HACSI Tip #2: Making Stock

sometimes, we have stock in our freezer. we save our scraps and then make a bunch and it’s so convenient and delicious. but this tip is for those times where there are not a mass of ice cubes made of broth, and earth balance containers with frozen mounds of brown veggie deliciousness.

it involves my bff: the pressure cooker.

i made this up–though i am sure zillions have before me–because i read this post on the kitchn about making a quick stock. but you know what develops flavors even quicker than a sometimes-covered pot? a pressure cooker!

i use the same basic collection of things in the kitchn post:

  • 1 onion, quartered or eighthed
  • a few crushed (but not chopped bc that is not very hacsi!) garlic cloves
  • any other good stock veggies around: carrots, celery, mushrooms, etc. these can be frozen–limp, no longer tasty bc the texture is so unappealing celery? throw it in the freezer and throw it in the pot!
  • herbs and spices: peppercorns (a bunch, unground–you know, 10-20), some thyme, some rosemary, some bay leaves, anything else you want really.
  • parmesan rind, if you happen to have one around–these can be saved in the freezer, too, and give a rich, umami-y flavor.

then, i covered with water. this is important: you will be making a really concentrated stock, because too much water in the pressure cooker will not let pressure develop, and it will bubble out all over! so only put as much water in as yr pressure cooker can take–you can add more once its done.

carrot, onion, thyme, and peppercorns, floating in water inside a pressure cooker

before! everything is so distinct and pretty.

then, bring to a boil (when the top starts rattling), and let it go for 10 minutes. you can quick release it or just let it go on its own, and you can strain out the aromatics whenever you are ready to use it.

brown liquid, shiny and with onion and herbs floating in it

way less pretty–but so brothy!

i usually water it down by half, then see how it’s doing. salt to taste or just cook with it–it’s not as good as stock simmered for hours and hours, but it’s way better than bouillon powder!

 

xoxo

 

love

eliz.

Bread alone

four loaves on cooling rack

In addition to our regular dinner cooking shifts, we have also included various DIY food-processing type chores in the coop labor system.  At the moment we make our own yogurt and bread regularly, and we make veggie stock (from veggie ends and scraps and peels), granola, and seitan occasionally.  The yogurt and bread have been my duties for the better part of the past year, which on average amounts to a gallon of yogurt and four loaves of bread every other week.  One loaf of the four gets left in the pantry for consumption in the next few days after it’s baked and the other three get sliced and frozen to be eaten over the following two weeks.

People get intimidated by making bread, but it’s really not very difficult or complicated.  It’s not easy to achieve professional-like consistency in your bread without lots of fussing and measuring and checking the humidity report, but it is pretty hard to make inedible – or even un-tasty – bread.  It just involves more waiting time than other sorts of baking that don’t use yeast for leavening.  This is not so much trouble for me, since I work from home at least a few days a week and can do my writing or answer emails or make phone calls or workout or whatnot all while patiently waiting for the yeast to do its magic.  However, when you scale up past two or three loaves at a time, the kneading part of bread making becomes a bit arduous by hand, and our 8-cup standing mixer bowl is just not large enough to accommodate that much dough without turning our pantry into a remake of The Blob.   This is just the perfect scenario for No-Knead Bread!

There are been a number of  no knead bread techniques that have gotten media play over the past few years, starting, I think, with Jim Jahey’s crusty loaf baked-in-a-lidded-pot that was featured in the New York Times in 2006.  It makes a beautiful crusty, round, boule that is delicious, but is a little fussier than what we need for regular toast and sandwich making here at the coop.  So, instead I use a scaled up version of the whole wheat master recipe from the book Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day* which I was introduced to by a former coop-mate.   It’s a really simple process of mixing dry and wet ingredients all together, waiting, portioning into loaves, waiting a little more, and baking.  The only weird ingredient is vital wheat gluten powder, which we keep on hand anyhow for making seitan.   This makes a pretty wet dough, which is why you don’t need to knead it to develop the gluten (moisture develops gluten on it’s own given time), and it’s easy to incorporate various ‘add-ins’ for variety: raw millet and rolled oats are common ones in our house, but you could also use nuts or dried fruit.  I threw in some raw red lentils a few weeks ago which added a nice crunch and color. The crumb comes out really moist and if you bother to steam the oven a bit while it’s baking you can get a good crust  on top of the loaf.  It works as well in loaf pans as in a free form boule or other shapes.  And, if you have way more space in your fridge than we do, you can also just bake off one loaf at a time and keep the unbaked dough in a big bucket in the fridge until you want another one.

