I’m a Canadian cook, who likes a dinner meal that is based on a meat and two vegetables. I might substitute a tossed salad with lots of greens. Casseroles make a nice change. Despite the rise in cooking shows promoting Italian food, I rarely cook pasta. However, the occasional Lasagna makes a nice change. My bottom of the barrel meal is Spaghetti, when the pantry gets low, just before a major shopping– and rarely even then.
Yes, I know that the Mediterranean Diet is supposed to be the most healthy of all, but I don’t like some of its food. We all have things we like and things we don’t, because taste is selective. So much depends on culture, and how we were raised, as we rarely change our patterns of living. However, there are some terrific new additions and recipes that can make cooking a great pleasure. Relieve stress, encourage socialization, and help us be more healthy.
I love French style cooking, and I love dairy products. Perhaps that is because both mesh so well. I was raised around Holstein cattle and the cream they provided. Cheese was made regularly in a community I passed, growing up. We’d often stop to buy some cheese there. Weight gain, however, has demanded I pay attention and turn away from this rich fare towards Keto cooking just now. So, I end up with half attempt of the old meals and the new mixed together. I have to figure out a new diet that will keep me from gaining back all the weight I am losing. There are also some health concerns that come into play, as well, to keep the old ticker going as long as possible, and reduce inflammation in the body.
I have tried all kinds of cooking over the years, visited many restaurants, and enjoyed many meals made by others. Forget Cuban, Vietnamese and Japanese restaurants for me. I do like Chinese buffet, but invariable mainly choose American dishes.
Sometimes I will sip at or even cook with a liquid supplement when I am limiting calories, (Boost or Ensure) to ensure I get proper nutrition. Watch those cartons, though, as the supplier doesn’t add a very important Vitamin K, which one gets from green vegetables. I like green salads for that. We didn’t have many salads growing up. I do like tubers such as potatoes, turnips, and vine grown vegetables like Squash or Cucumbers, However, I am not fond of Brussell Sprouts, nor green and yellow beans.
With a greater attention on fruit lately, I try to have apples, blueberries, and bananas– fresh or frozen– in my kitchen. Lemon pie filling is in the cupboard, or fresh lemons in the fridge, to pull out and whip up something, when I want to bake a desert. I rarely use a cook book, but have had lots of them over a lifetime, even taking cooking courses. Now I just have three volumes for reference.
Have I made mistakes in cooking? Absolutely. I added nutmeg to something the other day and it ruined the dish. How do we learn what we like or not, if we don’t try different dishes. I can still remember my toddler loving peaches, but spitting out peas when I fed them to her from baby food jars. When I made my own baby food, or baked from garden produce, I saw reactions because taste buds had grown used to commercial products. Hollywood makes movies about subjects like this, so I represent the generation before cookbooks and U-tube videos introduced the world to other cultural cuisine. Some of it is great; others less so.
All recipes follow a pattern, and if you figure out the main ones, usually portions for ingredients, you’ll have more freedom in the kitchen. It helps to have some basic recipes well learned as the foundation on which to build other things. I rarely eat pork now. love lamb chops far more than beef ones, and appreciate the occasional liver dredged in flour and fried with lots of onions. My favourite light restaurant meal is fish and chips. I rarely eat french fries or hamburger any more, although they seem to be a staple in many North American restaurants. Too many calories. We Canadians love our Tim Hortons, but even a simple muffin boasts 300 calories, before adding butter. I am no longer calorie counting but can do so in a flash, when trying to decide between two choices that makes a difference in dropping weight. I do enjoy making muffins.
Adding a bit of butter with Olive Oil helps improve the overall taste in frying food. Certain oils have a higher burn point, so the danger of fire is lessened when cooking, Hence, some oils are more appropriate to use in different situations Steaming vegetables certainly helps retain their goodness, while boiling depletes them, unless you use the water in which the vegetables cooked instead of throwing it away.
My Mom would make a Shepherd’s Pie under her homemade crust, and bake it in a temperamental wood stove during my childhood. It was scrumptious. I have never been able to come close to creating its flavour in any of mine. Thanks, Mom. I never saw a cookbook growing up, until I got to Home Economics in Grade 9 in High School, where we students made one. I would come home all excited and want to bake what I had learned that day, but my male siblings were less impressed with my early struggles as a cook.
Fortunately, both my brothers have great wives with lots of cooking skills. I married a city guy, who turned out to be a good cook, a surprise to me. I never saw my brothers cooking in the kitchen. I had to adjust to what seemed like tomatoes or ketchup on almost everything, and some foods I had never heard of–Montreal Smoked Meat was his favourite. I also doubled some food purchases cause there was a man in my house who used them as much as I did. When our daughter married a guy from Las Vegas, she learned another style of cooking from the South, which I sampled when visiting them.
I am not into spicey food, nor international meals– although I have travelled a lot and lived in foreign places. I dislike rice (except in puddings), because it was the steady diet in India for two years, usually served cold, and always had to be cleaned at night with bugs and stones in it. But I love warm chapattis. It was there I also learned to dislike raw yoghurt, because one had to brush aside the flies bothering it in the market place. Now I have the occasional yoghurt from our Western grocery stores because it is creamy and sweet. Coconut is my favourite. Indian meals can be very enjoyable. I recently had a lovey one at the invitation of a Muslim family who live next door.
