Scratch Cooking Advanced Kitchen Basics Part Two

 

Plate of scones on a colorful table cloth, with a small tea light lantern and a pot of fruit marmalade.
You know you’re ready for some advanced kitchen basic skills when you want to make more complex baked goods and dishes that you can’t customize anywhere else but at home. Read my three steps to making new foods with confidence and flair. Photo by Imei Hsu taken on an iPhone 7 Plus.

Note: This post is Part Two in a three-part series on Scratch Cooking and Kitchen Basics. If you haven’t had a chance, please skim Scratch Cooking Basics Part One to see what was covered. 

If you follow a medically-necessary diet and have been trying to eat accordingly, you have probably come to the conclusion that eating out and eating processed foods don’t just conflict with your diet, they can damage your health, reverse positive progress in your battle against your disease, and leave you fatigued, undernourished, or gravely ill.

All of that just sucks.

And so, one way or another, kicking and screaming, or perhaps with excitement mixed with fear,  you’ve decided to give scratch cooking a whirl. Maybe you’ve cleaned your kitchen, bought a few new cooking tools and gadgets, pushed a cart around your grocery store’s perimeter (where the produce, meats, dairy, and unprocessed foods are located), and gotten a bit more comfortable making a few simple ingredient meals.

This calls for some celebration and congratulations! You made it! You’re alive! Woo hoo! This is no small feat. Most of the people around you are cramming garbage food full of empty calories, unhealthy fats, and excess sugars in their pie holes, and taking pictures of decadent foods to put on their Instagram, while you hold a salad with a dried up piece of chicken diced on top, thrilled that you can eat an avocado without feeling sick to your stomach.

It’s one step. And I will applaud that step, because I know what it feels like to go from laying in my bed and feeling about as lifeless as a rock until my body was able to absorb nutrients and bring some energy back into me. Feeding yourself is a big deal.

What the rest of the world doesn’t understand — but painfully, you do — is that if you did not grow up learning how to cook from scratch, it’s a skill that isn’t easily adopted as an adult. We are more likely taught to use every shortcut as an advantage over time and effort. People are being taught that it’s not just easier, but somehow better living to drink your meal in the form of a replacement shake rather than learn how to balance your meals for vitamins and minerals.

However, in the real world people treat food made from scratch differently than industrially-made food. Case in point: at the Beat the Blerch running races, foods such as donuts, Nutella, candy, cookies, and cake are served at the start of the race, at the aid stations, and at the finish line. Most serious runners will refuse all sweet treats because it will do a number on their guts. However, I observed in 2015 and 2016 as a volunteer and as a runner that more people stopped to eat cake during the race when they discovered who had made the cake.  Once it was understood that the cakes were from a much-coveted local bakery that specializes in making cakes, the cake magically disappeared. People made an exception.

Our biggest challenge comes right after we have barely managed to  keep ourselves from starving by making about five to seven repeatable dishes. Around the end of the first month of eating the same meals, with just a few small variations (like chicken tacos instead of beef tacos, and a lime dressing on that shrimp dish instead of the usual cocktail sauce because you’re avoiding tomatoes), that you suddenly get the idea of investing some money in a cookbook.

Bam, you’re on Amazon, perusing the cookbook section using keyword searches, such as “Paleo”, “Food Allergies”, “Dairy Free”, or “Vegetarian Foods for Heart Health.” After about five attempts, you settle on a couple of cookbooks, order them, and with Amazon Prime and Same-Day Shipping, a package is at your door. You rip into the box, eagerly open the first book, start flipping through the pages, and select a recipe that instantly makes your mouth drip saliva onto the glossy photograph astride a pile of bricks that just happen to be next to a distressed picnic table with wooden spoons and checkered napkins.

Two hours and about half of the bowls, pots, measuring spoons, and three-quarters of all the available countertop space in your kitchen later, you have a main dish that doesn’t look anything like the photograph. And by description, it doesn’t taste anything like it was supposed to either.

Well, crap. You just wasted a good afternoon, a bunch of groceries, and you’re still hungry.

Why? You can’t eat a single one of the recipes “as is.” All-purpose flour has to be replaced with a gluten-free version that doesn’t make you sick. Milk needs a substitute without losing creaminess. You substituted brown rice syrup for pure cane sugar because pure cane sugar makes your tummy hurt. You took out the nuts completely, left out the nutmeg, added a little more cinnamon, and axed the garlic.

If you’re lucky, you eat a little bit of what you’ve made because it’s just barely palatable, and sadly slide the rest of it into the bin and call it a day.