When I baked bread for a 100-person commune and had a big Hobart mixer, I could easily turn out 12-14 loaves of regular fluffy kneaded bread in a few hours, and that was just one day’s worth, but this no-knead version works pretty well as a plain, go-to, versatile bread recipe and technique here in the 6 person coop.  But, when I’m feeling fancy, or as a compliment to a dinner night, I’ll do up a more novel breadstuff like some butter buns or pull apart rolls or this swirl bread from last week.

white and molasses-darkened whole wheat swirled up

*Note that I don’t actually believe in or endorse the idea that whole grains are healthier than husked grains, which is what the marketing of this book is based around, nor do I believe that “healthy” can be used as a blanket descriptor for any food or group of foods, without taking into account the extremely nuanced, varied, and individual circumstances of the person eating that food.  But that’s the title of the book, and it is a really good recipe.

The HACSI Girl Scout Method

I always appreciate when people make dessert to go along with dinner. The thing is, it takes A LOT of time and energy to plan, prep, cook, and clean up after dinner for the whole co-op. Though I’d love to regularly make dessert, it just so rarely happens.

Enter: the HACSI Girl Scout Method (TM). (Not really TM.)

This weekend I bought some marshmallows and graham crackers. We have a great big jar filled with chocolate chips in our pantry. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Heck yes, oven s’mores! Graham crackers split in half with chocolate chips and marshmallows on top. Baked in the oven at 400 for 9 minutes. (Could’ve gone a bit more to make them more browned, but I was afraid I’d burn them.)

Still slightly browned and totally gooey.

I even used a few of eliz’s fancy vegan marshmallows so she could get in on the s’more action. I put her chocolate chips on top so we could tell them apart (and made a little tin foil wall to protect them from gelatin-bearing marshmallow goo). The vegan marshmallows changed way less than the standard ones…science!

These were a really nice half-assed treat on this feeling like summer evening. (In case you’re curious, the s’mores followed a dinner of sesame and edamame buckwheat noodles with baked tofu and a lemony raw kale salad with carrots, beets, and snap peas.) I wonder if I can challenge myself to find other easy recipes to make dessert seem more possible?

And the rest is gravy…

This is one from the sounds-weird, looks-weird, tastes-delicious files.

Mmmm...gravy

If you’ve spent any amount of time around hippies, you will undoubtedly have run into many a nutritional yeast based concoction.  Nutritional yeast, for those of you who haven’t spent much time around hippies or vegans or vegan hippies, is a yellowish flaky powder that’s somehow magically processed from yeast extract (think marmite) and is full of glutamates, which give it a lot of umami  flavor.

I came by my love of nutritional yeast (aka “newt yeast”, aka “nooch”) back when I was living on a commune where standard Wednesday lunch fare was a really giant pot of ‘mac-and-yeast’- elbow macaroni with an unctuous, nutritional yeast based sauce.  It’s  almost as comforting as mac and cheese, which, if you understand my deep love of dairy products, is saying a lot.

In addition to tasting pleasantly savory and a bit cheesy, nutritional yeast acts as a thickener, so you can make a variety of sauces, gravies, and spreads out of it, and use it as a binder in things like veggie burgers or as a part of a coating or crust.  So, when I was making a homey meal last week of spinach, walnut tofu loaf and kale mashed potatoes, I turned to the nooch for a quick gravy.  I think it’s pretty HACSI, because it’s fast and can be made entirely out of dry goods, which is especially nice for vegetarian cooking, where you don’t get any lovely super flavorful pan drippings as a starting point.

