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Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

Hopefully, the advantages of roasting a turkey every once and again, even if it’s not a holiday, are obvious.  Depending on how many people you’ve got around raiding the fridge, you could be picking meat off of that sucker for weeks.  Possibilities for leftovers are endless: cold sliced turkey breast sandwiches (with swiss cheese and the bread spread with leftover cranberry sauce), hot turkey sandwiches smothered in gravy, turkey pot pie… etc.

I recently picked up a “post-holiday sale” turkey from the freezer bin at the grocery store, and my husband said, “How big of one are we getting?”  I responded, “The biggest one they’ve got, of course!”  Seriously, your level of effort is the same for a 22-pounder as a 10-pounder, and the leftovers will freeze well.  So if you’re going to go for it, you may as well go all the way.

Now, this is not a post on the best way to roast your turkey.  That is a holy war I’m not about to jump into right now.  (I’m stilled nursing my wounds from suggesting to my mother that she shouldn’t stuff her turkey to prevent overcooking and dryness of the meat.)  Rather, this is a post with a “recipe” for possibly the best leftover result of putting in that roasting effort – turkey carcass soup.

That’s right – when you’ve picked all the meat you could possibly want to pick off of that bird, there is still an odd collection of meat scraps, fat scraps, cartilage and bones that, when slowly simmered, makes a delicious stock.  Don’t even think of tossing it in the trash!  Here at Home Cooking Well, we’re dedicated to the food bang for your buck, and what better way to derive value than to use every last bit of your $0.69/lb masterpiece in the pursuit of deliciousness?

Admittedly, this is not so much of a recipe as a “throw whatever you like and have on hand in there,” but this is what worked for me tonight.  Be liberal with your variations.

1 turkey carcass, as stripped of meat as you want
1 cube chicken boullion (or 1 tsp “Better than Boullion”)
3 carrots, halved lengthwise, then thickly sliced
4 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
8 oz mushrooms, halved then sliced
1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise then sliced
1 sweet onion, finely chopped
1 c. brown rice
1 bouquet garni
1 bay leaf
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp sage
1/2 tsp thyme
2 tsp salt
generous grinding of black pepper
1/2 c. dry white wine

Put all ingredients in large crock pot. Fill with water to cover ingredients, or to 1-inch below the top of the crock. Simmer on low all day long.  This can also, of course, be done on the stove top, though it’s not quite as busy-lifestyle friendly — just use a large stock pot, bring to the boil, and then simmer gently at least until rice is cooked (about 1 hour), but ideally 2 hours or more to properly infuse flavor.

The results of my 10 minutes of slaving this morning before work. Not a bad meal, with a few good lunches to take to work, besides.

Serve with store bought or homemade rolls – the big yeasty kind, for sopping up the soup.

Remember to avoid eating the bouquet garni or bay leaf (though neither will really hurt you) or the turkey bones (could hurt), or fish these things out before serving.  If you have any suggestions about how to strain the bones out while still letting those delicious meat fragments cook off into the soup, I’m all ears.

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Julia Child’s kitchen, now enshrined in the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC http://www.flickr.com/photos/krossbow/ / CC BY 2.0

The man who brought us The Botany of Desire, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and In Defense of Food has tackled the next logical step in the chain:  the loss of home cooking among Americans, and its effect on us. This article in the New York Times Magazine is long, but well worth your time. For those of you without time or who would like a preview, I sum up:

Nowadays, Pollan says, Americans would rather watch people cook on television than cook for themselves. It wasn’t always this way. Pollan begins with his memories of Julia Child, a woman who specialized in making cooking fun, tactile, and accessible:

“When you flip anything, you just have to have the courage of your convictions,” she declares, clearly a tad nervous at the prospect, and then gives the big pancake a flip. On the way down, half of it catches the lip of the pan and splats onto the stovetop. Undaunted, Julia scoops the thing up and roughly patches the pancake back together, explaining: “When I flipped it, I didn’t have the courage to do it the way I should have. You can always pick it up.” And then, looking right through the camera as if taking us into her confidence, she utters the line that did so much to lift the fear of failure from my mother and her contemporaries: “If you’re alone in the kitchen, WHOOOO” — the pronoun is sung — “is going to see?” For a generation of women eager to transcend their mothers’ recipe box (and perhaps, too, their mothers’ social standing), Julia’s little kitchen catastrophe was a liberation and a lesson: “The only way you learn to flip things is just to flip them!”

