I have a confession: I have never stepped foot inside an Indian restaurant. It really seems absurd when I think about it, as I thoroughly enjoy Indian food. But for reasons still unclear, and although restaurant dining is, for all practical purposes, a hobby for me, it still hasn’t happened. In fact, of all the international cuisines I enjoy eating and cooking, Indian food seems to be the most challenging one to master. There just seems to be so much to understand. Indian food is as complex as its terrain, history, and culture.
Almost ten years ago my husband and I, along with our two children ages 1 and 3, purchased 11 acres in central Maine with the intention of escaping in-town living and growing more of our own food. I was a stay-at-home mother blessed with the occasional but fulfilling catering stints to break the monotony of domesticity. Having finished up a couple of organic farm apprenticeships, I was gung-ho to try my hand at farm living. Our place was actually right in the middle of our quiet town, but our five acre pasture, old apple and pear orchards, and post-and-beam barn and outbuildings made it seem like we were legitimately rural.
I’ve always been interested in cooking, and even as a child, I liked to experiment with cooking techniques and ingredients on a regular basis. My brother and I were latchkey kids toward the end of elementary school, and like most students, we were ravished by the time we got home in the afternoon. But rather than grab a frozen pizza pocket or a cereal bar, we often cooked ourselves something. Looking back on it now as a parent, I’m amazed our parents allowed such a thing to happen because as much importance I place on teaching kids to cook at an early age, I would flip my lid if I knew my twelve year-old was using my stove while I was gone.
As I started preparing the Powerpoint slides for a school nutrition webinar that Guiding Stars registered dietitian, Allison Stowell, and I recently presented, I started looking through my photo and recipe archives for the most successful recipes from my work with school lunch programs. I came upon my recipe for BLT Salad, a dish that has proven to be a real winner among the children we’ve served it to.
If you’ve watched a Food Network show or spent time with a chef, you’ve probably noticed that professionals treat the cooking process a little differently than a typical home cook. There’s a fundamental rule that chefs follow—the “season as you go” rule—that somehow gets lost in translation in cookbooks or in the hectic effort to try to get dinner on the table at the end of a long day. But this little extra step is the answer to the question that my friends invariably ask, which is: “How can I make my food taste like food from a restaurant?” Really, what they’re asking is, “Where’s the flavor?”
Last month I was interviewed by the Huffington Post’s Healthy Living section for an article about alternative spins on burgers. The article was in response to the recent concerns about a resurgence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or Mad Cow Disease, and the editors wanted to give their readers some new beef-free grilling candidates. I was excited to contribute to the article because, fatal illness aside, everyone can use a little mojo in their grilling repertoire.
A few weeks ago, Jen, a teacher friend of mine posted a photo to her Facebook wall depicting four cartons of milk from her school’s lunch room, and the incredulous comments began to fly. It seems that Jen has been working with her class on healthy eating, and she had a real big problem with the fact that not only was chocolate milk offered, so too were strawberry and coffee (a regional favorite) varieties. According to her, these items were offered to increase the chance that the kids would take a milk at lunch, and the sugar levels contained within them–27 grams per 8 oz. in the coffee one!–was, in essence, irrelevant. Well geez, that’s an interesting way to look at it, considering the sugar content is equivalent to a can of Red Bull. In fact, eating two standard Reese’s cups will actually save you almost two teaspoons of sugar over the flavored milk.
Cheese, tortillas and a piquant sauce: I defy anyone to find fault in that combination. Enchiladas, traditionally comprised of seasoned meat or seafood, shredded cheese and baked in the oven in a tomato or tomatillo-based sauce has always been my favorite Tex-Mex dish, but its calorie and fat-laden composition limits its role in my diet to an occasional treat. I’ve often wondered how I could alter the recipe to my advantage, allowing me to eat more of what I like without knocking me out of my current dress size.