Week 30: The Party!

Sometimes you just got to go big. Pan-wise that is.

This week was our annual summer party. We invite everyone in the neighborhood, friends, coworkers, family, everyone. We have had as few as 20 people and as many as 100 show up. I provide a main course and drinks. The rest is a pot-luck provided by the guests.

This year the plan was to make Discada backed up by Tacos for the less adventurous. However rain drove us inside and cut the number of guests to about 45 this year so I decided to cut the menu to just the taco bar. We will do Discada later.

This is the essence of why we cook beyond just survival. Just providing food and a location and an entire neighborhood comes together for a night of fun. Neighbors who seldom venture out of their house get to meet everyone. Families with little kids who never knew each other meet and their kids now have newfound friends. Older neighbors in need of some help find willing hands to tackle a project.

Step it up. Invite people over and just cook. There doesn’t need to be a reason. Just reach out and cook. The rest will fall into place. It’s what we have been doing for thousands of years. Someone threw some meat on a fire, someone brought some roots, someone else brought some grains, another brought bread and now they have a community. We live our modern lives alone, insulated in hermetically sealed homes and technology. Get backing your extended families and the community of man.

Just extend the invitation and cook.



Week 29: Don’t forget water

Infused Water

Just a quick note this week about water. Infuse some water with fruit, veggies, herbs etc. Add a block of ice. Leave on the counter and enjoy all summer. Make sure to clean it out every day and start the next day with fresh water and flavorings.

Freeze to make ice blocks

I just use four containers like this to make ice blocks. I rotate and refill them every day so they have time to freeze solid, especially on days I go through two blocks of ice.

Week 28: Did something good with Bread.

What is the worth of a loaf of bread?

As far as cooking goes this week it was mostly hamburgers. One night we had chicken patties instead of beef patties and there was a lot of soup for lunches. But at night it has been burgers lately because of our crazy schedules. I fry up some hamburger patties and everyone just makes hamburgers at their convenience.

The great thing that happened this week was my wife’s company participated in an auction to benefit the local food bank. I was asked to bake some loaves of bread to contribute to the auction.

I understand the loaves sold on average for $80 each. Then the company made a matching contribution to the food banker all the money raised, so my simple loaves raised $160 each for the food bank.

When possible use your cooking to do something good for others. It should first benefit yourself and your family but then see who else could use a meal or a simple snack. From a full meal taken to the family of a sick person to just a plate of cookies to someone. Food has always had to power to reach out to people in need.


Week 27: Half way there!

Trade this for a burger in a box?

Well, we have passed the half way point for the year and this has been so much easier than we thought it would be. My weight is down. We have saved a lot of money. My wife’s blood pressure is better than it has been in years. She is very sensitive to the amount of salt in fast food. And my culinary skills are in top form.

I really thought I would have a lot more to say at this point but basically this is just my life now. Or I should say my life again. Many times in my life, cooking at home was not a choice. It was a necessity. And those were almost always great times in my life, just very financially challenging times as well.

At one very difficult point I was eating oatmeal three times a day. No milk, no sugar or honey, no raisins or other fruit. Just plane oatmeal. Those were tough weeks but I got through it.

When we first got married, there was not any money for eating out. I bought whole chickens and butchered them myself because that was the least expensive meat we could find. And nothing was wasted. Even the bones were turned into broth for soup. On the rare occasions we did go out, we liked a family run Italian place just down the street because the owner would give my wife free Minestrone soup to take home. We made every penny count. I’m just doing that again.

It only took a few weeks to get back into those old habits. Shop often. Buy fresh. Plan meals a day out, even if only in my head. Keep the kitchen clean so I can start cooking immediately. Make enough for lunch the next day. Get out of ruts like “Taco Tuesday or Meatloaf Friday”. Mix things up and cook something new or at least something I haven’t cooked for years.

Get out of your fast food rut and take back the kitchen. Put the passion of cooking into your life.


Week 26: Overtaken by events. Again.

A couple of weeks ago I installed plank flooring in the dining room. This meant the kitchen was filled with everything from the dining room making it a challenge to cook. Inconvenient but not too bad. We just made very simple meals like sandwiches and salads.

This week, with everything back in the dining room, I decided to empty the kitchen and do some painting. This meant that the kitchen was almost unusable again. So once again we just cooked simple meals. The best part was that it worked very well with the heat of the summer. Sandwiches, quesadillas, Pizza and burgers on the patio and even cold cereal for lunch. Everyone just ate light and simple. It was an easy week so far as cooking went but I sat and figured out how much we would have spent and how many unneeded calories we would have eaten in any other year by eating fast food or take away meals.

Any other week like this we would have just written the kitchen off for a few days and eaten out or brought food in. Instead by eating in we saved a lot of money by simply planning a little and working around the mess or just using the pizza oven and grill on the deck. we basically saved enough to pay for the supplies I bought to paint the kitchen.

Sorry I didn’t take before and after pictures.


Week 25: Camping

The edge of The Great Salt lake

I’m behind in writing so the next couple of entries will be short. This week was just another week of cooking at home. This is just normal now, even on hectic days. We are finding no need to go out or buy fast food. Having enough food in the house to cook anytime is just normal.

