Thursday, September 10, 2020


Seems super weird to be a white girl writing how to make dosas. And when I get uncomfortable I use lots and lots (and lots) of words. But here's the deal. I love Dosas. No one I know is from South India to help me avoid the pitfalls of writing about dosas, and I really really really want YOU to make dosas because they are incredible and I didn't even know they existed before June of this year. (Goes on the short list of good stuff that happened in 2020). So here it is. Dosas by a white girl who doesn't actually know what she's doing, but is muddling about and trying to figure it out because these are too delicious not to. 

But first, resources from people who do know what they are talking about.

1. The article that started it all: click here to read about her hesitation in writing that article and was my first thought venture into who is writing my recipes and why…but this is not an article on that, this is an article on how I make dosas…

Then I saw this video and it cleared up some of the details that I didn’t get from the article above and copious amounts of google research:

Based on all this, I now have a *thousand words on how to make what is actually the simplest thing in the world. 

*For those of you that really can't stand all the words, scroll down to the bottom for the barebones version. 

Making and fermenting the batter: 

  1. As long as you are using a long grain rice, it doesn’t matter which rice you use. Sure, you could use special dosa rice, or substitute some parboiled rice…but in all my research of how simple or complicated you can make your dosas, I chose simple. So take some rice. Probably basmati or jasmine. Now, grab the lentils. Black lentils (urad dhal) seem to be “best” but I can’t get those for money or a prayer at my local, so instead I use the ones that come in a 1 pound bag, that are helpfully labeled “Lentils” that I suspect are green lentils (french). They aren't at all like urad dhal...but after spending a week in internet rabbit holes learning about lentils and dosas, I learned that my ubiquitous green lentils should work, and they do! 
  2. There’s a wide variety of lentil to rice ratios you can use. More rice will make them crispier, more lentils will make them softer. Anything from a 1:3 to 1:12 ratio will work. I use a 1:3-1:4 ratio of lentils to rice. I normally don’t measure, just eye ball it, but seeing how it’s your first time, go ahead of grab some measuring cups. 1 cup of rice, 1/4 heaping cup of lentils. Put into separate containers and cover with water. Put more water in the lentils than you think you need. 
  3. Let the 2 containers sit for a couple of hours. Ideally I like to start soaking in the early afternoon. 
  4. Now it’s time to blend the rice and lentils to a smooth creamy texture. Without over heating the mixture. This is tricky because if you are like me, you have to do this in a blender. Not even a very good blender. If you have some sort of fancy vita-mix or grinder thingy, then you dump your drained rice, drained lentils, and some of the lentil juice altogether and puree away. If you are cheap like me, blend your rice first with as much of the lentil juice as needed. You want it as smooth as possible, but you don’t want to heat it up. When I rub it between my fingers, it’s a little gritty, but smooth. Dump that out. Blend the lentils together. You usually need less water to get the lentils smooth. Dump that into your rice mixture. Add enough lentil soaking water to get a consistency the same as thin-ish pancake batter. 
  5. I never have fenugreek seeds. If you do, shake them in. Otherwise sprinkle in some baking soda to raise the pH a bit. How much? beats me. Perhaps a teaspoon. Add a generous pinch of salt, and let the batter sit. This is the fermentation step. It may or may not double in bulk, you will see bubbles, and it will smell fermented. I usually let this step go over night. I live where it’s hotter than hades so I try not to expose my fermentation products to the horrors of my daytime summer temps.
  6. In the morning I give my dosa batter a stir. It’s ready to use! Or pop a lid on your container and store in the fridge 7-10 days. It’s such a special treat to be able to make a dosa on a whim for breakfast or as a side for dinner. They don’t keep well, so I tend to make what I want and save the rest in the fridge. 

To make a dosa: 

  1. Cast iron. Don’t use nonstick unless you truly don’t have a choice. You need the batter to stick to the bottom of the skillet in the first moments in order to spread it properly. Heat it up to a med-high, melt some ghee (or butter or olive oil….but serioulsy, just buy some ghee if you aren’t avoiding dairy. It keeps for a year, it stays in your fridge. It’s worth it) in the skillet. Remember, cast iron gets hot and stays hot, so as you go along you probably need to turn the heat down to medium-ish. 
  2. Take a flat bottom metal 1/3 cup measuring cup (yes, I suppose you could use something else, but I promise this is perfection and you should just do it) and scoop 1/3 cup of the mixture. Pour into the center of your hot skillet with ghee. Using the bottom of the cup swirl the batter outward. It should be thin and lacy on some circles and a bit thicker in others. put some more ghee on top, spoon hot ghee from the side of the pan over the up side. 
  3. It’s done with the dosas is golden brown on the bottom and cooked through. You can leave it longer than you think! I like mine thin enough that I don’t flip to cook on the second side. It will be incredibly crispy, but also flexible enough to roll. 
  4. Eat either by itself, or fill with something. 

