What’s to Eat?
Cooking does not need to be difficult, expensive or overly time consuming.
Aside from making food more digestible (in many cases) there are many benefits to cooking your own food:
1) Preparing food can be a wonderful way to reconnect with the earth. Every bite you eat comes from the earth in one way or another. You simply could not survive without plants.
But it is more than survival.
2) Humans have developed millions of ways to adapt their foods to their needs and tastes. The best way to prepare food for flavor and nutrition is to start with fresh food and prepare it yourself with minimal processing and no preservatives or chemical additives..
3) We have created tremendous social and cultural meaning and history around food and its preparation. Dipping into tradition and history by continuing the craft is a wonderful way to connect to what it means to be human.
4) To experience involuntary attention where you are at ease, interested, enjoying yourself is very restorative.
Here are some tips for enjoying this ongoing adventure with food:
As you prepare your food, notice with your senses. The scent of the onion, the smoothness of a radish, the loveliness of a perfectly red tomato, the sound of chopping celery on the cutting board. Enjoy the wonder of the food you are preparing.
To experience involuntary attention where you are at ease, interested, enjoying yourself is very restorative.
When I learned to slow down and pay attention to my food at every stage, my relationship with food changed. I began to experience food preparation as very soothing and grounding as well as a great way toward a healthier and delicious diet.
You may be wondering how you could ever make this work in your busy life. Start right where you are, even if you are pulling a grocery store pizza out of the freezer, begin to notice the food, the preparation, the serving, the company if others are eating with you.
Come back often for more tips and ideas on what to make for supper (or lunch or breakfast).
which might be in abundance because of the season, your garden, a sale or a gift from a neighbor. For example,
Sometimes at my homestead, eggs are in abundance and I shift to using more of them in my meals..
There are so many delicious foods you can make from eggs. Per serving, they are an inexpensive way to get high quality protein. Here are a few specific ideas of what I do with this particular abundance.
Saute up some mushrooms, broccoli, diced onion, whatever veggie you have that are good cooked (leave out the lettuce). Set aside. Grate some cheese. Beat up a few eggs and add a splash of milk. Warm a clean skillet with butter until it begins to sizzle. Pour in the egg mixture and immediately turn the pan down to medium low. Cover the pan with a lid and let it cook until the eggs are set. Spread the sauteed veggies over one half and sprinkle the cheese on top. Flip one side over to achieve a half circle. Put the cover back on and let the cheese melt. Serve with toast if desired.
Note: If your omelet breaks when you flip it, don’t flip out. Serve it however it comes out and call it a scramble.
None of them take a lot of time, money or ingredients.
Check out that produce drawer again and see what you could toss on the grill beside the meat?
It can be helpful to have a heat safe rack or pan for cooking veggies on the grill.
Save money and energy and prep ahead
Roast two squashes at once and set the second aside for a dish later in the week or freeze it for next week.
If you are roasting a chicken, slide in a tray of veggies to roast.
If you are baking some bread, have the squash ready to roast when the bread comes out to prevent needing to heat up the oven twice.
Beans and rice are very inexpensive food as well as being fast and easy in a pressure or slow cooker. How else could you use the tools you have to make your cooking easier?
How could you use this time of food preparation with someone you love?
Making food together is bonding. And it is also a wonderful way to teach children where their food comes from and to give them tools for making delicious, high quality meals.
Or maybe you would like, sometimes, to cook all by yourself. The solitude can be quite refreshing.
Maybe those with you don’t want to be involved. Sit them down with a snack or beverage and chat about their day while you cook.
For your wallet and for the planet, stop wasting food.
Compost all food scraps, trimmings and food that goes bad in the fridge. Food that is put in the garbage takes a very long time to decompose inside of a garbage bag. It releases methane into the air all that time. Food in the trash is a major contributor to environmental damage. Composting is efficient and easy. Nature does all the work for you.
If you have chickens, they will love your vegetable trimmings. I often hear that avocado and solanaceous vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant) are not good for chickens.
Plan out your meals ahead of time so you don’t purchase too much food. Keep an eye on the contents of the refrigerator. Shift your plans when you see something that needs to be used while it is still fresh. If you see the mushrooms won’t last much longer, saute them up while you are cooking your meal and save them to toss into the gravy or pizza later in the week.
