Category Archives: cooking

Home Economics for the 21st Century

If my Google Reader inbox today is any indication, there seems to be a movement calling for schools to reinstate Home Economics classes.

This article appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association:

Bring Back Home Economics Education (pdf file)

I absolutely agree that bringing back a revamped version of Home Ec is a great idea. Now, I suspect Home Ec went away as an understandable reaction to the gender role stereotypes of the 1950’s and ’60s.  There is often a fine line, however, between reaction and over-reaction. Reflexively swinging to the opposite extreme rarely solves a problem. If anything, it creates new problems.

Feminism, as I subscribe to it, is simply a state of independence– being able to take care of yourself, with or without a man. That may be oversimplifying (and probably to some, underestimating) the matter. Nevertheless, “taking care of yourself” without a doubt includes being able to feed and nourish yourself, as well as manage money responsibly. These were the two pillars of traditional home economics.

Even more than before, parents and caregivers today cannot be expected or relied on to teach children how to prepare healthy meals. Many parents never learned to cook and instead rely on restaurants, take-out food, frozen meals, and packaged food as basic fare. Many children seldom experience what a true home-cooked meal tastes like, much less see what goes into preparing it. (Alice H. Lichtenstein and David S. Ludwig)

Am I saying that feminism necessarily means malnourishing yourself and your children? Not at all.  But boasting the inability to cook as some sort of feminist merit badge strikes me as foolish, that’s all.  It is something women should think about, at the very least.

There may be other factors contributing to the widespread inability to cook healthy meals at home. In the absence of home cooking, for example, heavily processed convenience foods have stepped in to fill the void… and to fill stomachs. Far be it for me to suggest some nefarious food industry conspiracy behind this. I’ll just say that for consumerism to work as a way of life (as it has in America for some 60 years), it has been necessary to discourage responsible money management and to encourage poor eating choices.

Just think about the long-term benefits of teaching young people how to live healthy and sustainable lives:

An informed generation of children may also influence the eating habits of US families, just as tobacco education causes some students to discourage their parents from smoking. Ultimately, as this generation of school-aged children and adolescents reaches adulthood, they may serve as positive role models for their children and, through their longterm purchasing habits, ensure healthful food choices are readily available in homes, supermarkets, and restaurants
throughout the country. (Alice H. Lichtenstein and David S. Ludwig)

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Filed under budgeting, consumerism, cooking, food, frugal, menu planning, money, money management, personal responsibility, simplicity

Food safety guide for leftovers

I love leftovers!

When a restaurant portion is too big for me to finish in one sitting, you know I’m eyeballing it and figuring out how many more meals I can get out of it! Your big plate of too-much-pasta will serve as lunch at work tomorrow, and possibly dinner tomorrow night! Not only are you eating less per meal, you are stretching the value of your dining-out

Cooking in large batches and freezing it for future meals is also a great way of saving time and money.

All that said, I’m actually pretty squeamish about leftovers. Friends say I’m a germophobe, and maybe I am. But if it’s a personality flaw to not want e. coli in my system, then I’m as flawed as can be!

Paying attention to food safety  couldn’t be more important today! I’m very cautious about how long I keep leftovers around in the refrigerator. For dishes I’ve cooked myself, 4-5 days has always been the maximum refrigerator time. Restaurant leftovers, generally 2-3 days tops.

I just found a super resource from the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). It shows the recommended guidelines for how long food can be safely kept in the refrigerator and freezer.

Food Safety Education: Cold Storage Chart

My personal guidelines came mostly from instinct, and are not too far off from the recommendations. I may adjust my leftover management schedule slightly. I am a germophobe, after all.

More food safety information

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Salvaging kitchen blunders

This past weekend, I whipped up three pans of cornbread for a cookout.

Somehow, instead of tripling the recipe, I guess I only doubled it. This resulted in three very hard, thin pans of cornbread. I couldn’t serve this dry crummy mess to humans.

Luckily, I had enough ingredients on hand to re-do it correctly. The second time was a charm, with three pans of big thick moist cornbread.

But what to do with the failed batch? It was really inedible, but I couldn’t bear throwing it away. How wasteful. At the very least, I figured  I could feed it to the birds and squirrels.

But wait. I did a quick google search for “hard stale cornbread recipes”… and eventually came up with a recipe for banana-caramel cornbread pudding. Score!

I made it tonight (omitting the bananas because I’m not a fan), and it is fabulous.

“Waste not, want not,” as my dear old mom used to say. It’s amazing what you can do with leftovers and outright blunders when you use a little ingenuity.

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The vague gourmet: Lentil-veggie burgers

I made the absolutely yummiest veggie burgers last night!

Of course I wanted to share the recipe– it’s a super-tasty, inexpensive, low-fat alternative to prepared veggie burgers. Unfortunately, I cook by the “little of this, little of that” method and lost track of the actual amounts. I tried to trace my steps as carefully as possible.

LENTIL-VEGGIE BURGERS

1 cup of granular TVP (textured vegetable protein)

1 cup dry red lentils, sorted and rinsed

2-3/4 cups of water

1 vegetable boullion cube

2 eggs, well-beaten

3/4 (?) cup of bread crumbs

onion powder

garlic powder

salt and pepper

1.  PREHEAT OVEN TO 375 degrees.

2.  Put TVP, lentils, boullion and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil on medium-high heat, then lower heat to low. Simmer for about 15 minutes until most of water is absorbed.

