My goal to write every day isn’t really happening but I don’t want to let perfect be the enemy of the good & give up completely. So I am going to try and keep up with the practice even though it may mean not posting everyday. C’est la vie!
Mr. Tucker and I ended up heading down to the basement to take stock of what we had in the freezers and on the shelves. This was partly an organizational exercise and partly a recon mission to figure out what we had to work with for future meals. Since the stay-at-home order we’re trying to spread out any trips we have to make & that means using what we have in meals instead of making extra trips. Meal planning is a good strategy but it only works if you know what you have.
I also want to see how things are going in terms of the things we canned from our garden and from local farms. Knowing what we eat in 6 months allows us to plan for next summer. We have to plan our garden for the spring soon and I would like to expand a bit. So hopefully this knowledge will help us figure out how to get the most bang for our buck.
For the freezers, my main goal is to see how much of our local meat we have go through. It looks like we will be getting a pig in March, which works because we are pretty low on the stock we had from last year. We already miscalculated our chickens which means that this summer we are going to have to double order. We bought too much beef last year and so we won’t have to buy more until the summer, so that’s a plus. My biggest regret was not buying more garlic from our CSA! I purchased 8lbs in September and if they last until the end of March, I will be surprised. Next year I am aiming to either buy 16lbs or see if growing them is feasible – maybe a combination of both! My garlic wasn’t fantastic this year but I could pay them more attention (aaaaaand I just learned I have to plant in fall. Oh well! I am happy to buy it!).
In the end, I have a lot more rice noodles and instant Pho bowls than I thought I had but very little in the way of Italian-style pasta. So until our next grocery pick-up it will be more Pad Thai and less pasta bake. We also have a ton of canned soup that my dad had brought us in the fall. So lunches will be a lot more soup and sandwich meals. Thankfully, my pickle canning endeavors were fruitful and our homemade pickles are not only amazing but we still have a lot, so those will go well with lunches.
In the end, I have three pages of inventory on my desk now and I can see at-a-glance what we have a lot of, what we have very little of, and what needs to last until we can replenish it. Whenever we make meals I update the inventory and that way we can get a variety of food in our diet without running out of things.
This weekend we will head down to our basement and tidy this storage room. It’s become pretty unwieldy as a junk room so between the four of us it should only take an hour or two to tidy, get rid of some things we don’t need & organize the rest. Poor Mr. Tucker is often in charge of managing our storage because I can’t get downstairs as easily. Now that he’s installed a second bannister I can head down and help.
We source our flour from a local farm so we do a lot of baking at home. We still have to buy organic white flour from a bulk store. We’ve had great luck with sourdough, ciabatta, baguette and focaccia but I’ve never found a whole wheat my family has LOVED. Until now! They absolutely love this whole wheat loaf and I think that is because the honey keeps it moist and gives it a bit of sweetness that works just as well with sandwiches as it does with jam. I find one batch a week works for a family of four.
Makes 2 large loaves
Part I: the sponge
• 3 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
• 2 TB yeast
• ¼ C cup honey
• 5 cups white flour
Part II: the dough
• 1/4 cup honey
• 1 tablespoon salt
• 3 -4 cups whole wheat flour
• 2 tablespoons butter, melted
Using the stand mixer with the dough hook attachment I mix all the ingredients from part I and then let it sit for ½ hour until bubbly. I then add all the ingredients from part II and mix it until it’s combined and let it sit for a few minutes until the water is absorbed into the flour. Then I run the machine for 10 minutes to knead the dough.
After 10 minutes I then remove the bowl from the mixer, cover, and let rise for 2 hours at room temperature until it has doubles in size. Grab two bread pans and line each pan with a piece of parchment that you’ve crunched up into a ball & then rinse the parchment under water so that it’s moist. Remove the dough to a clean, dry surface and cut in half. Take a half and grab a small piece, stretch it (without breaking it) & then fold it over to the middle. I find that this video on shaping sourdough is the best method that works for me. I shape the dough into a more oblong loaf for the bread pans.
Once the dough is in the pans, cover and let rise until doubled again, about 1-2 hours. At this point I usually prefer to pop the bread pans into the fridge to proof overnight but you can do it either way.
Preheat the oven to 350F & if you’d like, you can place a small metal bowl at the bottom of the oven to create steam. Once the oven is at temperature, I add about a cup of water to the bowl right before I insert the pans to help the loaves expand. Bake for 30 minutes (start checking at 25 minutes) or until the bread is nicely browned and sounds hollow. This recipe makes two large loaves and will keep for about a week at room temperature. If you don’t eat this much bread in a week, you can freeze one loaf for later. Never put bread in the fridge as it makes it taste stale
Mr. Tucker whipped up a bunch of this veggie bouillon for the freezer last weekend and it reminded me to share it here. It’s pretty versatile and while the original recipe is below, you could add any savoury vegetables or herbs and it’s pretty forgiving. I feel like dry mushrooms would be a fantastic addition.
