Archive for January, 2018

January 30, 2018

Back to Basics in the Kitchen

We often talk about cooking here as if you’ve been cooking all your life, but today we’re going to get back to basics. While my mom didn’t cook much when I was growing up, my grandmother did. I spent enough time cooking fresh food and baking from scratch to feel comfortable with the tools and the terms. That’s not true for everyone my age and certainly not for everyone my kids’ age.

In some circles cooking has come to mean popping a packaged meal in the microwave or heating precooked entrees or vegetables in the oven. I’ve seen posts in which a description of baking from “scratch” included a cake mix.

Reducing the amount of prepackaged, convenience foods you eat can help lessen your consumption of chemical additives, sodium, manufactured fats, and sugar. It also means you may have to perform a few additional “cooking” related tasks.
eggshells
If you’re not familiar with cooking terminology, translating a recipe into a dish may seem daunting. Removing some of the mystery can help you get past the feeling that you can’t cook because you don’t even know what the words in the instructions mean. Today, let’s explore some basic cooking terms and techniques so you can be on your way to becoming a great cook!

You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to prepare a wide variety of foods for boiling, steaming, baking or broiling. Peeling, slicing, chopping, dicing, and mincing only require a knife. But what are they?
Definitions:
Peel – Remove the outside skin from vegetables or fruits.
Slice – Cut a thick or thin, flat piece of something like fruit, vegetable, bread, or meat.
Chop – Cut food into irregular pieces of similar size to each other. Chopped pieces are typically larger than diced or minced.
Dice – Cut food into cubes between 1/8″ and 1/2″ in size. If size is not specified, use 1/4″
Mince – Mincing is like dicing, but the pieces are smaller.

When preparing vegetables and fruits, you’ll use these techniques over and over again.

Sometimes you may not want a cooked or raw vegetable to retain its shape at all. You can then use a food chopper or processor to grind or purée it. Grinding reduces the food to tiny particles. Puréeing means the food is processed until it’s smooth. You don’t have to have an electronic appliance to do this. A cooked vegetable can be mashed, then put through a sieve to create a purée.

Once you’ve prepped vegetables and meats, you may want to add heat in order to boil, steam, sauté, bake, broil, roast, grill, or braise.
Definitions
Boil – To submerge in a boiling liquid at or above the boiling point of water.
Steam – To place food above boiling water in a pot or pan using some kind of rack or basket and a cover so that steam cooks the food.
Sauté – To cook a food quickly in oil and/or butter over high heat.
Bake – To cook using dry heat in an oven or on heated metal or stones.
Broil – To cook quickly using high heat from above the food.
Roast – To cook using dry heat with a temperature of at least 300 in an environment in which hot air from an open flame, oven or other heat source envelops the food, cooking it evenly on all sides.
Grill – To cook directly over live, high heat flames.
Braise – To cook slowly in a small amount of liquid in a covered container in the oven or on a burner.
Brown – To give a cooked surface to meat or flour. Also to turn a brown color in the oven.

Sometimes you’ll want to parboil, blanch, simmer, scald or blend.
Definitions
Parboil – To briefly boil in water until food begins to soften.
Blanch – To briefly place food in boiling water, then immediately move it into cold water. 
Simmer – To cook in liquid at a temperature just below a boil. 
Scald – Refers to both dipping into boiling water, and heating milk to just below the boiling point.
Blend – To mix ingredients together thoroughly often using a beater, mixer, or blender.

You may be instructed to dot a casserole with butter before baking it, or to baste a turkey while it roasts. If so, here’s what to do:
Definitions
Dot – Cover the top with small pieces of butter.
Baste – Spoon, brush or pour drippings or liquid over a food before or during cooking.

When you begin baking from scratch, you’ll commonly see instructions to sift, mix, cut in, whisk, flour, fold, and knead so let’s prepare for that:
Definitions
From Scratch – To make from the very beginning without using already prepared ingredients.
Sift – Use a device made of a metal cup with a screen at the bottom that contains a mechanism to force the flour through the mesh.
Mix – Combine items to form one mass.
Cut In – Work solid fat into dry ingredients with a pastry blender until evenly distributed.
Whisk – Beat or stir with a whisk.
Flour – To dust a pan the shortening in a prepared baking pan with flour.
Fold – To delicately incorporate one substance into another substance without releasing air bubbles.
Knead – To work a dough by mixing, stretching, and pulling with the fingers and mashing with the heel of the hand.
grate
Other common actions are grating, whipping, and garnishing. Let’s explore those terms:
Grate – To rub firm food on a tool with small, rough, sharp-edged holes grater to create small pieces.
Whip – To beat vigorously to incorporate air and cause expansion.
Garnish – To decorate a dish with something attractive and flavorful.

