Get Cooking with this Tip – Plan Ahead, But Not Too Much!

Get cooking with this tip – plan ahead, but not too much! Today’s post is for all of you who want to provide your families with healthy, wholesome food every day, but just can’t quite figure out how to find the time to cook.

I feel your struggle! I spent over 20 years building businesses, raising kids as a single mom and taking up the slack when my employees were sick or on vacation. I was determined to have a social life as well. Every minute of every day seemed jam-packed. Sometimes I felt like adding one more thing would be the straw that would break me.

While I’ve shifted the way I live over the past couple of years, I just had two physically grueling weeks moving and consolidating 2500 square feet of office into under 500 square feet. We didn’t hire movers so there was a lot of lifting, carrying, loading and unloading. I am tired. Perhaps that’s why I’m thinking about the little things that make it possible for me to throw together a meal quickly.

One of the things I do is plan ahead a little, but not too much. How does this help me? This morning planning ahead means marinating some chicken legs. I know that this will make the meat more flavorful, and I know that prepping it this morning means all I have to do this evening is pop them in the oven for 35 – 40 minutes.

Now that I’m in the kitchen, I realize I’m starting to get hungry. It’s midmorning and the perfect time to throw together a one-pot meal I can run to for lunch today and tomorrow. I grab an onion, olive oil, an orange bell pepper, a couple of summer squash, and some ground turkey. This will be an evolving dish. I haven’t yet decided on the flavorings.

I clean all the vegetables, slice the onion and while it’s sautéing in olive oil, slice about a third of the bell pepper and one of the squash. I add them in stages to the onion and sprinkle with salt & pepper. After a few minutes, I push all the vegetables to the outside of the skillet and place the ground turkey in the middle to brown. Periodically I have to break it into smaller pieces with the spatula. During the time in between stirs, I finish slicing the bell pepper and the other yellow squash.

I don’t need the pepper and squash for my one-pot meal, but knowing that when I come home from work tired, I sometimes just can’t get my mind around cleaning and chopping veggies, I recognize that prepping these now means I am more likely to cook them for dinner this week, or dip them in hummus for a healthy snack.

NOT having too specific a plan for the squash and bell pepper helps me not feel overwhelmed. All I need to do right now is stir my one-pot meal and slice these puppies. Then I’ll put them in one of the many plastic containers I keep in the cabinet in precarious stacks that fall on Ben’s head when he opens the cabinet doors. I like to think of this as reflex training. I can usually manage to catch them as they fall. Ben just thinks it’s annoying.

I finish off the one-pot meal by adding some frozen English peas, a handful of shredded Parmesan, Asiago, and Romano cheese blend, salt, pepper, and a little water & let it simmer for about 12 minutes. While the timer runs on the 12 minutes, I have time to pop the chopped veggies into containers and put them in the refrigerator, then clean up the kitchen.
veg for fridge

When I get home and am already hungry I won’t have to think about what I’m going to cook, all I have to do is turn on the oven and throw the drummies on a baking sheet. In the same amount of time I would spend driving to a restaurant, ordering, and getting my food, I’ll have cooked chicken. I can pair that with a piece of fruit, a salad, sliced tomatoes and cottage cheese or raw vegetables dipped in my favorite dressing and have a healthy meal without cooking anything else. I’ll also have time to steam asparagus or broccoli while the chicken bakes.

As a backup plan, I’ll have whatever is left of my one-pot meal. I can stretch it by adding some fresh kale, pasta or rice. Or I can throw together a frittata full of turkey, vegetables, and cheese. The key is not being too attached to a specific meal plan so that my mind is free to see all the possibilities instead of the impossibility of pulling off whatever plan I had that may no longer work.

Have another tip? Please share it with us in the comments below.

Quick Guide to Sauces

Today’s post gives you a Quick Guide to Sauces for those days when you feel a little saucy like I do today. When I dine away from home, I prefer locally owned restaurants with really tasty food. That may mean eating tacos asada in the back of a mercado, barbecue in a dilapidated house, or ossobuco in on of those F-A-N-C-Y places. No matter what the menu, I’m careful to avoid sauces that may contain gluten.

