Category Archives: Kitchen Stuff

Cooking techniques, equipment, tips, tricks, and toys

Time Efficient Cooking

Now that Nanowrimo is here, kitchen time needs to be replaced by writing time. Blogging time needs to be replaced by fiction time. Researching new recipes from the world’s greatest runners was great fun, but now I need to be much more efficient. I need to restock my freezer with made ahead meals. So this month, I will primarily cook meals from Mary McDougall’s excellent book, The Quick and Easy Cookbook. While I love playing in the kitchen and eating the results, two months of experimenting and trying to keep up with others has me wanting to take a break and work on some fiction. First was PCRM’s fun Vegan Kickstart, then Vegan Mofo. So while The Further Adventures of Motoman slowly takes shape over November, I’m looking for easy recipes that I don’t have to think about.

How to Maximize Writing Time by Minimizing Kitchen Time

  • The crockpot or slow cooker
  • Volume cooking
  • Freezing
  • Simple ingredients
  • Repetition (monotony)
  • Lower expectations

Crockpot:

This is the most amazing invention for the kitchen since the invention of fire. Ten minutes or so of prep time, then it does all the work over several hours, while you write the Great American Novel, or whatever it is you do. Makes absolutely brilliant soups, stews and chilis. Plus, you can cook up batches of Basic Beans to use for other dishes with almost no effort.

Volume Cooking:

Depending on how many you are cooking for, it’s usually about the same amount of prep time to double a dish. Just a little planning turns these leftovers into another meal or two. Crockpots excel at this.

Freezing:

Along with making extra, put some in the freezer for times when everything goes sideways to avoid going out or eating unhealthy food. Also keep on hand bags of frozen vegetables and previously slow cooked beans. Combined with some canned tomatoes and seasonings, and served over rice or a baked potato, you’ve got a meal.

Simple Ingredients:

Quit looking for heirloom parsley or whatever. Go back to basics: carrots, onions, celery, peppers, greens, broccoli etc. Stuff any grocery store has. Keep some frozen bags ready. Basic dried herbs and spices. Bean, potatoes, rice.

Repetition:

Along with simple ingredients and volume cooking comes eating the same thing over and over. As long as you have good veggies and starches you have all the nutrition you need, so quit worrying about the micronutrient du jour. And a little boredom will ensure you eat only when hungry, and eat only what you need. This will save unneeded calories and some time. Think about your pets, they’re pretty happy eating the same thing every day. You’ll survive.

Lower Expectations:

Recovering foodies, I feel your pain. Cooking can be entertainment, and eating definitely is. To save time and enjoy simpler eating, lower expectations, it won’t be gourmet. But with a little attention to seasoning it’ll be just fine. Sometimes it is good to just eat for the necessity of it, freeing up some energy to do other things. But if it’s not working, just add salsa. Salsa fixes everything.

What do you do when you don’t want to spend any more time cooking than you have to?

Next time:

How to stock a kitchen to minimize active cooking time.

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Guest Post: How to Survive a Potluck and Stay Plant Strong

So how do you stick with the Kickstart when dealing with a crowd? Here is how my sister handled the problem. Make a large amount of something fresh, seasonal, flavorful, and fun, and don’t tell anyone! Here my sister used great summer produce, good but not overpowering seasonings, and grilling to bring out flavor. Brilliant! I’ve had her grilled sugar snaps and they are a revelation. With something this good, make sure you do as she did it ensure success: keep your stash separate!

Hi Bro- It’s veggie sis here. So week one of kick start is done and I had a slip too – it was pizza with the parents. Oh well, at least I have this week – which has started off awesome! For a church potluck yesterday I made our new favorite summer pasta with every fresh summer veggies we can think of mixed with squiggle noodles, balsamic vinegar, capers, and roasted red bell pepper. The veggies included grilled yellow squash in bite sized pieces, grilled green zukes in bite sized pieces, grilled red onion, and mixed these with fresh sweet corn cut from the cob and steamed green beans, A little cracked pepper, a little garlic power, roasted red pepper and fresh basil torn into small pieces and mixed in. ALL FLAVOR – even the people who didn’t know they were eating vegan enjoyed the fresh natural flavors.

Recipe for a potluck to scale back for your own use:

(makes about six servings) (yeah right! for vegpedlr, that’s 2-3!)

Ingredients:
Pasta boiled and cooled (squiggles or bow ties)
Two crook neck yellow squash cut into bite sized pieces
Two Green Zukes cut into bite sized pieces
1/2 pound of green beans

Or: sugar snap peas

Two red onions in 1/8’s wedges

Directions:

If using green beans, steam until tender and bathe in ice water to stop cooking and set color.

