Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Do you even need that much Swiss cheese?
If you find yourself picking up items that you don't even need, or go to waste before you eat, you are definitely not alone. It happens to everyone. To try and prevent over-buying and waste, here are some tips to help you shop more wisely.
First, buy with your head, not your stomach. Eat before you buy. After four saltines, you won’t be tempted to purchase one of every lunch meat at the deli counter.
If you go to the supermarket on an empty stomach, you will want to buy every single "delicious looking" item you see. And when you’re hungry, most everything looks delicious.
Even the deviled ham looks delicious.
And, at the end of what was supposed to be a quick trip to the market, your cart overflows with twenty bags of “delicious,” expensive, and possibly wasteful “delicious.” So make sure to shop on a full tummy.
Next, did you check your fridge and pantry before shopping? Does anybody really know what food they actually have in their kitchen at any one time? This goes back to organization. If your food is accessible, you will find it easier when you do a quick once-over before you hit the market, to see what you actually need to buy. Then you won’t end up with ten bags of rice, and ten dozen potatoes.
Also, make a list of the necessary things. Sounds simple enough, but we all forget what we have. A simple pad and pen stuck to the fridge will do the trick. Grab the pen and paper, go through your cabinets, and write what you need.
Or, enter what you need into your iPhone. I won’t judge.
In my household, we always need milk, bread, eggs, ham, cheese, butter, pasta, fruits, onions and/or shallots, garlic, cilantro, peppers and limes. These basic items are the starting point for me to cook the meals during the week. From there I will actually plan what I’m going to make specifically, so I can get those extra items.
I always try to keep in mind that if I am not going to be able to cook something for the week that I’m shopping, I refrain from buying those ingredients. This is especially true of fresh ingredients, but it also applies to canned goods. This last thought leads me to my third point-check your calendar.
So you go to the food store and buy all of those tempting, fresh items of food. Then during the week, you realize that you have absolutely no time to cook. And, sadly, many of the perishables go to waste.
This is why checking your calendar is so important. Think to yourself whether or not you have to work late, or if your kids have soccer/ballet/piano/math tutor late one day (or ALL days!), etc.
Plan what meals you make around your schedule-less complicated meals when you’re short on time, or something more involved if you can spare an hour. Making a schedule of what you will eat for the week can help greatly.
Again, fridge space is handy for this. Just post a calendar on the fridge, and you can jot some dinner ideas for the week ahead. Using this, plus knowing what food staples you already have, will reduce food waste, and save you money on your weekly shopping trips.
I’m sure this common sense approach on how to food shop more efficiently will make a difference in the time and money you save.
And saving is the name of the game!
Monday, August 17, 2009
Do you work full time?
Do you have kids?
Yes to one or both is enough to make anyone not want to cook at the end of a long, long day, when you’re most likely tired. Very, very tired.
But you still need to eat, and so does your family. What to do? Do you want to keep eating the same frozen meals? Open the same pouch of dinner-helper-sandwich-plopper?
You could order out-but ordering out is EXPENSIVE. And we like to keep our coins-and bills- in our pockets, not just during the economic downturn, but always. When don’t you like to save money? And besides, you want to eat food that tastes and looks fresh.
Well I have a *quick* and delicious solution to your problem.
You already know my motto: Variety, variety, and more variety. Don’t cook meat every day. Substitute meat with a vegetable that has a meaty consistency, and is also delicious.
For today’s example, let’s take a closer look at food most people are not familiar with: Okra.
A little background about this veggie-
It is green capsule that contains small white seeds. If you cut it, the cross section looks like a pentagon. It grows in tropical areas, originally places like West Africa, and is mostly used in India, Africa and the Middle East. Even with today’s global village, okra is almost unknown in North America and Europe.
Okra is used in stews and gumbos, deep-fried in the South, made with tempura in Japan, and in other countries they are even pickled. It is high on unsaturated fats and has numerous healthy properties.
And the flavor? Well, it tastes like…Okra. Some say it has a taste similar to eggplant, slightly bitter, but it can be quite the comfort food. You’ll see!