A sauce is simply liquid, a thickening agent, and flavoring, plus a possible bit of fat from rendered meat, butter, or olive oil. If a sauce contains gluten, the culprit is usually the thickening agent. Some sauces are automatically more suspect because the traditional recipes contain flour. To make it easier for you to navigate a restaurant menu without having to ask your server a million questions, let’s take a look at the traditional composition of some common sauces so you can narrow the field.

buerre noisette
Green Bean Casserole with Buerre Noisette

You don’t have to go to a high-end restaurant to find a sauce – hamburger steak, roast beef, and mashed potatoes are often topped with gravy. Unless you are in a specialty restaurant that deliberately cooks without wheat flour, avoid gravies. You don’t even have to ask; hey will be thickened with a flour=based product more often than not.

Restaurants that incorporate French technique will often offer variations of 5 basic sauces known as mother sauces: Béchamel, Velouté, Espagnole, Hollandaise, and Tomaté (tomato). There are many variations that fall under these 5 categories. For instance, béchamel is hot milk (the liquid), white roux (the thickening agent which contains flour), and onion, cloves, and nutmeg (the flavoring). Béchamel with added cream and herbs becomes a Cream Sauce. Béchamel enriched with Gruyere and Parmesan cheese becomes Mornay. Add sautéed and puréed onions plus tomatoes and the result is Soubise.

You get the idea. The key here is that the base sauce is thickened with roux which contains flour which contains gluten. Any time you see these on a menu, they will most likely contain gluten and are best to be avoided. If you REALLY want one, you can always take the time to verify with the kitchen, but you can save yourself time and trouble by avoiding the category.

Here’s a quick reference list:
Béchamel – thickened with white roux. Variations: Crème Sauce • Cardinal • Mornay • Soubise • Nantua • Cheddar Cheese • Mustard

Velouté – thickened with roux. Variations: Chicken Velouté • Veal Velouté, Suprême Sauce • Allemande • White Wine Sauce • Normandy • Bercy • Hungarian • Mushroom • Aurora • Poulette • Shrimp • Curry • Herb Seafood Sauce

Espagnole or Brown sauce – thickened with roux then often further refined into a demi-glace. From the demi-glace come the following variations: Marchand de Vin (Red Wine Reduction) • Bordelaise • Robert Sauce • Charcutièere Sauce • Lyonnaise Sauce • Chasseur • Sauce • Bercy Sauce • Mushroom Sauce • Madeira • Périgueux • Port Wine Sauce

Hollandaise – thickened with eggs. Variations: Aurore Sauce • Béarnaise Sauce • Créme Fleurette • Dijob Sauce • Foyot Sauce • Choron Sauce • Maltaise Sauce • Mousseline Sauce • Paloise

Classic Tomato Sauce – sometimes thickened with roux. Variations: Chaufroid • Spanish Sauce • Creole Sauce • Meat • Portuguese Sauce • Provençal Sauce

That’s a lot of sauces, but of course there are more:

Aioli is a version of Provençal Sauce but in American cuisine has come to be used as a term for flavored mayonnaise.

Alfredo – traditionally Parmesan cheese and butter but American versions often have cream and flour, roux, or starch.

Arrabbiata – garlic and tomato base usually served on pasta

Au jus – means with it’s own sauce. In American cuisine, this refers to light sauce for beef often served on the side made by skimming the fat off the juices left from cooking the beef and bringing them to a boil.

Avgolemono – thickened with egg

Barbecue – most commonly made with a tomato purée or vinegar base, but sometimes tomato paste containing flour is used.

Beurre Blanc – emulsified butter sauce with a vinegar reduction

Beurre Noisette – a brown butter sauce. Meunière sauce is a variation of the brown butter sauce, but meunière is also a technique that includes dredging in flour so trout meunière will most likely have been dredged in flour even though the sauce contains none.

Carbonara – composed of cream, eggs, Parmesan cheese, and bacon bits most often served with pasta

Chateaubriand sauce is usually a Bernaise or Bordelaise although the traditional sauce is a variant of Bercy Sauce.