For a co-op sized pot of gravy, I used:

  • 1 cup of nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1/2 cup of flour (though, I’m sure some combo of GF flours, corn starch, and xanthan gum would do perfectly well for a gluten free version)
  • 1/2 cup of oil
  • three cups of water
  • a heavy pinch of salt
  • a pinch each of thyme and rosemary)
  • 1/2 cup of butter, cut up into 6-8 pieces (1 stick – likewise, you could just use more oil or margarine, if you wanted it to be vegan)
  • 1 tablespoon of wet mustard
  • a few splashes of soy sauce

The process isn’t that much different from any other gravy.  Toast the flour and nutritional yeast in a dry pan on medium high heat for a minute before adding the oil and whisking vigorously.  Once you have a toasty medium brown rue, add the water, salt, and herbs, then turn the heat to medium low and whisk more-or-less constantly until it starts to simmer.  Turn the heat down to low, and whisk until the gravy has thickened to your desired consistency  – no more than five minutes.  Then, turn off the heat, add the soy sauce, mustard, and butter, one piece at a time, whisking until everything is melted and well combined.   And there you have a fast, easy, HACSI gravy.

You can easily vary the flavor and texture by using different herbs and spices, substituting stock or beer for the water, or cooking it for longer or shorter lengths of time.  My favorite ‘cheese substitute’ for vegan pizza is this same stuff cooked a little longer until it’s really thick (and it does thicken up even more when it cools), which then gets plopped onto the pizza dough in big, gooey, blobs.   It makes an okay dipping sauce for vegetables and chips.  I’m an umami fiend, though, so I even like it cold, spread on toast.  Lots of possibilities.

ones and halves: the chewy cookie method

2 chocolate chip cookies, on parchment paper atop a toaster oven baking sheet

see? toaster oven baked cookies!

i didn’t initially see this as a hacsi post, but was convinced that it is. making a log of cookie dough and freezing it, so you can have fresh baked cookies whenever you want? totes hacsi!

and having an easy cookie “recipe” that you can always pull out of yr back pocket without looking it up? wicked hacsi! so, with no further ado:

the basic ratio i use is 1:1:1:1 (and the halves). and it’s endlessly multipliable! what that means is, everywhere it says 1 you can put in 3. everywhere it says 1/2, you can put in 1.5, etc–except for the salt, which you should be a little more sparing with.

1 stick of softened butter or earth balance

1 cup of flour

1 cup of sugar (yr favorite blend of white and brown)

1 egg (if you want to use egg replacer, i suggest using ener-g, and mixing it with soy/other non-dairy milk, instead of water)

1 cup mix-ins: chocolate chips, dried fruit, whatever else you might want!

plus, the halves!

<1/2 t of baking powder

<1/2 t of baking soda

<1/2 t of salt

1/2 t of vanilla

use general cookie-making technique: blend the softened butter and sugar, add the egg and vanilla. mix the dry ingredients, then once everything is mixed, add the mix-ins.

bake at 350 for 9-12 minutes, until browned on top.

and, voila! each stick of butter makes about 18-24 cookies. whatever part of the cookie dough you don’t want, you can make into a log, wrap it up (with parchment or saran wrap, then foil, i would suggest!), and put into the freezer.

cylinder of chocolate chip cookie dough, on parchment atop foil, sitting on a wooden table.

unwrap when you want, slice some off, and wrap it back up!

the part you do want, though? i recommend eating them when they are warm and delicious.

small chewy, browned cookie on a white background.

like this!

xoxo

love

eliz.

HACSI Tip #1: Melting butter

So, this tip is only really good if you don’t have a microwave–which we happen not to. If you have one, here’s yr tip: YOU ARE VERY LUCKY AND CAN HACSI MELT YR BUTTER IN YR MAGICAL ELECTRIC MACHINE. But for the rest of us, here’s my thought.

