Laying the Groundwork for Intentional Cooking and Eating...
We all need and deserve at least a modest foundation in the kitchen from which to work, in order to prepare and provide healthy, everyday meals for ourselves and those we feed.
Here is an age-old, distilled set of instructions that prepares us for more intuitive, enjoyable, and purposeful moments in the kitchen and at the table.
Table of Contents
- Shop Smart, Part 1
- Build Flavor Slowly & Keep Tasting
- Use What You Got
- Good Ingredients
- Shop Smart, Part 2
- Grow A Few
- Mind Those Labels
- All In Moderation
- Good Knife, Safe Knife
- Practice Makes Imperfect
- A Few Cutting Boards
- Use Your Hands
- Storing Food
- Time Is On Your Side
- Five Senses
- Good Technique
- Waste Not
- Plan For Leftovers
- Pots And Pans
- Set The Table
Shop Smart, Part 1
Where do you source your food? Ideally, depending on where you live and what you have access to, it is a place that offers sustainable, high-quality, even artisanal ingredients. In this day and age, we need to be more intentional about where and how we shop, and support small farmers and makers when we can. This offers us a more meaningful experience, and affords us the chance to talk to those producing our food. Transparency in the market(place) is an essential ingredient for mindful eating.
Approach a vendor at your local farmers market or grocery produce manager, and ask which seasonal vegetables they would recommend for adding to a salad; you may be surprised as to their knowledge, enthusiasm, and suggestions .
Build Flavor Slowly & Keep Tasting
When building a dish, don’t simply add all of your seasonings, including salt and pepper, in one bold dash. Think of building your meal one layer at a time, slowly, as one layer leads to another. Season slowly, and taste often (when appropriate), since you can always add more later if need be. When you season your dish, in your own way, you are applying your own laws to the dish, tapping into creativity and intuition.
When building, or layering as I like to call it, a soup, for instance, it is most respectful to salt a little with each step, slowly developing its flavor along the way. That applies to adding herbs as well, since herbs behave differently at different stages.
Use What You Got
That’s right, a most unflattering bit of advice, but maybe one of the most important. Maybe when we think of local eating, we can begin where we are, in our own kitchen. When we revive those last bits of cheese, an old bag of pasta, and dusty can of tomatoes, we save money, engage our creative muscles, impress ourselves, and tip our hat to the environment.
Before readying your market list, make a quick note of what you already have on hand, Any extra nuts, dried fruit, or lone carrot might be honored to find their way into a weeknight salad.
This one may seem obvious, but when we start with good, integral ingredients much of the work in the kitchen is already done, since lesser ingredients require much labor to make them edible. Just as good cooking relies on foundational skills, good meals rely on quality ingredients. But what is good? That’s a subject Goosefoot covers in the service, website, and journal. Consider this: foods that have been treated well will treat you well.
Seasonal food sourcing and eating is not only healthier and more delicious, but solves the common puzzle of what to eat in the sea of ingredients at the market. A win, win, win! Seasonal vegetables are in their prime, little is required to adorn them. Real Fast food!
Shop Smart, Part 2
While at the market, rely on a list and be thoughtful about impulse buying. (Goosefoot has you covered on grocery lists, since each recipe includes one when you subscribe.) The list is key in keeping you organized, efficient, and may be gentle on your wallet. Keep to the periphery of the store since that is where the healthiest foods reside, unlike the rather processed central aisles, and be brave about buying in bulk, if you have the opportunity.
Take advantage of the bulk foods section at your market, since you can find everything from bulk oils, to salt and spices, to a variety of rices and beans. A real money-saver, plus you can buy only what you need for a recipe, which diminishes the possibility of food waste.
Grow a Few
Herbs that is, or other easy-to-grow foods such as greens and radishes. I recommend herbs since Goosefoot uses fresh (but dried too) in so many of the recipes, and because herbs are so versatile and rather simple to tend. If you haven’t a garden patch or even a balcony for pots, consider partnering with a local CSA farm, cozying up to a neighbor who gardens, or joining a community garden.
Goosefoot recipes often are herb-full and sometimes vague about which herbs to use, since my belief is that most herbs are interchangeable. Consider growing a few of your favorites, and rely on only those; you'll save a bundle this way.
