What’s New at The Optimal KItchen

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Thai Noodle Salad 

Each week The Optimal Kitchen offers a variety of selections to customers most of which are vegan, many are gluten free and there are even vegan paleo options.  After years of educating and empowering the residents of Cape Cod to make healthy food part of their everyday lifestyle, I realized for many, they did not have the time or desire to prepare healthy foods for themselves.  In response to this community need and after years of searching for a commercial kitchen space, The Optimal Kitchen has been able to move to the next level.

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Morrocan Farro Salad

Not only are the foods offered at The Optimal Kitchen designed to help you achieve your individual health goals, they are an economical solution for the single person or even couples to incorporate healthy foods into their everyday diet.  Many of the dishes offered by the Optimal Kitchen use exotic and expensive ingredients, but by cooking in bulk and portioning it out for the individual we are able to offer these incredibly healthy and delicious foods at affordable prices.  Another bonus is an attempt to reduce food waste.  More than 2 decades as a professional Chef has taught us how to make the most of our ingredients and re-purpose them so there is little to no waste.  An example is that all vegetable stocks are house made from the peels and scraps of vegetables that went into your salads and soups.  So for those of you out there struggling after years of preparing foods for a family to pare down to cooking for just one or two people, The Optimal Kitchen healthy prepared foods are perfect for you!

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Weekly Menu Board

When possible locally sourced and organic ingredients are used, but focus is always placed on affordability.  Therefore, I will never claim to be completely organic, but I will claim to always be healthy.  So come on by the Orleans Farmer’s Market and pick yourself up some of these delicious, healthy and affordable foods and you may just realize you won’t have to cook anymore!

The Myth of Eating Clean

Ok let me start with  the fact that the Optimal Kitchen promotes eating a diet of fresh, whole foods, focused on fruits, vegetables and plant based proteins, but it is the current trend and focus on eating clean we have a problem with.  In the first place what exactly does eating clean mean?  The idea of eating dirty food grosses me out as I am sure it does most  and it seems that is what is implied if I don’t EAT CLEAN.  I am guessing most people would say eating clean means avoiding processed, packaged foods, as well as eating organic, non gmo produce but what else does the term imply?

If this is really the definition of Eating Clean than eating a diet of whole plant based foods is the exact same thing, right?  Unfortunately like most trends in  contemporary American culture it is an extreme version and people who eat clean are almost militant about it and if you ask me those people are doing more to turn people off from healthy eating than turning them onto it.  In fact most people when  confronted with an all or nothing way of eating will most likely choose nothing, and who can blame them.

Feeding ourselves should be about fueling our bodies with the foods that we need to thrive and feel good and this means focusing our diets on lean plant base proteins with the occasional animal protein, loads of vegetables, organic is nice but if it is not in your budget than conventional vegetables are ok, healthy fats, some fruit and a little bit of whole grains.  It isn’t so complicated and should not require a trip to anywhere other than your local supermarket.  The more difficult we make feeding ourselves and our families, the more likely we are to push people to eating pre-made and packaged foods because they are made to feel like a failure.

Feeding ourselves is also about pleasure which is why an occasional treat is absolutely fine and in fact what it may do for your mental health is an even bigger bonus.  So don’t beat yourself up.  Eating in the 21st century seems overly complicated and extremely confusing for everyone.  Simply try to eat like you did when you were a child, whole foods, homemade from scratch because we didn’t have a choice.  And always remember it is about balance so if you spent last night sitting on the couch with a bag of chips or a bowl of ice cream, simply try to eat a bit better today!

TOK Tackles Food Waste

Food waste is a huge problem, so much more than you can imagine.  You might look at your own  trash and think ,”oh that isn’t too bad.” Here is the problem, take your personal food waste and multiply it a thousand times and that is you local grocery store not to mention major growers and food producers who are the ones creating a constant waste stream of food that in this chef and nutritionist’s view is often made up of delicious and nutritious foods.  A handful of entrepreneurs have come on the scene and are finding creative ways of using food that would otherwise be bound for landfills and selling them to the public.