This post is all about cooking from scratch at another level: developing your own substitutions and creating new dishes, with or without a recipe. Read on for more.

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Choo Mee Flip Top Cap

Reusable Pouch Toppers for Your Active Life

ChooMee Sip’n Pouch Toppers | Cycling| Triathlon | Trail Running | Food

Do you eat real food to fuel your adventures? Carrying your calories while in motion can make or break your experience. Here’s my review of the ChooMee Sip’n Pouch Toppers. Photo by Imei Hsu

 

For awhile, marketing language on branded software apps often stated that a product was so easy to use, “Even your grandmother could use it.”

In the case of single-handed refueling options for people who like to cycle on long rides or go for long runs, it turns out that I should have looked for options for the other end of the age spectrum, as in, “So easy to use, even your four-month old could use it.”

From the running community, I found out that people who liked long distance running but couldn’t eat processed foods like race gels and cookies came up with real-food options. Many of these options are compatible with the AIP (Autoimmune Protocol) diet, which is gluten free and free from foods that typically cause inflammation in sensitive guts.

Putting two things together — pureed real food and reusable baby food pouches — was a game changer for long endurance training and my first Ironman race. But I had run into a simple problem. For shorter races and trainings, the screw tops on the baby food pouches were difficult to unscrew with one hand while bombing a hill or maintaining speed on flat sections of road without getting a little wobbly and risking a crash. I had to balance the pouch between my two hands while still gripping the aero bars of my tri bike, yet manage to not drop the screw cap while sipping from the pouch. It was too many steps, and it never felt comfortable.

During the actual Ironman race that I used the food pouches on, I only ate when I stopped moving on the bike, because the wind was so strong that day that it was impossible for me to keep my bike and body from being knocked over by random wind gusts and eat at the same time.

As a self-proclaimed, “Gut Whisperer”, an inconvenience simply provides a new challenge. My real-food options were not the problem; the delivery system was the problem to solve. What could make that pouch better? I had to do something about that screw top.

Here’s better.

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Scratch Cooking Kitchen Basics Part One

How do you move from wanting to eat a healthy diet to actually doing it? Read here about the basics of the scratch cooking kitchen. Photo from Pixabay (no attribution required).

When people share with me what is the hardest part about eating well, no matter what their diet, medical condition, or limitations, most of them do not tell me that they don’t know WHAT to eat.

They tell me that they don’t know how to change their lifestyle.

It’s your lifestyle that is  getting in your way of eating well. They may have a list of foods, a meal plan set up by their nutritionist, and a doctor’s order to eat a diet free of grains and preservatives. They tell me that they get stuck on the how.  How do I actually eat the things I know I am supposed to eat?

The how  – that is, the lifestyle changes that makes eating healthy for your individual needs happen —  intersects with an important activity and location: cooking real food, and shopping for, preparing, and cooking that real food from the grocery store or your garden to your table. Since there are few shortcuts that allow you to actually do this correctly (even food delivery services cannot cater to the needs of food allergic or medically-based nutritional profiles), I thought it was high time to start at the very beginning, so that anyone could jump in and get started.

Ready? Here’s my first post in a series on the basics of The Scratch Cooking Kitchen for the person with food allergies, Autoimmune Disease, and other medically necessary diets.

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The Inconvenience of Avoiding Convenience Food

Food Allergies | Autoimmune Disease | Fast Food | Convenience Food | Lifestyles

The inconvenience of avoiding convenience food involves the loss of spontaneity, and planning ahead.
The inconvenience of avoiding convenience food involves the loss of spontaneity, and planning ahead. When you don’t plan ahead, “doing without” has its hazards. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

From the very beginning, I knew that writing about eating real food – let alone convincing anyone that eating real food is a viable, valuable, and vital activity — would be a hard sell.

All I need to imagine is the tired eyes of a work weary parent, or an over-worked employee at a corporation with flexible hours who never has time to get a proper meal, and I know that my most powerful statement, “Heal yourself with the medicine of real food” would likely be heard as an ideal to aspire to,  not an action to live by.

Why? Because we perceive that statement as a lofty goal, and not an achievable end-destination. We think it’s too inconvenient to live without the conveniences of modern-day eating, which offers taste, ease, and practicality.

And of course, there is a price to pay for that convenience. Just look around. I watch people coming in and out of food comas, over indulging on alcoholic and sugary beverages, and not understanding why they feel like crap all the time. “But I can get away with this,” says one friend, a reference to not feeling sick immediately after eating a favorite dish at a restaurant.

