Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Rethinking Convenience Food

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Cooking from scratch doesn't necessarily come to mind when one thinks of convenience foods. We have been trained for several generations to purchase ready-made goods. It started out innocent enough, but now people are yearning to go back to an earlier time and sets of skills and do more for themselves. Whether it be cooking, gardening, farming, or other lost skills it's all the same, we thought we were saving time and ended up getting busier and busier with no time (we were told) to do for ourselves. But really we lost a lot by not paying attention. I call myself Throwback for a reason. I am a throwback to an earlier time, when tasks like cooking, sewing and all the ins and outs of gardening were common knowledge. I'll give the luck of the draw some credit, I grew up on a farm, my parents were older and still kept some of the old ways, likewise with their circle of friends. My husband and I joke that our habits are so old, that they're in again.

As I prepared soup for dinner today, I went about my work gathering ingredients. We grow most of our food and preserve the harvest in a multitude of ways to last us through the dark days until the growing season starts in earnest.

You know, it sure is convenient to just go to the fruit room, freezer or root cellar and go shopping for meal preparation. I grabbed home canned roasted tomatoes, garlic, onions and potatoes from dry storage, ground beef, peppers, cilantro pesto and corn from the freezer, and grabbed a quart of chicken stock from the fridge. This task made me realize just how convenient it is to have great ingredients on hand to prepare meals with. We grow our own, but if you're not there yet with your pantry stocking from your gardens, you can still load your pantry with purchased goods. The key is having it on hand. Many good meals have been made on the spur of the moment - as long as you have the basics you're good to go.

I guess what I want to say is, if you're a new cook or gardener slaving away trying to master the skills, it's worth it. We need to rethink the idea of convenience food, nothing is more convenient than having good food on hand for preparing a home cooked meal.

Here is the recipe for our dinner made possible by our pantry and my guess and by gosh cooking. This recipe is just a general idea that can be changed to match what you have on hand. In the summer my chilies, corn and cilantro are fresh, in the winter the freezer stores have to do. Pork or chicken are good in this soup too - just use what you have. This recipe is convenient too because of the long cooking time, I can leave this to cook on the back of the woodstove, or even in the slow cooker if I wanted to. Truly convenient.

Beef Stew with Cilantro

1 pound ground beef or stew meat
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup coconut oil or butter
1 quart whole canned tomatoes
1 pint roasted whole tomatoes
1 quart chicken or beef stock
2 pounds potatoes, coarsely chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 or 3 anaheim chiles, chopped
1/3 cup chopped cilantro or cilantro pesto
1 cup frozen corn
sugar to taste - 1 teaspoon or not?
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

In large saucepan over medium high heat, brown onion, garlic and chopped pepper in 1/4 cup coconut oil or butter. When onions are caramelized, add meat and cook until brown. Remove meat and alliums from pan and set aside. Over medium heat in same pan, add all other ingredients, bring to boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, add meat and alliums. Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours over low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove the cover and simmer for an additional 30 minutes. Serve. Much better the next day.


erin @ from city to farm said...

Agreed! My husband and I are on the journey to where you are with grow-your-own. We moved from urban NJ to RURAL SW VA. Nothing is close, and that's why we chose it. The stars are ridiculous without the light pollution!

But on to the food. We have chickens that lay beautiful brown eggs, and our dairy goat should be in milk mid-May. We're a bit behind on the garden still, but last year we joined a CSA and this year we're supporting the CSA again, and we'll have a hoop house for our own veggies.

Even now, with just the eggs, and what we put aside from the CSA, plus some bulk pork from our neighbors fall husband says it's amazing the dinner I can create "from nothing".

But it's not, it's just a well stocked pantry that creates delicious and easy meals. My mother is amazed that we don't eat out anymore (we used to at least one meal a day), but it really hasn't been that difficult, since the TRUE convenience is making dinner at home. It's helpful that the closest good restaurant is 30 min one way...

Now if only those dishes would do themselves. ;)

Hopewell said...

I think of "convenience food" as stuff like canned diced tomatoes (homegrown or store bought) or dried pasta. I have a stash of "fast" homemade dinners that help in a rush. Anything is better than sodium and preservative laden packages of so-called food!

Hazel said...

And the more you eat 'home convenience' food the less you want the ready-to-eat supermarket stuff.

DH and I used to treat ourselves to the odd (top end) ready meal, or keep them in the freezer for busy times, but the last time I had one (years ago) I just thought I could make better for less money. So I did! The same goes for cheap restaurants so beloved of my father and father-in-law (because they heap your plate with food and so = good value in their head).

Grace said...

Gardening and canning taught me about real convenience food. How wonderful to have my own soups, beans, veggies, and meats ready to be turned into delicious, easy, healthy and quick meals. The more I put in my pantry, the easier my crazy rush-home-after-work-gotta-put-a-meal-on-the-table routine gets.

denimflyz said...

My pantry is stocked with all of my produce from my garden, that I so lovingly grew, and canned myself. I am so proud of the fact I can go in and pull a few things off of the shelf, and ta-da, dinner. I pressured canned beef broth, chick broth, turkey broth and meats the last few weekends, and I have canned meats. I just buy on sale, or barter and what I don't grow in my garden, I barter with my herbs I do grow. I am a member of my farmer's market and I can get just about anything.
My family and I do not eat out, period, it is inferior, and way too expensive where I live.
When I talk to people about what I do, they just say, "I don't have time at all". I call it lazy. I take care of 3 disabled family members, and I am disabled also, and I can on the weekends and get it done. Yes, its work, but its so blessed in the winter when you go into your pantry and it magic.
My grandparents were depression era, and also Amish, so I was so thankful I was taught old ways years ago, and just had to brush up on some things and away I went, and learned as I worked. I am planning soap making and a few other lost arts this year and I will learn as I go there also...The adventure continues...

Chris said...

I got a call late this morning from the school nurse today: my daughter had an earache. I picked her up from school and while she took a hot shower, I made up a batch of oniony-garlicy-gingery chicken soup with broth, leftover roast chicken, and carrots from the fridge. So glad I didn't have to take a sick kid to the store for the "convenient" (and no where near as nutritious) canned soup...

Linda Woodrow said...

I did a post last winter about Picking Up Something For Dinner that starts with "Out in the garden this morning in the rain, little grizzle about picking in the cold and wet, until I remembered – no visit to the supermarket after work, no trying to find parking close enough to avoid getting drenched, no queues of tired and grumpy people. Just this lovely quiet of a misty morning with trees all sparkling with raindrops and happy frogs calling." Nothing more convenient in the world.

dixiebelle said...

We have just bought a pressure canner, so now we can have 'home cooked' convenience!

Brittany said...

I so very much agree with you. We also get to skip and the junk that is now added to so called convenience foods. At home, homemade from scratch is real convenience :o)