Chimichurri – green sauce with vinegar base

Clam sauce – usually made with minced clams and sometimes a tomato sauce

Cocktail sauce – ketchup base

Coulis – made with puréed and strained vegetables or fruit

Crème Fraîche – matured, thickened cream

Duck Sauce – fruit base

Duxelles – mixture of finely chopped mushrooms, shallots, and herbs slowly cooked in butter until it forms a thick paste

Fumet – fish stock with lemon, white wine, peppercorns, white onion, and parsley

Gastrique – caramelized sugar deglazed with vinegar used to flavor sauces

Genovese – onion base sauce usually served over pasta

Gremolata – parsley base with lemon zest and garlic

Harissa – Tunisian hot sauce usually made with hot chiles, garlic, cumin, coriander, caraway, and olive oil

Marinara – tomato base

Mayonnaise – combines oil, egg yolks and vinegar. Variations include: Fry Sauce • Buffalo Wing Sauce • Marie Rose Sauce or Russian Dressing • Ranch Dressing • Rémoulade • Tartar Sauce • Thousand Island Dressing • Fancy Sauce • Honey Mustard (sometimes)

Mignonette – white wine & vinegar base

Miso – fermented soybean paste comes in 3 categories – barley, rice or soybean all of which are developed by injecting cooked soybeans with a mold and then aging them

Pesto – crushed basil, pine nuts, and Parmesan cheese

Ragù – meat based. Variations include: Ragù alla Bolognese • Ragù alla Napolentana • Ragù alla Barese

Rouille – aîoli with added olive oil, garlic, saffron & chili peppers and sometimes breadcrumbs

Salsa – often tomato based and typically piquant, it usually contains no thickening agent other than the vegetables or fruits from which it’s made. Variations: Red Sauce • Pico de Gallo • Salsa Cruda • Salsa Verde • Salsa Negra • Salsa Taquera • Salsa Criolla • Salsa Criolla • Salsa Brava • Guacamole • Mole (the kind in a jar almost always contains wheat) • Mango Salsa • Pineapple Salsa • Chipotle Salsa • Habanero Salsa • Corn Salsa • Carrot Salsa • Mojo • Piri Piri • Sambal

Sofrito – tomato base

Soy sauce – fermented paste of boiled soybeans, roasted grain, and mold

Teriyaki sauce – soy sauce base

Tzatziki or Cacik– strained yogurt or yogurt base

Hopefully this list will save you some time and trouble when reading menus and deciding what to order. If you dine at chain restaurants or purchase sauces from the grocery store, remember formulations may be different from traditional recipes. Often they will contain added starches or wheat to make the texture of the product stand up to lengthy stays on warehouse shelves. Please be sure to read the labels.

Do you have a favorite sauce that we missed? Please let me know so we can add it to our Cooking2Thrive® Quick Guide to Sauces.

Create a Father’s Day Memory – Take Dad on a Hike!

Take Dad on a hike for Father’s Day! When you can’t think of the perfect gift for Father’s Day, why not create a memory instead? Even if you already bought the perfect gift for your dad, how can he help but treasure time with you in a beautiful environment?

If your dad is relatively young and strong, a hike up a mountain can provide beautiful scenery. The closest hiking mountain nearby where I live has numerous natural rock stairs on one side and larger rocks you must scale on the other. Neither trek is straight up and no special equipment is required. An early morning hike is the perfect prelude to a Father’s Day brunch.

Because it’s quite hot here even early in the morning, we have to make sure to bring along plenty of water. I also carry snacks suitable for each hiker’s dietary preferences. I keep it small, simple and lightweight. Salted peanuts or trail mix with a variety of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit are my most common choices.
If the weather is cool, Ben likes to carry “jam tacos”. That’s what he calls the food created when he jams as much meat and cheese as will fit into a soft corn tortilla. He doesn’t use condiments, so these sandwich rolls can be jam packed and placed in a zip top plastic bag before the hike without the risk of excessive sogginess.