I put one teaspoon of olive oil on the whole gaggle of veggies and hand toss to coat them

Heat the grill and put down release foil so they won’t stick and when its preheated dump the veggies on. Grill until there is a char on everything. Remove from the grill and mix with the cooked pasta- green beans – allow to cool

When cooled, add two tablespoons of capers (or less to taste)
Dice one jar of roasted red bell peppers and mix in
Kernels cut from two ears of fresh white corn
Diced baby heirloom cherry tomatoes
Drench it all in 20 year balsamic vinegar for a wonderful rich sweet flavor
Zest a lemon and mix the zest in, then squeeze the juice on it
Tear up 1/2 cup of basil and sprinkle all over then mix in.

This dish can be served hot or cold as a main course or a side and NO ONE WILL EVER GUESS ITS VEGAN, LOW FAT, AND VIRTUALLY OIL FREE.

The pot luck crowd devoured it like animals so luckily I kept a dish at home for me!

Where do you put the leafy greens?

Everybody knows they’re supposed to Eat More Kale, but once you get that bunch of uber healthy dark green leafy vegtables home and the smugness wears off, what do you do? You’ve got this giant pile of something that smells vaguely like lawn clippings. For a long time my preffered preparation was to leave them inthe fridge while I thought about what to do with them. A week later they would be yellow, I’d throw them out and buy a new bunch. Sound familiar?

I’m a late convert to leafy greens other than spinach. I just kept trying them over and over until finally I kinda liked them. They’re not my favorite thing to eat, so I’m always on the lookout for recipes that use them. But practice makes perfect, and I finally figured out to prepare them easily, and how to eat more of them.

Simple Preparations:

Wash, chop, and saute in a little water covered for about five minutes.

Add chopped garlic and a splash of soy sauce and balsamic vinegar.

That’s it!

Those are the secrets. The soy sauce and vinegar cut all the bitterness and they taste great.

For a spicy southern version use Tabasco instead. The concentrated vinegar will have a similar effect.

How to use them:

I learned this from a cooking demo I watched while sick, unfortunately I don’t remember what it was. Cook greens as above, and put a handful in the bottom of your bowl or plate, and pile the rest of your meal on top. You don’t really notice the greens are there, they don’t get in the way, and you get a great dose of green leafy goodness. I did this while sick with kale and collards under my brown rice, which was then topped with a soup. I increased my nutrient density while not offending my limited appetite.

Bonus:

For a different flavor, try using your favorite mustard for the seasoning. Mustard also has a lot of vinegar, and it gives a nice flavor.

 

Weekly Plan: 10/24

Mon.

Run 30 min.

Dinner: Chili with Baked Potato

Tues.

1 hr. Bike commute

Dinner: Pizza with Farmer’s Mkt. veggies

Wed.

Run 60 min.

Dinner: Leftovers TBD

Thurs.

1 hr. bike commute

Dinner: ? Leftovers? Maybe time to clean out the freezer a little…

Fri.

Rest day

Dinner: Stir fry

Waste Not, Want Not Part 2: The Freezer

It’s not just the bulk goods in the pantry that needed inspection and rotation, but my freezer as well. How long will a package of tempeh keep frozen? My guess is not as long as I’ve kept mine. No, I won’t share the date. The freezer is an awesome thing, which I learned from my grandmother. My grandma grew up on a farm in the days before refrigeration, so knew all about “putting food by” to last the winter. When refrigerators and freezers appeared she kept the tradition of storing food, but now she could store more variety with more freshness. I remember she had a huge chest freezer that kept all kinds of food well preserved, all labelled and dated.

I’m not as good with my freezer, it’s small and I don’t label. But I have learned a few things that make the freezer an awesome tool for healthy eating.

Freeze Leftovers

Make a big batch of something and freeze individual portions. This makes a quick lunch or dinner if plans go awry, and prevents eating out.

Freezer Basics

Make a big batch of beans in the slow cooker, drain and cool thoroughly. Freeze in one cup amounts in plastic bags. Cheaper and tastier than canned.

Frozen Veggies

Keep several bags of mixed veggies on hand. These can be used for quick meals cooking and adding some sauce and seasonings. My favorites: California Blend, Mediterranean Blend, Southwest Blend.

This Week’s Freezer Clean Meal:

Indian Dal with Veggies

2 cups yellow split peas

8 cups water

1 onion, chopped

2 potatoes chopped (I used one russet and one sweet)

1 16 oz. bag frozen veggies, thawed (I used carrot, cauliflower, broccoli)

2 T curry powder

1/4 cup nutritional yeast

 

Bring split peas to a boil, lower heat and simmer about 30 min. uncovered.

While split peas simmer, thaw frozen veggies and prep the raw veggies.

Add remaining ingredients to pot and cook and continue to simmer until everything is cooked to your liking. I mistimed the veggies, and ended up overcooking the frozen veggies until they broke apart. It turned out just fine. Adjust the seasoning. I like to add hot sauce.

To serve:

I put cooked rice in a bowl, a handful of baby spinach and ladled the dal over the top. It would also be good on its own.

