7 Tips for Healthy Home Cooking

For the past 15 years, I’ve been on a mission to create healthy, wholesome meals at home. In some ways it’s much easier now than when I started. For instance, I usually cook without recipes or measuring cups, which saves a lot of time. And I pretty much don’t have to menu plan or make grocery lists like I used to. However, some things take just as much effort, like prepping vegetables, cooking, cleaning dishes, sweeping and mopping, cleaning out the fridge and pantry, taking out the compost and trash, etc. etc. etc. But I am convinced the benefits of cooking at home outweigh the burden of the extra work it involves. AND I think it would be great to have a housekeeper!

My post today focuses on some ways to be more efficient in the kitchen and stay ahead of the curve, so that you can sustain the practice of making great meals at home without getting overwhelmed. Healthy, wholesome meals begin with an organized, well-stocked kitchen. So here are my favorite tips for healthy home cooking!

Tip # 1: Clean out the refrigerator.

Before your main grocery shop of the week, take everything out of the fridge, one shelf at a time, and wipe down surfaces. Consolidate items that are still good and put back in appropriate shelf or bin. Discard anything that has spoiled or is about to spoil.

Tip # 2. Freeze vegetable scraps to use for making stock another day.

While cleaning out refrigerator, collect the vegetables that will not last another week but still have life to them. Include vegetables such as: carrots, scallions, garlic, chopped onion, celery and celery leaves, winter squash, shiitake mushrooms, and parsley (including stems). Do not include cruciferous vegetables, beets, or asparagus. When you have a little time at home, say in the evenings or the weekends, you can make a vegetable stock by throwing 1-2 quart-sized freezer bags full of frozen veggie scraps into a large pot. Fill with cold, filtered water and bring to a boil. Add a few whole peppercorns and bay leaf, if desired. Simmer for 30-45 minutes, then strain out vegetables and compost. Remaining liquid is your vegetable stock. You can also add frozen veggie scraps to bone broth after it has cooked for 1-2 days. Simply add the veggie scraps and cook another 30-45 minutes, then strain out all the solids at once. 

Tip #3. Create a standard grocery list with staples you use regularly.

Having a standard list of staple pantry and produce items on your phone or computer can be really handy to produce a shopping list for your main trip to the grocery store each week. Check your pantry and refrigerator before shopping to see what needs to be replenished. Check off those items you already have so you don’t overstock anything. I prefer to browse the produce department or the farm stand to see what produce looks freshest and most inspiring. But I do keep staples like carrots, celery, onion, garlic, rice, and beans on hand year round.

Tip #4. Slice and dice some vegetables early in the week to use in recipes.

Dice a few onions and slice some of your favorite veggies (zucchini in half or quarter moons; carrots in rounds, half moons, or diced; celery in diagonals; etc) to use in quick stir fries or soups throughout the week. Store each type of vegetable in a separate sealed container in the fridge for use in different recipes. It’s amazing how motivating it is to make a quick soup, bean dish, scramble, or stir fry when some of your vegetables are already prepped!

Tip # 5. Early in the week, make one kind of bean and one kind of grain to use throughout the week.

Make one kind of bean and one kind of grain over the weekend or whenever you have a little extra time. Store enough in the fridge to use for the week and freeze the rest in quart-sized bags. Check out these recipes on my blog for ideas: black beans, white beansbrown rice, corn polenta. I also find it helpful to cook a big batch of udon or soba noodles and keep in the fridge for quick noodle salads and soups.

Tip #6. Schedule times you are going to shop, cook, and prep.

Making a schedule for when you are actually going to shop, clean the fridge, prep, and cook will give you a reality check. Ask yourself the following questions: Do I really have time to make all of these meals and use all of these groceries? Can I simplify my menus and make similar dishes several nights in a row that won’t create so much extra work? Or perhaps you need to get up 30 minutes earlier to fit in some prep for later in the day.

 

Tip #7. Go to bed with a clean conscience!