Bare-bones, less-fun version: 

You need: 
Long-grained rice
Baking soda or fenugreek seed
Cast Iron
Ghee, butter, or olive oil

1/3 cup flat bottom metal measuring cup

Git 'er done: Take 1 cup of rice, 1/3ish cup of lentils and soak separately. Then grind them as smooth as you can, using water from the lentil soak to make into pancake like consistency. Let ferment overnight with some baking soda and a pinch of salt. Then cook them in a skillet. Then throw it away because it didn't turn out at all, go back and read a thousand words on how to make a dosa because this is one food that's more than its ingredient list :). 

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Hot Sauce Chicken Wings

My sister is craving wings during the SAH orders and when she saw me cooking up a batch on a zoom meeting, she asked for my recipe.

"Hot sauce chicken" is a staple in our household, although often we will use thighs or drumsticks instead of wings just from an efficiency standpoint. Originally from one of the "cook this not that" cookbooks (I LOVE those cookbooks. Genuinely good recipes that aren't diet or gimmicky, despite the book premise),  it's one of our three standard chicken recipes that makes its rotation through the meal prep calendar every month.
Cooked wings ready to be sauced
 The original recipe suggested using Frank's wing sauce and I agree - it's the best hot sauce for chicken that we've found, and it's available at our regular grocery store.

The secret to this wing recipe is roasting the meat with a dry rub, and then tossing in a pan of hot sauce after it's been fully cooked in the oven. The two part seasoning gives a good depth of flavor.

If using a larger cut of dark meat, such as a thigh, season it the night before you cook it. If using drums or wings, a few hours will work. However, if you've totally forgot to season them until right before it's time to throw dinner on the table, it's ok. I promise it will still be delicious.

"Hot Sauce Chicken"

Combine equal parts black pepper, *salt, and chili powder in a small bowl. Enough to lightly coat enough dark meat bone-in skin on chicken to feed whatever ravenous crowd is going to descend on your dining room. If you are as obsessed with smoked paprika as my family, shake a bit in there as well.

*depending on the salt you are using, you may want to reduce the volume of salt slightly compared to the rest of the seasoning. For Diamond kosher salt, equal quantities work well. 

Toss your chicken parts and let sit for up to 24 hours.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees (wings) or slightly cooler if using larger cuts (400-425 for thighs or drumsticks). Cook chicken until done.

Heat up a tablespoon of butter and enough Frank's wing sauce to coat your chicken (usually 1/3-1/2 bottle). Squeeze a lemon into it if you remember. Heat sauce until it starts to bubble.

Throw chicken parts into pan and coat with sauce.


The Torte

Simple. Classic. Fast. Delicious. Best eaten the day after it is cooked. Uses whatever fruit is in season.

Doesn't that sound like the perfect dessert recipe?

It is. I present.....The Purple Plum Torte!

Except, it doesn't have to be plums. It can be fresh cranberries, or strawberries, or raspberries, or peaches...or whatever juicy fruit is in season. (I think fruit with a bit of tang works best to balance out the sweet dough it is piled over, as with the original suggested purple plums, but your tastes may differ).

This is THE torte recipe. If you want to read about the history of the recipe, check out Smitten Kitchen's post, and yes, always use the full Tablespoon of Cinnamon. Anytime I see a recipe in my newsfeed that features a cake topped with fruit that announces itself as "easy" and "delicious" I check and it's always a variation of this recipe. Sometimes there's lemon zest, sometimes instructions are given to butter and flour a cake pan with parchment paper at the bottom....but in the end THIS is the master recipe - the perfect blend of sweet, tart, juice, and sponge that works perfect as a cake with coffee, a fancy brunch, an afternoon treat for your co-workers, or the end of your dinner party.

"A Fruit Torte"

Cream 1/2 cup of unsalted butter and
1 cup of white granulated sugar together. Add
2 eggs, one at a time, making sure each egg is well combined before adding the next one.

In a medium bowl combine 1 cup of white flour,  
1 teaspoon of baking powder, and
1 large pinch of salt. 

Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until just combined.

Spread batter into an ungreased 9 inch spring form pan (or grease the bottom of glass square pan. Or pie plate. Or grease and flour a cake pan. Whatever).

Top with the fruit of your choice. Depending on the fruit, cut in half. It's going to be a couple of pounds. Keep in mind that the original recipe used plums cut in half so chunks of BIG fruit is fine. Fresh whole cranberries are incredible. Peaches are divine. Try a Strawberry and Raspberry combination. Remember that fresh fruit will shrink, so don't be afraid to put a lot fresh fruit on the top of your batter, but it shouldn't be stacked. Smoosh the fruit down in the batter, so they are well seated in it.

If your fruit is really sweet, squeeze half a lemon over the torte.

Sprinkle with 1-2 tablespoons of sugar (depending on the sweetness of your fruit) and 1 tablespoon of cinnamon.

