Once You Label Me, You Negate Me

Whole Foods announced this week that it would label all genetically modified food in its stores by 2018.  This is a good start–but it’s just that: a start.  I hope it encourages continued discussion about the food industry and our right to know what we’re eating.  I doubt we’ll ever get total transparency from the food and biotechnology industries, but it’s a good goal.  I’ve decided not to wait, though–I’ve made my own food labels!  You can print them on sticker paper if you’d like and join me in my labeling adventures.  Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

The food industry has been capitalizing on labels for a long time and I think we should call them out on it.  You can’t just go into the grocery store and buy eggs–there’s free-range, cage free, organic, natural, Omega 3, fresh. . .

They’ve also capitalized on America’s obsession with “nutrition.”

By encouraging Americans to buy food because it’s “low-fat” or “organic” as opposed to delicious, in-season and fresh or because we trust the person who made it, the food industry, whether intentionally or not, is on its way to making real food obsolete.

Once you put a label like “organic” or even “GMO free” on something–you’re only going to see the label.  You miss the list of 20 ingredients you can’t pronounce on the back of the box.  You don’t see the excess packaging, you don’t see the money and political sway that the company has wielded to get that label.  Not only does the quality of the food become meaningless, so does the label.

Labels should not tell us that a food is as it should be—organic, natural, fresh or grass fed.  We should be able to take this for granted.  Labels should be used to warn us of adulterants and protect us from ingredients and practices we wish to avoid.

In an ideal United States, we could assume our food was made with care, skill and humane animal husbandry by people who take pride in their work and want to make quality food for their community.

Food labels tell us what our food is–and if we need to know what our food is, we might need to rethink how we shop and eat.  Made with Whole Grains, Natural,  Heart Healthy–these labels are proof that we take for granted that most of our food is processed and unhealthy–do we really need a package to tell us what’s natural and healthy (hint: if it’s in the package, it’s not)?

Labeling has legitimized artificial food and allowed the food industry to capitalize on nutritionism and people’s resulting confusion about diet and health.  Real food has been pushed to the sidelines of every major grocery store in the country, replaced by aisle upon aisle of packaged food with labels like “natural” and “wholesome.”  We’ve negated the truly natural and wholesome by believing the food industry’s lie that things with colorful labels and pictures of cartoon characters on the box are real foods.

The illusion of choice in the supermarket has blinded us to the fact that our food choices are more limited now than they’ve ever been.  Most of what’s in our supermarkets is made of corn.  Most of this corn (often genetically modified) is one of very few varieties mass produced in this country.  And most of this seed is produced by a handful of mega corporations who also sell the potentially dangerous chemicals we must treat the corn with in order for the plants to survive.

Our choices have gotten fewer every decade for the last century.

Instead of hundreds of varieties of apples–we get three.  Instead of beautiful, colorful, misshapen tomatoes, we get one of two varieties bred (at the expense of all flavor) to travel long distances and be perfectly red and uniform.

Labeling perpetuates this myth of choice.  We walk down the aisles and see “sugar-free,”  “low-sodium,” “gluten free”  and we think, “Wow, isn’t it great that we have so many healthy choices now.”  In reality, nearly all of this food, to varying degrees, is bad for us.

We should challenge the paradigm maintained by the food industry.  Our food shouldn’t need packages or labels–and packaged food should be labeled for what it is–bad for your health.

We shouldn’t just accept that our food has unrecognizable ingredients and ingredients never before considered edible.  We should demand a food system that encourages health and well-being for all Americans instead of huge profits for the food and biotechnology industries.  We’ve done this for most of human history and it’s worked out okay (at least for people who have enough food in the first place).  It’s only since the advent of industrialized food that we’ve had to put any effort into figuring out what’s in our food.

To fix our food system, the first thing we need to do is stop eating things that need labels.  Stop buying packaged food.  Stop buying meat and eggs from the grocery store.  Buy your food from people you know, from farmers’ markets, neighbors.  Grow your own food.

We may have to give up cheap hamburger and chicken.  We may have to give up some conveniences.  But these “sacrifices” will improve all our lives.  We’ll be healthier and we’ll be able to give our children a future less compromised by global warming, super bugs or chronic disease.

What Michael Pollan dubbed “The Dinner Party” is still in its infancy.  Our voices are being heard, though.  Outspent by 3 to one, the backers of Prop 37 last fall took on the biotech Goliaths and posed a real threat.

The verdict is still out on whether GMOs are a danger to our health.  That’s not the issue, though.  The issue is that corporations like Monsanto who control the patents on these GMOs also control the “scientific” studies.  This is an issue about our right to know what’s in our food and about who gets to decide if something is safe or not.  This also applies to nutrition labels and health claims on packaged foods.

Let’s use the food industry’s tactics against them.  If we label processed food for what it really is, people will begin to see it that way.  Consumer’s will see it’s all the same.  It’s not really food–just different configurations of corn, soy and artificial ingredients.

I keep thinking about my favorite scene in Wayne’s World when Wayne asks Priscilla (in perfect Cantonese), “Was is Kierkegaard or Dick Van Patten who said, “Once you label me, you negate me?”  I think Kierkegaard and Wayne were talking about the individual, but maybe we can apply it to food, too.  If we put honest labels on packages, we can negate the idea that packaged food is healthy food.  Once this illusion is destroyed, we’ll all be able to make better choices for our families.

A Godzillian articles I really want you to read:


What We Spent and What We Ate: If you need another reason to shop at the farmers’ market . . .

It was pouring rain on shopping day.  Phoenicians are always grateful for rain because we live in perpetual drought conditions.  Rain, however, makes us drive badly and complain a lot.  I was grumpy on the way to the farmers’ market and even grumpier when I got there and the whole parking lot was flooded.  I made the kids wait in the car while I waded through the muck and hurried to buy what I could for $25.  Due to unforeseen circumstances, we had to cut our food budget for the week in half.  I thought I had $6 left, so I stopped at my favorite vendor to pick up a couple things I needed for the boys’ lunches.  I hurried to the line with my baby carrots, a head of lettuce and the first pepper I’d seen in months.  She rang me up and the total was $6.50.  I looked in my purse and realized I only had three dollars.  “I only have enough for the carrots, ” I said, mentally refiguring the week’s lunches and wondering what I was going to do with so little food.  “Don’t worry about it.  You can give me the $3.50 next time.  You’re a good customer.”  I thanked her and shuffled away, a little embarrassed.

It seems like such a little thing, but on a bad day, it can change everything.  While I hate the idea of being a consumer, when she said I was a good customer I felt like I do when my boss says I’m a good teacher or my mom says I’m a good mom.  Yay!  I’m good at something!

I’ve heard a lot of people talk about “community” at farmers’ markets.  For me, community has always been a little abstract.  Sure, I chat with people in line, and say hi to people I know, but I’d never really considered it a community.  But when my farmer saw I was having a rough day, she helped me out and made me feel better.  The community part of a farmers’ market isn’t just socializing in line and swapping recipes, it’s about personal transactions versus business transactions.  Plenty of nice people work at Safeway and many of them know my name, but they’re not invested in the products they sell and, quite frankly, much of what they sell is unhealthy and even dangerous.  If they were acting on their concern for their customers, they’d tell them not to buy cigarettes and cured meat.  It’s a business transaction–a friendly, pleasant one, but a strictly commercial one nonetheless.

