As promised I am trying to be a bit more timely with my daily blogs since I now have the new system of simply sharing pdf files of my class hand outs. This cold driving rain won’t seem to stop and this house is hitting a bit of an inflection point now that we are almost 3 weeks in to what will amount to at least a 7 week stay at home. Cold rain always has me thinking about soups and stews so here is a hand out from this winter’s class. Be sure to check out the purge your fridge soup recipe since I know we are all trying to make the most of everything we have these days. Remember soup is soothing to the soul and an amazing bowl of homemade soup always lifts the spirits, something we all need these days.
Many of us are starting week #2 of quarantine and trying our best to establish an actual routine. So many of us thrive on routine, knowing what to expect and executing those tasks as needed. This idleness, loss of purpose for those of us who are supposed to be at work or school is rough. Sure we do some work remotely, but let’s not kid ourselves, it isn’t the same and we are all grieving our fundamental loss, our sense of purpose.
In the past we have heard retirees complain they are bored and we say to ourselves, “are you crazy?” what I would give to have some time. Well your wish has been granted because all of a sudden so many of us have more time than we know what to do with. For some of us this extra time will be a gift. Time to finish projects long put off, maybe start a new hobby we have been wanting to try but simply didn’t have time, maybe you just love to read and now is your chance.
That said even these diversions can only hold us so long and finding a routine is the only way we will all survive this. Feeding ourselves is one of our most basic routines and I keep hearing from parents during this time that they feel like all they do is feed their families. While this is probably true, I am grateful to at least have that purpose and am trying to make the best of it. So I am sharing some recipes that we made yesterday. Empanadas, which were essentially filled with the turkey meat from Saturday night’s tacos and for the plant based folks we filled them with the black bean and hominy filling from the same taco night. Use whatever you have on hand for filling, this is a time to be sure to use everything you have on hand and WASTE NOTHING!!!!!!!!!! Empanadas are fun for the whole family to make, in fact once you make the dough, let everyone fill them themselves and don’t worry if you don’t have a fancy press to make them. Simply cut the dough into circles and fill one side, fold over into the shape of a half-moon and press the edges with a fork.
So let’s try and make the best of all this and may this recipe bring your family some happiness through small acts such as this.
2 ½ tsp. Active dry yeast
1 ½ tsp. Sugar
½ cup milk
2 eggs beaten
1/3 cup sour cream
5 tbs. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 ½ cup All-purpose flour
1 ¼ cup Cornmeal
¾ tsp Salt
In a large mixing bowl place yeast with sugar and ¼ cup of milk and let rest of 5 min to activate the yeast
Once it appears foamy go ahead and add the remaining milk, eggs and sour cream and butter
In another bowl stir together flour, cornmeal and salt and using an electric mixer beat flour mixture into egg and milk mixture until the dough is smooth and elastic
Form the dough into a large ball and place in an oil bowl and turn to coat with oil
Cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 ½ hours and the ounch down the dough
Traditionally empanada filling is made with beef or pork but to give a bit of a healthier twist we are making our empanadas with ground turkey. Like most fillings you can swap out and change some ingredients just be sure to keep the balance of flavors and textures the same. It is important to make sure the filling is moist but not wet or you will end up with some soggy empanadas.
1 medium onion finely chopped
1tbs garlic minced
2 jalapeno peppers minced (optional)
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tbs. Chili powder
1 tbs. Dried oregano
½ tsp. Cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground Cloves
2 tbs. Oil for cooking
1 lb ground turkey
¼ cup tomato paste
28 oz can diced tomatoes
1/3 cup raisins
½ cup pimento stuffed olives chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Over medium heat saute onions in oil until soft and add garlic, jalapenos, chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, clove and oregano
After 3 min add ground turkey and cook until browned, breaking up any lumps
Add tomato product, olives,raisins and salt and pepper to taste
Simmer for additional 15 mins until the liquid has evaporated
PUTTING THE EMPANADAS TOGETHER
pre-heat oven to 425
take dough and seperate into 24 balls and cover with a damp cloth
on a lightly floured surface roll each ball into a flat circle, use a knife or cookie cutter for the edges
Place a small amount of filling on one side of the circle and fold over the other side to form a turnover, crimp the edges
Cook on an oiled baking sheet for 10-15 mins. Until golden brown
After more than a decade running the Optimal Kitchen I think I may have finally come up with what we all actually need to maintain a healthy everyday diet. Even mainstream experts have caught on to the fact that trendy diets and food fads simply don’t work. They are not sustainable. We need to eat whole, primarily plant based food everyday. We can allow ourselves the occasional treat now and again, but be reasonable. This first month is a trial guide and please give me feedback which will allow me to make changes to better suit what you all want.
