Thursday, August 15, 2013

Why? Because It’s Easy, Fun, Cheap & Healthy!!

Table of Contents (This is a map to the information below.)


1.      Ingredients

         Basic Nutrients
         Herbs & Spices &c

2.      Tools

         Pots & Pans
         Basic Equipment
         Basic Appliances

3.      Putting It All Together
               To Cook Or Not To Cook?

         Cooking with the Stove

         Hot Glues (No, I don't mean library paste or airplane glue,
                                I mean ways to get your dish to hang together.)
                     Yeast Bread & Quick Breads
                     Aunty M’s Energy Bars

         Cold Glues
                     Garlic Salad
               Other Salad Dressings

4.      Preservation & Storage

5.      Shopping

6.      Dieting

More Resources


Homemade tasty healthy meals can

* Stretch your paycheck sooo much further than TV dinners or fast food can.
* Take far less time to make than working for the money needed to buy anything ready-made
        that is nearly as yummy or nutritious.
* Slash your healthcare expenses
* Dissolve depression and create community

You too can
* Learn a handful or 2 of key basic techniques
* Learn to listen to what your body really needs and likes
        (instead of what TV tells your mind it craves).
* Use these skills to make delicious healthy meals and sabotage the profit-Nazis, the multinational corporate food manufacturers that are trying to take over not just the government and the U.N. but the whole food chain.

You deserve meals that are truly and profoundly healthy, and thus automatically delicious.  And they can be made far easier and cheaper than you may think.

Cooking is all about playing with your food, and it’s soooo much fun. This is a cookbook rather than a recipe book, and contains only the most basic and useful recipes. I want to empower you to be independent of fast food and of supermarket pre-fab grub. Check out this chart for the big picture. A wide variety of ingredients and a few basic tricks will give you countless possibilities for playing.

However, you need to be careful what you wish for.  Some say “you are what you eat.” What do you eat and how do you feel about it?

It’s not news that what you eat has a lot to do with how you feel both physically and emotionally.  Doughnuts & coffee for breakfast make me feel weak and jittery, but with eggs & whole bread I can work all morning. A lifetime of empty calories will make you sick and slow. But a lifetime of fresh nutritious food will keep you healthy and alert.

If you enjoy eating junk food such as soda pop, candy, snack chips, and doughnuts, pay attention to your body’s responses to different foods. Ask your body what it likes to be. Remind yourself again to keep paying attention, and your mind will end up wishing for foods that are truly good and healthy. Be prepared to take the time you need, because you and your health and happiness are worth it.

Clothes, as long as they’re reasonably comfortable, just can’t affect how you feel the way food can. Of course clothes do affect how you feel—raincoats or party clothes or none at all—and also how others feel about you. It’s just that food affects you more essentially, on the inside.  Clothes are on the outside.

Good food is also incredibly sensuous. Your body’s reaction to meals that are both tasty and nutritious is true magic. Nose, eyes, fingers, tongue—together the senses of smell, sight, taste and touch join in a nurturing and pleasurable meal.

Listening to your body about food is a total sensory experience. So I invite you now to travel in a delicious realm offering a generous variety of tastes and flavors, and innumerable combinations of the ingredients and processes described within these covers.

Let’s Play!!

Cooking, like comedy, requires good timing. What needs to happen when? Playing with your food a lot is how you can predict how a new recipe idea will turn out, and how to pull it off the first time. Here's a chart of the big picture, to have in the back of your mind as you head on into the weeds.

1.      Ingredients

Keeping a modest assortment of key ingredients on hand allows you to make a relatively wide variety of meals.

Basic Nutrients: Water, Proteins, Fats, Carbohydrates, Fiber; Vitamins & Minerals

The USDA’s daily food pyramid does a reasonably good job of defining healthy proportions for physically active people. It prescribes proportions from largest to smallest of the following categories:  1) Grains, 2) Fruits & Vegetables, 3) Meat/Eggs/Beans & Dairy, and 4) Fat & Sugar. There are various alternative food pyramids, and you can always tailor your own to fit.

If you don’t get lots of exercise you will probably do best eating more vegetables than anything else. I would advise couch potatoes to follow a food pyramid with vegetables rather than carbohydrates (aka carbs) as the first and biggest layer. As we age, our caloric needs and our digestive efficiency both gradually decline, so it’s a good idea to gradually eat more vegetables and fewer carbs. Besides, getting enough vegetables takes commitment. But getting enough carbs is so easy you actually have to resist them to get only enough, especially in the U.S. where empty calories abound. (Really, there’s something a little weird about a country where most of the people are both overweight and worried about the economy.)

People who eat plenty of many kinds of fresh vegetables will probably get plenty of many vitamins and minerals. Protein is essential, however digesting any excess requires more biochemical effort by your body than for excess carbs or fats. Although fiber isn’t exactly a nutrient (it’s not absorbed) they’re usually found together. And our bodies seem to run better with plenty of fiber in our diet, from vegetables, fruit, beans, and unrefined grains. So it’s a good idea to eat fruit rather than drink juice.

