Posts tagged ‘cooking’

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/

March 9, 2016

Let the Food do the Work

chicken spaghettiWhen you’re tired and overwhelmed, don’t do more shopping, let the food do the work! The past few weeks have held multiple family gatherings. I decided to make chicken spaghetti for one of them. That was always my mom’s go-to for a dinner party when I was small and I’ve been wanting to make it for a while.

Most chicken spaghetti recipes contain cream of mushroom soup and most readily available cream of mushroom soups contain wheat flour. That may work for most of the family, but there are several of us who can’t tolerate gluten. Rather than driving from store to store in search of an acceptable soup brand or taking the extra step of making soup, I simply let the chicken make soup for me!

To make chicken spaghetti, I needed to cook some chicken to cube up. I decided it would be easy to make soup while I cooked the chicken. I started by spraying an extra large roasting pan with olive oil spray. I then covered the bottom of the pan with rough chopped white button mushrooms and topped the mushrooms with 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts and 6 thighs liberally seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.

The next addition was a 32 oz box of gluten-free chicken broth that I always keep in the pantry. I poured it around the chicken. I did the same with a pint of heavy whipping cream and enough milk to reach the top of all but the largest chicken breasts. I dotted any exposed chicken with butter.

From that point, all I had to do was bake the chicken for 50 minutes at 350º. While the chicken baked, a delicious cream of mushroom soup formed in the bottom of the pan. After the cooked chicken cooled, I removed each piece, scraped the mushrooms may have that stuck to them back into the broth and then placed the mushroom soup into a sauce pan. Before simmering the soup to reduce it a bit while I assembled the spaghetti, I gave it a quick taste test and added a bit more salt, pepper, and garlic.

The resulting soup was rich from the cream, full of flavor from the chicken and mushrooms, and the only additional time required was the time it took to chop the mushrooms. That’s much less time than it would have taken to drive to the store and I’ve never had packaged cream of mushroom soup that I couldn’t stop eating because it was so delicious.

Another bonus to this approach was that I had more than enough soup for the chicken spaghetti. I added some cubed potatoes to the left-overs for a hearty lunch the next day.

The idea for this cream of mushroom soup may have come from a desire to let the food do the work, but the result convinced me there’s no reason to make it any other way. And knowing I don’t have to travel from store to store gathering ingredients makes it more likely that I’ll make chicken spaghetti again soon!

February 8, 2016

Corn is Everywhere!

If you have an allergy to, or intolerance for, corn, trying to avoid it can seem like wandering through a maze – there’s corn all around and it’s hard to find a good path through it because corn is everywhere!
corn
I’m experiencing an allergic reaction. I have huge red spots on my face, an itchy rash on my neck and my lips are burning like the worst chapped lips you’ve ever had. Benadryl is making me sleepy. I know that the quickest way to feel better is to avoid the allergen.
allergy
The problem is that I don’t know what triggered my reaction. That means I’m eliminating any possible culprit from my diet and one of those possibilities is corn. In order to eliminate corn, I’m making a list of the things I need to avoid. Some of those are obvious like corn, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn oil, corn meal, corn chips, corn bread, corn dogs, Corn Flakes, Corn Chex, tortilla chips, corn tortillas, corn flour, popcorn, and cornstarch.

Other things containing corn may not be as obvious. Cheetos, Cheerios, Frosted Flakes, Tums, baking powder and confectioner’s sugar fall into that category. Many gluten-free pastas contain corn. Hominy, grits, and polenta are all made from corn. Most of these list corn on the label, but then there’s the ever present food starch. It may contain corn and be listed on a label as food starch, modified food starch, or pre-gelatinized starch. The word corn is never mentioned.

To make things even more confusing, familiar products contain a multitude of ingredients that may or may not contain corn and labeling requirements do not require that corn be listed on the label as an allergen. For instance, natural flavorings, xylitol, xanthan gum, citric acid, distilled white vinegar, maltodextrin, ethyl alcohol, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, and even IV dextrose may contain corn. It’s a fairly steep learning curve when I’m not even sure corn is the culprit.

