As I continue to get more intuitive with making food and food planning, I found making a plan weekly helpful for a couple of reasons. The first is it takes away any anxiety, especially if you are trying to follow some rules, dietary restrictions, or something along those lines. Secondly, it creates a safety net for when life happens, you will no longer need to respond by driving to your favourite fast-food joint because you didn’t anticipate (fill in your situation here). Next, it creates accountability. Also, a food plan helps with making a grocery list too, I call that a double win. Lastly, it becomes easier week after week.
I have been doing a lot of reflecting lately, and I was thinking about some of the benefits of learning to cook, and thought I would share them here so if anyone is thinking about learning to cook (like I did) or even get better, this may motivate you into action.
The most obvious one for me, is that I felt like I finally grew up into a real “adult”. In this regard, I had always felt like a fraud adult. I have a great career, husband, home, etc, but I couldn’t for the life of me invite anyone over unless we ordered in. Now I feel like Martha Stewart or my mom even who can be the hostess with the mostess.
Cost Savings – kinda
This may seem like a no brainer, but for the life of me, my grocery bills are insanely expensive. I think I spend for 2 adults about $1500/month. In comparison to about $2400/month eating out. So yes, I guess I save about $900/month, except, I keep on hearing how people feed a family of 4 for $1200/month.
I am a relatively creative person. I grew up doing arts and crafts, and as I focused on my career and all my goals, creativity lost its prominent place. I still get to be “creative” at work, but not in a artsy fartsy way. Learning to cook has given me an outlet to make art on my plate every night. I watch Chopped for plating ideas and stalk sales for nice dinnerware, I have yet to buy my dream dish set, but that’s a whole other blog.
I find the more times I cook at home against my food plan I usually prep on Sunday’s, the more likely I am to do my other tasks like running, working out, visiting friends, etc. I find that learning to cook helped me increase my personal accountability. Even more so, I have no excuses on eating food that’s crap and makes me feel bad.
Sense of Achievement
Lastly, I get a huge sense of achievement. It feels good to make something, to create something from scratch and not be sure of the outcome. In elementary school we had sports day, and everyone got a participation ribbon. I thought that was lame, I wanted the get first place, or second, or even third. I strived for the sense of achievement, and now I can get it every-damn-day.
If you ever come over, I will ask you if it tastes good, looks good, and what would make it better. So be prepared to wear your critiquing hat.
So as you likely already know, I took a wonderful month long trip to Africa. While there I was on a tour group, and had the most amazing time of my life. I came back a changed person, hopefully for the better. However, what I learned about Africa is how much they live off of bread (and bread like products).
From a tour perspective, I probably was eating 4 – 6 slices of heavy bread a day. It’s cheap and easily available, so I am not surprised they fed us lots of bread. Interestingly enough, it didn’t make me feel sick compared to the bread here in North America. I started to think maybe I mentally made myself feel sick at home, and while on vacation I just ‘went with it.’ So I gave myself a small test. When I came back, I ate a piece of bread, and guess what, sick again. When I say sick, I mean bloated, crampy, gassy, and generally uncomfortable. Yet, when I was in Africa, I did feel a bit bloated, but nothing compared to my test.
My conclusion: buy bread in Africa. Okay, just kidding, but there is something to be said around how many ingredients and processes are used to make bread in North America so it a) looks nice, b) smells nice and c) lasts long enough for someone to pick it up in the store and then eat it over some time. Bread in Africa, you buy it today; you better eat it by tomorrow.
Then while I was visiting villages and local homes, I realized that they always had bread or “dough” type food made from either cassava (pictured above) or maize, both of which they grow in their farms in the village. Its very cheap to cultivate, and relatively easy process to make into a flour consistency to be made into “bread.” Here are a couple of my observations around this.
Firstly, these bread food products are clearly a staple and usually more than 50% of a plate’s portion. Furthermore, also usually eaten daily at nearly every meal! Secondly, none, and I mean NONE of the people I came across were obese, none. There are many reasons for that, which I will not get into, but even if I personally ate more than 50% of my diet on bread like products and worked out daily, I would still be significantly overweight.
Truthfully, I don’t have any conclusions about these observations. But it really did put a couple of holes in some of my personal assumptions about bread, and also the quality and purity of ingredients. And, realistically, it makes me want to become a farmer or something.
Picture: local woman peeling cassava which will be then fermented and turned into flour.
Picture: The cassava in the fermenting process, it smells like cheese, and as you can see its just out in the open.