What’s in the produce drawer? Some things lend themselves to cooking. If they don’t, consider a salad.
If they do, how about fried rice or an omelet?
It takes only a few minutes to spread some pesto on a wrap, toss on some veggies, maybe some cheese, whatever you would put in a salad.
Making food can be a very pleasant part of any day. Slow down. Turn on some music. Chat with people near you. Pour a glass of wine or cup of tea. Notice the foods you are working with. Are they smooth? Hard? Soft? Notice your senses - sight, sound, scent, taste, sensations. Enjoy this very moment while you prepare for one of the most delightful parts of being human - eating delicious food. Enjoy your efforts. Enjoy the company, even if it is solely your own. Enjoy this relationship with the earth’s plants, for even if you are eating meat, the world’s plants are sustaining your life.
With attention, you will continue to grow more creative and more efficient in making your own food. Questions? Drop us a line.
What to do with all those canned tomatoes? WCAX visits my kitchen where we talk about making spaghetti sauce from those tomatoes you canned last summer.
Watch the WCAX segment on homemade spaghetti sauce
More detailed instructions here:
When I was a child, my mom discovered how to make spaghetti sauce and several dishes entered our family repertoire.
The instructions I offer here are more a call to experiment along with some tips and tricks I have learned rather than an actual recipe.
2 – 4 medium onions
2 – 4 cloves garlic
4 - 8 oz white mushrooms (optional)
In a 2 qt pot
Warm 3 or 4 tbsp olive oil in a skillet over medium to medium high heat,
until a piece of onion dropped in bubbles or sizzles a bit.
Add the onions and mushrooms and cook until transluscent. If the vegetables begin to turn dry and brown at the edges, turn the heat down and add a tablespoon or so of water.
Add the garlic and cook and stir for a few minutes.
Add 1 qt of your canned tomatoes (or a 28 oz can of purchased tomatoes)
1 tsp salt (if your tomatoes were salted when you canned them, you may want to omit the salt here and add to taste later)
1 tsp oregano
½ tsp Italian seasoning
1 or 2 bay leaves (optional)
Cook over medium heat for 15 – 20 minutes and taste. It may take your sauce 60 – 90 minutes to reduce to the thickness you want. It is better to wait until your sauce has reduced, nearing the thickness you want, because the flavors will concentrate as the water evaporates.
Here is where the artistry and your personal preferences begin. I suggest you make changes slowly and allow at least 5 – 10 minutes of cooking time between tastings/ additions. The goal is to balance the acidity-flavor-sweetness-spicing.
Metallic, bitter, acidic flavor: You can add a teaspoon of sugar, maple syrup, honey, brown sugar to reduce the acidity. Another option is a pinch of baking soda.
Increasing the amount of onions and mushrooms cooked in oil and butter are a great way to avoid this problem. I cannot recall a time when I felt I used too much of them.
Add a tbsp of butter or olive oil.
Bland flavor: add a tablespoon or two of tomato paste.
Cure all: A splash of vinegar (about 1 TBSP) is a great way to balance out the flavors in your sauce.
Add a little fire with a ¼ tsp (or more depending on your preference) crushed red pepper or hot sauce. I usually add a little diced dehydrated or pickled hot pepper from my garden stash – poblano, jalapeno, etc.
Fresh herbs: Basil is a favorite of mine. I preserve fresh basil by pureeing in the blender with a little olive oil and freezing it in ice cube trays. I have noticed that adding a lot of basil to a sauce can require balancing with a little sugar or vinegar.
More oregano (especially for pizza sauce), Italian seasoning or any others you wish to try or increase.
TIP: Proceed with caution to reduce the risk of spoiling your whole sauce. Add a very small amount of your experimental ingredient and proceed with small amounts. Or be even more cautious by ladling out a small amount of your sauce into small sauce pan and try your idea there.
I like to test my sauce with a hunk of bread on a fork to give me an idea of what it will taste like with the mellowing influence of bread, pasta, crust, etc.
I hope you have a great time practicing your sauce making! Drop me a line with what you discover! Or ask a question.
Here is the recipe that I prepared as a gift idea on WCAX 4 o'clock News:
My daughter and son-in-law gave me a jar of this mix last year and it was so good, I asked them for the recipe. It makes a great vegetarian meal and is also wonderful with some cooked hot or sweet sausage or meatballs added in the last hour or so of cooking time.
