Batch cooking, round 2

A few weeks before Spring Break we finished off our last frozen meal.  I was already planning on spending time during our Spring Break cooking and freezing more meals.  During those few weeks before our break, I realized  how convenient frozen meals were.  Supper took more time and effort to fix, and I missed the convenience of my frozen meals.

So, I started planning out what I would cook.  We enjoyed all of the meals I made last time, but I wanted to make some new dishes this time.  I also didn’t make any soup this time; I assumed since it would be spring soon, we would start to  have some warmer weather.  Although, it did snow the first 2 days of our Spring Break.

turkey-shepherds-pie

Along with the 2 Shepard’s pie,

http://www.laaloosh.com/2011/01/21/turkey-shepherds-pie-recipe/

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I also made 3 Chicken and Pasta Casseroles,

https://sollmomsrealfood.wordpress.com/2013/03/29/chicken-and-pasta-casserole/

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2 Taco Casseroles,

https://sollmomsrealfood.wordpress.com/2013/03/28/taco-casserole/

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and 2 Chicken and Potato Casseroles.

https://sollmomsrealfood.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/chicken-and-potato-casserole/

The following day I cooked a 15 pound turkey in the oven, separated it into 1 pound bags, and vacuumed sealed them.  I also fixed 4 green bean kits and 5 meat loaves.

I have a feeling we will be well stocked until the summer.  I’ve come up with a few tips to help when planning on cooking a big batch of meals.

1. Potatoes that need to bake or boil get priority.

2.  Cook as much meat ahead of time as possible.

3.  Have a plan for the order in which you will fix the meals.

4. Keep in mind the pots that you will use and try to use as few as possible.

5.  Make sure the kids are not at home.

6.  Be very certain that you have all the ingredients you need.

7.  Find recipes that use very basic ingredients that are easy to fix.

8.  Find recipes that use similar ingredients. * Notice that 2 of my meals used potatoes which are very inexpensive.

I only spent $175 on all of the food, and I expect to get a total 50 servings.   Which, in the end, means that each serving will cost around $3.

Keep in mind that all the meat and fresh produce are organic and nothing I used was highly processed or pre-made.  I made all of the chicken broth (which was used in almost all of the recipes) from the chicken scraps, bought the cheese in blocks and shredded them, and used dried beans that I soaked the night before.

It took me about 8 hours to put everything together.  I was very tired at the end of the day but was proud of what I had accomplished.  If you haven’t tried cooking in bulk yet, I highly recommend you do it.  Start out small if you need but at least give it a try – and be sure to let me know how it goes.

Things I love about real food

I love tovegetable-heart  cook.  There is no doubt about it.  I always have.  But, my  love for cooking has changed ever since I started cooking real, wholesome food for my family.  This has grown significantly and I decided it was time to put it in writing.  So, here is what I love about real food:

I love…

1. the way real food taste.1100035_love_food

2. that my kids know and recognize the smell of fresh bread.

3. that my kids are learning the concept of taking turns when they help me cook.

4. that I can make over a dozen whole wheat muffins that contain no sugar on a Saturday morning and have more than 1/2 of them gone within a few hours.

5. that my sons are learning to enjoy fresh foods.

6. that my pantry is filled with ingredients and not processed meals in boxes.

7. that my kids will eat snacks that do not contain sugar without complaining.

8. that my kids ask for water instead of a sugary drink.

9. that my freezer is filled with food scraps because I know I can find a way to cook with them.

10. when my kids take a bite of a homemade meal and respond with, “Mmmm… Yummy!”

11.  that my kids eat food that is green. And red. And blue. And yellow. And orange.  And none of those colors are artificial.??????????????????????????

12.  when my kids get excited about picking out the organic bananas and want to eat them before we have paid for them.

13. that our organic fruit doesn’t turn brown 5 minutes after being bit into.  It usually take a whole day for the browning to begin.

14. that sometimes I cook something new and it is an “epic fail” because it means that I can learn from it and make something better next time.