Makes about four cups:
9oz (250 g) leek
7oz (200 g) fennel
7oz (200g) carrot
9oz (250g) celery root
2oz (50g) sun-dried tomatoes
2 or 3 garlic cloves
3 ½ (50g) parsley
3 ½ (50g) cilantro
¾ c fine sea salt
Put all the ingredients into the food processor and blend until you have a fairly thick paste. To use: combine 1 tsp of souper mix to 1 cup of water.
This recipe is from the River Cottage: Preserves book. I highly recommend both the series & the cookbooks!
One of the things that’s been great about meal planning is that we haven’t purchased takeout since November 27th. I hadn’t even realized that it has been over a month since we had stopped. If you remember, one of our NY resolutions was to not eat out and we did well until the summer where we fell back into the habit of ordering take-out again.
We’ve made the “decision” to not eat out in the past but we’ve never had a plan to deal with what was making us eat out in the first place. For us, it was a lack of planning and tiredness. Everyone knows that you shouldn’t grocery shop on an empty stomach but I think you should also not plan a meal at the end of a long, tiring day. For us, it was this that made us just throw our hands up in the air and say, “let’s just order in!” Undone by our own lack of foresight, again.
I can even remember what we ordered last – KFC. The eldest loves KFC and so it was her turn to choose. So we ordered delivery without realizing that our meal was to go through a 3rd party food delivery app until after it was processed. I had already had issues with Skip the Dishes – in the Bay area of all places! Ground zero for delivery apps! – where it wouldn’t accept the address I put in and instead just assumed an address based on the postal code. No matter how many times you change it, it just reverts back to the address the computer serves up. I swore right there and then not to use delivery apps anymore. So here I was again at the mercy of two platforms that don’t speak to each other (both KFC nor STD knew how to fix an order from their end) and I had the exact same problem as before: the system served up an address and didn’t take the address I put in. In the end, we had to get our cold chicken order from our neighbour’s front step. The delivery driver didn’t even check to see if someone was home. Never again.
On top of all of this we never even finished the leftovers, wasting a bunch of food after a terrible customer service experience. It left me questioning why we even bother. It takes just as long as cooking something, it’s way more expensive, it’s super unhealthy, and then we wasted a bunch of it.
This wasn’t anything new to me, though. I had often lamented that we were wasting money/health/food in the fridge on eating out but knowledge isn’t power without action. We had never done anything about it.
It was around this time that we had become serious about our 3-year plan (more on this coming soon). I knew that one of the easiest ways to save money was on those last-minute decisions to get takeout (and not drinking alcohol). So in order to change our current paradigm I needed to tackle the issue from a few angles in order to come up with a plan.
1- We inventoried our food: Mr. Tucker wrote down all we had stored in our freezers so that we could work from what we had. Since we buy our meat from local farmers having a list helps us get through to the next ordering period.
2- I made a list of all the meals we enjoy: having a document to refer to when I can’t remember what we can make with X, or when I am feeling uninspired helps so that we cycle through meals and not get bored.
3- I meal plan two weeks at a time: like the post I linked above says, we only shop every two weeks for fresh produce and I base our meals around what will go bad first. Using the inventory of things we already have on-hand allows me to buy only the produce we need. We also have stopped running out for ingredients we forgot to pick up.
4- I build easy meals into the plan: I usually plan a day or two of junkier food: those pizza and chicken nugget nights that are just heat-and-serve. I find by keeping these things in the freezer, it helps us on nights we can’t quite get it together.
Of course, it took some trial-and-error to get to where we are right now and I still anticipate the odd snag when I will cave and get Thai food. Still, here are a few other tips:
Pizza is cheaper than steak: if you find yourself exhausted at the end of a crazy week, try and order the cheapest take-out you can. Save the fancy food for when you have time to cook it at home. The more expensive the food, the quicker it will go soggy in the bag or overcook.
Frozen foods are your friends: there is a plethora of different take-out style options available in the frozen section of most grocery stores. A $3 frozen pizza is cheaper than a $10 takeout one.
Embrace the taco kit: honestly, the easiest meal in the world is a pound of ground meat (or ground round) and a taco kit. If you are feeling fancy, buy guac.
