I'm sure you've faced a similar dilemma. You return from the grocery store, triumphant that you've managed to buy an entire cart of package-free food. Only then, in the comfort of your own home, do you finally ask yourself this question--How do I turn this pile of fresh produce and bulk grains into an actual meal (aka, one that others will want to eat)?
Food shopping the zero waste way has certainly introduced me to a healthier diet. But it's also very different from the way I used to cook, and I've had to relinquish several recipes that relied heavily on canned and instant foods.
Here's where I could use some help. What are some of your favorite cookbooks, magazines, and other resources for recipes that feature fresh and bulk ingredients?
Some of my personal favorites are: Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food, Ginette Mathiot's I Know How to Cook (Je Sais Cuisiner), and the food blogs Chocolate and Zucchini, and Just Bento.
Before I was zero waste, I was green. I've been trying to cut back on my energy consumption and to eat more local organic fruits and vegetables. I've changed the way I cook. If it's a vegetable I cook it in the pressure cooker, except for leafy greens I sometimes wilt and saute in a skillet. I still roast my chicken in the oven and fry hamburger in a skillet, but any other meat I cook in my slow cooker (sometimes adding root vegetables). I also make soup stock and then soup every week, except for the summer, using my pressure cooker. It is very economical.
For vegetables in pressure cooker, I use Miss Vickie's Big Book of Pressure Cooker Recipes. I don't use it for the recipes, just the quick look up for cooking times for various vegetables. When you are cooking with fresh organic produce, not much is needed for the food to taste good!
I've got a slow cooker cookbook called Everyday Slow Cooking that's pretty good for using whole ingredients. It does use some canned goods, particularly tomatoes and beans, but beans I can fix from bulk using my pressure cooker and I'm considering canning my own tomatoes this summer.
The best resource for whole food recipes is old cookbooks. I've got a few from the 1940's that are gems. They also will use canned tomatoes and beans, but very little else is pre-prepared.
My big problem is pasta. Regular pasta with sauce we eat every weekend and there is no place around here that sells bulk pasta. I'm surprised, in Boston! I could make my own pasta, but it's so time-consuming. Once I can my tomatoes there won't be the can or jar waste, but in the meantime at least they are both recyclable.
And then my kids refuse to stop eating boxed mac and cheese. I've resigned myself to those boxes being recycled.
Thanks, Marrena, for your cookbook recommendations and tips. I will definitely take a closer look at pressure cooking vegetables and beans. I had heard of the benefits of pressure cooking but was always intimidated by the equipment involved and how to use it safely.
Canning tomatoes is also on my list of things to try this year. In addition to Bea's tutorial, I also like the websites Food In Jars and the National Center for Home Food Preservation, for their recipes and tips on proper processing times. I have heard that Weck canning jars are a great alternative to the traditional Ball mason jars (and are similar to the Le Parfait ones that Bea uses). The jars and lids are made of glass and seal with a rubber gasket and removable steel clips.
Dried pasta is also an item I am having trouble finding in bulk, and I have yet to find a box that does not include one of those plastic "windows". My Whole Foods does sell fresh pasta behind the counter, so I have been bringing a jar for that one.
Ah, I didn't think about buying fresh pasta! I'm guessing it's awfully expensive though.
The pressure cooker my mom used when I was growing up was rather alarming, but the modern pressure cookers, while expensive, are very safe and easy to use. I spent over $100 on my large Fagor pressure cooker, but I'm sure the energy I save with it will more than make up the price. Maybe not for someone else, but I make soup stock every week, and it has changed my cooking times from two or so hours on the stove on high heat to 30 minutes on much lower heat. As a bonus, I got it large enough to use for canning, so if I do decide to do the tomato thing this summer, I am ready.
Vegetables do cook in it better than any other way I have tried. The colors are darker and the textures are better. Potatoes really shine, and it cuts down the cooking time so much. It works really well for beans too. Meat, on the other hand, just comes out funny.
Try nourishedkitchen.com. I just found this on facebook of all places...one of my friends "liked" it and I checked it out. It seems several of the recipes call for primarily bulk items. You may have to sort, but you can find some amazing things on there.