You can find Okra in the frozen section of supermarkets in 1-pound bags, already pre-cut and ready to cook. Sometimes they may even have it in the produce section, fresh and whole. Okra can be a main dish-tasty, filling, healthy, and best of all, EASY.
Here is a recipe that will knock your shoes off. And from the time you walk into the kitchen, to the time you are sitting and eating, is about 20 minutes. Groovy!
Okra with white rice (4 servings)
½ pound of frozen pre-cut Okra
2 cloves of garlic
½ of a Vidalia onion
½ cup of tomato sauce
¼ teaspoon of Cayenne pepper (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Canola oil for cooking
4 15.8oz bags of Boil-in-Bag rice (Uncle Ben’s or something similar)
10½ cups of water
2 ½ tablespoons of salt for rice (Less if you’re watching your salt!)
Equipment you will need:
4 Quart saucepan
10 or 12 inch frying pan or skillet
Medium bowl or container
Place 10 cups of water and the 2-½ tablespoons of salt in a 4 quart saucepan. Bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, place the rice bags in it and let it cook for about 12 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, mince the garlic cloves and square chop the onion.
Place the tomato sauce in a container and add the Cayenne pepper and the remaining ½ cup of water. Mix well and put it to the side. Up to here should take no more than ten minutes, tops.
Lightly coat a pan with canola oil and put on stove over a medium heat. Put in the onions and the garlic, and cook them until they get translucent. When this happens, throw in the ½ pound of Okra and move it around for about half a minute. Squeeze the lime over it, move once again for a few seconds and then put in the tomato sauce mixture. Combine it well with the Okra, add salt and pepper to taste, and then let it sit over a medium heat for a few minutes until most of the water evaporates, and the Okra is left with a thicker sauce.
The rice should be ready buy now. Drain it very well, cut the bags, and place on the plates.
If you want to get fancy, here’s a trick. Grab a cup (any size you want for the rice portion) and pack the rice tightly in it. Then overturn the cup with rice over the plate, making a little rice tower. Top it with some of the okra mixture. Serve and enjoy!
Monday, August 10, 2009
Most children do not want to hear the word “healthy,” because it frightens them and they automatically believe it is, in fact, “yucky.” There are plenty of cookbooks showing how to trick kids into eating a healthier, more balanced diet. Sometimes this works, but wouldn’t you like to be honest with your kids?
We try and replace words like “healthy” with phrases like “it will make you stronger, smarter, faster,”…and sometimes that works. But more times than not, it doesn’t.
Sometimes the goal is not to trick them, but get kids to understand, and like, the food they eat. There are many ways to accomplish this, but a big difference is starting EARLY with your child. Like, 1 year old early. But it’s never too late to work on this!
When kids are babies, and eating jars of baby food, they eat vegetables, fruits, meats, etc. Convenient, yes, because you pop the jar open, and there is the healthy food. But somewhere between the healthy baby food and the grown child is a toddler who screams at the slightest healthy thing on their plate.
Why is that? Do kids just develop a dislike for these foods?
A healthy and diverse diet is a must for kids. Not only is it important for small growing bodies to have proper nutrition, but you might be saved a headache or two when your little one won’t eat anything on the menu of a restaurant you really, really like.
‘Cause we don’t cook at home all the time, do we? And I know you’re tired of ordering a ‘special dish’ for your little one.
First things first, never expect your child to eat something you wouldn’t eat, or don’t, on a regular basis. If healthy and diverse food options are eaten by the whole family, monkey see will monkey do!
It is important, though, to be honest with your kids. Tricking them may work, but why resort to trickery when you can accomplish a healthier diet now, and more importantly later, if you just help your kids develop good eating habits overall?
If your kids never knew they ate brussel sprouts, how will they know to eat them later in life?
One of the best ways to encourage your child to eat different foods is to include them in the preparation. We all like to bake cupcakes with the kids, or make Rice Crispy squares, or have the kids help lick the bowl when you make a cake.
But why save the shared cooking for just the sweets and special occasions?
Kids love to be involved. Sorting carrots by size, helping wash a potato or two, color coordinating the salad…there is much fun to be had making dinner! And plenty of work to go around. Fun work. Smiley face work. Gold stars on the fridge for helping work. Throw a tiny chef hat on your child, and away you go!