Feeding ourselves and our families isn’t rocket science but there is so much information, often conflicting, that it is almost impossible to not feel overwhelmed just going grocery shopping. I hope to provide you with a weekly framework to make your life a whole lot easier and more importantly tastier! Some recipes or ideas maybe outside your box but I promise all the recipes are easy, have been tested (not all recipes you find on-line are!) so that they work and taste great. Feel free to tweak recipes if you have food allergies or intolerances, but I do encourage you to try new things, maybe even things you didn’t like in the past.
Since the goal is to make weekly shopping and cooking easy we will aim to share ingredients in multiple recipes so there is little waste. The Optimal Planner also accounts for the fact that most people eat out a couple of times per week, consider these your cheat meals. The planner is based on 3 meals a day because that is what we should be eating essentially. If snacks are a big part of your families diet than those would be additional to the recipes and suggestions in the weekly Optimal Planner.
Breakfast is very different for individuals and is one meal that I find personal tastes and habits play a huge role. There are those who like smoothies, or maybe cereal, or eggs and avocado toast. It is also the meal I find that people eat the same thing almost daily, and you know what that is ok. Personally I am an avocado toast kinda gal and I admit I don’t always eat breakfast and when I do it is usually 4 or 5 hours after I wake up, keep in mind though I am a very early riser and cook for a living so that schedule works for me, but not most. Though I do think many people simply aren’t that hungry first thing, but become ravenous mid morning. Keep this in mind and if this is you, be sure you are prepared. The worst thing is to be hungry at 10am and then just wait until lunchtime at which point you are starving and end up eating way to much and not feeling great for the majority of the afternoon as a result.
Lunch should be your most calorie dense meal of the day, and is where you should consume the bulk of your starchy carbohydrates because you will have all afternoon and evening to use that energy. This is often a hard concept to wrap our heads around because we are so used to having a big meal at dinner. Change is challenging but shifting your caloric load to earlier in the day actually can have a significant impact on your health from promoting better digestion to improved sleep patterns.
Dinner is as much about connecting with our families as feeding them. If your family consists of growing kids, especially adolescents, I will often suggest adding perhaps a loaf of bread or a bowl of pasta or something else to satiate those never ending appetites, but remember just because you are living with growing kids who need a significant caloric load doesn’t mean you do.
The ideas and recipes below are suggestions to help make meal prep throughout the week simple and easy. The shopping list includes fruit recommendations based on grocery store sales and variety. Many of the recipes will leave you with leftovers so you can enjoy multiple meals. It is also much easier to have some kind of theme or region to base recipes on so that you can share ingredients. This week we feature Mediterranean inspired dishes which share some ingredients. It is crucial to remember that eating a varied diet is key to providing our bodies with the nutrients they need to thrive. Fruit is meant for breakfast and snacking. If smoothies are part of your everyday diet use frozen fruit for cost savings and ease, though limit to 3-4 per week and always add some greens and veggies!
Recipes and Meal Planning Ideas:
Breakfast is just the first meal of your day whatever time that may happen. After lots of back and forth about how many times a day we should eat, 3 meals a day is sufficient. If you are genuinely hungry, meaning you tried a glass of water first, have a snack, but this all day snacking is a big part of our struggles with food. Traditional breakfast foods are a completely modern phenomenon and you can eat whatever you want, if you want a salad have one. I often will just have last night’s leftovers. The key to every meal is to have plenty of fiber, from fruits, vegetables, and grains, some protein and a bit of fat, whatever form that takes is up to you.
