Category Archives: Cooking 101

Bean Prep: Sorting and Rinsing

Beans seem to be a recurring topic here, but why not?  They’re frugal, nutritious, and so versatile.  And they can even be sprouted for more nutrition – but that’s another post.  Today I just want to talk about the prep work involved BEFORE the cooking starts.


For my non-bean-converted friends: are you intimidated by the steps involved in preparing beans?  Or do you just think you don’t like the taste? 


I wish I had some great segue here, but I don’t – I really just hope to remove the intimidation.  I’ve loved beans ever since I can remember, so I can only urge you to keep trying them different ways.  Baked beans, chicken tortilla soup, and white chili are some ideas to get you started.  And you already like hummus, right?


If you’re new to using dried beans, sorting might be the most confusing step.  It doesn’t take long, and it can be kinda fun (especially if you have some OCD tendencies.)  There are many ways you can do this, but here are some methods I’ve used in the past:


– Take small handfuls and inspect carefully


– Spread the beans out in one layer on the counter or in a large flat pan with sides (like a jelly roll pan) so you can see all the beans (and any foreign objects) all at once


– If you’re using a slow cooker, you can pour the beans onto the clear glass lid and spot the misfits pretty easily (although you can’t tell in this picture):




Here are a few things I sorted out of some pintos awhile back:




Those black pebbles are commonly found in a lot of beans, but you DEFINITELY want to fish them out – the one time I didn’t sort my beans, I ended up with a really gritty-tasting soup because those pebbles are concentrated field dirt.  I usually find more in black beans than any other type of bean – maybe they’re sorted with optical scanning equipment so they get by because they appear to be beans?  That’s my theory anyway.


I also look for beans that are small and shriveled, excessively dirty (like a black spot covering a whole side of a white bean), or otherwise look old and mishandled.  Beans that are old won’t cook as well and won’t taste as good.


The next step – rinsing – is fairly straight forward.  You can put the beans into a large sieve or colander and run under the tap to clean them well.  This is not optional, unless you’re cool with consuming a nice layer of “field dust,” which could include insect droppings, dirt, etc.  A good rinse will remove a lot of this, and the next step should remove the rest.


Soaking — the final step — is also easy, but requires a little more forethought.  It becomes mindless pretty quickly, though, once you work all of this into your  weekly kitchen routine.  I will discuss this in more detail in another post.


Do you have a favorite bean recipe?  I’m always looking for new ones!


Seasoning Salt

What a crazy week!  Monday through Wednesday is always a roller coaster, but this week it spilled into Thursday.  At least we’re only about ten weeks away from Husband’s summer vacation.


The kitchen fun, however, never stops.  Never.  In addition to breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I’m working on growing a kombucha SCOBY using this method.  (Not much to look at right now — it’s wrapped up in that jar next to the stove.)




And I made a batch of these low-carb egg, bacon, and cheese coconut flour muffins.  What a great grain-free discovery!  They definitely do not taste gluten-free.




For the kids, I made this granola, swapping muscovado sugar for the brown sugar.  Thanks for telling me about this awesome recipe, CF!  There’s no picture because it disappeared before I could get the camera.


Now for a recipe I’ve been meaning to post for awhile – seasoning salt.  I have only ever used seasoning salt for one thing – potatoes – but it is quite essential when I make fries or hash browns, which seems to happen almost every day (usually at breakfast).  The commercial versions have a variety of unsavory elements – MSG, refined sugar, “natural” and artificial flavors and colors, and fillers.  It is super easy, though, to make your own version that is inexpensive and tailored to your tastes.  The recipe below works well for us, but you may want to play around with it until it is just right for you.


Seasoning Salt


3 tbsp sea salt

1 tbsp paprika

1 tbsp oregano

1 tbsp onion powder (make sure it’s pure onion, no additives)

¼ tsp ground sage

¼ tsp ground mustard

Dash of achiote powder


Combine all the ingredients and store in a spice jar.  Yep, that’s it.  Is that too easy to be a recipe?  Maybe, but it had to be shared.  If you have a combination you like better, let me know about it!  A lot of people add a sweetener, for instance, but one time I forgot and it still tasted fine. 




This is the only spice combination I throw together to keep on hand; everything else I like to do as a dish is being prepared.  Do you have a spice combination you like to prepare at home?

Part of the Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap and the Scrumptious Sunday Recipe Swap.