There is an emotional element to eating. Binge eating can happen when stressed. One turns to food for comfort and pleasure. We can overeat without realizing it sometimes, and even wonder, Why am I still hungry? It is very important to have a protein to sustain a sense of fullness. A pure sugar fix (eg a donut), will only send our blood sugar soaring, and then crashing down sometime later, and tire us. We know this, of course, but each of us has a stress level and how we handle it in our daily lives. Let us help each other find the best food choices for a healthy lifestyle.
I won’t be having any Japanese sushi, which both my children like. We tend to choose or reject a restaurant because of the food choices that it offers that we like, or don’t. Otherwise, it might be because the restaurant is too pricey. It’s nice to sit by a river or lake to have a meal in a restaurant, or a pîcnic. But, if the wind is too strong, or the location smells bad, no matter how nice the layout, one moves on.
The delight of certain fragrances is a selling product many businesses understand, while others don’t. I keep a Vanilla scent in mine for a gently uplift, changing to pine at Christmas. Candles are a nice addition to a table setting, especially if they are dripless. Creating a lovely environment for a special meal can add to its experience. The joy of entertaining is a delight.
Salt restriction is a real pain in the kitchen, as it adds such flavour to food. I’m not referring to packaging, as I use very little of that, nor canned goods. My big veggie garden is now a tiny one,. I planted the left over stubs of Romaine lettuce from the grocery store that I used up last week, and the plants are doing well in my window sill. I usually grow lettuce all the time. But be careful, as there have been recalls for contamination on lettuce in grocery stores.
I keep frozen pie shells in the freezer. Take one out, let it thaw a bit to soften. I prick some holes in it so it won’t balloon when baking. Then, into a hot oven at 400 F, for 10 minutes and it is ready for a filling. Some pie fillings require addition of flavourings, even thickening agents, like flour or cornstarch. Need a top crust? Just soften a frozen one a bit, (not prebaked), wet the edging of the bottom crust to help seal the area. Then then add the new crust on top. Cut a few slits in top crust to let steam out. The crust will collapse on top of the other one during baking. One can always add a golden look, by brushing the top crust with a bit of beaten egg, then dusting all lightly with sugar for a shiner finish. Bake 45 to 50 minutes depending on denser contents, like apple slices. Pie is my favourite desert. Yes, I still make crusts occasionally, but have changed from shortening or lard to butter when making the dough.
Sometimes I use that baked pie shell to make a quick Quiche for breakfast or lunch . That means I steam some frozen broccoli spears, which I crush when cooked, lining the baked crust first. I add a cheesy sauce using three beaten eggs, and some seasonings (pinch of salt, nutmeg) and lots of grated Cheddar Cheese for taste. Into 350 degree oven for baking, so the eggs don’t scramble. 30 minutes later, out comes a lovely, healthy presentation with lots of protein. Usually this one provides four slices, one for eating now, and another three to freeze, to warm up later.
Want some basic recipes? Here is a cookbook I created years ago for my daughter, as she went off to college. We still refer to this volume in both homes, cause of its simplicity in the basics.
Blueberry, Banana & Walnut Muffins
Prepare: Preheat oven 400 F
Set out: 1 cup blueberries; 2 very soft smushed bananas, and 1/2 c chopped walnuts.
Put a handful of raisins in a pot and bring to a boil on stove, then set aside to cool. To soften them. You can leave this out and add them firm, if you want, or none at all.
Gather: flour, salt, soda, egg, canola oil, water, then any favourings you like, this time: vanilla, banana, walnuts, raisons.
Spray or wipe two muffin pans with butter or oil, and set aside. I use a Canola Oil spray, which handles high heater better than Virgin Oil Spray. This recipe will fill 6 texas size muffins tins and 6 smaller ones, or make 18 medium sized muffins, so I add a bit of water to empty holes before baking to prevent scorching of those empty areas. Provides a bit of steam in the oven, but they never dry out.
Prepare: In a medium bowl, beat two eggs lightly with 2/3 c brown sugar. Add 1 tsp vanilla, ½ cup oil. (can substitute white sugar). Finish with 1 cup of milk or cream. Water will also work fine.
In another bowl: sift 2 c all-purpose flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tbsp baking powder if you have. I like to whip with mix master to mix well while dry. (You can use all white or brown sugar, the brown gives it a slightly different carmalizing flavour). Just experiment to see what you prefer. This is the basic muffin recipe when all ingredients are combined. Keep mixing to a minium, just enough to fold everything together.
When oven is ready, combine wet and dry ingredients in the bigger bowl. Fold in blueberries, walnuts, raisins. even chunks of pineapple. Any ingredients can be left out, and increasing volume will increase its flavour.
Using an ice cream scoop, put two scoops of batter into each smaller muffin tin, filling almost to top. Wipe off any spills.
Put prepared pans into oven and bake 15 to 20 minutes. Set timer. Remove from oven and test with toothpick. Let pans cool for awhile on wire racks, then remove muffins. Enjoy a few warm ones for yourself. When cooled, put all in a can lined with wax paper, and add a tight lid, and then put can in freezer. Remove them as wanted in the days ahead.
I might try a cream cheese frosting on these, or a light dusting of white sugar to make them sparkle a little bit. Just a way to fancy them up a touch. I might try dried cranberries instead of raisins. Doubling the bananas will strength that flavour, as it will with others. Didn’t fancy diced apples today, instead of blueberries, as I just discovered that Honey Crisp apples, that I have, are not as strong a flavour in cooking as Gala, which I usually buy. None in the store last time I went shopping. I originally made the receipe with soda which will react with the egg to cause the muffin to rise, but soda is a bit tricky to get right.