AVOCADO TOAST, opt for sprouted breads, real whole grain (Dave’s is good) or sourdough
EGGS any way but a great do ahead the night before is a FRITTATA
SPINACH, POTATO AND MUSHROOM FRITTATTA
2 cups fresh Spinach
1 cup mushrooms, whatever variety you like
1 cup roasted new potatoes, or some of each
1 large shallot sliced
¼ cup flax meal or oat bran
¼ cup Fresh Herbs, spring chives are a favorite, parsley, thyme or basil
¼ cup shredded cheese, cheddar, mozzarella or even goat cheese (optional)
Oil for cooking
Beat eggs and stir in fresh herbs
In an oven safe fry pan toss in shallots and mushrooms in a bit of olive oil and saute until mushrooms begin to soften and shallots become translucent
Add spinach and potatoes and cook for another minute or two
pour in egg mixture (be sure pan is large enough or put vegetable mixture into a baking dish, be sure it is coated with cooking spray and then add eggs and put directly in oven)
cook for a few minutes on the stove, bringing up the edges, sprinkle on cheese and place in a 375 degree oven until firm when shaken. If pouring the mixture into a baking pan the cooking time will be increased about 8 mins.
Let cool for a few minutes before cutting and serving to allow it to tighten up.
Frittatas are a great way to use up extra veggies, both raw and cooked and still get yourself a solid dose of protein making it and ideal dish for any meal of the day. I often use oat bran or bread crumbs to help bind it and make it a bit more solid, but if you are gluten free you can easily just use potatoes, grated or shredded potatoes are great for this! Simply start with the egg base, keep proportions in line and keep in mind this recipe can easily be cut in half or even quartered,and just as easily doubled, then just go from there. Be sure to cook vegetables, especially those with a high water content before adding to the dish, I guarantee even the barest of fridges can yield some treats that will suit a fritatta.
Aim to have one from each column but by all means throw in lots of mixed fresh herbs and veggies to use up what you have on hand.
SMOOTHIE/SMOOTHIE BOWL, be sure to add greens like spinach or kale and other vegetables like cucumber or celery to cut down on the sugars. Also add some fiber and protein with choices like flax meal, chia seeds, hemp seeds or nuts. If you choose to use a protein powder opt for plant based fiber rich varieties.
Classic 5 minute oats are a great way to start your day because they are high in fiber and protein that work to fuel you and keep you full. Add nuts, berries even some dried fruits for extra flavor and maybe a drizzle of maple syrup or honey for a touch of sweetness
WHITE BEAN AND BASIL HUMMUS (great in wrap with lettuce and tomato, or as a dip for veggies or chips )
½ lb. (1 cup) white navy beans or 1 can rinsed
4 to 5 cloves of garlic
¼ cup basil threads
zest juice from 1 lemon
sea salt and cracked pepper to taste
1.soak beans overnight
2.rinse beans, place in pot and cover with water, cook for approx. 20-25 until beans are tender but not mushy
3.place garlic, basil, lemon zest and juice and beans in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth, when necessary drizzle in olive oil and a bit of water to obtain proper consistency
1 lb of winter greens (kale, spinach, cabbage or a combo)
1 lg can diced tomatoes
1 large can of white beans, rinsed and drained or 2 cups of soaked and cooked dry beans
3-5 cloves of garlic
1 quart vegetable stock
½ cup fresh herbs (parsley, basil, oregano or a combo)
olive oil for cooking
salt and pepper for seasonings
saute greens in olive oil over med/high heat until they begin to wilt then add the garlic
once the greens have been reduced to half add the tomatoes and lower heat to a simmer
add white beans, the rest of the tomatoes and vegetable stock and continue cooking for an additional 10-15 mins until flavors have melded
season with salt and pepper and then add the fresh herbs before serving.
ORZO TOMATO AND SPINACH SALAD
1 box of orzo
1 pint of cherry tomatoes halved or any tomato diced
several cups of fresh spinach
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup basil threads
2 cloves garlic minced (opt)
sea salt and pepper to taste
Cook off orzo and run cool water over the pasta to cool it down
Toss pasta with the rest of the ingredients and serve at room temperature
BEANS AND GREENS
1 box pasta penne, farfalle or whatever type you like
1 15 ounce can white beans beans or chickpeas
a few cups fresh spinach
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil for cooking
fresh or dried basil or oregano for seasoning
¼ cup shredded parmesan, mozzarella or asiago (optional)
sliced black olives (optional)
Bring a pot of water to a boil and add pasta. Two minutes before pasta is ready, add spinach and then drain.
