What is your favorite kind of pie?

#1:  I like apple myself.  Though I’m also a fan of pecan in moderation. (And, of course, pot pies are great.)

#2:  1.  Pumpkin, 2. French silk, 3. pie full of hammers [#1 does not know what this is], 4. Pecan-bourbon pie with chocolate chips

How much do you rely on recipes?

We really like cookbooks.  I like to read them for ideas.  DH likes to actually use them (I use them too, but generally with more modifications).  We both love to try new different things, which means that now we’re back from Paradise with more limited food options if we want new and different without first driving for two hours, we’re going to have to make it ourselves.

DH put a few more cookbooks on his wishlist and I noticed one of the books people buy when they buy that cookbook wasn’t really a cookbook at all, but a book about how to cook without a cookbook.  (I would link to it here, but I can’t remember what it was called!)

Cooking without a cookbook is how I was taught.  Most of our groceries were based on whatever was on sale, which means my parents were very good at cooking based on what we had rather than going out to buy things based on what they planned to cook.

We’ve sort of reversed that now that A. we have enough money that it doesn’t matter if an ingredient is expensive when not on sale (though I still use walnuts in place of pinenuts in pesto– I still have limits) and B. DH has taken over the bulk of the cooking.

We haven’t been for a full grocery run for a couple of weeks.  We had a couple of dinner parties for which we over-bought and then got overwhelmed with the CSA and then ended up not making things on our menu plan because we got busy.  I hate wasting food, so instead of our usual weekly menu planning I basically told DH just to get a few necessities and we would eat down our freezer and the fridge.

One of the things we needed to deal with was a head of broccoli.  We’d put a broccoli chicken casserole (from The Old Fashioned Cookbook) on the menu list, but it had been there for a couple of weeks and DH just wasn’t into it.  So I suggested maybe we could use up the pie crusts leftover from our last party (we’d made mini-quiches) to make a chicken broccoli potpie instead.  He was much more enthusiastic about the idea than he’d been about casserole and suggested we make it that night.

I found him in the kitchen with two pots and a pan on the stove, the grater and a measuring cup out along with the milk, and a big hunk of cheese.  There was chicken sauteeing in the pan and chopped broccoli on a cutting board.  After some questioning he pointed to a broccoli cheese pie recipe he’d found on the internet.  The big pot was slowly boiling water to blanch the broccoli.  The little pot was for making cheese sauce.  The grater was for the cheese.  We discussed the cheese which had not been part of my mental picture and decided we’d try it.  At that point DC2 demanded Daddy’s presence in another room and I took over.

I put the pots and grater and measuring cup away.  I finished cooking the chicken.  I added the broccoli, stirred, and put a lid on.  Every few minutes I opened up the lid to stir again.  After the broccoli was just a little undercooked, I poured in a handful of flour and stirred it all around.  Then I decided that wasn’t enough flour because not every floret or chicken piece had been coated, so I added some more.  And stirred and toasted a bit.  Then I poured in some milk and stirred until it became a gravy.  Not all of the flour had dissolved yet, so I added some more milk and stirred some more.  Then I diced a few pieces of cheddar (first I tried slicing and breaking them into chunks, but the chunks were too big, so I diced the next few) and threw them in one slice at a time and stirred until they melted.  When the gravy looked cheesy enough I stopped adding cheese.  I turned off the stove, stirred a bit more, and stuck on a lid (note:  we have an electric stove– if we’d had gas, then I would have turned it down to a simmer).

Pot pie is one of my standard recipes that I make without a recipe.  It always starts with a meat or mushrooms (if there’s raw carrots or onions I throw them in before the meat, otherwise raw veggies go after… frozen or cooked veggies go in after the roux), then I put in flour (and maybe spices) with the meat and toast to make a roux.  I then add water or milk or soup stock depending on the kind of roux I’m making.  Then cooked/frozen veggies.  Then it’s ready to be thrown into a prepared pie crust and baked.  The only thing I need a recipe for is remembering how long to bake the thing.

I’ve got lots of other standard basic recipes.  Quiche, stirfry, spaghetti, chili, “soup” (I really hate “soup”, since that’s where my father always put all of the leftover odds and ends whether they went together or not– so these days we always make soups from a recipe), grilled cheese sandwiches with stuff, empanadas, tacos, baked chicken, fried porkchops, all sorts of fish things, fruit crumble, fruit pie, even granola (thanks miser mom!).

I don’t measure things, I just have a sense of about how much to add and I can tell when it’s not enough.  I don’t know how long things take (except the oven part), but I have a sense of when they’re about ready.

Lately we’ve been mostly using recipes.  I’ll still substitute based on what we have or what we need to use up.  But it’s still kind of fun to just make something based on what we have available.

Before the internet made it easy to find exotic recipes, I used to play around to replicate what I’d eaten at restaurants.  Or to fit some craving I was having.  We don’t really do that anymore.  Instead we’ll find the highest rated recipe on the food network and use that instead.  There’s less randomness.  On the whole, it’s probably better, in the same way that the Garmin and Yelp have improved our eating out experiences, but we have lost a bit of the serendipity that comes from getting lost and finding something off the beaten path.