Kitchen Prep/Baking Day

I’m not very organized with a lot of things, but over the last six months I’ve forced myself to make a weekly menu plan, stick to my grocery list (I’ve always made one, just never stuck to it), figure out what prep work is involved in the week’s food, and set aside time once or twice each week for food preparation.  If I don’t do these things, I find that we not only spend more money on food and create more food waste, but we also don’t eat as healthfully. 


I make no claims to having it “all figured out,” but having a few hours each week dedicated to kitchen prep has been such a blessing.  Here are some things typically involved in some of my kitchen prep days:


– First, make sure all the ingredients are on hand and locate all necessary storage containers.  This is important because it really sucks to go through all this effort just to find you don’t have a way to properly store everything.  I use three-cup sized plastic storage bowls (yeah, plastic is bad, but I can’t afford anything else right now) for darn near everything, so I usually have to sweep the kitchen beforehand to locate bowls that are holding things that could really be kept in a smaller container.  I never seem to have enough three-cup containers!


– Chop vegetables that won’t turn within three days.  I have two prep days during the week, so I only need to do enough work on each one to last half the week.  This usually involves chopping a couple onions, some celery, carrot, and bell pepper.  I don’t prepare garlic way ahead of time because it loses too much potency.  Also, when I buy celery, I dice the whole thing the first time I need some and store it in the freezer – I only ever use to sauté into a soup base or  to add to a roast, so I don’t need the crunch.  The vegetable scraps are saved for making vegetable stock or to add to a bone broth.


– Pull any items out of the freezer that I will need to use in the next three days.  I have to make a conscious effort to do this, or else it will be late afternoon before I realize the chicken or whatever isn’t thawed.  This is mainly because I prefer frozen items to thaw slowly in the refrigerator; meat that has been “quick-thawed” doesn’t taste right to me.


– Roast a whole chicken for dinner.  Prepping a chicken (or leg of lamb, pork roast, etc.) to roast in the oven is quick work and ensures a hot meal will be ready when you’re worn out after all the kitchen prep you’re doing.  It also guarantees you’ll have the raw materials for making a large batch of bone broth afterwards.


– Start soaking beans, seeds, etc. for cooking or sprouting.  Sprouting is new for me – I only started doing this a month ago – but it’s so easy!  I’ve sprouted chickpeas and lentils so far, and I’m going to try almonds or chia seeds next.  But that’s another post…


– Portion out and season meat for the freezer.  Sometimes I find really good deals on grass-fed ground beef, so I buy lots of it and separate it into ¾ pound portions or make hamburger patties.  For the hamburgers, I season them appropriately, shape them, and place them all in a freezer storage bag separated by wax paper.  Very convenient!


I’ve also been trying to establish a baking day – or at least add it into my general kitchen prep time.  Right now I just bake whenever I have the whim or whenever we run out of bread.  Last weekend I really had the baking bee in my bonnet, though, because I made two batches (that’s ten loaves, y’all) of freshly-milled wheat-spelt sandwich bread and a batch of banana muffins.  It’s kind of hard to reconcile baking with the general kitchen prep, though, because this is how my kitchen looks after an intense baking session:






What do you do in the way of kitchen prep?  I’d love to hear any suggestions!

Part of the Real Food Wednesdays blog carnival at Kelly the Kitchen Kop and Works-for-me Wednesday at We Are THAT Family.

Well-Seasoned: As Important in Cookware as in Cooking

I cook.  A lot.  Like, at least twice per day – breakfast and dinner for sure, and sometimes I have to heat stuff up at lunch, too.  So my pots and pans get abused!  They don’t get thrown in the dishwasher or anything, but I can tell you that I’ve had to do the terrible soak/scrub/repeat on the pan I scramble eggs in WAY too many times lately.  Then the epiphany happened, and all was suddenly clear: I’d ruined that crucial, seasoned layer on my precious cookware!


There are many reasons to season cookware, but the most pressing one for me is that I don’t want to put extra labor into scrubbing burnt eggs and potatoes off of my pans.  All that scrubbing is actually contributing to the loss of that beautiful seasoned layer – in fact, a well-seasoned pan should not have to be scrubbed too much or washed with soap – and a well-maintained, seasoned pan will just get better with use.  (This is what I hear, anyway – my pans inevitably get a hasty scrub from me or someone else.)


Here are some things to consider when seasoning (or re-seasoning) your stainless steel or cast iron cookware:


         Pots and pans should be seasoned with a fat you would want to consume – so don’t use vegetable (soybean) oil unless you would use it in cooking.


         Good (traditional) seasoning fat choices include palm oil, lard, and chicken fat.  You just want the fat to have a high smoke point.


