Post # 35 Balancing Act

August 20, 2012 at 4:18 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 35 Balancing Act

Recently, I had a conversation with the father in law.  He’s an older man, surviving medical crises, and plugging away at life.  He likes to eat, just like everyone else on the planet.  He like it a lot.  He’s old school and cleans his plate.  He goes back for seconds, and nothing is wasted.  Since he’s been living with us, he good naturedly complains that his waist is expanding and he needs to do something about it.  However, what he decided to do about wasn’t all that clever.  He decided to stop eating meat.  When he told me that, I asked if meat was upsetting his stomach too much.  That’s happened to him in the past, and I’ve actually been a victim to that myself.  But now, it wasn’t upsetting his stomach, it was expanding his waist.

I’m not a professional nutritionist, or personal trainer, or anything along those lines.  But having cooked my whole life, I do know a thing or three about keeping the pounds off.  So I told him, cutting out meat isn’t the answer.  Meat provides nutrients our bodies need and can only get from the proteins in meat.  I told him if he was truly serious about losing weight that the only real way to do that wasn’t in cutting out any portion of his diet, it was in maintaining a balance wherein the calories he burned every day were higher than the calories he consumed everyday.  Basically, exercise and eat less.

He chuckled and said that he knew that.  But he also thought that cutting out meat would be healthier.  We went on to discuss various ramification of the total diet he ate and things he could do to help himself out.  I stressed to him that the important thing was to maintain a balanced diet.  There were some meats that are better than others.  There are some vegetables that are better than others.  There are some techniques of cooking that are better than others.

For instance, if you’re given a choice between a 6 oz piece of lean steak, and a 6 oz piece of dark meat chicken, go for the steak.  Less fat means fewer calories, and dark meat chicken has more fat than a lean cut of steak.  Deep frying anything will add calories as the oils and fats used for frying are absorbed by the food being fried.  Ounce per ounce, oil and fats are the most calorie rich food there are.  But having said that, some oils are actually very good for you, cold pressed canola oil, and olive oil have many healthy benefits.

Starchy potatoes can be very bad for your waistline, but are necessary for healthy living.   Tomatoes are high in antioxidants which is good, but also high in acids, which can be bad.  Pizza is one of the worst fast foods imaginable, yet made properly can be the healthiest thing around.

You see, it’s all about balance.  We all know about the food pyramid and how we’re supposed to eat from bottom to the top.  It was replaced recently by the plate diagram which tried to show the balance between foods.  There are a lot of other diets that espouse eating nothing but carbs, or nothing but proteins, or nothing but air (just kidding on that one!)  I’ve even seen diet plans that were based on the color of foods.  If we don’t have balance, though, we’ve lost the benefits that food is supposed to give us.

One of the best balanced foods going is soup.  A nice hearty meat and vegetable soup on a light broth is terrific.  It can be made quickly and easily with whatever is at hand.  Some soups add cream to thicken.  Some add bread to thicken.  Some add rice and cook till it falls apart to thicken.  I prefer thinner soups so I can see the ingredients and relish what I’m eating.  But I’ve had some cream soups that made me roll my eyes back of head they were so good.  I was once served a lobster bisque in Italy that I still think about now.

In the upcoming weeks, I’ll be talking more about nutrients, balance, diets, and those kinds of things.  I’ll offer my own advice about things that I’ve found effective and delicious.  If there is anything you have a question about or want to learn about, just let me know.  In the meantime:

Enjoy!

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Post # 34 Snackin’ Bars

August 17, 2012 at 11:13 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 34 Snackin’ Bars

In America, we’re often so rushed to meet our committements that we don’t always have time for whatever meal is coming up.  Most of the time, it’s breakfast that suffers.  I myself have not eaten breakfast regularly since I was in the sixth grade.  (I’m way past that now, trust me!)  Breakfast is not my favorite meal.  I usually have a late night snack since I’m up writing to the wee hours, so when I wake up, I’m not generally hungry.  A lot of people forego breakfast to give themselves time in the morning to accomplish everything they need to do and not be late.  An industry has sprung up to fill that need and we have seen the rise of the snack bar in the last two decades.  These are convenient, calorie loaded, tasty bars of food that can be eaten on the go and ostensibly offer enough benefits to to replace a meal.  They started off with diet bars, and moved over to supplement bars for athletes, the finally ended up with the general population as meal replacements.

