I am a true believer that home-cooked, healthy food is the solution to our physical and emotional (and, I’d even wager, spiritual) problems. It’s also the key to bringing pure goodness, vitality, and fun into our lives.
I realized this about five years ago, when I woke up with an irrepressible longing to channel my inner homesteader. To this day, I am not sure where this came from. I grew up on Long Island and lived most of my adult life in Los Angeles. Trust me, farming was not even on my radar as a hobby, let alone as a vocation.
As a longtime advocate for environmental causes, I kept my protester’s spirit, but I moved my traditional pumps aside to make room for a pair of green muck boots (much to the horror of my fashion-conscious daughters). I tossed my Teflon (which I learned was off-gassing cancer-causing chemicals into my kitchen) and bought a now-beloved and well-seasoned cast-iron skillet.
I stuck my hands deep into the earth, planted seeds, pulled up carrots, then stuffed them back down when they looked too small (turns out, that is upsetting to a carrot).
I figured out how to weed sitting down (much easier on the back) and gave up on manicures, my nails requiring such vigorous scrubbing that they became a lost cause. My hair went from blow-dry smooth to some crazy thing that only a rubber band and hat could control.
Then, to really seal the deal, I married a blue-eyed farmer down in the field. He taught me how to herd cows (which are so much bigger up close), to squish bugs (little freeloaders munching on my green beans), and to leave the baby vegetables alone. He is still trying to teach me how to plant a straight row (won’t happen).
We stopped eating hamburgers and made our first kale salad. We stopped buying packaged foods containing high-fructose corn syrup and soybean oil. We swapped “natural flavors” for truly natural, whole-food ingredients. We tossed the BPA-lined plastic bottles and cans. We’ve been growing and eating a lot of our own food ever since — and now we crave kale the way some people crave sweets.
Together, we grew our garden. Over time, our homegrown dinners got better, and we started organizing Sunday potlucks for friends and family.
To get you and your family craving and cooking the right stuff, too, I wrote The Family Cooks. It’s a clear, uncomplicated cookbook. The food is prepared with love and care and infused with good intentions. This isn’t food you can buy ready-made in your supermarket or favorite takeout place. This is food you can only make in your own home, in the room where everyone already loves to hang out: your kitchen.
I believe that the reclamation of home cooking is one of the most important issues of our time. Whether you are a new cook, a young cook, or an “I can’t cook” cook, everyone can give it a try. The power to regain control of your family’s health and retrain their palates is in your hands.
Why entrust the most intimate ingredients of our daily lives — the food we put into our bodies to nourish our brains, our organs, our hearts, and our souls — to a handful of multinational conglomerates? Now is the time to restake your claim to your home on the (kitchen) range!
A chopped salad makes everyone happy, as each bite is full of different flavors and textures. Try to cut everything the same size and use equal amounts of all the vegetables until they are humming in contented harmony — and no one veggie gets to yell too loud. You can double or triple the recipe and store it, undressed, in an airtight container in the refrigerator for at least four days.
Makes six servings
Preparation time: 20 to 30 minutes
- 1 cup cooked chickpeas, roughly chopped
- 1 small head romaine lettuce, chopped (or 3 cups kneaded kale — kale massaged with extra-virgin olive oil)
- 1 cup diced celery
- 1 cup diced tomatoes
- 1 cup diced red cabbage
- 1 cup seeded and diced cucumber
- 1 cup chopped carrots
- Whatever dressing makes you happy (a simple dressing of extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice adds a great zip)
Combine all the ingredients except the dressing in a big salad bowl and toss. Add enough dressing to coat all the ingredients and toss again.
Dry pasta is cooked right in the sauce, a timesaving and delicious trick Italian grandmothers use to infuse the pasta with lots of flavor. Choose a favorite variety (such as shells, penne, or fusilli) that cooks in about eight to 12 minutes. After the pasta has cooked, you may choose to fold in a spoonful of pesto, top the meal with a fried egg for added protein, or drizzle it with balsamic vinegar.
Makes six to eight servings
Preparation time: 20 to 22 minutes
- 3 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves (or more to taste), chopped
- 1 small onion, diced
- About 4 cups water
- 1 can (28 oz.) diced tomatoes or 3 1/2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes with their juices
- 1 bunch kale, ribs removed, chopped
- 2 sprigs fresh basil, chopped, plus a few whole leaves for garnish
- 1 lb. whole-grain (brown rice or whole wheat) pasta
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Red pepper flakes (optional)
- Heat a large heavy-bottomed pot over high heat, and drizzle in the oil. Add the garlic and let it get nice and golden; it will take only about 30 seconds.
- Add the onion and cook until it is translucent, about three to four minutes.
- Add the water, then the tomatoes, kale, basil, pasta, and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil while stirring, then reduce the heat to a simmer.
- Cook until the pasta is al dente, giving the dish an energetic stir every few minutes (if it starts to look too dry, add a bit more water). Once the pasta is cooked, fold in the cheese and add the red pepper flakes, if desired.
- Top with the reserved basil.
Weekday Roast Chicken With Lemon and Garlic
Roasted chicken and potatoes, fragrant with garlic and lemon . . . on a weeknight? Yes! The key is to butterfly the chicken so it can lie flat on the baking sheet, which helps it roast faster. The beauty of this recipe is that it only requires a few minutes of your attention.