Another thing I noticed was that I cook in order to minimize the number of dishes used and the time spent in the kitchen.  DH will sometimes do a mise en place.  Generally I’ll do my chopping in a way that minimizes the number of cutting boards used (keeping in mind that after a board has touched raw meat it must be washed before using again) and takes advantage of waiting time to chop the next ingredient.  This is partly because I get bored waiting in the kitchen, but mostly because growing up I was the one who was going to have to wash all those dishes by hand.  Most of my meals take one or at most two pots.

How do you do most of your cooking?  Do you use recipes for most things?  Do you use a recipe as a base idea and then modify it?  Do you have a repertoire of memorized baseline meals that can be modified?  Do you like trying out new recipes?  Do you buy based on what you want to make or do you make based on what you have on hand?  And… do you think your answers to the previous questions are related to when you learned to cook?

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Money, Love, and Food

This is a repost from 2010 back when we had great blog posts but few readers to appreciate them!  Feel free to comment as if it’s new since there weren’t many comments to begin with.

Thought provoking post at GRS, for anyone with children or who grew up with parents.

To sum, a woman grew up with a father who told her they were wealthy but would not spend or let her spend on things.  Now she feels guilty whenever she does spend, despite having a healthy (100K) emergency fund in place.

The comments contain a lot of conflicting arguments about how we’re destroying our kids.  It seems like parents can’t win.

The things her father said to her sounded a lot like the things my father said to me.  I had many of the same experiences growing up.   Yet I did not take away the same lessons and overall I am very happy with my relationship with money.  Sure I felt guilty spending on luxuries when we had no money and we were trying to pay off DH’s college debt, but once we got into a comfortable place, I got comfortable with spending on things I could afford.  Take care of myself and my family first, then spend on luxuries without unhappiness.

Over the past couple of days my mind has been grappling with the question about what’s the difference between my situation and hers.  At first I thought it might be the autonomy I was allowed with my own small allowance (nobody made me save it– though I did learn to save on my own for larger items).  But I don’t think that was it.   It also isn’t talking about money as a family or not talking about it.  Or knowing the parent’s financial situation or not knowing the parent’s financial situation.  It definitely isn’t being denied an ice cream cone out or getting every wish granted.

The real problem is when we associate tools with love. The poster and most of the commenters are taking for granted that how money is spent is a sign of where love lies.  That isn’t the case.  Money is just a tool.  After basic needs are met, you can spend nothing or spend a ton aligned with your family values about what is important, but that is not love.  The child in the post perceived the soda or ice cream as lack of love.  As a child I perceived it as not wanting to spend money on an item that my father did not value.  A commenter talked about how he felt guilty when told that they couldn’t go on a vacation because they were saving for his college.  As a child I saw that as information that my family valued education over trips to Disney World (not that we didn’t travel– we went on countless road trips, but generally on the cheap and often to visit family) and that my future was important enough to delay gratification for (and corporations are really good at getting people to spend money).

There’s a reason I’ve never understood the women who want their husbands to buy them expensive jewelry to prove their love or to apologize for an argument, especially at the expense of quality time as a family or true financial security.

In my family, we were also encouraged to ask questions and test limits.  I think my father was proud when we made a counter-argument about how we were willing to pay the additional money to get a cold drink *now* or that the ice cream in the small pint is better quality than the ice cream in the large tub and we don’t need a large tub’s worth anyway.   It was most important to him that we understand why and how we were spending our money– not to be skin-flints but to truly understand frugality and value.   For my own parenting, I think we don’t have to worry about the money messages we’re sending if we talk them out, encourage communication and even disagreement, and let our children know if we’re worried they’re taking the wrong message. It’s like teaching undergrads, if you encourage students to ask questions in a safe environment, teacher mistakes can become valuable teaching moments rather than a disaster. They can lead to more rather than less learning.

How does this juxtapose with Donna Freedman’s wonderfully sweet column on material gifts from her mother?  It’s the gesture, not the item.  But the gesture need not be a thing at all, and it need not involve money at all.  It really is the thought that counts.  Maybe it’s ok to think of buying a soda as an act of love (though it’s an odd thing for most Americans where soda flows more freely than water), but it is never ok to think of the lack of buying it as a withdrawal of love.  There are many ways to show love, and a homemade toaster cozy or a timer that brought order to a mother’s life are examples of things where the thought is much more important than the money spent.

For me this connection is more obvious with food– emotional eating.  Culturally this is a big problem for us… chocolate chip cookies do cheer someone up when they’re down.  I love it when my husband bakes me a batch.  It reminds me of vacations with my late grandmother or brownies from my mom.  But it is important to separate the thoughtfulness of making the cookie from the cookie itself.    And maybe the few extra pounds is worth it for immediate comfort.  It’s when that emotional food connection becomes a problem, or that emotional money connection becomes a problem that we really need to remember that love is love and money is a tool and food is something to eat.

Do you intertwine love with money or with food?  Do you have healthy or unhealthy associations with money and/or food?

How did you learn how to handle making meals?

Specifically, I mean the entire process of procuring and preparing food.