For protein, we need to get 8 amino acids from food; our bodies make the others. Eggs have the best protein profile, and meat and dairy are also “complete” proteins. Vegetarians can get plenty of usable protein by complementing the lopsided proteins from grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and mushrooms together for a more complete protein profile. Vegans (plant-only diet) need to make sure they get enough vitamin B12. Complementary proteins don’t have to be very complicated – just make sure you eat things from all the main categories (beans, grains, nuts…) combined together as much as practical, on a regular basis. Protein is for re/building tissue, so you can expect injuries and stress to increase your body’s need.

Vegetables and fruits are the most diverse of the food groups. The main difference between the two is the amount of sugar and acid they contain, fruits having more of both. The old rule about fruits growing from the flower and vegetables from the rest of the plant is honored almost more in the breach than the observance.

Some of the main kinds of vegetables are:  onions & garlic, carrots and other root vegetables such as beets, parsnip, and various potatoes, squashes of winter and summer, celery, parsley, lettuces, cabbage and its kin such as broccoli, peppers both hot and mild, tomatoes, greens such as kale or collards, cucumber, radish, avocadoes, etc. And herbs & spices are generally seeds or leaves with flavors that are especially aromatic, unusual and/or intense.

Fruits include apples, pears, all the berries, stone fruits such as cherries, peaches, plums and apricots; also citrus like lemon, orange, and grapefruit; melons, grapes, bananas, figs, quince, kiwi, pineapple, mango, guava, etc. Some species are harder to categorize than others. Tomatoes, avocadoes and squash are all considered vegetables although all contain seeds. Figs are considered a fruit even though they are little if at all more acidic than tomatoes. Rhubarb is usually prepared with sugar, as a fruit, although it’s a stem.

Produce can be conventional, no-spray, certified/organic, biodynamic, etc. Many cooks and alternative healers find organic food tastes better and feels more nourishing than conventional. I say you should do your own lab tests at home, and listen to your body!

Vegetables and fruits can be prepared in many ways. You can nibble right in the garden. You can grow your own sprouts from any seed, in your own kitchen. You can eat them raw or cooked, alone or with any combination of other foods you like. They can be frozen, dried, canned, or pickled. Freezing will make produce go limp, just like cooking, and also dries things out. (In my self-defrosting freezer, I store the food on cookie racks to keep it away from the floor and walls of the compartment since that is where the defrosting occurs, and the repeated warming will eventually affect the flavor.) For drying, you need drying racks plus heat and maybe fans. For canning or pickling, your local co-operative agricultural extension (usually under county government in the phone book) can (if not yet budgeted out of existence) provide advice and booklets.

You can have vegetables and fruits in soups, stews, salads, breads, or eat them plain. Aim for at least 5 vegetables a day – variety is good, as well as amount. You have to try pretty hard to overeat on vegetables. (Unless it’s something like eggplant parmesan that is drenched in oil.  Eggplant, like many mushrooms, can absorb lots of fat when fried.)

Vegie Prep means the processes of washing, trimming, peeling, slicing, chopping, grating, mashing, grinding, etc., which are very important and also the most time-consuming aspect of healthy cooking.  (At these times, cooking and socializing or C-SPAN can be a great combination.) The shape and size of morsels of fruits & vegies can really affect how that particular fruit or vegie comes across in the final dish, especially if they’re being cooked.

For example, if you are sautéing (gently ‘simmer’-frying with—not in—oil), start with onions, garlic & herbs, then add the vegies in order of cooking time starting with those that take the longest, such as carrot slices, and ending with the quickest, such as zucchini or greens. And for a salad, cut things in ways so the shapes & textures tend to go together well. So for example I grate carrots for a tossed salad because slices are heavy and usually just fall to the bottom.

Good knives are worth the money; see Tools for tips. It’s best to use a stainless steel knife for fruits.  Carbon steel is ok for most nonacidic vegetables, other than tomatoes or potatoes. Serrated knives make some jobs much easier, like slicing tomatoes or bread.

Seeds generally have more concentrated and high-quality nutritional content than the rest of the plant.

Grains are seeds from grasses, and include wheat, oats, rye, rice, barley, corn, spelt, wild rice, quinoa, millet, and doubtless many more. The bran and germ of grains contain more vitamins, minerals, fiber, and flavor than the rest of the seed, so refinements such as white rice are less nutritious. But the bran and even the germ may also contain ‘anti-nutrients,’ trace substances which reduce digestive effectiveness unless soaking/cooking removes them. Wheat contains the most gluten, an increasingly common allergy.

Any kind of rice can be cooked, covered, in any pot with water a generous inch above the rice, boiled, then simmered until it’s done when the water is gone. Grains need a little salt for savor; without it they can be very bland. Add no fat for quickest cooking. You can cook other grains similarly—only proportion of water need vary.

Flours ground from grains (mostly) are used in all manner of breads and puddings. Whole-grain flours (with the bran & germ) have more vitamins, fiber, and flavor than white flours.

Beans are seeds of the legume family. Soy, pinto, black, red, kidney, white, lima, mung, lentils, split peas, favas—all have different flavors and cooking requirements. Lentils can be cooked after a few hours of soaking, others like garbanzos (aka chickpeas) do better with much longer. As with grains, some (soy in particular) may contain anti-nutrients, especially before soaking and cooking.

You can minimize digestive gases by not cooking your beans in the soaking water, and by putting in a sprig of epazote while the beans begin to cook (removing it after 5-10 minutes of boiling). (Nurture your delicate plants with the soaking water—it contains plant growth hormones.) Soybeans are the most complete protein, and tofu and tempeh are easiest to use. Cooking plain soybeans at home is not worth the trouble, especially since there are so many other choices.