Throughout my #whole30 process, I was careful not to try to replace unhealthy desserts with healthy ones, its one of the rules. But after doing #whole30 for nearly 8 months, I think it makes sense to have a few good go to’s that I can enjoy too! Here are my top three picks that are not only #whole30 & #paleo compliant, but also delicious, easy to make, AND beautiful. I feel fortunate that I have made all three more than once and I urge you to do the same. Two of three of these are NOT my recipes, so I take zero credit for the delicious factor. The last, is me experimenting, and its been working.
Okay – first the decadent chocolate cake. See the link to the recipe and I highly urge you to make it. Two things that will make this come out the best are 1) use a food processor. You do not need to clean it between crust/filling and 2) have a pan that had the removable sides. I didn’t get that, but I think that would take it to the next level. Mine is a 9″ one as seen here.
Here is my during christmas holding both desserts!
Second is pumpkin pie, although right now isn’t the season, its a great win. It took
me two to three times to get this to not burn on the top, but now it’s definitely a dessert staple. To make this #whole30 compliant, I swapped equal parts of the honey for date paste. However, if you want it to be less sweet, like I did, I put in about 70% of the volume of date paste.
Was delicious nonetheless. Also, for the coconut whip cream, use date paste, but not required, AND do not put it on until you want to eat it, looks crappy if you put it on too soon.
Lastly, ice-cream! I personally didn’t grow up being a major ice-cream person. I definitely like some here and there, but never had to have a tub of it in my freezer. However, I married into an ice-cream loving family and slowly became a little envious of ice-cream while on #whole30. So I got myself this kitchenaid attachment just a while ago, and made two different flavours. I can tell you that this is definitely a great investment, and I can already picture some future ice-cream flavours like pineapple-lime or raspberry-blackberry sorbet.
The two flavours I made were as follows.
- coconut milk (full fat), acai berry juice (no additives), diced dates, & walnuts <– this is fairly flavourful, and reminds me of a typical ice-cream from a store (above picture)
- coconut milk (full fat), vanilla (from mexico), diced dates (for the sweeter), & walnuts. <– this is less sweet and nice summer flavors
Note on the dates: I use dates as a sweeter while on #whole30, but if you are #paleo, use honey, it will help the ice-cream stay less icey and easier to get a sense of favour.
Note on walnuts: you can use any nut you want, I like walnuts in ice-cream over others because almonds & peanuts for example are hard before going to ice-cream compared to walnuts. I also like the walnut taste and don’t eat walnuts otherwise.
I always laugh at myself when I am “winging” it in the kitchen because I have no idea what I am doing when it comes to spices. All my friends are always saying “oh just add some this and that, and its a staple.” Okay, first of all, I don’t even no how to pronounce CUMIN. It it Que-min or Koo-min.
Spices are hard for me. I have a couple things that I use all the time, which are:
- Pepper (my favourite being the ‘smoked pepper‘ from Williams Sonoma)
- Garlic Powder
- Onion Powder
But anything beyond this, I don’t
know. For example, I have paprika
and hot chilli powder, which happen to look the same. I cannot taste the difference between them. I use what is called for in recipes (which is why I have both), but never really know what else I can use them for.
Oregano, which I also pronounce as OR-a-Gan-oh, which makes everyone chuckle a little, is weird to me too. How does that compare to dried basil and dill. They are green and leafy. I always wonder which is better on beef, chicken or poultry.
Curry. Curries. All the curry in the world. I happen to be married to a beautiful Indo-Canadian who does zero cooking, but he once explained curries as the lighter the milder which has stuck with me. I find the same works for thai curries. But again, why are there two regional curries in the freaking first place.
To my husbands displeasure, I buy most of my spices through William Sonoma. I like them because you can open them in the store, smell them, and ask a bazillion questions. Also, they are cute and easy to stack. I find that I can smell, touch, etc, has helped me buy new stuff, but I’m still a little scared. Additionally, another brand I like are the organic Whole Foods ones called Organic 365. These are my back up for two reasons; first William Sonoma doesn’t carry all spices and second they are up the street from me.
On a similar note, I had one small spice win, I was able to re-create Cactus Club’s blackened chicken (and steak) spice rub. I made it a few times and tastes exactly the same (I just avoided adding the sugar & it was still perfect). Thank you to the genius who put this on the internet. #gratitude
I honestly don’t have a solution here for myself or anyone. But if anyone can please explain CUMIN for me, that will be enough for me to feel like I have moved one step further to understanding spices.
When I started #Whole30 (but really #whole60) back on July 1st 2015, the first word of advice I got was that if I made all of the sauces in the world, I would be okay. I totally took that to heart and decided to make 3 sauces: mayonnaise, caesar dressing, and a lemoney-chive sauce. I got all of the recipe info from this page of Whole30, and I am pretty certain I will be making my own mayo for the rest of my life!