3.  Let TVP-lentil mixture cool to room temperature and place in a large mixing bowl. This will keep the eggs from starting to cook in step 4. (If you’re in a hurry,  dump the whole mess into a fine-mesh sieve. Run cold water over TVP-lentil mix and drain well before putting it in the mixing bowl. You’ll need to add extra seasoning in step 5).

4.   Stir beaten eggs into the TVP-lentil mix.

5.   Add seasonings, mix well.

6.   Mix in breadcrumbs. Start with 3/4 cup, and add more as needed. Shouldn’t need more than one cup. It should be a very moist and sticky mixture– not too dense, not too loose.

7.   Spray a large baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray. Form about 10 good-sized burgers, about 3/4 of an inch thick and 3 inches across. Carefully place burgers on baking sheet as you form them. Spritz the top-sides of the burgesr with more cooking spray. The uncooked burgers will be pretty moist and gooey, but the burgers will firm up a bit while baking.

8.  Bake for 15-20 minutes. Turn them over, and bake for another 15-20 minutes. They’ll be nicely browned and crispy on the outside, but wonderfully moist on the inside. Makes about 10 generous-sized burgers.

Serve on a hamburger bun with all the fixings. Or you can serve them with the dipping condiments of your choice– ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce, etc. Even with brown gravy and mashed potatoes, this can be salisbury-steak type dish!

Summary:

  • High-protein
  • High-fiber
  • Low-fat
  • Low-cost
  • Highly delicious

What more could you want?

OPTIONS:

  • For color and variety, throw in some finely-chopped vegetables, such as onions, peppers or mushrooms.
  • Any special seasonings or spices you like can be used. There are no real rules.
  • In step 2, stir in half a capful of Gravy Master for a darker, more authentic meat-like color.

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Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

These are soooooo good!

OATMEAL CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
¼ cup vegetable shortening
1 cup packed brown sugar
¾ cup white sugar
1 large egg
3 tablespoons corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-1/3 cups rolled oats
2 cups (12 oz) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup coconut flakes

In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt.

In a large bowl, beat butter and shortening on medium speed until light and fluffy.

Add brown sugar and sugar and beat at medium speed for 2 minutes

Add egg, corn syrup, and vanilla and beat at medium speed for 1-1/2 minutes

Stir in flour (a little at a time) until well-mixed.

Stir in oats, chocolate chips, and coconut.

Refrigerate dough for 10 minutes until firmed up.

PREHEAT OVEN 350 degrees

Place 1-tablespoon-sized balls of dough 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Press down slightly to flatten dough ball on top.

Bake 11-14 minutes. They will seem undercooked, but they will harden up to perfection as they sit.

Makes about 5 dozen.

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Refresh your cookies

No, not the “cookies” on your computer… the cookies in your kitchen!

I baked some oatmeal chocolate chip cookies last week, and they were a little crunchier than I would have liked. My oven tends to run hot, so things often bake faster than recipes state. I always subtract a few minutes from the baking time, but occasionally don’t get it quite right.

Not a problem.

Whether you’ve made the same mistake as I did… or you don’t want to waste cookies that have gone hard…. here’s how to soften up cookies to perfection:

  1. Keep the cookies in a storage container that has a tightly-fitting lid.
  2. Place one slice of fresh bread on top of the cookies and seal the lid.
  3. Let it sit overnight.

In the morning, you will have one very dry piece of bread and some deliciously soft chewy cookies. The cookies will have absorbed all the moisture from the bread. (Discard the bread.)

Don’t let those cookies go to waste!

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Guerrilla Frugality: Intentional Leftovers

By now, everyone interested in frugality knows that home-cooking from scratch is a foundation of the frugal lifestyle.

Sure, it takes time to cook, and we’re all busy-busy-busy. You CAN find the time: Planning ahead can make all the difference in the world. If you can sacrifice a block of time (an hour or two) here and there, you will reap the rewards later.

I have a system I call “Intentional Leftovers”.

Generally, at most I’m cooking for three people… but usually just for myself. But even if I’m only cooking for one, I will still make a large batch of whatever I’m making. The leftovers go in the freezer, and can be reheated in the microwave for quick meals in the future.

Leftovers in the fridge are fine, too, but be realistic about it. There’s nothing more wasteful than perfectly good leftovers going bad in the fridge. As long as you’re going to eat them within a few days, keep leftovers in the fridge. That’s my personal Window of Leftover Opportunity, but then I’m especially squeamish about things like that. Otherwise, pack it up and freeze it!

I recently made a huge pan of baked ziti, a dish my mom always called “lazy lasagna”.

ziti.jpg

The leftovers get packed up in zip-lock freezer bags.

I put a generous single-serving in each bag, and pack them flat, making sure to get all the excess air out of the bags. I label each one with the date for future reference.

ziti2.jpg

You might be tempted to just dump the leftovers into plastic containers, but I think the single-serve freezer bags work better. Not only do they pack flat for easy stacking in the freezer, the smaller quantities will also reheat faster than an entire container. You’ll be grateful for that when you’re exhausted and starving after a long day at work.

ziti3.jpg

That Stouffers meal isn’t mine (LOL), but my leftover baked ziti meals are just as quick and convenient.

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