It’s going on four months at home and it looks like we’ll be here for quite a while longer. I am not complaining at all. I actually love working from home and staying in the house. At times I do miss getting dressed and eating out but I have to admit that cooking and eating at home had done wonders for my health. I have never felt better and more energized and just overall lighter. I know a large part of that is due to me eating whole, homecooked foods.
Since I’ve been cooking more, I’ve been looking for ways to incorporate the max amount of flavor into my food. I’ve played around with various spices but now my new obsessions are infused oil and confit.
Infused oils are really the quickest way to infuse flavor into meats and vegs and they are so easy to make. Not to mention they are great bases for marinades and dressings. My go to oil is a lemon and garlic olive oil. I take a few left over lemon rinds and throw them in a mason jar with course black pepper, a handful of smashed garlic cloves and a healthy pinch of salt and then cover all of the contents with olive oil. Give the oil a good shake and let it sit for 2-3 days (shaking occasionally). After a few days the oil is ready for use. I’ve use this oil on corn and on chicken and to make a quick and easy salad dressing. The uses are endless.
I’ve also been playing around with various herb confit. Confit is any food (herb, meat, vegetable) that is cooked in oil or fat over low temperature and over a long period of time. I actually made my first confit several years ago. It was a tomato and basil confit and I made it all wrong! I didn’t know then that you weren’t supposed to bring the oil to boil or make sure that all of the contents were completely submerged in oil, so for 3-4 hours I boiled tomatoes and basil in a hot oven. For a while the oil was fine but after a while it became rancid.
This time around I got it right! The first batch of confit I made was with garlic, onion and rosemary. I cooked it low and slow for 8 hours taking care not to let the oil simmer or even bubble. No stirring or anything. The flavor was so rich and intense and was the perfect base for a marinade for chicken and steak. For a quick weeknight meal, I covered a thin piece of steak in the confit oil, rolled it in black pepper and grilled it. Perfection! Last week, I repeated the process this time I only used garlic. The flavor was a lot milder but still perfect none the less. I actually used some of it yesterday to make homemade french-fries and I plan to use a bit of it today to grill fish. Once again the possibilities are endless. This oil can be substituted for regular oil in a variety of recipes to help kick up the flavor.
I hope that you all are inspired by this post and try your hand at infused oil or confit. Like I said, they can be used in a ton of recipes and they make really nice gifts. Play around with the flavors and contents and see what you come up with.
For the most part I have been really disciplined during “quarantine” and haven’t bought a ton of things. Alright, I did buy one dress but other than that I’ve kept my spending in check. I did however pick up a few new things for the kitchen. Since I’ve found myself in the kitchen more, I needed (scratch that, I wanted) a few new things to make kitchen life more entertaining and a little easier.
Let’s meet the new friends…
Straw Basket and a Plethora of Hand Towels and Dish Cloths
If you read my post about how my attitudes towards food have changed during this self-isolation period (which I KNOW you have) then you will remember that I have gone paper towel-less. In an effort to reduce kitchen waste, I’ve ditched the disposable towels and opted for tea towels and dish cloths.
Honestly, I can go through a half roll to a full roll each time I cook (ridiculous, I know) and making this one small change will make a big difference in the amount of waste that I generate.
To keep everything neat, I purchased two small, square baskets. I keep one on the bottom level of my microwave cart and the other lives on the floor next to the basement door. I keep clean towels in one and I throw the dirty towels in the other. To prevent excessively washing the towels, I use them as many times as I can before I get a new one.
So far, my little system has been working out. Sometimes I have multiple towels floating around the kitchen so there is always one nearby. I really like this concept and think this will be a permanent change. I do think I will always keep a few rolls of paper towels on hand just in case they are needed but for the most part I will be a paper towel-less house!
So, I am super late, but I am just getting around to learning about Edna Lewis. In the culinary world, especially the African American culinary world she is a food god known for simple farm to table dishes. I first heard her name years ago and I actually added her cookbooks to my list of things to buy. I somehow lost track of that list but last summer I ran across her name in the African American History Museum in DC. Then about three weeks ago, I ran across her pound cake recipe. I took that as a sign that I NEEDED to buy her cookbooks so I stopped right then and there and bought two of her most popular books. They were well worth the money.
I have never sat down and read a cookbook but as soon as I received her books, I cracked them open and began pouring over then. There is something so comforting and interesting about reading recipe after recipe in a cookbook. You really get a sense of what that chef/cook is all about. You learn what they value, what ingredients they rely on and their philosophy on food. I think it is also extremely interesting to read older cookbook and “discover” how different cooking ingredients and methods were. Now a days no one uses “lard” but that is a popular ingredient in Lewis’s recipes.
