Posts tagged ‘real food’

October 27, 2011

my pantry

one of the few things that did not get done after we reassembled our newly remodeled  kitchen was the pantry.

i’m not sure why.

i just never got around to it.

until  a few weeks ago.

the first step in my plan was to make a grand list of everything i felt a well stocked pantry (in our home) would need; purchase it, and then organize the shelves with all the goods.  because we try to eat fresh as much as possible i only access my pantry once a week or so with the exception of oatmeal which we eat nearly every morning.  in deciding what should belong on the shelves, i brainstormed all of my go-to recipes that could come together in a hurry (such as pumpkin dump cake), recipes i use for unexpected company (pasta tossed with pesto and  pine nuts), recipes i could use if i missed a trip to the store or was suddenly in the mood for comfort food (such as a tuna casserole).   i also added to the list a somewhat wide variety of dried beans that i try to use weekly on our soup night. the result was a grocery list several pages long which took considerable time to purchase and put away.

next step was to figure out storage for some of the dry goods such as beans and pasta.   now, i understand that this could have been very simple but i am a storage snob.  i like everything in my home to be pretty as well as functional; so for me, this part of the project took a bit of time.

my first consideration was modular tupperware.  i thought long and hard about this for a while, and i really liked the idea.   i noticed however,  while looking through the catalog that the lid color had changed since i last purchased tupperware.  if i wanted to be able to add to my container collection over time (which i did), or need to replace a container, i wanted to be able to do it with the same product.  i wanted everything to be uniform.  in the end, the tupperware option was voted down.

so, one afternoon while i was browsing through our new cucina italiana magazine i saw an ad for these:

and we decided that was the perfect solution.  i purchased along with them a fancy label maker capable of lots of fonts (i love fonts of all sorts) and went shopping for my pantry goods.

the result looks something like this:


grains and legumes....

canned goods...

i couldn’t be more pleased.

that done and out of the way the next step was organizing the spices.

yes, i did see that way cool idea all over pinterest of putting the spices in tiny jars and painting the lids with chalk paint.  i have to confess i was a tad bit envious of the genius of the person who thought that up.  however,  i like my labels to be read on the front and i had already purchased these from bed, bath, and beyond:

i also wanted to use my new label maker.

i didn’t need to collect any more spices like i did pantry goods.  i did need to narrow down what i had, getting rid of anything that had expired or gone stale.

i also needed to wash all the little lids and jars by hand, having learned they were not compatible with the dishwasher.

then i had to let them dry overnight and then some to ensure that the contents would not get damp.

quite a process……

the clothespins are for drying the jars. a little trick i learned from martha stewart

the fun part was loading all the contents into the cute little jars, and of course labeling them in a fancy font.

they fit perfectly on my narrow little pantry shelves and as with the canned goods,  i’ve been very happy with the result.

discussion underway about a new camera...

so far the stocked pantry has worked wonderful and helped to offset our monthly grocery budget.  we just have to remember that once something is used it is put on the list so we always have what we need. much easier said than done, believe it or not.

July 18, 2011

my mayonnaise problem…

one of the biggest challenges i have experienced so far in our real food endeavor is believe it or not:  mayonnaise.  while i really like mayo we aren’t huge consumers of the stuff; it takes us a good few months to work our way through one of the smaller sized jars.

when i was first married i discovered the homemade variety and fell in love with it.  chicken salad made with homemade-from-scratch mayonnaise is. to. die for.  the fact though that it has to be eaten within two weeks, has me reluctant to whip it up on a regular basis.  at the same time it isn’t all that fast and easy to put together and clean up.  since tuna salad is one of my go-to lunches when i am in a hurry, getting out the food processor, juicing a lemon, and cracking eggs is not something i want to do when i need to have something on the table in fifteen minutes flat.

before we began switching over to all organic unprocessed and all that jazz, i found this:

we love it.

since the label said “olive oil” i was tricked into believing we were ingesting something healthy.  however in much smaller print, the label also has a running list of ingredients i have never heard of and cannot pronounce.  so one afternoon i decided to try my hand at making my own version of olive oil mayonnaise.  i quickly learned why the recipe in my bride and groom cookbook specifically called for “vegetable oil”.  the result was a beautiful, golden, unpalatable mess.  who knew olive oil turned rancid when put through a food processor?  ok well i didn’t.