Mind Those Labels
On the one hand I believe fervently in keeping standards high when it comes to food labeling, but on the other hand labels often strike me as a foreign language; they can be hard to trust and make sense of. If a label instinctively stumps you, walk away. If the ingredients list is long, walk away. If you cannot recognize or pronounce an ingredient, go home first and do research. Refer to those around you who may have some insight, such as the grower or shop clerk.
The farmers market is a perfect place to engage with growers and makers about how they treat their products. When buying a can of beans, however, it is more difficult to understand. Look for the USDA organic label, and the most pure product, such as one that is "salt free", without additions.
All in Moderation
Rather than dieting or short-term attempts at bettering your health, consider a much simpler, gentler, and pleasurable approach to eating. Recall Michael Pollan’s cry: “Eat Food. Not too Much. Mostly Plants.” That still rings true today. I’ll add that one should start small with portions, no matter who you are, and be mindful of not overthinking this subject. At Goosefoot we hope you eat a little bit of everything, meaning a variety of food groups, colors and textures, every day and every week.
Consider your plate, its balance and dynamic, color and variety. In our home, meat is "a treat", and when we do have it each week, it usually behaves as a side dish, while vegetables and other sides fill in center stage.
Good Knife, Safe Knife
With the exception of your hands, a good knife is the most important tool you can have in your kitchen. I do most of my cutting work with an 8” chef’s knife, and certainly don’t require any other knives in my kitchen, but for the bread knife. Do a bit of research and buy the best quality chef’s knife you can afford. Take a basic knife-skills class in your area, since that will serve you immeasurably, and please keep her sharp.
It is always going to be easier, quicker, and safer to use a sharp rather than a dull knife when dicing, slicing, or chopping. Using a honing steel regularly, or having your knives professionally sharpened 1-2 times annually should do the trick.
Practice Makes Imperfect
I hope this speaks to all the perfectionists, myself included. With the regular practice of cooking, and sharing, an ease and fluidity will arise. Hopefully you will enjoy your mistake-making, be humbled by it, and take pleasure in the act of learning. Everyday cooking should be about providing healthy and satisfying meals for you and those you share with, not about the perfect or photo-perfect dish.
Maybe you can't reach uniformity with your knife or get quite the right size of cut you were envisioning, but remember these skills get honed with practice. Just be sure all is cooked through properly, enjoy the process, and savor what you've done.
A Few Cutting Boards
Maybe you can tell that we keep things rather simple and spare at Goosefoot. There are really only a few necessary items a kitchen needs, and a few cutting boards are on the list. This way others (such as your family) can lend a hand in the kitchen and use their own cutting board. Also, I recommend that you set aside one cutting board for meat/fish/poultry use, and sanitize it after use. Wood or a composite is ideal.
Place something that can adhere to your kitchen counter below your cutting board, such as a damp kitchen cloth, to keep your board in place instead of it sliding out from under you awkwardly and dangerously as you use it.
Use Your Hands
But wash them first, and often! Your hands are maybe your most important kitchen tool, and they are the most underrated. They can mix, toss, smear, comb, knead, tear, and test texture and temperature. No need to purchase novelty tools and gadgets. Also, when we use our hands we have direct contact with the food in play, and can develop a much finer sense of what something should feel like, or weigh, for instance. Our hands connect us to our wild and primitive core.
With a salad for instance, use your hands to rip or tear leaves into a colander or bowl of fresh water to rinse. And when you've finished preparing your toppings and dressing, use your hands to toss all components together in a large bowl.
Learning how to store food and what to store is critical. If you haven’t an adequate freezer I urge you to consider one, since the amount of money you’ll save by storing will quickly cover the cost. Everyday recipes, like those Goosefoot provides, are by nature recipes that should store well in the fridge and freezer. Be sure to store foods in glass containers with durable, well-sealed lids, and before you recycle those jam jars, use them to store all sorts of bits too.