 

Waste Not, Want Not: Confessions of a Recovering Foodie Pt. 1

So I missed spring cleaning in my pantry. Then I ran around in the mountains racing all summer. I looked at my well stocked pantry full of various whole grains and legumes, spices, seasonings and other random ingredients, and wondered, how long have they been in there? Like those French green lentils du puy? When was the last time I used those? These dry goods don’t last forever, even if they do store well. And then there was the refrigerator. Untold numbers of little jars and bottles of strange sauces and condiments required for some random dish I cooked maybe once. Time for a bit of cleaning. My sister does this at our parents’ house, and it’s pretty funny to watch as she tears around checking expiration dates.

Well the refrigerator is easy because those little jars and bottles actually have dates. But what about my dry goods that I buy in bulk? Well, I use so much rice that I know that is turned over regularly but what about the mung beans, adzuki beans, yellow split peas, and French lentils? SO I have begun an autumn quest to rotate through my dry goods and use up the odds and ends. I am aiming to use this as an opportnity to make cheap dishes and save a little on groceries as prompted by a few recent articles and bloggers, like the Slow Food Movement’s $5 challenge. How much can I make this pantry bounty produce? A lot, I think. Of course with Murphy’s law lurking in the background, I suppose a natural disaster is around the corner, just as I use up my stock!  I also hope that this will lead me to rediscover some dishes I haven’t made in a while, and clear out old stuff. Like those black-eyed peas. Man, I haven’t made Hoppin’ John with collard greens in a long time. Maybe it’s time . . .

Weekly Plan: 10/10

Mon.

45 min. run

Dinner: Chickpea Green bean curry

Tues.

Bike commute

Strength train @gym

Dinner: Calabacitos burritos and black bean soup

Wed.

Run 60 min.

Dinner: Soup and salad

Thurs.

Bike one hour

Dinner: ? Leftovers?

Fri.

Rest day, drive to Tahoe

Dinner: Possibly vegan gumbo?

Weeknight Success Starts with Weekend Planning

TIME
MONEY
HEALTH

They always get our attention don’t they? And for good reason, they are powerful forces in our life. But we can control them to a much greater degree than many of us actually do. Many people, myself included, have said that we wanted to eat better and healthier, but when the day’s end arrives, the fatigue sets in and myriad versions of convenience food beckon us far more strongly. Only the well prepared can resist such a siren song.
The Bad News: it takes thinking ahead.
The Good News: it really doesn’t take that long.
The Best News: it’s actually fun! Here’s how I do it.

  • Figure out what is season at your local farmer’s market (you do shop at a farmer’s market on the weekends, don’t you?)
  • Brainstorm dishes around those ingredients,and write out a workweek plan.
  • Cook bulk foods over the weekend to be used later in the week.

Et voila! A plethora of things you don’t have to think about! Even if you forgo the farmer’s market, at the market those ingredients will be fresher and cheaper. These are all tricks I learned from my mother and I suspect that they were tricks she learned from her mother. The crux is the planning. It doesn’t take long at all, but with just a little foresight, you can make meals much faster and more economical. If you’re like me , then you already have a list of meals you want to prepare, either old favorites that you’re hungry for, or new ones that beg to be tried. So, combine your recipe list with what’s in season and simplify your planning.

  • Post the recipe list on the fridge, or in electronic format somewhere you can check easily. As recipes get used, or no longer seem appealing, cross them off or delete them.
  • Create an actual written plan from your recipe list. It can always be changed, but if you already have a plan you avoid temptation.
  • Try to combine ingredients, so you can use the same effort for multiple meals. Cook up a big batch of beans for multiple uses.
  • Learn to enjoy leftovers for lunch. That alone is the best thing you can do for eating healthy in my opinion. It’s much easier to scale UP a recipe and use the leftovers than it is to cook constantly.
  • Recognize the rhythm of your weekly schedule. Where do you have time? Where are you crunched? Where do you have the least energy? Where are you most likely to succumb to temptation? Find those moments and plan accordingly.
  • Use your freezer for more than ice cream and ice cubes. Freezing dishes in small containers makes healthy eating much more convenient.
  • Crockpot, CROCKPOT, CROCKPOT! The slow cooker is your friend. It can cook big meals with very little effort on your part.

I like to front load my cooking for the week, doing most of it Sunday and Monday. As the week progresses, my motivation for cooking and healthy eating wanes. Here are a couple of things that I like to use my weekends for besides long rides, runs, and reading Analog and Ellery Queen magazines.

  • I use the crockpot to either cook a big batch of beans for other dishes, or a stew for dinner that can easily be frozen for later.
  • I also bake a batch of potatoes for later meals or snacks. Baked potatoes can be topped with all manner of soups, stews or other side dishes to make a great meal. From chili to a green salad, I’ve done it all.
  • I try to cook different dishes Saturday night, Sunday lunch, Sunday dinner, and Monday dinner that will leave leftovers for weekday lunches.

For instance, this weekend I’m cooking batches of black beans and garbanzo beans for dishes later this week. Maybe I’ll make some hummus too. I’ll also bake some potatoes, and make a stew. This bounty will last me the week and keep me from coming in after a workout at dinner time, starved and fiending for some unhealthy food. After all, what’s more convenient than what is already in the fridge?