There are a million uses for rotisserie chicken: every grocery store sells them for under $10 and you can usually get 2 meals + out of them. You can use leftovers in wraps, casseroles, soups, chicken salad, pasta, in Caesar salads…it’s hard to find a better deal at the supermarket.
Don’t get me wrong – I love eating out – and there is nothing I love more than dropping mad cash on a really great meal experience (with wine pairing, natch. Man, I am going to miss that…). What I don’t want to do though is just order mediocre takeout (because let’s face it, a lot of it is mediocre) because I am being lazy. It’s been easier during the pandemic when we are all stuck at home anyway. I won’t lie: a lot of the changes we’ve made in the past little while we have made because the pandemic has given us a little boost. So in the same way that not traveling is easier when you can’t actually travel, not eating out is also easy when restaurants aren’t open. Still, even when the pandemic is over I hope that these habits will stick.
Since reading the Tightwad Gazette books starting when I was 18, I have been a huge fan of Amy Dacyczyn. Most of my financial and housekeeping skills have come from her books and I have read and re-read my copies so often that they are yellowed and falling apart. For the most part, she hasn’t steered me wrong (although, she was wrong about computers not becoming a big deal. No one is perfect!).
Because of this, I have been using “The Pantry Principal” my entire life: buying groceries to replenish my pantry as opposed to making a list of meals and then going out to buy the items on the list. The idea is that you only plan dinner for the next day the night before using anything in your fridge that may go bad. It’s sound logic. The problem is that we ultimately would forget to plan the day before and find ourselves staring at the fridge at 5pm wondering what we could possibly make. Inevitably this led to more take-out or crappy beige food. Food waste became an issue and naturally we were bleeding money.
Conversely, I have a friend who meal plans weekly. She uses the stuff they have on hand and then fills in around the edges with a grocery store run every week. All her take-out is planned and she rarely finds herself at 5pm digging for a frozen pizza. Pre-Covid, this worked especially well because she could see what the activity schedule was for the family and plan easier meals; sometimes it was even PB&J and carrot sticks in the back of the car on the way to hockey practice. But it still wasn’t fast food. She also seems to have a lot less food waste.
Of course, with the pandemic we are trying to limit trips to the store which means having to be better planners. Since we can’t just run out whenever we want, we’ve really tried to reduce our trips to one Costco run (medications & bulk), two produce store runs (fresh fruit and veg), one grocery store run (sauces/grains/milk etc), and one pharmacy run a month. This meant that I needed to work around our shopping schedule.
This past year we started buying local meat in bulk. We also started our first garden and canned a lot of food for the winter. This reminded me that The Tightwad Gazette had a really good inventory system to track garden produce so they wouldn’t eat too much of something and run out before garden season ramped back up again. Using that as a guide, I started tracking all of our freezer & canned goods to make sure we would spread their use to get through until the next bulk order was coming through.
So guided by my freezer and pantry inventory I came up with a plan. Every second Saturday I go through the inventory and plan our meals for the following two weeks. Mr. Tucker hits the produce store and buys all the veggies and fruits we need for that time. It may sound like two weeks is a long time and that food would go bad but not if you plan it right.
The key is to organize meals based on the life of the produce. So the first week may have a lot more salads, bean sprouts, green beans, as well as bananas and berries for snacks. The second week will see more apples, oranges, brassicas and root vegetables on the menu because they don’t go bad as quickly. Planning this way allows you a variety of foods in your diets but without the extra grocery trips.
Of course, the best laid plans means that sometimes we have way too many leftovers that not even lunch the next day will take care of. In that case, we just skip a meal. In fact, we didn’t have a Christmas dinner this year because we had too much food leftover from Réveillon! Every Christmas eve our family does small food (hors d’oeuvres such as mini quiches, sausage rolls etc) and a tourtière. Well, this year we miscalculated and ended up with way more food than we could eat in a night. So the next day Mr. Tucker and I decided to skip the ham dinner we had planned and just eat leftovers. We ended up making our huge meal on the 26th instead. So when that happens, you can just push meals off to the next day. At the end of the two weeks you will end up with a> a brassica which will either keep or that you can freeze, b> a root vegetable which keeps a long time, c> or you just move the last meal from this two week period to the first meal of the next two week period.
I know this sounds like much ado about food but honestly, this has been a game-changer for us. We haven’t eaten out since November, we are never left staring at the fridge wondering what to make, we waste less food, we don’t make unnecessary trips and our grocery bill has gone down. In the end, I needed to realize that even the best ideas from people I trust may not be right for me and my family. I wish I had realized sooner that this was a better way to plan meals. I guess like many things we’ve learned over the past year, it only took a pandemic to make me realize that I needed to switch things up.