A recent trip to my local Stop and Shop last  Friday allowed me to score these 3 trays of raspberries for a $1.50.  Had a purchased the same raspberries the night before,  I would have spent around $50,but since the produce manager viewed them as less than perfect they were in the cart destined for what I hope was the compost heap,  but what was most likely the dumpster.  After emptying the containers on paper lined sheet pans and examining the berries I found only 3 that had a bit of spot mold and needed to be thrown away.  Ironically I have bought raspberries at full price that were a lesser quality than these.  Luckily I know that spreading berries out like this extends their life, and taking those same trays and placing them in the freezer allows me to IQF (individually quick freeze) these delicious berries so we can enjoy them in the weeks and months ahead.

The Optimal Kitchen is about empowering clients to learn how to tackle the challenges of feeding you and your family healthy whole foods in affordable ways and reducing your personal food waste is a critical part of this process.  Below are some simple ideas on how to ensure less of the food you grow or buy ends up in the compost or trash.

  1. Make your own STOCK: this is one of the best things you can do to reduce waste and save a ton of money.  Save all vegetable scraps, items like carrot peels, onion skins, tomato tops and the likes in a ziploc bag in your freezer.  Once the bag is full empty into a stock pot, cover with water and simmer for several hours and then strain.  You will have a delicious, sodium free vegetable stock to use immediately or to freeze and safe for the future.  Most vegetable scraps are perfect for stock but avoid cucumber skins (due to wax coating), and potato skins which make your stock a bit starcy.
  2. Make your own fruit Vinegar: When you have bruised peaches, berries, apples or the like don’t throw them away.  Take those fruits and place them in a glass jar and cover with some distilled white vinegar and some water and cover with cheesecloth.  Let it sit in a cool dark spot for a few weeks and then strain and place in a glass bottle and you will have a great flavored vinegar to make your own salad dressings.
  3. COMPOST:  this is not a food item you are creating but your food scraps do become a valuable soil amendment for your vegetable or flower gardens.  If you don’t want to deal with composting please take the time to find a friend or neighbor who does and consider collecting your vegetable scraps for them.

These are a few simple ideas that will save you a bit of green as well as help to keep our planet a bit greener.  Remember:  Every time you throw food in the trash you are throwing money away and if you are like me you work way to hard to throw valuable money into the trash!20151106_134612_resized

RAW FOOD FAST

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This week Optimal Kitchen clients signed up for a Raw Food fast which includes all the items pictured above.  The fast is designed to last 2 days and is a great tool to kick start a weight loss plan, detox your body, or simply to get your gut in better shape to boost that immune system before the holiday onslaught.

Here is the lowdown on going RAW :

GET HEALTHY BY GOING RAW

People are always looking for a quick fix, and when it comes to weight loss, crash diets are as popular as ever. It doesn’t take a nutritionist to tell you this not a healthy or wise choice. However, I can tell you that there is a simple and easy way to shed some pounds, rev your metabolism, and decrease your body’s acidity, Go Raw!

It is a basic fact that our bodies were designed to metabolize most of the foods we eat in their raw and natural state. When we apply heat to food above 116 degrees F we denature it and change its molecular structure as well destroying vital living enzymes that can assist in the digestion and absorption of food. Cooking is also thought to diminish the nutritional value and “life force” of food. In simpler terms, cooking our food slows our metabolism because it does not force us to operate at peak levels. By eating our food raw we are allowing our enzymes to function exactly as they were designed to do. It requires far more work on the cellular level for our bodies to metabolize raw foods.

HEALTH BENEFITS OF GOING RAW
Increased energy
Improved skin appearance
Better digestion
Weight loss
Reduced risk of heart disease

OTHER REASONS TO GO RAW
Most types of cooking also create what is known as a free radical. No doubt you’ve read an article on the dangers of free radicals and the anti-oxidant revolution that has ensued to fight those free radicals. Simply put, free radicals are molecules that due to environmental factors, like heat or exposure to toxins, are left with dangling oxygen atoms. These molecules are desperately looking to bond with floating atoms, however unless we consume enough of these vital anti-oxidants for these molecules to bond with, we are left with free radicals which doctors and scientists have linked to a myriad of degenerative diseases, most commonly cancer.