He goes on to chronicle the loss of home cooking through the marketing efforts of Big Food and the loss of time at home brought on by Americans working ever more hours. At the same time, the roster of celebrity chefs on Food Network has exploded. Would we really rather sit in front of the TV for 30 minutes or an hour watching someone cook while eating processed food than actually stand in a kitchen for the exact same time actually cooking a delicious, fresh meal?

Now, he says, we’ve been so trained on boxed cake mixes and instant rice packets that we’ve all but forgotten how to cook from scratch. And our health has thereby suffered, he says. When we don’t have to bake chips, cakes, cookies, and fried foods from scratch, foods that were formerly for special occasions, we eat more of them. LOTS more of them.

If you believe in the principles of community supported agriculture, gardening, organic food, and reforming the industrial agricultural system that is sickening both our planet and us, then cooking at home is an essential part of the game plan, he says.

The question is, Can we ever put the genie back into the bottle? Once it has been destroyed, can a culture of everyday cooking be rebuilt? One in which men share equally in the work? One in which the cooking shows on television once again teach people how to cook from scratch and, as Julia Child once did, actually empower them to do it?

Let us hope so. Because it’s hard to imagine ever reforming the American way of eating or, for that matter, the American food system unless millions of Americans — women and men — are willing to make cooking a part of daily life. The path to a diet of fresher, unprocessed food, not to mention to a revitalized local-food economy, passes straight through the home kitchen.

But if this is a dream you find appealing, you might not want to call Harry Balzer right away to discuss it.

“Not going to happen,” he told me. “Why? Because we’re basically cheap and lazy. And besides, the skills are already lost. Who is going to teach the next generation to cook? I don’t see it.

Well, me, for one. I’m not going to take this sitting down. I’m only a tiny part of the solution, though. If you are a cook, keep your eyes open for people you know who might be interested in learning to cook. Invite them over for dinner one night, and offer to let them help you (and let you teach them) in return for the meal. Help rebuild the culture of cooking and the community of shared meals around you.

Once people taste the products of home cooking — freshly baked biscuits, homemade cake, simply but deliciously seasoned vegetables (you’d be amazed what a dash of soy sauce and sesame oil can do for steamed veggies) — they may finally realize what they’ve been missing in flavor and taste. People who grew up in homes without cooking may have no idea that a homemade cookie  or loaf of bread tastes radically better than one from a box or a bag. I even have a friend who had no idea that bread could be made at home, at was utterly amazed to see me doing it! And once they see that you can do it and they can do it, they may gain both the desire and motivation to enter the brave new world at home.

America is a can-do nation. That shouldn’t stop at the kitchen door. So get out there, team, and cook!

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Now I’m not big into bringing politics into my cooking, but I cannot help it when I read something like this: our nation’s mom-in-chief says she doesn’t miss cooking and is happy for other people to do it for her. Sacre bleu!

The New York Times put out a worthy op-ed on the subject a few weeks ago, a bit of which I share below:

However, when The Washington Post asked Mrs. Obama for her favorite recipe, she replied, “You know, cooking isn’t one of my huge things.” And last month, when a boy who was visiting the White House asked her if she liked to cook, she replied: “I don’t miss cooking. I’m just fine with other people cooking.” Though delivered lightheartedly, and by someone with a very busy schedule, the message was unmistakable: everyday cooking is a chore.

