My husband was out of work for 3 months in 2009 and we had no income of any sort. He was looking for work, I was trying to get my personal chef business off the ground but we had no income coming in. It was a scary time, but since the one constant in our family has always been family meals, I was determined to get tasty food on the table each night so we could have something intrinsically good and comforting to hold onto.
I just couldn’t face the 25 cent ramen noodles or cheap processed foods that it seems so many families resort to in leaner times, so I reached inside and got in touch with what my husband has termed my inner “Nonna”. (Interesting term since neither of us are Italian and with two children under the age of 12 not going to be a grandmother any time soon) I began looking for ways to use what we had on hand and how to stretch everything.
For those three months we would sit down to dinner each night in awe of what was on our plates. Each meal was delicious, colorful and nutritious. After my husband found work again, I was thinking back to those months and meals realizing I had “stumbled” upon a method of cooking and planning meals that could be beneficial to many.
Economy enables idea.
Since 2006, I had worked as personal chef off and on preparing meals for busy families while juggling the business with my own family. While there theoretically is potential for great income as a personal chef, with the economy as it is, my slate of several families for whom I would cook on a regular basis was not materializing and there were no prospects around the corner. One day as I was pondering this and what I was going to do, the old proverb “Give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you’ll feed him for a lifetime” came to mind. Though I’ve liked cooking for families, what I truly love is sharing with people how to feed their own families better. I thought “I could teach people to fish instead of giving (aka selling) the proverbial fish”.
I started thinking back to what I did to feed my family those three incomeless months and realized that not only were the meals tasty, but they lined up with several other lifestyle ideals that are becoming prevalent today.
- Eating Locally: I had a stash of veggies on my doorstep every week thanks to our local CSA. (Riverdog Farms is ours in Northern CA but you can locate a farm near you by going to www.localharvest.org. )
- Economical: Rather than finding recipes that would require more ingredients, I would start by making a list of what I had in my fridge, freezer and veggie box. In the style of a child’s matching game, I would match up meats, carbs and veggies and plan my next week’s worth of meals.
- Flexitarian: I used meat more for flavoring than as the center of the plate and we ate a lot more beans and grains.
- No hydrogenated oils or corn syrup: Because I made everything we ate, there were none of the “no-no” ingredients that we all know are bad for our bodies.
- Environmentally Conscious (Waste Not): This is where the “Nonna” thing came in. I would use everything. If chickens were on sale, I would buy one, roast it and make stock out of the bones. If I cooked up beans, they would not only be the star of a meal, but blended up, they would thicken a soup, or topped with cheese be lunch with some bread or tortillas. If I had vegetables that were not holding up well, they would be made into soup, pureed and added to a baked good or pasta or made into a pesto. Fruits that were not quite fresh enough to eat out of hand were made into quick jams or muffins.
- Interesting Flavors: I liked to keep things on hand that could elevate even simple ingredients. So I would try to have a small jar of capers and some olives in my fridge at all times to toss into salads and sauces. Dijon mustard was a must to flavor everything from chicken to salad dressings. I would buy spices and nuts in the bulk section of my grocery store so I could always have something to make the mundane fabulous. And finally, a knob of ginger for Asian flavor and citrus fruits to add that final zing to dishes. None of these things are expensive and a little goes a long way, so they really helped amp up the creativity.
- Diversity: My recipes will take you from one continent to another depending on the day. Since there are no set recipes, just ideas, you can take each blog post or any of my recipe sets and make them how you want with what you've got. Whether you are on a very tight budget, or you have ridden out the economy and are doing well financially, this plan works. My recipes and the plan work for anyone. You can even use this plan for many diets with very little tweakage, gluten-free, low sugar, etc. You like different ethnic cuisines? Your favorite will probably show up here at some point.