Cooking food that’s good for you is worthless, if every bite reminds you that you could be eating something else. Sadly, this is precisely what happens to most people looking to adopt a real foods lifestyle. Gradually, unnaturally processed items make their way back into the diet, convincing people it’s too hard to keep up a good diet. I’m on a mission to change that.
Since the 90s, people have been asking me how to cook. However, what I do in the kitchen is so intuitive that I have falsely believed there is nothing special about it. I simply start with good ingredients and treat them with respect.
It is only now with the events of the past two years showing us how fragile large scale food systems are, that I have found my culinary calling. Many people have unnecessarily gone hungry because they don’t know how to grow food or identify it in the wild. They also don’t know how to be resourceful in the kitchen.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
After decades of living the good life by world standards in terms of having an overabundance of food — 30% of which goes wasted — the near future will show us in the West how to live respectfully of the earth’s resources. Massive change is afoot as food insecurity stares us in the face.
The Holy Chow cooking series is my attempt to show you the way to make real food easy and cheap AF. This is what you can expect.
Making delicious food out of nothing has been my M.O. for as far back as I can remember. My friend, Kris Ferraro, used to joke back in our college days that I could make a great meal by adding an onion to dust scraped from the corners of the room. While I’m not quite that inventive, I certainly have a trash-to-treasure approach in the kitchen. I have dubbed this kitchen permaculture.
This alone will be crucial to the future of feeding a family for a fraction of what most people as food prices soar.
Bones leftover from making stock? I’ve got a use for that. Feel bad about tossing the yogurt or kefir clinging to the sides of the mason jar? I can show you how to turn it into amazing no-knead sourdough bread! Lots of half-eaten jams and jellies taking up space in the fridge? I’m thinking barbecue sauce or perhaps a spring roll dipping sauce.
Where most people see this as being anally cheap, repurposing food puts my mind in a state of abundance. It makes me realize just how much is around me begging me to make use of it, not waste it and ultimately show gratitude for what I already have. Beyond just keeping the fridge reasonably manageable, cooking with this mindset allows me to save time, money and energy in the kitchen.
I’m not kidding, when I say this saves you time. Once you get into the swing of it, going out to a restaurant becomes the chore, not eating at home.
The amount of money you can save this way should not be scoffed at either. While feeding myself (and others) on my meager $20/week food budget in 1990s NYC, co-workers were always amazed that I could afford overseas vacations every year, while still putting money away for a rainy day. They were unable to do either despite making more than me.
As a side note, at one point, I began catering lunch for a few of them because they got sick of the typical options in midtown Manhattan.
-Pissface, credit to Pussface for making it! #skillmcgill #simonbird #fnd #fridaynightdinner #meme pic.twitter.com/pt2GuVI6fy— Friday Night Dinner (@FNDMemes) August 12, 2014
Today, it’s a bit trickier to calculate my expenditure as I have a garden, raise my own chickens for eggs and goats for milk in addition to keeping a really well-stocked pantry, but I’ve calculated that I spend roughly $120/week on food for my family of 4. That includes three main meals (for most of us) plus snacks and desserts (which we don’t necessarily have daily). The lion’s share of that budget goes to pastured meats, eggs and dairy followed by organic produce, grains and seasonings (including things like olive oil, soy sauce, wine and other gourmet pantry staples). This may drop to as little as $50/week, if I am using less decadent cuts of pastured meat costing as little as $1/lb.
You can easily modify this to suit your budget by not trying to cook every cuisine on the planet as I do. 🙂 And of course, check sales and items marked for quick sale at the health food store.
Cultures & Traditions
Like languages, our food traditions relay much wisdom about culture and evolution. Why are some foods left to practically putrify before consumption, while others are eaten fresh, even raw? Why do some groups consider copious amounts of dairy important to longevity, while others who have no tradition of eating dairy also live long, healthy lives? Why do family members scramble to collect their favorite recipes of a recently deceased aunt who made “the best” curry, lasagne or apple pie?
Food is our legacy to future generations. It informs them of our histories, our migrations, our miseries, and our triumphs. This will make sense as we explore dishes that transformed due to harsh weather, the trading of enslaved people, or simply leaving one’s country of birth in search of a better life where staple ingredients for a particular dish were unavailable.
Food that keeps tradition in mind also has the ability to make us feel safe. When we feel safe, we feel good. We feel good, when we are well-nourished — much more so than when we are merely fed. It is a deeper connection that makes us feel loved and cared for. As all the world careens out of control, it is comforting to know that we can sit down to a meal that informs us that tomorrow is worth facing.
The great cuisines of the world are frequently very simple in their execution so don’t panic, if this is all new to you. Traditional cooks were more interested in enhancing the natural flavors of foods in season rather than masking them with heavy complicated sauces as has become customary in the US. Yet, even though much of Indian cuisine, for example, uses a large list of spices, the intent is not to disguise the main ingredient, it is to express it in a more interesting way.