Cook in a 350 degree oven until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean, usually 45-50 minutes.

Let cool. It is best eaten the day after it is cooked.

I should have pushed the cranberries further in so that more batter was exposed on top! It was still delicious. I don't add lemon juice to the cranberries because they are already so tart. These were fresh cranberries I bought in season and then threw the bag in the freezer. I thawed them before using because I know they keep their shape and don't release juice when thawed...however for most frozen fruit, don't thaw before using. 

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Pickled Kumquats

I have a kumquat tree in my backyard that produces more kumquats than you can possible imagine. If you've never had a kumquat, imagine bite size citrus that you can pop in your mouth like an oversized grape. The outside peel is thin and so sweet it's like candy, while the inside is tart as a lemon. The seeds? Well, they are edible and just think of them as adding texture to the whole experience.

The faster you chew the faster the tartness recedes, leaving the peel so sweet you swear it's been candied to roll around in the mouth against the lingering sourness of the pulp.

So while I knew that the fruit on my kumquat tree was edible, without a compelling reason to laboriously pick the tiny fruits, I haven't done much with the tree beyond popping a few in my mouth during the season while I was in the backyard. The only thing I had seen people use them for was chopped up in relish and salsa. Meh. That's a lot of work for something that wasn't that special.

Then, at a friends a house I discovered pickled kumquats. Finally! Something that made picking the fruit worthwhile! I made a batch and enjoyed eating them as a snack, with ice cream, and with other various dairy products. Anything that begged for a fruit compote could use these refrigerated pickles.

But then. I discovered something.

Something that made these pickles go from a fru-fru homesteading thing I did occasionally when my jar in the fridge ran low and there were still fruit on the tree, to something that had me going out and picking the little suckers eagerly and willingly.

These pickles are perfect on my favorite slaw when I don't have mangos. And because I'm going to to the grocery store every 4 weeks because of the pandemic, how often do you think I have random mangos laying around? That's right, never.

Discovering my four-year-old had eaten all of my canned mandarins that I had planned to garnish the slaw with, and resigning myself to slicing up oranges instead, thus sacrificing my beet and orange salad I had planned for later in the week I opened up the fridge and saw....THESE. OMG. I bet they would be perfect.

They were.

Look, I know that not everyone has random kumquats that need eating. But maybe you do! Or maybe, this will inspire you to find your perfect slaw fruit add-in.

Original Recipe based on a epicurious recipe that was authored by Marisa McClellan.


  • this recipe is based on 1 pound of fresh kumquats. I always make 2 pounds at a time. That's enough for a quart jar or two pint jars and is the right amount of fruit picking before I get bored. Scale the recipe up as you need. 
  • I specify white vinegar but it doesn't really matter. The first time I made this recipe I misread white vinegar as "white wine vinegar" (being ADHD is hard you'all!) and then didn't have enough of that so made up the difference with rice vinegar. It tasted FINE. It tasted GREAT. In perusing the internet I saw a lot of different vinegars used, so use what you have and use what you like. It will taste just fine. Maybe not balsamic. Please don't use balsamic. 

Git 'er done

Wash 1 pound of kumquats and sort out any with blemishes or soft spots. Using a sharp knife cut them in half and give them a half-hearted squeeze to remove any obvious seeds. Depending on how much you hate the seeds will depend on how much attention you give this step. I usually just try to get the big ones out and then proceed with my life. My kumquats are usually picked really clean and I remove the stems at the washing step, but maybe you want to go to the extra trouble to trim off the stem end. I don't. But I'm lazy. You probably aren't as lazy as Mel.

Put halved kumquats into a sauce pan and cover with cold water. Bring to boil and turn off heat and let set for 5 min. Drain and place into a bowl.

In the sauce pan combine 1 1/2 cups of white vinegar, 1/2 cup granulated white sugar, 1 teaspoon of picking salt (or really any kosher salt). Turn up the heat to boil. In the meantime go out and dig out whatever whole spices you have on hand. 6 peppercorns, 6 whole cloves, 2 cardamom pods, 1 star anise (I never have this), 1 thin slice of fresh ginger, maybe a stick of cinnamon. Do your best. Wipe dust off and add to the vinegar liquid and go ahead and boil it.

Once the liquid has come to a boil, add the softened kumquats and simmer for 1-2 minutes. Spoon the fruit into clean canning jars. Try to avoid the spices if that's your thing. I don't mind if a clove or peppercorn or two slips past. Pour the liquid over the fruit to fill the jars. Put the lids on and let cool on your counter, then put in the fridge.

There will be left over liquid that won't fit in the jar. The original recipe says you can use it in sparkling water for a refreshing drink, or whisk it into a vinegarette but I've never tried it.

These pickles will keep in the fridge 4-6 weeks. I don't do shelf stable canning, but I've seen directions for pickled kumquats to be shelf-stable canned so I know it can be done.