DH’s relative’s household is currently having trouble because the wife in the family got brain cancer, had brain surgery (has an amazingly good prognosis, considering) and can no longer do all of the stereotypical wife things that she had been doing.  That leaves DH’s relative and remaining 3 kids at home completely helpless when it comes to meals.  She did all the menu planning, grocery shopping, and cooking.  Since she got sick, they’ve been eating a lot of rice and beans because they’re income limited and that’s all he really knows how to make.  He also has to work overtime to pay for everything so it’s not like he has a lot of time and ability to put into the process.  He says he’s pretty terrible at it.

He does have three teenage kids at home who are perfectly capable of taking on some of this work.  Which my DH suggested.

So with the relative’s permission we sent the kids a copy of our favorite easy to use cookbook for beginners without a lot of money (unfortunately Faster! is out of print) with instructions to double the recipes, along with a giftcard from Walmart (which is their local grocery store) for $100.  To give them practice menu planning with a budget.  I don’t know if it will do any good, but maybe it will.

I learned how to use grocery circulars for sales, how to build up a pantry, and how to comparison shop at a very young age.  My father would take me to the market and show me the process he went through.  I learned cooking from both my parents and have a repertoire of both of their weeknight meals.  At a slightly older age I took over cooking a few nights a week and once I got a driver’s license I was in charge of a portion of the grocery shopping.  (Before then I would occasionally be sent on my bike or by foot to get missing ingredients if necessary.)  I experimented with recipes and menu planning during long boring summers.

DH never really learned how to shop or cook until he married me.  In college he spent one year on the meal plan and then survived the remaining three years with a combination of eating out at cheap restaurants (usually Schlotzky’s and Pizza Hut) and getting free day-old bagels from the bagel place next door to his dorm.  After marriage I showed him how to comparison shop because when you’re living in a city and using public transportation, shopping requires muscle.  At first, I did most of the cooking, but one day when he asked me to make (my father’s) chili for him, I realized that that was probably something he should learn to do himself.  So I taught him.  Then he taught himself more.  Then he took a cooking class to get better knife skills.  Now he’s a better chef than I am.

We’ve been teaching DC1 to cook, and when I remember I try to show hir how to comparison shop even though we don’t really do that much anymore (we have our favorite brands and can afford them).   Being able to eat cheaply is pretty freeing, especially when you’re starting out and so much of your disposable income is going to food.

How did you learn how to procure/prepare food?  Do you do it the same way that you learned?  If not, what has changed?

The Austin’s Special Pizza

Not for vegetarians.  Or the health conscious.

An Austin’s special is:

Pepperoni
Onions
Bacon
Garlic (pref. roasted)

STRONGLY recommended.

That is all.

#2 says:  DO WANT.

Ask the grumpies: Favorite cracker for enjoying with cheese

Leah asks:

 What is your preferred cracker with cheese? I only like certain crackers and will shun my non-preferred brand; are you similar?

#1: I’m not sure I have a favorite cracker. I will eat lots of different kinds, especially with cheese. I have to say, crackers are not an area where I have deep conversational depths. But if I have to say something, I like crackers with herbs in them.

#2:  I have passed through life (since beginning to ttc) with so many obnoxious food restrictions that I have thought much more about the subject of crackers.  (Though I have *never* liked Ritz crackers.  Yuck.  Well maybe when I was a really little kid I did, but I also liked cheeze wiz back then.)

These ak mak sesame crackers are really good with lemon quark.

These La Panzanella crackers are not good for me glycemically but they are really really tasty, especially the rosemary version.  They pair well with sharp cheeses.

I mainly like wheaty crackers and triscuits because they don’t make me feel like crap later (except when I was allergic to wheat and I couldn’t eat them).  I used to like kashi but now they’re too sweet.  Not a huge fan of oat biscuits.  I like dipping wheat thins into pub cheese or queso.  Wasa wafers are pretty good in pub cheese and queso too.  I like rice cakes with cream cheese.

So I guess I like a lot of different crackers, but mostly obscure brands other than like triscuits and wheat thins.

Ask the grumpies: Important questions about ice cream preferences

Leah asks:

Ice cream: vanilla or chocolate base? Lots of stuff added or little? Any additions you hate?

#1:  There’s this ice cream place in Houston near Rice University that I think is my favorite ice cream place in the entire country and I kind of wish I could go back to Houston just to visit it.   (There’s gelato places that I like more, but not ice cream.  And my favorite hot chocolate place is in Boston in Harvard Square.  And my favorite coffee place is in Los Angeles, in or near Santa Monica.  One benefit of lots of travel for work…)   Basically all they sell is different kinds of chocolate ice cream with different chunky things in them, lots and lots of chunky things added.  OMG, so wonderful.  They have this one with nuts that is out of this world, but they give you two little scoops with a small so you can get that on bottom and like chocolate orange or the girl scout cookie one (which I don’t see as one of their regular choices– I must have just gotten lucky) on top.  SO GOOD.  One addition I dislike is a weird one– I love maraschino cherries and I love fresh/frozen real cherries, but sometimes you order a cherry ice cream and you end up with like the cherries that they use in fruit-cake and it’s just so wrong.

#2:  chocolate with things added