Forty Days of More-with-Less: Cooking like Jazz: Planning and Improvising Means Better Meals

Ben and Heather Kulp’s 40-day Lent journey to cook exclusively from More-with-Less Cookbook.

By Ben and Heather Kulp

This week, Ben and Heather spent time celebrating two months with our new baby boy. We also grieved a little, because this marker means Heather returns to work full-time next week. With this (another) major transition on the horizon, we took the opportunity to focus on planning. We made sure all of baby’s 3 month clothes were ready to go (he does seem to be growing out of one thing every day!). Heather pressed and re-hung her business clothes (though yoga pants and sweatshirts have been nice for a few weeks!). Most importantly, we thought about how to ensure we had nutritious food available during the coming weeks’ unpredictable schedules. As with all life transitions, we understand the need to be flexible even while planning.

More-with-Less offered many helpful tools so we can prepare in advance for mornings and evenings as a busy family of three. Ben remembers fondly a large container tucked away in his family’s pantry when he was growing up. Every few months, his father would mix up a batch of the Pancake Mix (73). Then, each Saturday morning, a member of the family could easily pull out the tub of mix and put together a quick breakfast of pancakes or waffles. That person could also customize the mix, adding coconut or chocolate chips or (Ben’s favorite) fresh-picked blueberries.

We found it to be true with other recipes this week; the more you know the basic recipes (in which More-with-Less specializes), the more you can customize to your tastes. This week, we took the idea of a stir-fry and combined two recipes to increase flavor and use what we had. The result: a colorful concoction of Sweet and Sour Soybeans (p. 113) and Skillet Cabbage (p. 225).

sweet sour soybeansSweet and Sour Soybeans

sweet potato sausage bakeSweet Potato Sausage Bake

We also used the ingredients from the Sausage Sweet Potato Bake (p. 140) with the spices of the Turkey Apple Casserole (p. 141) to produce a comforting curried roast vegetable casserole.

Our favorite riff was a version of the seasonal craving Heather had for Asparagus Soup (203).

asparagus soupAsparagus Soup

The bitter, fresh asparagus is complimented by a rich creamy sour cream. Because we knew the sour cream added creaminess more than flavor, we subbed in plain yogurt instead. We also substituted dill from our garden for pepper. The week-ahead planning (we knew asparagus would be in season and had this recipe on our weekly meal list) allowed us to be creative rather than desperate because we didn’t have the “right” ingredients.

But, customization takes understanding the purpose of ingredients, which takes practice—and practice takes intentionally cooking together as a family.

Through the 10 Day Marriage Challenge we are doing, we realized that one of the lessons we most want our son to learn from us is how to cook. We are planning ahead so he will not only see us model healthy and simple cooking, but also that he will participate in meal preparation as soon as he is able. Multiple stories within the More-with-Less pages refer to the recipes helping parents teach their kids important values. We also expect to use the Simply in Season kid’s cookbook and Herb the Vegetarian Dragon cookbook  we found this week on a roadtrip to Montague Bookmill.

Until he can join us at the stove, we hope to focus our mornings and evenings on the ordinary miracles of parenting, with all its unpredictability, rather than on throwing together sandwiches or ordering take-out to fill our bellies. Now, with a pantry full of Crunchy Granola (p. 92) and a freezer full of Asparagus Soup, Blackbean Soup (p. 209), Pot-of-Gold Peanut Soup (p. 217), Brown Breadsticks (p. 66), and casseroles, we can do just that.

MennoByte_photoBen Kulp is a cellist, Suzuki cello instructor, and entrepreneur. Heather Scheiwe Kulp is the Clinical Fellow at the Harvard Law School Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program. Along with their newborn son, they live in Boston, Massachusetts, and attend the Mennonite Congregation of Boston. Together, they enjoy hiking, listening to live music, and enjoying good food with friends.

Look for their posts each Thursday from now through Easter, under the new special series category, Forty Days of More-with-Less. Or sign up to receive all Mennobytes posts by subscription from the SUBSCRIBE button on the right side of the blog.

MWL_Cover_hard_2011.qxpAnd buy the cookbook here!