I got to the car as fast as I could, envisioning a screaming toddler, a fight and maybe a little blood.  I got there and they were cuddled in the back seat listening to music on the iPod.  This is when I told myself that everything is going to be just fine.  And I really believed it.

This week I was pretty conscious of making dinners that could be worked into lunches the next day.  It was also a busy week, so we stuck to mostly quick, simple dinners.


Saturday: pho!


I had two huge packages of spare ribs from our steer.  Spare ribs are disgusting and I didn’t know what to do with them, so I threw them in a pot and simmered them gently for about 8 hours.  I went to Whole Foods and had the guy slice sirloin paper thin and then went to Lee Lee Market and got Vietnamese rice noodles.  Then I made Pho!  It was fun and delicious.  I forgot the sliced lime . . . and have vowed to never do that again.

Next time, I’m going to get a whole wheat baguette from Frogs Organic Bakery (in Tucson) at the Downtown market.  It’s the best whole wheat bread I’ve ever had.  It would be lovely with the soup.


Sunday: hot dogs and hamburgers from Double Check Ranch on brioche buns from  , purple cole slaw, arugula and roasted beet salad with candied citron.


I found out the trick to great red cabbage coleslaw:  after you shred the cabbage, put it in a huge bowl and sprinkle it with a decent amount of salt.  Then you let it sit an hour or two and press out the water.  Red cabbage is a little too crunchy, so this method makes it the perfect texture.

I got a buddha’s hand at Whole Foods last week and, since the rind is especially fragrant and flavorful, I decided to candy it.  I left much of the inside of the fruit, which is an only slightly bitter pith.  There was a little bit of fruit in there, but not much.


Here’s a buddha’s hand pic from chefeddy.com

I used this recipe, but added Grand Marnier to the syrup.  If you don’t have super fine sugar, just put it a grinder for a couple seconds.


We have a lot of oranges from the front yard, too.  I’ll juice them and candy some more peels.  At an Afghan engagement party we went to last week, they served Persian rice with little slivers of candied orange peel.  It was heavenly.


I peeled the oranges with a potato peeler and then squeezed them for orange juice (they were squirty).  I made candied orange peel using the same syrup.  Instead of tossing these in sugar and drying them, I’m storing them in the syrup to use in everything.  I made mashed sweet potatoes with butter, cream, brown sugar, and about a 1/4 cup of the orange peel with syrup.  I thought it was amazing, but the boys disagreed.




For the boys, I threw together some leftover pasta, tomatoes and spinach and served with grated parmesan.  They were quiet and they ate it, so it must have been okay.

For Pat, I just threw some garlic, shallots and pancetta (from Trader Joe’s because it’s in little tiny cubes) in a skillet with some olive oil, then added several chopped tomatoes and then some spinach.  I ladled this mixture over some hot polenta (very easy to make).  I put the leftover polenta in a rectangular tupperware so I could slice it the next night and fry it.  My favorite thing to do with leftover polenta, though, is to pour buttermilk over it and sprinkle it with lots and lots of pepper.



For dessert: low carb pana cotta adapted from Alice Waters recipe which is the best and easiest ever in the world.

I’m trying to lose a few pounds, so I’m avoiding sugar like the plague.  I was dying for something sweet, though.  I made the panna cotta with Splenda (I know, it’s probably really terrible for you, but you don’t know my desperation).  They were lovely–especially with a little candied orange peel on top, of which I only took a microscopic bite.



Tuesday: roasted pumpkin tartlets and shaved fennel salad

I have taken to roasting big winter squash whenever I have the time and storing it in tupperware in the fridge.  I used about three cups of pumpkin mixed with about 1/2 cup of minced shallots, 8 duck eggs and a cup of cream to make these little tarts.  I seasoned it with a little nutmeg, salt and pepper.  Since I used frozen pie crust, it only took about 5 minutes to throw together.  I made mine with no crust, and it was so good I hardly missed it.


They were perfect for lunch boxes the next day.


Alice Waters’s Shaved Fennel Salad from the cookbook Pat got me for Christmas, The Simple Art of Food:

It was a pain to get the fennel shaved thin.  She recommends a mandoline, but that wasn’t getting it thin enough, either.  Her mandonline probably works.

2 fennel bulbs, trimmed and sliced as thin as you can get it

2 tablespoons  lemon juice and zest from 1/4 lemon

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper

Whisk the olive oil into the other ingredients and toss with fennel.


Wednesday: shrimp seasoned and baked (in bacon drippings), fried polenta, spinach and bacon salad

I made the best banana bread of my career for dessert.  I always use this Cooking Light recipe that I’ve adapted to make it higher in fat and higher in deliciousness.  They use a brown butter glaze if you’re interested.  I decided just to make the bread taste good and then put ICE CREAM on it!!!!!!!

Banana Rum Bread:


  • 5 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup packed high quality dark brown sugar
  • 3 medium/large ripe bananas, sliced
  • 1/2 cup sweet cream buttermilk
  • 3 tablespoons walnut
  • 3 tablespoons amber or gold rum
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 ounces all-purpose flour and 3 ounces cake flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Baking spray


  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Melt 5 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add brown sugar and bananas; sauté 6-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; cool 10 minutes. Place banana mixture in a large bowl. Beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth.
  3. Combine buttermilk and next 3 ingredients (through eggs). Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Add flour mixture and buttermilk mixture alternately to banana mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; beat at low speed just until combined. Scrape batter into a 9 x 5-inch metal loaf pan coated with baking spray. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs clinging. Cool for 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Remove bread from pan, and cool on wire rack.



Thursday: two ten minute dinners

For the boys, I boiled some einkorn pasta and tossed it with two cans of tuna and 2/3 of a jar of tomato sauce.  They love it and it takes 12 minutes to make.  For Pat, who didn’t get home until 8:30, I thawed some black eyed peas from New Year’s Day.  Also ten minutes.


Friday: sausage, scarlet runner beans and candied butternut squash (I replaced most of the sugar with good dark brown sugar)


What We Spent and What We Ate: The Case for Slow Lunch

Tomorrow is a milestone for our youngest son:  he’ll be eating lunch at school from now on.  He’ll be eating at school for the next fifteen years.  This will help shape his attitudes about food, eating and socializing.  Unfortunately, for most of these years, he’s going to learn to scarf down what he can in ten minutes and shout to his friends above the din of the school cafeteria.  He’ll learn that food should be cold and fast and that most people eat it out of plastic packages.