Make one, two, or three batches of a dish, such as a soup. Set aside some for your week, and the rest in single servings for your freezer, labeled with masking tape. When you're ready, thaw them in the fridge for 1-2 days,
Time Is On Your Side
Speaking of time, what better use of it than cooking a meal for yourself or your family? Time-management skills come with the practice of meal-making. Read a recipe carefully through before you attempt it to get a sense of the work order. What can you be mixing while something is simmering, for instance? Goosefoot recipes guide the reader through this process, for the sake of efficiency and education on “layered-cooking”.
Meat, fish, and poultry love to rest a while at room temperature while you prepare other ingredients, for instance, and they cook and taste better because of it. When they are ready for the pan, you can finish any other tasks while they do their cooking.
How often do we take the opportunity to intentionally engage all of our senses? What a treat. When we cook, we may tap into all of them quickly, and we must since we need them in order to make a satisfying dish. When we listen, for instance, we may hear if our frying onion is too agitated. Likewise, even with our back turned, we may be able to smell if it’s burning. Our senses allow us to do the important multitasking work in the kitchen.
When preparing a dish that requires a higher heat on the stovetop, you'll ask a lot of your senses to pick on burning, or moisture loss, or color change, for instance, since higher heat is stimulating and quick. With practice, the more adept you'll get at using and trusting your senses to help you in the kitchen.
Learning a few kitchen techniques will enable you to cook with ease and confidence. Ask a savvy cook in your life, or take a local cooking class, and learn how to saute, braise, or wield a knife, for instance. Learn slowly and simply, don’t go overboard. Julia Child said this: "Once you have mastered a technique, you hardly need look at a recipe again and can take off on your own."
Learning to emulsify a simple oil and vinegar salad dressing (that is, bringing it all together cohesively), is a skill you will learn once and know it always, This essential skill may even keep you from buying store-bought dressing, since its ease and superiority will take your breath away.
This is an extension of the Use What You Got rule. Food waste statistics in our country are distressing, but there are a few good habits we can adopt, and we should now. First, follow an intentional grocery list when at the market, and buy only what you realistically will eat. Use and eat what you already have on hand in the cupboards and fridge. If you must toss food, add appropriate scraps to a compost heap. And be mindful of what can be recycled; maybe more than you thought!
When preparing ingredients, cutting and slicing, keep a bowl or designated bin or bag beside you where you can toss in your vegetable and other compost scraps. A small compost bin beside your sink or somewhere convenient in your kitchen is something to consider.
Plan For Leftovers
Did you know that doubling (or even tripling) a recipe may save you time and money? With those extra servings you can store them in the freezer for future busy weeks, take them for lunch the next day, reheat them for a quick supper the next night, or make it simple to invite over friends and neighbors. Goosefoot recipes offer counsel on doubling and freezing, and take the guess work out. And…well, if you don’t love leftovers, God Bless You!
Everyday recipes should, to some degree, qualify as leftovers. Meaning, they should be happy to store overnight in the fridge or in the freezer, This makes a recipe highly valuable, since it saves you time, money, and any concern over what to eat tomorrow.
Pots and Pans
Yet another extension of the Use What You Got theme. This may be an unpopular sentiment, and certainly not what you’re accustomed to hearing: but rather than fret over not having the right kitchen tools and equipment, take notice of what you do have and how much you can achieve with your current kit. Unless a kitchen tool is quite elderly, in that it’s chipped or very worn, rendering it unsafe or incompetent, renew your appreciation for what you already have, and resist temptation otherwise.
If it simply is time to retire a pan, and purchase another, consider investing in a high-quality, durable and reputable one. A good pan will sweat vegetables or sear meat evenly and lovingly, should not warp, and should last you decades.
Set The Table
Last, but certainly not least, is fluidity from kitchen to table. Let the table be a kind of sacred place where the nourishing meal you just made can shine, and bring you and your eaters together. Setting the table is a wonderful task for children, and in our home is a daily role for our young daughter. Folded cloth napkins, placemats, a lit candle, a stack of playing cards, perhaps; this is an occasion, everyday. It’s time to eat, slowly and together!
Sitting down to a carefully set table is the icing on the cake. It rounds out the occasion of eating and is a venue for honoring the food and the cook, It is a moment of stop and breath, perhaps the only moment like that in a busy day, for a busy family.