This is an email I started sending around to friends when I gave them some of my sourdough starter. I’ve had my starter for over two years now and we’ve been enjoying baking it regularly. I am thrilled to see people get more into old-timey crafts these days and I am always happy to share starter or answer questions
Welcome to sourdough baking! It seems like a lengthy email but I have put in a bit of troubleshooting and tips I’ve learned along the way in the email. Sourdough is often seen as super complicated but honestly, it doesn’t have to be! If you feed the beast once a week and keep it in the fridge it’s a super simple way to bake. Honestly, the best way to actually learn sourdough is to just do it. I know it seems daunting but at the very core, it’s just flour/water/salt once you get into the habit of knowing your starter (which is just something you pick up over time) it will take you 5 minutes a week to keep the beast alive.
Keeping the beast alive – tips and tricks:
Now that you have the starter, keep it in a glass or plastic container and keep it in the fridge. I use a 1L mason jar and put a plastic bag over it because I don’t want to explode a container with the gasses. By keeping your starter in the fridge you only have to feed it once a week & even then you can stretch that out. To feed it, eyeball the amount in your jar and add 1/2 water and 1/2 flour to the starter. So, for example, if you feel that it looks like there is 1 cup of starter in your jar, to feed it you just add 1/2 c flour and 1/2 c water (filtered or distilled is best. You can make distilled water by just leaving a bowl of water out overnight so the chlorine evaporates). Mix it up, stick it back in the fridge and let it sit for another week.
During the sitting period your starter will get a watery, greyish top on it. It should smell a bit boozy and a bit vinegary. That is the hooch and it doesn’t mean your starter is bad. Just mix the hooch back in before feeding your starter. If it smells mouldy, then it’s bad. If you aren’t sure, just feed it and let it sit on the counter for awhile. If it makes sweet smelling bubbles, your starter is fine.
If you haven’t baked in awhile but you’ve been feeding your starter, you may see your container getting too full. To manage this, you will want to mix in the hooch and then ditch a bunch of it before feeding it. That way you won’t overflow your jar and your starter will stay healthy. I usually will pour half into the compost bin. I keep my starter pretty full because we often will bake up to four loaves at a time, you obviously may want to make less.
If you are like me and have forgotten to feed your starter, oh, say, for almost two weeks by accident you will need to feed it a couple of days in a row before using it. I usually mix in the hooch, feed it, and then stick it in the fridge overnight & then repeat the next day (ditching half of the starter if your container is too full). By the third morning I feed it again, let it sit for 4 hours & then make my bread. You can sometimes get away with only two days of feeding but expect your loaves to be a little flatter (but still delish!). I can actually spread this out over a week as well if I realize I haven’t fed it in awhile. If I want to bake Saturday but realize on Monday I haven’t fed it in awhile, I will feed it, say, Monday/Wednesday/Saturday morning.
Often you will see recipes that say that on the day you want to bake that you should feed your starter and let it sit for four hours before starting your recipe. Since I am lazy AF, I usually feed the starter the night before I want to bake, stick it in the fridge & then the next morning take it out and let it warm up to room temperature (app 1 hour) before starting my recipe. I hate waiting so it’s nice to wake up, pour a coffee, take the starter out of the fridge and by the time I have finished two coffees, I am ready to start my bread before the day gets crazy.
(I also do an 100% whole wheat using this same recipe)
I have always had success with this recipe from Patrick Ryan. I’ve added baking instructions below but if you need to create starter, click through and this link has all the info you need from start to finish.
I have made the approximate measures in cups/tsps but obviously it’s not as good as baking with a scale. Sourdough can be a bit more finicky based on the starter but I find the weights a bit more forgiving so it should work.
(Makes 2 loaves. Halve the amounts for a single loaf)
• 800g strong white flour (6 3/8 cups app)
• 10g salt (2 tsp)
• 460ml water
• 320g sourdough starter (1 1/4 cups)
• Add the flour to a clean mixing bowl. Mix the salt through the flour. Add the water and sourdough starter to the flour. Combine all the ingredients together to form a rough dough.
• Turn the dough out on to a clean surface and knead for approximately 10 minutes or until the windowpane effect has been achieved. The dough should be smooth, soft and elastic.
• When kneading, do not worry if the dough is slightly wet or sticky. Resist the temptation to add any extra flour. (important!)
• Return the dough to the mixing bowl, cover with a towel and allow the dough to prove for 4 hours at room temperature.
• After 4 hours turn the dough onto a clean work surface and knock the dough back. Knocking back the dough simple involves knocking the air from the dough which helps to equalise the temperature within the dough.
