Our Chinese New Year meal turned out to be pretty tasty, if I do say so myself. Brad and my nephew, Brent, both appeared to enjoy the pork dumplings, shrimp stir-fry and the beer and wine. Brent talked about the many meals I made for him when I lived in Seattle and he would drive up from Portland for the weekend. He is so much fun to cook for because he appreciates it so much, notices details, and is able to articulate how much it means to him. He was vegan for six years so that added a bit more challenge to my preparing dishes for him but I actually enjoyed the challenge. My pesto linguine is a favorite of his, and his twin sisters, as well as a couple of Seattle friends…along with my coffee made with my Italian Bialetti Moka stove-top pot.
I think it’s fair to say I’m a good cook, certainly not the best, but I do enjoy it. It’s a creative outlet for me and I definitely keep improving. HOWEVER, while I think some of my dishes, in particular my pesto, is pretty good, I think what my friends and family are really responding to, is the love I put into the dishes I make for them.
For is there any practice less selfish, any labor less alienated, any time less wasted, than preparing something delicious and nourishing for people you love?Micael Pollan
A couple of months ago, a friend I’ve known since kindergarten who now lives in Florida, asked me what I’m doing for some good value meals these days since food is so crazy expensive. Over the last several years she and I have enjoyed swapping recipes and cooking ideas. Lancaster County is unique with its many Pennsylvania Dutch dishes, and we like to reminisce about some of the meals we grew up with that are specific to this area. She even stood up at my mother’s funeral reception and shared how much she loved some of my mother’s cooking, her corn pie in particular, I believe. That meant a lot to me. Food is such a connector. Anyway, I thought her question about value meals with food prices so high, a good one, and wanted to share a few ideas.
I hate to let any food go to waste so if we ever leave a dish unfinished, I will try to figure out how to make the leftovers into a fabulous dish the next day. Some dishes are even tastier the next day. For example, I never throw away left-over rice. I make it into rice pancakes the next morning. I just add an egg as a binder, a dash of vanilla and cinnamon and salt and cook it on med-high heat. They sometimes crumble a little bit when you flip them so the hotter the oil and the longer you let them sizzle, the crispier the outsides, and the better they stay together. Just drizzle some natural maple syrup on them and yum!
Buying in Bulk
I find orange juice from boxes or bottles too sweet and so when we can get a large bag of oranges, or oranges in bulk, I will juice one for breakfast. The juice from one orange, which amounts to just a couple of shots, can go a long way. It’s concentrated and tastes like the freaking nectar of the gods.
Tomato Sauce Base
I almost always have homemade tomato sauce on hand so that I can quickly make a spaghetti sauce or chili, etc… anything that calls for a tomato base. The recipe is actually a no-cook pizza sauce recipe from a Pizzas cookbook by Joie Warner from 1988 but I find it’s a good base and convenient to add to, and you can store it in your refrigerator for more than a week and whip it out and heat or add to it ie. ground beef, vegetables, spices, etc. and save a lot of time (and it’s better than jarred sauce – much healthier too, with less sodium and additives.) Here it is:
No-Cook Tomato Sauce
1 large garlic clove
1 28-oz can of tomatoes
About 4 Tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
4 large fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
I use a food processor and mince garlic first and then add tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, salt, oregano, basil, hot pepper flakes, and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until using. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
One caveat about my cooking and recipes…I’m not very good at sticking to recipes. For instance with this one, I don’t always have fresh basil or dried oregano and that won’t stop me from making it. Add something else. Improvise. That can be one place where creativity comes in. Improvising is something you can do with with most savory dishes. Baking is much more precise which is probably why I’m not a great baker.
I just love to create dishes that I think will be good. I’ve made a lot of clunkers but like anything, the more you do it, the better you get. I remember when I was young, in kindergarten I think, and I got the book Stone Soup. I loved the story and still think of it when I cook, in particular, when I make soups. The story is also about building community but that’s for another post. I’ll end this post with a short synopses of Stone Soup.
Stone Soup is a folk story in which hungry travelers come to a village with nothing more than an empty pot. The villagers are initially unwilling to share their food. The travelers go to a stream and fill the pot with water, drop a large stone in it, and place it over the fire. When a villager asks about it, they tell him that they are making stone soup and that it’s very delicious and they will be happy to share it although it is missing a few ingredients that would make it even more flavorful. The villager says he’ll contribute a few carrots, another villager then offers potatoes, another cabbage, another peas, another sweet corn, meat, butter, salt and pepper and so on. Before too long the pot is overflowing. Finally, the stone is removed and a delicious pot of soup is enjoyed by travelers and villagers alike.
Let me know if you have any food ideas for staying healthy and cooking good meals without breaking your bank account during this time of especially high food prices.
2 responses to “Food Edition”
I will attest, our Chinese New Year meal was delicious. Donna is being humble when assessing her culinary skills. She never ceases to amaze and delight my taste buds. She does love to cook, and it shows.
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Thank you, Brad.