Sometimes, I want to melt butter when i am baking something, but it seems like such a pain to get a pot, wash it, etc. So, what’s my solution?

Image

“Wow, that’s not particularly novel or impressive.” you may be thinking. “A miniature pot. Weird, and helpful if I want to pretend that I am a giant, but not much easier.” But! Look!

Continue reading

(What) to HACSI or (What) not to HACSI?

I will admit right off the bat that I have an ambivalent relationship to HACSI.  I don’t actually self-identify as ‘half-assed’ most of the time.  I like doing things thoughtfully, if not always slowly.  I’m more likely to find small repetitive tasks soothing than boring.  I’m pretty fond of measuring in the kitchen – especially with baking – and was thrilled to have received a kitchen scale as a recent holiday gift.  All in all, I’m a journey rather than destination sort of guy.  I’ll also note, for full accountability, that in the years I’ve been co-oping, with the exception of a four month span last spring, I’ve worked from home at least 2 days a week, and this affords me more flexibility than most people to prep ahead and space things out and squeeze cooking time into the nooks and crannies of my schedule, even when I don’t have lots of spare time overall.

On the one hand, it’s really true that lots of types of cooking just don’t always work well with the economy of scale that we go for here.  And it’s also  true that some weeks are busier than others and so you need some easy, go-to sorts of meals to fall back on for when the regular four hour cooking shift needs to squeeze into two and a half hours, or you’re getting home late and so need to prep all your vegetables the night before, or you have plans that evening and need to make a meal ahead of time in the crock pot that can keep well for several hours, or the only produce left in the house is a bunch of radishes and turnips that you have to cook, even though it’s already April and that’s depressing.  So, HACSI.

But, on the other hand, the huge advantage to food cooping is that you only have to cook once a week, so you might as well go all out about it.  And if we each cook things we ourselves are really excited to eat and enthusiastic about having in our food repertoire, there’s a good chance that most of the other coop members will be happy with most of our meals most of the time.   Even cooking the most half-assed meals for myself when I was not living in a co-op, and even when I ate the same meal as leftovers for several days in a row, I surely spent way more than four hours a week preparing my lunches and dinners, so one afternoon and evening of cooking and cleaning a week is a serious time-and-money bargain to get four other nights when someone else makes dinner for me with leftovers I can use the next day(s).  So, even if the four hours turns into four and a half or five every now and again, I’m still winning out.   Beyond that, cooking is a way – sometimes the primary way – that I show people I care about them.  So, there are lots of little things that I want to do that don’t take too much extra effort but go a little out of the way to show love and respect for the people that eat the meals I prepare. Not so HACSI.

So to that end, ‘to HACSI or not to HACSI?’: Shayn’s personal list.  The obvious disclaimer being that this heavily reflects both my food preferences – especially preferences for strong textural variety  – and what kinds of work in the kitchen I do and don’t tend to find tedious.  Any of these could be their own posts, and might well be in the future.

To HACSI:

  • greens for salads – if i’m cooking for the house or any larger scale situation, greens that can be served raw like spinach and kale are done up as salads; otherwise they cook down too much and you have to prep so so so many of them.  Last month I tried to make enough braised collards to feed the house with ample for leftovers, and though I spent most of my cooking shift time (upwards of two hours) de-stemming, washing, parboiling, and then braising six huge bunches of collards, they still weren’t enough to make leftovers for all, even bulked up with some onions and golden raisins in the mix. So, I’ve officially given up on cooked greens as anything other than a condiment or as one element in a big mix.

The 'took-way-too-long and still didn't turn out hugely abundant' collard greens. They were tasty, though.