We spend a great deal of time and energy discussing state standards, test scores, accountability, teacher quality and safety, yet we barely give a nod to issues about food and health.  This is in the face of an obesity epidemic and the likelihood that our children will not have a longer life expectancy than our own.  We can’t divorce children’s health from our attitudes about eating.  Food is a contributor to health–good and bad–and therefore should be approached as seriously as immunizations and safety.  We say we want our children to be healthy, yet we avoid the very thing that could have enormous, lasting effects on their health:  teaching them to eat in a way that keeps them happy and healthy.

I often walk through my eldest son’s cafeteria at lunch time and it’s an assault on the senses.  The noise is almost unbearable, I can never find the kids I know in the huge, packed in crowd, with kids alternately standing, walking, waiting in line and squirming in their seats.  Last month my son got in trouble for throwing a handful of ketchup soaked tater tots.  I was completely mortified.  It was entirely his fault, I know.  But I also wonder if he were eating in a calm, relaxed environment with proper teacher supervision, wether he’d be able to control such impulses.  I’ll probably never find out.

My littlest, however, will start his school lunch experience in such a place.  When I walk into his classroom at lunch, I see twenty preschoolers sitting in a sunny room at little wooden tables with silverware and green place mats.  They chatter quietly while the teachers visit with them and remind them to maintain good manners and polite conversation.  The room is so quiet, I can whisper to the teacher twenty feet away and she can hear me.

It’s hard to know, however, if this experience will be drowned out by the nerve wracking cafeteria experiences of the following ten or twelve years.

It’s not easy to teach kids to eat slowly and mindfully, but we could at least try.  In most schools, lunchtime means herding hundreds of kids into a giant, cold, artificially lit cafeteria, getting them fed as quickly as possible and herding them back out for a few minutes of exercise.  Teachers are expected to skip lunch and patrol the chaos–they rarely get a chance to enjoy a lunch break themselves.

We are missing a great opportunity to teach kids how to enjoy food and conversation.  We are missing an opportunity to show them how adults eat lunch.  And most of all, we are missing an opportunity to keep them healthy.

We should stop thinking of eating as something we need to hurry up and get done so we can get to the next thing.  Last month, I was working with the kids on the school’s Wellness Council.  We were in the kitchen making roasted cauliflower and cookies.  The kids loved washing and chopping the vegetables, mixing batter and watching through the window of the oven.  When I asked them to smell the mint and the ginger, they did so eagerly–and often just popped in their mouths.  While we waited for the cookies to be done, one kid said to me, “You know, cooking takes a really long time.”  This not only cracked me up, but it also made me think about kids’ attitudes about food.  Most kids think food should be ready instantly.  You just open a package and you eat.  It’s high time we re-educate them.  Teach them to cook, let them watch us in the kitchen, feed them food, wether at home or school, that we’ve prepared with love.  Teach them to slow down and enjoy the day.


Here’s what we ate this week.  We spent $249 last week so we spent under $200 this week.

Saturday: kale, sardine and risotto gratin, warm beet salad with yogurt and goat cheese dressing (from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express)


I know.  What was I thinking with the sardines?  It sounded French and I want to start using sustainable fish.  So sue me.

Sunday: white bean ragout w/toast


Monday: Moroccan Venison Shepherd’s Pie (with elk instead of Venison) from www.deeranddeerhunting.com on which you can find an article about how to give input on hunt guidelines in Arizona.



Moroccan Venison Shepherds Pie


2 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 pounds venison hindquarter,

cut into 1-inch cubes

1/2 teaspoon roasted ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoons tomato paste

2 cups beef broth

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/3 cup raisins

3 tablespoons honey

1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, divided

1 cup frozen green peas

4 cups sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped

1 large egg, lightly beaten


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Heat oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium high heat. Sprinkle venison with cumin and salt. Add venison to the pan and brown  for about 1 minute on each side. Remove venison from the pan. Add onions and saute for 3 minutes. Add  garlic for about 30 seconds, then add the tomato paste. Stir well.

Add broth to the pan. Bring to a boil, scraping pan to loosen the browned bits. Stir in olives, raisins, honey, ground red pepper,  turmeric, and one half of the cinnamon. Add venison back to the pan. Reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the peas.

Meanwhile, place sweet potatoes in a pot of boiling water until tender and drain. Sprinkle  with a pinch of salt and the rest of the cinnamon. Beat potatoes with a mixer and add egg.  Continue mixing until well combined. Spoon venison mixture evenly into 4 ramekins.  Spread potato mixture over the venison mixture. Place ramekins on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until bubbly. Serve immediately.

Tuesday: roasted potatoes and crustless duck egg quiche–quick, simple and easy

Wednesday: tofu curry with all the vegetables left in the fridge–I used a Seeds of Change jarred curry sauce I got at Sprouts on clearance for 99 cents.  This took all of 10 minutes to prepare.

Thursday: hot wings from JH Ranch (with crudite and ranch dressing), baked macaroni and cheese and steamed broccoli–requested by the birthday boy

Our oldest turned nine today!  As for the cake, he said he loved Whoppers and wanted chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting.  Ikey chose the devil’s food cake recipe from Tate’s Bake Shop: Baking with Kids,  he got for Christmas.



Friday: leftovers

We Tackle the Big One: Whole Duck Cassoulet

Last week, our last week of vacation, we made our first cassoulet.  In a total departure from the theme of this blog, we made the real thing, which included about $65 worth of meats.  It was the ultimate holiday indulgence.

There’s a plethora of easy cassoulet recipes out there, but I wanted to try a traditional cassoulet so I’d have something with which to compare them.

We used a Mark Bittman recipe from The New York Times.  And once again, Mark Bittman has lied.  He said it wasn’t difficult.  It was fun, though, even if it did turn into a four day project.  The end result was more than worth it.  It was sublime.  Perfection.  Joy.

If you want to try it, do it when you have some blocks of time every day for four or five days.  Here’s the New York Times recipe we followed, broken down in a manageable schedule:

Days One and Two:  Thaw the duck.  We got ours at Hobe Meats. Get some good bread and let it get stale.


Day Three:  Carve the duck and marinate the legs (over-night) and make the stock (if you don’t have time, you can make it early tomorrow, too).  Early in the morning,  thaw the lamb in the fridge (Our lamb was from Double Check Ranch–a new favorite of ours for hot dogs, beef and lamb.  They have great meat.)


Day Four: If you have not already made the stock, do so early in the day so it has time to cool.  Make the confit, make the beans (we got white beans from McClendon’s) and buy the andoulle sausage (we got ours from Whole Foods).



Duck Stock and Confit

1 whole duck, 5 to 7 pounds


10 garlic cloves, smashed

10 sprigs fresh thyme

1 shallot, peeled and sliced

1 large onion, cut in half (don’t peel)

1 large carrot, cut in big chunks

2 celery ribs, cut in big chunks

1 bay leaf

Several sprigs fresh parsley

Black pepper

Reserved duck fat from stock

Olive oil as needed.

1. Set the duck breast-side up on a cutting board. Using a boning knife, cut along one side of the breastbone; keep the back of your knife flush against that bone and follow the curve, cutting with the tip of your knife and pulling the meat back as you go. (It’s actually a kind of natural movement; trust yourself.) When you meet up with the skin from the legs, cut through the skin and detach the breast. Repeat with the second breast. The legs are now easy to see.

