Conquer the kitchen chaos: Feeding a family without losing your mind or wallet

August 5, 2020 at 12:36 am (Cooking tips, Menu planning)

Feeding a family is hard. It’s a challenge to figure out how to keep a family fed with nutritious, tasty meals without spending your entire life in the kitchen or spending a fortune. I also cannot meal prep to save my life! Alma (at now 5.5-years-old) still doesn’t like most “mixed” dishes or dishes with lots of flavor/spice, so making big one-pot stews or curries or soups or things doesn’t really work for us. And I’m a vegetarian but Derek and Alma are not. Feeding us all is hard! Over two years ago I wrote a time-saving kitchen tips post. This is really a sequel to that post, so let’s call it “time-saving kitchen tips part 2.”

I definitely don’t have everything figured out but below are some things that have been working well for us. Read the rest of this entry »

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Can’t find brown sugar in Germany? Make your own

April 29, 2020 at 10:31 pm (Cooking tips, Uncategorized)

We can’t find American-style brown sugar in Germany. You can get unrefined sugars, but not the white sugar + molasses style sugar we typically call “brown sugar” in America. So when we are following American recipes we usually make our own brown sugar substitute:

For light brown sugar pulse 1 cup of granulated sugar in the food processor with 1 tablespoon of molasses.

For dark brown sugar, use 2 tablespoons of molasses for the same 1 cup of granulated sugar.

If there are liquid ingredients in your recipe you can just add the molasses directly to the liquid ingredients and skip the pulsing step.

Sometimes we use date syrup instead of molasses. It doesn’t seem to make a big difference in terms of the flavor, and it’s easier to come by.

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How to make a stir fry

February 4, 2020 at 9:39 pm (B plus (3 stars, like a lot), Cooking tips, Derek's faves, East and SE Asia, Monthly menu plan, Other)

I’ve always been terrible at stir-frying. You can see many of my previous stir-fry posts for evidence. When I try to wing it, it just doesn’t taste right. And when I try to follow a recipe, most of the time the result is disastrous. I’ve tried many recipes for “stir-fry sauces” over the years and they are almost always terrible, or full of processed store-bought sauces with very strange unpronounceable ingredients. So when one of Derek’s students made us a pretty yummy stir-fry , I asked him to come over and show me how to make it. It was a while ago now, so I’ve probably forgotten part of what I learned, but I’m going to try to record my lessons here.

  1. Tofu: He had me boil the tofu briefly, and it made the texture spongier and more absorbent, a bit more like frozen tofu.  He also had me cut the tofu into huge cubes, but Derek said I should cut them smaller next time. I just pan-fried them in my cast iron skillet the same way I usually do.
  2. Seasoning: We minced a lot of garlic and added some thinly sliced shallots. We also chopped up some cilantro, although I got some grief for getting the wrong (apparently not so flavorful) kind. That was it for seasoning, other than salt and soy sauce. We started by heating my 12-inch stainless steel skillet on high (as high as my oven goes, on the largest burner). When quite hot, we added quite a small amount of oil (1 tsp?) to it, then immediately threw in most (but not all) of the garlic and scallions. After a few seconds we added the slowest cooking vegetable (in our case carrots).
  3. Amounts and timing: We had to make two batches to have enough for all four of us (3 adults + Alma). But I was surprised at how quick it was to make the second batch, especially since we used all the carrots (the slowest veggie) in the first batch. The second batch (with pre-steamed broccoli and other quick cooking vegetables) just took a couple of minutes to make. I think if I was just cooking for Derek and Alma and myself, I could make one batch for dinner and a second batch to have “leftovers” for lunch the next day.
  4. Carrots: We had to add water to the pan in small amounts to get the carrots to cook not burn. Whenever the pan started to brown a bit we added some water.
  5. Broccoli: He said broccoli is a bit tricky, so we steamed it first, until it was almost cooked, and then we added it once the carrots were almost done cooking. That worked well and the final texture came out pretty good.
  6. Mushrooms: He said that the criminis I got weren’t so good for stir-fry, and shiitakes would be better. I think we added the mushrooms too soon, as they ended up a tad overcooked. I think they actually take less time than bell peppers.
  7. Bell peppers: These we cut into quite large pieces and added around the same time as the broccoli.
  8. Salt and soy sauce: We seasoned a bit as we went. I thought the soy sauce would burn since the pan was so hot but it didn’t seem to. He wanted me to taste it as we went for seasoning, but I didn’t want to. I hate tasting food before it’s done. I know, bad, bad cook.
  9. Final seasoning: When all the veggies were just about cooked we threw in the cooked tofu and the rest of the garlic/scallion mixture, along with the chopped cilantro. I was surprised at how tasty it ended up given that there was almost no oil and essentially no sauce.
  10. Cashews: He said they never put cashews in stir-fry, but we like them so I threw a bunch in the oven on low before we started cooking. They were nicely browned by the time the stirfry was ready, and Derek and Alma and I all thought they made a very tasty addition.
  11. Ginger and chilies: There was no ginger in our stirfry, but I missed it. The next time I made a stirfy I julienned some ginger into very thin batons and added them with the garlic and scallions. That way Alma could pick them out. I also ate my stir-fry with some Sambal Olek. I missed some spice.

