Compliments of Hot, Sour and Sweet (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

In preparing for the potential pandemic looming in my country, I have spent the last month stocking up on food items. An unexpected benefit of doing so has been that I’ve been motivated to try flavors I haven’t had in a while. One of my tastiest creations I revisited this week is a homemade hot paste.

The thick, peppery condiment extremely simple to make. I eat it with eggs in the morning or with meat and tofu dishes later in the day. I start with dried peppers, both the large sweet types used in moles like pasilla and ancho, as well as small hot red peppers like guajillo (I’ve learned that only a few of these are needed!). I then add vinegar–either white wine or apple cider–and salt. I pulse in my food processor until a paste is formed, trying to stop before the seeds are chopped so that it doesn’t turn bitter. To create a sweet and spicy version, which I might use more in dishes with tofu, chicken or fish, I add honey. I store in a small jar in the refrigerator and use within a week.

I enjoy fashioning my own condiments to complement homemade food. The condiments sold in stores are often diluted with filler products and/or packed with extra sugar and salt. I find that having a condiment or two on hand helps me to break up the monotony of having the same dish I’ve meal-prepped for three or four days in a row. Do you make any of your condiments yourself? If so, what is your favorite creation?

Enjoying Home-Made Meals (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

As someone with a significant food sensitivity to an ingredient in nearly all savory foods (the allium family which includes garlic, onion and so on), eating a meal at a restaurant or take-away tends not to end in a gut-happy place. Even though it takes more effort and planning on my part, I find pleasure in creating recipes and tasting the results of my labor. The rarest of treats is a friend making an allergy-sensitive meal for me.

Purchasing Ingredients

I’ve changed strategies more times than I can count in terms of how I procure food. I used a home delivery ordering system for a while. Next, I went to the store several times a week. My latest strategy is to go to the store only one time a week, and to buy a few foods that can last until about four days into the week when I make a second round of dishes. This summer, I hope to spend lots of time at farmer’s markets buying the freshest possible vegetables and fruits.

Kitchen Necessities

I have a few weapons of choice in making my own meals, namely, slow cookers of various sizes, a Vitamix, a toaster oven, and cast iron pans. The slow cookers allow me to roast meats, marinate beans and tenderize vegetables. My Vitamix is vital for daily smoothies and rich, creamy soups. I bake breads and reheat food in my toaster oven. I actually do not have a microwave at my house! When the one I’d bought in college stopped working, I didn’t replace it and find that I rarely miss it. Finally, the cast iron pans let me crisp meats and veggies.

Meal Planning

There was a time where I wrote out elaborate meal plans for six months at a time, week by week and ingredient by ingredient. As of late, I am more spur-of-the-moment and less creative with the effort I put into what I am making. I like to have the same breakfast every day and to then vary what I eat through the rest of each day. I always include a lot of fruit, some vegetables (my sticking point), meat and/or soy products and some whole grains. Beans are the food group of which I would most like to increase my consumption. I’ve had a lot of issues digesting pork which is what I like to have with them, so that has made finding dishes in which they work more difficult.

How much do you like to cook homemade meals? If you don’t get to have them as much as you’d like, what barriers get in the way? What are your methods of buying food items? Which cooking tools must be in your kitchen? How do you meal plan?