Both times Mrs. Obama missed a great opportunity to get people talking about a crucial yet neglected aspect of the food discussion: cooking. Because terrific local ingredients aren’t much use if people are cooking less and less; cooking is to gardening what parenting is to childbirth. Research by the NPD Group showed that Americans ate takeout meals an average of 125 times a year in 2008, up from 72 a year in 1983. And a recent U.C.L.A. study of 32 working families found that the subjects viewed cooking from scratch as a kind of rarefied hobby.

Oh, no, no, no. Cooking as a rarefied hobby? And yet I find that view is indeed prevalent. Whenever I bring a home-baked entree or dessert to a potluck or a person’s home, they almost consistently express surprise. At a recent potluck I attended, I’d estimate only 4 or 5 out of the 20-30 dishes were homemade. It doesn’t need to be that way! Stay tuned to Home Cooking Well and I’ll keep explaining how.

In the meantime, read the rest of the NYT op-ed here — with plenty more interesting details about the decline and possible renaissance of home cooking.

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Ashley with some wild watercress picked fresh on our family farm in Kentucky

Ashley with some wild watercress picked fresh on our family farm in Kentucky

My sister Ashley runs a cooperative weekly rotating dinner party called a “Supper Club”. I’ve often thought of doing something similar but have had difficulty finding people who will commit to hosting one meal weekly. I’ve invited her to guest blog about her experiences doing this, and today will be the first of four non-consecutive posts on the topic. Hope you are inspired, and enjoy! j.f.

On occasion, I like to write. Especially when doing so of my own volition on topics of interest. My sister offered to let me crash her blog with my adventures Supper Clubbing and I agreed, hopefully not to her later disappointment. (of course not! jf)

First, since this seems to be a foreign concept to a lot of people, let me elaborate on the concept of a “supper club”, or at least what it means to me. I’m sure there are other names for it, but at its most basic, a supper club is a group of people who take turns cooking for each other. At the moment, my Supper Club only has three members (down from a high of six), so we field trip to restaurants on weeks when the stars don’t align for one of us to cook.

Many people are so scared to cook for themselves that I’m sure the concept of cooking for other people seems absolutely daunting, if not downright impossible (right up there with trying to refuse a second helping of desert at Thanksgiving!).

Let me allay your fears by passing along my own personal mantra as said by Catherine Aird, “If you can’t be a good example, you’ll just have to serve as a horrible warning.” : ) There are definitely times when I feel I’m the latter much more than the former, but I persist nonetheless because doing is really the only way to get better. Failure is often the best way to learn (and incidentally, makes for much better stories)!

If you’re skeptical still, let me assure you that in the course of my supper club I’ve had meals which were undercooked, overcooked (and even set on fire), several hours late and bestly (yes, I said bestly) perfectly done.

In the end, we’re not looking to be a top chef. Supper Club is not simply about becoming a better cook, though that’s nice. It’s about connecting with other people. When we pop open a bottle of booze and talk the week out over a home cooked meal, I don’t think things get much better. It’s possibly the best thing about my week. Anyway, I think I’ve rambled enough for now. Stay tuned for my first post on the last Supper Club I hosted.

Ashley

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In the New York Times this week was some sobering news about the safety of proccessed foods. The frozen-pot-pied-induced sickening of 15,000 people shows it’s not just undercooked hamburgers and poultry-juice contaminated cutting boards that are sickening people anymore.

[T]he supply chain for ingredients in processed foods — from flavorings to flour to fruits and vegetables — is becoming more complex and global as the drive to keep food costs down intensifies. As a result, almost every element, not just red meat and poultry, is now a potential carrier of pathogens, government and industry officials concede.

… The problem is particularly acute with frozen foods, in which unwitting consumers who buy these products for their convenience mistakenly think that their cooking is a matter of taste and not safety.

