Waste Less, Feed More

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One of the things that we should talk more about in this country is the amount of food insecurity present. This is a vast problem and is significantly underrepresented in the media, and I believe it needs more attention. 42.2 million Americans live in a food-insecure household, which is just a shockingly high number, and I did not expect that. There are so many things that we can do to help reduce these numbers and keep people fed and healthy.

We have programs in the states that can help people in the situation, such as the federal government’s snap benefits. That’s not to be said that we can also do our part, and one of the ways that we can help with this food insecurity is to help stop food waste. Estimated at 30 to 40% of the food supply in the United States is wasted. That’s 80,000,000,000 pounds per year; just think about how many people we could feed. No, I did not miss count those zeros; I meant to say 80 billion pounds. If we can just buy less food and make sure that we’re planning out our meals so that we don’t have usable products ending up in the trash because of our poor planning, we can save so much. If you look at more of these statistics about our food supply in the United States, here’s the link to that.

I’m guilty of this from someone who finds it easier to eat out, as a college student coming home after work and classes and cooking a meal is a lot easier said than done. I see those expiration dates on ingredients, and some of them I read like the law as if I have to throw it away as soon as the day passes. But there are so many ways to preserve foods and cut down on our waste that ignorance is no longer the excuse. Not only will we be able to save money if we go through some of the waste-cutting measures, but we can get food to people who need it and help reduce the number of food-insecure.

I know this wasn’t my usual light and fun topic, but I came across a friend’s Facebook post about the issue, and it just made me want to talk about it. If we talk about something, it’s easier for us to start a discussion and find better solutions to a problem, so that’s what I was hoping to get out of this post. It’s also good to know that if you suffer from food insecurity, many people are going through the same thing, and if you do need help, here’s a list of resources you can reach out to.  I hope everyone can get a little inspiration from this post, waste less, and keep it cooking.

Practice makes perfect.

Photo By Black Salmon

One of the hardest things to do when you take up a new hobby or job is keeping at it when you have failures. If you start cooking or baking, you’re going to have failures, and it’s going to be hard to keep trying the same thing when it won’t work.  Many recipes are pretty complicated and can take multiple times to get it right, but it’s important not to get discouraged and keep at it. I know I’ve had times where I can remember, and I hope to go over a few with you that I just want to give up or not make it and just buy it, but it ended up working out in the end. Not knowing how to cook is no reason not to cook, and now is the perfect time to start making those dishes that you’ve always wanted to attempt.  

I remember when I spent a week trying to make good maple fudge, and it took me about seven tries to get it right. After about the third attempt, I was pretty annoyed with the whole thing, but I looked at different YouTube videos and other blogs to get ideas of what I was doing wrong. After sticking with it, I was able to get that flavorful maple fudge with that perfectly creamy consistency. The one nice thing about the maple fudge was I could reuse the same base and reheat it, so I wasn’t wasting any ingredients. It was just a matter of getting the temperature, the timing, and some other little tips to get that creamy texture versus the coarse separated sugar.  I have attempted to make it since, and it works great every time now that I was able to put in the practice and increase my skills.

Another thing that took me a while to master was understanding how to make a juicy chicken breast that was not underdone or overdone. I have to say I did eat many dry chicken breasts before figuring out the timing and the temperature that would ideally cook with the best result. Reading about this is a great way to get an idea before moving to try a new recipe or cooking a new dish, but you won’t get to better your skills until you go out and try it. When it comes to cooking that ideal chicken breast, make sure you have a thermometer and that you let that chicken come to room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes before you cook it.

The best cooks have to start somewhere, and I think it’s important not to get discouraged when you’re initially starting.  Do your research, take your time, and you can end up with dishes that you couldn’t even believe you made. So, let’s go out there and start practicing and cooking these fantastic meals that we all know you’re capable of doing. Share those internet worthy pictures of those finished dishes on my Twitter page, and hopefully, we can keep it cooking.

Save Some Bread

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

One of the things that I’ve always found to be a relaxing experience is bread making. Breadmaking can be very cost-effective. The ingredients are usually straightforward and can easily be found in your pantry or even the smallest of grocery stores. Simple bread just consists of flour, yeast water and gets more complex from there. I have a couple of recipes that I love to use, and I made them multiple times, and I get an excellent result each time.

