Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Random Food Thoughts

I've been thinking (ouch!) lately about cooking more economically and simply. Don't get me wrong; I do not frequent gourmet food shops and I don't know when was the last time we had an expensive steak. I have a freezer full of fruits and veggies from last year's garden to work with along with plenty of poultry from our flock and meat which we've purchased in bulk from reliably healthy sources. And venison friends have given us. With just the two of us working on all this bounty most of the time, we are not lacking for food.

I think what brought on this urge to cook more simply was talking about using some of my "old" cookbooks, those which present perhaps more basic food preparation . . . both economical and easy. And also downright tasty without the use of wine sauces or pricey condiments.

My mom was a great cook and we never lacked for food when I was growing up. But I know she followed a food budget and did a lot with the "cheaper" cuts of meat and ingredients she found on sale in the grocery store. I can't recall ever having a steak growing up. The purchase of steaks, even for our small family of four, was probably out of the question.

I can remember going to a girlfriend's house one summer evening after dinner when I was about nine or ten. There on a plate in the middle of the kitchen table were four, huge, deep-fried shrimp. Leftovers from dinner apparently set out for anyone who wanted them. I was amazed. I was drooling. I didn't even know you could make shrimp like that at home. Being shy, there was no way in the world I would have asked for or helped myself to one of those shrimp, but I left her house thinking these people must, indeed, be very rich in order to buy and prepare shrimp at home.

When hubby got his first degree, we had very little money. But we celebrated by buying two steaks and going to a nearby park to grill them and eat with potato salad I had made. Such decadence!

At my first "real" job, I was sitting in the break room one day with another young married gal. She said she and her husband never ate leftovers. I asked what she did with, for instance, the remainder of a pot roast that might be left after a meal. "It goes down the garbage disposal," she said. "I never bother with leftovers." (Picture me sitting there with mouth agape, and wondering where they lived so I could make arrangements to pick up their leftovers after each meal.)

Actually, I think I've always done a good job at stretching our food resources. Once hubby shot a couple of grouse in the fall. I roasted them the first night, but our family of three didn't finish everything. So I made a soup with the leftover meat for the following evening. Still had a little soup left so I thickened it and we had it over mashed potatoes the third night. I was relating this to friends of ours. Bill turned to his wife and said, "Mary, go out back and get that mouse we caught last night. You should be able to stretch that into a couple of meals."

A little more appreciation of some of the old-timey recipes couldn't hurt us a bit. Our local library has several books on "rustic" cookery that I've gotten marvelous recipes out of. And there are plenty of older cookbooks in my own collection that I wouldn't give up for anything. I'm thinking it's time to gather a bunch of them, and settle down in my recliner in front of the fire one of these nights soon. Up here in the Northwoods we're in the midst of good ol' winter time. What better time for experimenting with more simple, basic food preparation.


  1. Hmmmm... now you have me thinking. I bet I could make my meals simpler, easier to prepare, healthier and taste better too. My hubby is a meat and potatoes type of guy, but the teenager and I like casseroles, so I'll have to find a happy medium. I have a couple of the old Betty Crocker cookbooks, (one of which you pictured), so maybe I'll pull them out and do some research!

  2. Some of the best recipes handed down to me are the simplistic ones! I can not imagine throwing out leftovers either. At least feed them to the animals! Or not buy and make so much. (open palm to forehead, duh!)

    My Dad said when he was growing up, they didn't have hamburger either. Just the tough cuts that no one else wanted. Here I thought everyone had hamburger growing up.

    So how'd that mouse work out of you?

  3. I can't imagine putting half a pot roast down the drain. That's just crazy!

    We eat pretty simply here. I'm just not into buying 10 new ingredients for a recipe, which will then sit there half used. Our budget is small, so the less we need to buy the better. And it also means eating all the leftovers. Which I think we'd do even if we had more money. I hate to see food go to waste. It just seems silly to me!