You can get these things in a variety of flavors and ingredients.  They come in varieties focused on losing weight, on enhancing sports performance, in supplementing diet deficiencies, in enhancing established diet plans, and a bunch of others.  They can be as expensive or inexpensive as the buyer chooses.  Of course, you get what you pay for, so the less money you spend, the lower the quality.  One thing they all have in common are the extra chemicals necessary to not only provide the benefits they claim, but also to enhance their shelf life beyond the next ice age.

At one time, I was a big fan of the snack bar.  When I traveled the world, I would take boxes of these things with me to have on hand just in case.  If I had any left, I would give them to the staff I was working with.  My favorite included chocolate and crispy puffed rice.  And they would tide me over for a meal, but in no way would they replace a meal.  Over time, however, as I got to looking more closely at the ingredients, I started wondering what I was putting into my body.   George Burns used to say the reason he’d lived so long was due to the amount of preservatives he’d eaten over time.  I want to live forever, but not with chemicals.

So I looked around for a way to make my own.  I’d stopped traveling by this time, and was looking for something that I could bring to my desk that was portable and easy and tasted really good.  I came up with two types that I’ve played with and tweaked and made my own.

The first is a snack bar that is versatile, freezes well, thaws quickly, but can be eaten frozen if needed.  It’s crunchy and tasty and the flavor changes with the ingredients that I put into it.  The second is more like a casserole that also freezes well, but must be reheated to taste good, but is wonderful when heated up.

The snack bar is easy and the recipe is in the recipe list to the right.  If you don’t like the ingredients that I’ve included, experiment with your own.  The casserole is listed here.  I’ve added and tweaked, so you can do the same yourself.

Heat your oven to 350 and spray a glass 8x8x2 pan with cooking spray.  Layer three cups of frozen dices potatos on the botton.  You can use hash browns or tater tots/crowns as well.  Dice a 1/2 cup of cooked ham, 1/2 cup of cooked sauasage, and three pieces of cooked bacon.  sprinkle over the potatoes.  Add as many fresh mushrooms as you like, sliced up thin.  Add 1/2 to 1 full cup of green onions and shallots mixed.  Beat three eggs and 1/2 cup of milk and pour evenly over the layers, disturbing as little as possible.  Top with 1 cup of shredded cheese of your choosing.  Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Colby, etc. all work well.  Bake about 40 minutes, until eggs are set and firm and lightly brown.  Cool for a few minutes and cut into four equal portions.  Cool completely and wrap separately in plastic film.  Freeze until ready to eat.  To eat, heat in microwave in 30 second increments checking each time until warmed through.

Enjoy!

Post # 33 Bon Appetit!

August 15, 2012 at 11:02 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Who comes to mind when you hear that phrase?  I’ll give you some clues.  She would have been 100 today.  Her first cookbook took her ten years to write.  She married very late in life and was a virgin when she married.  She practically created the whole cooking-on-TV genre and the reality of the celebrity chef.  She was a spy for the CIA during WWII.  She called everyone she met “dearie”.  She was absolutely fearless in everything she did, whether it was attending Le Cordon Blue, or creating new words for her cookbook.  She was never afraid to give her opinion when asked, right up the time of her death.  She was, of course, Julia Child.

I won’t go into a long biography because there are several of those on the market, including one she wrote herself.  If you haven’t read “My Life in France” and you want to learn about the woman, I strongly urge you to get a copy.  It’s charming, it’s endearing, it’s funny, and it’s a very good read.  Even the movie “Julie and Julia” is a good time, and it launched a new surge in Julia’s popularity.  Instead, I’ll focus on those aspects of Julia Child that I like, and what I’ve learned from her.