Nuts are usually seeds of trees with a hard shell. Walnut, almond, hazelnut, black walnut, chestnut, brazil nut, macadamia nut, acorn, cashew, and peanut (actually a bean). Most nuts have some protein, plus healthy oils and oil-soluble vitamins. Other seeds include sesame, sunflower, amaranth, flax, quinoa, coffee, cocoa, coconut…

Oils are pressed from seeds, and are usually liquid at room temperature. Monosaturated oils such as olive and canola are thought to be optimal, although I have heard canola will go rancid faster. Some recommend sunflower oil as an alternative when olive oil won’t work in a particular dish. Polyunsaturated oils were at one time thought to be best, however many now think they are not very good for you. Omega-3 oils such as flax oil are now praised. No doubt researchers will always learn new things so stay tuned and stay sensible.

Eggs are a very efficient form of nourishment, and essential for many standard recipes. Concerns about cholesterol from eggs seem unnecessary because our bodies also make their own cholesterol. Raw eggs (as in mayonnaise and real Caesar salad dressing) are officially questionable due to the remote possibility of salmonella, which is not recommended for those with delicate immune systems (such as active AIDS or Hepatitis C).

When beating egg whites, be sure there's no oil or egg yolk in them. Don’t let them get too stiff, as it will make your cake dry and your soufflé brittle. You want soft flexible peaks. If it’s a sweet recipe, adding a little sugar to the egg whites after they’re stiff enough (fluffy but not dry) helps them hold up when folded in. Folding, usually with a rubber scraper, combines ingredients with as little motion as possible by gently pulling up & over from underneath.

Dairy is usually about cows, however, goats and sheep are increasingly popular. We can get milk, butter, buttermilk, cheeses of all kinds, yogurt, kefir, etc. Yogurt is made with the help of the acidophilus (and often bifidus) bacteria, both being probiotics which promote healthy bacteria in your body. However, some brands pasteurize their yogurt before sale, so check labels. Lactose-intolerant folks can often drink acidophilus milk but not regular milk. Also, milk that has gone ‘bad’ can be substituted for buttermilk or yogurt in cakes, biscuits and other non-yeast breads.

Meat, like fat, is healthiest when raised without antibiotics, hormones, or pesticided feed. Some say the high-protein soy/grain (vs. plain old grass) diet of modern cattle is so hard on their digestions that it’s making them sick so they need the drugs. If you are a political vegetarian you probably don’t want to know that agribiz can be just as unnatural for plants. There’s an animal rights movement—why not plant rights? Let’s respect plants’ right to say no to killer chemicals and genetic rape by Monsanto and its cronies. And our right to eat plants free from these poisons.

Many are concerned about eating meat because of its fat. As a traditional and thrifty cook, I use all possible fat from the meat I cook. The fat carries a lot of the flavor, and I favor adjusting the proportion of such fat by adding vegetables to the dish. Does fat cause cancer? We know that hormones and so forth collect in the fat. But if all fat contains such ‘additives,’ we can’t be sure which is the culprit. For myself, I feel okay eating fat from animals raised traditionally, especially with plenty of vegetables. Besides, 60% of the human brain is fat. What’s good food for your thoughts?

Sugar has been called poor man’s cocaine. One participant in a 12-step program referred to sugar as his first addiction, his childhood gateway drug. So in general I recommend proceeding with caution, especially with products that are very refined from their original natural form, and with recipes that don’t contain mostly healthy ingredients. Other sweeteners include honey, molasses, fructose, stevia, and the mainstream substitutes like aspartame. Brown sugar is just white sugar with a little molasses.

Herbs & Spices &c. can be leaves, seeds, bark, or roots of various plants. A particular herb may be used for flavor, as medicine, or both. Libraries and stores offer many reference books and magazines.

Plants have evolved a huge variety of strong and interesting flavors, which are often used fresh and dried in characteristic combinations. Thyme, savory, basil, marjoram, pepper, in European savory recipes. Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg in European sweet recipes. Chile, cumin, thyme in Latino recipes.  Ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, lemon in Asian. There are a million ethnic cookbooks out there that have details. Herbs and spices can also add flavor to or be preserved by oil, honey, vinegar, wine or brandy.

1 oz unsweetened baking chocolate = 3T cocoa + 1T butter/oil
1 cup buttermilk = 1 cup milk + 1 T vinegar/lemon juice

2.      Tools

Learning how to use them is very helpful. If you didn’t hang out in the kitchen and watch your mother cook, spending a few hours watching a good cook use key techniques like kneading bread or whisking vinaigrette can really give you a big head start.

Knives are your most important cooking tools. With 4 basic knives you can meet almost all needs quite well: a short-bladed paring knife, a general utility knife like a really good steak knife, a bread knife (long and serrated), and a chef’s knife (8-10” long triangular blade). Knives need to be thick enough in the blade to cut without wobbling, and have comfortable handles. If you’re doing marathon amounts of chopping and slicing, watch out for repetitive stress symptoms such as soreness, tingling, or numbness. Comfortable handles and rest breaks are strongly advised. Watch your fingers!

