Best Practice Secrets of Good Every Day Cooks

What Good Everyday Cooks Know that Struggling Cooks Don’t

Picking Up Barbeque Sauce from Honeysuckle

Exploring the Louisville Farmers’ Market at our first Market Morning.  Here, Kristen Hall talks about  she is reformulating all her sauces to use real ingredients–like what you’d have in our own pantry.

For a recent magazine article, Martha Stewart was asked how often she orders take out.  Her response was something like a couple times over the last 15 years.

How many people are in the “0-5” range for takeout during the last 15 years?  Initially, Martha’s response made me wonder whether she is some kind of freak.  But then it struck me:  I haven’t ordered takeout more than a couple times in the last 15 years either!

Fact is, there are people “out there” who make healthy, good-tasting meals night after night like it’s no big deal.  What do they know that most people don’t?

Here’s one big secret:  They know the difference between healthy and unhealthy convenience foods, and they know how to use healthy convenience to make good meals manageable.  Case in point:  The Honeysuckle Gourmet’s Black Jack Barbecue Sauce we discovered at our first Market Morning in Louisville.

Barbecue Sauce

Kristen’s Black Jack Natural uses her homemade ketchup to avoid unhealthful ingredients.

How did we know it was healthy?  At our Market tour, we got to chat with Honeysuckle’s Kristen Hall.  She explained how she is painstakingly reformulating each of her sauces to use all “real” ingredients, i.e., the same stuff you’d find in your own pantry.  If you could replicate a sauce yourself, you’ve got a healthy time saver.  You’re just paying to have someone else mix all the ingredients.

What about the cost?  At $7.00 a jar, it’s tempting to write off the sauce as “too expensive.”  But as FORK owner and class participant Christine pointed out, our group of 8 used only a quarter of the jar!  That means I’ve got at least 4 to 6 more meals in that jar for my husband and I.  Which brings us to the third point:

How do I use the rest of the sauce to make great meals, manageably?  This is the key to making condiments cost effective, i.e., finding ways to use them rather than having them waste away on the refrigerator door.  In addition to using the sauce to top sautéed chicken breasts at our class, I’ve found two other easy ideas:

Fast Recipe 1–Slow Cooker Chicken Legs  In need of a fast meal that could be prepared in advance, I skinned a couple chicken thighs and legs and plopped them into the slow cooker with 1/2 cup of sauce.  Eight hours later, I had melt-in-your mouth pulled chicken and sauce that went perfectly over warmed up leftover rice and broccoli.  Fast food couldn’t be faster!

Fast Recipe 2–Barbeque Chicken Soup  A couple days later, the leftover chicken and sauce became the flavor base for a quick, light summer soup with leftover broccoli, potatoes, new carrots from the garden and onion and garlic, of course.  I used another 1/4 cup of sauce + a little hot sauce for flavor.  Again, faster than fast food–and I still have half a jar of sauce.

So that’s how good every day cooks make good meals manageable–and delicious.  Learn more:  Join one of the everyday meal making classes with The New Kitchen Cooking School.

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6 Reasons to Love Tupperware Cupboard Organizers

Why Make the Plunge and Invest Now

Reason 1 : If you’re interested in healthy eating, Tupperware makes it a lot easier.  That statement may sound pretty far-fetched.  I certainly wouldn’t have bought into it–until I got Tupper-ized 20 years ago!

Whole Grain Brown Rice

Whole grains, like this brown rice, are one of the healthful foods experts recommend

Think about it:  What do all the experts tell us to eat for good health?  Fruits and vegetables  get top billing, but close behind are whole grains, legumes and nuts and seeds.  And how are we advised to flavor our foods?  With healthful, no-calorie herbs and spices instead of overly sugary, salty and fatty flavorings.

I took this advice seriously and used all these ingredients while feeding my two pre-toddler children many years ago.  But what a pain in the neck!  Little paper bags of herbs and spices stuffed in a drawer.  Ten unmarked  jars of grains stuffed into a top cupboard shelf alongside seven types of flour.  Flimsy bags of nuts and seeds, stuffed into a bottom cupboard.  Beans in more jars in another cupboard.  Each meal, I could spend five to ten precious minutes searching for things, with hungry kids nipping at my heels!

