Here is an excerpt from my new book, FoodWISE, with a favorite recipe.
Cooking with an eye to time and money is what we all have to do—especially those of us with families, other caregiving responsibilities, out-of-home work, and/or limited budgets. The example comes to mind of a good friend, who manages to feed a family of eight each day—that’s twenty-four individual meals; her cooking includes pureeing canned peaches as a barely sweet sauce for some high-fiber pancakes, cutting apples to serve with peanut butter, and poaching wild salmon bought in quantity at Costco for dinner (not all in the same meal, of course). She uses some “easy” items like canned tuna for lunch and then adds a few of my home-canned dilly beans chopped up for good measure and flavor. Easy meals—cooked with love, quick to prepare, a mix of convenience and budget ingenuity.
I want to say, too, that if you know how to cook only a few meals, or feel comfortable handling only basic foods like rice, chicken, potatoes, there is a lot of variety you can enjoy—even if you’re on a tight budget. Many of the recipes in Part 4 are for the budget-conscious—for example, using eggs and vegetables in soups, curries, and chili. Variety was one of the main messages of back-to-basics cooking pioneer M. F. K. Fisher. One of her most well-known books, How to Cook a Wolf, dates from World War II. It is full of creative recipes for soups, fish, eggs, bread, and beef—all on a budget. Pasta water becomes soup stock, feed-store grains become your breakfast cereal, egg-boiling becomes more art than science by varying the “boiling minutes” (and thus egg texture) giving you almost a new food each time you cook. Our tastes and needs can bring us to a wonderful focus on food basics and economics.
Tamar Adler also gives us this no-nonsense approach in her An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace. Cooking with economy and grace means getting every ounce of juice and gristle from meats, every micronutrient from a vegetable. Other cookbook authors also talk about eking out nutrients from odd foods and microbes—all good advice, and very doable. Clearly, taking the time to cook at home and rediscover simple ingredients is possible on a budget. Read, and explore.
So, to begin, here’s a favorite recipe for baked garlic—very economical and especially yummy with cheese of any kind.
Baked garlic is one of my favorite “entertainment” dishes to make, either at home or for a potluck elsewhere—it is so easy and delicious. It is an excellent way to use a lot of my favorite allium (the family of onions, leeks, and chives). The garlic comes out soft, sweet, and sticky—perfect for spreading on bread or vegetables, or combining with hummus or other spreads, or mixing into a salad dressing…The sweet taste of the garlic is perfectly complemented with creamed, soft, or hard cheeses, creating a huge medley of taste sensations. I serve the garlic bulbs on a tray, with soft cheeses and coarsely textured grainy breads. Squeezing the baked garlic out of the peels is half the fun—let your guests squeeze and spread the garlic themselves. In this recipe I provide a delicious variation.
Equipment: Fancy terra cotta garlic-baking dishes are available, but all you really need is a glass or ceramic baking dish with lid.
Prep time: 5 minutes, and about 45 minutes for baking
4 large bulbs of garlic, with about ¼ inch cut from the top of the cloves, keeping the cluster of cloves together. There’s no need to peel the cloves.
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Place the prepared garlic bulbs in a glass or ceramic baking dish, cut side up.
Drizzle with olive oil and cover.
Bake for about 45 minutes. You can check for tenderness by inserting a knife or fork into a clove.
Remove lid and serve with side dishes—cheeses, breads, and veggies.
To make the garlic more like a thick spread: After garlic is baked, remove peels, gently press into a paste and add 1 tsp molasses or other sweetener (optional), ⅛ tsp black pepper, and some dried or fresh marjoram and parsley to taste.
From Gigi’s FoodWISE: A Whole Systems Guide to Sustainable and Delicious Food Choices. North Atlantic Books/Penguin Random House 2020.