I haven’t made my way through both cookbooks, but I have really enjoyed them. I already have a ton of pages turned down so I know I will be cooking from them all summer long.
3. Mini Whisk
This purchase is a lot less exciting and interesting than the others. I got tired of using my full-sized whisk when trying to mix things in my measuring cup. I kept pushing the contents out of the cup and then then when I tried to rest the whisk on the inside of the cup it would always flip out because it was so heavy. To remedy those issues, I invested in a mini whisk which should work perfectly in those situations.
4. Wooden Utensils
This purchase was another mundane one but it was quite necessary. I hate cooking with metal utensils and before this purchase I only had one wooden spoon. My lonely wooden spoon actually belongs to my mom. I received the spoon by way of my brother. She’s had that spoon since we were little and its starting to show its age. It’s still perfectly fine but the wood is starting to crack a little so I figured that I should give it a break and invest in an actual set. I ended up purchases a 5-piece set from Ayesha Curry’s line and man are they nice. They are a beautiful color and have a good weight to them. I can’t wait to use them. Hopefully, they won’t split and will stand the test of time.
Now see, that wasn’t too bad, huh?!?!. I didn’t get a lot of things. The Kitchen on Wellington is small and has little storage space, so I try to be very selective with what I buy. I think these 4 additions were good choices and I am certain that I will get good use out of them.
So, most of us have been “self-isolating” in one form or another for the past 8 weeks. It is so crazy how much everything has changed. None of us could have imagined a life like this if we had tried our hardest.
Back in January/February before things got “crazy” I was listening to “The Daily” and they were talking about how the whole country would have to essentially “shut down” to manage the spread of this virus. I remember telling someone, “Yeah right, Americans are never going to go for that or comply”. I guess I was wrong!!
During this period of isolation, I have worked hard to de-stress and enjoy this downtown. I mean when will we as working adults ever get an extended break from the hustle and bustle of this world ever again. In a lot of ways this unfortunate event has provided some of us with the time and freedom to really take a step back, take inventory of our lives and evaluate what in our lives serves us and what does not.
As part of my de-stressing process, I’ve been spending more time in the kitchen. As I have been in the kitchen more, I’ve realized that my habits and attitudes towards food have changed. There have been 6 main things that I have noticed.
I am more thoughtful about what buy (type of food and quantity).
Prior to this whole virus, I was always stressed and in a rush. I would haphazardly throw together a grocery list (except for when I was planning to make something specific) adding a bunch of junk and no so healthy foods. I would then go to the store stressed and hungry and pick up even more junk foods while walking the aisles. When I got home, I would look at what I bought and realize that my bags were filled with sugary, fatty and high carb foods. I would do this week in and week out.
Now that I am working from home and have more time on my hands, I realize that one, I don’t crave the same sugary, fatty and high carb foods that I once did. It’s safe to say that stress was the main culprit of those cravings. Two, I have been able to set an eating schedule, which also helps to curb some of my cravings which means some of those bad food never make onto my grocery list. And three, I am more conscious about buying foods that are closer to their natural state. Because of the extra time on my hands, I can skip the pre-packaged and quick foods options and opt foods that are more natural. Instead of buying 5 min. rice, I’ll buy rice in bulk. Also, instead of buying frozen fruit, I have been opting for fresh local fruit that I freeze myself.
I have been become obsessed with eliminating processed foods from my kitchen.
With the extra time on my hands, I have been able to make more foods from scratch. I now spend the extra time to prep my food for the upcoming week/month. Doing this helps to eliminate the need for quick or convenient food options. I touched on this in the first change that I have noticed, but I think this has been the biggest change so far. Yes, I have been spending WAY more time freezing, baking, prepping, slicing, chopping and simmering but it is well worth it. Society has been preaching to us for years to prep our foods on a weekly basis but with our schedules, who had time for that!?!?! Now that we have the time, I am taking advantage of it. Spending the extra few minutes has made a difference in not only my cooking but in how I physically feel. By prepping my food and skipping those pre-packaged options I can control the amount of salt and sugar in my food. In turn, I’m not as bloated, I don’t have that “heavy” feeling after meals and my snacks are less sugary.
Like I said earlier, I have been freezing my own fruit. I have been making infused oils and confits and I have been baking breads and making pastas from scratch. Honestly, I LOVE IT. I wish I could cook and eat like this forever!!
I have finally grasped the importance of meal planning.