Since it took a long time to get where our nation is with convenience food eating, I don’t imagine it will go away quickly. There is much you would have to overcome. However, if you’re ready to try — or, like me, it’s “ready or not” because of a medical condition that requires you to change your eating habits now — here are a few things to consider.

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Trello For Meal Planning and Prepping

Screen shot of part of my Maui Menu Plan for the March Triathlon camp. I used Trello to help me prepare, including a shopping list for Day 1.
Screen shot of part of my Maui Menu Plan for the March Triathlon camp. I used Trello to help me prepare, including a shopping list for Day 1. Photo by Imei Hsu.

How do you keep track of your food allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities? How do you track your Elimination/Provocation schedule? Do you have a way to systematically think about rotating in a new recipe, and getting the ingredients on your grocery shopping list earlier in the week so that you’re not caught making multiple trips to the store? How do you organize links from websites with interesting information about foods, supplements, and treatments for your gastrointestinal and allergy issues?

First of all, I want to tell you this: IT’S A LOT. To eat well, to eat healthy and clean, and to eat nutrient-dense food free of chemicals, and emulsifiers, processed ingredients and processing cross-contamination, sugars, and unhealthy fats and oils,  you have to do a lot of fancy footwork and planning.

For many of us with Autoimmune Disease and fatigue, we simply don’t have the available energy for those extra trips to the grocery store, let alone standing at the stove and oven, prepping, cooking, and baking. At the worst of my own disease process, just standing at the stove for five minutes left me too tired to eat. Even the joints in my feet ached.

At the time of writing this post, I was planning from a couch, resting from travel and a food “incident” on the return flight of my trip to New Orleans to deliver a presentation on food and mood. I started using Trello.com as a project management system for my eating lifestyle in early 2016, and I love how I can use it plan out my week, month, and repeat previous week’s menus to keep my food varied, interesting, nutritious, and flexible to my changing needs. I can also use it to plan special events, travel food, and holiday meal planning.

Read on to learn about Trello’s features you can hack for your own eating lifestyle.

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Living in the Land of the Gluteneaters

Gluten | Gluten-Free Living | Home | Health | Food Allergies

Stack of Kirkland pizzas in pizza boxes on the corner of a table
When gluten is all around, how do you figure out how to cope when you can’t eat it but must be around it?

In 2014, I entered my first race Olympic Distance race as a relay, the Victoria BC Subaru Saunders Olympic Distance Triathlon. I took on the 0.9mile swim event, M took on the 27 mile bike event, and a fellow runner friend Rosie took on the 10 kilometer run around Elk Lake. When it came to giving our team a name, I ended up submitting the team name, “Imei and the Gluteneaters.”

Three seasons later, and an Ironman Finisher now going on for her first Ultramarathon, I’m reflecting on what it means to live — and I mean fully live — in the Land of the Gluteneaters.

If you must be gluten-free for medically necessary reasons (meaning: you must avoid gluten or you will become seriously ill or risk severe complications or death), avoiding gluten in your food is a complex enough task by itself, since much of our food supply in westernized countries are embedded with gluten and cross-contaminated as well as cross-reactive ingredients. What happens if you live with others who eat gluten? What happens if you live with others who eat the foods you are most reactive to, such as nuts, dairy, gluten, soy? What if you have multiple food allergies, and your partner/spouse does not?

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Five More Kitchen Must-Haves

Last year around this time, I wrote about five “must-haves” that ever person who wants to cook real food to improve their health should have in their kitchen, and now I’m ready to add five more for this year’s list!

When you are eating food you make yourself all year round with very few exceptions, not only should your food be the highest quality ingredients you can afford, but your kitchen tools and equipment should be things that work, get a lot of use, and are durable. They should also either save you time, or work effectively to help make your food tasty.

After the end-of-year gifts are unwrapped, and perhaps you have a little extra pocket money to purchase an item, I support your desire to invest in your health by turning your kitchen into a health center through the cooking of nutritious meals.

Here are my five must-have’s for this year (after you already scored on my five must-have’s from last year):

I keep this sous-vide immersion circulator on the counter top because it gets used often in our kitchen.
I keep this sous-vide immersion circulator on the counter top because it gets used often in our kitchen.

1. Sous vide cooking device. After receiving a Sansaire Sous-vide Immersion Circulator for my birthday this year (yes, I asked for a cooking device for my birthday!), I have discovered the joys of juicy, perfectly-cooked meats. What I didn’t fully understand was that sous-vide cooking is just the first step; what you do with the meat after it is cooked to perfection is completely up to you: sear it with a torch, braise it on the grill briefly, or deep fry it afterwards.