15.  that we spend more money on organic produce and organic meat than on any other food.

16.  shopping at the farmer’s market in the summer.

17.  when we sit down for a meal and bless the food, that we are blessing food that is  fairly close to the way God created and intended for us to eat it.

18.  that the food we buy helps support small farmers.

19.  that my kids get excited when they see the mixer out on the counter top.

20.  And last of all, I love that every meal I cook for my family is made from real, wholesome, healthy, non-processed, fresh, and delicious food.

My goal for this post was to explain what I love about cooking real food.  My hope is that by sharing my love of real food, it can encourage you to make some changes in what you eat in order to experience this love as well.   The changes weren’t easy (and some still aren’t) and the love wasn’t immediate.  But in the end, it is all worth it.

Staple Items

spicesI wanted to make some homemade coffee cream the other day, but then realized I didn’t have all the ingredients that I needed.  It caught me by surprise b/c I tend to keep a well stocked fridge and pantry.  Which got me thinking, I’ve never actually explained the staple  items that I have.  In order to eat unprocessed foods, it is important to keep some basic ingredients on hand.  Most of these you most likely have, but I wanted to provide as many as I could think of.

Dry Goods

Coconut Oil ( this post explains why I cook with coconut and olive oil, https://sollmomsrealfood.wordpress.com/2013/01/27/all-fats-are-not-created-the-same/)

Olive Oil

Lots of seasonings (garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cumin, chili powder, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, basil, oregano, cinnamon) * I buy most of these seasonings in bulk at Sam’s.

Baking Powder

Baking Soda (also good for cleaning around the house)

Vanilla Extract (check out this blog for making homemade vanilla extract https://sollmomsrealfood.wordpress.com/2013/01/30/homemade-vanilla-extract/ )

White vinegar (also good for cleaning)

Balsamic Vinegar

Honey (buy in bulk at Sam’s)

A variety of whole wheat pasta

Organic Spaghetti Sauce

Dried Beans

Fridge:

White whole wheat flour (whole wheat can go rancid and is best when kept cool)
* This is the type I buy, http://www.kingarthurflour.com/shop/items/king-arthur-white-whole-wheat-flour-5-lb

Gluten (for the homemade bread)

Yeast

Cheese

Yogurt (organic if possible)

Sour Cream ( organic if possible)

Butter (organic if possible)

Salsa

All natural peanut butter

Freezer

Precooked ground meat (I use this on nights when we have spaghetti.  It makes fixing dinner a lot faster)

Shredded Chicken

Mixture of veggies

Chicken broth

I may add to the list in the future, so be sure to check back.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

For vanilla-extract-homemade2Christmas last year I wanted to give my sister-in-law a homemade present.  She is very talented at sewing, panting, and is crafty overall.  ( I strongly suggest checking out her Facebook page, Simple Creations By Andrea,  and blog http://www.simplecreationsbyandrea.blogspot.com/ )  I knew that she would appreciate a homemade present.

I am in no way talented when it comes to sewing (you can ask my high school home economics teacher) and not near as crafty as I want to be.  My talents are in the kitchen.  I looked online for some ideas and started reading about homemade vanilla extract.  I found some startling  facts about store bought extracts.  Be sure to check the labels; some have corn syrup or other additives in the ingredients.  Plus, it’s not real cheap.  I soon realized that vanilla extract is very easy to make, and I knew that Andrea was enjoy using it.

So, I decided right away that that would be her Christmas present.

The first step was finding some vanilla beans.  You DO NOT want to use any vanilla beans that you find at the grocery store.  You will not end up with good results.  Instead, look online or a health foods store.  I bought a pack of 25 Madagascar vanilla beans from Beanilla (http://www.beanilla.com/madagascar-vanilla-beans?gclid=CJGtr77UiLUCFQ45nAodLGgAhg).

Next, get some vodka.  You will need 8 ounces for every 5 beans.  The quality of the vodka doesn’t matter.  Go for the stuff that is cheapest.