in an effort to compromise i bought this:

yes, it uses canola oil which we’ve tried to avoid but it has few ingredients, and ones that i can pronounce and am familiar with.

i don’t like it.

i’m not quite sure what to do.

quit eating mayonnaise altogether?

make an olive oil version that is whisked by hand thereby keeping the oil fresh and sweet?  (haha, um. no)

use safflower or coconut oil resulting in something we don’t like and probably won’t eat?

make it fresh but use canola oil and just look the other way while pouring it into the blender?


continue to eat our favorite poison variety and just ignore the label?

i have to confess i am leaning towards the latter.

June 15, 2011

mocha chip ice cream

i absolutely love ice cream.  it is my all time favorite comfort food right up there with meat loaf and macaroni and cheese.  until i started making my own, i would buy it in the tiny lidded containers and keep them in the door of my freezer.  by taking just a spoonful here and there (rather than eating it by the bowlful) i could make it last forever, and somehow a bite didn’t seem to really count for calories, even if i had several bites in one day as i was want to do.

when we got married, one of the first things i registered for was an ice cream maker.  i don’t recall the brand or the make; probably because it didn’t work.  even after following the recipe and manufacturer’s instructions to a “t”, we just ended up with an inedible soupy mess: a mess that didn’t even remotely resemble ice cream.

a few years ago though, i invested in a cuisinart maker and have used it often it ever since.  not only does it do a fantastic job, but the little recipe booklet that came with it is amazing.

however, last week i decided to venture from the tried and true recipes in the little book and attempt something different.  i added my own twist to a recipe from the all new ultimate southern living cookbook and fell in love with mocha chip ice cream.  now, this stuff, obviously, has coffee in it.  somehow though, i thought that after it had been combined with other things, put through an ice cream freezer, and then frozen for a few days the caffeine would lose its power.  not so.  i indulged in a bowlful the other night and within half an hour i was quite chatty and went on gabbing for the rest of the evening.  this is what caffeine does to me.  that may not sound like much but one of my husband’s many nick names for me is “quietness”.  i say all that to say that if you are like myself and particularly sensitive to caffeine, you may not want to indulge before bedtime.  and if you choose to treat your kidlets, serve with extreme caution.

mocha chip ice cream

(adapted from the all new ultimate southern living cookbook)

1 1/2 cups of ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips, divided

1/2 cup of strong brewed coffee

2 c whipping cream

1 c  half and half

3/4 c sugar, divided

3 T instant coffee granules

4 egg yolks

in a double boiler or saucepan over very low heat, melt 1 c of the chocolate chips.  stir in brewed coffee and set aside.

bring whipping cream, half and half, 1/2 cup of sugar, and the coffee granules to a boil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar and coffee dissolve.

beat egg yolks and remaining sugar with electric mixer on high speed until thick and pale; similar in consistency to  mayonnaise.  adjust speed to low and very slowly add the hot cream mixture to the yolk mixture.  return to saucepan.

cook over medium heat stirring constantly for about 6-8 minutes or until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon.  remove from heat, stir in chocolate mixture. cover and chill overnight.

pour into ice cream freezer and freeze according to manufacturer’s directions, adding the remaining 1/2 cup of chocolate chips.

yield: 5 cups

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May 23, 2011

the fat lard

i’m thinking it was maybe a year ago that we fully jumped onto the real food bandwagon.  considering my upbringing, however, it wasn’t much of a stretch.  i was taught to cook from a very early age, and taught that cooking meant “from scratch”.  i was very young the first time i was given the enjoyable task of planning a meal, making a grocery list, buying the ingredients, and then cooking the meal under the supervision of my mom.  i remember the entree: cube steaks with hashbrown “haystacks” piled on top.  the recipe called for the frozen kind, but my  mother showed me instead how to peel and grate the potatoes to make our own hashbrowns.  she also passed on to me her fabulous one bowl from scratch brownie recipe and i was horrified when someone, after sampling them, asked me what sort of mix i had used.