Then I met “Tupperware lady” Donna Davis, and discovered why Modular Mates are perfect for storing healthy foods, explained below.

Reason 2: Modular Mates’ design makes everything readily and quickly available while maximizing cupboard space. Unlike other containers, Modular Mates provide “front-to-back” rather than  “top to bottom” storage.  That means everything can be accessed from the front of the cupboard, so there’s no digging for containers, bags and boxes that get stashed and shoved

Tupperware's Front to Back Design

Note how Modular Mates utilize the entire cupboard depth, from front to back.

to the back of a cupboard.  It also means every square inch of air space gets used, from the bottom clear to the top.  And with units available in 2″, 4″, 6″ and 8″ heights, there is a space-maximizing container for whatever quantity you buy.

Reason 3: Modular Mates keep freshness in and unwanted visitors out. Things like nuts, seeds and whole  grains and flours are attractive targets for bugs and small critters.  Modular Mates are virtually air tight, however, so they can’t be invaded by outside pests, and the contents inside stay fresh.  (And if bugs should come home with you from the grocery store, at least they will be trapped in one container rather than spreading throughout the kitchen. )

Reason 4: Modular Mates are convenient time savers. Label containers if you can’t readily identify the contents and get top seals with flip up lids for anything that can be poured, like grains and beans.  Then, it’s a snap to find just the ingredient you need and measure them out.

Labeled Tupperware

Take a couple minutes to label containers for easy recognition.

Reason 5: Modular Mates are a life long investment. In my work as a professional kitchen organizer, I’ve found most kitchens could benefit from a Modular Mate investment.  I use the word “investment” deliberately because Tupperware, which lasts for life, should be viewed as a lifelong purchase rather than a consumable or passing fad.

I remember feeling completely ridiculous spending $500 to outfit my kitchen.  But that was 20 years ago and honestly speaking, that purchase has repaid me every time I cook. That means I really bought time savings plus a tremendous amount of convenience for 7,300 days, at a cost of 7 cents per day.  That is the kind of long-term investment thinking we need to get good meals on the table despite our busy and hectic lives.

Flimsy Bags of Beans

Is this what you're facing to make a healthful meal? Time for organization!

Reason 6: Modular Mates are on sale! This could be the best motivator of all.  From January 15 to February 11, 2011, Modular Mates are 40% off.  So take a look around your kitchen.  Could you make better and more frequent use of healthful ingredients if they could be found and pulled out quickly and without a hassle?  Then take some action!

Need some help deciding what to do about your kitchen, where Modular Mates could be of benefit, which containers would be best,  and so on?  Give a call for a kitchen coaching session with Mary Collette Rogers.  Or check out Mary’s book, Take Control of Your Kitchen, the guide to organized, manageable and stress-free meal making.

Ready to order?  Donna Davis has retired after many years as a top salesperson.  But her supervisor, Joannie Flynn, continues in the business after 49 years!  Just email her:  joannie818  @  yahoo.com (without spaces), and she will take care of your order and answer any questions you might have.

Satisfy Your Primordial Harvest Instinct

View of Mount Lamborn from our B & B

View of Mount Lamborn from our B & B

We just returned from a biking trip to Colorado’s Western Slope.  The weather was  delightful, the color  and scenery were stupendous and biking was exhilarating, with almost zero traffic.  As great as all that however, was our last-minute “food hunt.”

On our last afternoon,  we scoured around the countryside, finding local meats , cheeses and honey, beautiful boxes of tomatoes, pears, peaches and plums, locally made mustards and sauces, and of course, joyous vegetables:  some U-Pick eggplant and peppers, plus green beans and carrots grown right at our Fresh and Wyld B&B that are the best I’ve ever tasted.

Garden at our B & B

The Garden at our B & B, from whence came the best tasting beans I've ever eaten

I am probably the only person on the planet who willingly and excitedly devotes vacation time to food hunting, so I’m not going to suggest this for your next vacation.  However, can I suggest a little close in food hunting as autumn swings into full gear.

