Your special sauce made while the pasta cooks

Real food pasta photo
In the time it takes to cook pasta, you can make a healthy sauce that matches your current mood.

There are times when I don’t have a clue what I am having for dinner, beyond that it is pasta. I choose the noodle type by how much time I have, put the water on to boil, and only then do I decide what the sauce will be.

Note: I deliberately present this dish as a concept, rather than a recipe. Recipes take a long time to follow, and you often don’t have the exact ingredients cited in the recipe. You will make more real-food meals at home if you have concepts stored in your memory, and can work with the ingredients you have on hand.

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Real food basics: Poached Eggs

Real food basics: Poached Eggs
Real food poached eggs on toast photo
Poached eggs on toast. As real as food gets.

Poached eggs are universally loved. Some would even call a perfect poached egg on toast comfort food. Poaching an egg free-floating in water is not hard, unless you hate your eggs wandering all over the pan, and don’t mind water on your toast. There are dedicated appliances for poaching eggs. I wish I had a dollar for each egg poacher bought around the world, and used only once. There are special little rubber tubs designed to poach eggs. Yet one more thing to clutter up your “what-the-heck-do-you-do-with-this drawer.” None are required for water-free, beautifully formed, poached eggs.

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Chicken stock the easy way

You can buy good chicken stock today. If you are willing to pony up some serious money, you can buy great chicken stock. However, I have never seen honest-to-goodness stock in a tetra pack. Homemade stock is thick, often solid when cold from the gelatin released from the bones.

My secret for making stock easily comes from being lazy. I hated making stock, but the only tough part was stripping the carcass. I no longer do that. I remember the last time — a turkey. I spent a long time with my fingers covered in juice and bits of meat, two bowls going — one for the meat, one for the bones. In the end, I had a very small pile of saturated meat. I decided on the spot it was not worth it.

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Freeze bread for single-slice use

A good bakery offers many great, healthy types of bread. But bread without preservatives does not stay fresh for long. Bread freezes well, but what if you want rye bread, but whole wheat is the one that is not frozen. Solve that dilemma and open all choices by freezing all your bread. I keep two or three types of bread on hand at all times — in the freezer. I never waste a slice, and simply select the number of slices I need each time.

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Reducing the Grr! Factor: Tame your cords and loose ingredients with elastics

Real food tips controlling cords photo
A simple elastic wrapped around small appliances ends cord problems in your cupboards

I’ve mentioned before that I have a small kitchen. One of the secrets to happy work in a tiny space is keeping countertops clear, so I choose to store small appliances that I use occasionally in a cupboard. However, I hated fighting with cords when moving them in and out.

The solution turned out to be a simple elastic band.

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Sweet potato wedges … fast

Real food sweet potato fries photo
Sweet potato wedges are cooked before browning for faster, more reliable results.

Sweet potato fries have become very popular. However, most of us try to avoid deep frying, and if you have tried to make sweet potato fries in the oven, you know they take quite a while, and go from doing nothing to setting off the fire alarm in about 30 seconds.

Here’s an easier way to get that wonderful, chewy taste.These take between 10-15 minutes if you precook the potatoes in the microwave, and are easy to make as part of a fast meal.

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Building your personal cooking file

Recently I wrote about my dislike of following recipes. That doesn’t mean I am always running on my memory. That is one of my more unreliable talents, so I have learned to document what I am unlikely to remember.

Real food recipe folder image
A simple folder holds recipes from friends and outside sources, as well as successful recipes gathered from the Web.

First, when I do use a successful recipe, I save it. Recipes arrive in my kitchen scrawled on a scrap of paper, if from a friend or other source of inspiration, or printed on a page from the Web. I keep a folder in my cupboard to harbor these treasures (only if they work for me, of course). I have tried almost every recipe system available, and nothing has kept my important information in place better than a simple folder. I spend a little extra time finding what I need, because there is no order to my file, but the important thing is that it is easy to put the paper away, no matter what form it takes. When I am cleaning my kitchen, I am moving fast and on autopilot — no time for creative thinking. Any form of information storage that required intricate folding or cutting to fit, would never work.

Real food kitchen notebook
A notebook safely stores all the tips and observations from my own kitchen.

The second tool I could not do without is my notebook.

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Preparing strawberries quickly

Real food strawberry with hull removed image
Strawberry washed, with hull removed. Ready to use or prepare for storage.

If you are trying to eat local strawberries year round (see why you should), you will be preparing a lot of berries at one time. Fresh locally-grown strawberries have a VERY short shelf, so you should plan to buy only what you can prepare immediately. Preparation is really quite simple, with removing the hull the only time-consuming part of the process.

I’ve tried a few special tools for hulling strawberries, but I always come back to a simple steak knife. If you have a really good paring knife, try that. Aside: for as much cooking as I do, and as much as I cherish my good chef’s knife, I have never owned a decent paring knife.

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Extended storage for pineapples

Real food pineapple with top removed photo
To save space in the refrigerator, I always take the top from the pineapple as soon as I bring it home. Note that the shoulder is intact.

Have you noticed that a pineapple will last a long time in your fridge — as long as you don’t cut into it? Have you also noticed that once you peel and chop a pineapple, it seems to spoil almost overnight? I won’t admit how long it took me to put these two concepts together, but I can now save a pineapple for a long time, even though I am using it as I go along.

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