Seriously, they love the hat. Easy to make too.
Kids like to touch, and taste, and preparing the food in the kitchen together is a perfect opportunity for your child to touch and taste away while everything comes together.
My favorite equation is: kitchen = bonding + quality time. There is nothing more fulfilling for a parent then to see the laughter of their children, and looking at them enjoy those little, special moments. You can achieve that by cooking with your children, and making a broccoli forest where the macaroni cows live near a low-fat ranch river. So the trees can be dipped.
My stepson loves pizza. But for some reason, he doesn’t like mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce, or plain baked dough by themselves. Weird. By making dinner together, and really getting your child involved in putting the ingredients together, you give them a chance to taste everything separate, and together. And, like my stepson, they may find that they don’t like the individual ingredients, but together…tasty!
Even though we are adults children can, and do, outsmart us. It happens all the time, and it’s the reason why we have to always be a step ahead to make sure they get all the nutrients they need without being monotonous. Variety is the name of the game. Introduce them to different foods, from different cultures and from different locations. You will not only be exposing them to different foods, but you will also be teaching them how to respect and appreciate other cultures.
And by other cultures I don’t mean the exotic food of Taco Bell. There is no reason whatsoever, except laziness, to have your child eat fast food. Ever. That’s why your child’s diet is soooo important after the days of popping open a jar of baby food is over! No fast food! If you go from popping open the jar to popping open a happy meal, you will lose any chance you get for helping your child to develop healthy eating habits.
A banana is just as fast. Speed racer fast. And a banana won’t lead to a life long relationship with a food-product that will shorten your child’s life, and lead to serious problems such as obesity and diabetes.
When I was a kid, I hated beets. Today, I think there is nothing better that a beet salad with mild goat cheese, lightly dressed with basil vinaigrette. Did I develop a taste for beets, or did I like them as a child, but protested for other reasons? Who knows. What I do know is that if your child really dislikes a food, come back to it again later. Tastes change as your child grows bigger.
This goes for you, too. Give food a second chance! Who knows, you may like it… even love it!
Sunday, August 2, 2009
Do you love to cook? I know I do. I also love cooking shows on TV. But like the apartment in the TV series Friends, the size of TV kitchens are at least ten times the size of an actual kitchen in NYC. Or the size of a kitchen in Florida. Or Canada. Or anywhere.
So I can’t spread my ingredients in twelve bowls arranged over a hundred square foot counter top. And neither can you, I’ll bet. But you want to cook, and you want to maximize the minimum space you have. Truth be told, it is very easy to cook fantastic food in the closet where your kitchen is.
I’m here to offer tips and insights for cooking the food you love, for the people you love, in the space that you have. Because I have that space too. I share your pain. But it doesn’t have to be painful. It can, actually, be quite fun.
First things first, you need to size up your kitchen. Literally. Look at the space, look at your appliances, and whether you have a counter. Look how tall the ceiling is, how long the space is, how wide. Can you open the stove door without hitting the other wall, or a standing pipe? No? That’s still ok. At least you have a stove. Hopefully all the burners work.
Even small spaces can yield large storage for your cooking supplies if you know how to store effectively. Look for a clear space on top of cabinets, or the fridge. You may need to clean that up a little.
Yuck! But clean now, more time for fun later. Also look at your open wall space, all the way up to the ceiling. This is a great place for adding hooks.
Ah, hooks. Hooks are a small kitchen’s best friend. They’re small, and don’t protrude too far into the kitchen space. You can stack hooks from floor to ceiling, and hang just about everything you need to cook with-pots, pans, bags with utensils, garlic… You name it, you can hang it! Functional hooks can even make your kitchen look very modern and stylish.
So you need some storage ideas? Look at catalogs and go to some stores, but a warning-do not buy the first thing you see! Window shop and Windows shop and look at all the items that may work in your kitchen, then buy. Know ahead of time what you need, measurements, price limitations, etc. Know your budget. If you are on a shoestring, like most of us, you will see numerous cheap solutions to your kitchen storage problems.
For a customized cost-effective wall hook system, you can hit Home Depot and grab some wood (like a 3 inch board, cut to length of your wall), and individual metal hooks (attach to board with screws, space along board for whole length) to create a custom hook rack for surprisingly little money.