  4. Perhaps your wasteful friend didn't have a Grandmother who would have smacked her fingers for putting that food down the disposal. Mine would come back from the dead to smack mine. Hence I throw nothing out. I also just got a copy of Helen Nearings "Simple food for the good life". Talk about simple meals. I have been thinking about this also- once again great minds think alike. It just seems so much healthier too.

  5. A wonderful post! I too, know 3 people who refuse to eat leftovers - 1 is financially well off and "doesn't have to" (her words!), 1 is a well-off wanna-be (methinks if they did they might have more money LOL), and #3 grew up very poor and says they don't because "they don't have to anymore". I just don't get it, because at the very core of the issue is plain wastefulness, and also missing out on some very fantastic dishes! We have cut back greatly on the "steak" cuts, and now I will buy one large London Broil/similar budget cut, cut off an end into cubes and freeze for stir fry later, grill the rest of the slab for steak one night, and slice the rest to use on salads with fresh garden veggies. I don't even miss "real steaks" since the basic salt/pepper and proper grilling/cooking method turns it out to be better than most steak cuts! Although I'm sure what passes as a budget cut varies with area. My all time favorite was tri-tip in California, but here is impossible to come by. I think your thoughts on this are going on to my "yet to be completed" resolution list!

  6. Hope, etc. - I'm really lucky in that my husband likes casseroles and soups. 'Course, he LOVES it when meat and potatoes (with gravy) are set before him, too. It's hard when there are definite preferences in the house. Serve a casserole to your hubby but have an extra special dessert?

    APG - Your dad didn't have hamburger?? Gosh we ate a lot of that when we were growing up. Patties, cabbage rolls, in casseroles, meat loaf. A lot of meat loaf because my dad liked it.

    Kaytee - The thing is I think leftovers can be made into such yummy food. And you wouldn't even recognize them as leftovers the second (or third) time around.

  7. Jane - I have had Helen Nearing's book for many years. She didn't believe in making anything (except simmering soups) that took longer to prepare than to eat. (Hmmm, think about that!) Also, she wanted to call her book "Simple Food for Simple People" but her publisher nixed it!

    Erin - I know you get maximum mileage out of your food dollars! I've never heard of "tri-tip." But we were vegetarian for about 15 years so I think I fell short in my knowledge of cuts of meat somewhere along the line!

  8. I had to chuckle while reading this. My daughter's MIL does not eat leftovers either. My husband and I always say that usually leftovers taste better for two reasons: 1) the flavors have gotten a chance to "get better" and 2) I didn't have to cook on leftover night. And I am all for simple too! I look forward to you posting more recipes.

  9. Karen L. - Throwing out leftovers is like throwing away two or three meals. I don't think I'll ever understand the reasoning of people who do it. They must be simply rich! I'm always surprised when readers indicate they'd like more recipes. There are hundreds of blogs out there devoted solely to recipes and I always think who needs more?? But I cook just about everything from scratch so I'll keep posting until y'all shut me up. :o)

  10. Ahhhh, Simple food! Our farmhands played in the kitchen this afternoon with some home-made turkey stock and a pumpkin and acorn squash that were starting to develop soft spots. They tossed a few other odds and ends--all remnants that needed using--to produce a wonderfully thick, rich hearty soup.
    Our farm's soil is not very rich, so we usually don't mind throwing scraps on the compost pile, but I'm glad we intercepted the soup ingredients before they went to the compost bucket!

  11. P.S. Helen Nearing's husband used to bribe friends to bring him chocolate doughnuts from town. True fact!

    I think Helen and Scott were amazing and inspiring people, but sometimes I DO like to play with my food and linger over a recipe, just for the pure sensual creaturely delight of it.

  12. Very interesting post. My MIL is one to throw away all leftovers. Talk about having to bite my tongue! Fortunately my husband prefers plain, simple meals. I never have to worry about sauces or fancy side dishes, just plain cooking. So much simpler. Would love to take a peek at that cast iron cooking book. I may be needing something like that once our wood cookstove is installed.