         If your cookware is coated with a non-stick surface like Teflon, you cannot season it.  You shouldn’t be using it anyway, though, because you’re leaching cancerous chemicals into your food!  (Confession: I still have a non-stick griddle I whip out every once in awhile for pancakes.  My denial is based upon the fact that no metal utensil has ever touched it – only a plastic spatula – so I ignore the fact that the Teflon and the plastic are harmful in anyway.  Perhaps this admission will be my turning point.)


Seasoning your cookware is also really easy.  All you need is the fat of your choice (I used organic palm fruit shortening), a paper towel, an oven or stove top, and the cookware that needs seasoning.  The cookware must be completely clean and thoroughly dry.


1.  Using your fingers, spread the oil/fat liberally over the entire cooking surface.  How much is liberally?  Well, I tried to photograph it, but this makes it seem like the oil is in hills.




Really, the oil covers everything, and there is enough on the pan that there is extra in some places (where you can actually see the white).


2.  Heat the pan.  I did this on the stove, but an oven works well, too, especially for that very first seasoning – the one you do before you use them the very first time.  Keep the heat on until the oil starts to smoke – then remove from heat and allow to cool completely.




3. With a paper towel, rub the oil in well, making sure to wipe out any excess.  It should look very shiny, like this:





My cast iron skillet could probably use more seasoning, too, but I’ll do that another day.  Ah…procrastination!

Vegetable Stock

With all my talk of bone broth, I thought I should add that I do still make vegetable broth.  I don’t, however, use meat and vegetable broth completely interchangeably. Let me explain.


If I’m making a meatless dish, I use a bone broth as the base, since I’m seeking to boost the nutrition.  Also, Husband gets the impression he’s eating meat when he tastes meat flavor and doesn’t complain about having to eat another bean soup.  I don’t do this when preparing meals for vegetarians, though, because I’m not that much of a jerk.


The vegetable broth gets used when I need a base for a meal that does contain meat.  You see, we don’t go through enough meat for me to make enough bone broth to cover every meal in between.  Tonight, for instance – I’m making Chicken Tortilla Soup.  Since I’m including chicken in the soup, it makes more sense for my budget to use vegetable broth.  I would use the chicken broth for this if I could, but then I would run out sooner.  Since I won’t (really, can’t) use packaged broths, it just makes sense for me to find a way to stretch it.  I have been known to take chicken carcasses from other people, though – thanks, TR!


If you’ve never made vegetable broth before, it is incredibly easy.  Even easier than bone broth!  Just not as nutritious, of course, so I only use it for flavor.  Here are the steps:


1) Save all your vegetable scraps.  Anytime I dice an onion, mince some garlic, peel a carrot – I add the scraps to a plastic bag I keep in the freezer door.  Anything can be saved, even if it’s a part you don’t normally eat (like onion skin or a carrot top), just make sure there are no signs of spoilage.  If you see mold, then it goes straight to the compost pile.


2) When you need the stock for a soup, just throw all the scraps into a stock pot or slow cooker and cover with water.  The stock pot is the better way to go for this one, since it doesn’t have to simmer as long (just until the color is deep enough for your liking).  Just like the bone broth, however, you’ll heat the water until it starts to boil, then turn it down to a simmer.  In as little as an hour or two, you can have a very flavorful stock.


Here is what it looks like before when you throw everything in:




I used my slow cooker that time because I was using my stock pot for something else.  I don’t usually care about having it too deeply infused, though, just enough to impart some flavor, so afterward it looks like this:


This is a really bad picture.

This is a really bad picture.


That is today’s batch, which has some cilantro in it that was past its prime.  It will lend some great flavor to my Mexican-inspired soup tonight.  I don’t add salt or pepper to my stocks, since that can all be done when the actual meal is made.  Fresh herbs are a great touch, though, if you have some that are not so pretty anymore.

Why Roasting A Whole Chicken Rocks

It’s been a busy week, so luckily I’ve been able to get by eating leftovers.  I had to roast my chicken tonight, though, or else it would’ve gone bad and I wouldn’t have been able to make broth for other meals!