I like to be surprised at how little things cost.
Spices are an essential, and spices are usually unceremoniously thrown into a drawer or cabinet. Try to find an efficient way to store your spices, either on a wall, or stacked in a cupboard. With all of the storage, the idea is accessibility. You need to get that coriander, and you need to get it now!
We all have that cabinet. You know the one, where everything is packed so tightly that to remove the thyme would bring down a rain of McCormick products on you and your cat. That cabinet. Well organize that cabinet! Organize your space before you begin to use your kitchen, and you will have more time to focus on the food, and not waste time picking bay leaves off of the floor.
Here's a tip: right now, go through your spices. That chicken rub/powder/salt free spice jar you’ve had since college? Bye-bye. Same with any spices that are really old, and, just like medication, are just no longer effective.
There are dozens of great wire racks, shelves, and pantry organizers of all shapes to accomplish the task of keeping your spices, and everything in your limited cabinet space organized. Cheap, effective, sexy. And you will need the spices. This is why the Good Lord created Ikea. Skip through furniture and make your way to the kitchen and storage area. Lots of good stuff, not so much moolah. But if that’s not your thing, there are lots of other buying options.
Next, you want to look at your kitchen equipment. Beyond a pot and pan, what do you own? Does it plug in? Many cooking shows demonstrate an array of gadgets to make cooking easier. And they work. But you don’t need twenty machines to get your cooking done.
You will need a couple, though, to be able to complete a wide variety of cooking projects. Those old pots and pans that you don't even remember exist, the ones that have an imprint of the last meal you made in them-say "Bon Voyage!" If there are things you have not used within a year or more, give it away, donate it, or if in bad condition, simply throw out. Stop being a packrat, be a minimalist! A minimalist will thrive in small places. The idea is to have the least amount of equipment, to do the most variety of recipes. Let's do it the French way, fait à la main!
I have my personal 'Top 5' basic tools in the kitchen that I cannot live without.
(1) 2 or 3 quart standard saucepan (Stainless is good)
(2) 8 inch frying pan (All-clad if ya can! But any good one will do)
(3) Food processor (Depending on budget, either a 2 or 3 cup mini processor ($30-50), or a larger one if you can swing it)
(4) Medium whisk
(5) A set of good quality knives (Did I mention a good set of knives? You need these!)
In my personal experience, these ‘essential’ items will help you prepare the greatest variety of meals for whatever the occasion. If you want to cook, and cook well, you will need at least these basic tools. This is probably the only place where you really need to invest in your kitchen. Nothing hurts your creativity more than a crappy set of dull knives.
Once you store your equipment on hooks (or cupboards, if you are lucky), and once you have the basic cooking gear you are ready: Let’s cook!
A hole is to dig, a kitchen is to cook
Ruth Krauss had it right. (A great children’s read, BTW illustrated by Maurice Sendak).
The kitchen is to cook. Also to linger in, stare at a toaster in, stand in front of an open refrigerator in…but mainly the purpose of the space is to prepare the food you love.
We’ve gone over some storage ideas, but storage isn’t enough! Actual preparation of a meal in a space the size of an airplane bathroom can be tricky. Again, as always, organization is key.
Look over the recipe. Get all of the ingredients together-not necessarily in a bowl, because who wants to wash twelve bowls? If counter space is about two feet square, keep ingredients at the ready in the fridge (more shelves to take advantage of!).
Also consider stacking ingredients in plastic storage containers-it prevents spilling, keeps everything separate, and after a quick rinse, the storage can be used for leftovers.
The space you use to cook doesn’t have to be a permanent space. A flip-up piece of stained wood, that can be flush against the wall most of the time, can be a temporary space to place cooking items, towels, jars, what have you.
Use your sink as a space as well, by laying a cutting board, or other suitable flat surface item, over it. While preparing recipes, clean as you go-dishes won’t pile up in the sink and you can reuse the utensils over and over. If you follow at least half of these simple tips, space on the counter won’t be wasted, and you can have more time to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Most importantly, love what you do and have fun doing it. More tips and recipes to follow!