Carbon steel (dull gray) is good for a chef’s knife or a bread knife, but the metal is vulnerable to water and especially to acids such as lemon juice. Stainless steel (silvery) knives are great. Knives must be sharp to cut easily, especially if not serrated. Don’t waste your time working with a dull blade. If you are nervous about using knives safely, spend some time watching an experienced cook (there are lots of examples on youtube) and practice their moves. Start slow to develop technique, and then practice so you can speed up sensibly and safely.

Hardwood cutting boards are best. They are more durable and sanitary than plastic. Don’t bother being afraid of germs—they’re everywhere anyway. Just make sure you rinse the board well after cutting raw meat on it. And lovingly nourish your immune system.

Pots & Pans are best if they are stainless steel inside with an adequate copper or aluminum layer underneath for good heat transfer. Get a range of shapes and sizes. Check the thrift stores. Department stores often sell sets at discounted prices. Many people use non-stick teflon, which I don’t like because the coating flakes off over time. Also, it induces people to cook without the fat they would otherwise use, depriving them of flavor and probably some vitamins.

Bowls are glass, stainless, wood, etc. I find stainless easiest to use.
Measures: 1 quart (qt) = 4 cups.  8 fluid ounces = 1 cup (c) = 16 T.  1 tablespoon (T or Tbsp) = 3 teaspoons (t or tsp)
Basic Equipment: colander, peeler, sifter, spoons, rubber & metal spatulas, sieves, funnels, slotted spoon, masher, grater, ladle, baster, whisk, eggbeater, tongs, pastry blender, orange juicer, rolling pin, etc....
Basic Appliances: fridge, stove, toaster, mixer.

Many kitchen tools are made unnecessarily complicated and expensive. Electrifying tools such as can openers and carving knives for tasks that most folks can easily do by hand is just a way for corporations to make more money. So a food processor just replaces grater + masher + slicer + chopper, all things that are easily within the strength of most cooks. However, in a high-volume production setting such as a restaurant, such a mechanism makes more sense. Like the food processor, mixers and grain mills are devices that would be well-suited to a more sustainable and pedal-powered kitchen.

3.      Putting It All Together

What’s For Dinner?
Well, what’s in the fridge and the pantry? What kind of food would your body like? How are you fixed for leftovers? Is tonight a good time to prepare a big dish and decompress after a long day at work? Again, here's your roadmap to help you quickly see all your options.

To Cook Or Not To Cook?
Cooking is what you do with heat. Decide how you want your ingredients to taste—cooked or raw, hot or cold. If you can’t really predict, just experiment and remember the results.

Cooking with the Stove

Oven: Bake or Broil
Meat must be young and tender to be suitable for broiling. Leaner cuts (or from older animals) can be covered and baked slowly, with the fat left on for tenderest results. Vegetables are somewhat similar, and far less demanding of special treatment.

If you are going to bake something, it’s almost always a good idea to grease the pan with butter or oil. Oil can stand more heat than butter before turning brown or burning. Poke with a knife to test doneness.

Stovetop: Fry in oil or Boil in water
Frying in oil can range from gently sautéing chopped onions, garlic & herbs in a proportional amount of oil (put the oil in first to warm up!) to bigger challenges like deep fat frying potatoes or chicken. Sautéing is gently simmer-frying with—not in—oil. Whatever you do, don’t burn it. Just use enough oil, stir stuff while it’s cooking, don’t cook it too hot, and it won’t stick and burn. If it does start to stick too much, just add a few spoonfuls of wine or water, put the lid on and turn the heat down.

Simply boiling in water works well for a few things, like potatoes and eggs. But boiling meat makes it tough and dry. Stews and thick soups can burn if not stirred often enough or simmered low enough. Melt chocolate in a double boiler.

Braising is a combination of frying and boiling, where you briefly fry meat with very little oil at high heat (‘browning’), then add a little wine/water, herbs, and maybe vegies, then cover and simmer as low as possible so it is barely boiling, with only slow and lazy bubbles. Braising is ideal for tenderizing tough cuts of meat. To braise meat in the oven, you can start by browning the meat uncovered a short time at high heat (500+˚F), then add a little wine/water etc., and cook covered in a slow oven, 200-250˚F for several hours. Turn occasionally.

For braising vegetables, put some oil and/or butter in the pan, maybe add onions and garlic and herbs first and fry them a little before adding the cut-up vegetable/s, stirring everything up and when it gets hot, add a little wine and/or water then cover and simmer until done. This kind of stir-fry is my favorite way to cook vegetables.

Some things such as mushrooms and eggplant absorb a lot of fat and/or water when you fry them. If you don’t want them to end up very rich (full of fat), let them absorb the fat you allow, keep frying gently until the pan starts to brown, then add wine and/or water and cover. They’ll soften up and eventually moisten.

How Do I Make It All Come Together?

Once you decide on how you want your ingredients, you can start thinking about what kind of ‘glue’ you want to use to stick them together. It could be simply butter. There are hot glues, like white sauce, custard, broth or bread, that require heat to make and usually contain a serving of macronutrient/s such as protein, fat or carbs. There are cold ones, like mayonnaise, vinaigrette, and other salad dressings. Each of these can transform a pile of ingredients into a delicious dish.