Each night before going to bed, make sure that your kitchen is all clean and ready to use in the morning. Wash dishes, load the dishwasher and run the cycle, dry and put away hand washed items, wipe down the counters, and sweep the floor. In the morning you will be ready to do a little prep for the day’s meals as well as make your own healthy breakfast!

Want to learn how to make delicious, healthy food while meeting new people? Chef Rachel’s current class schedule is available here. 

Homemade Black Beans

I love homemade beans! Making your own beans from scratch has so many advantages over the canned varieties– the taste is superior, the cost is lower, you avoid packaging waste, they are more digestible, and you can freeze leftovers to use for soups, tacos, chili, or your favorite bean recipe. You’ll have a tough time going back to the canned variety once you’ve made a batch of homemade black beans!

I recommend making one variety of beans per week. They take some time to soak and cook, so make sure to soak at least 2 cups of beans each time. You’ll be able to use beans cooked in a basic way in a variety of recipes throughout the week, and can freeze whatever you can’t use right away for future meals. We love to keep a variety of beans in the freezer (stored in quart sized freezer bags), such as black beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, and white beans to use in making refried beans, bean soups, or hummus whenever we like. What a deal!

Make sure to sort your beans before cooking them. This ensures you will not get a stray stone in your soup! You could actually break a tooth or damage a filling by biting into a tiny little stone. I like to sort about 1/2 cup beans at time on a plate with a contrasting color so it is easy to pick out broken pieces, stones, or other debris.

image of dry black beans being sorted

Soaking beans and then draining them before cooking helps decrease phytic acid by 60% (phytic acid is an anti-nutrient that decreases absorption of minerals). Skimming the foam off of beans while cooking and adding kombu and/or epazote further enhances digestibility.

image of black beans being skimmed

You may use this recipe for any type of bean, but you may wish to leave out the garlic, cumin, or cilantro for some types of beans, or depending on what you are going to do with them. Enjoy your delicious homemade beans!

Homemade Black Beans
 
Author:
Recipe type: Beans
Cuisine: Mexican
Serves: 8
Ingredients
  • 2 cups dried black beans
  • spring or filtered water
  • 1” piece of kombu
  • 1½ teaspoons unrefined sea salt
  • 1 white or yellow onion, small dice
  • 2 tablespoona olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons organic ground cumin
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped for garnish
Instructions
  1. Sort and wash the beans. Soak the beans in enough water to cover beans by 2-3 inches of water for 6 hours or overnight.
  2. Pour off soaking liquid. Place beans in heavy pot and add enough water to cover beans by 1-2 inches.
  3. Bring to a boil, uncovered, skimming off the foam as if forms for the first 10 minutes or so of cooking.
  4. Add kombu, and simmer for an hour (or more) or until beans are soft. You may also use a pressure cooker to save time and aid in digestibility. After skimming foam, add kombu, and place lid on pressure cooker. Bring up to pressure, then turn to low. Pressure cook for 10 minutes, then turn off heat and let come down from pressure naturally.
  5. Meanwhile, sauté the onions in separate pan with olive oil and a pinch of sea salt.
  6. Sauté until onions are soft and then add garlic cumin powder.
  7. When beans are soft, mix together the beans and sautéed onion mixture, and add sea salt. Simmer for another 15 minutes.
  8. Garnish with cilantro.
Variation
  1. Use 1 teaspoon dried epazote instead of or in addition to kombu to aid in digestibility.

 

 

Maple-Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Pecans and Pomegranate

Yesterday, I was part of a “Friendsgiving” photo shoot for Austin Food Magazine with amazingly talented Austin caterer Suzanne Court. “Friendsgiving” is the term for getting together with all of your friends for a potluck Thanksgiving meal. In this case, many local chefs, restauranteurs, food bloggers, and wine folks gathered at our friends’ beautiful house in Rollingwood. It was one of most delicious meals I’ve ever had, and I met so many friendly people in the local food scene. The article will come out in Austin Food Magazine on Monday, November 23rd.

