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Modular Cooking

Viewed 3215 times 2019-3-22 11:46 |System category:Life

The chopped tomatoes are cooking with the salmon in the slow cooker with the mushroom slices. When the fish falls apart, the olives are added. 

The freezer has a tub of spinach cubes, a tub of ginger cubes, and a tub of bacon cubes. I have no ice cubes though as I prefer warm to cold beverages. 

Bacon cubes?

After I fry the bacon and mushroom slices, I store the bacon fat in a jar to use instead of butter, then I make a gravy. The ice cube trays are full of these treats. 

Modular cooking is based on defining a meal as 50% mostly green vegetables and a few other colours, 20% protein, 20% carbohydrates and something nice. 30 to 40 years ago, the vegetable options were meant for large families who could eat 2 lbs each of carrots, broccoli, peppers, and some celery, mushrooms and corn in a week. That's too much food for one person. Happily, nowadays the frozen food section has good quality vegetable mixtures in a bag, as do the produce and deli sections.

"I don't cook," I let my mother know, "I just rearrange some of the ingredients. It's assembly, really." 

Spiralized carrots and zucchini are replacing spaghetti and noodles, I used peas to replace rice, and my friends say they like eating the increased vegetable content. 

When people are starving, they need protein combined with carbohydrates, I teach my students. When people gain enough weight, they need vegetables flavoured with protein and carbohydrates. Old recipes books from the 1800s show the different style of cooking on an open fire, and naturally these recipes are based on carbohydrates mixed with meats. 

I had a wonderful beef noodle soup when I was living in Beijing. I wrote home about it, guessing, this is probably what traditional beef noodle soup was. It was in broth, with meat, and the pasta was homemade. Inspired, I make my own at home, although as with everything in life, work is simplified by starting with pre-made ingredients. I grab the bin of mixed vegetables, grab the bin of cooked meat cubes, or failing that, in go a couple of bacon and mushroom cubes. It's boiled in beef broth, and when hot, in go the noodles. 

Spaghetti, meatballs and mushrooms with olives in a favourite staple. But so is chili. And tomato casserole. These start with the same master recipe tomato sauce divided three ways, frozen, and as needed, mixed with a few ingredients on hand. 

Every meal I prepare daily is like an instant meal in this modular way. However, to have the little bins of food ready for assembly, cooking needs to happen about once a month. I'm looking forward to making salmon lasagna, although I don't know when I'll have the time.

Dad's pizza is my friend's and students' favourite: start with a store-bought pizza shell that has an acceptable topping, buy the toppings you like, bake it. I was feeding my Muslim friends and the non-pork pizza I made was a cheeseburger pizza: crust, tomato, cheese, pickles (hot peppers are good, too), cooked hamburger, more of everything until it looks like the crust won't hold more food, then baked for 20 minutes. My friends ate half a pizza each. 

Now that I've been home for a while, I enjoyed a few favourites: tourtiere is a Quebecois meat pie, Shepperd's pie is the cottage version, and of course, fish. Home sweet home, there's no such thing as too much fish. 

Shepperd's pie is cooked ground meat in gravy mixed with diced vegetables, and traditionally topped with potato. However, potatoes are a high carb, low nutrition, inefficient fuel. So many people are switching to squash or mashed cauliflower on top. The dish is baked for 40 minutes, until bubbly. 

There's the classic grilled cheese made better with tomato and bacon slices, but that is more difficult with modular cooking since the bread, cheese and fresh tomato are not kept on hand, and the bacon is in the ice cube tray in the freezer. But it's a good treat on the day the groceries arrive at home. 

For my cats, of course, it's meat and mice. Cats need taurine, mice supply. I offered my cats fish since they seem interested, and thankfully all they do is roll in the fish and run exuberantly through the house, stinking up everything in the home. That means it's cleaning day. So, first I wash the cats, then everything else. A small home is easier to manage. The cats have a lot of fun rolling in fish, but they need some food in their bellies. I am glad my cats won't eat fish because fish causes health problems in cats' urinary tracts. My cats prefer chicken, so I sometimes bring home a baked chicken. 

I used to bake the chicken myself for 2 to 3 hours, basting and stuffing, all the works. I can buy the finished product for a marginal cost of $2 (which was 12 RMB when I was in Beijing). Chicken Day! Saith called the tribe. There was no saying no to him, he wouldn't understand. There was no predicting it, so I kept bins and tins of chicken on hand. 

Modular cooking lets me eat healthier, better tasting food for a fraction of the cooking time. In addition to the tomato sauce master recipe that splits into many different uses, another master recipe is fish casserole: Mix cooked fish in a 1:1 ratio with diced, steamed vegetables, in a cream sauce. Freeze in little bins ready for use. 
- Fill vegetable cups such as peppers, eggplant, with the thawed casserole and bake for about 30 minutes. 
- Cook shell pasta and mix the casserole with an equal quantity of cheese in milk sauce (alfredo), heating before pouring onto the cooked pasta. Remember, pasta is increasingly replaced by vegetables.
- Eat it as is for a quick shot of energy on the go. 

Some people swear by liquid nutrition instead: smoothies are good whether made from yogurt or sweet, soft tofu. Tired of drinking water or tea? Try broth and tisane all day. And of course, in winter, there's nothing better than a spiced vegetable soup in meat broth to shun a cold. Having just a few well organized ingredients on hand makes this easily doable.

Gone are the days of kitchen cupboard full of ingredients used rarely and only for special recipes. My friends like the carrots I put in recipes: the saved time frees some time for me to cut flowers and stars from slices of rainbow carrots. Rainbow carrots are yellow, orange, red, and purple. 

I hope this article may inspire you to try some of your own modular cooking at home, so you can eat better food and have more spare time, less expensively. 

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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