we're being completely honest with ourselves here there are many good excuses not to exercise.  But here's the thing: most of your excuses are crap.  Take the stairs.  Park farther away.  Get up 20 minutes earlier.  Play with your kids.  Go for a walk.

Feeding the entire family
It's possible to feed your kids something other than french fries, Happy Meals, and frozen chicken nuggets.  If your kid has never tasted jicama or kohlrabi, why not?  If they've tried them once and decided they hated them, did you try to prepare them a different way?  Have a few years passed since you last tried?  Kids are pliable.  I encourage you to get kids excited about trying new things.  I know that some kids are steadfastly stubborn little bastards, but I don't think you should ever stop trying. 

Do you have a baby?  Have you ever considered making homemade baby food?  It's easier and faster than you think.

Do you have school-age kids?  Do they eat school lunch?  Do you know what they're eating?  Please find out and consider sending healthy, fresh food with them.  With a little pre-planning mixed with freezer and food storage skills it's easier and faster than you think.  Better yet, start a conversation with your child's school about the quality of the food they're serving.

The Big Box Of Crap
Remember that box of crap food you've been adding to this whole time?  It's time to go and look at it.  How have your feelings toward this stuff changed?

Your Homework:
Donate your box of crap to a food shelf.  I'm sure there's a box at your local supermarket.  There are a lot of hungry people out there and even if this food isn't the best, it's better than nothing.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Part 4, Lesson 1: Budget Foods

Part 4: "I Can't Afford Fresh Food"
Lesson 1: Budget Foods

Finally she's writing about money, right?

It is possible to eat real food on a budget.  I promise.  You may just need to adjust your shopping style.

Be A Coupon Ninja
This is the most time-consuming thing you can do, but the deals you can score are amazing.  The jist of super couponing is this: store has something on sale, say, 2 widgets for $1.  You have two coupons for $0.25 off 1 widget because you bought 2 Sunday papers or printed 2 off the Internet.  The store doubles coupons.  Thus you end up with 2 widgets for free.  I'll wait while you work out the math.

This is how you can get a lot of things for free or extremely cheap.  And you don't have to work out all the sales and coupons yourself.  Through the magic of the intarwebtubes people have done all the work for you: see A Full Cup, Pocket Your Dollars, and a number of other sites like these.  I've got a bunch in my RSS reader for ease of reading.

This all being said, don't be sucked into the trap of free or cheap convenience foods just for the sake of getting them free or cheap.  Bad free food is still bad food.  Get them and put them in a donation bin if you must.  Look for deals on produce (they exist!), pantry staples, and household goods.

Buy In Bulk
I'm sure you've heard this before, but have you ever actually taken a stroll through your store's bulk section?  Some stores are better than others and it can be worth it to drive a little farther to the store with the better selection.  If you're in Minneapolis, the Rainbow at Lake and Minnehaha has a stunning bulk area.

But the bulk section is scary!  There's all these bags and weighing and labels and scoops and oh god nobody is here to hold my hand fffuuuuuuu....

Get over it and stop being such a lazy asshole.  Grab a bag, a twist tie or label, and a golf pencil or one of the attached pens.  Scoop your stuff into the bag.  Write down the PLU, the number code on the bin of whatever you're buying, on the twist tie/label.  You don't even need to weigh it because the cashier will do that at checkout.

Better yet: bring your own container so you don't need plastic bags.  If you do this, weigh your container first and write the weight down on your label.  This is called the tare weight and you may need to remind your cashier about it.  Don't forget to write down the PLU too.  There's no need to make your cashier's life harder; they get enough shit from bad customers as it is.  Seriously, if you talk down to your cashier I will punch you in the face.

Another bulk tip: near the bulk bins you will usually find bulk or bagged spices.  Go ahead and compare the price of bagged peppercorns or cayenne with the jars in the spice section.  Mmm hmm.  Yup.