Friday, April 10, 2020

That slaw with the mangos and the nuts

This slaw is based on a recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi's book "Plenty." The original name was "Sweet winter slaw," but I find it so inadequate to describe the spicy, sweet, tangy, full-flavored nature of this slaw that I refuse to describe it as that.

The original recipe was wonderful of course, Ottolenghi is known for flavor, but called for several ingredients that I rarely have on hand, and the method was fussy.

The more times I made it the more I found myself gravitating towards readily available ingredients, simplifying the method (lemongrass? who has lemongrass on hand. Is simmering the sauce strictly necessary?), and making it a strict rule that the candied nuts were to be served on the side and added only right before eating to keep them crisp.

I've included some ingredient substitution notes designated as "SAH options". With many of us in "Stay At Home" orders because of the ongoing pandemic and extending time between grocery trips, I hope this is helpful.

As with most slaws, I find this slaw is best consumed at least 12 hours after assembling (except for the nuts!) and stays delicious for at least three days (the maximum amount of time that it's ever sat around here).

The slaw is pictured on the bottom left hand corner. 

"That Slaw"

Ingredients with a (*) have a SAH option. Scroll to the bottom to see my recommendations. 

If you are an overachiever, skip down to the slicing-the-cabbage-step and put your prepared cabbage in a bowl with a pinch or two of salt and let moisture drain while you prepare the other ingredients. I don't find it absolutely necessary for this dish, but YMMV, so do as you wish. For the rest of us "C" students, continue on with the dressing.

Whisk together 6 1/2 tablespoons *lime juice,
3 tablespoons maple syrup,
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil, 
1/4 teaspoons chili flakes, and
4 tablespoons olive or neutral-tasting oil.
Set aside while you prepare the rest of the salad.

Candy some nuts
This is super simple, but is going to take your full attention for the moment so shut off whatever ADHD squirrel is chattering around in your brain and focus.
1 1/2 cups of *raw nuts, your choice. Put them in a fry pan over medium heat and stir them occasionally until lightly roasted.
Add 2 teaspoons of butter and melt.
After it melts add  2 teaspoons of white granulated sugar, 
1/2 teaspoon of salt, and
1/2 teaspoon of chili flakes.

Or, be like Mel and mis-read the recipe and add 2 TABLESPOONS of butter and sugar, decide you like the extra candy on the nuts and make it that way forever. Your choice: lightly or moderately candied nuts.

Stir constantly with a wooden spoon to coat the nuts as it caramelizes. It will happen fast. Once it does, dump and spread the nuts onto a piece of parchment paper and let cool. Roughly chop.

Start using that knife, but watch your fingers because while there's no good time to go to the hospital, now is especially a bad time.
Thinly slice your choice of 12 oz. cabbage, about half of a standard green or purple round head (I usually use purple. Adding in Napa cabbage is nice but I rarely go to the trouble).
Cut 2 *mangos into strips.
Small dice 1 fresh jalapeƱo (optional).
Roughly chop some herbs. 1/4 cup *fresh mint and 1 1/2 cups of *fresh cilantro should do it.

Combine everything except the nuts in a bowl. Taste for salt and adjust to taste. Serve with nuts on the side for sprinkling.

*SAH Options

  • Lime juice: I've successfully substituted lemon juice for limes. In a pinch I bet any vinegar, especially white or red wine vinegar would work. 
  • Raw nuts: If you are using already roasted nuts, you just want to warm them up a bit and not actually toast them in the skillet. Otherwise they might burn. Also, roasted nuts are usually also salted, so be careful when you add salt to the nuts - it might not be needed. 
  • Mangos: I bet a can or two of rinsed mandarins would go really well if mangos aren't available. Or use pickled kumquats
  • The fresh herbs: If you have them use them. Whatever fresh herbs you have would go well - basil, parsley, etc. If you don't have fresh herbs, don't worry about it. The slaw will still be delicious. 

Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Covid Pantry

This post is meant to help and inspire. This isn't meant to make anyone feel bad about how they are dealing with the end of everything normal. (at least for now). Don't look at these pictures and read these words and think, "I'm not doing it right. My life is pieces and I am not enough."

You are enough. 

If you are putting calories in your mouth and your children are putting calories in their mouth on a daily basis, you are enough. 

So why am I even writing this post?

Because if you get bored, and if you realize, like me, that a big part of you staying sane during stay at home orders is delicious food, maybe this post can help.

I thought that maybe if I laid out how I'm organizing the food part of my life so that delicious meals are part of my daily existence, it would help someone else that is struggling with this part of our new normal.

The Covid Pantry
Let's talk about what your kitchen looks like when you go three or even four weeks between grocery shopping (don't worry, if this seems like an impossible idea, I explain how I do it without breaking my brain later on in this post). 