I’m pretty new to this buying –a-whole-chicken-and-stretching –it sort of thing.  My years of vegetarianism have given me an aversion to raw meat that I just can’t shake.  Nonetheless, I stand by the frugality and superior nutrition of buying a whole chicken and making homemade broth.  It is so much cheaper than buying boneless, skinless breasts and cartons of “broth” – especially since the stuff they’re calling broth is really full of chemicals and additives.  Yes, even the organic, free-range stuff is – just check out the ingredient list for the stuff I used to buy a 12-pack of at Costco.  Also, once you taste real broth, the boxed stuff will smell strange to you.  Or worse – it won’t smell like food at all.  I speak from personal experience here. J


First, here is how I roast chicken:


After rinsing and drying the whole chicken, take the giblet pack out of the cavity.  Eew!  I really have to talk myself through these first few steps!  Inside the cavity, I stuff in some chopped carrots, celery, onion, and rosemary.  Garlic would be good, too, but today I forgot.  Then I squeeze some fresh lemon juice into the cavity, and lay the bird down into the roasting pan.  Add olive oil and some water to the roasting pan – not too much, you don’t want to boil or steam it – then add some chopped potatoes and more chopped carrots to the pan.  Top it all with generous sprinklings of your favorite poultry spices – I used salt, pepper, sage, marjoram, and thyme – and cook it in a 375 degree oven until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.  Here is a picture of the whole set-up before being cooked:




Then take off the lid and let it brown and crispify (I just made up that word) to your liking.  Not too long, of course, since you don’t want to be left with a dry bird.  Here is where I’m supposed to insert an after cooking picture, but somehow that one is not showing up on the memory card.  So you’ll have to use your imagination.  It did taste pretty yummy, though, and I think my dinner guests would affirm.  Let’s just see if she leaves a comment…


After a lovely roasted chicken dinner, collect all the bones and other inedibles and throw them into a slow cooker.  You’ll probably have some good chicken leftover, too, so just remove all of it from the bones and store accordingly.  I’ve planned this week’s meals around the leftovers, but I should still have a whole meal portion left even after that (I typically get about four meals out of a whole chicken) that will go in the freezer or get made into chicken salad for lunch.  I’m not much of a chicken eater (go figure!), so I’ll probably just freeze it. 


After all the bones are in the crock pot, fill it with water and turn it onto the high setting until it starts to boil.  Then turn it down to low and let it go overnight.  In the morning, turn it off and let it cool first to room temperature, then put it in the refrigerator to solidify the fat.  The fat can then be skimmed off and used in cooking or simply discarded.  I go with option number two.  Divide the broth into whatever portions fit your needs – for me, it’s about two cups – and freeze for future use.  Unless you will be using them within a few days, like I will with the Chicken Tortilla Soup I’m making tomorrow.


I paid $4.60 for this chicken from Whole Foods – they had a special last week where it was 99 cents/pound.  Four meals’ worth of chicken and four meal-sized servings of bone broth is an awesome value for this price!  It was a great value even when I paid $15 for my local chicken, so there is no way I can go back to buying chicken and broth the old way.  Now I just have to get a certain friend of mine to start raising chickens…

Aiding the Digestion of Beans

I got some comments about asafoetida’s anti-flatulent properties, so I thought it would be useful to list other natural ways to increase the digestability of beans. 


First – and most important – is proper soaking.  We already know this, though, right?  I actually learned about this from my mom who does this every time she makes beans, and she probably learned it from my grandma who also did it.  I can’t say that my family is all about traditional food preparation, but this has always been a non-negotiable.  The quick soak isn’t, in my opinion, worthwhile, because a long soak (preferably 24 hours, at least 12) is gentler on the beans, preserves more nutrients, and gives the finished product the best texture.  In a pinch, I’d rather use canned beans (though not as economical and the lining of the can has BPA if they’re not Eden Organic brand).  I should probably get over this all-or-nothing mentality and just opt for the quick soak when it’s needed, though. J


In addition to asafoetida, there are other herbs that aid in the digestion of beans.  Some of the more common ones are savory, turmeric, and ginger.  Less common is epazote, which is used in southwestern cooking.  I’ve never used epazote, but my favorite vegetarian chef, Deborah Madison, is a big fan.  I finally found it at my local Whole Foods (after several months of searching!), but I haven’t had room in the food budget lately for a new herb.  Kombu (dried seaweed) is used as a digestive aid in Japanese cooking, but I’ve never tried that, either.  Perhaps with some adzuki beans, though?


Fermenting the beans with some vinegar, lemon juice, or whey also helps break down some of the gas-producing sugars.  Even better, letting them sprout will increase their nutrition while further breaking down the complex sugars.  Not all beans are


I’ve heard people say that the more often you eat beans, the more your body becomes accustomed to them, thus reducing any indigestion that may occur.  I’m not sure how true this is, though, because Husband eats all the bean meals that I eat and still has trouble digesting them.  I don’t always add herbs that will neutralize that effect, and I usually have no problems.  So I guess we’re all just different?



How do you improve the digestability of your beans?