When I was in an office, I was HORRIBLE about planning out my meals. As a result I never had food prepared when I needed it. I was always scrambling to figure out what I was going to eat for lunch and dinner (which usually meant that I was going to pick up something) and I was always running out of food or I never had the right ingredients on hand for a dish.
Now, I take the time to plan out my meals. On Saturdays, I plan out one or two breakfast, lunch and dinner options and make I make my grocery list based on that. I plan out how many days each dish will last and before I run out of one dish, I start the prep for the next. Yes, it takes a lot of coordination and cooking (you are cooking almost every night) but it also means that you are never caught with nothing to eat. Having prepared meals on hand, really helps me not to snack as much and it makes it harder to justify ordering food.
I have become more conscious about how food affects me physically.
We all have those one or two dishes that affect us in a weird way after we eat them. Some people may get jittery while others my get a headache or a slight tingle. A lot of times we are so busy that we do not stop to think about how what we eat physically affects us. We may be so caught up and rushing that we don’t realize that that dull headache we have isn’t due to stress but due to the sugary fruit smoothie that we downed for lunch. Now that things are slower, I’m really starting to take inventory of how foods effects my body.
I am way more conscious about my thirst. Before I would take a couple of “swigs” of water and keep it pushing but now that I am more relaxed, present and aware, I realize that my body is craving way more water than I have been giving it.
I’ve also noticed that eating sugary snacks after a certain time, really throws my body off. I notice that I wake up groggy and tired when I eat sweet foods close to bedtime.
I also noticed that I am a breakfast person. For years, I have maintained that I don’t need to eat breakfast on a daily basis. I convinced myself that eating early in the morning slowed me down and made me sluggish throughout the day. In reality, I needed to opt for lighter and more healthy breakfast foods and I needed to eat later. Working from home has afforded me the ability to play around with my breakfast time and food options. I have realized that eating breakfast around 10-11am is the optimal time for me. I like to eat lunch around 3 and dinner around 6-7. Not sure is that is healthy or not, but this schedule really helps me to control my craving and stave off hunger.
I am more conscious about how much money I spend on food.
I am using this period of self-isolation to really focus on eating at home. There are so many reasons why eating out is not the best option, so I have been trying to experiment with different foods while at home. All of this experimenting has led to insane grocery bills. I really don’t understand how I manage to go to the grocery store each week and spend no less than $100.00 each time. I understand that fresh foods cause more than pre-packaged and that cooking elaborate recipes calls for many different ingredients and spices but, $100.00 each week for one person is way too much.
Since I have been food shopping more consistently, I am more conscious of prices and of how much I buy. I try to use what I have at home and I double check my pantry and fridge so that I am not buying duplicate items when at the store.
I am more conscious about how much waste I create while cooking.
Cooking at home every night generates a TON of food waste. The amount of waste is even more if you are primarily cooking with fresh ingredients. I can fill up several garbage bags a week just by cooking every night. Honestly, it hurts me to my heart to throw out fruit, meat and vegetable scraps. I feel like it’s just so wasteful.
I have been researching ways to compost food scraps and I think that will be the next addition to, The Kitchen on Wellington. I have also decided to go paper towel-less. I have invested in two small baskets for the kitchen. One will hold clean dish and tea towels while the other will collect the used towels. Yes, this my increase my laundry bill but for me that is a better alternative than going through an entire roll on paper towels each time I make a meal (I am not exaggerating. I would literally use half a roll to a full roll each time I cooked).
If you are cooking every night, I would encourage you to also think about ways to cut down on the amount of waste you generate. A lot of the issues we face on a global scale are because we are wasteful and not kind to our planet. I have chosen to use this time to implement better kitchen practices that can help to change or correct those issues.
These are just a few of the things that have become more aware. You all can spend your period of self-isolation however you please but I do really encourage you to use this time to think about the things you do in your life, the people you are surrounded by and the foods that you eat. Think about how they all connect and how you can make small changes that can help improve your outlook on your life and the foods that you eat.
Ya’ll, I feel like I have mastered the grill. Alright, “mastered” maybe a bit of a stretch but I certainly feel more comfortable with it than I did last year. If you remember last year’s post about my grill journey then you will remember that the grill and I have always had a “love hate” relationship (more like, one day I love it, the next day I hate it). I’ve always wanted to master the grill but the whole idea of using lighter fluid (I don’t believe in gas grills), cooking over an open flame and trying to manage temperature is intimidating and scary, but this year I decided give it another try.
