Although, I am not a wife and my work is much different from the classic farm wife, I thought I would share some of the cooking tactics that I use to create our nightly meals here at the farm. The food that I have access to and the time that I have to use it are not always in what I think of as proper alignment. If I could spend everyday, all day, in the kitchen, I would probably still have food projects on my wish list. I have run myself ragged with ambitions of never needing a grocery store again. Now days though, I try to be realistic, and keep it simple and sweet (or in most cases, savory).
I am not one to do a lot of pre-planning when it comes to our weekly meals. I often times am looking at the pile of veggie seconds that are collected on a side table that we keep in the barn for volunteers, employees, and me to help themselves to. They are all totally edible, but ugly or blemished and can’t be sold or given out to members. Over time, this has lead me to develop creative on the spot recipes. One of my favorite thing to do is chop up everything that I want to use for the meal and saute it in a pan with some kind of meat. I top it with fresh herbs or one of my favorite veggie pickle/ferments and we are done! A one pot meal that is never the same, but usually delicious.
Over time I have gotten better at knowing what food will combine well and not. I try to start with a base of onion and usually garlic. I also like to have one type of green, be it kale, chard, some asian type, or cabbage (cabbage being my favorite). A root or two is great, like carrots or potatoes (or kohlrabi, even if it is not technically a root). If I don’t have roots around, I like things like broccoli or cauliflower that have good flavor and bulk to them. If I am using cabbage, I love to add carrots and corn to the mix. If I am using something with a lot of flavor, like celery or bell peppers, I remember that it will have a strong influence on the flavor and I try not to use any other items that would have strong competing flavors. Then for the meat. I love chopped up sausage from our pork or from a package of Neys Big Sky Sausage/brats. Of course bacon is a great flavor adder too. I also use ground beef or chunks from time to time. If the meat is going to put out a good amount of fat (like italian sausage), I will add it in right before or along with the onions. But, if it is chunks, like beef or pork, I usually cook the pieces and set them aside to add in at the end, so that they don’t get over cooked.
With this base, you can decide to add sauce (like stir fry) and serve with rice or add broth and convert it to soup. We are still talking one pan meals most of the time and it brings variety to the table. One thing I try to always have on hand is frozen meat broth, made from left over chicken bones or from beef or pork bones. A rich flavorful broth can take ordinary veggies and turn them into superheros, adding both taste and nutrition. If you take a pan full of sauteed veggies and ground beef and add a little broth and a handful of noodles you will have your own hamburger helper in no time (minus the msg and artificial flavors). I love to add nutritional yeast and or cheese to mine. You can also use milk instead or along with the broth. Add a little more broth and a few extra herbs and spices or maybe some canned tomatoes or juice and you have a really yummy soup. Beans and/or lentils are great to help bulk up your meal and add some protein and are a good replacement or addition to meat.
Don’t get me wrong, I have had a few disasters by cooking in this manner, but I consider it the tuition cost of farm “wife” cooking school. I do follow or get inspiration from recipes sometimes too, and I will never completely free myself from the grocery store or from the ever saving frozen pizza (which I now limit to cheese only, so that I am motivated to doctor it up with high quality veggie and/or meat). But, I have learned that if I have a little faith and cook without fear, I have a much better chance of eating what we grow. If I look at what the season has provided me with today and worry less about what the recipe calls for, I can come up with something pretty tasty.
May your box be full of delicious foods that you love or are excited to try. I encourage you to take a chance this week and leave the recipes in their books and see what you can create starting with an empty frying pan. You may surprise yourself. I know I have. Good luck and happy eating.