2. One leg at a time, cut through the skin, pulling the leg back as you go. Bend the leg backward to crack the joint, then cut through the joint (it’s easy to see once you’ve cracked it); detach the leg. Repeat with the second leg. Remove the skin from the legs with your fingers, loosening it with your knife as necessary; reserve. Remove and reserve any fat you encounter.

3. Lightly score the skin of the duck breasts to make a diamond pattern; be careful not to cut all the way through to the meat. Sprinkle with salt, cover and refrigerate until ready to use in the cassoulet.

4. Toss the duck legs with the garlic (use more if your cloves are small), thyme, shallot and a few pinches of salt. Refrigerate and marinate the duck legs overnight.

5. Heat the oven to 350. Put the duck carcass, onion, carrot and celery in a roasting pan. Roast, turning every now and then until quite well browned. Take your time; it’ll take at least an hour.

6. Transfer the contents of the roasting pan to a large pot; pour off the rendered fat and reserve it. Add the bay leaf, parsley and about 10 cups of water to the pot, and turn the heat to high.

7. Bring just to a boil, then lower the heat so the mixture sends up a few bubbles at a time. Cook, skimming and discarding any foam that accumulates, for at least 60 minutes and up to 2 hours. Cool slightly, then strain. Season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate the stock overnight. The next day, take the stock out of the refrigerator and remove the duck fat from the top; it will have solidified, and you’ll be able to scoop it right off.

8. Put the fat in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When the fat melts and reaches about 190 degrees, add the duck legs along with the garlic and as much olive oil (or duck fat) as necessary to submerge the legs. Discard the thyme and shallot.

9. Cook, never letting the heat exceed 200 degrees, until the meat is tender and easily pierced with a fork, about 11/2 hours. Let cool, then store the duck in the fat in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it in the cassoulet.



4 cups dried white beans

1/2 pound not-too-smoky slab bacon

Small bunch fresh parsley, leaves

chopped, stems saved

10 sprigs fresh thyme

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon whole cloves

Salt and black pepper

1. Bring 5 quarts of water to a boil in a large saucepan and add the beans. Remove from heat and let soak for 1 hour.

2. Cut the bacon slab into 4 large chunks and cover in water in another saucepan; turn the heat to medium, and when the water boils, turn it down to a gentle simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes.

3. Make a bouquet garni by combining the parsley stems, thyme, bay leaves and whole cloves in a piece of cheesecloth and tying it into a bundle. (I never use cheesecloth myself but turn to my old tea ball, which is around for only this purpose.) Add it, along with the bacon, to the beans; bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook, skimming occasionally, until the beans are just tender, 45 to 90 minutes. (Add water if necessary; ideally the beans will be moist but not swimming when they’re done.) Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Day Five:  Cook the sausage, assemble cassoulet and sear the duck breasts.

1 pound boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes

Reserved fat, as needed

2 medium onions, sliced

Duck confit

8 garlic cloves, peeled

2 cups duck stock, plus more as needed

4 cups chopped tomatoes

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 pound garlicky sausage, preferably in one piece

1 cup bread crumbs

2 boneless duck breasts.

4. Sprinkle the lamb with salt and pepper. Put 3 tablespoons reserved duck fat in a large pot over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the lamb and brown the pieces well. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 5 or 6 minutes; turn off heat.

5. Remove the duck confit from the refrigerator and scrape off the fat; debone and shred the meat. Add the meat and garlic cloves to the pot with the lamb, along with 2 cups duck stock, tomatoes, chopped garlic and cayenne. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer; cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the lamb is very tender, 1 to 11/2 hours. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

6. When you’re ready to assemble the cassoulet, discard the bouquet garni. Cut the fat from the meat and cut the meat into small pieces.

7. Heat 2 tablespoons reserved duck fat in a medium skillet over medium-high heat, add the sausage and cook, turning as necessary until well browned; transfer to a cutting board and slice into quarter-inch rounds; don’t wash out the pan.


8. Heat the oven to 375. Transfer a layer of beans to a large enameled cast-iron pot with a slotted spoon to leave behind most of the cooking liquid. Layer half of the sausage and bacon on top, then another layer of beans, then half the duck-and-lamb mixture; repeat the layers until you have used all the beans and meat.


9. Put the pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer, uncovered, then turn off heat. Cover with bread crumbs and chopped parsley leaves and bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

10. While the cassoulet is in the oven, put the skillet used for cooking the sausage over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, cook the duck breasts, skin-side down, until they release easily from the pan, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn and cook to rare, just another minute or 2. Remove the duck from the pan with a slotted spoon and pour the drippings from the pan over the cassoulet; reduce oven heat to 350.


11. Bake the cassoulet until it’s hot, bubbling and crusted around the edges, 30 to 40 minutes; add a little duck stock if it starts to look too dry. Slice the duck breasts on the diagonal and transfer them to the pot, tucking them into the bread crumbs. Cook until the breasts are medium rare, another 5 minutes or so, then serve.



Days six and seven: Eat the leftovers, freeze the stock and save the extra beans, bread and sauce for white bean ragout.


10 Things We’ve Learned This Year About Eating Well on a Budget

We’ve been trying to stay on a food budget for almost a year now.  It’s a lot harder than we thought it would be.  It would be harder still without my parents supplying us with some of the best olive oil in the world (from my uncle), grass fed beef (from my aunt and uncle, who own Bear Creek Ranch in New Mexico) and various Costco finds.  My students and neighbors give us a lot of food gifts.  From them I get tamales, posole, ceviche, bread, samosas, dolma . . .  and some great lessons in cooking.  We’d like to share some of the most important lessons we’ve learned this year:



1.  Plan and then plan some more.

Sit down once a week (with your computer and some favorite cook books) and plan every dinner.  Look at your calendar and plan easy or frozen meals for nights when you’re busy or out late.  Plan something special for Saturday or Sunday nights when everyone’s home.  

Keep in mind what you’ll be able to find at the farmers’ markets that week (and if you’ll be able to go once or twice or even not at all).  Leave a little room for special finds at the market, too.  

Check the pantry, fridge and freezer and see what needs to be used up.  Plan meals around these items and then replenish them next week when you go shopping.  

When you get good at planning, you’ll be able to figure in ways to use leftovers for new dinners and use up all your vegetables every week.  Take note of what you have left at the end of the week and either buy less of it next time or figure out how to eat more of it.  We often have greens left–a reminder that I need to be more conscientious about working them in to meals. 

Don’t just plan for dinners–plan how to use leftovers for breakfasts and lunches.  When you make pasta, lentils, couscous, quinoa or rice, always make extra.  These make good salads for kids’ lunches.  Lentils and beans can be pureed to make dips.

On Sundays (or even better, right when you get home from the market) prep vegetables for that week’s lunches. You can string celery and peel carrots all at once–then store them in cold water (change it every day) for the week.  Chopping all your onions at once makes cooking a lot easier, too.  I often avoid starting dinner if I’m dreading the onion chopping–it’s a relief when it’s already done.   