Last weekend, I pushed myself to learn how to smoke meat using my charcoal grill. I love the taste of smoky and tender meat and I figured that it couldn’t be that hard. I mean after all you’re not really cooking with an open flame. I figured the only challenging part would be managing the temperature and making sure that the meat stayed moist and tender. After reading a few articles, watching a few YouTube videos and praying really, really hard, I gathered up some courage and headed out to my backyard with a well seasoned rack of ribs.
Ya’ll…SUCCESS!!! After about 5 hours of not so patiently waiting, I emerged with a perfectly cooked rack of ribs. Now, these ribs were by no means “Pit Master” worthy but they were pretty good. They were perfectly cooked, well seasoned, moist and flavorful.
Like I said, in preparation for my first “smoke” I read up on different smoking methods and I ran across the 3 – 2- 1 method. This method calls for cooking the ribs for 3 hours uncovered, cooking them with butter and juice for the next two hours and cooking them sauced and uncovered for the last hour. I did shorten the cook time of the last two steps. Instead of cooking the meat in butter and juice for the full 2 hours I scaled it back to 1 hour and I cooked it uncovered and sauced for about 30-45 mins. Towards the end, I felt that the meat was fully cooked and I was scared that I was going to over-cook it and dry it out.
All in all, it was a great experience. It went so well that the next day I marinated a chicken and smoked it on the grill. It was honestly the best chicken that I have ever had. Hands down!
If ya’ll out there are thinking about tackling the grill, please do. Start off small and work your way up. Find some great articles to read and watch a ton of YouTube videos. They are priceless!
As long as I can remember I have always wanted to order one of those fresh fruits tarts sold in the bakery case at the grocery store. The color of the tarts was always so vibrant and the fruit always looked so sweet and fresh. I’m not sure what stopped me from ordering one (probably the price) but for one reason or another I never took the plunge.
Fast forward to this weekend. As I was taking inventory of what I had in my fridge and thinking about what I could make, it hit me that I had all of the ingredients for a fruit tart. With more than enough time on my hands (thank you self-isolation) I decided to give it a try and I’m so glad that I did!
After a few attempts at a pliable dough for the shell, I managed to make a flavorful and super fresh tart. So, as you know, a fruit tart is typically made of three components, a crust shell, filling and the fruit that adorns the top.
It took me two attempts to make the shell. The first batch of dough I made was way too dry. I wasn’t pliable and it was impossible to roll out. On my second attempt, I tried a different recipe and thankfully it worked out. (Y’all I was loosing my patience). Instead of cutting cold butter into the flour and sugar mixture, the second recipe started off with room temperature butter. The recipe called for the room temperature butter to be creamed and for the flour and sugar added to the butter. That worked out a lot better!
After I was able to get the crust worked out, I moved on to the filling. Overall the filling was easy to make and it turned out to be super sweet (almost too sweet), rich and creamy.
Finally, the fruit. Towards the end of the process, I started to get a little lazy and I just plopped the strawberries on top. In hindsight I should have sliced them just to make the tart a little more esthetically pleasing.
Even though there are a few things I would tweak, I was extremely pleased with how this tart turned out and I would 100% serve this at a lunch or family dinner. Honestly this would be perfect for Mother’s Day!
– Using a crust recipe that called for room temp. butter. Starting off with softened butter made the crust more pliable and easy to work with.
– Lining the crust with a thin layer of warm jelly to create a moisture barrier that prevents the custard from making the tart shell soggy.
– Incorporating the lime as a topping/garnish. The custard was extremely sweet and the tartness of the lime helped to cut the sweetness.
What I Would Do Differently:
– I would make the custard less sweet. The recipe that I used called for 2/3cup of sugar however it said, “you can use a little more if you prefer” which led me to think that with 2/3cup of sugar ,the custard was going to have a subtle sweetness. Not the case. I could have easily used 1/3cup of sugar and have been okay.
– I would have whipped the egg yokes a little longer to make them lighter. Th custard was good (at one point I was eating it straight from the bowl) but I could have been a little less dense.
– Strawberries, raspberries and blackberries are standard tart toppings but next time I will consider using more tart fruits (especially if the custard is on the sweeter side) I like really like the juxtaposition of the sweet custard and the tart fruit. Kiwi and lime would be good options.
– This isn’t something I would necessarily do differently but I would be interesting to change up the flavors and make this a more “fall appropriate” recipe in the cooler months.. Instead of a plain vanilla custard, I would add a dash of cardamom and cinnamon to warm it up. Instead of fresh strawberries, I would opt for apples and pears (maybe even caramel drizzled apples and pears). Def. going to try this out closer to September. I’ll let y’all know how that works out.