As I said earlier, she was utterly fearless.  While in Paris, she didn’t want to be the bored American housewife with servants to do for her.  She wanted to experience the life and culture of the country.  Her husband, Paul, suggested several hobbies, one of which was making hats and got her into the creative side of her personality, but it wasn’t until she decided to learn to cook that she found her medium.  She didn’t know the language well, but immediately joined the Cordon Bleu’s class for professional chefs.  Her professor who remained a lifelong friend found her to be a quick study willing to tackle anything.

She met and was befriend by Simka Beck and Louisette Betholle who were writing a french cookbook for Americans.  Julia was brought onto the team.  Ten years later, they finally had a finished product.  Seven years after that, Julia and Simka finished the second volume.  The two books are usually sold as a set, but it was the first book that brought the attention and fame.  It recreated cooking in America.  When the book came out, America was deep in the “easy cooking” phase, as I call it.  Things were frozen and reheated.  Cans of soup were used in making dinners.  Boxes held all the ingredients for cake, just add the perishables, eggs and milk.  Mastering the Art of French Cooking brought people back to the basics.  Many people don’t know this, but in the first volume, there is no recipe for bread.

The simple fact is that in France, bread is purchased daily either at the market or at the boulangerie.  Home cooks seldom made bread because their ovens weren’t set up for it and it’s a fairly involved process.  Since it’s so cheap to buy bread, it made sense to do so.  So there weren’t any home recipes for bread making.  Julie and Simka had to cajole a recipe from a friendly baker, then learn it and master it to put it in the second book.  The primary reason they did this was that so many people in asked for it.  Many of the recipes in the two volumes were gathered from friends, or friendly experts, then standardized by Julia and the other two women.

Once the book(s) became hugely successful, she was approached by a television station in Boston with the idea of a cooking show.  It hadn’t been done successfully before, and everyone believed that Julia was the right person for the project.  Paul had retired from government service at this point and had been helping Julia with television appearances across the country for the book.  She had been giving short, five to ten minute long demonstrations and this format was what the new PBS was looking for.  Plunging in with no idea of how to do it, Julia and her producers let the show work itself.  The show that everyone thought would be a “one off” ran several years and is available in DVD and on re-runs still today.  She ended every show with “Bon Appetit!” and she meant it.

It’s funny to see how things were done and some absolutely brilliant shots of this courageous woman have been immortalized.  Flipping the omelet that misses the pan, Julia calmly puts it back in the pan and tells the audience, “Just don’t tell your guests, they don’t have to know.  They’ll love the taste.”  My personal favorite is Julia’s chicken dance, picture seen below.

Over the years, her showed changed with the times.  She branched out and taught new skills with new gadgets.  She fell in love with the food processor and featured it several times in many shows.  She brought in guest chefs and suddenly a new side of Julia was shown.  It was my favorite aspect of her personality.  She was never arrogant enough to believe that she knew it all.  She knew that she could learn something from everyone, even when that someone could have been her grandchild.  For her, learning was journey not a destination.  She allowed those guest chefs to shine, and flirted shamelessly with the men.  I’ve got a DVD where she’s working with a young, cute guy baking some babycakes and his grin tells the world that he’s getting the biggest kick out of her flirting.  Her favorite guest chef, and later cooking show partner, Jaques Pepin, could handle her wonderfully!

They were making a salad once, and he asked if she wanted garlic in it since he had some ready.  She refused saying it wasn’t necessary.  He grinned at the camera with a secretive look and twinkle in his eye, and when her back was turned for a moment, he slipped the garlic in anyway.  She finished tossing the salad, tasted it, and said it was the best she’d ever had!

She found joy in whatever she was doing, and grabbed the fun wherever it was.  Utter fearless, and always looking forward, she remained happy and cheerful right up to her death.  She passed away just two days before her 92nd birthday.  She was probably ready to join her beloved Paul.  So Julia, all I can say is, Bon Appetit!