I’ve discovered a long-dormant instinct that derives immense satisfaction from even the smallest autumn harvest activity.  Ideas for this kind of completely illogical joy:

  • Obvious choices:  an autumn visit to a local farmer’s market or farm stand
  • Something fairly obvious:  a pumpkin patch visit.  (Don’t be embarrassed if you’re kids are too big to go with you.  I loved watching everyone else’s kids–and didn’t have to negotiate over which pumpkin to choose!)
  • Something easy:  Slice and freeze red peppers for those winter months when they skyrocket to $7 a pound (and don’t taste like much.)
  • Something else easy:  Puree a favorite combination of peaches, melons, pears, plums and berries in the food processor.  Freeze the smoothie-thick juice for a mid-winter burst of flavor or cook up for a pancake syrup.
  • Something heavenly:  Bake peach slices until caramelized and freeze.  Then, don’t touch this “peach candy” until you can’t stand any more cold and snow in March.
  • Something very practical.  Make a big batch of marinara sauce, use half and freeze half.
  • Something lovely:  Make a bouquet of cut autumn flowers
  • Something unbelievably comforting:  Cut up apples, throw in a slow cooker and cook overnight.  Wake up to warm applesauce to top granola or pancakes.
  • If nothing else:  Buy a little extra from the store to stock the larder.  Even grocery stores can have sales of autumn foods, like fresh -pressed apple juice (pop in your freezer if it’s not canned), Maverick chickens (on sale at Vitamin Cottage), Muir Glen canned tomatoes (also on sale at Vitamin Cottage.)

    Canned goods in my pantry

    Canned summer for the depths of winter. (Those are pickled watermelon rinds in the center!)

Each autumn, I am surprised by the curiously satisfying feeling that comes from”putting by” a little for winter.   Maybe your harvest instinct might like some indulging, and there’s little to lose.   In fact, you’ll likely save money by buying now, while the best is in season.

My Freezer Pantry

Talk about a handy grocery store: meats, juices, peppers, peaches, zucchini and more.

Women, Weight and Protein

Canned Chicken to the Rescue!

Did you know there’s a connection between what’s in your pantry and what’s on your thighs?  It’s true, so pay attention to this often overlooked part of the kitchen–not only to what’s there, but also to what’s not there–like high-quality canned chicken that can stave off a hunger attack in a hurry.

Weight loss is a perpetual issue among us, sadly.  Eating loses so much of its fun when accompanied by worries about weight.  So can I share a trick that helped me break out of the

I just discovered Shelton's brand but assume it will be good, as I've always been impressed by their products.

perpetual eating cycle that was threatening to turn me into a weight worrier?

Protein Balance It’s nothing new and it’s very simple, as with everything else about healthy weight eating.  And I know it works.  Just yesterday, I was on the road and had breakfast at a Whole Foods:  roasted veggies, roasted beets and yummy chicken curry salad.  I was amazed when lunchtime rolled around and I hadn’t even registered a blip on the hunger meter.

So if it’s simple and effective, what’s the catch?  As always, implementation.  For me, carbs like bread, cereal, tortillas, bagels, muffins, pretzels, chips and crackers were always easy things to have on hand.  And they were easy to grab quickly to stave off hunger.  Proteins, on the other hand, were far more problematic.  I cooked animal protein only rarely, and it was rarer still that I had any leftovers.  Plus, animal proteins have to be refrigerated, are messier to eat, and just didn’t hold the satisfying appeal of, say, a muffin.

Pantry Stockers for Healthy Weight Meal Making So it was with delight that I discovered canned chicken, but not the miserable, indescribable stuff swimming in salt water that’s sold at drug stores.  No, a can of Valley Fresh Organic Chicken is packed with clearly identifiable, very moist pieces of breast meat in a tasty broth (which can be used as a cooking element of its own as explained in the Bits and Pieces article.)  Would I serve canned chicken as a main dish for dinner?  Of course not.  But is it perfect for adding a hit or protein to a salad I’m throwing together for lunch?  You bet, and here’s a recipe where I used it:  Green Salad with Chicken plus Fresh Fruit and Herb Dressing.

