Friday, November 11, 2016

The Don't Cook on Thanksgiving Day Menu



I cook just about every day, so cooking on a holiday isn't really much of a thrill. I realize that for many, it's more about having a crowd of people over and getting the meal together, which is as much a part of the event as sitting at the table and sharing food.

For us, a small gathering of five, Thanksgiving is more about a day free of work, free of chores, free of outside obligations that get in the way of doing nothing.

There will be football, Netflix, and potato chips and dip. I'll put the chips in a bowl, because it's a holiday.

For the main course, we'll have Boston Market. Turkey, potatoes, gravy, mac & cheese, stuffing, cornbread and something green. The beans are good.

I do cook one thing: a steak. I do this for my son who has celiac disease and does not eat anything Thanksgiving.

What about Tradition?

My mother's ghost makes an appearance as I write this. She scolds me for not making a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, believing as she did that without traditions, civilization as we know it will fall. I disagree. I believe that depending on tradition to carry the weight of human behavior is an unrealistic expectation.

The thought of womankind trapped in the kitchen with big bird and his entourage makes it difficult for me to honor tradition inherent to the holiday. Someone has to cook, though, and while a number of men may now participate in the culinary rituals, I'm pretty sure it's still mostly women.

The commercially prepared Thanksgiving Feast has set this woman free for the holidays. I no longer labor under the illusion that spending my day off making a ridiculous amount of food for a 20-minute nosh makes me a better person. It just makes me tired.

What about Modernism?

A new paradigm is often perceived as a threat, or at least a disruption. Further, it calls into question the validity of the tradition. Turkey, for example, wasn't part of Thanksgiving dinner until late 19th century. Before that, there hadn't been much in the way of traditional foods except the meal would be seasonal. For many, this meant wild game, fish, and hearty root vegetables.

So when Turkey came round to make itself the center of attention, I'd bet someone said, "Turkey for Thanksgiving? No thanks, I'll stick to my venison."

The traditional cooking rituals that have accompanied the holiday for decades are still celebrated, and will be for decades to come. I, on the other hand, choose to take on a new tradition, one that honors the custom of turkey and sides while giving me equal rights to enjoy this holiday. I'm going to let someone else do the cooking, and they in turn are duly compensated in accordance to their contracts with their employer. Could anything be more American?

And that's holiday cooking in the 21st century.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Butter, Margarine and the Other Stuff



There are different kinds of spreads; these derive from either animal fat or plant oil. What we refer to colloquially as butter is the stuff churned from cow's milk, and it is 80 percent fat. Milk is churned, separating the butterfat and buttermilk and the final product is tasty, but contains cholesterol.

Margarine is not a dairy product. It's produced from vegetable oils, and while margarine also has an 80 percent fat content, it doesn't contain cholesterol.

Butter is made from animal milk and is a dairy product. Margarine is made from vegetable oils, and is a vegetable product. Both butter and margarine, in a pure state, are gluten free. But additives are deceiving, so if you're buying butter or margarine, check the label.

The Third Alternative

Both butter and margarine are considered spreads. To market these spreads as butter or margarine, they must contain 80 percent fat.

A spread that is neither butter nor margarine is usually a plant-based choice, has no cholesterol and is lower in fats.

But spreads also contain more ingredients, such soy or flavorings. They contain a combination of oils, with palm oil making a frequent appearance. People with food allergies or sensitivities should note that these substitutes might contain milk and/or soy, both common allergens.


When It Comes to Baking

The video "Butter vs I Can't Believe It's Not Butter in Betty Crocker's Gluten Free Cookie Mix" demonstrates the difference between butter and spread. The butter cookies had a better crumb than the spread, and tasted richer.

But the competitor did well, making a good cookie without milk fats. A lower fat spread though, with less vegetable oil content may not perform well with this, or any, gluten free baking mix. The fat content was very close in both products, but we see by the results that it isn't just how much fat is called for, but the kind of fat we use. 

Butter, though, contains cholesterol, and for this cook, that can be a problem. Testing the alternative spread in this mix I see there is a difference in the results. But as you can see in the pull-out, each cookie has 10 mg of cholesterol from the butter. The spread cookies may not be as rich and may crumble a bit, but I Can't Believe It's Not Butter makes a pretty good cookie.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Transitions for the Contemporary Cook



Cooking for those with special dietary needs requires an added level of attention to the process of making meals. That's what I've been writing about in this blog – addressing special dietary needs in my own family. I've posted about some of the problems encountered during the years, and I've posted recipes.

