Cooking, Home and Family, Homemaking

Confessions of a reluctant cook

Thanksgiving is this week, and I am beginning to shudder when I step into my kitchen.  We have close to twenty guests this year, and the cooking begins today. Don’t get me wrong.  I love Thanksgiving.  And I really enjoy the traditional foods for the holiday; I just don’t necessarily love cooking.  When I find a way to simplify things, I do.  So how do I cook for twenty in bite-sized chunks (pun intended)?

  • If I can make it ahead of time, I will.  The next few days will include grinding flours for rolls and pie crusts, making refrigerator roll dough and pie dough (kept in the fridge until Thursday morning), peeling potatoes (and leaving them in water so they don’t brown), par-baking and slicing yams, and anything else I can think of getting done.
  • Pull it from storage.  I bottle, dehydrate, freeze, and cook in large batches-not because I love to do it, but because one day busy in the kitchen helps save me time the rest of the year.  Our apple pie filling will be from the batch of 25 quarts we bottled a few weeks ago.  The apple butter is from a batch of 36 pints we put up in a couple of hours.  The corn is from my garden via the freezer.  Ditto on the peas.  Wassail will also come from the juice in 2 quart bottles downstairs.
  • Assign some things to others who are coming, or enlist the help of those who are at the house.  Working together helps the meal come together more quickly, and is definitely more fun!  (I claim the titles of Mother, Keeper of the Hearth, and a few others, but I am not a serving girl, servant, or hired help.  The Little Red Hen is one of my favorite stories after all!)
  • Smile.  Enjoy the wonderful smells in the house.  Anticipate the meal, and the yummy creations to follow in the next few days.  Enjoy the spirit of the season!

While I may not love cooking, the time with family and friends is precious.  The peace that comes with a grateful heart is needed and cherished.  And food feeds not just our bodies; it also feeds our souls!

Advertisements
Cooking, Gardening, Home and Family, Homemaking, Organization

The right tools for the job

This evening, I was in the kitchen cooking dinner and happened to look around at the beehive of activity at my house.  I had both ovens going with food for dinner.  I was using various pans and Pyrex dishes for meal prep.  There was the immersion blender for mixing milk, and the spoons made of various materials for stainless steel and non-stick pans.  After we eat, the dishes will go into the dishwasher to get clean.

My husband and son-in-law were outside with the weed-whacker, mower, and tiller in use as they cleaned up the lawn, and prepped three grow-boxes for the corn and beans to be planted tonight.  Three loads of laundry are on the clothesline drying.

Downstairs were the washer and dryer helping me complete the days laundry.  (I don’t hang underwear, socks, towels, or wash cloths on the line.)  My daughter is teaching her five boys.  Some academics.  Some cleaning skills.  And sorting as she goes.

None of this would be possible without the correct tools for the job.  No tiller would mean a full day of amending and mixing soils before we can plant.  No immersion blender could result in lumpy milk.  Doing laundry with modern appliances just doesn’t bear thinking about at all.  And without the ability to plan and the correct supplies, raising and teaching children is tough!

We don’t have the “ideal” world of years gone by in which to rear a family, but we don’t have to go plow the “back forty” with a horse and plow either.  I will take the 21st century anytime!  I will use my curriculum, my scriptures, and lots of time talking with the young ones as I use the wonderful tools at my disposal!  We are so blessed!

Cooking, Parenting

Cooking with children

Food is a huge part of family life for us.  Really huge.  All of us have so many memories attached to meals, or specific foods. It started as I was growing up and would come home to warm cookies and milk after school, or cocoa and toast at the end of a long week.  Often my mom would make something yummy so that I would stay and talk.  It took me a long time to realize that was why she cooked so much, but I admit I have adopted that same strategy.  I would often bake bread and serve it with apple butter as my boys came home with their buddies.  It made for a kitchen full of happy, chatty young men.  Great fun!

One of the smartest things my husband and I did as we were raising our family was to assign each person a night when they were in charge of dinner starting when they were 7 or 8 years old.  This included both meal planning and food preparation.   A parent would cook with them as they were learning, and by the time they were 10 or so, they could take over an entire cooked-from-scratch meal.  That ability freed me up to fold the mountain of laundry on the couch, plan for the coming day, or just sit and read.  When they left for college, they took their own basic kitchen equipment and cook books with them and they actually knew how to use them!