Hot Glues

Standard proportions:  2 T fat, 2 T flour & 1c liquid
These are the basic ingredients of a standard white sauce, where the fat is usually butter and the liquid is usually milk (particularly if cheese will be melted in). To make a roux, the fat is melted in a pot, the flour added and stirred in over medium heat, then fried for a bit—keep stirring until it’s well-mixed! The roux will get kind of frothy, so just let it go on a bit stirring frequently. When the flour has a chance to cook a minute or two it gets a nice toasty flavor. Your nose can tell you when.

Then add the milk, and continue stirring while it thickens and slowly boils. If you try to heat it too fast you’re more likely to get lumps, even with constant stirring. When it boils, grated cheese can be stirred in to make a cheese sauce. Turn the heat down and stir the melting cheese in until smooth. This is how to make cheese sauce when you’ve run out of Velveeta.

This sauce has a wide repertoire. Classics such as creamed carrots or corn are simply cooked vegies that are mixed with some. It can also be used to thicken soups, to make a meal of vegetable stir-fry, or combined with eggs to make soufflés.

Gravy is also a sauce of this species. Traditionally, meat drippings from a roast are used with a milk & flour mixture, and maybe the water such as from boiling vegetables. Roast drippings are a mixture of fat and water, so you either have to guess at proportions if you are making the gravy in the roasting pan over a burner, or you can get one of those pitchers that allows you to pour the watery part from the bottom rather than the fat from the top.

Anyway, put the milk and flour in an air-tight container, and shake well to get rid of lumps, then pour into the fat/drippings, and heat to bubbling. Heating it too fast can also create lumps. If it boils and fails to thicken, and if you can see excess fat swimming around, you probably need to add flour; otherwise I’d try a little of both flour & fat. An alternative is to make things ahead of time, then strain and refrigerate the meat juices so you can separate and measure the fat, and then just use the standard proportions and procedure above.

Standard proportions:  3 eggs & 1c milk
The simplest way to make a custard is to just beat the eggs and mix in the milk, then bake in a moderate oven (say 300-350˚F). Often cookbooks suggest baking custard-cups in a pan of water, however glass (no, not metal) usually works fine by itself. Or simmer pyrex custard-cups in water on a hot-plate. Larger dishes particularly usually turn out better when baked longer at more moderate temperatures. To get fancy, you can also separate the egg yolks from the whites, and beat the egg whites (see Eggs). Then in another bowl beat the egg yolks and bit by bit beat in milk, then fold in the whites.

Proportions range from 1 cup milk per egg for bread pudding (the bread is soaked in milk first) to 1 cup of white sauce per 3 eggs for soufflé. More eggs gives a heartier custard; more milk makes it more delicate. Many puddings, such as bread or rice pudding, are custards, as is French toast. Quiche is a savory custard pie. For quiche, try 3-4 eggs and 1c milk. For pumpkin pie try 1.5 c milk for 4 eggs and 1.5 c pumpkin. You can bake a pie crust for them or just bake the filling in a casserole.

Soufflé is simply custard made with white sauce rather than plain milk. The eggs are always separated and the egg whites beaten up, and the cup of milk comes in the form of a sauce like the standard white sauce. The yolks are mixed into the sauce, then any ingredients like onions or cheese, and last the egg whites are gently folded in. Pour gently into a buttered casserole dish and bake at about 350˚F.

Bones, meat, onion, garlic, carrot, celery, parsley and herbs are all simmered together for a day or so.  Usually I also put in dandelions and maybe cabbage. It’s a good idea to add a few spoonfuls of something acidic such as vinegar or lemon juice in order to dissolve more of the minerals in the bones. After the solid stuff is very very soft and thoroughly boiled, then the liquid is strained into a glass jar and refrigerated. Fat will rise and solidify. The watery part will often also solidify due to the gelatin from the trimmings & bones. Leave the fat on top as a preservative until you are ready to use the broth.  The fat can be used for braising vegetables or making sauces. The boiled-out dregs can be composted.

Some French sauces are made by ‘reducing’ meat broth, that is, simmering off a lot of water until it’s really thick, like cream. This takes some time and is very flavorful. Soups of many kinds can be made with meat broth by itself or as a base, or by sautéing some hearty things like onions, garlic, mushrooms, and beans, and adding water, maybe milk, and vegies. Stir while heating. If you keep adding stuff to any kind of broth, it becomes a stew, then a casserole.

Breads can be made with yeast (and wheat flour) or with baking powder (and any flour). They can be sweet or savory. Breads have some basic proportions, and key recipes are summarized below.

Yeast breads rely on the CO2 generated by yeasts to inflate and lighten the dough, and on the stretchy strength of the gluten in wheat flour to contain the gas. Baker’s yeast can be used to make bread right away, and a starter can also be used as in sourdough. For that you will need to read another book, as I have never made sourdough.

Making yeast breads has 3 stages. First is making the sponge, which consists of yeast, warm water, and flour—no fat. Have 3-4 cups warm water (95-105˚F or just hot enough to feel nippy) in a bowl, and dissolve and stir in 1T of yeast for every cup of water. (If milk is used for any portion of the liquid in bread, it must be scalded—barely boiled—and cooled to no more than 105˚F before use, to not kill the yeast.) Then gradually beat in flour, first with a whisk, then with a spoon, or your hand, or a dough hook, depending on whether you are working it by hand or with a mixer. You want to work the sponge as much as possible to develop gluten’s elasticity, and this is most effective with a sponge of only water, yeast, and flour and without fat or oil. When you can hardly work any more flour into the sponge, let it rise in the bowl.