Here is the thing; I assumed making mayo would be hard and messy. The first few times it was a little messy, but now I can whip up a batch during a TV commercial break! It stays good for about 2 – 3 weeks, depending on fresh your eggs are. The mayo expires when your eggs expire; which is usually more than the 3 weeks. You will notice at some point that the mayo starts to separate, and will have an almost buttery texture with oil on top. This is different from what you are probably familiar with with store bought mayo, fluffy fat.
I recommend watching this video to get started. You only need 4 ingredients, though I still like playing around with it every now and then. I’ve listed my notes on what I found best below. This receipt is for one batch – but I usually make a double batch every time (just double!). One batch yields about 1 1/2 cups of mayo.
If you use organic eggs, the really yellow yolks will make your mayo appear less white. I use an organic, free range egg that has a bit lighter yolk colour and it works out fine.
This is really important! I used a crappy mustard powder first, and it was ok. But then I switched to a premium one, and the taste got significantly better and more delicious!
Nothing special here – just use salt.
Light Olive Oil
This is the MAIN determinant of taste. Do not use extra virgin oil or you will die. Not literally of course, but your mayo turns out super gross. Of course if you like gross, go ahead. I use Bertolli Light Olive Oil and I effin love it. Get it!
Follow the directions perfectly. You can use a blender, but because I liked doing double batches I used my food processor; which is also easier to clean!
From there – you can go forth and make ALL the sauces in the world!
I got excited when I found a recipe in my #whole30 book (referenced in other blogs) for Shepherd’s pie. I have never made it before (any version). But before we get started on that, let me go on a small rant!
I recently started a small debate on facebook about yams vs sweet potatoes. The recipe called for sweet potatoes, while the image next to it is orange; the colour of yams. In the store, I picked up “yams” (as the label said) to make it look like the recipe pictured. I completely effed up and didn’t get the orange yams, I got sweet potatoes. It looks like the grocery store is just as confused as I am! This sweet potato/yam issue is not good for someone who is learning to cook and learning about vegetables. I have lost confidence in this area.
Okay, back to my point! The recipe is on page 350 of the cook book. I made mine with lamb (my first twist, which is also quite traditional) and instead of putting this in a 9” X 12” casserole dish, I used a 9.5” X 9.5” dish (my second twist). Interestingly enough, I thought that the recipe would have been a bit too thin in a larger casserole dish.
Finally, I didn’t make the recipe with yams (because it said sweet potatoes!) I used Canadian sweet potatoes instead (the white ones). I also used my hand blender to make the sweet potato into an easy mash.
I got a little cheeky and make a smiley face in my food! This dish made 6 meals and cost about $30 – so about $5/meal (not bad!)
Recipe difficulty (Agata scale) 5 out of 10
Recipe taste (Agata scale) 8 out of 10
Things I would do differently:
make more meat
add more veggies, like parsnips and peppers
use a different shape casserole (would feed a good group of people)
Hahaha, I had to have a few people tell me how to pronounce that last word a few times, in fact, don’t ask me ever again. I got a braiser (I was totally pining for it for a while, and then it was on sale, thanks @WilliamSonoma) and I just went ahead and made the purchase. Long story short, my husband wasn’t thrilled. But I was (insert evil grin here)!
So I knew I wanted to try doing something with said braiser and I had an opportunity to cook for my sister-in-law and mother-in-law who were eating quite healthy as I was at the time (I still am I guess). So I decided to go through the Whole 30 recipe book (image below) and found a great looking recipe on page 334 – 335. Side bar, it has capers in it. I love capers. I eat capers everyday. Capers….. Okay, I’m back, so here is what I learned about braisers and this recipe.
Braiser – primarily used for “braising, browning and poaching” and man did it brown my skin-covered chicken breast. I guess in many ways it similar to the dutch oven, except that is round and low side walls. I found it easy to flip the chicken in it. I suspect I would have likely burnt my wrist (again).
The recipe – Firstly, it was stupid good, which means it was exceptional. Like so good, I wish I had more. I ate like a mad woman when I finally tasted it! I paired this with cauliflower rice (same book, page 366 – 367), which complimented the flavors well. The recipe was quite full, as you can see here in the picture.
Recipe difficulty (Agata scale) 9 out of 10
Recipe taste (Agata scale) 9.5 out of 10
Short and sweet here. I never had trouble dropping money on le creuset pots and pans. But for some reason, a knife just seemed like unreal cost in proportion to the size, weight, and honestly the color.
I had quickly bought into the cast iron method of pots and pans for a couple reasons: my mom had them; they were pretty; and they were high-end. The only other cookware I have is circa 2001 Canadian Tire. They don’t even look red anymore.