Now for the important question – Can we use these terms to make a great snack for the Super Bowl?

Of course we can! It’s winter. Let’s make chili!

Chili Sallie
Serves 8

1 large onion, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 or 2 jalapeño peppers, seeds removed, finely chopped
2 fire roasted sweet peppers, seeds removed, diced
1 1/2 lbs lean ground beef
2 tbsp chili powder
1 1/2 cups cooked black beans
3 1/2 – 4 cups tomato juice
1/3 cup stewed tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 tbsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp garlic powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Instructions
Sauté onion in olive oil in large pan until translucent – about 5-7 minutes. Add the jalapeño and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Add red peppers and ground beef to the pan and brown. Once beef is browned, sprinkle with chili powder and stir until all the meat turns red. Add beans, 3 1/2 cups tomato juice, stewed tomatoes, and the balance of the spices.  

Stir and simmer for at least 20 minutes. Add the balance of the tomato juice if needed as the chili cooks down.
Serve hot.
chili
Now that you have a guide to more than 30 common cooking terms and have had a chance to see them as they appear in a recipe, you can build on this knowledge as you gain experience and confidence.

Never feel bad about having to look something up. Many chefs have used books and kitchen experience to become successful. And remember, you don’t have to be a chef to be a great cook!

January 22, 2018

Mix and Match

Sometimes in the kitchen I just have to mix and match. I grew up on a farm so it wasn’t convenient to shop at the grocery store often. We planned and purchased for a week at a time. If we decided to vary the menu from our plan, we sometimes had to make substitutions. Those habits stuck with me. I tend to shop once a week with a loose plan in my head. In between trips, I mix and match to create the meals I desire.
herbs
While our Cooking2Thrive recipes go through at least three extensive tests to make sure the proportion of each ingredient is just right, my everyday cooking is haphazard, thrown together, and, more often than not, delicious! I’m rarely deterred by lack of an ingredient.

I recently decided to make tuna croquettes. They’re one of my favorite quick & easy go-tos. I keep them really simple like my grandmother did. She always mixed canned salmon, an egg, crushed saltines and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Then she pan fried them in melted butter. I use tuna rather than salmon, but other than that I follow her lead.

Technically, these may not even be croquettes to you. They have no béchamel or brown sauce. They’re not rolled in breadcrumbs, and they’re shaped like round patties instead of cylinders. Nonetheless, they’re quite tasty.

Five-ounce cans of solid white albacore tuna in water are staples in my pantry. I combine one or two cans with one egg, gluten-free breadcrumbs, and a little salt & pepper. I never measure, I just add breadcrumbs until the mixture isn’t too wet or dry to hold together. Then I make patties and pan fry them in butter.

Most recently, I began making the croquettes and realized I only had about a tablespoon of breadcrumbs. That’s not enough. I had no crackers or bread on hand. I did have an open bag of Cheetos® puffs (yes, I know those aren’t healthy). I placed a handful of them in a plastic bag and crushed them to use in place of the breadcrumbs. I had to crush a few more, but they worked like a charm!

I had never before considered using Cheetos in croquettes, but there are substitutions I make on a fairly regular basis. I add vinegar to regular milk to use in place of buttermilk. I use coconut crystals in place of brown sugar. I use dates or honey to sweeten muffins or cookies. I substitute anise for fennel or vice versa. I mix and match citrus all the time depending on what I have handy, sometimes adding a little apple cider or rice wine vinegar to enhance the acidity of lemon, lime, or orange flavor and balsamic vinegar to enhance cherry.

Last week I baked some tilapia to serve over rice. I really wanted the fresh punch of a pico de gallo as a finisher on top. I had no cilantro, lime, or peppers on hand. What I had was grape tomatoes, yellow onion, and basil stir-in paste.

I thought why not see if I can combine these into something that will add the cool acidic top note I’m looking for? I chopped the tomatoes and onion into small pieces, added a small dollop of the basil along with some salt and pepper. The resulting salsa enhanced the fish and rice perfectly even though the flavor profile varied from pico de gallo.