While it’s rising, mix the other ingredients (except flour) together. Beat an egg, beat in 1 T salt, then 3-4 T sugar, then 2-4 T oil. Any other desired ingredients should then be added to this mixture:  wheat germ, millet, grated cheese, sautéed onions, garlic, herbs, nuts, chocolate chips—the possibilities are almost infinite.

The second stage starts when the sponge has stopped rising. Stir the mixture of other ingredients (above) into the sponge until it’s pretty well together, then turn it out of the bowl onto a floured board and knead until it’s not picking up hardly any more flour. Kneading—a sort of fold-and-roll motion—is mostly for mixing dough too thick for anything else. Try to knead it in such a way as to retain as much elasticity as possible—watch a breadmaker to see how. When you’re done kneading, put the dough in an oiled bowl, then turn it over so the oily side is on top. Let it rise until it stops.

The third stage begins by turning the risen dough out of the bowl onto a floured board. Then cut into portions for loaves or pizza or rolls. You can also make jelly roll shapes, which can be baked as loaves or sliced for rolls. On a flat rectangle of dough, spread butter, cheese, cinnamon, raisins, garlic, pesto, whatever you like, and roll it up gooey side in. Pinch the edges of dough to keep the goo inside loaves, or slice into spiral rolls. Then put the bread in oiled pans of the desired shape, and let the bread rise once more until it stops.

Then bake it starting with a hot oven (400-450˚F) for 10-20 minutes, and then about 350-375˚F for the rest of the time, 20-45 minutes. The shape of the dough will determine the minimum time. Then enjoy fresh bread hot from the oven!

Undercooked bread isn’t very good, and you can’t salvage it by more baking after cutting into it. However, it’s much harder to overcook bread, and even if you do the crust will soften up in a few days. Unless you kill the yeast, or actually burn the bread, you’ll get something edible. And if it’s not very appetizing, you can always turn it into bread pudding. Bread freezes well, and if uncut rebaking for 10-20 minutes will revive some fresh-baked flavor.

Quick Breads and other non-yeast breads include muffins, pancakes biscuits, cookies, cakes, etc. Most of them use soda or baking powder. When using soda, you need to add some acid such as in sour milk or buttermilk or its equivalent of 1cup-milk+3T-lemon juice. The recipes below can be adapted in various ways by varying the proportions of fat, sugar, eggs, liquid, and flour. Dried fruit, nuts, and seeds can also be added. It’s best to oil pans before baking.

Biscuits, scones and pie dough are made a little differently than muffins, cakes or cookies, and needn’t include sugar. For the former, you mix the flour, salt and other dry ingredients, then blend in the cold butter by cutting it in with a pastry blender. Any liquid is added last and the dough is mixed with spoon or spatula. Watch an expert to see the moves or just try it.

Beat 2 eggs, beat in 2-4T melted butter or oil, then 3/4 c milk. Add mixture of 2c flour, 1/4 c sugar, 3/4 t salt, 2t baking powder. Add a bit more milk for pancakes. Bake at 400˚F for 20-25 minutes.

Cut 1/2 c butter into mixture of 2c flour, 1/2 c sugar, 1/2 t salt, 4t baking powder. Mix in up to 1c currants. Beat 3 eggs, then mix into the rest. Pat the dough into shape/s. Bake at 425˚F for 15 minutes.
Variation: instead of sugar and currants, add a lot of grated cheese.

Cut 2-6T butter into a mixture of 2c flour, 2-3 t baking powder, 1/2 t salt. Then add 2/3 to 3/4 c milk. Roll or pat dough into shape/s for cooking. Bake at 450˚F for 12-15 minutes.

Crumble Topping
Cut 1/2 c butter into mixture of 1c flour, 1/2 c brown sugar, 1/2 t salt. When mostly blended, add 1c rolled oats and finish mixing. Sprinkle a layer on top of sliced fruit and bake at 350-375˚F for 30-40 minutes.

Pie Dough
Cut 3/4 c butter into a mixture of 2c flour and 1t salt, then mix in 1/4c cold water. Roll dough-patties out on a floured surface into desired shapes and gently place into baking dish and pat in place. Water glues edges together. Pie filling is sliced fruit and a little sugar. Bake pie at 400-425˚F for 10-15 min., then 350˚F for 20-30 min.

Aunty M’s Energy Bars
These Energy Bars can help those on the go keep going a little longer. Plus, these are better and cheaper than the factory-made.

Moist ingredients:
1/2 cup oil or butter
up to 1 cup sugar/honey/molasses
1 tsp vanilla
3 eggs
2 cups mashed banana or grated apple or other fruit/vegetable, cooked/raw, grated or mashed
(With the fruit you can also add citrus rind and up to 1/2 cup of liquid such as milk or coffee. Adding a watery liquid like these will tend to make the result more like cake, and a little drier.)

There are 2 ways of combining the moist ingredients.
For both methods, I use a large whisk for mixing/beating the moist ingredients, then switch to a large spoon for the dry ingredients.