2.  Buy (almost) everything in bulk.

I buy some bulk items at Sprouts and some at Whole Foods.  I like to buy organic, but you don’t need to.  Make sure you put perishable items (those with a high fat content) like nuts, almond meal, quinoa and sunflower seeds in small jars and use them quickly.  You can buy large quantities, just store it in the freezer.

Bulk foods I always keep on hand: 

  • stone ground whole wheat flour 
  • whole wheat pastry flour
  • long and short grain brown rice 
  • arborio rice 
  • rainbow quinoa (Alter Eco from Whole Foods)
  • dried beans and lentils
  • quinoa flakes (Whole Foods)
  • oatmeal 
  • nuts and seeds (Sprouts or Costco)
  • dried fruit (Sprouts)

I haven’t been able to find wild rice and whole wheat couscous in bulk.  These I buy at Trader Joe’s.  I never buy trail mix or granola in bulk–they’re less expensive, healthier and more versatile if you make them from scratch.  





3.  Get and stay organized.

Last September, after a few morning meltdowns, we made a special cabinet for lunch making equipment.  I put pita, tortilla and root vegetable chips in snack size baggies and keep them in the baskets along with little baggies of trail mix.  All our lunch containers are in the top basket.  These never go in with the tupperware (on pain of death).

Organize drawers and cupboards.  Get rid of any broken or never-used equipment.

Organize menus and recipes.  I keep menus and shopping lists on my desktop and I use Paprika, a decent recipe app that lets you store recipes from many sites.  

Make sure you clean out the fridge and freezer every month.  You have to know what you have in order to plan well and use everything you buy.  We have one shelf in the fridge door that’s for the kids: almond and sunflower butter and fruit preserves so they can make sandwiches.

Don’t keep loose bags of bulk items or packaged food in the cupboards.  They take up too much room and are messy.  Put all your bulk items in jars, label them and keep them where you can see them and get to them easily.  I put the oatmeal and brown sugar in front so our six-year-old can get to them easily to make his breakfast.





4.  Keep a well stocked–but not over-stocked–pantry and refrigerator.

Keep long-lasting staples on hand.  Check expiration dates frequently and when you open something, use it within a week or so.  When you purchase these, always check the expiration date–get the freshest you can:

  • ricotta
  • gruyere
  • parmesan
  • feta
  • tofu
  • yogurt
  • cream cheese
  • shiritaki noodles
  • pancetta
  • bacon
  • small containers of cream
  • sourkraut 

Keep miso, mustard, tahini, hot sauce, soy sauce and other sauces on hand.  I always have fish sauce, mirin, Rooster sauce, concentrated pomegranate juice, ponzu sauce, sesame oil, walnut oil, chili paste and flavored vinegar in the fridge.

In the freezer, stock:

  • frozen fruit and vegetables
  • chicken broth
  • French bread and naan
  • pancakes (always make a double batch)

In the pantry, stock:

  • tomato paste and tomato puree (Bionaturae comes in jars, so it’s BPA free)
  • pasta sauce (check labels and buy the ones with the least amount of sugar–I like the Safeway brand and I stock up when it’s on sale)
  • two cans each of several kinds of beans
  • four cans of chickpeas
  • a couple cans of whole San Marzano tomatoes
  • good quality dark brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, cane sugar and a little white sugar (for carmelizing) 
  • peanut, almond and sunflower butters (sunflower butter will have a little sugar in it)
  • coconut milk (Aroyo D, available at Asian markets, doesn’t have BPA or weird additives)
  • apricot jam, orange marmalade, fruit preserves
  • boxed whipping cream (from Trader Joe’s)
  • tuna and anchovies
  • olives
  • capers
  • roasted peppers (Trader Joe’s are good)
  • pickled jalepenos
  • chipotle and green chiles (cheaper at the Mexican markets)
  • sun dried tomatoes, a can of pineapple (Native Forest is BPA free) and apricot jam (I like the organic, low-sugar preserves at TJs)
  • an emergency box of chicken broth (try to always use homemade–it’s a zillion times better)
  • a box of tomato soup
  • whole wheat pasta

You don’t need light and dark brown sugar, you don’t need self-rising flour, and you don’t need polenta and cornmeal (just grind the polenta).  Try to avoid redundancies like these and you’ll save space.  It’s nice to have semolina and “00” flour for pasta making, cake flour for cakes and bread flour for bread–but keep these in the freezer since you won’t use them often.

Buy olive oil and vinegar in large containers and transfer to cruets.

Always have onions and garlic on hand–you use them every night.





5.  If you make it from scratch, you won’t get fat.

If you make your own snacks, crackers, desserts and bread, you’ll end up eating a lot less of it.  It’s a great way to stay slim.  I’ve also learned to really enjoy making these things from scratch.  I make my own bread, granola, flatbread, crackers, popsicles, ice cream and cookies.  It’s much less expensive, but it’s the difference in taste that makes it worth it.

When you cook, don’t be afraid to use butter and cream.  Use whole grass milk (with cream on top) and full fat yogurt.  If you’re not eating out and not eating packaged food, you can handle the calories.  A little fat makes everything delicious.  Just watch the bread, pasta and sugar and you’ll be fine.





6.  Shop smarter.

Always have a list.  I keep a shopping list on my computer desktop.  I keep things on it that I need every week and add to it whatever else I need after I plan the week’s dinners.  It’s better to shop at the same grocery store every week.  You’ll know where everything is, you’ll be more comfortable going to customer service and you can take advantage of on-line deals and gas rewards with your store card.

I only go to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s once a month.  I get the same things every time.  This way, I don’t go crazy and spend a million dollars.

Shop at ethnic markets.  I love LeLe, Baiz and Ranch Market in Phoenix.  You’ll get better prices at these stores and often better quality.  If you need help, ask an older woman who looks like she knows what she’s doing.  She’ll probably be more helpful than the staff.

This brings up another point I want to make: if you want to save money, you have to learn to cook ethnic foods.  Try to get to know some immigrant women and talk about food.  I have a class full of recent immigrants and all the women cook.  They’ve not yet switched to the American diet (and I hope they never do), and they make many things from scratch.  They’ll be glad to share recipes.  I find most people, especially women, like to talk about food.  





7.  Learn to cook in season.

Learn several recipes for all the fruits and vegetables you love and make them when they’re in season.  If you have a few old standbys to rely on, planning will be easier.   At the end of a season, you can buy up all the things you like from your farmer and freeze them for later.  Peaches, berries and tomatoes are a special treat in the middle of winter.





8.  Don’t expect a garden to save you time or money.

Gardening is fun and worthwhile, but it’s not necessarily cheap to get started.  And, unless you have a lot of land, you can only grow so much food.  It also takes a long time to make crappy soil into good soil.  You can do it by composting, though–and composting is a great way to avoid wasting food.  

I get the most use out of my little herb garden.  Most herbs don’t keep long in the fridge, so it’s better to just run out in the back yard and snip what you need.





