Kick the can
Little by little, I’ve been making an effort to decrease the amount of packaged foods I buy, steering more towards whole foods that are prepared at home. It’s definitely not all-or-nothing for me, though, as some things I find take far too much effort for me to make myself, and are too delicious and convenient when bought pre-packaged. I haven’t, for example, tried making my own bread, pasta, marinara sauce, almond milk…a myriad of food items that I use regularly and happily purchase from the store. Maybe some day I’ll be blogging about making all of these items from scratch, but for now, I’m good.
After successfully making my own granola bars, I’ve since explored other from-scratch alternatives to food items I had previously bought from a can or package. One of those items is refried beans. My husband is from Mexico, so beans are always in the house, and are served next to eggs, smeared on tostadas, and used as a side at dinner time. Among other things, beans provide fiber, protein, and iron, so I’m happy to make them a regular part of my diet. We usually buy and very much enjoy Amy’s Organic Refried Black Beans, but I decided recently to try my hand at making my own beans. Why, you ask, should I bother, when the Amy’s brand is not only tasty, but also organic and sold in cans that are BPA-free? Well, for one it’s cheaper. I haven’t actually done the math, but the ingredients used in the recipe I’m about to share are extremely simple and cheap, so I’m absolutely sure I’m saving money by doing this. Secondly, even though cans are recyclable, it takes energy to recycle them, so making my own means less waste and less environmental impact. Finally, making my own refried beans means I know exactly what’s in them, and I can customize them to my taste preferences. It’s also just really easy, so I felt like there was no longer any excuse not to do it! And, of course, they’re quite yummy– even better than the canned variety!– and everyone in the family enjoys them, even Baby E. Here’s the recipe:
- 1 lb black beans
- 1/2 large onion, chopped
- 2 tbsp minced garlic
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp cumin
- 5 cups hot water
- Rinse the beans in a colander. Pick out any bad beans.
- Combine all the ingredients in the crockpot. Remove any floating beans. Cover, and cook on HIGH for 4 hours and on LOW for 2 hours.
- Uncover, and remove extra liquid, if desired. Leave enough liquid to reach the desired consistency when the beans are mashed. (I tend to leave the extra liquid in and find that the consistency is perfect like this).
- Mash beans with a potato masher or an immersion blender to desired consistency.
- Serve warm. Store in air-tight containers in the refrigerator and use within 2 weeks, or freeze for later use.
Another food I never thought I would make myself is vegetable stock. This is extremely easy to make, and I honestly don’t know why I waited so long to make it! There are several ways to make vegetable stock, but the way I make it is the “save-it-up” technique, in which I save scraps of vegetables in the freezer, and once I’ve more or less filled a gallon-sized ziploc bag, I make stock with it. I’ll use the stock to make soup, and then any leftovers I’ll freeze into one-cup servings, so that I always know I’ll have broth when a recipe calls for it.
- tips to green beans
- ends of zucchini
- carrot or potato peels
- parsley stems
- mushroom stems
- tomato trimmings
- pea pods
- wilted celery stalks
- kale, spinach, or chard stems
- green onion tops
- wilted or outer lettuce leaves
- bell pepper stems and seeds
- When you have a quart or more of parings and trimmings, coarsely chop them, then place in a large pan and cover with cold water (or you can use saved up cooking water from boiled or steamed vegetables, which contains tons of vitamins and minerals!). Salt lightly to bring out the flavor, then bring to a boil. You may also add herbs to the stock, such as a bay leaf, a pinch of thyme, a sprig of parsley, etc.
- Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Strain vegetable trimmings, reserving stock.
With recipes this simple, it’s not difficult to substitute canned or packaged versions of staple food items with the made-from-scratch homemade versions. Do you have any easy homemade foods that you prefer over the store-bought variety? Share in the comments below! (And good luck trying to convince me that making my own almond milk is easy! I know that’s going to come up!).