Maple-Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Pecans and Pomegranate
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Vegetable Side Dish
Cuisine: Holiday
Serves: 8 servings
Ingredients
Toasted Pecans
  • ⅓ cup pecans, broken into pieces
  • ¾ teaspoon tamari
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
  • 2 pounds Brussels sprouts
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¾ teaspoon sea salt
  • a few grinds of black pepper
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1½ tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar reduction
  • ⅓ cup pomegranate seeds, for garnish
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place pecans on sheet pan and toast in the oven for 6-8 minutes. When fully toasted, remove from the oven into a mixing bowl. Drizzle with tamari and let cool.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  3. Trim brussels sprouts and cut in half (or in quarters if very large). Place in a large bowl and toss with olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper.
  4. Spread brussels sprouts out onto large sheet pan (or two smaller sheet pans) and roast in the oven for 12 minutes.
  5. While roasting the brussels sprouts, combine maple syrup and garlic. After 12 minutes, give the brussels sprouts a stir and add maple syrup and garlic mixture. Continue to roast until golden brown, about 15 minutes more.
  6. Remove brussels sprouts to a platter. Sprinkle with toasted pecans and pomegranate seeds. Drizzle with balsamic reduction.
Note:
  1. For this large platter mounded with brussels sprouts, I used 5 pounds of brussels sprouts.

This recipe is fairly simple, but does require knowing how to get the seeds out of a pomegranate. I use the method presented in this video (cut the pomegranate in half and tap one half at a time with a wooden spoon or hammer until all seeds pop out).

roasted brussels sprouts

Here are some of the dishes from our Friendsgiving feast:

IMG_5552

This salad from Suzanne Court Catering was so wild and fresh!

thanksgiving tableIMG_5547

Beautiful pork dish with roasted squash, toasted pecans, and arugula by Chef David Garrido of Dine Raddison Austin.

IMG_5553

I highly recommend putting a dinner like this together with your friends. Just set up a shared google spreadsheet so everyone can sign up for a dish, or just take your chances that you will have a varied meal! I made maple-roasted brussels sprouts for the event. Try them this holiday season, as they are simple to make and have the perfect colors for a festive side dish!

Roasted Brussels Sproutsphoto of maple roasted brussels sprouts

Almond-Orange Biscotti with Chocolate Drizzle

Make these for your next gathering of friends and family. Kids and adults will love them!

This recipe has been a hit when macrobiotic teacher and counselor David Briscoe teaches his “Macro-Vegan Italian Buffet” class to the professional students at The Natural Epicurean several times a year.

Almond-Orange Biscotti with Chocolate Drizzle
 
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Italian
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons flax seed meal (ground flax seed)
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • 1½ cups Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free flour
  • ½ cup almond flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1¾ cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • 6 tablespoons coconut spread
  • ¾ cup maple sugar
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • ¼ teaspoon orange extract
  • zest of 1 orange
  • ½ cup gluten-free, dairy-free chocolate chips
  • 2 teaspoons unsweetened coconut milk, almond milk, or soymilk (room temperature)
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Make 2 “flax eggs” by combining flax seed meal and water in a small bowl. Let sit for 5-10 minutes or until mixture is thick.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together gluten-free flour, almond flour, and baking powder. Add toasted, chopped almonds.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix together coconut spread and maple syrup until smooth and creamy. Add vanilla, almond, and orange extracts, orange zest, and flax eggs. Stir to combine well.
  5. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and combine well by hand.
  6. Separate the dough into 2 halves. Using your hands, form 2 logs, each about 4 by 10 inches. Place each log on prepared cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes.
  7. Remove from the oven, slice into ovals about an inch thick, place back onto cookie sheet, and bake again for 10-12 minutes. Cool biscotti on cooking rack.
  8. Melt chocolate chips in a saucepan over very low heat with milk. When chips start to melt, remove from heat and whisk until smooth. While still warm, pour melted chocolate into small squeeze bottle (or Ziplock bag with a tiny piece of the corner cut off) and drizzle onto cooled biscotti. Work fast so that chocolate does not cool and become hard.
  9. Alternately, biscotti can be dipped into melted chocolate and coated with extra toasted almonds.

 

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