9.  Meat is expensive, as it should be.

Buy it locally (in season if you can) and make sure it’s organic and grass fed.  Poultry should be free-roaming, organic and, if you can find it, heritage.  Salmon should be wild-caught with no coloring added.  Not Atlantic. These things should be very expensive, or you’re getting ripped off.  Cheap meat is an illusion–it doesn’t exist.  When we buy factory farmed meat (and most of us do) we all pay the cost in health care, pollution clean up and the potential long-term problems associated with antibiotics resistance and environmental degradation.  We are also condoning the low wages and poor working conditions faced by workers in many factory farms.  

At first it drove me crazy.  Every article or cookbook about eating on a budget was really heavy on the chicken dishes.  Often these lacked imagination or were just plain gross.  I finally found some good cook books.  I like the books by Mark Bittman, Alice Waters and The Moosewood Restaurant.  I also consult The Flavor Bible quite a bit to learn (or be reminded of) what flavors go together.  I look to web sites like Epicurious, Eating Well, Food Network and Bon Appetit for ideas on how to use whatever I’ve found at the farmers’ markets.  I have amassed a fairly good battery of chicken-free dinners.  

When we do buy chickens, we buy two whole ones from the farmers’ market.  We eat the meat (and sometimes gravy) for two meals, then make chicken stock for the freezer the next day.  

When you buy 1/4 of a steer (about $5.99/lb), you’re going to get some cuts that you can’t just throw on the grill.  One word: braising.  That and a lot of garlic.

This raises the question how do you afford all this?  Well, you don’t.  At least not more than once a week.  The cost of meat precludes eating too much of it, so you’re forced to do what’s right for your health, the environment and the animals we eat.  Done and done.  If you buy good meat, you’ll also find you take more care in preparing it and you enjoy it more.

Use eggs, cheese, nuts, avocados and tofu.  Add a little bacon–it makes everything good.  Use cream, butter and lard–you won’t miss the meat.  I always ask if the chickens who lay my eggs eat a lot of bugs. If they do, the chickens probably have happy lives and their eggs will be especially nutritous.  Sometimes you can get duck eggs and quail eggs, too.  This allows you to change things up a little.





10.  Waste not, want not.

Learn to use leftovers.  When you have extra bread, make bread crumbs and freeze them, or make bread pudding.  Always make extra chili, soup, beans and lentils and freeze some for later.  Be creative, but expect a few disappointments.  I made sardine and rice gratin this week (I had leftover risotto and bread crumbs) and Pat and Lute both gagged on it.  I mean this literally.

Get in the habit of eating your groceries in order of perishability.  Use salads and fruit first and then move on to things like tomatoes, avocados (never buy them too soft if you’re not making emergency guacamole or tomato sauce) and greens.  As I’m running low on supplies, I turn to more long-lived items in the fridge and on the counter.  

Use as much of the fruit and vegetable as you can.  You can candy citrus peel, use parsley stems in stock, sautee beet greens, put celery leaves in salads, and eat roasted fava beans whole.  When you buy meat and poultry, save all the bones and parts to  make a stock the next day.  Seriously–save it all.  Even the bones the kids have gnawed on.  Fish can be used whole in bouillabase.  Save chicken fat and pork fat for cooking.

  • Use up staples like flour and nuts within a couple months and replenish them frequently.  
  • Use berries, stone fruit, bananas, salad, avocados, asparagus, mushrooms, bean sprouts (stored in water) and alfalfa sprouts within 2-4 days.
  • Use melons, citrus, greens, cucumbers, eggplant,sugar snap peas, tomatoes, green beans, fava beans, summer squash and most cruciferous vegetables (cabbage lasts longer) within a week or so.
  • Use apples, celery, onions, garlic, ginger, root vegetables, winter squash and tubers within a few weeks.  You can keep these on the counter in cool weather.  



Okay, make it 11 things.


11.  Enjoy.

Like anything worthwhile, it takes time to get good at shopping, cooking and eating healthily.  But when you do, you’ll find you enjoy it (at least most of the time).  The best thing about cooking great meals at home is that it brings the family together.  The family meals we’ve shared over the past year have brought us closer.  We enjoy our food and each other a whole lot more this way.

What We Spent and What We Ate: Playing Catch Up

I’m still lamenting the demise of my Nikon, which quit on us a few weeks ago.  These ipad pictures, especially when they’re of sausages, remind me of these faded plastic menu boards I saw on every sidewalk in Eastern Europe in the 80s. Everything is kind of the same color.  The communist sausage pictures were often done in bas-relief, though.  I kind of like the aesthetic, but it’s unappetizing.

The temperature has finally fallen below 80 (72 today), so we’re cooking up lots of hearty winter meals, some with shockingly high alcohol content.  Here’s the last two weeks.

What we ate:

Sunday: roasted beets and potatoes, andouille sausage and cabbage deglazed with cognac 

For several years, I’ve looked to The Flavor Bible, a gift from my brother, whenever I have lots of ingredients and little inspiration.  This week I came across this under the “cabbage” entry:

Cabbage often has the connotation of being heavy but in the fall, we’ll make a fine chiffonade of cabbage that’s very light.  I like to cut cabbage thin and roast it in a pan so that the edges just get brown because that tastes really good.  We figured that out by mistake by putting cabbage into too hot a pan.  After the chef raised his voice about how that is the wrong way to cook cabbage, we tasted it, and it was good!  We now serve a green cabbage dish cooked this way with caraway seeds and walnuts, then deglazed with Calvados.  WE also add a little cider vinegar and olive oil to finish.  It is a nice, easy marriage.

-Michael Anthony, Gramercy Tavern (New York City)

I wasn’t about to spring for a bottle of Calvados, but I did stop at AJs and pick up several little bottles of interesting liquor.  Those little airplane bottles are perfect for cooking–you get to try different flavors without spending much money.  I deglazed the pan with some ginger cognac and added some chopped apples.  I have never enjoyed cabbage so much.

Monday: quiche with bacon and greens, and a garden salad

Tuesday: venison chili and jalapeno corn muffins

My mom gave us some venison from her freezer–a friend had given it to her.  We made the chili about half beans and half meat and it worked really well.

Wednesday: orecchiette with tuna puttanesca and a salad

We tried last week’s orecchiette again.  This time I had lots of help.  Pat made an amazing sauce in about 20 minutes.


Thursday: chili with squash and sweet potato muffins

I got some organic squash on sale at Safeway.  It was called confetti squash or Mardis Gras squash or something.  It sucked.  I added it to the chili to change it up a little and it turned to mush.  It thickened the chili to a gross paste and the kids wouldn’t eat it.  They liked the muffins I made with all the leftover sweet potatoes, though.  I used a recipe from Fast Paleo–I substituted butter for the applesauce, though.  Paleolithic man didn’t know what he was missing.


Friday: Leftover chili.  Again.  Next time I’ll remember to freeze it.  

What We Spent:  We spent $224.90 on groceries.  We couldn’t make it to either farmers’ market this weeks, so we had to make do.  I went to Safeway twice on Friday because they had the deal where you get a $10 off coupon if you spend $75.  I spend as close to $75 as I can and then go back again.  With coupons, specials and the $10 offer, I saved about $100.