Coat the same pot with olive oil and toss in onion, garlic and dried herbs. Sauté until clear.
Add the rinsed beans to the pan and toss. Put pasta and spinach mixture back in the pot and sauté for another minute, adding fresh herbs and cheese. Stir gently to thoroughly incorporate all ingredients, and serve.
ROASTED CAULIFLOWER SALAD
½ head cauliflower
2 tbs. Olive Oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 tbsp capers
1 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, or more to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut florets into small pieces and toss with half the olive oil and the minced garlic
Roast in a 400 degree oven for 10 mins. And then remove from oven and using tongs toss cauliflower so it cooks evenly on all sides
Remove and let cool and then combine with the parsley, capers, olives, left over oil, lemon juice and seasonings, serve room temperature
CAULIFLOWER, POTATO AND HERB PUREE
½ head caulifower
3 medium Red Potatoes
1 tbs. Chopped fresh Rosemary or 1 tsp dried
Parmesan Cheese opt.
Wash potatoes and boil until they start to become tender
Add cauliflower in small chunks and cook until it is soft and potatoes are completely tender
Strain potato and cauliflower and place in a food processor, or use an old fashioned masher and blend until smooth, add oil if necessary
Add chopped fresh rosemary and season with salt and pepper
RIBBON SALAD WITH GARLICKY VINAIGRETTE (RAW/VEGAN)
3 medium sized Zucchini
3 medium sized Summer Squash
1# bag of Carrots, peeled
2 cups Cabbage (green or Savoy) Shredded
4 cloves of garlic
¼ cup fresh parsley
¼ cup other fresh herbs you have on hand basil, cilantro or thyme choose just 1
¼ cup Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
½ cup cold pressed Olive Oil
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Using a mandolin, or veggie slicer julienne thick threads of carrots and squash
toss in the shredded cabbage
in a blender, food processor or with an immersion blender, add the next 4 ingredients and blend while slowly adding the olive oil which will help to emulsify the dressing
toss the dressing with the vegetables, season with salt and pepper and serve
Now let’s take these same noodles with out the dressing and do something completely different
Toss in a pan with olive oil and garlic and cook until soft and top with Marinara or a Spicy Puttanesca
If you have some pesto maybe you froze or a jar in the fridge saute up the noodles in that
you can even add to some cooked spaghetti for a hearty pasta primavera
1 quart vegetable broth
1 15 oz. can kidney beans
1 cup ditalini pasta or rice if you are gluten free
1 15 oz can chopped tomatoes
1 onion diced
2 celery stalks diced
3 carrots diced
1 zucchini diced
1 tbs. dried oregano
1 tbs. dried basil
olive oil for cooking
salt and paper to taste
In a large stockpot sauté garlic, onions, celery and carrots until soft
Add tomatoes, beans and herbs, then cover with broth and bring to a boil
Add pasta and zucchini then reduce heat and simmer for 10 mins until pasta is cooked
This weeks menu was chosen because many of the items are on special. My fruit suggestions are sale items. I encourage you to buy organic when you can as far as produce but following the dirty dozen is the most important. That said many organics are priced almost as low as their conventional counterparts, example carrots, bananas and sweet potatoes so I encourage you to make those choices, but staying on budget is important as well and any vegetables are better than none. I also realize many people using the planner will still be eating meat and may be supplementing these dishes with chicken and fish which is fine.
There are some basic pantry supplies I assume most have on hand. If you don’t, add these items to your weekly grocery list.
red wine vinegar
dried herbs and spices (oregano, basil, rosemary, crushed red pepper)
4 -5 zucchini
4 summer squash
5lb bag organic carrots (if you shop at Shaws it is a 2lb bag)
1 medium green cabbage
1 bunch basil
1 bunch parsley
lemons (much cheaper in the mesh bags)
large box of organic baby spinach
fresh fruit (cantalope, berries, grapefruits and oranges are on sale)
2 cans diced tomatoes
white bean 1lb dry or 3 cans
1can of garbanzo beans
1 can of red beans
1 box orzo
1 box ditalini
1 box of penne
2-3 quarts vegetable stock
I assume you will need additional items such as breads, tortillas, peanut butter and snacks that your family likes.
