Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pantry Clean-out

I went to my pantry and found one box of organic granola, with a couple of "unpronounceable", but natural ingredients. I found organic vanilla wafers, ditto on the ingredient list. And trail mix bars, ditto again on the ingredient list. Everything else is just food. Dried fruit, pasta, canned tomatoes, rice, oatmeal, etc. I have some condiments like Tabasco sauce and salsas. They're food, too.

My fridge is even better. I didn't find anything that wasn't food in there. I don't keep a stock of frozen dinners. I can make omelettes in less time than cooking a frozen dinner and we'd rather have that.

If I want to be strict about this, I will need to make granola and make my own granola bars. I have the ingredients and plan to make it tonight after dinner. I like a bit of it on top of yogurt and fruit. I use a teaspoon of jam instead of sugar to sweeten the yogurt and it's a really good snack. The brand of jam has to say "fruit spread" because there aren't any fake ingredients in it. Go figure!

I should make my own cookies, if I'm going to eat them. Normally I do that, but these were purchased for one of the recipes I got to test, but had my schedule change and didn't have time to make the recipe.

I guess I'm doing pretty well on the eat food front. I think I have recipes for a lot of the condiments and could make them myself, but I don't see the need, for the most part, because they pretty much are just food and the serving size is so small that I doubt it makes much difference. I like to make that stuff, but it's hard to find the time.

I found out that vegetable stock keeps almost indefinitely in the refrigerator if you boil it for 5 minutes every few days. You also can freeze it. I'm going to make a batch of roasted vegetable stock and a batch of mushroom stock. Some of the vegetable stock I'm giving to my mom so the friend who cooks a lot of her meals can use it. I don't add salt to the stock, so it's better for her salt-restricted diet. And it means that I won't have more in my house than I have space to store and use.

The thing about vegetable stock is that it's a good base for anything. If you need chicken, veal, or beef stock, you can put a little of the appropriate demi-glace in the vegetable stock to get the flavor you're looking for. Demi-glace is concentrated stock. It keeps in the fridge for a very long time. It seems expensive, but the cost per serving is actually pretty small because it's so super concentrated that you don't use very much at a time. It's a great way to boost the flavors of sauces and gravies, too. One thing to note is that you should add the demi-glace before you season the stock, sauce, or gravy. Then taste. Often there's enough salt in the demi-glace to season your dish without adding more.

You can make your own demi-glace. It's very time-consuming. You make a poultry, beef, or veal stock. Then simmer it for a day or two, until it's concentrated down. A woman I used to work with made some and I think 8 or 12 quarts of stock made something like 2-4 cups of demi-glace. And it took 2 or 3 days of simmering. I'm not super comfortable with simmering stock on my stove while I sleep, but I suspect you can simmer it all day, then cover it and store it in the refrigerator overnight. Repeat until you get the stock concentrated enough. But I doubt I'll be doing that any time soon. I need to make better use of my time, so I'm using the demi-glace I bought at Williams-Sonoma.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ingredients & Michael Pollan

I've been really busy and frustrated by not being able to find time to make ingredients. We've been eating more in restaurants than I'd like to. But I'm doing extra cooking now because my mom needs super low-sodium meals and she can't cook for herself. So, I need to revisit this idea and time-shift more of my meal prep to times other than immediately before dinner. My new slow cooker really helps with that.

I made steel cut oatmeal in the slow cooker. Best oatmeal I've ever eaten. And that takes care of breakfast for a while. I know that's not an ingredient, but it gives me ideas for other things I can do.

An online friend made dulce de leche in her slow cooker. You put the can of condensed milk in water and cook it in the cooker on low. I wonder if you can put the finished dulce de leche in freezer containers and freeze it. I'll have to try it sometime when I'm looking for ingredients for dessert, not meals.

I think the first ingredient I want to use my slow-cooker for is beans. Cooked beans freeze really well in plastic bags. Plastic bags take up less space in the freezer than containers, so I prefer to use them whenever I can. Then I can use them instead of canned beans. Dried beans taste so much better and they're so simple that they're worth making and keeping around to use in recipes.

I have a reason for wanting to do dried beans first. Silicon Valley Reads 2010 is reading In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. We went to a free Q & A session with Michael Pollan, hosted by Mike Cassidy, a local newspaper columnist, which was the kickoff event in the 2010 Silicon Valley Reads. There's a video of that conversation on the web site.

The front cover of the book has a seven word phrase that sums up Michael's theme. "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." He has a new book, Food Rules, which consists of 64 rules that explain how to follow that seven-word theme. I read both books and he makes a lot of sense.

It occurred to me that if you adopt one rule a week, you could be following them all in a bit over a year. It would be an interesting experiment. I probably could do it in a year, since I already do some of them. It makes sense to start with rule number 64-Break the rules once in a while, so I don't go crazy trying to be perfect. Or maybe keep Rule 64 in mind as I add the other ones to my life.