What We Spent and What We Ate: Last Week


Saturday: beet greens vegetable lasagna with a beet salad

I’ve been having fun using beets and beet greens in the same meals.  It seems especially thrifty to me.  This was good–the beet greens were great in the lasagna and the beets were lovely roasted, chilled and served on a bed of baby lettuce.



Sunday: dal and carrot salad with flatbread.

The dal was ugly, but tasted okay.  I should have used red lentils. The carrot salad was delicious–the kids really liked it even though it was a little spicy.

My new favorite Lee Lee Market discovery is Masala Craft Malaysian Style Whole Wheat Roti Paratha.  You simply cook them in pan on the stove like you would a tortilla.  You can find it in the frozen section with the naan.  I always keep frozen naan for dinner emergencies.  From now on, I’ll be getting this flatbread, too.




Monday: carmelized onion and salami pizza and broccoli, brussels sprout and kale slaw

I made this pizza dough the same day–it could be made ahead, though.  And it could be made for the previous night’s dinner and baked as flatbread to go with the dal.  I love the idea of one dough–two meals, but I didn’t have time to actually do it.  Click the dal link on Sunday’s dinner for a corainder flatbread recipe.

I’m hooked on this packaged salad mix from Costco–it has kale, brussels sprouts, broccoli and other green things in it.  Skip the dressing, though–too much sugar.




Tuesday: tofu pad Thai

This Martha Stewart recipe is good, but remember to use our method of cooking tofu.  You cube the tofu, put it in a bowl, pour boiling water over it and let it sit for a few minutes.  Then fry it in coconut oil until it’s golden brown.



Wednesday: beef bourguignon and mizuna salad with pomegranate dressing

We’re now using the more difficult meat from our steer.  This week was a few pounds of shoulder steak.  Pat used a whole bottle of wine (as marinade and braising liquid) and you could taste it.  Yum.



I also got another chance to use my pomegranate concentrate (I used it a couple of weeks ago for a lamb stew).  This time I made a salad dressing with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey, honey mustard and pomegranate concentrate.  The salad was just mizuna from the farmers’ market and some apples and pomegranate seeds.  IMG_0781


Thursday: salmon and simmer sauce with couscous and broccoli—10 minute dinner

I got a free jar of Safeway Select Sesame Ginger simmer sauce at when I bought some pasta sauce.  I used it for this very quick dinner.  It was very, very, very sweet and high in sodium, so if I ever get it again I’ll only use a 1/4 cup or so.  The kids loved it, though and Ikey ate salmon for the first time in years.  I might try putting sugary syrup on other fish/meat to see if he’ll eat them.


Friday: spaghetti squash with mushrooms, roasted fennel and sausages

I layered spaghetti squash (cooked until just tender), tomato sauce, and sauteed mushrooms (two layers) in a baking dish, then topped it off with parmesan and baked it until it was brown on top.

Roasted fennel is the easiest thing ever, but it seems really special.  You just slice it, put it on a cookie sheet and toss it with a little olive oil, salt and pepper (and parmesan if you want).  I roast it until the edges are starting to get black–the crispy parts are the best.



What We Spent–Oops:  We spent $80 at the downtown and Town and Country Farmers’ markets.  We didn’t get there early enough to buy eggs, though.  This made me sad.  We went way over this week. Total: $247.14.

reciepts 12:1

What We Spent and What We Ate: F-You, Pies. F-You.

Humble Pie

Pat says I’m a spazzy cook.  I have these manic episodes in the kitchen that usually result in some minor disaster.  Pie making for Thanksgiving at my mother-in-law’s was no exception.

On Thanksgiving morning, I threw together two pumpkin pies and my quince and cranberry pie was off to a good start.  I poached the quince and cranberries in honey with a vanilla bean.  The house smelled like heaven, but I didn’t enjoy it because I was too busy flitting about the kitchen like a circus monkey on speed.  I strained the fruit and made the syrup by adding a little flour and butter to the honey.  It was a little thick, but it tasted so good it didn’t matter.  I proceeded to roll out my crust, put it in my pie plate and add the quince and cranberry.

And that’s when things started to go downhill.  There wasn’t enough fruit to fill the giant pie pan, so I had to rush to peel and slice a few apples and mix them in.  Then I put the streusel on top. . . . and realized I’d forgotten to add the syrup.  I dumped out the fruit and rinsed off the streusel, removing all flavor from the quince slices.  Then I put a couple layers back in the pie dish, drizzled some syrup over it and went to tend to a fist fight in the living room.

I returned and put in the rest of the fruit and sprinkled on what was left of the streusel.  Then I realized I’d forgotten the syrup again.

All I could do was say, “Oh F*%#@  it” and just put the thing in the oven.  Then I entered my full-on manic phase.  I started doing ten things at once and I over-cooked the pie, rendering the fruit dry and rubbery.

I decided (with less than two hours until Thanksgiving dinner) I needed to make another pie.  I called my mom, got directions for her Dear Abby pecan pie, doubled it and made another giant pie.

I only had half the brown sugar, so I added Muscovado sugar–a very dark, mollasesy sugar that costs a million dollars and I was saving for somthing special.  I didn’t have enough corn syrup, so I added a couple teaspoons of black strap mollases.  It was kind of a globby mess, but in my frenzied state, I was obliviously optimistic.  I crimped the crust perfectly and turned every pecan face down (my mother always does this–she says it’s because jumbled pecans used to upset her father).  Then I cooked it until it was burning slightly on top.  I was a little worried that it still had some jiggle to it, but we had to leave.  I put all the pies and kids in the car and ran out the door–only 10 minutes behind schedule.

After an amazing dinner, I came into the kitchen to whip the whipped cream.  I was feeling nervous and I over-whipped it into near-butter.  I coped with this well and my sister-in-law, Trish and I started cutting pies.  I was still holding it together–even when the slices of quince pie were impossible to remove from the pie dish without falling apart.  Then I heard Trish say, “The pecan pie is a little runny.”  I looked over and saw the BP oil spill revisited in my pie dish.  A big gush of black sludge was pouring out from under the shell.  At this point I freaked.  To make matters worse, the pumpkin pie was overcooked and the new pre-made crust I’d used as back-up was lousy.

Everyone looked kind of sad about the pie.  It was little comfort when someone said, “The ice-cream is good.”  I was Icarus, only instead of wax wings I had made experimental pie filling.  And I’d crashed and burned.

Pat’s mom cheered me up and I was soon distracted by my three-year-old who was spitting on the floor because his older brothers had tricked him into eating dog food.

The next day Pat reminded me that his family loved me and didn’t care and I’d had a wonderful Thanksgiving. True, I was lucky enough to spend my Thanksgiving with a house-full of people I love. Next Thanksgiving, I’m going to make something way easier and just enjoy the day.  My mother-in-law makes it look effortless and maybe someday I’ll be able to do it as well as she does.  Until then, I’ve got to learn to focus on the Thankful  part instead of the impress the in-laws part.