Last of all, a glass jar and lid.

Here’s the recipe and steps for the vanilla extract:

1. Wash the glass jar with warm soapy water and let dry. Vanilla-Bean-Bundle-1-of-11

2. Using a sharp knife, cut each bean in half and then each half  length wise (like a hotdog bun) being sure to leave a small amount intact at the end.

3.  Place the vanilla beans in the glass jar and cover completely with the vodka.  You will need 5 beans (10 halves) for every 8 oz of vodka.  You can split this up into multiple jars or put it all into one jar.

4.  Close the jar and store in a cool, dry place for at least 8 weeks.  Give the bottle a good shake once a week.

That’s it.  How easy is that?  Plus, your hands will smell really nice after cutting the beans.  When the 8 weeks are up, the extract is ready.  You can keep the beans in the vodka or remove them.  If you keep them in the vodka, be sure to add a little vodka every so often so the beans don’t dry up.

This extract is a little stronger than store bought, so you may want to slightly decrease the amount when using it in recipes.  I love adding it to yogurt, coffee, and homemade ice cream.

I kept some of this for myself and gave the rest to Andrea.  Now I need to come up with another idea for next year.  Let me know if you have any homemade gift ideas.  And keep in mind, no sewing allowed.

There is WHAT in my lime juice?

100_2767There is WHAT in my lime juice? That is a question I never imagined myself asking.  I also never imagined myself answering it.   Sadly enough, the answer is more than just limes, there’s sodium metabisulfite, an inorganic compound.  Let me rewind a little and fill you in on how this question evolved.

My husband, a science teacher, needed some lemon juice for a lab experiment.  I knew I had lemon and lime juice in the fridge but wasn’t sure how much.  Since he needed the juice for a lab experiment, I wanted to make sure that there weren’t any extra ingredients – just plain juice.  Which is what you would expect.  Right?  Well, it’s not just juice.  But, you may be wondering, the label says “100% Lime Juice,” “The juice of 10 quality limes,” and “Natural Strength.”

I learned early  on in my real food adventures that labels can be very deceiving.  Case in point – sodium metabisulfite in my lime juice that is labeled “100% lim100_2775e juice” and “Natural Strength.”  How can this be?  Well, there are guidelines set by the USDA as to what can and can’t be put on a label.  However,there is not a guideline for using the word natural on a label.  Food companies can label their food natural even if all the ingredients were processed and created in a lab (which sodium metabisulfite is).

So, what does this mean for you and me? 

For me, it means that yes, there is more than limes in my lime juice – and probably in yours.  Also, the next time I need to buy lemon or lime juice, I’m going to look at the ingredients – regardless of what the label on the front says.  For you, it means that there may be food in your kitchen that is labeled natural but is filled with ingredients that aren’t natural.

And if you haven’t already checked, the ingredients in lemon juice are very similar.  I bought the lime and lemon juice well before we started eating real food and never put much thought into checking them since then.100_2772

What is the outcome?

The juices are going to be used in the classroom and then replaced with either juice from fresh limes or lemons, or I’m going to try to track down some real, 100%, nothing added, pure, lime and lemon juice.  But no matter what, I don’t want there to be sodium metabisulfite in my lime juice because that’s just not natural.

All Fats are Not Created The Same

fats It took me a long time to stop worrying about the amount of fat in my food.  It was as if I had been brainwashed to believe that eating fat was bad and should be avoided at all cost.  However, once I started researching some sites and gathering information, I realized that not all fats are created the same.

It gets rather complicated, but here are the basics.

1.  Fat that naturally occurs in animals or plants is good fat.

2.  Anything that has the root hydro in it is bad fat.

3. Anything that was created by a scientist in a lab is bad fat.

I know that seems very simplistic. Feel free to do some research on your own for a more detailed explanation.