A raw food diet contains also has fewer HYPERLINK “http://adam.about.com/encyclopedia/Trans-fatty-acids.htm”trans fats and HYPERLINK “http://adam.about.com/encyclopedia/Saturated-fats.htm”saturated fats than the typical Western diet. It is also low in sodium and high in potassium, magnesium, folate, fiber and health-promoting plant chemicals called phytochemicals. Most importantly it eliminates all so-called “junk foods”, refined sugars and white flour out of our diet completely. In addition it drastically reduces our consumption of meats and dairy, the two greatest sources of saturated fats. These properties are associated with a reduced risk of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. For example, a study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that consumption of a raw food diet lowered plasma total cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations.
IS GOING RAW RIGHT FOR EVERYONE
The raw food diet may not be appropriate for certain people, such as:
Children
Pregnant or nursing women
People with anemia
People at risk for osteoporosis – A Washington University study found that people following a raw food diet had lower bone mass. Bone turnover rates, however, were similar to the group that ate a standard American diet.
A 3-5 day Raw Food fast is a great way to detoxify and kick-start any weight loss program. Forget about all those colon cleansing treatments or expensive herbal supplements designed to detoxify the digestive track. A raw food fast will do primarily the same thing these treatments do without any harmful side effects.

For those of you willing to give it a shot (and I promise you won’t be disappointed) I am providing a set of guidelines to follow. Be wary of beverages, milk is a no, no and so is soda, bottled juices, and coffee all of which are heat pasteurized or full of chemicals. As far as juicing your own fruit, don’t bother, you remove all of the beneficial fiber that will help you to feel full longer. However it is crucial to drink copious amounts of water to help flush accumulated toxins out of your body. A good rule of thumb on how much water you should drink is a 140lb woman or 175lb man should consume in the range of 48-64 oz. daily, for every 20lbs you are overweight you should increase the amount by 8 more ounces. Herbal teas are a great way to add flavor and even more nutrients to your diet.

So give raw a chance and you might just be amazed at how you feel after just a few days. A great way to maintain the benefits of going raw is to keep one meal a day raw, for example a bowl of fresh berries and melon for breakfast or a great big salad full of raw veggies for lunch.

RAW FOOD FAST GUIDELINES
All Raw Fruits: you can eat as much fruit as you want but adhere to the rule that all fruit should be eaten alone or with other fruit only and aim to consume most of your fruit before noon.
All Raw Vegetables: You can consume limitless amounts of raw vegetables, be sure to have a variety on hand because since that is all you are eating you can get quickly bored if there is not enough variety. Make sure you have vegetables of all colors, green, red, orange and purple for their unique blend of phyto-chemicals and carotenoids.
Raw Nuts and Seeds: Nuts are a critical component to a raw food fast because they will help curb hunger faster and better than fruits or vegetables. Keep in mind that nuts are high in fat, though they are beneficial mono-unsaturated fats, so try not to have more than 1 cup per day. Raw nut butters are good too and can be found in most health food stores. Keep in mind though you can’t put it on a cracker.
Raw Fish: Sashimi (no rice)
Raw Meat: Carpaccio
Cold–Pressed Oils Olive, Canola, Some Nut Oils
Raw Vinegars
Raw Soy Sauce
Raw Honey, Raw Blue Agave Syrup
Raw Dairy Products (though for a 3-5 day fast I don’t recommend it)
Foods you’ll have to avoid though they may not seem cooked: milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, bottled salad dressing, bread, crackers, chips, chocolate, coffee, black tea, soda, store bought juice and anything processed.
Raw Vinegars, Raw Ohsawa Nama Shoyu, Raw Honey, Raw Blue Agave syrup, Raw nut butters are all available at the Orleans Whole Food store