  13. MaineCelt - Just think how much per bowl you would have had to pay for that "gourmet" soup if you had gone to a restaurant for it! Waste not, want not. Good for your farmhands!

    I don't think Helen Nearing really enjoyed cooking at all. Hence, her compilation of very simple recipes. Maybe that's what happens when you grew up in a house with a cook and maid!

  14. Leigh - I just checked on Amazon to see if they might possibly have my cast iron cook book listed. No luck for this specific one, but they do have several cast iron cook books listed. Mine is by Hester Callahan, 1969, Nitty Gritty Productions, San Francisco, CA.

  15. Great post Mama Pea. I remember when I first met my husband's parents and they threw all the leftovers in the garbage. Like you, my jaw dropped to the floor. It is just beyond me why anyone would just toss perfectly good food. So many would enjoy such a leftover meal. Hubby sure lives differently today. :)

  16. People who throw leftovers away may or may not be rich, but they are certainly foolish. Everyone in my house loves leftovers - either for an quick and easy lunch the next day, a night-off from cooking, or to be re-made into another meal. I get a real sense of satisfaction when I use up our food efficiently.

    I can't stand to throw things away. I just made veggie wraps (with feta cheese) the other night to used up some less than fresh bell peppers and they were fabulous! No leftovers that night :)

    As for finding some of the older editions of cookbooks, check out Alibris.com - they list used books from dealers all over the country (world??)

  17. Are you sure we weren't separated in the hospital (twins!)??
    I've always cooked simply---mostly for budgetary reasons. If I don't get at least 2 meals (preferably 3 0r 4) out of a piece of meat, I don't buy it.
    I love going through my mother's cookbooks from the 30's and 40's. Simple simple simple ingrediants-just the basics. And oh so good.
    Though my cookbook collection spans four shelves, I admit, we eat the SAME 28 items monthly--I tried to do "different", and Don had a fit! He loves pot roasts and meatloaf and all the other "plain" fare I serve. Gosh, I love that man.....I truly lucked out there. I love to read recipe blogs, but pity the gals that feel they need to eat something different EVERY day.........ALL THE TIME. Do their husbands ever SEE their favorite meal again???

  18. The story of the grouse reminded me of how I grew up, and how I still cook. We raised everything we ate when I was a kid, and you were taught not to waste anything.

    I will cook a roast (that cost me $6-$7), for four of us. When we are done, it goes in the freezer. A week later I will pull it out, dice it up in the crockpot with some broth, mixed veggies and spices. We have it over noodles or rice, with homemade biscuits.

    Excellent post Mama Pea! And great idea on the library as a resource for cookbooks. I would also recommend looking at Google Books. I have found some fabulous cookbooks there, especially old ones!

  19. Can't be bothered with leftovers? WHAT? Leftovers save ME a lot of bother!

  20. I have that first cookbook you featured, it was my Grandmothers. I have never made anything from it, the smell gets me all stuffy with watery eyes....the thing sat in her basement for decades, lol.

    I just orderd The Frugal Gourmet Cooks with Wine this morning, so it was ironic to hear you mention staying away from wine sauces.

    Now that we only buy organic or naturally raised animal parts, and mostly organic pantry staples I find I cook more simply out of necessity, the ingredients are so costly I can't bear to let anything go to waste. I have become a huge fan of 'one pot meals' to get us through the winter. Lots of roasts, stews, and soups.

    Enjoy your kicked back recipe reading, sounds like a wonderful way to spend an afternoon (or two or three!!)

  21. PS- I should add we used to throw away (or feed to the dogs) TONS of leftovers when we were first married. But I was also newly cooking for two, and the leftovers were often short of a meal.

    Now I cook differently, and try to make a big batch in order to eat it multiple times on purpose. My husband has learned to bite his tongue when he eats the same meal 3x in a week.