The first one is focaccia bread, and the recipe for that is in this link. It’s a crispy light bread that is perfect for sandwiches, that you can slice it up and make a little cracker for dips, and croutons for a salad. It’s a great versatile bread recipe, and I also tend to double the recipe sometimes and put it in the same half sheet pan to get a thicker result and then slice it through the middle for sandwiches. It’s also effortless to make; it’s one of the easiest bread recipes; you prof it twice for the second time is it in the pan, and there’s also no shaping involved which is a tricky part of bread making. Another type of bread I love to make for sandwiches especially is Dutch crunch. It has this crispy layer on top of the bread, and it’s great for adding another element to a dish. It’s also perfect if you slice it up and use it aside for soups. It’s a great bread to dip and get that flavor of the soup onto. Now you may be thinking who has time to make all of this bread and prep time, but it’s worth it if you’re like me and kind of impulsive when it comes to meals, especially those midnight snacks; bread can always be made in advance and frozen. When I go to the process of making focaccia, if I’m going to make the kitchen a mess and dirty my KitchenAid mixer, I might as well just make two batches worth and freeze them in usable portions. It will come out tasting just like the day you froze it. I prefer to freeze the bread over leaving it in the fridge because it comes out with a nicer result over the same time period.

Hopefully, this is inspired you to make some bread and get some soups, salads, and grilled cheese going for dinner. If you have your favorite bread recipe that you want to share, please tag me on Twitter, and maybe I’ll give it a try. Don’t worry if your bread doesn’t come out right the first time. It’s a process of learning and adjusting the recipe till you get your desired results. Let’s all make some bread well saving some bread.

Hung out to Dry…

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We’re very lucky to say that we have so many options when we go to the grocery store for what type of food we’re going to buy and what form it is sold in. What I mean is we can choose between fresh, frozen, dried, and canned ingredients. Having this choice available to us can be quite daunting but I want to focus in on canned versus dried because this comes up a lot when I go to the grocery store. A lot of things beans, legumes, even stocks are sold in both dried and canned forms. For some of these ingredients I definitely have a preference and others I leave it up to the recipe to kind of decide what I’m going to buy.

One of the first ingredients that comes to mind is beans and other legumes these are available in canned and dry varieties at most grocery stores. I do  like the dry ingredients better I think I’m able to lock in more of a flavor if I start with dried beans especially in something that’s going to simmer all day like a chili. Although this does take some preparation because I like to soak those overnight so that they don’t take days to cook on the stove. It’s not saying that I don’t always have a can of black beans and pinto beans in my pantry available for when I get those midnight cravings. Another thing I like to buy in the dry form is bullion, which is basically a dried form of stock or broth. I think having the dried form allows me to get a concentrated flavor without having to reduce it and it’s just a great way to impact the flavor of soups and sauces without making them more liquid. Here’s a link to one of my favorite bullion’s it’s not dry but it lasts in the fridge for months and it has such a great flavor. When it comes to certain vegetables, they do come in a dry form such as corn and carrots and for those I tend to shy away from ever buying the dried version. The can version usually has more consistency and flavor of the fresh counterpart all this being said I would try to avoid the can and buy the fresh if I could. Take a look at this article of pantry staples that you should be buying tried and canned.

Hopefully I was able to give you a little insight on the world of dried versus canned ingredients. Both are usually a great cost savings to you because they can be found year around and be bought in bulk. In the end it’s all about good cooking and good food so hopefully this is inspired you to make something delicious with some dried or canned ingredients. When you happen to make any of those dishes make sure you share a picture on my Twitter.

First Step, Lets Meal Prep

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I came across this interesting topic this week that meal prepping was just eating leftovers all week. Not really my perspective on the topic because I tend to meal prep in a way that still ends up with very fresh results when I go to eat. Yeah, I can spend my Sunday’s meal prepping and still end up cooking fresh meals during the week but cutting down on a lot of that meaningless prep time. Let’s go over how I view meal prepping and see if maybe want to start doing it yourself

The first part of meal prepping is cutting down on dishes, it’s my least favorite part of the cooking process. When you decide to meal prep you can really cut down on the amount of time as you do the same task. When I start meal prepping, I like to plan what dishes I want to make during the week I usually pick out five and I like to have a portion for dinner and lunch the next day. After I buy all those ingredients, I can start chopping up some of those common things that are easy to do all at once. Onions are usually in almost every recipe I use and sticking a few onions in the food processor and having a Tupperware of pre-chopped onions is not only time saving but tear saving. That goes for all of the vegetables that I can use and getting them ready so that they can just go into the pan and I can stir fry them, or throw them into a burrito, or a casserole and it’s just. I primarily stick to chicken and fish for health reasons and they’re usually fairly easily accessible. When I buy a large pack of chicken thighs, I’ll marinate half with one flavor and another flavor for the other half. I can easily portion these thighs out put them in Ziploc bags and freeze them so the night before I can just pull them out and I have ready to go marinated meat for the next day. By doing these prep work things I’m still cooking fresh meals at night but cutting down on the prep time.