I got a pressure cooker a few years ago and was intimidated by it at first. It was ~ $50, not electric, and once I started to use it, I really liked it! It's so convenient to cook food quickly. And they have extra safety devices in them, even the cheap ones, so that they aren't a danger:
1. There is a lock in the handles that is activated when the pressure is high, so you won't be physically able to remove the lid if the pressure is high enough to cause problems when the lid is removed.
2. There is a second release hole that will allow air (or a little broth, if the cooker was filled too full) out if the primary one can't handle enough.
With mine, there is a bit of a noise as some pressure is released through the primary valve during cooking, but that's about it. Good luck!
It's true, the fresh pasta is considerably more expensive (at about $7/pound for plain or spinach noodles). I've been meaning to check out the Italian specialty food stores in my area to see if they carry bulk or a less expensive fresh pasta. The fresh pasta does freeze pretty well in the glass jars, so I am wondering if it might be worth making a large batch of fresh noodles from scratch and freezing it until needed.
Slushy, thanks for your website suggestion. The recipes are beautifully photographed, and I like how it gives you the option of using a bottled sauce or making a similar one from fresh/pantry ingredients. The name also reminds me of another food blog I like, called the Smitten Kitchen, that categorizes its recipes by season and vegetable.
Thanks for the info on the pressure cooker, Mau. I think you guys have convinced me to give pressure cooking a try. I really like the idea of making stock in 30 minutes instead of waiting around the stove for hours.
Ah ha! I knew there must be an organic store that sells bulk pasta in Boston! Harvest Co-op, and they encourage shoppers to bring their own containers. Yay! Now I can get much closer to zero waste if I can my own tomatoes, and if I persuade my girls that homemade alfredo sauce tastes just as good as boxed mac and cheese. A hard sell!
Here is another source for recipes indexed by main produce ingredient. This company is a CSA that delivers fresh produce (in the MD/DC/VA area), so they have some incentive to give customers the information they need to use up all their weekly produce. I got my first delivery last week, and it has been an adventure finding myself with vegetables I am not sure what to do with -- but it expands one's culinary horizons as well!
I also am getting a lot of mileage out of the book Ratio by Michael Ruhlman -- it provides basic recipes for just about everything you might ever need to make (of a French flair). When I brought it home, I got rid of half the cookbooks cluttering my shelves, and I haven't missed them at all!
Finally, the unbelievably versatile recipe I make most often is this:
For everyone who has ever tried to make bread but given up (or never tried) because it was too time consuming, give it one more try! It really works. And having fresh bread dough ready at all times is really the most convenient, best time and money saver for the kitchen that I have ever found. I never buy bread of any kind any more.... With the very same recipe, I have made bread, rolls (baked as needed in the toaster oven), donut holes, pizza dough, focaccia.
Marrena, so glad to hear you found a source for dry bulk pasta. Fresh pasta definitely comes with a hefty price tag. As a result, I've cut back on making pasta dishes and begun to explore the other grains available in bulk at my local supermarket. It's strange that I can easily buy Israeli couscous in bulk but have yet to find a place that sells dried bulk spaghetti.
Wrennerd, thank you for your suggestions. I've been searching for new asparagus and artichoke recipes now that these vegetables are in season. Thanks for mentioning Michael Ruhlman and his book. The concept of cooking with a set of ingredient ratios in mind (instead of following a recipe) is intriguing and opens up the possibility of cooking more creatively. I also like the bread recipe you mentioned for the fact that you can refrigerate the dough until you need it. I’ve tried bread making only once so far and it was the Jim Lahey no-knead bread recipe (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/dining/08mini.html).
I have been on a regional/specialty cuisine recipe kick recently. The Homesick Texan (http://homesicktexan.blogspot.com) is amazing alone for its homemade mole poblano recipe, but I also love the flour tortilla recipe made with easy-to-find ingredients and no special equipment (just a rolling pin). I also made batch of fresh Japanese-style udon noodles using bread flour and this recipe from Just Hungry (http://www.justhungry.com/2006/01/imbb_22_kitsune.html). I’m having trouble finding a similar source for Chinese and Indian food recipes. Anyone have a suggestion?
Fresh pasta is super easy to make and cooks in just a few minutes. The trick is in the equipment or lack thereof which you have. Easiest is a pasta machine, but they ARE expensive. Mixing and rolling by hand is a bit annoying but not unreasonable, if you can't borrow or buy one. It's fun to be able to customize the flavor/color of your pasta. Worth the experiment.