• Form the dough into a tight round ball.
To prove & bake using a proving basket (aka banneton):
• Prepare a proving basket by lightly dusting with flour. Place the dough, seamed side facing up, into the proving basket. Loosely cover the proving basket with a clean tea towel and leave to prove for another 3 – 3½ hours.
• Alternatively, to prove overnight for baking first thing in the morning, place into a fridge and leave overnight.
• Using a fridge reduces the temperature of the dough allowing it to prove slower and longer which allows for a greater development of flavour within the dough but also increasing its digestibility. As dough ferments or proves the gluten within the dough breaks down. The longer a dough is allowed to prove the more flavour it will contain and the easier it is for your body to digest. (this is my favourite way to prove the dough. I sometimes won’t start my loaves until late in the day, which allows me to finish my dough right before bed. I just stick them in the fridge overnight and let them warm up to room temperature – app 1 hour – before baking. If you need to quicken the pace, you can stick your loaves in the oven with a bowl of boiling water for 20 mins/1/2 hour and then taking them out before preheating your oven).
• To bake, preheat your oven to 230°C / 210°C fan assisted (445°F / Gas 8). Place a shallow baking tray into the bottom of the oven to preheat with the oven.
• Carefully turn your dough out from the proving basket onto a baking tray dusted with flour (the domed side with the indentations from the proving basket should now be facing up and the seamed side on the baking tray).
• Using a sharp knife cut the surface of the dough, this is what is known as the baker’s signature (I use sharp scissors, it’s not perfect but it works). The dough can be cut up to ½ cm deep. (This isn’t just for aesthetics, scoring the bread also helps control where and how it rises while baking). if your dough seems particularly flat/not as spongy, don’t cut it. That will give it a bigger rise.
• Boil a kettle of water then pour the boiled water into the dish that was preheated in the bottom of the oven, this will create steam in the oven while baking.
• Place the baking tray with the sourdough into the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a good crust has formed and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the base.
Alternatively, if you do not have a proving basket, you can use a large glass casserole dish to prove and bake your sourdough. I also will often cover my boules with metal bowls and bake them for 25-30 mins and then take off the bowls and bake until the crust browns (10 mins). This traps the steam in and encourages the boules to rise a lot higher than they would otherwise.
To prove & bake using a Pyrex dish (this also works spectacularly with enamel cast iron):
• Line a 2.5l round Pyrex dish with a clean tea towel and dust with flour. Place the formed ball of dough into the Pyrex dish lined with the floured tea towel then place the lid (the inside of the lid lightly greased and floured) on the Pyrex dish. Leave to prove for another 3 – 3½ hours.
• Alternatively, to prove overnight for baking first thing in the morning, place into a fridge and leave overnight.
• The reason for using a Pyrex dish is that it acts like a proving basket. The dish acts as a support to your dough. It encourages the dough the take on the shape of the dish and to prove up and not just to spread out flat. The dough will also be baked in the Pyrex dish.
• Using a fridge reduces the temperature of the dough allowing it to prove slower and longer which allows for a greater development of flavour within the dough but also increasing its digestibility. As dough ferments or proves the gluten within the dough breaks down. The longer a dough is allowed to prove the more flavour it will contain and the easier it is for your body to digest.
• To bake, preheat your oven to 230°C / 210°C fan assisted (445°F / Gas 8).
• Flip the Pyrex dish over so the bowl of the Pyrex dish now becomes the lid. Carefully remove the tea towel.
• Using a sharp knife cut the surface of the dough, this is what is known as the baker’s signature. The dough can be cut up to ½ cm deep. (This isn’t just for aesthetics, scoring the bread also helps control where and how it rises while baking)
• Cover the dough with the bowl of the Pyrex dish and place the Pyrex dish into the preheated oven.
• By baking the dough in the Pyrex dish there is no need to steam the oven. Baking with a lid on the Pyrex dish creates its own steam which will allow the dough to rise and open up while baking. The Pyrex is very similar to the old style of Dutch oven baking.
• Bake for 25 minutes then remove the lid from the Pyrex dish and continue to bake, uncovered, for a further 25 minutes until a good crust has formed and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the base.
• Once baked remove the bread from the Pyrex dish and allow to cool.
Notes: if you have a breadmaker I find using the dough-only setting makes it easy for the actual mixing/first proving . If you have a stand mixer, that works too for the mixing part.
In the end, just play around with it! Some loaves will be fantastic, some will flop. Add olive oil! Herbs! Cheese! Play around with making cinnamon buns and waffles. The options are really endless and once you’ve got the basics down you won’t lose the skill.