Week 1 is a gluttony of bananas, fresh herbs, leafy lettuces, green onions, bell peppers, mushrooms and (for my husband and kid) store bought sliced bread. It's life as normal, whatever "normal" looks for you and your family. Even if you aren't eating as many plants as me (seriously, no judgement. Do what is working for you. Food and bodies are personal and YOUR business) likely you aren't buying anything at the grocery store that won't last a week.  It's when you go beyond a week that it gets tricky. 

In week 2 I still have most of my dairy - milk, cheese, and soft liquid dairy stuff that comes in containers. Depending on the limit for eggs at the grocery store at my last trip, I'll either have enough eggs to eat them whenever I want, or I'll be hoarding them for baking so they will last 3-4 weeks. All the meat is in the freezer and being thawed on an as-needed basis, and I'm taking a hard look at any perishable fruits, vegetables, and herbs that are still around at the beginning of week 2. Is it time to make a shaved carrot salad to salvage the last of cilantro? Cook up a batch of green pancakes or miniature pizzas to finish up the fresh spinach? Make a big pot of pasta with blanched veggies, bread crumbs, and bacon drizzle?

Here's examples of when I did just those things. 

I made these little pizzas in week 2 when the spinach needed to be cooked. Half baked them, and then froze them. Voila! frozen personal pizzas ready to be baked all the way and have an egg added. You could make a ton of different flavors.

"Have to use up the produce noodles" speaks for itself. Finished the sauce with a dollap of oil/fat of your choice and a bit of cream (but wouldn't it be good without the cream and bacon bits or sausage instead???) and added toasted bread crumbs on top to give it some texture. 

If you don't care about the cilantro, this salad recipe, which is featured in a recent post, is a great week 3 and beyond recipe. Carrots keep amazingly well.
Green pancakes. You can either make a special pancake batter like I did  that is specifically for green pancakes....or you can use your favorite pancake recipe OR a complete boxed pancake mix and start stuffing it with your wilting vegetables. Freeze the left overs (put a piece of parchment paper in between) and reheat over the next couple of weeks.
Mushrooms don't keep well past 7-10 days in my fridge, but if I use them in this Turkey or Chicken Tetrazinni and make half for now and freeze the other half before baking in a foil pan, I can have Tetrazinni now AND in a couple weeks when mushrooms were a distant memory. I haven't used canned mushrooms in this dish, BUT I BET THEY WOULD WORK LIKE A CHARM, making this a solid week 3 and beyond dish. Making dishes like this (enchiladas, baked ziti, tetrazzini) and freezing half of it prior to baking is something I've been doing a lot and is a nice way to have a lazy dinner in weeks 3 or 4.
Week 2 is perhaps the hardest of all as I transition from perishable to stable shelf or long lasting fridge food. What substitutions can I make? How can I use this before it goes bad? Do I eat scrambled eggs or save them for baking next week? Do I eat my frozen easy means now because i'm feeling blah, or save them for later?

Here's a big secret. You get past week 2, and everything beyond that is easy.

My "use it up!" list (more on this later, but it's a piece of paper on the fridge where I write down things that are in danger of going bad) is very active and my planned menu moves around (again, details on how I keep track of meal planning later) to accommodate fresh ingredients that need to be used. That broccoli ain't going to make it another 3 days, better switch that to tonight...

Week 3 is easy. Everything you have left can be eaten today...or next week. The hardest part is remembering to take meat at the freezer in time for it to thaw. Beans, rice, canned food, frozen stuff - have become your constant companions. You learn new appreciation for the potatoes, carrots, celery, apples, onions, cabbage, and citrus that are still dutifully hanging around your kitchen, ignored in the rush of getting their sexier and more perishable neighbors used up in the first 2 weeks. They are now ready to shine. Sure, you might have to go without the garnishes in their dishes that really make them sparkle, but really my beet and citrus salad is just as good without being garnished with fresh mint and cilantro as it is with. You may need to make some adjustments and substitutions for ingredients or exchange frozen for fresh (hint: succotash is darn good made with frozen ingredients!), but I promise that you can still eat delicious, exciting food three weeks from your last grocery trip. 

Here's some more good week 2, 3 and beyond meal ideas that I've made recently enough to have pictures of. 

Chicken curry salad. Celery keeps very well in the fridge for a couple of weeks. The compromise is usually not having fresh herbs at this stage. I do make my own bread and store left overs in the freezer for bread crumbs, croutons, etc. 
Broccoli pasta. Can make without meat, or add sausage, bacon, left over poultry, or even beans! Because the broccoli is cooked down and soft, frozen broccoli would work well.   

Expand your salad horizons! The beet and citrus salad at top is made with canned beets and while I'll have to leave out the fresh herbs, it doesn't suffer much. The slaw on the left hand side (with candied nuts....mmm....) does equally well with canned mandarins as fresh mango. And yes, that is the shaved carrot salad making another appearance. 

Have soba or ramen noodles? How about an asian viningarette along with any of those last veggies and a shredded cucumber tossed? 