Luckily, I have lots of practice reading labels and researching ingredients that will come in handy while I try to isolate the allergen that’s bothering me. I don’t plan to eat any processed food or at restaurants until I get this under control. Cooking is an easy way to know what I’m ingesting and with my lists at hand, I can leave out any questionable ingredients. I’m not the only one who follows this approach. To quote UAMS Registered Dietitian, Meghan Dixon, “These skills, cooking skills, are really life-changing. These are the skills that develop lasting lifestyle changes for people,…If you learn how to cook, you’re not outsourcing your health.” (1)

While the itching isn’t fun and I don’t love looking like I just got out of the boxing ring…as a loser…using those skills, I feel confident that I can make progress quickly.

If you have experience with corn allergies, let us know what triggers your symptoms. If you are struggling with a corn allergy or intolerance, you may want to peruse the more comprehensive lists available on these sites:

http://www.cornallergens.com/list/corn-allergen-list.php

http://www.healthline.com/health/allergies/corn-allergy-symptoms

1) Storey, Celia. “Food and Medicine Meet for Dinner.” Arkansas Democrat Gazette [Little Rock] 08 Feb. 2016, Style sec.: n. pag 1. Print.

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.”

September 22, 2015

Kitchen Basics – How Do You Choose?

When you don’t have much space, how do you choose the kitchen basics? I’ve been looking at the possibility of purchasing the cutest cabin with the greatest view! The overall size is about 500 square feet which means the kitchen is TINY!
View
It may be tiny, but this kitchen packs in usability with a skinny 4 burner stove, a small refrigerator/freezer, and bottom cabinetry. A fairly long counter contains a sink and bottom cabinets with doors while its top offers adequate, if not ample, workspace. There are no top cabinets, no dishwasher, no pantry, no island, no broom closet, no wall space, and no dance floor. There’s plenty of light streaming in through a window that looks out at the view and the warm-toned wood ceiling and floor keep it feeling cozy.
stove
In order to keep the space from feeling crowded, I’m pondering which kitchen basics are critical. Here’s the process I’m using to pare down to fit the space:

–If it can be done by hand, with an existing appliance or with a simple utensil, I don’t need an appliance for it. Bye, bye toaster, electric can opener, mixer, rice cooker, food processor, blender, breakfast sandwich maker, juicer, and crock pot. Hello French press.

–If it’s for baking, but won’t fit in the oven – it’s out. I’m thinking one covered casserole dish, one cake pan, and two cookie sheets will cover my regular cooking habits. I can use silicone cupcake cups in the baking pan when I want to make cupcakes or muffins. As rarely as I make pie, disposable pie pans purchased when needed should suffice.

–If it’s for the top of the stove, I’m carefully examining how many I need and what size. I want a large pot for soup or chili, but I’ll rarely serve more than 4 people at a time. A 4 quart sauce pot should be adequate. In addition, I’ll want at least one more saucepan and at least one skillet. I’m thinking that I may start with one of each and then determine how often I feel limited before buying more. With just one skillet on hand, I’ll probably go with cast iron.

–Two mixing bowls that double as serving dishes, a whisk, a spatula, a slotted spoon, one large and one small sharp knife, an adjustable measuring spoon, a measuring cup with multiple markings, a pastry blender, two dishtowels, and a cutting board fill out my general cooking needs.
counter
As I envision my cabinets already swiftly filling, I recognize that it is wise to limit my dishes, flatware, placemats, napkins (I use cloth), coffee mugs, and glassware to service for 4.

–I should have just enough room to store salt, pepper, garlic powder, cumin, chili powder, curry powder, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, Italian seasoning, shortening, honey, olive oil spray, balsamic vinegar, wax paper, aluminum foil, and zip top bags.

Your specific baking utensil and pantry choices will be different than mine. If you host ice cream socials every week, an ice cream maker may be more important to you than a large chili pot. The specifics of stocking the kitchen are much less important than the process of determining what’s important to make you feel as though you have enough.

In our consumer driven culture, we’re much more likely to stuff our shelves, drawers, and pantry with things we rarely, or never, use than we are to take the time to know ourselves well enough to be selective. Examining our relationship to the things we purchase, how we spend our time, what we value, what we hold onto that’s no longer useful, and what makes us feel safe can be a great step on the path to contentment and peace.

Before my first European trip, a fellow traveler advised me to pack my bag, remove half of what I had packed, and then divide that in half to get to the travel essentials I could carry without assistance. It was great advice for travel, great advice for home, great advice for choosing activities, and great advice for choosing relationships.

There’s no doubt it’s also good advice for choosing the kitchen basics when you value the view more than the size of the room.

Trees