The Key to a successful raw food fast is to make sure you have plenty of food on hand. Since you’ll be eating your food raw it won’t take much time to cook foods but you will need to prepare most of your food because there aren’t any places to buy pre-made raw foods in the area. Fats will also be critical to staying with the raw food fast, nuts and avocados will help keep you feeling full for longer, and since you will consuming only raw fruits and vegetables, they will be going through your metabolism quickly, leaving you hungry. You must make sure not to let yourself get to the point where you are significantly hungry or you’ll leave yourself at risk for cheating. You should be eating every2-3 hours, even if it is simply a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts.

 

Kale 101

Even though the days are a lot shorter and certainly quite a bit cooler, several crops flourish in this environment.  Those crops that love and embrace the cooler temps are the dark green leafy vegetables that are so critical for optimal health.  Spinach reigned supreme in this category for years, but recently Kale has become tremendously popular and widely available at both local farmer’s markets as well as conventional grocery stores. Even  with its rise in popularity , I have found that many people  are still unsure what the different types are and how they should be used.  This is important because not all types of Kale are the same and might not work for every kale recipe you find.  In fact many Kale recipes I have searched online leave out what type of kale is best suited for it.  This often leads to people being turned off by kale saying it was too tough or bitter when really that particular type should never have been used.

There are 3 main categories of kale and within each of these there are several varieties.  The specific varieties are not as important and pertain more to growing environments, certain types simply grow better in specific areas.  There are also some heirloom varieties which may have a bit different flavor or coloring , but  the differences are not significant.

The 3 major types of Kale are :

Red Russian: (pictured above) this is the broad leaf kale that has frilled edges but the leaves are primarily flat.  This Kale is ideal for salads and require no “massaging” which has always struck me as ridiculous.  Red or White Russian or Siberian Kale is mild in flavor and texture so this is the best Kale for all RAW recipes, including smoothies.  Simply remove the tough ribs by sliding a knife down the length of the stem and use the rest of the leaves for those delicious salads and raw dishes.

Lacinato, Tuscan or Dino: this is the kale with the bumpy long oval leaves.  This is without a doubt my preferred choice for kale chips.  You can use this kale raw and in salads, but if you do, I recommend laying the leaves in a stack and slicing them into shreds which helps to relieve some of the inherent toughness in the leaves.  This is a great choice for sauteing because it does not shrink as much as red russian kale, which much like spinach reduces in volume by about 70% when cooked.

Winterbore or Curly Squash:  please don’t confuse these varieties with the decorative kale you can find at any nursery center though they do look quite the same.  This is probably the most common type of kale available and when purchasing frozen kale this is almost always what you get.  Curly kale is best for cooking, especially in soups and stews.  The hardy leaves stand up to simmering in a pot for hours so if you are making a batch of Portugeuse Kale soup this is definitely the type you want to use.  Again you will want to remove the thick rib before cooking because even simmering in a soup for hours these ribs stay tough and hard to chew and can easily turn someone off to kale.

Of course it wouldn’t be an Optimal Kitchen blog with a recipe so here is one for a classic:

PORTUGEUSE KALE SOUP

½ cup chopped celery

½ cup chopped carrots

½ cup chopped onion

1 tbs. chopped garlic

1 bunch curly Kale ( or a 16 oz bag of frozen chopped)

½ small cabbage

4 red potatoes

1lb Linguica or Chorizo

1 15oz. can kidney beans

½ tbs. dried oregano

2 quarts chicken/vegetable broth

Olive oil for cooking

Season with salt and pepper

  1. Saute onions, carrots, celery and garlic in oil until onions are clear
  2. Add cut up linguica and cook together over a low heat for 10 mins.
  3. Add chicken and beef broth and bring to a boil
  4. Add chopped kale and cabbage
  5. Reduce heat and simmer for about 1 hour
  6. Add diced potatoes and beans and simmer until potatoes are tender

I have made this recipe vegetarian and omitted the sausage and it was a delicious soup, but I wouldn’t feel right calling it Portuguese Kale Soup since the addition of Linguica or Chorizo is key to maintaining the ethnicity of this soup!