Other veggies to try: bok choy, bean sprouts, snow peas, green beans, ???

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The best pesto, and sore arms

June 17, 2018 at 9:13 pm (B plus (3 stars, like a lot), Cooking tips, Italian, Sauce/dressing, Summer recipes, Website / blog)

I got a ton of fresh basil from my CSA this week, so I decided to make pesto. I followed this “best pesto” recipe from Serious Eats. Wow was it hard work! I like that it gives the amount of basil leaves by weight, but the recipe did not prepare me for how much work it would be. It took a huge amount of effort to grind all those basil leaves down by hand. Maybe it was because I was using a big thai mortar and pestle instead of the little white (marble?) one they show in the video? By the end I could barely grip the mortar any more. And I never did get my basil leaves as fine as they show in their photos. The pesto did taste really good though (even though I didn’t have any Fiore Sardo, and used all parmesan, and left out the final 2 tablespoons of olive oil).

Alma tasted the pesto but wouldn’t eat it. I froze the bulk of it in two small glass jars.

I have more basil. I might try making the same recipe in the food processor, and see how different it tastes to me. Maybe I’ll even freeze my basil overnight first.

I’m out of pine nuts though. Maybe I’ll try making the next batch of pesto with sunflower seeds instead? Or maybe I’ll just freeze my basil (in oil?) and save it in the freezer for some other recipe.

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My time-saving kitchen tips

March 15, 2018 at 10:20 pm (Cooking tips, How to cook, Menu planning)

There is never enough time. I thought life was busy before, but now that I have a toddler I really need all the extra time I can get. I’ve been striving to optimize our cooking routines, so that we spend less time planning, shopping, cooking, and cleaning up. I’m still struggling, but here are a few strategies we’ve started using to save time in the kitchen. The vast majority of them involve the freezer, which is why we recently upgraded to a massive five-drawer freezer! Read the rest of this entry »

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How to improve your salads — add parsley

September 26, 2015 at 8:32 pm (Cooking tips, Fall recipes, Salads, Spring recipes, Winter recipes)

When my mom was here a few weeks ago she made an excellent parsley salad. It was made from parsley leaves (lots!), grated carrots, red onions, and a simple lemon dressing. Then she added roasted pepitas, which are optional. Delicious. I’ve never been a big fan of taboulleh, so I didn’t realize how tasty a simple parsley salad could be.

My mom had more parsley leftover after making two parsley salads, and so just threw it into a regular green salad. Sooo good. I really miss having a variety of green leafy vegetables available, and so adding parsley to salads is a great way to get more dark green vegetables into my diet. Plus it’s cheap and delicious. I highly recommend it.

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