Who would have guessed that the abundance of available food would hearken our nation’s and perhaps the world’s biggest health crisis. Until the mid 20th century almost every country on the planet grappled with food insecurity and as populations continued to increase, governments looked to scientists to help solve these problems. Rather than enlisting the help of farmers and food producers, we looked for answers from people who did not have a relationship that bound them to the earth or the bounty nature provided already. While I have no problem with science and the amazing strides the past 65 years have brought in technology, healthcare and other vital areas, I struggle with the connections between science and food in recent decades.
The problem I have is with the fact that science looks for answers and solutions that are measurable and can produce data; we are a data driven society these days in case you hadn’t noticed. However nutrition is often individualized, think blood type, or dictated by the environment. People who live near the equator on the coast are going to have very different diets than those who live in the mountains to the North. As a result of the environment they live in, their diets will vary and thus their bodies will react differently to different foods. This is not news and their have been several books recently published that talk about blood types and the types of food those particular individuals should eat, all of which stems from the types of food their ancestors from the region have been eating for centuries or more.
I want to interject here with the reminder that in the hundreds of thousands of years humans have existed, it is only within the last 100 years or less that we have significantly changed our diets. In fact until we started to focus on the science of food production, we simply used to grow our own food or raise our own livestock for consumption. Ironically during that time we had far fewer chronic illnesses that were linked to poor diet even though many faced starvation.
To respond to food insecurity we started to change not only the foods we grow, but how we grow them. Family farms that fed their communities started to fail as government subsidies started propping up mono culture industrialized growing practices designed to feed the masses. For the regular citizen out there these farms could not exist without those government subsidies so if free market forces were the real driver, these farms would cease to exist. The masses these farms feed are actually just another step in the food chain since most of the corn and soy grown on these farms are for animal feed. So here is simply another step in the huge modern agro-business.
Here is the funny thing, we all know that these practices are making us sick. We know that eating processed foods made from refined grains, most genetically modified, mixed with copious amounts of refined sugars leads to inflammation, making us unhealthy. Yet as a nation we are slow to change. Since embracing the scientific approach towards feeding ourselves, rather than the practical, we now require data to prove it is in fact not healthy for us to consume particular foods. So whu we are more likely to believe some new product all wrapped up and packaged in a way that appears healthy is better for us than that knobby potato sitting in the bottom of your produce drawer. But that is simply NOT TRUE.
The only foods that are healthy for us to eat are those that grow in the mineral rich soil nature intended. Fruits, vegetables, grains and the animals that feed on these foods are what we as human omnivores are meant to eat. Does this mean you should shift and buy all the food you eat from your local farmer’s market, well YES. But don’t worry, I am pragmatic if nothing else and affordability and accessibility is key, so if shopping in conventional markets drastically reduce your meat consumption, which we should all do anyway, and buy as much fresh produce as possible. If your budget allows for organic, great, if not follow the rules of the dirty dozen and buy those organic whenever possible.
In most countries 20-25% of an individuals earnings goes towards food. In the Untied States that number is on average less than 5%. We want cheap food and have been willing to pay with our health for the past 5+ decades, but as you can guess this is not sustainable. Healthcare in this country is in crisis, much of this connects with all of the chronic diseases plaguing our population. All of these diseases are connected to the foods we eat so how is it as a nation are we not outraged by this? Change how we grow and eat our food returning to the ways of the past and many of these diseases will simply vanish, along with the expensive pharmaceutical interventions.
Most would consider these ideas alternative or even slightly radical, but returning to the ways our grandparents and those before us does not seem like a radical idea to me. For those of you there so ingrained in the scientific, just look at the Amish and how adhering to their historic traditions of feeding themselves, they have managed to avoid being plagued with modern day diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In fact try and find an obese member of the Amish community, I guarantee it will be a challenge. So try to be a part of a positive change and take small steps to improving your health, the health of your family and the health of the environment. Each small step we make has a ripple effect and can make waves in ways we simply cannot measure.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!