The news gets worse by the day and my heart aches for my hometown of NYC which is reeling from this pandemic and it looks like things are bound to get worse before they get better. That said I hope everyone is staying put and only venturing out to exercise. Now my vegan daughter eats a lot of hummus and it is no surprise that the large container, pint sized, I purchased on my last venture to the store which was Friday March 20th, was completely gone by Tuesday afternoon. I have decided I will wait until Sunday, so I can also pick up a copy of the Sunday New York Times which I am dying to read, before I venture to my small locally owned grocery, which I have heard has the best cleaning policies around. So we are stuck eating whats on hand.
Lucky for her I did have a bag of dried chickpeas, which I had set out to soak in cool water overnight. The next morning I rinsed them in cool water and then placed them in a stock pot and covered them with water, added a bit of himalayan salt, a 1/4 tsp baking soda and cranked the heat. Let them boil away for 20 mins or so and be sure to skim any of the foam that gets produced. Once they are soft remove from heat, drain in a colander and rinse with cool water.
Now for those of you that don’t normally soak and cook your beans you will be amazed at the amount that $1.00 1lb bag of garbanzo beans turned into. So I took half the beans and placed them on a cookie sheet where I tossed them in oil and sprinkled them with my family’s favorite new seasoning from Trader Joe’s and roasted them at 350 for 30 to 40 mins until crispy.
Now take the rest of the beans and using a food processor, blender, or even an immersion blender which is what I used since my large food processor is at my work kitchen, blend the remaining beans, a few garlic cloves, the juice of 1 lemon, 2 tbs. of peanut butter or tahini, 2 tbs of olive oil. Keep blending and drizzle warm salt water into the mixture until you reach your perfect creamy consistency. The best part is this makes about a quart of hummus and a pint of delicious roasted chickpeas which I hope will tide us over until I decide to make my next venture out in public.
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.
Anyone who knows me and my work at The Optimal Kitchen, knows I am continually striving to further my education and knowledge of food and food systems. The field of nutrition, and really just about anything these days is dynamic, constantly changing and evolving, and in order to stay on top of things you need to continually educate yourself. Anyone who follows nutrition is aware there is a new fangled diet coming out every few years and there will be some scientific data to support it. But does that mean it is the best way to feed ourselves?
There is a lot of hype these days around the ketogenic diet and almost as much buzz about a whole food plant based lower fat diet. Both have various scientific studies to support their claims and even as a professional in the industry it is significantly challenging to decide what is best for our bodies. First off we are all individuals and as such, many of us have starkly different nutritional needs than friends and even members of our own family, but isn’t there some kind of common ground?
First let’s lay out exactly what these diets are and how they work.
The Ketogenic diet: there is not much difference here from the Paleo Diet , the Atkins Diet or even the South Beach Diet since they all work on the same premise. These high fat, high protein diets drastically reduce the amount of carbohydrates a person eats forcing the body to use ketones for energy instead of carbohydrates. Foods that people eat on these diets consume are avocados, nuts, seeds, grass fed meats (including lard), olive oil, vegetables, fish and eggs. The ketone diet is anti-inflammatory in nature and has proven extremely successful, especially among children with Autism. By depriving the body of carbohydrates, it forces the body to convert fat to energy, resulting in an initial weight loss for so many which is great. For many suffering from chronic diseases with inflammatory origins this diet works and has profound positive affects on their illness.
Whole Food Plant Based: No animal products of any kind, meat, dairy, eggs etc and no processed foods of any kind. The diet is includes whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruits. The benefits of a plant based diet is an abundance of phytonutrients from fruits and vegetables and the balancing of your body’s ph. This diet has been proven to lower total cholesterol levels and starve cancer cells, as well as helping many to lose weight.
So now we know what they are and the question is which is best? Well, that is a matter of how you look at it. There are benefits to both of these diets for the human body, but when I look at the bigger picture I always find myself going back to the Whole Foods Plant Based Diet. Here are my reasons:
1)Sustainability: the reality is that our population is growing by leaps and bounds and in order for everyone to have enough food to eat; we need to stop growing crops for animal consumption and focus on growing foods for human consumption.
2)Environmental: consuming animal products, even pastured and grass fed have a significant impact on our environment. Our agricultural production is one of the biggest polluters of our water systems not to mention greenhouse gases, and even rainforest destruction due to the increased demand for pastures.
3)Cost: pastured meats are expensive, much more expensive than whole grains and legumes which makes this way of eating out of the financial reach of so many.
4)Body ph: Every now and then the nutrition conversation shifts to the body’s ph and how the acidic body, a result of a diet that is made up of animal products and processed foods, leads to a myriad of poor health outcomes. It is in the acidic state that cancer cells flourish and inflammation takes hold. The only way to reduce your body’s ph is to consume huge amounts of fresh raw fruits and vegetables which help to bring the body into a more alkaline state
5)Ethics: How we raise and slaughter animals these days is not always humane. This is not to say there are not small regional farmers doing their best to humanely raise livestock for human consumption, it is simply that this is not the norm and often out of financial reach for so many.
So I will continue along my path of trying to show everyone how easy it can be to shift to a Whole Food Plant Based Diet by offering these food from The Optimal Kitchen. Yes, we are omnivores and having a bit of meat every now and then is ok but remember there is a reason meat rhymes with treat. If you want to feed yourself and your family well, have it be affordable all while being a good steward of the planet this is the best change you can make.
To educate yourself I suggest you watch 2 documentaries, each profiles these ways of eating and decide for yourself which you think is the best choice for you and your family.