Califlower and broccoli salad. You'll swear you just went to the grocery store. The best part of this salad is that it tastes even better 4 or 5 days after you make it. 

Rice. Add canned veggies - mushrooms, artichoke hearts. Add mayo and some chopped celery and carrots that are still hanging around. 

As long as you have flour and can have pasta! 

Nuts + oats = granola. It helps if you have an egg white or two to spare. Think beyond the sweet - this granola mix is a savory blend of cumin and cayenne pepper! The original recipe called for pecans, oats, and steel cut oats. I made it with walnuts and rolled oats only. Don't be afraid to make substitutions or ask someone with more cooking experience what substitutions might work. 

My comfort food when all the good stuff is gone. Beans and rice that have been simmered with canned coconut milk along with a cinnamon stick, a bay leaf, stock, and some other spices. Eat it hot or cold for as many meals as it will last. 

Grits is turning out to be my new covid pantry staple. I'm in california and definitely a grits newbie. If you are looking for something rich and decadent in weeks 2 and 3 and beyond, consider grits. Cook them in stock +/- fat (bacon!) +/- milk and then pimp them out to your delight - ragouts, baked, stuffed with vegetables...or just plain out of the pan with a bit of salt and pepper. 
Here's some of the staples that are typically left in my pantry after all the fresh stuff (herbs, perishables and dairy) is gone, with random notes. This isn't an exhaustive inventory of everything in my kitchen - just the things that I find the most important when I'm trying to come up with a meal and it has been at least a week before I've been to the store, and it's going to be another 2-3 weeks before I go again. For this post I'm focusing on ingredients and things to keep on hand for making recipes, which is the type food I enjoy eating - BUT I have plenty of boxed cereal, frozen foods, and canned soups on hand too. So please don't let the focus of this post encourage some fantasy about some sort of "perfect food landscape" over here. 
  • A complete pancake mix. When the eggs and milk are gone, this comes in handy when the family wants pancakes or waffles, especially if I'm getting nervous about how low my flour is getting.  
  • Tortilla chips
  • Apples
  • Dried chilis. Only because it is a main ingredient in a pulled pork recipe I make on a regular basis that uses big, very cheap cuts of pork that I stock my freezer with
  • Raisins and other dried fruit that was a good deal last time I was in the market (currently I also have figs in addition to rosins). 
  • Applesauce
  • Nut butters. I usually keep peanut butter and tahini on hand. 
  • Oranges. They last so long on my shelf!!!!! Same with limes. I have a lemon tree with some fruit still on it so not buying those right now. 
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Pasta 
  • impulse buy last time when I couldn't find pasta or rice. Makes a good side when you are sick of rice and beans
  • Ramen. I like to use the noodles to make cold salads and hot soups
  • Boxed cereal
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Tortillas (I keep in the fridge to make them last. When they are gone I have Masa flour to make my own, or can make flour ones). But it's easier to use these. 
  • Cabbage
  • Whatever meat was a reasonable price, in my freezer
  • Hotdogs
  • Salsa and condiments (lots and lots of condiments...customize to your family's tastes and the meals you have planned)
  • Canned/boxed stock, canned enchilada sauce
  • Canned beans
  • Canned tomatoes and pasta sauce
  • Canned veggies
  • Nuts - whatever was a good price
  • Frozen puff pastry
  • Frozen convenience foods - in my family it's breakfast bowls and sandwiches
  • Frozen fruit and veggies
  • Oil
  • Salt
  • Vinegars
  • Spices and extracts - customize to your family depending on what's on the menu. As long as you have salt, don't bother buying any you don't have a plan for. As you need them for your upcoming meals, buy them and you will gradually accumulate ones that you use. 
  • Flour - I found a 25 bag when I was at the store last time so it's in my freezer and I refill a container in my cupboard. 
  • Sugars
  • Baking soda and powder
  • Chocolate chips and cocoa powder
  • Cornstarch
  • Grits. I actually have cornmeal in my cupboard, but my use of grits has made cornmeal a lot less necessary lately. Cornbread requires flour, milk, and eggs - things that I'm often out of in 3 or 4 weeks. Grits is more versatile for me right now. 
  • Oats - I keep rolled on hand, but picked up some steel cut oats too. 
  • Rice. If I can find it I like to keep sticky/sushi rice and basmati. 
  • Dried beans. Pick ones you like! 
  • Yeast
  • Coffee
  • Tea
This isn't some perfect list to aspire to. Lots of suitable food items aren't on it, like lentils. Lentils don't agree with my GI tract, and so I don't buy them and cook them. This list is a starting point. 

Shopping and meal planning for 3 weeks
There are two major barriers to grocery shopping for an extended period of time. The first is the outlay of money that is required to do all that shopping at once.

It isn't any cheaper for my family to shop for one week at a time compared to 3 weeks. I spend about the same money per week. Yes, it's an investment to be able to shop for so many weeks at a time. It's scary to write the check at the grocery store for double or triple the amount, knowing that I'm buying perishable things that could as easily go into the trashcan as my mouth.