This week was the summer solstice so we went out camping at the edge of the Great Salt Lake to enjoy the longest day of the year. Dinner was just a simple stew and some bread. Breakfast was fresh juice I had made the day before and lunch was just veggie snacks and some chips. Simple and enjoyable.

I encourage you to do some cooking while camping or even just as a picnic at a park. It doesn’t need to be elaborate or expensive but try cooking out instead of bringing pre made food with you. It is fun.


Week 24: Overtaken by Events.

New Dining room floor

This week I pulled out the 35 year old carpet from my dining room and replaced it with laminated plank flooring. The problem was that this meant that the dining table, chairs, sofa, china cabinet, curio cabinet, book shelf, cook books Etc. needed somewhere to go. Where did they go? The kitchen!

It would have been so easy to spend this week eating fast food, take away and delivered meals. It was very tempting especially after the day we did the actual install of the planks. I was beat and in no mood to cook anything. But we stuck it out and mostly had sandwiches and salads. We did have a big dinner with extended family at their house and took home some leftover roast turkey and all the usual sides that go with it. That made a couple easy meals also.

As simple as it gets.

Making sandwiches and salads was easy and was all prepared on a cutting board while the counters and kitchen table were full of other things. Sandwiches and salads cost a lot less than fast food and also saved us a lot of unneeded calories.

This was not an exciting week of cooking by any means but it showed that with very little planning we were able to avoid eating out when the kitchen was essentially unusable for a few days. The best part of this week is that the old carpet is gone and I have a much nicer floor in there now. A floor I am not embarrassed to use to entertain friends. The old carpet was REALLY bad. I think the new look will open up some fun opportunities to cook for friends and family this fall.

See you next week. John

Week 23: Spice things up.

Curry even the neighbors could smell.

Take a risk on something different. If you have never cooked Indian or Thai food, go for it! Many curry recipes are surprisingly simple. This is just chicken thighs fried in oil. Remove them from the pan and leave the drippings. Add onion, potato and carrots. Fry in the oil and juice until they start to become tender and develop a little browning. Add coconut milk (2 cans in this pan) and curry powder to taste. Then go ahead and add a little more. Simmer until the veggies are almost done, then add the chicken back into the pan and simmer until it looks like everything has incorporated the flavors.

I used a pre made curry powder from a local mideastern market. No idea what spices were in it. It was just in a bag labeled yellow curry powder. There are thousands of variations of what westerners call curry seasonings. Most have other names in their native lands. There are many great books on making eastern food including curry variations. Don’t sweat it if you know nothing about eastern cooking. It is really not too hard to get started. Learn to make some sauces, add veggies and maybe some meat, serve over rice or some other starch like potatoes or even yams.

The Middle and Far East have a rich culinary history that the west is largely unaware of. Don’t be afraid to delve into it. If you make a mistake, so what. We have all made dishes destined to go straight into the garbage bin. It happens. But give Eastern food a good try. There are many books and internet resources out there to help you get started.


Week: 22. Fresh bread makes everything better.

So it got cold again. Things were busy and canned soups and stews just worked out as the best things to cook on a cool wet week. But a little leftover Pizza Dough tossed in a very hot oven then brushed with olive oil or herbed butter made even a simple can of soup wonderful. dough is so simple to make and easy to cook. Not every loaf needs to be perfectly proofed and formed. Let it rise, press out flat or roll in a ball and place on a stone or baking sheet in a hot oven. Bake until it looks, smells and sounds done.

It’s not rocket science. It doesn’t need to look like it came off of a magazine cover. It’s just bread the way we have been making it for thousands of years. But a little fresh bread is a great compliment to any simple meal.

Week 21: On the Road again. Why you need a great cooler.

This will be short and sweet. As well as late. I was on the road last week for family business. I was a great trip but I seem have come home to computer issues. This is the third attempt at writing this entry.

Basically we did another week on the road and avoided unnecessary eating out by bringing a nice cooler. We ate with family and had a couple nice meals at a hotel but a lot of our food and drink came from a cooler in my truck.

Coolers have changed a lot over the last ten years. Look for any of the new Roto-Molded Coolers. They are expensive compared to the old styles but prices vary greatly from brand to brand. Reviews and comparisons are available online.

The thing you need to know about any cooler is they don’t cool food and drink. Ice cools everything. If you take a warm cooler and warm food and drink and try to cool it with ice the day you head out you will end up with cool food and water.

You need to pre chill all of the food and drink in a refrigerator a couple of days ahead of time and chill the cooler with ice at least two days ahead. Then dump the ice, load the food and top off with fresh ice. This way everything starts cold and the ice just has to keep it cold. Not cool everything to start with. This way you can get several days or even a week of cold food.

So we had great week with family. Ate well with family, a nice place in the hotel and from the truck. We saved a lot of money and unneeded calories by using the cooler. And we were able to bring home a dozen phenomenal bottles of cold pressed juice by being able to keep it on ice for a day.

See you next week.