Method #1:  If using oil, start with eggs and beat them together then with sugar as with the standard brownie recipe, then beat in the oil.  Beating energetically at each step helps the consistency.  Then mix in vanilla & fruit/vegetable.
Method #2:  If using butter alone or with oil, start with the soft butter and cream it with the sugar, then add oil and continue.  (It helps if the oil is cold.)  Beating at this stage helps incorporate air into the batter.  Then add vanilla & molasses if you want.  Then beat in the eggs, and last mix in the fruit/vegetable.
Dry ingredients:
2-3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2-3/4 cup cocoa if you want chocolate bars (add some extra oil & sugar to mellow the cocoa)
some wheat bran/germ/rolled oats/other dry stuff
1/2 tsp salt
4-6 tsp baking powder
1 tsp spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, 5-spice…)
Chopped (toasted) nuts, dried fruit (soaked in juice/liquor), chocolate chips, coconut, etc.

Add the dry ingredients to the mixture of moist ingredients. Put 1 cup of flour in the sifter and on top put the salt, baking powder, and any spices you want to add, then sift together into the mixture. Dump in another cup of flour, along with optional wheat bran/germ or anything else you want (rolled oats, sesame seeds…). Keep mixing (gently so as not to toughen the batter unduly by encouraging the gluten) and adding flour until it's about as thick as you want, kind of like cold lumpy gravy. Just before it's really all mixed up at the consistency you want, dump in all the dried fruit, toasted nuts, choc chips, etc.)

Bake in greased metal pans at about 350-375˚F for about 20-30 minutes, depending on the pan, until a sharp knife poked into the cake comes out clean. This recipe makes 2 pans about 9” x 10”.

Granola with plain yogurt and fruit makes a nice light healthy breakfast.  And it’s pretty hard to ruin it.

6 cups rolled oats
up to 1 cup wheat germ
1/2+ cup sunflower seeds
1/2+ cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup/s sesame, millet, quinoa, amaranth, brewer’s yeast, etc.
1-2 cups nuts, some coconut, & anything else you think you’d like such as small amounts of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, 5-spice, etc.

Mix all the dry ingredients together, then mix in one at a time:
1/2 cup oil (olive or whatever)
1/2 cup honey or light molasses

Mix well and spread it out on pans. Bake at 350-400˚F for up to half an hour, until crunchy but not hard.
Add dried fruit when cool.  Store cool/cold in airtight containers.

Cold Glues

Standard proportions:  1 egg, 1/2 tsp salt, & about 2 cups oil
Seasoning:  1-2T prepared mustard, pepper, 2-4 T vinegar/lemon

Making mayo can be simple or fancy. Almost any beater or blender will work, including a whisk. It’s best to have the egg and oil at room temperature. Beat the egg with the salt and mustard (or add these after some oil has been beaten in), then beat the oil in, very gradually at first, then faster as the mixture thickens and the emulsion takes hold. When the mayonnaise is as thick as you want, remove the beater/s, and fold in a tablespoon or 2 of vinegar with a spatula. Store in glass in the fridge.

The really fun thing about making your own mayo is that there are so many more possible different flavors of mayo than Best Foods, which everything else on the market seems to taste like. For example, you can use any kind of oil or vinegar, including ones with distinctive flavors. Hollandaise sauce (technically a hot glue) is a form of mayonnaise, made with melted butter instead of oil, and lemon juice instead of vinegar. However, you have to be careful with oils such as olive or butter that solidify in the fridge, as using too much of them in the mayo will cause the emulsion to break down when it gets that cold. If enough canola or another lighter oil is used with olive oil, it’ll be ok. Making a softer, less oily mayonnaise may also help here.

And you do have to keep mayo cold. If you do, it’ll last for a long time. And it’s safe to take a sandwich to work in the morning without worrying about it spoiling by lunchtime (except maybe in the sun). And of course, those with delicate immune systems (such as active AIDS or Hep C) need to remember that there is a very very small possibility (higher with factory-farmed eggs) that the particular raw egg used for one’s mayonnaise is infected with salmonella.

Standard proportions:  pinch salt, 3-4 T vinegar, 0-2 T prepared mustard, 5-7+ T olive oil

Mix salt & vinegar w/ a fork, then mix in mustard. Then add the oil and whisk briskly with the fork until it’s well blended and looks smooth. My rule of thumb is that you want the vinaigrette to be thicker like oil rather than thin like vinegar. Vinaigrette tastes best fresh, so just make it in the salad bowl and put the salad on top, like the French do.

Don’t bother trying to cut calories here by skimping on oil—your salad won’t taste as good, and the oil-soluble vitamins in the salad won’t be as digestible. Various kinds of vinegar and oil, as well as herbs, can give this dressing different flavors.

Garlic Salad
The recipe for my all-time favorite salad is simple and uses garlic in medicinal quantities.

Make an ample amount of vinaigrette for the number of carrots you are using. For the basic version, grate garlic (fine) and carrots (coarse), into the dressing. I use about 2 cloves per carrot. Chop up a bunch of parsley and mix it in. Dig in. Share with close friends.

For the full-meal version, grate in some tofu after you have mixed the garlic and carrots all into the dressing. I use about 5 carrots for one chunk of tofu. Then continue with the parsley (yes you can use lots and lots) and then grate in plenty of goat cheddar. Mixing parsley & cheese together first on top helps the cheese blend in easier.