Makes four to six servings
Preparation time: 1 hour and 20 minutes (including 50 to 60 minutes of roasting time)
- 1 3-lb. chicken, preferably organic and free-range, butterflied
- Extra-virgin olive oil for baking sheet, plus 1 tbs. for the potatoes and 1 1/2 tbs. for the bird
- 1 lb. small potatoes
- 8 garlic cloves
- 1 lemon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices
- Sprinkle the chicken with 2 teaspoons salt as soon as you get it home. The earlier you salt the chicken (even as far as two days in advance), the moister and more flavorful it will be.
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
- Grease a rimmed baking sheet with oil.
- In a large bowl, toss the potatoes with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt, the garlic, and the lemon slices. Arrange them on the center of the baking sheet and cook for five minutes.
- Meanwhile, pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Rub all over with 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil.
- Remove the potatoes from the oven and arrange the chicken on top of them, tucking any stray potatoes and garlic under the chicken to prevent them from burning. Roast 40 to 45 minutes until the juices run clear when the joint between a thigh and drumstick is pricked with a knife, or when a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reads 165 degrees F.
- Transfer the chicken to a cutting board to rest, and return the potatoes to the oven to crisp up, five to 10 minutes more.
- Arrange the potatoes on a platter, top with the chicken, and squeeze a few of the roasted lemon slices over the dish before serving.
Fresh, Fruity Porridge
Spoon the ingredients into Mason jars, pop the jars in the fridge, and let chill overnight so the oats soften and the flavors mingle.
Makes six servings
Preparation time: 15 minutes (plus overnight chilling)
- 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
- 3 cups plain yogurt or kefir
- 3 tbs. honey or maple syrup
- 2 large apples, grated
- 1 cup mixed fruit, such as sliced kiwi or some berries (save a little extra for garnish)
- Combine the oats, yogurt, honey, apples, and mixed fruit in a bowl.
- Divide the porridge evenly among six 8-ounce Mason jars, cover with lids, and refrigerate overnight.
- The next morning, garnish the porridge with the reserved fresh fruit and enjoy.
The best thing about a crisp or crumble is that it’s a quick and easy dessert that you can toss together with any fruit you have on hand. Small berries can be thrown in whole; larger ones, like strawberries, are better cut in half. Stone fruits, like plums, peaches, and apricots, need to be pitted and sliced into bite-sized pieces. You can also use frozen fruit, as long as you thaw it first and drain the liquid. You might try adding a little vanilla, ginger, or grated citrus zest to the fruit for added zing. Or use some “pie spices” like cinnamon, allspice, and cardamom in the topping.
Makes six to eight servings
Preparation time: 55 to 60 minutes (includes 40 minutes of baking time)
- 4 lbs. fruit (if large, cut into bite-sized pieces)
- 1 1/2 tbs. cornstarch
- 1 to 4 tbs. sugar, honey, or maple syrup (optional)
- 1 to 2 tbs. fresh lemon juice (optional)
- 3/4 cup flour (whole wheat, spelt, or gluten-free all-purpose baking flour)
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, pecans, or almonds
- 3/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
- 1/2 cup brown sugar or granulated maple sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 1 stick (4 oz.) cold butter or ½ cup cold coconut oil
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- For the filling, combine the ingredients in a large bowl and toss to coat. If adding sweetener or lemon, start by tasting the raw fruit. If it’s tart, add 1 tablespoon sweetener. If it’s a bit lackluster, add a squeeze of lemon, then taste again, adding more lemon or sweetener if necessary. Transfer to a 9-x-13-inch baking dish. Set aside.
- For the topping, combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut the cold butter or coconut oil into small pieces and add them into the bowl. Using your hands, rub the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles lumpy sand. Scatter the mixture in an even layer over the fruit.
- Bake until the fruit is soft and bubbling and the topping is crisp, about 40 minutes.
Here’s the perfect way to use up those vegetables languishing in your fridge. This soup is versatile; you can use whatever vegetables you have on hand so long as you start with leeks or onions and a few garlic cloves. To make a vegetarian version, skip the sausages and add quinoa, beans, or lentils. This is your Sunday and your soup. Make it with what you have on hand…then serve with big pieces of toasted bread spread with good butter, and a hunk of Parmesan for grating.
Makes 10 servings
Preparation time: 45 to 70 minutes
- Olive oil, for the pot
- 3 cooked Italian sausages, your favorite kind, sliced
- 3 leeks (white and light-green parts), chopped and rinsed thoroughly
- 2 small carrots, chopped (unpeeled if organic)
- 2 celery stalks, chopped
- 2 big handfuls sturdy greens (kale, cabbage, or chard), chopped or torn
- 1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned
- 4 (or more) garlic cloves, chopped
- 1/2 cup green (French) or brown lentils, rinsed
- 8 cups vegetable or chicken broth (organic, if possible)
- Vinegar, any type (optional)
- Red pepper flakes (optional)
- Get out your big Sunday soup pot and heat it over medium-high heat, then drizzle in enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pot.
- Throw in the sausage (if using) and cook until nice and browned. Transfer to a plate with a slotted spoon.
- Add the leeks to the pot and cook, stirring, until they have softened a bit, 5 to 6 minutes.
- Add the carrots, celery, greens, tomatoes, and garlic. Stir for a few minutes until all the vegetables have gotten acquainted and are starting to soften.
- Add the lentils, broth, and sausages (if using).
- Let your soup simmer for 30 minutes while you read the Sunday paper.
- Taste and adjust the seasonings–does it need salt? A splash of vinegar? A few hot pepper flakes? Make it taste perfect for you.
Reprinted from The Family Cooks by Laurie David. Copyright 2014 by Hybrid Nation Inc. By permission of Rodale Books. Available wherever books are sold.
This article originally appeared as “Home-Cooked” in the January/February 2015 issue of Experience Life.