How did I overcome the brainwashing?  I started thinking about how our bodies are designed and how God knew what he was doing when he created nourishment for our bodies.  Have you ever thought about the fact that He didn’t create any fat free cows?  He intended for our bodies to consume fat.  There are plenty of sites that explain why we need fat.   It is the type and the amount of fat that we put into our bodies that matter.

We drink whole milk at home and I cook with three different fats.

1. organic butter (not margarine)bttr_1lb_cltrd

2. olive oilolive oil

3. coconut oilCoconut Oil

Here is a site that does a better job of explaining the different fats and how to cook with them.

http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2011/05/14/mini-pledge-week-10-no-refined-oils/

Eating fat may be a challenge to you as well.  However, it won’t take you long to realize that adding fat makes food much more enjoyable.  Just keep in mind, moderation is key.  To be honest, I began using and eating too much fat when we first started eating real food.  I could definitely tell a change in my weight.  I wasn’t focusing on moderation.  I don’t stress about the amount of fat that I consume each day.  I’m aware of the amount that I consume, but I don’t feel the need to count every gram.  Like I said, moderation is key.

I no longer feel anxious and worried about adding butter and oil to my food and drinking whole milk.  I’ve overcome the brainwashing!  Do you feel that you have been brainwashed to avoid certain foods?

Some tips to begin with

I have people ask me what I buy and what I eat.  It’s fairly easy to explain.

What I Buy

As far as groceries go, I have a few rules that I follow:

  1. The food must have 5 ingredients or fewer.
  2. If there are more than 5 ingredients, it must be ingredients that I could cook with.
  3. I must be able to pronounce all the ingredients and know where they came from.

I spend the majority of our money on meat (organic chicken and ground turkey), dairy, and fresh organic produce when available.  I buy organic foods because they don’t have pesticides and chemicals added.   During the summer, I bought our produce at the local farmer’s market.  You can click on the following link to locate a farmer’s market in your area: http://www.localharvest.org/

As far as dried goods go, I buy 1 ingredient peanut butter, almond butter, honey, coconut oil, olive oil, Triscuits, popcorn kernels, dried beans, organic spaghetti sauce, whole wheat pastas, organic granola bars, and many ingredients from the baking isle.

What I cook

It all started with bread.  The first  food I made from scratch was bread.  Don’t for a second believe that I spent endless hours letting the bread rise, kneading the dough, letting is rise again, shaping it, and then cooking it.  I’m much more resourceful than that.  I went to Goodwill and bought a used bread machine for $5 and haven’t bought a loaf of bread since.  Here’s the link to the bread recipe that I use:

http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/100-whole-wheat-bread-for-the-bread-machine-recipe#.UODwcc7MGzQ.pinterest

I usually have to make bread twice a week.

Meals:  For breakfast we have eggs, cereal (usually plain cheerios), granola bars, or some fruit.  It depends on our mood and the amount of time we have.  For lunch I make chicken or tuna spread for sandwiches.  One of these days I will actually write down the recipe and post it.  We usually have stove popped popcorn and some fruit with lunch also.  For supper, we usually have soups, casseroles, spaghetti, or pizza (yep, all made from scratch).  I try to double the meat in most recipes so that we get plenty of protein.  For snacks, I make stove-popped popcorn, trail mix, and granola bars.  We also have plenty of cheese, yogurt, and fruit that we eat.

How to Start

My best recommendation for someone wanting to change their eating habits and begin eating real, wholesome food is to go through your fridge, freezer, and pantry.  Either give away or eat the foods that don’t meet real food guidelines.  This is one of the hardest parts b/c it means saying goodbye to food that you enjoy, but don’t worry.  You will be able to replace it with food that not only taste better, but it is also better for you.  After that, stock up on white whole wheat flour, spices, healthy oils (extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil), nuts (be sure to check the ingredients – you’d be surprised with the extra stuff they add to peanuts), dried fruits, and any other food that you find that meets the guidelines.  Just be sure to check the labels.

And remember, making any type of change is far better than not making a change at all.