But knives, I bought cheaper knives all the time. Costco has these funky colored ones (yes, colored) and I bought two sets. Whenever I was at a grocery store and found a knife in another color (yes color) I would get that too. In reality, I had spent a lot on low-end knives, I just had a hard time swallowing the pill when it came to the high-end kind.
I also didn’t know much about them. I googled, asked around, and ultimately, I wanted the good quality knives. I just still didn’t want to put the cash down it would require. So I put them on my Christmas list and prayed that my husband paid attention to my not-so-passive-aggressive comments on Facebook. With a small nudge, I got them for Christmas! (That picture is me holding 1 right beside the tree).
Now that I have been using them, I would definitely spend the money myself because cooking is INSANELY better with good knives. If you’re wondering, I got Wusthof ones, and been very happy. I will likely just add two more knives to my collection and be done.
I have hosted large dinners before, but I usually didn’t cook all, or any, of the food. This past Christmas, I did it! And I did it all by myself too. My inner Martha Stewart came out for sure. I broke down the dinner into a couple of categories, which helped me succeed on the a) experience b) taste and c) schedule/time.
The first category I have called Inspiration because that is literally where I begin. I see something that inspires a theme, feel, or color. Then I start a pinterest board. Lucky for me, I always have a board rolling on Christmas. The second category is Menu. Everyone thought I was a little crazy to include this, but you will see why below. The third category I call Logistics; pretty self explanatory. The last category I will call D-Day Action Plan. I guess it was really C-Day, but you know what I mean.
This year’s Christmas inspiration came from two places. If you look closely at the photos, you will there see that there are actually two themes! The black, white, and gold theme I picked out late last year. I saw this tree that left me amazed, and I knew I could have it too! (Especially since my 9 foot tree is white.) The second inspiration came when I was shopping this fall and fell in love with tartan. Pretty much tartan everything. So I wanted a classic looking table setting.
This year I made a menu and even got it printed through tinyprints (holla). They have been getting my business for a while now. I always thought printed menus were classy, and since I am already married, I didn’t think I would get another opportunity to have them. It also kept me honest and made me feel confident. I made the menu over a few days by looking up traditional Christmas dinner meals, and then adding some of my favorites (mushrooms), some of my husband’s (corn). Before I knew it I had a full dinner menu! Though I still ran it by my willing sister-in-law to get the final ‘okay’.
The menu is important for two reasons. First, you make your grocery list based on that menu. I found recipes online that did automatic conversions when I multiplied the volume; that was so helpful! The second reason is that it stops you from going bananas. It is easy, especially during holidays, to buy extra cake, extra this or that, and just one more thing. Before you know it, you have way too much food. We did have leftovers, but nothing out of this world. It made me realize that keeping to the menu is very important!
Logistics come quite naturally to me, so I was going to skip this section. But then I thought I should share if it helps others. The first thing I made was a list of who was invited and got a rough confirmation of numbers. Then I confirmed I had enough chairs and table space. It turns out, I did not, but that’s okay! We went and bought more folding tables and chairs to add to the dining room. Then I made sure each person had one drinking glass, one spare glass, one large plate, one dessert plate, set full of cutlery, a napkin (I like linen), and a place setting which included a name tag, dinner menu, and Christmas cracker.
Then I made sure there were at least 3 to 4 areas in my house for various activities. I made one room the gingerbread house making station (out of graham crackers, I am not crazy okay!), another the chill-zone by the tree & fireplace, the dining room to eat, and lastly the kitchen and island (a common male stomping ground).
Finally, I set up the tables and chairs extra early to make sure everything would fit. I had one small surprise, but it was easily fixed, and that’s the stress you don’t want on D-Day! Next I wrote a list of things to do the day before the dinner. For me that included most of the chopping and peeling, and making the desserts. Then I created a schedule from the time I woke up, until dinner time the day of. My schedule included things like; put in the turkey, baste the turkey, start the gravy, have a shower, start potatoes, blow dry hair, and so on. This helped me more than I realized because it didn’t go to plan! I knew the dependencies of my scheduled time and was able to make it work regardless of being behind by 20 minutes. Only I knew that, but still.
Although I made a list, it’s important as a host to remember to enjoy your time too. I made myself a promise that I wouldn’t get “things done” at the detriment of enjoying peoples’ company. I also made sure I didn’t refuse help. In fact, all of the little things everyone did let me get the dinner ready pretty damn close to on time. So remember that on D-Day it isn’t about being perfect, but being perfectly happy! Because you did the best you could, and people you love are coming to see you! (and eat the food too)