That brings me to the second barrier. Buying things that will actually feed my family for a couple of weeks without it ended up on the trash can, or having to eat un-fullfilling and weird things because I didn't plan my food well enough.

I can't help you with the first thing, but I can share how I solved the second.  Knowing I have this system in place and proving over and over that very little will go to waste if it's in place and I will eat well, makes it a little less scary to write that check and buy ALL that food at once.

Pre-pandemic I shopped once a week for groceries, but there was always enough food and ingredients around that I could easily skip a week if I needed to (out of sheer laziness or being over scheduled). When shopping for 1-2 weeks at a time I didn't need to preplan my meals out - I just kept ingredients and foods on hand that I knew I could combine into meals. But that changed when a couple months ago I decided that I was SICK AND TIRED of having the "What are we having for dinner conversation." You know exactly the one I'm talking about.

"What do you want for dinner?"
"I don't know. I'm not hungry right now."
"It's 4:30. If we don't decide now then we won't eat until 6 and you have said multiple times you want to eat before 5:30."
"I can't think of food until I'm hungry."
"FML" Me either choosing to either once again use my mental energy to *cook something* or passively aggressively sit on the couch and engage myself elsewhere until the rest of the household is hangry and wondering why dinner wasn't done an hour ago. 

So I did something about that.

I created a chart, with two squares for each day. Two weeks fits on a single sheet of paper.

 Then I went through my recipe binder and cookbooks and made a sticky note for every single main dish that was in my family dinner rotation. Some are good for week nights, others like chinese steamed pork buns are a weekend affair unless there's a stash of them in the freezer. None of these are special or fancy - they are all tried and true recipes that I know will turn out and we will eat. 

Then I stuck all the stickies to a piece of paper. I sat down with my paper template and starting filling in the boxes, one sticky per day.

Boom boom BOOM! Weeks of meal planning done. I'd sit down and do 2-3 weeks at a time.

The extra column for each day was for notes - when I needed to pull out certain meat from the freezer in order to have it thawed for a meal later on that week. When the turkey needed to be brined. A side dish that I wanted to serve with the main. A special breakfast or dessert I planned on making.

If I wanted to try a new recipe, I wrote it in rather than putting a sticky note. If it turned out well, maybe it would get it's own sticky note and be placed in the regular rotation.

I keep my stickie's general - "beans" could mean baked beans, or white beans with a ham hock etc. Sometimes I get very specific because I don't want to forget a particularly good recipe - there's a general "stirfry" sticky note, but also a "sweet and spicy pork stirfry bowl" so that I don't forget about a particular wonderful recipe.

At that point I still only shopped one week at a time. I generated my weekly shopping list by looking at the upcoming week (even if I had meal planned beyond that), made sure the ingredients were in the pantry or on the shopping list, added that to a list I kept of all the things we ran out of that week, and voila! Shopping time with a minimum of mental energy expended.

The stickies are easy to move around if for logistical reasons I need to switch something around  - for example if I was depending on getting a trip at a good price to do tri tip, followed by enchiladas the next night for dinner, but couldn't get tri tip that week at the store because of price, it's easy to replace with hamburgers and hotdogs - or whatever I saw that was a good deal at the grocery store. Dinner tonight or tomorrow isn't set in stone - it's on a sticky note! Move it around if needed!

So, how did all this change when I started shopping for 3 or 4 weeks at a time?
  • Flexibility is key. My stickies get moved around more than ever. After I come home from the grocery store when I can't get the ingredients that I thought I would. Sometimes expiration dates of what was available dictate that meals get switched around. Sometimes my husband decides he really wants roasted broccoli as a side one night and the broccoli pasta with sausage that was on the menu in three days has to turn into marinara pasta with sausage. The stickies help remind you that nothing is set in stone. Move them, switch them. Getting heavy on left overs? Take off the sticky for tonight, move it somewhere logical based on the perishability of the ingredients and designate tonight as "left overs." (this was me last night. Kabobs got bumped which was totally fine because the meat was still frozen, the onions will last a while, and the pineapple is canned...and I told everyone to dig into their choice of left overs).
  • My "I ran out of" list is now a "running low on" list. 
  • Instead of my meal stickies getting put on the calendar according to how much time I have for cooking after work and travel obligations, they are planned based on how perishable the ingredients are. Bean recipes are in weeks 2 and 3. Leafy green and fresh herb recipes make their appearance in week 1. 
  • I started a new list that are the items in the pantry or fridge that are in danger of going bad. With buying so much food at once it's easy for something to get lost in the back of the fridge. Now, when I'm rummaging around for something and I come across radishes that are starting to look a bit sorry, I put them on the list to remind myself to use them. Sometimes I'll rearrange my sticky notes to accommodate those ingredients. Sometimes it's a matter of a simple substitution for something that can wait a bit longer to be used for something that has to be used right now, and sometimes it just a simple choice of what vegetable I'm going to use on my breakfast sandwich this morning. When I use it up or throw it out, I cross it out. 
Pictured: It's been a week since I've been shopping. The potatoes have been around a while (from the shopping trip before this one!) and need to go, same with the oranges. The grapes, asparagus, and fresh thyme are what's left of the week 1 perishable produce that needs to be eaten ASAP. 