  • anything that’s supposed to be wet and squishy already – soups, rice and beans, stir frys, grains and/or vegetables that will get mixed with other things – just throw it all in the crock pot or pressure cooker, no need to fret over proportions too much or measure too exactly
  • peeling – don’t peel vegetables that you could just get away with scrubbing vigorously
  • veggie burgers, etc. – this is one of my go-to ways to salvage misc leftovers – toss whatever beans and veggies into the food processor with some eggs and a little flour or grated cheese and season in some way complimentary to whatever the pre-existing flavors are, and you’ve got veggie burgers or veggie ‘meatballs’ or veggie ‘patties’ – i suppose you could make a loaf out of it too.  these are, admittedly, often not as good as veggie or bean burgers that are made from new fresh, carefully chosen things, but, to me, it’s better than letting food go to waste, and I try to make up for it with interesting side dishes and homemade accoutrements like fresh buns or aioli and pickled red onions
  • make more for later – if it scales up well and stores well, make some extra for another week.  We do this a lot for things like beans in the pressure cooker; soups and freezable sauces; and unadorned grains.
  • don’t DIY things that aren’t appreciably better for your having made them at home. (for me this means things like butter, cheese,  phylo dough, puff pastry, and dumpling wrappers)
  • bake rather than fry anything you can get away with (veggie burgers, tofu, tough veggies that need breaking down, even stuff that is breaded or lightly battered will do okay) – it means way less standing at the stove and more ability to multitask.  Don’t get me wrong, I love me some fried foods, and this is not some ‘for your health’ food policing measure,  but I save my home-frying impulses for smaller-scale operations than house dinner.
  • think ahead to cleanup time – bake things that might be sticky in well-seasoned cast iron or on parchment paper.  I also do a lot of planning around how to create the least dishes to have to wash later. (sometimes to my own detriment…like when I insist on using a box grater because washing the food processor involves at least three additional pieces).
  • pay attention to seasoning – taste for acid, salt, and sweetness – and don’t be stingy with the fat.  seasoning something thoughtfully and throwing on slightly more butter than you think is a good idea at the end make up for many shortcomings.
  • cook to the lowest common denominator – if you’ve got food restrictions and allergies, don’t make a million separate things for each person’s needs, but use condiments and last-minute add-ins to compensate. for instance, we have a coop member who is allergic to peppers, another one with that genetic aversion to cilantro, and a third who is sensative to coconuts.  Hence, our fridge is stocked with many kinds of hot sauces; when we have cilantro it’s chopped in a bowl on the side; and coconut milk gets added to curries at the very end, after a coconut-free portion is set aside.
  • don’t forget dessert – we’re not talking fussy layer cakes here, but simple baked goods, crumbles or cobblers, pudding or custards, the ubiquitous vegan “cowboy cake”, the effort to gratification ratio is seriously in your favor.  what can I say?  people really, really like treats.

chocolate truffles for dessert - created around ganache that was made to use up the last of our holiday season chocolat

  • make good use of tools – the aforementioned pressure cooker and crock pot, but also an immersion blender, food processesor, and standing mixer really can be time-saving devices if you use them wisely.  We’ll have more to say about this in upcoming posts.

Not to HACSI:

  • greens for cooking – take the stems out of cooking greens.  there is some disagreement on the part of the coop members on this one, but my strong preference is to have no stems in my cooked greens, or if there must be stems, to have them cooked first until they’re relatively soft, and then add the leafy parts at the very end.  I freely admit that it is way more annoying and time-consuming to cut or tear the stems out of your kale, chard, or collards, rather than just chop straight through the whole thing, but if I’m running short on time I’d personally rather just not cook greens than serve people overcooked leaves and undercooked stems.
  • DIY what you can, while you can, when it’s appreciably cheaper and/or better than the store bought version (for me this means things like kraut/pickles, bread and pizza dough, yogurt, stock, jam, citrus curds, croutons, and pie crust)

DIY burger buns - it took a few trials to get them suitably fluffy.

