Sunday, February 19, 2012

Helpful Real Food Cooking Tips

In the past few months I have been reading more and more cookbooks and books about food in general. Some of these books have been duds (The Taste Thesaurus? Blah) but others have been gems. You might be wondering if I have become obsessed with food and you might be onto something. I do like food, A LOT, but cooking? Not so much. Being on the GAPS diet, also known as the "no processed anything diet" requires me to spend a lot of time cooking. You might think that having been on this diet for 16 months! now I would have acquired a love of cooking given the many hours each day I spend in the kitchen but you would be sadly wrong. If nothing else I probably dislike it more. In my quest to make cooking less painful I have stumbled upon a few very fabulous tips that help me spend less time in the kitchen and help me save money to boot.

The first tip comes from a cookbook that I haven't even read yet and probably won't unless the price goes down:

The author of Well Fed offers a thirty-page teaser preview on her website which was so awesome that I was almost willing to pay $30 for the cookbook; almost. What is magical about this cookbook besides its delicious recipes which include, amongst others, chocolate chili? Melissa Joulwan comes from a family of restauranteurs which means she knows how to cook food FAST. Once a week Joulwan does the majority of her food prep for the week, usually within a day of her shopping trip. In two hours she browns ground beef, cooks chicken breasts and sausages,  roasts sweet potatoes and spaghetti squash, steams broccoli and cabbage, chops up raw veggies for snacks, boils a dozen eggs and much more.

As I read this idea it astounded me. In years past I had subscribed to a menu mailer that advocated such weekly prep as this but it didn't really work for me because I didn't like all the recipes included in each weeks mailers. Joulwan, however, doesn't worry about such things as "recipes". She only makes 2-3 real recipes every week. The rest of the time she makes what she calls "hot plates." Basically, she takes what prepared items she has an assembles them into a meal. She decides what flavor she wants (Mexican, Indian, Asian etc.) and then what protein and throws it all together into a skillet and voila! Dinner. The example she gave for a Mexican dinner was to throw together in a skillet a pound of the precooked ground beef, steamed chopped peppers and cabbage and while that was warming up make some "South Western Cumin Lime Dressing" and she had dinner ready in less than ten minutes. This way you get lots of variety and you aren't stuck with the Chicken curry you had planned to make when what you really crave is Mexican.

I have done this a few times and it has worked famously. I wish I was better at doing it but as with every new skill learned, it takes time to change habits and fit something new into the routine. The chopping and steaming vegetables has been genius. I wash and cut up lettuce as soon as I get it so that I can make an easy salad, grate and steam cauliflower rice, and slice a head of cabbage for "noodles." It is so easy just to steam the already wet from washing sliced vegetables until just soft and put in a container in the fridge until I need it. I also like to make up the week's salad dressing so I have no excuse not to eat my greens.

As for working on those flavor combinations to mix together those hot plates? The Flavor Bible is essential! I cannot say enough about how great this book is. The way it is organized is so perfectly aligned with how my brains works. The only thing that I didn't like about this book is its omission of Sherry for cooking.

An Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy and Grace had such a lovely little gem of a not-quite-cookbook title that I bought it, not even waiting for it to come to the library. I don't exactly regret my purchase but I since I am not eating grains currently, her grain heavy and Italian influenced cooking tips really did not quite hit home with me. She also has a mysterious "thing" with beets which I cannot comprehend. It wasn't that this was a useless books, on the contrary, her tips for stretching your culinary budget are sound and tasty, but Adler definitely needed to endear herself to me with her unflinching praise of fat to keep me reading until the end. The most useful tip that I found in her book was to use EVERY part of the vegetable. The core and leaves of that head of cauliflower? Edible. Yup. Not every part of plant is edible (carrot tops?) but when you are paying for those throwaway bits it is nice to be able to put them to use. I now use the extra leaves and cores of cabbage and cauliflower to make blended French-style potage soups.

Another trick that Adler taught is to use the cooking liquid from cooking vegetables as a base for soups. Yes! Duh, I don't know why it took me this long to figure that one out. For a while now I have always saved the drippings from roasts to use for soups and they really amp up the flavor; using the veggie "drippings" is much same. 

My favorite kitchen tip I have actually been doing for years: boil the bones but what I didn't know is that you can boil the snot, erm nutrients, right out of them for a week before throwing them out. Perpetual Broth has become my new best friend and the very best way to stretch that expensive pastured chicken carcass. It is so nice in the winter to be able to have broth for soup available for meals throughout the week and even with a 1/4 tsp. sea salt, a cup of broth is both nourishing, soothing and delicious after a long day. I very highly recommend doing this.

Those are my tips for now. Any that you are willing to share with me?


  1. I know what you mean about disliking cooking more. I'm sure more time in the kitchen as something to do with my waning enjoyment in cooking, but I think also all the restrictions. Somehow, cooking with grains seems more fun. Don't ask me how, because they are actually more work, lol.

    I discovered perpetual broth several weeks ago. It makes soup-making easier. I only wonder about cooking the fat and bits of skin and meat for so long. I feel like I need to remove those after the first day or two. What do you think? I did make a second batch with my beef bones last time, and I would definitely do that again.

    This last time I bought chicken, I put it in my large steamer basket and I filled the pot with third chicken broth, third tomatoes from my freezer, and third water, till the liquid came halfway up the chicken, so the chicken was half boiled, half steamed. Then I could easily pull the whole chicken out with the steamer basket and let it cool so I could pick it apart for soup. It worked out well, so I will be doing that again.

    That's all I can think of right now, besides always trying to make enough for leftovers. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Lisa, I really don't have any bones with meat on them when I boil them. Most definitely if you want to EAT the meat I would remove it within 12 hours otherwise it gets tough and nasty.

      With the fat I usually just skim it off and discard but there isn't much anyway. Like I said, I put pretty clean bones in to begin with. With fatty beef bones I always roast them before hand and then skim the fat and use it to grease my cast iron. I really don't enjoy beef tallow for cooking. I find the flavor knarly.

  2. I use tallow for cooking beef sometimes, but for the most part it lives in my freezer. One of these days I'll try making pemmican.

    And yes, I cannot eat meat once it's cooked that long. A few hours is enough. But I thought it was good to leave some bits for flavor? I need to work at skimming the fat off. I'm not sure how to do it while the broth is going...I guess I could just ladle it off...