Deconstruct It

When you need a meal to cook faster, deconstruct it! And who doesn’t need a meal to cook faster? I set my own schedule and I still always feel behind. Sometimes I just need things to go quicker than they normally go.

That’s when I like to think of my kitchen as a fancy restaurant where they don’t hesitate to deconstruct things and charge me more for them. Don’t have time to worry about keeping heavier ingredients from falling to the bottom of the salad? Don’t toss it. In fact, don’t even stack it. Just put everything side-by-side on a beautiful platter and serve.

I love the presentation possibilities of a deconstructed salad. And things go faster because I can leave the eggs in halves or quarters rather than chopping them smaller. The carrots, squash, and cucumbers can be left in long strips as can chicken or steak. I can throw on some leftover asparagus, whole banana peppers, cherry tomatoes right out of the garden. Such yummy freshness!

Don’t have time to bake meatloaf for an hour+? Deconstruct it. Sauté onion and green bell pepper until onion clears. Move to the edge of pan. Place a long, flat layer of ground beef. Allow to brown for a few minutes on one side of the layer. Sprinkle the uncooked top of the meat with salt, pepper, garlic. Add a tablespoon or two of your favorite meatloaf topping. Crack an egg over it. Cover with a thin layer of gluten free bread or cracker crumbs. Gently fold toppings into meat and mix in onion and pepper. Continue to cook until meat is lightly browned.

Reconstruct it. Spray microwave safe dish with olive oil spray. Press mixture into dish and top with your favorite meatloaf topping. Microwave about 5 minutes. Serve hot. This version may not compete with the best meatloaf you’ve ever made, but it has the same satisfying flavors in less than half the time.

You can also take a deconstructed approach to chicken and rice. Instead of raw chicken in a pot of rice and cooking it, use microwave rice bowls, rotisserie chicken, and boxed chicken broth. Microwave the rice and pull the chicken off the bone. Place in a pot with a little chicken broth and any herbs or spices you desire. If you want to add some veggies, throw in some frozen English peas or a mixture of carrots and peas. Heat until vegetables are cooked and chicken is heated through. Serve.

Even dessert can be deconstructed. Sprinkle crushed vanilla wafers or graham crackers over a jar of lemon curd and top with whipped cream. Or make it fancy and layer lemon curd, vanilla wafter, and whipped cream in individual glasses.

If you’re not fond of lemon, use cherry pie filling and crushed Oreos along with whipped cream. Or mix the whipped cream with cream cheese for a deconstructed cheesecake feel.

Deconstructing allows you to use food in different quantities than you may normally. And when food is deconstructed, everyone’s plate can be different. This can mean a great opportunity to empty the pantry of small items you’ve been saving.

If you’re tired of battling against time every meal, consider doing what I do and deconstruct it!

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.”

When It’s Sticky, Does It Taste Icky?

When it’s sticky, does it taste icky? Your first response is probably, NO! Who doesn’t love a sticky bun or maple syrup or a toasted marshmallow? But I don’t really mean the food itself. I mean the weather. Due to high humidity and hot temperatures, we have lots of sticky days here in the summer. And humidity, whether low or high, affects both the making and perception of food.

If you’ve always lived in a humid region, there’s no reason to notice this. The same is true if you’ve always lived in a dry climate. But those of you who have moved around may have seen the results of your baking change.

You can use the very same ingredients and technique but find it impossible to exactly duplicate the results you got in your previous home. When the humidity is high, you may notice that it’s easier to prepare soft breads than crusty breads or that baking takes longer.

Humidity level also affects our perception of taste. The ideal humidity in a house is around 50%. In my house, it ranges from 50 – 60 percent in warm weather. It can even climb higher if I don’t use the dehumidifying feature on my air conditioner. At this level, food tastes good.

When you fly in an airplane, the humidity drops under 30%. At that level, your perception of taste will not be as acute. Airline food vendors may attempt to compensate for blandness, but few of us have every had a satisfying meal on board. Fighting both low humidity and high altitude makes it difficult to create the ideal culinary experience.

Commercial bakeries often employ humidity control devices to improve the consistency of their product. At home, there are a few things you can do to prevent icky food:

  1. When it’s too humid, turn the air conditioner to a lower temperature before you begin to bake. You can also use a fan to dry the air.
  2. Make sure to use your exhaust fans.
  3. Store ingredients in moisture proof containers with a good seal. For more extreme conditions, place the containers in the refrigerator or freezer.
  4. Reduce the moisture in your recipe slightly.
  5. Use the convection feature if your oven has one.
  6. Make sure there’s a vapor barrier over dirt basement floors.
  7. If conditions are often extreme, purchase and use a dehumidifier or humidifier or explore alternate heating and cooling systems.
  8. Don’t use the drying feature on your dishwasher. If you need more humidity, open the dryer door while it’s hot and the dishes are wet.
  9. You can also increase humidity by simmering pots of water on the stove or making soup.
  10. An indoor dryer vent will pump moisture (and heat) into your home.

If conditions are not extreme, go with the flow. Experience will help guide you to add baking time or increase liquid in the batter.

Enjoy the slightly altered density or moisture in a muffin or cake. Savor the differences in your experience of each food. As long as it’s not icky when it’s sticky, it’s all good!

Cooking for One

Is there a point in cooking for one? The common consensus may be it’s too much trouble to cook for just one person, but is it really? So many of us now find ourselves alone, it’s worth revisiting the question.

Obviously, the benefits of cooking apply whether you’re cooking for one or cooking for six. The question is whether the ratio of effort, ingredients, time, and cost outweigh the ease of popping open a package and grazing. The truth is, you will have to weigh this for yourself and there are many things to consider.

