So many of you continue to tell me how much you struggle with eating well so I've decided to devote this month's blogpost to food and cooking because I'm convinced that if you understood just how easy it is to cook not only a delicious, but a nutritious meal, you may (I hope!) begin associating your kitchen with fun and deliciousness instead of regarding it with dread and trepidation. Consider this newsletter Part 1 of my food series and stay tuned.
First off it's so important to understand that delicious food is not mutually exclusive with nutritious food. Healthy food need not taste bland. I promise.
The first golden rule of good cooking, is that your food is only as good as the quality of your ingredients. A good piece of meat, or a vegetable grown in rich clean soil with love, won't need any fancy/complex sauces to help it shine. It will be delectable by virtue of it being clean food grown/raised the right way. Invest in good olive oil, good salt, good pepper (and a good mill). Case in point: have you ever had a juicy tomato fresh off the vine where you could practically taste the sunshine? This kind of tomato is delicious on its own, eaten like an apple. Or with a simple splash of EVOO and a sprinkle of good sea salt. In fact, when your ingredients are of top quality, you won't WANT to mask their natural flavors.
Here are a few guidelines to get you started:
- Stop fearing fat. Fat is incredibly nourishing and necessary for healthy digestion and the absorption of vitamins and minerals. It's also delicious, and you will enjoy both cooking and eating a lot more if you can accept the fact that fat is good for you. And I promise it won't make you fat - look at me, I'm slender and I eat almost a pound of grassfed butter a week. All by myself. Really. If you're going to ditch something and make something the villain, ditch sugar. That said, make sure you are eating the good fats: EVOO, grassfed butter (good butter is yellow not white), coconut oil, sesame oil, lard, pork fat. Please avoid canola and sunflower and safflower oils like the plague.
- Eat LOTS of vegetables. Veggies are filled with the vitamins and minerals that keep us alive. Aim to have veggies take up 2/3rds of your plate. Especially cooked veggies. Kale, brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, carrots, parsnips, turnips, asparagus, beets, lettuce, cucumbers, radishes, fennel, onions, cabbage, broccolini, snow peas, sugar snap peas, green peas, mustard greens, pea shoots, endive, your options are endless really. If you don't enjoy vegetables, chances are you're not cooking them right. When cooked right, veggies are to die for. My favorite way to cook veggies is to either roast, braise or sautee them in fat. My faves are extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), sesame oil, butter and bacon fat.
- Ditch the boxed, ready-made, frozen, packaged foods. Not only are they not good for you, but they simply aren't good food. Once your body gets used to eating the real stuff, it won't be hard to ignore these at the store. The fresher the food, the better.
- Get in the habit of making your own condiments. This is where cooking your own food really gets fun and so delicious. It takes me 5 minutes flat to make a pint of homemade mayonnaise that is not only super healthy because I have full control of the fats used, and how happy (read:dark) my egg yolk is, but also far more delicious because I can make endless varieties! Siracha mayonnaise! Garlic/Herb Mayo! Curried Mayo! I mean seriously, your options are ENDLESS. Store-bought mustard is fine - by favorite brand is Les Trois Petits Cochons (sold at Weaver Street) - I get the regular Dijon and the Moutarde a l'ancienne because I find that my salad dressings are infinitely more exciting when I include both. Which brings me to salad dressings. So easy to make and infinitely more delicious than anything found at the store. EVOO, some good aged balsamic vinegar, some good Dijon mustard, and a little salt and pepper. That's your basic recipe. From there your options are endless once again. You can add a bit of honey to make it slightly sweet, or some fresh or dried herbs. You can make it creamy with the addition of mayonnaise or sour cream. Make a little bottle and keep it in the fridge. Dip your crusty sourdough bread in it (bring it to room temperature for optimal taste) for a little snack, add some to your colorful salads, add to freshly roasted red/orange/yellow peppers with some fresh garlic and fresh basil ( I like to keep a big bowl of this in my fridge throughout the summer for a quick delicious nutritious snack).