At some point, most of us will discover we lack an ingredient needed to finish a dish we’ve already started cooking for dinner. That’s a great time to mix and match. If you’re not sure where to begin, a guide to pairing flavors can be helpful. Check out the award-winning book – The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs.

Or just do what I do and wing it. Cooking is as much art as science. I can’t tell you how I know a substitution will work. I just see it in my head. You may be able to do this too. There’s nothing wrong with giving it a try!

Mixing and matching may make your food a little less predictable, but in my experience, no one seems to mind as long as it’s tasty.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/tilapia-has-a-terrible-reputation-does-it-deserve-it/2016/10/24/4537dc96-96e6-11e6-bc79-af1cd3d2984b_story.html?utm_term=.2f02886f3438

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/flavor-bible-karen-page/1100163990#/

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.”

January 16, 2018

How Many Cures are we Missing?

After happening across a documentary entitled, “Unrest” this weekend, I’m pondering the question: How many cures are we missing?

dna

“You can miss a cure because people are telling the wrong story about you.” – Jennifer Brea

That’s the powerful quote that stuck with me after watching the heart wrenching story of Jennifer Brea and others who suffer from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) also sometimes known as Myalgic Encephalopathy.

“You can miss a cure because people are telling the wrong story about you.” – Jennifer Brea

ME/CFS is a complicated illness affecting the neurological, immune, endocrine and energy metabolism systems. Like Multiple Sclerosis, Lyme Disease, Celiac Disease, and Fibromyalgia, ME/CFS has attracted controversy. For many years, it was a debated whether it was an illness at all. Today, up to 90% of people with this syndrome go undiagnosed. Approximately 75% of those affected can no longer work and 25% are homebound and sometimes bedridden.

monsterUnfortunately, the story we often tell when an illness has vague symptoms, is chronic or intermittent, is difficult to diagnose, has no cure, or is difficult to treat is that the patient has a psychological disturbance rather than a physical illness. Some doctors directly tell patients the symptoms are all in their head.

It has happened to me. During the two years I spent with an intracellular parasite encapsulated in a capped tooth, I was told by two different doctors that the extreme fatigue, abdominal pain, abnormal bleeding, and pain behind my right eye that occurred between each round of pneumonia were all in my head. The story they were telling nearly caused my death.

I had psittacosis that I contracted from pet Cockatiels which unbeknownst to me had been illegally imported. My diagnosis was confirmed by both a blood titer and a positive test of the birds. The good news is, I lived. The bad news is, it was an immense struggle to get medical help until I had 104 temperature, incessant vomiting, and pneumonia. At that point, I was considered ill. The fact that it kept recurring was considered unrelated.

That illness was 30 years ago. Any time I have crossed paths with one of those two doctors since then he asks me, “Are you sure those birds had something to do with it?” Yes, I’m sure. The tests indicated the birds carried the organism. The USDA asked for custody of the birds so they could save tissue samples to use as evidence against the pet store owner. YES, I’M SURE!

I am sure, but he is not. In spite of the supporting science, this doctor who is an animal rights advocate cannot bring himself to let go of his story. In his story, animals do not cause harm.

“You can miss a cure because people are telling the wrong story about you.” – Jennifer Brea

Every time I hear someone condescendingly say, “I believe in science,” I cringe. It’s not that I don’t believe in science. It’s that I recognize that we don’t have as much scientific knowledge today as we will have tomorrow. And what we learn tomorrow may turn today’s knowledge on its ear.

I also recognize that the story we construct around scientific observation may be filled with bias that can do real harm and, as Jennifer Brea so astutely points out, may cause us to miss a cure for a very real disease.

It can be difficult to develop a narrative most likely to cure. Some physical illnesses have associated psychological components. Sometimes depression is a reasonable response to the altered life circumstances we face from physical illness. Some wounds to the psyche manifest as somatic symptoms. There’s no doubt it’s complicated.

Just because it’s complicated is no reason to take a shortcut, rely on assumptions, perpetuate myths, or be dismissive of a patient because they have something outside your realm of expertise or experience. Perhaps my greatest disappointment with the medical community came when no one seemed remotely curious why I got pneumonia every time I stopped taking antibiotics and why I had continual symptoms in between rounds of pneumonia.

diagnosisI wanted someone to be curious to solve my puzzle. I thought that’s how diagnostics worked. I believed getting curious and trying to figure things out were a large component of practicing medicine. I believed that until the point at which I read my medical charts. It was an eye opening experience.

