Every mom probably develops cooking shortcuts. Here are my favorites: 1) My Blender 2) Gourmet Garden’s Garlic and Ginger pastes 3) Better Than Bullion’s all natural reduced sodium soup bases.
Here’s how I use them. First, my kids are sensitive and picky eaters. They like noodles more than any other food. Second to noodles, they like rice, and third to rice they like beans. Basically, they want most of their meals to be based on carbohydrates.
I’m not of the opinion that a person has to eat lots of meat and dairy to be healthy, though there are healthy ways to eat a lot of meat and dairy. I am, however, of the opinion that nearly every person should have fresh fruits and/or vegetables in every meal. The challenge is sneaking them in if you have people in your care who can’t enjoy or even tolerate the flavor of plain vegetables.
So here’s how I use Better Than Bullion: I use it as the headline flavor for the noodles, the rice, or the beans. It’s the first thing I put in, whether I’m making a soup (what my kids mostly prefer, as it is less “slimy” than sauce) or simply flavoring a casserole-style dish. Anything else I add (including disguised vegetables) must harmonize with this flavor. I have tried the Aldi version and the taste was unappealing compared to the real thing. My kids will eat just about anything made with Better Than Bullion.
Here’s how I use the ginger and garlic paste: both of these are aromatics, not herbs. They can be put into a recipe earlier in the cooking process than herbs (which are plant parts, delicate, and should not really be cooked at all) but have to be put in later than spices such as pepper (which need time to release all their flavor.) Ginger gives good digestion and a sparkle in the taste that is more bearable for youngsters than, say, hot sauce. Garlic, regularly consumed, gives protection against parasites and bacteria (and vampires!) and a warm, savory flavor. Both should be used in very small amounts. And both are obnoxious to process on your own cutting board or in your own food processor. This inexpensive solution of purchasing a tube of Gourmet Garden’s pastes every pay period allows me to add a little garlic and ginger to nearly every recipe I make. The combination goes well together, and harmonizes well with the Better Than Bullion, and the kids have come to expect and enjoy it.
Here’s how I use the blender: I sneak vegetables into the soup or casserole undetected, by liquefying them first. My favorites are carrots (goes well with ginger) or baby spinach (the flavor completely disappears under the ginger/garlic/bullion mixture.) The color of the soup/casserole changes when you do this, so I’ve gotten my kids used to the idea that I add food-coloring willy-nilly to my dishes to make them more fun. They think I’m weird but they put up with it, never suspecting that the green food coloring conceals liquefied spinach, and the orange, liquefied carrots.
Here’s a description of how it might work.
I mix two tablespoons of the bullion mixture into a pot of water and get it boiling. Meanwhile, I blend some of the broth with whichever vegetable I’m using that day, and add the ginger and garlic to the mixture at the same time. When it’s completely liqueified and unrecognizable, I add a little food coloring to make sure it looks quite playful and brilliant.
I add the noodles, rice, or beans to the boiling broth, and cook the required amount of time. In the case of noodles, you can put dry noodles into the broth and cook them and not drain afterward. You do NOT want to keep bean water in your soup, and you also will be less frustrated if you cook the rice separately. (Rice and bean cooking shortcut at bottom of post.)
Once the carbohydrate base has been successfully combined with the broth, and it’s basically ready to eat, then I add the aromatic vegetable mixture from the blender, stir well, and cook for another minute or two. Aromatic flavors will become dull and stunted if you cook them too long, but need a little cooking to reach full flavor release. Serve with plenty of water or milk. No fights, no tears.
The baby spinach pictured in the blender is from Aldi, and frozen. I freeze all my blender greens. Greens turn to slime quickly in the refrigerator and wilt almost immediately outside it. Frozen greens cannot be eaten in a salad after thawing, but they retain their constitution enough to fare beautifully in the blender, and they are nutritionally the equal of fresh greens.
Some people mock at the idea that anyone, even a child, should be forced to eat vegetables. They think it’s some kind of health fad. I simply notice that when my children eat nothing but carbs, they get muscle aches and fatigue. I don’t like that. Now, I have heard that you can get the equivalent of vegetables by eating the meats and fats of animals that had a vegetable diet when living. Some hard-working men who eat a lot of meat seem to do fine without vegetables, although one worries about their cardiovascular health. Eskimos would be an extreme example of a population doing really well eating a diet entirely composed of vegetable-eating animal meat and fat.
My kids and my husband do not like meat. They don’t like to think about the animal it came from, and they are easily grossed out by the cruder diet. I was raised in a meat-eating family, but lately, as I come close to finishing my 35th year, my digestion does not support fatty food of any kind very well. (Likewise, we all experience fatigue when eating lots of bread. Counter-intuitively, fluffy white bread is a lot less troublesome in this regard than the supposedly healthier whole wheat bread. Sourdough is very good, though it can only be eaten in small amounts without overloading the stomach and giving aches and cramps.)
Once I became comfortable using the paste, the bullion, and the blended vegetables, I experimented with other flavors. 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon of curry paste (or half the amount of powder) can warm up the flavor and increase interest, without being really detectable as an individual flavor. Lime or Lemon juice and zest are marvelous additions, but can overpower if too much is added.
I never have to add salt – though sometimes people like to add a little soy sauce. I always buy Kikkoman’s as it’s naturally brewed and has nutritional value in consequence.
Variations on this recipe serve for endless kid lunches. As those of you with picky eaters know, they generally fasten on a few favorites and eat them over and over. Gradually introducing new flavors in tiny increments can be nothing but healthy and helpful to them.
Serving various herbal teas every day, sweetened with milk and raw honey, can also be a successful substitute for eating vegetables. Raw honey is a marvelous probiotic in the sense that it tends to help kill off bad germs and feed good ones.
Myself, I do best when I eat a large salad of many mixed vegetables every day. I crave it and the feeling of vitality it gives me. I imagine that my children, as they grow older and their tastes mature, and the needs of growth decline, may come to the same point.
Here’s how I easily cook my rice: I put a cup and a half of dry rice into a circular covered casserole dish that is microwave-safe. I rinse it a couple of times, then add 2 and 1/4 cups of water. (150% of the rice amount.) Flavoring can also be added at this point. I put it in the microwave, covered, at power level 7 (for an 1100 watt microwave) for 15 minutes. When the microwave turns off, the rice is always perfectly cooked. So easy! I do use Basmatti Rice, which is rougher, thinner, and dryer than other kinds. The kids prefer the texture and so do I. With a stickier kind of rice, you have to add 1/8 cup more water and cook for a few more minutes.
I recommend using the same casserole dish every time and learning the exact power level, time, and relative amounts that give you perfect results for your microwave and rice type. It’s so much easier to cook when you don’t have to calculate every time. I never, ever, cook rice on the stove top. Stove top rice hates me.
I use canned beans but I hope to become proficient at cooking beans soon. Mostly, I just can’t remember to soak them the night before. Canned beans seem to retain their constitution much better than canned vegetables do.
Oh… that big black speaker next to my blender. It’s a bluetooth tower that I picked up at a thrift store, brand new, for $5. The previous owner had put the wrong lithium battery into the remote and had been consequently unable to operate it. I was luckier; I happened to have an unused lithium battery lying around that worked.
While my bluetooth tower is not exactly a kitchen shortcut, it is one of my favorite tools. Nothing makes menial labor more bearable than music. Unless, of course, you are the sort of person who is temperamentally unable to really enjoy music, and can only work at it. Then, may God have mercy on your soul.