Other Salad Dressings
You can make other salad dressings from a base of yogurt and/or cream cheese with either mayo or vinaigrette. You can add various things to flavor such a dip or dressing, such as grated garlic, chopped onion or parsley, blue cheese, grated lemon rind, herbs and spices, etc. For ranch dressing, use buttermilk, mayo, garlic, chives, parsley, pepper.

Instead of paying as much or more for low-fat cream cheese (an oxymoron) buy the rich stuff & dilute it yourself. Let the cream cheese get warm, and mix in yogurt a little at a time. You can add less yogurt and have something thicker like a dip for vegies, or you can add more yogurt for something more mixable like salad dressing. 

Yogurt & cream cheese dressings can also be sweetened for fruit salads, for example yogurt with honey or jam. And of course there many different herbs and spices you can use for both sweet and savory salads.

Cornstarch, tapioca, and gelatin can all serve as cold glue. Even though they require boiling, they are usually served cold. Cornstarch and tapioca puddings are usually sweet, and are made by boiling the desired liquid with the cornstarch (1T per cup of liquid) or tapioca (4-6T per cup of liquid) in it, then letting it set in the fridge.

Gelatin is often used for savory dishes as well as sweet. Using Knox’s plain gelatin rather than Jello allows one to avoid sugar and other additives. And organic gelatin is available from GoBIO.

If you want to challenge yourself, try a boiled custard pudding or mousse—just look in another cookbook for directions.

4.      Preservation & Storage

Traditional preservatives include sugar, salt, alcohol, vinegar, honey, live-culture yogurt, boiling, drying, and cold. Each has its own technical strengths, weaknesses and suitabilities. Also, some foods are fine unrefrigerated for days (butter), weeks (high-sugar jam) or months (mustard or soy sauce). On the other hand, empty space in your fridge can hold things like nuts or flour that deteriorate faster at room temperature even though they will not ‘spoil.’

Here are some tips for avoiding spoilage/waste of common foods:
         Tofu – add salt & wine or vinegar to the soaking water
         Cottage cheese  – add yogurt & mix in
         Fruit – cut up and mix with sugar or honey, maybe boil too.
         Citrus rind – cover with honey (works better with dry rind)
         Cheese should be stored in low humidity
         Mushrooms and strawberries should be stored in paper bags
         Aging soups or stews can be reboiled, and fading salads can be turned into soups or stews.
         Old bread can be transformed into croutons, stuffing or bread pudding.
         Raw eggs keep for a very long time, cooked eggs much less.
         Food stored in glass tends to keep longer than in plastic or paper.

5.      Shopping

One of the most profitable things about knowing how to play with your food is spending less money buying food. And to save as much as possible, here are a few shopping tips. First, read the fine print.

Buy fruits and vegetables in season. You can tell by watching the farmers’ markets, and also by what’s on sale at different seasons. Buy cheap cuts of good quality meat, or eat eggs, cheese, or complementary vegetable proteins.

Buy basic ingredients rather than more-processed foods or ready-to-eat meals. (This is what’s behind the advice to shop the edges of the supermarket.) You pay extra for convenience, for things you can easily make yourself, once you have half a clue. Don’t go out to a restaurant, as they’re even more expensive. Don’t buy anything you see ads for on TV. Ads aren’t cheap, and guess who pays for them!

Drink tap water, filtered if you prefer. Milk, juices, soda pop, bottled water, beer and wine are more expensive than ordinary water, and less nutritious per dollar than solid food. Also, because water is so heavy, it costs more per calorie to transport water-based items. In fact, it is ridiculous from an energy conservation point of view for water to be bottled and trucked, usually on diesel trucks, when piping it is so much more efficient. And it’s perfectly possible to provide clean tap water without chlorine, fluoride, etc., for a fraction of the cost of bottled water. If you’re not ready to convert your local Public Works Department to ozone & UV treatments, a combination reverse osmosis water filter under the sink is the best at removing contaminants.

Shop on a bicycle. You will be constrained to buy food with high food-value per unit volume. (This may not be cheaper, but it will definitely make you more aware of what you’re buying.) Plus, the gas, insurance, etc. that you could save is more than you think. And you get more free exercise.

6.      Dieting

I despise counting calories, so never bothered with standard diets even as a chubby teenager, when I began to collect these rules which are so powerful they can work even if you aren’t totally consistent.

         1.   Don’t eat anything made with white flour/rice/pasta or white sugar.
         2.   Make every calorie as nutritious & delicious as possible.
         3.   Eat slower.  Taste every bite. Put your spoon or fork down between mouthfuls.
         4.   Stop eating when you’re not hungry any more and before you get full.

Copyright (c) 2015 Muriel Strand

More Resources

More Ways to Play With Your Food

Joy of Cooking by Erma Rombauer
Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz
On Food & Cooking by Harold McGee

Corporations Are Playing Dirty With Our Food

Food Politics by Marion Nestle
Pandora’s Lunchbox by Melanie Warner

Healing for People

The Diet Cure by Julia Ross
The Metabolic Typing Diet by William Wolcott
Prescription for Nutritional Healing by Balch & Balch
Medicinal Herbs:  see books by Susun Weed and others

Feeding the Earth First

The Soil Will Save Us by Kristin Ohlson
Permaculture:  see books by Bill Mollison, Toby Hemenway & Masanobu Fukuoka
Biodynamic Agriculture:  see books by Rudolf Steiner