If you have an autoimmune disorder or auto-inflammatory disorder like MS, Celiac Disease, Lupus, CREST Syndrome, or Moersch-Woltmann syndrome, it may take months or even years to get an accurate diagnosis. The same is true of ME/CFS and many other chronic conditions – even common ones.

A study published in 2007 in The International Journal of Clinical Practice (found here on Pub Med) found “The under-diagnosis of common chronic diseases in the developed world ranges from about 20% for dementia and cirrhosis to 90% for depression and osteoarthritis. The delay in the prompt diagnosis and initiation of treatment is associated with increased morbidity and mortality for most of the reviewed diseases.”

There are models of hope: A movement toward Patient and FamilyCentered Care makes the patient part of the care team. Translational Research embraces the input of patients and the community as it seeks to implement scientific research into patient care. Systems that value the input of patients can help shift the story that is told about a disease.

Systems that invite curiosity, innovative thinking, imaginative approaches, and new information (even that which challenges current beliefs) rather than treating them as threats could vastly improve diagnostics and treatment plans.
curiosity
I view curiosity, a willingness to question, and the willingness to sometimes be wrong as confident qualities. I don’t believe that any physician will have all the answers. That would be unrealistic.

What I do hope for is physicians who are willing to exhaustively pursue knowledge that will help their patients. I hope for doctors who ask good questions. I long for a system that is not dismissive of ANY patient. I hope for physicians who can embrace and incorporate other opinions. I wish for practitioners with enough strength, character, and perspective to recognize areas in which they may be biased and with enough courage to question themselves.

“You can miss a cure because people are telling the wrong story about you.” – Jennifer Brea

Until we begin to question our stories, how many cures are we missing?

Resources
https://www.unrest.film/

https://www.cdc.gov/me-cfs/about/index.html

https://prevention.nih.gov/programs-events/pathways-to-prevention/workshops/me-cfs

https://www.meaction.net/about/what-is-me/

http://www.meassociation.org.uk/about/what-is-mecfs/

https://multiplesclerosis.net/living-with-ms/portable-history-ms/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17686096

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.”

January 9, 2018

Make the Kitchen Your Happy Place

If you want to improve your family’s eating habits, make the kitchen your happy place! Watch any home improvement show and you’re sure to see a lot of emphasis on kitchen design. Even tiny house occupants often insist on full-size appliances. This could lead you to believe that Americans love to spend time in the kitchen. But according to former consumer packaged good consultant Eddie Yoon, only 10% of Americans love cooking.

Why do we go to all the trouble and expense of large refrigerators, stone countertops, and multiple small kitchen appliances if we don’t want to be in the kitchen? It doesn’t make much sense. On some level, we must still believe the kitchen is important. Since the only way to really know what’s in your food and thereby ensure you are meeting your health and nutrition goals is to begin with fresh food, it would be good if we enjoyed our time in the kitchen.

So, how do we take a basic space or a beautifully appointed kitchen with a custom pantry, elegant countertops, decorative backsplash, and ample refrigerator and turn it into a space we want to use, a space that draws us in, a space that feels like our happy place?
pancakes
Make it Yours

Forget all the sparse, neutral images you see on TV and online. Those are just showing you a blank canvas waiting to be personalized. Let your kitchen become a place filled with things that make you feel good.

Personalize
Put your grandmother’s cookie jar on the counter and keep it filled with homemade cookies just like she did. Add a wireless speaker to the top of the refrigerator so that meal prep can be choreographed to your favorite dance tunes. Get a spoon rest that makes you laugh. Buy a handcrafted cutting board that makes you feel connected to the outdoors. Get cabinet organizers that reduce frustration by making everything easily accessible. Get rid of appliances you never use so you don’t feel guilty for having them. Buy a small appliance if it will invite you into the kitchen to use it (for more than the first week or two). Add a collection of decorative objects you love. A kitchen does not have to be cold and clinical to be functional and efficient.
teapot
Add Color
Don’t be afraid to add some color!!! All white, mostly gray, or somber black and brown can dampen my mood! Unless your house is listed for sale, there’s no reason to be hesitant about adding something bright and happy to your kitchen. If you’re not comfortable with painting the walls or cabinets, bright curtains, a painted island, decorative plates, unique pottery pieces, wall art, vintage salt and pepper shakers, flowering plants, or potted herbs can help make you feel happy to spend time in the kitchen.