  • knife skills – do your best to chop things into relatively even sized pieces;  keep the texture variety up by not always slicing round veggies like carrots, cucumbers, zucchinis, parsnips, etc. into round coin shapes, just because that’s the easiest thing to do – try a julienne or some small cubes or mandolining thin strips or grinding it in the food processer to make a puree, etc. etc.  it’s not all that much harder but is way less boring and shows that you put a nice bit of thought into things.
  • caramelization – if it benefits from being golden brown and delicious, do whatever is in your power to make that happen – even if it means having to parboil first and then roast or saute or having to carefully manage the heat and time in the oven – this is especially true for root vegetables and the whole cruciferous family.  my motto for vegetables is: if it’s not going to get caramelized, I might as well have just boiled or steamed it.
  • moisture content – I think that soggy things suck, so I  take pains to get wet things less wet, unless they’re truly supposed to be moist.  this means such things as: squeezing the moisture out of grated potatoes before frying into hashbrowns or latkes; slowly cooking down summer squash and zucchini into a paste; adding ample cheese into veggie quiches or frittatas to balance out the moisture in the vegetables that can make the eggs sort of ‘weepy’ especially when they’re reheated the next day; scooping the seeds out of cucumbers before tossing them into a salad; refering to some kind of ratios chart for cooking grains.
  • surface-to-volume ratio- yeah, it’s way easier to make two or three giant omellets or calzones or pies than twelve small ones, but it really throws off the proportions of their insides to their outsides in ways that, at the very least, i feel should be intentional.  sometimes I will HACSI in this manner if I really don’t have time/energy for smaller things in greater quantity and i can’t think of anything else to make instead, but I do try not to.  it’s easy for scaled-up co-op cooking in general to lean heavily on the side of big ‘family-style’ dishes like casseroles, soups, stews, braises, etc.,  so I find it to be an extra nice treat, when I can swing the added time and effort,  to have some smaller, individually sized items now and again.

    grilled eggplant, radish, cream cheese, scallion canapes - from when a bunch of fiddly rolling of things felt worth it

  • miscellaneous not-so-hard stuff that has a good tastiness pay off for relatively little effort: rinsing or toasting quinoa to get that weird metalic taste out of it, instead of just boiling it straight away; salting eggplant overnight to get out some of the bitterness; straining some of our homemade yogurt so it gets thicker and creamier; pressing tofu and/or marinating it ahead of time, etc., etc.

I’m sure everyone has their own personal list of what to HACSI and what not to, that varies by their own tastes and work preferences.  There are things that I almost never do that I know some of my co-op-mates are more fastidious and enthused about – making salad dressings, for instance – but, no matter where the HACSI/no HACSI line is drawn for any given person, if they make things they’re excited about with some forethought and care (for the food and the people who will be eating it), it’ll probably work out pretty great more often than not.

HACSI Veggie and Cheese Quiche-lets

Hello fellow half-assed cooks! My roommates and I have been talking about this idea for a long time at the co-op, and I’m excited to finally be posting. On to the half-assed cooking!

Sunday is my cooking night and my partner Melsen regularly cooks with me. Everyone loves a good theme dinner, especially around the co-op, so we often try to come up with a cohesive theme when meal planning. Last Sunday, inspiration struck in the form of homemade waffles: breakfast for dinner! The co-op is kind of frittata-ed out but we knew we wanted to use eggs as our main source of protein for the meal. We decided that a quiche-ish item could still be good as long as the egg to filling ratio was relatively low.

I started by looking through the fridge to find some leftovers that would lend themselves to quiche. Goldmine: leftover greens of some sort (collards?) that had been sauteed with lots of vinegar. I poured most of a bag of frozen green peas into the greens container and let them hang out for a bit to thaw. Meanwhile, I chopped up one red onion and started it cooking in an olive-oiled skillet. I added the peas and greens, along with the last handful of broccoli florets from the freezer. I heated everything until softened, then moved off the stove to cool.

Meanwhile, I grated a whole bunch of sharp cheddar cheese and dug a bunch of fresh parsley out of the fridge. I pulsed the parsley, stems and all, in the food processor until it formed a deliciously aromatic paste. Once the cooked veggies were cooled off a bit, I poured them in with the parsley and pulsed to combine. Finally, I added the cheese and whirled until the whole thing was bright green and an almost doughy/pastey consistency. In true HACSI form, I put the whole food processor in the fridge to deal with later.