Preparing for a shopping trip is still the same, although the list is a lot longer. I look at my next 3 weeks of meals and add those ingredients to the items from my "running low" list. The running low list is mostly pantry items that are multi-purpose for cooking, that I listed in the first part of this post, along with standard breakfast and snack items for my family, which also means I could extend the life of my pantry another 7-10 days if I *had* to, beyond the planned meals.

What if all of this is really overwhelming?

If meal planning is new to you and shopping for even one week would have constituted long range meal planning and shopping, consider breaking in yourself gently. For week one plan whatever meals your heart desires. Then, for weeks two and three only put food on the menu that is relatively non perishable. Canned food, dried food, nuts, apples, citrus, frozen fruit and vegetables, potatoes, frozen pizzas, muffin mixes, complete pancake mixes.....don't worry about labeling food good and bad. You shouldn't do that as a general rule anyways (I will not get on my soapbox right now I promise), but another way to think about it is that reducing your trips to the grocery store matters far more for your health than whether you should eat cereal or a veggie omelet scramble for breakfast. For right now just buy the calories you know you will eat and won't spoil before it's time to eat them. Once you've been through a couple 2-3 week shopping cycles it will get easier. 

Now excuse me, my fridge is calling me and it's time to go eat!

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Shaved Carrot Salad

I always thought I didn't like salad. that's because I thought of salads as perishable, leafy green based that were more often than not limp and inedible due to being overdressed by a dressing that had never heard of fat-acid-salt balance.

Here and there a delicious dish would make it's way into my hands that was technically a salad (such as Joelle's Kale and Roasted Potatoes salad) and would admit there was exceptions - very few exceptions - to my no salad rule. 

Then I read Samin Nosrat's Salt Fat Acid Heat cookbook and I loved it. There were all sorts of things labeled as "salad" in that book that involved lots of vegetables - and hardly any lettuce. I trusted her to know what she was talking about and started cooking...errr peeling, slicing, chopping, and tossing. Not only was it not lettuce, it was vegetables that in the past I've not been able to eat no matter how they were prepared - such as carrots. That is the power of balancing flavor and paying attention to texture.

Pictured: my three favorite salads, with not a lettuce leaf in site. Pictured is a beet and citrus salad (top), a slaw with mangos and candied nuts (this does not give justice to the deep flavor of this slaw that manages to be sweet, tart, unami, spicy all at the same time), and in the lower right hand corner is the shaved carrot salad this post is all about. 

This shaved salad combines carrots and raisins, two ingredients that I normally do not eat, into something actually delicious. Thinly shaved carrots, fat rehydrated plump raisins are marinated in a combination of cumin, ginger, and lime, with the the spice of chopped fresh jalopeno lingering in the background. It is perfection.

I'm listing amounts of ingredients here, but once you've made it once or twice it's easy to eye ball it. Nowadays I shave the amount of carrots that I want and then adjust the quantities of the other ingredients to look suitable.

I think this salad is best eaten after at LEAST 12 hours of marinating, and even more is better.

This recipe leans heavily on Nosrat's version, with my own flourishes. She suggests using a mandolin thin slicer thing to cut the carrots, or cutting into very small matchsticks, but the only way that the texture of the carrots is acceptable to my brain (crunchy raw vegetables in my mouth set off a gag reflex) is the very thin strips generated by a peeler, so that's how I specify it here.

Let's Git 'er Done!

This is a super simple lime vinaigrette. It has to set so make it first. 
Squeeze 2 small limes (about 2 tablespoons of juice) into a small bowl. 
Crush 1 garlic clove and add to bowl along with 
5 tablespoons of olive oil, and 
a pinch of salt. Set aside.

Boil water and submerge 1 1/4 cup raisins. Set aside to plump, 10-15 min (or whenever the rest of the salad is prepped and combined). 

Peel and trim 2 pounds of carrots and then use a vegetable peeler to shave the carrots into thin strips and place into bowl. 
Coarsely chop 2 cups of cilantro
grate 4 teaspoons of fresh ginger
chop 1-2 fresh jalapeƱos (adjust to taste), 
grate 1 garlic clove and add all to the bowl of carrots. 
Add the raisins to the bowl because I know it took you at least 10 min to prepare all this stuff...
Eye ball 2-3 teaspoons of ground cumin into the bowl. 
Add a pinch or two of salt. 

Remove the garlic glove from the the lime vinaigrette and pour dressing over the carrot salad. Toss to combine, and taste for seasoning. Add salt to taste.