Post # 32 Boring Egg Salad

August 13, 2012 at 11:49 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 32 Boring Egg Salad

Okay, you boil some eggs, you chop them up, add enough mayonnaise to bind it together, chill it, slap it between two pieces of bread and eat it.  Sometimes you add chopped onion.  Sometimes, you add paprika or a dash of some other spice.  But it’s always the same basic thing:  chopped boiled egg and mayonnaise.

This type of salad or sandwich filling became very popular during the middle of the last century.   Geez, that makes it sound ancient, doesn’t it?  It came about as a way to stretch food dollars.  Tuna salad, potato salad, egg salad, deviled ham, deviled chicken, etc.  It’s all basically the same thing.  Stuff to eat held together by mayonnaise.

Egg salad can be the most boring stuff imaginable.  I guess it bears knowing that I don’t really like mayonnaise.  I recognize its importance in the food hierarchy, and I’ll eat it when the recipe calls for it and no other substitution will work.  But I really truly don’t like the stuff.  Back to egg salad.  One day, I was looking at it and wondering what I could do to it to make it taste better.  The first thing I added was too much salt.  What a mistake that was!  All I could taste was salt held in suspension by mayonnaise with bits of egg floating in it.  Next, I tried cutting the amount of mayonnaise in half, but it was more like a paste and still pretty flavorless.  I wondered how could I get some flavor in there?  I liked mustard, but figured if I put in mustard in place of the mayonnaise, it would be totally inedible for different reasons.  Mustard is great, but in moderation.  So I added a small amount to the mayonnaise.  Aha!  I was on to something here!

So I continued to play around with it.  I like dill pickles, as do most of my family, better than candy!  I spent a half hour once chopping dill pickles very small to add to it.  Then I found a jar of dill pickle relish at the store and used that instead.  Perfect!  But I wanted a little crunch factor, some texture to go with it.  I tried toasting the bread, but I’m not a big fan of toast sandwiches.  (But I love toast.  Weird, ain’t I?)  Then I thought, what about potato chips?  I spread out the egg salad and put several chips on top.  It was interesting, but not exactly what I was after.  So I tried putting the chips into the salad.  It works for a few minutes, then they get soggy and lose the crunch.  So I started adding seeds.  Roasted sunflower seeds, or toasted sesame seeds gives it a wonderful nutty flavor and a great crunch that never goes soggy.  Then I thought, what about sprouts?

As I played with it and made it more to my taste, I started adding things not usually found in an egg salad sandwich.  I added finely chopped chicken.  I added grated cheddar cheese.  I added white albacore tuna (although not anymore.  I boycott tuna of all kinds until they stop killing dolphins to get them.  There is no such thing as dolphin safe tuna.)  Eventually, I came up with a sandwich spread/salad that combined all the best of all the spreads.  Everyone who tried it, liked it.

Then I started simplifying it.  I wanted to get it down to the least number of ingredients and still be to my liking.  I was back to boiled eggs, grated cheese, sunflower seeds, dill pickle relish, prepared mustard, and mayonnaise.  It’s easy.

Boil four eggs and let them cool.  Give them a rough chop, or a double slice in an egg slicer.  Add a heaping spoonful of dill pickle relish, a small squirt of prepared yellow mustard, and a handful of cheese.  Mix it all together in a bowl, and add enough mayonnaise by small spoonful till it all holds together but isn’t too dry.  Chill, and eat.  I’ve also used this same mixture as filling for deviled eggs.  Good stuff.

The combination for the sandwich spread I mentioned before is:

  • 4-6 boiled eggs, cooled and roughly chopped
  • small can of chicken, drained well
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup grated cheese
  • 2 Tbl dill pickle relish
  • 1/2 cup alfalfa sprouts
  • 1 Tbl wheat bran
  • 1/2 tsp celery seeds
  • 1 tomato diced small
  • 2 scallions diced fine
  • 1 Tbl prepared mustard
  • mayonnaise

Mix it all together, using enough mayonnaise to hold it together.  Chill it and eat it.  Good stuff!