Cooking with children does require a modicum of common sense and a bit of patience.  Don’t start them off with sharp knives or frying oil, rather let them help plan the menu, wash vegetables and fruits, stir batters, and measure ingredients.  Learning to use a timer or a rubber spatula, buttering bread with softened butter, and licking the beaters can be done by a young child.  As their small muscle control develops, teach them the basics of correct knife skills using sharp knives and lots of ADULT SUPERVISION. They can also learn to read a recipe, knead dough, use a rolling pin and stand mixer, and control heat on the stove as they are ready.  The payoff?  Having four teenagers capable of cooking one night a week!

Here are some of our favorite ideas for simple meals to start:

Grilled cheese and vegetable strips (using a choice of breads/cheeses)

Spaghetti with salad and bread (homemade sauce)

Mac-n-cheese, spam, and applesauce

Tuna noodle casserole with peas and corn

Tacos

Chili

Beef roast with carrots and potatoes

Homemade soups/rolls

Stew and biscuits/cornbread

Each of my children now cook for their own households.  My still single university student cooks for his roommates, and has even cooked for a few dates!  Some enjoy cooking more than others, but they all are competent and can provide a healthy, well-rounded meal for themselves and others.

And when they come home for Sunday dinners and holidays, you’ll find us in the kitchen surrounded by pots, pans, cutting boards, and delicious food!

Cooking, Finances, Home and Family, Homemaking

Broth- a wonder food!

My house smells heavenly this morning.  There is beef broth simmering away in my Crock Pot. (It is being created from the trimmings of the beef we bottled yesterday.)  Broth is so simple to make, and has so many uses!  And all this from the bits and pieces that would otherwise be thrown out.

I use my Crock Pot when I make broth.  I can leave it on the counter overnight or when I am out and around during the day with no worries.  Broth needs time to develop flavor, so it will cook on low for 12-24 hours.  Once the flavor is well-developed, strain the broth off into a pitcher or large bowl, and chill it overnight in order for the fat to rise to the top and solidify.  When it is chilled, skim off the fat layer and use it, or bottle/freeze it for later.  I have dozens of bottles of various flavors in our food room just waiting for use.

Basic broth

Place bones, fat, skin, or any part of the meat you don’t intend to eat in to a Crock Pot.  Add onion, celery, carrots, bay leaves, peppercorns, and turnips (if the meat is beef) to the crock.  Fill with water.  Turn the Crock Pot on low and let it cook.  (You can use the peels, leaves, or trimmed ends from any of the vegetables for broth.  Just ensure they are clean, and throw them in.)  I have made broth from chicken, turkey, beef, ham, and fish.  You can also make it from vegetables.

If you find you don’t have adequate trimmings to fill your Crock Pot one-third full, freeze them.  When you have gathered enough for a batch, thaw them and you’re in business!

We add broth to grains such as rice and cracked wheat when we cook it for dinner.  (We used ham broth last week when we made pinto beans and rice for dinner.  There was no meat, but it tasted like there was! Yummy!)  You can use it for gravies, sauces, soups, or risotto.  I also use it for braising meat.  It is inexpensive to make, and is so versatile.

My husband has a rice/vermicelli side dish recipe that is fantastic and uses whichever broth goes with the meat you are serving.  This recipe feeds 8-10 people.  Feel free to cut it in half.

1/2 stick butter

2 cups vermicelli, broken into 1/2 inch pieces

3 cups rice

2 quarts broth

2-3 teaspoons soup base

Melt butter in 4-6 stock pot, or large pan.  Add rice and brown until very light brown.  Add vermicelli and continue browning until pasta is a toasted.  In a separate pan, combine broth and soup base until heated.  Add enough broth to cover the rice/vermicelli mixture to the stock pot when browning is completed and boil until liquid can no longer be seen (a glass lid is perfect for this if you have one).  Take off heat, and allow the grains to continue to absorb the remaining liquid-about 20 minutes.  Serve hot.