MASTERING YOUR CREATIVE CUCCINA

Five Salt MealWhat’s the secret to creating nutritious and delicious weekday meals? Flavor…and working with fresh farm-to-fork quality basics. Say “bye-bye” to recipe cards and over glorified (and processed) “gourmet” boxed food. This season’s hottest movement is REAL – welcome to the delectable world of creative cuccina.

Imagine that your kitchen is a blank canvas, utensils are your tools, and every single item you bring into your pantry or icebox is a beautiful bright paint color waiting to blend effortlessly together. Just like painting with a blank canvas (versus paint by numbers) the sky is the limit and your imagination is the catalyst. Removing restrictions (i.e. recipes) and working with what you have allows for a new approach in the kitchen – fun and flavorful – especially with local seasonal produce.

Just DO IT!

eatAt the end of the day no one is more accountable and responsible than you for how you act and feel. Nutrient-dense, mineral-intense foods are the fuel we need to stay energized, brain fog-free, and overall feeling great. The catch is that in order to stay on top of our game (AND treat our bodies as the sacred temple that they are), processed foods need to be kicked to the curb and replaced with the OG (organic goodness) that can only be found in nature – not from a manufacturing plant.

It’s true that boxed convenience tastes great and supplies our hungry bellies with substance to keep going, but at what cost? Is cheaper really better? Do you really understand what the usual suspects found on food labels are and how they will affect you down the line? Without going in-depth of the truthful phrase “eat to live…live to eat” (also a conversation to be had with a Holistic Practioner), I proudly announce that the creative cuccina approach will keep your taste buds happy while almost completely eliminating that dreadful question “what’s for dinner”.

The Creative Approach

Creative cuccina is simple approach that includes a prepping regiment that is most effective when paired with quality ingredients found at your local COOP, farmers market or local natural foods grocer. This approach also supports the lost art of self-sufficiency that is engrained in the Farm-to-Fork movement. Self-sufficiency brings out the creative genius while learning how to master new tasks…including becoming an impressive force in the kitchen.

ecoinactionThe secret to implementing creative cuccina is to become your own personal prep chef. You don’t have to have culinary experience to make this happen, just 4-5 hours, a few kitchen appliances, and a great attitude (libations can sometimes help!). If possible, the best time to make this happen is after a trip to the market to ensure that you’ll never have to scrape wilted greens off the bottom of your fridge again. When prepping your food after purchasing you can quickly and effortlessly chop, boil, bake your way to a fridge filled with options to whip together meals all week long. The key is to keep it simple when assembling so that the natural OG flavors come alive in less than 30 minutes. That’s right, one afternoon of prepping means easy peas-y gourmet meals that will impress even your worst critic (you, of course!)

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DIG THAT DEHYDRATION

TSISG00ZFood Dehydration is the oldest form of food preservation, but is slated to be the hottest trend of tomorrow. Forget fighting zombies for savaged scraps of Twinkies and Wonder bread — knowing how to dehydrate food will save your cheeky behind.

Food dehydration is safe because water is removed from the food, and is an excellent DIY basic for the future while saving money in the meantime. Dehydration is a passive activity that on average takes vegetables 6-16 hours (fruit 12-48 hours) to dry. Food dehydration is also an excellent skill to know when rations are low  and beasts and looters are plentiful – not to mention you’ll have more friends to watch your back when you entertain them with a dried fruit salad and squirrel jerky!

DEHYDRATION METHODS:

Sun Drying: You will need three to four sunny days of at least 100 degrees in a row. And if you surviving in a sunny coastal climate – Mamacita says “you are a smart one,” and “be sure to use vinegar and lemon juice to clean off your simmering rock.”

Oven Drying: Of course you can try this option fairly easily today, but natural gas may not be around tomorrow. So no matter if you’re using a conventional oven, or you’ve designed a Dutch oven for the fire pit – keep the temp (at the minimum) 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and leave ventilation for constant air flow.

Prepping Produce
All vegetables except onions and peppers, and mushrooms should be washed, sliced, and blanched. Dry vegetables in single layers on trays. Depending of drying conditions, drying times make take longer. Dry vegetables at 130-degrees Fahrenheit.

* Beans, green: Stem and break beans into 1-inch pieces. Blanch. Dry 6-12 hours until brittle.
* Beets: Cook and peel beets. Cut into 1/4-inch pieces. Dry 3-10 hours until leathery.
* Broccoli: Cut and dry 4-10 hours.
* Carrots: Peel, slice or shred. Dry 6-12 hours until almost brittle.
* Cauliflower: Cut and dry 6-14 hours.
* Corn: Cut corn off cob after blanching and dry 6-12 hours until brittle.
* Mushrooms: Brush off, don’t wash. Dry at 90 degrees for 3 hours, and then 125 degrees for the remaining drying time. Dry 4-10 hours until brittle.
* Onions: Slice 1/4-inch thick. Dry 6-12 hours until crisp.
* Peas: Dry 5-14 hours until brittle.
* Peppers, sweet: Remove seeds and chop. Dry 5-12 hours until leathery.
* Potatoes: Slice 1/8-inch thick. Dry 6-12 hours until crisp.
* Tomatoes: Dip in boiling water to loosen skins, peel, slice or quarter. Dry 6-12 hours until crisp.
* Zucchini: Slice 1/8-inch thick and dry 5-10 hours until brittle.

The Drying Process – Fruits and Veggies

Fruits and veggies should be dehydrated between 120 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Begin drying your food at higher temperatures, and then turn the temperature down after the first hour or so (toaster ovens are the easiest and most efficient appliance). The last hour or so of drying time should be turned down on a lower setting. If using a conventional oven, turn to lowest setting (usually 250 degrees Fahrenheit), crack open door and place fan on side to keep temp low and breeze dry. Turn the food and rotate the trays while the food is drying (this includes in the sun).

When drying food, its best not to keep temperatures too low or too high. Temperatures too low may result in the growth of bacteria on the food. Temperatures too high will result in the food being cooked instead of dried. Food that is under-dried will spoil, and food that is over-dried will lose its flavor and nutritive value.

You will know your food is dried when you touch it, and it is leathery with no pockets of moisture. You can test fruit by tearing a piece in half. If you see moisture beads along the tear, it is not dry enough. Meat should be tough, but shouldn’t snap apart. Vegetables should also be tough but can also be crisp.

The Drying Process – Meats

Meats should be dried at 145-150 degrees Fahrenheit. Jerky should dry between 6-20 hours until pliable, but not brittle. Wipe fat off of the jerky while it is drying. Jerky does not store as long as fruits and vegetables.

To aid in the curing of jerky, meat must be marinated in salt and spices. The “OG” pioneers used 1 1/2 cups pickling salt to 1 gallon of water and soaked the meat strips in this for a couple of days. As an alternative to soaking, they also rubbed the meat with salt and spices (like garlic and pepper) before drying. The following is a quick and easy marinade:

1 C. fresh tomato puree
1/2 C. vinegar
1/4 C. brown sugar
3 T. Bragg’s Amino Acids
2 t. dry mustard
1 t. natural salt
1/2 t. pepper

Storing the Stash
Remember this key tip when storing your substances: moisture should not be allowed to enter the container. Dried food absorbs moisture from the air, so the storage container must be airtight. Jars and reseal able glass containers are the safest bet. If storing fruit leather, wrap in wax paper and store in another airtight container. Containers of dried food need to be stored in a cool, dark, dry place (60 degrees Fahrenheit – cellar conditions).

Learning to dehydrate food is also a great way to stay on a budget, maximize usage of seasonal organic produce, and ensure you always have the fresh flavors you love packed away in the pantry. Enjoy!