He divides up the book into three parts. Part I is What should I eat? That seems to be the big question of our time. People avidly read nutrition studies looking for what constitutes a healthy diet. But the nutrition studies have one huge flaw-they pull out one nutrient at a time to study because it's easier to study one thing. But we don't eat that way. We eat foods in combination with other foods. And the nutrients get all mixed up in our system, so one may enhance another or cancel it out. That's one reason why it's so hard to figure out what to eat.

It seems like there's the "Nutrient of the Month". A study comes out and suddenly there's fiber being advertised in everything. Or probiotics. Or something else. Then another study comes out and that recedes into the background in favor of the next nutrient. It does get confusing.

Part 2 is Mostly plants. That seems self-explanatory, until you start to think about it. He came up with 21 rules on that subject. One question is which plants? Another is how much of your diet should be plants and how much everything else? This--mostly plants-is why I want to keep more precooked beans around. I see more vegetarian meals in my future. I've been eating less meat lately because of the expense, but I can see that we'll be cutting back a bit more and beans are a really good and easy base for fast vegetarian meals, especially if they're already cooked.

Part 3 is Not too much. There's a sticky one. How much is "not too much"? People really don't want to hear "eat less", but that's his message. And he talks about how to do that.

Anyway, I think it's less likely to hurt my health to follow Michael Pollan's rules than to continue to participate as a guinea pig in the food experiments perpetrated on Western society by the huge food processing companies. I don't eat much processed food anymore, so it's mainly a matter of refining my choices and figuring out how to make them work in the trenches of a busy life.

I think I want to alternate between each section of the book. It will keep a better balance. So, this week I'd start with Rule One. Next week will be Rule 22. The following week would be Rule 44. Then back to Rule 2. And so on. I'll try to post at least once a week on how it's going.

Rule One is Eat food. This rule is about choosing real food, not food created by food processing companies. My task for the week will be to get rid of any fake food that happens to be in my pantry and fridge. I suspect there won't be much, but I won't have time to do this until tomorrow or Saturday.

Pulled Pork & Mashed Potatoes

I thought since I've been writing about food a lot lately, it was time to post a recipe. This is the easiest pulled pork recipe.

Pulled Pork

1 pork roast, about 2 pounds
1 T olive oil
3 medium onions, sliced
2-4 cloves of garlic, minced
4 cups barbeque sauce, approximately

Preheat the oven to 400ยบ. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven. Brown the pork roast on all sides. Mix the onions and garlic. Take it out of the pan and spread the onion mixture evenly in the bottom of the pan. Put the pork roast on top of the onions. Pour 2 cups of the barbecue sauce over the roast. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Bake for one hour. Turn the roast over and baste with the sauce, adding more if it's getting too dry. Bake for one hour longer. If the roast is small, it might be done at this point. It's done when it's tender enough all the way through to pull into shreds. If it's not done, turn the roast over and baste with the sauce, adding more if it's too dry. Bake a half hour longer and test for doneness. It takes between two and three hours. When it's done, use two forks and shred it right in the pan. Stir to mix back into the sauce. Serve.

  1. The amount of garlic will depend on how big the cloves are,how much you like garlic, and how much, if any, garlic the sauce has in it.

  2. If your pot doesn't have a really tight lid, it's important that you seal the top with foil or it dries out too much and can burn.

  3. If it starts to dry out or the sauce thickens too much, add liquid. You can add broth, water, or more barbeque sauce, depending on what flavor you want to end up with.

  4. You can use a larger roast. Just add more time, turning and basting every half hour after the first two hours. You will probably need more liquid.

  5. I served this with the roasted garlic mashed potatoes. You can put in on a sandwich roll to make pulled pork sandwiches. You can serve it over pasta or rice, too. It's pretty versatile.

  6. It's simple to change the flavors, too, since you can use whatever sauce you want.

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes
A lot of healthy cookbooks and magazines recommend using broth instead of milk or cream in mashed potatoes. The problem with it is the potatoes don't get that creaminess that make mashed potatoes so good. Using mostly broth, and adding a little cream, gives the creaminess without adding a lot of calories or fat.

4 large potatoes, peeled and cut into about 6 pieces
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon roasted garlic, or to taste.
1/2-1 cup vegetable stock, warmed
2-4 tablespoons cream, warmed

Boil potatoes until tender. Pour into a colander and drain. Put back into the pan and cook briefly over low heat, shaking the pan or stirring the potatoes until dry. Put the garlic and potatoes through a ricer or mash with a masher. Add enough stock to make the potatoes almost as moist as you want them. Then add cream, one tablespoon at a time, until the potatoes are creamy. Add salt and pepper, to taste.

  1. It's more important that the potato pieces be approximately the same size than how many pieces you cut them into. Smaller pieces take less time to cook and should be checked for doneness sooner than larger ones.

  2. The type of potato makes a difference, too. Yukon Golds take less time to cook than russets. I don't use any other types for mashing.

  3. The amount of broth and cream depend on how many potatoes you use. Add the broth a little at a time and mix it well before adding more. Stop when the potatoes are still a bit dry. The cream will take care of the dryness.

  4. I didn't add butter, but you could add a little. I had some whipping cream I needed to use and decided that it was enough. If I'd used milk instead, I might have wanted a tablespoon of butter and less milk.