Now, my husband and I are a few short years from retirement from our day jobs and our kids are pretty much grown. Our lifestyles are changing, and so to our eating habits.

Of course, Bob and I still adhere to the low-fat, low-sodium mantra of good health. And our son follows the gluten-free diet faithfully. Our daughter is now and always will be a vegetarian.

But I don't have to cook every meal now, and food makers and manufacturers have stepped up their game to capture the gluten free market. Bob's Red Mill, Pillsbury, Betty Crocker, and others all provide high quality baked good mixes; I don't always have to bake from scratch. Flour blends are also readily available and in some cases, are cup-to-cup substitutes for wheat flour.

Fresh and healthy, with a bit of dessert
So I'm going to move along, and explore the world of food from a different perspective. There's still dietary restrictions to deal with, but healthy eating is now a standard and gluten free is the media darling. For those of us dealing with specialty diets for the last decade, the rest of the world is just catching up.

Now, I want to look at how we can simplify the process of providing meals, in particular to a mature family. Cooking for kids and busy parents is different from cooking for adults, but the techniques and methods aren't mutually exclusive.

JustAz.com Productions has various projects in the works; among them, a series of videos for Contemporary Cooking focused less on recipes and more on ingredients. We'll also be looking at some renovations in the just az gardens, focused on providing some fresh herbs and vegetables for this cook.
 
Over the next few months, we'll transition from the more singular focus of recipes and techniques to a broader approach toward providing meals, looking at more than just cooking in the kitchen. Healthy take-out, make-ahead meals, and product reviews are all on the menu. Sorry, couldn't resist.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Baking Gluten Free in 2015



How many ingredients does it take to make a batch of scones? Well, in February of 2010, I used nine ingredients to make a batch of gluten free chocolate chip scones. I used Bette Hagman's recipe from her book, "The Gluten Free Gourmet Bakes Bread." The original recipe lists thirteen ingredients.

The gluten free flour used in the original recipe is a blend of flours also from the cookbook. So, to get a dozen scones I had to have the flour blend already prepared so I could take the required amount from the larger batch, add several more ingredients to the flour blend, and then put all the ingredients together to make the dough. And it really wasn't that easy a dough to handle.
Gluten Free Scones

Now, it's 2015 and I have this recipe down to six basic ingredients plus whatever I'm using for the treat, such as chocolate chips or raisins or blueberries.

I use Gluten Free Bisquick pancake mix and so do away with gums and egg replacers, as well as reduce the amount of baking powder and baking soda required. And the dough is much easier to handle.

In 2010, anyone who baked gluten free goods expected to have to make flour blends in large batches and store them for use in recipes. We had blends of all sorts; rice, bean, corn, and potato flour blends were staples in the pantry, all stored in airtight containers.

This meant buying all these different kinds of flours and blending them in varying mixes and ratios and adding enhancers such as gums and egg replacer. I needed a pantry to store the equivalent of a couple of bags of wheat flour.

Now I have Gluten Free Bisquick Pancake Mix and Pamela's Gluten Free Bread Mix in my pantry.

It's a hell of a lot easier to bake gluten free in 2015 than it was in 2010. 


Friday, January 2, 2015

The Basic Rules of Recipe Writing



It may be more accurate to say the rules for recording recipes, which is a different thing than creating/writing recipes. 
1: Use a descriptive title
Don't name your recipe Chicken and Noodles. Think about the herbs and spices you used. If it's lemon and rosemary, call the dish Lemon Rosemary Chicken with Broad Noodles.

2: List the ingredients in order of use
Ingredient lists allow the cook to assemble everything s/he needs before starting the cooking process.  Include how much of the ingredient is required, and how the ingredient is used, ie. 1 onion, chopped

3: Pay attention to how you write the amounts
Writing "1 onion, chopped" means you chop one whole onion. "1 cup chopped onion" means chop enough onion to make one cup. The first direction is ambiguous; the second direction is clear.

4: Write the directions in the right order
The first ingredient on your list should be the first ingredient you deal with in your directions. Be precise. Don't write, "Cook the meat a little bit before putting it in the slow cooker." Write, "Brown the meat in a fry pan, drain, then add to the slow cooker."

5: Include essential information
Just after your descriptive title, and before your list of ingredients, tell the cook how many portions this recipe makes, required oven/appliance settings, and any substitutions that may be used.

Why is this important? Because if food is a universal language then the recipe is the translator.