Now, About the Cost. Valley Fresh is more expensive than vapid drug store chicken because of a time-honored principle we all know:  “You get what you pay for.”   Pay $1.79 and you get barely a serving of chicken that tastes like nothing, is mostly water and grosses you out.  Or pay $3.69 and get a can of chicken that makes two, really tasty protein servings and is not contributing to environmental degradation.  Make it even cheaper with a 10% case discount at Vitamin Cottage–and then you always have something on hand that can turn off the perpetual hunger machine–and help you return to a place of eating joy.

Learn more about how to stock the pantry to make healthy weight meal making easy in the Whole Kitchen Way to Wholesome Meal Making.

Bits & Pieces Cooking: An Evening with Eugenia Bone

What Unbored Cooks Know that Bored Cooks Don’t:  Trash Can Be Treasure

More than helpful food preservation know-how turned up at a talk last week by Eugenia Bone, author of Well Preserved (Clarkson Potter 2009) and the Denver Post’s Well Preserved Blog.

I’m on a “travel quest” these days, not necessarily to faraway places, but simply to new places and/or new experiences.  So last week I traveled to Denver’s magical Botanic Gardens (all of 30 miles away.)  The Gardens alone were a treat (memo to file: when April’s dark days get me down I’m heading to the Gardens for a cheap tropical thrill.)  Better yet, however, was a lively talk by Eugenia Bone.

As Eugenia is a food preservation expert, I wasn’t surprised to reap a treasure trove of know-how on capturing the season’s bounty for the cold days of winter.  I was delightfully surprised, however, to learn how strategic food preservation can also be harnessed as a tool to beat boredom at the dinner table.

Long-time newsletter readers know that beating mealtime boredom is a common theme of mine–and for good reason:  Boredom is the #1 mealtime barrier for countless people.  Time after time, a well-intentioned home chef gets lured into dialing for takeout, just because she’s tired of making the same old thing!

That’s why I’m always on the hunt for boredom beating strategies, and Eugenia shared a good one.  Not surprisingly, it revolves food preservation, but not in the usual sense, i.e., Aunt Sue putting up 48 quarts of tomatoes to last until the next tomato harvest.  Eugenia’s definition of food preservation is far more liberal, encompassing a wide range of food combinations, preserved in many ways, for anywhere from a week to a year.

She might make a fresh mayonnaise and store for just a week, oil-preserved zucchini that can last two or three weeks, mushroom stock that can be frozen for months or a tomato chickpea side dish that is good for a year.  The key to her boredom beating strategy lies in using up whatever bits and pieces she finds around the kitchen, whipping up creative concoctions, then preserving them in small batches.  Then she’s perfectly situated for boredom-defying meals.

When dinnertime rolls around, she simply heads to her refrigerator, freezer and cupboard pantries and starts mixing and matching.  Here’s one of the many creative (but easy) meals she described:  Chicken breasts with a frozen wine reduction, complimented by the canned tomato-chickpea dish and maybe a simple green salad with fresh mayonnaise dressing.

Here’s the key takeaway:  Trash can be treasure. In other words, what un-bored home cooks know that bored cooks don’t, is that some of the best flavor in the kitchen comes from leftover bits and pieces that most people would pitch.  Use those bits and pieces immediately or go one step further by transforming them into creative preserved foods that add easy pizazz to later meals.

  • Happily, Eugenia brought up the wonders of leftover duck fat, so now I can safely mention how I use leftover bacon grease or lamb drippings (just a tablespoon!) to saute onions and other vegetables , imparting all sorts of delightful flavor for very little in the way of calories.
  • Two days ago, faced with a few strawberries and apricots on the verge of rotting, I took Eugenia’s advice and blended up a Fresh Fruit and Herb Salad Dressing (recipe in next post) that was so good, my mixed greens needed only a little canned chicken for a superb lunch.
  • The leftover broth from that canned chicken got cooked with a batch of sauteed tofu.   You wouldn’t have believed it was tofu!
  • A bit of leftover brine from feta cheese went into the garlicky zucchini and pulled the whole dish together–for no calories
  • This morning, more apricot puree got mixed with ginger, soy sauce and rice vinegar to top a fast stir-fry with greens from the garden.  (See my Vegetable Queen Twitter column for more fast ideas like these.)