 

BRRRR! It is getting cold outside!

Thai White Bean Chili
Thai White Bean Chili

When the weather changes and the mercury dips down in the freezing area, I can’t help but think about a warm pot of soup.  Soups will be commonly featured in this blog because soups are truly the base of everyday cooking around the globe.  Visit almost any corner of the earth and the culture you come upon will have a basic soup recipe used for everyday cooking.  In Japan it is Udon noodle broths, in Africa it is a ground nut soup, in Italy we could say Minestrone and in China we have Wonton.  These are just a few examples and as you begin to think about it you will see, soup is an integral part of humanity’s everyday eating habits.

In the U.S. these days canned soup reigns supreme in most homes, but between sodium levels and added preservatives, these are not always very healthy choices.  So making a soup from scratch is really the best way to go, not just from a health perspective but an economical one as well.  There is no better home for forgotten, unused produce than a pot of homemade vegetable soup.  Soups allow us to use whatever we have on hand and ensure that we aren’t throwing food, especially expensive produce away.  Another bonus here is that cooking vegetables often releases nutrients, however if you are making a soup, those nutrients simply remain in the soup’s broth so quite literally, nothing is wasted.

Since my goal is to get people using what they already have on hand, simplifying the cooking experience exponentially, the recipe in today’s post is fluid and uses whatever you already have.  No special trips to the store for the Optimal Kitchen.  So warm yourself up by the stove and go ahead and try this one out!

PURGE THE FRIDGE SOUP
1/2 Gallon Chicken, Fish or Vegetable Stock
1 large Onion, bunch of Scallions, Shallots or Leeks
A few garlic cloves, minced
1 cup or so chopped Carrots, Celery, Turnips, Parsnips or Fennel
1 head of dark leafy greens (Escarole, Kale, Swiss Chard, Beet Greens or even Spinach) chopped
1 large can or 2 cups soaked and par cooked Beans (Red, Black, White or even Chick Peas)
Fresh or Dried Herbs, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, Basil, Thyme or Bay Leaf
Sea Salt and Ground Pepper to taste
Olive Oil for cooking

Saute onions in olive oil until clear, about 5 mins. and then add carrots, celery or whatever hearty vegetables you have on hand and sauté for another 2-3 mins.
If mixture looks a bit dry add some stock, then add garlic and whatever combination of dark leafy greens you may have and sauté for a few more minutes before adding the beans and herbs
Season with Sea salt and fresh pepper at this point and then slowly pour in stock or broth
Keep over a medium high heat until it just begins to bubble then reduce to a simmer for 10-15mins until beans are tender
Serves 8-10 servings

This is the base to which you can also add lots of other goodies you find in your refrigerator. It is always best to add starches like rice, pasta, quinoa that have already been cooked so they won’t absorb all of your liquid and turn your soup into something much more reminiscent of a stew so scan your fridge and toss some in, but keep it at one starch, pasta and rice do not go together, the same rule applies if you add potatoes to your soup, that is plenty of starch. Feel free to toss in cooked chicken, turkey or any other meats you may have in your fridge that will most likely be thrown out if not used, just be sure that if it is seasoned, that the flavorings complement those of your soup and not compete with it.

So go ahead and getting cooking!

The Optimal Kitchen is Back!

After a rather lengthy hiatus, the Optimal Kitchen’s website is back up and running.We hope it will be better than ever. New features include a daily blog and membership services that will allow clients to subscribe to weekly menus, complete with shopping lists and recipes. The Optimal Kitchen is dedicated to empowering people in the kitchen by offering clear, concise and no-nonsense information to make healthy cooking simple and fun.

Raw Beet and Kale Salad with a Ginger Vinaigrette
Raw Beet and Kale Salad with a Ginger Vinaigrette
Asian Vegetable Salad
Asian Vegetable Salad
Thai White Bean Chili
Thai White Bean Chili