Let’s face it if most of our prep work is done in advance then we’re more likely to come home and actually cook those meals. Having home cooked meals is a more affordable and healthier option and prep work can make it accessible for everyone schedule. Hopefully some of these tips and tricks for new to you and if you have any suggestions do not hesitate to contact me on Twitter. Also take a look at this link for some of the best recipes that you can prep in advance and still get that fresh result.

Let’s all Keep it Clean…

Photo by Tracey Hocking

So this week, I was making some chipotle chicken burgers, and the concept of cross-contamination came to my mind. In other words, the idea of all of the germs and potential contaminants that are on that raw chicken or one of the only things I could think about as I got these patties ready for the grill. I don’t think we talked enough about proper cleaning procedures or tips to help prevent cross-contamination, so I want to go over a few of my favorites. Hopefully, many of you were using many of these in your kitchen; if not, maybe you can put them into practice and keep ourselves safe.

The first thing I like to have in my kitchen is an excellent bacteria-killing cleaner that stays on the counter and is ready to access every time I do anything with raw meats. If it’s right there, I can quickly grab it and disinfect everything before moving onto the next step in a recipe, and it’s nice to clean as I go to help prevent anything from getting contaminated. I also like to use a separate cutting board for meat and cooked meat. Now, to be fair, I don’t have separate cutting boards; I just have a cutting board I have respective sides on that I wash and use the reverse side after the meat is cooked. Although it is different than the cutting board, I use it for vegetables and other ready-to-eat foods. I like to avoid touching any sort of raw meat with any wooden utensils or wooden cutting boards. I’d like to stick with metal for my spoons and anti-microbial plastics for my cutting boards. These surfaces are easy to disinfect and are less porous, so they’re less likely to hold that bacteria after being washed. Here’s a link to my current favorite cutting board, and here are some other tips that you should take a look at and think about implementing in your routine.

Hopefully, I was able to show you some new tricks and not just repeat the same old kitchen gospels that we’ve heard so many times. I know it’s a mundane task for keeping your kitchen clean and ready to go for the next time you want to use it, but it makes it much easier when you want to cook. In the end, cooking is all about nourishment and nutrition so getting sick isn’t really in that ballpark. Let me know how you help prevent cross-contamination and hit me up on Twitter with your tips and tricks.

Tools of the Trade

Photo by Sea Wave

When cooking, there are so many great tools that are available to even the newest of chefs. One of the great ways to save money is to avoid those fads and stick with classic items that will last you a lifetime of great cooking. Every chef should have specific tools within their arsenal available in every kitchen. Let’s talk a bit about what items I would spend a little money on what things I would save a little money on. 

The first thing everybody needs is a good chef’s knife; there are multiple styles, and I would pick the one that best fits your grip.  This is a trial-and-error thing, so don’t like the first knife, and if you want quality that lasts a lifetime, you may have spent a little bit of money on this one.  The next thing you got to have in your kitchen is a cast-iron skillet. I usually like to have about 2 inches deep in about at least 12 inches but prefer 14 inches size, and don’t be afraid to save a little money on this one. This is such a versatile tool, and if cared for correctly, you can last forever; you’re some great tips on caring for it correctly. Next, I would invest in a great food processor. I use mine for so many things that it’s worth every penny. You want one with a variety of accessories to cut down on your prep time, and you can save money by buying ingredients in their raw form.  Use mine from chopping vegetables to make my almond flour which saves a ton of money and time.  Take a look at this article that ranks all the top-selling suitable food processors and see what fits your budget.

Hopefully, this can help you find out what you need in your kitchen to be the best at home so if you could be.  Spending money where it is well deserved will help you get the best bang for your buck and have items in your kitchen that are versatile and easy to use. When you have the right tools in the kitchen, you can cook all the dishes you can set your mind to.  Do you have any questions on any of the kitchen products you’re going out there to buy, do not hesitate to contact me on Twitter?  

Let’s keep those pantries stocked!

Image By Steve P B

When it comes down to it ending up with the right result, it depends on the ingredients that go into the dish. This can make those recipes even more intimidating because if they don’t work, you’ve wasted not only your time but your money. One of the main things to do before you go to the grocery store is to plan. Knowing what recipes, you want to cook this week and what ingredients are needed will help you save money in the long run. I hope to give you some tips that I use, and hopefully, you can use them to help establish some acceptable practices we’re going grocery shopping.

