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Cooking is What Makes a House a Home

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Cooking for beginners – getting started.

Did you ever learn 'how to cook'? Did you watch your mom cooking – or was your meal experience more on the side of microwave: pre-made-cooking, canteens and sandwiches? This may have given you a conception that cooking is time consuming and difficult, or that you need 'instant meals'?

Cooking may be presumed as time consuming, when actually it can be time spent creatively; time spent in the kitchen with family, and quality time, learning time, sharing time. I love cooking and having a friend or family helping a little bit here and there and sharing a glass of wine with a little bit of something to nibble on, like olives or artichoke hearts....

 

1. The warmth of cooking

I like to socialize in the kitchen or when alone listening to my favorite iTune radio station.

And the smells, cooking together brings your family together, brings friends together, stimulates the senses, and provides the warmth of the social structure only to be found in a kitchen where people are actually cooking.

 

2. Using good ingredients

When cooking at home it is our decision what goes in a meal, as opposed to eating out where the experience that should be fun is often imposed upon by the quality of the food, meaning cheap oils, cheap meat, low quality ingredients all in all – unless of course one chooses an expensive restaurant. The real problem is, you can't see te low quality, but it goes into your body, and you are what you eat.

First items to have at home to start cooking right are:

  1. Oil: good quality olive oil for salads and garnish on dishes and coconut oil for frying
  2. Spices: An array of fun and tasty flavors to spice or your food and your life
  3. Real food: preferably organic, grown without pesticides or growth hormones (if an animal is pumped full of antibiotics, so to will you be if you eat it).
  4. Time: For a quality life, you need to take the time. Saying you don't have time is saying you don't have time for quality. And really, think about it... you do deserve quality because healthy and happy are two of the main ingredients of 'Good Life Times'!
  5. Friends & Family: We all spend time around food every day, wouldn't that be quality time with friends and family. It's so easy to integrate these precious moments. Sharing, working together, enjoying the moments!

 

3. Spices and flavoring

Spices are of course a matter of personal taste and also cultural background. I discovered that by cooking a lot of vegetarian dishes for the family that is used to have a lot of meat; that by cooking very tasty food, they love it!!!!! Some spices that I believe attribute to that hearty flavor are fresh ginger, nutmeg and clove. So these items are to put on the shopping list:

  • ginger
  • nutmeg
  • clove
  • bay leave

for the Italian cooking:

"Italian Seasoning" herb mix or:

  • thyme
  • oregano
  • marjoram
  • sage
  • rosemary
  • basil
  • savory

Asian spices:

curry  – curry is a mix of spices that makes spicing very easy, so if you are just starting to experiment with cooking, you can use simply curry, if you are feeling more adventurous, you can start adding some of the "curry spices" to create variation and blend them into the dishes to your personal liking. Curry typically consists of these spices:

  • coriander
  • fenugreek
  • turmeric (is what makes curry yellow)
  • Bay leaves
  • celery seeds
  • nutmeg
  • cloves
  • chili
  • ginger

I like to have those additional spices for my Indian cooking:

  • cumin seeds
  • onion seeds
  • mustard seeds

Asian spices can be easily found in Asian, Indian, or Persian food stores. Curry of course should be available in all food stores....

 

Broth (Bouillon):

In a lot of cooking, vegetable broth, chicken broth, or beef broth, is used as a typical ingredient that gives a lot of good flavor.

I tend to be very careful with using them, because a lot of these products are full of "natural flavors" (this declaration can mean a whole lot, defined as ingredients that would turn off consumers if they are listed) and chemicals, and MSG (the role of MSG can NOT be excluded from contributing to obesity*).  

So, when I purchase broths, I always read the small print to make sure it is healthy and digestible, no MSG that makes me burp and gives me stomach burn.

And since the idea of using a broth is to help flavoring, I learned to use herbs and spices instead, read the ingredients of a broth and add the good stuff by using real produce!

 

4. The Time factor

Yes it is true, cooking is not done in the same time as preparing a microwave meal that is pre-made.

AND yes, if time is a factor there are simple ways to prepare real food in reasonable time. I think the main thing is to simply organize for that.