But wait, there are more benefits of bits and pieces cooking!  Besides delivering really interesting meals, it saves money by  preventing waste and providing free flavor.  Saving tasty tidbits from landfills and garbage disposals also helps save the planet.  Finally, to the extent you preserve the local harvest, you can eat locally year round–as I’m going to do by saucing and canning the last few of my local apricots to make Apricot-Curry Dressing in the middle of winter.

How’s Your Pantry Looking?

Syndicated Columnist Marni Jameson Gets Her Pantry Under Control with Kitchen Coach Mary Collette Rogers

Mary Collette organizes the pantry with syndicated columnist Marni Jameson

The last few posts have all mentioned the pantry in relation to healthy meal making, and with good reason:  The pantry is a vital link to manageable meal times.

With the right ingredients stocked, meal making can be not only fast but interesting, as a  previous post explained.  As important as stocking the pantry, however, is arranging it for speedy access.  How frustrating if you can’t quickly grab an ingredient when assembling a meal.

My book, Take Control of Your Kitchen, shows both how to stock and how to organize kitchen cupboards for quick and easy access.  That’s why nationally syndicated home improvement columnist Marni Jameson phoned for an emergency session when she needed to write about pantry organizing–and get her own pantry in order.

You’re sure to get a chuckle from Marni’s article, “Odeur du Jour Pushes Writer into Pantry Panic–and pick up a copy of Take Control of Your Kitchen if you’re ready to replace chaos with order in your pantry cupboards.

The Whole Kitchen Way to Wholesome Meals

What is it and why might you care about it?

Allison’s story makes a good illustration of the Whole Kitchen Way (R).  As related in an earlier post, Allison has enthusiastically embraced everyday good eating.  But every now and then she hits the vegetable exhaustion wall.  My advice as a kitchen coach:  take a break and make a super easy meal on those nights.   I even came up with the perfect “take-a-break” recipe:  Creamy Gingered Peas and White Fish, a 15-minute, totally healthful and yummy one dish meal.

Here’s the kicker, though.  The dish can be made in 15 minutes as long as you:

  • keep a freezer pantry stocked with convenient frozen vegetables
  • know to keep frozen fish filets and which ones to stock
  • are familiar with ginger enough to use it as a main flavoring
  • know how to buy and grate ginger
  • have the tool to grate ginger in 10 seconds
  • have that tool at your fingertips by the sink
  • stock limes and fish sauce in your refrigerator pantry
  • stock coconut milk, chicken broth and high-quality soy sauce in your pantry
  • know how to deglaze a pan and not overcook fish
  • have counter space for cooking that isn’t covered with clutter
  • can access ingredients without lengthy searching
  • can quickly lay your hands on cutting board, knife and measuring spoons and cups, and
  • don’t forget to have some whole grain rice left over from the day before.

Did you ever stop to think of all the puzzle pieces that come together to create “the picture” of a healthful meal?”  Most people have only the recipe piece.  No wonder it’s so hard to complete the finished picture and get a good meal on the table.  It’s because we’re working with a half (or quarter) kitchen, instead of a Whole Kitchen.

Get a feel for this Whole Kitchen concept with the articles below:  You’ll find the Gingered Pea recipe, but also  information on planning for this kind of meal, integrating coconut milk into your pantry, confidently using coconut milk and why taking advantage of convenient frozen veggies shouldn’t be a source of nutritional guilt.  Hopefully, you’ll gain a sense of the Whole Kitchen “infrastructure” that, if it’s in place, makes the recipe an entirely manageable, 15-minute undertaking.

Would you like to begin feeling good about the meals you’re making and eating, like you’re doing your body a favor instead of filling it with the highly processed and refined  foods, filled with fat, salt and sugar,then flavored and colored artificially?  We don’t want to eat any more pesticide covered, chemically fertilized, environment-destroying foods.  Are you ready to learn a Whole New Approach to Healthful Meal Making, so you can begin enjoying the meals of your dreams?  The key lies in creating a supportive, Whole Kitchen.  Join me for the next Whole Kitchen Way to Wholesome Eating series, beginning Wednesday, August 11.

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