The first thing to keep in mind is you should know which vegetables are seasonally available. These tend to be much more affordable when they are in the season, even though they may be available outside of the season. My first example of this is corn; when it is towards the end of fall, it tends to be close to $.25, and then if you go in the middle of winter, you’re looking at a dollar a cob. Another great thing that is available to us that we tend not to use coupons. I go to the Krazy coupon lady website to find some fantastic deals on groceries and household staples. Lastly, I recommend buying certain things in bulk and take advantage of that pantry that you have.  Dry ingredients take forever to go bad and are so shelf-stable that if you’re not buying them in bulk, you’re just wasting money. Another great thing to buy in bulk is certain meats; chicken is usually cheaper if you buy large bags, and you can easily take out a small portion and use it for your dishes. For more in the all-inclusive list, take a look at this news article from US news that goes over a list of things you should be buying in bulk.

Hopefully, you have found a great way to save a little money when you go to the grocery store. It’s always easy to start small, implement one of these practices, and then move onto the next. If you have any tips or tricks that you use, reach out to me on Twitter. I would love to hear more. So let’s all take a few minutes right now to plan out next week’s meals so that we can go grocery shopping this weekend and check out some of those coupons online.

Keep Up the Spice

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If we’re going to keep it cooking, we might as well spice it up while we are at it. The best way to understand the spices and herbs at our disposal is to experiment with them. It’s easier to understand aroma flavor and visual components that each of these herbs or spices can add after using them for some time. Changing the combination of herbs and spices used in a recipe can live up the flavor or make a quick change to a dish so let’s talk more about the unique component of food.

If you’re a little unsure or new to cooking, I would highly recommend this article, “22 Different Spices and Herbs and How to Use Them”. This article is fantastic at breaking down some popular spices on their flavor and how to best use them and dishes. When you’re new to a different space, you may not know how to utilize it best to create a good flavor profile. Refers you to some recipes that you can use to get an idea of the flavor.

Spices are a great place to show your creativity in the kitchen. I always look at recipes as a roadmap, and there are so many little alleys in street ways you can use to get to the same destinations. You can even use them to help bring some variety to the dishes you’ve made for years and look for a little bit of a change. When it comes to herbs and spices, they come in both dry and fresh forms for the most part. When it comes to the dry form, they’re usually more concentrated in flavor, so if you’re going to be using the fresh state, you want to increase that by a 3 to 1 ratio.

Keeping spices on hand in the kitchen is a great way to utilize them in your dishes. If you like me and like having everything super organized, I can’t more than highly recommend this spice organizing system found online. Now hopefully, you can run to your nearest grocery store and see all of those spices and start experimenting in the kitchen and create some great dishes. Don’t forget to post those finished dishes to my Twitter account and let me know what spices you’ve discovered.

Everything in its Place

Mise en place Iconography icon illustration branding illustration iconography cooking vegetables food icon
Photo by Emma Shipley

One of the first things I learned in my culinary classes was the French term mise en place, which roughly translates to everything in its place. This is one of the essential concepts in the kitchen and starts before you even think about cooking. Having the right ingredients, tools, and equipment to help your cooking experience goes smoothly is very important. Like I said in my previous blog, “Cooking And Cost Savings?” being prepared can help you save money when you cook. I wanted to discuss some of the things I used to help me organize before cooking a new dish or even step foot in the kitchen.

I think we’ve all seen those recipes that are so long and complicated that we were overly intimidated and shy away from the recipe. One great way of getting used to a new recipe is to rewrite it in a particular format known as T forming a recipe. Although this can be done in many ways, here is a link to one of my favorite Excel templates for this recipe format. T forming recipes allows you to see what ingredients are needed for each step. By doing this, you get a chance to read through your recipe and look at all of the necessary steps and ingredients and how to do it most efficiently. I’ve been doing this process for years, and it’s given me a clearer picture of a recipe before I even start.

Another excellent tool for being prepared in the kitchen has the time to do stuff. Let’s face it when we get home from a long day of work, the last thing we want to do is start cutting vegetables. This can be done ahead of time, be on Sunday night, and prepare for the entire week so recipes can go smoothly and quickly. Not only does having these ingredients on hand and in the prepared form save you so much time, but you’re less likely to come home and just order takeout if the recipe only takes 20 minutes to cook. Now keep in mind this is different from meal prepping because the meal will still be prepared fresh when you’re serving it, but prep work like cutting onions and vegetables can be done all at once. It’s also efficient to use a food processor and not rewash it every Night to chop the vegetables.

Everyone should take the time to do that mise en place, and trust me; you won’t regret it. Go through those recipes, rewrite them, and understand them so that when you come to prepare the dish, it can be a successful project. Hopefully, both of these things can help you be more organized and prepared in the kitchen to keep it cooking; let’s all go and mise en place.