when i got married and began to establish my own home, much of my time was and still is spent in the kitchen crafting three meals a day from scratch.  it is time i enjoy and look forward to.  cooking is my therapy. it is a way for me to unwind and enjoy myself.   three years ago we started a kitchen garden and have worked every growing season to get it to produce more efficiently in hopes of being able to raise the majority of our produce. and, last year about this time we were introduced to the book nourishing traditions.  that encouraged us to kick things up just a notch:  we began purchasing raw milk and cream in order to make our own butter, we toyed with the idea of raising chickens (which we have currently vetoed), we experimented with chicken livers (which went into the trash whereupon we promptly ordered a pizza).   we also learned about the cautions of using vegetable oil and began to consider using lard instead.  a brief internet search confirmed that the best way to get lard made from organic pig fat was to render it ourselves.

fortunately i had already established a relationship with the local co-op that provides the majority of our (locally produced) meat and some of our (locally grown) produce.  i asked if they had a source for fat and a few weeks later, i was provided with two eight pound bags of what appeared to my uneducated eye to be pig belly fat.  initially, i was a bit overwhelmed: most of the methods and tutorials that i had researched recommended using 1-2 ½ # and here i had about sixteen pounds total that were already frozen and couldn’t really be divided.   i also do not at this time have a deep freeze so all of this was going into my tiny freezer on top of my fridge.  i took it anyway, rearranged my snug little freezer to accommodate, and circled may 19 on the calendar as lard day.

i wasn’t sure what to expect and i kept reminding myself that this was a new skill and that i shouldn’t expect perfection on the first try; thereby losing patience and giving up too soon (one of my worst faults).  having thawed out one bag of the fat the night before, the first task was to cut out any blood spots, any extra meat, and cut it into ½” pieces.

this was where i began to feel a bit squeamish, sort of like my potential food was giving me way too much information; we were just too up close and personal.  it reminded me of the time i harvested my first batch of lettuce from the yard, bringing it in to the sink roots and all, then having to confront  the dirt in the basin afterward.  it was too much like the mud stew i used to make while playing outside as a kid.  not as pristine as selecting it from the grocery aisle at the store.

fat cubed, it was then transferred to the stock pot with about ½ cup of water.

i was sooo glad that i had done enough research to learn that the water is not added in proportion to the amount of fat: it is simply there to keep the fat from burning while the pot heats. two cups of water to eight pounds of fat would have been a royal mess.   also, at this time i contemplated working in smaller amounts so that i could experiment as i went.  at the last minute however, i changed my mind and plunked all eight pounds, chopped and cubed, into my stock pot.  i mean, how long can it take for this to melt down?  i figured i’d be pouring it into jars mid-afternoon, then i’d make us some cracklin cornbread and beet greens.

um,that much fat takes a long time to render.

a very, very long time.

we’re talking all day folks, as in: we ordered pizza for dinner.  we’re talking: 11pm and i was nearly in a fetal position crying in the corner of my kitchen. i had created a frankenstein. i wanted very much to go to bed and i still had chunks happily floating around on top.  we hadn’t even come to the bit yet about the craklins coming to the top and then sinking to the bottom.  the lesson learned here was to either work in small batches, or grind the fat (instead of cubing) as another tutorial suggested, and/or render it in the crock pot.   rather than letting it continue to cook while we either stayed with it all night, or took turns to get up and stir it we decided to pour off what we had and see what happened.

it worked.  while i didn’t get any craklins i did get 2 ½ quarts of lard (1/2 quart not pictured because it didn’t look tidy for the pictures).  it didn’t cool to a snowy white like crisco and for that i am disappointed.

i don’t know if that is due to the kind of fat used, the quality of the fat, or if i allowed it to get too hot.  it also has a bit of a “pork chop” taste; very faint, but it is there.  another disappointment as i had hoped to be able to use this for baking pies like my grandma did.  this may work for a meat pie, but i’m not sure it will fly for raspberry or lemon meringue.  again, this may be my technique.    fortunately, i will have plenty of opportunities to work on technique as there are another eight pounds still in the freezer when i feel i am emotionally ready for a second try.