Even though it may not feel quite like spring, the calendar says we are deep into spring ,which means that bathing suit season is just around the corner. This can be a stressful time for many of us as we start to peel off those winter sweaters and turtlenecks only to realize we are a bit squishier and a tad larger than we were last fall before winter came. First off give yourself a break. It is entirely human to pack on pounds for the winter to keep us warm and prevent starvation from a lack of food. However, modern society and food systems ensure that it is no longer difficult to access food in the winter, but the evolution of our digestive systems still likes to hold onto those calories when it gets cold because that is what nature tells us.
This is a constant challenge for humans and their weight, and it doesn’t matter what special diet program you try or what food you decide to eliminate in a desperate attempt to have that beach ready body by Memorial Day weekend. The simple fact is that our bodies are still designed to handle periods of starvation, which simply never come anymore. Another example of advances by modern man which rather than making life much easier has layered on even more challenges and a whole host difficulties related to our weight and health.
However the solutions can be easy. Get active, whatever you do, get that body moving. Our bodies are designed to move and when we don’t, problems arise. Eat real food. Stop trying magic potions or powders, they may work in the short term, but it is not a realistic solution. Focus on consuming copious amounts of fruits and vegetables balanced with a bit of meat and grains and of course those healthy fats, which are key to our health and yes even our weight management. I won’t lie to you, most of us eat too much, simple. And when I say we eat too much, I am not talking about fruits and veggies, it is usually the junk, or even the food disguised as healthy, such as cereals, granola and health bars and the like, that doom us.
So stop beating yourself up for gaining weight this winter, instead start living by this easy to follow rule “If your grandparent would not recognize it as a food product or if you can’t pronounce more than 1 ingredient, put that food back, or better yet get rid of it.” Respect your body by feeding it what Mother Nature intended.
It seems like summer was just here but already we are starting to think about the holidays. The Optimal Kitchen is about helping people focus on the prevention of illness and maintaining optimal health, so I have developed a few new products specifically designed to aid clients in this quest. These new items will be available at the Eastham Turnip Festival, the Wellfleet Harvest Market, and the Orleans Indoor Market as well as on line. Come visit me at any of these locations and learn more about how the Optimal KItchen can help you and your family stay healthy this Holiday season and all winter long.
HOLY HABANERO: This tincture with its high levels of capsascin is great for reducing inflammation, especially for those suffering from arthritis and other types of pain. Add to foods to give them a kick or use in cocktails.
GINGER STEVIA SYRUP: This sugar free simple syrup is a healthy sweetener with the added bonus of ginger’s anti-inflammatory properties. It is ideal for sweetening everything from cranberry sauce to homemade ginger ale. However I believe many people use this for making cocktails helping reduce the amount of sugars in your drinks which helps prevent those holiday hangovers.
OPTIMAL BOOST: This is our answer to fire cider. Optimal Boost blends together the Ginger Stevia Syrup, Holy Habanero and Raw Apple Cider Vinegar all infused with fresh Tumeric root. This powerhouse blend helps boost your immune system, reduce inflammation and promotes overall wellness. I even got a ringing endorsement from my 15 year old who last night asked if I had any Optimal Boost because as she said, when she drinks a shot everyday she feels much better, and her skin is even better!
November and December can be challenging months for many reasons. There is often an emotional toll layered on top of the physical, not to mention all the demands put on us by the holiday season. Staying strong and healthy can make a big difference and here at the Optimal Kitchen we are doing all we can to keep our community healthy and strong.
Listening to the news this morning rates of obesity in American adults has hit 40% and 20% for children, with higher numbers for teenagers. Ironically the report praised initiatives because the rate of obesity has actually slowed. If as a nation we are satisfied with almost half of our adult population being obese than read no further. If you are horrified how we let this happen and what we can do to change it, read on.
Obesity isn’t about body image or ego, it is about health. Whether we want to talk about Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, Arthritis, and even Cancer, we will find the root causes of these chronic degenerative diseases in the diet we fondly refer to as the American diet. The American diet consists of a large amount of animal products, meat and cheese, refined grains and sugary drinks, a completely unhealthy and quite frankly unsustainable way of eating.
How have we as a nation tried to address these problems? All you need to do is look at a magazine rack and you will see cover after cover touting some new diet secret or quick fix to a problem that probably had years to take hold. The latest trend made popular is the Whole 30, a low carb trend not much different than the Atkins diet popular 30 years ago and is helping many lose weight but is this the right way?
Years of working in the food and nutrition world I have deduced some simple facts about weight loss.
#1 Eat less of EVERYTHING but vegetables, simply put most of us eat too much, it isn’t just what we eat but the amount
#2 If you want to eat meat, drastically reduce grain consumption because you can’t have both, but remember as soon as you reintroduce carbs you will gain back some of that weight, you can’t isolate carbohydrates out of the diet
# GO VEGAN: believe it or not this in my mind is the simplest and best way to shed pounds, improve health outcomes and protect the environment. In relatively short amounts of time , 2 weeks, people have been able to improve health outcomes enough to be taken off many pharmaceutical drugs, simply by avoiding animal products.
Historically meat was a luxury and as a result eaten sparingly. It was also in the early winter when most societies feasted on meats, slaughtered a pig or hunted for deer and cured and conserved the meat to sustain them through the winter when other foods become scarce. This is not an issue for humans anymore and we need to recognize that the way we are feeding ourselves is killing us.
The great thing about diet and lifestyle is with some commitment and little financial investment you can make significant changes in just a short time.
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!