Other than that, we just carry a smart phone for photos and video and to call for rescue if we need it. Keeping things simple allows us to focus on being present in the moment. Of course, in spite of thinking I’m paying close attention to what’s going on around me, I’ve still managed to sprain my ankle and puke on my shoes during two of these hikes. Hey, I didn’t say all the memories would be pleasant!
River valley
If your father is elderly, you can bring the hike to him. Find photos from a previous hike. Scan them and have oversized digital prints made of the scenery. Mount the prints on foamcore so they can stand on their own or hang them on walls and furniture then literally walk through the posters down memory lane right in the living room.

If you’ve never been hiking together, you can still bring the hike to him. Get some potted trees, plants, or flowers and create a path in the yard, on the porch, or through the house. Hide or station the grandkids amongst the plants to provide the sound effects of wind, a waterfall, thunder, or airplanes overhead. For around $10 you can sit around a Light n’ Go Bonfire and tell stories or make s’mores. Of course, this is not advised if you’re hiking inside.
When I think back to my less than fortunate hiking incidents, I realize they provided some of the funniest memories and gave us great stories to retell. That’s the beauty of memories – especially the ugly ones.

Happy Father’s Day!

We hope you’ll take a moment to share your favorite Father’s Day memory below.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Fed Up?

Fed Up posterBen, Heather & I went to see the movie Fed Up this week. Our motivation was that James was one of the colorists who worked on the movie, but the visual effect his work created wasn’t the only thing we took away from the theater.

Directed by Stephanie Soechtig, this documentary is brought to us by executive producers Katie Couric and Laurie David. Katie Couric also narrates. The movie’s basic premise is political – an indictment of the US government’s acquiescence to the food lobby that has led to grocery stores full of food with tons of added sugar.

I don’t know if the point of the movie was to suggest that the government change its ways, big business change its ways, or just to shed a light on how the relationships currently work and how those relationships affect what we are told about food. Nonetheless, we all learned something.

In the car after the movie, Heather said she always thought that all calories were equal so it didn’t matter whether she got those calories from French fries or from almonds and carrots, and green beans. Every time Ben has told her that vegetables matter, she has dismissed the idea because she believed what we’ve all been collectively told – calories in, calories out is the key to healthy weight. This movie showed her that nutritionally where the calories come from matters.

Although I read labels any time I buy packaged food, I typically focus on the ingredient list. Sometimes I’ll look at the amount of calories, fat content or carbohydrates. I guess I always thought that sugars never contained a percentage of daily allowance number because the label was just reflecting how many grams of the carbs were sugars.

Fed Up makes the point that due to the lobbying pressure of large food manufacturers, the USDA has not set a recommended daily allowance for sugar. This means that in the US labels never bear a percentage of the daily allowance of sugar because no such recommended daily allowance exists. This is quite a clever strategy for avoiding having to state on the label that one regular can of soda contains 40 grams of sugar and exceeds the World Health Organization’s (WHO) sugar intake recommendation for one day by 15 grams.

chex nutri label
Rice Chex
GF super seeded bread
Gluten-Free Super Seeded Bread
wheat bread label
Wheat Bread
Hamburger helper label
Hamburger Helper

At first glance 15 grams may not sound like much, but 15 grams = 3.5 teaspoons or 60% of The World Health Organization’s recommended daily sugar intake for a whole day. The WHO advises that no more than 5% of your daily calories come from sugars. For the average adult with a normal body mass index (BMI), that comes to about 6 teaspoons or 25 grams of sugar per day. Now remember, one soda is 15 grams above the daily allowance. In other words, one regular can of soda contains 160% of the recommended daily intake of sugar.

Would it change how you feel about handing your child a soda if the label on the can listed the sugars as 160% of the recommended daily allowance? For those of us who try to make informed choices, having the information at out fingertips would make our job much easier.

And that brings me to Ben’s takeaway, and my passion – the only way you ever really know what’s in your food is to cook it yourself! In fact, that’s why we’re here cooking to thrive!

Not convinced that you can make cooking part of your lifestyle? Check out these posts:


Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have a material connection to the colorist mentioned, but no material connection to the companies, brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I did not write this post at the behest of said colorist. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”