When it comes to cooking, I recommend going for the spirit of Cover Girl, not Tammy Faye Baker.Tweet
I am blessed to have been born into an immigrant family where real ingredients were largely de rigeur in our household. This was only amplified by many experiences living in Europe — with families — before they fell prey to marketing of crappy industrial oils and an overabundance of food impostors.
You could always find me in the kitchen gleaning wisdom from moms in Yugoslavia, France and especially Spain, or next to a visiting aunty from overseas, where at all possible. For those things I was unable to learn in the kitchen, I was lucky to experience them before they were diluted by political correctness that continues to fatten the pocketbooks of hawkish food manufacturers as well as the consumers themselves.
A Parisian friend with whom I share many food memories loves to tell the stories of eating peaches so sweet and juicy their skins slid off with a mere push of the thumb, the best bakeries in Paris that strike the right balance of crusty yet delicate breads, or the pre-EU regulation days of hand-pulled guimauve (marshmallow), which is no longer a treat now that it’s machine made. It’s hard to imagine that the children of today will have such fond food memories to look back on, when so much of what they are fed is pushed through a die or standardized to the point that they never experience that unicorn year when the tomatoes were so plump and flavorful they could be eaten straight from the garden without so much as salt.
Putting culture back into food touches us deeply. Perhaps it is why guests frequently call my dinner parties a “religious experience”.
That is why I want to show you recipes that go beyond filling bellies. Instead, you will learn the principles of recipes with the ability to transport you to a cabin in the Swiss Alps, a beach on the Mediterranean or Christmas at grandma’s. Upon taking the first bite of dinner, a recent guest uttered, “I can taste the love.” I want you to taste the love too.
Minimal Fuss Photos, Videos & Instructions
It is said that we eat with our eyes first. Nice try at being profound, whoever thought that up. Yeah, I’m letting the snark out.
While there is some truth to that statement, I believe that our noses eat first. If I have to see the food before I know it’s even in the room, then whatever it is is likely to be disappointing on the tongue and even more so on the digestive system. This is the distinction I draw between eating for calories and eating for nourishment. You can smell nourishment from the driveway. It draws you in like Homer Simpson to the Duff Brewery.
All this to say that I don’t do Pinterest- or Instagram-worthy food plating. I’m just keeping it real as a working mom, who doesn’t have time to set up cameras.
My recipes are made as part of my regular meal prep for the family or when I am cooking for an event, so you get to share in my blunders and imperfections. This is a good thing because you’ll see that even with my experience, I make mistakes and sometimes reach a stumbling block — particularly with baking, which is not my strong suit.
Let’s face it. Neither of us is cooking for the Queen, so I’m not going for perfection. I simply want you to see how easy and even preferable healthy food can be.
If there’s something you don’t like about any dish, then change it up as you see fit or based upon whatever is available in your pantry and report the results. You do you. I am your guide, not your master or cult leader.
Healthy Cooking with Picky Eater Approved Recipes
My last article focused on this point, so I won’t go into this except to say that I’m finally owning the fact that I’m a damn good cook…. I can feed anyone although I have a nephew, who gives me a run for my money.
“Chefs” are a dime-a-dozen these days. When asked about why they chose that career path, few have a deep connection to food sparked by curiosity or experience. If anything many chose to study culinary arts because they didn’t know what else to do or as an alternative to serving prison time (semi-joking). Hey, if it keeps them on the straight and narrow, I’m down with that. The point being that many operate as technicians without fully appreciating the process of what constitutes great food.
To me, the difference between most restaurant food — especially the high end and molecular cuisine — and what I’ll show you is similar to the difference between outlandish runway fashion that nobody really wears socially and comfy (preferably not tattered) sweats that allow you to be yourself.
On the lower end, many of them avoid the actual art of cooking by focusing solely on the art of plating ready-made jars of pesto, roasted peppers, olives and asparagus or dressing up powdered ramen with chopped fresh scallion. While I don’t begrudge someone putting together a beautiful assortment of cold cuts, store-bought pickles and sauces they didn’t actually make from scratch, I do take issue with anyone trying to play off reconstituted sawdust as housemade.
I don’t believe it’s the picky eater’s fault for not liking lasagne every time they’ve tried it, when it turns out to have come from the Costco freezer whether at home or in a restaurant setting. It’s entirely possible that at least some of these so-called picky eaters are more in touch with eating for deeper purpose and connection as opposed to simply filling their bellies with the arbitrary metric of calories as a guiding principle than the rest of us*.* Control issues aside — as this is a common contributing factor — perhaps some of them have an epigenetic intuition about what food should taste like. All I know is that when I cook, even picky people eat something they won’t eat elsewhere.
So that, in a nutshell, is what you can expect from me in the coming year or so. Did I miss something? Is there something you’d like to know about cooking? Let me know below or join my group on Discord and we’ll chat there!