    I also freeze lots. I smoked a turkey the other day and bagged up 12 cups of meat in the freezer before making our dinner, that way I knew I wouldn't end up tossing anything that sat in the fridge too long. Sometimes I am still guilty of this, and it pains me. :)

  22. Throw out left overs??? Are they nuts?? I can make the most fantastic turkey noodle soup from the carcasses of the Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys. There is so much meat left on them even after it has been picked over!
    I make a HUGE pot, have friends over for New Years and we eat soup, cornbread or fresh baked bread. I shared the left overs with my close friends, but I still had 4 large servings left and just finished the last one last night!!! I had to purchase carrots and celery ... that was it.

    Sorry for the recipe rant, but I have a whole lot of trouble tossing left overs. If I have more than I want, I either freeze it or take it to my friends and they have a ready to eat meal.
    ...end of rant...

  23. Even now that its just the two of us I still don't cook "small". Why change now? Half the fun - at least I think, is to be creative in what you can do with the leftovers. The only thing is I need to be careful to clearly mark what I put in the freezer. Nothing like thinking your thawing out leftover chuck roast only to find out that when you get home you've unthawed a bag of brown gravy! :)

  24. Lorie - This may be harsh but I think people who throw all leftovers away are lazy. They don't want to take the trouble to package them for the refrig and then remember to use them in good time. You think??

    Jen - Thanks for the tip re Alibris.com. I had forgotten about them.

    Sue - I would love, love, LOVE to see your list of the 28 meals you rotate each month. That sounds fascinating to me! (Also organized.) Would you share? Blog post if you like.

    Stephanie - Google Books. Okay, another one for me to check out. Thanks!

    JJ - As I said above, the person who can't be "bothered" with leftovers has to be lazy and lacking in imagination. Takes a little thinking to throw leftovers together into our second (and third) night fantastic meals, eh?

  25. Kelly - First off, sorry dear, but I would toss that old cook book of your grandma's. The reaction you're getting from the smell is no doubt mold and that is BAD for you. :o( Yupper, we do have to pay more for "healthy" food but hubby and I look at the money spent on food that is good for us as health insurance. I'd rather pay money to an organic farmer than to the AMA for chemotherapy.

    Yvette - I know. We're all preaching to the choir here, aren't we?

    Teri - Your theory is exactly why I make gallons of soup at one time! That's our "convenience" food, isn't it? I know what you mean about labeling things in the freezer. I think we've all had surprises (some not so nice!) when we don't take the time to do that job efficiently!

  26. Sue - P.S. Well, if we were twins separated at birth: 1) Our mom must have been very traumatized to have had to carry you in utero for several more years after I popped out, and 2) Why the heck didn't I get ANY of the landscaping talent??

  27. Another wonderful post, Mama Pea. I tend to cook simply because I don't have much time to cook during the week. On weekends I will try new things - but usually make a big pot of soup for the week and bake my weekly offering to the guys in the barn who are taking care of my Jersey heifer. BTW, I did find your cast iron cookbook on Amazon - when I added the author's name. You just go ahead and inundate us with good food and good humor. We NEED you!

  28. Susan - Aha! Good to know the cast iron cook book CAN be found on Amazon. As for your other very kind words . . . bless you, my child! :o)

  29. Funny that you should post this now--Hubby and I were talking not even a week ago about a few people that he works with that won't eat leftovers. I can't even imagine that. We LOVE them! I also do like another of your readers, and sometimes make them unrecognizable in the 2nd and 3rd meal. Tonight I turned last night's baked chicken into a rissotto thing. Really good. Tomorrow night will be some sort of chicken soup. Yummy, and my family likes it all.

  30. Mama Pea-consider it DONE on the menu. I'll post it as soon as I'm done here-easy to do as it's all written down.

  31. Lori - Just goes to prove you're very creative and have raised your family right! Keep it up, we've gotta save those pennies somehow!