I wish I had a picture of my black sludge pie.  It would make me laugh and remind me not to over-shoot the mark.

Partial pie redemption

My pie crust came out pretty good the second time I made it.  I got the Cook’s Illustrated butter/lard/vodka thing down, I think.  I agree with the comments advising you follow the recipe exactly.  Pie crust time is no time to get creative.

I had leftover crust and quince to go with the vanilla syrup I forgot to use in the Thanksgiving pie.  I made (and undercooked) this:

I also had leftover pumpkin and chersonskaya squash filling.  For Saturday morning’s breakfast I mixed the filling with a couple of eggs, a cup or so of quinoa flakes, and a little leftover sweetened condensed milk.  I poured the mixture in little ramekins and baked them for about 1/2 hour at 350 degrees.  It’s like pie for breakfast!

What We Ate:  A dress size worth of carbs.

Saturday: spinach and pasta, salmon, roasted fennel

I made pasta for the first time.  It was easy in theory, but I had to make it several times to get the dough right.  Then I didn’t roll it thinly enough.  But I learned a lot and I can’t wait to do it again.  Lute helped me with my pasta machine, which doesn’t have a clamp to hold it in place.  We were quite a pair with our arms tangled, yelling at each other (and the pasta) and cheering when each piece was done.

I tried a Martha Stewart orechiette recipe first– I really liked this photo tutorial and have imitated it here.

I also tried this pasta dough recipe.  My cousin accidentally dumped olive oil in my volcano when I asked him to drizzle about a teaspoon in.  I compensated by adding fewer eggs and it came out fairly good.  I’ll try it again following the recipe.

As for the weird headless pictures of me–I made Luther promise not to take pictures of my face since I am a government spy.  Actually, I just didn’t have any make up on and my hair looked like a rat’s nest.

Martha Stewart Orechiette Recipe that I used for noodles:


2 cups semolina flour

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon coarse salt

1 cup water, divided, plus more if needed


Pile your flours and salt on your work surface.

Mix them with your hands.  Isaac loved this–he was very excited that we got to make a big mess on the table. 

Make a pile.

Then make a little volcano.

Then pour in 1/2 cup water.  In the batch shown here, I used an egg, too.  Mix in the flour until it’s all incorporated.  I unknowingly created an active volcano and it erupted.  There is no picture because Lute was scrambling to help scoop up the runaway egg and water.  It was pretty hilarious.

Keep adding water, a tablespoon at a time, until it forms a dough.  I’m pretty sure it’s not supposed to look like this.

Then knead the dough for a while.  It took me a little under 10 minutes.  It was a great workout and more fun than the gym.

You should wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let is set up for a while.  The orechiette was a pain to cut, so I ended up rolling it through the pasta machine and making noodles.  They were yummy with olive oil, parmesan and spinach.  I’ll try the orechiette later–you can make extra and freeze it, so it’s worth the effort if you have time.

Sunday: butternut ravioli with brown butter and sage and purslane salad with walnuts, apples and fresh cranberry dressing

For the filling, I just put cream, melted butter, squash, nutmeg, salt and pepper in the baby food maker (even if you don’t have a baby, you need one of these).  I used this ravioli recipe and the same basic procedure as the day before.  I didn’t roll it thin enough, but it was still good.  It was fun using the little ravioli cutter my mother-in-law gave me–you can see it off to the right.

For the sauce, I just browned some butter in a little saucepan and tossed in some thinly sliced strips of sage.  I had to run outside and pluck off some leaves from the sage plant Pat had bought at Home Depot and planted earlier that day.  Luckily, the plant is still alive.  And Home Depot sage tastes good.

You will be extra happy if you let the sage get crispy in the browned butter.

Monday: leftover beans and naan

I also used the leftover beans for lunch the next day.  You can put anything on a tostada shell and it will taste good.

Tuesday: lamb, pomegranate and quince stew; whole wheat couscous; roasted cauliflower with mint, ginger and lime; green salad with toasted pine nuts.

I got the lamb and pomegranate idea from a Jamie Oliver recipe that I can’t get to open on his web site.  Lamb and pomegranate is a common Persian pairing–and it’s amazing.

First, I dredged the lamb in a little flower and browned it and added some cinnamon, cloves, ground cardamom,

I added the meat to my crock pot with about a cup of concentrated pomegranate syrup from LeLe market.  It’s cheap and worked out well.  I deglazed the pan with port, and added some onion, celery, cloves, fresh ginger, 7 spice powder, and freshly ground cardamom seeds.


Later I added walnuts and diced quince.  The quince were great, but I hated the walnuts in it.

I topped it off with fresh pomegranate seeds and chocolate mint from the garden.

It was a quiet dinner, which means it was a good stew.

Wednesday: macaroni and cheese with bacon and carmelized onion

Pat had to bring a dish to the pot luck at work and he signed up for mac and cheese.  I’ve always used my old Joy of Cooking recipe.  I’ve had plenty of other good macaroni and cheeses, but I’m loyal to this one.

Joy of Cooking Macaroni and Cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 1 1/2-quart deep baking dish. Bring to a rolling boil in a medium saucepan:

6 cups water

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Add and cook just until tender:

2 cups elbow macaroni (8 ounces)

Drain and remove to a large bowl. Have ready:

2 1/4 cups grated sharp Cheddar or Colby cheese

Melt in a large saucepan over medium-low heat:

2 tablespoons butter

Whisk in and cook, whisking, for 3 minutes:

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Gradually whisk in:

2 cups whole milk (you can warm it or scald it first if you want)

Stir in:

1/2 medium onion, minced

1 bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika

Simmer gently, stirring often, for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in two-thirds of the cheese. Season with:

salt and ground black pepper to taste

Stir in the macaroni. Pour half of the mixture into the baking dish and sprinkle with half of the remaining cheese. Top with the remaining macaroni and then the remaining cheese. Melt in a small skillet over medium heat:

1 tablespoon butter (I use more and sometimes I use olive oil)

Add and toss to coat:

1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs (I use quite a bit more than this–when we have good bread, I save some especially for this purpose)

Sprinkle over the top of the macaroni. Bake until the breadcrumbs are lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

I doubled the recipe (note the giant pot of bechemel) and Pat insisted we top it off with carmelized onions and bacon.




Thursday: Thanksgiving.  I don’t want to talk about it anymore.

Friday:  stuffed acorn squash

I made an easy version of a recent New York Times recipe using quinoa instead of risotto.  We didn’t have any wine, so I didn’t think it was worth the effort.  It only took about 15 minutes total work time and it was really good.  I mixed in toasted pine nuts, dried cranberries, chopped kale (blanched and squeezed dry), carmelized onions, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.  It was good with a little drizzle of melted butter on top.

What We Spent: Not much.

We spent about $60 at the Wednesday farmers’ market and $97.88 at Sprouts.  Pat spent another $20 on bacon, cheese, Barilla macaroni and a few other things.  Total=  about $178

Related Links:

Life of Pies