Get Comfortable
If you love to converse while you prep veggies, add a bar stool or a comfortable chair near your prep space. Share a cup of hot chocolate, hot tea, or coffee and conversation with a friend, neighbor, partner, spouse or child while your hands are busy. They don’t necessarily need to help. They can just keep you company. This can be a great time to exchange recipes or share cooking techniques.

My great aunts used to shell peas together. They’d gather at my Aunt Nola’s house, sit outside in metal chairs with a bushel basket in front of them and talk while they worked. They actually did many things as a group – crocheted, quilted, and painted ceramics. The grandkids ran free in the yard or around the farm while the women stayed in touch and made work seem like play.

Experiment

If you’re new to cooking from scratch (without the use of something that is already prepared or in existence), but love to play around with color, texture, and flavor, the kitchen may soon be your favorite place! I tend to visualize how flavors will taste together in my head before I try them in real life, but I also get inspired to pair flavors when I taste something that excites me.

A cucumber, jalapeño ice lolly I ate on a hot day inspired my recipe for Chilled Honeydew Soup, a delightful and refreshing combination of honeydew, cucumber, with a hint of jalapeño. Soon after eating that ice pop, I began experimenting with ingredients in varying proportions and possible additions until settling on the best combination. After that, the recipe faced 2 more tests in order to meet the Cooking2Thrive quality standard. For me, each of the experiments was fun!
tomatoes
Good Taste

Even if experiments don’t excite you, It’s hard to resist a room filled with delicious food. Remember, many ingredients do not require cooking to be scrumptious! If you are reluctant to cook, consider constructing simple salads. These following salads rely on flavorful fruits for their flavor and texture. They do not require cooking and they are both delicious.

No Cooking Required
Tomato and Avocado Stacked Salad
Layer tomato slices, avocado, and mozzarella cheese. Drizzle with a vinaigrette made from olive oil, red wine vinegar, minced garlic, chopped basil, salt, and pepper. Add a slice of crispy prosciutto if you like.

Simpleberry Salad
Combine fresh blueberries and blackberries with sliced bananas and tiny cubes of cantaloupe. Dollop with sour cream or plain yogurt and top with grated nutmeg. Add a dash of cinnamon if desired. You can also sprinkle with a granola crumble if you like some crunch.

Bake Something
When you add baking to the equation, the kitchen will fill with warmth and the smell of browning cookies, yeast bread, pizza dough, and cake. Yummmmmm!! Who can resist the kitchen then? It’s like having your own personal bakery.

Add the Family

The smell of fresh baked cookies, pork tenderloin, or a casserole will bring the family running. A kitchen filled with all ages creating a meal is a wonderful place to connect and bond. Food is a source of comfort. Connection is another source of comfort and joy. When you begin to associate cooking with comfort and joy, it automatically becomes your happy place! Even the cleanup process ceases to be work when it’s a shared experience of laughter and fun.
dough
When my kids were growing up, there was always someone sitting on a counter in my kitchen. Sometimes it was my kids. Sometimes it was their friends. Sometimes it was me. One or two of us would be preparing a meal and the others would be engaged in the conversation while warming the counter. I don’t know why this seemed natural in that particular house, but it was. During cleanup, the roles reversed. In between, we enjoyed a meal together. This didn’t happen every day of the week, but it happened enough that that’s how my kids remember meal time.

Both of my sons are good cooks. Not only can they fix pancakes or steak and blacken Brussels sprouts, they bake yummy pies and cakes. They feel no limits when they’re in the kitchen. It’s a place they’ve always felt comfortable. I didn’t emphasize cooking back then. It was just a regular part of our lives, but it set the stage for them to cook in their own homes. That’s the benefit of making the kitchen your happy place!

My grandson DJ and I read “Green Eggs and Ham” on a regular basis. Whenever he balks at a new food, I simply say, “Try them, try them, and you may. Try them and you may, I say.” He knows exactly why I’m saying it. If you have never really gotten your hands dirty in the kitchen using fresh ingredients and cooking from scratch, but don’t think you like cooking, I’d probably say the same thing to you, “Try it, try it, and you may.”

And if you don’t, every family needs a cleanup crew in a happy kitchen!

https://hbr.org/2017/09/the-grocery-industry-confronts-a-new-problem-only-10-of-americans-love-cooking
http://time.com/money/4370620/food-spending-restaurants-versus-groceries/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3471136/
http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/the-benefits-of-cooking-part-1-the-food/
http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/the-benefits-of-cooking-part-2-the-fun-2/
http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/the-benefits-of-cooking-part-3-the-lessons/