Eventually I'll invent my own soup mix recipe, but for now, enjoy this one my kids got from Cassie Johnston at Whollefully.com.
Vegetarian Five Bean Soup Recipe
To make this soup mix into an attractive gift, assemble it in a quart canning jar. Although the recipe suggests wrapping the spices in parchment and sealing with tape or stickers, they are not likely to hold it in place. Parchment, after all, is intended to prevent sticking! I used staples. For a simple alternative, you could put the spices in a small plastic bag.
You will want to stuff some parchment or other food safe paper into the jar to take up any extra space if you don't want the beans to get all mixed up should the jar get tipped.
For a festive touch, I have added a label with instructions for making the soup, a 6" circle of fabric, and a ribbon. Use a larger circle of fabric (7 - 8") if you want to hide the spice packet from view.
Tip: If you don't have a helper, you can use a rubber band to hold the fabric circle in place while you tie the ribbon.
Here's a link to the instructions on a neat downloadable label
Here's the label I made - right click to download, print front and back and glue them together.
WCAX News at 4 interviewed me about some gifts you can make at home. Here's a tasty one to try!
Chocolate bark is tasty gift that is fun to make, package, and give! Wrapping it is as simple as a plastic bag, or reusable container with a ribbon and a tag.
I tend to vary the amounts and types of chocolate that I use, but I like to start with about
You can almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, coarsely shredded coconut, chopped peppermints or candy canes. Get creative!!
NOTE: Do not use anything with water, such as fresh fruit - it will seize the chocolate (see below)!
Do not overheat and keep stirring to keep the chocolate continually moving away from the heat.
IMPORTANT: Remove the pan of chocolate from the water and set on a folded towel or hot pad to prevent getting water in your chocolate (see below).
Mix in reserved chocolate and stir until all the chocolate is melted. This step tempers the chocolate so that it will be firmer and less likely to soften and be messy to eat.
Mix in fruit and nuts.
Spread on prepared baking sheet.
Set in a cool place to harden up. You can place in refrigerator for a short time to hasten cooling, but cold chocolate can create condensation when brought to room temperature, causing a white film to form. This "sugar bloom" is harmless but a bit unsightly.
When cool, chocolate is ready to cut or break and package as gifts.
For a fun variation, try dipping whole dried apricots or dried apples halfway into the melted chocolate then place side by side on parchment. Other great dippers are whole almonds, pretzels, homemade marshmallows, graham crackers, strawberries (make sure they are completely dry if you've washed them). Let your creativity guide you.
Tempering the chocolate
Mixing the chopped, unmelted chocolate or chocolate chips you set aside into the melted chocolate is a simple way of "tempering" the chocolate, creating a more firm, stable. glossy finished product that is less likely to melt on your fingers or soften in storage.
Prevent Chocolate Seize!
Keep out the water! Even a drop of water can turn your chocolate into to a grainy brick.
Over heating your chocolate can do the same.
When bad things happen to good chocolate:
Despite your best care, you can end up with a chocolate blob. Let it cool and chop it for cookies. Taste it to make sure it doesn't taste burned. If it is burned, just throw it away and start over.)
©Joyce Amsden 2021 Amsden Family Homestead Recipe Collection
Growing up on the homestead, we always had at least one Jersey cow and plenty of milk. Imagine a cold winter night, a crackling fire in the stove, hot chocolate made with fresh milk with a big fluffy homemade marshmallow floating on top.
This syrup is a great topping for ice cream or for making hot cocoa or chocolate milk. Four simple ingredients.
Whisk gently together to prevent clumping of the cocoa:
1 ½ c sugar
1 c baking cocoa
Whisk in gently until well mixed:
1 c hot water
Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring continually to prevent scorching on the bottom or boiling over.
Reduce heat to maintain a gentle boil for about 5 minutes. It will thicken a bit but remain a pourable syrup.
Add 2 tsp vanilla
Place in a pint jar leaving about ½" headspace. Refrigerate or freeze for longer storage.
NOTE: Chocolate syrup is a low acid food and not considered safe for canning by the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Freezing is recommended for long term storage.
If using this syrup as a gift, decorate the jar with a ribbon and make sure to label your jar with instructions to refrigerate or freeze.
Here's a Chocolate Syrup label you can download, resize and print!