- Eat high quality protein regularly. By high-quality I mean meat that has been raised sustainably, and that has come from happy animals. Know the farms and farmers (as in: go visit) and meet the animals. See with your own two eyes that they have access to grass, sunshine, fresh water, and their friends. Ask questions. The best farmers doing things the right way love answering them. Good farmers have no problem with transparency. Demand transparency. Also thank your farmers for working so hard to keep you well-fed and healthy. They are a far too under-appreciated group. Kind of like bees. But I'll save them for another time. Eggs. Please don't assume that cage-free means happy. You want your eggs to to come from pastured happy chickens, and you will know if they are happy by how dark their yolk is. There are so many people locally selling eggs from their backyard chickens. Support them. It's more sustainable AND the eggs are seriously tasty! Don't overcook your yolks - that's where all the nutrition is (and flavor in my opinion). Soft-boiled, poached, over-easy, keep that yolk as raw as possible. Eat foods whole, as nature intended (read: avoid egg-whites only). Get your own chickens if you can! They are the most delightful creatures. For the best and happiest meat locally, visit Left Bank Butchery in Saxapahaw. Trust me. (http://www.leftbankbutchery.com/). Forget buying meat in supermarkets - it's unnatural. Go meet and talk to your butcher. Ask questions. They love it.
- Get in the habit of making batches of stock regularly. Chicken stock. Beef stock. Fish stock. Store-bought stock ALWAYS has yucky stuff in it (read: MSG disguised as natural flavors or yeast). Homemade stock is brimming with minerals, vitamins, and full-on deliciousness. Freeze it in pint jars and defrost as needed. Use instead of water when making any grain(rice, quinoa, risotto, etc). Use as base for soups, stews, noodles, congee, shortribs, gravy etc. Make super easily in a crock pot! Just throw in the meat and bones (pick cuts with lots of gelatin, like the joints or feet), cover with water, add a splash of vinegar and some veggie scraps (if you want), and let the crockpot run overnight. Season with salt and pepper in the morning. Have a bowl in the morning for an extra potent dose of medicine. This stuff will heal your gut and make you feel SO good.
- Become a flavor junkie. Flavor equals nutrition. If your tomato tastes bland, it most likely lacks in the mineral/vitamin department. Trust your tastebuds. Use garlic, ginger, pepper, salt (make sure it's REAL salt), LIBERALLY. Add spices, make marinades, don't be shy! This is one of the most fun aspects of cooking - testing out flavors, spice mixes, herb mixes. I regularly make a garlic and ginger paste in my mortar and pestle. So much fun, And SO yummy.
Cooking is also a lot more fun when done with loved ones, so get the kids involved, get your spouse/roommate/friends in the kitchen helping or just keeping you company, or put on some music and dance while cooking! Take in the delicious aromas wafting up to your nose, frequently taste your food as you're cooking it, so you can better understand how cooked you like your veggies, and what spices taste good with what meat etc. Allow cooking to be the full-on sensory experience it's supposed to be. And don't forget to infuse your food with lots of love as you cook it, because our thoughts do have the power to change the molecular structure of whatever we are focusing on. (to read about Emoto's water study, click here http://highexistence.com/water-experiment/).
Lastly, never underestimate how magical eating by candlelight is! Even by oneself! Don't take my word for it, try it. Make it a habit to create an eating atmosphere that encourages you to really savor your food, slowly. Wine and good conversation really helps. Pretty flowers freshly picked from the garden also help.
Cooking is a very empowering activity as it allows you to be in full-control of your health. It's also a powerful act of self-love. Without your health, what have you got? I consider my diet to be my health insurance. Delicious home-cooked food is also a main contributor to my joie-de-vivre. ;)
Please feel free to email me with questions - I'll happily answer them.
One very last thing: get yourself an Instagram account if you don't yet have one. I use mine mainly for food inspiration. It will give you access to so many new ideas, recipes, techniques - and all the food photos are such a pleasure to scroll through.
With much Love and Warmth,