I have since poached eggs and salmon for the loveliest breakfasts, and created simple but beautiful dishes with lamb that look like they fell out of a fancy cookbook.

If a circulator device is too spendy for your budget, you can also learn to cook the sous-vide method using a precise digital thermometer and thick plastic Ziploc bags. Either way, if you haven’t tried sous-vide cooking at home, you will want to make one of these options a new must-have and must-do!

A panini grill pan gives you those beautiful lines across whatever you are grilling indoors on the stove.
A panini grill pan gives you those beautiful lines across whatever you are grilling indoors on the stove.

2. Panini grill pan. When it became clear that any kind of gluten-free bread and I were not meant for one another, I became obsessed with this idea that my food needed to still look like it could have panini grill marks seared across it. Yes, even a mini gluten-free pizza crust, for the love of bread!

And if you are among the fortunate who can have GF bread and some kind of dairy-free butter, spread, or non-dairy cheese, what would look better than those three dark stripes across the face of the bread from a panini grill pan? Calphalon’s Contemporary Non-Stick Panini Pan will get it done.

3. Travel Sized Blender. After traveling to several cities and staying in every kind of accommodations from an AirBnB to a Bed and Breakfast to a hotel suite, that one thing I can’t seem to do without is a blender.

Even if your destination accommodations has one, you can’t know if it was cleaned properly of your allergens, and you don’t want to put your hand down to the blade to try to scrape that bit of gluten, nuts, dried milk, or peanut butter off it. No no no.

Instead, try a travel sized blender, like the Magic Bullet Blender. For just around $40, you have a tool that you can make your smoothies, puree vegetables for a soup, or in my case, make my “bike food” for when I have long training rides. Goes into your checked luggage. They are not lightweight (none of them are), yet if you travel, it could help you make eating while on travel more healthy and safe.

I don’t have a picture of one for you because this is going to be my gift to me, after borrowing one from a friend who hadn’t used hers much. Happy Holidays to me (and my tummy!). When not on travel, it will be in my office, so I can make myself smoothies, protein shakes, and carrot ginger soup (my favorite).

4. Canning Tools (bottles, lids, pot for sterilizing). Of all the “must-have’s”, this one is perhaps the cheapest, yet packs a lot of punch in terms of what you can do for your guts and your food budget.

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Purchase mason jars and lids from your local grocery store, craft store, or kitchen and bath store. They are sold separately or in boxes of multiple jars and lids.

By purchasing food in season and either freezing it immediately until you have time to do some canning, or canning immediately, you can nourish your body with everything from fermented foods you make yourself, to your own low-sugar fruit spread, to summer fruits you may choose to eat in the dead of winter.

You can  buy mason jars with lids  from your local craft store, or alternatively opt into a jar and lid program where you can buy packs of lids, because it’s the lids that you need to replace more frequently for the best seal.

If you have never canned anything before and don’t have any of the necessary tools, you might want to start with a simple kit and buy some jars. If you have some of the pieces, then you might want to shop around to pick up just the tools you are missing. I’ve gotten into fermenting daikon root and cabbage, and canning fruit.

Avolon pot with pour spout and drain lid (two sizes, small and large holes). Perfect for gluten free pasta, melting foods, allergen free sauces. Keep your gluten eating family members away from your pot!
Anolon pot with pour spout and drain lid (two sizes, small and large holes). Perfect for gluten free pasta, melting foods, allergen free sauces. Keep your gluten eating family members away from your pot!

5. Pot with pour spout and draining lid. One of the ways you can produce a meal quickly with less mess and no need for a colander is to purchase a pot with a pour spout and drain lid.

For absolute safety, you can assign your pot to yourself and any family member who is gluten free, so you can safely drain your GF pasta without worrying about gluten particles stuck in the tiny holes of an old colander, which you will never be sure is completely clean on those old plastic ones, ick.

I cannot tell you how many meals I have produced in a single pot like this one. Makes clean up a breeze. I bought two of them from Anolon last year, and I use these pots frequently. You decide if you want the premium model with the copper bottom for even heat distribution.

Honestly, just limiting my must-have list to five items is really tough! Yet I’m looking forward to next December, when I’ll add five more after doing my own careful experimentation and in-the-kitchen research to help all your Hungry Minions make food fun again.

To your health, to your Happy Tummy, and to a gut-strong 2017!  Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

P.S. Need a stocking stuffer idea for your favorite cook-at-home best buddy? Try the Chef’n Kale, Greens, and Herbs Stripper. I use this to prepare kale quickly for dehydrating on my Cabelas Food Dehydrator, allowing me to carry greens with me on travel. Simply add hot water to rehydrate.