James Beard's book BEARD ON PASTA is easy to follow, and most libraries carry it. I always try to preview books with a library copy first, BTW, and <G> just reserved RATIO. Looking forward to trying some of the recipes/techniques.
Also, you can freeze fresh pasta or simply dry eggless pastas.
Thanks, Jay, for the tips on pasta making. On the rare occasions where I have made my own fresh pasta, I rolled out the dough with a rolling pin. Rolling out the dough by hand was definitely annoying, especially after I'd just spent all that time preparing the bolognese sauce. I'll have to take closer look at pasta machines. Is there one that you would recommend?
The Marcato Atlas hand cranked machine. A bit more expensive now than when I got mine (let's just say that's more than 2 decades ago). I also use a food processor to mix the dough, so I'm not traditional at all.
You know, of course, this flies in the face of the minimalist lifestyle, so I hesitate to recommend unless you're a bit of a foodie, and think you'd use it regularly.
*Too bad there's not a Lending Library for kitchen "stuff". Maybe you could network to borrow something and try it out?*
That said, I'll be leaving the Atlas as well as my Mom's Kitchen Aid to my kids, and suspect they'll both last a few more generations.
Ah, true. I've tried to avoid adding unnecessary cooking gadgets to my kitchen unless I thought it would be something I would use regularly. My current kitchen is pretty minimal--no blender, no food processor, no toaster. Just a stove and oven, along with couple of pots, pans, paring and chef's knives, baking sheets, a mortar and pestle, and a rolling pin. As I've started to cook with fewer packaged goods, though, I realize that some of this additional equipment could save valuable prep time. A pasta maker and pressure cooker are on my wish list.
I remember the Marcato Atlas getting high marks in an old Gourmet magazine review. Another machine I am considering is a Kitchen Aid Artisan mixer with the pasta attachments. Perhaps I'll get more use out of a multi-function product. I appreciate your input, though. I like the idea of a kitchen equipment 'lending library' for testing stuff out.
Y'all have got some good references for cookbooks but I am so hooked on Allrecipes.com. Sure, there are plenty of wasteful dud recipes, but I love how all of the recipes are reviewed with members changes and notes. Plus you can save your own box and easily sort them, all for free. It's just such an elegant system, so efficient and of course ZW. ;)
Thanks for the tip on Allrecipes.com, Julie. You've got to tell us more about your once-a-month cooking and freezing methods. It seems ideal for busy families. Which recipes did you find to be freezer-friendly?
@Sandra Well, I'm kind of new to the once-a-month-cooking thing too. ;) we have done it 3 times so far and it works really well for my family. We started because we were buying a lot of premade lasagnas, pizzas, chicken nuggets, and meatballs. We figured there had to be a cheaper and more nutritious way. I stumbled across a few OAMC websites during my web surfing. Now that we are working towards ZW, I have noticed that OAMC can be good for the environment too since you only heat up your oven once a month. So far we have made only comfort food casseroles which works for my young picky eaters. Those kinds of food freeze really well. Quiche is another good option. I'm always browsing recipe lists and see lighter veggie filled meals. I cant wait to try them when the kids get a little older. ;) If you are interested in the specifics with instructions from the experts, check out these sites:
http://onceamonthmom.com/ http://busycooks.about.com/od/makeaheadrecipes/a/cookOAMC.htm http://www.frugalmom.net/blog/2010/05/7-steps-to-once-a-month-cooking/
I think the key to marrying OAMC with ZW is finding the right dishes to store in the freezer. I'm still working on that one, but I think it can be done. :)
Thanks, Julie, for your tips on OAMC and freezer-friendly foods. I'm going to see if I can organize a day to make a large batch of lasagna, quiche, and soup. It will be nice to have healthy frozen food options on those days when I'm too exhausted to cook (which is most days).
Has anyone else tried the recipes at 101 Cookbooks? I just started testing some out after seeing the site recommended on Michael Ruhlman's food blog. The recipes are all veggie-based and organized by vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free categories. While my own diet is not exclusively veggie, I found the site helpful for cooking some of the more unusual grains I am finding in bulk (amaranth, teff, quinoa, farro, wheat berries, etc.). Just tried the adzuki bean and butternut squash soup recipe, and it's delicious.