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Cooking with Simplicity: for your budget, your sanity and the world!

April 12, 2011

Gardens can be creative.

Food can be creative.

I am a big proponent of letting those creative juices flow and spill into every part of one’s life.  I’ve found that putting my creative passion into just about anything makes my life feel fuller, more rich, and the world more filled with possibility, daily moments more tantilizingly delicious.  Mm…delicious.  Can you tell I’m gearing up to chat about food?

Food is a constant undercurrent in our lives. Physiological News Flash: We need to eat!

But in addition to this reality of the human body–perhaps even because of it–food holds a central place in our lives both socially and culturally.  Meals break up our days, memories of friends and family are often set against the backdrop of communal meals and our food choices can be a vehicle for the expression of our culture and our state of mind.  So much there!  So cool!  Just have to get excited about it because today I’m chatting up a good book, some food tips and some great links!

Lately, I have been reading the Mennonite cookbook, “More-with-Less” by Doris Janzen Longacre.  This wonderful text is filled with recipes from the Mennonite community that focus on “how to eat better and consume less of the world’s limited food resources”  and embodies what I see as the spirit of Ghandi’s quote “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  They do a phenomenal job of marrying in-home change with world awareness, spiritual motivation and physical health.

What has really drawn me beyond the recipes and into the pages of this book is the attitude of the authors and contributors.  Every recipe that is presented, every idea that is laid out and every fact that is discussed carries with it a sense of commitment and of joy for both the process of simplifying  food and addressing the problems of world hunger and food shortage.  I would like to share these quotes in particular which exemplify this joy, this passion for making a difference:

Do not approach this book as a set of answers for responsible change.  At its best, it tells us that Mennonites–a people who care about the hungry–are on a search.  We are looking for ways to live more simply and joyfully, ways that grow out of our tradition but take their shape from living faith and the demands of our hungry world.  There is not just one way to respond, nor is there a single answer to the world’s food problem.  It may not be within our capacity to effect an answer.  But it is within our capacity to search for a faithful response.” –p.5

There is a way, I discovered, of wasting less, eating less, and spending less which gives not less, but more.  The gain is so great that the phrase “cutting back” doesn’t fit at all.” –p.12

And cook we shall.  For simple is not necessarily plain, dull or unattractive.  “Simplicity is the keynote to good taste,” emphasized my high school home economics teacher.  If this applies to architecture, painting, and music, it applies to cooking–even cheap cooking.“–p.44

I was first introduced to this book by the food.  Some friends of mine in college were regularly using the More-with-Less recipes to make granola and lentils.  I loved the food so much, I remembered the name of the book.  It’s taken me some time to actually find a copy of my own but I’ve found this text to be well worth the wait!  I would highly recommend checking it out.

For my style of cooking, I must share that above most else speed, simplicity and taste are of the highest priority for me.  I am a bit of a cheap-skate when it comes to my standards of living and I like to do as much as I can while putting out as little of that hard earned money as possible.  I too find though that I don’t have to sacrifice flavor or creativity to save cash or time as long as I’m savvy about it!  In addition, I love to feed people.  Anyone who has come to my house knows that I try to feed just about everyone who walks through the door and preferably feed them something delicious and home-made.  What can I say?  I come from a house of entertainers who relish creating community by inviting people over for a roaring good time with good eats and good company.

In the spirit of the More-with-Less cookbook, I’d like to share with you some of my (and my family’s) tips for cooking as well as links to some fabulously creative culinary wizards on the web.

My tips:

1) Know and use your food staples!

I know my own style of cooking and what I like to eat.  I’m sure you do too!  So I know in my dish planning that I have certain dietary staples I keep on hand and use as a basis for most of my cooking.  It makes both shopping and meal planning easier.  These often include things that have a very long pantry-life including dried goods and vegetables that store for extended periods of time.  Here are some examples:  nuts, quinoa, rice, lentils, beans, oats, pasta, potatoes, canned tomatoes, onions, and carrots.  I also find certain seasoning items to be “staples” in that I want them on hand, even though I don’t really plan meals around them.  For me these include things like soy sauce, cinnamon, hot sauce, and soymilk.

2) Prep food and freeze it!

