Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Kitchen Staples

Over the last year or so since I gave up my unfounded fear of dietary fat, I've had to learn new cooking habits.  I think what I've learned might be of interest, especially to anyone out there who cooks regularly for a family.  Just to be clear - we are not on any kind of paleo diet here.  We've just allowed ourselves to eat more of the high-fat foods we want (especially meat and butter), and we've eliminated meals that are primarily carbohydrate-based like any kind of pasta or rice dish.  We still eat most of those carby foods, we just don't eat much of them. 

What I've found is that I spend a lot less time shopping and cooking, I cook real meals more regularly, I actually eat more vegetables, and my family enjoys the food more than ever.

I make real dinners almost every night.  Sure, there is the occasional mac'n'cheese with hot dogs or fish sticks and frozen peas (and we enjoy those things!) but most nights I cook a meat and a fresh vegetable or salad - no more and no less.

I rarely use recipes.  I don't often make casseroles or anything that requires more than a few ingredients or has to go in the oven for a long time.  I make those things on occasion to keep it interesting, but the planning and shopping and preparing of those kinds of meals takes too much time, and we don't enjoy them any more than our meat and veggies.  

Lunch is usually leftovers, but Sammy and I also eat a lot of fast food lunches because it's fun to go out and we can't afford real restaurants very often.  I feel just fine about it because I know we're eating well at home, and really, I think fast food is unfairly vilified. 

Because I'm cooking differently, I've gradually had to revise my kitchen staples - the ingredients that I keep on-hand at all times.  Now, I can make any meat or vegetable delicious with these items:

  • Onions

  • Canned Parmesan cheese

  • Sliced cheddar (for burgers)

  • Butter

  • Heavy cream (I now buy it by the quart)

  • Whole milk

  • Bottled lemon juice (for emergencies since my lemons seem to go bad so quickly)

  • Minced garlic in a jar (love garlic, hate chopping)

  • Various mustards

  • Mayonnaise

  • Ketchup (used rarely, but important to have)

  • Capers

  • Rice vinegar

  • Balsamic vinegar

  • Olive oil

  • Red wine

  • Soy sauce

  • Worcestershire sauce

  • Sesame oil

  • Tony Chachere's Original Creole Seasoning (a must for steaks)

  • Canned tomatoes (although I rarely use them)

  • Coconut milk (again, used rarely, but I like to have it in case I want to make a curry sauce)

  • Currants (for salad)

  • Sliced almonds (for salad)

  • A few salad dressings, always including ranch, which is like magic sauce for kids (if we ate salad more often, I'd make my own dressing but we only go through a few bottles a year so it's not worth it)

  • All the common dried herbs and seasonings

This is usually how I shop and cook:  At the grocery store, I pick out a few meats that are on sale and whatever vegetables tickle my fancy.  (I always buy the bagged lettuce and spinach because there is no way I'm washing that stuff if I don't have to.)  At this point, I have no idea what I'll do with any of it.  The other day I bought a cabbage for the first time in years, and had no problem finding a great way to cook it with the things I keep on-hand.  When you allow yourself to use fat in cooking, you don't need so many ingredients because fat tastes good!

At home, I make a plan for the next few dinners, which is usually based on the expiration dates of the meats or the perishability of the vegetables.  But the plan is something in my head along the lines of, "Steaks, pork, chicken then burgers; asparagus, spinach, salad, then broccoli."  A half hour before I want to serve dinner, I go in the kitchen and think about how I'll prepare everything.  I rarely take more than 45 minutes to make dinner, but 30 minutes is the norm.  Here is something I made for just Sammy and myself last week when Adam was on a business trip.  Because I made potatoes, this took a bit more than 30 minutes:

  • Lamb chops with rosemary and thyme, pan-fried in butter, and with a red-wine and cream sauce

  • Baby Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced and fried in butter with garlic powder, onion powder, and lots of salt and pepper (I don't make potatoes often, but I love these with lamb)

  • Boiled cauliflower, smashed up (but not mashed), with butter, cream, Parmesan cheese, garlic powder, and lots of salt and pepper

And here is where I really have to brag.  My daughter eats just about everything I make.  She eats every kind of meat I've ever made (although not every preparation of it).  She actually likes spinach!  She even gobbled up that cabbage I mentioned.  The reason is probably that all of it is cooked with generous amounts of fat, in one form or another.  It's just so much easier to cook and enjoy food when you realize that fat is not the enemy.  And Sammy loves fat, as I've mentioned before.

The bottom line is that carby foods are not the only convenience foods.  It's faster and easier to grill up a steak than it is to boil spaghetti and put canned sauce on it!  It's just a matter of habit and mindset.


  1. I went back and re-read the "Good Calories Bad Calories" post, and this comment is more a response to that post (but would you see it if I posted it there?)

    Anyway, as to whether the "diseases of civilization" are due to increased life expectancy or something else, I have one little interesting data point. My sister worked at the LA Zoo for 20 years. She told me that lots of the old animals are on insulin! She had some super-old mouse that she had to dose every day, but many animals require insulin once they've lived way beyond their natural life spans.

    I don't know how this fits in with other info you have, but I thought it was interesting.

  2. Adding in fat and removing grains have changed the way I cook, too. It seems like so much less of a chore, and it's very easy to improvise and play around now.

    Regarding Stephanie's comment above, I wonder what sort of food the zoo animals are eating. A quick Google search brings up: "The animals are fed both specially prepared dry food, which is made by Purina for specific zoo animals, and fresh fruits and vegetables. The carnivores are fed chicken and prepared meats by Nebraska Brand meats. There are frozen mice and rats for those who eat rodents." If that specially prepared dry food from Purina is anything like the specially prepared dry food Purina wants me to feed my dogs, I'd implicate that in the need for insulin as the animals age sooner than I would their advancing age. Purina does love its cheap, highly processed corn, soy and wheat.

  3. Stephanie, yes, I am alerted to all comments, even on old posts. I must say that I'm suspicious of the evidence that contradicts the idea that these are "diseases of old age" more than "diseases of civilization." I'm suspicious because the data that I've seen seems shaky (although I don't know enough to say it is fatally flawed) and because the idea that these diseases are mainly a result of extended life spans can be integrated so well into the rest of my knowledge. However, diabetes has become much more prevalent even in young people. Still, would these young people have been "weeded out" (apologies for the crassness) in earlier times?

    I suspect there are many factors at work. Bottom line: I think the science of nutrition is in its infancy, and we should be cautious about leaping to conclusions. In the meantime, my philosophy is: use common sense, listen to your body's signals, and enjoy food!

  4. I remember you and Nick went crazy for Gran'mere's mashed potatoes as our family meal was routinely salad, meat and a vegetable. Since it was my job as a teen to prepare mashed potatoes EVERY night, I used rice for us when a sauce or gravy was involved. I thought bread stuffing was enough of a vehicle for Thanksgiving gravy. In cold weather I yearn for carbs, so I now prepare more mashed potatoes although not from scratch.

  5. Mom, have you tried Ore-Ida's Steam and Mash potatoes? They're frozen, cooked, cut potatoes. You nuke them in the bag and then they are super-easy to mash. It's really not much more work than the dried flakes. But they do take up a lot of space in the freezer which might be an issue for you.

    But mashed potatoes from scratch - not worth the time and effort! Maybe on Thanksgiving.

    Wait until you come visit in the spring. I'll feed you my cabbage and spinach - my new favorites!

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