Melsen ended up finishing the quiches while I was out  later that afternoon. He greased the inside of some muffin pans, then added a square of some ready-to-bake puff pastry that my roommate excavated from our storage freezer when de-icing it a few weeks ago. (Stop and Shop’s “fancy” house brand, Simply Enjoy.) He then combined the veggie/cheese mixture with six eggs, a bit of heavy cream, and salt & pepper. He poured about a quarter cup of the egg mixture into each muffin cup, then baked at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes.

The result?

Not very eggy but totally satisfying cheese and veggie quiche-lets! How cute are they?!

Here’s a close-up;

The sides look burned, but I think they're just browned from the fat in the cheese.

We served these up with some delightful buttermilk waffles* (from Mark Bittman’s recipe…delicious but kind of time-consuming and fussy for my taste…but then again I resent baking or any precise cooking that requires measuring). We also had some gorgeous purple and pink potatoes from our Red Fire Farm deep winter CSA share. We made a breakfasty hash with potatoes, carrots, parsnips, onions, and frozen spinach.

Breakfast for dinner!

 

*We didn’t have buttermilk, so used yogurt and some regular 2% milk for an approximation. HACSI!

Welcome half-assed cooks!

Welcome to HACSI – half-assed cooking semi illustrated!  We’re a handful of folks who live in a queer, vegetarian cooperative house in Boston (the coop is vegetarian, but not all it’s members – we’re all queer, though), and one of the things we cooperatively do is cook dinner for each other five nights of the week.  Trying to keep these house dinners interesting, tasty, nutritious, cheap, and voluminous enough to feed six hungry adults (plus enough leftovers for assorted next-day lunches and the occasional friend who drops by for dinner) using the groceries we buy together and the assortment of seasonal vegetables we get in our rotation of CSA shares can be a challenge.  Doing all of that in the midst of busy work, social, volunteer, and self-enrichment commitments can be alternately exhausting and invigorating.  Enter HACSI – the little shortcuts, tricks, and ways of prioritizing that make foods scale up easier and your work in the kitchen less laborious, but hopefully don’t negatively impact people’s satisfaction and enjoyment of your meals.

The ground rules:  In our coop, we have certain agreements and expectations around meal cooking that it might be helpful for anyone reading this to know for context and sense-making.  Everyone in the coop cooks dinner one night of the week, except  for one roommate who works nights (but she does lots of other great stuff for the house that makes our lives better), and the average cooking shift seems to hover around 3 to 4 hours, including clean up.  Our shared food and shared meals are vegetarian – this means no meat (including fish, poultry, etc.) but animal products like eggs, dairy, and honey are a-okay.  In terms of nutrition, it’s more-or-less expected that most meals include some kind of  protein, a whole grain, and a hearty dose of vegetables.  For quantity, we aim to make enough food that everyone gets to eat their fill at dinner and ideally there are leftovers enough for everyone to take some to work for lunch the next day – essentially this means 12 sizable servings.  Different days of the week vary in terms of how many of us tend to be home, and we try to communicate with that night’s dinner-maker if we won’t be around, so they can adjust quantity-expectations accordingly.  Lastly, our ingredients are limited to the staple groceries we’ve decided to keep on hand (which are too numerous to list here, but might be the subject of a later post), whatever combo of seasonal and grocery-bought produce that’s appropriate to the time of year, and an occasional cook’s-discretionary-purchase of a special ingredient for no more than $5-10 and once or twice a month at most.   Other than that, the sky’s the limit.  Some recent house dinners have included: breakfast for dinner with waffles, mini quiches, and purple potato hash; all manner of roasted winter root vegetables and baked/marinated tofu and tempeh; faux japchae; wintery soups; tofu and veggie calzones with homemade tomato sauce; grain salads and pilafs and risottos;  and the ever popular (no, I’m totally not joking) massaged raw kale salad with garlic and lemon juice.  So, we do okay for ourselves. And maybe we can help you do okay too.