My tips for time efficient cooking are:

Steamed veggies using a pressure cooker

Vegetables of many kinds can be done in no time with the pressure cooker! I know a lot of people are afraid of using them, but getting a good steel pressure cooker and reading the instructions (very simple) and you can cook so much more time (and energy) efficient. I like to steam veggies in the pressure cooker and then add some olive oil and a bit of fresh lemon juice, and it is heavenly delicious food. Here my list of veggies that are suitable for this:

  • kale
  • beat root
  • carrots (only 1-3 min. after bringing up to full pressure)
  • asparagus (only 1-2 min.  after bringing up to full pressure)
  • pumpkin 
  • cabbage

Sauteed veggies

The fastest veggie to cook I think is spinach. I get the pre-washed and organic spinach and have a healthy side dish prepared in 3 minutes simply by melting 1-2 spoons of butter in a pan, adding some fresh ground pepper and the spinach, and saute it for max 3 minutes – it can't get easier?!

Next easy veggie to do is string beans. Get the organic frozen string beans, Costco or other stores (sometimes) have "organic petite whole green beans". Saute them in a little butter with fresh ground pepper; and for a special flavor, add some tarragon or saute first some finely chopped onions. Again, super easy, healthy and tasty!

Fish

The most important thing when cooking fish is: do not overcook, fish gets hard when overcooked and fish needs only few minutes to be cooked. This is the lesson I learned from my Italian girl friend who traded computer lessons for a dinner – and I loved fish! She teaches me that the only important thing to know about cooking a fish (and she literally bought whole fish for us) is not to overcook it – simple. So why not try to cook your own mahi tuna fish steak instead of ordering it in a restaurant? It is done in few minutes!

Heating food up the next day

I would try to cook the double amount of rice or pasta since these meals can easily get heated up on the next day. Out of a plain basmati rice I would make a fried rice the next day. Leftover jacket potatoes make great hash browns with fried eggs; and pasta is anyway great when heated up or lightly fried up the next day. Combine with a fresh salad and the meal is done!

 

5. Timing

Besides using good ingredients, having the time factor right is also crucial when cooking several dishes at once for a meal. 

As just discussed spinach can be done at last minute (if you have the pre-washed spinach that is ready to cook). So it is somehow important to plan a little bit. Like if your menu is tuna fish steak with basmati rice and spinach, the rice takes the longest cooking time and needs to get started first.

 

6. Serving and preparing the table

Serving a dinner can be done fast or sometimes have some little extra input.

I like to have a pepper grinder on the table and a set of olive oil and vinegar and some extra salt. With Italian dishes the Parmesan cheese.

With Asian dishes some particular Asian flavors, like chutneys, coconut flakes, Asian breads.  

Thinking of drinks to serve: red wine or white wine with Italian food, or beer with U.S or Asian food, maybe a lemon water with some cranberry juice added as a non-alcoholic beverage that looks and tastes interesting, and is healthy (not full of sugars, corn syrup nor aspartame).

 

* Regarding MSG, there are many articles associating obesity to MSG:

One article of interest - Does high glutamate intake cause obesity? in : J Pediatric Endocrinology and  Metabolism. The excerpt:

"However, the epidemiological evidence is needed and one must consider Thailand, China, Japan where MSG is very widely used and the average people are NOT thicker. So, obesity is MULTI-FACTORIAL and role of MSG can NOT be excluded.

Excerpt - World-wide obesity has risen to alarming levels. The average weight of German conscripts now increases by almost 400 g/year. Similar data were obtained in Austria, Norway and the UK. The rising prevalence of obesity coincides with a rising popularity of protein-rich diets. On average, Germans consume meat at 100 kg/year. Children eat some threefold more protein than recommended; infants of 6 to 12 months receive daily up to 5 g/kg body weight of protein. We hypothesise that it is not the protein, but the amino acid glutamate that determines the propensity of obesity. Chronic hyperglutamataemia may intoxicate arcuate nucleus (AN) neurons, thereby disrupting the hypothalamic signalling cascade of leptin action, causing hyperphagia, obesity and hyperleptinaemia. Hyperleptinaemia also exerts sympathetic effects including blood pressure elevation that are mediated via mechanisms different from the hypothalamic system, and other symptoms of the 'metabolic syndrome'. This may happen even before birth when in small-for-gestational-age foetuses with impaired umbilical plasma flow, foetal hyperglutamataemia induces AN damage followed by later impairment of feeding regulation, hyperleptinaemia and symptoms that characterise the 'thrifty phenotype'. We suggest abandoning the flavouring agent monosodium glutamate and reconsidering the recommended daily allowances of protein and amino acids, particularly during pregnancy."

 

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Dr. Lustig's Book

In the late 1970s when the government mandated we get the fat out of our food, the food industry responded by pouring more sugar in. The result has been a perfect storm, disastrously altering our biochemistry and driving our eating habits out of our control.

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