Farmer's Markets and Farmstands
If you have access to a farmer's market or a farmstand, GO.  The food is more often than not local, very often organic, as fresh as it gets, and cheap.  I mean, really, really, really cheap.  It's sickening to have to pay $1.49 or more for a single avocado at the supermarket when I know I can go to the farmer's market and get a bagful of 5-8 for $2 or less.

In addition to actually meeting and speaking to the actual farmers, you have the benefit of finding produce you never even knew existed.  When it's so cheap, why not try something new every week?

Ethnic Markets - Field Trip Time!
I went to United Noodles this weekend and picked up a pound of frozen shelled edamame for $1.49.  I usually get 12 oz for $2.59.  Lemons and limes can be had at Latino markets for a couple of bucks a bag, as opposed to $1 each at the supermarket.  Spices that run $8-10 for a few ounces can be found at Asian and Indian markets for pennies on the dollar.  I saw a huge bag of whole cardamom pods at United Noodles for less than $3.

So get on over that xenophobia and go.  You won't get any funny looks even if you're not brown or yellow.  The clerks are usually more than happy to answer questions and help you find stuff.

Don't pass by the ethnic aisles at the supermarket, either.  The Latino section, in particular, can score you cheap cinnamon, whole dried peppers, cayenne, beans, and rice.

Co-ops (really!)
Co-op and budget aren't usually two things that go together.  You picture co-ops as places where yuppies driving Priuses and Minis buy expensive organic soap and carrot juice.  While this is mostly true (Wedge, what up?), it is possible to find reasonable prices there too.  Membership truly has its advantages in the forms of coupons and member-only specials.  Co-ops usually have fabulous bulk sections too.

The only problem with CSAs is that you have to come up with the money up front.  It's a bit painful having to drop like $500 all at once, but if you think about it it actually works out.  You're getting local, organic (usually) produce, and a LOT of it.  If you freeze what you don't eat right away rather than giving it away or letting it go bad, you can stretch out your CSA goods well into the winter and maybe even beyond.

You can garden almost everywhere, even in an apartment.  If you get involved in seed swaps or seed giveaways, it's nearly free.  If you're in the "I hate tomatoes" crowd and have never eaten one straight off the vine, you may just change your mind.  Those mealy bastards at the supermarket have absolutely nothing on a homegrown heirloom tomato still warm from the sun.

Your Homework:
Find and visit an ethnic store or a farmer's market.  Buy at least one thing you've never heard of.  Research it online when you get home.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Part 3, Lesson 2: No Sweat Big Batch Cooking

Part 3: "I Don't Have Time To Cook"
Lesson 2: No Sweat Big Batch Cooking

Soup: cheap, filling, usually healthy, usually fast.  Soup can be made in large amounts to feed a lot of people or to be stretched out over time.

Canned soup: salty, mushy, tasteless.

Homemade soup can be seasoned just to your own taste.  It can be made with leftovers and the stuff in your fridge that's about to go bad.  It can be frozen.  You can add more stuff to it throughout the week so you're never eating the same soup twice from a big batch.

Soup is easy.  Saute some aromatics (the mirepoix or trinity in your freezer is perfect for this), add liquid, add your filler ingredients, and season.  Simmer for a few minutes.  Done.  See?  Easy.  Add a salad and some bread and you have a filling, nourishing meal.

This is by no means complete, but here's a simple place to start if you want to come up with your own quick soup.  Choose something from each column, heat, and serve.

Liquid Protein Carb Veggies
Chicken broth cooked chicken cooked rice frozen mixed vegetables
Turkey broth cooked turkey cooked pasta diced tomato
Beef broth cooked pork tortellini cubed potato
Fish stock cooked steak quinoa diced squash
Tomato juice/V8 fish barley green beans
Vegetable stock shrimp


cooked ground beef
shredded cabbage

diced onion


Your homework:
If you have a can of soup in your pantry, turn it around and read the ingredients list and nutrition facts.  Now put it in that bag of crap in your basement.  Plan one night this week where you will make soup.