My crockpot is one of my best kitchen friends.  Especially in the winter.  I’ve had folks tell me that it’s easy to set up a crock pot in the morning, let it run all day and then have dinner ready at night. If this works for you, sweet!  However, I know that I’m not enough of a morning person to make this happen realistically so instead I’ll make a batch of soup (hearty bean soup is fantastically easy to do!) and then freeze most of it and pull it out to thaw whenever I like.  There are many good crock pot recipes out there, search the web to your hearts content!  My experience has been that basically anything can be thrown in to cook and it’ll come out tasty!  Just be careful if you’re cooking with raw meats as the temperature must be on the high setting for at least the first few hours so the meat cooks at a proper temperature and doesn’t spoil.  Overall though, my take on slow cooking:  so good, so fast and always so tasty!

3) The One-Dish Wonder, the Gourmet Dump Meal

Cooking things in one dish is FANTASTIC.  Less to clean, less to worry about, less to prep and often much more delicious!  Throw things together, it really does taste great and if you’re a meat-eater, it’s a great way to extend small amounts of meat into a larger bit of meal without sacrificing flavor (think stew or stir-fries).  These tend to be easy to toss over rice, pasta, or anything else.  Makes food go a long way.  The “gourmet dump meal”  was my family’s term for that time of the week when we ate all the leftovers!  Put them together in a dish and spice them up (think the leftover chicken, veggies or potatoes as a cassarole or some variation of soup, stir-fry, or chili…not too tough!) or perhaps just heat them up and eat them all like components of one meal or even better take the leftovers of a soup you’ve been eating down for a few days and spice it differently.  Add some curry, some coconut milk, or chili powder or noodles…the list could go on!  Helps keep the interest up and the throwing away of old food down!

4) Fresh Veggies and Farmer’s Markets!

Oh the greens the greens the greens!  Check what’s in season and go for it!  Play, most veggies aren’t as hard as you may think to figure out.  Sauteeing (put in frying pan with oil and turn it on, stir it a bit so it doesn’t burn) is generally a safe bet.  Farmer’s markets are often a wonderful source for plentiful, local, cheaper produce that really does taste much better!  Supporting your local economy can’t hurt either!  If your area farmer’s markets are unavailable, see if you can find a co-op (also a good source for bulk goods) or a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) or if you have the space, grow some veggies! and if all else fails, go for the cheap veggies at your grocer.  Example: cabbage!  Comes in large quantities, easy to steam and cook, has a LOAD of vitamin C!

So those are my tips, here are some links!

Links:


Fifteen Spatulas

http://fifteenspatulas.com/

Joanne at Fifteen Spatulas is taking back cooking from the toxic mess of preservatives and pre-processed foods!  Her blog will teach you how to make just about anything from scratch (in a way you will actually understand!  Check out her Bread for those who can’t boil water for proof of this!) and her photos will make your mouth water!

Homegrown Countrygirl

http://homegrowncountrygirlfood.blogspot.com/

A wonderful resource on growing your own food and using it!  Her recipes, photos and stories will not only give you amazing ideas for what to cook, they’ll help you figure out how to take things from start to finish.  And by start I do mean, “till the soil in springtime..”  Just see her post on “How to have potatoes in June” Don’t worry though!  There are plenty of recipes for the grocery shoppers too!

Stonesoup

http://thestonesoup.com/blog/

Veggie serving sizes explained in plain english?  How to have dinner for $5?  Online cooking classes?  This food scientist will fill you with more ideas than I can give justice to here!

Post-Collegiate Cooking à Deux

http://postcollegiatecooking.blogspot.com/

Graduate students?  Living on a budget?  And making food that is unbelievably delicious?  Yes Yes and Yes.  Most recently a No heat pasta sauce and I have to say that their Chicago-style deep dish pizza recipe has become a favorite with me and multiple friends!

Happy Cooking!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 14, 2011 12:13 pm

    Awww thank you for the nice things you wrote about me!!! I am so flattered. Very well written article and I agree with the things you wrote. I love the “gourmet dump meals” because you never know if you’re going to discover an awesome combination just by using up leftovers. Some of my dishes come about by accident =)

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