Because food processors can no longer guarantee the safety of their ingredients, they’re putting the burden on consumers to ensure the safety of their products by asking you (in confusing language) to use a kitchen thermometer — and object which even I do not own (but wish to purchase, and which one commentator noted may not even give accurate readings unless it is digital). But doesn’t that defeat the whole point of “convenience” foods?

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Over time, I have discovered there is a small thing I can do that will greatly increase the chances I feel motivated enough to cook the meal I have in mind for the next day. It isn’t hard. It doesn’t even involve will power. All I have to do is set out the ingredients I will need for the next night the night or morning before. For example, two nights ago I made sweet potato risotto. Here’s what my setup looked like:

Prep for sweet potato risotto

So in the picture, you see bulk arborio rice (never goes bad – saves money!), the dregs of a week-old bottle of white wine I saved for this purpose (but carefully stored in the fridge), some rosemary I dried, sweet potatoes (were on sale at King Soopers for 79 cents a pound!), bulk vegetarian chicken broth powder (more on this in another post), parmesan cheese, garlic, nutmeg, onion, etc. Note I’ve also carefully placed the cookbook open to the appropriate page with a nice friendly picture of the finished product gently, yet firmly, urging me to cook my own d*** dinner rather than another box of mac and cheese.

Somehow the sight of this when I get home is very motivating. I don’t know why this is, I’ve just noticed it is. It doesn’t guarantee I’ll actually cook it (let’s face it — we all come home exhausted most nights), but I’ve noticed it helps a lot, and it definitely helps me get ahead of the game when I get home from work. Sometimes I even pre-measure the spices into little bowls.

And while I’m at it, I’ll mention a quick thing about cooking recipes that you learned in home ec but probably forgot: Prep, chop, measure, and cut all your ingredients before you start cooking. This will save you much grief and help ensure your recipe comes out as it should. Here’s what my stove looks like just before I started cooking (and yes, I microwaved my sweet potatoes before mashing — the book with the microwave cooking table is open in the back of this photo).

Sweet potato risotto: Ready to rock and roll

Sweet potato risotto: Ready to rock and roll

Total time from start to finish: about 1:30. I know that’s  a lot for most people, but if I’d cooked and mashed my sweet potatoes ahead of time, it would have been a lot less. And I had my lunch all ready to go for today, and didn’t have to cook tonight — in fact, I had so much left over, I had my friend Dave Peascoe over to share a meal of the leftovers. And If I was tired of risotto, I could just freeze it for later. Here’s the finished product:

Finished sweet potato risotto

And here’s a simple, home-cooked meal all put together: sweet potato risotto garnished with rosemary and parmesan cheese, spinach with craisins (the house salad), and a cup of homemade (not from the box endorsed by Bill Cosby) vanilla pudding I made the night before. Bellisimo! The rosemary and nutmeg really make this risotto quite delightful. And no, in spite of the color, it doesn’t have saffron. This is a sweet-potatoes-only party.

A home meal cooked well

If you’d like to make this risotto yourself, it is from the Betty Crocker’s Vegetarian Cooking (1st ed.), but you can find the recipe here.

Happy home cooking!

Jen

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The First Bite

Hi everyone. This is a blog about home cooking — how to do it easily, cheaply, relatively quickly, and well. That means food that tastes good and is also good for you. It means you’ll discover a whole new social world in the lost art of the dinner party and the meal shared with friends — one of life’s great under-appreciated pleasures. It means gourmet-quality meals can be prepared for under $10 in under 30 minutes. It’s possible — I’ve done it.

And there’s no big secret how. I’m not a genius cook — I cook almost entirely from recipes in cookbooks. It’s just a matter of a little planning and a little technique. And I want to help you do it too because it will save you money, improve your health, improve your self-confidence, and believe it or not, help the planet. I’ll post much more about my philosophy on the About me page, but in the mean time, welcome. You can do it, I promise. Cooking is for everyone! : )

Jennifer Frazer

Fearless Home Cook

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