As with most things, the process of thinking through the answer to the question will be revealing and provide insight. That has value no matter what the conclusion.

What are the considerations?

Health

Fresh food prepared at home is the easiest way to eliminate preservatives, artificial coloring, and other additives. It’s the easiest way to make food compatible with your specific dietary needs. It’s the easiest way to control sodium intake and minimize ingesting potential carcinogens. Preparing your own food gives you more control over its healthiness.

Time

The pandemic has overloaded already full schedules with tasks that were previously unnecessary. Some people may have temporarily discovered extra time to bake bread, but most people I know do more dishes, double-up housework and work, have more time-consuming errands, and have had to revise their method for approaching every area of life. Time is an even more precious commodity than before.

Preparing your own meals does take time that you might otherwise spend on something else. If cooking results in food that makes you feel more energized and satisfied, less lethargic and bloated, and less distracted by gut pain, it may well be worth it. There are also ways to maximize efficiency so that the time spent on food prep is minimal.

Cost

If you purchase large amounts of fresh halibut, you’ll spend a fortune and call me crazy, but in general, purchasing individual ingredients is more cost effective than buying prepackaged convenience foods. This is especially true when it comes to gluten-free packaged food.

And you don’t have to strictly buy one or the other. You can make your own macaroni & cheese using store-bought gluten-free pasta. You can keep frozen chicken nuggets, or ham, or pimento cheese on hand for days that plans unexpectedly change and you need something quick.

Taste

I don’t think you can beat the taste of a fresh tomato or peach. In fact, I’d argue that perfectly ripened, they’re best eaten unadorned. Fresh spinach from the garden tastes like a whole different green. Recognizing the inherent scrumptiousness of fresh food cam mean you feel less pressured to go to great lengths to enhance something that’s wonderful on its own. This will save both time and money.

Waste

Perhaps the most frequent argument against cooking for one is that you’ll waste too much food. That is a possibility. But there are many ways to counter this.

I frequently share dishes with my neighbors. Once I hit the point at which I recognize I am tired of something, I throw the balance in a jar and deliver it to the porch next door.

Recently, I made a pie in a pan that a friend left at my house long ago. I needed to test a recipe and I needed to return the pan. I made the pie, took out one piece, then called my friend to come get the rest of the pie thereby accomplishing both.

Occasionally, I freeze something to reheat later. If you’re willing to freeze cookies, then why not pesto chicken, chili or lasagna? And when I don’t want to freeze, I repurpose.

Braised boneless pork ribs become carnitas tacos. Chicken becomes chicken salad. Breakfast sausage and spinach land on mashed potatoes for an upside-down version of sausage shepherd’s pie. This list could go on forever. I repurpose often.

Rather than waste food, you can always share with strangers. There are plenty of children in my neighborhood who can use extra food. While I have not determined the best way to get it in their hands yet, I am constantly making assessments that will contribute to a plan.

Looking at health, time, cost, taste, and waste are somewhat measurable. Cooking also offers intangibles that can’t be objectively measured: warm feelings, pleasing aromas, aesthetically pleasing visuals, family memories, creativity, a feeling of accomplishment. It is the intangibles that pull me into the kitchen. It’s the taste that keeps me there. And the health benefits are a major bonus.

I cook for one. For me, it’s worth it. Let me know if it’s worth it for you.

There’s Always Room for Expansion

There’s always room for expansion. I’ve learned a few things since mid-March. One of them is, there’s always room for expansion.

Now you may be thinking I’m referring to expansion into the pj pants we’re wearing all day long. Nope. Well, maybe. But that’s not the point. It’s just an example. Other examples include: Making room for months worth of toilet paper, paper towels, and Clarisonic face brush refills; finding stores that will deliver necessities like car batteries; increasing personal space; donating more to those in need. Expansion in many areas has become a necessity.

And there are even greater opportunities to expand. Never before has so much scientific information been readily available and paraded before us. Now is a great time to learn about the process of clinical trials and how to participate in them.

Research is happening all of the time. The results of most of that research was previously published in journals and/or on websites where very few people saw it. Translational research has sought to change that by bringing research quickly into the practice of medicine to improve outcomes.

Now, Twitter threads bring links to studies immediately into public view. For the general public it would probably be better if studies were peer reviewed before that happens, but the accessibility and increased speed with which information is disseminated is a fantastic move forward. And the pandemic has meant that studies do not linger in obscurity prior to publication.

You don’t have to be fully fluent in statistics or chemistry to read the abstract of a scientific study. And if you start your lessons on Twitter, you’ll have experts breaking down the implications of new research. Of course, you’ll have to choose your experts carefully to get credible information, but most have their credentials in full view.

For those of you who have been frustrated through the years by a lack of accurate serological testing for Celiac Disease, there’s an opportunity to see multiple articles regarding specificity and sensitivity and how they affect test results in coronavirus antibody tests. Specificity and sensitivity are key to the weight information from a serological test should be given when diagnosing a disease.

Whether or not you choose to get lost in the science is up to you. But expanding knowledge is always a good thing. It will help you sort through the misinformation that abounds. And it will keep your brain active and engaged.

At this moment when your circle of friends and family may be contracting, expanding your mind can provide stimulation, inspiration, and knowledge. I always have room for those, don’t you?

https://www.sciencemag.org/

https://www.thelancet.com/

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/pages/coronavirus-alert

https://www.gastroendonews.com/In-the-News/Article/01-20/Potentially-Revolutionary-Drug-for-Celiac-Disease-Shows-Promise-in-Phase-2-Study/56971

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.”