Enjoy!

Post # 31 Your Kitchen Journal

August 10, 2012 at 2:32 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Everyone should have one.  If you like to cook, or even if you hate to cook but have to cook, this can be your most valuable tool in the kitchen.  It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but it can be as elaborate as you want it to be.  Some people break it up into sections like a cookbook, and some people just write willy nilly.  A kitchen journal is where you write recipes, notes, tips, tricks, and anything else pertaining to your kitchen.

In “the olden days”, home cooks had what was called a “recipe box” .  Recipe that were clipped out of magazines, or traded between friends, hand written on note cards or pieces of paper all found their way into the recipe box.  Some cooks started their recipe box when they were very young.  Others inherited them from their own mothers or grandmothers.  I found one in an antique store for $3 that I snatched up, and lost in a move.

Cooks sometimes have vast collections of cookbooks.  Partner/spouse and I have two full bookcases of cookbooks (yes, I finally got all of them unpacked.)  The bookcase sometimes serves the purpose of the recipe box, but on a bigger scale.  I’ve given cookbooks away as gifts and received many more as gifts.  I good friend of mine once gave me his recipe box, which I, in turn, regifted to another friend since most of the recipes were duplicates for me.

These days, with the internet so handy and search engines so sophisticated, it’s much easier to find recipes for anything.  Last night I made cornbread from masa harina that I had on hand from a corn tortilla effort a few weeks ago.  I found the recipe on the internet.  It wasn’t very good and really ended up tasting like corn tortillas rather than corn bread.  But without the internet, I’d never have found that recipe; never have tried masa cornbread; never would have known how truly awful it was.  I’ve gathered many recipes from the ‘net.  I’ve printed them out, used them till they’re stained and ugly, thrown them away, and reprinted them.  I usually store them folded in half and tucked into the back of my kitchen journal.

One thing that a kitchen journal does for you is collects all those bits of paper with notes and recipes and puts them all in one place.  It shows your progression as the recipes become more complex.  It invests part of your personality in the effort since you’re writing them by hand.  I’ve seen some that were just very simple looseleaf or spiral-bound notebooks.  I’ve seen others that were as ornate as a scrapbook.  It doesn’t matter what they look like as long as they serve the purpose you intend.

For instance, I watch a lot of cooking shows.  Sometimes, I can find the recipe from the chef in a printed cookbook, but most times, I end up writing the recipe down in my KJ.  That way, I have access to the recipe without having to save the episdoe on DVR and reviewing it until it’s memorized.  Also, with the number of cookbooks I have (and I’ve read all of them at least twice) it sometimes becomes confusing as to where I saw a particular recipe.  I have a handwritten list tucked into the back of the KJ that says “Porcupine Meatballs – Better Homes and Gardens – pg 357” and “Winter Pear and Stilton Salad – Christmas Classics – pg 20.”  It helps me find things quickly.

Sometimes, it can also help me find the origin of a recipe.  Years ago, my sister in law served a wonderful side dish made of pineapple and cheddar cheese.  She didn’t know the name of it but after a couple of days, she gave me the recipe.  I used it for years, tweaking it, playing with it, substituting ingredients, etc.  Everyone I served it to loved it and thought it a wonderful side dish and completely unexpected.  It’s easy and impressive, and the recipe is in the menu list to the right.  Coming around full cycle, my (now ex) sister in law needed the recipe.  I emailed it to her, laughing that I had it memorized and never needed to look it up anymore.  Then, later that same day, I was reading through a Paula Deen cookbook, just browsing, and there it was!  Word for word, letter for letter!  Of course, I’d played with proportions, spices, etc. so while it was recognizably hers, it was still mine, too.

So start out with whatever you have hand that can store recipes, and start writing.  Record all your successes and all your failures.  Write down notes, and tips, and tricks, and anything else that comes to mind.  I’ve even written down menus for feasts I’ve cooked for holidays and partys.  It’s your journal, so it can be whatever you want it to be.

Enjoy!

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